Saturday, September 24, 2016

Best Political Science Books for Military Historians

Tom Ricks asked me for a list of the best political science books for those interested in military history.  This is part of a long-running conversation we have had about the contributions made by political science.  To be clear, I don't see my assignment to be to find the best military history written by political scientists.  That is not what we really do.  The best military history is written by military historians--that is the joy of specialization/training/etc.  Military historians are likely to see the way political scientists use military history to be, um, icky.  Regardless of the methods political scientists use, the focus is almost always on generalizing rather than getting the specifics perfect.  That probably drives historians crazy.

Anyhow,  I see as my mission to be: find some of the best political science that puts into context and develops arguments about recurrent patterns that might interest  those who study/care about/read military history.

  1. How and why insurgents organize as they do and how their organizational development shape how they use violence--Jeremy Weinstein, Inside Rebellion.  For different but equally sharp approaches, see Paul Staniland, Networks of Rebellion and Fotini Christia's Alliance Formation in Civil Wars.
  2. Speaking of likely foes, there is a lot of work on terrorism, and I am hardly an expert, but I find the work on organizations, rather than individuals, to be far more compelling.  Jacob Shapiro's Terrorist Dilemma considers how terrorist organizations must deal with difficult tradeoffs between secrecy and controlling their members.  For a sharp book on individuals and what causes them to join such organizations, see Mia Bloom's Dying to Kill.
  3. How and why do weaker countries challenge stronger ones in non-military ways that still threaten much conflict, such as forced migration--Kelly Greenhill, Weapons of Mass Migration.  I love this book because it reminds us that weaker foes have imaginations that allow them to turn the strengths of more powerful countries (democratic norms) into leverage.  Or at least, the weaker states think they have leverage. 
  4. While folks may not buy the Democratic Peace (that democracies don't fight each other), the post-Cold War era has seen democracies fight mostly authoritarian regimes, so understanding why some of these countries can fight more effectively than others is probably important.  I have just started reading Caitlin Talmadge's Dictator's Army, and it is mighty good.  A related question is when do miltaries fall apart or remain coherent enough to keep up the fight.  Jasen Castillo's Endurance and War addresses this. 
  5. Coups are back in fashion, and while one can just go back and read Luttwak, a more social scientific approach that analyzes why coups happen rather than provide instructions, see Naunihal Singh's Seizing Power.
  6. Given all of this stuff going on the world, what shapes the intervention strategies that the U.S. chooses?  Elizabeth Saunders is an unusual political scientist as she focuses on Leaders at War.
  7. If you care about the armed forces, then you should care about civilian control of the military.  While Peter Feaver has written a lot on this, I think the key work is Armed Servants.  While it can be a bit intimidating with some formal modeling, one can get the gist from the rest of the book, which clarifies the basic questions about oversight.
  8. Technology plays such an important role in military history, so people interested in such stuff should be interested in the The Diffusion of Military Power by Michael Horowitz.
  9. One of the basic realities of war is that countries rarely fight alone--they have allies of some kind.  I know this area a bit better because I have actually researched and written on it, and the two best books of late (ahem, besides the one I co-authored) are by Sarah Kreps, Coalitions of Convenience, and Patricia Weitsman's Waging War.  They both deal with the tradeoffs of relying on alliances, coalitions of the willing or on no one else. 
This is an idiosyncratic list of books that I happen to like on topics that interest me.  There are many books and infinite articles on these and other topics.  These all contribute to our understanding of important dynamics involving violence within and mostly across international boundaries, using a variety of methods.  If you have suggestions of other books or topics that I ignored (hey, no ethnic conflict, Steve?), comment below and maybe I will do some reading while I sabbatical this year.

And, yes, this is a very American-centric list in terms of authors and presses and, of course, language.  The topics, however, are not so much.


Debate Hopes and Expectations

I will probably only be writing about the first debate because I will be in Japan for the others.  And, no, I will not sit in front a computer screen and watch videos of them.... ok, maybe I will.

