Today is the 7th Anniversary of Saideman's Semi-Spew. Woot! I guess I should get the blog either some wool or copper (tradition) or a desk set (modern).
It has been an interesting adventure. I started out mostly just talking to myself, trying to clarify some ideas and respond to the news of the day. A few months into it, I joined twitter and started posting links to the blog, which meant that folks other than my family started reading my stuff. For a few years, I was posting four items a day, some short and some incredibly short. I find myself tweeting more and blogging less, although twitter still informs the blog, as it gives me stuff to react to--either conversations on twitter or links to pieces that draw my ire. I used to think that a constant flow of much would help generate audience and keep it, but I learned that the content is what matters and that twitter/facebook can advertise the blog as well or better than heaps of pieces.
I have no regrets about the name, as Steve's Peeves would have been entirely too negative. And I love alliteration despite what various writing guides. I am not sure the look of the blog is that great (I envy Pete Trumbore's)--I have been reluctant to change the look for fear of screwing things up too much. I know my style of blog-writing borrows heavily from the stuff that I have read, with Dan Drezner's blogging over the years probably the most influential.
I find it wonderfully appropriate that my first post was about a couple of things that kept coming up: generalizing and policy relevance. My second post was about ultimate! My third made a promise that I didn't keep--that I would steal the question asked of the president as a running theme--how am I surprised, troubled, enchanted, and humbled by various things. I will say that over the years, I have been:
surprised at where blogging has taken me. It has led to more policy writing at various outlets (mostly Canadian and mostly military/alliance stuff).
troubled by the impact it has had on my academic writing. I love blogging because it does not require reviewing the literature or appeasing reviewers. Well, academic writing still requires that stuff and so when I write academic articles, I sometimes get smacked around for not doing that stuff or, dare I say it, writing too informally.
enchanted by the interactions that blogging (and twitter) has produced with people around the world, in and out of academia.
humbled by the reality that people read this stuff that is poorly edited (lots of spelling mistakes and typos in old Spews) and sometimes poorly thought out. When people say that they read my blog, I tend to blush and stammer, which is not how I react when someone tells me that they have read my books or articles. Perhaps it is precisely because this stuff is not edited, not reviewed and often the first thing that pops out of my head in the morning (or evening).
Blogging has gotten me deeper into a variety of issues than otherwise would have been the case, such as voterfraudfraud, public engagement and policy relevance,concussions, academic freedom, and Harry Potter (ok, that last one was a pre-blogging thing, too).
I am most grateful not just for this week's recognition but also for the comments on the Spew, via twitter or on my facebook page. And, yes, I'd like to thank the academy.
I responded to news that General Mattis is not running as an independent with a woot! Why? Well, I discussed it a bit here, but I will elaborate a bit. I was asked whether it was about the man or a categorical objection (as Cullen Hendrix put it nicely). The answer is yes.
First, let me address the man. General Mattis may be a great guy, and he sure is a great quote. But his statements both as an officer and as a retired officer bother me. They might be fine for commanding soldiers into battle, but not for a President. Patton was a great wartime general, but no one (with any sense of reason) would want him to be President. And, yes, Mattis is very conservative, which is why he is appealing to his fans and not so much to me. I did suggest that he might be a smidge authoritarian. Well, that is his persona (and also a characteristic of military officers, according to the various surveys by Peter Feaver and others). Whether Mattis believes it or not, I cannot tell. But I wouldn't want someone at anytime whose primary characteristic is as an ass-kicker as President.
Second, Mattis is a Marine, and I am not too fond of the Marines these days. Well, their leadership. Why? Mostly because of how things played out in Afghanistan.
One of the principle problems with the NATO effort was that there was little unity of command (a key military principle). Instead, you had each contingent fighting under different rules (see ye olde book, now out in paperback). But putting aside the alliance, the US had a chain of command that was compared to a plate of spaghetti, as you had a war in CENTCOM's region run by NATO (which is led by a different American four star officer than the one running CENTCOM), and Special Operations Forces reporting directly back to their commanders in Tampa. In 2009, under General McChrystal (he was not all bad), they created the IJC (ISAF Joint Command) to clean this up so that the Americans in ISAF would be under the same command structure as the rest of the alliance. The Marines, when they reinforced the US and NATO troops as part of the surge, were not willing to put themselves into the IJC command structure, and instead reported directly through to Marine commanders at CENTCOM (I could be slightly off on some of the details but the basic thrust is right). So, all that effort to clean up the command structure went poof.
