Les «28 pages» et leurs significations pour les relations américano-saoudiennes

August 16, 2016 § Leave a comment

Il y a quelques semaines, une mystérieuse portion de la Commission jointe sur les actions de la communauté de renseignement avant et après les attaques terroristes du 11 septembre 2001 (en anglais, Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Actions Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of the September 11th, 2001), a été déclassifiée après deux ans de procédures de révision. Communément connues sous le nom de « 28 pages » (il y en a 29, mais le nom a resté), le document décrit les découvertes de la commission concernant des liens possible entre le Royaume de l’Arabie Saoudite et certains individus impliqués dans les attaques du 11 septembre.

Consultez l’article complet sur 45eNord.ca.

THE 28 PAGES & SAUDI-AMERICAN RELATIONS

August 1, 2016 § Leave a comment

Late last week, a mysterious portion of the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Actions Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of the September 11th, 2001, which had been classified since the report’s release, was declassified following a two-year long declassification review. Know colloquially as the “28 pages” (the count is wrong but the name stuck), the document describes what the inquiry found regarding possible links between officials from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and individuals known to be involved in 9/11.

Read the entire article at Observatory Media.

Bypassing Bell Fibe FTTH Hub with Ubiquiti EdgeMAX Equipment

July 31, 2016 § Leave a comment

Whenever I have to interact with big telcos, I inevitably come to ask myself why they are still in business. It’s a wonder that companies that are so big and so dysfunctional on so many levels still have any customers at all. I’ve recently had to do an ISP switchover from dual Cogeco 100mbps over copper to a single Bell Fibe 250mbps line, and my experience was less than stellar. Apart from getting the usual “oh, we’re sorry, your line isn’t quite active yet on our end” not once, but twice after the install tech’s visit, their business technical support was entirely useless.

Sagemcom FAST4350

The dreaded Sagemcom FAST4350 aka Bell Hub 1000. Bell can connect to this to diagnose stuff apparently; you know what they say about back doors… Good riddance.

If you’re a Fibe customer, you probably know that Bell insists that you use their Hub 1000 or 2000 (their name for it, it’s actually a Sagemcom FAST4350 router) in your networking setup, regardless of the fact that as a business customer, you probably have something more suitable for the job. If you try to bypass it, then don’t hope to get any kind of technical support: the mindless automatons that they haven’t managed to outsource or replace with machines at their level one support will absolutely refuse to escalate your call or provide any sort of useful information. The Sagemcom has a bridge modem that can be triggered with button presses: if it’s bridging, they also won’t be supporting it. I’ve heard they have remote access to the router many times from many sources, and I would be tempted to believe it. Since I or my customer wasn’t about to let a 30$ piece of shit router with a back door be the weak link in our connectivity, we found a way to get it working with the Edgerouter we had on site, while completely bypassing the Sagemcom box.

aa

The Alcatel-Lucent ONT. This is obviously not optional.

The VLAN 35 / VLAN 36 trick is well known, albeit completely undocumented by Bell, and seems to work network-wide. Basically, traffic to the Bell ONT is divided into two VLANs, 35 for the internet traffic and 36 for the Fibe TV streams. Our use case only had an internet connection, so getting it to work was as simple as creating a VLAN interface on ethernet interface we used to connect to the Alcatel Lucent ONT, and creating a PPPOE interfaces within this VLAN. Once that’s done, enter your username and password for the PPP connection as provided by Bell, set the firewall rules for your connection and you’re good to go. The commands should look like this:

set interfaces ethernet ethX vif 35
     #creates VLAN 35 on interfaces ethX
set interfaces ethernet ethX vif 35 pppoe 0
     #creates PPPOE connection zero within the newly created VLAN
set interfaces ethernet ethX vif 35 pppoe 0 username thisisyourusername@bellnet.ca
     #self-explanatory
set interfaces ethernet ethX vif 35 pppoe 0 password thisisyourpassword
     #ditto
set interfaces ethernet ethX vif 35 pppoe 0 firewall in name WAN_IN
     #set firewall inbound firewall rules
set interfaces ethernet ethX vif 35 pppoe 0 firewall local name WAN_LOCAL
     #set firewall local rules
set interfaces ethernet ethX vif 35 pppoe 0 default-route auto
     #get your routes from your PPPOE connection

