Sunday, October 31, 2004

The two narratives on Iraq

In the days running up to the election, I see two contradictory narratives about how things are going in Iraq. The first one comes the Chicago Boyz (link via Glenn Reynolds):

Now the one thing that strikes me about the military efforts to date is just how incredibly successful they've been, and how masterfully planned and executed they turned out to be. Not perfect, of course (You mean there's terrorists setting off explosives? Against Americans and their supporters? In the Middle East, no less? Say it isn't so!). But a lot of the toys that John Kerry voted against turned out to be damned useful in the War on Terror. I don't want to even think about how an Afghanistan operation with Vietnam-era technology and tactics would have gone for us - I think in that case we'd have been wishing for another Vietnam. And if you've ever cracked a history book, you'll realize that only 1200 deaths in a year and a half of invading a dictatorship, overthrowing its dictator, and fighting a chronic insurgency is astoundingly good news, especially when added to the fact that the long-predicted flood of refugees never materialized, the terrorists that Saddam's regime had nothing whatsoever to do with suddenly got extremely interested in the fate of Iraq (and no, we're not turning peaceful, simple folk into bloodthirsty terrorists - at worst, we're forcing them to choose their side a little sooner than they would have on their own, and denying them the option of biding their time until the Great Satan looks sufficiently weak to try their hand at terrorism on their chosen terms), and Iraqis are still signing up to take on the battle for their country against these thugs and getting set to vote in their first-ever real election in a couple of months.

And the Commander-in-Chief at the helm during these amazing accomplishments is called incompetent? You've got to be kidding me.

For supporting lines of argumentation, check out Greg Djerejian and Arthur Chrenkoff.

There is one point in this narrative on which I absolutely agree -- the observable costs of the insurgency in Iraq, measured in either men or material, is nowhere near the cost of what transpired in Vietnam. We're talking about differences by several orders of magnitude.

There is, of course, the question of unobservable costs -- and read Ambassador Peter Galbraith's disturbing account in the Boston Globe on that issue.

More importantly, there is the question of trend -- are things betting better or worse in Iraq over time? And here's where I part company with the above narrative. According to Newsweek International's Rod Nordland, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Michael Hirsh, Secretary of State Colin Powell thinks things are getting worse:

For months the American people have heard, from one side, promises to "stay the course" in Iraq (George W. Bush); and from the other side, equally vague plans for gradual withdrawal (John Kerry). Both plans depend heavily on building significant Iraqi forces to take over security. But the truth is, neither party is fully reckoning with the reality of Iraq—which is that the insurgents, by most accounts, are winning. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell, a former general who stays in touch with the Joint Chiefs, has acknowledged this privately to friends in recent weeks, NEWSWEEK has learned. The insurgents have effectively created a reign of terror throughout the country, killing thousands, driving Iraqi elites and technocrats into exile and scaring foreigners out. "Things are getting really bad," a senior Iraqi official in interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's government told NEWSWEEK last week. "The initiative is in [the insurgents'] hands right now. This approach of being lenient and accommodating has really backfired. They see this as weakness."

A year ago the insurgents were relegated to sabotaging power and gas lines hundreds of miles outside Baghdad. Today they are moving into once safe neighborhoods in the heart of the capital, choking off what remains of "normal" Iraqi society like a creeping jungle. And they are increasingly brazen. At one point in Ramadi last week, while U.S. soldiers were negotiating with the mayor (who declared himself governor after the appointed governor fled), two insurgents rode by shooting AK-47s—from bicycles. Now even Baghdad's Green Zone, the four-square-mile U.S. compound cordoned off by blast walls and barbed wire, is under nearly daily assault by gunmen, mortars and even suicide bombers....

Just as worrisome, the insurgents have managed to infiltrate Iraqi forces, enabling them to gain key intelligence. "The infiltration is all over, from the top to the bottom, from decision making to the lower levels," says the senior Iraqi official. In the Kirkush incident, the insurgents almost certainly had inside information about the departure time and route of the buses. Iraqi Ministry of Defense sources told NEWSWEEK the Iraqi recruits had not been allowed to leave the base with their weapons because American trainers were worried that some of them might defect. "The current circumstances oblige us not to give them their weapons when they're taking vacations, in case they run away with them," said one Iraqi intelligence officer.

This account is buttressed by Eric Schmitt's New York Times report:

Commanders voiced fears that many of Iraq's expanding security forces, soon to be led by largely untested generals, have been penetrated by spies for the insurgents. Reconstruction aid is finally flowing into formerly rebel-held cities like Samarra and other areas, but some officers fear that bureaucratic delays could undermine the aid's calming effects. They also spoke of new American intelligence assessments that show that the insurgents have significantly more fighters - 8,000 to 12,000 hard-core militants - and far greater financial resources than previously estimated.

Perhaps most disturbing, they said, is the militants' campaign of intimidation to silence thousands of Iraqis and undermine the government through assassinations, kidnappings, beheadings and car bombings. New gangs specializing in hostage-taking are entering Iraq, intelligence reports indicate.

"If we can't stop the intimidation factor, we can't win," said Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, the commander of nearly 40,000 marines and soldiers in western and south-central Iraq, who is drawing up battle plans for a possible showdown with more than 3,000 guerrillas in Falluja and Ramadi, with the hope of destroying the leadership of the national insurgency.

The fact is that just about every official sources expresses a lot of concern about the current situation in Iraq. And I don't see a Rumsfeld-led DoD altering its in-country force levels or its in-country strategy, and I fear that this can lead to disaster.

Again, I have my doubts that a Kerry administration will do a great job -- this National Journal story by Carl Cannon lists the possibilities in a Kerry administration, and what scares the crap out of me is the overwhelming number of poor managers legislators on that list. But I do think they'll muddle through better than the current team.

posted by Dan at 05:07 PM | Comments (57) | Trackbacks (3)

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Hungary in crisis

The Guardian reports on a serious crisis in Hungary:

It is the country's national spice, a fiery seasoning of which the average Hungarian devours half a kilogramme a year. But now consumers in Hungary been advised to steer clear of paprika.
Shop shelves are being cleared of the spice and products that contain it after a possibly carcinogenic toxin was found in supplies.

The police are investigating whether South America was the origin of a batch of paprika containing high levels of the chemical aflatoxin, which was distributed by three Hungarian companies.

In some cases, the concentration was 10-15 times higher than the permitted level. The chemical can lead to illnesses such as liver cancer if consumed in large amounts.

The EU has advised member states that they can ban paprika products from Hungary.

Sales of the spice, an important ingredient of the national dish goulash, were banned on Thursday, and dozens of products are being tested....

Hungary is one of the biggest paprika exporters in the world, about 5,000 tonnes a year going most to Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Slovakia.

Hungary without paprika is like... like... [China without rice? Italy without pasta? Russia without cabbage?--ed.] No, it's worse than that. There are dishes in those countries without the essential ingredient. I'm sure it's true of Hungary as well, but during my time there, I can't recall of a single thing I ate that didn't have paprika in it [Even the paprika ice cream?--ed. Oh, shut up.]

Everyone here at wishes the Hungarians the best of luck as they deal with this gastronomic crisis.

posted by Dan at 07:49 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

What to make of the bin Laden videotape?

It's understandable that most of the media reaction in this country to the bin Laden videotape is to engage in half-assed speculation on its electoral ramifications.

However, regardless of who wins, is there anything useful that can be garnered from the videotape to guide U.S. foreign policy for the future? Perusing the text, here's a possible list -- based on my half-assed speculations:

1) Osama bin Laden is alive -- this has been a matter of some dispute, but the references in the text make it clear that this was recorded recently;

2) He appears to have watched Fahrenheit 9/11. There are some really odd references in this message. Why, for example, would bin Laden care about the Patriot Act? The stupid goat story? Greg Djerejian has further thoughts on this.

3) He wants to bargain. One of the common post-9/11 assumptions was that Al Qaeda could not be deterred or reasoned with. Given what AQ wants, that's probably true, but it is interesting that bin Laden now seems to be trying to suggest that a bargain can be struck:

American people, I am speaking to tell you about the ideal way to avoid another Manhattan, about war and its causes and results.... Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands, and each state that does not harm our security will remain safe.

As Cam Simpson points out in the Chicago Tribune:

Although bin Laden mocked President Bush's response to the Sept. 11 attacks and compared the White House to corrupt Arab regimes, Al Qaeda's chief did not issue any explicit threats against American civilians or troops at home or abroad.

Nor did bin Laden lace his message, which was broadcast by the Qatar-based satellite network Al Jazeera, with the kind of religious imagery that has dominated previous addresses.

Instead, appearing in a white shirt draped in a gold robe and sitting or standing erect behind what appeared to be a tabletop set against a plain brown curtain, the militant leader issued a familiar condemnation of U.S. policy, speaking of what he called the "American-Israeli alliance against our people in Palestine and Lebanon."

U.S. intelligence officials said they had a "high degree of confidence" that the tape, which they received in advance of Friday's broadcast, was authentic. Its apparent lack of any explicit threats also meant the nation's color-coded, terrorism alert-level would probably remain unchanged, U.S. officials said.

Without the accoutrements of battle that he has surrounded himself with in previous messages--daggers, camouflage jackets, assault rifles--bin Laden seemed to be trying to convey the image of a world leader rather than of a terrorist hiding in a cave.

On the one hand, the sight of an apparently healthy bin Laden represents a blow to U.S. efforts against Al Qaeda. On the other hand, the difference between this message and previous ones from bin Laden suggest that he wants to cut a deal.

I categorically do not think that such a deal (we won't bomb you and you pull out of the Middle East) should be struck, but it is interesting that bin Laden is trying to put it on the table.

[But what about the electoral impact?--ed I'll leave that to the comments.]

UPDATE: Juan Cole makes an interesting point:

The talk about being "free persons" (ahrar) and fighting for "liberty" (hurriyyah) for the Muslim "nation" (ummah) seems to me a departure. The word "hurriyyah" or freedom has no classical Arabic or Koranic resonances and I don't think it has played a big role in his previous statements.

I wonder if Bin Laden has heard from the field that his association with the authoritarian Taliban has damaged recruitment in the Arab world and Iraq, where most people want an end to dictatorship and do not want to replace their secular despots with a religious one. The elections in Pakistan (fall 2002) and Afghanistan went better than he would have wanted, and may have put pressure on him. He may now be reconfiguring the rhetoric of al-Qaeda, at least, to represent it as on the side of political liberty. I am not saying this is sincere or might succeed; both seem to me highly unlikely. I am saying that it is interesting that Bin Laden now seems to feel the need to appeal to this language. In a way, it may be one of the few victories American neo-Wilsonianism has won, to push Bin Laden to use this kind of language. I doubt it amounts to much.

Naturally, I disagree with Juan -- this amounts to something. This New York Post story by Niles Lathem buttresses my hunch (link via Roger L. Simon):

Officials said that in the 18-minute long tape — of which only six minutes were aired on the al-Jazeera Arab television network in the Middle East on Friday — bin Laden bemoans the recent democratic elections in Afghanistan and the lack of violence involved with it.

On the tape, bin Laden also says his terror organization has been hurt by the U.S. military's unrelenting manhunt for him and his cohorts on the Afghan-Pakistani border.

posted by Dan at 12:37 PM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (2)

Friday, October 29, 2004

The scientific method revealed!!

Henry Farrell posts on a tongue-in-cheek article in PS: Political Science in Politics. As Chris Lawrence observes, the highlight of the short essay is a footnote explaining the scientific method:

The scientific method consists of five steps:

1. Carefully examine the data and take note of any clear-cut patterns therein.

2) For each such pattern, formulate a hypothesis you can test statistically.

3) To avert suspicion, throw in a couple of extra hypotheses that you know are wrong.

4. Using the data from Step 1, tests these hypotheses statistically.

5. Based on the results of Step 4, proclaim that your main hypotheses have been upheld.

It's funny because, all too often, it's true.

posted by Dan at 06:39 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)

The expertise schism

I think one of the big divides in the world is between people who primarily do security studies and people who do development. And I think one of the reasons the Bush people got into so much trouble is they put people who knew security in charge of what was really a big development project. These are people who had not spent a lot of time in East Timor or Somalia or Bosnia, watching how these things are done. I think that was one of the big problems.

That's Francis Fukuyama quoted in this long article about the internecine conflict between Fukuyama and Charles Krauthammer over Iraq and the future of neoconservatism (link via Andrew Sullivan).

Actually, I think Fukuyama understates the problem. It's not just that there was a divide between the security people and the development people. There was also a divide between the security experts between those who believed the revolution in military affairs (RMA) would transform all military operations, and those who believed that the RMA is important for warfighting but has little relevance for postwar occupation and peacebuilding activities.

Anyway, read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 11:13 AM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, October 28, 2004

So who's going to win the election?

I don't know.

You don't know either.

Oh, and if you think you know, well, you're full of it. [I know, I know!!--ed. No, no you don't.]

There are now a lot of sites providing Electoral Map projections, and all of them showing a close race in way too many battleground states. But these are all based on polling techniques that, in recent years, have elevated margins for error. Over at Slate, William Saletan, David Kenner, and Louisa Herron Thomas have a summary of the various bells and whistles each polling service has -- but none of them can correct for the problem of declining response rates. Richard Morin makes this point in today's Washington Post:

Two consecutive Election Day debacles have shaken public confidence in exit polls, once viewed as the crown jewel of political surveys.

Cell phones, Caller ID and increasingly elaborate call screening technologies make it harder than ever to reach a random sample of Americans. Prompted by the popularity of do-not-call lists, a few state legislatures are considering laws that would lump pollsters in with telemarketers and bar them from calling people at home.

