Saturday, July 28, 2018

Donald Trump's Horcruxes: Do We Need Psychological Detectives?

Lots of discussion about Trump's horcruxes after his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was destroyed.  This is all entertaining and good but somewhat problematic.  Sure, Trump is evil like Voldemort in some key ways:
Trump                                           Voldemort
White Supremacist                        Pure blood over muggles and mixed blood folks
Short temper                                  Short temper
Sells out loyalists                          Sells out (kills) loyalists, sorry, Snape
Has crappy allies                           Has crappy allies
Facilitated by craven (Fudge)       Facilitated by craven (GOP)
Media empower him                     Media empower him (Skeeter, Daily Prophet)

So, I get it.  BUT, here's a big but: Voldemort truly was strategic, developing plans and schemes that had multiple steps building towards clear goals.  Trump?  Not so much. 

But the real question is: do we need to engage in the same kind of psychological investigation and detective work that Dumbledore and then Harry practiced to determine where Voldy put pieces of his soul to understand Trump's decision-making? 

Voldemort was attached to key relics that had magical power and symbolism--Hufflepuff's cup, Ravenclaw's diadem, Gaunt's ring, Slytherin's locket, plus the snake, the diary, and, oops, Harry.  And he mostly hid them well and with protection.  See Dumbledore's hand.  Ick. 

Trump?  The first thing to consider is that Trump need not have seven--that was Voldemort's attachment to a number with magic resonance.   We'd have to figure out how many pieces of Trump's soul he wants to split off (assuming he ever had a soul to begin with).  Since Trump has such a lousy memory, I doubt he would want more than three or four, but he might create more because he forgot about previous ones.  See, Trump is hard to figure out.   So, the horcrux hunter would just have to keep trying to find them until they think they have done enough...  tricky.  I think more investigation into Trump's background would be required to figure out the number. 

Assuming three or four, the question then is where?  Trump is not as crafty as Voldemort, and, indeed he probably would broadcast the locations.  But he distrusts.  So, fol have said Pence's brain is a horcrux, but Trump doesn't trust Pence nor care that much about him.    So, probably not.  Ivanka?  Is Ivanka kind of like Voldemort's snake?  He clearly has much affection for her (too much!), just as Voldemort seemed to have some affection for the snake.  And Trump does keep her nearby.

The second probable location would be Trump's bed--he hates sleeping away from home.  He always cranky on the road, so that is my guess.  Unless Trump Tower in NYC is a horcrux?  But I am not sure any pieces of Trump's soul are big enough to make for a building-sized horcrux.  Tough call.

The third probable location might be his remote control.  He is so attached to television that he would probably put a piece of his soul in the object that controls his tv.  Sure, this could be lost or stolen easily, but then again, Trump ain't that bright and tends to hand his enemies (Mueller) the weapons they need to destroy him.  "Oh, you  need a vorpal sword containing basilick poison?  Don't reach into that hat. Just take mine."

The fourth?  Again, not sure Trump can count to four (the most certain way to tell if Trump is lying is if he mentions a number), but just in case, I think the fourth horcrux might be the pee tape, and, yes, it is out of his control.  Ooops.  So, the Russian threat may be more serious than just embarassing him by releasing the tape, but destroying it and one key shred of Trump's soul.

Of course, all of this assumes Trump had a soul at some point, and that is really the part of this entire discussion that is least realistic.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Worst Targeted Advertising: "Family Values" Edition

I get lots of PR stuff, perhaps because of my blogging.  Anyhow, I got this today:

For Immediate Release
July 26, 2018

Deborah Hamilton, Hamilton Strategies,, 610.584.1096, ext. 102, or Emily Brunner, ext. 100

Breaking: Jim Jordan to Run for House Speaker

American Family Association Says Jordan Has a Proven Track Record with a Convictional Vision to Restore and Defend the Constitutional Republic

TUPELO, Miss.—The American Family Association (AFA, is spreading the word today about the proven qualifications of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) for the Speaker of the House post.

