Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Comparison as the Thief of Joy: Military Spending Edition

The quote "comparison is the thief of joy" is all about envy, right?  Because the comparative method has given much joy to me over the years and much career success.  Plus my students loved my comparing of apples and oranges.

Anyhow, I saw this figure today and I could not help but think comparatively:

Monday, December 17, 2018

Social Media Etiquette from ... Me?

Today reminded me that there is much unstated expectations about how to behave online, and, yes, it may be strange coming from me that there are indeed norms or etiquette.

I once long ago suggested that my behavior is different on twitter vs. facebook, but that more or less converged.  Still, I treat that stuff differenly than I how I do Slack and differently from how I do email.  So, here's a semi-random list of things I have been reminded of the past couple of days and other stuff that comes to mind:
  • When someone asks to connect via email to someone else, ask that someone else first rather than just email the two (or more parties).  I learned this particular rule this week after I violated it--I hadn't realized it was a thing.
  • Don't tag 30 people every time you post on twitter or facebook.  If people follow you, they follow you, and if they don't they don't.  Only tag a bunch of people if you are promoting them.  Yes, I do link to my blog on facebook, but I don't tag anyone unless they inspired the post or I am building on something they said.
  • Don't live tweet an event unless you either ask permission or it is something that is clearly being publicized.  If the organizers promote an event-specific hashtag or if the press are present or it is being televized, I count that as consent.  A job talk?  Nope.
  • Don't DM people on twitter your tweets. Again, if they follow you, they will probably see it.  People tend to consider their DM space like their email space--something for those who are invited. Pretend you are a vampire and only enter if they invite you in and only come bearing that which they expect--not unsolicited tweets.  Which kills this vampire analogy.
  • Don't complain if other people curse.  Indeed, if you don't like someone's twitter style, don't follow them
  • And if you want to debate academics, see this guide by Phil Lagassé
  • Update: I forgot a related rule--it is perfectly reasonable to use twitter's virtual connections to introduce yourself to someone you have not met before.   

I will probably come up with more as other suggest stuff that I missed.  But most of this is just stuff that came up in the past few days.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

It Wouldn't Be A Wonderful Life But It Would Be Better

SNL had a sketch last night that took It's a Wonderful Life and applied it to Trump--that if he had lost the Presidency, everyone would be happier, including a divorced Melania (was that the part that got him to tweet about show?).  With us approaching two years of this stuff and my teaching US Foreign Policy again in a few weeks, it may be time to ponder how things would be different.

Before I start, the first thing to keep in mind is that no one would have this timeline in mind, no one could imagine how incredibly awful it would be, so plenty of folks would be upset at the HRC administration, not realizing the dark path they avoided.  The space-time continuum is like that.

To be clear, much would be the same as the President has only so much agency.  I would think the economy would not be that different, except it would not be overheating due to a giant tax cut--we'd probably have had a shutdown or sequestration--and there would be no tariff wars with allies or China.  So, soybean farmers would be bitter about Trump losing, not realizing what they would have lost.

Let's start there: relations with China would not be that different as HRC would be having the same kind of ongoing tension as Obama did, without China thinking that HRC was as much of a paper tiger as Trump.  There would be no tariff war, and HRC would be trying to get China to help with North Korea and probably failing.

Russia?  That is the one thing that is certain--relations would be much, much worse.  HRC would know what the Russians did, as she would actually read the intel reports.  We might actually have seen a concerted executive effort (but not legislative) to deal with Russian interference in the election.

Saudi Arabia?  Probably not that different--the elites of both parties have been too forgiving of the Saudis.  Certainly no orb petting, and no, the Saudis would not have been given the greenlight to target Qatar.  But the US would have been supporting the war in Yemen, as Obama did.  So, not great, Roberta.

Europe?  While HRC would not be as popular as Obama, there would not be much tension with Merkel, Macron, and even May.  It would mostly be business as usual as HRC tried not to let Brexit damage US relations with the continent.  There would be some fussing about 2% and NATO, but it would not be the obsession of every summit.  It would be the occasional annoyance it always has been.  The G-7s would get much less coverage as there would be much less expected drama.  NATO would not be doing much differently, it would just have more confidence that the US would show up.

Syria?  Damned if I know.  It would still be a mess, and the US would still be involved.  HRC was not going to leave Syria.  

Canada?  Trudeau and his team might be wishing that they still had the bromance that was Justin and Barak, but there would have been no USMCA.  There might have been some tweaks to NAFTA, but not much.  The relationship would be fine if not effusive.

There would be few kids in cages and no Muslims bans.  The far right would have been empowered not by Trump's incitement but by his loss and their joint bitterness at HRC governing.

Sessions would not have been AG, nor any of the arsonists.  HRC would have probably picked a few compromised individuals so she would appear to be corrupt compared to Obama's perfect record and not compared to Trump's supremely awful record.  But the agencies would not be burning down.  State would have had good folks filling spots up and down rather than being a carcass.  DoD would have had non-military folks running the place including perhaps Michelle Flournoy as SecDef.   While the HRC administration would be occupied with its war with the GOP, the administration itself would be fairly functional.

People would be talking about crises in US civil-military relations, because HRC might be saying no to some military initiatives, maybe making some hard choices AND no one would know what it would be like under Trump. 


The GOP would have done well in the midterms as the party of the President always suffers, and we would have had two years of constant struggle between Congress and the President.  They probably would have let her have Garland appointed to SCOTUS or someone like Garland, since a permanent ban of Democratic appointees to the court might have been beyond the pale.  But maybe not.  We might have had two years of eight Justices instead.  There would have been no Kavanaugh battle as Kennedy probably would not have retired.

So, while much would have been better, the Democratic Party would probably be worse off.  Sanders and his folks would still be yammering loudly, and there would not have been a mass mobilization of talented folks seeking office at all levels.

Would it be a wonderful life?  No.  The partisan rancor would be intense.  HRC would have faced tough questions about how much to prosecute Trump and his gang, given that she might not want to appear to be punishing her political opponent.  But the US government would be functioning in between shutdowns, and our allies would not be in a permanent state of uncertainty and bitterness.  It would be better than it is, but it would not have been fun.  On the other hand, fewer kids in cages, the White House would not be operated by white supremacists, homophobia would not have the executive branch as an ally, and misogyny would not be the policy of the President.

And, yes, news cycles would be slower, twitter would be less relevant, and we would spend entire days and even maybe weeks not thinking about the President of the US.  And that would be wonderful.



Friday, December 14, 2018

About that Primacy Thing

Given many of my posts, one might think that I am not a Realist.  In some ways, I am and, in many ways, I am not.

I am writing this because I saw a tweet thread about "primacy" that was, um, greatly annoying.


This one thread reminds me how I am and am not a Realist.  Reading Ken Waltz's Theory of International Politics in grad school changed my career because I found his take (and I realized Later John Herz's, etc) on the security dilemma to be compelling.  I didn't need to study arms races because I found this simple idea--that the unilateral effort by a country to improve its security will threaten its neighbors/adversaries who will then respond in kind, leaving the first country worse off.  This idea made so much sense to me.  Yes, lots of folks have revised it, questioned it, developed it, but for my view of IR, Waltz said it and I buy it.

So, the pursuit of primacy is a bad idea because it will antagonize other states, make them redouble their efforts, causing the state pursuing primacy to expend yet more resources and yet find itself being ever more challenged and losing its advantage.

However, structural realism a la Waltz is indeterminate--multipolarity may be worse than bipolarity (I am not so sure) but it isn't always going to be the Germans and Japanese.  Brand includes this tweet:

Um, Japan is not the same country it was in 1936 and Germany is not what it was in 1939.  Domestic political institutions and dynamics matter greatly.  I am not worried about these countries becoming authoritarian regimes that seek to gobble up the neighbors.  I am worried that the US is becoming an authoritarian regime that will ... give up its role as a key stabilizer in international relations.

