Tuesday, November 24, 2015

More Than the Least We Can Do

Canada's new Prime Minister is facing a tough decision: a campaign promise to pull out of the air mission over Syria/Iraq after the attack in Paris.  Trudeau has discussed sending more trainers to Iraq to help train Iraqis (mostly Kurds) to add to those already doing that.

I have a modest suggestion: Canada has deployed not just CF-18s to engage in air strikes but also two Auroras (reconnaissance aircraft) and a Polaris (refueling and other stuff).  These two kinds of planes are far more "high demand/low density" (military jargon) or valuable and scarce.  Few countries have these capabilities, and fewer still have deployed them to this conflict.  While the US has planes that can do this, the Canadian Auroras and the Polaris have much value-added and are harder to replace than 6 CF-18s. 

So, Prime Minister Trudeau, as you redeploy the CF-18s back home, how about keeping the Auroras and the Polaris in the region, where they provide a particularly valuable Canadian contribution that the allies could use and would appreciate?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Figuring out Trudeau and the Liberals

I had a very interesting conversation this morning with scholars visiting Canada, and they were seeking to figure out the foreign policy stances of the new Trudeau government.  And they were asking me!?  Hell, I have no idea since I am not on the inside, and my friend on the inside is not giving me the inside dirt about the intentions of the new government.

So, did I just shut up?  Of course not, as my readers know only too well.  I focused mostly on the promises the Liberals made.  Why?  Two reasons: first, yes, politicians can break promises but tend not to do so; and second, the Liberals put out a large number of policy papers to demonstrate that they were serious and that Justin was "ready."  So, consult those papers and promises and one can figure out maybe what the Liberals will do.

I could guess more easily at some stuff and not others:
  • Yes, Canada's CF-18s are going to leave the ISIS mission, but the training effort will get bigger.
  • Yes, Canada will keep its commitment to refugees.
  • Trudeau will give the various folks a chance to discuss the Trans Pacific Partnership, but will sign off.  Why?  Well, the Liberal Party should buy into free trade as one of the defining aspects of Liberalism.  Also, it is unrealistic to expect that Canada could get anything better out of the deal by re-negotiating .... unless it was willing to sacrifice supply management (which I would love but ain't happening).
  • Will Canada get friendly with Russia?  Maybe a smidge more.  This government will try to be more diplomatic than Harper (not that hard to do), but any re-set with Russia is going to founder on Ukraine and the various threats to the Baltics.  It is hard to have a good relationship on the Arctic or on ISIS while having a bad relationship on irredentism/aggression.
  • Will Canada join Russia in siding with Assad against ISIS?  Hell no.  This party has too much invested in Responsibility to Protect and in other principals, not to mention the folks here get that Assad is a cause of ISIS success.
Anyhow, informed speculation I got.  But not much more than that.  I think we will have a good idea about the Liberals by June.  Lots of key decision points between now and then to reveal the character of the Prime Minister and whether he listens to the folks who are smart on Canada's role in the world.

UPDATE:  Also, check out the mandate letters that Trudeau issued to his ministers--no better source of future intentions that the marching orders given to the ministers.  H/T to Julian Dierkes for reminding me.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Profiles in Cowardice and Ethnic Outbidding

I knew I could count on Brian McFadden:

Yes, cowards.  Craven.  Pandering to the worst instincts, selling out one's values.  I tweeted the other day, after the House vote, that I have never felt a more visceral disgust for our politicians than at that moment.

The question is: why?  GW Bush was awful in many ways, but he was careful to avoid demonizing Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11.  There are a lot of reasons why the politicians of 2015 are chock full of panic, but focusing on the Presidential race, I have a few clues.

First, because the field is so splintered, the competition is particularly intense.  The candidates need to do much just to get enough attention to get on the debate stage.  Which is an environment ripe for outbidding.  Ethnic outbidding refers to the process by which politicians compete with each other to be the best defender of an ethnic group by making promises to exclude/oppress/alienate a minority.  The literature on this is pretty vast, but the go-to source on this is Donald Horowitz's Ethnic Groups in Conflict.

Second, the field includes so many amateur politicians (Trump, Carson, Fiorina) and relatively inexperienced ones (Rubio, Cruz. Paul) that they cannot point to substantive records nor do they have the experience to able to articulate anything other than the simplest pandering stances.  So, when they face the intense competitive pressure of a race with over 12 candidates, they resort the easiest, laziest, least brave stances.  They resort to fear and anger.

