Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pipelines and Narrow-Minded Thinking

Some Canadians have gotten upset about Obama not embracing the Keystone XL pipelines.  Some even see it as a defining issue in US-Canadian relations.  Michael Den Tandt suggests that the love affair between Canada and Obama is off:
But our love is unrequited. It always has been. And the indefinite shelving of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline linking Alberta’s oil sands with the Texas Gulf Coast, once considered a sure thing and now on life support thanks to Obama, is the incontrovertible evidence.
I guess one gets overwrought when one's heart is broken, but this is all kinds of silly.  I am shocked, shocked to find that Obama might just care about domestic politics more than Canadian jobs.  Has Obama deliberately dithered because different parts of his constituency disagree about the pipeline?  Perhaps.  Does this say anything about his love of Canada and all things maple-flavored?  Not really. 

Energy politics are complex at all times, much more so as climate change is harder and harder to deny.  Now that the courts have made this more complex still with land rights being tossed into the blender of complexities.  Obama cannot wave a magic wand and get the courts to rule the way he might want (if he had a clear preference). 

"It is a display of shallowness, cowardice and economic incompetence on a grand scale," says Den Tandt.  Wow.  I am calling this the overreach of the year until  probably tomorrow.  The pipeline is really, really important to the oil industry and to environmentalists.  To everyone else, it is probably not on their top ten list for why they love/hate/like/dislike/ignore/whatever the President of the U.S. 

Could he have managed this issue better?  Maybe.  But delays to beyond the next mid-term election might just be good politics.  What is good politics is often frustrating.  For instance, I am frustrated that the Harper government's insistence on a balanced budget in 2015, due to an artificially created sense of crisis, is causing all kinds of damage.  But I understand why he is doing it, and I don't think Americans love him any more or less as a result. 

Oh, and if President Obama was making decisions based on earning Canadian love, we would be questioning his motivations.  But if that was his goal, he would deny Sidney Crosby residency in the US, forcing him to play for a Canadian team (maybe even kick a few hockey teams out of the US and send them back to Canada as well). 

Coding Crises in US Civil-Military Relations

Tom Ricks argued recently that there is a fundamental problem in American civil-military relations: “we need presidents willing to listen and learn from dissenting generals -- and generals who know how to dissent in strategic discussions, and are willing to do so.”  Folks on twitter pushed back, arguing that the biggest problem is the perception of veterans as powder kegs, likely simply to explode in rage or become white supremacists.  My friends on twitter were outraged by a NYT column that drew some shaky connections between veterans and white supremacists.  While I don’t entirely agree with Ricks, I think he is closer to the real crisis than my twitter friends.

Why?  Because I care about foreign policy and outcomes in the field.  The frustration with the NYT column is important, to be sure, and we need to be careful about overreacting and under-reacting to the challenges of reintegrating those who engaged in combat (as well as those who served in other capacities) back into civilian life.  Part of the problem here is that we often get confused about what we mean by civil-military relations.  While the general issue of how do the civilians in a society relate to the military can be important, scholars and analysts of defense issues are more concerned with how civilians in government manage the military. 

Government officials have to manage all kinds of government agencies, but traditionally the armed forces are the most critical because they are the most misunderstood and because they happen to have the ability to remove the government.  In advanced democracies, we don’t worry much about coups d’etat.  Indeed, it is a defining characteristic of stable democracy.  Still, managing the military is important and difficult because bad military performance can be catastrophic.  Just as the French in 1940. 

The challenge is that militaries consider themselves experts at the use of force and everyone else as amateurs.  This may be mostly true (less true than it used to be with the development of civilian expertise).   However, because war is politics by other means, to rely on a classic quote by Clausewitz, the decisions made during wars have great political significance.  Which leads to another maxim: war is too important to be left to the generals.  The traditional division of labor of the civilians deciding when to fight and with whom and the military deciding how simply does not work that well in practice.  This can lead to all kinds of tensions between the civilians and military officers, and that is actually quite normal.  The question is how to handle the tensions, which leads us back to Ricks and what he misses.

