As someone who had a little fun at President Obama's expense with a slight rewriting of his first inaugural address over the weekend, I will not be so indecorous as to skewer his second inaugural address in as rough a manner. A few thoughts on the speech and pomp and circumstance and commentary, however:
1) The build-up to the speech demonstrates the blind spots that occasionally hobble our political class. All long weekend I've heard that good second inaugurals are rare or inconsequential (save Lincoln's, of course). This demonstrates a remarkably short-term memory. I'm not George W. Bush's biggest fan, but his second inaugural address was both significant in policy implications and lyrical in its use of rhetoric. If political commentators can't parse the difference between a good speech and good policy, what chance do they have of providing any enlightenment about what's to come in politics?
2) As for Obama's rhetoric, on the whole, I'd say this was both a more confident and relaxed speech than his first inaugural -- and a measure of the ways in which the country has changed in the past four years. His use of "we the people" was an effective trope and highlighted some trends that sometimes get lost in DC obsessions about the right-wing backlash to Obama. The simple fact is that over the past four years Americans have become significantly more tolerant of each other, particlarly with respect to gays and lesbians. Obama was smart to place this in a broader inexorable march towards less discrimination and greater civil and political rights in the United States. At the same time, Obama also did not shy away from his progressive economic message. We'll see how well that goes moving fowards.
3) As for the foreign policy section of the speech... meh. Here's the biggest paragraph:
We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully – not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear. America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation. We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice – not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.
This is pretty boilerplate, in my book. Nothing new, nothing particularly soaring. It almost read as if it was a placeholder for better text. In that, this speech was a marked contrast to Bush's second inaugural, which was principally about foreign affairs.
4) That said, the most significant foreign policy implications in this speech weren't in that paragraph, but earlier:
Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
I don't know if this will translate into concrete policy achievements, but it's interesting that Obama put it front and center in this speech. It's also interesting that, like Bush, he used religious imagery and religious authority to make the case for addressing climate change as an urgent national imperative.
5) Finally -- and I know this is gonna be controversial -- but I'm gonna say it anyway: Kelly Clarkson outsang Beyonce today. I would not have expected that going in. I suspect Beyonce might have had some technical difficulties. While they are both excellent singers, on nine out of ten days I'd expect Beyonce to outclass Clarkson. But not today. Not today. "The Star-Spangled Banner" is a tougher song than "My Country Tis of Thee," but still.
That said, my favorite pop rendition of a patriotic song is embedded below:
What did you think?
In an exit interview with the Wall Street Journal, outgoing U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said some provocative things about the state of America's political system and how that affects our standing in the world. In particular:
If you look past the political dysfunction, the economy looks encouragingly resilient. We’ve got much more diversity of strengths, from energy to high tech to manufacturing than is true for any major economy, and people should find comfort and some optimism in that.
But the failures of the American political system are going to be very damaging over time unless they’re addressed. Although the world will give us some time to find a consensus around long-term fiscal reforms, they’re not going to give us forever. And you can’t count indefinitely on the worlds having more confidence in our political system than is justified. We have to earn that confidence. It’s going to have to produce better results from the legislative process.
So is he right?
My natural instinct is to be skeptical about claims like these. After all, the U.S. Constitution and America's great power status have co-existed pretty peacefully for the last 70 years. One could go further and argue that America's economic might has co-existed happily with the Constitution for the past century. Is it really the system that's at fault?
Perhaps a better way to frame Geithner's claim is to distinguish formal rules from informal norms. For example, the Senate filibuster has existed in its current form for quite some time, but there was a norm about not abusing this option that allowed necessary government operations to continue without significant impediments. Given rising levels of polarization, however, maybe these norms are breaking down?
I'm not sure that's it either, however. Even polarized party elites do share some common incentives not to completely destroy their reputations. If one looks at Barack Obama and John Boehner, for example, one finds two politicians with pretty different ideological starting points that are nevetheless willing to do some compromising.
