Thursday, March 31, 2016

Churchill, Not Napoleon, Mr. Trump: NATO Is Good for the US

Lots of talk about NATO these days.  Thanks, Donald.  Yes, there is uneven burden-sharing.  Folks have only been talking about it since the mid-1960s.  Yep, that debate is as old as I am, and I am not young.  And, heap, the Dave and Steve NATO book does a fine job of discussing how hard it is to fight alongside allies.

We start with two quotes--one by Napoleon and one by Churchill about alliances.  Can you guess which one Trump is closer to?  Yes, that noted LOSER Napoleon, who was also over-compensating for having small hands.

Anyhow, yes, our NATO partners do not pay as much as we would like, with regular evergreen tweets/debates/summits about burdensharing.   But guess who showed up in Afghanistan, after the US (and not Canada/Europe) was attacked on 9/11?  Every single NATO country plus those aspiring to get into NATO plus those that just want to be friend with the US.  Even for those that did not do as much, the war was costly--in lives, in money, in political capital back home.  So, when the US needed its allies, they showed up.  Yes, there were differences about what to do and how to do it, but when the US got all distracted and sent most of its might to Iraq, who had the US's back in Afghanistan?  NATO.

We can go on and on about how NATO has been an instrument of American power, that NATO has helped make American commitments to Europe credible and thus fostering deterrence.  Notice how many European wars the US has fought since 1945?  None.  One can give credit to other organizations and such, but deterrence in the cold war was via America's credible commitment in the form of NATO.  Which is why I have been pushing for NATO bases in the Baltics--so that we don't end up fighting a war with Russia. Deterrence is far cheaper even with some free riding than the alternative.

As always, I paraphrase Churchill: that NATO is the worst form of mutilateral military cooperation except for all the others.  NATO is not perfect but it is better than coalitions of the willing (which have most of the negatives that come with alliances and few of the positives) or going along entirely. 

But, of course, it makes sense that Donald Trump has similar attitudes as Napoleon about alliances because neither could play well with others.  Oh, and both were/are losers.

Ottawa Doth Rock

I was having a beer with a former student earlier in the week when she informed me that she was leaving Ottawa for Toronto since Ottawa sucks.  Well, sucks for her since she does not want to work for or with government.  My response was: huh?

I love Ottawa.  I remember my old students wondering why I would leave exciting Montreal for boring Ottawa, and my basic response was middle-aged Steve does not partake much of Montreal excitement except for the comedy festival.

But the real story is this: Ottawa is a super-exciting place to be if one does International Relations.  Today, I had a meeting with Brazilian diplomat to prepare for my research in yet another country I know not well.  We had a very interesting conversation, and then I drove home.  Easy peasy.  Engaging the diplomats in town both for my research and for my general engagement has been a key plus in living here.

It has been almost four years since we moved to Ottawa, and it has been such a great ride.  I have had far more interactions with those in and near government, learning all kinds of stuff that is handy for my research, useful for my teaching and/or just plain fascinating.  I got in this business of professing mostly because I am intensely curious.  Being in a national capital let's me pursue that curiosity quite easily.

Indeed, some of my poker buddies now work in government, so I can tease them when I see them. 

Oh, and grandmaster (old folks) ultimate league is starting on Sunday, so maybe I will be able to play decent defense... or maybe not.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Generate This!

I have long been annoyed about generalizations about generations.  Millennials this and milliennials that!  Always reeks of the older folks saying "damn kids".  Speaking of generations makes sense only in terms of folks who have faced common experiences and thus have some shared perceptions/inclinations even though these shared properties are not as widely shared as averred.  So, yes, baby boomers made sense since they shared the experience of stressing the systems--the boom led to expansions of suburbs, of schools and then universities, and on and on. And they experienced, in the US anyway, Vietnam and all that came with it.

Generation x, my generation, was unified by what?  Other than contempt for the boomers?  Perhaps coming of age during the height of the AIDS epidemic?  What else?  The millennials have come of age in the aftermath of 9/11 and the Iraq War, so that might create some shared properties, as well as being the first truly online generation.

Why am I thinking about this?  Because of this tweet:

 Homeland generation?  What the hell?  What does that mean?  Eleven year olds today and those younger than them will be bonded by what?  Fears of terrorism? Maybe, but maybe not.  We don't really know what shared properties they will have because pre-teens do not really have the awareness of what unifies their generation.  Whatever unifies them hasn't happened to them yet.

