Thursday, October 31, 2019

The New Syrian Mission: Let's Enumerate the Stupidity

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Is Trump a Fascist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Albertan Secession or Sore Losers

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Random Canadian Election Thoughts, 2019 edition

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

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

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

Monday, October 21, 2019

Imitating the Best: CIMVHR FTW!

The Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research started out as a partnership and then took off.  It is a network of doctors, scientists, military folks, government officials, and others who seek to understand the health challenges facing active members of the Canadian Armed Forces, veterans, and their families.  The CDSN Knowledge Mobilization Coordinator (podcast producer extraordinaire Melissa Jennings) gave me a "no, duh!" kind of look when I told her that CIMVHR (along with TSAS) inspired the original thinking and design of the CDSN.  CIMVHR is a CDSN partner, so Melissa and I attended the first day of their Forum in Gatineau at the casino on the other side of the river from Ottawa.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Pander Train to China

I get it: China has a huge potential market, and it is already a place that has many people wanting to consume all kinds of stuff.  So, businesses want to have access to that market, so they are willing to sell their souls to get into it.  There is lots of news now, but this is not new.

The latest stories:
  • The NBA story where one general manager tweets out a pic that demonstrated support for the Hong Kong protestors, which now threatens to cost the NBA something like $8-10million a team in terms of reducing the salary cap (based on total income).
  • Dreamworks has got a movie with a map that recognizes China's very expansive idea of the territories that are supposed to be Chinese--the 9 dash line includes hunks of Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei, and maybe another country or to.  This has cost "Abominable" Vietnam's market.  Don't forget, the Red Dawn remake had the North Koreans as the enemy invading the US (much more ridiculous than China invading) to avoid offending China.
Sure, I understand that firms seek profits and don't want to lose markets. The NBA is a bit different--there is no competition with other firms or whatever since no one else can sell or buy NBA teams or products except NBA teams.  They don't have to worry about somebody else profiting more in China and then using those profits to beat the NBA.  Instead, this is just really about more money for the owners (mostly billionaires) and players (regular players make millions per year).  A decline of $10million in the salary cap might a bit less money, but greed is greed, and so be it.  It will be interesting to see if tossing out fans in the US (in Philadelphia, home of all that freedom stuff) will cost the NBA at all.

Because there will be times where firms will have to choose--that appealing to China might offend other markets.  Already, Dreamworks has lost Vietnam in one case.  What happens when it is a conflict between American or European consumers and China's?

I must say that China has been doing a great job of turning me into a hawk.  Arresting some random Canadians because of an extradition process?  Nope, not a fan.  I don't want war with China, but I am not a fan of pandering to China too much either.  If the Chinese government is likely to get pissed off and use its leverage, then maybe that should be built into people's risk calculations and maybe not sell one's soul to get into a very Sopranos-esque market (co-production means losing intellectual property and having to put people on one's payroll that mostly either sit around or don't show up). 

All I can say is that we should expect more and more of this.  China is far more sensitive to slights than a rising power should be.  Great powers get criticized a lot--retaliating against every negative stance is going to get tiresome and will cut into China's growth eventually.  A smarter way would be just to regulate its own market in ways that affect world markets, but that is not what China is doing.  I think China was better off when it had some velvet gloves on its iron fists.  Now?  Now it is clear that China is going to be pretty willing to use its increased leverage.  The way to avoid that is not to sell out.  It will be interesting to see who is seduced by the short term gains versus those who see the trouble in the long term.

Canadian Thanksgiving 2019: Much To Be Thankful For

This is my 18th Canadian Thanksgiving, and, yes, I have much to be thankful for.
The Rideau Canal is often on the route
I take to get some biking exercise

Most obviously, the Canadian government has been most generous to me over the years.  The Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada has made my increasingly ambitious research agendas possible.  Much of the travel to do research (the big exception is Japan 2016-2017) since 2002 has been funded SSHRC grants except for some that have been funded by my endowed chair, which, of course, is another thing for which I am most grateful.