And, for those fans of Neo-Classical Realism, I am not one of you.  While I see some key Realist logics about the nature of IR, I find myself more persuaded by the roles played by interests and institutions at both levels.  I need to read more NCR, but the stuff I have read thus far makes me think that it is oxymoronic--neither classical nor realist.  That synthesis paves the way to incoherence.  But that is a fight for another day.

Anyhow, when anyone pushes for American primacy, remember that the US got into this position by accident--the collapse of the USSR.  It was fun while it lasted (well, sometimes), but maintaining it requires lots of things to happen that aren't going to happen.  So, rather than pursuing it, the US should get used to the basic realities of International Relations--one can be first among equals, but the quest to dominate ends in horror and tears.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Trump Rules

Trump sadly has been president for enough time that we can identify the rules of Trump Dynamics:
  1. Whenever Trump accuses someone of something, it is because this is how he would behave--it is all projection.  He is an awful person so he thinks everyone else is awful, too, and then blames their behavior on what would be motivating him in that position.
  2. Whenever Trump uses a number, it is wrong.  Because you have to read and pay attention to learn the specific value of things.  So, any number, especially ten, is going to be wrong.
  3. If there is money involved, it has been used/distributed/etc in some way, there will be something sketchy involved.  The stories of late about where the Trump inauguration money went inspired this rule, but we should have known this when the Trump Foundation news was reported by David Fahrenthold in the lead up to the election.  
  4. If Trump appoints someone, they will be awful--incompetent, evil, or both.
  5. Trump will not take responsibility--the buck stops somewhere else, always.
  6. The brand is everything--so, anything to erase the brand of others and replace with one related to him.  NAFTA didn't change much, but now it has a new name, USMCA, so Trump erased Obama's brand and replaced it with his own.
  7. If there is an opportunity for Trump to say something inappropriate, he will do so.
  8. And, yes, like the second law of Thermodynamics, everything trends towards entropy.
I am sure there are other rules, but as I started another one, I realized it was a combo of 1 and 4.  What have I forgotten?

Myth-Busting Trends in IR, Finally Published

Other than my books, I think I have blogged about one particular article (open access, pre-publication version here) more than any other: a piece that examines whether the gods of IR are correct that their kind is disappearing.  It finally moved from "First View" or "Early View" to Published, appearing in the December 2018 issue of International Studies Review!

Of all the stuff I have written, this has the clearest origins.  John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt circulated a working paper that argued that increased professionalism via the focus on citation counts had led to the demise of grand theory and the rise of hypothesis testing.  I reacted rather strongly to that piece via blogpost.  The irony is that their piece produced a series of testable hypotheses, which were begging to be tested.  And so I did, with the help of TRIP data about what is published (a dataset on IR articles), about attitudes (their surveys of what people think about the field and teach), and citations.

What did I find?  That grand IR theory, however defined, was never something that lots of scholars did. Rather it has always been something that only a small percentage of the IR professors did, it was only a small percentage of what appeared in the major journals, and that it peaked in the mid-90s.  So, when people think that there has been a decline, there really has mostly been a regression to the mean and that maybe prospect theory applies here--people perceive a loss due to a particular reference point and then, well, overreact to that reference point.* 

*The problem with this hypothesis is that certain of these folks were wildly overreacting to their losses when they were at the peak of their powers.
To be clear, this was not just the misperception of M&W but of the field as surveys of attitudes tended to show that folks think of Realism, Liberalism, and Constructivism dominate the literature even though much of what is written is "non-paradigmatic."

I also busted a related myth.  One could also read their piece as being a screed against quantitative work, but only in recent years are the numbers of quantitative articles starting to exceed (but not erase) the numbers of qualitative pieces in the major journals.

I also addressed the concern raised that the "professionalization" provides disincentives to do grand theory.  In the piece, M&W suggest essentially that to get hired and promoted, one needs more citations (which might be true), as opposed to the past where some other force mattered more (their original paper referred to a lamentation of the end of the Old Boys Network, Ido Oren in his piece more directly laments the days where a phone call to/from Waltz or Keohane was all that mattered--my piece also targets some of his assertions about funding).  The data on citation counts shows that actually grand theory stuff gets more citations, so not so much of a disincentive, eh?

I argue but do not really test that other stuff led to some trends and changes--mobilization by specific groups in the discipline to create more journals, more sections of conferences and ultimately more outlets for more different kinds of stuff.  That the discipline of IR is may be more diverse now not because the structure imposed constraints and incentives on the agents, but that the agents (individual scholars organizing collectively) did stuff to change the structure.  Lots of implied irony in this piece.  The funny thing is that Mearsheimer and Walt were participants in one of those efforts--the perestroika movement to diversity the American Political Science Review, which led to a new journal.

Another reason to discuss this piece is that its journey shows that publication ain't easy but tenacity can win the day.  It got desk rejected twice, including at the journal that published the special issue where the original piece appeared.  At ISR, it was R&R'ed four times!  Part of that was my fault for misreading the instructions of the editors, and part of that was just the way the editorial process played out.  But I wanted to note this as I see on twitter people want to know more about survivor bias (which I definitely have).

I used to scoff at time spent navel-gazing at the discipline, but that was mostly efforts to re-rank one's one department.  Now, I do some of this navel-gazing because I do think perceptions matter, and it is better to bust myths to counter arguments about how things were better in the good old days.  I am firmly convinced that the profession of IR is better, stronger, more interesting, more relevant than it once was. But then again, I think diversity is a good thing.  Maybe as some in that special EJIS volume argue we no longer talk to each other as much, that the common conversation has suffered.  I think we can figure out ways to improve the conversation without squelching dissent and without returning to a mythical ideal past.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Applying for Phd Programs: The Big Question

I saw this tweet today, and I felt an urge to spew:

Each year, I get emails from random aspiring grad students and so do my peers.  Many think that I/we hold the key to getting admitted to our programs.  Nope, not in most of the US and Canada.  Maybe elsewhere, but for most US/Canadian poli sci/IR programs, there are committees and admissions directors, and most faculty are not on them.  Yet there is a belief that one wants to nail down a supervisor before arriving.  Partly the applications are to blame since they generally ask who would want to work with. 

To be clear, no one should bet their career on a single individual that they aspire to work with before they arrive.  As Paul suggests, supervisors might leave. They may die, they may hate you.  They may... be a lousy supervisor.

Here's the thing--having a big name in the field or even a medium name is mostly not correlated with how good of a supervisor they are.  One makes one's name mostly on the basis of quality and quantity and impact of research, not on how well one's students do.  Eventually, the word may get out for some folks---that their students are well-trained and successful--but unless you are at someplace that is plugged in, you may not learn who those people are.  Also, it is not always clear that even in those cases the supervisor has much of a role in that.  It really depends on stuff that is un-knowable from outside:
  • Does the potential supervisor sexually harass his or her students?
  • Does the potential supervisor let others do most of the supervising and then take credit for the outcomes?
  • Does the potential supervisor give little feedback so that many of his/her students flail and fail but those that succeed make the supervisor look great?  I mean, darwinian processes often produce super adaptations.
  • Does the potential supervisor have great students because the program does a great job of selecting students and then training them well?
The only way to learn who is and who is not a good supervisor is to go to a graduate program and spend time there and talk to other students.  They will not tell you much of the truth in a one day open house. Alas, the best way to learn is to enter the program and keep one's eyes and ears open.  And then select a supervisor that works for your personality.  It is not just about interests and expertise but compatibility.  At least, that's my opinion.  Grad school is too long and too painful to deliberately chose a supervisor that is going to lead to a painful process.  And, in my mind, that relationship is not just for a couple of years but a lifetime contract

One other aspect: one's training takes place both within the confines of the superviser-advisee relationship and beyond.  Classes, training, comps all involve other people.  So, the best way to manage all of this is to go to a program that has the best combo of depth and breadth in one's area of interests (big interests like field, not specific interests like one's research question) so that you can survive and thrive if your adviser leaves or if the one you expect to work with ends up truly sucking.  I am suggesting that one be strategic--figure out as best you can the available choices, and pick the program that offers the least risks and the greatest gains.  Whether you choose to maximize potential gains or minimize risks when there are tradeoffs is up to you.   But being aware of the tradeoffs is key.

