Your humble blogger is busy
going into carbohydrate withdrawal celebrating Passover this week. I blogged about the international relations implications of this holiday a few years ago -- but that was pre-Arab Spring. This (and a few glasses of kosher wine) got me to thinking: what would happen if the event that inspires the Passover holiday -- the Exodus -- were to happen today?
With apologies to Colum Lynch, I suspect the reportage would be something like this:
U.N. SECURITY COUNCIL MEETING ON JEWISH EXODUS ENDS IN CHAOS: Permanent Five split on who to sanction for loss of life
Colum Lynch, Foreign Policy
NEW YORK: Attempts by the U.N. Security Council to reach consensus on an approach to the situation in Egypt came to naught earlier today, as different members of the Security Council blamed different actors in the region for the growing human rights and humanitarian disaster.
U.S. Ambassdor to the United Natuons Susan Rice, addressing the Council, blasted China and Russia for their "addiction to obduracy." She concluded, "Over the past decade we have continually raised the repeated human rights abuses and acts of genocide committed by the Phaaroh's regime against the Jewish population in Egypt. Each time, China and Russia have vetoed even the mildest of condemnations, arguing that it was a matter of Egyptian sovereignty. Only now, with the desperate escape of that minority from the Phaaroh's clutches, do the governments of Russia and China take such an acute interest in the welfare of the Egyptian people. "
The United States, France, and United Kingdom have indeed introduced thirteen separate resolutions on human rights abuses in Egypt since the advent of the Phaaroh who knew not Joseph.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin delivered a blistering response, arguing that it was the radical Jewsish leaders who had escalated the situation by resorting to weapons of mass destruction and demanding that Moses be indicted by the International Criminal Court as a war criminal: "It was not the Phaaroh who imposed unspeakable sanctions against the Egyptian people. It was not the Phaaroh who slaughtered every first-born male child in Egypt -- except the Jews -- in a flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions. Surely, not a house in Egypt was spared from this , this plague. It was not the Phaaroh who resorted to trickery in the Red Sea, luring innocent Egyptian troops into the kill zone before massacring them. Both sides are equally guilty in the bloodshed, and until both sides renounce violence, a peaceful solution will be nothing but a mirage of the desert."
No agreement on any resolutions were reached. British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant flatly rejected many of the Russian assertions, arguing that only soldiers were afffected by the Red Sea disaster, and that it was not immediately obvious whether the Jews were actually responsible for the harsh sanctions that befell Egypt prior to the Jewish Exodus.
Doctors Without Borders upped the number of Egyptian dead into the five figures, but those figures could not be independently confirmed. The Phaaroh's government again rejected the entry of the U.N. Secretary-General's fact-finding mission on the grounds that it represented an intrusion of sovereignty. Russian and Chinese officials blamed this inflexible position on the civil society campaign to label the Egyptian Pyramids the "Slavery Pyramids."
Humanitarian officials are not sure about the current status of the Jewish refugees. According to unconfirmed reports from Egypt, the Jews left in such a hurry that they lacked basic provisions like bread or yeast, carrying only crude rations into the desert. The disputed status of the Sinai makes drone overflights impossible in that area. The "final status" of the Jews is also unclear, as the Assyrians, Moabites, and Philistines all declared the refugees to be persona non grata in their jurisdictions.
Outside the UN building, the NGO Inside Children annnounced that they planned to release a video entitled "LetMyPeopleGo2012," demanding that the Phaaroh release all Egyptian Jews immediately. The group rebuffed criticisms that this problem had been overtaken by events, saying that calling attention to the cruel despotism in Egypt was still "a worthwhile and noble cause."
I think it's safe to say that your humble blogger has been mildly critical at times of the House GOP's negotiating tactics, as well as some of the foreign policy musings of House majority leader Eric Cantor. Matt Bai's forthcoming budget story, for example, places a lot of the blame on last year's debt deal fiasco on House Speaker John Boehner's inability to compromise because of the ideological rigidity of his caucus. Not surprisimngly, House Republicans can claim the lion's share of the credit for Congress' current levels of historic unpopularity.
Every once in a while, however, a story comes along in the mainstream media that provides just a smidgen of sympathy for what the House GOP is trying to accomplish. In that sense, Jonathan Weisman's New York Times story about the relationship between business supporters and House Republicans accomplishes the seeimg impossible: it paints a positive picture of Cantor and the House GOP:
Big business groups like the Chamber of Commerce spent millions of dollars in 2010 to elect Republican candidates running for the House. The return on investment has not always met expectations....
House conservatives are pressing to allow the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which has financed exports since the Depression, to run out of lending authority within weeks. The bank faces the possibility of shutting its doors completely by the end of May, when its legal authorization expires.
And a host of routine business tax breaks — from wind energy subsidies to research and development tax credits — cannot be passed because of Republican insistence that they be paid for with spending cuts.
Business groups that worked hard to install a Republican majority in the House equated Republican control with a business-friendly environment. But the majority is first and foremost a conservative political force, and on key issues, its ideology is not always aligned with commercial interests that helped finance election victories.
“Free market is not always the same as pro-business,” said Barney Keller, spokesman for the conservative political action committee Club for Growth....
To conservative groups, fresh eyes on issues have produced fresh, small-government thinking. The Export-Import Bank, for instance, wanted a new, long-term authorization with an expanded loan limit and broader authority. Instead, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia is drafting a 13-month reauthorization that would demand the Obama administration begin international talks to phase out export-lending subsidies globally, force the bank to be more transparent in its lending practices and rein in its loan portfolio. (emphasis added)
Props to Cantor: his policy rider makes some sense. National export credit agencies are throwing around hundreds of billions of dollars to facilitate trade. At least one World Bank study suggests that export-lending subsidies misallocate credit -- they tend to provide financing for firms that would have exported anyway. There are instances when such subsidies might be useful, and, it should be oted, the OECD does some of the things that Cantor wants to see at the global level. That said, Cantor's suggestion for broader international collaboration and transparency make sense. Indeed, Cantor now has common cause with some unlikely NGO allies.
In all seriousness, if the House GOP could communicate that bolded message better to the American people, it might have a better approval rating. Of course, there is nothing in that message that is inconsistent with the House doing its job on matters like passing budgets and so forth. So I expect we'll have to wait until 2013 before another positive mention of Cantor appears in the paper of record.
After blogging last week about the gendered effects of a Ph.D. for foreign policy professionals, I got a reasonable query from Caitlin Fitzgerald: if getting a Ph.D. is so great, how does one get accepted into a doctoral program in political science?
This is a good question. Despite all of the warnings being proffered about the stultifying nature of graduate school and the horrible, very-bad, not-so-great quality of the academic job market, competition to get into top-tier grad schools is still quite high. So, how do you get in?
As someone who got accepted into a very competitive Ph.D. program in
Boston San Francisco - well, not in San Francisco, but nearby - no, not Santa Clara [OK, that's enough!!--ed.] and as someone who has sat in on more than his fair share of admissions committees, I can proffer some useful tips. I'm going to do this in two parts: first, what undergraduates should do, and then what post-baccalaureate types should do. I'm starting with the undergraduates because it's not too late for them it's at the college level when an individual applicant can lay the necessary groundwork for a strong application.
Before I jump into the five dos and don'ts, let me remind you of something: in good Ph.D. programs, admissions committees are looking for a reason to ding you. The problem is a surfeit, not a dearth, of qualified applicants. By the last stages of the process, admissions committees are often making accept-or-reject decisions on distinctions so minor that no one would admit them publicly (it's not that we want to do this - it's that admissions slots are scarce and looking at minutiae seems fairer than, say, a random draw). What this means is that any serious chink in your admissions armor - low GPA, low GREs, weak recommendations, etc. - gives an admissions committee a valid excuse to ding you. So if you're really interested, you have to make sure that every facet of your application is up to par.
With that out of the way, here are the Five Dos and Five Don'ts for undergraduates applying to Political Science Ph.D. programs in either international relations or comparative politics:
THE FIVE DOS:
1. Read some actual political science. This might sound obvious, but a lot of undergraduate programs in political science -- particularly in the first few years -- will have syllabi larded with weird textbooks and Foreign Affairs articles. And that's OK for undergrads -- but if you're thinking of getting a Ph.D. and you're not terribly familiar with either International Organization or the American Political Science Review, you're in for a world of hurt. Read the journals to get a sense of A) what it's like to write in political sciencese; B) not sound like an idiot when you write your application; and C) Make sure, one last time, that this is really what you want to do for the next six years.
2. Write a thesis. Ph.D. programs want to be sure that you will have the intellectual chops to do real research and real writing. The best opportunity you'll have to do that as an undergrad is your B.A. thesis. If you don't write one and apply to a Ph.D. program, that's a red flag. Why didn't you write one? If you can't handle that, how could you handle a dissertaton? So write a thesis whether it's required or not -- and make sure it's good.
3. Get comfortable with math. Even if you're aspiring to do pure political theory or qualitative work, you're going to have to take classes in methodology, game theory and econometrics in graduate school. Oh, and by the way, with the arrival of Big Data, even areas of research that used to be qualitative are becoming quantitative. The less innumerate you are, the less these courses will seem like a foreign language. At a minimum, make sure you have familiarity with intermediate-level statistics and multivariate calculus. Linear algebra is nice too.
4. Go abroad and learn a language. Experience is not weighted all that heavily in grad school applications. Overseas experience is an exception, particularly if you want to specialize in an area or region of the globe. Learning a language pertinent to that region or area will help as well. Exploit study abroad programs as a way to signal that you'll be up for the rigors of field work.
5. Get rich. Ready for some real-keeping? If you can fund your own ticket for graduate school, the admissions standards are not nearly so high. Whether you inherit family wealth, win an NSF fellowship, or finally make sure that Nigerian e-mailer comes through, having no need for fellowship support makes you a freebie to most programs. At that point, the equation changes from "is this candidate among the best?" to "is this candidate above the bar?" The latter is much easier to clear than the former.
And now.... THE FIVE DON'TS:
1. E-mail professors in Ph.D. programs at length. Your mileage may vary, but speaking personally, I'm at the point where I get so many of these emails that I ignore all of them. All. Of. Them. Why? Because professors are not stupid -- we know you're sending these out en masse, we don't know whether you really have the chops to get a degree, and because we don't make decisions like this because of e-mails. I won't deny that this tactic might work once in a blue moon, but it's been so played out that most profs' eyes glaze over a these missives.
2. Detail, at length, your plans to change the world in your personal statement. The personal statement in a doctoral admissions packet is the easiest way for a candidate to screw up -- it'll be almost as bad as your dissertation prospectus. What admissions committees are looking for are signs of emotional and intellectual maturity matched with an ambition to do first-rate research. They are not looking for "and then I realized" epiphanies about how getting a Ph.D. will allow you to change the world. Backstory matters in explaining why you're interested in doing what you're doing, but don't kid yourself -- unless you're a survivor of an ethnic cleansing, your personal narrative at 21 is just not that interesting. Side note: if you are the survivor of an ethnic cleansing, hey, go to town in your statement.
3. Put all your application eggs into one basket. Let's say you've done everything I've suggested. Let's say you've researched grad schools carefully, and have decided that, given you're research interests, the only person you can work with is Robert Bates at Harvard. Congratulations, you've gone overboard in specializing!! Apply to good programs, not just to work with one person. Individual professors move, retire, pass away, go on sabbatical, or drink too much and hit on students and make things veeeeery awkward in the aftermath. Diversify your portfolio and make sure you apply to programs with a deep bench in your area of interest.
4. Get celebrity professors to write you letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation matter a lot to this process, and I've noticed a trend among those-savvy-beyond-their-years to make sure they ingratiate themselves with well-known professors as a way of calling attention to one's application. I get this instinct, and done well it can work -- a glowing letter from, say, Madeleine Albright or Zbigniew Brzezinski that indicates deep knowledge about you can be a game-changer. Here's the thing, though -- 99% of the recommendation letters I read from people at this level of fame are bland, impersonal boilerplate. That will hurt you. So don't bend your research interests to match a star professor -- make sure that the profs who know your area well also know you well enough to write good letters of recommendation.
5. Take on debt. Let's say you work really hard and get accepted to a top tier program, but without the fellowship support that you need because -- silly you! -- you're not rich. You night start thinking, "sure, I'll have to take on some debt, but it's a great program and therefore worth it." Wrong! First of all, it's not like you're going to be raking in the bucks as a post-grad -- even a small amount of debt can be financially debilitating. Second, not getting a fellowship is a powerful signal of lukewarm interest on the part of the school, so you'd already be starting with a strike against you. Unless you're rich, only attend traditional Ph.D. programs that offer you full tuition and a stipend.
Oh, and one bonus DON'T:
5*. Talk up your blog or Twitter feed as an example of research. It isn't research, and no one cares anyway.
Part II -- what to do if you've been out of college for a while and want to apply to get a Ph.D. -- will follow this week.
Professors -- am I missing anything? Any more advice to proffer?
I've been reading a raft of books recently arguing that authoritarian capitalism is a more sustainable model than us in the West appreciate. According to this meme, entities like sovereign wealth funds, state-owned enterprises, and national oil companies will be carving up ever-greater slices of the global economy.
Whenever I read these arguments, the question that gnaws at me is how these authoritarian capitalist institutions will operate in other authoritarian capitalist countries. See, this kind of argument presumes a harmony of interests that doesn't necessarily exist between authoritarian states. It also presumes a standard of competency and efficiency - or, at least, efficient corruption -- that makes these firms and institutions able to compete with private sector firms.
For see what I'm talking about, see this Washington Times story by Kelly Hearn on China's growing frustration with Venezuela:
China has poured billions of dollars into Venezuela’s oil sector to expand its claim over the country’s massive oil reserves.
But Beijing is getting relatively little for its investments, and Chinese officials are increasingly frustrated with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, according to energy analysts and former managers of the state oil company, Petroleum of Venezuela, or PDVSA as it’s known by its Spanish acronym....
In 2010, CNPC signed a deal to help Venezuela develop a major Orinoco oil field known as Junin 4, which includes the construction of a facility to convert heavy oil to a lighter crude that could be shipped to a refinery in Guangdong, China.
“Although the contract was signed in December 2010, not one barrel of oil has yet been produced, much less upgraded,” said Gustavo Coronel, a former PDVSA board member.
“So far, nothing much seems to be happening, except for the arrival of a large group of Chinese staff to the CNPC’s Caracas office,” he added, referring to the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.
