Wednesday, May 22, 2019

My Peeviest Pet Peeve is Political




When I read that, I wanted to scream.  Why?  Because pretty much everything is political in one way or another and saying something appears to be political is a pretty silly way to think about things.  Let me first address the general peeve and then focus on the specifics of Mueller and the investigation.

One of the fun parts of starting out in political science is thinking about what it covers.  What does it mean for something to be a subject of political science?  What does it mean for something to be political?  I am both too lazy and too busy to reach for my Aristole books (to discuss what a polis is), so I will focus on the basics: whenever people have to decide something.  Yep, that's it.  Deciding what the rules are, deciding how to distribute something, deciding responsibilities--these are all political things. 

So, when folks talk about something becoming political or politicized, it mostly seems beside the point.  One can argue whether something is becoming polarized, which is very different, but something becoming more of a topic for politicians or for elites in the community to decide?  That just means increased salience and relevance.  What people often try to mean with "more political" is that something that was being left alone or being resolved outside of the political arena is now being decided in the political arena--at the city council, the statehouse, the federal (or not so federal) government.  Of course, lots of things become political--being fought over in national politics--because the old way of deciding things was fine for some people and not others.  Here's where Rush really comes in--choosing not to decide is still a choice.  Choosing to keep things out of the political arena is not a neutral choice as it favors those who benefited from the old order, the old way of deciding things. 

I could go on with this, but the basic idea is that the stuff of politics is the stuff of life, of society, of groups.  That we can defer decision to "the market," which again is a choice or we can choose to delegate decision-making to some authority, but that, too, is a political decision. 

Now, onto Mueller.  A guy gets asked by a part of government (Deputy Attorney General, if I remember correctly) to investigate whether crimes were committed during the course of the Presidential campaign including the possibility that one presidential campaign (hint: not the Democrats) conspired (not collusion) with Russia in the run up to the election.  While there are many, many topics covered by political science and the label of politics, none are more POLITICAL than elections.  The national process to choose the next leader is as classic a topic of political science and something of politics than anything else.  Indeed, when folks learn someone is a political scientist, they often focus first on elections.

Indeed, this is very, very POLITICAL combo: elections and foreign interference.  Mueller was essentially asked if the current President had committed crimes, whether he obstructed justice and whether he conspired with the Russian government (indeed, focusing on the Russian government, rather than Russians, is one way that Barr tries to argue that there was no conspiracy). The context is as plain as it gets--should the President be impeached (since the Department of Justice in an incredibly political decision decided the President can't be indicted--something this agency did not decide in 1998 for Bill Clinton)?  While one can try to focus strictly on the legal stuff--does something rise to the level of being indictable, whether laws were broken--impeachment is as political as it gets: should the legislature try to remove the President? 

Mueller saying he does not want to appear in a televised Congressional hearing because he would appear political just incredible.  As in: not believable.  Mueller waded deep into the muck of politics (I actually don't think politics is muck, but let's run with Mueller's mindset for a moment) as soon as he decided to take on the job of investigating the President and the campaign.  He ain't getting out of it now. 

It was inevitable even before Barr lied about the report that Mueller would be testifying in front of Congress.  So, I just have one last thing to say to Mueller, "Hey, Marine, suck it up and DO YOUR JOB!"




Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Pardons of War Criminals and the Future of Allied Cooperation


The weekend’s news suggests that President Donald Trump’s pardon of a war criminal, former Army officer Michael Behenna, is not going to be a one-off thing but part of a broader trend of pardoning those accused or convicted of war crimes.  While this policy presents challenges to the American armed forces—endangering discipline and cohesion, my focus here is on the impact on present and future allies.  Simply put, this new stance will make it much harder for many countries to join the US in any future military campaign.  Here, I take a quick look at what the allies provide and then focus on how pardoning war criminals is likely to affect future military cooperation.

The ongoing debate about burden-sharing within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] might cause one to believe that America’s allies do not contribute much. However, other than the quick and minor military efforts in places like Grenada and Panama, the US does not fight alone.  American allies bore far more of the costs of World War I and World War II than did the US.  Many countries joined in the American efforts to push back the North Koreans and then the Chinese in Korea.  South Koreans, Australians and others joined American troops in Vietnam.  The Cold War effort to deter the Soviet Union required a global effort requiring not just bases in foreign lands but significant military assistance from dozens of countries. 

