Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Explaining Variation: Why Sterling Gets Punished Now for Always Being a Racist

Lots of folks are frustrated/puzzled why the NBA is kicking out Donald Sterling over a few words he said in private as opposed to the many racist things he has done in the past, especially being found guilty of engaging in discriminatory practices regarding his real estate.

Since Sterling's racism is a constant, we need to figure out what is different now:
  • The obvious one: new commissioner Adam Silver.  New boss in town, needs to establish his authority, not burdened by past decisions.  He does not have live by the stupid rule that just because we did something dumb before does not mean we have to keep doing it.
  • My favorite theory: the NBA has gotten serious about slurs--especially against gays.  When this came up, the NBA had less room to duck and dodge because the policies made it clear that words mattered.
  • The players were ready to act, as news came out that if Silver did not act, one or more teams were not going to play in Tuesday night's playoff games.  
  • Audio matters.  Legal stuff does not get people as upset as hearing a tape recording.  Stupid perhaps because the housing discrimination is serious, harmful stuff.  But the media can play and replay and ask for reactions.
I think all of this mattered.  I do think that Silver was not bound by David Stern's past decisions to protect the racist.  I also think that the owners have gotten sick of Sterling and the damage he was doing to a prime league asset after he got a gift in the form of Chris Paul after Stern killed a trade that would have brought him to the Lakers.  

Yes, Sterling will make something like a billion dollar profit when he sells the team, which apparently the league can force.  So, his only punishment will be to his ego and also the loss of the profits from the next contract.  But the league is better off without him.... finally. 

How Much Reassurance Does a Reassurance Package Buy?

President Obama is going to stop by Poland on his next European trip to reassure the Poles.  Canada just send six CF-18s to Romania to help reassure Eastern Europe.  The Danes have done likewise.  Any student of extended deterrence and/or of NATO would caution Obama that reassure is a more or less thing and not something that will calm all frayed nerves.

During the Cold War, the US went to tremendous efforts to reassure Europe that the US would show up when the Soviets attacked.  The most visible and costly manifestation of that was the deliberate placement of hundreds of thousands of Americans in harm's way as a tripwire.  Remember, it was not just American soldiers, sailors, pilots and marines (not sure if Marines were based at all in Europe), but their wives (in the days of only or nearly only men in uniform) and their kids who went to German, Italian, British and other schools while their fathers served.  This was designed in part to deter the Soviets but more to assure the Europeans that the U.S. would indeed sacrifice Chicago to save Bonn or Rome or wherever. 

The task right now, the sending of planes and ships and some soldiers to Eastern Europe has been called by NATO the Reassurance Package.  Are a few handfuls of fighter planes, six ships or so and a battalion of American soldiers (re-deployed from Italy to the Baltics and Poland) going to assuage the concerns of those closest to the bear and its victim?  No.  Not completely.  But perhaps it is enough to remind East Europeans that they are on the other side of a shiny line from Ukraine and that line is between those who are members of NATO and those who are not. 

I was asked on TV last night in Canada (the first time I got interrupted while being live on TV while being filmed at home via facetime/skype) about what difference does Canada make by sending six planes.  To the Russians?  None?  To the East Europeans, it shows that NATO is more than the US, more than the US and Denmark but truly a transatlantic alliance.  Not too shabby.  But, yes, it is entirely symbolic.  Canada now and into the future will only have enough air power to engage in symbolic stuff, as six planes can only make so much of a difference.

Analogy Analysis

So, President Obama says that he has been making progress hitting singles and doubles rather than swinging for the fences, and people are upset that he is not more ambitious.  What to make of it?

Well, first, it says a lot about Obama's deliberative style--he took months and months to figure out whether to surge in Afghanistan in 2009.  And it was a hedged decision--not as many troops as McChrystal wanted (although the high number was almost certainly offered to get Obama to choose the middle recommendation) with a deadline. 

Second, the US has less resources to dedicate to foreign policy thanks to the costs of the past decade's wars (resources in terms of money, spare military power, political capital, domestic support). Do you want to swing for the fences and risk many, many strikeouts or do you want to advance rather consistently but slowly?

Third, as a status quo power--that the US wants to keep its position--it is not clear why gambling on big wins makes a whole lot of sense, as compared to just trying to stay ahead.

