Over at Tablet, Michelle Goldberg writes about the new trend among critics, hipsters, and intellectuals -- Karl Marx.
[We are] at a moment of newly fervent interest in Marx among young writers, activists, and scholars, who have begun, the wake of the financial crisis, to identify capitalism as a problem rather than an inevitability....
After the financial crisis, “you didn’t need to be Karl Marx to see that people were getting kicked out of their homes,” says [n + 1 cofounder Keith] Gessen. And privileged young people—particularly the kind of who are inclined to read and write essays about political theory—haven’t just been spectators to immiseration. Graduating with student debt loads that make them feel like indentured servants, they’ve had a far harder time than their predecessors finding decent jobs in academia, publishing, or even that old standby law and are thus denied the bourgeois emollients that have helped past generations of college radicals reconcile themselves to the status quo.
If there were a Republican president, they might see hope in electing a Democrat. But Barack Obama already won, and it didn’t help. “If you win something and you are disappointed with the results, in a way that’s more politicizing than just losing and losing and losing over again,” says [Jacobin founder Bhaskar] Sunkara.
So, they’re hungry for a theory that offers a thoroughgoing critique of the system, not just a way to ameliorate its excesses. “[F]or at least a generation now, not only the broad public but many radical themselves have felt uncertain that the left possessed a basic analysis of contemporary capitalism, let alone a program for its replacement,” [writer Benjamin] Kunkel writes in the introduction to Utopia or Bust. Reaching back into the canon, he and others have found, at least, the former.
As for the latter? In the absence of a clear programmatic goal, never mind a party or organization, the new Marxism has a certain weightlessness. No one seems to have even a wisp of an answer to the perennial question: What is to be done?
I have some decidedly mixed feelings about all of this.
My first, superficial reaction is, as someone who had to read a lot of Marx in college and graduate school, I'm glad to see that those hours/days might not all go to waste.
My second reaction is that a return to Marx seems entirely appropriate. For all the twentieth century focus on what Marxists did once they came to power, it is worth remembering that 95% of what Marx wrote about was a critique of capitalist political economy -- he offered very little in the way of what to do instead. Indeed, Marx's made a couple of significant contributions to political economy, and the post-2008 world puts a lot of them on display. Following Smith and Ricardo, he was really one of the first to think about capitalism as a global rather than a national phenomenon.
Going beyond Smith and Ricardo, Marx stressed two important facets of the market that they did not. First, he stressed that crisis was endogenous to global capitalism. Marx acknowledged and admired the productive machine that was the capitalist system, but he also stressed that periodic busts were baked into the system. This is a point that spread into some corners of mainstream economics -- see Hyman Minsky, Charles Kindleberger or even Reinhart and Rogoff -- but could do with a little more emphasis in the old grad school syllabus.
The second dimension Marx stressed was power -- which is why he's still appreciated among those who study global political economy. A riff through The Communist Manifesto or the highly underrated Wage Labor and Capital shows the ways in which Marx appreciated how capitalism led to a redistribution and concentration of economic power over time. It's not that hard to find recent empirical work that bolsters a Marxist analysis of economic power.
That said -- and you knew there was a "that said" coming -- the current moment also highlights some Very Big Things that Marx got wrong -- badly, world-historically wrong. First, as an economic determinist, Marx was convinced that class triumphed over all other political cleavages -- including nationalism. That's.... really untrue -- and the lack of truth about it affects any decent analysis of the global political economy.
Second, Marx believed that ideas were merely the manifestation of economic power, with little independent influence of their own. And if nothing else, the way the current debt ceiling deadlock/government shutdown has played out in Washington suggests the limits of that kind of structural Marxist analysis. We're operating in a world where the core business interests in the United States -- for kicks, let's call them the "executive committee of the bourgeoisie" -- are being ignored. Now it's possible that Tea Party activists have some economic skin in the game - see this outstanding exchange between Ezra Klein and Tim Carney for more on that -- but it's a stretch to say that the Tea Party is acting out of economic interests rather than, say, creedal passions.
