Monday, September 16, 2019

Paper Tigers, Liars, and the Next War

So much happened this weekend that we don't understand.  We don't know if it was Iran that attacked Saudi Arabia's production facilities, we don't know why they would do so, we don't know if the Houthis did it, etc.

What do we know? 
  1. Well, we know that the Trump Administration has no credibility--it has lied about a great many things, so even if they come out with some evidence of either Iranian complicity (and Iran is almost certainly at least complicit) or Iran guilt, it will be easy for folks to dismiss these claims.  After all, Trump is currently lying about saying that saying that he would meet the Iranians without preconditions.  
  2. We know that observers have taken to seeing Trump as a paper tiger--that he makes threats that he will not back up.  Which then encourages them to push harder and harder, expecting Trump to back down.  And they will be right to do so until ... they are wrong and find that even paper tigers eventually push back.  So, if Iran did take a risk, it might have been encouraged by Trump's previous bluffs and blustering.
  3. Saudi Arabia is a crappy friend of the US.  Maybe the Trumps love the Saudis for their entangled financial ties, but Saudi Arabia has benefited far more from American help than vice versa.  This, of course, is ironic, given Trump's criticism of NATO allies, as they have bled for the US.  Have the Saudis?  No, but the US has bled for them.  And because of them.  Oh, and another contrast: the US is not obligated to defend Saudi Arabia.  There is no mutual defense treaty between the US and Saudi Arabia.  The US has acted in Saudi Arabia's defense, most notably in 1990 when Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia, but I can't find anything but an agreement to sell arms. 
  4. John Bolton was not the only guy in the Trump Administration who sought a war with Iran.  Pompeo is still around, and I am sure there are others.
While there must be work done to determine what happened and who is responsible, and Iran should face significant punishment by the international community, the US does not really need a war right now.  And Iran has plenty of ways to escalate in the region to make things hurt.  I am not sure a pinprick strike against Iran will not escalate. 

People have been wondering how the Trump Administration will do once it faces a real crisis, one that it didn't make.  Well, this is one that they only partly made, so, yeah, we are there now.  And I am very, very worried.  There are not too many good policy options, and I have confidence that Trump will pick a bad one AND will not do the necessary work to get allies and other countries to support the US course of action. 

I wish we could expect cooler heads to prevail, but none of those are in government these days.  So, what next?  Damned if I know.  Maybe the paper tiger will roar and then not bite, maybe Trump will overreact?  Maybe the Saudis will push for caution?  The key is the White House is dominated by the uncertainty engine in chief so no reason to be certain about any of this.  


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

9/11 After 18 Years

Yes, after this date, we can have US soldiers fighting in Afghanistan who were born after the date that triggered that mission.  For me, this particular anniversary is notable for being the first time I am teaching undergrads who have no memory of that day.  This year is the first time in eight years I am teaching undergrads, so I have gone from those whose first major IR memory was 9/11 to those who cannot have a memory of that day. 

I am not sure how that is going to change how I teach today.  I do know that the general sentiments in my previous 9/11 posts are particularly intensified, as I am angry and sad that whatever unity that could have been gained from the common experience of that day has been wasted.  More than that, we have kids in cages, we have Puerto Rico never getting the assistance it should have been, we have alienated allies who bled for the US in Afghanistan, and so on. 

9/11 will always be a pivot point in US history, where things could have gone in a number of directions.  Same is true for the 2016 election.  It didn't have to be this way.  But it is, and it is so very, very frustrating how much effort has been wasted, how many unforced errors have been committed, how much unnecessary pain is being inflicted. 

As I do need to teach today, I will leave it there for now.  For those who lost people on that day or in the responses to it, I am so very sorry. 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Ranking Movies? Sure. People? Not So Sure

Sunday mornings are for tenure reviews.  Huh?  I am reading stuff to evaluate a scholar for whether he/she is worthy of tenure.  This is a standard part of the tenure process--to have outside scholars read a bunch of a candidate's work and then indicate whether they have made a significant contribution and whether they are likely to continue to do so.  As I have written elsewhere, this is a fair amount of work, almost always unpaid.  So, I have gotten a bit cranky when I do it these days.

