Paul Krugman is a very smart and very annoying person. Over the past few years he's been hammering away at political and economic advocates for austerity policies with unmitigated glee and derision. He does so with a brio and condescension that some people can find off-putting -- but that doesn't mean that he's wrong.
After pummeling "austerians" for much of the essay, Krugman then endeavors to explain why so many policymakers and pundits still favor such policies:
The turn to austerity was very real, and quite large.
On the face of it, this was a very strange turn for policy to take. Standard textbook economics says that slashing government spending reduces overall demand, which leads in turn to reduced output and employment. This may be a desirable thing if the economy is overheating and inflation is rising; alternatively, the adverse effects of reduced government spending can be offset. Central banks (the Fed, the European Central Bank, or their counterparts elsewhere) can cut interest rates, inducing more private spending. However, neither of these conditions applied in early 2010, or for that matter apply now. The major advanced economies were and are deeply depressed, with no hint of inflationary pressure. Meanwhile, short-term interest rates, which are more or less under the central bank’s control, are near zero, leaving little room for monetary policy to offset reduced government spending. So Economics 101 would seem to say that all the austerity we’ve seen is very premature, that it should wait until the economy is stronger.
The question, then, is why economic leaders were so ready to throw the textbook out the window.…
Everyone loves a morality play. “For the wages of sin is death” is a much more satisfying message than “Shit happens.” We all want events to have meaning.
When applied to macroeconomics, this urge to find moral meaning creates in all of us a predisposition toward believing stories that attribute the pain of a slump to the excesses of the boom that precedes it—and, perhaps, also makes it natural to see the pain as necessary, part of an inevitable cleansing process. When Andrew Mellon told Herbert Hoover to let the Depression run its course, so as to “purge the rottenness” from the system, he was offering advice that, however bad it was as economics, resonated psychologically with many people (and still does).
By contrast, Keynesian economics rests fundamentally on the proposition that macroeconomics isn't a morality play—that depressions are essentially a technical malfunction.
Now this sounds a little far-fetched -- I mean, it's not as if pundits and policymakers can be that economically illiterate, right?
And then, as if Krugman planned it all along, along comes Michael Kinsley in the New Republic -- responding to a different Krugman essay that makes similar points -- with an essay titled "Paul Krugman's Misguided Moral Crusade Against Austerity." I think one of the points Kinsley is trying to make is that the policy divide between austerians and anti-austerians in Washington isn't as great as Krugman portrays. That's likely correct in Washington. During debates this year, even austerity "advocates" like John Boehner have made noises about not wanting to turn off the fiscal tap too soon, and even austerity "critics" like Barack Obama have talked about the need for fiscal rectitude. So yes, even austerity's critics sound austerity-curious at times.
Still, the guts of Kinsley's essay are … problematic. Some highlights:
It’s easier to describe what the anti-austerians believe than the austerians themselves. Anti-austerians believe that governments around the world need to stop worrying about their debts for a while and continue pouring money into the economy until the threat of recession or worse is well and truly over. Austerians want the opposite. But what is the opposite? Is President Barack Obama, for example, an austerian? To Republicans and conservatives, no: He pushed through a stimulus package of almost a trillion dollars early in his first term, and remains a symbol of “big spending.” To liberals and Democrats, yes: They feel we need a second and much larger stimulus and Obama has let us all down.…
Austerians believe, sincerely, that their path is the quicker one to prosperity in the longer run. This doesn’t mean that they have forgotten the lessons of Keynes and the Great Depression. It means that they remember the lessons of Paul Volcker and the Great Stagflation of the late 1970s. “Stimulus” is strong medicine—an addictive drug—and you don’t give the patient more than you absolutely have to.…
Krugman also is on to something when he talks about paying a price for past sins. I don’t think suffering is good, but I do believe that we have to pay a price for past sins, and the longer we put it off, the higher the price will be. And future sufferers are not necessarily different people than the past and present sinners. That’s too easy. Sure let’s raise taxes on the rich. But that’s not going to solve the problem. The problem is the great, deluded middle class—subsidized by government and coddled by politicians. In other words, they are you and me. If you make less than $250,000 a year, Obama has assured us, you are officially entitled to feel put-upon and resentful. And to be immune from further imposition.
Austerians don’t get off on other people’s suffering. They, for the most part, honestly believe that theirs is the quickest way through the suffering. They may be right or they may be wrong. When Krugman says he’s only worried about “premature” fiscal discipline, it becomes largely a question of emphasis anyway. But the austerians deserve credit: They at least are talking about the spinach, while the Krugmanites are only talking about dessert. [Emphasis added.]
OK, so, a few things:
1) No Republican or conservative, anywhere in the United States, will claim that Barack Obama is an austerian. I'm just gonna assume that this is a typo and move on. [Editor's note: The typo has been cleared up on the New Republic's website, and the block quote above has been corrected.]
2) Stagflation in the 1970s was caused primarily by an inward shift of the aggregate supply curve due to a surge in commodity prices, particularly energy. Some central banks responded with accommodating monetary policies that accelerated inflation even further. Fiscal policy was an innocent bystander to this whole shebang. So I honestly don't know what the hell Kinsley is talking about.
More importantly, the current macroeconomic climate is really, really different from the 1970s. Inflation was a Big Bad Problem during that decade. It is not a problem right now. If inflation were spiking, then a genuine debate could be had on macroeconomic policy options. But that's not the case.
3) In his final paragraphs, Kinsley has managed to epitomize the exact critique that Krugman has served up.
The irony of this whole thing is that the Congressional Budget Office's recent figures put the lie to Kinsey's hidden assumption that the federal budget deficit is getting bigger and bigger. Right now it's shrinking at the fastest rate in postwar economic history.
The CBO also warns that the deficit will start to balloon up again due to entitlement spending, which suggests that Kinsley has half a point about thinking through entitlement reform. The thing is, that's a structural problem, not a business cycle problem. Kinsley et al. are acting as if the current fiscal climate demands immediate budgetary actions. And it doesn't -- it really, really doesn't.
Look, I think Paul Krugman has a few policy blind spots. His method of argumentation alienates as many people as it attracts. But he's not wrong when he's talking about austerity. In his response, Michael Kinsley has managed to embody the conventional wisdom in Washington -- and in doing so, embody every policy caricature of Paul Krugman's worldview.
Am I missing anything?
As Uri Friedman has chronicled elsewhere at FP, yesterday Dennis Rodman took to Twitter to engage in some outreach to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with respect to an American "tried" for espionage in the Hermit Kingdom:
I'm calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea or as I call him "Kim", to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose.— Dennis Rodman (@dennisrodman) May 7, 2013
Now I can only assume that "Kim," will react to such a moving plea by releasing Bae immediately.
This got your humble blogger to thinking: If only Twitter had been invented earlier, think of the humanitarian catastrophes that celebrities might have helped avert. Had Twitter arrived with, say, the end of the Cold War, this alternative history would likely have produced the following example of preventative celebrity tweets:
1) "Yo yo yo Saddam, don't bake in the Kuwaiti dessert when you could be chillin' with me in Cabo!! Peace out!!" -- Vanilla Ice (@VanillaIce), January 3, 1991
2) "The Big Aristotle knows that Hutus and Tutsis can get along. So I'm asking them to stop the madness. And go see Kazaam two years from now!!" -- Shaquille Oneal (@SHAQ), April 23, 1994.
3) "The Muscles from Brussels is asking my old drinking buddy "Slobo" to pay up on his bar bet and negotiate a peace deal for Bosnia." -- Jean-Claude Van Damme (@JCVD), November 1, 1995.
4) "WHASSSSSSSSSSSUP???!!! Hopefully no more anthrax attacks. Seriously, whoever's doing that should stop, man." -- Jonathan Taylor Thomas (@JTTtruth), September 30, 2001.
5) "I'm really happy for you, imma let you finish, GWB, but Putin is one of the best strongmen of all time, and he should stop cracking down." -- Kanye West (@kanyewest), May 3, 2005.
Readers are welcome to suggest other lost tweets out there in the comments.
Six weeks ago I discussed -- as a dispassionate political scientist -- why the field of political science was good and truly f**ked when it came to Congress. Yesterday, Dave Weigel blogged about this at more length. The depressing parts version:
Attacking government-funded social science is popular, especially on the right. Last week, Texas Republican Rep. Ted Poe and Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul introduced a bill that would change the American Community Survey, sent annually to a random selection of 3.2 million people, from mandatory to optional. If Americans didn’t want to fill it out, even if that would render it mostly useless as data, the private sector would do just fine.
When I asked Poe to explain how that information would be collected without the Community Survey, he said, “There are other ways to get the same information about the dynamics of business, and where to locate a business. You can do it through polling. You don’t have to force people to participate.”
Social scientists don’t agree, but it’s difficult for them to justify their own funding in a time of severe government cutbacks....
The new attempts to claw away at research have gone on for months, and the academics haven’t put up a compelling defense beyond one event on the Hill and the yeoman blogging of some professors like John Sides. “Going forward,” Sides wrote after Coburn’s win, “a coordinated lobbying effort is needed not only to roll back the restrictions on political science but to defend the NSF’s core mission as a promoter of scientific research in the public good, broadly defined.”
So far that lobbying effort doesn’t exist. Instead, Republicans are able to challenge NSF funding in order to pursue long-term political goals without too many people noticing.
To understand further why this will be so difficult, let's go to the video clip of the week, which right now is probably the revenge fantasy of every political scientist out there. Via the Military Times, this is General Ray Odierno chewing out House Representative Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), with the bemused permission of Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon. The chewing out part starts at around 3:30.
Now, watching that clip, it's hard not to conclude that Hunter was taken to the woodshed by Odierno for being an ignorant jackass. That's certainly the conclusion that Gawker, Mediaite, and others came to in promoting the clip.
Now, here's a fun exercise -- what if Odierno had been an irate political scientist rather than a four-star general? I guarantee you that the exchange would have been framed and interpreted differently. Because of the high public respect for the military, when Odierno goes off, people will listen. Not so with academics. Instead of "General smacks down House representative," the headline would have looked more like "Snotty academic preens at elected official."
In fact, we don't need to imagine. Remember this little exchange between House Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and historian Douglas Brinkley from about 18 months ago?
Now, Don Young has all the charisma and grace of a three-month old carton of milk. He's far more insulting and contemptuous of Brinkley in that clip than Duncan Hunter was in trying to walk away from Odierno. The overall effect, however, is different. First, Young's chairman, Doc Hastings, protected Young in a way that McKeon did not protect Hunter, thereby preventing Brinkley from going on a rant.
Second, however, as bad as Young looks in that video, Brinkley doesn't look that much better. He comes off too much like a preening, stuffed-shirt academic.
Unfortunately, that's an occupational hazard. We're trained in graduate school to eviscerate counterarguments and the people who make them. It might be the one sector in the world where Aaron Sorkin-rules of debate hold up. But it only works because everyone in the seminar room or lecture hall understands the context of the debate. That rarely happens when the public peeks in at a YouTube clip of a congressional hearing.
Are there some political scientists who could pull off an Odierno-level smackdown? I suppose it's possible, but I confess to being dubious about its likelihood (suggestions welcomed in the comments section please).
Now, as a political scientist, I should warn you that viral-video-friendly exchanges like the ones linked above rarely shift public opinion. They are one way to frame the stupidity of a particular Congressional jihad, however. And as much as I might fantasize about a Beth Simmons or a Scott Sagan sticking it to Tom Coburn, I'm not confident that it will ever happen.
Am I missing anything? Please tell me I'm missing something...
UPDATE: I received a call in the last hour from Representative Duncan Hunter's deputy chief of staff, who lodged a polite protest over the descriptive term "ignorant jackass," referencing this Politico story. Which is fair enough, but this exchange suggests two things:
1) The staffer didn't read the blog post carefully, because I was using that term to describe how the video made Hunter look -- not whether that depiction was accurate or not.
2) Maybe political scientists blogging/writing for the press actually do have an effect on member of Congress.
Since this week is George W. Bush retrospective week, it's worth pondering some of the possible counterfactuals of that administration. For example, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld played a pretty important role in the foreign policy clusterf**ks that dominated the first six years of that administration. You'd think that an alternative SecDef would have mattered.
