Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Dissertation Question Du Jour: What Happens to Outbidders?

I have long thought to post here good research questions that I don't have time or ability to answer, and was inspired yesterday by this question:

To be clear, of course, I don't think impeachment is going to happen.  But the question is important anyway.  Since it was put in the context of my expertise on ethnic conflict (which is, to be honest, a bit dated lately since I am focused on other stuff, but I plan to get back to), I re-cast the question to fit the literature: when a homogeneous party has an outbidding process that leads to capture by extremists, what happens when the extremists are toppled?

My short answer: damned if I know.  I never studied that, and what I read tended to focus on the development of competition for members of a single group, which leads to more and more extreme promises to "defend" it against the Others.  This ultimately leads to marginalization of the Other group and that leads to violence.  But what happens when the extremists are pushed out?  I don't really know. 

I think this is an excellent research idea for someone else to study. 

In terms of what happens in 2020 if Trump loses, or if he gets 25th Amendmented (also not going to happen), I would imagine that a small portion of the white supremacists will see themselves being pushed back under the rocks from whence they came and fight back.  Yes, violence.  We already have white supremacist violence now, and we had more organized white supremacist violence in the 1990s, so, yeah, I would expect attacks by the suddenly disappointed white supremacists against both their usual targets (Sikhs who they think are Muslims, Latinx, the LGBTQ community, African-Americans, etc) but also Republicans who let them down. But, as we learned in 2016, I suck at predictions. So, take all of this with a grain of salt.  The only thing I can guarantee is that this would be an excellent dissertation question. 
always appropriate student art

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

When the Canadian Conservatives Become Lemmings

For the past year or two, the Conservative Party of Canada have been struggling how to deal with populism, Trumpism, and xenophobia.  This is not that new, as the Harper campaign resisted and then embraced xenophobia, which was tricky since Harper had done well appealing to the immigrants of Toronto.  Still, with the rise of Rebel Media, which is kind of like Breitbart and its ilk, the CPC has been tempted and pushed to take stances on immigration.

The CPC has had strains within it playing up the challenge of the "illegal immigration crisis" which is mostly not illegal but irregular (it is not illegal to be a refugee in search of asylum) and not a crisis (the numbers are still quite small, easily absorb-able with the usual burden-sharing wrangling).  A new party may emerge, if Max Bernier is successful, who plays this up and challenges Canada's multiculturalism (acceptance of different peoples). Still, when Bernier started this push, there was pushback, because multiculturalism is a key part of Canadian identity, and going too far would alienate many voters. So, there was some hope that the CPC would avoid Trumpism and xenophobia and racism.

And then this happened:

The CPC, at its recent convention, decided to take a stance against birthright citizenship--that anyone born is Canada is a citizen. What is the crisis to which the CPC is responding?  How many people are coming to Canada pregnant in hopes that their kid is born Canadian?  If this sounds familiar to you, it is because of the anchor baby debate in the US, where xenophobic politicians, mostly but not entirely Republicans, argued that those in Mexico and the rest of Latin America were coming to the US to establish the fact of citizenship by birthing babies in the US. 

I am not an expert on the history of Canadian immigration policies, but I know "identity politics" and xenophobia when I see it. There is no crisis of "birth tourism"--this is simply a way for the CPC to pander to the racists of Canada (yes, there are racists here).  This may seem more subtle than trashing multiculturalism, but it is not.  It is the first step to the abyss--of the CPC selling its soul and its electability to chase after the far right. Perhaps Rebel media is more influential than we thought.  Making this the big headline, rather than CPC unity against Bernier, seems like a dumb thing to do, like lemmings jumping off a cliff because the first one does. 

When The Worst Politicians Inspire

The bright side of awful politicians is that they sometimes can clarify things.  For instance:

Ward is the politician who complained that McCain's annoucement  to go off his treatment was an attempt to hurt her campaign.  And then when folks yelled at her about this breach, she tweeted that.

How is this clarifying or inspiring?   Well, it inspired this post.  It is clarifying because it reminds us that most of the complaining about political correctness is actually people who want to be awful without being called out for it.  The effort to get people to call others by their preferred identities is seen as unduly restrictive, that people should be able to say what they want without consequences.

This all gets confusing at times because it sometimes hard to keep up with changes in society.  So, Ward is handy here for she unwittingly (I am sure much of what she does is unwitting--without thought) reminds us that what is really at stake here is decency.  That political correctness is really about people treating other decently.  Accusing a fellow politician of stopping their cancer treatment for political revenge is simply not decent.  Indeed, it is appalling.