The Gulf War of 1991 involved hundreds of thousands of non-American troops, where the multinational nature of the alliance—fighting alongside not just British and French troops but also Syrian and many others reduced the risks the Americans faced.  When the Bush Administration shifted its focus from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2003, it meant that there were more allied and partner troops fighting to hold the fort in the former than American troops.  Even in that very unpopular campaign in Iraq, the “coalition of the willing” fought alongside American forces and paid a significant price.

It became much harder for our allies to fight in Iraq and even in Afghanistan after the pictures of American crimes at Abu Ghraib came out.  Our allies, particularly France, Germany and other European countries, had pushed for the creation of the International Criminal Court, established by the 1998 Rome Statute, expending significant political capital because they felt that those who commit war crimes should be held accountable particularly after the horrors of the post-Yugoslav conflict and the genocide in Rwanda. 

In 1998, the US voted against the Statute, concerned that it not be subject to ICC law. This subsequently has been a sore spot in relations with allies. When it was clear in 2002 that the Statute would come into effect due to accomplishment of the necessary number of ratifications,  the Bush Administration pushed to change all of the mandates for UN and NATO missions in which Americans played a role to write exceptions so that the countries hosting American troops would not send suspected war criminals to the ICC [I was on the Bosnia desk of the US Joint Staff at this time, and I got to watch this up close].  This effort antagonized our allies at a key moment—as the preparation for the next Iraq war was underway.  To be clear, under its doctrine of “complementarity,” the ICC only to pursue suspected crimes if a country does not handle its accused war criminals responsibly. 

By pardoning convicted and/or suspected war criminals, Trump shows that the US system of military justice does not live up to international standards, is and will be irresponsible.

Our allies already take concerns with war crimes quite seriously.  In Afghanistan, mentoring Afghan troops was a major part of the training effort, and it meant going out on patrol and into battle alongside Afghan troops.  Some countries were most reluctant to do so, including the otherwise quite aggressive Danish forces who were willing to fight in the most dangerous parts of the country.  Why?  Because they did not want to be present if and when their trainees engaged in war crimes.  They did not want to be complicit. 

For many democracies, it is difficult enough to get mandates from the parliaments to approve these deployments.  Countries governed by coalition governments often have a hard time agreeing on the conditions they will impose upon their troops when they join a cooperative military effort.  If the President continues to pardon war criminals, two things are likely to happen:

  1.  Some countries will impose restrictions on their troops, so that the forces they contribute to an allied operation are not be allowed to fight alongside Americans;  
  2.  Many countries may find it politically impossible to join American-led campaigns at all.

American forces are currently working with allies in partners in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Trump’s pardons of war criminals will make it more likely that we will get less help in those places.  Getting allies to join the US in a new Iran war was always going to be tough but will become even harder if these pardons continue.

The US military was stretched to the breaking point when it was fighting wars in Afghanistan an Iraq at the same time even with much allied assistance.  Alienating allies via these pardons will make any future war effort unnecessarily more challenging. Yes, the US can fight alone, but it will mean more Americans pay the price in blood, more US tax dollars expended, and far less legitimacy.  This may be a price that Donald Trump is willing to pay, but the American military and the American people should not.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Secession in Westeros: It Ain't Over

Folks have been picking on the last episode for a variety of unrealistic or unearned developments.  Here's my take on the secessionist element below the break.


Sunday, May 19, 2019

Game of Thrones: Pool of Life, Way More Life Edition

So, that was a far happier ending than I would have expected, which means, yes, a three way tie.  Explanations and final rulings below:

Pardoning War Criminals is Criminal

Trump has decided to pardon not just one war criminal but perhaps many.  This is awful for many, many reasons.  I have written elsewhere (forthcoming?) about the impact on allies--not good.  Here, I just want to focus on the basics.  That barbarity happens in war, but it is not something you want to encourage.

War does indeed inflame the passions, giving rise to opportunities and pressures to do things that are truly horrible.  It might seem strange to say that it is ok to kill but not that way or not right now or not this person, but we have long had laws of war that defined many behaviors as criminal.  Aside from the morality of this stuff, these laws are also important for operating armed forces.  To have the many soldiers, marines, sailors and aviators do what is expected, they must face the possibility of being punished for behaving in undesirable ways.  That is what is meant by order and discipline being threatened by Trump's pardons--that American troops will not face consequences for disobeying lawful orders, at least in the judicial system, and this will create a permissive environment for those in the armed forces to do bad things.

