Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Are We There Yet? Civ-Mil Crisis, That Is

A friend asked on facebook whether Mattis's decision to hold off on Trump's ban of transgender folks in the US military counts as a crisis in civil-military relations.  Here is what I said:

There are civ-mil crises, and there are civ-mil crises.  Intra-civ crises over how to govern the military can be civ-mil crises if the mil takes sides.   So, if SecDef were a civilian like Gates or others, yes, this would count. That it is Mattis, who is really a general (sorry, recent retirement doesn't count for me, too much mindset is the same), yeah, this is a civ-mil crisis, because the top civilian has made a decisions that the generals are not implementing [conditional on whether the Trump orders actually contradict what Mattis is doing--I don't know the legalities of that].  When McMaster and Petraeus didn't do population centric counterinsurgency as Obama wanted, that was a crisis in civil-military relations, one that Gates bungled.

Of course, one qualifier: there is no consensus on what counts as a civ-mil crisis. Generally, the idea is that if the civs have preference A and mil has preference B, and then B happens, that is a crisis. But if civs have A and mil has B, and A is implemented, that's just the usual tensions that come with two distinct universes colliding. 

To be clear, I believe we have been having a civ-mil crisis since Day 1 of the Trump administration because:

  1. the SecDef is a general; 
  2. most of the usual civilians who play a role in national security are either non-existent (not appointed) or generals--recently retired or active (Flynn, McMaster); 
  3. State as an alternative source of info/influence/agenda is gutted; 
  4. Trump is an ignorant amateur who has no idea of proper way to handle civ-mil relations.
And it is not getting any better.  More generals is not more better.  Replacing Mattis might seem to be anathema since he is one of the few "adults" in the administration, but I have argued aplenty that none of the adults really matter that much with the baby President.   Having a SecDef who isn't a former general or admiral would be a good step, but hardly enough.  Until Trump leaves in 2021, we are going to have a perpetual crisis in civil-military relations.

Bad news for the US, good news for those teaching/researching civ-mil.  Oh, and what am I teaching this fall?  Civ-mil!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Lionizing the US Armed Forces

A big theme of the past week has been: how wonderful the US military is, compared to civilian society.  This was not just Trump's strange intro to his Afghanistan speech, but also SecDef Mattis's words to his troops.
 “You’re a great example for our country right now and it’s got problems,” said Mattis. “You know it and I know it. It’s got problems we don’t have in the military. And you just hold the line, my fine soldiers, and sailors and airmen and Marines. Just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it.”

The idea is that the civilians are a mess, lacking integrity and honor while the armed forces are better.  Let me be a good military briefer and put my bottom line up front [BLUF]: NOT GOOD.

The idea that the military is morally superior to the civilians is not new, but having both the President and, perhaps more importantly, the SecDef say it and not get too much pushback?  This is bad.  It is not coup-causing bad, but it is bad nonetheless.  Civilian society is supposed to be a cacophony of different views and standards--isn't this part of the freedom that the armed forces are supposed to be protecting?  The civilian world is not supposed to be a strict hierarchy with standards imposed from on high with strict obedience.  The military world and the civilian world are very different, and they are supposed to be very different.  Oh, and one is not superior to the other.  Sure, military folks will want to suggest that their world is better, but their world is only appropriate for their community, their profession.

Of course, it is not just about freedom vs authority, but the notion that the civilian world is immoral and lacking honor.  Um, has anyone checked out the record of bad things in the armed forces?  Sexual assault, slow to deal with suicide, the presence of more than a few white supremacists, corruption (folks involved in procurement making decisions based on who will employ them when they retire), relatively weak accountability for the senior officers for failures (the firing of an admiral for the ship collisions is a rare and late example of some accountability), etc.  The whole "support our troops" thing has allowed us to be blind to the imperfections of those in uniform.

The point here is not to trash the armed forces--they do incredibly hard jobs under immense pressure.  And now their commander-in-chief is a temperamental brat with a profound ignorance for pretty much everything but having a child's admiration for folks in uniform.  So, they are in a hard spot.  They may be asked to violate domestic and international law (see Trump's comments on rules of engagement), and it will be interesting to see what they do.  Anyhow, the point is that there are two separate worlds--civilian and military--but one is not inherently better than the other.  Many civilians have some sense of honor even if it is not sketched out in a code.  Some military members do engage in awful behavior even as the majority are honorable:  #Notallcivilians and #notallmilitaryfolks and all that.