So, I appreciate Ward for clarifying this for all of us.  The folks who throw around political correctness as a slur or insult are indecent.  Handy to have that simplified and identified for us.  That it comes in the context of McCain's death is perfect, because he was often politically incorrect (he was calling Asian gooks as late as 2000), but he did recognize and apologize for his mistakes.  Which is why one can be ambivalent about the man.  He strived to be decent even if he failed much of the time.  Which made him a fair more respected politician from both sides of the aisle.  Surveys show he had more respect at the end from the Dems than the GOP, which makes sense since we live in a time where we need to ask the Republicans what was asked of this Republican long ago:

Sunday, August 26, 2018

RIP John McCain: Ambivalence About a Complicated Man

As I see all of the obituaries and statements about John McCain, I can't help but feel ambivalent about the man.  Not his death--I am sad that he is dead, and brain cancer is an awful way to go. I didn't hate the man, but I didn't love him either.

I get it--he was a patriot, he fought for his country and handled his capture and torture heroically.  In 2008, as he ran for President, he pushed back (a bit)* against those who considered Obama to be an Arab or African, to be an awful person, etc.  He also pushed back against Fox News (once) when it tried to get him to condemn our Syrian allies for saying Allahu Akbar.  He also cast the critical vote to save ACA. 

But I get a bit queasy when people talk about him as being so principled.  He was part of a corruption scandal (Keating 5), he cheated on his previous wife, and, more importantly for me, was often more talk than action.  He voted for Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.  He voted for the irresponsible tax cut that included pieces that harmed ACA, and, despite his record as a maverick, he voted with his party nearly all of the time.  And, yes, he gave us Sarah Palin.

The media loved him because he was kind to the media and a good story, which means the warts were not as obvious as the virtues. Every politician has a mixture of virtues and warts--ok, not today, as Ryan, McConnell, Duncan Hunter and the rest of the GOP today have few, if any, virtues.  And, I guess that is another reason McCain is lionized--that he stood out from his party, that every once in a while, he voted as he talked, and that made a difference.  Plus in the battle between McCain and Trump over who cared about the country and had some principles, it was no contest.  And McCain's trolling of Trump (apparently wanting to have GWB and Obama be his eulogists) was pretty epic.

So, I am sorry that he had such a painful exit, I am sorry he is died, but I will always think he was overrated.  Is that mean to say a day after he died?  Probably, but we don't talk about the dead three weeks later...  or at least, we don't blog about them. 
*  Arabs were not so assured then since McCain said essentially Obama is not an Arab, he's a decent person, as if Arabs could not be decent.  His Fox pushback against Allahu Akbar  was far, far better.

Friday, August 24, 2018

A Brief and Unresearched Guide to Impeachment for Canadians And Other Curious Folks

When I talk to Canadians about impeachment, they wonder why it has not happened yet, and when the media talks about it, it is very confusing.  Sure, I thought this would clarify things:

but it hasn't.

So, I want to just point out a couple of things that might clarify things for those who have not recently visited the Constitution Center in Philly (highly recommended) about the rules and the history.*
* I am not an expert, just the Impeachment Fairy, so read this if you are curious.

Rules: when we talk about impeachment, it is confusing because it is a two step process.  The House of Representatives votes on articles (akin to criminal counts, and, yes, only one count is necessary, just like Manafort is going to jail even if the majority of counts were undecided).  It requires a simple majority.  Then, the case goes to the Senate where the entire body acts as a jury, but at this point, it needs 2/3s of the Senators to vote for it.  So, when we say a President is being impeached, it is often unclear whether it refers to the first step or the second.  Which leads to the history.

History: No President has been impeached by his own partyAndrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were Democrats who were impeached when Republicans held more seats in the House and Senate (handy guides to which parties were a majority in the House and in the Senate which also show the evolution of parties over time).  And in these cases, we mean by impeached that the case received a majority in the House but not in the Senate.  So, we should not be surprised that impeachment hasn't happened yet and won't happen--parties don't do this to themselves ever, not even when an administration sets records for corruption and stupidity [Oh, and it is entirely political--it is not whether a felony has been committed but "high crimes and misdemeanors" which, according to some who have read the Federalist Papers, includes abusing the pardon power and to others it is a remedy for lying about having sex with an intern].

So, yes, much (all of American democracy?) hangs in the balance in November.  If the Democrats win a majority in the House, then they control the agenda, and can try to pass articles of impeachment.  If the Democrats can hold things together, always a question, then, yes, they can send the articles of impeachment to the Senate.  But, given that Mitch McConnell hasn't met a norm he hasn't trampled over and I am not a Constitutional scholar, my guess is that if the Republicans still held a majority of seats in the Senate, he would simply not allow the case to be heard.  Agenda control is a thing, a very big thing, and has long been a very big thing.