No, based on what I've read over the past 24 hours, I'd wager that something else is happening. For lack of a better way of putting it, I think large swathes of the GOP elite simply lack instrumental rationality.
Let me explain what I mean here. I'm not saying that the GOP is insane in its policy preferences. One can debate whether it's wise policy to oppose any form of gun regulation, seek massive reductions in government spending or pursue a single-minded, bellicose foreign policy. Whatever one thinks about the wisdom of those policies, the GOP has beeen pretty clear in expressing them. Message received.
Instrumental rationality is whether an actor pursues the optimal course of action to maximizse those preferences given structural constraints and the preferences of other key actors. And it's here where the GOP's behavior puzzles me a wee bit. Consider two examples from yesterday's news cycle.
First, Maggie Haberman reports that a new right-wing group has sprung up to oppose Chuck Hagel's nomination to be Secretary of Defense:
A group of Republican strategists is forming a new outside group aimed at thwarting Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination as defense secretary, with a plan to air TV ads and to have people on the ground in the states of key senators to apply pressure in advance of his confirmation hearing.
Americans for a Strong Defense will be the latest group to hit Hagel from the right. As POLITICO reported yesterday, the well-funded American Future Fund is launching a multistate ad campaign against Hagel, and the William Kristol-founded Emergency Committee for Israel has already aired cable ads in Washington arguing the former Nebraska senator is weak on Iran and in his support for Israel...
The group’s officials acknowledged that Hagel is a Vietnam veteran and war hero, but made clear they will paint him as “outside the mainstream” on key defense issues.
Among the senators the group will pressure to oppose Hagel are Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina. All of those Democrats are up for reelection in 2014.
Again, I get the opposition to Hagel from some in the GOP. What I don't get is what anyone donating to these groups thinks they're going to accomplish. The moment Chuck Schumer endorsed Hagel's selection, this ballgame was over. No Senate election two years from now will hinge on this confirmation vote because -- just to remind everyone for the nth time -- voters don't care about international relations. The most plausible story one could gin up is that by fighting the good fight now, a marker has been laid down for future nominations. Except that since the reputation for power is a form of power itself, the groups that fight this and lose won't seem terribly imposing for the next critical vote. If I was a wealthy GOP donor who cared a lot about foreign policy and national security issues, there are at least ten other ways to spend this money that would be more efficient than trying to oppose Hagel right now.
The second data point comes from rumblings within the House GOP caucus that maybe they shouldn't risk hitting the debt ceiling. Hey, this sounds rational!! As more GOP elites and public opinion polls tell the Republicans that this is a dead-bang loser of an issue for them, it would make sense for Republicans to give Obama what he wants on the debt ceiling but fight him tooth and nail on the budget.
Republicans are mulling the “possible virtue” of a short-term extension of the debt limit, according to Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Ryan and other House leaders see such a move as the best way to engage President Barack Obama on spending cuts in the coming months. They believe that once the immediate threat of default is off the table, Republicans will be in a better bargaining position; the less drama, the better. "The last thing we should be debating is whether we’re going to put the nation’s full faith and credit at risk," Representative Greg Walden of Oregon said at a press conference.
This doesn't make any sense. If the full faith and credit of the nation shouldn't be a subject for debate, and if the GOP now realizes this is not a good arena for political combat, why kick this can down the road for less than three months? All this does is set up House GOP members to have to vote multiple times to raise the debt ceiling. Why force numerous no-win votes if you can economize on the pain, have one vote early in everyone's term, and then engage in actual budgetary politics?
I'm not a Washington insider, but I've observed politics for a couple of decades now. Most of the time, even if I disagreed with the preferences of a politician, I understood what they were doing to try to attain those preferences. I honestly don't understand how many in the GOP are thinking about how they're gonna achieve their ends. It's like they've all flunked Backward Induction 101. Or watched this scene from Blazing Saddles once too often.
