Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Years of Reviews

As I finished up my last review of an article for 2019, I checked out my spreadsheet where I keep track (sort of) of the reviews I do.  I discovered some patterns I wanted to think about:

The figure includes reviewing manuscripts for journals and for book publishers, grant applications for various funders, and tenure letters.  Obviously, the level of work varies--tenure letters are a lot more work than all the others, book reviews vary depending on whether one is reviewing an entire manuscript or just a proposal.  But I didn't choose to code stuff carefully for this blogpost because this is already a relatively unproductive use of my time!

Anyhow, I reviewed before 2006, but hadn't develop the habit of marking down the details in a spreadsheet.  A few things stick out:
  • on average, I review twice as much as I used to.
  • With the exception of 2018.
I tend to say yes to most review requests (see here for decision-making challenge of when to write tenure letters), but I have decided recently (too recently to affect any of the numbers except the last column) not to review stuff in the old field of ethnic conflict.  Because I am way, way behind in that literature and am no longer doing much work in that field (that may change, but not yet). 

I do get fewer requests, I think, to do tenure letters since Carleton is generally not see as peer-ish as McGill was.  Most provosts and deans want tenure letters to be written by scholars at peer institutions, and they tend to have a rather limited idea of what counts as peer.  So, I am guessing I would be getting more tenure letter requests if I had stayed at McGill.  The aforementioned change in research focus--from ethnic conflict to alliances and civ-mil relations--probably helps to explain why I get more requests.  That there are more articles that editors and editorial assistants that fit into what they think of as my expertise. 

There is something else going on--that there are more journals and more submissions to journals, so I may be getting more requests and doing more reviews as the need for reviewers intensifies.  Also, I joined a number of editorial boards, where the primary responsibility for being a member is to not say no when the editor needs to get some reviewers.  I have stepped off of a few as my shift has come to an end and, for one, as mentioned above, I can no longer be of much use. 

Oh, and 2018?  That was the year where I had a great deal of work to do with the second stage of the SSHRC Partnership Application, so I think I said no a bit more often. 

For 2020?  I expect to stay at my recent average of 18-20 or so--about 1.5 reviews a month.  However, if journals and presses do not ask me to review for them, I will not seek them out.  It is unpaid work, but a part of being a professional.  That and I learn a fair amount as the latest work contains all kinds of interesting ideas, useful citations, and stuff I don't know. 

Here's hoping that your new year is chock full of speedy, positive, and helpful reviews.

The Academic Journey Thus Far

A twitter conversation has led me to think about my academic journey

When I finished grad school in San Diego, I had no idea where I would end up.  

Our first stop was Burlington, Vermont for two years of visiting prof-ing.  I took that job hoping to cash it in and get one of the two tenure track lines there, but it didn't work out.  Looking back, I am glad it worked out as it did, even though it meant teaching at a place for a second year after being told in year one they didn't want to hire me for the long-term.  Awkward indeed.  But I learned how to teach, and their students were great.  And I improved my skiing ability and got my wife into skiing.  Plus our dog was most welcome in a community filled with large female dogs--his, um, preferred companions.

If I had a blog at the time, I might have
referred to her as ER-adjacent Spew.
Our second stop was Lubbock, Texas, where I was technically employed for seven years although we lived their for six.  This is where Baby Spew was born, which was handy since the ER was close by, and we visited it often.  I learned how to publish there (I had only one or two pubs before this job), and I learned how to teach large classes, which became pretty important at the next stop.  And we made friends with a great group of folks who all moved on.  While I was itching to get out as soon as we arrived, and I spent too much time on the job market before my record really changed very much, it turned out to be a good experience in retrospect.  It was a good place to get a lot of research done--a good teaching load, short commute, few students asking much of my time.  But the best part of that place--my friends--was the most temporary, as the department turned over quite a bit.

No, I didn't wear a uniform
in the Pentagon.  I just dressed
up like this as a prank
for a retiring colonel/boss.
Our next stop was Washington, DC for a fellowship that put me in the Pentagon.  This year stressed Mrs. Spew as I was hardly around (I left at 5am, returned around 7pm each day), the landlord was suboptimal, and, yeah, the building I worked in got attacked a couple of times (9/11, anthrax).  But it was a great year for me.  I drank from the firehose--learning so much about how the US military works and how the interagency works.  I went there to see the sausage get made, and did I!  Plus it bred questions that have driven my research since then--the NATO book and now legislative oversight.  I went there as an ethnic conflict specialist--the folks in the Balkan policy pit called me The Irredentist--and left seriously interested in civil-military relations.

Got to play with my daughter from
time to time in Montreal.
Which led to Montreal and McGill.  The transition to another country and especially Quebec was more challenging than we expected--importing one of our cars ate about eight Thursdays my first semester.  But Montreal had the best ultimate frisbee community of my life (Ottawa is close, but I feel like I moved here too late to fit in), great skiing nearby, amazing food, and, um, interesting politics.  McGill provided a great place to be challenged by super-smart, engaged students at all levels, and to learn much from sharp younger colleagues.  One consistency in my career is that the folks hired after me at each place have been so very sharp (yes, this is an implicit dig at the old farts at the non-Carleton places.  Ok, not so implicit). 

My colleague, Steph, drafted me to
speak to her class this fall on alliance stuff
And now Ottawa and Carleton.  Being in a national capital is great for someone who studies International Relations.  As I have been more and more interested in engaging the policy community, it helps to be there.  I learn a lot from folks I meet at events, at parties, at bars, etc.  It has definitely facilitated my efforts to build the CDSN.  It is also the first place I moved to where I knew people ahead of time, so it felt really welcome.  NPSIA and Carleton have been terrific to me, supporting my various efforts and recognizing me when I do good stuff.  Oh, and the frisbee fields are the softest, most convenient that I have experienced.  Older bodies need softer fields.

Throughout my career, I have wanted to move on from wherever I was at.  What will make the 2020s different from the prior decades of my career is this: I will not be on the job market.  I have now gone about eight years without having to think about the next place.  I am now of an age and of a job status that it is very, very unlikely that anyone would hire me--I am too old, too expensive, and too entitled (I am addicted to my endowed chair).  Oh, and I am too happy. 

I am well aware that I am much closer to the end of my career than the beginning, but I am ok with that.  The ride has been bumpy along the way, and things never turned out as I expected.  So much for walking from my house to my classroom in a liberal arts college.  Instead, I have had amazing opportunities to see much of the world, to shift research agendas, to teach entirely different types of students (undergrads to PhD students to policy-oriented MA students). 

Sure, I couldn't control where I did my stuff, but I can control what I do and how I do it.  The academic career, if one manages to get on the tenure track, can be a great ride, and it has been for me.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Resolving 2020

Doing resolutions here has been a semi-regular thing, which is so very appropriate.  The first one I find refers to returning to the big grant project, which I no longer have to do! Woot!  Of course, the big grant has not stopped the grant machine from operating as the big one only partially funds a bunch of events, and we need to find other money to make those events work out as well as they can.  Indeed, the big success story has been a heap of fun and helps to provide for the greater good, but is getting in the way of other stuff.  So, what shall I resolve for 2020, a year so nice, they named it twice (sorry)?
  1. I have committed to other outlets for blogging, and I need to keep my promises better this year.  So, I hope to see more of my stuff at Political Violence at a Glance and Duck of Minerva.
  2. I also resolve to pick up the pace here.  I don't need to blog every day or four times a day (ah, 2009 ...), but every other day is something I want to aim for.  As long as I have stuff to say.  The challenge is that I can usually find an old post that says something that I need to say again.  
  3. I now have five PhD students at various stages of their program, so I resolve to be reasonably quick about turning around comments on stuff.   I don't think I have ever had so many at one time (and we have a small program).  It may not be as much as some folks, but this is the limit of my capacity, I think.
  4. I resolve to say no to non-NPSIA students.  My foray into teaching undergrads might mean more requests for honors thesis super visions, but, yowza, if I don't say no more often, resolution #3 will be at risk.
  5. I will say no to any more edited volume chapters.  I have three all due at the same time this spring.  All three are interesting projects, but I need to focus on ye olde booke with Phil and Dave.  We are getting close to actually writing and finishing the book.

