Friday, February 28, 2014

Instant Ukraine Reaction

Lots of news and speculation about Ukraine right now with Russian-looking troops appearing at two airports and other stuff going down.  It appears that Putin may be playing a similar strategy with Crimea as Russia did in Abkhazia and South Ossetia--provide troops and other muscle to a separatist effort that is pretty much designed in Moscow.  Lovely.

What can we do?  Not a whole lot.  When the US blustered a bit yesterday, I tweeted thusly:

NATO never made a commitment to defend Ukraine, which is a good thing since it would have been incredible... in the sense that it would not be believed.  I have long argued against NATO membership for either Georgia or Ukraine precisely because there would little that the US/NATO could do in a crisis such as this (plus the Georgians might just use the security implied by the alliance to provoke Russia).

So, we can and should give diplomacy a chance, especially with the Ukrainians seeking to make noise at the United Nations.  But with Russia as a permanent member of the Security Council, that is not going to go very far.

We simply do not have the assets or the interests to make much of a difference.  Yes, this will deeply impact relations with Russia.  Russia may find more balancing behavior by those near and far (Stephen Walt was right about "offensive intentions" no matter how hard that stuff is code).   The spirit of Sochi apparently didn't last that long, did it?

The big question now will be the usual one--who in Ukraine will be willing to use force: the Russians or Ukrainians?

The only thing for sure is that no one is being fooled by the "armed men" who may not have any flags on their uniforms and vehicles.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Is The Prison Half-Full or Half-Empty?

So, folks are reporting that 30% of released Guantanamo inmates are returning to a life of terrorism. Is this good news or bad?  People make it seem like bad news, but I look at the prison and think it is half full?  Given that Gitmo does not seem to be a place where much effort when into turning the prisoners into model people, why should we expect that those who faced significant stress while in our guest villas in Cuba would then go home and become tax collectors or boy scout leaders?

Indeed, this news almost suggests that the US had caught the right folks, something that is never guaranteed.  Of course, one could counter that by suggesting that innocent people could be turned into terrorists after experiencing a place like Guantanamo and the enhanced interrogation procedures (torture). 

So, I return to my original thought--if only thirty percent of these guys or so return to terrorism, that is a lower recidivism rate than I would have expected and signficantly lower than the average rate of recidivism in the US, which is something like 60% (H/T to Dan Murphy @bungdan).   I am ont suggesting that Gitmo worked in the sense that these guys are actually less likely to engage in terrorism because of their treatment at Gitmo (I would guess we will be raising the percentage over time as we learn about more cases of recidivism).  Just that we should not be surprised when these folks return to the use of violence. 

I don't think we should have anything but the lowest expectations for Gitmo--that it worked out quite poorly.  So, recidivism?  Not a surprise.

Quick Hits (and Misses)

Last night/this morning was an especially interesting time for those who tweet IR.  Sure, folks should have been listening to my long radio hit on the BBC (all of three minutes maybe?), but instead, we saw:
  • Dan Drezner use an inspired comment from class about how Kant would be a lousy boyfriend to come up with #IRBreakups.  Yep, he and other IR folks (including myself) came up with what various IR theorists would say as they break up their relationships. 

  • Folks started to discuss whether Sam Huntington was truly awful or just an average grand theorist.  I, of course, wrote that Huntington was awfuler than even the worst normal grand theorists.
  •  Michael Ignatieff is doing his best ... Sarah Palin, I suppose.  He continues to write op-eds that generally suck, despite losing heaps of street cred for damn near destroying his own party when he demonstrated the maxim: those who can't, teach.  So, he wrote a particularly awful piece for the NYT about the need to use force (in a particularly ill-informed way) in Syria.  It led to this twitter exchange between Dan Drezner and myself:

Anyhow, a fun evening to tweet silliness about international relations.  Of course, catching up on TV might have been a better use of time, but my family was watching an old teen wolf so I could not see the end of the latest True Detectives.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Without Mercy!

Is it without mercy or without merci?  Not sure, but these statements from the PQ language minister on what the party would do with a majority suggests that they would, indeed, have no mercy:
De Courcy said she thinks it’s great if individuals want to learn different languages like English, Spanish, Mandarin or Arabic in their private lives, but institutions and businesses must function strictly in French.
“There is a difference with what is institutional and it must be without mercy,” she said.
What upsets her so?  That when you shop in Montreal, the clerk says "bonjour-hi" and then then conversation goes into whatever language the customer wants--French or English--because you want to make the sale.  Customer is king, right?  Nay, nay, non!  It is more important to crush the use of non-French--without mercy!

De Courcy is "pained that some business owners do not seem very enthusiastic about protecting French."  Sucks to be her.  And, of course, she wants to move the pain back to where it belongs--on those who want to operate in one of Canada's two official languages.  Deny that reality, but Quebec still is in Canada, and heaps of folks who move to Quebec have moved there thinking that it is just an interesting part of Canada and not a special place where the local majority gets to repress the local minority.  The hypocrisy, as always, is stunning.

More unintentional comedy:
“Reinforcing the French character of Montreal is essential to facilitate integration (of immigrants),”

Ah, integration of immigrants is so important to the PQ as long as they give up observing their religion if they happen to work for their government or if they prefer to use another language other than French when they shop.

One of the joys of living in Quebec was going to the barbershop where the conversations moved between French, English and Italian.  The comfort those guys had with themselves and their clients--what is the problem here that the PQ needs to fix?

Yves-Thomas Dorval, president of Conseil du Patronat: “When it comes to the perception of bilingualism in the workforce as a threat, on the contrary, since around the world the international language of business is English, we have to be careful not to ghettoize ourselves."

Actually, I am pretty sure that is the intent. If the people of Quebec are alienated from the rest of Canada and cannot partake in the workforce outside of Quebec, then ignorance will be bliss for the PQ.

Montrealers do not deserve this party.  Oh well, glad I got out while the getting out was good.

