Monday, September 30, 2019

Civil War 2: Electric Bugaloo

If there is anything that does not need a reboot or a sequel, it is the American Civil War.  Trump is now retweeting those who think that impeachment not only will cause a second civil war but should.  This is, of course, awful.  That a President would prefer a civil war over his own removal makes it even worse. 

But let's be clear, this new civil war won't be like the old one.  A better parallel would be the 1990s where far right extremists blew up a federal building, robbed banks, and did other nefarious stuff.  No one claimed the US was in the middle of a civil war.  One might hesitate to call the 1990s a period of insurgency, but, well, it kind of was.  And it was mostly put down by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.  Yes, it led to more radicalization in the prisons--because that is where one puts white supremacists who engage in violence, but better there than out in the streets (or in the White House). 

A few friends of mine who study extremism have been saying for quite some time that no matter how the Trump Administration ends, there will be violence.  That the white supremacists will either be upset by the change in power or opportunistic to use that transition--be it by resignation, impeachment, lost election, or the end of a second term*--and engage in acts of violence.  As in shooting cops and other law enforcement, attacking federal buildings, etc.

Some militias might be sufficiently organized to attempt insurgency rather than random acts of terrorism.  So, yes, people will die.  But it will not be blue vs. gray or blue vs. red armies fighting long campaigns.  Why?  Because the situation is not the same.  A new Democrat in power will not lead to the loss of people's property (remember the stakes of the Civil War?) nor are states themselves the key actors.  So, there will be far fewer resources, far less support, far less intelligence (have you seen these guys tweet?) behind the anti-government side.

It is easy to make fun of these folks, but the battles will be deadly serious.  Still, this is mostly, if not entirely, a job for the FBI, the ATF, and other law enforcement agencies.  I have seen plenty of tweets asking what the US military thinks about Trump's civil war tweets.  My answer is that unless the white supremacists actually develop into a serious insurgency, it ain't the US army's job.  The FBI and the others can thwart, at some cost, these extremists.  Again, it will be bloody, but the more this is kept a law enforcement problem and not a job for the US military, the better off we all are. 

Of course, I could be wrong.  I just don't us thinking military first when we should be thinking law enforcement.  Folks might say that the FBI is tainted by who is running the Department of Justice, but, guess what, who is running the US military?  The same President.  So, I am just betting on folks at lower levels doing their jobs.  All I know is that we need to start preparing for an escalation in violence as the inciter-in-chief is not going to go down peacefully.

*My bet remains on the 2020 election or heart attack/stroke.  I don't think the Senate will convict.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Learning from the Band of Brothers

I just finished reading "Beyond Band of Brothers," which is the book written by Dick Winters about his take on the BoB experience and what he learned from it.  There aren't too many new stories as Winters was really the basis for both Ambrose's book and the tv series.  But there is more perspective in this, as Winters gave his take on the various events and dynamics from before he appeared at Toccoa all the way through to the reunions after the war.  I teared up on more than a few occasions as he talked about the men he led and their passing. I was most pleased to learn that Harry Welsh, one of the officers of Easy Company, taught political science after he came home--that was not mentioned in the show. 

There is much to learn from the book with its concluding chapter addressing leadership.  After the series came out, Winters got many requests to speak on leadership.  Why?  Because the show and the testimonials made it very clear that he was a hell of a leader.  Tis good timing for me to read this, as I am a significant leadership position for the first time in my career as Director of the Canadian Defence and Security Network.  It is hardly the same thing as leading Easy Company, but some of Winters' lessons are most valuable. Of the lessons, the pieces that resonate the most with me are:
  1. Develop the team.  Much of the development of the CDSN was by accident, but I did start by relying on the best people I know, and they have done so much already.
  2. Delegate responsibility.  Absolutely, as the co-directors of the CDSN know far more about their areas of expertise and of their research centres than I do.  While we at HQ have strived to develop some guideliness, I am not going to tell my teammates how they should be running their events.
  3. Anticipate problems and prepare to overcome obstacles.  Not something I am always good at, but I have been thinking through some of the likely problems and figuring out ways to dodge them.  
  4. Remain humble?  Folks don't think that I am particularly humble, but it is humbling leading this thing.  That it is something far beyond anything that I have tried to do before, that it is a pretty ambitious endeavor, that I am leading people who are probably far better able to do this than I am (that would be SVH), and that I am asking people for their time.  So, I try to make sure I don't ask for too much.  I also make sure that the credit for this stuff goes to my staff and to the team.
 There are other items on Winters's list, but I don't expect to stay in top physical shape.

Anyhow, the book is a quick read, quite reflective including taking responsibility.  I was most struck by Winters's realization that as Easy Company's commander, he always used 1st platoon, which had the best soldiers, but this had the effect of having the fewest survivors.  Likewise, when he became CO of 2nd Battalion, whenever he needed something difficult to be done, he relied on Easy Company.  Again, this had some cost.  Winters did not really express guilt or regret, but a realization that he relied on the best for a reason, and then the best paid the highest price.  Luckily, when I rely on the best folks in the CDSN, the price is far, far less costly.

Back to reading stuff that is a bit more directly related to my research.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

The Generals Are Not Popular

Wowza.  Mrs. Spew and I disagree about what counts as viral, but I wrote a tweet late last night, and it got heaps of play:
I was responding to a story I saw that tied McMaster to the Russians as part of the larger Ukraine story--that the habit of taking the conversations between Trump and foreign leaders and putting it in a restricted place due to political considerations, rather than national security concerns, is not a new thing.  Not just that McMaster was present but lied about it.  Not a great look for a man who wrote a book about Dereliction of Duty and the need for generals to speak truth to power. 

The reaction to this tweet has been pretty stunning as I have not only gotten over 5k likes and 1k of retweets in about nine hours (maybe I should tweet after the poker game more often), but twitter's activity report indicates it has been seen by nearly 200,000 people.  Pretty sure this is a record for me.  I don't remember any tweet getting this much play.

