Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Best Way To Deal?

When seeing something like this:

Is to dance?

Friday, March 30, 2018

Shy? Sometimes

Shy in my backyard
Yesterday, I blogged about the ISA and gave some tips about how to meet people even when one is shy.  The only disagreement that post has received thus far is the assertion that I am shy sometimes.  I get it--I am loud online and pretty loud and extroverted in person.... among folks who know me.  But when it comes to strangers, I am not so comfy.

I never did go up to the big names and say, "hi, I am Steve, I love your work and you should love mine."  Ok, not a great opening line.  So, maybe I am smart not to approach big names with strategery like that (and tis a good thing I have not been single for 30 years).  But one reason I advise networking sideways or down is because networking upwards is something I don't feel comfortable doing.  The only big names I know well in the discipline are those who were at the place I went to grad school or who I met in smaller meetings.  I can't think of a relatively big name I know that I approached without a smaller context that caused us to meet.  But as the late Will Moore reminded me, I could get away with this because I am privileged, and as Christian Davenport argued, one can go up to big names successfully.  So, this sideways and down approach is one I prefer because I am shy in this particular way.

People think I am not shy because I approach folks online quite eagerly.  Yes, I engage strangers,
including famous ones (Henry Winkler and Morgan Fairchild engage back!), on twitter because it is a conducive environment.  I have spent this week contacting young civ-mil scholars to meet up at the ISA, which is a not-shy thing to do, because the wheels are greased by some twitter interaction and because it is actually a one to one kind of thing.  Which presents an irony: I teach best in large rooms but interact best in small meetings.

To be clear, I was very nervous when I first started public speaking.  For some reason (mostly to meet girls at the girls camp), I started getting involved in drama--plays, that is--and that helped a bit.  But I remember my very first day of teaching--I forgot to bring the syllabi (pre-internet, yeah, we brought 30 or 50 copies of syllabi to the first class) not just to the first class on my first day, but to the second class on my first day, and yes, my third class on my first day.  After a while, I stopped being nervous about speaking to undergrads and to grad students, but remained nervous when speaking to professors.  That declined after much experience, including job talks that ranged from terrific experiences to awful..

Anyhow, this gets to where I am still quite shy: larger groups.  Just a few nights ago, I was at a reception at an embassy, and I ended up mostly hanging out with the one guy I knew.  I have never been comfortable approaching strangers in person, unlike my brother who strikes up conversations with everyone he meets, and so at cocktail parties and receptions, I tend to cling to the few people I know or I do not stay very long.  Mostly, I don't stay long.

When I am really shy,
I wear camoflauge
People who know me now think I am not shy because they didn't notice me in the corner at the big receptions. They notice me now chatting with a bunch of people every time they see me.  Now at the big receptions at the ISA or APSA, I am not in the corner because I have been at this for, gulp, 25 years.  So, despite being very bad at remembering names and faces, I have accumulated many friends and acquaintances over the years as I have attended two conferences a year, worked at four places, participated in numerous workshops, etc.

Yeah, I have always been loud among my friends, and I am definitely not shy about sharing my opinions and my advice online. And, yes, the years of submitting articles to journals, manuscripts to presses, and grant applications, not to mention job applications and many failed job searches, I have developed a thick skin about much stuff.  But put me in a larger group of strangers, and I turtle or I scamper.  My friends don't see it because when I am with them, I am not alone.  And I am so very thankful that I am rarely alone at conferences these days, unlike my first five or so APSAs and ISAs.

See you at the Hilton bar next week.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

ISA Tips: SF, Some Not

Given how often we have been to San Francisco lately for APSAs and ISAs, we probably should know by now all the places to eat and drink and such.  But my memory is lousy, so I will focus on mostly on some things to keep in mind as one gets on a plane or train or car or boat to get to the International Studies Association meeting.*
* When I was trying to get to Seattle last summer for a vacation, the planes did not go where they were supposed to, so we had to drive the last leg. As a result, I am open to all forms of travel as being possibilities these days.
I was inspired to write this as I saw a bunch of tweets fly by about presentations and discussanting and such, so:

