Friday, June 28, 2019

The Most Well Known Battle Still Surprises: Some Stuff I Learned At Normandy

Yesterday, I went to Normandy, as I had some time before the EISS conference in Paris, and I hadn't seen much of the battlefields when I visited as an undergrad with a limited budget.  I had only seen one of the British beaches and its famous Mulberry artificial breakwater/port the last time.  This time, I joined a tour that started with a bus from Paris which went on to Caen, a pivotal target that took far longer to take, to Point Du Hoc, Omaha Beach, the US cemetery near Omaha, and then Juno Beach where the Canadians landed.

On the ride there (three hours), one of the tour guides (we had two) gave a long, basic download of the leadup to the war and then of the war itself up to D-Day.  It was most struck by her forthrightness about how divided France was between resisters and collaborators.

The Caen Memorial had two striking parts plus some other interesting aspects.  There was a great film that had a split screen with one side having the allies' perspective and the German perspective on the other.  It showed both sides preparing, alerting, fighting, and then one side winning and the other side losing.  The German side was actually a bit of a mix because it also showed the resistance setting up explosives and successfully derailing a train. 
The second striking aspect was a set of stones outside laid by a number of countries from the usual suspects of US, Canada, UK, Poland to those who had been liberated: Netherlands and Norway.  The Soviet Union laid one stone, characteristically taking most of the credit (and mostly deservedly so) for defeating Germany).  Strange to see?  Greece.  Um, sure.  And interesting to see: East and West Germany.  Each block had a different message which really reflected the very different cultures/approaches of the countries.  Some pics:

We had lunch there--an awkward one since we sat across from complete strangers with some families in between.  I watched some college student wolf down 5 cups of espresso.  Oh my.  The gift store had some nice stuff, but I could not help but notice the dominance of the 101st Airborne Division.  This was probably true before Band of Brothers and is certainly true now.  The 82nd does not get as much attention, the Big Red One (the 1st infantry gets much), and the 29th Infantry gets relatively little.  As a quick tour of the cemetery (see below) indicates, lots of other units paid a big price at or near Omaha.  The funny thing is the book I picked up to compensate for so much attention for the  Band of Brothers was ... about the next battalion in the same regiment of the 101st.  Oops.
Bunker at Point Du Hoc

We then went to Point Du Hoc, which has gotten much play over time, and deservedly so as nearly 300 US Rangers climbed up a sheer cliff in the face of machine gun fire and other weapons.  They took tremendous casualties getting to the top so that they could take out a major artillery piece that could reek havok on both Utah and Omaha beaches.  Except.... the guns weren't there.  I will be Peeving (my next Peeve segment on the BattleRhythm podcast will address this) about heroism combined with not completing the objective.   Indeed, I learned today at the conference that the leader of this mission was not promoted but sent home, never to lead another operation.  Which might be a hint.
Memorial at P du H
To be clear, I don't mean to diminish what the Rangers did.  It is just a big part of war that soldiers, marines, sailors, and aviators end up doing stuff that is amazing, but are frustrated by bad intel, poor leadership, luck, and, yes, the adversary being smart.

The Rangers who lost their lives at Point Du Hoc

We then went to Omaha Beach.  The bluffs above clearly provided the defenders with a huge advantage.  A lot went wrong on and near that beach that day.  Omaha gets more attention because it was the bloodiest beach, the toughest mission, the closest call.  It was moving to be at that place where so many got killed in the first wave, that the waves kept coming, that the soldiers eventually picked themselves up and broke out. 

The bluffs here tell the tale.  Not an easy place to land.
 And then, appropriately, we went to the US Military Cemetery where those who died in the first few months of the campaign (and some, pilots who got shot down, who died before D-Day).  These places are always beautiful, incredibly well laid out, well tended, and just wrenching with so many boys (most of the dead were privates or private first class--which means young, mostly) dying before they could really live their lives.  Not all were army as there were navy and army air force folks also buried here.  Most of the people here died after D-Day--the campaign to break out of Normandy was very difficult.  The hedges of the area proved to be very helpful for the German defenses.

US Cemetery at Omaha. The symmetry and all the rest are
so moving at every US military cemetery.

This man died on D-Day from the 1st ID, so he could easily
have died in the first wave.  The Big Red One is
appropriately named.
I also could not help but feel my identity.  I don't see myself as Jewish in terms of religion, but I could not help but pay more attention to the Jewish stars among all of the crosses.  More Jews may have died at Normandy, but most Jews end up getting buried in Jewish Cemetaries.  Still, there were enough to make it clear that Jewish Americans paid a price as well.  It also made me angry--that all these folks died to defeat Nazism and yet there are Americans now who buy into Nazi ideology.  Not sure how they can call themselves Americans.  They are, as they were, the enemy.

After the cemetery, we drove along Gold, the British beach, to get to Juno.  It was not so impressive--the museum and the various signage was not so extensive.  The Canadian beach was the second toughest, with lots of defenses built into the sand.  The sand itself seemed to be a weapon as it was driven into our faces by tough winds, the second time I nearly lost my hat and sunglasses (Point Du Hoc was the first).  I did feel my Canadian identity here--that Canada, yes, punched above its weight and played a key role.  Their museum's swag was not great, however.

Then we had three hours to get back to Paris.  Very much a worthwhile trip.

I learned a lot, was moved quite a bit, and checked off a key item on my list of places to visit.  I do love my job for many reasons, including giving me the opportunity to pursue my curiosity wherever it goes.  This applies both to my work and the stuff I can do that is work-adjacent.

