Sunday, October 22, 2017

Advising and Assisting: Lessons from Omelets

Omelets?  OMLT: Observer,  Mentor, Liaison Teams.  In Afghanistan, many (but not all, due to caveats)* NATO members and partners (the latter would be non-members like Australia, Sweden, Georgia, etc) would put small groups of troops into a larger Afghan unit to help mentor them and provide them with critical linkages to air support, artillery support, intel, and other stuff needed to make the Afghans more effective.  During the high point of the effort, from 2006-2013 or so, these OMET-ed Afghan units would go into battle alongside ISAF forces.  This is key because if the Afghan unit broke and ran, the small numbers of ISAF Omeleteers (yes, they were called omeleteers) would still have the protection of the ISAF battlegroup.
*  Some countries were reluctant to participate in OMLTS due to: higher risks--one's security still mostly depended on the Afghans or one might be present when Afghans commit war crimes--why the Danes, otherwise fairly aggressive and caveat-free, chose to OMLT only garrison units.  Oh, and many countries had rules about whether OMLTs could accompany their mentees outside the country's area of operations.
Why is this relevant?  Because these days, few places where "advising and assisting" is there such backup. Indeed, in Niger, there were not even American planes and helicopters nearby.  As hinted at  on the Bombshell podcast, this violated one of the fundamental rules in Afghanistan--that operations were not take place more than a hour from a major alliance medical facility. This meant helos, and if no helos, then no ops unless within a short drive of medical help.  Why? Because if you can get a wounded soldier/marine/whatever to a hospital within an hour, then they have a  high probability of living.  This is important because wounded soldiers don't count: that they don't get listed in Killed in Action totals (do you know how many of your country's military folks were wounded in Afghanistan or Iraq?  Probably not, but KIA, maybe); they don't make the news as much, and, yes, they don't semi-require the President or someone else to call/write the relatives. [Ok, overly cynical--golden hour rule is very important for making sure those hurt in harm's way have the best chance to survive their wounds]

Anyhow, those rules, like all rules, tend not to apply as strictly to Special Operations types.  Why?  Necessity--they go to places where there is not major allied infrastructure providing heaps of helos and hospitals.  Oh, and SOF means secret so when bad stuff happens, it is less likely to cause trouble back home.  As poker this week in Vegas reminded me, less likely does not mean impossible.  So, things went poorly in Niger and we have little idea what happened, but it is now news.

The US forces were advising and assisting the Nigeriens and got ambushed.  One of the tricky things about this stuff is advising and assisting often means combat--killing and being killed, wounding and being wounded.  But they fall short of conventional combat operations, so publics and medias and politicians get confused about whether this is combat or not.  Anyhow, because there are few civilians in the proper jobs at State and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, this administration probably didn't really know who was in Niger and what they were doing.  So, more abdication of responsibility to the military.... and when the military is left alone, they may engage in risky or careless behavior.  Such as falling into rituals and habits that allow the adversaries to plan ambushes, for instance.

Again, we don't know much.  What we do know is that this US administration needs to staff up and start engaging in oversight.  Instead, they have engaged in blamecasting with a Congresswoman.  Not good.  Did this administration learn from the failed Yemen raid early in their term?  Does not seem so. All we do know is that Congress and the media need to ask tough questions of four star generals, active and retired, to figure out what went wrong, what can be learned, and how will stuff like this be less likely in the future.  To be clear, whenever a country has thousands of troops strewn through the world, advising and assisting militaries in and near conflict zones, bad stuff will occasionally happen.  But we would like to have confidence that much is being done to minimize risks, maximize effectiveness, and perhaps be able to communicate these activities to democratic publics.  And who has such confidence these days?

Friday, October 20, 2017

Always Tis What You Do: GOP edition

I am a Potter-ite as I have said many times, with the key creed being:
It is our choices ... that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.  Chamber of Secrets.
While I have been traveling (and not yet gambling) this week, I have missed the chance to spew about much stuff.   So, I have a hot take or two:
  • We really should not be surprised by Kelly lying about Congresswoman Wilson.  Kelly was awful at DHS, amplifying or encouraging or at least not mitigating the Muslim ban way back in February.  Under his administration, ICE felt unshackled to engage in all kinds of awful tactics against people who presented no threat to the US.  And then he chooses to lie and attack rather than apologize for his master's inability to convey any empathy.  So, yeah, tis your choices, John Kelly. [I do thank him for presenting yet more evidence that there are too many ex-generals in this administration]
  • Lots of talk of George W. Bush subtweeting Trump in his speech critical of nativism and protectionism.  That is a choice and a good one, but then again, he also showed up to campaign for a truly awful candidate for governor in Virginia.  Maybe we ought not expect Bush to criticize GOP candidates, but he did choose to support him.
  • McMaster?  He keeps on talking about denuclearization and military options, which is scaring the crap out of me.  Because a war with North Korea, the only way to denuclearize NK, would be catastrophic for South Korea, Japan, North Koreans, and, oh, yeah, the international economy.  He also keeps showing up on TV spinning for Trump--another choice that is harmful especially for civilian-military relations since he is still an active member of the US Army.
  • Mattis says we shouldn't be asking questions about the Niger ambush?  Oversight of the military is not just your job, sir.  It involves Congress, and because Congress operates via fire alarms (they wait for someone to report a problem and then respond), the media play a vital role in civilian control of the military.  I continue to think Mattis is overrated because he is better than the rest.  That ain't saying much these days.
  • Trump?  His choices continually suck.
We know the character of the folks in this administration.  Maybe some day, we will find out that Kelly, Mattis and McMaster prevented worse things from happening, but I can't really count on that. All I see are the choices they make, and that tells me enough.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

False and Real Patriotism

This administration lives in a bizarro universe and so does, alas, much of the media.  The latest?

For the past couple of months, the false focus of what it means to be an American and a patriot has been on whether one stands or kneels during the anthem at sporting events.  The real focus should be on how this administration is so hostile to minority ethnic groups and immigrants (see the latest survey that has Trump wildly unpopular among non-whites).  Keeping green card holders out of the army?  What the hell? 

One could focus simply on the irrationality of this--that with most younger Americans being unqualified/disqualified (mostly due to physical fitness), one would think that taking in those who are willing and able to serve would make sense.

More importantly, what is more patriotic than being willing to fight and die for one's adopted country?  Actually serving is far more important than standing during the anthem.  One is a real contribution and, as Trump reminded a soldier's widow, a potentially risky thing to do.  The other? Purely symbolic and actually has got little to do with being a patriot, as dissent is just as American, if not more so, than standing during a song. 

I have been blogging less lately because many of my entries would simply be FFS.  For fuck sake.  Why?  Because this administration is so often full of shit, so shameless that hypocrisy seems to a badge of honor.  Who is the better patriot?  Colin Kaepernick or Donald Trump? It ain't close.  Not at all.  Kaepernick knows that sacrificing self for political change is worth the cost.   Trump only knows sacrificing others for personal aggrandizement and ego.

Twas 1775 when Samuel Johnson said: "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."  Indeed.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Quebec and Xenophobia: the Liberals are Illiberal

Quebeckers get upset when accused of being racist or xenophobic, but then the government of Quebec proposes to deny public services to those who cover their face.
The controversial legislation would effectively ban public workers — including doctors, nurses, teachers and daycare workers — as well as those receiving a service from the government, from wearing the niqab, burka or any other face covering.
 This is very clearly aimed at Muslim women wearing burkas and niqabs and not at those who endure the Canadian winter via fleecy balaclavas.  Why?  Because it is good politics--there is no real threat of face covered folks--just the imagined threat and taking a stance that tells one's base that one is with them by being against the other. 

It makes me want to resurrect an old meme of mine: the xenophobic squirrel.

I will need to find the old pic and make new ones for the PLQ (Quebec Liberal Party) as most of my old ones were aimed at the Parti Quebecois.

They call it religious neutrality.  I call it Islamophobia.  And, of course, the opposition parties in Quebec say it isn't enough.