The job of handling the military in the U.S. does not really belong to the President but to the Secretary of Defence.  Sure, the President chooses the SecDef and is the ultimate commander in chief, but the SecDef is the key conduit between the President and the military.  I worked in Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon for a year, and I am now reading Robert Gates’s memoir so I have some opinions about recent SecDef performance.

In short, Rumsfeld was a disaster for American civil-military relations.  He did not listen to his officers much at all, and was not at all willing to “listen and learn from dissenting generals.”  So, the U.S. went to war without a plan for how to deal with success (the missing Phase IV after the fall of Baghdad), the U.S. fired the Iraqi army which was counter to pretty much everything we know about post-war politics, and so on.  Most famously, he got upset at General Shinseki, Army Chief of Staff when he respond honestly to questions in front of a Congressional committee about how big of a force would it take to manage a post-invasion Iraq.  Rummy’s time could clearly be viewed as an on-going crisis in American civil-military relations, and it greatly affected outcomes.

Gates was far more willing to take seriously the feedback he received from American generals.  He reports in the memoir that he consulted the officers and noticed when there were dissenting opinions.  Still, he complains in his memoir of the times that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen would say things in front of Congress that were not in concordance with the messages preferred by the administration.  The difference here is that Gates did not punish Mullen (Rumsfeld essentially sent Shinseki to the doghouse for the rest of his term), although he did admonish him. 

To be honest, I am still trying to figure out Gates.   I think he made a huge mistake: when the Afghan surge happened, he let the Marines up-end much of what had been accomplished to improve unity of command.  They chose to report directly to Central Command rather than ISAF headquarters.  He also let the Marines deploy to the wrong place—Helmand—which was counter to the President’s decision to engage in population-centric counter-insurgency, and the population really was in Kandahar, not Helmand.  So, Gates lets the military do a bit too much, compared to Rumsfeld’s micro-management.

So, to return to Ricks, Secretaries of Defense vary in how they manage the generals under them.  Rummy was obviously at one end of the spectrum of imposing too much.  Gates was perhaps a bit too far the other way.  There is no right way to do it—the armed forces tend to know best how to do what they do but what they do is deeply political with huge implications.  So, Ricks’s advice is right but partially mis-targeted.  The military needs to give its unvarnished views to the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Defense must listen and then make up his or her own mind.

One last thing: in the American case, there is another actor involved—Congress.  The Armed Services Committees of the House and Senate have an important role to play via oversight.  Which means that generals have to speak truth to that power when asked, even when it is inconvenient for the President and the Secretary of Defense.  Of course, Congressional oversight works best when those on the committee are not just engaged in partisan feuding.  In the not so distant past, Democratic Senators and Representations would hold generals feet to the fire even if the President was a Democrat, and Republicans would do the same even when the President was a Republican.  These days?  Not so much.  And that might just be a real crisis in U.S. civil-military relations. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Professional Ultimate!

Play of the day for the first game played by the Montreal team in the new professional ultimate league:

The Montreal Royals!  I have played with and against a few of these folks.  I have also played on this field--the McGill field also used by the Montreal Alouettes.  I am so pleased to see the full stands.  I don't know if Professional Ultimate is going to make it, but it is a fun, fun sport to watch.  Almost as much fun as it is to play.  And the highlights to hold up for television.  I wonder when it will end up on TV broadcasts.....

Anyhow, welcome to the new professional league of ultimate!  Woot!

P.S.  Yes, I have caught disks an inch or two above the ground on many occasions, but I don't have the speed to chance down a huck this far past me unless it floats and floats.

Resiliency FTW

I am chock full of cheer today, as I see pics tweet by on my twitter feed and on my facebook page of folks participating in the Boston Marathon.  The efforts by two terrorists to sow fear have apparently failed.  Yes, they caused grievous harm, including killing three people and injuring far more.  But if they are/were self-styled terrorists, their goal was to more than maim and kill but to create a reaction, to create fear.

