Thursday, May 30, 2024

Multilateralism on a Razor's Edge

Fun coincidence, as I was asked to speak at a conference on the Strategic Implications of the 2024 US election the same day that Trump got convicted of ... 34 feloniesOh my.

Anyhow, the folks at RAS-NSA, a Canadian defence research network asked me to speak about what the future of US relations with Canada and the world might be next year.

Here is what I said:

I have good news and bad news:

The good news is that if Biden wins, US foreign policy will mostly stay the same, the US will remain committed to NATO and NORAD and will only badger Canada a bit about 2% and such

 The bad news is that if Trump wins, it will be catastrophic.

 Ok, the good news is that Biden is more likely to win.

 Let me explain the Trump future scenario:

For those who are younger and don’t remember Trump’s term that well, and for those wishful thinking bubble was not sufficient pop by Trump’s near wars with NK/Iran and his complete failure to manage the covid crisis, let’s remember

a)     Trump largely appointed arsonists to most government agencies who were much more knowledgeable and determined than expected although not as much at DoD until the end of his term.  Tillerson was an exception, Pompeo was not.

b)     When those folks got disgraced sufficiently or pissed off Trump enough, he replaced them with worse people.  And it always got worse, never better. 

c)     Trump replaced a racist Attorney General who still more or less believed in the DoJ as an independent actor with Bill Barr who used his position to protect Trump from Mueller and all the rest.

a.      Except for the document case and the Jan 6th stuff, most of Trump’s crimes were public but DoJ didn’t do anything about it under Barr.

b.     Trump replaced a wildly incompetent Tillerson with Pompeo, a Christian nationalist.

e)     Trump delegated all responsibility to the running of the wars to the military, so they naturally escalated everywhere.  He did get the US partially out of Syria by betraying the Kurds and he did start the process to get out of Afghanistan by selling out to the Taliban

a.      He tried to use the US army against protestors, which ultimately caused a rift with his second SecDef and his Chairman, which led to him trying to find replacements after the election.

Ok, why will it be worse?

a)     The so-called adults in the room who were actually pretty right wing are no longer there.  The names being mentioned as potential DoD/CIA/State/NSC are truly horrific people

b)     Trump’s primary motives are resentment and profit.  He resents Trudeau and Canada greatly for taking credit for managing him and for making jokes about him at NATO meetings and for being … Canadian.  We were not sufficiently deferential.

c)     He views all deals he did not make as exploitative since he projects from his own attitude about deals—that he should always be ripping off his partners.  So, he will want to kill NATO and NORAD. 

 What does this mean for Canada?

  1. What worked last time won’t work this time
    1. Canada will not have allies among Republicans in Congress—today’s GOP is different from the last one
    2. Trump will do stuff through extra-institutional pathways where governors and Congress will matter far less.
    3. 2024 may be the last meaningful election for quite some time so the usual electoral incentives may no longer apply
  2. Things might not be that better for Canada with Poilievre.  How does Trump get along with Ted Cruz?
    1. On other hand, the resentment level will be re-set.

People told me that they appreciated my bluntness.  It is either my weakness or my superpower.  Anyhow, let's enjoy this moment of justice as it may not last.   Especially with a Supreme Court with at least two pro-insurrectionists and a Chief Justice abetting them.




Sunday, May 19, 2024

Missed My Last Mother's Day

This special dinner was one of the first
gatherings after my father died, and I
remember that we all toasted my mother
for what she gave us and did for us.  We
were pretty determined to let her kno
 My father died just before Father's Day six years ago.  He knew he was dying, and every time he thought he had a few days left, he called to, well, repeat the same lecture as his hearing (and personality) limited conversations.  My mother died yesterday, just a few days after one of the only mother's days we didn't connect.  She had been in a rehab facility after a hospital stay, and I was in Germany, preparing to come back.  I had meant to call her when I got back, but I ended up pushing it to Saturday afternoon.  It was too late.  I had been determined over the past few years to tell her how I felt about her, how much I loved her, how much she shaped me, how much I owed her, so I am not so fussed about missing the chance for one last call.  She was 92, and the last few years and especially the last few months were progressively more difficult for her so this was not a surprise.  

My mother was simply the least self-centered person, most other-centered person I have ever met.  While she was a great cook, whenever there was a more burnt piece or a smaller piece, she saved those for herself.  I can't remember a time where her preferences overrode anyone else's.  She, for instance, did not enjoy the Barbie movie last summer, but she gamely went while most of her brood (her siblings, and much of the next gen) were in town for our summer vacation.  She would have preferred Oppenheimer.

