Sunday, March 19, 2023

ISA 2023: So Much Gratitude

The ISA poster maker
was not wrong

 I am sticking around in Montreal after a wonderful ISA conference as I have a CDSN workshop on Climate Security.  So, I am hanging in my hotel room, marveling at how lucky I am.  I had a great time, meeting old friends, making new connections, giving feedback on a wonderful book, and being really grateful.  After two cancelled ISA's (Hawaii and Vegas, damn it!) and one strange, poorly attended one in Nashville last year, I was determined to hug longer and share my gratitude with all those who helped me along the way.  As it was a conference full of special events, this was not hard to do.


Lauren and me on
reconstructed McTavish       

Started by meeting up with a former undergrad who got hooked on IR in my Intro class at McGill . We walked around our old stomping grounds.  Lauren Konken and I had a great time, chatting about ye olde days and noticing what has changed at McGill.  The plywood instead of a real railing on my old office balcony?  Nope, that didn't change.

A ritual for Montreal conferences is for my former student Ora Szekely to take me to her favorite Chinese restaurant in Montreal's mini-Chinatown.  I am always thrilled to see my former students--they are mostly doing great, and they are mostly very funny people.  So, conferences are great for both silliness and pride.  I am quite thankful that I have had such great students over the years even if I whine about reading endless drafts.

I met with several editors to promote the Dave/Phil/Steve book manuscript, and they all indicated much interest. I feel good about our chances of getting our book out to a great press in the near future.

This was a year full of honorary panels honoring people I know.  Which means I am getting old.  I was asked to be on Victor Asal's panel, as the Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Migration section gave him an award for all of his work, and it was my honor to join Ora, Erin Jenne, Pat James, and some other folks (my memory sucks after a week of reduced sleep).  Victor has published an incredible amount of work in many areas with many, many co-authors.  And he is a mensch.  These panels are supposed involve some roasting, so I teased him gently while also noting his contributions and his mensch-ness.

For the first time, I attended the Presidential speech because the President for the past year has been Debbi Avant.  She was one of two senior IR grad students at UCSD when I arrived.  She was most welcoming, throwing a party for the prospective students, and then over my time there, most generous with her advice, and most supportive.  She was also a hell of a role model, starting with her doing security stuff at a time where no prof at UCSD did international security.  She was a pathbreaker in the field of civil-military relations, applying principal-agent theory to it before Peter Feaver made it cool to do so.  Since then, I have often asked her for advice, which she provided quickly and insightfully.  She threw yet another party when I visited Denver when I gave a talk on the Steve and Dave NATO book.  Most recently, she has served quite helpfully on the CDSN Advisory Board.  She gave a great, challenging talk, and was perhaps a little disappointed she didn't get as much pushback as she expected.

The other highlight was seeing my supervisor, Miles Kahler, be honored by various IPE luminaries.  The person assigned to talk about his work as an advisor could not make it, so I was happy to stand up towards the end and tell folks what a difference Miles has made in my career.  It was great to hear from these IPE leaders how Miles stood out, making me realize how I ended up emulating him--focusing on the domestic politics of IR, being at the intersection of comparative politics and IR, being a fox rather than a hedgehog (moving around, studying a bunch of stuff, rather than being focused on one big thing), and so on.  I was the first PhD student for whom he served as chair of the dissertation committee/primary supervisor (Debbi was the first one he worked with at UCSD).  So, maybe I made a dent on him too?  I am glad I got a chance to say a few words of thanks (and of snark) and share my appreciation of not just a great scholar but a terrific person.  I am far less intimidated of him now ;)

So, it was perfect that I ended my ISA by going out to dinner with Miles, his partner, and with another student of his.  It was a great dinner with a great beer, one that had a can that all admired.  "Any Time Is the Right Time."  Indeed. 

