Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Random Election Post

The votes are coming in for the Florida primary and there are so many ways to spin a Romney 46%, Gingrich 32%, Santorum 13% (the numbers at CNN at the moment, 95% reporting).
  • Landslide for Romney.
  • Divided GOP, as two opponents essentially match Romney.  In other words, not Romney ~ Romney.  
  • One third of the GOP prefers serial adulterer/Clinton-electing*/moon-fantasizing/flip-flopping  lobbyist.  So much for the party of family values and the defense of marriage.  Just an awful excuse for a human being yet a large hunk of the Republicans who turned out prefer him to Romney, Santorum and Paul.  Exactly what does Gingrich have to offer as he is the most unelectable candidate (well, except for Santorum ... and maybe Paul)?  He can fake being smart, but only if smart means coming up with strange ideas and then bullying other people.  Would it be unfair to suggest that the core family value of this group of voters is hate?  Or if hate is not a value, then how about intolerance?
Ok, there are probably other ways to spin the results but I am not going to watch cable TV to hear them.  So, any suggestions from the Spew gallery?
*  Of course, I don't mind that Gingrich helped to get Clinton re-elected in 1996 with the government shutdown, but I would think that Republicans might remember and mind it.

Tired Blogger Relies on College Humor

Don't click if you don't want to be spoiled about Breaking Bad:

I do love the BB RPG.  Some folks have way too much time on their hands. 

Let's Blame the French

I have had heaps of fun over the years making jokes about France and its defense policy (why do the streets in Paris have trees on the sides of the roads? so the Germans can march in the shade), but we have to take a huge grain of salt with any criticism of the French decision to mosey out of Afghanistan in 2013.  I already blogged about this over the weekend, but I spotted some tweets about the French causing the Afghans to question NATO with the quick departure.  My simple response: 2014-2013= one year.  Simply put, how much does one year matter? 

Am I happy that France is getting out faster than expected?  No.  I was not pleased that Canada raced out the door last year.  Not great for alliance relations, but we need to put things into perspective.  I am pretty sure that leaving one year early is not as bad as hanging around for a few years and not doing that much (Italy, Spain) or anything (Greece) or yanking key troops out of significant billets this past summer during the Libyan operation (Germany).  Perhaps France did more damage by pushing the alliance too hard and too fast last winter.  But now?  Not a huge deal.  Sarkozy is desperate for votes. 

Oh, and in terms of Afghanistan, I am pretty sure that Karzai has done far more damage to NATO's image than France has.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Inadvertantly Insightful Answers

A friend on facebook (H/T to PT) put on his status the following, apparently for a basic IR essay or exam:
"Without security the state would seize to exist."
Now, this can be read two ways: that the student completely mistook seize with cease; or the student was very sharp and was deliberately or intuitively channeling a strident form of realism that asserts that states are compelled by insecurity to increase their power--seize territory in order to exist.  

I have no similar examples, but we thought the Spew readers might have some.  Or not. 

Miss Piggie Calls Them Like She Sees Them

Due to late night ultimate and a heap of deadlines (plus heaps of posts yesterday), I did not have much to say today, but Miss Piggie did:

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Twitter Tactics: When Do You Block?

To the folks out there twittering, do you block followers?  Which ones?  My rate of new followers is slow enough that I can and do hit each follower's profile to discern whether the person is real or not. 

  • Bots get blocked.  Some are easier to figure out so I don't even need to look at their profile, but some do.  The latest trend seems to be bots with pics that are not as suggestive and with the short profiles that are no so suggestive, but doing to their longer profile reveals a weblink with a key word or two that gives it away. 
  • I also block people who are real but whose profile is a sales pitch.  While one can argue that everyone on twitter is selling themselves, when the profile is an ad for stuff, I block them.
Does my blocking become less rigorous when I am about to reach a new threshold of followers?  Um, sure.  But now that I have reached a particular level, I am less concerned about the ego-gratification of having heaps of followers.  So, this was a morning of blocking and reporting of spam folks.

Do you bother?  Are there categories of folks you block that I have not included here?   And yes, blocking a follower is easier than de-friending in facebook or in person.  I have yet to block an overly enthusiastic retweeter/commenter, but the temptation does exist.

Tenure Anxiety Over-rated

Sure, it is easy for me as someone with tenure to think that anxiety about tenure is over-rated.  But let me put it into context a bit.  Over the past few days, there has been a thread on whether single or married people are advantaged or disadvantaged at that reservoir of erudition--Political Science Job Rumors.  While nearly everything said there can be and is discounted, the questions and concerns raised there perhaps (trolls aside) indicate the general level of anxiety about tenure. 

To be clear, the process is fraught with enough uncertainty that when my first job offer from McGill suggested that I start without tenure and then go up for it when I arrive, I politely said no thanks.  I had received from Texas Tech, and folks tend not to give up tenure when they move.  I was no exception even if I felt confident that my record exceeded McGill's standards at the time--you never know what might happen.  When you have a contract that essentially says you cannot be fired (tenure means both more and less than that), you tend not to give it up.  Also, I am not so far beyond tenure to forget that "anything can happen" when a small group of folks with little accountability get into a room to decide one's fate.  Especially when that fate can then be randomly revised by folks up the chain (the Dean, the Provost, the President, the Board).*
* My previous employer, TTU, had a record of doing exactly that--intervention from on high, even at the board of regents level.  Definitely an outlier in academia.

Having said that, the focus of that thread on expectations of single vs married people over-thinks things.  There are basically three kinds of departments in academia:
  • Those where tenure is almost always granted. Many, if not most, fit into this category.  This can occur if standards are very low or non-existent, or if the standards are very clear and the department hires well.
  • Those where tenure is rarely granted.  Harvard, Princeton, and a few other places are known as having a low tenure rate and where being denied tenure is almost a badge of honor.  Certainly, folks denied at these places can get good jobs with tenure either in hand or promised much of the time.
  • The troublesome places in between--where tenure is often uncertain.  This can be because the standards are unclear, where the political dynamics within the department lead to unpredictable outcomes.  The department could be divided along methodologies, along generations, along personalities, or some combination. 
In the first two places, it almost does not matter what you do or do not do no matter how much you publish.  In the third kind of place, things might be entirely within your control or entirely beyond it.  In such cases, it often matters far less what one has done (and one's marital status will be entirely irrelevant), but how one fits into the various department cleavages and in the hearts of the key folks on the tenure committee.  People can read your file however they want, using slippery standards that contradict their last vote.  There is no accountability for the tenured folks doing the voting (which is why one wants to get into that club and then not leave).

Putting France and 2013 Into Perspective

In Together, Out Together.  That was the mantra in most talking points, documents and the rest for when the US was in Bosnia with its NATO allies in 2001-2002.  A couple of years later, the mission was transitioned to a European Union one (from SFOR to EUFOR), with the US and Canada leaving Bosnia before their European allies, and re-labeling covering the broken promise of in together, out together.