Quasi Makes Me Quesy

I have said much about the two Ottawa Conference on Defence and Security that took place last week, but I have to address one more aspect of it.  The CDAI folks come out with a paper they promote each year as part of the event, and this paper is usually quite good.  Indeed, because the Canadian government fails to do much in the way of strategic thinking/writing, these CDAI papers are essentially the best that we can get from the Canadian defence establishment (since CDAI consists of retired military folks, other government officials, and others in the Ottawa area). 

Yet I have to take a shot at it for "Quasi-isolationism."  The paper raises increasing quasi-isolationism as a key feature of the world that Canada must grapple with.  What is quasi-isolationism?
It is more of a desire to not intervene in every situation in the world from a political or moral basis as  it felt compelled to in the past and that trend of not intervening is directly a result of the last decade  and the will to not become entangled in a specific region’s problems for years as it was in Afghanistan and Iraq. p. 19
Is that quasi-isolationism?  Or is that restraint?  Or could we call it ... normal US foreign policy?  That is, the US, in its post WWII history, tended not to be involved in two major wars at once.  US foreign policy has always been selective, choosing some places to place greater attention and even effort, and others not so much.

The new normal may just be the old normal.  Sure, budget cuts (hey, the US is making the tough decisions that the Conservatives are too weak to face) will limit what the US can do, but perhaps the two wars and the semi-war (Libya) with the domestically toxic outcomes (Benghazi) have taught the U.S., or at least President Obama, something kind of important: humility.  Intervention is more than just expensive--it is really hard.  We don't know what we are going to get from the Afghanistan experience, and Iraq, well, oy.  Libya did produce regime change with minimal effort, but with minimal effort comes just a wee bit of chaos.  Syria?  One of the reasons why so many outsiders are reluctant is that the past 13 years or so have taught us that force has limited utility.

Aye, there is the rub.  Force has limited utility, so perhaps the American realization that only and always using a hammer might not be the best way to approach problems.  The US is hardly disengaged from the Mideast, with a diplomatic effort towards Iran, Kerry trying diplomacy with Israel and Palestine, and, yes, even continued diplomatic efforts towards Syria. 

So, I have to push back a bit and suggest that a U.S. (and other Western countries) that is just a wee bit more humble might not be a bad thing for Canada.  It certainly is a good thing for Americans.  It certainly is no relation to the isolationism that our grandparents knew.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Where I Make Recommendations to the Conservatives of Canada

I guess I am in a dream world, as I propose in this CIC piece that the Conservative Party find some guts and be just a wee bit honest about its defence policy.  I even invoke the whole "only Nixon could go to China" bit.  Anyhow, this ate my blogging weekend.  That and taxes, as parents of college students have learned that tax day is not April 15th but the end of February for financial aid apps. 

And yes, this does increase my desire for my daughter to stay in Canada....

Friday, February 21, 2014

Day Two at The Military-Industrial Complex Show, 2014 Edition: Desperation Bugaloo

Yeesh! As much as yesterday was interesting, engaging and educational, today was miserable, depressing, and anger-inducing.  Really.  Again, I live-tweeted until my phone battery gave out.  Given how little some folks had to say (see below), the phone lasted longer today. Since I am tired, much of below will be my tweets (until the phone gave out).

To be clear, Minister of National Defence Nicholson was profoundly disappointing. 

He really had nothing to say, so little so that the folks I bumped into the rest of the day (government or not, military or not, retired or not) were pretty insulted.  

I guess the no Q&A stance was something people knew about ahead of time (for him and for the Public Works Minister), but if you cannot chat a bit with the folks who are most engaged in these issues, then find your spine and get it fixed, will ya?  There is message management, which is, of course, this government's obsession, but this goes too far.  Perhaps Nicholson was afraid that he might be asked something like: "hey, if you really support Veterans, why do you make a stink when a particular vet takes advantage of a policy you approved of simply because he happens to support another party (that would be the Leslie controversy).

The next speaker was Chief of Defence Staff Tom Lawson.  He certainly plays well with the government. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Day One at The Military-Industrial Complex Show, 2014 Edition

I spent today at the first day of the Ottawa Conference on Defence, run by the Conference of Defence Association Institute.  The CDAI has been good to me, giving me the chance to speak at their roundtables and helped me connect with military folks, especially retired ones.  This is the second time I have attended their big conference.  Last year, I asked pesky questions and got buttonholed by the Lockheed rep (yes, the F-35 is magic).

This year, I spent half the day walking around with the NATO book, promoting mostly through people's peripheral vision.  I go both to see what the big names are thinking about security issues and to network with Canadians (and others) who attend.  So far, so good.  I met the new (new to me) Dutch ambassador, which was cool since his predecessor was helpful when I was working on the Dutch case.  I met a former top official in Mi-6--the British intel agency.  And a number of other folks.  Very helpful stuff.

I live tweeted the morning until my cell phone's battery went out.  I could not use my iPad with its much longer battery life since the hotel's wifi was protected.  I will try to pay a lot to get access tomorrow since the speakers include the Minister of National Defence, the Chief of Defence Staff, Britain's Chief of Defence Staff and a bunch of other interesting folks plus a panel on NATO.  The hashtag is #TheOC2014 which had me thinking of the TV show.

Anyhow, the program started with a discussion of the new CDAI strategic outlook paper, which is a bit long and its executive summary is not as concise as we would like, but still pretty sharp.  And a necessary substitute for the lack of Canadian white papers on its place in the world.  I had one quibble:
I found Jean Charest, the former premiere of Quebec, to be quite interesting but there was no chance for Q&A.  I would have loved to point out a contradiction--that Canada's willingness to take in immigrants is an advantage but that nationalism elsewhere in the world is problematic.  My Q: what will the Charter of Values in Quebec do for Canadian immigration?  Charest's best insight--that the deep decentralization of Canada means that treaty-making is really hard since most implementation requires provincial support--no interstate commerce clause here.  I scoffed at his worst statement--that no country is more impacted by climate change than Canada.  Please--Canada is not at or below sea level.  I was also annoyed by his reference to the absence of US leadership.  Not seeking to fight everywhere and anywhere is not an absence of leadership.