By default, your Edgerouter uses all the right options for connection to PPPOE properly, except for one. MTU was set to 1492 explicitly without my intervention, and name-server to auto also. This will allow you to connect and get an IP, however only certain parts of the internet will be accessible. I thought this had something to do with routes, but both a static interface default route and the PPPOE routes yielded the same results. Connection to Youtube and other Google sites worked great, but half the internet didn’t, with packets stopping 6 or 7 gateways down. Turns out MSS clamping is to blame, so you’ll need to set that in your firewall.

set firewall options mss-clamp mss 1412

Without this option, your packets can end up being too large and dropped by certain hops which enforce maximum MTU strictly. What’s funny is that MSS clamping is assumed if you use the wizards to define your WAN as PPPOE, but not one of the assumed options when setting up PPPOE from scratch. Since we were migrating from a load-balanced setup with DHCP being provided by modems, this was not present in our config.

Keep in mind that this will work for setups without Fibe TV only. For setups with it, you can follow the excellent instructions from here, with the added bonus that you can probably use software port bridging functionality in your Edgerouter to eliminate the need for a switch between your ONT and the Bell Hub. This is entirely untested though, so have fun at your own risk.

My primary frustration with Bell in this case, let’s say apart from having to go on-site three times to get a relatively simple job done, is that I’m pretty certain a more senior level 2 technician would have pointed to the MSS stuff in a matter of minutes; it’s just the kind of stuff you know when you work in that stuff all day. I know for a fact that there are some technically competent folks who work at or for Bell, because I’ve had great experiences in the past. I’ve assisted in some pretty hard-core roll-outs of Bell services to entreprise customers, and the techs there were present and helpful. Where they were not, a quick chat with the sales guy  could fix things very rapidly. The problem is that if you don’t have a sales guy, even if you’re a business customer, you have to navigate through the same byzantine system of call-in support as the rest of the plebs, wait a long time and hope for the best. If you’re lucky you’ll get a zealous one who’s willing to break SOP to make you happy; if you’re unlucky, you’ll get another drone who just reads the lines he’s supposed to.

Headless Steam In-Home Streaming, Pt 1: My Experience

July 28, 2016 § Leave a comment

For almost exactly three years now, I’ve been using a mid-2013 13.3″ Macbook Air as my primary machine. As I explained in a review which has now disappeared with the demise of Epinions, I didn’t expect the transition from an expensive gaming rig to a super-slim, barebones laptop to go as smoothly. The idea behind the move was partially to make myself incapable of gaming during University, and partially to have a single machine through which I would use for all my computing needs. I wanted a “single pane of glass”, as it were.

Sync solutions that aren’t cloud-based generally suck (although they’re getting better), and even when they don’t, there are obvious drawbacks. You know, things like having an internet connection for syncing to happen, or the device needing to be powered up. Controlling several machines in tandem also sucks; Synergy is a somewhat acceptable solution to doing this, but it’s one more piece of software to run, update, configure, and potentially troubleshoot. I wrote something on this in 2008 if you want to cringe. Sometimes, you just want to fire up a machine, open a file you’ve been working on from your desktop and put in some work, without thinking about it. That’s where having one, compact computer with a 10+ hour battery life is very appealing.

It’s obvious that the Macbook Air has limitations, and getting past those limitations will invariably require more hardware. I was completely kidding myself when I thought I would be making savings by going to a less powerful machine, and I’ve got several Us of rackspace to show for it. The real challenge isn’t really saving money, it’s integrating the hardware in a way which sticks to this idea of a single terminal to rule them all. Steam’s addition of In-Home streaming functionality is great for providing gaming in this way. Here’s my experience with getting the thing to run correctly.


My setup

As with any gaming setup, the sky is the limit as to what you build to use In-Home Streaming. My setup is relatively humble, a far cry from the flashy (and noisy, and expensive) rigs I was building before. Here are the specs.

Case: Cooler Master Elite 110
Power Supply: Corsair Pro Series AX650
Motherboard: Asrock H81-M ITX
CPU: Intel Core i7-4790K
Memory: Crucial Ballistix Sport 16GB
GPU: Zotax GTX 960 2G

This setup lives in a closet along with my other networking stuff, with only a network cable and a power cable going to it.