Jordan, a member of the Freedom Caucus, announced today that he will run for the Speaker position soon to be vacated by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

“Paul Ryan’s decision not to seek re-election opens the highest leadership position in Congress,” said AFA President Tim Wildmon today in an Action Alert to AFA’s 1 million-plus friends and supporters. “It will be the rank-and-file members of Congress who will select Ryan’s replacement as Speaker.”

Several other names have surfaced as Ryan’s replacement, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).

“McCarthy and Scalise are Ryan’s top lieutenants,” Wildmon added. “They are establishment Republicans who will continue business as usual. The next Speaker of the House must be a great leader, not just a good one. Congress needs a Speaker who has a proven track record with a convictional vision of greatness to restore and defend the constitutional republic of the United States of America. Jim Jordan displays such qualities.”

AFA Action’s legislative score card shows both McCarthy and Scalise score much lower than Jordan on issues such as spending, abortion, Planned Parenthood and filibuster support. Jordan also has a 99 percent composite score from other social and fiscal conservative groups, compared to 64 percent for McCarthy and 70 percent for Scalise.

“Congressional conservatives should not make behind-the-scenes deals with current leadership on who the next Speaker will be,” Wildmon added. “Instead, House Republicans need to select Jim Jordan, a proven conservative Speaker.”

AFA representatives are available to conduct immediate breaking news interviews via its LTN line at AFA studio headquarters. Contact for more information or call 610.584.1096, ext. 102.

 So, how did I respond?
"Jim Jordan? The guy who let kids get molested and didn't say anything? Funny way to be pro-family."

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

How to Explain the Academic Job Market to Non-Academics?

This topic came up on twitter--how do we get our friends and relatives to understand the academic job market?  My first take: don't bother.  It can get really confusing really fast.  I consider my family well-educated, yet deep into my career, my mother thought that my appearances on TV and radio would help me get another job.  Nope. Given that job market season is approaching (sorry!),* here's my listicle of things you have to explain:
  1. The Adjusted Bar Closing rule: you can't go home, but you can't stay here.  Few grad programs will hire their own products at all, and very, very few hire their own students straight out of grad school.
  2. "You can control what you do, but you can't control where you do it" rule.  That academia mostly provides a lot of autonomy about what you research, how you research it, what you teach and how you teach it (military schools are a big exception here and perhaps other places), but the tradeoff is that you have very, very little control over where you do it.  I compare myself to the flotsam and jetsam that gets washed ashore by the vagaries of the tides. That may be too much but close.  I had one student who only wanted to live/work in one spot on the Earth.... and she got it.  But that is far, far, far from the norm.
  3. The Rummy rule: you have to go with the job market you have, not the one you wish for.  Again, not completely true, but almost: job listings exist and you react.  You cannot cause a job to come into being.  Each year, there are only so many spots in one's area of expertise.   
    1. Fads are a thing.  When I was first coming out, "new topics in International Relations" were hot.  I thought I was in good shape since the IR of ethnic conflict was new-ish.  But I ended up being behind all of the hot IR of the Environment folks.  Seriously, the same four or five people got most of the interviews, and then the job market settled once the first few decided where to go.  Feel sorry for those who were studying the Soviet Union in 1990.  Feel good for those who study trade wars these days.
    2. Which gets to something that has been tweeted lately: 
  4. The Networking Rule: Networking matters, but not the kind of networking that civvies think.  How many folks have heard: well, I know someone who knows the Dean of Engineering, they can put in a good word for you?  Nope, those kinds of contacts are utterly irrelevant.  It does help if one's adviser or oneself has some relationship with professors in the department one is seeking employment.  As one progresses in one's career, having a wider network can help.  How much is up for dispute.
  5. "It Just Doesn't Matter" Rule:  Most of what people think matters doesn't.  While this varies as places vary in how much they care about teaching, what matters most of the time is some combo of ability to publish, being seen as smart, being articulate (that does not mean being a good teacher), and that prestige thing.  Let's break this down.
    1. Publications uber alles: most places want to hire people who can get tenure and who can advance the reputation of the place.  Even at teaching schools, if you can't get published, you can't get tenure.  And with very competitive markets, even those places will be able to compare strong teachers with meh publication records with strong teachers with good publication records and choose the latter.  At research universities, it is all about the pubs.  How do you know someone will publish in volume and in quality (at the more visible, selective spots)?  Past performance.  And, yes, we get this wrong a lot.  To get a job interview, one's CV should have some indication that one is going to publish.
    2. Being seen as smart.  I remember the word "Smart" being used a whole lot in job searches of yore.  Yes, anyone with a PhD might be bright, but some folks are seen as smarter--that they ask really interesting questions, they have a strong ability to think theoretically, they have sharp methods skills.  This "smart" thing is mostly socially constructed--that if the community of people think someone is smart, well, then they are.  A topic for another post someday.
    3. Being articulate--can you talk about your stuff very clearly and persuasively?  I am fundamentally convinced that some of the most influential people in the discipline are not those with the smartest arguments or best research, but are best at articulating them.
    4. Oh, and prestige matters.  Sorry, but the students from Harvard and their ilk get heaps of play in the job market just because of their school's name.  Is there a correlation between prestige of a place and the quality of the student (that they are smart and well trained)?  Um, not always.  The worst talks I have seen are those by folks from the schools with the best reputations---because mediocre students from lesser schools don't get invited to job talks but lesser students from big name schools do.  A selection effect.   
  6. Any Given Sunday Rule: While everything else matters, what one does during the job talk is most important.  Not everyone in the department will read the file (most people will not).  They will vote in large part on what they see at the job talk and perhaps the other interactions they have (one on one chats, committee interrogations of candidates [I have only experienced that a few times], meals).  So, one can do good work, be prepared, and yet, well, choke.  And one can give that same exact talk brilliantly a week later.  I had a talk deep into my career where I didn't present the independent variables slide and then brain-farted about what my IVs were.  Probably because the person before asked: "so, your topic explains why war happens, so what?"  Anyhow, job talks matter far more than they should, kind of like athletes performing great at the combine (the event where various measurements are taken), as performance in the job and performance in a job talk are not entirely related.
  7. Arrow Rules: Yep, Arrow's Paradox plays a big role in who gets the offer.  Sure, sometimes, one candidate is superior on all measures in obvious ways.  However, in many cases, there are multiple attributes that people are considering, and you will get different outcomes depending on which attributes are more salient at a given meeting.  And this is where department politics comes in--is there someone advocating for your candidacy?  Are there folks advocating against your candidacy?  Yep, politics can matter.  Less so if the other 1-3 candidates blew their job talks.
So, good luck conveying this to your friends and family.