Kevin Ruud, the former Prime Minister of Australia, was very charming, alluding to his own career's ups and downs.  He showed off his ability to speak Mandarin, and was most perceptive about China as demonstrated later when the Chinese representative, a Major General, said stuff that exemplified Ruud's point about the toxicity of China-Japan history.  Ruud argued that the environmental disaster that is many Chinese cities is a real point of vulnerability for the regime, which helps to explain the big changes China is making in its approach to environmental issues.  He also was quite clear about Chinese priorities:

He also made the first hockey joke of the day.  It happened later than I expected but only because no American 4 -stars led off, and they always make hockey jokes (proved again later).

I had to take notes on my ipad after my cell phone died.
Anyhow, three general notes
  • only two women on the program--failing the Bechdel test, I think; and
  • I felt less guilty about carrying around my book to plus as Fen Hampson of CIGI (and of Carleton) plugged the CIGI publications endlessly.
  • DFATD (the foreign affairs dept) has a position called Sherpa. Really.
There was a panel on Asia-Pacific dynamics that was most interesting, but cannot concisely summarize.  I was surprised that anyone would suggest that Canada invest in amphibious equipment and ops given that Canada cannot seem to replace the 50 year old equipment it has for pretty much everything.  Adding a new requirement?  Oy!  I scoffed at the forward deployment of subs, but happened to be sitting next to a former Canadian Navy chief who said how it might work.

Interesting trade suggested--that Australia help build the next Canadian subs and Canada help build the next cold place ships (they have little Antarctic capability, Canada is building Arctic ships).

Another interesting suggestion--get China involved in counter-piracy since they depend so much on shipping and .. perhaps they might find themselves being refueled by a Japanese ship!?

The US Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Greenert was quite interesting and not just because he gave me this when I gave him our book after the talk. He made some important points very quickly and clearly--six key choke points in the seas (Gilbraltar, Suez, Hormuz, Red Sea, Malacca, Panama).  The map with American naval deployments (283 ships, 83 deployed at any time) had the desired effect--crap, the US has a big navy!  Forward deployment since it takes weeks or a month for a ship to get across a big ocean or two.

He made a fun statement about not making a statement about the Northwest Passage, a big point of dispute between the US and Canada.  He did indicate that the NWP is shallower and that will matter.

Greenert made a striking point--heaps of coalition stuff on the surface (among the skimmers), but undersea is not joint--"we own the undersea."  He repeated an American mantra--we cannot surge trust and relationships.

Best line--when talking about giving small sums of money to encourage innovation, not to give too much because then folks create bureaucracy.

The afternoon panel focused on China.  The Chinese apparently read Thucydides as they consider the fears that US has about a rising China.  The Chinese general cited the rising right-wing in Japan as an issue, but focused on US and building a community of common destiny.  Not a bad line.

Interesting point in this panel--some Southeast Asian countries don't like the American pivot to the Pacific because they depend on Mideast oil and want US to keep the peace there.

The other surprise today:  The biggest sponsor is CIGI--the think tank based at the Basillie School and formerly funded by Blackberry money.  I am confused about how they could drop so much cash on this event.

Anyhow, it was an interesting day.  Tomorrow (today by the time you probably read this) should be as well.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Declaring Skiing Success

Declaring success has become a theme here at the Spew, and since the past few days have been  a  bit more strident here, I thought I would post a happier, more positive take today.

Why woot?  Because I spent yesterday skiing at Copper Mountain, my first Colorado ski experience and my first rockies skiing in more than 13 years.  No champagne powder, but heaps of sun, only one liftline of more than a minute all day, good camaraderie (Cullen Hendrix is an awesome host), and only a few spills into the snow.  I am in Denver for a talk on the book, but scheduled a day to ski because.... I could. 

My skiing form?  Very rough, as only skied once last year and not at all this year.  I am also not used to endless slopes or figuring out how to ski down a bowl (a first for me).  But I had success because it was great fun, I didn't hurt myself or anyone else, and I even got to hear artillery fire (this is done to manage avalanches).

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Backlash is Which Stage?

I guess it was inevitable that a backlash would develop, where my role in the ISA blogging mess would be criticized.  As I was flying to Denver last night, Chris Zorn tweeted and Will Moore blogged about my role in leaking ISA's proposal to prohibit editors from blogging. 

Of course, the timing was driven not by when I was in the air but by the Kristof op-ed which drove a frenzy of debate about the role of academics in engaging the public.  Kristof cited the initial coverage of the ISA mess, not really showing what happened next.

My first reaction to the NYT op-ed was being a little queasy.  I don't like it that our intra-ISA spat got played like this.   But nausea and guilt are natural reactions even when I do not consider myself the Snowden of the ISA.  Given that the document was online in an open site and given that I asked the exec director of the ISA whether the document was confidential (um, did Manning or Snowden ask the powers that be in the US govt for permission?), I don't think I leaked anything.

Still, my blog was the one that got things rolling, so I feel some responsibility for publicizing the lousy proposal.  I had not expected this thing to go as viral (in our terms, we are not getting quite the same number of hits to our blogs as ... grumpy cat).  And I could have turned down the press opportunities that came quickly that week even as the ISA president was backing down.  But, damnit, I believe in this public engagement thing, so if folks are going to cover what we are doing and they ask me for my opinion, I am going to give it.

As I have said, a key irony here is that an attempt to prevent the ISA from being embarrassed has created far more embarrassment for the organization than if they had not acted at all.  I feel bad about that, I truly do.  But I am not an expert in organizing social movements, so all I understood once I read the proposal was that I wanted to rally support to win a vote at the Governing Council in March.  Sure, I could have just waited to see things play out, as Zorn suggests, but I do know from veto player theory (which we apply just a smidge in our book!) that it is generally easier to stop something than to have it reversed.  I had no idea how much support existed in Ex-Com for this proposal (not as much as I thought), so I thought I would need to get more than a majority of the votes of the remaining Governing Council members to overcome all of the votes coming from Ex-Com members.

