Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lost, Back to the Future

Just one small flashback, if you will.

More Proof That Gates Is a Great SecDef

What a reasonable guy!  Take a look at his views on Wikileaks (from Smallwars Journal which provided the bold, I provide the color):

And clearly the finding that the lack of sharing of information had prevented people from, quote, unquote, “connecting the dots” led to much wider sharing of information, and I would say especially wider sharing of information at the front, so that no one at the front was denied – in one of the theaters, Afghanistan or Iraq – was denied any information that might possibly be helpful to them.
Now, obviously, that aperture went too wide. There’s no reason for a young officer at a forward operating post in Afghanistan to get cables having to do with the START negotiations. And so we’ve taken a number of mitigating steps in the department. I directed a number of these things to be undertaken in August.
First, the – an automated capability to monitor workstations for security purposes. We’ve got about 60 percent of this done, mostly in – mostly stateside.
Second, as I think you know, we’ve taken steps in CENTCOM in September and now everywhere to direct that all CD and DVD write capability off the network be disabled. [SMS: what about USB keys?] We have – we have done some other things in terms of two-man policies – wherever you can move information from a classified system to an unclassified system, to have a two-person policy there.
And then we have some longer-term efforts under way in which we can – and, first of all, in which we can identify anomalies, sort of like credit card companies do in the use of computer; and then finally, efforts to actually tailor access depending on roles. But let me say – let me address the latter part of your question. This is obviously a massive dump of information.
First of all, I would say unlike the Pentagon Papers, one of the things that is important, I think, in all of these releases, whether it’s Afghanistan, Iraq or the releases this week, is the lack of any significant difference between what the U.S. government says publicly and what these things show privately, whereas the Pentagon Papers showed that many in the government were not only lying to the American people, they were lying to themselves.
But let me – let me just offer some perspective as somebody who’s been at this a long time. Every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve, and it has for a long time. And I dragged this up the other day when I was looking at some of these prospective releases. And this is a quote from John Adams: “How can a government go on, publishing all of their negotiations with foreign nations, I know not. To me, it appears as dangerous and pernicious as it is novel.”
When we went to real congressional oversight of intelligence in the mid-’70s, there was a broad view that no other foreign intelligence service would ever share information with us again if we were going to share it all with the Congress. Those fears all proved unfounded.
Now, I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think – I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets.
Many governments – some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation. So other nations will continue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us. We will continue to share sensitive information with one another. Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.

Permissive, The Restrictive And The Prohibitive

Also known as The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.  Nate Silver takes on the polls on Don't Ask, Don't Tell, where the three groups respectively are: for getting rid of the policy, for keeping the policy, and for no gays in the military at all.  The title to the post are the shorthand labels.  My first line is my take on that, snarky and biased, which comes as now surprise to followers of my Spews.

Anyhow, the important facts are these:
  • 70% of the military "believe that the impact of repealing the law would be positive, mixed or of no consequence at all."  This is significant since the military is, on average, pretty damned conservative.  They tend not to like change, they tend to vote Republican, and they tend to look slightly askance when a random academic is dropped in their midst and says things like "why does there have to be 'Under God' in the pledge of allegiance."  If 70% of these folks are not against the end of DADT, that says quite a lot.  You are not going to get more than 70% in such a poll.  Geez, the Quebec separatists would love to get 70%.  
  • We see significant change over time in the public's take on this (Silver uses two different sets of poll questions to distinguish between the permissive and everyone else and then the prohibitive and everyone else since polling questions have varied):

 This shows that the public has moved quite significantly over the past twenty years or so, is not out of step with the military.
  • "What’s most interesting about this plot, though, is the narrowing of the gap between the permissive and restrictive position. This gap is the percentage of Americans who believe gay men and lesbians should only be allowed to serve if they don’t reveal their sexual orientation. In other words, it’s the percentage of Americans who support the status quo. The gap between the permissive and restrictive positions offers an unobtrusive measure of support for the policy position behind “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
 Turns out, in my humble opinion, enough war and enough stories about the fine performance of gays and lesbians under fire have done enough to delegitimate the discrimination inherent in this policy.

  •  "Today, one position has emerged as the clear preference of the majority of Americans. Seventy-five percent of Americans support open service, 17 oppose any service, and only 8 percent support the compromise position of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
So, if the US was a democracy, the policy would be changed.  Too bad it is not....*  DADT is a policy that will seen be OBE--overcome by events.  It will someday be seen as shameful (or nearly so) as segregation in the military.

 * Of course, as an elitist, I only like overwhelming public support when it favors something I like, such as getting rid of DADT, as opposed to something I don't, such as national language laws.

Theme of the Week: Supply and Demand

Two blogs raise interesting issues about the relationship between supply and demand, but not necessarily in the same way.

Lil' Steve (the much taller and redder Steve Greene) posted about the strange but true reality: that if taxes are low, people may actually expect and demand more government services since the price for such stuff is low.  They might actually want fewer government services if taxes are high because the price for such stuff would be high.  Steve builds on a couple of blogs to discuss “government at a discount”.  Come one, come all, and step up here to consume some government--it is cheap, so take more!  Well, there are a couple of problems with this: much of what government produces are "public goods" in which my enjoyment does not reduce the supply available for you: security, economic stability, clean air, etc.  Of course, most of the debates these days are pitched in terms of goods that are "rival"--that the health care reform act means less benefits for senior citizens (the damned buggers who vote), that money for unemployment seems to be pitched as less $$ for other folks. 

Still, this logic does make sense (if the Republicans are willing to increase the debt ceiling): people are getting more for less.  That it passes the costs on to the next generation is no biggie.  Well, it is, but we focus on the short term.

Speaking of which, Jacob Levy has a post about conflicting ambitions: that people complain about teachers not teaching enough days, and yet when McGill considers shortening the semester (or term as they call it here) by a week (three hours of contact time from 39 to 36), the students are actually in favor of this. 
Students' Society Vice-President University Affairs Joshua Abaki has pushed for the changes, arguing that McGill students must work harder than their peers at other universities. According to Abaki, McGill is the only member of the G-13—a group of research-focused universities in Canada—that requires 39 hours.
This seems at odds with the stuff up top because the students here pay far less than the rest of Canada and are now demanding less product--fewer lectures, less seminars, a shorter semester.  But if they think of costs in terms of hard work, rather than cash, then it makes sense.  They are paying a higher price, so they want less of the good.

Of course, this is again short-term thinking--McGill has the best reputation in Canada if you believe Maclean's (and rankings produced by other folks).  Perhaps it is because we make our students work harder, that they have more time in class, gaining more knowledge (assuming that is what we dispense--always a questionable assumption).  So, the students have two comparative advantages--getting more and paying less.  They love the latter, not so much the former. 

What does this demonstrate?  Well, we know that short-term thinking tends to overwhelm longer term cost-benefit calculations.  Here, we find the educated and the less educated making the same foolish mistakes.  But the really important lesson is that I may end up doing less teaching down the road, which, given that I am running out of material for my upper division class this week, would not be entirely a bad thing.  Which goes to demonstrate another basic principle--we are all self-centered. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Football Imitates Ultimate

In ultimate, the play is called the greatest:: "a play in which a player on the offensive team leaps while in-bounds to catch a disc that is out-of-bounds, and throws to an in-bound team-mate before he makes contact with the ground." 

Well, it happened this weekend in college football:

Nicely done.

