Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Will Iran and the United States talk?
President Bush reversed course on Wednesday because it was made clear to him — by his allies, by the Russians, by the Chinese, and eventually by some of his advisers — that he no longer had a choice. [Hey, bloggers could have told him that!!--DD.]This appears to be Kevin Drum's fear as well:
The usual response, if talks are unwelcome, is to demand some kind of obviously unacceptable precondition for the proposed meeting. This forces the other country to make concessions before negotiations have begun, and since no one is stupid enough to do that, it derails the talks nicely....Kevin's overstating things a bit. Despite Iran's desire for talks, their rhetoric has been unyielding since Ahmadinejad came to power. Furthermore, as this Glenn Kessler analysis demonstrates, the Bush administration has actually shifted its Iran policy a fair amount since 2004.
Iran's response, however, does suggest to me that there's room to negotiate:
Iran this morning issued a wary but apparently less than final reply to the Bush administration's offer. "Iran welcomes dialogue under just conditions but won't give up our rights," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said, in remarks quoted by Iranian state television. "We won't negotiate about the Iranian nation's natural nuclear rights but we are prepared, within a defined, just framework and without any discrimination, to hold dialogue about common concerns."....Based on what Rice and the Iranians are saying, there is definitely a zone of agreement to start talks. Tee U.S. acknowledges that Iran has the right to a civilian nuclear energy program, which could obviously include enrichment. However, the Iranians, if they're serious about talks, can acknowledge that recognition without actually engaging in enrichment activities while talks proceed.
What happens next will be a very interesting test of both American and Iranian intentions.
UPDATE: If nothing else, this strategic shift appears to have created a united front at the Security Council, if this AP report is accurate.
Eugene Gholz is more pessimistic about resolving the situation. He makes a strong case. I'm more optimistic than Gholz for the reason he offers -- that by taking this route, the U.S. has augmented the likelihood of multilateral action if Iran refuses to back down. In the end, I think China and Russia will prefer UN action over a nuclear-armed Iran.
Your memorable phrase for today
[N]obody wants to see a forty year old woman licking salt off a guy's neck and coughing up big phlegm balls from the smokes.You'll have to click over to Laura McKenna to see it in context.
When Congress monopolizes the use of hot air....
Michael Hawthorne has a front-pager in the Chicago Tribune about how Congress is serious about ending America's addition to oil.... unless vacation homes are threatened:
The federal government has stopped work on more than a dozen wind farms planned across the Midwest, saying research is needed on whether the giant turbines could interfere with military radar.
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Will the new Treasury Secretary make a difference?
President George W. Bush on Tuesday named Hank Paulson as his new treasury secretary, pending approval from the Senate.Greg Mankiw takes the opportunity to have some fun at Daniel Gross' expense. Gross, in a classy move, acknowledges that, "contrary to the argument I made in April, Bush has been able to find a Class A Wall Street type willing to take the job."
Question to readers: will Paulson hae a seat at the policymaking table, or is he merely going to be a much better salesman than Snow?
Sunday, May 28, 2006
Will Bono please be quiet, please?
Music from U2 is also used in the campaign from Wieden + Kennedy, which carries the theme, "One game changes everything."These ads have induced excitement in some quarters, but at the risk of besmirching Bono's reputaion for saintliness, the claim that soccer stops war is just a bit much for me.
The conflict-reducing powers of the World Cup is based in what happened when the Ivory Coast quaified for this year's cup. As Bono explains in another ad:
After three years of civil war, feuding factions talked for the first time in years, and the president called a truce. Because the Ivory Coast qualified for the World Cup for the first time. Because, as everyone knows, a country united makes for better cheerleaders than a country divided.This sounds great, and indeed, there are tentative signs that the Ivory Coast is trending in a positive direction.
Over the past six years, the Ivory Coast's southern-based regime has fomented hatred of immigrants and Muslims, yet many of the country's best soccer players are from Muslim and immigrant families, so the national team has become an irresistible symbol of unity. At the end of the Abidjan victory parade [for qualifying], the head of the Ivory Coast Football Federation addressed a plea to President Laurent Gbagbo: "The players have asked me to tell you that what they most want now is for our divided country to become one again. They want this victory to act as a catalyst for peace in Ivory Coast, to put an end to the conflict and to reunite its people. This success must bring us together." The party on the streets lasted another whole day....Furthermore, Human Rights Watch just issued a rather pessimistic report on the country:
Government forces in Côte d’Ivoire, their allied militias and New Forces rebels alike are committing serious abuses against civilians with impunity, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. These abuses and the impunity that fuels them raise serious concerns about the potential for violence in the run-up to the October elections....HRW's history of the conflict says nothing about the World Cup qualifying as a trigger for peace.
[Isn't this a bit curmudgeonly?--ed.] Well, part of it is that ESPN's ads don't mention the other times that soccer affected international conflict:
Tensions [between Honduras and El Salvador] continued to mount during June 1969. The soccer teams of the two nations were engaged that month in a three-game elimination match as a preliminary to the World Cup. Disturbances broke out during the first game in Tegucigalpa, but the situation got considerably worse during the second match in San Salvador. Honduran fans were roughed up, the Honduran flag and national anthem were insulted, and the emotions of both nations became considerably agitated. Actions against Salvadoran residents in Honduras, including several vice consuls, became increasingly violent. An unknown number of Salvadorans were killed or brutalized, and tens of thousands began fleeing the country. The press of both nations contributed to a growing climate of near- hysteria, and on June 27, 1969, Honduras broke diplomatic relations with El Salvador.There's also the role that soccer played in igniting the Balkan wars of the nineties:
For many Croats, the war began not in June 1991 but on the soccer field on 13 March 1990. That day Red Star Belgrade met Dinamo Zagreb at the Maksimir Stadium, Zagreb to settle a long standing disputed league title. The Red Star Delije were led by Arkan, the notorious warlord and Serbian ultranationalist.If FIFA, ESPN, and U2 want to claim that soccer -- and yes, I know, it's called football everywhere else -- was the cause of peace in the Ivory Coast, then they should also acknowledge it's less savory contributions to world politics.