Paper and Presentation Stuff:
  • Aim for ten minutes if your chair says you have twelve, and aim for twelve if you have fifteen. It almost always takes longer to present than you think.
  • If you have many words on your slides, have only a few. 
  • If you have numbers on your slides, make them legible (bigger fonts always better than smaller ones), and use color to illustrate stuff, like blue for positive results and red for negative.  If it works here at the Semi-Spew, it might not be a bad idea.... ok, never mind.
  • If questions are collected from the audience before you respond, you don't have to answer everyone nor should you.  Pick the ones that are least picky and most interesting. 
  • If your panel answers one question at a time, don't filibuster.  Other folks will want to talk--either to ask questions or to answer them.
  • If you don't know the answer, then you can say so--the ISA is a low risk environment.  It is not a job talk.
  • Don't write an 80 page paper and expect the discussant to read it.  No more than 45 pages or 15k words or so.  Don't just hand over a dissertation chapter if you can avoid it.  
  • But don't worry about the paper being perfect--the idea is to get feedback. Sometimes you get, sometimes you don't.
  • If you can possibly avoid it, don't put "Don't Cite/Don't Circulate" on your paper.  Doing so is a great way to avoid citations.  Better to be cited wrongly or cited for something that you change your mind about than not to be cited at all.  One of my favorite moments in an audience was to see my different works in two different boxes of a 2x2 as I had produced over time conflicting results about federalism's impact on ethnic conflict.  
  • If you haven't gotten your paper to your discussant by now, do so immediately.  Don't expect a discussant to read your paper at the conference--they have stuff to do.
Discussant (I have said some of this before):
  • Don't be cruel.  It should go without saying, but, well, sometimes it needs saying
  • If the papers are entirely unrelated, don't spend too much time drawing false connections
  • But if you see connections, tell the authors how they talk to each other--they may not have realized it.
  • Don't just list the negative stuff--find a positive thing or two to say.  
  • Treat the papers fairly--don't focus on just one and don't exclude just one.
  • Oh and about fairness, try not to engage in the one habit we all have--think about how you would have done the project.  Instead, try to figure out how the person can do a better job of executing their vision.
  • There really is only one job requirement here: stopping the long winded.
What else is there to an ISA?
  • The Hilton lobby can get super-crowded, so if you arrange to meet someone, especially someone you have never met before, mention a specific spot.  The pre-dinner mess of people can make it hard to find the person you are looking for.
  • If you are a grad student or junior faculty person who does not know many people, go to a business meeting for a section close to your interests.  Volunteer to help out.  These usually are modest service requirements, but help you get to know people and be known.  These meetings are usually easier for meeting new people than receptions, which are often very loud, very crowded and more than a bit intimidating.
  • Speaking of receptions, go to the Online Media Caucus's (Friday night, 7:30), as the Duckies (the awards presented to best work in online media) are fun, and the folks are pretty welcoming.  If you follow people's blogs or twitter accounts, then I think it is easier to approach them as you already know something about them.  I don't think there will be an organized tweet up for twitter folks to meet each other, so let the OMC reception serve that role. 
  • I always advocate networking sideways and down partly because I am shy (really) and don't feel comfy approaching the big names but also because the old stars are not going to be around that much in 10 or 20 year.  On the other hand, the younger folks you hang out with now will be your pals 20 years down the road.  I used to roam conferences looking for people that I might now.  Now, I just have to stand still.  I like it much better that way.  
  • While you may want to go to all of the panels, do get out of the hotel and its immediate area.  It is, alas, on the edge of some of the less nice parts of SF (the city reeks of awesomeness but our area also reeks of pot and poo and pee).  The city is not large so it is not super expensive to uber or taxi to the waterfront, to the Presidio, to Chinatown, or wherever.  I hear the town has a pretty bridge or two. Yes, cable cars are really cool, but it is easiest to get on it a bit up the hill than at the base station.  

I am sure there is other stuff to think about, so remind me what I have forgotten.  If you have good SF tips, share them. 

A Blogging Gap: Grants, Conferences, Taxes and Exhaustion

I haven't blogged in a week!  No, I am not dead. But it has been a long time that I have gone that long without a desire to semi some spew.  Part of this is that I was crunching on the latest iteration of a Canadian Defence and Security Network grant application.  I thought I was done with that for a while after submitting the latest SSHRC Partnership Grant application, and then the Department of National Defence issued a call for a proto-network.  The good news is that I could use the structure and partners of the SSHRC grant for this application; the bad news is that I had a month to re-direct it towards DND's priorities and for much less money and time ($100k for one year as opposed to $2.5m over 7).  The bet is that if we get this money and do it well, then we can compete for the big enchilada down the road.  We shall see--I am definitely hoping that my +5 Hammer of Diligence means that we get a decent enough result on the 20 sided die to get the proto-money. 

The ISA is next week, so I have been revising a paper, preparing for a roundtable and trying to open up sometime to read the papers that I will be discussing.  Look for a post in the next day or two about ISA prep.  

I have also been working on several sets of taxes--US, Canada, NY (my daughter), etc.  And I got a fun gift from the IRS yesterday: a letter saying we owed heaps from last year's taxes.  So, had to clean that mess (resolved quickly and with much good customer service) just in time to fix my tax return for this year.  Good times. 

So, no blogging.... because there has also been no news, right?  What has happened in the past week?  Here's some quick hits on the news de la semaine (du jour x 7):
  • Go Team NATO! I was very surprised that Trump's US managed to coordinate with many (not all) friends to react to the Russian use of chemical weapons on a British village. Sure, the Russians have retaliated, but the reaction was proportionate and justified and surprisingly well-coordinated.  There must be someone still manning the European and Canadian desks at State?  Of course, this speaks to the tyranny of low expectations: this is something that should not be that unexpected.  Still, some credit to folks within the Trump administration for making this work.
  • Um, Bolton?  Aw, FFS.  There might be a worse person to become Trump's National Security Adviser, but it is hard to imagine.  As my US Foreign Policy class studied this spring, the person in this role can vary from coordinator (Scowcroft) to advocate (Kissinger) to out of the loop (Condi Rice)* and Bolton is very much an advocate.  He shades intel to support his arguments, he kicks down and kisses up, and is unlikely to present Trump with a complete picture.  Oh, and he is a first class warmonger.  So, whatever the odds were for a Second Korean War, they shifted at least five percent in the more likely direction.  NOT GOOD.  Bolton may very well be the last person to talk to Trump before he makes a decision, and that is NOT GOOD.
  • Xi and Kim Jung Un?  I have no idea as I am not an East Asia security expert yet (once I come back from a two week trip to Seoul in May, then I can be an exert).  But I don't think this is KJU being vulnerable nor do I think it means that China is constraining him.  I think they were probably trying to figure out how best to play Trump.  After all, it was Xi who had a Mar-lago dinner conversation with Trump that changed how the latter viewed Korean history.  So, hmmm is all I can say.
So, if you have any suggestions for topics for new Semi-Spews, you know where to find me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Sesame Street Ultimate

I saw this on twitter

and I could not help but consider who I would want on my Sesame Street ultimate frisbee team (just SS, not the entire muppet community).

