Thursday, February 28, 2013

Procure This! Maple Flavored Edition

Canada's defence procurement situation is a mess.  So is the American one, of course.  But in Canada, the tendency seems to be to defer, delay, dither, distract and deny--the five D's of dodgeball.  In the US, the tendency is to buy, pay, overpay, someone tries to kill the program, but fails, and then get fewer but more expensive and sometimes more capable stuff that is expensive to maintain.  Both countries face cost overruns, but the Americans tend to buy the program and then suck it up.  The Canadians tend to face the cost overruns and then wait some more, leading to even more overruns.  And often no capability.  Canada greatly annoyed its allies by showing up in Kandahar without any helicopters but thumb held out, hoping to get rides everywhere from the Americans and the Brits. Good times.

Anyhow, today, Dan Ross, who used to be the defence procurement guy, is in the papers, saying the system is broken.  Indeed, it is.  He blames the fact that three different agencies (Public Works, Industry Canada, Dept of National Defence) share the file, as they say.  "Mr. Ross said Canada’s procurement responsibility is “shared by everybody, and when you do that, no one is accountable.”  Ah, somewhere, Phil Lagass√©  must be smiling since this is his favorite line.  And there is much to it, BUT this is also a failure of everyone else.  That simply because multiple agencies are working on something does not mean failure.  Who is responsible for holding these agencies accountable? To do their jobs?  I think that would be the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, the Prime Minister's Office, the Privy Council Office and maybe even Parliament.  The NDP has actually been doing a pretty amazing job on the F-35 file, but more needs to be done by those in government to make this process work better.

Sure, one can retire and then blame the system, but if one is in a position of power in the government, the question becomes: what did you do with that power?

The fun part:
The New Democratic Party called Canada’s procurement system a mess in Question Period on Feb. 12. In response, Public Works and Government Services Minister Rona Ambrose said her government is “responsible for the successful execution of the largest procurement in Canadian history with our shipbuilding strategy.”
Why is this fun?  Well, what ships?  There is a strategy, and there are shipyards chosen, but no ships thus far, and all signs point to the usual actors, Parliamentary Budget Office and Auditor General, crapping all over the program for being late, for being likely to produce fewer ships at greater cost than estimated.  So, when the Minister says "hey, what a great ship-building strategy," the natural response should be, "hey, emperor, you are not wearing any ships/clothes."

How Short is Your Memory?

I have not followed the deep legal arguments about the Voters Rights Act that surfaced yesterday at the US Supreme Court.  Should I be astonished that there are those questioning how long must we consider the legacy of voter suppression?  Just a bit given that we have to go all the way back to the fall of 2012 to find some voter suppression of non-whites in the U.S. 

The evidence of voter suppression efforts, under the guise of voterfraudfraud (efforts to claim that we need to protect the franchise by reducing the risk of [entirely imaginary] voter fraud), is most abundant.

We do not have to look at tables of voting times for whites vs. non-whites:

We could just look at what Republicans said:
Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer says he attended various meetings, beginning in 2009, at which party staffers and consultants pushed for reductions in early voting days and hours.
“The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” Greer told The Post. “It’s done for one reason and one reason only. … ‘We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us,’ ” Greer said he was told by those staffers and consultants.
“They never came in to see me and tell me we had a (voter) fraud issue,” Greer said. “It’s all a marketing ploy.”
- See more at: 
"'The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe early voting is bad for Republican party candidates,' Greer told The Post, 'IT's done for oen reason and reason only ... We've got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us ..... They never came  in to see me and tell me we had a (voter) fraud issue,' Greer said, 'It's all a marketing ploy.'"
But in June, Mike Turzai, Republican majority leader of the Pennsylvania House, blew his party’s cover by blurting out: “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor [Mitt] Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania? Done.” The press was jubilant. It was as if Koch Enterprises had acknowledged global warming. TNR

Anyhow, the point  should be pretty obvious: race still matters in elections.  Not just in who votes for whom, but in who tries to suppress whom.  The voterfraudfraud effort is aimed at minorities who tend to vote for the Democrats.  So, to have Supreme Court justices and commentators ponder whether the Voting Rights Act is no longer relevant is to suggest they are blind and deaf.  The election was only a few months ago--how short are people's memories?

The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” - See more at:

Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer says he attended various meetings, beginning in 2009, at which party staffers and consultants pushed for reductions in early voting days and hours.
“The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” Greer told The Post. “It’s done for one reason and one reason only. … ‘We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us,’ ” Greer said he was told by those staffers and consultants.
“They never came in to see me and tell me we had a (voter) fraud issue,” Greer said. “It’s all a marketing ploy.”
- See more at:
Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer says he attended various meetings, beginning in 2009, at which party staffers and consultants pushed for reductions in early voting days and hours.
“The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” Greer told The Post. “It’s done for one reason and one reason only. … ‘We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us,’ ” Greer said he was told by those staffers and consultants.
“They never came in to see me and tell me we had a (voter) fraud issue,” Greer said. “It’s all a marketing ploy.”
- See more at:

Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer says he attended various meetings, beginning in 2009, at which party staffers and consultants pushed for reductions in early voting days and hours.
“The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” Greer told The Post. “It’s done for one reason and one reason only. … ‘We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us,’ ” Greer said he was told by those staffers and consultants.
“They never came in to see me and tell me we had a (voter) fraud issue,” Greer said. “It’s all a marketing ploy.”
- See more at:
Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer says he attended various meetings, beginning in 2009, at which party staffers and consultants pushed for reductions in early voting days and hours.
“The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” Greer told The Post. “It’s done for one reason and one reason only. … ‘We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us,’ ” Greer said he was told by those staffers and consultants.
“They never came in to see me and tell me we had a (voter) fraud issue,” Greer said. “It’s all a marketing ploy.”
- See more at:
Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer says he attended various meetings, beginning in 2009, at which party staffers and consultants pushed for reductions in early voting days and hours.
“The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” Greer told The Post. “It’s done for one reason and one reason only. … ‘We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us,’ ” Greer said he was told by those staffers and consultants.
“They never came in to see me and tell me we had a (voter) fraud issue,” Greer said. “It’s all a marketing ploy.”
- See more at:
Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer says he attended various meetings, beginning in 2009, at which party staffers and consultants pushed for reductions in early voting days and hours.
“The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” Greer told The Post. “It’s done for one reason and one reason only. … ‘We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us,’ ” Greer said he was told by those staffers and consultants.
“They never came in to see me and tell me we had a (voter) fraud issue,” Greer said. “It’s all a marketing ploy.”
- See more at:

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Threat Exaggeration, Canadian Style

Check out my latest at CIC--the sky is falling, the sky is falling.  That is, folks are trying to generate panic if Obama does not approve Keystone pipeline.

I Love My Job, part 97

One of the big, big advantages of the move to Ottawa is that I no longer have to spend two hours driving home thinking "I Love My Job."  Now, I can just drive 15 minutes back to my office (even with all of today's snow) thinking it instead.   I had a very interesting conversation with someone who works in the Canadian military's operational headquarters.  It used to be that I had to arrange an interview and drive a couple of hours to do the interview and then drive back.  Now, I can simply grab lunch with someone interesting. 

What did I learn?  Well, it was off the record.  It did help cement a key theme that will be in the book I am currently writing.  What is that theme?  Ah, but since this is a trade book, I don't want to spoil it.  At least not until it is written. 

But when folks ask me if I am happy about the move, I have yet another reason to say:you betcha!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Choosing Not To Decide

You still have made a choice.  Ah, Rush.  Well, I posted at CIC this week on the themes I drew out from the CDA conference last week that I reported on here and here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Fun with Maps

Check out this page of maps.  Fun stuff.  My favorite:

This is a map of every country England has ever invaded:
No wonder the sun never set on the British Empire.  Jeez.  Sweden, Belarus, Mongolia, a stan or two, Mail, Chad, Ivory Coast, CAR, Burundi, Rep of Congo, Bolivia, Paraguay, Guatemala, and some micro-European countries did not get invaded by the UK at some point.  They didn't like landlocked countries (also on the page of maps), apparently, as that is one of the unifying features of most of these places.  Once you rule the waves, I guess you end up trying to rule all the stuff that touches the waves. 

Anyhow, check out the various maps and highlight any that you think need some over-thinking.

Canada and the Underwear Gnomes

Canada is ranked 55th out of 90 plus countries on how transparent the government is.  Well, I now have some personal experience.  In my time researching the Canadian military effort in Afghanistan, I have had some good luck getting Access of Information (FOIA is the US version) process to get documents.  And heaps of good luck in talking to military people.  Civilians?  Another matter entirely.

Today, I just got back from the Privy Council Office a rejection of my application.  I sought the document that had been created to generate the lessons that the Canadian government learned from the Afghanistan experience.  I had learned that the government did engage in such an exercise, a pretty novel thing, and took it pretty seriously but then buried it.  My effort to dig it up failed--thus far.

And this is the basic problem.  If you are going to learn from experience via a lessons learned exercise, here are the steps:
1) Learn the lessons;
2) Share the lessons;
3) Apply the lessons.

Nope, not gonna work if you just do step 1 and forget the rest.  So, I think that the Underwear Gnomes have a better sense of policy-making than the Canadian government:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Ultimate Sunday

Great piece on ultimate at NYT with two great quotes:

"The sport is very popular in Canada. You know something is misunderstood when you look to Canada for a sense of identity"

"Playing well requires decisive choices on myriad hypothetical outcomes. Graduate students love the game."
I liked that it was grouped with a piece on poker. It is almost as if the NYT gets me.
 And good timing, too, this is the season of committing to teams for the summer league in Ottawa.  One of the best realizations once we moved here was how close our new house is to the sweetest fields.  The league here owns what was a farm, I guess.  So, they have a single purpose--hosting ultimate.  
 I will keep this short as I have errands to do before my mid-afternoon winter indoor game--tis 4 on 4 on a very small field.  Very different from 5 on 5 on a medium sized Montreal field.  Still heaps of fun.  The strange thing: some optics guy decided to create his own small indoor sports facility--the Oz dome.  Sure, we have to share it with soccer folks, but not too far and better turf than at my new university.
Enjoy your day--it would be better if it has some ultimate tossed in. 
Ultimate update:
My team just tied a team of juniors. These kids were absolutely phenomenal--great athleticism, played really hard, and really smart, they all (especially the girls) dove often. I gotta say I am glad the competition was not that sharp when I started or I would have rode the bench for much of my career. Damn, these kids are good.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Centre of Gravity, Indeed

The second day of CDA's Conference on Defence and Security had the most interesting lineup, but one had to find the tasty nuggets buried in vanilla presentations.  The cast included the Minister of National Defence, Peter MacKay; the new Chief of Defence Staff, Tom Lawson; Admiral Edouard Guillard, the head of the French military; General Charles Jacoby who wears two hats--commander of NORAD and commander of US Northern Command; Admiral William McRaven, commander of US Special Operations Command; Lord Peter Levene, who chaired a report on UK defence reform, and then two panels  of folks with one one Governance and Accountability in procurement and the other on Western Hemisphere defence.