UPDATE: Some of the reactions to this post presume that I don't like either soccer or the World Cup. Not true -- I, for one, am hoping that Team USA can build on its excellent 2002 performance, when it advanced to the quarterfinals and then lost to Germany despite outplaying them for 80 of the 90 minutes of the game [not that he's bitter about it or anything!!--ed.]. I simply request that the game not be assigned magical properties that it does not possess.
Saturday, May 27, 2006
Why limit the free trade rule to economists?
I'll believe that this is all about altruism when I see an open letter from economists demanding that we scrap the complicated H1B visa system and instead allow unrestricted immigration of foreign college professors without all these requirements about prevailing wages, work conditions, non-displacement, good-faith recruitment of natives, etc. Obviously, there are many foreign born professors in the United States, but there could be many more, wages for academics could be lower, and college tuitions could be significantly lower. If there's really no difference between "us" and "them" economists should be leading the charge to disassemble the system of employment protections they enjoy.To which Brad DeLong replies:
I'll pick up the gauntlet:Greg Mankiw is on board as well.
Yglesias wanted only economists to respond, but both Alex's letter and Brad's rule applied to other academics as well. So I'm in too. Bring it on!!
UPDATE: Comments on this thread and others devoted to this topic suggest that tenure needs to be abolished for this to work properly. There is an intuitive logic to this, since this is all about increasing flexibility in labor markets. That said, I find this connection intriguing, since a) tenure is not a government-imposed restriction on the academic marketplace; and b) the commenters seem to assume that if tenure were abolished as a norm it would disappear from the face of the earth.
In actuality, ceteris paribus, the elimination of tenure could just as easily raise faculty salaries as lower them. Furthermore, I suspect that the institution of tenure would be replaced by an..... institution that looks an awful lot like tenure. Universities will still compete after top talent, and one of the ways to keep such talent would be to lock them in with long-term contracts. This institution would probably have a more limited domain than what exists now, but it would exist.
Friday, May 26, 2006
Pen and paper rule!
Maplesoft -- "the leading provider of high-performance software tools for engineering, science and mathematics" -- commissioned a survey of "scientists, engineers, and researchers" to find out how they do their calculations. I think they found the results disturbing:
[A]ccording to an international survey, mathematical calculations in engineering and academia are still most often performed with pencil and paper. On a daily basis, respondents turn to scratchpads and calculators more frequently than any other tool for mathematical tasks. The same survey also revealed this community largely considers its field of work and study to be “fully modern” and “taking full advantage of modern tools and technology.”Count me among the pen-and-paper crowd, sort of. There's no way in hell I'd start any theoretical modeling by typing it into a computer program. On the other hand, there's no way in hell I'd do any kind of statistical analysis or straight number-crunching by hand. Looking at the survey itself, it seems that engineers think of design in the same way that I think about theoretical modeling -- which makes intuitive sense to me.
My question to readers: Is my use of pen-and-paper is simply an artifact of my age, and as people who have used computers since they were in diapers enter the scientific workforce, they will discard these ancient tools? Or is there something about the act of scribbling down initial thoughts about models or designs on paper that makes it work better than electronic entry?
[You meant pencil and paper, right?--ed. I'm left-handed, and therefore stopped using pencils at the earliest moment possible.]
All the cool petrostates are doing it!!
Expropriation was a hot topic of study in international politcal economy in the seventies, when it seemed like the phenomenon was going to be a permanent feature. In the eighties, the diffusion of free-market ideas and the collapse of communism rendered that topic pretty much inert.
I suspect we're going to start seeing a few dissertations on the topic sprouting up soon, however. Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela... this is definitely a trend.
And then there's Russia. Here are the first few paragraphs of Arkady Ostrovsky's "Russian ministry seeks review of oil deals" in the Financial Times:
Russia’s natural resources ministry called on Thursday for a review of the two largest foreign oil projects in the country, even as senior Russian officials sought to assure EU leaders that Russia was a reliable energy partner.Of course, such a thing couldn't happen in the United States. Oh, wait.....
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Are American CEOs lazy?
In U.S. News and World Report, Rick Newman writes about some survey results suggesting that Asian CEOs don't whine as much as American CEOs:
Development Dimensions International, the human-resources firm, recently did a survey of business leaders in the United States and in China. Some provocative findings:I don't find this to be much of a puzzle at all -- American CEOs have greater leisure opportunities than Asian bosses. Neither do I suspect it's quite the dilemma that Newman suggests -- my strong suspicion is that American bosses can devote greater hours to work and personal life than Asian bosses -- because U.S. hours devoted to non-renumerative work have likely declined faster than in Asia.Americans aren't lazy. We all know people who work a full day and bring work home for evenings and weekends. And many parents do that while juggling kids. But Americans have developed expectations that border on unreasonable: prosperity, leisure, and fulfillment, all at once, plus we have a mentality that leads us to believe we're entitled to these things....
