Friday, November 30, 2007

So what's going on in the Islamic justice system?

A British teacher in Sudan was convicted of "insulting Islam because her class of 7-year-olds named a teddy bear Muhammad," according to the New York Times' Jeffrey Gettleman. He has more information on the Sudanese reaction, which is a bit varied:

Hundreds of demonstrators in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, poured into the streets on Friday demanding the execution of a British teacher who was convicted of insulting Islam because her class of 7-year-olds named a teddy bear Muhammad....

Despite the display of outrage, witnesses said that many of the protesters were government employees ordered to demonstrate, and that aside from a large gathering outside the presidential palace, most of Khartoum was quiet. Imams across the city brought up the case in sermons after Friday Prayer, but few of them urged violence.

“This woman gave an idol the name of Muhammad, which is not acceptable,” said Ahmed Muhammad, the imam at a mosque in Khartoum 2, an upscale section of town. But, he added, the proper response was more nuanced: “We have to first respect ourselves, and then others will respect us.”

Time's Rob Crilly has more backstory, which suggests that much of the outrage is terribly, terribly faux:
Teachers at Unity High have stood by their colleague, noting that the first complaint came only last week despite the fact that parents had been aware of the class bear's name since September.

During an eight-hour court proceeding on Thursday, it emerged that a school secretary had been the first to raise the alarm. Teachers have alleged that Gibbons was the victim of a staffer trying to discredit the school rather than an offended parent....

The case is an embarrassment for the Sudanese government, whose policies in Darfur have helped make it an international pariah. But the government is hamstrung by extremist elements, who will capitalize on any perception that Khartoum is bowing to British pressure, said Professor Elteyb Hag Ateya, director of Khartoum University's peace research institute.

"There is a sort of "who is the best Muslim?" competition to this whole thing which makes it difficult for the government to be seen to back down," he said.

At the same time, there's another case in Saudi Arabia that's equally interesting -- because it suggests that there are fissures within the Saudi government. Click over to Charli Carpenter's post at Duck of Minerva for more -- as well as this post at the wonderfully-named Elected Swineherd.

UPDATE: Lydia Polgreen has a front-pager today iin the New York Times about yet another country that has incorporated sharia into its justice system -- Nigeria. The outcome, however, is at variance with initial expectations:

When Muslim-dominated states like Kano adopted Islamic law after the fall of military rule in 1999, radical clerics from the Arabian peninsula arrived in droves to preach a draconian brand of fundamentalism, and newly empowered religious judges handed down tough punishments like amputation for theft. Kano became a center of anti-American sentiment in one of the most reliably pro-American countries in Africa.

But since then, much of the furor has died down, and the practice of Islamic law, or Shariah, which had gone on for centuries in the private sphere before becoming enshrined in public law, has settled into a distinctively Nigerian compromise between the dictates of faith and the chaotic realities of modern life in an impoverished, developing nation.

posted by Dan at 11:38 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

What are Russia and China's end game on Iran?

Last year I questioned what Bush administration hawks saw as the end game in U.S. dealings with Iran.

After reading Elaine Sciolino's excellent review of the current state of play regarding Iran in today's New York Times, I'm going to have to put the same question to Russia and China:

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is known for overheated, boastful pronouncements. So it was hardly a surprise earlier this month when he declared that despite demands from the United States and other countries that Iran stop enriching uranium, Tehran was pressing ahead and negotiations were out of the question.

“From our point of view,” he said, “this subject is closed.”

But in this case, Iran’s intransigence is not only real; it also appears to be defeating attempts by the rest of the world to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, at least for the moment....

[N]othing seems to be bending the will of Iran, which is flush with oil revenues. The incentive strategy, led by Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy adviser, has failed to entice Iran to stop enrichment in exchange for economic, political and technological rewards. So has the punishment approach, as Russia and China hold firm to the view that further pressure will only intensify the standoff.

In May, desperate to engage Iran, the six nations offered a brief freeze in further sanctions if Iran freezes its enrichment program at the current level, effectively dropping their demand that Iran stop enrichment altogether. But that “double freeze” proposal barely got Tehran’s attention.

“The chosen strategy of pressure and engagement is not working,” said one senior European official involved in the diplomacy. “As a result, you have a lot of people desperately banging on the door of the Iranians. All of them are coming back empty-handed.”....

Russia has recently tried but failed to sway Iran to compromise. During a recent visit to Tehran, President Vladimir V. Putin was granted a rare audience with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Mr. Putin made no threats, but focused on the benefits that would flow to Iran, including the delivery of sophisticated nuclear technology, if it made some gesture on enrichment, according to officials familiar with the visit.

Iranian officials described the meeting as very friendly, but when Mr. Putin sent his foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, to Tehran, Mr. Lavrov received a frosty reception, and returned home frustrated, Russian, Iranian and European officials said.

Still, Russia prefers to make the next priority not more sanctions but winning Iran’s cooperation on allowing wider inspections of its nuclear sites by the United Nations agency, Russian and Western European officials said.

China, whose trade with Iran is soaring, has taken what might be characterized as a passive-aggressive diplomatic approach.

It did not send a representative to a key meeting of the six powers in Brussels on Monday, causing the meeting to be canceled. The Chinese delegation also refused to attend the previous scheduled meeting of the group, to protest both a meeting Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, held with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader, and the decision by the United States Congress to honor him. The Chinese are expected at Saturday’s meeting.

The only negotiation with Iran that seems to be progressing is the limited one aimed at resolving the United Nations agency’s questions about Tehran’s past nuclear activity. Under a formal agreement last summer with the agency, Iran has begun to turn over documents and make various officials and former officials available for interviews.

As long as Iran is making progress on this front, the United States and its European allies are likely to have a difficult time persuading Russia and China to agree to further sanctions.

As near as I can figure, China and Russia don't want to think about the end game because the status quo benefits them enormously.

The status quo is a situation in which:

a) The US and EU are committed to work through the United Nations;

b) China and Russia hold leverage over any sanctions process; and

c) The uncertainty over Iran's possible nuclear program acts as a useful check against any further expansion of American or Israeli influence in the Middle East.

This is all well and good, and rational in the short run. The thing is, I'm reasonably sure that neither Russia nor China really wants Iran to develop a nuclear fuel cycle that is independent of any IAEA or UNSC strictures -- which is what the status quo will lead to in a few years. Clearly, solving the problem now will be less costly than solving the problem later. And as much as China and Russia might disdain sanctions, I've seen zero evidence that inducements are having any effect either.

Question to Russia and China-watchers -- what do they believe the end game is on Iran?

UPDATE: This Reuters story highlights another problem -- as long as Iran believes that the great powers are not coordinated, they have no incentive to make any concessions:

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said late on Thursday that nothing would deflect the Islamic Republic from its pursuit of nuclear technology and that Washington had "lost" in its attempts to stop them.

"The Iranian nation will never return from the path that they have chosen and they are determined and decisive to continue this path (to obtain nuclear technology)," Mottaki was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

The West says Iran's nuclear programme is aimed at building atom bombs. Iran, a major oil exporter, says efforts to enrich uranium are intended only to produce electricity.

Diplomats and analysts say Iran will see little reason to relent in its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment given that six big powers remain at odds over how soon to resort to more United Nations penalties and how harsh they should be.

posted by Dan at 09:08 AM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Another exercise in ranking generosity

One of pieces of accepted wisdom among policy cognoscenti is that while the United States is not terribly generous in terms of foreign aid, it does excel in niche areas, like providing providing relief for humanitarian disasters.

The Financial Times' Quentin Peel reports on a new ranking exercise that suggests this perception might not match.... other people's perception:

Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands have been ranked as the top four aid donors in providing relief for humanitarian disasters, according to a new index published on Thursday.

The study, launched by Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary-general, ranks 23 aid donors from the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development according to the effectiveness and impartiality of their relief efforts in eight crisis-hit countries.

In contrast to the Scandinavian nations, major donors such as the US, Japan and France rank in the bottom half of the index, with low scores for tests such as impartiality and implementing international humanitarian laws. France is criticised for its failure to work effectively with other aid agencies.

