In 2012, I've begun to notice that there have been certain instances where events move so rapidly that my blogging about them is futile -- even in the time it takes for me to cogitate and craft a blog post, the situation on the ground changes. This happened with the Chen Guangcheng case, and it happened this week with the rash of protests and violent stormings of U.S. facilities in the Greater Middle East. Now it's certainly possible that I'm losing my fastball, but I think it might be that there are moments when taking a deep breath and stepping back are useful exercises before rendering judgment and analysis.
[Uh, it's been a few days now, so you ready for some judgment and analysis?--ed. Yep. Let's blog this mother!]
The more I think about it, the more bemused I've been by calls for Mitt Romney to give a major speech on foreign policy. Right now, it's the president who needs to deliver a major address. Americans are rightly confused by what the United States is doing in the Middle East, and President Obama had a pretty uneven week. On the one hand, there appears to have been some adroit behind-the-scenes diplomacy on Egypt. On the other hand, there are crisis moments when patience begins to look too much like passivity, and that's beginning to happen to this administration. Sure, there have been times in the past when U.S. embassies and consulates around the world faced even greater threats -- but things still seem pretty uncertain, U.S. lives have been lost, and the only thing that can be said for Barack Obama's leadership this week is that he's not Mitt Romney. Oh, and that the administration's argument that this has been caused by a single stupid Youtube clip is utter horses**t.
The American public is already predisposed towards getting the hell out of the Middle East. Seeing images of consulates burning down, caskets coming home draped in American flags, and Middle East leaders reacting slowly and tepidly to the threat of street mobs will only reinforce this predisposition. Most Americans, facing these images after two long and draining wars in the region, will likely want to reduce the U.S. profile in the Middle East even more.
That would be a mistake, for numerous reasons -- not the least of which is that the U.S. eventually does benefit if these countries manage to transition to genuine electoral democracies. It's telling that in Egypt and Libya it was the losers at the ballot box who created trouble in the streets. A reduction of the U.S. presence in these countries does not necessarily send the best of signals -- just as encouraging the use of deadly force in retaliation wouldn't either.
This strikes me as exactly the kind of "teachable moment" that President Obama used to love. So if I were a foreign policy advisor to president Obama, I'd advise him to deliver a natonally televised speech to the country in which he addressed the following:
1) What measures were being taken to protect U.S. lives at our consulates and embassies across the world;
2) What he thinks the origins of the current conflagrations have been (hint: saying it's a YouTube clip would be a radically incomplete and dishonest answer);
3) Why the United States needs to maintain an active diplomatic, security and commercial presence in the region;
4) What the United States government needs to start doing differently in order to best advance our interests in the region.
Now, obviously, this speech would have to be crafted with an eye towards the region as well -- which is both the beauty and the challenge of it.
Moreover, if I were one of Obama's political advisors, I would sternly warn him against doing this, because the downside risks would be massive. Americans don't care much about foreign policy, and this speech could seem like a distraction from the domestic policy debates of the presidential campaign. Such a speech would have to acknowledge his own administration's foibles and fumbles in the region. The address could easily act as a focal point to trigger another wave of violence and instability.
That said, the U.S. really is stuck in the Middle East -- better to be stuck with full information than with muddling through. Or, at least, full information that we're muddling through.
One of the most frustrating things about Mitt Romney's blunders this week is that they took the pressure off of the Obama administration. When the challenger has set this low of a bar, it's not hard for the administration to claim that they're the adults in the room. Well, it's not enough just to be the adults -- they're the ones in charge, and they're the ones that need to make the case for patience, for persistence, and for diplomatic engagement. Get cracking.
I think the world of the Financial Times' Jamil Anderlini. His China reportage is always fresh and interesting. But I confess that I approach his latest story with more than a touch of trepidation:
Mr Wen’s persistent mentions of the violent chaos unleashed by Mao Zedong were a clear rebuke to populist “princeling” politician Bo Xilai, who was purged a few hours later as party chief of Chongqing, one of China’s largest cities....
But for those reading between the pauses in the premier’s painfully deliberate oratory, the speech signalled more than the downfall of the maverick Mr Bo, who may still be charged with unspecified crimes.
According to people close to top-level internal party discussions, Mr Wen was tentatively laying the foundation for a move that would blow apart the established order in China and kick-start the political reform he has agitated for in recent years.
That move would be the rehabilitation and re-evaluation of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests and the massacre that followed on June 4, when party elders ordered the People’s Liberation Army to open fire on unarmed demonstrators.
To this day the party officially regards the democracy protests as a “counter-revolutionary riot” and the entire episode has been painstakingly scrubbed from the collective consciousness of the nation.
In calling for a re-evaluation of the cultural revolution, Mr Wen was in fact signalling his intention to do the same for Tiananmen in order to finally begin the healing.
Mr Wen has already suggested this on three separate occasions in top-level secret party meetings in recent years, according to people familiar with the matter, but each time has been blocked by his colleagues.
One of the most vehement opponents of this proposal was Bo Xilai....
As Mr Wen prepares to step down at the end of this year as part of a once-in-a-decade political transition, he may be gambling that the time has come to right historical wrongs as a way of launching political reform.
The potential reputational damage to powerful interest groups, particularly within the military, could still easily block such a spectacularly bold manoeuvre.
But in purging Mr Bo the Chinese leadership has cleared away a major impediment and sent a signal to others that spring could be in the air again in Beijing.
Now, a few notes of skepticism. First, we've heard this song-and-dance routine about Wen before. He's talked about political reform a lot, and every time he does it gets covered in the foreign press and squelched in the domestic Chinese press.
Second, while the CCP elite might be in agreement on not wanting to return to the chaos of the Cultural Revolution , it's quite a stretch to go from that consensus to an agreement to revisit 1989. I have every confidence that a large swatch of the CCP elite looks at Tiananmen as identical to the Cultural Revolution in terms of instability and chaos.
So this seems like yet another CCP episode of Lucy yanking away the democratic football from hopeful liberals... and yet.
Anderlini makes two persuasive points and omits an even more persuasive argument. He correctly observes that Wen is approaching lame duck status and that his primary political impediment has been removed. So maybe he is less constrained than in the past.
The omitted argument is a bit tangential, but bear with me. It relates to this Keith Bradsher story in the New York Times about China's relaxation of foreign capital strictures:
The Chinese government has begun making it much easier for foreign investors to put money into China's stock market and other financial investments, in a slight relaxing of more than a decade of tight capital controls.
The move, not publicly announced but disclosed by some private money managers, indicates that Chinese officials are eager to counter a rising flight of capital from the country, a worsening slump in real estate prices, a weak stock market and at least a temporary trade deficit caused by a steep bill for oil imports.