Costs are soaring as cooperation rates remain at or near record lows. In some surveys, less than one in five calls produces a completed interview -- raising doubts whether such polls accurately reflect the views of the public or merely report the opinions of stay-at-home Americans who are too bored, too infirm or too lonely to hang up....

No surveys are immune. "Phone surveys are suffering, but so are response rates to mail surveys and even mall intercept surveys" in which people are interviewed while shopping, says Tom Smith, director of the General Social Survey at the University of Chicago, the best source of data on social trends in the United States. "All of the dominoes are being knocked down because the whole table is being shaken."

Currently cooperation rates hover at about 38 percent for the big national media surveys conducted over several days, but can dip down into the teens for surveys completed in a single night, says Jon Krosnick, a psychologist at Stanford University who has completed a groundbreaking study of response rates.

Even exit polls are feeling the pinch. In each of the past three presidential elections the proportion of people who agree to be interviewed after leaving the voting booth has dropped -- from 60 percent in 1992 to 55 percent in 1996 to 51 percent in 2000.

For decades, the conventional wisdom has been that high response rates equaled high-quality, more accurate surveys. Generations of pollsters-in-training were told in graduate school that the people who decline to participate in a poll, or cannot be reached, could be different than those who are contacted, in ways that would affect results.

Two converging trends -- the rise of telemarketing and growing time pressures in the home -- have frayed America's nerves and left many people unwilling or downright hostile when it comes to talking to pollsters. But a bigger problem seems to be that people are simply harder to reach. They're working longer, going out more and using call-screening devices when they're home, Krosnick says.

Keep this in mind when someone trumps a one or two point lead by their candidate. And check out Mark Blumenthal on the cell phone issue.

There is one wild card, however, that I haven't seen discussed all that much. While much of the concern about third party tickets is whether Ralph Nader would get votes for Kerry, this Electoral Vote Map points to another potential third-party spoiler:

A Rasmussen poll taken Oct. 26 in Arizona puts Libertarian party candidate Michael Badnarik at 3%. When the pollsters actually ask about him, he does surprisingly well. He might end up canceling out the Nader factor by appealing to disgruntled Republicans who support a balanced budget and small government and are appalled by the current deficit and power the Patriot Act gives the government to snoop on people's lives.

I've largely tuned out on the polls, but I don't think I've seen many of them with Badnarik included. With the number of states within the margin for error, that three percent could matter. UPDATE: The Weekly Standard's Rachel DiCarlo runs with the Badnarik meme, observing, "In September, a Rasmussen poll gave Badnarik three percent of the vote in Nevada, and in August Rasmussen showed him taking five percent of the vote in New Mexico--both considered potential swing states."

Readers are invited to suggest the biggest factor that is not showing up in the polling data but could decide the election -- as well as who you think will actually win.

UPDATE: Another question: how big will the Schilling factor be in New Hampshire? UPDATE: Never mind.

posted by Dan at 04:53 PM | Comments (69) | Trackbacks (1)

It's not your father's Turkish military

Susan Sachs has a New York Times story highlighting one of those below-the-radar developments in world politics that gets drowned out during the campaign season -- the institutionalization of the Turkish military's slow withdrawal from politics:

For the first time since the 1980 military coup, a civilian presided over Turkey's National Security Council on Wednesday, reflecting a quiet but major shift toward limiting the political power of the country's generals.

The council's new civilian secretary general is Yigit Alpogan, a diplomat who was most recently ambassador to Greece. His appointment followed amendments to the Turkish Constitution this year that reduced the number of posts reserved for the military in the council and several other government institutions.

The army's influence has hurt Turkey's drive to join the European Union, which has urged it to bring the generals to heel and impose civilian control over the military....

The Turkish Army intervened four times in the last 50 years to remove elected governments, most recently in 1997. In what was widely described as a "soft coup," the generals pressured the prime minister at the time, Necmettin Erbakan, to resign by criticizing his Islamist leanings and acting without consulting him....

The recent changes have caused grumbling, but senior commanders did not act to block or delay the latest constitutional move reducing the army's influence over higher education and increasing civilian control of the National Security Council.

"I believe that the army also felt the necessity of eliminating politics from its structure, given the progress of civil society in Turkey," said Serap Yazici, a professor of constitutional law at Bilgi University in Istanbul. "The more involved the military is in politics, the more it becomes politicized, and this would ultimately contradict its primary function as the protector of the country."

...It is too early to judge whether those changes, and the imposition of a civilian administrator, will reduce the military's influence, said Umit Cizre, a military affairs specialist at Bilkent University in Ankara.

If this change is genuine, it makes Turkey more democratic -- but it would also make Turkey a more "Eurocentric" country, as the country bends over backwards to gain entry into the European Union. This should act as an excellent bulwark in keeping Turkey a secular country -- but it would also probably mean a worsening of Turkey's relations with Israel (the Turkish and Israeli militaries are on very good terms).

On the whole, this is probably a net benefit to U.S. foreign policy -- but I'm sure that others may disagree.

posted by Dan at 01:26 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (1)

Take that curse and shove it!


There will be years to come, no doubt, when the Boston Red Sox will lose when they could have won. There will be playoff games that may not go the way of the Olde Towne Team, miscues that prove costly. There will be reverses, setbacks, losses -- that's baseball.

You know what there won't be? Any talk about a f***ing curse. Any expectation that things will go wrong because they always go wrong. Because THAT'S ALL OVER, BABY!!!

Thank you, 2004 Red Sox -- for the rest of my life, I will be able to watch baseball and not fret about how disaster could strike my team. So long to mutterings about medieval concepts like superstition and witchcraft -- the Red Sox Nation can now enter the age of the Enlightenment [Bill Simmons of ESPN's Page 2 has further thoughts on this theme. And Jim Salisbury of the Philadelphia Inquirer has a story on how the Red Sox management used the power of rational analysis to overcome the curse (link via David Pinto, who also has thoughts on this theme)].

The Red Sox didn't just win -- they won with style and bravado:

Coming back 0-3 -- against the Yankees;

Beating the best team in the American League to win the AL pennant and then beating the best team in the National League to win the World Series;

Reeling off eight straight wins -- a new post-season record;

Never trailing during the World Series;

Getting clutch two-out hit after clutch two-out hit -- to quote Simmons, "Has there ever been a World Series team that juggled more heroes from game to game?"

Starting pitchers not giving up an earned run the last three games -- and rock-solid relief pitching.

Congratulations to the ownership group (Steve Kettman was right!), GM Theo Epstein, manager Terry Francona, and the whole roster.

The Boston Red Sox are the 2004 World Champions of Major League Baseball!

posted by Dan at 12:13 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (4)

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Just feel that love for Kerry -- not.

Slate has published the voting preferences of its contributors, editorial and business staff. Not surprisingly, it's overwhelningly tilted to Kerry.

Going through it, two things struck me:

1) I'm with Jim Lindgren -- who is Christopher Hitchens voting for? In The Nation, it appears to be Bush; in Slate... well, it says he's voting for Kerry, but here's his statement:

I am assuming for now that this is a single-issue election. There is one's subjective vote, one's objective vote, and one's ironic vote. Subjectively, Bush (and Blair) deserve to be re-elected because they called the enemy by its right name and were determined to confront it. Objectively, Bush deserves to be sacked for his flabbergasting failure to prepare for such an essential confrontation. Subjectively, Kerry should be put in the pillory for his inability to hold up on principle under any kind of pressure. Objectively, his election would compel mainstream and liberal Democrats to get real about Iraq.

The ironic votes are the endorsements for Kerry that appear in Buchanan's anti-war sheet The American Conservative, and the support for Kerry's pro-war candidacy manifested by those simple folks at I can't compete with this sort of thing, but I do think that Bush deserves praise for his implacability, and that Kerry should get his worst private nightmare and have to report for duty.

People can say I used tortured logic to reach my decision -- but at least I made one. [UPDATE: Apparently Hitchens did not intend to endorse anyone -- click here for more]

2) Is there anyone out there -- beyond the New York Times editorial page -- who actually likes John Kerry? Compared to some of the other entries, Mickey Kaus actually comes off as warm and fuzzy towards the junior Senator from Massachusetts. Jacob Weisberg pretty much sums up the mood of the responses:

I remain totally unimpressed by John Kerry. Outside of his opposition to the death penalty, I've never seen him demonstrate any real political courage. His baby steps in the direction of reform liberalism during the 1990s were all followed by hasty retreats. His Senate vote against the 1991 Gulf War demonstrates an instinctive aversion to the use of American force, even when it's clearly justified. Kerry's major policy proposals in this campaign range from implausible to ill-conceived. He has no real idea what to do differently in Iraq. His health-care plan costs too much to be practical and conflicts with his commitment to reducing the deficit. At a personal level, he strikes me as the kind of windbag that can only emerge when a naturally pompous and self-regarding person marinates for two decades inside the U.S. Senate. If elected, Kerry would probably be a mediocre, unloved president on the order of Jimmy Carter. And I won't have a second's regret about voting for him. Kerry's failings are minuscule when weighed against the massive damage to America's standing in the world, our economic future, and our civic institutions that would likely result from a second Bush term.

UPDATE: This commenter sardonically points out the leap of faith those voting for Kerry are taking. Indeed, on foreign policy and on trade policy, even Kerry's own advisors aren't completely sure what the hell he's going to do.

So are Kerry supporters taking risk? No, I suspect they, like me, are adopting a minmax strategy. The question to ask is: assume both Kerry and Bush will completely embody their worst stereotypes -- which candidate leaves the country better off? By a hair, I think it's Kerry.

UPDATE: I've finally found my voting bloc (hat tip to alert reader T.D.)!!

posted by Dan at 02:57 PM | Comments (59) | Trackbacks (4)

Monday, October 25, 2004

What happens after November 2nd?

I'm crashing on several projects at the moment, so blogging will be very sparse this week. However, that doesn't mean you can't talk amongst youselves.

Today's topic: assume that next week's election ends cleanly -- i.e., it's clear to one and all who wins and who loses, and the losing candidate concedes defeat on election night. Does the country remain as polarized as it has been during the campaign season (or as polarized as the discussion thread in my last post suggests)? And can that question be answered differently depending on who the winner is?

UPDATE: Richard Rushfield's unscientific one-man journalistic experiment suggests that polarization will be stronger if Bush wins -- not necessarily because of Bush, but because of his opposition.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The ever-industrious Tom Maguire offers advice for Republicans if Kerry wins over at Glenn REynolds' MSNBC blog.

posted by Dan at 12:43 PM | Comments (188) | Trackbacks (1)

Friday, October 22, 2004

I've made up my mind

So I'm voting for Kerry.

In my two threads on the subject (here and here), I've been amused to read suggestions by fellow Republicans that I'm overanalyzing things and should just trust my gut. If I had done that, I would have known I was voting for Kerry sometime this summer because of Iraq. To put it crudely, my anger at Bush for the number of Mongolian cluster-f**ks this administration was discovered to have made in the planning process in the run-up to Iraq was compounded by the even greater number of cluster-f**ks the administration made in the six months after the invasion, topped off by George W. Bush's decision not to fire the clusterf**ks in the civilian DoD leadershop that insisted over the past two years that not a lot of troops were needed in the Iraqi theater of operations. No, if I was voting based on gut instincts, I would have planned on voting for Kerry and punching a wall afterwards.

Reading the New York Times recap of the postwar planning by Michael Gordon just brought all of this back to the surface. The failure by Rumsfeld and his subordinates to comprehend that occupation and statebuilding requires different resources, strategies and tactics than warfighting boggles my mind:

Military aides on the National Security Council prepared a confidential briefing for Ms. Rice and her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, that examined what previous nation-building efforts had required.

The review, called "Force Security in Seven Recent Stability Operations," noted that no single rule of thumb applied in every case. But it underscored a basic principle well known to military planners: However many forces might be required to defeat the foe, maintaining security afterward was determined by an entirely different set of calculations, including the population, the scope of the terrain and the necessary tasks.

If the United States and its allies wanted to maintain the same ratio of peacekeepers to population as it had in Kosovo, the briefing said, they would have to station 480,000 troops in Iraq. If Bosnia was used as benchmark, 364,000 troops would be needed. If Afghanistan served as the model, only 13,900 would be needed in Iraq. The higher numbers were consistent with projections later provided to Congress by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff, that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in Iraq. But Mr. Rumsfeld dismissed that estimate as off the mark.

More forces generally are required to control countries with large urban populations. The briefing pointed out that three-quarters of Iraq's population lived in urban areas. In Bosnia and Kosovo, city dwellers made up half of the population. In Afghanistan, it was only 18 percent.

Neither the Defense Department nor the White House, however, saw the Balkans as a model to be emulated. In a Feb. 14, 2003, speech titled "Beyond Nation Building," which Mr. Rumsfeld delivered in New York, he said the large number of foreign peacekeepers in Kosovo had led to a "culture of dependence" that discouraged local inhabitants from taking responsibility for themselves.

The defense secretary said he thought that there was much to be learned from Afghanistan, where the United States did not install a nationwide security force but relied instead on a new Afghan Army and troops from other countries to help keep the peace.

James F. Dobbins, who was the administration's special envoy for Afghanistan and had also served as the ambassador at large for Kosovo, Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti, thought that the administration was focusing on the wrong model. The former Yugoslavia - with its ethnic divisions, hobbled economy and history of totalitarian rule - had more parallels with Iraq than administration officials appeared willing to accept, Mr. Dobbins believed. It was Afghanistan that was the anomaly.

"They preferred to find a model for successful nation building that was not associated with the previous administration," Mr. Dobbins said in an interview. "And Afghanistan offered a much more congenial answer in terms of what would be required in terms of inputs, including troops."

Maybe, maybe someone could give administration officials a pass in making that assumption. But once they realized that the Afghanistan analogy wasn't working, they never questioned their assumptions:

General Franks's talk of being prepared to take risks alarmed General Garner, the civil administrator. Fearing that an early troop reduction threatened the mission of building a new Iraq, General Garner took his concerns to Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the chief allied land commander.

