With the government not shutting down and all, Washington can now look forward to the next moment of Gotterdammerung, which is when the debt ceiling has to be raised. By risking minor things like the full faith and credit of the United States, that kind of shutdown really would have serious foreign policy implications.
That said, there is another possibility on the horizon -- a grand bargain on long-term fiscal rectitude. The good news is that there really is a bargaining core among the major players on entitlement reform, budget cuts, and tax reform. The bad news is that one could say the same thing about an Israeli/Palestinian peace deal, and look how that's playing out. The follow-up good news is that I think there are political reasons to be more optimistic about the U.S. situation.
Seasoned DC-watchers might immediately laugh at the prospect of the kind of bipartisan brand bargain on fiscal policy that hasn't been seen since the days of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings and the 1986 tax reform bill. That said, I think a bargain can be struck for the simple reason that there is at least a general consensus that the long-term fiscal picture for the United States is really daunting and in dire need of proactive policy measures. This jibes with U.S. public opinion on the question. The biggest question is what mix of spending cuts need to be taken -- though I think the fiscal picture is sufficiently dire such that there's gonna have to be serious steps taken in all possible spending spheres (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, discretionary domestic spending, Defense spending). The combination of the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission, Paul Ryan's proposed budget, and Obama's scheduled Wednesday address means there will be multiple proffers on the table, so at least there are concrete measures to talk about.
Furthermore, the tax code has gotten so complicated that there's actual room for a tax deal that would simultaneously raise revenues but be palatable to Republicans. For all the debate over raising or lowering tax rates, the key problem is that tax revenues as a percentage of GDP are at postwar historic lows. If distortionary loopholes were eliminated, it would be possible to keep marginal tax rates where they are, or even lower them, while still raising revenues.
Finally, the economic argument against fiscal tightening is that the economy is still in recession, except that's not really true. The economy has been growing at a steady clip for a yeat now. The real concern is the job picture, but if last month's numbers are suggestive of a more robust turnaround, then this would be exactly the moment to rein in spending and signal to financial markets that fiscal probity is coming.
So I think a grand bargain is possible. Now, the natural rejoinder to this is that the partisan split in Washington is too great for bipartisanship to work, the Tea Party will be unyielding, yadda, yadda, yadda. This is a possibility. It's certainly true that the last time something on this scale was attempted, in 1993, it was a straight partisan vote. If the Obama administration and GOP members of Congress see this as a zero-sum game that ends with the 2012 election, then no bargain will be struck.
There are two political reasons why I'm more optimistic this time around -- although these reasons normally don't count for much in political science. First, the personalities of the key players suggest that they want to make a deal. Barack Obama was the happiest I'd seen him in a long time when he announced on Friday night that a budget deal had been struck. John Boehner, and his staff, set a nice precedent of being able to bargain with the Democrats while holding his caucus together, and earned some praise from Democrats for his dealmaking. The personal inclinations of the pcvotal actors are biased towards cutting a deal. [But what about the Tea Party?!--ed. See this Dave Weigel post.]
Second, I think it's beginning to occur to GOP legislatures that their crop of 2012 presidential camdidates really and truly stinks:
A presidential primary favorite is emerging among the ranks of congressional Republicans: none of the above.
The dissatisfaction with the likely GOP field — long whispered among party activists, operatives and elected officials — is growing more audible in the House and Senate.
Interviews on both sides of the Capitol have revealed widespread concern about the lackluster quality of the current crop of candidates and little consensus on who Republican senators and House members would like to see in the race.
It's early, and the fundamentals suggest that the eventual GOP nominee might make it a close race, but still -- whoever gets the nomination is gonna have to run against a sitting president who's still surprisingly popular given the state of the economy.
If GOP legislative leaders calculate that they can't win back the White House in 2012, their preference flips over to cutting a deal with the Obama administration. Bipartisan deals help incumbents and hurt challengers, which means that in cutting a deal, the House Republicans would help Obama while helping themselves. That's not their first option, but in a political climate when Donald Trump can poll second in New Hampshire by embracing the birthers, it's not the worst calculaion either.
I look forward to commenters telling me how wrong I am about this. But let me close this post by pointing out something that I think is obvious but might pass by some foreign policy pundits
who get scared by economics that tend to focus more on matters of hard security. From a foreign policy perspective, whether or not a Grand Bargain can be struck is of far more importance than whether or not there's such a thing as an Obama Doctrine. Over the long term, America's hard power and soft power resides in its economic vitality. A close reading of Obama's rhetoric suggsts that he gets this point. It will be very interesting to see if he decides to invest his political capital in cutting a deal.
President Obama is scheduled to address the country this evening on Libya, and the odds are pretty good that Ben Rhodes will be writing the bulk of the speech. I'm sure the speech will be interesting, full of false choices for the Obama administration to surmount and the like.
Still, what I'd love to see is Rhodes' first draft -- you know, the one where he just spits out exactly what he thinks Obama is thinking on Libya, warts and all.
Well, fortunately, due to your humble blogger's vast
and imaginary network of sources inside the Beltway, I have secured a copy of that first draft of the speech, reprinted below for your edification:
FIRST NOTES/DRAFT OF POTUS LIBYA SPEECH
By Benjamin Rhodes
I'm addressing you, my fellow Americans, because my administration's message on our
war limited humanitarian interventionkinetic military action in Libya has truly and totally sucked. Seriously, I'm gobsmacked at how f***ing incoherent we've been in communicating our rationale to the foreign policy community and the American public. The bickering within my administration and within the international coalition has not helped -- sweet Jesus, multilateralism can be a royal pain in the butt sometimes. No wonder public support has been relatively anemic (although there's also the fact that I'm launching another war when all Americans care about right now is the domestic economy).
How bad is it? I'm getting hit by the neocons for moving without Congressional permission less than a week after I was getting hit by them for not moving quickly enough!! Thank God for Newt Gingrich, or I'd look really bad. Now I'm getting flak from the left on not being consistent with R2P when, in fact, anyone who knows anything about R2P knows that I'm doing the best I can. Seriously, I'm supposed to intervene militarily in Bahrain and Syria too? Sure, right after I send the 82nd Airborne to liberate Tibet. At least I can ignore the criticism from those who went on junkets to Tripoli last year. Hypocrisy sure is a bitch, huh?
What kills me, what absolutely kills me, is that in just ten days, without any boots on the ground, we've accomplished one whole hell of a lot. First off, if we hadn't intervened, the rebels would have been routed in Benghazi, and Khaddafy would be in control of the entire country again. OK, so maybe the "100,000 dead" figure was a bit exaggerated, but surely the fall of Benghazi would have created hundreds of thousands of Libya refugees flowing into Egypt, which is exactly what that country doesn't need right now. Anyone who doesn't realize that the situation in Libya and the situation in Egypt are connected is a f***ing moron (which, since we forgot to mention this fact for an awfully long time, apparently includes my messaging shop).
Now, the situation on the ground looks pretty much like how things looked during the high tide of the Libyan rebellion. So long as our air support continues, that's now the worst-case scenario -- and you know what, that's actually pretty tolerable. It would mean that the rebels would control about 70% of Libya's oil reserves and that the regions of the country most hostile to Khaddafy would be free of his grip. Over time, sanctions will start to hit Khaddafy's resources, the Libya Transitional Council can get its act together, and we can burden-share with NATO a hell of a lot more. The Libyans don't want our boots on the ground any more than we want to have them there -- so further escalation is not in the cards.
All the while -- and remember, this is the worst-case scenario -- the United States will have accomplished two direct deliverables and quite a few positive policy externalities. Directly, we averted a humanitarian disaster and created a buffer in eastern Libya that eases any economic or humanitarian pressure on Egypt (which is where our strategic interest lies).
In many ways, the policy externalities are even bigger. The biggest bonus is that, for once, our hard power is actually augmenting our soft power. Those images on Al Jazeera of Libyans saying thank you to the United States -- that's pure soft power gold. When you compare how the U.S. government has handled the Arab Revolutions to Al Qaeda or Iran, the contrast is pretty stark. What's happened in Libya has helped to obscure our more realpolitik response in, say Bahrain. Oh, and we managed to find a purpose for NATO.
Is this messy? Duh, of course! Could this intervention distract us from The Big Picture? Maybe for the past week and this week, sure, but it's not like Iran or China is really exploiting what's going on in the Middle East -- they're too busy trying to pretend it's not happening domestically. As for North Korea learning that it's a mistake to give up their nukes, I'm pretty sure they'd learned that lesson way back in 2003, thank you very much.
Look, I'd have loved for the messaging to be clearer, and in retrospect it would have been good if we'd had asked Congress for authorization, but this is what happens when you make foreign policy on the fly in a region wracked by revolution. It's not perfect, but if you think about the counterfactuals real hard, I'm fully confident that the benefits massively outweigh the costs of this intervention. So there.
Yesterday Director of National Intelligence James Clapper provided his sober assessment of the situation on the ground in Libya:
Responding to questions, Mr. Clapper told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that Colonel Qaddafi had a potentially decisive advantage in arms and equipment that would make itself felt as the conflict wore on.
“This is kind of a stalemate back and forth,” he said, “but I think over the longer term that the regime will prevail.”
Mr. Clapper also offered another scenario, one in which the country is split into two or three ministates, reverting to the way it was before Colonel Qaddafi’s rule. “You could end up with a situation where Qaddafi would have Tripoli and its environs, and then Benghazi and its environs could be under another ministate,” he said.
The White House was clearly taken aback by the assessment that Mr. Qaddafi could prevail.
The White House wasn't the only actor that didn't like what Clapper was saying:
Clapper's prediction of defeat for the Libyan opposition prompted a furious Sen.Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to demand that Clapper resign or be fired.