Anyhow, what do I hope for, besides Clinton wiping the floor with Donnie's hair?
  • Despite being a person who studies foreign policy and international relations, I think I would prefer more discussion of domestic policies.  Why?  First, we have actually had a surprising abundance of discussion of foreign policy in the campaigns, crowding out discussions of how to fix social security and medicare, how to rebuild US infrastructure, regulation of banks, education, and on and on.  Second, Trump doesn't know much about things like facts and details, so this would be fun to watch him struggle. Third, and, most importantly, history/political science tells us that people care about/vote on domestic stuff--the things that they think affects them most directly.  
  • Here's where I get idealistic: I'd love it if the media used as a basis of comparison for Trump's performance not the low bar of his regular Trumpiness but the performance by past candidates, losing and winning.  That is, how about considering whether Trump performs better than Gore or Romney or Bush or McCain or Obama?  Does Trump perform as well or as poorly as candidates that were seen as qualified, whether they went on to win or lose the election?
  • Even less realistic, it would be great if the discussion afterwards discussed not just the horse race but the policy stances, fact checking them and analyzing their likely impact/meaning on/for voters.
What do I expect?
  • That Hillary Clinton will "win" the debate by having a greater mastery of the facts, having greater composure, and all the rest.
  • That the media will focus on a few key lines
  • That Trump will probably do better than the expectations his campaign has set, but probably will still fall short of the Dan Quayle standard and probably even the Sarah Palin standard.  
The stuff that I have read that has resonated the most with me (thanks to Michael Cohen [the the says who one but the one who writes for the Boston Globe], the Keeping It 1600 gang): that Trump has a pretty hard ceiling of support, so his performance here really does not matter that much.  That the pool of voters who are "gettable" are those who might vote for Clinton, Johnson, Stein or not at all, so Clinton has to show to them that she can be President, that she is not just a robot or presenting completely canned material.  I think she can do that, but as Obama showed in the first debate in 2012 and I showed at a few job talks, what one can do and what does do in these moments are often two different things.

To be clear, I am still confident that Clinton will win the election because the fundamentals are still fundamental: Trump is a detestable person, has a very poor team and weak organization, far less money, while Clinton is actually better than how she is perceived, has a very smart team and very sharp organization and far better surrogates.  Oh and Pence really doth suck.  One more thing: our October surprise might have come early--the Trump campaign might have worked with the Russians on messing with our election....  So, there's that.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Three Fictional Characters Exercise

The latest thing to spread on Facebook is to put three pictures of fictional characters that somehow describe you or that together help to explain one's character.  Or something like that, as it is not well explained. 

Here's what I chose:
Kevin Arnold from the Wonder Years
Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H

The Professor from Gilligan's Island
I think one is not supposed to explain the choices, but, hey, since when have I ever followed the rules?  One of my friends guessed that two of these characters never had sex, at least not on the show, and that was pretty close.  Damn.

Ok, Kevin Arnold since he was the youngest kid of the family with a few siblings, and FOMO (fear of missing out) from not being able to participate in their stuff was a key dynamic shaping me for the long run.  Also, Kevin got his heart broken on a regular basis when he was young.  Check.  He was not in any of the major groups, but seemed to be in the clique of the folks who were clique-less (at least, that is what I remember of the show).  Finally, he seemed to over-think just about everything, or at least his voice-over did. 

While Kevin Arnold was a character that kind of depicted the age I grew up (a bit early but close enough), Hawkeye Pierce was on a show that was on TV during my pre-teen and then teen years.  A smart aleck who thought he knew better than most/all?  Um, yeah.  Rebelled against authority much of the time?  Yes.  Likes to drink?  Well, I am not a cocktail fan as much as a beer fan, but sure.  The womanizing part?  Not so much.  Plus that whole war thing.

The Professor from Gilligan's Island?  Well, I had to find a prof and almost went with Professor Flitwick (I am not as brave or as resourceful or as rugged as Professor Jones, nor as smart as Professor Dumbledore, nor as lecherous as the profs in most movies.  I am not as creative as the Professor on GI, but lots of stuff I try seems pretty inventive until it doesn't work.  So, how about that?  Also, since I consumed so much bad TV growing up, this character helps cover that part of my personality.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Arguments about Voting on Deployments

Academics care a great deal about whether countries have votes on deployments of troops.  This month so do the opposition parties and the media in Canada.  Why?  A quick illustration:

Ok, that is perhaps a smidge unfair.  But all this talk of a vote about the deployment of Canadian troops for a peacekeeping mission is very premature.  First, we need to know what the mission or missions will be. Then, the opposition parties can try to oppose when perhaps they ought to try to criticize instead?

Ah yes, that distinction.  Mindless opposition to anything the government does is easy, but becomes too much like automatic gainsaying.  Thanks to Monty Python for explaining that to me when I was ten. The problem is that the Conservatives will use the same criticisms of the Liberals that the Liberals did of the Conservatives when they were in power.  This looks more like farce than a real attempt to hold the government to account. 