Those concerns have evidently started to offset fears of the potentially inflationary effects of big inflows of foreign cash (emphasis added).
Both the inward rush of capital and the capital flight by affluent Chinese are interesting. They could force the central government to start making credible commitments with respect to property rights. Only such commitments will ensure that the locally wealthy Chinese will not immediately have their capital move to the exit whenever possible. Oddly, Wen deciding to open up Tiananmen might be a way of signaling to investors that Beijing intends to be a bit kinder and gentler than it's been over the past decade.
The international diversification of China's wealthy elite has another effect. Via Erik Voeten, I see that John Freeman and Dennis Quinn have a new paper in the American Political Science Review that concludes, "financially integrated autocracies, especially those with high levels of inequality, are more likely to democratize than unequal financially closed autocracies." Why?
[M]odern portfolio theory recommends that asset holders engage in international diversification, even in a context in which governments have forsworn confiscatory tax policies or other policies unfavorable to holders of mobile assets. Exit through portfolio diversification is the rational investment strategy, not (only) a response to deleterious government policies. Therefore, autocratic elites who engage in portfolio diversification will hold diminished stakes in their home countries, creating an opening for democratization.
Freeman and Quinn might as well be talking about China right now. Soo.... maybe the "princelings" are less worried about democratization than they used to be.
To be honest, I still think the football is going to be yanked. But it's worth considering.
What do you think?
UPDATE: Mark Mackinnon has an excellent essay in the Toronto Globe & Mail explaining why reporters in China have so little to go on when they need to report on high-level politics or put down coup rumors.
Bill Keller has moved on from the esteemed position of New York Times executive editor to the very vulnerable position of New York Times Op-ed Columnist Ripe for Mockery.
Alas, it's hard to mock Keller's column today for two reasons. First, Keller bothered to do some actual reporting, traveling to India to interview supporters of Anna Hazere to get their opinion on Occupy Wall Street. Since the Times itself has suggested that overseas protest movements might inspire similar action in the advanced industrialized economies, this seems appropriate. It certainly seems more appropriate than comparing the Occupy movements to the Arab Spring.
The second reason is what Keller got from his interview with Anna Hazare associate Kiran Bedi:
“When we started the movement, it was like Occupy,” Bedi told me. “But we went beyond Occupy.”
For starters, while Occupy Wall Street is consensus-oriented and resolutely leaderless, Hazare is very much the center of attention. There was an anticorruption movement before Hazare, but it was fractious and weak until he supplied a core of moral authority. When he announces his intention to starve himself, he parks himself on an elevated platform in a public place, thousands gather, scores of others announce solidarity hunger strikes, and TV cameras congregate, hanging on his every word. Hazare and his entourage can seem self-important and high-handed, but he is a reminder that leadership matters.
Second, the Occupiers are a composite of idealistic causes, many of them vague. “End the Fed,” some placards demand. “End War.” “Get the money out of politics.” Much of the Occupy movement resides at the dreamy level of John Lennon lyrics. “Imagine no possessions. ...”
Hazare, in contrast, is always very explicit about his objectives: fire this corrupt minister, repeal that law bought by a special interest, open public access to official records.
His current mission is the creation of a kind of national anticorruption czar, a powerful independent ombudsman. The measure is advancing, and Team Anna hovers over the Parliament at every step, paying close attention to detail, to make sure nobody pulls the teeth out of it. Instead of a placard, Bedi has a PowerPoint presentation.
Occupy Wall Street is scornful of both parties and generally disdainful of electoral politics. Team Anna (yes, they call themselves that) likewise avoids aligning itself with any party or candidate, but it uses Indian democracy shrewdly, to target obstructionists. Recently Hazare turned a special election for a vacant parliamentary seat into a referendum, urging followers to vote against any party that refused to endorse his anticorruption bill. Hazare has also called for an amendment to the election laws to require that voters always be offered the option of “None of the Above.” When it prevails, parties would have to come up with better candidates.
“What really changes them,” Bedi said of recalcitrant politicians, “is the threat of losing an election.”....
“Occupy has been, to my mind, an engaging movement, and it’s driving home the message, to the banks, to the Wall Street circles,” Bedi said. “That’s exactly the way Anna did it. But we had a destination. I’m not aware these people — what is their destination? It’s occupy for what?” (enmphasis added)
Damn, that sounds familiar.
There's one other big difference that's buried in Keller's column, however. He notes that, "One poll found 87 percent public support for Hazare’s 12-day August fast." While the Occupy movement is certainly more popular than the Tea Party movement, I haven't seen a single U.S. poll demonstrating that breadth of public support.
Am I missing anything?
Nicholas Kulish has a New York Times front-pager on the rise of networked protest movements in consolidated democracies like India, Israel, and Greece. I hereby officially accuse Anne-Marie Slaughter of hacking into the NYT website and writing these paragraphs:
Increasingly, citizens of all ages, but particularly the young, are rejecting conventional structures like parties and trade unions in favor of a less hierarchical, more participatory system modeled in many ways on the culture of the Web.
In that sense, the protest movements in democracies are not altogether unlike those that have rocked authoritarian governments this year, toppling longtime leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Protesters have created their own political space online that is chilly, sometimes openly hostile, toward traditional institutions of the elite.
The critical mass of wiki and mapping tools, video and social networking sites, the communal news wire of Twitter and the ease of donations afforded by sites like PayPal makes coalitions of like-minded individuals instantly viable.
“You’re looking at a generation of 20- and 30-year-olds who are used to self-organizing,” said Yochai Benkler, a director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. “They believe life can be more participatory, more decentralized, less dependent on the traditional models of organization, either in the state or the big company. Those were the dominant ways of doing things in the industrial economy, and they aren’t anymore.”
Yonatan Levi, 26, called the tent cities that sprang up in Israel “a beautiful anarchy.” There were leaderless discussion circles like Internet chat rooms, governed, he said, by “emoticon” hand gestures like crossed forearms to signal disagreement with the latest speaker, hands held up and wiggling in the air for agreement — the same hand signs used in public assemblies in Spain. There were free lessons and food, based on the Internet conviction that everything should be available without charge.
As a social scientist, I must acknowledge that this is a powerful prima facie data point in favor of Slaughter.
And yet, it's worth pushing the NYT thesis a bit. What happens when the coalition of like-minded individuals stop being of like mind? These sorts of protests can be very powerful on single-issue questions where a single policy change is desired. Maintaining this level of activism to affect the ongoing quotidian grubbiness of politics, however, is a far more difficult undertaking. Even if people can be mobilized behind the concept of "Policy X is Stupid!" getting the same consensus on "Policy Y is the Answer!" is harder. Over time, these kind of mass movements have an excellent chance of withering away or fracturing from within. See, for example, the Tahrir Square movement in Egypt.