I wish that Mattis wouldn't play up the notion that the military is better, less corrupt, less problematic than the divisive civilians.  It is his job to manage US civilian-military relations, and speeches like this are not helpful.  It would have been unfortunate if these words were uttered by a serving general, but they are far more problematic when uttered by the SecDef.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Trump's Secret War Plans

Trump's argument that he is keeping the numbers and plans secret so that the enemy does not learn of our plans is bullshit.  Let me count the ways:
  1. The Taliban could count C17s just as the Viet Cong counted helicopters.  The Taliban is not a dumb organization.
  2. The Taliban can observe our bases and count that way.
  3. The Taliban can get a copy of the next supplemental appropriation bill and do the math (divided by roughly $1million to get the number of soldiers).
  4. While the specific operational plan of the day may benefit from secrecy to surprise the adversary, the larger strategy does not benefit from surprise in the same way. Think about D-Day: we didn't tell the Germans which day or where, but they sure as hell knew there would be a second front (ok, third or fourth front, depending on how you count) somewhere.  
  5. It allows this government to avoid having a clear strategy or plan.  
  6. It denies Congress the chance to oversee and ask tough questions of the generals. At least in public.  The generals would have to respond to Congress's questions since, Trump may not know this, Congress co-owns the US military.  Ooops. Better to have the debate in public than in secret so that voters can then hold the administration accountable.  Oh, wait, maybe that is the point.
  7. It allows Trump to delegate all responsibility to the military when civilian control of the military is crucial for democracy to operate.
I am sure I am forgetting stuff so suggest away and I will update.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

TV Panels Mean Much is Left Unsaid: Afghanistan Edition

Dale Smith teased me a bit after my appearance on Power and Politics today that I had much more to say.   Maybe, maybe not.  I said much at the Globe and Mail, on various radio programs and here at the Spew.  The challenge is that we have little time to chat, and when the other guy says stuff, I often don't have the chance to respond.  Shuvaloy Majumdar is smart and sharp on this stuff with real policy experience (first time I met him), so I didn't disagree with what he said, but perhaps with his optimism.  I guess the key things I wanted to say or respond to are:
  • Afghanistan is not as remarkably progressed as Shuvaloy suggests--the last election was a shitshow (we don't know who got how many votes), the resulting ad hoc coalition is not working out so well, and the messed up institutions we implanted way back in 2002 still screw stuff up. So, I took exception to the idea that it is all about Pakistan.  Corruption and warlordism are also just a wee bit problematic
  • The Taliban is not simply = Pakistan.  The Taliban may be agents of Pakistan's intel agency, but heaps of principal-agent problems here.
  • Pakistan's observer status at NATO is just a trifle--something that they don't care much about.
  • That Shuvaloy's things that Canada and NATO could do are all things that fall far below any threshold of counting as much in the eyes of Trump.  It is about troops on the ground and maybe money.
  • That assertions about other partners--the Emiratis, the Russians, the Chinese--are about wishes and not realities.  Nobody is going to rescue the US from this war.  Some might put pressure on Pakistan, but Pakistan is used to pressure and will continue to be America's worst or second worst ally.
My best move was to trash Tillerson before the cameras went on, so that Rosemary Barton put some skepticism in her voice when mentioning him. 

Anyhow, TV is fun, traffic is not, getting soaked in a downpour not fun in a suit.  But an interesting media day today: four radio programs, one op-ed, and one TV hit.

Trump Asking for Loyalty?

While I have my qualms about yet another ride into Afghanistan, plus I am not thrilled with the state of civil-military relations in the US that got us this decision, I must say that the speech started so badly that it probably colored my reaction to the rest.  Trump started by talking about how the US military was a model for the rest of American society.  This rubbed me the wrong way in three ways different dimensions: the military as authoritarian entity, Trump's sudden love for "unity", and Trump's own loyalties.

Yes, the US military is more multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious, more heterogeneous than pretty much any other employer or institution in the US.  My year in the Pentagon made that clear to me--no university I worked at before or since had as much diversity among its staff as the US military.  Admirable?  Absolutely.  But it is also an autocracy---that there is a chain of command and people follow orders.  It is not a democratic society.  So, there is only so much American society can and should imitate from the US armed forces.  Calling on America to be more like the US military is also very scary when the speaker is someone who has been destroying the norms of American democracy since he started running for President.

Which gets us to the second problem: Trump calling for unity and love among all is galling because he has based his campaign and then his presidency on division.  Day one of the campaign?  Calling Mexicans rapists. He continues to refer to immigrants as animals.  Trump hired a team of white supremacists--Bannon may be gone, but Sessions is still Attorney General and Stephen Miller is still somewhere in the White House--so spare me any faked remorse since Charlottesville.  If he were sincere, he'd be pushing Sessions and Kris Kobach to drop the #voterfraudfraud campaign.  As Dana Carvey as George HW Bush would say: not gonna happen. 

Worst of all: Trump harped on the theme of loyalty.  This is wrong in so many ways, but the one I will focus on here is this: who has Trump shown loyalty to?  Most of all: Vladimir Putin.  He has refused to criticize the Russian leader even when Putin sanctions the US embassy in Moscow.  Other than that and nepotism for his family, it is not clear that Trump has been loyal to anyone ever. 

So, yeah, with that start, I was already on edge.  But Trump is good at that.  I am sure this part of the speech was partly designed to appeal to his base (since he is mostly the President of his base and not so much the rest of us)--to make them feel better about the Afghanistan policy that contradicted his promises to them.