“Apart from money, there seems to be little that China can offer Venezuela in the oil industry,” he said, adding that a “culture gap will make working with China very difficult for Venezuelan oil people, who were mostly trained in the U.S.”....
The Chinese also seem to be increasingly wary.
Internal PDVSA documents released by a Venezuelan congressman show that the Chinese balked at a $110 billion loan request by Mr. Chavez in 2010, after PDVSA officials failed to account fully for where the money would go.
Venezuela is not the only place that Chinese foreign direct investment in energy is running into bottlenecks and roadblocks. There was Myanmar last year:
fter five years of cozy cooperation with Burma’s ruling generals, China Power Investment Corp. got a shock in September when it sent a senior executive to Naypyidaw, this destitute Southeast Asian nation’s showcase capital, a Pharaonic sprawl of empty eight-lane highways and cavernous government buildings.
Armed with a slick PowerPoint presentation and promises of $20 billion in investment, Li Guanghua pitched “an excellent opportunity,” a mammoth, Chinese-funded hydropower project in Burma’s far north.
Then came the questions: What about the risk of earthquakes, ecological damage and all the people whose homes would be flooded? Is it true that most of the electricity would go to China?
Two weeks later, Burma, also known as Myanmar, scrapped the cornerstone of the project. President Thein Sein, a former general who took office in March, announced that he had to “respect the people’s will” and halt the $3.6 billion dam project at Myitsone, the biggest of seven planned by China Power Investment, or CPI.
As the world’s biggest consumer of energy, China has hunted far and wide in recent years for sources of power — and of profit — for state-owned corporate behemoths such as CPI. The result is a web of deals with often-repressive regimes, from oil-rich African autocracies such as Sudan and Angola to river-rich Burma.
But coziness with despots can also backfire.
Amid a dramatic, though still fitful, opening in Burma after decades of harsh repression, public anger has swamped China’s hydropower plan. The deluge threatens not only hundreds of millions of dollars already spent but also China’s intimate ties to what had been a reliably authoritarian partner, its only East Asian ally other than North Korea.
Beijing still has big interests in Burma, including a multibillion-dollar oil and natural gas pipeline that is under construction. But a partnership forged with scant heed to public opinion has been badly jolted by a barrage of no-longer-taboo questions.
These are just isolated cases -- I have no doubt that China has a boatload of successful FDI projects in energy. What's telling, however, is that regardless of whether the host regime is democratizing or reverting to autocracy, the political economy of these investments is far from problem-free.
One must sympathize with the Chinese firms here. China's domestic politicsal economy of investment aren't this messy. Oh, wait...
Here's a fun little exercise. Let's say that the vice-president of a political consulting firm went on MSNBC or Fox News with the argument that no matter what the U.S. government said, Osama bin Laden wasn't actually buried at sea. No, this wouldn't be a claim that Osama had returned as a zombie. The VP would simply argue that based on past standard operating procedures and the desire of some agencies in the USG to gather forensic evidence, it would seem likely that they would want the body. In all likelihood the cable anchor would then ask if there was any direct evidence to back up this assertion. The VP would either say no, dodge the question, or imply some third-hand knowledge, and that would be that.
Here's my question: would this cable news hit generate anything in the way of news headlines?
I ask this because the Drudge Report has headlined: "WIKILEAKED: BIN LADEN BODY NOT BURIED AT SEA" This sounds pretty definitive. But if you look at the actual Stratfor emails that Wikileaks provides on the matter, you get little but speculations and assertions from Stratfor CEO George Friedman and VP Fred Burton. From Friedman:
Eichmann was seen alive for many months on trial before being sentenced to death and executed. No one wanted a monument to him so they cremated him. But i dont know anyone who claimed he wasnt eicjhman (sic). No comparison with suddenly burying him at sea without any chance to view him which i doubt happened.
And from Burton:
We would want to photograph, DNA, fingerprint, etc.
His body is a crime scene and I don't see the FBI nor DOJ letting that happen....
Body is Dover bound, should be here by now.
That's it. No sourcing, nothing else. Friedman is speculating, while Burton makes a somewhat stronger assertion without much empirical foundation. The only reason this is on the front page of Drudge -- and the only reason reporters are running with it -- is that the Stratfor e-mails were private and not intended for public consumption. And if it's private, then it must be pretty good!
Or not. Look, reporters and analysts should pore over these email contents and see if there is anything of value. But they also need to follow up with outside experts in their reporting to distinguish between what's said in the emails and what's actually true. Because, to repeat a point I made a few years ago: "just because someone says something in a Wikileaks memo doesn't make it so." Indeed, it is precisely this sort of BS pseudo-analysis that makes me distrust the quality of Stratfor's analysis in the first place.
Rick Santorum made some headlines over the weekend about calling President Obama a "snob" because POTUS ostensibly wants all Americans to get a four-year college degree. Here's the clip:
Now, most commentators are focusing on the "snob" comment or the broader thrust of Santorum's jeremiad against higher education or whether this will play in Michigan. I want to focus on the idiocy contained in the first part of Santorum's comment. This is important, because ostensibly one of Santorum's policy strengths is that he knows and likes manufacturing.
In the opening parts of the clip, Santorum says as follows:
I know what it means to have those manufacturing jobs at that entry level to get you in there, and it gives you the opportunity to accumulate more skills over time and rise, so you can provide a better standard of living for your family. And those opportunities are for working men and women -- not all folks are gifted in the same way. Some people have incredible gifts with their hands.
What's disturbing about this bit is that Santorum's ideas about manufacturing employment are so outdated. For an example, take a good, long look at Adam Davisdon's excellent essay in The Atlantic about how American manufacturing looks today. He zeroes in on two workers -- Maddie and Luke. Maddie is exactly the kind of worker Santorum wants to talk about -- a low-level worker with aspirations to move up. But read this part:
The last time I visited the factory, Maddie was training a new worker. Teaching her to operate the machine took just under two minutes. Maddie then spent about 25 minutes showing her the various instructions Standard engineers have prepared to make certain that the machine operator doesn’t need to use her own judgment. “Always check your sheets,” Maddie says.
By the end of the day, the trainee will be as proficient at the laser welder as Maddie. This is why all assembly workers have roughly the same pay grade—known as Level 1—and are seen by management as largely interchangeable and fairly easy to replace. A Level 1 worker makes about $13 an hour, which is a little more than the average wage in this part of the country. The next category, Level 2, is defined by Standard as a worker who knows the machines well enough to set up the equipment and adjust it when things go wrong. The skilled machinists like Luke are Level 2s, and make about 50 percent more than Maddie does.
For Maddie to achieve her dreams—to own her own home, to take her family on vacation to the coast, to have enough saved up so her children can go to college—she’d need to become one of the advanced Level 2s. A decade ago, a smart, hard-working Level 1 might have persuaded management to provide on-the-job training in Level-2 skills. But these days, the gap between a Level 1 and a 2 is so wide that it doesn’t make financial sense for Standard to spend years training someone who might not be able to pick up the skills or might take that training to a competing factory.
It feels cruel to point out all the Level-2 concepts Maddie doesn’t know, although Maddie is quite open about these shortcomings. She doesn’t know the computer-programming language that runs the machines she operates; in fact, she was surprised to learn they are run by a specialized computer language. She doesn’t know trigonometry or calculus, and she’s never studied the properties of cutting tools or metals. She doesn’t know how to maintain a tolerance of 0.25 microns, or what tolerance means in this context, or what a micron is (emphasis added).
It should be noted that Luke didn't get a four-year college degree either -- he went to community college. But that's actually consistent with what Obama has been saying on this issue. I'm not sure it's consistent with Santorum's worldview. Indeed, his notion that career advancement in manufacturing is possible simply through the sweat and skill of a person's brow is badly, badly antiquated. Which is something he would know if he, um... studied the issue a bit more.
UPDATE: I see Santorum's run of not-understanding-a-lot-of-economics continues.
One of my occasional concerns about foreign policy is how ill-conceived, ill-informed, or simply illegal policies get fixed. As I've noted before, one of the problems with relying on whistleblowers is that the kind of person who believes themselves to be a truthteller also tends to have otherbaggage. To the blunt, the personality tropes that permit whistleblowers to speak truth to power also frequently make it easy to paint them as odd or unhinged.
For exhibit A of this concern, see Matt Bai's New York Times Magazine profile of Scott Ritter, the weapons inspector who prominently and loudly insisted that there were no weapons ogf mass destruction in Iraq. Ritter was right, but he was also plenty odd in the way he went about arguing his point. In recent years Ritter has gotten himself into legal trouble by... well, let's say by doing things on the internet with individuals posing as ostensibly underage girls. Bai focuses on the ways in which Ritter's belligerent insistence of his own rightness explains both his Iraq behavior and his refusal to plea bargain his current legal difficulties:
If there is a connection between Ritter the activist and Ritter the accused... it probably lies in the uncompromising, even heedless way in which he insists on his version of reality, and how he sees himself always as the victim of a system that is self-evidently corrupt. “I’m someone who believes the truth needs to be heard,” Ritter told me. “And if I’m empowered with the truth, I’m not going to shut up.”
Such stridency has repercussions. Taken in isolation, this latest case against Ritter... is hardly the kind of thing that lands you on “America’s Most Wanted.” It’s not as though Ritter, who is the father of twin 19-year-old daughters, was trolling an adolescent site looking to prey on minors. Nor did he ever hint at meeting with the fictional Emily face to face. There’s little question the man needs help, but such cases are routinely disposed of through plea bargains, and prosecutors in Ritter’s case were willing, initially, to let him escape with a single guilty plea, which may well have meant probation rather than jail. Especially given Ritter’s previous arrests in New York, this seems to have been a more-than-equitable resolution, and most accused sex offenders in the age of Megan’s Law would probably have jumped at it.
But Ritter has forcefully insisted all along that he did nothing wrong, beyond betraying Marina’s trust. “Why would I plead guilty to something I didn’t do?” he asked me, when I raised the issue of a plea arrangement. I suggested he might have done it to avoid going to jail.
“No,” he replied. “Wrong answer. Then I’m not a man. Then I’m not a human being.”
People like Ritter might be truth-tellers, but because they have additional baggage, their ability to perform their truth-telling function becomes compromised.
This fact was getting me down, but then I read Jack Shafer's excellent review of Max Holland's Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat. Shafer's review is designed to puncture the romantic myth of Felt as a lone crusader who dared to bring down Nixon because It Was The Right Thing To Do:
Recasting Deep Throat as an avenger and not a patriot, Leak illuminates our understanding of the press by explaining why sources leak. Anonymous sources — especially Washington’s anonymous sources — almost invariably have an ax to grind, as Betty Cuniberti established in her classic August 1987 Los Angeles Times story. One unnamed Reagan administration official tells her that most Reagan White House leaks are “personal,” aimed at other White House officials. “There’s a great deal of infighting,” he tells her.
Reagan White House staffers who couldn’t get the president’s attention would slip “Message-to-Reagan” leaks to the press to generate news stories or press conference questions to which he would have to respond, Cuniberti writes. The art of the leak requires information to be packaged just right, she notes. A national security adviser who wanted to plant a story in the press — a so-called authorized leak — might avoid giving the information directly to a reporter because the reporter would rightly view it as a self-serving leak designed to advance the administration’s views. Even rookie reporters get suspicious of sources’ motives. Better to have a subordinate convey the leak to disguise the motive and make the information seem more authentically newsworthy.
Leak‘s persuasive position is that Felt gamed Woodward, making him think that he was on the side of the angels when what he was trying to do was screw his enemies and become the next J. Edgar Hoover. That’s not a criticism of Woodward or his Watergate work, which by the standards of any day was very good....
Nor was Felt’s gaming of Woodward unusual. Every source leaks for a reason, and it’s usually not about preserving the constitution and the American way. As Stephen Hess writes, sources have many reasons to leak. They leak to boost their own egos. They leak to make a goodwill deposit with a reporter that they hope to withdraw in the future. They leak to advance their policy initiative. They leak to launch trial balloons and sometimes even to blow the whistle on wrongdoing. But until contesting evidence arrives, it’s usually a safe bet that a leak is what Hess calls an “Animus Leak,” designed to inflict damage on another party.
Shafer is trying to burst the noble bubble surrounding Felt, but to this political scientist, his argument was very soothing. A world in which we must rely on whistleblowers that possess martyr complexes for important information about national security is a dangerous world. It is too easy to tarnish whistleblowers because of their other personality tropes.
Bureaucrats or career-minded political appointees leaking to advance their own aims, however, covers a lot more rational actors. Even if their motives are far from pure, the combination of individual incentives encourages a lot more leaking than would otherwise occur. Like Adam Smith's invisible hand, even if the intent is not for policymakers to provide more information to the press, the combined effect is a larger and more accurate spotlight on the foreign policy machine.
My point: I'll take a world of greedy and power-seeking bureaucrats over a world of noble, self-righteous whistleblowers to promote transparency in foreign policy and national security.
What do you think?
I know that Daniel Klaidman's Newsweek cover story on the Navy SEALs is supposed to make me feel all warm and safe because of the uber-competence of SEAL Team Six and President Obama's comfort with using them adroitly:
This is a Special Ops moment. The Navy SEALs, in particular, have never appeared so heroic and effective. They killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last year, and just last month rescued two aid workers held hostage in Somalia. At a time when many Americans think their government is incompetent, the SEALs are public employees who often get the job done. They’re a morale booster, and they know it.
The thing is, one of Klaidman's more detailed anecdotes actually gives me great pause about the decision-making process within the Obama administration about the use of force:
The CIA and military had been hunting Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan for years. He was a suspect in the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and had been directly implicated in other deadly terrorist attacks in East Africa, including a suicide bombing of an Israeli-owned resort in Mombasa. He was an important link between al Qaeda and its Somalia-based affiliate, and a potential wealth of information on how the jihadist networks operate. Killing him would have been a significant victory, but capturing him alive could have been even better.
After months of patiently watching him, American intelligence officers suddenly learned that Nabhan was preparing to travel along a remote desert road in southern Somalia....
McRaven told the group that Nabhan’s convoy would soon be setting out from the capital, Mogadishu, on its way to a meeting of Islamic militants in the coastal town of Baraawe. The square-jawed Texan and former Navy SEAL crisply laid out the “Concepts of Operation” that had been developed in anticipation of this moment. Several options were spelled out, along with the military hardware that would be required for each, as well as collateral-damage estimates:
The military could fire Tomahawk cruise missiles from a warship off the Somali coast. This was the least dangerous option in terms of U.S. casualties but not the most precise. (Missiles have gone astray, hitting civilians, and even when they strike their target, they don’t always take it out.) Such missile strikes had been a hallmark of the Bush administration. For all of its “dead or alive” rhetoric, the Bush White House was generally cautious when it came to antiterrorist operations in anarchic areas like Somalia. The second option was a helicopter-borne assault on Nabhan’s convoy. There was less chance of error there: small attack helicopters would allow the commandos to “look the target in the eye and make sure it was the right guy,” according to one military planner. The final option was a “snatch and grab,” a daring attempt to take Nabhan alive. From a purely tactical standpoint, this was the most attractive alternative. Intelligence from high-value targets was the coin of the realm in the terror wars. But it was also the riskiest option.