But let's say that the Democrats pull off a big victory in November (remember, only 9 GOP seats are up for re-election, with incumbents or retirements, vs 24 Democratic seats with many of the latter in states Trump won), and manage to swing the balance of the Senate to 52-48 or 53-47 or even 51-49, then woot, agenda control!!!  But, again, impeachment needs 67 votes in the Senate, so which are the 15 Republican Senators that will vote to impeach Trump?  This is where we insert this most appropriate gif:

McCain will be gone, and he never voted the way he talked. Flake will be done (his seat might be one of those that turns blue).  Corker will be gone.  I just don't see many Republicans voting to impeach.

Why? After all, when Nixon was threatened with impeachment, Barry Goldwater, one of the very most conservative Republicans, went to Nixon and told him to resign (or not).  Three things are different now (many things, but three stand out).  First, Goldwater would not be the far right wing of the party anymore, but a centrist or even, dare I say it, a moderate.  The GOP has shifted quite a bit.  Second, more importantly, Trump kind of owns the party for now.  Polls among Republicans favor him quite a lot, so any Republican threatening to oppose him will be risking alienation of their base.  Where will the white supremacists go if the party tosses Trump?  I don't think they love Pence.  Third, in 1974, there was a single media landscape.  Sure, the Wall Street Journal covered things differently than the NY Times and Washington Post, but there were only three TV networks in the US and no one network was essentially a mouthpiece controlled by a foreigner (see, I can get xenophobic, too) to support a single party and a narrow set of view points in that party (that would be Rupert Murdoch and Fox today).

So, until Fox changes its mind and/or the Republican base leaves Trump, you are not going to see 15 or 16 "brave" Republicans, even after a Blue Wave in November, vote for impeachment in the Senate.

Or in other words:


Thursday, August 23, 2018

Shame, Shame, Shame

I am not the first to say this, I think, but I have to admit I am surprised that having a sense of shame seems to be necessary for democracies to operate.  There has always been hypocrisy, there have always been people who are underhanded.  But I seem to remember that politicians tried to avoid being embarassed--that they didn't want to be seen as flip-flopping, of waffling, of being associated with flaming racists or criminals or the like.

These days, in the US and the UK, politicians are literally unashamed.  They don't mind being called hypocrites.  The GOP can try to rush through a Supreme Court nominee two months before an election after saying that Obama should not have his nominee go through the Senate eight or so months before the next election.

The UK Brexit mess should be deeply embarrassing for everyone involved. The folks who pushed for it lied about the costs.  The folks who should be opposing it are doing so very lamely.  There has been plenty of time for the leaders to avoid driving their country over a cliff, and yet they refuse to do so. 

I used to think institutions mattered so much that we didn't have to care that much about norms.  That the institutions provide incentives, and once we understand those, we can figure everything out.  But it turns out American democracy depends on critical norms that operate via shame:
  • that parties should govern as they would want to be governed. Instead, the GOP both nationally and in places like North Carolina are writing rules that are aimed at keeping themselves in power.  The NC GOP is particularly shameless, changing the powers of the governor since they lost that spot, not to mention trying to disenfranchise those likely to vote democratic.
  • that seeking to disenfranchise people should be shameful.  If you can't win votes from various because, well, you suck as a party, then suppressing their vote is an act of desperation, a shameful act that should embarrass those doing it.  What the Georgian Republicans are doing--closing voting stations in predominantly African-American communities--is deeply shameful... if one could feel shame.
  • the moves by Trump defenders from no evidence of any crimes to no evidence of collusion to, well, collusion is not a crime to any crimes that aren't collusion don't count... these folks are utterly without shame.
  • Which gets us to Ryan and McConnell--that they have no capacity to feel any shame for the destruction they are committing, for betraying their institutions for tax cuts for the rich and court seats and for fear of alienating an increasingly rabid base.
The Clintons did some shameful things--Bill's pardons stick annoy me--but what is going on today is of an entirely different magnitude.  Trump is the epitome of this--watch him talk about paying off those with whom he committed adultery--but he is not alone.

I never thought shame was the key to democracy, but I guess it is.

Betting Time? A Recurring Spew Post

I am back on the mailing list of sportsbooks promoting their politics wagers.  This sports book agrees with me--that impeachment is not likely:
Trump to Leave Office via Impeachment
American Odds
Fractional Odds
Implied Probability (%)

Note the "leave office" part--that when the press mentions Trump getting impeached, it can be confusing--whether the House of Representatives votes to send the impeachment case to the Senate (which has happened a couple of times--Johnson, Clinton) or whether the President loses his office after the Senate votes 2/3s or more to do so (hasn't happened yet).

Still tempted to bet on yes, because it would be delightful.  But nope.

The site also lists odds for who will win the 2020 election.  Trump is the favorite at 3/2 with Kamala Harris at 10 to 1 (4 to 1 to win the Dem nomination) and Bernie at 14 to 1.  The strangest ones?  Ben Shapiro and Orrin Hatch at 20 to 1 to win the GOP nomination?  Oprah at 33 to 1 and the Rock at 50 to 1?  Tulsi Gabbard at 66 to 1?  Who would bet on her?  I mean, she has the same odds as John Kasich and Hillary Clinton....

