Friday, November 30, 2018

USMCA: Signing a Bad Deal?

One of my friend's has a birthday and I figured out the cheapest present I could get (even after including tariffs) would be a post on any issue he wanted.  He picked USMCA or NAFTA 1.3.  Why? A) Today is the signing ceremony
B) As he knows I am not an international political economy guy, he wants me to spew on stuff I know not well.

Anyhow, today at the G-20, the leaders of the US, Canada and Mexico are signing the new(?) agreement.  More than a few Canadians are miffed as Trump has not removed the steel and aluminum tariffs that exacerbated US's trade relations with these two countries as well as China, EU, and most of the planet. 

For me, the question is: how miffed should we be? 
Well, USMCA (which makes me want to sing) is not that radical as far as I understand it (keep in mind both the caveat that I don't do IPE and it has been a busy fall so I have not followed the details closely).  Canada opens its dairy market by a very small slice, has implications for drug prices, causes Canada to match US and Europe on copyright extensions, and does not get US to lift Buy America that means Canadian firms have problems competing for procurement contracts.  Oh, and any Canadian deal with China might mean that USMCA could go poof.  The rest of NAFTA is intact including key dispute resolution mechanisms.  Hence, NAFTA 1.3 or whatever--it only has a new name because Trump has a fragile ego.  If NAFTA was mostly good (or not) for Canada before this revision, it is mostly good (or not) now.  So, despite having a mercantilist as President of the US, Canada managed to keep open most markets. Woot, eh?

But Canada didn't get the big steel and aluminum tariffs removed, and those hurt. Did they cause GM to close their factory in Oshawa?  Probably not, but they are part of the Uncertainty Engine creating more uncertainty about trade, which means companies react in a variety of ways, and few of them are good. 

Which leads to the big question: could Canada have done better? I am pretty sure Canada could have done worse.  But better?  Two key factors suggest that Trudeau and Freeland did about as well as one could hope for: asymmetry and crazy POTUS.
  • Basic international relations suggests that the weaker, more dependent actor has to accept what the stronger, less dependent actor demands (insert requisite Thucydides cite).  Asymmetric warfare is hard when you live next to the house you might want to burn down.  Canada was and is in a lousy bargaining position--China can escalate the trade war because it has both more leverage on the US AND its domestic politics give its leaders far more room to accept short term costs.
  • As Thomas Schelling taught us before I was born, the best way to bargain in a chicken game is to portray oneself as being far more willing to accept costs and, well, act crazy--burn bridges, toss the steering wheel out the window, etc.  While the Chinese can bet on Trump being a bluffer, a paper tiger, Canada had to believe that Trump is pretty crazy when it comes to trade.  He is willing to inflict costs on his own supporters as well as other countries as he seems to ignore or not understand the consequences of his actions (or realizes his supporters are cultists and don't mind their soybeans rotting in the field).  This makes him a very challenging adversary in a game of chicken.  
If one combines asymmetry with a trading partner/adversary like Trump, well, Canada was fucked.  Sorry, but there it is.  What options did Canada have? Suck up and give in? That seemed to be what some folks recommended (hey, Stephen Harper, you don't seem so tough now).  Or be tougher and not give in?  Good luck with that.

The real test of the agreement (if the US Congress ratifies, which is no certainty) is whether Trump then pushes further or if he is satisfied with his branding exercise and moves on to other ways to erase Obama's name and legacy.  Since Trump is an Uncertainty Engine, I have no idea, but I would bet on him moving on.  He has a short attention span, loves to declare victory, and can feel good about beating Trudeau even if the deal really does not change much (so Trudeau can declare victory, ssshhh).

There is one big upside in all of this: Stephanie Carvin can make a great cake

That is Jared Kushner waiting to get into a bargaining session.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Thinking about Strong, Secure, Engaged

Today, I had the chance along with Stephanie Carvin (my NPSIA partner in crime), Col (retired) Charles Davies, and Matthew Overton of CDAI to discuss the Canadian Defence Review--forever known now as the SSE (see the cover page to the right)--and where things stand now.  The audience was the Canadian Military Engineers Association, mostly active and retired army folks, which allowed me to snark at the Navy and at the Infantry. 

I entitled my talk "A Cranky Academic's View" although, to be fair, the SSE is not a bad document. I talked about how the review process involved far more consultation than I had expected, although it is not clear that the consultations changed the document that much.  I don't really know how much was pre-baked before the consultations except for the emphasis on more academic engagement--that was clearly a product of lots of folks chiming in. 

I did point out that a common complaint was that the Defence Review process happened before the new government could do a foreign policy or grand strategy review.  If the Defence stuff is supposed to fit into a larger plan about Canada's role in the world, doing a review without a clear concept of Canada's role is a problem.  We were asked in the Q&A about how the Canadian Armed Forces plays with other government agencies, so I said not well.  That the efforts to build "whole of government" are resisted mightily by all government agencies, so perhaps even if there were a big plan for Canada's grand strategy, the CAF and DND might resist. 

Instead, the SSE emphasized deployable units--that air/sea/land units should be considered essentially as different sets of packages for different missions and that each should have a number of packages for a number of possibilities.  This has actually played out in reality as the army has one package in Latvia doing tripwire/alliance stuff, one doing training in Iraq, one doing training in Ukraine, a helo package in Mali, etc.

What annoyed me about the SSE:
That there were no hard choices made and it seems like the Liberals saw procurement as jobs programs rather than defence programs.  One thing I didn't raise in the talk, because I forgot, is that the Saudi stuff should remind us that if we want a defence industry in Canada, it then leads to difficult choices like who to export arms to? Because Canada can't buy enough to sustain an arms industry.... Anyhow, back to the ships, I blamed industry as they crap over a program when they don't win (see today's news that the government can't make decisions on the ships until a court case is resolved).