"There was no doubt we would win the war," General Garner recalled telling General McKiernan, "but there can be doubt we will win the peace."

Soon after, the Pentagon began turning off the spigot of troops flowing to Iraq.

Mr. Rumsfeld had started to question whether the military still needed the Army's First Cavalry Division, a 17,500-member force that was slated to follow the lead invasion force into Iraq. He and General Franks discussed the issue repeatedly.

"Rumsfeld just ground Franks down," said Mr. White, the former Army secretary who was fired after policy disputes with Mr. Rumsfeld. "If you grind away at the military guys long enough, they will finally say, 'Screw it, I'll do the best I can with what I have.' The nature of Rumsfeld is that you just get tired of arguing with him."

General Franks insisted that he had not faced pressure on the First Cavalry issue. "It was Rumsfeld's idea," he said, referring to the cancellation of the deployment. "Rumsfeld did not beat me into submission. Initially, I did not want to truncate the force flow, but as it looked like we were likely to get greater international participation, I concluded that it was O.K. to stop the flow."

General Franks also said he accepted the suggestion only after his field commanders agreed that the division was not needed. But a former staff officer to General McKiernan said the land war commander had wanted the unit to be deployed and was disappointed that he had to do without the additional division. The deployment of the division was canceled on April 21....

According to United States officials, Mr. Bremer raised the troop issue in a June 18 video conference with Mr. Bush. Mr. Bremer said the United States needed to be careful not to go too far in taking out troops. The president said the plan was now to rotate forces, not withdraw them, and agreed that Washington needed to maintain adequate force levels.

Still the American forces shrank, from a high of about 150,000 in July 2003 to some 108,000 in February 2004, before going up again when violence sharply increased early this year. Some of the troop declines were offset by the arrival of the Polish-led division in August 2003. (emphasis added)

One other thing -- reading the Gordon article, what's stunning is that the administration never solved this dilemma:

Rumsfeld, and the rest of the Bush administration's foreign policy team, face a clear choice. It can outsource peacekeeping functions to the United Nations or close allies, at the cost of some constraints on foreign policy implementation. It can minimize the U.N. role and develop/train its own peacekeeping force. Or it can do neither and run into trouble down the road.

No, it's back to thinking. In my original post on this topic, I said that, "I prefer a leader who has a good decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I don't like, over a leader who has a bad decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I do like."

I meant two things by this:

1) John Kerry is more likely to recognize during the decision-making process that his instincts might be wrong -- and therefore change tacks before making a catastrophic mistake;

2) Whatever Kerry's policy, the decision-making process and the implementation of those decisions would lead to a greater probability of success.

Some commenters have argued that a second Bush term would be different. However, ironically enough, the failure of Bush to reshuffle his team requires me to take this assertion.... on faith. And I can't do that.

I still have doubts about Kerry. Massive, Herculean doubts. His plan to internationalize the Iraq conflict is a pipe dream. However, here's the one thing I am confident about -- a Kerry administration is likely to recognize, once the multilateral diplomacy fails, that it will actually have to come up with a viable alternative. UPDATE: Kevin Drum has some persuasive points on this topic.

Like Laura McKenna, I'm not at all happy about my choice (And if the Kerry campaign is stupid enough to let Theresa continue to speak to the press, there's an off-chance that in a fit of pique I'll vote to deny her the opportunity to be First Lady.)

But in the end, I can't vote for a president who doesn't believe that what he believes might, just might, be wrong. To quote David Adesnik, "As a professional researcher, I think I simply find it almost impossible to trust someone whose thought process is apparently so different from my own."

posted by Dan at 10:45 AM | Comments (352) | Trackbacks (33)

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Hey, Tom Friedman!! Over here!!!

I see Tom Friedman is castigating conservatives over Iraq:

Conservatives profess to care deeply about the outcome in Iraq, but they sat silently for the last year as the situation there steadily deteriorated. Then they participated in a shameful effort to refocus the country's attention on what John Kerry did on the rivers of Vietnam 30 years ago, not on what George Bush and his team are doing on the rivers of Babylon today, where some 140,000 American lives are on the line. Is this what it means to be a conservative today?

Had conservatives spoken up loudly a year ago and said what both of Mr. Bush's senior Iraq envoys, Jay Garner and Paul Bremer, have now said (and what many of us who believed in the importance of Iraq were saying) - that we never had enough troops to control Iraq's borders, keep the terrorists out, prevent looting and establish authority - the president might have changed course. Instead, they served as a Greek chorus, applauding Mr. Bush's missteps and mocking anyone who challenged them.

Conservatives have failed their own test of patriotism. In the end, it has been more important for them to defeat liberals than to get Iraq right. Had Democrats been running this war with the incompetence of Donald Rumsfeld & Friends, conservatives would have demanded their heads a year ago - and gotten them.

Andrew Sullivan concurs, confessing, "I'm guilty as well. I was so intent on winning this war and so keen to see the administration succeed against our enemy that I gave them too many benefits of the doubt."

By now I'm used to admitting error on a fairly regular basis -- but I'm not copping to this one. Click here, here, and here for some posts written more than a year ago on this topic.

[Yeah, how could Friedman have missed these posts -- oh, wait, maybe he doesn't read your blog?!--ed. I still say Friedman is engaged in a bit of historical revisionism here. One of the points I made in my Slate piece from last December was that conservatives -- Newt Gingrich, George Will, Max Boot, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and Charles Grassley -- were criticizing Bush over these mistakes. You can say that those criticisms fell on deaf ears -- but you can't say that principled conservatives didn't make these points in the first place.]

posted by Dan at 06:02 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (1)

Who gets the libertarian vote?

You can find out by clicking over to Reason's survey of "a variety of policy wonks, journalists, thinkers, and other public figures in the reason universe" on their voting preferences. Among others, Eugene Volokh reveals his preferences.

Each of the respondents was also asked to provide their most embarrassing vote. The modal response to the first one seemed to be voting for Dukakis in 1988.

More intriguing was fact that the favorite president of six of these libertarians was.... Abraham Lincoln. I certainly concur that Lincoln was the greatest president of them all -- but he's pretty far from the libertarian ideal.

posted by Dan at 04:31 PM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (1)

Do you believe in comebacks? Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


YEAH, BABY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Last year hurt [So did 1999. And 1986. And 1978--ed. Yes, yes, I get your point.] And seeing the Red Sox on the cover on Sports Illustrated this September was also disturbing. But being the first team to come back down 0-3 to win a best-of-seven playoff series in baseball and to do it by beating the Yankees in The House That Ruth Built.... oh, yes, that does feel good.

And props to Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who stuck with Johnny Damon and Mark Bellhorn even though they struggled, who was smart enough to get Keith Foulke in there early and often, and who survived his one truly idiotic decision -- bring Pedro Martinez in to start the seventh inning of game seven.

And congratulations to the Yankees -- despite some suspect starting pitching, despite Jason Giambi having no impact whatsoever, despite having George Steinbrenner as a boss, Joe Torre managed to get this team to Game Seven of the ALCS, within three outs of advancing to the World Series.

Still, this is going to sting a little for Yankee fans -- as Baseball Crank put it, "The Sox have extracted revenge for last season; the Yankees, gigantic payroll, stacked roster and all, have choked in a way no baseball team has ever choked." So..... go read these wise words from Adam Smth. All I can say as a Sox fan is, I feel your pain, and you should have a fine time rooting for the Astros or Cardinals.

Eight days ago I wrote:

This may sound like the head of the U.S. Patent Office back in the 1890's who allegedly said that there was nothing left to be invented, but I find it hard to conceive of how this series can top what's happened in the past two years.

Down 0-3, coming back against Mariano Rivera -- twice -- and then Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke and Derek Lowe pitching their hearts out.

Yeah, this tops what's happened in the past two years.

UPDATE: One final thought -- with all the great divisional series last year, I was worried that this year's baseball playoffs would be anticlimactic. As Brendan Roberts points out, that fear was misplaced:

In case you missed it, the championship series have brought us police in riot gear, a 19-run game, a Game 7 hero (Johnny Damon) who came into the game batting .103 in the series, the best closer in the AL — if not all of baseball — blowing two saves, Curt Schilling getting bombed in Game 1 then shutting down his nemesis in Game 6 with a bloody ankle (cue The Natural soundtrack), a nearly blown 8-0 lead, five-hour games, a controversial play at first base, the Astros' aces pitching awfully in team wins, an unheralded rookie (Brandon Backe) holding the best offense in the NL to one hit in eight innings in a hitters park, an LCS-record 21 homers between the Cardinals and Astros, chants of "Who's your daddy!" from Yankees fans, a Game 7 gem from a terrible road pitcher (Derek Lowe) throwing on two days' rest ... and the best four teams in baseball on display for us all to see.

This series also achieved something I had thought was impossible -- it made my non-sports-watching wife understand at some level why people care about sports.

posted by Dan at 12:27 AM | Comments (39) | Trackbacks (2)

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Management tips for academics

John Quiggin posts some time management tips for academics, and because my time management skills are horrible, I decided to read them instead of tackling the mess that is my desk. Here's his first one:

First, the best way to avoid a piled-up in tray is to deal with jobs immediately, either by doing them, or by deciding never to do them. This won’t work for every kind of job, but the more types of jobs you can handle in this way, the better. So to implement this tip you need a way of classifying jobs. One way is by the time they are likely to take (see tip #2). IF you take this approach you can decide to do all 5-minute jobs immediately, or not at all. I prefer to focus on discretionary jobs where an immediate decision not to take the job is feasible. For an academic, refereeing for journals is like this. I try to deal with requests for referee reports in the same week I get them. If I have free time, and the job looks straightforward on a first reading, I try to do it within two days. Editors who are used to waiting for months really love a quick turnaround like this, and I live in hope that it will build up good karma for my own submissions. If I can’t manage a report within a week then, unless the paper looks to be very important, or I am obligated to the journal in question, I reply immediately that I’m not available. Editors usually don’t mind this, especially if I can suggest someone else.

Excellent advice.

Now back to that overdue referee report.

posted by Dan at 04:54 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Spitballing the election

With the election so heated that crack cocaine is being used as an inducement to register voters (hat tp to Orin Kerr) and with the polls bouncing around all over the place, predicting the outcome is fraught with peril (for more on the polls, check out Mark Blumenthal -- a.k.a., Mystery Pollster). The conventional wisdom says that if the polls are even going into election day Kerry will win, because the undecideds always split in favor of the challengers. On the other hand, it's clear that Bush's strategy is to motivate as many evangelicals that are of voting age in this country to go to the polls, and I have to wonder if the polls are picking up these voters.

Soooo..... here's some half-assed speculation that's perfect for this blog. What if both of these outcomes take place? Kerry might win a lot of the states Gore won, but by smaller amounts (see Tom Schaller for more on this). He'd lose the Red states by an even bigger margin than Gore did in 2000. However, in the battleground states like Ohio and Florida, Kerry would eke out enough votes to win them.

This leads to an intriguing possibility -- what are the odds that Kerry loses the popular vote but wins the Electoral College? If that happened, how would both parties react? Would the Electoral College survive in its current form?

I really don't know the odds -- but I invite readers to speculate.

UPDATE: At Slate, Richard L. Hasen of Election Law Blog postulates five possible election snafus that would prompt even more hysteria than the one I just discussed.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's an even more hysterical possibility -- the prospect of "Faithless Electors." This appears to be a live possibility in West Virginia (hat tip to uh_clem).

This is as good an excuse as any to recommend Jeff Greenfield's The People's Choice, a satirical novel about the media, politics, and.... the Electoral College. It also happens to have lots of useful tidbits about faithless electors.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: A new Harris Poll suggests the possibility that "the
popular vote and the electoral college vote may divide differently, as they
did in 2000." (link via Ndegrees)

posted by Dan at 01:10 PM | Comments (86) | Trackbacks (10)

Monday, October 18, 2004

A long, winding, and long-winded response

My previous post on my probability of voting for John Kerry generated a lot of feedback – and most of it was civil and respectful, a pleasant surprise given the tenor of the current political season.

It would be impossible to respond specifically to all of the arguments made by all the commenters and e-mailers, so I'm going to distill them into a few short bullet points:

1) I've underestimated Bush's foreign policy successes -- evicting the Taliban from Afghanistan, eliminating that country as a base of Al Qaeda operations, and finally dealing with Saddam Hussein. I've also overestimated the costs of Operation Iraqi Freedom -- that even with the acknowledged reverses, it's only been 18 months and things are getting better in that country;

2) I've overestimated John Kerry's decision-making process. Kerry's record -- and, parenthetically, the management of his current campaign -- suggest that his foreign policy instincts aren't just wrong, they're dreadfully, appallingly wrong. According to this argument, Bush gets that we're at war with radical Islam, and Kerry doesn't get it.

3) I've overestimated the caliber of Kerry's appointments as well -- do I really want Madeleine Albright's "Team B" minding the foreign policy store?

4) Kerry's domestic policy proposals in areas such as health care and possible Supreme Court nominees are so bad that even if he's marginally better on foreign policy grounds, the domestic policy ramifications are too grave to be easily dismissed.

Let's respond to these in reverse order. The last point I find really unpersuasive for three reasons. First, a President Kerry would be unable to implement any major domestic policy proposal without the consent of Congress, and there is no chance that Kerry will be able to command disciplined majorities in both houses. Which means Kerry will have to deal with the Republicans. And here, Kerry's weak Senatorial record is actually an argument in his favor, because I'm happy to have some gridlock in DC for a while (a related point: Daniel Patrick Moynihan's observation that it's impossible to enact major policy without a rough 2/3 consensus makes it highly unlikely that George W. Bush will be able to get Social Security privatization through, should he become president. So while I'd like to see that -- provided the transition costs could be funded -- it's an underwhelning reason to vote for Bush). Second, the details of the latest massive porkfest tax bill makes me none too sanguine about one-party control of anything at this point. And third, foreign policy (including foreign economic policy) is what I care about, and it also happens to be the policy bailiwick where the president has the greatest control.