Am I sorry that this thing spun out in public so much?  Yes.  I never anticipated getting 6k plus hits at the Spew (I do not have ads, so my hit count only adds to my ego) for the post.  Am I sorry that I acted?  That my post helped to reveal how far we have come and how much support I had across the community?  No.  It was a teaching moment, as they say in any crisis.  I learned a lot.  The ISA membership learned a lot.  And isn't that we are in this business for?

Anyhow, I know that I have some responsibility in all of this, and I will not play the Rambo card much "they drew first blood, not me."  Oops, maybe just a bit.  I am sure this will be an on-going topic, and I don't mind if folks question me or blame me a bit.  Just be reasonable about whether I could have foreseen the reactions of the past couple of weeks. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Great Poli Sci Portfolio

In the dustup produced by Nick Kristof, one of the basic misperceptions keeps being repeated--that the American Political Science Review is not influential or readable enough.  The job of the APSR is not to be read by policy-makers but by political scientists.  Really?  Yes.  Let me explain.

The academic journals have their place in the profession just as those aimed at outreach do. Why have academic journals?  So that political scientists can do the science that is necessary for the generation of knowledge:
  • developing arguments in reaction to and building on pre-existing work (that would be the dreaded lit review), 
  • articulating casual mechanisms that link potential causes to that thing we are trying to explain (that would be theory), 
  • specifying how we think we know what we know (that would be methods)
  • drawing out the findings and their implications.
It is on the last part that really interests folks outside of the research university.  But to get there, we have to a heap of work.  We cannot just speculate about the future, like Sam Huntington did with Clash of Civilizations because then it is all based on air.  And certainly probably wrong. Doing the preceding stuff is what we do so that our stuff is not just speculative b.s. but based on the best approximation of science (not all of us have that as an aim, of course).

This research is fundamental to being a professor at a research university and pretty relevant to folks in other academic positions since teaching and research are actually related.  Not everyone doing this research has to be articulating their stuff to the folks beyond the university, but some people must be doing it.

And that is what has changed over the past fifteen years or so.  Social media have greatly enabled those who are interested in transmitting beyond the academy and are able to do so.  Blogging, twitter, and all the rest complement the more traditional means--policy-oriented journals, media appearances, public speaking, private networking that always existed. Indeed, as I have insisted elsewhere, there may be fewer famous public intellectuals, but in poli sci, they have been replaced by a much more diverse set of folks articulating the findings and implications--diverse methodologies, different ages, genders, races (although we fall short there still), theoretical perspectives and so on.

In the previous post and elsewhere online, I argued that blogging and such can be done by junior faculty but that they should still be judged for tenure mostly by the traditional standards of publishing peer-reviewed research.  Why?  Because that is a key part of developing one's credentials as a scholar--that one can do research, that the research can pass through the vetting process of academic journals, that it is making a contribution.  And they have enough stuff to do.  Once one is tenured, it is my belief, one has more responsibility to disseminate more widely (although again with a portfolio approach, there is no one way to do this and not everybody has to do it the same way).

The Kristof article has many problems, including having a pretty old and outdated view of the profession, but also downplaying the reality that research is necessary (pundits do not have to research but at least some political scientists have to).  Our research process could be more open (open access would be great, although who wants to read heaps of academic articles), but we need to have multiple conversations.  One of the key conversations is among political scientists about the research we do, which is then the basis for whatever it is we want to transmit to the folks outside of political science.

 Update: I forgot to mention that we have some evidence about how diverse IR is these days.  I wrote a piece using the TRIP data that showed that our circus has a very big tent with all kinds of folks doing all kinds of things.  Yes, there is more quant work now, but not less qual work.  More outlets means more articles--so quant has made a relative gain but qual has not made an absolute loss.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

What Have We Wrought?

The ISA mess is the gift that keeps on giving.  Now Nicholas Kristof has written a piece in his NYT column that "addresses" the controversy.  The problem is that the column is out of date.  Not just in focusing on the ISA proposal that has been beaten back by the forces of reason (that would be me and other bloggers?), but that other canards get lumped in.  While some noted bloggers have been denied tenure, it is highly unlikely that their blogging did them in.  Indeed, there is more pressure by lots of folks (presidents, provosts, deans, grant agencies) to do more outreach.

And there is plenty of it, from Monkey Cage having a prime perch now at the Washington Post to the new news that Lynn Vavreck just got hired to replace Nate Silver to do the NYT blogging (hmm, check your own paper, dude) to Political Violence at a Glance to to and on and on.  No, APSR does not have heaps of policy prescriptive stuff, but other journals have more.

And comparing us to economists is kind of fun, given that the economists that preach stuff that politicians like (such as austerity) get heaps of love even if their stuff turns out to be quite wrong.  The "no one predicted Arab Spring" reminds me of "no one predicted the end of the Cold War."  I think the former is more untrue than the latter.  There was heaps of analysis about the Mideast and much of it was being disseminated to the public (just read Marc Lynch's stuff at and the mini-website there that he curates/edits/whatevers).

There is so much confirmation bias in this piece that it is worth of some social science.  Academic journals have their place in the generation and dissemination of knowledge, even stuff jammed with jargon.  That stuff has its uses, but we need to write other stuff to share our knowledge beyond the folks who are trained to understand the jargon AND that is happening.

Regarding the decline of area studies, (a) blame the government for cutting the money for developing language skills; and (b) please do ignore the much fine work being done today by theory driven folks who think comparatively while doing significant time "in the field."  The Jason Lyalls who spend much time in Afghanistan, write policy oriented stuff that is methodologically sophisticated, the Laura Seays who are deeply engaged in Africa and communicate that knowledge to the planet via twitter, and on and on.  The future is actually mighty damned bright.  I am glad I don't have to compete with these multi-skilled (language, area studies, high tech quant skills) junior demons professors.

So, yes, we could do better, and yes, there are still folks who are stuck in the past ... including those who think we are not engaging the public now more than ever.

Caveat: as the conversations ensued online after this came out, I wanted to clarify--not all poli sci profs should be engaged in outreach.  That is one part of the job and not everyone has to do it.  And junior faculty should feel the least pressure since they have to establish their credentials by publishing.  If they want to do such stuff, let them.  Of course, with the decline in tenure track lines, there are less folks who will have the job security to do this kind of public engagement.  

