Tuesday, September 30, 2014

When Harper Play Soccer Better Than Beckham

There are many Canadian defence stories these days.  The one that caught my eye today is focused on Canada spending more money to extend the life of its CF-18s.  This makes complete sense as these are the planes likely to do some hard work soon--flying over Iraq and/or Syria (not sure if Canada will be exception to the European rule of only flying over Iraq). 

What is interesting is that the longer life of these planes will allow the Conservative government to delay making a decision on the F-35s.  They can say: we don't need to be rushed, as our current fighters will last longer.  This is good for the Conservatives since it allows them to kick the can down the road a wee bit further.... past the 2015 election.  This program has been a major political challenge for the government, one where the NDP demonstrated a real competence on defence.  Well, on this one area. 

Of course, this is not fooling anyone.  It does not take a year plus for Harper to figure out what he wants to do with the F-35/alternatives.  He has had the report since spring, and he is not spending night and day pondering the RCAF's future.  He is deferring because it is politically expedient. 

We should not be shocked by this, nor the problems that may face the next not-Conservative government.  The Super-Hornet option will eventually be off the table as the product line ends and the same may end up being true for the other alternatives.  So, the F-35 may truly be the only option if Canada dithers long enough. 

So, Harper can win be delaying and delaying and delaying.  Which is why he appears to be able to be better than Beckham.  Beckham's bendy kicks probably cannot go as far as Harper's can-kicking.
* The only political cartoon I could find that has Harper kicking something is pay per use. oy.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Climate Change and Sunday Silliness

Since I got a fun hate email due to a mention of climate change as the big threat, this week's NYT cartoon by Brian McFadden hits me just right:

Saturday, September 27, 2014

New to Me, Old as Dirt

Today, I started doing something that I had never tried before: Yoga.  I am writing about it here both to commit myself to keep doing it and to have something look back at if I keep with it.

I am starting yoga because I find that I don't bend well.  I have never been very flexible.  Indeed, one reason why I dive so much playing ultimate is that it is easier to do that than to bend. 

The hardest part of yoga for me may be the breathing.  I am, yes, a mouth-breather, given my constant state of congestion.  This might actually teach me to rely more on breathing through my nose.  We shall see. My balance is not terrific either, so this might help there as well. 

I am definitely very tight as the instructor handed me a strap so that I could pull my leg around since I could not quite reach mine as everyone else could reach theirs. 

Oh, and to paraphrase that line from Jaws, I think we are going to need a thicker mat.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Deja Vu: Multilateral Military Cooperation Ain't Easy

I wrote a piece for the Monkey Cage today applying the book's lessons from Libya and Afghanistan to the new effort in Iraq/Syria.  Check it out!

There is a Market For Everything, Disney-Halloween Edition

Am I surprised that there is now a line of sexy Halloween costumes inspired by Frozen?  No.  The movie was a huge hit, so of course someone is trying to capitalize on it.
The surprise is the Olaf costume.  Yes, a male snowman turned into the second pic.  Really?  The other costumes are positively restrained (compared to the usual sexy Halloween costumes advertised in Montreal, anyway).  But the Olaf one is disturbing, right?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Joy of Media Exposure

I have been doing a heap of TV lately, as Canada's international relations has been pretty interesting as of late.  Of course, not everyone is happy about what I say.  I got some un-fan email, and thought I would share it since it is so entertaining.   It refers to my appearance Tuesday night, starting at the 1:38 mark, not my appearance tonight starting at the 15 minute mark and then about six minutes later.

Date: Thu, 25 Sep 2014 15:30:18 -0600
Give me a fucking brake, are you not out of your league? Maybe that chunk of hair on your forehead is stopping your brain from getting oxygen. I could not find anywhere were it said you were a climatologist, how on earth can you make such a stupid statement, I guess its because you are on the CBC, and those left wing nitwits wouldn't know the difference. Oh by the way Climate is always changing, and always will be, only an idiot would think he or anybody else could make Mother Nature do things differently. If you walk outside and look way up there is this bright yellow thing in the sky that actually tells Mother Nature what to do, not human beans or industry's, the only thing we can do is stopping pollution as much as possible without screwing up the economy. The biggest threat the World faces are people who think they know all the answers, and Obama thinking the U.S. can sit back and the Enemy will love them, what a stupid President. As for all these air strikes, they should be doing them in the daytime when there those targets are full of terrorist, not at night when the are in their caves sleeping. 
My favorite parts are the reference to my hair, the climate change denying (human beans and all that are overrated apparently), and that the folks in Syria/Iraq are in caves.  Not so many caves in the desert, but we are looking for passion and not accuracy.

