Sunday, September 30, 2012

Letters of Pain and Suffering

I just finished writing a letter of recommendation for an undergrad, and then had to deal with the website of the institution receiving the award.  It required me to create an account with a more annoying than usual set of requirements for the password.  Then, instead of allowing me to upload my letter, I had to cut and paste and hope I didn't write too many words.

Why am I whining about this?  Because this is just the beginning of recommendation letter season.  Each year, it should be getting better, but it tends to get worse.  Last year, a student would apply and I would get a link, which would take me to a form where I could upload a recommendation and the annoying part would be entering my address info (as if anyone would write or call me).  This year, one of them required me to set up an account--why?  Just annoying.

I guess it is worse for the Phd students of today as they have to apply to heaps of schools. each with a different entry form and style and all the rest.  I am actually almost ok with that, as it might limit the number of applications that students file.  For recommenders who are doing a service, lower barriers, lower transaction costs are really important.

One of my twitter followers suggested that the APSA come up with a single form and have job applicants deposit all materials there once.  The problem, of course, is that each university has its own human resources departments, so even if the APSA wanted to do this, I doubt that it can happen.

I don't mind doing more work for the Phd students--there are far fewer of them and the stakes are much higher.  Lots of undergrads are applying for lots of programs, and they do not often know what they are really going to do with lives.  Many will not go to places they get into, so I feel less urgency and obligation.  I do limit each undergrad to ten letters per year.  I would never limit how many  letters I would write for Phd students--the odds are not very much in their favor.

I just hope that someday folks who fill out the forms can actually give some input to the people who make the forms.  Yes, a pipedream....

The New TV Season and International Relations

I have been asked by some of my twitter friends (followers makes me sound like a cult leader) followers about my take on the new TV season, especially Revolution and Last Resort.  These shows have the most obvious relevance for those who study ethnic conflict and international relations (Kate and Ben, too, have much IR content but that is a post for another day). 

I will not discuss Revolution here much since Dan Drezner already took it apart quite brutally.  Bikes!  and Steam!  What were they thinking?  The big point is that sword play is fun, but is fifteen years enough for so many folks to develop excellent swordship?  Where is Arya when we need her?  Of course, in any survival of the fittest, we only see now the folks who managed to succeed, at least those with the swords and bows.  Would the US subdivide into different militias so quickly?  The question, as always, is does the military hold together?  Because if guns still work (and they do), then the US army would still have heaps of guns and heaps of bullets.  Of course, much of the army would be stranded overseas until people figured out sailboats and such.... (yes, the British lady could go back to the UK as long as she was willing to sail/row/steam there). 
      The big question now is insurgency--whether the rebels (who use the US flag, hee, hee) and the militia (the government) behave as we have seen in the study of civil war.  Indiscriminate violence is unwise, but discriminate violence can make a great deal of sense.  So, it may be that Giancarlo Esposito's craziness is crafty and not destructive ... thus far.

Speaking of craziness, Last Resort cited Reagan (when it should have cited Nixon)--that deterrence only works when the leader is just a bit whacky.  This is quite the old conventional wisdom about nuclear deterrence--that if the Soviets already hit Europe, would a sane American president then use nuclear weapons, knowing that Chicago and Boston were next?  Nixon, more than Reagan (as far as I can recall), deliberated over the messaging to Moscow.  Will the Captain of the US Colorado, played by the wonderful Andre Braugher, use nukes against DC?  Well, a near miss (and was he so sure that there were no ships 200 miles from DC?) was good enough?  I don't know--I might think that the near miss signals weakness and not strength.  At least, the show answered my wife's first question quite quickly--why no US effort to blast the boat?  Deterrence.... for now. 
   The next issue is civil-military relations: who is commanding the boat to fire upon Pakistan?  Using an alternative comm network (Antarctica?  Really?) undermined the orders, raising questions, so the sub checked DC and saw no crisis there.  Again, the classic question in any situation is: will the folks who have the guns use them or not?  Turns out the Admiral's daughter was pretty willing, but so were other elements of the crew that were not on the Captain's side?  Distrust should continue to be the theme of the season--the chief of the boat, our favorite Terminator Robert Patrick, should not be trusted anytime soon.  So, the good bit here is that once the Captain questions orders, his authority is splintered in the boat.  Resolving that should take time and effort.
   The third issue is how to run the island with a criminal gang taking US ship-folks hostage?  Depends on how loyal the SEALs are, but they are likely to see the criminals as worthy of being squelched regardless of how they feel about the Captain.  If they support the gangsters, then the show will lack just a bit of realism (well, you know...).  So, this show is pretty complicated and thus far takes those complications seriously.  Still not sure I buy the DC angles of things--that the contractor could confront an admiral so quickly, and that the contractor would be so attractive either.  But that is Hollywood.

I will continue to watch both as I am a sucker for swordplay and subs.  How about you?

Sunday Silliness: Retro Lost

Check out this site for fun pics like this:

Why does Desmond call everyone "brother?"


Afghanistan Denial?

In my part of the world, academia, the Afghanistan war never went away.  But to others, well, this cartoon captures it pretty well:


My readers, of course, are excepted since I have been droning (sorry) about Afghanistan since I started this blog.  Hopefully, the big book will be out before people are thoroughly sick and tired of the war.  Oops!  Too late.


Friday, September 28, 2012

The Graphics of Beer

According to the Economist, the US has the best ratio of minutes of work needed to buy beer:


After I retweeted this (thanks Roland) with "Decline? Hell no" kind of comment, folks pointed out that quality might be an issue--that American beer is cheap swill.  Indeed.  If we just had micro-brews listed (since they are better and more expensive), US might be more in the middle of the pack.

Of course, other beer issues have arisen lately which raise the Swill issue more directly:

Notice all of the swill.  Turns out Busch is the beer of moderates, which makes sense since it is as if one is drinking expensive water.  My enjoyment of Blue Moon was already diminished by the realization it is produced by Coors.  Now, it makes me feel just a bit Republican as well.  Yuck squared.  I do find interesting that Republicans tend to be fans of lite beers--notice Mille and Miller Lite, Busch & Busch Lite, Bud &Bud Light, most dramatically between Corona and Corona light.  Why are Republicans fans of lite beer?  Is this consistent with a "we can have whatever we want if we sacrifice quality" mindset?

Hmm, more social science is required.

Exemplar of Alliance Dilemma

Glenn Snyder in his book on Alliance Politics does a great job of explaining the Alliance Dilemma--that relations with an ally are always a delicate balance because you want to assure them enough so that they support you when you need them but not too much that they drag you into a war you do not want.

Why mention this today?  This post on Israel's potential plans for war with Iran.  How does the US try to assure Israel that it will help Israel but not if Israel tries to sucker the US into a war it does not want to fight.  One of the striking bits of this piece is how concerned/antagonized US military leaders are.  They traditionally saw Israel as a key ally, reliable and impressive in its military history and ingenuity.  Now, it is seen as a potential threat to American security because Israel might launch a war that leads directly to retaliation against US forces in the region and the deaths of American servicemen/women.

A few years ago, when Gen. Dave Petraeus was head of CENTCOM, there was a report that Israel's policies towards its occupation was a threat to US security by antagonizing the region.  That is a bit less direct than an attack upon Iran leading to Iran attacking the US, but does show that the US military is losing its loving feeling for Israel.

The portion of the piece that deals with Chairman Dempsey's line that the US would not be complicit with an Israeli attack on Iran is quite sharp and illuminating.  Again, complex signaling about US's support of Israel short of Israel dragging US into war.  Check it out and ponder the challenges of allies (especially before Georgia gets to enter NATO).

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Steve's first meme

Yep, tis my first meme.  I am not impressed by Netanyahu's graphics at the UN nor, apparently, is McKayla:

Best Sam Jackson Ad Lacking Snakes

Check out Sam Jackson's call to mobilize for the election:


Notice who is sponsoring it.  Yes. Indeed.