Overall, the Dems are slight faves to win the 2020 election: -130 (bet $130 to win 100) and the GOP is a slight underdog at +110 (bet $110 to win $100).

Anyhow, interesting to see these lines.  I do wonder about the "next person to leave the Trump Administration" lines.  This site does not have those.  Darn.

I have no idea who will get the Democratic nomination in 2020, and, yeah, I suck at predicting American election outcomes.... All I know is that if Pence is the GOP candidate, the odds will shift because he has, as they used to say, zero charisma. 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Not Now, Not Ever: An American Coup

If it were not for the tyranny of low expectations, I would not believe that some folks in my twitter feed are pushing back against the idea that the US military should stay out of politics.  Folks reacting to my post about not cheering so loudly for McRaven's blast against Trump or Kori Schake's are arguing that the oath of a military officer is to fight against all enemies--foreign and domestic.  And that scares the crap out of me.  I concur that the system is not working--that the Congress is not challenging the President when he abuses his power.  But I disagree about any idea that the military has a say in this.

But the oath???  I am not an historian, but I am pretty sure the "and domestic" part of the oath did not have in mind taking down the President, but instead is focused on things like Shays' Rebellion and, yes, the Civil War.  I don't think that the inclusion of "and domestic" was aimed at replacing the President of the United States.  Yes, we sail in uncharted waters these days, but getting the military involved is a bad, bad idea.  Why?
  1. The factor most associated with coups d'etat is previous coups.  That is, once norms against such stuff are weakened and once it is seen as thinkable and even acceptable to have the military seize power, they might come back again and again.
  2. When militaries get into power, they get corrupted by it.  They will come in, saying it is just to protect democracy from the corrupt and the inept, but then making political decisions such as who gets what will taint the military.  They might just see "the national interest" requiring more military spending, less oversight, whatever.
  3. You think things are divided now?  Just wait until some officer orders his or her troops to do something in the political sphere, such as shoot at protestors or confront other military units that see things differently? No good can come from that.  
I could go on, but the spectre of endless coups, of a corrupted military, and of civil war should be a sufficient deterrent, right?

What recourse is there when Trump abuses power?  The obvious ones: vote and protest and pressure Representatives and Senators to do their damn job. Boycott media outlets and their corporate sponsors if they are supporting Trump and his abuse of power.  Asking the military to do something here is kind of like asking someone else to do one's own job.  Getting Congress to act, challenging the President--that is the job of citizens and the media, not the armed forces.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Identity Politics: We All Got Them

Identities are like fruitcakes: we all got them, what are we going to do with them. When people say we shouldn't do identity politics or that identity politics is something we can avoid, I get a wee bit annoyed. Why? Because we all have identities, and they naturally and inevitably shape politics. Let me take a step back and then forward.

The first half of my career, I very much focused on ethnic politics and nationalism since I was interested in the international relations of ethnic conflict--secession and irredentism mostly.  So when I think about identity, I think of two things: groupness and implications for policy.  First, any identity sets up concepts of who is us and who is them and how tolerant one is of the them.  Much identity politics is about competing to define who the us is and how we should treat the others.  Are Jews white? Who is an American?  Who is Canadian? The political competition within the Canadian Conservative Party about immigration and multiculturalism is partly about figuring out who is a Canadian. The political programs of both Harper and Trudeau have been about defining what it means to be Canadian--why should anyone care about the War of 1812.  Anyhow, sorry for the Canadian tangent, but the key is this: much identity politics is about defining who are the relevant actors, whose interests matter most.  Note the post-election discussions of the working class and ... the white working class.  Also, note how Hindu Indian-Americans were fans of Islamophobic Trump until they started to realize that Trump is a white supremacist, and Indians are not white.  Intersectionality is a thing.

The second way to think about identities is that we all have multiple identities, and each one contains some kind of implications for various policies.  Religion influences attitudes about sexuality, the role of state in religion and vice version, gender, notions of justice, education, etc.  Language tends to affect policy preferences about jobs and education.  Race? If it were not freighted with history, maybe no clear implication for politics, but since race in the US is so much affected by the weight of past decisions, hells yeah, one's race affects one's political preferences.  So, much of politics is about making certain identities more salient than others, which then makes some issues more useful for creating coalitions and dividing the coalitions of the others. I lived through a Quebec election that was three-sided: one party was federal and tried to focus on goverance, a second was focused on Quebec independence (language and all that), and a third was focused on being intolerant of immigrants.  To be clear, no identity has a single political program.  Divisions between Martin Luther King and other African-Americans were partly about whether to change the system or separate.  Which is why Black Panther struck me--that it was people with the similar identities fighting about the implications for how one should engage the world.

