Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Slow Blog Day, May 2011 edition

I am behind on everything as I spent a day going to and from Ottawa to present some research.  Next three trips to Ottawa (over the next three weeks) will be back to asking policy-maker types about their work on Afghanistan to get the civilian side and also more of the military side.  The former is for a new spinoff project that will take me to Australia in July.  The latter is for the book project and associated pieces.  I will be late with the first draft of the Aussie paper (due today) by a few days.  I blame the careless school bus driver.  May not be true, but it is a ready excuse.

So, just a few scattershot thoughts on various news/events/realizations of the day:
  • I have a new favorite podcast--Nerdist.  It is supposedly nerd-focused (comic books and such) but the interviews are with a range of interesting people and go in all kinds of interesting directions.  Hosted by Chris Hardwick, who started out on the MTV Singled Out show, it is just very, very funny.  I didn't lose control of my rental car on the way to or from Ottawa, but it was close a couple of times.  Just funny, often profane takes on things.  I will never think of Darth Vader the same after the podcast with Kevin Smith.
  • Thanks to the podcast with Kevin Smith, I will always look at Ferris Bueller's day as motivated by Ferris's coke addiction.  It just makes too much sense.
  • Thanks to another Nerdist podcast, my crush on Alison Brie of both Mad Men and Community has just deepened.  
  • Fun day of powerpoint panics.  My presentation almost had to be ppt-less as the building lost power a couple of hours beforehand.  Luckily it came back AND I was not in an elevator.  Later, on the way home, I stopped by the organizational meeting of a new ultimate league that is based in the western part of the Montreal island.  The head of the Montreal frisbee folks was a bit off his game, since his powerpoint presentation had not been saved right.  So, for the kids out there, always, always print out an outline view or a summary of your ppt so that you can handle a broken computer/file/projector.  I was ready in case the power was out--I could have given the talk, but would have had to draw on a board or something....
  • Onto professional type stuff, Prime Minister Harper was in Afghanistan to close out the mission in Kandahar.  He said the usual crap that drives me crazy--that the mission lasted longer than the two world wars.  True but inane.  "We have to look at this mission as a great success,’’ Harper said.  Depends on what you call success.  Roland Paris tweeted today how insecure Kandahar is.  I have no idea if it is better or worse.  The Taliban certainly seem to be generating lots of dramatic attacks around the country, but I do not know if this is more frequent/intense or just more visible.  The prison break shows that there has been no progress at all on that front since it is the second one.  So much for that effort.  I do think that "not losing Kandahar" was an achievement.  I do think that Canada's effort in Kandahar did earn it more influence, so these are successes.  Stopping terrorism--not so much.
  • Speaking of achievements, Harper's tour included a farm where an Al Qaeda base used to be, so that he could have Canada take credit for the renovation of a big dam project.  What he did not point out is that improving irrigation not only improves the wheat crop but also the poppy crop.  I don't think that is a bad tradeoff at all, just being honest about it is all.
  • I do disagree with a tweet I saw about the Canadian shift from Kandahar to training in Kabul making sense.  I disagree--Canada developed expertise and relationships in Kandahar that are being essentially tossed away to fill a bunch of slots that were not empty (there was no NATO need for lots of clasroom trainers in Kabul, but a heap of need for continued mentors/trainers going into combat with Kandahar-based Afghan units).  More ranting on this later.
  • One trend I hate: rebooting an entire comic book.  Worse: DC is rebooting all of its series.  I stopped collecting when my daughter was born since diapers displaced the comic books in the family budgets.  Given the messes made of my favorite characters and groups (mostly Spidey and X-folk), I have few regrets.
Perhaps more tomorrow as I try to get through some deadlines.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Let's Play: Which Is Worse?

The Westboro Church has gained much notoriety for engaging in protests at the funerals of soldiers, asserting that this is God's punishment for the tolerance of gays, I guess. I have stopped paying close attention to their rantings and ravings because, well, these folks are nuts.  And I would like to ignore these folks, but they are not going anyway anytime too soon.  So, they, of course, protested at Arlington National Cemetery today on Memorial Day.  Yes, these folks have no class.  Anyhow, the striking thing is not their appearance but that among the counter-protesters were a certain 3K clan.  I don't want to use their name because I really don't want to be linked to them.  But you know who I mean. 

So, who should we root for in this?  The racists who are supporting our troops?  Or the crazy religious folks who are a different kind of menace to society?  My gut tells me to root for the racists since the issue of the moment is the sacrifice of the troops.  My head tells me that the Westboro folks are a very small, marginal group that are good at getting attention but not much else, and that the racists in the past and in the future have been and will be a greater threat.  I just don't know. What do you, the reader, think: racially motivated hate mongers or religiously motivated hate mongers?  Pick your poison.

Party's Over

Whenever I read a headline like this "In Its Rebound, Detroit Focuses on Selling Smaller Cars," I just want to bang my head against a desk.  How many times must this happen and happen late?  Detroit was surprised by the oil crises of the 1970s and then again and again since.  The lure of easy money by selling big cars packed with stuff always seems to trump the long term challenge--that oil is a scarce commodity subject to the ebbs and flows of international relations. 

Yes, these companies have gotten more serious about electric cars and hybrids, but only because they have been dragged here.  As I prepare to buy a new car (thanks to the maniacal inattentive school bus driver), I have only considered one company, Ford, and only if I cannot get a good deal from a South Korean company (Hyundai).  Sure, I would like to buy a hybrid, but they are out of my price range.  The good news is that the mileage (or, as I am always confused by here, litres per 100 km) is much better than it used to be, so the difference between Prius and Elantra is not so startk. 

Anyway, back to the point: short term profits seem to trump the long-term (which is not terribly surprising), but these companies hedge so very poorly that any price shock (plus a shock to capital markets) threatens their survival.  The funny thing is that Ford is said to have a "head start" by focusing on smaller cars five years ago.  Um, a head of whom?  GM and Chevy, yes.  Hyundia, Kia, Honda and the rest not so much.  The only good news is that Toyota has lost its sheen for being reliable and Honda is not so exalted these days either (plus as we found out, Hondas have been the target of thieves). 

This entire article is far too laudatory--the car companies are coming to the party after the party is over.  Yes, they can make a comeback and do ok, but they hav
He knew G.M. was on the right track when he parked one of the first new Cruzes off the assembly line at a supermarket in suburban Detroit, and a store employee rushed over to check it out. “She said, ‘I can’t believe Chevrolet is building a car this size that’s this good,’ ” Mr. Reuss said.e frittered away so much time and money that it reminds of the US effort in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Not good.
 Ah, the joy of low expectations!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Karzai Issues Last Warning

Ok, so Karzai has issued a "last warning" after the tragic raid/strike that lead to 14 Afghans being killed by NATO forces.  I understand he is engaged in position-taking for the domestic audience.  I understand that it is unfortunate that the international forces have made mistakes in this war.  Still, I would like Karzai to point out occasionally that the Taliban has killed three times as many civilians and its strategies aim at baiting the ISAF forces into killing civilians.