Funkiest Wikileak Reveal Yet

That the US actually has a coherent policy on Iran:
They also offer new insights into how President Obama, determined to merge his promise of “engagement” with his vow to raise the pressure on the Iranians, assembled a coalition that agreed to impose an array of sanctions considerably harsher than any before attempted.
When Mr. Obama took office, many allies feared that his offers of engagement would make him appear weak to the Iranians. But the cables show how Mr. Obama’s aides quickly countered those worries by rolling out a plan to encircle Iran with economic sanctions and antimissile defenses. In essence, the administration expected its outreach to fail, but believed that it had to make a bona fide attempt in order to build support for tougher measures. (quoting from NYT)
That last point is key, as some have tried to argue that Obama only turned to the pressure track after the engagement track failed. The truth about Obama’s Iran policy, and this is something Obama was quite clear about even during the presidential campaign, is that not only do engagement and pressure work together, engagement itself can be a form of pressure, as it has been with Iran. (quoting from Matt Duss).

Gary Sick, an old Iran hand, has some good insights on the "revelations" as well:
  • "It may be significant that Israeli alarm — and endless deadlines — have been a permanent feature of its rhetoric since at least 1992. At that time, Netanyahu warned in the Knesset that unless someone (i.e. the United States) intervened, Iran would have a nuclear weapon in 3 to 5 years. The current intelligence reading 18 years later is that Iran could build a nuclear weapon within 3 to 5 years."  Israel, like a broken watch, will eventually be right. 
  • "So their charge to their American colleagues seemed to be: In private I will hold your coat, while you take action that I will deplore and denounce publicly, and when it produces a catastrophe I will say that I told you so."  With friends like these ....
  • Sick disagrees with the above take on engagement plus pressure, asserting that engagement was never implemented.
  • "...how the US got Saudi Arabia to promise China a guaranteed source of energy if it would join in pressuring Iran, and how the US change in its missile defense strategy (from a system based in Eastern Europe to a sea-based system) apparently helped to get Russia to do the same." Wow! Diplomacy can work?!  With a weaker US (thanks to GWBush), diplomacy requires more creativity to gain leverage and build cooperation.
  • Best news: "This may be the most important fact about the WikiLeaks documents so far. If Washington can keep its head while everyone around it is losing theirs, perhaps we need not yet yield to despair."

Follow http://twitter.com/abuaardvark (Marc Lynch) for good links to Middle East-related stuff, including the coverage of the wikileaks.

Jesus Made Me Fumble

I will always remember comedian Jeff Stilson's line about sports
I'm trying to wean myself off sports, it's too time consuming. I don't watch football anymore, I gave that up. I got tired of the interviews after the games, because the winning players always give credit to God, and the losers blame themselves. You know, just once I'd like to hear a player say, 'Yeah, we were in the game, until Jesus made me fumble. He hates our team.'
Well, Jeff, your wish apparently came true: Steve Johnson dropped a very catchable ball in the endzone during over time, costing his team the game, and he apparently tweeted this:  
"I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!!" the 24-year-old tweeted from his iPad at around 5:15 Sunday after the Steelers' 19-16 overtime victory. "AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO..."
Here's the actual play

I always found it strange that God would take sides in sports.  Of course, a player could say that he was merely helped by his deity, but then the question naturally arises about why the opponent was not similarly assisted.

Anyhow, I just wanted to document a case where a player indeed declared that God did not help him or her.

Yet Another Reading Assignment

I am starting to suspect that Wikileak's real goal is not so much to unearth classified material to hold governments accountable but to divert attention and effort by focusing everyone to read and read and read.  I refuse to submit to this strategy!  Besides, it is the end of term and I have a paper to write for a workshop next week, so I will let others do the hard work:

  • Dan Drezner says: "There are no big lies.... If this kind of official hypocrisy is really the good stuff, then there is no really good stuff.  U.S. officials don't always perfectly advocate for human rights?  Not even the most naive human rights activist would believe otherwise.  American diplomats are advancing U.S. commercial interests?  American officials have been doing that since the beginning of the Republic.  American diplomats help out their friends?  Yeah, that's called being human. ."
    • He reinforces a claim made elsewhere that the real downside of this is to dampen the information sharing innovations that the US State Dept made after 9/11.
  • Marc Lynch says:  "I don't think that there's going to be much revision of the American foreign policy debate, because most policy analysts have already heard most of what's in the cables, albeit in sanitized form. The cables still generally confirm the broad contours of what we already knew: many Arab leaders are deeply suspicious of Iran and privately urged the U.S. to attack it, for instance, but are afraid to say so in public. I haven't seen anything yet which makes me change any of my views on things which I study -- the cables show Arab leaders in all their Realpolitik and anti-Iranian scheming. I never thought that Arab leaders didn't hate Iran, only that they wouldn't act on it because of domestic and regional political constraints and out of fear of being the target of retaliation, and that's what the cables show."
  •  The Taliban will be reading the leaks closely to determine who is working against them."A spokesman for the militant movement said it would scour the files for the names of Afghanintelligence sources who had given the Nato-led coalition information on the insurgents.  If found and captured the informers would be tried and punished by the Taliban's shadow system of courts which extends throughout Afghanistan. The spokesman would not say what punishment the movement would exact, but Taliban fighters routinely behead, hang or shoot dead those considered to be spies or associated with foreign troops"
 Sure, there are some interesting things leaked: that the US tried to deal with the problem of loose nuclear materials in Pakistan; that South Korea and the US have done some thinking about a North Korean collapse; that the US has been desperate to get anyone to take some of the Gitmo detainees off of American hands; details of Afghan govt corruption, that China has been systematically behind heaps of hacking, that Saudi Arabia has a mixed record on counter-terrorism; that the US tried and failed to get Syria to stop supporting Hezbollah, and so on.  Oops, none of these things are terribly surprising or revealing, except for the details.  Am I surprised that the US has been thinking forward a little bit about North Korea falling apart?  Only because I have a dim view of the US ability to plan, but, otherwise, it makes heaps of sense. 

Obviously, many of the devils are in the details.  There are delicate tradeoffs to be made between newsworthiness and endangering people needlessly.  Wikileaks has simplified things by not caring.  It would have more credibility and value in my mind if it did some hard work to release stuff carefully rather than just regurgitate whatever they have been given.  Thus far, the "news" suggests that the leaks are doing more harm than good since there is little here that merits endangering people.  Perhaps with more reading, we can develop more confidence that this spewing is worthwhile.  As someone who spews about anything and everything (fun to overhear my mother try to make sense of my blog during the Thanksgiving weekend), I know whereof I speak.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Marketing Opportunity of the Week

Also known as reason 434958 that the terrorists can not beat us.

This site is selling shirts and underwear with the fourth amendment written on them in metallic ink to show up on the x-ray.
The combination of snarkiness and entrepreneurialism in some ways defines the American spirit. 

It takes guts to wear something like this through security, as TSA has shown no sense of humor on this.  Buyer beware, indeed.

Harry Potter and the Spoiler Full Delayed Review

For some thoughts on the Boy Who Keeps On Living (or Believin'):

Roger Ebert's New Job

TSA Monitor.  I am linking his blog here--he has had some problems with folks hacking the sites to which he links but this youtube post should be ok (but I am warning folks anyway).

The short story is that a woman brings bottled breast milk to security following TSA protocols, but does not want it x-rayed.  There is an alternative procedure for medicinal stuff (and breast milk counts as such).  The TSA folks ignore her explanation and make her wait and wait and wait, so that she misses her plane.  They give her a pat-down for no apparent reason except that she refuses to go along with their orders to x-ray the milk.  She even hands the supervisor a set of TSA instructions she downloaded from the web, and they refuse for a while to go along with them.  They basically treat her like a threat and as an abusive passenger.  You cannot see what she is saying, but her gestures indicate a normally frustrated person. 

Does this indict all of TSA?  No.  But it shows that agents will interpret their authority and their rules in ways that may not be what the principal anticipates.  So, the principal needs to consider such possibilities before crafting rules that have a significant risk of being mis-applied. 