Now, President Sarkozy is making heaps of news by promising to get French troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2013.  What does this mean?  Well, it means many things, but it is probably not quite as a big of a deal as folks suggest.  Why?
  • In Together, Out Together is dead and has been for two years.  The Dutch left Uruzgan in 2010 after their government collapsed over the extension of the mission.  Yes, the Netherlands did deploy a much smaller set of folks to do police training, but only in relatively safe areas (not Southern Afghanistan).  Canada left Kandahar last summer as the effort to extend the mission in 2008 had built in the seeds of a commitment to leave in 2011.  And, yes, Prime Minister Harper pulled out of nowhere a commitment to return to Afghanistan to train folks, again in safe places--Kabul-centric and behind the wire.  [I am presenting a paper in April at the International Studies Association meeting comparing these two cases.]  These two countries were leaving a couple of the most important provinces in the country.  The big difference is that the US is getting smaller as well, as backfilling with US troops will be harder this time.
  • As part of this process, Kapisa, where the French have led and faced significant combat, will be turned over to Afghan authorities, even if it is not ready.  Does this somehow alter the transition process?  Not as much as portrayed, as Helmand, which has been the most dangerous province, is being already turned over and as Mazeer el-Sharif was transitioned even though it was the site of anti-international community riots in the aftermath of the Koran burning in Florida.
  • An important thing to keep in mind is that during this transition process, the NATO forces are not leaving entirely but are trying to give the Afghans leadership responsibilities in various places across the country.  Transitioning Kapisa in the next few months does not mean that French combat forces will be gone, but that there will be a greater effort to have the Afghans out in front, ready or not.  Given that other folks have been pushing for the same accelerated calendar, Sarkozy is not that far out of step, even if the announcement was fairly unilateral.
  • France is only moving up the schedule one year--out by end of 2013 rather than 2014.  Given that the choice of 2014 had little to do with a realistic schedule of progress on the ground but much more to do with political calendars in Kabul (Karzai's second term ends) and in Washington, DC (a promise that could be made before 2012 election), 2013 is just as arbitrary and just as political.  Will it make the difference in Sarkozy getting re-elected?  Um, maybe.
  • The piece cited above also addresses the "who is going to pay for the Afghan security forces" as if this is going to be that hard.  Really? I am pretty sure that for the medium-term the big savings that countries will have from not deploying troops to the very distant Afghanistan (or just having far fewer) will more than cover the costs of funding the ANA/ANSF.  Explaining to the public that underwriting the Afghans is the price to be paid for leaving without abandoning (unlike the 1990s) will not be that hard, compared to the costs of sticking around.  If you asked the average Brit, German, Italian, American or Spainaird, how many troops and how much money were still being dedicated to Kosovo, I doubt that they would have an answer approaching reality.  Non-events are non-events.  Training would only make news when casualties occur, and $$ spent on the Afghan military will not be a hot political issue.

Does it matter that Sarkozy made this big announcement with only President Karzai in the loop?  Certainly.  Is it time to panic?  No, we should have been panicking (at least, acting like things were uncertain and needed much more attention) in 2002.  Sarkozy is just trying to get a comfy spot on the train out of Afghanistan in one of the leading cars.  He is certainly not off the tracks at all.

How About Some Reality-Based Thinking on Iran and Nukes?

James Fearon presents a short and clear analysis (plus some cites) of what has happened when countries develop nuclear weapons.  Besides the US, the Soviet Union and South Africa, history shows that countries get involved in less militarize disputes, even when controlling for other factors.

His conclusion:
We’ve heard these same concerns before, regarding Stalin’s USSR, Mao’s China, Kim Jong-il’s North Korea, and about the mortal mutual enemies of India and Pakistan.  All these cases have been very scary, and it’s understandable that the prospect of a nuclear Iran is incredibly scary for Israelis.  But so far, in none these prior cases do the more extreme fears looked historically justified.
People tend to think that Iran, due to its theocracy, will be more likely to be willing to commit suicide.  Thus far, little of its behavior suggests that this is the case.  Iran seems to have a solid record of  being incredibly obnoxious (supporting terrorism, supporting insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan) but not risking large-scale war.  Already, Iran has backed down from its Strait of Hormuz threats when its bluff was called.

Bombing Iran might sound like a good Beach Boys song, but it is lousy public policy.  The good news is that this current administration seems unlikely to try to disarm Iran.  The bad news is that the Republicans are competing to be the most enthused about getting the US into yet another war.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Feeling Like Indiana Jones

Getting ready for a move is like being in an Indiana Jones movie.  Excavating the layers of accumulated stuff occasionally reveals something valuable, but often forces one to figure out traps (is all that stuff going to fall on my head).  Moving the stuff we currently do not need into storage in the crawlspace under the house with spider webs, low ceiling, carrying heavy stuff feels like the opening scene to Raiders.

The operational philosophy: I am making it up as I go along.

Rather than being inspired by a drought-stricken village, by the fear that bad guys might get a weapon that would lay waste one's enemies, or by the quest for eternal life, I have this image to motivate me:
Oh, and, yes, they have already found my new lair!?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Nationalists Are Like Snowflakes?

My post earlier today got a rapid response from some Scots/allies who seem to think I don't know much about Scottish nationalism.  And they are right.  I have not studied the Scottish independence movement as it has not been violent (at least for the past few hundred years).  All I know about Scotland comes from my wife's stories about her year in Aberdeen when she was in college and from the Highlander movies and TV shows.

But I am just a bit familiar with secessionist movements.  I do dare to compare because even though nationalists think that their movement is unique* (hence the snowflake title), the dynamics of nationalism and the problems that separatists encounter are often comparable (not identical but compare-able) to such folks elsewhere.
*  Unless it is politically expedient to think otherwise.