This does remind me that the national and provincial parties are not the same entities, as Trudeau and the NDP refused to go along with this kind of crap two yeas ago.  It cost the NDP bigly, but not Trudeau.  I wonder if anyone will ask him about this, and whether he will dodge or not.  

Friday, October 13, 2017

Hostile Work Environments

In this space, I have frequently railed against sexual harassers, including outing one at my old place.  Why?  First, much sympathy for those who are directly victimized as it can derail careers and create great pain.  Second, it is simply wrong.  But third, and the topic du jour, is that it creates a hostile work environment.  That seems abstract, and when I first heard that phrase a couple of decades ago, I had no idea what it means.  Now?  Absolutely, I do.

When I was at Texas Tech, there was an assistant prof who slept with multiple grad students, as in at the same exact time and place.  It poisoned pretty much everything:
  • it poisoned faculty-student relations as junior faculty realized that they could not spend any non-office time with students since one of our colleagues was using such opportunities to prey.
  • it poisoned student-student relations as students thought that those who were sleeping with faculty were getting special treatment in terms of grades and protection from both the harasser (probably) and the rest of the faculty (probably not).  
  • it poisoned senior-junior faculty relations as the seniors were oblivious and wanted to give the guy special treatment that the rest of us would not get (they literally said that) while the junior faculty were outraged both by the predator and the special treatment he was getting. 
  • it poisoned the future of the department since getting him fired for being absent without leave took the new department chair's time and health as he had to fight insiders who wanted to keep an AWOL sexual harasser (he eventually was fired, although I am sure he became someone else's problem). 
At McGill, the sexual harassment by one guy over decades:
  • derailed the careers of many young women interested in Mideast studies and peacebuilding.
  • created tensions among the grad students because some didn't know, some didn't believe and some didn't know what to do. 
  • created resentment by those faculty in the know towards the administration that barely slapped a wrist.
  • fostered tensions within the faculty between those in the know and the predator that remained inside the department.
My list for McGill is different because the dynamics were a bit less central to everything.  Why?  Because the predator was not an ally of other senior faculty, that the predator involved fewer students in all the stuff he was up to (the students at McGill did not vote in faculty meetings in numbers that were larger than the junior faculty), because McGill was not nearly as poorly administered at all levels as TTU despite my problems with a chair who knew nothing, heard nothing, etc.

So much of the Harvey Weinstein stuff is familiar to me.
  • There are folks at McGill who remain silent because of confidentiality agreements that were imposed--so journalists know that something happened (and is still happening) but can't write stories with out names and testimony (I have been approached several times over the past year or two).   As someone who was never officially in the loop, I never had to agree to such a pledge. 
  • Others fear saying stuff because of potential lawsuits--my post last year led some folks to speculate when I would get sued.  Not yet.  
  • The community of victims is far larger than folks think--I am not surprised that Weinstein did this over and over again for decades.  He felt entitled and empowered by his own impunity.  That is very familiar given that the harassers I have known are not one-time guys who fell in love or in deep like or had crushes on one amazing student.  Nope, they kept preying upon those who were vulnerable because they could. Again, confidentiality does not protect the future victims.
While sexual harassment happens to most women at some point, it may or not happen everywhere.  I wasn't at Vermont long enough to see anything or hear about anything.  On the other hand, I was at McGill for ten years and only now am hearing about other people (thanks to my post of last year).  At Carleton?  So far, so good.  It does not seem to be a hostile work environment.  Sure, we have some faculty members who are less than optimal colleagues, but so far, I have not heard anything.  That does not mean that it hasn't happened or isn't happening because, as I have seen elsewhere, the predators often do stuff outside of view and are often protected by conspiracies of silence.  I hope this bad stuff isn't going on where I work now, but the odds are not in our favor, given that this is more prevalent than I would like even if it is less prevalent than how Hollywood tends to portray academia.

I remember folks saying that universities could not have policies on faculty-grad student romance since you can't legislate against love. So many of our profs were married to other profs who they had met when one was faculty and the other was a student.  I call bullshit on that. Yes, romance can happen, but if one has feelings for a student, wait until they are not a student.  I think general policies in this case are needed because the damage done to individuals and communities can be so deep and so lasting that it is worth deferring or even denying a few real relationships. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Proud and Humbled

I was in Toronto yesterday for an awards ceremony.  Aisha Ahmad, one of my Phd students from my time at McGill, was receiving an award for best article on an international security topic in 2016.  She was supposed to heave received it last winter at the ISA meeting in Baltimore, but that took place shortly after Trump announced his Muslim ban.  So, I accepted the award on her behalf, and we decided to hold an event in Toronto to recognize her.

Of course, Aisha decided to take advantage of the moment by doing two things: schooling us on doing research and on highlighting her students.  After big IR poohbah Robert Keohane (whose last name gets mispronounced more frequently and in more ways than mine) had a few comment and insights, Aisha discussed positionality in research, especially in fieldwork, making it clear that everyone has a distinct position from where they ask questions, but it seems that only brown folks and women folks tend to be asked about their position and how it affects their work.  She had a great example from real life as her white male colleagues interviewed the same guy she did on the same day but in a different context and got a very different perspective of that same guy.  Really very clarifying discussion. 

Aisha then had a series of her students--undergrad and grad--to discuss their work briefly, and they knocked our socks off.  I have always been impressed with her diligence and her dedication, but mentioning that would have turned my Harry Potter reference (three d's of disapparition) into a Dodgeball reference (five d's of dodgeball).

After she talked, Barnett Rubin moderated, David Dewitt and I said a few things.  David talked about Aisha's article and spiffy new book. I talked about Aisha and how truly impressive she is and how far she has come.  The path has not been easy for her, but she has walked it (or ran it, I guess) with grace and fire. 

I have much pride for her excellence, but I am also humbled because she works so much harder than I do/did, is so much more diligent and passionate about the work, and is just rocking the profession. I joked that I will take all credit for her success, as is my right as her supervisor, but, we know the truth--it is all Aisha. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Texas Tech and Guns

I finished watching some fun TV to find that there has been a shooting at Texas Tech, where I taught from 1995-2002 (well, until 2001, but was technically still employed until summer of 2002).  We don't know much yet, but I can't help but think about a few things:
  1. The Texas legislature decided to allow guns on campus despite the opposition of university police departments across the state and, well, common sense.
  2. The first person to pay the price for this is a campus cop, and the student seems to have problems.  The cops were visiting the student to do a welfare check.  So yeah.
  3. The slogan at TTU, instead of hook 'em or gig 'em or whatever, is Guns Up!  
I am glad that my remaining friends at TTU and everyone else except the cop and the kid are ok.  The kid's life is destroyed, and the cop is gone and his family is ripped apart.  But there's more freedom with heaps of guns, so there's that.

Happy Thanksgiving, Eh?