Anyhow, when Trump talks about loyalty, I scoff.  When he says Americans should be more like the US military, I worry.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Key Rules of US Civ-Mil and Trump's New 'Strategy'

I wrote something for a newspaper for tomorrow, but have much more to say about Trump's speech.

This post will not focus on how icky the first part on loyalty was.  Instead, I focus on the rules of US Civil-Military Relations:
  1. the US military does not like to start new wars (see Deborah Avant)
  2. once involved in a war, the US military likes to escalate.  They want more troops, as if more means better.  More can be better, but that really depends on the strategy and the adversary and the conditions.  
  3. Washington, DC establishment prefers MORE ... something.  It prefers action.  
  4. Everybody hates micro-management.  But no one wants to be held accountable.  Ooops.  The US military likes to talk about how they are accountable, but the costs for bad decisions are borne by the local commanders (captains of ships, battalion commanders), not those making the bigger decisions in Kabul (Bagram) or the Pentagon.  
  5. People complain about the rules of engagement, but these conversations tend to forget basic Clausewitz: war is politics by other means. Despite all of their sins and arrogance, Petraeus and McChrystal got that right.  If you want the public to support our adversary, then use more force and more recklessly.  How did being more brutal work for the Soviets in Afghanistan?
  6. Kicking the can down the road is the American way.  This additional four or five thousand works will not lead to victory but it might help stave off defeat for a while.  Woot?

I really don't know if some more troops is good policy or not.  I do know our troops need decent rules of engagement.  Barbarism may sound like fun, but is not a good look.  It offends the allies, it antagonizes the locals, and I do think we learned it is better to be more targeted, more careful than not.  The US has not lost wars because the troops' hands have been tied.  The US lost wars (Vietnam) and are not winning recent wars (Afghanistan) because we simply have less resolve, less interest, less commitment than our adversaries.  Oh, and counter-insurgency is really, really hard and takes heaps of patience, which is not something that Americans tend to have.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Iron Laws of Moving Kid to College

Today was the last time I had to help my daughter move to college.  She was just moving across town, but I was already bringing her back down from our family vacation, so I helped out.  Oh, and I helped her get a used car.  Anyhow, this experience reminded me of the Iron Laws of Moving Kid to College:
  1. Despite there being many floors in most dorms, somehow the kid is almost always on the top floor.  
  2. Kid's stuff is like a snowball--it gets larger and larger, the farther you have to move it.  I have told her roomies to Luna her--to hide/steal her stuff--so that there is less stuff to move back home.
  3. Moving in and out is always on the warmest day of the year.  Caveat: if it occurs in January at the start of the winter term, then it will snow hard (H/T to RP). 
  4. It gets easier to leave the kid behind, but it never gets easy.  
Oh, and we will have far more fun and test the caveated version of rule 4 in January, as she will be moving to California for an internship and then, well, her post-college life.  And I will be the Chewie to her Rey on that cross-country trip.  Damn, it will be one dusty ride.  I can feel it already.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Obi-Wan and Steve Bannon

I have always thought that Obi-Wan had overrated himself, telling Darth Vader: "If you strike me, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."  What does Obi-Wan do after that confrontation?
  • Ghost Obi-Wan provides some modest guidance to Luke as he makes the Death Star run: "use the force."
  • Ghost Obi-Wan tells Luke to go to Dagobah.
  • Ghost Obi-Wan told Luke not to go to Bespin.  Oops.
  • Ghost Obi-Wan explains to Luke why he lied about Vader--from a certain point of view.
  • and that's about it.  Not so impressive.
So, now we have folks saying that Bannon will be more powerful as he would be unchained outside of the White House.  How was he unchained?  How was he restrained?  Probably not so much.

The advantages of Bannon being out of the White House:
  1. The symbolism of Bannon in the WH is awful--a white supremacist and otherwise awful person in the White House.  One less is at least one less.
  2.  Bannon will have less info.  He could still get intel leaked to him, and Trump can tell him whatever he wants, but he will be further from the seat of power and all that flows through it. Trump simply cannot be on the phone with Bannon all the time, so Bannon will have some distance.  Less access is a good thing.
  3. Trump tends to listen to the last person who talks to him.  That will not be Bannon as often.  He will simply not be in his ear as much.  Sure, Bannon can try to trigger Trump via Breitbart or Fox, but it is not the same as whispering in his ear.
Bannon is not irrelevant now, but he is less relevant.  He can rabble rouse outside the White House, but he was doing that anyway.  Unchained?  Please.

Anyhow, this is a win--not a huge win, not a game changing win, but a win.  Trump is still President and still a white supremacist.  So, the battles continue, but this is a good day and we must take these good things when they happen as there are more shitstorms ahead and more pain to be inflicted on the American people and our allies.