And, yes, 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Introducing Battle Rhythm: A CDSN Podcast

Today, we launch a new social media endeavor: a podcast!  Available here with more links soon to other outlets.  Stéfanie von Hlatky and I are co-hosting Battle Rhythm, one of the first outputs of the Canadian Defence and Security Network.  What is it and why are we doing it? 

The podcast will appear every other Wednesday (we hope--this podcasting stuff is not easy) on the CGAI Podcast network.  The Canadian Global Affairs Institute is a partner of the CDSN-RCDS, and a key contribution to our network is hosting our podcast.  We are aiming to keep each podcast under/around an hour.  The first segment will have us discussing defence and security stuff (Canadian and beyond) that is in news or otherwise worthy of our attention and falling somewhere near our expertise.  Stef will occasionally report back and comment on debates going on in Francophone defence and security studies.  Sometimes, we will chat about books we have read.
We will then have a short interview with an Emerging Scholar to present their research (which is usually further along at the cutting edge than established profs).   The aim will be to provide an outlet to the next generation, especially those from communities that have been underrepresented in previous generations.
The third segment will usually be an interview with someone who we have met along the way--Stef and I interviewed a number of folks who were at the Kingston Conference on International Security, she interviewed some at the Annual Workshop of Women In International Security-Canada, and I interviewed some of those presenting at ERGOMAS and EISS conferences in Europe this summer.
The penultimate segment will be "Steve's Peeves" where I audibly Spew about an issue that troubles me.  I am hoping to lure Stef into doing some peeving of her own, but she has much greater restraint than I do.
The last segment will be responding to listener questions, assuming we get some.

Why are we doing this?  First, one of the key missions of the CDSN is to provide greater visibility to various events in Canada.  By conducting interviews with those attending KCIS and WIIS-C (both run by CDSN partners), we help to extend the audience for those events both over distance and over time.  An event in Kingston or Toronto will largely get local attendees and those invited explicitly for the conference.  By giving some of these participants a potentially global (ambitious, aren't we?) platform, our podcast will extend how far the conference reaches.  Because podcasts, once put on a cloud somewhere, can be downloaded months or years later, it also means that the stuff presented at a conference can resonate beyond the week of the conference.  The CDSN effort aims to amplify and connect, and this podcast is a way to do so.

Second, while there are an increasing number of podcasts in Canada on defence and/or security issues, we think we have a different perspective that might be of interest. Both of us come at Canadian defence and security with a comparative perspective as well as the awareness of needing to keep in mind that Canada never operates alone.  Stef and I have both written on alliance politics.  However, our expertise is only overlapping and not identical, as she has an extensive background studying nuclear policy, US-Canadian relations, and gender policy in contemporary militaries.  My work is more on the domestic politics of civil-military relations, and my older work is on intervention and on the international relations of ethnic conflict.

Third, another explicit aim of the CDSN, and one that has been something the two of us have been doing separately, is to provide outlets for those who have lacked such outlets.  She started the Canadian branch of Women in International Security-Canada to give female scholars more opportunities to share their research and to provide more mentoring.  One reason why I started building the CDSN was to do the same for not just women but also people of color and indigenous voices. 

Fourth, despite the difficulties, podcasting is fun.  Doing the podcast gives me more opportunities to chat with Stef.  She is not only smart and dynamic, but she makes me laugh.  And, yes, doing a podcast means one more form of social media for me to play with.  Plus it gives us an excuse to track down and have extended conversations with interesting folks that we mostly did not know beforehand.  That is one way in which the first episode is not going to be a model for future podcasts.  I interviewed Dan Drezner for the first episode, and I have known him for nearly two decades.  Pretty much everyone else we have interviewed have been people we met for the podcast or met quite recently.  In sum, I like to talk, I like to talk to Stef, and I like to talk to people who are excited about their own work.  Hopefully, Battle Rhythm will be fun for our listeners as well.

All I ask is that you have some patience with us, as podcasting is not nearly as easy as it seems. And let us know via our twitter account @cdsnrcds or via email at if you have suggestions, comments, or questions.  Again, we hope to have listener mail as a regular segment.  It has the potential to be the most interesting, funnest segment. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Barcelona: Boats and Beaches

I saved the day on and near and in the water until last.  I learned many things along the way:

  • The western Mediterranean is cold in late June.  I had never swum in any part of the Med so the idea of being in the same body of water as heaps of dead Ancient Greeks and Romans was kind of interesting to me.
  • Speaking of Greeks, I learned that the Spanish word for jellyfish is medusa!  A sign indicated that they were out there, but I didn't see any.
  • I felt very American to be surprised at nudists hanging out at non-nudist beaches.  It really gave some evidence to the whole "confidence of a mediocre man" since, well, the dudes who were naked were not in good shape.  The women varied, but the naked men were all not very fit.  Sorry, can't take my comparative lenses off.

  • That nostalgia for old, obsolete stuff is not just a North American thing as the neighbors of a power plant apparently voted to keep the power plant's big chimneys long after the power plant was closed down.  That this was right next to a super solar panel made it stand out even more.

  • Some contemporary history, of course, also struck me.  This sign memorializes those lost trying to cross the Med for a better life.  While kids in concentration camps is making news in the US, and deservedly so, others elsewhere are also in harm's way trying to escape violence and depredation.