But go ahead, President Karzai, do what comes next: if this is the last warning, then that means that next time, he will do what?  Ask NATO to leave?  If so, then I guess that means it is time to go.  If Afghanistan is a sovereignty entity, then if the President asks the NATO forces to leave, then they should go. 

Karzai has been a very important source of mission failure, so if he wants to have the entire thing on his shoulders, then we all can save money and lives by leaving.  Again, I fear what will happen to the Afghans who did rely upon us, but if the elected (however flawed the election was) government wants us to leave, then we leave. 

Otherwise, what happens after a last warning?  Another one?  Or, he could suck it up just a bit and act like a leader and take some responsibility.  But that would be way out of character. 

We have run out of time and out of choices.

Why the Third Matrix Movie Sucked

Because it ended with an incredible bargain: that the computer and Neo would just agree to an unenforceable bargain with plenty of room for either side (especially the computer) to cheat and renege.  Why do I raise this now?  Because the government of Sudan seems to be pretty fixated on violating the accords that were to end the conflict.  The big question was always the oil-rich territories on the edge of North and South.  Now, Sudan is sending troops into this region.  So much for playing by the rules.

External guarantees really don't solve the problem when civil wars are ended, because it merely moves the credibility problem from between the actors in the country to the actors outside.  Given how much resentment there is in Libya towards the half-hearted NATO [new acronym--Nothing After Take Off]*, you can see why the government of Sudan is not deterred by the possibility of an outside intervention.
*  Reminds me of what folks would say about ISAF [I Saw Americans Fighting] and the CPA of Iraq [Cannot Produce Anything].
The warning lights are blinking, the alarms are sounding for Sudan and South Sudan.  Not that it matters much.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Delusional Democracy

Elitist blogpost of the month: does it make sense to have direct or indirect democracy when the people are so frickin' clueless?  Or does a fact-free/knowledge-free environment not really matter that much?

The prod today is a post at Steve Greene's blog: Americans radically over-estimate the percentage of gays and lesbians in society, with the plurality thinking the number is around one quarter.  Now, maybe this is good, because this misperception might cause people to realize it is not wise to discriminate against 25% of the people except that the survey also showed that this perception did not correlate with more or less tolerance. 

Steve links this misperception to the usual one--that Americans think lots more money is being spent on foreign aid than actually is the case. 

Good thing we have Fox News and its equivalents to provide us with good information about the situations around us.  Oh, and that internet thing is great since everything on it is true.  I am afraid that confirmation bias is everywhere. 

So much bad information.  Isn't democracy based on the idea that if the people have enough information and enough reason, the competition and debate among them will lead to the best outcomes?  Maybe not.  Of course, the old saw is still correct--democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Classic Comedy Loses A Laugh or Two

Jeff Conaway died today of a drug overdose.  Alan Sepinwall had a nice piece that considered Conway's career.  He attached a couple of key clips from Taxi. Including this classic, classic bit:

I am amused to see that Alex in this scene espouses a problem I became familiar with once I started teaching graduate students:  "What am I worried about? Two things: that they will not issue a license for him to drive in this city or that they will."

I am sorry that Conaway's life spiraled down from here.  At least, we have youtube to remember him by.

The New Deterrent?

Yesterday, I scoffed about the possibility that EU conditionality was all that important in the arrest of Ratko Mladic, even though the EU re-issued some threats quite recently.  Today, I scoff at the impact of the arrest.

The NYT editorial: "The arrest should be a warning to other butchers that they, too, will be caught and held to account, no matter how long it takes."

Um, about sixteen years after the fact? If one knows that one will be captured almost two decades after the crime, will that serve to deter?  This is especially questionable for middle-aged folks, as Mladic is now, apparently, far more impaired by health than by prison.  Heart attacks and strokes (too much fatty food while on the "run"?) have proved to be more punishing than the international community.

Sixteen years? Political scientists tend to assume that folks focus on the short term, not the long term.  I am pretty sure 16 years is the long term, and Keynes was right about what happens in the long run.

The funny thing is I am pretty sure that if we dig up enough NYT editorials, we might find one or more on how the US death penalty is not a deterrent precisely because it takes so long. 

I am not saying that picking up Mladic is a bad thing.  Not at all.  I am just saying we should not exaggerate how it will impact future genocidal types, who themselves are not known for engaging in long-term utility calculations.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Conditionality Works?!

With Serbia arresting the last big PIFWC (person indicted for war crime--my favorite NATO acronym)--Ratko Mladic (see my post about the previous arrest, of Karadzic), does this mean that I was wrong about the power of conditionality?  That is, the Steve and Bill book argues that we ought not overestimate the threats organizations like the European Union or NATO make about conditions for membership.  We argue there and elsewhere that the requirements are unenforced (Cyprus gets in despite not settling its ethnic problems, Romania and Bulgaria get in with their shaky rule of law); that the rules do not apply to members so that once you are in, you can go back to violating the rules; and so on.

But Serbia seems to have knuckled under to EU pressure and will be sending Mladic to The Hague stand trial for genocide, ethnic cleansing and all the rest.  But the pressure has been applied since 1995.  Can we say that conditionality worked if it took 16 years?  Oh, and enlargement is probably not a realistic option right now since the EU is focused on its own internal crises (driven by past poor decisions about ignoring conditions--letting Greece and others into the Euro zone).  So, the timing here is interesting--submitting to the PIFWC conditions when the conditions are least relevant, as opposed to earlier when other countries were in the queue to join the EU (despite not meeting other conditions).

I have not been following Serbia's politics closely, but this is still a very important decision, whether it is to suck up to the EU or not.  After all, a preceding leader of Serbia, Zoran Djindjić, was assassinated after sending Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague.  So, the stakes are quite high domestically.  Mladic was reputedly more popular than Karadzic, especially among Serbia's military and police.  If there are no nasty consequences from this, then this is an important development for civilian control of the military and Serbia's democratization.

Getting Mladic to stand trial for his crimes is a big victory for Bosnia, for Serbia, and for justice.  I just am not sure that the EU had a lot to do with it.

Update:  For one take by an expert.

Quebec Irony Du Jour

Jack Layton has been getting heaps of flak because his party has taken contradictory positions about Quebec secession.  The Clarity Act says that the federal Parliament would have a say on whether a question is clear enough to count and whether the outcome is clear enough to count, and then a negotiation would ensue.  This is based on a Supreme Court decision.  The Quebec sovereigntist position (and the position of other folks pandering to the nationalists) is that any referendum with a vote of fifty percent plus one is good enough.  I have ranted enough about this before--that 50% plus one is a lousy standard.

The fun point is this: Layton's party, the New Democratic Party [NDP], has more than half of its seats in .... Quebec.  So, yes, the pandering may have worked, but now what?  If there were a referendum and the 50% plus one rule played out, then Layton would find himself with less than half a party.  Or he could try to become a leader in newly independent Quebec, not that he would win or anything.  The irony is that his support of 50% plus one is suicidal politically in the extreme--if such a situation were to arise.