Common problems and fixes

The Steam KB covers setup and really common problems well, so I’m not going to bother sharing how to get the thing to work. What I will cover though are the problems that I have personally ran into. Most of them are related to running a machine without any input or output peripherals. Depending on how games manage mouse and keyboard output as well as video output, they may not like not having a physical inputs plugged in, or not being passed on a screen resolution by the OS because the screen is absent.

The most obvious need is for an emulated display. Being a long-time contributor to the Folding@Home project, I was well aware that nothing that uses a GPU would work without either a monitor or a dummy plug. The old-school way of doing this is using the DVI-to-VGA plugs that usually come with graphics cards along with some resistors to cook up a quick and dirty dummy plug; the folding community has used those for years, and they are known to just work. While the internet specifies 68 to 75 ohm resistors to get this working, I’ve done mine with 125 ohm resistors to the same effect. The new-school way would be to use an HDMI dummy plug, which has the additional advantage of emulating an audio output, which eliminates the need for more dongles and hacks.

Audio also needs to have a simulated output, because most audio chipsets theses days deactivate if no headphones or speakers are plugged into them. While I’m sure we all have spare sets of broken headphones around, neat freaks will likely want a cleaner solution. Most motherboard 3.5mm audio jacks have physical switches inside, so all you need is to physically stuff either a dummy plug or an actual, unwired 3.5mm plug and onboard sound will work. I’ve personally run into games which crashes and explicitly gave an audio related message. Some games might work, but you’re better safe than sorry.

Finally, mouse and keyboard input is also need locally for remote inputs to work properly. I’ve played through half of AC4: Blag Flag without the mouse’s scroll-wheel because using it would cause the game to infinitely scroll. This is reported to happen in several games by several editors on the Steam forums. Here again, having a mouse plugged in is an easy solution, but not quite as clean as one would want it to be. My solution was to use a Logitech Unifying adaptor, without the wireless mouse or keyboard connected, as it registers as both mouse and keyboard HID devices. It’s also very low-profile, which is perfect for this application. I’ve been looking around to find a way of emulating HID devices via software, but I have not yet found anything worth mentioning. From my time in big box stores, I knew for a fact that my local Geek Squad  would have, for no discernable reason, a buttload of orphaned receivers; that’s where I got mine. See with your local store if you don’t have a receiver handy. Otherwise, the receivers sell for about 10$ on Amazon.

Once all the inputs and outputs are taken care of, you should have minimized the possibility of games doing weird things on start-up. Then comes the optimization of the encoding for maximum performance and picture quality. From the get-go Mac users who have a Nvidia GPU on the backend are SOL when it comes to hardware-accelerated encoding, because of a known incompatibility. The performance is great, but you game will suffer from occasional color spots and artefacts, especially in dark scenes.

Examples of artefacts and other problems caused by Nvidia encoding when Apple hardware receives it.

Examples of artefacts and other problems caused by Nvidia encoding when Apple hardware receives it.

For my setup, I found that simply deactivating hardware encoding altogether makes for the most beautiful and smoothest gameplay. Intel iGPU mights seem like a good idea, because it offloads to hardware thanks to Intel Quick Sync Video, but I found it to be lacking, with the video output being quite laggy despite framerates staying high. I’m not sure that’s what Quick Sync Video was meant for; I’d stay away from it. If you have a modern CPU, chances are your bottleneck isn’t the CPU anyhow, so software encoding will probably do little to your experience unless you’re running a very CPU-intensive title. Steam forum posts seem to mirror my experience.


Caveats and important considerations

Despite the fact that this system works great for me, there are some things to be aware of. It works for me because I’m a filthy casual, albeit a very tech-enthousiast filthy casual. I only build a computer to play games when I’ve amassed too many from Steam Summer Sales to not play them. I’ve been gaming on wireless peripherals for a few years now, and I’m not going back. I don’t care too much about latencies, refresh rates and the like. If you’re a hardcore gamer, you probably hate the idea of streaming a game, because MUH LATENCY. If you’re a filthy casual of the non-IT aficionado variety, I’m surprised you’re still reading this. This brings me to what is probably the biggest caveat of In-Home Streaming: I feel like it doesn’t fit too many use cases yet, for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, you need fast networking. I’m talking wired, ideally gigabit if you want your games to run smoothly. Since most normie non-gamers’ idea of fast networking is likely router with “Wireless AC” written on it, it’s probably not gonna work for most folks. The convenience of wifi has long overtaken good old cables, and it’s a hard sell to ask users to drop the convenience and run cables.