Of course, once there is a decision made by the government, there will probably be debate and possibly a vote but maybe not.  Will the government stick to the precedents set by the previous government?  Not sure.  If not, will that contradict what they said when they were in opposition?  Probably since then they were just reaching for the easiest cudgel to beat on the government.  Why?  Tis easier/more seductive to score points via the simplest of accusations (war criminal! waster of
 public funds!) rather than getting into the complexity of a policy that can't fit into a sound bite.

The questions I would like to ask are not so much about whether there will or will not be a vote, but why one mission (and not many) or why many (not one)?  Explain the choices and how they further Canadian interests.  Or more directly, what does Canada hope to achieve?  Not "we are back" or "peacekeeping is swell" but what is the objective, what is Canada's role in achieving the objective, why this place(s) and not some other, what are the risks, and what are the costs/benefits?

That might take more than 30 seconds.  Oops.

Misplaced Fear of Impact of Terrorism on Election

Since last spring, people kept saying that the two things they feared about Trump vs. Clinton is that either the email scandal might lead to an indictment or there might be a terrorist attack that would cause people to rally around Trump.  The first is no longer an issue (the email stuff is, but not an indictment), and the second has proven not be so problematic.  Why?

One of the consistent findings in the polls has been that most Americans (over 60%) consider Hillary Clinton be qualified.  Roughly the same percentage consider Trump to be unqualified.  Sure, it is astonishing that Trump can get this far and be this close yet be widely considered to be unqualified.  Indeed, how can people vote for him if they think he is unqualified?  Because of many things, including party identification and all that goes with it, but in part because the Trump voters who think he is unqualified either think he will have good advisers (um, have they seen his campaign team?) or that the system will mute his impact.

But when something like an Orlando or now bombs in NYC happen, it causes people to think a bit more about the qualification problem which then offsets the "rally around the xenophobe" dynamic.  In these events, people can respond to terrorism in two ways: fear the people who are somehow connected to it and choose the candidate who promises to "deal" with them or fear that Trump will screw stuff up.  These probably mostly offset, so that the terrorist incidents do not shake up the race.

The race is where it is at largely because of voter identification--most Republicans will vote Republican, most Democrats will vote Democrat, most independents are not really that independent and will vote however they always lean.  The fundamentals that favor Clinton will not go away.  The media is starting to turn a bit on Trump thanks to his Birther press conference that was not a press conference is important since the false equivalence stuff may start to lessen (see WashPo's take on the email stuff). This might lessen his dominance of the airwaves, which has been the other reason why the race is tighter than it should be. 

I am still pretty confident despite 538 lowering their probably of an HRC victory to under 60%.  Why?  Because I cannot imagine Trump doing well in the three debates--too undisciplined, too lazy, too ignorant, too easy to bait.  Folks are betting on whether he will lash out at the moderator or curse out Clinton.  He may not do those things, but he will not able to be disciplined for more than an hour x 3. 

More importantly, I think the election will be determined by the usual stuff  even though Trump should have been disqualified roughly 176 times.  Oh, and the gap in qualifications will matter when people actually have to vote.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Mount Rushmore of Candy

Thanks to Don Trump Jr's neo-nazi post about skittles, we now have a debate about which candies belong on the Candy Mount Rushmore.  There will be no consensus on this, as people have very different tastes when it comes to candy--whether they like peanut butter, nougat, wafers and all of that.

So, mine will be distinct as I don't want peanut butter in my chocolate, nor do I like nuts either.

My Mount Rushmore of Candy is:
  • Hershey Bars--maybe not the very best form of chocolate but the classic that saved the world.
  • Twizzlers--I am a big fan of licorice
  • M&Ms--Sorry,  ET.
  • Tootsie Pops--combines a lollipop with chocolate with a mystery!
Honorable mention goes to caramel in whatever form it takes, Milky Way bars, blow pops, and sweet tarts.  Sugar daddies might have gone on the list if they did not cause so much problems when chewed.

Anyhow, too much stuff going on to get deeply into this.  More research during Halloween is required. 

PS Unlike Dan's nearly all chocolate list, mine was aimed at a diversity of candies: bars, chewables, the single serving pebbles (skittles, sweet tarts, etc go here), lollipops.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Latest in Poll Reading: When Up is Up

The way this poll is being pitched is strange to me:

In nearly all of the questions, Clinton has 30-40 point lead over Trump.  Isn't that good news?  Oh, wait, "many don't see a difference!"  Trump gets around 20% on each question, which as I have always asserted, is about what you can expect from any poll--that a decent chunk of people are, um, reality-averse.  Anyhow, asking all millennials these questions will certainly turn up people who are pro-Trump because there are both the "deplorables" and the party loyalists in the pool.  That 25-30% are uncertain also makes sense because Trump has often taken both sides of an issue, making it hard to discern what his real stance is.