Various Ruminations about Policy Relevance

Once again, I have gotten sucked into debating about the policy relevance of political science.  I left some scraps out of the more recent posts because I was engaging specific people on specific points.  But I wanted to get a few more things off my chest:
  • Looking at the APSR or other very academic journals and saying this is not for policy-makers is missing the point.  Academic journals are aimed at academics and rightly so.  This is our conversation to argue with each other, not to engage the public.  
  • Why are academic pubs important and generally the requirement for tenure?  Because to have credibility as a researcher, we need to prove we can do research.  That the stuff is peer-reviewed, that it builds upon existing work (lit review) and that it is well-designed (the methods section--how do you know what you think you know). 
  • Which means that most junior faculty are going to write in those outlets and not be focused as much on policy relevance.  Which is actually ok. That is, it makes sense to me that the rookies not be relied upon for offering advice to the policy world.  It makes more sense that those with proven track records of doing good work are the ones who can engage the policy community.
    • Some argue that once you learn to write in jargon that you cannot go back.  I think that is wrong.  (Sorry, Tom N.)
  • I am not as convinced as others that people who popularize or do policy relevance are punished.  The two competitors for my last job both had real policy experience, and that was seen as a plus.  That may not be true everywhere, but I don't think people look at folks with some policy experience as lepers.  That is an old stereotype.  
  • And I now contradict myself, as the new generation of scholars is proving that you can do both.  That they are doing really interesting research and are communicating that to scholars view traditional peer-reviewed outlets and beyond via blogs, twitter, policy journals.  I see far more younger names in Foreign Affairs and its online outlet than I ever saw ten or twenty or thirty years ago. 
  • I do think there are bigger problems shaping policy relevance than the will/capability of political scientists and it is not our incentive structure but that of those we want to persuade.  There is a big difference between having a great idea about how to improve a social problem (prevent war, build multi-ethnic democracies, whatever) and pitching that idea in what at is in the political interest of the folks that need to listen.  
  • And there is heaps of confirmation bias going on.  That I notice that which I want to see (the Monkey Cage, Political Violence at a Glance, the Korbel folks) and don't see what I don't want to see.  Same goes for the other side of the argument.  Alas, this applies even more to the policy-makers who are blind to their own confirmation bias--they will notice the social science that supports their preferred policy options and ignore the rest.  How do we fight that?  Damned if I know. 
  • and a semi-related note: those people who complain about the contemporary state of Security Studies are just as wrong as wrong can be.  The field is far better now than twenty years ago.  The historiography is better, the use of numbers is actually a plus and not a minus, the range of questions and expertise is far more diverse, and the folks involved are far more diverse.  It is not the old boys network of the past (which is why some people are frustrated).  Security Studies is much, much, much better than it used to be.  It is no longer focused on the force to space ratio along the inter-German frontier, and we are so much the better for that.
I certainly don't think the status quo is good or acceptable, but where I diverge from Tom Nichols (@TheWarRoom) is that I think we are making progress.  Where I diverge with the other Tom (Ricks) is that there is a method to our madness and rightly so.  Making shit up (Kaplan, Clash of Civ) is inferior to doing our best research, including being explicit about how we know what we know.

Systematic study is better than random study.  Sure, that is a controversial position, but I will stick with it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Continuing the Argument with Ricks

Tom Ricks has responded to my response to his original post.  Lovely.  He keeps putting quotes around political science, which is quite the troll-y thing to do.  I had an immediate rant on twitter which has been storifed by the master of the master of the form--Kelsey Atherton.  I will not repeat all of it or respond to everything that Tom says.  His readers already complained about previous post which they considered to be too long.