Still, no one's model of political economy is perfect, and I do think Marx has a few insights that might be worth contemplating (and rebutting). Your humble blogger will be intrigued to see whether this intellectual embrace of Marx will lead to some better analysis of the global political economy.... or, instead, a cameo appearance by the Marx-Engels reader in an episode of Girls (even if Lena Dunham is an underrated political thinker).
What do you think?
Your humble blogger has been growing out his beard in support of the Boston Red Sox this playoff season, a decision that paid off handsomely last night. There's a little more salt in this beard than the last time I grew it out, a reminder of time's passing. I used to be a young, rebellious IPE scholar. Now I'm a middle-aged cantankerous IPE scholar.
One of the few benefits that comes with age, however, is acquiring the necessary experience to recognize when someone is making a retread argument -- a thesis that is not terribly original or provocative. Now that's not always a bad thing -- sometimes the remake is better than the original. But sometimes not.
For example, I've been … let's say less than thrilled with Parag Khanna's insights into the global political economy. Yesterday, someone let him have the keys to the New York Times Sunday Review section, with a piece titled, "The End of the Nation-State?" Now that is an awful title that is likely not Khanna's fault, so let's move past that. What's his argument?
[T]hough most of us might not realize it, “nonstate world” describes much of how global society already operates. This isn’t to say that states have disappeared, or will. But they are becoming just one form of governance among many.
A quick scan across the world reveals that where growth and innovation have been most successful, a hybrid public-private, domestic-foreign nexus lies beneath the miracle. These aren’t states; they’re “para-states” — or, in one common parlance, “special economic zones.”…
This complex layering of territorial, legal and commercial authority goes hand in hand with the second great political trend of the age: devolution.
In the face of rapid urbanization, every city, state or province wants to call its own shots. And they can, as nations depend on their largest cities more than the reverse.
So, three things. First, this sounds awfully similar to Kenichi Ohmae's The End of the Nation State: The Rise of Regional Economies, which made an argument about "region-states" way back in … 1995. I remember because I reviewed Ohmae's book back in the day. It wasn't terribly persuasive then, and it's not any more persuasive now.
Second, states have always been, "one form of governance among many" -- this ain't new. Hell, even a glance at, say, Hendrik Spruyt makes that clear. So what Khanna needs to show is that real power/authority/governance is shifting from states to subnational actors.
Third, showing that devolution or diffusion of state power in the global economy ain't easy. Indeed, the same weekend Khanna published this essay, Greg Ip's Economist survey on the state of globalization five years after the 2008 financial crisis comes to a very different conclusion:
A clear pattern is beginning to emerge: more state intervention in the flow of money and goods, more regionalisation of trade as countries gravitate towards like-minded neighbours, and more friction as national self-interest wins out over international co-operation. Together, all this amounts to a new, gated kind of globalisation.
The appeal of gated globalisation is closely tied to state capitalism, which allowed China and the other big emerging markets—India, Brazil and Russia—to come through the crisis in much better shape than the rich world. They proudly proclaimed their brand of state capitalism as superior to the “Washington consensus” of open markets and minimal government that had prevailed before 2008.
Now, I think Ip is overstating his case considerably, an argument I'm in the middle of developing at length -- but at least he's bringing some data to the table. And that data doesn't support Khanna's thesis.
Am I missing anything?
For the past month or so, your humble blogger has been preoccupied with questions about just how much "credibility" matters in world politics. And for the past week or so, your humble blogger has been preoccupied with the budget/debt ceiling showdowns going on in Washington, DC.
So it's awesome that Bloomberg's Mike Dorning and Margaret Talev have a story that ties these two things together -- on how Obama is viewing this debt showdown with the GOP as a fight over credibility:
Shortly before President Barack Obama was re-elected, he confided to John Podesta, an informal adviser, a vow he was making for his second term: He would never again bargain with Republicans to extend the U.S. debt limit.
