Friday, April 20, 2018

Canada is Underrated

Maybe that old saw about immigrants being more nationalistic than the native born is true.  I read Scott Gilmore's complains that "Canada is not a country" and strongly recoiled.  As someone who has lived here for 16 years and came with a belief that Canada was simply a colder version of the US, I have learned that Canada is a people, it is a nation, and it is a country.  Partly this is due to lived experience and observation and partly because I happen to have spent much time studying nationalism. 

First, let's focus on the beer: this outburst of skepticism about the Canadian federation is about a Surpeme Court decision that provinces can continue to regulate trade in ways that make it hard to conduct inter-provincial trade.  And, yes, it was about beer (the guy in question had lousy taste in beer, but that was not the deciding factor in the case--should have been).  I hate to break to Scott Gilmore and to the Canadians, but moving alcohol across American state lines can also get you stopped by the authorities.  It happened to my family long ago, as my father decided to stop in DC on the way to an event in Maryland while driving from Philly with Pennsylavia plates to buy cheaper booze.  One of my sisters commented as this was happening that she had learned in school that this was illegal, and then, moments later, we got stopped.  I was too young to learn and remember the details, but, yes, federalism is a thing.  So, inter-federal unit trade in matters like booze and other stuff is not a Canadian thing, but a dynamic in federations.  And we would not call the United States or Germany not countries.

Second, Gilmore complains about how hard it is to get to the far north, and how few people in Canada have visited there.  At least your far north is a very integral part of the national mythos and identity.  I can bet that only a small percentage of Americans in region x have been to region y across the country.  How many folks from Oregon and Washington have spent any time in the deep south?  Or vice versa.  So, yes, Canada is a large country, and it has parts of it that are underpopulated.  Same for the US, Russia, Indonesia, China, and so on.  It can raise complications, but this is pretty strange argument.

Third, the whole argument that Canada can't defend itself is just silly. Defend itself from what?  Who is invading the far north?   Who is violating the maritime boundaries?  If we want to say that countries that can't defend themselves are not real countries, then much of the world is not sovereign.  The list of countries that have an adequate military that can protect themselves, while not considering the actual threats, are those countries with nuclear weapons (US, UK, Russia, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea), and those with significant conventional militaries (Japan [yes, really], Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Australia and a few others.  Again, Canada's lack of threats make its military damn near a luxury than a necessity, so using whatever state it is in a marker for not being a real country is silly.

Fourth, Ottawa ain't legitimate?   "Consider that fully democratic governments are only found in provinces and cities, not at the federal level."  I guess that depends on what fully democratic means. I do criticize the parliament as being quite lame, but federal elections do matter, they produce different governments that do different things.  If Canada is not a democracy, then who is?  Only the Scandanavians? Please.

Sure, I joke that the only things that Canadians have in common are a love of hockey, a smug sense that their health care system is better than the American one, and a pride in being the country that invented peacekeeping (national myths don't have to be entirely true).  Sure, there are significant regional differences, but again, lots of countries have those, and some even have semi-dormant secessionist movements.  What about pride in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?  The reality is that Canadians do have a shared identity, even if they also have regional ones.  In any society, people have multiple identities--racial, religious, regional, and national.  Which ones are salient?  Largely depends on the social and political context.  I can tell you that when I said in Quebec "I had better health care in the US", everyone else in the room would become a Canadian nationalist even if Quebec kind of sucks at delivering health care.   

Oh, and identity is always about us and them.  Within Canada, the thems are mostly Canadians so we think about the differences that separate us.  But go out in the world, and Canadians identify as Canadians (yes, the Quebec thing can get funky), but the thems out there identify Canadians as Canadians.  We, yes, even me after 16 years and a few years of citizenship, are seen in a particular light--as having shared attributes, values and, yes, shared identity. 