But, of course, if there were a referendum, I would count on the NDP supporting implementation of the Clarity Act--for its own survival, not out of principle.  Not that it matters much really, since the Conservatives a majority in the Parliament where fifty percent plus one is also the rule.*
* I think--I have no real understanding of the Canadian constitution. 
Still, the idea that the NDP's fate would be held hostage by a Quebec separatist effort is actually quite amusing, as long as we do not get close to it in reality.  

Progress On One Front

Despite what I said yesterday about not liking change, arresting Ratko Mladic, who commanded the troops at Srebrenica (biggest case of mass murder in Europe since World War II), is change I can believe in.  Indeed, as the tweets of the morning indicate, not a bad May (Bin Laden, Mladic) and not a bad 2011 with Mubarak and others losing power.

Mladic was THE most wanted war criminal from the Bosnian conflict.  And his arrest, along with that of Karadzic, means that the folks in ye old Balkan Pit of Despair (the J-5's desks on the Balkans) will have to change the talking points about the "redlines" of engaging Serbia.  Serbia has satisfied a crucial set of conditions--picking up the most wanted PIFWC's (Persons Indicted for War Crimes).  I have not been following Serbia closely to see how it is doing otherwise, but this is a big, big step, probably more so than Karadzic since Mladic had strong ties to Serbia's military.  Indeed, this is a real test/accomplishment for civilian control of the military.  Being able to do this (and hopefully not getting shot for it) shows that President Tadic is in command and not the military.

I can only ponder a world in which Serbia seems far more functional than Pakistan.

Of course, Serbia has other problems than this, but it is a good day for Serbia, for Bosnia, and for the international community after way too many bad days in the first half of the 1990s.  I'll leave it to the real experts on Bosnia to judge whether this matters anymore for Bosnia's present and future.

One last thought--just before the G8?  Is this timing accidental?  Or does Serbia want to get on major powers' agenda in a good way for a change?

Dead Parent Movie Escalation

When my daughter was younger, my wife and I would joke about most movies for the kids being "dead parent" movies.  Most of these would have at least one parent of the featured character killed on or off screen.  This, of course, starts with Bambi.  Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and all of the rest of the new Disney classics had dead parents.  So, we have come to wonder if Andy in the Toy Story series has a father or a second mother or what?

I forget all of the discussions we used to have about these as our teenage daughter is less interested in animated flicks these days.  The interest now is in Pirates of the Caribbean, which, now that I think of it, is also a dead parent movie, with both Kiera Knightley's character and Orlando Bloom's having at least one missing parent, right?

I guess getting rid of the parents allows us to focus on the child in the movie with which the children in the audience can empathize.  Anyhow, the inspiration of this post is the new escalation as seen in SPOILER ....

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Getting Conservative in My Old Age

Ok, I am not that conservative or that old, but I have come to realize that my views are far more conservative than I had thought, but not Conservative the way Stephen Harper defines it in Canada or the various Republicans do in the US.  I have realized that my starting stance on any policy change is: is it better or worse than the status quo?  I am realizing that change for the sake of change, either to return to some imagined past or to jump to some potentially wonder future, is not really the justification we need.  First rule for Doctors: do no harm.

So, in my running debate with the Anglophone nationalists (see here, here and here), I tend to worry more about how trying to change the status quo might do more harm than good (not to mention that change would require convincing enough Quebeckers, no easy trick).  To be clear, I am not Dolores Umbridge who said: "But progress for the sake of progress must be discouraged. Let us preserve what must be preserved and prune practices that ought to be...prohibited!"  She was hardly conservative as she imposed a bunch of new rules and practices, perhaps to bring Hogwarts back to an imagined past, but imposed radical changes to make this happen. 

I guess I am stuck on the meaning of conservative-as it has multiple and often conflicting definitions:
  1. disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.
  2. cautiously moderate or purposefully low: a conservative estimate.
Clause #1 has conflicting meanings, as preserving existing conditions and restoring traditional ones are not consistent.  I guess I tend to think of conservative as clause #2--cautiously moderate.  Obviously not a label that describes the fictional folks like Umbridge or the semi-fictional folks like Palin, Limbaugh, Bush II, and other "Conservatives."  In Canada, there is much concern about which definition will apply to Harper now that he is no longer constrained by minority government. 

My decision rule, at the end of the day, is that change is not always undesirable but that we should aim for changes that do the least harm, and that we should choose changes that harm those who are best able to weather the harm (that would be rich folks).  So, I am quite Liberal in my conservatism, I guess.  I am a progressive in the sense that I prefer change that improves things (to perfect the union, as Obama has put it often) rather than change to some idealized past (the 1950's were not such a great time for minorities, women, gays and lesbians, but other than that, it was swell, right?).

Does this post conflict with my earlier one where I say I don't like tradition?  No, because I do think that change that improves the status quo is perfectly fine and dandy especially even if it goes against tradition.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Responding to the Anglophone Nationalists

I have gotten a heap of comments from a variety of folks who I would consider members of the Anglophone nationalist community in Quebec.  Perhaps that is not an entirely accurate label, but let's debate that in another post (or in the comments to this one).

Is it ever acceptable, Tony asks, to infringe rights?  To be clear, my specialty in Political Science is not about rights--I have no expertise on the should questions and questions of rights.  I am a specialist on the whys of International Relations--why countries intervene or not, why countries delegate or not to their soldiers on the ground, why institutions might or might not foster ethnic outbidding.  So, I am an amateur on this kind of question.  But that has never stopped me before.  So, the answer is, um, yeah.  A gun rights advocate from Texas would find living in Canada to be oppressive since one cannot buy semi-automatic handguns at the local Walmart here.  Taxes can be seen as oppressive.  What is a right is often hotly debated.  Which is more important:  individual rights vs rights of the community?  I, as an American, focus much, much more on individual rights rather than collective ones, but that does not mean that collective rights are inherently undemocratic (I leave that to the political philosophers).

How Can One Tell I Am Not a Baby Boomer?

I am not a big fan of Bob Dylan.  I think the post-boomers vary in how much they appreciate Bob Dylan, but he does not have a mythic status that is widely shared.  I just don't get the fascination that the boomers have with Dylan.  Some of his songs are pretty good, but mostly, I think he is over-rated.  People will say that he is a great song-writer, but it is hard for me to tell since I have a tremendous urge to change the channel as soon as I hear his voice.  Plus I am a lousy judge of song-writing, so I have to cede people the argument that he has been a great song-writer.  Still, I think the Dylan as icon or not is a big divider between most boomers and most of us who are not.  Give me the Beatles any day.

Will this post antagonize more people than my recent ones on Anglophone nationalism?  Probably.  Will it distract the latter?  Absolutement non.