It's worth considering the plausible counterfactual, however. Remember that Rumsfeld wasn't Bush's first choice for the job. Initially, Bush interviewed Senator Dan Coats of Indiana. According to Karl Rove, however, "after a couple of face-to-face meetings, the president-elect was concerned whether Coats had the management skill and toughness to do the job." So maybe a counterfactual of Secretary of Defense Coats would have led to a worse outcome!
I bring this up because I watched Dan Coats on ABC's This Week, and it was ... quite a performance. If we go to the transcript, here's his first intervention, on whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be Mirandized:
COATS: I think we should stay with enemy combatant until we find out for sure whether or not there was a link to foreign terrorist organizations.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Even though he's a citizen?
COATS: Even though he's a citizen. There have been exceptions to this before with the public safety issue of course on Miranda rights. But also the fact that he's traveled back to his hometown which is a Muslim area, could have been radicalized back there.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That was his brother though.
Now you have to hand it to Senator Coats here -- inside of ten seconds, he makes a dubious statement about the law and a factually incorrect statement. It wasn't like these were obscure facts, either, like the capital of Chechnya or something. So, great prep work, Senator Coats' staff!
This is just a prelude, however, to Coats' most noteworthy intervention:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, what do you do though if no connection to a specific group is found? Instead we just find that these young men were inspired by al Qaeda, but not directed. That's almost impossible to find.
COATS: Well it is. And that's the reality of the world we're now living in. Because we not only face terrorism from abroad, that is, planned and coordinated. We face these lone wolves or these others or whoever gathers together that has a vengeance or a demented mind or who has been kind of radicalized through over the internet or through a mosque or whatever. We're going to continue to have to understand that is a threat to America also.
That's why we all need to be engaged in not only looking out for this type of thing, but helping identify and see, whether these loners, is there a kid in the classroom that's just --
RADDATZ: He wasn't a loner. He wasn't a loner (emphasis added).
Now in fairness to Senator Coats, it does seem as though the Tsarnaevs were lone wolves without any direct connection to overseas terrorist networks. Still, he got his brothers mixed up again -- as Martha Raddatz points out, there's no evidence that the younger Tsarnaev was a loner.
But let's skip the preliminaries and get to the more basic point. Is Dan Coats suggesting that high schools profile which kids are loners and put them onto a "possible terrorist watch list"? I'm picturing this kind of exercise at a typical high school:
PRINCIPAL: So, what about Jeremy?
TEACHER #1: Well, his grades are pretty good, but he does seem to stare out of the window a lot. And I keep having to yell at him to remove his sunglasses and earbuds in math class.
PRINCIPAL: Hmmm ... does he socialize with the other students?
PRINCIPAL: We can't take any chances after Boston. Put him on the watchlist. Oh, and it's totally Marjorie.
TEACHER #2: SAY WHAT??!! It's obviously Cersei!!
As someone with first-hand experience of loneliness in high school, I'd wager that this kind of exercise would be the dumbest f**king idea in the history of counterterrorism. This sort of half-assed thinking would multiply the amount of alienation and disaffectedness among America's teens.
Now, this isn't the first time Dan Coats has sounded like a dumbass on a morning show. So perhaps, as a public service, someone should suggest that the next time a television show asks him to be on the air to talk homeland security, he go sit in the corner and read up on Type I and Type II errors -- here's a good Cliffs Notes version for the Senator.
Am I missing anything?
The George W. Bush presidential library is having its coming-out party this week. Five years after the end of the Bush administration, it's about time for a push to recalibrate our historical understanding of George W. Bush's legacy. In the Washington Post, Stephen Knott argues that the professional historians have it in for W., and that time
will may vindicate his legacy:
In their hasty, partisan-tinged assessments of Bush, far too many scholars breached their professional obligations, engaging in a form of scholarly malpractice, by failing to do what historians are trained to do before pronouncing judgment on a presidency: conduct tedious archival research, undertake oral history interviews, plow through memoirs, interview foreign leaders and wait for the release of classified information.
There is a difference between punditry and scholarship. The latter requires biding one’s time and offering perspective as the evidence emerges and the passions of the day cool. An assessment of Harry Truman’s presidency looks quite different today than it did immediately after he left the White House in 1953. And no historian, especially Schlesinger, would have predicted in 1961 that 21st-century scholars would rank Dwight Eisenhower among the nation’s greatest presidents.
George W. Bush’s low standing among academics reflects, in part, the rise of partisan scholarship: the use of history as ideology and as a political weapon, which means the corruption of history as history. Bush may not have been a great president; he may even be considered an average or below-average president, but he and — more important — the nation deserve better than this partisan rush to judgment.
Meanwhile, over at the National Journal, Tom DeFrank details how the Bush library, and Bush himself, will push back against this historical bias:
This week’s two days of festivities on the campus of Southern Methodist University, Laura Bush’s alma mater, mark his somewhat reluctant re-emergence into the national spotlight since leaving Washington in 2009. President Obama and the three living Presidents will join 15,000 guests to celebrate the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
The center comprises a Presidential library housing 43,000 artifacts and millions of documents from the eight years of 43’s tenure. The adjoining think tank, informally known as the “freedom institute,” will preach the gospel of Bush’s conservative vision to future generations.
The institute is also designed by Bush as the vehicle to rehab and burnish his legacy with future historians and posterity....
While time is known to heal some wounds and Presidential legacies, money doesn't hurt, either. The institute is bulging with cash, allowing its board to hire like-minded academics and pay some executives more than $650,000 a year....
“As time goes by Bush will benefit from the comparison with Obama,” Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford’s Hoover Institution predicted. “If Obama had been a Bill Clinton-like figure he would have made Bush look like the caricature his opponents have suggested. But Obama has been a great gift for Bush - he’s as polarizing a figure as Bush was.”
OK, so, a few things:
1) The moment you trot out someone as partisan as Victor Davis Hanson to claim that Bush's legacy will outshine Obama's, you've abandoned the argument that Bush is merely the victim of partisan historians.
2) It's good to know that those shameful historians who abandoned dispassionate analysis in favor of a partisan agenda will overwhelmed by the forces for good -- namely, a $500 million wad of cash. And I, for one, look forward to future Knott op-eds praising the nobility of historians who suckled on this teat as paragons of unbiased scholarship.
3) That Truman analogy that Knott uses? Yeah, as Amy Zegart discussed back in 2008, that dog won't hunt.
4) Five years later, is there any dimension of George W. Bush's legacy that will improve with time? Actually, I think the answer is yes on a few fronts.
First, he's been a great ex-president. For such a polarizing political figure, it's remarkable at how successfully Bush has receded into private life. Lest you think that this was his only option, let me introduce you to Dick Cheney's post-vice-presidential path.
Second, ironically, Bush's legacy will be a bit more buoyant because the quality of post-Bush GOP thinking on foreign policy has been so piss-poor that Bush really does look good by comparison. It is worth remembering that, for all of the criticisms of Bush's foreign policy rhetoric, he kept anti-Muslim hysteria somewhat in check. He boosted foreign aid through PEPFAR, which might be his most significant foreign policy legacy. And the Bush foreign policy of 2008 looked dramatically different from the Bush foreign policy of 2003, which suggests some degree of adaptation and learning.
Third, the performance of Bush's economic team in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis probably deserves more credit than it gets. Despite being a wildly unpopular lame-duck president, Bush still was able to implement a series of international moves (convening the G-20 rather than the G-8) and domestic moves (TARP, the auto bailout) that prevented the crisis from metastasizing into another Great Depression.
All that said, however, there are some cold hard facts that cannot be erased. George W. Bush helmed a war of choice that proved, in the end, to impose powerful constraints (though perhaps not system-changing) for American foreign policy. He pursued his foreign policy aims in such a way as to dramatically lower U.S. standing abroad. He was at the helm when all of the pressures that triggered the 2008 financial crisis were building up and did next to nothing to stop them. And five years later, the GOP is still wrestling with the negative aspects of his political legacy.
At best, George W. Bush was a well-meaning man who gave the occasional nice speech and was thoroughly overmatched by events. At worst, he was the most disastrous foreign policy president of the post-1945 era.
Am I missing anything?
Earlier in the week I blogged about Operation Iraqi Freedom's effect on the international system (not much) and its effect on American foreign policy (pretty significant). Moving from the systemic to the domestic to the individual level, this last Iraqi retrospective post asks a more solipsistic question. How has Operation Iraqi Freedom affected me as a foreign policy writer?
Ten years ago I supported the decision to invade Iraq. If you're looking for another of the many apologies that have been penned this week, don't bother. I offered my Iraq apology six years ago. Looking back, I'm just grateful that I wasn't all that influential a foreign policy pundit back in the day.
What gnaws at me is why my analytical assessment was so wrong. I can't really blame this on Beltway groupthink. Hell, at the University of Chicago, two of the leading anti-war proponents were just a floor below my office. As I was blogging during the debates in the run-up to the war, I'd like to thjink I engaged critics frequently and in depth.
After reading some of the self-reflections this week, however, I'm beginning to think that my flaw was generational in nature. John B. Judis wrote something interesting on this earlier in the week on why he was so dubious about Operation Iraq Freedom:
I opposed the war, and didn’t listen to those who claimed to have “inside information” probably because I had come of age politically during the Vietnam War and had learned then not to trust government justifications for war. I had backed the first Bush administration’s Gulf War, but precisely because of its limited aims. Ditto the Clinton administration intervention in Kosovo. George W. Bush’s aims in Iraq were similar to American aims in South Vietnam. During those months leading up to the war, I kept having déjà vu experiences, which failed to interest my colleagues. Still, I wavered after Colin Powell’s thoroughly deceptive speech at the United Nations in February 2003, where he unveiled what he claimed was evidence of Iraqi nuclear preparations. I had to have an old friend from the anti-war days remind me again of the arguments against an invasion.
Contrast this with Operation Iraqi Freedom supporter Jonathan Chait's recollections:
The Gulf War took place during my freshman year in college. It was the first major American war since Vietnam, and the legacy of Vietnam cast a heavy shadow — the news was filled with dire warnings of bloody warfare, tens of thousands of U.S. deaths, uprisings across the Middle East. None of it happened. And again, through the nineties, the United States intervened in the Balkans twice under Bill Clinton, saving countless lives and disproving the fears of the skeptics, which had grown weaker but remained.
These events had conditioned me to trust the hawks, or at least, the better informed hawks. They also conditioned me unconsciously to regard wars through this frame, as relatively fast attacks without a heavy occupation phase. People tend to think the next war will be somewhat like the last. That is a failing I will try to avoid again.
Age-wise, I'm a contemporary of Chait's and a generation younger than Judis. Ironically, for all the Gen-Xer tropes about irony and cynicism, the foreign policy arc of our generation looked pretty damn optimistic until March 2003. Indeed, reading the above paragraphs I can recall my attitudes about the use of force in 2002 and 2003. America's use of force during the 1990s -- and, at the time, Operation Enduring Freedom -- had been limited in scope and pretty efficient in its execution. Furthermore, the foreign policy principals who were planning the Second Gulf War had run the first one, which, again, had gone pretty well. So yes, I think I had a generational bias -- I badly overestimated the capacities of George W. Bush's national security and foreign policy hands.
How does this affect my thinking about the use of force now? I think so, but in a limited way. I'm more leery of arguments that the overwhelming use of force will change things for the better in places like Syria or Iran. I'm extremely leery about the creeping militarization of American foreign policy. I think to read people I disagree with on policy -- even, say, the Leveretts -- with a more generous eye than I did a decade ago, because I'm less sure I'm right.
That said, I was by and large supportive of U.S. actions in Libya, and I've been skeptical about the constant warnings from 2006 onwards that the United States is being pulled inexorably into a war with Iran. So I suppose that some of that nineties optimism still resides within me about the use of force as an adjunct to American foreign policy.
[Lest one think I'm doing this to maintain my "viability" for a foreign policy position in the federal government, let me assure you that for very good personal and professional reasons, there is no way I'll ever be serving the U.S. government in an foreign policy capacity in the future. Furthermore, I've got about as secure a sinecure as I can find in the academy. No, the views expressed here have nothing to do with any future career aspirations.]
In this, I'm more like Chait and less like the millenial generation that follows me. Indeed, as Chait observed:
I get the sense that their foreign policy worldview is dominated by the Iraq War in the same way the Boomer generation is dominated by Vietnam and the generation before them by World War II. The formative event of their adulthood is the reference point for all future conflict....