My cynical reaction: too bad the women was not more obviously pregnant, as that would make the video even more compelling.  Our security system needs some serious re-thinking because it is raising costs and inconvenience without really demonstrating effectiveness.  They can cover up the statistics with secret sauce: " we cannot release information about the program as it would provide useful information ...."  But there should be ways that measures can be published that get at the essential questions.  And, because our congressional committees have security clearances, any argument that they should not see the real statistics is bullshit.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Passage of Time: Meaningless Category

I had a nice tweet discussion with Juliet O'Neill today.  She is a Canadian journalist and was mentioning that the defence critic of the New Democratic Party said that Canada will be in Afghanistan longer than the Russians were.  She called this evocative and provocative after I said it was meaningless.  A similar statement is that Canada (and NATO) have been in Afghanistan longer than the two World Wars combined. 

Both statements are technically true.  But what do they mean?  To say we have been doing "this" longer than the world wars ignores several key differences:
  • Most obviously, the war in Afghanistan has never been anywhere near as intense as the effort in either World War.  Canada's deployment has never been over three thousand.  Canada lost more than that number in many different battles and campaigns in either war.  The effort in Afghanistan may be the focal point of the Canadian military, but it is a sideshow for the Canadian public.  It has not greatly affected what Canada does at home or in the world.  
  • What is Canada doing in Afghanistan?  It is not fighting a conventional war to defeat an aggressive enemy that has sought to conquer its neighbors.  Instead, it has been an unconventional war, sometimes counter-insurgency (2006-2011), some times peace keeping op (Kabul 2004-05), sometimes Taliban-AQ chasing (winter 2002).  So, expecting defeat or easily measurable progress over a period of time is not quite so simple.
  • Whatever we have been doing, "this" has not been going on for the entire time frame.  Canada has only been doing COIN in Kandahar since 2006 at best.  So, whenever the idea is that we have been doing this is longer than the world wars, well, that is b.s.  It has not been a steady, committed effort.  We know have four separate decisions to deploy to Afghanistan.  I believe Canada made one big decision for WWI and another big one for WWII.  
Russians versus Canadians
  • What does this comparison mean?  That the Russians failed sooner than the Canadians?  Endurance by itself may or may not mean much, but saying that the Russians left sooner than the Canadians means what?
  • Well, for one, the effort by the Afghans against the Russians makes the IED campaign against the Canadians appear to be a walk in the park (with all due apologies to the folks harmed in this campaign).  Afghans were nearly unanimous in their opposition to the Russians.  Afghans are much more supportive of the Canadians despite what Canadians and others believe.
  • Canadians are doing far less harm and a whole lot more good.  Success may not be easy to measure and victory may be elusive, but the situation facing NATO in 2010 is not what the Russians faced in 1988.  
Evocative and provocative perhaps these comparisons might be.  But they deceive rather than inform.  Is this deliberate or just ignorance (the NDP, not Juliet O'Neill)?  Not sure.   


Once again, traveling to NJ for Thanksgiving with my family.  This time sans Mrs. Spew, who is guarding the homefront and taking care of aging dog.  This trip is also unusual in that we (Spew Jr. and myself) spent the Turkey Eve at my sister's place on the Upper East Side.  We went to the balloon inflation--huge crowds, but very interesting.  Capped off night with cupcakes!  This morning, we will mosey to NJ and the rest of the family after watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade from inside the M&M store (it pays to have relatives in high places). 

So, here is the season ritual--giving thanks:

  1. Thanks to friends and family for tolerating my whining and my incessant facebook commenting/snarkiness.
  2. I am very grateful that my teenage daughter is still a heap of fun, with a great sense of humor and a spirit of adventure (she sought out sushi last night!).
  3. Thanks to the undergrads of McGill.  Both of my classes this fall have been heaps of fun to teach. I tried some new things in both the big intro class and the smaller upper division class to varying degrees of success.  They have more than tolerated my distractions, my failed experiments, my limited access (due to heaps of travel).
  4. Thanks to the grad students of McGill for doing my work, mostly as TAs these days.  I am very grateful that one of my students just accepted a tenure track position and a second has had four interviews (an amazing outcome for those who do not understand the academic job market). 
  5. I am pretty thankful that I have a pretty good job in this nasty economy.  And a job I love and that suits me perfectly.
  6. I am extremely thankful for my current project on NATO and Afghanistan.  It has remained tremendously interesting; it has required heaps of fun travel (this year: Australia, New Zealand, Denmark); it has produced some success (ISQ pub due out in 2012); it has led to multiple chances to present and get interesting feedback (Northwestern, Mt. Holyoke, Laval, Konstanz---all from Oct to Dec); and we are making progress on the book.
  7. I am very, very thankful to my co-authors for providing much of the thinking and hard work on my various projects.  Sure, some of my colleagues give you guys way too much credit, but I wouldn't have gotten this far and learned this much without some terrific partners.
  8. I am grateful to all of my ultimate teammates for continuing to make me look good when I throw swill, for the spirit they bring to the game, and for occasionally throwing the disk at the end of my reach so that I can lay out for it.
  9. I am grateful that folks have read my blog and pushed me with their comments to think a bit more about some of the stuff about which I blather.  
  10. I am grateful for the other bloggers and twitter-ers out there whose ideas I steal/borrow/build upon.  I get heaps of links from facebook friends as well.
  11. I am grateful for the internet, which has been both boon and bane for my productivity as a scholar but has consistently provided me with much edutainment.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Deliberately Not Deliberated

Paul Pillar has a good piece taking Bush to task for trying to portray the decision to invade Iraq as a deliberate one.  "There was no policy process to consider whether the war was a good idea—no meetings, no options papers, nothing."

The funny thing (funny strange/sad, not funny ha ha) is that there were meetings and papers on how to deal with the Iraq army.  But then Rumsfeld and Bremer tossed that stuff away and thoughtlessly disbanded a group of hundreds of thousands of young men who knew where the explosives were stored. 

I have been using the Iraq decision as an analogy for other bad decisions made by collectives.  The individuals have different reasons for making a bad decision, but join together on a single specious justification to bring them together:
Far from being the prime mover of the war decision, the weapons issue was merely—as arch war promoter Paul Wolfowitz would let slip near the end of a long interview—a convenient rationale on which people in different parts of the government could agree.
Kind of like co-authorship.  Ooops, never mind.

I show Fog of War, the documentary about Robert McNamara, at the outset of my intro to IR class when I am usually at the American Political Science Association meeting (next year in Seattle!).  The three stunning things about that doc: how much McNamara and Rumsfeld look alike; how they are both described as micromanaging, arrogant, and mistaken; and that McNamara now feels the weight of his mistakes and admits that he screwed up big-time.  Will Rummy ever do that?  The stuff dribbling from his memoir (it has its own facebook page) suggests not so much.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Reforming SNL

A recurrent theme here has been the frustrations with Saturday Night Live.  The recent one with Anne Hathaway was not bad.  She definitely "brought it."
Who else can overcome mediocre writing and recycled skits with their passion?

Identity Crisis? Who is Harry?

Or, more accurately, who is Daniel Radcliffe?

As the British would say: lovely! brilliant!

After Thanksgiving I will review HP7A as any true fan will  have seen it by then.  If not, well, there will be a spoiler warning.

Enjoy the Thanksgiving Holiday.  Blogging will be light as I am traveling with the young Spew-ster to NYC to enjoy the cupcakes and parade.

Cheating and Consequences

My cousin-in-law linked to this article.  Oh my.  So, a prof lectures his students about 1/3 of the class cheating on an multiple choice exam.  It is just brutal.  For those who are unaware, a test bank is a set of questions written by someone, often hired by the textbook publisher, that can be used by profs as they put together multiple choice exams.