MacKay sent a video since he in Brussels at a meeting of NATO's defence ministers (or NAC-D ministerial in NATO parlance).  The video was introduced by a very partisan Chris Alexander who omitted, as all Conservatives do, the fact that the Liberals under Paul Martin actually started the boom in defence spending that is ending this year.  He also summoned up the War of 1812 as a key moment in Canadian identity, which is another favorite Conservative bit of framing.  I don't know whether it is true or not since I did not get steeped in Canadian history in school.*  Alexander's talk was more interesting that when he referred to Canadian interests in the world, he basically mentioned only two sectors (I might have misheard): finance and mining. 
* I consulted Teen Spew, and she reported that the War of 1812 did not play much of a role in her education, but then she got most of her Canadian history in Quebec.  So, the Quiet Revolution, the repatriation of the Constitution (which still confuses me), and the Confederation are the big events, not the War of 1812.

Alexander's talk was far more interesting than MacKay's which was as vanilla as you can get.  No announcements of policy decisions, no real statement of priorities (a recurring theme).  In the coverage of the day, MacKay got little play and deservedly so since there was no news content to his speech.  Apparently, he committed more clearly in a conference call with the media to updating Canada's defence strategy, which will be released after the budget.  This, of course, is both backwards and not backwards.  That one should set priorities and figure out what one needs and then commit to spending, but today's reality is that the priority is to spend less and then figure everything else out.  Indeed, this was a theme that dominated the two days.

Friday, February 22, 2013

I Got My Membership Card!

My take on day one of the CDA conference (an edited, more focused, more takeaway version to appear early next week at CIC) is below, which explains why blogging has been light.  Well that and the lack of wifi at the conference.

The first rule of Fight Club is not to talk about Fight Club.   The first rule of the Conference of Defence Association’s annual Ottawa conference is not to disparage the F-35 … unless you do not mind being buttonholed by a Lockheed representative.  Yesterday, I attended the first day of the two-day conference, and dared to ask a question only once, at the end of the day, about the tendency to deny, deny, deny.  People did not like the question too much (I should not have used the detainee stuff as an example), but did engage me afterwards.  So, unlike a friend who showed me the ropes, I am not persona non grata at the conference or in an African country not to be named here.

What did I learn?  Well, the first thing I noticed was that among the premium sponsors of the event was Rafale, the French aerospace company.  That was pretty interesting given that unlike most of the other sponsors, Canada is not current purchasing any Rafale products (that I know of).  But if the F-35 were to be rejected, Rafale does make a competing plane.  So, it was instructive that Rafale senses that it is worth an investment in the major defence contractor conference. 

Beyond plane competition, the thoughts of the panelists in the morning focused mostly only whether Canada should develop a national security strategy and what that would look like.  This is something I have discussed at CIC before (here and here).  The conversation started with a new Vimy paper that provides one take on Canada’s strategic outlook.  The key theme in the paper and the ensuing discussion is financial constraint—that Canada will not be engaged in significant interventions in the near term due to the costs of such operations.  No argument here on that.  Indeed, the big largely unanswered question of the conference, funded by defence contractors, is which programs will be cut.  While there were references in the discussion about an optimal mix of defence cuts, it is not clear what that means in practice.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Will I Get My Membership Card?

Tomorrow and Friday I will be attending the Conference of Defence Associations' annual conference in Ottawa for the first time.  Most of the speakers will be folks who either did or currently work in government, serve in the Canadian or American militaries, or are members of CDA.  Yes, it is a meeting of the military-industrial complex in Canada.  Or, if you want to use the longer name: the military-industrial-parliamentary-academic complex.  I sure hope I get my membership card.

Anyhow, the topics will range from Canada's place in the world, what its national security strategy might be, the implications of rising powers for Canada (hint: CHINA), cyber stuff, the CF and the Public, accountability in procurement, etc.  Keynoters will include the Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay; Chief of Defence Staff Tom Lawson; John Manley (of the Manley Panel and former/current Liberal party honco); US Admiral Locklear, Commander of Pacific Command; US General Jacoby, Commander of Northern Command and NORAD; Admiral William McRaven, Commander of Special Operations Command; and Lord Peter Levene, who chaired report on UK Defence Reform.

So, it should be an interesting couple of days.  If you have questions you think I should ask at any of the panels or of any of the officers/politicians, comment below. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fun with Maps, Canadian style

Check out this page that explains the effort--to come up with provinces of equal population size. 

Interactive version here.

The map is quite revealing--it reminds us of how much of the population is not only close to the border but in a few clusters--Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are not surprising--but the other parts of southern Ontario as well.  Of course, given the resource distribution, don't expect anything like this to ever happen. Still, fun to ponder.

I Blame Mad Men, Breaking Bad and My Wife

I cannot turn off my brain as I watch TV these days.  Not only did I notice some big gaping errors in Homeland as I power-watched its first season last week, but I kept noticing Noah Wyle's AK-47 in the pilot of Fallen Skies last night.  Yes, I am catching up on yet another series I could not access easily up here.  What is the problem with the AK-47?  Not much, of course, as it is the better weapon for insurgents--easy to maintain and so on.  But for an insurgent fighting aliens in New England?  I am not so sure.  Why?  How much ammo is available for AK-47s in the US?  Seems to me from the spree killers these days that that the M-16 equivalent (and probably its ammo) is more popular in the US.  Of course, a ragtag group of insurgents will pick up whatever they can find.