This year, SSHRC funded a different kind of ambition--to connect Canadians who care/do defence and security together and with the outside world.  Of course, if I were not in Canada, I would not have developed a strong interest in creating the Canadian Defence and Security Network with a team of smart, generous, and fun people.  And the CDSN is the second thing for which I am very grateful this year.  Not only we did we get funded in 2019 (woot!), but we got started.  I am very thankful I could immediately hire a great team at Carleton to support the enterprise (Jeff and Melissa) as well as the assistance and support of plenty of folks at Carleton from NPSIA's staff to our Director to the Dean's staff to our Dean (Andre Plourde not only gave us financial support but was a great mock interviewer for the final stage of the grant application) to our VP for Research.

It has been a very busy and challenging six months or so since we learned we received the funding, but also a fun, enlightening, and thrilling half-year.  I am grateful to Stéfanie von Hlatky for sacrificing a heap of her time to be my co-host for the #BattleRhythm podcast and to Melissa Jennings for learning on the fly to be an excellent producer.  It has been a delight to hangout on skype with Stef on a regular basis as we banter about defence and security stuff.  The rest of the CDSN is progressing nicely with our first workshops and with our partners' conferences going quite well.

NPSIA and Carleton, beyond the CDSN stuff, remain my favorite place I have worked.  I spent the first part of my career thinking about the next place.  For 7.5 years, that thought has not entered my mind, and I don't expect that to change.  My colleagues are terrific, I have received incredible support and frequent recognition from the administration, and my expense reports get reimbursed very quickly with minimum fuss (a real secret of academic happiness).  I am teaching undergrads for the first time in eight years, and I am loving it.  I am very thankful to David Hornsby for team-teaching that class and joining me on that adventure.  He does a better job than I do of asking deeper questions to a room of ninety or so students, and the students' responses have been terrific, so I am thankful for this opportunity.

I am still loving Ottawa, although this summer's construction season was a bit more challenging and a bit more Montreal-like.  One of the joys of CDSN-ing is meeting more and more folks around this town, in and outside of government, including on the way to a military exercise two hours away.  Our neighborhood is getting older--the herds of small kids have somehow been replaced by teenagers, but it still feels very neighborhoody.  I didn't play much ultimate this summer thanks to an injury, but I am planning on playing in two winter leagues.  I still don't know as many folks in this ultimate community as I did in Montreal, but I am very grateful for the joy and good spirit I continue to find on the ultimate field.  That and people willing to chase my throws and make up for my lousy defense.

In short, Canada has been very good to me and mine, and I will forever be thankful.  The winters are long, but the people are kind and funny, which makes it all worth it.

And, yes, I can't help but think of this video on this Canadian Thanksgiving Day.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Election 2019: Foreign Policy and Defence Priorities

I tweeted my thoughts this morning about the Conservative platform's pieces on foreign policy and defence policy.  There was some good, some bad, and much that was annoying.  What annoyed me most was the focus on Iran and Israel.  An then I opened up the latest Diplomat and International Canada which has each party listing its top five foreign policy priorities (the Liberals sent along a few paragraphs).  And, yes, I found much fault with the Conservatives again, but let me run through the entire piece and then suggest what Canada's real foreign policy priorities are. Yeah, I don't discuss the PPC--it ain't a real party until it wins something.  Plus the xenophobes get enough attention.

  1. China.  Not really number one, but definitely a major priority even if China and Canada were not embroiled in a dispute over extradition of a Huawei executive.  Major potential trade partner and rising power that might seek to undermine the rules of the system that have been so beneficial to Canada.
  2. Russia and the Arctic.  Not really number two, and Russia is not as much of a threat to Canada's Arctic as people suggest.  Why?  Because it is damned hard to maintain a presence all the way up there, not to mention all the way on the other side.  Russia's Arctic investments are not about the Northwest passage but the Northern passage.  
  3. Israel.  FFS. I hate to break it to folks, but (a) Israel can take care of itself without Canadian help and (b) Israel does not really help/hurt Canada's security or economy.  Last I checked, Canada is an Atlantic country and a Pacific country, but it isn't a Mideast country.
  4. Iran.  FFS 2.  Ditto.  Remember, Canada was not a member of the party of six negotiating the JCPOA.  Nobody sees Canada as a major influence on Iranian behavior. 
  5. Religious Freedom.  Really?  As you will see below, I will find a bunch of stuff that is more important to the security and welfare of Canadians than promoting Christianity (which is what this office did and would do again).  If the Conservatives really cared about religious freedom so much, their stance on Quebec's laws against (certain) religious garb would be a wee bit more declarative.
 New Democratic Party:
  1. Climate change. Here's a major priority.  The only way to address climate change is via international cooperation.  And climate change is a major threat to Canada--it will change where the maples can grow, for instance, and it will likely lead to more immigration conflicts, and on and on.  Well done, NDP.
  2. Disarmament.  Um, good luck with that.  Not sure pipe dreams should be the 2nd priority.  Given the state of the world these days with Trump undermining or leaving various agreements, Russia cheating on agreements, and so on, this is not a time to invest major resources or attention to something that is not going to pan out.  Maybe later.  Or, well, start at home--stop the sale of arms to hotspots, even if it costs you votes.  Right?
  3. International development.  This makes a great deal of sense, although one needs to have some humility about the effectiveness of aid.  Or even that aid can be problematic.
  4. Human rights respect and enforcement.  Sure, fits the party ideology and Canada has done good stuff in the past promoting human rights.  But the Saudi response should be kept in mind--these ideals have a price.  
  5. Multilateralism and peacekeeping.  Again, makes sense, but this is risky stuff.
Liberals (taking their paras and turning into a list):
  1.  Support international order via insttutions
  2.  Fight climate change
  3.  Support free/fair trade
  4.  Stuff
Not great--just vague stuff. No points for blowing off the homework they were given