So I disagree wth Geithner. Sure, the American political system can be sclerotic. But what we're witnessing right now is something different. Like the revolutionaries in Stephen Walt's Revolution and War, the current crop of GOP elites seem to believe that loud, repeated affirmations of their preferences will simply and eventually steamroll Barack Obama, the Democratic Party and the American people into acceptance of their policy platform. One would have thought that the aftermath of the 2011 debt ceiling fight, the 2012 election, the fiscal cliff negotiations, and the superstorm Sandy relief bill would have led to some learning. But it hasn't. And that's the scariest fact of all.
Developing.... in an utterly irrational way.
The moment U.S. armed forces are deployed somewhere, that place moves to the top of the pundit queue. As a result, the bylaws of the International Brotherhood of Foreign Policy Pundits mandates that I blog something about Mali of a higher quality than my glib post from last month. So here goes.
In a refreshing change of pace from to Previous Armed Forces Deployments that will Go Unamed, the New York Times is already voicing questions about the purpose of this mission. Indeed, Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt litter their front-pager with some "first principle" questions to U.S. foreign policy principals:
The administration has embraced a targeted killing strategy elsewhere, notably in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, after top White House, Pentagon and C.I.A. officials determined that militants in those countries were bent on attacking the United States.
Asked if fighters from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb posed such an imminent threat, Gen. Carter F. Ham, the top American commander in Africa, said, “Probably not.” But, he said in an interview, “they subscribe to Al Qaeda’s ideology” and have said that their intent is to attack Westerners in Europe and, “if they could, back to the United States.”
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta made it clear on Wednesday that he considered the group a serious danger. “This is an Al Qaeda operation,” he told reporters while traveling in Italy, “and it is for that reason that we have always been concerned about their presence in Mali, because they would use it as a base of operations to do exactly what happened in Algeria.”....
[W]hat remained an open question, at least until last Friday, was whether the militant threat in Mali was serious enough to justify military intervention. Now, the context of that debate has changed.
General Ham put the matter succinctly in the interview, which took place last Friday, just hours after he learned about the French incursion into Mali.
“The real question,” he said as he raced off to a secure teleconference with senior Obama administration officials, “is now what?” (emphasis added)
Now, admirably, the Financial Times' Xan Rice does explain rather concisely what France's aims are in Mali:
France has three aims in Mali: to stop the Islamist insurgents’ advance on the capital; to help the government regain control of the north of the country; and to leave the country with a stable government.
But the strength of the well-trained Islamist militant forces points to a protracted intervention in the country where rebels maintain control of two towns in the centre of Mali, while Jean-Yves Le Drian, French defence minister, this week acknowledged the campaign was “very difficult”. (emphasis added)
Now, the tricky part of all this for the U.S. government is that while the first goal seems easy enough to achieve, the second seems much harder. And, most important, the United States has been trying to accomplish the third goal for the past decade -- and it turns out we kind of suck at it:
In 2005, PSI was replaced by the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP), a partnership of State, Defense and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) meant to focus on improving individual country and regional capabilities in northwest Africa.
According to a Government Accountability Office study, Mali got roughly $37 million in TSCTP funds from 2005 through 2008. More than half went to Defense projects. But GAO reported that there were bureaucratic differences over the programs and funding problems. “USAID received funds for its TSCTP activities in Mali in 2005 and 2007, but not in 2006,” for example. “Because it received no funds for 2006, the mission suspended a peace-building program in northern Mali,” the area with the greatest threat.
So the initial reporting suggests that the U.S. is about to blunder into another far-flung overseas operation in no small part caused by prior U.S. f**k-ups with no end in sight and a hostile population on the ground. Right?