Either way, much of politics is very much identity politics.  The only people who deny this reality are those whose identities already dominate politics.  I remember reading books about Race and US foreign policy--and it blew my mind to think that white folks and their race influenced US foreign policy.  Seems obvious now, but it was in a time and a context where folks were wondering about whether US foreign policy would remain rational and realist if other groups with other views of the
national interest, or their group's interests, would shape US foreign policy (Mrs. Spew considers anyone using the term identity politics dismissively is really anti-civil rights so she substitutes civil rights activism for identity politics). 

So, today, in the US, when I hear people dismiss identity politics, they tend to be white Christian folks who have always won and imposed their values on US politics (and projecting themselves, fear what the others would do if they are in power).  There was, of course, conflict among these folks about who and what counts as white (are Italians white? are Arabs?) and as Christian (in Lubbock, where I lived, the category of Christian is much narrower than I conceived).  But these folks tend to agree that when People of Color push issues favorable to their group or point out that Black Lives Matter, they get upset, because they are uncomfortable with being informed that their vision of "All Lives Mattering" might just still have some identity politics to it.

In sum, identities always matter, politics is often about defining the content of the identity, the boundaries of identities and how one should treat those of other identities.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Finding Co-Authors--Who You Gonna Call?

Meg Guliford asked a question nobody asked me before:

I answered thusly:

But this all ignores the first step: why do I (you, they) want a co-author?  Once you have that questioned figured out, then the next steps become a bit more obvious.  For we political scientists, the usual answers are: a co-author has a theoretical perspective that is useful, subject area expertise or methodological expertise.  Perhaps one is weaker in an area and wants help.  Or perhaps the project is big enough that one needs someone else to do some of the heavy lifting.  Or one is looking for inspiration--a partner to push each other to develop the question and the answer.  

I sought out my first co-author, Bill Ayres, as I was playing with the Minorities at Risk Dataset, and wanted someone who was interested in separatism but had better quantitative skills.  I forget how I identified him as a potential sucker co-author, but I went to a panel of his at an APSA or ISA long ago to see what he was like.  We met up afterwards, and we talked, and we complimented each other well, so three articles and then a book.

My second set of co-authors were a colleague and two graduate students, as I had some ideas but needed help in collecting/coding supplemental data (the graduate students did the heavy lifting) and some help in the methods--the colleague--David Lanoue.  This led to my most cited piece.  Bill and David are now both administrators--but I am sure it is not my fault.

My third and fourth co-authors were on a project where I wanted more expertise--Beth Dougherty knew the case I wanted to add, and Erin Jenne helped with the other case study on the domestic dynamics of separatism.  So, one was an expert on the case, and the other helped push the paper across the finish line.  I sought out Beth, if I remember correctly, because I found either an article or a paper by her that showed me that she knew the Eritrean case. I knew Erin from accidental networking, and she has been a pal ever since.  She invited me to join one of her pieces, and we ended up doing a lit review together.

Moving on from the IR of ethnic conflict to alliances and comparative civil-military relations meant leaving behind some co-authors and finding others.  When I started the NATO work, I had two friends from grad school in mind--both far stronger on the relevant theoretical stuff than I.  I came with the question and the grant money, and we worked together to figure out the theory... leaving behind one friend who was too busy with other stuff. 

Other co-authors were former undergrads, former grad students, fellow collaborators on the same dataset (MAR yet again) and then a new colleague.  So, yeah, most of the first collaborators were relative strangers, but as I got deeper into my career, my friends became my co-authors.  Sometimes, I or they were looking for methods help (ok, I was looking for methods help), sometimes I/they were looking for theoretical expertise.

I don't know how other people do it, but I think it is kind of like what was said about Hillary and Bill Clinton's marriage: that no one understands what a marriage is like except the two people in it.  Plus my addition: and not even them.  Sometimes, co-authoring has been smooth, sometimes less so. one might think that the smooth ones are indicated by continued co-authorship, and that would be mostly but not entirely right.  For a couple of co-authors (those using MAR), our partnerships were cut short as that dataset got attacked, leading to those lines of research hitting unexpected deadends.  For others, our interests diverged.

There was and is no master plan.  All I know is that I have gotten to where I am today by working alone on some stuff and working with sharp people on other stuff.  Co-authoring has been both fun and frustrating.  I know my work is better off for it, as I have learned a great deal.  But I don't go looking for co-authors just to co-author--I look for co-authors became my projects require help of some kind.  My current big project involve co-authors who have expertise on the stuff and can share the travel burden.  The one after that will involve a former graduate student, as I started working with her way back when and we are only now getting focused on what is becoming a cooler and cooler project.