The critique of Kerry's foreign policy team gives me greater pause. I do wonder whether people like Susan Rice would wind up being the Douglas Feiths of a Kerry administration, having to be "consistently bailed out of trouble by career diplomats," as my secret correspondent phrased it.

However, I have two rejoinders to this objection. The first is that the people who spark objections are second-tier appointments. The people at the top -- Richard Holbrooke, William Perry, and Robert Rubin in particular -- tend to command greater respect (though not love) among policy cognoscenti. But I can't guarantee that Holbrooke would be named Secretary of State if Kerry wins, and so that is disturbing.

Second, at least Kerry's second-tier people would actually talk to the career staff. One of the biggest problems with the Bush administration has been the tendency for people like Feith and Wolfowitz to simply ignore expert advice. Indeed, Feith in particular went so far as to create his own little intelligence shop to bypass DIA. Again, I'll take a group of medocrities who actually listen to their staffs than supposedly brilliant men like Feith who simply block out any information that contradicts their assumptions.

The critique of Kerry's own record of decision-making gives me the greatest pause. Kerry was on the wrong side of the nuclear freeze debate in the early eighties on the wrong side of the first Gulf War debate in the early nineties, and on the wrong side of the "lift-and-strike" optiuon put forward by Bob Dole on Bosnia in 1995. This Washington Post story by Dale Russakoff and Jim VandeHei from last week makes me feel even less sanguine. Key part:

This is the paradox of Kerry as a manager. When he has a clear vision of where he wants to go -- as he did in the prosecutor's office and in the signal achievement of his Senate career, investigating long-standing allegations that the Vietnamese had been holding American POWs and laying the groundwork for normalizing U.S. relations with Vietnam -- he has used information and advice to become more focused and persuasive, according to colleagues and longtime aides.

But in his presidential race, the approach has bogged down his campaign in indecision or led to jarring changes in direction -- even if the result, so far, is that Kerry remains in contention with President Bush. "Things you thought you resolved a week ago pop up again because he's had another four conversations," a former adviser said.

The more I contemplate this argument, the more disconcerting I find it. It doesn't help that whenever I bring up John Kerry's name to Democrats based either in Massachusetts or DC, I don't feel a lot of love in the room. Their attitude towards Kerry is reminiscent of the disgust many of them felt towards Al Gore after the 2000 election.

The only response I can find to this argument -- and it's not a great one -- is that the John Kerry of 2004 has learned a little bit from his past mistakes. This is the essential thesis of Thomas Oliphant's much-cited essay on Kerry from this summer -- that because Kerry has screwed up, and because he knows he has screwed up and been forced to face the political ramifications, he is unlikely to adhere to a disastrous policy choice for very long.

Still, I find that this is the hardest point to rebut -- so I invite Kerry supporters to do so in the comments.

The final argument boils down to whether I'm misjudging the outcome of Bush's foreign policies. Which really boils down to Iraq.

Why did Bush invade Iraq? Three reasons are generally given. The first is the WMD issue. The second is the neocon argument -- to which I'm sympathetic -- that the Middle East was the region of the globe that seemed most hostile to liberal democracy, and it was also the region responsible for the growth in global terrorism, and that these two facts were not coincidental. If Iraq could be transformed into something approximating a democracy, it would put pressure on all the other regimes in the region to quit diverting domestic attention towards the Israeli/Palestinian issue and promote genuine reform. The third argument comes from Greg Djerejian's must-read post on why he's voting for Bush -- it's a quote from former Bush administration official Richard Haass in The New Yorker about why Iraq was invaded:

I will go to my grave not knowing that. I can't answer it. I can't explain the strategic obsession with Iraq--why it rose to the top of people's priority list. I just can't explain why so many people thought this was so important to do. But if there was a hidden reason, the one I heard most was that we needed to change the geopolitical momentum after 9/11. People wanted to show that we can dish it out as well as take it. We're not a pitiful helpless giant. We can play offense as well as defense.

Djerejian adds:

[W]hatever you make of Iraq, can anyone now deny that the U.S. takes the threat of terror with the utmost seriousness? Have we not proven that we are not a paper tiger? That we will fight valiantly and hard in pursuit of our security and our values? This too, is part of Bush's record--no matter how often it is poo-pooed by cynics who think this is all dumb Simian-like macho talk that doesn't matter. I'm sorry, but it very much does. To deny this is to deny reality.

OK, to date, has Operation Iraq Freedom achieved any of these three goals? On WMD, yes, although I'm not sure anyone wants to trumpet that as a resounding success for the administration. On democratization, the jury is definitely out, and I hope I'm wrong about this, but it's very, very difficult to claim that current situation is a hospitable one for creating the kind of model state necessary for the grand neoconservative argument to work. As Djerejian acknowledges:

Put simply, the U.S. has failed in providing basic security through wide, critical swaths of Iraq. And, consequently, reconstruction has severely lagged. So Iraqis can be forgiven musing whether the previous brutishly imposed order might not be preferable to the near chaos that reigns in parts of the country today.

The third argument rests on perception -- does the Arab world now recognize that the U.S. is not a paper tiger? And this is where I firmly disagree with Greg. The mere existence of an insurgency able to explode bombs in the Green Zone eighteen months after the end of "major hostilities" makes the United States look weak. The escalating number of U.S. casualties makes the United States look vulnerable. The failure to properly police Iraq's borders makes the United States look incompetent. And as for what Abu Ghraib makes the United States look.... let's not go there.

What's so frustrating about this is the evidence that had things gone well, the U.S. would have reaped significant policy dividends. The invasion did help compel Libya into abandoning its WMD programme, and there's evidence it could have swayed Iran to do the same. However, as the occupation has proven more and more difficult, the desired bandwagon effect stopped with Libya.

For the Bush administration to have achgieved its policy goals in the region, it wasn't necessary that things go perfectly, but it did require that the U.S. respond as quickly as possible to adverse circumstances with an unstinting flow of men and materiel. Instead, there was apparently no real plan for the post-war phase (click here for more) and there has been a profound reluctance to increase troop levels or increase the supply of necessary materials.

I found most of Ron Suskind's New York Times Magazine story on Bush to be overblown (see Matthew Yglesias on this point), but here are the quotes that rung true:

The circle around Bush is the tightest around any president in the modern era, and ''it's both exclusive and exclusionary,'' Christopher DeMuth, president of the American Enterprise Institute, the neoconservative policy group, told me. ''It's a too tightly managed decision-making process. When they make decisions, a very small number of people are in the room, and it has a certain effect of constricting the range of alternatives being offered.''

....In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

....Machiavelli's oft-cited line about the adequacy of the perception of power prompts a question. Is the appearance of confidence as important as its possession? Can confidence -- true confidence -- be willed? Or must it be earned?

George W. Bush, clearly, is one of history's great confidence men. That is not meant in the huckster's sense, though many critics claim that on the war in Iraq, the economy and a few other matters he has engaged in some manner of bait-and-switch. No, I mean it in the sense that he's a believer in the power of confidence. At a time when constituents are uneasy and enemies are probing for weaknesses, he clearly feels that unflinching confidence has an almost mystical power. It can all but create reality.

Any international relations expert will tell you that the perception of resolve is a source of power. But it's far from the only source, and any measure of power that relies solely on perception is fragile to changes in the situation on the ground. At the present moment, I think Bush's perception is off and he can't and won't be comvinced otherwise -- this showed up in his poor foreign policy performances in the debates. Indeed, Bush's ability to articulate and persuade others of the rightness of his own foreign policy positions is shockingly bad. In the end, all he an say is "trust me." Well, I don't trust him anymore.

Kerry, for all of his flaws, has at least acknowledges that the U.S. is going to have to expand the size of its military to meet the current demands of U.S. foreign policy. Bush does not -- and the effects on America's armed forces will be deletrrious for the long run.

Some commenters have suggested that Bush secretly recognizes that mistakes have been made, and there will be changes after the election. I'm glad they're confident of that -- this David Sanger story in Sunday's NYT makes it clear that even insiders aren't sure about this:

"Honestly, I can make a more reliable prediction about what Kerry's foreign policy would look like than I can about our own,'' said one senior American diplomat who has spent considerable time with President Bush over the past three years. "I could argue that you'll see Dick Cheney's revenge, or that the President will determine that the hawks got him in deep, deep trouble, and he'd better turn this around.''

So where am I now? I'm unpersuaded by arguments saying that Bush's foreign policy has been a greater success than commonly thought, and I'm not convinced that he would ever be able to recognize the need for policy change.

However, the responses to the previous post have fed my doubts about Kerry's bad foreign policy instincts -- enough to slightly lower my probability of voting for Kerry to 70%. So it's now up to Kerry's supporters to make their case -- how can I trust that John Kerry gets the post-9/11 world? How can I be sure that Kerry's policymaking process will be sufficiently good so as to overwhelm Kerry's instinctual miscues?

UPDATE: David Adesnik and Megan McArdle are also deliberating and asking questions (Megan has a lot of questioning posts up -- do check all of them out). Stuart Benjamin makes the libertarian case for Kerry.

posted by Dan at 12:49 PM | Comments (241) | Trackbacks (10)

Friday, October 15, 2004

About that p-value....

I've received a surprising number of inquiries about whether I've decided on Bush or Kerry for president. When we last left off, my probability of voting for Kerry was at 60%.

Slate is now surveying its contributors over the past year about their voting choices. The deadline is next week, which I'm using as my own deadline for making up my own mind.

After the debates, I'd say my p-value for Kerry is now at 0.8 (i.e., an 80% chance of voting for Kerry). I'm still uneasy about making this choice, because I remain unconvinced that Kerry understands the limits of multilateral diplomacy. Matt Bai's article from last Sunday's New York Times Magazine raises as many qualms as it settles in my mind. Take these paragraphs towards the end:

If forced democracy is ultimately Bush's panacea for the ills that haunt the world, as Kerry suggests it is, then Kerry's is diplomacy. Kerry mentions the importance of cooperating with the world community so often that some of his strongest supporters wish he would ease up a bit. (''When people hear multilateral, they think multi-mush,'' Biden despaired.) But multilateralism is not an abstraction to Kerry, whose father served as a career diplomat during the years after World War II. The only time I saw Kerry truly animated during two hours of conversation was when he talked about the ability of a president to build relationships with other leaders.

''We need to engage more directly and more respectfully with Islam, with the state of Islam, with religious leaders, mullahs, imams, clerics, in a way that proves this is not a clash with the British and the Americans and the old forces they remember from the colonial days,'' Kerry told me during a rare break from campaigning, in Seattle at the end of August. ''And that's all about your diplomacy.''

When I suggested that effecting such changes could take many years, Kerry shook his head vehemently and waved me off.

''Yeah, it is long-term, but it can be dramatically effective in the short term. It really can be. I promise you.'' He leaned his head back and slapped his thighs. ''A new presidency with the right moves, the right language, the right outreach, the right initiatives, can dramatically alter the world's perception of us very, very quickly....

He would begin, if sworn into office, by going immediately to the United Nations to deliver a speech recasting American foreign policy. Whereas Bush has branded North Korea ''evil'' and refuses to negotiate head on with its authoritarian regime, Kerry would open bilateral talks over its burgeoning nuclear program. Similarly, he has said he would rally other nations behind sanctions against Iran if that country refuses to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Kerry envisions appointing a top-level envoy to restart the Middle East peace process, and he's intent on getting India and Pakistan to adopt key provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. (One place where Kerry vows to take a harder line than Bush is Pakistan, where Bush has embraced the military ruler Pervez Musharraf, and where Kerry sees a haven for chaos in the vast and lawless region on the border with Afghanistan.) In all of this, Kerry intends to use as leverage America's considerable capacity for economic aid; a Kerry adviser told me, only slightly in jest, that Kerry's most tempting fantasy is to attend the G-8 summit.

Now, I'm very sympathetic to the argument that Kerry's diplomatic style would play much better on the global stage than Bush's (click here for some evidence of this) -- and that this improved style would go some way towards advancing America's national interest via greater multilateral cooperation.

But I'm not sure it will go nearly as far as Kerry thinks it will. If the Senator from Massachusetts thinks that improved style, greater diplomatic efforts, concerted multilateral coordination, and even copious amounts of American aid can get India and Pakistan to sign on to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or create a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace, then, well, he's drunk too much of the multilateral Kool-Aid. Bill Clinton -- who epitomizes the kind of diplomatic style Kerry could only hope to achieve -- invested a fair amount of diplomatic capital on both of these flash points, during a time when America's global prestige was greater than today -- and in the end achieved very little of consequence. There are international problems where the conflict of interests are so sharp and the stakes are so high for the affected parties that all the outside diplomacy in the world won't achieve anything. And I can't help but wonder if Kerry believes he can somehow talk radical Islamists into submission.

So I'm troubled by this -- but at this point I'm more troubled by the Bush administration. Robert A. George has a New Republic column that encapsulates a lot of my difficulties voting for the GOP ticket this year. Here's the part that hit home for me:

President Bush has failed to live up to the second key tenet of conservative government: accountability.