So Many Labels, But All White

I was listening to the Pod Saves America podcast on Charlottesville, and one of the speakers argued that the Alt Right is a thing since they are the white supremacists who consider themselves above and different from Nazis (swastikas are bad for PR) and KKK (we are not rednecks), etc.  Yet the Alt Right are clearly racist, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-semitic, and misogynist.  The broader label that applies to them all? White supremacist.  Sure, that glosses over all of the other hates they have, but all that stuff seems to travel together. 

Anyhow, I made this to illustrate:

The Alt Right may be a separate group from the others (or not, hard to tell, as some Nazis wear khakis).  But they are all white supremacists, which means they all need to be confronted, mocked, and marginalized.  That the Alt Right folks may wear nicer clothes does not make them more acceptable.  That they are not rednecks does not make them more acceptable.  They are all ... deplorable. The key is not so much converting them, although there are folks who have been able to do that one on one.  The key is to make it politically painful for those in power or running for office to appeal to/play to these people.  The goal is to return them to the criminals that many of them are, to make them isolated and irrelevant racists rather than empowered terrorists and militias who are encouraged by the President and his party. 

It will not be easy, and there is no one right way to do it.  Sometimes, it will mean turning the spotlight away, sometimes it will mean confronting, and sometimes it may mean, yes, violence.  I am not a pacifist so I can't tell folks to turn one's cheek as the Nazis swing their clubs.  I do think the best way for the most part is non-violence, but defense may be necessary at times.  Fleeing may be necessary at times.  But one of the core logics of ethnic conflict is that when the extremists are outnumbered, they tend to go away. Riots happen where the rioters of ethnic group x outnumber the other ethnic groups in that area.  So, the best way to deal with these folks is to show up.  But with the white supremacists being armed to the teeth, this can be hard to do.  So, I really have no ideas except to call out those who are white supremacists, such as:

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Rebel Rabble

As much of a fan as I am of the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars, I can't help but notice that The Rebel, a far right media enterprise in Canada, might be named after the Confederacy more than the good guys in Star Wars.

Here's the thing: if one is a southerner in the US, one might plausibly claim that a stars & bars patch or flag might have some other meaning than white supremacy.  One could pick up some affinity via osmosis, relatives, peer pressure, bad history teachers, whatever.  I tend not to buy that excuse, but I can see how it might mitigate things a bit. 

However, if one is attaching oneself to the Confederacy while living in Canada, Europe or any place other than the old South, one is attaching oneself to white supremacy deliberately.  And, yes, Confederacy = White Supremacy as the movement was based on the idea that whites can/should own black people (read any of the articles of secession), making it the highest form of White Supremacy (borrowing a smidge of Lenin).  So, yes, affinity for Confederacy and its symbols means affinity for White Supremacy, and, yes, all that almost always comes with it--anti-semitism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia and even misogyny. 

The outlet is now trying to distance itself from white supremacy, but it may have a hard time doing so.  Why? Because it has long been more than a smidge racist.  Stephanie Carvin pointed it out quite clearly today:
The skittles, as folks might remember, were reference to the "poisonous" Muslims among the Syrian refugees.  So, yeah, not so cool.

And the folks jumping of the Rebel ship now should still be considered tainted by their previous association since its racism and other fatal flaws are nothing new.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Certainties in the Uncertainty Engine: Vain, Greedy, and Racist

I have been arguing for quite some time that Trump is an uncertainty engine, but there are a few key consistencies that have long been true and actually pretty obvious. He is greedy, he is vain, he is lazy and ignorant, he doth project too much, and, yes, he is a white supremacist. 

Trump has long discriminated against African Americans going back to the lawsuits over discriminating in rental housing in NYC in the 1970s.  He criticized his casino employees for having Black accountants rather than Jews.  His birtherism was grounded in racism.  His campaign kicked off by calling all Mexican immigrants rapists.  He often calls immigrants animals.  Oh, and it is probably not an accident that he has surrounded himself with white supremacists:
  • Jeff Sessions who was too racist to be a federal judge in the 1980s (more than a few GOP Senators agreed with the Democrats) but sufficiently racist to be Attorney General;
  • Stephen Miller, who was reviled for his racism and xenophobia going way back to when he was in high school;
  • Steve Bannon, who is often said not to be really racist, but just uses racism as a political strategy.  Sure, go ahead and try to make that distinction.  I don't buy it.  Not at all.  
So, as I tweeted, there really are two Trump's Razors to explain his behavior.  The first, as enunciated by John Scalzi: “ascertain the stupidest possible scenario that can be reconciled with the available facts” and that answer is likely correct." The second: Trump is a white supremacist, so he picks policies that favor whites over all other groups (African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Native Americans, etc.).  Is he anti-semitic? Perhaps not in beliefs but certainly in who he allies with.  For those who tut-tut and say that Trump can't hate Jews because his daughter married one and some of his grandchildren are Jewish, I scoff and I scorn. And I point out this, of course:

Trump will not be impeached because of his white supremacy as the GOP relies on it to stay in power.  But perhaps people will stop calling out the Democrats' identity politics given that Trump's and the GOP's white identity politics is now a wee bit more obvious to all.  Or not.

