Saturday, February 16, 2019

Is Trump a Realist?

Given that I am likely to teach IR Theory next year (for the first time in a long time) and given that some folks like to argue that Trump is a Realist, I can't help myself but respond to this Pence speech in Munich (at the big security conference):
 While there are now many versions of realism (Classic, Structural, Offensive, Defensive, Neo-Classical, Constructivist and soon Neo-Neo), there are some core aspects and "seeing the world as it is, not as we would like it to be" is about as core as it gets.  So, too, is focusing less on institutions and law and norms and what is right, but what is best for a country, putting it "first."  That Trump occasionally says that the US should get out of various wars plays well in the Realist Restraint crowd.

However, the fundamental shared component of most, if not all, flavors of realism is that countries pursue either security or power, and that a Realist foreign policy would focus on maximizing one or or the other in a rational way.  That means gathering as much info as one can about the capabilities of the adversaries (and allies), trying to assess which options will lead to which outcomes, and picking the ones that are most likely to do the least harm to one's own standing and perhaps pick those that are most likely to improve one's standing. 

Is Trump Kennan or Kissinger?  That is, focusing on how best to maximize American security or power? Just focusing on the intel end should be instructive---that Trump blows secrets when he pays attention and he mostly does not pay attention to the intel.  How can you maximize security or power if you don't pay attention to the capabilities of the adversaries and the allies? 

Realists tend to disagree about the value of allies, although they are generally seen as more valuable in a multipolar world.  Antagonizing allies by levying tariffs on them is not something most realists would recommend.

Realists would generally argue that allowing one's country to be penetrated by the intelligence efforts of an adversary to be a bad thing.  While realists vary in how important they consider domestic politics, I am pretty sure most would find interference in one's own elections to be problematic and that they would recommend both penalizing the perpetrator and improving one's defenses.  What does Trump do?  Cut the folks doing the defending.

Realists would never give up a bargaining chip without getting something for it--again, maximizing power or security tends to mean not giving things away.  Agreeing to move the US embassy to Jerusalem without getting anything from Israel is the example in my head at the moment, but I am sure we can think of others.  Oh wait, how about meeting with the leader of North Korea, a key concession that they wanted and getting nothing for it?

Containing adversaries is a favorite Realist tactic, so the Trans Pacific Partnership, aimed at containing China, would seem to be a good thing, but was one of the first things Trump rejected.

The whole North Korean situation should drive Realists mad.  That the US bargains hard with South Korea over the costs of basing troops at a time where the US is negotiating over North Korea's weapons programs would seem strange to any Realist, right?  Unless the cost of basing is more important than NK's nuclear weapons programs?

I could go on and on.  The key thing is this: has Trump acted to protect American security and/or maximize American power?  Mostly not.  He has frittered away key elements of American power, mostly for his own personal interests, partly due to his embraced ignorance.  Would Pence have a more Realist foreign policy?  Maybe, hard to be less Realist than Trump's.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Pity Party for the Pardoned Liar

I have no pity for how Elliott Abrams was treated today:

It is pretty basic: if you appoint someone who has pled guilty to lying to Congress, expect them to get some heat when they appear before Congress.  It is not that hard and definitely not surprising.  That it is a particularly controversial new Congressperson is really beside the point.  Someone has got to confront a guy who lied to Congress, especially if he didn't pay for it because he got a pardon.  Pardoning those who lie to Congress tends to give a signal to future folks in the executive branch that you can get away with it.  And, oh, yes, this new administration has been putting out the pardon carrot again and again, and then they appoint a guy who has a very checkered history--not just lying but subverting the will of Congress via Iran-Contra and condoning human rights violations by proxies.  So, the Trump Administration, by appointing Abrams, was telling Congress to fuck off.

So, one Congressperson noted that he has a record as a liar so why believe him?  Then she asked a basic and very important question--do the ends justify the means?  In fighting for democracy or whatever (this administration's record on being pro-democracy is just a wee bit, um, weak), will Abrams and this administration mind just a little bit of human rights violations.  Again, this is basic oversight stuff--Congress asking the executive if they will bend their responsibilities (to faithfully execute the laws of the US) to pursue a goal.  Has this administration given Congresspeople any cause to think they might not respect the law?

So, of course, given the very recent controversial where Congresswoman Omar tweeted about money and Israel (which I criticized), some folks are saying this is an anti-Semitic attack because Abrams is Jewish.  Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaase.  That is utter bs as Abrams did, indeed, plead guilty for lying to Congress (to avoid trial and perhaps bigger penalties) and was in office when proxies of the US committed human rights violations.  It is surprising that no one else asked these questions and would have been awful had no one done so.  Saying Abrams is being attacked is simply wrong--he is testifying and she is asking questions and put the whole thing in context by reminding folks that he lied to Congress and got away with it.

Maybe we forgot what oversight looked like because the GOP sucks at it. Omar focused on the facts and raised relevant questions about future behavior given past behavior.  What else would one expect of the co-equal branch of the US government, especially of an administration that lies often and does not seem to treat Congress as a co-equal branch?