So, how did folks respond and what does it mean?

First, folks noted I didn't include Flynn.  Oops, my bad, but, to be fair, few were expecting him to be an adult in the room.  His rep was crappy before he started at the White House, partly because of how he got fired by the Obama administration and partly by his performance at the convention in 2016.  Some folks mention Mattis's salary, which I don't think is relevant.  His poor judgment working at Theranos is fair evidence that the Warrior Monk had crappy judgement and, yes, questionable integrity, to support a company that was mostly operating on hoaxes and fumes.  People also noted Joseph Maguire, but I didn't focus on him partly because his major newsworthiness happened while I was, ironically perhaps, playing wargames.

Second, I got heaps of current or former military folks saying that generals are often overrated so we should not be that surprised.  Thus far, no real pushback from military folks saying that I know nothing since I haven't served.  So, lots of stored up anger towards senior leadership not just for how they served Trump but for their leadership during the forever wars.  One raised Wesley Clark as an alternative, and I had to push back as he nearly caused WWIII.  See the first chapter of the Dave and Steve NATO book for how James Blunt, the singer, stopped Clark. 

Third, many cited M*A*S*H as a show that frequently showed generals being wrong or severely flawed, but nothing since then like that.  Indeed, the whole "support our troops" has made it hard to hold senior officers to account.  Yes, civilians made the big decisions that have led to endless wars prosecuted poorly, but the military could have done better to adapt. 

Fourth, no, we don't want a coup.  But now that they are no longer in government, how about speaking out?  They swore to defend the US from all enemies, foreign and domestic.  Trump is clearly a threat.  Some say, well, they probably stopped awful things from happening.  I doubt it, but if so, tell us.  This might move the needle for some of the Republican voters who continue to support Trump.  Since these voters claim to be patriots, it might mean something if Mattis or McMaster came out and identified how Trump betrayed the country (revealing our intel methods) to the Russias and the like. 

Ordinarily, I wouldn't want senior officers, retired or active, to be speaking out.  Because the military should stay out of politics.  But since these men chose to become political by joining the administration (and they all could have said no, as others did), they can't go back.  This is one reason why Mattis's book turn is so very upsetting.  He seems to want to use his time as SecDef to promote his book, but not to be held accountable for what he did as SecDef nor to help us get to the truth behind the Trump administration.  He says as a retired general, he should not criticize the government.  But (a) he does not hold back from criticizing Obama or Biden; and (b) he is no longer a retired general, but a resigned SecDef

Finally, next time my sister scoffs at any prediction I make (since I got Nov 2016 wrong), I will point to this blog post about the General Problem.

So, yes, my slice of social media indicates that many people are really upset by these men, supposedly chock full of integrity and patriotism, did not do much when the Constitution and the country was on the line.  Perhaps we need to venerate teachers and activists a bit more and the officers a bit less?

Army Training, Sir!

 I am sore but pretty thrilled today.  Why?  Because yesterday, I got to participate in Operation Collaborative Spirit--a military exercise at a base two hours from Ottawa.  Petawawa is the base for the Second Combined Mechanized Brigade of the Canadian Armed Forces (if I am remembering the briefing right).  So, the combined and mechanized means they have light armored vehicles, artillery, engineers, medics, and, yes, infantry.  Each year, for about a week, they hold exercises where the participants are various kinds of "stakeholders": politicians, foreign military officers, businesspeople, government employees, and random academics.  For my day, it was mostly business people, DND employees, and one random academic.  Below, I will run through what happened, then a few things I learned, and some reactions (besides Woot!) with heaps of pictures and some video along the way.

We met at 0600 near City Hall (the parking lot was convenient in the morning, much less so when all of us returned at the same time and tried to leave at 2200), and we got on a set of buses.  While waiting, I met some of my company-mates (a company is roughly 100 soldiers, and we had 108 or so people going) including young policy officers serving at DND including at least one NPSIA student  and one #BattleRhythm fan, one head of CDAI (a CDSN partner), and many others.  At the end of the bus ride, we met in a very large room that had a big map of the exercise on the floor, a very efficient set of soldiers who gave us bags containing our gear (we had given our sizes ahead of time) and took our valuables for safe-keeping.  We were to change in tents set up inside the building, and I was surprised but pleased to see a gender-neutral tent in addition to the male and female tents.

I got into my gear--they gave us pants, t-shirt (the one item we could keep), overshirt, protective vest or whatever it is called, and then the external harness to carry our magazines and other stuff (I used the spare pockets to carry my camera and my notebook).  Yes, I had the full battle-rattle.  In addition to the helmet, they gave us a soft cover (floppy hat), but we never had much use for it.

They then briefed (we got heaps of briefings) about the day ahead.  We were to get basic training, then take the urban area, and then invade a beach.

The premise was that a country invaded an ally, had been pushed back by the coalition (there was no interactions with allied forces, so I couldn't ask about caveats), and our job was to mop up the folks who remained in our friend's town and then disrupt their use of a beach for shipping arms/people/drugs/etc.

Part of  the tech display
Yeah, the 155mm gun is pretty big,
even bigger than my head.
The basic training consisted of three parts: shooting stuff, a display of equipment, and brief training on firing our guns (we had blank-shooting rifles). The display included a drone, one of the boats we were going to use later, radar systems for detecting incoming arty, anti-tank systems, cluster bombs and mines and the detection equipment for finding that stuff, recon vehicle, a 155mm artillery piece, etc.  The training also included room-clearing procedures, which we needed for later.
Room clearing training

The shooting stuff was, of course, the best part.  They had a sniper rifle setup, LAVs for firing 20mm guns and 40mm projectiles, heavy and not so heavy machine guns, shotgun, rifle, and pistol (they also had a grenade launcher display but they didn't trust us to try that).  Due to the lines in front of each, I only got to do a few of these things: machine gun, shotgun, pistol.  I was so good with shotgun, I destroyed one of the targets.  I know now that in a zombie apocalypse, I will arm myself with a shotgun and a spear (I learned at an axe throwing place in Vegas that I am better with a spear than an axe).