The second problem the always seeking autonomy Marines imposed on the mission was insisting on going to Helmand instead of Kandahar. Helmand made sense to them because it meant they would not have to split the key building block of the Marine Expeditionary Force [MEF]. They could occupy a space and not really have to cooperate with others. This was very problematic since the Commander-in-Chief (President Obama) had agreed to a surge that was population centric, and, alas, the population that needed some surging was not in Helmand (lots of poppies, not that many people) but in Kandahar. This didn't happen under Mattis but Mattis allowed it to persist when he was CENTCOM commander. And as the major figure among the very few three and four star Marines, he might have been able to have some influence on this deployment. Anyhow, in my eyes, the Marines were insubordinate in this time frame. Why? Because they didn't want to break apart their MEF and because they did not want to work with others. Indeed, Regional Command South encompassed all of Southern Afghanistan until the Marines came, and then they got to have their own RC-Southwest with the Brits and Danes but not the pesky Canadians or US Army units in Kandahar. [Yes, I have read the stuff that says that the Canadians didn't want help in Kandahar, but that is a load of crap.] The result of all of this is that Marines died in Helmand in significant numbers, but they were needed in Kandahar.
Is Mattis tainted by this? In my opinion, yes. Again, 3-4 star Marines are a small club, and they pushed for policies that were good for the Marines and bad for the mission. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates regrets not doing more about this in his memoir, but does not really address it adequately. Sure, winning in Afghanistan depended far more on Pakistan and President Karzai, but this stuff did not help the effort. More importantly, as I said above, it was insubordinate.
Third, my opposition to generals as Presidents is somewhat categorical. Yes, people immediately threw Ike in my face, but Ike and George Washington were not the typical generals/presidents. They both had a healthy concern/suspicion about the role of the military in politics--see Ike's military-industrial complex speech. Andrew Jackson is viewed by historians far better than recent $20 bill discussions. Another two-term General was Ulysses S. Grant, and he was awful. Most of the other Generals->Presidents were one terms or less (they tended to die! Harrison, Taylor and Garfield). And Ike was also different from Mathis as Ike ran an alliance, dealing with Churchill, De Gaulle, Roosevelt, Montgomery, Patton and on and on. So, it was not just about command but other skills that are important for a President.
The problem with having military leaders as presidents is that the skill sets are not the same. Yes, modern military officers are well trained in management (they understand principal-agent problems!), but Presidents cannot simply command, they must persuade, bargain and influence. Military officers have risen to the highest levels in an environment that emphasizes order and authority, which makes them usually pretty lousy at disorder and the messy life of politics. Again, people will throw Ike at me, but they forget that Ike stands out as the only General to become President in the 20th century. Much more common for that kind of thing in the 1800s, which was a very different time.
Which leads me to the fourth reason why I don't want a general now in the White House. We live in a time of diminished institutions--the Presidency, the Courts and the Congress are at their lowest levels of respect. Handing over power to someone from a rival institution with much more popular respect (we have to support the troops, which means let's not criticize the military) would be a bad move right now. Especially in a time of fear of terrorism and rising xenophobia. I just find it dangerous to grab onto a military guy at a time where the country is facing such division. It is tempting since the military is a national institution so someone with that background might be seen as a unifying force. But we ought not be seduced. It might work out rather well, but it could also be quite awful. I think 21st century democracies are better off with the senior military folks (retired or active) having little role to play in politics. I guess I am just strange that way.
The media keeps asking me if the defence review is pre-baked. That is, whether the Liberal government already knows what it is going to do and whether the roundtables are a sham, mostly to make it look like they are taking the experts seriously.
I honestly don't know since the folks in the government are not telling me of their plans. I will say this: having a wide array of people offering their views will mean that the Defence Minister and his advisers will have many conflicting opinions sent their way. How will they choose which threats are the most important? Which capabilities seem to be the ones that are required? Which strategies make the most sense? The possibilities are:
the decision-makers may find that there is some consensus and go with that.
the decision-makers will find some arguments to be so convincing that they will go with those stances
the decision-makers will find a sea of noise and will pick out from the noise the stuff that resonates best. That is, their pre-existing beliefs may shape what they listen to.
How will an outsider tell which one this is? Well, this outsider is not going to have the testimony and reports from all of the roundtables and other inputs into the process, so I will have no idea.