I was away last Canadian Thanksgiving, and, yes, I am still giving thanks for that terrific time last year (facebook reminds me I took a bus tour to Mt. Fuji last year and encountered ninjas along the way).  So, I don't think I properly gave thanks last year.  Moreover, with the past year of US politics, well, it makes Canada's joys stand out just a wee bit more in stark relief.  So, let me give thanks:
  • I am thankful for the great group of friends I have in Ottawa, Montreal, Kingston, Toronto and elsewhere in Canada.  Some stereotypes are actually true--most Canadians I have met are friendly and polite and funny.  We truly feel at home.
  • I am thankful for the two cool jobs I had.  I loved teaching at McGill, and miss the students who went there as well as most of my former colleagues.  It was a great opportunity, and I will always be thankful for it.  Carleton has been mighty, mighty good, with five years flying by.  Sure, I ended up hiring my friends (ok, not so much as I got bounced off of the committees when my friends got short-listed), which makes the place even better, but I felt very welcome even before that.  And the folks at the Dean's Office have recognized my contributions (of course, I then end up doing more stuff for them ...hmmmm).
  • I am thankful to Canada's grant agencies as they have funded my research, which has included a lot of sweet travel around Canada and far, far beyond.  The forms are not fun, and the big partnership grant is a tough nut to crack, but my research ambitions have been very high ever since I moved here since I can get funding to the work I want to do.
  • I am thankful for being in a national capital.  Studying international relations, especially defense and national security stuff, is so much more fun and interesting when one is close to the action (or non-action).  I regularly meet military officers, diplomats, officials across the government, ambassadors and personnel representing their countries to Canada, media folks, and on and on.  It is just so very interesting.  As a deeply curious person, I enjoy this so very much.
  • I am so very thankful for being able to continue to play in a very vibrant, friendly ultimate frisbee community which owns its own fields only 12 minutes from my house. I am, of course, thankful the chance to play so much in Montreal as well.  
  • I am thankful for the great skiing although I doubt I will be returning to Whistler this winter.  Maybe Banff if I am lucky.
  • I am thankful that the 2015 election went the way it did.  Perhaps because the Conservatives had been in power for ten years or so, incumbent fatigue led Canada to move left instead of right, bucking the future trend.  The Liberals are not perfect, nor is Justin Trudeau, but damn near all of my friends would trade their government for the Canadian one in a heartbeat.  I have had the chance to give them my feedback more directly from time to time, and it is an homor to be asked to do so. I do gripe about them, but the Liberals made their big move around this time two years ago when the Conservatives shifted to an Islamophobic stance and the Liberals, as well as the NDP, refused to go along.  That the NDP is now led by a Sikh makes me more inclined to take them seriously in the future.  The multiculturalism of Canadian politics is a tonic these days as I watch the White Supremacist in Chief degrade American politics.
  • I was going to be thankful that I can get the new Star Trek on TV weekly without having to pay CBS streaming, but, well, the show is not that good.
  • I am thankful for better snow removal service!  It took some trying, but we finally found a reliable company. 
I am sure there is more, but I have some class prep to do for tomorrow.  To sum up, I am very grateful that the job market washed us up on these friendly shores.  Not what I expected at all when I started my PhD, but I am very, very lucky.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Tyranny of Low Expectations, Episode 75

I have lost track of how many times I have complained about how lauded James Mattis is, but here I go again.  I saw this:
Sure, Mattis doing great compared to Tillerson, but that is like saying that I am a sprinter when compared to a decomposing corpse.  I cried on twitter:

What evidence do we have that Mattis doing a great job?

I am waiting.... Sure, Mattis hasn't sucked up to Trump, and Trump seems to pay him much respect because Trump has a fetish for guys in uniforms.  But how are things at the Pentagon?  How are our wars going? 

So far, heaps of accidents--ships crashing, soldiers dying in training.  The US forces around the world are killing more civilians.  Every war seems to be escalating.  The US military's response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico has been slow.  Oh, and how is the state of US civilian-military relations?  Trump seems to have abdicated responsibility, which is actually bad from a civ-mil standpoint.  He keeps referring to "his generals."  Meanwhile, the generals are speaking truth to power in front of Congress, saying that they don't want a transgender ban, that they don't support Trump's other policies, but Trump keeps doing those things anyway. Oh, and the anti-immigration efforts of the White House keep on harming the US military's ability to recruit.

So, how is Mattis doing a great job?  Is it because we don't know how much worse it might be if he were not around?  That counterfactual can only work for so long.  Maybe someday we will get memoirs that identify exactly which bad options Mattis preventing Trump from choosing.  Maybe.  Right now, it is an aritcle of faith that Mattis is restraining Trump.  The big test is right in front of us: if Trump decertifies Iran, then we can say that Mattis is not nearly as powerful as folks have thought.  If Trump pulls back, I will try to stop my screams about Mattis being overrated. 

Sexual Harassment and Politics

Upon the anniversary of the Access Hollywood tape that should have ended Trump's candidacy, we have GOP folks criticizing the Democrats for hanging out with and taking money from Harvey Weinstein (not Harvey Feirstein).  Hypocrisy is not new in politics.  Do the Dem's critics have a point?

Probably.  Sure, it is not quite as bad to hang with a sexual harasser than be one, Donald.  But if the the various Dems who buddied up to Weinstein knew of his history of sexual harassment, then they ought to be criticized.  It is not just the right thing to do but also good politics--because the party that says it stands for women should stand for women.  It is pretty simple.  I doubt that Obama knew of Weinstein's history because he sent his daughter to work there, but I have no idea how well known Weinstein's reputation was outside of Hollywood.

The problem is that when someone does this kind of stuff, there is a conspiracy of silence--that many people know but don't tell, so that newcomers don't know and then find out the bad way.  When I outed one of my former colleagues as a serial sexual harasser, a few things happened:
  • Plenty of former students registered their non-surprise and shared their stories.
  • Plenty of colleagues of the harasser registered their surprise--yep, despite decades of engaging in this behavior and despite many graduate students knowing and warning others about it, faculty were in the dark.
  • I started getting stories from students, past and present, about other harassers about whom I had no idea.  
So, yeah, I am willing to give the Democrats the benefit of the doubt, but I am aware of my party bias.  Still, I am also pretty sure that word about Weinstein was out.  So, I am not giving them much benefit of the doubt.  They should all run away and condemn.  Not just because he is now politically toxic, but also to send a message that even if you are powerful, you are not immune from the consequences.

And, yes, I feel strongly about this because I have seen students harmed by sexual harassment and departments' cultures poisoned by it.  This stuff is not going away, as power -> entitlement --> exploitation/coercion --> damage.  

Oh, and if the GOP folks get high and mighty, it is just a sham given that they ran away from and ran back to Trump in days.  Trump's latest stance on women's issues--allowing states to cut birth control from insurance programs--should remind us that whatever sins the Democrats have on women's issues, they pale in comparison to the misogynist in chief.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

National Security Generalists and Learning the Lessons From Lost Wars

A friend posted this piece on facebook: "Why Nerds Should Not Be In Charge of War."  It draws from the new PBS Vietnam War documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick to argue that it happened because of the prominent role played by "generalists."  Yes, Robert McNamara and his gang of Whiz Kids are mighty arrogant, and they have much blame to share for the war.  Indeed, McNamara, unlike certain other arrogant former SecDefs, has spent the time since trying to grapple with what he had wrought.  There is something to the idea that we need folks involved who are regional experts.  Indeed, there has been much debate about whether we political scientists did area studies wrong by insisting on generalizable theory and advanced methods. 

But as a national security generalist, I am mildly miffed at the, dare I say it, generalizations made about the generalists. "Generalism breeds (unwarranted) confidence and certitude."  Um, maybe if you focus on Kissinger and McNamara, but there are plenty of generalists who are constantly worried about not knowing enough about a place, wondering when we will get called out for being the imposters that we think we are. 

The funny thing is that I read this piece only a few days after participating on a panel on the Kurdish referendum at a think tank in DC.  I have no Kurdish credentials--all I have are the lessons I have learned about the general dynamics of separatism (pretty much everything I was doing before I moved towards doing NATO stuff and civil-military relations).  The other panelists were a Kurd who had a sharp understanding of the politics of the area and a Middle East expert who knew much about the regional dynamics.  I felt very much like an outsider, but, as it turns out, the organizer had the right idea because I could put the specific situation into a broader context to highlight how the Kurdish situation compares and contrasts with other separatist movements.  The audience, mostly of folks who are less generalist and more area studies, actually dug what I was doing.  It turns out that those who do this Mideast stuff rarely get a chance to see the forest for all of the trees, and I got to provide them with a view of the forest, which helped them understand the specific trees better.

So, let's not burn all national security generalists for the sins of some of the most powerful of our kind.  We do need to take seriously how to foster and encourage area studies as funding of such training and work has declined.  The good news is that I have seen plenty of next generation scholars who mix general lens with specific expertise including but not exclusively my students.  Last week, I engaged in a discussion on twitter about how much area specific knowledge is necessary, and my answer to that question was to make sure generalists like myself converse with the area experts. To be clear, we need to have more occasions where the generalists and the specialists meet so that we are all both educated and humbled.

