I swear, I wasn't going to watch tonight's CNBC debate on economic policy. I'd had a long day, I was tired, and Wednesday night at the Drezners we watch The Middle and Modern Family. But since neither of those shows were on the air tonight, I switched over to the debate.
While Rick Perry's major league gaffe will command all the headlines, I thought the most reealing answers were given to the first question of the night -- what to do about Italy? Here are the responses of the co-frontrunners:
HERMAN CAIN: "There's not a lot that the United States can directly do for Italy right now, because they have -- they're really way beyond the point of return that we -- we as the United States can save them."
MITT ROMNEY: "Well, Europe is able to take care of their own problems. We don't want to step in and try and bail out their banks and bail out their governments. They have the capacity to deal with that themselves."
The responses by Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman were similar in tone and content.
Now, philosophically, there's a logic to these answers, avoiding moral hazard and all. But recall how earlier this week conservatives were castigating Barack Obama for giving Western Europe the cold shoulder? I believe Michael Goldfarb phrased it as a problem of Obama "abandoning allies."
I raise this because, if the eurozone actually did need American help, the response by the GOP candidates for president would be to... abandon America's allies.
One of Richard Nixon's saltier lines on foreign economic policy was, "I don't give a f**k about the lira." I think it's safe to say that the current GOP doesn't give a f**k about the euro.
The National Journal's Jim Tankersley frames this exactly right:
Europe’s problems should absolutely terrify anyone who cares about the American economy; its sovereign debts could infect banks around the world, potentially triggering a new wave of financial crisis, and a European recession would drag on already slow U.S. growth.
But the candidates who assembled at the CNBC debate in Detroit treated those threats as a far-away nuisance, like famine in Africa or an earthquake in Mongolia: very serious, very sad, not our problem....
It’s stunning that a Republican field that includes a former ambassador, a former House speaker and two successful former businessmen – and which, to a candidate, gushed over the virtues of markets throughout the debate – so casually brushed aside the struggles of the world’s largest collective economy (the Eurozone is bigger, economically, than the United States) and America’s largest trading partner.
You don’t have to believe America should bail out Italy, Greece or the entire Eurozone – a straw-man concept that no one in Washington is even floating, but several candidates took pains to denounce on Wednesday night – to recognize that the United States has a role to play in averting another global financial crisis. At the very least, you should expect lawmakers, and presidential candidates, to be making plans for how to respond if the European crisis escalates.
There were no such plans to be found on the debate stage on Wednesday.
Reports are flying around the interwebs that the last Gaddafy holdout of Sirte has fallen, and that Gaddafi has been killed -- Blake Hounshell has the grisly photo here. A few scattered thoughts on this:
1) This photo comes on top of numerous reports that Gaddafi was captured or wounded or whatnot. Given past NTC statements and reversals, I'd like to see further confirmaion. In the meantime, as I stated on Twitter this AM, I think we can clarify it this way: Gaddafi has been captured, Qaddafi has been killed, and Khadafy is still at large.*
Readers are invited to suggest the fates of other spellings of the Libyan dictator's name in the comments.
2) Assuming that Gaddafi really is dead, Adam Serwer tweets that how this came to pass "makes a huge difference." Well.... maybe. I suspect it won't matter all that much in Libya -- and to be cold-blooded about it, there are ways in which the spectacle of a capture and trial might have been more problematic. I'm not even sure that Gaddafi's fate affects the new Libyan regime's image and reputation overseas.
The more serious effect might be in how this kind of outcome affects the behavior of other autocrats. As Giacomo Chiozza and Hein Goemans observe in Leaders and International Conflict, the private incentives of leaders profoundly affect their use of force. Simply put, when leaders have expectations of a violent demise if they lose power, they have a more powerful incentive to use force to stay in power. So, congrats to Libya, but this is simply going to harden the hearts of Bashir Assad and others out there determined to stay in power through any means necessary -- including instigating cross-border conflicts.
3) At the risk of seeming like a grump, I'd prefer a situation in which the best news in world politics is something other than "[INSERT SCUMBAG'S NAME HERE] is dead!!" Because for the past six months, these kind of deaths have been the high points.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm not sorry bin Laden or Al-Awlaki or Gaddafi have departed the scene. This probably is addition by subtraction. I'd just like it if there were other sources of addition.
What do you think?
*I should probably stop tweeting right now and end on a high note.
Bruce Gilley argues in The National Interest that the next leader of China is going to be trouble for the United States:
It may be time to concede that China’s leader-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, is not the moderate that many have assumed. Indeed, evidence from his past suggests that Xi is going to steer China in a more aggressive direction, both domestically and internationally....
Foreign policy is where new Chinese leaders tend to make their mark quickly, given the small number of people involved compared to domestic policy. Thus it’s also the area where the question of who’s in charge in Beijing really matters, and the fine art of Pekingology remains important. Vice president Joe Biden came away from an August visit praising Xi as “strong” and “pragmatic.” Biden is probably right. But Xi’s strength and pragmatism do not necessarily augur well for those fearful of a rising China.
The first time that Xi’s “strong” dark side emerged publicly was in 2009 when on a visit to Mexico, he told local Chinese, “Well-fed foreigners have nothing better to do but point fingers at China. But China does not export revolution, we do not export poverty and hunger, and we do not interfere in the affairs of others. So what is there to complain about?”
Xi’s “three did nots,” as they have become known, have won plaudits from the country’s nationalists, including the authors of the vitriolic 1996 book The China That Can Say No. These nationalists express hope that Xi will be the first leader since Mao who is willing to stand up to the West. In early September, Xi told students at the Central Party School, the party’s elite training academy in Beijing, that “two overriding objectives—the struggle for both national independence and popular liberation, which is to say the realization of both state power and popular wealth—have always been closely related. The former has always been the basis of the latter.”
Gilley's hypothesis is certainly plausible, but can I suggest an alternative? China is in the middle of a leadership transition -- and when politicians are trying to move on up but ain't there yet, they often have the freedom to make all kinds of crazy, out-there, irresponsible foreign policy statements secure in the knowledge that foreign policy statements are not all that binding once politicians assume power .
Indeed, one could go even further. The phrase "only Nixon could go to China" refers to the idea that only someone who sounded as rabidly anti-communist as Richard Nixon in the past would be able to have the dometic political clout to meet with Mao Zedong and cut a deal with the People's Republic of China. Could it be that Xi is simply buttering up his base before taking power in order to make it easier to do business with the United States?
I don't know the answer, but I suspect even hardcore China-watchers don't know either. China is already experiencing some serious foreign policy blowback that has nothing to do with the United States, however. I'm not sure that Xi will really need the headache of ratcheting up tensions with Washingtgon, unless the global economic downturn is sooooooo bad that scapegoating foreigners is the best option for political survival.
What do you think?
I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending.
An interesting hypothesis!! So, there are three possibilities here. The first is that Bachmann was joking -- in which case, wow, that's a really tasteless joke given the loss of life and probably warrants a pretty big apology.
The second is that Bachmann is simply
nuts wrong. Doug Mataconis points out,
I’m not sure how this computes given the fact that the storm largely spared Washington, D.C. and New York, while hammering a red states like North Carolina and a heavily Republican area like Virginia’s Tidewater region.
Well, socialist-supporting Vermont got hit pretty hard too, but still, this is a fair point, and "Bachmann being wrong" seems like another safe bet.
The third possibility is the one I want to explore, however -- what if Bachmann is right? What if God really is using wrath to coerce humanity into implementing a particular set of policy preferences?
A God-fearing person would naturally decide to obey. However, this kind of coercive demand strikes me as a pretty massive intrusion into human sovereignty. The point of a democracy is for majorities of citizens and their elected representatives to decide matters of policy. Recent history suggests that neither sovereign governments nor their populations take kindly to coercive threats from other men. If we acquiesce to Divine demands now, don't we just let God win?
Bachmann's response suggests an obvious bandwagoning approach to the awesome power of deities: When God says jump, you should say, how high? And, indeed, if the Almighty really is omnipotent, this strategy has much to recommend it. Bandwagoning is generally recommended when the targeted actor is comparatively weak, has few natural allies, and believes that the targeting actor can be appeased with concessions. This seems to fit the Old Testament, monotheistic God to a tee.
On the other hand, however, might a balancing approach yield better long-term results? After all, God has a disturbing track record of making demands like this. We know from
Genesis the Old Testament that the Almighty has a tendency to, well, you know, smite humans on a semi-regular basis. There's the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, an awful lot of Egyptians, etc. This doesn't even include the number of times God demanded death (the sacrifice of Isaac, Ninevah) only to relent at the last minute. Sure, God has some good reasons in some of these instances, but from a threat assessment perspective, it's veeeeery disturbing.
Maybe the bandwagoning criteria don't apply. If one operates along the monotheistic assumption*, humans should ask if there is a possible ally out there to help resist God's will [Don't go there --ed.], an entity who is God's enduring rival [You're really going there, aren't you?! --ed.] , one who might have the necessary power to make God think twice about all that smiting?
It's time to wonder … would a temporary alliance with Satan really be that bad? [Yes it world!! --ed.] Winston Churchill once said, "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons." Now I'm not sure I would even go that far … the whole selling souls thing sounds like a pretty big demand too. That said, a sober, realpolitik perspective would demand that making a deal with the devil has to be a policy option that stays on the table.
[How about a nice buck-passing strategy instead?--ed. Hey, I'd love to just force other creatures like, say, apes to go toe-to-toe with God, but I just don't see it happening.]
Readers are warmly encouraged to puzzle this out for themselves -- or, instead, to buy the very entertaining Biblical Games by Steven Brams.
*The monotheism assumption is important when thinking about how to cope with a venegeful god. If the universe turns out to be polytheistic, then the question becomes whether us mortals can sow dissension among the gods before someone releases a Kraken.
As I type this, most of Tripoli is now in the hands of Transitional National Council forces and supporters, two of Muammar Khaddafi's sons are in custody, and the backbone of Khaddafi's military has been broken. TNC forces do not control all of Libya, but they control an ever-increasing amount of it, including all of its oil infrastructuire. The whereabouts of Gaddafi, Khaddafy, and Qaddafi are still unknown, however.
