Tuesday, August 23, 2016

NATO's Enduring Relevance

Twitter and life met this past week.  On twitter, folks have been wondering if NATO is relevant again.  In life, I was asked by a Canadian government review agency about NATO (not part of the Defence Review), and whether it was relevant for Canada.  Despite the criticisms of how NATO operations in our book, I am very much an advocate of NATO.  So much so that I went on a twitter rant about how NATO has always been relevant, enumerating some (but probably not all) that NATO has done over the years.

The list includes:
  • Playing a major role in keeping the peace in Europe since World War II.
  • Ended the Bosnian War and kept the peace afterwards
  • Stopped ethnic cleansing in Kosovo
  • Prevented escalation of conflict in Macedonia
  • Monitored US skies (cities during major events) after 9/11 via NATO AWACS planes
  • Counter-terrorism via a NATO fleet in the Mediterranean
  • Held the line in Afghanistan while the US was distracted in Iraq
    • Indeed, American allies did not go to Afghanistan because they cared about the place. They saw it as their chance to help out their ally.
  • Counter-piracy naval operations off of Somalia
  • Fostered civilian control of the military in Eastern Europe after Communism.
  • Training of Afghan troops which continues
  • Training of Iraqi forces
  • Preventing massacres in Libya.  
    • The Libyan effort is very controversial--that NATO took a mandate to protect citizens and turned into regime change, but I am not sure how to R2P without removing someone like Qaadafi. 
    • Oh, and for those who consider Libya an absolute failure, compare the casualty numbers between Libya and Syria.
  • Deterring Russia from aggressing against the Baltics.
So, NATO was always relevant, but is more obviously so thanks to Putin's neighborly predations.  One question that came up with the DND review agency is whether NATO does anything for Canadian interests such as in the Arctic.   My answer: if NATO is not doing much in the Arctic, Canada has much to blame for that.  Harper opposed NATO extending any attention to the far north, preferring the Arctic Council and bilateral relations with the US.  Trudeau, thus far, has not changed course on that.  Perhaps if Canada wanted NATO to be more involved in the Arctic, this would lead to some tough bargaining with Norway, since the Norwegians want all NATO Arctic stuff to go through them.  Still, Canada can't complain about something it didn't want not happening,

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Weenie Washington Post

The WashPo almost gets it, almost goes there.  It has a story about the racist fan boys of Donald Trump, but the headline writer and the journalist bought into the use of "racialist."  Why not use a term that already exists?  That is, racist.  These folks are not nationalists, but white supremacists.  They want white people to rule, and minorities to go to the back of the bus. 

Trump has been playing to this crowd since he started the campaign (what he said about Mexicans) and before with the birther nonsense.  In his most recent, post-Bannon, post-latest pivot speeches, Trump continues to be flaming racist--telling African-Americans (the Blacks, as he calls them) that they are all the same, with lousy job prospects, with lousy life prospects, with no insurance (actually, Obamacare has made a big dent in the un-insurance problem among African-Americans).

Since Trump has no problem pandering to the racists, why should media outlets soften the coverage of it?  Yes, this story does a good job of showing who is the core of the Trump "movement," but it pulls back.  No need to pull back.  It is not politically correct to call white supremacists racists--it is just accurate. 

As a scholar of ethnic conflict, I honestly cannot remember ever using or even reading "racialist" in my 20 plus year career.  But that is what the white supremacists do--keep coming up with new names.  What remains the same is a nostalgia for a time where minorities "knew their place", before multiculturalism taught tolerance, acceptance and even celebration of diversity.  I guess it sucks to be on the wrong side of history--this country is becoming increasingly diverse.  They fear this perhaps because they project too much--that the diverse groups will rule just as oppressively as the whites did when America was "great."

So, perhaps the WashPo story is a mostly good one--reminding us of the the awful stuff that is out there and that favors a Trump win--but I wish they had just been a wee bit more direct.  Trump and his core supporters are not racialists but racists, that their nationalism is white supremacy.  And as a white American, I feel I should be apologizing to non-white Americans for the hateful ideology spewed by the candidate nominated by the GOP.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

How to Become a Fringe Party in North America and Europe

One of the dynamics I learned in the process of researching the Dave and Steve book on NATO is that left-wing parties aspiring to broaden their appeal felt compelled to support NATO operations.  Huh? 