And always, always only go to a PhD program in the US or Canada if the program offers you a four or five year deal that provides semi-adequate funding.








Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Happy phd-versary

As I was moving stuff around my home office, I glanced at my PhD, and realized today is my Phd's anniversary:*



*  Yes, Pete Wilson, a Republican who helped turn California into a Blue state due to the failed effort to use xenophobia for political purposes, signed my PhD as governor.  Pretty perfect given my research interests.

I have been Ph-D-ing for 25 years. Looking back, I find that those five years have made such a deep impact on me, in many ways more so than college (other than that finding a life-partner thing).  How I think about the world, how I think about my profession, how I think about comprehensive exams, how I teach graduate students, how I miss San Diego, how I eat Mexican food, how I think about pets since we got my favorite dog there, how I remember bachelor parties (or try to), etc, so much of that comes from those five years.

I have never felt that having a Phd means one is brilliant or smart.*  Just perseverant and, as the degree says, able to do original research.  The hard parts of getting a PhD are: coming up a question that is feasible to answer and that has not been answered satisfactorily before, figuring out one's approach to it, writing it all up (the actual doing of research is not so hard, I think), and responding well to critical feedback.  Our profession tends to assume that if you can do this once, you can do it again and again, which makes the PhD the basic minimum to profess at most places.  While that may not be true, the reverse is: if you can't pull off an original research project in graduate school, where one has a supervisor and hopefully a supportive cohort and role models, you almost certainly can't do it elsewhere, especially if you have other major commitments.
*  And yes, I find it incredibly annoying that the intellectual arms race depicted on superhero shows and elsewhere has the smart person in the room having many more PhDs than anyone else.  More PhDs is not more brilliant, just more unrealistic.  Sorry, Mr. Fantastic, and sorry, Felicity Smoke.
Getting back to that original question thing, I remember it was once very hard to think of an original question.  What I proposed in my application to grad school did not survive impact with grad school classes--something to do with arms races, as Ken Waltz and the security dilemma satisfied my curiosity on that stuff.  I did start thinking really big--about the meaning of sovereignty--what matters more the norms about the inviolability of boundaries or the independence of governments? Is the IR of secession distinct from the IR of revolution?  I ended up focusing on the former since I found the work in that area to be unsatisfying.  I never got back to the big question, although I recently got invited to join a project that might just get me back to that.

Anyhow, once I had that one question, I was able to pursue it, but, at first, I had a hard time thinking what to do next, which was not great for job talks as "what is the next project" is always asked.  Eventually, I started being able to see lots more questions, so many that I have left many of those on the shelf.  Having different experiences, like the year on the Joint Staff, have produced questions in completely different areas.  My dissertation did haunt me for a good fifteen years after grad school, but I never really focused on the same part of the world or on the same issues.  My questions kept taking me further and further away from where I started, leaving me a jack of many trades (and a reviewer of many areas) and a master of none.

I might have been more productive if I had stuck with the same stuff--no need for additional literatures to master and reviewers to persuade--but I have always been driven by my curiosity and not by what was strategically sound for my career.  It has worked out wonderfully for me even though I had no grand plan, no imagination of living in Texas or Canada, no expectation to be working on alliances or civil-military relations.

And, yes, I have survivor bias, as others who were similarly unstrategic may not have survived the Darwinian job markets of the past 25 years.  So, I am not sure I am a great role model for how to build a career.  All I really know is this: I got into this business because I am a very, very curious person, and this profession allows me to pursue my curiosity wherever it goes.  It does not allow me to choose where to live with complete freedom, but it does allow me to study what I want for as long as I want.  And yes, to talk about whatever I want for as long as anyone wants to hear me.

Could I imagine doing anything else?  Well, in grad school, when I had doubts about doing this stuff, I would ponder being a firefighter or a policeman or some other fantasy from when I was a kid.  Because maybe I knew that there was no other way for me than this way.  Sure feels like that now.  Either that or I have a crappy imagination about what else I could have done.

So, on this 25th anniversary of my PhD, all I can do is be grateful for the badge that allows me to do what I am best suited for and what I enjoy the most--thinking, reading, teaching, talking, and, yes, writing. 




Monday, December 10, 2018

Dumb or Dumberer? Pondering Trump

I was carpooling to a game of ultimate last night, and my teammate asked me whether Trump is really as dumb as he appears to be.  This is before he tweeted about there being no smocking gun.  The example I used to illustrate Trump's, um, intellectual limitations is that he fired his Chief of Staff without having a replacement lined up.

Now people might say, sure, Trump is not a details guy, that he is ignorant about many things, but he is really quite clever.  He did win a presidential election!  He is a billionaire!  He can't be that dim.  I will agree that Trump has some talents:
  • self-promotion--he has always been good about establishing a brand even if, well, it is toxic
  • applause-lines--he figures out what works and hits that applause line again and again.  
  • hiring arsonists--he has an uncanny instinct to hire people who like to burn down their agencies.
  • destruction--he sure has an ability to lay waste.  Using nicknames to diminish his opponents, ripping people off, etc.
I would say that his success says more about the system than the man.  Trump won because of timing, much help (both legit and not so much), and many other factors explored here.  But let's consider  how he has President-ed.
  • Trump has no big achievements despite his party controlling both houses of Congress and with much party discipline (unlike when the Dems have both houses).  
    • His party got to shove through a wildly unpopular tax cut.  Not his idea.
    • He got two SCOTUS seats filled because GOP kept an opening and then another one (GOP) retired.
    • He rebranded a bunch of things that did not change things much but were costly to negotiate (NAFTA 1.07/USMCA).
  • Trump has not expanded his popularity beyond his base.  It is always easy to play to one's base--it takes smarts, effort, and strategery to get support beyond it.  With the help of Fox and heaps of koolaid, Trump doesn't even have to persuade his base since they buy the lies due to a distorted reality.
  • Turmoil in staff might not be a bad sign if it was productive.  But what has multiple chiefs of staff, three National Security Advisers.
I am going to have to re-think my D&D attributes scores for Trump as he may really be dumber than I thought.  No, typos are not built into this calculation as I have many twitter types, even if no covfefes or smocking guns.  Just that he does not think--he just reacts from his gut. Yeah, it says something bad that he has blundered his way to the top, but that is not new for him.  His businesses failed, yet his brand went on.  Mostly, I think, because society needed a crass 1970s moron to make fun of. 

So, is Trump dumb or is he just clever enough to fool folks?  The old SNL skit of Reagan does not apply, I am sorry.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

A General View About Generals

I believe Kori Schake wrote that one benefit of Trump appointing so many retired (and one active) general to key positions in the administration is that it might cause the public to be a bit more critical of American military leadership--that they will no longer idealize military leaders.  Have we gotten there yet?

With John Kelly finally on his way out, maybe, some folks are saying how he and his reputation have been diminished by being a part of the Trump administration.  Because of how much awful stuff has happened since Kelly became Chief of Staff, people are forgetting what an enthusiastic xenophobe he was as head of Department of Homeland Security.  Remember how ICE and CBP behaved when the Muslim ban was originally instituted?  Yeah, that is on Kelly.  When Kelly was appointed, my friends in the national security community who knew of Kelly's reputation as a general were not pleased.  Kelly might have had more opportunities to do awful things as part of a Trump Administration, but he was picked because he was awful.