Let me focus on just a few points need further elaboration:
  • The folks commenting on my blog seem to find 55% as a threshold for a successful referendum vote (that is, 55% of those voting have to say yes, rather than 50%) to be a bridge too far.  Due to past decisions or whatever, it seems as if barely scraping by to get a very slim majority is sufficient for massive political changes.  But there are heaps of problems with 50% plus one:
    • It increases the temptations to cheat.  A two vote swing is sufficient for either rejection or acceptance of independence.  So, hide some ballot boxes from less separatist areas.  Or stuff some ballot boxes.  Yes, folks could cheat to get from 54.9% to 55%, but there is much more certainty that the decision has a majority of public support at 55% however it is rounded then at 50.00001%.
    • What I call the drunk frat-boy factor: that with a razor's edge margin, you can get some people voting one way just for entertainment value.  This is probably what gave Jesse "The Body" Ventura the Governorship of Minnesota in a three-way race.  Again, if there is sufficient interest to get close to 55%, then a few folks who think it would be fun to vote against their sober preferences are not as consequential.
    • In the history of separatist referendums, nearly all clear 50% easily, 55% easily, 65% easily, 75% easily and so on.  The only referenda that didn't manage widespread support were the ones lost by the Quebec separatists and Montenegro which just cleared 55%.  
    • Whether the 55% precedent that the EU set with Montenegro applies to Scotland is a good question.  Perhaps the EU will not get involved as there is little risk of violence, but I have also made it a habit in my career poking fun at the inconsistency of the EU in how it sets conditions.  If 55% is good enough for Montenegro, then the EU should expect the Scots to do the same.  
    • Basically, the point is that if you want to make a significant political change, I think you need to do more than crawl barely over the most minimal threshold possible.  I think you need to make an argument that gets significant support that will not change a day later due to buyer's remorse. I am a stronger believer in protection from tyranny of the majority.  If the majority is only of one, it needs to be more restrained than if it has an overwhelming mandate for change.
  • While Scottish nationalists would like to vote and then become independent, they will have to think about what the Brits want.  Why? Because the reality of the situation is that there would have to be much bargaining over how to divide assets and debts, manage the border and customs, and deal with other complications that come with turning the line between Scotland and England into a real international border.  
    • Canada has had to contemplate this, and both the courts and the parliament have essentially said that a key requirement for such negotiations would be a clear mandate for independence--the Clarity Act.  Parliament, which would have to pass various legislation to manage the division of stuff, has a reasonable expectation to engage in such bargaining if there is a clear mandate for independence.  The 1995 referendum in Quebec fell far short of providing such a mandate, not just in terms of votes but also because of the question.  
    • If Scotland's referendum asks: do you want Scotland to be independent from Great Britain/United Kingdom or whatever the relevant other is, that would be a fine question.  If there is a question that asks if Scots would prefer some change to its current status that might mean independence but also could mean autonomy, well, that would not be clear.  
    • The danger, of course, is that a clear question reduces support for independence as the Quebeckers have found out.  Still, I do expect the SNP to put forth a clear question.
I am not saying that Scotland should not be independent.  I am simply saying that there are lessons to learn from the experiences of other places and that the Quebec experience is particularly salient as UK/Canada is about as apples and apples as you can get in the world.  Why bother?  Because history cannot be re-run.  Whatever Scotland does cannot be undone completely--decisions alter the context so that new decisions are constrained by the new context--path dependence. So why not learn from the experience of others so that one gets it right the first time?  Otherwise, one might have to have a referendum every 15-20 years or so, which damages the economy by creating heaps of uncertainty.  Oh, and then all elections focus on this rather than providing good governance.

Deja Vu Pentagon Style

Heaps of deja vu lately.  This time, it was a piece in Wired about the shopping opportunities at the Pentagon.  It is a nicely snarky piece.  To be clear, there are good reasons to have some shopping opportunities in the building.  Why?  Because it is a damned big building, making it had to duck out and run errands, and because the folks there work long, long hours.  They try to sneak in some errands or some exercise sometime during the day after arriving perhaps around 6am and leaving around 6 pm (we worked half-days--a lame joke).

So, let me run through Ackerman's tour of the building with some of my own experiences in mind:
  • Candy shop.  Hmm, not that I can remember, but given the tradition of folks bringing back chocolate from wherever they went in Europe for their co-workers, this might have been handy for the forgetful.
  • Art of War.  Military folks like military art.  But more importantly, one of the traditions in my office and probably around the building was to give someone a framed picture signed by all of their co-workers, and I think this was the shop form which these sprung.  I am most proud of my picture, although not so proud of the picture of the picture which depicts the effects of the food court and the birthday cakes (for every promotion or departure or birthday).
  • Food court.  Oh, yes.  Where else to go for lunch since leaving the building for a quick lunch is hard to do (especially my year since they had closed the escalator from the metro into the building after 9/11. Just getting to the metro required a walk through and around the building).  The real problem here is that the food is mostly of the not so healthy kind (even before Taco Bell arrived) for a bunch of folks staffing desks.  Perhaps that accounts for the traffic into the POAC (the gym) and the running lanes outside.
  • Military Bling.  Not for me, but given the long hours, how else do you buy stuff for the spouse frustrated at the long hours.
  • Pedicures.  Again, not easy to just run out for such stuff.  Never did get one.
  • Florist.  Again, heaps of spouses needing some pick me ups.
  • Hair care.  Absolutely.  Need to keep hair short and neat.  I was less than thrilled that the barber here had no remorse, no bedside manner when saying that my hair was in retreat.
  • Bags.  Yep, they have to care stuff.
  • Electronics.  I don't remember flatscreens, but headphones, stuff like that, sure. 
  • Tchotchkes.  Not just for tourists but also for folks working in the building needing to buy stuff for relatives and friends.  I did buy a jacket there with Joint Staff on it as a souvenir for my year.
  • Sushi?  Really?
The photo essay missed the travel agency, the bank, and a few other shops that I am trying to remember.

Most Similar Secessionists

Watching the news about the Scottish referendum on independence, and it is almost stunning how much the stuff parallels Quebec.  Let me count the ways:
  1. Neither Quebeckers nor Scots have a majority that want complete independence.
  2. The Scottish National Party today and the Parti Quebecois in 1995 don't want a single clear question, and certainly don't want the national parliament having a say over the question.
  3. The SNP and PQ are both musing about changing the election laws to allow 16 and 17-year olds to vote.  A wonderfully clear admission that they are desperate for votes.  One only adds new voters to the pool if one cannot get over a threshold without them.
  4. Speaking of which, what would be enough votes?  Fifty percent plus one is the Quebec "standard."  But Scotland is in a country that is in the EU (while the EU is still around), and the EU applied 55% as the standard for Montenegro.  Hmmm.
However, I need to be clear that these cases may be less than fruitful for social science--there needs to be some variation between two cases to have a useful comparison.  Either two very similar cases have a dissimilar outcome, or two different cases have a similar outcome.  And I would like to place a bet on an independence referendum failing, just as Quebec fell short in 1995 and is nowhere close today.*
*  Indeed, this morning's paper was chock full of stories about the PQ trying to figure out how to get folks enthused about the party and about independence.  That they must find ways to get the separatist mojo going provides significant evidence that the PQ and Quebec have won the big battles, making independence or even a confusing referendum that mixes and matches autonomy, confederation, and iendependence unnecessary.  Well, unnecessary for being the PQ's raison d'etre.  Well, other than running against Montreal.  This weekend's meetings has heaps of proposals for shifting yet more resources and power away from Montreal.  

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Deja BRAC Vu

I am having a bit of deja vu today.  One of the proposals to cut the US defense budget is to close some bases in the U.S.  BRAC refers to the Base Closure and Reassignment Commission.  This was a process designed to reduce the interference of Congresspeople and Senators, since the closing of a base seems catastrophic to the community nearby that has grown dependent on the base for jobs.

