Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Bullies in the Field of IR

When I posted the other day about Bullies in IR, I was referring to leaders/countries making threats hoping to cow others into submission.  The IR scholars on my facebook page thought I was going to discuss bullies in the field of IR and were disappointed that I did not.  Are there bullies in our field? Absolutely.  Should I out the ones that I have observed?  Um, I don't know.  Yes, there are still costs, even to a full professor, to antagonizing those who wield power in ways that are cruel and abusive, as they might target my students, for instance.  There were bullies in each of the departments I have worked, but their impact varied depending on how the larger community reacted.  In some places, they were contained/constrained, and, in others, they were empowered.

What kinds of bullying are there?  Senior folks picking on junior faculty (I have heard about one sending unsolicited tenure letters to sink the candidacies of scholars elsewhere), majority folks (white, male, etc) picking on less represented groups, profs abusing their power over students (including but not only sexual harassment), profs abusing their staff, etc.  Things can work, of course, in the opposite direction, but since power plays a role in much of this, bullying the more powerful seems unsustainable to me.

What motivates bullying?  The obvious answer is insecurity, but people can try to push others around for all kinds of reasons--because they enjoy it, because they get stuff out of it, because they have been trained to do so, etc.  Impunity certainly plays a role--why change your behavior if there are no consequences?

The problem, of course, is that bullies are successful in creating climates of fear--that they are not outed because people worry that they will face retaliation directly or indirectly by the person or by their friends. Yes, I was willing to out a sexual harasser because I knew the case very well and, well, I knew that he had limited ability to harm me, so it was not so brave.

Some might suggest developing reporting mechanisms that allow for anonymous complaints so that the bully can't target those who blow the whistle.  However, anonymity is problematic since it can be used not just to report bullying but to do bullying (see Political Science Rumors and its predecessors).

Within a department, one should be able to find allies to organize collective action (always easier in smaller groups).  But that collective action won't go very far if the administration is not interested in improving things.  And, yes, administrators may care less about bullying and more about how much money a person brings in or how often their work is cited.  I wonder about the incentive structures not just of bullies but those in administrative positions.  

Perhaps the most feasible solution in the short term in the profession is rather than calling out the bad actors is to call out the good ones.  #academickindness and #scholarsunday and other twitter threads dedicated to identifying the positive influences, the kind people, the non-bullies, may help create positive environments and norms, and provide less space, less implied tolerance of bullying.  At least, that is the easiest collective action we can do.  As administrators, as convenors of meetings, as hiring committees, and in our other roles, we can reward kindness and punish bullying.  Why invite an asshole to one's edited volume project or to one's conference?  It is beyond me when I see a particular bully hired again and again.  At some point, the reputation should become clear and that people ought not hire such folks even if their work is highly cited.  When bullies get to be named President of an association, I am appalled.  Can't we do better?  Can't we include decency as a criteria?

I have spent far more time studying the role of power in international relations than the role of power and the behavior of bullies in academia, so I am out of ideas.  What ideas do folks have?

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Rise of the Bullies and IR Theory

The past few years challenge much of the conventional understanding of international relations.  One of the big lessons from the IR scholarship of the 1970s is that the nature of international relations is that threats and bullying don't work.  As Robert Jervis discussed it, the world can be either a constant chicken game or a repeated prisoner's dilemma--aka deterrence vs. spiral model.  In short, is international relations an environment (a system!) where countries cave into threats or do they balance against them, that those who believe that pushing countries around are usually confronting with coalitions created by such bullying.  Kaiser Wilhelm, as IR scholars use as a example, threatened everyone, hoping that they would back down.  Instead, these countries solidified their alliances and showed up in Europe in August 1914.  Oops.

