Earlier in the week the Washington Post's Chuck Lane wrote an op-ed arguing in favor of Jeff Flake's amendment to cut National Science Foundation funding for political science. In fact, Lane raised the ante, arguing that NSF should stop funding all of the social sciences, full stop.
Now, I can respect someone who tries to make the argument that the opportunity costs of funding the social sciences are big enough that this is where a budget cut should take place. It's harder, however, to respect someone who:
2) Is unaware that the social sciences are -- increasingly -- running experiments as well;
3) Believes that because individual social scientists have normative preferences, the whole enterprise cannnot be objective (or, in other words, doesn't undersand the scientific enterprise at all);
4) Fails to comprehend the economics of public goods;
5) Hasn't really thought through what would happen if all social science was privately funded.
Now, all columnists can have a bad day, so that's fine. What I find intriguing, however, is that Lane's response to criticism from political scientists to his essay can be summarized in one tweet: "shorter my critics re poli sci funding: we want our money." This is cute, but overlooks the fact that a lot of Lane's poli sci critics -- myself included -- haven't received a dime in NSF funding.
More disconcertingly, it's intellectually lazy. Sources of funding do matter in public discourse, but they do not vitiate the logic contained in the arguments linked to above. This is simply Lane's cheap and easy excuse for not engaging the substance of his critics' arguments.
The hard-working folks here at the blog believe strongly in reciprocity, so Lane has done us a small favor -- we no longer need to read Chuck Lane's arguments all that carefully, or take him all that seriously, ever again.
Honestly, my dear readers, I've been trying to pivot away from deconstructing Mitt Romney's foreign policy musings. After a half-year of watching GOP presidential debates and then reading Romney's blinkered musings on various hot spots, I think this horse has pretty much been beaten to death.
Except that, with Romney's NATO Chicago Tribune op-ed this past weekend, I fear he and his campaign have crossed the line from really stupid foreign policy pronouncements to logically contradictory ones.
Here's how Romney's op-ed opens and closes:
NATO has kept the peace in Europe for more than six decades. But today, the alliance is at a crossroads. It is time to speak candidly about the challenges facing the United States and our allies and how to rise to them.
In a post-Cold War world, territorial defense of Europe is no longer NATO's one overriding mission. Instead, the alliance has evolved to uphold security interests in distant theaters, as in Afghanistan and Libya. Yet through all the changes to the global landscape, two things have remained constant about the alliance. For it to succeed, it requires strong American leadership. And it also requires that member states carry their own weight....
At this moment of both opportunities and perils — an Iranian regime with nuclear ambitions, an unpredictable North Korea, a revanchist Russia, a China spending furiously on its own military, to name but a few of the major challenges looming before us — the NATO alliance must retain the capacity to act.
As president, I will work closely with our partners to bolster the alliance. In that effort, words are not enough.
I will reverse Obama-era military cuts. I will not allow runaway entitlement spending to swallow the defense budget as has happened in Europe and as President Obama is now allowing here.
I really like his first paragraph... and then we run into a whole mess of problems. In ascending order of importance:
1) What the f**k does NATO have to do with either North Korea or China? Seriously, I get that NATO has expanded to out-of-theater operations, but does anyone seriously think that German forces are going to be deployed along the Pacific Rim? I didn't think so.
2) In what way is Russia "revanchist"? Oh, sure, the Russians are chatty, but does anyone seriously believe that, right now, Moscow poses any kind of security threat to the rest of Europe? One semi-competent victory over a former Soviet repiblic does not constitute revanchism, and swelling domestic discontent and the Mother of All Demographic Crunches suggests that Vladimir Putin will be way to preoccupied with the problems within his own borders to be much of a problem in Europe.
3) There's an oldie but a goodie of an article on NATO by Mancur Olson and Richard Zeckhauser entitled "An Economic Theory of Alliances." Romney's advisors should take a gander. The basic point is that in an alliance containing a single superpower, the rest of the alliance members will tend to free-ride off of the hegemonic actor. In essence, Romney's op-ed doubles down on that free-rider logic. If Romney commits to boosting U.S. defense spending, exactly what incentive does this give our NATO allies to boost theirs?
4) So Romney wants to "speak candidly about the challenges facing the United States and our allies and how to rise to them"? OK... and apparently the way for NATO to face these challenges is to "work closely with our partners to bolster the alliance." That, and reverse Obama's defense cuts.
To which I have to say: that's it?! Really?! If this is Romney speaking candidly, then this SNL skit is more true-to-life than I realized.
Am I missing anything? Seriously, am I? I don't like it when a guy with a 50/50 chance of being president in January 2013 has abandoned the Logic Train.
Lots o' stuff to chat about in the higher education universe, but let's keep it to three items in this blog post:
1) My student-soon-to-be-Doctor-of-Philosophy Patrick Meier and Chris Albon blog "Advice to Future PhDs from 2 Unusual Graduating PhDs." They make some interesting, provocative, and dare I say counterintuitive arguments.
I disagree with a couple of their points. First of all, I ain't buying "the blog is the new CV." The blog is a calling card, and if you're lucky it's a branding device -- but it's not the same thing as a vita. Second of all, I think they tend to inductively generalize from their own experiences and capabilities. Not everyone should take on outside projects or teach at every opportunity, because these are excellent not-writing-your-dissertation activities. Finally, I think their seven pieces of advice are out of sequence. Their #3, #6 and #7 are the most important things. Only once you've answered those questions should you even consider following the rest of their advice. Still, read the whole thing.
2) I see that Naomi Schaefer Riley got fired from her Chronicle of Higher Education gig for writing a 500 word blog post bashing dissertations-in-progress in African-American studies without reading them. Riley has written her response on the Wall Street Journal op-ed page. James Joyner provides an excellent round-up of the affair. My take is similar to Joyner in that, to be blunt, neither the Chronicle nor Riley come out of this looking very good. The Chronicle looks like it kowtowed to the pressures of academic political correctness by either not reacting sooner or standing their ground. Riley, on the other hand, has put herself in the indefensible position of calling for greater academic rigor while whinging that those standards shouldn't apply to her when she blogs for the Chronicle. So, a pox on everyone's house for this affair.
3) The House of Representatives, in its infinite wisdom, has voted to cut funding for political science -- and only political science -- from the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences part of the National Science Foundation. Representative Jeff Flake's justified cutting the funding using pretty much the same logic as Senator Tom Coburn did in 2009 when he lamely tried to do the same thing [At least he didn't claim that "social scientists brought our world to the brink of chaos"!!--ed. Thank goodness for small favors.] .
There’s real irony here in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives voting to defund a political-science program at a time when the Department of Defense and “intelligence community” seem to be increasing spending on it. With things like the Minerva Initiative, ICEWS, IARPA’s Open Source Indicators programs, the parts of the government concerned with protecting national security seem to find growing value in social-science research and are spending accordingly. Meanwhile, the party that claims to be the stalwart defender of national security pulls in the opposite direction, like the opposing head on Dr. Doolittle’s Pushmi-pullyu. Nice work, fellas.
I spent most of today on a transcontinental flight either sitting on the tarmac or cursing at the executives at United Airlines dumb enough to think 1) A Katherine Heigl movie will put everyone in a better mood; and 2) Running out of food -- for purchase, mind you -- halfway through the flight would be a swell idea.
I was, in other words, in a very cranky mood. And then someone asked me to look at a Paul Saunders essay over at The National Interest. Here's how it opens:
The Obama administration’s poor handling of its interaction with Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng has prompted renewed denunciations of its “realist” foreign policy, already a focus for critics of its approach to Russia, the Middle East and other major international issues. Yet while criticism of the administration’s conduct is appropriate, calling it “realist” is misguided. In fact, the administration’s aimless and stumbling pragmatism is giving realism and realists a bad name.
Pragmatism is a central component of foreign-policy realism, but it is only so when firmly subordinated to a strategic vision founded on American interests and reflecting American values. While President Obama and senior administration officials cling rhetorically to a strategic vision based on a pragmatic version of liberal internationalism, attempting to build a rule-based liberal international order, the sum total of U.S. policy appears instead to define a considerably narrower goal: avoiding international problems, particularly when they have domestic political consequences.
Oh thank you thank you thank you -- there's nothing that puts me in a better mood than seeing tripe like this and ripping it to shreds.
1) They don't give a flying fig about promoting "American values" overseas;
2) They don't sweat the small stuff.
The first point is Realism 101, and doesn't need to be elaborated upon. It's the second thing that matters more here. Seriously, all realists pretty much care about is the relationships among the great powers. And if you step back, the signal theme of the Obama administration's foreign policy guidance and national security guidance has been to disengage from costly ground campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan and refocus energy on the most dynamic region in the global economy and the only one with a possible rising hegemon. That seems to fit this description of a realist foreign policy pretty well. That's exactly what the Obama administration has done with its "strategic pivot" or "rebalancing" or whatever they're calling it this week.
If you focus on the big picture, this administration is really realist. If you focus on small tactical errors like the Chen case and inductively generalize from that, well, you've revealed yourself to be someone without a firm grasp of realpolitik principles in the first place.
Congratulations to Mr. Saunders for being this week's Vizzini Award winner -- I don't think "realism" means what he thinks it means.
It's the last day of the International Studies Association annual meetings. I'm sleep-deprived, hung over, moderately sunburned, and pretty sick of international relations theory. While this throwback to my college days is moderately nostalgic, it is usually not a good state for blogging. Trying to tackle or critique the finer points of a nuanced argument takes energy and analytic skills, and after losing Twitter Fight Club 2012, I'm feeling wanting in both.
But, just when it seems like there's nothing I'm capable of blogging about in such a state, along comes Donald Trump.
When we last left The Donald in the world of foreign policy, he was uttering such inane, ignorant statements that I even invented an award in his honor. Today, Politico reports that Trump offered the following opinion on Laura Ingraham's radio show:
I happen to think that the President is going to start a war with Iran. I think it will be a short-term popular thing to do, and I think he’s going to do that for political reasons, if you want to know the truth. I don’t know if anyone says this as openly, but I think he’s going to start a war with Iran. And, that will be short-term popular. If you remember Bush, Bush was unbeatable for about two months, and then all of the sudden the world set in when he attacked Iraq. And he went from very popular to not popular at all. But I think that Obama will start in some form a war with Iran, and I think that will make him very popular for a short period of time. That will make him hard to beat also.
Now I could go on a long-winded rant about Trump's stupidity, but I think it's more fun to treat this as a challenge to my readers. See, it's not just that Trump makes a few errors in that paragraph, it's that with one partial exception, every single statement he just said was factually wrong.
So, rather than ask my readers to point out the myriad ways in which Donald Trump is in error, here's my challenge -- what sentence in the above paragraph contains the most truth value?
Get to it, dear readers -- while I go search for Advil.
UPDATE: So I see that Trump has said other controversial things today. I will leave it to readers to judge whether the veracity of his later comments are greater than his foreign-policy musings.