Another thing, and this is important: unless the people in these movements actually vote in elections, then their agenda will be thwarted in the long run. Even if these kinds of networked movements are new, the political imperative to get elected and re-elected is not. If they don't vote, then officials have a pretty powerful incentive to curry favor with the people who do vote, don't take to the streets and
don't like these young whippersnappers with their interwebs have different policy preferences.
This gets to a point that I have been
fumbling trying to make in the Great and All Powerful Slaughter-Drezner Debate: that at times we might be debating past each other because we have different time horizons. Anne-Marie can point to networked social movements that have an immediate impact on conventional politics. For foreign policymakers, the here and now is what matters. What I want to see is whether these movements can sustain themselves over time. For international relations theorists, the persistence of trends matters too.
Joshua Kurlantzick argues in The New Republic that despite the surface appeal of the Arab Spring, global trends are moving against the democratic system of government:
The truth is that the Arab Spring is something of a smokescreen for what is taking place in the world as a whole. Around the globe, it is democratic meltdowns, not democratic revolutions, that are now the norm. (And even countries like Egypt and Tunisia, while certainly freer today than they were a year ago, are hardly guaranteed to replace their autocrats with real democracies.) In its most recent annual survey, the monitoring group Freedom House found that global freedom plummeted for the fifth year in a row, the longest continuous decline in nearly 40 years. It pointed out that most authoritarian nations had become even more repressive, that the decline in freedom was most pronounced among the “middle ground” of nations—countries that have begun democratizing but are not solid and stable democracies—and that the number of electoral democracies currently stands at its lowest point since 1995. Meanwhile, another recent survey, compiled by Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation, spoke of a “gradual qualitative erosion” of democracy and concluded that the number of “highly defective democracies”—democracies so flawed that they are close to being failed states, autocracies, or both—had doubled between 2006 and 2010.
The number of anecdotal examples is overwhelming. From Russia to Venezuela to Thailand to the Philippines, countries that once appeared to be developing into democracies today seem headed in the other direction. So many countries now remain stuck somewhere between authoritarianism and democracy, report Marc Plattner and Larry Diamond, co-editors of the Journal of Democracy, that “it no longer seems plausible to regard [this condition] simply as a temporary stage in the process of democratic transition.”
Reason's Jesse Walker thinks Kurlantzick is making a "democracy meltdown" out of a few molehills:
It's a dramatic story, but it isn't really accurate. We aren't on the road to Planet Burma. More likely, we're witnessing freedom's growing pains....
Kurlantzick's claim that freedom has "plummeted" for five years running. I'll accept Freedom House's ratings as a rough measurement of civil liberties and self-rule: You might quibble with their judgments on some specific countries, but the group gets the broad trends right. And those trends just don't show a plummet. The political scientist Jay Ulfelder, former director of the Political Instability Task Force, notes that what the Freedom House figures actually describe is "a period of major gains in the early 1990s; a period of slower gains in the late 1990s and early 2000s; and something like a plateau to minor slippage since the mid-2000s." He illustrates that with a chart showing the group's average scores over the last three decades.
[T]he recent trend looks more like a stagnation than a substantial shrinkage. And with anti-authoritarian activists still marching in the Middle East and elsewhere, there's a reasonable chance—not a certainty, but a chance—that we're about to see another big bump in the right direction.
Jay Ulfelder has more in his blog post [Full disclosure: Jay and I got our Ph.D.'s in political science together. We were even officemates for a year -- and Jay was the most polite and quiet officemate I ever had.]
Looking at the data, I'm inclined to say that Walker/Ulfelder win this argument. Consider this paragraph from the Freedom House press release linked to by Kurlantzick:
A total of 25 countries showed significant declines in 2010, more than double the 11 countries exhibiting noteworthy gains. The number of countries designated as Free fell from 89 to 87, and the number of electoral democracies dropped to 115, far below the 2005 figure of 123. In addition, authoritarian regimes like those in China, Egypt, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela continued to step up repressive measures with little significant resistance from the democratic world.
The move from 89 to 87 could be noise, and 115 is not "far below" 123. There's some adjectival abuse going on here. These modest trends away from democratization across countries can be easily reversed by a successful Arab Spring -- a big "if," admittedly.
Kurlantzick and Freedom House do make one point, however, that neither Walker nor Ulfelder rebut. The most disturbing trend is the "lock-in" of authoritarianism in so many medium and great powers. China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia -- these are countries that have trended towards the "not free" category for many a year now, and these regimes are getting better at stifling dissent. Walker argues that, "the know-how for building freedom is still spreading," but the know-how for squelching it can also spread. Indeed, the Arab Spring itself has led to genuine regime change in some countries, but in others it has been a testing ground for how to crack down.
Even if the democratization wave continues, there are enough big authoritarian countries around that will not be transitioning anytime soon. That is a significant change from twenty years ago, and it's worth thinking about the implications for the future. \
UPDATE: Jay Ulfelder responds to my point on new and improved forms of authoritarianism:
Actually, I think the cases Dan mentions — China, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia — support the view that the roster of democratic governments will continue to expand. Where Dan sees regimes that are “locking in” authoritarian rule by “getting better at stifling dissent,” I see regimes that are facing still-growing pressures to expand civil liberties and hold fair elections–pressures that should eventually help tip those countries onto the democratic side of the ledger....
I think it’s unlikely (but not impossible) that any of these regimes will cede power to democratically elected governments in the next year or two. At the same time, I think it’s also evident that these regimes are increasingly struggling to contain the same forces that have propelled the diffusion of democracy elsewhere in the past two centuries. What I learn from the trajectories of prior transitions is that those forces cannot be contained forever. The processes of political change spurred by those forces are often choppy, frustrating, and even violent, but the long-term trend away from self-appointed rulers toward elected government is remarkably strong and consistent, and the forces driving that trend are already evident in many of the world’s remaining “hard” cases of authoritarian rule.
I hope he's right -- but stories like these make me wonder if he's underestimating the innovations of "smart" authoritarian institutions.
In his column today, Nicholas Kristof gives voice to a sentiment shared by many within the foreign policy community:
In my travels lately, I’ve been trying to explain to Libyans, Egyptians, Bahrainis, Chinese and others the benefits of a democratic system. But if Congressional Republicans actually shut down the government this weekend, they will be making a powerful argument for autocracy. Chinese television will be all over the story.
If a high school student council refused to approve a budget so that student activities had to be canceled — even as student leaders continued to pay themselves stipends — a school board would probably cancel the entire experiment in student democracy. But I can’t imagine high school students acting so immature.
Now, this is the kind of gut-level response that most foreign policy wonks -- myself included -- have when initially confronting the absurdity of a government shutdown. Surely, such a self-inflicted wound would tarnish the brand image of democracy in general and America in particular across the globe.