Over the past several years, we have seen a series of countries engage in bullying behavior--Russia, Saudi Arabia, Trump's US and China.  Russia has wielded nuclear threats to encourage Europeans to not deploy troops to the Baltics and to dissuade them from supporting Ukraine.  How has that worked so far?  Saudi Arabia has seemingly become unhinged as of late, overreacting to Canadian discussions of Saudi human rights and all but warring upon Qatar.  Trump, well, is a bully, so we ought not be surprised by his threats nor by his ignorance of IR scholarship. Threatening the allies has led them to ponder hedging and alternatives.  He might think the North Koreans have submitted after last year's threats, but I am pretty sure the North Koreans think they have the upper hand.

The big surprise, to me anyway, is China.  China has manged its rise so very well in large part because it has mostly wielded a velvet fist.  Yes, it has buzzed American planes and ships, had friction with Indonesia, and other stuff.  But generally, the China of the 2000s and early 2010s has been replaced by a more aggressive and obnoxious China.  The tiff with Canada is importance since Canada was the western democracy least likely to object to the Huawei company getting inside Canada's 5G.  Well, not any more.  The current standoff is causing Canadian parties to rally against China--who is arguing now that Canada should submit?  Moreover, a conversation with a European diplomat today reminded me that Canada has more influence than folks think.  Not necessarily to push China back into the straight and narrow but to serve as bellwether.  If  a country has a problem with the US or EU, well, those are powerful entities that can antagonize.  But a country has a problem with Canada?  That suggests that the particular country is problematic... and, jeez, is China problematic these days.

I am not a China expert so I don't really know what is driving China to behave this way.  I would guess domestic politics and nationalism (populism?  Not quite).  But everything I have learned in my career tells me that China's choices now are self-destructive--that being aggressive does not pay in the long run.  That bullying is counter-productive.  Perhaps China is encouraged because the US led by Trump is so incompetent and unreliable, which means balancing will be late, inept and weak.  But it is still a dumb move--the Chinese have been gaining strength with little opposition because they were not overly aggressive. 

The thing about IR theory stuff--it didn't say that bullying didn't happen. It just said it was not productive.  So, the question for future IR scholars, if we live so long, is whether China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Trump's US are punished or not.  We shall see. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

Not Gonna Happen, Explained

Every couple of weeks, one of my colleagues at NPSIA, an economist, asks me, "Come on, Steve, are you still so sure Trump will not be impeached?" (Caveat: I got 2016 wrong, so what do I know?)  We had that conversation again yesterday.  I wish I could just flash this thing I created at him
To be clear, there are a few stages to the impeachment process: the House of Representatives considers one or more articles (charges) of impeachment (you can bet on multiple articles); then the House votes and a majority of yea's sends it to the Senate.  So, when folks say a President has been impeached, they might mean just this part of the process, and, if so, my meme above doesn't apply.  However, there is the next stage, where the Senate holds a trial and then the entire Senate acts as jury, with a 2/3s vote needed to convict.  My meme above refers to that--don't count on Trump losing his office due to impeachment precisely because I don't think that 67 Senators will vote to impeach.

Let me explain.  I have changed my mind about the first stage.  The latest revelations--that Trump directed his lawyer (and probably others) to lie to Congress--are definitely impeachable.  As someone on twitter reminded me, the first article against Nixon was exactly this.  I am sure that the Mueller report will contain enough stuff that it will be hard, if not impossible, for the Democrats in the House to avoid voting on impeachment.  Nancy Pelosi can count votes, and I am pretty sure she will get a heap of pressure by much of the party to put impeachment articles on the agenda. 
Quick tangent: why wouldn't Pelosi want to have Trump impeached?  Because she and other Dems think they would be in the same position as the 1998 Republicans who got smacked pretty hard for trying to impeach Clinton.  I think this is different--that Trump has proven to be unfit to a majority of Americans.  Yes, his base will be pissed and turn out more in 2020.  However, this will also energize the Democratic base, and, since turnout is a Democratic problem and there are more Democrats than Republicans, and since Trump is not appealing to independents either, I don't think this is 1998.  I am guessing Pelosi will agree eventually.
So, I think impeachment in terms of the first stage will happen.  But here's the thing--if they can't even get 60 Senators to keep sanctions on Russian companies linked to Putin, how will an impeachment vote get 67 votes?  Keeping sanctions on the Russians is EASY--no one's base is demanding the reduction of sanctions on the Russians yet the GOP, including the supposed voice of moderation Mitt Romney, held the line.  FFS.  So, no, the President will not be impeached.  Nor will he be 25th Amendment-ed, as that would require his cabinet to turn against him and then getting a super-majority vote through the Senate (and House).

