Saturday, October 28, 2017

Ottawa Rocks: Fall Break Interrupted Edition

Academics look forward to the various breaks so that they can get grading done, so that they can make progress on grants, so that they can revise and resubmit.  And we whine other folks schedule stuff during the breaks (I still have no idea why Carleton folks are so enthused about scheduling meetings during the summer).  So, yeah, I whined this week about all the stuff that was happening in town during Carleton's reading week.  BUT it was a great week, so let's take a quick scamper through the events and what I learned (because that is why I got in this business--I love learning new stuff):
  • On Wednesday, there was an event at Global Affairs Canada to launch a book on its recent history.  For those outside of Canada and for those who can't keep track of its ever-changing name, Global Affairs Canada is Canada's State Department of Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  In my fifteen years in Canada, it has been the Dept of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, then Dept of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (pronounced Defeated, no!), and now GAC (they hate that, referring to it as Global Affairs). 
    • Anyhow, the event kicked off with Jean Chretien talking about his foreign affairs experiences with some fun comparisons between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.  I had never seen Chretien in person, and I can see why he did so well.  He was sharp, interesting, and semi-candid. And funny. 
    • Stefanie Von Hlatky, a good friend, and one of her graduate students, Sara Greco, presented an interesting take as did Adam Chappnick.  I ran off before the other papers as I do have grants to write. 
  • On Thursday, I attended three events in succession: a day long CGAI event on defence procurement, a talk by Dan Drezner, and a book launch by Aisha Ahmad, a former student.
    • As a CGAI Fellow, I feel obligated to attend their events.  As someone who does not study defence procurement but talks about it a lot anyway (it is the one defence issue that sucks up most of the oxygen in Canada [and elsewhere]), events like this are handy to catch up.  The consensus was unsurprising: procurement is broken and the big Defence Policy Review, which now goes by SSE--Stronger, Secure, Engaged, is unlikely to be completed as advertised.  Mostly because Canada lacks enough experts to do the procuring (hey, NPSIA students, here's a growing field for you!) but also because no defence policy has survived for twenty years.  Parties change, priorities change, the defense budget is the easiest thing to cut in hard times to get the budget less deficit-y.  My comeback to that would be: if the Liberals are re-elected, and that seems very likely, then we may not get 20 years of this policy but we might get enough to make it mostly stick.
    • I am probably developing the rep in town for asking the more obnoxious questions at these events.  I asked the Deputy Defence Minister about the contradiction between the talk of transparency and the use of Non-Disclosure Agreements.  She noticed that I did not like her answer much, but we had a pleasant exchange after the event (I need to avoid alienating everybody in defence given the partnership grant I am working on).  I asked another speaker--one from industry who was complaining about government--about whether their intra-industry competition undermines Canadian procurement, citing the example of two shipyards fighting over a contract, leaving the Vice Chief of Defence Staff suspended for probably a year or more....  I was far more dissatisfied by this guy's answer.  Anyhow, it was a very interesting day, and I learned much about how broken defence procurement is and why.
    • Dan Drezner was in town at the invitation of NPSIA and Phil Lagasse's Barton Chair.  Drezner did a great job of presenting his book on the Ideas Industry.  I read the first half of the book beforehand, so I knew mostly what was coming.  It was a very fascinating hour, causing me to re-think my role in the Idea Industry (I will blog when I finish the book about my sudden realization I am a public intellectual... definitely not a thought leader).
    • Best use of Dark Knight Rises

    • Then, I met Mrs. Spew at the War Museum to see Aisha Ahmad present her book, Islam & Co, which discusses the interactions between the Mosque and the Market which then leads some groups to lead proto-states out of state failure until the outsiders come in and pound them (Taliban, Islamic Courts of Somalia, ISIS).  We brimmed with pride as she did such a great job of presenting her work and making it so very meaningful.  The room was packed, and it was not a small room. She answered the questions deftly.   So, yeah, clear eyes, full hearts and all that.
  • On Friday, I spent the morning at Global Affairs again, but this time, I was the center of attention.  I was in their Policy Lab, presenting the lessons of Afghanistan as I saw them.  My one big regret is that I didn't get a chance to interview many of the attendees when I was writing my book since they had much on the ground experience.  Since they didn't throw things at me and stayed the entire time, I think I got it mostly right. I did say some controversial things about the politicians and about whole of government (a phrase used to describe efforts to try to overcome bureaucratic politics and usually fall short).
So, yeah, Ottawa is a great town for someone who studies International Relations even if it means getting far less work done during reading period.  Now I have to do the grading I didn't do this week if I can resist the siren call of Stranger Things 2.

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