  1.  Climate emergency.  Sure
  2.  Global migration.  That conflict and climate change will create much migration and we need to prepare.  Good.
  3.  Fight erosion of human rights.  Like for the NDP, this will come at a cost.  How will this work?
  4. Achiving UN Sustainable Development Goals.  Sure.
  5. Ban on nuclear weapons.  What I said above about pipe dreams for the NDP.
Bloc Québécois
  1. Climate change.  Wow, the separatists can be reasonable.
  2. Reset button trade.  Never mind.
  3. Multilateralism.  Woot.
  4. Tax base erosion.  Interesting.  
  5. Give Quebec access to the world.  Ok but oy.

Steve's priorities
  1. Funny how all of these folks dodge the number one priority: relations with the US.  It only appeared on the xenophobic sect's list.  Given how dependent Canada is on the US for trade, investment, and defence, the US-Canada relationship is always the most important priority.  Especially now when it is hard.
  2. Climate change.  It is a clear and present danger AND it requires international cooperation.
  3. China.  It is an economic opportunity, but one with tremendous downsides that can threaten Canadian values (what do we sell out to get into that market); it is threat to peace (ask the Japanese and those near the South China Sea, not to mention Tawain); it is a threat to the multilateral order that has been so fundamental to Canada's success the past 75 years.
  4. India.  Just because it is hard does not mean it is not important.  India presents incredible opportunities--the market, to balance China, etc--but is also very likely to cause problems for Canada.  Canadian leaders need to stop thinking about how best to pander to some communities in Canada as they visit foreign countries (that would be Trudeau...), and focus on the larger interests such as trade and defence.
  5. NATO.  Sure, my self-interest, but it is also the case that Canada gets involved in high risk, high cost endeavors thanks to its role in NATO.  So, managing NATO is important because NATO has been setting Canada's security agenda for a long, long time.  
And, yes, my list of priorities focuses on Canada's interests, not the interests of other people.  Canada should do more peacekeeping, more development assistance, and the like, but such "oughts" come after "musts" such as getting the relationship with the US right, addressing climate change, managing China and India, and influencing the next set of military obligations.

Oh, and maybe the next government should do a foreign policy review to set priorities and put up signposts for the civil servants.  The Defence Policy Review (a.k.a. SSE) worked really well doing that.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Syria Retrospective

The invasion of Syria by Turkey is making some folks look backwards and blame Obama for not doing more.  And I have put forth a challenge on twitter: what exactly could Obama have done?

I ruled out bombing, as hitting Assad directly is harder than folks think.  And it got harder still after the Russians got more involved.  Oh, and it would be the US mostly alone since David Cameron could not get a vote through his parliament.  And as Ben Dennison reminded me, NATO was out of bombs after Libya.

I ruled out a massive intervention, as the US was still winding down Iraq and was still stuck in Afghanistan, and the army was near the breaking point after nearly a decade of two wars.  And, as those two wars remind us, once you are in, how do you get out?  Especially with the Russians, Iran, and Hezzbollah seriously involved?