It comes down to this--Trump is only leaving the White House in six ways (in increasing order of likelihood):
  1. Trump loses the primaries to another Republican.  Fun to imagine, not going to happen.  The GOP is his party now, and a large chunk, the most likely to show up at a primary election are a bunch of cultists.
  2. Trump quits.  One could imagine him making a deal where he and his family get to keep their ill-gotten gains and go free but leave office.  I doubt it, since he has been trained to think being President gives him immunity and allows him to pardon anyone he wants. And why should he not believe these things.
  3. Trump is impeached as the GOP in the Senate realize that their states actually contain a good number of folks who have been hurt by Trump's policies (these policies tend to hurt GOP voters but not GOP donors).
  4. Trump leaves at the end of his second term.
  5. Trump has a heart attack, stroke, or other medical problem that either kills him or permits 25th amendment to be applied.
  6. Trump is defeated by a Democratic candidate in 2020.  This is the only path that Democrats can really count on.  Trump can still win, of course, but this the one where Democratic activism, effort, donations, organization, etc can make a difference.  The Dems can't make the Republican Senators value country over party, but they can do their damnedest to turn out and win.  
Oh, and one fact--no President has been convicted by the Senate.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Civil Oversight? Lessons from Belgium and New Zealand

Yesterday, a piece co-authored by Phil Lagassé and myself hit the streets.  Ok, it was moved from "early view" to actually published.  Woot!  Phil wrote a blog post to celebrate to explain what he did (his fieldwork, my title)*:

When Civilian Oversight is 'Civil': Parliamentary Oversight of the Military in Belgium and New Zealand
In October of 2016, Russia accused the Belgian air force of killing civilians in Syria. In many political systems, this might cause the opposition to attack the government either because they feel betrayed by the government’s secrecy or because it is an opportunity to score points.  Instead, Belgium’s secret-cleared parliamentary committee overseeing military operations met, sufficient information was provided to prove that the Russian accusation was baseless, and the opposition was then satisfied.  What could have been a conflict within Belgian politics and perhaps a civil-military confrontation was quickly defused.  This was possible because Belgium has a cooperative form of civilian oversight of its armed forces.  We find a similar type of cooperative oversight in New Zealand. Drawing on principal-agent theory, which identifies two types of oversight --police patrols and fire alarms-- our study argues that Belgium and New Zealand use a third type of oversight to scrutinize their military affairs: community policing (Steve says: because we need more metaphors!)

Existing principal-agent studies note that principals, such as legislatures, use 'active police patrols' or 'reactive fire alarms' to hold agents, such as executives, to account. Police patrols and fire alarms tend to rest on suspicion and confrontation toward the agent by the principal. Community policing, on the other hand, refers to oversight that emphasizes a comparatively higher degree of trust and collaboration between the principal and the agent. The aim of community policing is not to detect the agent's misbehaviour through intrusive measures or alerts, but to satisfy the principal’s concerns that the agent is being transparent and to assure the agent that the principal respects their autonomy in return. Rather than stressing confrontation, community policing relies more on confidence-building between the principal and agent. 

Our paper argues that oversight operates along a spectrum of trust (Table 1):

Table  1.  Trust and Oversight Strategies
Form of Oversight
Community Policing
Fire Alarms
Police Patrols

The higher the trust between the principal and the agent, the more likely that a community policing approach will be adopted. As trust diminishes, principals will rely on increasingly more intrusive oversight efforts, from fire alarms to police patrols. 