What makes me really cranky?  Being asked to compare a tenure/promotion candidate to the top scholars in the field.  I don't even like comparing people to others who are at the same point in their career.  Why?  Because in my mind, tenure is not about whether you are the most cited person (probably what administrators think of as "best"), but whether one has made a contribution and whether one is likely to continue to do so.  When I consider a tenure candidate, my basic question is whether they have done enough interesting, well-executed research and whether they are likely to continue to do so.  That latter part is mostly a guess based on whether the person's research has moved beyond the dissertation--if they keep asking new questions and managing to publish their answers to such stuff, that suggests a good trajectory.

Asking folks to be ranked is problematic unless I have very good knowledge of the support they receive.  Person x may have five more publications, but they may also have a much lower teaching load, free research assistants, and ample funding compared to person y.  How does one rank different scholars if one does not know how much support they have received from their schools?  It would seem to be unfair to penalize with lower rankings those who got a lot of good work done despite limited resources if there are other folks who got as much or more work but with far more resources. Given that there are all kinds of problems that breed path dependencies that lead to people getting less support (discrimination due to race, gender, first generation-ness, etc), it would also seem that ranking, rather than focusing on contribution to knowledge, would be replicating or intensifying the legacies of the past.

I decided to include this text in letters I write from now on:
I got have gotten much support on twitter for this stance, and folks have asked if they could borrow this text.  Of course, because if we all agree not to rank candidates, then the universities that ask for it will have to drop their focus on that question.  I understand this is a collective action problem, and, as the text above indicates, I am worried that by not following the instructions given to me by some of the folks wanting letters, I might be hurting the candidate.  Hence, I am explicit about it and want more company.

It would be a minor revolution, but it would also perhaps reduce that whole "comparison is the thief of joy" envy/jealousy/competition dynamic and return our business back to where it should be--fostering better understanding.  And, yes, sometimes I get idealistic.  Perhaps I get more idealistic when it makes it easier for me to dodge work, as ranking candidates is not only unpleasant but requires more research.


Afghanistan Shenanigans

There is always temptation to mock Donald Trump, so let's try to put into perspective this whole "hey, let's bring the Taliban to Camp David* a few days before 9/11 anniversary to make the Deal of the Century; oops, let's not!" thing.

First, some basics:
  • No, the Taliban didn't organize the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and target #3 which became a hole in Pennsylvania farmland.  Nope, that was Al Qaeda, which the Taliban government of the time permitted to run around their country, organizing terrorist campaigns against the West.  
  • It is ok to negotiate with the opponents in a civil war (Afghanistan has long had a civil war, so folks who say that one will start anytime soon are missing the cold, hard reality) as civil wars end either by one side defeating the other or by negotiation.  Victory by the Afghan government and the NATO folks was never very likely, and we all gave up on that with the withdrawals in and around 2014.  A bargain would potentially stave off the defeat of the Afghan government, as its troops and its civilians are facing a very high price every day to continue the war.
  • But the war continues in part because of international support and in part because folks remember how the Taliban ruled before.
  • Which makes any deal pretty difficult to arrange, since there is no trust for the Taliban.  Again, this is mostly normal--that it is hard to negotiate these days and they usually need some kind of third party guarantor to punish those who cheat.  Who would that be in this case?
  • Didn't Jimmy Carter bring the Israelis and the Egyptians to Camp David to negotiate an agreement which stands to this day, despite assassinations, coups, and other political unrest in Egypt?  Yeah.  But Trump ain't Jimmy, and it is not clear there would be a Sadat in the room.
  • Sometimes, violence continues while the bargaining goes on.  I can't recall situations where the violence escalates in the final stages, but it might make sense from a Taliban perspective to get Trump to sign any deal.  Given that Trump often indicates he will take any deal, just to get a deal (see negotiations with North Korea, ultimately the revision of NAFTA fits in this category as well), the Taliban may have pushed a bit too hard.  But that is what happens when one develops a reputation for being a paper tiger.