It is deja vu, as I spent the summer between college and grad school interning for Business Executives for National Security's NY branch.*  This organization was aiming to make the defense department more efficient (ok, so it looks like they failed), and one of the focal points was facilitating the closure of obsolete bases.  It had been years and years since a base was closed because politicians in Congress had learned many tactics to prevent bases from being closed.  A wonderful irony was that in the 1990's the Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, was a guy who had made his career keeping open an obsolete air force base in Maine.
*  This is where I first learned of (and maybe met) Larry Korb who had been a top-ranked official in DoD and was then (and now) writing about defense waste.  Catch his twitter at @larrykorb.

Anyhow, BENS and others organized to lobby to develop a process where a non-partisan commission would evaluate which bases ought to be closed based on efficiency and also economic considerations.  The list of recommended closures would go to the SecDef who could only say yay or nay to the entire list, and then the President would have the same decision.  The list would then go to Congress where each house could not amend--just yay or nay.  This would provide those politicians losing a base in their district with some cover.  The first rounds were relatively easy, if I remember correctly, because some had been designed to stop the Indians from attacking Chicago, the British from attacking Maryland (or something like that), and so on.

My job at the time was to research and see what happens when bases were closed.  We found enough info to argue that communities that resisted lost big time when the base closed, but communities that adapted, planned and cooperated usually were better off.

Anyhow, it looks like with a somewhat smaller army, we will see another round of closures.  The irony here is that Congress folks who are forcing these cuts with the refusal to consider increased taxes are going to fight these cuts that their positions have essentially required.  Good times.

Strange Rumors: Receiving Flak?

A student who was one of the folks involved in trying to investigate the events at McGill in November stopped by yesterday.  He wanted to know about the pressure or criticism I received from McGill for my various blog posts and statements.  It was a short conversation because I had not received any words from on high about what I had said.  I was one of many profs frustrated by McGill's response, so it was unlikely that I would be targeted.  Plus (a) I have tenure so retaliation would be kind of hard; and (b) I am leaving McGill this summer, a decision that preceded the events in November, so I am pretty immune anyway.

So, anyhow, there are rumors out there, so consider this blog post an effort to squelch the rumors as they have no truth to them.

Canada and Its Interests: Max or Min?

Yesterday, I responded to a Roland Paris question about Canada losing or gaining influence under Harper by first pondering what Canada's interests are.  Why? Because influence is about getting what you want/need, and if you don't know what you want/need, then it is pretty hard to say that influence went up or down.  To summarize, I basically said that Canada has a few key interests: security, free trade, multilateralism and promoting Canadian values. 

Before Canadians start to swagger, Roland's question should be answered--is Canada improving its position in these areas?  It would easy to say yes or no, but the academic in me has to say: well, it depends.  It depends on whether the question is about Harper's entire term as Prime Minister or just the time since he had a majority government.  It depends on which area.

On security, is Canada better off now than it was a year ago?  Five years ago?  Probably.  There are still few direct threats to Canada, although the Russian noises about the Arctic can be worrying.  Canada is perhaps a more visible target of international terrorism due to its role in Afghanistan, but international terrorist movements (Al Qaeda) have taken significant losses over the past few years.  Canadian contributions to NATO in Afghanistan and Libya have certainly improved Canada's standing with the allies that are committed to Canada's defense. 

In terms of influence, Canada certainly has had more influence over how it operates in various expeditions.  It used to be the case that Canada had forty of its flags on UN maps, with small contingents around the world.  By focusing its effort on one spot, Kandahar, Canada got leadership posts in Kandahar and in Kabul, so that Canadians could decide how the Canadians would operate (and also command Americans and others).  So, this effort did increase Canadian influence.  Ah, but this was started by Paul Martin (despite his regrets), so Harper can only take limited credit.

In 2011, when the air operations were turned over to NATO, the organization needed a senior officer who was neither British nor French since the two countries had antagonized much of the alliance with their enthusiasm for the mission.  The natural move was to turn to the Canadians since the CF had performed well in Afghanistan, and were respected by both the more and less enthused.  So, LtG Bouchard got to be the commander of the effort, again giving a Canadian significant influence over how NATO would operate, including the planes Canada committed to the effort.

Of course, this all supports that other Canadian interest--multilateralism.  Supporting NATO is in Canada's national interest.  However, if one surveys the rest of Canadian moves of late, multilateralism has taken some big hits.  Canada has not been supporting recent efforts to deal with climate change.* Efforts to negotiate a trade deal across the Pacific were stymied by Canadian protection of its agriculture: the policy of supply management.  As a result, Canada is being the Rudolph of various multilateral games--not playing at all.  This would be a decrease in Canadian influence.
* I still think of it as global warming, but I am getting old. 
I am not an IPE expert, so I can only guess at Canada's trade standing.  Its dollar is stronger than before, thanks partly to the collapse of the US dollar and partly due to demand for Canadian resources.  And that really is something giving Canada heaps of potential influence--having resources to export.  The question here, of course, is whether that means Canada is getting influence, reaching other goals, in addition to the $$ it is being paid.  Oh, unless the potential influence turns into real influence, this has little to do the government of the day.

So, my quick tally suggests that the Harper government has had a mixed record on extending Canadian influence.  Libya?  Yes.  Environment/non-military multilateralism?  No.

What say you?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

APSA Boycott: Yes or No.

I received a direct appeal from a political scientist asking me to boycott the next meeting of the American Political Science Association meeting.  Why?  Because it will be held in Louisiana, a state that passed a law "defending marriage."  That is, the state passed a law to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples, not just prohibiting marriage but denying heaps of legal rights.  There are a pile of stories that document the harm that such laws cause.  I am and have long been against discrimination against gays and lesbians, that these laws are abhorrent--once I got over my high school-induced homophobia.  These kinds of laws seem designed to cause pain and suffering, which should never be the purpose of public policy.  They are mostly the product of politicians using hate to divide and conquer.

Having said that, will I boycott the APSA?  I was not sure when I started writing this blog.  I do support boycotts of businesses that discriminate, but am a bit more uncertain about boycotts of cities when policy is made at the state level.  Having said that, the list of people who are boycotting are an impressive bunch, including a number of people whose judgment I respect.  I started this post leaning one way, but in trying to write this post, I could not really come up with good arguments to go to APSA in Louisiana especially after reading the arguments by the boycotters.

To be clear, this is not really a huge sacrifice on my part.  The idea of New Orleans in late August/early September, hot, humid and in the middle of hurricane season, was not very attractive.  I will not have any of my own students on the market this fall to promote at APSA so it is not as if I am sacrificing my interests or those of my students.  But I do like the big conferences to see old friends, to meet my virtual friends in person, to meet up with co-authors, and see what the latest research looks like.

I hope that things change by 2015 or else I may end up missing the International Studies Association two years in a row (New Orleans and then Atlanta).  Oh, by the way, have I ever mentioned that bigotry is damned inconvenient as well as being antithetical to the core beliefs espoused by, well, Jesus if one believes in him?

Canada Has Interests?