This over-thinking about TV programs where I should suspend my disbelief I blame on both the era of great, thoughtful TV programs (from The Wire to Mad Men and beyond) and on my wife.  Many of the programs of the past ten years require the viewer to make connections and see patterns and think about things, rather than just presenting/telling the viewer everything.  Which is what makes those programs so very good and engaging.  We have had to learn to be selectively thoughtful--Homeland is heaps of implausible, but I accepted much of it.  I just got frustrated about some details that were stupid.

I also blame my wife--she is an editor, so she is good at spotting things along the way.  Not only did I learn about Chekov's gun (when a gun in the first act is inevitably relevant in the third act) from her before I noticed it being by TV reviewers, but she has now trained me to watch for the guest stars at the beginning of TV shows--the biggest names are almost always the guilty ones.

Of course, who am I to complain?  I have gotten heaps and heaps of mileage blogging about Harry Potter, Lost, Avengers (here too), Star Wars, and so on.  And the past week's analyses of the Battle of Hoth at Wired, Duck and Tarkin has been just wonderful.

And it goes the other way as well.  In grad school, I started applying prisoner's dilemma to everything I saw.  And now, thanks to the book to be, I see principal-agency theory as much as the kid in Sixth Sense saw dead people--everywhere.

So, over-thinking is not bad at all, but, as with all things, we must be aware of the second and third order consequences.  For instance, fan fiction, that is of the dark side.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Japanese Bags of Milk

Ok, this is probably not NSFW but is on the borderline.  Brought to by companions today, Lethargy and Procrasination:

Nope, not bags of milk, but of ice cream delivered in a very strange way.  Thanks, Gawker.

One Must Pander Carefully

The NDP has been pandering to the soft nationalists of Quebec with its proposed bill (yes, it is a private member's bill but it fits with NDP stances) to revise the clarity act to make a secession referendum with a 50% plus one result as sufficient.  Not only do most Canadians find this too low, more than half of Quebeckers find it too low.  When folks are asked, they indicate around 60% seems to be the right threshold.  Which makes sense to me as it is such political change should have enough support that it could withstand a few people changing their minds. 

Anyhow, I do wonder about the trap the NDP faces--with most of its seats in Quebec, it faces the choice of appealing to its base or to Canada.  Playing to one audience may alienate the other.  So, the NDP might be trapped into permanent 2nd status (as long as the Liberals prove to be inept).  Giving much attention to the Quebec issue is surely a bad idea, given the dangers the NDP faces.  Could it possibly instead focus on issues of concern to Canadians inside and outside of Quebec?  That would take some work and imagination.  Good luck with that.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Belated Thoughts on Homeland, Season 1

Yep, a year late, but worth the wait. While we get most American programs up here, not all Showtime and few FX shows are shown when they are in US.  So, I have to either hope that they eventually show up or get the DVDs.  So, I am fully invested, for instance, in Justified. 

So, a few thoughts on Homeland beyond the break.

Serious Science Sunday

Check out this video that shows how the biggest creatures on earth, Blue Whales, are incredibly acrobatic in their pursuit of a good meal:

Yeah, Science!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Sins of the Academy: Bad Writing

People complain about academic writing all the time. In the past day or two, it is has gotten renewed play with Stephen Walt's piece.  I find Dan Drezner's older piece and Jay Ulfelder's new piece more compelling.  Walt does make a sharp distinction:
A second reason is the failure of many scholars to appreciate the difference between the logic of discovery and the logic of presentation. Specifically, the process by which a scholar figures out the answer to a particular question is rarely if ever the best way to explain that answer to a reader.
 He is right that this ought to make a difference.  He is wrong that a logic of discovery is the wrong way to go much of the time.  It depends on who the intended reader might be. When presenting research to the research community, it is almost certainly best to show to the audience how one discovered the findings, so that they can assess the question, the proposed answer, the methodology, the findings and the conclusion.  Note his example:
"First we read the literature, then we derived the following hypotheses, then we collected this data or researched these cases, then we analyzed them and got these results, and the next day we performed our robustness checks, and here's what we're going to do next." 
Well, if one is doing, dare I say it, hypothesis testing, this is surely the correct way to present the work.  Different kinds of work require different kinds of presentation.  Presenting a dissertation at a job talk is likely to take this format, because the audience cares as much as or more than the journey than the destination.

And this gets to the points raised by Dan and Jay--that much of our writing is aimed at the scholarly community, so we talk in jargon (since these shortcuts are handy) and we focus more on the stuff inside the paper than how it is presented.  Certainly, we can do better.  I constantly encourage my students to focus when reading not just on the stuff in the piece but how it is delivered, especially when they are in the latter stages of their dissertation and are thinking about book-ness.

I also think that Walt is wrong in his argument that academics are deliberately opaque because they fear being wrong.  This would take too much work, and most academics are focused on the task at hand--getting published to worry about such stuff.  Do reviewers reward crappy writing?  Well, they may not punish it, but I doubt that they reward it either.  As Jay suggested, the academic world is a mix of good and bad writers.  Some folks put effort into learning how to communicate better, and others just try to overwhelm the reviewers via quantity or ... really interesting questions and answers that can impress despite the lousy writing.

I do think that being articulate does pay off.  I know many folks who have gotten pretty far with rather limited ideas but with a great capacity for articulating them.

As for me, I married an editor.  Sure, that is cheating, but she taught me much before she stopped editing me (she wanted to do her own writing and also we had that pesky time-suck known as a child).  I have found my writing to be less formal than it used to be.  While I try to keep my blogging style and my article/book style distinct, the former has started to infect the latter.  Or at least, that is what my co-authors claim.

What is probably the fundamental reason why academics do not communicate well?  Perhaps a great writer can explain it: "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead." (Mark Twain).

