Thursday, May 24, 2018

Dodging a Bullet or Missing an Opportunity?

I don't know whether to be angry or relieved that Trump will not be meeting Kim Jong Un in Singapore.  On the one hand, this is incredibly amateurish:
  1. Respond to a visiting South Korean official who says KJU might be cooperative by announcing a summit.
  2. Do no homework, prep, or work on anything besides coins and other symbols.
  3. Set expectations at maximal NK surrender.  The experts kept saying complete denuclearization was not on the table for NK....
  4. Brag about maximal pressure that pushed NK into a corner.
  5. Leave the Iran deal which almost certainly had tougher verification than anything the North Koreans would agree to.
  6. National Security Adviser Bolton talks dreamily of the Libya model--meaning the US fucks over North Korea in future with regime change (not to mention all the regime change stuff in the Iran conversations).
  7. Issue a coin and use various statements that make it abundantly clear that Trump needs this meeting more than KJU.
  8. Cancel meeting after NK issues testy press releases, as it wants to make clear it is not submitting to maximal pressure.
On the other hand, I have been legitimately worried that either a cranky Trump, after a long flight to Singapore, would get supremely angry at Supreme Leader OR he would suck up to KJU and abandon South Korea and/or Japan.  I really didn't expect anything good to come out of the summit, so I guess I am not that disappointed.

The big question is: what next?  Is the path to war shorter and faster or can we dither and blamecast and push that down the road some more?  I just don't know.  All I do know is that South Korea (and almost certainly Japan) were surprised by this announcement, and this is bad alliance management.  Which, of course, is to be expected, but we can still be appalled.  Most of the South Koreans I met earlier in the month were cautiously optimistic, but I felt that was mostly due to wishful thinking.  Sorry, folks.  Trump don't play that. 

All I know is that if I were an ally of the US right now, I would be hedging as much as possible. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

When Identities and Interests Conflict or Shamelessness Is On The Rise?

Image result for trump saudi orbSaudis and Qataris hugging Islamophobic Trump?
Israelis hugging anti-semitic Trump folks?

Is this the end times depicted in Ghostbusters--cats and dogs playing together?  Or are we just hitting peak hypocrisy which, of course, has been best illustrated by the willingness of evangelicals to sell out all of their principles for the pursuit of power?

Values and interests have often conflicted, and, yes, Organized Hypocrisy has long been a thing.  But it does seem that there is now greater shamelessness than in the past and perhaps a greater divorce between what a group says it values and what it actually values.  This is clearly not just a Trump thing, but, again, the extreme nature of the Trump regime--that it is so supportive of white supremacists, xenophobes, misogynists, corruption, and on and on--makes it far clearer that folks are selling out their values for access and power.

So, what to do about this?  Call it out, of course.  The problem is that motivated bias means that people only pay attention to the hypocrisy of their adversaries and not themselves.  Minimize one's own hypocrisy?  Hmmmm, that might be hard, but I do think calling out one's own allies for violating values, such as Al Franken, is necessary if we want any values to be more than just convenient covers for the pursuit of interest/power.

But I am out of ideas, so any suggestions would be most welcome.  How should we (whoever the we is) deal with the shamelessness of people embracing those who hate them just for the convenience du jour?

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Taking the War Cap Seriously

A while back, I posted how we ought to think about American wars as like the salary caps in the NFL and NBA: that at some point, there is a limit of how much you can be doing (paying in the metaphor) at one time.  The basic idea is that the US can only fight so many wars at a time.  Remember when people thought Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were stupid for opening up multi-front wars?

It is not so much that fighting in multiple theaters opens up the US to attack from multiple directions but that the US does not have infinite numbers of soldiers, sailors, pilots, ships, planes and, yes, dollars, not to mention officials to run many wars at once.  Right now, the US is fighting wars of varying sizes in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan (the drone war is still a thing, right?), and some others that I am probably forgetting.  None of these are at the levels of the simultaneous campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq that quite nearly broke the US Army.  The costs of that particular situation, two wars at once, are still being felt today in terms of readiness (how many planes and ships are crashing these days?) and will be felt for the next seventy years in terms of costs for taking care of those served and were wounded.  The question is not whether the US spent a trillion dollars but how many trillions thus far and how many left to spend. 