And homeland generation?  Yuck cubed!  Surely, we can come up with a better name that might describe what they have in common?   The best I have thus far are:
  • Post-prequel as they will never really know the disappointment that was Phantom Menace and the rest.  Instead, they might be the Awakened Generation since they will all experience new Star Wars movies for the rest of their teens (and beyond!).
  • The Post-Trump Generation, as the new kids will grow up in a time where there are no limits on what politicians can say?
  • The Post-GOP Generation, as they grow up in a time where there is one big party and two fragments fighting for the scraps of the Republican Party?
  • The Super Anti-Boomers as this generation will be paying the price for the bad decisions of the past--climate change and all the rest.  
  • The Austerity Kids as they grapple with governments that have been cut to the bone, leading to reduced services, poor infrastructure, and the reality that the American dream is out of reach (damn, that is depressing).
I will stick with Post-Prequel since that is the most hopeful.  But as Doc Brown reminds us:

Update: We have a winner!!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

IR Full Female Profs of Color: Few and Far Between

Last week, I asked a question online that was asked of me and then I asked at the ISA two weeks ago:
Can you name women of color working in the US or Canada who do IR and are full professors?

 At the ISA, folks could only name one or two.  On twitter and facebook and my blog since then, the total has increased to eleven:
  • Neta Crawford of Boston University.
  • Condoleeza Rice, who was a full prof at Stanford before becoming provost and then worst National Security Adviser.
  • Jacqueline Braveboy Wagner, City College of New York.
  • Reeta Tremblay of U of Victoria.
  • L.H.M Ling of the New School.
  • Katherine Moon of Wellesley.
  • Zehra Arat of U of Connecticut
  • Christine Chin of American U
  • Saadia Pekkanen of U of Washington
  • Nazli Choucri of MIT
  • Sheila Nair of Northern Arizona U. 

Not great.  Sure, we could be missing a few, but this short list demonstrates the point that my friend was making: there are damn few role models/mentors in US/Canada IR for women who are not white.

One can quibble with the various modifiers/restrictions in the question:
  • what is IR?  I tended to exclude a few names of those who are experts on one country or an area and do not do foreign policy/international relations type questions.  I am sure we could get the list to be significantly longer if we included women who do one area of the world.  Indeed, some of the women above can be considered area studies people but have done some IR-ish stuff.  While the ISA is broadly inclusive so that it includes area studies people, the point of this exercise was about whether women who do IR might have mentors, not whether there are women who do IR or comparative.  Also, in the conversation I had with my friend, her concern was in part about the implicit and sometimes explicit expectations to be an expert in the area of the world her family comes from rather than being an expert on general IR stuff.  There is a tendency to push people of color to study stuff like an area of the world or race and ethnicity, whereas white people can be expected to study anything.
  • why US/Canada?  Well, the friend is in US/Canada North America and was pondering the availability of mentors.  There was no intent to diminish the contributions of women of color at schools in other parts of the world.   While the internet makes it possible to confer with people around the world, one is likely to meet up with people in the same region
  • why women of color?  That was the way it was put to me.  We could use other ways to talk about race, such as visible minority (the Canadian way to refer to these kinds of identities), but I stuck with the term that was most inclusive.  And identity is always tricky: are Arab Americans people of color?  Traditionally, not so much.  Since 9/11?  Maybe.  I asked a full prof I know whether she was a person of color and she said she was not, but understood how some might see her fit that category.  Anyhow, I was not aiming at perfect coding, but at getting a general idea, and the paucity of names is suggestive.

A quick look at this reveals a few patterns: no Latinas, three African-Americans and then Asian-Americans making the majority of the list.  So, yeah, there are few role models for African-American women and none for Latinas who want to do IR.  There are few women of color that undergraduates, grad students and junior profs can look to and think "well, they made it so maybe I can, too.""

Most of the women listed are post-positivist, which could mean either that women who do such work are more likely to make it through the leaky pipeline, or there might be an affinity for a particular kind of IR by women of color, or maybe sampling bias as one of my key sources of names knew these people because their work speaks to each other.