Friday, March 17, 2023

Talking to THE Civilian in Canadian Civil-Military Relations

 For the second straight year, Minister of National Defence Anita Anand joined my Civ-Mil class towards the end of the term.  That she is a former prof helps a great deal, I am guessing, in persuading her to spend roughly a half hour of her very busy time with us.  Last year, it was a bit of surprise.  This year, I knew ahead of time so I could prime my students to ask civil-military questions, not just Canada in the world questions.  And since the theme of yesterday's class was Culture Change, most of the questions focused on that. 

Once again, she spoke for a few minutes including discussing her background in corporate governance and how often she was in a boardroom that was far from diverse--that her previous work set herself up well for this moment.  She then talked about some of the achievements of the past 13-14 months: adopting the interim recommendation from Arbour about transferring sexual assault cases to the civilian courts, accepting the recommendations of both the Arbour panel and anti-discrimination panel, apologizing to those who were in the class action lawsuit, and more.  She noted that there is a lot of skepticism about culture change (I have heard much of that online and in person), so she noted how promotions of generals and admirals has changed (in my view, there is now much more civilian oversight than in the past, a very good thing), she mentioned a few programs that will be starting soon that I can't talk about at this moment, and more.  She said that she hoped to institutionalize these measures so they last for decades although this kind of contradicted some of her answers that focused on the right personalities and relationships at the top of DND/CAF. 

Anand then answered many questions.  So, what did they ask and how did Anand respond?

First, one student asked about whether the culture change effort was a short term effort or would require generational changes.  Anand indicated that there is no deadline, that it will require decades.

Second, how will the culture change fit into the defence policy update.  Here, she referred to a recent op-ed that suggested that she and DND were too woke and Marxist--she indicated that culture change is not something that gets in the way of operational effectiveness but is a necessary ingredient, something I have been yammering about as well on twitter and here.

Third, one student asked about the basic structure of Canadian civ-mil--that is a diarchy with the Deputy Minister and Chief of Defence Staff being equals.  Anand indicated that this structure works with the current team (which raised questions about what happens when the team is not good, and perhaps that structural change might protect against that some?).

Fourth, a student asked how do you keep this stuff prioritized?  The Defence Minister said that she needs to ensure every day that she, the CDS, the DM, her team, and everyone else is focused on this every day.

Fifth, one student asked about data sovereignty.  Anand responded by discussing how NORAD modernization is going to include a whole bunch of initiatives to improve the digital side of things.

Finally, our Visiting Defence Fellow, Colonel Cathy Blue, asked why Anand hasn't considered developing an Inspector General.  Anand noted that other agencies in Canada and beyond have IGs, but that her job as minister is to focus on implementing Arbour's 48 recommendations.  I found that a bit troubling as I understand that she is busy and the demands are high, but I didn't think the Arbour report was perfect and and should limit the imagination of what the Minister/DND/CAF need to be doing.   

I didn't get to ask any questions as I wanted the students to get their questions in during the short time we had with the Minister.  I will save mine for a future podcast interview or whenever we meet in person.  She did ask about my cookies, and my policy is always to deliver in person, so maybe some day we can actually meet in real life.  As always, I am super impressed with the current Minister of National Defence--I continue to think she is the right person in the right place at the right time.  She has faced greater challenges than she probably expected including a war in Europe.  We don't always see eye to eye on things, but she takes this whole civ-mil thing very seriously and very thoughtfully, and I really appreciate that.   I am very grateful that she is willing to hang with my students for a bit, as the students got a lot out of it.  I am also thankful to my students as they asked great questions.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Three Years of Madness, Has the Learning Stopped?

 Two years ago, I posted about the lessons I learned in the first year of the pandemic. Quickly two years flew by, two years of vaccinations and folks railing against the vaccines, two years of death and two years of anxiety, stress, and "are we there yet?"  Sure, I marked last year's anniversary as well, noting the anger and frustration, so I am now struggling to figure out what I have learned as people start talking "post-pandemic"as if covid is gone.

More than a few relatives have been hit by Covid twice.  The only exception to all of this is my mother, who has been entirely covid-free.  Good thing given she is now over 90.  There is significant variation among my friends and family now.  Before, they all vaxxed and they all masked and most avoided most travel.  Now?  All are still getting boosted, but the mask and travel thing is now much more of a mix.  I just came back from a big family event in that hotspot of hotspots--Florida.  I saw a fair amount of masking, but very little at the big party.  