Yet the Trump administration seems to be moving towards not just one more war but two.  The new Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has issued a list of demands for Iran that kind of resemble the ultimatum given to Serbia before World War I--a list designed to be rejected (h/t to Ben Dennison).  We knew Pompeo to be a hawk on Iran, we knew Bolton to be one as well.  Given that the Iran deal is better than what we could possibly expect for a NK deal, their idea of "fixing the deal" seems incredibly insincere and actually a step towards war,  And, yes, this war would be harder than Iraq--a much bigger population, much greater spaces for the US military to cover, more support for the government the more the US tries to impose itself, and on and on.  Low hanging fruit this is not.  Yet, if the US had to have a new war, I would prefer a war with Iran than one with North Korea.

Yes, the diplomacy pre-summit is turning into a shitshow.  All of the traits of the Trump administration are in full display: a lack of seriousness and preparation, Trump being baited by tweets and by meetings that are as substantial as tweets, the influence of warmongers (NK is not the only ones who feel repugnance towards Bolton), and on and on.  Robert Kelly explained this all very well in a series of tweets and then another one--Moon, South Korea's President has been desperately seeking a way of out of war, which led to this moment of hope and then wildly inflated expectations over de-nuking, and now Trump feeling betrayed.  Which means war is back to being in play in a big way.

The US military is not ready for either an Iran war or a North Korea war.  Either one would disrupt the global economy with oil skyrocketing in price if there is another war involving the Persian Gulf and the destruction of one of the 11 or so biggest economies in the world and maybe the third if Japan gets hit hard if the latter war happens.  The American people are not ready either as either would produce more casualties than they have grown to expect.  A war with North Korea would kill more Americans in the first days than all of the troops lost in combat since Vietnam.  Oh, and the civilian casualties will be unlike anything the US has experienced since .... I have no idea.

Either of these words would explode the deficit even further than the misbegotten tax cut, and each one would wreak such damage as to make us forget that the US is already involved in a half dozen wars (or more).  So, not only are we already above the war cap, this government is contemplating adding one or two super-expensive yet unproductive stars to our team of wars (I am thinking of the Washington football team's free agents, but I will take nominations for other disasters).

All of this is awful and going to get even more so.  Good thing the GOP is getting what it wanted (more bad SCOTUS decisions) when it sold its soul and sold out the country.  All I know is that I wish we could fire the general manager, the coach, and the entire staff of this team.  Alas, it ain't gonna happen.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Thar She Goes!

This weekend, we headed to Ithaca one last time--to see College Spew become Graduate Spew, and now I am verklempt.   The four years flew by, and I have the same feeling today that I did when I dropped her off at the start of international student orientation (yeah, they treated her like a Canadian might be unfamiliar with American ways): pride but also much sadness as she is fully launched.  I doubt that she will spend much time back in Ottawa again, as most of our holiday get togethers will be elsewhere.  We had so much time together until four years ago, some occasionally since, and now?  Not so much.

She was always diligent, creative, sharp, funny, and opinionated.  Turns out she is gutsy too as she heads west, in search of a job.  When I headed west after college, I had four year
s of guaranteed funding ($12k per year, woot!) and I thought I knew what I was getting into.  She has no such guarantees, although she has many connections now thanks to her internships, her school's connections, a celebrity mensch mentor, and a few of my friends who ende
d up in the industry.  So, she is jumping in, and I have little doubt that she will succeed.  The only question is whether she can put up with the traffic and super-obnoxious drivers. 

We did have an excellent weekend, where we spent time with her, her friends (she has an amazing group of buddies, several of which she met at the aforementioned international student orientation), and the parents of her friends.  The event was rained on, but we managed.  Maybe it is good luck like the rain that hit our wedding in San Diego a few decades ago. 

All I know is that she is going to do great, that she will make a difference, and I am going to miss her terribly.  On the bright side, I got to hear my favorite song:

How did it get so dusty in my home office?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Wagering on Trump Administration

I used to get the betting lines every 3 months or so from an online sports betting firm since I posted about such bets.  Not lately, so I guess I have to do the work myself.  Given that sports betting will soon be legal in the US besides in Nevada (thanks, SCOTUS), it might be time to figure out how to bet.

I have no idea what the over/under line will be of Trump adminitration officials who get jail time are, but since we are already at five having pled guilty, I have to guess that the over/underline has to be north of ten.  If one considers who is likely to get some Mueller attention or otherwise be prosecuted, the list probably includes:
  • Jared Kushner
  • Ivanka
  • Don Junior
  • Eric
  • Scott Pruitt
  • Ryan Zinke
  • Jeff Sessions (that might be the second most delightful possibility--a three way tie between him, Kushner and Ivanka)
  • Trump himself
  • all their minions that we will only know once they are indicted

So, yeah, easy to bet the over if it is set at 10, I'd still bet the over if set at 15.  20?  Hmmm.