Roland Paris asked folks today via twitter whether Canada has gained any influence under the current government.  I responded that it depends on whether one is thinking about the Harper government in general or just since it has become a majority government.  If the former, then having the head of the Libyan campaign be a Canadian officer, Lt.Gen Bouchard, would be at least one indicator of influence.  Roland replied that this was not really a sign of achieving goals, so the real question that needs to be asked first is: what are Canada's goals?  What would we consider to be Canada's national interests?*
*  I am not sure Canadians think that they do have national interests.  When I suggested in an op-ed that Canada's effort in Afghanistan might give it influence to pursue its interests, well, folks didn't like that--either interests or the pursuit of influence. But there is much selection bias in who responds to op-eds.

This was the second time I started thinking about this today since I was talking with an Aussie PhD student about the CA and AUS missions in Afghanistan.  So, let me repeat: what are Canada's national interests?  I have lived here ten years, and I have some guesses, but I don't think I really have heard Canadians articulate their view of the national interest much.  Perhaps it sounds too selfish.  Anyhow, here is my set of guesses and the readers can add/subtract/object:
  • Security from external threats.  Basic for everyone.  Canada is a huge country with heaps of resources but with only one land neighbor (with a long border) and other countries are very far away by air/sea.  
    • So, managing the US relationship is a huge priority--the US is the biggest threat to Canada.  But the US has no real hostile intent.  Differences arise but nothing that is very hostile.  The big arctic sovereignty dispute is over the US principal to drive through any and all straits, with Canada seeking to control parts of the Northwest Passage.
    • Arctic sovereignty is also focuses on other poachers in the arctic--namely Russia (the disputes with the Danes are negotiable).  Russia has made heaps of noises about expansive definitions of its territory.  Best way to deal with the Russian threat--working closely with the US.
    • Terrorism is a moderate threat--Canadians and Canada has been targeted but not as enthusiastically as US, UK, etc.
  • Free flow of trade.  Canada has resources to sell, and is deeply embedded in the international economy.  9/11 disrupted Canadian trade by closing the border with the biggest trading partner.  Actually, the reaction to 9/11 had that impact.  So, Canada has a strong interest in limiting the terrorist threat to the US since future overreactions will do heaps of damage to the Canadian economy.
  • Multilateralism.  As a "middle power," Canada cannot exert much influence on its own, especially in bilateral relationships.  Multilateralism is both a means and an end.  To get what it wants (which I still haven't figured out, other than security and trade), Canada needs to work through international institutions like NATO, the UN, IMF, etc. 
    • Indeed, I would think that multilateralism is a key way to manage the US relationship--better to have the elephant tied down a bit so it does not accidentally step on the beavers or moose nearby.  On the other hand, if Canada thinks it can influence the US, then working through multilateral institutions can dilute that.  Some Canadian military officers expressed to me a preference of working bilateraly with the US rather than through NATO since Canada is just one of 27 or so voices.
  • Promoting Canadian values.  This is part self-esteem, part living in a more compatible world, and part a sense of righteous. What the hell do I mean?  Good question.
    • People generally want folks elsewhere to think/behave like them.  Why?  It makes them feel good about themselves.  If more people around the world buy into Canadian values, then Canadians will feel better about themselves (except for those folks who always hate being in the mainstream: "I liked Nirvana before everyone else did, now I hate them."
    • It is an easier world to live in if others more or less buy into the same values.  Fewer conflicts of interest, easier to negotiate when there are disputes.
    • Righteousness: Canadians believe in certain values because they are the right way to live/believe.  Others should follow suit.  Example: Afghan women should be educated.
    • What are Canadian values?  Besides bags for milk?  Democracy, multiculturalism, tolerance, maple syrup, equity, fairness?  If I paid more attention to my daughter's CA history textbooks, I might have a better grasp.  
To answer Roland's question about whether the Harper government has moved forward or not, I think these are the major things to keep in mind.  You can tell me whether Harper has done stuff that have advanced or hurt Canadian national interests.  And I can ponder that topic for a post down the road.

The Downside to Narcissism

Apparently, being a narcissist is stressful.  What does that mean for me?  I guess I am stressed. 

Appropriate Rescue Du Jour

There is a lot to like about the rescue of the two individuals from the Somali pirates, but I find it especially cool that the SEALs rescued a Dane along with an American.  The Danes have been one of the most supportive allies of the US in Afghanistan and then in Libya.  In Afghanistan, the Danes have been willing to fight in the very hardest parts of the country--the green zone of Helmand (where the poppies grow best)--taking more casualties per troop deployed than any other country.  In Libya, the Danes dedicated a huge hunk of their air force to the bombing campaign.

Of course, the fact that Denmark's former Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is the Secretary-General of NATO might have something to do with it.*  Anyway, anything the US can do to help out the Danes is a good thing--rescuing one of their citizens is even better than rescuing a boat full of Iranian sailors.
* The fact that I got heaps of help from the Danish government and scholars during my research on NATO and Afghanistan has almost nothing to do with my positive attitude towards the Danes.  Ok, maybe it does.  Then again, I got heaps of help and great access in every country I visited [I didn't visit Italy since the help was not forthcoming].

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I Am Not An Americanist But Have Played One ...

I am not a scholar of American politics but have been interviewed occasionally in Montreal on American politics since our department does not have anyone who publishes in this area.  So, I have gotten into the habit of speculating wildly about American politics. 

Anyhow, I raise this now because I have a big question and I am only going to guess at the answer.  The question is: why do the GOP candidates suck so very much?  Romney has an off-putting personality and is absolutely the wrong candidate for a Tea Party pandering party--he made $20 million dollars on his investments and his utterly out of touch on $$.  Joking about $10,000 bets and saying he was only paid $357000 for something, as if that some is beneath being noticed?  Gingrich is a philander who helped get Clinton re-elected and then lost his job due to an ethics scandal.  Santorum is a hateful, narrow-minded guy who could not get re-elected, something 98% of incumbents manage to do, so what is wrong with him?  Ron Paul is obsessed with the gold standard, has a history of racist newsletters, and often appears to be smarter than he is and crazier than, well, hmm, more than he should be.

I am not the only person pondering where the good Republican candidates are.  This is not always a puzzle.  When a potential candidate thinks that he or she has little chance of winning, he or she waits for a better time.*  Notice no Democrats running for President--this is not just about respecting the party's leader and the President but about an estimate of the probability of winning.  Ted Kennedy versus Jimmy Carter is the exception that proves the rule.  McCain was the best of another mediocre lot perhaps because most Republicans realized that Bush had done so badly that any Republican would lose in 2008.  Maybe.  But 2012 is about as good as it gets for any Republican--Obama has not been that successful in getting heaps of policies past,** the economy is still mighty weak with high unemployment and uncertain growth, and the war in Afghanistan is not going so well.***
* I have a good friend study candidate emergence, which informs my pondering here (thus, this is a shout-out to Cherie Maestas--the best colleague I ever had [yes, shocking that it is someone who studies American politics]).
**  Of course, a big reason for this is that the Republican Party has preferred that Obama fail than see the US do well.  I have been tempted to call the GOP treasonous for putting party so far above the country's interests.  It is one thing to want your party to do well.  It is another thing entirely to try to deny the President any success at all when there are opportunities to improve the condition of the country.
*** On the other hand, this is really a lousy time for the Republicans to complete on foreign policy as Obama did pull out of Iraq as Bush had promised (and the Republicans pushing for the US to stick around? Talk about a position that is destined to lose votes!), made the decision to kill Bin Laden, cheaply facilitated the end of Qaddafi, and so on.
So, where are the good Republican candidates?  The only thing I can think of is that such folks may not have wanted to go through the process of pandering to the far right to get through the primary process.  Otherwise, I am flummoxed.  Is this really the best the GOP has to offer: Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, or Paul?  I am having deja vu to the days of Dukakis and Kerry. 