Here's a fun little exercise. Let's say that the vice-president of a political consulting firm went on MSNBC or Fox News with the argument that no matter what the U.S. government said, Osama bin Laden wasn't actually buried at sea. No, this wouldn't be a claim that Osama had returned as a zombie. The VP would simply argue that based on past standard operating procedures and the desire of some agencies in the USG to gather forensic evidence, it would seem likely that they would want the body. In all likelihood the cable anchor would then ask if there was any direct evidence to back up this assertion. The VP would either say no, dodge the question, or imply some third-hand knowledge, and that would be that.
Here's my question: would this cable news hit generate anything in the way of news headlines?
I ask this because the Drudge Report has headlined: "WIKILEAKED: BIN LADEN BODY NOT BURIED AT SEA" This sounds pretty definitive. But if you look at the actual Stratfor emails that Wikileaks provides on the matter, you get little but speculations and assertions from Stratfor CEO George Friedman and VP Fred Burton. From Friedman:
Eichmann was seen alive for many months on trial before being sentenced to death and executed. No one wanted a monument to him so they cremated him. But i dont know anyone who claimed he wasnt eicjhman (sic). No comparison with suddenly burying him at sea without any chance to view him which i doubt happened.
And from Burton:
We would want to photograph, DNA, fingerprint, etc.
His body is a crime scene and I don't see the FBI nor DOJ letting that happen....
Body is Dover bound, should be here by now.
That's it. No sourcing, nothing else. Friedman is speculating, while Burton makes a somewhat stronger assertion without much empirical foundation. The only reason this is on the front page of Drudge -- and the only reason reporters are running with it -- is that the Stratfor e-mails were private and not intended for public consumption. And if it's private, then it must be pretty good!
Or not. Look, reporters and analysts should pore over these email contents and see if there is anything of value. But they also need to follow up with outside experts in their reporting to distinguish between what's said in the emails and what's actually true. Because, to repeat a point I made a few years ago: "just because someone says something in a Wikileaks memo doesn't make it so." Indeed, it is precisely this sort of BS pseudo-analysis that makes me distrust the quality of Stratfor's analysis in the first place.
Rick Santorum made some headlines over the weekend about calling President Obama a "snob" because POTUS ostensibly wants all Americans to get a four-year college degree. Here's the clip:
Now, most commentators are focusing on the "snob" comment or the broader thrust of Santorum's jeremiad against higher education or whether this will play in Michigan. I want to focus on the idiocy contained in the first part of Santorum's comment. This is important, because ostensibly one of Santorum's policy strengths is that he knows and likes manufacturing.
In the opening parts of the clip, Santorum says as follows:
I know what it means to have those manufacturing jobs at that entry level to get you in there, and it gives you the opportunity to accumulate more skills over time and rise, so you can provide a better standard of living for your family. And those opportunities are for working men and women -- not all folks are gifted in the same way. Some people have incredible gifts with their hands.
What's disturbing about this bit is that Santorum's ideas about manufacturing employment are so outdated. For an example, take a good, long look at Adam Davisdon's excellent essay in The Atlantic about how American manufacturing looks today. He zeroes in on two workers -- Maddie and Luke. Maddie is exactly the kind of worker Santorum wants to talk about -- a low-level worker with aspirations to move up. But read this part:
The last time I visited the factory, Maddie was training a new worker. Teaching her to operate the machine took just under two minutes. Maddie then spent about 25 minutes showing her the various instructions Standard engineers have prepared to make certain that the machine operator doesn’t need to use her own judgment. “Always check your sheets,” Maddie says.
By the end of the day, the trainee will be as proficient at the laser welder as Maddie. This is why all assembly workers have roughly the same pay grade—known as Level 1—and are seen by management as largely interchangeable and fairly easy to replace. A Level 1 worker makes about $13 an hour, which is a little more than the average wage in this part of the country. The next category, Level 2, is defined by Standard as a worker who knows the machines well enough to set up the equipment and adjust it when things go wrong. The skilled machinists like Luke are Level 2s, and make about 50 percent more than Maddie does.
For Maddie to achieve her dreams—to own her own home, to take her family on vacation to the coast, to have enough saved up so her children can go to college—she’d need to become one of the advanced Level 2s. A decade ago, a smart, hard-working Level 1 might have persuaded management to provide on-the-job training in Level-2 skills. But these days, the gap between a Level 1 and a 2 is so wide that it doesn’t make financial sense for Standard to spend years training someone who might not be able to pick up the skills or might take that training to a competing factory.
It feels cruel to point out all the Level-2 concepts Maddie doesn’t know, although Maddie is quite open about these shortcomings. She doesn’t know the computer-programming language that runs the machines she operates; in fact, she was surprised to learn they are run by a specialized computer language. She doesn’t know trigonometry or calculus, and she’s never studied the properties of cutting tools or metals. She doesn’t know how to maintain a tolerance of 0.25 microns, or what tolerance means in this context, or what a micron is (emphasis added).
It should be noted that Luke didn't get a four-year college degree either -- he went to community college. But that's actually consistent with what Obama has been saying on this issue. I'm not sure it's consistent with Santorum's worldview. Indeed, his notion that career advancement in manufacturing is possible simply through the sweat and skill of a person's brow is badly, badly antiquated. Which is something he would know if he, um... studied the issue a bit more.
UPDATE: I see Santorum's run of not-understanding-a-lot-of-economics continues.
WikiLeaks had been kind of quiet as of late, but yesterday they enigmatically tweeted that there would be "extraordinary news sometime in the next 96 hours." Soon after, they released the following announcement:
WikiLeaks began publishing The Global Intelligence Files – more than five million emails from the Texas-headquartered "global intelligence" company Stratfor. The emails date from between July 2004 and late December 2011. They reveal the inner workings of a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations, such as Bhopal’s Dow Chemical Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines and the US Defense Intelligence Agency. The emails show Stratfor’s web of informers, pay-off structure, payment-laundering techniques and psychological methods....
Like WikiLeaks’ diplomatic cables, much of the significance of the emails will be revealed over the coming weeks, as our coalition and the public search through them and discover connections. Readers will find that whereas large numbers of Stratfor’s subscribers and clients work in the US military and intelligence agencies, Stratfor gave a complimentary membership to the controversial Pakistan general Hamid Gul, former head of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service, who, according to US diplomatic cables, planned an IED attack on international forces in Afghanistan in 2006. Readers will discover Stratfor’s internal email classification system that codes correspondence according to categories such as ’alpha’, ’tactical’ and ’secure’. The correspondence also contains code names for people of particular interest such as ’Izzies’ (members of Hezbollah), or ’Adogg’ (Mahmoud Ahmedinejad).
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz............... huh? Oh, I'm sorry I must have dozed off there for a second. Man, I sure can't wait for that extraordinary news to be relea-- wait, that's it?
OK, seriously? Wikileaks thinks this is a big reveal? Seriously? I mean, I'm not gonna lie, I'm personally quite excited. The market for political consulting kinda fascinates me, and this kind of e-mail treasure trove should be a gold mine for research into how Stratfor does what it does -- provided one can separate the fake e-mails from the real thing. Furthermore, IR students the world over who are in desperate need of a thesis idea should be on these emails like fake ash on Ryan Seacrest.
On the whole, however, this ain't that big of a deal. I might be biased here because I've looked into the brain of Stratfor founder George Friedman and come away unimpressed. It could be that a lot of WikiLeaks rhetoric on this issue smacks of massive hypocrisy. It's more than a bit rich, for example, that someone like Julian Assange complains that "the private intelligence industry lacks control placed on government organizations." I hate to break it to Assange, but based on his own actions it seems like the nonprofit intelligence sector is just as unregulated.
This kind of docu-dump says more about Wikileaks and Anonymous than it does about anything else. Wikileaks thinks it's groundbreaking that Stratfor CEO George Friedman had contact with Bush administration power-broker Karl Rove in the fall of 2011. I read the e-mail exchange, and if you think that's groundbreaking, you need to read more interesting things on the interwebs.
Seriously, am I missing anything? Is there anything being revealed that's anything close to revelatory?
I know I declared a mercy rule on Herman Cain, but two developments have created a one-time exception. First, Cain sent up the first signal that he might drop out of the race. Second, he delivered a foreign policy speech while adding a "paper" and a "brochure" to his campaign website. And I just can't quit Herman Cain -- the man has provided way too much fodder for this blog to simply let him fade away. So, for old time's sake -- one last post!!
There's little in the way of an overarching strategic vision or discussion of cross-cutting issues (
though, to be fair, that could have been in the speech itself which, according to NRO's John J. Miller, "was curiously light on substance."). The paper is really just a list of twenty countries, the labels Herman Cain applies to them, and then a paragraph or two of whatever his interns could find on Wikipedia description. Some examples of the labels:
Mexico: "Friend and Partner"
Canada: "Friend and Ally"
Iran: "Adversary Regime"
Afghanistan: "Strategic Partner"
Pakistan: "Danger and Opportunity"
India: "Strategic Partner"
I'm only disappointed that the Cain campaign wasn't more thorough and imaginative with its countries. Some suggestions:
Chile: "Strategic, mountainous ally"
Turkey: "Sultry Minx"
Saudi Arabia: "Ask John Bolton"
Lebanon: "Good kebabs"
Hawaii: "This one's ours, right?"
Uzbekistan: "Wait, that's a real country?"
As for the countries Cain does talk about, well, some highlights suggest that
outdated Wikipedia entries Cain's staff might have needed another draft:
Germany is a key figure in Europe’s economy. It has risen to the daunting challenge of keeping the euro afloat in troubled financial times – no small feat....
Russia’s insistence on the New START Treaty has put the U.S.A. at a distinct disadvantage, not only relative to Russia, but also to the world’s other nuclear powers.
Mr. Cain sheds no tears for Colonel Gaddafi, who personally ordered the killing of Americans. However, the White House launched the war in Libya under the Obama Doctrine of the “responsibility to protect.” The question now is: “protect whom?” The Libyan rebellion-turned-government has been aided by al Qaeda, and it is dominated by Islamists that have not been friendly to U.S. interests. Also, despite the fact that Libya is more of a vital interest to Europe than it is to America, (Europe buys 90% of Libya’s oil and it would be Europe that would be overwhelmed in any refugee crisis), President Obama spent more than a billion dollars on this adventure and led the initial military action. As president, Mr. Cain will work to bring clarity to the Libyan situation....
Under President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt was a friend. With Mubarak shoved out by Arab Spring protests -- with help from President Obama -- Egypt could be a nightmare unfolding.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which was determined to be a terrorist organization under Mubarak, is poised to pick up a sizable number of seats in Parliamentary elections. Though in office too long, at least Mubarak maintained peace with Israel, which polls show 90% of Egyptians oppose. Now we’re seeing the results, with cross-border attacks on Israeli civilians, the ransacking of Israel’s embassy in Cairo, opening up the border to a terrorist organization in Gaza, and open season on Coptic Christians, with churches being burned and mobs on killing sprees.
Egypt is an example of the pressing need for the clarity that Mr. Cain will bring to U.S. foreign policy....