Not so fast. Contrary to the claims of some militant anti-interventionists, the U.S. counter-terrorism policy didn't cause the problems in Mali. And, indeed, based on this survey of Northern Mali villagers conducted by some kick-ass political scientists early last year, it would seem that the locals would welcome further U.S. involvement, particularly on the humanitarian side of the equation:
The majority of our respondents were in favor of military intervention: 78% said it was worth the fight, 9% wanted to peacefully separate, and 23% were undecided (July). When asked how the northern crisis should be resolved, 50% of our respondents mentioned negotiations, while 60% cited military intervention as important to restore territorial integrity (May). Most respondents who felt that military intervention was necessary preferred exclusively domestic involvement by the Malian military (43% of respondents). Of those citing the need for foreign intervention, the US was the most popular of the potential allies (23% of respondents favored US intervention), followed by France (18%) and then ECOWAS (15%). In light of changing public opinion in Bamako it is possible that if asked today, villagers would be more pro-foreign intervention and pro-French....
We asked villagers the open-ended question: what policy area would you prioritize if you were President of Mali? Most individuals prioritized human development issues (health, education, water, agricultural support) both before and after the rebellion. In the January baseline survey, 51% of respondents cited development issues, while 9% mentioned peace and security. After the villagers found themselves on the border of rebel-controlled territory, 67% cited development issues and 14% peace and security (July). Regardless of the level of political stability, the vast majority of respondents would focus on basic human development needs.
Foreign policy pundits are just like the rest of the monkey-brain population -- we like to put things in clear conceptual boxes -- particularly when we lack specific knowledge of the particulars, as is the case with Mali. It will be easy, in the coming days, to put Mali into the "Afghanistan" box (bad) or the "Libya" box (good or bad depending on your partisan affiliation) or what have you. Given that France and the West African countries are willing to shoulder the primary military burden of this engagement, however, it would seem that the U.S. could ramp up some humanitartian assistance for the affected areas. That doesn't mean that hard questions should not be asked about the scope and purpose of the U.S. mission in the Sahel. It does mean that those questions might have some surprising answers, however.
What do you think?
One of this blog's
annoying tics persistent themes has been its insistence that the 2008 financial crisis did not, in fact, doom the United States to a future of inevitable decline. Indeed, there are many reasons to be optimistic about America's future, and there are many reasons to be skeptical about claims that China will be able to exercise leverage over the United States.
Now, one of the counterarguments to this thesis over the past five years has been the explosion of U.S. debt and Washington's need for Beijing to continue to buy that debt to finance America's current expenditures. This was a running theme of financial writers in 2009. Four years ago, there was a particular concern that "China is also trading long-term Treasuries for short-term notes." If the United States could only borrow overseas by issuing more short-term debt, that ostensibly gave China some kind ov leverage as Washington needed to continually roll over those debt obligations.
I bring this up because Daniel Altman highlights a fascinating data point in his Foreign Policy essay about the shifting composition of the federal government's debt:
In the past several years, the national debt of the United States has undergone a tremendous change. Long-term securities -- those with maturities of seven years or more -- have gone from about 30 percent of the debt in 2009 to about 40 percent today. By 2018, according to the Treasury's own estimates, they'll make up 50 percent of the debt, a proportion the Treasury expects to maintain from then onward. The United States is doing what any smart borrower would do: locking in low rates for the long term. As a result, its probability of default for any given level of debt has dropped.
Huh. So it turns out that desite a surge in borrowing by the U.S. government and China's desire to keep the arrangement on a short-term basis, Washington has managed to borrow in a relatively efficient manner at historically low interest rates.
Oh, and by the way, how has China altered its purchases of U.S. debt? Well, besides a general slackening of such purchases (which partially explains the appreciation of the yuan) and a general lack of complaint in response to QE3, it has also changed the composition of those U.S. debt purchases:
China has actually decreased its short term U.S. bond holdings by 5.1%. China holds $US 3.7 billion short term U.S. paper. On June 2011 China held $US 4.9 billion of short term U.S. paper. So basically all the debt that China holds are long term treasuries now. Interesting to know, China had $US 200 billion in short term U.S. debt in May 2009. So they divested all short term paper to long term paper.