Third, the media is being drawn to the most extreme stances because they are under great pressure to survive in the 21st century.  It is no longer about fact checking but about tweeting immediately and filling up the 24 hours of TV on CNN, Fox and the rest.  Responsible journalism could put this stuff into context, but even when they call out Trump for being wrong/a liar/simply awful, they (Stephanopolous this morning) just point out the lie/distortion/whatever and then "move on".

Of course, money matters as well, but I think the focus lately has not been so much on sucking up directly to the Koch brothers and their ilk but on trying to stay on tv and on top of the polls so that the money folks will keep betting on the candidate.

Anyhow, I keep thinking we live in the darkest time-line, but I know it can be worse.  I am also pretty sure that Hillary Rodham Clinton will beat any of these goons, but in the meantime, these goons are inspiring violence.  And that, alas, is nothing new to those who understand ethnic outbidding.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Rejection Is the Name of the Game

Much discussion lately about how much rejection is in this academic game.  I had a conversation yesterday with a pal who was finding it much harder, it seemed, to get work published after tenure than before. "I thought I knew how to do this."

Folks have been calling for the true CVs of people--where rejections would be listed.  Not sure that is going to happen.  However, in this week where I received news of receiving a fellowship to supplement my sabbatical, I thought I would list many of the rejections of my work along the way (my spreadsheet for tracking my work is pretty good but incomplete, just like my training in the Force):*
*  I have already enumerated my many rejections in the academic job market.

Discussing Post-Paris in Toronto: Ye Olde Students Rock

I went to Toronto yesterday to be part of a panel on the events in Paris and the reactions to it.  Most of my reactions to this event have to do with my old students:
  • Within five seconds of arriving in the room, I got to talk to a former research assistant from my McGill days.  She was part of a large team that coded diaspora data, and it was great not just to see her but hear a bit about her internship at the Canada's Embassy to Libya, currently located in Tunisia.
  • The next student up was one from my last big Intro class, who is now finishing her MA at Munk.  She had nice things to say about how my class set her on this path, which was really nice to hear even though I know that IR is simply inherently interesting.
    • My wife informed me that whenever she bumped into a student from my Intro to IR class (the joy of having a distinctive last name meant that the students would be pretty certain she was Mrs. Spew/Mrs. Prof of Intro to IR), they all cited the same lecture--apples and oranges.  My question, of course, is: do they remember the point of that lecture?  Hmmm.

  • The next student was, of course, Aisha Ahmad, a former Phd student of mine, who now teaches at U of Toronto.  She wrote a terrific piece for the Globe and Mail (web now, print maybe this weekend or Monday), arguing that the refugees play an important role in this battle with ISIS, and the smart way to fight ISIS is to accept these refugees.  It would undermine their ideology, their recruitment base, and their financing.  Just a sharp argument articulately made.  And then, of course, she was the one with the best line of the night:
The other panelists--Randall Henson of U of T Poli Sci, Paul Cohen of U of T History, Lorne Dawson of U of Waterloo Sociology, and Stephen Toope, Director of Munk--all had stuff to say that was incisive and made me think seriously about the past week's events and where to go from here.

One other thing: I loved, loved, loved the organization of the event.  The key pieces were:
  • Nice array of people: an IR guy (as the NATO guy, I thought I would not have much to say but then I realized I was an IR/Canadian defence guy), a Europeanist, a Islamist politics expert, a sociologist who works on radicalization, an historian, and an international law prof.  We didn't repeat each other much, contradicted each other only sometimes but provided many different angles on the issue.
  • We each spoke for only five minutes so that max time could be dedicated to answering question.  We probably could have gone on for another half hour as there were plenty of questions we could have still addressed.
  • The various assistants collected questions from the audience on cards they were given, and tweets were also transcribed onto these cards.  Toope then organized the cards and would use a few to ask a thematic question that some of us could address briefly.  This was so smart because:
    • It avoided the speechifying problem where folks make long-winded statements that are more comments than questions.
    • It avoided the audience just asking one or two panelists questions.
    • It integrated the tweets well.
    • It keep things moving.
I will definitely be stealing this idea.