On the bright side, Trump will be able to claim that he had the most corrupt administration in US history, and that's something.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Korean Epiphanies

Fun times in Korea, eh?  I was really struck during my two weeks there of a split in opinions--most of the folks I met were "cautiously optimistic" about the situation, that the Trump-Kim summit might lead to a significant improvement in regional tensions, while other folks were in the "ruthlessly pessimistic" camp.  And I was a member of the latter.  Why?  Because TeamRP just could not see anyway for North Korea to "denuke" in any meaningful way when the US had, ooops, done some regime change on Libya.

So, I get back to North America and notice that Bolton has been talking about the "Libya Option" seriously, which did ultimately send the desired signal (if Bolton does not want peace) to the North Koreans.  So, the North Koreans have said that they had no intention of trading their nukes for economic assistance.  That, along with the earlier announcement that that they were skipping a meeting since the US and ROK were not cancelling a key military exercise, reminded us that North Koreans have always been the most obnoxious trolls in International Relations (sorry, John and Stephen). 

So, folks are having an epiphany--negotiating with North Korea is hard, and they aren't giving up their nukes.  I had a bit of a different Korean epiphany thanks to some sharp outsiders (Canadians and Americans who took me out for drinks and bbq:
American troops have long been based in South Korea to do two things: deter the North Koreans and reassure the South Koreans.  Standard tripwire type stuff.  Now, things have flipped as smart South Koreans want the Americans to stay to deter an American attack on North Korea.  Yeah, that seems backwards, but the idea is that Trump would not attack North Korea with so many Americans in harm's way (is that wishful thinking rearing its ugly head again?).  That Trump would have a freer hand if the Americans were no longer down range of North Korean artillery....  
  Before I left for South Korea, I thought that the likely outcomes from a KJU-Trump summit would be in decreasing likelihood:
  1. A modest agreement, such as NK agrees not to test any more nukes (its test area is broken and other new nuclear powers tested six nukes, so a convenient time to give away this chip) and US promises to de-escalate a smidge.  Trump would come home, declaring he solved the Korean problem, and the pundits/press would buy it, but not much would have really changed.  Woot!
  2. NK agrees to give up its ICBM capability, Trump agrees to reduce or even eliminate US forces in South Korea, so NK gets not only recognition of being a nuclear power but decoupling of South Korea and Japan from US.  
  3. Trump and KJU yell at each other as each is upset that they don't have a common understanding of "denuclearization."  So, the road to war is a bit clearer, and John Bolton does a happy dance.
  1. No meeting as NK does not want to signal that it gave in to "massive pressure" from US.
  2. No meeting as Trump realizes he can't get the Nobel Prize. 
  3. A meeting with much reduced expectations--perhaps freezes of NK's weapons in exchange for US promising not to regime change (which is believed by none).
  4. War.
  5.  A meeting, then war.
So, yeah, not great.  Are things clearer now than two weeks ago?  Not sure.  I do think Team Relentless Pessimism is feeling pretty good about feeling pretty bad. Woot?

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Random Research Observations and that Whole Japan-Korea Thing

One of the enduring challenges for the United States and other countries seeking to build more institutions and stability in East Asia (pre-Trump, of course) is that South Korea and Japan don't get along.  Sure, we see news stories all time, like the South Koreans erecting Comfort Women statues near Japanese consulates and all that, but I could not help but note it being a recurring tangent in a number of interviews I had in South Korea over the past two weeks.

I was meeting with politicians, retired military officers (who all seem to be professors after retirement), experts and others for the big project, so I was not focused on asking about ROK-Japan relations, just like I didn't ask in Japan last year about the relationship.  But stuff comes up:
"The governing party wants to diversify its alliance relations so that it is not quite so dependent on the US, so they are seeking to improve relations with Russia, India, Indonesia ....."  Notice who is omitted.
"We are working to develop responses to threats, such as North Korea, China, Japan ...."
This was a pretty striking contrast as South Korea rarely came up in Japan.  It kind of reminds me of Texas Tech being ignored by Texas A&M, which was more focused on the rivalry with U of Texas (insert South Korea, Japan and China respectively).

I didn't go to a war museum in Japan unless one counts the Yasukuni Shrine, so it is hard to compare with the War Memorial in Seoul.  So, nope, I didn't see the Japanese version of this:

These two displays, very much in the central hall of the War Memorial, are of the Dokdo Islands (Korea's name) or Takeshima (Japan's name).  This site covers the issue fairly well.