Monday, October 2, 2017

A Fool and His Beard

Tis a beautiful day in DC.  I was originally supposed to fly home from Latvia via DC yesterday, but was invited to participate in an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (not that other CSIS) on the Kurdish referendum.  I laid over... but my bag did not.  So much for my clever plan (usually I have to pickup my bag and check through customs when I fly from someplace else into the US and then onto Canada, not htis time).  So, I had to go to CVS today, and had an epiphany:

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Latvia? Yep

I trekked to Latvia today for the Riga Security Conference.  Why?  Because my interest for NATO didn't stop when the book got published.  This conference will hopefully help me get started on a spring project--interviewing folks about the deployments of NATO troops to the Baltics.  I already have one interview lined up.  Plus I want to get the perspectives of the folks from this region for my teaching, my research and my punditry.

What have I learned thus far?
  • Kristaps Porzingis, who plays for the Knicks, seems to be the only relevant sports hero around here.
  • Cobbletones are hard on the feet.
  • The old town is very pretty.  
  • Too many choices for restaurants.
  • Oh, and I was too tired to hang out until 7pm for the Oktoberbest stuff to start.  The big question is whether I can stay up till 10pm--jet lag is a thing.

This restaurant buys beef from someplace that plays music
for the cows!

View from my hotel's rooftop bar

What Do I Know About the Kurdish Situation?

Not much as I haven't studied the Kurds.  McGill Phd David Romano has studied them a great deal, and there are others who are far more expert.  However, I do know something about separatism, referenda and irredentism, so here's what I think:
  1. Separatism is not as contagious as advertised. The only folks who really get encouraged by an effort, successful or otherwise, are those who are kin.  Everyone else is far more focused on their own incentives and constraints.  They will learn from the examples elsewhere whatever lessons that support their pre-existing inclinations.  Yes, I was a fan of confirmation bias long before it was cool.
  2. The Sunnis will not be pleased.  It is hard enough for two smaller groups to attempt to balance the Shia in whatever semi-democratic institutions, but with Kurds leaving, Sunnis are dwarfed by Shia.  Hard to craft a democracy or anything else that gives Sunnis some chance of not being dominated.  So, yeah, Kurds leaving would screw Sunnis just as Slovenia screwed the Bosnians.  Everything old is new again.
  3. Irredentism is not in the cards.  Sure, one could talk about a Greater Kurdistan, but which Kurds get to rule it?  Milton (and Khan) was right: better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.  So, no, despite what Turkey might say, there will be no significant effort at Greater Kurdistan.
  4. I am not a fan of secession from advanced democracies--the costs of changing are too high and always underplayed by the secessionists, democracy depends on losers staying in the system, and usually there are ways to get what you need, if not what you want.  But the Kurds have some reasonable grievances, starting with how they can't trust the Shia dominated government of Iraq.  
  5. The timing makes sense--Kurdish strength is at an alltime high given that the US, Canada and others have armed and trained the Kurds.  Those efforts are already declining now that ISIS has been mostly removed from the Kurds' neighborhood.  Iraq is still weak due to the ongoing war with ISIS, so now makes sense....
  6. But a referendum does not mean independence.  It can mean a process, a bargaining process that can take quite some time.  The question of violence really now depends on what the Iraqi government will do.  Governments generally don't let secessionist regions leave--lots of work on this especially by Monica Toft.
  7. Countries will support whichever side they have ethnic ties (article version).  If no ties, then other interests, such as seeking stability will kick in.  The one thing, for damn sure, is that countries will not be deterred by their own vulnerability to separatism.  
  8. Turkey will overreact.  Duh.
What does it mean for the war against ISIS?  Damned if I know.  Anyhow, my past work suggests this will be bother better and worse than what the pundits say.  Woot?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Magic Lines and Escalation Ladders

A colleague asked me if there will be war between the US and North Korea.  I said maybe, which is pretty damned scary, given the likely consequences.  Why am I worried?  Basically for two reasons that intersect in bad ways, besides the Trumpiness and KJU-ness factors:
  1. the US seems awfully confident that they knew where the line is between what North Korea will perceive as an exercise and what NK will perceive as the start of an attack
  2. Escalation Ladders are finite.
This weekend, the US sent some bombers and fighters to fly near North Korea but not over it.  How do they know the North Koreans would not see this as the opening move of an attack?  Given that North Korea does not have MAD with the US--that a US first strike could possibly destroy NK's ability to hit the US, they are in a "use them or lose them" situation.  Not a great place to be in and why nuclear proliferation is so scary.  Mutual assured destruction is not great, but it is a least bad alternative and a stable one, mostly.  If it ain't mutual, it ain't stable, so Trump's threat to destroy NK is problematic, more so than I suggested last week.  So, my question is: how does the US now what will and will not trigger North Korean fears of preemption?  My guess is that we don't really know, and we need to remember that even under MAD, fears of attack and launch on warning were just a wee bit probelmatic (see the pieces about the death of the Lt. Colonel who prevented WWIII).

The second problem is that the flights are part of an escalation--the US is sending stronger and strong signals that it is not happy.  Likewise, the North Koreans have been escalating--more missile tests, missile tests flying over Japan, an H-bomb test.  What's next?  Maybe sending a nuclear-armed missile into the Pacific?  The US did that once a long time ago--not a great idea since much can go very wrong.  If North Korea does that, what does the US do?  If North Korea tries to or does shoot down a US plane over or near North Korea, what does the US do?  There are not infinite rungs (I originally typed infinite wrongs--Freud at work) on the escalation ladder--we are running out of steps between where we are and war.  And some of those rungs on the ladder are very war-ish and pretty slippery (can one slip up a ladder?).

So, combine those two--we are escalating and we may have more confidence than we should what will and will not trigger North Korea's first strike.  Yeah, I am deeply worried.  And then we get to considering that Trump's ego is involved.  I see folks are hoping for the US military to disobey Trump's orders if he goes too far.  So much for civilian control of the military.  Again, we are left potentially hoping for folks to make decisions that might avert disaster but undermine American democracy.

I think I need to find something to stress eat or stress drink.

When The Classics of Civ Mil Are Overcome By Events

One of my favorite military-isms is "OBE" or overcome by events.  Something no longer applies as events have made that choice or that possibility no longer relevant or possible.  I have been thinking of this as I have been doing heaps of reading for my Civil-Military Relations class.  The old discussion of the US military as a profession, invoking Sam Huntington and others, focuses on how the military was apolitical and tried to stay that way.  So, George C. Marshall refused to vote, and that remained a tendency among military officers for many years.  How is that apolitical thing working out these days?

Not well.  Sure, it had its ups and downs before, with US military folks casting aspersions about Bill Clinton the draft-dodger, and so on.  The occasional retired military officer endorsing a candidate has become an arms race with Michael Flynn and John Allen both getting major prime time speeches at the conventions of 2016.  Trump now talks of "His Generals" on a regular basis.  He insisted this weekend after the NFL kneeling controversy that "General John Kelly" is with him, even though Kelly is NOT an active general  And yes, we have an active military officer, H.R. McMaster who is not only National Security Adviser but appearing on Sunday talk shows spinning tales to defend Trump's stances. 

The NFL controversy is also an attempt to politicize the military--that the flag, the anthem and the US military are on one side of America's polarized politics.  I was glad to see that the vets in my twitter feed mostly say: I fought for my buddies and I respected my oath to the Constitution, which means defending the right to protest.  Other vets disagreed.  The big, largely unstated problem of the weekend: the US military, active or retired, should not be seen as the adjudicator of what is American, what is legitimate, what is right.  Given how much the other institutions have fallen into disrepute--the parties, the Congress, the Supreme Court, the media, the Presidency--it seems that the only respected institution left is the the military.

This is NOT GOOD.  I am not worried about a coup, I am worried about the state of American democracy.  We should not be looking to the military (active, reserve, retired) to legitimate anything.  This is the crisis in US civilian-military relations.  Ok, it is one of them.  Whose job is it to manage US civ-mil?  Mostly the Secretary of Defense along with the President and the Armed Services Committees of the House and Senate.  This president has no clue about what is appropriate nor does he care.  Instead, he seeks to politicize by grabbing the military's popularity and attaching it to himself while abdicating responsibility for the hard decisions.  The SecDef?  Mattis is dodging the media, and has done little, as far as we can tell, to keep the military out of politics.  The Congress?  Well, one of the voices of the Armed Services Committees, Ben Sasse, spent the weekend saying dumb stuff.  Other than that, who are asking tough questions about rules of engagement, about strategy, about how to keep the military out of the polarized politics?  Anyone?  Bueller?