Anybody got a better idea?

Review This!

One of the hidden parts of the academic business is that of referee.  Academics tend only to value publications that make it through a review process, but who are the reviewers?  We are.*  That is, academics review the work of other academics.  The process varies, but the standard one for most respected journals in Political Science is double-blind refereeing.**  The reviewer does not know who the author is or authors are, and the author(s) does not know who the reviewers are.  I have had several people guess that I was their reviewer for much of their work, but they were wrong.  Guess the reviewer game is fun but tends not to be very successful.  Usually, there are two or three reviewers who provide their assessments to the editors of the journal, and the editors weight the various reviews and make a decision (sometimes they take forever to decide): accept, accept with minor revisions, revise and resubmit, or reject. Revise and resubmit (R&R) is often the best one can hope for, as reviewers and editors are often very picky, especially for the most visible and selective journals.
 *  This is one of the many big differences between normal academic journals and law reviews.  For law reviews, the law students do the reviewing.
** Increasingly (apparently), editors are "desk-rejecting" which means that they reject the piece before sending it out for review as the piece does not fit the journal or is obviously unworthy for the journal.  Reviewing books is usually blind in only one direction--that the book author does not know who is doing the reviewing, but it is relatively impossible to hide the identity of the author of a book length work.

So, for every one article submitted, there are a few academics who must agree to review it.  What do reviewers get paid?  Nada.  Why do they do it?  Because it is a professional obligation and because people think that editors will ultimately treat nicely the folks who are reliable reviewers and not treat nicely those who are not.  Whether the second motivation has any basis in reality, I don't know.  I have been on editorial boards but not an editor, so I cannot say how these folks respond to the unreliable. I do know that the reliable folks do get a certain kind of treatment--more reviews.

I have thought of myself as a reliable reviewer--meeting most deadlines and usually saying yes when asked.  I used to only say no if the piece was outside of my expertise or if it would be inappropriate for me to do the review.  What would make me an inappropriate reviewer?  Mostly if I had already reviewed that piece or similar work by the same author (I don't want to be the sole reviewer blocking a person's career).  How can I tell that if the process is blind?  Well, blind but not stupid.  Over the course of time, one gets asked often to review work that is close to one's own, but then one is familiar with the work in that area, so, ta da! not so blind.  Google also can make things less blind, although I never google to find the authors of a piece until after I have written the review and sent it off, and mostly not even then.

I am writing about reviews because today seems to be post about refereeing day.  See here for a good piece discussing rules of refereeing by Marc Bellemare.  Some very good suggestions that I will try to follow in the future.  I have been violating one of the rules lately--saying no.  Why?  Because I have said yes a lot recently,*** and am backed up.  As a result, I cannot credibly commit to doing the review in a timely fashion.  So, I say no.  I am also less willing these days to review stuff that is outside of my comfort zone, as I have realized that I cannot provide good reviews.  Given the ample opportunities to review stuff (especially after summers and winter holidays when folks finish stuff and send it off to journals)
***  I have said yes to a variety of writing commitments, journal reviews, and tenure reviews.  For the last, it requires one to read not just one article or book but many articles and perhaps more than one book.  Takes a lot of time with heaps of stakes involved--a person's career.
Phil Arena has a post on how not to be a good reviewer.  Such as rejecting stuff because it does not cite you or asking the person to not simplify.  For the former, it is a dick move.  I have recommended to folks to cite my work if it really is central to their work and only if my piece is published some place visible and even then only rarely and never as a reason to reject a piece.  For the latter, articles have word limits, so you cannot ask someone to add two more cases or explicate something that is not central to their argument.  A big difference between a book and an article is the latter is always going to be a snapshot and not a completed research agenda.

Young scholars cannot wait to get in the reviewer game.  Kind of like being eager to start shaving. Sure, it makes you feel like an adult, but once you get started, you are going to be doing it again and again and again for the rest of your career/life.  So, don't be so eager.  It will happen if you publish.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday Evening Silliness

Fun song and video, starring Matthew McConaughey as the guy from Dazed and Confused.

Montreal Bucket List

You will have to excuse this post's silliness, as I am a bit punch due to the combination of head cold and the joys of getting my daughter's passport renewed (not everything went awry but enough).  Anyway, as we were walking to the car, I suddenly realized that I have pretty much completed the Montreal bucket list (also known as the le hunt Scavenger Montrealais).  What is this?  The set of acts/activities/events that one must accumulate in order to be a real Montrealer.  Glad I could complete most of the list before I leave town.
  1. Be embarrassed walking along St. Catherine Street with one's child, due to the many adult entertainment venues.
  2. Have your car or person damaged by a public vehicle of some sort (a school bus went through the corner of my car.  At least I have not been hit by a snow plow).
  3. Stop responding to "Bonjour/Hi" with "Bonjour."  I realized that the various salesfolks preferred their good English to my bad French, nationalism be damned.
  4. Get heckled at the "Nasty Show" at the Just For Laughs festival (actually, this happened when we lived in Vermont and visited the fest long before we moved here).
  5. Miss your stop on the train because you were sleeping.
  6. Have a police officer insist that he does not have to speak to you in English and then does so.
  7. Forget everything you learned about driving/walking in snow for the first big snowfall each winter.  Then remember and do quite well the rest of the winter.
  8. Lose track of which festival you missed in a summer, given how many are crammed in a short period of time.
  9. At least once take a different route into the country since your vacation coincides with the end of the construction holiday.
  10. Be stunned by the ability of folks to speak in both official langauges not just from paragraph to paragraph but sentence to sentence and beyond.
  11. Understand that the big curse words come from various Catholic church concepts.
  12. Get used to the whole kissing on both cheeks thing (still not there yet on this one).
  13. You start guessing people's last names: Tremblay, right?
  14. Understand that the main purpose of the Parti Quebecois is to entertain folks with its in-fighting.
What am I missing?  Again, I have a head cold so forgive me if I omitted some of the better "must experience" things about Montreal (and no, my omissions of Montreal bagels and smoked meat are not head-cold-induced).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Heavy Dose of Perspective Sauce

Gabby Giffords:

Puts everything else into perspective.  Just wow. 

