Thursday, May 5, 2016

Montreal Deja Vu

I am briefly back in Montreal for a presentation to Latin American military officers and diplomats.  It is a last minute kind of thing, but it was handy to force me to think about how does civil society (academics, think tanks, media) play significant roles in civil-military relations.  I will post my take tomorrow.

Being back in Montreal reminded me of many things and a few new realizations:
  • There were more hipsters in the restaurant on the plateau tonight than probably in all of Ottawa.
  • The construction alongside A-20 reminds me why I left--this monstrosity is going to take forever.
  • Montreal drivers ne care pas about the HOV lane, as plenty of cars passed me despite not being electric and not having three passengers.
  • I hate, hate not being able to turn right on red.
  • The food is always, always good.  I don't usually take food photos but for deep fried chocolate chip cookie dough, I had to:

Oh, and the Bill Simmons podcast with Key and Peele had a very interesting quote that bothers me a bit: comparison is the thief of joy. Apparently, Teddy Roosevelt said it.  On the one hand, yes, envy and jealousy are bad, so we should just declare success and embrace our own happiness.  On the other, as a social scientist, I am a big believer in comparing, as we can learn more about ourselves (our politics, our foreign policy, etc) by comparing with that of others.

Anyhow, it was great to see some of my favorite people.  I look forward to presenting my stuff to a group of interesting and interested folks.  And, yes, I love my job.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Why Did Trump Win the Nomination?

I am not a specialist in American politics, but folks up here ask me all the time about US politics since I am an American and a political scientist.  So, has America gone mad?  Well, yes and no.  The US has always been just a bit insane, but, no, Trump is not a harbinger of crazed Americans.  What are the ingredients of his success?
  1. Trump has name recognition.  That goes far, alas.  After all, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton.... Of course, Jeb! could not parlay his name recognition into votes, but fame does have its advantages.
  2. Trump has more media experience than the rest of the field.
  3. Trump had more media attention than the rest of the field.  Why?  Because he is living clickbait--his "unscripted" ways meant that every day there was a new car crash to cover.
  4. Turnout in primaries is low with the most passionate showing up, and Trump was able to get a bigger percentage of these passionate people.  
  5. In a time of hate of the establishment, Trump was the best positioned.  Cruz did better than most since he is also an anti-establishment candidate, but, damn, people dislike him.  Experience in this race meant being tainted by the establishment.
  6. Which speaks to this: what an incredibly weak field of candidates.
  7. Outbidding! In an auction for the votes of the frustrated, angry folks who want to blame others (Muslims, immigrants, women, African-Americans, Jews, etc), Trump consistently offered the most extreme stances.  Having no shame can be handy that way.  The rest of the field could not really take him on for his xenophobia and racism since they wanted the votes of the xenophobes and racists.  This is a problem that Hillary Clinton is not going to have.
  8. Winner take all sucks for those who don't win.  The Republican rules really favor the frontrunner.  Clinton would be done with Sanders at this point if she had the same rules.
  9. Collective action is hard.  The competitors kept coming up with cooperative efforts to confront Trump a month or three late.  They could just not cooperate. 
So, I was wrong to underestimate Trump, partly because I overestimated Rubio and some of the others.  But I am a bit more confident in the fundamentals that matter in the fall: that the GOP lost previous elections because of their inability to attract non-white votes, that the electoral college favors the Democrats, that low unemployment and few folks off at war (not quite peace and prosperity but definitely better than the 2008 incumbent party faced) favors the party of the incumbents, etc.

I also think HRC's experience will pay off in the debates, that the divides within the GOP are far more significant and relevant than those in the Democratic coalition, and that people will not be comfy with Trump being close to the nuclear button and all that it stands for. 

But I have been wrong before ...

May the Fourth Be Hamilton With You

Thanks to Erin Simpson for tweeting this:

Real Reason for Optimism: Hate Hurts

Today is the day after Trump's path became clear to the nomination.  This is, of course, awful.  He will incite violence and hate (spending this morning reminding folks of his idea to ban Muslims from entering the US).  But there is some reason for optimism.  Not the hope of 2008, but optimism that Trump will not become President.