*  All of this applies maybe to US/Canada and only to Poli Sci. I have no idea how other disciplines work or how it works elsewhere.  All I know is that the UK is strange.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Let Confirmation Bias Be Your Guide: Irregular Immigration Edition

Two dynamics are combining to make Canadian politics unpleasant:
  1. Trump's unleashing of ICE and other agencies against immigrants has created a trickle or a flood (more on that below) of people crossing into Canada from the United States.
  2. There are some on the right wing of Canadian politics that seek to emulate Trump, Fox/Breitbart, and various folks in Europe--focusing more on mostly imaginary threats and using various images to provoke racial animus and xenophobia.
So I tweeted thusly:

I got some pushback, which made me realize that the trickle is not a flood, but a smidge more than than a trickle.  The official statistics indicate that 47k folks have crossed the border to seek asylum in Canada.  Oh wait, that is from 2011-2018.  This year, the number is 9,500 and last year was 11,400.  Is that a trickle or a flood?

It obviously depends on one's priors--those who think that any irregular immigration (illegal is a term that opponents use to demonize these folks, irregular is the government term) is bad will see 9.5k and get most upset.  For those who think that Canada should be haven for those who are oppressed, then 9.5 is not that bad.  To be clear, this is for Canada--1.6k for Ontario where Doug Ford is making a stink.  Can Ontario absorb 1.6k (this year) or 6k (last year) refugees?  Yeah. If they all came to Ottawa or Oshawa, that would be quite significant.  If they all went to Toronto?  A blip. 

While Canada is not a big country population-wise, its current population is roughly the same as California.  California faced much bigger flows of immigrants, and it did spark some xenophobia.  The stances the Republican Party took back in the late 1980s and early 1990s still hurt the party in the state today. 

