Oh, professors of introductory international relations classes everywhere are thanking their maker for Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech (well, except those in Steve Walt's classes). It's a gift to anyone who needs to come up with a final exam question at this stage of the semester. Pick a paradigm, and you can find a sliver of the speech dedicated to its theoretical propositions.
I'm sure, for example, that the realists in the crowd will like this section:
We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.
I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago -- "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life's work, I am living testimony to the moral force of nonviolence. I know there is nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naive -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
Side note: for those who complain that Barack Obama does not speak uncomfortable truths, read over that section again and realize that he's saying this directly to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.
So, a contest for readers: pore over the speech and look for evidence suggesting Obama favors the following approaches:
It's easy... and fun!!
[Doesn't this imply that the speech was logically contradictory?--ed. No, it implies that the world is a hell of a lot more complex than any of these theoretical approaches. Alas, knowing when to apply each of these worldviews is more art than science.]
Analogical reasoning can be very dangerous in foreign affairs. The human impulse to see patterns everywhere can lead to the use of inexact analogies -- "X is another Vietnam" or "Y is another Minuch." This in turn leads to bad foreign policy decisions, as anyone with a passing familiarity with this book can tell you.
So one of the things I liked about Obama's speech last night was his willingness to confront some analogical reasoning head-on. Consider this section, for example:
[T]here are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we're better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. I believe this argument depends on a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action. Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency. And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan, and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border.
One could quibble a bit with some elements of that paragraph -- the U.S. really did have allies contribute troops in Vietnam -- but that's a decent analysis as far as it goes.
The thing that nags at me, however, is the implicit analogy in last night's speech, and in the policy discourse that will surround this decision: Afghanistan in late 2009 parallels Iraq in late 2006, and therefore a surge strategy now will have similar effects.
Glenn Greenwald has already catalogued the parallels in rhetorical tropes between the two instances (and Steven Metz chronicles the actual policy parallels). Greenwald believes this will expose the hollowness at the core of Obama's strategy, but I don't think he gets the politics of this at all. My hunch is that the surge is perceived to have worked pretty well -- Iraq in 2009 is in better straits than Iraq in 2006. If policymakers are unconsciously adopting this parallel, then the strategy will sell.
The thing is, Afghanistan is very, very different from Iraq. As tough a nut as state-building is in Iraq, it's a country with fewer ethnic and linguistic divisions, better infrastructure, a better educated citizenry, more natural endowments, and a longer history of relative "stability" than Afghanistan. Whatever you think about the surge strategy, the odds of success in Afghanistan are lower than in Iraq.
This doesn't mean that Obama's other policy options are better -- but I'd like to know the extent to which the administration recognizes the flaws in the surge analogy.
Comment away on Obama's Afghanistan speech here. My quick hits:
[I]t's possible to defend Belichick's call on fourth down as the rational, utility-maximizing decision, but conclude that he committed a series of small blunders that got the Patriots to the point where they had to convert a high-risk, high-reward play. In other words, sometimes the criticized decision might be the right one to make, but the decisions that structured the controversial choice might not have been.
... Looking at the Obama administration's foreign policy, which move echoes Belichick's play-calling?
I think I have my answer now.
This is a 51-49 decision, and I'm far from confident that he's doing the right thing. If that Eisenhower quote is any indication, however, I'm pretty sure that the decision-making process was solid.
James Fallows blogs about how George W. Bush has acted like all ex-presidents by refusing to criticize their successors in their first year of office -- as opposed to ex-VP Dick Cheney. To Fallows, this is an unforgivable sin:
I am not aware of a case of a former president or vice president behaving as despicably as Cheney has done in the ten months since leaving power, most recently but not exclusively with his comments to Politico about Obama's decisions on Afghanistan. (Aaron Burr might win the title, for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, but Burr was a sitting vice president at the time.) Cheney has acted as if utterly unconcerned with the welfare of his country, its armed forces, or the people now trying to make difficult decisions. He has put narrow score-settling interest far, far above national interest.
I confess that I've been on the fence about Cheney's outspokenness to date. On the one hand, I think Fallows is correct in pointing out the breach of protocol. On the other hand, I think Cheney genuinely believes that he has an obligation to speak out on foreign policy matters. In his mind, the stakes are huge enough, and the policies Obama is pursuing are wrong enough, to warrant his criticisms.
So I'm inclined to cut Cheney some slack for his decision to speak out. On the other hand, when we read the Politico interview, Cheney's actual sins come out:
Cheney rejected any suggestion that Obama had to decide on a new strategy for Afghanistan because the one employed by the previous administration failed.
Cheney was asked if he thinks the Bush administration bears any responsibility for the disintegration of Afghanistan because of the attention and resources that were diverted to Iraq. “I basically don’t,” he replied without elaborating (emphasis added).
Seriously? Seriously? I dare any Cheney supporter to make the argument that Afghanistan was hunky-dory until January 20, 2009, at which point things went to hell in a handbasket.
For the rest of us on the Planet Earth, there's no way to read that passage and not come to one of two possible conclusions:
I don't mind that Cheney speaks up for what he thinks is right -- I mind that he's a liar.
Or, to paraphrase Garry Trudeau, "That's LIAR! LIAR!! LIAR!! LIAR!!"
As Peter Feaver observed over at Shadow Government, there's an ever-increasing number of leaks coming from the Obama administration on foreign policy.
Beyond the drip-drip-drip on the Afghan strategic review, the foreign policy community is now agog at Massimo Calabresi and Michael Weisskopf's story in Time on the rise and fall of Greg Craig, Obama's first White House Counsel. Former colleague Laura Rozen labels it as, "one of the most devastating accounts to have emerged of the Obama White House."
Calabresi and Weisskopf's story contains astonishing revelations, like the following:
Well, blow me down.
I don't mean to belittle those who either ardently support or ardently oppose the initial efforts to eliminate the legacies of Guantanamo and the like. But stories that reveal politicians to be acting, er, politically don't really cause my jaw to drop.
The only interesting thing I found in this piece was the part Rozen excerpted:
Obama arrived at Emanuel's office a few minutes later, took off his windbreaker and sat down at a table lined with about a dozen national-security and political advisers. He asked each to state a position and then convened an impromptu debate, selecting Craig and McDonough to argue opposing sides. Craig deployed one of Obama's own moral arguments: that releasing the memos "was consistent with taking a high road" and was "sensitive to our values and our traditions as well as the rule of law." Obama paused, then decided in favor of Craig, dictating a detailed statement explaining his position that would be released the next day.
But for Craig, it turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory. Four days later, former Vice President Dick Cheney attacked Obama on Fox News Channel for dismantling the policies he and Bush had put in place to keep the country safe. More significant was the reaction within Obama's camp. Democratic pollsters charted a disturbing trend: a drop in Obama's support among independents, driven in part by national-security issues. Emanuel quietly delegated his aides to get more deeply involved in the process. Damaged by the episode, Craig was about to suffer his first big setback.
In other words, the median American voters are comfortable with using illiberal means to protect the national interest (hmmm... that sounds familiar). And, shock upon shock, politicians respond to public attitudes.
I'm late to this party, but two quick thoughts on Obama's Tokyo speech:
1. Last week a sharp foreign policy observer -- and a former campaign advisor for Obama -- made an interesing lexicographical observation to me about the Obama administration's foreign policy rhetoric to date. They use the word "partnership" a hell of a lot more often than they use the word "alliance." That's not terribly surprising, given their emphasis on talking with adversaries, forming great power concerts, etc. Still, there are times when it's important to reach out more to one's allies than one's rivals.
The Tokyo speech was one of those occasions, and I'm happy to report that Obama used "alliance" 12 times and "partnership" only 9 times. Perhaps this says more about the lay of the land in the Pacific Rim than anything else, but it does suggest that the adminstration is sensitive to regional nuances.