Ok, with that out of the way, how do we make sense of the tweet about cancelling the meeting of Taliban officials, the President of Afghanistan, and Trump at Camp David?  The stories in the past few weeks focused mostly on the phased withdrawal of American (and maybe NATO?) troops from Afghanistan in exchange for ..... um .... Not clear.  There was definitely a sense of a "decent interval" which refers to the way the US got out of Vietnam--by Kissinger making a deal that doomed South Vietnam, but would have a bit of time--a decent interval--between departure of the US and collapse of South Vietnam.  The pics from the fall of Saigon make that interval look not so decent AND the Nobel Peace Prize that Kissinger earned (and that Trump may covet) quite tainted since it was less a treaty and more a surrender.

So, excuse the Afghans who are thrilled this thing didn't happen.
 “A lot of Afghans are happy about Trump’s tweets because they may stop a bad deal with the Taliban, but they ignore the fact that there is a fundamental lack of strategy in Afghanistan that could prolong and exacerbate the bloody conflict,” tweeted Haroun Rahaimi, a law instructor at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul. “I fear for what may come next!”

They know what Kissinger did for South Vietnam, and they have long been suspicious of being sold out.  And, yes, Trump is not the most credible of negotiators or third party guarantors.  President Ashraf Ghani was not involved in the talks, so he and his supporters worried about what the deal would mean.

Again, the discussions did not seem to focus on power-sharing, on how to include the Taliban's armed forces in the Afghan military or how to demobilize them, or any of the usual topics of an effort to end a civil war.

The big problem here is not bargaining with the Taliban, but doing the work to make this happen.  That is, it requires a significant amount of expertise, discipline, and planning to figure out how to use whatever declining leverage the US has left (signaling one is leaving ASAP is not great for leverage, as Obama found out) to get a deal that at least has some pretense to guaranteeing that the side the US/NATO have been supporting is not betrayed.  All the stories about these negotiations indicate that the US "process" is a shitshow as the National Security Adviser has been left out of it (the schadenfreude about John Bolton being sidelined is offset by empathy for the Afghans), that it is run by an agent (Zalmay Khalizad) who may not be coordinating with anyone, and with Trump thinking he can go with his gut once he gets in the room with the Taliban officials.

Mostly, this tweet was about Trump's ego--that he tried to make a big deal because he thinks he can make big deals even though he didn't do any of the work to make a big deal likely and then he got upset when the Taliban continued to keep up the pressure.

I guess people have been thinking all along that things could be worse because he hasn't screwed up everything.  Maybe not, but I'd say he is working on it except that Trump doesn't work.  He is too damned lazy.




*  Camp David is on the same mountain/hill in Maryland as the summer camp I went to for all of my teens, and there is a reunion going on there this weekend that I could not attend.  I wonder how the folks who are attending are feeling about the turmoil over on the other side.



Thursday, September 5, 2019

Taking Advice from Republicans: Um, No Thanks

I am really tired of Republicans telling the Democrats how to run for office.  For an example:

First, y'all lost control of your party, stop trying to control the other one. 
Second, and, most importantly, primaries and general elections are different beasts.

