Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Poker Advice for Mr. Karzai

Every Thanksgiving my mind turns to ... poker.  Why?  Because I evaded my family's annual arguments about the 2000 Presidential election (despite everyone being on the same, pro-Gore side) by watching the World Series of Poker which led to teaching my daughter and her cousins how to play poker.

So, with folks invoking poker when discussing Karzai's positioning on the bilateral security agreement, I thought I would provide some poker tips.  To be clear, I am not an expert--my time playing online has diminished and my days of regular payouts have ended (I guess I had been beating more Americans than others in the old pokerstars games before they got kicked off).

Still, some basics can go a long way:
  • Does the other player have a record of bluffing?  If you have seen the other player display poor cards or back down when their bluffs are re-raised, then they may be bluffing again.  However, when Iraqi politicians showed no willingness to give Americans immunity, the US had no problem signing a Status of Forces Agreement that had a built-in departure scheduled.
  • The stakes.  While in poker, both sides might have to throw in the same amount of chips (which is where this analogy really falls apart--since the US commitment is far less than the Afghan), the size of the pot relative to the size of the chip stacks matters.  That is, what is at stake in Afghanistan compared to what are the larger stakes for the players?  For the US, what is at stake in Afghanistan is tiny compared to its entire set of concerns and political capital.  For Afghanistan, this particular hand is ... damned near everything.  If the US leaves, that changes everything in Afghanistan since the US and its allies will not continue to fund the Afghan government, including its army, if it leaves.  So, if Karzai re-raises the American bet, he and his country can lose everything.  Which explains why nearly everyone else in the political and social scene, including folks Karzai appointed, are asking Karzai to sign the agreement.
  • Where in the game are we?  Has the game just started or are we near the end?  A friend raises the possibility on twitter that one side might be acting like a fish (a lousy player) in order to get the other side to overplay their hand later.  Well, in this case, we are much closer to the end than the beginning.  So, Karzai and the US cannot really play the game today in a way that will alter their reputation tomorrow.  It is this hand that matters.  Karzai is out of power (sort of or entirely) after the election, and the US is phasing out either slow or fast.  So, this hand is not being played for the long game. 
  • The cards matter just a bit.  The behavior during the hand should tell you a bit about what kind of cards the other side has.  Is the US likely to have a weak hand here, that it is overplaying via  a bluff?  Could the US actually have "leaving" as one of the cards in its hand that would trump pretty much any hand that Karzai could have?  Um, yeah.  
  • If we move towards the signaling dynamics, with the US and Karzai having other audiences for other games, then, well, damn, the US is pretty convincing.  While Karzai may be trying to deflect responsibility for the agreement, the US has sent very strong signals not just for this game but for the broader community of observers that it is ready to walk if this agreement is not signed.  Yes, the US could walk back its threats.  But the US has many other poker games to play, so developing a reputation here as a bluffer who backs down has costs beyond Afghanistan.
Again, I have lost money at poker and I have won money as well (I am ahead but not by as much as I would like), so take my poker advice with all the grains of salt you need.  All I can say is that if I was Karzai, I would be folding.  Sign the agreement and enjoy the money your family moved to Dubai--it is not in this game, but your ability to enjoy it might be.  We don't need to show Karzai pictures of a former Afghan President swinging from a lamppost.  

and yes, of course, this is the song that Karzai should be listening to:

Thanksgiving 2013: Much To Be Grateful For

Tis the time of year to enumerate the many things for which one is grateful, and I do have much on this list. I have decided this year to declare success, as my career and family and everything else is pretty terrific these days.
  • I am very grateful for my new and old friends in Ottawa.  1.5 years into the move, and I am so very glad that we went West (1.5 hours).  It was the first time we moved some place where we knew a few folks.  The relatively new poker game at Chez Saideman has both these folks and new friends, and I have enjoyed our encountered elsewhere in Ottawa--especially in the Byward Market with its good food and beer. 
  • I am very thankful for our new neighborhood.  The neighbors are very neighborly, and I have enjoyed watching the herd of small kids play all the time.  
  • I am thankful for the new job.  I am enjoying the interactions with students who already have one foot in the policy world, as well as the conversations with faculty engaged in various aspects of International Affairs. 
  • I am thankful for my new commute.  I am exposed to the elements for 1.5 minutes each way--the walk to and from the parking garage on campus.  The drive is usually quite pretty as well, up and down the Rideau Canal/River. 
  • I am enjoying being in a national capital, meeting with so many interesting folks engaged in making foreign and defense policy.  The Byward has been very good for these interactions as well.  I have also had the chance to present my research to folks working in government, so the "justify your work on the grant application" process is much easier.  Also, it helps to answer the "are you just talking to other academics" question nicely.
  • I am thankful for the internet, even as it can be a time suck.  Sure, I only placed 2nd in TwitterFightClub 2013, but I have made heaps of new virtual friends.  I have increasingly had the chance to meet these virtual friends in real life, and I have enjoyed those experiences very much. 
  • I am thankful that my third book is done and soon will be out and about (you can pre-order your Winterfest present now!).  I am very grateful not only Dave Auerswald's hard work and creativity on this project but his patience with me.  I am also very thankful to my other co-authors, past, present and future, for their work and insights on the projects we have shared.
  • I am grateful that the spin-off book is nearly complete.
  • I am really enjoying the travels with Teen Spew as we check out colleges and universities near and far.  Of course, this means that next year I will have less to be thankful for as I will no longer be able to tease or be teased by her.  And she is still pretty cuddly.  Her new phase of life will be most exciting, but it will have a lot less of me and my wife in it.  Still, it has been a fun ride for nearly eighteen years, and I am thankful for who she has become--a pretty outstanding person who keeps surprising me.
  • I am very thankful that nearly all of my friends and family are quite healthy and happy these days.  My friend fighting leukemia keeps filling me with pride and optimism as she fights so very bravely.  I am lucky in that I only have one friend (that I know of) waging such a war.  One of the boons of the college tour has been to see some friends and family that we do not see that much.  
All in all, it has been a very good year since the last time I gobbled turkey after a long drive south. 

May your Thanksgiving spew not just food but fun as well.