Anyhow, the point du jour is that I got to see up close glimpses of Korean attitudes about Japan, and, well, they are not much of a foundation for any kind of deeper security relationship.  The stuff we hear about seems to be pretty real.  Which means my pessimism for East Asian security is multidimensional.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Reflections on L’Affaire Lebow

Something completely new here at the Semi-Spew: a guest post.  Dr. Nora Bensahel puts the Lebow Elevator controversy into perspective.  She is a Distinguished Scholar inResidence,School of International Service, American University, and Contributing Editor, War on theRocks.

When I first heard about The Elevator Incident, I started thinking, like most of my female colleagues, about what I would have done in that situation.  Lots of ink has now been spilled about whether Simona Sharoni did the right thing in filing a formal complaint against Richard Ned Lebow about the sexist comment he made in an elevator at the 2018 ISA Convention.  But then I realized that this debate, while important, has overlooked a deeper question that also needs to be asked: to what extent does the profession as a whole bear responsibility for this and other similar incidents?

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot, because I was one of Lebow’s students many years ago and was utterly appalled by his unprofessional behavior.  This is not a #metoo story; I’ve already written one of those.  To be crystal clear, I do not recall Lebow saying anything in class that could be interpreted as gender discrimination or sexual harassment.  But it is a story about the larger themes of the #metoo movement.  It’s about a professor who took advantage of the students in my class and failed to meet one of the most basic obligations of the profession, and yet remains among the most highly regarded scholars in the profession.  And that means it is a story about the profession itself, about the questions we should be asking ourselves – including whether the fact that he has never been held accountable for his behavior helped create the sense of entitlement that led him to dismiss Sharoni’s complaint as “frivolous.”

In the spring of 1992, I was a junior at Cornell University, and as an eager IR-nerd-in-training, I enrolled in Lebow’s course on the transformation of the international system since 1989.  My enthusiasm for the course quickly dissipated, however, as my classmates and I witnessed the astonishingly unprofessional behavior of our professor.  The class featured many guest lecturers, but Lebow failed to attend some of those class sessions.  He arrived to lecture one day clad in a sweaty running t-shirt and shorts, and spent the class doing cool-down stretches while he lectured.  Even as a student, I could overlook those things as among the (gross) eccentricities common to university professors.  But with three weeks left in the semester, Lebow crossed the line into absolutely unacceptable territory: he abruptly announced that he was done teaching the class, and that we should not bother showing up again until the final exam.

My classmates and I were utterly outraged, and I remember calculating how many of my parents’ hard-earned tuition dollars had just been wasted.  Our fantastic TA, Marc Lynch (now one of the foremost scholars of Middle Eastern politics) pulled together a final lecture to at least try to tie up the mess that Lebow left behind.  The Cornell Daily Sun published a blistering editorial denouncing Lebow and calling for some sort of clear punishment, and I was stunned that the university did not respond (at least in any public way).  I then learned that it was Lebow’s last semester at Cornell, and that he was about to move to the University of Pittsburgh.  In my naivete, I was sure that this abuse of his power over his students would lead Pitt to pull his job offer. 

But of course that did not happen.  Lebow went on to teach at Pitt.  And at Ohio State.  And at Dartmouth.  And at LSE.  And now at King’s College London.  Even more universities considered hiring him, which means that they all implicitly condoned his behavior.  He has continued to be rewarded throughout his career, winning some of the most prestigious awards in the field, and was even named a Fellow of the British Academy.  I’ve watched these developments from afar over the years, angered anew with each public recognition.  But it wasn’t until The Elevator Incident, occurring within the context of the #metoo movement, that I started thinking about the story I told above as one of power and privilege, and about the role of the profession in fostering a culture of entitlement and impunity.  I realize that it is one anecdote that happened a long time ago – but I suspect that it may not be the only such story in his lengthy career.

Nothing that I’ve written is explicitly about age or gender or race.  But it is absolutely about power and entitlement, which cannot help but be related to those things.  Replay the story I told above, but replace Lebow with an untenured junior colleague.  Or a woman.  Or a minority.  Or a minority woman.  Or a junior minority woman.  Does anyone believe that the story would have the same ending, without any sort of censure or professional consequences?  I hope not, because that shouldn’t be the end to the story.  The problem isn’t that a junior or female or minority professor would face consequences.  The problem is that this senior white male professor didn’t face any.  How many other Lebows are out there, colleagues who have benefited from the same culture of privilege and yet are not making news headlines – who would have had the good sense to apologize, even in the most insincere way possible, just to make the story go away?