One Canadian, several in the Northeast/New England area, a few from the West Coast, and nothing in between or down south.  So, if you want to meet your mentor, it means traveling for most folks.

How do we "fix" this?  How do we have more women full professors of color in IR?  Obviously, whatever barriers exist to promoting women and people of color need to be broken down.  I used to work at a university where there was an apparent barrier between associate and full, and that helped to perpetuate the gender imbalance.  Indeed, in Canada anyway, it seems like the process to become tenured is far easier than becoming Full even though the former means lifetime employment and the latter might mean a raise.  In the US?   I don't know.  But there has been stuff written on the leaky pipeline, so we need to find the leaks and plug them, including discrimination in citation patterns and in listings on syllabi and differential service obligations (women end up doing more service, which may not help them get promoted).

A different friend of mine told me at the ISA that none of the female associates have received outside offers, and all of the male associate profs in her department have received such offers even though the women have better research scores.  How does that happen?  Such a perfect (and awful) correlation of gender and opportunities?  Getting outside offers is one way for people to get promoted faster, and it seems at least in that one case (more survey work required) one key tool to fast promotion has been denied.  So, perhaps one way to deal with this problem is to make sure that senior searches take seriously the full range of candidates and not just the first names that come to mind?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Figuring Out Trump

Mrs. Spew and I were chatting over dinner, and we realized that Trump and his "Mexico will build the wall" claims is perhaps the highest form of Underwear Gnome Theory:

Which, of course, led to the some semi-wild speculations:
  • Is Donald Trump actually an underwear gnome?  That his first step is making outlandish claims and his goal is world domination, but how he gets there, he does not know?
  • That Donald Trump is actually a tool, perhaps even a robot, of the underwear gnomes?  It would explain much since his programming kind of sucks (see transcripts of his WashPo, NYT interviews).
  • That Trump is neither gnome nor tool of gnomes, but considers South Park to be the best source of strategy?  This would explain his constant use of the Chewbacca Defense.
Indeed, if the key to understanding Trump can be found in old South Park episodes, we can surely expect that Trump will blame Canada during the fall campaign, out Tom Cruise and Kanye West, feed Bill Clinton to Hillary, and then perhaps send some marionettes to North Korea.

To be clear, if Trump does not do these things, it probably means that he is, indeed, a robot created by the Underwear Gnomes.  Yep, it is time to remain ever vigilant about one's underwear.

Reality of Reading

I often choose not to read stuff that I know is bad.  Usually, that means not reading Robert Kaplan.  In this case, I am not hot to read the Trump interviews with the WashPo or NYT.  Why?  Because I don't need to read the incredibly dumb and shallow. Twitter is good enough for giving me the highlights.

Why not?  Because I have heaps to read, so why waste time on stuff that is wrong or uninformative?

I have realized that I have four reading speeds:
  • Fiction.  I can read a good piece of fiction very quickly.  Only the length of a Lee Child book slows me down at all.  I could finish a Robert B. Parker book in a day.  Sob.
  • Internet.  I can and do read heaps of blog posts and articles quickly as I bop around the internet.  Not as fast as reading fiction but not slow either.
  • History. I can read historical stuff pretty quickly as long as it is well written.
  • Academic stuff.  I was never fast, but now I am pretty slow reading journal articles and books that are aimed at the academic audience.  I need to work on this, as I am woefully behind.
  • Grading.  It is amazing how slow I read when I grade.  Not great.  Oh, and reviewing fits in here as well.
Of course, the correlation is this: that which takes discipline and focus is harder.  Who would have thunk it?

Mocking the Senate Judiciary Committee

Brian McFadden has a nice take on the folks blocking consideration of Obama's Supreme Court nominee:

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Rabble Rouser? Moi?

I had an epiphany that would surprise few followers of the Spew: I am a rabble rouser.  I wasn't always this way.  Sure, I would whine and be outraged, but other than annoying those closest to me, it had little impact.  I was never much of an activist.

I went to all of one protest in my four years at Oberlin, where protests were aplenty.  And that protest was pretty spontaneous:  we were annoyed at the OC Republicans for arranging Ronald Reagan Appreciation Day somewhere around 1986.  It was trolling before trolling was cool.  Oh, and the guy leading it was Jacob Heilbrunn of the National Interest.