First, I wouldn't want Cookie Monster on my team.  Not only does he eat the frisbees, but he is so easy to distract: "hey, do I see a cookie on the sideline" and suddenly you are playing 6 against 7.  On the other hand, Big Bird might be slow, but, as we can see in the clip, he can throw and I'd love to be throwing the long high pass to him as he outskies the competition. 

My second teammate would be Aloysius Snyffleupagus.  Why?  Because he is always open on offense and always in the way on defense.  The other team just does not believe in his abilities, so Snuffy is really the number one draft pick for this team.  He is really mellow, helping to maintain the proper spirit of the game.

Image result for fred the wonder horse imageThird is Fred the Wonder Horse.  Not only is he fast, but he is among the most sensible muppets, which makes him a good handler--he knows what he can do and he knows what his teammates can do.

Image result for rosita muppet imagesFourth, of course, is Grover.  A good ultimate team needs enthusiasm and optimism.  And Grover's lankiness suggests an ability to stretch around the mark, layout for the disk, and go up for the high tosses.

Fifth, Rosita, as she is both smart and good spirited and, despite efforts to stop her, she can still fly.

Sixth, Telly, whose obsession with triangles pays off on offense via how he cuts in the horizontal stack and on in defense in spacing the zone.  

Image result for zoe muppet imageSeven, Zoe, who is deceptively strong and feisty.  She reminds me of a number of my teammates of the years--folk who are willing to layout for the score but throw perhaps too many hammers.

I could go on, but this is a strong starting seven.  No, no Count as he too is easily distracted.  Once someone starts counting stall, he would join in and then his focus is gone. 

The New Canadian Mission to Mali: More than Meh?

Yesterday, the government of Canada announced a new peacekeeping effort: sending an Aviation Task Force to Mali.  Ta da!  There has been much impatience in Canada and probably at the UN as Justin Trudeau promised that Canada would return to peacekeeping and, until yesterday, has not.  Indeed, one stat floated around recently--that Canada had the fewest number of peacekeepers in UN operations since the 1950s.  So, does this new mission satisfy?

Well, that depends on what one considers to be "back" or enough or whatever.  The Canadians will be sending six helicopters (2 chinooks and 4 griffons) to do medevac and transport and the personnel needed to maintain them. That's it.  Something around 200-250 CAF members, staying largely on base except for those staffing the helos.  So, it is more than the 40-odd currently deployed but is far under what were the average deployments of yore.

Is the UN satisfied?  Maybe.  They needed someone to replace the Belgians who have replaced the Germans.  Having a helicopter task force is important especially given how "kinetic" things are--160 UN peacekeepers have been killed in Mali, so having helos that can get people to a hospital quickly is quite important.  But it is only 200 troops in a 13k person mission.  So, it fills a need, one that few countries can provide, but it is a small part of the mission. 

Does it satisfy Canadian voters who so heavily identify Canada as a peacekeeping country?  Maybe. Surveys will have to tell us that. 

Does it satisfy the government wanting to do peacekeeping but not risk many lives?  Apparently.  Given that most personnel will likely be confined to a secure base and given that the various violent actors have not been shooting down helicopters before now (as far as I know), the biggest risk is that Canada loses a helo due to accident (which happens fairly often) in some place where there are no friendlies on the ground.  That would be very bad.  So, there is risk, but it is not as risky as sending in a battalion or two to patrol.

Does it satisfy the opposition? Of course not.  They would never be satisfied even though the Conservatives put Canada on the glidepath to 40 or so peacekeepers.  Westminster politics means short memories and opposing things that one supported when one was on the other side. 

Does it satisfy the aspiration to have more women do peacekeeping (the Elsie Initiative)?  Maybe a smidge?  As far as I know, there are women flying Canadian helos, and women involved in the maintenance of helos.  Are women more represented in these military trades than infantry?  Maybe?  My hunch is that is the case, but so far I have received no answers via twitter or from the government.  Even if there are a higher percentage of women in this unit, say 20%, that won't move the needle much since the Canadian task force again is 200 out of 13,000. 

By having such a finite, contained, constrained contribution, Canada makes a "smart plege" by filling a niche capability at relatively low cost and risk.  But if it is obvious to me, it is also obvious to informed observes so does it help Canada in the competition for a Security Council seat?   No.  I haven't heard from insiders, but I have to guess that the Trudea folks have given up on that dream.  If they were as consumed it as I previously thought, the latest budget would have had far more money in the development envelope. 

While I always thought the UN Security Council seat was a pipe dream (beating Norway or Ireland was always going to be very hard, especially entering the game so late), the events of the past six months or so should have snuffed out the dream.  The failure to sign the TPP in Danang not only alienated Abe of Japan but most of ASEAN plus the Aussies were mighty miffed.  Getting the deal eventually done might have soothed things a bit, but the whole thing was not a voting winning venture.  The India trip?  Well, Canada might have picked up Pakistan's vote...  Oy. 

Anyhow, this whole thing fits into the usual category of "the least Canada could do, the most Canada could do."  It has some risk, it is a valued contribution, but it does not move any needles very much.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Giving Kids the Vote?

I have been hearing stuff lately about whether 16 and 17 year old should vote.  It has come up in both the US and Canadian contexts.  In the aftermath of the activism of the Parkland kids and the protests around the country, it seems like a good idea.  These kids are just so sharp, so passionate, so well organized. 

But to be clear: #notallkids.  That is, we are seeing a very select view, and those of us on the center-left are fans because these kids are pushing for gun control. Would we be so happy if the kids were right wing folks who were pushing for whatever it is that right wing kids would want?