Unstated but hanging heavily over the group that evening was the memory of another attempted capture in Somalia. Many on the call had been in key national-security posts in October 1993 during the ill-fated attempt to capture a Somali warlord that became known as “Black Hawk Down,” after a book of the same name. That debacle left 18 dead Army Rangers on the streets of Mogadishu, and inspired al Qaeda leaders to think they could defeat the American superpower. As Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, said during the meeting: “Somalia, helicopters, capture. I just don’t like the sound of this.”
As everyone left the meeting late that evening, it was clear that the only viable plan was the lethal one (emphasis added).
The mission was a success, and I'm sure that there's more to this decision than is in Klaidman's story. That said, based on the story, this decison-making process seems flawed. The deciding factor appears to have been that the more aggressive option had echoes of the 1993 Black Hawk Down fiasco. Because the situations seemed analagous ("Somalia, helicopters") the worst-case outcome -- a botched raid -- also seemed likely.
Here's the thing though -- as analogies go, this one seems somewhat ill-suited. The most obvious difference was that this raid wasn't going to take place in a city but a remote desert road. It was extremely difficult and bloody for U.S. forces to battle their adversaries in the urban anarchy of Mogadishu. In the open, with no civilians to use as shields, I would think JSOC has the advantage. Even if the snatch-and-grab option was the riskiest option, it does not seem as risky as U.S. efforts to rescue the downed Black Hawk crew back in 1993. In this instance, the worst-case scenario would have been some JSOC soldiers killed -- but given the terrain, the lack of civilians and cover, and the likely firepower advantage held by the Americans, a Black Hawk Down II outcome sounds unlikely.
Despite these differences, analogical reasong triumphed. The mission succeeded in taking out Nabhan, but it sounds like the slightly riskier option would have yielded greater rewards.
Let me stress, yet again, that I'm not an expert on special ops. I'd welcome commenters explaining to me why I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. Still, based on this story, the guiding factor in this case appears to have been a poor analogy. I hope this is the exception and not the rule for the current administration.
Am I missing anything?
Hey, remember how the new Al Qaeda was going to be more networked and more capable of inspiring home-grown terrorism? Remember how today's threat enviroment was supposed to be worse than the Cold War?
Bear these points in mind when considering two news items that crossed my screen today. In the first, courtesy of Micah Zenko, a Pentagon official suggests that maybe, just maybe, the U.S. overrestimated Al Qaeda's capabilities:
With the benefit of more than a decade of hindsight, America may have misjudged the true threat posed by al-Qaeda in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, a top Pentagon official said Tuesday.
“Al-Qaida wasn’t as good as we thought they were on 9/11,” said Michael A. Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict.
“Quite frankly, we, the American people, were asleep at the switch, the U.S. government, prior to 9/11. So an organization that wasn’t that good looked really great on 9/11,” Sheehan told a room full of special operators in Washington who were attending an annual Special Operations, Low Intensity Conflict Planning Conference.
“Everyone looked to the skies every day after 9/11 and said, ‘When is the next attack?’ And it didn’t come, partly because al-Qaida wasn’t that capable. They didn’t have other units here in the U.S. … Really, they didn’t have the capability to conduct a second attack.”
The true limitations of al-Qaida are one of two key reasons that America has not suffered a major terrorist attack since 2001.
“The other reason is that we actually responded … and crushed al-Qaida immediately after 9/11, and continually for the last 10 years,” Sheehan said. “We are better than we often give ourselves credit for. We have a very polarized political system and it’s very difficult for anybody to actually give credit or receive credit for how good we are.”
Well, sure, Al Qaeda abroad has been weakened, but this homegrown thing, I mean, that's probably a really big-- hey, what is Scott Shane reporting about in the New York Times?
A feared wave of homegrown terrorism by radicalized Muslim Americans has not materialized, with plots and arrests dropping sharply over the two years since an unusual peak in 2009, according to a new study by a North Carolina research group.
The study, to be released on Wednesday, found that 20 Muslim Americans were charged in violent plots or attacks in 2011, down from 26 in 2010 and a spike of 47 in 2009.
Charles Kurzman, the author of the report for the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, called terrorism by Muslim Americans "a minuscule threat to public safety." Of about 14,000 murders in the United States last year, not a single one resulted from Islamic extremism, said Mr. Kurzman, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina (emphasis added).
Digging a wee bit into the actual report -- and read the whole thing, it ain't long -- I'll just reprint the closing two paragraphs below:
Repeated alerts by government officials may be issued as a precaution, even when the underlying threat is uncertain. Officials may be concerned about how they would look if an attack did take place and subsequent investigations showed that officials had failed to warn the public. But a byproduct of these alerts is a sense of heightened tension that is out of proportion to the actual number of terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11.
This study’s findings challenge Americans to be vigilant against the threat of homegrown terrorism while maintaining a responsible sense of proportion. (emphasis added)
Now, I'm sure that the reason for this lull is that Al Qaeda's remaining assets in the United States are focusing their energies on getting all turkeys to become halal or something. That said, I'm going to continue to insist that the United States faces a much less threatening threat environment now than it did fifty years ago. Oh, and that I don't need to listen to Representative Peter King when he opens his mouth on national security issues.
In the Boston Review, Natasha Bahrami and Trita Parsi take a long look at the economic sanctions literature and conclude that the ever-more-stringent sanctions regime won't lead to a democratic transition in Iran. One can quibble with their review (they don't cite Nikolai Marinov's work, for example), but they do state the current state of play on Iran rather cleanly:
The official objective of the sanctions is to compel Iran to negotiate with the West toward the implementation of existing U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for Iran to suspend its nuclear enrichment program. Unofficially, there are hints that the sanctions are aimed at collapsing the Iranian regime and bringing about democratic change.
That sums up the situation rather neatly -- the problem is that these goals are somewhat incompatible. If the aim if to negotiate a deal on the nuclear program, then Iran's regime has to be persuaded that the United States is not trying to topple the regime. If the administration keeps up the ambiguity regarding the purpose of sanctions, then Iran's current regime has zero incentive to negotiate. In that case, the only way sanctions work is via regime collapse.
Based on Robert Worth's front-pager in the New York Times on the effect of sanctions in Tehran, however, it looks like the negotiation option might already be closed off. The effect of the sanctions put in place (and the ones that will kick in over the summer) are, well, a mixed bag:
Already, the last round of sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank has begun inflicting unprecedented damage on Iran’s private sector, traders and analysts say, making it so hard to transfer money abroad that even affluent businessmen are sometimes forced to board planes carrying suitcases full of American dollars.
Yet this economic burden is falling largely on the middle class, raising the prospect of more resentment against the West and complicating the effort to deter Iran’s nuclear program -- a central priority for the Obama administration in this election year…
The rising economic panic has illustrated -- and possibly intensified -- the bitter divisions within Iran’s political elite. A number of insiders, including members of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, have begun openly criticizing Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in recent weeks. One of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s aides indirectly accused Ayatollah Khamenei of needlessly antagonizing the West in ways that pushed down the rial’s value, the latest sign of a rift between the president and the supreme leader that is helping to define the parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for March 2.
“They criticize Ahmadinejad and even the supreme leader by name now; it’s not like before,” said Javad, the 45-year-old manager of a travel agency in north Tehran…
Ordinary Iranians complain that the sanctions are hurting them, while those at the top are unscathed, or even benefit. Many wealthy Iranians made huge profits in recent weeks by buying dollars at the government rate (available to insiders) and then selling them for almost twice as many rials on the soaring black market. Some analysts and opposition political figures contend that Mr. Ahmadinejad deliberately worsened the currency crisis so that his cronies could generate profits this way…
Many Iranians are also skeptical about the Western preoccupation with Iran’s nuclear program. “The economic pressure will not push Iran to a nuclear settlement,” said Kayhan Barzegar, the director of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies, who has taught in the United States. “The nuclear file is a nationalistic issue; it’s too late for Iran to backtrack. Domestic politics will react negatively to any negotiation — candidates in the elections will say: you sold the nuclear program!”…
[T]he businessman also noted that when Iran last suffered similar privations, in the 1980s, the economy was far smaller, and the revolutionary zeal for self-sacrifice far greater. Iran’s leadership was also far more unified than it is today.
“The question is, when this panic translates into a real diminution in the living standard, will Iranians be willing to take it?” the businessman said. “That’s when these guys will really be in trouble.”
The above report suggests that the sanctions themselves have effectively eliminated the more modest goal of negotiating on the nuclear program. The primary effect of the sanctions to date has been to exacerbated divisions within Iran's regime. Because of these divisons, there's no point to negotiation -- at this point, the United States could ever be sure that the entire Iranian state could credibly commit to any bargain (for advocates of negotiation, it should be noted that this was already a problem; the sanctions just bring it into high relief). The economic effect of the sanctions has also accentuated Iran's nationalist pride in the nuclear program among the middle class.
It's still possible for the sanctions to work. Those that are imposed multilaterally tend to take a longer time to have a policy effect. The target state will first try to break the multilateral coalition apart -- and only after that policy fails will they consider concessions. Recent reportage suggest that Iran was not expecting this kind of multilateral pressure -- and so it's possible that Tehran will reconsider.
That said, the sanctions policy is pushing the United States into a policy cul-de-sac where the only way out is through regime change. In the abstract, that might sound great, but in reality, pushing for that option could be both messy and expensive.
In my experience, pundits tend to be risk-averse in calling out a very rich person on their economic or financial analyses. There's a couple of intuitive logics at work here:
1) Most pundits don't know much about economics, and so are leery of entering those waters;
2) The really rich person likely became really rich because they demonstrated a shrewd understanding of the markets -- therefore, who is the low-six-figure-or-less-earning pundit to challenge such high-yielding wisdom;
3) Most pundits refuse to admit that they don't understand something that reads like gobbledgook, because they're afraid this makes them look like an idiot.
Well, your humble blogger has never been afraid of looking like an idiot... which brings me to PIMCO's Bill Gross. I'll occasionally read his monthly newsletter when a link to it pops up in my Twitter feed. Every time, I'm amazed at the florid, rambling, not-really-related-to-his-main-point way he opens these little essays. Sometimes I find the analysis afterwards useful, sometimes I find it eerily similar to what someone says after spending too much time with Tom Friedman. I gather he's had better years as an analyst than he did in 2011, but everyone has down years and bad predictions.
Here's the thing, though -- I can't understand a word of his latest Financial Times column: Here's how it opens:
Isaac Newton may have conceptualised the effects of gravity when that mythical apple fell on his head, but could he have imagined Neil Armstrong’s hop-skip-and-jumping on the moon, or the trapping of light inside a black hole? Probably not. Likewise, the deceased economic maestro of the 21st century – Hyman Minsky – probably couldn’t have conceived how his monetary theories could be altered by zero-based money.
Things get a little clearer towards the end of the op-ed... but not much. His February 2012 newsletter appears to be an expanded version of this op-ed (plus the usual wacky opening), so let's go there to see what he's trying to say:
[W]hen rational or irrational fear persuades an investor to be more concerned about the return of her money than on her money then liquidity can be trapped in a mattress, a bank account or a five basis point Treasury bill. But that commonsensical observation is well known to Fed policymakers, economic historians and certainly citizens on Main Street.
What perhaps is not so often recognized is that liquidity can be trapped by the “price” of credit, in addition to its “risk.” Capitalism depends on risk-taking in several forms. Developers, homeowners, entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes epitomize the riskiness of business building via equity and credit risk extension. But modern capitalism is dependent as well on maturity extension in credit markets. No venture, aside from one financed with 100% owners’ capital, could survive on credit or loans that matured or were callable overnight. Buildings, utilities and homes require 20- and 30-year loan commitments to smooth and justify their returns. Because this is so, lenders require a yield premium, expressed as a positively sloped yield curve, to make the extended loan. A flat yield curve, in contrast, is a disincentive for lenders to lend unless there is sufficient downside room for yields to fall and provide bond market capital gains. This nominal or even real interest rate “margin” is why prior cyclical periods of curve flatness or even inversion have been successfully followed by economic expansions. Intermediate and long rates – even though flat and equal to a short-term policy rate – have had room to fall, and credit therefore has not been trapped by “price.”
Even if nodding in agreement, an observer might immediately comment that today’s yield curve is anything but flat and that might be true. Most short to intermediate Treasury yields, however, are dangerously close to the zero-bound which imply little if any room to fall: no margin, no air underneath those bond yields and therefore limited, if any, price appreciation. What incentive does a bank have to buy two-year Treasuries at 20 basis points when they can park overnight reserves with the Fed at 25? What incentives do investment managers or even individual investors have to take price risk with a five-, 10- or 30-year Treasury when there are multiples of downside price risk compared to appreciation? At 75 basis points, a five-year Treasury can only rationally appreciate by two more points, but theoretically can go down by an unlimited amount. Duration risk and flatness at the zero-bound, to make the simple point, can freeze and trap liquidity by convincing investors to hold cash as opposed to extend credit (emplases in original).
And... sorry, I still don't get it. I get why zero interest rates are bad for bondholders like PIMCO. I get that flat yield curves + high amounts of economic uncertainty = cash hoarding. What I don't get is that:
A) Gross himself acknowledges that the yield curve ain't flat;
B) Low interest rates allow for private-sector deleveraging, which is a prelude to stimulating market demand;
C) Low interest rates prevent today's government binge from being even more expensive than it would be in normal times (by keeping financing costs down);
D) If uncertainty is decreasing -- and that appears to be the case with the U.S. economy -- then low interest rates should spur greater entrepreneurial investments.
So, at the risk of threatening my status in the International Brotherhood of Serious Global Political Econmy Bloggers That Talk Seriously About Economics, I hereby ask my commenters to explain Bill Gross' concerns to me. Because I don't get it -- and I'm beginning to wonder if I'm not the only one.
