Saturday, December 31, 2016

Semi Review Spew, 2016

Yes, 2016 was an awful year for actors, musicians, other celebrities, referenda, elections, democracy and refugees.  But, more importantly, was it a good year for me?  Ok, perhaps that is a bit much, but I have generally looked back at my year in blogging on or around New Year's Eve, and this has proven to be most useful for me when I need to track down notable old posts.  So, here we go again with the td/dr summary: the Spew had a better year than the stuff listed above.


The year started really with some experimentation--how to make good butter beer!  Glad I found this as it may inspire some more production before College Spew goes back to school.

One of the basic tendencies of 2016 was to trash millennials, so I am glad I started the year by pushing back against it.

My book was released and hit the top of a (specialized) bestseller list!  Woot!

I got to go to Japan!!!  I had never been before, never studied the place, but a trip organized by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not only educational but great prep for the research trip in October and again the one starting later this week.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Resolution Report Card, 2016

My big prediction of the year sucked, but how did I do in keeping my resolutions?
  • To self-promote more as Adapting in the Dust comes out in January and I have a bunch of talks lined up this winter.  
  • To read more.  Maybe with all the flying and perhaps with reviewing a bit less?
  • To disrupt disrupting.  I hate the use of the word disrupt to discuss any new tech/idea/movement that aims to change stuff.  My first talk of the year will be at a Queens event "Re-thinking Pedagogy in International Relations in an Era of Globalization and Disruption", and my role is to be the scold.  This jargon from the tech world tends to overplay the impact of whatever is doing the disrupting and have been used so much as to become meaningless. 
  • To return to the big network grant project. It has been on the back burner as I have sought money for my work and then for my sabbatical.  This summer, I turn back to the greater good.
  • Be a better co-author for some of my co-authors.  On one key project, I have been the obstacle to getting stuff done.  Indeed, I need to return to that project this afternoon rather than blog about my year....
  • On the other hand, I resolve to keep on blogging and tweeting as it is going to be an interesting year with the book tour, with research trips to Brazil, Japan and maybe South Korea.
  • I resolve to enjoy the hell out of my sabbatical that starts in July. 
Resolving to self-promote was an easy one to keep, as I did give many book talks throughout Canada although I somehow did not manage to go to Calgary or Toronto like I had hoped.  Still, the two talks in Vancouver plus great skiing at Whistler were highlights of the year as were the talks in Quebec where I got to see former students thrive.  If only I had one of my former students working near the Alps...

Read more?  Fail.  I read a lot online, but have not caught up on either the books I have meant to read or the journals.  I am hoping the second half of my sabbatical is a smidge more productive than the first half.

Once I push the launch button on the big network grant project in early February, I will have more time to catch up on the reading. The good news is that this project to fund a network has produced heaps of fun and informative networking.  So, even if it does not get funded, it will have been worth it.

I have been a better co-author for most of my partners, and a frustrating one for two friends awaiting some resolution to our stymied project.  But the one mentioned above is under review, so woot?

I didn't go to Brazil or South Korea, but Japan was pretty amazing, and I go back to Japan for followups and talks next week.  Because of impeachment in Brazil, I had to postpone that trip until this spring.  Because of impeachment in South Korea, I will have to postpone that trip until next year.  The project itself is already successful with our first publications (here's Dave's contribution).  I learned a great deal in Japan, just as Phil has learned much from his trip down under and his France/Belgium research as has Dave from his Arctic explorations.  Still much to learn, much more to write, but I feel pretty vindicated by both our progress and events in the world that have made the issue of legislative oversight over armed forces more obviously relevant.

My sabbatical?  Yes, I am enjoying it, although spending too much time thinking and writing about Canada's defence review in the summer and the American election and outcome this fall has probably gotten in the way of doing the aforementioned reading that will, of course, re-appear in tomorrow's resolutions for 2017.

2016 was an awful year to be a celebrity, and the US election was awful in both process and outcome.  But professionally and personally, it was an excellent year for me and my family.  I will be reviewing the year in Spew tomorrow to see how 2016 was in Spew.  I hope you and yours have a great 2017.  At the very least, the year will end with yet more Star Wars.

The New Kaiser?

In an argument about monarchy, someone pushed back and pointed at Trump, suggesting that inheritance might be just as good of a way to select leaders as elections in democracies.  A lousy argument, of course, but it came back to me this morning when I saw that Trump's "doctrine" might be "Peace Through Strength." 

Sure, it sounds Reagan-esque except for a few things:
  • Reagan was really only dealing with the Soviet Union in a bipolar world, so confronting the other superpower was not as complicated as confronting many potential adversaries (more on that in a minute).
  • Reagan went from being confrontational to cooperative pretty damned quickly, trying to radically reverse the arms race during a walk in Reykjavik
  • The US might have been in a better position then to run up huge deficits in an arms race.  Now?
The key now is that the US faces multiple adversaries--mostly Russia and China (one could toss in Iran, North Korea, and non-state actors I suppose).  Which means multipolarity--that misperceptions and reactions to reactions can be all so complicated.  Fundamentally, the problem with pushing too hard, being a bully, to engage in the Kaiser's risk theory, is that countries will react.  The fundamentals of IR have not changed--the security dilemma remains operative--that any effort to increase one's security unilaterally threatens others, leading them to react, causing the first player to be less secure.  Being aggressive in such a situation exacerbates the basic tendencies of international relations.  The Kaiser ended up provoking the creation of a coalition against his country and paid an enormous price. 

The US has benefited from a liberal international order based largely on positive reciprocity, which has meant peace among the great powers and prosperity.  Antagonizing those whose help we might need to fight terrorism, to contain North Korea, to sanction Iran or whoever is simply a bad idea.

Oh, and of course, this peace through strength thing seems to run directly counter to the love fest for Putin's Russia, so there's that as well.

Of course, Trump has no education in international relations, and his primary foreign policy advisers seem to be blithely ignorant of the security dilemma and the basic reality that being a bully does not pay in international relations.  General Mattis may try to instruct Trump, but, so far, he has largely been neither seen nor heard as Trump builds his team and enunciates his "grand strategy" which is neither grand nor much of a strategy.

So much for ending 2016 on a happy note.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Why Twitter?

Twitter gets lots of criticism, and rightly so, for not handling abuse well and for helping to circulate fake news.  It is easy for me to dismiss the dark side since I get far less abuse than women, LGBT folks, and people of color.  But I have have received some abuse, so why do it?  A key tweeter asked this, in response to his mom's question.

So, I have both silly and serious reasons:

Yes, I get to engage with famous folks like Henry Winkler and Morgan Fairchild.  Which is pretty cool.  Also, heaps of fun and silly pictures, videos, stories and tweets themselves get shared across the planet.  So, as entertainment, twitter is mighty entertaining.