Mr. Cain’s overall strategy for our chief economic competitor is this: Outgrow China. His economic policies will unleash the growth potential of the U.S. economy and transcend the threat from China. (emphasis added)
There's more, but you get the drift. As you can see, for a number of countries, Cain's paper lists concerns and then says Cain will bring "clarity" to the issue -- without saying exactly what that means in terms of policy. In other words, Cain keeps calling for carity in an unclear manner.
In other places, the paper simply gets its facts wrong (cough, Germany, cough) or proposes fantastical solutions (cough, China, cough). There are plenty of other mistakes (check out the Yemen section), but I'll let the readers find them in the comments.
To conclude, Herman Cain managed to hire some of the worst campaign interns ever to produce this dud of a document.
Herman, I swear....
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Having watched the last national security debate ten days ago, tonight's CNN/Heritage/AEI debate felt at times like a stale rerun. Michelle Bachmann trotted out her same ACLU line, Mitt Romney made the same bleats about the American Century, Ron Paul was … Ron Paul.
Having now watched way too many of these suckers, I'm probably far too
inebriated jaded to evaluate these candidates in the same way that a newcomer to their positions would. They still have to appeal to those newcomers, however, so I can't fault them entirely for repeats.
This is a long-winded way of saying that this debate left me in a very sour mood, primarily because of the following:
1) CNN decided to -- yet again -- waste 15 minutes with various forms of opening introductions. That's 15 minutes that could have been devoted to actual questions.
2) Many of the AEI and Heritage think-tankers asked excellent questions, but why did David Addington and Marc Thiessen get to ask questions while Derek Scissors or Sadanand Dhume didn't? The effect was that, after two hours, not one question was asked about China, North Korea, the rest of the Pacific Rim, India, the eurozone, NATO, Egypt, or Russia. That's just horrible debate management on someone's part.
3) All of the leading candidates said something mind-numbingly stupid. Newt Gingrich claimed that if the United States just unleashed the domestic oil drills, the global price for oil would crash within a year. That's a crock. Mitt Romney suggested trying Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for genocide. I'm no fan of Ahmadinejad, but... huh? Ron Paul claimed that Israel had sacrificed its sovereignty to the United States, which is an... interesting interpretation of events. He also claimed that all American foreign aid was worthless, which would be news to the Africans not suffering from malaria or tuberculosis.
So, with those provisos, my quick letter grades:
Newt Gingrich: A- Beyond that energy answer, Gingrich was probably the best of the lot, but that was as much due to style as substance. He gave a lot of "we need to be more strategic than tactical" bromides to start, but to be fair, when pushed he gave cogent answers.
Jon Hunstman: A- Huntsman went hard after Romney on the commander-in-chief question, and for much of the night gave the best answers to myriad questions. That said, he also had some surprisingly weak answers at times, like on the use of drones in Pakistan.
Ron Paul: B+ Consistent as always in his approach, and in some ways he offers the most logically coherent foreign policy of the bunch. As a debater, however, he's second rate. Gingrich schooled him on a question regarding homeland security, for example, when I symathize much more with Paul's position.
Michelle Bachmann: B At this point, Michelle Bachmann is a one-trick pony. On Pakistan -- a particularly tough issue -- she gives thoughtful, nuanced, intelligent responses. Everything else is Crazytown. Pakistan took up a large part of the debate, however, so she did well, takin Perry in paticular to task.
Rick Santorum: B He gave a good answer on foreign aid, and cracked a funny joke about agreeing with Ron Paul. Unfortunately, he also said, "Africa was a country on the brink." Oops.
Mitt Romney: B- Any time you screw up your own introduction, it's going to be a bad night. Romney wasn't horrible by any stretch, but he got pushed by Huntsman on civil-military relations and by Gingrich on immigration. Those guys are no Rick Perry. He did rally with a very thoughtful and considered answer on Syria, however.... in which he schooled Rick Perry.
Rick Perry: D At this point, Perry serves mostly as a foil to make other candidates (Paul, Bachmann, Romney) look smarter. Hard to believe this man was the front-runner, ever.
Herman Cain: F The mercy rule is, thankfully, still in effect.
What did you think?
For the record, I don't think Herman Cain is stupid. I do think he's willfully ignorant about anything to do with foreign policy however. If that wasn't manifestly obvious prior to this weekend, please watch the following conversation between Cain and the Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal editorial board regarding Libya:
I have a personal preference that ignoramuses should be drummed out of presidential politics as quickly as possible, but that was just painful to watch. Needless to say, I don't think the boning up is helping all that much.
I don't care if this man is leading the polls in Iowa, or is still running a strong second (or a weak third) in the national polls. I suspect he's on the downside of his popularity bubble -- and for the sake of my own sanity, I just can't pay any more attention to Herman Cain's foreign policy views.
There's a mercy rule in Little League, and I'm applying it here -- unless and until Herman Cain surges back in the polls again, or manages to muster something approaching cogency in his foreign policy statements, there's no point in blogging about him anymore. I can only pick on an ignoramus so many times before it feels sadistic.
I'd leave it at that, except that this story clearly represents the Cain campaign's efforts to push back on the notion that he doesn't know enough about foreign affairs. And so we get... the following:
Almost every day, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is handed a one-page briefing from his chief foreign policy adviser on news from around the world.
It’s one of several things his campaign says the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO, who has never held elective office before, is now doing to bone up on foreign policy — especially as he faces a big test in November at a GOP debate on national security issues.
“He’s really getting up to speed a lot more so than people give him credit for,” J.D. Gordon, Cain’s foreign policy and national security adviser who prepares the briefings, said in an interview with The Daily Caller on Monday....
Gordon says Cain has been receiving counsel from people well known in the foreign policy community. While Gordon won’t say who Cain talks with, Cain has admitted he admires people like former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton.
Other steps Cain has taken to educate himself about foreign policy, Gordon said, include his visit to Israel in August “to learn the facts on the ground.”
“He met with the deputy prime minister and the mayor of Jerusalem,” Gordon said (emphasis added).
It's the "almost" that kills me.
Look, I get that Cain is going to put the United back in the United States of America, and the economy is really, really super-important. So are the decisions to expend blood and treasure around the world, however. This kind of spin on Cain's foreign policy interest -- and, bear in mind, spin is the comparative advantage of Cain's chief foreign policy advisor -- is just f***ing absurd.
whored mingled enough with the magazine world to understand that publishing "best/worst" lists are fun and engaging. Some choices will be universally acknowledged, others will provoke controversy and debate, and so forth. Lists are always going to engage the readers. It's almost impossible to get them wrong.
I bring this up because The Atlantic's list of the best and worst foreign policy presidents of the past century is really, really wrong.
Democracy Arsenal's Michael Cohen cobbled together the list. Here are his criteria:
After reaching out to host of historians, foreign policy experts, academics and various think tankers here's one stab at answering a question which, in many respects, has no right answer. How you choose the best and worst foreign policy President depends in large measure on what values inform your vision of what a good foreign policy looks like. If you're a foreign policy idealist, Wilson would seem pretty good; a foreign policy realist; you might cast a vote for George H.W Bush or even Richard Nixon. If you prefer your presidents to talk tough, Harry Truman might be your man; if you prefer a more modest and less partisan figure, Dwight Eisenhower might float your boat.
As my list suggests, I tend to lean toward the more restrained, pragmatic realists who are suspicious about the use of force. Conversely, I'm more wary of not only the idealistic and ideologically driven presidents, but also those who use foreign policy, most destructively, as a tool of domestic politics.
OK, fair enough. Here's his list:
The Five Best Presidents: 1) FDR; 2) Dwight Eisenhower; 3) George H.W. Bush; 4) Ronald Reagan; 5) John F. Kennedy
The Five Worst Presidents: 1) LBJ; 2) Jimmy Carter; 3) Woodrow Wilson; 4) Harry Truman; 5) Richard Nixon.
I'll let Tom Ricks rebut the JFK assessment on his own blog. I'll let my readers make other objections -- and there are many ones to make -- with most of he list. My problem is with the assessment of Harry Truman as, somehow, one of the five worst foreign policy presidents of the last century.
Here's Cohen's explanation -- let's do this by paragraph, shall we?
Harry Truman has in the nearly 50 years since he left the White House grown significantly in the estimation of both the public and many historians. To be sure, he deserves enormous credit for protecting and stabilizing Western Europe with the Marshall Plan and the creation of NATO. These are signal achievements but as historians from Robert Dallek and Walter Lafeber to Fredrik Logevall have suggested there is a pretty significant downside to Truman's presidency as well.
One must stop here or a second and admire Cohen's ability to glom most of Truman's foreign policy accomplishments into a single sentence. That takes some doing. One could have at least noted that in the span of five years Truman and his foreign policy advisors created pragmatic institutions that not only withstood the Cold War but prospered even after it ended. Nope, nothing on that point. That takes some serious doing.
OK, let's move onto Truman's alleged defects:
First there was Korea. An impulsive response to a cross-border attack that re-shaped American foreign policy. It was the final nail in the coffin of the more modest containment strategy proposed by George Kennan and by default enshrined the notion that the US had a responsibility to contain Communism wherever it showed its fangs. But while the decision to go to war can be considered a debatable one; the failure in rein in Douglas MacArthur's push to the Yalu River, which triggered a Chinese intervention is a disaster that can't be washed away (even by Truman's later decision to fire the general). Considering that more than 20 million North Koreans continue to live in terrible hardship today because of that decision only compounds the mistake (emphasis added).
Why yes, that's so true. Had Truman not decided to respond in force in Korea, there wouldn't be 20 million North Koreans living in terrible hardship -- there would be at least 60 million Koreans living in terrible hardship.
Seriously, this line of reasoning makes no sense to me. I understand but strongly disagree with the logic that intervening in Korea was a mistake. I understand and kinda agree with the contention that crossing the 38th parallel was exceedingly costly in terms of blood and treasure. I simply can't understand, however, the argument that had the U.S. not made that push, North Korea would have evolved differently. Would Kim-Il Sung have abandoned juche if MacArthur hadn't tried for the Yalu?
Speaking of MacArthur, you can't acknowledge Truman's failure to rein him in without also acknowledging that by firing MacArthur, Truman cemented civilian control over the military just as the size of the U.S. military was reaching a new high.
Beyond Korea, the Truman Doctrine and its declaration that it was the "policy of the United States to support free people who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures" laid the groundwork for the limitless definition of US national interests that unfolded over the next 60 years. As Kennan would later note, it was one thing to contain Communism in Europe (a goal on which Truman succeeded). It was quite another to broaden that goal to the rest of the world. There is, as a result, a straight line between Truman's foreign policy choices and the war in Vietnam.
Right, this is why Eisenhower felt compelled to intervene in Vietnam during Dien Bien Phu -- oh, wait, as Cohen points out in his Eisenhower write-up, he did the exact opposite of that. I don't buy straight-line arguments that take two decades to play out.
Then there was Truman's use of anti-Communist rhetoric for political advantage that turned what might have been a balance of power, geo-political clash into an ideological one. This, of course, also helped to politicize the Cold War in the United States and heightened the issue of anti-Communism. Indeed, few Presidents more flagrantly used foreign policy as a political punching bag as frequently as Truman.