  • The last part of the tour took us to the port and I got to see some cans being moved around up close:

  • I learned that some people have strong opinions about identity.  I am not sure this is aimed at Catalans or Spanairds or whoever.  But I had to take the pic.  I will say I saw more than a few Catalan flags and, more strikingly, a number of signs referring to political prisoners.  Here, the yellow ribbon is clearly not about veterans but political prisoners.  Alas, as a tourist, I didn't have anyone here I could chat with about Catalan politics.  I am not one to go up to random people and ask how separatist they are feeling.  Too bad I am not doing any books on nationalism, because I could have found the cover!
  •  Finally, I learned that I am pretty lucky.  That I had time in between two West European conferences to squat somewhere in western Europe.  And I am glad I went with the conventional wisdom--Barcelona is a pretty terrific place.  Beautiful, full of amazing art, great food, and some very nice beaches.  After traveling, I will have one more day before the EISS conference, so I will be going to the beach again, but a very different kind of beach--Omaha and Normandy.  So, the next tourism post will be back to a recurring theme here: World War II tourism. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Barcelona, Day 2: Museums, Castles, and Flamenco... and Fireworks

My tourism on day two was more dynamic and loud than I expected. It started quietly and ended with many bangs.  What did I do and what did I learn along the way?

First, I went to the Maritime History Museum where the real star was the building, where they once made the galleys--yeah, way back before the Atlantic was a thing.  The Royal Galley got much attention and deservedly so.  I have been to a few museums like this, but except for the one in Sweden dedicated to the Vasa, a royal ship that sank about 50 meters after it was launched, I don't remember a maritime history museum with such a huge percentage dedicated to one period long ago.  I guess that says something about Spanish naval history of late? 

I then walked to the Joan Miro museum, which has a fantastic view of the city.  I learned that Miro was, um, not a woman.  Ooops. It was interesting to see his work evolve, including a late period where he liked to burn holes in his paintings and do other damage to them.

I then stumbled upon a gondola that would take me to the big castle on the edge of town.  And following the general tourist rule to go up when one can, I climbed aboard.  The views were outstanding, and there was some interesting history here.  I really don't know much about the Spanish Civil War despite a certain dissertation I read a while back.   This castle goes way back, and has played literally a pivotal role since taking it from one side gave you dominance over the other. 

The evening was even more Barcelona-y, as I went out for tapas and flamenco.  No, I didn't dance--I went to a place that puts on Flamenco shows for tourists.  I wish I had a better seat, but it was still pretty terrific.  They let us shoot pics and video for the last few minutes of the show so:

 Then I went back to my hotel to find ... a bonfire on a street corner and people randomly tossing around fireworks.  It sounded more like a battlefield.  The Barcelonians took it all with great calm.  I went back to my hotel room since getting wounded by fireworks would be most displeasing to Mrs. Spew.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Barcelona is Underrated!

I have heard folks complain that Barcelona is overrun by tourists, but I think that is a scam--that these people want to keep Barcelona to themselves.  Ok, maybe not as the place is overrun by tourists (mostly bachelorette parties, it seems), but it is not too problematic as there is plenty of great Barcelona-ness to go around. The old joke about Paris has a different, less funny punchline here--why do the French have trees on the sides of their roads? So the Germans can march in the shade.  Here, in Barcelona, they do it because it is very sunny and warm.  Makes it hard to take shots of lots of the funky buildings since there are trees in the way, but a good problem to have.

Today, I got up later than planned and then jumped to it.  The train system was easy to figure out although I was confused since everyone seemed to be headed in the opposite direction.  I decided to see the funky architecture on the main street for that kind of thing and was suitably impressed.  I, of course, was drawn to a place for lunch with cerveseria in its name--I suck at languages, but I can recognize beer.  As a single, I got placed at the bar, which I tend not to prefer as I would rather have my feet on the ground.  But I got to watch the bartender make tapas for folks, and he was quite an artist. 

After that, I walked all over the Rambla area and the Gothic Part.  This meant cathedral, old Roman building, and mostly narrow streets with lots of stores and restaurants.  My destination was the Picasso Museum.  It traces his evolution nicely and then juxtaposes a painting he used as inspiration with the many paintings he produced as a result:

After that, more wonderings which led to me bumping into more bachelorette parties and more beautiful Barcelona and a Chocolate museum

Time to run and see more of this great place.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Multidisciplinary Military Meetup: ERGOMAS in Lisbon

Opening session of ERGOMAS 2019 with host Helena Carrieras

I learned of ERGOMAS--the European Research Group on Military and Society--from Irina Goldenberg, who has since become one of the co-directors of the Canadian Defence and Security Network.  ERGOMAS consists mostly of sociologists and anthropologists with some psychologists and political scientists and others as well. So, I was very much in a minority.  I went to this meeting for several reasons: to present my work to a different sort of audience, to see what ERGOMAS is all about, and, once the CDSN got funded, to connect the CDSN with Europe and to find willing podcast interview subjects.