The best way to tell if the Defence Review is meaningful if it actually advocates for hard decisions to be made and then those hard decisions are actually made (which I have said before). If the review serves as a focal point and a framing device to managing the tradeoffs that have largely been kicked down the road, then it is a meaningful effort. Sure, having roundtables in strange places sends confusing signals, but the only way to evaluate the Defence Review is after it takes place and after we get the results. It is kind of like evaluating the NFL draft before it takes place, when we will only really know who did well and who did poorly a few years from now.
One of the great things about Carleton is that the institution, and especially the Faculty of Public Affairs [FPA] (what Americans would label the College of Public Affairs), recognizes folks for what they do. Yesterday, the FPA handed out a variety of awards including:
I received the award for Public Commentary! I am most grateful for this recognition of my work in this area. They gave me a chance to say a few words so I noted the timing:
that is nearly 20 years (June 1996) when I had my most regrettable media appearance:
There was a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia, and I was working in
Lubbock, Texas and the TV folks asked: could it happen here? Given that the attack in Oklahoma City was
just three years earlier, I said yes. They asked: where?I
said where people gather—mall, airport, university.With much enthusiasm, they asked VA hospital?I said no. That night they led the news with professor says it can happen here
with video of people strolling through mall/airport/university. The punchline is that five years later, after I had moved
on, I got an email the day after 9/11 from a friend who blamed me for Lubbock
closing the mall that day.
I received the award two days before the sixth anniversary of this blog.
I then explained why I do so much public commentary:
Because of my
relentless thirst for attention as the youngest in my family?Sure.But more importantly, I have long felt an obligation, a responsibility,
to take what I have learned and share it, not just with my students and my
colleagues in the profession but beyond.In the US, there are lots of debates about policy relevance of
International Relations scholarship.It
pops up here too. I think the stuff that I do is relevant, and say so not so quietly. I feel that engaging in
public commentary via a variety means is something we need to do, especially if
we receive grants from public agencies.
One of the reasons I moved to Carleton and to NPSIA was that a policy school would value this kind of stuff that I do. And, given this award, I guess I was right. So, I ended my few words by thanking my students, my colleagues, the Dean and the folks in the Dean's office.
My sabbatical starts July 1st. It will be my second one, as my various moves have cost me some credits (places that offer sabbaticals usually require six or so years in place, and give only modest credits for time spent elsewhere).
I am cleaning up my office today as I am finished with grading, and am awaiting a Carleton Faculty of Public Affairs event (more on that tomorrow or tonight). Someone may end up occupying my office while I am working out of my house and out of various hotels (Japan for six weeks!) so I thought I would create a bit of space and clean up my mess. And, yes, I will need another day or so to do it.
Anyhow, I am not yet footloose and fancy free as I still have to show up at meetings and do other on-campus stuff until July 1st. Yet I can smell the sabbatical. What does it smell like? This is where sabbaticals are like love potions--they smell like the things one loves.
So, with about two months before the real sabbatical starts, I can just get hint of chocolate chip cookies baking, combined with cinnamon rolls and, of course, beer.
Consider this the first of many "woot, I am on sabbatical" posts that will make me even more insufferable.
I spent this afternoon talking to Canadian radio stations across the country (yes, it pays pretty well, unlike most media opportunities) about Trump's speech today. What did I learn from waiting for and then watching that mess of a speech?
H/T to Pete Trumbore for
Trump either does not listen to his advisers or has crappy speechwriters. It was almost as if two speechwriters had a war as almost every line contradicted the previous one: dump allies but Trump will be a better ally; make nice with China but cut their trade deficit with the US.
His speechwriters suck at history too, given the America First theme. Yep, the last time we had that was when folks were trying to keep the US out of World War II, including Charles Lindbergh and other folks that might be considered Nazi sympathizers.
Trump's spinners said ahead of time that the speech would not have details. So, yeah, that was perhaps the one bit of truth. The speech contained many lies including the notion that the US does not investigate and document the backgrounds of refugees that are taken in. This ain't Ellis Island...
Trump said US foreign policy went off the rails after Reagan, which was strange since the 1990s was actually pretty good for the US--peace and prosperity for most of the decade.
Trump talked about the US being humiliated. Only by your success, Donald.
That GW Bush was able to pass the bar of being competent enough at foreign policy suggests that the American people might give Trump a pass as well. Good thing Trump is alienating women, African-Americans, Latinos and educated people....
Anyhow, it was a fun afternoon despite having to pay the price of listening to the same Trump clip a dozen times.