2. That said, I was underwhelmed with the trade outreach of the speech. Some reports suggest that Obama announced that the U.S. would join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an APEC trade forum comprising, at the moment, of Brunei, Singapore, Chile and New Zealand (with Vietnam and Australia thinking about joining).
What Obama actually said, however, was:
The United States will also be engaging with the Trans-Pacific Partnership countries with the goal of shaping a regional agreement that will have broad-based membership and the high standards worthy of a 21st century trade agreement.
So what exactly does that mean? Helene Cooper points out the ambiguities of that language in the New York Times:
Although Mr. Obama did open the door during his speech in Tokyo on Asia policy, he did not explicitly say that the United States would join the pact. A formal announcement that the United States is beginning negotiations would undoubtedly kick off criticism from free-trade opponents in the United States and pushback from Congress.
Mr. Obama spoke, instead, of “engaging the Trans-Pacific Partnership countries with the goal of shaping a regional agreement that will have broad-based membership and the high standards worthy of a 21st century trade agreement.”
That line left many trade envoys already in Singapore scratching their heads: did Mr. Obama mean that the United States would begin formal talks to join the regional trade pact, which presently includes Singapore, Brunei and New Zealand, and could later include Vietnam — an addition that could lead to more Congressional pressure at home?
Many regional officials have been waiting for the United States to join the initiative as a demonstration that Washington will play a more active role in the region. But the Obama administration has yet to establish a firm trade policy, as it is still reviewing its options.
White House officials were not much clearer on what Mr. Obama meant when they were pressed on this after the speech. Michael Froman, an economics expert on the National Security Council, said that what Mr. Obama meant was that he would engage with the initiative “to see if this is something that could prove to be an important platform going further.”
Wow, that's some real enthusiasm coming from the G-20 sherpa.... not.
For an administration that likes to pride itself as savvy in the ways of foreign policy subtleties, I still don't think they grasp the fact that trade policy is now embedded into foreign policy in the Asia/Pacific Region.
Throughout the course of the Bush administration, a constant irritant in the Asia/Pacific region was Bush's tendency to place antiterrorism at the top of the queue in Asia/Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) discussions. Not that anti-terrorism wasn't important, but APEC was not the proper forum for that -- APEC is all about regional economic integration. China, by wanting to talk about trade, made a lot of diplomatic headway by distinguishing itself from the United States.
I bring this up because, according to the FT's Edward Luce, it looks like the Obama administration's policy malaise on trade is not winning it any allies in East Asia:
In a meeting with President Barack Obama last week, Lee Kuan Yew, the veteran former prime minister of Singapore, said he felt privileged to meet the US leader at a “time of renewal and change in America and during a period of transition where the world order is changing”.
At private meetings around Washington, however, Mr Lee’s message was rather more blunt.
“You guys are giving China a free run in Asia,” he told Fred Bergsten, the director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “The vacuum in US policy is enabling the Chinese to make the running.”
Mr Lee’s timing was apposite. On Wednesday Mr Obama leaves for Tokyo for a regional tour that will include China, South Korea and Singapore, where Mr Lee’s government is hosting a summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) forum this weekend. Surveys in each country show that Mr Obama’s popularity has helped to restore the battered US standing in the region.
But the views of Asian governments do not always chime with those of their public. Across the region, concern is rising about the absence of US leadership on trade since Mr Obama took office. Few believe that he has the will or power to restart the Doha round of global trade talks – and he has not asked Congress for a renewal of the presi- dent’s fast-track negotiating authority.
Fewer still believe that he will be able to ratify the landmark 2007 US-South Korea free-trade agreement in the face of strong hostility in Congress....
while globalisation gets steadily less popular in the US, other parts of the world are moving ahead. South Korea recently concluded a free-trade deal with Europe. Japan is holding similar talks with the European Union. Ironically, the EU broached the talks as a way of protecting itself against the trade-diverting effects of the now moribund US-Korea deal.
US business lobby groups are hoping Mr Obama will be able to achieve some kind of a breakthrough in Seoul next week. Given that it would be futile for him to send the free-trade agreement back to Capitol Hill, any new steps would have to include a renegotiation of the deal to include better market access for US cars.
“It is really important to understand just how badly the US is screwing itself on trade,” said Mr Bergsten. “By having an inactive trade policy, others are rushing to fill the vacuum.”
For an administration that claims it wants to have better relations with its allies, Obama and his foreign policy team have been remarkably tone-deaf when it comes to trade policy.
At every major summit meeting since he's come to office, Obama has heard complaints about the lack of U.S. leadership on the trade front. This administration has demonstrated that it's not afraid to tackle multiple, complex challenges at the same time -- and yet they've been either mute or worse when it comes to trade.
Barack Obama's decision to put trade policy in a lockbox and throw away the key is utterly appalling -- and, from a foreign policy perspective, completely counterproductive.
A year after Barack Obama's election, I'm seeing a lot of post-mortems on his administration's first year in foreign policy. Ben Smith's Politico story is a nice template for them:
Foreign policy never goes according to campaign plan, but for President Barack Obama, who promised a hardheaded new engagement with the world, the last week and the weeks he sees looming ahead must be discouraging.
Across a region spanning Pakistan to the Mediterranean, foreign leaders seem to be challenging the very premise of his policy: that foreign countries can reasonably be persuaded to move in the direction of common interests, and that a better-loved America can get more done.
In Afghanistan, an all-out effort to promote a legitimate election turned into a scramble to prevent a civil war and ease the defrauded challenger off the stage. Iran persuaded the White House to drop its late-September deadline for action and then appears to have rejected a deal on nuclear fuel. Great powers such as Russia and China show no appetite for crucial concessions, while the U.S. Congress continues to block major action on a pillar of Obama’s policy goals — international action on climate change.
To which I say: meh. First, Smith's premise about Obama's foreign policy isn't quite right. Sure, I think Obama and his foreign policy team would love it if "foreign countries can reasonably be persuaded to move in the direction of common interests, and that a better-loved America can get more done." But c'mon, these are not stupid people, and I'm pretty sure that they know the limits of diplomatic goodwill and reasoned discourse.
Second, you always need to grade on a curve -- i.e., how has Obama's first ten months stacked up to prior administratons? Most incoming administrations screw up plenty in their first year in office. With Clinton, there was flip-flopping over Haiti, dithering over Bosnia, screw-ups over Japan, etc. With Bush 43, there was a lack of consultation with allies over treaty withdrawals, a dramatic policy shift on North Korea that badly embarrassed South Korea's leadership and eventually had to be walked back, and that whole failure-to-prevent 9/11 problem. Even with George H.W. Bush, the first six months primarily consisted of a strategic review of the Soviet Union that was overtaken by events the moment it was finished.
Will Obama have to walk back or reverse course on foreign policy? He's done so on Israel, to be sure, and might do so on Afghanistan. He has had successes in Honduras, Russia and the Somali pirates, however. So far, I'd say Obama is shooting par for the course.
I haven't been a huge fan of certain aspects of Obama's foreign policy -- like Philip Levy, I'm not thrilled with his trade policy. Mostly, however, I'd characterize his foreign policy actions as reasonable -- and pretty much what I'd expected a year ago today.
What about you, dear readers -- how do you grade Obama's foreign policy?
Gideon Rachman notes that despite the French concern with happiness, the French themselves are pretty depressed.
I'm pretty sure stories like this are not going to lift the mood of French President Nicolas Sarkozy:
There is no Club Sarkozy nearby in this sweltering, squalid capital [of Guinea]; in West Africa, the French president cannot compete at present, despite his country’s historic connections as the former colonial power here. Right now, in this volatile region, mere mention of being from America — Obama’s America — is enough to avert an armed soldier’s grim gaze, defuse a mob’s anger, soften an unyielding border guard or lower the demands from ubiquitous bribe-seeking policemen.