Flynn?  The Obama Administration got rid of Flynn because he was and is very, very flawed. It is not as if Flynn showed up in Trump world and was corrupted. No, he was corrupt (an agent of two governments) before he was named National Security Adviser.

HR McMaster was more widely respected, although I had heard from folks inside DC that he was not only poorly prepared to operate in the beltway but tended to have such strong beliefs about things that he would word-smith documents that disagreed with his point of view.

Mattis?  People still pour lots of wishful thinking into the SecDef, hoping that he will protect the country and the world from Trump's instincts.  Maybe he has, but he has also acted much less like a SecDef and much more like a Marine General--minimizing press access and delegating way too much power to the commanders.  One example of the latter: the US has dropped more bombs on Afghanistan in the past year apparently than in any other year since 2008 (thanks Bombshell podcast).  One of the truisms about the US military--they don't want to fight any new wars but want to escalate any war they are currently in--seems to be playing out.

People might think that the up-or-out competitive process within the US armed forces leads to the best people becoming generals and admirals.  That depends on whether that competitive process rewards functional or dysfunctional behavior and thinking.  Does kick down, kiss up strategy work?  If so, then you might just get very flawed senior leadership.  I don't think all generals and admirals are awful.  I don't think all generals and admirals are wonderful.  I think most are decent human beings, but indecent ones (Kelly, Flynn) are perhaps not as unique as people think. 

The question now is whether Americans will become more critical of their military leadership. What I mean by critical is to be open-minded and willing to assess the behavior and outcomes, rather than blindly accepting anyone with stars on their shoulders as brilliant and wise.  To be fair, the US military has been asked to do things that they do poorly--build governments and nations.  But the stuff they are supposed to do well--sail without running into other ships, for instance--is not so hot these days.  I can't blame American military leadership for all of the problems associated with the Forever Wars, but they do have some responsibility.  All I ask is that we as citizens take some responsibility, too, by taking seriously what each of these senior officers adds and/or subtracts. 


Why Tariffs Suck Mightily

Once again, I caveat that I don't study International Political Economy, but have opinions and such anyway, partly because I voyaged through some of that stuff as I studied for my PhD comprehensive exams and partly because I taught a smidge of it in my intro to IR classes.

Why do tariffs suck?  My brother asked about this, so I thought I would give it a shot here. 

First, they are a tax.  They artificially raise the price of a good or service (seems mostly on goods since we care more about protest manufacturing jobs) so as to make domestically produced goods more competitive.  Anyone who opposes taxes should oppose tariffs, but, well GOP hypocrisy is nothing new.  The question with any tax, from my point of view, is whether a tax is progressive or regressive--who bears more of the burden: the relatively well off or the relatively less well off.  For tariffs, it depends, I guess, on what the tariff is on and how the costs get passed on (more on that in a second).  Anyhow, first, tariffs are taxes.

Second, as a tax, they make stuff more expensive without changing the value--so they are inflationary.  We have gotten so used to low inflation that we have forgotten that inflation is bad for people with fixed incomes and people with low incomes.  Given that we have not had much wage growth for what? Thirty years?  Not good.

Third, more importantly, tariffs make stuff more expensive, so people have less money for other stuff.  Here's the fun thing: it allows domestic producers to raise their prices to just below the level of the tariff, so they get to capture some profits.  Woot?  Depends on where those profits go.  See aforementioned wage stagnation reference.  The classic stat I remember from long ago was that various protections on steel jobs in the 1980s cost something like $200,000/job saved.  Guess what?  Steel workers were not getting $200k....

Fourth, as Milner reminds us, much of what we buy includes foreign parts, so raising the prices of inputs via tariffs increases the costs of other stuff, making them less competitive on world markets, such as .... cars made in the US these days.  Seems like Trump wants to undo every Obama legacy, including saving the auto industry.  Think about it: a Honda made somewhere else with European or Asian steel will cost less than a Honda made in the US with more expensive steel (either American or foreign with tariffs added).  So, tariffs may help one industry but harm others. 

Fifth, reciprocity is a core reality in International Relations for good or ill--countries respond to what one does.  So, other countries put tariffs on American goods, making them less competitive in European and Asian markets.  How are soybean farmers doing these days?  Oh wait, the US government can pay off some of these folks.  Sure, who gets these payments?  Everyone who is harmed or those who are politically relevant to those in power?  Markets may not be perfect (indeed, they need to be regulated to soften shocks), but political payoffs to the losers of tariffs is kind of a dumb way to deal with international trade.  Instead, maybe invest money to train people in industries that are harmed by international trade, and, more importantly these days, automation?

Six, comparative advantage is a thing.  Yes, some countries will out-compete the US because they have cheaper labor, weaker regulations, natural endowments, etc.  We can't expect the US to have tariffs on those areas where the US is at a disadvantage and other countries not do the same.  The comparative advantage logic, if allowed to play out, allows us all to get more stuff for lower prices and higher quality than if we all just relied on our own domestic producers.  Yeah, it causes economic pain to some sectors.  The reality is this: that pain is concentrated in some sectors while the rest of society benefits.  Which is why it is natural politically to have high tariff (and non-tariff barriers): politicians pay more attention to the small groups with much pain than the larger groups where the pain is spread out.  In a democracy, um, that ain't good.  So, again, the question is how to deal with the pain experienced by the small groups.  Tariffs are a crappy way to deal with such pain.  

I have forgotten other dynamics and issues.  It is the case that international trade can lead to races to the bottom--deregulation, low wages--but it probably also has something to do with the fact that there is less absolute poverty in the world now than ever before.  Oh, and folks getting more income to work can ultimately lead to more pressure to improve labor regs and environmental policies.  For instance, the legitimacy of the Chinese government now hinges more than ever on whether people can breathe. 

There are tradeoffs involved, there is no perfect solution, but here's iron law of policy in the 21st century: if Trump is doing it, it is almost certainly dumb and self-destructive.



Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Gender Violence and the CAF

I went to an event today on Gender Violence and the Canadian Armed Forces.  Why?  Because it was co-run by two organizations--Women in International Security Canada and the Conference of Defence Associations Institute--that are key partners in the Canadian Defence and Security Network and because personnel issues are one of five key themes that the CDSN will focus on (if we manage to get funding).  Going to events like this allow me to catch up a bit with the stuff in an area that is relevant but mostly adjacent to my research.  That is, stuff I am interested in, but don't have time to read.  Like the IUS-Canada conference in October (another partner), I am struck by the intelligence of the folks in the room AND the challenge facing the CAF, DND and pretty much everyone else.

I was also struck by how few men were there.  A room of about 30 folks had four men plus one of the organizers.  A male speaker dropped out due to illness.  My tweeting of this led to much conversing online.  Yeah, men tend to see gender as a woman's issue for which they have little time.  However, toxic masculinity is toxic for men, too, as the raw numbers show more men being sexually assaulted in the CAF than women.  That might be an artifact of the percentages--that there are far more men than women in the military--but the reality is that men pay a price for this.  Also, much sexual harassment may be aimed not so much at the immediate target--a woman--but towards the other men, that men prove their manliness to other men by picking on women.

The first speaker was Dr. Manon Leblanc, a scientist at the Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis (yes, another CDSN partner).  Her focus was on the effort to gather data--what the various surveys caught, what they missed, and the next wave of research.  The findings were largely unsurprising: LGB face more discrimination/assault/harassment (no T in this due to small number of trans gender personnel filling out the surveys).  More work needs to address the behavior of bystanders and more interviews with the targets of abuse.  There was some Q&A and discussion about the best way to describe those who face sexual misconduct--victim, survivor, target, affected personnel.  Which led to a larger conversation of how much of the work talks past each other due to different jargon.  People preferred not to use victim as that is problematic, with target fitting in with military language better.