Better To Reign in Hell

Another sad post about Hungary's politics by Kim Lane Scheppele via Paul Krugman.  There is no doubt that Fidesz, whatever it claims, is solely focused on perpetuating its rule at the expensive of democracy and the rule of law.  Playing games with the EU, by providing English translations that underplay the nastiness of each new law, didn't work too well, as there are folks who can read Hungarian.

During the one month that the constitution was open for public debate, the Hungarian government sent an English translation to the European Commission, as EU law requires it to do. But the English translation left out the controversial and inflammatory preamble. The preamble asserts that sovereignty rests in the Hungarian “nation” (that is, ethnic Hungarians and not Hungarian citizens of all ethnicities). It also includes potentially destabilizing references to Hungary’s “historic constitution” that implicitly laid claim to territories now belonging to neighboring states.
To be sure, these irredentist claims will not go anywhere.  Hungary does not have the capability to revise the boundaries, but it is clear that the leaders of Fidesz are playing to a vary narrow hunk of its base on these kinds of issues.  And it is abundantly clear that the pursuit of political power within Hungary is bad for the country.  Sounds familiar to me.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Big Day for Schadenfreude

The day began and will end with heaps of schadenfreude.  I opened up the Montreal Gazette this morning to see several stories discussing the intra-Parti Quebecois divisions, with Pauline Marois once again having to face a rebellion, vowing to stay on until the bitter end (which is probably just around the corner and perhaps should not be the ambition of a politician).  Gilles Duceppe, who led the separatist party at the national level, the Bloc Quebecois, to a tremendous disaster (and now controversy), is once again looking to take Marois's position.  Hard to tell which would be worse for the PQ: continued Marois or a Duceppe-led party that hopes not to finish third in the next election.

So, that was the morning.  The evening has Newt Gingrich winning the South Carolina primary.  The tweets have been marvelous--that the Republicans have chosen as the family values candidate the one candidate who has the most thorough history of having no values--cheating on at least two wives, being the first leader of his party's contingent in the House to be punished for ethics violations, etc. 

Newt is just so easy to hate.  He makes it a tough race between himself and Santorum for being the most detestable Not-Romney.  It is hard to imagine a more smug, arrogant, and, yes, vile politician.

Yes, I understand that a bad economy might give the GOP the edge in the fall, but Gingrich would be the easiest candidate for Obama to beat--a symbol of all that is wrong with the Republican party.  But Gingrich probably will just prolong the race, rather than win, making Romney that much more battle-scarred and compelled to take right-wing stances.  Instead of a coronation, this winter promises to be a competition. 

Good times, I think.  Of course, I could end up eating my words next fall. Good thing electronic posts are low in calories. 

Saturday is For Star Wars

Some folks solicited 15 second clips that people made of Star Wars scenes to crowd-source a remake.  Just amazing:

  HT to Ain't It Cool News.

Friday, January 20, 2012

With Allies Like These

Lots of tweets this morning about two events and a story (WSJ had similar story last summer):  the two events are yet another shooting of NATO troops by Afghan National Army [ANA] personnel and the mass poisoning of ANA by someone in the ANA, and the story is in the NYT that talks about the first and puts it into context of something like 58 NATO folks killed by ANA over four years from 2007 to May 2011.  The end date here is significant because we know of more attacks since then. 

People are disturbed and have every right to be so, especially since NATO has recently started trying to restrict the information about ANA attacks on NATO forces.  There are at least three major issues here:
  • There is tremendous distrust between the NATO forces and the people they are trying to mentor.  This makes the entire transition process very difficult since getting out depends critically on developing the Afghan forces.
  • This may cause allies to flee faster, as 58+ does not sound like a lot, but losing four French soldiers in one attack increases the KIA for France by five percent and is one of the worst days the French have had in Afghanistan.  President Sarkozy has suspended operations.  
  • This raises huge questions about the credibility of NATO, as the happy face that the alliance has been putting on the training of the Afghans is clearly, well, a lie.  Yes, there are more folks trained, and there are more capable units, but the report cited in the NYT piece makes it abundantly clear that there is far more friction and far less progress than advertised.  Indeed, the "need" to restrict information on these kinds of attacks is telling--that there is not enough substantive progress to offset the bad news.  
NATO should be freaking out about this story and about the events of the past day--they raise big questions about the timeline, about the trends, and about trust not only between the outsiders and the Afghans but between the alliance and the publics back home.  But restricting information is probably not the way to go--information does get out, and the cover up usually does as much or more damage than the crime.

The really bad news is that it is not clear what can be done in the short time left.   Other than immediately pulling out (which has its own problems), the only other choice is not to partner with the ANA.  But that raises dangers as well.  I have no recommendations: do you?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Colbert is a Genius

How about running an attack ad against oneself?  Voiced by Sam Jackson?

More education by one mock candidate than by the entire combined forces of all of the politicians, media, and other outlets combined. 

VW Wins Again

Just delightful:

Oh, and you need to watch it twice as the various dogs, well, you will see.

Fearing War with Iran

The blogosphere and twitterverse are returning back to normal after a day of protests about internet regulation: the focus returns to concerns about a US preemptive war against Iran.  Yes, there are folks out there beating the drums for war, making arguments today that seem very similar to those made in 2002, except the threat now ends in an "N" and not a "Q".

Should we be that worried about a deliberate, pre-emptive strike to take out the Iranian nuclear facilities?  I have long argued with a friend about exactly this topic.  She had some basis to go on while the Bush crowd was still in office (although I kept winning the bet since even the Bushies were not stupid enough to launch yet another war in the Mideast).  But now?  Given how deliberate Obama was about increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan a couple of years ago--even though that did fulfill a campaign promise, I doubt that he has any enthusiasm for a war against Iran.

Yes, sending a few carriers to the Strait of Hormuz is a significant move and threatens Iran some, the goal there is to maintain a traditional American position: to sail through any and all straits as international law allows (which is why the US and Canada see the Northwest Passage differently).

That is different from starting a process (air strikes) that would have limited utility and plenty of 2nd and 3rd order effects (consequences).  It is pretty clear that air strikes would not destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities (they learned to dig deep and to diversify).  So, the strikes would make some folks feel good, but not achieve any real objectives besides pushing us further down the slope into war.

And the thing people who fear a US attack seem to be forgetting: IT IS AN ELECTION YEAR!  Another war in the Mideast would certainly cause oil prices to spike, setting back whatever progress has been made in the US recovery and probably tip the ever-instable Euro situation into a total disaster.  What does Obama know about American politics?  "It is about the economy, stupid!" as the Clintonites emphasized.

Could the concern about the political consequences of the economic side-effects be overwhelmed by other domestic political pressures?  Sure, if there were folks who might vote for Obama who cared about Iran over everything else.  But is there such a constituency?  Such a huge group of voters that would be matter more than those who would either vote for the Republicans or stay home if we have a re-appearance of staglation thanks to an Iranian-related oil crisis?  Obama is not Jimmy Carter.  More importantly, he is after Jimmy Carter in this timeline, so he can learn from what happened before.