The question today is whether playing up a minor challenge into a provincial priority will pay off for Doug Ford and pay off for the Conservative Party [CPC] as they ramp up the efforts to defeat Trudeau in 2019.  I don't know enough about Canadian politics to hazard a bad prediction.  I would say that the last election in part turned on the CPC's desperate effort at the end to play up xenophobia.  It worked to hurt the NDP, but that gave Trudeau and the Liberals more room to run in Quebec.  The question this time is where will the xenophobes go?  By picking a Sikh to lead the NDP, the NDP may have given those fearful of any non-Catholic symbols cause to vote elsewhere.  But I am not sure they will go Liberal.  Trudeau has broken promises that mattered to some of those folks--electoral reform being one of them.  However, Andrew Scheer and the CPC right now are not that good at making appeals of their own.  Hmmm.

The larger question is this: will Doug Ford, Rebel media (think Breitbart married Fox and produced a less intelligent kid), and the CPC gain traction via white supremacy?  Given that Ontario is very multiethnic and multiculturalism is something that still has some weight across Canada AND being smugly different from the US is a key to Canadian identity, trying to be Trumpian may produce a backlash.  That is my guess and it might be wishful thinking. 

Thursday, July 19, 2018


Thanks to Donald Trump, people are now questioning whether it makes sense for the US to be in an alliance with a bunch of European countries (and Canada, too!).  Last week, a tweet went around comparing NATO to vaccines--that preventative measures work so well that people start forgetting why we developed them and then only find out that not investing in such efforts leads to the stuff that they were designed to prevent.  So, let's consider both NATO's intended and unintended benefits that continue to make it a smart investment. 

NATO was formed to prevent yet another war in Europe.  After World War II and with the rise of the Soviet Union, it seemed to make sense to develop a collective effort to deter conflict and to defend like-minded countries in Europe and North America. Rather than developing a series of bilateral agreements with many different countries, the US and its friends in Europe formed a multilateral defensive alliance. The whole "an attack upon one is an attack upon all" is the heart of it.

To be clear, it is a defensive alliance so if the uppity Montenegrins (jeez, Trump is dumb) try to start a war, there is no compulsion for the US or anyone else to fight.  Yes, alliances have twin challenges--fears of entrapment and fears of abandonment. That an ally may suck you into a war you do not want to fight or may not help you if war comes (Glenn SnyderPatricia Weitsman).  NATO, unlike Trump's fever dreams, mitigates the first problem--that NATO operates by consensus, so if an ally wants to suck you in, you can say no.  And, thanks to the key clause in Article V, "each country responds as each deems necessary," even if you go along with a declaration of Article V, any/all countries can opt out.  See the Dave and Steve book. Also, we have plenty of practice at not getting sucked into wars started by members thanks to Greece and Turkey (however, the other members may point to the US sucking them into unwanted wars--Iraq and Afghanistan).*

The first big question is easily answered: is it in American interests to invest in peace in Europe?  Hells yeah.  WWI and WWII were very expensive enterprises, and war has only gotten more destructive.  While Trump thinks of these countries as rivals and competitors, the reality is that European countries and Canada have contributed greatly to American interests via preventing war in Europe--that American firms have a secure market to sell to, to invest in, and so on. 

The multilateral nature of the alliance--each country agreeing to the collective defense of all members--has benefits that can be best illustrated by looking at East Asia.  Japan and South Korea cannot agree with each other on very much, so instead of an East Asian alliance system, the US had a much harder time and a more expensive effort.  The US has to work to separate relationships again and again and again, and the level of ROK/Japanese interoperability is mighty low as a result. 