There's no puzzle for an obvious reason (which Newman recognizes) -- Americans are much better situated to maximize their utili
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Guy lit summarized
Here, then, is a summary of guy-lit novels:From Michael Kimmel's scathing review of the genre in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
So you want your child to go to college....
I wasn't too fond of doing my homework when I was in middle school and high school, a fact that exasperated my mother to no end. Seventh grade, eighth grade, ninth grade, she would remind me that, "college is coming sooner than you think!!" At the time, I thought this was a bit of melodrama, but as I've gotten older I do recignize a glimmer of wisdom in her point.
Since modern science has yet to devise a way to clone my mother, and modern ethicists have yet to come to grips with the awesome metaphysical implications of having multiple copies of my mother running around in the world, how can the young people get a grip on the importance of college? This is where Quest For College comes in:
Quest For College is an educational board game designed to provide 8th and 9th graders with some early awareness of the opportunities afforded by higher education. The game was created by Gina Coleman, an Associate Director of Admission at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Coleman created this game in 1999 as a reaction to the inequalities she observed between public and private schooled children in terms of preparedness in the college search and application process.Great idea, but there should be a companion game for the helicopter parents that will undoubtedly buy this board game: "Letting Go of Your Children."
Full disclosure: Coleman was a college classmate of mine.
Someone explain the hawks' plans to me
As near as I can figure out, the Bush/Cheney line on Iran is that neither direct dialogue nor indirect dialogue is worth it.
On the direct dialogue, it appears that the administration is ignoring Iran's repeated entreaties for direct negotiations -- at least, that's what I gather from Karl Vick and Dafna Linzer's front-pager in the Washington Post:
Iran has followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent letter to President Bush with explicit requests for direct talks on its nuclear program, according to U.S. officials, Iranian analysts and foreign diplomats.On the indirect dialogue, Guy Dinmore and Daniel Dombey report in the Financial Times that U.S. hawks don't like the EU3 offering anything to Iran:
Opposition by US “hawks” led by Dick Cheney, the vice-president, is complicating efforts by the main European powers to put together an agreed package of incentives aimed at persuading Iran to suspend its nuclear fuel cycle programme, according to diplomats and analysts in Washington.The last point is a valid one -- the 1994 agreement with North Korea merely kicked the can down the road.
Here's my question, though -- even if this skepticism is warranted, exactly what is the hawkish set of policy options on Iran? Is there any coercive policy instrument that is a) publicly viable; and b) would actually compel Iran into compliance without negotiations?
UPDATE: Some of the comments respond by telling me what the hawks want -- a non-nuclear Iran that undergoes a regime change. Hey, I want those things too -- and a free pony.
This doesn't answer my question, though -- how, exactly, do the hawks plan on attaining these things? I don't think either economic or military coercion will work, unless there's Security Council backing. I don't think a unilateral invasion is publicly or militarily viable. Am I missing something? Why can we offer a peace treaty to North Korea but not talk to Iran?
I've said it before and I'll say it again -- If the regime in Iran is willing to trade off its WMD program in return for the U.S. abstaining from an active policy of regime change, that's a deal worth making.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
The White House goes Vizzini on Treasury
The staff here at danieldrezner.com defines "going Vizzini" when a person or institution repeatedly uses a word or concept differently that everyone else defines it.
The White House seems to view the Treasury Secretary as a salesman's job, as opposed to a position where that requires any requisite policy knowledge, expertise, or anything of that nature. At least, that's what I divined from this Financial Times story by Demetri Sevastopulo, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Caroline Daniel:
Robert Zoellick, the US deputy secretary of state, is preparing to leave the Bush administration and has held talks with Wall Street investment banks on job options, according to people close to the administration.The truly scary thing about that last paragraph is the White House's belief that one can find a Treasury Secretary who would be a salesman while still commanding respect in the markets. To my knowledge, the only value-added John Snow has brought to the Treasury position has been his willingness to be the Bush administration's salesman -- and I'm pretty sure the markets don't respect him all that much.
My question about the stolen veterans' data
I'm still trying to wrap my head around one aspect of this story regarding the apparent theft of 26.5 million military veterans' personal data (names, social security numbers, and birthdates). According to the New York Times, "[The data] was stolen from the residence of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee who had taken the data home without authorization, the agency said Monday."
Let's assume there was authorization -- what possible reason would a DVA employee have to take home that kind of data?
This sort of episode does raise some intriguing questions about supporters of national ID cards or other central registries -- to what extent does the possibility of data piracy negate whatever security gains would be generated by such ideas?
UPDATE: The VA didn't alert the FBI about the stolen data for two friggin' weeks??!!! What did they think -- it would just show up after looking under the couch cushions?
Monday, May 22, 2006
What's the best mass-market paperback novel of the past 25 years?
So the New York Times polled the literary best and brightest to determine the greatest novel of the past 25 years (It's Beloved, for those who don't want to click through). They've also got an interpretive essay by A.O. Scott, and an online discussion forum with novelists Jane Smiley and Michael Cunningham, critic Stephen Metcalf, a critic, and professor of English Morris Dickstein.
