Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Message Mismanagement FTW

The government of Canada has insisted in restricting access to the soldiers and pilots operating in and over Iraq (and now over Syria).  No pictures of faces as that would provide the bad guys with people they can target at home down the road.  Well, unless one is making a campaign video for the Prime Minister.

This is not just hypocrisy but an abuse of power.  That is, the government can violate its own rules as long as it is for promoting the Prime Minister.  This is part of a larger problem that has become my obsession lately--the ability for various folks in and out of the Canadian government to know what is going on so that they can evaluate the PM, his Minister of Defence and put pressure on these folks. 

Managing the messages is good for Harper's election chances but bad for democracy and civilian control of the military.  This one incident demonstrates all of this quite clearly: the PM has a big advantage--information.  And this is perhaps the least subtle and perhaps least relevant way that this advantage is deployed. 

I will be expressing some of my frustrations with this in Lessons Learned: The Politics of Canada's War in Afghanistan, my next book, due out of U of Toronto Press either late this year or early in 2016.  And this information problem is at the heart of my new project--comparing the roles played by legislatures in civil-military relations around the world.

Monday, May 4, 2015

If I Had a Vote In Canada's Election This Year

If I had a vote In Canada's election this year,* I would vote Liberal.  Why?

Yes, I am easily pandered to, and I have no shame. 

*  My citizenship process is not going to be completed in time.

NATO Is Not Ready

I wrote this piece and it is now at OpenCanada.org.  It is more op-ed-ish than my usual posts for a reason--I was very motivated after my trip to Brussels to try to write something for a major North American newspaper.  Alas, that did not work out.  But the joy of blogging and of having a perch at CIC is that I can write what I want and get it out there to smaller but attentive audiences.  I hate the waiting for the big papers to respond, but was willing to do so this time as this issue is not so time sensitive.  We are going to be dealing with Russia for quite a while...

Anyhow, check it out and let me know what you think.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Mad Men Game: Antepenty Time

On Wisconsin!?


I am heartbroken about Baltimore.  While the problems presented over the last couple of weeks are not unique to Baltimore, I know something of this place and not just because I watched The Wire.  I spent eleven summers of my life at a camp in Maryland where the kids and counselors mostly came from DC and Baltimore suburbs.  Because one of my best friends lived in Baltimore, I visited quite often once I got my driver's license. 

So, it is with heavy heart that I post this Brian McFadden cartoon:

Again, it is not just Baltimore, just as The Wire was about the decline of American cities and not just one city. 

Confidence Building Measures At Home

So, yeah, Texas.  The governor is actually deploying the Texas State Guard to monitor military exercises as there are some folks who think this is part of a conspiracy to gain control of Texas.  Conspiracy theorists imagining Obama engaging in totalitarian measures is nothing new.  But to have a sitting governor act on such silliness?  New.

I have a simple recommendation: if the governor of Texas is suspicious of the US military, how about we move the military's bases out of Texas?  This would be an excellent confidence building measure--withdrawing forces to a distance to assure a fearful population.

Sure, this would cause many jobs to be lost as these bases are major employers, but security from imaginary threats has got to be the highest priority, right?

Update:  This tweet provides some inconvenient truths for the governor:

Where should we move Fort Hood? Oklahoma should be far enough, and those folks would not mind profiting at the expense of Texas.  On the other hand, they probably have both conspiracy theorists in abundance and craven politicians, so maybe Nebraska?  Kansas?

All I can say for certain is that I am glad that I left Texas in 2002.  I enjoyed my visit last fall to Austin, but once I left, I was never applying for jobs in that state again.  Yeesh.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Figure 4.3

Some Thoughts on Canadian Forces Sexual Misconduct Report

There is much to think about in the aftermath of the report on the challenges women encounter in the Canadian Forces.  The striking piece, of course, is the finding that there is a culture of misogyny in the CF--not because we are surprised it exists but because it so completely wipes away the denials of the past year or two.

Still, the military is resisting: that most of the report's recommendations were met with "accept in principle" which really means: "we don't want to do it, and perhaps will find a way to evade as the spotlight shifts elsewhere."  That might be a smidge unfair, but there really has been an incredible lack of leadership here.  As Stefanie Von Hlatky asked, where are the defence minister and prime minister on this?   The Prime Minister is Iraq!  Well, isn't that convenient?  The defence minister deferred to the military: "Kenney’s spokeswoman said the issue was better left to military leaders to deal with."  Yeah, because that has worked so far.

The timing was not just convenient for Harper, but for the military.  The outgoing Chief of Defence Staff Tom Lawson has handled this problem poorly, but he is going away.  The new CDS, Jon Vance, can point to this report and the problems as being something that he inherited.  Which suggests something else about timing--there was a long gap between when the decision to pick Vance was leaked and when it was announced.  Which might be due to many things, but having this report come out before he takes the job is probably very much a blessing for the new CDS.

Anyway, back to the response with the typical first Canadian instinct--don't compare us to the Americans:
“Additionally, the American and Canadian processes are not parallel or identical,” Armstrong [DND spokesperson] said. “Canada’s military has taken an independent approach to investigating sexual misconduct within its ranks and is now implementing its action plan in response. The government supports that effort.”
How about Australia instead:

"I was struck by the lack of comment from the prime minister and defence minister,” said Stefanie von Hlatky, who specializes on gender in the military at Queen’s University. “It signals that it’s not a priority, and it would feed some doubts in my mind about the government’s seriousness.”
In the days, weeks, and months ahead, we need to keep a focus on this.  How to do that?  Follow @svhlatky.