  6. I resolve to say no to reviews that are out of my area of expertise.  I know that journals are desperate for reviews, but I do my share and I don't think I do anyone any favors if I don't know the literature.  I can't speak to whether something is a contribution in an area I don't know
  7. I resolve to catch up on my journal reading--which would make me a better review (oh wait!).  This is a regular resolution that goes unmet.
  8. I resolve to stay on top of all of the CDSN stuff, not just the fun stuff like the podcast, but the less fun stuff--reporting, accounting, etc.  Do or do not, indeed!
  9. Continue the positivity.  I was called annoyingly happy this year, and I want to keep that up.  
I would say that I resolve to travel less, but I think Mrs. Spew's snort would scare the cat.  I am sure there are other things I should be resolute about, but this covers it for now.

Happy New Year to you and yours!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Spew in Review, 2019: It Always Is Darkest Before the Dawn edition

Oy, we thought all those great folks dying a few years ago made that year a bad one, but 2019 has been a pretty miserable one.  Great for me, but bad for Canada, bad for the US, and bad for the planet.  Pretty sure 2019 will be remembered as the year climate change became quite a real, present thing and not a future problem thing, and, yet, regression was the theme on that front given the politics in many countries including Trump's love of coal and the role of pipelines and such making Canadian politics on this issue so very screwed up.

So, on that cheery note, I want to look back at the year of Spew.  This helps me figure out what happened, and also helps me find key posts years later.  So, enjoy or ignore this yearly exercise in narcissism. 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Revising Rise: Some Ideas While Driving

Mrs. Spew and I returned from visiting her family, and so we had much time to ponder what could made Rise of Skywalker better.  I liked the movie upon second-watching, but rather than revise my first post, (although after watching some of the original movies over the break and seeing Rise again, and, yes, responding to the commentary, I would move Rise from tied with RoTJ to the Ambivalent Tier, perhaps tied with Force Awakens with the conclusion of s1 of Mandalorian pushing it to Rogue 1 territory) I suggest how to revise the movie.

So, various ideas beyond the break, but no wayfinder needed:

Monday, December 23, 2019

Looking Back at the Teens

Tis that time of year where I look back at the year that was.  However, I am too exhausted by the pace of political events, the work put into the Canadian Defence and Security Network, and the emotional drain of seeing the last Skywalker movie.  So, instead, I will ponder a meme that circulated twitter this month: looking back at the 2010's!

There are a few ways to do this:
  1. Compare and contrast where I was on January 1st, 2010 and where I am now personally, professionally and so forth.  
  2. Think about the big events of the decade gone by, especially the more personal ones.
  3. Systematically review changes in culture, politics, and so forth.  
Well, the last would be most interesting and perhaps enlightening, but also the most work.  The easiest is the first, so I will do that instead, with (2) later this week. 

On January 1st, 2010,
  • I was working at McGill, living in Montreal, and searching for a way out.
  • my daughter was a teenager and living at home
  • while I had started working on the NATO project, it was starting to mutate from being about the alliance to being a comparative civ-mil project.
  • I had only recently started blogging and tweeting--both in the spring/summer of 2009. 
 In December of 2019, I am:
  • I am thru running.  I am most happy at Carleton and living in Ottawa.  I just don't imagine any more moves.  Carleton has supported my efforts, provided me with great colleagues, and recognized when I did good.  Ottawa is a great city for an IR person, as I have had so many opportunities to chat with fascinating people.  
  • my daughter is now adulting, living on the West Coast, and gainfully employed. This is all good news, but I miss her greatly.  The weekly skypes are great, but not the same as having her in our lives on a daily basis.  This is the natural way of things, of course.  
  • I am now entirely engaged in comparative civ-mil, taking me from old haunts in Europe to Asia and Latin America.  Ok, engaged in that and adding a heap of administrative work as Director of the CDSN.  I threw up a picture of a dog catching a car when we got the grant, and it was pretty apt.  I know the next seven years and most of the 20's will be spent on this effort.  While it is a heap of work, I have enjoyed the ride, and am very, very thankful for the work done by all of the folks involved and for the continued enthusiasm and support by the partners.
  • Oh, that social media thing?  Oh my.  I may be blogging less these days (mostly because I can re-post old posts that are apt), but I have added podcasting this year to the endless tweeting.  

Friday, December 20, 2019

First, There Was a Trilogy; Then, A Trilogy of Trilogies ...

Next, will we have three series of tri-trilogies?  It is probably too soon to react to seeing Rise of Skywalker, but, I will, because it is my blog.  Spoilers dwelleth below:

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Impeachment? What About My Meme?

I have been tweeting out the same meme for quite some time:

Today, the day after Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives by more votes than any other President (thanks, Jacob, for pointing that out), does this mean this meme is dead?  Only sort of.

I did write here last January arguing that the meme is about not counting on impeachment to solve the Trump problem--that the House might vote to impeach Trump, but there is no way the Senate will vote to convict him and remove him from office.  Hence, stop counting on the impeachment process to get rid of Trump.

The big question right now is not whether impeachment will remove Trump, but whether the process will play out fully as the Founders intended.  Will there be a trial with witnesses and evidence or will Mitch McConnell get a summary judgment and end the process before it really starts?

To do the latter requires two things:
a) McConnell has to have no shame about undermining American institutions.  No problemo there.
b) McConnell deters, inhibits, persuades, bullies nearly all of the GOP Senators to go along.  To have a real trial (still with a fore-ordained outcome) would require a handful of Republican Senators to vote with the Democrats on the rules and various arguments.  Can the Dems get four or so GOP Senators to split?

This latter question is more of a mystery.  Why?  Because there are more than four GOP Senators who are running for re-election in 2020 in purple or even blue states: Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine are in blue states; Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Martha McSally of Arizona are in purple states along with David Perdue of Georgia.  Joni Ernst of Iowa, the formerly soybean state, may be vulnerable as well.  Given Collins's conduct on Kavanaugh, don't expect much from her.  One could imagine Lisa Murkowski, who is not up for re-election, mavericking along...

Anyhow, no one knows how this is going to play out, but since I have argued that the GOP is the Party of Bad Faith™, I think the best bet is on a very short trial.  So, yeah, the President will have been impeached, but it will not change who governs, so folks should not have been counting on it.  

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The 2019 Mandate Letter to Minister of Defence: Some Reactions

The mandate letters were released this week, so I thought I would take a look at the Defence letter.  These letters are from the Prime Minister to the rest of cabinet, and, in parlance of principal-agency theory, are the instructions and discretion given by the principal to the agents.  It starts with stuff that applies to all ministers with references to a plan for the middle class and a reference to working within "the minority parliament."  Which ain't easy, of course.  References to dealing with provinces and Indigenous Peoples are part of the generic instructions.  For DND, provincial challenges exist but are not central.  Regarding Indigenous Peoples, they are quite relevant to two obvious areas and perhaps one less obvious area: the Canadian Rangers as the primary Canadian defence force in the north, the desire to recruit a more diverse force, and ... maybe land claims regarding where the CAF bases and exercises.  That last is just a guess, as I don't recall any recent stories. 

The document calls for transparency, which would be a chance for DND, according to those who deal with it.  I remember long ago a parliamentary staffer saying that when they wanted to know what DND was up to, they would call the Pentagon as the Americans would share information more freely. 

The part of the document that is specific to Defence starts with reference to Strong, Secure, Engaged--the product of the 2017 Defence Review.  Given that this was only two years ago and presented a fully costed (or so they say) assessment of the defence picture, it makes sense to stick with it rather have it serve as a baseline.  Indeed, in my interactions with DND/CAF people, it is quite clear this document remains the focal point of thinking and planning for pretty much everyone.