What did I learn?
Book panel focusing on Chiara Ruffa
  1. Most folks have not done podcast interviews (and I am a rookie as an interview with only KCIS as some experience).  I interviewed five scholars: Norwegian, Italian (based in Sweden), South African,  Israeli, and, of course, Portuguese.  The topics varied quite widely from Special Operations Forces (the Norwegian is known as Dr. SOF, having embedded with her country's Marine Special Operations folks for 18 months) to the impact of military culture on how forces operate in places like Lebanon and Afghanistan, political transitions and the armed forces, integration of women into the armed forces, and more.  Each conversation was very interesting, and I could ask whatever questions I want, rather than only being able to ask one in a crowded panel room.  The interviewees were game and were supportive as I worked with the technology.
  2. I can mostly get what sociologists and anthropologists are doing.  At least the ones attending here used similar jargon and methods, although much more focus on ethnography and learning multiple languages.  Their idea of fieldwork is a bit more intense than mine.  There may have been more discussion of the military and the judiciary this week than I have heard in my career.  Very interesting stuff.  Of course, I got only a narrow slice as each period had competing panels from different working groups--I tended to go the civil-mil sessions, the public opinion and the military sessions, and warriors in peacekeeping.  I didn't go to panels on veterans or on police or recruitment and retention.  
  3. I did go to the book panels, which were mostly interesting. I am definitely going to buy Dr. SOF's book on Making Warriors and Kristen Harkness's book on ethnic politics and coups.
  4. I did not stick around for the dancing after the conference dinner--I did not have enough alcohol to go along with that.  
  5. Perhaps because it was a multidisciplinary crowd or perhaps everyone was interested in military stuff, no one wasted much time asking paper givers why their topic was interesting or relevant.  We all found the stuff being discussed to be instrinsically interested.
  6. The fun part of ERGOMAS is its leadership selection--whoever gets to be the next President gets to host the next meeting in two years.  So, the contest was between a French person and an Estonian.  The French person was not so certain where the conference would be if held in France, so the Estonian and Tartu won by a slim majority.  I would have been on France... but I guess  Europeans have had enough opportunities to go there.
  7.  ERGOMAS used to be restricted to Europeans and is still mostly, but it has South American, North American, and Asia-Pacific members.  
  8. ERGOMAS seems to have ties to both the North American-based Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society (its Canadian branch is a CDSN partner) and the International Sociology Association's Research Committed on Armed  Forces and Conflict Resolution.  Their next meeting is next July in South Africa, so I am now putting that on my schedule.  
I am hoping that ERGOMAS becomes a CDSN member.  We will certainly be highlighting ERGOMAS this summer and fall as we sprinkle in interviews we taped during the week in Lisbon.  Now I am off to Barcelona for a few days since my conference in Paris (EISS) starts next Thursday).

Oh, and, yeah, I love my job:

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Religious Discrimination in Quebec? Not Shocked At All

Quebec has passed legislation that will forbid government workers in positions of authority from wearing religious stuff--well, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh stuff.  Why?  What is the problem here?  The problem is that each party competing for the xenophobic vote in Quebec ended up supporting something like this.  Sure, the anti-immigrant party, Coalition Avenir Québec, is the one who won, but the Liberal Party was pandering in this direction before. 

There is no crisis or problem here in terms of a real public policy problem to be addressed.  The folks who support this would argue that having those in authority wear religious symbols might make it seem like the government is promoting a particular religion.  And that might be sincere if they were worried about crosses.  But they are not.

Instead, as Jacob Levy said wisely years ago, this issue allows two distinct groups of Quebeckers to form an alliance: those that hate all religions and those who are Catholic and thus want to see rivals expelled from the public space.  So, of course, politicians pander to this, but that is on them.  Discriminating against minority religious groups is a bad look for a government and a province that complains about tyranny of the majority.

How would an independent Quebec government treat minorities?  Well, this particular legislation suggests: not great, Jean!  Maybe the nationalists are hoping for a fight to rouse the separatist sentiment. 

One thing to keep in mind--Quebec has far more public employees in authority as they not only own the courts and the buses but also the universities, public school teachers, and the cops.  Maybe professors are too Jewy for the CAQ? 

Given how past discussions about this stuff has gone, it may be that some folks are not being anti-semitic or Islamophobic or anti-Sikh on purpose, but there are those who are very deliberately so.  And those who support this law but don't think they are doing anything wrong should maybe pay attention to how discrimination like this sends signals both to those who want to commit violence and those who are likely to be targets.  Because this essentially creates a permission structure whereby those who hate more passionately are given the signal to go ahead since the provincial government has said that these people are less worthy. 

Canadians in Quebec and across the country should be outraged.  But Islamophobia is not just a Quebec thing.  It is just very Quebecky to worry about discrimination while dealing it out.  I do miss many things about Quebec, but this?  Nope.  Don't miss it at all.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Trump and a Multilateral Coalition? Um, No

This morning, Steven Metz asked:

And sure, it might be my confirmation bias to say: hells no.  But let me explain why Trump is incapable of creating and leading such a multinational coalition.

First, Trump doesn't want to do so.  Sure, Bush and Rummy didn't want to do so either, but but fighting two wars at the same time required help in holding the fort in the lesser priority (alas, Afghanistan).  While Bush and Rummy and others seemed exasperated by alliances, Trump is far more hostile.

Second, Trump will make it very, very hard for the allies to get their domestic politics lined up.  In most democracies, legislatures need to vote in order to deploy their forces abroad.  This is hard even when the US President is popular--ask David Cameron about failing to get support for a Syria mission.  It is much harder when the US President is unpopular.  While all of these wars are seen as American wars, Iraq and Iran are very much so.  Politicians are far more likely to compete with each other in how distant they are from Trump.  This outbidding combined with coalition politics (is Canada the only Western democracy that has a single party owning a majority of seats?  That may not last past October) means it will be very difficult to get countries to join the US.

Third, this potential war with Iran is one where the US could not take yes for an answer.  Iran signed the deal, the US--under a new President--rejected it.  Last time, the US couldn't get France and Germany on board.  Who will join in now when the alternative--getting an agreement--was something the US spurned?