The difference between before and now is, of course, the internet.  My whining/complaining/outraging now gets read by between one to seven thousand and eight people (the ISA blogging mess) via the Spew or 7,120 twitter followers.  Another difference: folks have noticed and feed me stuff to get me outraged and then to spew..  The ISA blogging ban was the most obvious case.  My question this week about female full professors of color in IR is another. 

I am sure that my friends and colleagues in my various departments along the way are not surprised as I don't have much of a filter (although ISA is handy for running into people who make me feel restrained by comparison).  I generally don't mean to start up a ruckus, but when I learn stuff while online, I tend to blog and tweet about what I learn.  And then sometimes a ruckus ensues.  Sometimes one post leads to a reaction and then to another.  Perhaps it is also because there is so much silly stuff on the net that I have more reactions that turn into rabble rousing.

Anyhow, today I realized that there is a bit of a pattern here.  What to do about it?  Probably not much, as the world continues to provide stuff to trigger the Semi-Spew.  We shall see where this modicum of self-awareness goes.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

ISA 2016 Not So Trivial Game

I was asked by a friend at the ISA the following question: name a couple of female women of color who are full professors and scholars of IR.

And I was flummoxed.  I had no names to give.  I did ask around at the ISA and tended to get one or two names.  With a bit of crowd-sourcing on twitter and somewhat broad criteria, we have three:
Who am I missing?  I asked around at the ISA, and I didn't get any other names than the top three.  If we only include American schools, that is it.  For now.  I am sure there are some others out there, maybe at liberal arts colleges.

But it points to the larger problems: that there are still not that many women who are full professors as there is the leaky pipeline that means that women who enter the field may not make it to the highest rank; and there are not that many people of color in IR.  Those that do enter political science are often directed to, pardon the phrase, ghettos of either race and ethnicity in American politics (and those folks don't tend to engage the comparativists who do ethnic politics stuff) or some area of the world with which they are identified.  Even when one does not go that direction, they still get pushed:
 My friend is of Chinese descent so when she serves on her program's admissions committee, she is asked to look at the files of for those interested in Chinese politics even though she has never studied it nor is all that interested in it. 
So, while there are more women doing IR and more tenured women, there are few at the most senior levels and very few who are not white.  So, women of color have few role models and mentors.  And that sucks.

This page has been and will be updated as people tell me what I missed/messed up.

Update:  Thus far, the new names listed tend to be post-positivist people and/or mostly area studies people.  One thing my friend noticed is that people of color are expected to study "their" region so we have few people who have never written about the part of the world with which they are identified.  Some things to think about.  Oh, and so far, the new names are Asian-Americans but no Latinas and only the three African-Americans that started the list.  So, there are some role models but not many.

Monday, March 21, 2016

McMess McDaily

The McGill Daily covered the sexual harassment at McGill story.  However, it did so more obliquely than I did by citing my being oblique and not mentioning my less than oblique references.  Indeed, the online story does not link to my post.  I guess many interested McG observers have already been to my post, given the number of hits it has received.

I have reactions to two other parts of the story:
  • the focus
  • the discussion of punishment
In terms of focus, the discussion in the piece focuses on prof-undergrad relationships although it eventually gets to the prof-grad student problem.  Two problems with this: a) the person in question harassed grad students and not undergrads (as far as I know) which made him safe to be the department's Director of Undergraduate Studies (?!) until his sabbatical; and b) "relationship" suggests a level of consent and friendliness that did not exist.  Coercion was this guy's game with threats a key part of his strategy.  While consensual relationships between prof and student are very problematic, as the article argues quite well, the offender here needs to be called out for not just seeking inappropriate relationships but using his position to bully students into giving in or dropping out.

Regarding the punishment, the article asserts that fired profs can go elsewhere and commit again.  Probably not.  This is not the Catholic Church in Spotlight where there are many jobs that the hierarchy can shuffle around.  In academia, a fired prof has a much lower chance of being hired by someone else (University Presidents are another matter entirely).  The market is brutal enough that someone who is fired for sexual harassment is just not going to be hired again.  Again, the primary responsibility of the university is to protect its students, so leaving a serial harasser in place is simply the wrong choice.  The problem is not that the guy can go elsewhere, but rather gaining the evidence that serial harassment has occurred and then the university having the willingness to do what is right.  The problem during my time at McGill was the latter.  The problem today, given what I have been told about the folks who are making the decisions now, is probably the former.  Either way, what the article gets very right is that the university's handling of the situation discourages students from filing grievances.