"The situation in Libya remains tenuous and the director's comments today on Gadhafi's 'staying power' are not helpful to our national security interests,'' Graham said in a statement, using a different spelling of the leader's name. "His comments will make the situation more difficult for those opposing Gadhafi ... and undercut our national efforts to bring about the desired result of Libya moving from dictator to democracy.
Yeah, how dare Clapper say things that jibe with open-source analysis of the situation!!
I kinda sorta understand the argument that Clapper shouldn't have said this in public, but not really. To have a quality debate about policy options on Libya, this kind of dispassionate analysis is crucial. Clapper's job description is to provide an assessment of what's actually occurring on the ground, regardless of what people want to happen on the ground. It's then up to policymakers to craft responses to try to alter or reinforce that situation as they see fit. Calling for Clapper's resignation because he provided what appears to be an accurate assessment of the current state of play seriously politicizes the job of intelligence analysis and assessment. Doesn't the past decade suggest that politicized intelligence leads to catastrophic foreign policymaking?
What worries me is not what Clapper said but how the White House responded:
The White House was clearly taken aback by the assessment that Mr. Qaddafi could prevail, and Mr. Donilon, talking to reporters a few hours later, suggested that Mr. Clapper was addressing the question too narrowly.
“If you did a static and one-dimensional assessment of just looking at order of battle and mercenaries,” Mr. Donilon said, one could conclude that the Libyan leader would hang on. But he said that he took a “dynamic” and “multidimensional” view, which he said would lead “to a different conclusion about how this is going to go forward.”
“The lost legitimacy matters,” he said. “Motivation matters. Incentives matter.” He said Colonel Qaddafi’s “resources are being cut off,” and ultimately that would undercut his hold on power.
A senior administration official, driving home the difference in an e-mail on Thursday evening, wrote, “The president does not think that Qaddafi will prevail.”
Hmmm. Over the past week, the Libyan opposition to Qaddafi has been winning on only one dimension -- garnering international support. On the ground in Libya, not so much. And the international support won't affect the situation on the ground anytime soon. Even the tightest financial sanctions don't matter at this point. Qaddafi possesses far more financial reserves than, say, the Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo -- and yet Gbagbo has managed to stay in power for five months. Sanctions should eventually work in the Ivory Coast, but they're not going to work anytime soon in Libya.
Contra Donilon, the only way in which the dynamic changes on the ground in Libya is if international support becomes far more concerted and proactive in support of the Libyan rebels. Based on Mark Landler and Helene Cooper's analysis in the New York Times, however, the Obama administration won't be spearheading that kind of policy shift. For Donilon to suggest that, absent U.S. action, the dynamic is working in favor of Libya's anti-Qaddafi movement smacks of utopian thinking.
Graham and others should criticize the Obama administration's handling of Libya if they want to see a more forceful policy response. Criticizing the DNI for providing an accurate intelligence assessment, on the other hand, is seriously counterproductive.
The lead article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs is Walter Russell Mead's disquisition regarding the Tea Party's attitudes about American foreign policy. This intellectual exegesis comes on the heels of P.J. O'Rourke's similar effort in World Affairs. This spread of analysis about the Tea Party's hopes and dreams for Amerian foreign policy into the serious policy journals can mean only one thing: the Tea Party's influence on American foreign policy has peaked and will be on the downswing for quite some time.
I actually have some data on my side. The common denominator to all Tea Party supporters is a healthy distrust of the federal government. A Pew poll released last week, however, suggests that anger at the government peaked six months ago:
[F]ewer Americans say they are angry at government than did so last fall. Overall, the percentage saying they are angry with the federal government has fallen from 23% last September to 14% today, with much of the decline coming among Republicans and Tea Party supporters.
There is also data demonstrating that trust in government is rising from last year's nadir. Part of this might be a dead cat bounce. Part of it is likely due to the fact Tea Party supporters are pleased with the midterm election results. Part of it might even be due to a mildly improving job picture. The point is, it's happening.
The performance of the Tea Party's rock stars is also suggestive. As Glenn Beck has careened even further into conspiracy theory territory, he has seen his ratings and popularity fall to the point where other conservatives feel free to rip into him like a garden-variety Democrat. As I pointed out last December, Sarah Palin's poll numbers have been nosediving for the past year now -- enough so that, again, possible contenders for the 2012 GOP nomination feel free to
rip mildly tweak her.
This has all happened after just two months of a new GOP-held House infused with Tea Party members. My prediction is that, if anything, the Tea Party movement will splinter even more going forward. Governing means compromising, and that's exactly what Tea Party activists don't want to see. As the GOP members of Congress consider the
pathetic horrible underwhelming list of 2012 challengers to Barack Obama, they'll decide that it's better to cut a deal with the current administration as a way to stay in power.
As for foreign policy, Beck and Palin have radically different foreign policy worldviews, which suggests the inchoate nature of the Tea Party movement itself. O'Rourke noted last fall:
What is the Tea Party’s foreign policy? It’s a difficult question on two counts. There is no Tea Party foreign policy as far as I can tell, and, on inspection, there is no Tea Party. There are, of course, any number of Tea Party Coalition groups across the country. But these mix and mingle, cooperate, compete, debate, merge, and overlap with countless other groups grouped together as the “Tea Party movement” in the public mind.
Mead makes a similar observation, but argues that passionate minorities can still wield veto power in American politics, and that eventually, "the contest in the Tea Party between what might be called its Palinite and its Paulite wings will likely end in a victory for the Palinities." This implies the status quo of different elements of the Tea Party movement holding contradictory views cannot hold -- and I see no reason why it can't. The simplest fact about the Tea Party is that, by and large, they don't care about foreign policy.
The only issue areas where I suspect the Tea Party will really matter going forward are in the policies that cater to both wing's inherent American nationalism -- namely, immigration and anti-Muslim
hysteria concerns. Beyond that, however, I suspect that ten years from now we'll look back at the Tea Party movement the same way we now look ay Ross Perot's Reform Party -- a brief, interesting but in the end unstable collection of political oddities.
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?
Your humble blogger has repeatedly stressed the theme that when it comes to foreign or economic policy, the U.S. public is rationally ignorant. This does not mean, despite my occasional slip of the pen, that Americans are stupid. It means that they lead busy lives and don't see the need to read up on arcane policy issues that do not appear to affect their daily lives.
One of the awesome upsides of being rationally ignorant is that it allows the voter to reconcile what policy wonks know, in their hearts, is utterly irreconcilable.
Two recent polls of U.S. public opinion reveal this point quite nicely. Pew's latest survey of U.S. attitudes about China reveal deep-seated American anxiety about China's rising economic power, but a desire to strengthen relations. This leads to a headline assessment, "Strengthen Ties with China, but Get Tough on Trade," that is already contradictory.
Even better, however, is the Reuters/Ipsos survey of American attitudes about the debt ceiling:
The U.S. public overwhelmingly opposes raising the country's debt limit even though failure to do so could hurt America's international standing and push up borrowing costs, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday.
Some 71 percent of those surveyed oppose increasing the borrowing authority, the focus of a brewing political battle over federal spending. Only 18 percent support an increase.…
With the Pentagon fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 51 percent supported cutbacks to military spending.…
Expensive benefit programs that account for nearly half of all federal spending enjoy widespread support, the poll found. Only 20 percent supported paring Social Security retirement benefits while a mere 23 supported cutbacks to the Medicare health-insurance program.
Some 73 percent support scaling back foreign aid and 65 percent support cutting back on tax collection.
How to put this gently… any serious effort to tackle the deficit/debt problem can't be accomplished without addressing Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and tax reform. So any American who says they don't want the debt ceiling raised is logically saying, "I want interest rates to skyrocket and massive cuts in Social Security and Medicare."
Except, of course, most Americans are rationally ignorant -- so they don't see these set of beliefs as contradictory.
It's not a bad way to go through life… unless, of course, you're the one trying to get the books into balance.
As Ian Bremmer announced over at The Call, Eurasia Group recently released their top risks for 2011. Coming at no. 7 is the U.S. political system: "In 2011, headline risk will be driven by both parties loudly promoting priorities for which there is no path forward."
It's telling that political risk assessments need to be used for the United States, but not surprising. The U.S. political system does not always work terribly well.
The events of the past week would appear to expand that sentiment to U.S. political culture, however, which is several cognitive leaps too far. For example, Gideon Rachman compares the murder of a Punjabi governor in Pakistan to the attempted assassination of Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords:
Events in both Pakistan and America suggest what happens when you not only disagree with your political opponents - but when you demonise them as enemies of the faith or the nation. At that point, some may conclude that it is legitimate to end the argument with bullets.
Sigh… let's all take a few deep breaths, shall we?
Let's turn to Lexington's response to Rachman:
Well yes, America could become like Pakistan if people concluded that it was legitimate to settle arguments with bullets. But in America, where guns are plentiful and political and religious feelings intense, the telling thing is that almost no one at all considers political violence to be legitimate. The killings have been met with universal condemnation by ordinary Americans and the whole political class. The violent act of one probably deranged individual doesn't show that America is heading down the same road as Pakistan. And the response to it suggests that the political cultures of the two countries are fundamentally different.
Indeed, seen in historical context, Adam Serwer points out that the United States' political culture has trended away from violence:
Political violence in the United States has never been more illegitimate. There was a time when a member of Congress could walk into the Senate and beat a political rival senseless and walk away unmolested. The South was once a place of unrestrained terrorist violence conducted with the tacit approval of local authorities. Even when those authorities were brave or responsible enough to press charges, securing guilty verdicts would be difficult because of a local culture willing to accept crimes committed in service to white supremacy. We live in a time where no major political movement would be willing to openly justify such behavior.
This is why, in the aftermath of the incident, both the left and right began placing the blame on the other side.