Fourth, um, what would the strategy be?  To be the coalition leader, the US would need to develop a strategy for winning a war against Iran and one that does not impose a very high price because, again, this is a war of choice.  How does the US defeat Iran?  Please, tell me how this war proceeds.  Because I have no clue.  Iran's military will not disappear overnight, and it is well set up to conduct an insurgency after the US eventually wins the conventional battle (who gave some Iraqi and Afghan groups really destructive IEDs?  Oh yeah).  In chatting with experts on this stuff, we are all flummoxed--what is the theory of victory? Wishful thinking?  Maybe allies will think about joining the US, but if the US can't provide a strategy, most (if not all) will stay out of it.

Fifth, having Israel involved might be toxic for many potential Arab allies.  Having the Saudis involved may be toxic for some Western allies.  And these two countries seemed to want to defeat Iran by recklessing throwing American soldiers and marines at the problem. 

Six, allies join in because they expect to get something back.  At the very least, they expect that their ally will support them in a time of need.  Can anyone count on Trump to either remember what an ally has done before or care about it?  No.   

Alliance warfare is damned hard.  It requires patience, empathy, finessing domestic tradeoffs, a decent plan for at least the first stages, and a plausible case both for the need for war and for a strategy to achieve victory.  I can't see how Trump and Bolton and Pompeo are up to providing any of this.  Do you?

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Lisbon, Day 1 Redux

This is the second time I have visited Lisbon.  Last time, it was a day or two attached to my observing a NATO exercise that had a big Canadian component--a previous iteration of Trident Juncture.  I spent my time in Lisbon mostly in the old part of town with the castle and tram and such.

This time, I am here for ERGOMAS--the European Research Group on Military and Society.  I think there are more sociologists and anthropologists here than political scientists.  Which is a good thing because on of the CDSN promises is to be multidisciplinary.  While ERGOMAS is not a formal partner of the CDSN, its secretary-general happens also to be a co-director of the CDSN--Irina Goldenberg.  I will be presenting some of my research and looking forward to getting feedback from non-poli sci types (not that there is anything wrong with them).  I will also be interviewing some of the attendees for #BattleRhythm, the new CDSN podcast that will be dropping its first episode June 25th.  I will be going on to the European Initiative for Security Studies in Paris next week to again present and to network.  They are a European version of the CDSN, so we can learn from each other as we are both new networks.

Before ERGOMAS starts and as I adjust to the time zone, I rambled around town going from the extreme eastern end to the southwestern end, seeing stuff I had not seen before.  Before I get to the highlights (pics), two travel notes thanks to the same person:
  • if you have no idea what it takes to be in the emergency aisle, don't pick a seat there.
  • when every other window is shut so people can sleep on a redeye flight, you should shut yours too.
Yeah, the same woman did both things--causing folks to have to rearrange after getting seated and then causing people near her (me) not to sleep as much as they would like.  Otherwise, the flights were fine.

 I went to the Parque das Nações, which had more restaurants than I thought (I should have looked around more) but a great view for eating and drinking.
 I had no idea the steak would come on a hangar.
 I went to the world renowned aquarium, which did more than its share of noting what was going extinct.  At the end, several sculptures to remind us of what we are doing.  This mermaid is made of plastics that were found in, on, or near the sea.
 The Tower  of Belem is a UNESCO sanctified site.  Twas built to defend the city and it is very pretty and very busy.  It had something I had never seen before--a screen that tells folks whether it is an up or down time in the very narrow staircase.
 The military museum's take on the past---not great. The posters of today portray colonial and imperialism in ways that reflect not much reflection. 
Holy civ-mil.  This poster seems to suggest that the political system let down the armed forces.  By decolonizing and embracing democracy.

I have been to many military museums, and this one was lame in two dimensions:
1) really not much to see
2) no attempt to consider the past critically.

on the bright side, they change guards nicely:

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Focusing on One Project? Not Bloodly Likely

While on the road, I saw these tweets, responded, and then said I would blog about this basic challenge--how do you decide to study what you study and how do you stick with it?

First, what to study?  My fundamental take is that we academics got into this business because we are deeply curious people.  We see something, we want to know more about it.  Summed up best thusly:

What catches one's eye and mind?  It really is about taste.  That is, just as one cannot really explain why some people like green or purple (except in this one case) or sweet or sour, what interests individual scholars depends on their backgrounds (where they were trained, what they have experienced) and inclinations.  When I went to grad school, I never expected to study the international relations of ethnic conflict.  It is something I fell into.  Folks may try to be strategic and jump on a wave or a fad, but that way is often dangerous.  For me, it always comes down to this: for a big project like a dissertation or book or series of articles, it will occupy years, sometimes more than a decade, so why spend so much time studying something one is not interested in.

Sure, if the research needs funding, you need to find ways to make it interesting to grant agencies.  Indeed, since one needs to publish the stuff and, oh, get a job, a key trick will always be making something that one is interested in interesting to others (usually by asserting that one's findings are counter-intuitive).