Still, there is a problem: one can only be a successful singles/doubles hitter if one is very consistent.  Tony Gwynn amassed great stats over his career because he did not create many outs.  If you still strike out a lot, then it really becomes hard to score, whatever that means. 

If one wants to use baseball analogies, the temptation is to play with advanced statistics: not home runs batted in but WAR (wins above replacement) or VORP (Value over replacement player).  Would someone else have done better in these circumstances than Obama: Bush?  McCain?  Palin?  Romney?  Perry?  Wow, the Republican bench kind of sucks.  The value of the advanced stats is that they take into account context such as whether one's homefield is a hitter's park or a pitcher's park and so on. 

There are good reasons to criticize Obama's foreign policy--the red line in Syria turned out to be a big mistake.  However, I do appreciate the effort not to swing for the fences in big, risky initiatives.  It has been a very hard decade for the United States in the world--two wars with uncertain outcomes, much more force deployed elsewhere with mixed results, grappling with a Great Recession, facing a Rising China, and now a revanchist Russia.  The choices are not so easy, and I am not sure whether swinging for the fences makes sense when most of these problems present few good alternatives and many bad ones.

Again, the President could have dealt with many of these challenges better, but engage in riskier behavior?  No thanks.  So, given the players in the league, Obama with his small ball strategy might just have a positive VORP (value over replacement president).

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Six Seasons, Please?

The fans of Community are just about as deranged as its creator, Dan Harmon:

Poland-Centric and the Deja Vu of Stephen Harper's Deployments

I have no inside information about how decisions get made in Ottawa.  All I know is that when Canada announces NATO-related military deployments, NATO often goes: huh?

In 2010, Prime Minister Stephen Harper reversed his stance that the only Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan after July 2011 would be embassy guards to committing nine hundred or so soldiers to a three year training mission in Kabul.  The problem was that NATO did not ask for 900 trainers nor have space for 900 trainers in Kabul.  So, the mission became "Kabul-centric," which in practice meant anywhere but Kandahar.

In 2014, Harper announces that 6 CF-18s (Canadian F-18s) will be going to Eastern Europe, with the informal word that they would be headed to Poland.  Well, we just learned that these planes are going to Romania.

In the grand scheme of things, the change of basing does not matter much.  But this pattern does say something--that even when Harper does NATO stuff, he does not coordinate well or does not work the policy.  I do know that the 2010 decision was not so well worked through a normal process as the military was barely consulted.  I do wonder if the more recent announcement had been staffed through the Canadian Forces and Department of National Defence so that the basing part was worked out at all.

Again, not so consequential but it is suggestive of a broken decision-making process.  Which might matter when the decisions are bigger.

Beware of Contagion? Or Beware of Those Wary of Contagion?

Nice, flashy title for a piece on whether there will be more separatism in Europe this summer: "if at first you don't secede."  It raises all kinds of fears about Europe blowing apart as each country facing a separatist movement might suddenly disintegrate.

To be clear, the situations in most of Europe versus Ukraine are not so much apples and oranges but apples and bear-savaged campgrounds.  Huh?  Separatism is not spreading from Crimea to Donetsk via some kind of learning process.  No, it is spreading within one country (a point I made long ago when other stuff seemed contagious) and not via a learning process or any kind of osmosis but via separate and distinct interventions by an outside power--that would be Russia.

So, the political processes that have caused irredentism in Crimea (or aimed at Crimea) and something akin to it in Eastern Ukraine are entirely irrelevant for the Scots, the Basques, the Bretons, and so on.  The funny thing about the list of suspects in the piece is that it ignores the recent developments that push in the opposite direction.  Quebec's recent provincial election might not mean that the sovereignty movement is dead, but it sure as hell is not on the march towards independence.  Scotland?  Sure, it has a referendum coming up, but the no side is ahead, and just gained another key ally--comedians uber alles.

The article goes on and on, listing a bunch of potential separatist movements and actual ones as well, regardless of how serious their prospects are. 