Nationalism Test Du Jour

The Olympics have been heaps of fun for talking about nationalism.  Now here is a test:

Take a look at this image and ponder who is more upset:

a)  Russians
b)  Canadians
c)  A tie that requires a shootout

No, Americans is not one of the choices--we/they just laugh.

What say you?

Time to Thrive

Indeed.  Ellen Page's coming out was moving only partly because she came out.  Much of it was about a very moving speech that was more than just about her.  That she was so incredibly nervous only made it that much more moving.  Check it out:

Why Political Scientists Hate "Political Will"

I can guarantee you that if you asked most political scientists, especially IR types, to write lists of the top ten phrases they cannot stand, "political will" would appear on a vast majority of them.

X will not happen because there is no political will.  Y happened because there was political will.  How do you know political will exists?  Because that policy you wanted happened.  Circularity can be fun, but not particularly enlightening.

The concept (if we can dare call it a concept) is so utterly vague that we can mean anything by it, so let's see if we can make a list of some possibilities.  The absence of Political Will means:
  • politicians lack incentives
  • politicians lack resolve
  • politicians lack effective/efficient/efficacious policy options
  • countries cannot agree to a course of action
  • countries cannot agree who will take care of the course of action 
I am sure there are others (please add to this list via comments).  For political scientists, the job starts by figuring out why there is a failure to cooperate (a.k.a. absence of political will).   Some will focus on the incentives politicians face--the timing of elections; public support or opposition to acting; the power, strategies and efforts by lobbyists (of all kinds including businesses, diasporas, etc); the stances of parties.  Some will focus on resolve and whether reputation, whether it really matters or not, might cause politicians to stick to a line in the sand.  Others will examine the costs and benefits of various policy alternatives and figure out whether any might work, might appeal to particular groups at home (even if the policy does not work), and so on.

If countries need to cooperate, and in most cases, cooperation is a necessary ingredient for success, then we have heaps of theories that attempt to explain under what condition cooperation happens.  Drezner's Zombie book shows how many different theories produce different expectations when cooperation is needed.

And it is one thing to agree that something should be done.  It is another to get folks to kick in.  As we cite in our book, "force generation is begging."  Even NATO has to go around with a cup in its virtual hand asking for units to be sent (and paid for) by each member.

The point is that when someone says something didn't happen because of an absence of political will, they are doing one of two things--expecting politicians to be magicians or avoiding taking a serious stance on the issue.  Indeed, there may be a third thing we need to keep in mind--Newton.  Inertia must be overcome, and wishing is not good enough.  So, what are the incentives, the interests, the dynamics that compel politicians to make hard decisions, to risk their electoral futures, to spend scarce resources and what are the factors that cause other actors to concur?

The case du jour is Syria.*  Yes, the humanitarian catastrophe that is the Syrian civil war is appalling.  Countries are not acting, making it seem like Rwanda all over again.  But we cannot simply complain about a lack of political will.  Because that explains nothing.  It is less a starting point for analysis and more of a distraction.
* I wrote this before seeing that Stephen Hawking has written an op-ed on Syria.  I do not want to suggest that he is committing the sin that I have identified here (although I am not saying he does not commit that sin).

Alas, I am sure this call to drop the use of this phrase will fail ... because there is not enough political will to do so.

Friday, February 14, 2014

We Are All Nationalists

Perhaps only the Brits can be smug (but they have to cover other countries, as they don't do well at winter games), as the Canadian coverage of the Winter Olympics is just about as Canadian centric as the American coverage is American-centric:

So, let's just keep embracing our nationalism, ok?

H/T to Deadspin.

Valentine's Is For Lovers ... of Twitter

So much silliness all the time on twitter.  Today is Valentine's Day, of course, so folks are tweeting silly poems, such as this:

One of the better academic ones:
So, I, of course, could not be left out:
and then I made the book promotion a bit more explicit (because Valentine's Day is all about being explicit, right?)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why I Don't Study Arms Races

Time to unpack a tweet just a bit:
The article focuses on the efforts of countries in the Indo-Pacific region pursuing submarines.  My immediate reaction was to invoke the security dilemma.  This basic IR concept goes as follows:
because there is no higher authority to protect/secure countries, each country must look out for themselves (allies make promises that may not be kept).  So, when one country adds some kind of military capability to improve its ability to secure itself, others (especially neighbors) will worry about how that new capability might be used, so they react to develop new capabilities.  This reaction may leave the initiator less secure as it now faces neighbors with greater military capabilities.  The dilemma is that the effort to create more security ultimately leads to less security.

In this particular case, the Chinese are building up their navy to thwart the U.S., and much of it is to deny the Americans the ability to sail about the seas near China via submarines and missiles.  The neighbors see this larger navy and invest in submarines.  This might leave China more threatened as its strategic picture becomes complicated by many more countries with diverse capabilities.

When I applied to grad school, my essay for the applications focused on my curiosity about arms races yet I have never published anything on arms races.  Why not?  Because once I got to grad school and learned about the security dilemma, my curiosity was largely satisfied.  Sure, there are other dynamics at work (military-industrial complex type stuff), but I found that the security dilemma made sense of much of what I had been curious about.  So, I moved on.

Of course, the big question is why do countries not arms race.  How does one improve security without upsetting the neighbors?  Fun stuff to think about.  To be clear, there is plenty of room for scholars to study arms races.  I just found that my intellectual curiosity was satisfied, but I am sure there are puzzles that still keep folks engaged on this issue just as many folks probably did not have much curiosity about NATO and Afghanistan.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Nope, No Nationalism Here.

When I saw the new cover of Macleans (Canada's premiere national news magazine), I could only tweet thusly:

Such great timing after my post at CIC.  Thanks for proving my point, Macleans!

Best Statement on Gays in Sports Today

A Dallas sportscaster says it better than most:

I hope that Michael Sams gets his shot at an NFL career. 