The president’s name, freshly painted, appears above a barbershop, a grocery, a school, even tire stores here, as well as the cabaret in Boulbinet. In a leading bookstore downtown, a full-scale poster of Obama looks out from behind a closed door, a visual echo of the sentiments of those who go in to discuss politics.
The implications of this new American authority in an unfamiliar spot received a tryout last week, when the Obama administration sent a senior diplomat here to condemn the massacre of dozens of unarmed civilians protesting Guniea’s military government in September. They seem clear: America punches above its weight, in a part of the world that it has hitherto left to the French. The United States, with few practical sticks to beat the junta, nonetheless has a moral authority in the streets that the big-dog French do not match....
[W]hen Mrs. Clinton said the next day that she was “appalled” by the “vile violation of the rights of the people” in Guinea, Captain Camara had nothing to say, publicly at least. But when Mr. Kouchner called for an international intervention force, the captain angrily said, “Guinea is not a subprefecture, is not a neighborhood in France.”
The differing reactions were not lost on local observers. Mamadou Mouctar Diallo, an opposition leader, said Captain Camara “dared to defy France, but he didn’t dare defy the U.S.”
“America is a power that counts,” Mr. Diallo said. “You can’t turn your back on them.”
If you're wondering why it took me a few hours before choosing to blog about Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Price award.... well, it took me that long to stop laughing.
Honestly, I'm not laughing at Obama. I'm laughing at the morons on the Norwegian Nobel Committee who made this decision to cheapen an already devalued prize.
Seriously, let's imagine the deliberations that led to this decision:
CHAIR: Guys? Guys!! It's 2 AM and we've got an award to give later today! What are we gonna do? We can't use Jimmy Carter again -- he was our emergency winner the last time we were stumped! If we don't do this right, we'll have less credibility than the Grammys!!
MEMBER A (clearly drunk): Hey, why not Neil Patrick Harris? For bringing peace to.... umm..... Hollywood awards shows?!MEMBER B: Remember when Time's Man of the Year was... you? Why can't we do something like that? You know, say that the Peace Prize goes to all peace-loving people.
CHAIR: No f%$&ing way. What do you want me to do, hold up a mirror to the cameras when I say who won? And you know how many idiots would ask for their take of the prize money?
MEMBER A: Seriously, Neil Patrick Harris is awesome. Any of you checked out Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog?
MEMBER B: Hey, how about that Iranian guy who won the election but got screwed by the mullahs? He seemed pretty peaceful.
CHAIR: Sorry, no dice. We used up our Iranian quota this decade with Shirin Ebadi.
MEMBER B: That Zimbabwean guy?
CHAIR: If you can't remember his name, then he's not getting the award.
MEMBER C: Did you read how the Oscars will have, like, 10 nominees for Best Picture this year? Why not give this to all 20 members of the G-20?
CHAIR: Doesn't the G-20 actually have more than 20 members? Can anyone name them all?
MEMBER A: And How I Met Your Mother is definitely underrated as a sitcom. NPH owns that show.
MEMBER C: Hugh Jackman was People's Sexiest Man Alive this year. Why not double up on him, like we did with Al Gore?
MEMBER A: Get serious, man. Wolverine sucked!!
MEMBER B: Hey, here's a crazy thought... why not Barack Obama?
General laughter and merriment.
CHAIR: How exactly are we going to justify the award? Jesus, even Jimmy Carter had done some actual peacemaking when we gave it to him. What are we going to say? "Barack Obama has succeeded brilliantly in not acting like George W. Bush in His First Term?"
MEMBER B: C'mon... the guy just lost the Olympics bid even after flying all the way to Copenhagen.
MEMBER A: Hey, how about Taylor Swift? We could guarantee Kanye wasn't in the audience.
MEMBER B: Look, maybe it will give Obama a boost. With the massive prestige that the Nobel Peace Prize now carries in the United States because of our brilliant recent selections, maybe this will help get health care reform passed. This award would so put conservatives on the defensive!
[General nodding around the table.]
MEMBER A: Fine, no one else likes Neil Patrick Harris at this table, I get that. What about Roman Polanski? That would make a statement.
CHAIR (looks at watch): Fine, whatever, we're way past deadline. (Points at MEMBER B). Write up the explanation. (Points at MEMBER A). Contact Neil Patrick Harris and put him on "standby" in case Obama can't make it for the acceptance speech.
MEMBER B (scribbling furiously): Hmmm....how's this? "Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened."
CHAIR: Hmmm.... no actual achievements other than Not Being George W. Bush in His First Term, but it sure sounds good! OK, we're adjourned
MEMBER C (looking through nomination letters): I can't believe that professor from Tufts nominated Salma Hayek again. Doesn't he know that this is a serious award?!
In semi-seriousness -- Bono got robbed, man.
UPDATE: I do think Obama's response was to the hubbub was pretty good. Again, I'm really not laughing at him -- I'm laughing at the Nobel Committee's decision-making. At this point in time, there were a lot of other, more deserving candidates.
Giving the award to Obama is kind of like giving that junior professor the Teacher of the Year award -- it dooms their chances for tenure.
The Century Foundation's Jeffrey Laurenti earlier this week on the sharp differences between the Obama administration and its predecessor:
Barack Obama is reaping treble returns for America this week as he makes his first appearance as president at the United Nations. Never has an American president been greeted on the U.N.'s unique global stage with such giddy anticipation, or undertaken so extensive and substantive a schedule there....
[I]t is Obama's dramatic realignment of U.S. policy away from American conservatives' unique fetishes, and to the mainstream goals and values that most of the American people share with the rest of the world, that explains the new opportunity for renewed American leadership.
From Helene Cooper's write-up of Obama's United Nations speech today in the New York Times:
But even as Mr. Obama sought to signal a changed tone in America’s dealings with the world, much of his speech centered on old and intractable issues, including Iran’s nuclear ambitions and a Middle East peace process. And while his choice of words was different and more conciliatory, the backbone of American policy he expressed remained similar to the Bush administration’s in many areas.
Well, that clarifies matters, then.
After the sturm und drang of last week's decision by the Obama administration to slap tariffs on Chinese tires, I've seen a bit of a pushback among the economic commentariat. This pushback comes in one of two forms:
Over at TNR, Noam Scheiber makes the first case -- that this is a tempest in a teapot:
With anti-trade sentiment rising in the aftermath of the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, it's become increasingly difficult to resist genuine protectionism--to say nothing of passing new trade pacts. (Bilateral deals with Colombia, South Korea, and Panama have all stalled out in Congress.) Absent a small gesture on behalf of American workers, it's safe to say the trade agenda would be doomed for the foreseeable future. (It may be anyway, of course.) Which is why Obama's decision seemed relatively straightforward once the International Trade Commission ruled that Chinese tires were in fact disruptive. Even so, Obama announced that the tariff would top out at 35 percent, well below the 55 percent recommended by the ITC.
So the tariff is modest, narrow, legal, and designed to preserve the political viability of free trade....
[B]oth Bush and Obama were rhetorically committed to free trade at the time of their tariff flirtations, and both men had taken practical steps to promote it. (Bush had sought fast-track authority from Congress; Obama, in a much tougher political environment for trade, scaled back a "buy American" provision in the stimulus.) So pretty much the only way to divine this difference is by peering into the two men's souls.
Hmmm........ no, not buying the equivalence between Bush and Obama here. First, to repeat, just because something is legal doesn't mean it's good policy.