So, six months after a spontaneous protest movement morphed into armed resistance and NATO got involved.... what does this all mean? With events on the ground still evolving, let me suggest the following list of tentative winners and losers from this operation:
1) The people of Libya. I think it's safe to say that an overwhelming majority of Libyans are pretty pleased that they're no longer living under the thumb of the Qaddafi family. Juan Cole has a pretty triumphalist post up about how this is playing out. He's a bit overoptimistic in places, but this point rings true -- appearances to the contrary, this was not a civil war:
It was not, if by that is meant a fight between two big groups within the body politic. There was nothing like the vicious sectarian civilian-on-civilian fighting in Baghdad in 2006. The revolution began as peaceful public protests, and only when the urban crowds were subjected to artillery, tank, mortar and cluster bomb barrages did the revolutionaries begin arming themselves. When fighting began, it was volunteer combatants representing their city quarters taking on trained regular army troops and mercenaries. That is a revolution, not a civil war. Only in a few small pockets of territory, such as Sirte and its environs, did pro-Qaddafi civilians oppose the revolutionaries, but it would be wrong to magnify a handful of skirmishes of that sort into a civil war. Qaddafi’s support was too limited, too thin, and too centered in the professional military, to allow us to speak of a civil war.
Brian Whitaker makes similar points in The Guardian. This fact does not necessarily mean that an armed insurgency won't persist, but even if it does, it would lack domestic political legitimacy.
2) NATO. Quick, was the 1999 Kosovo operation a NATO success or a failure? During the operation, it seemed like a failure, as a) everyone thought it was taking too long; and b) the operation expost the operational gaps between the U.S. and European forces. After Kosovo ended, however, it seemed like a victory... because it was.
This operation parallels the rhythms of the Kosovo intervention, but in many ways represents a bigger victory. The UK and France shouldered a greater share of the burden, there were no casualties in the alliance, and this operation directly led to regime change (whereas Kosovo had only an indirect effect on Serbia). As Blake Hounshell has observed, at the cost of $1 billion, Western involvement was totally worth it.
3) Air power advocates. Eric Schmitt and Steven Lee Myers' New York Times account of the march into Tripoli suggests the ways in which NATO air power played a critical role in aiding TNC forces on the ground. Stepping back, one has to conclude that NATO's air power was a necessary (though not sufficient) condition for Libya to play out the way it did. Despite some neoconservative calls for even heavier intervention, however, Western boots on the ground were not necessary.
4) Tunisia and Egypt. If TNC forces are able to consolidate their hold on Libya and restore some semblance of law and order, that means the return of more than 680,000 Libyan refugees. This would be good not just for Libya proper, but for the countries housing most of these refugees -- namely, Egypt and Tunisia. These countries are attempt their own transition into more representative regimes. Eliminating the socioeconomic pressure of displaced Libyans is an unalloyed good thing for the political development of Libya's neighbors.
5) President Obama. To quote Eli Lake: "President Birth Certificate has done what Reagan and W could not: end Gadhafi's reign and kill bin Laden." It's worth noting that oth operations took more than six months to play out. While he won't necessarily be this blunt about it, Obama can now credibly argue that patience + determinaion = badass military statecraft.
1) Other authoritarian despots, particularly in Africa. I don't want to overstate this -- I'm skeptical that the scenes from Tripoli will lead to spontaneous uprisings in Damascus and elsewhere. Still, this is the kind of event that will always make other despots nervous.
In the case of African authoritarians or quasi-authoritarians, the fall of Khaddafi also leads to the permanent end of a pipeline of cash from Libya to his friends in Africa.
2) U.S. cable news networks. Useless. Totally f$%*ing useless. Seriously, until FOX news started airing live footage from its SkyNews partner, I got vastly more information from my Twitter feed than any of the cable news nets. That's when they were even covering events in Tripoli -- I think it took MSNBC something like five hours to realize there was something worth covering. Yesterday's performance was just embarrassing.
3) Realists. The United States should never have intervened!! It's a civil war!!! Libya is an example of the militarization of American foreign policy!! The U.S. will be drawn into an expensive quagmire that is not a core national interest!! Air power alone will never work!! Many, many other realist cliches!!
Readers are warmly welomed to provide realist rationalizations for why they are still right/will be proven right in the future in the comments.
4) KT McFarland. There has been a lot of stupid American punditry on Libya, but I think McFarland's FoxNews.com essay from last Friday takes the cake as the Dumbest Thing I've Read on Libya in the past month. Thankfully, it's also completely obsolete.
5) President Obama. [Wait, how is he a winner and a loser?!--ed.] On the one hand, Obama certainly wins by insulating himself against foreign policy criticism. On the other hand, foreign policy victories in the bank are quickly forgotten -- just look at the way in which bin Laden's death translated into a transitory blip for Obama's popularity.
In 2012, the only issue any voter cares about is the economy. A successful operation in Libya will mean less news coverage about Libya and even more coverage of the economy … which is not exactly Obama's strong suit at the moment.
While the debtopocalypse might have been cancelled, I see that the wake for American hegemony is chugging right along.
The interwebs is drowning from variations of the argument that the process by which the debt ceiling deal was reached has dented American power. To sum them up: Sure, the United States government staved off collapse, but the galactically stupid brinkmanship over it has permanently damaged America's brand. Furthermore, the new politics of brinkmanship means that we could potentially see this kind of own-goal as a new permanent fixture of American political economy. Continued political uncertainty over something as obviously necessary as raising the debt ceiling means that actual policy problems like, say, crumbling infrastructure, education, or reassessing grand strategy is a true fool's errand. So, in other words, the USA is screwed.
To which I say: mmmmmmmaybe.
I don't doubt that the U.S. brand of constitutional democracy has taken a pretty severe hit from this episode. Then again, the parliamentary system of democratic governance has long been more popular, so that's not really a new thing.
There are three factors, however, that make me wary of this kind of eulogy. First, I've come to look at concepts like "soft power" and "standing" with a bit of a jaundiced eye. Even if the U.S. takes a hit in that category, I'm not sure that loss translates anything more tangible than … a bunch of foreign-policy pundits bemoaning its loss.
Seriously, compare the last few years of the Bush administration with the first few years of the Obama administration. Any measurable metric of standing or soft power with the presidential transition. The effect on U.S. foreign policy, however, has been negligible.
Second, power is always a relative term, so the question has to be asked -- who's gaining on the United States? Joshua Keating's survey of global schadenfreude doesn't change the fact that the eurozone remains a basket case, Japan and Russia remain demographic disasters, and China has domestic political problems that make partisanship in the United States look like child's play. Even a cursory glance at military spending reveals no peer competitor to the United States. So yes, the United States will endure a rain of rhetorical horses**t for a while … right up until the next crisis in which the world demands America "do something" because it's still the only superpower still standing.
Or, to put this in bond rating language -- even if US power is downgraded from AAA, who else is even above BBB+?
Third, the thing about democracy is that it has multiple ways to constrain political stupidity and ideological overreach. The first line of defense is that politicians will have an electoral incentive to act in non-crazy ways in order to get re-elected. The second line of defense is that politicians or parties who violate the non-crazy rule fail to get re-elected. So, in some ways, the true test of the American system's ability to stave off failure will be the 2012 election. Politicians from both parties have vastly overinterpreted recent electoral victories as sweeping mandates. I suspect, in 2012, many of them will be penalized for such hubris. If they aren't, well, then the conventional wisdom might have a point.
Smart investors made a ton of money this past month by betting on the full faith and credit of the United States despite the D.C. blood sport. If one could make a similar wager on American power, I'd be inclined to bet against the current market sentiment.
Am I missing anything?
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
This past week Anne-Marie Slaughter launched a new foreign policy blog over at The Atlantic entitled "Notes from the Foreign Policy Frontier." This was greeted with general huzzahs across the foreign policy community, as Slaughter is a universally-acknowledged smart person. She is an exemplar of someone who can effortlessly transition from the scholarly to the policymaking world and back again. Her facility with new media is so good that her own bio undercounts her Twitter followers by 50%.
Slaughter's first post suggests the themes of her new blog -- let's take a look and see what she's up to, shall we? Here are the opening paragraphs:
The frontier of foreign policy in the 21st century is social, developmental, digital, and global. Along this frontier, different groups of actors in society -- corporations, foundations, NGOs, universities, think tanks, churches, civic groups, political activists, Facebook groups, and others -- are mobilizing to address issues that begin as domestic social problems but that have now gone global. It is the world of the Land Mines Treaty and the International Criminal Court; global criminal and terrorist networks; vast flows of remittances that dwarf development assistance; micro-finance and serial entrepreneurship; the Gates Foundation; the Arab spring; climate change; global pandemics; Twitter; mobile technology to monitor elections, fight corruption, and improve maternal health; a new global women's movement; and the demography of a vast youth bulge in the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Asia.
Traditional foreign policy continues to assume the world of World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the first and second Gulf Wars -- an international system in which a limited number of states pursue their largely power-based interests in bargaining situations that are often zero-sum and in which the line between international and domestic politics is still discernible and defensible. Diplomats and statesmen compete with each other in games of global chess, which, during crises, often shift into high-stakes poker. It is the world of high strategy, the world that Henry Kissinger writes about and longs for and that so-called "realist" commentators continually invoke.
Well, this is... this is... I'm sorry, I got lost among the ridiculously tall strawmen populating these paragraphs. I'll go out on a limb and posit that not even Henry Kissinger thinks of the world the way Slaughter describes it. Just a quick glance at, say, Hillary Clinton's recent speech in Hong Kong suggests that actual great power foreign policies bear no resemblance whatsoever to that description of "traditional foreign policy."
Slaughter knows this very well, given that she was Clinton's first director of policy planning. She also knows this because much of her writing in international relations is about the ways in which traditional governments are becoming more networked and adaptive to emergent foreign policy concerns. One could quibble about whether this is really a new trend, but Slaughter was correct to point out that states are doing this.
So, let's get to the main point of her blog post: what does Slaughter think about this new frontier?
21st century diplomacy must not only be government to government, but also government to society and society to society, in a process facilitated and legitimated by government. That much broader concept opens the door to a do-it-yourself foreign policy, in which individuals and groups can invent and execute an idea -- for good or ill -- that can affect their own and other countries in ways that once only governments could.