My big concern right now is this: who is deciding how many planes should be flying so closely to North Korea?  See my next post on this, but the question here is--who is deciding how much to escalate?  I have no idea, and that really, really bothers me.  And it should bother you. 

After the carnage of WWI, French President Georges Clemenceau said that war was too important to be left to the generals.  My conclusion is that overseeing the military is too important to be left to just one or two people. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Standing Up For the Flag By Kneeling

I have not commented much here on the whole Kaepernick kneeling story, but Trump's speech tonight compels me.

Which better honors the flag? Protesting the treatment of African-Americans in the US, and, in doing so, risking one's career?  Or grandstanding in front of flags and castigating a football player who has engaged in non-violent dissent? 

Yes, American history is complex, and so when one refers to American values, one can talk about freedom or one can talk about greed and xenophobia.  Pretty sure that the values that are valued are those that focus on the very basics of American democracy--free speech, free press and all that stuff we are proud of and not so much the awful stuff that provokes shame and embarrassment--slavery, internment, etc..  So, when I say that Trump is un-American, I am referring the former stuff and not the latter, but he is reminding me so very much about that ugly side.  He is of that ugly side, through and through.  He is racist, he is xenophobic, he is so very greedy.  He incites hate and violence.  He inspires his team to steal from taxpayers (Tom Price).  The kleptocracy is more than just family business.

So, when players raise their fist on Sunday or kneel or do whatever else, they are being far better Americans than Trump.  I certainly hope there are more protests this week, as Trump's targeting of Kaepernick is once again him using a bullhorn and not a dog whistle.  He dares to "defend the flag" via appeals to white supremacy and why not?  Impunity is his thing.  All we can do is call him on it and protest and rally and vote.

I have no doubt with whom I stand and with whom I'd like to kneel. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Worst Chicken Game: Trump vs Kim Jong Un

My feelings are thus:
Yes.  Yes, we can.

Trump seems determined to start two new ones on top of the several the US is already fighting (yes, way over the war cap).  First, the slightly less* catastrophic conflict would be a war with Iran after tossing out the nuclear deal.  After all, how does one stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons if one does not rely on diplomacy?  This is the war some folks have been seeking for quite some time, and Trump seems determined to start it.  While the Iran deal is not perfect and does not address all other kinds of bad Iranian behavior, thus far, they seem to be playing by the rules.  Which means that Iran is currently not on a path to become .... North Korea.
*  A war with Iran would cost the US trillions of dollars, probably break the US army, and close down the Strait of Hormuz, which, in turn, would lead to oil prices rocketing and, thus, recession, inflation, stagflation, etc.  And that is probably an optimistic evaluation that ignores Iran's ability to escalate elsewhere.
North Korea? Thanks to Trump's threats, Kim Jong Un has written his own letter, a first apparently, that has suggested he might test a nuclear tipped ICBM somewhere in the Pacific.  This would be really, really bad, and that might be my understatement of 2017.  Not only bad for the environment and for whatever ships that might be nearby, but something might go wrong, leading the missile to spread radioactive debris across a hunk of the Pacific and maybe near/over Japan. 

Worse, we are in the most dangerous stage of nuclear development--when one country has some nuclear warheads, some ability to deliver them but no assurance that these systems can survive a first strike.  Which means that North Korea is probably on a hair trigger and will launch on warning.  We know from the recent death of the Soviet official who prevented World War III that warning systems can provoke a response even when one is not needed.  To make matters worse, the President of the US is making North Korea feel as if an attack is imminent.  Use or lose?  That is the question that faces Kim Jong Un today.  He does not have to be irrational to be most concerned about Trump and his threats.  Hopefully, his Chinese friends are telling him that Trump is a paper tiger.  Oh wait, that's not good either. 

Is this the most dangerous moment in the world since the Cuban Missile Crisis?  Maybe not, but we can probably see it from here. We call it tomorrow or next week.  Trump is making this worse and worse because his ego is involved and he does not have the temperament to be President. Profoundly unqualified.  I forget what I said months ago about which war was most likely--Iran or North Korea.  I guess I would prefer the former to the latter, as the former would only push much of the world into recession and kill lots of Americans and Iranians.  The latter would be utterly devastating to Japan, South Korea and North Korea and push the world into a far deeper recession (much of the world's trade goes through the South China Sea). 

So, yeah, I am panicking now.  How are you?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Deterrence is Ugly

Sure, Donald Trump is so callous and crass that when he says stuff, it sounds awful BUT extended deterrence (or even regular deterrence) almost always threatens killing lots of civilians.  The whole idea is that if you do x, we will make you pay.  And the "you" in this is not just the leader of country A but all of country A.  Mutual assured destruction?  Kind of sounds like that destroy word Trump used.  So, the speech is not really a break in policy, as awful as it sounded.

Ethicists, moral philosophers and others have long consistently raised questions about the morality of nuclear deterrence because it requires holding innocents hostage.  I am not an ethicist or a philospher.  Instead, I focus on what seems to be the least bad alternative, and deterrence when it is successful is better than war.  So, I don't have a problem with Trump saying that the US will use heaps of force if North Korea attacks Japan or South Korea--the whole idea of the "nuclear umbrella" is that the US is potentially threatening utter destruction if someone attacks a country who is under the umbrella.  Who are those allies?  NATO + Japan + South Korea + Australia + New Zealand (maybe, the whole nuke free thing made that less clear).  That's it.  Baltics? Yes.  Sweden? No.  Mexico?  Hmmm... not quite although that kind of falls under the whole Monroe Doctrine of don't mess around with our neighborhood or else.

What is more disturbing about Trump and North Korea is that the US has made the other half of that promise problematic and Trump makes it even more so: that the US will not attack you if you don't attack its allies.  Qaadafi might have something to say about that ....  Talk of North Korean regime change is DANGEROUS because they might feel they are in a "use them or lose them" situation if they think the US is about to disarm North Korea.  Which gets to the McMaster McMess du month: saying that there are military options is reaaaaalllllllllly problematic when North Korea can kill tens of thousands of South Koreans under the best scenario and millions of South Koreans and Japanese and even Americans in the US under the worst scenario.  I would be assuring the North Koreans that the US is not going to attack unless North Korea attacks our allies.  But Trump ain't doing that, the US has a poor record on that score, and Trump cannot make a credible commitment--it is not in his nature.

Alas, deterring North Korea from developing nuclear weapons has proven to be a failure.  But deterring the development of nuclear weapons and deterring their use are two different things.  And, yes, breaking the Iran deal is a poor signal to North Korea if we want to deal with them.

So, yeah, I am worried.  I spent this afternoon giving a talk to a group of Asia-Pacific Ambassadors based in Ottawa.  I think I depressed them.  Damn.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

One Should Not Do TV as a Tweet

Here's me and Colin Robertson on CBC's Power and Politics on Trump and his UN appearance starting at 5:55.  No, I did not have any alcohol... I was just triggered by Colin's reference to Trump as Presidential.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Consequences for Trumpers? Unlikely

Lots of uproar over Sean Spicer appearing at the Emmys.  I am of two minds on this: meh and duh.

Meh?  Because I don't mind comedy making fun of stuff, even recent stuff.  Does this normalize Spicer?  Seems to me he was as much or more the butt of the joke than being in on it.  If anything, it reminds us that he has been a lying sack of lies.  He was asked to lie on cue, and he did.  So what does that say?  I do think the pics of celebrities cozying up next to him is a wee bit more problematic, but I give comedy much license.  "Too soon?" is usually the question for something like this, not so much whether it is right or wrong to have a former administration official involved.  I'd have to check the old SNL of the mid 70s, but I am pretty sure a Watergate figure or two made the program. 