I did also discuss the personnel part of the SSE--that it was put first and this was properly symbolic given that personnel are 50% of the budget AND recruiting/retaining folks is really hard.  If demographics say that there will be fewer white men from areas that traditionally supply the recuits to the CAF, then, hells yeah, we need a diverse force--women are 50% of the population, non-white folks are an increasing chunk of Canada. If those folks are really part of the recruiting pool, the pool is deeper, which means one can be more selective and get more quality. Oh, and yeah, we need to deal with misogyny and white supremacy within the ranks if we want a deeper pool of recruits and retain talented, trained people.

I concluded by saying that progress would be hard to measure, that any party will be held hostage by Halifax and Vancouver so the ship building program will continue, and that we really have no idea what the next Liberal government will do after 2019, but that since they don't seem to care that much about deficits, the programs in the SSE are unlikely to get cut.  Yeah, I am already counting out the Conservatives (a blogpost for another day).

Chuck Davies did a great job of putting the SSE into context--juxtaposing it with French, American, British and Australian reviews of late.  He spoke mostly favorably about it, but also raised a big issue which is becoming a theme for my civ-mil stuff--the more complexity one adds to the decision-making process, the more different oversight actors that are brought in, the harder it will be to make decisions and hold folks accountable. 

Stephanie Carvin talked mostly about technology and the SSE--that there is a risk of magical thinking that tech will fix things, but much tech raises difficult problems and that tech will not solve the fog of war.  She pushed back against the idea that Canada can't do much since it is more than just a middle power--it has a big GDP (compared to most places), a large tracts of land (sorry, my interpretation), and heaps of other stuff that should allow it to make a difference.  While I tend to scoff, she's right that Canada can do more if it has focus and an agenda.  The challenge now is what to do when all of the assumptions (US as reliable partner) are up for grabs?

The last question was on the public--that Canada's public doesn't care and is ill-informed about defence stuff.  I indicated that this is not very different from our allies, contradicting the questioner, as few voted on Brexit or for Trump based on defence policy.  Stephanie argued better that than I could that the public could be better informed and should be. She is working on some initiatives with CDAI and I am working via the CDSN to address this stuff.

Overall, it was an interesting morning, as I learned a lot from both Steph and Chuck as well as a conversation with Matthew that preceded the event.  As always, I love my job, and I love being in Ottawa where so much of this stuff gets analyzed, discussed, and, dare I say it, disseminated.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Pondering the Near Term: What of Populism?

Nice combo of Pearson Building (GAC's home),
infrastructure (embedded liberalism), and ice.
Today, I was part of a roundtable at Global Affairs Canada (think Canada's Foreign Ministry or State Dept) where they were asking a group of sharp Carleton and U of Ottawa academics and me what we should be thinking about over the next five years.  I can't write about what the other folks said--implicit Chatham House rule--but I can always talk about what I said. 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Reverse Groucho Rule and Brexit

Anyone surprised that the deal the British will get from the EU may sucketh mightily?  Nope.  On the road today, I tweeted thusly:

How can I explain this tweet?  I have been focused on other shitshows so I don't know the details, but I don't think I need ot know them as we have two different routes lead to the same answer:
  1. Invoking Monica Duffy Toft and ye olde Chain Store Paradox: When it comes to dealing with separatist units, when a country fears that letting one separatist unit go might lead to others seeking to secede, they resist mightily, if only to deter the subsequent units.  While it may not be so rational to spend a heap of effort resisting the first secessionist unit, the desire to deter others make such resistance more likely. Which explains why some secessionist conflicts are far more violent--that it is the country doing the resisting against the secession that causes the conflict to be violent.  If we think of the UK to be a separatist movement (and it certainly acts like one), then it makes sense for the EU to impose steep costs--so that no other member tries to imitate the UK. 
  2.  A simplistic application of veto player theory: For the EU to make a deal with the UK, it needs to get its members to agree.  If they are operating by consensus or anything close to it, any one member or a small group of members can block the EU from offering a deal.  To get enough countries (or all?) to agree to a deal with either each one holding a veto or a subset, the question becomes--which kind of member is going to be the hardest one to persuade, the one getting in the way: a country or coalition that wants to soften conditions on the UK or a country or coalition that wants to impose costs?  I'd bet on the latter every day and twice on Sunday, as the British path to this point has not exactly been all that kind to other EU members.  Some may enjoy an EU sans UK, but my guess is that there is more bitterness.  So, whatever deal that Theresa May can introduce to parliament first had to get past the intra-EU bargaining process, right?
I am no expert on the EU, but it was pretty easy to foresee that the EU would not be letting the UK go without making it quite hard and even painful.  Indeed, seeing how May is having problems not just with her own party but within her own cabinet, I can't imagine that the deal is that good for the UK.  The funny thing, ok, not funny, the tragic thing is that this was all pretty obvious two years ago before the Brexit vote--that leaving the EU would be very, very costly.  If the UK had some leaders who could, well, lead, one could imagine them sacrificing their careers to back out and go back to something approaching the status quo.  But leaders are in short supply.  Congrats on the second biggest unforced error of the 2010s..... 

And, yes, if the Groucho Rule is that he would not want to be a member of any club that would have him, the Reverse Groucho Rule is that one would not want any member who wants to leave an organization to do so.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Media Madness!

I may have alienated a media outlet today.  Just one, you may be asking?  I was asked to be on a radio station to discuss some of Trump's statements, and I agreed although I was not sure what I wanted to say.  Well, it turns out I had something I wanted to get off my chest: that perhaps the media should not chase for comments and coverage every time the President talks about stuff.

That is, I was questioning why they were talking to me about this stuff.  The "story" du jour was Trump raising the possibility of closing the border with Mexico.  I argued that the media paid way too much attention to the caravan of refugees before the midterms, playing into Trump's hands, not unlike how they spent heaps of time on HRC's emails (I will attack HRC's tragically awful comments about populism another time) rather than focus on how corrupt Trump was.  