I can't help but think about something that happened at Texas Tech long ago.  When I first got there, anyone who TA'ed had a vote at department meetings, which meant that the grad students had more weight than the junior faculty.  I thought this was pretty cool, as the graduate students could be a voice of reason, and swing towards the more reasonable stances.  I guess I was projecting from my time as a graduate student where I thought I was reasonable (not much self-awareness, I know).  The reality was much different--the evil (and I do mean evil) profs would drink with the students and persuade them to vote for the stances of the evil profs.  A new chair (from outside) came in, and helped to creatively interpret the rules to disenfranchise the students.  The one time in my life I rooted for disenfranchisement (easier to fix than the evil people--although that got partly resolved by one guy leaving and the other dying). 

Of course, that was about a group of folks in their 20s.  But the basic point is this: expecting 16 and 17 year olds to swing your way reliably is probably not a great idea.

What is the difference between 16-17 year olds and 18 year olds?  The law treats them very differently--not just who can vote, but who can fight/be drafted.  Indeed, if I remember correctly (I was very young), one of the big arguments for moving the voting age to 18 was that the US was at the time sending 18 year olds to fight in Vietnam.   There are other legal differences as well--this line between 17 and 18 is fairly deep and wide.

There are other differences as well--either finishing high school or being closed to it, and one might not think much of an additional two years of high school, but that is pretty much half of the experience.  Also, 16/17 year olds are entirely dependent on their parents, whereas those over 18 vary widely but tend to have much more independence and responsibility. 

Two last points:
  • The problem of under-representation of the young in democratic systems is far less about voting age and far more about turnout.  
  • There are other ways to have political influence than to vote, and these kids are doing exactly that and doing it incredibly well.  
Oh, and it ain't gonna happen in the US--the GOP would never allow it as they are losing the battle for the votes of the young people.  They are already trying to disenfranchise them via #voterfraudfraud--that college id's don't count, that residency requirements are being developed, etc--so don't expect them to allow the voting age to go down.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Trump as the Political Scientist Full Employment Machine

Ok, Trump may or may not challenge all existing wisdom that we have in political science (I tend to think our theories explain much of the Trump phenomenon quite well).  But what we do know is that he is creating a lot of work for future political scientists.  Lots of research agendas are being born every day, like: are tweets policies? Do distractions work whether intentional or not?  How does a country manage to make its allies fear abandonment and entrapment at the same time?

For me, the "fun" item this morning is this notion that Trump and Kelly have agreed to a truce.

 The only possible response to this is Whuck?!!  As in WTF?!!!  It directly challenges the core notions of principal-agent relations (remember, I didn't start out on that theoretical track but succumbed to it thanks to a NATO book on delegation).  While we may forget, Trump is the principal--the boss--who has hired an agent--John Kelly--to do his bidding.  John Kelly's job as Chief of Staff is to manage Trump's time, information flow, and activities so that Trump can be successful.  Kelly is not a peer of or equal to Trump--he is a subordinate.  In principal-agency theory, the agent can often have conflicting incentives or interests so that they do not want to work hard or they want to do the job the way they see fit (both are called shirking).  So, much of the trick in P-A theory for the principals is figuring out ways to vary the discretion the agent has, design systems of oversight, and the provide rewards for good behavior and penalties for bad.

Perhaps a truce could be considered one of the means by which the principal makes sure the agent is behaving appropriately?   Ordinarily, no way.  Because in a normal p-a relationship, the agent can't threaten the boss.  What does it mean to have a truce?  That both sides will stop firing on the other, right?  Well, how does a subordinate get away with saying that I'll stop attacking you if you stop attacking me?  There should be no real latitude there.

Of course, the challenge is this: Trump is a truly shitty principal.  The evidence: normal principals do not fire, compel to resign, or lose dozens of operatives in the course of a year.  Principals ordinarily do not want to waste time and effort with the churn of replacing personnel.  What happens when principals lose their agents?  They have to find new ones, and if one picks the most suitable ones first, then one loses something when replacing generation after generation of agents--the quality of the individuals may go down, the distance between the preferences of the agent and of the principal may widen, etc.

Trump is a lousy principal because not because he delegates lots of discretion to his agents.  He is lousy in part because he revises the delegation contract all the time--giving responsibility to a person and then overriding them capriciously.  His form of oversight is rivalry: encouraging the various agents to compete with each other.  This would be fine if Trump was as smart as FDR.... but he is not.  So, instead of getting conflicting advice and then deciding which path is best, Trump requires his people to compete to suck up to him and undercut each other, which they do, leading to all kinds of communications breakdowns, policy failures, and public displays of incompetence.  Finally, Trump's main form of incentive (other than allowing his people to steal from the American people) is to humiliate them.  Not sure that works for long.  So, bad delegation, bad oversight, bad incentives.

Which ultimately means that one of his agents threatens him, leading to a truce.  This means that political scientists using principal-agency theory in the future will need focus less on why agents might shirk and more on why principals might screw up their relationships with their agents.

In short, lots of presentations start with "here's this puzzle," and Trump is providing ample puzzles for the next generation.  Good luck, kids.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Circle of Trust Narrows Even Further

I am doing a heap of media (as are other IR types) about the musical chairs at the White House: Tillerson out, Pompeo up, Haspel in.  Drezner had a sharp take, and Vox summarizes my views on Tillerson pretty well.  Oh, and the process, which continues to play out, is a shitshow.