In other words, contrary to the fears of debt hawks in 2009 -- including, it should be noted, Hillary Clinton -- China has not exercised an iota of influence over the United States via its debt holdings. Indeed, the shifting pattern of their debt purchases strongly suggests that the Chinese have recognized the futility of such an approach.
While Beijing has recognized this truth, certain Very Serious People who write Very Serious Columns persist in being afraid of China's mythical debt leverage. So, on occasion, as a public service, this blog will continue to remind its readers that U.S. remains clothed in immense financial power.
Your humble blogger has been following the raging debate about online education for a number of reasons. First, like offshore outsourcing last decade, it's a phenomenon that has finally spread to a profession that is pretty traditional -- in no small part because higher education has not thought of itself as a tradeable good. Second, it's a fascinating development without any consensus about the end point. And third, as a prof, I have some skin in this game.
Now I have a little more... er... skin in this game. Over the past year I have been working with The Teaching Company to prepare one of their Great Courses, and it's now available for order. The course is modestly titled "The Foundations of Economic Prosperity." Here's a brief description:
Prosperity has transformed the world. Defined as the ability to afford goods and services beyond basic necessities, prosperity is now a way of life for most residents of developed countries—so commonplace that few people realize what a rare and recent phenomenon it is.
A mere two centuries ago, most people lived at a subsistence level, in or near the edge of poverty, as the overwhelming majority had since prehistoric times. Then the Industrial Revolution began and per capita income shot up. It is still rising today.
But the story of prosperity is far from simple—or complete. Many people in the developed world fear that their children will be less prosperous than they are. Meanwhile, new economic titans such as China and Brazil enjoy year after year of rapid growth and an ever-rising standard of living. Elsewhere in the world, millions are still trapped in poverty, despite the best efforts of organizations such as the World Bank to help lift them out of it.
Fostering and sustaining economic prosperity—whether at the individual, national, or global level—is a multilayered endeavor that reaches far beyond economics into the political and social spheres....
Professor Drezner shows that achieving prosperity involves more than economics. Psychology, sociology, political science, and history also come into play. By taking this broad view, he leads you to fundamental insights about how the modern world works and a deeper understanding of the functioning of the U.S., European, Chinese, and other major economies, as well as an appreciation for the special problems faced by underdeveloped nations.
Buy the whole thing and
help me pay for my children's college education learn about the political economy of prosperity.
Now, this is not a course for credit, or a MOOC, or anything that's bandied about as the future of higher education. After spending the past year designing and making this course, however, let me say that those who believe that it will be easy to "scale up" existing lecture courses into the online world are kidding themselves. Teaching to a classroom audience requires a very different pedagogy than teaching to a captive online audience. The former can provide instantaneous feedback, which is crucial for a professor. They can ask for a concept to be repeated, or ask a follow-up question, or query about how the abstract concept under discussion connects to a headline of the day. None of these things are easy to pull off for an online audience.
I will also add that the amount of effort I put into the Foundations of Economic Prosperity easily exceeded anything I've had to do for my traditional lectures or seminars. This is not because I slack off with my Fletcher students -- rather, it's because teaching those courses is a collaborative exercise between me and the students. With a strictly online course, the professor has to do a lot more work to keep it engaging.
This past week your humble blogger added another affiliation to his bio, as he has now joined the Brookings Institution as a... wait for it... nonresident senior fellow with the Managing Global Order project.
Now, those who live and breathe the mores and rhythms of DC's think tank community are already aware of the awesome rights, responsibilities and entitlements that comes with this honorific. Those not in the wonk priesthood, however, might wonder. Clearly, "nonresident" implies I'm not moving to DC. But what are the other perks of being a nonresident senior fellow?