Friday, February 15, 2013

Pop Culture and Social Behavior

Check out the moving figs at Deadspin.  Just striking what happens to the popularity of the name Heather before and after the movie Heathers came out.  Here is just one.
Did The Movie Heathers Kill The Name Heather?

Oh my. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love Is All Around Us

Unless you happen to live in Mongolia, various Stans, Syria, and Belarus:

Morocco also stands out.

The other way to enjoy Valentine's Day as a Political Scientist to follow the #PoliSciValentines thread on twitter.  My contributions:
With you, there is no security dilemma #PoliSciValentines and
You are my principal, I will not shirk #PoliSciValentines
Also, today, it was revealed that Canada is extending the C17 mission to Mali for another month.  That is lovely in two ways--to help Mali and to make my one solid prediction quite accurate.  I said on the various TV spots that the first and then second deadlines for the mission were unrealistic and that I expected the mission to be extended yet again.  Whoo hoo me!

The title of this post was inspired by Love Actually, but here is what I found online.

Enjoy your VDay.

New Blog in the Virtual Street

My new institutions (well, still new-ish) now has a blog:  Yes, you can guess who is to blame.  Check it out. We hope to get a rolling selection of content from the various profs and occasional PhD students at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. 

Your prolific blog-spewer.

P-A and Star Wars

I ended up jumping into the Duck conversation of understanding the failures of the Empire during Star Wars.  My take relies on P-A theory, as my latest book project has definitely pushed me deep into the dark side.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dark Side Nostalgia

Wired went from a fun post about the Battle of Hoth to a great conversation among people I follow on twitter.  Behold, the power of a fully armed and operational community of IR scholar-geeks.  My own attempt at this stuff earlier this week pales in comparison to the sharpness of these posts.

In grad school, we often joked that principal-agency theory was the real dark side.  My friends who specialized in American politics (or even took American as their second subfield) found themselves inevitably drawn into the dark side, using, deploying, applying P-A theory.  By focusing on IR and Comparative, I avoided the dark side during my time there.

But alas, my fall was inevitable.  As soon as I began to co-author with one of the disciples (David Auerswald), I was tainted.  As a result, the new book on NATO and Afghanistan, with the final draft to be sent to Princeton University Press tomorrow for processing, contains delegation, discretion, oversight.  These are of the dark side.  I have become so infected that I pondered at length the P-A dynamics of the Avengers.  As a result of the betrayal of my former self, I cannot help but think of P-A relations when it comes to Darth Vader, the Emperor, Luke and all the rest.  The series of pieces in the uber-geek symposium reek of the dark side.  They ponder who was monitoring whom, they implicitly indicate that there was agency slack, hidden information and hidden action aplenty.

It is true as say, that once you step into the dark, forever it will dominate your destiny.  If only I could figure out that force lightning....

Irrational Service, Rational Shirking

Phil Arena posted a series tweets this morning pointing out some contradictions between people's theories and their behavior:

Phil goes on to suggest that most academics are rational shirkers/voters regardless of their theoretical dispositions.  I do not find this surprising.  In the great battles of the 1990s when Phil was just a wee lad, dreaming of formal models, there was a fun (from the standpoint of an outside observer) conflict between the rational choice crowd focused on utility maximization and an unholy alliance of Realists, feminists, post-modernists and others who only shared one interest--maximizing utility (gaining control of the APSR and other publications).  And the rat choicers felt guilty enough to give in a bit.   This old listserv post put it best:
The proponents of value-free social science are compelled by their sense of 
justice and fair play to hand over significant power to those who reject 
value-free social science.  At the same time, those who argue for a more 
straightforwardly normative approach to the discipline make common cause 
with their mortal ideological enemies in order for both sides to pursue 
the blatantly self-interested goals of tenure, promotion, wealth, and fame.
So, just as Stephen Krasner found that hypocrisy is not new to IR/sovereignty, political scientists often behave in ways that contradict their models.  This perestroika debate was at the level of the profession, but Phil's observation is more at the departmental level--that most folks tend to shirk, vote strategically and so on.  Actually, yes on the former, no on the latter.  We suck as political animals, so most of us do not count votes ahead of time, most of us do not lobby all that effectively, and most of us suck as administrators.

On the shirking thing, well, every department has folks who are reliable and those who are not.  Those that are reliable end up doing far more than their share of service.  Those who are unreliable find themselves doing less service since they are .... unreliable.  They may not show up at meetings, they may not do the paperwork, they may not read what they are supposed to read, they may not be appropriate advisors for about half of the human population, whatever.  And this may be a rational strategy to avoid work or it may just be that being unreliable is in their nature.  The challenge for any academic leader--chair, director, dean, whatever--is to find ways to reward the reliable so that shirking is less attractive.

I tried to be unreliable, but I sucked at it.  During the dark days before the move, I tried to avoid doing anything that would help out those that did me wrong.  Yet, I still ended up serving on more dissertation committees and I still met the service obligations of the profession.  Now that I am in a new place, I have re-set, saying yes to nearly everything.  Perhaps by over-doing it, I will miss deadlines and under-perform, leading to a reputation for unreliability--if only I was so strategic.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Immature Parties, continued

I have been ranting here and elsewhere about the crappy oversight that exists in Canada (but the US, with its farcical confirmation hearings, is making oversight a joke as well).  Well, this piece drove me up a twitter wall this morning. In the defence committee report on the F-35, the majority party removed heaps of interesting stuff to protect the government from embarrassment, and thus caused the government some embarrassment. When the Auditor General and the Parliamentary Budget Office say you messed up, and then the committee writes a report omitting such stuff, well, folks notice.  Indeed, folks leak.