Oh, and one last bit of thanks: I am thankful I am not a grad student these days.  I enjoyed my time in San Diego, but I don't think grad school is quite as much fun as it used to be.  Sorry ;)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Consistencies in US Foreign Policy and Confusing Chinese Behavior

What do Russia, China, and Canada have in common? Unwelcome visits by American ships and planes.  During the Cold War and after, the US Navy made it a habit of driving their ships relatively close to Russian shores, always seeking to underline the law of the sea (even when not ratified by the US) that allows ships to pass through straits and close to land.  The American conflict with Canada over the Arctic has two dimensions--where to draw the line under the water so that we can figure out where American and Canadian property rights exist and the American insistence that its ships can sail between various Canadian islands in the Northwest Passage as it unfreezes.  The latter conflict is much harder to resolve than the former since it is about a basic principle and not haggling over lines.

Why is this relevant today?  Because China announced a zone of airspace beyond its territory that would be part of China's defense zone--whatever that means.  So, as quick as you can gas up some B-52's (or not so quickly as it took a few days), the US is flying planes through this space to demonstrate its scoffing and to emphasize how much the US likes this particular form of international law.

So, the US is pretty inconsistent in many ways over the decades, but tell it to shove off and not send its military through a space and you can pretty much count on a visit by the US Navy or Air Force.  This just reinforces the strangeness of the Chinese decision.  As others have remarked on twitter and elsewhere, with Japan and South Korea having various disputes, why would you want to give them common cause?

I am not a China expert, despite eating in Chinese restaurants with celebrities.  But this does seem to be very un-Sun Tzu of them. 

Best illustrated by this?

and the US here would be Lancelot....

Saudis Are Not Buds Anymore?

This NYT piece on the growing divide between the US and Saudi Arabia is shocking .... only in what it omits--that whole 9/11 thing.  Remember way back, long ago, when most of the hijackers were Saudi, when Saudi Arabia's promotion of a particular brand of Islam was rather aggressive, and so on? 

I sure do.  So, we are now at the point where the President of the United States is making foreign policies that do not dovetail with the preferences of Saudi Arabia. Boo frickin' hoo.  Yes, Saudi Arabia is still important even as American dependence on its oil declines.  And we need to be careful not to scare the Saudis too much since they could go out and buy some Pakistani nukes.  Still, American foreign policy is supposed to be about maximizing American national interests, not Saudi Arabia's (and not Israel's).

So, conflict and war may not be in the American nationalist interest.  Just a guess, really, that after more than a decade of multiple wars that perhaps we have learned that violence is not always the answer, that developing imperfect agreements that further American objectives might not be the wrong way to go. 

And if it pisses off the Saudis, then perhaps my enthusiasm for the agreement increases 3 times, kind of like the Grinch's heart.

and yes, this post is another example of this phenomenon:

Monday, November 25, 2013

Everything is Relative: Understanding CF Polls

I am confused about the numbers coming back from the Canadian Forces.  They surveyed those doing training in Afghanistan and found that morale was not what they hoped.  Only one third were optimistic about the training mission?  You mean the one where some of the folks being trained (those by other countries) were shooting the trainers?  That the Afghan military has heaps of flaws and the government is deeply problematic and the funding depends entirely on the international community?  Um, is one third being optimistic low or crazy-high?

Only 58% that that their mission was significant or important?  Wait, this is low?  A significant hunk of the CF trainers think their mission is important, more than the percentage required for Quebec to separate from Canada or Scotland from the UK and that is low?  I am very confused. 

The only really disturbing number is that 59% felt psychological distress, similar to what the previous contingents engaged in combat felt.  However, given that this mission is now what these guys spent their career training for, that they could get shot by someone they were training at any moment, and that the government was running away from the mission, not that big of a surprise.

Overall, I think this report is interesting, but I am not sure how much of this is really bad news or just signs of a realistic military that answers questions pretty honestly.  Perhaps I am too cynical?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Silliness: Mil Version

If the females that just passed through advanced infantry school don't get put into infantry units, it might be sexism or it might be SNAFU-situation normal, all f-ed up:
H/t to Charli Carpenter

Touring the Agreements on a Satisficing Sunday

Lots and lots of IR this weekend, and I could go through each agreement but there are heaps of smart people doing that.  So, just a few thoughts on each:

Iran nuke deal: I think I will go with the consensus of those who think that war is not so easy: this agreement does what we want it to do--freeze Iran's program and even reverses a smidge (diluting some of the nuclear materials) without more blood and treasure paid by the US and its allies at a time where we cannot really afford more blood and treasure.
  • Israeli politicians are not happy.  Sucks to be them, but American interests come first for the US. Given what the Israeli stock market is doing today, it might be the case that Obama is doing a better job of looking out for Israel's interests than Israeli politicians.
  • It looks to contain the verification stuff needed to limit although not eliminate cheating. 
  • Keep in mind that the US military, represented by former CJCS Mullen, resisted the Bush Administration's push towards war.  If the US military does not want war with Iran, the fans of war might just want to take a breath or two.  
  • Perfect is the enemy of the good enough.  Is this agreement perfect?  Probably not.  Is it good enough?  Sure looks like it.
Karzai and the Bilateral Security Agreement.  The big Afghansitan news of the weekend is not that Karzai ran away from the agreement he negotiated but that the Loya Jirga insists that he sign it before the end of the year.  Sure, this assembly is hardly democratic, a collection of elders and warlords and whoever else, but they seem to want American security in the form of 10k or so troops and the dollars that fund the Afghan National Army.  A few key dynamics here:
  • Who appoints people to the Loya Jirgha?  President Karzai.  So, either the folks there are biting the hand that selects them or Karzai's game is even more complicated than we thought.
  • I think this is in character--Karzai has never wanted to own the war, so why should he take ownership of the peace?
  • There is a big difference between the bargaining over Iran (see the link at the top) and here.  In the Afghanistan post-2014 case, the bargaining power really is on one side.  The US can leave.  If it leaves, it takes its support of the Afghan National Army with it.  This move would greatly threaten the security of those in power in Afghanistan now.  Afghanistan cannot threaten US interests in the same way as Iran (cut the Strait of Hormuz, etc).  Afghan leaders might think the US is bluffing, but when the US could not work out a SOFA that would keep a residual presence in Iraq, the US left.  Iraq is far more important for American interests, and the sunk costs of Iraq >>> sunk costs in Afghanistan.  So perhaps this is all Karzai's dance to distract folks from the reality that the agreement is very much a win for the US
    • no promise of treating Afghanistan like NATO (if Pakistan attacks, which, it really has been doing via its support of the Taliban and others);
    • US continues to have night raids but restricted somewhat;
    • US prosecutes American troops if they are accused of committing crimes, not the Afghan government.
The Scottish White Paper is 670 pages. When I was in Scotland two weeks ago, many questions/answers were left up in the air, depending on what was going to be in the white paper.  Given its length, I have to believe that there was much intra-Scottish National Party bargaining over what a future Scotland would look like.  Of course, the other interpretation of the document's length is that they do not want people to read it.  All I know is that I will have to depend on someone else to read this document, as I have better things to do than read 670 pages.  Oy. 