Community policing is an inherently fragile form of oversight, insofar as it depends on collaboration between the principal and the agent, and on rewards instead of sanctions to ensure that the agent acts as the principal demands. But community policing also has important advantages over police patrols and fire alarms. Notably, under community policing, principals can get a high degree of information from the agent for relatively little effort. Under police patrols, information usually comes at the cost of more effort, while fire alarms trade-off minimal information for less effort. As long as it holds together, therefore, community policing can be an attractive form of oversight as compared with police patrols and fire alarms (Table 2).

Table 2. Forms of Oversight
Police Patrol
Fire Alarm
Community Policing
Information access
Sanctions and rewards

 To illustrate how community policing works, we examine how the Belgian and New Zealand Parliaments oversee their military and defence officials.

In Belgium, community policing involves satisfying all political factions that they know what the defence minister and military are doing and why, while leaving the executive to set policy and make military decisions. In keeping with the nature of Belgian federalism and the country's factional political culture, the aim is to build confidence amongst Belgium's political parties. As a result, the Belgian Parliament emphasizes sharing information in secret committees that include representatives from these parties. The system focuses on making all parties and factions feel that they have been properly consulted and informed.

In New Zealand, by contrast, community policing involves ensuring that the defence ministry and armed forces operate and make decisions with a high degree of transparency and openness. The New Zealand Parliament's Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Trade committee reviews and scrutinizes estimates and military acquisitions in a public setting, using unclassified information provided by the Ministry of Defence and New Zealand Defence Force. This process is enabled by the New Zealand government's efforts to increase transparency and establish a bipartisan defence consensus between New Zealand's major parties. Underlying New Zealand's approach to community policing is the government's belief that confidence in its ability to control the armed forces is best achieved by showing Parliament, and by extension the public, that the defence ministry and armed forces have nothing to hide.

Our research suggests that community policing may be a response to past failures of oversight.  Indeed, one avenue for future research would involve examining whether failures tend to encourage the adoption of a community policing approach. Belgium developed new parliamentary procedures to oversee defence procurement and military operations because of scandals that revealed the limitations of its Parliament's oversight powers.  These new procedures and the lessons of the scandals fostered a greater effort by all sides to improve transparency.  Likewise, a severe crisis in New Zealand’s civil-military relations led to a new consensus among the major parties, the Ministry of Defence and New Zealand’s military that produced greater transparency and, with it, greater trust.

Our article concludes that more work is required to see if community policing oversight happens in larger countries and within other kinds of political structures, such as presidential systems.  Our purpose was to establish that there is a third form of oversight that relies on trust and collaboration, instead of suspicion and confrontation.  The next step is to see if the concept has limited or wider application.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Why Does Trump Hate NATO?

Trump's desire to pull out of NATO is in the news again. Trump has very few real beliefs, but trashing NATO is perhaps just behind his racism/xenophobia and his mercantilism/corruption for most consistent beliefs/stances.  Why?

First, we can consult the Trump Rules and focus on projection, numbers, and, yes, entropy.
  • Trump has a hard time valuing reciprocity, NATO' essence via the promise of an attack upon one is an attack upon all, because he projects onto everyone else how we views things.  That other countries must be ripping the US off and trying to get by via doing less precisely because that is his life-long modus operandi.  He just does not get the security guarantee because he can't see anyone else keeping it since he never keeps his word.  So, NATO can't mean as much to Trump as it means to damn near every major politician in the US and Europe for 7- years (De Gaulle pulled out of the operational command, but he did not pull out of NATO).
  • Trump can't get any numbers right, so, of course, he does not understand that the 2% guideline--that members of NATO should contribute at least 2% of their GDP to defense--is not some kind of payment to the US for the costs of defending Europe.  Nor can he understand that not everything the US spends is on European defense.  Nor that 2% is a dubious measure.
  • Trump does not value order.  He likes chaos in his own team, fostering rivalry among his advisers.  He does not value European order either, seeing the allies as competitors.  It may not always be deliberate, but it is part of a basic tendency--to dismiss institutions and norms and processses.  Maybe sometimes we overvalue such stuff, but avoiding major war in Europe and fostering prosperity has seemed like a pretty good deal for 70 plus years.
Second, we don't have to invoke Trump as puppet to get here, but we can focus on those have gathered around him and those he is playing to.  The Steve Bannons, Steve Millers and other awful Steve's (sorry) of the Alt-Right are contemptuous of European institutions, such as the EU, and of the international order (liberal or not).  NATO is a key piece of the international order the US helped to build, and these Alt Right folks want to tear down this order.  Hating it is a fringe issue (see this survey of public support for NATO).  One of the key Trump attributes that we underestimated two years ago was his ability to find arsonists dedicated to burning down pretty much every institution.  The shutdown is popular among these folks because they get to prevent institutions from operating.  Even if Trump didn't care about NATO, those around him want to see it gone.  Again, no need to consider the Putin factor.