And I think if you look at the commentary leading up to the Obama administration’s intervention in Libya, you see the same pattern asserting itself. Anti-interventionists were treating it as Iraq redux, reprising every argument they wish they could have made in 2003. But Libya was not Iraq. I’d argue it was a success — not a perfect success, but a superior alternative to standing by as tens of thousands of people were massacred.
There's hard data that the millenial generation thinks about American foreign policy differently -- and given their formative experiences, I can't say that I blame them. Indeed, it's just punishment for the neoconservatives that they bungled Iraq so badly that their intellectual project might die out Children of Men-style because they're producing fewer and fewer young neoconservatives. Still, while this worldview might prevent another Iraq, I do wonder whether it also constrains more limited military actions that do yield foreign polivcy gains.
I'm definitely more risk-averse about the use of force than I used to be. And I hope I'm more generous with those who oppose the use of force as a foreign policy tool than I was a decade ago. Still, going forward, I'm still probably more hawkish than the median foreign policy wonk of the millenial generation. Which, I confess, is a very weird place to be ten years after Iraq.
Yesterday an amendment to the continuing resolution funding the U.S. government, sponsored by Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, was passed by a voice vote in the Senate. Its purpose?
To prohibit the use of funds to carry out the functions of the Political Science Program in the Division of Social and Economic Sciences of the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences of the National Science Foundation, except for research projects that the Director of the National Science Foundation certifies as promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.
Now, from a pure material interest perspective, this should make me happy. I've never received a dime in NSF funding, and I'm sitting on a pretty good grant for the next 5-10 years, so from a strictly relative gains perspective, I acquire more influece in the discipline. Furthermore, the national security exemption means that whatever scraps the NSF throws to political science will go to my preferred subfields like international relations and comparative politics.
The thing is, though, that I love political science. I want to see more quality research being done, and the NSF cutoff pushes things in the opposite direction. So I'm not happy.
If I'm displeased, however, then I think it's safe to say that the American Political Science Association is galactically pissed off at this outcome:
Adoption of this amendment is a gross intrusion into the widely-respected, independent scholarly agenda setting process at NSF that has supported our world-class national science enterprise for over sixty years.
The amendment creates an exceptionally dangerous slippery slope. While political science research is most immediately affected, at risk is any and all research in any and all disciplines funded by the NSF. The amendment makes all scientific research vulnerable to the whims of political pressure.
Adoption of this amendment demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of the breadth and importance of political science research for the national interest and its integral place on the nation's interdisciplinary scientific research agenda.
Singling out any one field of science is short-sighted and misguided, and poses a serious threat to the independence and integrity of the National Science Foundation.
And shackling political science within the national science agenda is a remarkable embarrassment for the world's exemplary democracy.
I've blogged at length in the past on the substantive reasons why a cutoff of NSF funds for political science is really, really, stupid. Another post on that question won't change things. And I vented my frustration at the willful ignorance of Senator Coburn yesterday, so there's no reason to go there now. Yesterday, however, there was rollicking debate on Twitter about the need for political scientists to, well, be better at politics. Folks such as Phil Arena, Jay Ulfelder, William Winecoff, and Jacob Levy observed that APSA's tactical response to Coburn's folly -- encouraging APSA members to email Congress and so forth -- was pretty lame. Only if we used the Dark Arts of political science knowledge could we somehow stymie the Senator from Oklahoma.
Here's the thing, though -- while I'm no expert in American politics, I think I know enough of the Dark Arts to know that we could have the best arguments in the world and still recognize that political science is good and truly f**ked.
From a straight interest group perspective political scientists don't matter. At all. The NSF funding for political science is a $13 million appropriation spread out geographically. There is no concentrated interest in a particular congressional district or state to motivate a member of Congress to fight for this issue with as much ardor as Tom Coburn or Jeff Flake.
Now, one could argue that if you believe in epistemic communities -- i.e., the power of collective expertise -- to influence uninformed members of Congress, then maybe political scientists could function as Weberian activists and educate members about the inherent value of political science. The thing is, as I've argued previously, politicians and pundits do not think of politics as a scientific enterprise. Maybe a few pundits developed a new appreciaion for statistics following the 2012 election, but that's not quite the same thing. So an epistemic community of political scientists won't cut it. Hell, all social scientists would be unlikely to persuade the Senate -- remember, this is a body that was copacetic with a Senator blocking a Nobel Prize winning economist from sitting on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Maybe we could logroll with all the natural and physical sciences too, but if the past decade of climate change policy has proven anything, it's that this won't work terribly well.
Another gambit would be to move public opinion on this issue to the point where Congress had no choice but to accede to the masses ... except the masses likely support the cuts. A mass public that believes the foreign aid budget is a thousand times larger than it actually is likely believes that cutting NSF funding of political science goes a long way toward tackling the deficit. Furthermore, as Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler's research shows, it's next to impossible to correct that misperception.
There are three other ways for political scientists to alter the status quo -- but each of them has issues:
1) A political scientist needs to come up with a killer scientific breakthrough that really advances knowledge in the field in an unambiguous manner. We're talking something Nobel-worthy. Oh, wait, Elinor Ostrom already did that, and it didn't matter. Never mind...
2) A political scientist needs to develop a predictive model that's so powerful that it yields substantial profit -- to the point where the political scientists can afford to set up an endowment that substitutes for NSF funding. The thing is, there already are political scientists who have thrived in the private sector -- but I'm not seeing enough cabbage being earned to create endowments.
3) Finally, maybe a trained political scientist could just run for the Senate, get elected, and apply the necessary counterweight to Coburn et al ... except that one of Coburn's co-sponsors is Arizona freshman Senator Jeff Flake, who has -- wait for it -- an M.A. in political science.
Am I missing anything, or is political science good and truly f**ked?
UPDATE: OK, there's one other possibility that could theoretically shift the status quo. Suppose a rival great power -- say, a country that rhymes with "Dinah" -- were to suddenly throw around huge research $$$ to develop a comparative advantage in poli sci. Say that the money was so good that it started to attract the cream of the political science crop. That might spur Congress to freak out about the existence of a political science gap.
So, any political scientists sitting on fat research offers from China -- now is the time to accept them.
Well, this sounds like very bad news for the global financial system:
A plan to rescue the tiny European country of Cyprus, assembled overnight in Brussels, has left financial regulators, German politicians, panicked Cypriot leaders and a disgruntled Kremlin with a bailout package that has outraged virtually all the parties.
In the end, a bailout deal that was supposed to calm a financial crisis in an economically insignificant Mediterranean nation spread it wider. Word of the plan unnerved markets across Europe, raised fears of bank instability in Spain and Italy and sent pensioners into the streets of the island’s capital, Nicosia, in protest.
As markets tumbled and the Cypriot Parliament fell into turmoil, salvos of blame were hurled back and forth across the Continent.
Officials scrambled to explain what went wrong and how best to control the damage of what Philip Whyte, a senior research fellow at the Center for European Reform, called a “completely irrational decision” to make bank depositors liable for part of the bailout. The deal flopped so badly that finance ministers who came up with it shortly before dawn on Saturday were on the phone to each other Monday night talking about ways to revise it.
Now, on the one hand, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who will defend the Cypriot deal as it was announced on Saturday -- but it's pretty easy to find critics of the proposed deal across the political spectrum. So this seems like yet another data point confirming the truly mind-boggling stupidity of European governments and regulators. It's particularly galling that they did this during a time when global capital markets are still fragile from the 2008 financial crisis.
Oh, except, wait a minute, it turns out that those markets aren't as fragile as the perception suggests. If you burrow into the McKinsey Global Institute's latest report on global asset markets, it turns out that, excepting Europe, the rest of global finance has experienced a decent recovery from the 2008 crash. According to MGI:
With the pullback in cross-border lending, foreign direct investment from the world’s multinational companies and sovereign investors has increased to roughly 40 percent of global capital flows. This may bring greater stability, since foreign direct investment has proved to be the least volatile type of capital flow, despite a drop in 2012.
Of course, this was written before the Cypriot stupidity, so now markets are really roiled, right? Well... here's Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal's take early this a.m.:
Markets are down a bit in Europe although not dramatically so yet.
US futures were flat, and Asia was actually up nicely, with Japan gaining 2%.
That seems like a thoroughly appropriate reaction. And over at the New York Times, Andrew Ross Sorkin explains why that's the rational and appropriate reaction:
While the bailout of Cyprus is a fascinating case study and raises interesting theoretical questions about moral hazard for policy wonks and talking heads, here is the reality: It is largely irrelevant to the global economy. Cyprus is tiny; its economy is smaller than Vermont’s. And the bailout is worth a paltry $13 billion, the equivalent of pocket lint for those in the bailout game.
Even the larger issue about bailing out a country by taking money from depositors — which quickly created outrage around the world — seems overblown....
[I]n truth, the smart money knows that the bailout of Cyprus says very little about future actions.
“I would assume that anyone in Spain, Portugal or elsewhere who knows about the taxation of Cypriot depositors also would know that the Cypriot banking system is a very different animal than anywhere else in the euro zone,” Erik Nielsen, chief economist at UniCredit, wrote in a note to clients.
Mr. O’Neill of Goldman also acknowledged: “I am sure it will not set a precedent.”
Cyprus is unique. Besides being tiny, its banking system looks different from those in most other countries. Much of the big money deposited in its banks is from foreign investors, including Russians who have long been suspected of money laundering. Those investors had fair warning that Cypriot banks were troubled. The issue has been simmering for six months. But those investors left their money in the bank, in part because they were gambling that the banks would be bailed out at no cost to them. If the current plan is approved, depositors will have lost that bet.
Now this is a perfectly rational analysis. What's significant is that it seems like markets are making the same calculation. When financial markets are fragile, when there's a fear of financial contagion, they don't make the rational calculation -- they freak out. That hasn't happened with Cyprus.
I know I'm at the risk of pulling a Donald Luskin here, but what's happening in Cyprus right now primarily affects Cypriots, with a small concern about regional effects. It doesn't look like it's triggering the same kind of concerns of either the Lehman collapse or the Greek sovereign debt crisis. And anytime the abject stupidity of European financial statecraft can be confined to Europe, that's a very, very good thing indeed for the global financial system.
Am I missing anything?
One of the lasting effects of the 2008 financial crisis was the belief that the distribution of economic power had radically shifted. China rising, West fading, yadda, yadda, yadda. A minor key in this argument has been the notion that a new and important measure of economic power is the size of a country's official reserves. This has led to the occasional panicked article that "China is buying gold!!" or "Russia is hoarding gold!!" or "Germany is moving gold!!" as a first step towards pushing the dollar out as the world's reserve currency.
Which is just so much horses**t.
Here are three facts to remember whenever you read any story about a BRIC economy hoarding gold:
1) Buying gold would have been extremely savvy in 2008. Now it's just silly. The price of gold peaked at over $1900 in September 2011 -- and despite massive amounts of quantitative easing and numerous reports about central bank hoarding, it's fallen by $300 since and trending downward.
2) The BRIC economies did not have a lot of gold to begin with. As Bloomberg notes, "Russia’s total cache of about 958 tons is only the eighth largest [in the world]."
1. The United States (8,134 tons)
2. Germany (3,391 tons)
3. The International Monetary Fund (2,814 tons)
4. Italy (2,451 tons)
5. France (2,435 tons)
So, to sum up: To believe that gold holdings really matter in the global political economy, you have to be willing to assert that Italy is a great power in global finance. I, for one, am not going there.
In the run-up to his confirmation hearings, both BuzzFeed's Ruby Cramer and the Washington Free Beacon have stories about secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel's days as a professor at Georgetown. At first glance, the spin on these stories seems to be at odds with each other. Here's Cramer:
Those who knew him at Georgetown remember Professor Hagel, whose confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee begins early Thursday morning, as resolute in his own views on foreign policy, and dedicated to his classroom at a level unusual for most lawmakers who take on stints as visiting professors....
Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, retired from the Senate in 2008 after serving two consecutive terms. He landed the Georgetown gig in February of 2009, and started work on crafting one course for grad students in the fall, and another for undergrads in the spring. Hagel chose geopolitical relationships as his focus, and with the help of his teaching assistant, wrote a syllabus aimed at examining the 21st century as a period of transition that is "shifting geopolitical centers of gravity and is recasting geopolitical influences as the world experiences an unprecedented diffusion," as stated in the syllabus for Hagel's first-ever course in the fall of 2009.