Is this truthiness actually true, however? I'm beginning to wonder if this hypothesis rests on anything other than sheer assertion. In terms of direct effects, the U.S. military won't be suddenly lay down their arms or anything. As I understand it, the U.S. won't default on debt payments until mid-May, so the financial catastrophe is still six weeks away. So any appreciable effect rests on whether or not American soft power would be dented.
In a brief survey of the interwebs, I could find no research paper that researched whether the 1995/96 government shutdowns had any effect on either American foreign policy or U.S. standing abroad. This jibes with my personal memory of this period, in which very little was written about how the shutdown affected foreign policy. So maybe this gnashing of foreign policy teeth is a bit much.
Of course, this was likely because the previous shutdowns didn't last that long, the longest duration (17 days) took place during the Christmas break, and no big foreign policy crisis was going on during the shutdown. I think it's safe to say that the world is a wee bit
closer to the end of days interesting this time around. That said, no one expects a long stretch of no federal government, so the effect might very well be similar -- which is to say, nonexistent.
In the end, my more analytical take is that the foreign policy effects of a goverment shutdown will depend on how its resolved. If there is little in the way of massive protests, it would signal to the rest of the world the remarkable stability of American civil society. If steps are taken to get a grip on America's mouning debt levels, then the aftermath of the shutdown would not necessarily leave a bad aftertaste.
That said, there might be one residual effect for democratizing nations -- a preference for parliamentary systems of government over presidential systems. As Robert Williams and Esther Jubb observed back in the 1990s:
The world's other advanced industrial democracies, Germany, France, Japan and Britain, manage their budget crises without resorting to the extraordinary shutdown measures which have become a familiar feature of the American budgetary process.
This shutdown thing does seem to be unique to the American presidential system, which might cause newly emerging democracies to embrace other forms of democratic rule. On the whole, however, this is a pretty marginal effect on American foreign policy.
So, on second thought, if any government shutdown is over by the end of April, I think the foreign policy effects would be pretty minimal. But I am very curious to know if there's been any in-depth research on this question.
In the wake of Hosni Mubarak's departure, there is going to be rampant speculation on whether another Arab domino will fall. At a minimum, the fall of Mubarak has emboldened activists in neighboring countries.
As fun as it is to speculate about whether and how this kind of deemocratic virus will spread. It is worth stepping back and appreciating that the region doesn't look quite the same. Every few years or so since the third wave of deocraization, some article would try to scrape together the meager progress towards representative democracy in the Middle East and claim it was a wave. Inevitably the nascent trends would dissipate.
That could still happen, but it seems harder this time around. Looking at the Middle East now, there are established democracies in Turkey and Israel, some semblance of representative government in Lebanon and Iraq, and transitioning governments in Tunisia and Egypt. The likelihood of all of these governments reverting to strongman authoritarianism or becoming new Islamic theocracies seems highly unlikely. Already governments like Yemen, Jordan and the Palestinian authority are making concessions to get out front of new large-scale protests.
This is, to quote Vice President Biden, "a big f**king deal." It's particularly big because this happened during a period of high oil prices, which ostensibly was a good thing for Arab autocrats.
The one thing that nags at me is whether there is a government willing to shoot its own citizens, and whether such action would halt the actual wave spreading across the Middle East.
What do you think?
The Days of Rage seem to be persisting in Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak is gunning for 2011's Marie Antoinette Award for Most Clueless Political Response By a Leader, and Egyptian protestors have completely and repeatedly ignored the 4 PM curfew announced on Friday. The police have withdrawn, the armed forces are out but not exactly stopping the protestors, and anyone vaguely related to Hosni Mubarak appears to have decided this was a swell time to shop at Harrod's. The official U.S. take on the situation is to
tap-dance as fast as humanly possible not say all that much.
So.... what now? What's going to happen? Like I said last week -- and like Paul Krugman -- I don't know. But having spent the morning watching the Sunday talk shows and the afternoon feverishly updating my Twitter feed, let me take this opportunity to ask as many provocative questions as I can:
1) Why is Mubarak toast? Everyone assumes that the Egyptian leader is a dead man walking, and given his speech on Friday, I can understand that sentiment. There are, however, remaining options for Mubarak to pursue, ranging from a full-blown 1989 Tiananmen square crackdown to a slow-motion 2009 Tehran-style crackdown.
Obviously, these aren't remotely good options for anyone involved. The first rule in political science, however, is that leaders want to stay in power, and Mubarak has given no indication that he wants to leave. He could be packing up as I type this -- but 80-year old strongmen don't tend to faint at the first spot of trouble.
The Days of Rage have clearly altered the future of Egypt -- Gamel Mubarak is not going to succeed his father. How much additional change will take place is unclear.
2) Could the army crack down if it wanted to? Contradicting my first question, the one thing I wonder is whether the Egyptian state has the capacity to crack down any more. Egypt's internal security forces have failed miserably. This leaves the army, an institution that has, to date, commanded respect across all walks of life in Egypt and refrained from direct internal coercion activities .
The fact that jets buzzed Tahrir Dquare suggests two things. First, the military is trying to signal to protestors to, you know, go home. Second, the military might not have the available tools to make this point more effectively, and might not be able to efficiently dispatch protestors if so desired. If this cable is accurate, the Egyptian military has long-focused on developing its conventional warfare capabilities, which is great for an armored attack in the desert and lousy for subduing a restive civilian population.
I'm sure the military could restore order if necessary, but it would be a hugely inefficient enterprise. The hit to their reputation would be massive.
3) Has U.S. influence over the situation increased and not decreased? Again, lots of talk today about how U.S. can't really shape the outcome. OK, except that I don't think the following statements add up:
a) The Egyptian armed forces are now the central pillar propping up the Egyptian state;
b) The Egyptian and American defense establishments have strong ties;
c) U.S. aide to Egypt is roughly $3 billion a year;
d) U.S. influence over the situation has waned.
As the Obama administration's rhetoric shifts -- going from calling on Mubarak to take action to talk about "transition" -- I wonder whether the U.S. is simply following the situation on the ground, or whether the situation on the ground has allowed the administration to start exerting more leverage.
4) After Egypt, which country in the region is the most nervous? This ain't Tunisia, it's the heart of the Arab Middle East. Regime chage in Egypt will send shockwaves across Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Libya and Syria.
That said, I suspect the most nervous country in the region will be Israel. When I was there this summer listening to their top security experts, Egypt was barely mentioned. The cornerstone of Israel's security was the notion that Egypt was a partner and not a threat. A region in which Iran, Turkey and Egypt all adopt hostile attitudes towards the State of Israel is, let's say, not an ideal situation. If both Turkey and Egypt look like democracies a year from now, that makes things even worse.