The big and most important disagreement of the past few days:
This is a map between China, Japan and South Korea where the Chinese essentially define a heap of airspace as being under their control.  Expect more confrontations between Japan and China.  This is really bad news, folks.  I am not sure what is driving China these days, but it is not so secretly becoming pretty damned belligerent.  Its response on typhoon relief in the Philippines has won it no friends.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thanksgiving Preview

Rashida Jones and I have something in common:

Thou Shall Not Pass

What is scarier than a knight with a big sword standing across your path?

A bridge that requires twice daily inspections is one that should be avoided.  This story about the Champlain Bridge should scare any commuter seeking to cross into or out of Montreal.  When I was thinking about leaving Montreal, I knew I would miss the Eastern Townships, which have several really cool ski areas.  Plus this was the most direct way to cross towards the US (although we had gotten in the habit of driving to the crossing near Kingston instead for non-New England trips).  I knew, however, that with the various infrastructure projects and the failing bridges that even if I had remained in Montreal, the Eastern Townships would be accessible only if I drove west to go east.

So, I miss much of Montreal and I miss Orford and Sutton, but I do not miss these kinds of stories.

Montreal infrastructure is going to suck very much before it gets any better.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Strategic Dog

I don't remember if I posted about my strategic dog before, but there is a new puppy in the neighborhood which reminded me of this tale that I used to explain what being "strategic" means to my Intro to IR class.

In this game, only the dogs are relevant players.
Imagine two dogs, one small and one large.  Postulate a house with a backdoor leading to a fenced in backyard.  Small dog comes into living room which is next to back door, and wags his tail/butt indicating that he needs to go outside.  The person (me) gets up and opens the door.  Big dog zooms in from bedroom and goes outside, small dog waddles (part corgi) back to the bedroom.  I let big dog back in.  The same thing happens a few minutes later.  This time, I follow the small dog back to the bedroom.  He is trying to climb onto the bed where the big dog had been chewing on a treat until she had been distracted by the door opening.

So, the small dog was being strategic because he took into account the big dog's preferences:
outside > treat.

He took into account person's preferences:
being hassled by dogs, opening door often > dog piddling on carpet.

To get what he wanted, the small dog figured out what the big dog and person wanted and then manipulated both so that he could get some time to get access to what he wanted.

Hence, the dog was being strategic--knowing his preferences, knowing the other players' preferences and then acting accordingly.

And, yes, I miss the hell out of these two dogs, especially the smaller, smarter, more manipulative one.

Why I Pick On Canada Liberals

Do I pick on Canada's Liberals the most?  Probably not, as the incumbents get the most fire given that they actually doing stuff, which means more fodder.  But I do tend to have much venom for the Canadian Liberals. For example:
  In my current effort, a book on Canada and Afghanistan (not the NATO and Afghanistan book), I tend to be very, very critical of the Liberals.  Why?  Because they opposed a war that they started.  Apparently going into opposition requires a party to mindlessly oppose everything that the current government does, including that which they had initiated.  I personally think that the Liberals could have criticized how the Kandahar mission played out in 2006-2007 without opposing it. 

What they cited was just too silly to be taken all that seriously: that the Conservatives were not doing enough development and governance (which had come to a standstill after the Director of the civilian side of things, Glyn Berry, was killed); that the mission meant that there were not enough troops to be doing other stuff elsewhere (sure, the only obstacle to a Mideast peace was the absence of Canadian peacekeepers); and that Canada should agreed to just one year and rotate out of a war (as if anyone really rotates into and out of a war on a regular basis).

I have not done any surveys, but I am fairly convinced that this switcheroo did much to tarnish the image of the Liberals as the responsible foreign policy party of Canada.  Kind of like how the Republicans in the US used to be seen as the stronger National Security policy until Iraq destroyed that myth. 

Getting to the issue of the day, the problem of opposing cluster bombs while participating in joint operations with the U.S. is a complex one.  Grandstanding on it makes no sense--not sure the Canadian public is all that sensitive and alert to the issue or that it would sway votes.  And the reality is that Canada, if it ever goes to war again (including places like Libya), it will be going to war with the US on its side.  So, Canada needs to figure out how to balance its international treaty commitments (cluster bomb treaty) with its international treaty commitments (NATO, NORAD, etc.). 

To be clear, I have seen the guidance given to commanders, and these orders do specifically (or at least it did in the missions for which I have the "letters of intent") say that Canadian officers in NATO positions should not use cluster bomb munitions nor ask allies to use them for Canada.  The reality is that joint operations have varying levels of jointness, so the US could un-flag their forces and operate independently on those missions where they want to use cluster bombs.  The real reality is that as long as the US has cluster bombs in its arsenal, Canada's participation in multilateral military efforts will be with a country that may use them.  Sucks but there it is. 

The alternative is that Canada does not participate in any international military effort with the US.  Sure, this would not exclude UN operations, but it would exclude nearly everything else.  Which might be a good pacifist stand to take, but if you want to be a mainstream party in Canada, you might not want to advocate opting out of NATO.

Oh, and why do the Liberals frustrate me so?  Because if I could vote in this country, in general, it would be the Liberals that I would be most likely to support... except when they substitute grandstanding and gainsaying (opposing just to oppose) for serious foreign policy criticism.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Defence Salesfolks Are Damned Good at Their Job

Yesterday, during the coffee break at the Atlantic Council of Canada event on Afghanistan, I was chatting with someone and somehow raised the question of whether the Canadian government should spend more for ships built in Canada (after a 20 year or so lapse in any shipbuilding, which means raising shipyards from the dead) or buy ships from abroad.  And, what do you know, this guy turns out to be a former naval officer and currently employed by a major defence contractor.  Kind of like last year when I got braced by an F-35 salesman. 