20 or 10 or 5 or 2 candidates in a primary have to engage in product differentiation.  Saying one is opposed to Trump is not going to cause folks to pick one candidate over another.  Saying one is the best, most electable candidate to defeat Trump?  Sure, but they are all going to say that, and it will be hard to discern who really is more electable since the test is ... wait for it ... winning elections.  In the  winter, we will have primary elections which will serve a few purposes:
  1. The outcomes will determine who wins the right to confront Vader Trump. 
  2. The early outcomes will also suggest who is better at campaigning, who is better at running, and, maybe, provide hints of who is more electable.  
The debates and all the rest right now don't really tell us much about electability.  What they do actually do is differentiate the candidates as each tries to appeal to folks who vote in Democratic primaries (hint: Republicans don't vote in Democratic primaries except in a few strange places).  So, they are outbidding each other on the issues they think will play to their base, like medicare for all, for a green deal of some kind, etc.  That is, they think Democratic voters care about these issues (they do), and they are playing to the crowd.  Kind of like when Trump outbid all of the Republicans on how best to be a racist, but on policy issues and not just resentment (Yeah, I am smug that the Democratic base, for the most part, is not vile like a certain hunk of those who showed up in the GOP primaries).

Anyhow, the old pattern of US politics is to swing to the extremes in the primaries because only the most passionate folks show up in big numbers, and, yes, extremists are more passionate than moderates.  That is why the GOP establishment failed in 2016--they couldn't get the pro-diversity Jeb voters out (if they existed).   And then the candidates swing to the middle after that.  Although to be clear, on some of the issues that Wilson mentions--guns, abortion, health care, the middle of the American electorate is actually much, much closer to the middle of the Dems. 

BUT, yes, things are different now.  According to Rachel Bitecofer (whom I chatted with at APSA) and others who actually study elections and electoral behavior (unlike Rick Wilson), the key in 2018 was not winning GOP moderates but the Dems turned out.  The GOP turned out, too, but there are more Dems than GOP so the Dems just have to turn out to win.  And they will turn out because Trump is so very awful.

The Democratic nominee will spend the summer and fall of 2020 discussing how awful Trump is to turn out the Dems and the Dem-leaning independents (the GOP-leaners will go back to the GOP because that is what they do)  Hillary for all of her policy videos also did a pretty good job of documenting how awful Trump was, but the Dems were complacent, thinking that Trump might not be so bad.  He is now proven to be so bad.

I am not saying the Dems will win (Bitecofer is) as I am not sure the supporters of the losing Democratic candidates will support the nominee.  That, for me, is the key variable. 

All I am saying is that the Dems don't need advice from Republicans on how to attract Democratic voters next year OR how to win the primaries.  Disaffected Republicans are not going to swing in a bit way to the Dems.  We just need them to stay home.  Rick Wilson and his ilk can keep talking about what the Dems should do, and that is their right.  But we don't have to listen.  Instead, listen to Bitecofer. 




Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Mattis Redux: Former SecDef Forever

I criticized the choice of Mattis ever since it was broached in 2016.  I found it very problematic to have a very recently retired 4 star officer, especially a Marine, serve as SecDef.  As I go around the world, asking folks about their civilian-military relations, I always find it problematic when the Ministry of Defense is occupied by former/active military officers.  Why?  Because civilian control of the military requires ... civilians to control the military.

Recently retired officers are far less likely to see their job as overseeing the armed forces and more likely to see their jobs as protecting the military from civilian interference.  When Congress initially created the position, they required a ten year gap, which got reduced to seven, but let it all get waived if Congress felt like it.  And, alas, they felt like it.

Folks might say that Mattis did a good job while he was in office.  And I simply don't know if he did.  What proof do we have?  Trump's defense policy was awful before and since.  People forget that Trump was risking war with North Korea in the spring of 2018, and this stopped not due to Mattis's interference but because Trump decided he could make a great deal (kind of like today's news where Trump takes credit for a deal the Taliban says does not exist).  Folks could point to the continued investment in defending Europe, and that might be a Mattis initiative that avoided Trump's radar screen, but I really don't know if he should get credit.

I do know that Mattis was by Trump's shoulder when he signed the Muslim ban while visiting the Pentagon.  I do know that Mattis went along with various policies aimed at kicking transgender folks out of the military, that turned away interpreters who risked their lives in American wars, and so on.

I think there was a whole lot of wishful thinking going on--that people were hoping that Trump's worst instincts were being blocked by Mattis.