Claire then went on to ask a second question:

Ah, this is a challenge.  Given that this is the pic I posted when the CDSN-RCDS received funding,
and given that this is what I tweeted yesterday,

this is a problem I have faced over the years. It was not a problem when I had a narrow imagination and was so focused on just publishing pieces of my dissertation.  But over time, I developed other ideas, and then the trick became balancing multiple projects.  Part of the answer to that is having co-authors, so that one is working on a piece of project A while a co-author is working on a piece of project B.  Another trick is to rely on the rule of three: that one works on the next thing while the prior thing is under review.  Of course, I have let things slip.  For instance, working on the CDSN launch has meant not finishing my Germany case study for the Dave/Phil/Steve project.  Oh, and I have a TRIP paper or two to write based on the most recent survey of Canadian International Relations scholars.  I did just have a Skype with a former student, Ora Szekely, about doing the last few things so that we can revise a paper to get it under review, and, we also discussed case selection for the larger project.  Yes, I am thinking about the book project after this current book project.  I am guilty of:

So, the real answer to the question of how do we stop ourselves from focusing on the next thing when the current thing is not done?  Um, we often fail to stop ourselves.  Just like I fail to stick to my diet.  Some folks have more discipline than others, or have writing groups that help to enforce discipline.  I think I have lost much discipline (not that I started with that much) as I went along.  Now that I am a Full Professor and don't face much pressure, it is all about what interests me and, yes, co-author pressure.  So, yesterday's tweet about being distracted led to this:

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Relevance of NATO for those Damned Millennials

I was on a panel yesterday about NATO, and the discussion turned to support for NATO in Canada especially among the millennials.  I pushed back a smidge as I tend to think of millennials as not being responsible for the mess we are in--they are more progressive than Gen X, which is more progressive than the boomers (who deserve damn near all the blame).  But it got me thinking, and, more helpfully, it got Melissa, the CDSN-RCDS comms person thinking, so we chatted about this as we drove back from Kingston. 

First, why should NATO be relevant for Canadians under thirty?  When an audience member pondered whether NATO does anything for humanitarian efforts, I didn't trot out Libya because even though it was seen as stopping potential massacres in Benghazi, it didn't turn out that great.  What I did point out is that NATO stopped genocide in Bosnia after the UN failed to do so, and that NATO, not the UN, intervened in Kosovo to stop the massacres of Kosovars.  While that might have annoyed Russia (Russia, of course, had been violating the sovereignty of countries in its near abroad for less than humanitarian purposes, but whatevs), it was mostly motivated to stop Serbia and Milosevic from killing more non-Serbs.  But both of those events occurred when younger folks were either not politically aware or not born yet ... or both.  The questioner also asked about climate change, but NATO as a military alliance ain't the organization to look to for that. 

Second, younger Canadians are less tied to Europe because their ancestors come from elsewhere.  While Ukrainian Canadians may be huge fans of NATO, Chinese-Canadians, Indian-Canadians, Filipino-Canadians, and other newer Canadians have few ties to Europe.  They may be wondering what Canada is doing in Asia and the Pacific.  For these folks and for the rest of Canada, friends of NATO need to make the case that European security is, dare I say it, vital for Canadian national interests.  The generation that last paid a huge price for European security is passing from the scene.  So, the case has to be made.  We cannot take it for granted.

Third, we probably have to make it clear that we can care about NATO AND care about other stuff.  Spending money, time, and military assets on NATO does not really mean Canada can't do stuff elsewhere.  The greater obstacle to Canadian involvement in Asia-Pacific is the lack of an institution like NATO.  Where does Canada fit in Asia-Pacific?  What can/should Canada do?  What is its role?  Damned if I know.  Certainly more, but more what?  Where?

Finally, I will save my take on blaming millennials for the Steve's Peeves segment of the second episode of Battle Rhythm, the podcast of the CDSN-RCDS. First episode is June 25th and the second episode will be two weeks later, as every other Tuesday will be, yes, I will say it, our battle rhythm.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Kingston Conference on International Security , Episode 4 (or 5)

I have lost track of how many KCIS's I have been to over the years.  It is one of the premiere conferences in Canada and is now a CDSN-RCDS cornerstone.  This year, I was just supposed to attend and show the CDSN-RCDS flag and, oh yeah, record a bunch of interviews with speakers here for the Battle Rhythm podcast (coming to a podcast provider near you SOON).  However, a NATO official couldn't make it so Stéfanie von Hlatky (not so coincidentally a CDSN co-director) and I will tag team the third presentation for the first panel this morning.  What will I say?  I will summarize that after noting a few key things about the CDSN and major milestones (or is it benchmarks?).

First, we, the CDSN, exists. KCIS is the first event the CDSN is helping.  Queen's Centre for International and Defence Policy is an OG CDSN partner, and this event helps bring the US Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute and the NATO Defence College on board as partners.  So, I was excited to see our logo in the program.  It was also great to connect in person with some of the folks who helped navigate their side of the partnership process.

Second. Stef and I recorded a standard intro to Battle Rhythm as well as segments for the first podcast.  We also interviewed several speakers, and we will be putting those interviews into the first several podcasts over the summer (the podcast will, if all works out, dropping new episodes every two weeks).  And when I say we, I mean Melissa Jennings, who is our Knowledge Mobilization Coordinator (our Comms person) and podcast producer with the help of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute (another CDSN partner) as Battle Rhythm will be in the CGAI Podcast Network.

Third, KCIS is a great conference for actually meeting people, in addition to learning about key themes.  And, yeah, there is a cruise.

Stefanie and I hanging with two of our interview subjects: Dan Drezner of Tufts University and Sara Bjerg Moller of Seton Hall University.

What will I be saying about NATO this morning?  Much of what is familiar to folks who follow this blog: that nothing is automatic at NATO, domestic politics matters a great deal--especially coalition politics--that Trump complicates all of it, so much hinges in elections in the US and elsewhere. Ta da.  Now if only I could be that succinct while taping the podcast.