 As I get older and crankier, I am guessing that I will be looking for younger folks to work with--because they will have the best quantitative training and have better datasets than I can put together.   Indeed, the fundamental starting point of co-authoring is this:

So Much Civ-Mil Crisis, So Little Time

Woot!  No parade.  Woot! McRaven blasts Trump.  Shouldn't we be thrilled?  Um, no.  Sure, the news of these things made me temporarily happy in this depressing Age of Trump, to see Trump get frustrated and stymied and criticized.  But responding to Trump's destruction of the norms of our political system can do damage to these norms.

To be clear, the parade was always a dumb idea, and it was always right idea to go to Paris for the commeroration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I since it was, as the song goes, Over There.  Likewise, Trump yanking Brennan's security clearance is awful and deserves condemnation. But how do folks respond?

My gut reaction for the parade is that the Pentagon may have inflated the price in order to get it killed.  I have no evidence--just a suspicion.  While this might be clever and cool, it is also either military or civilian side of the building potentially defying the President of the United States.  As much as it pains me to think of Trump as POTUS, he is.  While he makes a lot of stupid decisions, it is his right to be wrong.  To be wrong on "Space Farce Force" or to be wrong on Syria or to be wrong on a parade. It is the job of the SecDef to manage America's civil-military relations--to make sure that that the military provides its best advice and then obeys the decisions of the President.  Slow rolling decisions to hope that Trump's attention goes elsewhere is a clever bureaucratic tactic (and, yes, I have rooted for when it was about Iran war plans), but we would not be rooting for it if we wanted that policy, such as intervening in Bosnia or Rwanda or whatever.

Retired Admiral McRaven (thanks, Kori, for reminding folks that McRaven is retired just as I hate to hear Mattis and Kelly referred to as General--they are SecDef and Chief of Staff) blasted the administration for yanking Brennan's clearance.  As former head of all Special Operators and especially on the day that the Special Operators raided Pakistan in pursuit of Bin Laden, McRaven has a special role in American history and in the minds of currently serving troops and veterans.  So, his voice is loud. The challenge is that retired senior officers are always seen as speaking on behalf of active ones, so this is not the former Chancellor of University of Texas speaking, but a guy who might be speaking for the current set of officers.  Of course, all Americans not in uniform should be allowed to speak out against this or any government, and so McRaven has a right to do so.  But we should be at least a bit concerned that this is happening.  That it raises questions about how our military feels about our civilians, whether the military is becoming politicized.

Schake and others would point to the role of generals in Trump's administration and to the role of retired senior officers in the campaign and in previous campaigns.  The trends are not great.  But we need to also be cautious about our caution.  There is no coup coming along.  It is handy to have expertise deployed to clarify stuff, so I am a huge fan of former Chairman of the Joint Staff General (Retired) Martin Dempsey's tweets.  But we need to be aware that none of this is really good for the health of American civil-military relations.

What would be a healthier dynamic?  Those institutions that are charged with balancing and checking the President of the United States doing their job: the Congress mostly but also the courts.  So far, Congress has done poorly since the GOP cares more about party than country.  The courts?  Mixed and the trendline ain't great.  So, I get it, but still--better to have vigorous oversight exercised by Congress than a defiant military.  Which, of course, means that the midterms matter ever so much more every day this President and his team of arsonists burn down the government because fighting fire with fire (eroding more norms) is very destructive indeed. 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Afghanistan Retrospective Book and Review

I got a copy of General (ret.) David Fraser's book on Operation Medusa several weeks ago, and have been reading it in my spare time.  I have some thoughts, of course, as I have written much about Canada and Afghanistan.  I also have some caveats--I am not an expert on battles nor did I spend much time in Afghanistan (8 days).  But I have interviewed people, including Fraser, who were involved in the battle or were there afterwards.  So, take what I have to say with a grain of salt. 

First, the book is engaging and interesting.  It covers the battle and not much else--not a whole lot of context for the whys and the aftermath, but that is fine. The book presents itself in a very uncritical, patriotic manner--that the general led brave men and women in a difficult fight, and the book is more or less a tribute to those folks. 

Second, the book is not very self-reflective--again, it is not that kind of book.  While Fraser admits that not everything went well, he does not really elaborate on what he could have done better.  He is critical of others, and when there are mentions of arguments with subordinates about tactics, he argues this is natural, rather than maybe not listening to those who understand the local conditions better?  I have heard enough over the past ten years or so in Ottawa and elsewhere that I am pretty sure this book is rubbing some key folks the wrong way. 

Third, one could read into it what you want.  Any discussions of surprises or intelligence problems could be seen as criticism of the current Defence Minister, Harjit Sajjan who was the key intel officer for Fraser's team.  Or it could be that Fraser didn't listen well or that the situation was too fluid, so it was not really anybody's mistake.

