So last week was a pretty interesting one in wonkworld. Whether it was a disturbing week is in the eye of the beholder.
To recap: Last Monday the Heritage Foundation released a report claiming that proposed immigration reforms would cost north of $6 trillion. This report received a lot of pushback from liberal, libertarian, and conservative policy analysts.
As the debate fragmented into myriad sub-debates, one eddy focused on one of the co-authors, Heritage senior policy analyst Jason Richwine. As the Washington Post's Dylan Matthews unearthed, Richwine's Harvard University dissertation was titled "IQ and Immigration Policy." In it, he made the arguments that 1) Hispanic immigrants have lower IQs than white Americans, 2) that difference is partly due to genetic differences between the races, and 3) these differences will not dissipate with successive generations. You can figure out Richwine's policy conclusions for yourself. Dave Weigel at Slate also discovered that Richwine had contributed to a "white nationalist magazine" on the side.
Needless to say, Heritage started backpedaling as furiously as possible from Richwine. They made it clear that Richwine's dissertation was not a Heritage work product and that they didn't endorse it. Then, last Friday, the final boom came: Richwine "resigned" from Heritage. I put that in quotes because, given the circumstances, there's no earthly reason he would have resigned without some serious pressure from those above him at the think tank.
So, what does this all mean? Three thoughts:
1) Hey, so it turns out that ideas do matter in public policy. Not just any ideas either, but the quality of the ideas. This isn't to say that politics aren't involved in what happened this past week -- this is totally about political self-interest as well -- but the incomplete and distorted analysis that Heritage provided left it very vulnerable to pushback.
2) A few immigration skeptics on the right, such as Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin, have decried what they see as intellectual PC-thoughtcrime run amok. Malkin in particular decries the "smug dismissal of Richwine's credentials and scholarship." Now, to be blunt, this is just a little rich coming from someone who has not been shy when it comes to smug dismissals of Ivy League credentials in the past. That said, whenever someone goes from anonymous to the focus of a white-hot media scrum to fired inside of a week, I get queasy. Was there a rush to judgment here?
I'd break this down into two steps: First, whether Heritage acted appropriately, and second, whether Richwine's work merits the mantle of brave truth-teller. On the former, well, this is a key difference between a think tank and a university. Think tanks are trying to influence public policy, and the taint of having someone dabbling with the racist fringe on the payroll is a difficult one to erase. So, yeah, it shouldn't be all that shocking that Richwine is no longer working at Heritage, whereas university professors who say or write controversial things stay on the payroll.
As for the quality of Richwine's dissertation, the primary defense that Malkin et al. offer appears to be the caliber of Richwine's dissertation committee. From Malkin's post:
No researcher or academic institution is safe if this smear campaign succeeds. Richwine’s dissertation committee at Harvard included George Borjas, Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Economics and Social Policy. The Cuban-born scholar received his PhD in economics from Columbia. He is an award-winning labor economist, National Bureau of Economic Research research associate, and author of countless books, including a widely used labor economics textbook now in its sixth edition.
Richard J. Zeckhauser, the Frank P. Ramsey Professor of Political Economy at JFK, also signed off on Richwine’s dissertation. Zeckhauser earned a PhD in economics from Harvard. He belongs to the Econometric Society, the American Academy of Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine (National Academy of Sciences).
The final member of the committee that approved Richwine’s "racist" thesis is Christopher Jencks, the Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy at Harvard's JFK School. He is a renowned left-wing academic who has taught at Harvard, Northwestern, the University of Chicago, and the University of California, Santa Barbara. He edited the liberal New Republic magazine in the 1960s and has written several scholarly books tackling poverty, economic inequality, affirmative action, welfare reform, and yes, racial differences (The Black White Test Score Gap).
The willingness of Republican Gang of 8'ers to allow a young conservative researcher and married father of two to be strung up by the p.c. lynch mob for the crime of unflinching social science research is chilling, sickening, and suicidal.
These are serious people doing serious work.
I must confess that Malkin's lament made me think of this:
This is not to denigrate Richwine's dissertation committee. Still, as someone all too familiar with the Ph.D. life, let's just say that an argument based solely on authority is not convincing. I've perused parts of Richwine's dissertation, and … well … hoo boy. Key terms are poorly defined, auxiliary assumptions abound, and the literature I'm familiar with that is cited as authoritative is, well, not good. It's therefore unsurprising that, until last week, Richwine's dissertation disappeared into the ether the moment after it was approved. According to Google Scholar, no one cited it in the four years since it appeared. Furthermore, Richwine apparently didn't convert any part of it into any kind of refereed or non-refereed publication. Based on the comments that Weigel and others have received from Richwine's dissertation committee, one wonders just how much supervising was going on.
3) This whole affair should be a cautionary tale to Ph.D. students and profs alike. For the grad students -- particularly those planning on going into the policy world -- your dissertation will follow you for the rest of your life. Don't think you can just grind one out barely above the bar and it won't matter. And if you're puzzled why your advisor or a member of your dissertation committee is acting all anal retentive about some aspect of your thesis, there's a good reason. Our dissertation students follow us for the rest of our careers. The last thing we want as advisors is to get a phone call from a reporter asking us why we let some dubious piece of work skate through. It's our asses on the line as well.
Am I missing anything?
So the big push for World War Z is clearly afoot. The second trailer for the film was released a week ago:
So this trailer isn't all that different from the first trailer, which means my qualms about the film version of Max Brooks' masterpiece remain. Still, that airplane sequence at the end was well executed, and offers some promise.
But then we get to the Entertainment Weekly cover story -- out today -- about the long, laborious process of getting World War Z from page to screen. It's a good article that details the myriad screenwriters involved, the location difficulties, and the reshoots. One definitely gets the sense of how Brad Pitt warmed to the subject matter over time. Hell, in the EW article he referenced All The President's Men as his template for the story -- which, if you've read World War Z, you know isn't the craziest comparison.
Which is great, until we get to this long quote from Pitt at the end of the story explaining how the final version of the movie has changed from his original conception:
At the time, I was really interested in a more political film, using the zombie trope as a kind of Trojan horse for asking, 'What would happen to sociopolitical lines if there was a pandemic like this? Who would be on top? Who would be the powerful countries and who would be the most vulnerable?
We wanted to really explore that, but it was just too much. We got bogged down in it; it was too much to explain. It gutted the fun of what these films are meant to be.
Excuse me, I need to go do this for a while:
Here's the thing -- the very reason that World War Z the book is better than every other zombie novel ever written is the global scope and the reasonably realistic take on the politics of a zombie apocalypse. There is action galore in the book, but there's something more as well. The politics that "bogged down" the movie? That is the fun!
Will I go see World War Z? Probably out of sheer professional obligation. But let's be clear -- based on the evidence to date, the odds seem very likely that the movie version of World War Z will be a garden-variety big-budget disaster flick. It's not gonna be great.
While Pitt plans a trilogy of films, methinks this World War Z would have worked even better as a miniseries for HBO or FX. Too bad. Should some shameless huckster desire to procure the film version of Theories of International Politics and Zombies -- which is all about the politics -- then they should contact Princeton University Press.
Am I missing anything?
Your humble blogger is taking a vacation at an undisclosed zombie-proof redoubt for the next ten days, so blogging will be on the lighter side.
Speaking of the lighter side, juuuuuust a few friends and colleagues have informed me that zombie preparedness has become a political issue up in Canada. From BuzzFeed's Ellie Hall:
The Canadian government has gone on the record about the zombie apocalypse. In an amazing exchange on the floor of the House of Commons today, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was asked if he was working to "develop an international zombie strategy so that a zombie invasion does not turn into a zombie apocalypse."
New Democratic Party Parliament Member Pat Martin applauded the United States Center for Disease Control's emergency preparedness measures premised on a zombie outbreak and wanted to know how Canada would act to protect its citizens.
Here's the clip:
For the entirety of Baird's response, click over to Huffington Post Canada.
Now, to be honest, I'm a bit disturbed by this exchange. First of all, there were so many better puns that Baird could have uttered.
Second of all, both the NDP representative and the Foreign Minister were poorly briefed. Sure, Martin knew about the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Quebec government's counter-zombie efforts, but why no mention of British Columbia's aggressive campaign against the living dead?! That seems like rank prejudice against Canada's Western provinces.
Third, how in the name of all that is reanimated could the Canadians have this debate without discussing Canada's distinguished contributions to the zombie genre? No mention of Pontypool? No mention of Fido?! Come on!!!
Fourth, the claim that zombies could effortlessly cross borders echoes a leading Canadian perspective on this issue ... but where's the expert testimony? Why no international relations perspective? It's not like Theories of International Politics and Zombies isn't available in Canada.
This is serious business. Winter has come. The White Walkers could be emigrating down from the North at any moment. Until Canada gets its house in order, secures its strategic maple syrup reserve from waffle-eating ghouls, and starts consulting experts on this issue, I for one, am taking my family south.
It's that time of the year again, when the Great and Good and Rich converge to Davos, Switzerland for the
realpolitik starfucking World Economic Forum. The coverage of this event gyrates wildly between bland pronouncements from attendees and world class snark from the Not as Great and Good and Rich that are not invited to attend. I will certainly confess to my own contribution to the snark pile.
As someone who casually curses way too much to ever score an invitation, I nevertheless wonder if some of the critiques of Davos are just a bit overhyped. Take Timothy Noah, who blogged the following at The New Republic yesterday:
There is no better example of social and economic policy discussion as an idle pastime for the rich than the World Economic Forum at Davos....
Ian Bremmer, who chairs Davos’s Global Agenda Council on Geopolitical Risk reports in the Huffington Post that the unifying theme this year at Davos is, yes, “the increasing vulnerability of elites.” Keep in mind as you read what follows that Bremmer is not a parodist:
We're seeing leaders of all kinds, in the developed and developing world, in politics as well as business and media, answering to constituents who grow more dissatisfied... and information-rich. Look at the riots in India over the recent rape scandal, the U.S. Congress' abysmal approval ratings, or the phone hacking scandal at News Corp. Corruption, special interests, or a lack of transparency will spell trouble for leaders. The same goes for a widening gap between rich and poor.
....if I’m reading Bremmer right, Davos sees inequality mainly as a problem bearing down on elites. The blighters simply won’t shut up about living in mud huts (or enduring weak rape laws, a dysfunctional legislature, corporate malfeasance, etc.) while the rest of us hit the slopes.
Now, much as I'd love to snark along with Noah, I don't think he's entirely reading Bremmer right, and I also think he's making a categorical policy error. To be fair to Noah, Bremmer's geopolitical risk report does have a section on the problems with too much transparency that does read a bit too much like a pity party for the elite ("in developed democracies, scandals involving leaders can distract whole nations for weeks on end, while more important business remains undone.")
That said, I don't think this is my FP colleague's main point. His primary thesis is that tectonic shifts in domestic politics are imposing increasing political constraints on what political elites can do to ameliorate policy problems:
In 2013, this breakdown of international coordination will go increasingly local: in such a world, governments will focus more on their domestic agendas, which will create new risks in and of itself. Most importantly, the growing vulnerability of elites makes effective public and private leadership that much more difficult to sustain. Leaders of all kinds are becoming more vulnerable to their constituents, generating more reactive and short-term governance....
Welcome to ‘the new local,’ where governments are more shackled by regional concerns and their domestic constituencies—at the expense of tackling larger-scale global issues that need collective leadership to solve.
Now I'm on record as thinking that Bremmer overstates the collapse of global governance. That said, if one accepts his premises, then the ability of leaders to address policy problems is more constrained. Whether you think this is a problem or not depends on how much faith you have in public policy elites -- and public policy in general -- to compensate for the vicissitudes of the marketplace.
Stepping back, however, I'm not sure inequality is as big of an issue as either Bremmer or Noah think it is. What we presumably should care about at places like Davos is poverty reduction, which is not necessarily correlated with inequality reduction. And the dirty secret of the post-crisis global economy is that global poverty reduction is proceeding quite nicely, thank you very much.
The primary problem with the current state of the global economy is that the biggest losers are unskilled and semi-skilled laborers in the developed world. That's an issue -- but it's one that I don't think developing country atendees at Davos are gonna care too much about.
Apologies for the radio silence: your humble blogger has been silent as of late because of a nasty little cold that has taken far too long to run its course.
