Friday, August 25, 2023

The Perils of Politicization With Maple Syrup

 Last night, a friend informed me that my favorite retired Canadian military officer, Lt. General (ret) Michel Maisonneuve is going to speak at the Conservative Party of Canada's convention.  This gave me a case of deja vu, as the 2016 US campaign had dueling generals at the conventions--Michael (how many foreign payrolls am I on?) Flynn for Trump and the Republicans and John Allen for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.  I have been meaning to write about Michael Robinson's book, Dangerous Instrument, Politicial Polarization and US Civil-Military Relations, for some time,* but the CDSN Summer Institute and a mad dash to finish the Steve/Dave/Phil book got in the way, but this news has pushed Robinson's book to the front of my mind.

* One of my sabbatical goals is to catch up and write about the latest civ-mil work (and some older stuff).  Robinson's book was at the top of the pile.  Now I am working on Jason Dempsey's book about whether the US Army was "Conservative" or partisan in the early 2000s.

Robinson does an amazing job of taking a variety of surveys and survey experiments (where some respondents read or listen to one vignette/treatment and others get exposed to different ones to see what primes people) to assess a variety of dynamics surrounding the US military: what shapes people's views, what shapes their media consumption, what shapes media coverage, and ultimately what shapes the standing of the US military in the public.  Oh, and how thoroughly screwed the US military is.

The basic idea is that there are different ways to politicize a military.  The military can politicize itself by directly getting engaged in politics or by doing things that resonate beyond the military.  But the book is really a story of affective politicization--that how people see the military depends not just on what the military is doing, but what the other actors in the system are doing that makes it appear as if the military is becoming closer or farther politically.  This is all very important because most modern militaries in most democracies seek to be non-partisan institutions--that they were taught the key to both civilian control of the military and relative autonomy was to stay out of politics.  Indeed, because most militaries are not seen as partisan, they tend to have higher popularity ratings--that most other institutions are seen as belonging to one side or another and thus at least a chunk of the political spectrum is pissed off.  I have delighted in our CDSN surveys showing that only academic folks have higher trust ratings than the military.

In the US, there was an arms race between the Democrats and Republicans amassing endorsements from retired generals and admirals, as each sought to be seen as the party of national security.  This was bad for the military, as it may be that the public sees retired officers as the voices of the active service since the latter are largely restricting from speaking in a partisan fashion.  This culminated in Flynn chanting "Lock Her Up" at the 2016 convention, which is more than a smidge ironic or hypocritical given that Flynn was a far greater danger to releasing classified information than Clinton's email.  Anyhow, things got worse once Trump got into office as he kept referring to his generals, kept making partisan statements to and in front of the military (including announcing the Muslim ban at the Pentagon).

Robinson, in his book, shows that views towards the military have become increasingly partisan--that views of the military now go up and down depending on who is president--that Republicans, traditionally strong supporters of the military, are less enthusiastic when a Dem is president. The key dynamic driving much of this is confirmation bias (woot?)--that partisans will notice only that which agrees with their preconceptions and discount that which does not agree.  As Americans become increasingly partisan--with their identities tied to parties, this gets worse, especially for those who consume only from a very biased portion of the media (you know who).  

What I like about this book is that it uses a word I hate, polarization, quite well.  Polarization generally implies that all parties are spinning away from the center, when studies show that the GOP is becoming radicalized, but the Dems are mostly staying where they were, sliding a smidge to the left.  But what is abundantly true is that all sides are increasingly tied to their partisan id.  Robinson goes on to show that that consumption of Fox is not good, and so on.  And the military is utterly screwed because if they push back at, say, charges of wokeness, they only make things worse.  The results also show that despite all the talk of norms of civil-military relations, the public is not really aware of them, nor that concerned about them.  So, it is up to the politicians to refrain and for the military to ... hope (and hope is not a plan).  

So, it is a great book, with terrific social science, important implications for civil-military relations, and, yeah, we are kind of fucked.  

 And now it applies to Canada, damn it.  The Conservatives are bringing Mr. Cancelled to their convention, imitating the GOP, so he can rail against the Liberals and the wokeness of the Canadian Armed Forces.  The Liberals have dipped into this as they had Andrew Leslie, another retired LTG, in a prominent place when they ran in 2015.  The key difference is that they were just trying to use his credibility and stature to buttress their own, they were not using him to attack the military, nor did he speak out that much in any way that was particularly controversial.  Maisonneuve, on the other hand, used  his Vimy speech and then a regular spot at a national paper, to blast the Liberals, the woke media, the military for daring to make itself more inclusive, and pretty much anyone else he felt spurned by [I am still waiting for some media outlet to note that Maisonneuve was part of the military's abuse of power crisis].  

The Conservatives are embracing some of the GOP's efforts to mobilize populist resentment as they now apparently seek to tear down many Canadian institutions.  When I say this will endanger Canadian civil-military relations, I don't mean there will be a coup.  But it will mean that the public and politicians will view the military as a partisan actor, that appointments and decisions will be viewed through partisan lenses, and then the Canadian military will be fucked, because its efforts to defend itself as an inclusive institution, desperately needed during a personnel crisis, will be seen as partisan.  "Hey, we don't discriminate against x" will be seen by CPC partisans as being too woke. Which will make it harder to recruit and retain, deepening the spiral that may make it very hard to send a ship to the Pacific or sustain the commitment to Latvia.  In short, the Conservatives are starting a process that is going to be bad for the military, despite their bad faith assertions that they care more about the CAF than the Liberals do.  [No, Trudeau does not care much about the CAF, but the CPC does not either].