I must make the following confession upon reading the top five on the list: I haven't read any of them. Jonathan Demme ruined Beloved for me with his execrable film version of it, though if Stephen Metcalf's assessment in Slate is accurate, I'm not sure how much I'd like it anyway:
What Beloved does feel grounded in, and firmly, is a repudiation of everything that exerts a soft but nonetheless unpleasant authority in a young person's life. In place of the need to master hard knowledge or brute facts, there is folk wisdom; in place of science, animism; in place of the strict father, the self-sufficient matriarchy, first of Baby Suggs', and later Sethe's, house; and finally, in place of a man's world, the hallowed sorority of women, especially women of color—though on this last, Morrison does not insist too heavily.Why don't my tastes overlap with the New York Times Book Review? There are a couple of possibilities.
First, when I flash back to the books that really grabbed me over that span of time, I find I think first of non-American novels -- Salman Rushdie' The Moor's Last Sigh, Milan Kundera's THe Unbearable Lightness of Being, Tibor Fischer's Under the Frog, or Alan Bennett's The Clothes They Stood Up In.
Second, the American books that come to mind -- Allegra Goodman's Kaaterskill Falls, Anne Tyler's Saint Maybe, Tim O'Brien's In the Lake of the Woods -- don't have the sweep of Beloved or Rabbit Angstrom. Meghan O'Rourke -- my latest intellectual crush -- makes this point in her Slate essay on the topic:
The notion that "small" novels are unworthy of high critical esteem has been especially pervasive of late. Somewhere along the way, the critique of the small novel got bound up with a critique of the well-crafted novel that proliferated with the rise of MFA programs. Even as Gatsby, Lolita, and Rabbit Run (all short novels) entered our canon, the "small" novel became inextricably linked in critic's minds with domestic and generally female novels of the sort that Gail Caldwell, the Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic, indicted in a 2003 interview, when she lamented the dire state of American fiction. "There are a great number of contemporary fiction writers who go for the myopic sensitive-heart rending personal blah, blah, blah, blah, blah small novel," she complained, announcing her love of "big brilliant novels" and praising the panoramic skills of Jonathan Franzen and Michael Chabon. In 2004, after the National Book Award nominees were announced—in an act of apparent rebelliousness, the judges had chosen five short, lyrical books by women, leaving off Philip Roth's Plot Against America—Caryn James wrote in the New York Times that the real problem with the finalists was not that they were unknown, but that they did not write "big, sprawling novels."There is a final, possible reason: I like potboilers more than I like highbrow fiction. If I was strapped to a polygraph and had to confess which novel moved me the most in the past 25 years, I'd have to cop to Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs.
So..... the hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com encourages it's readers to submit their choice for the greatest mass-market novel of the past 25 years!! [How is that defined?--ed. Any novel that was popular enough to eventually be released in a mass-market paperback.] My choice is Silence of the Lambs -- let me know yours.
UPDATE: Ah, this post is perfectly timed to coincide with pulp fiction week at Slate!!
Sunday, May 21, 2006
The Saudis have some 'splaining to do
Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House, has a long essay in the Washington Post today on just what Saudi textbooks are saying after they promised to excise some of the more intolerant rhetoric post-9/11:
A review of a sample of official Saudi textbooks for Islamic studies used during the current academic year reveals that, despite the Saudi government's statements to the contrary, an ideology of hatred toward Christians and Jews and Muslims who do not follow Wahhabi doctrine remains in this area of the public school system. The texts teach a dualistic vision, dividing the world into true believers of Islam (the "monotheists") and unbelievers (the "polytheists" and "infidels").What follows is a sample of some of the translated phrases:
FIRST GRADEI have no doubt that this is going to inspire a lot of "The Saudis are not our friends" rhetoric, and I can't say I'm inclined to completely disagree. There is a small part of me, however, that wonders two things:
1) How much cherry-picking is going on with the quotations?I don't know the answer to either question, but I would be curious.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
Hugo Chavez, unwitting friend to America
Juan Forero has a story in the New York Times about how Latin American countries are starting to rebel against a loudmouthed bully -- and we're not talking about the United States here:
As Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, insinuates himself deeper in the politics of his region, something of a backlash is building among his neighbors.Read the whole thing. The Economist has more on Chavez's meddling in Peru:
According to the pollsters most Peruvians dislike Mr Chávez and his meddling. One poll, by Apoyo, found that only 17% had a positive view of him, and 75% disapproved of his comments. Only 23% approved of Mr Morales, and 61% objected to his calling Peru's outgoing president, Alejandro Toledo, a “traitor” for signing a free-trade agreement with the United States.Both articles suggest that Mr. Chávez shows no sign of stopping his self-defeating behavior.
As a citizen of the United States, I, for one, would like to thank Mr. Chavez for his antics -- keep it up, Hugo!!
Friday, May 19, 2006
Matthew Yglesias has some interesting posts and links up on the immigration question. This post takes down Robert Samuelson's recent Newsweek essay on whether Mexican immigrates will assimilate into the United States -- it echoes some of what I wrote about Samuel Huntington's argument from a few years ago.
He also links to this fascinating piece of polling analsis from Bryan Caplan:
I naturally assumed that states with a lot of immigrants would be anti-immigrant. After all, whenever I visit L.A., the complaints about immigration never stop. But it looks like I'm smack in the middle of a biased sample of elderly Angelenos. On average, high-immigration states like California are unusually PRO-immigrant....
Finally, I've signed Alex Tabarrok's open letter on immigration, which is reprinted below the fold.
Dear President George W. Bush and All Members of Congress:References and further information can be accessed by clicking here.