Holy Sandtable
We then received a more detailed briefing about how we would assault the town and then the beach.  Yellow platoon (note the yellow on my equipment in the pics) would move second, after Red took the first set of building s with Blue providing suppressing fire.  Then Blue would go next with Red taking the hq of the enemy.  From there, we would go to the beach, get in our boats, cross the Ottawa River, and Yellow would take the beach with Blue and Red following by sweeping around with us providing suppressing fire.  That was the plan, and it mostly survived first contact with the adversary (the adversary was most cooperative).

The village we were to attack

This is the room we cleared--no adversaries present so no shots fired. No, I did not take any pics during the attack. 

We then met for an after-action review.  The commander asked each platoon as well as the enemy what they did well and what they did poorly, so we could sustain the former and improve on the latter.  Definitely something to borrow perhaps as the last session of CDSN events.


The next step was the beach invasion.  We got mighty wet as we were positioned with one foot inside the rubber boat and one outside.  It was most unrealistic in that we had to connect our rifle slings to the boat so we didn't lose the guns, and we had to wear life vests. Which meant as our boat landed, we had to undo that stuff, making us sitting ducks.  I ended up grabbing my backpack (full of snacks since I didn't trust the Canadian version of MRE's--IMPs--good for pre-colonoscopy prep) and throwing it ahead of me as I hit the beach, then ran to behind a tree, and the up to a fallen log that I used as both cover and to prop up my rifle.  In the proces

I tried to take a pic of the beach-post invasion

My battle buddy (the master corporal) and firefighter Mike.
We were a very good fireteam.
Waiting to get the next Chinook

Ugly helo looks pretty in the right scenery

Former NPSIA student (2nd from left) and his fellow DND
policy officer (newbies, I think) next to him

Are we having fun yet?  Hells yeah

What did I notice and/or learn:
  • No mention of peacekeeping except for a streetsign on the way in.  The Army wants to make clear to all of the "stakeholders" that they are warriors doing war stuff.  
  • The participants included DND officials from a variety of offices and defence contractors but also folks much more distant from the event.  I wonder if the organizers will do a survey to figure out which folks are better transmitters
  • Because, hell, yeah, this is an information operation campaign to educate the Canadian public about how wonderful the Army is.  And, yeah, it is pretty damned wonderful.  BUT we can still be critical when they do stuff that is wrong.  On the other hand, doing public engagement is a good thing, and the Canadians should know what their military is doing (they kept emphasizing this is not our (the Army's) army but your (Canada's) army.  
  • I do wonder about the cost/benefit calculation--can they measure whether this stuff makes a difference because it was not cheap.  Given the usual studies that show that the public does not understand the armed forces, efforts like this to create contact and some understanding are well worth it, I think. 
  • That the equipment we carried was mighty heavy and restricted our movement and our vision to  a degree and we were not carrying half the load that these soldiers do under much harsher conditions (Kandahar) did build a healthy amount of respect.  I was tired and sore after a half-day without any long marches.  I can't imagine what the soldiers go through.
  • It was pretty cool to see women in a variety of army positions--Master Corporals, Sergeants, Officers of all kinds.  Definitely far from the 25% goal the Liberals set with the Defence Policy Review, but all these women would not have been in a similar brigade in the US not that long ago.   
  • Speaking of the Defence Policy Review, it was interesting to see at the starting briefing reference to that and then how the brigade saw itself in that larger context.
  • Oh and some Hobbes:
Overall, I learned a great deal about the Canadian Army, how it operates, who is in it, where they have been (Latvia), and what they do most of the time.  Oh, and I learned a bit about my own limits.  And it was a heap of fun.

PS  I disappointed my wife by failing to respond at some point during the day with a Bill Murray-esque "Army Training, Sir!"

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

How Twitter Closes the Civil-Military Gap

Last night and this morning, a series of tweets about civil-military relations identified and then helped close a gap in civil-military relations.  Yes, twitter about military stuff can be quite productive as it provides a place with those with military expertise from different perspectives can meet and chat.  I will present the tweets below with some play-by-play along the way:

Risa Brooks has written much on civil-military relations so she has a great background to raise a key issue--that civilian control of the military involves not just the executive branch of the government behind closed doors running the armed forces.  As I have argued with my colleagues (hmm, that makes it sound like Dave, Phil, and I would be arguing amongst each other--never!), without anyone else involved, executives (Presidents/Prime Ministers, SecDefs, Ministers of Defense) can be tempted to hide mistakes and maybe even use the armed forces in inappropriate ways when non one is looking.  Hence my response:

Because we think civilian control of the military is too important to be left to executives who might hide or cheat, the Steve/Dave/Phil project is focused on legislatures, but it is more than that.  Legislatures vary quite widely, as we are finding out, in how they oversee the armed forces.  Some have more power and independence and information than others.  We are just now starting to reach some conclusions, so this may be premature and may only fit the cases I studied (Japan, South Korea, Germany, Chile, Brazil), but I tended to have seen that legislatures did more when they had more alternative sources of information (from pesky folks like academics, think tanks, etc) and when the media had the expertise and effort to shine a spotlight on military issues.  That is, for legislatures to be relevant, they could not be alone--they needed allies in this [I will get to Ministries of Defense some other time].

Mike Day is a retired three star Canadian general, who I have chatted with in real life and twitter many times.  He raises a fundamental issue for military folks--that control is a very important word and not that many people have it.  I went to bed thinking about this response and was glad to awaken to have someone else carry on the conversation and clarify.

For the conventional academic meaning, it builds on the basic question, what I call a second generation issue (first generation of civ-mil focused on coups) of civilians making sure the military follows the intent of the civilians.  While democracies can vary in whether there are two bosses (US where President and Congress both "own" the armed forces) or one (just the executive) (Avant), a recurring question is whether the military shirks or not (Feaver).  Military folks hate this notion of "shirking" which can mean doing less than asked for, more, or different.  My favorite example of late has been the US Air Force not forwarding information to the FBI about domestic violence, so that their people don't end up on the lists of folks who can't buy guns. 