Fourth, the story reminds me of the most important military problem in Afghanistan in 2006--size. Yeah, caveats and all that, but the big problem was simply not enough troops on the ground.  One company had responsibility for Zhari, Panjwayi and Maywand?  A company is about a hundred soldiers.  That is not Fraser's fault, but is something that, along with all kinds of other basic stuff (giving the President too much power, Karzais being a bad group of "allies", Pakistan, etc), made victory very difficult.

Fifth, Fraser's attitude about NATO is both strange and informative.  It is strange in that he keeps appreciating the Americans, the Brits, UK, and such while blasting NATO but those folks are there as part of a NATO mission.  What is informative is his depticiton of the Danes being unwilling on page 138.  I got the Danish side of the story when I was working on the Dave and Steve book. The Danes were quite willing to go into the fight--spent most of the war in the one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan--where the poppies grow in Helmand--but they pushed back against Fraser. Why?  Because he was trying to treat their recon vehicle like a tank or armored vehicle--he wanted it on the front lines, whereas the Danes viewed this system as good for being on the edge of the battle to provide info.  So, perhaps Fraser didn't know how to handle some allies or didn't listen well?   I get being frustrated that the Germans and French didn't show up, and that NATO ROE were less friendly, less flexible than the American ones (speaking of which, he claims credit for making sure the wounded would get treated within one "golden" hour--but that was a NATO-wide policy, not his innovation or initiative).  This stuff mattered, but Fraser's job in 2006 was to be the NATO commander and not just the Canadian one.  He wore two hats, and one he mismanaged. 

Sixth, a key challenge in reading this book is that one of the central complains about Fraser is hard to evaluate from Ottawa in 2018.  There was a plan to engage in bombardment of the Taliban compounds for three days, but Fraser called that off.  He says that it was not doing much damage since the Taliban were dug in and underground.  Folks who served there suggest otherwise.  I am in no position to adjudicate this, but I didn't find Fraser's explanation very convincing.  This is a sore spot that he could have addressed better. Similarly, I heard that the basic plans were unimaginative and were repeated, which Fraser's narrative contradicts.  I'd like to have someone who served in the battle speak up and clarify this. 

The funny thing is that when I interviewed Fraser in 2007, I was focused on figuring out the NATO side of things and he wanted to lecture me on "effects-based operations."  The notion that any military plan should figure out what the likely effects are in the short, medium and long term.  That Kandahar didn't fall then and hasn't fallen does speak to the importance of both Medusa and the Canadian effort in Kandahar.  I am tempted to go on a tangent about a recent Macleans piece that seems to want to make the Canadians the good guys and the Americans the bad guys, but that is a Spew for another day. 

Back to grant-writing.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Granting, Not Blogging

Just a quick note to explain the blogging silence: this August is major grant application month.  The CDSN effort continues.  It involved a meeting last week that took much time and effort to organize, and the meeting went very well.  Which now means much time and effort to take the feedback we received and build that into the many different pieces of the application.  So, I will still blog, but don't expect as much for the next few weeks or so.  Likewise, I am spending less time on twitter--making occasional forays.  I probably should do this more often, but the imperatives of the grant writing schedule plus other obligations are forcing a concentration of effort that is unlikely to be sustained once the deadline is passed.

and if the past as any predictor of the future, when I say I won't blog much, I end up breaking that promise almost immediately.

Enjoy the last days of summer as academics panic about the declining days to get our non-teaching work done.

Monday, August 6, 2018

NATO, the US and that Whole Article V Thing

A friend asked me: "Why do you believe that the US would actually follow through on an Article V both in the Trump Era and at any other point?"  Good question.  Part A is easy: I think I have written enough about believing that Trump would not follow through on the US commitment to defend its allies.  Indeed, I have written many times that Trump's US would likely block consensus since there is no automaticity to the invoking of Article V.

The question is whether in the past or future the US would keep a semi-incredible commitment--to make great sacrifices, including potentially Chicago for Berlin, Seattle for Paris, etc?  There is plenty of work on this as it has been studied repeatedly over the years.  Because I am lazy, forgetful, and not subject to peer review (the joy of blogging), I will simply assert:

Vietnam, man.  

Huh?  The US lost 57,000 lives and then some in Vietnam, a place it really did not care about, a place where it had no history, in large part because of a concern that failing to support an ally there would have ramifications elsewhere.  While academics can debate whether reputation and credibility matter, the US under many presidents has acted as if it does.  That the US got seriously involved in Bosnia in 1995 precisely because Clinton had made a promise to allies--25k troops to help get you out... which turned into 25k troops to quell the conflict and keep its allies in but under NATO, not the UN. 

The design of tripwires--during the Cold War and now--were designed to create sufficient stakes to make it hard for a President not to act.  During the Cold War, it was not just 200,000 soldiers, sailors, marines and aviators, but also their spouses and kids.  Lots of hostages to make sure the US would respond AND to make the adversary and the allies believe the US would respond.  These days, the tripwire is far thinner but still exists.  Not families but still enough troops to make their deaths an act that would draw in the US. 