Secondly, it’s not like gaming in front an actual display in terms of imagine quality. The video stream coming from the rendering side of the setup is compressed, and those of you with keen eyes will notice this in certain settings, especially if you’re running on a non-gigabit connection.

Thirdly, it’s still not seamless. Most games will work fine, even the ones that require a launcher or aren’t from Steam, but some titles inexplicably require some user intervention via RDP to get things to work. For example, after launching Watch Dogs, other Steam-enabled Ubisoft titles will no longer launch some times, requiring a restart of Uplay. Sticking to the same title is fine, but playing different ones will inevitable at some point cause hiccups which will require user intervention. It’s never something major, but it’s still a pain in the butt.

Finally, there is some of the dreaded additional latency, on input and display. You won’t be winning a CS:GO world championship on a stream of a remote computer. It’s only really noticeable on faster shooters, but it’s there, by the very nature of how it works. As video codecs get better and 10BaseT becomes ubiquitous, we’ll see this concern fading away, but for now we have to deal with it.


Conclusion

To sum it all up, while I don’t think the technology is quite mainstream ready, Steam’s In-Home Streaming is a step in what I see as the way of the future, that is decoupling a computing/gaming experience from the hardware required to provide it. Let’s face it, if you’re building your own computer, you probably can handle the additional legwork of configuring and maintaining a streaming box. If on top of that you don’t mind making minor concessions on performance for the sake praticality, I’d strongly recommend you look into it. For my, having a totally silent work environment alone is well worth it.

In part 2, I’ll go over what I’d like my next Steaming box to look like, and what steps I intend to take to integrate In-Home Streaming functionality to my existing server setup.

Free Dakota: A Review

July 9, 2016 § Leave a comment

Let me start this off by stating that I’m probably not the good person to review fiction. Following my review of The Free Market Existentialist, Dr. Irwin offered to send me a review copy of his recently released Free Dakota, and I gladly accepted after highlighting the fact that I hardly a literary savant. Reading non-fiction has the unfortunate opportunity cost of not affording me to read as much fiction as I would like, as a result I would hardly consider myself well-read in fiction in any of the languages I know how to read. Knowing this, take this review with a grain of salt.


Not unlike how the key to any good meal is balance, the obvious dilemma in creating any work of fiction with an overt political message is knowing how to properly blend in the message to the plot without leaving too strong an aftertaste. Stating political opinions or preferences in argumentative form is one thing, but using characters as a mouthpiece is a whole other undertaking and definitely has the possibility of back-firing. Thomas More’s Utopia is one work that crosses the line, an example of how slathering normative preference in a thin layer of fiction doesn’t make it any more palatable. Raphael describes what More would not, and the fictional background seems of little use other than presuming the existence of superior moral beings in the form of the Utopian people. In many ways, the Utopia felt more like reading a Wikipedia page on a non-existent country than following characters on their journey. I read enough non-fiction that when I do start reading something fictional, this is hardly an impression I want to have.

From my reading of William Irwin’s Free Dakota, it is quite obvious that the author is well aware of this risk, and has taken many steps to mitigate it. For one, characters both present in dialogue and implied are many, and each one of any significance is presented with all its qualities, quirks and flaws. The use of braided plots serves to strengthen the story, by both diluting the more “theoretical” parts and uncovering intrigues which are bound to happen in any political process. The result is an honest effort at story-based advocacy, that for all it’s merits, still hasn’t quite nailed the balance. The book still has some merits in terms of it’s power of conviction and it’s ability to plant the seed of ideas, but the ideological content is, according me to, still too overt to make it a mass-market success.

Free Dakota is the story of separatist movements. The main protagonist Don encounters two such movements, one in Vermont which he quickly shuns for it’s collectivist tendencies. Later comes a similar effort in North Dakota, a more an-cap collective which grows spontaneously but is rapidly confronted with the reality of politics. With unlikely collaborators, Don rapidly goes from venting his frustrations on blog posts to doing what is necessary to win hearts and minds for his cause. His ragtag entourage, hailing from all walks of life, navigates through conspiracies and power-struggles with a gamut of state- and non-state actors in the pursuit of making North Dakota a beacon of freedom in the United States.