Why?  Because hate burns.  Before this election, after the last two national losses, the GOP muckety-mucks realized that they needed to broaden the party's appeal as they were not doing well among the young and as the country became increasingly diverse.  Well, they got instead the candidate who is best suited for reinforcing those disadvantages.

The latest poll:
 But more important, the new CNN poll finds Trump is viewed unfavorably by 64 percent of women; 73 percent of nonwhites; 70 percent of voters under 35;  67 percent of college graduates; and 57 percent of moderates.
 The Latinos are not going to vote for Trump, which means Florida is more than just in play but likely to go Democrat.  Arizona may actually be in play.  And because Trump is utterly dispicable, he will have to spend time and effort in the fall woo-ing states that should be safely Red like Utah.  Not to mention that a fair number of "Conservatives" are likely to vote for a third party candidate or not at all. 

The general election is different as the linked article suggests.  Bigger numbers of voters, so not just the passionate folks from the left wing and the right wing.  And Trump's competitor this time is well suited to the task.  Hillary Clinton is not a perfect candidate by any stretch, but she can call Trump out for being a white supremacist fan boy since she, unlike Cruz, Rubio, etc, is not going to try to get their votes.  She can call him out on his misogyny because she has no problem being seen as a feminist candidate, unlike the GOP cast of lousy candidates.  Trump may try to swerve to the center, but all of his statements are there to be played again and again. 

So, yes, it is horrible that Trump has made it thus far, excelling by embracing the worst instincts, by competing with an incredibly weak group of canddiates, and by winning pluralities of the small numbers who show up at primaries and caucuses.  But what has gotten him this far is likely to bite him bigtime, as the national electorate is not the same thing as those who vote in GOP primaries. 

While there is much concern about what could happen, and I admitted bad predictions yesterday, I cannot help but be optimistic that next fall, the Democrats will have their first 12 year stretch in the White House since FDR/Truman.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

May Mea Culpas

Yesterday, at the CGAI Symposium, I got to eat some crow as I was reminded that I had tweeted  about something and turned out to be wrong.  In this case, it was the Mistral story.  I had poo-poo-ed stories that indicated that the Canadians were interested in the French amphibious ships that were no longer being sold to the Russians.  As it turns out, the government was interested, the Canadian Navy wanted them, and the procurement bureaucrats were too slow and not so interested.

That news plus my speech last week after getting the Public Commentary award reminded me that this whole public engagement thing can be a bit, um, embarassing.  That I will say stuff that turns out to be wrong.  So, I decided to list a few of my more recent mistakes, so folks can read what I say here and on twitter with a huge grain of salt (as depicted long ago by one of my undergrads).
  • The most obvious failed assessment is that I didn't think Trump would get this far. I had underestimated: the appeal of xenophobia, racism, and misogyny; the weakness of the rest of the field; forgotten what a small percentage of the population turns out for primaries and caucuses.  I still am convinced he will lose in the general election because women are more than 50% of the electorate, that the electoral college already favors the Democrats, that the previous GOP candidates learned that they needed to reach out to minorities and Trump is very much doing the opposite of that.  Of course, I will admit that being a mistaken view in November if it comes to that.  
  • I predicted that General Vance would not be named to be the Chief of Defence Staff, but admitted that about this time last year.
  • I thought the Russians would stop at Crimea, but they have kept on keeping on in Ukraine thus far.  I don't expect anything more aggressive, but I definitely think NATO should prepare for the worst in order to discourage it.
What else have I gotten wrong lately?  Really, I want to know.


Of course, if one does not say anything, one can never be wrong.  But silence has never been a strength of mine.  More importantly, if one is going to talk about international politics and not just describe but analyze and even predict, then one is going to be wrong.  The obligation to engage the public and its rewards mean that I will keep risking being wrong.  I just hope that the advanced analytics folks will consider my VARF* to be positive. 
*Value Above Replacement Friedman

Monday, May 2, 2016

Storify instead of Blog Post: Canadian Defence Symposium

I spent today at the Canadian Defence Symposium, an annual event organized by Canadian Global Affairs Institute (I am a CGAI Fellow).  It was very interesting, and the reception afterwards was even more so.