5) Is the Muslim Brotherhood really all that and a bag of chips? The MB wasn't behind the latest protests, and it's not entirely clear how much support they actually command in Egypt. This hasn't stopped speculation about what an MB-led Egypt would look like. While everyone is evoking what happened in Iran in 1979, I keep thinking that the Egyptian military is a lot more robust now than the Iranian military was back then. Stratfor speculates otherwise, but they don't have much data to back up their claim. I find it interesting that the MB threat has not deterred neoconservatives from supporting, at a minimum, regime change in Egypt.
[So do you have any answers?--ed. The U.S. should be pursuing a broad-spectrum policy of engaging any and every actor in Egypt right now, but the key is the military. All available pressure -- including an aid cutoff -- should be put on that institution to not intervene and not attack civilians. If that happens, I think that all the other dominoes fall.]
Longtime readers might have noted that I've been super-silent about events in Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, etc. As one reader asked me, "What gives?"
The answer is that, way back in the early days of... er... this month, I was all set to blog a response to Marc Lynch's speculation that authoritarian Arab governments were in trouble. "Silly Marc!" I thought, "this kind of speculation happens every five years or so, and it always turns out that these regimes are more robust than anyone thought."
In an unusual display of
sloth caution on my part, however, I held
back out of prudence. I hadn't thought all that much about the situation on the
ground, and that's a time when silence is the best policy. In contrast, Steve
Walt stepped into the breach... and now he's trying
to find his way back to shore.
Marc's latest post strikes me as both informative and spot-on in his assessments, so to avoid redundancy, I'd suggest checking it out.
For my readers, I'll just leave this as an open comment thread with the following discussion questions:
1) How much logic will be contorted in an effort to argue that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was the trigger? I'm thinking a lot.
2) Which neoconservative impulse will win out -- the embrace of democratic longing, or the fear of Islamic movements taking power?
3) A year from now, will Tunisia actually be a democracy? The "Jasmine Revolution" portion of this story is easy -- it's the grubby parts of institution-building and power-sharing that muck things up.
Pssst… international relations majors and masters students. Having a hard time coming up with a BA or MA thesis topic? Worried that too many of your friends are writing about Wikileaks?
Here's a fun little project, courtesy of the Financial Times' Andrew Ward and Geoff Dyer:
China's campaign to boycott this year's Nobel Peace Prize was shown to have had some success after 18 countries joined Beijing in declining invitations to Friday's award ceremony for Liu Xiaobo, a jailed democracy activist.
Russia, Saudi Arabia, Colombia and Pakistan are among 19 countries, including China, that have declined invitations to the prize-giving.
The Norwegian Nobel committee has accused Beijing of applying "unprecedented" pressure on countries to boycott the Oslo ceremony, amid Chinese anger over the award to the jailed dissident.
The other absentees are expected to be Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco, according to the Norwegian Nobel Institute, which is organizing the ceremony....
Ambassadors from all countries with embassies in Oslo are invited to the ceremony each year. As of Tuesday, 44 countries had indicated they would be represented on Friday.
Two countries - Algeria and Sri Lanka - had not replied.
It was not clear that all 19 absentees were staying away because of China but the Nobel Institute said the number of expected no-shows was higher than usual.
In 2008, for example, when the prize was won by Martti Ahtisaari, a relatively uncontroversial Finnish politician, 10 embassies were not represented at the ceremony for various reasons (emphases added).
OK, here's your thesis topic: what were the key factors that determined a country's decision not to attend Lu's Nobel ceremony? How much of this was due to Chinese pressure, how much was due to ideological affinity with the Chinese regime, and how much was due to the ambassador's spouse renting The Expendables on Netflix and absolutely needing to watch it that night?
The obvious variables to consider are alliance patterns, regime type, trade with/aid from China, proximity to Beijing, and maybe a corruption measure. That said, if you look at the list of all foreign embassies in Oslo, there are some interesting questions to ask. Why is Thailand attending but not the Philippines? Why is Colombia joining Venezuela in not attending? Why is Vietnam, an enduring rival of China, allying with China on this issue?
Go to it, students! And check out the lively comments that I'm sure will be posted down below that provide additional hypotheses. And remember, "A day without social science is like a day without sunshine."
UPDATE: Reuters does some preliminary field work. The most interesting and candid admission:
Embassies are not required to explain why they accept or decline a Nobel invitation, but a senior Filipino diplomat spoke candidly, underlining China's growing power, especially in Asia.
"We do not want to further annoy China," he said.
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.
The topic de la semaine around here has been how, regardless or regime type, all governments face domestic politics and political constraints. Just to push back on that theme, however, it is worth remenbering that not all political regimes were created equal. For Exhibit A on this theme, let's wander over to Alistair Smith and Alejandro Quiroz Flores "Disaster Politics" essay for Foreign Arrairs (hat tip: Laura Rozen):
On January 12, 2010, Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, was struck by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that caused widespread destruction and killed approximately 222,000 people. The next month, Chile was hit by an 8.8-magnitude earthquake -- approximately 500 times stronger than that in Haiti -- but only 500 people died.
Why the disparity? For one, Chile rigorously enforces strict building codes, so there was less immediate damage to the infrastructure near the earthquake’s epicenter. The government of President Michelle Bachelet was also quick to act once the earthquake hit. It immediately began to coordinate international and domestic relief efforts to get supplies and shelter to those in need. In contrast, there is no national building code in Haiti, and the country’s government was barely functional even before the earthquake, let alone after....
It is tempting to suggest that a country’s ability to prepare is a matter of money. After all, the United States and Japan are extremely wealthy. However, although wealth certainly matters, politics are more important....
Political survival lies at the heart of disaster politics. Unless politicians are beholden to the people, they have little motivation to spend resources to protect their citizens from Mother Nature, especially when these resources could otherwise be earmarked for themselves and their small cadre of supporters. What is worse, the casualty count after a disaster is a major determinant of the amount of international assistance a country receives. Relief funds can even enhance a nondemocrat’s hold on power if they are used to buy off supporting elites. Given such incentives, autocrats’ indifference to disaster-related deaths will continue. The fix can only be political -- leaders will not use the policies already available to mitigate the effects of natural disasters until they have the incentives to do so.
Smith and Flores have large-N data to back up their assertion. Read the whole thing -- there's some interesting stuff I left out of the excerpt.
This finding shouldn't be that surprising. It's of a piece with Amartya Sen's observation that famines occur in autocracies rather than democracies. It's also consistent with the argument Smith and his co-authors made in The Logic of Political Survival.
If nothing else, it should tell you which kind of government you want to live under in case... well.... you know.
THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP/Getty Images
30th 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, lots of people are clearly out in the streets of Tehran and other major Iranian cities. Andrew Sullivan has/will have posts galore on the Green protests -- and I have every confidence that the Leveretts will have a post up soon minimizing the significance of said protests (UPDATE: they do not disappoint).
As I've posted on Iran, I've been intrigued by all of the commenters arguing back and forth on the precise power of the Green movement. Some have argued that the current regime is doomed; some have argued that it's much ado about nothing.
So, here's my question to those readers -- what observable evidence would convince you that your analysis is wrong? If supporters of the Green
Revolution movement only saw evidence of anti-government protestors in the hundreds, would that convince you that the regime will be standing for quite some time? For those who believe the regime is here to stay, would millions in the streets chanting "Death to the Dictator" make you think twice about your assumptions?
Think hard about this question and post your answer in the comments.
UPDATE: Just to provide an example, this excerpt from a NIAC post bolsters the Leverett position on Iranian state strength:
It’s still very early to be drawing conclusions from today’s events, as people are still out in the streets. But one thing I’m struck by is just how much the government has been in control today. Sure, they chartered busses and lured tens of thousands to the official government rally with free food, but they have also managed to keep the opposition activities largely on their terms today.
The government’s strategy is to depict the protesters as a small group of rioting thugs, burning trash cans and disrupting order for their own radical, “foreign-backed” agenda. Toward that end, they have been very effective at keeping the demonstrations today dispersed and nervous — less of the “million man march” and more like Seattle WTO protesters. Above all else, the ruling elites know the danger of big crowds: strength in numbers takes over and individuals no longer feel like they will be held accountable for their actions, thus their demands get more radical and their tactics more extreme; this forces a harsher backlash from security forces, possibly including using lethal force. And then that’s the ball-game. That’s exactly what happened in 1979, and Khamenei learned that lesson well enough that he’ll do his utmost not to repeat it.
So today’s events (like previous ones) have seen security forces disrupt crowds before they can coalesce into a large group, arresting numerous individuals as a way of controlling the crowds before they get out of the police’s hands....
Interestingly, many accounts we've been hearing involve protestors being hesitant to wear green, flash a V for victory sign, or even chant openly out of fear of backlash from security personnel. In some cases, particularly at Azadi square where Ahmadinejad addressed the official government rally, security forces scanned the crowd for any signs of "green" activity, and quickly pulled people out of the group as soon as they were given cause.
Over in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich's apparent narrow victory over the Yulia Tymoshenko has had the anticipated effect inside the U.S. foreign policy community -- there's been an exercise in massive navel-gazing. I'm therefore going to make things worse by engaging in meta-navel gazing (usually something I only consider doing with you-know-who).
Let's start with the Century Foundation's Jeffrey Laurenti:
Yanukovych's election yesterday, narrowly edging out prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko in the run-off, spotlights the folly of Washington conservatives who pressed single-mindedly to lock Ukraine (and Georgia) into the Western military alliance during the Bush administration. They discounted deep ambivalence among Ukrainians themselves and sought to override overt opposition from NATO's leading members in western Europe.
Like insects trapped in Baltic amber since dinosaur days, American conservatives remained frozen in a comfortingly simple cold-war view of the world: Russia is incorrigibly suspect and must relentlessly be hemmed in by American power.
That sounds like a cue.... yes, let's click over to The American Interest's Walter Russell Mead:
The apparent victory of Viktor Yanukovych in yesterday’s Ukrainian presidential election is yet another setback to the idea that the world is rapidly becoming a more democratic place....
In hindsight, the choice that we made to extend NATO farther east in gradual steps might have been a mistake. Russia hates NATO expansion and always has. To some Russians it looks like the inexorable approach of a hostile alliance that endangers the motherland; to others it is a constant humiliating reminder of Russian weakness and the west’s arrogant presumption after 1989. The expansion was annoying when it was limited to the former Warsaw Pact Soviet allies; it was maddening and infuriating when it extended to territories that were once part of the USSR like the three Baltic republics of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. The prospect of a new wave of expansion to include Georgia and Ukraine, and push right up to the Russian frontier, was a worst case scenario nightmare for Russia.
If we were going to expand NATO eastward, we probably should have done it all at once, making agreements in principle and establishing basic interim security treaties with those countries whose actual entry might have to be delayed. What we’ve done instead is like pulling a bandage off tiny bit by bit, endlessly prolonging the agony. We should have ripped the whole thing off twenty years ago. (We should have also thought much more seriously than we ever have about the likelihood that expanding NATO probably ultimately entailed bringing the Russians in as the only way to stabilize the security situation across Europe.) Now the combination of Russian opposition (which, among other things, reduces European enthusiasm for expansion), geopolitical instability (do we want to get sucked into a new Russia-Georgian war?) and the general decline of US interest in Europe make a strong new push for expansion unlikely — even if the Yanukovych government wanted to join NATO.
So here we are: stuck with a security fault line in Europe, while the Russians will continue to fish where there aren’t any signs.
Both of these posts suggests way too much focus on the immediate implications of the election -- a president more favorably disposed towards Moscow.
I think this is one time when the mainstream media actually brings greater value-added to the table. The New York Times' Clifford Levy makes an intriguing suggestion in this news analysis -- that the process of Ukraine's election is more significant than Yanukovich's victory:
[T]he election won by the candidate, Viktor F. Yanukovich, was highly competitive, unpredictable and relatively fair — just the kind of major contest that has not been held in Russia since Mr. Putin, the prime minister, consolidated power.
On Monday, for example, European election monitors praised the election that was held Sunday, calling it an “impressive display” of democracy. Ukraine's election, in other words, did not follow the Kremlin blueprint and, if anything, seemed to highlight the flaws in the system in Russia. As such, it presented a kind of alternative model for the former Soviet Union....
[Analysts said] that while the public ousted the Orange government, it did not want to do away with all aspects of the Orange democracy. They said a backlash would occur if Mr. Yanukovich tried to crack down.
The Ukrainian model may have particular resonance now with recent rumblings of discontent in Russia.
Late last month, antigovernment demonstrations in Kaliningrad, a region in western Russia physically separate from the rest of the country, drew thousands of people and seemed to catch the Kremlin off guard. Some protesters chanted for Mr. Putin’s resignation, complaining about higher taxes and an economy weakened by the financial crisis.
And last week, a prominent politician from what had been perceived as a puppet opposition party unexpectedly turned on the Kremlin and lashed out at Mr. Putin’s domestic policies. “Is opposition and criticism dishonest?” said the politician, Sergey Mironov. “In a civilized society, this is the duty and goal of the opposition.”
It is highly unlikely that Russia will soon have Ukrainian-style openness. The question now is, what will be the long-term impact across the former Soviet Union if Ukraine can follow its successful election with a relatively peaceful transition to a Yanukovich administration?