What to do?  See something, say something, of course.  Call out the white supremacy, rather than referring to alt-right or other glosses.  Put pressure on any and all politicians to take a stand so that we can identify who needs our opposition and our support.  Put pressure on the media to stop the false equivalence machines--perhaps Trump's latest statements will at least put those machines on pause.

 It will take more than just 2018 and 2020, as this stuff is not new, but Trump has given these deplorable people cover and permission.  We need to return to a time where these people were ashamed and embarrassed and marginalized.  As always, the only way out is through.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Reacting During Limited Computer Access: Nazis? I Hate These Guys

I haven't seen much coverage of the Nazi in Charlotteville, as internet access has been intermittent.  However, I have seen enough to be disgusted and impressed and confused, mostly confused. Disgusted that these hateful assholes are getting any benefit from the various false equivalence machines.  Impressed by those who are protesting despite much risk to themselves.

And confused: should we make fun of the douchebros?  Should we post memes reminding us all that the Americans died to defeat Nazism?  Should we keep in mind that the US was built on white supremacy in its purest form--slavery?  Is it UnAmerican to carry flags with the swastika on them despite the US history of racism?  The answer to all these questions is the same: hells yes. 

We should:
  • mock these guys.  We should diminish them as their cause is pathetic.  That whites are now sharing more and more power and resources and privilege with non-whites is a good thing--that makes the US a better place to live, a stronger economy, and all the rest.  These douchebros are not oppressed.  They just fear that those who gain more power might abuse it as these guys have and would--the problem of projecting too much. 
  • remember US history--the good stuff and the bad.  Yes, the US helped to defeat the Nazis (via a coalition, by the way).  It is one of the best things the US has ever done if the US did it slowly and reluctantly at first.  The US could have chosen Nazism in the 1930s, but turned away from that, from America Firsters and the rest.  But as Obama kept saying, the history of America is an effort to perfect the union--which still suffers from the legacies of slavery, which still incubates white supremacy and other forms of hate, and which still gives too much cover to the allies of the hateful.
We, indeed, have an administration full of white supremacists from Sessions to Bannon to Miller to Trump.  These folks and their incitement have given the douchebros of white supremacy the confidence to come out and voice their hate.  How to counter that? Other than eventually defeating Trump, we need to call out the white supremacy.  Fuck this white nationalism, alt-right bullshit--if they adopt Nazi slogans and symbols, then let's call them Nazis with no modifiers.  Let's remember what the Nazis wrought not just to neighboring countries to but to Germany itself--utter destruction.  Let's remember their targets: Jews, gays, the left, the disabled, and on and on.  While Islamophobes may find the Trump's islamophobia appealing, the brown Islamophobes should keep in mind that white supremacy is for whites only.  Eventually, the non-white Islamophobes will be treated the same as all non-whites.

The good news is that we have Republicans heaping much scorn on the Nazis.  The bad news is that, as both George RR Martin and Brett Freidman would say, words are wind.  We should pressure Congress to put more $ and more investigations into fighting white supremacist terrorism.  Let's get Orrin Hatch, John McCain, and the others to put money where their mouths are. 

Oh, and let's drop the whole bullshit that the Dems lose because they play with identity politics.  White identity politics is white supremacy politics, something that both parties have played with but one party now relies so very heavily on it that their President refuses to clearly condemn the white supremacists.

Hopefully, this will all be resolved by the time our ship docks, but I doubt it. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Dissertation ideas for Americanists

I had a dream last night about a dissertation idea--yep, even up in Alaska, I can't escape the profession in my dreams.  Anyhow, my idea, theory-less as it may be: it would be cool to do network analyses (which are probably no longer the rage) of Trump before the campaign and now.  It would be interesting to see where these various arsonists came from (whenever I say arsonist, I mean Trump cabinet secretaries), and who they were linked to before and now. 

It may not be much, but it could be fun.

As an old prof (Mr. Neil of Oberlin) used to say, "this, I give you for free."  And it might be worth exactly as much as it costs in this case.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Travel Suggestions and Blog Interruption

Time for the annual Saideman gathering, this time far away from any of the usual places--we will be seeing the water of a different coast from a different direction--cruising to Alaska.  I expect little wifi, so probably not much blogging for the next 9-10 days. 

But the journey thus far has been..... frustrating.  Weather disrupted connections, then mechanical problems disrupted connection, so we abandoned Air Canada for the last leg, only to rent the wrong vehicle (the keys worked!). 