My mother was an awesome grandmother,
and her legacy is this group of sharp, funny,
fierce, left-wing women.

Speaking of nuclear war, my mother is the one that got me interested in politics and history and international relations.  I don't have memories of specific conversations, but I do remember talking to her about this stuff. And one of my very first political memories is of watching her celebrate Nixon's resignation.  She was a fierce liberal, always wanting government to do right by those who were less fortunate.  While she had an appreciation for Jack Kennedy's looks, she was an FDR woman through and through.  She could talk New Deal as long as you wanted.  I got my sense of justice and outrage from her (and from my daughter).  While she never got to see a woman be president, she did get to see the most FDR-ish president in her last few years.


A pre-Steve pic of the family

My mother went back to work when I was in 3rd grade or so, working for the Naval Aviation Supply Office near Philly. That was fun for me as she told me about the cool planes that she would order parts for, ones that would make the news like the Harrier and the P-3. She would visit Hawaii and Guam as part of her job to connect with those on the other side of the supply chain.  Only now have I realized we never talked about what those meetings were about. Her first job, pre-kids, was in advertising in the 1950s in New York.  Which made her very uninterested in watching Mad Men. 

My mother shared her empathy with us, so that we cared about what happened to others.  It really was a defining characteristic.  I now I am being repetitive about her "other-ness" but it sticks out. A second defining characteristic was that she didn't want to be her mother-in-law--she wanted to be a far more supportive, loving one.  In that, she wildly succeeded.  She was so good to my wife and so sweet to my daughter.  She subsidized my daughter's private school in Montreal so that we could move there and understand my daughter's teachers.  She also gave us money to invest for my daughter's education so that she could go to any school she wanted.  I am pretty sure that the various relatives of ours who came out had no fear that she would ostracize them.  Maybe if they came out as a Trumper, but LGBTQ?  No worries there.

One could confuse her going along with everyone else as passivity, but not when one of her children needed her.  Then the momma bear would come out.  When we moved to Maryland, I was about five years old, ready to go to kindergarten.  They had me take an ethnically biased IQ test that I failed--for instance, the picture I picked as the best breakfast was not the bowl with steam coming from it but the round thing with a whole in it--a bagel.  Nope, it was a donut.  My mom went in and yelled at them.  I guess I got placed in a normal kindergarten track as a result. She also helped us push our father into getting us Candy who was the sweetest poodle.

Last summer, we played some gin
and some scrabble with her.  At 91,
she was still quite on top of her game
even as her NYT crossword puzzling
suffered a bit.

My mother was very smart, very curious, and very aware not just of her family but of the larger things.  Her politics, as mentioned above, were liberal in the most positive of ways.  She gave money to liberal politicians, she gave much time and effort to mental health organizations, and she gave her insights to us.  I am most grateful that her brilliance only dimmed at the very end, the last few months, as hospital visits made a dent.  Her memory was still so very clear, and I only wish she was more aggressive in sharing her stories.  She would tell them, but mostly when pushed, and I regret not being so good at getting more out of her.



My mother loved to travel and she loved fine dining.  My father and her got to visit almost every place in the world that they wanted.  She would have liked to keep traveling, but that got progressively more difficult.  My father's death put a big dent into the eating out as she grew up never eating out alone.  And then the pandemic struck, limiting our ability to visit.  Each of her four kids would take her out for dinner when we visited so that she could enjoy this one thing she could still do.  But for a couple of the last years of her life, she was pretty much trapped at home.  When I did visit recently, we would explore the streaming stuff, and we had a mixed record of finding stuff that she liked.  "It's ok" was about as negative a thing she would say.  She did find Breaking Bad to be engaging when I introduced it to her.

That she had no one to eat with except when we visited meant that she could not menace the sidewalks of Philadelphia with her scooter.  She was always an excellent driver--she taught most of us (all?) how to drive as she had far more patience than my father--and had an excellent memory of which sidewalks were intact and which ones were not.  I got much exercise trying to keep up with her as she scooted, even crossing against lights if there were no traffic (which is another thing I got from her). 



I got to learn which sites in Philly
were scooter-compatible including
this park by the Delaware River. 

We got in the habit of zooming twice a week when we were all locked down during the pandemic.  Given that we didn't have that much to talk about, given that none of us were doing anything interesting and we got tired of talking about politics, we started playing various games.  I found a Chuck Klosterman card set that would ask people about very strange hypothetical scenarios, and then we'd find out how each of us would behave.  It was most illuminating what my mother would and would not do for herself and for the greater good.

Which gets me to the last thing I wanted to mention here.  My mother had the sneakiest sense of humor.  She would mostly listen--either in these zooms or when we got together--but she had the sharpest zingers (never mean ones, well, not at us anyway).  More than once we laughed really hard and could barely breathe.  So, she was game to wear a tiara for her 90th birthday party.  She could be silly even as she was not a fan of silly tv/movies (see the Barbie reference above)




 My mother was very much the matriarch who held our family together.  We could have split apart, but her kindness, her patience, her tenacity, her sweetness, and her love kept us together.  For that and for everything else, I will be forever grateful.  I wish her last few years were not so frustrating and solitary, but she knew she was loved, that her kids and her grandkids appreciated her and were doing well with their lives. 

I couldn't find my digital stash of older pics that are mostly pictures of pictures my father took.  Will post more of those when I figure out which folder they are in.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

An Amazing Three Months: Auf Wiedersehen, Berlin

 This winter/spring was the first time I lived abroad for three months--Japan was six weeks broken up into two parts in 2016 and 2017 and London was seven weeks back in 1987.  I have had a great time and have learned a lot, and while I am eager to go home to my much bigger kitchen (Mrs. Spew is with her mother right now), I am also looking forward to coming back next winter.  The Humboldt Award brings foreign academics to Germany for six or more months.  So, I have completed half of that time, and as I have to return home for a variety of family stuff (a wedding most importantly), I will do the second half next winter.  

Any academic will say that they didn't get enough done, and I definitely did not get enough done, but what did I do?

  • I helped my co-authors revise the book on parliamentary oversight and submit it.
  • I interviewed enough German experts, MoD officials (past and present), and military officers (retired and active) to have enough to draft a rough case for the MoD/militaries book.  I have more interviews to do, and will do those next year hopefully.  I haven't really cracked the case yet, but hopefully things will fall together as I write the case study.
  • I went to Finland to do that case study for the same project and talked to pretty much everyone I needed.  I transcribed all of my notes, but have not yet written the case study--one of those things I wish I had gotten done.  But upon returning to Berlin, my wife arrived for two weeks of great tourism by car, plane, boat, train, tram, and bus (do busses to and from the planes at airports that don't park their planes at the terminal count?) followed by my sister and her boyfriend and then by Melissa, the CDSN's COO, and her daughter.  My last week in Berlin involved one conference, one presentation, and much packing.
  • I wrote up more of the South Korean case study from October for the same project, but didn't finish it because, damn, this book is hard.
  • I received much feedback on the MoD/militaries book with multiple presentations at Hertie, a presentation at Central European University in Vienna, and a talk to a class in Potsdam. 
  • I have done much networking to develop more European partners for the next CDSN grant application and to develop more ways for us to work together to make the partnership more meaningful.
  • I had opportunities to learn how the Europeans are seeing things these days, especially at a Hertie conference on whether each country is experiencing its own zeintenwende (watershed/turning point in its world view after Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine) or not.
    • I also learned the whole "the Germans have a word for everything" gag is very true but also played out.
  • I learned much about comparative authoritarianism at a workshop organized by Hertie folks.
  • Speaking of Hertie, I had some chats with some of the students here about their work as folks here are working on NATO and on other stuff I have studied at some point.  I am crashing a dissertation defense today as the student used some of the data from my long languishing diaspora project with Erin Jenne that Kathleen Cunningham and Connor Kopchick resurrected.
  • I saw a lot of Berlin, first by myself and then with the aforementioned waves of visitors towards the end.
  • I saw much more of Germany than I had seen before: Bamberg, Dresden, Leipzig, Nuremberg, Erfurt, and more of Potsdam than before.
  • I saw much more of Austria than I had seen before: Vienna (my first time) and the Austrian Alps (Zurs and Lech and the train ride to and from the Bodansee).
  • I saw more of northern Italy than I had seen before: Venice, Milan, and Como.
  • I learned much about the German politics of EU parliamentary campaign via interesting campaign signs (see my this post).
  • I found out that people use the gym in so many different ways.  There was a largely unstaffed fitness center near me, and I went nearly daily, trying to recover from the combo ski trip/amusement park trip.  I was amazed at how every person has a very different exercise regiment.  I was mostly treadmilling and doing various knee stretches/exercises.  My first time in a 21st century gym essentially, and I was almost always the oldest, most out of shape person there.   Oh, and the kids really do have a lot of tattooes.

So, nope, didn't do much, I guess 😉

To dig up one of the oldest tropes here, what did I find to be the most surprising, troubling, enchanting, and humbling from my time in Berlin and Europe? 

  • I guess I have been the most surprised by how much English I heard, not just by me, as I wandered through Berlin.  Apparently, East Berlin has many foreign folks, including North Americans, so it is increasingly a bilingual city.  That and the graffiti of East Berlin.
  • I am most troubled that Germany is so hamstrung by past decisions and laws that it may not make the changes it needs to make to thrive.  Just the other night, I heard folks complaining about the governing coalition being frozen by the wide ideological divide between Liberal Democrats (think libertarians), Greens, and Social Democrats.  Good for the Steve and Dave book of yore, not so good for dealing with Russia, climate change, or China.
  • I am most enchanted by, yes, the good weather of Berlin (it rained a lot my first few weeks but has been mostly sunny since) that allowed me to explore lots and lots of neighborhoods, finding great gelato places and Indonesian food and absolutely terrific doner kebabs from the many, many Türkische places.  
  • I am most humbled by how sharp the people at Hertie and at the Canadian embassy and the various other folks I have bumped into.  Berlin is chock full of really smart, incisive, multilingual, experienced people.  I again feel like a recently unfrozen caveman when hanging around with these folks.  I have learned a lot, and, yeah, I got into this business because I have an insatiable curiosity, so woot!  I am also humbled by how crappy I skied on mixed snow in Zurs.

Was this my best sabbatical?  I could say it is too soon (IT IS TOO SOON!!) as my sabbatical does not end until July 1st.  However, most of the next 1.5 months will be doing catch up on paperwork and CDSN-ing, family stuff (that aforementioned wedding, the first of the next generation of Saidemans and perhaps the first millennial wedding I will be attending), and then conferencing.  So, probably not too soon.  I have had three sabbaticals and one leave (the Pentagon experience), so, as is my tendency, a few rankings:

Best food:

  1. Toyko in 2016-17
  2. Germany this year (mostly the non-German food I ate), as I learned what the Hokey Pokey is really all about (ice cream).
  3. The sabbatical at home plus travel of 2006-2007
  4. The Pentagon year.  Most of the rankings here are of relatively good stuff, but that year was not good for my diet and was not tasty either.

Biggest career impact

  1. Pentagon year and it is not close as it helped get me the jobs at McGill and Carleton and re-directed my research from the IR of ethnic conflict to alliances and then civil-military relations.
  2. Tokyo--I had never done any research on Asia before that sabbatical.  I am not an Indo-Pacific expert, but I have a far better idea of what the big questions are out there, and that has influenced my teaching, and the Tokyo work did lead to the question I am exploring this year in Europe.
  3. Sabbatical at home as it gave me a chance to catch up and shift to civ-mil
  4. This one--I am nearing the end of my career, so it is hard to move it that far from the current path.

 Most productive in terms of academic research/output:

  1. It might be this one--two case studies, revising the book (we made a lot of progress last summer and then this winter), getting feedback.  
  2. the sabbatical at home--I finished the Steve and Bill book on irredentism if I remember correctly and shifted to a new research agenda
  3. Tokyo: I got that case study done, but the survey took years to complete and we haven't published anything from it yet.  I thought I had a partnership that was going to produce a lot of work, but it fizzled.
  4. Pentagon: I got one week of fieldwork done, and it fostered a heap of questions, but I was too busy desk officer-ing to do much academic stuff.


  1. Pentagon.  I learned so much about so many things at a pivotal time in US foreign policy and international relations from the nexus of US defense policy.  Did I mention it helped get me out of Lubbock?
  2. Tokyo.  Watching Shogun this winter reminded me of how wonderfully addictive Japan is--I went from never going there to visiting at least six times--so many times that I am losing track.  Which competes with how many times I have been to Germany.
  3. This one.  It has been a terrific three months in Germany.  My sabbatical this year also includes the South Korea trip, which was also pretty cool.  
  4. My first one in 2006-2007.  It wasn't bad, it just wasn't as special.  I barely remember what I did that year.  I will always remember my times in the Pentagon, in Japan, and, here.  

I will soon start counting down until the next one, and I have a cool idea, but we shall see if I can make it happen.  It will be my last one, so I hope I can make it count.

As I keep saying, I am very lucky.  The Humboldt Award was a great break, giving me the chance to hang out with the sharp and generous folks at Hertie.  I haven't baked in three months and desperately miss my kitchen (facebook is reminding me of the renovation that took place this time last year).  So, I am ready to go home, but I will soon be eager to come back.  My plans for my next Eurotrip?  More Germany, more Nordic case studies (Sweden and Norway), the Italian Alps, and probably Greece.

 I will write another post about what I have learned over the course of the past few months.  


EU elections? Fun Posters!

As a political scientist, I could not help but notice there is an election going on.  The European Union's parliament has an election soon, so candidates and parties are putting up signs to advertise for their candidates and to oppose other parties.  The latter, of course, has been more fun.

So, I took some pictures as I walked around and google lensed my way through when I couldn't figure out what the message was.

For example, one poster was not for the campaign but for a protest: The Rent is Too High!  Must be Trudeau's fault.





The more centrist parties are, alas, boring.  Thus, no pics for the Christian Democrats or the Social Democrats.  The Liberal Democrats were so boring I had to include their poster. Sure, boomer.  Business loves freedom just like you?  For realz? 


Boring poster but the name alone gets my interest.  Starting with a concern about internet regulation, the party has occasionally won a few seats.  All it says is: vote for me.  Blah.

The Marxist-Leninist Party is not a fan of the far right party: Ban the AfD.  So, yes, I do agree with the communists on at least one thing.








The Volt party is funky.  I noticed their posters the most.  They have one demanding "Power to the People" which is striking because it is in English.  Given that English and Scots, Americans, and Canadians can't vote in EU elections, it was a bit puzzling to me.  Elections are moments of nationalism, where parties try to put their spin on the country's nationalism.  Every American presidential candidate has to wear a pledge flag pin on their uniform suit.  So, I would expect German parties to use German.  But as a colleague here at Hertie noted, the Volt party voters are going to be bilingual at least.  It seems to be a pro-EU, relatively progress/internationalist party--pan-European.  This particular sign caught me attention--google lens made me laugh at loud.  The big question is: how best to avoid being an asshole?  Vote for Volt?  Don't vote for AfD?  Maybe as a Euro party, being a nationalist is being an asshole?  Anyhow, I will try to avoid being an asshole in my last couple of days here. Although writing fairly ignorant posts about campaign posters may count as being an asshole?


Monday, May 6, 2024

The Berlin Jewish Museum: Pictures and Reactions

The building is very carefully designed
to evoke various feelings.  And note the two security
folks in front.  I don't think they had guards
stationed outside the building when I was here
in 2009.
 My sister and her boyfriend visited me in Berlin at the same time as Mrs. Spew.  So, I played tour guide, and we hit many of the major spots in town and also wandered through some neighborhoods.  One must-see is the Jewish Museum, which documents the lives of German Jews before and after the Holocaust.  I had visited during my first trip to Germany (if I remember correctly) but not since.  And much has changed as they did a major renovation.  I don't remember well what it looked like before, and I apparently didn't take that many pictures.  So, it was all fresh to me, and I am pretty sure many of the best infographics were new.  

I am going to put a bunch of pictures below and comment on them, rather than develop a coherent discussion of the entire experience except for the following mega-reactions:

  • So much of the run-up to the Holocaust feels way too familiar right now, as many politicians compete to write laws to exclude trans people from society.
  • As it is the Jewish museum, I don't mind as much the exclusive focus on the Jewish Holocaust experience, but as we visited the Romani/Santii memorial, the number really isn't six million Jews but eleven million people including Jews, Roma, LGBTQ, disabled people, communists and socialists, and many others.
  • Not much on the Holocaust itself--that is somewhere else.  
  • I would have loved to see a conversation of what does Never Again mean. 
  • In the past, I would go to places like this and be sad.  Now, I am sad and angry.  Angry that Israeli authorities are betraying the lessons learned long ago and doing so much harm because it satisfies some sense of revenge and it distracts people from unseating Netanyahu.

Lots of statements by German Jews reacting to
the Holocaust

Changes in # of Jews in Germany
Where the Jews were expelled to

The white figures represent the total Jews pre-Holocaust, the black repesent those who were killed.
Note Bulgaria!  This was one of the biggest surprises during my visit.

Row upon row of laws passed
from 1933-1945 to repress
Germany's Jews

The last of the laws--how to hide what they did

One wall had reactions by Jews to Hilter/Nazis
getting into power in 1933

Multiple walls dedicated to
Jewish superstars including Jesus

This caught my eye given
the rise of Jewish anti-Zionists. 
I didn't know the connection between Wagner
and anti-semitism---I thought it was that
Nazis loved his music.  Nope, it was that he
was a virulent anti-semite.

Great info graphic showing the breakdown
of Germans and German Jews in the economy.
Now I know why I suck at yard work: Jews are not

Marx had some good ideas.

all the towns from which Jews were
expelled.  Makes me think about
Israel doing some expelling then
and now.

They had an exhibit of a German poet who
released his work weekly from his hiding place
in the Netherlands.


One thing I didn't see this time that I saw my first time:

Friends Kippa!