Finally, we get to James Pethokoukis:
[P]olitical violence has been rare in the United States in recent years. That's despite the disputed 2000 presidential election, the unpopular Iraq war and the election of the first black president. Indeed, the World Bank ranks America above the UK when it comes to "political stability and absence of violence." And the U.S. rank has actually been on the rise in recent years.
There's going to be a rollicking debate about whether political vitriol contributes to political violence. Fine. But let's put things in perspective -- extremist rhetoric or not, this kind of thing is blessedly rare in the American polity.
As I'm typing this very sentence, it looks like the New START treaty will be passed. This happened even though GOP arms control pointman Senator Jon Kyl
acted like a petulant child for the last month came out in opposition to the treaty (along with Mitch McConnell).
David Weigel Fred Kaplan has an excellent summary of why the GOP leadership failed to halt ratification, even though the threshold for blocking it was only 34 senators:
If a Republican were president, the accord would have excited no controversy and at most a handful of diehard nays. As even most of its critics conceded, the treaty's text contains nothing objectionable in substance.
There were two kinds of opponents in this debate. The first had concerns that President Barack Obama would use the treaty as an excuse to ease up on missile defense and the programs to maintain the nuclear arsenal. In recent weeks, Obama and his team did as much to allay these concerns as any hawk could have hoped—and more than many doves preferred.
So that left the second kind of opponent: those who simply wanted to deny Obama any kind of victory. The latter motive was clearly dominant in this debate (emphasis added)
Let's step back here for a second and contemplate the truth and meaning of that last sentence. Is it true? Kevin Drum and Greg Sargent clearly think the answer is yes, and they've got some damning quotes to back up their argument. Rich Lowry is particularly revealing on this point:
As the sense builds that ratification is inevitable, Republicans are lining up to get on the “right side.” Lamar Alexander’s support, noted below, is a crucial sign of which way the wind is blowing, although he’ll probably be the only member of the Republican leadership to vote for it. At least Jon Kyl was able to get more money for modernization and that letter from President Obama making assurances on missile defense. Otherwise, this is a dismaying rout (emphasis added)
Um... at best, this is a dismaying rout for the GOP, not the USA. As
Weigel Kaplan points out, however, it's not elements of the GOP didn't favor the treaty:
The task of Obama and the Democratic floor managers, Sens. Harry Reid and John Kerry, was to convince enough Republicans to view the issue not as political gamesmanship but as an urgent matter of national security. Hence their rallying of every retired general, former defense secretary, and other security specialist—Republican and Democrat—that anyone had ever heard of. (At one point, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she might vote for the treaty if former President George H.W. Bush endorsed it. A few days later, Bush released a statement doing just that.)
A few other things happened as well. Beyond the U.S. foreign policy establishment, the Eastern European foreign policy establishment got behind the treaty. There's also the fact that some GOP senators are still nursing a grudge against other GOP senators. Josh Rogin also points out that the treaty always had GOP supporters. And, finally, the Obama administration wisely decided to go to the mat on what was a rather unobjectionable treaty, no matter how hard John Bolton bloviates on the matter.
What does this mean going forward? In my bloggingheads with Matthew Yglesias last week, I was optimistic that Kyl's blatant obstructionism was a step too far, and that maybe this will lead to a little less needless obstructionism when it comes foreign policy. There's also the fact that the American people seems to really like what's happened during the lane duck session. Perhaps the GOP legislators that want to get re-elected will take note of that fact and decide that some cooperaion with the Obama administration on things like KORUS and arms control are a decent idea (there's also the fact that more GOP legislators from Democrat-friendly territory means more moderate Republicans).
That said, the nuclear negotiations with Russia only get harder from here. Plus, my gut tells me that the GOP leadership will become even more obsteperous going forward in order to bolster their reputation as the really tough bargaining party and eliminate the bitter aftertaste they're feeling from the lame duck session.
What do you think?
FP's Josh Rogin ably summarizes the State Department's rollout of the first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), an exercise that was clearly inspired by the Defense Department's Quadrennial Defense Review. This was Anne-Marie Slaughter's signal achievement during her tenure as Director of Policy Planning,* which leads to the obvious question of whether it really matters.
The QDDR is dedicated to Rickard Holbrooke, who passed away earlier this week. In a revealing Financial Times article, Brain Katulis of the Center for American Progress makes a particularly telling point about the arc of Holbrooke's career:
"If you compare Holbrooke's tenure in his job as representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and compare it to what he was able to do in the 1990s on Bosnia, you really see that the balance of power in the interim had shifted from the state department to the Pentagon," said Brian Katulis at the Centre for American Progress in Washington.
Katulis hits upon a theme that has been a source of concern here at this blog for a good long while. For at least a decade, there's been a vicious feedback loop: State loses operational authority and capabilities because of poor funding, which leads to more tasks for Defense, which leads to even more lopsided funding between the two bureaucracies, which leads to an even greater disparity in responsibilities, and so forth.
Will the QDDR change that? That's sorta the point of the whole exercise -- the phrase "civilian power" appears 281 times in the QDDR. I'm dubious -- the only way this works is through greater staffing and greater funding for U.S. foreign aid, and in this Age of Austerity, the first things that get cut are.... diplomats and foreign aid funding.
I'd love to see Hillary Clinton make the case to Congress than an extra $50 billion for State would improve American foreign policy enough to cut, say, $100 billion for DoD. I'd love a free pony too, for all the likelihood that this will happen.
I'm not the only one who's dubious. The Christian Science Monitor's Howard LaFranchi ends his story on the QDDR as follows:
[E]xperts, as well as some military officials, have pointed out that the concept of "civilian power" sounds good, but that the US diplomatic corps is not prepared and doesn't have the numbers to take over many tasks from the military.
Clinton acknowledges that the shift in priorities and organization is "a work in progress," but she also emphasizes that someone will be designated at both the State Department and at USAID to oversee implementation. "I am determined that this report will not merely gather dust, like so many others," she said. And she wants Congress to approve making the QDDR a regular and required State Department policy-review process.
Slaughter echoed those words in a humorous sum-up with reporters. "I'm pretty sure you're thinking, 'I've heard this before,' " she said - a big plan to change the way a government agency works. "But this is different."
The big difference, she insisted, is that Clinton has given the reorganization top priority: "She knows ... we can't afford to continue working in the way we have been."
Reading the QDDR, it's clear that there's a hope that Foggy Bottom will scrape together more resources through wringing greater efficiencies out of the current budget. This is certainly possible -- no one is going to label the State Department a lean, mean fighting bureaucratic machine -- but color me skeptical that there's all that much savings of "government waste" in them thar hills.
To be fair, however, one report is not going to change a dynamic that's been building for more than a decade. It's only a first step. Still first steps are better than no steps. We'll see if this remains Clinton's top priority.
*I have no inside knowledge about this, but am simply assuming that Slaughter will be returning to her academic haunts after the standard two-year leave has expired -- in other words, in early 2011.
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One of my guilty pleasures is Ana Marie Cox's Twitter feed, and based on what I'm reading there, there's apparently some hearings going on down in Washington about repealing the Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy with respect to homosexuals serving in the military. The House has already voted to repeal; it's up to the Senate now. The Defense Department report seems pretty through and clear that, in the end, it's a repeal that should take place as soon as possible.
Senator John McCain, who earlier in the decade voiced cautious support for the repeal of DADT, is now
digging deeper into his bunker expressing serious reservations about any change in the policy. He wants the soldiers polled directly (though that's kinda what the DoD report already did) and wants their opinions to dictate the policy change (which kinda contradicts the 200+ year traditions of civilian control of the military and, you know, the chain of command).
In doing so, McCain seems to be undercutting his past statements on how and if/when to repeal DADT, as Jon Stewart demonstrates to devastating effect in the clip above. This has prompted much pop psychoanalysis about what's exactly driving John McCain's truculence.
My position, based on careful consideration of the matter, is as follows:
1) The perceptual bias in the testimony to date is focusing on the risks and costs of changing the status quo. Will unit cohesion be compromised? Will the change undermine national security during wartime? This partially misses the point: the status quo is undermining national security far more than any change. The rigorous enforcement of DADT is preventing competent and patriotic soldiers from serving their country, particularly in high-demand positions like, say, Arabic translators. It's fine to say that repealing DADT might have some costs -- but those costs have to be weighed against the costs of continuing as is. And from what I read, those costs are serious to the country and debilitating to the affected soldiers.
2) I therefore really and truly don't give a s**t why John McCain's position has shifted. I just want to know why the ranking minority member of the Senate Armed Services committee is throwing national security, civilian control of the military, and the hierarchical chain of command under the f***ing bus. John McCain is weakening the institution he claims to love the most. I don't care why he's doing it -- I just care that he's doing it.
That is all.
Hmmm.... this is interesting:
Nations on the front lines of the old Cold War divide made clear here Saturday that they want the Senate to ratify the new U.S.-Russia nuclear treaty, and said that Republican concerns about their well-being were misplaced.
In an unannounced group appearance at the end of an administration background briefing on Afghanistan, six European foreign ministers took the stage with a message for Congress.
"Don't stop START before it's started," Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov said.
Conservative Republican senators have said the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, signed early last year, needs more work and have rejected the administration's hopes of bringing it to a vote in the lame duck session before the end of the year.
The ministers insisted that Obama administration officials, some of whom stood at the back of the room as they spoke, did not put them up to the appeal. All are here participating in the NATO summit.
"I'm the one who initiated this initiative," Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen said. The idea, she said, was to "at least make the Republican Party [aware] of how important this is."
In addition to being her country's foreign minister, Espersen said with some indignation, "I'm also the chairman of the Conservative Party of Denmark. Nobody can ever accuse me of being soft on security."