I should be back in fighting blog condition by Monday. In the meanwhle, as I prepare my Albies, I should note that I have an essay in the January/February 2013 issue of Foreign Affairs. It's entitled "Rebooting Republican Foreign Policy." A small taste:
So how did the party of Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan get itself into this mess? Simply put, GOP leaders stopped being smart foxes and devolved into stupid hedgehogs. During the Cold War, the party of Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Reagan was strongly anticommunist, but these presidents took foreign policy seriously and executed their grand strategies with a healthy degree of tactical flexibility. Since 9/11, however, Republicans have known only one big thing -- the "global war on terror" -- and have remained stubbornly committed to a narrow militarized approach. Since the fall of Baghdad, moreover, this approach has produced at least as much failure as success, leading the American public to be increasingly skeptical of the bellicosity that now defines the party's foreign policy.
Since 9/11, Republicans have known only one big thing -- the "global war on terror" -- and have remained stubbornly committed to a narrow militarized approach. Republicans need to start taking international relations more seriously, addressing the true complexities and requirements of the issues rather than allowing the subject to be a plaything for right-wing interest groups. And if they don't act quickly, they might cede this ground to the Democrats for the next generation.
Read the whole thing. A few additional notes:
1) I wrote this more than close to two months ago, and it was put to bed six weeks ago. That's an eternity in policymaker time, and I was worried that my primary thesis -- that the GOP's foreign policy thinking has devolved -- would be proven wrong as party elders recognized that the November election required a rethink. Thankfully for my essay -- and unfortunately for the country -- the GOP has continued to act in a blinkered manner when it comes to cabinet appointees and treaty ratifications. There's little you can count on in Washington anymore -- except the ideological rigidity of the GOP.
2) My preferred title would have been "How the GOP has Screwed Itself on Foreign Policy," but that was a nonstarter. I think my title is more accurate, however.
3) Lest one conclude from this snark -- not to mention my 2012 election snark -- that I'm happy about this state of affairs, I find the whole situation remarkably depressing. Democracies do not function terribly well when one of the two major parties either doesn't know or doesn't care what it says on matters of foreign policy. It basically gives a pass to the other guys because they sound... well.... less crazy. I've been thoroughly underwhelmed by the Obama administration's foreign policy machinations as of late -- but because I don't see a viable alternative being put forward by the GOP, it's tough to be too critical.
4) Will this essay make a difference? I have my doubts, but we'll see. Foreign affairs remains one of the few policy arenas where there is some degree of cross-party consensus. It was this consensus that killed Mitt Romney when he stumbled on foreign policy matters during the 2012 campaign. That hopeful note aside, I fear that this consensus is breaking down. I understand that Foreign Affairs is planning a response essay by someone more firmly ensconced within mainstream GOP foreign policy thinking. I look forward to starting a dialogue. Mostly I hope that the GOP's foreign policy wonks appreciate the hole that's been dug. As I note later in the essay:
Every additional year the party is locked out of the executive branch the experience and skills of GOP foreign policymakers will atrophy while those of their Democratic counterparts will grow. It took the Democratic Party a generation to heal politically from the foreign policy scars of Vietnam, and several years in office during the Clinton administration to develop new cadres of competent mid-career professionals. And public inattention to the subject doesn't help, offering few major opportunities for rebranding. So the GOP has its work cut out for it.
5) Footnoting is impossible in a Foreign Affairs essay. Still, I wanted to acknowledge Colin Dueck's Hard Line: The Republican Party and U.S. Foreign Policy Since World War II as a very useful resource as I was drafting this article.
Pop quiz: which administration has been more enthusiastic about joining international treaties, George W. Bush or Barack Obama?
The Obama administration has been slow to submit new treaties to the Senate, and only nine have been approved so far. In contrast, the George W. Bush administration secured Senate approval of 163 treaties over eight years. These included not only bilateral treaties but also multilateral agreements on many important subjects, including human rights, atmospheric and marine environmental protection, the laws of war and arms control.
That paragraph comes from John Bellinger III, Bush 43's former State Department legal adviser. Now, one obvious pushback to this is that Obama has had to deal with a sovereigntist caucus in the Senate that is even more rabid than it was under Bush. Bellinger acknowledges the obvious, but then goes on to argue that fault also lies with the Obama administration:
It isn’t enough to blame Republican opposition to international agreements, which certainly has risen among the party’s senators in recent years. That trend only makes it more important that President Obama work harder to gain Senate support for treaties in his second term....
President Obama must devote more energy to securing Senate approval for pending treaties, both by using the presidency’s bully pulpit to explain the benefits and by directing administration officials to pay more attention to the concerns of individual senators. Despite increasing Republican hostility toward treaties, the president should still be able to persuade between 12 and 15 pragmatic Republican senators to support treaties that give concrete rights to Americans and American businesses or that promote important American interests.
The president should begin with the Law of the Sea Convention, which enjoys strong support from all branches of the United States military and from the American business community. He almost certainly could have gained Senate approval of this important treaty during his first three years in office but inexplicably waited until the maelstrom of the 2012 election year to push for it.
Over at the Monkey Cage, Erik Voeten looks at the political science of this and concludes that Bellinger has a valid point. The reason that Obama has been lethargic on treaties? The opportunity cost of the effort:
The idea that it is indeed hard work to pass treaties is supported by a recent working paper by Judith Kelley and Jon Pevehouse. Passing a treaty isn’t a simple matter of tallying the votes. The Senate’s agree and consent process takes away legislative time and political capital that could be used for other, perhaps more valuable, legislation. This opportunity cost theory yields some interesting and counterintuitive hypotheses. Presidents should become less likely to advance treaties when their approval ratings are high and when their party controls the Senate because that is the time when they can pass more valuable legislation on domestic issues. Kelley and Pevehouse find strong support for these patterns in their analysis with data from 1967-2008.
I suspect that Bellinger is correct that the Obama Administration could have persuaded a few Republicans to switch sides on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities if it had expended more time and capital on the treaty. This is not just about Republican opposition but also about priorities in the Obama Administration, which have, rightly or wrongly, been more on the domestic side.
One could argue that this logic also applies to Obama's cabinet selection process on foreign affairs. With Susan Rice, Chuck Hagel and John Kerry, the White House strategy appears to be, "hey, let's float the name, see if anyone gets upset, and see if the nominee can push back effectively before bothering to actually nominate the person."
Now from a pure logic of politics, this strategy makes some sense on some foreign policy matters. As embarrassing as it was that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities did not get ratified by the Senate, it doesn't change much. There is no effect on domestic law and the U.S. takes a marginal hit on the global stage. Even on cabinet appointments, one could be truly bloodless and argue that Susan Rice's Value Over Replacement-Level Policy Principal wasn't that high. The fiscal cliff negotiations matter a lot more.
Still, politics is art as well as science, and there's something just a little bit chickens**t about the Obama White House's tactics. Politics isn't only about winning -- sometimes it's just about making the effort. And the truth of the matter is that when it comes to dealing with Congress, this administration hasn't made the effort. By my recollection, during its entire first term, the only international relations piece of legislation that got the full court Obama White House press was the New START treaty with Russia. Now given what was going on with the economy, one could argue that the administration had the right set of priorities. But one way to help jumpstart the global economy would be a series of potentially significant foreign economic policy moves -- including the ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention, by the way. And I'd feel safer about my bet with Phil Levy if I knew that the Obama administration was willing to get some skin in the game when it came to foreign policy and Congress.
Letting peple like Susan Rice or Chuck Hagel twist in the political wind is, well, cruel. So I hope that in its second term, the White House cares enough about foreign policy to actually engage Congress rather than throw up their hands and say, "crazy Republicans, what can you do?" Actually, President Obama, you could do one whole hell of a lot if you made an effort.
So, after yesterday, there appears to be a little more clarity about who's gonna be doing what on Barack Obama's second term foreign policy team. If the latest reports can be trusted:
1) Susan Rice took herself out of the running for Secretary of State, but it looks like she'll be staying on as U.N. Ambassador, with a potential move to National Security Advisor at some point in the second term.
2) John Kerry is now the frontrunner to be Secretary of State
3) Chuck Hagel is now the frontrunner to be Secretary of Defense
4) Tom Donilon is staying on as National Security Advisor
5) CIA will go to either acting ditector Michael Morrell or deputy NSC advisor John Brennan.
My thoughts on these developments:
A) As someone with very little inside-the-Beltway knowledge, the Susan Rice denouement still raises more questions than it answers. In particular: i) Why was Benghazi such a big deal when she had zero operational authority and in no way lied when she appeared on the Sunday talk shows in September; ii) What the hell did she do to alienate Susan Collins (which appears to have been the pivotal moment)? iii) Why didn't the Obama White House offer up a full-throated defense of Rice or tell her to shut the hell up? Why the squishy, tepid support? iv) What was it about Rice that prompted so much bipartisan backbiting?
B) The changing norms of the Senate suggest the disturbing possibility that the only cabinet nominees who can sail through are.... former Senators. This is bad, bad, bad, bad, and bad for foreign policy. Cabinet officers are administrators and managers. Most senators haven't managed anything bigger than a legislative office. This isn't to say that all of them will do a bad job... but cofidence is not high. Narrowing the candidate pool like this harms the national interest.
C) If Chuck Hagel gets the nomination, it's gonna be one hell of a test of the Israel Lobby thesis. Eli Lake and Stephen Walt don't agree on much, but they do agree that Hagel is not really viewed as a friend of Israel... or at least Israeli uber-hawks. Hagel's overall foreign policy expertise/competence isn't a question, and as a former GOP senator it's going to be tough to make this a partisan issue. So... this is really an ideal test of the power of the so-called Israel Lobby. If AIPAC et al either don't oppose the nomination or oppose it and lose, that's a data point against Walt and Mearsheimer. If they oppose it and Hagel is withdrawn/goes down, it would be tough to deny that the power of AIPAC wasn't the crucial factor. As a social scientist, let me just say... pass the popcorn.
D) Actually, come to think of it, there is one other group that would likely oppose a Hagel nomination. Democratic policy defense wonks won't be thrilled with Hagel -- because it means one of their own won't get the job. If Hagel gets the nomination, then three of the last four Secretaries of Defense under a Democratic administration will have been Republicans. At a time when Democrats are acquiring a foreign policy/national security advantage over the GOP, this is not the best signal of party competency on defense matters. That said, a Hagel nomination would also be evidence that the GOP has pretty much shed all of the realists from its foreign policy team.
E) Hey, remember when the Secretary of the Treasury and the U.S. Trade Representative were significant foreign policy positions? Good times. Foreign economic policy got the short end of the foreign policy stick during Obama's first term -- it would be peachy if that changed. Wouldn't it be awesome if these positions got some nominees with political juice and the ability to move an ambitious foreign economic policy agenda through the system?
What do you think?
Your humble blogg -- [Wait, screw that, you should be feeling pretty proud today!! -- ed.]
Your proud blogger will be watching tonight's foreign policy debate despite his near-certainty that it's not going to be all that illuminating or informative. He has no choice, as he has a prior commitment to watch the damn thing.
Now, in preparation for the debate, I could encourage you to read some excellent preparatory posts by Walter Russell Mead or Spencer Ackerman, or this essay on American incolvency in grand strategy by Michael Mazarr -- but that's no fun.
I could suggest following one of the foreign policy debate drinking games out there -- see the National Journal or Duck of Minerva, for example -- but these drinking games look exceptionally dangerous. Drink when Obama mentions bin Laden? Really? Or when Romney says "resolve"? No one would be upright after the first twenty minutes.
No, I think the only responsible thing to do is to suggest my own debate drinking game. The idea here is to sort the possible answer such that a true "black swan" event would have to occur for the participant to risk alcohol poisoning.
So, in that spirit:
THE OFFICIAL 2012 FOREIGN POLICY DEBATE DRINKING GAME
Take a sip of your drink if....
1. Either candidate makes a geographical mistake (like insisting that the West Bank borders Syria or something like that).
2. Obama says "I'm the commander in chief."
3. Romney says that the U.S. Navy is the smallest it's been since 1916 (a dubious claim).
4. Romney accuses Obama of turning the United States into Greece.
5. Anyone on the stage (including Bob Schieffer) mentions Australia, New Zealand or Canada.
Finish your drink if....