The good news is these guys are good at their jobs--they are damned persuasive.  However, I also know that they are not impartial dispensers of the facts about defence procurement, so I talk everything they say with a huge dose of salt.  It simply has to be cheaper to buy ships abroad than starting up long-dead shipyards.  Canada simply does not have the expertise.  In a time of austerity and as each defence procurement project spirals upwards in costs, choosing to build in Canada seems to be a bridge too far.  Perhaps when things are flush, this would make sense.  But they are not flush right now.

Soon, the Canadian Navy and the Canadian government will face the same choice here as with planes--getting less with more or not.  The F35 is very expensive, so it means Canada will have to buy fewer (unless it ignores basic math and denies reality).  Buying expensive ships means buying fewer ultimately. 

The problem is that I am not an expert on defence procurement or on the specific weapons programs.  I am just a scholar of politics and have seen this show before.  So, I cannot debate well with the expert salespeople on this.  I know that what they are saying contains a dose of b.s. but I cannot articulate the specifics of alternative programs.  I do think the media has been doing a pretty good job on conveying the problematic choices that have been made and the alternatives that have been left behind. 

Building ships in Canada makes sense for politics--it means jobs in places where folks might vote for the Conservatives.  It does not make sense for the timely and cost efficient replacement of the current batch of old ships.  I tend to be a realist and a free trader when it comes to defence procurement--that I want my tax dollars to go to the shipyards that could best do the job, even if it means employing Danes or South Koreans.  I don't like to see defence policy become industrial policy--where the government subsidizes the private sector.  I don't like it when the US does that with Boeing, and I don't like it in Canada when very scarce dollars are being spent on shipyards that have not proven they can do the job.  But I understand it.

Will this make me more careful about speaking up when chatting with retired military folks who are likely to be working for a defence contractor?  No, careful about speaking up is not in my nature, just as it is not in the nature of defence salesfolks to admit that their company's products may be too expensive.

Who Should Apologize to Whom?

The reports about the bilateral agreement between the US and Afghanistan that would allow American troops (and other western countries essentially) have suggested that President Hamid Karzai would support the agreement if President Obama apologized or admitted mistakes in the conduct of the war.

This, of course, has produced a reaction or two, given that President Karzai might have a lot of gall to be asking of this given that more than three thousand outsiders (Americans, Danes, Canadians, etc) gave their lives to help the Afghan government.  On the other hand, Obama just apologized for Obamacare's rollout which has yet to produce any real collateral damage, unlike the American and ISAF efforts in Afghanistan.

So, should Obama admit the US made mistakes in Afghanistan?  Well, did the US make mistakes in Afghanistan?  Here are some that might come up?
  • Not committing enough and getting distracted by a war elsewhere?  Apologizing for Bush's mistakes can be fun.
  • Changing commanders and thus strategies as if they were tires.  
  • Awful organization of the chain of command so that unity of effort, even just among the Americans, was damned near impossible with all kinds of SOF out there doing stuff that ran counter to the NATO effort. Oh, and having the Marines have their own chain of command was pretty bad.
  • Speaking of the Marines, how about surging into the wrong place?
  • Not doing enough to coordinate the efforts in the various provinces, as each provincial reconstruction team was doing its own thing, often not coordinating with the Afghans.
  • Letting the Germans do the police training at first even though their restrictions meant that they really could not mentor them (see the forthcoming book).
  • Inconsistent efforts to reduce collateral damage.  
  • Not such good accountability for officers who made bad decisions.  What happened to those commanders that put American troops into places like Wanat where they could do little good but yet antagonize the locals and get themselves killed. 
The military will certainly do a Lessons Learned exercise after the war is over (well, they are probably doing it now), which will identify things that could have been done better.  Those things would be called mistakes.  And we can admit that, can't we?  Isn't the US a secure enough nation to say: "we tried hard, but we made some mistakes along the way?"

On the other hand, having to admit mistakes to Karzai is kind of like telling Rob Ford that you are sorry for having a couple of extra drinks.  Karzai, too, could admit a few mistakes, including:
  • Running against the war instead of taking ownership of it.  The ISAF troops are there supporting his government.  He could have certainly pointed out mistakes, but should have done more leadership than that.  "These foreign troops are fighting for our people--we need to support them as they support us."  Where was that?
  • Perhaps he could have tried to turn the rapaciousness amongst his agents from 11 on a scale of 1 to 10 down to a 7 or so.  What people do not appreciate is that Karzai had the ability to hire and fire government officials all the way down to the district level.  Imagine if Stephen Harper could fire Rob Ford or Obama could fire the Mayor of city x.  This is a heap of power, which means that Karzai could have influenced the level of corruption without eliminating it and without harming his own political position.  
    • I am not suggesting that he could have or should have eliminated corruption--just find an optimal level whereby government officials could profit from their jobs but in ways that did not undermine the war effort so much.  
  • Perhaps let the institutions work things out just a bit.  He didn't need to steal the 2009 election--he was going to win anyway.  
Everyone in and near Afghanistan has made mistakes.  Admitting that reality is not a sign of weakness but of maturity.  Which is why I find it typical but frustrating that the Canadian government is sitting on its own lessons learned report.

So, if American interests indicate that the US should stick around awhile longer (and that can be debated), I don't think it would be that hard for the President of the U.S. to say: we could have done this better.  Of course, Karzai is unlikely to do the same.  But if the US wants to be there beyond Karzai, then this is a pretty low price to pay.  If we do not want to be there, then screw him and send the troops home.  The issue of staying or leaving should hang on American and NATO interests and not on this relatively irrelevant demand.  If it gives Karzai yet more cover (as if he needs it), then whatever.

The only lesson I have learned from this bargaining process between the US and Karzai is that I really need to read Jennifer Lind's books on Apologies and IR.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Let's Blame Pakistan!

So easy and so much fun to blame Pakistan.  Ptthththt!  I was at an Atlantic Council of Canada event today on Afghanistan, where I presented the lessons for NATO (as derived from the Dave and Steve opus).  Several of the speakers, including the Afghans as well as Chris Alexander, the former ambassador/UN special rep and now Conservative Minister, directed most of their fire towards Pakistan.