Maybe that’s why this story, in the end, may be a #metoo story after all.  Maybe what happened in that elevator, and the sense of entitlement that Lebow displayed, isn’t solely about one man being a jerk.  Maybe it’s the type of behavior that partly results from spending your entire career having your behavior being excused or overlooked by your peers, without ever being held accountable even when you abuse your power by failing to meet some of the most basic requirements of the profession.  And maybe that’s why the broader debate about l’affaire Lebow needs to extend beyond the (legitimate) questions about sexual harassment and grievance procedures, and to also debate the extent to which the profession itself bears responsibility for the bad behavior of members who operate in the culture of privilege and entitlement that it has created.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Measuring Time in the Trump Era

Time always seems relative but especially now.  We often see people complain on Tuesday whether the week is over yet.  This is doubly true for comparing the tenures of the various ex-Trump officials. 
People have been using Scaramucci or Scaramooch to measure something in between a week and a fortnite (although wikipedia has him as lasting six days), but that is not the only unit of time we have:

  • Flynn lasted twenty-four days or 2.4 Scaramooches
  • A Preibus, also known as a Spicer, is six months (Preibus was 6 months, 11 days and Spicer was 182).
  • A Gorka, or Do-Nothing Nazi, is 217 days or almost 22 Scaramooches.
  • An Over-Rated Adult is 400 days (Tillerson was 405, McMaster 412) or 40 Scaramooches or about 17 Flynns.
The conversions are pretty awkward, so this is definitely not a metric system.   Indeed, it is more like the conversions for currencies in Harry Potter.

All this speaks to how short the terms are in Trumpworld.  These are not the best people--far from it.  And Trump seems to like chaos and turmoil.  So, when folks ponder John Bolton, it is not so much whether he has done damage yet, but how much damage he will do while he lasts, whether he is in office for a couple of Flynns or lasts as long as an Over-rated Adult.

Oh, and yes, a Trump is, alas, four years, even though it feels like forever especially if you think of it as being  146 Scaramooches or more than 60 Flynns.  The bright side is that 1 Trump is also 1/6000 of an Old Republic. A blink of an eye, really.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Declaring Victory and Minor Travel Observations

I have several hours before I go to the airport and am procrastinating my transcribing of my last few interviews.  So, I blog, of course.

I am very, very grateful as always for the kindness of strangers.  My work on this project (and the one before it) would not be possible without people willing to make connections for me and without people willing to chat with me about their country.  Last night, I had dinner with Robert Kelly and most of my research team.  I know Professor Kelly due to our overlapping membership at the Duck of Minerva.  He provided me with the names of some folks who could help me.  Well, those people couldn't but they referred me to some of the young women in this picture.  Yunyi, the women on the right, is just an undergraduate but proved to be a fixer par excellence, arranging interviews with retired generals, representatives on the National Assembly defence committee, Ministry of National Defense officials and more.  I was somewhat panicked three weeks ago, thinking that I would not be meeting with anyone, but Yunyi pulled my schedule together.  The other two women, Cathy and Annika, were excellent interpreters, making it possible for me to interview anyone who was willing to talk to me.  They were also quite sharp, giving me insights into the tone of those speaking with me.  They are both learning to be professional interpreters, and, in my opinion, are ready to start their careers.

Seoul and South Korea have been very kind to me.  I also got to drink and dine with a student who I last saw twenty years ago.  He is now a Lieutenant Colonel with the American troops based here.  The night before last, I had dinner with a group of American professors, officers, and contractors as well as a couple of other academics and a Canadian officer.  They were not shy in sharing their views.

So, what did I learn or observe along the way?
  1. Hotel buffets teach me that my diet habits are not the worst.
  2. I really don't need someone else to push the elevator button to summon one, but thanks I guess.
  3. I think wishful thinking is a thing since the Koreans are mostly cautiously optimistic about the state of things with North Korea and Trump. The outsiders?  Much closer to my stance of relentlessly pessimistic.
  4. Tom Petty was right as I woke up each morning knowing that I had a day's worth of email waiting for me and yet no word from the grant application that I had busted my ass for in March.  Oy.
  5. Seoul is super-hilly.  If I hadn't known it before, I know now why nearly every Korean war battle seemed to be named after a hill.  But not much in the way of earthquakes.
  6. The gas masks I have seen are not due to the threat of NK WMD but apparently due to a spate of fires a decade or so ago, which has produced much greater fire preparedness.
  7. Paying one's research team in cash (far easier than wiring to students in a foreign country) with thick envelopes felt, um, Michael Cohen-eseque.
  8. I still feel the pain of embarrassment when watching a teenager approach a person with romantic interest in mind with the probability of failure being quite--tis why I am stuck on episode two of Cobra Kai!
  9. I think South Korea's flag may be in the top two or three prettiest flags.  
Anyhow, I have heaps of travel ahead, and I wanted to note what I had seen before the travel addles me further.  As always, I am very, very lucky.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