Other social scientists who wish to sign can do so by clicking here.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
My quasi-inside (and, apparently, incorrect) dirt on the Plame Game
Steve Clemons also attended the Princeton conference on liberal internationalism. Today he reports as follows:
[O]ne other who was there was former National Security Agency Director Bobby Ray Inman.Tom Maguire, the dean of Plame Studies in the blogosphere, has several questions:
(1) Why would Inman know this? OK, as "simply one of the smartest people ever to come out of Washington or anywhere", he may know this as part of knowing everything. But maybe there is more.In response to Clemons and Maguire, here's what I can say:
1) I can confirm Inman's statements as Clemons reports them. I can confirm them because Inman made these assertions (and others that, like Steve, I will treat as off the record) to me and the others at my lunch table on the second day of the conference.For those in the blogosohere wondering about motive, Tom Maguire mused about Armitage's possible motives back in November 2005.
UPDATE: Steve Clemons' latest post offers up yet another reason why I don't like posting on DC gossip -- because it's often wrong:
Bobby Ray Inman's claims are "BS", claimed one very prominent Washington insider after reading TWN's report on Inman's claim that Richard Armitage would be indicted in the Valerie Plame Wilson outing probe.
Open Thinthread thread
Sorry for the post title -- couldn't resist.
Siobhan Gorman has a story in the Baltimore Sun that suggests that, in the late 1990s, the NSA ditched one kind of data collection program (Thinthread) in favor of another. A lot of NSA types apparently preferred Thinthread:
The National Security Agency developed a pilot program in the late 1990s that would have enabled it to gather and analyze massive amounts of communications data without running afoul of privacy laws. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, it shelved the project -- not because it failed to work -- but because of bureaucratic infighting and a sudden White House expansion of the agency's surveillance powers, according to several intelligence officials.My take is similar to Kevin Drum's -- I'm not sure if this is an example of dumb policymaking or an example of the losers of a policy decision leaking to the press at an opportune time.
I am sure that readers wil have their own opinions.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
What is liberal internationalism?
Blogging will be light tomorrow, as I'm attending a Princeton conference on The Future of Liberal Internationalism, which is a follow-up to this conference from last fall.
One question that came up at today's sessions was pretty basic but rather important: how, exactly, would one define liberal internationalism? It's one of those terms that foreign policy wonks like to throw around, but often means very different things to different people.
[So what's your definition, smart guy?--ed. A marriage between the pursuit of liberal purposes (security, free trade, human rights, rule of law, democracy promotion, etc.) and the use of institutionalist means to pursue them (multilateral institutions of various stripes -- not only the UN, but NATO or the G-7 as well).]
Why should foreign policy wonks be the only ones to debate this question? Readers, have at it.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Clash of the regulatory titans
In the Financial Times, George Parker and Tobias Buck make an argument about EU regulation that sounds very, very familiar:
Seen from some European capitals, the accession of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007 or 2008 is a worrying sign of overstretch, fuelling fears that the EU is becoming too cumbersome and too diverse to have real clout in the globalised world.Hat tip to Sungjoon Cho at the criminally underrated International Economic Law and Policy blog.
Open Bush/immigration thread
I'm busy packing for yet another conference, but readers should feel free to comment away on Bush's immigration speech tonight.
FYI, Karl Rove said this afternoon that the Bush administration is "doing a heck of a lot better job" in controlling the U.S.-Mexican border than most Americans realize. On the other hand, http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory?id=1964630 that, "We do not yet have full control of the border and I am determined to change that." To be fair, these two points are not necessarily contradictory, but I wouldn't exactly call it consistent spin, either.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
More good news about avian flu
The New York Times' Donald McNeil Jr reports on an encouraging trend in the place where avian flu started:
Even as it crops up in the far corners of Europe and Africa, the virulent bird flu that raised fears of a human pandemic has been largely snuffed out in the parts of Southeast Asia where it claimed its first and most numerous victims.If we are very, very lucky, the fear of an avian flu pandemic will be akin to fears about the imact of the Y2K bug -- serious and real, but successfully contained through the necessary policy responses.
Friday, May 12, 2006
How low can Bush go?
I don't like kicking a man when he's down, but the latest poll numbers have the hard-working staff here at danieldrezner.com debating among themselves: how low can Bush's poll numbers go?
Of 1,003 U.S. adults surveyed in a telephone poll, 29% think Mr. Bush is doing an "excellent or pretty good" job as president, down from 35% in April and significantly lower than 43% in January. It compares with 71% of Americans who said Mr. Bush is doing an "only fair or poor" job, up from 63% in April.Then there's this bit from CNN's poll:
In a new poll comparing President Bush's job performance with that of his predecessor, a strong majority of respondents said President Clinton outperformed Bush on a host of issues.The fact that Clinton is even in the ballpark on this last question has got to depress the White House staff.
So, question to readers: how low can Bush's poll numbers go? Previous predictions of bottoming out have not turned out well, so proceed with caution.
UPDATE: Mystery Pollster points out that the recent NSA revelations will probably provide a slight boost to Bush's numbers:
MP makes no predictions, but Bush can only stand to gain if the public's attention shifts from his handling of gas prices, the economy, immigration and Iraq to his administration's efforts to "investigate terrorism." The Post-ABC poll found that 51% approve (and 47% disapprove) of "the way Bush is handling Protecting Americans' privacy rights as the government investigates terrorism." That is "hardly a robust rating," as the ABC release puts it, "but one that's far better than his overall job approval, in the low 30s in recent polls."LAST UPDATE: Well, here's another poll where Clinton outperforms Bush -- but I think Bush would be happy with that.
How to write back to Mahmoud?