Keess here shows that we are talking past each other, as the military folks tend to have a different notion of control.  But civilian command of the military does not sing to scholars of civil-military relations. 

I have no idea who Keess is.  He is a person who does not tweet much, has not that many followers, does not follow that many people, but ended up following me somehow, and added quite significantly to this conversation.

People may disagree with my take, Mike's view, and/or John Keess's clarification, but to me, this has been a damned useful conversation, one that I have not had in real life.  While twitter is incredibly flawed in so many ways, that it can bring together people with diverse experiences and outlooks and provide a place for conversations that lead to some clarification makes it not entirely bad.  As I have seen repeatedly, the conversations on civil-military relations on twitter are very often quite productive and interesting.  Last night/this morning's conversation is actually pretty typical for this topic.  And with the next generation of smart, interesting, and, thankfully, engaging civ-mil scholars joining the many folks who have military experience, we can ameliorate some of the gaps between the "uniforms" and "tweeds".

Rock on!

Friday, September 20, 2019

CDSN Workshop #1 With A Bullet: Defence Procurement

The Canadian Defence and Security Network has two basic parts: a headquarters that is running all kinds of activities to train, connect, and amplify (the website/twitter account/podcast are the first visible/audible efforts there with much more to come) and five research themes--personnel, procurement, operations, civil-military relations, and security.  Those five themes/nodes/groups/whatever will have workshops and other efforts each year that will hopefully build to five distinct research programs over the first three years of the grant, and then we will re-set and then have five new research programs over the last three years of the grant.

Yesterday, we had our first workshop, and it was within the procurement theme, organized by Philippe Lagassé--a fun irony that procurement moved most quickly.  It brought together individuals (rather senior ones) from the relevant agencies/divisions within the government, from academia, and from civil society.  We did not have any folks from industry, i.e., defence contractors, because that would have impacted what the government officials could say.  That plus Chatham House rules helped to produce a very robust conversation of the challenges facing those trying to get the "kit" to the Canadian Armed Forces, and the efforts they have made to overcome a variety of obstacles.

As someone who does not study procurement--I was there mostly in my capacity as the Director of the CDSN and not as a researcher--I was very much drinking from the firehose.  I didn't understand many of the acronyms, and it took me half of the day to figure out why the "colour of money" mattered (or perhaps not)--whether it comes from operational funds or capital funds.  I learned a great deal and so here are some of the things I picked up along the way.
  1. It works!!  That is, the CDSN is an effort to get academics and military and government folks together so that we can understand each other.  The officials gave up a significant hunk of time, which is a precious commodity, to hang out with the academics yesterday, and the exchanges were quite forthright.  So, the efforts over the past five or six years to build this network paid off, and, yes, I am very pleased by that.  
  2. The Defence Policy Review that produced the Stronger, Secure, Engaged report has been pretty meaningful.  While the exercise might have been aimed at producing certain results, it did lead to a greater focus and more resources on improving procurement.  The various pieces of that document have become signposts for policy-makers.  While procurement is hardly fixed, the SSE seems to have led to a variety of improvements that make spending more predictable, that have empowered folks at lower levels, and so on.
  3. A key aspect of this is that Treasury Board, which holds the money in Canada essentially, and DND have overcome much earned distrust from the past and have figured out ways to move projects, especially less risky ones, along faster.  
  4. I have a new favorite acronym: SNICR (pronounced like either the candy bar or a kind of laugh) or Snow and Ice Capability Recapitalization.  It refers to snow removal systems--snow blowers--that the military needs and procures.  
  5. Betterment is not just something advertised on podcasts, but language used by Treasury Board to refer to efforts to improve an existing system rather than procure a new one (I think).  I asked why not use "Improvement", but the folks in the room just go along with TB jargon.
  6. Talking about risk in this kind of setting is strange.  Why?  Because we can think of at least three kinds of risk--wasting money on a failed program, getting unwanted political attention, and people being at risk of losing their lives.  So, we need to be clear about what we mean by risk as some kinds of risk aversion make more sense than others and some kinds of risk acceptance might be necessary to move more quickly. 
  7. The politicization of procurement, as analyzed by Kim Nossal, who was at this workshop, is a real impediment to improving stuff.  Why? Because it creates an environment of risk aversion.  Innovation requires failure--you have to try a bunch of stuff and then keep the stuff that works and accept the wasted money on failed efforts.  But if there are politicians and parties out there willing and eager to blow up any mistake into a major political issue, it deters folks from taking risks and thus stunting innovation.  
  8. One way to handle this is to be far more transparent.  That most news stories gain traction after those in office deny that there are problems.  If the parties could agree (holy collective action problem) not to take every bit of procurement bad news and make it a talking point for the most simplistic soundbite in Question Period, we might create an environment where the folks doing procurement take reasonable risks that allow stuff to move faster.
  9. Oh, and why do we need to be more agile, moving faster?  Because defence procurement is ultimately about getting better stuff to our troops in the field, in the skies, and at sea so that they are not outclassed by our potential adversaries who are also innovating.  I am not so certain autocrats do procurement better/faster as in such systems, taking risks and then having failures can mean more than political embarrassment--people can get killed.  But still, moving slowly in a high tech environment is not a good way to keep up with one's allies and stay ahead of one's adversaries.
  10. Which leads to one conclusion.  We need to discriminate.  That is, we need to develop different procedures and different rules for different kinds of projects.  Stuff involving info technology probably needs a different set of procedures than boots or tanks.  One size fits all does not work, so the question is can we come up with procedures that vary, depending on not just the size of the project but the nature of the thing being procured.  Maybe sole sourced projects (no or little competition) makes sense under certain circumstances rather than being an excuse for one party to crap on another?  
Again, I don't know much about this stuff, but I feel like I have a much better idea of some of the big questions and challenges.  My hope and our plan is for this workshop to lead to not just another one in year two and another one in year three, but a pattern of sustained interactions so that we academics get better data, get a clearer idea of the questions, and that when we start to develop some evidence-based research and policy implications, that we have a receptive audience.  That is one way in which the CDSN research themes will work.  There will be other models in the other themes, where it is less your turn, my turn, your turn, and more co-creation.  The key is that there is a productive conversation going on, and I am so very pleased.  That Phil did a great job bring folks from various realms together, that the government/military folks put in much thought and were quite open about the challenges they faced, that there were great conversations not just between government types and academics but among the government folks themselves.  And that the students (MA and PhD) involved got a great deal out of it.