The question is less absurd than it sounds. Just look at that foundering transnational project, the European Union. The bitter irony is that one of the only things uniting the 28 public opinions in the fledgling superstate is their common resentment of their common project. The telegenic figurehead of the U.K. Independence Party, Nigel Farage, is but one of a new generation of populist politicians across the continent, all popular insofar as they rail against "Brussels" -- that symbol of the wasteful, undemocratic, and bureaucratic European behemoth that threatens to crush each member country's uniqueness.
I hate to compare the US to the EU because one is a country and the other is not, but folks have been running against Washington, DC for as long as anyone can remember.  Yet the US has managed to stick around.  The EU? Yes, there is lots of friction, but that happens amid and after a Great Recession.  The only real threat to leave is the UK's, and I am not sure how realistic that is these days.  But neither the US, nor the EU, nor the rest of Europe are what the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia were in the late 1980s and early 1990s: authoritarian systems built on the suddenly fragile ideology that promised "full employment" and fell short.  
Some of the European Union's most vocal opponents scoffingly compare it to the Soviet Union and eagerly anticipate its similar fate. The implosion of the European Union could prove to be just as much of a Pandora's box of secessionisms as the end of the Soviet Union is still proving to be: today in eastern Ukraine, tomorrow perhaps in France, Spain, and Italy. 
So, the conclusion of this piece is to support the wild speculation that is the favored stance of Europe's fringe?  I am tempted to Lloyd Bentsen this Dan Quayle: I have met Pandora's Box, I have written about Pandora's Box, my friend, this Europe is no Pandora's Box.   But that is a dated and insulting reference, so I shall refrain.

Again, there are good reasons to be concerned about what Russia is doing in its neighbors.  There is also good reason to ponder each separatist movement in the rest of Europe, but each is almost entirely driven by domestic political dynamics--of the group and of the country in which they reside.  Unless Russia starts sending its little green men to Scotland, to Venice and to wherever else, there will be limited inspiration and contagion from East to West this summer.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Holocaust Remembrance

This is the time, Yom Hashoah, that Jewish folks remember the Holocaust, as the date was apparently set to coincide with the anniversary of the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto--the most notable but not the only time Jews fought back.  Some disagree about the timing, but what I find a bit frustrating about discussions of the Holocaust is how focused it is on one group.

I know that distant relatives of mine were killed by the Nazis because they were Jewish, but I cannot help but notice that other people died as well for just being who they were.  The Nazis killed gays, Jehovah Witnesses, Roma, folks on the left side of the spectrum, the disabled, and so on, totaling at least eleven million.  That does not include those killed by the wars that Hitler started, which included a fair amount of less organized and less focused killing of non-combatants and prisoners of war in addition to the tens of millions killed in combat (more Soviet than anyone else by far).

I was reminded again of this just the other day in Paris:

The triangles of many different colors mark the various groups that were identified for potential/actual deportation to the concentration camps. 

My point here is simply this: we need to remember all of the victims of the Holocaust--the Jews and everyone else.  It was genocide and then some.  Remembering the other victims does not diminish the crimes committed against the Jews. 

Travel Season Lessons Learned Exercise

Over the past few months, I have traveled more frequently and further compared to to any other period in my life.  The travel to research the book was stretched out over years, but promoting it?  Just a few months.  I am not done yet as I have a trip to Argentina this summer for an ISA conference and some other stuff ahead, but the pace will slow down.