Besides from relentless self-promotion (pretty sure twitter has helped me sell my books), twitter is very important for me professionally:
  • I learn more about more places, people, and events more quickly via twitter than any other way.  I don't like TV news, and newspapers always have limited international coverage.  As a professor of international affairs and one without a real regional focus, following a variety of people gets me links and views about all kinds of places.  Sure, it then becomes hard to consume all of it, but I get more glimpses of more stuff via twitter, and they almost always provide me with pathways to learning more if I so choose, than any other way.  While I was wrong in college to believe that being a prof would mean that I would have endless time to read fun books, the idea of endless learning is still key to my idea of my job and my identity.  Twitter helps with that.
  • I have connected with people in government that have facilitated my research projects.  These people have busted the myths I have bought into, have shared insights that have led to new research directions, and have referred me to interesting people to interview.
  • I have connected with scholars around the world--leading to exchanges of information, insights, contacts, and more.  Indeed, twitter has helped to create a community of scholars in my field (and others) so that we have better support networks, clear ideas of what is going on in our disciplines, and more.
  • I know journalists via twitter and can both ask them questions and provide them with my take on stuff.  Without twitter, I would not have this ability to engage with reporters, columnists, anchors, and editors in Canada, the US and elsewhere. 
  • Fundamentally, twitter has helped to bridge various gaps, but especially the one between academia and policy communities.  Thanks to twitter, and especially twitter fight club, I now have friends, some of whom I have met in real life, in think tanks, corporations, lobbyist groups, non-governmental organizations, and the like in DC, Ottawa and other national capitals.  The recurrent question is whether we academics are relevant?  The answer, in part, for me is twitter--that I get to share my views and the views of other academics, the stuff we have learned through research, reading, publication and the rest, with those in government and near government. 

And, oh yeah, I like to talk a lot.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Arms Races Are Great!

The President-Elect has called for expanding the US nuclear arsenal, not just modernizing it (old warheads may not be good warheads).  And when asked about whether this might lead to an arms race, he said woot!

Who wins arms races?
  1. Arms manufacturers and their stockholders
  2. Maybe Ken Waltz (who is already dead)

Yeah, that's about it.  How about who loses?
  1. Each country that is involved
  2. The taxpayers
  3.  Pretty much everyone else.
Really?  Is it that bad? Yes, it is.  Why? There are two possibilities when it comes to a nuclear arms race: either the competition among nuclear powers to build more and more nuclear weapons upends the strategic stability of mutual assured destruction OR it does not.
A)  If the various sides end up building systems that may be able to wipe out much, if not all, of the other side's ability to retaliate, each side might face a "use it or lose it" temptation.  And that is really, really bad.  Some would argue that this kind of situation made it very hard to avoid World War I.  Strategic stability took much effort to achieve and recognize--that mutual vulnerability was actually a good thing to help deter each side.  Upsetting it is very dangerous, especially for an amateur who asks "why build them if you can't use them?"  Folks should be very nervous given that there really is nothing between Trump and nuclear war--as illustrated by Tom Nichols's excellent use of Friends gifs.
B) If the arms race does not upset the strategic balance, then it is a gigantic waste of money.  This is stuff that would cost hundreds of billions of dollars or trillions of dollars. How does one avoid deepening the deficits if one spends much, much more on stuff that does not really change anything?

The challenge, as Waltz and other structural realists argued, is that the system provides incentives for arms races--that the absence of a higher authority fosters a security dilemma, whereby any act to improve one's own security decreases the security of others.  The others then respond by trying to improve their security, making the first mover less secure.  Any unilateral effort to improve one's security is self-defeating--hence DILEMMA.  It requires much effort and, yes, empathy, to come to agree that mutual vulnerability is better than the alternatives.  Trump threatens to upend all of this.  Not good.  And for what gains?  None as far as I can tell.  So, we may end up being stuck with two possibilities: nuclear war or larger arsenals and wasted tax dollars. 

One last thought: if Trump is Putin's plaything, why would Putin want an arms race? Well, if the US becomes super-scary, it would make it harder for any Russians to oppose his regime.  That garrison states, built to deal with external adversaries, foster centralization of authority and undermines resistance.  Oh, and, yes, Trump, who is a fan of authoritarian regimes, would benefit from the generation of fear as well.  Lovely.

As always, when it comes to nuclear war and arms races, the go-to is:

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Nuclear Launch Procedures Explained via Gifs

Tom Nichols and I often argue about stuff, as he is on the right and I am on the left, but we can agree on much stuff, including the usefulness of pop culture for explicating complex stuff:

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Pondering Hope

Thanks to Rogue One and Keeping It 1600, I have been thinking about hope
Sure, but false hope is at best a distraction.  For example, hoping that the electoral college would not produce the expected result was a false hope.   The problem is, as Mike Lombardi and others have said, hope is not a plan.   Yet, we need hope to avoid despair, which produces nothing.  People will only invest in the effort to change the situation if there is some expectation that one can help to produce a positive outcome.  So, hope and resistance are inextricably tied, as the movie demonstrated nicely.

We should not expend effort on false hope and weak plans, such as expecting the GOP to impeach Trump.  But we can and should invest in candidates, campaigns and protests at all levels. There is much to be done, and it requires, as Jon Lovett harped on in the latest Keeping It 1600 podcast, much work. 

What to do?  Damned if I know.  It can be hard to tell what is a low probability but real chance versus an utterly fruitless effort.  Focusing on real issues that affect people is what the experts recommend, which means, alas, foreign policy is probably not the right area to place attention.  While SecState nominee Tillerson might be the easiest target, the lowest hanging fruit--an oilman with ties to Russia and with GOP senators already concerned, it will probably not make much noise in the US.  On the other hand, the Sec of Treasury choice, David Mnukin, might be a better target since Mnukin was involved in foreclosing lots of people. 

The focus will have to be on policies, and not the noise that Trump generates.  Corruption?  The press will cover that, but, again, no impeachment since the GOP is not going to stand up.  So, the Democrats must put their effort on stopping those that will hurt people and then publicizing the effects of the policies that the GOP passes. 

The hard part is that there is a second focus that the Democrats have to have, even if it does not sell to public--protecting the ability for the Democrats (and others) to win elections.  So much effort by the GOP to suppress the vote of likely Democrats and so much effort to subvert the results when the Democrats win--North Carolina!!  So, it will essentially be a two front fight--fighting the policies that affect the most people AND fighting to protect the institutions that permit the Democrats to win future elections. 

While there will be negative noise generated by Trump and his policies, we must resist responding to it all.  As someone pointed out on twitter today, Trump is a living denial of service attack, overcoming institutions and media via too much damned noise. 

The trick will be to get diverse audiences together, fighting Trump.  They don't all need to attack the same policies, but they need to coordinate so that they work in synergy.  In NC, the various anti-GOP groups agreed to support Protest Mondays, with different protests each week but always on Monday and each group supporting the protests of the others.  That Trump generates opposition from across the spectrum will make this hard--how to keep Never Trump conservatives, Libertarians, Democrats of all stripes, and the left together will be difficult. 

