Sunday, October 31, 2004
The two narratives on Iraq
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:
This account is buttressed by Eric Schmitt's New York Times report:
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
Saturday, October 30, 2004
Hungary in crisis
The Guardian reports on a serious crisis in Hungary:
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 danieldrezner.com wishes the Hungarians the best of luck as they deal with this gastronomic crisis.
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:
[But what about the electoral impact?--ed I'll leave that to the comments.]
UPDATE: Juan Cole makes an interesting point:
Friday, October 29, 2004
The scientific method revealed!!
It's funny because, all too often, it's true.
The expertise schism
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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!!!
The Red Sox didn't just win -- they won with style and bravado:
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!
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:
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:
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 danieldrezner.com reader T.D.)!!
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.
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:
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:
One other thing -- reading the Gordon article, what's stunning is that the administration never solved this dilemma:
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:
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."
Thursday, October 21, 2004
Hey, Tom Friedman!! Over here!!!
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."
[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.]
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.
Do you believe in comebacks? Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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.
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:
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.
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:
Now back to that overdue referee report.
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.
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.
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:
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
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
ANOTHER UPDATE: One of the sharpest students I've ever taught e-mails a sharp rebuttal:
*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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
Finally, Jackson Diehl argues that the Bush administration's G-8 initiative to encourage greater democratic representation:
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.
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.
8:35 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.
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!!
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:
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.
Using foreign policy to influence elections
I see the Germans have expressed their ballot preferences for the American ticket in the Financial Times:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
Post your own explanations below.
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 ESPN.com, 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.
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:
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.
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.
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
So I think Kerry won, but not by as much as last time.
Post your own thoughts here!!
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
Here's a link to the full transcript.
My original conclusion stands, however -- the VP debate is irrelevant.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.