ISA Sexual Harassment in the News

Ah, the ISA never gets in the news in a good way.  Last time, it was my blowing up an ISA proposal on blogging.  This time, it is their reaction to a complaint about sexual harassment at a conference.  I have been reluctant to comment because: a) I am in Korea doing fieldwork and spent most of my typing in poor ergonomic conditions on transcribing notes; b) this is very much a tempest in a teapot kind of thing, getting far more attention than other, more severe problems in the discipline; and c) as a white guy, I am probably not the best to judge whether this joke/complaint/reaction/counter-reaction is problematic or not. 

Having said that, of course, I have thoughts, and as someone who has commented much on sexual harassment in the discipline, folks have asked what I think about this episode.  So, here I semi-spew about this incident.

First, tone matters a great deal, so we don't know how snide or not Lebow's tone was.  But making a joke to the guys at the expense of the women, which is how the story sounds, is not good and not appropriate.
Second, Lebow has a reputation in the discipline which makes it hard to judge things--he is seen as a difficult person, so I am not surprised that he is, in my view, overreacting.  He should have taken his lumps: "I am sorry.  I made a bad joke, and I offended you" and moved on.  Instead, he pushed back and wanted to publicize it all.  Congrats to him on blowing this up. 
Third, hierarchy matters--Lebow is a big name in the field so with great power comes great responsibility.  Contra to Roseanne Barr, punching up with jokes is more acceptable than punching down.  Indeed, that is one way to challenge the powerful. I remember quite clearly that I made a joke about a junior woman's appearance (her height) at a conference, the person called me on it, I felt abashed and ashamed, I apologized, and I don't think I repeated that behavior since.  Would I have behaved differently had it gone directly to an ISA procedure?  I don't know, but I probably would not have been looking for media outlets to air my side. 
Fourth, I feel for the ISA folks, as they faced no good choices in this, and now they look like humor scolds.
Fifth, contra to this piece, yes, one can make jokes that involve sex at conferences but you do it with your friends and not complete strangers.  Context matters and audiences matter.  So, saying you can't joke at conferences and can't joke about sex is simply wrong.  But the content and context of the joke matters. Sure, "ladies lingerie" does not have much content to it, but in a small box full of strangers, it is a bad context. 
Sixth,  I can't really judge Simona Sharoni as I don't know her and have not been in her shoes.  But I have seen enough sexism in academia to understand that senior women are fed up with a lifetime of accumulated grievances and react when they see more of it.  Would this be a hill I would die on?  No, but again, white guy who has faced not much sexism or other identity-based difficulties over my career. 

Most importantly, I worry that this incident will be used to trivialize complaints about sexism and sexual harassment.  I saw this every year when I was at Texas Tech, as the yearly sexual harassment training session turned into a competition among the senior men in the department to undermine the presenter.  As that department was thoroughly toxic at the time due to the sexual harassment by one of my colleagues, this trivialization of the issue was incredibly problematic.  Sexual harassment is real, and sexism matters a great deal (see all of the work on citations, on leaky pipelines, and all the rest), so focusing on whether "women's lingerie" as a joke distracts us from the more serious issues facing women in political science and international relations.  For some, this is an opportunity to do exactly that--distract us from the serious issues.  For others, they see this as part of a larger pattern.  And I stand with the latter, as I have seen the former do too much damage. 