So, quick hits on all of this:
  1. Why now? Who knows?  Trump is easily triggered, and has not been happy with Tillerson since... he was appointed? Was it because of the different positions on Russia's poisoning of a British town?  Probably not since this might have been in the works since Friday.  Maybe because he contradicted Trump on North Korea and trade recently?
  2. What is Tillerson's legacy? Burning down State for a generation while not making much of a dent on foreign policy.  
  3. Will Pompeo be better?  He is far right (his American Conservative Union rating was 96% before leaving the house), but there were few stories of him burning down CIA.  He may or may not support State in bureaucratic battles.  He is closer to Trump, so he has more credibility BUT if he ain't in the room and Trump decides to do something, he will do it without consulting Pompeo. 
  4. What about Gina Haspel at CIA?  First reaction?  Phew, not Tom Cotton. That is also my second, third, fourth and fifty reactions because Cotton would have tried to politicize the agency, perhaps destroying it and American democracy.  Haspel is a professional, so the CIA is likely to mosey along without too much strain.  However, she may be a war criminal, given her role in torturing folks under the Bush Administration.   This makes her hardly unique since those above her in the chain of command have kept on keeping on.  If she pays a price and the males don't, that would be a problem.  And I prefer a professional with, yes, some blood on her hands than a Trump zealot who has no experience at all. 
  5. What does this mean for North Korea talks?  Well, since North Korea hasn't gotten back to the US, who knows?  Tillerson was utterly irrelevant for the NK talks, and had no expertise to bring to bear.  So, no loss.  Pompeo?  Not sure.  He is more likely to blow up the Iran deal since he seems to have preferences on that. I have complete faith in Trump to screw this up, no matter who is advising him.
  6. What about Canada?  Yeah, that has been a question I have been getting from the media here.  My basic take: Tillerson got along well with Freeland, but Tillerson was largely irrelevant. Pompeo is not a from a steel producing state, so he probably is not all that riled up about trade.  And much of US agriculture (Pompeo is from Kansas) seeks export markets.... so I guess this does not really matter too much.  So, keep on working the rest of the US political system.  
  7. I wonder if this will screw up the presentations of my students who are taking on the various roles in the US foreign policy process.  The Tillerson-players will have to get smart on Pompeo fast!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Russian Poison, Britain and NATO

Now that Theresa May has said that it is "highly likely" that the Russians used a nerve agent fairly recklessly as they sought to kill a double agent, lots of questions arise.  One could easily code this as an attack, not the first one since other Russians have been killed in the UK, but a more severe one given the number of bystanders and first responders who may have been exposed.  And once you use the word "attack," one of the first things that comes to mind is: an attack upon one equals an attack upon all--NATO's Article V.  It has only been invoked once, after 9/11, despite other attacks against NATO allies--Russian cyber attack against Estonia, Syrian shells and bombs hitting Turkey, etc.

Consulting NATO via Article IV is a natural way to proceed.  It would allow the UK to establish the seriousness of what has happened, that this is a very warlike thing to have happened.  However, bringing in NATO involves larger risks.  Specifically, the US, which has not acknowledged that Russia is "highly likely" to be guilty here, and with Trump never saying an unkind word about Putin, the danger is that the UK tries to get NATO to take a stand and fails.  That would cast doubt about the alliance itself.  It is like the US non-response to North Korean missile tests: sure, you can try to shoot them down, but, if you fail, you might reveal that the system does not work so well.  Well, with Trump being so hostile to NATO and pretty unfriendly to May, one can easily imagine the US blocking consensus at NATO probably with help from Hungary and Greece.  And then what?

With the economic fiasco that is Brexit going on, the UK has not many choices, especially with an unreliable US (today's alliance dilemma horn is abandonment), May is stuck.  What can she do?  I will agree with those who suggest new economic sanctions, the end of Russian oligarchs moving to London, and kissing RT goodbye.  Oh, and, this might sound awful, but the old spy game had some rules, and if one breaks the rules, one should pay.  So, yeah, the British should find the most guilty Russian spy, and remove him from the game.  Teach the Russians to be more careful.

So far, the Russians have not paid much of a price for their reckless moves across the globe--meddling in elections, using poisons in ways that harm bystanders, and on and on.  The US under Trump is not going to act as strongly as it should--the allies will need to do so.

Oh, and when folks say that Trump hasn't made that much of a difference in foreign policy yet, the refusal to respond to the election mess and now this are big pieces of evidence that, yes, Trump is making a difference and not in a good way.

Friday, March 9, 2018

CIPS 10th, Grand Strategy, and Feminist Defence Strategy

The conference was in Alex Trebek Hall!
Yesterday, I participated in an event celebrating the 10th anniversary of the U of O's IR research center: CIPS (by law, all Canadian IR centres and think thanks have to have a C in their acronym).  It was an honor because of all the sharp people involved and despite U of Ottawa being Carleton's in-town rival.  One of the big boons to moving to Ottawa has been that there is another school in town, full of interesting folks doing great work and also full of friends. 

The theme of the conference was "Disorder, Disruptions, and Directions" and a fourth D was implicit in the title and not so implicit in many of the talks: Depressing.  Why?  Trump, Brexit, populism, the apparent decline of the Liberal International Order.  I was assigned the topic of Trump (I wonder why, I rarely think or write about him).  The other speakers were from Canada, the US, and Europe. Because we had a bunch of government types, we had to follow Chatham House Rule, which means we can talk about what was said but not attribute to anyone.  I am not a fan, but I mostly behaved.  I then asked a couple of the speakers if I could cite them, and since they are academics, they said hells yeah.... or something like that.

William Wohlforth of Dartmouth gave the keynote, and focused on US Grand Strategy After Trump.  It was actually US Grand Strategy before and after Trump.  As a reasonable Realist who has written on such stuff, Wohlforth raised a basic question--what is the reference point one has to "the good times."  I was reminded of my own piece, currently in process that asks a meta version of that question--when was peak Grand Theory.  Anyhow, his basic point is that the US had overextended before Trump--either under Clinton or under Bush, and so the US under Obama and now Trump has to deal with the realities of commitments and efforts being beyond the capabilities of the US.