In late June, I spent two days at the Summit Against Violent Extremism (#AVE on Twitter), a conference sponsored by Google Ideas, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Tribeca Film Festival that brought together more than 80 former gang members, violent religious extremists, violent nationalist extremists, and violent white supremacists from 19 countries across six continents. They came together with 120 academics, NGOs, public sector and private sector partners. The conference grew out of a vision developed by Jared Cohen, the head of Google Ideas, when he served in the U.S. State Department's Office of Policy Planning together with Farah Pandit, who worked on countering violent extremism in the State Department's Bureau of Eurasian Affairs and is the Special Representative to Muslim Communities. But, despite their role, bringing together this range of "formers" is something that Google Ideas and the Council on Foreign Relations can do much more easily than any government could. The range of projects creating networks to help build on effective, early intervention programs already working around the world, such as Singapore's programs to deflect and deprogram Islamic radicals, will also be much easier to develop with a broader range of stakeholders, including some government participation, than they would be through government alone....
Skeptics argue that these kinds of initiatives are doomed to remain perennially peripheral and ineffectual. But, in case anyone hasn't noticed, the traditional tools of fighting, talking, pressuring, and persuading government-to-government really aren't working so well. Thirty years of urging reform produced next to nothing; 6 months of digitally and physically organized social protests and a political earthquake is shaking the broader Middle East. Twenty years of working toward a treaty to govern carbon emissions has barely yielded an informal "accord." Yet measures taken by 40 cities organized by the Bloomberg Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative will have far more impact.
Outing myself as a skeptic, I'd make two points. First, Slaughter's weakness as an international relations theorist is to uncritically observe phenomena like the Summit Against Violent Extremism and then inductively generalize from them to extrapolate the future of world politics. AVE is happening, but I'm gonna want to see a lot more evidence that it's making a difference before calling it a success. There are a lot of issue areas where this kind of initiative will not substantially alter policy outcomes. Indeed, one could flip this around, look at new trends like sovereign wealth funds, national oil companies and and state-owned enterprises, and reach the exact opposite conclusions from Slaughter. I don't, but you see my point -- world politics is about a lot more than a Muslim woman setting up a Twitter account thanks to her microfinance loan.
Second, Slaughter's climate change example is a great one. I don't doubt that the initiatives she's blogged about likely have accomplished more than the two decades of UN negotiations. I also don't doubt, however, that those accomplishments are a drop in the bucket compared to what has needs to be done. Furthermore, I suspect these groups would strongly prefer joint government action to their own initiatives, as the only viable means to mitigate the effects of increased greenhouse gas emissions. In which case, they will function like good old fashioned interest groups, which is not all that new.
Slaughter believes that these "bottom-up" movements represent the future of world politics -- and she may well be right. My own inclination is that DIY foreign policy represents a poor and underprovided substitute for effective state action global governance. We'll see what the future holds.
Concluding her post, Slaughter says that she'll be, "looking at the world through a very different lens -- highlighting features of the foreign policy landscape that simply disappear if we examine only a world of opaque unitary states negotiating, pressuring, fighting, and ignoring each other." This is good, and highlights the value-added that such an approach can bring to thinking about world politics. I'll be looking at Slaughter's musings as well through my own lens -- one that is very wary of overhyped initiatives that do not accomplish nearly as much as suggested by their media hype.
Am I missing anything?
So far, few politicians have embraced my plan for a Marshall Plan Tax. The idea is that every time a think-tanker, op-ed writer or retired senator calls for a new Marshall Plan or a moonshot-type initiative to solve a social problem, they would have to pay a tax of $50. Within a few months, we’d have enough money to pay for an actual new Marshall Plan.
The problem with my proposal is this: Do Marshall Plans work? If this country really did galvanize its best minds and billions of dollars to alleviate poverty somewhere or to solve some complicated problem, could we actually do it?
Well, the U.S. has been engaged in a new Marshall Plan for most of the past decade. Between 2002 and 2010, the U.S. spent roughly $19 billion to promote development in Afghanistan. Many other nations have also sent thousands of aid workers and billions of dollars....
This experience should have a chastening influence on the advocates of smart power. When she became secretary of state, Hillary Clinton sketched out a very attractive foreign policy vision that would use “the full range of tools at our disposal: diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal and cultural.” But it could be that cultural and economic development works on a different timetable than traditional foreign policy.
Perhaps we don’t know enough, can’t plan enough, can’t implement effectively enough to coordinate nation building with national security objectives.
Brooks looks at development in Afghanistan and safely concludes we haven't gotten much bang for the buck.
Brooks' points on Afghanistan seem on the mark, but my problem is with his framing. First of all, it's not like the foreign policy community is clamoring for more Marshall Plans. Given the current U.S. budgetary picture, I think it's safe to say that foreign aid will be the first thing that will be cut in any fiscal deal. Indeed, here's thje Google Trends analysis of the term:
Third, and most important, the Marshall Plan was implemented in an environment in which traditional security has already been secured. It's one thing to promost economic development in a place in which security is assumed. Trying to promote economic development, peace and statebuilding at the same time is a hell of a lot harder.
Brooks is right to highlight the massive problems with statebuilding in Afghanistan. His attempt to generalize from that woebegotten, landlocked Central Asian battle zone to the rest of U.S. foreign aid is a serious analogy foul, however.
My conference in Beijing closed with Le Yucheng -- the Chinese equivalent of the State Department's director of policy planning -- giving a talk and then taking questions from the academics and policy wonks around the table.
Based on what I heard and the consensus reaction of the old China hands around the table, Le's talk was pretty much boilerplate. That's a term of art for policy mandarins -- it translates into "nothing new was said, just a recycling of old talking points and approved language." However, for those of us who are not old China hands, even boilerplate can be somewhat revealing. Here were the talking points that stood out for me:
1) "To be frank, people don't understand China." Le provided a long litany of development problems and challenges facing China. He found it hypocritical that the rest of the world complained about China not buying enough cars or airplanes from the rest of the world, but also about buying too much oil. He provided a long spiel about how hard China is working to promote its economic development and overcome massive poverty. This is code for, "do not expect us to be chipping in all that much for global public goods anytime soon."
2) "China is always a humble, modest nation." This was, easily, the most jarring part of his talk. Le claimed that since the founding of the People's Republic, China had not attacked any of her foreign neighbors. I suspect that diplomats from India, Russia, South Korea, and Vietnam would have some strenuous disagreements with that assertion, but I was told that this is a standard talking point for Chinese diplomats (If you ask me, they'd be better off stating than China has had peaceful relations with the rest of the world in the post-Maoist era and -- unlike some other great powers that will go unmentioned -- has not averaged a military intervention every 18 months or so).
This section was also jarring because it primarily consisted of backdoor brags. Le claimed that China learned much from everyone else, and that he personally works so hard that he never goes on vacation and doesn't leave the office until 10 PM. He then talked about how China had solved the Hong Kong problem, the rural development problem, and so forth.
This sectiion ended with a small rant on how China was very, very different from, just to pick a country out of a hat, Norway. Because Norway has less than 1% of China's population while having 100 times China's resources, Norway should apparently not offer advice to China on, well, anything. Or, as Le put it, Norway is like a mini-car to China's bullet train. Note to Norway: I think China is still touchy about this.
3) "There is no Beijing Consensus." This was a point that Le hammered home repeatedly. He insisted that China had no original development model, and that Beijing certainly wasn't trying to recommend its model to nany other country. As Le put it, "There is no best model in the world." This part of Le's talk was also the most convincing, as the rest of the assembled Chinese academics made a similar point. As one academic pithily noted, "both the Washington Consensus and the Beijing Consensus were invented in Washington!"
4) China will not challenge the global order -- in other words, "we are not the USSR." In a mild contradiction of his first point, Le listed the myriad ways in which China contributed to global order -- promoting domestic economic growth to stabilize the regional economy, contributions to UN peacekeeping, anti-terrorism cooperation, anti-piracy, purchasing European and American debt instruments, and -- an oldie but a goodie -- not devaluing the yuan during the Asian financial crisis. Le stressed how much China benefitted from the existing order, and that while reforms might be needed, a wholesale change was not needed.
5) If you think the PRC government is bad, read our Internet chat boards. This was interesting, as Le tried to stress that China's population was far more nationalist and hawkish on the foreign policy front than the PRC government. He's not eactly wrong on this point, but it should be pointed out that given the various restrictions on what can be said on the Chinese internet, assertive nationalism is the only approved way of venting for the Chinese public.
Joshua Kurlantzick argues in The New Republic that despite the surface appeal of the Arab Spring, global trends are moving against the democratic system of government:
The truth is that the Arab Spring is something of a smokescreen for what is taking place in the world as a whole. Around the globe, it is democratic meltdowns, not democratic revolutions, that are now the norm. (And even countries like Egypt and Tunisia, while certainly freer today than they were a year ago, are hardly guaranteed to replace their autocrats with real democracies.) In its most recent annual survey, the monitoring group Freedom House found that global freedom plummeted for the fifth year in a row, the longest continuous decline in nearly 40 years. It pointed out that most authoritarian nations had become even more repressive, that the decline in freedom was most pronounced among the “middle ground” of nations—countries that have begun democratizing but are not solid and stable democracies—and that the number of electoral democracies currently stands at its lowest point since 1995. Meanwhile, another recent survey, compiled by Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation, spoke of a “gradual qualitative erosion” of democracy and concluded that the number of “highly defective democracies”—democracies so flawed that they are close to being failed states, autocracies, or both—had doubled between 2006 and 2010.
The number of anecdotal examples is overwhelming. From Russia to Venezuela to Thailand to the Philippines, countries that once appeared to be developing into democracies today seem headed in the other direction. So many countries now remain stuck somewhere between authoritarianism and democracy, report Marc Plattner and Larry Diamond, co-editors of the Journal of Democracy, that “it no longer seems plausible to regard [this condition] simply as a temporary stage in the process of democratic transition.”
Reason's Jesse Walker thinks Kurlantzick is making a "democracy meltdown" out of a few molehills:
It's a dramatic story, but it isn't really accurate. We aren't on the road to Planet Burma. More likely, we're witnessing freedom's growing pains....