"We're all conservatives," Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi added.
Two major Jewish groups came out Friday in favor of ratification of the START treaty.
Both the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) cited the importance of passage of the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction treaty in order to maintain American-Russian cooperation in pressuring Iran to curtail its nuclear program.
"We are deeply concerned that failure to ratify the New START treaty will have national security consequences far beyond the subject of the treaty itself," the ADL said in a letter sent to every senator Friday.
"The U.S. diplomatic strategy to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons requires a U.S.-Russia relationship of trust and cooperation," ADL continued. "The severe damage that could be inflicted on that relationship by failing to ratify the treaty would inevitably hamper effective American international leadership to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program."
The National Jewish Democratic Council, meantime, issued a statement Friday urging citizens to call Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and tell "him to put politics aside, and join the broad bipartisan consensus behind START."
Will this have any effect on START's ratification chances? Earlier this week Fred Kaplan observed that passage might still be a possibility:
If Kyl thinks that the treaty will get ratified anyway—or that, if it doesn't get ratified, he will lose all the extra money for nuclear modernization—then maybe he'll jump onboard. That way he could preserve his standing as a security hawk and, perhaps more important, an effective power broker.
Of course, he and his colleagues in the Republican leadership might think it's more important to deny Obama any victory, to make him seem ineffective and thus erode his chances of re-election in 2012 (the GOP's No. 1 priority, according to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell). If that's what ends up happening, at least Obama will know the name of the game for the next two years—and, maybe, figure out how to play it.
The first couple of stories suggest that maybe, just maybe, the GOP would pay a price for out-and-out obstructionism -- and let's be blunt, that's really what Kyl's behavior is at this point. Sure, pissing off France or South Korea comes with few downsides for U.S. Senators, but Poland and other former Warsaw Pact countries are another kettle of fish. If
neoconservatives Jews Eastern Europeans powerful interest groups within the GOP have bigger fish to fry than relations with Russia, then they will make life somewhat more difficult to Republican Senators. Just how much more difficult remains to be seen, however.
The most painful time for a book author is that interregnum between handing in the completed book manuscript, knowing that the text is locked down for good, and the book's arrival on the bookshelves. That's because stuff happens during these months that would be awesome to put into the book, but alas, it's too late.
Fortunately, there are blogs to write.
With the success of AMC's The Walking Dead (don't worry, that show got into the introduction; oh, hey, did I mention that you can now preview the introduction online? And that the endorsements are glowing?), pundits are now falling all over each other to try to use zombies as a political metaphor. Late last month, Jeremy Grantham entitled his third quarter investment letter "Night of the Living Fed," with a pretty amusing cover graphic:
Grantham's effort, however, pales besides New York Times columnist Gail Collins, however. Her op-ed today posits that the revived popularity of the zombie genre is a bad omen for politics:
Zombies are in. This cannot possibly be a good sign....
What’s the attraction of zombies? They don’t really do anything but stagger around and eat raw flesh. The plot possibilities seem limited. Zombies come. Humans shoot them. More zombies come. Humans hit them over the head with shovels. Nobody ever runs into a particularly sensitive zombie who wants to make peace with the nonflesh-devouring public. (“On behalf of the United Nations Security Council today, I would like to welcome the zombie delegation to the ... aaauuurrgghchompchompchomp.”)
Maybe that’s the whole point. Our horror movies are mirroring the world around us. The increasingly passé vampire story is about a society full of normal people threatened by a few bloodsuckers, some of whom are maybe just like you and me, except way older. It was fine for the age of Obama. But we’ve entered the era of zombie politics: a small cadre of uninfected humans have to band together and do whatever it takes to protect themselves against the irrational undead....
I have three responses to this.
First, I wish
her minions Ms. Collins had taken a deeper bite out of the zombie canon in researching her op-ed, because, as I discuss in Theories of International Politics and Zombies, there is the possibility that the undead would follow the George Romero narrative arc and learn over time. From p. 42-3 of the text:
Even in Night of the Living Dead, Romero's ghouls demonstrated the capacity for using tools. In each of his subsequent films, the undead grew more cognitively complex. The zombie characters of Bub in Day of the Dead and Big Daddy in Land of the Dead were painted with a more sympathetic brush than most of the human characters. Both Bub and Big Daddy learned how to use firearms. Bub was able to speak, perform simple tasks, and engage in impulse control-that is, to refrain from eating a human he liked. Big Daddy and his undead cohort developed a hierarchical authority structure with the ability to engage in tactical and strategic learning. In doing so they overran a well-fortified human redoubt and killed its most powerful leader. It would take only the mildest of cognitive leaps to envision a zombie-articulated defense of these actions at the United Nations (emphasis added).
If you buy the book, you'll see some sweet artwork depicting this very possibility.
Second, Collins repeats a point that others have made in the past -- that the persistence of the zonbie genre seems aesthetically puzzling because the zombies themselves are such uninteresting characters. That misses the point, however -- what makes the zombie genre interesting has less to do with the ghouls themselves than with how humans respond to them. The zombies in Night of the Living Dead and Shaun of the Dead are exactly the same -- it's the human responses that evoke such different responses to those films. Sure, it's quick and easy to label one's political opponents as brain-dead zombies -- what's intriguing is how one responds to that possibility.
Third, it is noteworthy that both conservatives and liberals are using the zombie metaphor to advance their aims. They both think the other side is brainless. This doesn't sound good for political discourse -- but it might just lead to a cultural consensus.
Ten days ago,The Hollywood Reporter's James Hibbard pointed out the ideological split in TV-watching. Both sides like a lot of quality TV shows, but different ones: Democrats lean towards Mad Men, 30 Rock and The Good Wife; Republicans go for Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, and The Amazing Race. I'm willing to bet, however, that The Walking Dead appeals to both sides of the partisan fence, precisely because they imagine the other side as the zombies.
This leads to an interesting prediction. Politicians, pundits and professors like to use pop culture references to explain a concept to the widest possible audience. If zombie TV is one of the few remaining places where an ideologically diverse group, however, then we're going to see a lot more uses of the zombie metaphor in politics over the next few years.
The only thing I dislike more than admitting I'm wrong is admitting that Spencer Ackerman was kinda sorta right.
Cautiously in March and then more confidently in July, I predicted that new START was going to be ratified. Right now, however, Josh Rogin reports that the odds don't look so hot:
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the key Republican vote in the drive to ratify the New START treaty, said Tuesday he doesn't believe the treaty should be voted on this year.
"When Majority Leader Harry Reid asked me if I thought the treaty could be considered in the lame duck session, I replied I did not think so given the combination of other work Congress must do and the complex and unresolved issues related to START and modernization," Kyl said in a statement. "I appreciate the recent effort by the Administration to address some of the issues that we have raised and I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Kerry, DOD, and DOE officials." ?
Kyl spoke with Defense Secretary Robert Gates about it last week. A possible meeting between Kyl, Biden, Gates, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the works and could happen on Wednesday. The treaty was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a vote of 14 to 4 on Sept. 16, and is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.
The Washington Post reported that the White House is offering an additional $4.1 billion for nuclear facilities. This latest offer comes on top of the other promises related to nuclear modernization, which have a price tag totaling over $80 billion, that the administration has offered in an effort to win over Senate Republicans.
I thought Kyl was making some not unreasonable requests back in the summer, but as near as I can read the Obama administration had pretty much given him what he wanted.
It's possible that the treaty will be ratified in the next Congress, though that's a tougher road, and there's now some bad blood between Kyl and the administration to work away.
Substantively, the treaty itself is not a nothingburger, but it's not that big a deal either. There are two implications that flow from Kyl's decision, however. First, he's given the Russians a great excuse to become even more obsteperous. As Bob Kagan pointed out earlier this month:
Few men are more cynical players than Vladimir Putin. One can well imagine Putin exploiting the failure of New START internally and externally. He will use it to stir more anti-Western nationalism, further weakening an already weak Medvedev and anyone else who stands for a more pro-Western approach. He will use it as an excuse to end further cooperation on Iran. He will certainly use it to win concessions from Europeans who already pander to him, charging that the Americans have destroyed the transatlantic rapprochement with Russia and that more concessions to Moscow will be necessary to repair the damage. There's no getting around it: Failure to pass START will help empower Putin.
Second, even if START passes eventually, this little episode, combined with the
endless ongoing negotiations over KORUS, are highlighting the massive transaction costs involved with trying to negotiate any hard law arrangement with the United States. The rest of the world is now recalculating the cost-benefit ratio of doing business with the U.S. government.
Anyway, the real point of this post is that I was wrong... again. Let the pillorying in the comments section begin.
As I said last week, the emergence of gridlock between the legislative and executive branches of U.S. government is going to put political pressure on the unelected components of government.
This isn't just a national phenomenon, however -- it's also an international one. What happens if the big players on the global stage can't agree -- either internally or externally -- on new arrangements to solve a mounting policy problem? If the problem clearly needs fixing, then pressure inevitably builds up to use a pre-existing mechanism to address the issue. Some elites in gridlocked countries will welcome this kind of development, because it allows them to bypass domestic impediments to policy change. Because this new possibility is both suboptimal and less than democratic, however, it inevitably builds up global resentments against unaccountable international institutions.
For exhibit A of this phenomenon today, let's wander over to John Broder's New York Times story on the latest developments in fashioning a policy response to climate change:
With energy legislation shelved in the United States and little hope for a global climate change agreement this year, some policy experts are proposing a novel approach to curbing global warming: including greenhouse gases under an existing and highly successful international treaty ratified more than 20 years ago.
The treaty, the Montreal Protocol, was adopted in 1987 for a completely different purpose, to eliminate aerosols and other chemicals that were blowing a hole in the Earth's protective ozone layer.
