Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The unsolved mysteries of APSA

Blogging will be light the next couple of days as your humble blogger attends this year's annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. Despite my strong preference for Las Vegas, APSA has yet to be held in that city -- we'll see if they ever get another chapter from me!!

I've blogged about this conference before. The theme of this year's post will be "unsolved mysteries." Here are the burning questions I have about APSA going forward:

1) Will Laura McKenna wear sling back heels for her 8:00 AM on Thursday panel? If she doesn't, will her panel chair be cross with her?

2) What's the worst time slot to present at APSA? The two obvious candidates are the earliest panel time (which would be at 8:00 AM on Thursday) and the latest panel time (which would be Sunday at 10:15 AM). My vote is for the Sunday slot -- the dregs of a conference are more depressing than the beginning. Plus, at least the people who have the first time slot get their obligation out of the way.

3) There is a distinguished scholar who shall remain nameless for the purposes of this posy. This scholar attends APSA on a regular basis and, as near as I can figure, displays the identical sartorial choice at every conference. He always wears a rolled-up red bandana around his neck (political scientists, you know of whom I speak, so no naming names in the comments).

Here's what I want to know: does the man have more than one kerchief? Is there a drawerful of them? Does he change it every day? Does he wear them when he's not at APSA or ISA? To quote an old Bloom County strip, "Does it get the chicks? I mean, in truckloads?"

4) As previously observed, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have complained about the lack of available venues for them to present their argument (whether this complaint is always sincere is another question entirely). Why, then, is there no APSA panel or roundtable devoted to their forthcoming book? Did APSA reject the panel? Was one never submitted?

Political scientists are encouraged to contribute their own APSA mysteries.

posted by Dan at 03:48 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Some non-demagogic reviews of The Israel Lobby

With regard to "The Israel Lobby," Matthew Yglesias argues that, "The originally essay certainly had its flaws, but it was much better than the demagogic counter-campaign it unleashed." Perhaps, but the initial reviews of the book are neither demagogic nor terribly flattering.

For example, check out Geoffrey Kemp and Ben Fishman in The National Interest online. TNI is generally perceived as a having a "realist" bent, but I can't say these reviews are that encouraging.

Kemp -- by far the more sympathetic of the two reviewers -- has this to say:

By my count there are 1,247 footnotes; only three refer to correspondence with a source and only two mention interviews with sources. I could find no references to any communication with key players in the U.S. government, the Israeli lobbies and Israel who might have had some interesting confidential comments on the matter in question. It seems that their research lacked extensive field work, including background interviews, especially among the Washington elite who make up both the lobby and its targets. This is not a trivial matter, and as a consequence the book has a sharp, somewhat strident and detached tone -- devoid of the atmospheric frills and descriptions of the personality quirks and complicated motivations of key players that are to be found in the works of the best investigative journalists. It is also superficial in its coverage of the Washington think-tank community, an issue that is worthy of more space than is available in this quick review....

The book—however flawed and one-dimensional—deserves to be read and challenged in a wide number of forums.

In The New Yorker, David Remnick has a similar take, but a different conclusion: he blames the furor on the Bush administration:
“The Israel Lobby” is a phenomenon of its moment. The duplicitous and manipulative arguments for invading Iraq put forward by the Bush Administration, the general inability of the press to upend those duplicities, the triumphalist illusions, the miserable performance of the military strategists, the arrogance of the Pentagon, the stifling of dissent within the military and the government, the moral disaster of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, the rise of an intractable civil war, and now an incapacity to deal with the singular winner of the war, Iran—all of this has left Americans furious and demanding explanations. Mearsheimer and Walt provide one: the Israel lobby. In this respect, their account is not so much a diagnosis of our polarized era as a symptom of it.

posted by Dan at 11:56 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 27, 2007

This blog post is dedicated to the incoming Fletcher students

Incoming Fletcher students who are curious about taking Classics of International Relations Theory and/or The Art and Science of Statecraft this fall can access the syllabi for these courses at my teaching page.

Those of you determined to take Classics of International Relations Theory would do well to purchase The Landmark Thucydides (edited by Robert Strassler) as soon as possible -- be it through,, or other means.

Those of you determined to take The Art and Science of Statecraft would do well to purchase Statecraft, by Dennis Ross, as soon as possible -- be it through,, or other means.

That is all.

posted by Dan at 09:02 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

John Dickerson sums it up for me

In the wake of Alberto Gonzales' resignation, John Dickerson has a Slate column that nicely summarizes a big deficit in Bush's managerial style:

The personnel failures make it very hard for Bush fans to defend the president because they so deeply undermine the tenets of his management style as he articulates it. Bush has often talked in almost mystical terms about his ability to take the measure of people by looking them in the eye. His most infamous snap judgment, early in his first term, was peeking into the soul of Vladimir Putin and finding goodness. But even with years of presidential experience, he continues to make terrible judgments about the aptitudes of his own staffers. Harriet Miers and Alberto Gonzales may be very nice people, but they were never competent for the jobs Bush wanted them to have.

In talking about the skills necessary for any president, Bush has almost always focused on personnel first. "If I were interviewing a guy for the job of president," he said when I interviewed him for Time in August 2004, "I'd ask, How do you make decisions? How would you get unfiltered information? Would you surround yourself with hacks? Are you scared of smart people? I've seen the effect of the Oval Office on people. People are prepared to come in and speak their minds, and then they get in there, and the place overwhelms them, and they say, 'Gee, Mr. President, you're looking good.' I need people who can walk in and say, 'Hey, you're not looking so great today.' "

This kind of talk thrilled Bush supporters, but the president has never exercised the kind of emotion-free decision-making he bragged about. When it came to personnel decisions, his personal sense of loyalty, his hostility to the Beltway establishment, and his stubbornness all clouded his judgment. Tolerating incompetence has harmed Bush in any number of ways. The worst of these is locking in the idea that he's oblivious to reality.

This has undoubtedly been a key failing of Bush's managerial style. But it's hardly the only one.

posted by Dan at 02:20 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Some very quick August book recommendations

So, um, I'm a little late on the August book recommentations.

Look, I've been busy. It's not easy defending a nation with ever-expanding borders. Plus, the rash of celebrity scandals have been keeping me occupied. And, of course, guilting Laura McKenna is a time consuming task.

So, this month's book recommendations are designed to be short -- i.e., you can finish them before September 1st. In the interest of wasting no more time, the recommendations will be short as well.

The international relations book is Gregory Clark's A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World. An enlightening and provocative guide to the growth of global economic inequality over the past two centuries. I'm not completely persuaded by it -- the data in the first part of the book seems a bit dodgy at times. But it's arguments cannot be easily dismissed, either.

[How brief is it?--ed.] The first fifteen pages provide the most concise summary of global economic history you will ever read.

The general interest book is Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach. I can't really describe this novel, except to say that it describes the wedding night of a very repressed English couple circa 1962. And the ending surprised me -- and, I suspect, will surprise readers familiar with McEwan's past work.

[How brief is it?--ed. This book can be read, languidly, in an afternoon.]

Go check them out! Quickly!

posted by Dan at 09:57 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, August 24, 2007

In honor of Hugo Chavez and Woody Allen....

Starting in September, Hugo Chavez is going to be shifting Venezuela's clocks forward by a half-hour (to ensure "a more fair distribution of the sunrise" according to Reuters).

An hour I can understand -- but a half-hour?

How long is it going to be before Chavez delivers this kind of speech?

If you liked that clip, then I must encourage you to click here as well.

posted by Dan at 09:48 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

What's so funny about international law?

Every time I think I'm done with the foreign policy community debate, the netroots pull me back in!

John Quiggin responds to my latest post with one of his own. He asks a few questions:

First, is Drezner’s claim that the international law prohibiting aggressive war is a dead letter factually correct? Second, would the US (more precisely, the people of the US) be better off if the option of unilateral resort to (non-defensive) war was taken off the table or at least put further out of reach?
Fortunately, Quiggin also provides his own answers. On the first point:
In particular, outright invasions of one country by another, with the objective of either annexing the target country or installing a puppet government, have been quite rare in the period since 1945. So the claim that international law is a dead letter is far from obvious.
On the second point:
Considered as a state, the US, is the state most likely to have both a “vital national interest” and a physical capacity to enforce international law against aggressive war. Hence the US has an obvious interest in voluntary compliance with that law, and in the willingness of other states to help in its enforcement even in the absence of any direct national interest. So that unless Drezner means to be taken literally in saying that ” every state in the international system” regards international law as an irrelevancy, US actions that undermine international law have adverse consequences for the US as a state. Conversely, a clear commitment from the US to uphold international law has obvious benefits.
Oy. This is going to be a long post.....

On the first, empirical point: Quiggin is factually correct that interstate war has been on the wane since 1945 (though whether a lot of interstate wars were simply replaced by civil wars between state proxies is another question entirely). Asserting that this is due to the ever-growing power of international law would be a reeeeaaaaallly big stretch. There is likely no one satisfactory answer to the question. Liberal internationalists would argue that as the world has become more liberal, it has become more peaceful. The spread of democracy, the rise of economic globalization, and the empowerment of international institutions have all made war a more costly and less desirable option. Realists would provide a different explanation. They would argue that the spread of nuclear weapons among the great powers in the system has provided a powerful dampening effect on systemic international violence. Furthermore, the unparalleled military hegemony of the United States has deterred challengers from using force as a way to affect global order.

For those who believe that the cause of this decline in conflict is the growing power of international law, ask yourself the following question: if U.S. military hegemony disappeared, would you expect the outbreak of war -- and the stability of global governance -- to be the same as today?

On the second point, Quiggin is trying to frame the debate by using the Very Scary Terms "aggressive war" or "non-defensive" war. Aggressive to whom? One state's "aggressive" or "non-defensive" war is another state's "defensive" or "prudential" action.

Even under the aegis of current international law, it is pretty easy to devise justifications for a wide range of military actions. In part this is because -- with profound apologies to Alex Wendt -- international law is what states make of it. If the U.S. can't go to the United Nations to justify action in Grenada, there's always the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. If the Security Council won't support action against Kosovo, NATO will (it's not just the U.S. -- the Warsaw Pact was useful for the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, and it will be interesting from here on out to see how China uses the Shanghai Cooperation Organization). Beyond the EU, there is little to no hierarchy in international law, and there are a sufficient number of international bodies such that a state can find casus belli somewhere (again, I'm not saying whether this is a good thing or not. I'm saying that an ex ante pledge to adhere to international law doesn't work the way Quiggin thinks it does, because there's always a way to forum-shop). The days when a foreign policy leader says, "F&$k it all, I'm invading Poland!" are long gone (actually, they never existed. Even Hitler had Operation Himmler to justify the 1939 invasion of Poland under international law).

The consensus I ascribed to the "foreign policy community" is that the U.S. would not categorically rule out the use of force if its vital interests are threatened. As previously noted, there's a lot of wiggle room on "vital interests." More importantly, however, no state that sees a vital interest threatened believes that it would be waging an aggressive war if it opted for force as a policy option. And no country is going to be comfortable having, say, the United Nations as being the actor that grants them the permission slip to do something (particularly since, as Quiggin himself acknowledges, the UN's power structure is both anti-democratic and woefully anachronistic).

Does this mean international law is so protean as to be completely worthless? No. Henry Farrell has a great post that discusses different IR approaches to international law, which is well worth reading. There are instances where law can constrain state action. My position, however -- and I'd say this is likely the consensus (but not unanimous) view of IR scholars -- is that those constraints are far more powerful in the economic realm than they are in the security realm. And the reason is that the stakes are perceived to be much, much higher in the security realm, and governments are going to be risk averse on these issues (click here for the classic formulation of this point).

UPDATE: Because all current debates of this type go back to Iraq, Robert Farley makes some interesting points related to questions of defining "national interest" as well as adherence to international law with regard to Iraq:

I'm actually not sure how far the interrogation of the "national interest" concept gets us in terms of Iraq. While O'Hanlon and Pollack may have made mention of the national interest in some media fora, for the most part both of them made concrete (and wrong) arguments about how the invasion would forward some particular interest, thus avoiding the nebulous national interest justification. Indeed, I'm pretty sure that Pollack even included the furtherance of multilateral institutions as part of the reason for invading Iraq, thus suggesting that international law has a value that should be included in the US interest calculus. Some arguments for invading Iraq were quite explicit on this point, suggesting that the invasion was the only way to "save" international law and the United Nations, which was on the verge of failure because of the spiteful French.

On the whole, in fact, liberal hawks (and even some conservatives) made much more rhetorical use of international law and a sophisticated understanding of the national interest than did some opponents of the invasion. In the international relations community, "national interest" is a concept most often used by realists, who while recognizing the problems with the term still find it analytically useful. Realists, however, were among the firmest opponents of the Iraq War, which was especially notable given the fact that realists tend not to care a whit for international law or humanitarian issues.

What this all amounts to, I think, is that while the use of "national interest" as political rhetoric is full of problems, challenging the concept doesn't do much for us in the context of the Iraq War. Proponents of the war tended to make wrong, but sophisticated, arguments that invoked particular values rather than nebulous "interest", while at least some opponents (realists in the academic community, especially) held to the least sophisticated conception of national interest, but still opposed the war.

ANOTHER UPDATE: On a related point, Matthew Yglesias protests that without ex ante definitions of "vital interest," the term is useless: "The question isn't would you use force when you thought it was vital to do so, the question is when is it vital to use force?.... Without answering it, these formulae take on a pretty tautological quality."

I'm sympathetic to this point, certainly, but my guess is that no laundry list provided by the candidates will ever satisfactorily answer his question. In 1949, South Korea was not thought to be in our area of "vital interests" -- until it was invaded.

Defining vital interests to U.S. foreign policy is like Potter Stewart's definition of pornography -- you know it when you see it.

posted by Dan at 08:19 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Children under 17 must read this blog accompanied by an adult

So much for this being a family blog:


This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words: drugs (6 times) hell (3 times) and porn (1 time).

Hat tip: that unspeakably dirty Opinio Juris blog.

posted by Dan at 11:33 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I, for one, would watch this show

Alex Tabarrok proposes So You Think You Can Be President? One proposed segment:

Game Theory: Candidates compete in a game of Diplomacy. I would also include several ringers - say Robin Hanson, Bryan Caplan and Salma Hayek. Why these three? Robin is cold, calculating and merciless - make a logical mistake and he will make you pay. Bryan is crafty and experienced. And Salma? I couldn't refuse her anything but presidents should be made of stronger stuff so we need a test.
Diplomacy and Salma. Oh, that's hot.

posted by Dan at 09:42 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Exploring the wiggle room

John Quiggin asks some valid questions about my rephrasing of Glenn Greenwald's take of how foreign policy analysts think about the use of force ("The number one rule of the bi-partisan foreign policy community is that America can invade and attack other countries when vital American interests are threatened. Paying homage to that orthodoxy is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to maintaining good standing within the foreign policy community.")

Unless “vital national interest” is construed so narrowly as to be equivalent to “self-defence”, this is a direct repudiation of the central founding principle of international law, prohibiting aggressive war as a crime against peace, indeed, the supreme international crime. It’s more extreme than the avowed position of any recent US Administration – even the invasion of Iraq was purportedly justified on the basis of UN resolutions, rather than US self-interest. Yet, reading this and other debates, it seems pretty clear that Drezner’s position is not only generally held in the Foreign Policy Community but is regarded, as he says, as a precondition for serious participation in foreign policy debates in the US.

A couple of questions arise. First, is this rule supposed to apply only to the US? Second, can the elastic phrase “vital national interest” be spelt out? To take an obvious example, does unfettered access to natural resources like oil count as a “vital national interest”? If so, it seems pretty clear that vital national interests of different countries will regularly come into conflict, and (unless this is a US-only rule) that both parties in such a situation are justified in going to war.

Quiggin is overinterpreting what I wrote, but that's partly my fault -- remember, this was my attempt to rephrase Greenwald's definition with less incendiary language. It's not how I would have phrased it starting from scratch.

To repeat, there's significant wiggle room in the definition. As Quiggin notes, what constitutes a "vital national interest" is far from a settled debate. More importantly, however, is the word "can" as opposed to "should" in my definition. As I said before, there is a big difference between not taking force off the table as a policy option and advocating its use in a particular situation. As Quiggin observes, force is a really messy option and carries horrendous costs. And there's clearly been a shift among foreign policy analysts in recent years about the costs of military statecraft. Still, for any state, the greatest utility of military force comes not from its use but from the possibility of its use. For that reason, it would be unwise for any foreign policy leader to categorically reject the use of force or other forms of coercion for a class of crises. [UPDATE: here's an interesting counterfactual question: would the 1999 Kosovo war have ended more quickly, with less loss of life, if Bill Clinton had not initially ruled out the use of ground troops?]

This relates to one of Quiggin's other questions -- yes, I would say that foreign policy experts in the United States expect that foreign policy experts in other countries make this exact calculation about the use of military force. China will not take force off the table in thinking about Taiwan. Russia is clearly not taking force off the table in thinking about the Arctic region. Again, this is different from saying that experts and advisors in either country wants to use force or think that it's the best policy option. It's just not ruled out.

Quiggin is clearly bothered by the idea that this conception of the use of force is a violation of international law -- nay, "the supreme international crime." Without making a normative comment one way or the other, most positive analyses of world politics would conclude that there hasn't been a whole lot of adherence to that tenet of international law. As James Joyner observes:

The UN Charter’s outlawing of war has, from its outset, been observed only in the breach. It has stopped the United States from declaring war but not from going to war.
This applies to every other state in the international system as well. Quiggin wants international law to be a powerfully binding constraint on state action. That's nice, but what Quiggin wants and what actually happens are two very different animals. [The netroots will label this as "cynical"!!--ed. I'd label it as an accurate reading of recent and long-standing international history.]

Furthermore, there is nothing in what I wrote that says the United States should not seek approval from the UN Security Council or other international bodies when it uses force. The overwhelming majority of U.S. deployments of force in the post-Cold War era received the blessing of the United Nations. Indeed, even the Bush administration, for all its unilateral proclivities, actively sought Security Council approval of its actions against Iraq both before and after the 2003 invasion. So another element of the U.S. foreign policy community's consensus would be to seek as much international support as possible if force is being considered.

It's just that gaining that support is not viewed as a necessary condition for the use of force. It never has been in the United States -- or for any great power.

posted by Dan at 09:10 AM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

Iran's regime adds bribery and extortion to its bag of tricks

Yesterday the Iranian regime released Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian-American academic (one of four U.S. academics the regime has arrested and imprisoned in the past year). She did not get away scot-free, however. In the New York Times, Nazila Fathi and Neil MacFarquhar explain Tehran's latest innovation:

Ms. Esfandiari’s mother had to post bail worth around $324,000, according to Iranian news reports. Ms. Esfandiari’s husband, Shaul Bakhash, said her mother had put up her apartment as collateral. She lives on the pension of her late husband, a retired civil servant, Mr. Bakhash said, and her apartment is all she owns. The Web site Baztab, run by the former head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, called the sum the average price of an apartment in Tehran.

Reached by telephone, Ms. Esfandiari’s mother said only that her daughter was resting and would not elaborate.

Bail in prominent cases — though often quite high in Iranian terms — has become more common, said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. An Iranian-Canadian academic released on significant bail last year was allowed to leave the country, for example, but has been closemouthed about his imprisonment because the deeds to his home and the home of his mother are being held as collateral.

“Sometimes it is simply because keeping them in prison has become too politically expensive,” said Abbas Milani, the director of the Iranian studies program at Stanford University. “Sometimes they are finished with a person but don’t want to leave them completely out of their control.”

Mr. Milani said that in jailing Ms. Esfandiari and the others, the Iranian regime had succeeded in intimidating the intellectual class, with many of them reluctant to attend any kind of conference abroad, while those living around the world with family members in Iran have become more circumspect. The overall affect has been to make American support and any interior soft revolution even more remote, he said. Iranian experts interviewed in the United States said the detention and intimidation of prominent intellectuals, artists and filmmakers, along with prohibiting them from traveling abroad even if they are dual nationals, has been far more extensive than has been reported.

Ms. Esfandiari went to Iran last year to visit her mother, who has been ill. She was barred from leaving the country in December, and underwent months of interrogation before being jailed in May.

posted by Dan at 08:09 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"Political scientists are anti-dowdy"

That's just one of the many brilliant insights I come up with in my latest bloggingheads diavlog with Megan McArdle -- who is "the world's tallest female econoblogger" according to her new Atlantic site.

Among the topics discussed -- the foreign policy community, the netroots, imperialism, New York under Giuliani, Wall Street jitters, and why everyone hates Megan (something to do with white jeans).

Go check it out!

UPDATE: Laura McKenna weighs in on several topics covered in the diavlog. "Pointy sling backs" are involved.

posted by Dan at 11:48 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Your Giuliani quote of the day
Rudy was perfectly capable of getting crazy, stupid ideas, and then forcing them on everyone else, when there was absolutely no sex involved.
Megan McArdle, over at her shiny new Atlantic digs.
posted by Dan at 02:13 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

NESN's greatest moment.... ever

It might be impossible for me to ever watch this video clip from last year without laughing. In honor of its one-year anniversary, here it is:

"Braveheart my ass!"

Hat tip:'s Jonah Keri.

[You're just trying to distract attention from the fact that since you incurred the wrath of the baseball gods, the Yankees have lopped seven and a half games off of Boston's lead!!--ed. Feh. As Bryan Tsao points out, the Red Sox are sitting a lot prettier than Red Sox Nation realizes.

posted by Dan at 01:53 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

What did the foreign policy community think about Iraq?

James Joyner has an interesting essay in TCS Daily that takes a closer look at what the "foreign policy community" said about Iraq prior to and immediately after the conflict:

While there are several substantive issues within the debate that interest me, what is most striking is that the basic premise - that most foreign policy public intellectuals supported the Iraq War - didn't comport at all with my recollection of the contemporaneous debate. During that period, I was working as the foreign affairs acquisitions editor for a D.C. area publishing house and reading the literature and attending conferences and think tank presentations on a constant basis.

I recalled a security policy community dominated by Realists were almost universally opposed to the war. Perhaps, though, my perceptions were colored by my own biases and the passage of time? I decided that it was worth a long journey through the Foreign Affairs archives to test my memory [Joyner also looks at the Foreign Policy and International Security archives--DD.]. The results are very much a mixed bag....

What's striking [about the archives] is not so much the unanimity of opinion but rather the dearth of articles on the most important foreign policy debate of the day. This trend was to continue for quite some time, despite a bi-monthly publication schedule. Indeed, several issues had no articles at all whose titles or precis suggested more than a tangential mention of Iraq....

In 2004 and afterwards, as one might expect, there were plenty of articles in the magazine critical of the war....

What's striking, though, is how "business as usual" the article selection remained throughout the entire period. Entire issues went by without an article on Iraq or even the Middle East and most issues continued to have the standard mix of articles on Africa, the global economy, environmental issues, human rights, and so forth. Indeed, it might have escaped the attention of a casual observer glancing at the covers (which list the prominent articles in each issue) that the country was at war....

Nonetheless, it appears that the leftist critique, especially Benen's, is right: Despite the overwhelming view of security scholars I encountered in academic conferences and at think tank presentations, the foreign policy Establishment treated the war with dispassion, seemingly afraid to take a strong stand. More importantly, it treated the march to war as a mere curiosity no more worthy of attention than presidential elections in Brazil, whether World Trade Organization judges had too much power, or economic reform in Japan.

That, more than being wrong in their predictions about the future, is the real failure of the foreign policy community. None of us has a crystal ball and our analyses of prospective events are frequently going to fall short. Public policy experts merely owe the public their best reasoning and to engage in a vigorous debate when no consensus exists.

I have a slightly different take than Joyner. First off, a journal like Foreign Affairs is an imperfect subject for this kind of analysis. The lag time between submission and publication can be several months, and I suspect that the speed with which Iraq got to the frontburner overtook publicaton schedules. (Parenthetically, if you check other archives, like The Washington Quarterly's, you'll find some prescient pieces).

[UPDATE: For comparison, I checked the Foreign Affairs archives for 1990-91 to see what happened prior to the first Gulf War. The only pre-war discussion appeared in the Winter1990/91 issue, with articles by Fouad Ajami and Stanley Reed. Neither of those addressed the validity of going to war or not.]

As Joyner acknowledges, "there are forums other than elite foreign affairs journals for experts to influence the public debate." A great B.A. or M.A. thesis, by the way, would be to comb through the op-ed archives of the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today to see what was said there (if someone's done this already, please send it along). [UPDATE: In The American Prospect, Todd Gitlin did a partial analysis of the Washington Post op-ed page.]

Second, there are several reasons why foreign policy public intellectuals would not have written about Iraq in 2002-3. Kevin Drum lists some of the careerist reasons here, and that likely played a part. But another explanation is that it's possible to possess genuine expertise on a foreign policy issue and not have anything close to expertise about invading Iraq (I certainly fall into this category, which is why I only discussed the question on the blog). You can't expect someone writing about presidential elections in Brazil, World Trade Organization judges, or economic reform in Japan to suddenly shift gears and focus on Iraq in thei publications. It might be more accurate for Joyner to criticize the editors of foreign policy elite journals for running too many non-Iraq pieces in 2002-3.

I understand the anger directed at the "foreign policy community" -- I just think the indictment is way too broad.

posted by Dan at 08:57 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 20, 2007

OK, we're making some progress here....

Blog debates tend to have diminishing marginal returns after the initial volley of posts, so I'd like to walk away from debating Glenn Greenwald before we run into Godwin's Law.

Fortunately, his latest post clarifies our points of agreement and disagreement quite nicely.

First, I think we're in agreement about the following:

1) You can critique members of the foreign policy community (FPC) for getting Iraq wrong -- but they are not responsible for the war itself. As Greenwald says:
The Bush administration would have invaded Iraq no matter who was on board. They only sought an AUMF from Congress once Congress promised to vote in favor of it.... So in that regard, Drezner's point is correct that the war would have happened even without the FPC "scholars" cheering it on.
Of course, many on the left -- including Greenwald -- still think that liberal FPC members played a legitimating role. That might be true, but that's a very different discussion than saying these people are responsible for the war.

2) Ideological rigidity or narrowness is bad. Greenwald writes:

Personally, I would not want a foreign policy community composed solely or predominantly of netroots ideologues. Debates benefit from a clash of ideas, from inclusion of the full spectrum of positions. That is precisely the point.
Fair enough. At this point, the netroots perspective on U.S. foreign policy certainly deserves more of a hearing than the neoconservatives.
Greenwald and I factually disagree about the following:
1) The reputational costs incurred by Iraq hawks within the foreign policy community. Greenwald believes that O'Hanlon and Pollack have not paid a steep enough price for their past mistakes:
[T]he credibility hits are still relatively minor -- they can still walk onto the Op-Ed pages of the NYT, WP and cable news shows at will, will still be treated as "serious experts," and almost certainly will occupy key national security positions in the next Democratic administration, particularly in a Clinton administration. That is rather extraordinary, given how consistently, unrepentantly, dishonestly, destructively and fundamentally wrong they have been about the single most important foreign policy question of our time.
I disagree -- in fact, I'll bet Greenwald that neither Pollack nor O'Hanlon will be given a Senate-confirmable position in any Democratic administration. Furthermore, as Shadi Hamid observes, neoconservatives have lost a lot of influence inside the beltway. But this is a matter of interpretation going forward, so we'll see.

2) The extent of the post-Iraq shift within the FPC. Greenwald writes:

[There have been] some rhetorical changes on the margins. But the central premises that led us into Iraq -- particularly the right of the U.S. to use military force even against countries that have not attacked us and the placement of faith in the ability of wars to achieve complex ends -- seem as strong as ever. Compare who the "experts" are and what they are saying now (about, for instance, Iran and Iraq) to the ones who were predominant in 2003 and one sees very little difference.
OK, let's go to the latest Center for American Progress survey of foreign policy wonks. We find the following:
Chastened by the fighting in Iraq, the U.S national security community also appears eager not to make the same mistakes elsewhere. For instance, though a majority—83 percent—do not believe Tehran when it says its nuclear program is intended for peaceful, civilian purposes, just 8 percent favor military strikes in response. Eight in 10, on the other hand, say the United States should use either sanctions or diplomatic talks to negotiate an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Similarly, a majority of the experts favor some kind of engagement with groups that may be labeled terrorist organizations but have gained popular support at the ballot box, such as Hamas in the Palestinian Territories or Hezbollah in Lebanon. It’s one indication that, after six years, we may be entering a new chapter in the war on terror.
To me this is more than a marginal shift. These numbers would have looked radically different in 2003.
Greenwald and I conceptually disagree about the following:
1) The utility of the term "imperial". Greenwald writes:
[A]nyone who challenges the general entitlement of the U.S. to intervene at will is generally relegated to the leftist fringes, and "pacifist" is a nice dismissive slur that accomplishes that.

By stark contrast, I use the term "imperialist" because it is accurately describes the predominant foreign policy ideology, not because it demonizes.

Give me a break. I certainly did not mean "pacifist" as a dismissive slur -- but Greenwald took it that way. Funny how the words you believe to be value-neutral are interpreted in a different way by others.

Does he seriously believe that members of the foreign policy community would not take the term "imperial" as pejorative? It's a loaded term, and as this back-and-forth with Greenwald suggests, conceptually slippery enough to be of little use. Citing a few examples of its use in mainstream discourse is insufficient. Beyond a brief embrace of the term by neocons between 2001 and 2003, the concept is viewed as tainted inside the beltway.

If Greenwald and the netroots want to hold onto the "imperial" categorization, that's their choice. But it's a loaded term that will poison any debate with the foreign policy community.

There's more conceptual disagreement (I don't think the foreign policy community is as big into "slaughtering innocents" as Greenwald claims), but that's a good statement of the lay of the land of what has, so far, been a fruitful debate from my perspective.

Let's hear it from the commenters.

UPDATE: Over at Democracy Arsenal, Michael Cohen offers a rejoinder to Greenwald that is also worth reading.

posted by Dan at 05:26 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

Darn that ideological rigidity!!

Wow, Glenn Greenwald is right, there is a remarkable consensus among America's "foreign policy community" about the use of force:

No effort of the U.S. government was more harshly criticized, however, than the war in Iraq. In fact, that conflict appears to be the root cause of the experts’ pessimism about the state of national security. Nearly all—92 percent—of the index’s experts said the war in Iraq negatively affects U.S. national security, an increase of 5 percentage points from a year ago. Negative perceptions of the war in Iraq are shared across the political spectrum, with 84 percent of those who describe themselves as conservative taking a dim view of the war’s impact. More than half of the experts now oppose the White House’s decision to “surge” additional troops into Baghdad, a remarkable 22 percentage-point increase from just six months ago. Almost 7 in 10 now support a drawdown and redeployment of U.S. forces out of Iraq.

Chastened by the fighting in Iraq, the U.S national security community also appears eager not to make the same mistakes elsewhere. For instance, though a majority—83 percent—do not believe Tehran when it says its nuclear program is intended for peaceful, civilian purposes, just 8 percent favor military strikes in response. Eight in 10, on the other hand, say the United States should use either sanctions or diplomatic talks to negotiate an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Similarly, a majority of the experts favor some kind of engagement with groups that may be labeled terrorist organizations but have gained popular support at the ballot box, such as Hamas in the Palestinian Territories or Hezbollah in Lebanon. It’s one indication that, after six years, we may be entering a new chapter in the war on terror.

Here's the list of experts who participated in the survey (which includes your humble blogger).

Click here to read the full report.

If only the netroots could save us from these imperialist pig-dogs. Or, as one conservative blogger characterized the list of experts, "a Kos Convention for George Soros."

UPDATE: More on this point in this post.

posted by Dan at 02:50 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Taking Glenn Greenwald seriously

Glenn Greenwald has a post up in response to yesterday's flurry of blog exchanges between the "netroots" and "foreign policy community."

In his post, he critiques my critique of his critique of the "foreign policy community" as follows:

[T]he notion that the U.S. should not attack another country unless that country has attacked or directly threatens our national security is not really extraordinary. Quite the contrary, that is how virtually every country in the world conducts itself, and it is a founding principle of our country. Starting wars against countries that have not attacked you, and especially against those who cannot attack you, is abnormal. Drezner refers to my "very strange definition of imperialism," but the belief that military force can be used whenever we decide that our vaguely defined "national interests" would be served by such a war is the hallmark of an imperial power.

It may very well serve our "national interests" to start a war because we want to control someone else's resources, or because we think it would be good if they had a different government, or because we want the world to fear us, or because we want to change the type of political system they have, or because they aren't complying with our dictates, or because we want to use their land as military bases, or because they are going to acquire weapons we tell them they are not allowed to have. But those who believe that war is justifiable and desirable under those circumstances are, by definition, espousing an imperial ideology.

Ruling the world that way through superior military force -- starting wars even when our national security is not directly at risk -- is the definitional behavior of an empire. And, without even realizing that he is doing so, Drezner defends the Foreign Policy Community by describing, accurately, its central, unquestioned orthodoxy as embracing precisely this view of America's role in the world. That is the whole point here.

In the Foreign Policy Community, these propositions are virtually never debated and anyone who contests them is almost certain to have their Seriousness credentials questioned, if not revoked. The only real "debate" that takes place within the Community are tactical and implementation questions, all within the assumed belief that the U.S. should act as a hegemonic power and can and should use military force at will.

That is why war opponents on the "left" -- including bloggers -- were and still are deemed Unserious even though they proved to be correct. Their opposition was not based (at least principally) on the belief that we were using the wrong "force deployment packages," that the timing was wrong, that we should have waited a little longer (that type of "opposition" was the only permitted type). Rather, it was largely based on the notion that the war itself was illegitimate because Iraq had not attacked us and could not threaten our national security, and that going around bombing, invading and occupying other countries which haven't attacked us is both immoral and/or self-destructive.

Yet these days, expressing that rather ordinary belief -- that it is wrong to start a war against a country except where they attack you, are about to, or directly threaten your national security (such as by harboring terrorist groups waging attacks on your country) -- will subject you to the accusation that you are a "pacifist," a term Daniel Drezer (sic) incoherently (though revealingly) applies to me.

That is how far we have come, how low we have fallen, how recklessly and extraordinarily pro-war we are as a country as a result of our Foreign Policy Community. Now, if you believe that we should wage war only when a country actually attacks us or threatens our national security, then you are a "pacifist," an unserious leftist who is removed from mainstream discourse....

There is nothing wrong per se with our foreign policy establishment embracing rigid ideological views. But it ought not pretend to be something other than that. And the ideology it has embraced, and the ideologues who exert the greatest influence and command the most respect within it, have engendered disasters of unparalleled magnitude. At the very least, that ought to lead to exactly what the Foreign Policy Community hates most -- namely, an examination of whether our "experts" really still deserve to have their opinions treated with respect and their judgments assumed to be reliable, apolitical and, most of all, serious.

Contra his implication, I think Greenwald's points should be taken seriously, so let me respond in kind:

1) As I explained in my updated post, I was wrong to label Greenwald a "pacifist", and I apologize to Greenwald for the incorrect labeling. "Non-interventionism" or perhaps "Jeffersonian" would have been better terms. That was a poor word choice by me on an important point, and unfortunately it seems to have distracted many from the primary points of disagreement. Sorry.

It is ironic, however, that Greenwald is complaining about being crudely lumped together with others who would agree with him about Iraq, since his original post did an awful lot of lumping together of disparate views by members of the "foreign policy community." So let's move on.

2) Greenwald is using an overly expansive definition of imperialism. "[T]he belief that military force can be used whenever we decide that our vaguely defined 'national interests' would be served by such a war" is a necessary but not sufficient condition for an imperial power. Indeed, by that definition, China, India, Russia, the European Union (the UK and France in particular), Australia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Nigeria are also imperial powers. Greenwald's definition is way too permissive, in that it includes all states that have used force in the past few decades. Using the word "imperial" to describe what great powers have been doing for decades pretty much strips the term of any concrete meaning.

For useful (and academic) debates on whether the United States is an empire, click here and here. It's worth observing that the article more sympathetic to Greenwald's position on imperialism nevertheless concludes that: "Decades-long geopolitical developments have, in fact, tended to render American relations less, rather than more, imperial in character.... the salience of even informal imperial relations in American foreign policy, as we noted earlier, may be in decline." So much for the powerful influence of the imperialist foreign policy community.

3) Greenwald is conflating an awful lot of disparate but "mainstream" views within his definition of the "foreign policy community." There is a big difference between not taking force off the table as a policy option and vigorously advocating its use. As I said in my previous post, there are vigorous debates about what constitutes a "vital national interest" Greenwald himself acknowledges that force should be an option when other countries "directly threaten your national security" or harbor terrorist groups that will do the same. How does one define direct threats to national security? For the United States, would civil war in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan qualify? Should the use of force be categorically rejected in both cases? Does Iran's links to the Khobar Towers bombing justify the use of force against Teheran, as per Greenwald's criteria?

These are important questions, and they're being debated amongst members of the foreign policy community. Greenwald seems to think that "rigid ideological views" have stifled such a debate. But consider that you can't get more "foreign policy community" than Brent Scowcroft, and he vigorously opposed attacking Iraq. Does Greenwald believe Scowcroft was "shunned" by the rest of the foreign policy community?

This brings up another point. Greenwald feels that he is not taken seriously by the FPC because he did not support the war in Iraq. But respecting others' opinions has a reciprocal quality to it, and it doesn't seem to me that Greenwald is taking those who disagree with him seriously at all. Is labeling everyone within the so-called foreign policy community as "imperialist" useful to promoting an exchange of ideas?

4) Greenwald did not address some of the points I made in my last post, so I'll rephrase them here:

a) Do you believe that analysts like O'Hanlon and Pollack have the same credibility now that they did in 2002?

What about the neocons? Over at Democracy Arsenal, Shadi Hamid points out:

Maybe a handful of neocons are still around and kicking, in places like AEI perhaps. But PNAC, the former standard-bearer of the movement, appears to have fallen off the face of the earth, while analysts like Steve Clemons has documented extensively how the neocons are an embattled and dwindling minority in the Bush administration. In short, as a movement, they are significantly weaker and less respected now than they were, say, 4 years ago, which makes me wonder if Greenwald is using a different definition than I am.
Even within the Bush administration itself, U.S. foreign policy in 2007 looks very different from U.S. foreign policy in 2002.

b) Do you believe that the "foreign policy community" enabled the Iraq War? Given the political facts of life in the fall of 2002, do you really think that think tank protests would have derailed the war? Is a failure to oppose Iraq the same thing as cheerleading the invasion?

In response to InstaPutz, this difference matters. It is one thing to chastise an analyst for getting his or her analysis of invading Iraq wrong. It is an entirely different (and, yes, more egregious) thing to accuse them of "taking us to war" or "has nontrivial responsibility for the hundreds of thousands dead."

c) Do you believe that the political and policy conditions that made the Iraq war possible in 2002 are still present today? You point to Pollack and (Fred) Kagan getting together, but what about the universe of wonks and analysts beyond Pollack, Kagan, and O'Hanlon? Do you really believe that the rest of the "foreign policy community" has the same view of the costs and benefits of military action that they held five years ago. I certainly don't -- and neither does the Center for American Progress. For example, the ridicule that Rudy Giuliani's essay received in "mainstream" quarters suggests that the ground has shifted.

This doesn't mean I categorically reject the use of force either -- but, as I said above, there's a difference between considering force as a viable policy option and then deciding to use it.

d) You accuse the foreign policy community of holding "rigid ideological views." After hearing reports about, say, YearlyKos, in what way are the outsiders you want included in the conversation more ideologically diverse? Indeed, would a netroots-driven foreign policy community be any more tolerant of ideas than the group you've been lambasting?

There's a lot more, but that can be dealt with in future posts. If Greenwald wants a serious dialogue, I'm happy to engage him.

UPDATE: Greenwald responds to my post here. He's clearly far quicker in being able to compose large blocks of prose than I, so I might be a bit slower in responding. It's a useful, nay, "serious" response, however, and well worth reading.

ANOTHER UPDATE: My reply is here.

posted by Dan at 09:32 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The cultural question of the summer

Which version of "Umbrella" is better?

Here's Rihanna:

Here's Mandy Moore:
Finally, there's YouTube phenomenom Marie Digby's version:

I think it's Rihanna, hands down. [Oh, you, always siding with "professionals"!!--ed.]

posted by Dan at 07:07 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Where's the netroots when you need them?

Despite my latest jabs at the netroots, I don't think their argument is completely without merit. There are issues where the foreign policy community, like any community, begins to placidly accept consensus without going back and questioning first principles. Like, say, the War on Drugs.

In the Washington Post, Misha Glenny discusses the costs of this disastrous 35-year policy quagmire:

Thirty-six years and hundreds of billions of dollars after President Richard M. Nixon launched the war on drugs, consumers worldwide are taking more narcotics and criminals are making fatter profits than ever before. The syndicates that control narcotics production and distribution reap the profits from an annual turnover of $400 billion to $500 billion. And terrorist organizations such as the Taliban are using this money to expand their operations and buy ever more sophisticated weapons, threatening Western security.

In the past two years, the drug war has become the Taliban's most effective recruiter in Afghanistan. Afghanistan's Muslim extremists have reinvigorated themselves by supporting and taxing the countless peasants who are dependent one way or another on the opium trade, their only reliable source of income. The Taliban is becoming richer and stronger by the day, especially in the east and south of the country. The "War on Drugs" is defeating the "war on terror."....

In Washington, the war on drugs has been a third-rail issue since its inauguration. It's obvious why -- telling people that their kids can do drugs is the kiss of death at the ballot box. But that was before 9/11. Now the drug war is undermining Western security throughout the world. In one particularly revealing conversation, a senior official at the British Foreign Office told me, "I often think we will look back at the War on Drugs in a hundred years' time and tell the tale of 'The Emperor's New Clothes.' This is so stupid."

How right he is.

If the netroots really want to expose third rails in the foreign policy community, take this issue and run with it.

posted by Dan at 06:57 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

The netroots' foreign policy calculus

Matthew Yglesias responds to Gideon Rose's critique of the netroots critique on the foreign policy community (discussed here). The highlights:

Rose would, I think, like to make this a conversation about expertise and professionalism. But I'm not, and I don't think anyone in the blogosphere is, against expertise and professionalism. The question is whether some of our country's self-proclaimed experts -- and media proclaimed experts -- really deserve to be considered experts. What, for example, is the nature of Michael O'Hanlon's expertise on the broad range of subjects (his official bio lists him as an expert on "Arms treaties; Asian security issues; Homeland security; Iraq policy; Military technology; Missile defense; North Korea policy; Peacekeeping operations; Taiwan policy, military analysis; U.S. defense strategy and budget") upon which he comments? Obviously, it would be foolish to just let me speak ex cathedra as an "expert" on the dizzying array of subjects on which I comment, but it seems equally foolish to let O'Hanlon do so, especially since his judgment seems so poor. I made a stab at a systemic difference between think tank people and professionals in the public sector, but Rose raises some convincing points to the effect that this dichotomy isn't as sharp as I wanted it to be. Still, we can certainly talk about specific individuals -- particularly individuals who seem to be unusually prominent or influential -- and whether or not they really deserve to be held in high esteem.

What's needed isn't less expertise, but better expertise and above all more honest expertise.

After wading through all this, I'm somewhat sympathetic to Yglesias' point. If one believes in the utility of markets to correctly align incentives, then a price should be paid when foreign policy community experts screw up.

Nevertheless, I have three cavils:

1) While O'Hanlon and Pollack haven't lost their jobs, is it correct to say that they've paid no price for their past errors? Beyond blogospheric ridicule, I'm willing to bet that far fewer people paid attention to Pollack's Iran book than his Iraq book, for example. Bloggers would counter that they are still appearing in the NYT op-ed page and Meet the Press; I would counter that if those interventions are accorded less weight by the audience, then a price has been paid. The netroots might want to exact their pound of flesh, but these guys' reputation has suffered (especially after today's New York Times op-ed). Inside the beltway, this loss of reputation is significant.

2) Is it correct to extrapolate from Pollack and O'Hanlon's errors on Iraq to an indictment of the entire "foreign plicy community" on all foreign policy questions? That seems to be what Atrios, Greenwald, and Yglesias in his earlier posts were attempting, and that's an awfully big leap.

Greenwald, in particular, is making critiques that go way beyond individual analysts. During the latest contretemps, Greenwald wrote:

The Number One Rule of the bi-partisan Foreign Policy Community is that America has the right to invade and attack other countries at will because American power is inherently good and our role in the world is to rule it though the use of superior military force. Paying homage to that imperialistic orthodoxy is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to maintaining Good Standing and Seriousness Credentials within the Foreign Policy Community.
Let's excise some of the adjectives and rephrase the wording a bit:
The number one rule of the bi-partisan foreign policy community is that America can invade and attack other countries when vital American interests are threatened. Paying homage to that orthodoxy is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to maintaining good standing within the foreign policy community.
I suspect that anyone who accepts the concept of a "national interest" in the first place would accept that phrasing. As a paid-up member of the Foreign Policy Community (FPC), I certainly would. And I also suspect that Greenwald would not accept this formulation -- it would contradict both his pacifism strict non-interventionism and his very strange definition of imperialism. Indeed, I'm not ntirely sure that Greenwald would accept the concept of "national interest," period.

Does this mean, as Greenwald implies, that there is no debate within the FPC? Hell no. There can and should be vigorous debates over what constitutes a "vital national interest," whether force should be used multilaterally or unilaterally, what other policy tools should be used, etc. That's not a small zone of disagreement. Indeed, as Chris Sullentrop pointed out in March 2003, Pollack's Threatening Storm rebuked an awful lot of the Bush administration's approach to Iraq.

3) A plain truth needs to be said: if, in the fall of 2002, O'Hanlon, Pollack, and the entire Brookings staff had marched on the White House and then immolated themselves in protest over the possibility of going to war in Iraq, it would not have made the slightest bit of difference in halting the war. This goes double if the AEI or Heritage staffers had done it.

In the fall of 2002, you had the following political situation:

a) A president with a 70% approval rating;

b) A Republican-controlled House and a Senate that was barely controlled by the Dems;

c) A Democraic Party that was haunted by what had happened to Senators who voted against the 1991 Gulf War (two words: Sam Nunn);

d) A military that had made its recent wars (Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Gulf War I) seem quick and merciful;

e) A sanctions coalition in Iraq that seemed to be fraying;

f) Fresh scars from the 9/11 attacks;

g) An adversary that elicited little sympathy from anyone -- especially the American people.

The moment George W. Bush decided he wanted to oust Saddam Hussein, the debate was effectively over. Nothing the foreign policy community did or could have done affected the outcome (Pollack is a possible exception -- The Threatening Storm did play the role of "useful cover" for many Democrats, but if it wasn't Pollack's book it would have been something else). The members of the "foreign policy community" were not the enablers of Iraq, because no enabling was necessary.

The good news is that conditions (a) through (f) no longer apply. So, contra the netroots, I don't think what happened in the fall of 2002 will happen again with, say, Iran.

UPDATE: Ilan Goldenberg has an interesting post at Democracy Arsenal about distinguishing experts from "experts" when it comes to the Middle East. Atrios is thoroughly unimpressed.

Kevin Drum makes some interesting points in this post. This point augments what I wrote above:

Sure, the war skeptics might have been afraid to go against the herd, but I think that was just an outgrowth of something more concrete: a fear of being provably wrong. After all, everyone agreed that Saddam Hussein was a brutal and unpredictable thug and almost everyone agreed that he had an active WMD program. (Note: Please do some research first if you want to disagree with this. The plain fact is that nearly everyone — liberal and conservative, American and European, George Bush and Al Gore — believed Saddam was developing WMDs. This unanimity started to break down when the UN inspections failed to turn up anything, but before that you could count the number of genuine WMD doubters on one hand.) This meant that war skeptics had to go way out on a limb: if they opposed the war, and it subsequently turned out that Saddam had an advanced WMD program, their credibility would have been completely shot. Their only recourse would have been to argue that Saddam never would have used his WMD, an argument that, given Saddam's temperament, would have sounded like special pleading even to most liberals. In the end, then, they chickened out, but it had more to do with fear of being wrong than with fear of being shunned by the foreign policy community.
It's also worth pointing out that some foreign policy community-types did argue that a WMD-enabled Saddam would be deterrable. It's just their their writings were pretty much ignored in the debate about Iraq.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Robert Farley responds to all of this here.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Oh, dear, I appear to have upset the mighty Atrios: "Dan Drezner is very serious and we should be listening to him. He's been right about so many things, and he's got the number of that patchouli stinking Greenwald."

Aside from impugning my track record, I'm not entirely sure what Duncan's trying to say. If, as Robert Farley suggests, I might have mislabeled Greenwald as a pacifist (not that there's nothing wrong with that), then I apologize. The thing is, I'm not entirely sure how else to categorize the views he expresses in his post. [Perhaps "non-interventionist" is a more accurate term--ed. See my change above.]

Regardless, this poem is awesome.

EVEN ANOTHER UPDATE... YES, I"M REALLY INTERESTED IN THIS TOPIC: More on this debate from Rick Moran, Michael van der Galiën, and Brian Ulrich.

FINAL UPDATE... OR IS IT?: Gideon Rose follows up on his original post here. You should read the whole thing, but this part does stand out:

[Netroots critiques display] a mindset inimical to foreign policy professionalism. If you don’t see the world in its full context, if you know the answers before you ask the questions, if you consider anybody who disagrees to be a contemptible idiot or traitor, then whatever you’re doing, it isn’t serious policy analysis. Large sectors of the right have gone down this route in the last generation, and now many on the left are joining them.
FINAL UPDATE: Greenwald responds here -- I'll have my response up shortly. My response is here.

posted by Dan at 10:18 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

The operators' view of Iraq

In a stark rebuttal to the O'Hanlon and Pollack op-ed from a few weeks ago, the New York Times runs another op-ed -- this one co-authored by seven enlisted soldiers based in Iraq.

I think it would be safe to say that Army specialist Buddhika Jayamaha, sergeants Wesley D. Smith, Jeremy Roebuck, Omar Mora, and Edward Sandmeier, and staff sergeants Yance T. Gray and Jeremy A. Murphy have a view of Iraq that differs from O'Hanlon and Pollack:

In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a “time-sensitive target acquisition mission” on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side....

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.

At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.

Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.

Read the whole thing.

This op-ed will raise a hornets nest of questions. Once the September report on the surge is issued, there will be a "compare and contrast" exercise between this downbeat assessment of the "operators" of our Iraq policy, as opposed to the "managers" of David Petraeus, Ryan Crocker, and the White House. As John Cole puts it: "While these guys are in the 82nd Airborne, you can see that what they write is sure to infuriate the patriots in the 101st Chairborne."

posted by Dan at 09:06 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The netroots and the neocons

Last week I blogged about some dubious netroots criticism of the "foreign policy community".

Since then, the netroots have been going to town. There's this Glenn Greenwald post... here's a sample:

America is plagued by a self-anointed, highly influential, and insular so-called Foreign Policy Community which spans both political parties. They consider themselves Extremely Serious and have a whole litany of decades-old orthodoxies which one must embrace lest one be declared irresponsible, naive and unserious. Most of these orthodoxies are ossified 50-year-old relics from the Cold War, and the rest are designed to place off limits from debate the question of whether the U.S. should continue to act as an imperial force, ruling the world with its superior military power.
Matthew Yglesias provided his "amen" here.

Gideon Rose, guest-blogging at the Economist, fires back in this post. The highlights:

The funny thing is...hell, I’ll just come out and say it: the netroots' attitude toward professionals isn’t that different from the neocons', both being convinced that the very concept of a foreign-policy clerisy is unjustified, anti-democratic and pernicious, and that the remedy is much tighter and more direct control by the principals over their supposed professional agents.

The charges the bloggers are making now are very similar to those that the neocons made a few years ago: mainstream foreign-policy experts are politicised careerists, biased hacks, and hide-bound traditionalists who have gotten everything wrong in the past and don’t deserve to be listened to in the future. (Take a look at pretty much any old Jim Hoagland column and you’ll see what I mean.) Back then, the neocons directed their fire primarily at the national security bureaucracies—freedom-hating mediocrities at the CIA, pin-striped wussies at the State Department, cowardly soldiers at the Pentagon....

First, many of the people in the various national security bureaucracies are indeed Humphreys, and deserve to have their every move and utterance treated with great skepticism. Second, many of the people at Brookings or CSIS or other top think-tanks are fully as noble, disinterested, serious-minded, and knowledgeable as the best people inside the system, and the notion that they’re not is just cheap cynicism. Third, the idea that there is some Chinese wall separating the professionals inside the system from those outside it is just silly: the higher ranks of the bureaucracies are filled with political appointees, many outside experts have extensive experience inside the system, and the good people in all places tend to know and respect each other.

Bottom line, there just isn’t a good clean answer to the question of how much deference foreign-policy professionals should get from other citizens in a democracy. The populist answer "none" might be appropriate in terms of democratic theory, but it would yield pretty crappy policies in practice. But obviously something like a Federal Reserve for foreign policy would also be absurd, given how nebulous, limited and fallible "professionalism" in this area actually is. Jefferson told us to pay a "due respect to the opinions of mankind"—that seems about right for people with specialized knowledge and experience in the policy arena as well.

I would describe the netroots response to this as mixed.

The moderate elements have reacted like this.

The less moderate elements reacted like this.

I'll react a bit more to this debate over the weekend.

UPDATE: Here's my follow up post.

Finally, I must link to Atrios having some fun with the folks at Democracy Arsenal. As much as it pains me, I have some sympathy for Atrios here, since there have been times when the folks at Democracy Arsenal have confused the living hell out of me.

posted by Dan at 12:43 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Open market thread

Comment away on the financial markets' latest gyrations. Some background reading: 1) The Fed's statement announcing a lowering of the discount rate. This came with a FOMC statement that said:

Financial market conditions have deteriorated, and tighter credit conditions and increased uncertainty have the potential to restrain economic growth going forward. In these circumstances, although recent data suggest that the economy has continued to expand at a moderate pace, the Federal Open Market Committee judges that the downside risks to growth have increased appreciably. The Committee is monitoring the situation and is prepared to act as needed to mitigate the adverse effects on the economy arising from the disruptions in financial markets.
This has made the Dow Jones very happy.

Sound policy or moral hazard? The New York Times today suggests the former, since there were no fundamental changes (though, to me, this story ain't chopped liver).

Keith Bradsher and Jeremy Peters report that 2007 might create the inverse of what happened in 1997:

In the past, when economic growth has stalled in the rest of the world, the United States has usually been there to pick up the slack. Now that dynamic is reversed.

With stock markets plunging around the world on financial worries clearly marked “made in U.S.A.,” and with growing concerns about a possible American economic slowdown, a booming global economy could help contain the damage and even assist the United States in absorbing the shock of the collapsing housing bubble and a credit squeeze.

“We’re no longer in a world where the United States sneezes and the rest of the world catches a cold,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist with Global Insight, an economics research firm in Waltham, Mass. “You’ve got strong growth overseas, and it’s been kind of like a lifeline to the United States from the rest of the world.”

At the same time, Brad Setser observes the paradox of the current liquidity crisis -- despite the fact that it started in the United States, the dollar is still viewed as a safe haven.

Meanwhile, French president Nikolas Sarkozy wants greater G-7 involvement.... which gives me hives for some reason.

UPDATE: The Volokh Conspiracy is on this like white on rice.

posted by Dan at 09:55 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

An interesting definition of free speech

The New York Times' Patricia Cohen reports that John Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt's book-length treatise, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, will be released on September 4th. Because of the controversy, some venues, like the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, have cancelled appearances by the authors.

Part of the problem, however, seems to stem from how Mearsheimer and Walt define "free speech":

“One of the points we make in the book is that this is a subject that’s very hard to talk about,” Mr. Walt said in an interview from his office in Cambridge. “Organizations, no matter how strong their commitment to free speech, don’t want to schedule something that’s likely to cause controversy.”

After the [Chicago Council's] cancellation Roberta Rubin, owner of the Book Stall, a store in Winnetka, Ill., offered to help find a site for the authors. She said she tried a Jewish community center and two large downtown clubs but they all told her “they can’t afford to bring in somebody ‘too controversial.’ ” She added that even she was concerned about inviting authors who might offend customers.

Some of the planned sites, like the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, a cultural center in Washington, would have been host of an event if Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt appeared with opponents, said Esther Foer, the executive director.

Mr. Walt said, “Part of the game is to portray us as so extreme that we have to be balanced by someone from the ‘other side.’ ” Besides, he added, when you’re promoting a book, you want to present your ideas without appearing with someone who is trying to discredit you.

Yes.... I can see how presenting an 'opposing view' stifles free speech and debate.

UPDATE: Mearsheimer and Walt elaborate on why they don't like sharing the stage with the 'other side'. This paragraph is particularly interesting:

One might argue that our views are too controversial to be presented on their own. However, they are seen as controversial only because some of the groups and individuals that we criticized in our original article have misrepresented what we said or leveled unjustified charges at us personally—such as the baseless claim that we (or our views) are anti-Semitic. The purpose of these charges, of course, is to discourage respected organizations like the Council from giving us an audience, or to create conditions where they feel compelled to include “contending views” in order to preserve “balance” and to insulate themselves from external criticism.
I think it's actually pretty easy to parse between charges of anti-Semitism and charges that "The Israel Lobby" is a slipshod work of social science. And, hey, what do you know, so do people quoted in Cohen's story:
As for City University, Aoibheann Sweeney, director of the Center for the Humanities, said, “I looked at the introduction, and I didn’t feel that the book was saying things differently enough” from the original article. Ms. Sweeney, who said she had consulted with others at City University, acknowledged that they had begun planning for an event in September moderated by J. J. Goldberg, the editor of The Forward, a leading American Jewish weekly, but once he chose not to participate, she decided to pass. Mr. Goldberg, who was traveling in Israel, said in a telephone interview that “there should be more of an open debate.” But appearing alone with the authors would have given the impression that The Forward was presenting the event and thereby endorsing the book, he said, and he did not want to do that. A discussion with other speakers of differing views would have been different, he added.

“I don’t think the book is very good,” said Mr. Goldberg, who said he read a copy of the manuscript about six weeks ago. “They haven’t really done original research. They haven’t talked to the people who are being lobbied or those doing the lobbying.”

posted by Dan at 09:18 AM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (0)

Let's re-engage with John Edwards foreign policy vision

Yesterday I took some potshots at Rudy Giuliani's Foreign Affairs essay -- and I wasn't the only one.

In the wake of Giuliani's steaming pile o' crap, however, John Edwards' Foreign Affairs essay "Reengaging With the World," has been badly neglected. The hardworking staff here at will now rectify this omission.

Let's start with the writing. See if you can pick out Edwards' key theme from this introductory paragraph:

We must move beyond the wreckage created by one of the greatest strategic failures in U.S. history: the war in Iraq. Rather than alienating the rest of the world through assertions of infallibility and demands of obedience, as the current administration has done, U.S. foreign policy must be driven by a strategy of reengagement. We must reengage with our history of courage, liberty, and generosity. We must reengage with our tradition of moral leadership on issues ranging from the killings in Darfur to global poverty and climate change. We must reengage with our allies on critical security issues, including terrorism, the Middle East, and nuclear proliferation. With confidence and resolve, we must reengage with those who pose a security threat to us, from Iran to North Korea. And our government must reengage with the American people to restore our nation's reputation as a moral beacon to the world, tapping into our fundamental hope and optimism and calling on our citizens' commitment and courage to make this possible. We must lead the world by demonstrating the power of our ideals, not by stoking fear about those who do not share them.
There's a fine line between emphasizing a phrase for rhetorical effect and bludgeoining the reader into a stupor through mindless repetition. Fortunately, Edwards ignores this line completely and chooses to "reengage" the reader with the literary equivalent of a frying pan to the head.

Then there's this priceless pair of sentences:

What we need is not more slogans but a comprehensive strategy to respond to terrorism and prevent it from taking root in the first place. This strategy should transcend the familiar divide between "hard power" and "soft power." Instead, we need to place "smart power" at the center of our national security policy.
Way to transcend those slogans!!!

Let's go beyond the writing, however, to the policies. Here's Edwards on Iran:

[T]he situation in Iran has only worsened under this administration. With a threat so serious, no U.S. president should take any option off the table -- diplomacy, sanctions, engagement, or even military force. When we say something is unacceptable, however, we must mean it, and that requires developing a strategy that delivers results, not just rhetoric. Instead of saber rattling about military action, we should employ an effective combination of carrots and sticks. For example, right now we must do everything we can to isolate Iran's leader from the moderate forces within the country. We need to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions through diplomatic measures that will, over time, force Iran to finally understand that the international community will not allow it to possess nuclear weapons. Every major U.S. ally agrees that the advent of a nuclear Iran would be a threat to global security. We should continue to work with other great powers to offer Tehran economic incentives for good behavior. At the same time, we must use much more serious economic sanctions to deter Ahmadinejad's government when it refuses to cooperate. To do this, we will have to deal with Iran directly. Such diplomacy is not a gift, nor is it a concession. The current administration recently managed to have one single-issue meeting with Iran to discuss Iraq. It simply makes no sense for the administration to engage Iran on this subject alone and avoid one as consequential as nuclear proliferation.
A three-question pop quiz:
1) In what way will talking with Iran's current leadership "isolate Iran's leader from the moderate forces within the country"? I'm not saying "don't talk," but there does seem to be an inconsistency in Edwards' logic here.

2) What would Edwards think about the Bush proposal to sanction Iran's Revolutionary Guards? Surely this would achieve a separation, yes?

3) Does Edwards seriously believe that the negotiations to date have not broadcast the message to the Iranians that "you know, it will be really bad if you develop nukes"??? What would be different about Edwards' negotiations???

Not all of Edwards' ideas are bad (I like the "Marshall Corps" idea), but after reading the whole essay, one has to conclude that Edwards' thinks the word "reengage" actually means "sprinkle magical fairy dust from the House of Gryffindor on the problem, which will cause all parties to recognize their common fate."

posted by Dan at 08:31 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Thankfully, the anti-American card has its limits

The lead for Hugh Naylor, "Tired of Energy Ills, Syrians Doubt the West Is to Blame," in today's New York Times:

Syria has had a summer of power failures and electricity shortages, and recent suggestions by Prime Minister Muhammad Naki al-Otari that American and French economic pressures are to blame are being greeted with skepticism by a weary public.

Mr. Otari’s claims represent a shift in position in a country that has long held that American pressure has had a negligible impact. But many Syrians say their electricity woes are more a function of government incompetence than of international pressure.

“According to my knowledge, the official line has been that America’s sanctions and its policy of isolating Syria are both failing,” Nidal Malouf, director of the Syrian Economic Center, wrote in an Aug. 5 article on, a private online news agency. “Now the government is trying to find an excuse for its failure to provide cities with the most basic needs.”

posted by Dan at 12:45 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

More candidates in Foreign Affairs

In the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs, Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards get a crack at articulating their foreign policy vision.

The gist of Giuliani's essay, "Towards a Realistic Peace":

The next U.S. president will face three key foreign policy challenges: setting a course for victory in the terrorists' war on global order, strengthening the international system the terrorists seek to destroy, and extending the system's benefits. With a stronger defense, a determined diplomacy, and greater U.S. economic and cultural influence, the next president can start to build a lasting, realistic peace.
The gist of Edward's essay,"Reengaging With the World":
In the wake of the Iraq debacle, we must restore America's reputation for moral leadership and reengage with the world. We must move beyond the empty slogan 'war on terror' and create a genuine national security policy that is built on hope, not fear. Only then can America once again become a beacon to the world.
Time to go read these essay. Back soon.

Be sure to check out FA's Campaign 2008 website as well.

UPDATE: Sweet Jesus, the Giuliani essay is badly written. James Joyner, Kevin Drum, Jim Henley, and Matthew Yglesias all go to town on it.

Even more disturbing is the failure to comprehend different foreign policy doctrines. Consider this paragraph:

A realistic peace is not a peace to be achieved by embracing the "realist" school of foreign policy thought. That doctrine defines America's interests too narrowly and avoids attempts to reform the international system according to our values. To rely solely on this type of realism would be to cede the advantage to our enemies in the complex war of ideas and ideals. It would also place too great a hope in the potential for diplomatic accommodation with hostile states. And it would exaggerate America's weaknesses and downplay America's strengths. Our economy is the strongest in the developed world. Our political system is far more stable than those of the world's rising economic giants. And the United States is the world's premier magnet for global talent and capital.
You know, you can slam realism for not caring much about human rights, or for advising a hard-hearted approach to world politics. What you can't do is claim that realism "exaggerate[s] America's weaknesses and downplay[s] America's strengths" because it doesn't pay attention to economics.

Then there's this whopper:

America must remember one of the lessons of the Vietnam War. Then, as now, we fought a war with the wrong strategy for several years. And then, as now, we corrected course and began to show real progress. Many historians today believe that by about 1972 we and our South Vietnamese partners had succeeded in defeating the Vietcong insurgency and in setting South Vietnam on a path to political self-sufficiency. But America then withdrew its support, allowing the communist North to conquer the South. The consequences were dire, and not only in Vietnam: numerous deaths in places such as the killing fields of Cambodia, a newly energized and expansionist Soviet Union, and a weaker America. The consequences of abandoning Iraq would be worse.
Actually, the fall of Saigon was, in the end, the final falsification of the domino theory that Giuliani's essay unconsciously accepts. South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia collapsed. That was it. The Soviet Union's subsequent expansionism proved to be its ruination, as it found itself bogged down in Afghanistan.

I could go on, but it's too tedious. This is an unbelievably unserious essay.

posted by Dan at 09:27 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

For those of you nostalgic for Pravda

Simon Romero reports in the New York Times about Hugo Chávez's proposed constitutional changes:

President Hugo Chávez will unveil a project to change the Constitution on Wednesday that is expected to allow him to be re-elected indefinitely, a move that would enhance his authority to accelerate a socialist-inspired transformation of Venezuelan society.

The removal of term limits for Mr. Chávez, which is at the heart of the proposal, is expected to be accompanied by measures circumscribing the authority of elected governors and mayors, who would be prevented from staying in power indefinitely, according to versions of the project leaked in recent weeks.

Willian Lara, the communications minister, said Mr. Chávez would announce the project before the National Assembly, where all 167 lawmakers support the president. Supporters of Mr. Chávez, who was re-elected last year with some 60 percent of the vote, also control the Supreme Court, the entire federal bureaucracy, public oil and infrastructure companies and every state government but two.

The aim of the overhaul is “to guarantee to the people the largest amount of happiness possible,” Mr. Lara said at a news conference on Tuesday.

The story has a whiff of the old Soviet-era Pravda. Not because Romero is Chávez's mouthpiece, but rather the tone of the comments made by Venezuelan officials.

And, of course, Chávez's apparent fondness for democratic centralism.

posted by Dan at 08:05 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Your declinist metaphor for today

Analysts have been comparing the United States to a decaying, declining Roman empire for close to forty years now. It has become so clichéd that, according to a little-known DC ordinance, anyone who makes the analogy inside the beltway is forced to listen to either Robert Kuttner or George Will pontificate for an entire hour on its historical appropriateness. Shudder.

Given these formidable barriers, it must mean something that the Comptroller General is dusting off the comparison and making it anew. The Financial Times' Jeremy Grant explains:

The US government is on a “burning platform” of unsustainable policies and practices with fiscal deficits, chronic healthcare underfunding, immigration and overseas military commitments threatening a crisis if action is not taken soon, the country’s top government inspector has warned.

David Walker, comptroller general of the US, issued the unusually downbeat assessment of his country’s future in a report that lays out what he called “chilling long-term simulations”.

These include “dramatic” tax rises, slashed government services and the large-scale dumping by foreign governments of holdings of US debt.

Drawing parallels with the end of the Roman empire, Mr Walker warned there were “striking similarities” between America’s current situation and the factors that brought down Rome, including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government”.

“Sound familiar?” Mr Walker said. “In my view, it’s time to learn from history and take steps to ensure the American Republic is the first to stand the test of time.”

Mr Walker’s views carry weight because he is a non-partisan figure in charge of the Government Accountability Office, often described as the investigative arm of the US Congress.

While most of its studies are commissioned by legislators, about 10 per cent – such as the one containing his latest warnings – are initiated by the comptroller general himself.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Walker said he had mentioned some of the issues before but now wanted to “turn up the volume”. Some of them were too sensitive for others in government to “have their name associated with”.

“I’m trying to sound an alarm and issue a wake-up call,” he said. “As comptroller general I’ve got an ability to look longer-range and take on issues that others may be hesitant, and in many cases may not be in a position, to take on.

Click here to read more of Walker's analysis. An excerpt:
Unfortunately, our government’s track record in adapting to new conditions and meeting new challenges isn’t very good. Much of the federal government remains overly bureaucratic, myopic, narrowly focused, and based on the past. There’s a tendency to cling to outmoded organizational structures and strategies.

Many agencies have been slow to adopt best practices. While a few agencies have begun to rethink their missions and operations, many federal policies, programs, processes, and procedures are hopelessly out of date. Furthermore, all too often, it takes an immediate crisis for government to act. After all, history has shown that Washington is a lag indicator!

Efficient and effective government matters. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita brought that point home in a painful way. The damage these storms inflicted on the Gulf Coast put all levels of government to the test. While a few agencies, like the Coast Guard, did a great job, many agencies, particularly the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), fell far short of expectations. Public confidence in the ability of government to meet basic needs was severely shaken—and understandably so. If our government can’t handle known threats like natural disasters, it’s only fair to wonder what other public services may be at risk.

Transforming government and aligning it with modern needs is even more urgent because of our nation’s large and growing fiscal imbalance. Simply stated, America is on a path toward an explosion of debt. And that indebtedness threatens our country’s, our children’s, and our grandchildren’s futures. With the looming retirement of the baby boomers, spiraling health care costs, plummeting savings rates, and increasing reliance on foreign lenders, we face unprecedented fiscal risks.

Long-range simulations from my agency are chilling. If we continue as we have, policy makers will eventually have to raise taxes dramatically and/or slash government services the American people depend on and take for granted. Just pick a program—student loans, the interstate highway system, national parks, federal law enforcement, and even our armed forces.

I don't think we're in any danger of the kind of Malthusian trap that plagued the Roman empire, and America's demographic situation is much healthier than comparable OECD economies. That said, clichés often do carry a grain of truth to them. So read the whole thing.

UPDATE: I wonder if Walker is trying to cross-promote this:

posted by Dan at 08:38 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

In your face, Milwaukee!!

In the Boston Globe, Chris Reidy reports that Boston is a good fit for your humble blogger:

Boston has long been viewed as the land of the bean and the cod -- and now the Hub may also be the land of the blog.

According to, a website that tracks neighborhood blogging, Boston was the "bloggiest city" in America for the two-month period it examined, March and April.

Behind Boston were Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C. said it tracks blogging activity in about 60 urban areas. It based its rankings on a "blogging quotient" that factored in a metropolitan area's population with the number of blog posts tied to specific locations.

By that measure, Greater Boston had 89 posts per 100,000 residents, edging out Greater Philadelphia, which had 88 posts.

Surprisingly, perhaps, such well-wired places as San Francisco and Seattle were farther down the list.

Why was Greater Boston number one?'s chief executive, Steven Berlin Johnson, offered this theory: Blogs thrive where locals are wired, well-educated, and obsessed with politics, a topic that inspires bloggers to vent their opinions.

Another possibility: east coast cities like Boston and Philly have more people who find time to blog while goofing off at their place of work.

[Which is something you never do, right?--ed. Uh... right!!]

posted by Dan at 08:32 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Democratic Party's awful track record, explained

Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry -- Bill Clinton excepted, the Democrats have managed to nominate for president some of the biggest stiffs in the history of modern American politics.

Nevertheless, one has to credit bad Democratic advisors as well. Consider, for example, the lead paragraphs in this USA Today story by Jill Lawrence and Judy Keen:

Karl Rove may be leaving his roles as hard-nosed strategist and bookish policy expert in the Bush White House, but that doesn't mean Democrats can rest easy.

"Karl outside the White House is more dangerous to Democrats than Karl inside the White House," said Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, who was Al Gore's campaign manager. Her view: He'll have lots more free time now to dream up ways to boost President Bush's standing, "rebrand" the GOP and conquer the 2008 electoral map.

My view: Any Democrat who hands Brazile the keys to his/her campaign doesn't really want to win.

Seriously, what kind of analysis is this? Readers are requested to offer suggestions for how the GOP get "rebranded".

posted by Dan at 10:07 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Karl Rove's legacy

So Karl Rove joins the long line of senior officials leaving the Bush administration.

Judging Rove's legacy is a bit different than other policy principals. With someone like a Colin Powell or a Donald Rumsfeld, the question is whether they advocated and implemented worthwhile policies. With Rove, there needs to be an additional question: did his advice provide Bush with the political capital necessary to implement the policies Bush wanted?

Paul Gigot argues in the Wall Street Journal that Rove deserves a lot of credit on this metric. Of course, Rove agrees with this:

Mr. Rove's political influence has been historic, notwithstanding the rout of 2006. His crucial insight in 2000 was recognizing that Mr. Bush had to be both an alternative to Bill Clinton's scandalous behavior and "a different kind of Republican." In 2002, the president's party gained seats in both the House and Senate in a first midterm election for the first time since 1934.

And in 2004, for only the second time in history, a president won re-election while helping his party gain seats in both houses of Congress; the other time was 1936. Much has been made of John Kerry's ineptitude, but the senator won some eight million more votes than Al Gore did in 2000, and Mr. Rove claims Democrats outspent Republicans by $148 million thanks to billionaire donations to "527" committees. Yet amid a difficult war, Mr. Bush won by increasing his own vote by nearly 25% over 2000, winning 81% of U.S. counties. The Rove-Ken Mehlman turnout effort was a spectacular achievement. If it did nothing else, that 2004 victory put John Roberts and Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court.

A big debate among Republicans these days is who bears more blame for 2006 -- Messrs. Bush and Rove, or the behavior of the GOP Congress. Mr. Rove has no doubt. "The sense of entitlement was there" among Republicans, he says, "and people smelled it." Yet even with a unified Democratic Party and the war, he argues, it was "a really close election." The GOP lost the Senate by its 3,562 vote margin of defeat in Montana, and in the House the combined margin in the 15 seats that cost control was 85,000 votes.

A prominent non-Beltway Republican recently gave me a different analysis, arguing that the White House made a disastrous decision to "nationalize" the election last autumn; this played into Democratic hands and cost numerous seats.

"I disagree," Mr. Rove replies. "The election was nationalized. It was always going to be about Iraq and the conduct of Republicans." He says Republican Chris Shays and Independent-Democrat Joe Lieberman survived in Connecticut despite supporting the war, while Republicans who were linked to corruption or were complacent lost. His biggest error, Mr. Rove says, was in not working soon enough to replace Republicans tainted by scandal.

What about that new GOP William McKinley-style majority he hoped to build -- isn't that now in tatters, as the country tilts leftward on security, economics and the culture? Again, Mr. Rove disagrees. He says young people are if anything more pro-life and free-market than older Americans, and that, despite the difficulties in Iraq, the country doesn't want to be defeated there or in the fight against Islamic terror. He recalls how Democrats thought driving the U.S. out of Vietnam would also help them politically. "Instead, Democrats have suffered ever since on national security," he says.

Mr. Rove also makes a spirited defense of this president's policy legacy, sometimes more convincingly than others. On foreign affairs, he predicts that at least two parts of the Bush Doctrine will live on: The policy that if you harbor a terrorist, you are as culpable as the terrorist; and pre-emption. "There may be a debate about degree," he says, "but it's going to be hard for any president to reverse that."

I have a different take: Karl Rove did maximize Bush's short-run political influence. The long-term costs, however, will not be experienced until well after 2009. And my hunch is that those costs are far greater than Rove acknowledges.

In many ways, this boils down to just mow much power one places in the tyranny of the status quo in politics. It is far more difficult to change policy from its current equilibrium thanb most commentators realize. The question is whether Rove's actions will lead to equal counter-reactions. My hunch is yes, but Karl Rovbe does this for a living... whereas I just teach it.

[Whoa.... earth-shattering analysis here!!--ed. Hey, sometimes the mainstream analysis is correct!]

So, who's more deluded -- Rove or me? You be the judge!

UPDATE: Oliver Willis makes a fair point:

The presidency is failing because of the president. As he has said, he is "the decider", Rove is the adviser. Karl Rove has zero constitutional power or responsibility, while the president has truckloads. Bill Clinton's presidency excelled not because of folks like Begala, Carville, Dick Morris, etc. but because of Bill Clinton's decisions - and similarly Bill Clinton's catastrophic failings were not the doings of his advisers, but himself.

We need to quit elevating these guys to the level of Gods - and the mainstream media, especially people like The Politico's John Harris - are the most guilty of this. Karl Rove is, historically, some freaking guy who worked in the White House. President Bush is the one who history should record as the ultimate "architect" of his own darn failure.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The New York Times has a transcipt of Rove's gaggle with the press on Air Force One.

posted by Dan at 10:01 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, August 10, 2007

Iran and Afghanistan (and Pakistan)

Earlier this week President Bush differed with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai over whether Iran was a positive influence in Afghanistan (for more background click here and here).

Given this rare disagreement, it's worth checking the situation on the ground. And, hey, what do you know, the Christian Science Monitor did that very thing, sending Mark Sappenfield to the western Afghan city of Herat (side note: the CSM's international coverage is criminally underrated).

And what did Sappenfield find?:

In many places, paved roads, clean sidewalks, constant power, and relative security would be considered modest achievements. But in Afghanistan, they make Herat a model for what the country could someday become. The city is a window on how Afghan entrepreneurism can take hold when given the time and security to flourish – and what role Afghanistan's neighbors can play in helping to create these conditions....

Where once spices and camels found passage through this parched desert outpost, now cars and televisions from the Middle East are taxed in its customs houses, generating the wealth for what one expert calls the Dubai of Afghanistan.

"This is the culture of the people of Herat, and this is the positive influence of Iran," says Mohammed Rafiq Shahir, president of the Council of Professionals, a group of analysts and businesspeople here.

In contrast with Pakistani border areas, which have been overrun by the Taliban, Herat – just 75 miles from the Iranian border – has flourished with the help of Iran, one of the Karzai government's strongest supporters. In Herat, for example, Iran has linked the city to the Iranian power grid and built a highway to the border.

More important, the border areas have been largely peaceful, allowing Herat to concentrate on what it does best: business. Since 2001, Herat has attracted $350 million in private investment for industry – more than any other Afghan city, including Kabul, which is some 10 times larger. In total, 250 medium- and large-scale factories have been built in Herat, according to the Afghan Investment Support Agency. The northern city of Mazar-e Sharif comes second with 100 fewer.

It is a legacy of Herat's location. As a trading hub for more than a millennium, Herat has always had money. By some estimates, the money collected at customs houses in Herat is Afghanistan's largest source of revenue, bringing in $1 million a day in duties on goods imported from Iran and Turkmenistan....

In the shade of Khorasan Street, beneath tarps strung from second-floor windows to offer relief from the desert sun, Herati shopkeepers say they are eager for Afghan-made products. Among the multicolored boxes and bottles that look like a rainbow avalanche of soaps, shampoos, and cookie wrappers, merchants say many of the goods were made locally.

"Compared with the past, we have fewer things from Iran and we have more things from Afghanistan," says Abdul Qader, a shopkeeper.

I don't want to defend Iran too vociferously, but it appears that the worst thing you can say about Tehran's relationship with the Taliban is that it's not as hostile as it was when the Taliban actually controlled Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Pakistan has a far more destabilizing relationship with Afghanistan than Iran.

Note to President Bush: There's enough actual evidence to show that the Iranian regime is a bad actor in the region. Please stop ginning up bogus claims to pile on.

Please, leave Iran alone. Focus on Pakistan instead.

posted by Dan at 08:39 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Is Nick Kristof insane?

A popular definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results (intriguingly, the same website attributes this definition to both Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein).

That definition came back to me after reading the opening of Nick Kristof's NYT ($$) column today:

Almost nobody has campaigned so energetically for the poor in Africa as Bono, but when Bono spoke at a conference in Africa recently, he was heckled. Several Africans scolded him for demanding more foreign aid, saying that’s not what Africa needs.

A handful of recent books and studies suggest that aid is sometimes oversold, including the superb new work called “The Bottom Billion,” by Paul Collier, the World Bank’s former research economist (it’s the best nonfiction book so far this year). A forthcoming book, “Farewell to Alms,” by Gregory Clark, a University of California economist, even argues that conventional aid can leave African countries worse off than ever.

And a study by two economists formerly of the I.M.F., Raghuram Rajan and Arvind Subramanian, forthcoming in The Review of Economics and Statistics, concludes:

“We find little robust evidence of a positive (or negative) relationship between aid inflows into a country and its economic growth. We also find no evidence that aid works better in better policy or geographical environments, or that certain forms of aid work better than others. Our findings suggest that for aid to be effective in the future, the aid apparatus will have to be rethought.”

So does this mean we should give up on foreign aid?

No, not at all. On the contrary, I believe there is an urgent need for more aid.

You can see why I would question Kristof's mental status.

To be fair, however, Kristof would argue that he's not proposing doing the same thing again. The rest of his essay basically argues that while the macro picture suggests aid does not work, the concentration of aid into certain sectors (health and education) and focused programs (the Millennium Challenge Account) has yielded greater gains (eradication of smallpox, etc.).

He has a point, but it's not as big a point as he thinks. Yes, health initiatives have yielded some impressive results, but they're often subject to similar screw-ups. As William Easterly pointed out in The White Man's Burden, foreign aid has distorted efforts to combat the spread of AIDS. By focusing on treatment of those already suffering from HIV, there has been underinvestment in public goods that would get a bigger bang for the buck -- like efforts to prevent the spread of AIDS or to encourage vaccination for other diseases.

So Kristof is not insane... but he might be a little funny in the head.

posted by Dan at 02:01 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

The advisor or the candidate?

Max Sawicky complains that the economists who were at YearlyKos -- and advising presidential candidates -- were not progressive enough. This fact makes Bruce Bartlett sleep easier at night:

[T]hese guys may be liberal by conventional political definitions, but they are hardly men of the left. [Max] finds this dispiriting; I find it reassuring. It means there is a chance that the Democrats may nominate someone I might possibly be able to vote for. I don't know Goolsbee, but he has an excellent reputation among economists. I know Bob and Gene and would anticipate that if they have anything to say about it, the next Democratic presidency will be a rerun of the Clinton Administration on economics--free trade oriented, fiscally conservative, pragmatic.

Frankly, this sounds good to me. I think we need a few years of sober economic management that is grounded in the real world. This used to be what the Republican Party stood for.

All well and good, but then we get to what the Democratic candidates themselves are saying. Over at Capital Commerce, James Pethokoukis summarizes the more inane comments that were made at Monday's debate. Let's just say I'm not as reassured as Bartlett.

Now, as Ezra Klein points out, the Republicans are hardly immune to uttering economic inanities. Nonetheless, the disconnect between who politicians get as advisors and what they say themselves prompts a question: when picking a presidential candidate, should you go by what they say or what their advisors think?

posted by Dan at 01:25 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Mike Lowell is a wise man

Clearly, I'm not the biggest Barry Bonds fan in the world. That said, Gordon Edes transcribes Red Sox third baseman' Mike Lowell's reaction to Barry Bonds breaking the home run record, and it's worth quoting in full:

"I watched it when they put it up on the Jumbotron," he said. "The thing I keep thinking about is the Duke lacrosse thing. If it hadn't turned out the way it did, maybe I'd feel differently. But the media and the whole country thought those lacrosse players were guilty as sin, and they weren't."

The Duke players were accused of raping a young woman in their fraternity house, charges that were later dropped, and the district attorney was later disbarred. "When the coach resigned," Lowell said, "I thought to myself, 'Wow, this thing is going to be something really deep,' and it didn't come close to being true. So they reinstated the eligibility of some of those players, but their whole lives were changed. And the seniors, they can never get that year back.

"That's why I think the best thing is, until we know more, until there are charges or they find pictures or something, that we recognize this as a legitimate record and hold to the belief that in this country, you're innocent until proven guilty.

"Do I believe [performance-enhancing substances] can help someone who is already in the big leagues do better? Yes, I believe that. But do I put Bonds in that category? Everybody has tried to get something on him, and yet he still hasn't been charged with anything. They indicted Michael Vick in 20 minutes because there was something there. But I'm also willing to reserve judgment in the Michael Vick thing."

Lowell said he didn't understand why commissioner Bud Selig raised the steroids controversy when Bonds tied Hank Aaron's record Saturday in San Diego. "We all know how [Selig] feels," Lowell said, "so why not just leave it at baseball? If he's wrong, then he's going to look like an [expletive]. If he's right, he can tell us all, 'I told you so.'

"But the number is unreal. I'm close to 200 home runs, and that's a number I'm not even dreaming about. People say [Bonds] was a great player already; this just takes him to another level."

posted by Dan at 11:32 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

A step in the right direction

Via Mark Thoma, I see that economist Willem Buiter wrote an op-ed in the Financial Times about a policy innovation that would vastly improve America's ability to promote democracy and economic development in Latin America, while threatening the viability of terrorist networks in Afghanistan:

A pragmatic argument against criminalising drugs is that criminalisation creates vast rents and encourages criminal entrepreneurs to use violence, intimidation, bribery, extortion and corruption to extract these rents. Another pragmatic argument is that it is pointless to waste resources fighting a war that cannot be won. The losing war on drugs wastes resources that could be used to fight terrorism and other crimes.

Another important argument for legalising, in particular, all cultivation of poppy and of coca (and their illegal derivatives) is that this would take away a vital source of income and political support for terrorist move- ments, including the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (Farc) and various paramilitary groups.

The United Nations estimates that opium production in Afghanistan grew to more than 6,000 metric tonnes last year with a value exceeding $3bn. It is the origin of more than 90 per cent of the world’s illegally consumed opiates.

A significant portion of the profits flows to the Taliban, who act as middlemen in the opium business. They combine extortion and threats of violence towards the poppy farmers with the sale of protection to these same farmers against those who would destroy their livelihood, mainly the Nato allies and the Afghan central government.

Following legalisation, the allies in Afghanistan could further undermine the financial strength of the Taliban and al-Qaeda by buying up the entire poppy harvest. If a sufficient premium over the prevailing market price were offered, the Taliban/al-Qaeda middle-man could be cut out altogether, and thus would lose his tax base. Winning the hearts and minds of poppy growers and coca growers is a lot easier when you are not seen as intent on destroying their livelihood.

This proposal for legalising poppy growing regardless of what the poppy is used for is much more radical than the proposal from the Senlis Council to license the growing of poppy in Afghanistan only for the production of essential medicines. The Senlis Council proposal would not end the problem of illicit poppy cultivation co-existing with licensed cultivation. With the illicit price likely to exceed the licit price, the Taliban would retain a significant tax base.

Is legalisation of all opiates an integral part of the proposal that the allies procure the entire poppy harvest in Afghanistan? Consider procurement without legalisation. The allies would find themselves each year with the largest stash of poppy the world has ever seen. What to do with it?...

So legalise, regulate, tax, educate and rehabilitate. Stop a losing war, get the government off our backs, beat the Taliban and deal a blow to al-Qaeda in the process. Not a bad deal!

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- drug legalization would yield enormous foreign policy benefits.

posted by Dan at 08:50 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

David Frum strives for accuracy

Forgive me a historical nitpick.

In a bloggingheads diavlog with Robert Wright, David Frum defends his partial coining of the term "Axis of Evil" by comparing it to the Axis Powers that banded together in World War II. Click here to see and listen (it's about a minute). I'll wait....

You're back? In an effort to be accurate, let's parse out where Frum is right and where he is wrong in his historical analogy.

Frum is accurate in stating that the Axis powers were not allies like the U.S. and U.K. were allies, because there was no integrated command structure. Of course, that's because, until 1945, very few allies have integrated command structures.

Frum is not accurate, when he says, "an axis is not an alliance." The original Axis powers did in fact sign the 1940 Tripartite treaty, which is commonly recognized as a traditional alliance.

More generally, the point is that the military policies of Germany, Italy, and Japan were far more coordinated in 1940 than Frum's Axis of Evil were in 2002.

That is all.

posted by Dan at 02:33 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Michael Ignatieff's incredibly long learning curve

I was in Montreal for the weekend (brief side note to the Department of Homeland Security -- loved that two-and-a-half hour wait at the border to drive across; much more friendly than the 15-minute wait to get into Canada).

While chatting with some McGill folk, the topic of Michael Ignatieff came up. Ignatieff was a Harvard political theorist who re-entered Canadian politics with great fanfare a few years ago. For a brief time, he was the frontrunner to be the head of the Liberal Party, before engaging in a series of blunders that have rendered him to backbencher status.

One of Ignatieff's difficulties during the leadership race was his vocal support for the Iraq invasion. He just wrote a sorta mea culpa in the New York Times Magazine, in which he tried to apply what he learned in the world of politics to his prior policy pronouncements as an academic:

I’ve learned that good judgment in politics looks different from good judgment in intellectual life. Among intellectuals, judgment is about generalizing and interpreting particular facts as instances of some big idea. In politics, everything is what it is and not another thing. Specifics matter more than generalities. Theory gets in the way.
Matthew Yglesias, Jim Johnson, and Brad DeLong all take Ignatieff to task for omitting the fact most academics with any expertise in U.S. foreign policy and/or the Middle East opposed the war. DeLong summarizes this point well:
I think what Michael Ignatieff is talking about is not an academic mode of thought but a student mode of thought--a not-too-bright-student mode of thought. A not-too-bright student achieves success by (a) figuring out which book on the syllabus is favored by the instructor, (b) taking that book to be the gospel, and (c) regurgitating large chunks of that book on the exams and in the papers.

It surprises me that Michael Ignatieff thinks that opining about a situation while knowing that one is massively ignorant about it is an academic mode of thought.

What's breathtaking to me about Ignatieff's essay is that it represents the apotheosis of what Ignatieff thinks is academic reasoning: lots of banal generalities and big ideas, very little about the particulars of Iraq (apparently, the exiles got to him). If you're going to write a mea culpa, you have to be more specific about your mistakes.

Also commenting on the essay, the Crooked Timberites have a go at one of my posts.

Henry Farrell challenges a question I made over the weekend: "If there are no virtues to a monolithic, cartelistic 'foreign policy community,' what are the virtues of an ideologically uniform, progressive foreign policy community?":

[I]t was less important to commentators’ careers to be right than to be “serious” (i.e. to fit somewhere within the limited spectrum of views that is considered acceptable by the community, not to challenge treasured shibboleths etc etc). This is where I think Dan Drezner is wrong, and Duncan Black is right. The netroots’ critique of the “foreign policy community” isn’t that foreign policy experts walk in lockstep on the wrong side of the aisle, and they should instead be walking in lockstep on the right one; it’s that there is something structural that is rotten in how this ‘community’ systematically excludes certain points of view while privileging others, even after the latter have been shown to be deeply, badly, and arguably irreparably flawed.
Kieran Healy also jumps in here:
Presumably if the outsiders had been wrong on Iraq this would have deepened Dan’s skepticism as well. But the guys who were wrong are still inside the tent, and this doesn’t seem to be a problem for him.
Kieran has misinterpreted me. I'm not condoning O'Hanlon and Pollack, and I agree that a price should be paid for getting things wrong. My point is that I'm unconvinced that substituting "netrootsy" people for the current foreign policy community will result in better policy or a better marketplace of ideas. The factors that restricted debate about Iraq -- individual desires for influence, a desire to please colleagues, etc. -- will not go away. Nor am I convinced that the netrootsy folks have a better grasp on foreign policy than the current mandarins.

Henry's structural point is well taken, but I see no reason why the structural forces will not apply to any group of individuals that believe themselves to be approaching the levers of power.

UPDATE: Over at Democracy Arsenal, Heather Hurlburt gets to a similar point while traveling down a different road:

Eventually, the people who are elected to office are going to have to work across party lines to fashion new policies for Iraq, anti-terrorism, global warming, etc. (If you've seen polling that suggests Democrats -- the left end of the party at that -- getting veto-proof majorities in both houses in '08, send it along. But I'm not holding my breath.) That means the policy professionals have to retain some minimum levels of respect and listening skills for each other. That doesn't mean we have to like each other. It doesn't mean that what John Negroponte oversaw in Central America in the 1980s is now ok, for example. But it does mean we need to evaluate his policy proposals -- or anyone else's -- on their merits.

Not everybody has to maintain minimum levels of respect and courtesy. That's the joy of the blogosphere. There's a vital place in American political discourse for the unbound truthteller, the glorious rant, the savage, scathing partisan. And there's a place for people who love the grey amid the black and white, the nagging details, who prefer to be up to their elbows in the guts of compromise that actually is policy-making on every issue -- because compromising, like ranting, is human nature.

The openness of new media and the blogosphere -- plus the depth of national anger over this misbegotten war -- is mixing up the two spheres in ways that are sometimees productive and sometimes not. Policy professionals need to grow thick skins fast -- and maybe get used to listening to what the non-experts have to say. Opinionators, for their part, could use a more visceral sense of how much harder making policy is than writing about it.

posted by Dan at 02:15 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

In honor of Tom Glavine

While I was away for the weekend, Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron's home run record, and Tom Glavine won his 300th game.

In honor of these accomplishments, it seems appropriate to resurrect the this Nike commercial from a decade ago, featuring Glavine, Greg Maddux, Heather Locklear, and a somewhat tarnished slugger:

Seen in retrospect, the commercial is ironic for two reasons.

First, does anyone doubt that Glavine (and Maddux) will be held in higher esteem from here on out?

Second, as Jack Wilkinson wrote in this story, Glavine was actually quite accomplished at the plate -- just not in the same way as Bonds:

"Tommy goes beyond pitching, though," said [Atlanta Bravers manager Bobby] Cox. "He's always been the best bunter. You can squeeze [bunt] with him with two strikes, which we did dozens of times. And he's a great fielder and an all-around guy. A first-ballot Hall of Famer, too."

posted by Dan at 12:10 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Territorial wars, R.I.P.

Foreign Policy has posted on its website a list of "The World’s Most Valuable Disputed Turf." The list is characerized as "real estate that, at least for some countries, just might be worth fighting for."

Their list consists of areas deemed significant because they either contain valuable raw materials or represent chokepoints for the access to raw materials. What's shocking, however, is how unlikely that force will be involved in any of the disputes. Part of this is because the actual value of the raw materials is open to question (see the Orinoco River Basin). In some of the other disputed areas (the Spratly Islands), tensions have ratcheted down dramatically.

The other part, however, is that the territorial disputes that tend to promote violent conflict are those parcels of land that affect a state's territorial security (Alsace-Lorraine) or its sense of nationhood (Kosovo, Kashmir). Indeed, if I was composing that list, my top five would be entire countries/almost-countries that appear ripe for annexation: Taiwan, Belarus, Kosovo, Somaliland, and Kashmir.

The fact that Foreign Policy came up with such a lame list is not a slight against them -- instead, it's a healthy indicator for why the world seems to be more pacific.

posted by Dan at 09:36 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Welcome to my musical demographic

After a long stretch of time in which I did not attend any large music concerts, I managed to attend two in the past ten days.

The first one was friggin' awesome.

The second one.... well, don't click on this link unless you're made of stern stuff. Several concert-goers have commented that the new lead singer can't match up to the old one.

As much of a musical whiplash as these two concerts created, I'm willing to bet that a fair number of people my age attended both of these concerts.

posted by Dan at 09:24 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Your discussion question for the weekend

Your humble blogger will be away for the rest of the weekend.

Before I go, I could leave you with a link to some fluff like Entertainment Weekly's list of celebrity bloggers (where else but her blog would you find Pamela Anderson's statement, "I love theatre."). But that would be wrong.

Instead, I want to pose a discussion question to the group.

Liberal progressive bloggers are abuzz about this Ezra Klein post about a foreign policy panel over at the third concentric circle of hell Yearly Kos:

[Peter] Beinart in particular has moved substantially left over the past few years, and now says things like, "What separates conservatives and progressives is the recognition that America's pathologies can threaten the rest of the world just as their pathologies can harm us. Interdependence is reciprocal. If other countries owe us more, than we owe them more. If you don't recognize the second part of that equation, than you are, indeed, in some ways, an empire." From there, he moved towards a full-throated defense of international institutions in their oft-loathed role as shackles on American autonomy. "The great triumph of the institutions built during after the Iraq War was that they constrained our power. By giving weaker nations some influence over our power, we make our power legitimate."

A few years ago, it would have been inconceivable that Beinart would be anchoring a YearlyKos panel on a progressive foreign policy. Now, he's not only do it, but he's doing it from within progressivism, rather than as a critic of the crowd's opinions. The degree of convergence among the intellectuals in the foreign policy left in recent years is quite impressive, even if it's not been quite as much in evidence within the class of foreign policy experts who advise Democratic candidates. (emphasis added)

This prompts Duncan "Atrios" Black to ask: "Why is there a 'foreign policy community?'"

This prompts Matthew Yglesias to observe:

It's a good question. The consequences of its existence don't seem to be particularly beneficial. Steve Clemons is talking at a panel on foreign policy, blogging, and activism and gives voice to something that I think a lot of us tend to suspect, saying he was one of the few members of said community to go on television and speak against the Iraq War not because he was the only one to think it was a bad idea, but "because everyone else was a coward."

"People like me," he says, "were being fed quite a bit of inside information from people who were every bit as horrified" but very few people said anything. And it's true -- alongside the famously pro-war elements of the establishment, there's a shockingly large number of people at places like Brookings, CSIS, the CFR, etc. where if you try to look up what they said about Iraq it turns out that they said . . . nothing at all.

His perspective, he says, is that Washington is "a corrupt town." From that perspective, he says that "the political-intellectual arenas is essentially a cartel" -- a cartel that's become extremely timid and risk-averse in the face of a neoconservative onslaught -- and "blogs allow smart people to break the cartel." That all seems very true to me, and I'm not sure what I have to add.

So, in addition to seeing commenter answers to Atrios' question, I have one of my own: If there are no virtues to a monolithic, cartelistic 'foreign policy community,' what are the virtues of an ideologically uniform, progressive foreign policy community?

[But they were right about Iraq!!--ed. Kudos to them, but I'm afraid that this merely deepens my skepticism. Beware of foreign policy hedgehogs -- particularly those seeking ideological conformity within their ranks.]

Oh, and one last thought -- my scant experience with Beltway insider information is that 50% of the time it's dead on, but 50% of the time it's absolute horses#$t.

posted by Dan at 09:04 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, August 3, 2007

This is, I believe, the third concentric circle of hell

Garance Franke-Ruta describes the 2nd annual YearlyKos convention:

[T]his conference does not feel as grassroots or exciting as last year's. It feels like a cross between the annual Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet conference in Washington (which draws a who's who in political technology circles), a marathon viewing session, and a bunch of National Press Club press conferences by liberal interest groups.
Run, Garance, run!!!

Seriously, this is simply another data point confirming that the co-optation phenomenon Henry and I predicted oh so many years ago (it's coming out in a real political science journal very soon! We swear!!) is coming to pass.

UPDATE: More confirming evidence from Matthew Yglesias:

[I]t really was striking to get the visual of yesterday's gate crashers quite literally mingling with the dread establishment at a cocktail party. The question that nobody seems to know the answer to, though, is whether the revolution ended because the revolutionaries won, or because they sold out? The boring, but probably boring-because-accurate, answer is that it's a little of both.

posted by Dan at 08:28 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Your disturbing sentences of the day

From today's New York Times story on the Minneapolis bridge collapse:

[O]fficials said the bridge’s design had been considered outmoded for decades because a single failure of a structural part could bring down the whole bridge. About 11 percent of the nation’s steel bridges, mostly from the 1950s and 1960s, lack the redundant protection to reduce these failures, federal officials said.

Over all, the bridge was rated 4 on a scale of zero to 9, with 9 being perfect and zero requiring a shutdown. An inspection report last year said the supporting structure was in “poor condition,” far from the lowest category. Hundreds of other working bridges are in similar shape, but the report did indicate that the bridge had possible issues that needed to be regularly inspected.

The bridge has been inspected annually since 1993, but independent engineers acknowledged yesterday that there are well-known limits to how useful an inspection can be. Bridges, they said, are prone to a variety of problems, and some are hard to spot. At the Minnesota Department of Transportation, shaken engineers made it clear that they knew something crucial had somehow been overlooked.

“We thought we had done all we could,” said Daniel L. Dorgan, bridge engineer at the department’s bridges division. “Obviously something went terribly wrong.” (emphasis added)

What on God's green earth would be lower than a "poor" rating? A "Jeebus, we're lucky we got off the bridge in time to file this report" rating?

posted by Dan at 08:55 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 2, 2007

DC in the summertime

The quote of the day goes to the official Blog Brother, sightseeing in Washington, DC. His description of the city during the summer:

Lots of young people walking around believing that they are very important.
He's referring, of course, to the interns. Which is as good an excuse as any to link to this six-year old Slate essay by David Plotz defending interns. Plotz's key point:
In fact, interns deserve neither derision nor fear. They are a wonderfully useful segment of Washington. They are a "backbone" of the city, argues Mary Ryan of the intern-placing Institute for Experiential Learning. For better or worse, they often serve as cheap clerical labor, replacing secretaries at a fraction the cost. They can also make more substantive contributions. They often do hard, nasty work, such as the unpleasant background research for nonprofits or the dirt-digging on a campaign opponent. Interns, in short, are not pointless.

(Nor are internships pointless: If you perform, you'll win a real Washington job. Washington is run by ex-interns. Today's 20-year-old mail-room smartass becomes a 22-year-old legislative assistant, and then a 25-year-old press secretary, and then a 29-year-old lobbyist. … According to Ryan, 20 percent-30 percent of the interns she places in D.C. return to jobs where they interned.)

Washington's interns are valuable more for psychological reasons than economic ones. Though Hill rats would never admit it, interns decynicize D.C.; Washington thrills them (at least for the six weeks till their disillusionment). They may be calculating and ambitious, but they remind their beaten-down editor, their dispirited chief of staff, their venal executive director of why what they do is important and interesting and exciting. Their idealism is fuel for the city.

The libertarian in me is a little afraid of what happens when you combine idealism with government power. That said, the ex-research intern in me nods in sympathy.

posted by Dan at 07:29 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

How price controls favor the few

Today the New York Times has a front-page story by Michael Wines on the economic disaster that is Zimbabwe:

Bread, sugar and cornmeal, staples of every Zimbabwean’s diet, have vanished, seized by mobs who denuded stores like locusts in wheat fields. Meat is virtually nonexistent, even for members of the middle class who have money to buy it on the black market. Gasoline is nearly unobtainable. Hospital patients are dying for lack of basic medical supplies. Power blackouts and water cutoffs are endemic.

Manufacturing has slowed to a crawl because few businesses can produce goods for less than their government-imposed sale prices. Raw materials are drying up because suppliers are being forced to sell to factories at a loss. Businesses are laying off workers or reducing their hours.

The chaos, however, seems to have done little to undermine Mr. Mugabe’s authority. To the contrary, the government is moving steadily toward a takeover of major sectors of the economy that have not already been nationalized.

There's nothing really new here, except the depressing way in which government efforts to impose price controls favors those connected to the government:
Ordinary citizens initially greeted the price cuts with a euphoric — and short-lived — shopping spree, since they had been unable to buy even basic necessities because of hyperinflation. Yet merchants and the government’s many critics say that much of the cut-rate merchandise has not been snapped up by ordinary citizens, but by the police, soldiers and members of Mr. Mugabe’s governing party who have been tipped off to the price inspectors’ rounds.

In Plumtree, near Zimbabwe’s border with Botswana, a line of shoppers gathered outside a shoe store last week even before opening hours, said Moses Mzila, who represents the area in Parliament. As the store opened, government inspectors appeared — and the throng followed them in, buying up stock as it was marked down.

“It’s theft, outright theft,” Mr. Mzila said. “Some of them had big cars, shiny, sparkling double-cabs, and they filled them up with shoes and just drove away.”

posted by Dan at 08:46 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

A man of the relative left

My latest diavlog is up, with Byron York of the National Review. Among the topics discussed:

1) The latest Gallup poll about the 2008 race and what it means (a segment during which I become a human graphic);

2) Why I deserve tenure;

3) The latest turning-of-the-corner in Iraq;

4) Why Republicans don't seem tolike YouTube all that much.

Go check it out. I still like the idea I proposed in the first minute of the exchange, which is to shoot a film noir version of bloggingheads. But only if Megan McArdle plays the gun moll.

posted by Dan at 08:33 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

At least the Club for Growth is realistic

The Washington Post reports that Congress is preparing to pass a really stupid, counterprouctive bill to punish China.

In the meanwhile, over a thousand economists have signed the following:

We, the undersigned, have serious concerns about the recent protectionist sentiments coming from Congress, especially with regards to China.

By the end of this year, China will most likely be the United States' second largest trading partner. Over the past six years, total trade between the two countries has soared, growing from $116 billion in 2000 to almost $343 billion in 2006. That's an average growth rate of almost 20% a year.

This marvelous growth has led to more affordable goods, higher productivity, strong job growth, and a higher standard of living for both countries. These economic benefits were made possible in large part because both China and the United States embraced freer trade.

As economists, we understand the vital and beneficial role that free trade plays in the world economy. Conversely, we believe that barriers to free trade destroy wealth and benefit no one in the long run. Because of these fundamental economic principles, we sign this letter to advise Congress against imposing retaliatory trade measures against China.

There is no foundation in economics that supports punitive tariffs. China currently supplies American consumers with inexpensive goods and low-interest rate loans. Retaliatory tariffs on China are tantamount to taxing ourselves as a punishment. Worse, such a move will likely encourage China to impose its own tariffs, increasing the possibility of a futile and harmful trade war. American consumers and businesses would pay the price for this senseless war through higher prices, worse jobs, and reduced economic growth.

We urge Congress to discard any plans for increased protectionism, and instead urge lawmakers to work towards fostering stronger global economic ties through free trade.

This also appears in an ad today in the Wall Street Journal.

As Greg Mankiw sadly observes, petitions like this have very little political effect. Indeed, by linking to this older petition, the Club for Growth recognizes this as well.

posted by Dan at 08:27 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)