Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Spew in Review

Last week, I went through the stats of the Spew to see which posts got attention, which ones got comments, and how people found me here.  Today, on the last day in 2014, as I seek to break up the reading of many fellowship applications that I am reviewing, I want to review the year in Spew more directly--what were the topics I covered as the year progressed, which predictions were right and wrong, and so on.

This blog started more than five years ago as an exercise in narcissism.  With the publication of the new book, it became more than that--it became a platform for self-promotion!  Woot! Anyhow, the year was mighty good to me even as the world was crumbling.  Ok, to be clear, the world catching fire was good for my business--demonstrating the relevance of the new book since it covered the role of alliances and coalitions in managing hotspots and reminding us of the relevance of irredentism and xenophobia (thanks Putin).  I had much to write about over the year.  Let's take a look:


The year started with the release of NATO in Afghanistan.  Much of my blogging and tweeting and most of my traveling would be dedicated in the first half of 2014 to promoting the book.  I would do some more promotion in the second half (and deep into 2015?), but the book was a key focal point of much of my activity.  And rightly so.  Fun book, important and relevant today, much investment, time to disseminate/mobilize knowledge (as the grant agencies say).

Best Prediction was Earliest one:  There was much speculation about who was going to be the new Secretary-General of NATO.  The German Minister of Defence was seen as the favorite, but I pooh pooh-ed that quickly and enthusiastically.  Instead, we got Jens Stoltenberg, a Norwegian. 

Surprisingly, much of early 2014 was occupied by my role as a leaker/social activist.  The International Studies Association had a proposal to restrict the blogging efforts of editors of its various journals.  I took much umbrage, which went about as viral as anything I have ever done.  The good news is that the proposal got shelved.


I spent much of February traveling--Kansas City, Denver, and a quick jaunt to Australia.  What did I blog about in between?  Well, I responded to a twitter request about a key issue: whither NATO in the HP War with Voldemort?  This was probably my favorite application of the book to pop culture in 2014.

The ISA story of January transmorgified into a larger debate about whether profs should engage in outreach.  I argued yes but also that there are many roles to be played in poli sci


The story of March was the Russian aggression against Ukraine.  I wrote a bunch.  One prediction--that Russia would not go beyond Crimea--was wrong.  But the stuff on how little the US and NATO could do in response?  On target.  That the referendum on Crimea's future was a sham?  Correct, sir.  The bright side of the irredentism two-step we saw in March is that Bill Ayres and I persuaded Columbia University Press to put out a paperback version of For Kin or Country in 2015 with a new introduction to address these events.

One of the stories of the winter/spring was the effort by the Quebec nationalists to use xenophobia to win the provincial election.  The responses by opponents were so sharp.  This is my favorite.  I obsessed about squirrels.

2014 was largely a great year for me and a somewhat lousy year for the world.  In one particular case, it was lousy for me and for the world: we lost a great scholar and a great person as the ISA wrapped up--Pattie Weitsman lost her second battle with leukemia.  She was an incredibly supportive ally as we sought to understand alliances in international politics.


I have tried to focus on the positive as I started feeling like I spent most of my time whining.  I learned from a Canadian general that one should "declare success" and move on.  However, I had one big moment of un-success in 2014 amid all the skiing and talking so I addressed it here.  Rejection is inherent in the academic enterprise, so I was not entirely surprised by not getting this key grant, but it was disappointing nonetheless.  I am currently waiting to hear about the status of the revised and resubmitted grant.

One theme for Canada always and especially in 2014--was doing the least and doing the most.  That is, Canada always shows up when NATO acts.  It does the least it can do--it cannot opt out.  It also does the most it can do--send a package of planes and not much more.  In April, it was the reassurance mission to our friends in Eastern Europe.  In the fall, it would be sending planes and some SOF to Iraq.

A key theme in my work for most of my career was re-energized in 2014: ethnic conflict is just not as contagious as people believe.  So, I had multiple chances to reiterate my skepticism and predict a lack of spread.  Here is one of the many times it came up.


I started May doing something I had never done before--testify.  I appeared before the Parliament's committee on National Defence.  It was a very interesting experience--to me anyway, if not to the committee.

I marked my five year anniversary of blogging.

I had an epiphany that has since become a key theme in much of my thinking about American foreign policy and intervention: how about some humility?

What should IR students remember after four years of college/university?  I have some ideas.


The only way I could watch the Rumseld doc was to invite friends and drink rum. 

Let it Go was my go-to song of the year (along with Everything is Awesome), so I had fun pondering whether it was pro or anti-irredentist.

I have been lucky in that I have experienced very little death (of the non-grantparent variety).  2014 signaled either a new trend or a blip (hopefully the latter).  I mentioned Pattie W's death earlier.  In June, we lost Ed Cohen, the guy who directed the camp I went to for all of my teens and beyond.  That place was the only place I was happy for much of my teens, and Ed was responsible for creating that environment.


Advanced analytics in ultimate?  I found this quite interesting although I must admit my ultimate play is prone to a lack of learning--that last huck didn't work, let me try again.

I got pushed to clarify why I think of religion as a component of ethnicity rather than a distinct phenomenon.

My obsession with bags of milk in Canada hit the news

Teen Spew did a great job of editing some of my ultimate moves.


An unpleasant month, which probably explains why I posted less frequently.  But here is my thinking on riots, dissent and related stuff.

Best/worst part of the year: the day where my daughter left home to start college.

2014 was seen as a bad year for many reasons, but especially the number of shootings of black men by cops.  There are many ways to look at it.  I decided to think about rules of engagement--that cops seem to have moved the burden of risk in interactions with the public from themselves to the citizens.  I am not a fan.

Having spent much of the year promoting a book that is critical of NATO, I found myself arguing for not changing NATO that much.  As always, NATO is worst form of multilateral military cooperation except for all of the others.


How can you tell I have been in Canada for more than a decade?  I get pissy when people talk about NATO burden-sharing and focus on 2% of GDP as opposed to what actually happens when the firing starts.

I get really annoyed when the US is accused of isolationism or pulling back from the world.

I got into a spat with Tom Ricks over at over whether political science has much interesting to say about international security.  We went at it a couple of times.

If people learn from one successful secessionist effort that they should become secessionist too (the ethnic domino theory), then how about the reverse


I was annoyed that the media expected instant results when the US and its allies started bombing Daesh in Iraq and Syria, so I posted tweets of what other historical events would look like with such impatience.

I got cranky when I received an unhelpful review on the new book.  I got pushed to specify what a helpful review would be.

I wrote about the events in Ottawa on October 20th here, here, and here.


I pushed back against "mission creep" fear-mongering for much of the year.

Another consistent theme at the Spew: transparency is better than denial.

My advice on academic book-writing went semi-viral.


I had fun pooh-poohing the idea that tenured profs do not war with each other (democratic peace in a new universe).

I found myself being an advocate for public servants.

I had much to say about a piece that argued that the US military is obsessed with Star Wars.

So, those are some of the Spew-lights of 2014.  We focus much on the negative, but the world is actually better off in many ways.  I know that I am better off even if I miss Frosh Spew and even if the next book is taking longer.  I continue to declare success even when grants do not come my way.

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