Take, for example, the Pentagon's disastrous planning for postwar Iraq. The lack of troops for the post-invasion period enabled the insurgency to bloom and put American soldiers at risk. Worse, while memos from Ashcroft's Justice Department seemingly provided legal cover for the abuse at Abu Ghraib, the material causes could be found, again, in the underdeployment of troops: "What went wrong at Abu Ghraib prison?" asked The New York Post's Ralph Peters, one of the more earnest supporters of invading Iraq. Pointing to the two independent reports examining the scandal, he concludes: "Woefully deficient planning for post-war Iraq, too few troops and inadequate leadership at the top." Peters is among the conservatives who believe the Abu Ghraib fiasco should have been the final straw for Rumsfeld.

But it didn't happen. And it won't happen, because accountability is a foreign word in this administration. To demonstrate how little he has learned, Rumsfeld observed, "Does [the abuse] rank up there with chopping off someone's head on television? It doesn't. It doesn't. Was it done as a matter of policy? No." Forget that the abuse was far more pervasive than just the handful of servicemen that first popped up in photographs; when the secretary of defense basically says, "Hey, what the terrorists do is much worse," the moral foundation upon which America stands begins to crumble. The president's stated goal was to try to bring democracy to the Middle East--not to allow us to become tainted by the barbarism so prevalent in the region we are attempting to liberate. So Rumsfeld stays on--even as the situation rapidly deteriorates.

Then again, this shouldn't come as a surprise: George Tenet remained in his position following the worst intelligence failure in U.S. history, enabling him to tell the president later that evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a "slam dunk." The first failure helped lead to the deaths of thousands of Americans; the second failure led us into a conflict from which there exists no clear exit strategy and that has rendered the word of the United States suspect. Yet Tenet stayed on, too.

And no wonder. As Bob Woodward writes in Plan of Attack, "[S]everal things were clear from the president's demeanor, his style and all that [Colin] Powell had learned about Bush. The president was not going to toss anyone over the side.... The president also made it clear that no one was to jump ship.... They were a team. The larger message was clear: Circle the wagons." The larger message is that loyalty is prized above all, regardless of the results and regardless of the effect on U.S. standing in the world....

No, a Kerry administration would not be any conservative's ideal. But, on limited government, a Democratic president would, arguably, force a Republican Congress to act like a Republican Congress. The last such combination produced some form of fiscal sanity. And, when it comes to accountability, one could hardly do worse. Of course, a conservative can still cast a libertarian vote on principle.

At crucial points before and after the Iraq war, Bush's middle managers have failed him, and the "brand" called America has suffered in the world market. In any other corporate structure plagued by this level of incompetence, the CEO would have a choice: Fire his middle managers or be held personally accountable by his shareholders. Because of his own misguided sense of "loyalty," Bush won't dismiss anyone. That leaves the country's shareholders little choice.

Given the foreign policy stakes in this election, I prefer a leader who has a good decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I don't like, over a leader who has a bad decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I do like.

If Bush gets re-elected, he and his team will view it as a vindication for all of their policy decisions to date. Whatever groupthink occurred in the first term would pale besides the groupthink that would dominate the second term. Given the tactical and strategic errors in judgment that this administration has made, I have to lean towards Kerry.

My readers have the weekend to try to influence my p-value. As I said, the odds are good at this point that I'll tell Slate I'm voting for Kerry. But I strongly encourage Bush supporters to try and persuade me otherwise in the comments section.

UPDATE: The best effort to persuade me so far comes from an e-mail sent by a former US diplomat who served in both the Clinton and Bush administrations:

I don't dispute some of Kerry's criticisms of the current Administration's conduct of foreign policy. But KE04 presents no actual solutions on foreign policy from which we can derive a reasonable belief that his performance would be better than the current White House. In fact, it just might be worse.

Many of Kerry's policy proposals on foreign affairs strike me as nastily disingenuous. His "fair trade" mantra raises the specter of protectionism at a time when America's continued global economic engagement remains a lynchpin of the "soft power" Kerry so ardently wishes to use as leverage in the war on terror. His fulminations on a lack of allies in Iraq don't pass the red face test -- French, German and Russian interests are now clearly arrayed in a classic balance of power position against the U.S. This will not change with Kerry in the White House. As for other allies (minus the UK and Australia), we're the victims of our Cold War success - most participants in Iraq are already projecting about as much power as they possibly can, having comfortably atrophied under our security umbrella for the past 60 years. This is the burden of hegemony, and I'm not quite sure Senator Kerry, whose mind still fully inhabits the Vietnam paradigm, is up to the task of bearing it forthrightly.

Kerry's respect for multilateralism should not be praised, but questioned, given the changing nature of international politics today. The days of America being able to win a kitchen pass from UN members on any number of issues have come to pass. The Cold War is over, and as your U of C colleague Mr. Mearshemier warned back in 1990, multipolarity will make us outright miss the Cold War. But Kerry hasn't grasped this fundamental change. He hasn't comprehended that the UN, as well as other multilateral institutions, has stopped being a preserve of internationally agreed rules and collective action backed by broad consensus. These institutions have become, instead, vehicles for the pursuit of narrow self-interests by any number of major regional powers which aspire to great power status. (France, Russia, Germany, India, Brazil, China). This is a drastically different international order from the one Kerry presumes to know.

You also have to ask yourself, who is going to carry out Kerry's multilateral approach? And on that score, things simply get worse. A Kerry White House would mean the Madeleine Albright B Team moving into senior foreign policy positions. And, with the notable exception of Richard Holbrooke (his hair may be on fire, but he gets things done), this would be disastrous. These are the same folks who fiddled for 8 years on counter terror, negotiated a terrifyingly naive nuke deal with North Korea, and generally treat foreign policy as a rhetorical exercise. This is a team who has demonstrated, in past position of influence, an alarming propensity to get rolled by their foreign counterparts. Let's pick just two: Susan Rice? Jamie Rubin?! Are you serious?? During her sojourn as assistant secretary for Africa in Albright's State Department, Rice had to be consistently bailed out of trouble by career diplomats. As for Rubin, he is anti-gravitas. He's Edwards-lite.

Think about Kerry's foreign policy track record and his much ballyhooed commitment to "multilateralism". Think if that reflects accurately the state of world politics today. Think about the people who would occupy senior Cabinet, NSC, State and DoD positions under Kerry. Then think about your vote again, please.

Here's another reason specific to Red Sox fans (link via Shannen Coffin at NRO).

ANOTHER UPDATE: One of the sharpest students I've ever taught e-mails a sharp rebuttal:

I’ve got to say I wasn’t too impressed with the former diplomat who wrote in to try to persuade you to change your mind. He attacks Kerry for not recognizing a changed world. Yet it’s not clear that your correspondent has a clear vision of the world either – he alternates between talking about the the US carrying the “burden of hegemony” and then referring to a “multipolar world” in reference to Mearsheimer’s (whose name he misspells) arguments. Is the world unipolar or multipolar? Seems like he doesn’t really know; or more likely is using a pair of contradictory arguments to go after Kerry (“We’re in unipolarity and Kerry doesn’t understand unipolarity! We’re in multipolarity and Kerry doesn’t understand multipolarity!”).

He also refers to French, Russian, and German “balancing,” which doesn’t look much like any kind of balancing we’ve ever seen before, given the lack of military build-ups or alliances between this supposed balancing coalition (indeed, he refers to “atrophied” allied capabilities). Not to mention that Germany and France have troops helping out the US in places like Afghanistan and the Balkans - helping secure the peace in the wake of the Taliban’s removal is an awfully strange kind of anti-American balancing. So the French, Germans, and Russians are balancing by helping out the US in Afghanistan/Balkans, trying to manage Iran, neglecting their militaries, letting tens of thousands of US soldiers and hundreds of million of dollars of US military capabilities sit on German soil, and not allying against the US? Doesn’t look much like the Triple Entente or sixth anti-Napoleonic coalition to me.

I’m not exactly comforted by the thought of Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Bolton et al running the show for four more years. Other than some successes regarding Libya, keeping the WTO together, and the Taliban’s removal I have a suspicion this is not a foreign policy team that will go down in history as even minimally competent.

*YET ANOTHER UPDATE: I'd like to thank the 95% of the commenters who have posted respectful arguments pro and con. I haven't enjoyed a comment thread like this in quite some time.

I'll try to address the more trenchant criticisms sometime this weekend.

MONDAY UPDATE, 11:50 CENTRAL TIME: This is taking longer than I thought, but I'll be posting something in the next few hours.

posted by Dan at 11:37 AM | Comments (402) | Trackbacks (19)

Thursday, October 14, 2004

The Volkswagen Passat versus rational choice theory

A political science colleague who shall remain nameless e-mailed me the following amusing rant:

Why VW Debunks everything I ever learned in Political Science

I've been thinking a lot about my VW Passat today. Actually, I've been fantasizing about life without it. To call the car a lemon does not begin to convey the vitriol I feel toward this souped-up-galopy and the devil company that spawned it.

Three years old with just 24,000 miles on it, the car has suffered from a major and chronic oil leak (at one point, an indicator light went on that read -- and I'm not kidding -- "stop immediately!"), a dead battery, faulty wiring to all of the front lights (a $900 problem that went undiagnosed despite 3, count them, 3 trips to the dealer to replace burned out running lights and pleas to check the wiring), a broken cigarette lighter/cell phone charger, a broken rear washer sprayer, and my favorite: trim around the doors that magically came unglued on both sides of the car, so that you had to navigate an upholstered noose hanging down from the top of the door to climb inside.

As I sat in my dead car today, waiting for a replacement battery to be installed, I got to thinking about what my experience with VW says about political science.

Here's what I learned:

1. People are not rational actors. Today, I spent an extra hour getting my corner gas station to send a guy to VW, pick up a battery, bring it back, and then install it just so I wouldn't give VW any more "labor" fees for a car that shouldn't be broken in the first place. Yeah, yeah you could say my behavior was rational given my utility function (hatred toward VW runs deep), but the point is I was willing to tolerate incredible inefficiency for a wildly ridiculous and fleeting feeling of petty satisfaction.

2. Statistics don't mean s*** if you're the outlier. I did my research. Consumer Reports rated the 2001 Passat high in reliability. In fact, reliability was one of the big factors that pushed me to buy it over a Volvo. What I didn't know was that someone was smoking something they shouldn't have been when my particular Passat came down the assembly line.

3. Conspiracy theories are true. Incompetence alone cannot explain the knuckle-headed service I have gotten from this company. Once, a "service advisor" lost -- LOST -- my car for 3 days. The corporate 1-800 VW "consumer advocate" I called yesterday was able only to advocate that I try a different dealer. When I asked him which one, the reply came with a straight face: "M'am, we cannot recommend one dealer over another. I guess you'll have to do trial and error."

My VW service manager, a very nice man named Willie, admitted that my car has had a major oil leak for three years, but still said he couldn't actually diagnose the problem --let alone fix it -- until I brought the car back after driving exactly 1,000 miles once VW had changed my oil. Apparently, my own tracking of the vanishing oil, and the one emergency visit I made, when the car needed 3 quarts of oil and the VW service guy told me," Man, your car was so dry you could have fried the whole engine, Lady!" weren't enough.

Yesterday, I even emailed the head of corporate communications for VW of America in a desperate last plea for help. (Most other VW executives don't even list their contact information on the internet). His name is Steve Keyes. I didn't hear back. Then I realized why:

Somewhere in Germany, in an underground bunker with escape pods, laser-beam defensive systems, and one of those retractable ceilings, a secret group of men and women is meeting. Stroking their furry, one-eyed albino cats, these Titans of Automotive Misery are busy devising evil new paperwork requirements and fake toll free consumer advocate lines to keep VW employees everywhere from fixing station wagons in the United States.

My rational, detached conclusion is that Lesson #2 is the causal factor behind Lessons #1 and #3. Furthermore, in this case, I doubt Consumer Reports developed their rating using statistical analysis, and I'd speculate that they may have screwed up their ranking of the Passat -- this is not the first rant I've heard against that car.

Of course, ask me about my experiences with Continental Airlines and all my rationality will just fade away....

I highly recommend reading this in tandem with Maria Farrell's jeremiad against statistics requirements over at Crooked Timber. However, be sure to then check out Kieran Healy's witty addendum.

UPDATE: A note of clarification after reading some of the comments -- I'm not the one who owns a Passat. The Drezner family modes of transportation were made by Toyota and Saturn.

posted by Dan at 12:41 PM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (1)

So how are those radical Islamists doing?

Three news/analysis items suggest that radical Islamic groups are facing greater hardships on multiple fronts.

Karl Vick reports in the Washington Post that even the Iraqi resistance fighters in Fallujah have had enough of their Arab brethren coming in and acting all fundamentalist:

Local insurgents in the city of Fallujah are turning against the foreign fighters who have been their allies in the rebellion that has held the U.S. military at bay in parts of Iraq's Sunni Muslim heartland, according to Fallujah residents, insurgent leaders and Iraqi and U.S. officials.

Relations are deteriorating as local fighters negotiate to avoid a U.S.-led military offensive against Fallujah, while foreign fighters press to attack Americans and their Iraqi supporters. The disputes have spilled over into harsh words and sporadic violence, with Fallujans killing at least five foreign Arabs in recent weeks, according to witnesses....

U.S. and Iraqi authorities together have insisted that if Fallujah is to avoid an all-out assault aimed at regaining control of the city, foreign fighters must be ejected. Several local leaders of the insurgency say they, too, want to expel the foreigners, whom they scorn as terrorists. They heap particular contempt on Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian whose Monotheism and Jihad group has asserted responsibility for many of the deadliest attacks across Iraq, including videotaped beheadings.

"He is mentally deranged, has distorted the image of the resistance and defamed it. I believe his end is near," Abu Abdalla Dulaimy, military commander of the First Army of Mohammad, said.

One of the foreign guerrillas killed by local fighters was Abu Abdallah Suri, a Syrian and a prominent member of Zarqawi's group. Suri's body was discovered Sunday. He was shot in the head and chest while being chased by a carload of tribesmen, according to a security guard who said he witnessed the killing....