Overall, I saw the book as an allegory for an idea that many defenders of political ideologies, irrespective of their proclivities, tend to forget: politics is in its essence compromise. In an age of Facebook meme wars, niche ideologies have found spaces to grow their following, at the cost of becoming echo-chambers reinforced by content-curation algorithms. Online, compromise is easily recognized as weakness, and granting a point to an opponent is grounds to be considered either defeated or treasonous. Purists have little to lose if not their spare time in defending ideological zealotry, and the impersonal interactions through text make discarding inconvenient rebuttals too easy. In real-life institutionalized politics, hardliners lose. First and foremost for the obvious reason that fringe groups never have the mass appeal to set the political agenda. Secondly because real-world discussions and debates are rarely 100% oppositional and require common ground, which both parties are incentivized to recognize, lest they sound unreasonable to the masses. Thirdly because politics is a messy power-struggle, one in which even the best of plans always get sidetracked.

Despite the idealism that Don shows through his blog posts throughout the novel, the series of events surrounding the pursuit of Free Dakota follows a much more sinuous path. This paths seems to suggest the inevitable fallibility of “pure” libertarianism or anarcho-capitalism, showing some sort of ultra-minimal government as a more likely outcome of a libertarian revolution. In his prior work which I reviewed, Irwin manifested a decidedly minarchist conception of libertarianism, so this comes at no surprise. While it might fall short of pressing all the feel-good buttons of convinced Libertarians, I think that avoiding the trap of describing a utopia sends out a more convincing message to fence-sitters: tasting the fruit of freedom will come at a price.

Being a political scientist from Quebec, the subject of separatism and sovereignty certain struck a cord, but not for the reasons you might expect. Here in Quebec, popular support for state-led cultural imperialism and statism for nationalistic ends is precisely what allows repressive policies, a situation hardly comparable with the Free Dakota movement in Irwin’s book. For American libertarians and constitutionalists who see their federal government as Goliath and states as their David, this story will surely resonate. It’s the story of the revolution all again, the little folk sticking it to the proverbial man in search of liberty. I kept seeing the negative: the imperfection of the pursuit of sovereignty at a smaller scale which still impedes on the ultimate sovereignty, that of the individual. The referendum for Free Dakota passes, but what of the voters who did not consent to secession? They are victims of mob-rule democracy just like libertarians feel they are now. The story doesn’t say what happens to them. The situation is imperfect, but that’s precisely the point, I think: since we are condemned to choose, in life as in politics, we might as well give ourselves as many options as possible. Secession and the founding of Free Dakota isn’t a perfect end in itself, but rather another political option, a way to opt-out of lesser options. Here again, but idea of compromise and the lesser of evils is very present.

If I’m perfectly honest, this is probably not a book I would have picked up for a pleasurable read: the normative charge is apparent from very early on, and Don’s ramblings with himself, on his blog and in dialogue are sometimes a bore if what you’re looking in a novel is escapism. Despite the fact that they lay down ground rules that might be helpful for initiates, it does distract from the plot and upset the book’s balance. This didn’t pose enough of a problem to keep me from reading the book in one sitting however. At under 200 relatively light pages, it’s an easy read, something I’d feel comfortable putting in anybody’s hands as a primer to libertarian thinking. As Irwin’s first effort in fiction, I think the result is good, and I’m eager to read more of his output: practice makes perfect.

You can buy Free Dakota from Amazon, and I also recommend that you check out Dr. Irwin’s recent commentary on Brexit which ties the event in with the content of the book.

Brexit is the EU’s Ultimate Test

June 28, 2016 § Leave a comment

I don’t like independence referenda, and Brexit was not an exception. As with all things political, they invariably end up being subject to manipulation from every side with skin in the game. Campaigns get real dirty real quick, and why not? In the end, the result is decided by numbers so compromise, the secret spice that makes mob-rule democracy somewhat functional despite all it’s pitfalls, is thrown out the window by all. Bitterness and mutual resentment grows, and usually  hangs on for a while, even long after the ballot boxes have been counted.

Now that the UK has voted on Brexit, this is where the real work happens, where politicians on both the winning and losing sides of the debate are going to have to work together to respect the democratic consultation.  This is going to be a challenge in the UK surely, where the issues was extremely devises, but it’s the European Union who’s going to face its true test.