The humanitarian response index, drawn up by Dara International, a Madrid-based evaluation agency, ranks the European Commission in fifth place, in spite of frequent criticism of its bureaucratic procedures. The UK ranks ninth, Germany 13th, and the US 16th out of the 23. The bottom two countries are Italy and Greece.

The purpose of the index, based on the responses of more than 800 aid agencies in the eight disaster zones [Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, East Timor, Haiti, Lebanon, Niger, Pakistan and Sudan--DD.], is not to be “a name-and-shame exercise”, according to Silvia Hidalgo, director-general of Dara, but rather to be “a improve the quality of humanitarian aid”.

Mr Annan, who launched the report in London, said it would serve as “a crucial tool to help ensure that no disaster is ignored, and that every dollar spent helps those most in need”.

I tried to access the actual report, but Dara's web site, while quite fancy, is also maddeningly short on detail or methodology.

Still, two quick thoughts:

1) Are the evaluations of aid agencies really the only metric being used here? Surely some of these agencies were on the losing end of various funding decisions by major power donors. Might that not affect their responses?

2) Is impartiality always a good thing during humanitarian crises? I'm not saying it's necessarily a bad thing, but as a "guiding principle" I'm not sure it's a great idea for every aid donor to act according to these principles either.

posted by Dan at 09:14 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Soft power penetrates the Bush administration

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave an interesting talk a few days ago at Kansas State University.

It was unusual for two reasons. First, he was asking for greater budgetary and institutional support -- for other Cabinent departments:

[M]y message today is not about the defense budget or military power. My message is that if we are to meet the myriad challenges around the world in the coming decades, this country must strengthen other important elements of national power both institutionally and financially, and create the capability to integrate and apply all of the elements of national power to problems and challenges abroad. In short, based on my experience serving seven presidents, as a former Director of CIA and now as Secretary of Defense, I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use “soft” power and for better integrating it with “hard” power.

One of the most important lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that military success is not sufficient to win: economic development, institution-building and the rule of law, promoting internal reconciliation, good governance, providing basic services to the people, training and equipping indigenous military and police forces, strategic communications, and more – these, along with security, are essential ingredients for long-term success. Accomplishing all of these tasks will be necessary to meet the diverse challenges I have described.

So, we must urgently devote time, energy, and thought to how we better organize ourselves to meet the international challenges of the present and the future – the world you students will inherit and lead....

during the 1990s, with the complicity of both the Congress and the White House, key instruments of America’s national power once again were allowed to wither or were abandoned. Most people are familiar with cutbacks in the military and intelligence – including sweeping reductions in manpower, nearly 40 percent in the active army, 30 percent in CIA’s clandestine services.

What is not as well-known, and arguably even more shortsighted, was the gutting of America’s ability to engage, assist, and communicate with other parts of the world – the “soft power,” which had been so important throughout the Cold War. The State Department froze the hiring of new Foreign Service officers for a period of time. The United States Agency for International Development saw deep staff cuts – its permanent staff dropping from a high of 15,000 during Vietnam to about 3,000 in the 1990s. And the U.S. Information Agency was abolished as an independent entity, split into pieces, and many of its capabilities folded into a small corner of the State Department....

What is clear to me is that there is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security – diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development. Secretary Rice addressed this need in a speech at Georgetown University nearly two years ago. We must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military, beyond just our brave soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen. We must also focus our energies on the other elements of national power that will be so crucial in the coming years.

Now, I am well aware that having a sitting Secretary of Defense travel halfway across the country to make a pitch to increase the budget of other agencies might fit into the category of “man bites dog” – or for some back in the Pentagon, “blasphemy.” It is certainly not an easy sell politically. And don’t get me wrong, I’ll be asking for yet more money for Defense next year.

Still, I hear all the time from the senior leadership of our Armed Forces about how important these civilian capabilities are. In fact, when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen was Chief of Naval Operations, he once said he’d hand a part of his budget to the State Department “in a heartbeat,” assuming it was spent in the right place.

The second unusual quality was that Gates embraced an academic concept Joseph Nye's notion of "soft power." This is quite the turnaround -- a few years ago, Nye complained in Foreign Affairs about Gates' predecessor: "Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld professes not even to understand the term."

It is interesting to see the head of one bureaucracy realize that his organization benefits from enhancing the capacities of a quasi-rival organization, and kudos to Gates for this kind of thinking.

On the "soft power" idea, I have just a smidgen of sympathy for Rumsfeld. Over the past half-decade, the hardworking staff here at has found this idea simltaneously beguiling and frustrating. However, as Nye defined the term initially -- getting others to want what you want -- he was talking primarily about non-state capabilities, such as culture and ideology.

Question to readers: can a government consciously generate soft power?

posted by Dan at 11:18 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

The mainstreaming of blogging in political science

When a former editor of the American Political Science Review gets into the blogging biz, you know things have changed.

So go check out The Monkey Cage, a group blog of three George Washington University professors of American politics. Their raison d'etre post is worth reading.

posted by Dan at 09:07 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Annapolis thread

The hard-workin staff here at will be hard at work on offline activities today. Readers are strong encouraged to post comments about today's meeting in Annapolis.

Not much of substance will be accomplished, so readers are also encouraged to develop drinking game rules for wathing the summitry. A few provisional rules:

Take a sip whenever:
1) Amedia commentator compares this summit to Bill Clinton's late second-term effort at iddle East diplomacy.

2) A commentator says Bush is bound and determined to avoid the mistakes of his predecessor on this issue.

3) You see a reaction shot of the Israeli delegation during a speech by an Arab diplomat. Only drink if a member of the delegation is frowning;

Take a shot whenever:
1) There's a really significant handshake that sends the flash photographers into orgiastic delight;

2) A U.S. official or commentator says, "Failure is not an option" [Side note: this is one of those phrases that's so inane that I'd like abolished from foreign policy discourse. Bush officials have repeated this mantra so often over the past five years that I wonder if there's some foreign policy equivalent of Bull Durham that I missed where one learns important policy clichés.];

3) In the same speech, someone quotes from both the Old Testament and the Koran

Down your entire drink whenever:
1) Someone is caught having a private conversation near an open mike (with this crowd, a distinct possibility);

2) The Syrians and/or Israelis signal that they're ready to compromise on the Golan Heights;

3) A genuine breakthrough is achieved.

posted by Dan at 08:06 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bloggers 1, reporters 0

Over at Slate's Trailhead blog, Christopher Beam listens into two conference calls for GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, one for reporters and one for bloggers. Beam's conclusion:

[T]the bloggers’ questions were more substantive by a long shot....

Everyone knows the media is shallow, horse-race obsessed, blah blah blah ... but in many cases, bloggers really are the ones driving discussion of the issues.

posted by Dan at 11:38 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Paranoia about paranoia?

In the Boston Globe today, Drake Bennett takes a closer look at the fears of a conspiracy to create a North American Union -- and what it means about the United States:

The NAU may be the quintessential conspiracy theory for our time, according to scholars studying what the historian Richard Hofstadter famously called the "paranoid style" in American politics. The theory elegantly weaves old fears and new realities into one coherent and all-encompassing plan, and gives a glimpse of where, politically, many Americans are right now: alarmed over immigration, worried about globalization, and - on both sides of the partisan divide - suspicious of the Bush administration's expansive understanding of executive power.

The belief in an imminent North American Union, says Mark Fenster, a law professor at the University of Florida and author of a 2001 book on conspiracy theories, "reflects the particular ways in which Americans feel besieged economically, powerless politically, and alienated socially."

Bennett is not the first writer to make this point with regard to the fictional NAU. And certainly, the hard-working staff here at is not above poking holes in conspiracy theories or relying on Hofstadter's "paranoid style" to explain a particularly absurd line of argumentation.

Before concluding that America is awash in conspiracy theories, however, there are some paragraphs in Bennett's essay that makes me wonder whether the paranoia problem is less acute now than before:

As a social anxiety, the NAU's roots run deep. Global government and elites who secretly sell out their own citizenry have long been staples of conspiracy theories, thanks in part to the Book of Revelation's warning that world government will be an early indicator of the Apocalypse. Over the centuries, the world's puppeteers have been thought to be, in turn, the Bavarian Illuminati, the Freemasons, the pope, the Jews, international bankers, the League of Nations, the United Nations, the Rockefellers, and the Communist International.