So, let me focus on the key points:
  • no, many policy-makers do not pay that much attention to political scientists.  Part of this is the fault of political scientists for not making their work as accessible as they can and part of it is policy-makers aren't listening. I am not disagreeing with the findings of the Avey and Desch piece of social science but with Tom's selective reading and interpretation.
  • Or when they do read, they read the wrong stuff--neither Robert Kaplan nor Clash of Civilizations are respected by social scientists.  Not because they are widely read but because they are not social science.  Breezy narratives they might be (especially Kaplan), but they are also tend to be just a bit racist (all Romanians are thieves according to Balkan Ghosts, Latin American Catholics are different from West European Catholics because ... maybe the latter are brown?). 
  • Is my list representative?  No.  It was stuff that I found interesting that I thought he would find interesting (since his original post was about how boring political science is).  So, how do dictators use the threat of forcing their citizens to flee as an asymmetric response to powerful democracies?  That is some interesting social science (Kelly Greenhill).  Jason Lyall is doing much work on how violence affects hearts and minds in Afghanistan.... it would be interesting if it were not for those pesky numbers.  I am in the middle of a book that uses formal models, case studies and quantitative methods to understand the formation of alliances within civil wars--Bosnia and Afghanistan (Fotini Christia).  How is that not both fun and relevant?
  • What we do is not good history.  The historians hate how we use history.  What makes poli sci history detestable is that we use it to test theories.  And we do it, if we do it well, methodically.
  • "Favoring methods over facts and narrative"  Yes, we want to tell our stuff in ways that sing.  But Method is not in conflict with Facts.  Indeed, what is a fact?  How do we know what we think we know?  The key to the aspiration to political science is being explicit about the choices we make, so that the reader can evaluate our argument--do we really know what we think we know or is it based on flimsy evidence?
  • Rothkopf, who has done much to ruin Foreignpolicy.com, is cited in Rick's post, thinking that a feature is a bug: "Political science typically applies limited variable analysis to situations with an almost unlimited number of variables."  Anyone and everyone, except those who think that every bit of reality is a unique context, looks at reality and focuses on a few key parts and considers them more important than others.  Ricks, in his most recent book, argues that firing generals is a key to success (I have only read excerpts), but he is basically focusing on a key relationship--that accountability of some sort is related to military success.  They may or may not be true, but he is simplifying and focusing on one potential relationship when there are an infinite number of variables.
  • Desch's take on security studies is one person who has a particular angle.  There are many folks who are upset with where security studies has been going, yet they seem to be on the editorial boards of International Security and Security Studies and control powerful positions in the profession.  So, yes, there is a greater degree of diversity in what counts as good security studies and a greater diversity of people doing it (far more women these days doing terrific stuff), but if you do not fall asleep reading International Security (Tom finds it boring), there is plenty of old school stuff in there.  We are not asking Tom to read Journal of Conflict Research or Journal of Peace Research, both which have been shaping major debates about the causes and consequences of civil and international war even if last I checked war is a "Security Studies" topic.
  • But those two journals tend to have far too much math.  That is, they collect a lot of those "facts" and see what relationships exist.  My fave is that ethnic group concentration is associated with more ethnic violence, which means that incentivizing intermixing of groups is probably a better way to reduce ethnic conflict.  Is that boring?  No.  Is it policy relevant?  Hell, yes.  Especially in the 1990s when people were advocating partition.
  • As Dan Drezner has pointed out, policy-makers are adverse to quantitative methods and formal modeling in Poli Sci, but seem fine in digesting it when it is presented on economic issues.  Something to think about.  But policy-makers do listen to other folks who may get their ideas from social science, found in such places as think tanks (where many fully trained and operational political scientists produce good work--again, look around at CNAS), newspapers and magazines (notice all of the folks doing data stuff these days--reading/imitating Nate Silver) and other media outlets, and so on.
  • "Most of the useful writing is done by practitioners or journalists." Most of the stuff that is used, sure.  But actually useful?  Based on serious investigation?  Subjected to skeptical analysis?  Sometimes.  Often not so much.  Where do they get their ideas?
The reality is that not all political scientists agree about what it is we do and should do.  Some hate the label.  But for many of us, it is an indeed an aspiration--to study politics (domestic or international or both) as carefully as possible so that we can discern that which is general from that which is specific to a unique situation, so that we can suggest what are the more important factors.  Not everything is equally important, not even in the world of the Incredibles.  Not all of us aspire to be policy relevant nor should we expect all of our work to be policy relevant.  Some of our work is akin to the basic science that helps to informed the practical stuff but not so directly.