That's far from guaranteed, if Tymoshenko's latest actions are any indication. And the past is not necessarily encouraging -- Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko won free and fair elections the one time they were held in Belarus, back in 1994.
Still, this is an outcome that should have democracy activists pretty pleased with themselves -- and members of the foreign policy community less obsessed with the international relations version of horse race politics.
According to the Associated Press, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev wants to get outside of the DC beltway in his next trip to the USA:
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says he would like to meet with "dissidents" when he visits the U.S. next week.
Russian news agencies quote him as telling a group of visiting foreign experts that "I believe there are dissidents in the United States."
ITAR-Tass quotes him as saying: "Let them tell me what problems the United States has. That won't be bad, considering the Soviet experience."
I think that this is a fantastic idea, when one considers the potential pool of dissidents. Fortunately, Andy Heil has come up with a list of possibile dissidents at RFERL's Transmissions blog. His list:
This is an excellent start, but I think we can add a few names to the old dissident list. Let me think.... who else is railing against the System these days?
I'm just trying to imagine Medvedev meeting this crew.
Commenters are encouraged to suggest additional names in the comments.
This bit from the Los Angeles Times' account of today's Tehran protests is veeeeeeeeerrrrrry interesting.
At times the two camps appeared to be shouting directly at each other, exposing the still-festering election rift within Iranian society and the political establishment underneath both at the Friday prayer enclosure on the university campus and on the streets outside.
As Mousavi supporters chanted "Death to the dictator," against Ahmadinejad, his supporters chanted "Death to opponents" of Khamenei.
As hard-liners repeated their signature cries of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel," riled-up Mousavi supporters overpowered them with chants of "Death to Russia" and "Death to China," the Islamic Republic's powerful United Nations Security Council protectors.
This little exchange underscores the fact that the United States is not the only great power with a stake in the outcome of what happens in Iran.
That said, one wonders if Russia and China will respond by doubling down on the current regime -- i.e., aiding and abetting Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and the Revolutionary Guards in order to ensure a friendly Iran.
If this happens, 2009 could be a bizarro-world replay of 1953, when the United States backed a coup in Tehran order to ensure a U.S.-friendly regime. That move gave the United States 25 years of a friendly Iranian government, immediately followed by thirty years of a hostile Iranian government.
Readers, does this analogy hold up?
The following is not rocket science, but rather International Relations 101. Still, I hadn't seen it anywhere else, so here goes:
In both countries, conservative elements of the established regime conducted what was, essentially, a coup d'etat. In both cases, the coup-plotters used both legal and extralegal means to cement their hold on power. These actions have triggered mass demonstrations in the streets of Tehran and Tegucigalpa. Both governments are rather paranoid about external influence on their regime. And, in some domestic politics version of the security dilemma (I hereby label this the "sovereignty dilemma"), that paranoia about external meddling is merely fuelling greater international attention to their domestic affairs of state.
Now, what are the differences? They boil down to a few important distinctions:
What does this mean? It means that realist and liberal logics will work together in Honduras and against each other in Iran. The Organization of American States could never reverse a regime change in, say, Brazil -- but multilateral coordination will have an effect on Honduras. Indeed, the fact that Honduras is relatively small is what makes it easy for the OAS to muster some consnsus on the issue. Furthermore, in contrast to larger countries, the effect of multilateral sanctions on Honduras would be pretty significant.
In Iran, on the other hand, conflicting strategic interests prevent any kind of great power concert that could push for domestic change. It's also far from clear whether anything short of a gasoline embargo would really have an appreciable impact on the regime in Tehran.
So, holding everything else constant, the odds are that the coup in Honduras are more likely to be reversed than the coup in Iran.
Bear in mind, however, that life never holds everything else constant.
[A] Rubicon may indeed have been crossed, with no going back to "the way things were" in Iran. That certainly seems to be the consensus. But I also wonder if it might be a bit of wishful thinking. There's a tendency to imbue events as-they're-happening as more important than they may turn out to be. To take just the color revolutions to which it has been so trendy to compare the situation in Iran: Ukraine's "Orange" and Georgia's "Rose" (not to mention Kyrgyzstan's "Tulip") were certainly major events, but the hype that they generated at the time far surpasses the attention that those countries, modestly different though their governments might be, attract today.
I think more useful comparisons would be Tianenmen or, better, the monks' uprising in Burma in late 2007. What these examples -- or even, as I suggested before, those of Kenya or Zimbabwe -- show us is the possibility of an outcome distinct from Drezner's either-or (or both) model. At the time, many thought that Burma's junta couldn't possibly survive such a brutal onslaught against the country's most venerable institution. But...it survived. In Iran, the possibilities are simply too many to predict: Khamenei may retrench, and allow Ahmadinejad to take the fall; or, the two of them may make some sort of minor concession to the protestors; or again, they could simply wait until the crowds peter out. Revolution is not inevitable. In such an interesting situation, nothing is.
As someone leery of historical analogies and fond of nuance, I would like to agree with what John is saying. Except that I don't.
First, I think it's pretty clear Khamenei is not going to retrench. The moment he said that Ahmadinejad's victory was a "divine victory," he sealed his position on the matter. He can't back down now. I'm pretty sure supreme leaders in Iran don't change political tack because of mass protests -- it undercuts their claim to be, you know, supreme leaders. In his latest sermon, Khamenei is doubling down on his bet with Ahmadinejad.
Is there any other way this ends without one camp or the other abjectly losing? I don't think so. Minor concessions will not mollify the protestors. A "compact"-like solution doesn't work terribly well here, since the factions don't trust each other enough to believe that force won't be used down the road. A re-run of the election won't work, because Khamenei's been digging in his heels and can't back down now. A straight-out Revolutionary Guards-style coup is possible, but that's going to come with a lot of bloodshed.
Second, I think Boonstra is slightly misreading my post. I'm not sure that Ahmadinejad and Khamenei will be out of power soon. What I am pretty sure of is that the only way they're going to stay in power from hereon in is through a display of brute force on a Tiananmen-like scale.
Third, Boonstra raises a valid question, which is whether a genuine regime transition would really mean all that much. Color revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan have not necessarily amounted to all that much. Similarly, I see that Steve Walt has reverted to "regime type is irrelevant" arguments with regard to Iranian foreign policy.
Hmmm....... nope, not persuaded. There are two big differences in the case of Iran. The first is that, unlike all the other color revolution countries, Iran is a regional heavyweight. Every other color revolution government had to worry about a more powerful neighbor who liked the old regime better staring them down. Iran is a more powerful and less divided country. This does not mean that realipolitik pressures will not apply -- but it does mean that they are less binding than in the case of, say, Ukraine. And because of Iran's material power, a possible Green Revolution matters more in more strategic areas, like the Persian Gulf.