For most of the 20th century, American conspiracy theories tended to focus on communist infiltration of the upper echelons of the US government. The founder of the John Birch Society, a leading source of such imagined schemes, accused President Dwight Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, among many others, of being communist agents.

Conspiracy theories have wreaked far more damage on past policies than present ones. One could plausibly argue that in the past, the paranoid style helped torpedo America's entry into the League of Nations and exacerbated the worst excesses of McCarthyism. The paranoias that exist today -- the NAU, the 9/11 conspiracies, Bush stole the 2004 election -- are certainly irksome to policymakers and candidates alike. That said, as political roadblocks I'm not sure they rise to the same level as previous waves of paranoia.

[But the Internets, the Internets!! Surely this shows that conspiracies are omnipresent in a way that never existed before!!--ed. No, they just make them more visible than ever before. The Internet also makes it easier to puncture conspiracy theories earlier than ever before as well.]

I'm not sure I'm right about this, so I'll put the question to readers -- are today's conspiracy theories more harmful than the conspiracy theories of the past? How could we test this assertion?

UPDATE: Hmmm... this Scripps-Howard report suggests the prevalence -- but also the limits -- of the paranoid style (hat tip: Tom Maguire):

A national survey of 811 adult residents of the United States conducted by Scripps and Ohio University found that more than a third believe in a broad smorgasbord of conspiracy theories including the attacks, international plots to rig oil prices, the plot to assassinate President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the government's knowledge of intelligent life from other worlds.

The high percentage is a manifestation, some say, of an American public that increasingly distrusts the federal government.

"You wouldn't have gotten these numbers a year or two after the attacks themselves," said University of Florida law professor Mark Fenster. "You've got an increasingly disaffected public that is unhappy with the administration."....

All the talk about oil and terror has distracted some of the believers in government cover-ups of UFOs. Thirty-seven percent of the respondents said they think it is "very likely" or "somewhat likely" flying saucers are real and the government is hiding the truth about them. In a 1995 Scripps survey, 50 percent of Americans responded the same way to the same question.

"The kind of anxieties or mistrust of the government that might have been expressed as a belief in UFOs has shifted," said political science professor Jodi Dean. "Now people are worried about things that are much realer to them."

The decline in the UFO response suggests two things: a) The X-Files has been off the air for some time now; and b) there is a residual belief in some conspiracy at any point in time -- but when the global political economy seem threatening, conspiracy theorists migrate towards those issues.

posted by Dan at 09:45 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, November 23, 2007

An extra special reason for New Yorkers to give thanks

Al Baker reports on some stunning homicide figures in the New York Times:

New York City is on track to have fewer than 500 homicides this year, by far the lowest number in a 12-month period since reliable Police Department statistics became available in 1963.

But within the city’s official crime statistics is a figure that may be even more striking: so far, with roughly half the killings analyzed, only 35 were found to be committed by strangers, a microscopic statistic in a city of more than 8.2 million.

If that trend holds up, fewer than 100 homicide victims in New York City this year will have been strangers to their assailants. The vast majority died in disputes with friends or acquaintances, with rival drug gang members or — to a far lesser degree — with romantic partners, spouses, parents and others.

The low number of killings by strangers belies the common imagery that New Yorkers are vulnerable to arbitrary attacks on the streets, or die in robberies that turn fatal.

In the eyes of some criminologists, the police will be hard pressed to drive the killing rate much lower, since most killings occur now within the four walls of an apartment or the confines of close relationships.

That last fact is too bad -- I was looking forward to the day when the combined number of homicides on Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent exceeded the actual number of homicides in the five boroughs.

Hmmm.... come to think of it, most of these shows are set in Manhattan. I wonder if we hae reached the point when the annual number of homicides in that borough are less than the number of homicides that would be portrayed on television. Not just the L&O franchise, but also CSI: NY and the half-dozen other crime shows I'n sure are set in the city.

Readers, go and check this out!

posted by Dan at 02:24 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A global thanksgiving

The editors of Foreign Policy provide a list of reasons to be thankful this year. Among the reasons:

1) Improvements in air safety

2) Lower infant mortality rates

3) Fewer and less deadly wars

4) Fewer people living in extreme poverty

5) Greater life expectancy

Happy Thanksgiving!

posted by Dan at 07:10 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Defending Angelina Jolie and other debatable issues

This blog has a long and distinguished tradition of defending celebrities. This tradition continues in my latest installment of with Henry Farrell. I had to defend Angelina Jolie. It wasn't easy, but somehow I mustered the necessary willpower.

We also bit the hand that feeds bloggingheads by debating the New York Times op-ed page, as well as one of November's Books of the Month.

Go check it out!

posted by Dan at 10:26 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Most awesome simulation ever

Robert Farley details a "mini-simulaton" at the Patterson School, "informed by repeated viewings of Independence Day."

And suddenly, millions of men who spend their weekends watching FX prick up their ears.

My favorite bit:

We worked out that the Vice President and the Cabinet (with the exception of the Secretary of Defense) have all, perhaps with a straggler or two, been killed. Congress fares much better, as we figured that most Senators and Representatives wouldn't be in DC during the attack. We're guessing about 85% of Congress survives.
No cabinet, little civil service, but a functional Congress? I predict the new capital would be in Bozeman, Montana -- which, as anyone who's been to Bozeman knows, it not an entirely bad outcome.

posted by Dan at 02:21 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Good news on stem cell research

Gina Kolata explains in the New York Times:

Two teams of scientists are reporting today that they turned human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without having to make or destroy an embryo — a feat that could quell the ethical debate troubling the field.

All they had to do, the scientists said, was add four genes. The genes reprogrammed the chromosomes of the skin cells, making the cells into blank slates that should be able to turn into any of the 220 cell types of the human body, be it heart, brain, blood or bone. Until now, the only way to get such human universal cells was to pluck them from a human embryo several days after fertilization, destroying the embryo in the process.

The reprogrammed skin cells may yet prove to have subtle differences from embryonic stem cells that come directly from human embryos, and the new method includes potentially risky steps, like introducing a cancer gene. But stem cell researchers say they are confident that it will not take long to perfect the method and that today’s drawbacks will prove to be temporary.

Researchers and ethicists not involved in the findings say the work should reshape the stem cell field. At some time in the near future, they said, today’s debate over whether it is morally acceptable to create and destroy human embryos to obtain stem cells should be moot.

posted by Dan at 10:37 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Meanwhile, in Iraq....

The New York Times' Damien Cave and Alissa Rubin have the story that will occupy the blogosphere for today -- Baghdad is safer:

The security improvements in most neighborhoods are real. Days now pass without a car bomb, after a high of 44 in the city in February. The number of bodies appearing on Baghdad’s streets has plummeted to about 5 a day, from as many as 35 eight months ago, and suicide bombings across Iraq fell to 16 in October, half the number of last summer and down sharply from a recent peak of 59 in March, the American military says.

As a result, for the first time in nearly two years, people are moving with freedom around much of this city. In more than 50 interviews across Baghdad, it became clear that while there were still no-go zones, more Iraqis now drive between Sunni and Shiite areas for work, shopping or school, a few even after dark. In the most stable neighborhoods of Baghdad, some secular women are also dressing as they wish. Wedding bands are playing in public again, and at a handful of once shuttered liquor stores customers now line up outside in a collective rebuke to religious vigilantes from the Shiite Mahdi Army.

Iraqis are clearly surprised and relieved to see commerce and movement finally increase, five months after an extra 30,000 American troops arrived in the country. But the depth and sustainability of the changes remain open to question.

By one revealing measure of security — whether people who fled their home have returned — the gains are still limited. About 20,000 Iraqis have gone back to their Baghdad homes, a fraction of the more than 4 million who fled nationwide, and the 1.4 million people in Baghdad who are still internally displaced, according to a recent Iraqi Red Crescent Society survey.

This report, combined with reports on monthly deaths from sectarian violence, suggest that the effects of the surge are clear -- we've managed to get Baghdad back to the place it was prior to the February 2006 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra. I believe this is also a period in which even members of the Bush administration admitted that their Iraq policy was "adrift."