The above  clip of Nigel Farage has been making the rounds on the internet. Abrasive pomp and smugness aside, the message is that the relationship with the EU doesn’t have to end because the UK has decided to get out. Despite the intentions that Remain-ers will try to give the Leave campaign, the only possible outcome of the Leave victory is to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty to negotiate withdrawal of the UK from the Union. NOT the immediate shutdown of borders. NOT the immediate return to splendid isolationism. NOT sending back EU nationals in the UK to the continent by firing them out of canons. The UK will get out of the EU like it got in: through negotiation, politicking, and most possibly a fair share of bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy is a beast that knows no master, but negotiation and political settlement are both things that require one thing to work properly: good will. In the clip above, Farage showed some good will, in his own snarky way. The rest of the MEPs, not usually a rowdy bunch, accepted this good will with booing and shouting. Following Farage’s speech, Jean-Claude Juncker asked the former why he was still here despite the voting having passed, soliciting massive applause. Juncker’s question was stupid, because he knows the answer to it. Unless he is even more of a dunce on the EU than I am, he knows damn well that nothing is over until a negotiated solution is reached. So why the passive-aggressiveness? Where’s Mr Juncker’s good faith?

Other Pro-EU figures have also been very quick to invoke doomsday scenarios, issue threats and generally become very prickly and arrogant about the whole situation. Belgium’s own Charles Michel starts out with literally “I’m not bitter, but…”, then advocates for “making it obvious to the British that their victory is pyrrhic.” According to him, this must be done quickly. Another stunning display of level-headedness that jumps the gun in a spectacular fashion while completely forgetting the dispositions of article 50.

This is the big test for the EU, one that European nations, pretenders to the Union, and trade partners who aren’t targeted by integration will witness. It will determine the following: Is the EU reasonable as a political entity? Is it jealous and vengeful when it doesn’t get its way, or can it remain cool in times of crisis? It’s ok that EU politicians stop acting in the UK’s interest, that’s expected because it’s what sovereignty implies: a country being solely responsible for itself. What’s not OK is conducting a process which is fully recognized by the institutions of the union with bad blood and hope that the doomsday prophecies invoked by Euro-leaders are realized.

If the EU is heavy-handed with the UK, what message does that send to nations with an application still in the works like Turkey or the Balkan states? What does it say to chronic economic under-performers like Italy, Spain which might get a taste of what Greece has been getting in the past years? What does it say to Greeks which are probably already throwing darts at pictures of Juncker? What does it say to Romanians who are scheduled to get forced into adoption of the Euro by 2019? Or to others who might be forced to do the same at a later date? In the long term, I’m confident that the UK will survive, as sovereign nations have for several hundred years now. The same can’t be said of the EU if it chooses to be brutish about Brexit: this is unchartered territory and the world is watching.

As Glen Greenwald said, the true mesure of a society’s freedom is how it treats its dissidents. Calling for the blood of every British firstborn for the UK’s heresy of renouncing integration, even if proverbially, will only hurt the EU.

Does Realism Need a Saviour?

June 3, 2016 § Leave a comment

Alexander Kirss’ recent article publish on War on the Rocks caused quite the stir in the foreign policy circles in the last days: apart from being a flamboyant example of insubordination from a fellow to it’s think thank, it added fuel to the fire of what some now call the “realist civil war”. It focused on why Trump is not going to be a boon for foreign policy realists, but it was also loaded with other assessments on realism’s “failures” which I think are probably more important than the piece’s main thesis. While denouncing the Center for National Interest’s (CNI) increasingly lenient stance on Trump’s wishy-washy idea of a foreign policy agenda, he lambasts realists for shirking policy-making and staying within the comfort of academia, failing to provide a compelling narrative for America’s role in the world, and not being sufficiently organized in ways that can  influence policy. The take-away is that because they fail at implementing policy, realists tend to flock to strong-men like Donald Trump to “save” them.

While his criticism of the realist movement regarding its absence from policy circles is accurate, I don’t believe that realism has “failed” as he implies it, or that it needs a saviour like Trump. In his anger at the CNI’s position on Trump, he seems to have painted realism with broad strokes, and forgotten what it is fundamentally about. The question of Trump being a messiah for realists or not is relevant; a much better question would be what realism is, is not and can be, with or without him.