Instead, what we see today, albeit with amped up security presence, are people embracing the special day in Boston and celebrating their ability to run, to ride, to walk, to observe the event.  The usual mantra is "we have to do x or the terrorists will win."  Well, here, we see the terrorists losing.  Why?  Because Bostonians and Americans more generally are resilient.  More than folks have generally thought.  This is important because anti-/counter-terrorism efforts can never been 100% as much as we would like.  Stuff is going to happen.  That we can overcome it and move on is key.

Today, we are getting a very visible illustration of this resiliency that is so important.  So, we should not only enjoy the reality that the Tsarnaevs failed (yes, we can call them losers), but also take much pride in knowing that such nihilists can be overcome by people just enjoying what they do.
From RunnersWorld.com

Being Realistic about Realists

George Kennan stands out in the intellectual history of American foreign policy and a tremendous influence on IR scholarship.  He helped set the terms of the cold war via his recommendation of containment of the Soviet Union.  As a practitioner of Realism, he set a particular model for those who followed--that dispassionate weighing of interests should be the focus, not ideology.

Yet it turns out that he was just a wee bit misanthropic if you believe what was written about him ... by himself.  Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-semitic.  Actually, it looks like he had contempt for everyone, but labels existed for certain folks.

This was known before to some degree, but proven quite decisively with Kennan's diaries now being published.  I cannot be the only one who read some of Kennan's stuff while in college, and pondered whether I could follow his path.  So glad I have not, for a variety of reasons.

The question then becomes: are all Realists who advocate for dispassionate analyses of International Relations misanthropes? Is it inherent in Realism as an outlook?  Certainly, some make it appear to be the case (what is the blog equivalent of a sub-tweet?).  Yet those who encountered Ken Waltz, the scholar that shaped academic Realism as much or more than Kennan shaped the policy world's version, would say no.  Waltz may have had his fights with his colleagues, but he sure seemed like a nice person to most of the folks who interacted with him.  Critical?  Sure.  Stubborn?  Of course.  But misanthropic?  Not so much. [Oh, and see here for a previous Spew on Realism]

Of course, I could say that I have some friends who are realists and they don't seem so bad....  And, yes, I have some Realist streaks in my thinking--that power matters in shaping outcomes.  I just don't think it matters as much in shaping interests. 

Kennan was exceptional in many ways.  A self-identified Cassandra, who uttered many warnings that others did not hear.  Ok, that is not so exceptional.  But the average Realist these days is not the misanthrope that Kennan actually was.  That makes him an exception.  Not all Realists have hearts of gold, of course.  They vary as much as countries in the world, even as they ascribe to these various countries some kind of homogeneity.  I refuse to do the same to Realists--they are many different kinds.  And that is a good thing.

Pondering Two Decades

When I noticed the recent spate of tv shows and movies set in the 1980's and 1990's, I thought that was kind of quick.  Then I realized the early 90's are twenty years ago.  When I was a kid, the hottest show on TV was Happy Days, which was about the 1950's, and I was a kid in the .... 1970s.  So, yeah, I am old.

But the sudden realization that the 1990's are now twenty years ago is a bit of a shock.  Sure, my students will soon be younger than my PhD (would be already if I taught undergrads these days) and younger than my career.  With my daughter headed off to college next fall, my students will soon be younger than her. 

So, what does this mean?  That Heathers is a long time ago, certainly.  That we are nearing the 20th anniversary of Independence Day, which means the re-boot or sequel is around the corner.  That I cannot complain about new shows being set in the 1990s.  That I cannot complain about 1990s music being folded into classic rock.  Yes, I am quickly turning into a cranky old man. 