But we made it so here are some suggestions, given our experience:
  • If one is going on a cruise, always pad the front of the trip by a few days so that one does not literally miss the boat.  The flight attendants along the way appreciated that we were not that stressed for time since we had enough time built in.  I have flown next to enough panicked cruise goers to know better than to try to time things too tightly.
  • When waiting online (three hours plus) for a service person, make some calls: to one's frequent flyer airline to see if they can help even if you are not on their system for this leg; to get a hotel room since they were going out fast (thanks, priceline!); etc.
  • Travel apps--to find out the status of flights and such.
  • Must keep status--we were able to enjoy lounges (my daughter discovered free booze she could serve herself!).  Not necessary but definitely made the odysssey (lots of references to Odysseus on this journey)
  • Be nice to the car rental people who are swamped, especially after the last person was nasty.  
  • Get a NEXUS card if you can--we saved probably 2-3 hours on the drive from Vancouver to Seattle as they had a special lane and then three open NEXUS booths.  Woot!
Oh and check the receipt after turning in the rental car--it was for $3000 for a day's drive?  The rental guy basically made my day by saying: that's in Canadian dollars, so no biggie.  Um, yes, biggie.  Error fixed, but that was a fun way to end two difficult days of travel to just get to the right city on the West Coast.

Anyhow, enjoy your early August, as I will be eating too much, hanging out with a herd of nieces (and one token nephew), and hopefully seeing bears and otters and whales and Grizzly Adams.

Points? F No

No, this is not a post to regret the demise of @Midnight, which I will surely miss.  It is a very short post about the immigration law being bandied about.

As I have been traveling, I have only seen glimpses, but the general idea is to adopt an Aussie or Canadian style system where applicants are rated by various attributes and those scoring high get to be admitted. I have seen folks quibble with the point system--liberal arts degrees count for bumpkus.

My quick take is: it is fine for other countries to do this, but it betrays the history, identity and essence of the US to say that folks who don't speak English, who don't have a lot of skills and don't have a lot of money can't be admitted.  I would bet that most Americans (except Native Americans) have relatively poor ancestors who didn't speak English make the journey to the US way back when.  Immigration was and remains one of the things that makes the US truly exceptional (there are other immigration nations but few of them). 

Bouts of xenophobia and restrictions on immigration are regular occurrences, which often lead to much regret.  I know that Stephen Miller  and the rest of the Trumpsters want to betray pretty much all American ideals, but we don't have to go along with it.  This law is being generated by white supremacists, who may be disguising their hate for non-whites with details, but the objectives are clear.  So, let's focus on the intent and not the specifics, shall we?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Sadie Out

Today, I announced at PSR that I am out.
No joke. I am going on a largely wifi-less vacation next week, so it makes sense to use that as a point of departure as any.
Moderating here has become far more time intensive over the past year, and, as one of my friends put it, there is far more noise and less useful signal here. I have had a hard time focusing on my work over that time frame thanks to the daily crises in DC, so I need to cut out some of the noise. Also, on the occasion of my recent birthday, I resolved to have more positivity in my life--that I was getting to be too whiny on the ultimate field. The same applies for my internet life. One could say that I am just not as comfortable as I used to be.
This will be a chance for a natural experiment or two to test the claims that I have never believed--either that this place would collapse without my lending it whatever legitimacy I gave it or that the marketplace of ideas will function adequately.
Over the years, I have enjoyed many of the conversations and give and take. This place has inspired me to think about a variety of aspects of the profession, so I am grateful for that.
Anyhow, if folks want to ask me stuff, rather than go to the Ask Sadie thread, you can find me via twitter or email. I wish y'all heaps of tenure track jobs and publications in the 20 top 3 IR journals. Good luck!

Moderating became too much of a slog as the election and folks linking to PSR at some of the more toxic places on the internet led to far more crap than before.  We shall see if I can still be easily trolled when I am no longer spending much time there. 

Update: That the place crashed for a while after I posted my message was a fun coincidence, but I had nothing to do with that. One consistent false belief over the years was that I have any technical ability to run that place or do anything more complicated than pushing delete buttons.

Trump's Frustration With Afghanistan

I absolutely get why Trump is frustrated with the war in Afghanistan.  The Taliban, even if they are more fragmented than we tend to appreciate, are doing quite well, and the Afghanistan government is not performing well despite the departure of Karzai.  When Obama spent much of 2009 considering whether to surge or not, I was most ambivalent for many reasons.  Was Afghanistan similar enough to Iraq (where the surge seemed to work)? Wasn't the primary challenge political and not military?

So, I see where Trump is coming from.  Of course, his reasoning and his analogies are flawed (Afghanistan ain't a restaurant).  And that gets to the big problem now: he is uniquely unsuited to come up with an alternative policy.  He has a short attention span and hates to listen to bad news.  Afghanistan requires focus and a willingness to see both progress and falling backwards.  Trump has allowed/encouraged Tillerson to gut State, when, again, the primary challenge in Afghanistan is political: not just about improving governance by Ghani and his administration but also figuring how to negotiate with the Taliban AND how to get the various outside actors (Pakistan primarily but also Russia, China, Iran and India) to coordinate enough to provide a conducive environment. 