Shockingly, the Free Beacon interprets matters a bit differently:
As a professor at Georgetown University, secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel taught a foreign policy course based primarily on anti-Israel materials and far left manifestos that castigate America’s role in the world, according to a copy of Hagel’s 2012 course syllabus....
Constructed on the premise that America’s global supremacy is waning, Hagel’s seminar featured writings that criticize America’s standing in the world, advocate in favor of shuttering American military bases, and refer to Israel as guilty of war crimes.
If the poor defenseless reader were to try to synthesize these two articles on their own, they might come away convinced that Hagel was like Robin Williams' character in Dead Poets Society, if Williams' character was also a secret, anti-Semitic communist spy.
Fortunately, as a trained professor, I'm capable of scanning Hagel's syllabi, and the description of the syllabi, and render my own judgment. And I confess that, after looking at them, I have a few more qualms about Hagel than I did before.
These qualms are not due to the Free Beacon's story, which doesn't have an author appellation, which is just as well, since whomever wrote it has no f**king clue who makes what arguments in international relations. Among the "anti-Israel and far left manifestos" that the Free Beacon identifies is the following:
Other books featured on Hagel’s reading list, such as G. John Ikenberry’s Liberal Leviathan, argue that America’s influence is waning.
“Even if a return to multipolarity is a distant and slowly emerging future possibility, calculations about the relative decline of American power reintroduce the importance of making investments today for later decades when the United States is less preeminent,” wrote Ikenberry, a Princeton professor, in his 2012 book.
Let's take a brief pause here to allow the folks with some actual international relations knowledge a hearty chuckle. Because anyone who's read anything by John Ikenberry quickly learns two things: 1) he's about as centrist as one can get; and 2) he's quite upbeat about America's future (as a close reading of that quote would suggest). So we can safely ignore the Free Beacon's efforts to spin people like Ikenberry and Zbigniew Brzezinski as anti-Israel or far left.
There's also the rather obvious point that, as a general rule, professors will assign readings they disagree with. It's that whole, "give students competing perspectives on thorny issues so they can have an informed debate" kind of deal. As mysterious as this might sound to the Free Beacon, let me assure them that assigning provocative readings is a pretty common pedagogical tool.
On the other hand, a quick perusal of Hagel's syllabi reveals a far deeper concern: Hagel is addicted to ... hackery. The Friedmans make too many appearances in these syllabi, for example. He assigned Tom Friedman's The World Is Flat, which is pretty bad. He also assigned George Friedman's The Next 100 Years, which is far, far worse (don't take my word for it, take Philip Tetlock's). He also assigned liberal portions of Parag Khanna's work, which is unfortunate.
Now I'm not above assigning the occasional hack piece in a class to let my students chew up and spit out. That's actually a useful pedagogical exercise. Hagel, however, seems to think that the hack stuff is actually quite good -- at least that's what he told C-SPAN. For a graduate seminar at Georgetown, the chaff-to-wheat ratio is disturbingly high.
Besides the hack addiction, is there anything else to be gleaned from Hagel's syllabi? If there is a theme that runs through Hagel's syllabus choices, it's a pretty realpolitik one. Writers like George Friedman and Robert D. Kaplan don't really care about human institutions as much as geopolitics. He also assigned some interesting work by Joseph Parent & Paul McDonald, as well as Micah Zenko & Michael Cohen, on strategic restraint and threat inflation, respectively. That's what should terrify neoconservatives -- not the bogus anti-Israel charges.
Still, after reading his syllabi, I must acknowledge that Hagel picked up one academic trait very quickly: just like us lifelong profs, Hagel learned to assign his own book. Well played, Professor Hagel. Well played.
Dear New York Times:
As the paper of record, your op-ed page is a natural target for snark, derision, and other forms of criticism. I'll certainly plead guilty to these venial sins. I've found flaws in more than a few of your columnist's writings on foreign affairs. Thomas Friedman, in particular, has invited a fair measure of scorn from your correspondent over the years -- though I'd note that I'm hardly the only one guilty of that sin. Let me stipulate that I have no doubt that Mr. Friedman can polish off an accessible 800 word column on foreign affairs better than 99.5% of the foreign policy community. And Friedman has locked down a certain Greatest Generation demographic, the one that emails their children with Ph.D.s in political science to say "Tom Friedman said something interesting in his column today. You should read it."
Friedman's prose style invites a certain kind of satire, which is occasionally unkind but pretty harmless. I write now, however, because in his latest column he has migrated from the merely foolish to the ill-considered and dangerous. This is his advice to incoming Secretary of State John Kerry:
[W]hat’s a secretary of state to do? I’d suggest trying something radically new: creating the conditions for diplomacy where they do not now exist by going around leaders and directly to the people. And I’d start with Iran, Israel and Palestine. We live in an age of social networks in which every leader outside of North Korea today is now forced to engage in a two-way conversation with their citizens. There’s no more just top-down. People everywhere are finding their voices and leaders are terrified. We need to turn this to our advantage to gain leverage in diplomacy.
Let’s break all the rules.
Rather than negotiating with Iran’s leaders in secret — which, so far, has produced nothing and allows the Iranian leaders to control the narrative and tell their people that they’re suffering sanctions because of U.S. intransigence — why not negotiate with the Iranian people? President Obama should put a simple offer on the table, in Farsi, for all Iranians to see: The U.S. and its allies will permit Iran to maintain a civil nuclear enrichment capability — which it claims is all it wants to meet power needs — provided it agrees to U.N. observers and restrictions that would prevent Tehran from ever assembling a nuclear bomb. We should not only make this offer public, but also say to the Iranian people over and over: “The only reason your currency is being crushed, your savings rapidly eroded by inflation, many of your college graduates unemployed and your global trade impeded and the risk of war hanging overhead, is because your leaders won’t accept a deal that would allow Iran to develop civil nuclear power but not a bomb.” Iran wants its people to think it has no partner for a civil nuclear deal. The U.S. can prove otherwise.
He goes on to talk about Israel/Palestine, but let's keep the focus on Iran. To put it kindly, there are some serious problems with Friedman's advice. In no particular order:
1) There are many possible Secretaries of State who possess the necessary charisma, drive, and rhetorical skills to resonate with the ordinary citizens of other countries. I think we can all safely agree that, capable as he might be, John Kerry is not one of those diplomats.
2) Why not "negotiate with the Iranian people?" Well, to get technical about it, they're not the ones controlling Iran's nuclear program. That's not a minor issue. For all this talk about how states are irrelevant in the 21st century, on matters of hard security not much has changed. Lest Friedman or anyone else doubt this, recall that the Iranian state has proven itself more than capable of suppressing the Iranian people over the past four years. Why Friedman thinks that the Ayatollah Khamenei would listen to ordinary Iranians on the nuclear question is beyond me.
3) Friedman seems to think that ordinary Iranians are implacably opposed to the nuclear program. I have yet to read any analysis or on-the-ground reporting (including the NYT) that suggests this to be true. Rather, the common theme is that Iranians take nationalist pride in the technological accomplishments of their national nuclear program. Furthermore, in a propaganda war between the U.S. government and their own government, the U.S. is probably gonna lose even if it possesses the better argument. For all of Friedman's loose talk about the power of social media in a digitized world, he elides the point that one of the sentiments that social media is best at magnifying is nationalism. In the case of Iran, this would mean a more recalcitrant negotiating partner.
4) In the 35 years since the Iranian Revolution, and the 10+ years since Iran's nuclear program became a point of contention, is there any evidence that U.S. public diplomacy has had any positive effect in the country of Iran? Any? So why will it work now?
5) One last point. Iran's regime has been obsessed with the belief that the United States is trying to foment a Velvet Revolution in the country. They've been willing to arrest, repress, or harrass anyone vaguely associated with such a campaign. Exactly how does Friedman think the government in Tehran would respond to the kind of public diplomacy initiative that he's suggesting?
I could go on, but you see what I'm trying to say. Friedman's "break all the rules" strategy is as transgressive as those dumb-ass Dr. Pepper commercials. Worse, he's recommending a policy that would actually be counter-productive to any hope of reaching a deal with Iran. This is the worst kind of "World is Flat" pablum, applied to nuclear diplomacy. God forbid John Kerry were to read it and follow Friedman's advice.
Sure, 99.5% of foreign policy wonks might write something less punchy, but I suspect most of them wouldn't write something so obviously wrong. Friedman clearly needs a sabbatical from the rigors of column-writing to get his head back in the game. In the interest of raising our country's foreign policy discourse, I beg you to put him on leave.
Daniel W. Drezner
University professors have a lot less stress than most of us. Unless they teach summer school, they are off between May and September and they enjoy long breaks during the school year, including a month over Christmas and New Year’s and another chunk of time in the spring. Even when school is in session they don’t spend too many hours in the classroom. For tenure-track professors, there is some pressure to publish books and articles, but deadlines are few. Working conditions tend to be cozy and civilized and there are minimal travel demands, except perhaps a non-mandatory conference or two. As for compensation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for professors is $62,000, not a huge amount of money but enough to live on, especially in a university town.
Another boon for professors: Universities are expected to add 305,700 adjunct and tenure-track professors by 2020, according to the BLS. All of those attributes land university professor in the number one slot on Careercast.com’s list of the least stressful jobs of 2013....
The other thing most of the least stressful jobs have in common: At the end of the day, people in these professions can leave their work behind, and their hours tend to be the traditional nine to five.
Let's take a brief pause here so the academics in the crowd can recover from either A) throwing things at their computer screen; or B) melting to the floor in puddles of uncontrollable semi-hysterical laughter.
Now let's immediately concede that Adams -- as she later admitted as much in an update to the post -- knows next to nothing about the life of an academic. Almost every specific claim in the quoted paragraphs above about the life of a professor is either wildly inaccurate or radically incomplete. For some pointed rejoinders, see here and here and here. Also check out the #RealForbesProfessors hashtag on Twitter. Indeed, this whole kerfuffle mirrors this old Marketplace exchange that I had with my Fancy-Pants Brother Who Used to be an Investment Banker/Hedge Fund Manager. What's annoying about the Forbes column is the clear lack of understanding that
outworlders civilians people who are not academics possess about our profession.
Now, that said, and despite Adams having very little clue about the nature of my job, could it be that Careercast is onto something? Even if it's wrong about every little thing, is it wrong about the big thing? Dan Nexon points out the following:
Most tenured and tenure-track professors enjoy:
Some modicum of administrative self-governance; Their own office, complete with a door that shuts and locks; Generally flexible deadlines; Tremendous flexibility in how they allocate their time; Spending most of their time engaged in ideas and activities that they enjoy; and The ability to spend significant time in situations in which power asymmetries favor them.
These factors more than counterbalance the negatives.
These are not small positives, and I, for one, revel in them every day of my professional career. Furthermore, whenever this kind of debate comes up, I always recall my brother's look of bemusement at a Thanksgiving dinner when a colleague was bitching and moaning about staying up late to finish a paper. This was something he had to do on a semi-regular basis when he was working on Wall Street.
So, let's do some realkeeping here and conclude with the following true statements:
1) Adjunct professors who earn their primary means of income through teaching win the stress game easily, and are excluded from the points I make below.
2) Compared to most professions that pay a comparable or greater salary, tenured and tenure-track academics possess far greater levels of autonomy and flexibility of hours. Not less overall work, mind you, but more ability to determine when in the day that work has to be done;
3) There's a lot of useful sorting that takes place among jobs. Activities that academics often find stressful -- like, you know, talking to other people -- are often viewed as less stressful by those people who do it more often. On the other hand, things we like to do -- like, you know, writing down stuff that we think about -- others can find to be incredibly stressful.
4) The shifting nature of the academic job market means that there are HUGE amount of stress at key moments in an academic career. If those moments go badly, well, there can be a fair amount of stress.
5) There's something vaguely comic about everyone trying to brag about how stressful their job is. Personally, I blame television. Shows like ER, The West Wing, and Scandal have glamorized the notion that killer jobs are friggin' awesome and super-sexy. You know what's really awesome? Doing your job so well that you can relax on a regular basis.
Am I missing anything? Seriously, I probably am missing something, so feel free to mention it in the comments.
Your humble blogger was watching CNN late last night after the House of Representatives passed the fiscal cliff compromise, and was struck by the
anchor's Ali Velshi's complete and total disdain for what had just transpired. He repeatedly said that this was, "an embarrassing moment for America," and that it was so frustrating because these wounds were self-inflicted. This was surprising, since CNN is ostensibly the cable news netowrk that's the least partisan and most likely to maintain the detached, sonorous perspective that can only be incubated after prolonged exposure to Wolf Blitzer.
Now I'm certainly not gonna defend what went down the past two months as the exemplar of Jeffersonian democracy or anything, but I do think some perspective is in order here. The truth is that America's political institutions engage in self-destructive behavior on a fairly regular basis. This holds even in the post-Vietnam era. In the 1970s the country nearly tore itself apart because of Watergate. In the 1980s it was Iran-Contra. In the 1990s the federal government was shut down because Republicans and Democrats couldn't agree on the budget for a spell. That was followed by the House of Representatives impeaching President Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice. In late 2000 the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling short-circuiting ballot recounts in Florida and making George W. Bush the next president using a legal logic that was so tortured that the Court said no one could ever use it again. And last year U.S. debt was downgraded -- not because of any fundamental U.S. economic weakness, but because of the U.S. political system. All of these episodes were politically self-inficted wounds -- and the United States weathered all of them pretty easily. Please bear this in mind the next time you read something about America going to hell.
[But haven't things gotten worse?--ed. Well, no, I think what's changed is that the Dems and the GOP are acting more like European parliamentary parties in a constitutional system that emphasizes the separation of powers. That's a problem, and gerrymandering is exacerbating the situation. But it's a situation that a few nonpartisan districting commissions would be able to solve.]
Now, with this dose of perspective sauce, there also needs to be a recognition that elements of the United States have shifted in an ideological direction that makes them increasingly isolated in the world. To see why, look at this Financial Times story by Hannah Kuchler on David Cameron's G8 priorities. The salient part for this conversation:
In a letter to the leaders, Mr Cameron said the world will continue to face “grave economic uncertainty” in 2013 but the rich countries must set “ambitious standards” to drive growth in their countries and across the globe.
The UK will push for action in three key areas: trade deals, including a potential EU-US trade agreement; measures to tackle tax evasion and open government; working with developing countries to fight corruption....
The British government has prioritised chasing tax evaders, with prosecutions for tax evasion up by 80 per cent and a treaty with Switzerland, its largest ever deal on tackling tax evasion. Mr Cameron wants to use the UK’s time at the top of the G8 to “galvanise collective international action”.
“We can lead the way in sharing information to tackle abuses of the system, including in developing countries, so that governments can collect taxes due to them,” he wrote in the letter. “We can work together to sign more countries up to international standards. And we can examine the case for strengthening those standards themselves.”
Now, international tax evasion has been an on-and-off G8 priority for the past 15 years, and there's actually been some progress on tax havens. I guarantee you, however, that to the House GOP caucus this will look like some back-door globalist conspiracy by the Obama administration to raise taxes or enforce collection through jackbooted G8 thugs. So anything that will require legislative approval ain't going anywhere.
[Uh, isn't this kinda nuts? Everyone knows that the G8 doesn't have any thugs, much less jackbooted ones!!--ed. Yes, and everyone knows that Agenda 21 is a nonbinding plan of action for sustainable development, but that hasn't stopped a few deluded people from freaking out about a U.N.-hatched global conspiracy.]
So some things have changed, and for the time being there will be some issues on which legislative action is likely not gonna happen. On the other hand -- much like Americans after New Years Eve parties -- the United States usually recovers from these bouts of temporary stupidity. The federal government will muddle through, and I suspect even the 113th Congress will be interested in a U.S.-E.U. trade deal.
Am I missing anything?
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.
I've blogged on occasion about the development of a sovereigntist lobby that reflexively opposes all treaties because they erode U.S. sovereignty. For these people, any infringement on American sovereignty is a death blow to freedom, regardless of the benefits from joining. This kind of reflexive opposition has caused even stalwart groups on the right to cringe in embarrassment.
This hasn't slowed down the sovereigntists a bit, which led to a somewhat awkward day in the U.S. Senate:
Former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas sat slightly slumped in his wheelchair on the Senate floor on Tuesday, staring intently as Senator John Kerry gave his most impassioned speech all year, in defense of a United Nations treaty that would ban discrimination against people with disabilities.
Senators from both parties went to greet Mr. Dole, leaning in to hear his wispy reply, as he sat in support of the treaty, which would require that people with disabilities have the same general rights as those without disabilities. Several members took the unusual step of voting aye while seated at their desks, out of respect for Mr. Dole, 89, a Republican who was the majority leader.
Then, after Mr. Dole’s wife, Elizabeth, rolled him off the floor, Republicans quietly voted down the treaty that the ailing Mr. Dole, recently released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, so longed to see passed.
A majority of Republicans who voted against the treaty, which was modeled on the Americans With Disabilities Act, said they feared that it would infringe on American sovereignty.
The Cable's Josh Rogin has more on today's vote.
Now to be fair to the Republicans who voted "nay," you don't approve a treaty just because Bob Dole favors it. And to be more than fair, it's true that the United States has comparatively robust legislation in the form of the ADA and IDEA.
On the other hand, the point of this convention is to ensure that other countries start embracing the rules and standards codified by the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act -- you'd think most Republicans would be super-keen on other countries embracing principles of U.S. law. Furthermore, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also supports the treaty, and I hear that Republicans are pro-business, so that is a bit confusing. I also read that "the treaty was negotiated by the George W. Bush administration," so, again, you can understand my confusion.
If you want to see the arguments against the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, click here, here, here, here, and here. As near as I can determine, critics don't like the treaty because... it's a treaty. Most of the objections are either bogus or unsubstantiated by practice. As Joshua Keating notes, "a perfectly reasonable treaty was just rejected based on a complete misreading of it."
The treaty’s critics, like the conservative Heritage Foundation, were left arguing that the treaty shouldn’t be ratified if the US already complied with its intent, since endorsing the treaty could lead to problems down the road by unspecified means. That dismayed the treaty’s advocates, who see the treaty’s value in the message it sends to other countries about the importance of protecting disabled people. “It’s a treaty to change the world to be more like America,” protested John Kerry, the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, before the failed vote.
Dana Milbank notes that sometimes the treaty's opponents contradicted their own arguments:
[O]pponents couldn’t agree on how this box would be opened. “Do I believe that states will pass laws or have to pass laws in conformity with the U.N. edict?” [Rick] Santorum asked himself. “Do we have to amend IDEA?” the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. “I don’t have any fear anytime soon that IDEA will be amended. But I do have concerns that people will go to courts and they will use this standard in this convention.”
This was contradicted by the next man at the microphone, home-schooling advocate Mike Farris, who pointed out that the document has a provision stating that “you can’t go to court automatically. You must have implementing legislation first” — the very thing Santorum says he does not expect to happen.
Still, their spurious theory of a U.N. takeover of parenting was enough to lead Lee and Santorum to oppose a treaty that would extend American values worldwide and guarantee disabled people equal treatment, and freedom from torture and exploitation.
Now I'm honestly pretty dubious about whether U.S. ratification of the treaty would accomplish all that. Unlike Law of the Sea, not ratifying this treaty doesn't appreciably harm U.S. interests. It does, however, make the United States look pretty dysfunctional. In essence, the U.S. Senate just rejected a treaty on protecting the disabled that would have globalized the status quo in U.S. law on this issue. To use the parlance of international relations scholars, this is dumber than a bag of hammers.
Your humble blogger was all set to talk about the nail-biter of an election for China's Standing Politburo Committee, but gosh, it seems like there wasn't much surprise in how it played out (with the admitted exception of Xi Jinping managing to sweep Hu Jintao off the Central Military Commission). So instead I'd like to talk about the clusterf**k that is the current debate in the United States on the Benghazi attack.
Yesterday at his press conference, Barack Obama defended Ambassador/possible future Secretary of State Susan Rice from Republican critiques of her Sunday news show appearances on Benghazi:
President Obama strongly defended U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice against attacks Wednesday by a trio of Republican senators who said she is ill-qualified to serve as secretary of state because of how she explained the roots of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Bristling with evident indignation during a news conference, Obama said Rice has “done exemplary work” with “skill, professionalism and toughness and grace.”
He then made a pointedly and almost personal challenge to Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.),Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) who earlier Wednesday said Rice is unqualified to lead the State Department because she appeared either misinformed or ill-prepared to discuss the attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, on national political talk shows a few days after the attack.
“If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody they should go after me,” Obama said. “For them to go after the UN ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi…to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.”
Apparently the troika weren't pleased, taking to the Senate to blast Rice, Obama and everything else within range.
Slate's David Weigel has already blogged about the ways in which McCain has already distorted what Susan Rice actually said in those Sunday appearances. Rather than repeat his points, I'd note a few things:
1) It's fascinating to me how critics seem to think that Susan Rice flat-out lied in those Sunday shows. "Lied" is different from "saying things that are wrong." Lied implies that Rice knew exactly why that attack occurred but for political reasons said something else. Being wrong would have been a much simpler task -- simply echoing intelligence talking points that were given to her. It's to Marco Rubio's credit, for example, that he nails the distinction. As quoted by Weigel:
"We have a process for nominations, and we want to give her a full hearing," said Sen. Marco Rubio yesterday when asked about Rice. "I'm concerned with the fact she went on Sunday shows and said this was the product of a spontaneous uprising and not a terrorist attack. Obviously she based those comments on directives or information that she had, and it's important to know where those directives came from and what that information was." (emphasis added)
Everything that I have read about Benghazi suggests that this was a bureaucratic nigtmare -- but Rice didn't lie. And anyone who says differently better have something better than the assertion of "it's obvious!!"
2) Tying Rice to Benghazi seems.... odd, since her only role in what happened appears to be those Sunday morning talk shows. The better questions to ask would be about Rice's performance at the United Nations. Richard Grenell has a piece over at Fox News that gets at this issue. Grennell is the embodiment of a pure partisan -- but that doesn't mean he's wrong in this case. These are the questions that should form the basis of any confirmation hearing -- if it happens.
3) Do Republicans really want to make their new standard for bouncing cabinet nominations to be "says inaccurate things on television"? By that standard, an awful lot of the GOP's foreign affairs machine that served or defended the Bush administration would be blackballed from any foreign policy office for the future.
Look, let's be blunt -- as a responsible foreign policy blogger, I should be trying to divert your attention away from the tawdriness that is the David Petraeus scandal. There's no shortage of other interesting stuff happening in the world. Things like Argentina's slow-moving debt debacle, or the discord between the EU and IMF over Greece, or even the possibility of the United States overtaking Saudi Arabia as the world's top oil producer.
The thing is, I can't, I just can't. I'm weak, and the way this scandal has metastasized is friggin' incredible. The best summary of where things stand right now comes from Ace of Spades' Gabriel Malor:
Jill Kelley, the woman who was (allegedly) threatened by Gen. Petraeus's squeeze Paula Broadwell and who (apparently) started the FBI investigation that led to Petraeus' ouster, who went to the FBI for help after the threats and then (allegedly) had a relationship with the FBI agent in charge of her own case, who (allegedly) sent her shirtless pics of himself, also (apparently, allegedly) had "compromising" communications with Gen. John Allen, the Big Damn Commander of our war effort in Afghanistan.
Yeah, that's about where we are now, and I'm afraid of checking my Twitter feed because there might have been new developments.
Look, America's foreign policy community is gonna be transfixed on this for a spell. Because it's got that car-crash quality that means it is just impossible to look away. This is the kind of scandal that causes the Daily Beast's writing style to go so over the top that it actually published the following sentence: "Broadwell may be able to run a six-minute mile with Petraeus, but Kelley looks like a woman who lets the guys do all the running—and in her direction." I'm surprised they didn't embed a whip sound at the end of that sentence.
And that's the interesting thing if one steps back for a second. To repeat a theme, the American people by and large don't care much about foreign policy and national security. But, based on my deep immersion into supermarket checkout literature, they do appear to be very interested in tawdry sex scandals and reality television. Well, this scandal has copious amounts of this -- plus, you know, power.
So unlike, say, questions about drone warfare or counterterrorism policy or homeland security or civil liberties, Americans will pay attention to this stuff. Which is interesting, because over the past decade the military has been the one institution to inspire significant amounts of trust in Americans. The less that the public trusts the military, the less that they will trust what the military is doing. And as Thom Shanker notes in the New York Times, this scandal might affect that trust:
[A] worrisomely large number of senior officers have been investigated and even fired for poor judgment, malfeasance and sexual improprieties or sexual violence — and that is just in the last year....
Long list of scandas involving top brass]
The episodes have prompted concern that something may be broken, or at least fractured, across the military’s culture of leadership. Some wonder whether its top officers have forgotten the lessons of Bathsheba: The crown of command should not be worn with arrogance, and while rank has its privileges, remember that infallibility and entitlement are not among them.
And this doesn't even get into other scandals at various homeland security agencies *cough* Secret Servivce *cough*.
The military and intelligence communities have been doing a lot of things over the past decade that fall outside the bounds of traditional American foreign policy practices. I'm not saying all of these things are bad -- it's a new century, new kinds of threats, and so forth. But most Americans have passively gifted these agencies a lot of goodwill for them to do what they want. I wonder whether a silly sex scandal will change all that.
Your humble blogger was innocently surfing the web yesterday when someone linked to Niall Ferguson's latest Newsweek column. Now even though I've warned everyone -- repeatedly -- not to go to there, I made the mistake of clicking. And this is what I saw:
Everyone knows there could be a surprise before Nov. 6—a news story that finally makes up the minds of those undecided voters in the swing states and settles the presidential election.
[T]he only kind of surprise I can envisage is a foreign-policy surprise. And if the polls get any scarier for the incumbent, we might just have one.
Recently The New York Times--increasingly the official organ of the Obama administration—offered a tease. “U.S. Officials Say Iran Has Agreed to Nuclear Talks” ran the headline. In the story, the Times quoted unnamed officials as saying that one-on-one talks with Iran had been agreed to in “a last-ditch diplomatic effort to avert a military strike on Iran.”....
Not only that. If the White House could announce a historic deal with Iran—lifting increasingly painful economic sanctions in return for an Iranian pledge to stop enriching uranium—Mitt Romney would vanish as if by magic from the front pages and TV news shows. The oxygen of publicity—those coveted minutes of airtime that campaigns don’t have to pay for—would be sucked out of his lungs....
[There is] an alternative surprise—the one I have long expected the president to pull if he finds himself slipping behind in the polls. With a single phone call to Jerusalem, he can end all talk of his being Jimmy Carter to Mitt Romney’s Reagan: by supporting an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
A few things:
1) Here's a pro tip: if your foreign affairs observations represent a reprise of wacky Donald Trump musings, maybe it's best to take your ball and go home.
2) It's really kind of adorable that Ferguson thinks a foreign policy surprise would move that many voters. Sorry, Niall, while presidents eventually pivot to foreign policy, it's not going to matter that much to undecideds right now.
3) If you want a foreign policy "tell" that Obama is in such serious straits that he's willing to gamble on a foreign policy initiative, there's a smaller-bore policy that would work better: an opening to Cuba. If Obama suggests that in the remaining week, it's a sign that: a) he thinks Florida is a lost cause; and b) he is trying to shore up support in the midwest with agricultural concerns that would love a new export market.
4) The laziness involved in Ferguson's essay got me to thinking.... could this be the worst international affairs column of 2012? How can we be sure? I mean, to be fair, Ferguson cited a real New York Times story in the column -- that indicated an actual modicum of effort. As I suggested last night, it might be an interesting exercise to create an NCAA-style bracket competition to determine the Worst International Affairs Essay of 2012. Why shouldn't the foreign policy community have it's own version of the Razzies?
To that end, I hereby ask commeters and the foreign affairs blogosphere to suggest candidate entries and possible rules for this contest, as well as possible judges. We'll see if there's enough momentum to add this contest to the coveted Albies.
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?
I suspect that most of today's foreign policy post-mortems about last night's town hall debate will focus on the Libya question, in which, according to Taegan Goddard, "Obama acted like a president in the exchange while Romney was much less. It was Romney's Gerald Ford moment." He's not the only one to make this assessment. I'm not sure I would go that far, but Romney did manage to convert a pretty strong initial response to the question into a bad, bad moment for him.
But let's be honest: regardless of whether you think Romney exaggerated in his description of Obama's Libya response or Obama exaggerated in his rejoinder, those were not the biggest foreign policy whoppers told during this debate. Not by a long shot.
If we're going to engage in real-keeping, then let's acknowledge that both candidates fudged, exaggerated, or flat-out lied on just about everything pertaining to foreign economic policy during last night's debate. It was a truly bipartisan fib-fest. I could go through the debate transcript line by line, but let's just hit the highlights. At varous points, one or both of the candidates tried to convince undecided voters of the following:
1) Energy independence is the cure for what ails the U.S. economy;
2) The U.S. loses from trade with China, and tougher trade enforcement will fix that;
3) Free trade with Latin America will create millions and millions of jobs;
4) The only reason China is doing well comparatively is that it's keeping its currency undervalued; and finally
5) Illegal immigration is threatening the American economy.
Let's inject a little reality here, shall we? Repeat after me:
1) Because most energy sources are traded in global markets, energy independence has zero effect on the economy (though there might be a few security dividends).
3) Perfect trade enforcement would have only a marginal impact on employment;
5) Illegal immigration into the United States "has been in reverse for several years."
If the foreign policy debate next week has as much mendacity as this one on the global economy, your humble blogger will be passed out in a drunken stupor by 9:30 PM.
Two data points from my morning reads can highlight -- but not prove -- this trend. Exhibit A is a fascinaing column by Gillian Terzis in The New Inquiry on the persistence of superstar economists since the 2008 financial crisis. What caught my attention:
E]conomists have not only retained their prominence in the years since the global financial crisis; they have expanded it. Media-savvy economists have only grown in number, disseminating nuggets of user-friendly economic theory and technocratic liberalism in newspaper columns, blogs, and econo-centric podcasts. Krugman, along with Joseph Stiglitz, Nouriel Roubini, Nassim Taleb, and Jeffrey Sachs have become household names as swaggering political pundits....
With economists becoming mainstream personalities, their econospeak is worming its way deeper into everyday language. Our money is as easily invested as our time: remember to “calculate” your “opportunity cost.” Emotions are “inefficient”: try not to have any. Choosing a restaurant necessarily invokes a “cost-benefit analysis.” Steering the course of one’s life is necessarily about making the right decisions at the right time. And the time for this linguistic evolution is right. In an age of laissez-faire capitalism and precarious labor, what are individuals and corporations doing, if not constantly “re-establishing themselves” as “market players?”....
Underlying all these examples is the idea that a perfunctory understanding of economics, it seems, is society’s best attempt at a code of justice amid endemic institutional dysfunction in political and legislative frameworks. As such, the quotidian economist presents himself (most often, it is a “he”) to audiences as above and beyond the realm of trifling matters like ideology or politics. The everyday economist goes out of his way to portray economics as a social science untouched by politics and ignorant of historical context. But such an approach is at a deliberate remove from the complexity and the uncertainties of modern life. It suggests that because humans are rational thinkers, then our actions can always be predicted, or at least reduced into theoretical epigrams. And so mainstream economics affirms itself as the discipline with an answer to everything, even when financial crises repeatedly underscore the gap between theory and praxis....
Metaphors may make for a great pull-quote, but too often they perpetuate causal simplification. Everyone is assumed to act in a certain fashion under a specified set of conditions, holding all other variables constant. Oversimplifying economic phenomena ignores possible failures and contingencies: how does one account for empathy, altruism, irrationality? Surely, politics must play a part; surely there are objects — sentimental talismans, or the right to decent shelter — to which no market value can be ascribed. It’s beyond the remit of economics to care....
In the online marketplace of ideas, the influence of a few celebrity economists creates an illusion of scarcity of new, heterodox voices. Yet now more than ever, to prevent costly and irreparable policy errors, economics needs its crowded-out Cassandras.
This is such an extreme mixture of fascinating analysis and total bulls**t that your humble blogger really needs to step back and gaze in awe at it. A big problem with Terzis's analysis is that the very "celebrity ecconomists" she cites -- Roubini, Taleb, Stiglitz -- were precisely the economists who were the Cassandras prior to 2008. One would assume that a public intellectual ecosystem that rewards critics who provided trenchant criticism is a good thing. Lamenting their rise seems... odd.
Except that it isn't for Terzis, because she objects to the very idea of a social science that tries to drain the complexity out of modern life in order to model it. Which is a fancy way of saying she objects to social science in principle -- because without simplifying reality a lot, it's simply impossible to model or explain it. In essence, Terzis' argument is that modern society is sooooo complex that radical uncertainty can't be eliminated -- so don't bother.
Terzis is coming at this from a Karl Polanyi-esque place on the left. Meanwhile, on the right, John Podhoretz looks at yesterday's polling in the 2012 presidential race, throws up his hands, and basically says, "Bah!! Numbers!!"
Mark it down on your calendars: Yesterday — Monday, Oct. 8, 2012 — may go down in the annals of history as the day political polling died.
It was the most ridiculous polling day among many preposterous polling days in the course of this long campaign...
The disparity in these numbers and their trends are so broad that even the cautionary method of adding them all together and averaging them out — best done by the Real Clear Politics “poll of polls” — makes little sense....
Pollsters themselves, when challenged on their stats, say they’re just presenting a snapshot of public opinion. Fine, but these snapshots are wildly distorted.
The key hidden fact is that fewer than one in 10 respond to those who try to poll them.
People who screen their calls, hang up on people they don’t know or end the survey because they don’t have time to take it make up more than 90 percent of those phoned by pollsters.
Then there are issues with cellphone users and those who communicate pretty much solely by texts and e-mail, and the like.
All we can be sure of, in the words of the peerless Internet humorist Iowahawk, “political poll results accurately reflect the opinions of the weirdo 9 percent who agree to participate in political polls.”
What yesterday proved is that all bets are off. We’re judging the state of this contest with junk data, and we need to stop. Until pollsters can figure out how to avoid all these crazy mood swings and white noise, they should be put on political and pundit probation.
Yeah!! Until pollsters learn to avoid... um... statistical variance... um... they shouldn't do statistics. And get off my lawn!!
Podhoretz raises some useful points here -- omitting cell phones does introduce a possible bias into polls, and the possible sample bias of low response rates. Podhoretz's core complaint, however, is both deeper and pretty friggin' absurd -- there's too much variance!! Stop the madness!!
The whole basis of statistics is that one is attempting to determine what a population thinks by looking at a small sample of that population. Such an exercise inherently introduces variance in interpreting the results. One day of particularly wide variance does not spell doom for the polling enterprise. Indeed, as a poll-watcher, what's been striking this election season is not the variance in the poll numbers but the relative lack of it compared to past elections. Both candidates' post-convention "bounces" were modest compared to past elections, and the numbers were pretty constant for a pretty long period of time during the summer.
Look, I get that social scientists are easy to mock and ridicule, and Lord knows, we make mistakes. Acknowledging fundamental levels of uncertainty and unknowability is a healthy thing to do. Going from that acknowledgement to rejecting the enterprise of social science entirely -- as both Terzi and Podhoretz do in their essays -- is really, really stupid.
Now get off my lawn.
So yesterday David Corn at Mother Jones made some waves when he released a video of Mitt Romney loc
king up the Ayn Rand Institute's vote explaining that he had no chance of winning the "47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government."
Well, this morning, the foreign policy shoe dropped from the Romney video. Here's the excerpt of Romney musing about the two-state situation for Israel and Palestine:
I'm torn by two perspectives in this regard. One is the one which I've had for some time, which is that the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish. Now why do I say that? Some might say, well, let's let the Palestinians have the West Bank, and have security, and set up a separate nation for the Palestinians. And then come a couple of thorny questions. And I don't have a map here to look at the geography, but the border between Israel and the West Bank is obviously right there, right next to Tel Aviv, which is the financial capital, the industrial capital of Israel, the center of Israel. It's—what the border would be? Maybe seven miles from Tel Aviv to what would be the West Bank…The other side of the West Bank, the other side of what would be this new Palestinian state would either be Syria at one point, or Jordan. And of course the Iranians would want to do through the West Bank exactly what they did through Lebanon, what they did near Gaza. Which is that the Iranians would want to bring missiles and armament into the West Bank and potentially threaten Israel. So Israel of course would have to say, "That can't happen. We've got to keep the Iranians from bringing weaponry into the West Bank." Well, that means that—who? The Israelis are going to patrol the border between Jordan, Syria, and this new Palestinian nation? Well, the Palestinians would say, "Uh, no way! We're an independent country. You can't, you know, guard our border with other Arab nations." And now how about the airport? How about flying into this Palestinian nation? Are we gonna allow military aircraft to come in and weaponry to come in? And if not, who's going to keep it from coming in? Well, the Israelis. Well, the Palestinians are gonna say, "We're not an independent nation if Israel is able to come in and tell us what can land in our airport." These are problems—these are very hard to solve, all right? And I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, "There's just no way." And so what you do is you say, "You move things along the best way you can." You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem. We live with that in China and Taiwan. All right, we have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it. We don't go to war to try and resolve it imminently. On the other hand, I got a call from a former secretary of state. I won't mention which one it was, but this individual said to me, you know, I think there's a prospect for a settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis after the Palestinian elections. I said, "Really?" And, you know, his answer was, "Yes, I think there's some prospect." And I didn't delve into it (emphasis added).
Well, I'm tired of Mother Jones having all of the video exclusives!! Here's my exclusive of how one Middle East expert responded to Romney's explanation:
So I'm not a Middle East expert, but I do know a few things:
1) Neither all Palestinians not their leaders in the West Bank are committed to the destruction of Israael;
2) Whatever contours a possible Palestinian state would have, it won't border Syria
3) One of the best critiques that a GOP challenger can make of Barack Obama's administration is that he's made a hash of the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. In this video, Romney pretty much revealed that he wouldn't be changing that policy anytime soon.
David Brooks, in responding to the first part of the Romney video, concluded that Romney "really doesn't know much about the country he inhabits." Unfortunately, with this video, Romney has demonstrated that the doesn't know that much about the world he inhabits either.
We've had a week where riots in the Middle East have raged against the United States, NATO's Afghanistan policy seems to be falling apart, and China seems bound and determined to foment crises in the Pacific Rim. A smart presidential candidate could find a lot of material to criticize the Obama administration on foreign policy. Instead we have a GOP nominee that can't manage his own campaign, much less deep thoughts on geopolitics.
So if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna be doing a double face-palm for the rest of today.
Your humble blogger has not been shy in decrying those in Congress, the mainstream media, and the academy who believe that the answer to all of America's problems starts with defunding National Science Foundation research grants for political scientists. As I've blogged about repeatedly, political science research provides significant bang for the buck, and even the jargon serves a purpose.
However, a good social scientist must also acknowledge contradictory data points against his or her hypotheses. And so I must concede that this week the American Political Science Association has highlighted a decision-making process that suggests political scientists shouldn't be trusted with either money or power.
Readers might be aware that Tropical Storm Isaac appears to be bypassing the Republican National Convention in Tampa and is instead headed.... right for New Orleans. It's scheduled to his the NOLA area on Wednesday. This is a wee problem for political scientists because, well, the American Political Science Association annual meeting is scheduled to be held in - wait for it -- New Orleans from Thursday to Sunday. APSA has already cancelled all Wednesday pre-meeting activities, and based on the storm path, I'd place a 50/50 bet on the whole convention being scrubbed (the other possibility is APSA Hunger Games, which would end badly for all the post-materialists).
This gives rise to a very simple question of mine: why, in the name of all that is holy, did any political scientist think it was a good idea to have the annual meeting in a hurricane zone... DURING HURRICANE SEASON??!!
Now, you might think that this decision was made post-Katrina to express solidarity with the city of New Orleans -- it wasn't. According to this timeline, the decision was made in 2003. Still, it's not like hurricanes devastating New Orleans is a recent phenomenon -- there's a long and storied history of tropical storms hitting New Orleans right around Labor Day weekend. Indeed, there's even a history of hurricanes affecting past APSA conferences in New Orleans -- second-hand sources have informed me that a hurricane nearly hit the 1985 APSA meetings held in the Big Easy. Since that's the weekend APSA takes place, maybe places like New Orleans and Miami are bad hosting locales, right? Right?
[So you're saying you don't like these cities?--ed. No, I love both cities. Hell, I'm half convinced New Orleans exists merely to give writers an excuse to use the phrase "seedy charm." I'm saying if the conference is going to be held in late August/early September, avoiding hurricane zones seems like a prudent course of action.]
Now, since Katrina devastated New Orleans, there has been a huge controversy about whther it's a bright idea to hold the meeting there. However, if you look at that timeline, you'll see that the controversy has to do with Louisiana's "Defense of Marriage" constitutional amendment and the effect it would have on same-sex couples. This is a fair issue to raise, but I'm thinking that the whole "possibility of being in a hurricane zone" thing should have come up as well.
Looking over APSA's written guidelines for convention siting, I see that APSA has included criteria about regional diversity, local treatment of same-sex unions and partnerships, labor union strength, carbon neutrality, and ethnic and racial diversity. Might I humbly suggest that if political scientists want to be taken seriously by Congress and the general public, if would be a good idea to add "no city located in a hurricane zone during hurricane season" to the list of criteria?
Dear Mr. Hiatt (and Mr. Pexton),
Sorry to be writing to you in such a public format. I'm also sorry to bring up the rather touchy subject of your attempts to find a competent and authentically conservative blogger for the Post. But can we talk about Jennifer Rubin for a second?
As I blogged yesterday, Rubin demonstrated incompetence, laziness and/or mendacity in her "hackstabbing" of Robert Zoellick. In particular, she seemed unable to understand the meaning of the "responsible stakeholder" language that Zoellick started using in 2005, and her weblink to that language wasn't even close to accurate.
Today I wake up to see that she has offered a follow-up post on Zoellick and an update to the controversial post from yesterday. Let me just reprint that update in full.
UPDATE: To clarify, Zoellick in 2005 delivered a speech in which he encouraged China to become a “responsible stakeholder” in international affairs. From 2005 to the present in speeches, articles and interviews (asked in 2009 in Financial Times interview about China’s “scorecard” on acting as a responsible stakeholder he said “I think China has come a long way”), Zoellick repeatedly praised China’s conduct, despite ample signs China was anything but “responsible” and widespread criticism of the policy Zoellick had championed. Given Mitt Romney’s “take China to the WTO” stance and his unsparing criticism of China’s human rights abuses Romney could not be more different in his view of China.
Now this is a bit of an improvement. Rubin has accurately described what Zoellick was saying in 2005 (as opposed to how it still appears in her original post). She also suggests that that Zoellick rubs some neoconservatives/China hardliners the wrong way on positions like human rights abuses. That's a genuine policy disagreement.
Still, there are some issues. One problem is that even in the update, she's still screwing up her evidence. Her quote from the FT interview of Zoellick is a somewhat out of context -- it seems more like Zoellick was talking about China's economic development in that particular phrase:
Zoellick: I think China has come a very long long way. I have a special perspective because I was living in Hong Kong in 1980. I went to Guangdong province right after Deng Xiaoping started the reform process. All you have to do is compare the China of that era and the China of today. It’s so startling.
As for her embedded links: Rubin's URLs for the "widespread criticism" portion go to two different articles. The first one is accurate, but, alas, Rubin only bats .500. The "criticism" link goes to a paper by Jonathan Czin entitled "Dragon Slayer or Panda Hugger? Chinese Perspectives on 'Responsible Stakeholder' Diplomacy." Here's Czin's conclusion:
Zoellick attempted to move U.S. thinking beyond the wholly inadequate dichotomous roles of friend and enemy to define the grey conceptual space that China occupies. To say that China is neither a friend nor an enemy of the United States is not only a truism; it has also become a cliché. Neither China nor the United States wants to see China become part of a “hub and spokes” alliance system in East Asia. Yet the claim put forth by strategic thinkers such as John Mearsheimer that the changing material balance of power will inexorably and inevitably lead to Sino-American conflict is over-deterministic and threatens to engender a self-fulfilling prophecy. Moreover, it runs counter to the premise of U.S. China policy since Kissinger. Strategically, Zoellick’s “Third Way” offers the most reasonable and palatable option.
I do not think they anyone would characterize this as "criticism" of Zoellick's policy formulation. I read through the whole article, and couldn't really find any criticism of the policy. Between you, me and the lamppost, I suspect Rubin saw the "panda-hugger" headline and just put it in. But I concede that's pure speculation on my part.
Look, this is tedious stuff, and I don't like descending into the weeds all that much. Still, if Rubin can't correct her earlier screw-up without making yet another screw-up, doesn't that suggest that something is seriously wrong here? And don't you, as her publishers, bear just a wee bit of responsibility for this kind of mendacity and laziness?
Daniel W. Drezner
Dear Neoconservative Foreign Policy Flacks Who Work for Mitt Romney:
Hey there -- how's the campaign going? Oh, sorry, touchy topic.
So listen... I can see why you're all pissed off and everything that Robert Zoellick has agreed to act as the foreign policy "transition chief" for the Romney campaign. Zoellick has never really been "one of you," and he's more commonly associated with James Baker than with any neoconservative guru.
So yeah, I can see why you'd leak your complaints about this to Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post. Rubin might have her flaws, but if she's proven anything this election cycle, it's that she's a reliable stenographer for the Mitt Romney campaign.
Here's the thing, though -- if you're gonna leak to Rubin, I think you're also gonna have to do her homework for her. Rubin has been a bit sloppy as of late in her "Right Turn" posts, trivial stuff like confusing "Third Way" with "Third Wave."
With the Zoellick post she just
cut and pasted wrote up, however, I think she's gone from trivial mistakes to out-and-out incompetency and/or lying. Here's one paragraph:
For foreign policy hawks, Zoellick is an anathema. As the right hand man in the State Department and Treasury Department of James A, Baker, who was infamous for his anti-Israel stance, Zoellick acquired a reputation as ”soft” on China, weak on pressuring the Soviet Union at the close of the Cold War, opposed to the first Gulf War and unsupportive of the Jewish state. His stint as U.S. Trade Representative, and Deputy Secretary of State, in the George W. Bush administration did nothing too alter his image with foreign policy hardliners. That tenure will no doubt complicate Romney’s efforts to distance himself from his predecessor. And in 2011, Zoellick shocked foreign policy gurus by delivering a speech praising China, suggesting that it was a “responsible stakeholder” in Asia, at a time human rights abuses and aggressive conduct in Asia were bedeviling the Obama administration.
Now there's a lot of tendentious crap in that paragraph, but the doozy is the embedded link. Cause if you click on it, you get to a story with the headline: "Robert Zoellick: China 'Reluctant Stakeholder' in World Economic Woes". Here's the opening few paragraphs:
China is a vital but "reluctant stakeholder" in the current wave of Western financial woes, said Robert B. Zoellick, President of the World Bank.
Zoellick told listeners that China benefits from the international system and needs to "share the responsibilities" of that engagement, for the sake of both sides of the Pacific.
Hey, did you notice a key word difference between what Rubin claims Zoellick said and what Zoellick actually said? And that the word "responsible" appears nowhere in that story? And that Zoellick's statement here is fully consistent with what he told a Chinese audience the next month? So either Rubin didn't bother reading the embedded link you provided her, or she didn't read the embedded link at Zoellick's Wikipedia entry... or she didn't care. Whichever way it went down, it doesn't look good for either you or Rubin.
[An aside: Now I know what you're going to say -- Zoellick coined the "responsible stakeholder" language. That's partially true -- he introduced the idea in this 2005 speech. However, if you, like, actually read the speech, you'll see that he was arguing that, "We need to urge China to become a responsible stakeholder in that system." Zoellick wasn't saying that China was already responsible, as Rubin suggests in her
Wikipedia dump column. He was offering an aspirational goal for the Chinese government.]
You want to hit Zoellick? I think you're wrong, but fine, I get that. You want to use Rubin to do it? Then I suggest you write out exactly what she should print, and then double-check your f**king footnotes. Cause otherwise, the errors and distortions she prints will rebound back onto you.
All the best!