Kurlantzick's claim that freedom has "plummeted" for five years running. I'll accept Freedom House's ratings as a rough measurement of civil liberties and self-rule: You might quibble with their judgments on some specific countries, but the group gets the broad trends right. And those trends just don't show a plummet. The political scientist Jay Ulfelder, former director of the Political Instability Task Force, notes that what the Freedom House figures actually describe is "a period of major gains in the early 1990s; a period of slower gains in the late 1990s and early 2000s; and something like a plateau to minor slippage since the mid-2000s." He illustrates that with a chart showing the group's average scores over the last three decades.
[T]he recent trend looks more like a stagnation than a substantial shrinkage. And with anti-authoritarian activists still marching in the Middle East and elsewhere, there's a reasonable chance—not a certainty, but a chance—that we're about to see another big bump in the right direction.
Jay Ulfelder has more in his blog post [Full disclosure: Jay and I got our Ph.D.'s in political science together. We were even officemates for a year -- and Jay was the most polite and quiet officemate I ever had.]
Looking at the data, I'm inclined to say that Walker/Ulfelder win this argument. Consider this paragraph from the Freedom House press release linked to by Kurlantzick:
A total of 25 countries showed significant declines in 2010, more than double the 11 countries exhibiting noteworthy gains. The number of countries designated as Free fell from 89 to 87, and the number of electoral democracies dropped to 115, far below the 2005 figure of 123. In addition, authoritarian regimes like those in China, Egypt, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela continued to step up repressive measures with little significant resistance from the democratic world.
The move from 89 to 87 could be noise, and 115 is not "far below" 123. There's some adjectival abuse going on here. These modest trends away from democratization across countries can be easily reversed by a successful Arab Spring -- a big "if," admittedly.
Kurlantzick and Freedom House do make one point, however, that neither Walker nor Ulfelder rebut. The most disturbing trend is the "lock-in" of authoritarianism in so many medium and great powers. China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia -- these are countries that have trended towards the "not free" category for many a year now, and these regimes are getting better at stifling dissent. Walker argues that, "the know-how for building freedom is still spreading," but the know-how for squelching it can also spread. Indeed, the Arab Spring itself has led to genuine regime change in some countries, but in others it has been a testing ground for how to crack down.
Even if the democratization wave continues, there are enough big authoritarian countries around that will not be transitioning anytime soon. That is a significant change from twenty years ago, and it's worth thinking about the implications for the future. \
UPDATE: Jay Ulfelder responds to my point on new and improved forms of authoritarianism:
Actually, I think the cases Dan mentions — China, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia — support the view that the roster of democratic governments will continue to expand. Where Dan sees regimes that are “locking in” authoritarian rule by “getting better at stifling dissent,” I see regimes that are facing still-growing pressures to expand civil liberties and hold fair elections–pressures that should eventually help tip those countries onto the democratic side of the ledger....
I think it’s unlikely (but not impossible) that any of these regimes will cede power to democratically elected governments in the next year or two. At the same time, I think it’s also evident that these regimes are increasingly struggling to contain the same forces that have propelled the diffusion of democracy elsewhere in the past two centuries. What I learn from the trajectories of prior transitions is that those forces cannot be contained forever. The processes of political change spurred by those forces are often choppy, frustrating, and even violent, but the long-term trend away from self-appointed rulers toward elected government is remarkably strong and consistent, and the forces driving that trend are already evident in many of the world’s remaining “hard” cases of authoritarian rule.
I hope he's right -- but stories like these make me wonder if he's underestimating the innovations of "smart" authoritarian institutions.
Kim Sengupta and Solomon Hughes have one of those exclusives in The Independent that's an equal mixture of intriguing and dubious on the current situation in Libya. Here's the lead:
The Libyan regime is preparing to make a fresh overture to the international community, offering concessions designed to end the bloodshed of the three-month-long civil war.
The Independent has obtained a copy of a letter from the country's Prime Minister, Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, being sent to a number of foreign governments. It proposes an immediate ceasefire to be monitored by the United Nations and the African Union, unconditional talks with the opposition, amnesty for both sides in the conflict, and the drafting of a new constitution.
David Cameron and Barack Obama met yesterday to try to find an exit strategy from a conflict increasingly appearing to have no definitive military solution in sight. The US President acknowledged that the allies now seem to face a long, attritional campaign.
Reading through the whole story, I certainly believe that Libya sent out a cease-fire proposal. What I don't buy is the notion that various NATO countries are eager to accept such a deal. That part seems much less clearly sourced.
There's also this interesting Financial Times story by Michael Peel and Sam Jones suggesting that Libya's sovereign wealth fund has less money that previously anticipated:
Libya lost billions of dollars on sophisticated financial products sold to Muammer Gaddafi’s sovereign wealth fund by some of the world’s leading financial institutions, according to a confidential Libyan government document.
Banks and hedge funds led by France’s Société Générale are named in about $5bn (£3bn) of deals involving the oil-rich nation, some of which had resulted in heavy losses by the middle of last year.
One of the most striking losses, outlined in an internal report for the Libyan Investment Authority, was a 98.5 per cent fall in the value of the sovereign wealth fund’s $1.2bn equity and currency derivatives portfolio....
The report for managers of Libya’s sovereign wealth fund, dated June 30 last year, said its bank and hedge fund investment products had fallen in value from about $5bn to roughly $3.5bn, out of the body’s total assets of $53.3bn.
This is an interesting strategic dilemma for NATO. On the one hand accepting a cease-fire would potentially end an intervention that has lasted longer that top policymakers apparently expected.* On the other hand, a cease-fire doesn't exactly scream "geopolitical win." There's always an incentive to hold firm and count on the Gaddafi regime to crack.
If you were Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy, or David Cameron, which bet would you make? A cease-fire now or rolling the dice for a more complete victory?
With all the doings in the Middle East, it's easy to miss developments elsewhere. Let's take a look at Eastern Europe, shall we? Like Belarus, in which the latest developments suggest a uniquely Belarusian path to misery.
The Financial Times' Jan Cienski notes that Greece and Portugal aren't the only European countries looking for a bailout:
Away from frantic negotiations over how to save Portugal and Greece, another peripheral European country is scrambling for a bail-out. But Belarus is looking not to the European Union or the International Monetary Fund but to a grouping of ex-Soviet republics led by Russia.
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, flew to Minsk on Thursday to offer Belarus about $3bn in loans over three years from the Eurasian Economic Community, in return for undertaking economic reforms and privatising state companies – which could see Russia take controlling stakes in strategic assets such as oil refineries and pipelines.
“It will help to improve investor sentiment,” said Anastasiya Golovach, an analyst with Renaissance Capital. “But Belarus will definitely have to pay something for this and Beltransgaz [operator of the east-west pipeline shipping Russian natural gas to the EU] will be the price.”
Moscow is relishing Alexander Lukashenko’s discomfort, as the authoritarian leader of Belarus, who has long had a prickly relationship with Russia, endeavours to calm the growing panic surrounding the Belarusian economy.
Belarus has plunged into a balance of payments crisis, with the current account deficit soaring to 16 per cent of gross domestic product and currency reserves dwindling to a month of import cover. The central bank has introduced multiple exchange rates, seeing a collapse in the rouble’s black market rate....
The outlook is gloomy. “We are heading in the direction of Zimbabwe here,” said a foreign diplomat stationed in Minsk.
Note to the Belarusian government: anytime your country is compared to Zimbabwe, you are in Very Big Trouble.
As the article notes, Lukashenko has managed to box himself into a corner. After flirting with the West for a time, a domestic crackdown that intensified in December of last year alienated Germany and the United States, leaving Russia as Lukashenko's only lifeline.
Russia is, not surprisingly, exploiting the situation in a manner remarkably consistent with trends I wrote about in The Sanctions Paradox oh so many years ago. As a scholar, it's always nice to see a model demonstrate its durability. In this case, there's the added frisson of seeing Russia tell others to enact policies that Moscow steadfastly rejected about a decade ago in order to advance Russian interests. And there's something oddly comforting about watching Belarus continue to make policy misstep after policy misstep -- it's the IR equivalent of rooting for the San Diego Clippers.
The downsides are that it prolongs Belarusian misery -- and makes the Visegrad states just a wee bit more jittery.
Since May is Zombie Awareness Month, I thought I would be worth noting a factual statement in Theories of International Politics and Zombies that will have to be changed in the
revived revised edition of the book.
On pages 5-6 of the introduction, I wrote:
The government of Haiti has laws on the books to prevent the zombification of individuals. No great power has done the same in public—but one can only speculate what these governments are doing in private.
Are you prepared for the impending zombie invasion?Actually, had he interviewed a zombie expert, [Cough, cough!!--ed.] I'm sure the Fox News reporter would have learned that this is not all that surprising. Indeed, I found research on the political economy of disasters to be the most useful sources in researching Theories of International Politics and Zombies.
That's the question posed by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in a Monday blog posting gruesomely titled, "Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse." And while it's no joke, CDC officials say it's all about emergency preparation.
"There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for," the posting reads. "Take a zombie apocalypse for example. That's right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e. You may laugh now, but when it happens you'll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you'll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency."
The post, written by Assistant Surgeon General Ali Khan, instructs readers how to prepare for "flesh-eating zombies" much like how they appeared in Hollywood hits like "Night of the Living Dead" and video games like Resident Evil. Perhaps surprisingly, the same steps you'd take in preparation for an onslaught of ravenous monsters are similar to those suggested in advance of a hurricane or pandemic.
Never Fear – CDC is Ready
If zombies did start roaming the streets, CDC would conduct an investigation much like any other disease outbreak. CDC would provide technical assistance to cities, states, or international partners dealing with a zombie infestation. This assistance might include consultation, lab testing and analysis, patient management and care, tracking of contacts, and infection control (including isolation and quarantine). It’s likely that an investigation of this scenario would seek to accomplish several goals: determine the cause of the illness, the source of the infection/virus/toxin, learn how it is transmitted and how readily it is spread, how to break the cycle of transmission and thus prevent further cases, and how patients can best be treated. Not only would scientists be working to identify the cause and cure of the zombie outbreak, but CDC and other federal agencies would send medical teams and first responders to help those in affected areas (I will be volunteering the young nameless disease detectives for the field work). (emphasis added)
One could argue that the offer of international technical assistance would be consistent with the liberal paradigm, in which a robust counterzombie regime was created.