I'd be more charitable towards this point if Cohen hadn't also said that Eisenhower "used Cold War fears to push for national highway system and more money for higher education, two smart national security investments." When is using foreign policy fears at home good and when is it bad, exactly? Based on Cohen's list, I can't tell.
Finally, ask yourself a counter-factual: how would the Cold War have unfolded if FDR had lived out his fourth term, rather than having the inexperienced Truman become the leader of the Free World? It's not hard to imagine that the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, so deftly handled by FDR during WWII, would have been minimized and a less militarist and dangerous conflict might have emerged. At the very least, as Robert Dallek points out even if superpower, ideological conflict between the US and Soviet Union was inevitable, Truman never really sought to find an alternative (emphasis added).
Again, I'm not sure what to make of this. First, Cohen acknowledged that FDR "sold out the Eastern Europe countries at Yalta." Does he believe that FDR would have somehow been able to repulse Stalin in Iran, Greece, Turkey and elsewhere without a Cold War -- or do those countries not matter?
Second, if the bipolar distribution of power made superpower conflict inevitable, why exactly should Truman be blamed for not dickering around with alternatives that would have crashed and burned? According to this logic, Truman is one of the five worst foreign policy presidents of the last century because he failed to pursue unfeasible options. I'm sorry, but clearly I don't get it.
In his blog post explaining the list, Cohen acknowledges that:
I'm probably far too generous to John F. Kennedy, who makes the best list, and far too harsh to Richard Nixon, who makes the worst list. This is a pretty fair critique and if I had my druthers I'd put both men somewhere in the middle, but the need for editorial symmetry was too strong!
Fair enough -- but I'm sorry, listing Harry Truman as one of the five-worst foreign policy presidents is absurd.
Am, I missing anything?
For those readers not keeping close tabs on the debt ceiling negotiations currently under way in Washington, here's how each participant views them:
There's been a lot of online debate about this question. Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal thinks this is just a matter of re-election motives, but I don't think it's that simple. As Nate Silver points out, "there is a larger ideological gap between House Republicans and Republican voters than there is between Republican voters and Democratic ones." Furthermore, many of the House GOP freshmen were elected in swing districts, so it's not as if they're representing only ultraconservative portions of the country.
I'd attribute the strategy of the House GOP caucus to two factors. The first is rhetorical blowback. It's simply impossible for elected representatives to say "we're not going to raise the debt ceiling, we're not going to raise the debt ceiling, we're not going to raise the debt ceiling..." and then actually raise the debt ceiling. And they really can't agree to the Mitch McConnell plan of "raise the debt ceiling with no concessions and then blame Obama." They can't agree to any "grand bargain" on austerity because any such bargain would have to include tax increases and there's that darn pledge not to. Politicians do occasionally go back on flat-out pledges not to do something. The example of George H. W. Bush to current GOP House members is not a good one, however. With blowback, it doesn't matter whether a member of Congress really and truly believes what they're saying or whether they can't reverse course without exposing their political backside. They're just as screwed.
The second factor is even simpler: to date the current Tea Party strategy of "no retreat, no surrender" has worked like political gangbusters. Recall that the conventional wisdom in Washington in early 2009 was that the GOP was going to have to be in the wilderness for a couple of election cycles before moderating their positions and winning at the polls again. The exact opposite of that scenario has occurred (see Erick Erickson on precisely this point). The Tea Party movement has been built on uncompromising hardline positions, and has led to significant electoral and political victories. As Joshua Green explains, even the exception proves this rule for Tea Partiers:
Unless and until the Tea Party wing of the GOP pays a political price for its positions, they have zero incentive to change their strategy.
Am I missing anything?
Ever since I announced the Trumpies, I've been deluged with tweets and e-mails asking if this flub or that blunder or the other mistake in New York culinary etiquette merits a Trumpie nomination. In keeping with the high quality of the Trumpie brand, however, a nomination cannot be earned for simple malapropisms, pizza-eating faux pas, or errors on non-foreign policy topics ("A Trumpie -- the foreign policy mistakes of royalty").
To repeat -- a Trumpie is only earned when the candidate or a kep foreign policy supporter demonstrates willful, assertive ignorance on U.S. foreign policy or world politics. Which brings me to U.S. House Representative Paul Ryan.
Ryan is starting to act like a presidential candidate. The chairman of the House Budget Committee delivered a foreign policy speech to the Alexander Hamilton Society last week, leaking the text to The Weekly Standard no less. After that speech, other commentators have made numerous claims that Ryan deserves multiple Trumpie nominations. Let's review the charges.
Jonathan Chait argues that Ryan deserves a nom for making the sly charge that Barack Obama rejected American exceptionalism. Here's the passage Chait quotes on this point:
There are very good people who are uncomfortable with the idea that America is an “exceptional” nation....
Today, some in this country relish the idea of America’s retreat from our role in the world. They say that it’s about time for other nations to take over; that we should turn inward; that we should reduce ourselves to membership on a long list of mediocre has-beens.
This view applies moral relativism on a global scale. Western civilization and its founding moral principles might be good for the West, but who are we to suggest that other systems are any worse? – or so the thinking goes.
Instead of heeding these calls to surrender, we must renew our commitment to the idea that America is the greatest force for human freedom the world has ever seen; a country whose devotion to free enterprise has lifted more people out of poverty than any economic system ever designed; and a nation whose best days still lie ahead of us, if we make the necessary choices today.
Ryan is referring to, without explicitly saying so, a widespread conservative claim. In April 2009, a reporter asked Obama if he believed in American exceptionalism. Obama began by citing objections to the concept before endorsing it.
Chait is correct that the 2009 Obama speech demonstrates quite clearly that the president believes in American exceptionalism, and that numerous conservatives have taken delight in willfully misreading it. The thing is, the text of Ryan's speech far from clear in asserting this claim. The insinuation is there, but Ryan just refers to "very good people." He could be talking about Obama -- but he could very well be talking about my FP colleague Steve Walt for all its specificity. This is politically savvy, but not a display of assertive ignorance. So, no, no Trumpie nomination for that.
But wait -- there's more accusations!! Eunomia's Daniel Larison thinks Ryan deserves a Trumpie for this section:
[O]ur fiscal problems are real, and the need to address them is urgent. But I’m here to tell you that decline is not a certainty for America. Rather, as Charles Krauthammer put it, “decline is a choice.”
It is hard to overstate the importance of this choice. In The Weary Titan, Aaron Friedberg–one of the founders of the Hamilton Society–has shown us what happened when Britain made the wrong choice at the turn of the 20th century.
At that time, Britain’s governing class took the view that it would be better to cede leadership of the Western world to the United States. Unfortunately, the United States was not yet ready to assume the burden of leadership. The result was 40 years of Great Power rivalry and two World Wars.
This recounting of history prompts Larison to write:
I have not read this book. Despite that, I am fairly confident that Ryan is describing its argument incorrectly. For one thing, the British governing class between 1895 and 1905 did not “take the view” that “it would be better to cede leadership of the Western world” to the United States. This was the time of Salisbury’s government when the British were as overconfident and aggressive in their empire-building as ever.
Well.... I have read parts of The Weary Titan, and both Ryan and Larison make valid points here. Friedberg does advance the argument in his book that British foreign policy elites voluntaily ceded aspects of their hegemony to other actors during the 1895-1905 decade -- and that's the point Ryan stresses. That said, Larison is correct to say that Ryan exaggerates Friedberg's thesis. If Ryan had said "Western hemisphere" instead of "Western world," however, he'd be spot-on accurate.
So, closer, but no cigar.
These paragraphs of Ryan's speech, however, are another story:
We cannot face these challenges alone. To the contrary, we need our allies and friends to increase their capacity and willingness to act in defense of our common interests.
The first step in that process is robust and frank engagement with our closest allies. We all share an interest in the maintenance of the international order with its liberal trading system, general tranquility, and abundant opportunity – and we should all share the burden of maintaining it.
The Obama administration has taken our allies for granted and accepted too willingly the decline of their capacity for international action. Our alliances were vital to our victory in the Cold War and they need to be revitalized to see us through the 21st century.
Ryan commits an empirical and a logical error here that meets the bar for a Trumpie nomination. The empirical error is that the notion that the Obama administration has "accepted too willingly" the military decline of key allies. Indeed, even a cursory glance at the Libya operation suggests the exact opposite of that approach. A look at the distribution of effort on Libya suggests that while the United States is still exercising leaedership, they've actually managed to get allies to fly a majority of the air sorties. The attack helicopter gambit is also being led by France and the U.K. As John Burns reports in today's New York Times:
With the costs of the air campaign mounting, and the stresses growing on air crews, finding a way of breaking the stalemate has become a priority for NATO, and particularly for Britain and France, which are carrying the brunt of the campaign.
Mr. Obama has let NATO allies take the lead in the Libyan operations, an unusual role for them in the history of such operations. The United States’ role has been confined primarily to air refueling, airborne command and control, surveillance and the deployment of missile-carrying drones.
The bigger, logical error, however, is exactly what the "robust and frank engagement with our closest allies" would look like. Basically, Ryan's definition of U.S. leadership amounts to "exerting pressure on our allies to take on greater defense expenditures." OK, but how will this conversation take place? Let's imagine this:
PRESIDENT RYAN: Hey, NATO allies -- to be robust and frank about it, you need to goose up your defense expenditures and assist us more vigorously.
NATO ALLIES: What's that? I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you over the protestors in the streets furious about the latest round of bailouts to Greece and Ireland, combined with the cuts in social services we need to make in a nod towards austerity. Hey, you're a big fan of that policy, right? What's that you want us to do again with our increasingly scarce capital in a politically hostile environment?
PRESIDENT RYAN: Uh, never mind, let me try our Japanese allies. Hey, Japan, we've been protecting you for decades, it's time to pony up and contribute your fair share.
JAPAN: I'm sorry, what was that? I couldn't hear you because we're selecting which old people will volunteer to help clean up the Fukushima reactor mess. Gee, this is not going to be cheap, and our debt-to-GDP ratio is already at 200%. You really harped on the debt problem during your campaign, so you know what we're talking about here. Now, what did you want us to do with our dwindling and rapidly agining population again?
PRESIDENT RYAN: Er... (to foreign policy advisors) are there any rich allies left?
Ryan's "robust and frank engagement" is really just one step removed from Donald Trump's claims that the right negotiator could get Saudia Arabia to lower oil prices or China to revalue the yuan. It's the foreign policy of Campaign Fantasyland.
And for that, I congratulate Representative Ryan for his hard-earned Trumpie nomination.
Step back for a moment and imagine what a "good" international organization should look like. Presumably, it should be relatively transparent and representative. It should earn a reputation for competency, efficiency, and an aversion to corruption. Stakeholders in the organization should feel that they are being consulted and their needs acknowledged if not always perfectly addressed. When confronted with a challenge or scandal, the organization should respond with alacrity and a respect for due process.
I bring this up because, right now, FIFA is the exact opposite of this ideal type.