The good news is that the bad news is good news--that while it may be hard to coordinate and cooperate among so many groups, the forces arrayed against Trump and Trumpism are many and will only get larger as the costs of Trump's policies start to affect people.  This is real, and thus something upon which we can build, something that is the foundation of hope and resistance. 

One last thing that can provide a source of hope: the US has failed before and come back.  While there will be grave costs due to the mistakes of this fall, we can come back and we will.

Monday, December 19, 2016

F This Bubble B.S.

First rule of post-election punditry: find a master narrative.
Second rule of post-election punditry: blame the loser and her supporters.

The current discussion, moving from the old Real America one, is on how the Democrats live in a bubble which is why they were surprised by Trump's win.  Let's unpack this, shall we:
  1. Everyone was surprised, not just Democrats/HRC voters.  Trump was surprised.  His Russian pals were surprised.  It was a surprising outcome.  
  2. The election was close (despite Trump's landslide assertions) so THERE IS NO MASTER NARRATIVE.  Sure, HRC may not have been the best candidate the Democrats could run, but she got more votes than anyone in history besides Obama (of course, inflated by population growth, but not a trivial thing either).  She did very well in states that the Democrats had done poorly in--her margin in Virginia is apparently rather historic.  She also lost in states that were thought to be sure things.  She ran a lousy campaign in Wisconsin and Michigan, but she dedicated much effort to states she lost.  Comey!  Russia and Wikileaks!  A press that covered her seriously and her opponent much less so.  Not much had to be different for HRC to win and the pundits speculating about a GOP civil war.  
  3. The big change in the last weeks was Trump breaking through what had been seen as his maximum vote share.  So, if we want to blame anyone for Trump winning, how about we blame those who .... voted for him?  
 Which gets me to this bubble bullshit.   There has been a picture going around with the percentage of votes going to HRC in the cities/towns with Ivy League universities.  Yes, she got tons more votes in those places than Trump did.  But it means mostly nothing--that the Ivy League is in the Northeast, which went heavily for HRC.  That the students at these schools actually come from lots of places.  That educated people and younger people tended to vote for HRC.  Oh, and non-whites voted for HRC.

The whole bubble idea is that a bubble exists where people only interact with people who are like themselves, which limits how much they can understand and empathize with those who are different.  And so, we are back in Trump-esque projection-ville as the cities and suburbs these days are diverse, as is the Democratic Party, while the rural areas/exurbs are very homogeneous--white and Christian.  Which candidate was the candidate of empathy?  Which candidate was the candidate of fear of the Other?  Yeah, exactly.  So, this whole bubble thing is exactly backwards. 

This is part of a larger effort to blame Obama and the Democrats for the rise of Trump.  Sure, Obama's win in 2008 may have led to a growth in white nationalism, but isn't that the white nationalists' fault for being intolerant and fearful?  Did Obama govern in any significant way to harm whites?  He didn't take their guns, he didn't try to pass any major affirmative action legislation, and his executive orders on diversity tended to focus on LGBT who, dare I say it, exist everywhere, not just in the cities. 

So, excuse me if I scoff at those who blame the progressives/liberals/center-left/whatever, but Trump won the GOP's nomination and then the general election by promising to be right wing.  If people didn't believe him, that is their fault. But his cabinet picks indicate that he is following through on being more right wing than we could have imagined/feared. 

Perhaps because there is no master narrative, we all have some responsibility, but the HRC voters can be certain of one thing--they didn't choose Trump.  Which means that most of the blame should be directed elsewhere.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Going Rogue: Too Soon to Rank?

I saw Rogue One last night, so I have many thoughts below the break (spoilers, including there is this thing called the Death Star, oops):

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Favorite Sandwich

 Thanks to a fb post by Ben Denison, I ran across this ranking of favorite sandwiches.  Since I am way behind on blogging this year, I thought I would come up with my own list.  The assumption here is that each one is made as well as possible, i.e., steak sandwich is made in Philly.  Obviously, this is an idiosyncratic list--my preferences are my preferences.  But they are also the right way to think about this stuff.

  1. Philly steak sandwich.  I am not a huge fan of cheese but pizza sauce and onions are musts (folks were pushing roast pork sandwiches the last time I was in Philly but I was underwhelmed).
  2. Bagel and lox.  No Montreal bagels.  No capers.  Just a good bagel, cream cheese, some red onionand a heap of lox.
  3. Taco.
  4. Gyro--can be beef, lamb, pork souvlaki, whatever.  
  5. Shwarma, which is gyro but with less greek, more mideastern stuff.
  6. Lobster roll, a very rare treat, but can easily be done wrong.
  7. Fried chicken sandwich 
  8. Hamburger
  9. Po boy.
  10. Bacon, egg and cheese but on a biscuit or croissant, not on a roll.
  11. Pulled Pork
  12. Hoagie (what others would call an italian sub)
  13. Meatball sub
  14. Cubano
  15. Torta
  16. Grilled cheese (I prefer quesadillas)
  17. Tuna sandwich
  18. Ham sandwich 
  19. PB (not a huge fan of J)
  20. Banh Mi
I am not including the ones mentioned in the article that I have never eaten nor desire to eat. I would like to try a tonkatsu sandwich, but didn't see any while in Japan.  Maybe next time.

Why Safe Zones are Moronic, Oxy and Otherwise

Ok, that might be a bit strong,* but that's my first reaction to this:
What is my problem with safe zones?  I have many problems:
  1. Safe zones became targets in Bosnia, so that the collection of displaced people made genocide easier--Srebrenica.
  2. Safe zones can be used by those we are helping to become bases for the opposition, which again makes them targets.
  3. Here is the big one: safe zones would require..... combat.  We might also call it war.  It would require the deployment of tens of thousands of soldiers to create spaces where the Syrian army cannot go AND where the Syrian artillery cannot fire.  How do you prevent Syrian artillery from firing into a safe zone?  Glad you asked.  Either by providing artillery that engages in counter-battery fire or by airstrikes.  How does that work if Russians happen to be near the Syrian artillery?  Are we prepared to kill Russians in order to create AND MAINTAIN safe zones.
  4. That last bit is key--it is not just enough to create a space, which again requires war or an agreement, but it needs to be maintained for how long?  
  5. Who will do this?  Who will send troops committed to fighting if necessary?  UNPROFOR did so very poorly in large part because the UN was unwilling to approve of the use of force AND countries that had sent troops were concerned about their troops becoming hostages.  So, who sends troops to Syria to create and maintain safe zones, including doing some significant combat?  The US?  Nice to volunteer the US to do this, but the last time the US intervened unilaterally in an Arab state, folks got upset.  The UN?  Nope, not with the Russians having a veto.  NATO?  It is already occupied with the Eastern Front, and many members are busy in Iraq.  Not a lot of spare capacity.  Turkey?  Oh sure, Turkey is easy to work with these days.  Arab countries?  Um, not great partners either. 
So, sure, Trump likes the phrase, but I am sure the US military is not nostalgic for the glory days of safe zones.  I am sure once General SecDef Mattis educates the new President, Trump's enthusiasm will go away.