The question is, would other countries welcome the assistance? Would other countries suspect the CDC of being the very progenitor of the zombie pandemic? Would Pakistan protest if Seal Team Six was dispatched to a Karachi suburb to put down an initial zombie outbreak?
These are Very Deep Questions, and I, for one, encourage further research in this area. In the meantime, however, I would like to applaud the Assistant Surgeon General and the Center for Disease Control for joining the State of New York in thinking about the unthinkable.
Indeed, I would encourage even more CDC transparency. For example, the scenario that's sketched out that the final episode of the first season of The Walking Dead -- could that, um, you know, actually happen?
Indeed, I would encourage even more CDC transparency. For example, the scenario that's sketched out that the final episode of the first season of The Walking Dead -- could that, um, you know, actually happen?
As the fallout from Dominique Strauss-Kahn and The Chambermaid's Tale continues,
the guy from the Dos Equis commercials French public intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy is taking quite a beating inside the United States. Lévy -- or BHL for those in the know -- is a longtime friend of Strauss-Kahn -- or DSK for, well, you get the idea. After DSK's arrest, BHL penned the following in the Daily Beast:
I do not know what actually happened Saturday, the day before yesterday, in the room of the now famous Hotel Sofitel in New York.
I do not know—no one knows, because there have been no leaks regarding the declarations of the man in question—if Dominique Strauss-Kahn was guilty of the acts he is accused of committing there, or if, at the time, as was stated, he was having lunch with his daughter [we actually know that, given the timeline, DSK's lunch with his daughter is not an alibi, as even his defenders acknowlege --DWD].
I do not know—but, on the other hand, it would be nice to know, and without delay—how a chambermaid could have walked in alone, contrary to the habitual practice of most of New York’s grand hotels of sending a “cleaning brigade” of two people, into the room of one of the most closely watched figures on the planet....
And what I know even more is that the Strauss-Kahn I know, who has been my friend for 20 years and who will remain my friend, bears no resemblance to this monster, this caveman, this insatiable and malevolent beast now being described nearly everywhere. Charming, seductive, yes, certainly; a friend to women and, first of all, to his own woman, naturally, but this brutal and violent individual, this wild animal, this primate, obviously no, it’s absurd.
This morning, I hold it against the American judge who, by delivering him to the crowd of photo hounds, pretended to take him for a subject of justice like any other....
I hold it against all those who complacently accept the account of this other young woman, this one French, who pretends to have been the victim of the same kind of attempted rape, who has shut up for eight years but, sensing the golden opportunity, whips out her old dossier and comes to flog it on television.
I do not know the extent to which BHL fact-checked his column -- for example, the French woman he accuses of being opportunistic now actually went public in 2007 only to have herself censored on French television.
I do not know the extent to which BHL is aware that DSK's other sexual indiscretions appear to have a greater element of coercion than had been previously realized.
I do not know why BHL's understanding of "cleaning brigades" is somewhat at odds with the reality of how American hotels actually function.
So, this raises an exceptionally uncomfortable question for some foreign policy commentators. BHL might look like a horse's ass right now, but six or seven weeks ago, he was playing a very different role. According to
BHL himself multiple press reports, Bernard-Henri Lévy was the interlocutor between Libya's rebels and the rest of the world. He therefore played a crucial role in getting French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- and therefore, the West more generally -- to intervene in Libya. This caused some consternation at the time. It would obviously set off even louder alarm bells now.
Given this role, Ben Smith tweets a very valid question: "So if the order of DSK-gate and Libya are reversed... do we go into Libya?"
This touches on some very interesting questions about temporality, causation, correlation and counterfactuals. What are the necessary or sufficient conditions for a policy outcome to occur? Do events have to happen in a particular sequence to reach a particular outcome? Was BHL either a necessary or sufficient condiition for the UN/NATO action in Libya?
My answer would be that Bernard-Henri Lévy's intellectual reputation was neither necessary nor sufficient for Operation Odyssey Dawn to take place. Consider the following:
1) French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been more circumspect than BHL in commenting on DSK, reflecting the general muteness of the French political class on the topic. It seems unlikely that BHL's ardent advocacy would have caused Sarkozy to listen to him any less on Libya.
2) One of the key aspects of the Libya decision was the compressed time frame in which it had to be made. Qaddafi's forces seemed on the verge of retaking the country within a week. Debating whether BHL was an honest broker or not seemed pretty peripheral to the real-time changes on the ground in Libya. It's worth remembering that the Arab League and the UN Security Council acted very quickly by International Organization Standard Time, and I certainly don't think BHL had much of a role to play. On the scale of things, one would have expected the "flickers" of Al Qaeda presence among the Libyan rebels to have acted as a bigger brake, and yet that fact did not derail the policy either.
3) Without in any way diminishing the allegatioons and official charges against DSK, there is a difference between the (mostly) venal sins of BHL and the French political class, and the (mostly) mortal sins of Qaddafi and his family If the Libya decision was happening right now, my hunch is that it would drown out much of the Franco-American contretemps over
American puritanism French misogyny one person's failings.
What do you think?
As a group, foreign policy analysts and international relations theorists tend to focus on how large, impersonal factors affect the contours of world politics. We're like this for two reasons: a) Large-scale factors -- like, say, demographics -- really are pretty important; and b) We get allergic reactions to media narratives that stress the ways in which one person or one decision made all the difference.
Because of this trait, an event like bin Laden's death has lead to an orgy of blog posts and essays pointing out that not much has changed. Charli Carpenter's first response was to ccharacterize it as "a single operation in a vast and endless war, that apparently will have no impact on our foreign policy." Daveed Gartenstein-Ross recounts the myriad ways in which Al Qaeda still matters in a post-Osama world. Neither Nate Silver nor David Weigel thinks that the effect on Barack Obama's political popularity will be that great. Ben Smith points out that conspiracy theorists will have a field day with this, just like they have a field day with everything else.
So, let me go against my instinct to agree with all of the above points and suggest why bin Laden's demise really is, in the words of the VPOTUS -- a big f***ing deal:
1) Pakistan. You can slice this any way you want, the brute fact is that bin Laden was living in the Pakistani equivalent of Annapolis -- a posh resort town that happens to house a lot of Pakistani retired generals, not to mention their main miltary academy. This doesn't look good for Pakistan, as their continued silence suggests. As he promised in his campaign, Obama violated Pakistan's sovereignty, sent in special forces, took out bin Laden, and did it all without consulting the Pakistanis about it. So not only does the Pakistani leadership look incompetent, they also look impotent.
I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that anything that destabilizes Pakistan is a BFD -- and the way this played out destabilizes the country.
2) The United States just re-shaped the narrative. International relations scholars assume that most actors in world politics care about some combination of power, wealth and prestige. The U.S. killing of bin Laden strengthens American prestige and weakens Al Qaeda's. According to reports, Bin Laden used
his wife a woman as a human shield to protect himself during the firefight, which will tarnish his legacy, even to AQ operatives. Perceptions matter, and this symbolic victory for the United States will affect perceptions of American power.
Of course, all it takes for for the debt ceiling not to be raised and this'll disappear, but still...
3) The United States has increased its bargaining leverage in the Af-Pak region. As both Matthew Yglesias and Ross Douthat suggest, the death of bin Laden is one of those symbolic moments during which U.S. policy in the region might be re-evaluated. There are reasons to believe that this blow is actually going to sting for Al Qaeda.
It's at this moment when a president might have more credibility in bargaining with either Afghanistan or Pakistan. A large-scare withdrawal is now politically feasible in ways that it wasn't 24 hours ago -- and anti-war members of Congress are already getting frisky about it. They also have the American public on their side.
If the administration is smart, they will use this pressure to withdraw to start actually withdrawing, or at least pressure Afghan and Pakistani officials into acting in a somewhaqt more cooperative manner.
4) Al Qaeda won't be able to exploit the Arab Spring. Al Qaeda had already whiffed badly in handling the Arab unrerst of 2011, and bin Laden's popularity in the region had been falling as of late. That said, think of bin Laden (in this way and only this way) as like Sarah Palin -- someone who had declining poll numbers but a still-very-rabid base of support. It's not obvious that this support will transfer to any other jihadist.
Al Qaeda's remnants and affiliates might be able to operationally exploit the regimes changes in the region -- but they've lost whatever slim reeed they had at a political presence.
5) It's a social science bonanza!!! Terrorism experts should be positively giddy about this development. Bin Laden's death is a great "natural experiment" to see whether Al Qaeda is as decentralized and resilient as some experts claim. The AP reports that, "U.S. forces searched the compound and flew away with documents, hard drives and DVDs that could provide valuable intelligence about al-Qaida." I, for one, hope that bin Laden's location in Abbotabad means that he was more of a central node than analysts expected.
Readers are welcomed to proffer their own explanations for why this is a big f***ing deal in the comments.
I was going to title this post, "Osama bin Laden, R.I.P." but the thing is , I really don't want him to rest in peace.
He's definitely dead, however. I'll write a longer blog post about the implications of this tomorrow, but for now, commenters should post their own thoughts about this in the comments. For now, three quick points:
1) If what Obama said is correct, then I'm genuinely impressed at the fact that operational security was so well preserved;
2) Everything I've read about Al qaeda suggests that bin Laden's role on the operational side was pretty limited, but this is still, to use the words of Vice President Joseph Biden, a big f***ing deal.
3) Peter Bergen said on CNN that bin Laden's death is "the end of the War on Terror." Do you think he's right? I'd like to think so, but my worry is that the politics of this gives some politicians a very strong incentive to ratchet up this threat. So... is it really over?
What do you think?
[T]here was no mistaking the lightness of [Obama's foreign affairs] résumé. Just a year before coming to Washington, State Senator Obama was not immersed in the dangers of nuclear Pakistan or an ascendant China; as a provincial legislator, he was investigating the dangers of a toy known as the Yo-Yo Water Ball. (He tried, unsuccessfully, to have it banned.)
Obama had always read widely, and now he was determined to get a deeper education. He read popular books on foreign affairs by Fareed Zakaria and Thomas Friedman.
That last sentence provoked a lot of titters on Twitter among the foreign policy community. It's only a slight exaggeration to say that Tom Friedman's recent books have the same status among foreign policy wonks that John Grisham novels have in literary circles.