Trump and IR 101: Iran Edition

I am not an expert on Iran or on nuclear proliferation, but I have taken Intro to International Relations, so I apparently know more than Trump and his guys.  Yes, taken.  You don't have to teach Intro to IR to know more than these folks--the bar is low.  So, what did I learn in that class and what did I teach over the years that Trump,  Bolton and whoever else simply do not understand:
  1. Sovereign countries have agency. Sure, countries may pay costs for disagreeing with the most powerful actor, but they have the ability to decide.  So, you can't just do X and expect everyone to go along, whether they are friends or foes.  Indeed, every country has its own domestic politics and its own national interests.  Sucks, but there it is. 
  2. Which leads to: cooperation is not easy but generally required.  For instance, unilateral sanctions do not work unless one is the only supplier or buyer of a good/service.  The US sanctioning Iran can do some modest damage, but to really punish Iran, the US will need Europe and probably Russia and China to get on board.  Why should they?  Wishful thinking?
  3. Strategic thinking is key.  To be clear, this means that one needs to figure out not just what one wants, but what others want, so that one can figure out ways to get others to do what you want.  My best illustration for this was always my dogs--who remain more strategic than Trump despite both dogs being dead for seven and ten years respectively.   
  4. The security dilemma is a thing: unilateral efforts to improve one's security will cause others to react, improve their defenses, which ultimately leaves every less secure.  So, yeah, Iran pursuing nukes may very well lead to Saudi Arabia pursuing nukes.  Good times. 
  5. Which leads to this: repeatedly issuing threats is a bad idea.  We IR folks tend to teach WWI for many reasons, but one of them is that the Germans thought they could cow everyone into bending to them.  Instead, they provoked alliances against them.  Trump thinks he got denuclearization in Korea (nope, he didn't) because he threatened a lot, so now he is going to apply "maximum pressure" everywhere.  This will only come back to bite in a big way.  I won't get into the details of Prisoner's Dilemma vs. Chicken here, but the basic idea is that if you keep on playing chicken, at some point, someone is going to escalate and it won't end well.  
Drezner blogged today (ish, since I am living in tomorrow for the moment), arguing that agreements are always flawed so the question is not whether an agreement is flawed, but do you have a better one in mind and a plan to get there.  Trump has no plan because that would require some knowledge of international relations, some ability to engage in strategic thinking, some discipline, and some work.  So, nope, not going to happen. 

One last thing: as old IR colleague of mine commented on my fb page: individuals matter.  Trump reminds us of this everyday.   Not all Intro to IR classes take individuals seriously.   I had a lecture or two on individuals, but spent most time talking about the importance of domestic politics and the dynamics of the international system.  Why?  Because the "great man" view of IR, including its inherent sexism, is what students get before they show up at college.  But if I were teaching Intro to IR these days, I would probably spend a smidge more time... not just because of Trump but also because folks are thinking more seriously about it (we did in our NATO book).  

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Trump and the Iran Deal: We Need More Hot Takes! Stat!

Perhaps we don't need more hot takes on Trump's decision, but I often use this blog to clarify my thinking or at least enumerate my outrage.  So, the question du jour is: is this the dumbest decision in US foreign policy history?  The contenders are: Vietnam, invading Iraq, disbanding the Iraqi military overnight, and ditching the Iran deal.  Recency bias tells us we can forget about the Vietnam War.  Ok, maybe not. 

When I think of ranking dumb decisions, I focus not so much on the total damage (Vietnam and Iraq war will contend on body counts, financial costs, ramifications for alliances, etc) but on comparing the likely upside/downside ahead of time.  That is, was this a difficult decision or was it a no-brainer that the opposite should have been done.  Via that standard, today's dumbness competes only with disbanding the Iraq army as decisions that had very little going for them and very much going against.  Vietnam?  Each incremental decision was a tough one--help France or abandon an ally?  How best to confront communism? Once in, do you go with the corrupt, incompetent government you have or one that might be better? And on and on. 

To be fair to the Bush Administration, Iraq was a tough policy problem as the sanctions were harder to sustain and they were punishing the people without hitting the regime very hard, that Hussein was trying to have it both ways--that he did and didn't have weapons of mass destruction programs, and so on.  Still a dumb decision given how likely it was to empower Iran, but one could see some upside in eliminating Hussein (which was the goal of the effort, not much more than that really).  But disbanding the Iraqi army?  No upside as we know that firing lots of young men with guns is a baaaaaaaaaaaaaad idea. 

So, let's consider the pro's and con's of getting out of the Iran deal:
  1. Makes Trump feel good about ditching an Obama legacy
  2. Makes Netanyahu happy.
  3. .... 
That's all I got.

  1. Removes key impediment for Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
  2. Antagonizes allies even before Trump starts punishing European firms for trading with Iran.
  3. Should make it harder to make a deal with North Korea since it shows that the US won't keep its end of a bargain.
  4. Increases the probability of conflict with Iran.
  5. Plays into the hands of China and Russia.
That's just a start.  I am sure we can add to this list.