Point of Professorial Pride

Yesterday, I took the train back to Montreal to participate in a dissertation defense of my pentultimate PhD student (actually, I have two more defenses to attend--my last supervisee and a student upon whose committee I serve).  I am very proud of Aisha Ahmad who aced the defense.  It went long not because she was under attack, but because we were all so engaged in her work and in her discussion of it.  Her dissertation, which compares the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Islamic Courts in Somalia, seeks to understand the relationships between Islamic politics and states un-failing.  How does order emerge out anarchy?  She did some tremendous fieldwork in Kenya, Somaliland and Pakistan plus some innovative survey work to convince the committee (and soon the world) that her economic explanation is quite persuasive.

I am not promoting her here to get her a job, as Aisha already has her dream job at U of Toronto.  She is from Toronto, and actually likes it there, so no need to help her find another job.  I am sure she will succeed there.  She won a teaching award at McGill as my TA, and she is the personification of diligence.  Moreover, Aisha is heavily involved in humanitarian work to help the people of the countries she studies.  Her work also speaks beyond the academy.  A couple of weeks ago, I was at a meeting with several members of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (Canada's State Dept), and they were talking about their new speaker series.  They would talking about a particular speaker who knocked their socks off--turns out to have been Aisha.

So, I am mighty proud.  Of all that I have done in my career and at McGill, that all but one of my PhD students went on to tenure track positions is a great point of pride.  Of course, the reality is that I am proud of the accomplishments earned by others.  These students did (and are doing) all of the work, learning new skills, exhaustively building datasets, and going to dangerous and less dangerous places to interview warlords, smugglers, members of militias, experts and so on.  All I did was repeatedly say: "Not everything you learn belongs in the dissertation."  Still, I will take credit for their work because that is how narcissists operate.

Seriously though, yesterday was a great day just for Aisha but also for me, for the rest of the folks on the committee, and for McGill.  I am most reluctant to use "Doctor" for folks with PhDs because Professor works so much better, but Aisha was a professor before yesterday.  Now she is Doctor Professor Aisha Ahmad, Ph.D.  Woo-hoo!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Can you go home again?

Returning to McGill this morning for dissertation Defense. Three to go next two months. Will be strange to be back sans office.

But same ritual:haze and then celebrate.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Video day 17, part 4: Make the Call, Maybe?

Yes, a Call Me Maybe parody: about the awful ref-ing in the NFL:



These guys give scabs a bad name.

Video Day #17 continued

Whether you like Obama or not (and I am pretty sure most of my readers are not red stater's ....), you have to admire this video for being such good information operations--propaganda:



Gotta love the setup--a white family, an Hispanic one, and an African-American one.  All small donators, get a dinner with the President and his wife.  They show enough of the couples that they seem pretty real, they show enough of the President and Michelle so that they seem real, and then the softball question: hey, we could have a million jobs if Congress would just let me ....

I don't know if this changes any minds, but this is a well-run campaign.  Romney's?  Not so much.

Video Day at the Spew, pt. 17

Busy running down grant stuff, so here is this NSFW Funny or Die video asking folks to vote:

Trailer Parody Genuis

Fun stuff making fun of Avengers. And yes, I have ordered the blu-ray to get the extras.


Check out the site for more fun "honest" trailers.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The New World, Largely Same as the Old One

My friends on twitter got a bit outraged yesterday over this NYT spec piece on the possible new maps in the future after some countries blow up or join together or both.  When I first glanced it, I was pretty dismissive since it runs through eleven hunks of territory quickly, making quick guesses about which ones will break apart and which ones will join together.  I am a jack of all trades, master of none kind of guy so I cannot (and, my readers will thank me, will not) go into great depth on any one of these cases.  I will leave that to the Comparativists who have heaps of knowledge about specific cases.

However, since the trades of which I am jack (no, that makes little sense to me as well) are secession and irredentism--the fission and fusion of countries*--I can make some general comments and then skip through the cases briefly.  First, secession is damned hard--countries resist losing pieces of themselves (see Monica Toft's work).  There are many lessons to draw from South Sudan, but one of them is--it takes decades.  Six of them or so.  And South Sudan is hardly swell today. 
* Fission and fusion?  Why did I only now realize that should be on my business card: my business is fission and fusion!  Not quite as good as "I deal in lead" but pretty good.

Second, irredentism, the amalgamation of one piece of one county with a piece or an entirety of another, will find resistance even perhaps from the folks related to the desired region.  As my book with Bill Ayres avers, xenophobia can serve as a key restraint on irredentism.  Imagine, if you will, a successful effort at reuniting a lost hunk of territory and people with a homeland.  The practical and political effect is much like a huge wave of immigration, and who wants that these days? 

Third, precedent setting in this area is wildly over-rated.  The various federations of the former Soviet space broke apart not because of inspiration from each other but due to the common stresses of democratization and the timing of provincial elections in relation to the national ones.  Incentives and institutions matter--domestic ones, that is.  The key here is also confirmation bias--that potential separatists (secessionists and irredentists) will learn the lessons they want to learn and ignore the rest.  Is my situation like Slovenia or Bosnia?  Many lessons to learn, which ones will be the ones that people glom on to?

Ok, now let's run through the list quickly because I have to teach today and because other folks know more about the cases:
  1. Mali?  The folks behind Mali's breakup have more enemies than friends.  Is their independence sustainable?  Not clear, but I think Vegas has set the odds on continued independence at 4 to 1.
  2. Belgium Splits Up.  Maybe.  The EU as a destination for the pieces is less attractive than it was a few years ago, but the differences between Flemish and Walloons fester.  Perhaps most likely to break up but most peacefully as well.  On the other hand, Newton was right about inertia.
  3. Congo splinters? We have been thinking about the Congo breaking up since 1960.  The first case study in the aforementioned book on the IR of secession is on Katanga and its effort secede way back when.  My Africanist twitter pal is most skeptical, and she does research, so I will leave it at that.
  4. Somalia's Breakup Confirmed.  Somaliland has been de facto independent for about twenty years, so this is not a new revision of the map, just recognition of reality.   But recognition may or may not come anytime soon, as Somaliland has few fans despite being far more functional than Somalia.  And the African Union may just keep on mismanaging this situation, raising some costs to the first recognizers.  To be clear, there is another lesson, one of the key ones, from my work that indicates recognition sooner than later--countries are not that deterred from supporting secession elsewhere despite their own separatist challenges at home.  Somaliland's problem is not the vulnerability of others but the lack of allies.  Anyone who has ties to Somaliland also has ties to Somalia, except at the clan level, which makes it hard to find best friends out there.
  5. Alawites Go Solo.  I expect the endgame of Syria not be a breakup but potentially mass killings of those seen as complicit with the regime--the entire Alawite community, whether that is fair or not (not).  The folks who win in Syria are not going to let their former oppressors escape, especially with the coastline.  Choosing to be landlocked?  No.
  6. Arab Gulf Union?  To quote 30 Rock and Tim Goodman, whuck? (WTF).
  7. Kurdistan?  Independent?  Maybe, maybe not.  But it would just be a piece of Iraq, not with the rest of the Kurds in a greater Kurdistan.  Turkey has way too much equity in that fight.
  8. Greater Azerbaijan? Since when has anyone thought that Iran will implode?  Azerbaijan may have a friend in Turkey, but it has an enemy in Armenia that continues to hold onto Azerbaijan's territory.  The only successful post-Cold War irredentism has been (well, besides Germany) Armenia.  So, before Azerbaijan aims at Greater Azerbaijan, it will obsess about what it has lost.
  9. Pakistan falls apart?  Sure.  The country is incredibly messed up, but Pashtunistan is not in the cards.  The Pashtuns may be able to agree on somethings, but on a single country crossing Afghanistan and Pakistan?  Nay.  There are other identities and cleavages that present challenges to a single country for all Pashtuns.  Plus many on the Afghan side of the border are not fond of Pakistan.  Baluchistan?  Pakistan has showed plenty of will to crush these folks, so even a Pakistan in decline would would make Baluchistan very hard to accomplish.
  10. China gobbles up Siberia?  Jeez, now the speculation is completely absent of any real trend.  Yes, Russia is big and China is powerful, but China will have many fish to fry.  Over-expanding in this direction might suit Jack Snyder, but is not likely at all.
  11. Yes, Korea may unify some day, but I am not sure the South Koreans are looking forward to this.  And isn't this something we have been expecting more or less for twenty or thirty years?  North Korean rulers have managed to succeed one another and have managed to repress their country quite effectively.  It might change, but it might not. 
Of course, I have just ruthlessly speculated about a heap of places that I don't know that much about, just like these NYT writers.  But my guesses are informed by much work in the general dynamics of secession and of irredentism.  Of course, if there is more of this stuff, that would be good for me--it might lead some folks to buy my books.  Ok, read them.  Ok, ok, maybe just cite them?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Little America, Belatedly Considered