Well, there are some other changes... ike in the rest of Iraq. The Christian Science Monitor's Sam Dagher has a story on this:

Ammar al-Hakim is presiding over an Iraqi Shiite building boom. His austere Shaheed al-Mihrab Foundation has raised 400 mosques in Iraq since 2003. It's building the largest seminary here in the holy city of Najaf and opening a chain of schools. And it now has 95 offices throughout the country.

What's more, Mr. Hakim's foundation is winning over adherents to his party – the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) – through all-expenses-paid mass marriages along with cash payments and gifts for the newlyweds, free education and stipends at his new schools, and an array of other charitable projects such as caring for orphans and displaced families.

All of this is being done to promote ISCI's core vision: a federation of nine provinces where conservative Shiite Islam would reign.

While opponents say that such a federation among central and southern provinces would only hasten the breakup of Iraq and create a ministate where Iran would hold great sway, Hakim and his party are making great gains.

For them, the plan would bolster security for Shiites and benefit the stability of the country as a whole. And, most significant, they are winning much support ahead of a national referendum on the issue by April 2008, as proscribed by the Constitution.

Is this a good thing? The International Crisis Group is skeptical:
As long as the U.S. remains in Iraq, its alliance with ISCI will help entrench the party in the country’s governing, security and intelligence institutions, in Baghdad as well as most southern governorates. Its only true challenger remains the Mahdi army, which despite its ruffian credentials and bloody role in sectarian reprisals enjoys broad support among Shiite masses. Their rivalry now takes the form of a class struggle between the Shiite merchant elite of Baghdad and the holy cities, represented by ISCI (as well, religiously, by Sistani), and the Shiite urban underclass.

This struggle, more than the sectarian conflict or confrontation between Anbari sheikhs and al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters, is likely to shape the country’s future. The most plausible scenario is a protracted struggle for power between these two movements, marked perhaps by temporary alliances, such as is presently in force.

The U.S. has fully backed ISCI in this rivalry. This is a risky gambit. Unleashing ISCI/Badr against the Sadrists is a dangerous policy that will further deepen intra-Shiite divisions; it also is a short-sighted one, given the Sadrists’ stronger mass base.

Question to readers: is there cause to be optimistic about the future of Iraq?

UPDATE: Anne Applebaum makes an important point:

[The] optimism is totally unwarranted. Not because things aren't improving in Iraq—it seems they are, at least for the moment—but because the collateral damage inflicted by the war on America's relationships with the rest of the world is a lot deeper and broader than most Americans have yet realized. It isn't just that the Iraq war invigorated the anti-Americanism that has always been latent pretty much everywhere. Far worse is the fact that—however it all comes out in the end, however successful Iraqi democracy becomes a decade from now—our conduct of the war in Iraq has disillusioned our natural friends and supporters and thrown a lasting shadow over our military and political competence. However it all comes out, the price we've paid is too high.

posted by Dan at 08:49 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 19, 2007

And I thought I was disorganized

In the spring, I'm going to be running a conference at the Fletcher School on the future of policy planning. This means I'm going to have to flex my administrative muscles, which are about as well-developed as my pectorals. Which is to say, I'm a bit disorganized.

Of course, if the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler is correct, I can always console myself that my conference can't possibly be as badly planned as the upcoming Annapolis meeting on the Middle East:

A few days after Thanksgiving, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice plan to open a meeting in Annapolis to launch the first round of substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks during Bush's presidency.

But no conference date has been set. No invitations have been issued. And no one really agrees on what the participants will actually talk about once they arrive at the Naval Academy for the meeting, which is intended to relaunch Bush's stillborn "road map" plan to create a Palestinian state.

The anticipation surrounding the meeting has heightened the stakes for other countries seeking invites. If Turkey comes, Greece wants a seat. So does Brazil, which has more Arabs than the Palestinian territories. Norway hosted an earlier round of peacemaking in Oslo, so it wants a role. Japan wants to do more than write checks for Palestinians.

"No one seems to know what is happening," one senior Arab envoy said last week, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid appearing out of the loop. "I am completely lost."

The envoy recounted the calls he made in recent days to dig up information and said he had reserved rooms for his country's foreign minister and other officials. He added with exasperation: "It is a very peculiar thing."

Even a senior administration official deeply involved in the preparations confided, before speaking off the record about his expectations: "I can't connect the dots myself because it is still a work in progress."....

Aaron David Miller, a former State Department official and author of the soon-to-be-released book, "The Much Too Promised Land," an account of U.S. efforts to foster peace, said invitations were issued two weeks before the last major international conference on the Middle East, held in Madrid in 1991. He said invitations were issued weeks ahead of another Middle East negotiation session, the 1998 Wye River conference in Maryland.

"I'm not sure any of that speaks to whether it is a consequential event or not," Miller said, suggesting that the proposed talks in Annapolis are mostly necessary to let the world know that substantive peace talks are already taking place.

Question to readers -- if you're going to go through the trouble of assembling such a large collection of officials in Annapolis, isn't it worthwhile to have them stay for more than a day? Or is this a case where more discussion would not necessarily equal more fruitful discussion?

UPDATE: The AP now reports that invitations will be sent out seven days in advance:

As the U.S. finalizes preparations, the State Department will start sending out invitations overnight for the event, U.S. officials said Monday. The conference will be held in Annapolis on Nov. 27 in between meetings in Washington. The main guests are the Israelis and the Palestinians, and the Bush administration also is inviting Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and key international players in the peace process, the officials said.

The invitations are to be sent by diplomatic cable to U.S. embassies in the countries concerned, with instructions to Washington's ambassadors to present them to their host governments' foreign ministries, the officials said. They will ask that each nation send its highest-ranking appropriate official to Annapolis.

The White House has said President Bush will attend at least part of the event chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who also will host a pre-conference dinner at the State Department on Nov. 26, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement.

posted by Dan at 10:29 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Could Hugo Chavez threaten Venezuela baseball?

Maria Burns Ortiz has a story at that indicates Hugo Chavez's nationalization policies are starting to foreign direct investment -- in baseball:

With that kind of talent emerging from Venezuela in recent seasons, one would assume that big league clubs would be flocking to the South American nation in search of the next superstar. However, the cultural and political scene in Venezuela is undergoing rapid and radical transformation, and instead of flocking to the country, teams are fleeing over concerns about safety and political uncertainty. They aren't leaving in droves just yet, but the stream has been steady enough to raise a red flag about the future....

The number of clubs pulling their player development operations out of Venezuela has been a concern for Major League Baseball. Nineteen teams have participated in the Venezuelan Summer League in the past, but only 11 did so this year.

The Padres, for example, had planned on leaving Venezuela following this season after they built a multimillion-dollar facility in the Dominican, but the current situation accelerated the move. The team moved all its player development operations out of Venezuela following the 2005 campaign, two years earlier than originally anticipated.

"We just figured we might as well do it [then] to avoid some of the hassle of having to deal with some of the legislation that [President Hugo] Chávez passes down there in hiring coaches, worrying about severance pay and just getting in and out of the country," says Juan Lara, San Diego's Latin American operations coordinator.

San Diego is not alone. Baltimore ceased operating its academy following the 2006 season. The Red Sox -- one of the teams the Padres shared an academy with -- left when San Diego did in 2005. Cleveland pulled out in 2004.

posted by Dan at 06:30 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, November 16, 2007

November's Books of the Month

This month's international relations book is Dani Rodrik's One Economics, Many Recipes: Globalization, Institutions, and Economic Growth. After having read an ever-increasing number of economic development treatises, Rodrik's book is one of the best and describing the current state of play. Of course, this earns him tons of flak -- as he says on his own blog, "[my work] is perfectly calibrated to annoy both the adherents and opponents of the standard way of doing economics."

It is also the subject of a Crooked Timber seminar, in which your humble blogger contributes a review. Other contributors include Adam Przeworski, David Warsh, and Jack Knight. Go check them all out.