Based on his prior scholarly and advocacy work, it's safe to say that Bob Pape has not been a huge fan of U.S. military interventions. In Bombing to Win, he argued that the coercive effect of air power had been wildly overstated. In Dying to Win, he argued that the presence of foreign troops and bases are most likely to inspire suicide terrorism. Pape was a foreign policy advisor to Ron Paul's 2008 presidential campaign, which evinced a foreign policy based on non-interventionism. There's been some more-than-mild disagreements with Pape's scholarly conclusions, but to date he's articulated a very clear and consistent message warning about the risks of foreign interventions.
Which is why his New York Times op-ed today is so damn surprising. His basic argument:
A new standard for humanitarian intervention is needed. If a continuing government-sponsored campaign of mass homicide — in which thousands have died and many thousands more are likely to die — is occurring, a coalition of countries, sanctioned by major international and regional institutions, should intervene to stop it, as long as they have a viable plan, with minimal risk of casualties for the interveners....
Limited military force to stop campaigns of state-sanctioned homicide is more pragmatic than waiting for irrefutable evidence of “genocide.” It will not work in every case, but it will save large numbers of lives. It also promotes restraint in cases where humanitarian intervention would be high-risk or used as a pretext for imperial designs.
As the world’s sole military superpower, the United States will be at the center of many future debates over humanitarian action. Rather than hewing to the old standard of intervening only after genocide has been proved, the emerging new standard would allow for meaningful and low-risk military action before the killing gets out of control.
This is quite the conclusion coming from Pape, and, at a minimum, is hard to square with some of his prior work (though, it should be noted, it is consistent with what he wrote in April 2011). I wonder how it applies to Syria.... oh, here's the relevant paragraphs:
Syria is, I admit, a tough case. It is a borderline example of a government’s engaging in mass killings of its citizens. The main obstacle to intervention is the absence of a viable, low-casualty military solution. Unlike Libya, where much of the coastal core of the population lived under rebel control, the opposition to Syria’s dictatorial president Bashar al-Assad, has not achieved sustained control of any major population area. So air power alone would probably not be sufficient to blunt the Assad loyalists entrenched in cities, and a heavy ground campaign would probably face stiff and bloody resistance.
If a large region broke away from the regime en masse, international humanitarian intervention could well become viable. Until then, sadly, Syria is not another Libya. A mass-homicide campaign is under way there, but a means to stop it without unacceptable loss of life is not yet available.
I'm not sure how keen I am on military intervention into Syria right now, but if one employs Pape's own criteria, then these paragraphs seem like some serious hand-waving. First, it's not a "borderline example" of atrocities. The UN estimated more than 5000 dead back in December -- that meets the "thousands have died" criteria, and if the status quo persists, thousands more are going to die.
Second, one could argue that Assad's ability to repress has been severely compromised. If it's really true that Assad's forces no longer control half the country -- and that's a big if -- then creating an enclave would be easier than Pape suggests.
Again, I'm not suggesting that the United States should do this -- there would be a lot of policy externalities and second-order effects to consider. What I'm suggesting is that Pape's sudden embrace of humanitarian intervention -- and subsequent rejection of that option in Syria -- is just damn puzzling.
What do you think?
The AP breathlessly reports that Punxatawney Phil saw his shadow today, which means another six weeks of winter. Based on recent data, I'm wondering if Syria's Bashar al-Assad can say the same thing.
Earlier this week the U.S. intelligence heads testified on Syria, and offered some surprising assessments:
Syrian President Bashar al Assad will not be able to maintain his grip on power in the wake of a wave of opposition that has dragged on for almost a year, America’s top intelligence officials told Congress today.
“I personally believe it’s a question of time before Assad falls,” James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, told the Senate Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. CIA Director David Petraeus added, “I generally subscribe to that as well.”
Clapper said “it could be a long time” before the Assad regime falls because of “the protraction of these demonstrations” and a Syrian opposition that remains fragmented. Despite that, Clapper said “I do not see how long he can sustain his rule of Syria.”
Hey, remember how, a year ago, Clapper got into trouble for being honest about the state of affairs in Libya despite his honesty being a political inconvenience? This is precisely why I find his testimony so credible.
Recent facts on the ground buttress Clapper's assessment -- as does the Financial Times' David Gardner's reportage, which is chock-full of interesting facts about the Assad regime's constrained ability to repress:
The [Assad] regime believed it could crush the uprising, which began in mid-March after revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, by the end of April and then in the summer Ramadan Offensive. It failed.
These operations revealed its reliance on two dependable units -- the 4th Armoured Division and the Republican Guard, made up of Alawites, the heterodox Shia minority that forms the backbone of the regime, and commanded by Mr Assad’s volatile younger brother, Maher. Whenever the Assads deployed units with a rank-and-file reflecting Syria’s 70 per cent Sunni majority -- as they had to if their offensives were to cover more than the hot spots of the moment -- defections ensued.
Even more interesting is Gardner's take on the evolving Russian position:
Russian diplomats…despite their rhetoric, have been talking to Syrian opposition figures and, according to the latter, carefully considering the Arab League proposals. As a veteran U.S. diplomat puts it, “there is a squishiness to where they [the Russians] are now”.
Russia does have a commercial interest in Syria, and arms the regime but the value of this depends on whether it will get paid, by a government running out of cash. It is only six years since Moscow had to write off more than $10bn in unpaid Syrian debts from the Soviet era.
Its real interest is in retaining its base facilities at the port of Tartus, its last naval asset in the Mediterranean. For that it will eventually need to reach an understanding with Syria’s future, not hold on to its past. Tartus is a long-term strategic asset. The Assads are no longer a long-term proposition.
This is new and interesting information, and does appear to track multiple reports that the negotiations in Turtle Bay will lead to an actual Security Council resolution on Syria. If Russia cuts a deal with the opposition and removes its veto from multilateral action, how long can Assad hold out?
What do you think? Will Assad be out of power in Syria inside of six weeks or not?
My recent post on the overstatement of American decline has probably been my most popular single non-zombie item since moving the blog to Foreign Policy. It has also attracted some useful observations on Michael Beckley's International Security essay in particular -- see Phil Arena and Erik Voeten for some trenchant criticisms.
My FP co-blogger Steve Walt has also weighed in, however, arguing that obsessing about the Sino-American comparison misses some larger points about the decline of American influence:
The United States remains very powerful -- especially when compared with some putative opponents like Iran -- but its capacity to lead security and economic orders in every corner of the world has been diminished by failures in Iraq (and eventually, Afghanistan), by the burden of debt accumulated over the past decade, by the economic melt-down in 2007-2008, and by the emergence of somewhat stronger and independent actors in Brazil, Turkey, India, and elsewhere. One might also point to eroding national infrastructure and an educational system that impresses hardly anyone. Moreover, five decades of misguided policies have badly tarnished America's image in many parts of the world, and especially in the Middle East and Central Asia. The erosion of authoritarian rule in the Arab world will force new governments to pay more attention to popular sentiment -- which is generally hostile to the broad thrust of U.S. policy in the region -- and the United States will be less able to rely on close relations with tame monarchs or military dictators henceforth. If it the United States remains far and away the world's strongest state, its ability to get its way in world affairs is declining.
All this may seem like a hair-splitting, but there's an important issue at stake. Posing the question in the usual way ("Is the U.S. Still #1?", "Who's bigger?", "Is China Catching Up?" etc.,) focuses attention primarily on bilateral comparisons and distracts us from thinking about the broader environment in which both the United States and China will have to operate. The danger, of course, is that repeated assurances that America is still on top will encourage foreign policy mandarins to believe that they can continue to make the same blunders they have in the recent past, and discourage them from making the strategic choices that will preserve U.S. primacy, enhance U.S. influence, and incidentally, produce a healthier society here at home.
I disagree with Steve on multiple points here, so let's be thorough and go through them one at at time.
First, I'd argue that developing accurate assessments about the power balance between China and the United States is actually super-important. Miserceptions about a rising China or a declining United States can lead to a) toxic political rhetoric in Washington, which leads to b) rhetorical blowback, which leads to c) stupid foreign policy miscalculations. As I wrote about a year ago:
Exaggerating Chinese power has consequences. Inside the Beltway, attitudes about American hegemony have shifted from complacency to panic. Fearful politicians representing scared voters have an incentive to scapegoat or lash out against a rising power -- to the detriment of all. Hysteria about Chinese power also provokes confusion and anger in China as Beijing is being asked to accept a burden it is not yet prepared to shoulder. China, after all, ranks 89th in the 2010 U.N. Human Development Index just behind Turkmenistan and the Dominican Republic (the United States is fourth). Treating Beijing as more powerful than it is feeds Chinese bravado and insecurity at the same time. That is almost as dangerous a political cocktail as fear and panic.
The discussion of China in the GOP presidential campaign, as well as Obama's mercantilist State of the Union address, strongly suggest that political assessments and political rhetoric about Chinese power need a strong jolt of sobriety. Walt is concerned that an overestimation of American power will lead to stupid foreign policy decisions, but I'd wager that an overestimation of Chinese power would lead to equally stupid foreign policy decisions.
As for Walt's assertions about the decline of American influence... well, I must take issue with several of them. First, the notion that the United States was able to exercise power more easily during the Cold War seems a bit off. As Robert Kagan points out in The New Republic:
And of course it is true that the United States is not able to get what it wants much of the time. But then it never could. Much of today’s impressions about declining American influence are based on a nostalgic fallacy: that there was once a time when the United States could shape the whole world to suit its desires, and could get other nations to do what it wanted them to do, and, as the political scientist Stephen M. Walt put it, “manage the politics, economics and security arrangements for nearly the entire globe.”
If we are to gauge America’s relative position today, it is important to recognize that this image of the past is an illusion. There never was such a time. We tend to think back on the early years of the Cold War as a moment of complete American global dominance. They were nothing of the sort. The United States did accomplish extraordinary things in that era: the Marshall Plan, the NATO alliance, the United Nations, and the Bretton Woods economic system all shaped the world we know today. Yet for every great achievement in the early Cold War, there was at least one equally monumental setback.
During the Truman years, there was the triumph of the Communist Revolution in China in 1949, which American officials regarded as a disaster for American interests in the region and which did indeed prove costly; if nothing else, it was a major factor in spurring North Korea to attack the South in 1950. But as Dean Acheson concluded, “the ominous result of the civil war in China” had proved “beyond the control of the ... United States,” the product of “forces which this country tried to influence but could not.” A year later came the unanticipated and unprepared-for North Korean attack on South Korea, and America’s intervention, which, after more than 35,000 American dead and almost 100,000 wounded, left the situation almost exactly as it had been before the war. In 1949, there came perhaps the worst news of all: the Soviet acquisition of the atomic bomb and the end of the nuclear monopoly on which American military strategy and defense budgeting had been predicated.
Kagan's essay is getting some attention in high places, so I'll be very curious to hear Walt's take on it.
It Walt overestimates America's influence during the Cold War, he also underestimates American influence now. The funny thing about the "stronger and independent actors in Brazil, Turkey, India, and elsewhere" is that they're siding with the United States on multiple important issues. Coordination between Turkey and the United States on the Arab Spring has increased over time, and their policy positions on Iran are converging more than diverging. Brazil has turned a cold shoulder to Iran and has been warier about China's currency manipulation and rising influence in Latin America. India seems perfectly comfortable to be a partner in America's Pacific Rim pivot, as are Australia, Japan and South Korea.
This is perfectly consistent with Walt's own balance-of-threat theory, by the way. The actors that seem to be generating the most anxiety among the rising developing countries are the ones that seem to be exhibiting the most aggressive regional intentions -- namely, China and Iran. Indeed, even countries with strong historical resentments against the United States are now trying to find creative ways to bind themselves to Washington. Will these countries always march in lockstep with the United States? Of course not -- but as Walt would surely acknowledge, America's NATO allies were not always on the same page with the United States on myriad Cold War issues.
It seems that Walt's primary concern is that without better domestic policies, the United States might fritter away its great power advantages. I'm sympathetic to that argument -- I'd also take the bold position that I'd like to see improvements in American education and infrastructure as well. One of the points I was making in my original post, however was that even absent grand initiatives from Washington, the United States economy was finding ways to heal itself. Indeed, compared to either Europe or China, one could argue that the United States has adjusted to the post-2008 environment the best. This is not so much praise for Washington as an indictment of rigidities in Brussels and Beijing. Still, power and influence are relative measures, and I see little evidence to support Walt's pessimism.
Am I missing anything?
Hey, remember when about ten days ago I blogged that things were getting so bad in Europe that it was legitimate to bring up the 1930's? What's happened since that seemingly hyperbolic warning?
As Felix Salmon blogged earlier this week, the European banking system is headed towards a full-blown liquidity crisis. Yields on Spanish and Italian debt are hovering around the 7% mark, which was the tipping point that forced Greece, Ireland and Portugal to seek assistance from the European Financial Stability Facility and the IMF. Multiple European countries, including France, have had difficulty completing bond auctions this week.
So it would seem that the European Central Bank needs to do something. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Financial Times all have lead stories today pointing out the enormous pressures that are being put on the European Central Bank this week. We'll excerpt the non-gated NYT story to set things up:
Only the fiercely conservative stewards of the European Central Bank have the firepower to intervene aggressively in the markets with essentially unlimited resources. But the bank itself, and its most important member state, Germany, have steadfastly resisted letting it take up the mantle of lender of last resort....
At issue is whether the bank has the will — or the legal foundation — to become a European version of the Federal Reserve in the United States, with a license to print money in whatever quantity it considers necessary to ensure the smooth functioning of markets and, if needed, to essentially bail out countries that are members of the euro zone.
Traditionally, and according to its charter, the European bank has viewed its role in much narrower terms, as a guardian of the value of the euro with a mission to prevent inflation. But as market unease has spread over the past two years, critics say the bank’s obsession with what they say is a phantom threat of inflation has stifled growth and helped bring the euro zone to the edge of a financial precipice.
With events threatening to spin out of control, the burden now rests on Mario Draghi, an inflation fighter in the president’s job at the bank barely two weeks who surprised many economists by immediately cutting interest rates a quarter point.
This morning, however, in his first speech as the head of the ECB, Draghi pivoted and redirected the pressure back at the politicial stewards of the EU:
National economic policies are equally responsible for restoring and maintaining financial stability. Solid public finances and structural reforms – which lay the basis for competitiveness, sustainable growth and job creation – are two of the essential elements.