The better way to phrase this query is -- what aren't the perks of being a nonresident senior fellow? It's almost as cool as being a full professor, for Pete's sake!! To list all the perks would take too long. Here are, in order, the top ten benefits to being a nonresident senior fellow at a think tanks, however:
10) Now all of my talks can be shorter. Before any academic or policy talk, a speaker usually receives an introduction in which the convenor reads the person's bio. If the speaker has lots of awards, affiliations, and publications, then this process can take a while, cutting into the speaker's allotted time. Secretly, all speakers want this, cause it means they don't have to remble on as long. Adding the Brookings affiliation will cut my talks by at least thirty seconds.
9) I'm now one affiliation away from the PACT. A key plot device in 30 Rock was Tracy Morgan's quest for the EGOT -- Emmy, Grammy, Tony and Oscar awards. Foreign policy wonks have a similar quest, except it operates by affiliations: Press, Academia, Consulting, and Think Tankery. Adding my nonresident senior fellow appellation to being a Fletcher professor and a contributing editor here at FP, I now have a PAT. The only thing missing is the for-profit consulting gig. I'm looking in your direction, Stonebridge Group and/or McKinsey!!
8) 50,000 frequent flyer miles with an airline of my choice. This sounds like a great perk, but really, it's just so that I can be conversant in frequent flyer-speak when bumping into other nonresident senior fellows at conferences:
ME: So did you get upgraded on this flight?
OTHER WONK: Oh, yeah, but that's because I'm Super Premium status. You?
ME: No, and I was willing to use miles too!!
OTHER WONK: Oh, no, never use your own miles!! See, what you should do it... [long disquisition about the art of frequent flyer mile management.]
You get the idea.
7) Officially one of the old boys now. The "senior" is a tipoff -- I can no longer declare "Young Turk" status. Instead, I'm clearly part of an old boy network of some kind or another. Which will, inevitably, lead to attacks from Glenn Greenwald.
6) Attract a much better class of groupies. Oh, sure, as a full professor I get the entreaty from a student willing to do just about anything to get an RAship/grad school admission/job. DC, however, attacts a much more desperate and stylish set of aspirants. Indeed, within 24 hours of becoming a nonresident senior fellow, my LinkedIn profile was beseiged with requests ranging from "I'm just dying to polish your memos" to "I feel like I'm the only research assistant who gets you -- I mean, really gets you!!"
5) One free black helicopter ride. I have every confidence that the sovereigntists in the crowd are already freaked out by the "Managing Global Order" moniker. AS YOU SHOULD BE!!! Who do you think supplies the black helicopetrs to the United Nations? Before we do, however, a nonresident fellow can pick where in the country the brand-spanking new black helicopter can buzz, just to freak out some locals. I, for one, am looking forward to a quick, below-the-radar trip through the Texas panhandle.
4) Playing the Lincoln card. All nonresident senior fellows run into bureaucratic impediments at some point or another. Once a year, I can pull the Lincoln card out of my wallet, and utter the following: "I am a nonresident senior fellow, clothed in IMMENSE POWER! You will procure me these PowerPoint slides."
3) Preferential treatment at the Old Ebbitt Grill. For years, I used to make reservations at this venerable DC establishment and still find myself cooling my heels and not impressing my date as more distinguished Beltway denizens would just waltz on in. Not anymore!! Now I just flash your "Nonresident Senior Fellow" gold card to the maitre d'hotel and -- KABLAMM!! -- my date and I are enjoying the finest champagnes in the land. This is a much more civilized way of exerting power than the more old-fashioned method in which -- as I understand it -- the men simply unzipped their flies and compared penis sizes.
2) At least ten more seconds of air time on CNN. Cable news nets will let senior nonresident fellows blather on for at least two more sentences before interrupting duing an interview.
1) "Nonresident Casual Fridays." One Friday, every other month, the nonresident fellows show up at the Brookings Institution very early, camp ourselves in the offices of the resident fellows, and scare the bejeezus out of them when they walk in. Alternatively, we prank call the senior resident fellows, pretending to be a White House flack asking for permission to vet them for a prominent subcabinet position.