Rajiv Chandrasekaren's Little America got a heap of press this summer and deservedly so.  The author does an amazing job of traveling through some of the nastiest parts of Afghanistan and is able to discuss a lot of the key issues in play.  It reveals quite a bit about how the US dysfunctions when it intervenes.  I found it wanting, however for a variety of reasons, but that could be my bias.

That is, I loved his first book, Imperial Life in an Emerald City, because it was so convincing and horrifying about how a bunch of amateurs and hacks were given the keys to Iraq and screwed it up.  But I hated the Bush Administration and its chosen war in Iraq with a passion.  So, RC's first book played well to me.  The second book, on Afghanistan, did not hit me in such a favorable mood.  I didn't want to hear that the Obama folks screwed up Afghanistan, which they most certainly did.  So perhaps my reactions are a bit biased.  So, I am making clear here and now that my read of this book is coming from a different perspective.  It is also the case that I know a bit more about Afghanistan than Iraq (my ten days there equals expertise, right?  Oh no?  Never mind), having researched the NATO effort for the past five years or so. 

Anyhow, the book shows that there were heaps of smart people working in difficult areas on difficult problems (which makes the Obama administration less stupid than the Bush folks).  However, egos seemed to drive some things, like the conflicts between Richard Holbrooke and every person not named Hilary Clinton. RC tends to assert that Holbrooke might have been successful if not for the opposition from the rest of the government.  I find this to be not particularly credible.  Would the Taliban have agreed to a settlement in 2009 if the US had supported Holbrooke's efforts? No evidence for that.  Would the Taliban have kept its word?  Lots evidence against that.  Would Karzai have supported a real agreement that would have cost him some power?  Lots of evidence against that.  So, yes, Holbrooke faced heaps of in-fighting at home, but would it have made a difference if he was Secretary of State and had his way?  Almost certainly not.

The book does a great job of showing the Marines in Helmand and how they went about their business.  This is a central point to the book-- that the first increase in troops that Obama sent (pre-surge surge) were wasted in the poppy fields of Helmand rather than pop-centric Kandahar.  This is absolutely right, although his explanation sounds just wrong to me.  That is, the Marines went to Helmand and not Kandahar for two reassons RC avers: the Marines do not play well with others so they wanted their own hunk of territory, and the US was not willing to bruise Canadian feelings by asking them to take a smaller role in what had become the Canadian zone of Afghanistan.  I buy the first part somewhat (although civilian control the military should mean that the troops go where the strategy requires--more on that below).

The second is just silly.  It is clear that RC either did not talk to any Canadians or does not remember what they might have said.  The story takes place in 2009, but in 2008, Canada went through a process to extend the mission to 2011--the Manley Panel--where more troops from elsewhere were an explicit condition for extension.  Yes, getting more help than just a battalion (which is what the Canadians initially got from the US) would have probably meant giving up the lead in Kandahar (thanks to Andrew Exum for pointing this out to me).  And???  By 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was already letting go of Afghanistan and looking to get out.  The Canadian Forces might have been mildly upset at having to take a supporting position to the US's lead, but that happened in 2010-2011 anyway.  With more Americans in Kandahar, the flow of body bags back to Canada slowed down quite significant.  Finally, the Canadian Forces had the ability to have a lasting effect because they could stick around in the same spot rather than just running in and out when the alarm bell rang.

So, RC bought whatever the American general might have reported to him in this instance, but RC should have asked some Canadians (he did hang out with some of the CA diplomats so he could have asked).  If the US officers really believed this, then I am shocked that the system broken down--that if they had staffed the deployment decision properly, a Joint Staff officer (plus State Dept folks) would have contacted the Defense Attache in the US Embassy in Ottawa and been able to tell the folks planning the surge that the Canadians would not have minded a smaller role in Kandahar in 2009/2010 especially since that is what they had in late 2010 and thru the end of the mission.  In sum, I agree that sending the Marines to Helmand made little sense in pop-centric strategy and ran against Obama's intent, but I don't buy the "we didn't want to upset the Canadians" explanation.  I do buy the bureaucratic politics account--that the Marines wanted to control the Marines and did not want to work in a multilateral headquarters with other folks ordering them around.  But that raises other questions I get to at the conclusion of this already massive post.

The book does a nice job of showing how different American commanders put their own imprint on the mission, so policy/strategy varied from spot to spot and changing with every rotation.  The US, as a big machine, does not have everyone playing from the same playbook.  But it is not sure how much that matters, as RC does a great job of showing that the Marines in one spot, an Army unit more versed in COIN in a second, and an Army unit with little patience with COIN in a third, more or less got the same kinds of outcomes--lousy ones.  That they could with enough force and persistence create spots of order, but none of it was lasting because the US could not deliver the economic/governance stuff particularly since the Afghan government had its own agendas.

Ah, there is the rub.  The Afghans have agency (the theme of the Spew today).  The US could not get Karzai to focus on building institutions (such as respecting electoral ones), that accountability had little to do with good governance by district and provincial governors, and that the Afghans could reasonably consider the foreigners to be temporary, whether Obama pledged 2011/2014 or not.  Indeed, that is a huge contradiction in this and many other works on Afghanistan--arguing that the locals had limited patience for foreigners hanging around but also criticized the clearly temporary nature of the mission.

RC argues at the end that the US should not have gone big and short but kept smaller but remained longer.  First, this ignores much of the text which shows that the US was able to bring bits of order to where it deployed because it was big enough to have troops on every block.  I had an instructive conversation the other night with a Canadian Foreign Affairs person who served in Kandahar when the Americans surged.  How the number of troops changed the game since you had heaps and heaps of intel coming in all the time and heaps of deterrence as well.  But doing that for a long time was not sustainable.

Second, Obama in 2009 was not in a great position to say no more troops when the military asked for it.  The US had not yet tried doing COIN right in Afghanistan with anything close to sufficient troops, and the military advocated reinforcements.  It was not politically possible to bail on Afghanistan in 2009.  I think only by trying the military's way at first did Obama then have the ability to begin the path to leaving.  Yes, he could have been super-brave by pulling out in 2009 despite what the Generals were advocating, but that (a) might have guaranteed a one term presidency; (b) ignores his hands were full with the economy; (c) given the Afghans not enough prep for the post-2014 civil war.  It is easy to say now no surge at all, but Obama had few decent alternatives in 2009.

I think there is a larger point in this book that RC glosses over: there was some serious civ-mil relations problems.  There is a line in the book about how the military ignored the President's memo about focusing on the population and that this effort was not to be full out COIN but only focused in certain areas.  That sending the Marines to Helmand was not the intent of the President.  Where was Robert Gates on this?  The Secretary of Defense is responsible for making sure the military does what the President wants.  Where was Mullen on this?  The Chairman does not have the ability to order troops around, but he was watching what was going on, and could have notified the President and the SecDef that the troops were not going to where they were supposed to be going.  That the chain of command for the Marines went from Helmand to the US Marines stateside and not through ISAF is just awful, awful, awful from the standpoint of unity of command.  Who let this happen?  Why was CENTCOM (Petraeus) letting this happen?  Why was Mullen as Chairman not pushing back at the Commandant of the Marines?