Anyhow, hope is not a plan, edition 712.

* some credit to Doug Benson who refers to Safe House the movie as being neither Safe nor a House.

Semi-Spew In review, 2016

Every year, I look back and check out which posts got the most attention for several reasons: I am, of course, a narcissist; it helps let me know what kind of stuff plays; it illuminates what kind of year it was, and, also then serves as an easy place to find key posts.  2016 has been a rough year on every body, so it kind of makes sense that my top ten list of most viewed posts of 2016 are, well, depressing ones:
  1. The one where I outed a former colleague for being a serial sexual harasser.  50% more hits than the 2nd post
  2. Which inspired the first one--a short post reacting to a NYT op-ed on sexism in academia, arguing that institutions protect themselves, not the students.
  3. My recent post arguing that putting any hope on the Republicans to remove or mitigate Trump is a mistake.
  4. A 2015 post that argues that there is sexism in political science.
  5. A 2013 post on the political science job market and its implications for potential phd students: Mama, don't let your kids become political scientists.  See the latest report here.
  6. A happier post: the best political science books for those interested in military history.  This was a response in a long running conversation with Tom Ricks about the relevance of political science.
  7. Even happier still: the page I have created for "Team Steve"--my former students and their pubs--got heaps of hits this year.  I should update it...
  8. A post from 2015 reassuring folks that, um, rejection is inherent in our business keeps getting views.  In it, I document the many rejections of articles, books, grant applications that I have had in my career.
  9. Reporting reactions to the top post of the year--what progress has been made?  Not much.
  10. My attempt at explaining the pattern of Trump cabinet picks.
Just outside of the top ten were oldies but goodies--comparative xenophobia and rules for writing CVs.

In terms of how the blog is viewed: Chrome > Safari >> Firefox >  IE >> Edge > Blackberry?

How did people find my posts:
  1. Twitter
  2. Direct
  3. Google
  4. Facebook
  5. PSR
  6. Reddit
  7. Duck of Minerva
  10. WashPo (mostly due to the old story about comparative xenophobia)
Oh, and I wrote about one hundred less posts than the previous year, keeping the downward slide going from my peak in my second year. Often a few tweets satisfies my urge to spew.  I have also been writing less about pop culture and more about US politics.  If HRC had won, I'd have less material to discuss, but perhaps have more energy to do so. Trump has and will certainly give me plenty of stuff to write about, but it can be so hard sometimes to take a step back and think about it.

Anyhow, as always, I am grateful to those who read my stuff and engage me either via comments or on twitter or facebook.  Thanks for linking to the Spew and sharing my half-baked ideas.  Let's hope that 2017 is a better year, with more positive things to post about.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Reverse Vow? Holy Socks!

One thing I didn't mention when I wrote about the movement of US troops to Poland is that it represents a 180 degree switch from the usual promise.  Usually, politicians promise to get the troops home by Christmas (see WWI, for example). This time, Obama is changing the deployment schedule so that the troops leave home before the holidays, and that is a big deal.  I am sure the soldiers and officers were/are most upset to have to spend the holidays apart from their families. 

This signals two things: the urgency involved--that the troops need to get to where they need to be sooner (before Jan 20) rather than later AND perhaps an effort to signal to the Russians how serious this is.  It certainly signals to me that this is a serious move.  Some might scoff and say that the holidays don't matter, but doing something like this before the holidays is a real thing, a costly thing since the troops and their families will complain about this.

This realization reinforces my view that this is no accident--that Obama has decided to prepare the US for a Trump Administration that is tied to Russia.  The press conference is 15 minutes away, but we are already hearing that the desire for smooth transition is now being overcome by concern about Trump's refusal to acknowledge Russian role in the election.

Perhaps more on this later.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Closing A Window of Vulnerability

When I was in Montreal last month, I learned of a key window of vulnerability for NATO and of opportunity for Putin: that the effort to deploy NATO troops in the Baltics would be taking place later than I expected, several months after Trump takes power.  Given Trump's statements about NATO and his many ties with Putin, I was worried that Putin would take advantage of the months in between Trump's inauguration and the arrival of NATO troops to cause problems, to test NATO.  I was also worried that Trump might delay sending the troops, just as he has delayed releasing his tax returns, for the foreseeable future.  So, I blogged/tweeted/pulled other alarms to encourage the US and Canada to move the troops sooner rather than later.

It turns out that I was not the only one worried about this.  Obama, who knows more and is far smarter, is on it.  In yesterday's news, it was announced that a US Brigade Combat Team was beginning its deployment early to Poland.  The Estonians are thrilled, even as the troops are mostly headed to Poland.  The US commitment was to Poland, Canada to Latvia, Germany to Lithuania, and the UK to Estonia with other NATO countries filling in the various formations.  I don't know the timetables of the non-US contributors.  I urged Canada to speed up as well, but haven't seen or heard any changes in the Canadian schedule.

My basic point has been and remains: the presence of US/NATO troops in the region raises the costs for any Putin adventures, and that Putin is an opportunist.  Denying him easy faits accompli must be the first thing we do.  There is other stuff that should also be going on
  • the European Union should be dumping cash into the parts of Latvia and Estonia with large Russian-speaking populations to remind them that living on this side is desirable.  So that they don't go along with any rabble-rousing/little green man hybrid stuff that Putin cooks up.
  • more pressure should be placed on Estonia and Latvia to do a better job of incorporating the Russian-speakers into the political, economic, and social systems.  These countries tended to raise barriers when they became independent.  And they got into the EU despite only partially reducing these barriers.  Time to make these countries better democracies and again reduce the ability for outsiders to play games.
Some have raised concerns about brinksmanship--that we are saber rattling and all that.  That is a valid concern, but Putin has acted aggressively when NATO and the US have reduced their forces.  So, the question is: does the risk of antagonizing Putin do more damage than the risk of providing him with open windows of opportunity?  Which is more provocative?  Sending troops or providing an open door?  I very much think the latter is more problematic based on the past few years.

The key, as always, is what kinds of forces are being deployed.  The numbers are so small that they present no offensive threat towards Russia.  They can't stop a Russian invasion, but they change the situation to one where the onus for escalation is now in Putin's hands.  Sure, there is no guarantee that the West would respond to a Russian attack by escalating, but putting Americans (and others eventually) will be in harm's way is "the threat that leaves something to chance."  That is, any escalation by Putin increases the probability that this thing would get out of control, and that should be sufficient to deter.

H/T to Dan Drezner for reminding me of this scene in some of his posts.