The next speaker was Lieutenant Commander (retired) Rosemary Park, Director of Servicewomen's Salute. This is perhaps the only organization that represents female veterans as a group in Canada.  She pointed out that we have had repeated crises and not much apparent improvement.  That there has been no little change in the organizational culture.  She did refer to a new documentary coming out next year, Invisible Force, that presents the women who have come out and reported their experiences as targets of sexual assault. (here's the trailer) I will definitely be considering that doc for my Civ-Mil class next fall.

After lunch, which was nicely designed to facilitate some good follow-up discussions/networking, Commodore Rebecca Patterson, Director-General of the CAF Strategic Response Team-Sexual Misconduct discussed her job, her office and her background.  I met her during lunch--she is quite impressive.  She articulated quite well the challenge facing her and what the role of the chain of command is in all of this.  She indicated that they welcomed the Auditor Gener  al's report.  One of the key problems is that there are services for those harmed by se

xual misconduct, but people don't know how to access them--that there are still too many barriers and silos.  She said that the CAF will have a strategic plan in October 2019.  This might seem slow since this stuff got priority after the Deschamps Report in 2015, but she did hit one of my favorite notes--that we need to focus on outcomes, not just outputs. 

The last speaker, Dr. Chantal Ruel of the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, presented the new efforts--more bilingual staff available 24/7.  Many of the calls they receive are from officers asking how to handle complaints they receive.  The hard part is that attitudes about the CAF haven't changed--that those in the military don't yet trust the CAF chain of command to handle these problems well.  So, that might depress reporting.

There was much expertise in the audience, so the questions and comments were quite good.  I didn't get a chance to ask my question as I had to go: while not all misogynists are racists or homophobes, those folks who self-identify as racists are likely to be misogynists and homophobes.  So, wouldn't getting rid of these people and sending messages that this is not to be tolerated work on multiple problems at once?  I guess what is on my mind has been stories of white supremacists in the CAF being identified but not punished and kicked out.  If that stuff is not driven out of the force, how can anyone expect progress on gender?

I did develop some sympathy with the folks on the panels doing the hard work in and around DND/CAF: that much of the effort started only in 2015.  It is unrealistic to explain cultural change quickly.  In the classic argument between my daughter and myself, the question is whether some progress should make us feel better or should we be impatient and demand more progress faster?  I guess at this point, given what is happening in the US, as long as the trend line is still positive, I can't criticize too much.  Still, the folks today all indicated that outside criticism, feedback, insights are welcome, so join in and tell me and them what the CAF and DND should be doing to make bigger, faster, more enduring improvements.

And if you want a more complete version of the conversation, check out  the live tweeting of the event on the WIIS-Canada feed


Monday, December 3, 2018

Few Fantastic Beasts

This weekend, Mrs. Spew and I saw the latest in the Harry Potter universe: Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crime that is Focusing on Grindelwald.  And I am not a fan.  See below the spoiler break if you care

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Fundamental Requirement of Democracy

The defining aspect of democracy is that elections matter--that the incumbent party, when losing an election, leaves power.  One of the things going around since George HW Bush died is the note he left Bill Clinton, saying that he was rooting for him.  At the same time, the Republican parties in first North Carolina and now Wisconsin  and Michigan are using their lame duck sessions to gut the powers of the offices the Democrats just won.

That is, the Republicans are not taking defeat gracefully and are shifting power to those institutions that they still hold.  This is, in a word, anti-democratic.  Not just anti-Democratic Party, but hostile to the institution of democracy in the United States.  We have had much speculation over the first two years about whether the Deep State is undermining Trump, and much less attention to the reality that the GOP is undermining democracy.

And finally, after years of proclaiming there is a risk of voter fraud (#voterfraudfraud) in an effort to suppress the votes of those likely to vote Democratic (a more typical and enduring Republican effort to subvert democracy), we have a case of massive voter fraud.  In a North Carolina district, we appear to have a Republican candidate taking the absentee ballots of African-Americans and filling them out for the Republican candidate.

This is not just a Trump thing (whose campaign took illegal assistance from foreign powers, paid off women who might accuse Trump of cheating on this wife, etc), but a Republican thing.  And it is getting worse.  For a while, it was mostly just the North Carolina Republicans, but now we have Wisconsin, Michigan and probably others refusing to accept defeat.

I wouldn't worry so much if I could be sure the courts would intervene, but as Trump gets to stock up the judiciary with awful people who are partisan hacks (Kavanaugh is on the most visible example), it is not clear that these efforts to subvert democracy will be blocked.  American democracy is very much at risk, state by state, and it exacerbates the worries people have if Trump loses in 2020 but does not accept defeat.

Sometimes, we hope that lame duck sessions will produce good outcomes because politicians have less to fear. But then again, we must remember that representation is supposed to be the key to the system.  When politicians are accountable, they may do good things, but they are likely to do bad things.  Witness the GOP in Wisconsin and North Carolina.  The GOP is rotten to its core,* and there is not much non-Republicans can do about it except try to push the Republicans out of the offices they currently hold before they do even more damage.

For Democracy to work, we need at least two viable parties that accept the responsibilities that come not just with winning but with losing.  Right now, we only have one. 


* I have been meaning to write a post that provides my hot take that the electoral college is not evil, but each time I think of doing it, the GOP does something anti-democratic.  So, I will piss off people with that post on another day.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Best Republican President of My Lifetime

George Herbert Walker Bush is the best Republican President of my lifetime.  Is that damning with faint praise?  Almost certainly.*  I would say that Bush is better than Reagan for a few reasons:
  1. Bush raised taxes when needed to address deficits, a brave act that may have cost him re-election.
  2. Bush built a global coalition (except for Jordan and the PLO if I remember correctly) to oust Iraq from Kuwait, helping to codify the norm that countries do not annex other countries until Putin started eating up pieces of Ukraine.  And he stopped there because he knew that doing more than that was a bad idea.
  3. Bush nominated David Souter to the Supreme Court, which kept Roe v Wade around for a while longer.  On the other hand, Bush named Clarence Thomas, so let's not sing too much praise on this score.
  4. Signing the Americans with Disabilities Act 
  5. Stewarding the end of the Cold War.  I am trying to figure out if he gets overrated for this, as it was extremely important, but I am not sure any non-Trump post-WWII president would have screwed it up. 
The downsides?
  1. Pardoning everyone that was responsible for Iran-Contra.  Is it ok to lie to Congress?  "Sure" seems to be the message Bush sent.
  2. Lee Atwater and the use of racism to get into office.
Not bad.  I am certainly forgetting other pro's and con's. I will say that whenever HRC's campaign said that she was the most experienced Presidential candidate in our lifetimes (or whatever), I scoffed because GHWB was clearly the most experienced nominee ever with the possible exception of the early dudes.  I don't think the degree of difficulty was as severe for Bush as it was for Obama--collapsing economy, two forever wars, an implacably hostile opposition party (Bush faced a Democratic Congress, but those guys were not so polarized that cooperation with the President or the GOP was impossible), and a national media outlet aimed to subvert him.  Thomas has had a huge, lasting impact in a direction I don't like.  Getting ADA through was not quite the fight that getting ACA through.  So, when I see folks say that GHWB was the best President of their lifetime, I have to demure.  I am still trying to figure out Obama's Presidency, but, at this time, I would still rate Obama over GHWB.  Oh, and Reagan?  Wildly overrated except for restoring American morale post-Vietnam and accommodating Soviet decline as he pushed the country to the right, making tax increases more politically unpopular, started his campaign with racist appeals, vetoed sanctions against apartheid South Africa, created huge deficits and made the recession worse than it had to be, and on and on. 

*  I am no Presidential scholar, and I haven't done any research.  It is a Saturday morning just before grading season, so I am not doing additional work for this off-the-cuff response.

Friday, November 30, 2018

USMCA: Signing a Bad Deal?