I get it and concur that Pakistan easily wins the Award for Worst Ally despite Israel's best efforts to get the US into yet another Mideast war.  However, it is too easy to blame Pakistan for all of Afghanistan's troubles.  Not all of the insurgents are born and bred in Pakistan.  Many of the factors undermining the counter-insurgency campaign had to do with things other than the sanctuary on the other side of the board and the ISI's support for the Taliban and other folks.  Some of these would be the constant changes in US/NATO strategy, under-resourcing the war, lack of coordination among the outsiders, Karzai, corruption, Karzai, and so on. 

The question I did not get to ask (except on twitter) was this: will the next President of Afghanistan own the war?  The current one sure as hell did not/has not.  Much of the time, especially since the election of 2009 but even before, Karzai ran against the international community and the war in his country.  It is easy to argue that he had to do this to win popular support, but I say feh to that.  Feh. Given the powers he had at his command--to appoint/replace officials throughout the country all the way down to the district level, the flow of money through and around the government, and so on--Karzai could have tried to defend the war and stand beside the international community.  That would have been brave, perhaps, but the international community for all its faults desperately needed a domestic ally to partner with in order to build support for the government of Afghanistan.  And we lacked that partner. 

Sure, we (the US) chose him, so the fault lies with the international community (especially the US).  But we cannot and should not absolve anyone who had responsibility.  NATO could have performed better. The US could have done far better (especially if it had not been distracted by Iraq).  Pakistan could have done better, or at least, could have been less awful.  And the government of Afghanistan, especially Karzai, could have done far better.  The sad news is that the people of Afghanistan will pay the price for the mistakes of the aforementioned actors.  How much of a price?  We do not know yet because we don't know what 2015 will look like, even as there is progress on a bilateral deal to keep the US (and thus other folks) in the country for a while longer.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Rob Ford as Prime Minister?

The latest in the Rob Ford saga is that he apparently wants to be Prime Minister... of Canada.  He could certainly be Prime Minister of his backyard.  But of Canada?  For those hitting the panic button, I would like to point out a critical difference between the US and Canada.  In the US, any yahoo who can get enough money and votes can win a primary or two or three (Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Luke Perry, whoever).  In Canada, parties matter much more for who can run on behalf of the party.  So, would the Conservatives let Rob Ford run for a riding (district) to gain a seat in Parliament?  Would the party then select Rob Ford to be its leader?  Yeah, I didn't think so.

Is Rob Ford a delusional addict?  Um, yeah.  He might have had a grasp on reality a while back but his current circumstances make it very hard to imagine any major party riding the Rob Ford express to national power.  Have stranger things happened?  Not so sure.

My uninformed guess is that it is easier for a Rob Ford to win at the municipal level.  To win at the national level requires a whole lot more (credentials) and a whole lot less (flaws/felonies).  So, I am not going to panic.  I am just glad I moved to Ottawa and not Toronto.  This keeps my embarassment level at level four.

What I Learned in The Last American College Tour

No blogging for several days as I was on the road checking out the last two American colleges/universities my daughter will be applying.  Now that this part of the adventure is over (we still have to visit one last Canadian school), I thought I would consider what we have learned over the past couple of months and over the past few days.
  • The tour guides, always undergrads, are pretty amazing.  They have been trained well to get out all the facts and stuff that we are supposed to hear, and this can be quite a lot of stuff.  They give good, pretty honest answers about their places.  My fave question to ask: what is the one thing you would change about this place?  A few whiffed, but most had an interesting response.  
  • I don't know what has made a bigger imprint on me: teaching at research universities or having gone to a liberal arts college?  Either way, I have a pretty strong preference for where my daughter goes to school, unless she decides to save big bucks by going to a university in Canada.  Oh, and that preference may break my wallet, but I do think the smaller environment is much better.
  • Wesleyan wins the award for the hardest university bookstore to find.  
  • Teen Spew looks young, but not any younger than many of the other prospective students.
  • NYC is a pretty amazing place
    • However, folks are not so casual about movie stars.  Sure, I took a few surreptitious photos of Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts while we all ate chinese food in Chinatown, but I knew not to approach them.  Other folks?  Not so much.  

    • Central Park is pretty fantastic.  We had great weather, so a friend of mine (who I had not seen since graduation from high school) and his two dogs took us around much of the park.  We had been to the park before but only in the south and only briefly.  This tour through the hills and paths and fields and gardens was pretty special.
      • Speaking of special, we learned that the danger of proposing in a public place like this might not be that the lady says no, but that some kid might end up playing with your props. 
  • I may have a copyright suit on my hands as one of the sundaes as the Big Gay Ice Cream Store in Greenwich Village features awesome sauce:

  • We learned that Clark Gregg, who plays Agent Coulson in the Avengers movie and Agent of Shield is not only a screenwriter (What Lies Beneath) but also married to Jennifer Grey.  Fun podcast with the Nerdist folks.  
  • While I snarked back at folks who said how cool it was for me to have this bonding experience with my daughter (I am pretty sure we are quite bonded already), it was fun to hang out with Teen Spew and see how she reacted to the various places, what questions she had, and how intent she was to figure this stuff out.  I could not help but realize that this is the last year of our time together, and I will miss her very much.  But cast her out in the world I must.  
  • Where will she go?  We have no clue.  But we did rule some places out over the past couple of months.  It is fun to watch the swings in the process--where the schools say "pick me, pick me" and then turn it around with the applications to my daughter saying "pick me, pick me" and then next spring, after whichever ones say yes to her, they will say "pick me ..."  It will be continue to be a pretty stressful year even though I know that in some ways it does not really matter--she can transfer if she is unhappy and college is very much what you make of it.  So, I have few doubts about Teen Spew being happy and excelling.  Still, the stakes seem huge to her at this point.  In the immortal words of Mr. Miyagi, don't forget to breathe.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Obama's Civ-Mil Relations

Interesting piece by Rosa Brooks about the tensions between Obama's national security staff and the senior officers of the US military.  While I see many of the points raised by the retired and not so retired officers Brooks speaks with, I have to raise a red card and say, wait a minute. 