So, if you are interested in Afghanistan and what went wrong there, read this book (and then read my book with David Auerswald whenever it comes out).  It is well-written, fascinating and compelling (I hope the Steve and Dave book is half as well-written and compelling).  RC sets expectations wrong in a few places (Taliban willing to bargain in 2009?) so that the story is just a bit off, but it does show that the bureaucratic dynamics at home did the Americans (and Canadians and Dutch and Danes and Brits and AFGHANS) few favors.  I do think there is heaps of blame to go around as long as one remembers a few things: that there were no good policy choices available then (or now, really); that 2009 was already fairly late in this game; that the Afghans and Pakistanis (and other neighbors) have a big role here; and that Afghanistan is a really hard place to operate given the terrain, the decades of violence and the incredibly low starting point for any development effort.

Yes, the US could have done this better, but I don't think it would have made much of a difference.  My ambivalence in 2009 during the surge decision (see here for representative post) remains.  How is yours?

US Superpowers

This piece by Michael Gordon, a piece of his forthcoming book, argues that the Obama administration screwed up the end-game in Iraq.  That they wanted Iraqi politicians to share power and accept a continued US presence.  Perhaps there was some politics in the US administration that led to less than perfect approaches to the Iraqis.

I am no Iraq expert, but this short piece woefully underestimates a few basic realities that were well-covered by the NYT in 2009:
  • the Iraqi leaders showed no signs of wanting to share power at all.  After all, the real problem of today is not who became President vs. Prime Minister but that the folks who split with the Sunni extremists, the Awakening or Sons of Iraq movement, were seen as a threat by the Shia politicians.  The promises made to the Sunnis were broken pretty quickly.
  • the Iraqi pols had their own agendas and interests, so giving up power or shuffling the deck was never going to happen, no matter how super a salesman Obama might be in theory.
  • even as the Iraqi people came to see the COIN-enforcing/more restrained US forces as better than the alternatives, no politician could undermine their nationalist credentials by supporting a continued US presence.  
Pieces like this forget that the Americans killed tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens, that American-funded contractors were responsible for Fallujah's big mess in 2004 and lots of collateral damage with few consequences, and that the Americans were requiring more immunity in a new Status of Forces Agreement (only that would work domestically) that the Iraqis had little interest in giving.

So, yes, the Obama folks could have played this better, but expecting either US troops sticking around in Iraq or Iraqis to share power means one has a very American perspective--that the US has far more agency than anyone else and if only the pols in DC did things right, everything would work out fine.

In Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Little America, this tendency also exists but to a lesser degree.  I finally finished that book, and will Spew about it later today.  I will be clearer in my bias in that post than here.  Again, we can criticize the Obama administration for not performing better on a whole host of issues, including perhaps managing the endgame in Iraq, but these expectations here are just a wee bit much.

Brutal Take the Romney-Gaffe-A-Thon

This is just a wonderfully brutal take on an incredibly brutal campaign:





I guess it is only fair that if Obama gets the worst hand of cards dealt as he assumed office in 2009 and if he gets the least cooperative Congress in history, he at least gets a competitor that has a self-combusting campaign.

No, the campaign is not over yet.  Obama can still lose it, but thus far, there has been little from the Romney campaign to suggest that they can pull things together. 

Perhaps I am engaging in wishful thinking?





Saturday, September 22, 2012

Comprehensive VoterFraudFraud Coverage

Check out this piece that has a bunch of links and key quotes about the effort to suppress the vote.

H/T to Rainbow Stalin.  Really: https://twitter.com/RBStalin

Jill Biden for VP

Just a silly short video, but apparently Joe Biden's wife and her audience have a sense of humor, too.


And, yes, I am pretty sure this is my first dick joke on my blog, but I seem to be running out of material this week as grant-writing is occupying most of my attention.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

VoterFraudFraud Is Obscene So ...

Voterfraudfraud is obscene so a little dirty language is perhaps quite appropriate:


Yes, I love Sarah Silverman and the truth she speaketh.  Outrage is the only correct response to this fraudulent campaign about voter fraud.  That and some merciless comic attacks.



President Steve Rogers

Apparently, in the Marvel Comics, Captain America has been elected President via write-in vote.*  Um, sure. Since I didn't read the comic book and since a write-in candidate does not have a platform the same way Obama and Romney due via parties and conventions, it is not clear how Captain America will govern his fictional country.  But that is what I am here for: to ruthlessly speculate with little information.

So, in his first four years (and, only, as he will out-George Washington George Washington and insist only serving one term), Cap will:
  • Seek to change laws governing steriods.  As an enhanced super-soldier, he cannot be hypocritical about using the best of modern medicine to improve performance.  
  • Change his name. He understands that having a person with a military title, such as Captain, is a threat to civilian control of the military.  So, President America for four years.  He will not mind the demotion after four years of working with/against Congress.
  • Appoint people regardless of skin color (green) to the cabinet, so expect the Hulk to get an important role.
  • Throw the first pitch at ball games.  Given what he has been wearing for decades, Cap Pres America knows the power of symbols and rituals.
  • Support gun control.  He will prefer that every house as a shield, which can still, of course, be used offensively, than a gun.  While he used guns during World War II, he has been reluctant ever since.
  • Not appear on Letterman or the Daily Show.  President America is nothing if not uptight.
  • Raise taxes and cut spending as he is a big believer in a balanced budget.
  • Use super-heroes when he wants to intervene around the world rather than the US Armed Forces.  He has friends and they are cost efficient.  Indeed, he might follow the last military hero/President, Ike, by going for bigger bang for the buck, with a smaller military.
  • Rely more on international organizations to deal with problems around world, since he is comfortable with SHIELD and similar organizations.
  • Try to develop innovative ways to engage in oversight as he understands principal-agency and the dangers of shirking better than most super-heroes.

* That this Ultimate series at Marvel allows for stories to spin so wildly beyond any sense of comic book reality (an evil Reed Richards?! a dead Wolverine?!) makes me feel very good about my ceasing to buy comic books about 16 years ago (diapers uber comic books).  I stopped mostly because one needed to buy more and more books each month to follow just one character (Spidey) or team (X-Men), but clones and alt-realities also did me in.

American Invasion!?




Apparently, we are not satisfied with the usual mythology of folks fleeing north if their candidate loses.  Now we are focused on the joke of the week: does the US have plans for invading Canada?  Because Canada was left out of US meeting with Mexico, a reporter asked:
"This isn’t some secret thing to invade Canada or something like that?"
Image: Eggo shortage"No, no, no," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said during a Tuesday briefing to laughter from reporters.
This raises, of course, two questions: what would be gained from a US invasion of Canada and how would the US go about doing it?

Obvioulys, the target of such an invasion would not be for oil as the tar sands are pretty far north and the US can buy the stuff anyway.  Nope, it would be to protect the global strategic reserve of maple syrupRecent Eggos shortages showed how vulnerable America is to an interruption in its breakfast foods.  Indeed, American success at maximizing the average weight of its citizens would be threatened by a maple shortage.  So, I am pretty sure that deep within the bowels of the Pentagon, there is now a group of staff officers working on a complex deck of powerpoint slides of alternative invasion plans.