Agency Slack and a Dysfunctional Agency: More on TSA

When arguing against a policy, one can focus on the principles involved or the costs and benefits of the policy.  What people generally overlook is implementation.  How are folks actually going to do the required activity?  Even more ignored is that the policy, whatever it is, will not be perfectly executed in reality, so one should take into account some room for error (deliberate or otherwise).  There are many problems with the patdowns that the TSA is now doing:
  • In terms of principles, how much privacy is worth sacrificing for illusive security?
  • In terms of costs and benefits, the questions focus on: how much does this slow things down and create more inefficiencies in travel?  Will it cause people to fly less?  Is flying less a bad thing?  How much greater will the budget of TSA need to be to hire more people to do more intensive screening.
  • What to do with kids?  The elderly?  People with prosthetics?  People who have been sexually abused?
What has been ignored is this: with the need for thousands of folks to do the screening, there will be a percentage of individuals doing the job that are too enthusiastic for whatever reasons (zealots about the effort, touchy-feely people, folks who get off on power and humiliating others, people who like using public power to get away with stuff they cannot).  There may not be hundreds of these people, but more than one?  Probably.  Once you get lots of people touching other people, you increase the odds that something will happen that is not supposed to happen. 

Principal-agency theory focuses on when agents do not do what the principals want them to do.  There are all sorts of ways to try to make sure the agents behave only as they should, including narrowing discretion (although no tolerance and zero discretion policies often mean agents do the wrong thing); lots of oversight (hiring watchers to watch the touchers), and rewards/sanctions for good/bad behavior.  But writing a policy that creates greater risks for error is a bad way to get the agents to do what the principals want.

Of course, in this debate, error can refer to letting explosives get through or it could refer to offending people and perhaps even violating their rights.  Who is over-reacting?  The government or the people who do not want to get groped?  Probably a bit of both, but the government is the first mover on this, so they should have anticipated some of this.

Instead, we get a wonderful TSA blog on the pad-down myths and facts:

A Rose By Any Other Name

Would an airport by another name smell as sweet (if burning aviation fuel is a sweet smell, that is)?  Fun Economist story (HT to Florian Bieber) about naming of airports in the Balkans and the controversies than ensue.  The Macedonians are naming everything after Alexander--fun to tweak the Greeks, I am sure.  It is easy to mock these folks, but, then again, I still call the airport near the Pentagon "National Airport" and not "Reagan National Airport."  Given Reagan's hostility to the air traffic controllers' union and my own sense that he was pretty over-rated (Bush Jr. makes him look better in retrospect), I find the name a big galling.  So, who am I to mock the Balkan folks?  Oh, an American blogger.  Never mind.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Unsurprising Trend That Surprises Someone

The newest Harry Potter film got a large chunk of its opening weekend cash from young adults, and the NYT seems impressed by this.  Geez, I wonder why these folks would be into Harry and the gang?  Perhaps the folks who read the books and showed up to the first six movies aged?   The reporter wants to play up the marketing department at Warner Brothers, but seems to forget that the books and the previous movies did a fine job of setting the stage for the last two movies.  No, it was the posters....

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mixed Views on Harper and Karzai

On the one hand, it is pretty delightful to see Prime Minister Stephen Harper react to Karzai's request for more of the aid to be directly funneled through his government by indicating that that would be fine if Karzai would make progress on fighting corruption. 
“We will not dispense a dime to the government of Afghanistan unless we are convinced that that money will be spent in the way that it’s intended to be spent.”
On the other, we have learned that when Karzai is confronted publicly, he tends over-react and not in a good way. 

On the balance, I think Harper's line is fine, as he should taking the line that Canada cares about where its $$ go.  Blindly giving more to the central government would be irresponsible stewardship of Canadian tax dollars.  Saying so loudly may not get Karzai to cooperate, but he is unlikely to cooperate whether you appease him or confront him. 

Indeed, the lesson of the Presidential election fiasco was to direct money to the regions and not to the center.  So, even if Harper is a weenie, his stance here is almost certainly the correct one. 

Scary or Silly? Quebec Patriotic Militia

There is a new website for a Quebec militia group.  A force for independence?  Given past reactions to the use of violence by the FLQ (Front for the Liberation of Quebec), this new group is not going gather much steam.  But what does it say that there is such a group and that it has a website?  Not much, since anyone can call themselves anything and put up a site.
"The basic objective is to provide a structured response force that can, with a maximum staffing, providing relief material and moral disaster caused by natural disasters, internal disturbances such as rupture essential services, or protect against an aggressor or invader who would assimilate the people or steal their wealth and those of its territory."
I have not read the propaganda on the websites of American militias, so I cannot say whether this is that different.  What is striking is the idea that there is any wealth-stealing going on from outside, given that the federal government subsidizes Quebec, not the other way around.  The Alberta militia could credibly claim such theft, though.  It is also striking given that the past fifteen years have pretty clearly indicated that the federal government would not use force if there was a successful separatist referendum.  So, imaginary fears, but, again not surprising because only those with a vivid imagination would expect support for violence here. 

That is what makes Quebec so exceptional--a separatist movement that is intolerant of violence.  A snazzy website is not going to change that reality.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Harry Potter and The Spoiler Free Insta-Review

Only a short mention here, and more reflection later:
They have done a very, very nice job of adapting a difficult book to the screen.  They have added scenes and details which actually bring more to the table.  There was, as usual, stuff that was dropped, and almost all of that was not missed much.  The movie moved much faster than the book (not hard to do).

The scenery was fantastic, the music was good, and we have much more noble end for one of the many victims of JK's murder spree.  Overall, a great ride and a nice setup for the finale. 

Another Random Date

March 2014.  That is when the Canadian training mission will certainly end.  Unless it does not.

Actually, my favorite part of the NATO announcements thus far:
"We love Canada in Georgia, not only in Georgia, but in the whole region, and not only because it's a great country but it has been paying great attention to our region," Saakashvili said. "It has been outspoken in defence of values and it's a great ally in Afghanistan.
"You know we are the second biggest per capita contributors to Afghanistan in terms of numbers of troops. We have no caveats and we are fighting alongside the Americans, Canadians, with British and we are willing to stay there until the mission is accomplished."
Um, the Canadians don't care about caveats anymore, Mr. Georgia.  Now that their next deployment will face more restrictions than nearly anyone else, the days of Canada haranguing its allies to reduce their caveats are over.  But it does verify a basic intuition--those that need NATO the most do seem to be more likely to have fewer restrictions--Poland, for instance.

This also raises a basic research challenge--the challenge of studying something that is still in progress.  Afghanistan keeps changing, and I have to submit a final draft of the Dave and Steve ISQ piece for publication.  When do I stop the clock and not address recent events?  My excuse for choosing 2009 as an end point is that our reviewers did not get a chance to see any discussion of more recent events, so updating now too much after the reviews are in would be wrong, right? 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Canadian Take on New Airport Security

This is one of the big comedy guys in Canada riffing on the new scanners and pat-downs to continue the week's theme:

How to Be a Good Pop Culture Parent

The music at the end and the look on the kid's face--almost made me cry.

HT to Jacob Levy.

Best Way to Inflate Hits on a Blog

Mention Harry Potter.  This old post has been been increasing my traffic during the run-up to the new movie.  I did not post that old entry back then to inflate my hits.  Today?  Hmmm.

An Interesting Time to "Man Up"

Lots of folks have advising Obama to start confronting the Republicans more directly.  In many cases, these folks do not understand how limited the power of the American President is.  But now, Obama is forcing, apparently, a showdown over the START agreement.
  “It’s really high stakes,” said Geoffrey Kemp, a former national security aide to President Ronald Reagan and a scholar at the Nixon Center, a research group in Washington. “I would say it’s the biggest gamble he’s taken so far, certainly on foreign policy.”
It makes some sense to me, as in the old days, enough of one party would put partisanship aside and support an agreement when it is backed by almost the entire foreign policy establishment, the military, and much of the country.  The guys who used to be Republican Senators are in favor of this agreement.  Only with the Republicans moving so far to the right and wanting to be the party of NO does this treaty really face trouble.