Third, well, we could consider the Putin factor.  Not so much that Putin is causing Trump to behave this way, but that Trump was an attractive candidate to the Russians both because he was a force for disorder and he was hostile to NATO.  One of the basics of Russian foreign policy under Putin has been the desire to break NATO.  No need to invade the Baltics to test NATO if the arsonist in the White House is trying to burn it down.

Could the US survive without NATO?  Sure, its nuclear weapons mean that only terrorists will directly attack the US.  But will the US thrive without it?  No.  Tensions, crises, and friction in Europe will come home to roost.  Consider how often the US has been involved in the Mideast, which is actually at best the third most important region in the world for the US in terms of trade, investment, and all the rest.  Europe remains important even as China replaces it as the second heavyweight in International Relations.  NATO has been a good idea for more than 70 years because prevention is, indeed, cheaper than the cure.  We have avoided a third World War, and the stability that NATO has brought to Europe is a significant part of that. IR scholars disagree a lot, but they definitely agree on NATO

As we enter an age of multipolarity where things become less certain and there is more room for misperception that can lead to war, it makes even less sense now to give up on a key source of certainty and stability.  But then again, everything Trump touches turns to shit.  Will the Republican Party let Trump sell off one of the most important assets of US national security?  Probably.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Move to Canada? Still More Complicated But A Bit More Realistic

The Washington Post had a piece on folks moving to Canada due to the Trump Administration, and, at first, I was like, no, not again.  As someone who moved to Canada, I have long pushed back at the whole "I hate who won this election, I am moving to Canada" thing as immigration is hard.  This piece had four distinct differences from ye olde silly stories:
  1. twas focused not on just dissatisfied liberals (or conservatives in 2008/12 if you can imagine that) but on immigrants to the US, so folks who didn't have deep ties and face significant risks
  2. due to a xenophobic regime.  Trump's presidency is not ordinary, so the idea of leaving it makes more sense--escape the fascist hellscape while you can.
  3. that these people are valued--the programs discussed are for those with tech skills.  Canada is not seeking to get any and all immigrants in the US--just those in science/tech areas.  I remember back when I moved to Canada, I could have gotten five years of no Quebec taxes (a significant hunk of money) had I been a hard scientist.  Social science?  Nope, doesn't count.'
  4. there are private actors setting up firms to facilitate the transitions.
This last thing is key, as it is not easy to move.  Mrs. Spew remembers the first few years in Canada as being rather difficult--that Canada is not simply a colder version of the US.  My favorite story is of having difficulties driving across the border since I owed money to Honda-America on my car.  It took me eight weeks or so to get it imported--it was stuck on my driveway (Customs thought of that as a generous exception--they preferred that I had parked the car on the US side of the border).  Oh, I couldn't simply transfer the loan to Honda-Canada because the two Honda entities do not work with each other.  I couldn't get a car loan since I was seen as a flight risk and had worse credit as a temporary resident than a high school kid.  So, it is not easy.

