Tuesday, September 19, 2017

One Should Not Do TV as a Tweet

Here's me and Colin Robertson on CBC's Power and Politics on Trump and his UN appearance starting at 5:55.  No, I did not have any alcohol... I was just triggered by Colin's reference to Trump as Presidential.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Consequences for Trumpers? Unlikely

Lots of uproar over Sean Spicer appearing at the Emmys.  I am of two minds on this: meh and duh.

Meh?  Because I don't mind comedy making fun of stuff, even recent stuff.  Does this normalize Spicer?  Seems to me he was as much or more the butt of the joke than being in on it.  If anything, it reminds us that he has been a lying sack of lies.  He was asked to lie on cue, and he did.  So what does that say?  I do think the pics of celebrities cozying up next to him is a wee bit more problematic, but I give comedy much license.  "Too soon?" is usually the question for something like this, not so much whether it is right or wrong to have a former administration official involved.  I'd have to check the old SNL of the mid 70s, but I am pretty sure a Watergate figure or two made the program. 

Duh?  The US (and Canadian) media give heaps and heaps of airtime to people who have done reprehensible things in the past, as long as it gives them the chance to fill bandwidth and get higher ratings: Oliver North, Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney, and on and on.  Being a failure or being a liar or being a criminal does not disqualify.  I get frustrated by this often, but we should be used it by now. 

A second duh: who has paid a price for bad behavior in past administrations?  No one from the Bush Administration got punished for facilitating/ordering torture.  Only lower level folks and one relatively low ranking general got punished for Abu Ghraib.  Scooter Libby, who got jailed for outing Valerie Plame, had his sentence commuted.  We might as well prepare for Trump pardoning his family and some of his operatives....

Finally, I tend to think the folks who are the spokespeople will get a lighter treatment than those who actually make the decisions and those who implement them.  Could I imagine Jeff Sessions getting similar treatment?  Probably not but maybe.  While one can say that Spicer attempted to give cover to all the awful stuff that Trump did the first several months, he did it so very badly, I am not sure we can say he provided any cover at all.  Again, someone like Sessions or Pruitt or DeVos would not be invited or would have gotten a different reception.  Perhaps the actors recognize and empathize with another actor working from a piss poor script?

Anyhow, I was more offended last night by the playing off of Sterling Brown who was giving a kickass speech while Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon got to have as much time as they wanted.  Is this about race or about movie star bias?  My guess is more the latter than the former, but not a good look.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Bad Ideas, Dumb Policies, Horrible Outcomes

As I was biking and listening to a podcast (Pod Saves America), I was struck by the similarity of the #voterfraudfraud stuff and the anti-vax stuff.  The key similarities are:
  • both are based on a false belief.  There is no voter fraud, and vaccines don't cause autism.
  • both advocate solutions that are worse than the "threat."  Essentially using nuclear weapons to deal with minor violations of the law.  The dis-proportionality is so very extreme.
    • #Voterfraudfraud proposes to disenfranchise many people, hundreds of thousands or millions, to deal with the minor risk of some people voting twice or whatever.  
    • Anti-vax movements propose to expose millions to disabling and fatal diseases because of an alleged small risk of autism.  I have previously wondered why having a kid die is better than having a kid be autistic.  
  • both, of course, are reality averse, running against the acreage of reports that demonstrate that the threats are not real and that their preferred solutions are actually far worse than the "threat."
 The big difference is that #voterfraudfraud is partisan--the GOP wants to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters largely because they found that they can't/won't appeal to people of color, poor people, and young people.  Anti-vax?  It seemed like a left-wing, hippie kind of phenomenon, but there are right wing folks who buy it, too.  It is not a Democratic or Republican strategy to gain or deny votes.  Woot?

Both efforts suck, both are hurting people, and hurting American democracy.  One, however, may stack the deck so much that political change will become very difficult. Thanks, Gorsuch. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Panic Du Jour: US Won't Protect Canada?

Today, some Canadian generals talked about the US Ballistic Missile Defence Program, and indicated that since Canada is not involved in it, that the US might not stop missiles headed towards Canada.  Oh my!  So, let me myth bust with a few caveats first:

A) I am not opposed to Canada joining the BMD program. There are good reasons to join--fear of North Korea attacking Calgary is not among them. Better situational awareness, some influence, less antagonizing of the US, and other reasons are better reasons than fear of NK nukes.  The Defence Policy Review should have addressed this head on and did not do so (if I remember correctly).
B)  I don't know much about the history of US-Canadian defence/defense commitments.
C)  I am not an expert on nuclear weapons or defenses.  I am just reasonably well read on that stuff, and have expertise on related stuff (see NATO stuff below).  More importantly, I don't really have anything at stake, unlike various generals....   It maybe that the Canadian generals are not the ones playing us, but rather, it may be the American ones who are apparently saying strange things to the Canadians. 

Ok, let's get to it:
  1. Who is going to attack Canada and not the US?  Folks upset at the maple cartel?  
  2. When ballistic missiles are in the air, those with fingers on the triggers of American defenses will not have hours to make the decision, but a few minutes (missiles from North Korea probably take less than thirty minutes, using the old Soviet ICBM flight time as an amateur guess).  So, are the Americans going to say, hmm, we have missiles inbound from North Korea, but they look like they are headed towards the West Edmonton Mall, so let's not worry about it?  Or will they say, missiles headed in our direction, let's launch our counter-missiles, just in case we are wrong about their final destination?
  3. I used West Edmonton deliberately because any missile headed towards most of Canada's population--within 100 miles of the US border--is going to get an American response.  No American general is going to say, hey, Vancouver, not our problem when Seattle is not far away.  
  4. On the other hand, what about NATO and Article V?  What about it?  There is no automatic invocation of A5 before an attack.  If an attack occurs, NATO reps must meet and agree that an attack has occurred.  This happened after 9/11 but not after a cyber attack on Estonia nor after Syrian artillery hit Turkey.  And note, this is after, not during, not before.  So, not helpful for responding to missiles in the air.  Also, Article V says that once an attack has been recognized, each country responds as each deems necessary.  Not hypothetical at all as we found out when writing our book.
  5. Whatever the legacy of US-Canadian defense agreements, the US will defend Canada.  It is in its own interests to do so.  Indeed, the usual Canadian concern is that the US would be too helpful and violate Canadian sovereignty as the US protects itself.
  6. Oh, one last thing: the idea that Canada is defenseless against nukes?  That has been the case since the Soviet Union developed its own nuclear-tipped ICBMs because.... the US never had an effective system for shooting down missiles.   And, guess what.... it still does not. The US system is unproven.  Indeed, when North Korea launches its tests, the US does not try to shoot them down because it would really suck if the US tried and failed.  Better to be uncertain. 
So, what are these generals doing, scaring Canadians?  I can't help but think of threat inflation.  That the threat is being played up .... because American or Canadian officers want Canada in the ballistic missile program.  While I agree with the ends mostly, I don't agree with the means.

The reality is that there is NOTHING Canada can do about North Korea.  Canada does not trade with North Korea, so sanctions are not applicable.  Canada is not able to bully China into doing anything. If the US can't get that to happen, Canada can't do it.  Canada has no ability to stop missiles from North Korea.  So, yeah, Canada is powerless and vulnerable.  That sucks, but there it is.  Canada can take some solace that North Korea does not give a rat's ass about Canada.  North Korea does not have enough nuclear armed ICBMs to waste any on Canadian cities.  It needs to have one or two so that the US is deterred from regime changing.  Maybe North Korea is aiming to create a stability/instability paradox dynamic where the US and North Korea are deterred at the strategic level, which then allows NK to mess around with South Korea at the conventional level.  That would not be good, but, again, not much Canada can do about that. Indeed, the story for the past twenty years or so is that there is precious little the US can do about North Korea.  If the US can do little, Canada can do even less.  Sorry, but let's be humble about Canadian capabilities (and US BMD capabilities).