Money for value, indeed. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

If Justin Trudeau and the Liberals lose this election, they will have only themselves to blame.  Of course, they would have required a time machine to avoid one of the big scandals--Trudeau's awful behavior that got in the news this week.  Blackface/brownface has been wrong forever.  Emmett Macfarlane pointed out that a pivotal cultural moment was a 1975 All in the Family episode where a noted bigot, Archie, felt awkward about being in blackface, teaching a lesson about what was and was not acceptable more than forty years ago.

So, JT has done it three times at least at the time I am writing this.  There has been lots of coverage today, but I was in a workshop (see blog post tomorrow) so I am writing this without having read most of the coverage.  The news suggests a level of cluelessness and privilege that is both breathtaking and unsurprising.  How dumb, immature, and insensitive must you be to keep on doing this?  He said he likes to dress up to a fault, essentially.  WTF?!

Other folks can explain this better than I can, but obviously being a privileged pretty boy meant not thinking too hard about stuff even when much of society had agreed that blackface/brownface is damned offensive.  And before folks say that this is an American problem--that Canadians don't have the same racial politics--please.  Canadians get enough American cultural products, and Canada has had enough of its own history of racial discrimination (remember, JT admitted Canada committed genocide against its First Nations) that, yeah, any semi-aware person would know not just now but way back in 2001 that blackface is wrong.

I will move onto whether this matters.  Well, it already has.  That is, JT's bad judgment in this area affected the trip to India, where he dressed up Bollywood-style, embarrassing Canada and giving fodder to those who wanted Canada to look bad (that would be Prime Minister Modi).  Back at home, the bigger scandal, seeking to protect scandal-ridden SNC-Laval meant pressuring the Attorney General, who happened to be an Indigenous woman.  Which then undermined his rep as being a feminist and being better on the treatment of First Nations.  So, we have a pattern of JT taking for granted the feelings of non-white folks, not just in the past but in the present.  Yes, he did some good stuff for First Nations peoples, including the commission to look into the missing women and improvements in access to drinkable water.  But it does seem to be the case that whenever it gets mildly inconvenient for the Liberals to do right by the First Nations, they go the other way.  It is easy to apologize (although I don't want to trivialize some of the meaningful apologies Trudeau has given over his term in office), but harder to do stuff when it conflicts with other interests.

That the talk and the action do not match up, as Hasan Minhaj pointed out on his show, is not that new (Stefanie VH and I discuss JT on that show on this week's podcast).  Folks are profoundly disappointed.  Are they still going to vote for the Liberals?  Probably, but perhaps not as much turnout and some party switchers, which then means that, yes, the Liberals, who had an easy election due to the other major parties having lousy leaders, may snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

How will I vote in my first election in Canada?  Kind of like I have in some elections in the past: holding my nose. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

Paper Tigers, Liars, and the Next War

So much happened this weekend that we don't understand.  We don't know if it was Iran that attacked Saudi Arabia's production facilities, we don't know why they would do so, we don't know if the Houthis did it, etc.

What do we know? 
  1. Well, we know that the Trump Administration has no credibility--it has lied about a great many things, so even if they come out with some evidence of either Iranian complicity (and Iran is almost certainly at least complicit) or Iran guilt, it will be easy for folks to dismiss these claims.  After all, Trump is currently lying about saying that saying that he would meet the Iranians without preconditions.  
  2. We know that observers have taken to seeing Trump as a paper tiger--that he makes threats that he will not back up.  Which then encourages them to push harder and harder, expecting Trump to back down.  And they will be right to do so until ... they are wrong and find that even paper tigers eventually push back.  So, if Iran did take a risk, it might have been encouraged by Trump's previous bluffs and blustering.
  3. Saudi Arabia is a crappy friend of the US.  Maybe the Trumps love the Saudis for their entangled financial ties, but Saudi Arabia has benefited far more from American help than vice versa.  This, of course, is ironic, given Trump's criticism of NATO allies, as they have bled for the US.  Have the Saudis?  No, but the US has bled for them.  And because of them.  Oh, and another contrast: the US is not obligated to defend Saudi Arabia.  There is no mutual defense treaty between the US and Saudi Arabia.  The US has acted in Saudi Arabia's defense, most notably in 1990 when Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia, but I can't find anything but an agreement to sell arms. 
  4. John Bolton was not the only guy in the Trump Administration who sought a war with Iran.  Pompeo is still around, and I am sure there are others.
While there must be work done to determine what happened and who is responsible, and Iran should face significant punishment by the international community, the US does not really need a war right now.  And Iran has plenty of ways to escalate in the region to make things hurt.  I am not sure a pinprick strike against Iran will not escalate. 

People have been wondering how the Trump Administration will do once it faces a real crisis, one that it didn't make.  Well, this is one that they only partly made, so, yeah, we are there now.  And I am very, very worried.  There are not too many good policy options, and I have confidence that Trump will pick a bad one AND will not do the necessary work to get allies and other countries to support the US course of action. 

I wish we could expect cooler heads to prevail, but none of those are in government these days.  So, what next?  Damned if I know.  Maybe the paper tiger will roar and then not bite, maybe Trump will overreact?  Maybe the Saudis will push for caution?  The key is the White House is dominated by the uncertainty engine in chief so no reason to be certain about any of this.  