So, yeah, all those making excuses for Abrams really have no leg to stand on.

Oh, and to bring in Harry Potter, maybe, just maybe, Abrams should show a little remorse.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Criticizing Israel and Its Supporters

I have seen a flurry of stuff online about American politicians and their stances on Israel (for a better thread, see here).  Folks have been talking about the role of money in shaping attitudes and/or policy.  Jews are sensitive to this since anti-Semites have long been blaming Jews for using money in all kinds of unsavory ways.  Also, Jews get upset when folks lump them all into the same basket.  So, we see accusations of anti-Semitism whenever support for Israel is criticized.  So, I am going to take the pieces apart and play the game of "anti-Semitic or not."

Before I get started, a few caveats.  I was born and raised Jewish, but do not believe/observe. I feel my Jewish identity more keenly these days as Trump has given aid and comfort to those who would want me dead, preferably discarded in an oven.  I have never been to Israel, in part because I never wanted to give my father the satisfaction. Now that he has passed away, it may be no accident that I am going to Israel this summer on one of those trips people talk about--where Israelis will try to convince me of the merit of their side of things.  Will that work?  See below.  I tend to resent those who think I should have specific opinions about Israel because of my background.  I tend to see both (all) sides having severe flaws.  But I also believe strongly the #notallx is important here because generalizing about entire groups is how we get into this morass in the first place (despite the fact that my academic work on the IR of ethnic politics tends to treat ethnic groups as actors, oops).

First, the most obvious one: criticizing Israel for various policies is not anti-Semitic on its own.  Criticizing Israel for allowing settlers to build in the occupied areas so that it becomes harder and harder to negotiate a two-state solution is fair game.  So is noticing that Israel has been launching poorly conceived wars.  And, oy yes, it is quite fair game to criticize Benjamin Netanyahu for all kinds of things.  Saying Israel has no right to exist?  That is more problematic--what is the argument?  That no state should enshrine a single religion?  Ok, then lots of states should not exist.  If it is because of its violent origins?  Um, ditto.

Second, one can criticize American support for Israel without being anti-Semitic.  That Israel has developed policies over time here and there that conflict with American interests.  That unthinking and unconditional American support for Israel may not help lead to a peaceful resolution.  That moving the US embassy to Jerusalem is a bad idea especially trading in this chip for nothing.

Third, and the topic du jour, explaining American support for Israel is a bit tricky.  The go-to move is to focus on AIPAC--the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee--which is widely known to be one of the most effective lobbying organizations.  Others push back, saying AIPAC is mostly pushing on an open door since the American people support Israel.  Here, arguing all or nothing are both problematic moves.  I think the best way to treat AIPAC is to compare it to other lobbying organizations--that it does not represent all those who have some kind of identity affiliation--the NRA does not represent all gun-owners.  Nor is it all powerful as it has lost on some key issues over the years. It is not responsible for all of the big bad decisions in the Mideast (hint: invading Iraq).  Politicians are always agents, having their own agendas so lobbying efforts don't determine what happens.  BUT lobbies do influence.  After all, why spend so much effort on public relations, on meetings, on attempting to persuade if they have no impact.  Why fly folks (such as myself this summer) to Israel if not to make them more sympathetic?  It worked to a degree when Japan flew me to Tokyo although I was already pro-Japan.  It worked a bit less well when Canada flew me to Afghanistan, as I did support the mission before and after, but was more informed and thus more critical after.  The actors that are investing resources in this kind of stuff are betting that it has an impact.

Getting back to the American people's support for Israel--maybe those lobbying for Israel have had some influence on this?  After all, the best way to get a politician to support Israel is to try to get his/her supporters to support Israel.  Again, this is nothing magical nor evil in this--lobbies do this all the time.  Those who study those who lobby for Israel (notice, I don't call it the Israel lobby--more on that in a second) should again consult the literature on lobbies and even on diasporas.

But the key here is this: AIPAC is just one actor.  Another key is that Jews are divided on Israel and are not alone in advocating support for Israel.  To see Jews everywhere as a unified force is problematic and anti-Semitic because it is generalizing about an entire group based on the behavior, actual or imputed, on a segment.  To ignore that others have agendas concerning Israel is also a problem--evangelical Christians have become more uncritical in their support of Israel than Jews.  To be clear, not all of them, but enough of them that the GOP has become more fervent in its support of Israel than the Democrats despite the fact that Jews tend to vote much more for the Democrats.  The rise of "Christian Zionism" is not pro-Jew, as it views Jewish control of a slice of the Mideast as means to an end--the end of days.  I posted before about Steve King and his being pro-Israel.  Indeed, folks have noticed that some throwing around accusations of anti-Semitism have used anti-Semitism for political gain.  Kevin McCarthy, that is you.