When Good News Is Spun Badly

Crime continues to go down.  More than we expected, especially in a bad economy.  This article continues significant frustration that the models seem to be broken.  But isn't this a "good news" story?  I would think that the story would have less frustration and more, ahem, glee since fewer people are getting killed (with NY and Philly as notable exceptions).  And having the experts say:
“Remarkable,” said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University. “Given the fact that we have had some healthy declines in recent years, I fully expected that the improvement would slow. There is only so much air you can squeeze out of a balloon.”
Um, a city or country is not like a balloon.  We are far from empty.  Yes, crime is historically low, but it is not at or near zero.  Sure, my car was not stolen this year (just rammed by a school bus), nor did I lose any computers to theft this year, but there are still thefts, rapes and murders.  Less of them, but still not close to "squeezed balloon" status.

Anyway, the tenor of the entire piece is one of disappointment that we don't know why the numbers are down rather than taking seriously a big jump in the quality of life, even during a bad recession and with stagnant wages over the past decade.  Perhaps a new model of crime might have been useful.  Surely, there must be some sociologist/criminologist that has a take on this.

Here is one theory that was not brought up: the population is still aging.  Older folks do less crime.  Plus more of our youth are in prison than ever before (more or less), so perhaps we just have fewer people in the right demographic out on the streets.  Which suggests a way to get crime even lower--let's imprison even more of the population.  Oh, we are running out of space, huh? The bright side is that with California being compelled to release tens of thousands of prisoners, we can test my hypothesis that rounding up all the young folk might be doing the trick.  If California's crime rate does not jump up after the 30k-40k jailed folks are released, then there might be something else going on. 

The key takeaway is that the NYT can depress us even with good news.  Well done.

NATO Reads My Blog?

Is it a coincidence that NATO significantly increased its bombing campaign, focusing on and near Qaddafi's compound just after I post a game on when Qaddafi will lose power?  Maybe, maybe not.  On the other hand, they may just be trying to beat the latest ash cloud.

This is Tripoli lit up by last night's attacks (From this twitpic: http://twitpic.com/51ux58  From a twitter account named ChangeinLibya).

Monday, May 23, 2011

Deja Vu All Over Again, Or Libyan Pool O' Regime Change

I already suggested elsewhere that Libya seems to be a lot like the Kosovo campaign of 1999:
  • The wish that bombing would easily/quickly lead to the desired outcome.
  • The stated refusal to put boots on the ground.
  • The impatience of the public media.
And now the French and British are deploying attack helicopters.  My guess is that these helos will get more use than the American ones deployed to Albania in 1999, but that would not be hard since none of the US helos were actually used.  The US military and the Clinton administration worried far more than Wesley Clark, who was heading NATO's military at the time, about helos being shot down.  Because the French and the British pushed this effort and face heaps of criticism for sucking the US and NATO into another endless war in the Mideast, they have a bit more enthusiasm and willingness to take risks than Clinton did in 1999.

More importantly, it is a good thing I held off on posting a new game (in honor of the anniversary of the end of Lost and my fantasy game).  When will Qaddafi lose power?  Either to violence or to quitting?  Rather than holding a draft, I am simply going to offer up options and folks choose via comments which time period they will take (or none at all):
First, one can choose the rest of May--that Qaddafi will fall soon, very soon.
Second choice is first week of June (1st-7th), perhaps hoping that the anniversary of Kosovo is a harbinger of things to come.
Next: June 8th-20th--Qaddafi just wants to outlast Milosevic's record.
June 20th to July 3rd--things start to get too hot for Qaddafi, jail cell in cool Hague sounds good.
July 4th--if it is good enough for Will Smith, it is good enough for Qaddafi.
July 5th-28th--Qaddafi wants to give a gift to me or my many relatives who have a birthday in this period.
July 29th-August 30th--Qaddafi wants to sneak out while most of Europe is on vacation.
August 31st-Sept 4th--Big events seem to happen during the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (Katrina), so Qaddafi will quit while most of the American experts are otherwise indisposed.
Sept 5th to the end of the year--slow but steady wins the race?
Last possible choice: Qaddafi lasts as long as the world (if the world ends on Jan 1st 2012).  This is the choice for the NATO doubters--that the effort fails and Qaddafi sticks around.

In this game, the choice is Q or not Q.  If Qaddafi is replaced by a military regime, that is still a win for NATO for the purposes of this game.  After all, we do not know what the outcome is in Egypt, except for Mubarak is gone.

My bet would be on the middle of June.  One of these compounds that NATO hits will eventually hit Q or his supporters will start to step away from him.

Oh, and the stakes: if you win, you get to have a guest post here at the Spew where you can post whatever you like, including most embarrassing tale about me.

Burden-Sharing Continued

From the Guardian via the Atlantic Council.  The little things are supposed to represent number of cruise missiles fired.

Of course, numbers can be deceptive as the Canadians have been most proud of conducting the fourth highest number of bomb-dropping sorties (after the US, UK, and France) despite having a smaller force than the Italians.  Italy only got into the bomb dropping game late (at least by word, not sure if they have really been conducting much in the way of air strikes).  The non-NATO Arab world is represented by three countries and 32 planes, although none appear to be dropping bombs.  The article is mostly, ahem, on target, but notes more surprise than it should by the Danish effort, given its forward-leaning behavior in Afghanistan.  This mission really is not that surprising, given what the Danes have been doing lately.  The Norwegians and the Swedes are not that surprising either as they have engaged in offensive operations in Afghanistan, even if they have been restricted to the northern part of the country.  Belgium is perhaps one of the biggest surprises given that it still does not have a government. 

But this kind of figure may cause us to overlook those that are omitted. Most notably: Germany.  But who else is not participating in this effort: Poland, Portugal, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Baltics, Albania, Croatia, and Slovenia.  Most of these do not have much of a naval capability, and I am not sure how inter-operable many of these are yet since most of these are new-ish members.  Poland, which has been quite the burden-bearer in Afghanistan, can get a pass here.  Portugal is really the only country, other than Germany, that has some available capability that is not being deployed for this cause.

So, once again, Germany does not quite fit, even though there is evidence that the German people are bigger fans of this mission than their government.

More on Libya later today.

I Am a Bad Nationalist

No surprise really that I am a bad nationalist.  My post on Yoda and nationalism has gotten a couple of angry responses from the Anglophone nationalist community.  I apparently stumbled upon the angry hornet's nest of the anti-Bill 101 movement.  My first reaction to this is: have they not read other posts in my blog?  A quick search on Quebec or separatism or secession will show a multitude of posts where I am rather critical of Quebec separatism, that I am not pleased by efforts to extend Bill 101 rules to higher education (or day care) or to private school.

But such opposition to changes in the status quo are not sufficient for these folks: they want to roll back Bill 101 itself.  I understand their frustration and their desires, and  I agree with many of their views about Bill 101 and the notwithstanding clause.  Yet I am hardly sure that this would be the best thing for the Anglophone community in Quebec.  The passage of Bill 101 and its various implementations has meant that those who are concerned about the survival of French as a language and Quebec as a distinct society do not have to fight for independence.  Bill 101 was a defeat for the sovereigntist movement as it has taken much of the wind out of the sails.  Yes, the Bill has been harmful to the Anglophone community, especially the school system.  But I am pretty sure the status quo is better than being in an independent Quebec.  Without Bill 101, the 1995 referendum might have gone the other way.  A reversal of Bill 101 now would energize a movement that has been flailing along.