Onto the specifics:

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Afghanistan Papers Quick Reaction

I don't have time to read many of the documents that the Washington Post attained, but I have read the covering story and reactions by others.  My basic take is that this is not the Pentagon Papers, at least not yet, as the stories are mostly about a lack of a coherent strategy, success or progress was hard to measure, about the difficulties of cooperation within and between countries, that clients are unreliable and inevitably so, and so on.  And these things ... were not the product of malfeasance/malice but unfortunately dynamics that are damned near inevitable and, yes, we (those paying attention) knew about most of this stuff.  Indeed, Stephen Harper, reacting to the messed up Presidential election in Afghanistan in 2009, basically admitted defeat.

I tweeted online about a series of original sins which others added on to.  Here, I just want to discuss a key civ-mil dynamic since many of the other things are getting play elsewhere: relentless optimism by the officers leading these efforts.  I wrote in the conclusion of Adapting in the Dust that this would create a credibility gap between civilians and military folks, and I am pretty sure this WashPo report will have the same effect.

Why are the military folks seemingly so optimistic?  Both American and Canadian officers seem to think that they cannot and should not say no when asked to do something.  Sure, the civilians have the right to be wrong, so the military can't say no, but perhaps they can say "x is going to be really, really hard, and it isn't advisable to do x."  But alas, they seem to think they are Can Do! organizations. 

The funny thing is that this is a big contrast to what we knew about the US military in the 1990s--that it was hard to get the military to support intervening in the Balkans and elsewhere.  Deborah Avant wrote a piece called Are Reluctant Warriors Out of Control, not something you might see these days.  What is different? 
  1. I fundamentally believe that the US armed forces still prefers not to fight new wars, but is also pretty interested in escalating the wars they are in and in not leaving a war once they are there.  I remember stories on the Joint Staff about Hugh Shelton, the previous Chairman, resisting Clinton's various missions in the Balkans.  This is the kind of thing that led to Madelaine Albright famously saying "'What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about if we can't use it?"  On the other hand, once Mattis became SecDef and Trump delegated to him, we saw an escalation in the use of force and expansion of missions...  So, I am not sure that the US military opposes all missions, but it does seem determined not to leave.
  2. Humanitarian missions of the 1990s?  Not something the military wanted to do.  taking the fight to the terrorists, however defined, not so much opposition.  So, it might be the kind of mission matters.
  3. It could be that 9/11 changed attitudes as the threats to the US and Canada and Europe became more direct. 
Anyhow, we need to improve the civ-mil conversation so that the military can be more pessimistic when it needs to be pessimistic and more optimistic when it is more optimistic.  And the civilians need to listen.  Getting there is really hard, and, yes, the civ-mil relationship needs a heap of trust on both sides.  Is that likely?  Depends on the country. 

Sunday, December 8, 2019

NATO High School: Closer to Reality Than You'd Think

Saturday Night Live finally got there--capturing a bit of International Relations far better than, well, how the US president understands it.  This sketch portrays NATO as if it were high school, with a cool kids table featuring Trudeau/Canada, Macron/France, and BoJo/UK.  Eventually, Merkel/Germany is invited to join and she is super excited to do so, while Trump is left to hang with Latvia. 

With a few quibbles, this is how NATO used to operate with, of course, the US at the cool kids table.  How so?  NATO has always operated with mini-lateralism pushing the multilateralism.  That to push major initiatives forward, a small group of allies work together to develop the agenda and then once they get agreement, they present it to the rest of the alliance.  Oh, and while these mini-groups were led by the US, in my experience, there was a well-coordinated British effort to get the US to do its bidding.  Both the US leadership and clever British manipulation  were lacking from the SNL sketch .... perhaps because the sketch kept up with current events really well, perhaps accidentally capturing Macron's brain death comment.

Let me explain both the past and the present.  In 2001-2002, NATO members became concerned that three separate operations in the Balkans--SFOR in Bosnia, KFOR in Kosovo, and Operation Essential Harvest (really!) in Macedonia--was more expensive and had a variety of seams than if there were a single NATO effort.  So, there were many meetings to "regionalize" the NATO effort in the Balkans, with the idea of centralizing things at NATO's HQ in Naples and developing a better division of labor.  Much of the impetus of this was led by the QUINT: five countries providing the biggest contingents--US, UK, France, Germany, and Italy (not Canada, but I will get to that).  Once these five countries agreed to a plan, they shared it with others.  This is not that controversial or new. 

What was less well known was that much of this was driven not by the US but by the UK--that the British had troops in both Bosnia and Kosovo and desperately wanted to reduce costs by being in one rather than both.  So, the Brits developed a well-coordinated effort to push their agenda, disguised by this larger argument about efficiencies, to get out of Kosovo.  This was most problematic to the French because it meant that they could be alone in the most difficult part of Kosovo--Mitrovica where the Serbs and Albanians bordered each other.  This British effort to work the system, coordinating their personnel in Naples and the various HQ's in the Balkans, with diplomats in Brussels and in DC was best symbolized by something that happened in the Joint Staff in DC.  One day, an early draft of the plan was found on one of the chairs in the Central and Eastern European Division of the Strategic Planning and Policy Directorate of the Joint Staff... where I was working.  We wondered where it came from, but then we realized that the British Defense Attaché had been in the office earlier that day.  So, this is how NATO worked--small groups of the "cool kids" working together with their coolness defined by how much they brought to the mission and then imposing their will gently or not on the rest of the high school alliance.

Now?  How are things different?  Well, in Afghanistan, the group of cool kids was a bit different as it was not just the size of the contingent that determined membership but what they were doing.  So, the US and UK were still the central players because they had large contingents  AND they were relatively unrestricted by domestically imposed caveats (where they could operate, whether they could engage in offensive operations, etc).  The Canadians, while they were in Kandahar, largely got to be in this club as well, because they were willing to move around RC S to help out whoever needed it.  The Germans and Italians?  They had the third and fourth largest contingents, but they got moved to the semi-cool kids table (where Merkel started in the SNL skit?) because they didn't have as much freedom to operate and could not contribute as much to the fight.  The French?  Off in a corner since Chirac was so pissed off at Bush.  Sarkozy got France back into the cool kids table as he removed the restrictions, making France a more valuable player.

Today, NATO is brain dead in Macron's words, as neither the US nor the UK are cool.  Trump hates the club and those in it, British is too busy destroying its relationship with the world to scheme how to get the cool kids to do its bidding.  By default essentially, Trudeau/Canada becomes one of the cool kids, one of the voices of NATO cooperation, as I saw in person at the NATO summit in Brussels in 2018.   And, yes, the audience there ooo-ed and aah-ed when Trudeau appeared, so yeah, definitely a cool kid.  BoJo these days?  Not so much, but I think he was portrayed well by James Corden as being out of synch with the others. 

Anyhow, I never thought I would see the day that a satire on SNL would get NATO better than the President of the US (who thinks of it either as a country club or protection racket).  Did you?

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Party of Bad Faith

When did I stop taking seriously the arguments of the Republicans?  Hard to remember now, but I have taken to calling them the Party of Bad Faith.  Why?  Because they are consistently making arguments that are baldy hypocritical.  The arguments they wield to excuse Trump during the impeachment hearings are exactly the opposite of what they argued when Clinton (Bill) was the target.  McConnell has already said that the supposed Garland rule about not letting a Supreme Court nominee be considered during an election year will not apply with Trump as President.  We can go and on.

The point is that the naked pursuit of power and the ruthless burning down of the norms of democratic governance has got to have consequences.  One of them is that I no longer both to think or say "well, if Obama had done that ..."  Why?  Because it mattered not what Obama did--they were determined to defeat him at every turn.  Democracy requires accepting the loss of power, and not burn everything down.  It also requires that winners don't use the system to destroy the competition.  Threatening to prosecute opponents is not the way to govern.  Perhaps the US would have been better off if Obama had give the signal for his Justice Department to prosecute those who enabled torture and did other awful things.  Little did he know that his successor would burn down the entire system, I guess.