Since February, I have been to Kansas City, Denver, Waterloo, Sydney, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and now Paris.  What have I learned?
  1. The skiing out west really is better.  Who would have thunk it?  I skied Sunshine at Banff,
    Copper in Colorado and Whistler in BC.  Conditions were different--sunny and reasonably cold in Colorado, mostly cloudy and a bit of snow in Sunshine, and spring skiing at Whistler.  I would have to rank these three places ahead all of the places I have skied except maybe Alta is better than Sunshine (best in the East would be Tremblant and Jay Peak, with Killington being so long ago I cannot really compare it).  Maybe.  Whistler has the best terrain I have experienced, and I only skied a relatively small part of the place.  Copper had the best non-family company (always ski with political scientists?).  Anyhow, I am incredibly lucky, as these trips reminded me, so excuse any whining below.  And my knees held up just fine, thankfully.
  2. There is always more than one talk.  In pretty much every spot I went, my talk coincided with other events that may have diminished the audiences a bit.  That's ok, as I still had plenty of engaged audiences asking tough questions and offering examples from their own research and experiences.  More than a few veterans of Afghanistan attended my talks on the book.  They appreciated the forest that I was able to depict, as they had run into a fair amount of the trees (caveats and other challenges of alliance warfare).
  3. I have lost my immunity to small kid noise.  Sure, my peak-a-boo game is still intact, but the ability to shut out screaming kids has been lost.  Perhaps once one's kid is of college age, one loses that immunity.  Plus the kicking of my seat for half the flight to Paris didn't help.
  4. Frequent flyer programs ain't what they used to be.  Harder to accrue miles when using partner airlines.  Still, for the trip to UBC, the kid's ticket was entirely on FF points. 
  5. The beer is good.  In most places, I was able to find some good local beer.  Even in Paris, where wine is king, I was able to find good beer (and great food) although the Moroccan place ran out of French beer and gave me Heineken instead.  Meh.  
  6. Hotel breakfest buffets are consistently wildly overpriced.  But when one has trouble sleeping, it is hard to find a place that is open earlier....And I have had some trouble sleeping late except for the post-skiing days.
  7. Going to Australia makes all other flights seem not so long, including transcontinental flights to Vancouver and back and the transatlantic trip to Paris.
  8. I am still a big fan of Hiltons and their kin.  Their frequent stayer program is still pretty swell, even as they move some benefits to gold status which is now out of reach.
  9. I am very, very lucky.  I have good friends who are most generous with their time (thanks, Cullen, for showing me Copper), their feedback, and their company (Debbi throws good parties in Denver and it was nice to have a UCSD reunion; thanks to Mona for introducing me to Kansas City and the wacky band of younger faculty).  This project keeps paying dividends, mostly unexpected, including this latest trip to Paris.  Paris was one of the first places I visited to do research for the book, so it is nice to come back here at the end. 

My favorite trip?  Probably the one to Vancouver as it was the only one where I traveled with someone--my daughter--and it is the last trip to check out a university.  We thoroughly explored Vancouver.  Her skiing got cut short due to pulled calf muscles, but I had a great two hours of Whistler.  We had great food, as she is far more interested in a wider variety of food than I was at her age.  It was also a bit bittersweet, as our time together is coming to an end.  We will have some vacations ahead, but college beckons to her.  Our lives (my wife's and mine, that is) and my travel will be far less interesting once my daughter goes out there on her own.  

My favorite kid-less trip was Denver, easily.  Most UCSD friends in one spot, great skiing, met sharp people plus an old friend (also sharp).

Most inspiring trip: Paris.  Hanging out with US/Canadian/European government officials and scholars got me thinking about a bunch of stuff as they had different angles than the folks I normally hang out with, even if they use the phase political will.  Plus the timing--amid the crisis in Ukraine--created a sense of urgency.

Overall, it has been an awesome winter/spring.  I am really enjoying the journey, and I am thankful not just for a cool project to sell but to a very tolerant family for all of my absences. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Paris: Third Time's a Charm? No.

Why not? Because Paris is charming every time.  My first trip was for five days at the start of my Eurail pass trip through Europe when I was in college.  My second trip was for a week to interview folks about the French effort in Afghanistan.  This trip was only for a few days for a Transatlantic Security conference, where I was the Canadian rep reminding folks that Transatlantic means not just US and Europe but the maple-swillers to the north as well.

What is consistent among the three trips separated by nearly three decades?  Rain.  All five days my first time, six out of eight or so my second time, and each day this time, although there were sunny breaks.  What else?  Great food.  This time I searched out good beer places since I care more about beer than I did in 1987. 

I went to a different museum this time--the Barny, which focuses on art and artifacts from not just third world countries but from the "native" folks.  One could look at this in multiple ways, of course.  I tended to just take in the art for what it was, seeing how these various groups of people focused on similar types of stuff--shields, masks, etc (or the museum did) but varied systematically in how they did their masks, shields and stuff. 

I also finally took a boat cruise along the Seine.  I was too poor the first time, too focused on walking to various spots the second time.  This time, after being tired waiting for two hours to get into the Catacombs (more in a second), riding in a boat seemed good, especially with the rain.  And it was neat to see the city from a different angle.

I had not done the Catacombs before and will not do them again.  Not because I was creeped out by the piles of bones that have been moved underground in the late 1700's and early 1800s but because the two hour wait before hand (in the rain).  Worst ratio of enjoyment/learning/whatever to wait time in my life with the possible exception of waiting three hours for my father to finish the Tut exhibit way back when. 