The general interest book is Walter Russell Mead's God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World. Mead's objective in the book is to explain how and why Great Britain and the United States have defined the global order, for good or for ill. This is an engaging, fun and provocative book. Mead does an outstanding job of burrowing deeper and deeper into the mysteries of the Anglo-American psyche without forgetting the big picture. It's a little heavy on the Friedmanesque metaphors, but it's a small price to pay for an interesting read.

posted by Dan at 04:16 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What's in an M.A., redux

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson and Rob Farley have fired additional volleys on the utility of an M.A. in international relations.

Except that with this round, the debate is actually about something more fundamental -- the utility of international relations theory to policymaking.

These paragraphs suggest where Jackson is coming from:

[W]here it gets controversial is the relationship between scholarship and object. We have two ideal-typical positions on this: scholarship ought to improve practice, and scholarship can't possibly improve practice, at least not directly. Rob clearly prefers door #1; I prefer door #2. Rob's position is the classic Enlightenment hope for the sciences of society: place practice on a more rational basis, achieve better results, produce a world that looks more like the world we want to live in; I think that's both dangerous and a little naive -- dangerous because it puts a potential transcendental justification for coercion in the hands of would-be reformers (after all, if the experts told us that we can do this, and you disagree, then you're either stupid or obstinate, and in either way you're in the way so forcibly removing you starts to look like a good idea) and naive because it presumes that scholarly knowledge translates more or less simply to the actual world (and once again, if it doesn't, maybe we ought to use force to make the world look more like the model . . .).

I prefer option #2 -- scholarship can't possibly improve practice, at least not directly -- in part because people claiming to have Reason/God/Truth on their sides ("Jesus/Buddha/Muhammad/science likes my policy better!") have been responsible for most of the senseless death in human history, in part because systematic scholarly knowledge is by nature an abstraction (and sometimes a severe abstraction, in which the actual practice of anyone in particular disappears -- the sports analogy here would be to sabremetric analyses of baseball, and we've seen what happens when actual baseball teams try to directly implement strategies that look valid sabremetrically) and therefore not fit for any sort of direct translation into practice, and in part because scholarly knowledge is irreducibly perspectival and thus does not seem to me to be a good solid basis for decision-making (although it can certainly inform decision-making as one element among others).

Farley's response to this is here. My response is below the fold....

From this excerpt, I've concluded that Jackson is likely correct that he should not be teaching anyone in an M.A. program. I am more skeptical that this stricture should be applied to others.

The problem with Jackson's argument is that it sets up a false dichotomy. Neither ideal type holds, and most profs in policy schools are smart enough to know that. International relations theory provides some useful constructs through which one can interpret world politics. Now -- and this is important -- they are far from perfect. Most IR theories -- hell, most social science theories -- do a much better job at after-the-fact explanation than before-the-fact prediction. In teaching them, therefore, one has to be wary of having your students believe that what they are learning is some sort of gospel. [This, by the way, is one reason why an M.A. has value-added -- most M.A. students eventually realize that sometime there is no right answer to a question. B.A. students are more reluctant to believe that the Wizards of IR are not all-powerful.]

Why teach theory at all, then? Two quick answers. First. to paraphrase Churchill, IR theory is a lousy rotten way of understanding the world -- until you consider the alternatives. Policymakers who claim to disdain abstract theories just use implicit ones -- poorly chosen historical analogies, bad metaphors, you name it. Jackson's "intellectually isolationist" approach to teaching policy doesn't make the situation any better -- it just deprives would-be policymakers of a component in their analytical tool kit.

Second, good teachers don't just teach the strengths of a particular theoretical approach -- they also teach the weaknesses and blind spots of each approach. This is the "procedural liberalism" that Michael Berube is so fond of. As Farley puts it:

Why wouldn't it be better if the policymakers in question had some theoretical training, such that they could, on their own, evaluate elements of the claims that the scholars are making? This IS teaching students; it's teaching students to be better, more critical policymakers.
Teaching students theoretical concepts and how to critique them is a two-fer. Hopefully, it provides them with some useful knowledge about how the world works. More importantly, however, it should teach them how to judge for themselves about how the world works. That's the best way to get students to temper the idealism that scares the crap out of Jackson.

Oh, one last point -- Jackson's sabremetric metaphor is crap. The Boston Red Sox have been successful in the past half-decade because of a combination of sabremetric analysis, traditional scouting, and a larger budget to fill out the roster. Sabremetrics was not solely responsible -- but without it, there's no way they win two World Series either.

This is how IR scholarship should be viewed as well -- an insufficient but necessary base of knowledge from which one can craft effective policies.

posted by Dan at 11:58 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Just to play devil's advocate....

For many Americans, bashing the United Nations is like bashing the French -- it's easy and fun! And there's plenty to criticize, as anyone who observes the workings of the UN Human Rights Council can attest. Both realists and neoconservatives argue that a hegemon like the United States has greater freedom of action outside the strictures of the UN than within it.

Here's a question, then. Compare the recent crackdowns in Myanmar and Pakistan. The American response to the former country's crackdown has largely been carried out through the United Nations, whereas the Security Council has been mum on Pakistan.

Which is not to say that the U.S. has been inactive -- clearly, George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice have been been directly pressuring Pervez Musharraf to reverse his course of action, respect the rule of law and allow the secular parties to participate in upcoming elections.

What does it say, then, that Myanmar seems to be taking tentative steps in a liberalizing direction, while Pakistan is moving in the opposite direction?

(To be clear, Pakistan remains a much more open society than Myanmar -- I'm talking about recent trends and not overall status.)

posted by Dan at 09:14 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The New York Times op-ed page mimics the blogosphere

As a blogger, I've been bemused by the exchanges between Paul Krugman, David Brooks, and Bob Herbert on the meaning of Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign kickoff in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

They're exactly like a typical blog exchange, in that the debate quickly devolves from Big Questions to minutiae.

Unlike a typical blog exchange, none of the participants have linked/mentioned the others by name. Also, instead of taking a few days to play out, this will take two months.

In that spirit, the hard-working staff here at urges its readers to participate in its first ever Mimic the New York Times Op-ed Columnist Contest!!

To enter, just submit, via a comment to this post, the opening paragraph of either Maureen Dowd or Thomas Friedman's op-ed contributions on this subject. Winners will be lifted from comments and promoted to the hilt by this mighty blog.

I just can't write Dowd, but here's my sample Friedman entry:

RIYADH, KSA: If you want to smoke at King Khaled International Airport in Riyadh, you have to brave the 120 degree outdoor heat. I wanted to continue my conversation with Prince Bandar, however, so I took my ice water from the first class lounge and followed him outside. He tapped his cigar ash on the round and said, "What the Middle East needs right now is its own sunny optimist -- it's own Ronald Reagan." I sipped my Evian and told him how the cradle of Reagan's political successes could be found in Philadelphia. Not the one in Pennsylvania, but the one in Mississippi. Let's call it the Philadelphia Story.....

posted by Dan at 08:44 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 12, 2007

So you want to get a job in the foreign policy world....

At work, the question I am most often asked that I am most ill-equipped to answer is, "How do you successfully pursue a career in the foreign policy world?"

To be fair, I don't think anyone is really well-equipped to answer this question. Unlike medicine, law, or other professions, there is no routinized, codified career track for the foreign policy community.

In my experience, most successful people make the mistake of generalizing from their own experience in proffering career advice in this field. If I did that, I'd have to say something like, "Here's what you should do.... start out pursuing a Ph.D. in economics, and then change your mind after the first-year sequence...."

Still, over at Passport, Peter Singer makes a game effort in providing advice for those who wish to pursue a career in foreign policy analysis. [Who the f@%& is Peter Singer?--ed. Why, he's the youngest person to be named a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.]

Here's how he closes:

[M]ulti-taskers tend to advance further than pure specialists. People who can also convene and bring people, programs, and events together are more likely to advance to the leadership level than people who lock themselves away and only write. That is, when you look around at who is in the leadership positions in this field at think tanks, NGOs and the like, it is not merely people who are good writers but people who bring other skills to the table: management, organizational process, strategy, budgeting, fundraising, etc. The funny thing is that many of these skills get absolutely no nourishment within the education backgrounds that typically bring people into the foreign-policy field. Most people either come in with a politics degree or a law degree, but the skills often called upon at the leadership level are of the MBA variety. As you focus on what sort of activities to undertake and skills to build on early in your career, I would keep this in mind.
Singer is much more plugged into intellectual-industrial complex than I, but I'm not entirely sure that answer is completely correct. I think it depends on what you want to do in your career.