With Devon Nunes, who has acted more on behalf of Trump and Russia than as an overseer, seeking to undermine the process, my take is that these Republicans and their whiny complaints about injustice should largely be ignored.  Playing to them to make the process appear to be fair is a waste of effort as they will always find ways to criticize it.  Just follow the procedures, vote on the articles, have the trial in the Senate, and then Trump will get off.  He will be tarnished by the effort, as his crimes will be apparent to those who are not blind.  The GOP will be tarnished by selling out any and all principles and making arguments entirely in bad faith.  It will not affect the diehards, and Fox will cover it as biasedly as it can.

Basically, this rant is: screw those guys. They have chosen party over country.  They are the Party of Bad Faith.  Let them wear that and let us not waste our time trying to persuade them that they need to be less hypocritical.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Another Summit, More Embarrassment

Trump's performance thus far is about what one expected.  Lots of focus on burden-sharing, not so much focus on what is NATO supposed to be doing.  I get riled up about all of this for so many reasons, but mainly because burden-sharing problems are inherent to alliances (see the classic econ literature) and the focus should be on doing the stuff that the alliance exists to do.  NATO was not formed to debate burden-sharing but to thwart the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union is gone, so NATO has other missions, other priorities, including denying Russia opportunities for faits accompli, countering terrorism (although not following Turkey's list of preferred targets), fighting piracy,  perhaps organizing responses to China's challenges, and building the capacities of states in Africa and the Mideast so that they don't generate refugees (good luck with that one).  That is a pretty full list, but the alliance truly is comatose (my take on Macron's brain death) as its traditional leader, the United States, lacks the capacity (State is gutted, OSD is gutted) to do the thinking, planning, and coordinating to set an agenda for the alliance.   Oh, and it is led by a guy who thinks that any deal that is not super-exploitative in his favor is "unfair" and "nasty."

The US lacks credibility thanks to the Uncertainty Engine-in-Chief.  Right now, I am worried that Trump will respond very emotionally to the video going around that has Trudeau, Johnson, Macron and someone else sharing stories and shock about Trump:

While it nicely illustrates the misaimed projection of Trump--he always complains that countries didn't take the US seriously under Obama, but instead, these leaders are contemptuous of Trump, it will cause Trump to have a tantrum.

I worry about what tomorrow will bring.  Don't you?

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Ben Parker Principle and Jason Kenney

With great power comes great responsibility.  While the Spider-Man comics and movies make this a central point, it is also something that is basic to democracies--that those with significant influence need to be aware of their power and use it wisely.

Alas, this is not always the case.  Jason Kenney, Premier of Alberta, committed two mistakes when trying to dismiss Melanee Thomas's arguments about his actions (dismissing those who investigate election malfeasance):
  1. Kenney made a dumb argument
  2. Kenney picked on an individual.
First, arguing that Melanee Thomas is biased because she ran for office long ago, before she got her PhD, is a dumb argument.  I believe this counts as ad hominen.  Rather than addressing the complaint--that Kenney is seeking to avoid accountability by firing those investigating his party--he says that Thomas is biased because of something she did a long time ago.  Since that time, Melanee went to McGill, earned a PhD, studying Canadian politics (I knew her there but she didn't study with/under me since Canadian politics ain't my field), has written articles and more about stuff, so she has become an expert on Canadian elections. 

The second mistake made by Kenney and then his staff is to pick on an individual.  As a politician, Kenney has followers, so anytime he mentions a person by name, he is essentially sending his followers at a target.  This is the world we live in now.  So, before punching down, any politician should think twice.  That Kenney did not is not surprising--he does not exactly exude responsibility.

One more note on dumb: it is dumb to tell a professor to shut up--kind of like telling a blogger to shut up--it just encourages such folks to keep on  speaking.

So, Kenney's moves here are dumb and irresponsible.  We should expect more from our leaders.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Deep State? Nope

I got triggered by this CBC story about the "deep state."  The story does a fair job of charting the development of the phrase, mostly by the far right, as part of conspiracy theories.  The problem with the piece is that it refers to all kinds of stuff that are legitimate concepts, which then lends a patina of legitimacy to the concept.

Yes, there is a military-industrial complex.  Eisenhower was not wrong.  But, no, it is not a unified actor, but a web of interactions and interests that tend to produce things like arms races.  we can blame the wars of the recent past on politicians and their interests, not some dark forces controlling them.  Influence?  Often.  Control?  Nope.

The problem these days is that Trump and his reactionary allies use it all the time to describe those in government who are .... doing their damned jobs.  Those people testifying last week and this week about what they saw Trump, Guiliani, etc do and say are doing so because they swore an oath to protect and serve the Constitution, not the President.  Lt. Colonel Vindman's case is more complicated (see this complicated piece) because he is an acting member of the US military, except it is not more complicated.  Why?  Because the military, like every other executive agency, is accountable not just to the White House but to Congress.

The reason why Trump keeps running into problems with folks in government is because Trump feels he is beyond the law and feels like the Presidency gives him the power to pursue his own interests, not the American interests.  So, when he conspires with Russians, the FBI gets involved.  When Trump tries to extort a country, members of the National Security Council detailed from various government agencies get involved.  And so on.  The central ingredient in all of this is not some nefarious actor within government, but Trump's unwillingess to "faithfully execute" the laws of the US.  This is not the deep state conspiring or acting against him.  Instead, it is the institutions of governance operating according to the rules that have been developed over two hundred and thirty years

Sure, there are bureaucratic politics always in play--that actors will generally stand on issues based on where they are in the bureaucracy.  And, yes, there are incentives and structures that lead organizations to develop cultures and interests.  But these again are not coherent rational actors.  The various agencies are rivals for money, power, influence, prestige, and autonomy.  They don't play well together.  The story of 9/11 involves, for instance, how the CIA and FBI could not coordinate because of their rival missions, identities, and interests.

Being President is hard--it takes a lot of work and smart staff to coordinate all the agencies.  Trump does not do hard work, and he finds loyalty be far more important in his staffers than intelligence, wisdom, experience, expertise, or integrity.  Trump always believed that there was something wrong with Obama since he could not wish policies into place.  Indeed, Trump was the ultimate believer in the Green Lantern theory--that one only has to imagine something to make it so.

The problem now is that any mention of the deep state is giving credibility to the bullshit spewed by the conspiracy theorists, and I just don't have any tolerance for that.  So, let's stop using the damned term, which is just distraction sauce.  Instead, let's focus on that whole failure to "faithfully execute the laws"--that Trump is in violation of his oath of office, and he is surprised that many of those in government are not willing to do the same.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The State of American Allies in the Age of Trump

I continue to think that the big change in the departure of SecDef Mattis is not that Trump has lost his guardrails but that it has caused others to lose their ability to engage in wishful thinking.  Macron's "brain death" comment might be read as self-serving since France, including under Macron, has generally sought to build up a European replacement to NATO.  However, the basic statement--that there is no one in the US engaging in the thinking that is required to lead NATO--is on target.

How so?  Each NATO summit is preceded by a series of Ministerials--meetings of Foreign Ministers (North Atlantic Council FM or NAC/FM) and Defense Ministers (NAC/D).  In between those, there are plenty of meetings within DC and between those in DC in the Pentagon and State and their counter-parts in Canada and Europe.  These meetings push agendas--items to be considered and ultimately some reaching a state of consensus.  But what happens when there are few people at State and the Pentagon staffing those desks?  What happens when the Secretary of State is more interested in promoting the next apocalypse as part of his vision for the rapture and also focused on Kansan politics?  When the SecDef is distracted by other alliance messes (see below)?  Well, we might have counted on the Brits to game the system in the old days, but Brexit has caused a fair amount of brain damage and distraction in London.  So, the alliance is not moving forwards and figuring out how to adapt to the various changing dynamics, including Turkey becoming more aligned with Russia.