Oh, and one last thing: Kingston is pretty from the sea at sunset.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Books I Have Read Myself Redux

Long ago, I posted about a distinction between books I have read versus books I have read myself.  The idea is I could have opinions and knowledge about what a book says without reading it, which is distinct from a book I actually read.  I have been thinking about this today because of a kerfuffle on twitter--a guy at a think tank criticized a woman's book for winning an award from the American Political Science Association without reading the book.

Somebody called me out on my assertion that "if you want to criticize something, read it first."  And, yeah, I have been guilty of criticizing stuff that I haven't read.  Mostly policy plans of politicians that I have only read summaries or reporting, but the occasional book as well.  Well, to be clear, I'll refer to the Robert Kaplan Rule--that I will trash any book that Robert Kaplan writes without reading it.  Why?  Because I am very familiar with his approach, and his work always sucketh mightily.

But the Kaplan example illustrates a key thing--that while I should probably read everything I criticize, when I violate that rule, I do so only by punching upwards.  Not sideways and never down (as far as I can recall).   While I may have twitter-argued with folks who are junior to me, I hope that I never blasted their work or them without taking seriously their arguments, their stances.  I am not perfect, I have a lousy memory, and I sometimes shoot quickly.  But I also apologize quickly.

The thing is--I don't really read as much as I should, especially books outside my narrow research agenda and articles in the various journals.  So, if I blast anything that is written, the odds are I haven't read it.  So, this situation may lead me to being a bit more restrained.

I have already found that having a new leadership position--Director of the Canadian Defence and Security Network--has caused me to pause and not hit the send button on a number of tweets.  Oh, I still  scream about Donald Trump and am critical of the government and of the opposition and, well, lots of actors.  But I think I am dialing things back a smidge.  And maybe not criticizing things I haven't read is a good step--except when it comes to Robert Kaplan and his dreck.

Note: there were probably other dynamics in today's controversy--gender, think tank dweller vs. professors, etc.  

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Thin Skinned Supporters and The Ex-Pat

One of the continuities from 2016 to the current election cycle (geez, American presidential cycles are so long) is that I can use my particular vantage point to discriminate between the politicians who have super-sensitive (maybe even super-insecure?) followers and those that do not.  How so?  Well, I tend to be critical of most folks, but not all supporters respond with some criticism of my speaking about American politics from Canada.  Those that do tend to be Trump supporters, Bernie supporters, and, today, Beto supporters.

Hmmm, what do all these folks share in common?  I am not exactly sure.  I do tend to think of Beto as an empty suit, putting forth a charismatic pose rather than significant policy stances, which makes him a bit like Trump.  What did Beto do while in Congress?  What were his major initiatives?

What they do seem to have is a certain percentage of followers who are overly defensive.  I have said negative things about Pete Buttagieg and have not received the same kind of defensive response.  Same for many of the other candidates.

Maybe they are right, maybe I should not be commenting on or even voting in American elections.  After all, I don't live in the US anymore.  Maybe ten years ago, I was expecting to return, but not anymore.  No, that is not about Trump but due to getting a really cool job in Ottawa at Carleton that has stopped me from seeking greener (or warmer) pastures.  So, given my future, why should I have a role to play in US politics, either as voter or commenter?  I will deal with the first and then the second.

The easiest answer I can give is that while I left the US, the US will never let me go ... unless I go through an incredibly difficult and expensive procedure as I will be doing US tax returns until I die (and then my estate will be doing them for another year or two).  I am affected by American tax policies--that I may not pay every year due to various deductions and credits--but it affects my behavior--I can't invest in a variety of accounts in Canada without having to do yet more forms and perhaps pay taxes.  Should that entitle me to vote, other than that whole citizenship thing?  Um, yeah, since the US exists because of that whole "taxation without representation" thing.  [Yes, pedants can argue that the revolution was about other stuff but don't deny the relevance of taxation + representation].  If the Congress passed legislation that treated US expats like the way most countries threat their expats (not required to pay taxes on income made outside of where they reside), then maybe I wouldn't have as much at stake.

The second answer, and it is the more powerful one these days, is that I have family and friends who are put at risk by the policies of the Trump Administration (and, well, by most GOP politicians these days).  I have LGBTQ relatives and friends who are finding that they may be losing their rights.  I have friends and family who depend on ACA for their health care.  So, I still have deep connections to my homeland even if I don't live there.  Does that give me a right to vote in American elections?  No, citizenship does.  But it does give me an obligation to play a role, given that I can have one.

Ok, that deals with voting.  How about opining?   That because I don't live in the US that I shouldn't give my thoughts about it or that my views should just be dismissed because I don't live there.  Well, my views are worth exactly what folks pay for them.  On twitter, they are free.  It is so easy not to listen to me.  Don't follow me (yes, it was a follower today who raised the "you live in Ottawa" thing).  Or if you don't follow me, ignore my stuff when someone else retweets me.  Or mute or block me.

I think one of the big problems Americans have (and, yes, Canadians have it, too) is that they don't think comparatively and often do not listen to the feedback received by those who are outside the country.  I think more information and more perspectives are better than less.  That outsiders may have experienced different institutions and different policies, which might actually make sense.  The Canadians tend to smugly compare themselves to the US and say, well, our health care system is better than the Americans.  Maybe, but how about learning from Europe?