The Conservatives are a majority party with no real threat in sight, yet they continue to deny, deny, deny that they did anything wrong ever.  So, they word-smith this report to make it appear as if any mistakes were solely done by folks at the Ministry of National Defence.  Given Harper's micro-management of stuff, this is pretty funny.

What drives me crazy is that committees in legislatures are supposed to do something other than be the lapdogs of the government.  The opposition must, of course, oppose in Westminster systems, but, again, the automatic gainsaying just leads to less credibility.  When the NDP actually had good reasons to criticize the F-35 and showed that its reps knew their stuff, well, their party's cred went up.  When the Liberal opposed a war that it had started (Kandahar), it made them look foolish. To criticize and to oppose are not identical.  A constructive opposition can figure out how to criticize a policy without having to mindlessly oppose to score points.  And a government and its party in the legislature needs to be able to respond to criticism intelligently rather than censoring documents and engaging in denials.  When you deny reality, you lose credibility. 

Am I naive to expect the parties to act maturely?  Only sort of. The parties have some incentives to attack the other party thoughtlessly, but they also have some reason to develop reputations for being transparent and constructive.  Voters might actually vote for the party they respect.  Sure, that seems naive, but we shall see.  Message control may or may not lead to the Conservatives as the natural governing party of Canada, but developing a reputation for denial, censoring reality and the like might not be that helpful in that ambition.

Belated Super-Nerd Analysis

I love this post for thinking about the Battle of Hoth, where the Empire fails in all of its objectives.  For me, the really confusing part of this battle is at the start, when Vader kills the Admiral for appearing out of hyperspace too close to the planet, losing the element of surprise.  It would seem to me that appearing further out would be helpful perhaps for surrounding the planet, but would also be detected sooner since the fleet would then be crossing through the star system for a bit of time.  This would give the Rebels more time to react, not less.  Unless one assumes that the Rebels cannot detect a fleet in the neighborhood.  I find that hard to believe, given the rest of the state of technology existing in that galaxy at that time. 

So, anyone care to make sense of that for me?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Out-Pandering the NDP

I have often criticized the NDP for pandering to the Quebec nationalists by taking weenie positions on a possible Quebec referendum.  Well, the Immigration Minister of Canada, Jason Kenney, has out-pandered the NDP.

In a press conference with Tamil-Canadian media last month, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Canada acted against its own interests by listing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as a terrorist group in 2006.
Acted against the interests perhaps of Canadian politicians seeking the Tamil-Canadian vote, but Canada had stood out as one of the few advanced democracies not recognizing the reality that the LTTE were a terrorist group.  Of course, perhaps we should have given the LTTE a pass because it only perfected the art of suicide bombing including the use of apparently pregnant women.  Perhaps we should give the LTTE a pass because it was more equal opportunity for women than many other terrorist groups?

Of course, this was a session only for Tamil-Canadian media so it took a month to get out.  If this was not pandering, Kenney should have said it widely and loudly.  So, the media here really is the message--talk to an ethnic lobby in a way that you cannot say publicly.  Good times.

Yes, the Sinhalese majority of Sri Lanka have abused the Tamils in many ways--providing the textbook case of ethnic outbidding--where two parties compete for a majority's vote at the expense of a minority.  But in 2006, the LTTE were still alive and kicking and causing much in the way of civilian casualties.

To be clear, the Tamil-Canadians are not the only community that has supported those using violence in the homeland and where local politicians have pandered to them (Irish-Americans are a famous case).  I expect (in books 1 and 2) for people to seek policies that aid their kin back home.  I also expect politicians who need their votes to support their positions.  But I don't have to approve of it. So, excuse me if I call a pander a pander, but Kenney is the new pander bear of Canada.*
* As this picture suggests, I am not the only person to think of the phrase "pander bear"

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Is Mali Afghanistan?

Last night, I was asked once again is Mali Africa's Afghanistan?  Hell if I know.  Well, I didn't say that, but it really depends on what you mean by "Afghanistan."  Mali experts will say no, because all experts hate when their place is considered to be very comparable to another, especially one of the objectively worst places on earth (not just violence, but corruption, economic situation, etc., Afghanistan always ranks at the top or bottom of those lists).  I am an expert on neither country, but have followed Afghanistan for much longer since the books in progress focus on outsiders mucking around in Afghanistan.  Plus ten days there in 2007 make me an expert, right?

So, when I think is Mali like Afghanistan, I tend to say no because:
  • Who is the Pakistan in this analogy?  Maybe Libya played the role of outsider feeding/fostering unrest, but not anymore.
  • Indeed, the neighbors seem to be constructive.  Imagine a world in which India and Pakistan and Iran were working together to support the government of Afghanistan and the NATO effort?  Yeah, unrealistic, but Mali, as far as I can tell, is getting help from multiple countries in the region to regain control of the north.
  • Does Mali have poppies or the equivalent?  Afghanistan has been greatly complicated by the reality that poppies are one of the very few profitable exports with efforts to substitute/eradicate/minimize raising all kinds of problems.  
  • While the various groups that seized the north share some identities with the people who reside there (Tuareg, Muslim), they apparently wore out their stay quite quickly and don't have the reservoir of support that the Taliban has had among certain tribes within the Pashtuns. 
What makes Afghanistan and Mali similar?
  • Limited trust/capacity at the center.  Afghanistan has Karzai, and Mali has a new military regime promising to have elections soon.
  • A crappy "security sector."  Afghanistan's police systematically abuse the populace.  Mali's military seems to be killing folks who have little to do with the various separatist groups.
So, yes, there are a few similarities, but violence, state collapse, and intervention do make Mali Afghanistan.  Mali's road will be tough and bumpy, and it may not head where people hope it is heading.  But it ain't Afghanistan.  When we apply analogies, we really need to think not just about the apparent similarities but the core properties and see how many of them apply.  In this case, a few but not that much.