But as the signers of the protocol convened the 22nd annual meeting in Bangkok on Monday, negotiators are considering a proposed expansion in the ozone treaty to phase out the production and use of the industrial chemicals known as hydro fluorocarbons or HFCs The chemicals have thousands of times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas.
HFCs are used as refrigerants in air-conditioners and cooling systems. They are manufactured mostly in China and India, but appliances containing the substance are in use in every corner of the world. HFCs replaced even more dangerous ozone-depleting chemicals known as HCFCs, themselves a substitute for the chlorofluorocarbons that were the first big target of the Montreal process…
[T]he plan is not expected to be adopted this year. Large developing countries, including China, India and Brazil, object that the timetable is too rapid and that payments for eliminating the refrigerant are not high enough.
One advantage to using the Montreal protocol as a vehicle, supporters say, is that negotiations over the treaty have been utterly unlike the contentious United Nations climate talks that foundered in Copenhagen last year. Negotiators say that without legislative action on curbing greenhouse gases by the United States, little progress will be made when countries gather in Cancún, Mexico, late this month for another round of climate talks.
In a post-election news conference, President Obama noted that it was doubtful that Congress would do anything to address global warming "this year or next year or the year after."…
Daniel A. Reifsnyder, the deputy assistant secretary of state for environment and the nation's chief Montreal Protocol negotiator, said that it might take several years to persuade the ozone treaty countries to back the plan.
In addition to pace and cost issues, some countries say that HFCs have little impact on the ozone layer and thus should be handled under the United Nations climate change talks. Mr. Reifsnyder dismissed that as a legalistic argument and said that the ozone treaty could and should be used to achieve broader environmental objectives.
"What we've found is that the Montreal Protocol has been a very effective instrument for addressing global environmental problems," Mr. Reifsnyder said in an interview. "It was created to deal with the ozone layer, but it also has tremendous ability to solve the climate problem if people are willing to use it that way."
If I was the policymaker in charge of pushing action on climate change forward, I'd be very tempted to agree with Reifsnyder. This might be a way of achieving a deliverable that would simply not be possible under the Copenhagen Accord or the United Nations effort to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.
On the other hand… this is also an action that would inject political controversy into what was a ridiculously successful accord. It will push another governance process that's already in critical condition into hospice care. Plus, I'm not sure it will work -- China and India are going to stoutly resist this move.
My larger point, however, is that political paralysis in certain global governance forums is simply going to trigger a search for more suitable global governance structures. That search isn't going to change the underlying disagreements, however, and it just might cause an erosion of faith in the few multilateral structures that do appear to work well.
I see I wasn't the only one to muse about the effect of the midterm elections on American foreign policy. See Bruce Stokes, Richard Haass, James Lindsay, Daniel Larison at various other parts of the interwebs, as well as FP's own Phil Levy, Marc Lynch, Peter Feaver, and Steve Walt.
Reading all of this accumulated wisdom doesn't change my mind all that much. For example, I don't disagree that a more conservative Congress will be even more obstreperous in blocking Obama's foreign affairs appointees than it was previously. To be sure, this has a profound effect on individual lives and careers -- but it doesn't really matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. The cumulative effect might be problematic, in that a more obstructionist Congress might lead to some policymakers staying in office for a longer-than-optimal period of time.
On the other hand, I find the notion that a resurgent GOP will contribute to a more adventuresome foreign policy in the Middle East to be pretty absurd. First, to repeat, the administration holds almost all of the policy levers. Sure, Congress can sanction Iran -- again -- but it's not like that's going to change anything.
In his post, Lynch implies that Congress can browbeat Obama into supporting regime change in an echo of the Iraq Liberation Act. I'd point out that it's not 1998 anymore -- Obama is unlikely to fall for the same trap that befell Clinton. Oh, and by the way, the American public is really sick of the current wars, ain't looking for a new one, and clearly wants Washington to focus on the economy and job creation. Republicans know that they didn't get elected because of their foreign policy views. If they start making noise about Iran, I'd imagine the administration lambasting them for taking their eye off the economy.
No, the more I think about it, there is one obvious effect and one longer-term effect that the midterm swing will have on American foreign policy.
The obvious effect is that gridlock will make it that much more difficult for Washington to get a grip on long-term policy problems like debt reduction and global warming. There's no way that any climate change legislation will get through, and I'm pessimistic that the deficit commission will trigger a grand bargain on getting America's financial house in order. None of this will matter much over the next two years, but it will start to matter more over the next two decades.
The more subtle, pernicious effect is that paralysis in the elected branches will lead to more populist outrage at the unelected portions of the U.S. government. Consider, for example, the Fed's decision yesterday to engage in $600 billion more of quantitative easing (translated into plain English here). In today's Washington Post op-ed explaining this action, Ben Bernanke had an interesting comment in his closing section:
The Federal Reserve cannot solve all the economy's problems on its own. That will take time and the combined efforts of many parties, including the central bank, Congress, the administration, regulators and the private sector.
He's right, but think about this for a second. If Congress and the administration can't agree on anything, then the only public actors capable of taking concrete action on the economy are the central bank and the regulators. These institutions are already ridiculously unpopular. Being forced to take imperfect actions because of elected branch paralysis won't help matters (compared to fiscal and tax policies, there's only so much that quantitative easing can do to stimulate the economy). If you think hostility to elected elites is high, wait until the focus switches to unelected elites.
Note that all of this is contingent on the economy continuing to stink. Robust economic growth will ease populist anger, which will blunt some of the effects I just discussed.
So, in the short term, I still don't think U.S. foreign policy will change all that much. The long-term effects of gridlock combined with a persistently sour economy, however, could be very worrisome.
I also know that even if this turns out to be a big "wave" election, things aren't really going to change all that much on the foreign policy front. This is for the following two reasons:
1) Congress doesn't have too much sway over foreign policy. Sure, things like foreign aid and treaty ratification rely on the legislature, and the election results will affect those dimensions of foreign policy. But think back to 1994 and 2006, in which both houses of Congress turned over to the opposition party. Was there any real change in U.S. foreign and security policy? The Clinton administration was still able to send troops to Bosnia, and the Bush administration was able to launch its "surge" strategy.
Foreign economic policy might be an exception. After both of those elections, the president found it harder to get trade deals through Congress. Given that this president hasn't been all that keen about trade anyway, I don't think the midterms will matter all that much -- though the South Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) might finally be put to a vote with the hope of securing GOP support.
2) In a sour economy, presidents don't get much of a bump for foreign policy successes. The best foreign-policy president of the past four decades was George H.W. Bush. How many terms did he serve? [Hey, this sounds familiar! -- Ed. Click here to see why. The only things that have changed since that post simply reinforce my thesis.] See Aaron David Miller's FP essay for more on this point.
Enjoy watching the returns, poll-watchers -- I'll be going to bed early, secure in the knowledge that U.S. foreign policy will persist in its current form.
Trying to pick the most offensive campaign ad of this election season is not easy -- there's a long and distinguished list of truly offensive ads out there. However, my award for Most Offensive Ad goes to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee with this attack ad on Pennsylvania Republican senatorial candidate Pat Toomey:
I'll give credit to the DSCC: Not everything in the ad is offensive, just 98 percent of it. By far, however, the worst part is the DSCC's suggestion that Pennsylvanians not vote for Toomey because he thinks that "it's great that China is modernizing and growing." Using that logic, apparently the DSCC supports doing everything to keep China backwards and impoverished. Which, if you think about it a little bit, is really disgusting.
I'd love to say that this is the only anti-globalization ad of this election cycle, but that's obviously not true. In another ad, the DSCC blasts Toomey for -- God forbid -- spending part of his career overseas. Forbes' Shikha Dalmia points out, however, that both sides have been throwing up mercantilist ads as fast as they can produce them:
Virg Bernero, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Michigan, where I live, has dubbed his opponent, Rick Snyder, Chief Executive Outsourcer (ha, ha). Mr. Snyder's crime is that he is a successful businessman who invested in a semiconductor company that once employed five -- five! -- people in Shenzen to sell its products in China. In other words, it is no longer a sin to buy from China. It is also a sin to sell to China! (Where did Bernero get his views on trade theory, anyway? The Kim Jong Il School of Autarky?)
Nor is Bernero alone in the Democratic Party: California Sen. Barbara Boxer is accusing her opponent Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard, of outsourcing thousands of jobs to "Shanghai instead of San Jose"; Senate Speaker Harry Reid is calling Sharron Angle "a foreign worker’s best friend"; and Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Attorney General running for Senate, who lied about serving in Vietnam, has the temerity to attack his opponent, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, for "outsourcing" American jobs because her company got toy action figures manufactured in China instead of America.
Hostility to trade is par for the course for Democrats perennially beholden to Big Labor, but what is the excuse of Republicans -- the alleged believers in free markets? In race after race, they too are hitting China to beat Democrats. In West Virginia, Spike Maynard, a Republican running for the House is airing ads against his opponent, complete with Asian music in the background, castigating him for giving stimulus money to a Texas company that happens to be buying windmills from China. Meanwhile, in Virginia Republican Robert Hurt is accusing Rep. Tom Perriell of supporting tax breaks for foreign companies "creating jobs in China."
Well, it's not that surprising to see this. Americans think about trade through a mercantilist, relative gains lens, as opposed to the radical concept that trade can generate win-win outcomes. The Obama administration has abetted this mindset with a trade policy that careens between an
idiotic exclusive focus on exports and complete radio silence. And, of course, China has been taking steps in recent months in order to perfect their role as economic bogeyman.
I'd love to say that if the Obama administration mounted a full-throated defense of trade liberalization, this mindset would go away. The thing is, I don't believe that. As the Gallup data suggests, even decent growth rates won't eliminate the zero-sum mindset that people have when it comes to free trade.