He argued that the US had three tasks--to manage the global environment to keep threats away; to manage the economic order, and to foster an institutional order.  Doing more than that--democracy promotion, fighting terrorism everywhere, regime changing Iraq--is not sustainable.  With the end of the Soviet Union, the primacy of the US, Wohlforth argues, allowed the US to become a revisionist state--trying to change other states and the world as the US became less tolerant of risk.  One of the basic problems is that folks treated the international liberal order as a bicycle--if it is not always moving forward it falls over. 

So where are we now?  Wohlforth asked us to focus on what Trump has been doing, rather than what he tweets (alas, any effort to suggest Trump is not too bad is usually undone within hours by Trump behavior). The power balance shift is significant but exaggerated.  There is still only one superpower.  The interests of US engagement, when not overextended, are still greater than the costs. The institutional stuff is actually pretty robust.  So expect a less revisionist, more status quo President after Trump.

Overall, I found the talk super engaging, and it make me think about my priors.  Definitely shared points of agreement, as I have long argued that Obama was not retrenching, but just less willing to risk money and blood for dubious gains.  I am not so sure that Bosnia or Kosovo were really over-extension.  While the folks in the Pentagon thought they were expensive efforts that challenged readiness, they were nothing in comparison to dual wars in Afghanistan and Iraq plus all of the lesser conflicts.  I think the real over-extension was not Kosovo or modest democracy promotion but Iraq--that was incredibly expensive, demonstrated American ineptness, and created so many problems that continue to cause the US to expend much effort (Syria, Iraq).
The key for Realists and for pragmatic folks like myself (I am realistic about stuff, but I think that anarchy is not so determining and that interests come from domestic politics more than from the international system) is that grand strategy is about balancing capabilities and commitments.  The US, by getting stuck in Iraq, skewed commitments, and by the domestic political effort to condemn taxes as evil, have undermined American capabilities.  The gutting of governance, I think, besides racism, is the real cause of rising populism.  Yes, international trade and automation cause shocks and disruption (damn, I hate that word), but governments failed to react because key actors in domestic politics thought austerity was the way out.  Which meant people paid the price, not corporations. 
Anyhow, a great talk and now I feel that I read Wohlforth's book without actually reading it. Woot!

The other talk I'd like to highlight is Andrea Lane's.  Andrea is a graduate student at Dalhousie, but I think most people think she is a junior prof.  She definitely held her own in a crowd of graybeards like myself.   She was tasked to consider what a feminist defence policy would look like, and she started by invoking my favorite movie for any presentation:

Lane was right was that Liberals are doing very little:
  • eliminating sexual harassment and assault is "a bare minimum."
  • there is more to the problems of CAF recruitment and retention--systemic stuff.
  • training others to do better gender stuff while peacekeeping rings hollow if Canada isn't doing peacekeeping.
The ingredients of a feminist defence policy were very interesting:
  1. Less defence $ as they go mostly to men, helping men "all the way down", whereas "butter" or social programs tend to help women more. Fun pic of shipbuilding stuff featuring men, men and men. 
  2. Smaller defence industry as these largely male jobs are much better paid/pensioned & tax subsidized while women's jobs are none of things.
  3. Defence exports go to places where women and children are killed (Saudis make the LAV look mighty bad)
  4. Radically revise recruiting--stop recruiting men until we reach 50% women?  
    1. A subpoint on this slide was more realistic and one I would really like: stop the steady increase in use and valorization of SOF.  Male only SOF being used means women don't get combat experience which stunts their career development. And for me, this is bad because SOF have less oversight and are ways for politicians to use the military without being as accountable. 
  5. Reduce domestic abuse in military families.  This was in her radical proposals but should be in her "the least one can do" section.
  6. Her less radical proposal--focus on girls/women when building the cyber force.  Make that a woman's job--good pay, flexibility, etc.  The super important point: "without concerted effort to create woman-friendly cyber program, it will be male-dominated."
Lane did a great job of giving one of the last presentations--she work up and energized the crowd and, um, put the first female Canadian Brigadier General who came up through the combat ranks into a semi-awkward position.  To be fair, BG Carignan did a nice job of reacting to Lane's talk and was much more open and interesting in the Q&A than in her presentation.

Overall, a great day--they brought in very interesting people, kept things moving, and had us all drinking from the firehouse of insight. CIPS did a great job of celebrating their 10th anniversary.  I definitely will try to steal their recipe for successful conferences in case one of my network grant applications succeeds.

A Modest Revision to Chatham House Rule: Academic Exception

Later today, I will post some of what I learned at the 10th Anniversary of CIPS (the U of Ottawa research centre).  It was a great one day conference, full of sharp people that made me have a significant case of imposter syndrome.  And, yes, I talked about Trump---because that was my assignment.

Anyhow, what was kind of frustrating is that they applied Chatham House Rule to the event--which means we can talk about the stuff, but not attribute what was said to those who said it.  I get it--it makes it far easier for government types to speak freely or semi-freely, although it is often the case that the government types don't (it varied yesterday).  But academics?  Our job basically involves two fundamental things: to figure stuff out (I always find "create knowledge" to be a bit high falutin') and to share what we have figured out (disseminate knowledge).  It is completely contrary to the academic enterprise to limit one's audience.  This is not about citation (ok, mostly not) but about the reality that it is hard to talk about what people are saying if you can only share it in ways that mask their identities.  Because programs are generally online, live-tweeting, for instance, can easily give away who is saying what.