And that is kind of awful.  Because people were hoping a military man was defying the President or manipulating the President.  That is horrible from the standpoint of civilian control of the military and from the standpoint of good civil-military relations.  This erodes norms and encourages resistance and defiance and disobedience.  I am not worried about coups, but I am worried about the military following orders.  They don't always obey in the best of times (yes, sorry, but principal-agent problems are a thing).

Who has been making defense policy for the past three years?  The Joint Staff, as Mattis found more common cause with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (and Marine) Joseph Dunford.  As someone who worked for a year on the Joint Staff, I have lots of respect for those folks, but I don't think they should be in charge.  I now have to re-think how I felt about the Joint Staff making policy during Rumsfeld's first year or two....

About the Marine thing, I tend to have a sore spot there.  Why?  Because their desperate desire for autonomy and keeping their units together meant that they subverted the President's intent and disrupted the efforts to develop unity of command in Afghanistan--better to be on their own in Helmand than working with others in Kandahar despite the latter being far more relevant for population-centric counter-insurgency.

Anyhow, what irks me know is that Mattis wants to have it both ways: to be a retired general who is apolitical but to do book tours to promote his book.  Would he be getting so much press coverage for his book about his life as a Marine (it does not cover his time as SecDef)?  I don't think so.

Mattis's first mistake was not taking off his uniform when he became SecDef (I mean in terms of his own views/identity/etc).
Matti's second mistake is thinking he can take off the coat of SecDef that cloaked his uniform now.  It is tainted and tattered, but it is on him for life.  I will never refer to him as Gen (ret.) Mattis--he will always be former SecDef Mattis.

PS I didn't even mention his time shilling for Theranos. 



Sunday, September 1, 2019

APSA 2019: Annoyingly Happy

A friend called me annoyingly happy at this year's American Political Science Association meeting, and I have to admit she is right.  I realized shortly before the conference that I have been off the job market for eight years, the longest span of my career by a good bit.  That is both cause and effect: effect because being happy means not going on the market and cause because being on the market is a source of misery.  APSA used to come through DC every other year when I got started, so this place is full of memories of me being anxious about getting a tenure track job.  This time, I was far more relaxed--I mean, what are the odds of another fire?  So, what happened at this year's APSA?

I handed out CDSN swag and got to talk about what we have done so far--hiring great stuff, starting the podcast, and preparing for the next seven years of interesting and hopefully relevant research.









I asked folks who do civil-military relations to meet up in the conference hotel bar, and we got a very good crowd.  There are a lot of younger scholars doing excellent work, so it was fun to spend some time with them and learn what they are doing and corrupt a minor:


I have been so busy getting the CDSN started and traveling this summer that I forgot that I was the chair and organizer of the panel---Some Assembly Required.  I found the other work on this panel super-interesting:
  • Jessica Blankshain presented a paper she is working on with Derek Reveron (both of CDSN partner US Naval War College) that considered who testifies before the House Armed Services Committee, seeking to identify trends. As the Dave/Phil/Steve project focuses on such committees, it was especially interesting to learn about a dimension that we had not been studying
  • Carla Martinez Machain (Kansas State) presented a paper on US military training programs, testing whether those who the US trained elsewhere committed more or less human rights violations.  I had some deja vu since vetting trainees due to Congressional legislation was something we did in the Balkans branch of the Joint Staff.
  • Michael Colaresi (Pittsburgh) presented a really cool paper basically looking at the info we have on rendition flights to determine which countries might have more oversight and more info about secret programs--the intuition is that the CIA would take less direct routes to avoid countries that have more oversight.  Super graphics and super interesting.  
I followed my recent pattern of going to few panels and meeting more people who I have met via twitter.  These conversations were most interesting.  One of them involved organizers of Out in National Security, an organization seeking to provide support to LGBTQ in the US national security community.   As one of the goals of the CDSN is to facilitate a more diverse and inclusive community of defence and security experts, I was seeking advice on how to help underrepresented folks.