1. Either candidate mentions the benefits of trade with China.
2. Either candidate says that Latin America is a crucial strategic region for the United States.
3. Obama says that there's some wiggle room in the 2014 withdrawal date for U.S. combat forces for Afghanistan.
4. Romney says that that there's no wiggle room in the 2014 withdrawal date for U.S. combat forces for Afghanistan.
5. Anyone onstage acknowledges that China has pretty much stopped intervening to keep its currency undervalued.
Finish your bottle if....
1. Romney says anything positive about the United Nations.
2. Either candidate says that the United States needs to push hard for democratization in Saudi Arabia.
3. Either "Africa" or "Doha round" are mentioned.
4. Either candidate blasts Israel for keeping its currency severely undervalued.
5. Obama accuses Romney of a "speak loudly and carry a magic wand" doctrine.
DRINK YOURSELF TO OBLIVION IF AND ONLY IF....
1. Bob Schieffer asks the candidates what they would do in case of zombies.
Now I'm pretty sure that if you follow these rules, you'll enjoy tonight's debate without regretting that enjoyment tomorrow.
Your humble blogger enjoyed his time in Mexico City. He particularly enjoyed last night's dinner, at which the most delicious margaritas he had ever consumed were served. It is possible that he should not have enjoyed that last of his many margaritas, however, because he is now extremely cranky and waiting to board his flight back to the United States.
I bring up the crankiness because it's possible I'm overreeacting to the announcded format and topics for Monday night's foreign policy debate. Politico's Mike Allen -- via Dylan Byers -- relays the following:
[H]ere are the topics for the October 22 debate, not necessarily to be brought up in this order:
* America’s role in the world
* Our longest war – Afghanistan and Pakistan
* Red Lines – Israel and Iran
* The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism – I
* The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism – II
* The Rise of China and Tomorrow’s World...
The format calls for six 15-minute time segments, each of which will focus on one of the topics listed above. The moderator will open each segment with a question. Each candidate will have two minutes to respond. Following the candidates’ responses, the moderator will use the balance of the 15-minute segment to facilitate a discussion on the topic.
So two-thirds of the debate will be about the Greater Middle East. Two-thirds. Schieffer has generously allowed that China and
Tomorrowland the entire Pacific Rim should get fifteen minutes. Here are the following areas and topics that apparently won't be discussed:
1) The eurozone crisis
2) Latin America
5) Foreign economic policy
7) North Korea
Now I get that some of these topics won't come up in a foreign policy debate that lasts only 90 minutes. But I'm also thinking that maybe, just maybe, it would be a better foreign policy debate if they actually talked about, you know, SOMETHING OTHER THAN THE MIDDLE EAST!!!!!!
I'm not saying the Middle East isn't important -- we have lost blood and treasure there, some of it very recently. But I simply do not believe that the region is so important that it should occupy 66.7% of a foreign policy debate.
That could just be the hangover talking. But I seriously doubt it.
Am I mising anything? No, scratch that -- what else is Schieffer missing in his misbegotten list of foreign policy topics?
In today's paper the New York Times has two long stories on the two largest countries in the world: one on China and one on India. What's interesting is that both stories talk about the tensions between national and regional governments -- but their interpretation of the behavior of these local governments is very different.
Let's start with China, where Andrew Jacobs notes that political paralysis at the national level combined with the economic slowdown is causing regional governments to double down on their debt-driven growth:
Local governments, alarmed by a slowdown they fear could lead to mass unemployment and the kind of sluggish growth that can dent political careers, have decided to take matters into their own hands. In recent months, a number of cities have proposed extravagant infrastructure projects they hope will be financed in part by newly liberalized bank loan policies.
Tianjin claims $236 billion will be spent in the petrochemical, aerospace and other industries. Xi’an, home of the famed terra cotta warriors, plans to invest tens of billions of dollars on nine new subway lines. In Guizhou, one of China’s poorest provinces, officials said they hoped to funnel $472 billion into tourism-related development.
In Changsha, the provincial capital of Hunan, officials brag of 12.9 percent growth as they spend billions of dollars on a new subway system, a ring road, an intercity rail line and a pair of bridges to knit together its transportation system.
“We haven’t felt any impact from the crisis in Europe,” said Liu Maosong, chairman of the Hunan Economics Association and an adviser to the Changsha government. “Our guiding philosophy is ‘investment, investment, investment.’ ”
Even if many such projects turn out to be wishful thinking, economists have expressed alarm that municipalities are still chasing debt-financed growth. “It almost scares me to death,” said Mao Yushi, a prominent economist. “Local governments are using the people’s money for investment, but when they can’t repay the banks, the financial system will snap.”
And Liao Jinzhong, an economist at Hunan University, worries that much of the spending is misplaced. “What we really could use is a functioning sewage system,” he said, speaking from his sixth-floor apartment in a crumbling faculty building that has no elevator.
Mr. Liao said he gave frequent lectures at the local party school about the dangerous fixation on propping up growth figures at all costs. He said officials often congratulated him on his frank views.
“But then they admit they can’t change the way they do things,” he said. “Given that the whole system is oriented toward bolstering the careers of officialdom, I just don’t see things changing any time soon.”
Interesting... so because of the political incentives that exist within the Chinese Communist Party, provincial and urban leaders have an incentive to prime their pumps to seek advancement.
Now let's turn to India, where Jim Yardley notes that -- wait for it -- seeming paralysis at the national level and a sagging national economy are causing unaffiliated leaders at the regional and local level to muse about things like forming a third party and compete at the national level. Yardley notes that the likelihood of success is low. What's interesting, however, is the question of why these local leaders are so popular:
Regional bosses, once in decline, are becoming kingmakers again: the squat, sleepy-eyed Mulayam Singh Yadav, who oversees the powerful Samajwadi Party, is even publicly musing about himself as a future prime minister.
“The incentive for every single party from the opposition to the allies is to send a signal that the Congress can’t govern,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. “That’s the election plank.”....
“Indian politics will have to live with bargains and negotiations with regional parties,” Ashutosh Varshney, a political expert, said in an e-mail interview. “A third front may or may not emerge, but both national parties will have to negotiate and bargain. That also means that India will find it harder to make firm assertions of power on the international stage, à la China. Its power will grow, but more gradually.”....
In the meantime, India’s regional leaders will continue to press for advantage. Ms. Banerjee is planning a huge demonstration in New Delhi on Monday against the government’s new economic measures. Even as [Bengal Chief Minister Ms. Mamata] Banerjee is often criticized for being intemperate and unpredictable, her influence is undeniable: this week the American ambassador, Nancy Powell met with her privately, just as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made a point of visiting her during a trip to India in May.
Other regional leaders are also increasingly powerful national figures. Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of the state of Bihar, has hinted that his regional party could join any coalition that granted his state special status. Naveen Patnaik, the chief minister of Orissa, has expressed support for a third-front coalition. Jayalalithaa, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, has also spoken suggestively about a new political alliance.
Most of them have won political support by delivering economic growth and, to varying degrees, improved government. This is one reason that even as India’s politics is again fragmenting, some analysts believe that the country’s economic modernization can continue. In recent years, as policy logjams paralyzed the central government, many international and domestic business leaders shifted their focus to negotiating with individual state leaders.
So, if one buys both of these stories, there's an interesting contrast. Both countries appear to be dealing with feckless national leadership and a slowdown in their national economies. In China, regional leaders are pursuing reckless "growth now" policies that could harm the national economy in the long run. In India, it's the competent economic leadership at the regional level that's bailing out a dysfunctional national government (emphasis added).
The thing is, I don't know if I completely buy Yardley's story on India. I've read enough on China to know that Jacobs' assertion about bad regional policy seems to be pretty accurate (not to mention the out-and-out distortions in economic statistics coming from China's provinces) I wish he had pushed a little bit deeper to see exactly how these regional political bosses had delivered better economic growth. If they did it using variants of what China's leaders did -- short-term measures that accelerate growth now at the expense of growth later -- then what's interesting is that regardless of regime type, local leaders can make life hell for national economic policymakers. If, on the other hand, India's regional leaders have done a genuinely better job at governing, then it's a really interesting story.
What do you think? Psst... in this case, by "you," I mean India experts.
Conor Friedersdorf has an provocative essay over at The Atlantic in which he states a few hard truths about the state of the GOP on foreign policy... and then goes to a very strange place. The hard truths first:
President Obama's foreign policy is vulnerable to all sorts of accurate attacks. But Mitt Romney, the Republican Party, and the conservative movement are totally unable to exploit them. This is partly because the last four years have been spent advancing critiques so self-evidently implausible to anyone outside the movement that calling attention to them seems impolite. There is no factual basis for the assertion that Obama rejects American exceptionalism or that he embarked on an apology tour or that he is allied with our Islamist enemy in a "grand jihad" against America; or that his every action is motivated by Kenyan anti-colonialism. And while those critiques are especially inane, they aren't cherry-picked to discredit conservatives; they're actually all critiques advanced by prominent people, publications, and/or Republican politicians.
The fact that the vast majority of conservatives give no indication of having learned anything from the Iraq War is an even more significant reason that the GOP has lost its traditional edge on national security issues, with a majority of Americans telling pollsters they trust Democrats more.
OK, I'm with him so far. But then we get to how Friedersdorf thinks the GOP should ground its criticism:
So what could an opposition party less dysfunctional than Republicans say about Obama's foreign policy?
1) The Afghan surge turned out to be a failure that cost a lot of American lives and money with little if any lasting benefit.
2) In the course of the successful Bin Laden raid, the Obama Administration ran a fake vaccination campaign that failed in its mission to get the fugitive's DNA, failed to stay secret, and undermined public health efforts in Pakistan and elsewhere for a generation -- a catastrophic bungle that could conceivably make the world more vulnerable to a pandemic in the future.
3) Obama's main counterterrorism strategy, secretive CIA drone strikes in multiple Muslim countries, scatters terrorists to more countries than they'd otherwise be in, arguably creates more terrorists than it kills over time, and has definitely killed hundreds of innocent people at minimum.
4) Agree or disagree with the idea of intervening in Libya, the way President Obama went about it violated the U.S. Constitution, the War Powers Resolution, and an Obama campaign promise.
There are a lot more critiques of Obama's foreign policy. It's instructive to focus on these because they're just the sorts of things you can't attack if your party defines itself as most hawkish; totally discounts the importance of things like public health compared to military operations; doesn't pay any attention at all to dead innocents killed by America; and has totally abandoned Madisonian notions of checks and balances when it comes to national security policy (emphasis added).
I don't necessarily disagree that these lines of attacks exist -- but I also don't think that Friedersdorf comprehends the history of the GOP on foreign policy -- and I'm not just talking about the post-Cold War era. As Colin Dueck noted in his book Hard Right, the Republicans have been branding themselves as the more hawkish party since Thomas Dewey faded from the scene. Sure, the Ron Paul wing would love these lines of attack -- but I don't think either the rest of the GOP or the rest of the country for that matter is gonna dislike the drone strategy.
I agree that the GOP has made its mistakes in its foreign policy critiques, but the kind of conceptual pivot that Friedersdorf expects Republicans to make strikes me as pretty absurd.
So what should the GOP do? I'm not entirely sure, but I do know two things:
1) The Republican Party can't summarily reject the hawk brand it's built for more than a half-century;
2) Unless and until the GOP acknowledges that Iraq was a tragedy and a mistake, it will be as enfeebled on foreign policy as the Democratic Party was on this issue for a generation after the Vietnam War went south.
futile determined effort to expand his public intellectual brand, your humble blogger was on the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC for about an hour this AM. It was a veeeeery interesting experience. Now, I know that some readers of this blog aspire to poison me and take my place on the FP masthead punditry themselves. So, as a public service, this is what happens when you go on a Sunday morning talk show: imagine the Law & Order chunk-CHUNK! going after each paragraph:
WEDNESDAY: I receive a polite email from one of Melissa's segment/booking producers, who we'll call "M", asking if I want to be on the show this Sunday. Having never done this kind of punditry before, and having my previous obligation for the weekend cancelled, I accept.
Immediately after accepting, I experience two contradictory emotions. First, the fear builds that they will email back the same day and say, "uh, we just re-checked our Rolodex, and.. [laughs] we have no idea who thought you merited being on television." At the same time, I realize I'm going to have to watch the rest of the prime-time Republican National Convention speeches. At which point I let loose a strong of profanities [What if had been the DNC instead?--ed. The same number of profanities would have been released.]