Of course, the old wisdom still holds: aging is better than the alternative.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Rummy on Taxes

Rumsfeld complained about the complexity of his taxes.  Oy, the unintentional comedy.  Well, here is some intentional comedy at his expense:

courtesy of the NYT and Michael Kupperman and David Rees.

And, of course I am hosting a Rum and Rummy party soon so that friends can watch the Errol Morris documentary where Rummy demonstrates an absence of a learning curve.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Least and the Most Canada Can Do

Canada is joining its NATO partners in sending six CF-18s to Eastern Europe (some uncertainty on exactly where despite references to a specific base in Poland) and 20 CF personnel to help staff NATO headquarters.  This is both ordinary and remarkable. 

It is ordinary in the sense that Canada has signed onto every NATO mission as far as I can tell from defending West Europe from the Soviet Union to deploying into Bosnia to dropping bombs on Kosovo to participating in various missions in Afghanistan to dropping bombs on Libya to now defending Eastern Europe from Russia.  That is pretty consistent.  Six CF-18s are also the standard Canadian package for doing NATO reassurance.  Up to now, this package has been delivered, as it where, to Iceland, as Canada has taken a few turns in the NATO mission of flying fighter planes over that otherwise defence-less NATO member.  In a sense, what Canada is doing now is the same thing it has done before but much further to the east. 

However, the deployment is also remarkable in that this mission is clearly aimed at sending a bunch of signals.  It is meant to be part of a NATO effort to remind Russia that countries that are members of NATO are untouchable.  As an alliance, there is no commitment to defend Ukraine, but there is a very strong commitment to defend Poland, the Baltic Republics, and the rest from the old and new threat to the east.  It is meant as the name of this effort, a reassurance package, to signal to these eastern members that there is a big line between them and Ukraine—and that they are on the safer, guaranteed side of that line.  Sending these planes is also a signal back to Canada, to the voters that Stephen Harper and John Baird seem to have been playing towards—the Ukrainian-Canadians.  These planes really can do nothing to help Ukraine, but given the rhetoric of the past few weeks, this was the least the Harper government could do.

This package of planes and a small staff also makes sense when thinking about the biggest priority for this government—minimizing expenses.  This government cares most about balancing the budget to meet its 2015 election commitment, so a larger intervention is very unlikely.  Sending a battalion for months on end would add up.  The planes and small staff will cost some dollars, but doing more would cost more. 

The deployment is also remarkable in another way—that this represents a reversal of sorts for Harper.  Canada has pulled out of a few collective efforts at NATO—to run the AWACS plans, to develop and run drones—and has been seen by some Europeans as almost hostile to the alliance.  Embracing NATO now makes sense given the positions staked by Harper and Baird on Ukraine, but still serves as a shift from recent behavior. 

One of the closing lines I give when I talk about the new book on NATO in Afghanistan is an adaptation of Churchill: NATO is the worst form of multilateral military cooperation except for all of the others.  Even the Harper government has realized this.  While NATO presents many difficulties including uneven burden-sharing and the likelihood of being lost in the cacophony of members with their various complaints, it is still the best organization for most security issues.  So, Canada does what it is expected to—about as much and as little as it can do.

[For my abbreviated takes on this on television, see here for CTV (starting at 7:40) and here for Global National starting at 2:16.]

Mighty Cold, Eh?

Not just in Canada but in the mashup of Frozen and Game of Thrones

H/T to Dan Drezner for directing to the slate piece.

Declaring Success Shortfall

I have talked much of declaring success lately.  My life and career have been pretty damned amazing lately.  The new job is still cool even if it is no longer new.  The new book is flying off the shelves (at least in my imagination).  I have been traveling far and wide to give talks based on the new book, meet up with old friends and meet new people, and, um, ski. 

