Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Only Nixon Could Go To China, Canadian Military Spending edition

In today's Globe and Mail, Jack Granatstein, one of Canada's foremost military historians and big fan of the Canadian Forces, wrote that the Conservative's treatment of the military is causing him to vote for someone else next time.

Harper has lost a hawk despite his rhetoric about defense, his celebration of the Royal past of the CF, the focus on the glorious War of 1812.  Why? Because Canada is spending less today, after adjusting for inflation than when Harper came into power.  Perhaps not every procurement project is a disaster--but pretty much all of the big ones.  Each year, the government announces that it has not spent all of the money budgeted for the military since the procurement programs are behind... and by coincidence ;) (winky face indicating wink) this makes it easier to reach a balanced budget. 

My personal bugaboo has been the refusal to cut the size of the forces.  If the dollars are going down, how about cutting personnel since they are a very big percentage of defence spending?  No, Harper wants the numbers of personnel to stay the same so he can claim that he expanded the military.  But if the personnel numbers do not go down, then cuts will have to come from elsewhere--operations (oops, mideast stuff is going to make this hard) and maintenance.  Nobody here uses the American phrase "hollow force" but perhaps that is a matter of time.

Anyhow, the key reality is that Grantastein has no place else to go.  When a right wing party cuts the military, what is a hawk to do?  The New Democratic Party will certainly not run on spending more on defence, as it has to play to the pacifists in the party.  The Liberals?  They can try to re-claim the mantle of the adult foreign/defence party, but will have a hard time doing so as they have appeal to the left as much or more than the right.  That is, if the Liberals are to win, they probably will have to take far more seats from the NDP than from the Conservatives. 

And Harper knows this--that he can afford to take symbolic stances that are harmful to the military (keeping the size the same but cutting the budget) and defer and delay the procurement programs.  Conservative voters are not likely to swing to the center or left in search of more pro-military stances.

So, I feel for Granatstein and his dilemma.  As a non-citizen (some day that will change), I have often been glad that I don't have to choose among the Canadian parties--as I have not been a big fan of any of them during much of my time here.  Then again, the American choices at the ballot box also suck quite often. 

Lastly, this gets to one of the themes of the past month--policy relevance.  Scholars may often be right about diagnosis and prognosis, but our prescriptions may not be appealing to those we want to influence.  Harper almost certainly understands what he is doing is not good for the military or good for Canada, but it may get him re-elected.  Ah, the joy of democracy--short term incentives win out.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

When Harper Play Soccer Better Than Beckham

There are many Canadian defence stories these days.  The one that caught my eye today is focused on Canada spending more money to extend the life of its CF-18s.  This makes complete sense as these are the planes likely to do some hard work soon--flying over Iraq and/or Syria (not sure if Canada will be exception to the European rule of only flying over Iraq). 

What is interesting is that the longer life of these planes will allow the Conservative government to delay making a decision on the F-35s.  They can say: we don't need to be rushed, as our current fighters will last longer.  This is good for the Conservatives since it allows them to kick the can down the road a wee bit further.... past the 2015 election.  This program has been a major political challenge for the government, one where the NDP demonstrated a real competence on defence.  Well, on this one area. 

Of course, this is not fooling anyone.  It does not take a year plus for Harper to figure out what he wants to do with the F-35/alternatives.  He has had the report since spring, and he is not spending night and day pondering the RCAF's future.  He is deferring because it is politically expedient. 

We should not be shocked by this, nor the problems that may face the next not-Conservative government.  The Super-Hornet option will eventually be off the table as the product line ends and the same may end up being true for the other alternatives.  So, the F-35 may truly be the only option if Canada dithers long enough. 

So, Harper can win be delaying and delaying and delaying.  Which is why he appears to be able to be better than Beckham.  Beckham's bendy kicks probably cannot go as far as Harper's can-kicking.
* The only political cartoon I could find that has Harper kicking something is pay per use. oy.



Sunday, September 28, 2014

Saturday, September 27, 2014

New to Me, Old as Dirt

Today, I started doing something that I had never tried before: Yoga.  I am writing about it here both to commit myself to keep doing it and to have something look back at if I keep with it.

I am starting yoga because I find that I don't bend well.  I have never been very flexible.  Indeed, one reason why I dive so much playing ultimate is that it is easier to do that than to bend. 

The hardest part of yoga for me may be the breathing.  I am, yes, a mouth-breather, given my constant state of congestion.  This might actually teach me to rely more on breathing through my nose.  We shall see. My balance is not terrific either, so this might help there as well. 

I am definitely very tight as the instructor handed me a strap so that I could pull my leg around since I could not quite reach mine as everyone else could reach theirs. 