THURSDAY: I talk with M again, who runs down the planned topics with me -- the RNC, the DNC, the state of the election, and gun violence. Immediately I have a slight quandry -- my expertise is in international relations, not electoral politics. Do I dare to think I can play in the sandbox for a Sunday morning talk show? At which point my inner media whore screams, Gollum-like, "YES!! WE WANTS TO BE ON THE TV!!! IT'S OUR PRECIOUS!!"
This is, as near as I can determine, the First Commandment of Televsion Punditry -- you have to be secure enough in your abilities to chat with authority about issues outside your intellectual wheelhouse.
FRIDAY: To make my inner media whore proud, I start reading up on gun violence statistics. I also read as much commentary as I can about the Republican National Convention. Whatever intelligence I gain from the former I lose by reading the latter.
SATURDAY: Full disclosure: Melissa and I were political science colleagues at the University of Chicago back in the day, so I'm familiar with her style and her politics. That said, I haven't been a regular watcher of her MSNBC show, so I tune for the first half-hour in to get a sense of the roundtable. Clearly MHP leans juuuuust a little to the left. This raises an identity issue -- am I supposed to be wearing the hat of "defender of conservatism"? It's not a role I've been comfortable with as of late. Or am I gonna wear the "dispassionate, snarky observer of the political scene"? I feel much more comfortable with that hat on. In all likelihood, it's going to be a little from column A and a little from column B.
LATER ON SATURDAY: If you're going to be on roundtable for radio/television, there's a 98% chance you will need to do a "pre-interview" with a producer so they have a sense of what you're going to say during the conversation. So I have that conversation with M, during which I learn that the topics have been jiggled around a bit and all those
minutes hours of sketchy detailed online research into gun violence stats won't be worth much. Instead, we'll be talking gay marriage. Which is fine, I will rally with yet more Wikipedia-surfing intense study of primary texts. And, of course, that segment will be moved as well. So, the Second Commandment of Television Punditry is that the schedule will always change.
EVEN LATER ON SATURDAY: The MHP show is classy -- they took care of all the flight/hotel/car service logistics. So by Saturday night I found myself in a comfortable midtown hotel with a lovely view of Central Park. Surfing the web furiously to research for Sunday AM, I see that some fireworks broke out on MHP's Saturday show after I switched off to pack. Melissa was responding to the panel's most conservative participant making a point. Ruh-roh.
To prep, I take notes on each of the "blocks" or segments that I'm supposed to weigh in on. I'm a professor and an academic, and therefore alwasys feel better with notes.
SUNDAY MORNING PRE-SHOW: I get to 30 Rock on time, which means I'm the first panelist there.... or so I think. In actuality, the two female panelists -- NYU's Cristina Beltran and the Center for American Progress' Aisha Moodie-Mills -- are in makeup. As they enter the green rom, I quickly comprehend that I am in deep trouble, because I am not nearly as pretty. As the clock ticks towards 10 AM, and no one comes to get me, I am petrified that I have been typecast as the splotchy-faced redneck surrounded by urbane alluring panelists. Before this scenario can play out in even weirder directions inside my head, however, M sends me to makeup. They apply as enough powder to my face to fuel at least two Dunkin' Donuts franchies -- but it works . My family later informs me that I looked good, so many, many thanks to those professionals at MSNBC.
SUNDAY MORNING, 10 AM-11 AM: OK, having done my first hour of Sunday morning chat -- which you can watch here, here, here and here -- I have learned the following effects on one's senses when three cameras and numerous klieg lights are pointed in your general direction:
A) Time speeds up. Seriously, that hour flew by. Every time I was feeling like we were getting to a good part of the conversation, we hit a commercial break.
B) Almost all prep work is useless. I knew exactly what I wanted to say in response to the first question asked, and I did that competently. After that, whatever good punchy things were in my notes might as well have been left back at home for all the use they were to me. Part of the issue is visual -- you don't want to be looking down at your notes. Another part of the issue, which I've blogged about before, is the academic weakness of trying to directly answer the question.
C) Really, cameras can make you stupid. If you mangle your words during an ordinary conversation, or even when giving a speech, you can take a moment and regroup. If you mangle your words during a panel show, you become acutely aware that you're screwing up, which compounds the problem. Another panelist will be happy to enter the breach. On at least two occasioons, I had written down a better answer than the one that came out of my mouth during the program.
SUNDAY MORNING, 11 AM: I need to get to the airport to come home, but I find two pieces of critical feedback from the experience worthwhile. The first was the thumbs-up that Moodie-Mills and her partner give me as I exit the green room. The second is an anonymous email I soon find in my inbox:
Drezner........Why are you such an idiot? Your appearance on MSLSD was laughable and embarrassing. It's really sad and embarrassing how you liberal bedwetters continue to be brainwashed by your worthless president. Why can't you clowns form a coherent thought on your own? Exactly, because you buffoons are mindless robots programmed by your worthless president. Barnum and Bailey have nothing on you clowns. What do you call a basement full of liberals? A whine cellar. Keep up the good work loser................
Why, it's... it's a troll!! I've made it!! I'M A REAL PUNDIT NOW!!!!!
Based on my Twitter feed -- and the act that it's true -- former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave far and away the best speech of the 2012 Republican National Convention to date. As someone who had the privilege of taking courses from Dr. Rice, this makes me personally very happy. As someone who likes to see the United States vigorously participate in an open global economy, I thought her emphasis on trade and immigration were spot-on. And as someone who thinks the term "loyal opposition" has meaning, I thought Rice did an excellent job of not criticizing President Obama directly but nevertheless drawing interesting contrasts between Obama and Mitt Romney.
So it was a great speech -- so long as you skipped the opening paragraph:
We gather here at a time of significance and challenge. This young century has been a difficult one. I will never forget the bright September day, standing at my desk in the White House, when my young assistant said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center – and then a second one – and a third, the Pentagon. And then the news of a fourth, driven into the ground by brave citizens that died so that many others would live. From that day on our sense of vulnerability and our understanding of security would be altered forever. Then in 2008 the global financial and economic crisis stunned us and still reverberates as unemployment, economic uncertainty and failed policies cast a pall over the American recovery so desperately needed at home and abroad
The problem with this paragraph is that, vague language aside, it reminds the listener that two of the three greatest negative foreign policy shocks of the last decade happened while Rice and the GOP ran the executive branch. Oh, and the third is Iraq, which also happened on their watch.
Whatever foibles and errors the Obama administration has committed on foreign policy -- and they've had a healthy share -- nothing they have done has been remotely close on the clusterf**k scale to the events Rice mentions in her first paragraph.
Once you skip that, though, it really is a great speech.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Dear Governor Romney,
Congratulations on securing the GOP nomination and earning a roughly 50/50 shot at becoming president in January 2013. It was an ugly primary fight, but you're passed it and have been consolidating your right flank. Politically speaking, nicely done.
Now, I know you want this campaign to be about the economy, the economy, and the economy, but can we talk about foreign policy for just a little bit? Because if you don't talk about international relations, your advisors are gonna continue to bitch and moan to the press, like they did this week to Rich Oppel at the New York Times and Eli Lake at Daily Beast.
This will be an ongoing problem for you, because an emerging meme is that your campaign has remarkably little policy content. Your campaign didn't handle immigration terribly well, for example. Indeed, on foreign policy, you've actually been a bit more forthcoming than on other policy dimensions. The thing is, what you've said in recent months has prompted... er... well... either mockery or derision. No one knows whether you're the second coming of neoconservatism or a more realpolitik foreign policy leader. This lack of certainty is making a lot of people itchy.
One of your consistent themes has been to bash President Obama because "his positions in foreign policy have not communicated American strength and resolve." The thing is, if you can't even control your own foreign policy advisors from blabbing to anyone and everyone who writes about foreign policy, well, then you're not really communicating strength and resolve either, are you?
We agree that this election should primarily be about the economy. But I suspect we also agree that voters need to be comfortable with a presidential candidate as a commander-in-chief and a foreign policy leader. After four years, President Obama has carved out a record that is not without blemishes but is pretty clearly above the bar in terms of foreign policy competence. The burden is on you to demonstrate that you can be above the bar as well. So far, all you've demonstrated is that you might be better at foreign policy than Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, or Rick Perry, which is a really low bar.
President Obama has made a hash of his policy towards Israel and Palestine. Relations with Pakistan, Russia, India and Canada have cooled off considerably since the Bush years. America's relationship with Latin America and Africa seems uncertain at best. Cybersecurity remains an inchoate mess. On foreign economic policy, it's not clear at all that Obama can get the G-20 to agree on anything and the Doha trade round is dead, dead, dead. There's clearly room for improvement, and American foreign policy benefits from a vigorous marketplace of ideas. So show some leadership, get your team in line, and articulate a foreign policy vision that goes beyond the vague nostrums of "An American Century."
Seriously, get it together.
Daniel W. Drezner
If one myth has been slain by the financial crisis and the response to it, it's the idea that central banks ought to be independent and unaccountable politically.
The idea of central bank independence was that it would guarantee good monetary policy. During the Great Moderation it certainly seemed that way. But now it's no longer the case...
[The] point is that the choice between inflation and unemployment is a political, not a technical choice. What's "better"? To screw debtors or creditors? To make millions unemployed or to "debase the currency"? Those are very important questions. More important, they're questions that cannot be solved by economics. They can be informed by them, but at the end of the day what you prefer is going to come down to your own moral value system. In other words, it's a political choice. And the way we make political choices in modern countries is through the democratic process, not through unelected, unaccountable technocrats....
The bottom line is that the argument of supercompetence of central bankers is dead and once that's gone you need to revert those powers back to the political process (emphasis in original).
Now, this is a pretty powerful argument. One would be hard-pressed to say that Jean-Claude Trichet or Alan Greenspan or Ben Bernanke have covered themselves in glory during the past five years or so. Why not return central banking to the politicians?
Well.... before I answer, I want to object to Gobry's framing of the issue in two ways. First, he sets up a too-simple dichotomy between "independence" and "political control." The devil is in the details here. Political scientists have done a lot of research into how legislatures exert influence over supposedly "independent" institutions like courts and regulatory agencies, and this logic applies to central banks as well. Or, to put it another way, I suspect that Ben Bernanke would be pumping more money into the economy were it not for a fear of Congressional blowback. Furthermore, "political control" is unclear here -- which politicians have control? Would central bankers be directly elected? Appointed by the legislature? Appointed by the executive subject to recall? And so forth.
Second, the notion that central banking decisions are strictly political seems as wrong as characterizing them as strictly technical. It is overly cynical to believe that either technocrats or politicians gin up any old theory to justify the policy ends they seek. As with Supreme Court disputes, there are genuine disagreements in economics on the theory side. At this very moment, different central bankers disagree over the best way to reduce unemployment in part because of different economic theories. Expertise is kinda important in these moments.
OK, these contestations aside, I still have a basic problem with Gobry's argument. For Gobry's process to work better, voters have to punish politicians for poor monetary policy and reward them for wise and prudent monetary policies. I see little evidence that voters would have the necessary knowledge and attention span to do this. Instead, they would likely vote on other considerations, or vote based on short-term considerations such as the unemployment rate and GDP growth without considering whether short-term pump-priming is occurring or long-term sustainable growth. Furthermore, politicians would rig the game just a bit. Political scientists have extensively discussed the existence of "political business cycles" due to fiscal policy. I have every confidence that political control over monetary policy would simply extend the phenomenon to that policy lever as well.
The fact that politicians still control the fiscal lever is what leads me to think that central banking should still be independent. A diversification of political controls over the economy seems like the best minimax strategy over the long run. Thinking back to how U.S. politicians would have handled the last 20 years of central banking, I suspect that they simply would have exacerbated the boom-bust dot-com and housing bubbles. It's not clear at all that the added democratic gain outweighs the loss in policy competence.
That said, Gobry makes a powerful argument, and I'd like to hear from readers. Has independent central banking jumped the shark? What do you think?
I've gone on record as saying that presidential campaign promises on foreign policy don't count for all that much. Over the past few weeks, however, there have been some rumblings coming from the Romney campaign that are worth considering.
First, there was the matter of Richard Grenell. The Romney campaign hired him to be its foreign policy spokesman, then asked him to stay silent on a foreign policy conference call (one that didn't really cover its participants in glory, by the way). Grenell then resigned, implying that he felt pressured to leave because his being gay ruffled some social conservatives (which the Romney camp denies).