Limited Expertise, Always Pushed Beyond

The danger in doing live TV/radio is that the interviewer almost always goes beyond the pre-interview.  So even when I make it clear that I am no expert on Mali politics, they ask about it anyway.  This time, I pretty much said: "Your guess is as good as mine." 

I do this stuff because I feel obligated--by the university that hired me in part to help raise the visibility of the institution, by the grant agencies that want public engagement, by my profession's anguishing about relevance, and by my deep desire to poop on myths that keep getting spread, like Mali is like Afghanistan.  Also, I am a self-admitted narcissist.

Anyhow, check out it and tell me what I should do better or if I should just shut up.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Five Rules of Dodgeball and Regime Change

To continue this morning's musings about Libya and such, I realized that the rules of dodgeball can make sense of US strategies in the aftermath of regime change:
  • Dodge: Once you break the opposition, try to get an international organization to do the very minimum (Afghanistan with non-NATO ISAF at first)
  • Dip: Once you break a country, hand over the reins to emigres and run out of the country (Iraq, plan A)
  • Duck: Once your effort to dip has failed, create a half-assed agency that is only slightly connected to the inter-agency back home, let it make bad decisions but then avoid responsibility (Iraq, Bremer and his Can't Produce Anything authority).
  • Dive: Break a government without any commitment of troops, and then wait for others to manage the place (Libya)
  • Dodge: Once an ally breaks the opposition, try to get regional/international organizations to run the place (Mali).
Did I miss any rules?

Non-Buyer's Remorse

There has been a lot of gnashing lately about the failure of the US/NATO to stop the flow of arms from Libya.  Well, given the "no boots on the ground" components of the UN resolutions and of the policies of the NATO countries, how could the outsiders have done anything to stop the flow of arms.  NATO has been trying to stop the flow of arms into Afghanistan for the past decade (plus or minus) without too much success, and it has had a heap of troops in the neighborhood plus much in the way of intel and air assets nearby. 

My basic point here is a simple one: the flow of arms beyond Libya is not a surprise, but very few folks were advocating a serious NATO deployment two years ago.  So, we now have some remorse that more was not done, but it was quite unrealistic to expect outsiders to do much/enough to make a dent the past few years.  It is not that we forget about Libya, it is that we didn't care enough about Libya to invest sufficient resources to affect the flow of arms.  After two American wars in the Mideast, the US was not up to another war (again, my concept of a war cap seems to apply).  NATO, exhausted by Afghanistan, was not going to send enough troops to make up for the missing Americans. Who was left?  Exactly. 

Of course, the funny thing is that when the US did focus its effort on a country, it still messed up on containing the weapons, but I blame that on Rumsfeld.

Anyhow, I am waiting for someone to figure out how one can stop the flow of weapons without putting troops on the ground.  Anyone?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Fear Not

I am not fearful.  Fear leads to anger, anger lead to hate, and hate leads to suffering

Grad Students Watch Just Enough TV

Check out this rant by William Spaniel

The context is in his blog.  Just heaps of fun thinking about how to play a game and where it goes awry.  I want William to watch a few weeks of Price is Right so that he can rant about bidding strategies in the opening game and then on the showcase showdown.

Known Knowns and All That

I saw this tweet today.

And I have so many reactions to it.  First, Rumsfeld would probably say that it was true from a certain point of view.  That the war, in terms of a conventional land campaign, was indeed over in weeks.  The US toppled the Iraqi government later than the impatient would have expected but still pretty quickly given how few forces were deployed to Iraq.  But, of course, the problem is that Rummy and his pals thought that they could easily handover Iraq to Chalabi and other emigre pals and then the US forces could run back home.

Which gets to the known knowns as Rummy would say: we knew in 2002 that the Office of the Secretary of Defense was broken.  That is the military term for a dysfunctional organization, and OSD was quite dysfunctional.  The people there lived in fear of Rummy--I saw it on a regular basis during my year on the Joint Staff.  And these folks were given the job of running the "post-war" phase.  I knew they would screw it up, which is one reason why I argued at the time that this was the wrong war at the wrong time by the wrong people.  But little did I know that they would use the list of things that they should not do and use it as a checklist instead.  Disband the army and free up 400,000 or so men who were trained in fighting and knew where all of the guns and explosives where?  Check!

So, the first moves by the US as the Iraqi government fell was to insure that "war" would last for years rather than months. Not providing enough troops meant that the infrastructure needed to run Iraq was decimated by looting.  Disbanding the army and extreme de-ba'athification gave a weak insurgency heaps of oxygen to burn brighter.  I could go on.

The biggest known known of 2003--that Rumsfeld was incredibly arrogant.  What was unknown at the time that he was so arrogant that he was willing to use his war strategy as a tool for domestic political purposes: using only a small number of troops and having the Marines go further inland than in their entire history was designed less with victory in Iraq in mind and more about fighting a bureaucratic battle against an Army he disliked (that would be the US Army).  While Rumsfeld was not the only one responsible for the debacles of 2003-2006, he certainly bore a heap of responsibility that he continues to deny.