The precedent, set in the agreement that ended a 2011 budget standoff, “sent a signal that this was fair game to blackmail over whether the country would default,” said Podesta, a onetime chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and co-chairman of Obama’s 2008 presidential transition, in an interview. “He feels like he has to end it and end it forever.”
The stand Obama has taken on the latest fight over the government shutdown and borrowing limit -- refusing to tie policy conditions to raising the debt ceiling -- is an attempt to repair some of the damage that he and his aides believe he sustained by making concessions to Republicans to avert a default two years ago, according to former top administration officials and advisers.
The resolution of the showdown with House Republicans will be critical to maintaining Obama’s capacity to wield his clout in Washington during the three years left in his presidency and protect the political initiatives of his first term, they say.
The outcome will probably help determine his leverage to press for new priorities such as a revamp of immigration law, expanded access to pre-kindergarten education and infrastructure funding. It may also stave off attacks on his health-care law and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
If Obama makes concessions again to House Republicans over raising the $16.7 trillion debt limit, “he’ll be viewed as a guy who you can hold up,” said Podesta, chairman of the Center for American Progress, a Washington research group with close ties to the administration.
Now, given my profound skepticism about the impact of credibility in world politics, one would think I would share the same dim view about it mattering in domestic politics. Except that I don't.
As I wrote last month about the gap between academics and policymakers on this question:
Academics have the advantage of thinking about the long term; for policymakers, the long term is two weeks (for the Middle East, it's two days). Because of these different perspectives, they look at credibility differently. Academics usually make the country the unit of analysis: does the United States show resolve or not, for example. They care about the role that credibility plays over the span of years. For foreign policymakers, all politics is personal. As Heather Hurlburt intimated in this Bloggingheads conversation, they care about whether they or their boss is perceived by others inside the Beltway as credible or not immediately after a crisis....
If this explanation is correct, then both academics and policymakers are correct. International relations academics might well be correct in observing that what happens in Syria now will not affect what happens in Iran a year from now. Still, policymakers might well be correct in noting that if Barack Obama fails to follow through on his Syria pledges, his personal credibility might take a short-term hit inside the corridors of power.
That point, however, just covers how foreign showdowns are viewed by domestic political actors. The importance of credibility gets magnified even further when appreciating that these same individuals are going to have to go to the bargaining table again and again and again over the next few years. It is in precisely this set of circumstances -- in which the bargaining is ongoing and the individual actors don't change -- that one would expect credibility and a reputation for tough bargaining to be pretty friggin' important (though I'd really, really like to hear from my American politics colleagues on this question).
Of course, this cuts both ways. The problem with the current crisis is that it's dragged on enough so that if you think credibility matters, then both the Obama administration and Republlicans in Congress will face considerable audience costs for backing down. Any kind of concession that the GOP makes -- and let's face it, they've walked a fair way away from their initial bargaining position -- weakens the credibility of their bargaining position the next time around. Which leads to tweets like these:
"Clean" Continuing Resoultion and Debt Ceiling = Blank Check
— JohnCornyn (@JohnCornyn) October 10, 2013
This, by the way, is why I'm queasy about the idea of a short-term fix to allow time for further bargaining. Because whichever side is viewed as having "lost" the current exchange *cough* Republicans *cough* will dig in their heels even more during that future bargaining. Which dramatically increases the likelihood that, two months from now, I'll be linking to this post.
Am I missing anything?
There's a pretty strong consensus among economists that any difficulties created by not raising the debt ceiling would be, to use the technical term, "really bad." That's the same consensus that foreign leaders have when looking at the United States. Financial markets are starting to freak out as well. At the same time, there's a raft of recent articles about the large number of GOP congressmen who don't think that going past the October 17th drop-dead date would be such a bad thing. See the Financial Times, New York Times, Politico, New York Times again, and Washington Post, just for starters.