We are making greater strides in trying to reach out to the policy world.  Yesterday, Carnegie handed out big bags of cash to scholars and programs seeking to bridge the two worlds.  And this is not new.  There are many efforts out there to do that.  Alas, Tom is trying to burn those bridges by claiming that what we do is just a scam.  That what we do is "science."  That is too bad. We live in difficult times, and we need more knowledge, not less.  We need not just to reach out but to be heard.  We write blogs to convey our complex, methods heavy stuff into that which is more easily digestible: the Monkey Cage (which put out many great posts on Russia-Ukraine for instance), Dan Drezner, Marc Lynch, Political Violence at a Glance, and others do a great job of communicating.  And some people are listening.

More in the Annals of Lousy Allies

I was on TV last night (an hour and 38 minutes into the program) to chat about the US effort in Syria and Iraq, and was lucky enough to be on with some smart people: Bessma Momami of CIGI and Ferry Kerchove of the Conference of Defence Associations Institute.  Evan Solomon, the host of Power and Politics, and his crew were most fixated on an interview they were able to get with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Netanyahu had said that Hamas and ISIS were essentially one and the same, and that militant Islam is a poisoned tree that has sprouts around the world including in North America.  I really wish the CBC had buried this interview because Netanyahu is doing the US and the war effort no favors.

How so?  We were talking about the US attacking ISIS/ISIL in Syria along with five Arab countries.  This is a pretty radical shift since none joined in the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.  This participation by the Saudis in particular help to undercut the ISIS/ISIL theme that the US is attacking Islam.  And then Netanyahu says: yes we are attacking Islam AND he is raising the costs of Arab participation by tying them to Israel.

My co-panelist's accent made it sound like Netanyahu was a troll (Ferry was saying "throw") which would be a pretty accurate description.  Netanyahu also would to crap on pretty much anything that Obama wants to do, so that might be in play here as well.  My comment focused on how Netanyahu was doing something that was hardly unique.  When the US engages in counter-terrorism, as it did in the aftermath of 9/11, countries around the world will label their various opponents terrorists and fellow travelers of the group the US is targeting.  Marc Lynch makes basically the same point here

When I was in the Pentagon, the Macedonian Minister of Interior Boskovski set up seven migrants (six Pakistanis, one Indian) and had them killed in an act of "counter-terrorism," apparently to appeal to the US to give Macedonia greater support in its conflict with the Albanian minority.  No one believed it, and the evidence quickly proved that these guys were framed and executed.

I am not saying that Netanyahu is Boskovski.  But they are of the same ilk, combining ideological commitment, hate, and opportunism.  The thing is Hamas is bad, the US does not like it, but it is not the same fight.  Hamas is not the same as ISIS.  And that whole poisoned tree thing is wrong, as the US and Canada have faced very little violence from Muslims in North America.  Not none, but a far lesser threat than ... white supremacists.  Also, ISIS/ISIL presents the greatest threat to Muslims, given how many Muslims they have killed.  So, the real poison in yesterday's conversation is Netanyahu's, who is trying to poison the US relationship with the Arab countries.

Maybe this war is a bad idea, maybe it is just the least bad option.  Whatever.  But in the past, when the US needed the Israelis to be restrained (1991, for example), they did so because it was in their larger self-interest.  These days, Israel and the U.S. are pretty far apart, and it is not just about Obama vs Netanyahu, but the realization that Israeli behavior in the region, including its irredentism in the West Bank, undermines America's interests.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

If Wishes Were Fishes, Coalition Ops Would be Easy

It was interesting to see lessons about coalition war in Afghanistan to be applied to the new/old war in Iraq/Syria.  It was nice to see an appreciation of the difficulties that caveats impose on effectiveness, as countries place limits on what their contingents can do.  That the solution is to engage in minilateralism, leaving out those with significant restrictions, is not surprising ... especially since it was penned by a former Cheney aide.  Such folks tend not to see the tradeoff between legitimacy and effectiveness. 

But an understandable omission.  Less understandable is focusing on inter-agency coordination.  Are we setting up provincial reconstruction teams in Syria/Iraq or this mostly a kinetic exercise?  If the latter, then the whole of government stuff is mostly irrelevant.  Yes, there is a need for coordination among agencies but we are not asking other countries to engage in a whole of government effort, are we?  This is not Afghanistan.