Ok, that's the obvious NATO is a collective effort to defend stuff argument.  The second and unintended aspect is that Robert Keohane was right--that once an organization exists, countries will maintain it as it continues to facilitate cooperation.  NATO has not just been helpful for the United States in preventing war in Europe, it has also facilitated American interests in other ways.  Let's listicle, shall we:
  1. NATO ended one civil war that the UN and EU failed to manage (Bosnia) and stopped ethnic cleansing (Kosovo) that could have destabilized an entire region.
  2. Despite my criticisms of NATO conditionality, it is the case that NATO helped the transition of East European countries to democracy by encouraging/developing the civilian control of their various militaries--note that whatever movements being made to autocracy are not being led by anyone's armed forces in the region (Vachudova, Epstein).
  3. Flying AWACS planes over American cities in the aftermath of 9/11
  4. NATO has had fleets doing counter-terrorism and counter-piracy work.  We don't hear much about them, but they have been pretty effective.
  5. NATO held the fort in Afghanistan while the US was distracted by its Iraq adventure.  The allies were very much doing the US a favor at the costs of more than a thousand lives of their soldiers (many private contractors as well, but their lives don't count) and billions of dollars, Euros and other currencies.  That the war was complicated by caveats (see Dave and Steve book) does not mean that allies did not contribute and did not pay for it, yes, even the Germans.  That Afghanistan hasn't worked out that great is much less about caveats and allied contributions and much more about American bad decisions and, well, third party counter-insurgency being really hard (Simpson)
  6. Stopping a mass killing before it happened, and, yes, doing a smidge of regime change in Libya.
  7. Providing a market for American arms manufacturers.  Oh yeah, that whole technical interoperability tends to mean buy American.  Nice coincidence, right?
I am sure I am leaving stuff out.  The general point is that after the end of the Cold War, NATO didn't disappear.  Instead, its members found other uses for it, since it had a handy set of capabilities (managing an air campaign over Libya illustrated that).  It also made for very cooperative relations that spilled over to other areas.  Yes, being part of a multilateral alliance meant compromises--that the US didn't always get what it wanted, but it has always been very much a force and power multiplier--the US had more influence, not less, in Europe and beyond. 

It would be dumb to throw it away, especially when its original purpose--defending against the enemy to the east--is now quite relevant again.  But Trump is dumb and speaking of being compromised ....  Anyhow, NATO has an instrument of American influence and power.  If one tosses it aside, well, it is because one is either too dumb to see it or uninterested in having the US remain influential.  Which one is Trump?

* No, 2003 did not involve NATO, but members of NATO faced great pressure to join that effort and many did so.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Implausible Deniability: Trump Tries

One of the things I have been thinking about for about four years has been this: how implausible can a claim be and still be politically useful?  Is implausible deniability a thing?  Of course, it is the master, Vladimir Putin, who got me thinking about this.  What, Russians in Ukraine?!  Can't be.  The whole winking and nudging while saying that Crimea voted freely for annexation and from then on, all kinds of stuff.

Well, yesterday, Trump tried--changing one sentence from his disastrous press conference with his the master. The problem, of course, is that Trump didn't just say one time that the Russians didn't hack the election--he said it multiple times at one press conference.  One minor changing in wording does not erase the rest of press conference nor the rest of his statements before or since.

However, it seems to provide Republicans with just enough cover to try to put this behind him, which reminded me of the Duck and Cover video where the US government recommended that people use newspapers or picnic blankets if caught out in the open during a nuclear attack.  That is, it might provide some reassurance, but that reassurance is based on an entirely false claim. But wishful thinking is a thing, and cowardice in the GOP is definitely a thing.  Yeah, they would be risking their careers if they took a stand... so what?

Whatever peace Trump thought he would get from his minor adjustment to his Helsinki comments has been erased by his interview with white supremacist Tucker Carlson.  Trump concurred with Carlson that he doesn't see why Americans should put their lives at stake in the defense of NATO countries.  This should not be surprising from Trump, who dodged the draft, and who has been a committed isolationist.

Mrs. Spew and I got into an argument, as she is not surprised by how awful all of this is.  I said, as I have said here, that my imagination simply was not good enough.  That some of the stuff Trump does and says is shocking and appalling even if we should know better--that he will always go lower (like saying that Europe has diminished itself by letting in immigrants--not that he has paid much of a price for that).  Then again, my wife edits mysteries and thrillers and aspires to write some--so her imagination may be darker than mine.  After all, when we moved to San Diego, she could not help but note that the canyons of the area were handy places to dispose of bodies.... which is why I never invested much in life insurance..... Joking.