Oh, and to paraphrase that line from Jaws, I think we are going to need a thicker mat.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Deja Vu: Multilateral Military Cooperation Ain't Easy

I wrote a piece for the Monkey Cage today applying the book's lessons from Libya and Afghanistan to the new effort in Iraq/Syria.  Check it out!

There is a Market For Everything, Disney-Halloween Edition

Am I surprised that there is now a line of sexy Halloween costumes inspired by Frozen?  No.  The movie was a huge hit, so of course someone is trying to capitalize on it.
The surprise is the Olaf costume.  Yes, a male snowman turned into the second pic.  Really?  The other costumes are positively restrained (compared to the usual sexy Halloween costumes advertised in Montreal, anyway).  But the Olaf one is disturbing, right?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Joy of Media Exposure

I have been doing a heap of TV lately, as Canada's international relations has been pretty interesting as of late.  Of course, not everyone is happy about what I say.  I got some un-fan email, and thought I would share it since it is so entertaining.   It refers to my appearance Tuesday night, starting at the 1:38 mark, not my appearance tonight starting at the 15 minute mark and then about six minutes later.


Subject: CLIMATE CHANGE THE GREATEST THREAT TO THE WORLD
Date: Thu, 25 Sep 2014 15:30:18 -0600
Give me a fucking brake, are you not out of your league? Maybe that chunk of hair on your forehead is stopping your brain from getting oxygen. I could not find anywhere were it said you were a climatologist, how on earth can you make such a stupid statement, I guess its because you are on the CBC, and those left wing nitwits wouldn't know the difference. Oh by the way Climate is always changing, and always will be, only an idiot would think he or anybody else could make Mother Nature do things differently. If you walk outside and look way up there is this bright yellow thing in the sky that actually tells Mother Nature what to do, not human beans or industry's, the only thing we can do is stopping pollution as much as possible without screwing up the economy. The biggest threat the World faces are people who think they know all the answers, and Obama thinking the U.S. can sit back and the Enemy will love them, what a stupid President. As for all these air strikes, they should be doing them in the daytime when there those targets are full of terrorist, not at night when the are in their caves sleeping. 
My favorite parts are the reference to my hair, the climate change denying (human beans and all that are overrated apparently), and that the folks in Syria/Iraq are in caves.  Not so many caves in the desert, but we are looking for passion and not accuracy.

Various Ruminations about Policy Relevance

Once again, I have gotten sucked into debating about the policy relevance of political science.  I left some scraps out of the more recent posts because I was engaging specific people on specific points.  But I wanted to get a few more things off my chest:
  • Looking at the APSR or other very academic journals and saying this is not for policy-makers is missing the point.  Academic journals are aimed at academics and rightly so.  This is our conversation to argue with each other, not to engage the public.  
  • Why are academic pubs important and generally the requirement for tenure?  Because to have credibility as a researcher, we need to prove we can do research.  That the stuff is peer-reviewed, that it builds upon existing work (lit review) and that it is well-designed (the methods section--how do you know what you think you know). 
  • Which means that most junior faculty are going to write in those outlets and not be focused as much on policy relevance.  Which is actually ok. That is, it makes sense to me that the rookies not be relied upon for offering advice to the policy world.  It makes more sense that those with proven track records of doing good work are the ones who can engage the policy community.
    • Some argue that once you learn to write in jargon that you cannot go back.  I think that is wrong.  (Sorry, Tom N.)
  • I am not as convinced as others that people who popularize or do policy relevance are punished.  The two competitors for my last job both had real policy experience, and that was seen as a plus.  That may not be true everywhere, but I don't think people look at folks with some policy experience as lepers.  That is an old stereotype.  
  • And I now contradict myself, as the new generation of scholars is proving that you can do both.  That they are doing really interesting research and are communicating that to scholars view traditional peer-reviewed outlets and beyond via blogs, twitter, policy journals.  I see far more younger names in Foreign Affairs and its online outlet than I ever saw ten or twenty or thirty years ago. 
  • I do think there are bigger problems shaping policy relevance than the will/capability of political scientists and it is not our incentive structure but that of those we want to persuade.  There is a big difference between having a great idea about how to improve a social problem (prevent war, build multi-ethnic democracies, whatever) and pitching that idea in what at is in the political interest of the folks that need to listen.  
  • And there is heaps of confirmation bias going on.  That I notice that which I want to see (the Monkey Cage, Political Violence at a Glance, the Korbel folks) and don't see what I don't want to see.  Same goes for the other side of the argument.  Alas, this applies even more to the policy-makers who are blind to their own confirmation bias--they will notice the social science that supports their preferred policy options and ignore the rest.  How do we fight that?  Damned if I know. 
  • and a semi-related note: those people who complain about the contemporary state of Security Studies are just as wrong as wrong can be.  The field is far better now than twenty years ago.  The historiography is better, the use of numbers is actually a plus and not a minus, the range of questions and expertise is far more diverse, and the folks involved are far more diverse.  It is not the old boys network of the past (which is why some people are frustrated).  Security Studies is much, much, much better than it used to be.  It is no longer focused on the force to space ratio along the inter-German frontier, and we are so much the better for that.
I certainly don't think the status quo is good or acceptable, but where I diverge from Tom Nichols (@TheWarRoom) is that I think we are making progress.  Where I diverge with the other Tom (Ricks) is that there is a method to our madness and rightly so.  Making shit up (Kaplan, Clash of Civ) is inferior to doing our best research, including being explicit about how we know what we know.