But nationalists do not consider tradeoffs--their way or the highway, more or less.  What would replace Bill 101? A stronger separatist movement.  Lovely.  So, I see their point, but wonder if pushing for rollback helps or hurts the cause of preventing Bill 101 from being applied beyond where it applies today.  Maybe their mobilization would be better aimed at issues where Francophones and Anglophones largely agree--like continuing to allow students to choose freely their CEGEP (the two year semi-junior college unique to Quebec).

I have often said that the separatists should give up their fight, since they have lost twice, and focus on improving the lives of those who live in a Quebec that remains in Canada.  The same is true for the Anglophones--they should focus on the same.  Fighting a lost battle that will not be won anytime in the foreseeable future is a waste of time and energy that could have been spent on something more productive.

But my willingness to cut my losses and be practical makes me a sucky nationalist.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Upon Further Review

The regular network TV seasons (setting aside HBO, AMC, etc) that is currently ending was excellent and bad.  The returning shows that I like mostly had very good seasons: Chuck, Big Bang Theory, the Mentalist, Parks and Rec, Community, Friday Night Lights (not done yet on NBC, long past tense via DirectTV).  The new shows were mostly bad and disappointing--especially the Cape and No Ordinary Family.  I stuck with the latter longer than the former, but it became quite clear that both were dead.  The only new show that I will miss is Chicago Code.  It was a fun, not so realistic take on Chicago politics and police stuff.  Not The Wire by any stretch, but entertaining. 

I have been following the upfronts--where the networks explain their decisions for next fall--via Alan Sepinwall, Dan Fienberg and Tim Goodman, my favorite TV critics.  I have no excitement about any of the shows slated for next fall, although a few look pretty good.  I am going to hold off for awhile on any judgment given how tragically off I was for this past year (not even going to link to my predictions at the beginning of last fall).

The best news is that the non-traditional networks have been pumping out heaps of great TV: Game of Thrones, Mad Men (last fall and not again until 2012), Waking Dead, Breaking Bad (currently catching up via late night broadcasts of the first two seasons--I love my DVR), The Killing (not as great as the others, but still interesting).  The increasingly big cost of living in Canada is that we don't get FX, so Justified is now on my Father's Day list.

Summer is coming (like the winter in Winterfel), but there is still plenty to watch.  Plus I hope to finish my Wire quest this summer along with catching up with Breaking Bad and perhaps starting on The Shield.

And, yes, I hope to finish a book and go to Australia.  I guess I will have to just cut back on the lawn maintenance effort.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Reality Provides Social Science Experiment

Is it Harper or is it about minority government?  That is the question of the day/week/month/year.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper was adamant that there would be no boots on the ground in Afghanistan after the Canadian mission in Kandahar ends in July.  Then, he came up with a new training mission that was to be Kabul but is now Kabul-centric since there were not enough slots in Kabul itself.  And now the allies are seeing the new majority government as being perhaps more willing to stick around in Kandahar.

So, we have a nice apples and apples or apples and oranges comparison since we have the same leader, the same foreign policy challenge and so on, and only one big difference--going from minority government to majority.  The Auerswald and Saideman book in progress (July as an end-date?) does focus on such things as the nature of the government, so on one hand, we expect that this might make a difference.  However, we also find in the book that minority governments are not as paralyzed as people would aver, as it really depends on who bears the onus of cooperating.  That is, does the government need to get some part of the opposition to cooperate?  In which case, the government is weak and restrictions are likely.  Yet if the opposing parties must cooperate among themselves, then the government may actually have a free hand.

Thus, it should make a difference if the government is majority or minority.  BUT our book has a second step in it--when individuals are empowered (as in Presidential systems and single party parliamentary governments), the personality of that individual matters.  Perhaps Harper himself is not a big fan of the combat mission, especially since his control freak-iness is constrained when it comes to the fighting.*  So, to have more control, he might be inclined to stay out of combat.
*  There are big risks if a leader does micro-manage a war effort--as he/she then becomes directly responsible for anything going wrong, and Afghanistan is a place where lots of things can and do go wrong--IED's, prison breaks, corruption, etc.
So, I am less sanguine about the chances of Canadians being sent to southern Afghanistan than the allies.  But as a social scientist, I am keen to see how the experiment plays out.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Left Wing Canadians Flee South to More Progressive U.S.

No headlines like that?  Really?  I got asked in 2002 and interviewed in 2004 about whether Americans would run north to escape the Bush Administration.  It is only fair to ponder whether the Canadians who fear an empowered Harper majority government might flee south. 

Why are American newspapers and radio stations not pondering such a wave of left-immigration?  I can think of two reasons:
  • American media outlets simply do not care about Canada, so they have not noticed that a Harper majority government might be any different than the previous five or so years of a Harper minority government.
  • Americans may be arrogant and narcissistic, but not quite as smug.  The whole "Americans are fleeing north" mythology flowed nicely from myths Canadians tell each other to feel better about themselves and about living where it is really cold. Just like the mythologies about health care.   
Anyhow, I just wanted to point out the absence of such a theme in the post-election coverage.  Of course, there is plenty of hysteria here that we do not need to consider any below the border. 

Is this post produced by the post-traumatic stress bitterness of being rammed by a school bus?  Maybe.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Door is Over There

I took part in a panel on Peacebuilding yesterday at the Center for International Governance Innovation [CIGI], which was part of the larger Canadian Political Science Association annual meeting.  My panel was on Afghanistan, and it was most striking how most of the folks were already using the word "failure" to describe the mission.  I was uncomfortable with that, not because I am a wild-eyed optimist about the international effort to help Afghanistan become a semi-stable semi-self sustaining state, but because I am reluctant to call it a day quite yet. 

I have been arguing for a while that we have not really been doing "this" for nine or ten years, but that only in the past year or two have there been both enough troops and a relatively coherent strategy to do counter-insurgency.  Before that, the Canadians in Kandahar and the British and Danes in Helmand and the Dutch/Aussies in Uruzgan and the Americans all over the place were mostly "mowing the grass" or serving as fire brigades--clearing insurgents out of a spot but not enough of them to hold the territory.   The mantra of clear, hold, build was always problematic even before one factors in the Karzai government doing the building because there were not enough troops to do the holding.  Anyhow, with the Obama surge, there are now enough troops to be effective. 

So, the real test was not the violence last year but the violence this year.  Last year was more violent with the influx of troops, which produced more patrols, more contact, and thus more opportunities for violence.  This year, the expectation would be for less violence as the ISAF/Afghan National Army [ANA]would have more control over more territory (see Kalyvas for control and COIN).

Of course, the really big problem is that COIN and the surge are aimed at creating space for the politicians to do stuff to persuade the citizens that the government is deserving of their support--by providing services and improving their lives.  Or, at the very least, not being rapacious and exploitative.  We may be doomed to fail because our partners, Karzai and his pals, are so very flawed. 