Second, as Phil Levy pointed out, the Bush administration specifically declined to apply these tariffs when he was president. So there is some different between the two administrations' perspectives on trade.
Third, if Scheiber is correct that this is merely "a small gesture on behalf of American workers," then I'd be fine. But I'm curious about his faith in that assertion. All the political signs point to a lot of gestures in the protectionist direction. Each of them, by themselves, is Lilliputian in their effects -- but the cumulative effect can be to keep the Gulliver of freer trade under lock and key.
The Financial Times' Alan Beattie makes the more interesting argument -- which is that a short term sacrifice of trade policy in favor of health care will sow the seeds of a viable long-term policy of trade liberalization:
The conventional wisdom in Washington is that this is a straight trade-off. Placate the labour unions on trade and get them to support Mr Obama on healthcare. Whisper it quietly, and be prepared for accusations of heresy to rain down on your head, but that might be a deal worth making....
Instead of hoarsely exhorting the benefits of trade to people who aren’t listening, [trade enthusiasts] need to be seen to soften its downside. Since the American public seems to ascribe much job loss in the US economy to globalisation – usually wrongly, but there we have it – this means reducing the costs of being laid off. Since much healthcare is currently tied to employment, achieving universal coverage would be one of the best ways of doing that....
Mr Obama has now come down on the wrong side of three big decisions on trade: happily signing a stimulus bill with Buy American provisions, abrogating an agreement allowing more Mexican trucks to operate in the US, and now granting the first ever emergency tariffs under a particular “safeguard” measure in US law. All are damaging both to trade and to the US’s international standing. All risk inflaming protectionist sentiment at a sensitive time.
But if he can use his capital to achieve universal healthcare and begin to shift the visceral dislike of trade that has gripped large parts of the American public and their representatives on Capitol Hill, it might prove worth it. He is playing with fire, which has creative but also destructive power. Just like globalisation.
Beattie gets at an interesting proposition -- that stronger safety nets will make Americans more comfortable with globalization. You can certainly point to public opinion polling in support of this hypothesis.
It's a good argument, and it's the one I suspect Larry Summers and Tim Geithner told themselves after the tire decision was made. The thing is, I'm not sure whether it's politically accurate.
In my debates about trade over the years, I've talked with a lot of union activists on the other side of the fence. These are people dedicated to the protection of them and theirs -- and given the economic straits of their workers, I can't blame them. I know from talking with them, however, that a stronger social safety net will have zero effect on their trade position. Sure, they want health care -- but they also want to make sure that their union continues to exist as a viable political entity. Regardless of universal health care coverage, globalization eats away at the unionized employment sector in the United States. For unions in the 21st century, protectionism is not a policy position to be traded away -- it is at the core of their perceived interests. Health care will not affect that position.
Am I missing anything?
UPDATE: Noam Scheiber responds on TNR's blog to say that maybe I am missing something:
[T]he political context looms incredibly large here. Simply put, it's incredibly difficult to defend, much less expand, free trade in the middle of a deep recession. And this is the deepest since the 1930s. In that context, the best you can probably do is beat back the worst protectionist excesses and live to fight another day.
Which is to say, you can't just make a straight-forward point-by-point comparison between Bush and Obama. The question is, what would a pro-trade president do in the current political context? My point is that it's far from clear he or she would behave any differently from Obama.
Scheiber is absolutely correct that the curent political environment is hostile to trade -- but I'm not all that sure the environment was any less toxic in the early half of this decade. In December 2001, George W. Bush, flush from the success of the war in Afghanistan, possessing an approval rating above 80 percent and larding out pork like no one's business, secured the passage of Trade Promotion Authority through the GOP-controlled House of Representatives by a single vote. In 2005, CAFTA made it through the House by a two-vote margin.
Let's face it, however -- this debate is about the future. If Obama abstains from futher acts like the tire tariff, I'll concede that I've overreacted. If there's more of this to come, then I think Scheiber will have underreacted.
My latest column for The National Interest Online is now available. It takes a longer look at the implications of Obama's tire tariff decision. The more I look at this move, the more freaked out I get. I think I've figured out the precise contours of Obama's trade strategy -- and trade plays a very small role:
With Obama... this dip in the protectionism pool feels like the beginning of something much greater. Many Democrats feel warm and fluffy about protectionism, as a mechanism to improve labor standards or an ironclad guarantor of union jobs. This love affair isn’t going to stop. Thea Lee, the chief economist of the AFL-CIO, told the New York Times that “the trade decision was the president’s first down payment on his promise to more effectively enforce trade laws, and it’s very much appreciated.” Unions are already demanding additional action against Chinese steel....
All presidential administrations engage in protectionism—it’s often the cost of pushing through other forms of trade liberalization. While the previous two administrations engaged in these kinds of actions, they could proudly point to ambitious agendas of trade liberalization as well. The Clinton administration sought to add contentious labor and environmental side agreements to its trade deals—but Clinton also spent political capital to get NAFTA and the Uruguay round through Congress. Bush imposed the steel tariffs—but his administration also secured the passage of (now expired) trade promotion authority, launched the Doha round, and completed major trade agreements with Australia and Central America. President Bush also rejected this action against Chinese tires on four separate occasions.
Barack Obama has no record of trade liberalization to fall back on when defending this measure. Indeed, this is the first major trade action his administration has taken. Based on the political reporting of this trade action, it seems clear that Obama will use trade policy as a sop to his base in order to keep them behind his major policy initiatives on health care, financial regulation, and environmental protection.
Obama has largely decided to become a domestic-policy president. His supporters, his base and the politicking of his underlings indicate things will only get worse. With the global economy in deep crisis, protectionism is a terrible way to build a recovery.
When the Obama administraton announced the decision to slap a 35% tariff on Chinese tire imports, I was pretty sure that free traders would be incensed. And I haven't been disappointed -- even the financial markets are freaking out over this one.
We trade enthusiasts are an excitable lot, however, what with everything leading to the falling off of cliffs, crossroads being reached, and red zones being breached. Seven years ago, the allegedly free-trade Bush administration imposed steel tariffs that were found to be WTO-inconsistent. There was a lot of gnashing of teeth and wailing at the time about the end of the open economy as we knew it -- yet the world trade system proved to be pretty robust. So maybe my trade compatriots are exaggerating things a wee bit, yes? In all likelihood, won't this be resolved via the WTO dispute settlement mechanism about 18 months from now?
For the first eight months of the Obama administration, I've been resisting the urge to shout "protectionism" at the drop of the hat. This time, however, there are four reasons why I'm feeling much more nervous:
1) This isn't your garden-variety protectionism. Last month, Chad Bown explained the Financial Times why this decision was a very special kind of protectionism:
[A] little-known loophole in the rules governing China’s 2001 WTO accession makes it easy for a global protectionist response to spread faster and further than that which took hold in 2002. Nowadays, once any one country imposes a China safeguard on imports, all other WTO members can immediately follow suit, without investigating whether their own industries have been injured.
So this trade dispute can metastasize more quickly than most.
2) Beijing is not lying down on this. China's furious and swift reaction points to another problem: the United States is not the only country feeling protectionist urges at the moment. Economic nationalism in China is riding quite high at the moment, as Keith Bradsher suggests in the New York Times:
The Chinese government’s strong countermove followed a weekend of nationalistic vitriol against the United States on Chinese Web sites in response to the tire tariff. “The U.S. is shameless!” said one posting, while another called on the Chinese government to sell all of its huge holdings of Treasury bonds....
China had initially issued a fairly formulaic criticism of the tire dispute Saturday. But rising nationalism in China is making it harder for Chinese officials to gloss over American criticism.
“All kinds of policymaking, not just trade policy, is increasingly reactive to Internet opinion,” said Victor Shih, a Northwestern University specialist in economic policy formulation.