The good news is that it taught me about tourism path dependence.  You make a plan, walk or take transport to a destination.  One has already committed to a particular set of choices, making alternatives less appealing.  Then, when one waits and waits, other possibilities also get ruled out.  And suddenly, you have waited two hours....  Oy.

Other surprises along the way:
  • Monastic artisans sell lingerie?  Um, huh?
  • Moroccan restaurants serve food, lots of it, very quickly.  I need to bring an expert along next time, as I ordered good stuff but didn't know how it all went together.
  • There is still space available at the Montparnesse cemetary?  I was surprised to see new grave stones marking not just new people added to family plots but new plots.   Not surprised that Satre still has fans putting markers on his grave.
  • You can take a lot of cool pics from the boats that go along the Seine, but just a bit of rain makes it hard to shoot through the plastic windows....
  • You can take but not post pics of the Memorial of Deportation, which marks a part of France's experience with the Holocaust.
  • Sweet crepes are not that filling.
  • My restaurant French is adequate ... in restaurants.
  • As always, when I am in Europe, I marvel how much they smoke.
Anyhow, Paris is still quite engaging.  It would have been nice to have more time to see more stuff, but I have spent enough time on the road this winter/spring.

Least Surprising News About New Star Wars

It is official that the new Star Wars stuff--movies, tv, etc--will not be based on the books that have created the Expanded Universe.  This is both bad news and good.  The books produced some fun characters such as Mara Jade and Grand Admiral Thrawn, and some fun development of side characters such as Wedge Antilles (the only survivor of both Death Star attacks). 

It is good news because among the good books (including a few non-Timoty Zahn books), there is a heap of crap, especially the series of books that focused on post-post-post Return of the Jedi, where our heroes fought aliens from another galaxy who were barbaric, mostly dumb, and yet killed both Chewie and the youngest son of Han and Leia, just as he was getting interesting.

Of course, the new movies would be based on new stories.  So, we should not be surprised.  Some folks will be disappointed that key characters may be left on the shelf, but I am glad that some of the crap of the EU will probably not come into play.  Tradeoffs and all that.  Of course, we will only know if the right decision was ultimately made after we see the new content and can assess whether it is any good.

As Yoda said, "Always in motion is the future."

PS  Here is an interesting take on the Expanded Universe

Journey vs. Destination

From the guys who have so much fun creating and doing rather than worrying about the endgame:

Of course, I post this from Paris, yet more evidence that I am very much enjoying the journey.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Provocative Thought About Provoking Du Jour: Baltics Edition

The stability-instability paradox is a concept from nuclear deterrence land: that if two sides both have nuclear weapons that can survive a first strike, it might just create deterrence at the strategic level AND free up both sides to engage in violence at lower levels.  Sounds just like an air-headed theory that would never happen in reality because, you know, NUKES!*
* To be clear, I have not studied deterrence theory closely since grad school, so I may not have this entirely right, but I am pretty sure I have the basics.

Well, in 1999, the Pakistani army pretty much followed the Stability-Instability Playbook by attacking India but only very selectively.  The idea was that India would not use its nukes since they would then face the wrath of Pakistan's nukes.  Well, Pakistan faced other wrath (they tend to lose every war they start with India....) including from the international community.

Anyhow, this is relevant today because of PUTIN!!!!  The fear that some folks have (the Poles, the Latvias, Estonians and Lithuanians) is that Putin might engage in some salami tactics--taking a small sliver of one of them (well, the Baltics) and then say, nyah, nyah, fait accompli, nyah. Putin could say--if you then attack me, we will blow the world up. 

Which leaves me with the following thought: why can only one side play this game?  If NATO (US/France/UK) is deterred from using nukes over Russia taking a small hunk of Estonia, then wouldn't Russia be deterred from their its nukes if NATO used just a wee bit of force to take back the hunk of Estonia?

I got to thinking about this as folks at the German Marshall Fund conference were pondering such scenarios and mentioned that this is one of the reasons why John Kennedy opted for flexible response--that there might be not just war at lower levels against the non-nuclear folks (North Vietnam) but that there might come a time where the Soviet Union might take a hunk of West Germany and say: trade you for West Berlin.  This apparently caused many nightmares for NATO in the old days. 