Surprising Email Du Jour: Defence Dept Spreading Survey Results

I just got an email from Canada's military--a press release from Ipsos Reid on a survey of many countries about the Libya mission:
A majority (60%) of citizens from 23 countries support the actions of a number of countries that are part of NATO, and with the support of the Arab League, to enforce a no‐fly‐zone and intervene militarily in Libya.
Most likely to support this action is South Africa (83%), followed by Belgium (83%), Australia (77%), India (75%), France (72%), Sweden (71%), Canada (70%), Brazil (68%), Japan (68%), Spain (64%), South Korea (63%), Poland (62%), the United States (61%), Germany (59%), Great Britain (58%), Hungary (54%), Mexico (53%), and Italy (52%).
Of all the countries surveyed, those countries least likely to support the mission are: Russia (23%), Turkey (35%), Argentina (38%), Indonesia (46%) and Saudi Arabia (50%).
Not too many surprises really.  Thus far, the mission has had no casualties on the part of the interveners, Qaddafi has continued to provide good reasons for those who hate him to continue doing so, and so we can expect support to be pretty positive.  Given that NATO is dropping bombs on Muslims, the Saudi and Indonesian results are actually pretty positive.  Shows how much the Saudis hate Qaddafi.

The results also show that Merkl really blew it--the pacifist Germans to support the bombing campaign about as much as the trigger-happy cowboys (that would be the US and the Brits). 

It is funny that the Brits are the least enthused of the Commonwealth countries (South Africa, Australia, India, Canada).  That is surprising.  Any reactions from the readers?

Yoda on Nationalism

"Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."

Why is Yoda relevant this morning?  Because we are seeing a bit of a fear to hate to suffering spiral in Quebec.  
"Serge Provost, the leader of the Patriotic Militia of Quebec, is accused of making the threats against Hugo Shebbeare, an organizer of an anti-Bill 101 protest which was held on April 17 in Montreal."  source
Bill 101 is the law that guarantees the supremacy of French in Quebec in all kinds of ways, including government, business, education and so on. Shebbeare wanted to protest this law since it is, ahem, rather unfortunate for the Anglophone minority. 

Opposition/protest clearly does not justify death threats: '"I strongly advise you to tell your daughter you love her, and that you're doing this on her behalf, because you may not make it back home alive the night of April 17," said the message, which Shebbeare provided to CBC.'

This situation is a deviation from the non-violent, only mildly rude nationalist politics here in Quebec.  Neither guy here is all that representative of his community.  Most Anglophones do not like Bill 101, but have accepted it as a reality.  They don't want it expanded to cover the smallest businesses, federal offices (except for Jack Layton and the NDP), or higher education (neither do Francophones on this last point).  Francophones do not advocate violence against the Anglophone minority, except for the Patriotic Militia.

Still, the government is prosecuting Provost for issuing a death threat.  The importance here is that this thus far has been all talk.  But, as the wise Jedi Master suggests, fear and anger lead to hate and suffering.  I know that I post a lot of critical stuff about Quebec nationalism here, and will continue to do so.  But I will try to remember this ruckus and try to avoid the dark side of anger and hate.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

IR is Not Fair

Nor is it a meritocracy.  Somaliland is functional yet unrecognized.  Somalia is the epitome of a failed state but has a seat at the UN.  Still, we should say to Somaliland: Happy Birthday!!  The linked piece is an excellent short summary of the accomplishments of Somaliland with comparison to Somalia.

Does the fact that nobody recognizes Somaliland mean that I am wrong about the vulnerability thesis?  That is, I have long argued that countries are not so restrained by the fear of secession and are willing to support secessionists elsewhere (see my dissertation, really, go ahead, we can wait.  Ok, just buy my first book).  Um, not quite.  I argued that countries will support secessionists if they feel as if it is in their interests, especially domestic political ones, and that vulnerability to secession will not restrain them.

So, the question I have to answer is why no one is compelled to support Somalia.  The problem with the ethnic ties argument (again, see my dissertation, my book, and nearly everything I wrote before 2009) is that it is indeterminate in this case.  That is, nearly anyone that has ethnic ties to the folks in Somaliland also have ties to Somalia as the major differences between the two hunks of land are not racial, religious, or linguistic (perhaps a bit linguistic but not much), but of kinship (clan) and of history (pre-1960, the Brits colonized the north and the Italians the south).*
*  Is it an accident that the most dysfunctional part of Somalia was previously ruled by the Italians?  I am not suggesting or implying that.  Just noting the correlation.
 So, fear of vulnerability can trump ethnic politics because ethnic politics is not pushing anyone to do anything.
Still, folks are willing to see Sudan fall apart, so why not recognize Somaliland at last?  Because international relations is not about merit (we can suggest other realms are also merit-free, lets move on).  Taiwan is more functional than 97% of the countries in the UN, but China says nay. 

Anyhow, let's all celebrate Somaliland's birthday by not recognizing it happening.   Ooops.

Show Me the Money!

Or not.  So, we now have the numbers to show that social scientists are not keeping up with inflation.  Not surprising in an era of furloughs and freezes.  I cannot complain too much as McGill has delayed but not frozen pay increases. 

But this reminds us that we are not in this business for the big bucks.  With the decline of tenure track positions, lifetime job security may become less of an incentive.  I have always told aspiring PhD students that one must have a passion for the stuff--an unquenchable curiosity to understand the political world around us. 

Of course, I am writing this while sitting in the audience of a panel at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, which is funded by one of the guys behind Blackberry.  The building is stunning--former Seagram's whiskey brewery.  So, there is some money in this business, and I have been spoiled by having access to grant money to travel to Europe and Australia, plus a defence dept junket to Afghanistan.  And I am not paid a pauper's wages.  So, life is pretty good even if my car was rammed by a school bus.

Yet, we must worry about the future of social science.  If wages decline and tenure is not longer a realizable dream, who will become the next generation of scholars who study politics, society, and the way of the humans?  Luckily, we have developed a system that takes advantage of the dreamers, promising a career that may not exist for much longer. 

Ah, the bus accident has depressed me.  The good news is that the current generation of grad students can find jobs if they work really hard, develop interesting projects and present themselves well.  There are no guarantees, but two of my students did get good tenure track positions this past fall.  I have reasonably realistic expectations about the next ones.

The attractions of the job remain--freedom to explore one's interests, to interact with college students who inquire and push and amuse, to have communal bosses with much slippage (departments cannot control individuals nearly as well as individual bosses in corporations can make people miserable), to control one's schedule and shape how one uses their time. 

It has never really been about the money.  We just have to remember that while we pay for our DVR and our new smartphones and our wifi access.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Canada is Bad for Cars

Regular readers and irregular ones can ignore this week's likely theme of bitterness about cars and Canada, but it is my party blog and I can cry rant if I want to.  When moving to Canada, if I thought about cars at all, it would have been about wondering how the winters might impact the cars--salt, potholes, slipping and sliding away, and all that. 