Methinks Shih and Bradsher are exaggerating things a wee bit -- imagine for a moment if U.S. foreign policy was driven by people getting upset on the Internet -- but you get the point.
The U.S. use of this provision is doubly troubling, because from Beijing's perspective their WTO accession negotiations were seen as a humiliating kowtow to the power of the West. China is not going to be selling its bonds anytime soon, but Beijing has not quite mastered how to cope with these kinds of domestic pressures, so they could do something really, really stupid.
3) Politically, Obama has boxed himself in. As egregious as the Bush steel tariffs were, they were targeted at a sector and not a country. Furthermore, the Bush administration responded to the hubbub very quickly by watering down the worst effect of the tariffs.
The Obama administration's new tariff is expressly directed at China. And I'm not saying that China is blameless here. But because it's country-specific, the administration has less room to maneuver -- either the tariffs are applied against China or they aren't. It can't walk this back without it looking like a flip-flop. Which means that there's little room for concession or negotiation.
4) Obama's base scares me on trade. When the Bush administration did what it did, it was fulfilling a campaign promise to the state of West Virginia steelwokers. Fortunately, the rest of Bush's winning political coalition was not seeking trade relief. So the protectionist instinct pretty much ended with the steel tariffs -- and everyone in the Bush administration knew that they'd be overturned by the WTO eventually.
With the Obama administration, however, this feels like the tip of the iceberg. Most of Obama's core constituencies want greater levels of trade protection for one reason (improving labor standards) or another (protecting union jobs). This isn't going to stop. "Trade enforcement" has been part and parcel of Obama's trade rhetoric since the campaign. The idea that better trade enforcement will correct the trade deficit, however, is pure fantasy. It belongs in the Department of Hoary Political Promises, like, "We'll balance the budget by cracking down on tax cheats!" or "By cutting taxes I can raise government revenues!" It. Can't. Happen.
If I knew this was where the Obama administration would stop with this sort of nonsense, I'd feel a bit queasy but chalk it up to routine trade politics. When I look at Obama's base, however, quasiness starts turning into true nausea.
Developing.... in a very, very scary way.
I read with great interest the Wall Street Journal story entitled "A President as Micromanager" about Barack Obama's decision-making style -- and had the exact same reaction as Noam Scheiber:
The big problem is that the piece conflates two very different things: One is micromanaging, which involves making decisions that are well below your pay-grade. The other is wanting detailed information on which to base decisions that are at precisely your pay grade. The Journal story presents lots of evidence for the latter; zero evidence for the former....
If I had to guess, I'd say what happened is that the Journal found itself with a nice story about the way Obama makes decisions, but that it seemed too positive. As the piece itself notes: "Unavoidably, the accounts all come from people who admire Mr. Obama, not from his critics, who aren't privy to such sessions." The "micromanager" frame was presumably added somewhere along the way to correct for this problem and make the piece seem more even-handed.
Indeed. For all the puff pieces on Obama's management style, this article suffers from the reverse problem -- it tries to paint a negative frame and doesn't succeed because of the lack of evidence. Instead, the Obama in the WSJ story is someone who is intellectually curious, eager for data (which, as Scheiber points out, is distinct from micromanaging) and naturally contrarian.
In other words, pretty much the opposite of the last person to occupy the Oval Office. Which is fine with me.
You'd think I would have something very deep to say about former President Clinton's recent excursion to Pyongyang to secure the release of two U.S. journalists. Well, I have four reactions, but I'm not sure how deep they are:
Foreign policy should be conducted free of emotion, so I'm hoping that this feeling will fade fast. I'm willing to bet I'm not the only one who had this reaction, however. I'm therefoe betting that beyond providing fodder for Maureen Dowd during the dog days of August, this little rescue mission is going to complicate nuclear diplomacy with North Korea for a spell.
In a legen -- wait for it -- dary blog post, Belle Waring mentioned the pony problem in public policy. Namely, "an infallible way to improve any public policy wishes. You just wish for the thing, plus, wish that everyone would have their own pony!"
I bring this up because of David Sanger's New York Times story about the prospects of imposing a gasoline embargo on Iran:
The Obama administration is talking with allies and Congress about the possibility of imposing an extreme economic sanction against Iran if it fails to respond to President Obama's offer to negotiate on its nuclear program: cutting off the country’s imports of gasoline and other refined oil products....
But enforcing what would amount to a gasoline embargo has long been considered risky and extremely difficult; it would require the participation of Russia and China, among others that profit from trade with Iran. Iran has threatened to respond by cutting off oil exports and closing shipping traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, at a moment that the world economy is highly vulnerable.
The rest of the story is kind of irrelevant -- because without China and Russia, this is just a theoretical exercise. In fact, here's a good time-saver: if you read any story about a gasoline embargo o Iran, just scan quickly and get to the part where the reporter explains how and why Russia and China would go along. If it's not mentioned, the story is inconsequential.
If you want China and Russia to agree to sanctions, should you wish for the free pony as well? Here the growth of dissent in Iran complicates an already complicated picture. I'm betting that Moscow and Beijing have observed the "Death to Russia!" and "Death to China!" chants among the protestors. This is likely going to make them even more reluctant to do anything that undermines the current regime (even if this hurts their long-term interests). Which a gasoline embargo would most certainly do.
Do I think a gasoline embargo is a good idea? Absolutely. Do I think it will happen? No, I don't.
Just as TNR's
precise transcription of Denis McDonough's talking points long disquisition about the Obama administration's policy planning process comes out, Roger Cohen unfurls his long-form essay in the New York Times Magazine about the administration's thinking on Iran, the Middle East, and U.S. foreign policy.
Here's the bigthink of Cohen's essay:
Just how far Obama is ready to go in engagement’s name has become clearer in Iran. At the time of that Thursday demonstration, almost a week after the election, the toughest thing he had found to say about the turmoil was that the suppression of peaceful dissent “is of concern to me and it’s of concern to the American people.” He had also equated Ahmadinejad with Moussavi, from the U.S. national-security standpoint, because both support the nuclear program, even as people died for the greater openness that Moussavi espoused.
A sobered America is back in the realpolitik game. A favored phrase in the Iran team goes, “It is what it is.” Now the question is whether such an approach can yield results. Can Ross honor his own precept to match objectives with “available means”? To the nuclear clock has been added a democracy clock, complicating every diplomatic equation. An Iran of mullahs and nukes has morphed, for many Americans, into the Iran of beautiful, young Neda Agha-Soltan, cut down with a single shot while leaving a June 20 demonstration, a murder caught on video that went viral. Whatever Obama’s realism — and it’s as potent as his instinct for the middle ground — a president on whom so much youthful idealism has been projected can scarcely ignore the Neda effect.
All well and good, but there's a nugget buried in Cohen's tale that wories me juuust a bit. As fans of Laura Rozen are aware (and if you're not a fan, you should be), Barack Obama had a disappointing meeting with Saudi King Abdullah last month:
[T]wo sources, one a former U.S. official who recently traveled there and one a current official speaking anonymously, say the meeting did not go well from Obama's perspective. What's more, the former official says that Dennis Ross has told associates that part of what prompted Obama to bring him on as his special assistant and NSC senior director for the "Central Region" last month was the president's feeling that the preparation for the trip was insufficient.
Ok, except that after reading Cohen's story, I can't help but wonder whether Ross was part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Here is Cohen's description of Ross' meetng with the Saudi King -- which occured six weeks before Obama's:
On April 29, in Dammam, in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province, Ross sat down with King Abdullah. He talked to a skeptical monarch about the Obama administration’s engagement policy with Iran — and talked and talked and talked. When the king finally got to speak, according to one U.S. official fully briefed on the exchange, he began by telling Ross: “I am a man of action. Unlike you, I prefer not to talk a lot.” Then he posed several pointed questions about U.S. policy toward Iran: What is your goal? What will you do if this does not work? What will you do if the Chinese and the Russians are not with you? How will you deal with Iran's nuclear program if there is not a united response? Ross, a little flustered, tried to explain that policy was still being fleshed out.