Gilmore ends with this:

I was once told by someone wiser than me that a successful marriage requires a constant effort to find connections—the relationship must be continually maintained and strengthened. Because otherwise, when the bad times inevitably arrive, it will be too late. I feel this may apply to Canada. These are sunny days. But the weather will change. And when our storm arrives, we may discover that Canada was never really a country after all.
Sorry, but Canada is not the Soviet Union, it is not Yugoslavia, and it is not even Czechoslovakia.  Yes, Canada has problems, as do most countries. Being upset at the Supreme Court seems to be creating national unity--it is not a constitutional crisis.   As a fan of beer, I can say that the decision was a lousy one, but it does not change my views at all about whether Canada is a thing or not.  It is most definitely a thing--a people, a nation, and a state. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Confused About Syria

NPSIA just started a program where we have an CAF officer as a Defence Fellow.  This means we mentor him (in the current case) on his research, he learns how we think, and we get to learn how such folks think.  There is more to it than that, but his weekly presence is fostering a weekly brown bat that pushed me on how to think about the Syria bombing last week (the annual bombing?).

I have been reluctant to blog about it because I have been confused.  Why?  Because I see some merits on punishing those who cross a very important line, but I also have problems with who is doing the acting and how it is being done and the reality that Assad can just go along and keep killing people.  Let me explain as I think through this.

Chemical weapons are a distinctly different form of warfare, that using them not only violates international law but our sense of what is so beyond the pale.  One could look at Trump's actions and they might appear to be enforcing the red line that Obama defined but did not defend.  Indeed, when one of my colleagues asked why France and the UK joined in the effort, I could argue (not that I entirely believed it) that they were participating to help define the effort as one of upholding the international order.  That is, by their participation, it made the attack less of a Trump gut reaction to things he saw on TV and more of a multilateral effort to punish violation of a key aspect of international law.

This raised all kinds of objections by the smart folks at NPSIA:
  • Trump is really not a guy who cares about the international order, so the UK/France participation is putting lipstick on a pig (my words, not my colleagues).
  • What about the other parts of the international order that Assad is challenging?  After all, the attacks basically say--kill your people sans chemical weapons, please.  
    • I responded with a notion of broken windows theory applied to IR--that if you tolerate chemical weapons being used, it opens up the door to other violations.  My colleagues pointed out that the non-broken windows in Syria are in burning buildings.  Ooops.
 Which gets to why I am not a fan of the attacks:
  • Trump could not convey credibility if his life wife brand depended on it.  See this explanation of his decision.
  • I have always argued that countries have to be selective about their inteventions--they can't intervene everywhere.  But this seems to be ridiculous--only use force when there are more than 40 people killed via chemical weapons and it is on tv a lot.  There have been plenty of chemical weapons attacks since last year's response.  Maybe this is just an annual thing?
  • Trump decided not to notify Congress because he had to buttress his tweet quickly.
  • Once again, all kinds of complicated civ-mil stuff going on...
  • It was pretty much the least Trump could do--double the number of missiles, increase the number of targets.  Next year's annual attack will involve 200 missiles and 8 targets?  Which again sends a signal of not being serious.
  • Yet being serious would potentially mean killing Iranians and Russians.  
 So, yes, this is the land of lousy policy alternatives. Russia is protecting Syria at the UN and now providing more extensive human shields on the ground.  I was and remain very concerned about what might happen to 2000 American soldiers and marines on the ground in Syria as they could be targeted if the US seriously threatens Syria (having flashbacks to Bosnia 1994-95).

Trump's impulse to get out of Syria is the right now, but it takes work and patience, things he lacks.

One of my colleagues asked if we should just acknowledge that Assad won the Syrian civil war, and the answer is probably yes.  The problem is that outright victories in civil wars is highly correlated with subsequent mass killings.  A peace produced by an Assad victory would probably not lead to the return of refugees, and, if it did so, I would worry very much about their prospects.

So, what to do?  Damned if I know.  I know what not to do: don't hit the Russians, don't evade Congress, don't send more troops, and, for fuck sake, don't be baited by tweets and by Fox.

Update: ` suggested that a good response would be to let in more Syrian refugees.  Which is the smart and right play.  But not by this government of xenophobes and Islamophobes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Impeachment: Should Or Should Not

I have long been arguing that impeachment is not going to happen:

But the question of should or should not is something different.  I am not speaking here of whether Trump has committed high crimes and misdemeanors (whatever the jargon is), but whether it would be a good or bad thing to impeach Trump or just wait to vote him out.  The question is not Trump versus Pence (as Pence would be awful, too), but whether it would be better to have the American voters decide or be denied that opportunity by Congress.  To preview, impeachment > 2020.

I have been hearing the argument that the American people should decide.  That it would be best for the future of American politics that this choice is not taken out of the hands of voters.  By rendering a verdict against Trump, the US polity can move on.  This, of course, assumes that Trump loses, that the Russians don't break our electoral process, etc.  Putting those concerns aside, I see the merits of this argument.  Impeachment could create or foster a "stabbed in the back" narrative among those who voted for Trump in 2016--that the deep state got him.  That it might erode faith in American institutions because the "establishment" had it out for Trump.

I get that.  However, putting aside the benefits of not having Trump for President for the last two years of his term, the key is this: the singular message of the Trump Era might be, unless there are consequences, is that Trump and his crew are above the law.  They certainly have behaved that way--Pruitt's planes, Carson's table, nepotism, security clearances for those who can't fill out the forms, all of the emoulements stuff, and on and on.  Impeachment exists for a reason--to have consequences for a President when they do things that are illegal, immoral, and/or destructive to the interests of the U.S. (again, I am not a lawyer).  It is a political decision, of course, but, at the heart of it, it is the one way to make sure that the President is not above the law.  We expected norms to do that work, but they have failed.  Apparently, they mostly operate due to a sense of shame that the various players have, and, well, Trump and his team are utterly devoid of shame.

Which is worse for American institutions going forward?  That the people don't get a chance to throw the bums out OR that administrations are beyond the law?  I vote for the latter, once again dwelling in the tyranny of low expectations and standards.

UPDATE: this came out today:

Monday, April 16, 2018

Social Media is Bad for Your Academic Career?

Today, there was a twitter conversation about whether doing public engagement, especially blogging and twitter, are penalized or not.  The timing is good since my Ignite talk at the Duckies was very much on this stuff.  So, I thought I would share what I presented at the Online Media Caucus reception at the annual meeting of the ISA in San Francisco.

The basic theme was: there are things people tell you not to do, so let me know show how I did them.  I did start by acknowledging my privilege--that a white male straight tenured prof can get away with more stuff than other folks (thanks, Will).

I started with my theory about department politics--that every department has somewhere between 10-25% dysfunctional people, and the question is whether/how the community handles the insane, evil, criminally stupid and/or tragically lazy.  I did note that I managed to get another job after posting this one.  I forgot to mention that this did not produce even a ripple in my old place.  That I was already on the outs with the chair and most of the Fulls, well, that probably did not get in the way of posting this.

Should one avoid attacking the big names?  Well, the surest way to get lots of hits (figuring out what is viral [viral for me, not viral compared to the average meme] is pretty hard) is to go after the big names.  However, that is not why I wrote this post--I wrote it because I was triggered by a deeply flawed piece by two scholars that, well, tend to jerk my chain.  Lots of irony abound in this as I wrote an article that went through many spin cycles (two desk rejects and then R&R&R&R&R) that argued that the fears of the big names were misplaced--that grand theory is not dying out as it has always been a niche enterprise and that professionalization actually rewards grand theory via citation counts corrected with such stuff. That article is finally out via early view at ISR.  So, yelling at the gods can be good for one's publication record if such stuff inspires academic work.

Out a serial sexual harasser?  Indeed.  This post is almost certainly my most important one, as it has given a number of people some relief that they are not alone, and it serves as a signpost that will hopefully warn future generations of students away from this guy.

Should folks hide their political opinions?  My students used to ask me about my political views as they could not tell from my lectures--I would be critical of  Democratic presidents and Republican ones.  Not so much anymore.

Should one make bold predictions outside one's lane?  Um, given how it went, probably not....

Should one curse?  FFS, yes, in this age of Trump.

Should one criticize one's professional organization?  Well, when they screw up royally, hells yeah!  This made sense as a segue to the end of the presentation since the ISA blog mess led rather directly to the creation of the Online Media Caucus.

My big point at the end is that we notice those who get punished for their social media efforts, but the reality is that there are many, many folks out there doing stuff that is probably more controversial than what I do, and they don't get penalized.  Our confirmation bias focuses our attention on the few that are punished rather than the many who are not.  I posted a bunch of headlines and then a picture of my getting an award from Carleton for public engagement--that the place that hired me wants me to do stuff like this.  Maybe not exactly this stuff, but they seem to understand that having some personality and a particular perspective facilitates outreach.

With the recommendation that we develop herd immunity--the more, the merrier:

So, perhaps the best advice I could give is probably not do as I do, or do as I say, but do what you feel comfortable doing.  The world of social media has been very, very good to me, with some handy networking that has spilled over to help Aspiring Filmmaker Spew (aka College Senior Spew).  I know I am not alone in benefiting from social media, and, as I argued, there are more of us than there are those who have paid a price.  Join us.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Ally Rules Because Alliances Rule

In response to the US/UK/France attack on Syria and questions about Canada, I tweeted thusly:

Which inevitably produced this tweet from an old colleague and now Naval Reservist on his way to Afghanistan (Naval Comms).

I may not have ten, but here are my rules for ally management (if I had elaborated the rules before the tweet, rule number 3 would probably be a bit further down):
  1. Allies have similar but not identical interests--never forget this as nearly all follows from this rule.
  2. Allies have much fear--whether they might be abandoned or entrapped or both (h/t to Glenn Snyder and Patrica Weitsman as well as Jack Snyder and Thomas Christensen).  They will never be completely reassured.  And remember what Yoda said about fear.
  3. Don't ask allies to do things they can't do.  It just raises the cost of participating for the ally.  So, don't put the German navy on the inner ring of a blockade where the job is to fire on the violating ship--put them on the outer ring where they can alert and coordinate. 
  4. Allies do not always tell you what they can or can't do, what they will or won't do.  So, work more with those you know best when the stakes are high.  Tis why it is ok for Canada to be operating in Latvia with countries with whom they have never been deployed--their job is mostly to exercise and, if the balloon goes up, to die. Unstated caveats matter more when combat will be an on-going thing (Kandahar).
  5. Some allies will almost always be more reliable than other allies. If one is being positive, then this would be the British rule, if one is being negative, then this is the Greek rule.  Whether it is because of domestic institutions (see the Dave and Steve book) or very compatible positions in the world or shared histories or whatever, some countries simply get along better again and again. 
  6. Personalities/relationships matter in alliances. Despite the structure of agreements and the institutions that tie the countries together, how the intent and rules of engagement are interpreted and obeyed depends on the commanders on/near the ground and how they get along.  We can call this the Monty rule if we are being negative or the Ike rule if we are being positive.
  7. Burden-sharing is always uneven.  It may not always be very politicized, but countries will always vary both in what they can bring to the fight and what they actually bring to the fight.  Realize that haranguing one's allies has limited effectiveness.
  8. The intersection of international relations and domestic politics can make alliance management easier or harder.  Unpopular American presidents make it politically difficult for other members of NATO to commit more to joint efforts, and popular ones make it easier.  Was the Bush rule but now the Trump rule.
  9. Napoleon is still wrong--he said it is better to fight a coalition than be in one.  Churchill is still right--the only thing worse than fighting with allies is fighting without them.
  10. Insisting on ten rules is a sign of silly devotion to even numbers.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Teaching US Foreign Policy in the Age of Trump

I just finished my last class meeting of my MA seminar on US Foreign and Security Policy.  I had feared this class since January of 2017: how to teach this class now that Trump is President.  I decided that I would mix old and new--spend the first two hours discussing a particular institution or aspect as we always have (what are the powers/interests of State, of the Pentagon, etc) and then discuss how it applies under Trump.  Lots more reading about personality/leadership (thanks to Elizabeth Saunders) and more blog posts and short articles. 

As always, we had several sessions where groups of students would take on roles in and around the US government and address an issue.  The various groups picked: Iran deal, Yemen, China, and North Korea.  Speaks much about contemporary US foreign policy: no European stuff, no Africa or Latin America, no climate change.  Not surprised about the lack of international trade or finance--my blindspot is their blindspot?

Today's concluding seminar asked a couple of key questions:
  1. Is Trump really that different?  What policies are similar or different, compared to previous USFP?
  2. Will Trump have temporary or deep impact on USFP?
The list of similar foreign policies was not as short as I might have expected:
  • support Israel, 
  • investing in NATO deterrence mission [pretty sure Trump is entirely unaware]
  • stay in every forever war
  • etc.
The list of different foreign policies:
  • NK, war or no war
  • TPP
  • Climate change
  • etc.
  Obviously, how you answer one affects how you answer two.  And answer number two also focuses on how changed the US foreign policy process is--gutting of State, eroding norms of civ-mil--and on how the bad decisions now create path dependencies.   Obama was able to reverse some of the international diplomatic damage of the Iraq invasion/occupation BUT the Mideast remains destabilized and Iran ascendant. 

We just had a discussion rather than a debate--something I might do next year if we live that long.  Overall, it was an excellent although depressing way to end my first shot at teaching this class in the new Trumpian world.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Progress? Not Fast Enough, ISA 2018 edition

I have been in this business for more than 25 years, and have gone to about 25 or so annual meetings of the International Studies Association (and about the same number of APSA's).  Over the years, I have been struck by how much has changed since I started.

Besides the disappearance of polyester and leisure suits (yes, they still existed in the early 1990s), one of the big changes has been the gender balance.  It used to be the case that it seemed as if the only young women at these meetings were those representing the book publishers.  There are far more women (although not that many seniors) than there once was.

This time, I was struck by the increased ethnic diversity.  Sure, I know from the TRIP studies (including my own) that 21st century IR is mighty white.  But it is less so than it was.  So, I could be pleased by the improvements. Yet....

Oh my.   The only person I heard of getting badged--checked to see if they belong in the sea of ISA goers--was an African-American woman.  The same woman was also asked by multiple participants to get their drinks or clean up the lobby.  I will not go into the details, as it is her story to tell, but FFS!!!

So, I am reminded of many conversations with Teen and now College Senior Spew:
Me: sure, things aren't perfect, but we have made progress (on gender, race, LGBTQ, etc).

And, yeah, she persuaded me that she was right.  This ISA was mostly a super-positive experience for me, but it is easier since I am a white, straight, male with an endowed chair and heaps of tenure.  It is easy for me to look around and notice that there is more diversity.  What is less easy for me is to see how the women and the African-Americans and the Latinx and the Asian-Americans and all the rest of the folks are treated and how they experience the event.

Which reminds me of something that happened at the airport.  On my way out, I sat next to a white woman who left her bag behind and walked off.  See something, say something, right?  After waiting a few minutes, I did so.  And then moved far away from that bag.  Twenty minutes later, she returned--that bag had acted as a seat-saver, I guess.  Oh, and security didn't show up in that 20 minute interval.  Hmmm.

So, see something, say something and then some, right?