How? Um, there are more folks in the US army base at Fort Hood than in the entire Canadian army.  The challenge, like invading Iraq, is not so much defeating the conventional forces but preventing or defeating the insurgency that comes afterwards.  Canada is already preparing by destroying the list of who owns long guns.  This would make it harder for the Americans to find the likely insurgents.  However, the US could avoid an insurgency through a few key moves:
  1. Move the most successful hockey teams from the US to Canada so that a Canadian team might win the Stanley Cup.
  2. Encourage McDonalds to promote McPoutine throughout the US, making it appear that the invasion is going the other way (plus that goes along with the weight maximization strategy).
  3. Have regular USO type tours where lost Canadian celebrities (William Shatner, Michael J. Fox, Elisha Cuthbert, Pam Anderson) return north, but make sure that Justin Bieber is left out of this program.  Perhaps even get Tricia Helfer named Governor-General.
  4. Give Robin Sparkles a new TV program to feature her uplifting Canadian nationalist songs.
  5. Give Canada access to Hulu, American Netflix, and other online media that are ordinarily blocked by lame copyright rules.
  6. Allow Canadians to buy books at the same prices as Americans.
  7. The US will assume full responsibility for handling the so-called Quebec problem, relieving the rest of Canada of this unpleasantness.
On the bright side, a US-Mexican invasion of Canada might improve the availability of good Mexican food up here (although I had a mighty tasty taco last night at a taco stand in a remote part of Ottawa).
Any additional tactics to placate Canadians to avert a potential post-invasion insurgency?


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Less Blogging, More Writing?

I have not been blogging as much ... here.  But that is partly because I have been writing elsewhere.  Check out my piece at Embassy.ca (gated, sorry)--where the question is: what should the Canadian members of parliament be thinking about as they return?

In short, I raise the F-35 again mostly to illustrate that procurement is pretty messed up. I also suggest that parliament needs to figure out the institution's role for deployments, given the confusion created by minority government.  I raise questions about Harper's obsession with Iran given that it really is not a threat to Canada.  I also raise a few questions about oversight and accountability and the proper behavior of the Minister of National Defence

I also have a new piece at CIC on the limits of power, as the US cannot determine events in the Mideast but can only respond and try to shape them.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Black Hole of Knowledge

Today, thanks to last week's violence in the Mideast, the dark side emerged again: Sam Huntington's Clash of Civilizations.  Yuck cubed.  The idea that there is an inevitable clash between the Mideast/Islamic World and the West/Christian World sucks on so many levels, but gets a patina of apparent support from the events.  However, given that Libyans were trying to rescue US Ambassador Stevens, well, Clash gets many things wrong. 

This lead to a debate between Phil Arena and W.K. Winecoff about whether to waste undergrads time with the inclusion of Clash of Civilizations in an Intro to IR class.  In the good olde days of yore, when I taught Intro to IR, I went back and forth on this--should I waste my students' time with this utter crap, this social anti-science, this speculation sans facts, this racist conceptualization?  And, because the lecture tended to kill, that I was able to entertain and educate about how this one theory destroys knowledge and creates ignorance, I kept doing it. 

To be clear, I am biased as I work on identity politics--on ethnic ties and nationalisms--and feel that Huntington makes the rest of us look bad.  Yes, identity matters, but not always religion and never as a civilization.  Ah, it drives me crazy.  Glad the kids of today (Phil and W.K.) have the energy to fight this fight so I don't have to.

When Does a Party Go Off a Cliff?

When it starts believing in mythic creatures and vehicles.  This story features Republicans believing in an invisible, stealthy bus that works to spread voter fraud throughout the land.  Yes, J.K. Rowling and her Knight Bus has apparently influenced the VoterFraudFraud movement.*  Voter fraud has now become a religion for the Republicans since it is non-falsifiable.  This is moving beyond conspiracy theory since most conspiracies do not jump to invisible vehicles, but unseen forces shaping outcomes?  Oh my. 

*  That the NYT makes a Harry Potter reference in the first line thrills me to no end.
Yes, there are dead folks on the rolls.  Yes, some people are listed in multiple states because some people, dare I say it, move.  But there is no evidence that voter fraud is a threat to elections in the U.S.  I have engaged in more than a few twitter conversations with people who buy into one piece or another of this argument.  Thus far, none have cited the bus cloaked in a very large invisibility cloak.  Otherwise, I would have been giggling tweets for days and days.  

If it sounds like I have contempt for those who fear voter fraud, well, I do.  Because they seem to think that fear of a non-existent threat validates making it harder to vote.  The real threat here is denying people their most basic and important right.  This is a right that people fought and died for--during the Revolution (remember the "without representation"  part of taxation without representation), during the Civil War, and during the Civil Rights movement. 

Voter fraud is only a thing now with the Koch brothers and others miffed that their candidates might lose because they do not appeal to minorities and because they are pissed of that students turned out to vote four years ago. 

Why now?
“Then in 2008, I don’t know, something clicked,” she said. “I saw our country headed in a direction that, for whatever reason — it didn’t hit me until 2008 — this really threatens the future of our children.”
Yep, it voted a black man into the Oval Office.  I mean, seriously?  How is Obama a bigger threat than the womanizing, draft-dodging Clinton?  What really threatened the future of her children were the Bush tax cuts and wars that took Clinton's surpluses and turned them into fiscal holes.

Who do the anti-fraudsters target?  Places with more than six registered voters: "The methodology, which the group still uses, could disproportionately affect lower income families."  Yep.
“They had one particular case I remember very well,” said Douglas Ray, the Harris County assistant attorney who represents the election registrar. “They had identified an address where eight or 10 people were registered to vote. There was no building there.” Mr. Ray found out that the building had been torn down and that the people simply moved. 
The funny thing is that these folks ignore the basic reality of American life--people move.  Voter registration laws that pose significant hurdles catch those who move from one place to another because updating does not take place that much.  But do people then try to vote in their new AND old districts?  Not as far as anyone can determine.  Again, a non-existent threat requires fear and mythology.

Check out some of the results of the voter fraud investigations in Wisconsin:
The accountability board concluded that about 900,000 signatures were valid and, in a memorandum reviewing True the Vote’s work, criticized its methods.
For example: Mary Lee Smith signed her name Mary L. Smith and was deemed ineligible by the group.
Signatures deemed “out of state” included 13 from Milwaukee and three from Madison.
These folks not only didn't learn math, history, and civics in high school, but their geography lessons apparently failed them, too.

Yes, these folks are having some success--not at catching fraudsters but being inconvenient enough to drive away voters:
“They were making challenges of certain kinds and just kind of in physical contact with some of the poll workers, leaning over them, checking and looking,” said John Lepinski, a poll watcher and former Democratic Party chairman for Outagamie County.
He said that as a result of the scrutiny, the line to register moved slowly. Finally, he said, some students gave up and left.

So, now these folks send groups of white "election monitors" into primarily minority districts.  No, this does not mean they are engaging in voter intimidation, but the optics of this, for those who remember history, really sucks.  


I was going to entitle this post:  Harry Potter and the Invisible Bus of Voter Fraud.  But the title I do have really shows what is going on--members of the GOP and its key funders are losing their minds and the party is committing suicide if it continues to antagonize minorities to the point that the majority of Americans will be voting for the party that does not seek to disenfranchise them.


H/T to Jimmy Sky for pointing out this piece to me.




Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Silliness: Detective Mashup

I really did enjoy Blue's Clues when Kid Spew was younger.  Not just because the hero shared my name, either.  To this day, when I hear the word "clue", I think BLUE'S CLUES.  So, it is only super-appropriate that this mash-up features Blue's Clues and my daughter's favorite detective these days (one curse):


Saturday, September 15, 2012

I Talk Too Much

I found out that there is video of the event last week featuring Allen Gregg and his talk on the assault on reason.  I was one of the commentators, and, looking back at this video, probably the longest-winded one of them.  Check it out--it was an interesting discussion of the Harper government's attack on reason with some similar dynamics in the US.

Our Gladiators

Funny coincidence: I just started playing a free gladiator game on my iPad and this piece on the NFL came out.  Oy.  I had written a fair amount here on the concussion problem (here, here, and here as examples), so I do think that Goodell was right to punish the bounty-hunters, but wrong on his scheduling obsessions.  The previous bargaining effort had an 18 game season as a focal point despite the fact that the NFL was facing a serious problem with the danger of the game with 16 regular season games.