Anyhow, I am sure that Trump aides will dismiss the anti-NATO stance, but the members of NATO will not forget it as it is very much in line with his performance at the NATO summit.  American leaders had to spend a great deal of effort over the years reassuring European allies that the US would follow through on its commitments because those promises were, indeed, costly.  Why sacrifice Chicago for Berlin?  Because European peace is in American interests, it isn't charity.  However, all that work by Democratic and Republican Presidents is now being eroded very, very quickly by an unqualified President who has more in common with the leader of Russia than the leaders of the west.

All it takes is for the US to not show up when needed just once to do irrevocable damage to the alliance.  Does Putin know this?  Yes.  Am I worried?  Hells yeah.  Would a modest word change reassure anyone?  Not at all, although Marco Rubio would surely find a way to weasel out of it.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Living in an Age of Rage

I am in the midst of doing CBC syndicated radio across Canada this afternoon.  I am talking about the Trump-Putin summit, and well, ...:

So far, so good, no cursing, but also no equivocating or balancing.  Just speaking the truth:
  1. That Trump sold out a precious commodity--recognition of Russia as an equal--for nothing.  Not even a bag of magic beans.  During the Cold War, the Soviets desperately wanted to be seen as an equal.  Nixon and Kissinger finally gave them this recognition via detente--and got stuff from it--arms control, Helsinki Accords (which the annexation of Crimea trashed), and other stuff.  Sure, there were problems and contradictions, as the US did not think it was giving the Soviets carte blanche to invade Afghanistan and parachute troops around Africa.  Anyhow, when the USSR collapsed, so did its parity.  This is something Putin was desperate to reverse.  Today, he got it--as Trump recognized Russia and Putin as partners in guaranteeing international peace and order.  What did Trump get? Today, nothing. Well, a soccer ball.  
  2. That the concerns about the private one on one are legitimate.  Trump is an unreliable narrator so his staff will have no idea what they talked about for two hours.  Putin probably has it taped and could certainly come up with a falsified account if needed.  So, no, we will never really know what they talked about.
  3. Trump basically said that he believes Putin (don't see why Putin would intervene in the election) over his own intel agencies.  Talk about a crisis in civ-civ relations.  What will the intel community do?  I have a guess: leak like a sieve.  I am not saying that the indictment of a Russian who worked with the NRA is a leak.... but do watch the newspapers over the next few days.
  4. What else did they talk about?  Who the fuck cares?  No deliverables, no progress on any file.  
  5. What did each leader walk away with?  If Trump had the capacity for shame, well, he'd at least have that.  Not much else.  Putin?  He got to appear as an equal, and he got to divide the west.

Not a great deal for democracy and the west.  If only I could have bet on Trump mentioning the electoral college during the press conference, then I could have been a winner.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

That is What the Money Is For!

I have spent the past two days very frustrated.  Why?  Because NATO is not an organization aimed at standards for how much money one should spend on defense, but rather it is an alliance aimed at producing... peace and prosperity in Europe via security guarantees.  In the past, its purpose was to deter the Soviet Union and then to stop ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and then support the US in its war in Afghanistan.... and now, back to deterring Russia and fostering stability.  That is NATO's day job.  Burden sharing is a process question--how do we make sure that countries share in the effort?

The 2% standard--that countries will aspire (try, maybe) to spend 2% of their GDP on defense annually  2024.  The idea of this standard is to get countries to spend more money on their defenses so that they have more capabilities, and, when needed, NATO can deliver more capability as members volunteer their stuff (remember, force generation is begging--see chapter 2).

SACEUR approaching the stage,
not going to say much interesting stuff
So, the story in Canada (and is probably replicated in many allies) is that Canada signed onto the communique, which has the 2% figure in it BUT Trudeau has said that Canada is going to continue with its plans to spend a bunch more money to modernize its Navy and Air Force, as promised in the Strong Secure Engaged Defence Review doc.  Which means that Canada will approach 1.5% of GDP in 2024 but not go beyond (unless the economy tanks, but then the military budget is likely to be cut in such circumstance).  So, Canada falls short of the 2% metric (but does well by other metrics that focus on spending on new equipment, or kit as they call it up here) BUT will be following through in the spirit of 2% by developing the capabilities that will allow Canada's military to play a positive role in future NATO ops. 