The radio guy said that I was asking for the media to edit the President, that they should doing more than covering the president but editorializing him.  No, I said, every media outlet is constantly editing--choosing what to cover, what not to cover, what to spend a lot of effort on, what to spend a little effort on, what to put on the front page or the top of the show, etc.  I was just asking them to:

Rather than just chase ratings and clicks.  Please?  I didn't even get into the false equivalence machines that much of the media has become.  Sure, it was idealistic.  But it felt good.  Don't know if it will mean fewer media opportunities down the road--either because I pissed them off or because they reduce how often they seek comments on Trump's tweets/rants.

Anyhow, maybe I will stop agreeing to comment on Trump's comments... tis hte very least I can do.  How about you?

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Giving Thanks, 2018

An annual Semi-Spew tradition is to give thanks, enumerating and appreciating all those people, institutions, events and whatever for which I am so very grateful.  I whine a lot, but I know that I am very lucky to have such great friends, family, acquaintances, students, etc.   While I appreciate it all the time, on this day (and on the Canadian day as well), I stop and look around and give thanks.

I started a little early this year as there was a meme going around twitter:

You can hit that tweet to follow the thread.  I kind of bounced around.  Here, I will try to put my thanks to into chronological order so that I forget fewer people.
  • I am very thankful that my daughter's adventure going out to California and settling there (at least for now) has worked out so well.  The only casualty was my ankle just before we started on our journey.  But the ride was fun as we got to see a hunk of the US including Winslow, Arizona and the Grand Canyon.  She moved from Intern Spew to Graduate Spew and Executive Assistant Spew.  She is meeting famous and not so famous actors during her work, learning the biz, and enjoying the hell out of LA.  I am so very thankful that she is thriving, largely on her own, and in a place that allows us to go to HarryPotterLand (the smaller version).
  • There were lots of interesting events and meetings in Ottawa from last winter through to last week, so I will reiterate how thankful I am that the randomizer career engine that is the academic job market washed me up on the shores of Ottawa (yeah, I mix my metaphors--it is my blog and I can do what I want).  Ottawa has been so very good to me.  I keep saying because it keeps being true that being in a national capital is great for a curious International Relations scholar.  I meet interesting people, I get to go to embassies to connect before I go do research, the IR community is very terrific, and the folks in and near government continue to talk to me even after I write critical stuff.
  • Speaking of travel, I am grateful to Canada's grant agency, SSHRC, as well as the Paterson Chair funds, for making my research and conference travel possible.  I learned a great deal in Seoul and Santiago, ate great food, had very productive interviews, and even got to ski the Andes.

  • I am so very grateful that I can continue to play ultimate well into my 50's.  I recovered from my sprained ankle and had a good summer of ultimate interrupted not by injury but by the research travel.  I am now playing in a winter grandmasters league (indoors, of course), and having a great time, still laying out after all these years.
  • My father died this year, which was, of course, very sad.  But it brought the family together--both before and after.  We are closer now, especially my siblings, than anytime I can remember, so I am grateful that we got through all of it as well as we did.  Plus we were and continue to be entertained with all the stuff my father saved over the years (everything!).  I have been lucky that I have lost so few people in my life.  My father managed not just to live to nearly 91, but had multiple chances to say goodbye.  I am thankful that he had the chance to go out on his terms.  And that is obsessive hoarding led to all kinds of interesting discoveries.
  • I am thankful I had the chance to go to another NATO side party--an experts forum next to the big summit.  The Canadian Ambassador to NATO, Kerry Buck, made that happen for me, and then Stefanie Von Hlatky got to be my NATO wingperson again (and I was hers).  Thanks to both of them!
    I am just above the moderator's notes
  • Most of the rest of the summer and fall were dedicated to the CDSN application.  Building a network and seeking funding is a whole lot of work, which, yes, led to some griping.  But it was actually a pleasure because I got to work with such great people at Carleton, all over Canada, and beyond.  Seeking funding has meant doing a heap of networking, and I have met very interesting people, and I have relied heavily on great people to keep pushing this thing forward.  The co-directors--Andrea Charron, JC Boucher, David Bercuson, Phil Lagasse, once again SVH, Irina Goldenberg, Al Okros, Anessa Kimball, Alex Moens, Srdjan Vucetic, Stephane Roussel--provided great ideas and did a heap of writing and revising.  The various partners and participants had to yet again go through the SSHRC website maze.  Jeff Rice, Alvine Nintai, Kyla Reid,  and Kate Swan were so very helpful at Carleton, and I greatly appreciate the support of my Director, my Dean, and the VP for research.  I am also very grateful for the folks in the Canadian Armed Forces who are so willing to engage us as we work on this network.
  • I am very grateful to the faculty and students at NPSIA.  While I have had moments and even years of professional happiness elsewhere, I have been most supported and recognized here at NPSIA.  My colleagues have supported my efforts, including our Defence brownbags, and our students keep pushing me to think about my assumptions.  When a friend asked about dream jobs, I had a hard time coming up with ones that didn't involve beaches or skiing as I am very happy these days.  
  • As I hinted at the top, I am very thankful for heaps of folks on twitter and other social media.  I suffered from a bad case of FOMO (fear of missing out) throughout much of my life. While twitter, facebook and the rest have flaws (subverting democracy, facilitating repression, etc), they have been mighty good to me.  I have met interesting people, connected with old friends, developed connections that have been useful for my research and teaching.  I belong to a Slack that is full of national security snark and insight and support. Podcasts have gotten me through short and line drives, including one,  Binge-Mode, that is causing me to look back and seeing stuff in the Harry Potter books and movies that I didn't see before.
  • Finally, I am grateful that my friends have managed this year of strife and crisis intact. Exemplar below:

    Saw Grant, an old TTU friend, in an aiport
    as he was getting trained for his A-stan
    deployment as a reservist.  Glad he made
    it back ok at the end of the year.
    I hope you and yours have much to be thankful for and that your Thanksgiving is full of stuffing, pie, sweet potatoes, and pie.