Second, there is the question of Romney's hostility towards Russia, and the way that clashes with what his foreign policy advisers have saidon the subject:
Interviews with Republican foreign policy experts close to his campaign and his writings on the subject show that his stance toward Russia reflects a broader foreign policy view that gives great weight to economic power and control of natural resources. It also exhibits Mr. Romney’s confidence that his private-sector experience would make him a better negotiator on national security issues than President Obama has been.
Mr. Romney’s views on Russia have set off disagreements among some of his foreign policy advisers. They put him in sync with the more conservative members of his party in Congress, who have similarly criticized Mr. Obama as being too accommodating to Russia, and generally reflect the posture of some neoconservatives....
Some advisers close to Mr. Romney, who declined to be quoted or identified by name, say Russia is a good illustration of his belief that national security threats are closely tied to economic power — in this case stemming from Russia’s oil and gas reserves, which it has used to muscle European countries dependent on energy imports.
They also cite his tendency to view foreign policy conflicts as zero-sum negotiations. Mr. Romney, an accomplished deal-maker at Bain Capital, views his negotiating skills as an advantage he holds over Mr. Obama.
It's juuuuust a little disturbing to hear that Romney's foreign policy worldview sounds an awful lot like what Donald Trump was saying a year ago. Oh, and that, by implication, Romney's concept of "economic power" is total horses**t as well.
Just as intriguing, however, is the fact that Romney's advisors are chatting to the press about these gaps between their views and Romney's. Now, in theory, "Romney foreign policy advisor" can be cast a wide net, from someone who talked to the campaign once to someone in the inner circle. Still, if you peruse David Sanger's Sunday NYT essay, it's hard not to see that the foreign policy fissures in Camp Romney run deep:
“There are two very different worldviews in this campaign,” said one adviser who aligns more often with Mr. Bolton. “But as in any campaign, there are outer circles, inner circles and inner-inner circles, and I’m not sure that anyone knows if the candidate has a strong view of his own on this.” Another adviser, saying he would be “cashiered” if the campaign caught him talking to a reporter without approval, said the real answer was that “Romney doesn’t want to really engage these issues until he is in office” and for now was “just happy to leave the impression that when Obama says he’ll stop an Iranian bomb he doesn’t mean it, and Mitt does.”
As both Michael Crowley and Erik Wemple note, the fact that these guys are talking to Sanger -- and stressing things like not providing any input for Romney's idiotic 2010 anti-New START op-ed -- does not reflect well on the campaign.
Would any of this really matter in a possible Romney presidency?
Mostly, no. Campaign statements on foreign policy are broken pretty easily, and campaign rhetoric melts quickly in the face of foreign policy realities. I suppose one could argue that the Romney campaign's disorganization on these questions do not speak well about the campaign's discipline and management. That said, I seriously doubt that one's ability to run an efficient campaign translates into the ability to run foreign policy. Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign was not exactly the most disciplined of the bunch -- but she's been a very capable Secretary of State.
The one way in which this might be interesting is whether someone like John Bolton winds up as Secretary of State. Based on his United Nations ambassador days, and based on the near-delusional level of megalomaniacal egotism displayed in Bolton's memoirs, I'd argue that his appointment would make a difference in foreign policy outcomes.
The loudest signal emerging from the noise of Romney's foreign policy team is that Bolton's influence might be larger than I would have suspected. The fact that Grenell was Bolton's spokesman at the UN, and that his Russia views sound like Bolton, are distressing signals. The fact that one of Romney's concrete budgetary criticisms of the Obama administration this week was that, "[i]n 2010, 17 federal government agencies gave $7.7 billion to more than 25 United Nations programs, billions of it voluntarily," sounds... Boltonish. The fact that all of Romney's foreign policy factions are gabbing to the press and, er, people like me further suggests that the divisions run deep.
It's still May, and so I suspect that these kerfuffles are noise that will eventually dissipate. Still, consider this to be a marker if, a year from now, you see post after post entitled, "Yes, I'm Afraid Secretary Bolton Did Say a Dumbass Thing Today."
David Brooks' New York Times column this AM is a riff off of a Peter Thiel lecture about the odd relationship between capitalism and competition. Thiel's point is that our meritocratic society conditions individuals to compete -- for admission to good schools, good jobs, and so forth -- when, in fact, the goal of the capitalist should be to innovate their way to the capitalist holy grail -- a temporary monopoly.
Brooks takes this argument and runs with it:
students have to jump through ever-more demanding, preassigned academic hoops. Instead of developing a passion for one subject, they’re rewarded for becoming professional students, getting great grades across all subjects, regardless of their intrinsic interests. Instead of wandering across strange domains, they have to prudentially apportion their time, making productive use of each hour.
Then they move into a ranking system in which the most competitive college, program and employment opportunity is deemed to be the best. There is a status funnel pointing to the most competitive colleges and banks and companies, regardless of their appropriateness.
Then they move into businesses in which the main point is to beat the competition, in which the competitive juices take control and gradually obliterate other goals. I see this in politics all the time. Candidates enter politics wanting to be authentic and change things. But once the candidates enter the campaign, they stop focusing on how to be change-agents. They and their staff spend all their time focusing on beating the other guy. They hone the skills of one-upsmanship. They get engulfed in a tit-for-tat competition to win the news cycle. Instead of being new and authentic, they become artificial mirror opposites of their opponents. Instead of providing the value voters want — change — they become canned tacticians, hoping to eke out a slight win over the other side.…
You know somebody has been sucked into the competitive myopia when they start using sports or war metaphors. Sports and war are competitive enterprises. If somebody hits three home runs against you in the top of the inning, your job is to go hit four home runs in the bottom of the inning.
But business, politics, intellectual life and most other realms are not like that. In most realms, if somebody hits three home runs against you in one inning, you have the option of picking up your equipment and inventing a different game. You don’t have to compete; you can invent (emphasis added).
Now, there's definitely a strong element of truth to Brooks' point. True innovators in many fields are searching for the genuinely new idea, and then run with it. I, for one, have a (temporary) monopoly in the international relations theory and zombies market. So I get what Brooks is trying to say here.
And yet, in the end, I think this is a crap argument, for a few reasons:
1) Brooks too neatly divides the innovation from the competition elements of market life. Indeed, the company that made Thiel super-rich -- Facebook -- is exhibit A for this point. Facebook didn't really innovate anything that MySpace or other social networking sites hadn't done already. Rather, because social networking is an arena where greater size means greater profitability, Facebook managed to beat its competitors at gaining market share. It did this through a few bells and whistles, but Facebook did not "create a new market and totally dominate it," as Brooks would put it.
2) Brooks has a tendency to conflate different dimensions of social activity as if they're one and the same, and that bolded sentence is exhibit A of that. In point of fact, a politician usually can't invent a different game -- or, if s/he does, it's often called a coup or a revolution. Brooks is clearly disgusted with the ticky-tack, news-cycle, tweet-length tactical fights of politics, and I can't say I blame him. But Brooks of all people should know that politics is also about Very Big Arguments that cannot be avoided. Say what you will about either Barack Obama or the GOP House of Representatives, but over the past two years they've been having The Big Argument. I don't think either of them can risk abandoning the intellectual competition (though maybe this is another option).
Similarly, as someone schooled in intellectual life, walking away from an argument means you've lost the argument. That's not the end of the world, but given that arguing about ideas is what intellectuals do, it's not great either. I think Thiel's argument works well for business -- but business is manifestly not like other spheres of life.
3) It's worth noting that Brooks and Thiel mistakenly conclude that if the meritocratic system was adjusted, the best and the brightest would become better entrepreneurs. I question that hypothesis. Here's the pithy Larry Summers observation that's worth remembering. Summers was actually making an argument consistent with Brooks and Thiel, pushing back against the Amy Chua "Tiger Mom" silliness:
"Which two freshmen at Harvard have arguably been most transformative of the world in the last 25 years?" he asked. "You can make a reasonable case for Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, neither of whom graduated." If they had been the product of a Tiger Mom upbringing, he added, their mothers would probably have been none too pleased with their performance.
The A, B and C alums at Harvard in fact could be broadly characterized thus, he said: The A students became academics, B students spent their time trying to get their children into the university as legacies, and the C students—the ones who had made the money—sat on the fund-raising committee.
The thing is, these groups are more self-selecting than Summers, Brooks and Thiel believe. Which means altering the meritocratic incentives won't change all that much.
Am I missing anything?
Last Wednesday Thomas Friedman wrote a very silly column in which he called for Michael Bloomberg to enter the presidential race because
he had an annoying experience at Union Station he thinks the United States needs a real leader:
[W]ith Europe in peril, China and America wobbling, the Arab world in turmoil, energy prices spiraling and the climate changing, we are facing some real storms ahead. We need to weatherproof our American house — and fast — in order to ensure that America remains a rock of stability for the world. To do that, we’ll have to make some big, hard decisions soon — and to do that successfully will require presidential leadership in the next four years of the highest caliber.
This election has to be about those hard choices, smart investments and shared sacrifices — how we set our economy on a clear-cut path of near-term, job-growing improvements in infrastructure and education and on a long-term pathway to serious fiscal, tax and entitlement reform. The next president has to have a mandate to do all of this.
But, today, neither party is generating that mandate — talking seriously enough about the taxes that will have to be raised or the entitlement spending that will have to be cut to put us on sustainable footing, let alone offering an inspired vision of American renewal that might motivate such sacrifice. That’s why I still believe that the national debate would benefit from the entrance of a substantial independent candidate — like the straight-talking, socially moderate and fiscally conservative Bloomberg — who could challenge, and maybe even improve, both major-party presidential candidates by speaking honestly about what is needed to restore the foundations of America’s global leadership before we implode.
The Twitterati and blogosphere reaction to Friedman's argument tended towards the scathing, and now we're beginning to see the responses elaborated to op-ed length. This smart essay, for example, makes the very trenchant point that in a political structure with so many veto points , so much political polarization and so many entrenched interests, the ability of any one leader to reform the system on the scale that Friedman proposes is next to impossible:
A system with as many checks and balances built into it as ours assumes — indeed requires — a certain minimum level of cooperation on major issues between the two parties, despite ideological differences. Unfortunately, since the end of the cold war, which was a hugely powerful force compelling compromise between the parties, several factors are combining to paralyze our whole system.
For starters, we’ve added more checks and balances to make decision-making even more difficult — such as senatorial holds now being used to block any appointments by the executive branch or the Senate filibuster rule, effectively requiring a 60-vote majority to pass any major piece of legislation, rather than 51 votes. Also, our political divisions have become more venomous than ever....
A system with as many checks and balances built into it as ours assumes — indeed requires — a certain minimum level of cooperation on major issues between the two parties, despite ideological differences. Unfortunately, since the end of the cold war, which was a hugely powerful force compelling compromise between the parties, several factors are combining to paralyze our whole system.
For starters, we’ve added more checks and balances to make decision-making even more difficult — such as senatorial holds now being used to block any appointments by the executive branch or the Senate filibuster rule, effectively requiring a 60-vote majority to pass any major piece of legislation, rather than 51 votes. Also, our political divisions have become more venomous than ever....
We can’t be great as long as we remain a vetocracy rather than a democracy. Our deformed political system — with a Congress that’s become a forum for legalized bribery — is now truly holding us back.
Congratulations to present Thomas Friedman -- for effectively refuting past Tom Friedman.
In an excerpt from his forthcoming book The Escape Artists, Noam Scheiber has a behind-the-scenes story in The New Republic about how the Obama administration mostly botched the debt ceiling negotiations with Republicans last year. I'm guessing that Scheiber's best sources were the Treasury folk, because they come off looking the best -- advising Obama to cut a deal with the Republicans in December 2010, telling him to not negotiate policy concessions to get a debt ceiling boost, and so forth. Obama did not listen to them, and we all know what happened. Scheiber goes on to note that after the debt ceiling drama of the summer, Obama learned to attack conservatives rather than compromise with them, thereby improving his political fortunes.