Duh?  The US (and Canadian) media give heaps and heaps of airtime to people who have done reprehensible things in the past, as long as it gives them the chance to fill bandwidth and get higher ratings: Oliver North, Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney, and on and on.  Being a failure or being a liar or being a criminal does not disqualify.  I get frustrated by this often, but we should be used it by now. 

A second duh: who has paid a price for bad behavior in past administrations?  No one from the Bush Administration got punished for facilitating/ordering torture.  Only lower level folks and one relatively low ranking general got punished for Abu Ghraib.  Scooter Libby, who got jailed for outing Valerie Plame, had his sentence commuted.  We might as well prepare for Trump pardoning his family and some of his operatives....

Finally, I tend to think the folks who are the spokespeople will get a lighter treatment than those who actually make the decisions and those who implement them.  Could I imagine Jeff Sessions getting similar treatment?  Probably not but maybe.  While one can say that Spicer attempted to give cover to all the awful stuff that Trump did the first several months, he did it so very badly, I am not sure we can say he provided any cover at all.  Again, someone like Sessions or Pruitt or DeVos would not be invited or would have gotten a different reception.  Perhaps the actors recognize and empathize with another actor working from a piss poor script?

Anyhow, I was more offended last night by the playing off of Sterling Brown who was giving a kickass speech while Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon got to have as much time as they wanted.  Is this about race or about movie star bias?  My guess is more the latter than the former, but not a good look.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Bad Ideas, Dumb Policies, Horrible Outcomes

As I was biking and listening to a podcast (Pod Saves America), I was struck by the similarity of the #voterfraudfraud stuff and the anti-vax stuff.  The key similarities are:
  • both are based on a false belief.  There is no voter fraud, and vaccines don't cause autism.
  • both advocate solutions that are worse than the "threat."  Essentially using nuclear weapons to deal with minor violations of the law.  The dis-proportionality is so very extreme.
    • #Voterfraudfraud proposes to disenfranchise many people, hundreds of thousands or millions, to deal with the minor risk of some people voting twice or whatever.  
    • Anti-vax movements propose to expose millions to disabling and fatal diseases because of an alleged small risk of autism.  I have previously wondered why having a kid die is better than having a kid be autistic.  
  • both, of course, are reality averse, running against the acreage of reports that demonstrate that the threats are not real and that their preferred solutions are actually far worse than the "threat."
 The big difference is that #voterfraudfraud is partisan--the GOP wants to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters largely because they found that they can't/won't appeal to people of color, poor people, and young people.  Anti-vax?  It seemed like a left-wing, hippie kind of phenomenon, but there are right wing folks who buy it, too.  It is not a Democratic or Republican strategy to gain or deny votes.  Woot?

Both efforts suck, both are hurting people, and hurting American democracy.  One, however, may stack the deck so much that political change will become very difficult. Thanks, Gorsuch. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Panic Du Jour: US Won't Protect Canada?

Today, some Canadian generals talked about the US Ballistic Missile Defence Program, and indicated that since Canada is not involved in it, that the US might not stop missiles headed towards Canada.  Oh my!  So, let me myth bust with a few caveats first:

A) I am not opposed to Canada joining the BMD program. There are good reasons to join--fear of North Korea attacking Calgary is not among them. Better situational awareness, some influence, less antagonizing of the US, and other reasons are better reasons than fear of NK nukes.  The Defence Policy Review should have addressed this head on and did not do so (if I remember correctly).
B)  I don't know much about the history of US-Canadian defence/defense commitments.
C)  I am not an expert on nuclear weapons or defenses.  I am just reasonably well read on that stuff, and have expertise on related stuff (see NATO stuff below).  More importantly, I don't really have anything at stake, unlike various generals....   It maybe that the Canadian generals are not the ones playing us, but rather, it may be the American ones who are apparently saying strange things to the Canadians. 

Ok, let's get to it:
  1. Who is going to attack Canada and not the US?  Folks upset at the maple cartel?  
  2. When ballistic missiles are in the air, those with fingers on the triggers of American defenses will not have hours to make the decision, but a few minutes (missiles from North Korea probably take less than thirty minutes, using the old Soviet ICBM flight time as an amateur guess).  So, are the Americans going to say, hmm, we have missiles inbound from North Korea, but they look like they are headed towards the West Edmonton Mall, so let's not worry about it?  Or will they say, missiles headed in our direction, let's launch our counter-missiles, just in case we are wrong about their final destination?
  3. I used West Edmonton deliberately because any missile headed towards most of Canada's population--within 100 miles of the US border--is going to get an American response.  No American general is going to say, hey, Vancouver, not our problem when Seattle is not far away.  
  4. On the other hand, what about NATO and Article V?  What about it?  There is no automatic invocation of A5 before an attack.  If an attack occurs, NATO reps must meet and agree that an attack has occurred.  This happened after 9/11 but not after a cyber attack on Estonia nor after Syrian artillery hit Turkey.  And note, this is after, not during, not before.  So, not helpful for responding to missiles in the air.  Also, Article V says that once an attack has been recognized, each country responds as each deems necessary.  Not hypothetical at all as we found out when writing our book.
  5. Whatever the legacy of US-Canadian defense agreements, the US will defend Canada.  It is in its own interests to do so.  Indeed, the usual Canadian concern is that the US would be too helpful and violate Canadian sovereignty as the US protects itself.
  6. Oh, one last thing: the idea that Canada is defenseless against nukes?  That has been the case since the Soviet Union developed its own nuclear-tipped ICBMs because.... the US never had an effective system for shooting down missiles.   And, guess what.... it still does not. The US system is unproven.  Indeed, when North Korea launches its tests, the US does not try to shoot them down because it would really suck if the US tried and failed.  Better to be uncertain. 
So, what are these generals doing, scaring Canadians?  I can't help but think of threat inflation.  That the threat is being played up .... because American or Canadian officers want Canada in the ballistic missile program.  While I agree with the ends mostly, I don't agree with the means.

The reality is that there is NOTHING Canada can do about North Korea.  Canada does not trade with North Korea, so sanctions are not applicable.  Canada is not able to bully China into doing anything. If the US can't get that to happen, Canada can't do it.  Canada has no ability to stop missiles from North Korea.  So, yeah, Canada is powerless and vulnerable.  That sucks, but there it is.  Canada can take some solace that North Korea does not give a rat's ass about Canada.  North Korea does not have enough nuclear armed ICBMs to waste any on Canadian cities.  It needs to have one or two so that the US is deterred from regime changing.  Maybe North Korea is aiming to create a stability/instability paradox dynamic where the US and North Korea are deterred at the strategic level, which then allows NK to mess around with South Korea at the conventional level.  That would not be good, but, again, not much Canada can do about that. Indeed, the story for the past twenty years or so is that there is precious little the US can do about North Korea.  If the US can do little, Canada can do even less.  Sorry, but let's be humble about Canadian capabilities (and US BMD capabilities).

Flatball: An Ultimate Doc

Last night, I watched Flatball on Netflix  Tis a documentary about the history of ultimate, narrated by Alec Baldwin. Overall, it was pretty terrific.  It didn't cover everything, and was a bit too obsessed about New York, New York, but explained the sport without dumbing it down.  It focused perhaps the central concern--what is the spirit of the game--without trivializing it, and, most of all, it showed the passion and joyfullness inherent in the game.  It also showed the athleticism and beauty of the sport pretty well.

The central debate in the movie and in reality has been: the Spirit of the Game.  This centers mostly but not entirely on the fact that ultimate was conceived and largely remains self-refereed.  There are observers for some (most?) of the competitive tourneys, and referees in the professional league.  This move towards having non-players make calls was controversial because the Spirit of the Game, the hippie concept at the start of the sport, remains key--that players should compete but value integrity more than self.  The idea is that players call the fouls honestly, including on themselves, that one players honorably. Over time, competition has been intense enough that rules have changed so that people can't call fouls on themselves to slow the other team.  One of the problems with the doc is that it seemed to buy, at least a bit, the New York, New York sense of the Spirit--compete as hard as you can no matter what.  This is imply wrong.  The Spirit is something more than that--it is about respecting the opponent, not deliberately violating the rules, and so forth.