Anyhow, I am beat so I will just put my live tweets via storify here:

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Happy Spew-iversary

Today is the 7th Anniversary of Saideman's Semi-Spew.  Woot!  I guess I should get the blog either some wool or copper (tradition) or a desk set (modern). 

It has been an interesting adventure.  I started out mostly just talking to myself, trying to clarify some ideas and respond to the news of the day.  A few months into it, I joined twitter and started posting links to the blog, which meant that folks other than my family started reading my stuff.  For a few years, I was posting four items a day, some short and some incredibly short.  I find myself tweeting more and blogging less, although twitter still informs the blog, as it gives me stuff to react to--either conversations on twitter or links to pieces that draw my ire.  I used to think that a constant flow of much would help generate audience and keep it, but I learned that the content is what matters and that twitter/facebook can advertise the blog as well or better than heaps of pieces.

I have no regrets about the name, as Steve's Peeves would have been entirely too negative. And I love alliteration despite what various writing guides.  I am not sure the look of the blog is that great (I envy Pete Trumbore's)--I have been reluctant to change the look for fear of screwing things up too much.  I know my style of blog-writing borrows heavily from the stuff that I have read, with Dan Drezner's blogging over the years probably the most influential.

I find it wonderfully appropriate that my first post was about a couple of things that kept coming up: generalizing and policy relevance.  My second post was about ultimate!  My third made a promise that I didn't keep--that I would steal the question asked of the president as a running theme--how am I surprised, troubled, enchanted, and humbled by various things.  I will say that over the years, I have been:
  • surprised at where blogging has taken me.  It has led to more policy writing at various outlets (mostly Canadian and mostly military/alliance stuff). 
  • troubled by the impact it has had on my academic writing.  I love blogging because it does not require reviewing the literature or appeasing reviewers.  Well, academic writing still requires that stuff and so when I write academic articles, I sometimes get smacked around for not doing that stuff or, dare I say it, writing too informally.
  • enchanted by the interactions that blogging (and twitter) has produced with people around the world, in and out of academia.
  • humbled by the reality that people read this stuff that is poorly edited (lots of spelling mistakes and typos in old Spews) and sometimes poorly thought out.  When people say that they read my blog, I tend to blush and stammer, which is not how I react when someone tells me that they have read my books or articles.  Perhaps it is precisely because this stuff is not edited, not reviewed and often the first thing that pops out of my head in the morning (or evening).
Blogging has gotten me deeper into a variety of issues than otherwise would have been the case, such as voterfraudfraud, public engagement and policy relevance, concussions, academic freedom, and Harry Potter (ok, that last one was a pre-blogging thing, too).

I am most grateful not just for this week's recognition but also for the comments on the Spew, via twitter or on my facebook page.  And, yes, I'd like to thank the academy.

No Mattis? Woot!

I responded to news that General Mattis is not running as an independent with a woot!  Why?  Well, I discussed it a bit here, but I will elaborate a bit.  I was asked whether it was about the man or a categorical objection (as Cullen Hendrix put it nicely).  The answer is yes.

First, let me address the man.  General Mattis may be a great guy, and he sure is a great quote.  But his statements both as an officer and as a retired officer bother me.  They might be fine for commanding soldiers into battle, but not for a President.  Patton was a great wartime general, but no one (with any sense of reason) would want him to be President.  And, yes, Mattis is very conservative, which is why he is appealing to his fans and not so much to me.  I did suggest that he might be a smidge authoritarian.  Well, that is his persona (and also a characteristic of military officers, according to the various surveys by Peter Feaver and others).  Whether Mattis believes it or not, I cannot tell.  But I wouldn't want someone at anytime whose primary characteristic is as an ass-kicker as President.