Oh, and the article does not name who was the provost at the time that the case was blown by the university.  He is no longer provost, but is still at McGill.

Fieldwork is Like Comedy

Researching the NATO book (and consequently Adapting) involved many moments of good timing and only a few badly timed efforts. 

When I visited Germany in June 2009, the Bundestag was going through the process of approving NATO's deployment of Airborne Warning and Control Systems [AWACS] planes to Afghanistan.  While it meant I had less time with the Lt. Colonel I wanted to talk to, I got to see the process play out before me that week.

When I visited the Netherlands in February of 2011, the Dutch were considering a police training mission to send to Kunduz after having the regular forces leave Uruzguan the previous year.  The fun part of Dutch decision making is that there always seem to be heaps of uncertainty until the votes are actually cast.  I learned a lot of their Article 100 procedure by seeing it applied while I happened to be in The Hague. 

I happened to bump into a crowd of Parisians seeking a view of
the Obamas while they shopped.
Neither trip was planned to occur simultaneously with a major decision process, but both worked out far better because of it.  Until now, the only really negative timing was my trip to Paris in 2011 (part of the trip to Germany).  My friend from the Joint Staff had moved on to be the defense attache for the US to France, so I thought he could hook me up with contacts.  Nope, he was busy running around preparing for Obama's visit which happened at the same time.  So, the trip went fine (his assistants recommended a very lousy hotel) as I got much of what I needed from people I had contacted.  But it could have been smoother, easier, more fun.  The timing was also bad in the trip was during the last few days of my friend's tour in Paris.

Anyhow, overall, I have been lucky until now.  I was supposed to go to Brazil in April as part of the next big project.  No, it is not Zika that is causing me to cancel the trip but severe political problems that will mean few opportunities to talk to Brazilian politicians.  A constitutional crisis will do that.... alas.

The good news is that this grant lasts five years, and I will have time to do this trip down the road.  Tis disappointing, but my luck ran out, and I have been mighty lucky until now. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Star Wars and IR Panel

We had a good time today with five papers addressing the relationships between pop culture and international relations.  I have a storify and two vines of the event:

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Quick ISA BDS Update

ISA is pretty busy so I cannot blog much for now.  The key news from the Governing Council yesterday, besides the idea that Paul Diehl should always run these meetings (great job!), is that the BDS item was not added to the agenda.

It lost 27-18.  It will probably come back and there is no guarantee that the votes will not change.  I think a particular problem with this proposal was how deceptive it was: saying that they just wanted to talk about it but including a deadline for a decision.  That and saying that the APSA was considering it when it was not.

An effort to get a non-discrimination clause added to ISA failed and was sent to committee as the BDS folks didn't want language about not discriminating against institutions and they found enough support from those who thought the non-discrimination language needed to be better.  Apparently, ISA does not have any non-discrimination clauses except as applied to where to hold the conventions. 

So, the battle at the committee and then next year will be focused in part on whether to add citizenship to the protected classes (race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origin [ethnicity is not included but will be, I am sure]) and whether institutions will be included.  Oh, and the BDS fans will bring it back.

I do love the shifting arguments: Israel is apartheid and we sanctioned apartheid -> oops, ISA didn't sanction South African educational institutions but they should have.  And on and on.

As I said, Israel cannot be democratic and Jewish as things are going; and if people want to boycott Israel, they can.  But ISA as an academic entity seeking to facilitate discussion and research should not be in the business of excluding academics and their institutions [possible exception would be academics and institutions that commit specific crimes--Doctor Mengele and his medical would be excluded...]. 