President Bush should publicly respond to the letter—at length and in detail. Daffy as the letter is, it does contain one clue that Ahmadinejad might really be seeking a dialogue. More to the point, many people and governments in the world, especially (but by no means exclusively) in the Muslim world, are taking the letter seriously and believe that it deserves a reply.Kaplan is correct about Ahmadinejad's letter being a PR boost in the Muslim world -- which is truly depressing, for the letter is a rambling, inchoate, milleniarian text.
Readers are invited to outline what should be contained in the best possible response letter.
The only downside to responding would seem to be that a response somehow confers legitimacy upon Ahmadinejad -- which Bush is anathema to do.
A final note: Kaplan also goes onto confirm that I'm not crazy in being ticked off at the administration for whiffing on an opportunity to negotiate a grand bargain with Iran back in 2003. Kaplan links to the obvious source for the original FT story on this -- former NSC senior director Flynt Everett. Check out his January 2006 New York Times op-ed here and his Q&A with cfr.org interviewer extraordinaire Bernard Gwertzman here.
UPDATE: Historian par excellance Mary Sarotte recounts the history of letters as a tool of diplomacy in the Washington Post. Her conclusions are consistent with Kaplan's:
If there is a lesson from this checkered history of correspondence in crisis, it is this: Content doesn't count. The historical record shows a clear mismatch between what was written in a letter and its consequences. Zimmermann meant to threaten the United States in secret; instead, his leaked telegram shored up its public resolve. Bismarck used a boring missive to mount a war; Kennedy ignored public demands of the Soviets to maintain peace.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Open CIA thread
I've been remiss in posting about the debates over who should head the CIA and what it should do, so here's an open thread.
Readers are encouraged, before posting, to read John Crewdson's dissection in the Chicago Tribune of the bureaucratic conflicts at work behind Porter Goss' resignation and the Hayden nomination:
[A] senior U.S. intelligence official with firsthand knowledge of events says Goss was dismissed as CIA director after the White House became convinced that strong disagreements with his immediate boss, John Negroponte, were beyond resolution. Those disputes involved changes that Goss feared would limit the agency's scope and influence, undercutting its role in analyzing intelligence.It should be noted that Crewdson's chief source was a Goss loyalist.
I tend to agree with Matt Yglesias and Fred Kaplan that Hayden's military status is a nonissue -- though, on the other hand, Amy Zegart does seem exercised about it, and that it reason enough for concern here at danieldrezner.com.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Am I a liberal in bloggers' clothing?
However, the hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com has begun to ask me whether, given my lack of faith in either the Republican administration or the Republican Congress, I'm really a Republican. Now I'm a libertarian, so I've never fit perfectly within much of the Republican canon. But has my opposition to Bush caused me to unconsciously morph into left-libertarianism?
The liberal party planks that I'm supposed to support are below. My answers are underlined:
1) Repeal the estate tax repeal: Hmmm... I confess to being pretty agnostic about this one on philosophical terms, but in the spirit of fiscal rectitude I'll back it.So, that adds up to five and a half points of agreement, which equals only 36.6% agreement. So no, I'm not a liberal. I'm a bit more sympatico with the DLC crowd, but that's not terribly surprising.
Readers are encouraged to see if they are liberals too. However, my gut tells me that readers of danieldrezner.com are wonks more than anything else, so reading statements like "details matter" or "some more regulation" will make them a bit itchy as well.
UPDATE: Whoops, I missed the question on the bankruptcy bill -- I'm afraid I have to plead uninformed on it. Megan McArdle -- who pays more attention to domestic policy than yours truly -- performs the valuable public service of also taking the test. She gives more detailed answers, and reminds me that on the progressivity point, I certainly support the premise behind the EITC/negative income tax.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Stephen Bainbridge takes the test too.
Drezner dares you to explain HUD!
Most poltical scientists believe that regular, law-like patterns govern a large part of political phenomenon worthy of study. However, most political scientists will also acknowledge that there are events that occur which simply go beyond our analytical toolkit and fall under the category of "random variation" -- in layman's terms, "we have no idea what's going on."
Which brings me to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson. The Dallas Business Journal's Christine Perez describes the close of a speech he gave in late April to minority contractors:
After discussing the huge strides the agency has made in doing business with minority-owned companies, Jackson closed with a cautionary tale, relaying a conversation he had with a prospective advertising contractor.This prompted a lot of blogosphere reaction -- as well as some coverage in the Washington Post.
Today, the story gets even stranger, as Frank James of The Chicago Tribune's DC blog The Swamp reports:
I called HUD and talked with Jackson's spokesperson, Dustee Tucker, about the incident. After talking with Jackson, she returned with information that made the matter even more extraordinary.I, for one, would like to thank Secretary Jackson for his odd behavior -- until now, the only thing about HUD that I had found funny since Eddie Murphy's TV series The PJs put a sign outside a government building saying, "HUD: Keeping you in the projects since the 1960's."
Readers are invited to try to divine what, exactly, Jackson was thinking over the past week.
Tuesday, May 9, 2006
Who's the least trusted of them all?
BBC and Reuters commissioned a poll of 10 countries to find out how much media sources are trusted. One finding that was consistent across countries stood out:
National TV was the most trusted news source overall (trusted by 82%, with 16% not trusting it) - followed by national/regional newspapers (75% vs 19%), local newspapers (69% vs 23%), public radio (67% vs 18%), and international satellite TV (56% vs 19%). Internet blogs were the least trusted source (25% vs 23%) – with one in two unable to say whether they trusted them.