But in the euro area there is a third essential element for financial stability and that must be rooted in a much more robust economic governance of the union going forward. In the first place now, it implies the urgent implementation of the European Council and Summit decisions. We are more than one and a half years after the summit that launched the EFSF as part of a financial support package amounting to 750 billion euros or one trillion dollars; we are four months after the summit that decided to make the full EFSF guarantee volume available; and we are four weeks after the summit that agreed on leveraging of the resources by a factor of up to four or five and that declared the EFSF would be fully operational and that all its tools will be used in an effective way to ensure financial stability in the euro area. Where is the implementation of these long-standing decisions?
The truly scary thing is that, given the state of the Italian and Spanish bond markets, even the full EFSF won't be enough to calm markets down.
And so the pressure gets redirected back to Germany, as the most powerful actor in the ECB and EU. As Matthias Matthijs and Mark Blyth explain in Foreign Affairs, however, Germany has not been reading its Charles Kindleberger:
In order to guarantee the strength of any international economic system, Kindleberger explained, a stabilizer -- only one stabilizer -- needs to provide five public goods: a market for distress goods (goods that cannot find a buyer), countercyclical long-term lending, stable exchange rates, macroeconomic policy coordination, and real lending of last resort during financial crises. The United States did not supply these things in the 1930s. Germany fails the test on all five items today.
First, rather than providing peripheral countries with a market for their distress goods, the Germans have been enthusiastically selling their manufactured goods to the periphery. According to Eurostat, Germany's trade surplus with the rest of the EU grew from 46.4 billion euro in 2000 to 126.5 billion in 2007. The evolution of Germany's bilateral trade surpluses with the Mediterranean countries is especially revealing. Between 2000 and 2007, Greece's annual trade deficit with Germany grew from 3 billion euro to 5.5 billion, Italy's doubled, from 9.6 billion to 19.6 billion, Spain's almost tripled, from 11 billion to 27.2 billion, and Portugal's quadrupled, from 1 billion to 4.2 billion. Between 2001 and 2009, moreover, Germany saw its final total consumption fall from 78.5 percent of GDP to 74.5 percent. Its gross savings rate increased from less than 19 percent of GDP to almost 26 percent over the same period.
Second, instead of countercyclical lending, German lending to the eurozone has been pro-cyclical. Indirectly (through buying bonds) and directly (by spreading its exchange rate through the euro), the country has basically given the periphery the money to buy its goods. During the economic boom of 2003-2008, Germany extended credit on a massive scale to the eurozone's Mediterranean countries. Frankfurt did quite well for itself. "European Financial Linkages," a recent IMF working paper, reveals that in 2008, Germany was one of the two biggest net creditors within the eurozone (after France). Its positive positions were exact mirrors of Portugal, Greece, Italy, and Spain's negative ones. Of course, as the financial crisis began to escalate in 2009, Germany abruptly closed its wallet. Now Europe's periphery needs long-term loans more than ever, but Germany's enthusiasm for extending credit seems to have collapsed.
And what about the third public good, stable exchange rates? By definition, the euro gives the countries that choose to join it a common external float, the credibility that comes with banking in a potential global reserve asset, and the credit rating of its strongest member. This is both true and where the problems begin. At the core of the eurozone lies a belief that, if countries adhere to a set of rules about how much debt, deficit, and inflation they can have, their economies will converge, and the same exchange rate will work for all members. This is true in theory, but only so long as countries obey the rules. And, despite being the author of many of those rules, Germany showed a singular lack of leadership and responsibility when it came to following them. When it broke the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) in 2003, it sent the signal to the smaller countries that fiscal profligacy would go unpunished. The result was heightened public sector borrowing and increased public spending. Germany's enthusiastic lending to the periphery only exacerbated the problem.
Fourth, economic health requires the stabilizer to coordinate macroeconomic policy within the system. In this domain, Germany failed spectacularly, by insisting that the rest of the world follow its peculiar ordoliberal economic philosophy of export-oriented growth. By ignoring long-established ideas such as the Keynesian "paradox of thrift" or the "fallacy of composition," Germany is advocating a serious dose of austerity in the European periphery without even a hint of offsetting those negative economic effects with stimulus or inflationary policies at home. German growth, after all, was partially fueled by demand in Southern Europe (made possible by excess German savings). By the iron logic of the balance of payments, one country's exports are another country's imports and one country's capital inflows are another's capital outflows. So, the eurozone as a whole cannot become more like Germany. Germany could only be like Germany because the others countries were not. Insisting on ordoliberal convergence is guaranteed to produce economic instability, not stability.
Finally, Kindleberger would want Germany -- or, rather, the ECB, which is dominated by Germany -- to act as a lender of last resort by providing liquidity during the current crisis. Germany instead insisted on IMF conditionality for the bailout countries and on severe fiscal austerity measures in exchange for limited liquidity, thus failing Kindleberger's final test. The most obvious example is German obstinacy against letting the ECB play the role that the Federal Reserve played in the United States in 2008 and 2009. By lending heavily, the Fed was able to arrest the United States' slide into despair. Only a couple of days ago, Jens Weidmann, the president of Germany's powerful Bundesbank, flat-out rejected the idea of using the ECB as "lender of last resort" for governments, warning that such steps "would add to instability by violating European law." It is hard to see how yet one more violation of European code will add significantly to the already horrendous levels of instability, when brushing democracy aside is considered good for the euro.
It looks as if there's a plan in the works for the ECB to do a legal end-around by loaning money to the IMF and then having the Fund loan to the GIIPS economies. If that happens, however, it won't be announced until next month. And the way credit markets are playing out right now, I'm not sure the eurozone has that much time.
Now is usually the point in the post at which the instinct to provide some sweeping narrative about the state of the eurozone -- a la David Brooks -- is very compelling. What's the point, however? The eurozone is in contagion mode right now, which means it doesn't matter which countries were virtuous and which countries weren't during the last decade of binge borrowing. They're all on the same sinking ship, and the Merkel Algorithm seems to be playing out again.
Developing.... in a way that truly scares the living crap out of me.
Hey, remember my last bloggingheads, when I went to the 1930s analogy to describe the current problems in the global political economy? Well, that was a few days ago, and my, how things have changed -- to make that 1930's analogy even more powerful. The eurogoggles metahor may be coming to an end -- because the situation is so dire that even the cheeriest summit won't alter perceptions in financial markets.
After a week of gyrating europolitics on the Greek bailout and meaningless G-20 summitry, markets and media will be focused on Italy this week. This matters -- for both Europe and the world, Greece is a diverting sideshow compared to a major financial collaspse in Italy. The pressure on Italian PM Sylvio Berlusconi to resign have gotten so loud that he had to take to his Facebook page to say, "The rumors of my resignation are groundless." New rule of thumb: any time a politician follows Sarah Palin's lead, there's going to be a problem.
The Daily Telegraph's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard explains the eurofarce that is currently playing out:
As of late Friday, the yield spread on Italian 10-year bonds over German Bunds was a post-EMU record of 458 basis points. This is dangerously close to the point where cascade-selling begins and matters spiral out of control.
The European Central Bank has so far bought time by holding a series of retreating lines but either it has reached its intervention limits after accumulating nearly €80bn of Italian debt, or it is holding fire to force Silvio Berlusconi to resign – if so, a foolish game.
The ECB’s hands are tied. A German veto and EU treaty constraints stop it intervening with overwhelming force as a genuine lender of last resort. The bank is itself at risk of massive over-extension without an EU treasury and single sovereign entity to back it up.
This lack of a back-stop guarantor is an unforgivable failing in the institutional structure of monetary union....
The spreads on EFSF 5-year bonds have already tripled to 151 above German debt, leaving Japan and other early buyers nursing a big loss. The fund suffered a failed auction last week, cutting the issue from €5bn to €3bn on lack of demand.
Gary Jenkins from Evolution Securities said the “frightening” development is that the EFSF is itself being shut out of the capital markets. “If it continues to perform like that then the bailout fund might need a bail out,” he said.
Europe’s attempt to widen the creditor net by drawing in the world’s reserve states evoked near universal scorn in Cannes and a damning put-down by Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff. “I have not the slightest intention of contributing directly to the EFSF; if they are not willing to do it, why should I?”
Europe is resorting to such antics because its richer states – above all Germany -- still refuse to face up to the shattering implications of a currency that they themselves created, and ran destructively by flooding the vulnerable half of monetary union with cheap capital.
Simon Johnson is, er.... less than optimistic about these developments:
MIT Sloan School of Management professor Simon Johnson didn’t equivocate on the perils of the current global economic environment. “We have built a dangerous financial system in the United States and Europe,” said the former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund. “We must step back and reform the system.”
Professor Johnson cited alarming parallels with October 1931, when “people thought the worst was behind them, but the smart people were wrong and instead the crisis just broadened.” (emphasis added)
I've said it before and I'll say it again: any time the global economy is counting on Sylvio Berlusconi to do the right thing is not a good time.
Yesterday at NRO, the always-interesting
Reihan Salam Josh Barro* offered a robust defense of inside-the Beltway thinking about economic policy -- which he labels the "Washington Consensus" (NOTE: not exactly the same thing as this Washington Consensus):
While it contains a lot of errors, the Washington Consensus is right more often than it is wrong. Even more importantly, critiques of the Washington Consensus are wrong more of then than they are right—meaning that taking Washington Establishment down a peg will tend to do more harm than good....
Since the Washington Consensus contains lots of errors, there are outsiders with better ideas in these areas. Nominal GDP targeting, championed by Scott Sumner and others, would constitute a major improvement of monetary policy. Higher capital requirements and a tax on financial institutions that benefit from government backstops, among other reforms, would reduce systemic risk in the banking sector.
But the question is, would empowering outsiders at the expense of the establishment tend to replace the Washington Establishment’s biggest policy errors with outside wisdom? Or would it more often gut sound-but-unpopular policy and replace existing errors with bigger errors?
There are numerous policy areas where the hegemony of the Washington Establishment is the only thing saving America from popular but terrible ideas—trade, immigration, foreign aid.
I tend to agree with Reihan, particularly with his TARP example. What I'm wondering is whether this holds true with foreign affairs as well. Let's face it, the foreign policy community (myself included) supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Clearly, we have made Very Big Mistakes. Foreign policy wonks outside the mainstream are very fond of claiming that being outside the mainstream is evidence that they're right. There are also many areas where the foreign policy consensus seems unsatisfying at best or catastrophic at worst.
That said, it'a far from clear to me that populist foreign policy responses would necessarily be all that much better. One could argue that, in toto, the American public is pretty damn realist -- but I doubt that a populist foreign policy would actually resemble realpolitik. The problem gets back to Salam's point -- even if there is mass discontent with the foreign policy establishment, there is not necessarily a lot of consensus about what should be in its stead. Some critics would likely prefer a radical retrenchment of American military power -- combined with a similar retrenchment in economic openness. Others would prefer a greater embrace of multilateral structures -- regardless of whether they actually worked or not.
My hunch is that more bad would occur than good -- but I want to hear from readers on this. Is there such a thing as foreign policy "common sense"? And, if so, would we see it implemented if the foreign policy community was winked out of existence?
*Yes, Barro is always interesing as well
[NOTE: The following is a public service message from the hard-working team at FP Magazine to the policy wonks and market analysts inside the Beltway--ed.]
Has this happened to you in 2011? You're stressed out from a long day of reading/writing/number crunching/contingency planning and you're looking to unwind and enjoy yourself. Then you see the latest announcement of a European summit meeting and proclamations of a breakthrough deal that will resolve the plight of the Greek economy, the fragile state of European banks, and the perilous credit rating of southern Mediterranean countries.
As you see stocks rise, credit markets soar, and the euro appreciate, the euro-optimism becomes intoxicating. Pretty soon, the euro-giddiness starts to get to you. You start to tweet things like, "the corner has been turned," post on Facebook that, "it's time to Europarty!!" and talk up the metric system again. Nicolas Sarkozy looks like the brilliant progenitor of grand ideas and grand summits, and Angela Merkel is the shrewd politician who made the bankers blink.
After a few hours or so of this, all the problems in the world look eminently solvable. In your head, you've devised brilliant, intricate plans that solve the Israeli/Palestinian peace process, the India/Pakistan enduring rivalry, and the BCS college football rankings. Before you know it, you've organized and presented a talk in which you provide the Mother of All Powerpoint Presentations to Solving Global Problems, charging the entire, catered affair to the Brookings Institution.
Beware!! You are a victim of Eurogoggles. As the Economist will observe, "in the light of day, the holes in the rescue plan are plain to see." Both AFP and Bloomberg will point out that the policy euphoria has faded the next day. It will turn out that details are left unexplained. The size of the bailout package, which looked massive the night before, will prove to be a limp, unsatisfying half-measure the next day. The bank rescue fund and the Greek deal remain incomplete. All you'll be left with is that vague sense of self-loathing at having been suckered again, and a strem of angry voice-mail messages from a DC think tank. The walk of shame to your water-cooler the next day, in which co-workers mock your tweets of the night before, will be humiliating.
Eurogoggles -- don't let it happen to you or your colleagues.
With Muammar Gaddafi's timely demise, it's becoming harder and harder to argue that Barack Obama's foreign policy is a failure. Of course, this hasn't stopped the GOP's 2012 candidates for president from trying. They dislike Obama so much that they're even saying nice things about France instead.
The GOP field's reluctance to acknowledge any of Obama's foreign policy successes is driving some people a little batty. Here's Kevin Drum:
I understand the left's problem with Obama's national security policy. But the right? What the hell is their problem? Obama has escalated our presence dramatically in Afghanistan; he created a massive drone air force that's all but wiped out al-Qaeda in Pakistan; he killed Osama bin Laden; he approved a multilateral military operation in Libya that ended up killing Muammar Qaddafi; he sent a SEAL team out to kill Somali pirates; he assassinates U.S. citizens in foreign countries who are associated with al-Qaeda; and he's done more to isolate and sanction Iran than George Bush ever did. Crikey. Just how bloodthirsty do they want the guy to be?
Andrew Sullivan offers a similar lament.
Five thoughts. First, it's worth noting that some Republican leaders have been reasonably forthright in giving Obama some hosannahs. John McCain said, " I think the administration deserves great credit." Lindsey Graham went further, excoriating fellow Republicans for sheer bloody-mindedness in opposing Obama's Libya policy. Mitt Romney, the GOP candidate who seems to have thought the most about foreign policy, said "yes, yes, absolutely" Obama deserved some credit for the end of Gaddafi's regime. So, there's that.