Second, Mattis is a Marine, and I am not too fond of the Marines these days.  Well, their leadership.  Why?  Mostly because of how things played out in Afghanistan.
  • One of the principle problems with the NATO effort was that there was little unity of command (a key military principle).  Instead, you had each contingent fighting under different rules (see ye olde book, now out in paperback).  But putting aside the alliance, the US had a chain of command that was compared to a plate of spaghetti, as you had a war in CENTCOM's region run by NATO (which is led by a different American four star officer than the one running CENTCOM), and Special Operations Forces reporting directly back to their commanders in Tampa.  In 2009, under General McChrystal (he was not all bad), they created the IJC (ISAF Joint Command) to clean this up so that the Americans in ISAF would be under the same command structure as the rest of the alliance.  The Marines, when they reinforced the US and NATO troops as part of the surge, were not willing to put themselves into the IJC command structure, and instead reported directly through to Marine commanders at CENTCOM (I could be slightly off on some of the details but the basic thrust is right).  So, all that effort to clean up the command structure went poof.  
  • The second problem the always seeking autonomy Marines imposed on the mission was insisting on going to Helmand instead of Kandahar. Helmand made sense to them because it meant they would not have to split the key building block of the Marine Expeditionary Force [MEF].  They could occupy a space and not really have to cooperate with others.  This was very problematic since the Commander-in-Chief (President Obama) had agreed to a surge that was population centric, and, alas, the population that needed some surging was not in Helmand (lots of poppies, not that many people) but in Kandahar.  This didn't happen under Mattis but Mattis allowed it to persist when he was CENTCOM commander.  And as the major figure among the very few three and four star Marines, he might have been able to have some influence on this deployment.  Anyhow, in my eyes, the Marines were insubordinate in this time frame.  Why? Because they didn't want to break apart their MEF and because they did not want to work with others.  Indeed, Regional Command South encompassed all of Southern Afghanistan until the Marines came, and then they got to have their own RC-Southwest with the Brits and Danes but not the pesky Canadians or US Army units in Kandahar.  [Yes, I have read the stuff that says that the Canadians didn't want help in Kandahar, but that is a load of crap.]  The result of all of this is that Marines died in Helmand in significant numbers, but they were needed in Kandahar.
  • Is Mattis tainted by this?  In my opinion, yes.  Again, 3-4 star Marines are a small club, and they pushed for policies that were good for the Marines and bad for the mission.  Secretary of Defence Robert Gates regrets not doing more about this in his memoir, but does not really address it adequately.  Sure, winning in Afghanistan depended far more on Pakistan and President Karzai, but this stuff did not help the effort.  More importantly, as I said above, it was insubordinate.
Third, my opposition to generals as Presidents is somewhat categorical.  Yes, people immediately threw Ike in my face, but Ike and George Washington were not the typical generals/presidents.  They both had a healthy concern/suspicion about the role of the military in politics--see Ike's military-industrial complex speech.  Andrew Jackson is viewed by historians far better than recent $20 bill discussions.  Another two-term General was Ulysses S. Grant, and he was awful.  Most of the other Generals->Presidents were one terms or less (they tended to die!  Harrison, Taylor and Garfield).   And Ike was also different from Mathis as Ike ran an alliance, dealing with Churchill, De Gaulle, Roosevelt, Montgomery, Patton and on and on.  So, it was not just about command but other skills that are important for a President.

The problem with having military leaders as presidents is that the skill sets are not the same.  Yes, modern military officers are well trained in management (they understand principal-agent problems!), but Presidents cannot simply command, they must persuade, bargain and influence.  Military officers have risen to the highest levels in an environment that emphasizes order and authority, which makes them usually pretty lousy at disorder and the messy life of politics.  Again, people will throw Ike at me, but they forget that Ike stands out as the only General to become President in the 20th century.  Much more common for that kind of thing in the 1800s, which was a very different time.