Why is this happening?  One could argue that perfection is the enemy of the good enough, as the Iran deal was not perfect BUT this is giving the anti-deal folks too much credit.  What if Iran was willing to have intrusive inspections forever and was willing to stop developing missiles forever?  Opponents would say it does not stop their support of terrorism.  The only way to get a country with its own domestic politics and its own agency to do everything you want is to ... invade it and replace its regime with your own occupation forces.  And we kind of tried that and it hasn't worked out so well.

It comes down to this: the US can't impose its will and get everything it wants.  It simply can't.  This is the neo-con dream, I guess.  Trump?  He is just a dreamer, I suppose.  No, this is happening because Trump has a dumb and disproven view of international relations--that one can just wish things and they will happen.  Recent news suggests that Trump and his folks believe their own press (that is, their own press office and maybe Fox)--that being tough on North Korea has led to this momentous deal that they will have at the summit, and that this is the answer to all of US problems--bluster and threats and aggression. 

Not only is this reminiscent of the stance of the Kaiser before World War I (worked out great for him) but runs against everything we know about international relations.  It almost seems as if it is the mission of the Trump folks to hasten American decline--by alienating allies, by undermining American credibility, by spending lots more money on the forever wars of the future, by strengthening adversaries, and on and on. 

This might not be the dumbest foreign policy in US history if there was even a half-assed plan to replace the deal.  I am pretty sure the plan really is two parts: Trump saying fuck Obama; and Bolton and the other anti-deal folks saying: woot, regime change!  Does that count as more or less than half-assed?  So, yeah, I may have to stop saying that disbanding the Iraqi military is the dumbest decision in recent US foreign policy history.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Is the DMZ the Oxiest of Oxymorons?

The Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea is the most militarized places on (and below) Earth.  Yesterday, I went on a bus tour to see it and lived to tell the tale.  I have always regretted not going to West Berlin during my summer eurailing a few years before the wall fell.  I guess I got this visit to the DMZ just in time before it becomes a zone of peace and happiness with the magic fairy dust that Trump is sprinkling (ok, I no longer see war as likely because it is now perhaps somewhat less likely than simply selling out Japan and South Korea... woot?).

Saturday, May 5, 2018

End of Week 1 in Seoul: Random Observations

I haven't been blogging much as I have been pretty fried by the joy of transcription.  The downside of super-interesting interviews is the process of turning my handwritten notes and recordings into documents on my computer.  On the bright side, doing so in an ill-setup hotel room has reminded me that my ergonomic setups at home and at my office are, indeed, ergonomic.  I manage, but it makes additional computer work not too attractive.  Still, I learn and I observe.  So:
  • Douglas MacArthur would have tenure here.  That is, old soldiers don't die or fade away--they become professors.  My fixer lined up a bunch of interviews with profs, and I said that I didn't need to meet so many of my kind.  She told me that I wanted to meet retired mil types and that is where they are.
  • Anecdata once again gets trumped by reality.  If I didn't know South Korea had declining fertility (it is super costly to have kids and educate them), I would swear that this place has no problems.  I have seen many of kids and many young canoodling couples, but what I notice ain't representative.  
  • I learned today that Seoul used to have the awful, unhelpful system of Tokyo where instead of streetnames and clear addresses, they had the numbers that represented quadrant-subquadrant-subsub-quandrant.  Yuck.   Only five years or so, it was changed.  
  • I don't know why I feel more comfy with Japanese food than Korean, but I do.  Tonight's street fair made it less challenging as the food trucks had more English so that I could avoid intestines and raw octopus easily.
  • I learned some Korean history thanks to the National Museum, which reinforced some of the stuff I noticed at the War Memorial.   The history of patterns of kingdoms unifying the peninsula and dividing it was kind of striking.  As was the history of invasions from Japan and China and relying on the Chinese to thwart the Japanese.
  • Can't help but think about M*A*S*H when I see destinations on the subway that seem familiar, such as Gimpo.  Or when I see helos like this: 

  • The National Museum is huge.... which I guess is what usually happens with such places.

  • Oh, and the right wing types here also wear red hats apparently:

Anyhow, I have not done that much tourism since I have been very busy interviewing--I even had one today on a Saturday.  Next week, I will be averaging 2-3 interviews a day, which is quite good.  I was concerned that I would not get many interviews, especially with elections next month, but once again, better to be lucky than good.  I have a great fixer who has lined up really interesting people and two great interpreters.  And I definitely depend on the kindness of strangers--these folks willing to talk to me.