Top Ten Indeed

There is way too much effort to rank and re-rank schools.  However, this is one ranking that should be quite educational: the schools that get the most donations.
1. Stanford University ($931.57 million)
2. Harvard University ($792.26 million)
3. University of Southern California ($674.51 million)
4. Columbia University ($646.66 million)
5. Johns Hopkins University ($518.57 million)
6. University of Pennsylvania ($506.61 million)
7. Cornell University ($474.96 million)
8. New York University ($449.34 million)
9. Yale University ($444.17 million)
10. Duke University ($423.66 million)

No real surprises here, but I would suggest that some of the rich alumni of these schools throw their cash around a little more widely.  Stanford and Harvard really do not need a bigger endowment, for instance.  

I don't mind at all, of course, folks giving to colleges and universities, as these are great multipliers.  But ponder a bit about schools that might be just a bit more needy than some of these.  

And this counts as my socialist, share the wealth post of the year.

Olympics on Hoth

What a lovely mashup:

Courtesy of f

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Monday, February 10, 2014

Natural Experiment Du Jour: the next NFL Draft

The Michael Sam story is interesting for a variety of reasons, but let me just be a social science geek for a minute.  We have a "natural experiment" now.  A player who is clearly good enough to get drafted by an NFL team  just came out and told the world he is gay (which was going to come out anyway, given his stance within his college team...).  What does that do to his career?  Well, his stock has already dropped.

The question I am most interested in is this: what team will be confident enough to manage the hoopla to draft him?  Or as a former NFL player and tweeter extraordinaire, Dont'e Stallworth put it:
 Which team will draft Sam?  He is an undersized defensive end, so it may be the case that he is not so desirable by many teams.  So, the experiment here is not perfect--teams evaluate talent differently.  Is it about his overall record or is it about controlling for a few outstanding games?

Still, teams with weak organizations will avoid Sam.  Teams that lack confidence in their coach or in their players will avoid Sam.  Teams that are run by homophobes will avoid Sam.

So, drafting Sam will signal that the team is confident and needs under-sized defensive ends (or has confidence in their ability to turn Sam into a linebacker).

We live in interesting times.  The good news about this is that as someone remarked last night, the tables have turned--the homophobes have to watch what they say.  Woot!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Good Take on Farm Bill

The new farm bill is awful, awful, awful.  Why are we cutting food stamps when the economy is not so bouncy, bouncy? 
by Michael Kupperman and David Rees at NYT

Hashtags Gone Wild

I tend not to use hashtags as I tweet in any systematic kind of way.  For many of my Canadian themed ones, I probably should be adding #cdnpoli or #cdnfp or something like that.  I guess folks do follow feeds that are centered on hashtags.

However, I do like to follow the fun hashtag stuff when it pops up.  Today, an oldie but a goodie came up: #SixWordPaperTitle.  It got some love over at

My contribution today was:

The io9 list concluded one of the very academic paper best presentations I have ever seen:

Enjoy your Sunday.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Deja Vu? Nope, A Forceful Alternative

In my first week in Montreal, I happened to have found myself in a strange position--locked inside a bathroom.  I went out the window.

In Sochi, there was an alternative approach:

In retrospect, I prefer this strategy.  

KC Rocketh

As I await the ride to the airport, I thought I would review my trip to Kansas City.... it rocks.

Sure, it was really cold, but I am used to that.  The department at the U of Missouri at Kansas City is chock full of young, fun profs led by a friend of mine from grad school.  They were excellent hosts with heaps of humor, sharp questions about my research, and enjoyed my tales about their chair.

The students had a range of experiences so they asked very good questions.  They were quite engaged in the stuff I was presenting.  Indeed, when I guest lectured in the International Security class, I was not told when the class was supposed to end, so we went long.  And no one started to pack up and leave.  Perhaps they were afraid of the new guy.

The beer was excellent, the Raphael hotel was very nice.  I wish I had some time to do some of the museums (Negro Leagues, Jazz), but I am hustling back home to prepare for Monday's class.

If you get an invite to come to KC, especially to the UMKC poli sci dept, you have got to say yes. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

The First Casualty of Book Tour

is blogging.  I spent yesterday flying to Kansas City and then hanging out with the faculty of U of Missouri-Kansas City.  A great bunch of folks and big fans of good beer.  So, no blogging yesterday.   Just a token post this morning before I run off for breakfast and then a busy day of talk, meetings, Q&A in a International Security class, and then KC bbq (I hope). 

So, enjoy the Olympics, our new (and perhaps temporarily) Leno-less world, and so on.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Self-Promotion: Just A Bit

I got a little pushback at ye olde font of wisdom and discretion: the Political Science Rumor site.  Some folks are upset and see my posts there as self-promotion.  I suggested that my participation there is not driven by the desire to promote.  Indeed, what a crappy place to do that since most folks in the profession use words like cesspool to describe it.  Given the flak I often receive there, it would be a strange place to promote.

Yet, I need to be clear, I am definitely engaged in self-promotion.  After all, I have a website, a blog, a twitter account, a page to promote the new book, a playlist to promote the new book, and even a self-styled book tour.  So, I cannot deny that I self-promote.  Is this shameful?  I prefer to think that it is shameless.  Ok, that is a bit much.  But the basic idea is that I need to promote this book, as there is only so much our publisher is likely to do.  And I am excited by the book and want people to read it, cite it, and even perhaps buy it.  Not that I have much of a profit motive.

But then, of course, you can say: "Steve, you were a shameless self-promoter long before the book came out."  And, well, sure.  I definitely have hit new highs promoting this book, but probably the real changes were the year in the Pentagon and then when I started blogging and tweeting.  Before that year in DC, I had a vague idea that what we academics do and produce should be shared outside of the university campus.  So, I definitely embraced the opportunity to do TV and radio and write op-eds especially as I saw myself in a particularly strange but opportune situation--trying to explain some of the biggest mistakes in US foreign policy while residing in another country.  I did feel a bit of an obligation to do this in part because my title, Canada Research Chair, was very much a federal govt funded spot with a somewhat explicit mission to do outreach.  Also, the grants I received in Canada made me feel as if I had an obligation to speak to bigger audiences.