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

9/11 After 18 Years

Yes, after this date, we can have US soldiers fighting in Afghanistan who were born after the date that triggered that mission.  For me, this particular anniversary is notable for being the first time I am teaching undergrads who have no memory of that day.  This year is the first time in eight years I am teaching undergrads, so I have gone from those whose first major IR memory was 9/11 to those who cannot have a memory of that day. 

I am not sure how that is going to change how I teach today.  I do know that the general sentiments in my previous 9/11 posts are particularly intensified, as I am angry and sad that whatever unity that could have been gained from the common experience of that day has been wasted.  More than that, we have kids in cages, we have Puerto Rico never getting the assistance it should have been, we have alienated allies who bled for the US in Afghanistan, and so on. 

9/11 will always be a pivot point in US history, where things could have gone in a number of directions.  Same is true for the 2016 election.  It didn't have to be this way.  But it is, and it is so very, very frustrating how much effort has been wasted, how many unforced errors have been committed, how much unnecessary pain is being inflicted. 

As I do need to teach today, I will leave it there for now.  For those who lost people on that day or in the responses to it, I am so very sorry. 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Ranking Movies? Sure. People? Not So Sure

Sunday mornings are for tenure reviews.  Huh?  I am reading stuff to evaluate a scholar for whether he/she is worthy of tenure.  This is a standard part of the tenure process--to have outside scholars read a bunch of a candidate's work and then indicate whether they have made a significant contribution and whether they are likely to continue to do so.  As I have written elsewhere, this is a fair amount of work, almost always unpaid.  So, I have gotten a bit cranky when I do it these days.

What makes me really cranky?  Being asked to compare a tenure/promotion candidate to the top scholars in the field.  I don't even like comparing people to others who are at the same point in their career.  Why?  Because in my mind, tenure is not about whether you are the most cited person (probably what administrators think of as "best"), but whether one has made a contribution and whether one is likely to continue to do so.  When I consider a tenure candidate, my basic question is whether they have done enough interesting, well-executed research and whether they are likely to continue to do so.  That latter part is mostly a guess based on whether the person's research has moved beyond the dissertation--if they keep asking new questions and managing to publish their answers to such stuff, that suggests a good trajectory.

Asking folks to be ranked is problematic unless I have very good knowledge of the support they receive.  Person x may have five more publications, but they may also have a much lower teaching load, free research assistants, and ample funding compared to person y.  How does one rank different scholars if one does not know how much support they have received from their schools?  It would seem to be unfair to penalize with lower rankings those who got a lot of good work done despite limited resources if there are other folks who got as much or more work but with far more resources. Given that there are all kinds of problems that breed path dependencies that lead to people getting less support (discrimination due to race, gender, first generation-ness, etc), it would also seem that ranking, rather than focusing on contribution to knowledge, would be replicating or intensifying the legacies of the past.

I decided to include this text in letters I write from now on:
I got have gotten much support on twitter for this stance, and folks have asked if they could borrow this text.  Of course, because if we all agree not to rank candidates, then the universities that ask for it will have to drop their focus on that question.  I understand this is a collective action problem, and, as the text above indicates, I am worried that by not following the instructions given to me by some of the folks wanting letters, I might be hurting the candidate.  Hence, I am explicit about it and want more company.

It would be a minor revolution, but it would also perhaps reduce that whole "comparison is the thief of joy" envy/jealousy/competition dynamic and return our business back to where it should be--fostering better understanding.  And, yes, sometimes I get idealistic.  Perhaps I get more idealistic when it makes it easier for me to dodge work, as ranking candidates is not only unpleasant but requires more research.

Afghanistan Shenanigans

There is always temptation to mock Donald Trump, so let's try to put into perspective this whole "hey, let's bring the Taliban to Camp David* a few days before 9/11 anniversary to make the Deal of the Century; oops, let's not!" thing.

First, some basics:
  • No, the Taliban didn't organize the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and target #3 which became a hole in Pennsylvania farmland.  Nope, that was Al Qaeda, which the Taliban government of the time permitted to run around their country, organizing terrorist campaigns against the West.  
  • It is ok to negotiate with the opponents in a civil war (Afghanistan has long had a civil war, so folks who say that one will start anytime soon are missing the cold, hard reality) as civil wars end either by one side defeating the other or by negotiation.  Victory by the Afghan government and the NATO folks was never very likely, and we all gave up on that with the withdrawals in and around 2014.  A bargain would potentially stave off the defeat of the Afghan government, as its troops and its civilians are facing a very high price every day to continue the war.
  • But the war continues in part because of international support and in part because folks remember how the Taliban ruled before.
  • Which makes any deal pretty difficult to arrange, since there is no trust for the Taliban.  Again, this is mostly normal--that it is hard to negotiate these days and they usually need some kind of third party guarantor to punish those who cheat.  Who would that be in this case?
  • Didn't Jimmy Carter bring the Israelis and the Egyptians to Camp David to negotiate an agreement which stands to this day, despite assassinations, coups, and other political unrest in Egypt?  Yeah.  But Trump ain't Jimmy, and it is not clear there would be a Sadat in the room.
  • Sometimes, violence continues while the bargaining goes on.  I can't recall situations where the violence escalates in the final stages, but it might make sense from a Taliban perspective to get Trump to sign any deal.  Given that Trump often indicates he will take any deal, just to get a deal (see negotiations with North Korea, ultimately the revision of NAFTA fits in this category as well), the Taliban may have pushed a bit too hard.  But that is what happens when one develops a reputation for being a paper tiger.