The article suggests that if Obama loses, he will appear weak. Perhaps, but I think this is win-win.  Either it passes, busting a hole in Republican unity.  Or it fails, in which case the Republicans appear to be obstructionist to the point of undermining national security.  This is, indeed, a game of chicken, and it looks like Obama is not going to swerve.  Precisely because this is risky, it increases the credibility of the threat.  Staking his reputation on the issue is a classic way to try to win a chicken game.  Obama is tying his hands to the wheel (or his foot to the pedal--see below).  It is up to the Republicans to swerve and avoid disaster.
“It is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the New Start treaty this year,” said Mr. Obama, flanked by Henry A. Kissinger, James A. Baker III and Brent Scowcroft, all of whom served Republican presidents. “There is no higher national security priority for the lame-duck session of Congress.”
Of course, today's Republicans might disrespect Kissinger, Baker and Scowcroft, but they have to remember both the lesson of Gingrich and the implications for 2012.  Gingrich overreached with shutting down government precisely because it made the GOP look like it valued partisan politics over the interests of the country.  And anyone wanting to run for President in 2012 or wanting the Republicans to win that election will have to consider whether they want to be seen as focused more on settling some scores with the President or acting for the national interest.  They need nine reasonable Republicans to vote with the Democrats.  Let's see if nine such folks exist.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Montreal Cuisine

The International Studies Association tweeted this link in the run-up to the ISA meeting in Montreal in March.  The idea, of course, is to promote Montreal as a great food town, which it is.  Unfortunately, this article tends to buy the wrong hype.  Let's consider each item on the top ten in the article:
  1. Outdoor markets--these are nice, with lots of funky stuff.  But with restrictions on what one can take across borders (as I was reminded during my Nexus card briefing), this is mostly a tourism thing and less of a buy heaps of food to bring back home thing.
  2. Poutine.  Fries, gravy, cheese curds.  I have not yet had the guts to try it.  Maybe soon.
  3. Smoked meat.  Is delicious, but not nearly as special as Montrealers would like to think.  Kind of like pastrami.  Tasty and a good lunch, but not nearly as unique as they aver.
  4. Bagels.  Um, yuck.  Give me a NY bagel anytime.  The Montreal ones are only bearable if they are freshly cooked.  If I want a pretzel, I will order a pretzel.  
  5. French cuisine.  Indeed, now we are talking.  The French food in Montreal is fantastic. It may even be illegal to do it poorly.  
  6. International flavor.  I would actually have several bullets for this one, rather than just one.  The Middle Eastern stuff (Lebanese and then some) is just the starting point.  Omitted entirely here.  Montreal really benefits from those parts of the world where the French used to be (Vietnam, Middle East, etc) which makes it a bit distinct from other big cities with "foreign" food.
  7. Chocolate.  Indeed.  Patisseries here rival those in Paris.  
  8. Cheap eats.  Indeed, unlike other major cities (Berlin, Paris, Sydney to name some I have experienced in the past couple of years), there are plenty of places that offer great food at reasonable prices.
  9. Cheeses.  I have no idea.  I am not a cheese guy despite being so very cheesy.  Yes, I went there.
  10. Maple syrup/sugaring off.  Indeed, good stuff.  One of my favorite ski areas has a little shack near the top of the mountain.  You can ski over, get a Popsicle stick and poor some maple on some snow and then wrap the snow and maple into a sweetness on a stick.

What has been omitted? 
  • Beer!  BEER!  Great beer in this town--not so much in the form of micro brew pubs (although a few exist) but that the Quebec beers and Canadian beers are excellent, even the national brands (compared to the swill that Coors, Bud, and Miller put out).  Smaller companies here put out some very fine stuff.
  • Chez Cora and its competitors.  Great breakfast places including crepes but also other stuff as well.  
Any other areas I have overlooked? [Yes, the Montrealers are going say I am wrong about smoked meat and bagels, but they can be forgiven for such foolishness] 

Drezner's A Better Blogger

No doubt.   Just check out his post on airport security and the reactions to it and mine.  He does a very nice job of integrating his experience and reactions into a larger question about Elite Americans and others. 

I would say that he could be making a significant mistake--by making it seem as if elites are different in anything else than exposure/frequency.  That is, Elites fly more and are more bothered by the various intrusions than ordinary Americans who do not fly.  His conclusion, "With travel season upon us during the next six weeks, we'll see.....," hints at the key reality--that folks who have not experienced the longer lines, the relentless instructions to surrender possessions and dignity (I hate having to lose control of my wallet and passport--that makes me very insecure), and so forth may soon do so and may join the backlash.

It may be that the resisters will be called out of touch, but isn't that a label applied to people who are not experiencing the realities of the situation.  Bush senior was out of touch for not knowing that prices were scanned at grocery stores.  But frequently flyers will understand far better than those who do not fly at all the tradeoffs of more illusory/real security vs. inconvenience.

I also think this whole Elites vs. Real Americans distinction is not going to center around airport security since that is something that is not relevant to most Americans, as opposed to jobs, education, pay, health care, and so forth. 

Of course, I write this from a very posh hotel in Quebec City before I present my research to a highly educated audience, so whom am I to say what is or is not Elite?  I'll just have to keep reading Dan to find out.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The New Rebellion

The effort to protect our airports is now running into much more friction.  The question of threat versus cost has generally been ignored because no politician wants to be accused of not doing enough.  

Another way to look at it is here (HT to Doug Gibler for the link).

But there is something else going on.  The American way of warfare has found its way to airport security: the US almost always chooses technology and capital intensive solutions rather than labor intensive ones.  Israel, the most vigilant country, does not use the new scanners, but relies heavily on well-trained folks who question folks and have been trained to observe people and assess. 

Can I expect the US to change?  Nyet.  We will always choose the expensive, flashy solution.

The Party of No is Back

The Senate is unlikely to give its consent to the START agreement with Russia that cuts back on nuclear weapons and renews the verification regime.  Why?  Because this issue, which has been around for quite some time, is apparently too complicated for the Republicans in the Senate to review in during this session.  This is just an easy way to say no, rather than taking seriously an issue that actually has a great deal of bipartisan support.  If we are concerned about the development of the Russian nuclear program, then a verification system that is part of this agreement is better than no verification--which is what is going to happen, as far as I understand it, without a new treaty.

More proof that the GOP is not interested in governing but denying the Obama Administration any policy gains.  And the treaty was one largely negotiated under the Bush Administration. 

Surprising?  No.  Disappointing?  Sure.  Appalling?  Of course.

A Green Alternative

I made mine Marvel, so I am only vaguely familiar with The Green Lantern.  But it looks like we will all become more familiar with this DC character:

Looks like fun to me.  I used to identify with one comic book company and rooted for it like it was a sports team, but now I am mature enough (?) to appreciate good stuff  no matter the source.  And this appears to be the good stuff.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Weenie, Yes; Liar? Probably Not [updated]

The Toronto Star seems to think that Stephen Harper is lying to us about the non-combat-ness of the new training mission (see here and here).
The former says: "it’s just plain hooey to pretend that our battle-smartened soldiers — should Ottawa agree to leave a thousand-or-so in situ for the purpose of training and mentoring Afghan troops — will stay safely inside-the-wire at KAF."
The latter says:  "Among the most rock solid is that the difference between training and combat is mostly a matter of convenient labelling in conflicts without distinct front lines or easily identified enemies."