The funny thing is that NATO is, compared to other places, a good news story.  The moves made in the past to create deterrence and deny Putin a fait accompli in the Baltics are in place, are working, and have yet to be undone.  How about elsewhere?

Things are looking awful in East Asia, where folks were worried before about being abandoned and being drawn into a war at the same time (rarely does one get gored by both horns of the alliance dilemma at the same time, but that is Trump's gift).  Now, they are mostly worried about abandonment.

First, let's focus on "diplomacy"
What has diplomacy gotten the US and its allies from North Korea?  Kim Jong Un has gotten heaps of recognition and pats on the back, in addition to the US cutting back on exercises in the region, and he has given up what?  Nothing.  Diplomacy is about give and take, and thus far KJU has taken and not given, and Mr. Art of the Deal has given and not taken.

Second, let's focus on "burden-sharing."  Trump's focus on all allies has been on getting paid, not on how the allies are helping the US pursue its interests.  Because as we know from Ukraine, what matters is Trump's interests, not America's.  The latest salvo is Trump demanding Japan and South Korea pay 4x or 5x more than they are currently paying for the basing of US troops.  As a reminder, these troops are not there because of American altruism but because of American interests:
  1. Conflict in these regions would be bad for the US economy in a huge way
  2. Keeping Europe and East Asia free has long been seen as important for American security--also, better to prevent a war than have to enter one halfway through, a lesson learned after a couple of world wars.
  3.  If the US wants to contain China, these bases and these countries are damned handy.  Threatening to pull out unless these countries pay up, protection-racket style, is good for China, bad for the US. 
Back in 2016, one reason I got the election wrong is that it was so obvious that Trump would be bad for US alliances, and I thought there were enough Republicans who cared about US national security that it would tip the balance.  I was wrong about that.  NeverTrumpers may be a thing, but they are small and not a relevant voting bloc.  The question is now the 2020 election because the damage to American alliances is severe but may be somewhat (not entirely) reversible.  After eight years of Trump?  Not so much.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Balance to the Force?

I have been listening to the new Binge-Mode podcasts which are now focusing on Star Wars after doing Game of Thrones and Harry Potter.  So, I have been reminded of something that drove me crazy long ago.  Yes, there is so much bad in the prequels, but one of the dumbest ideas is this: that Anakin Skywalker would bring balance to the force.

What the hell does that mean?  It is often suggested that his killing of the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi is finally the act that brings balance to the force.  But balance suggests an equal weight on both sides.  Killing the most powerful Sith and then, well, dying himself and thus removing most of the relevant dark side types (until Snoke and Kylo return to the scene--depending on how much of the expanded universe one consumes and adheres to) actually disturbs the balance as now the weight should all be on the light side. 

Which gets to one of the dumbest things in the prequels--if at first, the Jedi don't think that there is a Sith menace out there, why would they (Qui-gon especially) value a prophecy about bringing balance to the force.  At that moment, these Jedi think they utterly dominate, so balance is the last thing that they would want.

Let's move to IR for a minute: once the Soviet Union collapsed, the US stood alone, a superpower with no equals.  It did not then seek out to balance power.  Power became very unbalanced, tilted heavily to the US.  As China has risen relative to the US, there is greater balance in International Relations.  Is the US happier now?  I think not. 

One could argue that it is not so much about balancing of forces but any moment in time is a particular status quo that is seen as a balance, a juxtaposition of forces, and stability-seeking powers want to keep the status quo.  Again, however, until Darth Maul and Darth Siddious became well known, there should have no need or desire for an agent to balance the force. 

So, alas, we are stuck with this dumb prequel concept attached to Darth Vader in a more sticky way than much of the crap in the prequels.  However, it is handy for illustrating how problematic the concept of balancing is in International Relations.

What I liked most about The Last Jedi is how Luke railed about the stupidity of the Jedi.  I need to re-watch to see if the balance stuff comes up.  As it stands, I am thinking of the Rise of Skywalker is not about Rey being kin to Luke/Leia/Anakin but rather a new way, alternative way to think about the force and one's role in using it.  This would allow Rey to occasionally use the force in anger, to engage in love (something else that was so dumb about the prequels--that Jedi can't marry, etc), and the balancing is within the force user rather than between the forces of light and dark. 

We will find out next month how wrong I probably am.  And that will end any balance there is now between me and my uncertain opinions.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Remembrance Day, 2019

American cemetery at Omaha Beach
One of the advantages of doing medium N work that requires a heap of travel is that I have been to war museums and memorials in Australia, Japan, South Korea, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany including American and Canadian cemeteries in Europe.  I have taken to posting pictures from my various trips on Remembrance Day (what used to be known as Armistice Day and is called Veterans' Day in the US).  This year is particularly special one, I think.

Juno Beach
Why?  Partly because I got to see more of Normandy this year--the American cemetery at Omaha Beach is so very beautiful and very haunting, and I got to see briefly Juno Beach, where the Canadians landed.  Partly because there are so few left from those who fought on those beaches and elsewhere during that war.  Partly because the rise of Neo-Nazis and their friends raise questions about the sacrifices and what we have learned and failed to learn.  Partly because we cannot seem to end any of the forever wars.  Partly because this year's Vimy Gala had a bit of a punch to it with the recognition of this year's Silver Cross Mother present (each year a mother who lost a son or daughter in war is recognized).  Partly because I am getting old, I guess. 

Each year, especially since I moved to Ottawa, I realize the Commonwealth countries do this day right, better than the American version.  My daughter when to a school named after John McRae, who wrote In Flanders Field.  Which, I guess, is what made the poppies so central to our remembrance activities.  This year, there has been more discussion of what the poppies mean, whether we should be required (!) to wear them, whether the racists on national television (Don Cherry) should be banned for arguing that immigrants don't wear the poppy, and so on.  Yes, we live in more polarizing times, and it touches on everything.

For this Remembrance Day, I will try to remember the ideas for which these folks sacrificed their lives, knowing that we have fallen short both before and now.  We ought not idealize the conflicts of the past, but we should still take seriously that those who go to war are doing it for their friends, their family, their battle buddies, their country, regardless of whether the politicians and generals who lead them are well-intentioned or not. 

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Berlin Wall Falling: Thirty Years Later

I had the chance to go to Berlin when I was doing my Eurailpass tour of Europe in 1987, but it was kind of out of the way and cost more money.  So, I didn't, thinking I could go see the wall some other time.  And then the world changed.  The question is: how much?

People have been reacting online in a couple of ways:
  • the fall of the wall and the liberation of Eastern Europe pale in comparison to the rise of China in terms of major shifts in international relations
  • the fall of the wall and democratization produced much conflict
  • walls are back in fashion.
My basic take is that we tend to observe what we want.  What did we expect on that amazing night thirty years ago?  Would we have expected Russia to be led by trolls seeking to mess with pretty much everything?  Not sure.  Would we have expected most of Eastern Europe to become and remain democratic thirty years later?  Hungary, Serbia, Belarus, and Poland are the exceptions, a growing group that should cause much dismay.  However, there was both more and less ethnic conflict than one might have expected.  When empires fall, ethnic conflict ensues.  Thanks to some interventions and some other dynamics, Yugoslavia largely remained the exception and not the rule.

Would we have expected a reunified Germany to be looked upon as one of the few remaining powerful supporters of the liberal international order?  Remember how nervous some countries were about a reunified Germany.  These days we ask Germany to do more, not less.
Checkpoint Charlie

I have been to Berlin several times to do and to present research.  I tend to go to the same places--Checkpoint Charlie and the East Side Gallery

I do think much has changed and much of it for the better.  Europe is not perfect, but it is far better off being unified than divided.  There may be some holes in the map of European democracy, but most Europeans are living free.  There might be lots of dissatisfaction, but, thus far, opposition to most governments has been peaceful and exercised through the ballot boxes.  We can be disappointed about the backsliding, but we should remember how much progress has been made. 