Last season saw numerous players losing significant playing time due to concussions although others managed to stay on the field longer than they should have.  And now we have Thursday games throughout the season.  Whitlock is right that the talk about concussions and the reality of the schedules suggests just a bit more than naked hypocrisy.  The lawsuits that will hit the NFL will be most problematic, and I do start to wonder again whether I should watch football tomorrow. 

This story does convince me not to watch on Thursdays.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Election Rituals: Repeating the Move North Myth

Every four years, Canadians and others ponder: will herds of Americans move north if a certain Presidential candidate wins?  I was asked about this in 2004 and maybe 2008.  This year, someone again is asking folks at my old school about it.

Here is my standard answer: No.  As my school's office manager (an American) put it, people move across the border for love or money.  Either they want to move to be with someone or because there is a job for them.  I moved north of the Wall border because I had a great job.  I stayed north and moved slightly west for a better job.  I did not move north to escape Bush.

Moving across an international boundary is actually pretty darned complicated and costly.  The paperwork to become a permanent resident in Canada can be more than $2k for a family of three, and it can take years.  When you enter the new country, you lose your old credit rating and are seen as a flight risk, so getting credit cards is hardly trivial, getting a car loan is more costly (oh, and moving a car across that border that is still being paid off is mucho complicated), and even buying a house can be a bit problematic. 

But I guess the media outlets like to return to the old well and perpetuating old myths since it requires less work.  Speaking of which, time to get back to my day job.

Irredentism and Its Discontents: Caucasus Edition

I have been meaning to write about the various events in the Azerbaijan-Armenian relationship for some time as Armenia remains the only big Irredentist winner of the transition from Communism.  Serbia did not become enlarged, Croatia just kept what it had, Albanian efforts at a Greater Kosovo were snuffed by early NATO intervention into Macedonia's conflict in 2001, and there are the cases of countries that did engage in irredentism at all

What got this dispute back in my line of sight?  That Azerbaijan broke a promise to NATO: that a military officer that had killed an Armenian in his sleep at a NATO exercise would be transferred from an Hungarian jail and be imprisoned in Azerbaijan.  Instead, he was not only released but given back pay and an apartment.  This is not only a reward for killing an Armenian but a snub at NATO.  This piece nicely summarizes the state of play.  Well, except for one thing: Armenia was the irredentist country that used violence not only to get Nagorno-Karabakh War but also territory in between Karabakh and Armenia to provide a land bridge to the newly conquered (or reconquered) territory.  Ethnic cleansing was committed by both sides, but if aggression is a war crime, Armenia was pretty darned guilty of it.

So, I do not condone what Azerbaijan has done, and snubbing NATO is probably a bad idea.  The US should be wary of comforting Azerbaijan too much, but this is a two country tango of nationalism and self-destruction.  As a result, I am a bit frustrated by this line:
This makes it all but impossible for Armenia to expect the United States to act as an honest broker in the peace process. And if the United States cannot play that role, no one else will.
I didn't realize that there was a peace process that was going anywhere.  Is Armenia willing to give up some/all of its gains from the war of irredentism twenty years ago?  Me thinks not.  Therefore, I am not so concerned about the absence of an honest broker--there is no deal to brokering, right?

To be sure, I have not assiduously followed events here, so I hope my readers can educate me about where I go wrong on this.

Holy Generation Gap, Batman

Adam Serwer tweeted this:


And it got me thinking.  It reminded me of a previous academic appointment I had where the folks who were past the normal age of retirement had heaps of sway over certain decisions.  When a certain 80+ year old colleague would weigh in on something, I would joke that it made sense since he was the future of the department.

Well, in American politics today and for years, the older folks have been key drivers since they turn out on election day and focus on issues that are important to just them--social security and medicare mostly.  This has long produced outcomes that direct not just more but most money to the senior citizens and not so much at the young folks who are the future, as the cliche goes.

Hence my tweet that is getting picked up this morning (and excuse the omitted "have" after the who):


Democracies are never very good at looking down the road, but this tendency is exaggerated when the older folks care only about themselves.  Of course, all of us are self-centered (I am a self-admitted narcissist), but the degree to which the current generation of senior citizens cares less about the future is rather astonishing.  It is not new that folks who used to vote for local school taxes when their kids were in school vote against them now that their kids have graduated.  But it does seem to be worse today.

So, the next time you hear someone say, "these kids today," there are others, including myself, thinking "these senior citizens today....."



Thursday, September 13, 2012

Voter Fraud Fraud, PA Style

I got into a long twitter argument with a person I otherwise respect.  He was basically arguing that people who want to vote should do the work it takes to get the ID necessary to vote.  Readers of the Spew will know that I would argue that there is no voter fraud problem of any consequence, that raising barriers to voters is a bad idea, and that it is a political effort by the Republicans to suppress the vote.

The fun thing is that the individual sent me two links in rapid succession to prove that getting a voter ID is not so problematic:  this and then this.  The first is the Pennsylvania site explaining what people need.  The second is the site the Democrats of Pennsylvania have set up to help people get the ID they need to vote.  This led to the natural challenge: where is the Republican site for helping people to get ID to vote in PA?  Yep, nada.  Zilch, zero. Zip.  I could be wrong, but my search has found none.  I never got a follow up tweet from the guy who was arguing against me. 

So, there you have it.  One party is helping people to get to the polls, the other is making it more difficult.  As I have said before, if you are relying on voter suppression to compete, then perhaps you are doing something wrong, that you are unworthy.  It is time for the Republicans to look deep into the 21st century and ask themselves: do they want to be the party of voter suppression? 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Individuals and Lone Wolves

I have been thinking a lot lately about something that political science generally does poorly--individuals. So, I am poorly equipped and pretty frustrated.  But events every day teach us that governments can influence groups, but not everyone.  That there are individuals out there, for good and bad, that have an outsized influence.  Three examples of very different kinds today:
  • Yesterday, I blogged about Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 Norwegians last year, and about the effort to learn from the experience.
  • Last night, a movie promoted by Terry Jones, the minister of intolerance and hate, led to violence in Egypt and Libya including the deaths of the US Ambassador to Libya and three others.  Just awful.  I joked online that Jones should go and meet this anti-fans.  Yes, we have freedom of speech, but with freedom comes responsibility. I cannot think right now of someone using the freedom of speech more irresponsibly than this one guy.
  • President Karzi of Afghanistan is also being irresponsible this morning, highlighting the movie and not condemning the violence.
Governments and societies can compel, persuade, and influence people to engage in responsible behavior, but what can we do about individuals who do not mind doing damage to others?  I have no solutions and few theories.  I raised a few yesterday at CSIS and was quickly countered by those who know what they are doing.  For instance, I pondered raising tarrifs on the chemicals used to make bombs.  Sure, there are alternative uses, but could we raise taxes on imports of small quantities of the stuff (whatever it is) and waivers for established companies?  Breivik was running out of money--as a lone wolf, he had no apparent financial support.  Could we have bankrupted him ahead of time by making the various components of his plans more expensive?  Can we come up with import schemes so that dual-use goods are too expensive for random individuals?

A second was more of wishful thinking than anything else.  Perhaps we do not need to worry so much about how creative and ingenius lone wolves can be.  It seemed to me that they are mostly not that creative--Breviek not only plagiarized in his manifesto but clearly borrowed from the AQ's playbook.  Let's worry less about exotic attacks and focus on the basic's--improved explosive devices and shooting sprees.  If we can figure out ways to deal with these, then we can focus on the stranger, higher tech stuff (improvised drones or what not). 

Anyhow, I have more questions than answers.  Any suggestions?