But I will not be involved next year as I will not be on the Governing Council.  Good luck to next year's crew.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Because It Is the Right Thing

In the aftermath of some posts of the past week and related discussion at the place where political scientists engage in anonymous discussions, folks have questioned my motives.  Of course.   I do not need to defend myself, but I do like to myth-bust when I can, so here are some alleged motivations and then my real motivation.
  • "Saideman hates people who are pro-Palestinian."  No.  I am not a fan of the BDS effort, but I am neither pro or anti Palestinian or pro or anti-Israel.  This conflict, like many others, is intractable for a variety of reasons, with people on both sides doing good and bad things. I have already written elsewhere about the choice Israel is facing is to be Jewish or democratic but not both....
  • "Saideman is bitter about McGill."  No, not really.  I actually really enjoyed my first seven years there, and then the last three or so were problematic.  But my problems were focused on the Chair and the Full professors, and that old chair is no longer in a leadership position, and the barriers to Full-ness have been overcome by the forces of reason (the Associate professors). Oh, and the tricky thing: RB was one of the few Fulls who took my side in the Promotion fiascoes, so this argument does not fly.  Also, as distance grows between my time at McGill and the present, I have grown to focus more on all of the good stuff and not so much on the negative stuff with this one key exception.
  • Saideman is white-knighting.  This is the classic misogynist accusation whenever a man stands up for women--that he is doing it to impress women and/or to get laid.  
  • Saideman is seeking attention since no one reads/cites his stuff.  While I am an admitted narcissist and attention seeker, this is not my intent.  If I wanted to get heaps of hits on my blog, I would simply attack the same two political scientists over and over again (I try to restrict those posts to once or twice a year).  While the anonymous folks might not believe it, I am pretty happy where I am--there are always bigger fish a not-so-wise Jedi once said.  So, I could be cited more or less.  
The obvious reason is, of course, I am outraged.  Why?  Because I believe in equality of people regardless of gender, sexuality, race, etc.  Where did this belief come from? 
  1. Mostly because it is simply right.  
  2. Partly because my mother instilled that belief in me and then my wife and daughter remind me.  
  3. Partly because I went to Oberlin which made me confront my sexism and my homophobia.  
  4. Partly because I am a scholar of ethnic conflict and, as a result, know the destruction that comes with discrimination.  
  5. Partly because I have supervised many students and worry about how the world will treat them. 
  6. Partly because I have seen plenty of sexism over the course of my career.
  7. And, like dodging in dodgeball, it is worth mentioning twice: equality is simply right.  We are deserving of equal treatment.  That discrimination exists is, well, basic to social psychology (thanks Donald Horowitz), but we don't have to tolerate it nor should we.   

Sunday, March 13, 2016

McGill Mess Progress Report

It has been a week since I wrote this piece about McGill's shame.  It has gotten a heap of attention--2.5k hits--which is a lot for a Spew post.  I have received emails, facebook messages, phone calls, etc from current and former McG students thanking me for outing RB (my "subtlety" in my original post was not that subtle) and/or citing other examples of sexual harassment.  The questions I have received from two McG student newspapers suggests that the problem is pervasive.

My guess is that this is going to blow up a smidge this week as both student newspapers are working on stories on this, and this comes in the aftermath of other incidents over the past year or more.

Besides telling students to avoid RB, what can one do?  I have been willing to talk to the McMedia to suggest that serial sexual harassment should be a firing offense.  Tenure is to protect academic freedom, not to protect the pathologies of professors who prey upon students.  What got me pissed off last weekend was the realization that nothing had changed.

The penalties--not being able to work with grad students and being forced to work in the main building instead of the more remote office (where one could prey without as many witnesses)--have evaporated.  Whatever other punishment was too invisible to notice and apparently not to deter.

It comes down to this: how do institutions protect their students?  Or is it rather how to protect their institutions rather than protecting the students?  Brock University is undergoing a similar set of events: insisting on confidentiality may be good at protecting the school but sucks in terms of preventing students from being victimized.  Unless the perpetrator can change his ways, how can students be protected?  Either constantly monitor the prof (unworkable), out the prof (probably not sufficient), keep the prof away from students entirely, or fire the prof.

In the US, academic institutions have also been reluctant to investigate these situations.  However, the existence of Title IX and the use of it by students and groups can force universities to take these issues seriously and worry more about the students and less about protecting university reputations.

I will provide updates as I learn more about McGill's reactions/policies. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Silly Backlashes and Enduring Realities

Much discussion in Canada today of the Trudeau visit to DC.  There is some grumbling about the flash and style of the Obama-Trudeau lovefest.  And this could be the silliest backlash ever.  Trudeau and Obama apparently get along.  Um, isn't that good news for Canada?