One of my friend's has a birthday and I figured out the cheapest present I could get (even after including tariffs) would be a post on any issue he wanted.  He picked USMCA or NAFTA 1.3.  Why? A) Today is the signing ceremony
B) As he knows I am not an international political economy guy, he wants me to spew on stuff I know not well.

Anyhow, today at the G-20, the leaders of the US, Canada and Mexico are signing the new(?) agreement.  More than a few Canadians are miffed as Trump has not removed the steel and aluminum tariffs that exacerbated US's trade relations with these two countries as well as China, EU, and most of the planet. 

For me, the question is: how miffed should we be? 
Well, USMCA (which makes me want to sing) is not that radical as far as I understand it (keep in mind both the caveat that I don't do IPE and it has been a busy fall so I have not followed the details closely).  Canada opens its dairy market by a very small slice, has implications for drug prices, causes Canada to match US and Europe on copyright extensions, and does not get US to lift Buy America that means Canadian firms have problems competing for procurement contracts.  Oh, and any Canadian deal with China might mean that USMCA could go poof.  The rest of NAFTA is intact including key dispute resolution mechanisms.  Hence, NAFTA 1.3 or whatever--it only has a new name because Trump has a fragile ego.  If NAFTA was mostly good (or not) for Canada before this revision, it is mostly good (or not) now.  So, despite having a mercantilist as President of the US, Canada managed to keep open most markets. Woot, eh?

But Canada didn't get the big steel and aluminum tariffs removed, and those hurt. Did they cause GM to close their factory in Oshawa?  Probably not, but they are part of the Uncertainty Engine creating more uncertainty about trade, which means companies react in a variety of ways, and few of them are good. 

Which leads to the big question: could Canada have done better? I am pretty sure Canada could have done worse.  But better?  Two key factors suggest that Trudeau and Freeland did about as well as one could hope for: asymmetry and crazy POTUS.
  • Basic international relations suggests that the weaker, more dependent actor has to accept what the stronger, less dependent actor demands (insert requisite Thucydides cite).  Asymmetric warfare is hard when you live next to the house you might want to burn down.  Canada was and is in a lousy bargaining position--China can escalate the trade war because it has both more leverage on the US AND its domestic politics give its leaders far more room to accept short term costs.
  • As Thomas Schelling taught us before I was born, the best way to bargain in a chicken game is to portray oneself as being far more willing to accept costs and, well, act crazy--burn bridges, toss the steering wheel out the window, etc.  While the Chinese can bet on Trump being a bluffer, a paper tiger, Canada had to believe that Trump is pretty crazy when it comes to trade.  He is willing to inflict costs on his own supporters as well as other countries as he seems to ignore or not understand the consequences of his actions (or realizes his supporters are cultists and don't mind their soybeans rotting in the field).  This makes him a very challenging adversary in a game of chicken.  
If one combines asymmetry with a trading partner/adversary like Trump, well, Canada was fucked.  Sorry, but there it is.  What options did Canada have? Suck up and give in? That seemed to be what some folks recommended (hey, Stephen Harper, you don't seem so tough now).  Or be tougher and not give in?  Good luck with that.

The real test of the agreement (if the US Congress ratifies, which is no certainty) is whether Trump then pushes further or if he is satisfied with his branding exercise and moves on to other ways to erase Obama's name and legacy.  Since Trump is an Uncertainty Engine, I have no idea, but I would bet on him moving on.  He has a short attention span, loves to declare victory, and can feel good about beating Trudeau even if the deal really does not change much (so Trudeau can declare victory, ssshhh).

There is one big upside in all of this: Stephanie Carvin can make a great cake

That is Jared Kushner waiting to get into a bargaining session.







Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Thinking about Strong, Secure, Engaged

Today, I had the chance along with Stephanie Carvin (my NPSIA partner in crime), Col (retired) Charles Davies, and Matthew Overton of CDAI to discuss the Canadian Defence Review--forever known now as the SSE (see the cover page to the right)--and where things stand now.  The audience was the Canadian Military Engineers Association, mostly active and retired army folks, which allowed me to snark at the Navy and at the Infantry. 


I entitled my talk "A Cranky Academic's View" although, to be fair, the SSE is not a bad document. I talked about how the review process involved far more consultation than I had expected, although it is not clear that the consultations changed the document that much.  I don't really know how much was pre-baked before the consultations except for the emphasis on more academic engagement--that was clearly a product of lots of folks chiming in. 

I did point out that a common complaint was that the Defence Review process happened before the new government could do a foreign policy or grand strategy review.  If the Defence stuff is supposed to fit into a larger plan about Canada's role in the world, doing a review without a clear concept of Canada's role is a problem.  We were asked in the Q&A about how the Canadian Armed Forces plays with other government agencies, so I said not well.  That the efforts to build "whole of government" are resisted mightily by all government agencies, so perhaps even if there were a big plan for Canada's grand strategy, the CAF and DND might resist. 

Instead, the SSE emphasized deployable units--that air/sea/land units should be considered essentially as different sets of packages for different missions and that each should have a number of packages for a number of possibilities.  This has actually played out in reality as the army has one package in Latvia doing tripwire/alliance stuff, one doing training in Iraq, one doing training in Ukraine, a helo package in Mali, etc.

What annoyed me about the SSE:
That there were no hard choices made and it seems like the Liberals saw procurement as jobs programs rather than defence programs.  One thing I didn't raise in the talk, because I forgot, is that the Saudi stuff should remind us that if we want a defence industry in Canada, it then leads to difficult choices like who to export arms to? Because Canada can't buy enough to sustain an arms industry.... Anyhow, back to the ships, I blamed industry as they crap over a program when they don't win (see today's news that the government can't make decisions on the ships until a court case is resolved).

I did also discuss the personnel part of the SSE--that it was put first and this was properly symbolic given that personnel are 50% of the budget AND recruiting/retaining folks is really hard.  If demographics say that there will be fewer white men from areas that traditionally supply the recuits to the CAF, then, hells yeah, we need a diverse force--women are 50% of the population, non-white folks are an increasing chunk of Canada. If those folks are really part of the recruiting pool, the pool is deeper, which means one can be more selective and get more quality. Oh, and yeah, we need to deal with misogyny and white supremacy within the ranks if we want a deeper pool of recruits and retain talented, trained people.

I concluded by saying that progress would be hard to measure, that any party will be held hostage by Halifax and Vancouver so the ship building program will continue, and that we really have no idea what the next Liberal government will do after 2019, but that since they don't seem to care that much about deficits, the programs in the SSE are unlikely to get cut.  Yeah, I am already counting out the Conservatives (a blogpost for another day).

Chuck Davies did a great job of putting the SSE into context--juxtaposing it with French, American, British and Australian reviews of late.  He spoke mostly favorably about it, but also raised a big issue which is becoming a theme for my civ-mil stuff--the more complexity one adds to the decision-making process, the more different oversight actors that are brought in, the harder it will be to make decisions and hold folks accountable. 

Stephanie Carvin talked mostly about technology and the SSE--that there is a risk of magical thinking that tech will fix things, but much tech raises difficult problems and that tech will not solve the fog of war.  She pushed back against the idea that Canada can't do much since it is more than just a middle power--it has a big GDP (compared to most places), a large tracts of land (sorry, my interpretation), and heaps of other stuff that should allow it to make a difference.  While I tend to scoff, she's right that Canada can do more if it has focus and an agenda.  The challenge now is what to do when all of the assumptions (US as reliable partner) are up for grabs?

The last question was on the public--that Canada's public doesn't care and is ill-informed about defence stuff.  I indicated that this is not very different from our allies, contradicting the questioner, as few voted on Brexit or for Trump based on defence policy.  Stephanie argued better that than I could that the public could be better informed and should be. She is working on some initiatives with CDAI and I am working via the CDSN to address this stuff.