Second, through a combination of obstinance and incoherence, the GOP field's criticisms are looking pretty foolish. Simply denying any credit to the Obama administration's foreign policy has become sillier over time. In some cases a singular candidate's criticism remains logically consistent, but contradicts what other candidates say. So, you have candidates like Ron Paul and Jon Hunstman want to see the U.S. retrench (in the case of Paul, quite radically), while Mitt Romney wants a 600-ship navy while Michelle Bachmann wants to see the reestoration of autocracy in Egypt while Herman Cain just wanders from foreign policy misstatement to foreign policy misstatement. Instead of actual criticisms, the field has resorted to
horseshit myths like the famed-but-nonexistent Obama "Apology Tour."
Politico's Josh Gerstein points out that Gaddafi's downfall exposes some of the policy contradictions within the GOP field.
The fact that some in the GOP criticized Obama for leading from behind while others said he is too quick to send U.S. troops abroad suggests a growing lack of foreign policy consensus within the Republican Party, one Democratic foreign policy analyst said.
“The Republican Party right now has attacked both its ‘neo-con’ elite and its ‘traditional-con’ elite,” said Heather Hurlburt of the National Security Network. “They sort of don’t know what they think. They don’t listen to their own people…they just don’t have a coherent worldview.”
Third, I suspect that it doesn't matter all that much, and the GOP presidential candidates know it. Herman Cain has managed to vault to co-frontrunner status despite truly astounding levels of ignorance of foreign policy. There's a reason for that -- GOP voters don't care about foreign policy and the president is increasingly unpopular despite his foreign policy prowess.
Fourth, the president's foreign policy approach hasn't been perfect. He's botched the tactics of the Israel/Palestine peace process, hasn't earned all that much from his "reset" with Russia, is pretty damn unpopular in the Middle East, and was slow to realize that his own personal popularity abroad wouldn't translate into concrete policy accomplishments in, say, the G-20 or the U.N. Security Council. Admittedly, the GOP candidates will simplify this into "Israel!! ISRAEL!! ISRAEL!!!!" but Obama is hardly immune to criticism.
Finally, the one thing I wonder is whether the president will be able to use his foreign policy prowess on the campaign trail. I could see Obama articulating some variant of the following in 2012:
As president, I have to address both domestic policy and foreign policy. Because of the way that the commander-in-chief role has evolved, I have far fewer political constraints on foreign policy action than domestic policy action. So let's think about this for a second. On the foreign stage, America's standing has returned from its post-Iraq low. Al Qaeda is now a shell of its former self. Liberalizing forces are making uneven but forward progress in North Africa. Muammar Gaddafi's regime is no longer, without one American casualty. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are winding down. Every country in the Pacific Rim without a Communist Party running things is trying to hug us closer.
Imagine what I could accomplish in domestic policy without the kind of obstructionism and filibustering that we're seeing in Congress -- which happens to be even more unpopular than I am, by the way. I'm not talking about the GOP abjectly surrendering, mind you, just doing routine things like sublecting my nominees to a floor vote in the Senate. I've achieved significant foreign policy successes while still cooperating with our allies in NATO and Northeast Asia. Just imagine what I could get done if the Republicans were as willing to compromise as, say, France.
Mary Carmichael has a fascinating story in the Boston Globe on how many American universities, which were so keen to create ocerseas satellite campuses, are now retrenching. The disturbing part of the story is the "monkey see, monkey do" nature of the international expansions of the past decade:
Over the last decade, universities spurred by dreams of global cachet - and, sometimes, by foreign governments eager to underwrite them - built or rented whole campuses and offered Western-style education abroad. But now some schools are running out of cash as they struggle to attract enough students and develop a viable business model....
From 2006 to 2009, the roster of international branch campuses grew by 43 percent, according to the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, a British research firm. Qatar drew an all-star list, including Cornell, Georgetown, Northwestern, and Carnegie Mellon. By 2009, the United Arab Emirates had 40 international branches.
Middle-ranking colleges felt pressure to compete, even though some could not get foreign governments to pay their bills. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, went to Singapore. City University of Seattle went to Switzerland. Troy, a public university in Alabama, founded 14 global branches.
“Some American campuses went into it wanting to make money,’’ said Phillip Altbach, director of the Boston College Center for International Higher Education. “But many of them got into it for prestige, planting the flag overseas, a presidential feeling that they needed to be doing adventurous things.’’
Not everyone shared that vision. Harvard, for instance, has not founded any international branch campuses recently. Neither did MIT nor Tufts University.
“Every time I looked at one of these deals I said, ‘No, I don’t think so,’ ’’ said Lawrence Bacow, who has been a high-ranking administrator at all three schools. “Philosophically, I think there’s an important role for higher ed to play in the developing world, but it’s not to create knockoffs of what we do here.’’
1) Go, Jumbos!! In your face, rest of higher education outside of the Boston area!!!
2) The logic of expanding overseas because of "prestige, planting the flag overseas, a presidential feeling that they needed to be doing adventurous things" is a depressing data point about the ways in which the academy can be slaves to
intellectual and business trends.
3) To be fair, I'm not sure this story tells the whole, er, story. There's no mention of the how the 2008 financial crisis and Great Recession might have affected the viability of these expansion plans. There's also nothing on the spread of distance learning. Fletcher's Global Masters of Arts Program, for example, combines a few intensive weeks of on-location education with a lot of online interaction. So although the tenor of this story is about the retrenchment of American universities, there are compensating trends that are still pushing American universities into the global marketplace.
4) Carmichael notes that one reason for retrenchment has been the difficulty of maintaining the quality of academic standards abroad. This is encouraging yet still modestly surprising. Why hasn't an American university gone the "f**k it, let's become a diploma mill" route as a way of making money? Why hasn't any university done this?
I suspect this might be one powerful virtue of the university degree functioning as a credential, but I'm curious to hear thoughts about this in the comments.
5) I'm thinking that Suffolk University's PR people can't be pleased with this kicker to the story:
At the end of last semester, Suffolk finally abandoned Dakar. It did not, however, abandon its students. Almost all have transferred to Boston under a special deal that charges them $10,000 in tuition, the same they paid when attending the Dakar branch and about one-third what their classmates pay. Suffolk foots the rest.
The students are adapting, though it is not easy. They dread winter and think the city’s buildings all look the same: impersonal. Some of their classmates have asked well-meaning but ignorant questions. Did they grow up living in trees? Isn’t Africa a great country? (emphasis added)
As I noted previously, compared to his GOP rivals, Mitt Romney has some actual foreign policy thinking going on. On the other hand, as Dan Trombly points out, doing better than Herman Cain or Rick Perry is a really low bar. So, looked at objectively, what's my assessment of Romney's foreign policy white paper?
I could go through it line by line, but James Joyner already did that for The Atlantic. As it turns out, I'm reaching a course called The Art and Science of Statecraft that will require students to write a grand strategy document. Sooo.... if Mitt Romney was one of my students, how would I grade him? See below:
You and your study team have clearly put a lot of work into "An American Century." It's cogently written and organized. Your basic statement of purpose -- "advance an international system that is congenial to the institutions of open markets, representative government, and respect for human rights (p. 7)" -- fits perfectly within the mainstream of American foreign policy thinking. You've done an excellent job of demonstrating an awareness of the complexity of threats that face the United States in the 21st century. I liked it on p. 6 when you noted that:
In the highly dynamic realm of national security and foreign policy there are seldom easy answers. Discrete circumstances in disparate regions of the world demand different kinds of approaches. There is no silver bullet for the problem of securing the United States and protecting our interests around the world.
You've also demonstrated an appropriate awareness that American power rests on more than a strong military. When you note that a Romney administration would "apply the full spectrum of hard and soft power to influence events before they erupt into conflict (p. 8)," I caught myself nodding along.
Some of the details are intriguing as well. I need to look more into these "Reagan economic zones" that you mention a lot, but applying them to Latin America and the Pacific Rim make a great deal of strategic and economic sense. I'm not fully persuaded that your notion of creating regional envoys to organize all "soft power resources" is all that different from the foreign policy czars or special envoys of administrations past, but this kind of argument fits well with your management background.
That said, there are some logical flaws and major gaps in this draft that will have to be corrected if you want to earn a better grade. The first problem is the style. I recognize that you've written this as a campaign document, so you're never going to completely eliminate the
unadulterated horsheshit allegations about the current president going on an apology tour. Maybe you could do it a bit more subtly in the future, however?
Secondly, there's a lack of historical awareness in some parts of the document. For example, on page 7 the paper says:
[A] Romney foreign policy will proceed with clarity and resolve. The United States will clearly enunciate its interests and values. Our friends and allies will not have doubts about where we stand and what we will do to safeguard our interests and theirs; neither will our rivals, competitors, and adversaries.
Now, reading this, I kept thinking back to the Bush administration and its repeated assetions that that there would be no hypocrisy in foreign affairs. Much like Bush, reality turned out to be trickier. I suspect you know this, from the other excerpts noted earlier. So get rid of this fluff: I'm sure statements like this play well in a management consulting boardroom, but it's not going to cut it in the real world.
Similarly, for someone who says that, the Obama administration is "undermining one’s allies (p. 3)" in contrast to you, who will "reassure our allies (p. 13)", you don't actually talk about America's treaty allies much at all. True, you do talk about expanding America's alliance system to include India and Indonesia. Mexico gets some face time. Israel gets a lot of face time. On the other hand, NATO is not mentioned once in this entire document. Neither is the European Union. Japan and South Korea get perfunctory treamtment at best. Turkey is a major treaty ally but you treat it like a pariah state. For someone who's claiming that the U.S. will reassure its major allies, you didn't seem to give them much attention at all. This is a really important problem, because Japan and Europe have been crucial allies in a lot of major American initiatives -- and they're getting weaker. Even in discussing new possible allies, I'm kind of gobsmacked that Brazil is never mentioned.
Another big problem is that your approach to China is so shot full of contradictions that I don't know where to begin. Do you seriously believe what you wrote on p. 3:
The easiest way... to become embroiled in a clash with China over Taiwan, or because of China’s ambitions in the South or East China Seas, will be to leave Beijing in doubt about the depth of our commitment to longstanding allies in the region.
Really? See, I'd say the easiest way to get embroiled in a clash with China is to write Taiwan a blank check on their defense needs. The second easiest would be to publicly bluster on about Taiwan to a Chinese leadership that feels increasingly insecure and will be tempted to stoke the fires of Chinese nationalism by creating another Quemoy and Matsu crisis.
Furthermore, you talk explicitly about supplying Taiwan with "adequate aircraft and other military platforms (p. 18)" in supposed contrast to the Obama administration. You also talk about strengthening relationships with other countries that neighbor China in an effort to preserve American dominance. Now, this might be a bit provocative, but I get the rationale. Here's the thing, though -- you can't simultaneously do this and assert that you will "work to persuade China to commit to North Korea’s disarmament (p. 29)." Really? How exactly are you gonna persuade them on this point? Do you really think that arming Taiwan to the teeth and blasting its human rights record will do the trick?
If the section on China is contradictory, then your discussion of Pakistan is worse. You state on p. 31-32:
It is in the interests of all three nations to see that Afghanistan and the Afghanistan/ Pakistan border region are rid of the Taliban and other insurgent groups.... Pakistan should understand that any connection between insurgent forces and Pakistan’s security and intelligence forces must be severed. The United States enjoys significant leverage over both of these nations. We should not be shy about using it.
There are at least two assertions in the quoted section that are highly dubious -- I'll let you find them on your own.
One final point, should you choose to revise this draft strategy -- you need to prioritize the threats you discuss in the paper. You list a whole bunch of them -- rising authoritarian states, transnational violence, failing states, and rogue states. If you have to prioritize, which threats merit greater attention? This should actually be pretty easy, since you absurdly overhype the threats posed by some of these countries (Venezuela, Cuba and Russia in particular).
I look forward to reviewing your later work.
I was fortunate enough to give a talk at my alma mater over the weekend and chat informally with some of the political science undergraduates
over some food from an Indian restaurant that didn't exist when I was in school and I can't believe how much greater their range of ethnic food choices are than when I was in school and their life is great and college life was much tougher back in my day while we broke bread. Inevitably, the question of Occupy Wall Street came up and whether it would go anywhere.
Now, in many ways, this phenomenon has many of the features of networked movements that have been at the center of The Slaughter-Drezner Debates (although in this case Slaughter seems a bit more disdainful of the movement's potential). If you read here or here or here, you'll see all the advantages of a networked structure outlined in painstaking detail. This ragtag group of rebels has managed to get coverage on The Daily Show, generate associated online movements like the "We Are the 99%" Tumblr, generate headlines through mass arrests over the weekend, and inspire similar movements in other cities.
So … what did I say to these impressionable young adults?
I said two things. First, I said the moment was ripe for this kind of movement. You have an ample supply of network technologies to start a movement, and rising economic inequality to create the necessary social purpose for such a movement. Indeed, the surprising thing about Occupy Wall Street isn't that it's happening -- it's that it took three years for it to happen.
The other thing I said was that for this group to generate more than a thousand people or so out in the streets, however, their message has to resonate culturally with people who would otherwise not want to go out onto the streets. And here's where I start to be a bit more skeptical. I'm not sure the latest manifesto is really cogent enough -- beyond a rejection of corporations as we know them -- to generate much sympathy with broad swaths of the American people. And, as I've said before, unless you attract people who vote, this kind of thing will generate news coverage and not much else.
Could they attract a larger crowd? After reading Time's Nate Rawlings, I'm skeptical:
While "Occupy Wall Street" has become more organized, its demands haven't coalesced into a coherent message. The only thing its various constituent groups appear to have in common is a deep-seated anger at inequality in this country. For them Wall Street symbolizes that unfairness, but the groups have other concerns as well. Many want to redistribute wealth; others want to enlarge government social programs. Some are protesting against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Daniel Levine, a journalism student from upstate New York, said he was taking a stand against the controversial method of natural gas extraction known as hydrofracking in his hometown – but also noted that the practice can bring jobs to economically disadvantaged regions.
Just as it lacks a single message, the "Occupy Wall Street" movement has been defined by the absence of a clear leader. Participants say that is by design, and point to the committees that have sprung up to tend to the daily needs of those camped in Zuccotti Park. It isn't clear that they want a single leader, and many think the movement is better of[f] without one. “It's kind of cool how it's growing organically,” one said. “People just need to give it time and it'll come together.”
Maybe, over time, that will happen. There's a political paradox, however, that Occupy Wall Street faces. Without clear and coherent demands, there will be little to inspire ordinary citizens to take to the streets. Articulating clear and coherent demands, however, will destroy the very gestalt that the people currently on the streets seem to like some much.
Still, unions have started to come out in support of this movement. The U.S. economy is in a bad way, and the festering eurocrisis could make it really bad. So maybe external conditions will eliminate this paradox for the protesters.