This raises an interesting question, however -- if a newly-minted U.S. Senator did want to seriously bone up on foreign affairs, what books should he or she read?
This is a harder question to answer that you might think. Here is a rank ordering of what a typical Senator cares about:
1) Getting re-elected;
2) Getting re-elected;
3) Establishing a domestic policy niche in order to claim credit... in order to get re-elected;
4) Starving the media of any opportunity to write a profile of their private lives... in order to get re-elected.
5) Foreign affairs
There's a reason foreign affairs is at the bottom -- in the post-Cold War world, the American public doesn't care and doesn't know much about international relations. Short of the presidential level, developing expertise or interest in that area does nothing for a politician's electoral chances -- and even at the presidential leve it's a mixed bag.
With this kind of mindset, giving a Senator a copy of Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War and assuming they'll get really hooked on the story is faintly absurd. Many of my academic brethren might proffer up one of the more recent classics in international relations theory. To which I say, "BWA HA HA HA HA!!!!" Neither Kenneth Waltz nor Bruce Bueno de Mesquita would last as long in a politicians' hands as Thucydides.
No, if you're educating a politician from scratch, you need something relatively pithy, accessible, relevant to current events, and America-centric. Given those criteria, Friedman's oeuvre makes some kind of inuitive sense, no matter how wrong or ripe for satire it is. I mean, what's the alternative -- Three Cups of Tea?
Aspiring leaders of America can and should do better than Friedman, however. I therefore call upon the readers of this blog to proffer up their suggestions -- if you had to pick three books for an ambitious U.S. politician to read in order to bone up on foreign affairs, what would they be?
I have my own thoughts on the matter, but I'll hold off until Friday to post my selections. My choices are hardy written in stone, so I'll be reading this comment thread with great interest.
Over at The National Interest, Ted Galen Carpenter blogs that America's militarized focus on the Middle East is providing a huge strategic opening for China:
Members of China’s political elite who are eager for the Middle Kingdom to displace the United States as the world’s leading power probably can’t believe their good fortune. America has so many natural advantages that such a displacement would normally take several generations, if it occurred at all. Yet clumsy, counterproductive U.S. policies may be shortening that time frame dramatically....
Global meddling is also damaging the American brand with respect to political values and even popular culture. That is especially apparent in the Muslim world, where public opinion surveys reveal that positive views of the United States now sometimes languish in the single digits. But America’s popularity has waned even in Europe and other formerly very friendly regions. Even as Washington’s aggressive behavior alienates populations, especially in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, China is cultivating countries in those regions, portraying itself as a less intrusive, more cooperative political and economic partner.
Um, Ted? 2006 called, and it wants the hackneyed geopolitical analysis back.... and sent via MySpace.
Seriously, this blog post reads like it's five years old. It either ignores or elides the following facts:
2) Contrary to Carpenter's claims, the Libya intervention has gone down rather well on the Arab street.
3) China committed a series of foreign policy blunders in 2009 and 2010 that increased regional and global wariness about the Middle Kingdom and (according to China experts who talk to me) forced Beijing to rethink its grand strategy.
4) Chinese authorities are currently occupied with trying to censor news about the Arab revolutions, play hide and seek with its dissidents, get a grip on its real estate bubble, and avoid populist blowback for its Africa investments. I'm not seeing a lot of successful efforts by Beijing to push the "less intrusive" line elsewhere in the globe.
These are pretty important facts that get in the way of Carpenter's analysis. Now, there is a glimmer of truth to this kind of realpolitik argument. Saudi Arabia, for example, is less than thrilled with how the Obama administration is handling the Arab revolutions, and it might cozy up more to Beijing as a result. That said, if we're really witnessing a fouth wave of democratization in the Middle East, does Carpenter seriously think that these regimes will automatically be more sympathetic to China than the United States? That would be the realist argument, but I think this is one of those situaions when realists don't sound terribly grounded in reality.
There are a lot of good critiques that can be levied against American grand strategy and the Obama administration's foreign policy in the Middle East. The notion that China has gained a strategic advantage in recent months ain't one of them.
With all the press leaks about covert operatives, high-level defections, and behind-the-scenes negotiations with top Khaddafi aides, I think it's safe to say that the United States is running quite the little psy-ops campaign on the Libyan dictator [Are you trying to spell his name a different way in each frakkin' post?!--ed. Er, yes. Oh. Ok, then--ed.] That's not to say that these things are only being done to psych out Khaddafi, but I'm assuming that's a large component of what's going on.
In many ways, however, I think the news coming out of the Ivory Coast might be the most effective psychological pressure on the Libyan strongman. The Financial Times' William Wallis reports on the current state of play:
The battle for Ivory Coast’s presidency has reached a critical phase as forces allied to Alassane Ouattara, president-elect, have advanced into the commercial capital Abidjan after a lightning offensive from the north designed to oust incumbent Laurent Gbagbo.
Mr Gbagbo, who refuses to concede defeat in last November’s polls despite near universal recognition of his rival’s victory, looks increasingly isolated as the noose tightens around the city of 4m people.
Reuters quoted a military source in Mr Gbagbo’s camp on Friday confirming an attack overnight on Mr Gbagbo’s residence in Abidjan but said that pro-Gbagbo forces were still putting up resistance at state broadcaster, RTI....
South Africa’s foreign ministry reported that Mr Gbagbo’s army commander and personal friend, General Phillippe Mangou, had fled with his family to the residence of the South African ambassador. In another blow, the head of the gendarmerie reportedly defected to the president’s rival.
Choi Young-jin, the UN envoy to the country, said the police had defected as well. Reuters reported early on Friday that Mr Ouattara’s forces had taken control of the state television station, which then ceased broadcasting, and were attacking Mr Gbagbo’s residence.
There are many ways in which the Ivory Coast is not like Libya, but there are some striking similarities. Like Libya, the Ivory Coast is a single-commodity export economy, making sanctions relatively easy to implement. Like Khaddafi, Gbagbo became an international pariah after rejecting the November election results (well, a pariah to everyone but Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma). The UN and the relevant regional bodies acted swiftly to put Gbagbo under mulilateral economic sanctions. Gbagbo, like Khaddafi, refused to see the handwriting on the wall and took every coercive action possible to maintain his hold on power.
If these reports are accurate, then Gbagbo is on his way out, and the end will not be pretty. That will likely spook those loyal to Khaddafi. True, the Libyan leader controls greater resources, but then again, the Ivory Coast doesn't have NATO getting up in its grill.
This is not the best outcome for the Ivory Coast -- obviously, it would have been better if Gbagbo had acknowledged the election results and set an example for the rest of Africa. Given how things played out, however, Gbagbo's departure from power will be an affirmation of the ways in which multilateral pressure can affect change.
The Ivory Coast is also a reminder that multilateral efforts at coercion -- whether military or economic -- often look ineffective or flawed right up until the moment that they actually work. Which is to say, for all the carping, whinging, bitching and moaning going on about how the Obama administration is handling Libya, none of it will matter if Khaddafi eventually leaves. And the fall of Gbagbo will be one more data point to freak him and his supporters out.
I think it's safe to say that the multilateral coalition implementing Operation Odyssey Dawn have had their share of public spats. This means a lot of hand-holding and negative punditry/negative press stories on the issue.
Of course, this raises the question of whether there's a better alternative or not. As sick as liberals might be of using force in the Middle East, I suspect they're even sicker of doing this unilaterally. Some conservatives seem to get the notion that multilateralism has its advantages -- particularly with generating American support for these kind of missions.
Clearly, there are tradeoffs here. I could weight them very carefully using my own limited understanding, or I could be smart and ask an expert. So, I posed the question to Sarah Kreps, Assistant Professor of Government at Cornell University and the author of the now-extremely-trenchant Coalitions of Convenience: United States Military Interventions after the Cold War. Her thoughts on the matter:
Prime Minister Churchill once opined that "there is only one thing worse than fighting with allies-and that is having to fight without them." These words were remarkable coming from a leader who had spent the better part of two years trying to encourage the American military to enter WWII. Given coalition operations in Libya, leaders couldn't be blamed for drawing the same conclusion as Churchill.
On the one hand, coalition operations in Libya are a recipe for disaster. UN Security Council Resolution 1973 was crafted in intentionally vague terms in order to minimize opposition. The unintended consequence is that no one can figure out who's in charge, what the goals are, and when they'll leave. Undertaking this as a NATO operation would have been obvious since at least it has a clear decision making apparatus, but member state Turkey opposes the use of military force in Libya. As the Turkish prime minister said in televised speech, "Turkey will never be on the side of pointing the gun at the Libyan people." The alternative to NATO is what Prime Minister David Cameron referred to as an ad hoc "coalition of the willing"-remember Iraq?-with a mishmash of largely British, American, French, Danish military assets. But which of these is taking the lead and how these militaries are being coordinated is a mystery. This violates rule #1 of military operations: unity of command.
On the other hand, the United States already has TWO ongoing wars. Undertaking a third was of questionable merit in my book, but once it decided to use force, it made sense to be able to share the burden with others. President Obama justified the multilateral operation saying that "it means the United States is not bearing all the cost." At the least, going multilaterally will have defrayed the cost for an overstretched American military.
Whether multilateralism makes it more legitimate and exonerates the US from accusations of invading another Muslim country is another story. The initial signs are not encouraging. US marines have already been accused of firing on civilians when they went in to rescue the pilots of the fallen F-15E. Ultimately, events on the ground are likely to determine the legitimacy, not UN and Arab League approval. If the operation is successful, then multilateralism will have seemed like the legitimate, effective choice.
Of course, the first step is to figure out what success looks like. That ambiguity, however, is no fault of the coalition. The US has had some difficulty figuring that out in its "own" wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Making that decision by committee will be considerably more difficult. But far preferable, as Churchill might have said, than having to bear the burden of fighting alone.
What do you think?
As I try to sort out all of the implications of Operation Odyssey Dawn, I see two memes that should be thought of in concert. The first one is the striking fact that the United States seemed to be following rather than leading on organizing the U.N. Security Council to take action. The second theme is that Libya is way far down on the list of America's Middle East priorities, so the United States should be wary about the opportunity costs of getting too involved.
Combining these two memes makes me think of my wedding -- and therefore why this aspect of U.S. policy towards Libya might be a good thing.