So, we need to be clear--the Stability-Instability paradox "works" for both sides, as long as each side is somewhat comfortable with risking just a little bit of nuclear war.  The good news is that Schelling comes in here for practiced nuclear powers: that "the threat that leaves something to chance" ameliorates the Stability-Instability paradox because you cannot be to sure that the low level violence will stay low level.  That salami tactics are not usually worthwhile because the small risk of things getting out of control multiplied by the huge costs of nuclear war offset the gains from a slice of salami/Estonia.

Still, the Baltics are worried that Putin's game of subversion may not end with Ukraine.  I tend to think it will, but as one Baltic speaker at this conference put it, it is far easier for those of us farther from the big bear to be confident.  Indeed.

The required video is, of course:

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Democracies, Alliances and Bigger Principles? Oh My!

When one gets an invite to take a paid trip to Paris for a few days, one tends to say yes, if the one is me.  The German Marshall Fund is hosting an event on Transatlantic Security this week, and after just the first dinner of the conference, I have reached the conclusion that this trip is worth my time, the jet fuel and even the carbon stuff.  Why?  Well, the event is off the record so I cannot get into details, but the evening’s dinner centered on the crisis in the Ukraine and between Russia and NATO/EU/the rest of the planet.  And the conversation tonight among people far smarter and better connected (most do work or have worked for various governments and international organizations) led me to thinking about two basic dynamics: the short term vs the long term and the intrinsic value of Ukraine vs. larger principles.

Someone suggested that Putin has won the battle but is likely to lose the war, if one thinks about Crimea versus the larger effort to return to Great Power/influence status.  This and other comments got me thinking: that democracies and alliances tend to be less agile than authoritarian leaders (Russia’s democratic status is a wee bit suspect and electoral politics does not really seem to be motivating Putin), so they get out-maneuvered at the start of a crisis.  However, democracies tend to win the wars they fight (I will post links once I return to home at the end of the weekend), and alliances have often been on the winning side of things for much of the past two hundred years—from Napoleon’s defeat to both World Wars to the Gulf War of 1991. 

Why? Well, democracies might just be more selective about the wars they fight since politicians hate to lose elections.  A different logic is that democracies can extract more resources and fighting power from their societies because legitimacy and representation work better than coercion.  Yet a different logic might be that advanced democracies have “better” civil-military relations—coups can be mighty distracting.  Alliances do well in wartime because more is more—combining the power of multiple countries may not be so efficient (see the new book), but even quarreling allies may accumulate more combat power than countries largely operating on their own.

So we can be very frustrated with how things have played out thus far, but we might just have good reason to believe that Putin’s momentum will eventually ebb.  Indeed, once we take into account the other dynamics, it becomes not just a hope but pretty logical that Putin’s Russia may face some serious constraints.

The second dynamic is when we think about the worth of a place and the status of a conflict.  Remember, the US got committed to Bosnia not because Bill Clinton cared about Bosnia but because he made a commitment to two NATO countries, France and Britain, that he would deploy 25,000 US troops to extract them if needed.  Once that became a real likelihood, Clinton chose to use those troops to enforce a peace instead.  The Kosovo air campaign was almost entirely about maintaining NATO’s credibility and not about the plight of Kosovars.  NATO members bled in Afghanistan not so much because they cared about Afghans but because they were keeping their commitment to their NATO partner that had been attacked.   We find repeatedly that countries spend vast amounts of money, risk the lives of their soldiers and even some political careers because the alliance itself is valued.   That is what should assure the Baltics and Poland now.  For Ukraine, not so much.

But there is a larger principle that Ukraine and its friends need to play up more: the death of Helsinki.  In 1975, the Helsinki agreement between the US, the Soviet Union and Europe recognized the existing boundaries, essentially finally producing a settlement for World War II.  The key ingredient was that force could not be used to change boundaries.  Of course, force has continued to be used to change boundaries—those secessionist movements that use violence fit in this category.  However, since Helsinki, no country in Europe has used force to change boundaries and gotten away with it except irredentist Armenia and, well, Russia over Georgia, Abkhazia and now Crimea.  Still, the recent events are more blatant, and some people in the room tonight suggested that Helsinki might be dead.

It seems to me that this is a card Ukraine and others can play.  Most countries in the world are opposed to the use of force to change boundaries since they see themselves as being on the losing end of such transactions.  This is something that three of the BRICs can agree upon—India, China, and Brazil (China sees Taiwan and various islands as already theirs), as well as much of the rest of the world.  Pinning this on Putin helps to isolate him just a bit more.  Of course, there are differences among countries how best to penalize Russia (and for how long).  But tying Putin’s efforts to Helsinki is more likely to attract support from countries that have no real history, relationship or interests in Ukraine. 