As a political scientist and as a deeply curious (and opinionated) person, I will have lots of thoughts, some informed, some not so much, and I will keep offering them up, whether super-sensitive supporters of very flawed candidates get upset.  If their best response to me is that I don't have a role, it reveals something--that their candidate is entitled to support, that they can't defend their candidate's superiority on the issues, that they might just be semi-cultists?  Such a response is simply weak.  I don't mind at all a good argument--I often get bested and learn from the experience.  Telling me that I should shut up pretty much has the opposite effect.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

D-Day and Today: Damn

A US military cemetery in Luxembourg,
mostly those who died at the Battle of the Bulge,
as I have not been to Normandy since 1987.  
I am rectifying that in a few weeks.
Today marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day--the invasion of Normandy.  It will be the last major anniversary of that battle where there are still  more than a handful those who participated.  The surviving veterans are all deep into their 90s.  I wonder how they are thinking about today's events as we see politicians in Europe and North America pander to the far right. I would guess that they don't think that the sacrifices of the past including the loss of family and friends were in vain, but I imagine they might be very, very frustrated and supremely disappointed.

While Donald Trump symbolizes much of this--"there were good people on both sides" of Charlottesville, he is not alone.   Not in the US, not in North America and not in Europe this week.  In the US, we have folks who are implementing Trump's policies with either a reckless or determined cruelty (hard to tell which on a given day) or both as kids are being kept in cages when they are not left alone in hot vans for nearly 40 hours, as orders of two million diapers remind us of the scale of babies in cages, as trans people are dying after being held by Customs, and so on.  This all began in the US with xenophobic statements about the threat of immigration despite the tide of immigrants falling. 

In Canada, the current leader of the Conservative Party seeks to have it both ways.  Showing up at an event where neo-nazis and other far right fringe elements and then saying his fear-mongering about irregular immigrants is not xenophobic.  Um, sure.  Andrew Scheer might be worried about Maxime Bernier's People's Party of Canada, but we should not forget that in the last days of the last campaign, Stephen Harper's team pandered to the far right, promising a tip line for folks report barbaric cultural practices, which was clearly aimed at Canada's Muslim community.  In Quebec, all of the major parties are pushing variants of laws that discriminate against Muslims and  Jews.  So, it is not just Bernier and not just the Conservatives being tempted.

In the UK, Nicholas Farage is influential as his party did the best in the recent European elections.  Seems like a hard plurality but not majority are ok with supporting lying fascists (that would be Farage) as long as they promise to leave the EU.  Damn the costs, full speed ahead?

In Europe and North America, we see far more swastikas and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries now than in previous years.  I don't think it is just confirmation bias or selection bias or anything like it.  What has changed over the past ten years or so and especially the last three or so has been the tolerance of the far right by right wing parties.  And folks on the far right engage in such activities because they are trying to send a variety of signals--to instill fear among Jews, of course.  But also to show that the Nazis, in whatever guise, are back and feeling bold.  Of course, attacking tombstones in the dark of night is not very brave, but it is what they do. 

The irony is that D-Day, despite being dismissed by the Russian foreign ministry on twitter this week, was a huge relief to the Soviet Union, something Stalin had demanded for years.  These days, the Russians, who had been hurt so much by Nazi Germany and who did indeed bear most of the burden of the war and of the victory, are now cheering on the far right in Europe and North America.  Their social media campaigns, their money, and all the rest are feeding the Neo-Nazis. 

So, it is strange to watch the D-Day ceremonies and feel far more common cause and sympathy with the German Chancellor than with the President of the United States or the Prime Minister of the UK. 

I am sure I will be feeling a variety of mixed emotions when I go to Normandy in a couple of weeks in between European conferences.  Just as I do today.  I am always in awe of those who flung themselves out of planes or jumped into the waters towards machine gun nests.  Ike said twenty years after D-Day: "these people gave us a chance, and they bought time for so, so that we could do better than we have before."  I just wish that we had used the time they bought more effectively.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Tis Time, Even If It Will Not Remove The President

I have long been arguing that impeachment is not going to happen, meaning that impeaching Trump will not get rid of him.  Yes, the Dems can try, but they will not get past the cultists in the Senate.

However, despite that unsuccessful outcome, the Dems must try.  Why?  Because of his oath of office:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States"
and their's:
"I, AB, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

While Trump has not been faithfully executing since the day he started (emoulements), the key now is that he and his staff are refusing to comply with subpoenas.  I have been thinking about this being the breaking point for some time, and then someone on twitter (sorry, I forget who) reminded me that there are two oaths here.  That the members of the House of Representatives didn't swear to do their job when the polls favor it or when success is likely.  They swore to support and defend the Constitution.  When the President clearly is not faithfully executing the Office and denying Congress's proper role as overseer of the executive, then it is time to act.  

It is simply the right thing to do.  It is what they are obligated to do, focus groups or polls be damned.  Not doing so sends a strong signal that Trump can continue to abuse his powers with impunity.  While failing to convict in the Senate would send a similar message of impunity, the process would be painful for Trump, his team, and for those Senators who vote to protect him.  It is time to put them all on the spot, the hot spotlight.  Trump will react poorly, of course.  He will have his temper tantrums AND people might just learn what is in the Mueller Report.  It might just change public opinion as the impeachment process did in 1974.  Of course, the difference this time is that Fox News exists and exists to protect the President.  In 1974, there were three network news programs, and they played it straight.  This time, not so much.  So, I doubt that many Republicans will be swayed by the process, but some will.  As will some "independents."  

The key again is this: calculations are fine and dandy in normal times.  But right now, we have a President and an Attorney General who believe the President is above the law.  It is time to teach him that this simply is not true.