Let me explain. When my lovely bride and I were planning our nuptials, we were wary of excessive parental interventions on the issues we really cared about -- the vows, the food, the music, the seating arrangements, etc. Of course, these were our parents, so a stonewalling strategy wasn't going to work terribly well either.
Faced with this policy conundrum, we hit upon a brilliant idea -- we had to give them an issue that they cared about fervently but didn't really matter to us all that much. So, we had the Official Blog Moms decide on the favors that would be at every place-setting.
This proved to be a brilliant maneuver. We would receive constant updates and debates about what was under consideration. When receiving all of this information, we would smile, nod, and say, "we trust you to make the right decision." All the while, we took care of the Big Wedding Issues that were of Serious Importance to Us. I think the result was a win-win -- the parents claimed ownership of something they cared about, but we got the wedding we wanted.
What does this have to do with Libya? This issue clearly animates French President Nicolas Sarkozy more than U.S. President Barack Obama (surprisingly, given France's past preferences on these kind of issues). Sarkozy has been receiving plaudits for his leadership. Which is great on two counts. First, it (hopefully) means that after the initial efforts to ensure that Libya's air defenses are neutralized, the United States really can let France and the U.K. take the lead on operational activities.
Second, I share other's concerns that an excessive focus on Libya might distract the top U.S. leadership from Other Really Big Events. What holds for the United States holds for France with even greater force, however. In that sense, then, the more that Sarkozy is obsessed with Libya, the less time he can devote to
overambitious and ultimately futile grand economic designs his pet projects in preparation for the 2011 G-20 summit.
Much like big weddings, many things could go wrong along the way -- but I think pundits need to appreciate the positive second-order effects of letting France be in charge of the chocolate favor--- I mean, the immediate intricacies of enforcing Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya.
What do you think?
According to the Associated Press, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dropped many pretenses and bluntly explained the birds, the bees, and the bombs with respect to the Sino-American relationship:
The U.S. risks falling behind China in the competition for global influence as Beijing woos leaders in the resource-rich Pacific, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday.
Her unusually strong comments before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are certain to anger the communist power, especially in light of Chinese President Hu Jintao's recent high-profile visit to Washington, seen as boosting trust and trade between the world's two largest economies....
[S]he told senators, "We are a competition for influence with China. Let's put aside the humanitarian, do-good side of what we believe in. Let's just talk straight realpolitik. We are in competition with China."
She noted a "huge energy find" in Papua New Guinea by U.S. company Exxon Mobil Corp., which has begun drilling for natural gas there. Clinton said China was jockeying for influence in the region and seeing how it could "come in behind us and come in under us."....
Clinton also said China had brought all the leaders of small Pacific nations to Beijing and "wined them and dined them."...
Charles Freeman, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the U.S. was "unquestionably" involved in a "soft power competition with China. But this isn't a hard power, Cold War exercise." (emphasis added)
So this is how soft power works! I can picture the scene......
[Setting: a small banquet hall. Violin music is playing in the background. A sumptuous feast is on a table, as are two large, empty wine glasses.]
CHINA: Say, we sure would love to get exclusive drilling rights to your offshore oil discoveries.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA: I'm not sure I should even be here. I mean, we've been in a long relationship with the United States. So many memories....
CHINA: Well, where is the United States right now? I don't see them paying as much attention to you as they should be.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA: America is a little short on cash now. Washington keeps saying that it will change, but... I've heard that song too many times before. The USA keeps saying, "it's not you, it's me." (grimaces)
CHINA: Say, have you tried the 1960 cheval blanc? It really is heavenly. (pours wine)
PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Oh. Oh my. Well, who would be hurt by an exploratory agreement? (lights dim)
OK, somewhat more seriously, Clinton's comments need to be put into perspective:
Clinton railed against cuts sought by Republican to the U.S. foreign aid program....
America's top diplomat accused China of supporting a dictatorial government in Fiji, where plans to reopen an office of the U.S. Agency for International Development would be shelved under a resolution passed last month by the Republican-led House. That measure proposes sharp cuts to foreign assistance, including a $21 million program to help Pacific islands vulnerable to rising sea levels, as part of efforts to rein in government spending....
She said foreign assistance was important on humanitarian and moral grounds, but also strategically essential for America's global influence.
"I mean, if anybody thinks that our retreating on these issues is somehow going to be irrelevant to the maintenance of our leadership in a world where we are competing with China, where we are competing with Iran, that is a mistaken notion," Clinton said.
Clinton is correct in the short term. If I was the foreign policy budget czar, I'd be transferring at least $100 billion from DoD to State on the premise that problem prevention is always more cost-effective than problem-solving.
The "China is going to eat our lunch" meme is a popular one in Washington for domestic reasons -- it's a great argument to motivate policy. The Obama administration is going to this well an awful lot, however. My concern is that this rhetorical device doesn't lead to any genuine policy change but does lead to blowback - i.e., it scares the crap out of everyone in DC. That's the worst of both worlds.
What do you think?
Steve Coll breaks some news about Afghanistan at The New Yorker. He reports that the Obama administration is now "entered into direct, secret talks with senior Afghan Taliban leaders."
Readers should feel free to debate the wisdom of this move in the comments. I was struck by Coll's concise one-paragraph description of the situation on the ground:
[T]he Obama Administration has understandably concluded that the status quo is untenable. The war has devolved into a strategic stalemate: urban Afghan populations enjoy reasonable security, millions of schoolgirls are back in class, Al Qaeda cannot operate, and the Taliban cannot return to power, yet in the provinces ethnic militias and criminal gangs still husband weapons, cadge international funds, and exploit the weak. Neither the United States nor the Taliban can achieve its stated aims by arms alone, and the Administration lacks a sure way to preserve the gains made while reducing its military presence, as it must, for fiscal, political, and many other reasons.
Now, Coll states above that this situation cannot last. Here's my question: why?
I'm not saying the status quo is good, mind you. I'm just wondering -- exactly what fiscal or political pressure will force a change in U.S. policy? As previously noted, there's not much daylight between the Obama administration and the GOP on Afghanistan. The Obama administration's position has mutated from "firm withdrawal in 2011" to "did we say 2011? Cause we really meant 2014." Even if the war is unpopular with the American public, I see no groundswell that would force a political response.
As for the fiscal question, it's true that the Afghanistan conflict is not cheap. It's also true, however, that overseas military adventures are not the primary driver of the deficit, and there's no chance in hell that the GOP will embrace defense cuts because of fiscal strictures.
One could argue that the negotiations themselves are a signal that the administration wants to change the situation. That's undeniably true, but Coll notes that these negotiations will take quite some time: "Yalta this is not."
There's a tendency, when analysts see a stalemate or deadlock, to assume that something has to give. Surely, one side or the other will indicate a willingness to negotiate a change. This is particularly true if the analyst doesn't like the status quo. Sometimes, however, the intolerable situation can last a good while longer than anyone wants it to. I suspect that will be the case in Afghanistan.
Earlier this week Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner went to Brazil as part of a long-running effort to get that country to pressure China on its exchange-rate policy. This effort had yielded some marginal successes in the past, but it had also yielded comments like Brazilian Foreign Minister saying: "I believe that this idea of putting pressure on a country is not the right way for finding solutions. We have good co-ordination with China and we've been talking to them. We can't forget that China is currently our main customer (emphasis added)."
The mild surprise is that Geithner's plea appeared to find a receptive audience in Brasilia. From the Financial Times' Joe Leahy:
Any alignment with the US on the issue of China’s currency would mark a fundamental shift for Brazil. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s previous president, had pursued a trade policy that was partially dictated by his vision of a grand “south-south” alliance among developing countries.
His pragmatic successor, Dilma Rousseff, is more concerned that Brazil exports primarily commodities to China while its domestic manufacturing industry is being undermined by a strong exchange rate and cheap imports.
Ms Rousseff has also toned down her predecessor’s criticism of US monetary policy, which Mr Lula da Silva’s administration blamed for exacerbating global capital flows....
One person familiar with the government’s stance said Brazil was considering a public declaration on global imbalances and China’s undervalued currency during Mr Obama’s visit.
“The idea is we might issue a communiqué in which maybe we can work in common language to try to stress this matter,” the person said.
What's going on? A few things. First, it's probably true that this shift won't amount to all that much in terms of affecting China's policies. Second, this is an effective way for Rousseff to distinguish herself from Lula, and she's backing up the rhetorical shift with action items. Third, Lula's foreign policy on this point was always based more on old-fashioned third world solidarity than anything approximating Brazil's national interest. Not that Lula's foreign policy was all that bad, mind you, but this seems more like a return to Brazil's equilibrium set of interests.
If the Obama administration was smart, they would capitalize on this newfound friendship with Latin America's largest country with some big, meaningful and yet highly symbolic foreign policy initiative. If only there was some moribund-yet-highly-useful foreign policy initiative that would cement the relationship. But that's just crazy talk.…
While I was obsessing about Egypt last week, I see that John Quiggin, William Winecoff and others have been having a rollicking debate about the status of American hegemony, the fungibility of military power, and Boeing/Airbus subsidies. OK, that last one is less interesting, but I strongly encourage readers to go through the comment thread to that blog post.
Essentially, Quiggin contends that:
[T]he decline of the US from its 1945 position of global pre-eminence has already happened. The US is now a fairly typical advanced/developed country, distinguished primarily by its large population.
Ergo, other large market jurisdictions, like the European Union, are equal to the U.S. in terms of relative power.
This cheesed off Winecoff and others into pointing out the myriad ways in which the U.S. power profile is a) still outsized; and b) largely shaped the current global order we live in; and c) allowed entities like the EU to focus on welfare maximization rather than security.
Dan Nexon, in a comment to Quiggin's last rejoinder, gets at one nub of the debate:
John’s pointing out, quite rightly, that military power isn’t necessarily fungible. He’s doing so in the context of economic and regulatory power, which is the most “multipolar” dimension of global power right now. His IR critics are pointing out that the US still has outsized influence across a number of domains, and that some of those domains involve international (economic) institutions. They’re both onto something.
I pretty much agree with Dan here. In the military sphere, the U.S. remains a hegemonic power. In the economic and regulatory realms, well, I wrote a whole book arguing that until recently we lived in a bipolar world, so I'll side with Quiggin on that score.