Flatball: An Ultimate Doc

Last night, I watched Flatball on Netflix  Tis a documentary about the history of ultimate, narrated by Alec Baldwin. Overall, it was pretty terrific.  It didn't cover everything, and was a bit too obsessed about New York, New York, but explained the sport without dumbing it down.  It focused perhaps the central concern--what is the spirit of the game--without trivializing it, and, most of all, it showed the passion and joyfullness inherent in the game.  It also showed the athleticism and beauty of the sport pretty well.

The central debate in the movie and in reality has been: the Spirit of the Game.  This centers mostly but not entirely on the fact that ultimate was conceived and largely remains self-refereed.  There are observers for some (most?) of the competitive tourneys, and referees in the professional league.  This move towards having non-players make calls was controversial because the Spirit of the Game, the hippie concept at the start of the sport, remains key--that players should compete but value integrity more than self.  The idea is that players call the fouls honestly, including on themselves, that one players honorably. Over time, competition has been intense enough that rules have changed so that people can't call fouls on themselves to slow the other team.  One of the problems with the doc is that it seemed to buy, at least a bit, the New York, New York sense of the Spirit--compete as hard as you can no matter what.  This is imply wrong.  The Spirit is something more than that--it is about respecting the opponent, not deliberately violating the rules, and so forth.

I did experience New York, New York despite never playing at the highest levels.  In the summer between college and grad school, I played in the NY summer league.  I joined late, so I got placed with a team of 14-15 year olds from Bronx Science or whatever.  So, we were a bad team--I had the most experience, which was not really that much.  NY, NY split up and played on several teams, and I remember one game, where one NY, NY segment was so incredibly obnoxious.  I have played heaps of ultimate over my lifetime, and that one game will always stand out as the most unpleasant.  Because they really had no conception of the Spirit of the Game--they rubbed our inferiority in our faces in a summer league game.  I kind of hated that they told the history of ultimate through the experiences of one of the least spirited, least typical ultimate players and teams, but I am sure it was partly guided by which footage they had.  And it was a compelling story, even if it was the wrong story.

UPDATE:  A friend informed me that the director of the doc was a NYNY player, so now it all makes sense.

Other than that, watching the doc was a thrill--to see the teams I had heard of--the legends--such as Windy City, the Condors, Flying Circus.  To see that I was very much part of the boom.  Ultimate  started in 1968 in NJ and started becoming an inter-college club sport in the mid-70s.  It started at Oberlin in 1976 (so I went back for the 30th anniversary of ultimate there in 2006---twas a great weekend).  It was still a fairly marginal sport until the mid-80s.  At that time, it did start appearing randomly on ESPN, in a Howard Cosell piece, in Sports Illustrated, and the first world tourneys.

It was great to see the evolution that continued throughout the 90s with teams around the world becoming more competitive with the US teams.  I didn't know that Team Canada beat the US men's team a couple of years in a row around 2010-11. It was great to see some folks use ultimate to bring Israelis of all kinds together with Palestinians--that was very, very moving and very much in the Spirit of the Game.

My big quibbles:
  • No mixed (co-ed) ultimate.  Absolutely no discussion, footage or anything, and I think this is one thing that makes ultimate damn near unique.  I would hazard a guess and suggest that most of the city leagues that exist have most of their ultimate in this form, which means much of the ultimate out there is mixed. There are competitive teams all the way up to world competitions.  Are there any other sports where men and women play together?  Seems like much ultimate coverage ignores this key form of it.  Really a lost opportunity.  Also minimal coverage of the women's game--first about 53 minutes into the doc, but nice coverage of the post 3/11 tsunami competition in Japan with Japan upsetting the American team.
  • Also, didn't spend any time on the development of city leagues.  Again, where is ultimate being played these days?  Yes, there are world competitions, but just as soccer is now a thing in the US thanks to youth sports, ultimate is more of a thing thanks to big city leagues.  Would have been nice to know how many schools in US, Canada and elsewhere have teams at the junior high and high school levels.  It is now a component in many gym classes.
  • Oh, Alec, I never stopped wearing bandanas.  I just have many more of them than I used to, and now it is not just for the sweat but also for, alas, sunburn prevention.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Micromanagement or Abdication: The Twin Perils of Civil-Military Relations

Reading Micah Zenko's piece "Does the Military Need a Micromanager?" on the same day as my first class of Civil-Military Relations was great timing.  Got me thinking about what we discussed this morning.  What is micromanagement?  As Zenko suggests, tis anytime someone told an officer not to do something or to do something they didn't want to do.  Zenko goes onto discuss how responsibility for deciding how much force to use has moved from the White House and the Pentagon (the Office of the SecDef) to the combatant commanders and even further down the chain of command and the oopsy doopsy (h/t to Jon Lovett) that is more civilian casualties in American strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.  Funny how more delegation might lead to greater use of force with nasty consequences. 

It is not that the military folks are cruel or heartless or careless, but they are perhaps less likely to take the political consequences into consideration despite the fact that they all say they read Clausewitz and his dictum that war is politics by other means.  But it got me thinking about the two distinct choices that shape how much weight/restraint/control that influences stuff on the ground: how much discretion is granted to the folks on the ground or control kept back at HQ & how much oversight there is.  The Dave and Steve book/article focused on the former question, and our new project with Phil Lagasse focuses on the latter.  These tend to get conflated (Feaver does so just a bit in his terrific book). 

This handy 2x2 is a work in progress but suggests four possibilities (as all good social science does):

While micromanagement can mean many things, it seems to be most intense when someone can't make decisions, and every action is closely watched.  On the other hand, when the agents have a heap of discretion and no one is paying much attention, isn't that abdication of control?  Seems like that is where the US is headed these days since Congress is not doing as much oversight as it should of military operations and the SecDef does not seem to be watching too closely.  I think I tend to prefer the combo of high oversight and much discretion/autonomy to centralized command and relatively less oversight.... much to think about here. 

This is mostly to illustrate the basic problem today and why I have little sympathy for military officers who complain about micromanagement of the military.  Civilian control is a thing, you see, and pretty foundational to democracy.  If the military would hold itself accountable, perhaps external oversight might not be quite so necessary, but how has the military held itself accountable for the failures of few wars?  Did Tommy Franks or Ricardo Sanchez or Stan McChrystal pay a price from within the military?  No, maybe, and no. 

So, yeah, I indicated to my class that the US has a significant civ-mil crisis because it is in the abdication box.  I hope I am wrong, but I don't think so.  What say you?

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Second Angriest 9/11

I was probably angrier on the day, but too stunned to realize it.  I read a bunch of my previous 9/11 posts last night thanks to facebook's "on this day" feature, and realized that I have mostly been sad.  That the sacrifices were wasted as the US went off to Iraq so that whatever chance we had in Afghanistan was blown.  That Islamophobia is stronger now than in the aftermath of the attack.  A horrible day led to awful responses, but there was much heroism and, thankfully, much restraint.  George W. Bush is my second least favorite President of my lifetime, but he tried hard to not make things about a war on Islam.  Today, we have my least favorite President who is trying to make war on Islam AND enabling white supremacist terrorism.

Yes, Trump dominates my thinking on 9/11, just as he has dominated my attention since November 9th.  I cannot help it, given that one of his first executive orders was to ban Muslims.  While the Islamic State and the occasional attacks by those inspired by IS may have helped to motivate Islamophobia, it is definitely one of things the far right has been trying to do for years and Trump rode that wave.  In the ethnic outbidding that was the GOP primary, Trump was willing to go further, in that auction for far right support, to play up Islamophobia, inciting violence (often hitting the wrong target thanks to the ignorance of bigots).  So, one of the key lessons of 9/11--that Islamist extremists are the adversaries of both the US and much of the Islamic world--has been destroyed.