But, nay, the big threats to cars here in Montreal, aside from chunks of crumbling overpasses, are: thieves and school buses.  If your car gets stolen (warning: do not park in the parking lots for the commuter trains--a bazaar for car thieves), the replacement may get crushed by a bus.  The only good news is that snow plows only seem to kill pedestrians.  So, no worries there for my next car.  I hope.

Yes, I am miffed.  I went almost thirty years between accidents.  The first one was my fault.  This one--I was moving so slowly as I approached the stop sign that I could not dodge, dip, duck, dive or dodgeThe bus driver was so blasé, like he careened off of small cars all the time.  And car shopping in Montreal is such a pleasure.  Closed on weekends, they tend not to be that interested in selling cars, which is actually worse than the hyper-active car salesman one tries to hide from while checking out cars in the US.

The funny thing is that we were thinking of replacing our other car--since it is about as old as our 16 year old dog.  But nope, now we have to replace the young (7 years old) car.  
Ok, enough ranting for the day. 

Getting Published

Here is a good short piece on submitting to journals.  And one should take note of the dual definition of submit: giving the piece to the journal for review AND then doing whatever the reviewers want once you get a revise and resubmit.  Submit as in given in, surrender your ego, and suck it up.  Perfectionists and purists have something in common--they don't get published much.  It is, indeed, a social science--we learn from each other as we try to persuade each other that our ideas are interesting and our arguments are persuasive.  If the folks who read one's stuff are unconvinced, then one needs to consider what it takes. 

And less literature review, as this piece suggests and as I have ranted, might just be one way to go.  Yes, you may alienate a potential reviewer for not citing his or her stuff, but putting all potential reviewers to sleep to minimize the risk of offending a potential ego-centric reviewer is never a good idea.  True, there are heaps of people who are ego-centric who might be your reviewer, but all of us can fall asleep.  Best to go with the odds--and make it interesting and not bore the reader with endless review. 

Mission Creeper

I was highly amused by this quote, reported in MILNEWS.ca:
Mulling an extended mandate for Canadian Forces in the Libyan war zone will be a top priority issue for the new crop of MPs. Parliament is set to begin June 2 — just two weeks before the current mission is scheduled to end on June 16. NDP MP and foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said the Official Opposition is not opposed to a possible extension beyond the three-month mandate, but he wants a more defined role and greater emphasis on diplomatic and humanitarian objectives. “I’m not suggesting that we’d say no, but it would have to be something we would look at and want it to be a role for Canada to play,” he told iPolitics. “We’re all concerned about mission creep.” ….”
Um, the NDP is going to need to get its act together: right now the mission is about bombing--focusing on diplomacy and humanitarian objectives would be an extension of the effort: mission creep.

But, of course, this makes sense.  The party has usually taken pacifist positions, so supporting a bombing campaign is a bit out of character, even if it is the most sincere application of Responsibility to Protect.  The challenge is how to support the removal of Qaddafi when the big Q refuses to go away non-violently?  While there is a role for humanitarian efforts, such as providing shelter to those who flee and dropping food and medicine to the "liberated" parts of Libya, I am confused as to what would be the diplomatic effort.  That is, sure, Canada needs to continue to work with NATO, the US, France, and so on to coordinate the effort, but Qaddafi is not interested in bargaining and has proved to be less than credible.  So, saying that we need to do more diplomatic stuff is a way to be critical without offering any insight or potential improvements.

But we must cut the NDP a break--they are new to being the second largest party, and most of the MPs in all of the parties don't have much expertise on foreign and defence policy.  Before this past election, holding the government accountable on defence meant obsessing about detainees rather than about the quality of the effort in Afghanistan.  Again, a simple symbolic stand* rather than actually pushing the government to take seriously questions about the mission itself.
*  I don't want to say that detainee abuse is not important or that the Conservative government has not ducked accountability on this.  Just that the mission itself is far more important than this one aspect, especially since the question is not of Canadians abusing detainees or sub-contracting abuse a la rendition, but just facing the difficult situation of doing COIN in a country that has a history of barbarous treatment of prisoners. 
Where is the Canadian Richard Lugar?  Maybe I will find one while wondering around Ottawa next month.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Excuse of the Week

If I blog less, sound strange or just odd this week, it is because I got hit by a bus.  A fully laden school bus:
I thought it was a glancing blow at first.  Well, it was for the bus.  Not so much for my car.  I am ok, but dazed not so much by the impact but by the silliness of it all.  I was coming a stop sign, and was actually slowing down almost to a stop.  Well, I did stop about 6-7 meters from the stop sign as the bus driver made a left turn cutting the corner so much that he cut off my car's front corner.  Good times.  I hope the kids in the bus are ok.  They didn't seem all that bothered by it. 

Now is the plug for Allstate.  They did a great job when our car was stolen--we got enough cash back to buy this green car.  We shall see whether my seven-eight year old Mazda is totaled or not.  It did not start afterwards....

Anyhow, that is my strange story of the week and my excuse for the short term for any and all mistakes I make.

Ironic Separatists

I love that the Parti Quebecois is thrilled that the Scottish Nationalist Party won a majority of seats in the Scottish parliament with a promise of a referendum on independence sometime down the road.  The PQ is seeing the Scots as a model, which is the delightful irony.  Why?  Because the PQ has won majorities in provincial elections before and then sometimes launching referenda on independence and then losing.  Yes, it is historic that the SNP won, but it was apparently in part a protest vote against Tories and the austerity measures.  Real enthusiasm for Scottish independence is below.... wait for it ....  50%! 

So, the PQ is happy to have company.  Terrific, there can be more than one regional nationalist party that promises independence but fails to reach it!  The more, the merrier, right?

I guess the PQ is desperate for good news in the aftermath of the decimation* of the Bloc in the federal elections.  Not only that, but despite how miserable the provincial Liberals have performed, they have narrowed the gap with the PQ a bit AND Charest is still seen as a more attractive candidate than the PQ's Marois. 
* and no, that is not the correct use of the word as it would imply the Bloc losing 10% of its seats rather than, ahem, 90%. 
So, woo-hoo, Scots!  But don't count on a successful referendum there, PQ.  The SNP may just be re-enacting Quebec's past but with a delightful Scottish accent.

Monday Book Review

I finished a couple of books over the past few week, and I have been blog a few thoughts.  But it has been a busy few weeks with Osama, Canadian elections, a new column at Current Intelligence and the end to a pretty fun TV season.

So, first, I read Bing West's book on Afghanistan, The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy and the Way Out of Afghanistan.  As others have noted, the last part of the title is almost entirely missing from the book.  There is no new way out here.  But I will get to that in a minute.  The best part of the book is West's incredible effort to live with and document the experiences of American troops in some of the toughest spots in Afghanistan: Kunar and Helmand.  Grit, indeed.  West shows his own grit and and that of the Americans in harm's way.  He also does an excellent job of showing many of the contradictions involved in this war--trying to build up local capacity while distrusting the Afghan government.  He also shows quite clearly how under-manned the US is in the East.  There are simply not enough troops to hold enough ground out there.  It would have been nice for him to contrast that with Southern Afghanistan, where there is some progress (sustainable or not) in large part because that is where the commitment has been made of late.