So, here's a song that goes with all of this.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Summer Institute 2023: This Is Why We CDSN

Did I just turn CDSN into a verb?  Sure, why not.  We had a tremendous week at our second in-person Summer Institute (see last year's summary here).  I am still jazzed after a week of informative presentations from our various speakers, of scheming by our participants in the simulation, of sharp insights from the participants who came from all over the Canadian defence and security community, and of amazing work behind the scenes by our CDSN team.  

Group pic after DND briefings
It starts with the participants.  The original idea that animated the grant in the first place was to bring together people from military, from the other parts of the government, and from academia (would love to have journalists as well) attend a week-long seminar/workshop/institute/whatever to learn from experts but as/more importantly, learn from each other by seeing the same stuff from different perspectives via the varying lenses of folks in the community. Plus we wanted to facilitate networking that bridge the various divides.  And, yeah, it was really sweet to see it come to fruition this week.  Last year's cohort was wonderful, but was not nearly as representative of the defence and security community.  We still have work to do to include folks from Public Safety, Global Affairs, and other departments.  

Our presenters included CDSN co-directors and other Canadian academics, folks from the policy community, CAF officers, American academics, journalists, and a pollster.  They brought much experience and insights to our discussions, provoking many questions along the way.  Most of the week was at Carleton, but we did foray into downtown one morning to meet with folks at the National Defence Headquarters.  There we meet with folks from defence intelligence, the deputy commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, and some of the top officials on the civilian side of the Department of National Defence.  With Chatham House rule in effect, I can't say what individuals said, but I can say that most of the folks we met along the way were quite open.  

The Valens Simulation ended in tears and dollars?  The scenario had disinformation and arctic sovereignty in play with three teams role-playing the US, Canada, and Meta.  Meta got huge profits as it continued to spew disinformation, while the US-Canadian relationship was torn asunder as they failed to reach an agreement.  Daveed Garenstein-Ross, the head of Valens, had to wake up early and re-write the ending presentation in light of unexpected conflict.  This sim had multiple purposes--to use some of the skills over the course of the week, to get a taste of the strengths and limitations of simulations, to provide a more interactive experience, and to create small cross-sectoral teams.

I am very grateful to the HQ team of Melissa, Sherry, Racheal, Carelove, and Ayshia for doing all of the hard work.  All I did was make cookies and introduce people and ask some pesky questions along the way.  Colonel Cathy Blue, who was our Visiting Defence Fellow for the past year, was so crucial.  Her first week with us last year was during the previous Summer Institute, so she gave us great feedback on what worked best and what did not, and then she helped plan this year's SI.  More importantly, she is an amazing recruiter, so she helped us reach our goal of a nice mix of policy, military, and academic folks.  She couldn't join us for this year's as she has an important job now of Commanding the cadets at the Royal Military College.  

If you are interested in the Summer Institute, we will be putting out ads and accepting applications in early 2024, and you can check out more info at our website: 

Below are a variety of pictures from the week.  Again, Carelove took better ones, but I am quick to upload mine ;)

Once again in the Board of Governors room

Our policy process panel with Kristine Ennis-Heise
of DND, retired man of many jobs Vincent Rigby, and
CDSN Co-Director Alan Okros

Valens introduces the week's simulation with
Libby at their hq and Daveed Garenstein-Ross
in Ottawa

Murray Brewster, Amanda Connolly (on zoom), and
Captain (N) Kelly Williamson on the media and
Canadian defence

My first slide for the panel on Canadian
civil-military relations with Andrea Lane, Risa Brooks,
and myself

Co-director Will Greaves, Michel Roy of CSE,
and Saira Bano of Thompson Rivers
discussing variety of threats facing Canada

Stephanie Carvin zooming from Oshawa talking
intel with ...

Battle Rhythm co-host Artur Wilczynski

Much fun at our midweek Networking Reception

Charlotte and Andrea enjoying the picture taking

Our partner for this event was
Women in International Security-Canada. 
WIIS-C is a founding member of the CDSN, and
I greatly enjoyed hanging out with their new team

You know it is a good reception when a large
segment of the group stick around after the event
at the hotel bar.

Grace Scoppio of Royal Military College,
co-director Andrea Charron, and
Conseils de Sécurité host Sarah Myriam Martin-Brûlé
discuss collaborative research

Co-Director JC Boucher, Captain (N) Kelly
Williamson, and Nik Nanos of the Nanos Research firm
discuss Canadian public opinion on defence

Co-director Phil Lagassé looks to be in some
pain as he discusses defence procurement

Twas really great to have ADM (Mat) Troy Crosby
and the always natty Kim Nossal to discuss
defence procurement

Brandon Behlendorf presented red-teaming to us

Alliance dynamics with Carleton poli sci prof
Aaron Ettinger, DND NATO officer Ashley McCauley
and Co-Director Stéphane Roussel

The end of the simulation with US and Canada
breaking up and Meta profiting hugely.