So here's my modest proposal for conference organizers: tell your audiences that CHRXA (Chatham House Rules Except Academics) applies: Chatham House Rules applies to the stuff that non-academics say, but feel free to tweet or blog about the academic mutterings.  I did ask after the conference if I could blog about a couple of the presentations, and the two academics said: duh, of course.  So, I will.  But I'd prefer for all those in the audience to share what they heard, so we need to be clear at the outset of these events. 

Let's make CHRXA more popular than fetch!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Aging Profs: When Will They Retire?

Image result for old muppets in balconyThis story got a lot of academic attention: that profs in Ontario (and elsewhere in North America) are not retiring.  With the end of mandatory retirement, professors seem to like their jobs and keep on keeping on.  One of my former colleagues at McGill is now significantly over 90 and still thinks he is the future of the department (my sniping since he is still involved in department politics and not in a productive way).  And, yes, I remember being told when I was in grad school, that there would be tons of jobs as folks retired... which never seems to happen.  So, I have mixed feelings and tweeted thusly:

Let me explain.  First, the retirement age of 65 does not makes sense anymore.  It was developed when half the folks would be dead at 65. Ok, maybe not quite, but the basic idea is that if you make it to the average lifespan, then you can stop working and live a few more years.  Now, folks who make it to 65 are very likely to make it another 10-20 years.  That is both a long time to live off of one's savings and to be unemployed.  So, if we start to change retirement ages to keep up with folks living longer and living better longer, then 65 is probably too soon.

On the other hand, more than a few folks who are over 70 and more so those over 75 often seem to be behind the times--not up on the literature, not up on the methods and trends, and so they make lousy advisers, not that great teachers, and so on.  And they are filling up lines that might be filled by younger, more energetic, more innovative folks who might also bear more of the burden of supervision, of service and all that.

On the third hand, one of the trends that has been going on since I graduated long ago is that retirements are often not filled.  That when the department loses a person, they lose that line and, instead, you might get a temporary person.  So, you get someone who teaches but can't provide much service to the department and is unlikely to produce much research (not because they are not up to it but because their load is so much heavier).  So, kicking out a somewhat productive older person might be a bad idea if the replacement is someone who produces less because they are teaching at multiple places to make up for their poor pay.

On the fourth hand, this stuff is gendered but not in the ways some folks expected (but Frances Woolley did expect because she is very smart).   Older profs are mostly male since the profession was very male for quite some time, so they are blocking spaces for younger women to move in and up.

And, yes, now that I am on the other half of my career, closer to retiring than to when I started, I am a bit more sympathetic to the old folks that people want to kick to the curb.  My goal has been 70, which I think is a fair compromise between getting out when I am still pretty young and hanging on forever.  Then I realized if I continue my sabbaticals at this rate, I would be eligible when I am 71.  Hmmmmm.   Of course, it all really depends on how the various retirement funds/plans are when I get older.  Moving to Carleton late in my career means working past 65 to get to twenty years, and the calculator for pensions (yes, a pension of some kind) builds in years of service, so there's an incentive to stick around.

What will I do when the time comes?  Damned if I know.  I do know I will feel less guilty if my department can't replace me with a tenure track line.  I know I will feel willing to leave if my various funds do well (that they can bounce back from the Trump damage of today) and if Carleton doesn't mess with my pension.  I can't blame people for sticking around for a few extra years, especially since most of us deferred making money for the 5-7 years of grad school and many of us lost control of where we could live long ago.  But I can see the challenge facing governments, and I can also see that if I become obsolete and out of touch, then I should get out of the way.  So, that is really it--will I be contributing when I am 67 or just draining?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Decoupling and the Alliance Dilemma: Get Out!?

As Glenn Snyder and then Patricia Weitsman so clearly identified (as well as Jack Snyder and Thomas Christensen), alliances always pose two threats to those who join: that they might be abandoned despite reassures to the contrary AND that they might get dragged into a war they do not want to fight.  So, abandonment vs. entrapment are the dual horns of the alliance dilemma.  So very relevant today as the story du jour is of "Decoupling" South Korea from the US.

It has long been a concern that North Korea would maneuver to separate the US from South Korea, and they have made a heap of progress lately.  This morning there are reports of talks leading to more negotiations between North and South Korea.  The concern is that South Korea might sign some kind of separate peace, giving into North Korea and leaving the US out. 

For much of the cold war and post-Cold War period, the South Korean concern would be that the US would abandon it.  Jimmy Carter proposed and then reversed himself on pulling the US troops out, as this undermined the credibility of the US commitment to South Korea, for instance.  Just like the Europeans, the South Koreans worried that the US might not show up, that it would be very costly for the US to defend South Korea.  The advent of the North Korean ICBM with the capability to hit the US gave the South Koreans the chance to re-visit all of the "would the US sacrifice Chicago for Bonn or Paris" debates.  So, yes, the South Koreans still fear abandonment and perhaps even more so with an uncertainty engine in the White House who confuses North and South.  You would think that this fear would lead them to focus on tightening the alliance, not decoupling.

Ah, but here's where the other horn of the alliance dilemma gets super-pointy: the US has been making noises about a new Korean war, that a punch in the nose or whatever effort to disarm North Korea, would be harmful to South Korea but not the US.  Indeed, Lindsay Graham has recently agreed with the White House rhetoric of, well, burning South Korea to save American lives.  The South Koreans know only too well that the opening shots of a new Korean war would lead to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dead South Koreans.  So, with all of the war talk in DC, they have good reason to fear being entrapped in a war they do not want.

So, I can't blame the South Koreans for seeking an alternative path, away from the races up the escalation ladders.  The problem, of course, is that if South Korea is decoupled from the US, that the alliance is broken, then North Korea can break its promises to South Korea and the US will find it hard to respond to a fait accompli in the aftermath of US forces being expelled from South Korea (the possible result of decoupling).  Where does Japan fit in all of this?  Completely screwed but that is an alliance that will be broken via other means (trade wars)....