Monday, November 19, 2018

European Army? No. A NATO Without the US?

One of the advantages of working at a place like NPSIA is that we have all kinds of interesting people floating through asking good questions and making me think.  Today, the topic of the European Army came up.  I asked our German post doc and she pushed it back at me.  So, what do I think?

First: deja vu.  For most of the cold war and after, the Americans simultaneously demanded that the Europeans do more and opposed efforts by the Europeans to build stronger Euro-defense institutions, fearing that would undermine NATO. So, Macron says European Army, and Trump, who has demanded Europe do more, complains.  Does this mean that Trump gets the tangled tradeoffs?  No, he just thinks the US should get paid for European defense.

Second, I am a long-time European Defence and Security skeptic.  I remember the Europeans trying to take the lead on the dissolution of Yugoslavia and that didn't work out so well.  Thus, I scoff at the idea of the Europeans getting their act together.

Third, as someone who co-wrote a book on how the domestic politics of civilian control of the military lead to difficulties in multilateral military operations, I cannot imagine a situation where the Europeans would form a single military.  They can and have engaged in bilateral efforts and then in multilateral missions where they have to do as much force generation work as NATO--begging to get contributions.  But a standing army under the command of a single officer with the ability to act and react without getting permission from more than two dozen legislatures?  No.  Remember, nearly every European country has a far more complicated deployment approval process than US/CA/UK (and the Brits showed during the Syria stuff that they have their own surprising complexity).

So, what to make of it?  Maybe aim big and then get something in between?  How about an ETO: a European Treaty Organization that looks a lot like NATO but with no US (or Canada)?  That reproduces the "attack upon one equals an attack upon all" and leans on the French nuclear deterrent and German political/economic heft, but does not rely on the US or have to be worried about a Trump blocking consensus?  Still difficult and not likely, but far more likely than a European Army.  Is this what Macron is thinking of?  Probably not, but he might stumble into it.

How does that sounds?  A European Treaty Organization??  That the UK is out of the EU makes it more likely since the UK always blocked this kind of thing.  Greece and Turkey always made EU/NATO cooperation really hard... can they continue their games in the Age of Trump?

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Brexiteers Are the Worst Separatists?

One of the basic tendencies of separatists (non-decolonization edition) is that they soft-pedal the costs of transition and overplay the benefits.  This makes sense as a political strategy: "hey Quebeckers, you get to keep everything you like about Canada, but get to be independent."  Of course, these promises are contradictions--if you are an independent country, then you can't have someone else issuing passports for your country.  You can rely on someone else's currency, but that basically means that you cannot have your own monetary policy. When the Scots tried to secede a few years ago, the Scottish National Policy changed its stance on NATO, saying that they would not mind staying in an alliance that they had long opposed.  Why?  To get more votes.

The problem is this: in a normal political campaign, you can make all kinds of promises, including ones that are in contradiction with each other and then finesse the differences afterwards.  Separatism is different--if one is successful, then one has an independent country and suddenly face a lot of new realities that are much harder to finesse.  Why?  Because becoming a different country does indeed mean breaking with the old country and so many of those promises either cannot be kept or must be kept but are very costly to do so.

Part of this is that a party that comes into power after winning an ordinary election in a democracy has to bargain with other parties, but they can ultimately pick and choose which parties and which issues to negotiate.  When one secedes, one can't choose the bargaining partners--they will be the rump state and the international organizations that one wants to (re-)join.  The rump state will have far less incentive or desire to bargain than parties after an ordinary election--the politicians of the rump state are no longer responsible for the well-being of the citizens of the new state nor do they feel a compulsion to appeal to some kind of subset of the citizens of the new state.  I am probably downplaying coalitional bargaining (of which there is much, much literature I have not read), but it almost certainly pales in comparison to the amount of bargaining power one surrenders when one secedes.

Maybe Canada would have been gracious to a Quebec that a separatist referendum. Maybe a UK minus Scotland would have been kind to a departing Scotland (I doubt it).  Part if it is, of course, that the rump states want to make the transition painful to deter other separatist units.  But part of it is just the nature of the politics of the situation--the power imbalance usually favors the rump state because, here's the dirty secret, many separatist entities are among the better off in their previous country relative to the other units so they have more to lose.  Quebec gets far more from Canada in terms of equalization payments and other benefits than Canada gets.

How does this apply to Brexit?  Besides the fact that some of the Brexiteers were lying sacks of xenophobia (Nigel Farage), prior to Brexit, the British had the best of all worlds--they got to participate in much of the EU that they wanted, they got to opt out of what they did not want, and they had a goodly amount of decision-making power.  Post-Brexit, they lose all decision-making power except if they are smart bargainers (they aren't), they lose the ability to opt into the stuff that they want, and they are forced to accept what the EU has to offer.  Oh, and the EU has no incentive to make it easy for them.

Was this foreseeable?  Absolutely.  Just the whole Ireland/Northern Ireland issue was patently obvious, to name one aspect.  Which is why the Brexiteers lied about the process and the outcomes.  Brexit is one of the biggest unforced errors a country has made (other than invading Iraq without a good post-war plan, electing Donald Trump, ....).  Could we have predicted it would be this big of a shitshow? Probably not because we wouldn't have known that Labour would suck this much.

David Cameron has much to answer for, as he let this happen.  Theresa May has not played this well, but she has faced a tough situation.  Corbyn?  Oh my.  Labour could have walked into power how many times if it was not led by such an awful person.

And, yes, it reinforces my confirmation bias about one thing--massive political and social change should not be decided by 50% plus one.  All you need is for some drunk frat boy voters or, to be more specific, resentful voters seeking change but having no clue what change really means and lying politicians to pander to the worst instincts to temporarily bridge 50% to start something that any sane, sober person would regret quickly enough.  Britain was not broken before Brexit, but it surely is now.  Whatever flaws the EU had and continues to have, ripping the UK from it is far more destructive.  And, again, we knew that two years ago.  Who has the political courage to risk their careers by suggesting going back?