To say that China's rise is hugely important should not diminish the meaning and relevance of the fall of Communism in Europe, the mostly enthusiastic embrace of democracy, and all that the Europeans have accomplished since 1989.  The irony, of course, is the defeat of the far left in the late 1980s has been replaced by the emergence of the far right abetted by Russia.  Brexit would not have happened had not the Conservatives tried to placate their right flank.  Trump, well, he has more than abetted the far right in the US and around the world.  So, we can be plenty depressed on this day as well. 

I will choose to focus on the upside, that so much changed 30 years ago, most of it for the better.  If we screw up what we inherited, that is on us. 

Friday, November 8, 2019

Who is Brain Dead? Macron, NATO, or the US

Lots of hand-wringing and more this week as France's President Emmaneul Macron said that NATO is in trouble because of American unreliability.  There is a lot to this, but I do want to credit Macron for doing the whole "hey, the Emperor is wearing no clothes" thing.  American leadership is fundamental to the alliance--not just showing up if something bad happens, but pushing the alliance towards doing more, towards adjusting to new threats, and dealing with older ones. 

That is not happening now for a couple of reasons.  First, Trump's fixation with the 2% issue crowds out every other issue.  Trump has focused entirely on a false belief--that NATO countries owe the US for spending under 2% of GDP on defense--and this is the focal point of every US-NATO discussion since 2017 (yes, today is the anniversary of Trump's electoral victory.  Yuck).  I have blogged here extensively on how dumb the 2% standard is, how the goal of 2% is aspirational--to be reached in 2024 rather than today or yesterday, and that this is all bad for the alliance.

Second, the concept of brain death seems dramatic, but one could consider the US the nervous system of NATO--connecting its members and transmitting directives and policy plans.  Maybe the State Department is not the site of the US "brain" but any observer of US foreign policy will notice that there has been, indeed, brain drain at State (never recovered from Tillerson's emptying out of expertise), the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Mattis never fully staffed it, mostly letting the Joint Staff make policy), and at the National Security Council (four National Security Advisers--Flynn, McMaster, Bolton, the new guy--plus lots of turnover in staff who are spending most of their time worrying about testifying about Ukraine or buying Greenland).  Who is making NATO policy in the US?  Is there anyone staffing the respective NATO desks in these various agencies?  Are there, dare I say it, PC's (principal committee meetings) on NATO that involve more than just 2%?  No. 

Third, in the aftermath of Turkey/Syria, shouldn't NATO members be concerned?  That Trump moves American troops out of the way of an aggressive dictator after a phone call?  Given Trump's positive relationship with Putin, which runs deeper and longer than the one with Erdogan, shouldn't folks be concerned? 

Of course, this is all a bit much coming from Macron.  Why?  Because Macron has been a bit of a force for instability as well, disrupting the politics of Macedonia by denying it a chance to start the EU membership process.  People might forget, but the stability of Macedonia is a concern.  The 1999 Kosovo campaign was (almost?) as much about preventing Macedonia from blowing up and causing problems for Greece/Bulgaria/Turkey as it was about the plight of Kosovars.  Given the Russians and Chinese some playing room in the Balkans is a bad idea.  Plus Macron may be making a move to try to push forward European Defence stuff--that is, having the EU lead as NATO falls apart.  France seeking a non-US security institution in Europe is an old theme.  However, it ain't going to happen because, well, getting the Europeans to play well together on defence tends to require ... US leadership.  France is simply not up to the task as Germany's Angela Merkl pushed back pretty quickly.

Should Macron have said this so nakedly?  Probably not.  Is NATO in trouble?  Yeah, because the US is led by someone who is hostile to NATO's existence.  It really does turn on the 2020 election.  I am not sure NATO can handle four more years of Trump.  It is normal and inevitable for countries to hedge and seek alternatives when an ally becomes unreliable.  Folks may point to the American troops in Europe, and say that they will remain there to deter any (Russian) threats.  But they are commanded by the President of the United States, not by Congress, not by Europeans.  If Trump chooses not to deploy them in a crisis, if Trump chooses to block consensus at NATO, that is, well, the ballgame.  We have known this for some time, but wishful thinking was the theme du jour until Mattis went away (and they were overrating Mattis). 

So, yeah, my basic take on all of this is: duh.  Trump is bad for NATO.  This is one of the promises he has kept from the 2016 race.  Expect more hedging, although perhaps not quite as loud as Macron's.  The only way to reduce this tendency?  Elect a Democrat in 2020.*

*  Successful impeachment/conviction of Trump might make a difference as well since Pence is not as hostile to NATO.  But that outcome is significantly less likely.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Juggling and Dropping: Thinking About the Academic Balancing Act

I was asked the other day by a friend how I can keep doing everything while adding all of the CDSN  stuff to my to-do list.  My answer is: I can't.  I am behind on all kinds of stuff, as I am reminded by returning to my half-written Chile case study today.

I write this not to explain or apologize for fewer blog posts (the slide in posts has been a steady thing) or to buy some time with co-authors.  I write this because I think the idea that people can do everything and keep adding new tasks is probably unhealthy.

Academia is always a balancing act.  We have three kinds of responsibilities: teaching, research, service.  They vary in how much time they take, in when the work must be done, and, of course, in how much they are valued.  And each one has multiple tasks within the category.  As I listicle the tasks in a professor's life, I will highlight the stuff that I am currently behind on (and I am sure I am forgetting stuff).
  • Teaching involves
    • Course Prep
    • Office hours
    • Classroom time
    • Grading
    • Supervision of graduate students (this is the most invisible yet often most time-consuming of the teaching tasks).  I am not behind on this, but I am slower than I used to be in getting feedback back to students.
  • Research involves
    • Grant applications and, if successful, managing the spending/accounting
    • Managing research assistants--while these folks help save time, they also require time to manage.  And, yes, when they go unmanaged, things go awry.  As I learned a while ago with my diaspora project that never came to fruition (its failure is overdetermined) 
    • Reading the work previously written on the topic
    • Reading the relevant documents/research materials
    • Data coding/cleaning/accounting (something that is wildly underappreciated)
    • Interviews, including travel to do them
    • Writing
    • Editing
    • Proofing
    • Writing letters to explain revisions for resubmission/cover letters for book proposals
    • All this stuff for secondary projects
  • Service involves
    • Sitting on university and professional committees
    • Meetings.  This is one of the big time consumers now that I am running a network.  I don't mind since it gives me the chance to hang out with interesting people, but it is the piece I underestimated the most.
    • Reviewing manuscripts for journals, presses
    • Performing administrative roles (not just chair/head but directing programs, running institutes, etc)
    • Writing tenure/promotion letters 
    • Writing letters of recommendation (the upside of teaching mostly MA students is far fewer requests to write such letters)
    • Public engagement--op-eds, blogs, twitter, podcasts, speaking engagements, tv/radio, etc
None of this list refers to keeping up with the scholarly literature (reading journals and the latest books) or reading for fun (non-fiction, that is, stuff in my field but not necessary for my research--I do read fiction for real fun). Nor does it list stuff that I don't have to worry about but others do, like figuring out child care arrangements (my daughter needs no arrangements anymore and, yes, my wife took care of most of that stuff when it was necessary).

Over the course of a career, teaching tends to get easier and requires less preparation as one develops the ability to take what one knows and organize it more quickly.  However, one tends to accumulate more supervision as one gets deeper into the profession.  Despite my best efforts (moving to a program focused on MA students), I have more PhD students now than at any other time in my career.  I don't know how the David Lakes of the world do it--supervising a dozen students and remaining productive.  Hopefully, younger folks are protected from serious service work until they get tenure.  I have thus far evaded being a department chair or school director, and taking on the CDSN has been helpful in that regard.  But that means doing more service of one kind than another.

I have found that the grant writing to fund the CDSN and leading the CDSN has cut mostly into my secondary research projects.  I have still been doing the travel for the main priority--the Dave/Phil/Steve project on legislatures and overseeing militaries--but I have put off travel and research for several secondary projects.