Ok, with that out of the way, how do we make sense of the tweet about cancelling the meeting of Taliban officials, the President of Afghanistan, and Trump at Camp David?  The stories in the past few weeks focused mostly on the phased withdrawal of American (and maybe NATO?) troops from Afghanistan in exchange for ..... um .... Not clear.  There was definitely a sense of a "decent interval" which refers to the way the US got out of Vietnam--by Kissinger making a deal that doomed South Vietnam, but would have a bit of time--a decent interval--between departure of the US and collapse of South Vietnam.  The pics from the fall of Saigon make that interval look not so decent AND the Nobel Peace Prize that Kissinger earned (and that Trump may covet) quite tainted since it was less a treaty and more a surrender.

So, excuse the Afghans who are thrilled this thing didn't happen.
 “A lot of Afghans are happy about Trump’s tweets because they may stop a bad deal with the Taliban, but they ignore the fact that there is a fundamental lack of strategy in Afghanistan that could prolong and exacerbate the bloody conflict,” tweeted Haroun Rahaimi, a law instructor at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul. “I fear for what may come next!”

They know what Kissinger did for South Vietnam, and they have long been suspicious of being sold out.  And, yes, Trump is not the most credible of negotiators or third party guarantors.  President Ashraf Ghani was not involved in the talks, so he and his supporters worried about what the deal would mean.

Again, the discussions did not seem to focus on power-sharing, on how to include the Taliban's armed forces in the Afghan military or how to demobilize them, or any of the usual topics of an effort to end a civil war.

The big problem here is not bargaining with the Taliban, but doing the work to make this happen.  That is, it requires a significant amount of expertise, discipline, and planning to figure out how to use whatever declining leverage the US has left (signaling one is leaving ASAP is not great for leverage, as Obama found out) to get a deal that at least has some pretense to guaranteeing that the side the US/NATO have been supporting is not betrayed.  All the stories about these negotiations indicate that the US "process" is a shitshow as the National Security Adviser has been left out of it (the schadenfreude about John Bolton being sidelined is offset by empathy for the Afghans), that it is run by an agent (Zalmay Khalizad) who may not be coordinating with anyone, and with Trump thinking he can go with his gut once he gets in the room with the Taliban officials.

Mostly, this tweet was about Trump's ego--that he tried to make a big deal because he thinks he can make big deals even though he didn't do any of the work to make a big deal likely and then he got upset when the Taliban continued to keep up the pressure.

I guess people have been thinking all along that things could be worse because he hasn't screwed up everything.  Maybe not, but I'd say he is working on it except that Trump doesn't work.  He is too damned lazy.

*  Camp David is on the same mountain/hill in Maryland as the summer camp I went to for all of my teens, and there is a reunion going on there this weekend that I could not attend.  I wonder how the folks who are attending are feeling about the turmoil over on the other side.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Taking Advice from Republicans: Um, No Thanks

I am really tired of Republicans telling the Democrats how to run for office.  For an example:

First, y'all lost control of your party, stop trying to control the other one. 
Second, and, most importantly, primaries and general elections are different beasts.

20 or 10 or 5 or 2 candidates in a primary have to engage in product differentiation.  Saying one is opposed to Trump is not going to cause folks to pick one candidate over another.  Saying one is the best, most electable candidate to defeat Trump?  Sure, but they are all going to say that, and it will be hard to discern who really is more electable since the test is ... wait for it ... winning elections.  In the  winter, we will have primary elections which will serve a few purposes:
  1. The outcomes will determine who wins the right to confront Vader Trump. 
  2. The early outcomes will also suggest who is better at campaigning, who is better at running, and, maybe, provide hints of who is more electable.  
The debates and all the rest right now don't really tell us much about electability.  What they do actually do is differentiate the candidates as each tries to appeal to folks who vote in Democratic primaries (hint: Republicans don't vote in Democratic primaries except in a few strange places).  So, they are outbidding each other on the issues they think will play to their base, like medicare for all, for a green deal of some kind, etc.  That is, they think Democratic voters care about these issues (they do), and they are playing to the crowd.  Kind of like when Trump outbid all of the Republicans on how best to be a racist, but on policy issues and not just resentment (Yeah, I am smug that the Democratic base, for the most part, is not vile like a certain hunk of those who showed up in the GOP primaries).

Anyhow, the old pattern of US politics is to swing to the extremes in the primaries because only the most passionate folks show up in big numbers, and, yes, extremists are more passionate than moderates.  That is why the GOP establishment failed in 2016--they couldn't get the pro-diversity Jeb voters out (if they existed).   And then the candidates swing to the middle after that.  Although to be clear, on some of the issues that Wilson mentions--guns, abortion, health care, the middle of the American electorate is actually much, much closer to the middle of the Dems. 

BUT, yes, things are different now.  According to Rachel Bitecofer (whom I chatted with at APSA) and others who actually study elections and electoral behavior (unlike Rick Wilson), the key in 2018 was not winning GOP moderates but the Dems turned out.  The GOP turned out, too, but there are more Dems than GOP so the Dems just have to turn out to win.  And they will turn out because Trump is so very awful.

The Democratic nominee will spend the summer and fall of 2020 discussing how awful Trump is to turn out the Dems and the Dem-leaning independents (the GOP-leaners will go back to the GOP because that is what they do)  Hillary for all of her policy videos also did a pretty good job of documenting how awful Trump was, but the Dems were complacent, thinking that Trump might not be so bad.  He is now proven to be so bad.

I am not saying the Dems will win (Bitecofer is) as I am not sure the supporters of the losing Democratic candidates will support the nominee.  That, for me, is the key variable. 

All I am saying is that the Dems don't need advice from Republicans on how to attract Democratic voters next year OR how to win the primaries.  Disaffected Republicans are not going to swing in a bit way to the Dems.  We just need them to stay home.  Rick Wilson and his ilk can keep talking about what the Dems should do, and that is their right.  But we don't have to listen.  Instead, listen to Bitecofer. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Mattis Redux: Former SecDef Forever

I criticized the choice of Mattis ever since it was broached in 2016.  I found it very problematic to have a very recently retired 4 star officer, especially a Marine, serve as SecDef.  As I go around the world, asking folks about their civilian-military relations, I always find it problematic when the Ministry of Defense is occupied by former/active military officers.  Why?  Because civilian control of the military requires ... civilians to control the military.