So, letting confirmation bias be my guide, I would say that this poll is outstanding for Clinton.  It shows a commanding lead with millennials on these issues.  The hard part is not so much getting the undecideds to take a pro-HRC stance, but getting the pro-HRC folks out to vote since young folks are less likely to vote than Trump-friendly old voters.

Oh, and another thing to keep in mind: how people vote when they are younger tends to shape how they vote when they age (from what I remember of previous coverage of this).  Which might just mean that the GOP is alienating the next generation of voters not just in 2016 but for the future.

So, consider this a good news survey if you are a Democrat.

For a really interesting survey, see this from a very helpful comment:

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Trump's Vocab Quiz

I was inspired by this tweet:
What words does Trump use that raise many questions but often this meme in particular?

Here is my short list of words I would like Trump to define:
  • Neurotic (thanks Zedd)
  • Nuclear
  • Cyber
  • Contract
  • Debt
  • Blind trust
  • Mercantilism
  • Bigotry
  • Sarcasm
  • Federal or "the Fed"
What would you add to this list?

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Next Canadian Deployment: Asking the Right Questions in the Wrong Order

Many people are asking the right questions about the much ballyhooed next Canadian military deployment, including where and whether there will be a vote or not.  The problem is that we are getting the questions in the wrong order, which is creating more confusion.  We cannot ask some questions until we know the answers to the others.  The vote question should be after we know much more about the mission.  The where question actually is not first either.  So, here is the correct order of questions:
  1. Will Canada commit to doing a UN mission of some kind?  Yes.  The government has set aside 600 troops.  Now we need to ask the second question.
  2. Will Canada send these troops to one place or to several?  Aha! You might not have been expecting this question, but we still don't know whether Trudeau is Paul Martin or Jean Chretien on this issue.  Chretien committed Canada to many missions at the same time, with smaller contingents (I hope I am getting this right).  There is much talk right now that what Canada can best provide are "enablers."  This is the fancy military term for specialized personnel who are really good at certain tasks and would be "multipliers" making the existing UN force more efficient/effective/efficacious/excellent.  Paul Martin wanted Canada to make a big difference by focusing its effort on a key spot or two.  While he retrospectively regretting the Kandahar mission, that was an example of this view.  Go to one spot, be very responsible, have greater command of your own troops since you dominate the neighborhood.  So, Canada could send that one battalion (600 soldiers is a battalion, more or less) to someplace where they might make a big difference.  This question is prior to the next question because we cannot say where the troops will go until we know if there are going to one spot or many.  
  3. Where will the troops go?
    1. If one spot, then there will be many questions to be asked of that one spot.  Who are our partners?  Will Canadians be commanding themselves?  Commanding others?  What is the nature of the mission?  Peacekeeping?  Peace enforcement?  How kinetic is the place?  That is: how violent is it? 
    2. If many spots, then there will be different questions as Canadians will not be in command (most likely), their role will be quite specific, and they will, almost certainly, be far away from combat.  They will be at bases doing logistical stuff or training.
  4. Once we know where they will go, then we can start figuring out whether there should be a vote or not.  If the troops go to many relatively less risky spots, the current precedent of no votes for such stuff should apply.  If the troops go to one spot but are mostly doing something approximating traditional peacekeeping, then a vote is unlikely.  If they go to someplace like Mali, where combat is going to be part of the job description, then the question will be whether the Liberals follow the precedent set by Harper.  Of course, we can then have the discussion of what counts as combat, which usually misses the point, but whatever gets the attention in Ottawa...
Why is it taking so long for the Liberals to announce the decision?  Because as we should have learned by now, the Liberals have a very deliberate process that looks slow to outsiders.  It requires a subcommittee of cabinet to meet before it goes to cabinet.  Getting these folks together is not easy and apparently does not happen very frequently.  Cabinet-style government is slow.  Should it be this slow?  I am not sure, as I would rather the government enter the next mission with all due diligence and deliberation than rush into it.  But the optics are the optics.  Will Trudeau have something specific to announce next week at the UN General Assembly?  Probably not.  Does that matter?  Probably not.  It is the doing that matters, and once Canada deploys, either to one spot or to many, what they do there is the key.

So, we don't have to read all of Phil's stuff on parliamentary votes quite yet. But soon.