What's particularly surprising about this is that one would have expected some learning from the last time the "debt kamikazes" emerged during the 2011 debt ceiling showdown. Even though there was a deal., the brinksmanship alone cost the U.S. government close to $19 billion. And yet, this time around, the debt denialist caucus seems to have grown even louder.
This raises an interesting and disturbing question for social scientists: why is there such resistance to the expertise offered by economists? Why does an ever larger group of Republican politicians pooh-pooh expert warnings?
I'd offer the following mélange of reasons:
1) The overall expertise of economists has been devalued. As Christopher Hayes pointed out in Twilight of the Elites, this hasn't been a good decade for those in traditional positions of authority. That applies to traditional experts as well. The same profession that seemed mostly copacetic with financial deregulation a decade ago and mostly sanguine about the implications of the subprime mortgage crisis before Lehman Brothers collapsed has lost a fair amount of its luster. So it doesn't matter what they're saying now.
2) GOP politicians are listening to their own experts. Someone from Brookings or the Peterson Institute for Inteernational Economics or a lesser Ivy League school won't get much rhythm from Republicans. They have their own experts ensconced in think tanks across DC. Mike Konczal conducted a little experiment and contacted conservative think tanks to get their experts' opinion of what will happen if the debt ceiling is breached. His finding:
The Heritage Foundation immediately responded with a quote from this post, stating, “Congress still has some time and options. Even if the debt limit is not raised by mid-October, Boccia writes, ‘the Treasury would not necessarily default on debt obligations,’ as it can ‘reasonably be expected to prioritize principal and interest payments on the national debt, protecting the full faith and credit of the United States above all other spending.’”
They added, “In other words, risk of a default is practically nil—unless the President and Treasury choose to default, an unprecedented and almost inconceivable course of action.”....
The Cato Institute put me in touch with their senior fellow Dan Mitchell, who said, “I think the likelihood of an actual default is zero, or as close to zero as you can possibly get, for the simple reason that the Treasury Department has plenty of competent people who would somehow figure out how to prioritize payments.”
3) Wolf has been cried too often. Economists warned about bad macroeconomic effects when the sequester kicked in... and GDP growth accelerated. Economists warned about the bad macroeconomic effects of a government shutdown... and the most prominent news story became the fact that some World War II veterans got blocked from visiting a monument. So they've heavily discounted warnings about a failure on the debt ceiling -- and since it's never happened before, even the economic experts can't say for sure that the apocalypse will happen.
4) It's why they ran for office. For the record, I think U.S. representative Ted Yoho (R, FL) is an ignorant jackass when it comes to what will happen if there's no debt ceiling increase. But he's not wrong when he says, "I ran on not raising the debt ceiling." And Politico's Ben White and Seung Min Kim ain't wrong when they point out that, "Other members say they based entire campaigns on not boosting the borrowing limit." They're acting like Millian representatives. Crazy as it sounds, it's democratic.
5) Barack Obama wants to raise the debt ceiling. And whatever Obama wants must, by definition, be bad. I'll just close with this quote from Tim Huelskamp in the Financial Times:
Mr Huelskamp is not nervous that a default is on the horizon, and he says neither are his constituents back in Kansas. “They don’t trust this administration. This is the same administration that on one hand tells them what’s going to happen on October 17 and on the other hand they’re saying Obamacare is a wonderful thing for businesses. They have no credibility,” he says.
The bitter irony of all of this is that if the debt ceiling is breached, the only way for economists to regain their credibility is if something really calamitous happens.
Am I missing anything?
Dear Rest of the World,
Hi there. Let's get some preliminaries out of the way. First off, I'm really sorry about the whole U.S. government shutdown/possible "possible default on the U.S. debt" thing. I know that many of you are eager to negotiate trade treaties with the United States, and now that's on hold. I know that the U.S. is the world's financial anchor, and manufactured crises like this one can muck up your economies a bit. I know that many of you are clucking at how maybe the presidential system of government ain't all it's cracked up to be. Fair enough. Right now America is exceptional -- at racking up policy own-goals.