Relying on less capable partners is problematic, but given that the US spends far more on its military, it should also have only less capable partners.  But less does not mean incapable.  And some allies have different capabilities, such as other avenues of intel, better COIN practices, and so on.

The authors harp about intel sharing, but who will the US trust given that many allies in the area have more than one agenda in play?  yeah.

The complaint moves on to command and control.  Absolutely a problem.  The US failed in 2010 when the Marines insisted on their own chain of command.  Expecting allies to give up national control of their contingents is just silly.  The democracies especially are not going to give up civilian control of the military to a foreign power. 

Good luck with the detainee issue. Allies used to trust the U.S. to hold onto those swept up during a peacekeeping operation or conflict, but Guantanmo, Abu Ghraib, rendition and torture made that politically impossible.  So, it is unlikely that "this thorny issue must be handled up front."

The problem I really have with this piece is that it mostly identifies real challenges that are mostly inherent in multilateral warfare and only wishes them away.  No good lessons learned here about mitigating such challenges.  The good news is that it means that the conclusion of our book has not been overcome by events.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Zombie or Immortal

Today's Monkey Cage post about Clash of Civilizations raises an important question: what is the best analogy/metaphor for Sam Huntington's crap-tastic (and some would say racist*) take on International Relations: zombies or Highlander's Immortal?
*  That some would include me.
CoC is like zombies in that the theory has been killed many many times.  That it suffers from logic, from bad conceptual stretching/residual categories, from being rather unlike how the world actually works (identity matters, but not via civilizations), that there is more conflict within than between civilizations, etc.  See the MC piece for cites to all of the abundant literature that has made the theory seem like the walking dead.

But Zombies can be killed and killed easily.  Any movie or tv show (Walking Dead, Z Nation) has people killing zombies with guns, knives, baseball bats, chain saws, and so on.  Any individual zombie can be killed easily.

How about Highlander's Immortal?  They can only be killed via decapitation.  And immortals become more and more skilled in using swords, so they become harder and harder to kill.  In the end, there can be only one.  Which then means that decapitation becomes incredibly unlikely.  The problem here, of course, is that the Highlander that won, Duncan MacLeod, was a good guy, fighting evil-doers.  Clash of Civilizations?  Just enables evil-doers by making bad social science popular.  More problematic for the metaphor battle is that Immortals are rare and become rare still--they cannot re-produce.  The Darwinian battle amongst them does not help propagate the species at all.

So, neither zombie nor Immortal.... but zombie virus?  Ah, yes, there we have it.  You can kill heaps of zombies, but can you get rid of the zombie virus?  Thus far, only love seems to conquer the virus.  Otherwise, in most zombie pop culture, fear, anxiety, panic (the clash both is fear and is strengthened by it) all serve to help the zombie virus spread. While the carriers may die easily, the virus lives on and on.

We social scientists have been doing the best we can to fight the virus, but all we have done is slay some of those carrying the disease.  The disease is now worldwide, alas.  So, we keep fighting and fighting, and hope that some day a cure, perhaps a vaccination via intro to IR classes, can reverse the tide and eventually lead to the marginalization of the disease that is Clash of Civilizations.   

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Selective Lens in US/Canadian Comparisons

Fun article in today's NYT about American Conservatives admiring Canada (Krugman argues against this article too). This new love affair mostly is apparently about low corporate taxes and austerity combined with growth.  The piece notes some selective reading of the Canadian scene since there is the value added tax and the single-payer health care system.  Surprisingly, it does not mention the personnel income tax which, at least as I see it, is far more steep than the American one.