Thus, Trudeau is fudging things (as have other pols), but actually is doing .... the right thing.  IF, IF, IF they actually deliver on their deliverology and build the ships and acquire the planes.  The real  uber-question in Canada is not 2% but can it actually procurement what it is trying procure?

Folks back home are wondering if Trudeau is lying or being deceptive.  I don't think so.  Yes, it is a contradiction to sign the document that promises 2% and then be quite clear that Canada isn't going to spend 2%, but it is more honest than gaming the numbers.

Speaking of dishonesty, Trump lied and lied and bullied.  2% by January?  4% instead? He is just playing with numbers.  If he really cared about the alliance, he would be less focused on a blunt statistic and consider both investments and contributions.  But that would require him caring and paying attention to reality.   Not his strengths.  

So, instead, he threw a hissy fit, raised questions about whether the US would stay in the alliance and then had a press conference that made little sense (yes, he invoked the electoral college win but confused Minnesota and Wisconsin).  My basic line on Trump is this: yeah, we can pander to him as I advised long ago, but don't sell out your soul or, more importantly, give too much room for the Trump-hating opponents in one's political system to outflank you.

I implore folks to focus more on the doing and less on the burden-sharing debate.  The money metric is aimed at NATO doing more stuff and doing it more capably.   Let's focus on that, and not a silly number that is not actually anything but a convenient metric.  As we learned with body counts, just because you can measure something does not mean you are measuring something meaningful.

Yes, this whole thing is driving me to drink.  Good thing there is good beer here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Brussels Summit, 2018: A Toddler Tantrum

Heaps of helos flew over--at least five of these squadrons
This picture also shows the big NATO building and
how not so close we are to it.
I spent today at the NATO Engages Expert Forum that was near but not at the summit.  We were in a building/tent beyond the parking lot, so they had to shuttle various leaders from NATO's big shiny new building that we were not allowed to besmirch.  Like the last time, we had a bunch of panels--many with politicians and officials, some with experts.

What was different this time?
  • The room was not nearly as deep blue.
  • The room was set up like theatre in the round, which meant I mostly saw people's backs.
  • Instead of the "cool, let's see how much progress we make vibe," we had a "$Q@#$@$, do we have to focus only 2% and burden-sharing, as opposed to NATO doing stuff" vibe.  Oh, and a kind of exhausted parent of a toddler kind of feel.  
  • The panels were different from the past (see below)
Because, yeah, Trump colored everything.  He started his day ranting about Germany and being mean to the super nice (and surprisingly humorous Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg).

So, how did it go?

The first panel was far more interesting than expected: German Minister of Defense von der Leyen was feisty and dynamic as she had to put up with a pretty hostile Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Cavusoglu with the Polish MFA Czaputowicz being pretty meh.  Things got hot when the Turkish MFA explained that Turkey bought Russian missiles since Germany abandoned Turkey and said that Italy was a real ally, indicating Germany was not so much of one.  So, not the political niceties and superblandness I was expected.

Closest I have ever been to PMJT
The second panel was super-Canadian: PM Justin Trudeau, enthusiastic head-nodder MFA Freeland and dry MinDef  Saijan came out and were wildly popular.  Why?  Because here were folks who loved NATO in a crowd of NATO lovers.  Trudeau announced a "new" Canadian mission--leading a NATO training mission in Iraq with 250 or so troops and helos.  It was "new" and not new as Canada already had that number of folks there doing training.  The difference? Training the Iraqi trainers of the next generation of Iraqi army rather than training Kurds to fight.  So, probably less Special Ops types.  Oh, and to lead the NATO effort.  Canada has much experience in training the trainers from Afghanistan.  So, a contribution but not a radically new one.  The three of them were mostly boringly nice for the first 25 minutes, particularly as they got softball questions from grateful Latvians (for the Canadian persistent presence there, that was part of the Warsaw Summit agreements).  Then the Macedonian Foreign (might have been Defense) Minister asked if Macedonia could be a member, and the Canadians were enthused.  It finished with Trudeau doing a very enthusiastic and dynamic call for countries to focus more on the doing (which Canada does) than the spending (which Canada doesn't do as much) and making a difference.  The Germans loved this since they have a similar "enough with the 2% crap" message.  The crowd loved JT.  He is, like Obama often was, more popular outside his country than in.  I felt kind of proud to be Canadian, but probably not as strongly felt as my embarrassment for being an American with Trump tantrum-ing nearby.