Monday, May 8, 2006
Dear George: Hi, it's Mahmoud.....
Both the New York Times and the Financial Times report that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has written a letter to President Bush about the current tensions between the two countries. The NYT story by Christine Hauser is more thorough:
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has written a letter to President Bush with suggestions on how to resolve current international tensions, Iranian officials said today, but there was no immediate information about whether he was proposing a solution to differences over Iran's nuclear program.Readers are warmly encouraged to imagine what such a letter would have to say in order to ratchet down tensions between Tehran and Washington.
UPDATE: Here's a link to the actual letter, courtesy of the Council on Foreign Relations. I found this part intriguing:
Liberalism and Western style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity. Today these two concepts have failed. Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems.You know the world is a cockeyed place when George W. Bush is considered to be the secular alternative.
Sunday, May 7, 2006
Do tax cuts starve or stoke the government beast?
Kevin Drum links to a Jonathan Rauch column in the Atlantic Monthly (non-subscribers can click here to read the whole thing), which summarizes William Niskanen's finding that starving the government of tax revenue doesn't starve the beast of government spending -- if anything, the trend is the exact opposite. From Rauch's story:
Even during the Reagan years, Niskanen was suspicious of Starve the Beast. He thought it more likely that tax cuts, when unmatched with spending cuts, would reduce the apparent cost of government, thus stimulating rather than stunting Washington’s growth. “You make government look cheaper than it would otherwise be,” he said recently.Without necessarily endorsing the "starve the beast" theory of political economy, my first reaction is to ask about lagged effects. As I've understood it, the starve the beast idea does not say that government spending will immediatekly go down as deficits rise; it argues that eventually the increase in deficits creates market and political pressure to cut government spending. My guess is that if you lagged taxes by five years you might get a different result.
I see that this paper made the blog rounds a few years ago -- but it does not appear to have been published. Furthermore, the link to the original conference paper is not not working.
Still, the argument is provocative enough for readers to chew on.
Friday, May 5, 2006
When going to Brussels is a crime
I had the good fortune to attend the first-ever Brussels Forum last weekend. It turns out that at least one invitee was not so lucky, according to this e-mail from the Forum's conveners:
One of our invited guests to the Brussels Forum, Dr. Ramin Jahanbegloo, never made it to the event as he was detained by the Iranian authorities on the way to the airport to fly to Brussels. Dr. Jahanbegloo is a well-known Iranian intellectual and human rights advocate who currently heads the Cultural Research Bureau in Tehran. Over the weekend we decided not to make his arrest public in the hope that he would shortly be released by the authorities. This has since proven not to be the case.It would be safe to say that the Human Rights Watch release on the arrest provides little comfort:
“The arbitrary arrest of Ramin Jahanbegloo shows the perilous state of academic freedom and free speech in Iran today,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This prominent scholar should be celebrated for his academic achievements, not interrogated in one of Iran’s most infamous prisons.”Multiple press reports have Iranian authorities accusing Jahanbegloo of espionage. This makes perfect sense to me -- if I were the Iranian regime, the last thing I'd want is to have a scholar in my midst with deep knowledge of Isaiah Berlin and Mohandas Gandhi.
Needless to say, the Iranian blogosphere has been abuzz about the arrest, the first of a prominent intellectual since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election. This post by Shahram Kholdi provides the a sense of the Farsi blogosphere:
[T]hrough this post, I inform the readers of Free Thoughts on Iran that Dr. Jahanbegloo's arrest is a cause of concern and his release should become the goal of all who are concerned with the promotion of civil society, open public space for free political debate, and last but not least a space safe enough to conduct such debates in a non-violent manner. Dr. Jahanbegloo has taught, lived, and acted in a non-violent manner, and those who would like to rally for his release should remember one fact: He did all this without Media-Mongering and without recourse to Sensationalism.Kholdi provides more info here.
I am uncertain what useful non-governmental actions can be done with regard to Jahanbegloo's case -- but e-mailing Iran's Permanent Mission to the United Nations might be a useful starting point. They even have a "human rights" category in their subject menu.
Thursday, May 4, 2006
May's Books of the Month
What with all the hubbub about U.S. relations with particular Middle Eastern countries, I thought it would be appropriate this month to focus on a book that details the bilateral relationship between the United States and one of its oldest allies in the region -- Saudi Arabia.
Sooooo....... this month's international relations book is Rachel Bronson's Thicker than Oil: America's Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia. Bonson documents the bilateral relationship from the start of Saudi rule to the present day. Her basic argument is that the bilateral relationship is built on more than oil for security. During the Cold War, the extent to which both the U.S. government and the house of Saud viewed Wahabbist religion as a powerful, positive bulwark against communism is striking. Bronson also ably documents how the Saudi regime with Wahabiism has waxed and waned over the years.
The book is an excellent piece of scholarship -- I particularly liked this rave at Amazon.com:
I don't want to repeat what was already said about this remarkable overview of the U.S - Saudi relationship, so let me just steer readers to the footnotes. They are amazing! I rarely read footnotes, but these are so revealing and easy to access that I spent almost as much time with the footnotes as I did with the text. Hats off to the author here! I cannot fathom how she got so many juicy quotes and so much factual material from such a diverse array of people in the know, people who were actually at the meetings she describes. I felt like I was the fly on the wall as policy was debated and decisions made that affected most of the major political issues of the last sixty years. Wow!In contrast to much that has been written of late about U.S. policy in the Middle East, this is first-rate, well-researched scholarship -- from someone who has deftly knocked down conspiracy theories in the past.