The article mentions the cold.  That can be an issue, but mostly not.  As it suggests, if you get the right clothes and get your commute sorted, you will be ok.  The problem is really the length of winter, not how cold it gets.  Well, in Ottawa and Montreal.  I have no idea how cold it gets in Edmonton, but I imagine most of these folks are moving to Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto or maybe Montreal.  Of course, if they are moving to Vancouver or Toronto, they will be saving some money as they are probably a bit cheaper than Silicon Valley but not much.

The taxes are higher, but that is probably a wash when you consider the cost of health care insurance in the US.  And with higher taxes come not just health care that will not bankrupt you, but maternity leave (and paternity leave in many cases) and other stuff.

Lastly, as my dissertation advisor reminds me, there is xenophobia in Canada.  Quebecois politicians have competed with each other to alienate Muslims and Jews with laws about wearing religious apparel.  A former Minister of Foreign Affairs is starting up a xenophobic (and transphobic) party, and the more mainstream Conservative Party is dancing with xenophobes as well.  Given the diversity of Canada combined with the existing parties and electoral system, I think that xenophobia will not win.  Then again, I was wrong about Trump.  So, this place is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. 

Canada is a great place to live, but it is not a colder version of the US--it is a different place.  And the provinces are different from each other, and there are other complexities.  I am happy that Canada is smart to try to lure smart people who face potential problems due to the awful xenophobia coming out of the White House, but I am also sad that the US is losing the next generation of talent because it elected Trump.  That incredibly bad decision will continue to have ramifications not just for the next couple of years but for a generation or more.  The movement of smart people to Canada to avoid Trump makes clear the costs will be enduring.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

A Puzzling Rant

One of our PhD students defended his dissertation proposal yesterday, and he got challenged on whether his puzzle was really puzzling or not.  Yesterday evening, my PhD dissertation proposal workshop met and pondered this--what makes a puzzle a puzzle?  This led to my ranting about such stuff, so I thought I would share what I thought about all of this.

Long ago, before the internet and barely after the invention of electricity (or so my daughter always thought as a kid), we did not focus so much on puzzles but on "so what?"  Or, as they put at UCSD in my time there, how would someone who does sewage maintenance (either study it or do it?) care about your project.  Since that ancient time, it has become a ritual in poli sci (and maybe other fields) job talks that one introduces the project by saying: here's this puzzle that I seek to understand.  This puzzle is supposed to be the hook to get folks engaged in the project.  That in most job talks, the audience consists of some people in your subfield and most people outside of it, so how do you get those folks engaged?  This is important.

However, sometimes I think this is the tail wagging the dog.  The point of doing a dissertation is to....
complete an original research project.  The question can be but need not be original.  The answer can be but no need not be original.  The method can be but not need not be original.  But the parts as they fit together must be original.  So, you can take an existing theory and apply it to an original question, you can take a new theory and apply it to an old question, you can take an existing theory and question and test it in a novel way.  But the point is that the research project is really about the research, not the hook.  So, I tend to find PhD students starting their dissertation proposal hung up on the puzzle, which is somehow apart from the question, rather than on the question itself and then the proposed answer.

Indeed, the puzzle thing is really about marketing.  I actually used the sizzle of the steak thing last night when talking about it.  In much of our introductions, we make a big stink about how our work is counter-intuitive.  That our work is provocative because it runs against how people think about things.  Again, this is about marketing--that our work is important because it is making people re-think things. And, indeed, the work I remember the best is the stuff that made me see the world differently, such as Kelly Greenhill's Weapons of Mass Migration.  But most work is actually not that counter-intuitive.

For instance, a certain random academic decided to argue that countries took sides in other people's ethnic conflicts, and the choices they made were driven by whether the key constituents had ethnic ties with one side or the other.  Oh, that was me.  I thought it was counter-intuitive because the existing wisdom (that I never did quite defeat in the minds of observers) is that countries do not support secessionists elsewhere if they face secessionists at home.  That vulnerability and international norms prohibited such stuff.  My dissertation aimed to disprove it (and I did, but not everybody has read it yet...) and provide a "counter-intuitive" alternative.  My alternative was actually pretty damned intuitive.  Indeed, I intuited it from existing work on the comparative politics of ethnic conflict (I borrowed Donald Horowitz's work).