I ruled out safe havens as they are neither safe nor havens (thanks Doug Benson, as I am stealing your take on Safe House).  Srebrenica anyone?  To create a safe haven requires an invasion of one kind or another, so that a space is created in which people can gather (which kind of makes them targets).  And that space has to be large enough that Assad's artillery would have been far enough away that it would not be able to hit the people in the safe haven.  Or have enough arty in place to counter-battery fire to deter such stuff.  Again, safe havens require war. 

As a scholar of international relations, I simply do not have any ideas of what the intervention could have looked like that was politically feasible.  Remember, this was with a very hostile Congress that was not willing to vote for a new authorization and budgets fights were constantly risking the closure of the government. 

The US has essentially tried everything--doing a lot (Iraq, Afghanistan), doing something (Libya), doing nothing (Syria)--which should tell us both about the limits of American power and how hard it is to intervene in civil wars.  Which is why I repeat my plea for some humility.  These things are really hard, that mistakes are inevitable (we rely on unreliable proxies on a regular basis because ... that is often all there is), they are very expensive, and there is no easy way to leave. 

The other regret folks have is Obama pulling US troops out of Iraq (something Bush had agreed to), but that points to the big problem--once you get in, it is hard to leave.  Rumsfeld wanted Afghanistan to be "break the Taliban and leave" situation, and he expected to hand over Iraq to some random Iraqi exiles (who happened to have been Iranian agents) and have the US forces leave quickly.  Obama understood that entering Syria meant staying for the long term, I believe.  And that was problematic. 

Sure, now it seems like intervening would have prevented the flow of millions of refugees to Europe, which has not helped Europe very much (although I still blame much of the problems European democracies have with the embracing of austerity measures after the 2008 crisis).  But if the US had intervened forcefully (again, how?), would Syrians have stuck around?  The US way of war does create a lot of collateral damage (civilian casualties), so I still think there would have been refugee flows.

Anyhow, again, the crowd of MOAR needs to tell us what more would have looked like and how it was politically feasible.  Which is kind of like the anti-JCPOA crowd--tell us another way to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons that Iran would have agreed to.  And don't tell me some bombing would have done the trick. Because bombing is wildly overrated.

So, instead of learning to blame Obama, I prefer to learn something else: humility.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

A Different Mad King

I was asked to be on TV tonight (and will be on again tomorrow unless the plans change) to talk Turkey/Kurds/Syria/Trump.  What is my take on all of this?  I will give the answers to the questions that I was told to prepare for (note--the anchor people always go off script). 

Q:  Turkey says it will create a safe zone that removes the Kurdish-led forces and resettles millions of Syrian refugees.  What do you make of that?
A:  When I hear safe zone, I think Bosnia and the safe zones that became killing grounds including Srebrenica, where the Bosnian Serbs engaged in genocide.  Who is going to safeguard these refugees from whatever threats?  Will the Turkish forces, which will be focused on killing members of the Syrian Democratic Front--the Syrian Kurds who have been so effective against ISIS.

Q:  Does Turkey's attack on the Kurds jeopardize any gains made against ISIS in the region?
A:  Hell yeah.  First, the SDF is not going to stick around and guard the places where they are holding ISIS prisoners.  Second, the 2.7 million refugees, give or take, who will be forced back to Syria, will be ripe for radicalization since they will be living in awful conditions and will feel betrayed by the international community.

Q:  How is this impacting the relationship between the US and the Kurds?
A:  The US seems to betray some Kurdish group every twenty years.  So, not great.  However, the various Kurdish groups have few friends, so if the US wants to make common cause with them, the Kurds will likely go along, knowing, very much like the Frog of the Scorpion and the Frog tale, that eventually they will be betrayed.

Q:  What is Russia's involvement?
A:  Egging on Turkey and attacking the Kurds from another direction (make whatever parallels to 1939 Poland you want).  Plus the Russians get to watch more of a wedge between Turkey and the rest of NATO and between the US and its allies, as well as helping to remove an opponent to its ally, Syria.

Q:  Turkey is also a member of NATO, what response have we seen from other countries in the alliance?
A:  Canada, UK, Germany, and France have all condemned the attack.  Trump has both given it a greenlight and opposed it.  There have been many discussions of how to kick Turkey out of NATO--this is not going to stop those discussions nor will those discussions go anywhere.