And, yes, I hung out with old friends.  While I was most stressed long ago, trying to get my first job and then moving on from there, I have few regrets since I made lifelong friendships with fantastic people:

My last full day at APSA included meeting with my very first PhD student who is now recovering from his term as department chair and then meeting with my dissertation adviser--Miles Kahler--unbreakable vows and all that.  We met at the Phillips Collection, an art museum I have never visited before.  They had an amazing exhibit on immigration-related art.

It was very moving.  And it reminded me that the stuff we study has real human costs.  While I don't study ethnic conflict anymore, I will always apply the stuff I learned to contemporary events.

The only things left to do are to meet up with my sister-in-law and then fly home to start a new semester.  It was a great summer of travel and networking and organizing and podcasting.  Time to do that teaching thing:




Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Curiosity Drives the Agenda So Expertise Wanes

I had to do something this week that I would not have expected long ago.  I told the editors of Ethnopolitics that I could not serve on the editorial board any longer.  Why?  Because I haven't done serious research on ethnic politics in quite some time.  My curiosity shifted.  It took a while to make that shift (the irredentism book that was the research project in the fellowship application came out in 2008).  Why did I shift?  At what cost?  At what benefit?

I got into this career both because of a dramatic lack of imagination (I had no idea what else to do--firefighter, astronaunt, cop?)  and because I am deeply curious.  To a fault.  The joy of the academic career is that one can pursue their curiosity as far as it can go.  For me, I fell into the international relations of ethnic conflict by accident.  I was thinking about sovereignty which led to secession which lead to ethnic politics.  So, I asked how ethnic politics shapes the international relations of secessionist conflict.

This project bred new questions--what causes separatism, is it contagious, can institutions ameliorate ethnic conflict, and, when will countries engage in irredentism (seeking to regain supposedly lost territories... and, no, Greenland does not count).  I mostly satisfied my curiosity in each area.  The institutions stuff met a premature end thanks to criticism of the dataset upon which I had depended.  Others entered the fray with different data and more skills, so I mostly moved on (there is still a co-authored paper in progress).

I had another ethnic conflict project--on diasporas.  What causes some diasporas to be more mobilized and even more extreme than others.  What happened to that project?  Well, first, I learned that I really am not very good at training people to code data, so the dataset was not that productive.  Second:
 
While I was doing the irredentism project, I spent a year in the Pentagon, which produced a big question about NATO which evolved into many questions about civil-military relations.  The NATO/civ-mil stuff was so very interesting that I focused on it at the expense of the diaspora project.  I can't say I have too many regrets because the NATO and civ-mil stuff has been great for me.  It has led to new partnerships (including a certain big one), a really great project with a great friend from grad school that led to a, if I say so myself, cool book, a spinoff book, lots of travel to fascinating places with usually very good food.

I am now involved in the successor project--comparing the role of legislatures around the world in overseeing their armed forces.  More interesting arguments, more great travel, much more excellent food.  It has led to surprising findings and intellectual challenges.

The project after this one?  We shall see.  I have some ideas, including one with a former grad student, about bureaucratic politics and good or bad decision-making.  I am pretty sure I will stick closer to the civ-mil stuff than return to the ethnic conflict stuff.

Bridging both areas has led to some fruitful exchanges and thoughts, but I am really, really far behind in what is being done these days in the IR of ethnic conflict.  Which means I am a crappy reviewer for most work in this area.  Hence my departure from Ethnopolitics.  I am sure journals will still ask me to review that kind of stuff, but I think the only responsible position now is to say no.  I can't really assess whether an argument in that area is original or making a contribution since I have lost track of the literature.  I may not be that much better read in civ-mil stuff, but that is the stuff that I am teaching, reading, and writing.

There are costs.  I think I could have been more productive if I stayed in the same lane.  I would not have had to read new literatures--just keep up with the stuff in the one area.