Actually, no.  They are both wrong.  It is quite possible to order troops to stay behind the wire.  And there is work to do behind the wire.  Sure, I think it is a weenie move, but it is possible and not just possible but now politically necessary. And Afghanistan is not quite Vietnam, as many of the bases face a very low risk of being over-run.  Some may get shelled, some may face suicide attacks, but, except for small bases close to the border in high risk areas, the bases are likely to be safe.  The roads may not be entirely so, so the big question really is where the Canadians will serve and whether they will be driving the supplies.  Even so, the risks will be much, much lower than the current ones.  The training will not involve mentoring--the Canadians will not be accompanying the Afghans in the field.  Which is too bad, in my view, because that is where the Canadians bring the most added value.

But it is clear that this government will impose caveats and other restrictions that will limit what the Canadian soldiers can and cannot do. It is not clear from the government backgrounder that is entirely devoid of content, but caveats are not new to the Canadian military.  They used to have significant restrictions in Bosnia and then in the early days of the Afghanistan mission.  So, they will not be doing combat, although I imagine that they will be allowed to fire back if fired upon (otherwise the Rules of Engagement would lack legitimacy).

So, you can call Harper a weenie, you can say that the decision process here was bad (where is the chief of the defence staff, what role did the Minister of National Defence play, the NATO summit next week is not a surprise party so why not work out the decision over months rather than a weekend), but the non-combat line is not a lie.

Update: We finally have a bit of clarity about the civilian side.  Despite various assurances about doing heaps of development and governance, Canada is pulling its civilian side of its Kandahar effort--the Provincial Reconstruction Team.  I was uncertain about this until a recent conversation with some on the civilian side of this effort.  It was always a puzzle--how are you going to do the development stuff without Canadian troops transporting and protecting the civilians?  One answer would be the Canadians would rely on the Americans.  But the real answer is not that--the real answer is that the Canadians handing over the entire effort to the Americans.  Unfortunately, this is one area where the Americans do not have a surplus--trained diplomatic and aid types with experience in Kandahar.

Confirmation Bias Goes to the Movies

Here is an ecstatic review of the new Harry Potter movie.  Would you expect me to post a negative one?  Not if you know me.

Is the Academy Not Broken?

I have not read the book myself, but Stanley Fish's review of Robert B. Archibald and David H. Feldman's, “Why Does College Cost So Much?” indicates that the academic system is not as broken as often believed.  The price of education is rising because we need to keep buying the latest technology for the classrooms and labs to keep the students at the edge.  Just holding onto old stuff apparently is not going to do the next generation any favors.  And, the costs are not rising much faster than income apparently:
In the story the “new orthodoxy” tells, “prestige competition and gold plating needlessly push up costs . . . which then cuts off access to higher education.” “We think,” Archibald and Feldman conclude, “this story is about as wrong as it is possible to be.” If the important figure is “the difference between income and the cost of college” then “by that criterion there is no national affordability problem” and “talk of a college cost crisis is unnecessarily alarmist.”
 Fish reveals that some of the talk about a "College Cost Crisis" was started by a report signed by John Boehner.  Say no more.  If he believes something, it must be wrong.

Anyhow, Fish finds the arguments in the book persuasive because he lived them:
As a dean who encountered the rising costs of personnel, laboratory equipment, security, compliance demands, information systems and much more every day, I knew I had it basically right, but I am happy to ride (belatedly) on the coattails of people who really know what they’re talking about.
 Of course, I find this book persuasive (again, it falls into the category of a book I have read but not read myself) because it argues stuff that I want to believe--that my profession is not broken.  It does not mean this argument is right, but if Boehner is on the other side of it, I am willing to bet that this argument is, at the very least, a bit more reality-based than the tanned one's.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Red Cards Held by Musicians

The key to the Saideman and Auerswald project on NATO and Afghanistan is that countries always can veto their participation in any operation.  How did we begin to appreciate this?  While studying Kosovo, we found that a British General (Michael Jackson!) said no to SACEUR (Gen. Wesley Clark, demonstrating the bad judgment that helped to make him incredibly unpopular within the US military) when he asked the Brits to outrace the Russians to the Pristina airport in June 1999.  This risked a military confrontation, which the singer James Blunt refused to do.  He and Jackson played the red card, saying no to Clark. 

The questions for us are under what conditions to countries say no and who gets to the make that call?  We didn't expect it to be a pop musician, but, hey, this project keeps getting more and more interesting and we cannot complain about that.

Harry Potter and the Sport That Keeps on Giving

The Quidditch World Cup is well-timed as it occurs just before the next HP movie.  I would have wanted to be seeker--not just because I am always desperate for attention (hence this blog) or that I want to be Harry Potter (no, I did not marry a redhead), but because the skills involved seem to play to my strengthes: diving and getting hurt.  If I left it up to my brother, I would be a keeper--as they seem to get the most abuse.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Much Confusion in a Small World

What does training mean?  Canada is about to commit 700 trainers plus support staff to Afghanistan after its combat forces pull out in July 2011.  Yet, the process in Ottawa has been so messy, that we really do not know what this training means, other than not in combat.  To get clarity, I guess we need to talk to the guys doing the training.  So, in this story, the Canadian general who is second in command of the NATO training effort, Major General Stu Beare, provides some clarity.  I interviewed Beare a few years ago as he had commanded a NATO sector in Bosnia.  Definitely more on the straight-talking side of the spectrum. 

So, it looks like the Canadians might not be in just one safe spot in Kabul, but spread around the country (perhaps not in Kandahar) to train the Afghan National Policy more so than the Afghan National Army.
"It doesn’t matter where they go. It’s the same mission with the same force protection. The training centres are all over the country because that is where the trainees are."
Beare makes clear that this will not be OMLT-eering: "The distinction between being a trainer and being a mentor in the field is fundamentally that the training-base mission is to give skills in a training environment that is safe, secure and protected," Beare said. Beare goes on to discuss the kinds of training and activities, and it does not sound like it will be just basic training stuff but more advanced skills.  This is good news as it means that the Canadian Forces can bring some added value.  Still, I think Harper is a weenie.

When Even Renting Does Not Work

The classic line about foreign aid is that you cannot buy a politician/leader/country, but you can rent one.  But as Afghanistan President (for life?) Hamid Karzai repeatedly shows, even a rental often acts against one's interest.  "The time has come to reduce military operations."  Surely, you just.  And, yes, I can call him Shirley if I want to do so.  While we can question military reports as much as we want, it does seem to be the case that the surge has facilitated some progress on the ground.  The alliance has gotten much better at avoiding civilian casualties, although some still occur.  Just as the pressure seems to be paying off, Karzai of all people wants to give the Taliban more breathing space.  Haven't we tried that before?
He described his own deep skepticism with American policy in Afghanistan - from last year's presidential election, which he said was manipulated by U.S. officials, to his conviction that government corruption has been caused by billions of American dollars funneled to unaccountable contractors.
Um, I think the psychological term is projection, right?  While the US and its allies have not always made the right decisions and have often faced choosing among bad alternatives, Karzai must be fooling himself if he thinks that blaming the election fiasco on the US in an American newspaper will buy him any credit anywhere except perhaps among the Taliban.  Indeed, he says that Afghans are tired of American troops and vehicles on the roads in Afghanistan.  Maybe so, but they are also tired of his family robbing the country blind and his agents abusing their power.

Focusing on the special ops efforts at night, "A senior Afghan official said that Karzai has repeatedly criticized the raids in meetings with Petraeus and that he is seeking veto power over the operations."  Karzai is apparently tilting at the wrong windmills.  There is no way that Karzai is getting to get a "Double-Key" situation like the UN had in Bosnia--that system facilitated genocide (as I was reminded while interviewing a Dutch diplomat last week when their troops got stuck with responsibility but no power in Srebenica).  The US military will not subject itself to any Afghan veto, especially one held by the least responsible and even least accountable guy around.
"It's not desirable for the Afghan people either to have 100,000 or more foreign troops going around the country endlessly," he said.
Oh, Karzai need not worry.  The end is nigh.  His efforts over the past two years have done more to weaken support for the mission from Denmark to the US than anything else.  Karzai can play the xenophobic card all he wants, and which opponents of the mission have been overplaying for years.  But putting the blame on the foreigners for the violence forgets that the Taliban get a vote.  If they don't plant bombs on the sides of roads and don't send suicide bombers into markets, things would be more "normal."  Indeed, the Taliban and their allies have been the source of the majority of civilian casualties.  But sure, they might become less violent if the US and its allies shrink their presence because they will have won.  No need to contest territories they own. 