To follow up with another data point suggesting that we're living in a world of "good enough" global governance, let's take a look at piracy on the high seas , shall we?
You might recall that in 2009 piracy off the Horn of Africa and elsewhere was skyrocketing. This triggered multiple policy responses by shipping companies as well as governments. Ships started carrying armed guards on tankers as a form of deterrene. An ad hoc and diverse group of countries formed Combined Task Force 151 to help patrol the Horn of Africa to prevent pirate attacks. Hell, even Iran sent ships to participate in anti-piracy operations.
So it turns out that all of these measures seem to be working. By 2012, both press reports and official statistics suggested that the tide had turned. As the New York Times' Thom Shanker wrote up one U.S. Navy finding last September:
Data released by the Navy last week showed 46 pirate attacks in the area this year, compared with 222 in all of last year and 239 in 2010. Nine of the piracy attempts this year have been successful, according to the data, compared with 34 successful attacks in all of 2011 and 68 in 2010.
How bad have things gotten for Somali pirates? The top pirate just announced that he has retired from piracy.
So can we chalk this up as an example of successful global governance? I would say yes, but it's worth noting two additional points. First, it's far from clear that activity on the water is the sole factor responsible for the decline in piracy attacks. Events on land -- including Kenya's invasion of Somalia and Puntland's increasing "stateness" -- might have something to do with it as well. Second, it's not only multinational sea patrols that have played a role. If it was, then shipping companies wouldn't be mobilizing their own private navy.
Still, these actions compliment rather than substitute for each other. The protection of shipping is one of the global economy's oldest public goods -- and it appears that after a post-financial crisis spike, there has been a useful policy corrective. That's good enough.
The mobilization towards an agreement reflects the changing landscape of global trade. If a deal emerges, it will allow the U.S. and EU more leeway to set the rules of the road for the industries that matter most to them....
This potential trade deal is also a further sign of the collapse of the movement toward global free trade. The new round of WTO negotiations is effectively dead, and a major deal between two of the world’s largest economies would be a further signal that bilateral negotiations are once again becoming the norm.
Finally, this deal shows us that the BRICs are not quite as influential as many think. A U.S.-EU trade deal is essentially a way to ignore countries like Brazil and India while crafting rules that will govern some of the high-tech industries and information-based services that play a growing role in US-EU trade.
Mead is correct to point out the advantages of the US and EU trying to craft an FTA template, particularly for the sectors they care about a lot. Still, a few quibbles and disagreements.
First, a transatlantic deal doesn't signal a "collapse of the movement toward global free trade" -- it signals a different pathway towards that goal. The collapse of Doha suggests that the traditional multilateral round negotiaions are dead, but it's worth remembering that the global economy got very close to zero barriers in the late 19th century and there was nary a multilateral institution to be found. True, the trade agreements of the 19th century had most-favored nations clauses and their 21st century counterparts do not. Nevertheless, the political economy of trade diversion still generates competitive incentives for a growth in FTAs, thereby leading to a similar end outcome -- a world blanketed in free-trade agreements.
Second, contra Mead, I'd suggest that a transatlantic trade deal is not a sign of US-EU strength, but rather its weakness. There have been rumblings and trial balloons to do something like this for the past fifteen yewars, but it never really got off the ground. The reason it never got off the ground was simple -- both Americans and Europeans were worried that any trade deal this massive would scupper the WTO system. It would seem like a developed country effort to completely rewrite the rules of the global trading game. Since everyone had a lot of skin in the WTO game, it didn't seem like it would be worth it.
Two things have changed. First, the traditional method of multilateral trade liberalization has died. Second, while both the US and EU are major trading states, they're not quite as pivotal as they used to be. Ironically, it's their declining (though still appreciable) importance in global trade that makes a US-EU agreement feasible now. The BRIC economies are now sufficiently large that a transatlantic trade deal doesn't seem like an existential threat.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.