There is one big difference between the Cold War and now, other than that whole Trump thing.  During the Cold War, far more authority was delegated to the NATO commander--SACEUR (always an American) so that they could respond quickly.  These days, SACEUR has much less authority to act before a decision is made at the North Atlantic Council--NATO's decision-making body.  So, yes, Trump can prevent NATO from acting as whole.  However, in a crisis, if there are German, British, and Canadian troops in harm's way, my guess is that many will respond with or without NATO orders.  The Americans?  Now we have doubts about them, and, yeah, it would be hell of a crisis in US civil-military relations as the troops would want to fire at the Russians attacking America's allies.  How that gets resolved?  Damned if I know.

So, sure, the promise was always a hard one to believe and a hard one to carry out, but the US did as much as it could to make it credible until ... it elected Donald Trump.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Advice For The First Year Professor

As August accelerates and academics panic as their summer dreams/plans meet the harsh reality that one usually does not get done all that they want to do, it is time to give unsolicited advice to the new folks.  For great advice on how to manage one's mental and emotional well-being, see this thread.  I have some more tactical advice about expectations and getting through the first year, as I remember making the same mistake three times on the first day of teaching.
  • Be Realistic: you will not be able to produce as much research as you hope because your first time teaching on your own requires a great deal of time.  If you can get stuff out and under review before the semester starts, that would be great (note that summer expectation also meets the crashing reality of the time suck that a move almost always is).  
  • Be Competent: the first year is not the time to perfect your class.  You will put much effort into creating lectures, developing seminar strategies, figuring out what to assign (more on that in a moment), and everything else that comes with teaching.  You will get better with experience.  The focus should be, in my not so humble opinion, is to aim for clarity and coherence.  Being entertaining/dynamic/exciting comes later.  Labor intensive teaching tactics (simulations is what comes to mind to me) can be incorporated after you get the basics together.  If you don't burden yourself with too much work, then you can let your excitement for the material shine through, and that is what really engages most of the students--that you think this stuff is interesting.
    • The caveat here is that you teach at a liberal arts college, teaching expectations will be higher so always, always, always consult those around you for the local standards and expectations.
  • Be Conservative: don't assign the students piles and piles of readings you have not read before, and don't assign them piles and piles of assignments that you will have to grade.  Again, try to stay within the local standards, but remember, whatever they have to write, you have to grade (unless you have lots of teaching assistants--which is a good but sometimes challenging complication--as we are not trained to be managers of people).  Think about the timing of assignments--make sure you do right by the students and by you--don't assign stuff to be due the day after Thanksgiving, for instance.  Do give the students plenty of time to do the assignments.
  • Be Realistic re Courseware: The learning curve for you and for your students of your campus's crappy version of electronic teaching tools is steeper than it should be.  I have yet to meet a prof who is thrilled with how their system works.  Don't assume it will work well for you--be prepared to have alternative ways to deliver content/assignments/etc, and don't rely too heavily on the system until you have some experience with it.
  • Be Communicative: Talk to colleagues (find at least one you feel comfortable talking to) about what works, what does not, tendencies, tactics, and all that.  Experience matters, and you, at this moment, have little or none in general and definitely none at this place.  Talk to your students as well--check in and see if things are going well.  If the class looks confused, then go slower, give more examples and come back to that stuff again.
  • Be Calm: Unexpected stuff happens--I still get surprised by stuff in the classroom after twenty plus years.  I have had students answer phones and leave the class to finish the conversation.  I have had a guy try to make a romantic gesture to a student in a 600 person class in mid-lecture.  A campus tour guide led a group of 20 or so people through my class in mid-lecture.  When this stuff happens, you will realize the best way to react to it ... five minutes to three hours after it happened.  
  • Be Kind: Be nice to the staff in your department and at your university.  They are not servants but valuable colleagues whose jobs you really do not want.  They can make or break you over the long run.  If you are rude or obnoxious or dismissive in the first year, you are likely to pay for it even if you revise your behavior later.  Also, it is the right thing to do.
  • Be Focused (thanks, Phil): Say no when you can to stuff that takes away from research and teaching.  Everyone has to do service, but do what is expected of assistant profs at your place, not what is expected of associate or full profs.  That is, don't agree to serve on admin heavy campus committees or those of the profession when your local department does not care.  Don't join edited volume projects that take you away from your main research unless the networking opportunities are very good.  You will have more demands on your time than you thought possible.  So, say yes when you have to, say no when you don't.
 There is more advice to give, but one of the iron laws of teaching is that the more reading assign, the less the students will do.  The first year is going to be hard as you will face lots of competing demands for your time.  The advice above may sound like I don't care about teaching, but it is mostly about how to get started without inundating oneself.  Not drowning is the first step towards competitive swimming.