This whole interview suggests that Karzai sees much more in common with the Taliban than with the folks propping him up: "They [the Taliban] feel the same way as we do here. That too many people are suffering for no reason. Their own families are suffering," he said, and it is this "national suffering they'd like to address with us." Sure, they would end the suffering.  Just ask the women who will die when they cannot receive appropriate medical care while giving birth.  Oh, and Karzai's suffering would stop as well.  I am pretty sure that a Taliban regime would have no use for the guy, given how unreliable he has proven to be.

About accusations that he is a lousy partner: "If a partner means a silent spectator of events conducted by Washington, if that kind of partner you seek, well, I'm not that partner," Karzai said. "Nor will be the Afghan people."  No, not a silent spectator, but I think the US would have liked someone who was leading the effort, rather than opposing it.

In my earliest posts on this blog, I was less ambivalent about the effort.  But then Karzai did his magic, making me much less certain about my views.  Now, it is hard to argue that it is worth the cost to stick around.  But what keeps me from recommending a withdrawal by NATO and the US is this: when we scampered from Vietnam, many folks paid for it, including ultimately Cambodians.  If we leave Afghanistan precipitously, the consequences are uncertain but unlikely to be good.  Staying around may or may not produce a desirable outcome.  Not a bunch of great choices, but then Karzai seems to be trying to make it much clearer and easier.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Harry Potter and the Plot Holes

HT to the Spew Kid for this one.

Harry raises a good question--why let Slytherin recruit more baddies?  I have a similar question: how does Peter Pettigrew make it into Gryffindor? It is pretty clear from the Snape memories that James and Sirius were on their own as they arrived at Hogwarts the first time, so it could not simply be a matter of Peter wanting to be with them--their friendship almost certainly was a result of being in the same house.  Given Pettigrew's cowardice, it is hard to see why the hat would sort him into Gryffindor.

Of course, as Dumbledore put it so well, perhaps we sort too soon. 


Friday, November 12, 2010

Is Stephen Harper a Weenie?

Yes, but not for the reasons folks are likely to guess.  I spent earlier today driving to and from Ottawa (hence no blogging until now) to talk to Dutch and Belgian representatives as part of my preparation for a trip to their countries early in the 2011 and missed much of the news about Harper, the training mission and so on.  That didn't stop me from doing a radio interview on the topic, of course. 

I did not say that I thought Stephen Harper is a weenie.  I did give a hint or two.  Specifically, I think Harper could have done more or less.  True, the current parliamentary resolution says that Canadian Forces would no longer be doing combat in Kandahar, so doing training in Kabul is not prohibited.  Whether it warrants a new parliamentary motion passed is something about which Phillipe Legassé has far more to say (and check out his tweets today as well).

But what I am referring to is that Harper has basically said, no, we (see, I can identify with Canadians!) will leave Kandahar and all of the relationships and valued added behind and go somewhere safe and fill out NATO's requirements in the least risky way.  We still don't know what kind of training the CF will be doing (insert Bill Murray's "Army Training, Sir!" from yesterday's Stripes video), but it might be basic training (reading maps, shooting guns, whatever).  It will not be out in the field with the Afghan National Army.  And that is the weenie decision.

When Canada was going out the door, I was hoping that it would keep a commitment to some of its efforts--the OMLTs and Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar.  This would have meant a number somewhere near the one being bandied about now, but would have meant the following:
  • There would be a significant risk of casualties although lower than the past several years.
  • The relationships and lessons learned over the years would be maintained.
  • Canada would still be doing some heavy-lifting that NATO needs.
  • and, yes, probably a vote in parliament would have been unavoidable.
It would have required (dare I say it? yes, I do) leadership.  Hence, PM Harper is a weenie.  The trainers inside the wire near Kabul are actually the easy decision, succumbing to US/NATO pressure while stealing the position of the Liberals, making the Bloc and the NDP more apparent how marginal they essentially are.  I have been arguing in various places that this is actually a pretty good time to exert some leadership.  Harper is not going to win a majority in the next election, as the voters are too split.  But the Liberals are .... feckless?  Ignatieff is a lousy candidate, so Harper can be pretty sure of yet another Conservative minority government.  So, why not do the right/Right thing and maintain Canada's current investments going with less risk rather than pissing most of it away with no risk?

I guess that is why folks in Montreal think I am a hardliner.  Oh well.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

DVRs and Canadian Military History

The Canadian version of the History Channel has been running a heap of movies and documentaries about Canadian military history the past week in the run up to Remembrance Day (Veteran's Day in the US).  So, with my relatively new DVR, my Remembrance Week effort is now more than just wearing a poppy.  I recorded shows on Vimy (key Canadian battle in World War I), Dieppe, Juno Beach (the Canadians got their landing zone on D-Day), the Battle of Verrières Ridge (post D-day battle in Normandy), the Medak Pocket (combat during the peacekeeping effort in the Balkans), and Kandahar. 

Thus far, I have only watched the show on Dieppe, but it might be pretty emblematic of the Canadian military experience.  Feeling shunted aside, the Canadian elites sought a greater role, and, unfortunately, got it.  What started out as a small raid became a much bigger affair, partly to assuage Stalin that the Western allies were serious about relieving some of the pressure the Soviets were facing.  So, the Canadians and some others were sent to seize an armed port (another of Churchill's less brilliant ideas) and didn't even have surprise on their side for a variety of reasons (including this was the second attempt after a failed effort the month before or so).  It was an utter failure, with poor planning, unrealistic training, little real knowledge about the targets, and confronting tough German positions.  Some Canadians were able to escape but many were killed or taken prisoner for the duration of the war. 

To be clear, yes, much blame can be heaped upon the British leaders, especially Churchill and Mountbatten, but Canadian leaders in Ottawa and London had plenty of opportunities to influence things. 

The solace that can be taken has been that the failed raid produced lessons that made the eventual invasion of Normandy a success.  This has been debated.  It is clear that D-Day was far better planned with clearer chains of command (Ike told the navies and air forces what to do and they did it, however reluctantly), much more preparation work (destroying the German air force), and the rest. 

Anyway, on this Remembrance Day, we should remember not just the sacrifices made by the soldiers, sailors and air folks of the past, but also the mistakes made and the lessons learned so that present and future military endeavors can be without unnecessary risks.  War is risky enough without doing the stupid stuff that makes the guys on the ground, at sea and in the air face more dangers than need be the case.

Messy Decision Process

We are starting to get a few pieces of clarity today on Canada's decision to send trainers to Afghanistan after the combat mission ends.  Perhaps the most significant piece is that Defence Minister Peter MacKay and perhaps the Canadian Forces have been on the outside.  As the Globe and Mail points out, the major folks making the noises have been Foreign Minister Cannon and Harper's communications guy Dimitri Soudas.  While I have interacted with heaps of Canadian military people the past several years, I don't have the type of contacts that will inform me or that I can call to ask about this.  My guess is that most of these guys would be keeping their heads down while the civilians fire at each other.

Ignatieff is asking the right questions--if Harper wants Liberal support, he will need to provide some answers.  If he wants to go and make the decision without Parliament, that might be within his power.  Still, it would be nice if someone really explained this flip-flop thoroughly.  While it has not been the focus of my research, my work in a variety of NATO and partner capitols has indicated that leadership, rather than silence, actually works better.

So, I don't really know what is going on, but that appears to be a widely shared experience.