The third panel had the surprisingly humorous Jens Stoltenberg, NATO SG, getting grilled by CNN reporter Barbara Starr.  He joked that Trump paid for breakfast (the one where Trump yelled at him).  It was not that informative, but still pretty interesting.

The final panel before lunch was on Inclusive Security.  This mostly referred to women in a variety of ways, and had three speakers---one American LTG Shepro, Isabelle Arradon of the International Crisis Group and Lima Ahmad, an Afghan from NATO Defence College.  It was pretty good, but was light on specific policy recommendations--that my pal Stefanie Von Hlatky pointed out the initiatives regarding women in the NATO communique were thinner than she had seen in previous drafts.  Still, it was well done and interesting.

The spotlight panel on technology was, well, when I was hungry so I didn't pay much attention.  Hangry Steve!

SVH did not say anything that to be bleeped
I missed the first panel of the afternoon, which was a bummer since I wanted to see Julia Ioffe in person (a very good journalist to follow on twitter) because I was scrumming!  I had to reject a bunch of media invites in Canada because I was at the event, but a bunch of media folks were at the event looking to talk to me and Stefanie.  So, it was fun, especially when I said something about "Trump talking out of his ass." I doubt they will use that on TV.

The rest of the afternoon was a blur as jet lag and conference fatigue hit me pretty hard.  The one panel that made an impact was with the Prime Minister of Macedonia (Republic of North Macedonia), which, fresh off of making an agreement with Greece about the name thing, is now in line to become NATO's next new member.   We then saw a movie dedicated to the retiring Jamie Shea, an institution at NATO.  It was roast-ish and funny.  And then he talked and was funny.

the dinner-less reception
Dinner was a lie.... that is, the reception was supposed to include a buffet which didn't happen.

So, what are my big reactions to the news of the day and how did I answer the various questions hurled in the scrum:
  • Despite the efforts of Trudeau to brand Canadian efforts as big and super special, they are mostly branding and not much that is new AND Trump doesn't care anyway.
  • the 2% thing was just Trump's way to rant at NATO and try to flip tables, which was underlined by his brainstorm to suggest spending 4%
  • that in our room and probably the big room, Trudeau won more fans than Trump, but the relative power meant that Trump was still more influential.  Still, Trudeau did do a good job of carrying the banner of the rules based

    international order, something folks were desperate to see.
  • the NATO communique identifying the areas of agreement came out late in the day (a day earlier than the last summit) and was about half the size of the last summit.  Not a lot of super initiatives, but notable stuff--Macedonia being officially in line for membership, heaps of hostile text towards Russia, the new NATO training mission in Iraq, and some other stuff.  Nothing as important as the enhanced forward presence in the Baltics like last time.

EU Tour and then Some

I got to Brussels a day ahead of the summit, and I got a chance to see Brussels and tour the EU.  I have been to Brussels a number of times, so it is not new to me, but I always see something different.  Alas,  I saw much sadness after Belgium lost to France in the World Cup.  It was kind of exciting to be walking the street with gasps and ooos emanating from all of the bars.  Of course, there is one element of Belgium I appreciate the most....

This time I went to a small beer museum that is right on the Grand Market.

Map of breweries in Belgium--yep, a lot.
EU Commission was across
the street from where we toured
A former student of mine now works for the President of the EU Council--tis the body consisting of the leaders of each member, so it is more political than techocratic.  If I remembered my lessons well. 

The Ikea conference room
Yeah, like someone would put me in a position of power.

Happy to hang with former student Helena H. 
She reminded me of all the super-sharp undergrads and how
fun it is to see them become super responsible adults.
 Then some random shots on the way back--the standard coffee pic

The standard wacky building pic