Overall, it was an interesting morning, as I learned a lot from both Steph and Chuck as well as a conversation with Matthew that preceded the event.  As always, I love my job, and I love being in Ottawa where so much of this stuff gets analyzed, discussed, and, dare I say it, disseminated.




















Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Pondering the Near Term: What of Populism?

Nice combo of Pearson Building (GAC's home),
infrastructure (embedded liberalism), and ice.
Today, I was part of a roundtable at Global Affairs Canada (think Canada's Foreign Ministry or State Dept) where they were asking a group of sharp Carleton and U of Ottawa academics and me what we should be thinking about over the next five years.  I can't write about what the other folks said--implicit Chatham House rule--but I can always talk about what I said. 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Reverse Groucho Rule and Brexit

Anyone surprised that the deal the British will get from the EU may sucketh mightily?  Nope.  On the road today, I tweeted thusly:

How can I explain this tweet?  I have been focused on other shitshows so I don't know the details, but I don't think I need ot know them as we have two different routes lead to the same answer:
  1. Invoking Monica Duffy Toft and ye olde Chain Store Paradox: When it comes to dealing with separatist units, when a country fears that letting one separatist unit go might lead to others seeking to secede, they resist mightily, if only to deter the subsequent units.  While it may not be so rational to spend a heap of effort resisting the first secessionist unit, the desire to deter others make such resistance more likely. Which explains why some secessionist conflicts are far more violent--that it is the country doing the resisting against the secession that causes the conflict to be violent.  If we think of the UK to be a separatist movement (and it certainly acts like one), then it makes sense for the EU to impose steep costs--so that no other member tries to imitate the UK. 
  2.  A simplistic application of veto player theory: For the EU to make a deal with the UK, it needs to get its members to agree.  If they are operating by consensus or anything close to it, any one member or a small group of members can block the EU from offering a deal.  To get enough countries (or all?) to agree to a deal with either each one holding a veto or a subset, the question becomes--which kind of member is going to be the hardest one to persuade, the one getting in the way: a country or coalition that wants to soften conditions on the UK or a country or coalition that wants to impose costs?  I'd bet on the latter every day and twice on Sunday, as the British path to this point has not exactly been all that kind to other EU members.  Some may enjoy an EU sans UK, but my guess is that there is more bitterness.  So, whatever deal that Theresa May can introduce to parliament first had to get past the intra-EU bargaining process, right?
I am no expert on the EU, but it was pretty easy to foresee that the EU would not be letting the UK go without making it quite hard and even painful.  Indeed, seeing how May is having problems not just with her own party but within her own cabinet, I can't imagine that the deal is that good for the UK.  The funny thing, ok, not funny, the tragic thing is that this was all pretty obvious two years ago before the Brexit vote--that leaving the EU would be very, very costly.  If the UK had some leaders who could, well, lead, one could imagine them sacrificing their careers to back out and go back to something approaching the status quo.  But leaders are in short supply.  Congrats on the second biggest unforced error of the 2010s..... 

And, yes, if the Groucho Rule is that he would not want to be a member of any club that would have him, the Reverse Groucho Rule is that one would not want any member who wants to leave an organization to do so.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Media Madness!

I may have alienated a media outlet today.  Just one, you may be asking?  I was asked to be on a radio station to discuss some of Trump's statements, and I agreed although I was not sure what I wanted to say.  Well, it turns out I had something I wanted to get off my chest: that perhaps the media should not chase for comments and coverage every time the President talks about stuff.

That is, I was questioning why they were talking to me about this stuff.  The "story" du jour was Trump raising the possibility of closing the border with Mexico.  I argued that the media paid way too much attention to the caravan of refugees before the midterms, playing into Trump's hands, not unlike how they spent heaps of time on HRC's emails (I will attack HRC's tragically awful comments about populism another time) rather than focus on how corrupt Trump was.  

The radio guy said that I was asking for the media to edit the President, that they should doing more than covering the president but editorializing him.  No, I said, every media outlet is constantly editing--choosing what to cover, what not to cover, what to spend a lot of effort on, what to spend a little effort on, what to put on the front page or the top of the show, etc.  I was just asking them to:
EDIT RESPONSIBLY.

Rather than just chase ratings and clicks.  Please?  I didn't even get into the false equivalence machines that much of the media has become.  Sure, it was idealistic.  But it felt good.  Don't know if it will mean fewer media opportunities down the road--either because I pissed them off or because they reduce how often they seek comments on Trump's tweets/rants.

Anyhow, maybe I will stop agreeing to comment on Trump's comments... tis hte very least I can do.  How about you?

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Giving Thanks, 2018

An annual Semi-Spew tradition is to give thanks, enumerating and appreciating all those people, institutions, events and whatever for which I am so very grateful.  I whine a lot, but I know that I am very lucky to have such great friends, family, acquaintances, students, etc.   While I appreciate it all the time, on this day (and on the Canadian day as well), I stop and look around and give thanks.

I started a little early this year as there was a meme going around twitter:


You can hit that tweet to follow the thread.  I kind of bounced around.  Here, I will try to put my thanks to into chronological order so that I forget fewer people.
  • I am very thankful that my daughter's adventure going out to California and settling there (at least for now) has worked out so well.  The only casualty was my ankle just before we started on our journey.  But the ride was fun as we got to see a hunk of the US including Winslow, Arizona and the Grand Canyon.  She moved from Intern Spew to Graduate Spew and Executive Assistant Spew.  She is meeting famous and not so famous actors during her work, learning the biz, and enjoying the hell out of LA.  I am so very thankful that she is thriving, largely on her own, and in a place that allows us to go to HarryPotterLand (the smaller version).
  • There were lots of interesting events and meetings in Ottawa from last winter through to last week, so I will reiterate how thankful I am that the randomizer career engine that is the academic job market washed me up on the shores of Ottawa (yeah, I mix my metaphors--it is my blog and I can do what I want).  Ottawa has been so very good to me.  I keep saying because it keeps being true that being in a national capital is great for a curious International Relations scholar.  I meet interesting people, I get to go to embassies to connect before I go do research, the IR community is very terrific, and the folks in and near government continue to talk to me even after I write critical stuff.
  • Speaking of travel, I am grateful to Canada's grant agency, SSHRC, as well as the Paterson Chair funds, for making my research and conference travel possible.  I learned a great deal in Seoul and Santiago, ate great food, had very productive interviews, and even got to ski the Andes.