On the nuclear question, I take Walt's points, but I'm not sure how relevant they are after the past week. Post-regime transition governments have been quite willing to give up nuclear programs in the past -- Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, to name a few. Steve cites polls that show strong Iranian support for the nuclear program -- but those same polls also show strong opposition to creating nuclear weapons.
Iran's security interests will remain paramount to any new government, of course. But I do wonder just how much of Iran's insecurity has been a product of the current regime's own making. Would a Mousavi/Rafsanjani regime be as insecure about its staus in the region?
If, on the other hand, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad manage to keep their grip on power, I can't see them ever giving up their grip on their nuclear program, no matter what is on the table in negotiations.
I'll leave this as an open question to readers -- to what extent would a post-Khamenei Iran have a different attitude towards its nuclear program?
I don't have too many complaints with Barack Obama's foreign policy to date. But I'm beginning to wonder about his effect on America's foreign policy bloggers.
Today, I see that Josh Marshall recommends Juan Cole's blog as the place to check for updates on Iranian elections. I don't always agree with Cole, but Iran is right in his wheelhouse, so off I click.
His top post, entitled, "Iran Awaits Ballot Results; Obama Effect Expected," contains this paragraph:
Howard LaFranchi at CSM asks what the 'Obama Effect' will be on the Iranian revolution. Although it was not decisive, scientific polling in Lebanon suggests that Obama did have an effect in the defeat of the Hezbollah coalition, "March 8", in Lebanon, even if it was a slight one.
Hmmm.... there was scientific polling done on this? Really? Rats. Earlier this week I expressed my skepticism about the Obama effect in Lebanon's election. Ready to concede that I might have been wrong, I clicked through Cole's link to find the following:
Neither [Lebanon nor Iran] has any accurate, independent or publicly available political polling, and no poll has attempted to substantively gauge the effect of Obama's presidency or his recent Cairo outreach speech to Muslims on either country.
One recent poll done on behalf of two U.S.-based public-interest groups found that few Iranians — only 29 percent — said they have favorable opinions of the United States, and that the view had changed little since Obama's election.
Both of Cole's links have quotes from experts claiming that there might have been a mild Obama effect. There ain't no scientific polling, however.
Let's everyone slowly walk away from the Obama hyperbole, shall we?
UPDATE: Cole has corrected his post.
From a U.S. perspective, Lebanon's election went very well:
An American-backed alliance has retained control of the Lebanese Parliament after a hotly contested election billed as a showdown between Tehran and Washington for influence in the Middle East....
The alliance, known as the March 14 coalition, won the majority in the 128-member parliament with 71 seats, compared with to 57 for the Hezbollah-led coalition, according to official results announced Monday by the government. The results represent a significant and unexpected defeat for Hezbollah and its allies, Iran and Syria. Most polls had showed a tight race, but one in which the Hezbollah-led group would win.
Just to pre-empt the question that will inevitably be asked in the United States -- "this was because of President Obama's Cairo speech, right?" -- I would refer everyone to this New York Times story from six weeks ago by Robert Worth:
[P]arliamentary elections here in June are shaping up to be among the most expensive ever held anywhere, with hundreds of millions of dollars streaming into this small country from around the globe.
Lebanon has long been seen as a battleground for regional influence, and now, with no more foreign armies on the ground, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region are arming their allies here with campaign money in place of weapons. The result is a race that is widely seen as the freest and most competitive to be held here in decades, with a record number of candidates taking part. But it may also be the most corrupt....
[E]ven a narrow win by Hezbollah and its allies, now in the parliamentary opposition, would be seen as a victory for Iran — which has financed Hezbollah for decades — and a blow to American allies in the region, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt. So the money flows.
“We are putting a lot into this,” said one adviser to the Saudi government, who added that the Saudi contribution was likely to reach hundreds of millions of dollars in a country of only four million people. “We’re supporting candidates running against Hezbollah, and we’re going to make Iran feel the pressure.”
Given that the March 14 coalition outperformed the polling, it's entirely possible that factors other than money played a role in the outcome -- Nate Silver needs to go global in his analysis. Still, unless Mark Lynch tells me otherwise, methinks this result is clearly not just about the power of rhetoric.
The number of Russian tourists visiting countries outside the former Soviet Union grew to 7.1 million in 2006, the last year statistics were available, from 2.6 million in 1995, according to the Russian government. A record 2.5 million Russians visited Turkey in 2007, up 33 percent from 2006, Turkish officials said. Only Germany, that paragon of European wealth, sends more tourists to Turkey. (By contrast, in 1988, a few years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, all of 22,000 Soviet citizens visited Turkey.) The Russian tourism boom is happening as new low-cost airlines in Europe have spurred a sharp increase in tourism across the Continent. But for the Russians, the chance to travel is especially prized. For the first time in Russian history, wide swaths of the citizenry are being exposed to life in far-off lands, helping to ease a kind of insularity and parochialism that built up in the Soviet era. Back then, the public was not only prevented from going abroad; it was also inculcated with propaganda that the Soviet Union was unquestionably the world’s best country, so there was no need to leave anyway. People who desired foreign travel in Soviet times typically had to receive official approval, and if it was granted, they were closely chaperoned once they crossed the border. Even before they left, they often were sent to classes to be indoctrinated in how to behave and avoid the perils of foreign influence. Those who were not in good standing with the party had little chance of going.Many of the states that the United States thinks of as authoritarian -- Russia, China, Saudi Arabia -- are actually pretty open about letting their citizens live, travel and study abroad. This stands in sharp contrast to the totalitarian regimes of the former Warsaw Pact or Myanmar and North Korea today). Ibring this up because it highlights how unusual those communist regimes really were. Citizens trapped in both authoritarian and totalitarian societies face mortal risks in exercising voice as a means of political protest. Citizens trapped in totalitarian societies, however, can use exit -- migration -- as an additional means of registering discontent. In sufficient numbers, migration can be just as powerful as protest in promoting regime change. One of the triggers behind the collapse of East Germany was the creation of a quasi-legal escape route through Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the late summer of 1989. Over the next month, more than 1% of East Germany’s total population fled the country –putting tremendous pressure on the East German regime to change its ways. Zimbabwe is near collapse now in part because of the same problem. Clearly, what we currently label as authoritarian states are a different animal. People can leave -- indeed, in some cases I suspect these governments are happy to have political dissidents depart their shores. What's interesting is that many people -- not just those personally invested in these regimes -- leave and come back. This is new, and as a political scientist, I find it pretty interesting. As a foreign policy analyst, it suggests that the lessons drawn from how the Soviet model do not travel into the here and now all that well.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.