There's something missing from this debate that is worth raising, however -- a proper definition of power. For example, in his first post, Quiggin noted that "[advanced industrialized countries] might be said to have declined in relative terms. But this doesn’t seem to me to constitute 'decline' in any important sense." This is heresy to an international relations scholar, in that power is viewed as a zero-sum commodity.
Beyond that, however, it is useful to think about the power to deter change from the status quo vs, the power to compel change in the status quo. In a deterrence scenario, countries use their capabilities to ward off pressure from other actors, or from structural pressures. In a compellence scenario, a powerful government threatens to use statecraft to extract concessions from other actors, or use power to alter the rules of the global game.
Deterring pressure by others is different than applying such pressure to others. With military or economic statecraft, it is generally easier to defend than attack. Many IR scholars argue that the ability to deter is a necessary condition of the power to compel. Only after an actor has the ability to resist pressure from others will they contemplate whether they can be the actor to generate pressure. Countries possessing sufficient reservoirs of power should therefore have both greater autonomy of action and be better placed to apply pressure on other actors.
What the past few years have demonstrated is the relative decline of U.S. compellence power and the rise of other countries deterrence power. Certainly the recent uses of U.S. military force haven't yielded the expected results. In the economic realm, countries like India and Brazil can veto WTO negotiation rounds in a way that simply wasn't possible 15 years ago. Similarly, China can resist U.S. jawboning on its exchange rate policy far more than in the past.
On the other hand, neither U.S. deterrent power nor other countries' compellence power has changed all that much, even in the economic realm. The rest of the G-20 can scream as loud as they want, but quantitative easing is going to continue. China has tried to find ways to use its newly found financial muscle to force changes in the international system, to little avail. To be sure, Russia, China and others can compel countries on their immediate periphery, but even a glance at the 2008 Russian-Georgian war suggests that even modest efforts like these are expensive and messy.
So... we live in a world in which more actors have vetoes over systemic change but no actor has the ability to truly compel change. This leads to lots of talk about "G-zero worlds" and so forth.
Just to be provocative, however, I wonder if what's truly changed is the extinction of compellence power as we know it. The primary, ne plus ultra tools of compellence require a willingness to kill, jail or starve a lot of people. Recent flare-ups like Iran in 2009 and Egypt right now suggests that such actions are possible at the domestic level, but pretty damn costly; even authoritarian countries flinch at using brute force on a domestic population. Cross-border efforts are even more expensive in terms of both material and reputational costs.
This isn't the end of power, but it might be the end of one particular dimension of power. I'm not entirely convinced that this supposition is true, and am willing/eager to hear counterarguments. That said, I still hereby claim The End of Power as my title, so everyone else just back off, OK?
More seriously, am I missing anything?
Sooo... in the meantime, I have a review of George Friedman's The Next Decade: Where We've Been... and Where We're Going in the latest issue of Texas Monthly. Friedman is the founder and CEO of Stratfor, which is based in Austin, Texas.
Here's how the review opens and closes:
As a rule, those who predict the future of world events should be viewed the same way Hermione Granger viewed Hogwarts’s divination classes—with unremitting skepticism. Social scientists may have something to offer in the way of explanation or short-term speculation, but there are serious limits to any kind of global soothsaying. World politics are simply too complex to forecast anything precisely in the medium term; it’s like asking a meteorologist to predict the weather a decade from now....
Perhaps I exaggerated Hermione’s skepticism of divination a bit. An otherwise stellar student, she was clearly frustrated that she was simply no good at it. Similarly, I should confess a smidgen of envy at Friedman’s conviction that he will be proved right about everything. Some writers are so sure of their beliefs that their assuredness has a viral quality, infecting the reader even if their logic fails. Friedman possesses that certainty in truckloads, and The Next Decade contains a few nuggets of insight as well. But make no mistake: Things will happen over the course of the next decade—and the next year and the next week—that will completely rock George Friedman’s world. (emphasis added)
Hey, are my predictive powers amazing or what??!! OK, those predictive powers were really the result of an excellent editor at Texas Monthly, but you get the idea.
I believe you can read the whole thing. Incidentally, his key insight into Egypt comes on page 92: "Even if the secular Nasserite regime fell, it would be a generation before Egypt could be a threat, and then only if it gained the patronage of a major power." Ah, that explains why Israel is handling these events so calmly. Oh, wait...
For a fun exercise, see if Friedman's current analysis jibes with how he predicts the next decade.
Your humble blogger likes to occasionally check the interwebs to make sure that no one is abusing Thucydides in making an argument about modern-day international relations. In descending order of offensiveness, examples of Thucydides Abuse include:
1) Blatantly making up what Thucydides actually said in History of the Peloponnesian War;
2) Exaggerating how Thucydides can contribute to understanding world politics today;
3) Writing the truth, but not the whole truth, about Thucydides' history.
Yesterday David Sanger invoked Thucydides in his New York Times Week in Review essay on a rising China and a fading United States. Let's see how he did:
For a superpower, dealing with the fast rise of a rich, brash competitor has always been an iffy thing....
[A]sk Thucydides, the Athenian historian whose tome on the Peloponnesian War has ruined many a college freshman's weekend. The line they had to remember for the test was his conclusion: "What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta."
So while no official would dare say so publicly as President Hu Jintao bounced from the White House to meetings with business leaders to factories in Chicago last week, his visit, from both sides' points of view, was all about managing China's rise and defusing the fears that it triggers. Both Mr. Hu and President Obama seemed desperate to avoid what Graham Allison of Harvard University has labeled "the Thucydides Trap" - that deadly combination of calculation and emotion that, over the years, can turn healthy rivalry into antagonism or worse....
[I]n both capitals, fear makes for good business: It's a proven way to sell weapons systems.
Meanwhile, Thucydides might be appalled at the nationalistic talk that resounds in both countries. In Chinese newspapers these days, it's hard to avoid accounts of "American decline." Meanwhile, some new members of Congress talk lightly of cutting off Chinese access to the American market - as if that could happen in today's global economy.
In both languages, that's fear talking.
You know what? Given the space constraints, Sanger does pretty well. He manages to nail the subtle point about how fear leads to the worst sort of policy decisions. It is telling that, as the war progresses, Athenian decision-making devolves. Initially, the country's leaders understand that "fear, honor and interest" guide foreign policy. By the time the invasion of Sicily comes around, however, the Athenian leadership has reduced this to fear. Sanger actually quotes Thucydides rather than paraphrasing him. By modern journalistic standards, that's pretty extraordinary.
Nonetheless, Sanger commits the misdemeanor of omitting the whole truth of Thucydides. This is important, because the omission gets at how the historical analogy doesn't really hold up.
First, Sparta was never the hegemonic power prior to the war -- at best, they were a co-equal of Athens. That's not the current situation.
Second, Sparta was scolded by its allies -- and implicitly, by Thucydides himself -- for excessive caution when confronted with a rising power. Throughout the History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides contrasts Athenian energy and dynamism with Spartan conservatism and risk-aversion. Spartan fear was triggered by past Spartan inaction and caution.
Now, say what you will about American foreign policy, but conservatism and risk-aversion have not been nouns associated with it for quite some time. Similarly, until about mid-2009, China was not thought of as a source of foreign policy dynamism. Furthermore, when China's foreign policy changed, so did the United States'. Comparing the Obama administration's response to Spartan inaction doesn't hold up.
In the sparest structural sense, there are a few parallels that can be drawn between Greece in the fifth century B.C.E. and the present day. On the whole, however, I think the Athens-Sparta historical analogy obfuscates more than it enlightens.
Readers are warmly encouraged to alert the hard-working staff here at the blog for any further abuses of Thucydides. I mean, you know this is going to crop up on the next Jersey Shore episode.
Foreign Policy asked many smart people, and then me, for some nuggets of unconventional wisdom heading into 2011. My contribution is on how China isn't all that and a bag of chips.
My closing paragraph:
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.
Be sure to read the rest of them -- really, the other contributors are all smarter than me.
Back in the nineties, the Economist ran a very provocative end-of-year essay on voluntary human extinction, concluding with the notion that, "the tricky question is not whether to extinguish, but when."
While I don't think that this concept has gained much traction in most of the world, I'm beginning to wonder if the government of Japan is embracing it on the sly. I've blogged before about that country's stout resistance to immigration. Today the New York Times' Hiroko Tabuchi has another front-pager on the barriers to entry for even well-trained immigrants. Shorter Times: the situation is unchanged from 18 months ago:
Despite facing an imminent labor shortage as its population ages, Japan has done little to open itself up to immigration. In fact … the government is doing the opposite, actively encouraging both foreign workers and foreign graduates of its universities and professional schools to return home while protecting tiny interest groups.…
In 2009, the number of registered foreigners here fell for the first time since the government started to track annual records almost a half-century ago, shrinking 1.4 percent from a year earlier to 2.19 million people -- or just 1.71 percent of Japan's overall population of 127.5 million.
Experts say increased immigration provides one obvious remedy to Japan's two decades of lethargic economic growth. But instead of accepting young workers, however -- and along with them, fresh ideas -- Tokyo seems to have resigned itself to a demographic crisis that threatens to stunt the country's economic growth, hamper efforts to deal with its chronic budget deficits and bankrupt its social security system.…
Japan's demographic time clock is ticking: its population will fall by almost a third to 90 million within 50 years, according to government forecasts. By 2055, more than one in three Japanese will be over 65, as the working-age population falls by over a third to 52 million.
Still, when a heavyweight of the defeated Liberal Democratic Party unveiled a plan in 2008 calling for Japan to accept at least 10 million immigrants, opinion polls showed that a majority of Japanese were opposed. A survey of roughly 2,400 voters earlier this year by the daily Asahi Shimbun showed that 65 percent of respondents opposed a more open immigration policy.
If you talk to Japan-boosters about this issue, they'll usually respond with some equation of older workers + hi-tech robots = healthy Japan. OK, but it turns out that Japan has fewer old people than the government originally thought, and I'm worried that when the robots get too smart, Will Smith will be too old to stop them.
Seriously, this seems to fall into that set of problems, like, say, climate change, where most people recognize that there's a serious long-term problem but the short-term incentives to do something about it are close to nil.
Am I missing anything?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.