If you want to move up the bureaucratic food chain, then by all means Singer is correct. If, on the other hand, you actually want to influence a specific set of policies, then specialization also has its merits.

Commenters well-versed in this world are heartily encouraged to proffer their own advice on this question.

posted by Dan at 09:49 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Time to collect my Gore bets

Some colleaues at Fletcher -- who shall remain nameless -- were convinced Al Gore was going to run for President in 2008. When informed of this conviction, I quickly put down bets.

This Fortune story by Marc Gunther and Adam Lashinsky makes me think it's time to collect:

The recovering politician, environmental activist, and Nobel laureate is adding another title to his résumé: venture capitalist. After "a conversation that's gone on for a year and a half," according to Gore, he has decided to join his old pal John Doerr as an active, hands-on partner at Kleiner Perkins, Silicon Valley's preeminent venture firm.

The move is more than another Colin Powell moment (the former Secretary of State signed on as a Kleiner "strategic limited partner" two years ago and has hardly been heard from since). Gore is joining the firm as Kleiner makes a risky move beyond information technology and health-care investing into the fast-growing and increasingly competitive arena of "clean technology."

According to Doerr, by 2009 more than a third of Kleiner's latest fund, which was raised in 2006 and totals $600 million, will be invested in technologies that aim to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Already Kleiner has invested more than $270 million from various funds in 26 companies that make everything from microbes that scrub old oil wells to electric cars to noncorn ethanol. Twelve of Kleiner's 22 partners now spend some or all of their time on green investments.

posted by Dan at 01:34 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The FSOs are beginning to leave me cold

Glenn Kessler has a Washington Post front-pager on how Cobdoleezza Rice is not such a great manager at Foggy Bottom.

Given Rice's management performance at NSC, this is not completely surprising. That said, three points in her defense.

First, traditionally it's been the Deputy Secretary of State who managed the bureaucracy at State. And, as Kessler observes between Robert Zoellick and John Negroponte the office, "was unoccupied for the longest period in State Department history."

Second, Kessler compares Rice's management style to James Baker's stint at the building -- and then contrasts it with Colin Powell's embrace of the bureaucracy. Fair enough, but this suggests to me that how the Secretary of State manages the bureaucracy has no bearing whatsoever on whether they are successful at their jobs.

Third, the subtext of the article is that Foreign Service Officers are bitching and moaning about how Rice has made their lives difficult. Policy objections I can understand. Being sent to Iraq I against their will I can (sort of) understand. But some of the complaints voiced to Kessler make the FSOs sound absurdly out of touch:

At State, Rice has pushed ambitious efforts to reshape how foreign aid is distributed and to shift key diplomatic jobs from Europe to emerging powers such as China and India. The foreign-assistance overhaul, in which Rice personally approved country-by-country budget numbers, was criticized by lawmakers and some within the department because it appeared to minimize the advice of specialists in the field. The job shifts were put in place so quickly that a number of Foreign Service officers who had been promised plum posts in Paris and elsewhere had to be told that those positions no longer existed....

Some State veterans compare Rice's management unfavorably with that of Powell, who was secretary during Bush's first term. Powell held large staff meetings daily; Rice cut those to three per week. And twice a week, she holds smaller meetings with undersecretaries and key regional assistant secretaries....

[An] official who served under both secretaries recalled how, after an assistant secretary of state made a mistake resulting in several days of negative news coverage, Powell treated that person with civility. By contrast, the official said, Rice becomes angry over even minor news accounts, turning furiously to the relevant assistant secretary for an explanation. "Dressing someone down like that is not great for morale and does not encourage people to bring up bad news," he said. (emphases added)

No Paris jobs? Fewer staff meetings? Getting angry over negative press? Wow, this is dirty laundry!!!

Coming soon: a front-pager from Kessler about how Rice viciously ordered the State Department cafeteria to eliminate "Free Fro-Yo Fridays"

UPDATE: I received the following in an e-mail from an FSO who shall remain nameless that provides some interesting context to the Kessler story:

Very few FSOs live for "plum assignments." People who go to comfy posts very often have kids in high school (they need a place that has a good one), may be struggling with temporary medical issues, want easy access to aging parents, or may be just be plain tired out from tough years in rough places or having been separated from family at a post like Iraq or Afghansitan. Most of us happily choose challenge and hardship over life in a place like Paris, but most of us also hope for a break here and there and if we finally get such a gift and it then gets wiped away in a reorg, that's no fun.

** Around 2/3 of us are overseas. Debating whether or not the Secretary is inclusive enough in staff meetings is utterly unfamiliar to me. Main State is full of political appointees and civil servants as well. Our FSO careers, however, are mostly spent abroad.

** When I joined, we were all about staffing new embassies after the breakup of the USSR, the world was exciting. There were no embassies in combat zones. Kids could follow you almost everywhere. Today, many hundreds of our jobs involve being in true danger spots and leaving family behind -- or at minimum living under extreme security conditions. It's not just about Iraq and Afghanistan. It's also Liberia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Congo, Algeria... all of these and many others are unaccompanied....

Bottom line -- I wish media coverage and blog postings were more accurate about who we are, how willing we actually are to take on hardship, and how much we are not about who goes to the Secretary's staff meetings or who gets to live in Paris. Even the Iraq story has been told very poorly -- the real story is that 2,000 folks have volunteered already, and many more have recently gone to other tough spots, like those above, where you can't take family. Living life this way is new for us, and our institution is undergoing painful adjustment to a tough world. It is distressing to folks to look ahead and see that this is what it means to make this a career.

posted by Dan at 08:36 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, November 9, 2007

An optimistic post on trade

It's no secret that I've been in a sour mood as of late on the future of U.S. trade policy. Today's New York Times story on the House's passage of the Peru FTA didn't cheer me up either, because the takeaway point is that its passage was the exception and not the rule.

Eoin Callan, however, lifts me from complete and total despair with this Financial Times story:

Diplomats from the US and European Union are laying the groundwork for an unprecedented round of bilateral bargaining in which all of the main transatlantic trade disputes would be put on the table and negotiated in one go.

The talks between the world’s two largest trading blocs would link the resolution of billions of dollars-worth of simmering trade disputes and aim to “clear the decks” with one all-encompassing deal, officials said.

The negotiations would tie the fate of a range of US and European industries, including computer manufacturers and producers of genetically modified foods, to a back-and-forth round of bartering that would produce “winners and losers on both sides”, a senior European official said.

The plans appear to have originated in Brussels and coalesced around the Transatlantic Economic Council, which met for the first time on Friday in Washington and brought together senior policymakers from the Bush administration and European Commission....

The chief EU trade negotiator said there was merit in an approach that linked separate trade disputes and “put them on a ledger, marking down each one, three wins for you, three wins for us”.

He said it was easier to achieve a negotiated solution when “you can get a win on both sides” rather than trying to broker a compromise when trade law clearly favoured one side.

A US trade official said: “We’re up to sitting down at the table to talk about these things and trying to negotiate rather than litigate.”

If this works -- and given the interest groups at play, I'd put the odds of success at about 35% -- then it's win-win-win-win-win.

Both the United States and European Union would score some policy victories, and remove some major irritants to the transatlatic relationship.

The business community on both sides of the Atlantic would benefit from greater policy certainty.

Consumers would gain from increased levels of exchange

The biggest winner, however, would likely be the WTO -- because it would save the dispute settlement body from having to decide cases that are way beyond its pay grade.

posted by Dan at 08:16 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Weston Field hits the big time

ESPN's College Gameday is going to your humble blogger's alma mater, Williams College, for tomorrow's broadcast. This reason is the 122nd playing of the Williams-Amherst football game.