And, no, I don't really believe this deployment is happening because I shouted about it.  I am self-centered but not that self-centered.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Kids Are Alright

One of the things that has been so very annoying and not just lately is the desire to dump on the young folks.  That millennials and especially college students are somehow flawed and even, dare some say it, to blame for the rise of Trump and white nationalist politics.  It is tempting to blame the victory of Trump on those millennials who either did not turnout or who tossed their votes away to Jill Stein.  To be sure, I argued before and since that voting for Stein was a bad idea, and not just because she could be as much of a useful idiot for the Russians as Michael Flynn.  But the reality is that voting for Stein or not voting is not as problematic as voting for Trump, and who did that?

Not the young folks but the old ones.  Just as in Brexit, the people who turned out the most for an awful political stance were those nostalgic for a past that either did not exist or mostly benefited those who dominated the political system.

One thing to keep in mind is that the young folks always turn out less than the older folks--not just here and now but in other democracies and well into the past.  I haven't researched why older people turn out more, but this is one of the basics of politics, which is why public policy favors the older people bigly--medicare, social security, etc.  And this time, there were significant impediments to younger people voting--#voterfraudfraud is not just aimed at African-Americans and other minorities but also at students who tend to vote Democratic. 

Still, in the aftermath of the election, some are blaming the passion of the kids for alienating the older folks.  This is utter b.s., best explained by a friend of mine.  My personal take on this is this: shouldn't we expect the younger folks to be outraged when they see injustice?  Should they be expected to just tolerate it and walk past?  Having a kid who is a college student  has been mighty educational to me.  College Spew and I have gotten into many conversations [pre election day 2016]*, where she expresses frustration about where things are, and I come back with noting how much progress has been made.  She replies with some version of "IT'S NOT ENOUGH!!!"  Whether it is the male gaze that dominates how women are viewed in entertainment, the treatment of African-Americans today, the situation of LGBTQ, or pretty much anything else, I cannot really deny her point--that whatever progress that has been made is insufficient.

As a college professor for more than 20 years, I have always read "these kids today" stuff as garbage, whether it was about gen x kids when I started or millennials now.  The students I have met are not all of one piece [anyone generalizing about a generation of students from those at Oberlin don't understand either Oberlin or the entire generation of students], but do largely share an interest in the world, a desire to make it better (although they vary regarding both the problems they discern and the solutions they offer), and more energy than the older folks.  It has pretty much always been this way.

So, when I see this:
My response is:

* Perhaps it is not accident that I am writing this the day before College Spew returns from four months in Europe.  I have missed her a lot, but I am not looking forward to our conversations about the state of equality in Trump's America.

A Focal Point for Those Who Study Conflict

Thomas Schelling died yesterday.  He was one of the most influential scholars of the past fifty years, complete with a Nobel Prize in economics and tens of thousands of citations.  His work shaped not just that field but that of political science, especially those who study strategy and conflict.  Indeed, those words almost seem to be Schelling's thanks to Strategy of Conflict, the book that informed not just American social scientists but, well, the arms race and then some.  Like Kenneth Waltz's work, Schelling's ideas are now common sense:
  • the importance of focal points around which behavior converges
  • the power to hurt is the power to bargain
  • the importance of signaling
  • the dynamics of tying hands and making commitments
  • and, for me, what is so key today, the threat that leaves something to chance.
Schelling's work is relevant in so many areas.  Lately, for me, I have focused on its implications for European security and international peace.  That NATO can deter Russia even if no one really wants to sacrifice their national capital for Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania.   That deployments of NATO troops to the region embody the threat that leaves something to chance.  That is, it is not really a commitment to certainly escalate to nuclear war--that would be ridiculous--incredible in the sense of not being believable.  However, what it does do is this: it puts the onus on taking the next decision, which might lead to a series of moves that would produce escalation, in Putin's hands.  This deterrent threat--building a modest tripwire in the Baltics--builds on Schelling's ideas in a big way.  I should have been citing him every time I blogged about this (although that is one of the joys of blogging--no requirements to cite).

Anyhow, of all the stuff I read in grad school, the concepts that I rely on most often, that give me the most insight into contemporary international relations, are those I found in Strategy of Conflict and Arms and Influence

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The GOP Cavalry Is Not Coming Over The Hill

Anyone holding their breath hoping that the Republicans will save us from Trump and his pack of absolutely awful aides and secretaries should just stop.  Yes, there are two ways that the GOP could save us from catastrophe: encouraging the electors to vote for someone else or to impeach Trump early in his term.  Putting aside the potential dangers to democracy and our institutions that the first option might pose (I have no idea which is worse--electoral college being faithless or Trump taking office), I just want to focus on the Republican dilemma.

Yes, there is a mutual hostage relationship between the Republican Party and Trump.  Paul Ryan could facilitate impeachment, with real grounds existing (emoulements, anyone?).  But Trump can also call out his supporters, the hard right, to vote against GOP candidates or stay home.  Either way, the GOP could face yuge defeat, bigly, if a significant chunk of its base didn't vote for them in the next set of elections.  Any effort by the GOP to dethrone Trump would be tremendously costly for the party.  We saw during the primaries that the party had no taste for this, as the candidates avoided attacking Trump since they wanted his supporters.

In games of chicken, single actors, such as Trump, have advantages against collective actors, such as the Republican Party.  Trump does not have to coordinate to stay on the path of confrontation, while the GOP would have to do so.  Efforts to coordinate against Trump failed during the primaries, so why expect them to succeed now that he has far more power and poses a greater threat to the party?  A second set of advantages involves risk acceptance or aversion.  Trump, if impeached successfully, gets to go back to Trump Tower and not have to do the heavy lifting required of the Presidency.  He really has nothing to lose in a fight with the GOP.  The GOP?  Again, it could be ripped apart in a confrontation.

So, no, not even direct proof of Trump working with Russia would cause the GOP to rise up one way or another.  The GOP is stuck with Trump for four years.  Which means the rest of us are, too.  We can focus on resistance, but we have to be clear that this is the guy we are stuck with.  Sucks, but there it is, and no re-arguing the fall campaign is going to change things.  Maybe we ought to focus on what we can do to thwart Trump's appointees and Trump himself, rather than imagining what could have been or what the GOP might do.

But what do I know? I am just an international relations scholar thinking about how mutual assured destruction applies to the Republican Party.

Practicing Kremlinology at Trump Tower

That Trump was Russia's favorite candidate and that Russia tried to put its thumb on the scale is not a surprise.  Perhaps the biggest surprise lately has been the general pattern of Trump's appointments:

The only appointments that don't seem to be aimed at burning down their agencies are the various generals, which, as I have argued, provides some small comfort.  Do these choices indicate that Trump has a master plan to sow chaos? That he is a fierce libertarian who wants to remove government from society?  No, probably not.  There was little indication during the campaign that Trump is that hostile to most of what Washington, DC does.