Among the tensions dividing the locals and the foreigners is religion. People in Fallujah, known as the city of mosques, have chafed at the stern brand of Islam that the newcomers brought with them. The non-Iraqi Arabs berated women who did not cover themselves head-to-toe in black -- very rare in Iraq -- and violently opposed local customs rooted in the town's more mystical religious tradition. One Fallujah man killed a Kuwaiti who said he could not pray at the grave of an ancestor.

Residents said the overwhelming majority of Fallujah's people also have been repulsed by the atrocities that Zarqawi and other extremists have made commonplace in Iraq. The foreign militants are thought to produce the car bombs that now explode around Iraq several times a day, and Zarqawi's organization has asserted responsibility for the slayings of several Westerners, some of which were shown in videos posted on the Internet.

There was another digital display of a beheading on Tuesday. The victim apparently was a Shiite Muslim Arab, and the group that said it posted the video identified itself as the Ansar al-Sunna Army.

Abu Barra, commander of a group of native insurgents called the Allahu Akbar Battalions, said: "Please do not mix the cards. There is an Iraqi resistance, a genuine resistance, and there are other groups trying to settle accounts. There is also terror targeting Iraqis.

President Bush, he said, "knows that and so does the government, but they purposely group all three under the tag of 'terrorism.' "

Barra and other insurgent leaders said the "genuine resistance" is a disciplined force that restricts its attacks to military targets, chiefly U.S. forces. It is motivated, they say, by Iraqi nationalism and humiliation over what it regards as a foreign occupation.

"The others," Barra said, "are Arab Salafis who claim that any Iraqi or Muslim not willing to carry arms is an infidel. They are the crux of our ailment. Most of them are Saudis, Syrians" and North Africans. Salafism is a strain of Islam that seeks to restore the faith to the way it was in the days of the prophet Muhammad, 14 centuries ago.

"It is the Zarqawis and his Salafi group who are going to lead Fallujah, Samarra, Baqubah, Mosul and even some parts of Baghdad to disaster and death," Barra said.

In Slate, Lee Smith has a long essay on the motivations behind the Taba bombings, arguing that Al Qaeda's decision to strike there reflects a less appetizing menu of targets:

The question now is why, after seven years, did the jihadist movement renew its war against Egypt with a strategy that they have already seen is a dead end?

It is hard to know whether the groups think Egypt is now a softer target. Certainly, the Sinai, which has attracted many Israeli tourists since it was handed back to Egypt in 1988 under the terms of the two countries' 1979 peace treaty, has always been lightly policed in comparison with the rest of Egypt's tourist attractions. Maybe the jihadists have entered a particularly nihilistic phase in their history, pursuing violence for no other purpose than bloodshed and vengeance. Perhaps they are madder than before. But we can imagine what the world looks like to a jihadist today: The United States has invaded and occupied two Muslim countries, and it has dispatched special forces and drone airplanes throughout the Middle East and North Africa to kill jihadists. The Bush administration has asked Muslim states like Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia to arrest and detain suspects and has demanded that many of those same regimes revise their entire educational systems and tone down the anti-American rhetoric that appears in schools, mosques, and the media. More generally, we have demanded that Islam itself change and modernize. Last, but hardly least, we have continued to support Israel.

Even if we were to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq tomorrow, all of the other initiatives listed above that we've pursued since Sept. 11—which the majority of Americans and even a few Europeans support—would lead some Muslims to think we are waging a very high-intensity military and propaganda campaign against Islam. It was bad enough in the past that the United States protected "apostate regimes," but now, in the midst of open war, Egypt is allied with Islam's No. 1 enemy....

While Bush and Kerry argue over which of them would make America safe, the jihadists themselves may have given us some valuable information. If—as Zawahiri's concept of the nearby and faraway enemy holds—al-Qaida decided to target the United States because the Islamist movement had little success striking at Egypt, then it is important to consider why they have returned to a battleground where they were systematically decimated. If they have found that it was easier to attack fortress Egypt than the United States, this is a significant turnaround.

Finally, Jackson Diehl argues that the Bush administration's G-8 initiative to encourage greater democratic representation:

Drowned out by the bombings in Iraq, and the debate over whether the staging of elections there is an achievable goal or a mirage, the Bush administration's democracy initiative for the rest of the Middle East creeps quietly forward. In neo-realist Washington, it is usually dismissed -- when it is remembered at all -- in much the same way that, say, national elections in Afghanistan were once laughed off. The unpopularity of the Bush administration and the predictable resistance from the dictatorships of Egypt and Saudi Arabia are cited as proof that the region's hoped-for "transformation" is going nowhere.

And yet, the process started at the Sea Island summit of Group of Eight countries in June is gaining some traction -- sometimes to the surprise of the administration's own skeptics. A foreign ministers' meeting in New York two weeks ago produced agreement that the first "Forum for the Future" among Middle Eastern and G-8 governments to discuss political and economic liberalization will take place in December. Morocco volunteered to host it, and a handful of other Arab governments, including Jordan, Bahrain and Yemen, have embraced pieces of the process.

More intriguingly, independent human rights groups and pro-democracy movements around the region are continuing to sprout, gather and issue manifestos -- all in the name of supporting the intergovernmental discussions. An independent human rights group appeared in Syria this month; Saudi women organized a movement to demand the right to vote in upcoming municipal elections. On the same day that the Egyptian foreign minister belittled what is now called the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative (BMENA) in an interview with The Post, an unprecedented alliance of opposition parties and citizens' groups issued a platform in Cairo calling for the lifting of emergency laws, freedom of the press and direct, multi-candidate elections for president.

posted by Dan at 10:19 AM | Comments (35) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Open third debate thread

Feel free to post your thoughts about the third presidential debate here. I might be liveblogging it (and if so, will be updating this post), but my limited attention resources will be split between this debate, the second game of the ALCS, and petty things like taking care of the children.

Comment away!!

8:00 PM: I've got the clicker at my side, a baby in my arms, a nervous stomach with Pedro having control problems, and the debate is on.

8:02 PM: God, I’m bored already – both of them are repeating themselves—oh, wait, Bush had some new stuff on Afghanistan and echoed Eugene Volokh. Kerry responds with the "outsourcing to Afghan warlords" line again. UPDATE: Josh Chafetz makes a great point here -- what the hell is Schieffer thinking asking "will our children and grandchildren ever live in a world as safe and secure as the world in which we grew up?" For Americans of my generation, this is a much safer world than when I was growing up. I remember going to sleep worried about the likelihood of all out thermonuclear war breaking out.

8:18 PM: Oh, goody -- Bob Schieffer asks an outsourcing question saying, "forget the statistics, let's consider just one person." THAT'LL generate some useful policy.

Bush gives a decent response on TAA and education.

8:19 PM: Kerry ducks the outsourcing question, but gets off a good line off on the Sopranos.

8:23 PM: Baby sleeping. One stylistic comment -- Bush tonight is using the same mocking tone he adopted at critical moments against Gore in 2000. I don't think he's used this tone in the previous two debates. It was effective then -- I wonder if it will work this time.

8:26 PM: Bush says "I don't know" on whether homosexuality is a choice or not. I think that's the first time either of them has said that in the past year.

8:32 PM: Schieffer says, "Let's get back to economic issues." Good God, yes. So far I agree with Glenn -- "So far this is the weakest debate of the three."

8:35 PM: I wonder if it's possible to give a coherent two-minute answer on health care.

8:36 PM: "The President blocked Americans from getting cheaper drugs from Canada." Apparently, that's the one import Kerry supports. [You're being unfair--ed. I'll give Kerry one-and-a-half cheers for saying that he couldn't stop outsourcing.]

I'm surprised that Kerry hasn't hit Bush on disguising the costs of the Medicare bill. Most people across the board abhor that one -- that seems an obvious opening.

8:39 PM: Have the Red Sox drafted an internal memo saying that they'll give the first six innings to the Yankee offense and then they'll crank up in the seventh?

8:41 PM: How much do you think Bush relished the dig about news networks? I'd have loved to have seen Bob Schieffer's face on that one. Bush seems more relaxed this time around.

8:48 PM: I'm switching between the game and this -- Did Kerry just allow that Alan Greenspan supported George W. Bush's tax cuts? This had to have been a response to Bush's answer (which I didn't hear). UPDATE: No, this was a gift from Kerry to Bush -- Schieffer mentioned Greenspan in the question, but it had nothing to do with the tax cuts.

8:49 PM: Kerry keeps harping on declining wages and blaming Bush -- but click here for why I think he's off base here.

8:51 PM: Immigration generate the largest amount of e-mail traffic for Schieffer. But I liked Bush's immediate response to this issue -- he was actually pointing out immigration is a complex issue. He seems relaxed and confident in his response on this one. UPDATE: The guest card idea sucks though -- not shocking that they therefore both support it.

8:58 PM: I like how Schieffer follows up the immigration question with the inequality question -- one wishes he'd read Robert Samuelson's Newsweek column linking the two (link via Mickey Kaus).

9:00 PM: Stylistically and substantively, I really like Bush's answer connecting education to jobs. Kerry hits back on funding, which is appropriate -- but he doesn't echo Bush's vision on this one.

9:04 PM: Schieffer serve up the "backdoor draft" line -- which Kerry used in both of the previous debates -- in a question to Kerry. Jeez, Tanyon Sturtze has sharper stuff. [But what if it's true?--ed. I think it is, but I having the moderator serve up a campaign line like that in a softball question is stacking the deck -- at least Schieffer could have used a different phrasing.]

9:09 PM: On the last foreign policy question, two things struck me -- first, Bush was smart enough to bring up Kerry's first Gulf War vote to respond to Kerry's response. While both of them are recycling answers from the first debate, Bush seems to have added some new stuff.

Second, Kerry should be angrier in his response to Bush's "global test" crack. I tend to agree that Kerry's initial response was take out of context, and he should be really angrry about this. Instead he rephrases it without emotion as a "truth test." I never thought I would say this, but this is one of those times when Kerry needs to act a little more like Howard Dean.

9:23 PM: Bush's response to Schieffer's question about what they've learned from the women in their lives was very funny: "Listen to them: stand up and don't scowl." UPDATE: Kerry is equally self-effacing -- pretty bold to implicitly talk about marrying money.

9:25 PM: The Yankees weren't supposed to have any starting pitching!!

9:30 PM: Thank God it's over -- dear Lord that was lackluster. I should have copied Stephen Green and combined blogging and drinking. Here's the transcript.

My quick take -- and bear in mind that I'm not nearly as drenched in health care minutae as I am on foreign policy, so I can't comment on the factual errors committed by both of them -- is that Bush won a debate where both of them missed a lot of opportunities. The key difference between this debate and the last two was that Bush physically seemed more comfortable this time around, seemed to remember his talking points on the questions that had appeared in previous debates, and was better able to project passion on the answers he really cared about (education, immigration, faith). Kerry didn't quite marry style to substance in the same way. However, I certainly don't think Bush won it going away -- and if I were the Kerry team, I'd play Bush's bad memory about what he said about bin Laden for all it's worth. UPDATE: Patrick Belton gives it to Kerry; Jeff Jarvis: "[T]he bottom line of this debate so far: Damn, it's a bad choice."; Virginia Postrel just makes trenchant observations.

I also agree with Kevin Drum:

I think domestic policy is a pretty tough subject for both of them. Both guys were so consumed with laundry lists and buzzwords and facts and figures that I doubt very much that most people really followed a lot of what they were saying.

FINAL UPDATE: I have only three words: Mariano Bleeping Rivera.

FINAL SERIOUS UPDATE: Joe Gandelman reports all of the flash polls give the debate to Kerry. Alas, I fear Matthew Yglesias is correct: the answer I liked best from Bush -- the idea of education as being intimately related to jobs -- probably didn't score well.

posted by Dan at 06:38 PM | Comments (91) | Trackbacks (4)

Using foreign policy to influence elections

I see the Germans have expressed their ballot preferences for the American ticket in the Financial Times:

Germany might deploy troops in Iraq if conditions there change, Peter Struck, the German defence minister, indicated on Tuesday in a gesture that appears to provide backing for John Kerry, the US Democratic presidential challenger.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Struck departed from his government’s resolve not to send troops to Iraq under any circumstances, saying: “At present I rule out the deployment of German troops in Iraq. In general, however, there is no one who can predict developments in Iraq in such a way that he could make a such a binding statement [about the future].”

Mr Struck also welcomed Mr Kerry’s proposal that he would convene an international conference on Iraq including countries that opposed the war if he were to win next month's election.

Germany would certainly attend, Mr Struck said. “This is a very sensible proposal. The situation in Iraq can only be cleared up when all those involved sit together at one table. Germany has taken on responsibilities in Iraq, including financial ones; this would naturally justify our involvement in such a conference.”

This manipulation of foreign policy against a formal ally to provoke a change in government is somewhat distasteful. However, it's not nearly as distasteful as a government's manipulation of its own foreign policy such that it temporarily acts against the national interest in order to get re-elected. According to Mark Mazzetti of the Los Angeles Times:

The Bush administration plans to delay major assaults on rebel-held cities in Iraq until after U.S. elections in November, say administration officials, mindful that large-scale military offensives could affect the U.S. presidential race.

Although American commanders in Iraq have been buoyed by recent successes in insurgent-held towns such as Samarra and Tall Afar, administration and Pentagon officials say they will not try to retake cities such as Fallouja and Ramadi — where the insurgents' grip is strongest and U.S. military casualties could be the highest — until after Americans vote in what is likely to be an extremely close election.

"When this election's over, you'll see us move very vigorously," said one senior administration official involved in strategic planning, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Once you're past the election, it changes the political ramifications" of a large-scale offensive, the official said. "We're not on hold right now. We're just not as aggressive."