All that said, can I make a teeny, tiny suggestion? If you want the United States government to resolve this deadlock, you're gonna have to rethink whether you can influence what is, essentially, a domestic politics game. For example, I'm not sure that this is the best idea:
China called on the U.S. to take necessary steps to avoid defaulting on government debt, in the first official comment on the shutdown impasse from Washington's largest foreign creditor.
Noting that China is a major holder of U.S. Treasurys, Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao warned Monday that failure by the U.S. to raise its debt ceiling would have global ramifications.
"Because of this, We naturally are paying attention to financial deadlock in the U.S. and reasonably demand that the U.S. guarantee the safety of Chinese investment there," Mr. Zhu said, according to a report on the website of the official Xinhua news agency.
"On the question of the debt ceiling, the Chinese side feels the U.S. needs to take realistic and resolute steps to ensure against default on the national debt," he added.
How to put this gently.... these sorts of statements are at best futile and at worst counterproductive.
To understand what I mean, go click here, here, here, here, and here to get a sense of the dynamics at play in the U.S. House of Representatives right now. It doesn't matter that the shutdown is unpopular and more people are mostly blaming Republicans. What matters is that the representatives in most GOP districts (though not all) aren't feeling much political pain right now. Hell, as the links above suggest, many GOP politicians are unconvinced that a default on the debt is possible and/or undesirable. They're completely wrong, of course -- but this is the mindset you must acknowledge right now.
In this kind of political ecosystem, you know what won't help? Complaints from a possible foreign rival. If you think GOP members of Congress will become less intransigent because of Chinese pressure, well, you haven't been watching recent political campaigns. If China is complaining about some aspect of U.S. policy, that's seen as a good thing by most members of Congress.
Is there any kind of foreign pressure that would help? In the old days of the 1990s, I suppose a joint statement by America's closest friends and allies might at least garner some attention. But we're operating in a political universe right now where the chairman of the House Rules Committee publicly articulated the GOP's bargaining position as: "Look. We're not French. We don't surrender." So no, I doubt that would help either.
The most frustrating thing in international politics is to see a crisis and do nothing about it. But in this case, foreign pressure on Congress - whether from friends or rivals -- will do nothing to alleviate the deadlock.
Yours very sincerely,
Daniel W. Drezner
As John Boehner continued to dig in his heels over the weekend, it seems more and more likely that the current government shutdown/impending debt ceiling deadlock will not be resolved until the very last minute -- if that.
With the exception of Ted Yoho, there appears to be a general consensus that the global economic effects of defaulting on the debt would be Very, Very Extra-Special Bad. Given the fragilities of the global economy over the past five years, this seems particularly troublesome.
Except the interesting thing is that the global economy isn't as fragile as one would expect:
Surging business confidence in rich countries has put the global economy “back on track” to resume a steady recovery, according to the latest Brookings Institution-Financial Timestracking index.
The improvement in outlook has come as a surprise over the summer, but the relatively upbeat message from economic data over the past few months is vulnerable to many threats on the horizon which could again kill the emerging confidence....
Tiger(Tracking Indexes for the Global Economic Recovery) shows the global economy “being borne along by surging business and consumer confidence in advanced economies, and stabilisation in the growth of emerging markets”, said Prof Prasad.
Having lagged behind emerging economies since the financial crisis, advanced economies now score higher in the financial and confidence components of the index.
The Tiger index combines measures of real economic activity, financial variables and indicators of confidence, according to the degree to which they are all moving up or down at the same time. Using sophisticated statistical methods it can capture similar movements of data which are measured on a very different basis and across many countries.