Friday, May 1, 2015

What Would You Ask A DASD?

Today, I had the chance, along with some other Canadian defence scholars, to participate in a small roundtable with a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense: Mara Karlin.*  It was covered by Chatham House Rule so I cannot say what she said nor what anyone else said. However, I can tell you what I asked her and it would be of little surprise to those who read my stuff here: the Eastern Front and the war cap.  I would have asked about other stuff, but time was finite and there were other folks who had important questions to ask and views to articulate.
* The last time I had the chance to be in the room with a DASD was, of course, during my fellowship at the Pentagon in 2001-2002 

So, question number one which was also request number one: can we do more to reassure the Baltics and deter the Russians?  Moving 24 Apache helos away from Europe at this time to save money seems to be a bad idea.  I referred to my recent trip to Europe, and how much of Europe may be eager to get back to business as usual with the Russians.  I suggested that the recent steps by France (increasing its defence budget, not selling the Mistral) were positive ones, but given what I learned in the Dave and Steve book, I doubt we shall see such movement from coalition governments (Germany).  I didn't mind the re-balancing, but really would like to see a tripwire in the Baltics staffed by permanent basing of American soldiers and pilots.

The second question was whether the DASD for Force Structure and Strategy was concerned about the US exceeding the war cap: has the US been fighting too many wars over the past 15 years at what cost for the present and future?

The ensuing discussion was very interesting and I learned a great deal.  I have now had two Chatham House roundtables with senior defence/defense officials from Canada and the US in the past couple of months.  The contrast was startling.  I cannot say what Dr. Karlin said, but she was open, engaging, was pretty willing to go off of the script.  I cannot say the same about a roundtable with a very senior Canadian military leader--which was entirely scripted and revealed very little.  It might be an organizational cultural thing, it might be just the current climate in Canada (one of fear induced by Harper message management), it might be civilians versus military.  I don't know what it is, but both sides got a lot more out of today's conversation than out of one that happened two months ago. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Strange Stuff Abounds on Twitter

Today, we got this

Perhaps I might be right of center of the folks this guy follows except it puts a monarchist to my left, which seems strange to me.  Said monarchist suggested that I am to his right due to my views on faculty unions (blech).   Hmmm.  I am also slightly higher on the insane scale but not much. 

Something to think about in this Saideways week we have been having.

Title My Next Book

The very good news is that my next book has made it past reviewers and editorial board as well as Scylla and Charybdis.  It focuses on what we can learn about how Canada does foreign policy/defence policy/intervention/war from the Afghanistan experience.  Most of the focus is on the politics in Ottawa: parliament, the Prime Minister, the media, public opinion, the tussling among the various government agencies.

The slightly bad news is that the editorial board did not like the title
When the Gloves Dropped: Understanding the Canadian Experience in Afghanistan
Apparently, they didn't like the hockey reference.  So, I am asking my readers for suggestions.  Winning suggestion gets my thanks and a free post here at the Spew.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

It Was Mine!

I got into a twitter conversation with someone who largely holds Russia blameless.  While there was much stuff we can discuss, I want to focus on one: that Crimea was Russian/Soviet until 1954, so Russia taking it back is just fine.

This is, of course, one of the seven rules of ethnic politics (see Stuart Kaufman's Modern Hatreds or this summary).  What was mine should be mine.  What was yours?  Meh.

The big problem with this argument is that we have had enough history of boundary changes that relying on past ownership clarifies nothing and legitimates everything.  While the status quo bias in international relations is over-rated, both because countries do support secession and perhaps because some boundary changes should be made, there is something to it. 

If Russia's old ownership of Crimea allows it to annex that territory, then why not India grabbing all of Pakistan, Turkey claiming not just a heap of the Mideast but also much of the Balkans, French/Spain claiming much of Western US, and on and on and on. 

Of course, the other problem with this is that Russia went further, not just taking back that which belonged to the Russian federal unit of the USSR in 1953 but also a hunk of Eastern Ukraine.  The response, of course, is that this is just a separatist movement threatened by the regime change in Kiev.  Sure.  The reality is that Russia has invaded Ukraine and is at war with it.  Saying otherwise means one has little credibility. 

While I have pooh-poohed Russian irredentism (I thought Putin would stop after Crimea), the recourse to historical claims for Russia means not just Crimea and not just Eastern Ukraine but pretty much all of the former Soviet Union.  Since three hunks of the former Soviet Union are now members of NATO--Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, letting history be one's guide to expansion is really problematic.

As I noted yesterday, Russia's moves in Crimea and Ukraine violate a key agreement and then some.  If Russia didn't want to be the bad guy in all of this, there were other ways.  The Russians could have asked the OSCE to monitor the treatment of Russians in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine in the aftermath of the regime change, and pushed for international mediation to direct Ukraine to develop a federal system with assurances for ethnic minorities.  Russia could have pushed for a real referendum (not the sham they created), which would have probably would have led to annexation.  As much as I tease the Europeans about process, the course of action taken by Russia is the problem here.  A peaceful yet assertive approach would have gotten Russia much of what it wanted. 

Instead, we have violence, threats, and nuclear threats.  So, we cannot just accept what Russia has done.  It has altered the security environment in Europe (and beyond), making it clear that Russia is not a partner.