When the Saudis are accusing you of being all hat and no cattle, you know you have a problem.
Seriously, let's think about this from Abdullah's perspective for a second. A new envoy comes to chat filled with new plans and ideas on Iran. Except it turns out that these new plans and ideas haven't been filled out exactly -- key contingecies haven't been thought through, etc. For a leader who had to deal with eight years of George W. Bush, this had to sound a lot like U.S. foreign policy déjà vu. Why should he have been more forthcoming with Obama.
So, just to be clear, Obama found that meeting unsatisfactory -- and as a result he brings in the guy who might have laid the groundwork for the unproductive meeting?
Look, Ross is a smart guy, and he might have ust had a bad day when he met with Abdullah. But there are times when the Obama administration, for all the talk about embtracing realpolitik,* doesn't sound terribly realist at all.
*Granted, there are other points in the essay where the administration sounds positively Waltzian.
Denis McDonough is the director of strategic communications for the National Security Council. I mention this because whatever McDonough has done in the first six months at the NSC, getting Michael Crowley to write this glowing essay about Obama and the NSC in The New Republic was the cherry on top.
Here are the key paragraphs:
Whether he is shaping the White House's message on Iran, or personally cajoling Asian leaders to crack down on North Korea, or brokering power deals among NATO allies, Obama has, in effect, been his own national security advisor and secretary of state. Unlike Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, who had world events thrust upon them, Obama seems to be more in the mold of Richard Nixon or George H.W. Bush--a president involved in foreign policy because of, not in spite of, his priorities and personal interest. "He's very engaged, very hands-on," says his longtime foreign policy adviser, Mark Lippert, now chief of staff at the National Security Council (NSC)....
To this administration, process is not simply the poor cousin of strategy. Process is what allows harmony and progress amid multiple challenges and viewpoints. Senior Obama aides call it "regular order"--a system that gives the president a diversity of views with minimal infighting and back-channel maneuvering, little leaking to the press, and no public airing of dirty laundry. "Regular order is your friend," says Denis McDonough, director of strategic communications for the NSC. "The system only works if you have adult behavior."
Thus far, the system has confounded skeptics who predicted melees among big-name advisers and conservatives who warned that Obama lacked the experience to govern in such dangerous times. "The level of harmony is just striking," says James Goldgeier, a national security aide in the Clinton White House and a political scientist at George Washington University. There are signs, however, that the administration's approach to foreign policy, however well-intentioned and well-executed, is vulnerable to unexpected challenges--the very kind that are likely to multiply the longer the president is in office.
Read the whole thing. My take is that, while based in reality, Crowley's essay has the whiff of someone who talked to a lot of White House officials (including the NSC staff) but not a lot of other foreign policy figures. Goldgeier's quote is the only outside evaluation.* No one outside the White House is quoted by name. The evidence for foreign policy harmony and NSC control over the policy process comes from... NSC officials.
Just to be clear, I don't think Crowley is telling tall tales. The occasional gaffe aside, Obama's first six months on the foreign policy job have been pretty decent --- especially compared to the first six months of George W. Bush or Bill Clinton. But it is odd that in an essay on Obama's foreign policy process, there's very little about Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, or Timothy Geithner in this essay. There's no discussion of reports about Clinton chafing -- and trust me, there are reports about this stuff. There's very little about their reaction to Obama's decision-making process.
On the whole, I hope that Crowley is correct. The best way to ensure a high quality of American foreign policy is to have a president actively engaged in the process, and this piece suggests that to be the case. Still, the only thing I was sure about after reading this essay is that Denis McDonough is very, very, very good at his job.
Well, there's one other thing I'm sure about -- I would have loved to have listened in on this phone conversation:
[I]n at least one instance earlier this year, Holbrooke received an angry phone call from White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel after the diplomat was perceived to have stepped on Obama's public message about the war effort.
Sounds like a job for the Undersecretary of Go F**K Yourself.
*Oh, and given that Goldgeier was a foreign policy advisor to Obama during the 2008 campaign, I'm not sure I'd call him impartial, either.
The Pew Global Attitudes project has released their 2009 report, which means we finally have some hard numbers to see whether the election of Barack Obama has altered global perceptions of the United States.
And it turns out the answer is yes in most places:
The image of the United States has improved markedly in most parts of the world, reflecting global confidence in Barack Obama. In many countries opinions of the United States are now about as positive as they were at the beginning of the decade before George W. Bush took office. Improvements in the U.S. image have been most pronounced in Western Europe, where favorable ratings for both the nation and the American people have soared. But opinions of America have also become more positive in key countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, as well.
Here are the numbers:
Most of the results are not surprising. The Obama effect is pretty substantial in Western Europe and Latin America, and nonexistent or negative in the Middle East and Russia. A small positive effect in sub-Saharan Africa, though this is in pat due to the fact that U.S. favorables were already pretty high in that region.
The surprising results are in Eastern Europe, Pacific Rim and South Asia. Obama does poorly in Poland -- perhaps because he's been perceived as more accomodating towards Russia.
In the Pacific Rim and India, however, favorability ratings increased by a fair amount. I'm particularly surprised by the bump in India, given the occasionally prickly tone between the policymakers of the two countries.
Question to readers: Obama said a few weeks ago that he thought a soft power bump would help advance U.S. interests. Given the data, do you agree?
UPDATE: Wow. Kevin Drum digs through the report and finds an even better measure of the increase in U.S. standing -- asking respondents whether they think "America will do the right thing in world affairs." The numbers here are pretty stunning:
Wow. I mean, wow. In a lot of ways this is the more interesting result, because it suggests that other countries think the United States is now more competent.
Well, Glenn Kessler's rundown on what's happeing in Phuket is rich with blog-worthy goodness:
The war of words between North Korea and the United States escalated Thursday, with North Korea's Foreign Ministry lashing out at Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in unusually personal terms for "vulgar remarks" that it said demonstrated "she is by no means intelligent."
Clinton, who earlier this week likened North Korea to an unruly child, has rallied international isolation of North Korea at a 27-member regional security forum here. She met with her Russian, Chinese, South Korean and Japanese counterparts -- the other key partners in suspended six-nation disarmament talks--and won strong statements of support from many delegations....
The Foreign Ministry statement attacking Clinton also amply demonstrated the North Korean mood. "We cannot but regard Mrs. Clinton as a funny lady as she likes to utter such rhetoric, unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said, according to North Korean media. "Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping."
The fit of pique was apparently inspired by an interview Clinton gave ABC News while visiting New Delhi.
"What we've seen is this constant demand for attention [from North Korea]," Clinton said. "And maybe it's the mother in me or the experience that I've had with small children and unruly teenagers and people who are demanding attention -- don't give it to them, they don't deserve it, they are acting out." (emphases added)
Some random thoughts:
1. If I'm Chelsea Clinton, I'd be pretty cheesed off right now. I never thought of her as particularly "unruly," but what other teenagers has Hillary spent time with? [Cough, cough!!--ed. Oh... right.]
2. You have to give the North Koreans major chutzpah points for accusing other countries of being "unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community." [UPDATE: As Rob Farley puts it, "the Nork rhetoric vaguely reminds me of Daily Kos threads from the early days of the 2008 Democratic primary."]
3. It's worth pointing out that we're now in a place where the Bush administration look positively dovish on North Korea compared to the Obama administration. Here's another way of looking at it: Both Dick Cheney and John Bolton are more comfortable with the Obama administration's Nort Korea policy than Bush administration's. Think about that for a second.