Developing… in a thoroughly depressing manner.
Tom Brokaw has acquired sufficient gravitas such that, when he clears his throat in a meaningful way, he gets his own New York Times op-ed essay.
This morning, Brokaw cleared his throat about why the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan in Iraq aren't being talked about during this election campaign season.
[W]hy aren’t the wars and their human and economic consequences front and center in this campaign, right up there with jobs and taxes?
The answer is very likely that the vast majority of Americans wake up every day worrying, with good reason, about their economic security, but they can opt out of the call to arms. Unless they are enlisted in the armed services -- or have a family member who has stepped forward -- nothing much is asked of them in the war effort.
The all-volunteer uniformed services now represent less than 1 percent of the American population, but they’re carrying 100 percent of the battle…
No decision is more important than committing a nation to war. It is, as politicians like to say, about our blood and treasure. Surely blood and treasure are worthy of more attention than they’ve been getting in this campaign.
It's true that Iraq was a much bigger issue during the 2002 and 2006 midterms. Is Brokaw right that the lack of a draft is deflecting the issue? Sort of.
Brokaw has half a point in saying that the all-volunteer force blunts the incentive to have a public debate on this Very Important Topic. There's a better reason to explain the silence, however: There's not much daylight between the two parties on this issue.
In 2008, the Bush administration began the drawdown phase in Iraq. In 2009, the Obama administration anted up for 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan. Neither war is popular with the U.S. electorate.
Given these political facts, why would either party bring up these conflicts? Democrats can't rail against wars being prosecuted by a Democratic president. Not even nutjob ultra-conservative hacks can credibly claim that Obama has been a "Kenyan anti-colonialist" on the military front. Democrats can't really run on a "see, we told you that Obama isn't a war wimp!" message either. The GOP has little incentive to call for doubling down in these conflicts and can't really pivot towards a "pro-peace" position either. [I suspect the Islamophobia issue is cropping up on the GOP campaign trail because it's a stalking horse for "getting tough" with the United States' enemies. Even here, however, it's not like Democrats have created all that much daylight between them and the party of opposition.]
If neither party has an incentive to bring up these wars during the campaign, the only way it becomes an issue is if a powerful interest group and/or social movement raises it. Here's here the all-volunteer force comes into play. Perhaps some returning veterans want to bring up the war as an issue for policy debate -- but the returning veterans do not appear to be alienated en masse. There is also no U.S. equivalent of the Union of the Committees of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia -- not that the Russian version was all that effective. All one finds on this terrain are the Cindy Sheehans of the world, and her credibility has been eroding as of late.
Brokaw is right that matters of blood and treasure should be debated. But a debate requires politicians to have divergent views to debate about -- and right now, that doesn't exist between the major parties.
Appropos of yesterday's blog post, I see that Matthew Yglesias, Rob Farley, and Kindred Winecoff have all posted thoughts about how to get the U.S. policymakers to better understand the domestic politics of other countries. Farley makes a particularly trenchant point:
It’s not quite right to say that academy has figured out how to successfully integrate domestic politics into theories of foreign policy behavior, but we’ve certainly worked on the question. The policy community, however, seems almost utterly uninterested in this literature, to the extent that “well, Ahmadinejad/Putin/Chirac/Chavez/Milosevic/Calderon/Netanyahu/Kim could comply with our demands, but his domestic coalition would almost certainly fracture, and it’s tough to expect leaders to do things that will lead to their downfall” becomes a repetitive refrain.
Farley is absolutely right that the academic community has made greater strides than the policy community in this way. That doesn't mean that anything has been conclusively decided; many of the most discussed/cited works are also the most disdained. But where progress has been made it's been by analyzing how domestic political constraints can cause leaders to act in ways that are, quite frankly, perplexing to outside audiences....
I've never felt it was my place to proffer policy advice, even into the seldom-read tubespace that this blog lives in. But the last half-century of American foreign policy reveals, to me, the importance of disaggregating the politics of foreign regimes, of closely examining political structures and constraints in other places, and of crafting nuanced policy that takes those factors into account. This is much harder than blustering, of course, but also much more beneficial.
I'll have more thoughts on this later, but towards that end, let's discuss the stupidity of Congress' latest foray into foreign policy waters:
Several members of Congress have moved to block United States aid to the Lebanese military, saying they are concerned that it may be working with Hezbollah in light of last week’s deadly skirmish between Lebanese and Israeli soldiers on the border between the two countries.
The United States has pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Lebanese armed forces in recent years, but members of Congress have often expressed unease that the weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah, the militant Shiite movement that fought a monthlong war with Israel in the summer of 2006.
Representative Howard L. Berman of California, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, put a hold on $100 million in appropriations to the Lebanese Army on Aug. 2, a day before the border clash, and expressed further concerns on Monday.
“Until we know more about this incident and the nature of Hezbollah influence on the L.A.F. — and can assure that the L.A.F. is a responsible actor — I cannot in good conscience allow the United States to continue sending weapons to Lebanon,” Mr. Berman said in a statement.
At least three other members of Congress have placed holds on the money or called for the Obama administration to review military aid to Lebanon, including Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York, and two Republicans, Representatives Howard P. McKeon of California and Eric Cantor of Virginia. A hold has no legal effect on the aid, which has already been appropriated, but it is rare for an administration to ignore one.
Now, I understand the Congressional impulse to do something here -- I really do. What I don't understand is how Congress thinks that withholding aid from the Lebanese military will weaken Hezbollah. Congress seems to think that anything that aids the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) will concomitantly aid Hezbollah. The latter group, however, has independent sources of financial, political and military support. It's better to think of the LAF as a competing power base than as a conduit to Hezbollah. Anything that weakens national institutions in Lebanon empowers the groups that can survive in a more anarchical environment -- and gee, whaddaya know, that would include Hezbollah.
It's possible that these thoughts have passed through the staff of Berman, Cantor, Lowey and McKeon. It's also possible that these staffers simply sad "f*** it, this will look like our member of Congress is doing something." I can certainly respect the raw political calculation involved here. But it's a stupid, counterproductive move in terms of the national interest -- and they should know better.
Peter Baker provides some lay of the land on START in his New York Times write-up:
With time running out for major votes before the November election, the White House is trying to reach an understanding with Senate Republicans to approve its new arms control treaty with Russia by committing to modernizing the nuclear arsenal and making additional guarantees about missile defense.
The White House pressed allies in Congress in recent days to approve billions of dollars for the nation’s current nuclear weapons and infrastructure even as administration and Congressional officials work on a ratification resolution intended to reaffirm that the treaty will not stop American missile defense plans....
The critical player is Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican whip, who has criticized the treaty but also signaled that his reservations could be assuaged. In particular, he has sought to modernize the nuclear force, and the administration has proposed spending more than $100 billion over 10 years to sustain and modernize some strategic systems.
“I’ve told the administration it would be much easier to do the treaty right than to do it fast if they want to get it ratified,” Mr. Kyl said Thursday in an interview. “It’s not a matter of delay,” he added, but “until I’m satisfied about some of these things, I will not be willing to allow the treaty to come up.”
Mr. Kyl sounded hopeful that he could reach agreement, ticking off three ways the White House could assure him that the proposed nuclear modernization program would be adequate: ensure enough first-year money in the next round of appropriations bills, include enough second-year money in a follow-up budget proposal and revise the long-range modernization plan to anticipate additional costs in later years.
“I’m not questioning the administration’s commitment to this,” he said, “but this is a big deal, and it needs to have everybody’s commitment to it at takeoff, and I really don’t see that the groundwork has really been laid.”
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has met with Mr. Kyl once and invited him and other senators to talk about the treaty again next week. Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has likewise been talking with Mr. Kyl regularly and is trying to help resolve Republican demands to inspect at least some of the secret negotiating record.
For all the hand-wringing, this sounds like START is gonna get ratified. Kyl has been very careful to avoid boxing himself into a situation where he has to vote no. His asking price is not unreasonable, and it sounds like the Obama administration will meet it.
This would be good - not because START is all of that and a bag of chips, but because it suggests some Very Useful Conclusions:
1) Mitt Romney's Know-Nothing anti-START gambit failed to have any effect;
2) Republicans are being reasonable and constructive on arms control (Kyl's requests make a good deal of sense to me);
3) There can be bipartisan cooperation on important foreign policy questions.
4) Spencer Ackerman was wrong and I was right. Ha!! [It's all about score-settling with you this week, isn't it?--ed. It's the summer -- allow me my small, petty victories.]
Am I missing anything?
Mitt Romney wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post earlier this week calling the New START Treaty Obama's "worst foreign policy mistake yet." This prompted a fair amount of blowback. The New York Times' Peter Baker and Slate's Fred Kaplan
tore Romney a new one dissected the substance of Romney's argument and found it wanting. Senator John Kerry wrote a WaPo op-ed the next day that had a pretty contemptuous conclusion:
I have nothing against Massachusetts politicians running for president. But the world's most important elected office carries responsibilities, including the duty to check your facts even if you're in a footrace to the right against Sarah Palin. More than that, you need to understand that when it comes to nuclear danger, the nation's security is more important than scoring cheap political points.
Now reading through all of this, it seems pretty clear that Romney's substantive critique is weak tea. Objecting to the content of a treaty preamble is pretty silly. Claiming that the Russians could put ICBMs on their bombers because of the treaty indicates
Romney's ghost-writer doesn't know the first thing about the history of nuclear weapons some holes in the research effort.
Putting the substantive objections aside, there are some interesting implications to draw from this kerfuffle. First, START will be an easy test of the remaining power of the foreign policy mandarins. As Time's Michael Crowley points out, START has the support of former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and James Baker, former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, former National Security Advisers Brent Scowcroft and Stephen Hadley, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Senator Richard Lugar.