Any delay in pacifying Iraq's most troublesome cities, however, could alter the dynamics of a different election — the one in January, when Iraqis are to elect members of a national assembly. (emphases added)

These two trends converge allied diplomacy over Iran, as Steven Weisman's New York Times story reveals (link via Andrew Sullivan):

The Bush administration is holding talks with its European allies on a possible package of economic incentives for Iran, including access to imported nuclear fuel, in return for suspension of uranium enrichment activities that are suspected to be part of a nuclear arms program, European and American diplomats said Monday....

European diplomats said that the administration was very squeamish about even discussing incentives, in part because it would represent a policy reversal that would provoke a vigorous internal debate, and in part because of the presidential campaign. Senator John Kerry, the Democratic candidate, has made Iran an issue, criticizing the administration for not working more closely with European nations. Mr. Kerry has said that if elected he would endorse a deal supplying Iran with civilian nuclear fuel under tight restrictions and would press for sanctions if Iran refused....

Details of the highly sensitive talks on Iran between Europe and the United States have begun to leak out in Europe and were disclosed by European officials who advocate an approach of some conciliation toward Iran as the only way to change its behavior....

The delicacy of [the U.S.] confronting Iran has been underscored by its injection in the last two presidential debates.

Administration officials say that their preferred approach so far has been to let the three European Union nations take the lead with Iran and report back to Washington, rather than have the United States get involved in dealing directly with Iran.

So, basically, both the U.S. and key European states are fiddling around with foreign policy towards Iraq and Iran in order to manipulate the U.S. election.

The European actions are a venal sin, in that they contradict long-standing norms about overtly attempting to influence an ally's election. However, if the LAT is correct, the Bush administration's actions are more like a mortal sin.

UPDATE: Several commenters have pointed out that nation-states try to influence elections in other countries all the time. My point here is that while this is true, there is a pretty strong norm against this sort of thing taking place among the G-7.

Brad DeLong suggests that the Germans are plainly stating their foreign policy preferences. Except that a few weeks ago they also stated their foreign policy preferences to the Financial Times, and those preferences look pretty different from what Struck told the FT yesterday. See also this Greg Djerejian post from September 30th.

CNN's Chris Burns has more on the aftermath of Struck's interview.

posted by Dan at 12:47 AM | Comments (82) | Trackbacks (6)

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

IR scholars weigh in against Iraq

A small group of IR scholars called the Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy have amassed 650 signatures from international relations scholars in the United States and allied countries to sign an open letter blasting the Bush administration's foreign policy. This is from the text of the letter:

We, a nonpartisan group of foreign affairs specialists, have joined together to call urgently for a change of course in American foreign and national security policy. We judge that the current American policy centered around the war in Iraq is the most misguided one since the Vietnam period, one which harms the cause of the struggle against extreme Islamist terrorists.

Although we applaud the Bush Administration for its initial focus on destroying al-Qaida bases in Afghanistan, its failure to engage sufficient U.S. troops to capture or kill the mass of al-Qaida fighters in the later stages of that war was a great blunder. It is a fact that the early shift of U.S. focus to Iraq diverted U.S. resources, including special operations forces and intelligence capabilities, away from direct pursuit of the fight against the terrorists....

The results of this policy have been overwhelmingly negative for U.S. interests. While the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime was desirable, the benefit to the U.S. was small as prewar inspections had already proven the extreme weakness of his WMD programs, and therefore the small size of the threat he posed. On the negative side, the excessive U.S. focus on Iraq led to weak and inadequate responses to the greater challenges posed by North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear programs, and diverted resources from the economic and diplomatic efforts needed to fight terrorism in its breeding grounds in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the Middle East. Worse, American actions in Iraq, including but not limited to the scandal of Abu Ghraib, have harmed the reputation of the U.S. in most parts of the Middle East and, according to polls, made Osama Bin Laden more popular in some countries than is President Bush. This increased popularity makes it easier for al-Qaida to raise money, attract recruits, and carry out its terrorist operations than would otherwise be the case.

Recognizing these negative consequences of the Iraq war, in addition to the cost in lives and money, we believe that a fundamental reassessment is in order. Significant improvements are needed in our strategy in Iraq and the implementation of that strategy. We call urgently for an open debate on how to achieve these ends, one informed by attention to the facts on the ground in Iraq, the facts of al-Qaida’s methods and strategies, and sober attention to American interests and values.

Before anyone starts claiming that this is just an example of radical academics engaging in Bush-bashing, they should check out the list of signatories. There are some scholars on the list who would be considered by mainstream Americans to be "out there" in their beliefs, but there are also a wide array of realists, rational choice theorists, democratization activists, area experts, and liberal institutionalists. I concur with Henry Farrell -- this is a group that cannot be lightly dismissed.

To answer the obvious question: I did not sign it. In part my reticence to sign comes from a misplaced comparison made in the letter between Iraq and Vietnam; another part of it comes from the failure to articulate an alternative strategy (which, to be fair, was probably impossible with such a diverse group of signatories). The second graf of the letter hints that U.S. force should have been deployed against Pakistan, and I'm not sure that would have turned out any better than what's happened in Iraq. And as my last post suggested, it's just possible that Afghanistan has not suffered too badly from the attention on Iraq. And I seriously doubt that any of the signatories believe that the military resources deployed in Iraq should have been deployed in North Korea.

Another big part is that the letter conflates two different objections to the administration's foreign policy; the initial decision to invade Iraq, and the poor execution of the post-war occupation. I concur with the second assessment, but I still think that had the pre-war planning been a little better, the post-war effects in the region would have been much more positive than negative.

However, in all honesty part of the reason I didn't sign it is that I've been wrong enough about Iraq to be gun-shy in making any declarative statement about the future of U.S. policy in that country, good or ill. I made a fair number of arguments in support of invading Iraq in the run-up to the war, and at least some of them have been proven wrong. I'm used to being wrong, but being wrong on this scale is discomfiting to say the least.

Even if I didn't sign it, however, I've come to reluctantly agree with a fair amount of the letter. So go read the whole thing (there are footnotes and everything!) and tell me what you think.

UPDATE: Many of the comments refer to this as "Monday-morning quarterbacking." However, many of the security scholars who originated this letter also participated in a Fall 2002 paid advertisement in the New York Times op-ed page urging the Bush administration not to invade Iraq -- click here for more.

posted by Dan at 04:35 PM | Comments (97) | Trackbacks (4)

Comparing Afghanistan and Iraq

Matthew Yglesias has a list of possible explanations for why, in the wake of Afghanistan's presidential election, "fewer resources have brought better results in Afghanistan than have a much larger quantity of troops and cash in Iraq." He's got a pretty decent list of hypotheses -- greater multilateral involvement, better indigineous political leadership, etc. I'd add two big ones, however:

1) Afghanistan doesn't have any oil. Economies based on extractive resources generate massive opportunities for graft and corruption. They also encourage domestic actors to battle over the distribution of existing resources, rather than focusing on growing the pie for everyone.

A related point: because of that oil wealth, many Iraqis could claim to some middle-class aspirations even during the sanctions era. the threat to those aspirations posed by continuing instability badly undercuts support for the U.S. invasion.

2) Afghanistan was invaded eighteen months before Iraq. There simply hasn't been the same rush to elections in Afghanistan that there has been in Iraq. Even though both countries are dealing with insurgencies, the Taliban's failure to dusrupt the presidential elections suggests that they cannot muster coordinated attacks. This may be due to 18 more months of counterinsurgency operations.

Post your own explanations below.

posted by Dan at 02:30 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (1)

Why my productivity will be down this month


This month I have to complete one book manuscript and fully outline the next one -- but now I'm going to lose at least four, but probably seven evenings to the American League Championship Series between the Red Sox and the Yankees. David Pinto has a very amusing post outlining the recent narrative arc of the rivalry.

Over at, Sean McAdam lays out why, compared to last year's ALCS, the Red Sox are better and the Yankees are worse. I agree with everything he's written (though I think McAdam ignores the improvement in the Yankee offense with Sheffield and A-Rod representing a major upgrade over Giambi and Soriano in their lineup) -- if the better team wins, then the Red Sox should cruise into the World Series in five games.

Of course, being a Red Sox fan, I can easily find the vulnerabilities in the Red Sox -- Schilling's ankle, Pedro's psyche, Manny's goofiness, and of course the SI jinx. Besides, as Mike Bauman observes, since the start of divisional play in 1969, the same teams have played each other in the ALCS in consecutive years seven times -- with the same team winning in both years of consecutive appearances every time.

So, as I prepare for the stomach-churning, three final thoughts:

1) This may sound like the head of the U.S. Patent Office back in the 1890's who allegedly said that there was nothing left to be invented, but I find it hard to conceive of how this series can top what's happened in the past two years. Readers are invited to suggest the dramatic possibilities.

2) Is it possible that the Sox-Yankees rivalry has become so intense that neither of them will be winning a World Series anytime soon? The problem is that their playoff series are so physically and emotionally draining that they have nothing left for the World Series. The Yankees may have won last year's ALCS, but Yankee manager Joe Torre burned through his entire pitching staff to win Game Seven, and they lost in six to the Marlins. If this series goes to seven games, it's tough for me to picture either of them knocking off the Cardinals in the World Series [What about the Astros?--ed. With apologies to Josh Chafetz, I don't see that happening).

3) One final semi-serious thought -- the League Championship Series could reduce the political implications of tomorrow night's debate. The Sox-Yankees will attract a national audience, and the Cardinals will grab the attention of one semi-swing state. It will be interesting to see the ratings numbers for tomorrow evening.

posted by Dan at 01:28 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (3)

Monday, October 11, 2004

Random thoughts on the housing market

The Chicago Tribune's Mary Umberger reports on the emergence of a new kind of mortgage:

When Jim Erbach set out earlier this year to refinance his mortgage, his credit union told him about a new loan that would cut his monthly payments by nearly $200.

"I'm cheap," said Erbach, who signed on for a 40-year mortgage.

He is also 73 years old.

"I have one objective in mind, to reduce the current costs of my expenses," explains the retired fleet manager who lives on a fixed income.

The Northwest Side man is in a pilot program to test consumer reaction to a relatively rare mortgage animal: the 40-year, fixed-rate loan. It's an experiment of 16 credit unions nationwide in partnership with Fannie Mae, which next year will decide whether to roll out the loans on a broad scale.

While a few banks offer the occasional 40-year fixed-rate mortgage, a stamp of approval from Fannie Mae could standardize such loans.

Officials at Fannie Mae and at Baxter Credit Union in Vernon Hills, which is participating in the test program, see the 40-year loans as a way to turn more Americans into homeowners.

Critics view the loans as creating more nightmares in a society saddled with debt.

"I thought the point of buying a home was to own it," said Amelia Tyagi, co-author of "The Two-Income Trap," an examination of American household debt. "With this thing, you pay until you die."

The basic concern of critics is that: a) this kind of mortgage saddles people with too much debt; and b) the lower per-month costs permits people who are genuinely bad credit risks to get credit, increasing nonperformance rates; and c) a secular increase in housing prices as demand increases.

My gut instinct is that these costs are far outweighed by the benefits of expanding the number of homeowners. Beyond expanding the investing class, this is particularly true if the introduction of this kind of mortgage instrument creates new neighborhoods of homeowners instead of renters. This is Mickey Kaus' territory, but I have to think that there are positive spillover effects from having a critical mass of homeowners in a neighborhood -- a greater investment in preserving social ties, an incentive to increase property values, and indirect feedback effects on education funding.

[But the example in the story is about an old guy buying a house.--ed. Yes, but this points to two other reasons why this is a good thing. First, it means that a lot of homeowners are rationally looking at their homes as financial assets that are currently outperforming other investments. Second, a 40-year mortgage would seem to be a rational response to an increase in lifespan.]

Of course, if we're currently experiencing a housing bubble, then expanding mortgages at this juncture would not be a good thing. But I am cheered by the IMF's recent World Economic Outlook, which includes an essay by Marco Terrones on the global housing boom. The basic conclusion of the piece is that, "The econometric results confirm that real house prices in industrial countries show high persistence, long-run reversion to fundamentals, and dependence on economic fundamentals." and that in the United States, the recent run-up in prices are consistent with this trend.

posted by Dan at 12:14 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (1)

Sunday, October 10, 2004

The balance of trade in transatlantic romances

Back from Milan and I'm juuuuuuuuuuuust a wee bit tired. However, even in my sleep-deprived state I must confess to the strangest symmetry in who I sat next to on my flights to and from Milan.

On my way there, I sat next to a lovely Italian women who was on the return leg from visiting her American boyfriend -- who was in the American military.

On my way back, I sat next to a lovely American woman who was on the return leg from visiting her Italian boyfriend -- who was in the Italian Air Force.

There's no larger moral here -- it's just a bunch of stuff that happened. But that's some pretty symmetrical stuff.

posted by Dan at 10:11 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, October 9, 2004

Open second debate thread

Along with a few other hardy conference attendeess, I got up at 3 AM to watch the second presidential debate live. This means I did not get a lot of sleep, but my quick opinion was

a) Bush did better than the first debate;

b) Kerry also did a bit better -- he was sharp from the start this time;

c) Again, both candidates whiffed on the openings given by the other candidates;

d) If Kerry gets elected, you just know that his to-the-camera pledge not to raise taxes for households under $200,000 is going to bite him in the ass;

e) The bizarre moment of the night was the Bush foray into Dred Scott territory. But I do feel safer that Bush will not appoint pro-slavery judges. [UPDATE: Some have suggested that the Dred Scott reference was code to the anti-abortionists that he would appoint justices who would reverse Roe v. Wade. This would be consistent with efforts to get out the base, but it's still a bizarre move because it could alienate just as many swing voters who thought Bush sounded either drugged or incoherent in his response.]