I am angry that more Americans see the Republicans as better on terrorism (whatever that means) when the President nods and winks and encourages white supremacists, who have killed more Americans since 9/11 than Islamist extremists.  While I very much remember 9/11, I also remember Oklahoma City.  Efforts to fight the far right white supremacists have been fought by the GOP who wanted to protect the far side of their base.  Trump lauds them, retweets them, and makes all kinds of false equivalence.  There is no doubt that white supremacists feel enabled and empowered by Trump, Sessions, Bannon, Miller, Gorka and others.  Just because a few of these guys are out of the White House does not mean that Trump is now "independent" or "moderate" or an "adult."  He is still an awful racist who has given much power to white supremacists (Sessions).  He has not changed since Charlottesville which ... was only a month ago.

We are supposed to be united on this day, but Trump has taken the existing polarization and amped it up several notches with the help of Fox.  So, I'd like to remember the victims and the heroes of 9/11--there were so many of both.  But on this day, all of that is crowded out by the fact that the US has elected the worst President who now betrays on a daily basis the legacies of that day.  So, yeah, I am sad, but I am mostly angry. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

How to Deal with Racism and Xenophobia? Damned If I Know

In the past day or so, I* have seen two very different ways to deal with racism and xenophobia:

with love and courage:
and with outrage:
And, of course, there are other ways to deal with it as well.  I admire both responses.  The first because it took discipline and because Jagmeet Singh avoided the easy response: duh, Sikhs are not Muslims (the first iron law of bigotry).  The second because it took a heap of guts to confront a cop since, as the man notes,  the cop had his gun drawn moments ago.  Both demonstrated how wrong the other person was, and shamed them for their behavior.  Will the provocative xenophobe in the first video change their behavior and outlet?  Probably not.  Will the cop?  I don't know, but he seemed more capable of shame than the woman in the first video.  That the driver in the second video seemed to do ok in the encounter--was not pulled out of the car, was allowed to harang the cop--is promising (thanks to our low expectations of police behavior). 

Of course, both moments were recorded and then posted online.  Lots of confrontations with racism are not.  So, we need to be careful about generalizing about how to respond to racism.  Which is my main point: that there is no one best way to respond to these types of encounters.  We can celebrate individuals and groups when we see how they thwart or confront racism--our celebration should not mean that the particular examples are the only ways to do it.  

We live in trying times, so we need to appreciate resistance to racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia and all the other hatreds that are being stirred up. 

* It could be mighty white of me to enter this conversation, except the Nazis at Charlottesville and elsewhere remind us all that few folks fit into their conception of white.   

Liberals on Defence: My "Prediction" and the Reality

Two years ago, I wrote a Liberal Defence Platform since I was pretty annoyed at the one I saw in the news.*  Turns out that platform was not the official party one but that of the defence critic.  The actual platform was better, but still way, way, way too heavy on defence spending = jobs and not as much defence spending for, well, defence.  Anyhow, I thought I would check what I proposed with the reality of the Liberal defence policy, nearly two years into their government.  In the preamble, I did say there would be a white paper.  The Defence Policy Review [DPR] may not be it technically, but did fit the bill--a thorough review of the CAF and DND that sets the agenda and makes commitments.
* I also wrote ones for the NDP and the Conservatives, but they don't shape defence policies these days.
First, I talked about defence procurement and a need to study other countries to fix Canadian procurement.  While the DPR had some text on this, so far it is not clear that procurement is being done differently or better.  That is the hardest thing to fix, and is equivalent to turning around an aircraft carrier.

Second, I suggested that the subs should be killed [that was never going to happen].  Nope, not close.  However, no mention of new subs in the DPR.

Third, I recommended a cut in CAF personnel, given that we will be buying fewer ships and planes.  Well, the Liberals found a capability gap which means more planes, not less, and the DPR has money to be allocated so that the Navy gets all of the ships it had planned.  So a double whiff on this, plus the DPR adds personnel for cyber and other stuff.

Fourth, I pushed more money for readiness--maintenance, exercising and the like.  I am not sure about the numbers, so I cannot say for sure what is going on here.  I have been told that my previous guesses were probably low--that there had been money for such stuff.  Maybe I was projecting from the US case where less money for that has probably lead to, among other things, ship collisions.

Fifth, the F-35... oy.  I called for a competition based on all of the previous work that had been done by Canada, the Danes, Aussies, and others. What do we get?  This interim mess:
  • we need 18 planes fast to address a gap that had not been previously identified. 
  • rather than seeking used F18s (the Kuwaitis and others had some), let's get Super Hornets, which might just game the big decision
  • Oh crap, Boeing is attacking Bombardier so maybe not
  • so now used Aussie F18s look good.  
  • and, yeah, still not making progress on the big competition.
Sixth, cyber?  Yep, a major focus of the DPR.

Seventh, taking care of the personnel?  Yes, the personnel issues got more text and more upfront text in the DPR than any other issue.  Progress?  We shall see.

Eighth, more transparency.  Um, hmmm.  The good news about the DPR: the process itself was very transparent, and they definitely engaged the defence community.  I have heard mixed stories about how open the CAF and DND are now to journalists.  As always, the real test is "will they talk to me"?  I will know that later this month as I head off to Riga.  

So, my attempt at a Liberal platform got some of it right, but missed much as well.  The DPR was more and different than I expected, and, as others have noted, the follow through is the key.  How much of it will actually be done?  Ask me in six years.

What did I learn from this exercise?  I suck at platform writing, but it was a fun exercise.  It led to some interesting conversations with folks in the party.  So, squeaky wheel gets some grease, I guess.  It also serves as a way to measure where things stand now compared to where I would have liked them to be.  How would I grade the Liberals on defence policy thus far?  Probably a B, but then again, I am an American and I am guilty of grade inflation.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Certainly Uncertain: Nuclear Logics Are Still In Play in Northeast Asia

Reading Andrew Coyne's piece on North Korea and the need for Canada to join the American Ballistic Missile Defence System reminded me of lots of old deterrence theory stuff.  The piece raises good questions about the reliability of the key actors, especially Trump, but confuses what is necessary for deterrence.  Still, there are some problems that we need to think about.

The big problem in the piece is that Coyne thinks that the American commitment to defend its East Asia allies is now largely unbelievable with the North Koreans developing the ability to strike the continental US (and Canada).  It is true that the US, under several Presidents, has failed to deter the North Korean effort to develop both nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them.  But deterring their effort to develop some deterrence and deterring an attack on allies are two different things.  Coyne is right to point out that extended deterrence (don't attack my allies or else) is less believable than regular, vanilla deterrence (don't attack me or else).  The threat to start or expand a nuclear war is problematic in either case, but seems a bit more believable if it is in retaliation for a big attack on the homeland.

The key is that for deterrence to work, the side being deterred (North Korea in this case for the moment) does not need to be certain that a counter-strike would happen.  They just need to think that there is some possibility of such a response.  Why?  Because the costs of nuclear war are so very high, if one does the probability math (probability of x times value of x), the prospective costs of attacking first are simply too high compared to the status quo (.01 times infinity = infinity) .... as long as the status quo is bearable (which is why we have to stop threatening regime change).  We do not have to convince North Korea that a retaliatory strike is certain if North Korea attacks South Korea and/or Japan, but that it could happen.  The placement of US troops in South Korea is far more about being a tripwire to raise the probability of the US responding than actually defending South Korea in a conventional attack. 

Again, one might say that this is not sufficient, but the key to nuclear threats is that classic Schelling phrase: a threat that leaves something to chance.  One does not have to threaten, for instance, total nuclear annihilation of North Korea crosses the Demilitarized Zone--one just has to threat to start a process that might lead to things getting out of hand and ultimately leading to nuclear war.  This was the old extended deterrence logic for Europe and Asia during the cold war.