My own approach: damned if I know.  I tend to mask up when I am shopping, going to the movies (I keep on making mine Marvel!), teaching.  But receptions? Not so much because it is hard to do that networking/conversing thing behind masks.  So, I did duck out of one massive reception in Ottawa a few weeks ago.  For me, it is about risk mitigation.  I am going to a rock concert next week--which could be a superspreader event, so I am wearing a mask.  For less risky stuff, for outdoors stuff, I don't sweat it as much.  I am guessing that the vaccines have worked most of the time I have been exposed to covid, with that one exception from last summer.  

 I have been and will keep on skiing.  It is really the best anti-covid sport--distances between people outdoors, wearing stuff on one's face--with the only risky part the travel and the apres-ski.  

 My baking has slowed down, but when the occasion calls for it, I still bake up a storm.  I will be making cookies and/or brownies for next week's ISA convention in Montreal.   I have been adding new recipes at a slower rate.  Much of my time now is on planning the big kitchen renovation, which I wish we had done before the pandemic.  

Anyhow, back to the lessons of the past year.  I think the learning curve has flattened.  Most of the lessons were in the first two years of this thing.  Some of those have deepened--that leadership or its absence matters a great deal; that most politicians are craven as they are unwilling to impose any restrictions during new waves because of resistance they experienced before; that the anti-vaxxers who scream about freedom are mostly interested in dominating others; that people really are social so the mild lockdowns North America faced did leave some scars; that elections, yes, have consequences; that as long as the deaths are not so visible, they can be tolerated by the political system; that prevention remains much harder to get folks to support than response; and so on.

The biggest lesson I mentioned before remains: that COVID reveals not just pre-existing conditions in the bodies of its victims, but it reveals the flaws in our political and social systems.  It did not have to be this way--it did not have to be so partisan, that vaccines did not have to become so politicized and become an identity thing, that provinces and states could have spent money on improving health care, but many chose not to because they were led by people who want government to fail.  

Not only did this ultimately kill and disable more people than could have been the case, but it means that we are all less likely to be prepared for the next pandemic AND that we are unlikely to have politicians take the necessary steps next time.  So, yeah, either the learning has stopped or the unlearning has begun.  Damn.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Identities and Conflict: Recurring B Mitzvah Edition

I went to Florida for a relative's Bat Mitzvah.  As I have remarked earlier here, these events make me feel uncomfy as I am not a believer.  Many of the prayers and songs are burned into my memory based on the years I had to go to the various services before I left home.  My father kept reminding me of the Jewish opportunities at college, which caused me to wonder whether he was either relentlessly optimistic or just in denial.  So, the only times I go to synagogues or temples are wedding and Bax Mitzvahs.  

This time, something else helped make me feel a part of this community, reinforcing my identity as a Jew--the obstacles in the driveway that forced me to drive left/right/left/right and prevented me or anyone from entering the parking lot quickly.  Yes, this synagogue had an entrance similar to those at military bases... which speaks to the threats facing Jews in North America.  At the last BM in the fall, there was a metal detector and some heavy security at the door of the synagogue in NY.  It used to be the case that when I walked in a strange city, I knew I was near an American embassy when I noted an increase in security barriers.  These days, seeing such stuff tells me that I am near either an embassy or a synagogue.  

The threat of violence is real. Anti-semitism, along with the other hates--misogyny, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and xenophobia--is on the rise.  At CPAC this week, the ethnic outbidding to appeal to the whitest, most "christian" folks produced much targeting of transgender people, but these folks and their pals didn't stop there.  Nick Fuentes, who got to hang with Trump not that long ago, apparently talked about all kinds of folks (or isms, which really are targeting people) that need to go.

So, identity is about us and them.  And right now these folks out there are making me feel more Jewish because a basic part of that id is the threat, realized in pogroms long ago, in the Holocaust, and now in smaller scale violence, is increasing again.  So, I don't believe in all the religious stuff, but I do believe that there are folks out there that would love to put me and my relatives into showers and ovens.  So, I feel the us because the them is getting so toxic, so scary.