To celebrate, has two stories on the rivalry. One tidbit from Chris Fowler:

Some of the early games reportedly were just glorified brawls between students. In the infamous 1928 edition, Amherst coaches dressed one of their own in a Williams uniform and sent him onto the field to confuse their rivals. Officials detected the ruse and forced the player to strip off his uni in full view of the amused fans.
Lauren Reynolds' story, however, has the better anecdotes about off-the-field stunts:
The rivalry is not confined to the players and coaches, however. In the long history of the rivalry, some of the most memorable moments have taken place off the field. Amherst students have accused their Williams counterparts of stealing back the books Moore took with him nearly two centuries ago; a few years ago, Williams' band presented Lord Jeffs supporters with a bill for $1.6 million in late fees for those same books.

Hixon, an Amherst alumnus, said the rivalry has inspired its fair share of pranks between the schools. "Back in the mid-'80s, we had a comic group on campus, an underground group, called Rubber Chicken. And Rubber Chicken was this comic group that pulled all sorts of bits," he explained. "And how they did it, I don't know, but they got into the Williams equipment room and stole all of the Williams home jerseys on the Monday before the [game on] Saturday. And as the Williams equipment manager went to lay them out, he found out that they didn't have them.

"So all hell broke loose, as you might imagine. They didn't really know who it was, and now it looked like Williams was going to have to play at Williams on their homecoming in their away jerseys. It just couldn't happen.

"Rubber Chicken took a picture of themselves -- about 12 guys -- with the jerseys on, but the shirts over their heads, covering their faces. And they sent it to Williams, and the fun began. And on that Thursday afternoon, [Williams'] security office and our security office met halfway up the Mohawk Trail to deliver the jerseys."

The Rubber Chicken incident is hardly the only prank to be pulled; in fact, Williams students are the reason Amherst's mascot, Lord Jeff, no longer carries a sword to games. (It seems the mascot might have been a little too eager to joust when an Ephs supporter stole his hat at a basketball game.)

"There's a lot of fun and folklore; the stories get a little bit better each year," said Hixon, whose basketball team is all too familiar with the rivalry. This season, Amherst captured its first Division III NCAA men's basketball championship, finishing the season with a sparkling 30-2 record. The two losses? One came at the hands of Williams, of course.

Although the students are entrenched in the rivalry from the moment they step on campus, it does not end at commencement.

"One of the things that really fuels the fire is the professional world. That's where it really becomes heated -- when you're sitting across from a guy, or your boss is a Williams guy or the guy underneath you is an Amherst guy, and there's little wagers or whatever," Mills said. "It's an amazing thing. It's a small school, but it seems to have veins everywhere in the country, and the post-grad stuff is really what keeps the flame burning."

Go Ephs!!

posted by Dan at 02:38 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

I hereby yield to the superior metaphor

My "Hipster Statesmen" essay for Newsweek (and my "Foreign Policy Goes Glam" essay for The National Interest) was designed to show the limits of the Jeffrey Sachs approach to world politics.

The combined efforts of Phoebe Maltz and Julian Sanchez have convinced me that Sanchez has the better metaphor to describe this problem.

posted by Dan at 03:55 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Can the U.S. leverage the House of Saud?

Forget Pakistan -- Shadi Hamid and Stephen McInerney argue in The New Republic that the United States should be pressing the Saudis on human rights reform:

America can leverage its support to shape Arab regimes' decisions on democratization. This is particularly true for the ruling al-Saud family, which is intimately tied to the U.S. and dependent on its military backing. The arms deal presents an opportunity for Washington to exert influence in Riyadh. This opening should be seized to push the Saudis along the path of reform, the only path that will lead to long-term security.

We have leverage, and we should use it. First, all arms sales should be contingent on the implementation of the promised educational and judicial reforms. Second, the United States should require progress on political reform, beginning with greater freedoms of press and assembly, and allowing public dissent on policy matters. Beyond this, deadlines should be set for long-awaited Shura (Consultative) Council elections, followed by benchmarks for the steady evolution of the council from an advisory role to a genuine legislative body. Third, transparency and fairness in the justice system, even when dealing with terror suspects, should be required. Such measures can be enforced much as Saudi cooperation on counterterrorism efforts is maintained today--through a certification process mandated by law.

I was certainly sympathetic to this argument a few years ago. The problem is that America's strategic situation in the region has deteriorated so badly since 2004 that I'm not sure the United States can afford to alienate another ally.

posted by Dan at 01:47 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

This will come as no surprise to my wife
You Are a Boston Creme Donut
You have a tough exterior. No one wants to mess with you.
But on the inside, you're a total pushover and completely soft.
You're a traditionalist, and you don't change easily.
You're likely to eat the same doughnut every morning, and pout if it's sold out.
posted by Dan at 11:36 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Training the MAs

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson has a rather odd post at Duck of Minerva in which he questions the utiliy of an MA in international relations. Which is OK, except I'm pretty sure that's the degree program in which he teaches:

I have to admit that at some level I simply do not understand the idea of a terminal MA degree in international relations, although I teach in a policy school that awards large numbers of them every year. I do not understand what is supposed to be gained through the course of study that most MA students engage in, since they don't do enough coursework to develop a real scholarly grasp of the field (or even of their specialized portion of it) and at least in my experience they generally don't do enough concrete skills-training to really develop themselves as competent professionals (and when they do, it comes in their internships rather than in the classroom, which is what virtually any MA in international relations will tell you if you ask them where they learned the most during their graduate school experiences). So as far as I can tell it is largely a certification and networking exercise, and an expensive one at that.

When I teach and work with MA students I am generally looking for those students who really wanted a Ph.D. but perhaps didn't know it yet. Either that or I am looking for those rare MA students who are actually interested in scholarship as a vocation.... as a professor I largely only have one thing to offer to anyone: I press people to clarify their arguments and to take the implications of their commitments more seriously. Period. In my experience a very small minority of MA students find this helpful, and I primarily work with those students.

Over at Lawyers, Guns and Money, Rob Farley dissents from this view:
The courses in a terminal MA program (at least the one I'm part of) are far more policy oriented, with a correspondingly greater focus on the empirical over the theoretical, than students would encounter in a political science program. Memos are a learned skill, as is the ability to skim the news for noteworthy events, manage time, and so forth.... it's possible that nothing genuinely productive is happening here, but I'd really like to think that students emerge with a firmer grasp of the debates, a stronger sense of the empirical, and a few skills that they'll need in the workplace. As such, it's really irrelevant whether they have a scholarly grasp of the field; indeed, such a grasp might even be counter-productive....

I came to the conclusion very, very quickly that looking for potential Ph.D. candidates would be a serious mistake, both in terms of projecting my own interests onto students who didn't care, and in shortchanging those very talented students who couldn't give a rat's ass about the arcane debates that define the academic study of international relations. In general, I've been very reluctant to encourage even the most capable students to pursue further study, in no small part because I think that they'll have more lucrative and productive careers outside of academia than within.

As I begin my second year at Fletcher, I'm definitely with Farley on this one. If you want to ensure a life of wretched misery, teach at a policy school and try to convert persuade your favorite students to get a Ph.D. Most likely you'll fail in your efforts, which will embitter you. If, God forbid, you succeed, you'll embiter the student 90% of the time.

You cannot and should not coax a student into getting a Ph.D. You can tell them they have the intellectual chops for it, but for them to commit to four five six more than six years of grad school, they need to have the internal compulsion to do it. (To be clear, I'm not actively dissuading my MAs either. If they come to me with the Ph.D. ambition, I'll try to suss out their underlying motivations. If I'm persuaded, then I'll offer my full-throated support.]

As for the training, the goal shouldn't be to ensure that the students have "a real scholarly grasp of the field." You should ensure, however, that they are trained well enough to become discriminating consumers of the policy and scholarly literature (I suspect that Jackson does this when he presses his students to, "clarify their arguments and to take the implications of their commitments more seriously"). Beyond that, as Farley suggests, the skill set of policymakers looks rather different from those of scholars.

UPDATE: A commenter to this post makes an excellent point:

I feel that the best IR/Policy MAs are those earned from institutions that requre their applicants to have actually DONE something before matriculating....

Mr. Jackson teaches at a MA program with a significantly younger study body, and which admits a very significant number of MA students directly out of undergrad. Maybe this makes a difference?