Yes, some do bad things already--some American troops shot prisoners of war in cold blood even in the Good War while others raped their away across Europe, that massacres happened in Vietnam, and elsewhere.  And, yes, many American servicewomen and men will be restrained by their own moral code and by the disapproval of their peers.  BUT the American president is saying that it is ok to engage in war crimes.  Just like his use of racism and xenophobia in his speeches make it easier for those to come out and be racist and hateful in public and engage in violence against those targeted by the President, Trump's pardoning of war criminals will encourage some troops to engage in horrible acts. 

We should be trying to reduce, not increase, the likelihood that US troops will engage in awful behavior.  Trump, well, that's not what he does.  He makes it possible for people to do bad things.  His cabinet has been given the green light to engage in corruption.  His immigration officials, from John Kelly to Kirstjen Nielsen to whoever's next, have been given the greenlight to abuse immigrants.  Now, the US armed forces are being given the green light to engage in war crimes.

What will the senior military leadership do now?  Will they condone this massive shift in what is expected from their troops?  Will they worry about discipline?  Will they speak out against this?

Yes, this deepens the crisis we have in civilian-military relations in several ways:
  1. The US military leadership may have to speak out against the President on this--which is not good.
  2. The US military leadership may not speak out on this, in which case they will be seen by many civilians as being complicit.  Not good.
  3. It may cause many within the US military who care a great deal about obeying the laws of war to have contempt for their president. Not good.  
  4. Those thinking of joining the military might think twice because they may not want to be in a position where they are ordered to commit war crimes, which is now easier to imagine.  Not good.
Once again, Trump does unnecessary damage to American institutions and interests.  Remember that one reason why the US military supports the laws of war is so that their troops are not abused when taken prisoner.  Yes, some have faced such abuses anyway, but reciprocity is a thing.  Eroding these important restrictions on the conduct of war is not in US interests.  It may play well on Fox News, but it will not play well within much of the US military or the armed forces of those we fight alongside.

Trump swore an oath to faithfully execute the laws of the US.  Abusing the pardon power would seem to be a violation of this and would be, yes, an impeachable offense, would it not?

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Ira-2: Electric Boogaloo

Oy, so the war drums are beating with Iran the target this time.  How will this be different?
Here's a clue:

While not all allies jumped aboard the Iraq war bandwagon, Spain showed up last time and then had caveats and left early.  But this points to a key reality when it comes to allies.  They fear two things most--being abandoned and being dragged into a war they don't want to fight.  Japan gets to experience both, but the Spanish are focused on one.  While much of the 2003 support was fairly token--the Bush Administration wanted a long list of countries for their coalition of the willing with few doing real fighting, real burden-bearing.  Spain was one of the few countries that sent enough to attempt to deal with an entire sector.

Anyhow, I expect very, very few countries to join a Trump war in Iran for a few key reasons:
  • As problematic as the Iraq war was in terms of legitimacy, folks could rest on a few key things--UN resolutions, past aggression, past genocide, etc.  Iran has done bad things, but they agreed to a nuclear  arms deal that the US, not Iran, is breaking from.  So, who's going to tell their publics that they need to sacrifice blood and treasure for this war?
  • As unpopular as Bush was in 2003, US relations with most potential partners were not bad except for the war.  This time, US relations with everyone except Israel and Saudi Arabia are awful.  Trade wars, breaking the Iran deal, etc.  Even relations with the UK are not great.  It is hard to see how May could get a vote through parliament.  Trump is toxic.  And that matters for when leaders try to get votes through their legislatures.  
  • As incompetent as Rumseld and his folks were, they did not have that reputation until after they started to screw up the post-war phase.  Everyone knows that this administration can't do anything complicated.  Plus they are pardoning war criminals.  Which makes it even less attractive.
  • Oh, and there's the whole Iran thing.  Iran is a much, much tougher opponent than Iraq.  More territory, more people, a regime that has more legitimacy, one that has not been broken by decades of sanctions and lost wars.  So, anyone thinking about this war needs to get clear that it will not be a walk in the park.  
I don't know if the Trump administration is dumb enough to go to war with Iran. I am pretty sure that few other countries will be dumb enough to join them this time.  Just because Trump and Bolton don't possess learning curves does not mean others haven't learned from the past.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Threat Scorecard--Can't Tell Your Threats Without a Program

The desperate effort to make Iran the bogeyman has got me thinking.

What are the threats facing the US?  What are the most worrisome, the ones most likely to do both significant and lasting damage?  Which ones are, dare I say it, existential?  Focusing on international threats (which lets me dodge naming Trump an existential threat to the US and mostly let's me dodge the related threat of white supremacy), here's the list as I see it from my hotel room in Berlin before I give a talk this afternoon on my civ-mil project:
1.  Climate change.  Yeah, I named a dynamic, not a country, as climate change is going to make a big dent on the US in ways that we are only now starting to appreciate.