This is not going to go away anytime soon especially when major political parties--Republicans in the US--worry more about alienating the Nazi wannabe's in their base than standing up for freedom.  The supposed party of freedom is very much becoming a party of tyranny.  

While I loved seeing my extended family this weekend, I can't help but notice the dark side of identity and the threat we face. 


the traditions/service remind me of who I am not


the obstacle course into the synagogue reminds me of who I am

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

False Dichotomies And Canadian Defence

It is the season of false dichotomies as the pushback against culture change in the Canadian Armed Forces has begun.  Whether it is retired cranky dinosaur generals like Michel Maisonneuve or randos on twitter, folks have been claiming that this government has been too focused on culture change in the CAF and not enough on effectiveness/readiness/etc.  This presents reforming the CAF as a distraction, turning the focus away from preparing for the next war.  While it would have been fair to accuse the Trudeau government of being inattentive to defence before 2021, it is a serious mistake to suggest that the efforts to change CAF culture and institutions are a distraction.  

Instead, reforming the CAF is absolutely necessary for a ready, resilient, recruited, retained, effective military.  The culture of entitlement and abuse of power was not simply a minor thing that can be forgotten while one prepares to fight Russia or China.  Those dynamics have made the CAF less ready, less resilient, less effective.  It has driven out a heap of talented people who want to serve their country but in a functional organization where generals and admirals prioritize getting the most out of their subordinates, not getting into their pants and not giving their buddies breaks (Mulligan man named as chief of personnel, FFS!).  The morale problem in the CAF is not because men have been punished for abusing their power and abusing their subordinates, but because those men thrived.  If one distrusts one's commanders, that is not a recipe for an effective military.  

Changing the CAF culture means promoting people who treat their subordinates decently, people who are promoted on merit rather than by an old boy's network.  It means holding everyone to higher standards.  It means not tolerating hate within the forces--to get rid of misogynists, homophobes, white supremacists and other haters--as war is a team sport, and one can't have a good team if some members have contempt for the rest.  

There has long been much talk of what shapes unit cohesion and what harms it.  Unit cohesion was cited as a reason to keep Black soldiers/sailors/aviators segregated.  It was cited to keep women out of combat positions and out of the military entirely.  It was cited to keep LGBTQ2+ out.  But the real threat to unit cohesion was not the inclusion of these people but the reactions of those who could not tolerate having different people among them.  What the CAF needs is greater inclusion.

There is a major recruitment and retention crisis, and limiting the pool of potential recruits to straight white dudes means greatly reducing the talent available to the CAF and to Canada.  Changing the culture is necessary so that more people will join the CAF.  It is certainly true that culture change might alienate white supremacists and misogynists in the force, leading to a smaller military in the short term.  And if so, so be it--that the CAF may have to get smaller before it gets larger.  But better to recruit from all of the country (except the haters) than limit to 30-40% to protect the feelings of those who can't hang with those that are different.

I do have some qualms about CAF priorities and said so during this week's defence policy update engagement session--that domestic operations should not be a lagging fourth priority--but this government's focus on developing a military that submits to civilian control, that changes its institutions and dynamics to produce a stronger, smarter, more inclusive armed forces is exactly right.

 Anyone who says that one has to choose culture change or effectiveness understands neither.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Hateful Policies Work, Bill 21 Edition

It is actually pretty basic: if you pass a law that addresses a non-problem but harms a vulnerable minority, then you have no grounds to complain when other criticize you.  So, passing Bill 21 in Quebec, an Islamophobic and anti-semitic law, that didn't address an issue where there was a real problem makes those parties supporting it Islamophobic.  What was true when the proposed law was being discussed is even more true today as we see the seeds of hate producing the predicted fruit--violence and harassment of the vulnerable minorities.  When political parties and ultimately the government target groups, they are sending signals to the public to, yes, treat such groups worse.  Quebec's parties, by supporting this law, incited violence against its Muslim and Jewish communities (and probably Sikhs as well).  Intolerant laws don't breed tolerance.