Recently retired officers are far less likely to see their job as overseeing the armed forces and more likely to see their jobs as protecting the military from civilian interference.  When Congress initially created the position, they required a ten year gap, which got reduced to seven, but let it all get waived if Congress felt like it.  And, alas, they felt like it.

Folks might say that Mattis did a good job while he was in office.  And I simply don't know if he did.  What proof do we have?  Trump's defense policy was awful before and since.  People forget that Trump was risking war with North Korea in the spring of 2018, and this stopped not due to Mattis's interference but because Trump decided he could make a great deal (kind of like today's news where Trump takes credit for a deal the Taliban says does not exist).  Folks could point to the continued investment in defending Europe, and that might be a Mattis initiative that avoided Trump's radar screen, but I really don't know if he should get credit.

I do know that Mattis was by Trump's shoulder when he signed the Muslim ban while visiting the Pentagon.  I do know that Mattis went along with various policies aimed at kicking transgender folks out of the military, that turned away interpreters who risked their lives in American wars, and so on.

I think there was a whole lot of wishful thinking going on--that people were hoping that Trump's worst instincts were being blocked by Mattis.

And that is kind of awful.  Because people were hoping a military man was defying the President or manipulating the President.  That is horrible from the standpoint of civilian control of the military and from the standpoint of good civil-military relations.  This erodes norms and encourages resistance and defiance and disobedience.  I am not worried about coups, but I am worried about the military following orders.  They don't always obey in the best of times (yes, sorry, but principal-agent problems are a thing).

Who has been making defense policy for the past three years?  The Joint Staff, as Mattis found more common cause with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (and Marine) Joseph Dunford.  As someone who worked for a year on the Joint Staff, I have lots of respect for those folks, but I don't think they should be in charge.  I now have to re-think how I felt about the Joint Staff making policy during Rumsfeld's first year or two....

About the Marine thing, I tend to have a sore spot there.  Why?  Because their desperate desire for autonomy and keeping their units together meant that they subverted the President's intent and disrupted the efforts to develop unity of command in Afghanistan--better to be on their own in Helmand than working with others in Kandahar despite the latter being far more relevant for population-centric counter-insurgency.

Anyhow, what irks me know is that Mattis wants to have it both ways: to be a retired general who is apolitical but to do book tours to promote his book.  Would he be getting so much press coverage for his book about his life as a Marine (it does not cover his time as SecDef)?  I don't think so.

Mattis's first mistake was not taking off his uniform when he became SecDef (I mean in terms of his own views/identity/etc).
Matti's second mistake is thinking he can take off the coat of SecDef that cloaked his uniform now.  It is tainted and tattered, but it is on him for life.  I will never refer to him as Gen (ret.) Mattis--he will always be former SecDef Mattis.

PS I didn't even mention his time shilling for Theranos. 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

APSA 2019: Annoyingly Happy

A friend called me annoyingly happy at this year's American Political Science Association meeting, and I have to admit she is right.  I realized shortly before the conference that I have been off the job market for eight years, the longest span of my career by a good bit.  That is both cause and effect: effect because being happy means not going on the market and cause because being on the market is a source of misery.  APSA used to come through DC every other year when I got started, so this place is full of memories of me being anxious about getting a tenure track job.  This time, I was far more relaxed--I mean, what are the odds of another fire?  So, what happened at this year's APSA?

I handed out CDSN swag and got to talk about what we have done so far--hiring great stuff, starting the podcast, and preparing for the next seven years of interesting and hopefully relevant research.

I asked folks who do civil-military relations to meet up in the conference hotel bar, and we got a very good crowd.  There are a lot of younger scholars doing excellent work, so it was fun to spend some time with them and learn what they are doing and corrupt a minor:

I have been so busy getting the CDSN started and traveling this summer that I forgot that I was the chair and organizer of the panel---Some Assembly Required.  I found the other work on this panel super-interesting:
  • Jessica Blankshain presented a paper she is working on with Derek Reveron (both of CDSN partner US Naval War College) that considered who testifies before the House Armed Services Committee, seeking to identify trends. As the Dave/Phil/Steve project focuses on such committees, it was especially interesting to learn about a dimension that we had not been studying
  • Carla Martinez Machain (Kansas State) presented a paper on US military training programs, testing whether those who the US trained elsewhere committed more or less human rights violations.  I had some deja vu since vetting trainees due to Congressional legislation was something we did in the Balkans branch of the Joint Staff.
  • Michael Colaresi (Pittsburgh) presented a really cool paper basically looking at the info we have on rendition flights to determine which countries might have more oversight and more info about secret programs--the intuition is that the CIA would take less direct routes to avoid countries that have more oversight.  Super graphics and super interesting.  
I followed my recent pattern of going to few panels and meeting more people who I have met via twitter.  These conversations were most interesting.  One of them involved organizers of Out in National Security, an organization seeking to provide support to LGBTQ in the US national security community.   As one of the goals of the CDSN is to facilitate a more diverse and inclusive community of defence and security experts, I was seeking advice on how to help underrepresented folks.

And, yes, I hung out with old friends.  While I was most stressed long ago, trying to get my first job and then moving on from there, I have few regrets since I made lifelong friendships with fantastic people:

My last full day at APSA included meeting with my very first PhD student who is now recovering from his term as department chair and then meeting with my dissertation adviser--Miles Kahler--unbreakable vows and all that.  We met at the Phillips Collection, an art museum I have never visited before.  They had an amazing exhibit on immigration-related art.

It was very moving.  And it reminded me that the stuff we study has real human costs.  While I don't study ethnic conflict anymore, I will always apply the stuff I learned to contemporary events.

The only things left to do are to meet up with my sister-in-law and then fly home to start a new semester.  It was a great summer of travel and networking and organizing and podcasting.  Time to do that teaching thing: