Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Engaging Trump's America Strategically

Spending two weeks in Japan before Trump's inauguration has produced the same question over and over: what is Japan to do?  Of course, Canadians and Germans and everyone else has the same question.  Here are some ideas, based on what we know about the US and about Trump.
  1. If you need US support, pander like hell to his ego.  Prime Minister Abe flew to NY immediately after the election and met with Trump.  He apparently made a very good impression.  
  2. Do as much business with the US at lower levels of government.  All allies and most other countries have webs of relationships with the US government and private actors.  Try to handle most business with the civil servants who are sticking around and not the crazy folks at the top.  Not everyone can do that, but if you can (Canada), do it.
  3. If you are in East Asia, present yourself as a steadfast ally against China.  Note that Trump's first engagements were South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.  While folks in this region are right to be concerned that Trump may overplay things and trigger a war, being seen as a friend against China is likely to get that country off of Trump's blacklist.  
    1. Of course, this logic poses problems for those in East Europe, since Trump's love for Putin has huge consequences.  And siding with Putin is, for many, either impossible or downright stupid.  But Turkey, despite its Muslim-ness, is now working with Russia, which might put it on Trump's good side.  Hungary, with its authoritarian regime, has been leaning to Russia.  There are some others that fit this.  Finland might consider returning to the glory days of Finlandization.  Indeed, folks might want to consult the Finns for their expertise.
  4. Pay to play.  Whether Trump is in it to enrich himself or it is just one of many competing priorities, there is no doubt he believes in pay for play.  While this is problematic for countries with high anti-corruption standards, it is a possible tactic and one that has to be considered. If Ivanka and Eric and Don Jr. come a-calling, meet with them and take them seriously.  Certainly don't object if they show up at meetings even if it is inappropriate.  This goes back to the pandering thing.

Is this too cynical?  Maybe.  But the future is bleak, and much of the world will be dodging, ducking, dividing, dipping and dodging.  We sure could use Patches O'Houlihan right about now.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Great Men? Depends

I was reminded on twitter that international relations professors have trained students for generations to focus on the third and second levels of analysis and dismiss the first--that individuals and their characteristics matter much less than the constraining impact of institutions and the incentives provided by the international system.

So, should we just apologize as Trump sells out the postWWII order and ends American hegemony by whim or fiat?  No, we need to drink heavily.  Seriously, there are a few real responses to this question of agency and structure (I promise not to get very constructivist or intersubjective as I am not very good at that).

First, realists will say, and mostly rightly so, that their main focus is not on what states do but on how the system punishes states.  That the security dilemma operates always--so attempts to improve security vis-a-vis China will only threaten China, producing a reaction by the Chinese that will leave the US worst off (Herz, Waltz).  I have no doubt this is going to play out.  The more recent realists added stuff to their theories so they can predict foreign policy better, but the strength of it was and is how the system produces dynamics that are enduring.  And they will endure during the Trump era, but his complete lack of awareness will mean that the tendencies of IR will be exacerbated, not mitigated or managed by the strongest player in the system (until the US is so weakened that it is not).
International institutionalists have been mostly right in that anarchy can be mitigated by cooperation, but cooperation is not easy.  Institutions endure and adapt because building new ones takes a lot of work.  So, an alliance built to deter the Soviet Union got in the business of peacekeeping, democratization (teaching civilian control of the military to Eastern Europe--one of the real boons of enlargement), counterinsurgency, and now back to deterring Russia.

Second, domestic institutionalist types (that would be me) would say that institutions tell us when individual personalities matter (Presidential systems, not coalition governments).  The problem with Trump for these folks is: he is unconstrained by institutions and owes no interest groups much fealty.  He violates norms and rules without much penalty, undermining the institutions.  He is rich (sort of) and has a cult of supporters.  And polarization has broken US institutions.  The Republican Party is so hostile to Obama and Clinton that they are supporting someone who might be an agent of Russia and who is definitely acting as if he will be drunk at the wheel of government, careening from one crisis to another.

To be fair, the international structure and domestic institutions had a good run--the US followed a relatively stable set of policies for over 70 years through Democratic and Republican Administrations.  But as social scientists we have to admit a couple of things.  First, individuals have agency.  We (IR types) most don't like studying individuals (see Elizabeth Saunders as a timely exception) because it is easier to risk tautology and harder to make predictions.  Second, and relatedly, we might be better at getting outcomes right than intentions.  Third, Trump is, indeed, a black swan event--he had a low probability of success at first, he got empowered by a bunch of things in the primaries, won the general election due to a tainted opponent, a misguided media and much help from Russia.  And now he stands ready to gut American Foreign Policy, because, as we have long taught, whatever constraints there are on Presidents, they are weaker on foreign policy than domestic policy.  It is far easier to sell out to Russia than to end the Affordable Care Act.  That the GOP is so obsessed about the latter that they are willing to overlook the former speaks poorly of them. 

So, did we mis-teach the kids for so long? Perhaps we could have played up the role of individuals a bit more, but mostly, I think we got it right.  And we will keep on getting it right--we may not be able to predict what Trump does (Trump's razor tends to work--the dumbest policy is most likely), but we will get right the effects.  Hegemonic instability theory is going to become quite hip.

Oh and one last thing: when say Great Men here, we are talking about great as in big, not great as in good.

Update: I was pushed on twitter, where folks suggested there was plenty of first level analysis stuff, which returns me to TRIP data and to the class question of how much is a lot or little.  You make hte call (number and percentage of articles over thirty years that use first level of analyis--see TRIP codebook):

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Post-Symposium Tourism: Japan's a Winter Wonderland!

Japan's west coast puts "lake effect snow" into some perspective.  Today, the folks who participated in yesterday's symposium were driven around to various museums through some serious snow.  Alas, it meant having to drop the sake brewery from our itinerary (we made up for it later as our hotel has a "sake museum).  So, some pics as it did happen:

Gatling gun from Japan's civil wars

Uniting Japan was mighty hard

On the way to museum memorializing fire raid

Surviving pieces of incendiary bomb

Shibata castle

Army training, sir

We were at a regiment's museum.  This regiment had
a very busy World War II

A relatively recently dug up American bomb

Yep, Japan sent troops to do reconstruction in Iraq

Japan has done some PKO

Recruiting women

Our group of tourists

David Welch choosing among more
than a hundred sakes.  500 yen get
you five tokens for five samples. Yum.

This region has many, many sake distilleries

Steamed at the table, one of many
dishes we had.  Still full

Teen Albums

Which albums were the ones I listened to the most when I was a teen?  This is a facebook trend, so why not?  Mostly classic rock but some new wave.
  • Supertramp, Breakfast in America
  • Pat Benatar, Crimes of Passion
  • Blondie, Parallel Lines
  • B-52s, the B-52s
  • Chicago, 16
  • Graham Parker, Squeezing Out Sparks
  • Rush, Moving Pictures
  • Journey, Escape
  • Billy Joel, Nylon Curtain
  • Steve Miller Band, Greatest Hits 1974-78
Queen would have been on this list had the songs been concentrated in one or two albums, same for Bruce, Devo, Styx, Yes, .38 Special, and a bunch of others. 

Anyhow, time to go to bed in Japan, where I am thinking of Cheap Trick, Live at Budokan!

Friday, January 13, 2017

New Strangest Question

Having been in this business for over twenty years, I have received some strange questions.  After a presentation today at the International University of Japan in Niigata on the Uncertainty Machine that is Trump, I was asked: how could Trump's term end abruptly? 

Oh my.  I pondered the possibilites:
  • Impeachment?  Nope.
  • Coup?  No, despite my general concern, the US military is not going to remove Trump.  They might not follow unlawful orders, but coup? No.
  • 25h amendment?   Almost certainly not, since Trump is picking most folks who are loyal to him, but it is possible.  Unlikely but not impossible.
  • That option involving failure by the Secret Service.  Not likely as they protected an African-American president successfully for eight years.  An orange one should be easier.
I was left with one possibility that is not unlikely:

Thursday, January 12, 2017

My Moscow Experience

Way back when there was still a Leningrad, I spent two weeks in the Soviet Union.  It was a winter term college trip, led by a Russian language prof and a Soviet politics prof.  We were a group of 20 or so folks, with mixed language skills.  Of course, we stayed only at hotels that were run by intourist, the Soviet government agency that kept track of us.  All of our touring was led by people from this agency.  We were able to go out on our own and did meet some Russians in Moscow and Leningrad and some Estonians in Tallinn.