The Financial Times' Roger Blitz and Stanley Pignal report on the mockery of global governance that is currently known as FIFA:
Fifa has become “unstable,” Sepp Blatter admitted as the president addressed the governing body’s annual Congress in the teeth of pressure for reform from several fronts and demands that the election to secure his fourth term of office be postponed.
The biggest pressure was brought to bear from the World Cup sponsors. Four of the biggest sponsors – Coca-Cola, Adidas, Visa and Emirates Airlines – have now gone public, calling on Fifa to act swiftly to restore its damaged reputation in the face of the bribery allegations that have sparked an internecine struggle between the governing body’s most powerful figures.
The European Commission, which has a say in how Fifa’s European TV rights are awarded, also made clear its displeasure in a thinly veiled attack on Mr Blatter.
Androulla Vassiliou, the commissioner responsible for sport, said: “The situation at Fifa is a concern for many of us and I have confidence that the current issues will be thoroughly investigated and resolved as soon as possible.
“Football and sport in general need good leadership and governance, above suspicion and firmly rooted in accountability and transparency.”
Mr Blatter, in a sombre address to the 208-member Congress, said: “”I thought that we were living in a world of fair play, respect and discipline ... I must unfortunately say this is not the case."
Dude, when the European Union is lecturing you on how to govern, you know you're in trouble.
So, corporate and state sponsors ticked off - check. Well, surely, FIFA will respond by sacking those responsible and getting off to a fresh start, right? Hey, what's this ESPN story saying?
Sepp Blatter was poised for re-election as FIFA president Wednesday, calling himself the "captain of the ship" and promising to enact "radical" reforms to tackle the corruption scandals that have engulfed soccer's governing body.
Blatter vowed to give more power to the 208 national federations at the expense of the 24-man executive committee by allowing them to pick the host of the World Cup from now on....
Blatter said the worst scandal in the body's history could be solved within FIFA itself and with him in charge.
"Reforms will be made and not just touchups but radical decisions," Blatter said in his speech to the 208 delegations attending the congress....
"We have made mistakes, but we will draw our conclusions," Blatter said.
Blatter was heeding the advice of IOC president Jacques Rogge, who told him on the eve of the election that only drastic measures to improve democracy and transparency had saved the Olympic movement when it faced a similar corruption scandal in the run-up to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.
Blatter said he would work to make sure the World Cup would in the future be picked in a vote by all federations instead of the two dozen executive committee members, several of whom have been involved in bribery scandals.
A few thoughts. First, what kind of election process is it when the scandal-beseiged incumbent is the only friggin' candidate? Bear in mind this is the same Sepp Blatter who declared that FIFA was much more transparent than the IOC -- which is kinda like Frederick's of Hollywood claiming that they're classier than Victoria's Secret.
Second, widening the vote to all members won't necessarily stop corruption -- if the International Whaling Commission is any guide, it will simply expand the number of actors who could be bribed.
Third, any anti-corruption campaign depends on Blatter. As Leander Schaerlaeckens blogs over at ESPN, however, Blatter serms to be doing his best Arab strongman impersonation right now:
Through [the crisis], Blatter has maintained that FIFA isn't in crisis, thus denying that he's pushed the organization over the brink of respectability. Amid the firestorm, the tiny septuagenarian Swiss leader has made it clear that FIFA shouldn't play by ordinary rules or be held accountable to anything or anyone.
This was never more obvious than when Blatter got fed up with questions from a hungry pack of journalists in a press conference Monday. "I will not answer this question," he said in response to a question about [CONCACAF president Jack] Warner. "I am the president of FIFA, you cannot question me." When the assembly was rightly outraged, he admonished it for a lack of respect for him and FIFA. And after taking a few more hard questions, he stormed off the stage, citing a lack of respect once more.
If only Blatter had been caught groping a chambermaid -- then there would be some real reform!
So, to sum up: scandal--ridden organization, pissed-off stakeholders, and an out-of-touch megalomaniacal leader who's about to be re-elected.
Ladies and gentleman, I give you FIFA in 2011 -- the only international organization that can make the Iinternational Olympic Committee and European Union look good.
Am I missing anything?
Andrew Sullivan has wrung a lot of blog mileage from his myriad awards for stupid/extreme statements found in the news. In that spirit, as well as an effort to
keep my sanity extract some humor from the 2012 presidential campaign, I hereby announce the Donald Trump Award for Assertive Ignorance in World Politics -- known on the street as the Trumpies.
Named in honor of the erstwhile presidential candidate who really likes to name things after himself, the award can be earned by either a presidential candidate or one of his/her foreign policy minions. To score a Trumpie nomination, the person must satisfy two criteria during a single statement or exchange. First, the nominee must display a breathtaking ignorance of some bailiwick of American foreign policy or world politics. Second, the nominee must do this while simultaneously demonstrating supreme confidence in the factual and/or analytical rightness of their statement.
This second criteria is important. I won't begrudge a candidate who demonstrates uncertainty or befuddlement on a foreign policy question. World politics is a vast canvass, and as I've said before, expecting a candidate to demonstrate foreign policy omniscence is a fool's errand. Similarly, I'm not looking for your garden-variety gaffe or misstatement that just indicates a candidate is sleep-deprived. No, the key here is that a candidate is both too ignorant and too proud to admit or even recognize their own ignorance.
During the brief, shining comedy moment that was Trump's proto-campaign, he managed to demonstrate this kind of cocksure ignorance on multiple occasions. With his decision to bow out of the race, however, the field for the Trumpies is now wide open and your humble blogger will accept nominations from readers and commenters. The actual award, of course, will not be announced until after Election Day 2012.
To get the ball rolling, the first Trumpie nomination goes to GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, for his comments on Israel and Palestine on Fox News Sunday:
Now, let's be clear about what's so funny about this clip. Cain's first answer, on offering "nothing" to the Palestinians to make peace, is not what's funny. It's reckless and extreme, but Cain's position possesses some internal logical coherence. It's the combination of this answer with his observation that the Palestinian "right of return" should be negotiated that makes the clip so funny (get a Palestinian negotiator good and liquored up -- hell, just have hummus with them -- and they'll acknpwledge that the right of return is one of the things that they'll have to give up in any two-state peace deal). The combination of these two positions boils down to Cain favoring a single state encompassing both Israelis and Palestinians, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't favor that.
The gaffe was significant enough for the Cain campaign to issue a "clarification of these remarks," which is always a good indicator that a Trumpie nomination has been scored.
Congratulations to Mr. Cain for the inaugural Trumpie nomination! The foreign policy analyst in me hopes that these nominations will be few and far between. The politics junkie, surveying the prospective field, is confident that there will be many more nominations to come over the next 18 months.
The field is now open for nominations -- submit yours in the comments or via-e-mail, and if the strict Trumpie criteria are met, you will see it in a future blog post.
UPDATE: Oh, if Trump re-enters the race, there's gonna be a lot of nominations. Bravo to the Donald for trying to preserve the quality of his brand.
ANOTHER UPDATE: See if Cain had simply admitted to Wallace that he didn't know what "the right to return" meant, he'd have avoided the Trumpie nomination. Instead, he admitted it to Sean Hannity the next day.
Today was a big American foreign policy news day. Hamas and Fatah seem to have kissed and made up under the aegis of the Egyptian caretaker government; there's a national defense reshuffle as Leon Panetta is moving from CIA to SecDef and David Petraeus is moving from CENTCOM to the CIA; the FEderal Reserve's Ben Bernanke held the Fed's first-ever press conference.
These are all big stories, and yet the lead of the day is the fact that Barack Obama showed everyone his long-form birth certificate. There's something really sad about the fact that this needed to be done, but there it is.
Today's spectacle prompted Slate's David Weigel, who has followed the varieties of birtherism with an eagle eye, to ask honestly when enough is enough:
Here's the thing. I've spent a lot of time writing about conspiracy theories. I think they're darkly amusing....And if we're being perfectly honest, conspiracy stories do gangbusters traffic. If I were an advertiser, I wouldn't tell a writer to knock off writing about conspiracy theories.
But this is an honest question: How far can people take this stuff? Is there absolutely no downside to using your celebrity to make the wildest accusation you can and watch reporters fight like the monkeys at the start of 2001: A Space Odyssey for the right to cover them first? In the past, rabbit hole chases for stuff that would blow the lid off some conspiracy or another have backfired, wildly. (Google "Dan Rather" and "National Guard documents.") And in the past, things that have caused a lot of amusement for a lot of people have gotten predictable and boring, pointless. This has to happen at some point. Tell me this happens at some point.
I'm fascinated by conspiracy theories too, and I'm afraid I have some bad news for Weigel. The truly scary thing is that conspiracy theories do even better gangbuster business outside of the United States. Hear the one about the Mossad being behind the 9/11 attacks? How the United States caused the earthquake in Haiti? It's quick, cheap and easy to create a conspiracy, especially when the truth is usually banal and/or mundane.
As I wrote in The Spectator last year:
What is clear is that, thanks to the technological and globalising revolutions of the last two decades, modern life has become infinitely more complex. The world has become far less easy to understand in terms of its economic and social organisation. Yet humans remain hard-wired to look for patterns in a chaotic universe. As David Aaronovitch recently observed in Voodoo Histories, conspiracy theories offer the comfort of a narrative, no matter how crazy it sounds....
Will anger and distrust be a permanent fixture in the politics of affluent countries? A global economic rebound should lead to increased trust in both business and political elites. Beyond trying to revive their economies, however, there must be something that governments can do to earn back the trust of some of their people. The most obvious first response would be to offer more information to persuade angry and distrustful people that their worst fears will not be realised. Unfortunately, such a policy might backfire. Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler conducted experiments to see whether correct information could erase misperceptions. They discovered that ‘corrections actually strengthened misperceptions among the most strongly committed subjects’. The very attempt to correct erroneous beliefs simply causes the most extreme adherents to put themselves into a cognitive crouch. This might explain why, even though an image of Barack Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate can be accessed on the web, many ‘birthers’ still believe the President was not born in the USA.
This has nothing to do with intelligence, either -- a few weeks ago I
wasted spent 15 minutes explaining to a Fletcher student that, in fact, Julian Assange was not a CIA agent. This sounds laughable, except that at least one head of government said the same thing.
As long as trafficking in these questions draws eyeballs, the media will continue to act as an amplifier for these kinds of crazed worldviews.
There is a downside for those who care about their reputation -- ask Pierre Salinger. For heads of stare and almost everyone else, however, these costs likely seem negligible compared to the political and psychological gain that comes from belief.
Think of conspiracy theories like internaional institutions -- they don't actually explain much, but they never go away either. Even global governance structures that have longed outlived their usefulness do not disappear -- they just persist with fewer adherents. Popular conspiracy theories work the same way, because there will always be a hard core of believers who can sustain their belief regardless of things like "facts" and evidence." Indeed, scorn from the mainstream just fuels their conviction that they must be onto something.
I confess to being fascinated by academic or literary downfalls, so I've been spending the past few days catching up on the imbroglio over Greg Mortenson, his Central Asia Institute (CAI), and his bestsellers Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools.