Anyhow, the point is that graduate students have to come up with a hook to get others engaged.  But we advisers may want to keep in mind the aspirations of the students.  If they want an academic job, then, yes, they will need to conform to the intersubjective reality that we have created--that to make the project appeal to search committees and then to hiring departments, it needs to identify a puzzle.  If, on the other hand, the student is seeking a job in the policy community, maybe being counter-intuitive and having a flashy puzzle is not the key.  Maybe instead, the way to sell the project and the student is to position the project as addressing a key policy issue in that community.  Rather than saying I have a puzzle, the student can say I have research that can help us develop policy better.  Damned if I know, as I have not had long discussions with those in the policy community who hire PhDs.

Still, it comes back to this: we can probably retrofit a puzzle onto any project, isn't it the project itself--the question, the answer, the methods, the execution--that should matter most?

Monday, January 7, 2019

Where is Intro to IR When You Need It?

One of the basic claims I make as a poli sci professor is that my goal is to help the next generation become more informed citizens, so that they understand their interests, and can vote accordingly.  So, when I see a a guy getting upset that his business is hurt by tariffs, I want to scream.

I didn't spend a lot of time on International Political Economy in my Intro class (I don't teach it anymore as my Carleton course load is purely grad student stuff, but I miss it--twas a fun class to teach).  IPE is not my strength, but I did get the basics across:
  • free trade is the story of concentrated pain and diffuse benefits: that consumers benefit but not obviously so by lower trade barriers but less competitive sectors get hit hard.  And politics often means that smaller groups actually have louder voices because they can organize.  Hard to organize all consumers to care a lot about paying too much for their sugar.
  • reciprocity is a thing.  It can lead to cooperation or conflict, as the strategy of responding to what the other country did can lead to gains over the long term or unending rivalry.  The key: don't expect your nasty moves to go unpunished.
  • finally, I basically sold them Helen Milner*: that because many firms rely on exports or rely on importing components, they will not want tariffs as they hurt their sales abroad (due to retaliation) and they hurt their sales at home because their stuff gets more expensive since they have to build the cost of higher inputs, as the tariffs are indeed a tax they must pay stuff they import, into the price of their goods.
So, anyone taking my Intro to IR class would know that a politician promising to raise barriers to trade would be bad to vote for if one had a job that depended on either using foreign components (which is very, very common especially in the auto industry) or selling abroad (which would include most bigtime farming such as soybeans).  Of course, the Americanists will tell me that people don't vote their interests, and it was more important to people that they get a President who fight immigration even if it was not a threat or to support their values even if he didn't live by them, etc.

Thus, I wish that more Americans had a basic knowledge of International Relations.  They don't get that in high school civics classes (one reason I avoided that class and happened to discover by accident in college that Poli Sci includes IR).  At the college level, American Politics may be required, but IR?  Probably not.  Too bad.

*  That book is also a great demonstration of how to turn a dissertation into a good book.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Pentagon Explainer: A Building With Many Pieces

Yesterday, twitter got fussed that the "Pentagon Chief of Staff" resigned his position.  This was very confusing--there is no such position.  Did this story refer to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dunford?  No, it referred to retired Rear Admiral Kevin Sweeney who served as the chief of staff to the Secretary of Defense.  People seemed to think this post is a big deal, that it might mean a hole in the chain of command.  Nope.  It is just the guy who runs the SecDef's office, who was chosen by Mattis because he was a friend and respected colleague of Mattis. 