So, what can we make of this?  For those who want to focus on Trump's meetings, it shows that meetings matter very little for reading Trump's intentions.  Meet with Gore and then pick Pruitt for EPA?  Pretty sure this does not mean a serious pursuit of climate change targets.  For those who want to emphasize Ivanka Trump as a key influencer, again the EPA decision is revealing as her apparent priority is climate change and her father chooses a guy who considers the EPA to be essentially his mortal enemy.

Who in the Trump inner circle wants to burn down the US government and create chaos?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Trump Foreign Policy Thus Far? Not Good

CBC Radio asked me to discuss a bit of Trump foreign policy for ten different radio stations across Canada this morning.  What did I say? 

They asked about the Secretary of State possibilities.
a) Trump's Secretary of State is likely to be marginalized in a fairly normal tradition of US foreign policy;
b) Romney is more likely to be humiliated than to be named;
c) I have no idea who Trump will choose from the veritable cornucopia of choices.

What do we make of the call with President of Taiwan?  Why was it important? What is strategic?
a) It is a mess, as antagonizing China seems to be a bad idea. China considers Taiwan to be a part of China, and we have all gone along with the legal fiction that Taiwan is not independent. 
b) The stakes are high as the standard scenario for World War III starting in the Pacific is over a China-Taiwan crisis with the US Pacific Fleet in the middle.
c) Taiwanese interests were certainly strategic, working on this for months, paying Bob Dole's lobbying firm heaps of money.  Was Trump being strategic? I tend to think not.  He might like playing up China as an adversary, but I doubt he has spent months thinking about this.  I do think some of the people close to him have been, which speaks to how influential the aides of an under-briefed, incurious President can be.  The real contest to watch over the next four years is among the aides seeking to manipulate Trump.
d) Lobbyists can game US foreign policy more easily when an amateur takes the big job.
e) More questions about Trump's business ties influencing policy.

What about Kissinger's meeting with Trump?
a)  Tis a dance all US presidents and candidates do, as Kissinger is seen as the old wise man of US foreign policy (old he is, wise?  no).
b) Along with Trump meeting Gore, this meeting might suggest something--that Trump is going to be moderate.  NO.  Focus not on meetings but on the actual appointments.  A few minutes with Kissinger is far less important than having Lt. General (ret.) Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser.  Flynn has financial ties with Russia and Turkey, is a rabid Islamophobe, a hot head and fosters group think (he told his subordinates he is always right and they will be right when they agree with him).  Flynn is on a course to be the worst NSA ever, replacing Condi Rice.

Let's just say I am not optimistic about Trump foreign policy.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Forward, Always Forward

I should have heeded the advice of Pop from Luke Cage:
But I did not, as the US Embassy was hosting an interesting event.  The State Department had put together a team of ten or so Canadians, including a couple of members of parliament, to observe the campaign and the election in its last ten or so days in DC, Louisiana and Ohio.  The Embassy had two of the MPs talk about what they observed.  I thought it would be interesting to hear what they had to say, and it was.  It was all Chatham House rules, so no attribution.

Anyhow, I am now agitated and annoyed because, well, the outcome sucked and the campaign sucked.  There was some complaints about HRC not having a message except that Trump was unqualified (which he proves every damn day).  A good point was that her big speech on the last night started with a reference to the Khan family and not to what she stood for.  BUT dammit, she did have lots of content and policy and messaging that got crowded out by Trump's daily demonstration of being unqualified.

Also, the two speakers did not mention Comey, wikileaks, or the Russians.  They did mention that many folks they met thought Hillary was corrupt, which ignores the kleptocracy that Trump was predicted to be and is.  People didn't care about Trump's corruption, and the media underplayed.  An interesting point was that the media folks in DC thought that they could give Trump heaps of not so negative attention because he wasn't going to win.  Yep, they got cocky too.

One of the speakers downplayed race, and I nearly lost it.  I am sure those around me were probably not thrilled with my mumbled curses. Yes, HRC's deplorable mark cost her some votes and energized Trump's base, but Trump started with racism and built an audience based on that racism.  No, we have no clear strategies for responding to it, but not calling it out seems to be problematic.

No one articulated the basic challenge in this campaign--a heterogeneous party competing with a homogeneous party.  They did mention the misogyny as they repeatedly heard "I will not vote for that woman", but did not discuss it at length.

Overall, a key challenge, as always, is how to relate the master narrative to the micronarratives.  We have that problem in civil war research, and we have that problem in this election.  Because it was so close in a few states, we can blame lots of stuff or focus on a single thing.  Looking backwards?  I blame Comey most of all, HRC and her campaign for not doing more in Wisconsin and Michigan some, the media a fair bit for so much false equivalence, evangelicals for selling out much of their faith for the Supreme Court seat, and the complacent Democrats who had no reason to be complacent after the Comey letters.

I didn't get a chance to ask my question: which do you fear most: Trump causing World War III or a new Great Depression via trade wars and debt defaults?  Yeah, I am in a super cheery mood this holiday season. πŸ™…πŸ˜΅πŸ˜©πŸ˜‘πŸ’©πŸ’€πŸ‘ΏπŸš½

Wasteful? Yes. Overplayed, Yes.

Every democracy messes up defense procurement, but they vary in how they do it.  Canada messes it up by deferring decisions so that defense inflation itself drives up the costs.  I will be speaking later this week at a conference on defence procurement in Canada, even though I don't really study procurement itself.  My take will be that parliamentary ignorance is part of the problem.  In the US, Congress is part of the problem, but perhaps because of too much engagement, certainly not too little.

So, when I see a story about Pentagon burying evidence of $125 billion in bureucractic waste, I have lots of reactions:
  • Using Pentagon as shorthand for Department of Defense can be handy, but the subsequent discussion tends to make one thing that a million people work in the building. Um, no.  Not that big of a building.
  • Using Pentagon also helps to deflect responsibility--is the failure with the uniformed services or with the Office of the Secretary of Defense [OSD]?  The answer, of course, is yes, both, but in different ways.  Conflating them is not especially helpful.
  • Saying $125 billion as a percentage of annual spending on the military is DECEPTIVE, since the $125 billion figure is created via $25 billion of savings over five years.  So, the right math is actually $25b/$600b.  Which gets to the old quote by Senator Dirksen about US military spending: "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money."  My point here is simply that the waste annual is not 1/5 of the defense budget, at least not how waste is defined by the reports here.
  • The entire tone is that "back office bureaucracy" is waste.  Maybe we don't need all of these people doing this work, but armies do run on logistics.  How do you get x number of marines, soldiers, sailors and air-people to a spot, sustain them, supply them with ammunition, care for them and all the rest?  This is tricky business that requires much tail for the tooth (teeth to tail ratio is a favorite military spending bit of jargon).  
  • Indeed, one procurement challenge Canada has is lacking enough staff to oversee multiple big projects.  Cutting the acquisition people in/near the Pentagon might actually make procurement more wasteful, not less.
  • So, comparisons to UPS piss me off: "That alone exceeded the size of United Parcel Service’s global workforce."  So what? The military has a much bigger, more complex job than UPS.  They are not doing the same thing.
  • Consultants saying that cuts can be made via attrition should always be distrusted.  Change is painful, cuts are painful.  Saying that they don't hurt is a lie.
  • So much for property management?  Yes, because the US military owns a heap of property, and it has to deal with the complexities of its activities on said properties.  Could/should the US military own less property? Sure, whose fault is it that it does not drop many bases?  Congress.
A million desk jobs? I have no idea of this is too much or just right.  Probably a bit too much, but let's not think that a million people are doing the jobs that 20,000 could do or 100,000.  The military is the biggest agency of the US government, which both reflects the priorities of the past dozen Presidents and dozens of Congresses AND is a basic reality these days.  Not all administration is wasteful (even as I blast universities for increasing admin spending more than spending on profs/students).