Yet I am still in the academic business where rejection is always out there, ready to take a bite.  The only way not to get rejected is not submit stuff, not to apply for grants, etc.  And yesterday, rejection bit me hard, as my next project will have to wait for funding as I didn't get funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council this year.  The odds are lower than they once were as the agency went from a model of some money for three years for many people to more money for five years to fewer people.  The project, which seeks to understand how legislatures among the world's democracies vary in their impact on their respective militaries, is an important and interesting one.  I will eventually get some feedback so that I can revise and resubmit.  I can pursue it with less money but more slowly, and I will look for other sources of cash.  The good thing is that I can do work without heaps of funding, just not this project.  If I was in the hard sciences, a lack of funding would be semi-catastrophic.

On the bright side, I have other projects that are awaiting my attention, having been put on the shelf while finishing books 3 and 4.  So, I will keep busy while I seek funding again for book 5 (and perhaps book 6).  But it is a drag.  No doubt about it. 

I am sharing this tale of modest woe because I lack any sense of discretion.  Also, I think it is important for successful academics to show that the road is sometimes bumpy.  Rejection is inherent in the enterprise.  It still hurts, it still causes anger, resentment and jealousy.  Then I look at the success of my friends and I consider how sweet things are in my life and in my career, and I just cannot get that worked up.  Oh, and I still have that trip to Paris next week, so, yeah, grant-writing sucks, but then you fly.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Edited Volumes?

Chris Blattman got some heat for his post on advice he gave to junior faculty.  Specifically, folks got upset that he pooh-pooh-ed edited volumes.  So, he elaborated today.  I did not think that his advice was very controversial.  Indeed, I labeled it conventional wisdom but in a good way--this is what folks generally think. 

Why are edited volumes problematic? To be clear, there are two roles here: editing a volume and contributing to one.  A junior prof should be reluctant to edit one for at least two reasons--it is a huge time suck, and junior folks do not have a heap of time; and they could end up alienating senior faculty if they have to edit (reject or ask for substantial revisions) a big name who is contributing to the volume.  Contributing is a bit different, but that is what Chris was talking about.

One of his key claims is that people do not find such work as accessible.  Even in the gated community that is academia, fellow academics can usually get pdf's of articles in most journals pretty easily, but book chapters?  Not unless you want to buy the book or hope that the library has a copy.  So, it is simply less likely to be cited and less likely to be influential.  There are other problems as well--that the speed of an edited volume is very much like the speed of a naval convoy--it goes as fast as the slowest contributor/ship.  I have two contributions to edited volumes outstanding--and I have no clue about when they will appear in print.  I am ok with that because I can be ok with that.

Chris's basic calcuation is: could the time spent on a book chapter be better spent on an article that would appear in a refereed journal?  There are a couple of things that he overlooks: the networking and the feedback.  Edited volumes are usually not about sending off a piece to be joined with other stuff (it happens), but most usually part of a conference/workshop where one meets others doing work in related areas.  My first edited volume experience was terrific because it had multiple meetings (the last one in a cool location--Palm Desert) with a heap of smart people, only some of whom ended up in the edited volume.  The feedback was terrific, it inspired some new research directions that led me to interesting places, and the edited volume made a big splash.  My contribution has been well-cited, so the whole experience was very much worth.  But it was hardly typical.  I have had other good experiences but none so good as that one, not even when I was the editor.

Still, junior faculty can and perhaps should say yes to the occasional edited volume if it is attached with a workshop that would involve people one wants to meet and if the project is either not that much work or is the start of a promising direction.  But even then, the junior prof should be cautious. 

The value of a chapter in an edited volume depends on where one is working, how much the senior faculty value chapters versus articles, and how much one's subfield seems to value chapters versus articles.  Editing a volume, unless it does really, really well, does not help one's tenure chances as much as writing articles, and editing one volume takes a lot more time than writing one article.   I think Chris was right in emphasizing the time tradeoffs, but the networking/intellectual development possibilities were underplayed in his piece.

I think the answer is much clearer about book reviews, which was in the same entry for Blattman, as edited volumes--only do book reviews if you would read that book anyway.

As always, tradeoffs exist so one needs to be attuned to the opportunity costs of the various choices.