But the point of this tale is not the friendly folks of the USSR.  No, it was that we constantly joked about being recorded.  We (ok, I) talked into lamps.  It was all fun, and then something strange happened
In between the two beds was a shelf/table built into the wall.  It had a hole/socket in it that would fit the plug for old headphones (not the smaller receptacle we are accustomed to now).  Anyhow, my roomie and I were surprised when a maid knocked, entered the room, and then stuck something into the hole in the shelf.  She then removed it, and left the room.  Was she starting or stopping the recording?  Or was it something else?
 All I know is that what goes in Moscow probably does not stay in Moscow (otherwise, the place is just like Vegas).

Of course, much has changed in thirty years (happy anniversary, college trip to the USSR!).   But honey traps, videotaping high profile folks, and all that?  Not sure that has changed.

I honestly don't know if the Russians have anything on Trump.  Trump's stances are so awful, it almost does not matter if he is a stooge or not.  But yes, it should matter.  Indeed, one of the reasons I got the election wrong is that I thought there were more nevertrumpers among the GOP, who were appalled by Trump's ties to/love of Putin, which were known then.  Ooops, party > country.

Good times, eh?  Nyet.

Sake! Oh, and Japan Research

I spent much of the day at a Japan Foundation Fellows Conference.  I am hazy about the partnership between SSRC and the Japan Foundation, but my Abe Fellowship, which is funding my time here in Tokyo, is a product of their teamwork.  So, I spent the day listening to presentations by folks who are far sharper about Japan--mostly much younger folks from all over the world.  The Japan Foundation is most generous to fund so many fellows each year.

The best part?  Learning some sake tradition:

 Did you know that sake can be drunk from a square wooden cup? I didn't, but know I do. 
Yes, I got caught absconding with a cube (they gave them
away, which also happens at weddings and such)


Shrine at night


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Dusty Au Revoir

I could not watch Obama's Farewell Address live as I was traveling to Nagano to interview a former defense minister.  So, I finally got to watch it tonight from my hotel room, and I am putting it here so that I can find it easily in the future

Of course, one could read this speech as one big subtweet towards Trump, but that would diminish the moment and the meaning.  It was a terrific discussion of the threads to democracy, not just here but everywhere else.  When people say he was a weak leader, I will point to this speech. 

Obama was hardly perfect, and I will always be frustrated with how he did not reverse the accumulation of executive power.  But as this speech demonstrates yet again, the man is not only smart and perceptive, but generous and kind and full of grace and class.  So, yeah, I got teary eyed as he did, thanking his family and the Bidens and the rest.  Watching Malia and Michelle and Jill trying to hold it together was pretty special.

Anyhow, it will be interesting to see what role Obama plays in the difficult years ahead.  All I can do know is be thankful for what he has done and to embrace the good stuff that he brought along.  Oh, and thanks for bringing Joe along, too.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Old Tactics, New Media

I love this so much (h/t Stephanie Carvin)

So, NATO countries are working together to teach the Baltic countries how to stop a Russian invasion.  Woot.  So much comes up here.
  1. Obviously, the classic Monty Python Lumberjack sketch 
  2. Abatisi or Abatisses showed up in a Jack Reacher book a ways back.
  3. That the soldier doing the briefing is Canadian is so perfect.  Non-violent means to stymie an attack.  Woot, eh!
  4. I suddenly realized that the Dave and Steve book might apply: that countries with Green parties in coalition might impose restrictions on their forces, preventing them from Abatis-ing.  Environmental caveats?  
  5. Yet more evidence NATO is signaling not just to its own publics but to Russia--that an invasion would be costly.  
  6. Puts a different spin on the whole anti-access area denial stuff.  For the cost of a chain saw or two...
I don't mean to mock--this is serious stuff--preparing for war.  There is a lot going on in Eastern Europe right now, with everyone waiting for January 20th and what uncertainty that will breed.

Accidental Tourist Report, Day Two, January 2017

Looking for the ceremony at the Meiji Shrine
Like yesterday, intent and reality diverged.  Today is Coming of Age Day, where women who turn 20 may dress up in the classic garb and go though some kind of ceremony.   I was told where such stuff might be happening, but didn't find the right spot until late in the day.  I then felt awkward outside the building, so I didn't go in.  So much for that.  But along the way?  Heaps of fun signs, great food and interesting sights.