Could the Department of Defense spend US tax dollars better?  Absolutely.  Whose job is to make this happen?  Largely Congress's.  But the Congress and the folks in it have interests that are not always about efficiency.  The media's job is to report waste so that Congress pays attention, but buying the results of a consultant may not be the best way to shed light on this.  Which jobs are duplicates, which roles are actually cheaper when contracted out (I am suspicious of privatizing = savings), what bases of comparison make sense?

So, yeah, we could do better, but it is not very likely.  Good thing the next SecDef is a procurement expert.  Oh, he's not?  Never mind.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Tyranny of Low Expectations, Trump Edition

General Mattis, if nominated (not official yet) to be Secretary of Defense, needs to get a waiver as existing law says that military officers need to be retired seven years before filling this role.  Some Democrats are not inclined to pass such a waiver.  I have argued that filling this role with a recently retired general is a bad idea as one key job of the Secretary of the Defense is to be THE civilian in between the operational commanders and the President of the United States.  His (or her) job is to manage American civilian-military relations. 

So, I have argued against this, focusing on how such exceptions (the only waiver before now was for George C. Marshall) are problematic in a time where we have an incoming administration determined to undermine pretty much all norms and institutions that are at all inconvenient.

The main pushback I have gotten: Mattis is the best of Trump's picks.  Yeah, and?  This is a key problem--that Trump is making so many awful decisions that we then think that the least awful could be ok or even good.  That our expectations are pushed so low that we don't mind problematic exceptions to good rules.  A guess this is what folks worry about when they say "this is not normal" and "prevent normalization."

So, I will try to remain resolved to not lower my standards and my expectations.  I will call out when the Trump Administration makes bad decisions and awful appointments, even when these are somewhat less bad than other ones.  Perhaps the appointment of Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser, one of the first big decisions, was meant to set the bar so very low.  But I refuse to use that standard.  Will you?

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Good Times for Civ-Mil Scholars, Bad Times for Democracy and Governance

I just wrote about the problems facing the US as President-Elect Trump may choose too many retired generals for his cabinet.  In Canada, the problems is a bit different: active generals are being put in awkward positions by the politicians.

How so?  The story of the week in Canadian civ-mil, regarding the fighter plane procurement problems, appears to be part of a larger trend: the Liberals getting advice they don't like and soldiering on (sorry) anyways (see electoral reform effort or not).

The Liberal government has stated that it needs to buy 18 Super Hornets to fill a capability gap--that Canada doesn't have the planes it needs to defend North American airspace (the NORAD requirement) and to meet its NATO commitments at the same time.  There are lots of problems with this:
  • There is no formal NATO requirement BUT to be fair to the Liberals, there has been a regular demand by NATO for planes to patrol over Iceland and over the Baltics plus regular multilateral efforts elsewhere (Kosovo, Libya, Iraq).
  • Interim purchases are interim: Canada will have to sell, scrap, give away or somehow transfer the 18 Super Hornets once Canada gets the big batch of new planes (whether they are Super Hornets, F-35s, Rafaeles, or whatever).
  • The math.  Canada needs 36 planes for NORAD, 6 for NATO-ish=42.  But you need to have twice as many or so in order to field the 42 at any time time=84.  But planes, alas, crash and have other problems, so you probably need another 6-12.  So, 90+ planes in the next batch of purchases.  Given the budgetary envelope for the next plane was enough for 65 F-35s, the math suggests that the Liberals would need to buy a plane that is 2/3s the price of the 65 as 65/90 is 2/3s-ish.  But the Super Hornet is not that cheap.  Plus the Liberals had promised to take the money saved on the planes to fund the ship-building.  Ooops.  
But the problem du jour is making generals dance.  RCAF Commander Hood has been caught between what he has said before and what he is saying now.  Before, he had said that we had no capability gap and that 65 planes would ultimately be sufficient.  Now, he says that there has been a policy change, so a gap exists.  Is he lying?  No.  The Liberals decided (for whatever reason, its decision-making has not been transparent) that Canada needs to be able to do both jobs at once (a stance that makes sense but is not applied to anywhere else in the CAF or else we would have more than four subs, for instance).  And it is the right of the government of the day to change policy like this, as it is a political, not military decision, about how much risk to accept.  Is it likely that Canada would need to have its entire NORAD commitment in the air at the same time as it is engaged in an NATO-ish operation?  No, but it could happen.  The US used to plan for fighting two major wars and a minor one, and then the world changed and so the US changed how much war it planned to fight at one time (ironically, it then began to fight many wars at once, but not any wars with near-peers).

The general is in an awkward spot when he appears before Parliament as he is answerable to Parliament but accountable to the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence.  I used to think this was a distinction without a difference, but it is all the difference in the world.  As the generals must answer questions that parliamentarians ask of them unless it is advice to cabinet or it is classified.  Which often means that they cannot really answer all that much and certainly heaps of interesting questions can't be answered.  Because of how civil-military relations works in Canada, where the military has only one boss (the PM via the GG), the officers cannot pubicly disagree with government policy.  Cannot!

In the US, where the military has two bosses--the President (and SecDef!) and Congress--the officers have to tell the Senators and Representatives not just the facts but also what they think, even if it conflicts with the policy of the day.  General Shinseki famously got put into a tough spot when asked about the footprint needed in Iraq to stabilize the place after the invasion. He gave a number that was far higher than what SecDef Rumsfeld was planning, but Shinseki had to answer the question as he was accountable to Congress.

But Canada is not the US, so politicians can try to make the military look like the bad guys in the decision-process, but, in this case, whatever is going on this fall with fighter plane procurement, it is a mess the Liberals made.  Sure, the larger procurement problem is shared--the military may have come up with requirements that gamed the initial results to get to the F-35, the Conservatives deferred and delayed so that the decision would take place after the 2015 election, and the Liberals have their turn now to mess things up.  But the effort lately to shift the blame to the military is a mistake, one that a government focused on transparency and deliverology should not be making.

The General Problem

With the likely (Trump as uncertainty engine raises doubts about his own statements) appointment of General (ret.) Mattis as Secretary of Defense and perhaps several other retired generals in his administration, people are wondering if this is a good idea or not.  Count me in on the NOT! side of the argument. 