Let’s remind ourselves of just what realism is exactly: it is a theoretical framework which uses certain premises on the nature of states and the international system to predict the formers behaviour in the latter. The universally accepted premises are well known and widely adhered to in international relations writ large: the international system is anarchic, and states have survival as their first and foremost interest. There are some divergences on the finer points of states’ behaviors and how they go about surviving, but generally, those two premises is something all realists rally around. I’m certain that this is nothing that Mr. Kirss is not intimately familiar with. This framework is used to understand international relations in it’s broad strokes, which all the but the most obstinate realists having no pretension to it’s capacity to explain everything. What’s more, realism in itself carries no inherent normative ideal of how international relations SHOULD function, unlike other schools, notably everything derived from liberalism. To be sure, it is used by many to predict outcomes on the international scene, but it does so in a fatalistic way which considers states to be a certain way by nature. There is no teleologic goal built in to the framework, no gold standard to progress towards. Liberals have things like world peace and prosperity as a goal, and advocate reaching it through different means depending on their understanding on the international system, and this is how you get institutionalists and interventionists; the only thing we realists have it the sisyphean cycle of balancing and checking, buck-passing and bandwagoning into new international orders every so often.

If the academic conception of realism does not invite normative policy recommendations by design, then the obvious question is the following: what do realist policy recommendations look like? I’d answer that the only thing realists can truly hope to achieve is to shed light on what constitutes “national interest” and to better inform decision makers on ways to maximizing it, in the context of the existing international order. Obviously, ask 100 different realists to write up a list of what does and does not constitute interest and you’ll get 100 different answers. Don’t be surprised if self-professed realists differ in their opinions or if they act like they’re the only “real” realist on the planet; as with everything related to politics, the tiniest minutia can and will throw people into arguments that will make all parties blue in the face. But in the grand scheme of things none of those disagreements matter, because they occur within the “black box” of intra-state politics; as long as realism remains a useful predictor and explanans for what goes one once the domestic decisions are made, it has not failed. Realism does not need to be “saved”; it’s doing an immensely useful job at describing the dynamics of world politics, albeit while doing so in the darks corners of International Relations faculties of various universities.

Even if the end-game goal of realists were to enact policy, I think there is a strong argument to be made that this goal could be better reached under Trump. For one, the Donald has gone out of his way to be a contrarian, proposing several policy elements which completely break the orthodox hegemonic-liberal narrative of American foreign policy. As Kirss pointed out, his solutions are scattershot, but that’s precisely what makes him unlikely to carry on the “righteous nation combatting evil” world-policeman role that the previous four (or more) administrations have based their international relations on. His non-commital to a specific over-arching, prescriptive narrative on how foreign policy aught to work is precisely what might give some leeway to a truly rational calculus of interest to be pursued, if not by Trump himself, then by other actors who pull the levers of foreign affairs. If realist ideas are indeed a latent thought in states’ decision-making, Trump’s loose fabric of policy are the best medium through which these ideas can permeate to the surface. That hardly makes him a saviour; the most credit he could be given is not attempting to cloak realist concerns in several layers of liberal feel-goodery.

The fact of the matter is that neither Trump, nor any other politican can save realism from itself because it is unpalatable to the public, and hence toxic to politicians. In The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, Mearsheimer described Americans as realism-adverse because the doctrine clashed their self-perception and values, and there is a case to be made that this is true around the world. There can no longer be Machiavellis, in a world where political leaders have to stand up to the scrutiny of a public unable to accept that the international scene is a dog-eat-dog world. In this sense, realist concerns are doomed to be diluted when presented to the public; wether the dilution is done by a drone-wielding Nobel Peace Prize winner or a cheetos-coloured real-estate mogul doesn’t really matter all that much.

I share Mr. Kirss’ yearning to see more realism-inspired policies enacted, policies which will actually evaluate national interest sensibly and that will stop coating every unnecessary over-seas escapade in the language of realism. I admire that he obviously wants us realists to be more vocal on our disappointment with how wacky nation-building projects are pushed to the masses as a necessity for our security. However I don’t think that his objectives and disappointment with their non-achievement are grounds to lambast realism as a whole. Realism as we know it has been along for a while now as a theory, and for even long in practice; it can and will weather the storm of another bad president. The fundamentals of realism are sane, it’s just a matter of seeing it’s popularity coming around. We don’t need to make realism great again, it already is.