This all, of course, is a product of ethnic outbidding where the various parties tried to compete with each other to rid the public square of religious symbols ... of minority groups.  These parties have agency as do those who vote for them.  Bill 21 basically said that religious minorities could not wear signifiers of their religion while working in provincial jobs--not just law enforcement officers and judges, but doctors, nurses, bus drivers, etc.  The public sector in Quebec is quite large, in part because most health care is delivered by the province.  So, this law affected a great number of people.  

Was there a study done to show how these folks wearing religious stuff was actually harmful?  Was the law designed to cover Catholics?  Not really.  Did it single out Muslims, Jews, and Sikhs?  Of course.  "We saw severe social stigmatization of Muslim women, marginalization of Muslim women and very disturbing declines in their sense of well-being, their ability to fulfil their aspirations, sense of safety, but also hope for the future."  Some folks claiming to be feminists said that the aim was to free Muslim women from having to wear hijabs.... how do they feel now that women have faced abuse and have their security threatened?  To be fair, men supported this legislation more than women, because, hey, why not another tool to dominate women, but many women supported this as well.

To be clear, it is not just that the folks who worked in the public sector were affected by this, which is bad enough.  It is also that the province sent a signal to the public that it was ok to discriminate against these groups, and the public heard this message.  So, all Muslims, Sikhs, and Jews are worse off now than a few years ago, whether they worked in the public sector or not. 

From the Association for Canadian Studies study

And, now, of course, Quebeckers are outraged.  Their parties and their politicians hate being called out for their racism, their xenophobia, their Islamophobia, and their anti-semitism.  The ire right now is aimed at Amira Elghawaby who was named Canada's first special representative on combating Islamophobia.  Why?  Because in 2019, she co-wrote a piece criticizing this awful law.  How dare a person appointed to combat hate against Muslims previously take a stand against a hateful law?

While the law is the most awful part about this, the grandstanding by Quebec politicians who claims to be victims is also pretty terrible.  It again goes to something very basic and now ritualized: those who engage in hateful behavior (Islamophobia, racism, anti-semitism, misogyny) find it more problematic to be called hateful than to be hateful.  It is worse to be called a racist than to do racism, for example.  

While this law was passed by a populist xenophobic party, other parties were part of the outbidding process, and now they are piling on Elghawaby to prove their nationalist credentials.

I left Quebec for a variety of reasons, but the awful discourse of the place was one of them.  That a people who suffered much discrimination and harm at the ends of an often insensitive majority have turned around and used their domination of provincial power centres to treat their minorities this badly again and again because it plays well in elections.  That again speaks not just to parties of Quebec, but to Quebec media who blow these stories up, and to the public that both these parties and the media pander.  To be clear, these dynamics exist elsewhere--Bill 21 was attractive to significant hunks of the Canadian public outside of Quebec--and the provincial leadership of many provinces suck mightily.  But the nationalist outbidding aimed at proving one's worth by targeting minorities is far more severe in Quebec.  And no one should call them out for it, of course.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Injustice or Entitlement Syndrome: A Little Self-Awareness Is Required

 I got some push back yesterday after tweeting this:

 MG Danny Fortin has had a tough couple of years.  He was the senior military officer helping the government with the vaccine rollout when he lost his job and was put on ice while an accusation of sexual misconduct was investigated.  It was ultimately sent through two procedures--civilian courts and military administration.  He was found not guilty in the first and essentially the same in the second.  And now he wants his job back.

This is where entitlement comes in.  It may have been unfair for him to lose his job due to an unproven accusation, but fairness at this stage has little to do with it.  He will always be tainted by the accusation, especially when the CAF itself has had so many general and flag officer (GOFOs) credibly accused of abuse of power and sexual misconduct and when the various justice systems have tended not to handle this stuff well.  What job could he have in the CAF now where there would not be significant concern?  Could he be chief?  Before all of this, maybe. Now?  No.  Could he be chief of the army?  Ditto.  And on and on.