If the Obama administration can't get Senate ratification of START despite the bipartisan support of the foreign policy community, well, it suggests that the foreign policy community doesn't have the political capital it once did. I posited earlier this year that START would pass because it was pretty unobtrusive and wouldn't play a big role in political campaigns. If GOP senators think differently, however, then you can kiss any foreign policy initiative that requires congressional approval bye-bye.
This could seriously hamper U.S. foreign policy. Politically, Romney was wise to pick on START, because its importance is not in the arms control. Boosters like Kerry will talk about START like its the greatest thing since sliced bread, when in point of fact it's a modest treaty that yields modest gains on the arms control front. No, START matters because its a signal of better and more stable relations with Moscow (much in the same way that NAFTA was not about trade so much as about ending a century-long contentious relationship with Mexico).
So even if Romney gets chewed up and spit out by the foreign policy mandarins, there's a way in which he'll win no matter what. By belittling the treaty, Romney will get its defenders to inflate its positive attributes. This will force analysts to say that "both sides have exaggerated their claims," putting Romney on par with the foreign policy mandarins.
Developing... in a bad way for the mandarins.
UPDATE: Barron YoungSmith makes a similar point over at TNR. He's even more pessimistic than I am:
[T]he responsible Republican foreign policy establishment is not coming back. Mandarins like George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, and James Baker, who have all testified or written on behalf of the START treaty—calling it an integral, uncontroversial way of repairing the bipartisan arms-control legacy that sustained American foreign policy all the way up until the George W. Bush administration—are going to be dead soon (or they've drifted into the service of Democrats). The people who will take their place will be from a generation of superhawks, like John Bolton, Liz Cheney, and Robert Joseph, who are virulently opposed to the practice of negotiated arms control. Mitt Romney, though a moderate from Michigan, is not going to be the second coming of Gerald Ford.
Well.... this might be true, if you think Mitt Romney has his finger on the pulse of the GOP voter. Based on past experience, however, Mitt Romney has never been able to find that pulse.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
A revolt among big donors on Wall Street is hurting fundraising for the Democrats' two congressional campaign committees, with contributions from the world's financial capital down 65 percent from two years ago.
The drop in support comes from many of the same bankers, hedge fund executives and financial services chief executives who are most upset about the financial regulatory reform bill that House Democrats passed last week with almost no Republican support. The Senate expects to take up the measure this month.
This fundraising free fall from the New York area has left Democrats with diminished resources to defend their House and Senate majorities in November's midterm elections. Although the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have seen just a 16 percent drop in overall donations compared with this stage of the 2008 campaign, party leaders are concerned about the loss of big-dollar donors.
And now Politico:
With the financial reform bill likely to hit President Barack Obama’s desk in coming weeks, Wall Street's top political players are warning Democrats to brace themselves for the next phase of the fight: the fundraising blowback.
Democrats who backed the bill are finding big banks far less eager to host fundraisers and provide campaign cash heading into the tightly contested midterm elections this fall, insiders say.
Some banks, in fact, have discussed not attending or hosting fundraisers at all for the next few months. Goldman Sachs is already staying away from all fundraisers, according to two sources. The company would not comment.
“I think at least in the short term there is going to be a great deal of frustration with people who were beating the hell out of us — then turning around and asking for money,” said a senior executive of a Wall Street bank.
Based on these stories,
when if the Democrats get hammered come November, expect a lot of pixels and ink spilled on the awesome power of the financial sector to get what it wants in Washington. And don't believe a word of it.
This is the lobbying equivalent of a good but struggling baseball club calling a team meeting right before they play the worst ballclub in the league. That is to say, sports managers often save their rousing speeches before a game they're pretty likely to win, so they can claim that their motivation was what led their team to victory.
As Charlie Cook notes, the Democrats are heading into a Category 5 political disaster come November. This has nothing to do with FinReg, and everything to do with a struggling economy, an ecological disaster in the Gulf, fired-up conservatives, and disaffected liberals. Wall Street antipathy is really the least of their problems.
I'm laying this marker down now -- unless we see some shocking upsets among the New York delegation (the real target of Wall Street's ire), analysts who proclaim the awesome political power of financial sector will be doing so with sloppy facts and sloppy argumentation.
In recent years, I've seen some very... let's say exaggerated arguments about the power of political lobbies in Washington. They do possess political influence, but much of that influence rests on the perception that they can make or break electoral fortunes. In Wall Street's case, however, they're pushing on a door that was already wide open.
Which is not surprising. Powerful interests tend to apportion their money to candidates they think will win. Indeed, to use a term of art, Wall Street's political preferences appear to be -- dare I say it -- pro-cyclical.
Last week it was financial regulation evolving in ways that seem contrary to Wall Street's interests.
This week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have a speech at the Eisenhower museum that fires a warning shot across the bow of defense contractors and the U.S. military:
The attacks of September 11th, 2001, opened a gusher of defense spending that nearly doubled the base budget over the last decade, not counting supplemental appropriations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Which brings us to the situation we face and the choices we have today – as a defense department and as a country. Given America’s difficult economic circumstances and parlous fiscal condition, military spending on things large and small can and should expect closer, harsher scrutiny. The gusher has been turned off, and will stay off for a good period of time....
To be sure, changing the way we operate and achieving substantial savings will mean overcoming steep institutional and political challenges – many lying outside the five walls of the Pentagon. For example, in this year’s budget submission the Department has asked to end funding for an unnecessary alternative engine for the new Joint Strike Fighter and for more C-17 cargo planes. Study on top of study has shown that an extra fighter engine achieves marginal potential savings but heavy upfront costs – nearly $3 billion worth. Multiple studies also show that the military has ample air-lift capacity to meet all current and feasible future needs. The leadership of the Air Force is clear: they do not need and cannot afford more C-17s. Correspondingly, the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy do not want the second F-35 engine. Yet, as we speak, a battle is underway to keep the Congress from putting both of these programs back in the budget – at an unnecessary potential cost to the taxpayers of billions of dollars over the next few years. I have strongly recommended a presidential veto if either program is included in next year’s defense budget legislation....
Therefore, as the Defense Department begins the process of preparing next’s years Fiscal Year 2012 budget request, I am directing the military services, the joint staff, the major functional and regional commands, and the civilian side of the Pentagon to take a hard, unsparing look at how they operate – in substance and style alike. The goal is to cut our overhead costs and to transfer those savings to force structure and modernization within the programmed budget. In other words, to convert sufficient “tail” to “tooth” to provide the equivalent of the roughly two to three percent real growth – resources needed to sustain our combat power at a time of war and make investments to prepare for an uncertain future. Simply taking a few percent off the top of everything on a one-time basis will not do. These savings must stem from root-and-branch changes that can be sustained and added to over time.
What is required going forward is not more study. Nor do we need more legislation. It is not a great mystery what needs to change. What it takes is the political will and willingness, as Eisenhower possessed, to make hard choices – choices that will displease powerful people both inside the Pentagon and out.
Now, just because Gates is advocating some cutbacks in procurement and overhead doesn't mean that will happen. And the invocation of "political will" triggers Drezner's First Law of Politics: asking politicians to 'exercise political will' means asking them to stop acting like politicians. So nothing of consequence might come from Gates' cri de coeur.
Still, if nothing else, the past month has seen frontal assaults on the most powerful, politically connected interests in the United States. For a political scientist, these are very interesting times.
I think it's safe to say that the financial regulation bill has not evolved the way that Simon Johnson predicted last year. Johnson's thesis was pretty simple -- because of the structural dependence of politicians on financial capital, neither the executive nor the legislative branches would be willing to regulate that sector.
Johnson wasn't necesaarily wrong in making that prediction -- when in doubt, political scientists follow the money as well. Still, the regulation that is likely to emerge is clewarly stronger than expected. In The New Republic, Noam Scheiber has offers his explanation for why:
Basic political science tells us that, when Congress targets a complex industry with billions of dollars at stake, the legislation should weaken as it moves toward passage. The industry will plead its case with vehemence, while voters will be oblivious to the importance of subtle changes. “Words on the page are not that critical to the public,” one derivatives industry lawyer told me in March, conveying a general truism. But something unforeseen is happening as Congress wraps up its overhaul of Wall Street: Key elements of the bill are getting tougher—in some cases markedly so....
What explains the unexpected success? The financial-services industry had counted on public passion subsiding with time. As the derivatives lawyer told me a few weeks ago, “The current strategy you’re hearing is basically to keep Republicans together till cooler heads prevail.” But cooler heads aren’t prevailing. As the bailed-out banks have surged back to profitability while unemployment hovers near 10 percent, the public has, if anything, grown crankier. By holding the line on a tougher reform package, the White House has been able to ride the anger rather than get trampled by it. In a moment of rising public frustration, the populist argument gains force the longer the debate continues.
So does this contradict basic political science? Yes and no. The outcome is still consistent with political science odels -- just not the ones that focus on interest groups. Any Americanist will tell you that interest group politics matters a lot. If public opinion is pretty unified around a high-profile issue, however, then there are hard political constraints that block the ability of lobbyists to do that voodoo that they do so well. And it's pretty clear that the public is thermonuclearly pissed at the financial sector.
Still, this is pretty surprising, because financial regulation is so friggin' arcane. Quick, what's a credit default swap? A collateralized debt obligation? Are they examples of derivatives or not? Sure, readers of this blog likely know the answers to those questions, but I guarantee you that 99% of registered voters do not know the answer. The fact that public pressure and attention is still mobilized on this issue is unusual.