Certainty?  That is for allies.  That is, the tripwires and all the rest over the years are mostly aimed at reassuring allies.  The enemy is deterred by a modest chance of the US responding, of sacrificing Chicago for Bonn or now Seattle for Seoul.  The allies?  They are very nervous and require a great deal of assurance.  Ballistic missile defense both in the region and in the US might assure them somewhat--that the US can stick around and meet its commitments knowing that it is protected.

Except for one thing: BMD may be at best a coin flip.  We have lots of uncertainty about whether the efforts to invest in destroying missiles in flight have produced anything remotely reliable.  Again, that is ok from a deterrence perspective--uncertainty is not bad.

While I think that joining the US BMD program makes sense, my reasons do not center on the NK nuclear threat.  The US would try to stop an attack on Vancouver or Toronto since they are very close to American cities whether Canada is in or out of the BMD program.  And North Korea is not going to be gunning for Calgary or Edmonton.  North Korea barely notices Canada, and, given its small supply of nuclear arms, it will not be aiming at Canada.  The BMD arguments I buy have more to do with building a robust NORAD that addresses a variety of threats in the 21st century, and strengthening a key US-Canadian institution in these uncertain times.

While we should all doubt Donald Trump, I am far more worried about his starting a process that leaves something to chance via a small strike at North Korea's missiles or at its leadership than I am about his not responding to a North Korean attack.  Yes, we are now deterred from attacking North Korea, but that has been true since it developed the capability level Seoul with its artillery.  Yes, we have much to worry about, but then so does Kim Jong Un.  If he wants to survive, he will avoid a process that might lead to escalation.  The costs of being wrong are just too high.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Civ-Mil Pet Peeve: Trump and "His Generals"

FFS!!  How many things are wrong with this statement? 
  1. Kelly is not a general anymore.  His title is now Chief of Staff.
  2. Mattis is not a general anymore.  He is the Secretary of Defense
  3. Neither are "military leaders."  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Dunford is our military leader.  Perhaps if there were a service chief of staff or combatant commander in the room along with Dunford, then we would have military leaders.
  4. McMaster?  He is a military leader, but currently is National Security Adviser.  Again, very problematic--he should have resigned his commission when he became NSA to prevent any confusions when he, as NSA, promotes the President's policies.   
  5. This is one time where Trump doesn't say "my generals," but he often does.  They aren't his.  They are generals (and admirals) of the United States. Their oath is to the Constitution and not to the President.  This is a huge distinction that Trump doesn't get, and one that is likely to cause big breaches in civil-military relations.
  6. No mention of civilians, such as #worstSecState Tillerson, the various intel folks, other civilians who are important in managing this situation.  Perhaps twitter is too short or perhaps Trump does not value folks who are not in uniform or who were not recently in uniform.
 I get it--that folks are relieved that adults (Mattis, Kelly [that same Kelly who was superenthused about banning Muslims]) are in the room.  But I continue to fear for civilian control of the military.  As I have long contended, Mattis does not really count as a civilian--his mindset is still military has he has little time to develop a more civilian perspective.  The law required a seven year break for a reason, even if Congress waived it this time.   I have argued since the appointments started being named that relief about the right generals being appointed was driven largely by tyranny of low expectations.  "Woot, Mattis" is really code for "Trump could have named someone far worse, so yeah!"  Just because Mattis is smart and well-read and cautious does not mean things are in great shape.

Yes, we are willing to violate the norms of civilian control of the military because we think that Mattis and McMaster can restrain Trump from starting a nuclear war with North Korea.  But two things are important--this ain't good for the future AND it hangs on us thinking that Mattis and others have the right ideas when they want to manipulate the President.  Given that some of these folks, including Mattis and McMaster might just want to attack Iran (something that caused Mattis to have friction with Obama), they might just get their way: "Mr. President, Obama wouldn't attack Iran... "  So, yeah, good to see these guys manipulate the President to avoid war.... but not really since the manipulation of a President by military guys is bad, bad, bad, and they might just manipulate him into a war.  We have long forgotten the failed Yemen raid of late January, but that was an escalation caused by the military folks goading on Trump.

So, once again, I think we are a severe crisis of civil-military relations.  Where is Congress, as it should be exercising oversight?  Anyone?  Anyone?

APSA 2017: In the Books

Union Square park was very pretty and full of swing dancing
Yesterday, I returned from the latest APSA meeting, this time (and seems like every time) in San Francisco.  Despite the heat (over 100 degrees!), it was a terrific meeting, as I met new people, hung out with friends, learned much from the papers and presentations, got good feedback, and said goodbye to Will Moore.

Ok, SF is super pretty.
I was pretty annoyed that the meeting was in SF, as it was just there a couple of years ago, it will be there again soon, and ISA will be there in the spring of 2018.  Apparently, breaking a lease in 2011 due to a union issue (and leading to fantastic Seattle meeting) has consequences.  SF was both better and worse than I remembered: seems like more good restaurants (Indonesian!) near the hotel but the smell of weed is now seen as a better alternative than to the smell of urine.  The tenderloin district of SF, where the hotel borders, remains tender. 

But the stuff inside the hotel was great.  I think I set a record of how many virtual friends (twitter followers, followees) I met in person.  I really enjoyed those encounters:
  • Christina Wolbrecht was dealing with the aftermath of going viral with this great set of tweets.
  • Tom Nichols proved to be far sillier in person (better at Jeopardy than at poker, to my good fortune).
  • a couple of different folks with anonymous accounts were super-engaging to meet in real life. 
  • I was on a panel with Ken Schultz, who I had never met before despite several twitter exchanges over the past couple of years.
  • with the last one taking place in the SF/Boston airports as Josh Kertzer helped me navigate my way to the Air Canada part of Logan airport (oy). 
  • and many others that I am currently blanking on due to travel-induced amnesia.
I am super-proud of my students.  This time, tis Aisha Ahmad with a fancy new book packed with insights and relevance about the politics of Islamist state-building efforts.

The professional stuff was excellent.  I served as discussant on a panel on nationalism, geography and violence.  I have not worked much in this area for a quite a while as I turned to alliances and civ-mil relations around 2008.  So, I had to use old brain muscles, and it was a pleasure to do so.  The papers were all quite good and got me thinking in new ways about the old stuff.  Turns out separatist violence is still hip.  Good for me, bad for those in the crossfire. 
My panel on civil-military relations was excellent.  The other papers were interesting and spoke to mine, and our discussant, Lindsay Cohn of the Naval War College, was terrific.  It was my first chance to present a paper on whether external threats are leading to better oversight over Japan's Self-Defense Forces (nope). 
David Lake gave his address as outgoing APSA president. I attended since David has long been a terrific ally in my career.  He was not my advisor, although people think he was. We overlapped at UCSD by only a year or two, but he involved me a great edited volume project and has provided great advice over the years.  The intro by Susan Hyde was super-sweet and on target. 

The sad stuff: there was a very sweet memorial roundtable for Will Moore.  Ashley Leeds, Christian Davenport, Idean Salehyan, and several others presented their perspectives on Will and his work.  The audience then shared their memories.  I offered up my take on Will's humor (he was very funny except at his Duckies presentation last spring), as I needed to think of something fun at this time.  Later on, a smaller group met at a bar on the bay, thanks to Michael Ward and David Davis.  It was not a rowdy wake, but a good chance to take advantage of the community that Will had built.

Mona laughs a lot and also makes others laugh quite a bit.
Lisa Baldez, Brian Sala and me in the dark.
The super fun stuff: Mona Lyne was a year behind me in grad school, and had just won a teaching award, so that served as an excuse to party.  We got the band back together--much of those who were in her cohort, mine, plus a few others and including some folks who did not become professors.  It was the first time in 25 years that all of us were together.  Facebook has provided some glue to connect us, but it is not the same as hanging out and yelling at each over belly-dancing music.  Ooops, yeah, the only restaurant that would like a large group without charging incredibly high fees turned out to be a Moroccan place that was very, very loud.  We retired to the Hilton for some story-telling after the dinner.  I am so glad we did this, as I love those folks.  They not only made grad school much better (they were sharp and funny), but made my time in San Diego the highlight of my life (other than College Spew).  I felt kind of goofy taking pictures of folks while they were talking (I have long hated it when photographers disrupt formal occasions), but am glad I did so. 