And then I started to blog and then to tweet.  Before that, I didn't go up to people and say, I am great, here are my ideas, now love them and me.  That would have been strange.  The new media allow us to do pretty much that.  But why?  Is it just attention-seeking? No, it is that* and more.  I got into this business because I am curious and like to engage others as we try to figure stuff out.  Twitter and blogs allow me to do that with so many more and different people.  So, I enthusiastically share my ideas through a variety of media.  I am not always certain of the rightness of my views despite how confident I might appear to be.  But I certainly want folks to tell me that I am right or not nearly as wrong as other folks might be.
* I cannot deny that I am a Leo, that I am the youngest of four kids, that I am extrovert, that I joined a profession where I can stand in front of 600 students who almost have to pay attention to me.
I don't think self-promotion is wrong, even if I feel a bit squishy sometimes when someone calls me on it.  I guess my basic view is--if I don't believe in myself and my ideas, who will?  And if I don't promote myself, who will? I should also note that my self-promotion efforts do give me opportunities to other-promote.

This is still something I am figuring out, but I don't let my uncertainty about it from stopping me from promoting the hell out of the new book.  And it seems to be working, given the number of folks who have shown me on twitter that they got the book.

Oops, I might have been unintentionally plagiarizing Rabbi Hillel: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”  Which is funny since I never was exposed to Hillel quotes in Hebrew school but osmosis-ed it somewhere along the wya.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Tenure Letters: To Write Or Not to Write

This piece has been making waves in the academic world (everyone else: look away!).  It gets much attention because it both identifies a real problem and then suggests awful ways to handle it.  The latter is easier to deal with quickly.  However, first let me be clear--what I am talking about here are the letters that universities ask outside scholars to write as they evaluate candidates for tenure and/or promotion.  The basic idea is that these letters serve two purposes (at least):
  • so that folks who do specialized work can be fairly evaluated if their work is specialized enough that those inside the department cannot evaluate well the work. I could have used such letters once when a political theorist was up for tenure and we had no theorists in the room who could tell us if the person did good theory and the school did not have outside letters at that stage.
  • so that the folks up the line can determine whether the department is being fair or not.  Any tenure/promotion decision goes through more than just the department's but also the dean', maybe the dean's committee's, maybe a university-wide committee, and then the provost, the President/Chancellor/Principal, and then the Board of Trustees/Regents/Pooh-bahs.  These letters are used to evaluate whether the profession, as represented by the letter-writers, is either more or less supportive than the department.  
Anyhow,  Ilan Stavans identifies the problem but then handles it poorly.  He declines nearly all requests to write tenure letters ... which means that others have to do so instead.  He is being a lousy citizen.  He is also recommending a very unethical approach--writing only letters for those who were former students.  Most schools do not allow people who have that kind of relationship write tenure/promotion letters precisely because they have a conflict of interest.  Actually, he does not decline, since "no" can be seen as a negative vote and departments interpret refusals that way.  He chooses not to respond at all.  Which means that departments are dumb, because they will not read a non-response as a no.  Sure, they will.  Just as professors know when students are being creative about the margins in a paper to get to the right length, departments and deans can figure out that a non-response might mean something.  Plus he is delaying the candidate's process as a department waits for a response.  Is this cowardice?  Maybe not, but it is weakness.

The first big problem is that universities are expecting more and more of these letters to be written--that each candidate for tenure or promotion needs not five or six but ten or twelve ... because that is the way Harvard does it or some other b.s. argument.  Some places are now asking for outside letters for folks going up for their third year review.  I am pondering refusing to do those at all since it is a waste of time for all concerned.  Few folks are fired after a third year review, and if they are, it is because there is nothing to read.  So, asking for outside letters means soliciting letters that are going to be positive... unless there is nothing to read.  Giant waste of time and a refusal by those universities to make decisions on their own.

The second big problem is politics.  Ooops.  That is, when people are deciding to vote within a department or within a committee, they may use the texts of letters selectively to support whatever case they want to make instead of using the letters to inform their votes.  So, Stavans is correct in noting that "solid" can be used that way, that solid is obviously inferior to outstanding or special or crucial or some other more positive adjective.  And this leads to the "tenure code" that Stavans identifies--that letter-writers have to be careful about what they say so that they don't doom a candidate.  Which means that most folks write only positive letters and refuse if they cannot do so.  And that becomes a problem since there are often good reasons to refuse--too busy, not enough of a background to evaluate a letter, etc.

The second problem has always existed and will always exist.  The first problem is new-ish and can be handled if universities can solve the collective action problem of refusing to be sucky on this.  There is no need for an arms race of letters--five or seven letters should be sufficient to evaluate the candidate.  Doing more is excessive.

How do I deal with these problems?  I tend to say yes.  It is not weeks of work as Stavans suggests, but it is a heap of work to read a lot of a person's work.  I did receive a request to review someone who was clearly going to be denied, and I knew that if I did not write that letter, someone was going to have to do so.  Since I was clearly a relevant specialist for that hunk of work, I agreed to do it.  I do think I should have exercised better judgment recently as I ended up agreeing to review someone whose work really is not in my research area.  I will say no carefully and clearly when I am asked to do a letter when my plate is already overfull.  The department may not believe me, but I cannot take on letter x when I am already doing a heap of letters.  What constitutes a heap?  Depends on the timing.  I tend to average three or four of these each year, which makes me luckier than a few friends of mine who get far more requests.  I guess being not so mainstream (IR of ethnic conflict, not war) in my work pays off. 

Do I pay attention to every single word I write in these letters?  Um, sort of.  I am just not that careful, but I do try to be careful.  I am willing to say something negative if the record calls for it.  Which might mean my getting more letters in the future since some departments seek out negative letter writers.... but nearly all of my letters are positive.  Why?  In large part because I have been asked to review very productive people.  And partly because I don't want to be the guy that ends someone's career. 