So I think Kerry won, but not by as much as last time.

Post your own thoughts here!!

posted by Dan at 03:37 AM | Comments (83) | Trackbacks (3)

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

October's Books of the Month

I'll be at a conference in Milan for the next few days (yes, I know, I lead a rough life), so blogging may or may not take place. However, here are some belated October book recommendations.

The international relations book of the month is Sebastian Mallaby's The World's Banker, which avoids the common flaw of most books about the international financial institutions (IFIs) -- a dearth of amusing goat anecdotes.

To elaborate: tomes about the International Monetary Fund or World Bank tend to be drenched in a dull earnestness about the best ways to promote global development. The exceptions are the books slathered with righteous indignation about the alleged injustices committed by either institution towards the environment, local cultures, women or the poor in general. Either way, readers are frequently forced to wade through pages of exposition written with all the prose style of the phone book. The debate about the IFIs has a wide-ranging impact on global policy, but with the current state of the literature, even the eyes of interested readers start to glaze over.

Mallaby deals with this by writing a book about the World Bank under the guise of writing about the Bank's current president, James Wolfensohn. As a result, debates about the myriad complexities and paradoxes of fostering development and combating poverty are intertwined with tales about Wolfensohn’s life and times at the Bank – including the tangled fate of a goat given to him during a 1995 goodwill trip to Mali.

How well-researched is this book? Mallaby's description of Wolfensohn's first trip to Africa as World Bank president has a lot of eye-grabbing detail, including one graf that describes how Wolfemsohn looks at an airplane tarmac. The description was a bit thick, and I was ready to chide Mallaby for inserting colorful details that neither he nor anyone else could have remembered -- until I checked the footnotes. Mallaby had recreated the scene using a World Bank video recording. It sounds like a small thing, but is indicative of the excellent sourcing in The World's Banker.

Finally, you won't finish the book without having an indelible impression of Wolfensohn. I never thought anyone could write a book about the IFIs that merited a movie treatment, but after reading Mallaby's book, I can see an HBO film of Wolfensohn -- Michael Douglas would be perfect for the role.

As it's October, the general interest book is Steve Kettmann's One Day at Fenway. The book is a tick-tock account of an August 30, 2003 game between the Yankees and the Red Sox at Fenway Park through the eyes of twenty-five different people -- ballplayers, managers, executives, staff, fans, and the scoreboard operator behind the Green Monster. The subtitle of the book is A Day in The Life of Baseball in America, and that's pretty much accurate. The pointillist account would be fascinating on any terms, but the fact that it was a good game makes it all the more engaging. Kettmann had multiple eporters, writers and research assistants follow around each of these people for the entire day until the end of the game. For example, Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Power shadowed Red Sox GM Theo Epstein for the whole day -- giving this blogger just one more reason to be unbelievably jealous of Ms. Power.

In the epilogue, Kettman reaches the following hopeful conclusion:

[Red Sox owner] John Henry may never take Sox fans closer [to a championship] than they were that night, five outs away from the World Series. The topsy-turvy Game Seven with Pedro Martinez on the mound might have been his one and only shot. But I don't think so. Based on what I saw during the several months of the 2003 season I spent studying the John Henry REd Sox from up close, and helped in the preparation of this book by unprecedented access, I believe the Henry ownership group is really going to do it. That is just a guess. But one thing I picked up in nine years covering professional sports for the San Francisco Chronicle was a conviction that when you have a hunch about a team, or an organization, you're right often enough to trust your hunches. Bostonians would be unwise ever to go on record with such a prediction, but as an outsider, a Californian of all things, I'm willing to say it here in black and white: The Red Sox will win a World Series on Henry's watch. It may be this October. It may be next October. It may take several mor years. But it will happen.

I hope he's right, but as a loyal Sox fan I am obligated to fear that he's wrong. Which leads to another side-effect of being in Milan -- I won't be able to watch any of the games.

Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen.

posted by Dan at 03:59 AM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (1)

Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Open veep debate thread

Feel free to discuss the before-and-after of the vice-presidential debate here. Discuss the following amongst yourselves: Historically, do VP debates matter at all?

My answer to this question is "no," which is why I won't be liveblogging this one.

UPDATE: OK, my take on this debate is constrained by the fact that, a) I spent the first 25 minutes of it reading Dr. Seuss to my son; b) I spent the rest of the time flipping between the VP debate and the Twins-Yankees game, and I found the latter far more riveting. That said, five thoughts:

1) Is it my imagination, or did Gwen Ifill sound like she'd either had some recent dental work done or stuffed about five cotton balls into her mouth?

2) I suspect Cheney will be perceived in the instant polling to have won the debate. Just as the right has tried to demonize Kerry, the left has tried to demonize Cheney. The fact that Cheney comes across as sober and plain-spoken clashes with the stereotype.

3) Frankly, both of them whiffed a lot on the questions I heard. On nuclear proliferation, for example, Cheney again claimed that the A.Q. Khan network had been satisfactorily dealt with -- a big fat slow curve over the plate. Edwards didn't even swing at that.

4) The most entertaining answer was Edwards' attempt to follow Ifill's directions and manage to answer one question without saying the words "John Kerry"

5) Stylistically, I suspect Cheney will also be crowned the winner -- he didn't seem to hestitate in his answers. Edwards seemed more hesitant in his responses.

That said, post your own thoughts!!

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan says I'm copping out on my own view -- the most devastating charge to be made in the blogosphere!! OK, bearing in mind I didn't watch the whole debate (which is why I was reluctant to proffer my own opinion), I'd give it to Cheney. His astringent style and well-versed talking points held up pretty well, and I picked up the same weak points in Edwards' performance as Mickey Kaus ("at times looked like a yapping ankle-biter, albeit a well-briefed one"). So Cheney won -- but not by any significant margin.

ANOTHER UPDATE: ABC's poll gives it to Cheney; CBS gives it to Edwards.

Here's a link to the full transcript.

My original conclusion stands, however -- the VP debate is irrelevant.

posted by Dan at 01:39 PM | Comments (69) | Trackbacks (8)

Monday, October 4, 2004

So how did that G-7 dinner go?

Remember that G-7 dinner that Chinese Finance Ministry officials were asked to attend? It took place over the weekend. Chris Giles and Andrew Balls report on the outcome in the Financial Times. First, the dinner:

China resisted pressure by industrialised countries to liberalise its currency regime at this weekend's meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Jin Renquin, China's finance minister, and Zhou Xiaochuan, the central bank governor, attended a working dinner of the Group of Seven industrialised nations on Friday, but maintained China's previous stance that it needed more time before it could consider introducing greater flexibility into its exchange rate.

The dinner was the first time that China, now the world's seventh-largest economy, had attended a G7 meeting.

G7 countries praised the quality of debate and the openness of the Chinese officials, but little progress was made.

More interesting was the assessment at the end of the article on why there might not be any change in global macroeconomic imbalances anytime soon -- although they may be unstatainable in the long run, the status quo ante brings short-run economic benefits and minimal political costs for the U.S., China, and the European Union:

Unlike in many previous meetings, the US did not blame low growth in Japan and Europe for its current account deficit and European delegates refrained from criticising irresponsible US economic policy.

The rapid growth of the global economy in 2004 explains the improved mood in part. But it also reflects a growing understanding that global economic imbalances are the inevitable outcome of the combination of US efforts to boost domestic demand, Asian countries' desires to boost currency reserves and persistently low domestic demand in the eurozone.

"Policies to support an orderly resolution of global imbalances are a shared responsibility", the International Monetary and Financial Committee concluded.

What was left unsaid was that the current economic imbalances are boosting economic performance of most large economies and there is little appetite for the measures that could reduce them, such as tighter fiscal or monetary policy to reduce demand in the US or an appreciation of Asian currencies against the US dollar.

The consequence is likely to be that the US current account deficit will grow even larger as will foreign holdings of US dollar assets.

Few economists think these trends are sustainable in the longer term. They warn that the management of the global economy with ever larger imbalances and a large proportion of the global economy fixed to the dollar is likely to create a much less benign outlook for future IMF and World Bank meetings.

This post from a few weeks ago is also worth checking out -- both on the global imbalances and China's exchange rate policies.

UPDATE: The Economist has more on the G-7 meeting. Money paragraph:

The G7 once held great sway over exchange rates. When it met, in a previous incarnation, in New York in September 1985, it engineered a near-30% decline in the dollar. When it reconvened a year and a half later in Paris, it promptly halted that decline. By breaking bread with the Chinese on Friday, the current G7 is tacitly admitting that it can no longer achieve very much without them.

posted by Dan at 12:16 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, October 3, 2004

Joe Queenan's huge glass house

The print version New York Times Book Review has been reformatted, with the curious decision to remove even the one-sentence summary of the book reviewer's bona fides (they're still on the online version, however). This is too bad, as it would prove most useful in assessing Joe Queenan's review of A.J. Jacobs' The Know-It-All.

Queenan trashes the book, and from the excerpted portions, it sounds like he's got a decent case to make. However, Queenan is aiming at a larger target:

[E]ven after allegedly reading the encyclopedia, Jacobs still doesn't know who Samuel Beckett is, an admission that is almost criminally stupid, even for someone who has written for Entertainment Weekly.

A graduate of the prestigious Dalton School in Manhattan and Brown University, Jacobs is a prime example of that curiously modern innovation: the pedigreed simpleton. Blithely confessing to Brobdingnagian gaps in his knowledge even before he started reading the encyclopedia, Jacobs seems unaware that without some sort of mentor to shield him from his staggering lack of sophistication, he will seem more ignorant when his self-improvement project is over than when it began. Jacobs's biggest problem isn't that he doesn't know much; it's that he doesn't realize how much educated people do know. There's just no two ways about it -- people who read Marcel Proust and Bertrand Russell instead of Entertainment Weekly actually do learn stuff....

Far from becoming the smartest man in the world, Jacobs, at the end of his foolish enterprise, wouldn't even be the smartest person at Entertainment Weekly

Not even the great Flaubert could devise a condemnation harsher than that. (emphases added).

There's probably a lot of insider information about the cultural mediasphere that I'm missing out on (paging Jeff Jarvis), but what on earth is Queenan's beef with Entertainment Weekly? Jacobs now works (as a senior editor) at Esquire, but Queenan somehow shoehorns three mentions of EW into the piece. Did Jacobs beat out Queenan for a writing gig there or something?

This is niggling, but as someone who's read both Bertrand Russell and is an avid consumer of Entertainment Weekly, I'm genuinely puzzled by Queenan's hostility. It would be like erroneously blasting watchers of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and assuming that this is where they get all of their political knowledge. In point of fact, Daily Show viewers are better informed than other viewers -- not because they watch The Daily Show, but because they gravitate to that program since, as this press release observes, "These findings do not show that The Daily Show is itself responsible for the higher knowledge among its viewers... The Daily Show assumes a fairly high level of political knowledge on the part of its audience – more so than Leno or Letterman." The same is true of Entertainment Weekly when compared to the other popular culture magazines -- such as, say, TV Guide, which is where Queenan wrote a column from 1996 to 1999.

A former TV Guide writer bashing Entertainment Weekly as being an attactor of uninformed writers? That's just too big of a glass house to pass up.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias points out some of the problems with reading Bertrand Russell. He's right -- if memory serves, Russell's take on Hegel is pretty distorted.

posted by Dan at 12:49 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, October 1, 2004

Your weekend debate on the election

Jeffrey Bell and Frank Cannon have a thought-provoking story in the Weekly Standard about the rise of the values voter. Some highlights:

In recent presidential cycles, post-election polling found that social issues like abortion, while invariably a mild plus for Republicans, were cited by a relatively small segment of the electorate as a prime motive for voting one way or the other. Moreover, social conservatism was seen as good in the South and heartland and bad on the coasts, making it dubious as a national theme or as a subject of campaign commercials. Conventional wisdom among GOP political consultants has been to mobilize socially conservative voters by a stealth strategy of quietly "passing the word" to "our people."

New polling by Time and MSNBC/Knight-Ridder suggests that all this has changed. The proportion of voters who say they are keying their vote on "moral values issues like gay marriage and abortion" has gone up sharply--to a level of 15 to 18 percent, according to five national polls commissioned by Time and conducted by Schulman, Ronca, and Bucuvalas since July. More important, the profile of such voters is no longer definable in the vocabulary of polarization and divisiveness. The most recent Time poll (taken September 21-23) has George W. Bush winning socially driven voters by a lopsided 70 to 18 percent. If not for these voters, according to the poll, Bush would be trailing John Kerry by 5 points instead of leading by 4....

Interestingly, voters who select social issues as their prime mover are disproportionately female, both nationally and in the swing states. This seems to account for Bush's increased strength (for a Republican) among female voters. Terrorism-centered voters, the other issue group favoring Bush, tilt toward the male side. So much for "security moms" as an explanation for Kerry's unexpected weakness among women....

Moreover, the latest Time poll finds as many undecided voters among social-issue voters as among the much larger number of voters keyed to foreign policy. New anti-gay-marriage ads put up by an independent-expenditure group headed by Gary Bauer could help Bush in Michigan and Pennsylvania, two vote-rich states where, according to the MSNBC polling, social issues are already a strong net plus for Bush.

Because of 9/11, 2004 was always destined to be a wartime election. The president was right in believing that at a time of unnerving headlines in Iraq, he had to make the case for his war strategy head on. But the big surprise in this year's issue mix is the growing number of voters who believe there is a values war here at home.

Read the whole thing. One of the speculative arguments in the article is that anytime the topic of gay marriage comes to the forefront of the public debate, Bush gains and Kerry loses on the numbers.

This is one of those results I'd rather not be true, but I'll leave it to y'all to dissect their findings.

posted by Dan at 11:13 PM | Comments (51) | Trackbacks (0)