In Canada, the New Democratic Party supported the Libyan operation.  In the Netherlands, it was the Groenlinks party that supported the new policy mission in 2011.*  Both parties had traditionally been anti-NATO, but both chose to support new (and less risky) NATO operations because they saw that being anti-NATO had marginalized them. If they wanted to be mainstream, they would have be seen as not hostile to NATO.  They realized that voters beyond their narrow core saw NATO as a legitimate alliance that their country should support much of the time, if not always.  These parties realized that their anti-NATO ideology caused voters to think of them as fringe parties, as ones that were not serious enough to be considered fit to govern even as part of a coalition.  Taking stances on less risky missions, especially ones that seemed vaguely humanitarian, allowed these parties to shift and be more supportive of NATO. 

Why think about this now?  Because it seems that some actors in Western politics are taking the opposite strategy--how to alienate voters and become a fringe party by being hostile to NATO.  In the US, Donald Trump has been alienating not just Democrats but increasingly Republicans due to his anti-NATO (and pro-Putin) stances.  As Dan Drezner has repeatedly pointed out, no GOP experts have jumped up alongside Donald to suggest that NATO might need to be cut adrift.  The NeverTrump crowd, however, does cite Trump's anti-NATO stances as one of the reasons why they have to oppose Trump, even if they are not fans of Clinton. 

Trump is not alone.  UK Labour "leader" Jeremy Corbyn refused to say that the UK would come to the defence of allies if they were attacked, which seems pretty anti-NATO.  Then, of course, folks found some of his previous NATO statements.  Being anti-NATO is great for pandering to the far left, but that will alienate less extreme Labour voters and tell the rest of the UK that the Labour party is not serious about governing and just wants to be a fringe party.  Of course, Corbyn is doing other stuff that has this effect, but the focus here is on NATO. 

I just want to congratulate both Trump and Corbyn on figuring out how best to turn mainstream parties, ones that has governed on their own, into fringe parties that most citizens will find to be unacceptable.  Well done.

*  I wrote a bit about it in this paper that I never submitted anywhere.  I forget why I didn't--it might been trying to publish too much off of the same book project--that I wanted to avoid self-plagiarism.  Or that this was going to be in an edited volume that never took place. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Alt Right Is Very Wrong

Over the past year or two, folks have identified themselves as being part of the alt-right.  These are folks who think that the right wing is not sufficiently something.  Hmmm, what could that be?  Oh, that the GOP and its right wing is not sufficiently racist: 
“The Alt-Right is a loose set of far-right ideologies at the core of which is a belief that “white identity” is under attack through policies prioritizing multiculturalism, political correctness and social justice and must be preserved, usually through white-identified online communities and physical ethno-states.”
I found the Southern Poverty Law Center quote in a Charles Blow piece. The reason I started thinking about it is, of course, the new force in the Trump campaign is Steve Bannon of Breitbart [#notallSteves].  Discussion about his impact focus on how Trump's campaign might embrace nationalism more.  Does this mean wearing more red/white/blue?  Does it mean live readings of the Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights?  What does it mean to be more nationalist?

Well, any nationalism has multiple meanings that can be emphasized, different content to stress and highlight.  What has Bannon and Breitbart been emphasizing?  The plight of whites in an increasingly diverse America.  When people speak of a more nationalist campaign in this case, they mean a more white nationalist campaign--emphasizing how the increased diversity in the US is leading to white genocide, how Mexicans and Muslims are going rape our (white) women, and on and on.

Trump has long moved from speaking via dogwhistled code (birther--how can a black President be a real American?) to openly making racist appeals.  He retweets white supremacists and their graphics on a regular basis.  So, it makes sense that he is the favorite candidate of the white supremacists.

The strange thing is that the alt right folks don't like being called white supremacists.  I learned this again yesterday via a series of tweets:

After the first and before the second, I received a bunch of tweets from white supremacists who were mad that I called them that.  Apparently, they are as thin skinned as the celebrity candidate that they prefer.  The irony or hypocrisy (hard to tell) is that these folks want to be "plain spoken" and not criticized for their non-politically correct views, but criticize me for telling it like it is.

We are doing the country no favors by letting these racist, anti-semitic, homophobic, xenophobic and largely misogynist folks (hence multidimensional bigots) use labels that provide even the thin gloss of "alt right."  Call them what they are, so that they retreat back to under the rocks from whence they came.

Others will advocate finding ways to bring them back, to deradicalize them.  I don't have the skill or patience or tolerance to advocate that.  Instead, I want them marginalized.  The big damage that Trump has done has been to make these folks feel as if they are accepted, acceptable and voicing legitimate grievances.  They are not.  White supremacy is simply not legitimate.  Blaming entire races for one's problems is not a pathway to anything good.