In sum, Trump has made a difficult problem far more challenging.  The no good policy options problem is now far more likely to be all the worst policy problem.  Thanks, Trump.

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Trump Rosetta Time Machine

How do we make sense of Trump?  Yes, he is an uncertainty engine, but there are some basic tendencies that seem to be driving much of what he says and does.  He is a lifelong racist, so not hard to guess how he will act towards non-white folks, for instance.  When it comes to international economic stuff, it all starts with where his mindset stops: the early to mid 1980s (that and he never took Intro to International Relations).

When Trump talks about trade deficits and blasts Japan and Germany, he seem to be invoking a time where those two countries seemed to be the biggest threats to American producers.  Japan's economy has been stagnant for more than two decades.  Both countries have firms that have invested significantly in US-based production.  So, these views have mostly been overcome by events that Trump has not apparently noticed.

Trump's views on steel and aluminum, that these industries are on steep decline, makes sense if you compare the mid 1980s with the previous decades:
Media preview

 but these industries have been mostly pretty steady since then (big dip during the financial crisis, and mostly profitable as of late, and see here for more figures, h/t to Scott Lincicome).
Media previewWell, steady in terms of output but not steady in terms of employment.  Another good tweet last night indicated that the productivity gain for making steel means that 2 people can make as much steel now as 10 could in 1980. So, the problem is not Canada, nor is it Germany or Japan or China, but increased productivity (yes, IPE is more complicated than that so I am simplifying).

Trump's views on NYC as a haven for crime is also outdated, as he seems to remember the NYC of the 1970s or 1980s. This is kind of strange since he spent so much time since then in the construction trade, where one would maybe get a clue about changes in "bad neighborhoods" and all that.

But Trump does not update his priors--he does not learn (he is a lousy Bayesian, overeducated social science types might say).  The only thing he learns or adapts to is when a line works in a speech and gets applause, and then he sticks to it.  So, when trying to figure out how Trump sees the world, imagine what he saw (via racist lenses and without the benefit of reading anything more complicated than a listicle) in 1984 or so.  That is how he views the world today.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Trade War 101

I was quick to tweet but slow to blog about Trump's desire for a trade war because I don't research or teach International Political Economy.  However, the stuff here is so very basic that I can at least highlight some of the truly stupid stuff here.
  1. Countries will respond, raising barriers to American goods, so many American companies will be hurt.
  2. Any/all companies in the US that use steel/aluminum as inputs will have to raise the prices of their goods, making them less competitive on world markets and more expensive to those who buy them (tis bad for the car industry, for instance).  Others have pointed out that there are far more jobs and money in the businesses where people rely on steel/al products than in the production of steel and aluminum.  This is like fucking over the solar industry for the very small coal industry.
  3. As a result, this may cause inflation (going along with huge deficit spending in a relatively booming economy).  
  4. This will undercut the international institutions that the US built to, um, help the US.  While these agreements/norms/institutions were built so that others would buy in, they were very much aimed at creating an international environment conducive for US businesses.  Given that the World Trade Organization and other dispute panels have more often found in favor of American complaints than Chinese, for instance, this gutting of the trading order is not good.
  5. Steel is not coming back.  The rust belt will not unrust.  
  6. Protectionism like this always costs far more per job saved than what those jobs pay.  In other words, this is a very inefficient way to help these workers.  Better safety nets and training programs would be far better.
  7. Targeting allies is bad.  This will hurt Germany, Japan, and Canada probably more than it hurts China and certainly far more than Russia.  So, yeah, another example of Trump, stuck in the 1980s, hurting the US position in the world.  
  8. Pretty sure all of that supposed infrastructure program (not to mention a wall) require steel, so the prices of such stuff will escalate.
Of course, Trump doesn't care.  He is just angry at some slight, and we just have to be relieved he chose trade war rather than the other kind of war vs. North Korea or Iran.  Trump has never demonstrated much insight from the lessons of the 1930s, and he has always been a mercantilist.  The only good economic deal is an exploitative one.  The problem as I started off with is that other countries are not like contractors in the NY construction business--they can and will retaliate.  I have long wondered why the markets have liked Trump because this day was coming.... but they got their tax cuts.

Since tariffs are taxes, Congress does have a say.  Will they undelegate the authority they delegated to the President?  Will the GOP in Congress resist?  Is this like the tax cuts or like the Russian sanctions?  I have no idea since it requires Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to do the right thing.  How likely is that?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Trump Years? Scaramuccis? Time is Relative!

One of the constant complaints about life in the Trump Era is how long every day/week/month seems to be.  Because every day is packed with controversies, each one seems longer, each week seems longer. For example:

I am highlighting the dog years part because it goes along with people saying yesterday (a Wednesday) how long this week has been and glad that it is Friday because by the third weekday, it has felt like we have lived through at least a full week.

Hope Hicks lasted six months as Communications Director (although never talking to the media?), which does not sound like that long, but she also lasted nearly twenty Scaramuccis (a Scaramucci is ten days).  If we measure things in terms of Scaramuccis, then perhaps it will make the various Trump crises seem as long as they feel. For instance, exactly a year ago, I was at a conference making a long qomment (a question that is really a comment at 1:16) about how Trump ain't normal.  One year is not that long ago, but that was thirty-six and a half Scaramuccis.

Alas, it does not do anything for the daily grind, where one hour feels like three or four. Any ideas for how to express the slowness of the average day in the Trump Era?  I don't really know the answer to this, but the good news is this: if it feels like 5pm at noon, then the drinking lamp is lit.