Mona telling stories.

Listening to Mona's tales of UCSD hijinx from long ago.
Of course, it is revenge for the pics they took of me during my bachelor party of events I didn't remember.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Engaging the Public via Social Media Panel

I am not blogging much this week as I am at the American Political Science Association meeting in San Francisco.  I did attend a panel on using social media to engage the public, and found it most interesting.  Some good advice and some good warnings.  Here's the storify of my liveweeting.

So far, a very good conference as I keep meeting virtual friends--twitter friends who I have never met until now in real life.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Are We There Yet? Civ-Mil Crisis, That Is

A friend asked on facebook whether Mattis's decision to hold off on Trump's ban of transgender folks in the US military counts as a crisis in civil-military relations.  Here is what I said:

There are civ-mil crises, and there are civ-mil crises.  Intra-civ crises over how to govern the military can be civ-mil crises if the mil takes sides.   So, if SecDef were a civilian like Gates or others, yes, this would count. That it is Mattis, who is really a general (sorry, recent retirement doesn't count for me, too much mindset is the same), yeah, this is a civ-mil crisis, because the top civilian has made a decisions that the generals are not implementing [conditional on whether the Trump orders actually contradict what Mattis is doing--I don't know the legalities of that].  When McMaster and Petraeus didn't do population centric counterinsurgency as Obama wanted, that was a crisis in civil-military relations, one that Gates bungled.

Of course, one qualifier: there is no consensus on what counts as a civ-mil crisis. Generally, the idea is that if the civs have preference A and mil has preference B, and then B happens, that is a crisis. But if civs have A and mil has B, and A is implemented, that's just the usual tensions that come with two distinct universes colliding. 

To be clear, I believe we have been having a civ-mil crisis since Day 1 of the Trump administration because:

  1. the SecDef is a general; 
  2. most of the usual civilians who play a role in national security are either non-existent (not appointed) or generals--recently retired or active (Flynn, McMaster); 
  3. State as an alternative source of info/influence/agenda is gutted; 
  4. Trump is an ignorant amateur who has no idea of proper way to handle civ-mil relations.
And it is not getting any better.  More generals is not more better.  Replacing Mattis might seem to be anathema since he is one of the few "adults" in the administration, but I have argued aplenty that none of the adults really matter that much with the baby President.   Having a SecDef who isn't a former general or admiral would be a good step, but hardly enough.  Until Trump leaves in 2021, we are going to have a perpetual crisis in civil-military relations.

Bad news for the US, good news for those teaching/researching civ-mil.  Oh, and what am I teaching this fall?  Civ-mil!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Lionizing the US Armed Forces

A big theme of the past week has been: how wonderful the US military is, compared to civilian society.  This was not just Trump's strange intro to his Afghanistan speech, but also SecDef Mattis's words to his troops.
 “You’re a great example for our country right now and it’s got problems,” said Mattis. “You know it and I know it. It’s got problems we don’t have in the military. And you just hold the line, my fine soldiers, and sailors and airmen and Marines. Just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it.”

The idea is that the civilians are a mess, lacking integrity and honor while the armed forces are better.  Let me be a good military briefer and put my bottom line up front [BLUF]: NOT GOOD.

The idea that the military is morally superior to the civilians is not new, but having both the President and, perhaps more importantly, the SecDef say it and not get too much pushback?  This is bad.  It is not coup-causing bad, but it is bad nonetheless.  Civilian society is supposed to be a cacophony of different views and standards--isn't this part of the freedom that the armed forces are supposed to be protecting?  The civilian world is not supposed to be a strict hierarchy with standards imposed from on high with strict obedience.  The military world and the civilian world are very different, and they are supposed to be very different.  Oh, and one is not superior to the other.  Sure, military folks will want to suggest that their world is better, but their world is only appropriate for their community, their profession.

Of course, it is not just about freedom vs authority, but the notion that the civilian world is immoral and lacking honor.  Um, has anyone checked out the record of bad things in the armed forces?  Sexual assault, slow to deal with suicide, the presence of more than a few white supremacists, corruption (folks involved in procurement making decisions based on who will employ them when they retire), relatively weak accountability for the senior officers for failures (the firing of an admiral for the ship collisions is a rare and late example of some accountability), etc.  The whole "support our troops" thing has allowed us to be blind to the imperfections of those in uniform.

The point here is not to trash the armed forces--they do incredibly hard jobs under immense pressure.  And now their commander-in-chief is a temperamental brat with a profound ignorance for pretty much everything but having a child's admiration for folks in uniform.  So, they are in a hard spot.  They may be asked to violate domestic and international law (see Trump's comments on rules of engagement), and it will be interesting to see what they do.  Anyhow, the point is that there are two separate worlds--civilian and military--but one is not inherently better than the other.  Many civilians have some sense of honor even if it is not sketched out in a code.  Some military members do engage in awful behavior even as the majority are honorable:  #Notallcivilians and #notallmilitaryfolks and all that.

I wish that Mattis wouldn't play up the notion that the military is better, less corrupt, less problematic than the divisive civilians.  It is his job to manage US civilian-military relations, and speeches like this are not helpful.  It would have been unfortunate if these words were uttered by a serving general, but they are far more problematic when uttered by the SecDef.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Trump's Secret War Plans

Trump's argument that he is keeping the numbers and plans secret so that the enemy does not learn of our plans is bullshit.  Let me count the ways:
  1. The Taliban could count C17s just as the Viet Cong counted helicopters.  The Taliban is not a dumb organization.
  2. The Taliban can observe our bases and count that way.
  3. The Taliban can get a copy of the next supplemental appropriation bill and do the math (divided by roughly $1million to get the number of soldiers).
  4. While the specific operational plan of the day may benefit from secrecy to surprise the adversary, the larger strategy does not benefit from surprise in the same way. Think about D-Day: we didn't tell the Germans which day or where, but they sure as hell knew there would be a second front (ok, third or fourth front, depending on how you count) somewhere.  
  5. It allows this government to avoid having a clear strategy or plan.  
  6. It denies Congress the chance to oversee and ask tough questions of the generals. At least in public.  The generals would have to respond to Congress's questions since, Trump may not know this, Congress co-owns the US military.  Ooops. Better to have the debate in public than in secret so that voters can then hold the administration accountable.  Oh, wait, maybe that is the point.
  7. It allows Trump to delegate all responsibility to the military when civilian control of the military is crucial for democracy to operate.
I am sure I am forgetting stuff so suggest away and I will update.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

TV Panels Mean Much is Left Unsaid: Afghanistan Edition

Dale Smith teased me a bit after my appearance on Power and Politics today that I had much more to say.   Maybe, maybe not.  I said much at the Globe and Mail, on various radio programs and here at the Spew.  The challenge is that we have little time to chat, and when the other guy says stuff, I often don't have the chance to respond.  Shuvaloy Majumdar is smart and sharp on this stuff with real policy experience (first time I met him), so I didn't disagree with what he said, but perhaps with his optimism.  I guess the key things I wanted to say or respond to are:
  • Afghanistan is not as remarkably progressed as Shuvaloy suggests--the last election was a shitshow (we don't know who got how many votes), the resulting ad hoc coalition is not working out so well, and the messed up institutions we implanted way back in 2002 still screw stuff up. So, I took exception to the idea that it is all about Pakistan.  Corruption and warlordism are also just a wee bit problematic
  • The Taliban is not simply = Pakistan.  The Taliban may be agents of Pakistan's intel agency, but heaps of principal-agent problems here.
  • Pakistan's observer status at NATO is just a trifle--something that they don't care much about.
  • That Shuvaloy's things that Canada and NATO could do are all things that fall far below any threshold of counting as much in the eyes of Trump.  It is about troops on the ground and maybe money.
  • That assertions about other partners--the Emiratis, the Russians, the Chinese--are about wishes and not realities.  Nobody is going to rescue the US from this war.  Some might put pressure on Pakistan, but Pakistan is used to pressure and will continue to be America's worst or second worst ally.
My best move was to trash Tillerson before the cameras went on, so that Rosemary Barton put some skepticism in her voice when mentioning him. 