But what do I know, I am just (((Steve Saideman))) as one white supremacist tweeted back at me, biased by my heritage to think that blaming entire groups for whatever societal ills is just a bad idea.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Trump and Putin: Birds of a Feather

I spent this morning chatting about Trump and the strange role of Russia in the US election on radio stations across Canada. As usual, there was a basic set of questions asked over and over (eight hits this time).  What was asked?  What did I say?  While some of the hosts went off script slightly, this was the gist:

1. What do you think of the ways in which Russia is being raised in the American election campaign...How surprising is it to you that Russia has taken this sort of prominence? 

It is pretty amazing. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union played a major role in elections but only as a question: is a candidate up for dealing with the threat?  After 1991, Russia was less relevant and then people, including myself, scoffed when Mitt Romney listed Russia as biggest threat in 2012.  But since Crimea and the war in Ukraine, Russia is relevant again but now it is actually seeking to influence the election
2. How much of a preference does the Russian Government or Vladimir Putin have between the two U-S Presidential candidates?
The less covered story is that Putin apparently dislikesHillary Clinton from her time as Secretary of State
Trump, on other hand, has very visibly promised a set of policies that Putin prefers: recognizing Crimea, softening sanctions, not being so enthusiastic about supporting Ukraine, potentially breaking NATO, and that last one is one of Putin's highest priorities.  So, yes, Putin has a very clear preference.

 3. There have been accusations directed at Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort, accusing him of pro-Russian ties. How  plausible is it that Russia is exerting influence through members of the Trump campaign?
[This one was slightly overcome by events since Manafort got demoted last night with word breaking this morning]
The ties between Manafort and Putin/Russia are pretty clear, as he worked for pro-Russian figures in Ukraine and elsewhere
It is hard to explain the stances of Trump on Russia without thinking that someone is pushing this as there is no real domestic constituency pushing for this AND the effort to change the GOP platform at the convention was a major exertion of political capital.  Why?  Because elements within the campaign care a great deal. 

4. There are also allegations that Russia is behind hacks of the D-N-C and the Clinton campaign's computer servers. Do you think this is the sort of thing the Russian state would undertake?

Russia has advanced cyberwarfare capability, so it definitely is something the Russians can do.  Russia engaged in cyber attacks against Estonia in 2007, and used cyber attacks as part of its campaign against Ukraine.  When the hack was originally discovered, Russians were immediately suspected, and then the emails were given to wikileaks and released a month later. 

5. What does all of this suggest about the U.S. relationship with Russia over the longer term, after the election?
HRC is going to win, and she will remember this unprecedented effort by Russia to influence a US election.  So, expect an increased chill in US-Russian relations but not that much change in substance since US is already confronting Russia over Ukraine and is already reinforcing NATO in the Baltics/Poland.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Talking Coast to Coast to Coast on CBC Radio: Trump and Russia Edition

Tomorrow, August 17th, I will be doing some CBC syndicated radio to talk about the strange role played by Russia in this election.  Here's my schedule (the more west coast ones are likely to be taped if prior experience is any indicator):

Host: Craig Norris
Twitter: @cbckw891

Thunder Bay - Superior Morning
Lisa Laco - Host @morningshowlisa

Winnipeg - Information Radio **IP**
Marcy Markusa - Host
Twitter: @CBCInfoRad

Ontario AM
Wei Chen - Host
Twitter: @CBCOntMorning

Victoria - On The Island
Gregor Craigie - Host
Twitter: @cbcontheisland @GregorCraigie

Calgary--The Eyeopener
David Gray - Host
Twitter (host David Gray): @graydio1
Show: @cbceyeopener

Regina - The Morning Edition
Host: Sheila Cole, Coreen Larson - Producer,
Twitter handle: @sheilacolescbc