He closes the essay with the following:
For voters contemplating whether he deserves a second term, the question is less and less one of policy or even worldview than of basic disposition. Throughout his political career, Obama has displayed an uncanny knack for responding to existential threats. He sharpened his message against Hillary Clinton in late November 2007, just in time to salvage the Iowa caucuses and block her coronation. He condemned his longtime pastor, Jeremiah Wright, just before Wright’s racialist comments could doom his presidential hopes. Once in office, Obama led two last-minute counteroffensives to save health care reform. But, in every case, the adjustments didn’t come until the crisis was already at hand. His initial approach was too passive and too accommodating, and he stuck with it far too long.
Given the booby traps that await the next president—Iranian nukes, global financial turmoil—this habit seems dangerously risky. Sooner or later, Obama may encounter a crisis that can’t be reversed at the eleventh hour. Is Obama’s newfound boldness on the economy yet another last-minute course-correction? Or has he finally learned a deeper lesson? More than just a presidency may hinge on the answer.
There are two big problems with this kind of formulation. The first is that, for all of Obama's stumbles and bumbles on the debt ceiling issue, it's hard to argue in retrospect that he lost that political fight. Since the debt ceiling dispute, Obama's approval numbers have moved north while Congress has become historically unpopular. The improving economy likely explains some of this -- but if that was the only part of the story then Congress' numbers should be rising as well.
It's not that Obama handled the debt ceiling talks terribly well -- it's just that Scheiber misses the point that the Republicans made an even bigger hash of things. Obama came off as someone willing to deal and the House GOP came off as a group of people looking forward to the apocalypse. Looking more reasonable that one's adversaries occasionally matters in domestic politics -- and it's not in Scheiber's account (full and fair disclosure: I would have been in agreement with Scheiber six months ago).
The more interesting question is whether there's any validity to Scheiber's larger point -- that Obama's initial passivity in responding to political crises suggests he's ill-prepared for handling global crises. Does Scheiber's pattern of how Obama responded to domestic political challenges match up with his foreign policy?
I think Scheiber has half a point. As I've noted in the past, the administration's first set of foreign policies were predicated on the same basic impulse that Obama had domestically: deals and bargains were possible in many parts of the globe. However, as the administration found itself rebuffed and frustrated by various international actors (Iran, China, etc.) it quickly pivoted to a more aggressive -- and more fruitful -- counterpunching approach. Similar to how the debt ceiling negotiations play out, Obama has benefited from his initial outreaches; he can say he tried the olive branch before turning to the stick. When it comes to global actors that Obama perceives as enemies or rivals, his administration has been pretty ruthless.
Where Scheiber might have a point is with how Obama has handled America's friends and allies. Obviously, these countries should have more common interests with the United States, so by and large they should be less obstreperous. When issues have flared up, however -- with Israel on housing settlements, with Europe on the sovereign debt crisis, with post-reset Russia on anything, and with G-20 allies on quantitative easing -- the administration seems slow-moving, awkward, and occasionally shocked that these countries might have interests that diverge from the United States.
Pressuring and cajoling allies is a tricky and delicate business. One would be hard-pressed to argue that the Bush administration did a great job of it. Still, as the latest iteration of the Eurocrisis plays out, Scheiber might have hit on the Achilles heel of Obama's foreign policy acumen.
What do you think?
The New York Times' Roger Cohen files an optimistic column today, arguing that predictions of American decline are premature. I tend to agree with Cohen's sentiment but not his logic because, well, it's God-awful. Here's the key bits:
Perhaps the most successful U.S. chief executive of the past decade is stepping down this month. Samuel Palmisano of I.B.M. has presided over a remarkable transformation of the technology giant, extracting it from the personal computer business and shifting it toward services and software to power a “Smarter Planet.”
In a fascinating interview with my colleague Steve Lohr, Palmisano said the first of the four questions in his guiding business framework was, “Why would someone spend their money with you — so what is unique about you?” At root, business is still about getting money out of your pocket into mine. By being unsentimental in making I.B.M. unique, Palmisano ensured a lot of money flowed the company’s way.
Profits followed. The stock price surged. Warren Buffett, who knows which way the wind blows, recently acquired a stake of more than 5 percent. I.B.M. has been re-imagined, not least in the way it has shifted from being a U.S. multinational to a global corporation powered by rapid expansion in growth markets like India and China.
The question arises: If an American colossus like I.B.M. can be turned around, can America itself? (emphasis added)
A small aside: if Cohen's logic is correct, then the 2012 election is over and everyone should vote for Mitt Romney. This kind of ruthless turnaround is exactly what Romney did while at Bain. While his track record can be disputed, there's no doubt that he was willing to be ruthless to increase profits. So, whether he knows it or not, Cohen is making the argument that a turnaround specialist like Romney would be just the ticket for the United States, transforming America's political economy into a leaner, more efficient engine for progress.
The thing is -- and this is kind of important -- governments are not corporations. I cannot stress this enough. There's the obvious point that in democracies, legislatures tend to impose a more powerful constraint than shareholders, making it that much harder for leaders to execute the policies they think will be the most efficient.
There's also the deeper point that it's a lot harder for governments to be "unsentimental" when it comes to the provision of public services. It's a lot harder for states to eliminate the functions that are less efficient. Frequently, demand for government services emerges because of the perception that the private sector has fallen down on the job in that area. This means that the government has been tasked with doing the things that are difficult and unprofitable to do. It is precisely because these government outputs are often so hard to measure that Newt Gingrich's claims about Six Sigma sound pretty laughable. Even libertarians who want the government to reduce its operations drastically will acknowledge the political risks and costs of trying to execute this plan.
To be fair, there are some policy dimensions where this analogy holds up better. Cohen implicitly argues that America's willingness to jettison costly and inefficient foreign ventures -- cough, Iraq, cough -- is an example of this kind of turnaround strategy. Fair enough. Even on foreign policy, however, it's hard to execute this kind of ruthless efficiency. Israel is prosperous enough to not need the $3 billion it gets in U.S. aid. Good luck to anyone trying to cut that. Africa is not a vital strategic areas of interest for the United States, but I suspect AFRICOM isn't going anywhere. I've been a big fan of getting the United States out of Central Asia, but critics make a fair point when they observe that the last time the United States tried this gambit, Al Qaeda took advantage of it.
There's been a lot of bragging in the 2012 primary about candidates that have "real world" business experience, and how that translates into an effective ability to govern. That logic is horses**t. Being president is a fundamentally different job than being a CEO -- because countries are not corporations.
Following up on Newt Gingrich and his assessment of threats, I see that the New York Times has a William J. Broad front-pager on Gingrich's obsession with the possibility of adversaries using an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) against the United States:
[I]t is to the risk of an EMP attack that Mr. Gingrich has repeatedly returned. And while the message may play well to hawkish audiences, who might warm to the candidate’s suggestion that the United States engage in pre-emptive military strikes against Iran and North Korea, many nuclear experts dismiss the threat. America’s current missile defense system would thwart such an attack, these experts say, and the nations in question are at the kindergarten stage of developing nuclear arms.
The Missile Defense Agency, an arm of the Pentagon that maintains an arsenal of ground-based interceptors ready to fly into space and smash enemy warheads, says that defeating such an attack would be as straightforward as any other defense of the continental United States.
“It doesn’t matter if the target is Chicago or 100 miles over Nebraska,” said Richard Lehner, an agency spokesman. “For the interceptor, it’s the same thing.” He called the potential damage from a nuclear electromagnetic pulse attack “pretty theoretical.”
Yousaf M. Butt, a nuclear physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who last year did a lengthy analysis of EMP for The Space Review, a weekly online journal, said, “If terrorists want to do something serious, they’ll use a weapon of mass destruction — not mass disruption.” He said, “They don’t want to depend on complicated secondary effects in which the physics is not very clear.”
Mr. Gingrich’s spokesman, R. C. Hammond, did not respond to e-mails asking for comment. But the candidate, a former history professor and House speaker, has defended his characterizations as accurate. At a forum in Des Moines on Saturday for military veterans, Mr. Gingrich said an electromagnetic pulse attack was one of several pressing national security threats the United States faced. “In theory, a relatively small device over Omaha would knock out about half the electricity generated in the United States,” he told the veterans.
I'm neither a security expert nor a rocket scientist. After reading Broad's article, the Space Review annalysis, the rebuttal to that analysis, and Sharon Winberger's excellent FP write-up from last year, however, I'm reasonably confident that the threat posed by EMP is remote for the near-to-medium future. The scenarios in which an EMP would affect the United States rely on a) rogue states making serious leaps forward in their ballistic missile technology and nuclear engineering; and b) those same actors deciding that it's in their national interest to launch a first strike against a country with a reliable second-strike nuclear deterrent.
Nevertheless, I can see why Newt Skywalker would be concerned. Most of the taking-EMP-threat seriously essays harp on the devastating effect of such an attack. Surely, Gingrich would argue, even a small possibility of this actually happening justifies at least some investment into countermeasures and preventive actions. Indeed, Gingrich has explicitly made that argument:
Without adequate preparation, its impact would be so horrifying that we would basically lose our civilization in a matter of seconds.... I think it's very important to get people to understand now, before there is a disaster, how truly grave the threat is.*
Fair enough... let's be generous and say there's a 10% chance of this being a real problem over the next two decades. If that's the case, maybe Gingrich is right to bring it up as an underestimated threat.
Here's my question, however. If we're talking about threats to civilization as we know it, isn't there another possibility that has a much higher probability of occurring -- let's say, better than 50% at least -- and a similarly lax amount of preventive action? Like, say, climate change?
As Uri Friedman and Joshua Keating have documented for FP, however, Gingrich's assessment of that threat has changed recently. Last month, on this issue, he said the following:
I actually don't know whether global warming is occurring.... The earth's temperatures go up and down over geologic times over and over again. As recently as 11,000 years ago the Gulf Stream quit for 600 years. And for 600 years you had an ice age in Europe because there was no warm water coming up. And then it started up again. Nobody knows why it quit, nobody knows why it started up. I'm agnostic.
This is fascinating. On the one hand, you have a long-term cataclysmic threat to the planet that commands the consensus of an overwhelming majority of experts in the field. On the other hand, you have a long-term cataclysmic threat to the United States that commands nowhere close to the same level of consensus. Based on his rhetoric, Gingrich wants urgent action to be taken on the latter, but not the former. Why?
I'm not bringing this up to suggest that Gingrich is a buffoon. He could plausibly argue that a lot of people are harping on climate change while only Gingrich can call attention to the EMP possibility. It's possible that the costs of preventive action on climate change are much greater than dealing with EMP (though if that includes preventive attacks on Iran and North Korea, I'm dubious).
What I'm wondering is whether there is a partisan divide in assessing threats, as there is in assessing economic principles. I wonder if conservatives are far more likely to focus on threats in which there is a clear agent with a malevolent intent, whereas liberals are more likely to focus on threats that lack agency and are more systemic in nature (climate change, pandemics, nuclear accidents, etc.)
What do you think?
*Incidentally, this is the same logic I used to justify greater research into the threat posed by the living dead. Just saying....
I have a long essay in The Spectator (U.K.) on the state of foreign policy thinking among the GOP 2012 presidential candidates. Here's me not pulling my punches:
During the 2008 US presidential election cycle, the respected journal Foreign Affairs invited the leading presidential candidates from both parties to outline their views of world politics. All of them responded with essays that, one presumes, they at least read if did not write. This year, ahead of next year’s elections, Foreign Affairs has proffered the same invitation to the leading Republican aspirants. To date, they have all refused or not responded. This parallels the trend of not talking about international affairs in their endless series of presidential debates: mentions of Afghanistan and Iraq are reported to be down 65 per cent from 2008.
One could argue that these candidates are denying Americans an opportunity to understand their thinking about international relations. Having investigated the policy platforms of the Republican field, however, I have concluded that most of them have done Americans a huge favour. The Grand Old Party candidates’ current thinking on foreign affairs is a noxious mixture of cowardice, belligerence, ignorance — and, unfortunately, political savvy.
Read the whole thing. Two additional thoughts.
1) The Spectator left a few things on the cutting-room floow because of space constraints. For example, the essay fails to mention Jon Hunstman. In my original essay, he did get mentioned in a foootnote after I had slammed the field for the umpteenth time, explaining:
To be fair, former U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman has demonstrated a superior command of foreign policy issues. He's also polling so badly that he failed to qualify for CNN's October 18 debate. Tim Pawlenty was another candidate who bothered to address the Council on Foreign Relations on global matters; he withdrew from the race in August of this year.
The other thing that got excised was my point that foreign policy and national security used to be a very important compnent of presidential elections:
[A]s an international relations specialist, I find the state of the state of the GOP foreign policy debate to be utterly depressing, but as a political scientist, I'm unsurprised. Still, as an American citizen, this state of affairs is disconcerting on multiple levels. We are not that far removed from elections in which foreign affairs and national security were the crucial issues in a campaign. Gerald Ford sabotaged his 1976 campaign when he insisted that there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Both Michael Dukakis and John Kerry doomed their campaigns by appearing weak and vacillating on national security.
2) I haven't overtly talked about my own personal political beliefs since the blog moved to FP, but this seems to be an appropriate time to bring it up
and then never speak of it again. When I've published essays like this before, I find liberals write "even conservative Dan Drezner..." while conservatives often deploy terms like "academic elitist" or "RINO."
In my case, at this point in time, I believe that last appellation to be entirely fair and accurate. I'm not a Democrat, and I don't think I've become more liberal over time. That said, three things have affected my political loyalties over the past few years. First, I've become more uncertain about various dimensions of GOP ideology over time. It's simply impossible for me to look at the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 2008 financial crisis and not ponder the myriad ways in which my party has made some categorical errors in judgment. So I'm a bigger fan of the politics of doubt during an era when doubt has been banished in political discourse.
Second, the GOP has undeniably shifted further to the right over the past few years, and while I'm sympathetic to some of these shifts, most of it looks like a mutated version of "cargo cult science" directed at either Ludwig Von Mises or the U.S. Constitution (which, of course, is sacred and inviolate, unless conservatives want to amend it). Sorry, I'm not embracing outdated concepts like the gold standard or repealing the 16th Amendment. Not happening.
Third, David Frum wrote something in New York Magazine that touches on the issues I just discussed, but also articlates something that has been nagging at me for a few years now:
The conservative shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology has ominous real-world consequences for American society. The American system of government can’t work if the two sides wage all-out war upon each other: House, Senate, president, each has the power to thwart the others. In prior generations, the system evolved norms and habits to prevent this kind of stonewalling. For example: Theoretically, the party that holds the Senate could refuse to confirm any Cabinet nominees of a president of the other party. Yet until recently, this just “wasn’t done.” In fact, quite a lot of things that theoretically could be done just “weren’t done.” Now old inhibitions have given way. Things that weren’t done suddenly are done.
Also, things that weren't said are now being said. Or, to be more precise, things that use to be said but ignored are now being taken seroiusly by the GOP's leading lights. Newt Gingrich endorses the notion that Obama has a "Kenyan, anti-colonial" worldview. Mitt Romney claims Obama has been apologizing around the world and no longer believes in American exceptionalism. Herman Cain is [Remember your mercy rule!!--ed.].... Herman Cain. There's good, solid partisanship -- a vital necessity in this country -- and then there's unadulterated horses**t. Too much of the GOP's rhetoric on Obama reads like the latter to me.
So for those reasons, I really am a Republican in Name Only at this point. And I say this for the GOP's benefit. The next time someone writes, "even the Republican Dan Drezner has said...." GOP partisans should feel perfectly entitled to link to this post and call me a RINO. Because it's true.
Your humble blogger has just completed writing a long essay on the 2012 candidates and their foreign policy views that will be coming out soon. Readers will be shocked, shocked to learn that it's pretty scathing.
I'm hardly the only person to make this point. When Senator Lindsay Graham is castigating his fellow Republicans, you know there's a problem. FP's own David Rothkopf thinks this is a harbinger of Obama winning re-election. And now the New York Times' Michael Shear reports that the GOP presidential candidates' myriad foreign policy gaffes are starting to embarrass the Republicans' foreign policy wonks:
[T]he embarrassing moments are piling up, and some veteran Republicans are beginning to wonder whether the cumulative effect weakens the party brand, especially in foreign policy and national security, where Republicans have typically dominated Democrats.
“It is an ‘Animal House.’ It’s a food fight,” said Kenneth Duberstein, a chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan. “Honestly, the Republican debates have become a reality show. People have to be perceived as being capable of governing this country, of being the leader of the free world.” ....
[S]ome veterans of past Republican administrations said the candidates’ national security stumbles could have a more lasting impact on how voters perceive the party in the future.
“This is the core of the Republican brand. You mess with it at your peril,” said Peter Feaver, a national security official under President George W. Bush. He compared the foreign policy flubs to reports about safety problems in Toyota vehicles.
“The whole reason you bought a Toyota was so that you didn’t have those problems,” he said. “It cuts directly to the essence of the brand. Republicans should be concerned about this.”
George W. Bush confronted some of the same concerns in his party during his 2000 campaign, especially after he was unable to name the leader of Chechnya, Taiwan, India or Pakistan. But Mr. Bush surrounded himself with veteran Republican foreign policy advisers who helped reassure the doubters.
Peter Wehner, a former speechwriter for Mr. Bush, said that “in the short run, you can do some damage to the so-called brand,” but he said long-term damage would happen only if the party’s presidential nominee made such mistakes.
“The key thing is the nominee,” Mr. Wehner said. “One worries, if you are a Republican, if you get too many statements like this.”
Mr. Wehner said many of the Republican candidates had demonstrated a “pride in ignorance and a lack of knowledge.” But he predicted that voters would not reward those kinds of appeals during the primaries and caucuses.
Peter is a good friend, and I don't like to see him this anguished in print, so let me say that for once I agree with Peter Wehner. Six months from now, when we know who the GOP nominee will be, I suspect a lot of the ignorance on display right now will be forgotten.
I say this because, oddly enough, even before a vote has been cast, the political ecosystem actually seems to be working. Sure, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain have had their moments in the sun -- and then the media reported on them, and people actually listened to what they were saying. At which point, they crashed and burned. They didn't only crash and burn because of their foreign policy gaffes -- but I don't think they helped.
I can understand if international observers look at what's been said and gasp in horror at the American process of selecting a major party nominee. In the end, however, the difference between the system now and the system fifty years ago is that nowadays someone like Cain can enter the race. Before, the barriers to entry would have been higher. Now, the barriers to entry are low, but the crucible of the campaign is far more fierce. So people like Cain or Bachmann can enter and then be destroyed.
At this juncture, it looks like Mitt Romney is the most likely nominee, and he's also the candidate who's done the most heavy lifting in thinking about foreign policy. There's a lot of stuff to criticize in his foreign policy views, to be sure -- but that's true of Barack Obama as well. Romney does pass the test of someone whohas some background knowledge about the world, and someone who has actually bothered to think about the subject. Post-primary, that will be the foreign policy brand of the GOP.
[And if it's not Romney?--ed. Then it's Newt Gingrich, who, again, has demonstrated a little knowledge about foreign affairs. Throw in Rick Santorum and Jon Hunstman as wild card candidates yet to have their bubble. Huntsman clearly knows foreign affairs, and that's also been Santorum's strength in the debates.]
Don't worry, Peter -- the wheel is turning.
Centrist pollster Douglas Schoen has an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal that reports on some polling his firm did of the Occupy Wall Street protestors:
The protesters have a distinct ideology and are bound by a deep commitment to radical left-wing policies. On Oct. 10 and 11, Arielle Alter Confino, a senior researcher at my polling firm, interviewed nearly 200 protesters in New York's Zuccotti Park. Our findings probably represent the first systematic random sample of Occupy Wall Street opinion.
Our research shows clearly that the movement doesn't represent unemployed America and is not ideologically diverse. Rather, it comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence. Half (52%) have participated in a political movement before, virtually all (98%) say they would support civil disobedience to achieve their goals, and nearly one-third (31%) would support violence to advance their agenda....
What binds a large majority of the protesters together—regardless of age, socioeconomic status or education—is a deep commitment to left-wing policies: opposition to free-market capitalism and support for radical redistribution of wealth, intense regulation of the private sector, and protectionist policies to keep American jobs from going overseas.
Sixty-five percent say that government has a moral responsibility to guarantee all citizens access to affordable health care, a college education, and a secure retirement—no matter the cost. By a large margin (77%-22%), they support raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, but 58% oppose raising taxes for everybody, with only 36% in favor. And by a close margin, protesters are divided on whether the bank bailouts were necessary (49%) or unnecessary (51%).
Thus Occupy Wall Street is a group of engaged progressives who are disillusioned with the capitalist system and have a distinct activist orientation.
Now there are two ways to look at this data. The first, as many sympathizers with the movement have done, is to impugn the pollster's politics, his methods, and the ways in which he's inferring broad political generalizatiions from the data.
These points are worth considering, though looking at the precise questions asked compared to his inferences, I'm not seeing all that much conceptual stretching. Plus, Schoen's results seem to jibe pretty strongly with a smaller New York poll of 100 protestors conducted earlier this month.Furthermore, consider Nate Silver's analysis of the protests that took place over the weekend across the globe. In looking at turnout, Silver arrives at a similar -- thouugh not identical -- conclusion:
The nascent movement known as Occupy Wall Street had its largest single day of protests on Saturday. And a funny thing happened: most of the action was far from Wall Street itself....
Over all, about 38,000 protesters — more than half of the documented total — turned out in the Western Census Bureau Region, which accounts for about 23 percent of the country’s population. On a per-capita basis, the West drew about two-and-a-half times more protesters than the Northeast, four times more than the Midwest, and five times more than the South. And it wasn’t necessarily in large cities — although places like Los Angeles and Seattle had large crowds, so did the wine-and-cheese town of Santa Rosa, Calif., and the college town of Eugene, Ore. among others.....
This could be due to a number of factors. Perhaps it has something to do with race, for instance. Cities where African-Americans make up a majority of the population, like Detroit, New Orleans and Cleveland, have tended to have underwhelming numbers of protesters and poorly organized Occupy groups. (There are plenty of those cities in the South, the Northeast and even the Midwest — but not really in the western United States).
Or maybe it has something to do with technology: Much of the organizational activity for the Occupy movement has taken place online, and the West Coast is particularly tech-savvy.
I suspect that more than anything, however, it reflects the politics of the protesters. Specifically, they tend to be more liberal than they are Democratic partisans. Take liberalism, subtract the Democratic Party, and the remainder might look something like Occupy Wall Street (emphasis added).
There needs to be more data, but Schoen's results don't seem out of line with the other data points.
It took me a couple of hours of reading, cogitation, and regurgitation to critique Mitt Romney's foreign policy positions. Clearly, I didn't think it was perfect, or even all that good in many places. But, I had to assess it, mull over the content... you know, think.
Now, I desperately want to be an equal opportunity blogger, and at this point Herman Cain appears to be the co-frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination. Sure, I've had my fun with him in the past, and he has no shortage of foreign policy gaffes, but I figured that impromptu utterances during debates are only one part of a candidate's overall policy vision. The thoughts that are written down, they imply some forethought. So I thought I'd go over to Cain's campaign website and spend an equal amount of time to analyze his foreign policy thinking.
I found.... a total of five paragraphs on "national security." That's it. No white papers, fact sheets, bullet points, or list of advisors. So you gotta think that these are going to be the most awesome and mind-blowing foreign policy paragraphs ever!!!
Let's jump right in:
The primary duty of the President of the United States is to protect our people. In fact, it is the principal duty of a limited federal government. They must ensure that our military and all of our security agencies are strong and capable.
I'm with you so far, Mr. Cain -- my only objection is your odd pronoun choice of "they."
Unfortunately, national security has become far too politicized with our elected officials using the issue as a means to polarize our country as the “war hawks” and the “peace doves.” In response, the safety and morale of our brave men and women in uniform are often at risk for political gain. The judgment of our military experts on the ground is often underutilized in exchange for political purposes. National security isn’t about politics. It’s about defending America.
Let me just stop you right here and ask a few questions. First, which elected officials are politicizing national security -- could you be a bit more specific? Second, just out of curiosity, is President Obama a "war hawk" or a peace dove"? I mean, he's pretty hard to categorize at this point, right -- maybe a "peace hawk" or a "war dove"? So if the commander-in-chief doesn't fit your typology, is it at all useful? Also, when you accuse others of politicizing national security issues, aren't you, well, playing politics with national security?
While diplomacy is a critical tool in solving the complex security issues we face, it must never compromise military might. Because we are such a free and prosperous people, we are the envy of the world. Many regimes seek to destroy us because they are threatened by our ideals, and they resent our prosperity. We must acknowledge the real and present danger that terrorist nations and organizations pose to our country’s future.
On this "many regimes seek to destroy us" business -- can you give me more than one example? I'm not talking about a lot of countries, all you need to provide is a few.
Further, we must stand by our friends and we must not be fooled by our enemies. We should never be deceived by terrorists. They only have one objective, namely, to kill all of us. We must always remain vigilant in dealing with adversaries.
Now my head is starting to spin. What if an enemy pretends to be a friend just to fool us -- you know, like Lindsey Lohan in Mean Girls? What do we do then? How do we know you won't be fooled? Also, if you think terrorists only have one goal, how could they ever deceive us?
We must support our military with the best training, equipment, technology and infrastructure necessary to keep them in a position to win. We must also provide our men and women in uniform, our veterans and their families with the benefits they deserve for their tremendous sacrifice. These heroes have served us. We must never forget to serve them.
This "pro-winning" national security policy is quite daring and provocative.
So, that's it. Nothing on great power politics, nothing on foreign economic policy, nothing on our alliances, nothing on any particular region of the globe. Nothing but a faint whiff of Carl Schmitt's logic of friends and enemies. This is actually worse than Rick Perry's efforts, in that I don't think it passes the Turing Test.
Cain is busy promoting his new book, This Is Herman Cain!, so I checked it out to see if there was anything more illuminating on foreign policy. And, indeed, there were two revealing facts. On page 131, he states:
I can tell you what the Cain Doctrine would be: if you mess with Israel, you're messing with the United States of America. Is that clear?
Actually, that is clear. Unfortunately, we get to the problem on p. 133:
It's difficult to say how the Cain Doctrine would apply to the Middle East's other countries, especially those affected by the "Arab Spring," and to nations elsewhere in the world.
OK, that's totally unclear. Could you provide any more guidance to your thinking?
I'm not trying to escape the broader issues, but I think a President should first be briefed on classified intelligence about America's relationships before offering opinions.
The public doesn't know the answers to those [foreign policy] questions, and neither do I.
Three thoughts. First, you're totally trying to escape the broader issues. Second, if one accepted this logic at face value, then a president could never articulate anything useful on foreign policy in public, since the rest of us ain't going to be briefed on these matters anytime soon.
Third, I am 100% in agreement with Mr. Cain: he hasn't the faintest clue what to do when it comes to American foreign policy.
Am I missing anything? Seriously, is there anything Cain has written that displays anything resembling an understanding of how foreign policy works?
As the economy has been weakening, the odds of the GOP producing the president of the United States in 2013 has been increasing, which means I've been watching the debates, including last night's CNN Tea Party debate.
Last night's debate followed the same pattern as the other ones I've seen -- the ratio of domestic policy to foreign policy questions was about 80:20 -- maybe 70:30 if one considers immigration to be a foreign-policy question. International political economy is barely addressed at all, except in glancing references to China's ownership of U.S. debt. My Twitter feed has been overflowing with laments like this one during all of the debates.
Now, as a Foreign Policy Wonk in Good Standing, you might imagine that I'm pretty upset about this. International relations is half the job of being POTUS, after all, so one would expect half the debate time to be devoted to it. Goodness knows, the performance of some of the GOP candidates has given me serious pause about their ability to execute even a semi-competent foreign policy.
In truth, however, I can't get all that worked up about it, for two reasons. The first is that these debates are an attempt to influence voters -- and, to repeat a theme, the overwhelming majority of voters do not care about foreign affairs. This has been true as a general rule, even during wartime, and is even truer during a down economy. It should be noted that social policy questions have also been on the margins during these debates because this election is about the economy, the economy, and the economy. Foreign-policy wonks will begrudge the lack of globotalk -- that's what we do. I'm not going to begrudge the American people getting more time to hear candidates talk about issues that they think are the most important, however.
The second reason -- and this is more informed speculation than a statement of fact -- is that foreign-policy promises made during campaigns don't matter as much for governing as domestic policy promises. As Ron Paul reminded people last night, George W. Bush won the presidency in 2000 on a platform of "no authority in the Constitution to be the policeman of the world, and no nation-building." I think it's safe to say that's not how he ran his foreign policy.
Similarly, think back to Barack Obama's foreign-policy pledges during the 2008 primary season. He had two highlights. The first was a statement that he'd be happy to sit down without conditions and meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That hasn't happened despite Ahmadinejad's repeated entreaties for an open debate. Obama's other highlight came when he and Hillary Clinton sparred over who would renegotiate NAFTA first. Again … that hasn't happened (and thank goodness for that).
I could go on -- Bill Clinton reversed his campaign pledge to let in Haitian refugees before he even took office. You get the point, however. Stepping back, it's hard to think of any significant foreign-policy campaign promises made in the modern era that actually mattered. I hereby challenge the commenters -- and BA and MA students desperately in search of a thesis -- to provide counterexamples.
To be clear, I'm not saying that foreign-policy issues are completely irrelevant. The contrast between Obama and Hillary Clinton on Iraq clearly affected the 2008 primary, for example. I'm hypothesizing that pronouncements about future foreign policy don't seem to matter. I suspect that this is for two reasons. First, as previously noted, voters don't care about these pledges all that much. Second, the world keeps changing, and so any new president needs to adapt to new circumstances.
In contrast, domestic policy promises made during campaigns do matter. Signal statements -- Obama on health care, Bush 43 on tax cuts -- mattered in the execution of policy. The most famous counterexample -- Bush 41 going back on his no-new-tax pledge -- proves the rule, as it cost him dearly. So what candidates say during these portions of the debates matters more.
Just to be clear, these are hypotheses and not conclusions. A cursory scan of the literature didn't turn up anything, but I'm betting someone has studied this question. I'm not sure I'm right here, and I'd welcome pushback or confirmation in the comments.
What do you think?
Over the weekend Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell wrote a Washington Post op-ed suggesting that for the good of the country and the Democratic Party, Barack Obama should announce he won't seek re-election in 2012. My first response was that this was the dumbest op-ed I'd read in a decade, but upon further reflection... it's just the second-dumbest (I'd forgotten about this one). Even Barack Obama's harshest critics thought this was a foolhardy idea.
Slate's David Weigel doesn't go that far, merely labeling it "the worst column of the year." That said, he points out that regardless of its stupidity, a lot of people are talking about it. This suggests a serious flaw in the idea ecosystem:
A typical Post column may get a few hundred comments, a few hundred recommendations on Facebook. George Will's bitter I-told-you-so about the Chevy Volt, for example, has inspired around 700 "likes" on Facebook. Caddell and Schoen have inspired almost 5,000 "likes" and almost 2,000 comments (and counting), in what has become the paper's most-read piece of the day. Undoubtedly they've inspired some smaller number of TV producers to book "One and Done" segments, even though no one buys the Schoen/Caddell argument that Obama could achieve more by declaring himself a lame duck....
This is the paradox of the opinion industry: If it sounds stupid, it leads. If it's counterintuitive, it's surely because the columnist has found a fresh angle on a mundane problem, and this angle will produce insights. Data is unexciting, especially if it's the same data everyone else has. Discussions of fantasy scenarios that could prove your theories right? Exciting!
This is just as much of a problem in international politics as domestic politics. If there's a crisis somewhere, inevitably someone will suggest the use of force even if it's wildly inappropriate, and someone else will suggest that the United States just withdraw its influence completely and immediately, even if it's wildly impractical. If it's dumb, it goes on Page One! [Um....op-ed pages are in the back of newspapers, and everyone reads them online now anyway--ed. Hey, you get your fact-based arguments away from my imperfect rhyming scheme!] I mean, in talking about how stupid Schoen and Caddell's argument is, I'm calling attention to Schoen and Caddell's argument.
This was less of a problem in the bad old days, when powerful gatekeepers to the opinion industry weeded out the non-mainstream viewpoints. Of course, the best and the brightest of the mainstream had some galactically stupid ideas too. I'm not suggesting we return to that world -- it's neither possible nor desirable.
When it comes to policy debates I'm always on the side of John Stuart Mill -- the best way to deal with stupid arguments is to counter them with better arguments in the public sphere. That said, there's a serious cost to this philosophy in a world in which the stupid ideas can command the policy agenda. The opportunity cost to the inordinate amount of time that is spent swatting away these ideas is that less time is spent debating policies and ideas that have a real chance of being enacted. Furthermore, sometimes the dumbass idea just goes into hibernation among a few die-hard believers until a propitious moment arises for its zombie revival.
In the end, I think Mill still carries the day. Still, every once in a while, it sure would be nice not to have to waste the energy and the attention on stupid policy ideas.
I'm still on vacation -- did anything of note happen over the weekend?
Oh, I see: "probably the biggest thing to become law in 50 years." Well, so long as no one is engaging in hyperbole.
I have nothing to say about the content of the health care bill, but I do wonder whether there will be any positive or negative foreign policy externalities. FP's Joshua Keating provided one humorous example of how the passage of the bill can reframe the Obama narrative on foreign policy in a positive way.
On the other hand, Shadow Government's Dan Blumenthal correctly points out the ways in which Obama neglected foreign policy during the run-up to the bill's passage. This is not surprising -- presidents turn their fortunes around through domestic accomplishments and revived economic growth, not foreign policy achievements -- but it's a reality that Obama needs to confront going forward.
The one thing health care passage might do for Obama is add a dollop of respect for Obama's political acumen among other world leaders. Obama just got the #1 Democratic policy concern written into law after a year of long, drawn-out negotiations, and that's not nothing. Allied leaders might be more willing to give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt when dealing with long, drawn-out international negotiations.
What do you think?
Last month, both on this blog and on my Twitter feed, I defended the notion that political scientists would be uber-interested in John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime. I was generally sympathetic to Jack Shafer's defense of their sourcing methods in Slate. And, in that spirit, I ordered Game Change, ready to dig deep into campaign gossip and the flawed nature of politicians.
Well, I've finished the book -- as well as the 20-minute shower I needed to take after reading the book. And I hereby retract any and all enthusiasm for Game Change-- because I don't know which parts of it are true and which parts are not.
[Um... does anyone care anymore?--ed. This is the
#10 #15 book on Amazon's bestseller list, so I'm going to say yes.]
My problem is not, exactly, with the sourcing -- it's with the gullibility of Heilemann and Halperin when dealing with their sources. So, just to be clear, the political scientist in me doesn't loathe this book because of the narrative structure -- it's because I don't trust Heilemann and Halperin's BS detector.
It was on page 89 that I began to wonder just how much Game Change's authors double-checked their sources. This section of the book recounts entertainment mogul David Geffen's "break" with Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign -- most publicly, in this Maureen Dowd column.
And so, we get to this paragraph in Game Change:
The reaction to the column stunned Geffen. Beseiged by interview requests, he put out a statement saying Dowd had quoted him accurately. Some of Geffen's friends in Hollywood expressed disbelief. Warren Beatty told him, She's going to be president of the United States--you must be nuts to have done this. But many more congratulated Geffen for having the courage to say what everyone else was thinking but was too afraid to put on the record. They said he'd made them feel safer openly supporting or donating to Obama. Soon after, when Geffen visited New York, people in cars on Madison Avenue beeped their horns and gave him the thumbs-up as he walked down the street (emphasis added).
I'm calling bulls**t on the bolded sentence. David Geffen is a powerful mogul, but he's not a photogenic celebrity in his own right. I'm pretty confident in asserting that no one driving down Madison Avenue would recognize Geffen walking down the street. I have complete confidence that no more than one person did this.
Furthermore, even if there was a small chance that someone did recognize Geffen on the street, how would a honking horn indicate sympathy with Geffen's political inclinations as opposed to, say, a sentiment more like, "Yo, David, will you listen to my demo?!"
So, who is the "deep background" source of this little anecdote for Game Change? It has to be Geffen -- he is, after all, so vain. And so we arrive at the first key question: what does it say about the veracity of Game Change that Geffen related a completely implausible, ego-boosting story about himself to Heilemann and Halperin and it gets printed in the book?
This leads to the second key question: what other "telling anecdotes" of dubious provenance got put into this book? The Geffen anecdote is has zero impact on the juicy stories told in the rest of the book -- but how can I be certain that Heilemann and Halperin vetted those sources with greater scrutiny?
I don't doubt that most of Game Change is accurate -- and I couldn't put the book down as I was reading it. I just don't trust what I read.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.