Worst SecDef ever?  Almost certainly.  McNamara made poor decisions due to his arrogance, but had a learning curve.  His mistakes were not nearly as profoundly ... stupid as Rumsfeld's.  I guess the question is whether failing in Vietnam did more or less damage to American interests than the Iraq war.  Both wars raised concerns about American decline, caused loss of political capital around the world, did heaps of damage to the American military, and significant harm to the US economy (and world economy as a result).  It would be a toss-up, I guess, if not for the fact that Rumsfeld's focus on Iraq meant that the US did not reinforce victory in Afghanistan, wasting a huge amount of time that gave the Taliban a chance to recover.  Afghanistan may not have been winnable anyway, but the turn to Iraq made failure in Afghanistan far more likely. 

Or is there a SecDef that did a better job of undermining US national security?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cool Map

This here is a cool map.  I am too busy to think about it now, but perhaps my learned readers can offer a few thoughts to prime ye olde Spewe pumpe.

Army Training, Suh!

I got a comment on my post about Germany's drones that referred to the problems resulting from Germany given responsibility for police training.  NATO not only divvied up the country into different areas of operation with the Germans getting the north, Italians getting the west, the Canadians/Brits/Dutch sharing the south and the Americans leading in the East, but they also had functional division of responsibilities as well.  The Germans got policing, the British got counter-narcotics, and the Italians got judicial reform.  Yeah, incredibly problematic and more than just a bit funny, that last one.

Anyway, the Germans were poorly suited to do police training for several reasons, but particularly because of two key restrictions: their army and police were not allowed to cooperate much due to historical stuff, and German troops faced geographic restrictions as well.  So, other than training in Kabul, the training could otherwise only take place on German bases in RC-North (I could be slightly wrong on this, but I am basing this on interviews with Germany Interior Ministry folks as well as others who experienced/observed some of this). 

Eventually, the US took over and poured a heap of resources into this.  But it led to a set of perceptions that I don't think were accurate.  That police training was just a few years behind training the Afghan National Army, illustrated thusly:*
* I hereby demonstrate why I did not major in graphic arts

The green line on the left is ANA training, the blue line on the right is ANP.  The basic idea is that both training efforts have the same trajectory.  The problem with this is that training police may be fundamentally and inherently more difficult than army training.  Police need to do a wide variety of tasks, they need to be deeply engaged with local populations, they face constant temptation to exploit those that they should be protecting and serving, and so on.  While being a member of an army unit also has its own challenges, most enlisted troops have fewer skills to master, local knowledge and engagement is less important (again, for the enlisted folks), and so on.  So, I would expect the comparison to look more like this:

The basic point here is that we cannot simply blame the Germans for delaying the police training.  Nor should we expect police training to be progressing at the same rate (if a few years behind) as the army training.  And of course, this all assumes that army training has been swell.  Army training can only be done overnight in the movies:

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Oversight Overboard

Check out my latest at CIC--where I call both CA and US legislators a bunch of babies.

Silly Sunday is Late

But this is just silly enough to merit a quick post:

Musical Chairs, Military Style

The Canadian Forces/Ministry of National Defence just announced the changes in command.  I am bummed because some of the folks I have met are retiring.  LTG Peter Devlin will be retiring from his post as head of the Land Staff (commander of the Canadian Army).  I met him a few years ago to interview him about his time as commander of NATO forces in Kabul in 2004.  It was a fascinating interview and most helpful in my research.  I bumped into him last week when I was at conference co-hosted by the Combat Training Centre.  It was nice to catch up, and he had some really interesting things to say in our conversation.  Let's just say that he would be on my side with the bet with

The downside of researching the military in any modern democracy is that the people you meet move up and out so quickly.  There are only one or two officers I worked with in the Pentagon that are still around in the military, but most are gone.  The same is increasingly true here--most of the colonels and generals interviewed for the project are out of the CF.  A few remain and in interesting spots.  So perhaps hanging out last week with the Captains and Majors might have been a good idea.

The Educational Political Peter Principle

Germany is about to lose yet another minister to plagiarism.  This time it is the ..... what for it..... Minister of Education.  Before, it was the Minister of Defense.  For some reason, politicians in Germany think that a PhD is a requisite for higher office, so they end up cheating along the way to get there.  I think the Germans would do themselves a huge favor by changing expectations--that an MA in a policy-oriented program, perhaps just with classwork and no thesis, might be sufficient for high political office.

Am I posting this due to schadenfreude?  No.  I am posting this because it gives me an excuse to post my favorite video: the retirement ceremony of former Minister of Defense Von Guttenberg

There are Priorities and then There are Priorities

I got in a twitter conversation with Robert Caruso yesterday about Kerry's prioritization of diplomatic security.  Kerry has been pushed by the events of Benghazi and Congressional pressure to say that diplomatic security:
[E]verything I do will be focused on the security and safety of our people."
My basic point is that this should not be the focus of the Secretary of State.  Yes, he (or she as it has been the past decade and a half) should care about the people he puts in harm's way, but put in harm's way they must be.  We need to do a better job of providing insurance and other personal benefits for non-military but at risk folks*, and security needs to be a consideration.
* One of the key revelations of "whole of government" efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan is that the military often had a hard time working with the civilians since the latter were far more exposed to the risks without adequate benefits programs.
But it cannot be THE consideration or the most important focus of the Secretary of State, whose primary focus must be on the national interest, on maximizing what is best for the US in the world.  That is the job description.  Just as Generals ought to develop battle plans that manage risk so that the soldiers' lives and limbs are not wasted, the State Department needs to develop engagement strategies that manage but do not eliminate risk.  Otherwise, the State Department can continue the trend of building fortresses and minimizing access.  This is great for those who want twitter to be how the US engages the publics of other countries, but it will risk losing key sources of information and of influence.

So, I do not mean to be flippant here but stress that the safety of diplomats is significant but ought not to be the focus of Secretary of State Kerry nor of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.