Q:  What am I expecting to see in the coming days in Syria?
A:  Bloodshed.  Turkey's Erdogan has been seeking this for quite some time--he is not going to back down.  Assad will root this on, Putin will celebrate, Trump will twist and lie and get his facts wrong, and America's allies will be frustrated. 

This is all awful.  And, yes, so much for that whole "pay attention to Trump's deeds, not his tweets" thing.  To be clear, at some point, the US had to get out of Syria, but not this way.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Alliance Theory in a Time of the Mad King

Carvin first drafts me and then she takes an action shot.
I got grabbed by Stephanie Carvin as she was off to teach her International Security course yesterday.  The day's topic was alliances, and she thought I might have a few things to say about Trump/Turkey/Kurds.  She wasn't wrong.  My 20 minute guest gig went on for 45 minutes or so.  The class had read a bunch of alliance stuff (including a piece by my former student Jessica Trisko Darden and my pod-cast pal, Stefanie von Hlatky, the Steve and Dave ISQ piece, and a bunch of other stuff), so they were armed with heaps of IR theory.

I started with the Alliance Dilemma (hat tip to Glenn Snyder): that any country has to fear two things--being abandoned by their ally and being dragged into a conflict by an ally.  I asserted that usually a country fears one or the other, but the joy of the Trump era is that countries can feel simultaneously too strongly connected to an aggressive ally and also likely to be dropped at a moment's notice (or a tweet's) by said ally.  That one of the core ideas of Neo-Realism is that the system is one of self-help so relying on others for one's security is always, always perilous.  While Waltz (father of Neo-Realism) might not have anticipated Donald Trump, his theory is not focused on the strange behaviors of an individual state, but how the general dynamics of the system will, well, punish those who make poor decisions.

What does the decision to drop the SDF (the Kurds the US has been supporting in Syria that have been perhaps the most effective anti-ISIS force) imply for other proxies?  Something they already knew--that the US will drop you when it is convenient.  Various Kurdish groups know this from past experience--Kissinger famously sold out Iraq's Kurds in the mid-1970s.

One could look at this decision as being a pro-alliance decision since Trump is doing Turkey's bidding, but then again:

Um, so, yeah, not a great, reliable ally.  Indeed, Trump's series of tweets and statements also lambasted European countries for not taking in their foreign fighters.  So, while Realists could not predict the tweets and Trump's policies (and, tis another day where I scoff at folks that say that we ought to ignore his tweets and focus on his deeds), they can understand the dilemma that allies face--being reliant on anyone is dangerous, but, then again, having no allies can also be dangerous. Which is why it is called the Alliance Dilemma.

Stephanie prompted me to address how two other theories address this stuff as well: Liberalism and Constructivism.  For Liberals, institutions are paramount as they reduce uncertainty and finesse the transaction costs that often get in the way of cooperation.  While no such institution really existed to help the Kurds, NATO is an institution that is supposed to provide security and stability for its members.  Liberals have argued that institutions can last even after dominant players fade as they help to resolve collective action problems (how to get cooperation when there are temptations to free ride) but they didn't anticipate Hegemonic Arson.*  That is, the declining dominant player destroying institutions that have helped it get what it wants.  Yes, hegemonic stability theory suggests that a declining state may be less enthusiastic about paying the costs for such institutions (so Trump's whining about burden-sharing is predictable), but actually engaging in behavior to rip apart the institution (see Open Skies news of late and where the allies stand?  Not predicted.  Of course, the challenge here is the Liberal theory of institutions rely on leaders pursuing their national interests in a rational way, not their own monetary interests in a less than rational way.

Constructivism focuses on how countries can be driven either by a logic of consequences (does this help the country) or a logic of appropriateness (is what I am doing ok or even imaginable).  The problem of applying this theory to US foreign policy today is that Trump has no sense of appropriateness (see the above tweet) so he is never constrained by norms, shame, or anything like that.  However, like Neo-Realism, constructivism can address how countries react--that they find Trump's behavior not just bad for their interests but appalling, that they may find it hard to cooperate with a sociopath because of what it means for their own identities.  How can you be a good and just state if you are working alongside someone who will do literally anything?