The general interest book is Kwame Anthony Appiah's Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. The book has been excerpted in the New York Times Magazine, among other places, and represents Appiah's efforts to carve out a commonality for most of mankind that does not rest on nation, clan, or kin.
I'm not sure how much I buy Appiah's argument yet -- all I know is that Appiah sold me on the book when he provided the following characterization of the term "globalization":
a term that once referred to a marketing strategy, and then came to designate a macroeconomic thesis, and now can seem to encompass everything and nothing.Now that's the kind of writing that is worth reading.
Go check them out.
New bipartisan foreign policy blog
I'm very, very, very close to finishing some time-consuming copyediting, so posting will be light in the next 24 hours.
In the meantime, go check out the Partnership for a Secure America's new foreign policy blog, Across the Aisle. I don't know all of the contributors, but I know enough of them to have confidence in the quality of output.
I particularly like this post by Chip Andreae that carefully delimits the kind of bipartisanship the Partnership is talking about:
[I]n spite of the growing need for true and uniting leadership to emerge from Capitol Hill, we must be conscious enough of why we demand bipartisan efforts to reject the recent political phenomenon that occurred during the DP World deal: bipartisanship for its own sake.
Wednesday, May 3, 2006
I say 51% idealism, you say 49%
Foreign Policy's Passport blog is quickly acquiring must-read status among the hard-working staff here at danieldrezner.com. Even if you disagree with the content, it's certainly thought-provoking.
Which brings me to James Forsyth's post about the Democrats and foreign policy. The hook is the release of Madeleine Albright’s new book The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God and World Affairs:
Albright is the wise woman of the Democratic Party on national security. Her prestigious Georgetown salon operates as a crash course in international relations for Dems with presidential ambitions. So, her work on the role of religion in foreign policy is required reading for anyone who wants to understand what a Democratic administration would do differently. After finishing it, the conclusion I came to was: surprisingly little. Yes, Albright bashes the Bush administration for Iraq, Guantanamo, and its religiously tinged language. But when she starts talking about the future rather than the past, she sounds none too different from her father’s most famous -- and favorite -- pupil, Condoleezza Rice. Albright’s call to “blend realism with idealism,” by promoting democracy at a gradual pace, wouldn’t sound out of place in any of Rice’s speeches about the administration’s goals in the Middle East. All of which suggests that, the democratizing baby won’t be thrown out with the Bush bath water and supports Jai's argument that Middle Eastern tyrants hoping to wait out Bush are wasting their time.This does raise an interesting question: are people who reject Bush's current foreign policy are promoting something that looks awfully similar on a lot of dimensions? Is Francis Fukuyama's "realistic Wilsonianism" so different from plain vanilla neoconservatism? Is George Clooney clamoring for intervention in Darfur any different from the humanitarian impulse (yes, there were others) that led neocons to clamor for intervention in Iraq (a point some on the left recognize)? Is the only difference between Republicans and Democrats a slight variant in the realism-idealism mix?
Actually, yes, I think there is a difference -- but it's about process and not preferences. The primary difference between liberal interventionists and neocons is that the former group thinks intervention is more successful if it takes place through the multilateral route. Multilateralism acts as a "pleasing illusion" to simultaneously obscure and enhance American power.
Which is great, when it works -- except that neocons raise a valid point when they highlight how difficult it is to get mulilateralism to work. On Darfur, for example, the past four years have been a giant game of hot potato between the United States, the UN, NATO, the EU, and the African Union about who will shoulder the burden. Daniel Davies is correct to point out that negotiations to date have the precise cast of liberal internationalism. There are times when unilateral action has the appeal of slicing the Gordian knot of multilateral diplomacy.
Liberal internationalists are correct to point out the negative fallout of unilateral military action. But liberal like Allbright are guilty of sidestepping questions of what to do when all the diplomacy in the world won't muster the necessary international consensus.
This is one reason why Fukuyama's "multi-multilateralism" concept intrigues me. In a world of multiple, overlapping international institutions, forum-shopping becomes a possibility. This allows realpolitik tactics within an institutionalist rubric. That said, Darfur shows the limitations of this gambit when there is a lack of consensus.
[Get to the grand conclusion--ed. I don't have one -- this is an age-old policy conundrum. But I'm sure my readers can cut through this Gordian knot.]
Oil as a dictatorship dividend
Max Boot's column in the Los Angeles Times hits at something that's been nagging at me but I had not been able to fully articulate:
Of the top 14 oil exporters, only one is a well-established liberal democracy — Norway. Two others have recently made a transition to democracy — Mexico and Nigeria. Iraq is trying to follow in their footsteps. That's it. Every other major oil exporter is a dictatorship — and the run-up in oil prices has been a tremendous boon to them.Read the rest of Boot's column to see his suggestions. I'll take others from readers.
Tuesday, May 2, 2006
Pay no attention to those men with the guns!
Edna Fernandes provides my laugh for today after reading her coverage of Evo Morales' latest move as President of Bolivia in the Times of London:
President Evo Morales of Bolivia has ordered the military to seize 56 foreign-owned oil and gas fields in a nationalisation move that hit shares of companies operating in the Latin American country today.UPDATE: The Financial Times reports on the international fallout. The Bolivian move has the greatest impact on... the socialst governments of Spain and Brazil:
Spain on Tuesday warned Bolivia that nationalisation of its energy sector would have “consequences [for] the bilateral relationship”, a threat that could lead to the ending of debt relief.