  • I am so very grateful that I can continue to play ultimate well into my 50's.  I recovered from my sprained ankle and had a good summer of ultimate interrupted not by injury but by the research travel.  I am now playing in a winter grandmasters league (indoors, of course), and having a great time, still laying out after all these years.
  • My father died this year, which was, of course, very sad.  But it brought the family together--both before and after.  We are closer now, especially my siblings, than anytime I can remember, so I am grateful that we got through all of it as well as we did.  Plus we were and continue to be entertained with all the stuff my father saved over the years (everything!).  I have been lucky that I have lost so few people in my life.  My father managed not just to live to nearly 91, but had multiple chances to say goodbye.  I am thankful that he had the chance to go out on his terms.  And that is obsessive hoarding led to all kinds of interesting discoveries.
  • I am thankful I had the chance to go to another NATO side party--an experts forum next to the big summit.  The Canadian Ambassador to NATO, Kerry Buck, made that happen for me, and then Stefanie Von Hlatky got to be my NATO wingperson again (and I was hers).  Thanks to both of them!
    I am just above the moderator's notes
  • Most of the rest of the summer and fall were dedicated to the CDSN application.  Building a network and seeking funding is a whole lot of work, which, yes, led to some griping.  But it was actually a pleasure because I got to work with such great people at Carleton, all over Canada, and beyond.  Seeking funding has meant doing a heap of networking, and I have met very interesting people, and I have relied heavily on great people to keep pushing this thing forward.  The co-directors--Andrea Charron, JC Boucher, David Bercuson, Phil Lagasse, once again SVH, Irina Goldenberg, Al Okros, Anessa Kimball, Alex Moens, Srdjan Vucetic, Stephane Roussel--provided great ideas and did a heap of writing and revising.  The various partners and participants had to yet again go through the SSHRC website maze.  Jeff Rice, Alvine Nintai, Kyla Reid,  and Kate Swan were so very helpful at Carleton, and I greatly appreciate the support of my Director, my Dean, and the VP for research.  I am also very grateful for the folks in the Canadian Armed Forces who are so willing to engage us as we work on this network.
  • I am very grateful to the faculty and students at NPSIA.  While I have had moments and even years of professional happiness elsewhere, I have been most supported and recognized here at NPSIA.  My colleagues have supported my efforts, including our Defence brownbags, and our students keep pushing me to think about my assumptions.  When a friend asked about dream jobs, I had a hard time coming up with ones that didn't involve beaches or skiing as I am very happy these days.  
  • As I hinted at the top, I am very thankful for heaps of folks on twitter and other social media.  I suffered from a bad case of FOMO (fear of missing out) throughout much of my life. While twitter, facebook and the rest have flaws (subverting democracy, facilitating repression, etc), they have been mighty good to me.  I have met interesting people, connected with old friends, developed connections that have been useful for my research and teaching.  I belong to a Slack that is full of national security snark and insight and support. Podcasts have gotten me through short and line drives, including one,  Binge-Mode, that is causing me to look back and seeing stuff in the Harry Potter books and movies that I didn't see before.
  • Finally, I am grateful that my friends have managed this year of strife and crisis intact. Exemplar below:

    Saw Grant, an old TTU friend, in an aiport
    as he was getting trained for his A-stan
    deployment as a reservist.  Glad he made
    it back ok at the end of the year.
    I hope you and yours have much to be thankful for and that your Thanksgiving is full of stuffing, pie, sweet potatoes, and pie.


Monday, November 19, 2018

European Army? No. A NATO Without the US?

One of the advantages of working at a place like NPSIA is that we have all kinds of interesting people floating through asking good questions and making me think.  Today, the topic of the European Army came up.  I asked our German post doc and she pushed it back at me.  So, what do I think?

First: deja vu.  For most of the cold war and after, the Americans simultaneously demanded that the Europeans do more and opposed efforts by the Europeans to build stronger Euro-defense institutions, fearing that would undermine NATO. So, Macron says European Army, and Trump, who has demanded Europe do more, complains.  Does this mean that Trump gets the tangled tradeoffs?  No, he just thinks the US should get paid for European defense.

Second, I am a long-time European Defence and Security skeptic.  I remember the Europeans trying to take the lead on the dissolution of Yugoslavia and that didn't work out so well.  Thus, I scoff at the idea of the Europeans getting their act together.

Third, as someone who co-wrote a book on how the domestic politics of civilian control of the military lead to difficulties in multilateral military operations, I cannot imagine a situation where the Europeans would form a single military.  They can and have engaged in bilateral efforts and then in multilateral missions where they have to do as much force generation work as NATO--begging to get contributions.  But a standing army under the command of a single officer with the ability to act and react without getting permission from more than two dozen legislatures?  No.  Remember, nearly every European country has a far more complicated deployment approval process than US/CA/UK (and the Brits showed during the Syria stuff that they have their own surprising complexity).

So, what to make of it?  Maybe aim big and then get something in between?  How about an ETO: a European Treaty Organization that looks a lot like NATO but with no US (or Canada)?  That reproduces the "attack upon one equals an attack upon all" and leans on the French nuclear deterrent and German political/economic heft, but does not rely on the US or have to be worried about a Trump blocking consensus?  Still difficult and not likely, but far more likely than a European Army.  Is this what Macron is thinking of?  Probably not, but he might stumble into it.

How does that sounds?  A European Treaty Organization??  That the UK is out of the EU makes it more likely since the UK always blocked this kind of thing.  Greece and Turkey always made EU/NATO cooperation really hard... can they continue their games in the Age of Trump?

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Brexiteers Are the Worst Separatists?

One of the basic tendencies of separatists (non-decolonization edition) is that they soft-pedal the costs of transition and overplay the benefits.  This makes sense as a political strategy: "hey Quebeckers, you get to keep everything you like about Canada, but get to be independent."  Of course, these promises are contradictions--if you are an independent country, then you can't have someone else issuing passports for your country.  You can rely on someone else's currency, but that basically means that you cannot have your own monetary policy. When the Scots tried to secede a few years ago, the Scottish National Policy changed its stance on NATO, saying that they would not mind staying in an alliance that they had long opposed.  Why?  To get more votes.

The problem is this: in a normal political campaign, you can make all kinds of promises, including ones that are in contradiction with each other and then finesse the differences afterwards.  Separatism is different--if one is successful, then one has an independent country and suddenly face a lot of new realities that are much harder to finesse.  Why?  Because becoming a different country does indeed mean breaking with the old country and so many of those promises either cannot be kept or must be kept but are very costly to do so.

Part of this is that a party that comes into power after winning an ordinary election in a democracy has to bargain with other parties, but they can ultimately pick and choose which parties and which issues to negotiate.  When one secedes, one can't choose the bargaining partners--they will be the rump state and the international organizations that one wants to (re-)join.  The rump state will have far less incentive or desire to bargain than parties after an ordinary election--the politicians of the rump state are no longer responsible for the well-being of the citizens of the new state nor do they feel a compulsion to appeal to some kind of subset of the citizens of the new state.  I am probably downplaying coalitional bargaining (of which there is much, much literature I have not read), but it almost certainly pales in comparison to the amount of bargaining power one surrenders when one secedes.

Maybe Canada would have been gracious to a Quebec that a separatist referendum. Maybe a UK minus Scotland would have been kind to a departing Scotland (I doubt it).  Part if it is, of course, that the rump states want to make the transition painful to deter other separatist units.  But part of it is just the nature of the politics of the situation--the power imbalance usually favors the rump state because, here's the dirty secret, many separatist entities are among the better off in their previous country relative to the other units so they have more to lose.  Quebec gets far more from Canada in terms of equalization payments and other benefits than Canada gets.

How does this apply to Brexit?  Besides the fact that some of the Brexiteers were lying sacks of xenophobia (Nigel Farage), prior to Brexit, the British had the best of all worlds--they got to participate in much of the EU that they wanted, they got to opt out of what they did not want, and they had a goodly amount of decision-making power.  Post-Brexit, they lose all decision-making power except if they are smart bargainers (they aren't), they lose the ability to opt into the stuff that they want, and they are forced to accept what the EU has to offer.  Oh, and the EU has no incentive to make it easy for them.

Was this foreseeable?  Absolutely.  Just the whole Ireland/Northern Ireland issue was patently obvious, to name one aspect.  Which is why the Brexiteers lied about the process and the outcomes.  Brexit is one of the biggest unforced errors a country has made (other than invading Iraq without a good post-war plan, electing Donald Trump, ....).  Could we have predicted it would be this big of a shitshow? Probably not because we wouldn't have known that Labour would suck this much.

David Cameron has much to answer for, as he let this happen.  Theresa May has not played this well, but she has faced a tough situation.  Corbyn?  Oh my.  Labour could have walked into power how many times if it was not led by such an awful person.

And, yes, it reinforces my confirmation bias about one thing--massive political and social change should not be decided by 50% plus one.  All you need is for some drunk frat boy voters or, to be more specific, resentful voters seeking change but having no clue what change really means and lying politicians to pander to the worst instincts to temporarily bridge 50% to start something that any sane, sober person would regret quickly enough.  Britain was not broken before Brexit, but it surely is now.  Whatever flaws the EU had and continues to have, ripping the UK from it is far more destructive.  And, again, we knew that two years ago.  Who has the political courage to risk their careers by suggesting going back?