Anyhow, TV is fun, traffic is not, getting soaked in a downpour not fun in a suit.  But an interesting media day today: four radio programs, one op-ed, and one TV hit.

Trump Asking for Loyalty?

While I have my qualms about yet another ride into Afghanistan, plus I am not thrilled with the state of civil-military relations in the US that got us this decision, I must say that the speech started so badly that it probably colored my reaction to the rest.  Trump started by talking about how the US military was a model for the rest of American society.  This rubbed me the wrong way in three ways different dimensions: the military as authoritarian entity, Trump's sudden love for "unity", and Trump's own loyalties.

Yes, the US military is more multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious, more heterogeneous than pretty much any other employer or institution in the US.  My year in the Pentagon made that clear to me--no university I worked at before or since had as much diversity among its staff as the US military.  Admirable?  Absolutely.  But it is also an autocracy---that there is a chain of command and people follow orders.  It is not a democratic society.  So, there is only so much American society can and should imitate from the US armed forces.  Calling on America to be more like the US military is also very scary when the speaker is someone who has been destroying the norms of American democracy since he started running for President.

Which gets us to the second problem: Trump calling for unity and love among all is galling because he has based his campaign and then his presidency on division.  Day one of the campaign?  Calling Mexicans rapists. He continues to refer to immigrants as animals.  Trump hired a team of white supremacists--Bannon may be gone, but Sessions is still Attorney General and Stephen Miller is still somewhere in the White House--so spare me any faked remorse since Charlottesville.  If he were sincere, he'd be pushing Sessions and Kris Kobach to drop the #voterfraudfraud campaign.  As Dana Carvey as George HW Bush would say: not gonna happen. 

Worst of all: Trump harped on the theme of loyalty.  This is wrong in so many ways, but the one I will focus on here is this: who has Trump shown loyalty to?  Most of all: Vladimir Putin.  He has refused to criticize the Russian leader even when Putin sanctions the US embassy in Moscow.  Other than that and nepotism for his family, it is not clear that Trump has been loyal to anyone ever. 

So, yeah, with that start, I was already on edge.  But Trump is good at that.  I am sure this part of the speech was partly designed to appeal to his base (since he is mostly the President of his base and not so much the rest of us)--to make them feel better about the Afghanistan policy that contradicted his promises to them.

Anyhow, when Trump talks about loyalty, I scoff.  When he says Americans should be more like the US military, I worry.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Key Rules of US Civ-Mil and Trump's New 'Strategy'

I wrote something for a newspaper for tomorrow, but have much more to say about Trump's speech.

This post will not focus on how icky the first part on loyalty was.  Instead, I focus on the rules of US Civil-Military Relations:
  1. the US military does not like to start new wars (see Deborah Avant)
  2. once involved in a war, the US military likes to escalate.  They want more troops, as if more means better.  More can be better, but that really depends on the strategy and the adversary and the conditions.  
  3. Washington, DC establishment prefers MORE ... something.  It prefers action.  
  4. Everybody hates micro-management.  But no one wants to be held accountable.  Ooops.  The US military likes to talk about how they are accountable, but the costs for bad decisions are borne by the local commanders (captains of ships, battalion commanders), not those making the bigger decisions in Kabul (Bagram) or the Pentagon.  
  5. People complain about the rules of engagement, but these conversations tend to forget basic Clausewitz: war is politics by other means. Despite all of their sins and arrogance, Petraeus and McChrystal got that right.  If you want the public to support our adversary, then use more force and more recklessly.  How did being more brutal work for the Soviets in Afghanistan?
  6. Kicking the can down the road is the American way.  This additional four or five thousand works will not lead to victory but it might help stave off defeat for a while.  Woot?

I really don't know if some more troops is good policy or not.  I do know our troops need decent rules of engagement.  Barbarism may sound like fun, but is not a good look.  It offends the allies, it antagonizes the locals, and I do think we learned it is better to be more targeted, more careful than not.  The US has not lost wars because the troops' hands have been tied.  The US lost wars (Vietnam) and are not winning recent wars (Afghanistan) because we simply have less resolve, less interest, less commitment than our adversaries.  Oh, and counter-insurgency is really, really hard and takes heaps of patience, which is not something that Americans tend to have.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Iron Laws of Moving Kid to College

Today was the last time I had to help my daughter move to college.  She was just moving across town, but I was already bringing her back down from our family vacation, so I helped out.  Oh, and I helped her get a used car.  Anyhow, this experience reminded me of the Iron Laws of Moving Kid to College:
  1. Despite there being many floors in most dorms, somehow the kid is almost always on the top floor.  
  2. Kid's stuff is like a snowball--it gets larger and larger, the farther you have to move it.  I have told her roomies to Luna her--to hide/steal her stuff--so that there is less stuff to move back home.
  3. Moving in and out is always on the warmest day of the year.  Caveat: if it occurs in January at the start of the winter term, then it will snow hard (H/T to RP). 
  4. It gets easier to leave the kid behind, but it never gets easy.  
Oh, and we will have far more fun and test the caveated version of rule 4 in January, as she will be moving to California for an internship and then, well, her post-college life.  And I will be the Chewie to her Rey on that cross-country trip.  Damn, it will be one dusty ride.  I can feel it already.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Obi-Wan and Steve Bannon

I have always thought that Obi-Wan had overrated himself, telling Darth Vader: "If you strike me, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."  What does Obi-Wan do after that confrontation?
  • Ghost Obi-Wan provides some modest guidance to Luke as he makes the Death Star run: "use the force."
  • Ghost Obi-Wan tells Luke to go to Dagobah.
  • Ghost Obi-Wan told Luke not to go to Bespin.  Oops.
  • Ghost Obi-Wan explains to Luke why he lied about Vader--from a certain point of view.
  • and that's about it.  Not so impressive.
So, now we have folks saying that Bannon will be more powerful as he would be unchained outside of the White House.  How was he unchained?  How was he restrained?  Probably not so much.

The advantages of Bannon being out of the White House:
  1. The symbolism of Bannon in the WH is awful--a white supremacist and otherwise awful person in the White House.  One less is at least one less.
  2.  Bannon will have less info.  He could still get intel leaked to him, and Trump can tell him whatever he wants, but he will be further from the seat of power and all that flows through it. Trump simply cannot be on the phone with Bannon all the time, so Bannon will have some distance.  Less access is a good thing.
  3. Trump tends to listen to the last person who talks to him.  That will not be Bannon as often.  He will simply not be in his ear as much.  Sure, Bannon can try to trigger Trump via Breitbart or Fox, but it is not the same as whispering in his ear.
Bannon is not irrelevant now, but he is less relevant.  He can rabble rouse outside the White House, but he was doing that anyway.  Unchained?  Please.

Anyhow, this is a win--not a huge win, not a game changing win, but a win.  Trump is still President and still a white supremacist.  So, the battles continue, but this is a good day and we must take these good things when they happen as there are more shitstorms ahead and more pain to be inflicted on the American people and our allies.

So Many Labels, But All White

I was listening to the Pod Saves America podcast on Charlottesville, and one of the speakers argued that the Alt Right is a thing since they are the white supremacists who consider themselves above and different from Nazis (swastikas are bad for PR) and KKK (we are not rednecks), etc.  Yet the Alt Right are clearly racist, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-semitic, and misogynist.  The broader label that applies to them all? White supremacist.  Sure, that glosses over all of the other hates they have, but all that stuff seems to travel together. 