So that's what I think. What do you think?
Nicholas Kulish has a New York Times front-pager on the rise of networked protest movements in consolidated democracies like India, Israel, and Greece. I hereby officially accuse Anne-Marie Slaughter of hacking into the NYT website and writing these paragraphs:
Increasingly, citizens of all ages, but particularly the young, are rejecting conventional structures like parties and trade unions in favor of a less hierarchical, more participatory system modeled in many ways on the culture of the Web.
In that sense, the protest movements in democracies are not altogether unlike those that have rocked authoritarian governments this year, toppling longtime leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Protesters have created their own political space online that is chilly, sometimes openly hostile, toward traditional institutions of the elite.
The critical mass of wiki and mapping tools, video and social networking sites, the communal news wire of Twitter and the ease of donations afforded by sites like PayPal makes coalitions of like-minded individuals instantly viable.
“You’re looking at a generation of 20- and 30-year-olds who are used to self-organizing,” said Yochai Benkler, a director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. “They believe life can be more participatory, more decentralized, less dependent on the traditional models of organization, either in the state or the big company. Those were the dominant ways of doing things in the industrial economy, and they aren’t anymore.”
Yonatan Levi, 26, called the tent cities that sprang up in Israel “a beautiful anarchy.” There were leaderless discussion circles like Internet chat rooms, governed, he said, by “emoticon” hand gestures like crossed forearms to signal disagreement with the latest speaker, hands held up and wiggling in the air for agreement — the same hand signs used in public assemblies in Spain. There were free lessons and food, based on the Internet conviction that everything should be available without charge.
As a social scientist, I must acknowledge that this is a powerful prima facie data point in favor of Slaughter.
And yet, it's worth pushing the NYT thesis a bit. What happens when the coalition of like-minded individuals stop being of like mind? These sorts of protests can be very powerful on single-issue questions where a single policy change is desired. Maintaining this level of activism to affect the ongoing quotidian grubbiness of politics, however, is a far more difficult undertaking. Even if people can be mobilized behind the concept of "Policy X is Stupid!" getting the same consensus on "Policy Y is the Answer!" is harder. Over time, these kind of mass movements have an excellent chance of withering away or fracturing from within. See, for example, the Tahrir Square movement in Egypt.
Another thing, and this is important: unless the people in these movements actually vote in elections, then their agenda will be thwarted in the long run. Even if these kinds of networked movements are new, the political imperative to get elected and re-elected is not. If they don't vote, then officials have a pretty powerful incentive to curry favor with the people who do vote, don't take to the streets and
don't like these young whippersnappers with their interwebs have different policy preferences.
This gets to a point that I have been
fumbling trying to make in the Great and All Powerful Slaughter-Drezner Debate: that at times we might be debating past each other because we have different time horizons. Anne-Marie can point to networked social movements that have an immediate impact on conventional politics. For foreign policymakers, the here and now is what matters. What I want to see is whether these movements can sustain themselves over time. For international relations theorists, the persistence of trends matters too.
Over at CFR, James Lindsay pushes back on my previous GOP debate post on the general worlthlessness of foreign policy campaign promises:
Dan’s argument would be more persuasive if his example [of Bush not honoring his campaign promise of a humble foreign policy] proved his point. It doesn’t. Candidate Bush said he didn’t like nation building, and President Bush tried to avoid doing it in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s one of the reasons both occupations went badly. Beyond that, Bush carried through on much of what he said during the 2000 campaign. He didn’t like the ABM treaty, so he withdrew the United States from it. He thought that the Clinton missile defense program was inadequate, so he ordered the construction of a more robust one. He expressed skepticism of treaties and international insititutions, said he intended to provide firm American leadership, and vowed that the U.S. military’s true mission was “to fight and win war.” Sound familiar? September 11 changed Bush’s foreign policy agenda, but it didn’t change the core of his worldview.
None of this is to say that campaign speeches and debates tell you everything you might like to know about a candidate’s foreign policy views. No debate question or stump speech can ever anticipate all the situations a president will face. Dan is certainly right that presidential candidates sometimes say things about foreign policy that they have no intention of doing, as looks to have been the case with Obama’s 2008 pledge to renegotiate NAFTA. And Dan is equally right that presidents sometimes repudiate the foreign policy promises they make on the campaign trail, as Bill Clinton famously did with his opposition to favored-nation-trading status for China and Barack Obama did on Guantánamo Bay. (Though both presidents reversed themselves only after they tried and failed to implement their campaign pledges.)
But campaign speeches and debates do provide insight into how candidates think about issues.
Lindsay's point is well taken: candidates do say things that they wind up doing as president. My original point was intended to be narrower than that -- presidents do not get politically damaged by reneging on foreign policy campaign promises the same way they do if they renege on domestic policy promises. But as a rough guideline to a candidates' assumptions and style of foreign policy thinking, campaign speeches, essays, and yes, even debate responses can be useful.
Which is why, if I could ask one question at tonight's debate, I'd like to ask each of the candidates exactly how their religious devotion guides their foreign policy thinking. Oh, hell, let's be more specific -- I'd like to ask Rick Perry exactly how, as president, his statement that, "as a Christian [I] have a clear directive to support Israel" will affect his direction of the nondenominational blood and treasure of the U.S. government in the Middle East.
This is important. Walter Russell Mead recently blogged that "the Christianists haven't got a prayer" in reasserting their former prominence in American society, and he's by and large he's correct in that assumption. In terms of foreign policy, however, Perry's language was something new in the post-9/11 world. Slate's William Saletan explains why:
Whoa. That's something George W. Bush never did. Bush never said he had a Christian duty to stand with Israel, because to say such a thing would have been stupid and dangerous. By framing U.S. foreign policy in terms of a religious alliance between Christians and Jews, Perry is validating the propaganda of Islamic extremists. He's jeopardizing peace, Israel, and the United States.
Bush understood that the terrorists who struck us on 9/11 wanted a religious war. The key to defeating them wasn't to wage that war, but to refuse it. That's why Bush constantly praised Islam, emphasized American freedom of religion, and dismissed Osama Bin Laden as a renegade killer of Muslims....
Go back and look at Bush's comments about Israel. In eight years, he never mentioned his Christianity as a basis for his policies there. He defended Israel as a democracy and an ally. When he mentioned Judaism and Christianity in this context, he always included Islam. "The Middle East is the birthplace of three great religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam," Bush said in a speech to the American Jewish Committee a few months before 9/11. "Lasting peace in the region must respect the rights of believers in all these faiths." In 2007, Bush told Al Arabiya: "I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God. … I believe that Islam is a great religion that preaches peace." Again and again, Bush affirmed: "If you're a Jew or a Christian or a Muslim, you're equally American."
Perry has trashed this legacy. By declaring that "as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel," he has vindicated Bin Laden's narrative.
If the next president's religious vision is going to be his primary source of guidance for conducting foreign policy in the Middle East, yeah, that's something I'd like to know sooner rather than later.
As part of an ongoing debate that will decide upon The Future Of International Relations in Thought And Deed Once And For All, Anne-Marie Slaughter asks me a question:
Given [the reality that new Arab Spring regimes are likely to be less friendly to U.S. interests], why aren't scholars and commentators like my friendly foil Dan Drezner not actively recommending that we simply tell the Syrian government that it can do whatever it likes to its people, as Joshua Foust, Dan Trombly and their fellow defenders of absolute sovereignty insist is the right of all sovereign governments? Why didn't we encourage the Egyptian military to fire on the protesters in Tahrir Square, keep Mubarak in power, and enforce a transition to his son? North Korea's Kim Il-sung managed such a transition to Kim Jong-il, who looks set to do the same to Kim Jong-un. If states are what matter in the world, then why not do everything we can to encourage the continuation of governments that are friendly to our interests, regardless of what happens within their borders?
Well, there's a few answers to give here. The first is to read what I actually wrote about U.S. policy towards the Assad regime. The difference, you will find, is that Slaughter has a higher opinion of America's ability to direct change on the ground than I do. Consistent with what I've written in the past, U.S. influence will work better on allies than adversaries, and Syria falls under the adversary category
The second point is that realists don't deny the possibility of revolution from below -- and, indeed, that's what seemed to happen in Tunisia and Egypt. When that happens, there is a tactical benefit to being on the right side of history. It's worth recalling that with Egypt, for example, U.S. official statements evolved from "the Egyptian Government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people" to "I hope Mubarak ... is going to respond to some of the legitimate concerns that are being raised" to "Yay! He's gone!!" A similar process happened with Syria.
The third, obvious point is that the United States has been perfectly willing to stand on the sidelines in the face of brutal crackdowns in Bahrain and other Persian Gulf states. This is because those states are strategically important, the status quo favored American interests, and the crackdowns were effective.
I say this not as a cheerleader of this policy, nor as a detractor, but simply as an observer. I'd also observe that the United States is hardly alone in engaging in this kind of hypocrisy. Iran condemned the crackdown in Bahrain while staying mum about the unrest next door in Syria, blasting the NATO intervention in Libya, and gleefully repressing its own internal protests. Saudi Arabia opposed the overthrow of Mubarak but supported the Libya intervention. Only Israel has been consistent.... in saying that they don't like this whole popular uprising thing one little bit. So, in other words, theocracies, autocracies, and democracies are all acting primarily to advance their interests whenever they can, and their values when they
can have the luxury to do so.
Fourth, I think Slaughter is suffering from a levels of analysis problem. Even the most structural of structural realists recognize that there's a difference between an individual country's foreign policy and the international system -- and I'm not much of a structuralist. In Anne-Marie's writings on this subject, she's shuttling between discussions of the best way to describe the changing international system and what American foreign policy should look like in the near term. Those two topics are related but not exactly the same. A good international relations theory can guide foreign policy actions, but it will always be an incomplete. There's simply too many variables that can be dismissed away as "random variation" at the systemic level but matter a lot at the national level.
I encourage my readers to peruse the rest of Anne-Marie's post on the changing international system, and whether you agree with her
army of metaphors characterizations. It raises much larger questions that will require further contemplation. Fortunately, I have a 12-hour flight in my immediate future.
What do you think?
As the 20-hour assault by Taliban insurgents on Kabul's diplomatic and military enclave drew to a close on Wednesday, insurgents and coalition forces decided to prolong the battle the modern way: on Twitter.
If the continued insurgency in Afghanistan represents a failure of dialogue, the spat between the Taliban and the press office of the international security assistance force (Isaf) on Wednesday proved that they are ready to exchange words directly, even if their comments offered little hope of peace being forged anytime soon.
The argument began when @ISAFmedia, which generally provides dry updates in military speak of the security situation in Afghanistan, took exception to comments from a Taliban spokesman, tweeting: "Re: Taliban spox on #Kabul attack: the outcome is inevitable. Question is how much longer will terrorist put innocent Afghans in harm's way?"
The Taliban – who, when in power, eschewed most modern technology, including television and music players – decided to point the finger of blame back at the international forces for endangering Afghan civilians. Showing an affinity with textspeak, Taliban tweeter Abdulqahar Balk (@ABalkhi) wrote: "@ISAFmedia i dnt knw.u hve bn pttng thm n 'harm's way' fr da pst 10 yrs.Razd whole vllgs n mrkts.n stil hv da nrve to tlk bout 'harm's way'"
@ISAFmedia was moved to respond by providing statistical backing for its case. "Really, @abalkhi? Unama reported 80% of civilians causalities are caused by insurgent (your) activities http://goo.gl/FylwU"
But @ABalkhi questioned the value of the quoted statistics, pointing outin somewhat sarcastic tones that Isaf, an organisation established by the UN security council, was using figures from another UN body (the UN assistance mission in Afghanistan) to try to win the argument: "@ISAFmedia Unama is an entity of whom? mine or yours?"
Naturally, this led to many Twitter responses. Counterterrorism expert Daveed Gartenstein-Ross got off the best quip: "And then... ISAF and the Taliban unfollowed each other."
OK, seriously, what is the takeaway from this sort of exchange? Is this kind of interaction a uniquely 21st century form of statecraft, or just old wine in new, snarker bottles?
It's very tempting to roll one's eyes and say that we've seen this sort of thing before. CNAS' Andrew Exum argues that this exchange is similar to the "cross-trench trash-talking" of the Spanish Civil War. Which would be true... if the majority of the rest of the world had the option of witnessing the trash-talking in real time.
No, this is something different, something that I suspect is activating Anne-Marie Slaughter's sixth sense of detecting "modern social-liberal" trends. And as more and more international affairs heavyweights go on Twitter, it might be a harbinger of a whole new arena of the world politics sandbox.
What I'm not sure is whether this kind of Twitter exchange is terrifically meaningful. As the Guardian story observes, it came about in response to real-world events in Kabul, so in some ways the Twitter engagement between public spokespeple is simply an extension of traditional global public relations. PR has been a part of world politics since the days of E.H. Carr, so I'm not sure this is really all that new and different.
That said, I'll close with two questions for which I do not have easy answers. The first is whether this kind of engagement on Twitter is a legitimating act or not. Does ISAF, by engaging the Taliban on Twitter, elevate the latter group somehow in the global public sphere? This was an argument that the Bush administration used to make for why it would not negotiate with Iran or North Korea. The Bushies posited that the very act of sitting down to talk with these odious regimes conferred legitimacy on them that they otherwise would not have earned. That was a somewhat dubious proposition when dealing with governments of sovereign states. What about non-state actors, however? What about cranks on Twitter? I'm not sure.
The second question is.... is it even possible to win at Twitter fight club? In an exchange with Exum, former debate champion Gartenstein-Ross made an trenchant point about online debate:
[I]t’s generally hard to win a name-calling contest. If I call someone an America-hating pinko, they can fire back that I’m a right-wing tool of the military industrial complex. Those two insults seem essentially to cancel each other out: why give someone an area that can end up a draw if I believe that I can prove all of my other arguments to be correct? Second, I find that if I’m civil, I can actually (sometimes) persuade people I’m arguing against that they’re wrong about an issue. In contrast, if I begin a debate by insulting someone, it only further entrenches him in his initial position, thus making it more difficult to talk sense into him.
Twitter tends to bring out the
ass snark in me, and I suspect I'm not the only one, so I wonder if, in the end, Twitter exchanges in world politics will all wind up as stalemates (unless either Dave Weigel or Keith Law take an interest in international relations). That said, the ISAF/Taliban exchange did seem pretty civil by Twitter standards -- so maybe PR professionals will live up to Gartenstein-Ross' standards.
What do you think?