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Extending in Mali: Why the Hell Not?

Apparently, Canada has been asked to stick around in Mali for a few months as getting the replacements in place (Romania) is going to take time, and Canada is trying to demure.  My basic response is this: if it was worth it to go to Mali for a year, it is worth it to stick around for three more months. 

Yes, I understand that the CAF will have to adjust, either by extending the current tour by three months or having a third rotation either for just three months or to shorten the second rotation a bit and then have a three month plus third rotation.  The military might say, and probably did, that this will upset various standard operating procedures.  And I get that.  But the CAF also prides itself on being a flexible force, so which is it?  Flexible or not?  Maybe the CAF is overextended with missions in Ukraine, Iraq, and Latvia, but again, what would it take to extend for three more months?

Because leaving on time here is not as bad as leaving Afghanistan early, but it has a similar effect: burning the political capital that was gained via sending the troops in the first place.  Maybe not all of it, but some of it.  The UN officials who begged Canada to replace the Germans are now scrambling to figure out what happens after Canada leaves--so they aren't happy.  The Germans and other Europeans who felt that Canada was doing them a favor will be unhappy since Canada can't just do a wee bit more, or as I always put it, the least Canada can do.  The Romanians will not be thrilled because they may end up getting pressed to show up earlier, which means more money and more risk.  Is the campaign to get a UN seat over, with Canada declaring no mas?  Of course, folks will say that this is not about a UN seat.... sure, sure.  But not extending for a few months certainly does not help the campaign, whether Canadian officials have or have not recognized that they aren't winning it.

Of course, this fits into a larger pattern of the Trudeau government--dithering and delaying.  It took a long time for Canada to decide to do this mission, just as I argued here that Canada took longer than it should to decide to send troops to Latvia and then longer than I would have liked to actually send them.  For a government that started with a cabinet retreat focusing on deliverology, it does not deliver that great.  [To be honest, I still prefer this government to the alternatives, but I would prefer that it performed with a smidge of alacrity]

A former student pushed back, saying that it didn't make sense to do this since a three month extension would put the mission into the middle of the next election.  I understand there is some risk, but the mission thus far has not made any news at home, and I doubt that it would generate much news during the election.  The Canadian helos might crash or might get shot at, but the mission is quite restricted--Canadian troops are not on the ground except behind the wire.  The mission was designed to be low risk, and low risk it will continue to be.  While it has the potential to be an election issue if something were to happen, the ruthless attempt to avoid all risks tends to create other risks, such as criticism from outside about whether Canada is serious about its role in the world and the opposition picking up on that criticism. 

One of the things I admired about the Canadian officers I interviewed for my work on Afghanistan was that they mostly believed not in avoiding risk but in mitigating or managing it.  I know that politicians are less likely to have that attitude, but, again, the desire to avoid all risk creates different kinds of risk, not the absence of risk.  So, maybe go with the risks you know rather than the ones you do not?

Of course, the government and the CAF might just say:

Connecting the Tweets: Trump as Military Commander edition

I sure miss Storify, that handy tool for posting a stream of tweets, so I will just have to do it manually here for my reaction to a piece about Trump Struggling to Master Role of Military Commander:

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Then and Now: 100 Years Since the End of the War to End All Wars

I have so many thoughts running in my head as folks remember and commemorate those who died in World War I.  We have learned so much and yet so little.  So, this really will be a semi-spew as I figure out what I am thinking today.

First, it is hard to imagine a more tragic conflict, as so much blood was shed by generals who thought that they could beat the other side with just a bit more audacity (someone else's blood) again and again.  For what?  For the rise of Communism.  For the prelude to fascism.  For a fun decade followed by a deep depression and then another World War.  Not every front in the war was as wasteful and pointless as the Western Front,

Second, the ending was so very strange--we must fight up to 11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month.  I get it that they could not do it immediately after the signing since comms were not so great.  But to continue offensives when you know the end is near?  How wasteful is that?

Third, when we talk about the origins of the war, much focus is on whether to blame Germany or not, but that misses the larger point--there were both agents and structures in play here.  Not just the people who ran the various countries, but the balance of power, the arms races, the security dilemmas, the alliance structures, the lessons from the past that all combined to lead to this war.  When international relations scholars look back, we tend to focus on the structures.  When journalists look back, they focus on the people.  It is important to learn how individuals handle a crisis, for instance, since the war didn't happen overnight.  Yes, mobilization started not that long after the assassination of the Archduke in Sarajevo, but there were points where individuals made things worse.  Likewise, it is important to consider how structures enable leaders to make good or bad decisions or constrain choices.

For me, a few things resonate loudly 100 years later because of my own biases:
  • Kaiser Wilhelm, if I get the stylized history correct, believed in pushing hard, expecting others to give in.  The idea was that threats and bluster work in international relations, which contradicts much of what we mostly think these days--that the nature of the international system means that threats create counter-reactions most of the time among "peers".  This resonates because Trump's behavior, chock full of bluster, expecting countries to back down, seems just as ill-considered and just as contrary to the way countries react.
  • One of the key parts of the constraints facing politicians at the time was lousy civilian control of the military. This was the war that taught the civilians that "war was too important to be left to the generals" as the war plans seemed to deprive politicians of choices (mobilization meant war) and that the conduct of much of the rest of the war wastefully destroyed a generation of young men.  These days, "we must support our troops" has meant perhaps that oversight is not what it used to be.  And, in the US, politicization of the armed forces is happening, so we need to pay more attention to how civilian control of the military is exercised.  And not just in the US as Dave, Phil and I are discovering, as it turns out that in many democracies, too few are paying attention to what their militaries are doing.
  • The war saw lots of innovation that had marginal effects during the war but ultimately led to revolutions in warfare and expansion in how many civilians would die in future wars--airpower, submarines, chemical weapons, etc.  The technological arms races today--who will develop hypersonic missiles, the best cyberoffensive weapons, AI, and all the rest--may lead to yet greater destruction.  We can imagine better how horrible it can be mostly because we have the exemplars of World War I and II.
  • That the war itself also set the context for a particularly devastating flu epidemic.  I wonder what a new big war would do in terms of global health.
  • And, of course, the war is partly about the mismanagement of the relative decline of the country, the UK,  that led and shaped the international order such as it was, and the rise of several contenders--Germany, Russia and the US.  How are we doing on managing the rise of China, the temporary return of Russia, and the decline of the US?  Not very well right now.  
So, there is much to remember.  Not just the sacrifices of a generation of soldiers and sailors, but the lessons learned and unlearned.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Queen Leading the Way