To sum up: through his books and CAI, Mortenson has popularized his mission to build schools and educate children (particularly girls) in Pakistan and Afghanistan as a way of reducing extremism in that region. Investigative reports by 60 Minutes and Jon Krakauer strongly suggest the following:
1) Mortenson either fudged or flat-out lied about some of the more gripping anecdotes in both books.
2) Mortenson used CAI as a vehicle to promote his books and subsidize his income. CAI covered his travel expenses for book tours and purchased books in such a way to boost royalties for Mortenson. According to financial statenments, CAI devoted more of its budget to Mortenson's promotional tours than actually building schools in Central Asia. Mortenson rebuffed efforts by other CAI employees to impose financial controls on his expenditures.
3) CAI/Mortenson exaggerated the number of schools that were built, and in many cases even if the schools were built, they have been left unused due to a variety of logistical and organizational failures.
Mortenson and CAI have responded with a plethora of media interviews, direct responses and open missives to supporters. Most of these seem pretty feeble to me. When Mortenson says that, "It is important to know that Balti people have a completely different notion about time," you kinda wonder if Mortenson isn't talking about himself.) Official investigations are now under way, publishers are belatedly fact-checking, and some prize committees are very busy wiping egg off of their face.
So, what are the takeaway lessons from all this? Five thoughts:
1) Reading through Krakauer's story, the striking thing is not the extent of Mortenson's deception but rather the fact that it took so long for this to come to light. Mortenson has been a celebrity since Parade profiled him in April 2003. The fact that Mortenson was able to write two best-sellers and enjoy the lecture circuit for eight years despite the surprising number of people who knew there were issues with Mortenson's narrative. The moral of the story is that , even in a transparent Web 2.0 era, myths can trump reality for a looooong time.
2) Even Mortenson's detractors make it clear that they think he's done much good in Central Asia, so this realy isn't a Bernie Madoff-style scam. It does suggest, however, that political analysts who think of NGOs and celebrity activists as pursuing humane policy ends only for altruistic purposes are living in Fantasyland. It's a world of complex and overlapping motives, and no influential actor in international relations is a saint.
3) What's interesting to me about the inaccuracies/fabrications in Three Cups of Tea is that, by and large, they are irrelevant to the larger policy question of whether schools can help reduce violent extremism. Whether Greg Mortenson was kidnapped by the Taliban or not, whether he wandered into a village or not don't really matter from a policy perspective. Based on the amount of
ink pixels being spilled used on these questions, however, it's quite clear that these narrative elements really do matter. As Laura Miller has pointed out in Salon, however, greater attention is being paid to those details than the NGO mismanagement.
This suggests, in many ways, the power that creation or origin narratives have in developing politically alluring policies. CAI ain't lying when they say that, "Greg’s speeches, books and public appearances are the primary means of educating the American people on behalf of the Institute." Coming up with a compelling policy is not always enough to generate action -- narratives matter one whole hell of a lot.
4) Does Mortenson's myths and mismanagement undercut the policy message? To tell the truth, I'm not blown away by Mortenson's policy message -- indeed, it's pretty weak. As Alanna Shaikh points out in FP:
Its focus was on building schools -- and that's it. Not a thought was spared for education quality, access, or sustainability. But building schools has never been the answer to improving education. If it were, then the millions of dollars poured into international education over the last half-century would have already solved Afghanistan's -- and the rest of the world's -- education deficit by now.
Over the last 50 years of studying international development, scholars have built a large body of research and theory on how to improve education in the developing world. None of it has recommended providing more school buildings, because according to decades of research, buildings aren't what matter. Teachers matter. Curriculum matters. Funding for education matters. Where classes actually take place? Not really.
Spencer Ackerman has a detailed, link-rich post at Wired detailing the ways in which U.S. military's COINistas have drunk way too deeply from Mortenson's magical teacup.
In the best defense of Mortenson I've seen, Daniel Glick blogs the following:
But here’s the crux for me. As somebody who has worked in a Muslim country (I was a Knight International Press Fellow working in Algeria in 2006), I know that Americans need a lot of bridge building in the Islamic world. Mortenson has gone where few others have gone, and has put in incredible time and energy to raise awareness, seed schools, and give girls opportunities for education that would not be theirs otherwise. I have no doubt he has done orders of magnitude more good than harm. The same cannot be said for a lot of NGOs doing development work around the world, much less our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hmmm.... maybe. At a minimum, I'd like to see the costs and the benefits of Mortenson's activities weighed very carefully right now.
5) I, for one, look forward to the day when 60 Minutes and Jon Krakauer start looking into the living dead. I will hereby defend every fact, every citation in Theories of International Politics and Zombies to the end of my days, or the end of days, whichever comes first.
Am I missing anything?
Today is Patriots Day in Massachusetts, which means it's a school holiday, which means I'm at home with the Official Blog Children. Because I don't have much time to blog in-depth about much, I'd like to address a shallow topic this AM -- Donald Trump.
The current frontrunner for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination has made a few comments hinting at how he would approach foreign economic policy. Let's take a look, shall we?
From the Wall Street Journal:
As for foreign policy, Mr. Trump said he is "only interested in Libya if we take the oil," and that if he were President, "I would not leave Iraq and let Iran take over the oil." He remains sharply critical of the Chinese, asserting that as President, "I would tell China that you're either going to shape up, or I'm going to tax you at 25% for all the products you send into this country."
"I'm all for free trade, but it's got to be fair trade," he said. "China has taken advantage of this country for a long time." Regarding the $300 billion he said China stands to make from trade with the U.S. this year, Mr. Trump said, "What's protectionism? ...I want to be protected if that's the case." As for pending trade deals with Colombia, Korea and other countries, he said he would only sign them if they were the right deals for the U.S. "If it's a bad deal, I wouldn't sign it," he said.
Here's a fun little project for the commenters: predict what would happen to the global political economy if, in fact, President Trump seized all of Iraq's oil reserves and slapped a 25% tariff on Chinese exports. Hint: I don't think it ends well.
As for the trade deals, given that almost all of Panamanian and Colimbian exports come into the United States duty-free, I'm dying to hear how the Donald is going to improve upon them.
The stuff from the WSJ is boilerplate economic populism mixed with a healthy dollop of ignorance about the global economy -- but then there's this exchange with CNN's Candy Crowley:
Donald Trump says that the "right messenger" could tell OPEC to lower crude oil prices, insisting that prices "will go down if you say it properly."....
Asked on by CNN host Candy Crowley what his idea would be to get OPEC to lower crude oil prices, Trump said: "It's the messenger."
"I can send two executives into a room. They can say the same things; one guy comes home with the bacon and the other guy doesn't," Trump said. "I've seen it a thousand times. ... We don't have the right messenger. [President Barack] Obama is not the right messenger. We are not a respected nation anymore and the world is laughing at us."
Well, I agree with Trump that the world is laughing at someone.
The statement that the U.S. is "not a respected nation anymore" is flatly false. As for whether the "right messenger" can convince OPEC to lower crude oil prices, methinks that Trump is vastly exaggerating the ability of any messenger to tell countries to act against their economic and political self-interest (not to mention OPEC's influence over oil prices). Well, that or he's been watching this scene way too many times.
According to Politico's Maggie Haberman and Ben Smith:
More than anything else, according to those who’ve spoken to [Trump], he doesn’t want to be seen as the butt of this particular joke.
“He gets mad that people aren’t taking him seriously,“ said one Republican who’s spoken with him.
So, just for the record , this is me trying to take Donald Trump's policy pronouncements seriously. That said, I'd like to thank the Donald for providing such easy blog fodder on a holiday!
Over at Vanity Fair, James Wolcott blogs about the explosion of forthcoming superhero movies, why they will suck, and what this means for American exceptionalism.
Actually, let me put that a little differently: James Wolcott has used prose more bloated than X-Men 3 to attempt a half-assed connection between summer popcorn flicks and America's place in the world.
First, there's his general critique of today's superhero film:
For old-school comic fans such as myself (who had a letter published in the Stan Lee-Jack Kirby Fantastic Four in 1967—top that, Jonathan Franzen), these cinematic blowup editions are lacking on the fun side. The more ambitious ones aren’t meant to be much fun, apart from a finely crafted quip surgically inserted here and there to defuse the tension of everybody standing around butt-clenched and battle-ready, waiting for some laureled thespian (Anthony Hopkins as Odin in Thor) to elocute and class up this clambake. Even the films that play it loosey-goosier, such as the facetious Ghost Rider (Nicolas Cage as a skull-blazing vigilante who chills by listening to the Carpenters), end up laying it on too heavy, faking orgasm like a porn star trying to keep Charlie Sheen’s attention. For all of the tremendous talent involved and the technical ingenuity deployed, superhero movies go at us like death metal: loud, anthemic, convoluted, technocratic, agonistic, fireball-blossoming, scenery-crushing workloads that waterboard the audience with digital effects, World War IV weaponry, rampant destruction, and electrical-flash editing.
Three thoughts. First, this critique ain't exactly new. Second, the reason this critique isn't new is that Wolcott ignores
Drezner's Sturgeon's Law of Crap. Take any artistic or literary category, and 90% of the contributions to said genre will be total crap [Does that apply to your blog posts as well?--ed. More like 95% in my case.] Therefore, the easiest thing in the world to blog about is how 90% of any kind of genre stinks. Third, Wolcott clearly slept through hasn't seen the superhero films that rise above the 90% and possess a fair degree of whimsy, like, say, Spiderman 2, The Incredibles, or Iron Man.
As for the symbolic implications for American power, er, well, here's his key paragraph:
Why so much overcompensation? The superhero genre is an American creation, like jazz and stripper poles, exemplifying American ideals, American know-how, and American might, a mating of magical thinking and the right stuff. But in the new millennium no amount of nationally puffing ourselves up can disguise the entropy and molt. Despite the resolute jaw of Mitt Romney and John Bolton’s mustache, American exceptionalism no longer commands the eagle wingspan to engirdle the world and keep raising the flag over Iwo Jima. Since Vietnam, whatever the bravery and sacrifice of those in uniform, America’s superpower might hasn’t been up to much worthy of chest-swelling, chain-snapping pride (invading a third-rate military matchstick house such as Iraq is hardly the stuff of Homeric legend), and our national sense of inviolability took a sucker punch on September 11, 2001, that dislocated our inner gyroscope. Sinister arch-villains make for high-stakes showdowns, but asymmetrical conflict has no need for them, and for all we know the cavern voice of Osama bin Laden could be a Mission: Impossible tape, poofing into smoke at the first shaft of sunlight. The subsequent War on Terror is one waged within a shadow maze of misdirection and paranoia where the enemy might be no more than a phantom army of apprehensions, viral bugs invading the neural network.
Let me be blunt -- I'm not entirely sure if Wolcott wrote this paragraph or outsourced it to a computer program that strongs together random clauses about American foreign policy. Suffice it to say that the better superhero flicks -- both Iron Man and The Dark Knight Returns come to mind -- contain some interesting commentary on American foreign policy. Indeed, a few years ago Jesse Walker at Reason argued, with some justification, that "Superhero stories may have begun as power fantasies, but it is our ambivalence about power that keeps the modern genre thriving."