Anyhow, always great to see former students, always great to have a dynamic interchange of ideas, and always confused about the next steps ahead.

Oh, and I had the chance to hang out with a friend of mine who went to the same grad school as me but about 15 years later.  Good beer, very good poutine, and great company.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Stooping as Low as We Can Get

Yesterday was about as awful as US politics can get.  I tweeted thusly:
 While my facebook page is a bit of an echo chamber and my twitter feed is not as representative of the political spectrum as it could be (the right wing types on my feed are just as appalled), I was still glad to see that no one I know and respect was hoping on the "replay 1939" bandwagon.

I found the House vote more problematic than Trump's call for monitoring Muslims (we all made the same yellow crescent badge joke) because the folks in the house, including more than 40 Democrats, are actually elected and thus supposed to be responsible.  We expect Trump to be abhorrent, and he has succeeded beyond our wildest expectations.  But unless he wins next fall, all he can to is inspire violence, um, not unlike ISIS.

The House of Representatives has a far more consequential impact--even if the Senate does not pass the bill or Obama is able to veto and not get overridden.  Why?  Tis in the name: House of Representatives.  These folks represent Americans ... poorly.  Whatever public opinion is, these politicians have demonstrated quite clearly that they are cowards, that they want to over-react and give ISIS what it wants.

I have two other relevant tweets over the past few days that remain quite applicable:

I don't think many politicians could be any dumber, craven or counter-productive in this.  But then we shall see what the new day provides.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Bright Side to a Trump Nomination/Presidency

My students like to cause me pain.  In yesterday's class on US Foreign and Defence Policy, after students presented on the US and the South China Sea, I asked what is likely to happen in the future.  And a few said, well, President Trump ....  and I just #headdesk.

But I realized that there are some upsides to Trump getting the nomination or even winning the presidency.  Really?  Really.

Ok, just one kind of upside: Selection Reality Shows.  First, Trump would have the hit of the summer as he uses a reality show to pick his running mate.  The ratings would be huuuuge.  NBC would welcome him back and it would save the network.  Then, after Trump wins the election, he would be able to have an unending reality show--first to staff his cabinet--you are hired!  And then televised cabinet meetings where a cabinet officer is fired at the end of each meeting. 

Yep, it has come to bread and circuses.  It will all lead to this:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Overwrought About ISIS Mission

Ok, first step in post-terrorist punditry is to PANIC.  Second step is to jump on politicians for whatever it is they say.  Folks are upset that Trudeau quickly, in response to questions about his stance on the CF-18 part of the ISIS mission, said that his position was not changed.

They are citing how this will hurt the Canadian position in the alliance.  Meh.  Sure, the position is incoherent as Michael Den Tandt argued well (the headline is more panicky than need be).  But politicians understand other politicians, and they get that Trudeau cannot run away from a campaign promise less than a month after the election.  At least not easily.

Is this dishonourable as Lysiane Gagnon puts it?  Not really.  A far greater challenge to the alliance was Canada leaving Kandahar in mid-war.  In together, out together?  Not so much in Afghanistan, as Canada was one of only two countries to leave much earlier than the rest, and the Dutch had a fallen government to point towards.

So, please, excuse me if I find the concern trolling about the opinions of the allies at this moment to be just a bit overwrought.  If Canada kicks in the trainers that seem to be promised, then Trudeau gets to keep his promise and the allies will get that.  And if Trudeau keeps the Auroras and Polaris plane (reconnaissance and refueling, respectively) in the mission, the allies will appreciate that quite a bit since those are far more scarce than fighter-bombers like the CF-18.

There are good criticisms of Trudeau's stance, but dishonour and disrepute are not really among them.

Pretty Proud Adviser Post-Paris

One of the upsides of supervising students whose work is outside my expertise is that I get to be mighty proud when they contribute to debates in ways that I cannot.

Aisha Ahmad was interviewed and said this on the reactions to Paris and our next steps.  Just an excellent perspective.  And there will be more of it as I go to Toronto on Friday to sit on a panel with her and some other folks to talk about the event and the aftermath.  So, if you are in the Toronto area on Friday, November 20th, check it out at the Munk School at U of T.  I will say a few things about NATO's relevance/reactions while Aisha will continue to say far smarter stuff about ISIS, Islamist politics and such.