Sure, retired generals know about management and leadership since the military spends far more time thinking about how to manage their people than they do thinking about firing a gun, dropping a bomb or launching a torpedo.  And, yes, getting to the top of a very competitive in-or-out promotion process means that these folks have been vetted and vetted again (just ignore the Tommy Franks problem* for moment).  So, let's concede for a moment that Mattis is a really sharp guy, who has probably deserved the cult of personality that has grown up around him.

While some dismiss the importance of civilian control of the military, I find it to be a central ingredient, a necessary condition of this thing we call democracy.  Contra to Rosa Brooks, civilian control of the military is both means and end.  It is not just about concentrations of power, but of subservience of the folks with the guns to the people elected to run the country.  This is not about the founders of the US or about what makes the US special, but what is essential for modern democracy. 

Brooks argues that the US military has its own internal checks against seizing power or being disobedient.  She combines this with an assertion that Trump's presidency presents all kinds of threats that make civilian control of the military far from being a priority.  And there is the rub: Trump's inherent flaws, including his appeals to white supremacy, his inability to concentrate for the length of an intel briefing, and, most importantly, his lack of respect for and adherence to the various norms that make the institutions operate, make civilian control of the military more, not less, important.

Coups happen for a variety of reasons, but most often, those engaged in a coup claim that the government is corrupt and/or incompetent.  Here is where I could insert a picture of Trump.  Trump called Taiwan's President perhaps to facilitate his own business interests, which is an abuse of power that could be called a coup excuse (my thinking of coup politics is heavily shaped by Junta, the game).  This is not a one-off thing given that Trump brought up his business interests in Argentina during his phone call with that leader as well. 

Simply put, when many of the norms and institutions are under attack, we need to be more, not less, careful about the role of the military in our society.  It is, of course, not so much about coups (the first generation of civil-military relations thinking--Huntington, Finer, Luttwak, Janowitz), but about controlling the military so it does what the civilians want (second generation--Feaver**, Avant) and about getting the military to work well with civilian agencies in "whole of government efforts (the third generation).  Getting any complex agency to follow orders is hard (Trump is going to make principal-agency so trendy), but especially one that largely lives apart from society, that tends to attract leadership from only a small portion of the country, that socializes so very powerfully, and is also one of the few institutions that is highly esteemed these days. 

There was a good reason why the legislators thought a ten year (revised downwards to seven)  wait was required for retired military officers to serve as Secretary of Defense.  Time away from the military to broaden one's imagination, be exposed to civilian norms of decision-making and leadership and on and on.  The limit of officers serving immediately after retirement is not an accident but a good policy that should not be tossed away simply because Trump admires generals (sort of). 

In a time where authoritarian politics (threats towards journalists and protesters, etc) are increasing popular, we should put the US military, active and retired, further away from the controls of the US government, not closer.

*  One way to move up is to kiss up, kick down.  Not a great way to lead.  Plus there is the Peter principle--being promoted beyond one's abilities.  So, the existence of a four star general like Tommy Franks, who was engaged in a serious competition for the dumbest @#$*& in DC with Doug Feith, undercuts just a bit the argument that promotion to the top means that these folks are well vetted.

** See Feaver's review piece of the latest civ-mil work.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Interim is Binding!

One of the biggest sources of confusion about the Liberal decision to buy 18 Super Hornets is that it is an interim buy.  What does that mean?

It means that the planes are only being bought to cover a specific period of time--whenever they arrive to whenever the next batch of planes is ready to go.  And then the government of Canada is obligated to, yes, get rid of the planes.  In 2030 or 2032 or whenever the planes that win the next competition (in five years*, maybe) are deployed, the Super Hornets must be sold, given away, or perhaps even destroyed.  I was told by someone in government who reached out to me to explain the decision that the idea would be to fly the heck out of these 18 planes, using them up, but the reality is that is unlikely to happen.  Instead, what is likely to happen is that Canada is going to spend a lot on 18 planes that it will then have to find a buyer for after flying them for 12-15 years. 

It means that the planes are only being bought to cover a specific period of time--whenever they arrive to whenever the next batch of planes is ready to go.  And then the government of Canada is obligated to, yes, get rid of the planes.  In 2030 or 2032 or whenever the planes that win the next competition (in five years*, maybe) are deployed, the Super Hornets must be sold, given away, or perhaps even destroyed.  I was told by someone in government that the idea would be to fly the heck out of these 18 planes, using them up, but the reality is that is unlikely to happen.  Instead, what is likely to happen is that Canada is going to spend a lot on 18 planes that it will then have to find a buyer for after flying them for 12-15 years.

The aspect getting far more play is this capability gap that justifies the purchase of the Super Hornets--that Canada can't do what it wants to do with the 77 it has or smaller number as planes crash (which, unfortunately, happened this week) or become too stressed to fly anymore.  The gap has been "created" by a change in policy--that the Liberals want the RCAF to have enough planes to protect Canada to the highest level of activity (its complete commitment to NORAD) and to meet its NATO commitment.  The government of 2014 released a document, the Mixed Fleet report (as part of the Seven Point Plan which has since disappeared from the web mutil my reposting today), which suggests that the magic number is .... 42.  Nope, 84.  Nope, 90 something.  The idea is that if a NORAD crisis and a NATO crisis happened at the same time, Canada would need 36 planes in the air in Canada and 6 over wherever NATO needs them.  But to generate 42 planes, one needs twice that due to servicing/maintenance/etc.  But 84 is not enough since planes, again alas, crash.  So, the 77+18 makes sense IF the government wants to have the ability to fight at home and abroad at the same time.

Is this a reasonable standard?  Sure, although if it was applied the Navy, well, oh my (oh, this decision to buy temp Super Hornets and then a full buy of the next generation of planes means that the Liberal promise to save money on planes to use to pay for the ships has now been overcome by events).

Is it a political decision?  Hells yes--just as war is politics by other means, defence planning is, duh, political.  Any allocation of public money is political as are any decisions about how best to defend a country.  But to call it that is silly since the decision to have only enough planes to do one at a time was also a political decision.  The magic 65 number for the Conservative F-35 plan was certainly derived by looking at the budget and divided by cost to get 65 and not an assessment to get the right number of planes for what Canada needs.  The more problematic aspect of this decision is that it happens during the Defence Review, which is supposed to set the course for Canada's procurement down the road.  Perhaps the draft within the government was a sufficient basis to make this decision.  Perhaps not.  I have no idea.

*  Five years?  I questioned that in an earlier post.  I said a competition could be done in a year.  Perhaps not, as my various sources suggest it would take more than a year.  But five?  That is still a heap of time, more than is probably necessary.

Thus far, the only defenders of this stance are those in government. The experts outside of government range from being puzzled to being baffled to being confused to being angry.  All I know is that the interim nature of the decision is not getting enough play.