I think it's tied into the one part of the story that Scheiber failed to mention -- the SEC indictment of Goldman Sachs. Whether what Goldman did or not was actually illegal is not the issue. There was a lot of reporting about what Goldman actually did -- and it seems like they weren't acting like just a couple of bookies. The indictment changed the political optics of financial regulation and dramatically reduced the utility of lobbying from the financial sector.
Finreg isn't law yet, and experts like Johnson might argue that their "capture" story works on other dimensions of the regulation. Still, I don't think this is a case where basic political science failed -- unless you think that poli sci should have predicted the SEC indictment.
What do you think?
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Spencer Ackerman doesn't think the Senate will ratify the START treaty because the GOP wants revenge on health care:
It would be a mistake to view the outcome of this vote as a function of the treaty’s merits. Look at it from the GOP’s political vantage. It’s an opportunity to deal Obama’s hippie aspiration for a nuke-free world an embarrassing setback, right after suffering a humiliating defeat on health care, the issue that fight most to their voters. Every Republican interest inclines them against voting for the bill, and the constitutional math of treaty ratification gives them the chance to give Obama a bloody nose in front of the world. If the Obama team starts arguing the merits of the bill as opposed to outlining a raw-politics strategy for passage, then the treaty is fucked. (emphasis added)
I agree that treaty ratification is not going to be easy -- but Ackerman's political acumen seems off, and his timetable is way off. As Peter Baker and Ellen Barry reported for the New York Times, START won't be going up for a vote anytime soon:
The two sides have begun preparing for a signing ceremony in Prague on April 8, timing it to mark the anniversary of Mr. Obama’s speech in the Czech capital outlining his vision for eventually ridding the world of nuclear weapons....
Mr. Obama met at the White House on Wednesday with Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the senior Democrat and Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to brief them on the negotiations. Mr. Kerry later said he would hold hearings between Easter and Memorial Day on the history of arms control and promised action by year’s end. “I assured the president that we strongly support his efforts and that if the final negotiations and all that follows go smoothly, we will work to ensure that the Senate can act on the treaty this year,” Mr. Kerry said.
Lugar told FP's Josh Rogin that "he intends to support the agreement and hearings could begin in May."
So, we know two things. First, by the time hearings and votes on START are taken, health care will have faded from view. Second, at least one prominent Republican senator intends to vote in favor of the treaty.
Does this mean START will sail through? Hardly. But it's also not going to fail because GOP Senators decided en masse to "give Obama a bloody nose in front of the world" because of health care.
Put me down as "cautiously optimistic" that START will be ratified. If the press reports are accurate, then opponents will have to argue that non-binding preamble language will somehow bind future U.S. presidents. Maybe hardcore ideologues can spin that kind of tale, but this is not health care -- fewer activists are going to care about an arms control treaty with a fading great power. Furthermore, if Obama's popularity has rebounded by the time the treaty comes up for a vote, some individual GOP senators will see a decided advantage to bipartisanship on foreign policy.
Ten days ago I took David Axelrod to task for speaking publicly on foreign affairs when that's not really his job description.
I bring this up because I'm wondering if the reverse critricism applies -- should foreign policy leaders stick their beaks into domestic policymaking bailiwicks?
Last week there was this nugget buried within Mark Landler and Helene Cooper's story on the Obama-Clinton relationship on foreign policy: "Mrs. Clinton has also taken on duties that go beyond her job description. At the request of the White House, she made calls to wavering lawmakers to enlist their support for health care legislation late last year."
Now The Hill's Molly K. Hopper reports that the Secretary of State was actively involved in health care lobbying over the weekend:
Hillary Rodham Clinton attempted to persuade on-the-fence Democrats to vote for the healthcare reform bill that narrowly passed the House on Sunday.
Lawmakers told The Hill that Clinton, who failed to convince the Democratic-controlled Congress to pass healthcare reform in 1994, was active in whipping votes for the White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
TMPDC's Rachel Slajda provides some context:
The White House kept her in the bullpen, she told CNN in February, taking the mound only when needed.
"When I am asked, I am very happy to respond. I mean, it's not anything I have direct responsibility for, but I have had a number of conversations and both in the White House and on the Hill and with others who are playing a constructive role," she said.
This is a bit unusual, to say the least. In recent history, Secretaries of State have refrained from active lobbying ands/or participation on matters of domestic policy.
What I'm not sure about is whether this is a violation of an unspoken norm or just an unusual situation. Hillary Clinton is not your ordinary Secretary of State. Unlike Axelrod and foreign policy, I'm not about to claim that the Secretary of State lacks sufficient policy expertise on the issue at hand. And let's face it, Hillary has a wee bit more political capital than, say, Warren Christopher did back in the day.
So, question to readers: is this a big deal?
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
I'm still on vacation -- did anything of note happen over the weekend?
Oh, I see: "probably the biggest thing to become law in 50 years." Well, so long as no one is engaging in hyperbole.
I have nothing to say about the content of the health care bill, but I do wonder whether there will be any positive or negative foreign policy externalities. FP's Joshua Keating provided one humorous example of how the passage of the bill can reframe the Obama narrative on foreign policy in a positive way.
On the other hand, Shadow Government's Dan Blumenthal correctly points out the ways in which Obama neglected foreign policy during the run-up to the bill's passage. This is not surprising -- presidents turn their fortunes around through domestic accomplishments and revived economic growth, not foreign policy achievements -- but it's a reality that Obama needs to confront going forward.
The one thing health care passage might do for Obama is add a dollop of respect for Obama's political acumen among other world leaders. Obama just got the #1 Democratic policy concern written into law after a year of long, drawn-out negotiations, and that's not nothing. Allied leaders might be more willing to give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt when dealing with long, drawn-out international negotiations.
What do you think?
Picking up on a theme I discussed earlier this week, I see that both Fred Kaplan and Matthew Yglesias conclude that a politically chastened Obama will not find any salvation in foreign policy. They both give similar reasons -- anything of significance will require Congressional approval, and Congress ain't in the giving mood.
I don't really disagree with Kaplan and Yglesias, but I do think they're missing something important: with an economy shedding jobs, the last thing Obama wants to do is pump up his international profile. Even if he could claim successes, foreign policy achievements -- particularly of the non-military kind -- during an economic downturn are pretty much a dead-bang political loser. Why? Because even successes suggests that the president cares more about the rest of the world than his own countrymen.
Think about it. The last time a sitting president focused on foreign affairs in the middle of a recession was George H.W. Bush. That was great from a policy perspective, but a political disaster for Bush. I won't swear to this, but my impression is that Obama's standing has taken a hit whenever he's gone overseas in the past year.
On the other hand, during a recession presidents can tell the rest of the world to go f*** themselves and they won't lose much in the way of popularity.
Just a glance at the December 2009 Pew survey shows the extent to which Americans are looking inward. And who can blame them -- it's a pretty bad economy and there's double-digit unemployment. This tendency is exacerbated by something that Kaplan does point out:
In the post-Cold War world, with the fracturing of power and the decline of influence by any one country or bloc, the problems that he faces are simply harder—more impervious to military, economic, or diplomatic pressure—than they would have been 20 to 50 years ago.
I'd say "post-Great Recession world," but that's quibbling. If Americans are fed up with how long it takes for anything to get done in Congress, wait until they pay attention to foreign affairs. The Doha round is on year nine and counting. With important exceptions, the United States has military forces in practically every country it's intervened in since 1945. Who knows how long a global warming treaty -- or the reconstruction of Haiti -- will take.
Are there exceptions? Sure, but they're ephemeral. I suspect the follow-on to START-II would get through the Senate, because, really, is now the time to pick a fight with Russia? Osama bin Laden's head on a pike would probably warm the cockles of most Americans. But they wouldn't stay warm for long.
No, it's the economy, stupid. The healthier the economy, the more political capital for Obama, and the less likely he will be punished for taking an interest in foreign affairs. If Obama has any political self-preservation instincts at all, international relations will be done on the DL for a while.
It's unfair, and very problematic for foreign policy wonks, but no one said life is fair.
Everyone inside the Beltway is preparing their 500 words on what the results in the Massachusetts special Senate election will mean for Barack Obama's domestic policy agenda. It's worth speculating for a moment, however, about the implications of this election for Obama's foreign policy agenda. What would a Republican victory signal to the rest of the world? How would the rest of the world's policymakers react?
The first and simplest answer would be that there would be no effect. It's just a single Senate election. Furthermore, one could argue that, on foreign policy, GOP hopeful Scott Brown is actually closer to Barack Obama than Martha Coakley. Brown supports Obama's Afghanistan plan -- Coakley opposes it. This election hasn't really been about foreign policy. Surely, then, a GOP upset wouldn't have much impact on the realm of international relations.
Not so fast, however. The election will also be interpreted as a signal of Obama's domestic political strength. Unless the numbers are way off, the Republicans will do much better tonight than anyone expected even two weeks ago. Foreign leaders -- particularly those from countries not terribly well-schooled in electoral politics -- will undoubtedly interpret that as a sign of:
1) Obama's domestic weakness; and
2) The depths of populist outrage in the United States -- populist outrage that could bleed over into increased protectionism, isolationism, or "kill them all and let God sort them out" provocation on the foreign policy front.
Soooo..... how they respond to this information depends on many factors. If they prefer Obama and his foreign policies to the GOP (cough, Europe, cough), then they might prove to be more accommodating to U.S. positions. If they like the results from a United States foreign policy that is more hawkish (cough, Iran and Venezuela, cough), then they might amp up their belligerence to make Obama look weak and hamstrung.
The one sure effect of the election is that it will throw a monkey wrench into international negotiations that require legislative approval. Unless Obama can secure bipartisan support for, say, a replacement to Start II, other countries' negotiators are going to wonder why they should bother with the transaction costs of negotiation.
Am I missing anything?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.