There is this belief that the military is a super-hierarchical organization that follows orders and enforces compliance down the chain of command.  This is more than just a little bit exaggerated.  Here are some examples from the Afghanistan mission that suggest otherwise:
  • Obama's 2009 decision to surge was aimed at limited population centric counter-insurgency, which meant focusing the effort and the surge where the Afghans lived.  While there is much I disagree with in Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Little America, it is clear that the US military did not concur with Obama on this and sent their troops where they felt like.  Specifically, the Marines surged into Helmand and not Kandahar.  
    • The line in the book is that it was because the Canadians didn't want help in Kandahar which is just simply bullshit.  I cannot say it any other way--Harper by 2009 was eager to drop the responsibility for Kandahar and the 2008 Manley Panel made extension of the mission contingent on getting more help. If this meant losing command of Kandahar, the Canadians would have been fine with that.  
  • The Marines sent to Afghanistan as part of the surge refused to be part of the ISAF chain.  Not only did this mean carving out a special Regional Command (SW) for just Helmand, but apparently they followed orders coming from the Marines in the US and not the folks at the top of the ISAF chain of command.  This un-did much of the work that had been done to bring some unity of command to the effort.  
  • In a briefing by a Canadian exec officer, it became clear that when the Canadians had to deal with two US battalions under their command, things got confusing because the two battalions had different views and different behavior even though they were part of the same army.
 My basic point is this: the military is a whole lot less unitary and obedient than claimed.  I am not saying that Obama should distrust the military, but any civilian leader needs to take their advice with giant grains of salt, just like any advice they get from any agency.  That McChrystal was asking for 80,000 troops definitely seemed to outsiders to be an effort to get 40,000.  The military frequently gives three options, which games the decision process towards the middle option.  Those guys are not stupid.  

Anyhow, the Brooks piece is interesting and instructive, but we need to keep in mind that both sides of the civil-military relationship mis-understand the other.  The military does not have a monopoly of insight here.  The US military needs to remember that they were led poorly in this past decade by their own officers--Franks, Myers, Pace. 

Is there a crisis in US civil-military relations?  Not sure.  I was sure when Rumsfeld was SecDef, but not so sure now.  Well, the sequester is a crisis of civil-military relations as the budget cuts have no strategy or plan.  Of course, if the Obama folks had a real plan for cutting the military's budgets, that would create heaps of stories about civ-mil crisis as well, but at least that would be a crisis worth having. 

Change? Yes. Academic Career dying? No.

Someone tweeted at me this story by Alex Hope about the changing academic career.  I kind of scoffed as I retweeted it, and now folks are retweeting my tweet as if I buy it.  So, I thought I would be clear about what I agree with and what I disagree with.  I do not have a RT not equal to endorsement line on my twitter profile because I RT all kinds of stuff, some with sarcasm or snark, and some with support.  The blog and also subsequent tweets are handy ways to clarify where I stand.

The piece argues that "the academic career is dead."  What is meant by this?  I guess someone tied to an institution since the author says:
the academic of the future will not be tied to an institution but be a thought leader, communicator and teacher undertaking a range of activities on a freelance/contract basis – and that the world will be a better place for it.
Really?  So, universities will disappear?  Or will only hire people on short-term contracts?  The former? I seriously doubt. The latter?  Maybe, as adjuncting has become the hip trend of the past decade or two--universities save money by hiring temps.  They also happen to gut the souls of universities, as temps have much less invested in the institution, even if they may teach as well or better than the tenured and tenure track folks.  Universities depend on the full time profs to run programs, provide a variety of services, engage in research, and, oh, yeah, bring in research money. 

Indeed, if there is one thing that will guarantee that profs will continue to stick around and that tenure will endure, it will be the reality that universities and colleges get a heap of money from research grants and contracts.  Do temps bring in research dollars?  Not much as far as I can guess.

So, there is an institutional logic for these institutions to continue to have some tenure-track/tenured positions.  There is also something else--that universities are communities of scholars, not just buildings and administrators.  The pursuit of knowledge (yeah that is mighty high falutin) is a social endeavor, and universities, by bringing together students, professors, post-docs and other folks, facilitate the processes by which we can learn and argue and develop.  Yes, some scholars can work in isolation, but the social environment of universities is incredibly important for most work. 

Hope is certainly correct that many PhDs will not be employed by academic institutions, as we are over-producing PhDs and not providing enough tenure track positions.   But I think Hope stretches the concept of "academic" so that it loses much of its meaning.  Perhaps he should focus on intellectual or something else, as academics are inherently tied to the institutions where the teaching and research takes place. 

The academic career may be more difficult and more risky now, as many folks do not get tenure track positions.  But there are still tenure track positions and people do get tenure.  These long term job commitments allow people to engage in long-term research projects, that include the years of grant applications, years of research, years of revising and resubmitting potential articles to journals and potential books to presses.  Things might become a bit faster if we drop the presses out of the business and publish everything online.  But grants and research will still take time.  The normal academic career gives people longer term incentives than the contract worker. 

I do agree that the academic career is changing somewhat, as we now have more outlets to communicate our stuff, including blogs.  But there is actually less change that suggested in this piece, as profs have consulted and multi-tasked for decades.

Anyhow, this piece is getting more attention because it says that "the academic career is dead."  On this, I must agree with Mark Twain: rumors of this death are greatly exaggerated.

Guilty By Association and Proud Of It

People ask me why I write for so many online, Political Violence at a Glance, and Duck of Minerva--and the answer is basically this: if I can hang out with cool, smart people, then not only will I learn much, but their coolness might just rub off on me. 

So, I am very thrilled and not at all surprised that, the online site for the Canadian International Council, just won the top award in the 'Best Overall Online-Only Publication Website' category in the Canadian Online Publishing Awards [COPA].  The folks I work with at OpenCanada are top-notch.  They are quick, thorough, friendly, and responsive.  They have been doing great work on this site.  And they are all pretty damned young.  So, yeah, the kids these days .... are fantastic.

Keep on rocking the online world, opencanada.

In honor of the COPA win, here's an irrelevant song:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Research Ethics Scandals and a New-Old Example

I was talking about research ethics with my doctoral research seminar, and I learned something new... or old that I had not known.  Research ethics refers to the process of getting approval to do research that involves human subjects (or radioactive stuff or animals).  In my work, I have needed to get approval when my work has involved interviews, as interviewing and its products (dangerous quotes) can harm someone's career.  Or worse if one is doing research in a more dangerous place and on my dangerous topics than I have been conducting.

The usual example I draw upon are the famous Milgram experiments where psych profs had students being ordered to shock another subject.  The shocking was faked but the stress on those who kept ordering the shocking was not.  The other example is the Stanford prison experiment, where students played the roles of prisoners and prison guards, and the researchers found out that brutality would develop pretty quickly.  These and other cases taught the academic world that researchers needed a check on their behavior as they might engage in unethical research. 