4. A related point -- remember how the Bush administration got pilloried for refusing to talk with Iran, arguing that doing so would confer a reward on the regime? Kessler quotes Clinton as saying, with regard to the Six-Party Talks: "We are open to talks with North Korea. But we are not interested in half measures. We do not intend to reward the North just for returning to the table." Now there is a difference between this position and that of the Bush administration vis-à-vis Iran -- but it's not nearly as big a difference as Obama defenders are likely to claim.
5. What's the end game in all of this? I think maybe, just maybe, the international community has found a status quo that makes the North Koreans less comfortable than everyone else. Assuming that the interdiction and sanctions regime works well -- which is a robust but not entirely unreasonable assumption -- then North Korea gets nothing for thumbing its nose at the world except some more weapons-grade fissile material.
That's not nothing, but it's not all that much either. Pyongyang already has a deterrent to prevent invasion. It can't threaten nuclear blackmail all that persuasively, because it's a pretty hollow threat on their part. And if they can't sell their technology to other countries, then there's no profit in it for them either. Which means they're stuck, wallowing in their own barren dirt, feeling very, very lonely.
Am I missing anything?
Yesterday there was a small but very public disagreement between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh:
[T]he clash between developed and developing countries over climate change intruded on the high-profile photo opportunity midway through Clinton's three-day tour of India. Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh complained about U.S. pressure to cut a worldwide deal, and Clinton countered that the Obama administration's push for a binding agreement would not sacrifice India's economic growth.
As dozens of cameras recorded the scene, Ramesh declared that India would not commit to a deal that would require it to meet targets to reduce emissions. "It is not true that India is running away from mitigation," he said. But "India's position, let me be clear, is that we are simply not in the position to take legally binding emissions targets."
"No one wants to in any way stall or undermine the economic growth that is necessary to lift millions more out of poverty," Clinton responded. "We also believe that there is a way to eradicate poverty and develop sustainability that will lower significantly the carbon footprint."
Both sides appeared to be playing to the Indian audience, with Ramesh taking the opportunity to reinforce India's bottom line.
Now, on the one hand, I'm shocked, shocked that the great powers have some disagreement over global warming. And it should be noted that the rest of Clinton's India trip seems to have gone pretty well.
That said, I'm also not surprised that the Indians are acting surly towards the Americans. India did quite well uner the Bush administration on several dimensions. On the security front, India and U.S. interests converged on anti-terrorism and nonproliferation. On the economic front, the Bush administration refrained from criticizing the offshore outsourcing phenomenon that helped boost India's growth.
The Obama administration has not been hostile towards India, but I think they have taken the state of bilateral relations for granted. They've also committed a series of small blunders that riled New Delhi. This began with the attempt to have special envoy Richard Holbrooke's remit include India, and includes the administration's appointment of Ellen Tauscher to be the new Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security (Tauscher led the fight against the India nuclear accord in the House).
It looks like Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be the first foreign dignitary to be the guest of President Obama for a state, so it's not like relations with New Delhi are being significantly downgraded. Still, I'd expect little flare-ups like the one between Ramesh and Clinton to occur from time to time -- and it's not just about atmospherics.
Watch this space at 1 PM Eastern time today, as I'll be liveblogging Hillary Clinton's speech today to the Council on Foreign Relations.
3:00 PM: State Department website back online -- here's a link to the text of the speech.
2:07 PM: That's a wrap, people -- State Department website still down, OK speech. I'll leave the post-game analysis to the commenters.
2:05 PM: Haass closes by asking Clinton what her biggest surprise was in her first six months. Pivots the question by pointing out the difficulties of getting people confirmed. She ends graciously, faux acknowledging that now she realizes what a pain she must have been as a Senator when she queried Foggy Bottom.
2:04 PM: A Boeing guy asks what the State Department will be doing on export promotion and commercial diplomacy. Clinton finesses the question by saying she takes the economic dimension of foreign policy seriously, arguing that economic components cannot be separated from foreign policy.
2:00 PM: Bob Lieber asks a question (he thinks the previous queries have been creampuffs). If other engagement efforts don't work, can the U.S. live with a nuclear Iran? Clinton's response: "I'm not going to negotiate with Iran sitting here." Basically says that she's not optimistic about direct negotiations with Iran, but argues that outsourcing U.S. diplomacy to the EU-3 really didn't work either.
1:55 PM: Good question about the policy dividends received to date from NATO allies on re-engaging allies. Clinton's answer here was both candid and good -- i.e., this is not going to be easy, fears and anxieties need to be assuaged, we're hoping for more progress in the future. Then she wandered into agricultural aid in Afganistan and I lost my focus there for a second.
1:50 PM: State Department website still down, by the way.
1:49 PM: Gets spoon-fed a question that allows her to elaborate on the new Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, patterned after the DoD's Quadrennial Defense Review (more here from Spencer Ackerman).
1:47 PM: Point-blank question about whether George Mitchell allowed that the completion of in-construction housing settlements in the occupied territories would be permitted. Clinton ducks the question faster than Peyton Manning facing the New York Giants pass rush.
1:42 PM: Question about India. Responds by pointing out how strong the bilateral dialogue is, yadda, yadda, yadda. Sounds a bit more skeptical about engaging India (or a bit less briefed, take your pick).
1:41 PM: Glenn Kessler's take on the speech. Intriguingly, there's nothing about the speech on the front of the New York Times website.
1:40 PM: Question about Iran. Acknowledges that a post-election regime "puts a different complexion" on the government. Nothing new, however.
1:35 PM: First question is on Palestine and Syria, whether she sees progress. Her words say "maybe", but her tone says no. Haass asks a good follow-up question on Hamas' role. Clinton responds with boilerplate -- no change in the U.S. position.
1:34 PM: OK, speech over -- let's get to the Q&A which is always more interesting)!
1:31 PM: Fires a warning shot across Timothy Geithner's bow by saying she wants to upgrade the State Deprtment's role in foreign economic policy. I don't have a problem with that -- so long as the State Department officials actually know what they're talking about. Also echoes SecDef Bob Gates' numerous speeches on this topic.
1:29 PM: Ah, Clinton clears up the idea of leveraging traditional sources of U.S. power -- she's talking about exemplarism. Abolishing torture, reducing nuclear weapons, getting serious on global warming, having the U.S. as a shining city on a hill, etc. She throughs in narco-trafficking into this section, and I'm not entuirely sure how that fits.
1:25 PM: Hmm.... State Department's website is now down. Read into this what you will.
1:24 PM: On development, admits that the U.S. has given less as a percentage of GDP compared to other advanced industrialized states. That sound you hear is the Center for Global Development jumping up for joy.
1:21 PM: The Iran section -- Clinton "appalled" by Iranian government action, but thinks not dealing with the Islamic Republic doesn't solve anything. Acknowledges that the prospects of success have declined in recent weeks. Still thinks its worth making the genuine offer for direct talks. Recognizes Iran's right to civilian nuclear power, conditional on complying with the IAEA, but not a right to the military use of nuclear power.
1:13 PM: Clinton lists her travel schedule for the rest of the year. Not-so-subtle message: "Hey, you people who think I'm doing nothing? Piss off."
1:11 PM: Ah, here's the meat of the speech: the five pillars of Clinton's "smart power" approach:
That last one is a bit vague to me, so we'll see how that develops.
1:10 PM: So far, with the emphasis newtworks of non-state actors, "partnerships with people," and the emphasis on burnishing global governance structures, I'm seeing Anne-Marie Slaughter's fingerprints all over this sucker.