I share Wolcott's distaste for hackneyed comic book films, but sometimes, a bad movie is just a bad movie. Anyone trying to use
any film released in January The Green Hornet as a metaphor for what ails American foreign policy really needs to remember that, most of the time, a bad superhero movie is just a bad superhero movie.
Yesterday Rush Limbaugh asked a former U.S. serviceman who called into his show a totally-hypothetical-and-not-in-any-way-designed-to-impugn-the-patriotism-of-the-sitting-president-kind of question:
Are you aware of any military contingency plans for a president who might not be your prototypical pro-America president? Are there contingency plans to deal with a president who may not believe that the United States is the solution to the world's problems?
Marc Ambinder provides both a succinct ("No.") and a more detailed answer. Now, some readers might take umbrage at the partisanship of Limbaugh's question, but I think it dovetails nicely with some recent research interests of my own. In particular: what would happen if the president was under threat of turning into a zombie?
Let's break this down into two phases: A) a president who's been bitten but is still clearly human; and B) an undead POTUS.
The first situation could distort the government's initial policy responses. After all, the actors with the most immediate stake in sabotaging any attack on zombies are those who have been bitten by zombies, and the human relatives of zombies. By definition, the moment humans are bitten, they will inevitably become zombies. This fact can dramatically alter their preferences. This change of mind occurs in many zombie films. In George Romero's Land of the Dead (2005), the character of Cholo has the most militant anti-zombie attitude at the outset of the film. After he is bitten, however, he decides that he wants to "see how the other half lives." In Peter Jackson's Dead Alive (2002), as well as Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Survival of the Dead (2010), family members keep their undead relatives hidden from security and paramilitary forces.
Clearly, soon-to-be-ghouls and their relatives can hamper policy implementation. One would expect a soon-to-be POTUS to order research efforts on finding a cure rather than focusing on prevention, for example.
If the situation is unclear when the president is infected, all hell breaks lose once he becomes a member of the differently animated. The law here is extremely murky. From Ambinder:
The Presidential Succession Act of 1947 spells out a procedure. Let's look at 3 USC 19, subsection "E." We're dealing with a situation where there is no President, no Vice President, no Speaker of the House and no President Pro Tempore. The law then appoints the Secretary of State as President until either the end of the current president's term in office OR someone higher in the chain of command suddenly re-appears or recovers from injuries and is able to discharge the powers of office. (The Secretary of Defense is sixth in line, after the Secretary of the Treasury.)
This seems clear: If it's not clear, after some sort of decapitation attack, whether the President, the Vice President or the two Congressional successors are alive, or if they're all alive but disabled, then the Cabinet secretaries become acting President -- until and unless a "prior entitled individual" is able to act.
Let's say that the POTUS, the VPOTUS, the Speaker and the President Pro Tempore are all injured; only the Vice President recovers. As soon as that person is eligible, he or she can "bump" the Acting President aside whenever he wants....
The problem is that, in a catastrophic emergency, the people who need to know who is in charge might not have the resources to find this out immediately. These people are, in particular, the Secret Service, and the folks who execute lawful orders from the National Command Authority (which is another name for the commander in chief's executive powers).
Well, then what the hell happens if a president is bitten by a zombie, dies, and then becomes a zombie? It seems to me that the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 doesn't cover this contingency.
There is also the question of the conflicting bureaucratic imperatives that some organizations, like the Secret Service, would face in this scenario. For example, in Brian Keene's The Rising, the U.S. government falls apart almost immediately. A key trigger was the Secret Service's difficulties altering their In divining bureaucratic preferences, where you stand depends on who you eat. standard operating procedures. After the president turned into a zombie, he started devouring the secretary of state. As a result, "one Secret Service agent drew his weapon on the undead Commander-in-Chief, and a second agent immediately shot the first."
I think the lesson to draw here for Rush and others is that in divining both bureaucratic and presidential preferences, where you stand depends on who you eat.
I hereby applaud Rush for being brave enough to highlight this troublesome question during a week when nothing else is going on in the world.
Comment away on what's going to happen in Egypt after Hosni Mubarak's
resignation third unsatisfying speech.
Ironically, I think if Mubarak had said what he just said on the night of his first speech, things would be far more stable. As it currently stands, however, it's painful to hear Hosni Mubarak
referring to himself in the third person trying to give up as little as possible, even as his various power bases erode and more social strata join in the opposition.
I think Mubarak agreed to transfer some powers to his Vice President, and he promised some constitutional chanes. To be honest, however, that wasn't the primary theme of the speech, and I don't think this is remote close to ending the crisis.
Rest assured, dear readers, I'm hard at work cobbling together the 2010 Albies. It's a Friday, however, which means there's a preternatural instinct to look for something amusing to blog about. Unfortunately, today's payroll figures don't cut it.
Fortunately, there's a golden rule for humor in world politics: sports + global governance = comedy gold. And sure enough, today FIFA president Sepp Blatter didn't disappoint:
FIFA President Sepp Blatter criticized the International Olympic Committee on Friday while defending his own organization against corruption allegations, saying the Olympic body handles its finances "like a housewife."
Mr. Blatter, a member of the IOC since 1999, said FIFA was more transparent than the IOC, and backtracked on plans to create an anti-corruption commission.
"Our accounts are open to everyone. ... We've [done] it since I'm the president. It wasn't done before," Mr. Blatter said in Qatar, where he is attending the Asian Cup. "The IOC does it like a housewife. She receives some money and she spends some money."
Mr. Blatter also said the IOC "has no transparency," and that any transparency was left to the Olympic-sanctioned sports themselves....
Mr. Blatter's criticism of the IOC comes as FIFA, soccer's governing body, faces an IOC probe.
The IOC ethics commission is studying evidence provided by the BBC after it broadcast allegations that FIFA officials—some with Olympic connections —took kickbacks from the soccer body's former marketing partner in the 1990s.
The story does a decent job of highlighting the absurdities of Blatter's claims, but the New York Times' Rob Hughes details the precise absurdities regarding FIFA's vote to have Qatar host the 2022 World Cup:
The vote for Qatar was jaw-dropping.
Only after the decision did FIFA executives, including Blatter, give credence to the notion that the tournament might have to be switched from June to January. It seems that FIFA is having second thoughts. Having accepted Qatar’s promise to build a dozen stadiums air-conditioned, the fear is that players or spectators could fry in the desert heat in summer.
Franz Beckenbauer, a former player who is about to give up his seat on the FIFA panel, was the first to suggest the switch. But FIFA’s own general secretary said it could not be right to vote for a tournament in June/July, then arbitrarily move it to another time of year. Blatter, on a visit to Qatar, however, contradicted him.
Bloomberg's Tariq Panja explains the problems with Blatter's proposal to switch the time of year for the Cup:
If the tournament is moved, major European competitions like England’s Premier League, Spain's La Liga and Italy's Serie A would be severely disrupted. Those leagues would need to shut down for about two months and a longer-than-normal international break during the season may lead to more injuries.
“That would demand a complete re-organisation of the whole world’s fixtures and I cannot see that happening,” Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger said at a press conference today. “If all the championships are not going from March until November and you re-organise and then the dead (off) season would be in December.”
Here's a good and simple rule of thumb: if an international sports organization has to choose where to host a high-profile, touist-generating moneymaker of an athletic competition, then it's corrupt.
The hard-working staff here at the blog would like to thank Sepp Blatter for managing to live up to the comic presence that his very name suggests. Way to go, Sepp!
The only thing I dislike more than admitting I'm wrong is admitting that Spencer Ackerman was kinda sorta right.
Cautiously in March and then more confidently in July, I predicted that new START was going to be ratified. Right now, however, Josh Rogin reports that the odds don't look so hot:
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the key Republican vote in the drive to ratify the New START treaty, said Tuesday he doesn't believe the treaty should be voted on this year.
"When Majority Leader Harry Reid asked me if I thought the treaty could be considered in the lame duck session, I replied I did not think so given the combination of other work Congress must do and the complex and unresolved issues related to START and modernization," Kyl said in a statement. "I appreciate the recent effort by the Administration to address some of the issues that we have raised and I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Kerry, DOD, and DOE officials." ?
Kyl spoke with Defense Secretary Robert Gates about it last week. A possible meeting between Kyl, Biden, Gates, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the works and could happen on Wednesday. The treaty was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a vote of 14 to 4 on Sept. 16, and is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.
The Washington Post reported that the White House is offering an additional $4.1 billion for nuclear facilities. This latest offer comes on top of the other promises related to nuclear modernization, which have a price tag totaling over $80 billion, that the administration has offered in an effort to win over Senate Republicans.
I thought Kyl was making some not unreasonable requests back in the summer, but as near as I can read the Obama administration had pretty much given him what he wanted.
It's possible that the treaty will be ratified in the next Congress, though that's a tougher road, and there's now some bad blood between Kyl and the administration to work away.
Substantively, the treaty itself is not a nothingburger, but it's not that big a deal either. There are two implications that flow from Kyl's decision, however. First, he's given the Russians a great excuse to become even more obsteperous. As Bob Kagan pointed out earlier this month:
Few men are more cynical players than Vladimir Putin. One can well imagine Putin exploiting the failure of New START internally and externally. He will use it to stir more anti-Western nationalism, further weakening an already weak Medvedev and anyone else who stands for a more pro-Western approach. He will use it as an excuse to end further cooperation on Iran. He will certainly use it to win concessions from Europeans who already pander to him, charging that the Americans have destroyed the transatlantic rapprochement with Russia and that more concessions to Moscow will be necessary to repair the damage. There's no getting around it: Failure to pass START will help empower Putin.
Second, even if START passes eventually, this little episode, combined with the
endless ongoing negotiations over KORUS, are highlighting the massive transaction costs involved with trying to negotiate any hard law arrangement with the United States. The rest of the world is now recalculating the cost-benefit ratio of doing business with the U.S. government.
Anyway, the real point of this post is that I was wrong... again. Let the pillorying in the comments section begin.
Over the weekend Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell wrote a Washington Post op-ed suggesting that for the good of the country and the Democratic Party, Barack Obama should announce he won't seek re-election in 2012. My first response was that this was the dumbest op-ed I'd read in a decade, but upon further reflection... it's just the second-dumbest (I'd forgotten about this one). Even Barack Obama's harshest critics thought this was a foolhardy idea.
Slate's David Weigel doesn't go that far, merely labeling it "the worst column of the year." That said, he points out that regardless of its stupidity, a lot of people are talking about it. This suggests a serious flaw in the idea ecosystem:
A typical Post column may get a few hundred comments, a few hundred recommendations on Facebook. George Will's bitter I-told-you-so about the Chevy Volt, for example, has inspired around 700 "likes" on Facebook. Caddell and Schoen have inspired almost 5,000 "likes" and almost 2,000 comments (and counting), in what has become the paper's most-read piece of the day. Undoubtedly they've inspired some smaller number of TV producers to book "One and Done" segments, even though no one buys the Schoen/Caddell argument that Obama could achieve more by declaring himself a lame duck....