Well, when discussing this today, I was told of another bit of research that was much less aimed at social science but instead very much a CIA endeavor.  The CIA funded research at a number of places including McGill University to develop mind control techniques--Project MK Ultra.  I never heard of this in my ten years of McGill, perhaps because it took place in the mid 1960s. 

The interesting thing is that it appears to be the case that the research ethics process at Carleton is far more challenging than the one at McGill.  I did not have much of a problem getting my research cleared at McGill, but it sounds like students and profs at my new institution have to do far more explaining, even when the risks are not really about harming subjects but about the scholar being in harm's way in a dangerous place.  Hmmmm.

Policy Relevance? Hell Yeah!

One of the basic questions that haunts political science is this: does our work matter?  Are we just talking to ourselves?  I recently received the statements from my publisher of my first two books.  From those, you might wonder if our work resonates at all (my books sold more than 5 copies each but less than a thousand each thus far).

I am feeling better today than last night because I had a chance to talk to folks working in the Canadian foreign policy bureaucracy today.  DFATD (Dept of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development)* held a roundtable where I could present what I learned from the Dave and Steve book.  It was not the first such exchange in Canada or elsewhere, but it was a useful reminder that the stuff that we have been doing for the past five or six years has produced some findings that are relevant for policy-makers.  The group was engaged, asked good questions, and offered some interesting insights as well.  Of course, I was far less discreet than they were about .... the Harper government and other fun stuff.
* One DFATD person informed me that the way to pronounce this new acronym (after the unification with the Canadian International Development Agency) is Defeated.  Hmmm.

It was very much a worthwhile hour or so of my time and, I hope, theirs.  Not all stuff is so obviously relevant for policy-makers as NATO's performance in Afghanistan.  I wish I had the chance to do such roundtables for my second book.  Oh well, spilt milk.  I am making a greater effort this time to reach out beyond academic audiences.   Not just to maximize sales but just to inform folks about the fight of the past decade.

This project made it very easy in my most recent round of grant applications to argue that the findings of my next project will disseminated far and wide including into the policy bureaucracy because this project has been so successful doing exactly that.

When I was doing the research in Ottawa for this book, during the drive home back to Montreal after an hour or two of interviews with officers and officials, I would be thinking "I love my job."  Today's experience, where I am outputting rather than intaking produces the same thought--I do love my job.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Short Games vs. Long Games vs. Long, Long Games

There is a pretty good take on the Quebec Charter of Values mess in the NYT today.  It reminded me of a conversation I had last week in Scotland--what is the aim of the Parti Quebecois in pushing forth a hugely controversial but largely symbolic hunk of legislation?

The first explanation is that the PQ needs to play to its xenophobic base, as the CAQ might inherit its predecessor's xenophobic appeal.  With sovereignty/secession not so popular these days, the PQ has to do much to emphasize the Us by targeting a Them--immigrants.  Of course, this also helps mobilize the anti-Montreal folks since much of what goes on in Quebec is part of the Montreal versus everyone else dynamics.

But the problem is that this strategy by the PQ is in direct contradiction to its previous stance of reaching out to immigrants.  Why reach out?  Because if there were to be another referendum, the PQ would need votes from the new citizens of Quebec as well as the old ones in the hinterlands.  The turn to xenophobia (especially its anti-Muslim themes) might be due to a realization that the French speaking immigrants may never want Quebec to be independent regardless of how nice the PQ plays.

Someone in Scotland suggested a longer term strategy--perhaps the PQ wants to drive out the immigrants, so that the potential No-voters are no longer an issue.  The PQ and its policies have already done a nice job of alienating many Anglophones, leading to significant flight of those folks around the time of the last referendum (which meant that the house I bought in 2002 in Montreal was mucho cheaper than it might otherwise have been). 

So, the short term strategy of solidifying the base might run against the long term strategy of making immigrants good Quebeckers and more likely independence voters, but may also play into a longer term strategy of producing greater homogeneity in Quebec.  If Quebec becomes less diverse as Anglophones and immigrants leave, then Quebec separatists win.... even as Quebec loses.  Yes, Quebec would be worse off if Montreal lost its diversity flavor not just economically but culturally as well. 

But it has long been clear that what is bad for Montreal is good for the PQ: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Scotland Trip Report

I flew to Scotland last week to participate in a conference on the security dimensions of the referendum next year on Scotland's independence.  I learned much, as I have never studied Scottish nationalism.  I presented an argument about how irrelevant the referendum would be outside of the UK, based on my previous work on the limited virulence of separatism. 

I chatted with some Scottish nationalists who were pro-independence.  I did not find them very persuasive, but perhaps I am a victim of confirmation bias.  I kept on seeing Quebec: no, separation will produce no uncertainty, the transition will be easy and quick with few costs, the national government sucks, and so on. 

My bias is that groups in advanced democracies that already have heaps of political power and access to the political system do not need to separate.  I also think that 50% plus one is a crappy threshold for major political change.  So, I did not warm for their form, even though my message, that the rest of the world will not care about the precedents the Scots might set, was one that was favorable to them--one less cost to get in the way of that happy place with unicorn-flavored haggis or haggis-flavored unicorns.  It does not look like the referendum will be won by the separatists, but stranger things have happened. 

What else did I learn on this trip?
  • Scotland is very wet.
  • Driving on the wrong side of the road is particularly scary in Scotland as the roads are narrow, twisty and narrow. 
    • Especially if you are driving a big SUV.
  • Flying is both better and worse than before
    • United initiated its new electronic policy the day I left for Scotland, so I could keep on my ipad throughout the flight.  Woot!
    • United changed its Silver benefits so I no longer get put on the upgrade list.  I didn't get upgraded often, but it was cool when that happened.  I hope that they don't change the deal any further.
    • A tip flying in Newark--Terminal C has three entrances--1 and 3 have TSA precheck which means short lines, no removing belts or shoes or coats, etc.  If you have TSA precheck and you need to make a connection at C, go to the security that is not in the middle even it means walking a bit.  You will most likely save time.
    • I did not enjoy my last flight as I was stuck between two guys who were saying stupid things about Obamacare.  Oy.
  • Heaps of movies to catch up.  Best was Way Way Back.  By a mile.  Just a very good movie, very engaging.
    • Worst?  Hmmm.  Much selection bias since I tend to watch bad movies on airlines since I have seen the good ones.  But probably Man of Steel.  It had some decent parts (Amy Adams, Diane Lane, the super guy was ok), but the Russell Crowe stuff was silly, Zod was lame, and Superman + the US military destroyed Smallville and then Metropolus.  Just take the battle to the farmlands or the arctic.  Holy lousy protector of humanity, Batman!
    • Hangover III was pretty awful, but had a nice Billy Joel running gag in it.  Alas, they did not keep it up at the end.
    • 2 Guns, with Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg and Paula Patton was mildly entertaining but also incredibly stupid.  Lots of interesting politics in it, with interesting criticisms of the drug war, the usual fear-mongering of the CIA's role in the transport of drugs, and so on.  The stuff with Patton was the most interesting in terms of plot, character, and aethetics.  I will not spoil it, but she should get more work as a femme fatale.