What else was omitted?
  • That this conservative utopia is partially afforded by spending something like $20 billion on defense.  Much easier to be austere when defense is 1% of GDP.  Good luck trying that in the U.S. 
  • The trade restrictions that limit competition in some parts of agriculture (dairy, poultry) called supply management and in the cultural section.  30% of all classic rock, for instance, on the radio must be Canadian.  There is now a debate to figure out how to regulate Netflix.  There was some discussion that Quebec would restrict or tax online booksellers and big book stores to protect smaller ones.   If American conservatives don't like regulation, they will not like Canada.
  • How do U.S. conservatives feel about cartels?  Canada seems to accept them just fine. Maple syrup, as we found it due to the big theft, has high prices because the producers cooperate to stockpile the sweet stuff.  On the island of Montreal, new cars are not sold on weekends as the car dealers cooperate and threaten any dealer that attempts to sell new cars on Saturday or Sunday.
  • How about unions?  Canada has unions that are quite more significant than the U.S.  I am not conservative but I got mighty steamed when the police and fire departments would engage in various political activities. 
  • The usual social stuff: gay marriage is accepted, abortion is not being regulated into being difficult and rare, marijuana is not quite legalized but close enough.*
  • The conservative utopia is partly due to about ten years of the Conservative party ruling. At some point, that will change, and we could expect to see corporate taxes go up. 
Canada is a great country, but not I am not sure how great it is for American Conservatives.  They can admire what they want, but they are blind to the stuff they dislike.  But the again, American Conservatives are pretty blind to much reality so why should this be any different?

* I didn't even mention guns. Yes, they hunt up here, but guns are far more regulated up here.  

Friday, September 19, 2014

Why Should Visits Matter?

Today's news had an interesting story for those studying the role of legislatures in civil-military relations (this guy): the Canadian government may be limiting access to Canadian bases for the opposition parties.  This is great news!  Well, it is good for those writing grants about the role of legislatures in civil-military relations.  It is bad news for Canada if true.

Why?  Because if parliament's job is to hold the Minister of National Defence to account for how the military is run, they probably should have some info about the military.  Oh, sure, the government and its allies might say, we can tell them what they need to know.  They can chat with the folks they ask to testify, we can bring them unclassified documents, and so forth.  Going to military bases just inconveniences the troops as they have to spend time entertaining (boring with endless powerpoint) the visitors.

Yes, visitors are inconvenient. But military base commanders do not have to entertain all three hundred and eight parliamentarians.  Just those who serve on relevant committees or in relevant positions.  There are only a handful of opposition members on the Defence committee, apparently only one search and rescue critic for the Liberal Party (wow, things must be messed up to need one of those).  So, there is not a daily parade of opposition critics seeking to hang out at military bases.  Indeed, these folks have other responsibilities that are far more demanding of their time--running for office and all that. 

What kind of info can one get from a military base visit?  Even if these visits are guided, there are opportunities for parliamentarians to talk to the sailors, soldiers, air-people (we need a better term than the joint airmen and women) who are not selected by the government.  These visits allow the parliamentarians to see what is being funded by the government (technically, the role of parliament in funding things ... confuses me).  If the parliamentarians never visit bases or do so very, very rarely, then they will not know much about their file, and can only ask questions out of profound ignorance. Might that be what the government wants?  Mayhaps.

There is another dimension to this.  That when we talk of the relationship between the civilians and military, there is often a focus on just the executive branch and not the military's relationship with the society at large.  While there are debates about whether the job of parliamentarians is to represent anyone (yes, really), the reality is that they do represent people from all over Canada.  So, they can serve as a bridge between the Canadian people and the Canadian Forces.  With them, the gap just gets wider. 

But I guess the priority of message management is more important than all of this. And to say this is a budget item is silly, as these visits are not costly at all compared to everything else, but the costs to democratic control of the military are quite another thing entirely.

The Other Side of Ethnic Domino Theory

I have been railing for days weeks months years about how a successful secessionist effort in one place does not increase the chances of another elsewhere [unless they are in the same country to begin with].  Perhaps I am irrelevant as folks continued to argue and worry about the effect of a Yes vote in Scotland would be on potential or actual secessionist movements in Europe and even beyond.

Maybe it is my confirmation bias at work, but I am pretty sure it is the conformation bias of others that matters here.  After all, how could Scotland move towards secession when the example of Quebec demonstrated that secession was out of fashion.  The last provincial election showed that Quebecker were tired of referenda talk, as once that issue came up, the Parti Quebecois dropped and flopped in the polls. Did that negative lesson spread to Scotland?  Maybe so, as Scotland failed to reach 50% Yes.  Failed by a good bit.

Yet this morning we still have the Catalans saying they are going ahead with their vote.  I certainly expect a different outcome, as the Catalans face a much less friendly bargaining partner in the Spanish government.  I would bet on Yes there.  The key here as always is not the processes elsewhere that demonstrate something but the domestic politics, the domestic dynamics that shape the real and likely and perceived benefits and costs of independence. 