Systematic study is better than random study.  Sure, that is a controversial position, but I will stick with it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Continuing the Argument with Ricks

Tom Ricks has responded to my response to his original post.  Lovely.  He keeps putting quotes around political science, which is quite the troll-y thing to do.  I had an immediate rant on twitter which has been storifed by the master of the master of the form--Kelsey Atherton.  I will not repeat all of it or respond to everything that Tom says.  His readers already complained about previous post which they considered to be too long.

So, let me focus on the key points:
  • no, many policy-makers do not pay that much attention to political scientists.  Part of this is the fault of political scientists for not making their work as accessible as they can and part of it is policy-makers aren't listening. I am not disagreeing with the findings of the Avey and Desch piece of social science but with Tom's selective reading and interpretation.
  • Or when they do read, they read the wrong stuff--neither Robert Kaplan nor Clash of Civilizations are respected by social scientists.  Not because they are widely read but because they are not social science.  Breezy narratives they might be (especially Kaplan), but they are also tend to be just a bit racist (all Romanians are thieves according to Balkan Ghosts, Latin American Catholics are different from West European Catholics because ... maybe the latter are brown?). 
  • Is my list representative?  No.  It was stuff that I found interesting that I thought he would find interesting (since his original post was about how boring political science is).  So, how do dictators use the threat of forcing their citizens to flee as an asymmetric response to powerful democracies?  That is some interesting social science (Kelly Greenhill).  Jason Lyall is doing much work on how violence affects hearts and minds in Afghanistan.... it would be interesting if it were not for those pesky numbers.  I am in the middle of a book that uses formal models, case studies and quantitative methods to understand the formation of alliances within civil wars--Bosnia and Afghanistan (Fotini Christia).  How is that not both fun and relevant?
  • What we do is not good history.  The historians hate how we use history.  What makes poli sci history detestable is that we use it to test theories.  And we do it, if we do it well, methodically.
  • "Favoring methods over facts and narrative"  Yes, we want to tell our stuff in ways that sing.  But Method is not in conflict with Facts.  Indeed, what is a fact?  How do we know what we think we know?  The key to the aspiration to political science is being explicit about the choices we make, so that the reader can evaluate our argument--do we really know what we think we know or is it based on flimsy evidence?
  • Rothkopf, who has done much to ruin Foreignpolicy.com, is cited in Rick's post, thinking that a feature is a bug: "Political science typically applies limited variable analysis to situations with an almost unlimited number of variables."  Anyone and everyone, except those who think that every bit of reality is a unique context, looks at reality and focuses on a few key parts and considers them more important than others.  Ricks, in his most recent book, argues that firing generals is a key to success (I have only read excerpts), but he is basically focusing on a key relationship--that accountability of some sort is related to military success.  They may or may not be true, but he is simplifying and focusing on one potential relationship when there are an infinite number of variables.
  • Desch's take on security studies is one person who has a particular angle.  There are many folks who are upset with where security studies has been going, yet they seem to be on the editorial boards of International Security and Security Studies and control powerful positions in the profession.  So, yes, there is a greater degree of diversity in what counts as good security studies and a greater diversity of people doing it (far more women these days doing terrific stuff), but if you do not fall asleep reading International Security (Tom finds it boring), there is plenty of old school stuff in there.  We are not asking Tom to read Journal of Conflict Research or Journal of Peace Research, both which have been shaping major debates about the causes and consequences of civil and international war even if last I checked war is a "Security Studies" topic.
  • But those two journals tend to have far too much math.  That is, they collect a lot of those "facts" and see what relationships exist.  My fave is that ethnic group concentration is associated with more ethnic violence, which means that incentivizing intermixing of groups is probably a better way to reduce ethnic conflict.  Is that boring?  No.  Is it policy relevant?  Hell, yes.  Especially in the 1990s when people were advocating partition.
  • As Dan Drezner has pointed out, policy-makers are adverse to quantitative methods and formal modeling in Poli Sci, but seem fine in digesting it when it is presented on economic issues.  Something to think about.  But policy-makers do listen to other folks who may get their ideas from social science, found in such places as think tanks (where many fully trained and operational political scientists produce good work--again, look around at CNAS), newspapers and magazines (notice all of the folks doing data stuff these days--reading/imitating Nate Silver) and other media outlets, and so on.
  • "Most of the useful writing is done by practitioners or journalists." Most of the stuff that is used, sure.  But actually useful?  Based on serious investigation?  Subjected to skeptical analysis?  Sometimes.  Often not so much.  Where do they get their ideas?
The reality is that not all political scientists agree about what it is we do and should do.  Some hate the label.  But for many of us, it is an indeed an aspiration--to study politics (domestic or international or both) as carefully as possible so that we can discern that which is general from that which is specific to a unique situation, so that we can suggest what are the more important factors.  Not everything is equally important, not even in the world of the Incredibles.  Not all of us aspire to be policy relevant nor should we expect all of our work to be policy relevant.  Some of our work is akin to the basic science that helps to informed the practical stuff but not so directly.