One last set of concerns: BDS--Boycott, Divest, Sanction.  Is this movement anti-Semitic?  Damned if I know.  In the abstract, the idea of sanctioning Israel for its policies is not inherently anti-Semitic.  If one can criticize Israel for having bad policies, then it is logical than one can try to impose costs upon Israel for such policies.  But we do not live in the abstract, and this movement includes people who are anti-Semitic.  I also think it is problematic because it is too much of a blanket policy.  I get the idea of not playing Sun City--targeting specific activities and denying the economic exchange--but denying the interaction of Israeli academics (one can say one is targeting institutions but the effect is the same) with academics elsewhere is extremely problematic, using the example I know best.

So, for me, the key moves that make something anti-Semitic in this kind of discussion are:
  1. Asserting that Israel or agents of Israel control US policy.  Try to influence?  Sure, but control is going too far and starts whistling the usual tropes.
  2. Asserting that Jews are behind everything.  Some Jews, to be fair, give to lobbying groups, fund campaigns, are in government.  But this tends to assume that all Jews are on the same page and that other folks/interests don't matter.  Jews have not made the GOP uncritical supporters of Israel--lobbyists representing segments of the evangelical community have done that.  Asserting the existence of a single Israel lobby is problematic--it is not a single actor.
  3. Asserting that everything Israel does is evil.  Some of what it does is bad, much of what it does is misguided, but considering it a source for all evil is problematic.
  4. Arguing that American Jews are not loyal Americans.  Every diaspora has members who focus on their homeland, some of these people care more about the homeland, but most are loyal to their new country.  Most American Jews are not Jonathan Pollard (who spied for Israel and was also paid for it).
  5. Asserting that it is all about money.  

The challenge is that some folks will touch on some of these deliberately as dog whistles to their anti-Semitic audiences and others may bump into them less deliberately.  I tend to try to separate people by whether they seem to be operating in good faith or not.... so I don't buy Kevin McCarthy's indignation for a second.  But again, that might be my confirmation bias at work.  Ok, not in that case.  Not all criticism of Israel or American support of Israel is anti-Semitism, but some of it is, and given these times, I can see why folks suspect anti-Semitism to be at work.  It often is but not always.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Academic Surprises

Today seems to be a day where I blog about academia and what I have learned over time.  John Holbein inspired this post via:

What has surprised me, looking back? 
  • How strong confirmation bias is a guide.  Since I started, I kept hearing that women and minorities were favored, getting all of the jobs.  As a white male, I found this both threatening and puzzling. Threatening for the obvious reason that I might remain unemployed or employed where I don't want to live/work.  Puzzling because of the stats--that women are 30% or so of IR and that minorities have not made major gains over the years--this view of hiring simply ain't true and yet it persists.
  • How the profession would change to become so dependent on adjuncts/sessions/temp faculty and the decline of tenure track positions.
  • How little reading of books I do.
  • How much reading of graduate student drafts I do.
  • How generous folks are with their time--interview subjects in and out of government, friends and acquaintances looking at drafts, etc.
  • How the division between profs and staff can be in status and such can be so wide, and how few folks reach across it.
  • How much grant-writing there is and how important it is to universities, even for us social scientists.
 Personal surprises: 
  • Where my curiosity has taken me--from thinking about arms races when I applied to grad school to maybe something about civil-military dynamics to the international relations of ethnic conflict to the domestic sources of ethnic conflict to alliances to comparative civil-military relations.
  • That I didn't manage to dodge principal-agent theory forever.
  • How much travel I do these days.
What about you?

The Academic 10 Year Challenge

Thanks to Josh Kertzer, I was inspired to wonder how much has changed in ten years.  He tweeted:

For him, ten years ago takes him back to his dissertation.  For me?  Well, I was still at McGill, still an Associate Professor (sigh), still a Canadian Research Chair, and still having pubs on the international relations of ethnic conflict (see old cv here and most recent one here):

No pubs on alliances or civil-military relations yet.  There was no evidence of Canadian defence anything.  On the bright side, no mention of a grant for diaspora research that, well, didn't produce much in the way of results. The research in progress lists as many now dead projects as those that were quite productive:

I was still doing talks on the previous book, which featured xenophobia before it became hip, although I started giving talks on the caveats/alliances/comparative civ-mil project that became my destiny for the next decade.  The co-authors have changed a bit, reflecting the new research agendas.

The list of service stuff got more extensive, including some testimony in Canada and yes, much more reviewing.  In the old CV, I didn't list the PhD students I had supervised, perhaps because only three had completed by Feb of 2009.  Now, I list all of those who have finished or who are past their dissertation proposal.

Oh and one more difference: no twitter address and no blog address.  Those things happened a few months later--spring and summer of 2009.  Pretty sure my reputation, whatever it is now, has a key piece tied to social media presence/activity, and that simply didn't exist ten years ago. 

To be clear, while I liked my career and where it stood (mostly) ten years ago, I am much happier and satisfied where I am now.  I, of course, still suffer from academic guilt--that I could have been more productive, and rejection still is inherent in the enterprise.  Yet, I know that I have been lucky, which is why this is where I usually put Joe Walsh

The only real question left is whether this #Academic10YearChallenge is also an effort by facebook  to improve its algorithms.