This is the paradox of the opinion industry: If it sounds stupid, it leads. If it's counterintuitive, it's surely because the columnist has found a fresh angle on a mundane problem, and this angle will produce insights. Data is unexciting, especially if it's the same data everyone else has. Discussions of fantasy scenarios that could prove your theories right? Exciting!
This is just as much of a problem in international politics as domestic politics. If there's a crisis somewhere, inevitably someone will suggest the use of force even if it's wildly inappropriate, and someone else will suggest that the United States just withdraw its influence completely and immediately, even if it's wildly impractical. If it's dumb, it goes on Page One! [Um....op-ed pages are in the back of newspapers, and everyone reads them online now anyway--ed. Hey, you get your fact-based arguments away from my imperfect rhyming scheme!] I mean, in talking about how stupid Schoen and Caddell's argument is, I'm calling attention to Schoen and Caddell's argument.
This was less of a problem in the bad old days, when powerful gatekeepers to the opinion industry weeded out the non-mainstream viewpoints. Of course, the best and the brightest of the mainstream had some galactically stupid ideas too. I'm not suggesting we return to that world -- it's neither possible nor desirable.
When it comes to policy debates I'm always on the side of John Stuart Mill -- the best way to deal with stupid arguments is to counter them with better arguments in the public sphere. That said, there's a serious cost to this philosophy in a world in which the stupid ideas can command the policy agenda. The opportunity cost to the inordinate amount of time that is spent swatting away these ideas is that less time is spent debating policies and ideas that have a real chance of being enacted. Furthermore, sometimes the dumbass idea just goes into hibernation among a few die-hard believers until a propitious moment arises for its zombie revival.
In the end, I think Mill still carries the day. Still, every once in a while, it sure would be nice not to have to waste the energy and the attention on stupid policy ideas.
Trying to pick the most offensive campaign ad of this election season is not easy -- there's a long and distinguished list of truly offensive ads out there. However, my award for Most Offensive Ad goes to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee with this attack ad on Pennsylvania Republican senatorial candidate Pat Toomey:
I'll give credit to the DSCC: Not everything in the ad is offensive, just 98 percent of it. By far, however, the worst part is the DSCC's suggestion that Pennsylvanians not vote for Toomey because he thinks that "it's great that China is modernizing and growing." Using that logic, apparently the DSCC supports doing everything to keep China backwards and impoverished. Which, if you think about it a little bit, is really disgusting.
I'd love to say that this is the only anti-globalization ad of this election cycle, but that's obviously not true. In another ad, the DSCC blasts Toomey for -- God forbid -- spending part of his career overseas. Forbes' Shikha Dalmia points out, however, that both sides have been throwing up mercantilist ads as fast as they can produce them:
Virg Bernero, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Michigan, where I live, has dubbed his opponent, Rick Snyder, Chief Executive Outsourcer (ha, ha). Mr. Snyder's crime is that he is a successful businessman who invested in a semiconductor company that once employed five -- five! -- people in Shenzen to sell its products in China. In other words, it is no longer a sin to buy from China. It is also a sin to sell to China! (Where did Bernero get his views on trade theory, anyway? The Kim Jong Il School of Autarky?)
Nor is Bernero alone in the Democratic Party: California Sen. Barbara Boxer is accusing her opponent Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard, of outsourcing thousands of jobs to "Shanghai instead of San Jose"; Senate Speaker Harry Reid is calling Sharron Angle "a foreign worker’s best friend"; and Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Attorney General running for Senate, who lied about serving in Vietnam, has the temerity to attack his opponent, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, for "outsourcing" American jobs because her company got toy action figures manufactured in China instead of America.
Hostility to trade is par for the course for Democrats perennially beholden to Big Labor, but what is the excuse of Republicans -- the alleged believers in free markets? In race after race, they too are hitting China to beat Democrats. In West Virginia, Spike Maynard, a Republican running for the House is airing ads against his opponent, complete with Asian music in the background, castigating him for giving stimulus money to a Texas company that happens to be buying windmills from China. Meanwhile, in Virginia Republican Robert Hurt is accusing Rep. Tom Perriell of supporting tax breaks for foreign companies "creating jobs in China."
Well, it's not that surprising to see this. Americans think about trade through a mercantilist, relative gains lens, as opposed to the radical concept that trade can generate win-win outcomes. The Obama administration has abetted this mindset with a trade policy that careens between an
idiotic exclusive focus on exports and complete radio silence. And, of course, China has been taking steps in recent months in order to perfect their role as economic bogeyman.
I'd love to say that if the Obama administration mounted a full-throated defense of trade liberalization, this mindset would go away. The thing is, I don't believe that. As the Gallup data suggests, even decent growth rates won't eliminate the zero-sum mindset that people have when it comes to free trade.
Developing… in a thoroughly depressing manner.
I have a secret confession: I've occasionally aspired to found my own offshoot of Judaism. Let's call it the Dreznerian variant. In my synagogue, all of Judaism's teaching would be preserved, except for a Very Important Eleventh Commandment:
Thou shalt acknowledge that everything tastes better wrapped in bacon. Everything.
I mean, it's not a deep theological insight or anything, but we have to take these nuggets of divine truth where we find them.
I haven't made too much of an effort to create this religious offshoot. After seeing everyone and their President lambast this
group of ignorant jackasses small church that wants to barbeque Qurans, I'm beginning to see the appeal of organizing a small religious movement. In some ways, the public reaction to this is the flip side of Captain Underpants and the Times Square bomber. All it takes is a few crazy people to command public debate. Which, if you think about it, is pretty nuts. When, exactly, did U.S. leaders become obligated to comment on the actions of a few nutballs?
So, just for the record, my take on this is pretty much the same take I had with respect to Park51 (see also this exchange with Heather Hurlburt)-- which largely consistent with what Michael Bloomberg, Adam Serwer, and Isaac Chotiner have been saying.
1) Of course it's offensive to burn Qurans. I'm not even going to dignify this speech act with a response, because it should be obvious why it's so offensive.
2) Quit using the national security argument to persuade these idiots to stop. A lot of public officials, including uniformed members of the U.S. military, have made a lot of public statements about this act undercutting national security. As I said before, I really don't like this tactic being used in this way. If my choice is between these people exercising their freedom of speech or being barred or bullied from doing so because of national security concerns, I'll take the former every time.
First, as previously noted, I don't think the specter of Al Qaeda is a terribly persuasive argument at the moment. The United States has repeatedly overrreacted to a small group of extremists that has not done much of anything over the past few years. Here's a thought: maybe the entire world should stop overreacting.
Second, to repeat something that Aaron Sorkin said once, "America isn't easy; America is advanced citizenship." I really don't like what the Dove World jackasses have to say -- but I'm not going to accept the logic that they can't say it because of national security concerns. The lesson of this episode is that as abhorrent as 99% of Americans might find this particular speech act, it can't be stopped through force of arms or the state. This does not mean that Americans condone the burning of Qurans; it means that Americans will not permit the state to infringe on the people to make political statements, no matter how inane, offensive, or vacuous they may be.
Hopefully, the world will stop paying attention to what a small, select group of jackasses intend to do. Or I'm going to have no choice but to suggest that the Dreznerian church will rub 50 Torahs in pork fat -- unless either Salma Hayek or Christina Hendricks is willing to talk me out of it.
And let us say,
more bacon amen.
I think it's safe to say that Venezuela's economy has seen better days. The government has been issuing something that looks an awful lot like food rationing cards. Now the Financial Times' Benedict Mander reports that Venezuela's new currency controls are affecting its import sector in a really sensitive area:
Unable to access enough dollars, local importers are feeling the pinch across a wide range of goods, from Scotch whisky, the nation’s favourite drink, to luxury foods and swanky cars....
Each month, whisky importers – some of the worst hit – say they can legally get only as much foreign currency as they would normally use in a day. Bars and restaurants fear the reaction when they run dry. “We’ve got enough boxes to last a few more weeks, but after that, I’m worried about what will happen,” said the manager of one bar.
The irony, of course, is that Venezuela is doing to itself what the United States has been trying to do to North Korea for years (and re-emphasized in the past few months) -- denying access to luxury goods for the elites.
Let's call these kind of measures Mad Men sanctions, shall we? Anything that embargoes sumptuous indulgences -- including alcohol, cigarettes, and Christina Hendricks -- counts as a Mad Men sanction. The question is, whether self-imposed or externally imposed, do they make a difference?
With respect to North Korea, I think the answer is pretty clearly no. This is mildly surprising. Even though I'm pretty skeptical about these kind of sanctions in general, the DPRK is one of the few countries where Mad Men sanctions truly are "smart." The North Korean elite leads a very segmented life, and making it harder to get Johnny Walker Blue affects very few average North Koreans. That said, while the North Korean elite appears to be tottering just a little, it's not because they're going into Scotch withdrawal.
Of course, there is a difference between an external actor imposing a Mad Men embargo and an internal actor screwing up the economy to the point that a petrostate needs to husband foreign exchange reserves. For IR grad students out there, it's a good test: is a regime hurt more from an externaly-created embargo or from an internally-created one?
[And what about the IR effects of Christina Hendricks?--ed. Definitely a question that begs for further research. Dibs!!--ed.]
Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Belvedere Vodka
I see that, over the weekend, Megan McArdle, Brad DeLong and Tyler Cowen all posted about stuff they've gotten wrong as bloggers. This is an excellent topic to post about. Bloggers are supposed to prvide real-time analysis on breaking events -- of course we're going to get a lot of stuff wrong. As Brad correctly notes:
f you don't mark your beliefs to market occasionally, and throw out worthless intellectual trash, you ossify--you become one of those demented old coots detached from reality ranting unintelligibly at the moon.
Looking back on my eighth (!!) year of blogging, here are the big things I think I got wrong over the past year:
1) The Green Movement did not cause Iran's regime to crack up. Score one for the Leveretts -- Iran's regime has effectively silenced the Green movement, without any visible internal cost. Indeed, the regime now seems entrenched enough so that the fundamentalists and conservatives can now ignore reformists and start turning on each other. I confess, I though the Ashura protests marked an inflection point on Iran. Nope. The regime has suffered some serious costs from its internal repression, but Khamenei ain't going anywhere anytime soon.
2) Iceland was willing to pay the price of financial isolation. I knew that Icelanders were outraged at the notion that they had to help bail out Icesave depositors in England and the Netherlands. I also thought, however, that when the question was put to a referendum, Icelanders would pause for a moment and consider the ramifications of financial isolation. Um... whoops.
3) The G-20 was been far less useful than I anticipated. A year ago at this juncture I was pretty pessimistic about the prospects of G-20 macroeconomic policy coordination. I was hopeful, however, that the G-20 could function effectively as a mechanism to pressure China into revaluing the yuan.
And... things are worse on both fronts than I anticipated. At Toronto, the G-20 encouraged contractionary fiscal policies way too early, helping to push the global economy into double3-dip territory. On the yuan, China has niminally pledged to let the yuan float, but acual movement has been pretty meager.
It only took me about 15 minutes to come up with this short list. I hereby invite and encourage all commenters to root through the archives to find other screw-ups.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.