Dan Drezner Day

Yes, here at the Spew, we are having Dan Drezner Day. Why?  It is the tenth anniversary of his blog.  Woot!  Why should I care?  Why should you care?  Because Dan has been an incredible influence on my wading deep into the waters of web 2.0. My voice here has been shaped by his.  That I blog at all is due to his path-breaking.  He has influenced an entire generation or two of IR scholars about not just the need to engage beyond academia but how to do so.  Check out his top ten list.  He helped me give license to be serious and silly. 

I also owe Dan thanks for something else.  When I applied to the Council on Foreign Relations for their fellowship program, I flew into DC to interview.  I bumped into Dan at, I believe, Kramerbooks, on my way to the interview.  I knew he was a CFR International Fellow, so I asked him for his advice, and he was most generous.  I got the fellowship, which led to my year on the Joint Staff, which gave me a greater thirst for being engaged in the policy world.  Which led to my interest in blogging, and thus the circle of snark is now complete.

I have not thanked Dan in my acknowledgements in my books, so consider this the overdue hat tip.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Learning from Tragedy

I think it was mighty appropriate that I spent 9/11 this year learning about another tragedy that showed both incompetence and heroism: the attack in Norway on the government buildings and the youth summit on an island on a lake on July 22nd, 2011. 

I was invited to a series of events organized by the academic outreach folks at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to present the findings of the Norwegian Commission on the 22nd of July.  Laila Bokhari, a political scientist, served on the commission and presented the findings at CSIS.  Check out the report as it has an intro and conclusion in English.

The story is well known: Anders Behring Breivik built a car bomb, placed it near the main government buildings, and after the explosion he drove off in another car, went to an idyllic island on a lake and proceeded to shoot 69 young folks who were members of the youth division of the party that was in power.  A total of 77 people killed and many more wounded.  A very shocking event to Norway and beyond. 

CSIS and various members of Canada's security community (Public Safety, RCMP, etc.) were interested, as the Commission did a thorough job to evaluate how Norway handled the situation--before, during and after.  The short answer is that Norway did rather poorly in some important respects and did well in others.  How so?
  • The government had decided to create barriers so a car bomb could not be placed so closely to the government buildings, but this was never implemented.
  • The police received a report shortly after the explosion with details about the likely perpetrator and even the license plate of the car, but this was left on a yellow post it note and not shared for at least an hour.  Given that they have enough data to figure out that the perpetrator passed by three police units on the way to the island, there is good reason to believe that he should have been stopped before killing all of the kids.
  • The police did not, as Bokhari put it, push the big button--they did not set up roadblocks after the explosion. When the first reports of the attack at the lake came in, it was seen as not that important or even perhaps real as the government building attack was seen as The Show even as they knew from others' experiences that there are often simultaneous or secondary attacks.
  • This leads to one of the big findings--Norway had heaps of the standard procedures that would have worked well if invoked.  But they were not invoked.  More on that in a second.
  • The police, when alerted to the shooting on the island, responded quickly but could not communicate with each other as their radios did not work well together.  Nor did they have GPS maps in their cars so it took a while for the three sets of first responding police teams to coordinate.
  • But they had only one boat, so they piled onto it, overloading, rather than borrowing civilian boats.
  • The Armed Forces were ready to help, but in a domestic crisis, they could only respond if asked by the civilian authorities and the civil authorities did not ask until hours later.
  • The medical folks responded much better--more quickly, getting everyone mobilized.  
  • The police, apparently with union concerns/restraints, didn't mobilize everyone.
  • The civilians proved to be a huge boon--helping out with the boats, rescuing folks themselves as they went into harms way.
  • The leadership messaged well to the public and beyond.
  • The intelligence folks missed some of the warning signs since the guy had been talking about his hate and buying up chemicals to get some notice.  
Why did Norway not follow the training, the exercises, etc?  Well, for one thing, many folks were on vacation so the person making many of the calls was not the Deputy but the Deputy's Deputy, which meant he or she had no training or practice.  He or she did not know where the manuals and plans were, where the checklists of what to do were.  Wow.

And this goes to one of the reasons why governments in general screw this up and some parts work better than others.  Governments often have officials cycle through various posts, so those who get training move on and are replaced by those with less.  Also, the medical folks deal with emergencies every day and big ones frequently and constantly drill and live this stuff.  The police folks, at least in Norway, did not so much. 

Breivik's timing was driven by his declining funds--he was running out of money so he needed to attack sooner rather than later.  So, the bomb blew up next to largely empty buildings.  A late Friday afternoon in summer.  This worked both for and against the government---less casualties at the bomb site but less experienced personnel and understaffed posts to work the second attack. 

While there are many good recommendations in the report, I am suspicious about how much will be implemented.  It is an election year, there are the usual actors that are more interested in other stuff than effectiveness (gun lobby, unions, parties).  I pointed out to Bokhari a book by Amy Zegart, Flying Blind, which explains why the FBI and CIA failed to fix themselves despite heaps of recommendations. 

Oh, and I learned something else: CSIS has a big, big building:



Eleven Years Later

Last night, I pondered what I would be saying on the radio today (the TV appearance didn't happen) about the anniversary of 9/11.  I was on the local alternative rock station 88.5, which does some news stuff as part of their morning crew/zoo/herd/flock.  So, what did I say?

video



I discussed briefly where I was when the attacks happened.  For a longer version of this tale, go here.  They asked me about the progress on the war of terror, and I basically said that such a war can never end since it is a war on a tactic or strategy--the threat or use of force against non-combatants to change government policy--that preceded 9/11 but a few decades centuries millennia.  So, the real question is whether we can defeat an organization.

Which led to the next question--what is the status of the war on Al Qaeda?  I am no expert, but I follow a few on twitter, including the Patron Saint of the terrorism industry, so I enumerated some of the progress--AQ lost its sanctuary and many folks in Afghanistan, Bin Laden and a whole host of #3's have been killed, that AQ overplayed and offended much of the Muslim world by killing heaps of Muslims, but that it still exists and poses a threat (how much?)

I did discuss the local threat--not so much about AQ central organizing an attack against Canada, but "home grown" folks launching attacks.  But I also indicated that there are far greater threats to Canadian and American lives without going into the details (obesity, infrastructure failures, etc.)

So, who won 9/11?  My answer: Iran.  That the attack gave Bush and his crew heaps of autonomy in US politics to launch a war against a country with which these folks were most obsessed (kind of like Iran today), that the war against Iraq removed a key impediment and concern to Iran, that it gave Iran more influence via Iraqi politics (not to mention allowing Afghanistan to fester).


So, them's my thoughts on 9/11 eleven years later.  Much frustration at the waste in lives here and elsewhere since then and the economic losses as well. 


Drunk Frat Boys? No, Just Some Old Game Theory

I have often snarked about how a few drunk fraternity brothers can swing an election in a three-way race, producing such outcomes as Jesse "The Body" Ventura as Governor of Minnesota.  I have also been critical of the 50% plus one threshold for such a major change as an independent Quebec.  Andrew Potter gave a nice primer today in Condorcet's Paradox.  That when you have three or more options, you can get into situations where the outcome depends entirely on the framing of the choice and the voting rules.  No stable majority will exist.

What this means for Canada and Quebec is that the PQ can frame the choice, perhaps, to get enough support even if the public may prefer autonomy to independence.  So, Potter is right: 50%+1 sucks.  On the other hand, even if there is a referendum (not soon), the choices in people's heads will not be entirely the same as the choice on paper--that framing is not a one party project, that other folks can compete to frame the choice so that people are aware of alternatives.

The PQ has to do more than frame the choice as federalism vs independence, as the uncertainty of a new country vs the realities of the old one raise a counter-vailing tendency in this case.  From psychology, we know about loss aversion (note the recent hotness of a book by Daniel Kahneman)*: people will gamble more to avoid losses than to pursue gains.  In a referendum situation, the potential losses of independence are likely to swamp the potential gains of independence, especially if the federal government does not put Quebec into a use or lose kind of situation. 
*  The fun thing to note that Kahneman's book looks an awful lot like the covers of Malcolm Gladwell's but the former is a real social scientist and the latter is just a pop social scientist.  Hmmm
Machiavelli knew this a long time ago:
"It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favor; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it. Thus it arises that on every opportunity for attacking the reformer, his opponents do so with the zeal of partisans, the others only defend him half-heartedly, so that between them he runs great danger."  Previously quoted here and here.
So, I do greatly appreciate the public service done by Potter this morning, but there is cause for some optimism as well.  Sometimes, fear and uncertainty can be good.