It would have been nice for West to hang out with some of the other contingents, if only to help out my research agenda.  

West is quite critical of the war, especially of the civilians running it.   I think it s kind of strange that West notes many of the challenges but does not seem to recognize that the leaders have faced a series of bad alternatives.  There is no magic solution for getting Pakistan to be more helpful (we are constantly reminded), for instance.  Likewise, fighting a war against an enemy that seeks to endanger the civilians presents all kinds of challenges.  This has lead to fairly onerous procedures for calling in air-support.  But the alternative of dropping bombs in a carefree way seems a mistake as well.  Again, there are tradeoffs with no easy choices, but West does not seem to get that. 

And the choice is not really between killing and giving assistance. Population centric warfare involves a fair amount of "kinetic" efforts--killing the Taliban to clear and then hold.  So, rather than posing a false alternative between aid and fighting as West does, we need to figure out what kind of aid to deliver, how to deliver it, and fight the fight at the same time.

West ends with only a few pages on the "Way Out."  Negotiations will not work because we are not strong enough, he says I guess that leads training the Afghans, but the argument becomes distracted at the end.  The reality is that we are doing that already--every NATO contingent is now saying that it is focused on training so that the Afghans can do the job. But it requires some security for that to happen, which means that ISAF cannot thin down very quickly.

Finally, I cannot hep but get upset at the usual canard: "Our mistake in Afghanistan was to do the work of others for ten years...."  Ten years?  Really?  No, the US did not take this effort seriously until the past couple of years.  LTG Barno was told by Rummy in 2003-04 not to do counter-insurgency and then replaced him with someone who would not violate expectations. 

So, I would recommend this book for its depiction of modern combat in a difficult spot.  But not for its policy recommendations, as West notes all of the conflicting pressures and challenges, and then ignores them when it comes time to his recommendations.

West constantly notes that the Afghans are not standing up for themselves.  Really? How big is the Afghan National Army these days?  The Afghan National Police?  Given that both of these are softer targets than the ISAF forces, the indigenous forces have been taking huge and frequent hits.  So, we need to be careful about saying that the Afghans are not staying up for themselves.  True, we are not getting as much actionable intel as we would like (although probably more than West recognizes).  Why?  We have a credibility problem, not so much a hearts and minds problem--we say we are going to leave sometime soon.  Even if we did not say it, they would still fear it.  So, why side with the US and its allies now when they will be gone in three or five  or ten years, and the bad guys will still be around?  Only if they believed that the Afghan government would show up and use its powers effectively and without abusing them does it truly make sense for the Afghans to get off of the fence.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

It Gets Better

Who is more retrograde?  The military, finally ending don't ask, don't tell?  Or the sporting world, where a story like this is news?  For an NBA executive to have to hide his homosexuality is just appalling.  Good to see that Rick Welts has gotten heaps of support from the Commissioner, from Bill Russell, from Steve Nash, and others.  But, damn, this is a story that should have been told in the early 1990's.  But, no, we still have heaps of homophobes in and near the game, as Kobe Bryant proved earlier this season.  One can say that one does not mean anything by calling someone gay* or a faggot, but that just such bs.  We have a panoply of curse words and insults, so if the first one that comes to mind has to do with the sexuality of the man (or woman), that says far more about the utter-er than the target. 
* Gay is still one of the standard insults in the chat box during online poker games.  Usually, it not only reveals that the player is immature but also a crappy poker player.  Holy tells, Batman!

Sure, I had homophobic attitudes when I was a teen and felt insulted when someone called me gay, but then I grew up.  Too bad more folks cannot just grow the hell up.  I hope that the efforts of Dan Savage and others will make a difference.  I will say that this ad campaign is moving and touches me every time I see it.  Surveys do show that attitudes are changing.  Better late than never?  Absolutely. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Up in the Air: A Bird? A Plane? A Series Finale

Last night was the end of Smallville.  I have long been ambivalent about the show, as it has had much good stuff, but also heaps of lame.  Last night's episode appropriately had both, but it had enough chill scenes* that made it a good way to go out.
*  A scene that gives you goosebumps--from Bill Simmons's Sports Guy columns.
 Spoilers, of course, await below:

Over-Reacting to the Obvious

Canadian newspapers have been suggesting that we should be shocked and surprised that: (a) the US put some pressure on the Canadians to stick around in Kandahar; and (b) that Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he'd think about it. I wonder what this says about US-Canadian relations that these "revelations" via wikileaks are the best they can do.  Let's unpack this, shall we?

First, of course the US did not want Canada to leave Kandahar in July 2011.  For one thing, the Canadians have proven to be among the most reliable and effective troops in Afghanistan.  That may or may not be saying that much, given how many other countries have not been willing to deploy to the hardest parts of Afghanistan.  Moreover, it is one thing for the Dutch to leave since they had a government fall over this issue, but it is another thing for a stalwart ally like Canada to be an early departer.  So, the US didn't want the Canadians start a stampede towards the door.  So, no one but no one should be surprised the US wanted Canada to stay.  Even so, I remember op-eds and letters to the editor over the past couple of years with Canadians being upset that the US was asking the Canadians to stick around.  They should have taken it as a compliment.

Second, the articles on this "news" seem to suggest that Harper was being two-faced with the Canadian people--that he was saying no to anymore combat to the public but thinking about it in conversations with the Americans.  Given the outcome, a non-combat mission in relatively safer parts of Afghanistan, it should be pretty clear that Harper was more honest with the Canadians than the Americans. 
His comments appeared to give hope to U.S. officials that "the minority government of Prime Minister Harper may not have actually ruled out extending Canada's 2,800-member military contingent, including combat forces, in Kandahar beyond 2011."
This gets to the larger points about wikileaks: (a) governments will soft-pedal their resistance to requests so that the relationships are not damaged; (b) the US diplomats reporting stuff back home may be wrong.  Harper told the Americans that he would think about it--that is hardly a commitment of any kind.  It was a way to put off the Americans without making any kind of commitment at all.  The Americans, guilty of wishful thinking, sent back reports that suggested that the Canadians would change their minds.  They should have (and probably did) sent back reports observing that domestic dynamics and Harper's lack of enthusiasm for the mission would make an extension highly unlikely.  Indeed, wikileaks does not put out a complete set of cables--just those that would be most embarrassing.  So, the ones where the US diplomats accurately gauge the Canadian stance have not been released, if they exist.

Which gets to a larger point--if this is the kind of stuff that they think is most embarrassing and potentially harmful to the relationship (since that does seem to be the goal of wikileaks--to sow discord), then US-Canadian relations are pretty healthy.  If this "controversy" is the best they got, then perhaps US-Canadian relations are extremely boring.   Not a bad thing.