The overall levels of the index, which still languish well below the initial recovery period in late 2009 and early 2010, have nevertheless improved from their recent lows in mid-2012. A reduction in fear of an imminent eurozone collapse, alongside gradually improving data, is the most important factor in the upswing
A standard lament about the 2008 financial crisis is that it happened because of "market fundamentalism." There's at least a small grain of truth in the accusation that market failures triggered the greatest downturn since the Great Depression. But between the Eurozone crisis and U.S. policy deadlocks, it's striking how much the gyrations of the past few years are because of governance failures. And it's depressing to consider how much better the global economy would be doing if politicians in the advanced industrialized economies were a bit better at their jobs.
Joshua Green has a story in BusinessWeek that touches on a familiar theme: the declining influence of business interests over the Republican Party. Green, however, provides some data on the gap that's startling in a number of ways. The key paragraphs:
It’s hard to find any organization more closely affiliated with the Republican Party than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In 2012 the business trade group spent $35,657,029 on federal elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Of that, $305,044 was spent on behalf of Democratic candidates. Last year the Chamber went further to help Republicans than it ever had by running ads directly against candidates: It spent $27,912,717 against Democrats and only $346,298 against Republicans....
All that money ensures a careful hearing when the Chamber wants something from Republicans—but it doesn’t guarantee they’ll listen. On Oct. 1, House Republicans ignored the Chamber’s pleas to keep the government running. The shutdown is costing the U.S. economy $300 million a day, according to IHS, a global market-research firm, and it’s only the latest sign suggesting that the old adage, “Republicans are the party of business,” no longer holds true. From the austerity imposed by sequestration to the refusal to reform immigration laws to the shutdown and now, as appears likely, another debt-ceiling showdown when U.S. borrowing authority expires on Oct. 17, the GOP’s actions have put a strain on one of its most valuable partners: the business community....
Asked by the Associated Press if he had heard business groups express alarm about the economic impact of a shutdown, Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California replied, “No. And it wouldn’t make any difference if I did.”
So, a few reactions to this as a scholar of international relations who pays some attention to American politics: first, what the f**k is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce thinking?
Seriously, I get that, traditionally, Republicans are more business-friendly. But standard American Politics 101 says that if you're that big of an interest group, you hedge your bets and make sure you have allies in both major parties. Why has the Chamber of Commerce put all their eggs in a basket that is far from assured of victory?
Second, given the Chamber of Commerce's tilt, why aren't GOP representatives listening more closely? Presumably, this is a group that, if alienated, could actually choose to spread their money around more liberally. Furthermore, over the long-term, I'm not sure the GOP wants to shed the reputation of being the business-friendly party (though, admittedly, there's a distinction to be made about the differences between markets and business that could be developed here).
I think the answer to the second question is that votes still trump dollars in democratic politics -- and representatives have more to fear from ideological activists than interest group dollars. Indeed, this Washington Post story from November 2012 suggests that the Chamber of Commerce has been very, very good at making spectacularly bad bets on American elections:
The Chamber spent nearly $24 million to defeat several high-profile Democratic Senate candidates, including Sen. Sherrod Brown in Ohio, former governor Timothy M. Kaine in Virginia and Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But out of 15 Senate races where the business organization put down money, only two went the Chamber’s way.
The results were not much better in the House, where the Chamber poured more than $7 million into 22 races, according to the CRP. The Chamber’s candidates picked up only four wins.
This, of course, just brings us back to the first question: in all seriousness, what he f**k is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce thinking?
What do you think they're thinking?
Over at Slate, Anne Applebaum looks at the budget shutdown from the perspective of an overseas foreign correspondent and concludes, in so many words, that the state of American democracy is pretty f**ked up. She closes with these two paragraphs:
Plenty of people outside the U.S. understand how strange this debate has become. A couple of days ago, an Egyptian tweeted that it was “impressive how everyone in #US follows the law even in the face of extreme political vandalism by an irrational fringe. #Egypt.” His intention was ironic, but actually, he was right. In many parts of the world—in, say, Egypt—an “irrational fringe” group of politicians who tried to subvert the entire political system by overturning a law already confirmed by three branches of government would be called “insurgents” or “coup-plotters” and their behavior would lead to arrest, prison, or worse.