This is where the entitlement syndrome that is a key part of the abuse of power problem resides--no one is owed a GOFO position.  No one is entitled to such a lofty spot.  To serve now one has to have avoided all appearance of impropriety.  When Admiral Art McDonald was suspended due to an accusation of sexual assault, once the investigators chose not to pursue the matter further, McDonald sent a letter to all of the GOFOs saying he was coming back.  That was a far clearer case of entitlement syndrome and poor judgment. 

So, Fortin's situation is not as clear.  Still, if Fortin truly believes in service before self, then he should realize that he is doing the CAF a disservice by insisting on returning to a significant position.  He is not indispensable--no one is.  He served a long career and is going to get his pension.  But another general officer billet?  No, that is not going to happen.  He doesn't have to like it, he can consider it all an injustice (his accuser continues to consider this a case of injustice), but that is just where things are now.  

What is best for the CAF?  This is difficult stuff as there needs to be a road back for those who have been accused and for those whose transgressions were relatively minor (the accusation here is not minor, to be clear).  But it also needs to be led at the highest levels by those who are above reproach.  None of this is easy, but if we combine self-awareness with a focus on service before self, we might have a shot at eroding the entitlement syndrome that has plagued Canada's armed forces.


Mama, Don't Let Your Kid Get PhDs in Poli Sci

 One could look at this figure and say things are getting back to normal.

Woot?  Well, maybe, but the old normal was awful.  The academic job market has been bad, really bad, for a long time, with a few bursts of good years.  We have been overproducing PhDs for a long time.  I wish that figure had included a line for number of PhDs produced as I am pretty sure it would exceed the line of jobs by quite a bit.  

Of course, folks will say: hey, that does not count the number of non-academic jobs that poli sci PhDs get, and that people should look there.  My responses to that are as follows:

  • Most of the folks going to academic PhD programs want academic jobs (and so too do a number of folks going to policy PhD programs).  
  • How much added value do folks get from academic PhD programs that help them get jobs in the non-academic sector?  Do the five or more extra years give them a leg up over those who just get MAs?  Is that leg up = or > the five+ years of opportunity costs?

I teach at a policy school where our aim is to train folks for the policy world, not the academic work.  In Canada, alas, there is not that much of a market for policy-oriented PhDs.  We don't have much in the way of think tanks, there are only a few govt jobs that either require PhDs or where the PhD gives one an advantage over an MA, and, the govt does not pay someone more if they have a PhD.  So, I have spent my time here wondering why we have a PhD program.  It may be a bit different in the US where there are more job opportunities for policy Phds--more think tanks, etc.

So, I have spent the last twenty plus years discouraging students who approach me about PhDs.  How many have I discouraged?  Pretty sure the answer is between zero and two.  They tend to think that what may be true for other folks is not true for them, that their interests are in demand and super-interesting.  Why am I posting this today?  Because I have a bevy of folks reaching out to talk to me about PhD programs this month.  It must be the season.

I haven't tracked what has happened to all those for whom I have written letters of recommendation.  I do know that a couple of the MA students I had at McGill got great PhDs and then great academic jobs.  I do know that all but one of my PhD students in my previous stops (McG but also TTU) have gotten tenure-track positions, and I am old enough now that all of them have gotten tenure and are either Full or Associate Professors (one is still in the tenure decision process). Oh wait, those are the PhD students who completed their PhDs.  Most did, but some did not.  One thing I have gotten better about is telling those working and flailing at their PhDs to move on.  

At Carleton, I have been asked by students: what happens if I get a policy job offer before I complete my dissertation?  I say, "TAKE IT!"  They say "but it might mean I don't finish my dissertation."  And I respond "Take the job!"  Jobs are not street cars.  So, the percentage of my PhD students who finish here is not as good as it was in the previous spot partly because these students are looking at the policy world and being done is not quite as crucial.  My ego here is not as invested in having students finish--I just want them to be happy and getting paid by someone who is not me.  

I will post this and then folks will ignore it and apply anyway.  Why bother posting it?  Because spewing is venting.