To be clear, my basic standard is: has this person made a significant contribution?  Are they likely to have a good trajectory?  Getting into what that means requires much more time, which I don't have since there is a tenure review packet on my desk.

Update: see this piece for an excellent take on how to write these letters.

Wither the Wizarding Alliance: Fighting Alone, Not Together

With great power comes great responsibility, so when I see this on twitter:

I must respond.  After all, I have demonstrated here at the Spew (and in my classes) a mastery of all that is Harry Potter, including extensive fieldwork AND I now have a handy dandy book on NATO co-written with Muggle expert David Auerswald.  So, where was the alliance when Britain succumbed to a civil war between the Order of the Phoenix and Dumbledore's Army versus Voldemort and the Dark Forces?

To be clear, just as the British police force and army were not involved in this particular battle, I would not expect NATO to enter this war either. 
  • NATO has never intervened in the intra-state conflicts of members... only non-members such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Afghanistan and Libya.  NATO never got involved in the "troubles" in Northern Ireland or Spain's Basque conflict, so I am not sure why a wizarding war would be any different.
  • To intervene, NATO would have to gain consensus to do something.  That is not easy and probably would be most difficult when it comes to a magical war, given that some countries might just be under the influence of the dark magic users/xenophobes.  Indeed, if there was some risk of intervention, Voldemort almost certainly would have gained enough control over the Prime Minister so that the UK would not have agreed to the intervention.  
  • NATO, as far as we know, has no magical capabilities, either by itself (such as its AWACS planes) or generated via NATO's force generation process.  It is not clear how muggle weaponry would have been useful against the Dark Forces especially given the latter's ability to hide among the population.  So, NATO really had no role to play.
We know that there were magic users elsewhere, that Dumbledore had allies in other countries, and so on.  This question then breaks down into two distinct ones: what about a Wizarding Alliance?  If not a formal alliance, why not a Coalition of the Willing Wizards?  While JK Rowling does not mention any NATO-like alliance among the wizarding communities of the world (there is some international cooperation, but seems more focused on games and trade restrictions), one could imagine that the countries that were on the same side in World War II, which was really about the rise and fall of Gellert Grindelwald, might have formed a lasting alliance aimed at the wizards and witches that used Communism as cover.  In search of a post Cold War mission, this Wizarding Alliance could have been interested in intervening, but again, the difficulties of gaining consensus might have gotten in the way.  Voldemort, despite being a poor tactician, was adept enough to put a stick in the spokes of international organizational decision-processes. 

The primary advantage of ad hoc coalitions is that one does not need to gain consensus to act.  So, one could imagine the magical governments within the U.S. (Department of Magic), Canada (the Department of National Magic), and a few others cooperating to fight the Dark Forces.  Since the HP series was written by a Brit, it is not surprising that it underplayed the role of the outsiders.  I mean, the Brits still think Monty was the bee's knees.  So, in this case, my guess is that there was some assistance rendered to the British wizards and witches.  However, it might have been in the form of sending over mass-produced wands (since the British lost their primary supplier), advanced brooms, and the like. 

Of course, more research is required to better document the role of outsiders in Britain's civil war among magic users.  I have no doubt that kinship ties mattered and so did the complex dynamics of nationalism and xenophobia.  Time to write up a new grant application.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Super Bowl Ads Are Super This Year

This year, I missed the ads for two reasons: the usual one of Canadian feeds being denied the juicy goodness of new ads with heaps of production values; and a new one--poker during the game! 

Thanks to the internet, I got to see some of them, and here is my completely unnecessary take:

As a child of the 1970's and 1980's, how could I not love this ad:

My fave:

Why? Because not only does it celebrate THE fundamental American value--that we are all immigrants (except for the Native Americans) and that ours is a civic nationalism (most of the time), but also because it caused heaps of xenophobes to out themselves as the dumbasses that they are.  The United States is not perfect, but it remains the draw for so many people seeking a better life. And that says something, even in these polarized days.  Also, it shows that Coke understands demographics better than the Republican Party.  Woot!

And speaking of cuteness triumphing over racism, I gotta say woot! to this as well:

I love that the Super Bowl is displaying American capitalism at its best.  Turns out racism might just be a bad strategy and celebrating diversity might be a winning one.

Virtual Book Tour, U of O edition

Here is the video of my talk on the Dave and Steve book at the University of Ottawa:

Why buy the book?  This talk is just a taste of the arguments and barely gets into the cases, which are chock full of goodness.  See the back cover blurbs!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Back to Blog Basics: Overanalyzing Harry Potter

After much of a week spent engaging in contentious politics within academy, it is time to go back to what blogging was really meant to do: over-think Harry Potter.  JK Rowling has suggested in an interview that Ron and Hermione should not have paired up.  For realz?  This, of course, opens up all of the possible romantic pairings for debate anew:  Harry and Ginny vs. Harry and Hermione vs. Harry and Luna vs. Harry and Cho vs. Hermione and Victor Krum and so on.

I must say I didn't have a problem with the way things played out then or now, although I could see how one might imagine that not all teen pairings lead to life-time marriages (even if that was the pattern that JK set with Harry's parents).

Lots of folks hate Ginny, and the movies mostly did not treat her well.  But she actually did have a heap of personality in the book--more Fred and George's sister than Ron's, as she possessed a mischievous streak that Harry damn well needed after the traumas he experienced.  Plus she was good on a broom and with a wand, so Harry met someone who shared his interests.  I really liked the way that story played out in the books.  It was inevitable, of course, given Harry's ties to the Weasleys.

Harry and Luna?  Harry needed humor but that much whimsy?  Perhaps not.  Neville and Luna make far more sense.

How about Ron and Hermione?  Again, someone a bit less serious with someone too serious.  Seems right to me (perhaps, I, like JK, am projecting).  Given all the stresses and adventures these folks faced together, it is not really that surprising that they end up together.

Plus the Weasleys desperately need to marry Muggle-born or half-Muggles, given that their family is very much pure-blood.  Have to stop the inbreeding now. 

This looks right to me:
Appropriately from "Why Ginny W is Hated"
But, then again, I am a sentimental sap....