I have had no conversations with the folks around Obama, but I just cannot see any domestic political reason to attack Iran.  I can see heaps of reasons not to.  If the Republicans want to attack Obama on foreign policy, I think that would be their mistake.  Obama has kept the promise to get out of Iraq (thanks to the Iraqi domestic political dynamics--not wanting to appear to be in bed with the occupiers), he ramped up and then down in Afghanistan, he gave the orders to take the risky step of killing Bin Laden, he supported at relatively low cost the NATO effort to abet regime change in Libya, and so on.  If the Republicans want to consider him weak on foreign policy, good luck with that.

So, while I can imagine a shooting war breaking out over ships and boats bumping into each other in the Strait of Hormuz (unless all Iranian ships and boats need rescue rather than just many), I do not think it is at all likely that the US will launch air strikes or more than that anytime in the near to medium term.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I Have Got a Secret

The secret is that a country that never catches any spies probably has more of a problem than a country that catches a few.  The only countries that never catch spies are those that never look for them and those that are so meaningless that no one would bother.  On the latter score, Canada, as a member of NATO and as a member of the inner circle of very reliable allies (the four or five I's club--US, UK, CA, Australia--I forget the exact number), is likely seen as an important target for spying by Russia, China, and various other potential adversaries of NATO and the Anglo powers. 

Oh, and if Canadians are worried that this one suspected spy, Sub-Lt. Jeffrey Paul Delisle, will undermine how the allies see Canada, don't forget that the US has had far more spies caught in pretty high places over the years (Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen, etc.).*
*  Props to Spew friend, Phillipe Lagassé of U of Ottawa, for being a source for the NYT.

Indeed, this points out an interesting irony in US-Canadian relations.  There is a smug anti-Americanism that binds many Canadians, that being called "Americanized" is an insult, but Canadians also fear losing American respect and approval.  This case raises the salience of the latter strand within Canadian national identity as folks become concerned about whether Canada is seen as reliable enough.
MacKay told reporters on Tuesday that while the alleged breach is serious, he is confident that Canada retains the confidence of its allies who regularly exchange intelligence. But that bravado may obscure just how serious the American military and intelligence agencies view such matters, said one academic source, who did not want to be named.
“American agencies act unilaterally, so even if the (senior U.S. officials) said, ‘Don’t make a big deal on this,’ you’re going to have agencies saying that it’s a big deal,” the source said. “There’ll be some rough edges for quite some time in the way people share information.” (The Star)
Maybe a bit, but not really.  Again, this ain't wikileaks, and this is not having spies for Russia near the top of the CIA (Ames) or the FBI (Hanssen).  So, if any American intel person raises concerns about Canadian reliability, they should be reminded that the US has a history of being penetrated repeatedly and at the highest levels (and lowest with wikileaks). 

A fun note in this: one of the arguments that Phil and I have had over the years is whether the Canadian mission in Afghanistan bought it any influence.  Here, I think we may not see but probably feel some of that influence, as the Canadians were very reliable in a tough spot for years.  It is not like they spilled secrets to our adversaries during a NATO mission (unlike, say, France and the Serbs).  So, being in the esteem of the US over Afghanistan should mitigate some of the criticism from this case.

So, let's put some perspective sauce on this case, shall we?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Ramblings of the Irrelevant

I keep on wondering why Rick Perry is still in the race for the Republican nomination.  After all, he has lagged far behind everyone else who is left.  Did he have a "last longer" bet with Gingrich or Santorum?*  His polling has been low for months, his results in Iowa and New Hampshire were disastrous and he has not been playing well in South Carolina.
* Poker players in a tournament will often bet with each other on who will last longer/who will be eliminated first.  Palin lost her last longer bet with Bachmann, who lost her bet with Cain and Huntsman.

Last night, at yet another Republican debate, Perry was still allowed to be on stage.  Perhaps because of the expected entertainment value, given how badly he has performed at nearly every debate.  So, Perry says that Turkey is run by terrorists since a moderate Islamic party has been in power and has distanced itself from Israel.  Yes, this is part of the strange pandering the GOP has been doing lately, as the evangelical vote seems to be focused on supporting Israel blindly, enthusiastically, and without regard for any other interest that might be in play (such as supporting protest movements against dictators in the Middle East since our dictator friends are more supportive of Israel than democratically elected politicians might be).**
** This deserves an entirely separate post.  Remind me if I forget.
Anyhow, so Perry is so desperate to get attention that he says something incredibly stupid and offensive to a significant ally and an important bridge to the Arab world.  The last Texas governor of national relevance, George W. Bush, was incredibly dysfunctional on a number of levels but at least he got the whole "we really ought not inflame the entire Islamic world too much as we ought to try to separate the extremists from the rest" idea--well, at least in his statements.   Perry was either gambling for resurrection--that is, taking an extreme stance to get back in the conversation--OR he was continuing his usual debate behavior of being pretty dim.  Indeed, the reason why his status of the leading not-Romney fell was due to his first major debate failures.  The GOP didn't reject him because he is a nutcase (Santorum has done fine), but that he was deemed unelectable as he would be seen as a Bush dumber than Bush.

The sad thing is that the fifth candidate for the GOP nomination is making national and world news for saying stupid stuff about Turkey and Islam.  Not that different from a random pastor burning a Koran, antagonizing Muslims around the world and sparking riots in Afghanistan that led to the deaths of members of the international community who had been doing some good.  I am not suggesting that Perry is that irresponsible.  Ok, I am suggesting that Perry is that irresponsible, unless being an idiot somehow makes him less responsible for his behavior.

I do think the problem is structural--with so many television hours to fill on competing news networks (plus competition from the internet), losers and those responsible for extreme policy failures (John Yoo, Dick Cheney, etc.) manage to get more media time than in the past (at least as far as I can remember).  In such a competitive environment, asking the media to act responsibly and ignore the ramblings of the irrelevant is asking far too much.

Monday, January 16, 2012

When Realists Are Right

Given my earlier post about realism, I should give those folks their due.  When I learned of the Security Dilemma, one of the key foundations of realism, the world became more more comphrensible. 

The SD essentially states that in the pursuit of security, any one country's effort to improve its security will threaten others, causing the others to ramp up their efforts to improve their security, threatening the first country.  So, the dilemma is that any unilateral effort to improve one's security ultimately fails, often leaving one and all worse off.  Suddenly, arms races made complete sense to me, without needing to invoke military-industrial complexes. 

Why raise this now?  Because Iran has objected to the activation of NATO missile defense systems in Turkey.  Sure, NATO can say this is a purely defensive measure, which it really is, but being better able to thwart Iranian missiles means that the costs of attacking Iran decline.  This is also why the Soviet Union was so upset about the Strategic Defense Initiative--if one has a shield, one can more easier use one's sword especially if the other guy does not have a shield.

So, score one for Realism, as we see the Security Dilemma play out quite clearly.