But because Americans, even irrational Americans, no longer use violence to achieve their goals, because this process is still just barely taking place within the outer boundaries of those institutions, and because the protagonists still observe the language if not always the spirit of the law, the result is peaceful. That is indeed impressive. But it is a narrow achievement. Americans are paying a high price for the events of this week, though they may not know it. The cost of shutting down the federal government for a few days or even a few weeks pales in comparison with the damage we are doing not only to the credibility of the United States abroad, but to the credibility of democracy itself. (emphasis added)
Well.... Applebaum is correct about the hit that democracy takes when gridlock like this happens, but I'd qualify her assessment in two ways. First, it's the U.S. presidential system that takes the hit -- not democracy more generally. As her colleague Matthew Yglesias explained in his eulogy for comparative politics scholar Juan Linz, presidential systems that allow divided government to persist can lead to this kind of persistent gridlock -- which, in many other countries, is followed by coups or revolutions.
The second issue is whether America's foreign policy credibility is really affected by a government shutdown. I think the answer here is "no." The last time the United States went through this kind of sustained deadlock was the 1995/1996 government shutdowns. As it turns out, this was right around the time that the United States also brokered the Dayton peace accords between the warring parties in Bosnia. There is no evidence that the former affected the latter -- I don't think Slobodan Milosevic's spine was stiffened because Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton couldn't agree.
I suspect that Applebaum might be conflating U.S. credibility with U.S. soft power. It would be hard to argue that prominent evidence of governance dysfunction would tarnish the image of America abroad. The effect of such a hit on U.S. soft power is literally incalculable -- I have no idea how to calculate it, and whether the effect is large or small (Pssst -- political economy thesis writers flailing for a thesis topic -- this is a very loud hint).
Still, Applebaum is a columnist -- not a policymaker. With all the loose talk about "credibility" floating around the foreign policy community, I can see why she'd use that language a bit too loosely. I mean, it's not like a foreign policy principal would be so careless:
The U.S. government shutdown will undermine American credibility abroad and lead allies to question its commitment to treaty obligations, the U.S. defense chief warned on Tuesday as he prepared to put 400,000 civilian workers on unpaid leave....
The Pentagon chief said since arriving in Seoul on Sunday night, he had been questioned by South Korean officials about the threatened shutdown and why it seemed likely to take place.
"It does have an effect on our relationships around the world and it cuts straight to the obvious question: Can you rely on the United States as a reliable partner to fulfill its commitments to its allies?" Hagel told reporters.
"Here this great republic and democracy, the United States of America, shuts down its government," he added. "The Pentagon, even though we are (partly) exempted, the military has no budget. We are still living under this dark cloud of uncertainty not knowing what's going to happen.
"It does cast a very significant pall over America's credibility with our allies when this kind of thing happens. It's nonsensical ... It's completely irresponsible," Hagel said.
Son of a....
This is not the first time that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has.... let's say exaggerated the impact of a policy decision on U.S. credibility abroad in recent weeks. (To be fair, if we were talking about the debt ceiling, then I'd agree with Hagel. But even a few weeks of government shutdown is unlikely to cause U.S. allies or adversaries to question U.S. resolve or commitments overseas.) Indeed, the government shutdown is less linked to overall foreign policy than, say, Syria -- and even there, the scope of the credibility issue seems remarkably constrained.
What is ironic is that there has been a news cycle in recent months that probably has eroded U.S. credibility abroad -- and yet, Hagel has studiously not talked about that blow to American credibility.
So, to conclude: while the U.S. government shutdown falls under the "not good" category, I doubt it's affected U.S. credibility abroad. Indeed, the only actor whose credibility has been weakened by this episode has been... Chuck Hagel. At this rate, he'd say that U.S. credibility was taking a hit if he tripped on the sidewalk in Seoul.
Am I missing anything?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.