Yes, as a political scientist, I am required to argue that structures, institutions, and organizations matter and personality does not.  But the reality is that personality does matter, as I learned working in Rumsfeld's Pentagon.  That Harper and Obama had a lousy relationship was visible to everyone made a difference in the two countries' getting stuff done.

To be sure, interests matter, lobbies matter, and all that, so no matter the pairing of President and PM, US-Canada relations are never going to be either perfect or horrid.  Even when Harper and Obama did not get along much, the border was open, business was conducted, and the two countries fought alongside each other and supported each other in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere.

But personal relationships do matter in international relations.  Positive ones lubricate the gears of the interactions, and lousy ones put sand into the bilateral machinery.  There was quite a list of stuff, mostly medium level and below, that came out of the various meetings.  Summits are like academic conferences: they create artificial deadlines that force the relevant actors to make progress.  And it seems like some progress was made.

Of course, the Canadian Conservatives will pooh-pooh the outpouring of love for JT because it is their job and because they don't remember what it is like to have a leader who is, um, likeable and well liked.  There is more to US-Canadian relations than Trudeau's good looks and charisma, but it does not hurt to have someone who is likable to be the primary representative of Canada in the world.

The bigger tests are ahead--will Trudeau stay in message and not faux pas along the way?  Even the most experienced can mess up (see Hillary Clinton and her comments on Nancy Reagan).  And the substance will eventually outweigh the style stuff, as it always does.  But the style and message--that diversity is good, that we don't have much to fear--is pretty damned positive and what is wrong with that?

Well played, with lousy camera work.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Trudeau's Visit to the US

There is much one can say about all of the hoopla.  I liked playing the Canadian version of "Where's Waldo?" by trying to spot Roland Paris in the various pics.

But instead, I will just post what I think is the best pic of the week:
Malia giving thumbs up to Sasha as she talks to Deadpool.

Just a great pic.

And congrats to the Trudeau team for being just so damn likable.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Lessons Unlearned: Ottawa Distracted by Squirrels Again

This captures the gist of many defence/foreign policy debates.  The latest one: are the Canadian Forces doing combat in Iraq?  I got sucked into this discussion last year, and probably didn't help it much.

To say that the CF is or is not doing combat is a distraction.  It can be fun to play word games, but having permission to shoot first or second is really not the most important question these days.

This is interesting:
“The rules of engagement allow Canadian Forces to defend themselves, [to] anticipate their defence so that they can engage a hostile act or ... intent before it materializes,” Gen. Vance told the Commons defence committee.
But it ain't that important.  What would be important is if the Canadian Special Operations Forces were engaging in raids (not that we can tell).  Or that the trainers we are deploying might be embedded and engaged in significant offensive operations alongside Kurdish/Iraqi Security Forces.  But they are not.  This is not Afghanistan where Omelets (Observer Mentor Liaison Teams) were fairly standard procedure (although countries varied in the rules they operated under). 

So, what would be the important questions?
  • How does training the Kurds help kick ISIS out of Iraq if the Kurds are not likely to be willing to fight very far beyond the territories they claim (Kurdistan)?
  • How does training the Iraqi Security Forces work?  Will we be training those that work alongside the Iranian militias?  Will folks we train be better able to engage in ethnic cleansing?
  • How do we know that the Iraqi military forces will be used well or poorly by the Iraqi government?
  • All this training might not mean that much unless the Iraqi government finds some way to credibly assure the Sunnis and Kurds that the government will not abuse its power .... again.  What role can Canada play in that?
I am having flashbacks to Afghanistan and the detainee issue.  Yes, being accused of war crimes was significant but should not have dominated the parliamentary discussions the way it did (see the handy figures in Adapting in the Dust).  The questions should have been focused on whether the effort was adapting sufficiently to changes on the ground (nope), the challenges of working with those who abused power (the Karzai family), the relationship between Canada's objectives in Kandahar and the larger war effort, etc.

But, no, tis easier to look and see SQUIRREL!

Monday, March 7, 2016

BDS and the ISA

There is a proposal to discuss the Boycott/Divest/Sanction effort against Israel at the International Studies Association meeting.  I am not thrilled.  Why?  Despite being critical of how Israel has handled the Palestinians and despite being very critical of its current political leadership, I am opposed to this effort because who is supposed to do the targeting, of who it targets, the questionable effort at the moment, and my desire not to be embroiled in an endless contentious meeting.  I think one can be a critic of Israel without being anti-semitic, by the way, although one can be both or neither.