To be clear, I am not complaining or whining (ok, maybe a bit).  I just trying to make sense of the juggling that I am doing, that others are most assuredly doing.  Perhaps the most apt metaphor might be ducks--that they sail along smoothly but they are paddling furiously below the water.  Sure, there are folks who shirk and do little service, maybe stop doing much research after tenure, and who don't put much work into the classroom.  But there is much less deadwood than there used to be, and most of the folks I know are busy balancing multiple tasks.  Many academics seem to need "no" committees that help that say no to various opportunities/requests.  Ultimately, we vary in what we prioritize, and we vary how well we disguise the difficulties and the balls we drop along the way.

It is important to note that most of us chose this profession in part so that we could control what we do (giving up control over where we do it).  So, the balancing act is largely in one's own hands.  I may blog about the varying incentive structures that shape these decisions ... when I have more time.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Medium N Analyses: Know A Little About A Lot?

When I was discussing my work with a pal yesterday at Tufts (Kelly Greenhill rocks mightily), she was surprised to find that I was the one in the Dave/Phil/Steve team doing the Latin American countries.  She didn't think I had any expertise there, and she is right.  But I asked: where do you think I have expertise?   I don't think she answered, but it gets to a downside of my method: medium N analysis.

Small n is where one studies a few cases, developing a deep knowledge about them.
Large n is where one studies many, many cases/observations using statistical techniques to determine which factors seem to matter more than others.

Folks tend to learn one, the other, or both in grad school.  Me?  Besides a few exceptions where I did some quantitative work, I have mostly been studying more than a few but less than many:
  • My dissertation: I studied the international politics of three secessionist crises and asked how a variety of countries responded to them.  So, who took sides in the Congo Crisis and why?  Who supported Nigeria vs Biafra or Biafra vs Nigeria and why?  Who supported Bangladesh's secession and why?  I ultimately studied something like forty cases.
  • My first book dropped the Bangladesh case since it was really all about India, plus I wanted to get hip and current, so why did countries support the Serbs or the Croats or the Bosnians in the wars of Yugoslavia's demise.
  • My second book, with Bill Ayres, considered why some countries engaged in irredentism while others did not in the 1990s.  This involved bigger case studies of Croatia, Serbia, and Armenia vs. Hungary, Romania, and, yes, Russia while considering shorter case studies of other inconsistent irredentism: Albania, Ireland, Cyprus/Greece/Turkey, Pakistan/Kashmir.
  • My third book, with David Auerswald, on NATO in Afghanistan studied Presidential systems (US, France, Poland), Single-Party Parliamentary Systems (UK, Canada plus Spain and Turkey), coalition governments (Denmark, Netherlands, Germany plus Belgian, Italy, and Norway), a few partners (countries who were not members of NATO--Australia and New Zealand), and then many countries reacting to the Libya campaign.
  • My fourth book is an exception and an accident--Canada in Afghanistan--because it could not all fit into the NATO book.
  • The fifth book, very much in progress, compares fifteen or so democracies.  We wanted to see how oversight of the armed forces varies among countries, focusing on the role of legislatures. So, we have three types of democracies (Presidential, Westminster, European), so we need some cases of each AND we want enough cases within each to understand the sources of within-category variation.  So... medium n.
There are a few patterns here--I like to have cases from all the various combinations of variables, I like to have more than a few cases per category, and I don't stick to the same cases.  I am not an expert on any particular country or region as my theory tells me which cases I need to study--which variables need to be varied to see what effects they may have.

Getting back to medium N analysis, I do it for several reasons but at some cost.  The upsides include:
  • Getting more variation than I would if I only studied a couple of cases.  For me (and not just for me), variation means leverage.  That with more variation, I can get at the casual mechanisms that are at work.  
  • Getting a fuller sample may not mean getting a full sample, but I have a greater chance of having representation of the thing I am studying.  For NATO in Afghanistan, I couldn't study all 20 plus members in the same level of intensity, but I could study nine closely and then a few more from a distance.  We covered most of the major actors as well as sampling some others to have non-members, to have smaller countries, and so on so that we could claim to have a representative sample of the countries involved in the enterprise.   
  • Simply learning more.  More is more, and the kind of stuff I am seeking to understand is just very interesting. 
There are challenges and costs:
  • I can do this kind of work if I am funded.  Going to four or five or six countries requires money.  It is probably no accident that I developed more ambitious projects when I moved to Canada where I have more access to more money
  • It tends to require co-authorship.  I don't have the time to go to fifteen countries, but the three of us together do.  I don't mind co-authoring--I enjoy it and get much from it--but there are folks out there who discount co-authored work.  And, to be sure, not all co-authoring relationships go well.
  • I am linguistically lame, so going to five countries with five different languages means having to find translators/interpreters.  This post is partially inspired by my copy-editing of a chapter in a book on fieldwork where I discuss this challenge directly.  
  • Oh, and back to the start, this method means I know a little bit about a lot of places but not that much about any one of them. 
I need to do more thinking to explain why I do this, what the advantages are, and so forth, as I think there is more medium N analysis out there, but we don't have guides/playbooks/etc.  Any suggestions would be most appreciated.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The New Syrian Mission: Let's Enumerate the Stupidity

This morning, twitter got distracted from the Nationals winning the World Series (which is what happens when the crowd boos Trump) by the announcement that the armored unit going to Syria is a National Guard unit. The basic conversation is between those saying WTF to those saying it is normal since the NG and Reserves have been rotating units to be the one squatting Kuwait, and they are the closest to the area.  Of course, this simply invokes the classic question of just because you can do something does not mean you should do it.

So, I recalled that when I was on the Joint Staff in 2001-2002, the first Reserve unit had just been deployed to Bosnia, and there was much reluctance to do the same in Kosovo since things were far less settled there.  Of course, the next 15 years of forever wars meant that the US had to send National Guard and Reserve units to Iraq and Afghanistan, but as wise folks pointed out, our current OPTEMPO (pace of operations) is not so high that we need to use reservists for this kind of stuff.

I said this was the seventh dumbest thing about this mission, so let's see if I can find six dumber aspects
  1. Most obviously, what is the mission here?  Why is the US deploying forces, particularly an armored unit to Syria?  What are the rules of engagement?  Who is to be engaged?
  2. To protect oil fields?  That is the claim, but that is just how the military folks manipulated Trump, as Syria's oil fields are hardly consequential in the grand scheme of things.
  3. That the military rolled Trump on this is also incredibly dumb.  It is problematic from a civ-mil perspective (the civilians should be controlling the military, not the other way around).  And if one is going to break the norms, do it for something that is really important, like not being used for domestic grand-standing (border troops?), not for refusing to leave an ill-conceived mission.
  4. What is the authority to do this?  The Authorization to Use Military Force from after 9/11 was not for protecting oil fields.
  5. What are the requirements to make this work?  Will the US need to threaten to shoot down Russian planes if they get too close?  There is a real risk of escalation here that no one seems to be thinking about.
  6. Is anyone in Congress asking these questions and related ones?  Any oversight deficit here is incredibly dumb since this is exactly why Congress has a role in asking pesky questions of the President, his Defense Secretary, and the senior officers.  
  7. Using reservists for such a high risk, cockamamie mission.
Did I cheat?  Did I miss any?

Maybe Obama was overly risk-averse, but I still think the mantra of "Don't do stupid shit!" is a good one.  Obviously, it has been forgotten not just by this White House but also by this Pentagon.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Is Trump a Fascist?

I have been reluctant to call Trump a fascist.  Why?  Seems too high falutin', too organized, too disciplined.  Sure, Trump has aspired to be an autocrat, a dictator, but not all authoritarians are fascists.  This may not matter to you, but this is my blog and I am using it to ponder this.  Maybe I will figure out how it matters by the time I get to the end of this post (semi-spews are supposed to be half baked).