But the benefit is this: I love what I am doing now.  I still have ample curiosity about the stuff I am studying these days.  I am sure my enthusiasm for this stuff is obvious in the classroom, which makes for better teaching.  And, no, it is not about the travel, but about the conversations that make me see connections, that make me see the world a bit differently.  I am not rigidly committed to my initial hypotheses, although it always does come back to institutions (thanks to UCSD).

It turns out I picked the right career.  I tend to suck at things that don't interest me, and I do pretty well when I am interested.  This career allows me to follow my interests.  There was no grand plan except to study what I want how I want.  I didn't have control over the where, but that worked out well, too.  I know I am lucky.

As I finish packing for yet another APSA conference, I am looking forward to hanging out with the cool kids of civ-mil. I still hang with the ethnic conflict crowd, but a new area of research means meeting new people, and, as shy as I am (my wife is probably laughing downstairs), I do like meeting new people and learning more about the world from folks who share my enthusiasm.  Hence, my effort to plan a meetup at this conference.

I hope all the APSA-goers have easy trips and less fire (see DC APSA 2014).  See you soon.





Can International Organizations Be Funny?

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are developing a tv show for CBS focusing on the behind the scenes people at the United Nations.  The folks involved are quite funny, including the Sklar brothers (who had a great apperance on GLOW), Jay Chandrasekhar (Super Troopers and other stuff) and so on.  But I can't help but wonder a couple of things:
a) is there much comedy in the daily grind at the UN?
b) if one is going to make a comedy about an international organization, is this the right one?

Sure, banging shoes on podiums was good for a laugh way back in the day during the Cold War, but I am trying to think of what might be funny among the lower ranks.  Interpretation/translation errors can be a recurring theme, of course.  Making fun of the latest underqualified American Ambassador might provide some comic fodder.  But debates about arcane rules, failures to get consensus, talk about Article VI and VII, and such don't sing of comedic potential.  Maybe my friends who study the UN can help share what would be so funny about the institution.  To be sure, this has been done in movie form (thanks to Sara Mitchell for reminding me): No Man's Land.  Which is kind of funny--UN peacekeeping in Yugoslavia for some laughs.

What other candidates would there be?
  • NATO?  Well, War Machine was partly a NATO movie, and it was not that funny, despite my efforts to give the producer some material
  • The International Monetary Fund or the World Bank? Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
  • The World Health Organization has much potential: M*A*S*H meets Office Space meets ebola!  It sings of comedic chaos as the WHO agents run around the world dealing with all kinds of strange diseases and varying levels of corruption and incompetent governments.  
  • The International Telecommunications Union?  I just mention it here because it is the oldest AND I had to do research on its earliest forms when I was a first year grad student research assistant.
  • The Warsaw Pact?  It could be the IO equivalent of Hogan's Heroes--looking back at something fairly tragic and finding comedy in it?  So easy to think of the bumbling Communists of Eastern Europe making mistakes and trying to hide them from the visiting Soviet commissars.  
  • International Civil Aviation Office?  The usual effort to save money by producing in Canada would not diminish the realism since the ICAO is in Montreal.  All kinds of hijinks can ensue between an organization which has promoted English as the language of air travel in a province that can be a bit dogmatic about French first plus having to deal with the new regulations of the post 9/11 environment could provide humor?
  • The International Criminal Court?  Nah, that might be good for a dramedy but not for a Seth Rogen comedy.  I mean, did anyone see The Interview?  Genocide is only funny twenty years later (see Hogan's Heroes) and not even then.  This show's recurring theme would be "Too soon?"
  • The European Union?  Sure, Monty Python could probably have lots of fun with heaps of bureaucracy, and the various strange coalitions in the European parliament could provide for some sitcom fun.  But how many jokes can one make about standardized toasters?  Oh, but we now have that Brexit plotline that will be the gift that keeps on giving.
If I had to choose, I'd pick either the WHO or the EU.  What would you choose as the basis of an IO sitcom?