For both Liberals and Constructivists, it is now much harder to cooperate with the United States.  Of course, the big question is what happens after Trump.  Will things just go back to how things were before?  Probably not entirely (I am spacing on who talked with me about IR being plastic so things don't snap back all the way).  The institutions may remain, but they will not be as binding, and states will realize that they will not be protected by the agreements they have signed and the communities they have built.  Which means they will hedge--by finding other allies (South Korea, for instance, may lean towards China) or by allying amongst themselves or opting out of American efforts.

Good luck getting the allies to bleed for the US in a place like Afghanistan again.  I have to run to meet up with some potential partners (or allies) of the CDSN, so I will leave this for now.  I guess the main point of all of this is that rhetoric does matter--that America First always meant screw over the allies--and everyone forgets that or diminishes that at their peril.

* I am kind of disturbed that half of the wikipedia entry about Neo-Liberalism focuses on John Mearsheimer who is hostile to Neo-Liberalism.  But that is something for another day.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Too Close? Maintaining Perspective While Engaging

One of the questions we get from time to time and one of the insults I get from a certain reporter on occasion refers to whether one can be critical of the armed forces if one hangs out with them.  Of course, I think so.

Why did I go on Exercise Collaborative Spirit (see this video of the exercise for an idea of what we did)?
  1. I am a deeply curious person (more on that below) so I wanted to learn more about the Canadian Armed Forces.  I write about them often enough, and I figure that by engaging with them, I can learn more.  Plus even if I didn't study the CAF, I would still want to know more because ... I am deeply curious.
  2. It was fun.  Yeah, shooting guns and watching 155mm artillery pieces fire and invading a beach and playing soldier is fun.  
  3. It was good networking.  I have spent the past six years building the Canadian Defence and Security Network.  Most of my military contacts have been senior officers thanks to researching how the civilians controlled the various militaries in Afghanistan.  I want to diversity my contacts--I wanted to meet junior officers and non-commissioned officers so that I can see the CAF from multiple perspectives.  Plus I wanted to meet the folks that the CAF invited--these stakeholders.  Some are junior DND policy officers, some work in other parts fo the defence sector, and some were random civilians.  
I was aware when I got the invitation that this exercise is an information operation.  The CAF and DND were not just doing it to be friendly and generous, but to help create a positive attitude towards the armed forces.  And, yes, carrying around heavy equipment and hanging with these soldiers has that impact.  Does being aware that this is the intent immunize me from the powerful socializing impact that the CAF has?  I'd like to think so.  I did go to Afghanistan in 2007 when DND and CAF felt it was important to have professors observe stuff up close.  Using profs as a tool in an information operation is risky because we tend to be critical, but I think they gambled on informed criticism being better than uninformed criticism.

Which gets to the fundamental thing: we professors have three key related attributes: we are curious, we are critical, and we are used to criticism.  We get into this business because we want to learn and want to know more. Most of the profs I know are deeply inquisitive people who keep asking questions not only about their own research, but about other people's research and about stuff beyond their areas of expertise.  We just like to ask and answer questions.  The whole idea of a PhD is to train someone to ask novel questions and then to answer them.

The training itself and then the lived experience focuses on criticism.  We are trained to pick holes in arguments, we do not believe what we are told--even if the person telling us stuff is friendly and let us fire their gun.  We are constantly given opportunities to criticize--we criticize the work of our students so that their work gets better, we criticize the work of other academics via peer review processes, we criticize the institutions that employ us, and on and on.

Speaking of peer review, we are used to criticism.  Indeed, we seek it out.  Either because we sincerely want our work to get better or simply that we need to survive review to get published.  We are constantly being criticized by our students (teaching evals) and by publishing outlets--especially by reviewer #2.  So, we tend to develop thick skin.

The one exception, at least in my case, is I tend to get pissed off if someone questions my integrity.  David Pugliese, a Canadian defence reporter, has pulled that particular chain a few times by implying that I am too close to the Canadian Armed Forces.*  He apparently does not read my stuff, where I have criticized the CAF plenty of times.  I also criticize the US military aplenty despite spending an amazing year on the Joint Staff in 2001-2002.  How can I do that, despite their powerful socialization efforts?  Because I am critical of everything.  I am critical of some of Pugliese's stories even as I find much of his work to be amazing stuff that helps us to understand DND/CAF.  Indeed, in my current project on legislatures and oversight over armed forces, I have come to the conclusion that civilian control of the armed forces includes not just the executive in that category of "civilian" and not just the legislature, but also the media, think tanks, academics, and others who have expertise and ask questions and engage in research.