I did experience New York, New York despite never playing at the highest levels.  In the summer between college and grad school, I played in the NY summer league.  I joined late, so I got placed with a team of 14-15 year olds from Bronx Science or whatever.  So, we were a bad team--I had the most experience, which was not really that much.  NY, NY split up and played on several teams, and I remember one game, where one NY, NY segment was so incredibly obnoxious.  I have played heaps of ultimate over my lifetime, and that one game will always stand out as the most unpleasant.  Because they really had no conception of the Spirit of the Game--they rubbed our inferiority in our faces in a summer league game.  I kind of hated that they told the history of ultimate through the experiences of one of the least spirited, least typical ultimate players and teams, but I am sure it was partly guided by which footage they had.  And it was a compelling story, even if it was the wrong story.

UPDATE:  A friend informed me that the director of the doc was a NYNY player, so now it all makes sense.

Other than that, watching the doc was a thrill--to see the teams I had heard of--the legends--such as Windy City, the Condors, Flying Circus.  To see that I was very much part of the boom.  Ultimate  started in 1968 in NJ and started becoming an inter-college club sport in the mid-70s.  It started at Oberlin in 1976 (so I went back for the 30th anniversary of ultimate there in 2006---twas a great weekend).  It was still a fairly marginal sport until the mid-80s.  At that time, it did start appearing randomly on ESPN, in a Howard Cosell piece, in Sports Illustrated, and the first world tourneys.

It was great to see the evolution that continued throughout the 90s with teams around the world becoming more competitive with the US teams.  I didn't know that Team Canada beat the US men's team a couple of years in a row around 2010-11. It was great to see some folks use ultimate to bring Israelis of all kinds together with Palestinians--that was very, very moving and very much in the Spirit of the Game.

My big quibbles:
  • No mixed (co-ed) ultimate.  Absolutely no discussion, footage or anything, and I think this is one thing that makes ultimate damn near unique.  I would hazard a guess and suggest that most of the city leagues that exist have most of their ultimate in this form, which means much of the ultimate out there is mixed. There are competitive teams all the way up to world competitions.  Are there any other sports where men and women play together?  Seems like much ultimate coverage ignores this key form of it.  Really a lost opportunity.  Also minimal coverage of the women's game--first about 53 minutes into the doc, but nice coverage of the post 3/11 tsunami competition in Japan with Japan upsetting the American team.
  • Also, didn't spend any time on the development of city leagues.  Again, where is ultimate being played these days?  Yes, there are world competitions, but just as soccer is now a thing in the US thanks to youth sports, ultimate is more of a thing thanks to big city leagues.  Would have been nice to know how many schools in US, Canada and elsewhere have teams at the junior high and high school levels.  It is now a component in many gym classes.
  • Oh, Alec, I never stopped wearing bandanas.  I just have many more of them than I used to, and now it is not just for the sweat but also for, alas, sunburn prevention.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Micromanagement or Abdication: The Twin Perils of Civil-Military Relations

Reading Micah Zenko's piece "Does the Military Need a Micromanager?" on the same day as my first class of Civil-Military Relations was great timing.  Got me thinking about what we discussed this morning.  What is micromanagement?  As Zenko suggests, tis anytime someone told an officer not to do something or to do something they didn't want to do.  Zenko goes onto discuss how responsibility for deciding how much force to use has moved from the White House and the Pentagon (the Office of the SecDef) to the combatant commanders and even further down the chain of command and the oopsy doopsy (h/t to Jon Lovett) that is more civilian casualties in American strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.  Funny how more delegation might lead to greater use of force with nasty consequences. 

It is not that the military folks are cruel or heartless or careless, but they are perhaps less likely to take the political consequences into consideration despite the fact that they all say they read Clausewitz and his dictum that war is politics by other means.  But it got me thinking about the two distinct choices that shape how much weight/restraint/control that influences stuff on the ground: how much discretion is granted to the folks on the ground or control kept back at HQ & how much oversight there is.  The Dave and Steve book/article focused on the former question, and our new project with Phil Lagasse focuses on the latter.  These tend to get conflated (Feaver does so just a bit in his terrific book). 

This handy 2x2 is a work in progress but suggests four possibilities (as all good social science does):

While micromanagement can mean many things, it seems to be most intense when someone can't make decisions, and every action is closely watched.  On the other hand, when the agents have a heap of discretion and no one is paying much attention, isn't that abdication of control?  Seems like that is where the US is headed these days since Congress is not doing as much oversight as it should of military operations and the SecDef does not seem to be watching too closely.  I think I tend to prefer the combo of high oversight and much discretion/autonomy to centralized command and relatively less oversight.... much to think about here. 

This is mostly to illustrate the basic problem today and why I have little sympathy for military officers who complain about micromanagement of the military.  Civilian control is a thing, you see, and pretty foundational to democracy.  If the military would hold itself accountable, perhaps external oversight might not be quite so necessary, but how has the military held itself accountable for the failures of few wars?  Did Tommy Franks or Ricardo Sanchez or Stan McChrystal pay a price from within the military?  No, maybe, and no. 

So, yeah, I indicated to my class that the US has a significant civ-mil crisis because it is in the abdication box.  I hope I am wrong, but I don't think so.  What say you?

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Second Angriest 9/11

I was probably angrier on the day, but too stunned to realize it.  I read a bunch of my previous 9/11 posts last night thanks to facebook's "on this day" feature, and realized that I have mostly been sad.  That the sacrifices were wasted as the US went off to Iraq so that whatever chance we had in Afghanistan was blown.  That Islamophobia is stronger now than in the aftermath of the attack.  A horrible day led to awful responses, but there was much heroism and, thankfully, much restraint.  George W. Bush is my second least favorite President of my lifetime, but he tried hard to not make things about a war on Islam.  Today, we have my least favorite President who is trying to make war on Islam AND enabling white supremacist terrorism.

Yes, Trump dominates my thinking on 9/11, just as he has dominated my attention since November 9th.  I cannot help it, given that one of his first executive orders was to ban Muslims.  While the Islamic State and the occasional attacks by those inspired by IS may have helped to motivate Islamophobia, it is definitely one of things the far right has been trying to do for years and Trump rode that wave.  In the ethnic outbidding that was the GOP primary, Trump was willing to go further, in that auction for far right support, to play up Islamophobia, inciting violence (often hitting the wrong target thanks to the ignorance of bigots).  So, one of the key lessons of 9/11--that Islamist extremists are the adversaries of both the US and much of the Islamic world--has been destroyed.

I am angry that more Americans see the Republicans as better on terrorism (whatever that means) when the President nods and winks and encourages white supremacists, who have killed more Americans since 9/11 than Islamist extremists.  While I very much remember 9/11, I also remember Oklahoma City.  Efforts to fight the far right white supremacists have been fought by the GOP who wanted to protect the far side of their base.  Trump lauds them, retweets them, and makes all kinds of false equivalence.  There is no doubt that white supremacists feel enabled and empowered by Trump, Sessions, Bannon, Miller, Gorka and others.  Just because a few of these guys are out of the White House does not mean that Trump is now "independent" or "moderate" or an "adult."  He is still an awful racist who has given much power to white supremacists (Sessions).  He has not changed since Charlottesville which ... was only a month ago.

We are supposed to be united on this day, but Trump has taken the existing polarization and amped it up several notches with the help of Fox.  So, I'd like to remember the victims and the heroes of 9/11--there were so many of both.  But on this day, all of that is crowded out by the fact that the US has elected the worst President who now betrays on a daily basis the legacies of that day.  So, yeah, I am sad, but I am mostly angry. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

How to Deal with Racism and Xenophobia? Damned If I Know

In the past day or so, I* have seen two very different ways to deal with racism and xenophobia:

with love and courage:
and with outrage:
And, of course, there are other ways to deal with it as well.  I admire both responses.  The first because it took discipline and because Jagmeet Singh avoided the easy response: duh, Sikhs are not Muslims (the first iron law of bigotry).  The second because it took a heap of guts to confront a cop since, as the man notes,  the cop had his gun drawn moments ago.  Both demonstrated how wrong the other person was, and shamed them for their behavior.  Will the provocative xenophobe in the first video change their behavior and outlet?  Probably not.  Will the cop?  I don't know, but he seemed more capable of shame than the woman in the first video.  That the driver in the second video seemed to do ok in the encounter--was not pulled out of the car, was allowed to harang the cop--is promising (thanks to our low expectations of police behavior). 