I have no idea if General Nicholson should be fired.  I do know that replacing generals every year or so has not been good for the war effort as each one has a different strategy.  This means that no strategy is really ever implemented fully, that the folks in the ground get whipsawed by the changes in rules and priorities. 

On the other hand, Mattis arguing that we are losing because we do not have the right strategy may seem to miss the point.  As a former general, he sees the key to winning and losing to be about getting the right strategy--the right set of plans that have various lines of effort coordinated to reach a desired endstate (yep, that is how they speak).  Endstate means goal or final desired outcome.  But is it about picking the right set of plans?  Or is it that we outsiders have, dare I say it, limited influence?  That the actors on the ground have more at stake, longer time horizons, and more influence? 

Whatever strategy the US and its allies choose, the folks on the ground will be deciding whether to bet their lives on the Afghan government, on the Taliban or on staying on the fence.  It is not clear that we can affect those decisions that much.  We didn't influence them that much when there were more than a hundred thousand troops on the ground, so why expect more influence now.  Indeed, Jason Lyall's work seems to suggest that we are damned no matter what we do. The outsiders get blamed for what the Taliban does.  Oh crap.

Until we have some humility about what the outsiders can do, no strategy is going to be "the right strategy."  So, yeah, Trump should be frustrated.  But he lacks the capacity to think long and hard and reality-based.  Thus, I don't expect a significant improvement.  Perhaps he will call for the end to the US effort there, but addressing that is a blog post for another day. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Rankest of Rankings

I am easily trolled. I am also a narcissist.  So, when the various folks at PSR ponder whether I suck or truly suck (where do I rank among IR scholars), I can't help but respond.  I resisted mightily for all of ten hours or so.  The smart troll sucked me in when asking whether I thought I was close to Peter Katzeinstein or Dan Drezner.  I responded thusly: "thanks for the giggle."  But it got me thinking about all this stuff.  Yes, the folks there obsess about relative standing of departments, fields, journals, presses, and, yes, scholars.  Here, I have long been a skeptic about ranking such stuff, even as I rank movies and books (Harry Potter, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc).

But the post got me thinking about stuff.  I have always recognized that:
  • the bigger names are those who do grand theory. I don't do grand theory, and as I found it while testing some hypotheses, few people do--tis a niche enterprise (see International Studies Review sometime in 2018 or see this post and related links).
  • there is always a bigger fish--Qui-Jon said so
  • my work is eclectic so I have not spent my career focused on a single argument that would cause me to stand out more.  Instead, I have pursued questions that interest me, which has taken me from the IR of ethnic conflict to the domestic politics of ethnic conflict to civil war to alliance politics to comparative civil-military relations.  This has probably impeded my productivity as it would be easier not to have to review new literatures with each project.
  • my career has been a constant stream of surprises--never expected to live in Texas or Canada, never expected to spend time in the Pentagon or go to Afghanistan, etc.
I suggested that on the spectrum of IR scholars, I was somewhere between Katzenstein and the average IR scholar.  This then led to a charge of arrogance since I suggested I might be above average.  Oh gosh!

The key is this: I think my work has been worthwhile.  I don't need to think I am the "best" or whatever.  I just have to like the stuff I have done--that I have asked interesting questions, developed appropriate research designs and explored the issues creatively and perhaps even diligently.  Do I think that someone will find out that I am a fraud? Of course, as most of us have some sort of imposter syndrome.  I listened to a podcast this week where Charlize Theron admitted to having imposter syndrome even after getting an Oscar.  Wow.  So, if she can, we certainly can and do.

Of course, I seek the respect of my peers because self-esteem is a thing.  And alas, Donald Horowitz taught me a while back via his excellent book that the logic of invidious comparisons mean that self-esteem often hinges on tearing down others.  So, I get why these folks want to argue that I am but a minor player, that I don't deserve to have an endowed chair and so on.  It makes them feel better.  My happiness bums them out.  Oops.

Anyhow, this is what I posted there:
This entire conversation about where I rank is kind of silly. I know I am not a big name, and I am ok with that. I don't do grand theory which is what most of the big names do, but very few people do grand theory (as my TRIP piece in ISR in 2018 will demonstrate). I have averaged pretty good but not great output--an article plus something else (book chapter or policy paper) a year plus a book every six years or so.
I would like to have been more productive, and I still aim to get stuff in the best journals. But I am happy with where I am at. My career has not been anything like what I expected--I am not teaching at a SLAC, I never expected to be in Texas, the Pentagon or Canada. I think I made a good contribution to an area that was not very visible--the IR of ethnic conflict. I am now working in areas that are more mainstream (civil-military relations, alliance stuff), and the work is quite interesting.
I used to obsess about prestige, but it turns out that moving from one of the best known places in the English speaking world (that is in a French speaking province) to a place that has less prestige has benefits--fewer requests to write tenure/promotion letters. Looking back, I have few regrets. Even six years in the flatlands of West Texas meant making great friends for a lifetime plus it was a short commute, a brand new house, and nearby good pediatric ER care that we used quite a bit.
So, yeah, I ain't Katzenstein, and I am not Drezner. However, I do have a sweet gig in a national capital full of nice, smart, interesting people in and out of government, and I live only 12 minutes from the frisbee fields. 
Where do I rank? Here:

Of course, the right answer is don't feed the trolls .... 