What to Remember On This Remembrance Day

Below is the post that I wrote to go up on CIC sometime today.
This is the last Remembrance Day for the Canadians in Afghanistan.  This time, next year, the last of the trainers and logistics troops will be back in Canada.  Already, there are those who are asking what will Canadians remember about the Afghanistan mission on future Remembrance days.  Until Canada gets in another nasty fight, it is likely that Afghanistan will remain quite visible in the rearview mirror.  Given that one of the lessons of Afghanistan may be to avoid such battles, this means that Afghanistan will resonate for a while to come.

Of course, our first thoughts this time of year center on World War I.  Armistice Day has become Remembrance Day here in Canada, Veteran’s Day in the U.S., and elsewhere.  The poppies were “in bloom” in Edinburgh and Glasgow this weekend (I was at a conference speculating about the international security dynamics of Scotland’s referendum).  Our memories of World War I are entirely constructed—the number of surviving veterans from that conflict is now zero.  What we think of that conflict is what has been passed down via press reports, history books, and what our relatives have told us. 

When we wonder in the future (or perhaps even now) what we accomplished in Afghanistan, we should remember that World War I produced decidedly mixed results as well.  Yes, the conquest of France was prevented, Belgium became free again, and so on, but it was not the War to End all Wars after all.  The roots of the Second World War are very much in the First World War and how badly it ended.  Still, we mark World War I as a victory for the Allies and for Canada, given the impact Canada’s army made at Vimy and elsewhere. 

The Second World War seemed so much more decisive, another victory with Germany defeated.  Yet if we remember the war’s origins, the official start of the war was the invasion of Poland, which really did not become free until the end of the Cold War.  While much was accomplished and much was sacrificed, the war did not produce a decisive victory of freedom over tyranny with the Iron Curtain descending in Europe shortly after the war. 

The point of this quick review of history is that every war, even the big victories, produce mixed results.  Even unconditional surrender does not produce completely desired results.  We also tend to forget why the war began as goals evolve, justifications proliferate, and so on. 

When it comes to Afghanistan, and as we look backwards, we must remember what motivated Canada’s involvement.  It was not to teach the girls of Afghanistan, it was not to bring democracy, it was not to fight polio, and it was not about building a dam.  No, Canada went to war because its closest and most important ally was attacked.  For the first time in NATO’s history, Article V of the NATO treaty—an attack upon one is an attack upon all—was invoked in the aftermath of 9/11.  Canada met its alliance commitment, as did every other member of NATO, although countries varied in what they considered their fair contribution.  Canada was not the only country to “punch above its weight.” 

Yes, meeting the alliance obligations cost the Canadians much blood and treasure, as it was costly to many other allies.  Canada agreed to take one of the hardest parts of Afghanistan and hold it.  It didn’t clear, hold, and build as the mantra of counter-insurgency doctrine requires, but Canada did hold Kandahar (with help).  While Americans have short memories, the next generation or two of politicians, officials, and military officers will remember that Canada was there when America needed help.  And when Canada needs help, the U.S. will aid its ally.  The war was an investment not in Afghanistan but in the US-Canadian relationship.  Some may argue that Canada was “placating” the US, but a different way to look at is that Canada was being a good ally.  Just as it was a good ally in World War I and in World War II and in Korea. 

In international relations, distrust is widespread.  Allies often disappear when the going gets tough.  Being reliable, as Canada was in the aftermath of 9/11, is important, especially given the limited means that Canada can or will dedicate to its own defence.  The relationships built in war-time will benefit Canada in the future,sometimes in ways that are obvious and measurable and often less obviously.  We may not end up singing songs about this particular war, but the rhythms of this latest Afghan war will resonate among Canadians, Americans, Danes, Aussies, Dutch, French and other publics who gave some of their youth to fight a difficult war in a very challenging place.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Happy Dissiversary

I forget the exact day, but 20 years ago, this month, I defended my dissertation.  I first drove from my temporary position at U of Vermont to Boston to defend my dissertation to/from Lisa Martin who had moved on from UCSD to Harvard.  I survived ... actually, Lisa was always kind as she provided amazingly sharp comments.  I then went back to Burlington and flew to San Diego for the dissertation defense with the rest of the committee.

The defense went fine.  My primary memory is about the questions asked by one of the outsiders--an historian who had some interesting things to say about two of the cases I had studied--the Congo Crisis and Nigeria's Civil War.  The dissertation has shaped everything about my career, I think.  My first pubs drew upon the dissertation or focused on related questions.  My first book was an improved version of the dissertation with a new case (Yugoslavia's demise) and numbers (which had not existed in the dissertation), as well as revised theory and implications.

But the diss's influence did not stop with that book.  The second book built on some of the puzzles left behind by the first  along with building on the Somalia case, which was in the dissertation but not the first book.

Even this weekend, I feel its pull.  As folks made arguments about Scotland's independence, I argued against the relevance of precedents.  The dissertation tried to destroy the myth that countries are so fearful of precedents that they will not support secession elsewhere.  Well, it has not done that because myths die really, really hard.

I tell students that they better find a topic that interests them because they might be stuck with it for ten years.  As it turns out, I have been stuck with this dissertation for more than twenty years.  And it has been mighty good to me, providing the basis for a bunch of different ideas and research agendas.  Of course, I may be imprisoned by confirmation bias as I notice the stuff that agrees with my arguments long ago and I probably don't notice the stuff that disagrees.

Anyhow, I have to figure out what to give my dissertation to celebrate our anniversary together.