Anyhow, I made this to illustrate:

The Alt Right may be a separate group from the others (or not, hard to tell, as some Nazis wear khakis).  But they are all white supremacists, which means they all need to be confronted, mocked, and marginalized.  That the Alt Right folks may wear nicer clothes does not make them more acceptable.  That they are not rednecks does not make them more acceptable.  They are all ... deplorable. The key is not so much converting them, although there are folks who have been able to do that one on one.  The key is to make it politically painful for those in power or running for office to appeal to/play to these people.  The goal is to return them to the criminals that many of them are, to make them isolated and irrelevant racists rather than empowered terrorists and militias who are encouraged by the President and his party. 

It will not be easy, and there is no one right way to do it.  Sometimes, it will mean turning the spotlight away, sometimes it will mean confronting, and sometimes it may mean, yes, violence.  I am not a pacifist so I can't tell folks to turn one's cheek as the Nazis swing their clubs.  I do think the best way for the most part is non-violence, but defense may be necessary at times.  Fleeing may be necessary at times.  But one of the core logics of ethnic conflict is that when the extremists are outnumbered, they tend to go away. Riots happen where the rioters of ethnic group x outnumber the other ethnic groups in that area.  So, the best way to deal with these folks is to show up.  But with the white supremacists being armed to the teeth, this can be hard to do.  So, I really have no ideas except to call out those who are white supremacists, such as:

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Rebel Rabble

As much of a fan as I am of the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars, I can't help but notice that The Rebel, a far right media enterprise in Canada, might be named after the Confederacy more than the good guys in Star Wars.

Here's the thing: if one is a southerner in the US, one might plausibly claim that a stars & bars patch or flag might have some other meaning than white supremacy.  One could pick up some affinity via osmosis, relatives, peer pressure, bad history teachers, whatever.  I tend not to buy that excuse, but I can see how it might mitigate things a bit. 

However, if one is attaching oneself to the Confederacy while living in Canada, Europe or any place other than the old South, one is attaching oneself to white supremacy deliberately.  And, yes, Confederacy = White Supremacy as the movement was based on the idea that whites can/should own black people (read any of the articles of secession), making it the highest form of White Supremacy (borrowing a smidge of Lenin).  So, yes, affinity for Confederacy and its symbols means affinity for White Supremacy, and, yes, all that almost always comes with it--anti-semitism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia and even misogyny. 

The outlet is now trying to distance itself from white supremacy, but it may have a hard time doing so.  Why? Because it has long been more than a smidge racist.  Stephanie Carvin pointed it out quite clearly today:
The skittles, as folks might remember, were reference to the "poisonous" Muslims among the Syrian refugees.  So, yeah, not so cool.

And the folks jumping of the Rebel ship now should still be considered tainted by their previous association since its racism and other fatal flaws are nothing new.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Certainties in the Uncertainty Engine: Vain, Greedy, and Racist

I have been arguing for quite some time that Trump is an uncertainty engine, but there are a few key consistencies that have long been true and actually pretty obvious. He is greedy, he is vain, he is lazy and ignorant, he doth project too much, and, yes, he is a white supremacist. 

Trump has long discriminated against African Americans going back to the lawsuits over discriminating in rental housing in NYC in the 1970s.  He criticized his casino employees for having Black accountants rather than Jews.  His birtherism was grounded in racism.  His campaign kicked off by calling all Mexican immigrants rapists.  He often calls immigrants animals.  Oh, and it is probably not an accident that he has surrounded himself with white supremacists:
  • Jeff Sessions who was too racist to be a federal judge in the 1980s (more than a few GOP Senators agreed with the Democrats) but sufficiently racist to be Attorney General;
  • Stephen Miller, who was reviled for his racism and xenophobia going way back to when he was in high school;
  • Steve Bannon, who is often said not to be really racist, but just uses racism as a political strategy.  Sure, go ahead and try to make that distinction.  I don't buy it.  Not at all.  
So, as I tweeted, there really are two Trump's Razors to explain his behavior.  The first, as enunciated by John Scalzi: “ascertain the stupidest possible scenario that can be reconciled with the available facts” and that answer is likely correct." The second: Trump is a white supremacist, so he picks policies that favor whites over all other groups (African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Native Americans, etc.).  Is he anti-semitic? Perhaps not in beliefs but certainly in who he allies with.  For those who tut-tut and say that Trump can't hate Jews because his daughter married one and some of his grandchildren are Jewish, I scoff and I scorn. And I point out this, of course:

Trump will not be impeached because of his white supremacy as the GOP relies on it to stay in power.  But perhaps people will stop calling out the Democrats' identity politics given that Trump's and the GOP's white identity politics is now a wee bit more obvious to all.  Or not.

What to do?  See something, say something, of course.  Call out the white supremacy, rather than referring to alt-right or other glosses.  Put pressure on any and all politicians to take a stand so that we can identify who needs our opposition and our support.  Put pressure on the media to stop the false equivalence machines--perhaps Trump's latest statements will at least put those machines on pause.

 It will take more than just 2018 and 2020, as this stuff is not new, but Trump has given these deplorable people cover and permission.  We need to return to a time where these people were ashamed and embarrassed and marginalized.  As always, the only way out is through.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Reacting During Limited Computer Access: Nazis? I Hate These Guys

I haven't seen much coverage of the Nazi in Charlotteville, as internet access has been intermittent.  However, I have seen enough to be disgusted and impressed and confused, mostly confused. Disgusted that these hateful assholes are getting any benefit from the various false equivalence machines.  Impressed by those who are protesting despite much risk to themselves.

And confused: should we make fun of the douchebros?  Should we post memes reminding us all that the Americans died to defeat Nazism?  Should we keep in mind that the US was built on white supremacy in its purest form--slavery?  Is it UnAmerican to carry flags with the swastika on them despite the US history of racism?  The answer to all these questions is the same: hells yes. 

We should:
  • mock these guys.  We should diminish them as their cause is pathetic.  That whites are now sharing more and more power and resources and privilege with non-whites is a good thing--that makes the US a better place to live, a stronger economy, and all the rest.  These douchebros are not oppressed.  They just fear that those who gain more power might abuse it as these guys have and would--the problem of projecting too much. 
  • remember US history--the good stuff and the bad.  Yes, the US helped to defeat the Nazis (via a coalition, by the way).  It is one of the best things the US has ever done if the US did it slowly and reluctantly at first.  The US could have chosen Nazism in the 1930s, but turned away from that, from America Firsters and the rest.  But as Obama kept saying, the history of America is an effort to perfect the union--which still suffers from the legacies of slavery, which still incubates white supremacy and other forms of hate, and which still gives too much cover to the allies of the hateful.
We, indeed, have an administration full of white supremacists from Sessions to Bannon to Miller to Trump.  These folks and their incitement have given the douchebros of white supremacy the confidence to come out and voice their hate.  How to counter that? Other than eventually defeating Trump, we need to call out the white supremacy.  Fuck this white nationalism, alt-right bullshit--if they adopt Nazi slogans and symbols, then let's call them Nazis with no modifiers.  Let's remember what the Nazis wrought not just to neighboring countries to but to Germany itself--utter destruction.  Let's remember their targets: Jews, gays, the left, the disabled, and on and on.  While Islamophobes may find the Trump's islamophobia appealing, the brown Islamophobes should keep in mind that white supremacy is for whites only.  Eventually, the non-white Islamophobes will be treated the same as all non-whites.

The good news is that we have Republicans heaping much scorn on the Nazis.  The bad news is that, as both George RR Martin and Brett Freidman would say, words are wind.  We should pressure Congress to put more $ and more investigations into fighting white supremacist terrorism.  Let's get Orrin Hatch, John McCain, and the others to put money where their mouths are. 