So, let me clear some brush here, as others are doing so.  The first thing to understand about the Pentagon is that it is not nearly as united or coherent as people think.  The building itself consists of five rings that are connected to each other and five wedges.  When they renovated the building--both before and after 9/11, they did that one wedge at a time.  The only truly Pentagon stuff are the souvenirs:

This architecture is nicely symbolic as there are no Pentagon posts except perhaps for Pentagon journalists.  Otherwise, if one works in the Pentagon, one belongs (and I do mean belongs) to either:
  • the Office of the Secretary of Defense--those individuals, mostly civilian with some military folks sprinkled in, who serve under the SecDef to advise him (no women SecDefs yet), to execute the non-military decisions, etc.
  • the Joint Staff--those individuals, mostly military with some civilians sprinkled in, who serve under the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who advise the Chairman and do heaps of coordination between the various pieces of the armed forces and the rest of the world.  This is where I served on a fellowship way back in 2001-2.  I was placed there because I "wanted to see the sausage get made" and the Joint Staff is a nexus between military and civilian words.
  • the Army Staff--those individuals, mostly military, some civilian, who serve under the Army Chief of Staff, to do the advising, implementing, yada, yada
  • the Navy Staff--those serving under the Chief of Naval Operations, yada, yada, including Marines.
  • the Air Force Staff--those serving under the Air Force Chief of Staff.
I don't know where the Coast Guard fits since it is both in the Pentagon and within DHS, and the Reserves have some staff somewhere.  But let us ignore those for a moment--note the five pieces.  Who says that seven is the most magical number when everything in Arlington is divided into five?

Anyhow, the point here is that there is no Pentagon job.  Sometimes, there might be a Pentagon position--when the Joint Staff and the OSD agree on something.  That may have been common in the past, but was certainly an exception in my year as Rummy's people and the Joint Staff rarely agreed on stuff.  Maybe the past two years we have seen building positions, as Marines (ex or otherwise) have led both sides.

All this points to a larger dynamic--we tend to freak out too easily these days.  It is hard to tell which changes, which moves are normal and which are abnormal since Trump is destroying most norms and is causing chaos on daily (sometimes hourly) basis.

When it comes to the Pentagon, just keep in mind that it is a strange place with a variety of processes and procedures and acronyms that most people are unfamiliar with.  The saner experts (the Bombshell women are a good group of such folks) will let us know whether something is normal or offsides.  Or in other words, rather than hitting the panic button, ask yourself this:

 Even in the age of Trump, the answer is often no, not yet.

Friday, January 4, 2019

AOC and All That

Mrs. Spew gets annoyed that AOC is getting so much attention--that she is but one new representative.  I am similarly annoyed.  Not because she has done anything wrong, but that Congress (old and new) and American politics are more complicated (or so I hear) than one new, very left-wing politician.  Sure, the Republicans are going to focus on her because she is further to the left than the rest of the party and will be made to be seen as the average Dem.  I don't think she is their focus because they fear her as much some might wish that.

Anyhow, on the bright side, she can take it:

This is the thing--she has great social media game.  She can respond quickly and sharply and with great snark to the stuff they hit her with.  Indeed, they don't really know how to hit at her.  The dude who posed the video of her Breakfast Club dancing has now deleted his account, having been supremely ratioed (far more comments at than being retweeted).  All that video did was make her more human and, dare I say it, more attractive.

And give folks much fodder:

I have not read enough about PAYGO and other differences AOC has with Pelosi, but note that she was not part of the rebellion that sought another speaker--that was the douchebros who want to drag the party to the right.  While I would prefer the Dems not to be a geritocracy, Pelosi, unlike Schumer, has won my respect again and again by keeping the rabble of Dems together to push for real stuff.  I am more comfy having her in the room making deals with Trump than I am with Schumer who seems far more intent on easing the way for more awful judges to be appointed.

Anyhow, I will not knee-jerk support AOC or even care that much about her, except enjoy her snark and to push back about her symbolizing anything about the mainstream of the Democratic Party EXCEPT that one party is diverse and dynamic and engaging and sometimes fun.

Oh, and Ally Sheedy approves:

Update: there is now a twitter account called "AOC Dances to Every Song" in case you want to see more adaptations: @aoc_dances