Daniel W. Drezner
Readers of this blog are aware that I am not a fan of the Flake Amendment, a proposal by the House of Representatives to zero out the political science portion of the National Science Foundation budget -- and only the political science portion of that budget -- so that the $9 million or so will go to the physical or natural sciences instead. This is one of those populist measures that sounds peach but in fact relies on either a piss-poor understanding of how public goods work, a piss-poor understanding of how political science works, or both.
Still, you'd expect that the natural and physical scientists would be at worst neutral about the Flake Amendment. After all, in a restrictive budgetary environment, anything that plumps up their research dollars can't hurt, right?
Via Steven Taylor , however, I see that the editors of Nature have a better grasp of political science than, well, some people who write about politics for a living. I don't agree with everything in this editorial, but I do agree with their main points:
The social sciences are an easy target for this type of attack because they are less cluttered with technical terminology and so seem easier for the layperson to assess. As social scientist Duncan Watts at Microsoft Research in New York City has pointed out: “Everyone has experience being human, and so the vast majority of findings in social science coincide with something that we have either experienced or can imagine experiencing.” This means that the Flakes of this world have little trouble proclaiming such findings obvious or insignificant.
Part of the blame must lie with the practice of labelling the social sciences as soft, which too readily translates as meaning woolly or soft-headed. Because they deal with systems that are highly complex, adaptive and not rigorously rule-bound, the social sciences are among the most difficult of disciplines, both methodologically and intellectually. They suffer because their findings do sometimes seem obvious. Yet, equally, the common-sense answer can prove to be false when subjected to scrutiny. There are countless examples of this, from economics to traffic planning. This is one reason that the social sciences probably unnerve some politicians...
So, what has political science ever done for us? We don't, after all, know why crime rates rise and fall. We cannot solve the financial crisis or stop civil wars, and we cannot agree on the state's role in systems of justice or taxation. As Washington Post columnist Charles Lane wrote in a recent article that called for the NSF not to fund any social science: “The 'larger' the social or political issue, the more difficult it is to illuminate definitively through the methods of 'hard science'.”.
In part, this just restates the fact that political science is difficult. To conclude that hard problems are better solved by not studying them is ludicrous. Should we slash the physics budget if the problems of dark-matter and dark-energy are not solved? Lane's statement falls for the very myth it wants to attack: that political science is ruled, like physics, by precise, unique, universal rules (emphasis added).
Indeed. A tip of the cap from this social scientist to the natural sciences -- it's good when nerds unite.
Friend of Mitt Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin blogged yesterday about the ten things she thinks Romney needs to talk about with respect to American foreign policy. Now, some of them are pretty anodyne ("Explain why America has to be involved in the world on both practical and philosophic grounds"), and some of them are fair shots at the Obama administration ("Obama dragged his heels for years on three free-trade agreements"). One of them, however, epitomizes a certain kind of right-wing revisionism that needs to be quashed immediately:
Obama made an error of historic proportion in failing to back the Green Movement in 2009 and to adopt regime change as the policy of the U.S. thereafter. His determination to engage a regime that had no intention of being engaged led to muteness when support was most needed by the Greens. Ever since we have failed to hold the regime accountable (for the assassination attempt on a Saudi diplomat, for example) for its actions. Obama has dragged his feet and engaged in self-delusion with regard to his Iran sanctions policy. It hasn’t slowed Iran’s nuclear weapons program. In talking down the military option he’s made the threat of force less credible, and shifted the burden to Israel to take care of a threat to the West (emphasis in original).
Now, there are many, many things wrong with this paragraph: Iran is not really a strategic threat to the West outside of Israel, and the Obama administration clearly hopes that the current sanctions regime could destabilize the Iranian regime. But let's focus on the 2009 moment.
I expect this talking point to pop up again and again among Romney foreign policy flacks, and if I were advising the campaign I'd probably recommend it as a sound political tactic. The beauty of this criticism is that it rests on a magical counter-factual that will never be tested: according to this narrative, if only Barack Obama had been more forceful in June 2009, then the Iranian regime would have crumbled and sweetness and light would have prevailed in the Middle East. It's a great campaign argument, because we'll never know what would have happened if Obama had acted as Rubin, Romney et al would have liked him to act. Romney can pledge that he would have acted differently in the summer of 2009, and he'll never, ever have to flip-flop on it.
The thing is, this argument that Obama could have tipped the scales in 2009 is utter horses**t. Recall that, during the uprising, the leaders of the Green Movement wanted nothing to do with more sanctions against Iran or with military action -- it took them six months of brutal repression for them to even toy with embracing targeted sanctions. Indeed, the reason the administration tiptoed around the Green Movement was that they did not want the Khamenei regime to taint the resistance as a Western-inspired creation. If Obama had been more vocal during the initial stages of the movement, it likely would have accelerated the timetable of the crackdown. And no U.S. action short of a full-scale ground assault could have stopped that.
Let's get rid of the fantasy counter-factual in which U.S. measures short of a ground campaign would have ejected the current Iranian regime. Let's also dismiss the idea that the Green Movement would have welcomed greater U.S. support.
Rubin, Romney et al want the Obama administration to be blunt about its desire to depose the current Iranian regime. This kind of policy statement does have the virtue of simplicity: it ends the negotiation track and leaves only military force as a viable option. Of course, such an approach would also spur Tehran into accelerating its nuclear program as a means of guaranteeing its own survival (which is, by the way, the one constant of Iranian foreign policy). And, again -- short of a ground campaign -- Iran's regime ain't going anywhere.
GOP foreign policy advocates want to argue that Obama screwed up in 2009. Understand, however, that when they argue that the United States should have taken more forceful action three years ago, the only forceful action that would have mattered was another ground war.
Am I missing anything?
So in yesterday's New York Times, Northwestern University political science professor Jacqueline Stevens wrote something really stupid about whether the NSF should fund political science.
I don't use the term "stupid" lightly. Based on her blog, she has a philosophy of science that's about, oh, sixty years out of date. She was (as she now acknowledges) sloppy with some of her facts. One paragraph proudly trumps a John Lewis Gaddis essay that actually critiques the very kind of work Stevens claims to like. And, after spending much of the essay indicting political scientists for getting in bed with an imperial state ("research money that comes with ideological strings attached"), she closes with:
Government can — and should — assist political scientists, especially those who use history and theory to explain shifting political contexts, challenge our intuitions and help us see beyond daily newspaper headlines. Research aimed at political prediction is doomed to fail. At least if the idea is to predict more accurately than a dart-throwing chimp.
To shield research from disciplinary biases of the moment, the government should finance scholars through a lottery: anyone with a political science Ph.D. and a defensible budget could apply for grants at different financing levels.
So, in other words, state funding is pernicious and corrupting -- unless you and yours get the money.
So yeah, there's a lot of stupidity contained in this essay. But that's OK!! I have been to many a seminar (and maybe, just maybe, presented at some) in which the paper du jour was horrible, but the discussion that the paper triggered was quite interesting. And I think that happened in this case. For robust deconstructions of Stevens' arguments, see Henry Farrell, Steve Saideman, Jim Johnson, and Jay Ulfelder.
Two other responses are worthy of note, however. At his blog, Phil Arena makes an interesting semi-serious suggestion:
Here's a thought experiment -- if [the American Political Science Association] were to increase membership dues by $500 a year or so, and if most current members remained members, we'd have a pool of money a bit smaller than the current NSF budget for political science, but still one that could fund a good number of projects with the greatest potential for generating positive externalities. The big data sets that lots of people use, like the NES, could continue. And let's face it, many of the individual projects that are funded by the NSF do not generate significant positive externalities -- and even if they did, a great many of them would be carried out even if without external funding. So the net loss wouldn't be that big.
Now, there are some obvious problems and not-so-obvious problems with this proposal. Obvbiously, APSA membership wouldn't stay the same size. Not-so-obviously, the demographics of APSA membership would likely skewresearch dollars in ways that people like Stevens would find even more abhorrent.
Still, I think a more modest version of this idea makes a great deal of sense. It's entirely reasonable to, say, ask that tenured professors at R1 research universities to chip in $500 to a research fund. It's also reasonable to ask other APSA members to chip in... something. I'd want to see the International Studies Association do the same. The result would not be a perfect substitute for NSF funding, but it would certainly be a good way of building up an appropriate research infrastructure free of Congressional interference.
Second, Penn political science professor Michael Horowitz posts about an ongoing research project with Official Blog Intellectual Crush Philip Tetlock. This section contains some beguiling findings... and an invitation:
One of the main things we are interested in determining is the situations in which experts provide knowledge-added value when it comes to making predictions about the world. Evidence from the first year of the project (year 2 started on Monday, June 18) suggests that, contrary to Stevens’ argument, experts might actually have something useful to say after all. For example, we have some initial evidence on a small number of questions from year 1 suggesting that experts are better at updating faster than educated members of the general public – they are better at determining the full implications of changes in events on the ground and updating their beliefs in response to those events.
Over the course of the year, we will be exploring several topics of interest to the readers – and hopefully authors – of this blog. First, do experts potentially have advantages when it comes to making predictions that are based on process? In other words, does knowing when the next NATO Summit is occurring help you make a more accurate prediction about whether Macedonia will gain entry by 1 April 2013 (one of our open questions at the moment)? Alternatively, could it be that the advantage of experts is that they have a better understanding of world events when a question is asked, but then that advantage fades over time as the educated reader of the New York Times updates in response to world events?
Second, when you inform experts of the predictions derived from prediction markets, the wisdom of groups, or teams of forecasters working together, are they able to use this information to yield more accurate predictions than the markets, the crowd, or teams, or do they make it worse? In theory, we would expect experts to be able to assimilate that information and use it to more accurately determine what will happen in the world. Or, maybe we would expect an expert to be able to recognize when the non-experts are wrong and outperform them. In reality, will this just demonstrate the experts are stubborn – but not in a good way?
Finally, are there types of questions where experts are more or less able to make accurate predictions? Might experts outperform other methods when it comes to election forecasting in Venezuela or the fate of the Eurozone, but prove less capable when it comes to issues involving the use of military force? We hope to explore these and other issues over the course of the year and think this will raise many questions relevant for this blog. We will report back on how it is going. In the meantime, we need experts who are willing to participate. The workload will be light – promise. If you are interested in participating, expert or not, please contact me at horom (at) sas (dot) upenn (dot) edu and let’s see what you can do.
So, to sum up: a stupid op-ed. But lots of interesting things to read as a result of it. Well done, other political scientists!!
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has quite the provocative op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal. He argues that even though "every living former secretary of State" endorses it, the United States should withdraw from the World Trade Organization.
The [WTO] proposes to create a new global governance institution that would regulate American citizens and businesses without being accountable politically to the American people. Some [WTO] proponents pay little attention to constitutional concerns about democratic legislative processes and principles of self-government, but I believe the American people take seriously such threats to the foundations of our nation.
The [WTO] creates a United Nations-style body called the "Dispute Settlement Mechanism." "The Mechanism," as U.N. bureaucrats call it in Orwellian shorthand, would be involved in all commercial activity...
Disagreements among [WTO] signatories are to be decided through mandatory dispute-resolution processes of uncertain integrity. Americans should be uncomfortable with unelected and unaccountable tribunals... serving as the final arbiter of such disagreements.
Oh, wait... you know what I did? I misread Rumsfeld's op-ed. Replace "WTO" with "Law of the Sea Treaty" and "Dispute Settlement Mechanism" with "International Seabed Authority." That's what Rumsfeld is arguing against.
But, hey, that totally innocent mistake on my part does a lovely job of demonstrating the hollowness of the best of a bad set of arguments. [What are Rumsfeld's other bad arguments?--ed. I believe, in order, 1) I worked with Reagan; 2) Authoritarian states would also benefit; and 3) I smell socialism, no matter what the U.S. Navy says.] The United States surrenders small parts of its sovereignty on a fairly regular basis. America does this because the massive gains that come from every other country surrendering their sovereignty outweigh those costs and constraints. Rumsfeld's argument, however, simply asserts that no sovereignty loss is tolerable -- which is gonna be news to our WTO and NATO partners, for starters.
What's especially impressive is that the former Secretary of Defense managed to write a whole op-ed weighing the costs and benefits of this treaty without ever once mentioning either "China" or "South China Sea." By ratifying this treaty, the United States and its Pacific allies would put China into a corner on that and other disputes.
Instead, Rumsfeld ignores that particular argument. So, let's just come out and say it: Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumfeld is soft on China.
Am I missing anything?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.