To be clear, the proposal is here, and the key text is:

Working backwards, the Governing Council of the ISA meets for about 6 hours the day before the conference really kicks off to discuss a variety of matters including examining the finances, approving the next slate of committee representations, considering how the organization is organized, approving of new sections and caucuses (I am on the GC this year since my proposal for a new Online Media Caucus survived the approval process last year, unlike two other would-be sections), and on and on.

This long meeting has been moderately contentious each year I have been on or near it (the last two years) because of representation problems--two years ago, it was about the apparent segregation of men and women in the more respected, more visible committee spots and the less respected, less visible. Last year, it was about the new Sapphire series that seemed mighty white and male.  I was guessing that this year the representation fight would be over the slate of officers that were nominated--mighty white.  These representation issues are always taken seriously because the organization does not want to be either deliberately or accidentally excluding people.  Well, BDS is aimed at exclusion, and has already started creating much tension and contention, so I can only guess that a BDS discussion at the ISA GC would be pretty damned contentious.  And I would rather not have this long meeting be longer still due to the competing sides arguing about how best to exclude Israeli academics.

The effort is questionable, in my mind, since the item that is being pushed on the agenda is simply to discuss BDS.  Uh huh.  Sure, the proponent just wants us to talk about it because we academics like to talk about stuff.  No, it is clearly trying to get a proposal to have the ISA boycott/sanction (pretty sure ISA does not have much in the way of stocks invested in Israeli companies) Israel.  Under the guise of just wanting to foster discussion, the proponent wants to have ISA BDS Israel.  I would say that is not kosher, but well anyway.  This is not the only deceptive tactic used here as the proposal also says this stuff is being considered by the American Political Science Association, which it is not, if one means the official organization.  Oh, and, just because other organizations do something, does not make it good or right in general or good/right for the ISA.
  • If the concern is about academic freedom for those who advocate BDS, the organization already supports academic freedom so this proposal is unnecessary.
  • If the concern is that people want to discuss BDS during meetings of the ISA, such as having panels or roundtables on the topic, there is no policy or prohibition stopping people from organizing such stuff.
  • But the key is the line "foster careful consideration of an appropriate position for ISA to assume."  This is what these folks desire and they have a deadline--a year long discussion where I guess they want a referendum of some kind at the end.  Interesting tactic, but why a year?  Why not two years?  How about we talk about it until we figure it out, no matter how long it takes? 

Who would it ultimately target?  Well, since the ISA is an academic institution, this BDS effort would be aimed at Israeli universities and those who work there (the BDS movement has evolved from directly targeting individuals but clearly individuals would be affected.  To say otherwise is, alas, problematic).  Are the professors at these institutions universally supportive of the government and its policies towards the Palestinians?  Probably not.  More importantly, these folks are not the government of Israel or businesses propping up the government.  One could argue that they are part of the military-industrial-academic complex, but that is a stretch.  If people want to boycott Israeli businesses or not play in the equivalent of Sun City, that is on them.  But blocking academic interchange with Israel's academics?  No, I cannot support that.  While I am not a fan of slippery slope arguments, it is not clear why Israel is targeted and not heaps of other places where there is significant repression: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, Trump's America, etc.

Finally, the ISA is an association aimed at facilitating exchanges of ideas among those who study international stuff.  It is not primarily a business nor is it a lobbying group (the APSA is a lobby for the interests of political scientists in the US).  Unless we want to start picking and choosing who can participate, which is pretty much antithetical to the essence of the organization, BDS is really not something that the ISA should be doing.

Obviously, people disagree quite a bit on this, but this is my take, and this is why I don't want to see the item placed on the agenda.  It does not belong on the ISA's agenda.  There are plenty of organizations out there to push for the Palestinian cause(s). ISA is not one of them. 

One last note: as a scholar, the more I learn about the BDS movement, the more I learn about how activists evolve and organize.  Impressive stuff.  This is not just one person's idea to talk about stuff, but part of a larger effort to create either a real broad based movement or the appearance of one.