2.  Russia.  Close call, but a declining and desperate Russia that is willing to subvert US elections (and British and French and etc) is a greater threat than China.  China's damage is potential, Russia's harm is ongoing.  That Russia's future is kind of bleak does not make Russia less threatening--the prospect of loss is far more likely to lead to risk acceptance, gambling, and bad stuff.  Just as Dany.  Ok, ask Daniel and Amos


3.  China has more power, other than numbers of nukes, than Russia, and straddles more important territory--South China Sea.  It has been taking the gloves off of its rise, as seen by its reaction to the Huawei executive being arrested in Canada for extradition to the US.  China has been playing the long game while Russia has been gambling every day.  China is surely going to be more successful and pose risks to the US down the road.  Right now, it is just a trade war and some island disputes.  It will be more than that although I am not so concerned about China in the Arctic.  There are much more immediate problems (Taiwan, Koreas, South China Sea).

4.  Speaking of the Koreas, North Korea is a significant threat.  Unlike Iran, North Korea has nuclear weapons and missiles and is a personalist dictatorship--which means few constraints on the leader.   The frustrating thing about Iran is that Trump seems determined into making Iran like North Korea by dumping the deal.  Of course, North Korea was scarier last year because Trump was amping things up.

5.  ISIS/Al Qaeda/etc.  These organizations can inspire and sometimes organize terrorist attacks.  Uncontested, ISIS did a great deal of damage.

6.  Saudi Arabia.  Yeah, more than Iran.  Why?  Because the Saudis have more influence and allies.  Most folks in the Mideast are worried about Iran and are not its friends, so Iran has to sink resources into Syria.  The Saudis can continue to promote extremism (how many 9/11 attackers were from Iran?  from Saudi Arabia?).  The Saudis have and want to continue to suck the US into wars it should not be fighting.  Yeah, Iran supports terrorism, but so does Saudi Arabia.  I would say that the one way in which Iran is a greater threat is its nuclear weapons program, but the Trump folks seem determined to have the Saudis catch up.

7.  Iran.  Twas a manageable threat with the deal in place.  Yes, Iran supports terrorism, Iran supports Assad, Iran is a pain in the ass.  But not an existential threat to the US.  If the Israelis think Iran is an existential threat, well, that is why they have nuclear weapons.  No country has attacked Israel since 1973--I don't count Hamas or Hezbollah as countries, despite their efforts to become countries.  Note the Israeli Foreign Ministry does list the 1990-91 war as well

8.  Syria.  Mostly by creating waves of refugees that undermine our allies.

What other countries threaten the US?  I am sure some folks would like to list Venezuela, but that is stretching the concept of threat.  What harm can Venezuela do to the US?  Exactly.  Cuba? Same thing.  I am sure other places/movements can be mentioned, but do any outrank any of these?  Let me know if you think I am wrong.  I woke up early here in Berlin so I could watch Game of Thrones unspoiled, so I may not be remembering all of the threats.

To be clear, the US is still the most powerful country on the planet, it is far more resilient than its politicians think (hey, we shake off our kids getting killed by spree shooters all the time), it is still far away from adversaries and most crisis zones.  Immigration is not a threat but an opportunity.  Mostly, the greatest threats to the US are Americans--Trump and his coterie, white supremacists, etc.  In a recent episode of Game of Thrones, after defeating the Night King, Tyrion said something to the effect that now we have to deal with us.  That we are the threat to ourselves, and that would be true even if we didn't take into account climate change.  Yes, the US's position of primacy is ending, but that does not mean the US is really threatened.  It just can't impose its will alone as much as it could for about 20 years.



Game of Thrones Pool of Life: Gratuitious Death Edition

Again, not that much damage to our player's characters despite the blood spilled everywhere.  Well, not so much spilled as flung. Spoilers beyond the break.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Berlin Weekend Tourism: Old Stuff, Water Stuff, Scary Stuff

No interviews on weekends, of course, so I had much time to tour Berlin.  Given that this is my third visit here, I had to figure out stuff I had not done before.  The answers: Pergamon Museum, Spree boat ride, Dungeon and walking in between.

Eastside Gallery redux

If there is one must-see when visiting Berlin, it is the Eastside Gallery.  Some authority (Berlin municipal?) decides who gets to put art on the remaining parts of the Berlin Wall on, well, the east side.  The art varies in style and quality and intent, but it is moving and puts much into context.  So, for those who can't get to Berlin, here are some of the wall segments: