Sunday, August 28, 2016

Some Perspective Sauce for the "New" Canadian UN "Commitment"

These are not scare quotes--as if these things are supposed to be scary.  Nope, I am raising the question of how real these commitments are.  In short, the poo-bahs of the Canadian government committed to spend more money on peace-keeping, which is fine, and setting aside 600 troops to be deployed someday in UN operations.  This, again, is fine, but the lofty rhetoric and the announcement made by not one, not two, but four cabinet ministers about Canada being back is a bit much.

I get it that this government had to make some kind of commitment so that Canada would be invited to a major conference in London in two weeks focusing on peacekeeping.  I also get it that Minister Harjit Sajjan had to say something after spending some very visible time checking out a series of potential missions in Africa.

BUT NO DECISIONS were made/announced of any consequence.  What am I looking for?

The first obvious one to ask is: 600 troops in one spot or will they be divided over five or twenty spots?  If one spot, then we can ask different questions than if five or twenty.  If one, what is the mission?  What are the goals of the effort?  Will Canada lead the entire effort or a regional piece of the larger effort?  If many mission, what does Canada hope to achieve?  Yes, Canada can provide "enablers" who are force multipliers--they make everyone else more effective.  But that usually is going to be in a role where the Canadians would have little in the way of leadership posts or influence.  There are tradeoffs between going big and focused or small and many, and we have yet no clue about what tradeoff.

The second question, which the media is focused on, is where?  Almost all of the focus has been on various on-going missions in Africa.  Lots of these missions are not going well, so perhaps a Canadian deployment can make a difference by changing what the mission is doing or adding a particularly effective unit.  Of course, as the military always says, reinforce success, not failure, as pouring men and material into a failure (the Somme, for instance) is not good.

This leads to the third question: why not Colombia?  There is now an agreement to enforce.  And unlike Mali, Colombia is not (as far as I know) experienced much in the way of suicide bombers.  The Colombia peace may not be easy to enforce, but it will be not nearly as hard as helping France out in Mali.  Do we want to be helping the French out in an Islamic country at a time where French politicians are outbidding each other to discriminate against Muslims?  Just curious.

Fourth, the rhetoric of being "back" is kind of silly if the number is 600.  That is the roughly size of what Canada did in East Timor and in Haiti in the 2000's, but Canada was doing more than one mission at a time before it mostly got out of the UN business.  So, this would be more than what Harper was doing, but much less than what Chretien was doing.  A battalion, which the military unit closest to 600, is the basic minimal deployable unit.  It is, in some ways, the least one can do.  Maybe Canada is stretched by the forthcoming Latvia mission and the ongoing Iraq training effort, but Canada did manage to send 3000 troops to combat in Kandahar AND send a battalion or so of  peacekeepers to Haiti.  So, Canada could do more, but it would cost money.

Fifth, the announcement invoked "whole of government"--that this effort will involve multiple agencies working together.  As I criticized in my book, this whole of government thing is over-rated.  Agencies don't play well together, and it requires intense attention by the Prime Minister himself to make sure that the agencies cooperate much at all.  Does this promise to do whole of government mean that Canada's development aid will switch to whatever mission that is ultimately chosen?  What does that mean for Global Affairs and the on-going review of assistance efforts?  Some missions would not need much whole of government at all--Colombia--and others might need a good bit more.  And, please, don't be too nostalgic for how wonderful Canada's whole of government effort was in Afghanistan.  Other countries admired it, but they were starting for a low basis of comparison (their own WoG efforts). 

The point here is that what Canada is doing thus far is being oversold.  The stuff that was announced is all significant and welcome, but the rhetoric is over the top for a decision that is mostly about delaying a decision.  This is a very big rollout for a placeholder--we will be making decisions, not just today.  Ok, thanks.

Ultimate as My Religion

On the way home from the second of two end of the season bbq's, I had an epiphany while talking to Mrs. Spew.  That in most of the places we have lived, the ultimate frisbee community has been our primary non-work community.  It has been the group of people that we know, that we hang out with, that makes us feel a part of the larger city. 

Lewd Pelvic Gyrations (Wednesdays)
In Lubbock, this was particularly important since it was very much the case that for nearly everyone else, the primary community was one's church.  In Montreal, we lived in a mostly older neighborhood so we didn't develop many connections.  We sent our kid to private school so our daughter and her school did not help us develop connections either.  But ultimate produced friendships across the city and across linguistic lines.  Sure, at parties, I would often be confused when people would bounce back and forth between English and French, but they still made me and mine feel most welcome.  In Ottawa, we have had a bit less need of this community because we knew people here already, and it has been pretty easy to develop contacts and friends through the government and those interested in the government.  Yet still ultimate still has served us well.  Since I play on two different teams (I played on three in Montreal, but I am older now, cannot play more than two nights a week), ultimate in Ottawa has given me two sets of folks to hang with.
Flickless Neuticals (Mondays)

Yes, there are rituals involved in ultimate--from the pre-game cheer to the mid-game friendly (mostly) heckling to the post-game cheer for the other time.

Of course, religion isn't just the community that religious institutions provide/generate/support and the various rituals but also the values stuff.  And, of course, ultimate has many values that have helped shape how I see the world and what I value.  Sharing, of course, as teams with selfish players lose.  Disgust for misogyny, as not using your women on your coed team means playing four on seven, which is both uncompetitive and not fun.  Humility, as one of the most important aspects of being a good player, especially a handler (point guard/quarterback), is know one's limitations, and that is one value that I have increasingly appreciated as my abilities decline.  Trust, as one develops a team, one trusts that their teammates will anticipate the play and go to the newly open space on the field.  Yesterday's success was built on trusting our women to catch whatever we threw at them, and, geez, did we throw some lousy passes which they managed to catch.  Honesty as the game is self-referred.  Gratitude, as I am so very thankful for the fun and the friends that the sport has given me since I started playing seriously more than thirty years ago.  The spirit of the game as the central core belief that ties together the entire sport and the communities it builds.


I may have to change from religion on Facebook from Potter-ite to Ultimate Frisbeian.  Anyhow, not sure this is the key prayer of the ultimate religion, but it might be one of them:

Friday, August 26, 2016

Working With What We Have: NATO edition

Is NATO a perfect alliance?  Is it the best multilateral security organization that we can imagine?  Hell no.  The Dave and Steve book documents some of the many challenges and the problems inherent in the organization.  But discussions of replacing it turn me into a Keohanian Liberal (as opposed to my usual stance as a Moravcsikian Liberal).  Huh?

If I remember correctly, Robert Keohane argued that transaction costs often get in the way of bargaining.  Each new round of negotiations needs heaps of work just to set up the negotiations.  International organizations, by creating rules and procedures, finesse these costs that impede getting to a good bargain.  Once an IO is established, they become handy.  Countries resist getting rid of them even if their original purpose is no longer quite relevant because it is far easier to adapt an institution than set a new one up.  The best example might be the International Monetary Fund, which was set up to deal with crises where countries run out of foreign exchange (they run out of dollars or yen or whatever) because such crises would interrupt trade (again, I might be off here since my memory is not great).  Now, the IMF has taken its broad mandate of providing international financial stability, and become a major player in facilitating the economic development of the less developed countries, something that the founders of the IMF probably didn't care much about.

Anyhow, back to NATO: since the end of the cold war, the alliance has shifted back and forth, moving from deterring the Soviet Union to facilitating the development of civilian control of the military in the East to peace-making/enforcing in the Balkans to counter-piracy/terrorism on the nearby seas (including off of Somalia) to counter-insurgency in Afghanistan and back to deterrence in the East. 

The efforts to develop other security organizations in this region have produced mixed results at best, including the EU and the OSCE.  Membership makes a difference as the US is not in the former and Russia is in the latter.  Which makes for different kinds of institutions.  While NATO has enlarged (too far some would say), the basic political dynamics have not changed: the US is more than first among equals but it also keeps the UK, Germany and, yes, France, together on security issues. 

Yes, there is a burden-sharing problem, but the US mostly accept it because European security is in US interests.  Yes, there are hedges/opt outs built in as nothing, not even Article V (attack upon one = attack upon all), is obligatory, but that is as the US wanted it long ago. 

But the various institutions built over 70 years--not just the personnel and procedures in Brussels but the entire apparatus throughout Europe and North America--make it far easier to do stuff in the world.  The interoperability that exists is not just about having guns shoot the same bullets and have planes that can refuel other planes.  There is political and military interoperability at all levels thanks to years of training together, operating together, and arguing.  Starting from scratch would ditch all of that which has been invested, and every new effort would be harder.  Indeed, even coalition of the willing operations often depend on the NATO backbone. 

So, once again, I paraphrase Churchill: NATO is the worst form of multilateral military cooperation except for all the others.  What Churchill really said was: the only thing that is worse than fighting with allies is fighting without them.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

What is American nationalism?

The racists who are prominent today, calling themselves the alt-right, also call themselves nationalists.  They think this legitimizes themselves.  "I am just a nationalist, defending my nation."  There is something to this, but it is, of course, mostly ignorant bullshit.  Huh?

The politics of any country is in part a competition about defining who the "us" is and what it means to be "us".  And each nationalism has many threads or ideas, and groups will compete to highlight certain threads and ideas at the expense of others.  The white supremacists want to emphasize race as the defining character of American nationalism--whites are American and no one else really is. 

While whites have dominated the US, its nationalism has long been considered to be civil and not ethnic.  Not focused on race but on the ideas contained within the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and all that.  Which has led parties to compete to define certain elements of those documents as being more or less important relative to others.  Is freedom about the pursuit of happiness or is it about equal protection?  While minorities may complain that this civic nationalism glossed over white supremacy, many minorities leaders embrace the elements of civic nationalism that promise better outcomes for their groups.  What made Martin Luther King so very powerful was his invoking of the civic nationalism and calling white Americans to live by it.

The white supremacists who call themselves nationalists have a crappy understanding of history which undermines their claims.  How can you be an American nationalist and be nostalgic about the Confederacy.  The Confederacy aimed to destroy the Union and was very much treason.  So, how can American nationalists venerate traitors?  By focusing on ethnic ties--being white.  But this nostalgia creates incoherence, which is fine for these folks because logic, facts, coherence are all irrelevant to them.  Indeed, being ignorant is a point of pride with these folks. 

Anyhow, getting back to the white supremacists, they call themselves nationalists, thinking this sounds good.  However, the postcold war world has generally considered the nationalists to be problems--that these are the folks who spawn conflict.  When they call themselves American nationalists, it only resonates among themselves and not any further.  It sounds strange to the rest of America.  Alt right?  It might sound a bit better than Nazi or White Supremacist, but that is not saying much.  The more people hear what Breitbart has on its site, the more disgusted they will be.  Because intolerance of everything is actually un-American.  The white supremacists will lose the contest to define American nationalism because the United States is actually a pretty successful place with a bunch of flaws, but a place where Latinos, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, immigrants, LGBT, Jews, and others can thrive.  And their thriving really pisses off the alt right. 

By calling Trump out as a racist and highlighting the alt right racists, Hillary may be giving them the press they want.  But the exposure to the light will lead to political outcomes that they don't want--more years of Democrats, more years of empowered minorities, more problems for a Republican party that has to choose whether to get votes from Real America or lose national elections again and again. 

Trump the White Supremacist

Hillary Clinton is going after Trump on his racism today.  Not just in this video but in a major speech.  And I am glad to see it.  Let's call him out for what he has been doing--making a series of statements over the past year that are appeals to white supremacists.

Some argue that Trump is not really a white supremacist but playing the part to get votes, akin to Fred Thompson in a weaker season of Wiseguy long ago.  Of course, one could argue that this is just as bad or worse--to be insincerely racist.  But the record of Trump is more consistent than his anti-immigration stance:
  • Trump and his dad were sued for housing discrimination long ago
  • Trump was upset that his accountants were African-Americans and not Jewish, showing a reliance on ethnic stereotypes to make personnel decisions.
  • Trump's birther obsession.
  • Trump's opening statement where he labeled an entire group as rapists.  
  • Trump's reactions to a judge's decisions is to blame his heritage.
  • Trump's statements when meeting with the Republican Jewish Committee that repeated invoked stereotypes.  "Hey, you guys are good bargainers, I like to bargain, we should get along..."
  • Trump retweeting white supremacist folks and using their racist gifs.

Other than ripping off people via underpaying contractors and using bankruptcy strategically and other than being skeevy about his daughter, Trump's white supremacy and bigotry are his most consistent characteristics. So, I am glad to see folks call him out for it. The shame of the GOP is that his competitors refused to so because they were pandering for the white supremacist vote even if they were not so consistently racist.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Trump and Israel

Last month, I spoke at a synagogue about Trump and the US elections.  I feel pretty good about what I said, as much of what I highlighted has become even more apparent--that the fundamentals favor HRC, that Trump is a lousy candidate and on and on.  I did regret how I answered the last question, which was about Israel.  Folks fear the Democrats these days because there are pro-Palestinian types in the party.  Sure, but what I should have said more clearly is what a disaster Trump would be for Israel.  How so?
  1. Trump is, of course, the candidate of white supremacists, who tend to be very, very anti-semitic.  Many online critics of Trump have faced significant abuse from the Trump fans who do not hesitate to make the most Jew-hating, holocaust-denying or holocaust-celebrating remarks.  Trump's staff is, alas, chock full of these people, even before Steve Bannon of Breitbart came on board.
  2. Trump's vows to support Israel are just as reliable as every other promise he has made.  Yes, politicians do lie sometimes and break promises, but no candidate has threatened to break pretty much every promise he has made like Trump has.  Trump is about as untrustworthy as one can imagine.
  3. Trump's promises (whatever they are worth) to ban Muslims and all the rest are likely to feed Islamist extremism, which is not good for Israel.  Alienating all Muslims is just a dumb move, one that Trump would very much likely make. 
  4. Trump would be bad for the world economy, which would then hurt Israel.  His threats to default on the debt, the promises to get out of most major trade agreements, and on and on would create more than a bit of uncertainty and most likely cause a recession (if not worse).  The United States, given its role in the international economy, tends to share its economic generously, so not good for a smaller country.
  5. Oh, and to underline the first point, a key point of NEVER AGAIN is not just aimed at preventing genocide of the Jews, but opposing movements that aim to threaten minorities in general.  Supporting Trump now would be a betrayal of NEVER AGAIN.  
What about a President Clinton?  I am pretty sure she is not going to have as hostile relationship with Netanyahu as Obama did--that would be hard to achieve.  Otherwise, pretty much more of the same.  Clinton will not throw Israel to the wolves, but she will support the Iran deal.  She will probably not be pleased by yet more settlements in the occupied territories, but she will probably not do much about it.

Unionizing Grad Students

My American colleagues are starting to think about the increased unionization of graduate students in the aftermath of a major court decision.  Having experienced both a unionization effort long ago and the reality of supervising unionized teaching assistants for ten years at my previous job, I have a few things I learned.

At UCSD, the grad students were unionizing to get health care (or a better deal, I forget).  That was something that seemed worth fighting for.  That seemed to be the major issue in the late 1980s'/early 1990's, long before Obamacare.  So, while I did not spend much time pushing for unionization, I generally supported it.

At McGill, I was not a fan.  Due to the joys of national health care (quality varying by province, of course), health care was not an issue, but workload and pay were.  I didn't care much about pay issues.  Sure, what I paid research assistants was affected by the going rate for teaching assistants, but I didn't mind spending more more grant money on grad students.  Indeed, I saw that as the primary purpose of the grants I received. 

What I did mind was the workload issue.  The students were supposed to work a certain amount of hours per term, and, to enforce this, we had to bargain each semester with our TAs about what they would be doing and how much time each task would take.  What was included in these calculations: not just the time it took to grade each assignment, but attendance in my lectures, the weekly meetings for the team of 8-9 TAs for the big classes, their office hours, their conferences (discussion sections),  with the students, prep time, and eventually they wanted the time they spent emailing.  The practical effect this had on my teaching was to assign fewer assignments since much of the other tasks were harder to finesse.  I could have not expected my TAs to attend my lectures, but given that part of their job was to clarify/extend what I was saying class, it was kind of important for their job.  I did find a way to get through all of this, but when I had half-time TAs (mostly law students), the math became really difficult.

I did not have much sympathy since I asking them to do the job of assisting my teaching--read, grade, attend class, hold office hours and such.  I didn't think I was asking them to do too much.  I got it that these restrictions were mostly there to protect the students in other areas (the hard sciences) where profs tended to overwork the students.  It was never too inconvenient, except when they struck during finals, but it was a constant annoyance.

I did get the sense that the union organization was more focused on what was best for the organization and not so much what was best for the students--ye olde iron law of oligarchy.  As Dan Drezner highlights in the link at the top, the real hardships are faced by the adjunct professors and they have a strong need for unions.  Ironically, the best thing we could do for the graduate students is ... to have fewer of them.  If we were a better guild and produced fewer PhDs, then there would be less of a glut that makes it easier for universities to offer lousy jobs with lousy working conditions.  But then, to make that work, we might have to ask more of our graduate students--TA more, RA more.  Ooops.





Tuesday, August 23, 2016

NATO's Enduring Relevance

Twitter and life met this past week.  On twitter, folks have been wondering if NATO is relevant again.  In life, I was asked by a Canadian government review agency about NATO (not part of the Defence Review), and whether it was relevant for Canada.  Despite the criticisms of how NATO operations in our book, I am very much an advocate of NATO.  So much so that I went on a twitter rant about how NATO has always been relevant, enumerating some (but probably not all) that NATO has done over the years.

The list includes:
  • Playing a major role in keeping the peace in Europe since World War II.
  • Ended the Bosnian War and kept the peace afterwards
  • Stopped ethnic cleansing in Kosovo
  • Prevented escalation of conflict in Macedonia
  • Monitored US skies (cities during major events) after 9/11 via NATO AWACS planes
  • Counter-terrorism via a NATO fleet in the Mediterranean
  • Held the line in Afghanistan while the US was distracted in Iraq
    • Indeed, American allies did not go to Afghanistan because they cared about the place. They saw it as their chance to help out their ally.
  • Counter-piracy naval operations off of Somalia
  • Fostered civilian control of the military in Eastern Europe after Communism.
  • Training of Afghan troops which continues
  • Training of Iraqi forces
  • Preventing massacres in Libya.  
    • The Libyan effort is very controversial--that NATO took a mandate to protect citizens and turned into regime change, but I am not sure how to R2P without removing someone like Qaadafi. 
    • Oh, and for those who consider Libya an absolute failure, compare the casualty numbers between Libya and Syria.
  • Deterring Russia from aggressing against the Baltics.
So, NATO was always relevant, but is more obviously so thanks to Putin's neighborly predations.  One question that came up with the DND review agency is whether NATO does anything for Canadian interests such as in the Arctic.   My answer: if NATO is not doing much in the Arctic, Canada has much to blame for that.  Harper opposed NATO extending any attention to the far north, preferring the Arctic Council and bilateral relations with the US.  Trudeau, thus far, has not changed course on that.  Perhaps if Canada wanted NATO to be more involved in the Arctic, this would lead to some tough bargaining with Norway, since the Norwegians want all NATO Arctic stuff to go through them.  Still, Canada can't complain about something it didn't want not happening,

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Weenie Washington Post

The WashPo almost gets it, almost goes there.  It has a story about the racist fan boys of Donald Trump, but the headline writer and the journalist bought into the use of "racialist."  Why not use a term that already exists?  That is, racist.  These folks are not nationalists, but white supremacists.  They want white people to rule, and minorities to go to the back of the bus. 

Trump has been playing to this crowd since he started the campaign (what he said about Mexicans) and before with the birther nonsense.  In his most recent, post-Bannon, post-latest pivot speeches, Trump continues to be flaming racist--telling African-Americans (the Blacks, as he calls them) that they are all the same, with lousy job prospects, with lousy life prospects, with no insurance (actually, Obamacare has made a big dent in the un-insurance problem among African-Americans).

Since Trump has no problem pandering to the racists, why should media outlets soften the coverage of it?  Yes, this story does a good job of showing who is the core of the Trump "movement," but it pulls back.  No need to pull back.  It is not politically correct to call white supremacists racists--it is just accurate. 

As a scholar of ethnic conflict, I honestly cannot remember ever using or even reading "racialist" in my 20 plus year career.  But that is what the white supremacists do--keep coming up with new names.  What remains the same is a nostalgia for a time where minorities "knew their place", before multiculturalism taught tolerance, acceptance and even celebration of diversity.  I guess it sucks to be on the wrong side of history--this country is becoming increasingly diverse.  They fear this perhaps because they project too much--that the diverse groups will rule just as oppressively as the whites did when America was "great."

So, perhaps the WashPo story is a mostly good one--reminding us of the the awful stuff that is out there and that favors a Trump win--but I wish they had just been a wee bit more direct.  Trump and his core supporters are not racialists but racists, that their nationalism is white supremacy.  And as a white American, I feel I should be apologizing to non-white Americans for the hateful ideology spewed by the candidate nominated by the GOP.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

How to Become a Fringe Party in North America and Europe

One of the dynamics I learned in the process of researching the Dave and Steve book on NATO is that left-wing parties aspiring to broaden their appeal felt compelled to support NATO operations.  Huh? 

In Canada, the New Democratic Party supported the Libyan operation.  In the Netherlands, it was the Groenlinks party that supported the new policy mission in 2011.*  Both parties had traditionally been anti-NATO, but both chose to support new (and less risky) NATO operations because they saw that being anti-NATO had marginalized them. If they wanted to be mainstream, they would have be seen as not hostile to NATO.  They realized that voters beyond their narrow core saw NATO as a legitimate alliance that their country should support much of the time, if not always.  These parties realized that their anti-NATO ideology caused voters to think of them as fringe parties, as ones that were not serious enough to be considered fit to govern even as part of a coalition.  Taking stances on less risky missions, especially ones that seemed vaguely humanitarian, allowed these parties to shift and be more supportive of NATO. 

Why think about this now?  Because it seems that some actors in Western politics are taking the opposite strategy--how to alienate voters and become a fringe party by being hostile to NATO.  In the US, Donald Trump has been alienating not just Democrats but increasingly Republicans due to his anti-NATO (and pro-Putin) stances.  As Dan Drezner has repeatedly pointed out, no GOP experts have jumped up alongside Donald to suggest that NATO might need to be cut adrift.  The NeverTrump crowd, however, does cite Trump's anti-NATO stances as one of the reasons why they have to oppose Trump, even if they are not fans of Clinton. 

Trump is not alone.  UK Labour "leader" Jeremy Corbyn refused to say that the UK would come to the defence of allies if they were attacked, which seems pretty anti-NATO.  Then, of course, folks found some of his previous NATO statements.  Being anti-NATO is great for pandering to the far left, but that will alienate less extreme Labour voters and tell the rest of the UK that the Labour party is not serious about governing and just wants to be a fringe party.  Of course, Corbyn is doing other stuff that has this effect, but the focus here is on NATO. 

I just want to congratulate both Trump and Corbyn on figuring out how best to turn mainstream parties, ones that has governed on their own, into fringe parties that most citizens will find to be unacceptable.  Well done.













*  I wrote a bit about it in this paper that I never submitted anywhere.  I forget why I didn't--it might been trying to publish too much off of the same book project--that I wanted to avoid self-plagiarism.  Or that this was going to be in an edited volume that never took place.