And this is where democracies, alliances and priniciples might fit together.  Democracies often have different interests, including due to varying dependence on Russian exports, but they share values.  NATO is not just an military alliance but one of coalition of the like-minded.  So, perhaps one way ahead to win the longer, larger war is to focus on the principles that bind us. 

That’s what I got from one evening.  I expect tomorrow’s full sessions to be even more stimulating.

The Upside to NATO

The upside to studying NATO is that I get to be in Paris for a few days. Woot!  I am participating in a small conference on Transatlantic Security organized by the German Marshall Fund.  I lucked into this invite as the result of a GMF person circulating through Ottawa and stopping by NPSIA. 

I realized as I was walking around that it is just about thirty years since I visited Paris the first time and five years since the second time.  Unlike the other trips, I was welcomed with sun, not rain.  I think this reduces my % of rainy days in Paris to 95%.  I should not complain as Paris is pretty terrific even when it is wet and I am wet. 

Anyhow, I didn't manage to organize a book talk for this weekend so we cannot call this part of the book tour (no new dates but I hope to have a few in the fall).  Instead, this blog post is simply a placeholder basically saying--light blogging ahead.

Oh, and it turns out that having a kid means that you become immune to loud kids and babies on planes, but that immunity wears off as your kid becomes a good traveler.  I guess my kid hitting 18 means that my immunity was gone, and I sure as hell needed it last night with three small kids behind me, chock full of tears, kicking legs, and big lungs.  Oy, I need better headphones.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pipelines and Narrow-Minded Thinking

Some Canadians have gotten upset about Obama not embracing the Keystone XL pipelines.  Some even see it as a defining issue in US-Canadian relations.  Michael Den Tandt suggests that the love affair between Canada and Obama is off:
But our love is unrequited. It always has been. And the indefinite shelving of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline linking Alberta’s oil sands with the Texas Gulf Coast, once considered a sure thing and now on life support thanks to Obama, is the incontrovertible evidence.
I guess one gets overwrought when one's heart is broken, but this is all kinds of silly.  I am shocked, shocked to find that Obama might just care about domestic politics more than Canadian jobs.  Has Obama deliberately dithered because different parts of his constituency disagree about the pipeline?  Perhaps.  Does this say anything about his love of Canada and all things maple-flavored?  Not really. 

Energy politics are complex at all times, much more so as climate change is harder and harder to deny.  Now that the courts have made this more complex still with land rights being tossed into the blender of complexities.  Obama cannot wave a magic wand and get the courts to rule the way he might want (if he had a clear preference). 

"It is a display of shallowness, cowardice and economic incompetence on a grand scale," says Den Tandt.  Wow.  I am calling this the overreach of the year until  probably tomorrow.  The pipeline is really, really important to the oil industry and to environmentalists.  To everyone else, it is probably not on their top ten list for why they love/hate/like/dislike/ignore/whatever the President of the U.S.

Could he have managed this issue better?  Maybe.  But delays to beyond the next mid-term election might just be good politics.  What is good politics is often frustrating.  For instance, I am frustrated that the Harper government's insistence on a balanced budget in 2015, due to an artificially created sense of crisis, is causing all kinds of damage.  But I understand why he is doing it, and I don't think Americans love him any more or less as a result.

Oh, and if President Obama was making decisions based on earning Canadian love, we would be questioning his motivations.  But if that was his goal, he would deny Sidney Crosby residency in the US, forcing him to play for a Canadian team (maybe even kick a few hockey teams out of the US and send them back to Canada as well). 

Coding Crises in US Civil-Military Relations

Tom Ricks argued recently that there is a fundamental problem in American civil-military relations: “we need presidents willing to listen and learn from dissenting generals -- and generals who know how to dissent in strategic discussions, and are willing to do so.”  Folks on twitter pushed back, arguing that the biggest problem is the perception of veterans as powder kegs, likely simply to explode in rage or become white supremacists.  My friends on twitter were outraged by a NYT column that drew some shaky connections between veterans and white supremacists.  While I don’t entirely agree with Ricks, I think he is closer to the real crisis than my twitter friends.