Oh, and let's drop the whole bullshit that the Dems lose because they play with identity politics.  White identity politics is white supremacy politics, something that both parties have played with but one party now relies so very heavily on it that their President refuses to clearly condemn the white supremacists.

Hopefully, this will all be resolved by the time our ship docks, but I doubt it. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Dissertation ideas for Americanists

I had a dream last night about a dissertation idea--yep, even up in Alaska, I can't escape the profession in my dreams.  Anyhow, my idea, theory-less as it may be: it would be cool to do network analyses (which are probably no longer the rage) of Trump before the campaign and now.  It would be interesting to see where these various arsonists came from (whenever I say arsonist, I mean Trump cabinet secretaries), and who they were linked to before and now. 

It may not be much, but it could be fun.

As an old prof (Mr. Neil of Oberlin) used to say, "this, I give you for free."  And it might be worth exactly as much as it costs in this case.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Travel Suggestions and Blog Interruption

Time for the annual Saideman gathering, this time far away from any of the usual places--we will be seeing the water of a different coast from a different direction--cruising to Alaska.  I expect little wifi, so probably not much blogging for the next 9-10 days. 

But the journey thus far has been..... frustrating.  Weather disrupted connections, then mechanical problems disrupted connection, so we abandoned Air Canada for the last leg, only to rent the wrong vehicle (the keys worked!). 

But we made it so here are some suggestions, given our experience:
  • If one is going on a cruise, always pad the front of the trip by a few days so that one does not literally miss the boat.  The flight attendants along the way appreciated that we were not that stressed for time since we had enough time built in.  I have flown next to enough panicked cruise goers to know better than to try to time things too tightly.
  • When waiting online (three hours plus) for a service person, make some calls: to one's frequent flyer airline to see if they can help even if you are not on their system for this leg; to get a hotel room since they were going out fast (thanks, priceline!); etc.
  • Travel apps--to find out the status of flights and such.
  • Must keep status--we were able to enjoy lounges (my daughter discovered free booze she could serve herself!).  Not necessary but definitely made the odysssey (lots of references to Odysseus on this journey)
  • Be nice to the car rental people who are swamped, especially after the last person was nasty.  
  • Get a NEXUS card if you can--we saved probably 2-3 hours on the drive from Vancouver to Seattle as they had a special lane and then three open NEXUS booths.  Woot!
Oh and check the receipt after turning in the rental car--it was for $3000 for a day's drive?  The rental guy basically made my day by saying: that's in Canadian dollars, so no biggie.  Um, yes, biggie.  Error fixed, but that was a fun way to end two difficult days of travel to just get to the right city on the West Coast.

Anyhow, enjoy your early August, as I will be eating too much, hanging out with a herd of nieces (and one token nephew), and hopefully seeing bears and otters and whales and Grizzly Adams.

Points? F No

No, this is not a post to regret the demise of @Midnight, which I will surely miss.  It is a very short post about the immigration law being bandied about.

As I have been traveling, I have only seen glimpses, but the general idea is to adopt an Aussie or Canadian style system where applicants are rated by various attributes and those scoring high get to be admitted. I have seen folks quibble with the point system--liberal arts degrees count for bumpkus.

My quick take is: it is fine for other countries to do this, but it betrays the history, identity and essence of the US to say that folks who don't speak English, who don't have a lot of skills and don't have a lot of money can't be admitted.  I would bet that most Americans (except Native Americans) have relatively poor ancestors who didn't speak English make the journey to the US way back when.  Immigration was and remains one of the things that makes the US truly exceptional (there are other immigration nations but few of them). 

Bouts of xenophobia and restrictions on immigration are regular occurrences, which often lead to much regret.  I know that Stephen Miller  and the rest of the Trumpsters want to betray pretty much all American ideals, but we don't have to go along with it.  This law is being generated by white supremacists, who may be disguising their hate for non-whites with details, but the objectives are clear.  So, let's focus on the intent and not the specifics, shall we?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Sadie Out

Today, I announced at PSR that I am out.
No joke. I am going on a largely wifi-less vacation next week, so it makes sense to use that as a point of departure as any.
Moderating here has become far more time intensive over the past year, and, as one of my friends put it, there is far more noise and less useful signal here. I have had a hard time focusing on my work over that time frame thanks to the daily crises in DC, so I need to cut out some of the noise. Also, on the occasion of my recent birthday, I resolved to have more positivity in my life--that I was getting to be too whiny on the ultimate field. The same applies for my internet life. One could say that I am just not as comfortable as I used to be.
This will be a chance for a natural experiment or two to test the claims that I have never believed--either that this place would collapse without my lending it whatever legitimacy I gave it or that the marketplace of ideas will function adequately.
Over the years, I have enjoyed many of the conversations and give and take. This place has inspired me to think about a variety of aspects of the profession, so I am grateful for that.
Anyhow, if folks want to ask me stuff, rather than go to the Ask Sadie thread, you can find me via twitter or email. I wish y'all heaps of tenure track jobs and publications in the 20 top 3 IR journals. Good luck!

Moderating became too much of a slog as the election and folks linking to PSR at some of the more toxic places on the internet led to far more crap than before.  We shall see if I can still be easily trolled when I am no longer spending much time there. 

Update: That the place crashed for a while after I posted my message was a fun coincidence, but I had nothing to do with that. One consistent false belief over the years was that I have any technical ability to run that place or do anything more complicated than pushing delete buttons.

Trump's Frustration With Afghanistan

I absolutely get why Trump is frustrated with the war in Afghanistan.  The Taliban, even if they are more fragmented than we tend to appreciate, are doing quite well, and the Afghanistan government is not performing well despite the departure of Karzai.  When Obama spent much of 2009 considering whether to surge or not, I was most ambivalent for many reasons.  Was Afghanistan similar enough to Iraq (where the surge seemed to work)? Wasn't the primary challenge political and not military?

So, I see where Trump is coming from.  Of course, his reasoning and his analogies are flawed (Afghanistan ain't a restaurant).  And that gets to the big problem now: he is uniquely unsuited to come up with an alternative policy.  He has a short attention span and hates to listen to bad news.  Afghanistan requires focus and a willingness to see both progress and falling backwards.  Trump has allowed/encouraged Tillerson to gut State, when, again, the primary challenge in Afghanistan is political: not just about improving governance by Ghani and his administration but also figuring how to negotiate with the Taliban AND how to get the various outside actors (Pakistan primarily but also Russia, China, Iran and India) to coordinate enough to provide a conducive environment. 

I have no idea if General Nicholson should be fired.  I do know that replacing generals every year or so has not been good for the war effort as each one has a different strategy.  This means that no strategy is really ever implemented fully, that the folks in the ground get whipsawed by the changes in rules and priorities. 

On the other hand, Mattis arguing that we are losing because we do not have the right strategy may seem to miss the point.  As a former general, he sees the key to winning and losing to be about getting the right strategy--the right set of plans that have various lines of effort coordinated to reach a desired endstate (yep, that is how they speak).  Endstate means goal or final desired outcome.  But is it about picking the right set of plans?  Or is it that we outsiders have, dare I say it, limited influence?  That the actors on the ground have more at stake, longer time horizons, and more influence? 

Whatever strategy the US and its allies choose, the folks on the ground will be deciding whether to bet their lives on the Afghan government, on the Taliban or on staying on the fence.  It is not clear that we can affect those decisions that much.  We didn't influence them that much when there were more than a hundred thousand troops on the ground, so why expect more influence now.  Indeed, Jason Lyall's work seems to suggest that we are damned no matter what we do. The outsiders get blamed for what the Taliban does.  Oh crap.

Until we have some humility about what the outsiders can do, no strategy is going to be "the right strategy."  So, yeah, Trump should be frustrated.  But he lacks the capacity to think long and hard and reality-based.  Thus, I don't expect a significant improvement.  Perhaps he will call for the end to the US effort there, but addressing that is a blog post for another day.