Fascism is more than just dictatorship--there have been plenty of autocratic regimes, where there is not rule of law, but rule of one over many.  Indeed, Barbara Geddes (and others) have come up with at least three types--personalist, party, and military.  Note that none of these is "fascism."  There are lots of definitions of fascism, and, yes, some kind of racism tends to be associated with it, but one can be a racist autocrat and not be a fascist.  From what I remember from grad school and elsewhere, a key ingredient of fascism is not just nationalism and authoritarianism but domination of society.  Not all totalitarian regimes are fascist (see Stalinism or see North Korea today), but all fascist regimes are totalitarian.  That is, the entire political and social system is organized by the government to support one way--a person and/or a party. 

Trump's kleptocracy makes it look like an alliance with capital.  His xenophobic and white supremacy obviously matter, but thus far, there does not seem to be a plan or a desire to micromanage society.  He rules to benefit himself, not to perpetuate an ideology.

What does Trump believe?  He believes he is always right, that trade is a sucker's game, that people will always rip other people off, that the variety of ethnic stereotypes are true (Jews are clever, Black people are criminals, etc), that the rules don't apply to him.  None of this is an ideology about how society should be ordered by the state.

It has always wrankled me that folks call Trump a fascist.  Part of it may be my scholarly desire not to stretch concepts.  Part of it is that I don't want to overestimate Trump (although I probably underestimate him).  There is no grand plan besides enriching himself and trying to use the state to harm his enemies. 

Some of his supporters are fascists (Stephen Miller comes to mind), but I don't think that all of the folks supporting Trump fit into the same basket.  Well, they are a basket of deplorables, and it is a cult of personality (which causes people to think of totalitarian regimes of yore).  There is now state media (Fox and its ilk) of a kind, but it ain't the same thing as Goebbels and the rest.  Trump's degree of control and the fear he fosters is not the same.  Yes, immigrants have much to fear, and ICE is awful, but I am wary of historical parallels.  Yes, we have concentration camps in the US now, but they are not death camps.  The tragedy is real, we don't have to exaggerate how awful things are.  And I do fear for the future of democracy.  I just don't quite fear the rise of fascism.

I guess, in the end, that is my point--that we have much to fear, and we should focus on the real sources of misery than imagined ones.

So, I will keep calling Trump an autocrat, a kleptocrat, a wannabe dictator, but not a fascist. 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Albertan Secession or Sore Losers

Well, I vote for sore losers.  In response to this:
I was told that Alberta is deserving of self-determination like the Basques, the Catalans, Tibetans, and the Scots...  And, yes, I scoffed.  Three of those four developed separatism when the central regime was autocratic. 

So, I dipped into my past as a separatism scholar and pondered whether Alberta has any of the characteristics shared by the others:
  • Has Alberta ever been independent?
  • Has Alberta had some kind of autonomy that has been revoked?
  • Do Albertans speak a different language, worship differently, etc than the majority of Canadians?  Being a wee bit more Christian might count if they faced serious discrimination.  
  • Have Albertans been excluded from governance at the centre for decades? 
The answers here are clear--Alberta would fit into the "one of these things is not like the others" category.

So, until Albertans are facing serious discrimination/exclusion, I shall continue to scoff at the idea of Albertan separatism.  This kind of stuff happens after an election--we call it being sore losers.  Next time, maybe don't make someone so lame as Andrew Scheer as the leader of the national party that can't get much support outside of one's bastion...

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Random Canadian Election Thoughts, 2019 edition

Of course, the title assumes that there will not be another one this year.  I am guessing that no one wants another election anytime soon.  So, Trudeau can probably navigate being a minority government for a while.  I missed being a citizen in the last election by a few days AND I used to study the ethnic politics of elections as a side gig, so I have thoughts:
  • Lots of wonderful schadenfreude that Maxim Bernier and the People's Party of Canada lost in a big, big way.  Bernier didn't manage to win his seat, one that was easy in the old days when he was a Conservative.  Can we learn that Canadians are not as xenophobic as feared?  Um.... no.  What we learned is that just as the left has strategic voters, I am pretty sure that the xenophobes on the right decided not to waste their vote on this incompetent party.  Instead, they voted for the Conservatives, who did stuff along the way to appeal to them, and to the Bloc Quebecois, which did very well.  The latter party did far better than the Parti Quebecois has done lately in Quebec.  Pourquoi (why)?  Perhaps because in provincial elections, the xenophobes could choose the Coalition Avenir Québec or even the Liberals since all major parties pandered via how best to exclude religious minorities.  Which means the Bloc is more a party of xenophobia than of sovereignty/independence.... Just a guess.  Anyhow, the key thing here is: let's not get to smug.  There is xenophobia and white supremacy and populism in Canada--but first past the post helped to keep it out of power (except for that whole brownface thing, which didn't keep Trudeau from getting enough votes to rule again).
  • I was surprised by the performance of Jangmeet Singh and the New Democrat Party.  Sure, the Liberals made it easier on them by not going through with electoral reform (my leftie friends on facebook have been super bitter about this since this promise went un-met).  But given the aforementioned xenophobia in Quebec and QC being the base of the NDP, I didn't think the NDP would be able to gain so much elsewhere .  I was right about the former--not a single orange seat in Quebec (I am sorry to see former McGill undergrad Matthew Dubé lose his seat, but lifetime pension for two terms is not bad compensation).  So, the NDP lost bigly but not as bad as I had expected.
  • The Bloc is back.  Lovely.  Ewwwwww.  Not a fan.  Again, I don't think this means separatism is on the rise.  It will be interesting to see how Trudeau manages this--how do you get Bloc support (or at least Bloc lack of opposition) without selling out too much?  
  • Scheer was not ready apparently.  Trudeau was determined to hand over the election--absolutely flailing over support for a corrupt Quebec company (see my fear of pandering), firing two female cabinet ministers including one who managed to keep her seat.  Nice comeuppance there.  Anyhow, back to the CPC, the base strategy failed.  The next CPC leader will be more charismatic than Scheer and might try to get some disaffected Liberal voters.  We shall see, but the lesson the CPC could learn (despite my quibbles above) is that they probably lost more seats to the Liberals than the PPC cost them.  So, go middle rather than go right?
  • The winner?  Maybe those concerned with climate change.  Already the premier of New Brunswick has read the majority support for parties that are concerned with climate change.... but then again, Trudeauis going ahead with pipelines, so who knows.
  • Another winner? Me.  Voting took a minute, was simple, and entirely lacking in electronics.  
  • Also: fans of legislative oversight.  With the opposition in control of parliamentary committees, these bodies will not be used to protect the government.  See the Phil and Steve paper.
  • Also: Phil Lagassé who not only can stop correcting people about getting election stuff wrong, but can talk about PM's laundering responsibility through parliament.  
  • One more: the Canadian Armed Forces.  Because this government does not really care about deficits, and because they will not want to produce too much upset, I expect most of the stuff from the Defence Policy Review, aka Strong, Secure, Engaged, will continue to flow.  This is, of course, a bit of self-interest since it means more money for research on defence stuff.  Woot! 
Oh and one update:   Ben Forrest, McGill geographer and friend, whipped up this figure to illustrate the fact that the Liberals got more votes than the Conservatives despite losing the popular vote.  This is not unlike the US outcome in some ways, but the big difference for mandate/legitimacy purposes is that Trudeau could identify things that got 2/3's of the vote--Liberal + NDP + Green--such as climate change policy.  Last night, Phil Lagassé yelled into the twitterverse that there should be no discussion of a mandate for the Liberals.... but there is a mandate for center-left policies if the Liberals are brave enough to embrace some of them.

I am glad the Liberals got punished for the SNC-Lavalin disaster.  Since Liberal governments fall because of corruption and smug abuse of power, how about don't?  I am glad they won because, well, I am not a fan of the Conservatives especially given Scheer's dancing with Faith Goldy, with Rebel Media, and their icky ilk.

And, yes, I still have 3.5 more hours at Dulles Airport.  So, there you have my reactions.