We are making greater strides in trying to reach out to the policy world.  Yesterday, Carnegie handed out big bags of cash to scholars and programs seeking to bridge the two worlds.  And this is not new.  There are many efforts out there to do that.  Alas, Tom is trying to burn those bridges by claiming that what we do is just a scam.  That what we do is "science."  That is too bad. We live in difficult times, and we need more knowledge, not less.  We need not just to reach out but to be heard.  We write blogs to convey our complex, methods heavy stuff into that which is more easily digestible: the Monkey Cage (which put out many great posts on Russia-Ukraine for instance), Dan Drezner, Marc Lynch, Political Violence at a Glance, and others do a great job of communicating.  And some people are listening.

More in the Annals of Lousy Allies

I was on TV last night (an hour and 38 minutes into the program) to chat about the US effort in Syria and Iraq, and was lucky enough to be on with some smart people: Bessma Momami of CIGI and Ferry Kerchove of the Conference of Defence Associations Institute.  Evan Solomon, the host of Power and Politics, and his crew were most fixated on an interview they were able to get with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Netanyahu had said that Hamas and ISIS were essentially one and the same, and that militant Islam is a poisoned tree that has sprouts around the world including in North America.  I really wish the CBC had buried this interview because Netanyahu is doing the US and the war effort no favors.

How so?  We were talking about the US attacking ISIS/ISIL in Syria along with five Arab countries.  This is a pretty radical shift since none joined in the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.  This participation by the Saudis in particular help to undercut the ISIS/ISIL theme that the US is attacking Islam.  And then Netanyahu says: yes we are attacking Islam AND he is raising the costs of Arab participation by tying them to Israel.

My co-panelist's accent made it sound like Netanyahu was a troll (Ferry was saying "throw") which would be a pretty accurate description.  Netanyahu also would to crap on pretty much anything that Obama wants to do, so that might be in play here as well.  My comment focused on how Netanyahu was doing something that was hardly unique.  When the US engages in counter-terrorism, as it did in the aftermath of 9/11, countries around the world will label their various opponents terrorists and fellow travelers of the group the US is targeting.  Marc Lynch makes basically the same point here

When I was in the Pentagon, the Macedonian Minister of Interior Boskovski set up seven migrants (six Pakistanis, one Indian) and had them killed in an act of "counter-terrorism," apparently to appeal to the US to give Macedonia greater support in its conflict with the Albanian minority.  No one believed it, and the evidence quickly proved that these guys were framed and executed.

I am not saying that Netanyahu is Boskovski.  But they are of the same ilk, combining ideological commitment, hate, and opportunism.  The thing is Hamas is bad, the US does not like it, but it is not the same fight.  Hamas is not the same as ISIS.  And that whole poisoned tree thing is wrong, as the US and Canada have faced very little violence from Muslims in North America.  Not none, but a far lesser threat than ... white supremacists.  Also, ISIS/ISIL presents the greatest threat to Muslims, given how many Muslims they have killed.  So, the real poison in yesterday's conversation is Netanyahu's, who is trying to poison the US relationship with the Arab countries.

Maybe this war is a bad idea, maybe it is just the least bad option.  Whatever.  But in the past, when the US needed the Israelis to be restrained (1991, for example), they did so because it was in their larger self-interest.  These days, Israel and the U.S. are pretty far apart, and it is not just about Obama vs Netanyahu, but the realization that Israeli behavior in the region, including its irredentism in the West Bank, undermines America's interests.