People thought that Arab Spring was contagious.  Well, protest of authoritarian, corrupt rule was.  But the outcomes?  Not so much.  Only Tunisia became a democracy.  Libya had a civil war.  Syria has a civil war.  Egypt has had two coups with a pretty unattractive but yet democratically elected government briefly in between.  Bahrain?  Successful repression.  And on and on. 

People seek massive political change for many reasons.  The dynamics elsewhere can suggest strategies and tactics, but they do not shape interests.  Social mobilization is hard, so one really has to make the case that the situation in place x matters for people in place x and that independence might solve more problems than it will cause.  This is hard to do in democracies since most advanced democracies give minorities multiple ways to access the political system.  Which is why that Washington Post list of eight places as Next is pretty foolish.  Sure, Catalans but they are the exception that proves the rule.  They face a government that has limited their autonomy.  The Flemish?  Might be a Czechoslovakian case of agreeing to disagree. 

The rest of the list is pretty weak--yes, there are separatist groups in the places but mere existence is different from success.  The Scottish Nationalist Party compares well to the rest of these in terms of size, experience, organization and the rest yet it fell short, quite short.

I would like to see the folks who yammer about the ethnic domino theory to now come out and argue that this means that there will be less separatism in Europe.  They will not.  I will not.  But in my case, it is because I take seriously how self-centered nationalist movements are. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Real Consequences Matter

Heaps of discussion about Scotland and what happens if the Yea votes > Nay votes.  As I have argued, it will not change much for most of the rest of the world, but it will change much in the UK.  How so?

The balance of voters will change.  The Conservatives will find it easier to win elections without all of those anti-Tory votes.   That is, until people get tired of the party that helped to break up the UK.  And then the groups of folks who vote Conservative might break up a bit.  But in the short term, a huge win for the Conservatives.

It will change who governs in Scotland.  This might be swell for the Scottish National Party, which can claim a big win with the referendum.  It is not so swell for other groups in Scotland that are not fans of the SNP.  The irony is if the SNP says: we want out of UK because the Tories tend to win elections in the UK, the Shetland Islands and other spots can say: we want out of Scotland because SNP wins elections.

The new equilibrium will be better for some folks and worse for others.  There would be winners and losers, in other words, on both sides of the new boundary.  That causes me some concern as does what the new boundary means for the Hogwarts Express.

Ukraine: An Ally?

So, Ukrainian President Poroshenko was in DC, asking, among other things, to a major non-NATO ally of the US.  My first reaction was: hell no!  Why?  Because the US should not commit to the defense of Ukraine.  That Ukraine is not nor could it be put into a category where one thinks of Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.  One could imagine Americans dying to protect such places (having already done so for Australia and South Korea). 

Then I saw the list and saw that the concept of major non-NATO ally has been stretched so far as to be broken, very, very broken.  Who is on the list?
  • Australia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand.  So far, so good.  Countries that have other agreement with the US that make it clear that there is a binding commitment.
  • Egypt and Israel.  Everything has to be for both--aid, alliance, whatever--to keep the Camp David agreement buttressed.  But Egypt now?  Hmmm, not so much.  And no, the US is not committed to the defense of Israel either.  Indeed, the friction of late between Netanyahu and Obama makes this all the more strained.
  • Jordan and Argentina?  Already we are slipping to a situation where non-NATO major ally means less and less.  
  • GWB went crazy, probably to cement support for his war in Iraq with: Bahrain, Philippines, Thailand, Kuwait, Morocco and ..... Pakistan.  Yep, any list that has Pakistan on it might just be a bit sketchy.  Philippines and Thailand make sense as former members of SEATO.  Actually, Pakistan was a member of SEATO too, but that alliance is dead for a reason or two.
  • Obama added Afghanistan, probably to try to get Karzai to agree to something.  I actually commented on this at the time, but had forgotten about it.
The bigger problem, of course, is that this is precisely that which Putin fears--Ukraine in the western camp.  Of course, everything he has done to Ukraine has only made Ukraine's desire to join Western clubs all the stronger.  That is what threats do in a balancing, security dilemma kind of world.  Still, I really don't want anybody to get the idea that the US would fight to help Ukraine, especially the Ukrainians.  This way lays madness ... or what Georgia did in 2008--act with way too much confidence.