Which leads me to the fourth reason why I don't want a general now in the White House.  We live in a time of diminished institutions--the Presidency, the Courts and the Congress are at their lowest levels of respect.  Handing over power to someone from a rival institution with much more popular respect (we have to support the troops, which means let's not criticize the military) would be a bad move right now.  Especially in a time of fear of terrorism and rising xenophobia.  I just find it dangerous to grab onto a military guy at a time where the country is facing such division.  It is tempting since the military is a national institution so someone with that background might be seen as a unifying force.  But we ought not be seduced.  It might work out rather well, but it could also be quite awful.  I think 21st century democracies are better off with the senior military folks (retired or active) having little role to play in politics.  I guess I am just strange that way.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Pre-Baked? Thinking About the Defence Review

The media keeps asking me if the defence review is pre-baked.  That is, whether the Liberal government already knows what it is going to do and whether the roundtables are a sham, mostly to make it look like they are taking the experts seriously. 

I honestly don't know since the folks in the government are not telling me of their plans.  I will say this: having a wide array of people offering their views will mean that the Defence Minister and his advisers will have many conflicting opinions sent their way.  How will they choose which threats are the most important?  Which capabilities seem to be the ones that are required?  Which strategies make the most sense?  The possibilities are:
  • the decision-makers may find that there is some consensus and go with that.
  • the decision-makers will find some arguments to be so convincing that they will go with those stances
  • the decision-makers will find a sea of noise and will pick out from the noise the stuff that resonates best. That is, their pre-existing beliefs may shape what they listen to.  
How will an outsider tell which one this is?   Well, this outsider is not going to have the testimony and reports from all of the roundtables and other inputs into the process, so I will have no idea.

The best way to tell if the Defence Review is meaningful if it actually advocates for hard decisions to be made and then those hard decisions are actually made (which I have said before).  If the review serves as a focal point and a framing device to managing the tradeoffs that have largely been kicked down the road, then it is a meaningful effort.  Sure, having roundtables in strange places sends confusing signals, but the only way to evaluate the Defence Review is after it takes place and after we get the results.  It is kind of like evaluating the NFL draft before it takes place, when we will only really know who did well and who did poorly a few years from now.

A Very Good Day: Appreciating Being Appreciated

One of the great things about Carleton is that the institution, and especially the Faculty of Public Affairs [FPA] (what Americans would label the College of Public Affairs), recognizes folks for what they do.  Yesterday, the FPA handed out a variety of awards including:

I received the award for Public Commentary!  I am most grateful for this recognition of my work in this area.  They gave me a chance to say a few words so I noted the timing:
  • that I received this award just a day after being on 14 radio stations across Canada talking about Trump's foreign policy speech;
  • that is nearly 20 years (June 1996) when I had my most regrettable media appearance: 


There was a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia, and I was working in Lubbock, Texas and the TV folks asked: could it happen here?
Given that the attack in Oklahoma City was just three years earlier, I said yes. 
They asked: where?  I said where people gather—mall, airport, university.  With much enthusiasm, they asked VA hospital?  I said no.
That night they led the news with professor says it can happen here with video of people strolling through mall/airport/university.
The punchline is that five years later, after I had moved on, I got an email the day after 9/11 from a friend who blamed me for Lubbock closing the mall that day.
  •  I received the award two days before the sixth anniversary of this blog.  
I then explained why I do so much public commentary: 

Because of my relentless thirst for attention as the youngest in my family?  Sure.  But more importantly, I have long felt an obligation, a responsibility, to take what I have learned and share it, not just with my students and my colleagues in the profession but beyond.  In the US, there are lots of debates about policy relevance of International Relations scholarship.  It pops up here too.  I think the stuff that I do is relevant, and say so not so quietly.  I feel that engaging in public commentary via a variety means is something we need to do, especially if we receive grants from public agencies.
One of the reasons I moved to Carleton and to NPSIA was that a policy school would value this kind of stuff that I do.  And, given this award, I guess I was right.  So, I ended my few words by thanking my students, my colleagues, the Dean and the folks in the Dean's office.
A happy, appreciated and appreciative Steve