Lame Duck? Twain Redux

Folks are already writing epitaphs and lame duck columns for Trump in the aftermath of the failure to pass health care.  Puh-lease.  Yes, these folks have a point or two, but we are far closer to the beginning than the end.  Sure, the Democrats can block some stuff, but have they blocked a major appointment yet? No.  Sure, Flake of Arizona is writing nice columns about the decline of conservativism to flog his book, but his voting record is still very, very pro-Trump (95%!).

First, to be clear, health care was McConnell's failure, not Trump's.  Trump put in no effort (he is lazy) and knew nothing about it (because he is lazy and ignorant).  He just wanted a win, any win.  Which makes this argument about Trump being lame or whatever remind me of the post-game punditry in the middle of a playoff series where everybody generalizes from the most recent game to forecast the series--overreacting nearly all of the time.  Oh, team x won game 1, so they will definitely win the series, oh but after game 2, team y won, so expect them to take it, and then ....

Second, some other legislation might be easier--that the Democrats may break unity or the GOP Senators may remain united on stuff that is not so wildly unpopular as gutting health care.  Perhaps tax reform seems hard now, but there might be a package that unifies the hard right with regular right wing and might get a Manchin or two.

Third, Trump's biggest legacies that will keep creating and implementing awful policies are already in place.  His team of arsonists are already burning down much of the US government--Sessions is pursuing voter suppression (#voterfraudfraud), pushing against affirmative action and empowering white supremacy; Tillerson is gutting State; DeVos is doing her best to destroy not just the Dept of Education but educational opportunities across the US; Zinke is burning down the parks and all stuff Interior; Pruitt is determined to break the EPA and much environmental regulation.  Not to mention Gosuck (spelling error is intentional) who will be with us long after Trump is gone.  These administrators are doing two things at once: undermining the capacity of the US to govern itself AND hurting the lives of ordinary Americans.  Even if Trump just played golf for the rest of his administration (and that would be an expensive relief as he tends not to tweet stuff that might prompt a war), these folks are doing damage every single day.  If Trump were somehow leave the scene (resign, get sick, be diagnosed, etc), Pence would keep most of the folks around, and they would continue to commit arson.

Fourth, as some have noted, Trump is still doing foreign policy stuff--with apparently an aim to "fix" the Iran and North Korea problems ASAP.  Which may very well mean a couple more wars with little clue about their endgames and, yes, more nails in the coffin of US-led multilateral liberal international order.

As folks (we call him Spew Brother) warned me about complacency last summer and fall, we need to continue to stay alert.  Trump is not going to be impeached anytime soon no matter what smoking guns Mueller comes up with.  Or, or that matter, the smoking gun we already have--the Don Jr/Jared/Manafort meeting with Russians in Trump Tower!  25th Amendment?  Nope.  

Alastair Moody said it best:

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Veteran Position

One of the interesting developments in this political season is that a number of new entrants for Congressional races across the countries are veterans running as Democrats.  My natsec friends who know some of these folks are thrilled. 

I am of two minds:
A)  We are more likely to see informed oversight over the military with more veterans since they have a strong interest in such stuff, and there are, otherwise, not so many direct rewards or incentives to take oversight seriously. If I was not fried from driving a long distance today, I would find the Feaver/Gelpi stuff that addresses the opinions of vets and their role as Congressfolks (as well as other folks who look at such stuff). 

B) Veterans are veterans.... and?  While volunteering to do such service is impressive on its own in a time without a draft,  it actually says little else about judgment.  Plenty of former soldiers/sailors/marines/aviators are smart and wise, but plenty are less so.  And values?  Values vary.  So, we need to learn more about each one rather than just vote for a vet because they are a vet. 

but.... I am thrilled to see these folks line up for the Dems given how the GOP has pissed away its reputation as the serious National Security party given how they screwed up in 2003 and now have a pro-Russia administration that seems keen on undermining US national security in more ways that I would have imagined last fall. 

I do think the future of the Democratic party is bright with vets and scientists and others seeking to serve the public--they may help to challenge the existing beliefs about politicians being corrupt and out for their own aggrandizement.  Public service by military folks, bureaucrats, and politicians is necessary for the country to run and thrive.  We need to increase respect for these folks or else we will get more Trumps and more misery.  Democracy is not just for the people but of the people. 

There are many ways to serve the country, and doing double duty via military service and political office is admirable.  However, we need to take care to not just use military experience as the shorthand to wisdom--Flynn has shown us that doing well in the military may not be at all correlated with being a good public servant. 

With those cautions in mind, this is hell of an ad: