Thursday, September 28, 2006
Is it possible to forge a world of liberty under law?
You can add another grand strategy to the pile of candidates proffered in recent months -- "progressive realism," "ethical realism," "realistic Wilsonianism," etc. The Princeton Project on National Security released its final report, Forging A World Of Liberty Under Law: U.S. National Security In The 21st Century.
One factor that distinguishes the Princeton Project from these other approaches was the degree of consultation. UPI's Martin Walker provides a nice precis:
The new strategy seeks to absorb the rising powers like China, India, Brazil and others into a law-based global economic and diplomatic structure that avoids open conflict by making them stakeholders within the system, and thus encouraged in their own interests to play by the rules.A lot of bloggers were involved in the project -- Steve Clemons, Christopher Preble of Across the Aisle, everyone at TPM's America Abroad, a couple of the Democracy Arsenal gang, Nikolas Gvosdev, and yours truly. To be clear, however, none of us would necessarily endorse everything that's in this report. I do, however, agree with the point Anne-Marie and John make about the multiplicity of threats.
Read it and debate away.
What could be done on farm subsidies?
If the Doha round is ever to be resuscitated, it will require the United States to rethink its agricultural subsidies. The Financial Times' Doug Cameron reports on one possible rethink:
The US should offer to end distorting farm subsidies within five years in a bid to revive global trade talks and avoid a clampdown by the World Trade Organisation, according to a report released on Wednesday by an influential group of economists and agriculture officials.Here's a link to the report from the Institute for International Economics and
We propose that the entire grouping of product-specific, tradedistorting income and support programs, including countercyclical and loan deficiency payments, price supports, and federal crop insurance and disaster payments, be replaced with a new portfolio of approaches that are nondistorting and compliant with WTO greenIf it was up to me, I'd transfer more money away from agricultural progams, but that's a political nonstarter. The Chicago Council ask force has a lot of pragmatic ideas. Unfortunately, given the American Farm Bureau's happiness with the status quo and opposition to any change in subsidies prior to Doha's completion, I fear this approach is a nonstarter as well.
Why are there no anti-Borat riots in Kazakhstan?
The New York Times' Steven Lee Myers looks at a question that I've wondered about from time to time -- what do the people of Kazakhstan think about Borat? The answer appears to be surprisingly liberal:
There is no Running of the Jews here. No one greets you with the expression “Jagshemash,” which is either nonsense, garbled Polish or mangled Czech; it’s hard to say. The country’s national drink is not made from horse urine, though fermented horse milk, or kumys, is considered a delicacy. (It tastes like effervescent yogurt.)It is interesting that this Muslim country can take Borat with a grain of salt, whereas other jibes at Middle Eastern values provoke a more... frenzied response.
[Borat does not poke fun at Islam, whereas Mohammed cartoons do. You're comparing apples and oranges!!--ed. Maybe... except that nationalism can provoke just as much passion as religion, so I think the similarities are more important than the differences.]
Oh, and you can see the trailer for Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan by clicking here. As for Borat's reaction to the Kazakh government's denunciations, click here.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Open NIE thread
The two obvious sections to highlight:
We assess that the global jihadist movement is decentralized, lacks a coherent global strategy, and is becoming more diffuse. New jihadist networks and cells, with anti-American agendas, are increasingly likely to emerge. The confluence of shared purpose and dispersed actors will make it harder to find and undermine jihadist groups....Shorter NIE fragment: The good news is that Al Qaeda is a less viable network than it was before 9/11 -- because of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, moves to combat financial networks that assist terrorist groups, and improved homeland security and counterintelligence. The bad news is that the groups looking for Al Qaeda's imprimatur have a whole bunch of new reasons on top of the old ones to attack the United States -- because of Iraq.
Based on this NIE fragment -- and according to Jane Harman, this fragment is "broadly consistent" with the overall thrust of the document -- there is simply no way to claim, ceteris paribus, that the invasion of Iraq has made the United States more secure against terrorist attacks.
UPDATE: Props to Ghost in the Machine for coming up with the best post title on this subject.
ANOTHER UPDATE: David Ignatius' column in today's Washington Post makes an important point:
The issue raised by the National Intelligence Estimate is much grimmer than the domestic political game. Iraq has fostered a new generation of terrorists. The question is what to do about that threat. How can America prevent Iraq from becoming a safe haven where the newly hatched terrorists will plan Sept. 11-scale attacks that could kill thousands of Americans? How do we restabilize a Middle East that today is dangerously unbalanced because of America's blunders in Iraq?Kevin Drum is nonplussed by this argument. .
The dog that is not barking in financial markets
Amaranth blows up following a trading strategy that either had no method at all to it or was a failed attempt to corner next spring's natural gas market.
So what's our Iran policy right now?
I blogged in the spring about my puzzlement and confusion regarding U.S. foreign policy towards Iran. On the one hand, it was clear that certain elements of the Bush administration were not big fans of either direct or indirect dialogue.
On the other hand: [E]ven if this skepticism (towards negotiations and incentives) 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?I'm even more puzzled today.
First, Bill Gertz has a Washington Times exclusive that is clearly designed to torpedo one diplomatic option:
Iran is close to an agreement that would include a suspension of uranium enrichment but wants the deal to include a provision that the temporary halt be kept secret, according to Bush administration officials.I have to wonder if Gertz asked his editors to headline his article, "A Story That By Its Very Existence Will Alter The Facts Reported In Said Story."
OK, so clearly diplomacy is not the policy du jour of this administration when it comes to Iran. How about sanctions? Here we come to Condoleezza Rice's comments to the Wall Street Journal editorial board:
QUESTION: What do you think about a gasoline embargo on Iran?If you read the whole interview, it's clear that Rice favors financial sanctions ("Iran is not North Korea. It’s not isolated and it is pretty integrated into the international financial system. And that actually makes its potential isolation more damaging to Iran than for instance North Korea which, as you notice, has not been too thrilled with even the rather modest financial measures that we’ve taken against North Korea.").
That said, rejecting the gasoline embargo strikes me as a huge mistake. Iran is also not like North Korea in that there's actually a middle class in Tehran and environs that like their cheap gasoline very much, thank you. I concede that the possibility of a nationalist backlash is there -- but just because Ahmadinejad is painting the conflict as a civilizational one does not mean that Iranians are buying it. There's a decent possibility that of a lot of Iranians taking out their economic frustrations against Ahmadinejad's government -- especially after Iran's government spends so much on Hezbollah.
So, to review: there are administration efforts to sabotage the available diplomatic option, and the most powerful economic sanction has been rejected in the near term. I don't think financial sanctions will bite as much as the secretary, in part because it always takes a long time to implement and after the 1979 asset seizures the Iranians have moved down the learning curve on evading those kind of strictures.
What's left in the policy tool kit besides force?
UPDATE: Fareed Zakaria offers some suggestions that I am quite sure will be ignored by the Bush administration.
Just a little of the old media bias
What does this distribution of cover stories imply about how Americans get their information about the world?
Hat tip: Passport's Carolyn O'Hara
Monday, September 25, 2006
The latest step in scholar-blogging
Glassbead will exemplify what academic book publishing should be in another sense: namely, healthy public intellectual culture. We will purvey a wide variety of content—ranging from academic specialist works to journalism to critical editions of public domain fiction to new fiction. But we aim to make our mark with works that solve intellectual circulation problems—within the ivory tower and without. We will make books that are maximally available, searchable, usable—by the public and by academics. We will make books the general reader (not so mythical as sometimes reported) and the academic reader will want to make use of.There are several interesting implications of this project. Among the more obvious:
1) It's another means through which blog outputs can be translated into scholarly capital, as it were;Over at Open U., Jacob Levy is also enthusiastic.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Must.... stop.... consuming.... ideological analogies
IDEAS: How do you understand radical Islamism? Is it, as some say, the successor to Marxism?Two quick thoughts:
1) Maybe, just maybe, radical islam is a kind of sui generis phenomenon tha would be best understood on its own terms rather than desperately trying to glom it onto secular totalitarian ideologies of the past;
The blogosphere as a labor saving device
Alex Tabarrok deconstructs how the mainstream media covers Wal-Mart's drug initiative -- so I don't have to.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
The underwhelming Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
I have discovered, through long and intensive soul-searching, that I would be a lousy pundit for a Sunday morning talk show. The reason is that my reaction to 99% of the topics discussed on such shows boils down to, "This too shall pass."
In other words, claims that individual leaders or individual political performances make a difference leave me, for the most part, unimpressed.
Which brings me to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Multiple sources have Ahmadinejad performing brilliantly while in NYC. Consider the New York Times' David Sanger:
Over the objections of the administration and Jewish groups that boycotted the event, Mr. Ahmadinejad, the man who has become the defiant face of Iran, squared off with the nation’s foreign policy establishment, parrying questions for an hour and three-quarters with two dozen members of the Council on Foreign Relations, then ending the evening by asking whether they were simply shills for the Bush administration.See also Sanger's audio report.
Then there's Andrew Sullivan:
Watching the CNN interview with Mahmoud Ahamedinejad and reading about his meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations reinforces my sense of foreboding about Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There's no point in denying that his trip to the U.S. has been a big media and p.r. coup for him. And there is a chilling slickness to him that is as disturbing as it is obviously formidable. The way he deflected questions always back toward the U.S., the way he skilfully used every awkward moment to pivot to the themes his domestic and international audience want to hear, the very image of the informal, mild-mannered, quiet-spoken, constantly smiling serenity: all these represent a very, very capable politician. There is a complete self-assurance to him that suggests he can neither be trusted as a diplomatic partner nor under-estimated as a global foe.Even cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman:
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran sparred with a high-levelgroup from the Council on Foreign Relations for ninety minutes Wednesday on virtually every contentious issue between the United States and Iran.Color me mostly unimpressed. Ahmadinejad gets points for staying on message and not losing his temper. However, I judge whether someone has put in a good political performance based on whether they manage to persuade others of the merits of their worldview.
Looking at Gwertzman's account, I did not see that. Instead, I see Ahmadinejad getting pilloried by Matin Indyk, Brent Scowcroft, and Kenneth Roth -- not exactly a homogenous bunch. Which might explain Ahmadinejad's truculence at the end:
As the meeting drew to a close, the Iranian leader observed, “In the beginning of the session you said you are independent, and I accepted that. But everything you said seems to come from the government perspective.” Haass responded that there had been no advance coordination among the Council participants and that “the aim was to expose you to views of a broad range of Americans. It would be wrong for you to leave this meeting thinking that you heard unrepresentative views.”Like Hugo Chavez, Ahmadinejad might be able to stoke his own supporters, but he seems to excel even more at creating and unifying his adversaries.
Ahmadinejad too will pass.
UPDATE: OK, I'll give Ahmadinejad credit for sartorially converting Matthew Yglesias.
ANOTHER UPDATE: A valid question running through the comments boils down to, "what if Ahmadinejad gets nuclear weapons?" I agree that this does not fall under the "this too shall pass" category -- however, we need to be clear about terms here. My (limited) understanding of the Iranian power structure suggests that on the nuclear question, Ahmadinejad is a) not the most important decision-maker; and b) holds the minority position of rejecting all compromise. So even if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, I do not think this means Ahmadinejad is going to have his finger on the button.
Besides, I suspect Ahmadinejad has his own domestic troubles.
The comparative political economy of The Office
Liesl Schillinger has an interesting essay in Slate comparing and contrasting four different versions of The Office. In addition to the U.K. and U.S. versions, both French (Le Bureau) and German television (Stromberg) have produced variants on the show.
[T]he base-line mood of David Brent's workplace—resignation mingled with self-loathing—is unrecognizably alien to our (well, my) sensibility. In the American office, passivity mingles with rueful hopefulness: An American always believes there's something to look forward to. A Brit does not, and finds humor in that hopelessness. What truths, I wondered, might Le Bureau and Stromberg reveal about the French and German professional milieus?...
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
So Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and George W. Bush walk into a UN General Assembly.... wait, that's not a joke, it actually happened.
Hugo gave a funny speech at the UN today -- that Noam Chomsky opening was a killer!
Here's the one part of the speech that actually made sense:
I don't think anybody in this room could defend the system. Let's accept -- let's be honest. The U.N. system, born after the Second World War, collapsed. It's worthless.Readers are heartily encouraged to postulate what would happen if the UN General Assembly was actually given any real power.
It’s rare to hear Congressional Democrats coming to the rescue of President George W. Bush. But a day after Venezuela's president called Mr. Bush a "devil" in front of the United Nations General Assembly, several prominent Bush critics are siding with the White House.If this keeps up, I propose that Chavez be given a chance to vent at the UN every week!
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
The worst form of government in Thailand and Hungary
It's strictly a coincidence that third-wave democratic governments in Hungary and Thailand are having a spot of trouble today. There does seem to be a loose commonality in the underlying sources of the instability, however.
Why the attempted coup in Thailand? The BBC has a good backgrounder:
Thailand's latest political crisis traces its roots back to January when Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra sold his family's stake in the telecoms firm Shin Corp.
As for the situation now, the BBC also reports that: An army-owned TV station is showing images of the royal family and songs linked in the past with military coups." To which I must say -- there are songs associated with military coups???
As for Hungary, here's the Associated Press explanation:
Protesters clashed with police and stormed the headquarters of Hungarian state television early Tuesday in an explosion of anger over a leaked recording of the prime minister admitting his government had "lied morning, evening and night" about the economy.In both countries, the formal electoral rules and laws seem incapable of dealing with shady behavior by duly elected officials.
A mark against democracy? Well, yes, but only until one considers Winston Churchill's thoughts on the matter.
Monday, September 18, 2006
Incompetence or impossibility in Iraq?
Rajiv Chandrasekaran is coming out with a book on the CPA's experiences in Iraq called Imperial Life in the Emerald City. For a taste, check out Chandrasekaran's excerpt in Sunday's Washington Post, as well as his Q&A at washingtonpost.com today. He opens the latter by stating the following:
I believe that the Coalition Provisional Authority -- the U.S. occupation government in Iraq from April 2003 to June 2004 -- had a rare opportunity to resuscitate Iraq. It's hard to remember now, but back then the Iraqis were turly happy to be liberated from Saddam's government. They were eager for American help to reconstruct their country and they wanted U.S. forces to help establish order. But the CPA, in my view, squandered that goodwill by failing to bring the necessary resources to bear to rebuild Iraq and by not listening to what the Iraqis wanted -- or needed -- in terms of a postwar government. By sending, as I've written, the loyal and the willing over the best and the brightest, we hobbled our efforts there.This is a theme I've touched on in the past (full disclosure: Chandrasekaran contacted me during the drafting of his book to get in touch with my sources at CPA, and I briefly acted as a go-between).
It also dredges up what will be an age-old debate -- was the failure in Iraq preordained because the mission was hopeless, or was it becaused the administration bungled the execution? Last year, Matthew Yglesias and Sam Rosenfeld argued that failure was preordained.
The argument that the Iraq war had no chance to succeed has an undeniable surface appeal. Things are going so badly there that it's hard to imagine how it could have turned out differently.Yglesias responds here and here. One excerpt:
Let me just note that this is an extremely weak claim being made on behalf of the underlying policy concept. It "wasn't necessarily doomed" though it was bound to be "extremely difficult."If you read what I've written on this subject, I obviously take the incompetence position -- Iraq could have gone much, much better.
To answer Matt's question, however, it seems to be that had the Bush administration:
a) Not been committed to proving Rumsfeld's thesis about warfighting, and thus had significantly more troops on the ground in the spring o 2003;Then I'd say the odds of Iraq being at least as stable and open as, say, Ukraine would have been better than 50/50.
That said, I close with what I wrote two years ago:
[W]e can't rewind history and replay Iraq with better implementation. It is impossible to say with absolute certainty that the flaw lay with the idea or the implementation. I clearly think it's the implementation, but I will gladly concede that there are decent arguments out there that the idea itself was wrong as well.Tell me, dear readers -- was it the idea or the implementation?
Confusing headline of the day
"Al-Qaeda threatens jihad over Pope's remarks," Times of London, September 18, 2006Someone get Al Qaeda a dictionary and show them the word "redundant."
Damn that cheap European labor force!!
The Financial Times' Francesco Guerrera and Alan Beattie report on a new trend in offshoring:
Multinational companies are favouring Europe over Asia when expanding abroad – a sign that they want to be close to customers and suppliers rather than simply tap into cheap labour and plants, according to a new study of outward investment.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Will there be a TAFTA?
This week the Economist has an excellent survey by Pam Woodall of the global economy, and the increasingly powerful effects that the developing world are exerting on prices, wages, and interest rates:
Last year the combined output of emerging economies reached an important milestone: it accounted for more than half of total world GDP (measured at purchasing-power parity). This means that the rich countries no longer dominate the global economy. The developing countries also have a far greater influence on the performance of the rich economies than is generally realised. Emerging economies are driving global growth and having a big impact on developed countries' inflation, interest rates, wages and profits. As these newcomers become more integrated into the global economy and their incomes catch up with the rich countries, they will provide the biggest boost to the world economy since the industrial revolution....Be sure to check out the podcast interview with Woodall, conducted by the dulcet tones of one Megan McArdle. Woodall thinks what's happening now will be "bigger than the industrial revolution."
One obvious implication to draw from the survey is that the relative (though not absolute) economic power of the US and EU will decline over time.
How will Washington and Brussels respond? The Financial Times' Bertrand Benoit offers one intriguing answer:
Spurred by concern about China’s growing economic might, Germany is considering a plan for a free-trade zone between Europe and the US.When I was in Berlin this summer I met with a few Bundestag and industry officials who were quite keen on the idea. The fact that Merkel is considering this suggests that the idea has gotten more traction in recent months.
There are many reasons to believe that TAFTA will never get off the ground. What Europe thinks should go into a free trade agreement is a bit more modest than what the U.S. thinks should go into one. I simply can't see agriculture included into any TAFTA. I can't imagine that France would ever let it go forward. Anti-Americanism on the continent could be enough to scotch it.
And yet, the idea is very intriguing. Even if it takes ten years to negotiate, the combined weight of a TAFTA in terms of both market size and rule-setting behavior would be formidable.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Trade policy, crazy conservatives, and UFOs
I have no idea what the three things in my post title have in common. All I know is that this morning I checked out my primer of U.S. trade policy at Amazon.com and discovered the following five books under the "Customers who bought items like this also bought" category:
F.U.B.A.R.: America's Right-Wing Nightmare by Sam SederReaders are warmly encouraged to explain this set of rather odd correlations.
Friday, September 15, 2006
If only Dubai Ports World could somehow run our ports
I'll just file this announcement from Dubai Ports World under "irony" and move on:
DP World, a leading global marine terminal operator, has become the first global company in the transport and logistics industry to gain certification to an international standard for its security management systems and operations. Lloyds Register Quality Assurance (LRQA), an independent international certification body, has audited DP World for compliance with the international standard ISO/PAS 28000:2005 at both the corporate head office in Dubai, UAE, and its chosen site, Djibouti Container Terminal....Hat tip: Michael Levi.
Let's get some odds of the Pope being burned in effigy
The BBC reports that some Muslims are none too keen on what the Pope said yesterday... or rather, who the Pope quoted yesterday:
A statement from the Vatican has failed to quell criticism of Pope Benedict XVI from Muslim leaders, after he made a speech about the concept of holy war.Click here for the controversial excerpts from the speech. And here's a link to the full text of the speech, as posted by the Vatican.
Question to readers -- will this be the sequel to the Muhammed cartoon controversy, something not quite as serious, or something even more serious?
UPDATE: OK, less than 24 hours for the burning of the Pope in effigy. If the Feiler Faster Thesis ever gets applied to world politics, I expect to see effigy-burning take place within an hour of whatever triggers the controversy.
Meanwhile, Juan Cole has little sympathy for the Pope, "The Pope was wrong on the facts. He should apologize to the Muslims and get better advisers on Christian-Muslim relations."
Mexico returns to normality
James C. McKinley reports in the New York Times that after an interesting period of protest, Mexico is now returning to normal:
Supporters of a leftist candidate who narrowly lost the presidential election this summer were tearing down five miles of tents on Thursday that have blockaded this capital’s central avenues for six weeks.It is an interesting irony that one of the reasons for this is Mr. López Obrador's self-defeating strategy -- by alienating so many of his supporters, he created a consensus for Calderón that did not exist at the time of the election:
Now even Mr. López Obrador’s aides acknowledge that he is losing some support among middle-class liberals and influential leftist politicians and intellectuals, as Mexicans seem prepared to move on from the election dispute, even if Mr. López Obrador is not.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Won't you take me to.... Think Tank Town?
I was recently made aware of a place called Think Tank Town. Washingtonpost.com edits and publishes columns submitted by 10 prominent think tanks on a rotating basis every other weekday. Each think tank is free to choose its authors and the topics it believes are most important and timely.
For better or for worse, the Council on Foreign Relations chose me to provide a precis of U.S. Trade Strategy:
U.S. trade policy is at a crossroads between pursuing freer trade or fairer trade. A free trade approach would jumpstart Doha by cutting agricultural subsidies or allowing greater cross-border movement of foreign workers; pursuing free trade agreements with South Korea, India, or Japan if the Doha round cannot be restarted, and pledging an all-out political push for the renewal of TPA in early 2007. A fair trade approach would refuse to make further concessions in the Doha round of negotiations until developing countries and the European Union demonstrate a greater receptivity to American exports; halting bilateral free trade agreements with developing countries; and relying more on "managed trade" arrangements, unilateral trade sanctions, escape clauses and safeguard mechanisms to rebalance U.S. trade.Go check it out.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
How much meritocracy is there in American politics?
In my last bloggingheads.tv appearance, Mickey Kaus and I debated whether Paris Hilton's rise to fame was proof that there was a meritocracy within different American subcultures (Mickey and Bob Wright follow up on that question here).
This question came back to mind as I was perusing Chris Cillizza's washingtonpost.com blog on the latest primary results:
Famous Last Names: Last night's results in Rhode Island proved that the Chafee name is still a powerful brand in the state's politics. But Lincoln Chafee wasn't the only candidate who benefitted from his last name last night. Attorney John Sarbanes (D), the son of retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), won the primary in the open 3rd District House seat in Maryland. The seat, which is being vacated by Senate nominee Ben Cardin, has a strong Democratic lean and Sarbanes should have little trouble winning it this November when a number of other political legacies are on the line. There are plenty of other famous last names on the ballot this fall. In Delaware, Beau Biden (D) -- son of Sen. Joe Biden (D) -- is seeking the state Attorney General's office. State Sen. Tom Kean Jr., son of the former governor, officially claimed the GOP nomination to challenge Sen. Bob Menendez (D) in November. Across the Hudson in New York, another Cuomo looks likely to hold a statewide office.Now, this penomenon has existed in one form or another since the dawn of the republic (see Adams, John Quincy). And the children of politicians have often acquitted themselves well as statesmen (again, see Adams, John Quincy -- as Secretary of State, not President).
Still, a question to my colleagues in American politics -- to what extent has politics become a hereditary sport?
Paulson's big speech
Your humble blogger is now back in the USA, but jet-lagged and buried under lots of e-mail and lecture notes.
Sooo.... devoted readers of this space should read Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson's big speech on the global economy. Paulson is headed to China next week, and this will be his template in future economic negotiations. It's worth noting that in the three months Paulson has been Treasury Secretary, he's received more attention than John Snow received during his last three years on the job.
One interesting part:
Protectionist policies do not work and the collateral damage from these policies is high. By closing off competition and blocking the forces of change, protectionism reduces the losses of the present by sacrificing the opportunities of the future. Jobs saved in the short term job are off-set by more job losses and a lower standard of living in the future.All well and good... but I am immediately suspicious of any politician who articulates a program of "free and fair trade." It's one of those terms of art that functions more as a Rorshach test of how people feel about trade -- everyone supports it, but no two people agree on precisely what it means.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
How do we classify the embassy attack in Syria?
Over at Open University, I posted the following question last week:
Now, the Syrian attack does not qualify as a drive-by shooting. At the same time, the odds of success of such an enterprise in Damascus seem very low -- as the Guardian points out:While security officials are largely focused on organized terror groups like Al Qaeda, lone attackers like Mr. Jaoura present a new challenge. They are hard to track and even harder to stop, making them an especially difficult target for the police and security officials.If you read the whole story, this seems like the kind of attack that, in the United States, would qualify as a drive-by shooting rather than "Islamofascism."
Peter Ford, Britain's ambassador to Syria, told CNN that the incident did not seem similar to an al-Qaida attack, but appeared to be "an operation by a small group".So, either a) Al Qaeda's having a really bad draft year, or; b) This was a local operation with zero ties to AQ.
I'll leave it to the commenters to sort this out.
Monday, September 11, 2006
9/11 -- five years on
In an odd twist of fate, five years after the 9/11 attacks I'm again out of the country, and again in the U.K.
I have no idea what to do with that information, but then again, I have no idea what to say about the five-year anniversary.
I am sure this lack of ability on my part will not impair my readers from imparting their comments.
UPDATE: Incidentally, the BBC broadcast part 1 of The Path to 9/11 last night. I'm vaguely aware that many Clintonites have complained about the drama portion of this docudrama, and that some have complained about the religious background of the miniseries director. Having seen Part I, my take is that these objections are either overblown or ABC responded adroitly to them.
Having watched it, I didn't see anything flagrantly wrong with the Clinton portion -- none of the policy principals look like fools or incompetents. Some of them look like they did not place Al Qaeda as their highest priority, which is certainly accurate of both the Clinton and Bush adminisatrations. On the whole, it was surprisingly gripping -- perhaps because, in part I, there were victories (the capture of Ramzi, etc.) as well as defeats.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Having now seen part two as well, it strikes me that the complaint a partisan Democrat could lodge against the program was not what was included but what was omitted. There was no shot of President Bush reading My Pet Goat or otherwise looking wobbly on the day of the attack. There was no scene of Sandy Berger briefing the Bush team about the nature of the Al Qaeda threat, etc. On the whole, however, it was a well-constructed docudrama, and Harvey Keitel and Patricia Heaton were particularly good.
David Greenberg makes an interesting criticism of the whole enterprise:
For my part, I think it's an abuse of history to place much blame on either the Clinton or the Bush administration for "not doing more to prevent September 11" (as both teams are often alleged to have done, or not to have done). Anyone can second-guess others' actions with the benefit of hindsight. But historians are supposed to try get into the minds of the actors of a bygone era--and the time before September 11, 2001, does represent, in the matter of counterterrorism, a bygone era. Everybody thought about terrorism differently back then, and it's a historical fallacy to blame Sandy Berger or Condi Rice for not having a post-9/11 mindset.Actually, it's worse than that -- the people who did have the post-9/11 mindset before 9/11, like Richard Clarke, seemed like monomaniacal pain in the asses before the attacks happened. That probably made it easier for Berger and Rice to downgrade their warnings.
Saturday, September 9, 2006
Open CIA secret prisons/Gitmo thread
Blogging might be intermittent over the next few days, as I will be heading to Oxford as an outside reader for a dissertation viva.
In the meantime, comment away on:
The trouble with implementing fair trade
The Financial Times' Hal Weitzman has an interesting story about the failure to enforce "fair trade" labels on items like coffee:
“Ethical” coffee is being produced in Peru, the world’s top exporter of Fairtrade coffee, by labourers paid less than the legal minimum wage. Industry insiders have also told the FT of non-certified coffee being marked and exported as Fairtrade, and of certified coffee being illegally planted in protected rainforest.Click here for a companion story by Weizman that gets at the details of the problem. The most interesting section of the latter piece comes here:
“No certifier is able to check that at no time are workers paid below minimum wage,” says Luuk Zonneveld, Managing Director of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) in Bonn. “This issue comes up everywhere. Poor people struggle to pay their workers fairly.”This suggests the following:
1) If fair traders really want workers to receive what they believe is a living wage, they're going to have raise the price of properlylabeled coffee;Is there a solution to the problem? My solution would be to raise the price of fair trade coffee such that everyone in the distribution chain can receive higher wages, and let consumers decide whether the higher price is worth it.
A perfect solution? Hardly -- but it's the one that is the most honest while not restricting employment in poor economies like Peru.
Friday, September 8, 2006
The New York Times blows the lid off of pissant think tank contributions
I've been known to question the value-added of think tanks from time to time, so I looked with interest at Michael Barbaro and Stephanie Strom's New York Times story on how Wal-Mart is potentially buying ideological support through it's support of consevative think tanks:
As Wal-Mart Stores struggles to rebut criticism from unions and Democratic leaders, the company has discovered a reliable ally: prominent conservative research groups like the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Manhattan Institute.[Uh-oh, another potential payola scandal in the think tank community. We're talking millions here, right?--ed.] As it turns out, not so much, no:
At least five research and advocacy groups that have received Walton Family Foundation donations are vocal advocates of the company.In plain English, the Walton Foundation gave AEI an average of $33,000 a year, PRI $35,000 a year, and a whopping $3,667 a year to Heritage.
Besides the fact that the story reveals no link between the donations and think tank outputs, besides the fact that these groups would be ideologically predisposed to support Wal-Mart anyway (just as EPI would support the union position), it's worth stressing that in the think tank world, these are nothing amounts. These sums of money buy a B.A.-level RA and some cocktail shrimp at a reception. After reading the article, I'm not amazed that Wal-Mart is giving money to these think tanks -- I'm amazed they'e giving so little.
This leads to a fundamental question -- what on earth motivated the New York Times to put this article on the front page of its Business section? Properly headlined, an article that blares, "Little Money Flowing Between Wal-Mart and Washington Think Tanks" wouldn't even have run, much less on the front page. Instead, we get,"Wal-Mart Finds an Ally in Conservatives."
In Congress, there's a threshhold below which legislators are not required to report gifts because they are so minor. The sums we're talking about here are below the threshhold to motivate a NYT story.
UPDATE: For the record, I have received no money or gifts from Wal-Mart at any time.
And frankly, I'm a little hurt.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Over at Volokh, David Bernstein also has some fun with the article.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's an example of a Heritage analyst -- the very same one who's cited as pro-Wal-Mart in the story -- adopting an anti-Wal-Mart position. Thanks to Heritage's Khristine Brookes for the pointer. [You remembered to ask her for cash, right?--ed. D'oh!!]
Today's debate about the yuan
In his "Economic Scene" column for the New York Times, Tyler Cowen makes a counterintuitive argument:
Contrary to popular opinion, China may be good for our trade balance. American consumers seem determined to spend money, and Chinese businessmen have made the bill cheaper.This column has caused something of a ripple in the economics portion of the blogosphere. See Greg Mankiw for a supportive post.
I had to write about this issue in a white paper for U.S. Trade Strategy, so a few quick thoughts on the matter:
1) Debating about what happens to the yuan if China liberalizes its capital markets is pretty much a red herring at this point, because it's not happening anytime soon. I lean towards Tyler's view that the yuan would likely fall, because the amount of Chinese savings that would leave would dwarf the amount of investment capital that would flow in (one of the scarier facts about the Chinese economy is that to my knowledge no one has any idea of how to gauge the efficiency of recent Chinese investments). Again, though, it's a red herring.I fully expect my readers to weigh in on the matter.
Thursday, September 7, 2006
When is it a civic uprising and when is it populism run amok?
During the eighties there was a raging ideological debate within the United States about which regime was more brutal and/or repressive, El Salvador or Nicaragua. It was impossible to condemn or support both governments -- the ideological divide was too strong.
I bring this up because there's an interesting contrast to make between developments in Mexico and Bolivia. In the former country, James C. McKinley offers a sympathetic explanation in the New York Times for why Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been able to keep a third of the country mobilized behind him:
[W]hy do between a quarter and a third of voters, according to recent opinion polls, agree with him?
Depending on my readers' political inclinations, I have every confidence that they know whether they side with Calderón or Obrador.
Now, we come to Bolivia, where there's a similar problem but the politics are reversed. Hal Weitzman explains in the Financial Times:
Bolivia’s regional and social divisions may be deepened by allegations that President Evo Morales is seeking to dominate an assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution.My ideological predilections tell me to sympathize with the Bolivians as rejecting the erosion of the rule of law, but to tut-tut López Obrador’s supporters for similar (though not identical) actions.
Question to readers: is there any non-fascist formulation whereby one can sympathize with either both governments or both protest movements?
My top five foods at Trader Joe's
One of the major perks of moving from the south side of Chicago to the west Boston suburbs is that even during rush hour, we are now less than 10 minutes away from Trader Joe's.
In an ode to the store, Laura McKenna recently posted her top 5 favorite foods to get there. While I respect Laura's opinion on a great many matters, I fear that my list is very different from hers.
Without further ado:
1) Chocolate-covered espresso beans. Sweet Jesus, are they decadent. After many years of struggle and toil, my wife and I only consume these delectibles on the rarest of occasions. In a perfect world, however, I could scarf these things down every ten minutes with zero effect on my metabolism and BMI.Now, if my children were doing this list, the Annie's Mac and Cheese and the frozen chicken nuggets would also be making appearances.
Wednesday, September 6, 2006
How to thoroughly annoy a potentially friendly Middle Eastern country
In the past eight months, the United States has done a bang-up job of befriending the United Arab Emirates, a decentralized Gulf country that wants to be the trading hub for the Middle East.
That, of course, helped the U.S.-UAE free trade agreement stall out.
And now the Economist Cities Guide reports that the port of Dubai has further reason to be ticked off at the United States:
Many Dubai residents are threatening to boycott American universities in protest against seemingly discriminatory security practices. The catalyst came on August 21st when immigration officials at Los Angeles International Airport detained Saif Khalifa al-Sha’ali, a 26-year-old student from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and his wife and three children. The family was questioned for 26 hours until the UAE embassy intervened.
I envy Jane Galt
It's true, I have committed one of the seven deadly sins in thinking about Ms. Megan McArdle -- and it's not even one of the interesting sins.
No, I am envious of her because she wrote this post, which contains this paragraph:
I've had a taste of both academia and investment banking. The dominance hierarchy of banking is so strong that if you could get the bankers out of their pinstripes for an hour, you could have filmed your average pitch meeting for the Discovery Channel. Yet when it comes to hyper-obsession with invisibly fine status distinctions, no banker could hold a candle to the average academic--or journalist, for that matter.Read the whole thing.
Tuesday, September 5, 2006
Are you safer than you were five years ago?
The White House just released its new National Strategy for Combatting Terrorism. Here's the punchline:
From the beginning, we understood that the War on Terror involved more than simply finding and bringing to justice those who had planned and executed the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Our strategy involved destroying the larger al-Qaida network and also confronting the radical ideology that inspired others to join or support the terrorist movement. Since 9/11, we have made substantial progress in degrading the al–Qaida network, killing or capturing key lieutenants, eliminating safehavens, and disrupting existing lines of support. Through the freedom agenda, we also have promoted the best long-term answer to al–Qaida's agenda: the freedom and dignity that comes when human liberty is protected by effective democratic institutions.Given the supposed metamorphosis in the terror threat, why does only one of those bullet points address the "radical ideology" that is supposedly so threatening?
Also worth checking out -- the Center for Strategic and International Studies balance sheet on Five Years After 9/11. There's a lot of congruence between the reports -- but CSIS does have the advantage of candor. For the Democrat take, click here.
UPDATE: On the other hand, this GovExec interview with assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism Frances Townsend seems pretty candid to me.
The Australian's Matthew Warren reveals that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is about to revise its global warming projections in a way that will be inconvenient for Al Gore:
The world's top climate scientists have cut their worst-case forecast for global warming over the next 100 years.Read the whole thing.
Global warming is still a real phenomenon, and it will bring costs associated with it -- but any day when the worst-case scenario looks more than 50% better than it did yesterday is a very good day.
UPDATE: OK, having read Tim Lambert and Gavin Schmidt, I'm withdrawing my endorsement of the Warren article. He appears to have "confused climate sensitivity (how much warming will eventually occur if we double CO2) with projected 21st century warming," according to Lambert. Which means the reduction of the worst-case scenario outcome is nonexistent.
Apologies to one and all.
Blogging's become respectable... what a drag
Looking at the top 10 most trafficked blogs, only DailyKos, Crooks and Liars, Michelle Malkin, and Instapundit started out as lone blogger-hobbyists. The other 6 (including The Huffington Post, The Corner, and Think Progress) are either planned business enterprises, outgrowths of existing MSM pubs, or online presences of otherwise established orgs. Many may have a romantic ideal of bloggers as loners mashing away at a keypad in their pajamas, but the biggest and best blogs all feature intelligent professionals, often with advanced degrees, commenting on issues at least tangentially related to their field of expertise. As these enterprises gain in influence and profitability, should we really be that surprised as they become more professional as well?As one of those intelligent professionals with advanced degrees, my only regret is that I'm going to have to hear endless laments about how blogging was so much better during the early years... when it was about the music.
The most blog-friendly country in Europe
Here's a question: blogs have had the greatest political impact in which country in Europe?
Answer after the jump....
According to the Financial Times' Martin Arnold, the answer is... France:
Next year's French presidential elections will be the first to take place since blogging caught the public imagination.Question to readers -- why France?
Monday, September 4, 2006
Two steps forward for TNR Online
Over the weekend, TNR Online has taken two steps forward to improve its online content.
It's dedicated to thinking about not just the news of the day but also the news from the academy: Controversies in campus politics that warrant thoughtful discussion. Scholarship from our various disciplines that we think deserves a broader hearing. Ideas we had in doing our research that seem eerily relevant to something we read in The New York Times today.If you peruse the list of contributors, you'll see that Open University contains more than a few academics of some distinction.
And then there's me.
By academic standards, I'd label initial feedback as guardedly optimistic. As one commenter to the introductory post put it, "This is a good idea -- at least half the people on your contributors list should be worth reading."
Trust me when I say that's a much higher percentage than you'd get at your typical university.
From Tragedy to Farce
In response to more than a dozen requests at the American Political Science Association annual meeting to blog about this, here's a link to Dana Millbank's Washington Post piece from last week that catches up with John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's "Israel Lobby" road show:
It was quite a boner.A few thoughts:
1) Millbank's opening is nothing more than a cheap shot -- for the record, I thought "Beohner" was pronounced "boner" as well. It's that kind of snottiness that undermines the more trenchant factual critiques Millbank makes later in the piece.The hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com will look forward, in a few months, to someone restarting this debate from a more reliable factual and conceptual base.
Friday, September 1, 2006
Thinking about The J Curve
I have a review of Ian Bremmer's The J Curve in today's Wall Street Journal (alas, subscriber only):
Ian Bremmer has a big idea, and the title of his book literally spells it out. He argues in “The J Curve” that the relationship between “stability” and “political and economic openness to the outside world” resembles nothing so much as the letter “J.”You'll have to read the review to see why I was not convinced. Or, click here to view an excerpt from the book and draw your own conclusions.
Full disclosure: Ian was a few years ahead of me in the Stanford Ph.D. program in political science -- and he was nice enough to put me on The J Curve's blogroll.
Talk about talking across generations....
I attended a panel today entitled, "Reconstituting Intellectual Power in the Academy: A Conversation Across Generations," in which one of the elder members of the panel said (roughly) the following:
You have to understand, when I was in school we all thought the U.S. government was corrupt and inefficient. We were all influenced by the Teapot Dome scandal.....