So, sorry President Poroshenko, but a major ally Ukraine is not.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Canada is Confusing to Unfrozen Caveman American

[now at CIC]

One refrain I heard during Canada’s time in Afghanistan was that Canadians were confused about Afghanistan.  Well, after more than twelve years in Canada, I can say that I am still quite confused about Canada.  How so?  Last night, there was an emergency debate about Canada’s deployment of 69 troops (Special Operations Forces) to Iraq to do training.  I think the point of the debate was to provide some clarity about this effort, but if so, it failed miserably.

The Liberals called for this debate and only had a handful of members show up.  If this is something that is vital, which is kind of implied by the term “emergency debate,” one would expect a better turn out.

The New Democrats sent a significant number of members to show up and, mostly, demonstrated that it takes the Defence file more seriously than the parties.  Of course, they still provide more confusion than clarity about whether votes are required for deployments (they are not and have rarely taken place).

The Conservatives sent only a few members and only their B team.  There was no Prime Minister, there was no Minister of Foreign Affairs, and there was no Minister of National Defence.  I have engaged in long discussions on twitter and in person with some smart people about Canada and how accountability is supposed to work up here.  As a result, I get that having any representatives of a party with strict party discipline means that the entire party, including its ministers, are being represented and held to account.  But the optics, well, suck. 
If the idea of such efforts as this debate is to hold the Ministers to account, should not the Ministers show up?  Are they incapable of discussing these issues?  Is it that the Conservatives do not want to lend this debate any gravitas that comes with the Ministers? 

Indeed, the government has done a fine job of sowing confusion.  What are these troops going to do?  Advise and assist.  Ok, does that mean that they will serve as mentors to the Kurdish forces and the Iraqi army?  That is, will they provide the same kinds of functions as “omelets” in Afghanistan—Observer, Mentor, Liaison Teams—that went into battle with the Afghans?  Probably not since there is all this discussion of non-combat.  But what purpose can advisers serve, especially if they are only to be sent for a thirty day mission that might (will certainly) be extended?  Given the crisis in Iraq and Syria, how is non-combat training likely to make a difference in the short term?  Don’t the forces in Iraq really need the US, Canada and others to embed their advisers to provide leadership during battles and connections to American air support and to logistical support?

To put the confusion cherry on top of the confusion sundae, Jason Kenney, the Immigration Minister (interesting choice), argued that this mission is a Responsibility to Protect [R2P] effort.  That may be so, but this government has opposed the concept of R2P rather consistently and refused to label the Libyan effort as such even as R2P by everyone else involved saw it in this light.  I understand that foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, but rampant inconsistency suggests that opportuntism is driving things rather than principle.  Which is fine, but it does lead to more confusion.
To be fair, one Conservative consistency that proves most confusing is its stance on deployments and the necessity of votes.  Harper has called for votes when troops are being sent into combat—the two extensions of the Afghan mission and the three votes for the Libyan effort.  For non-combat deployments, he has felt that votes are not necessary.  The Liberals are being more inconsistent on this, especially given that their past has involved few votes but many deployments.  The NDP would like to have votes all the time, but did not force a vote (that they would lose) here. 

Here is where it gets tricky: votes may not be helpful.  I have been persuaded by Phil Lagassé that holding a vote where opposition parties end up voting with the government can serve to “launder” responsibility for a military effort through parliament.  Once the 2nd extension vote took place in 2008, Afghanistan largely fell off the political agenda in Canada except for the detainee issue.  This substituted for any real discussion of the larger issues at stake. 

One last bit of messiness: the troops being sent are from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment.  This makes sense as the Special Operators of the advanced democracies used to spend most of their time abroad training the militaries of other countries.  It is only after 9/11 that SOF spent far more of their time doing “kinetic” stuff—fighting.  In Canada, the deployment of SOF is very tricky since one cannot really discuss the secret stuff on the floor of the Parliament, yet the Defence Committee members do not possess security clearances so closed meeting are pretty useless. 

The secrecy involved helps to explain why the government has been so incredibly vague.  Of course, that still does not explain why a deployment with a thirty day mandate has an unknown start time.  That is, we do not know when the clock started on the mission (but we will be told when it ends... and then we can subtract 30).  Is there some reason why this must be secret?  I have no idea, and neither does Parliament.