Of course, both moments were recorded and then posted online.  Lots of confrontations with racism are not.  So, we need to be careful about generalizing about how to respond to racism.  Which is my main point: that there is no one best way to respond to these types of encounters.  We can celebrate individuals and groups when we see how they thwart or confront racism--our celebration should not mean that the particular examples are the only ways to do it.  

We live in trying times, so we need to appreciate resistance to racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia and all the other hatreds that are being stirred up. 

* It could be mighty white of me to enter this conversation, except the Nazis at Charlottesville and elsewhere remind us all that few folks fit into their conception of white.   

Liberals on Defence: My "Prediction" and the Reality

Two years ago, I wrote a Liberal Defence Platform since I was pretty annoyed at the one I saw in the news.*  Turns out that platform was not the official party one but that of the defence critic.  The actual platform was better, but still way, way, way too heavy on defence spending = jobs and not as much defence spending for, well, defence.  Anyhow, I thought I would check what I proposed with the reality of the Liberal defence policy, nearly two years into their government.  In the preamble, I did say there would be a white paper.  The Defence Policy Review [DPR] may not be it technically, but did fit the bill--a thorough review of the CAF and DND that sets the agenda and makes commitments.
* I also wrote ones for the NDP and the Conservatives, but they don't shape defence policies these days.
First, I talked about defence procurement and a need to study other countries to fix Canadian procurement.  While the DPR had some text on this, so far it is not clear that procurement is being done differently or better.  That is the hardest thing to fix, and is equivalent to turning around an aircraft carrier.

Second, I suggested that the subs should be killed [that was never going to happen].  Nope, not close.  However, no mention of new subs in the DPR.

Third, I recommended a cut in CAF personnel, given that we will be buying fewer ships and planes.  Well, the Liberals found a capability gap which means more planes, not less, and the DPR has money to be allocated so that the Navy gets all of the ships it had planned.  So a double whiff on this, plus the DPR adds personnel for cyber and other stuff.

Fourth, I pushed more money for readiness--maintenance, exercising and the like.  I am not sure about the numbers, so I cannot say for sure what is going on here.  I have been told that my previous guesses were probably low--that there had been money for such stuff.  Maybe I was projecting from the US case where less money for that has probably lead to, among other things, ship collisions.

Fifth, the F-35... oy.  I called for a competition based on all of the previous work that had been done by Canada, the Danes, Aussies, and others. What do we get?  This interim mess:
  • we need 18 planes fast to address a gap that had not been previously identified. 
  • rather than seeking used F18s (the Kuwaitis and others had some), let's get Super Hornets, which might just game the big decision
  • Oh crap, Boeing is attacking Bombardier so maybe not
  • so now used Aussie F18s look good.  
  • and, yeah, still not making progress on the big competition.
Sixth, cyber?  Yep, a major focus of the DPR.

Seventh, taking care of the personnel?  Yes, the personnel issues got more text and more upfront text in the DPR than any other issue.  Progress?  We shall see.

Eighth, more transparency.  Um, hmmm.  The good news about the DPR: the process itself was very transparent, and they definitely engaged the defence community.  I have heard mixed stories about how open the CAF and DND are now to journalists.  As always, the real test is "will they talk to me"?  I will know that later this month as I head off to Riga.  

So, my attempt at a Liberal platform got some of it right, but missed much as well.  The DPR was more and different than I expected, and, as others have noted, the follow through is the key.  How much of it will actually be done?  Ask me in six years.

What did I learn from this exercise?  I suck at platform writing, but it was a fun exercise.  It led to some interesting conversations with folks in the party.  So, squeaky wheel gets some grease, I guess.  It also serves as a way to measure where things stand now compared to where I would have liked them to be.  How would I grade the Liberals on defence policy thus far?  Probably a B, but then again, I am an American and I am guilty of grade inflation.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Certainly Uncertain: Nuclear Logics Are Still In Play in Northeast Asia

Reading Andrew Coyne's piece on North Korea and the need for Canada to join the American Ballistic Missile Defence System reminded me of lots of old deterrence theory stuff.  The piece raises good questions about the reliability of the key actors, especially Trump, but confuses what is necessary for deterrence.  Still, there are some problems that we need to think about.

The big problem in the piece is that Coyne thinks that the American commitment to defend its East Asia allies is now largely unbelievable with the North Koreans developing the ability to strike the continental US (and Canada).  It is true that the US, under several Presidents, has failed to deter the North Korean effort to develop both nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them.  But deterring their effort to develop some deterrence and deterring an attack on allies are two different things.  Coyne is right to point out that extended deterrence (don't attack my allies or else) is less believable than regular, vanilla deterrence (don't attack me or else).  The threat to start or expand a nuclear war is problematic in either case, but seems a bit more believable if it is in retaliation for a big attack on the homeland.

The key is that for deterrence to work, the side being deterred (North Korea in this case for the moment) does not need to be certain that a counter-strike would happen.  They just need to think that there is some possibility of such a response.  Why?  Because the costs of nuclear war are so very high, if one does the probability math (probability of x times value of x), the prospective costs of attacking first are simply too high compared to the status quo (.01 times infinity = infinity) .... as long as the status quo is bearable (which is why we have to stop threatening regime change).  We do not have to convince North Korea that a retaliatory strike is certain if North Korea attacks South Korea and/or Japan, but that it could happen.  The placement of US troops in South Korea is far more about being a tripwire to raise the probability of the US responding than actually defending South Korea in a conventional attack. 

Again, one might say that this is not sufficient, but the key to nuclear threats is that classic Schelling phrase: a threat that leaves something to chance.  One does not have to threaten, for instance, total nuclear annihilation of North Korea crosses the Demilitarized Zone--one just has to threat to start a process that might lead to things getting out of hand and ultimately leading to nuclear war.  This was the old extended deterrence logic for Europe and Asia during the cold war.

Certainty?  That is for allies.  That is, the tripwires and all the rest over the years are mostly aimed at reassuring allies.  The enemy is deterred by a modest chance of the US responding, of sacrificing Chicago for Bonn or now Seattle for Seoul.  The allies?  They are very nervous and require a great deal of assurance.  Ballistic missile defense both in the region and in the US might assure them somewhat--that the US can stick around and meet its commitments knowing that it is protected.

Except for one thing: BMD may be at best a coin flip.  We have lots of uncertainty about whether the efforts to invest in destroying missiles in flight have produced anything remotely reliable.  Again, that is ok from a deterrence perspective--uncertainty is not bad.

While I think that joining the US BMD program makes sense, my reasons do not center on the NK nuclear threat.  The US would try to stop an attack on Vancouver or Toronto since they are very close to American cities whether Canada is in or out of the BMD program.  And North Korea is not going to be gunning for Calgary or Edmonton.  North Korea barely notices Canada, and, given its small supply of nuclear arms, it will not be aiming at Canada.  The BMD arguments I buy have more to do with building a robust NORAD that addresses a variety of threats in the 21st century, and strengthening a key US-Canadian institution in these uncertain times.

While we should all doubt Donald Trump, I am far more worried about his starting a process that leaves something to chance via a small strike at North Korea's missiles or at its leadership than I am about his not responding to a North Korean attack.  Yes, we are now deterred from attacking North Korea, but that has been true since it developed the capability level Seoul with its artillery.  Yes, we have much to worry about, but then so does Kim Jong Un.  If he wants to survive, he will avoid a process that might lead to escalation.  The costs of being wrong are just too high.