I saw Bohemian Rhapsody last night and really enjoyed it. Queen's biggest hits were a big part of the soundtrack of my teen years, so the movie, despite its inaccuracies, rocked.  As the movie directly addressed Freddie Mercury's sexuality, it got me thinking about music and sexuality and how my attitudes changed over time.

When I was a teenager, I was uncomfortable with homosexuality.  I thought that everyone had a right to lead their lives as they saw fit, but public displays of homosexuality made me uncomfortable.  I was one of those who thought that being called gay was the worst insult, and, yes, that disco was gay and therefore to be shunned.  So, yeah, I was very surprised last night to realize that Another One Bits the Dust was Queen's disco song.  Male fragility was a thing, I suppose, for me way back when.  

As an adult, I wondered if I disliked Duran Duran, Wham and Boy George because I was homophobic as a teen.  Then I realized that I liked Queen, David Bowie and Elton John.  So, it turns out that it was the music that was key--that Queen and Bowie and John are terrific and those others very much not.  I think that as my teens wore on, my attitudes shifted in part because I liked Queen and the others so much--that these flamboyant men* were incredibly talented and interesting and entertaining.  My attitudes also probably began to shift because of a research paper in my senior year in high school on the AIDS crisis just as it was becoming well-known.

* And yes, gay men, not lesbians, challenged my sense of sexuality.  

Of course, the real key was going to a college where there were lesbians, gays and bisexual people were out of the closet.  While I may have had gay friends before college, I didn't know it.  I did know it in college.  I was hit on once by a gay friend in college, which probably would have provoked a stronger reaction had it happened in high school.  I wasn't really that much more secure about anything at that point in time, but I guess I had started being a bit less homophobic.  Then I went on to grad school where I had more gay friends and professors and more since.

When I was playing poker online about ten years ago, I would be surprised that people would insult each other in the chat boxes by calling them gay.  My reaction was that I must be playing against 12 year olds--I was surprised that people continued to use gay as an epithet.  Some people don't mature, not realizing that there are LGBTQ+ people all around us or not caring if they are aware.  And, yes, I was and am aware of anti-LGBTQ+ violence.

Anyhow, I use the Semi-Spew to ruminate about a variety of things.  Last night got me thinking about growing up in the last 70s and early 80s, and how specific musicians made a big difference in how I see the world. That diversity is not just something to be tolerated but to be enjoyed. Freddie left us far too early, so I will be playing a heap of Queen (I really don't know any of his solo stuff) in the days ahead.  Starting with what I would want as my intro music:

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Expectations and Realities: the 2018 Election

So, the Democrats win the House, don't get the Senate, get heaps of Governors but not FL/GA.  Is this a wave?  Should we be happy? (A good thread for saying hells yeah)  Depends on what you were expecting.  The polls seem to be mostly right, although they had the governor races tighter than they were in FL/GA.  Did we expect Beto to lose?  Well, if we kept realistic, then yeah, we did.  Sad, but there it is.

On the other hand, I am surprised that a heap of referendums passed that will have lasting impacts on future elections: Florida had to get 60% to return the right to vote to those convicted of felonies; measures to de-partisanize the drawing of districts (and thus reduce, hopefully, gerrymandering), etc.

These results are mixed--that the Senate didn't flip means that the courts are going to be awful for a generation or two, and I get that.  Some states passed referenda banning abortion, so Kavanaugh will get to kill Roe soon.  But flipping statehouses means that less bad legislation will need to be addressed by the courts, and might lead to better future candidates at all levels. 

So, where you stand on this depends on where you set your expectations.  Prospect theory asserts that people evaluate things not on their own but relative to some reference point.  So, did people consider a potential future with heaps of gains and now see the election as a loss or do people look at how things were and how they have changed for the better? 

This time, I had relatively reasonable expectations: Dem House, GOP Senate, Cruz in Texas.  I didn't think Abrams would win in Georgia because the game was so rigged, but I thought Gillum would win.  I didn't think Amendment 4 in Florida was going to win.  So, I am mostly upbeat.  9% margin is a wave even it is mediated by unfriendly institutions such as, well, the design of the Senate but the reality that the class of 2018 was always going to be hard for the Dems, and that gerrymandering and clustering (we live separately) distort outcomes in the House.

Texas ain't blue or purple, but Beto mobilized a lot of people and may have helped flip some Texas seats.  The GOP will have to panic about Texas in 2020 and beyond.  Expect more #voterfraudfaud.

This was also a time when one party owns the most popular news network, when unemployment is low and the effects of Trump's mercantilism are only starting to come to roost, when the wars are not so visible with few casualties.  We are due for a recession--which will be painful since this President and this Senate will not allow the government to absorb the shocks (remember when Obama saved the car industry, not going to happen next time...).  The GOP will blame the Democratic Congress, but the President and Senate will still be GOP dominated, so expect them to pay a higher price. Plus there will be a lot of Trump fatigue.

Sure, things could have gone far better, but they could have also gone worse.  Democracy was on the ballot, and I think it survived.  I call that a win.  And, yes, the age of Trump means we set our standards low. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Is This Election Any Different?

The search for a master narrative has already begun, so let's take heed not just of me but of smart folks who study American politics that there is not a single master narrative.  The pundits will try to make it so, but there is not.