As the economy has been weakening, the odds of the GOP producing the president of the United States in 2013 has been increasing, which means I've been watching the debates, including last night's CNN Tea Party debate.
Last night's debate followed the same pattern as the other ones I've seen -- the ratio of domestic policy to foreign policy questions was about 80:20 -- maybe 70:30 if one considers immigration to be a foreign-policy question. International political economy is barely addressed at all, except in glancing references to China's ownership of U.S. debt. My Twitter feed has been overflowing with laments like this one during all of the debates.
Now, as a Foreign Policy Wonk in Good Standing, you might imagine that I'm pretty upset about this. International relations is half the job of being POTUS, after all, so one would expect half the debate time to be devoted to it. Goodness knows, the performance of some of the GOP candidates has given me serious pause about their ability to execute even a semi-competent foreign policy.
In truth, however, I can't get all that worked up about it, for two reasons. The first is that these debates are an attempt to influence voters -- and, to repeat a theme, the overwhelming majority of voters do not care about foreign affairs. This has been true as a general rule, even during wartime, and is even truer during a down economy. It should be noted that social policy questions have also been on the margins during these debates because this election is about the economy, the economy, and the economy. Foreign-policy wonks will begrudge the lack of globotalk -- that's what we do. I'm not going to begrudge the American people getting more time to hear candidates talk about issues that they think are the most important, however.
The second reason -- and this is more informed speculation than a statement of fact -- is that foreign-policy promises made during campaigns don't matter as much for governing as domestic policy promises. As Ron Paul reminded people last night, George W. Bush won the presidency in 2000 on a platform of "no authority in the Constitution to be the policeman of the world, and no nation-building." I think it's safe to say that's not how he ran his foreign policy.
Similarly, think back to Barack Obama's foreign-policy pledges during the 2008 primary season. He had two highlights. The first was a statement that he'd be happy to sit down without conditions and meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That hasn't happened despite Ahmadinejad's repeated entreaties for an open debate. Obama's other highlight came when he and Hillary Clinton sparred over who would renegotiate NAFTA first. Again … that hasn't happened (and thank goodness for that).
I could go on -- Bill Clinton reversed his campaign pledge to let in Haitian refugees before he even took office. You get the point, however. Stepping back, it's hard to think of any significant foreign-policy campaign promises made in the modern era that actually mattered. I hereby challenge the commenters -- and BA and MA students desperately in search of a thesis -- to provide counterexamples.
To be clear, I'm not saying that foreign-policy issues are completely irrelevant. The contrast between Obama and Hillary Clinton on Iraq clearly affected the 2008 primary, for example. I'm hypothesizing that pronouncements about future foreign policy don't seem to matter. I suspect that this is for two reasons. First, as previously noted, voters don't care about these pledges all that much. Second, the world keeps changing, and so any new president needs to adapt to new circumstances.
In contrast, domestic policy promises made during campaigns do matter. Signal statements -- Obama on health care, Bush 43 on tax cuts -- mattered in the execution of policy. The most famous counterexample -- Bush 41 going back on his no-new-tax pledge -- proves the rule, as it cost him dearly. So what candidates say during these portions of the debates matters more.
Just to be clear, these are hypotheses and not conclusions. A cursory scan of the literature didn't turn up anything, but I'm betting someone has studied this question. I'm not sure I'm right here, and I'd welcome pushback or confirmation in the comments.
What do you think?
Your humble blogger went to see Contagion over the weekend for two reasons. First, Slate movie critic Forrest Wickman concluded his review by calling it, "the most believable zombie movie ever made." He's not the only one to make the zombie connection, and well, now I've got some skin in that game. Second, the FP editors have asked me to review other disaster scenarios, so I figured I'd just pre-empt their request and join the legions of moviegoers who
get their ya-yas seeing Gwyneth Paltrow die on film be entertained.
So, let me provide the MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT klaxon here and get to the assessment. How well did Steven Soderbergh and company portray what would happen if a lethal pandemic were to break out?
OK, good news first: in terms of both accuracy and suspense, Contagion is a far, far better film than, say, either Outbreak or The Andromeda Strain. The first reason is that Soderbergh does not bother with the anti-government paranoia that those earlier films possessed in their DNA. Instead, the treatment of the Centers for Disease Control, Department of Homeland Security, and World Health Organization officials is fair. They are depicted as flawed but well-meaning bureaucrats, getting some decisions right and some wrong. They also speak in jargon, a surprising amount of which makes its way into the film. I fully expect to see the term "R-0" bandied about by news anchors the next time a flu bug breaks out. A CDC official utters the two most chilling words in the entire movie -- "social distancing" -- to describe the necessary freak-out by citizens to avoid human contact with other humans as a way of slowing the spread of the virus. That's the perfect dash of bureaucratese.
The second reason is that Soderbergh almost perfectly nails the first stage of the pandemic. Unlike, say, most zombie or other apocalyptic films, Soderbergh doesn't get to the breakdown of social order in the first reel. He takes his time, which helps to amp up the pressure and make it seem all the scarier when things do seem to break down (Matt Damon's character is the perfect vessel here; Damon's best work is in his reaction shots to other people behaving badly). He also deftly demonstrates in the first ten minutes how globalization would abet the spread of any kind of superbug.
Despite this slow ratcheting up, I haven't seen a director kill off so many Hollywood starlets since Joss Whedon.
The third reason is that the movie, intriguingly enough, does not end in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Consistent with the arguments I made in Theories of International Politics and Zombies, humans prove to be just as adaptable as the biological threats to humans.
That said, here are my beefs:
1) Really, the blogger is the Big Bad in the movie? Really? The villian of the piece is Jude Law's crudely-named Alan Krumwiede, who detects the spread of the virus early but hawks a homeopathic remedy to enrich himself. Exactly how he gets rich doing this is not entirely clear -- he has some shady meetings with a hedge fund manager, but it's not entirely clear why, after gaining fame and fortune, he doesn't start acting differently as more attention gets paid to him. It's also presumed that Krumwiede has the monopoly of blogging on the issue -- I'm pretty sure that as he gained popularity, a few other health bloggers would try to cut him down to size.
Neither Soderbergh nor his screenwriter Scott Z. Burns like bloggers, like, at all. At one point the virologist played by Elliott Gould tells Krumwiede, "Blogging is not writing. It's graffiti with punctuation." Hah! That shows what Soderbregh knows -- us bloggers are lucky if we remember to use commas, much less semicolons.
Look, as a founding member of the International Brotherhood of Policy Bloggers, I can't claim that actors like Krumwiede don't exist. My skepticism is over whether they'd really wreak as much havoc as Soderbergh thinks. Myths and rumors can spread on the Internet, but so can the corrections of those myths. In the end, someone like Krumwiede would affect a very narrow, already paranoid subculture -- the larger effect would be minimal.
Even if Krumwiede is an absurd villain, I also didn't buy it when the DHS official let him go free once he made bail. At a minimum, they'd hold this guy for 48 hours without charging. I'd also wager that they'd try to deport him too.
One final note: I'd love to see Lee Siegel hire Sodebergh to direct and Aaron Sorkin to write a movie about the Internet, just to see the final dystopic product.
2) Where the hell is the Chinese central government? The most absurd subplot is when a WHO official gets abducted by her translator as collateral to protect his infected village. She's held hostage for at least six months -- during which time she goes native -- until the WHO barters some (fake) vaccine for her life.
Apparently during this entire time, the Chinese central government does not bother to intervene to try to rescue her. This seems juuuuuuust a bit implausible. It also leads to the next problem....
3) Where the hell is the rest of the WHO? Beyond Marion Cotillard's character, the WHO does not really appear in the film. It's the CDC's show, and only their show . They act in Contagion pretty much how they promised they would act if the zombies arrive. Maybe that's how things would play out, but I suspect other governments and IGOs would still matter more than this film suggests. Given that the movie virus started in China, and that the head of the WHO is also from China, they might be useful in this kind of situation.
4) Few second-order effects. The virus leads to looting, crime, and other social ills, but I wish they had said something about the total economic devastation that would have occurred. At one point after a vaccine has been developed, Matt Damon's character walks through a mall to buy his daughter a prom dress -- and 80% of the mall looks to be closed. Soderbergh suggests a bunch of unions going on strike because they don't want to ge sick. I'm curious what happens once they find themselves unemployed as well.
Forget the domestic discord however, there's also...
5) No international conflict whatsoever. After the first 15 minutes, almost all of the action takes place in the USA. Once a vaccine is discovered, there is no discussion of the international wrangling that would take place over scarce supplies. No diversionary wars happen. And so forth. Soderbergh doesn't really address possible problems in world politics. Because of this, the film implicitly assumes a liberal institutionalis kind of a world. I hope he's right, but I'm not so sure myself.
To be fair to Soderbergh and his collaborators, I'm not sure it's possible to get everything right in such a film. Unless it's a television series I'm not sure it's possible to get all the nuances and complexities right. Given these limitations, Contagion is a movie worth seeing. Just bring your own Purell.
Omer Taspinar provides a hard-headed analysis for why Israel refused to apologize to Turkey for the flotilla folderol despite the strategic costs:
At the end of the day Israel decided not to apologize not because of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s stubbornness or Benjamin Netanyahu’s difficult domestic situation and sliding popularity. To be sure, factors related to domestic politics and the need to save face played a certain role. Yet, the real reason behind Israeli behavior is very simple. Tel Aviv decided that the apology would not solve problems with Turkey. According to the strategic assessment in Israel, it seemed that the relationship with Turkey was broken beyond repair. An apology would have allowed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an to declare victory without really changing the structural flaws that have emerged in the bilateral partnership since 2006. The fact that Turkey was not only demanding an apology and compensation but also an end to the embargo over Gaza is very telling for the Israelis. This showed that normalization with Turkey was almost impossible as long as the Turkish government indexed its relations with Tel Aviv not just to bilateral factors but also to the Palestinian question. In that sense, from the Israeli perspective, Turkey set the bar too high. As a result, the Netanyahu government came to the conclusion that, even in the aftermath of an apology that would have been quite costly in terms of Israeli domestic politics, there was no return to the golden age of Turkish-Israeli strategic relations in the 1990s.
This sounds about right -- Netanyashu believes that Israel has no permanent friends, only permanent preferences.
This should be kept in the back of the mind when reading Jeffrey Goldberg's
signal flare to the Israeli security establishment article on the extent to which Netanyahu has pissed off everyone in the Obama administration:
In a meeting of the National Security Council Principals Committee held not long before his retirement this summer, Gates coldly laid out the many steps the administration has taken to guarantee Israel’s security -- access to top- quality weapons, assistance developing missile-defense systems, high-level intelligence sharing -- and then stated bluntly that the U.S. has received nothing in return, particularly with regard to the peace process.
Senior administration officials told me that Gates argued to the president directly that Netanyahu is not only ungrateful, but also endangering his country by refusing to grapple with Israel’s growing isolation and with the demographic challenges it faces if it keeps control of the West Bank. According to these sources, Gates’s analysis met with no resistance from other members of the committee....
Gates’s feelings about Netanyahu are particularly consequential, in part because he’s not considered hostile to Israel, and in part because he’s a well-regarded figure who articulated bluntly what so many people in the administration seem to believe. Gates declined to comment for this column through his former spokesman, Geoff Morrell. But Morrell told me that Gates “worked extremely hard throughout his four and half years as secretary of defense to address Israel’s security concerns.”
OK, here's the thing, however -- as Goldberg himself demonstrates, the Obama administration has continued to carry a lot of water for Israel at the United Nations and elsewhere, despite being so cheesed off. If the Netanyahu administration can continue to act in a completely unconstrained manner towards the Obama administration, what incentive do they have to start constraining themselves? Why should Israel alter it's behavior?
Goldberg offer the following:
Dislike of Netanyahu has deepened in a way that could ultimately be dangerous for Israel. Time after time, the White House has taken Israel’s side in international disputes -- over the UN’s Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza; over Israel’s confrontation with the pro-Hamas Turkish “flotilla,” in which nine people were killed; and on many other issues.
Yet the Netanyahu government does little to dispel the notion among its right-wing supporters that the Obama administration is at best a wavering friend. This is self- evidently foolish, especially at a time when Israel faces an existential threat from its menacing neighbor Iran.
I have no inside information about the Netanyahu regime's internal thinking, but I'd wager that it sounds something like this:
1) All else equal, we prefer an administration that's ideologically sympatico with us -- which, in the current moment, means neocon-friendly Republicans;
2) The likelihood that Obama will be re-elected in 2012 is diminishing by the day;
3) Through our strategy of bitching to the media about Obama, we have succeeded in getting every viable GOP contender for president to complain that Obama is "throwing Israel under the bus."
4) No U.S. administration, regardless of party, wants Iran to wipe Israel off the map.
5) Given (1), (2), (3) and (4), why on earth should we do anything differently?
Now, Goldberg is implying that there will be domestic repercussions in Israel for this -- see here for more. Maybe he's right. But based on the Israeli public's response to past dust-ups with the Obama administration, the Israeli leadership's short-term decision-making calculus seems pretty accurate. As for the long-term, well, you know that Keynes saying....
Am I missing anything?
When I woke up this morning and scanned the headlines, I knew what I was going to blog about -- the stories in the press about how the European Union was, after much hemming and hawing, beginning to move towards a closer fiscal union. I was then going to not-so-humblebrag about my own prediction that this would indeed happen. This was all going to be a great set-up to the last-minute reverse course -- i.e., this Financial Times op-ed by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble in which he declared his "unease when some politicians and economists call on the eurozone to take a sudden leap into fiscal union and joint liability."
Here's the thing, however -- if you read my eurozone blog post from this past February, you'll see that almost the exact same dynamic played itself out six months ago. This time the Germans are pre-emptively balking before the peripheral countries can balk in response to German calls for austerity... but you get the general idea.
So... in the interest of avoiding IPE déjà vu for readers, I hereby promise not to blog about this again until something actually happens beyond news reports of preliminary steps-towards-fiscal-centralization-followed-by-political-pushback. I will simply observe that Ryan Avent's basic question will be the one to ask going forward:
Europe's leaders know what they'll have to do to stabilise the situation. The key question now is: what is the set of euro-zone countries consistent with the political will to save the currency area? Europeans in Europe's core will share a currency with "outsider" countries, but they won't fight to save them. So who are the outsiders? Who has to go to convince core voters that the cost of saving the euro zone is worth bearing?....
With which countries do core voters sufficiently identify themselves as to make a large, ongoing commitment acceptable? Answer that, and you probably have a good idea how this mess will end.
Readers are requested to state which countries get the Euroboot in the comments below.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.