Canadian PM Speaks On Afghanistan

Ok, Harper did not make a public speech explaining and defending the semi-announced decision to send 1000 trainers and logistics folks to Afghanistan, but he did mention it.  Which is progress.  Still no details, but a bit of an explanation for his big flip-flop:

"I do this with some reluctance but I think this is the best decision, when one looks at the options," he said.  "Look, I'm not going to kid you. Down deep my preference would be, would have been to see a complete end to the military mission."  Until now, Harper has insisted that Canadians will withdraw by July 2011. But NATO countries have been lobbying for months to persuade Harper to change his mind.  Harper said Thursday he did not succumb to pressure, but decided to reconsider based on the fact that the Afghans aren't ready for Canada to leave.  "I don't want to risk the gains that Canadian soldiers have fought for and have sacrificed in such significant numbers by pulling out too early, if we can avoid that."  Harper acknowledged he has been under pressure by NATO allies to continue in a combat role, but a training role was the most he could agree to.  Sources have told The Canadian Press the government is considering sending 600 to 1,000 soldiers to Kabul until 2014 to bolster NATO training efforts. 
"I think if we can continue a smaller mission that involves just training, I think frankly that presents minimal risks to Canada, but it helps us to ensure that the gains that we've made," Harper said.
 A nice combination of honesty and deception.  Yes, Harper has not been a big fan of the mission for some time.  Why?  He does not really say.  Perhaps because he is a pacifist?  Um, no.  Because he has long been skeptical about the success of the mission?  Well, that would contradict the rest of the stuff he says here.  Because the mission cost him votes in the various elections?  Maybe.

What is deceptive here?  That he suddenly realized that "the Afghans are not ready for Canada to leave."  Um, duh!  The new 2014 date that Canada, NATO, and everyone else is setting for the Afghanization of the effort is perhaps unrealistic, but the 2011 deadline was never, never about Afghanistan being ready for the Canadians to leave.  Something may have changed for Harper but a realization of the limits of the Afghans is not it.

The timing of the decision clearly is related to two things: that the Canadian military planners have to start working on anything that begins in 2011 now; and the NATO summit in Lisbon.  During my time on the Joint Staff, I realized that the various big meetings (summits of the leaders of the members, the ministerials where the Foreign Ministers or Defence Ministers) would not really be the places where decisions were made, but forced countries to make decisions ahead of these events to announce at the meetings.  Kind of the way conferences force academics to finally kick out the papers that they have been working on.  So, NATO pressure clearly mattered, since Canada would not have kept returning to Afghanistan without some sort of desire to meet NATO obligations and perhaps even develop a leading role within the institution.

And that gets us to one of the real reasons for this new effort: to preserve some of the political capital gained through the sacrifices made by Canadians (152 soldiers, one civilian in terms of deaths, probably ten times that in seriously wounded).  Just fleeing Afghanistan would have wasted their efforts, both in terms of leaving behind an Afghanistan that was not yet ready and likely to fall back and in terms of Canadian influence that would dissipate.

One last point: Canada has spent the past several years haranguing the Germans and other NATO members that have placed significant restrictions on what their militaries can do in Afghanistan (offensive operations? out of sector ops?), and this was after Canada had similar restrictions from 2002-2005 or so.  Now, Canada, after all of that, will have perhaps the tightest constraints on their deployment, if the reports are correct--only trainers, no combat, only on military bases and not out in the field.  I wonder if the Germans will become smug and start teasing the Canadians.

That's the Fact, Jack!

The military study of a potential elimination of Don't Ask Don't Tell is starting to leak out.  There is, of course, fodder for whatever argument you want to make, but the key is that "Pentagon study group has concluded that the military can lift the ban on gays serving openly in uniform with only minimal and isolated incidents of risk to the current war efforts."
More than 70 percent of respondents to a survey sent to active-duty and reserve troops over the summer said the effect of repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy would be positive, mixed or nonexistent, said two sources familiar with the document. The survey results led the report's authors to conclude that objections to openly gay colleagues would drop once troops were able to live and serve alongside them. 
This should not be that surprising given what has happened elsewhere, unless Americans are more homophobic than other folks.  Polls in the US show that the public is ok with it, even the majority of Republicans.* 

Unfortunately, the GOP is captured by its right wing.  So, DADT is out of date with the attitudes of military folks, of Americans, and even of the majority of Republicans.  And .... That's the fact, Jack! 

*  HT to Steve Greene for re-posting this figure.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

US-China Economic Relations Ilustrated

 Next year, I guess I can just show this rather than provide a lecture on exchange rates and protectionism

HT to Dan Drezner

Insurgents in Flight

Four Afghan insurgents were arrested on a flight that was destined to go from Kabul to Saudi Arabia.  There is so much in this short story to disentangle.
  • ISAF indicated that they were seeking a Haqqani network "weapons facilitator."  The Afghan security folks refused to identify the network, just referring to the suspect as a terrorist.
  • ISAF says the individual was headed for Saudi Arabia.  The Afghan security folks say he was fleeing to Dubai.
  • Both sources agree the guy was fleeing Afghanistan.  
What is striking about all of this is that the international community and Afghanistan disagree on how to portray the situation.  ISAF seems more willing to put Saudi Arabia in the picture, whereas Afghanistan wants to focus on the United Arab Emirates (perhaps a late effort to appeal to Canadians about their common adversary?).  ISAF also likes to distinguish amongst its opponents where as the Afghans seem to want to use a blanket category.  Not sure what to make of that.

And why is a weapons facilitator using civilian planes from Kabul to flee?  Whom is he fleeing?  The Afghan authorities?  Or his old pals?  Wouldn't the normal path of flight involve Pakistan?

Not sure what all of this means, but it bears watching as it is definitely out of the ordinary.  We expect $$$ to be smuggled out of Kabul, not insurgents.

Media ADD and Afghanistan

Ok, personal anecdotes are a poor substitute for real data, but recent events testify to the media's attention span.  I keep track of my media appearances, not just for boosting my ego and reinforcing my narcissism, but also for annual reports to my department, funding agencies and the CRC program.  What did I find by looking at the patterns?  That the Canadian media essentially forgot that Canada was in Afghanistan, at least in terms of seeking "expert" opinion on the topic, for quite some time.  The academic debate is often about whether politicians follow the media, the media follow the politicians, or none of the above.

So, my phone has started ringing again because there is once again a debate in Ottawa about the mission in Afghanistan.  The Harper government seems to be reversing months and months of denials of any further military effort in Afghanistan and getting ready to agree to send one thousand soldiers (700 trainers and 300 support folks), and this is causing conniptions in Ottawa.  The Liberals are upset because Harper is stealing their issue, the NDP is upset because they want the troops home.  The Bloc would be upset but their leader is in France trying to parlay Sarkozy's unpopularity into more support for Quebec (since Sarkozy did a Shatner and told the separatists to get a life).  So, the media is re-energized to cover Afghanistan as the domestic debate gets going again.

This is not surprising, but disappointing, as the media is as crisis-driven as the politicians.  While some steady newspaper coverage (Matthew Fisher and Graeme Smith before him are notable exceptions to the rule of episodic coverage) has been quite good, radio and TV have been much less consistent.

The sudden need for "expertise" is challenging in large part because we academic types are now being asked to comment on a decision that has not yet been announced.  We do not know the size, the timing, or any of the other details of the new deployment.  All I do know is that it will force me to add more to my Canadian chapter of the book, re-coding Canada as a case of tight and then loose caveats/restrictions to tight, loose and then tight again.  But as a social scientist, I have got to say that more variation is better than less--more stuff to observe and explain.

Update: for a good take on why the PM should not subject this decision to a vote, see Phillipe Legassé's piece.  I don't agree with it, but I am not an expert on Canadian customs/laws/conventions/Westminsterisms.