Saskatoon -- Saskatoon Morning
Leisha Grebinski - Host
Twitter: @cbcsaskatoon

Real Problems in The World

Trump is, well, a freaking disaster when it comes to pretty much everything but especially foreign policy.  One of the less obvious ways he is fucking up discussions of foreign policy is not the possibility that realism might become tainted, but that we don't notice important stuff.  So, a quick run of the news and what we are missing by focusing on the epic dumpster fire train wreck (imagine a train of dumpster fires derailing) that is Donnie.
  • Indonesia seems ready to start a war in the South China Seas as it is promising to sink more than 70 foreign fishing boats.  I cannot claim to be an expert on anything in the Pacific, at least not until I spend a month in Japan, but, to this amateur's eyes, this does not look good.  China is already riled up over losing the adjudication decision.  This will be some kind of independence day for Indonesia--starting a war!  Woot!  No, not woot.  Most of the impounded ships are not Chinese, but some are.  Apparently destroying impounded ships is nothing new, but a grand symbolic gesture?  Right now, after China's big loss?   Not good.  The link above has a great gif showing the various claims and trends.  
  • Russia just bombed Syria via planes based in ... Iran.  This is NEW and completely unnecessary.  The latter first: Russia can and has been bombing Syria from planes based in Russia and in Syria.  Russia does not need bases in Iran for that chore.  The former: no foreign troops have been based in Iran since ... 1979.  So, Iran is compromising slightly on its tradition of robust independence since the revolution by letting the Russians fly out from its territory.  A great way to say "screw you" to the US.  The Russia-Iran friendship, largely built on keeping Assad in power and a shared interest in undermining US interests in the region is now becoming an alliance.  A couple of key implications are:
    • Iraq once again has let the Russians use its airspace.  Sure, Iraq has no anti-aircraft capability, but the symbolic stuff is important.  And this symbolic stuff says: Iraq is heavily influenced by Iran and is willing to do stuff that contradicts the US even though the US is spending a heap of resources helping Iraq take back its territory from ISIS.  
    • It might must provide some support for ye olde Iran nuclear deal.  Remember, the sanctions required multilateral support, especially Russia's.  If there were no deal, would Russia be sanctioning Iran today?  My guess is that the sanctions regime would have broken by now.  So, we got a decent agreement before the chances for one disappeared.
    • The NYT is overreaching---calling Russia the "primary broker in the region."  Please.  US still has heaps of influence, friends and allies in the region.  Russia is a significant spoiler, but the US is still the biggest player.
  •  Canada is still trying to figure out where to make its new peace operations commitment with MND Sajjan on a tour of Africa.  I will try to remember to write tomorrow for why Canada should focus on Haiti and/or Colombia.
  • Brexit?  I have no idea the state of play there, but then again, does anyone else?
I am sure there are heaps of other hotspots and crises that are getting too little attention, but that is a quick tour of the stuff that our Trump focus is causing us to miss.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Summer Days Drifting Away

The seven jobs meme that is going around twitter and facebook reminded me that this weekend is the 30th anniversary of the last weekend of my last summer at camp and the 40th anniversary of the last weekend of my first summer at camp.  I spent 1976-1983 as a camper at Camp Airy, and I spent the next three summers as a counselor.  As I have said before, I lived for those summers growing up.  Why?

Mostly because I didn't feel like I fit in where I lived the other 44 weeks of the year, but I did feel like I belonged at camp.  Once I started going eight weeks a year when most kids only when two or four, I felt like an insider with a steady set of friends who also went the distance.  Not only did my counselors know me, but counselors in the rest of the camp did as well as other staffers. 

The strange thing is that I was an outsider.  Most of the kids were from the Baltimore or DC suburbs, but I was from Philly.  My family learned of the camp when we lived in DC, but I only started going two moves later.  So, I didn't know people from school.  Still, it was my home away from home for the most formative years of my life. 

It was where I first played ultimate.  It was where I kept winning in the various wrestling tournaments despite always being the underdog.  It was where I first shot a rifle (and last shot a rifle for that matter).  I played a heap of basketball (badly) and of softball (fairly well).  I did heaps of arts and crafts badly. 

My first time acting was there as well as well as a couple of plays at the girl's camp. 

Ten Little Indians, as a doomed doctor.
Lots of other firsts at camp--holding hands, kiss, girlfriends, broken heart.  

I often joked that camp was for the counselors. Perhaps not, but it was a close race, as I had a heap of fun.  Indeed, of my first seven jobs I had, being a camp counselor was, by far, the best.  
New Counselors Pic 1984, just before we get hit by
water dumped from the roof.  Jon, on the front left, and, I,
on the right, knew and were strategically
positioned to avoid the worst of it.

I could have been a better counselor, but I did embrace the silliness of the experience, twice winning the award for the Wackiest Counselor in my unit during the Wacky Olympics, which involved lots of silly games.  How did I manage that?  Um, by doing stuff like this:

 Facebook has been great at connecting me with my old friends from camp.  The internet has shown me that the camp has changed greatly with lots of new, hip things to attract the new campers like zip lines and go carts.  In my day, it was pretty basic: lots of softball, basketball, archery, swimming, wrestling, arts and crafts, some street hockey with crappy equipment, and a bit of riflery, modest hikes and optional trips for rock climbing, caving, rafting.  I miss the capture the flag games most of all of the larger activities. 

Not a particularly fancy place, but a great environment that was fostered by a terrific director and staff with big hearts.  I have often imagined going back to be some kind of staffer, but it would not be the same.  Anyhow, on this anniversary of the end of my first and last summers at camp, I am just grateful that I had that time in that place.