1:08 PM: Repeating a trope of President Obama's, there are some passages here where Clinton talks about how old IR concepts are out of date. Disdains 19th century great power concerts and 20th century balance of power coalitions. Replacing a "multipolar" world with a "multi-partner" world. Meh.
1:05 PM: Cute, flip remark comparing U.S. foreign policy under the Bush administration to her elbow -- wounded, but getting better.
1:04 PM: An unsurprising laundry list of policy goals. Free ponies are not discussed, which is too bad.
1:03 PM: According to Hillary, multi-tasking is a gender-laden term. Who knew? Well, besides women, of course.
1:01 PM: Talks about how President Obama has stressed "common interests, shared values, and mutual cooperation." No mention of what happens when there's, you know, a divergence of values.
12:59 PM: Clinton immediately pulls what I'll call an Obama -- observing that the very sources of American vulnerability (interdependence, openness, etc.) are also our sources of strength. It's a neat rhetorical trick.
12:57 PM: And we're off -- a few minutes early, no less!
12:55 PM: In an unconscious sign of how members of the foreign policy community prioritize things, I find it interesting that CFR president Richard Haass is moderating Clinton's speech, whereas Rogert Altman was the moderator when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner came to speak.
11:21 AM: FP's own Laura Rozen provides an excellent backgrounder to the speech itself.
The speech matters for the future of U.S. foreign policy and Hillary Clinton's role in it. I had a conversation with a prominent foreign policy professional who characterized Hillary Clinton as the most "invisible" Secretary of State he's seen to date. I think this is partly due to her restricted travel during the elbow injury, partly due to her lack of confirmed subordinates, partly due to Barack Obama's genuine interest in foreign affairs, and mostly due to her style.
If memory serves, when Clinton was elected Senator of New York she put her nose to the grindstone and did nothing flashy for the first six months. In the process, she won the respect of colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I suspect something similar has been going on for most of this year.
My latest bloggingheads -- with NSN's Heather Hulburt -- is now online. We chat about Obama's recent trip, carbon tariffs, and the future of the Doha round.
One of the bloggingheads commenters labels our pairing "Drezburt," and I can live with that. Enjoy!
During the transition, Barack Obama voiced numerous concerns about being trapped in the Presidential "bubble," cut off from the rest of the real world. Oddly enough, this is also a concern of 30 Rock.
If this New York Times story by Clifford J. Levy and Ellen Barry is any indication, the bubble seems to have completely enveloped Obama's White House staff:
Crowds did not clamor for a glimpse of him. Headlines offered only glancing or flippant notice of his activities. Television programming was uninterrupted; devotees of the Russian Judge Judy had nothing to fear. Even many students and alumni of the Western-oriented business school where Mr. Obama gave the graduation address on Tuesday seemed merely respectful, but hardly enthralled....
Some Obama aides said they were struck by the low-key reception here, especially when compared with the outpouring on some of his other foreign trips. Even Michelle Obama, who typically enjoys admiring coverage in the local news media when she travels, has not had her every move chronicled here.
Seriously? Seriously?! The President of the United States visits a staunchly nationalist country that has significant conflicts with Washington, and the charm offensive didn't take? Well, blow me down!!
When/if Obama visits China and India, his staffers might have some more rude awakenings in their future.
President Obama gave a speech today in Moscow outlining his view of the Russian-American relationship. This was the part that stuck in my academic IR craw:
There is the 20th century view that the United States and Russia are destined to be antagonists, and that a strong Russia or a strong America can only assert themselves in opposition to one another. And there is a 19th century view that we are destined to vie for spheres of influence, and that great powers must forge competing blocs to balance one another.
These assumptions are wrong. In 2009, a great power does not show strength by dominating or demonizing other countries. The days when empires could treat sovereign states as pieces on a chess board are over. As I said in Cairo, given our independence, any world order that -- given our interdependence, any world order that tries to elevate one nation or one group of people over another will inevitably fail. The pursuit of power is no longer a zero-sum game -- progress must be shared. (emphasis added)
If he had said, "The pursuit of prosperity is no longer a zero-sum game," I'd be fine with the passage. I still think power is a zero-sum concept, however. The two ideas are linked but hardly the same.
Obama is hardly the first president to mangle IR concepts in his speeches -- remember "a balance of power that favors freedom"?
Still, I hope that's a rhetorical flourish rather than a genuine belief of the administraion.
With Obama in Russia today, there are soome different blog takes on what to expect from bilateral relationship.
Dave Schuler thinks Russian and American interests are increasingly incompatible:
[T]here isn’t much basis for a good relationship between Russia and the United States. Russia’s population is dwindling, its economy languishing, it survives largely by selling its natural resources. Russia would be a difficult market for American goods and its natural customer for its oil and gas is Europe. We don’t really need Russia’s cooperation on pressing world issues like climate change.
Russia has had consistent and clear interests over the period of the last 200 years or more: annexing or at least neutralizing its neighbors.
The US-Russia relationship is multifaceted, and there’s plenty of stuff we disagree about. And within the category of “stuff we disagree about” there’s a particular sub-category of stuff that it’s exceedingly unlikely we’re going to agree about. Most notable among these is Russia’s relationship with the post-Soviet countries....
There’s a certain amount of sentiment in the United States that not only should the U.S. continue to disagree with Russia’s perspective on this, but that we ought to somehow elevate such disagreement to the very top of the U.S.-Russian bilateral relationship. The president should go over there, denounce the Russians, get denounced back, and then come back to Washington empty handed but full of self-righteousness. This is part and parcel of the phenomenon whereby people don’t grasp the difference between a pundit and a president. It makes a lot more sense to focus a visit on something like the nuclear issue, where U.S. and Russian interests are roughly in alignment and some high-level discussions stand a decent chance of bearing fruit.
I'm gonna side with Yglesias on this one, mostly because I don't think I buy Schuler's logic connecting Russia's strategic situation and the absence of any basis for a good relationship between Washington and Moscow. I agree with Schuler that the reservoir of anti-Americanism in Russia runs long and deep. That said:
Am I missing anything?
My pace on commenting on Iran has been about as sluggish as CNN's. By my rough estimate, I'm now approximately 4,567 posts behind Andrew Sullivan on the Iran election. Let's try to get back in the game!
In this post I want to look at what's likely to happen in Iran; the next post will look at what the Obama administration's response.
OK, so, Iran. There are protests, riots, and Twitters galore -- will it amount to regime change?
Alas, I think the answer is no. I don't want this to be the answer. No matter how I slice the data, however, I get to that outcome.
Let's stiputlate that the election results were rigged. Here's the question -- why were they so blatant about it? The speed and skewness of the "official" results seemed design to trigger disbelief. Was that intentional?
Hey, you know what, I think it was. University of Chicago political scientist Alberto Simpser has written about why authoritarian leaders like Khamenei would engage in electoral corruption (.pdf). The answer is not pretty:
[A]n overwhelming victory today can send a powerful signal to the citizenry tomorrow – a large margin of victory can deter opposition turnout, discourage opposition coordination (e.g. when the opposition is fragmented into a number of parties), and increase the winner’s bargaining power with respect to electorally important social actors by rendering it less likely that they are pivotal in a winning coalition.
I suspect that this was the intent in Iran. The question is whether it will work. Khamenei has backtracked a little from his endorsment of Ahmadinejad as the winner, and now wants the Guardian Council to investigate allegations of election fraud. I suspect this is an effort to play for time, however, in order to get his security apparatus prepped for a more brutal crackdown. Twice in the past 10 years (1999 and 2003), this regime has been perfectly willing to crack down on reformist groups to secure its hold on power. I see no reason for Khamenei to hold back this time around.
In other words, unless Iran's security apparatus starts to split, I don't see how this ends in any outcome other than Khamenei staying in power.
What does this mean for the rest of the world? On to the next post!
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.