Why?  Because I care about foreign policy and outcomes in the field.  The frustration with the NYT column is important, to be sure, and we need to be careful about overreacting and under-reacting to the challenges of reintegrating those who engaged in combat (as well as those who served in other capacities) back into civilian life.  Part of the problem here is that we often get confused about what we mean by civil-military relations.  While the general issue of how do the civilians in a society relate to the military can be important, scholars and analysts of defense issues are more concerned with how civilians in government manage the military. 

Government officials have to manage all kinds of government agencies, but traditionally the armed forces are the most critical because they are the most misunderstood and because they happen to have the ability to remove the government.  In advanced democracies, we don’t worry much about coups d’etat.  Indeed, it is a defining characteristic of stable democracy.  Still, managing the military is important and difficult because bad military performance can be catastrophic.  Just as the French in 1940. 

The challenge is that militaries consider themselves experts at the use of force and everyone else as amateurs.  This may be mostly true (less true than it used to be with the development of civilian expertise).   However, because war is politics by other means, to rely on a classic quote by Clausewitz, the decisions made during wars have great political significance.  Which leads to another maxim: war is too important to be left to the generals.  The traditional division of labor of the civilians deciding when to fight and with whom and the military deciding how simply does not work that well in practice.  This can lead to all kinds of tensions between the civilians and military officers, and that is actually quite normal.  The question is how to handle the tensions, which leads us back to Ricks and what he misses.

The job of handling the military in the U.S. does not really belong to the President but to the Secretary of Defence.  Sure, the President chooses the SecDef and is the ultimate commander in chief, but the SecDef is the key conduit between the President and the military.  I worked in Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon for a year, and I am now reading Robert Gates’s memoir so I have some opinions about recent SecDef performance.

In short, Rumsfeld was a disaster for American civil-military relations.  He did not listen to his officers much at all, and was not at all willing to “listen and learn from dissenting generals.”  So, the U.S. went to war without a plan for how to deal with success (the missing Phase IV after the fall of Baghdad), the U.S. fired the Iraqi army which was counter to pretty much everything we know about post-war politics, and so on.  Most famously, he got upset at General Shinseki, Army Chief of Staff when he respond honestly to questions in front of a Congressional committee about how big of a force would it take to manage a post-invasion Iraq.  Rummy’s time could clearly be viewed as an on-going crisis in American civil-military relations, and it greatly affected outcomes.

Gates was far more willing to take seriously the feedback he received from American generals.  He reports in the memoir that he consulted the officers and noticed when there were dissenting opinions.  Still, he complains in his memoir of the times that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen would say things in front of Congress that were not in concordance with the messages preferred by the administration.  The difference here is that Gates did not punish Mullen (Rumsfeld essentially sent Shinseki to the doghouse for the rest of his term), although he did admonish him. 

To be honest, I am still trying to figure out Gates.   I think he made a huge mistake: when the Afghan surge happened, he let the Marines up-end much of what had been accomplished to improve unity of command.  They chose to report directly to Central Command rather than ISAF headquarters.  He also let the Marines deploy to the wrong place—Helmand—which was counter to the President’s decision to engage in population-centric counter-insurgency, and the population really was in Kandahar, not Helmand.  So, Gates lets the military do a bit too much, compared to Rumsfeld’s micro-management.

So, to return to Ricks, Secretaries of Defense vary in how they manage the generals under them.  Rummy was obviously at one end of the spectrum of imposing too much.  Gates was perhaps a bit too far the other way.  There is no right way to do it—the armed forces tend to know best how to do what they do but what they do is deeply political with huge implications.  So, Ricks’s advice is right but partially mis-targeted.  The military needs to give its unvarnished views to the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Defense must listen and then make up his or her own mind.

One last thing: in the American case, there is another actor involved—Congress.  The Armed Services Committees of the House and Senate have an important role to play via oversight.  Which means that generals have to speak truth to that power when asked, even when it is inconvenient for the President and the Secretary of Defense.  Of course, Congressional oversight works best when those on the committee are not just engaged in partisan feuding.  In the not so distant past, Democratic Senators and Representations would hold generals feet to the fire even if the President was a Democrat, and Republicans would do the same even when the President was a Republican.  These days?  Not so much.  And that might just be a real crisis in U.S. civil-military relations.