Monday, September 10, 2012

What Is There Left To Say

What is there left to say about 9/11? I guess I will find out tomorrow.  Another 9/11 anniversary, another one where the status of Al Qaeda is not entirely clear.  Yes, they lost Osama Bin Laden and a bushful of number 3's over the year, but they may have gained some real territory in Mali, that Assad is doing what he can to recruit people to the cause of extremism with his violence against his own people and so on.

I will find out tomorrow as I am doing a bit of TV and radio in Ottawa.  I think we (the westerners) are now pretty close to the end of the war in Afghanistan, which will continue after we leave.  It is no longer news in the US except when it is omitted from Romney's speech, as the real politics about it is mostly over, just as Canada lost interest long before 2011 when the end became clear.  The media follow the big fights, but when the fight among the parties is resolved--with enddates--they have less to cover.  So, they move on.

I am more confused and frustrated about the Afghanistan war now more than ever.  It was surely necessary to invade to destroy as much of Al Qaeda as necessary and displace the Taliban.  After that, too many mistakes.  I am still reading  Rajiv Chandrasekaran'sbook, Little America, but it is endlessly depressing about how hard it has been to operate in Afghanistan and how confused the Americans are about pretty much everything (including the Canadians). 

So, what will I say tomorrow?  That a war on terror cannot be fought or ended, since it is a war against a tactic that heaps of folks use.  No, the war should have been just on AQ.  Indeed, making a broader conflict encouraged some folks to name their opponents terrorists and justified repression. 

What else?  I don't know.  I will report back tomorrow morning.

Thinking of those who lost so much that day and those who lost as much since.

A Good Job


People have been asking me about the IR job at McGill.  Yes, it is to fill the spot that my move created.  Yes, you should apply.  No, really, go ahead.  As I mentioned many times in this here blog, the students at McGill are phenomenal.  Nearly all of the colleagues and especially the young'uns are terrific people.  The department is mostly collegial, and the new chair is a huge improvement over the old one.  Montreal is a great town.  I had my own reasons for leaving, but it is a very good job. 

The complications mostly involve Quebec.  No, you don't have be fluent in French.  Not yet anyway, but perhaps that might change with the new Parti Quebecois government.  Courses at McGill are taught in English, although students can opt to write papers and exams in French.  Which is why we have teaching assistants.  The complications are mostly about employment for the spouse if there is one and education for any potential or actual kids.  If your spouse cannot speak French, then getting a job will be hard but not impossible. If you have kids and neither you nor your spouse are Canadian, they are only eligible for the French public school system.  As it stands now, you could send your kids to English private schools, which would add $12k or more to budget on the expenditure side of the ledger.  That option may or may not change--depends on the PQ and whether they gain a majority in any election in the near future (although do not wager against the Liberals selling out the immigrants and Anglos on this, plus who knows what the CAQ will do).

I have plenty of American friends who moved to McGill and navigated these complications quite well.  For us, these challenges were part of the reason we left, but your mileage kilometer-age may vary.

Working in Canada as an academic is mostly quite a good deal.  The pay, according to surveys, is better than nearly anywhere else although taxes are higher in Quebec than anyplace else in North America.  The grant money can be good as not only is there no effort by random fans of ignorance to cut federal funding of political science, but instead of one NSF, there are essentially three with one purely for the Social Sciences and Humanities.

The skiing and ultimate frisbee are great, the beer is terrific, and it is hard to find a bad restaurants (although the Mexican food is pretty weak). 

So, if you are looking for a political science job in IR, apply to McGill.  I did, and I don't regret it.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The New Curriculum

I love this guy's stuff:

The only one I have a real problem with is the electoral math.  How hard is this: the vote in each state is winner-take-all (except for Maine and Nebraska, I guess) where the candidate who gets the most popular votes gets points (it never really goes to a real assembly for debate)--one for each representative and two for having Senators (and Washington, DC's three electors).  Whoever gets a majority--270--wins.  How hard was that?  Much easier than budget arithmetic, despite Bill Clinton's Great Clarification speech.

And I read something yesterday about the Paul Ryan lying thing.  The basic point is that the marathon thing just helps to illustrate the reality here.  Ryan had always had a loose association with the facts but seemed more reasonable (perhaps because he is cute/younger) than the other reality-averse folks in his party.  Once he spoke, it became clear that reality and he are mere acquaintances. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Voice Against the Fraud

I have been pretty obsessed with voterfraudfraid--the effort by the GOP to suppress the vote with fears of imaginary voter fraud.  Well, if this bothers me, it sure as hell bothers John Lewis, one of the freedom riders who put his life at risk to promote civil rights in the early 1960s.  So, it is too bad he didn't get some prime time coverage at the convention with his short but powerful speech:



I am becoming a bit more confident with the recent court rulings, with the relative performances of the two parties at their conventions, and the confidence the Democrats had in their diversity, that history is very much not only on the side of the Democrats but the election may be as well.  Regardless of the other issues, a party that tries to rely on voter suppression does not deserve to win.  It cannot get more un-American than that--if the revolution was about taxation without representation, the anti-tax folks of the right forget that the key was not the taxes but the representation.

Satuday Silliness, Profane Edition

NSFW but also not safe for those who have never seen The Wire.  So, see it and then come back.  Ok, just see it!




Just brilliant.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Picking Your Comparisons

[Slightly revised version is cross -posted at CIC]

There is an excellent piece on the Canadian F-35 procurement politics process at Foreignpolicy.com with a really unfortunate headline on the website--about whether Canada was tricked by US into buying the plane.

The piece is very sharp about some contrasts in legislative oversight (although Canadians do not think their parliament does oversight over the military but accountability over the defence ministery--something that still confuses me).

I have one hesitation and then one major frustration. The hesitation is this: we still don't know what the Canadian government is going to do.  If Harper goes ahead with the purchse of 65 F-35's, then the meetings that the author of this piece had might seem more like Kabuki theatre than anything significant.  That is unfair, of course, but the point is that if we see the same policy over five years of politicking and controversy, it raises a few questions about how significant that stuff was, except for the election part (not a small piece of the process).

The major frustration: suggesting that Canada does defence procurement better than the US, comparing the respective legislatures, is kind of like asking which of the Stooges (of the Three Stooges) was most effective.  This is a basic Canadian pattern--compare ourselves to how lame the US does x, and then we can feel better about ourselves.  The most obvious tendency is in the realm of health care.  Yes, the American health care system is very unfair, but Canada shares the same basic problem: heaps of money spent with lackluster results.  The difference?  The US health care system provides excellent care to those who can pay, those who are insured.  The Canadian system works best for those who have the best networking skilz and contacts so they can work a very stressed system.  So, the Canadian system is mostly semi-mediocre across the board.  The reality is that both countries need to stop looking at each other, and smugly thing that theirs is better than the other (our waits are shorter, our rationing is fairer) and look elsewhere, such as parts of Europe that have managed cost escalation better and delivery better.

Getting back to procurement, this story suggests that the NDP did its homework, but the outcomes thus far indicate that Canadian military procurement is just as messed up as the American process.  The US pays way too much for its stuff with heaps of cost overruns and very sketchy ties between Congress and defense contractors.  The Canadians pay a lot and seem to get back stuff that does not work.  The politics in both places directs people away from the hard choices, but as long as they look to only one basis of comparison, a messed up one, neither one will be able to figure out what to do better.  Instead, they can be smugly complacent.