Anyhow, in designing the CDSN, we have been careful to bring in a number of perspectives, including organizations that tend to be very critical of the CAF.  We also include elements of the CAF as we fundamentally believe that engaging provides more opportunities to learn than taking potshots from a distance.  Some academics feel differently about that (and we were lucky to avoid those in the review process).  I always think knowing more is better than knowing less, and interacting with the CAF allows me to know more.

I keep on learning, and one of things I will try to learn is not to respond to thin skinned reporters who question my integrity.  But apparently not this day.

* Pugliese also took shots at my junior colleagues, which is how this stuff came up again.  They are both sufficiently critical and thick skinned to be willing to wade in and criticize journalists.  If only this particular journalist would take the criticism to heart rather than firing back.  

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Canadian Election Discovers the World?

There has not been much discussion of international relations/foreign policy/defence policy in the 2019 Canadian election (the first federal election in which I can vote!), but that changed this week.  Each of the three major parties expressed something in this sector and they ranged from bad/wrong to meh/possibly interesting to third parties are going to do what third parties are going to do.  I will address each in turn.  [Last time, I wrote defence platforms for each party--Liberal, Conservative, NDP--I don't have the time or energy for that this time]

First, the Conservatives are going to push for a 25% cut in international assistance, citing a mythical $2b that goes to rich countries like Italy.  Scheer seems to be conflating all kinds of things, including money that goes to international organizations and disaster relief.  It is pretty basic politics, especially from the right, to say that money being spent elsewhere should be spent at home, relying on voters to think the country spends a lot on foreign aid.  $6billion may sound like a lot and a $2b cut seems meaningful, but even in Canada's budget, it is not really that much money and will not get Canada to a balanced budget.  From what little I have seen of public opinion about foreign aid in Canada, the dynamic here is similar to the US: people say too much is spent, they guess it is x, they believe it should be y, and y turns out to be much bigger than the reality.  Canada has fallen short of the goals the international community has set for aid, so the Conservatives would be promising to fall further short.  Since much of it goes to places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and other foreign policy priorities, I am not sure how cutting by 25% matches any strategic vision of Canada's role in the world except having less of a role.  In short, I am not a fan.  It is a bad idea based on a lie.

Second, the Liberals released their entire platform.  Not much attention paid to international relations, probably because the Trudeau team never really cared that much about that side of things.  And a reality that people tend not to vote based on foreign policy stances.  Last time, the Liberals promised to stop bombing Iraq/Syria, and they kept that promise, no matter how inconsistent it was with what the rest of the CAF was doing (helping its allies kill ISIS).  They also promised to compete to get a UN Security Council seat, and I am pretty sure they will lose that competition for all kinds of reasons with the brownface thing being the turd icing on the cake.  The new platform is super vague on most things, with the only clear initiative of creating a Defence Procurement Agency.  This may or may not make sense.  The question is whether this adds more levels of oversight and process (which would be bad) or reduces the complexity and clarifies the accountability.  The South Koreans did this, and it seems to have worked for them.  BUT the devil is in the details.  So, this platform, on international relations, is mostly meh but the procurement thing is potentially significant in one way or another.

Third, the NDP's leader, Jagmeet Singh said that he hopes Trump gets impeached. So say all of us... well most of us, but that is not something a leader of an American ally says aloud.  If one is a realistic competitor to be a leader of a US ally, one does not say that aloud.  If one is a third party, then why not?  One does not have to be as responsible because the likelihood of being relevant is low.  This plays well to the NDP base, but you will not see Trudeau or Scheer say anything like this.  Because Trudeau knows he has to work with Trump, and Scheer hopes to have opportunities to do so.  Singh?  Nope.  It is pretty basic--one does not publicly ask for the leader of an ally to be deposed.  It makes partnership pretty hard if they don't get deposed.  Likewise, it is fun politics domestically but dumb internationally to say they would open up NATFA/USMCA.  Is Trump really someone you want to negotiate with?  No.  FFS.

None of these parties are covering themselves in foreign/defence policy glory this week and last.  With no foreign policy debate, I don't expect this discourse to get much better or to get much time except piling on Scheer for the dumb Conservative stance on foreign aid.