However, we can consider whether this election is different--are things worse now?  This morning's conversation went thusly:

 And so I pondered--are there more mentions of Soros, a signal by anti-semites to anti-semits, than before?  I was thinking it would be, but nay:

Interesting--Soros is searched for during election cycles.  Hmmm, I wonder why?  Well, my original thought was not about Soros mentions by everyone or searches by everyone but by prominent GOP mainstream types, like the President, like members of the Congress, etc.  I don't have time to do that search--I have faith that folks will do that content analysis for their papers for the next American Political Science Association meeting.  What we do have instead is, I think, a record number of GOP ads that feature the combo of Jewish candidates and handfuls of $.

So, yeah, Trump and others have normalized anti-semitism and all the rest of the hates.  While white supremacy/nationalism may not be the only factor at work in this election and thus not THE master narrative, it is far more prominent and far more destructive than in recent elections.  The GOP has always played with this stuff to divide the Democrats and because it helps to turn out an important segment of their base. But they are far more shameless.  And that, alas, gives permission and encouragement to those who have imagined grievances and a willingness to hurt people.  First you hurt the women in your life and then you hurt those who are demonized by politicians and media (thanks Fox!). 

This election is different in many ways and similar in others.  A blue wave will be read as a repudiation of white nationalism, and a failed wave will be read as support for Trump's normalization of hate.  There will be more to it than that and lots of this is traditional stuff--what happens to the party of the President in midterm elections, the fact that most of the Senate seats were won by Democrats 6 years ago in a very pro-Democratic elections, that candidate emergence is a dynamic thing (GOP stalwarts dropped out knowing that they would be in minority, stronger Dems ran not just because of Trump disgust but because they saw this as a favorable election), etc.

What is the message here?  Hate is bad and getting worse but beware of the master narrative.  These elections are fought one district and state at a time.  And this post is appropriately incoherent--because it has no master narrative either.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Gamechanger Gala

Last night was a mighty special night as my pal, Stéfanie Von Hlatky, was awarded the Nichola Goddard Game Changer Award by the CDA Institute.  I wanted to mark the occasion by explaining the award and why Stef was so very deserving and then follow up with a few notes and observations about the night.

The CDA Institute is the think tank associated with the Conference of Defence Associations, which, in turn, is essentially a collection of veterans groups associated with various specialties.  CDAI is a key player in our various efforts to build the Canadian Defence and Security Network.  I have been to many of their events--the big Ottawa Defence and Security Conference each February, brownbags and roundtables and other stuff.  This was my first Vimy Gala, which is their big social event of the year where they give out the Vimy Award to some very big notables in the Canadian defence world: chiefs of defence staff, key senior officers, politicians and even a prof (David Bercuson, another key partner in the CDSN).  For non-Canadian readers, Vimy was the big battle in 1917 that helped to shape Canadian identity and especially the identity of the Canadian armed forces as it was the first time the Canadians commanded themselves, and Vimy Ridge was a target that many of the allied powers had tried to take, but only the Canadian forces managed to do so.  This year's winner is Lt.Gen Christine Whitecross, who is the highest rising woman in the CAF and now commanding at NATO HQ in Naples if I remember correctly.

The Nichola Goddard Game Changer Award was named after the first Canadian female soldier to die in combat.  Goddard was a FOO--forward artillery observer--who died in Afghanistan in 2006.  Her parents were present last night, making everything have more meaning.

Stef received this award despite her youth because she has made a huge impact on Canadian defence scholarship and on the Canadian defence community in a very short time.  I have often said that she is the future of Canadian defence scholarship, but that is wrong: she is its present as well as its future.  She has written smart stuff about alliances, Canada's role in the world, and gender and defence.  She helped create and energize Women in in International Security-Canada, which promotes women in academia and elsewhere in security stuff, which has tended to be a male dominated environment.  She has become a consultant to NATO, helping them improve their gender issues.  She is ambitious in the best sense of the term--she works hard to be the best she can, she helps others reach their potential, and, along the way, is making Canada and NATO better.

And, yes, she is a pal.  Folks last night asked how I know her.  It started with her running the research institute that was shared between the Université de Montréal and McGill.  Her super-competence and relatability made it easy for me to work with her, and a friendship was born.  She noted last night that it is rare to find folks who have so much in professional interests in common and have so much friendship.  I joked back at her, but she was right, and I was touched.  Ever since our time in Montreal, we have kept running into each other--Canada is a small country in many ways.  Until her sabbatical, she ran the Centre on International Policy and Development at Queens and brought me down to Kingston for talks and the big Kingston International Security Conference.  I included her in an edited volume project where I really needed her cameraderie as well as her expertise.  We have summited together--hanging out at the Warsaw and Brussels NATO meetings. And lately, she has been the keystone of the CDSN effort.  She not only brought along her KISC partners, giving our partnership real heft and international linkages, but wrote first drafts of key documents, vetted my proposals, linked me with key people, and served as a source of much advice and solace.

So, I was not surprised that she gave a great five minute acceptance speech.  What made Stef's brief talk so special was that she expressed clearly and quickly the challenge women in and near the armed forces face: they want to be treated equally but their identities always matter.  The audience found her speech compelling, giving her a long standing ovation.  The women in the audience crowded her after the event was over, making it clear that they appreciate the path that she has been breaking and, indeed, the games she has been changing.

I did learn some non-Stef stuff along the way:
  • My table was next to the one sponsored by Irving Shipyards.  Awkward! 
  • On the other hand, open bars sponsored by defence contractors do, indeed, make me a bigger fan of defence contractors.
  • I really suck at tying bowties.  I inherited my father's tux, and this was my first time wearing it.  I think I need a bigger bowtie.

  • Military bands are really good, but also really loud--making it hard to hear people at dinner.
  • My rep in this town is thoroughly established.  After two people asked me at an event last week why I didn't ask questions, a guy at the bar last night asked me the same, even though there was no Q&A.  He complimented me on asking polite but edgy questions at the various events in town.  Hmmm.

  • Oh, and I kind of felt like a rat following the Pied Piper:  

It was a great night, and I was and am so proud to call Stef VH a friend and a partner in our various networking efforts.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Playing Politics with Defence Procurement? Oh Really?

This is probably not a good time for me to be trashing the defence industry in Canada as tonight I am attending an event which will have many reps from that aforementioned sector: the Vimy Gala.  Superstar Stéfanie Von Hlatky is receiving the Nichola Goddard Gamechanger Award from the Conference of Defence Associations Institute.  Woot for her, so I will be tuxed and attending. 

But this will not stop me from spewing about the latest news and its coverage: that the Liberal government has decided to split the latest pie--maintenance on the fleet of frigates--among the three major shipyards--Seaspan in Vancouver, Irving in Halifax and Davie in Quebec.  Folks are saying that giving some of it to Davie is political as the Liberals want to get votes in Quebec.  Ok, sure.  But this forgets the history of this government, which started with considering the cancellation of a Conservative plan to have work done at Davie to turn a commercial vessel into an interim naval supply ship.  That is the ship/decision that cost VCDS Norman his career because ... Irving was pushing the government to not give Davie any work. 

The larger pattern in Canadian shipbuilding is the effort by Irving to monopolize damn near all of the work--at least the work on the east coast.  They get to build the 15 ships that will replace the existing frigates and the scrapped destroyers AND they get to build a handful of Arctic Offshore Patrol vessels that the navy originally didn't want.  The Liberals claim that Irving couldn't get all of the maintenance work because it was too busy with all of this other work.  While I am skeptical of claims made about defence procurement by all sides, this kind of rings true since Irving does not seem to have the space to build and maintain heaps of ships at one time.  Indeed, the AOPS ships are going first, which means that the frigate-replacements will have to wait.  To be fair, they are also waiting because they had to have a competition for the design of the ships, and, yes, the decision was to go with one for ships that don't yet exist (the British type 26 by Lockheed) instead of the original decision to consider only ships that were already deployed and thus tested.

Anyhow, the media coverage of the maintenance decision makes it appear that the government is pandering to Quebec.  And I get that.  However, that coverage does not seem to reflect that by splitting the work, the government is not pandering to Halifax.  It is anti-pandering in a way since Halifax and Irving have an entitlement syndrome where they think that any piece of the pie that does not go to them is wrong.  Indeed, even though Irving wins in this decision, it does not win enough and since it always seems to motivated by a desire for relative gains (not how much do I get, but how much more do I get than you), it trashes the process.  This then weakens the legitimacy of this government to handle this stuff, and this happens with every government--sore losers trash decisions.

Again, to be fair, the Liberals might have been playing politics by giving Davie some work.  But not giving Davie some work would have also been political.  All procurement is political, and defence procurement is especially so.  The stakes are high, the number of firms are few, the issues are complex, and every Canadian government sucks at it.  I continue to believe that pretty much most, if not all, democracies are bad at defence procurement but in different ways.  The irony here is that the Harper government thought it solved this problem by having a pretty transparent process that was (I think) aimed to make long term commitments to Seaspan and Irving to win votes on both coasts.  What they didn't realize is that instead of getting to hold these ridings (districts) hostage--give us votes and you will get to have these ships/jobs, it turned out the other way: the companies and towns could say--give us the ships, and we will give you votes.  And they have made that promise to all of the parties, so all of the major parties are held hostage.  Ooops.

Thus, my annoyance with the coverage is that it does not consider the counter-factual--that if the Liberals had given all of the work to Irving, that would have been political and Davie would have screamed. 

What is the lesson here about the defence procurement game?

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Pro-Israel and Anti-Semitic? Happens All The Time

Watching this video reminded me that some things actually can go together even when it does not seem to make sense, such as being Pro-Israel and Anti-Semitic

It is easy to prove Steve King's anti-semitic credentials.  He endorses neo-Nazis, he basically says at Auschwitz "enough about the Jews," and on and on.  So, when accused of being anti-semitic, he says he is pro-Israel.  Which is not really an answer since one can be both anti-semitic and pro-Israel.

One might think that Israel is full of Jews and defines itself as a Jewish state that anti-semites can't be pro-Israel.  That would be wrong because many folks who claim to be pro-Israel do so for a couple of reasons that have little to do with welfare of Jewish people:
a) They hate Iran enough that they see Israel as a useful tool against Iran
or more likely
b) They see a Jewish state in and around Jerusalem as a necessary condition for the biblical prophesy for the return of Jesus Christ.  In which case, yes, Israel again is a tool and not something to be valued for the people who live there.

So, one can hate Jews, one can spout conspiracy theories about prominent Jews (George Soros now, the Rothschilds before) running the worlds, one can associate with Nazis and still consider themselves allies of Israel.  Of course, the current leadership of Israel has done much to facilitate this by not confronting the hard right of the US, including Steve Bannon, "wooing" Viktor Orban who has been using anti-semitism in maintaining his increasingly authoritarian rule in Hungary.

Again, the key here is that one can claim to be pro-Israel and not be a philo-semite (to use the term I first heard used by a far right nationalist party in Romania).  Using one's supposed "Pro-Israel" stances as a shield against accusations of anti-semitism is a strategy used by folks who want to have some semi-plausible deniability, but it is mostly an insincere response.  Or an ignorant and insulting one as one simply conflates the Jewish people with Israel. Not all Jews are fans of current Israeli policy, and as the Orthodox types in Israel tend to assert, many Jews outside of Israel don't count.

Perhaps it is not widely known or considered how dumb an answer this is to accusations of anti-semitism, so we should call it out when we see it and hear it--that claiming to be pro-Israel is not a defense against accusations of anti-semitism.  It should be as mocked as the "I can't be racist, I have a Black friend..." line.