So true.

posted by Dan at 11:02 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

A post in which I defend the most insipid magazine article of the year

The nice publicists at Vanity Fair e-mailed me an alert about this Maureen Orth essay about the decline and fall of the Washington social scene (apparently, partisans killed the socialite stars).

Here's how Orth's essay opens:

Red Fay, undersecretary of the navy under John F. Kennedy, was a charming bon vivant, a great pal of the president’s, and the uncle of my roommate at Berkeley in the 60s. So it was my great good luck, on my very first trip to the capital, in May 1964, just six months after Kennedy’s assassination, to have “Uncle Red” invite me to dinner on the presidential yacht, the Sequoia. A few minutes after we arrived on board, I was amazed to see not only Jackie Kennedy but also Bobby and Ethel Kennedy and Jean Kennedy Smith and her husband, Steve Smith, walking up the gangplank. They were followed by George Stevens Jr., the youthful head of the U.S. Information Agency’s motion-picture division; the Peruvian ambassador and his wife; and my roommate’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles McGettigan, of San Francisco. This was one of Jackie’s first nights out since the tragedy, but she greeted everyone graciously. She was in ethereal white and spoke little during dinner, except to the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who was seated to her right.

What I remember most vividly about that evening was an exchange I had with Bobby Kennedy, the attorney general. “What are you going to be next, vice president or senator?,” I asked rather impudently, because I did not want him to think I was a brainless bimbo. The question of how the Kennedy dynasty would proceed was very much in the air, for Lyndon Johnson had not yet announced a running mate. “What do you think I should be?,” Kennedy shot back, his steel-blue eyes boring into me. “Well, I think you should be senator,” I said, “because everyone remembers you trying to twist arms at the last convention, and I don’t think Lyndon Johnson will let you be vice president.” He then opened up a barrage of questions: “Who are you? What does your father do?” In the middle of one of my answers, he turned away and waved to a group of tourists on a boat at least a hundred yards from us across the Potomac. I was highly insulted, for I had been planning to enlist in the Peace Corps, whose director was his brother-in-law Sargent Shriver, and suddenly Bobby Kennedy seemed to me like just another pol. (In those days he was still closer to J. Edgar Hoover than to César Chávez or Martin Luther King Jr.)

The dinner was great fun, however, with lots of jokes and toasts, and the next day Uncle Red took me out to Hickory Hill, Bobby and Ethel’s residence in McLean, Virginia. R.F.K., in cutoff jeans, was playing touch football on the front lawn. Ethel, wearing a two-piece bathing suit, was visibly pregnant. In the driveway, a limousine waiting to take the attorney general “up to New York” was sure proof, I felt, that he must be going for the Senate. (Like Hillary Clinton, R.F.K. became an instant resident of the state, and he went on to defeat incumbent Ken Keating.) “Bobby,” Red Fay said, “I brought Maureen out here so you could give her some advice about her life.” Bobby smiled. “Advise her?” he said. “Hell, last night she told me what to do!”

As you can imagine, a whole lotta of bloggers have gone to town on the piece -- and I really can't blame them. Beyond her personal reflections, the piece primarily consists of older DC doyennes bemoaning that people don't know what finger bowls are anymore, or socialities that lack old money, an illustrious family, or great wealth..

At one point Orth actually complains, "Washington is far more diverse today than it was when Wasps with pedigrees who went into journalism and government service constituted the Georgetown set." Mon dieu!!

In the perverse joy of contrarianism, however, I will try to find two things that are useful in Orth's essay.....

1) Orth's essay will be a great template for the Vanity Fair arrticle I will write in 2042 about how the blogospheric social scene ain't what it used to be. Here's how my essay will open:

Tyler Cowen was a bon vivant, a gourmand, and an acquaintance of mine from my days orbiting Virginia Postrel's intellectual salon. So it was my great good luck, on my very first trip to the capital, to have “the Big Kahuna” invite me to dinner at one of the best hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants in DC. A few minutes after we arrived, I was amazed to see not only Megan McArdle but also Ana Marie Cox, Steve Clemons, Matthew Yglesias and Josh Marshall, walking up the order window to get some tacos. This was one of Megan's first nights out since leaving New York City for DC, but she greeted everyone graciously with her dewy green eyes. She was in ethereal white short shorts and spoke little during dinner, except to Jacob Levy, who was seated to her right (she asked him to pass her the hot sauce).

What I remember most vividly about that evening was an exchange I had with Andrew Sullivan. “Where are you going to blog next, Harper's or The Atlantic?,” I asked rather impudently, because I really wanted him to think I was a brainless himbo trying to grab up his old slot at Time. The question of how Sullivan's political arc would proceed was very much in the air, for his mud-wrestling match with Mickey Kaus had yet to be scheduled. “Where do you think I should blog?,” Sullivan shot back, his steel-blue eyes boring into me as he wiped guacamole from his beard. “Well, I think you should go to the Atlantic,” I said, “because everyone remembers Lewis Lapham's little faux pas from 2004, and I don’t think he'll let you go on” He then opened up a barrage of questions: “Who are you? What do you think of gay marriage?” In the middle of one of my answers, he turned away and waved to a group of really hot guys on the prowl across the road. I was highly insulted, for I thought I still had my looks -- plus, I had really been hoping to blog for The New Republic, whose boss was still tight with him, and suddenly Andrew Sullivan seemed to me like just another blogger. (In those days he was still closer to Glenn Reynolds than to Spencer Ackerman or Glenn Greenwald.)

And so on.

2) The piece suggests that there has been no real replacements for the old hostesses: "Susan Mary Alsop, Oatsie Charles, Evangeline Bruce, Kay Graham, and Pamela Harriman." What puzzles me is why. If we're drowning in a sea of the super-rich, surely there must be at least a few individuals who would choose to specialize at the task of non-partisan power-schmoozing. (One possibility is that these people, rather than creating non-partisan social environments, take the charitable cause route. Damn those AIDS victims!! Damn them to hell!!)

posted by Dan at 03:51 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Stay away -- I have a syndrome!!

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, John Gravois writes about a syndrome that's so pervasive I'm not sure it can be called a syndrome so much as an occupational hazard:

On a recent evening, Columbia University held a well-attended workshop for young academics who feel like frauds.

These were duly vetted, highly successful scholars who nonetheless live in creeping fear of being found out. Exposed. Sent packing.

If that sounds familiar, you may have the impostor syndrome. In psychological terms, that's a cognitive distortion that prevents a person from internalizing any sense of accomplishment.

"It's like we have this trick scale," says Valerie Young, a traveling expert on the syndrome who gave the workshop at Columbia. Here's how that scale works: Self-doubt and negative feedback weigh heavily on the mind, but praise barely registers. You attribute your failures to a stable, inner core of ineptness. Meanwhile, you discount your successes as accidental or, worse, as just so many confidence jobs. Every positive is a false positive.

By many accounts, academics — graduate students, junior professors, and even some full professors — relate to this only a little less than they relate to eye strain.

Of course, there's the question of whether it's such a bad thing:
According to [professor of psychology Gail] Matthews, a person with impostor syndrome typically experiences a cycle of distress when faced with a new task: self-doubt, followed by perfectionism, then — sometimes but not always — procrastination.

"The next step is often overwork," Ms. Matthews says. "It has a driven quality — a lot of anxiety, a lot of suffering.

"Then comes success," she says. "So you do well!"

(Pause for a brief sigh of relief.)

"Then you discount your success," she says. "Success reinforces the whole cycle."

So the academy's occupational hazard is society's welfare benefit.

The story links to this site about imposter syndrome -- which has some imposter-y like qualities to it. Take the quiz to see if you have the syndrome. If you have one of eight symptoms -- including perfectionism -- you have the syndrome!!

[And how many symptoms do you have?--ed. All of them. But on the other hand, I also have a blog, which is likely a symptom of the polar opposite of imposter syndrome -- the belief that you are an expert on anything and everything. Indeed, we'll know when the blogosphere has really become professionalized when paid bloggers start fessing up to imposter syndrome.]

UPDATE: Of course, as David Leonhardt points out in today's New York Times, sometimes there really are imposters or frauds amidst us.

posted by Dan at 08:45 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Blackmail plays no role whatsoever in this post

All readers of this blog would make my life considerably easier if you were to click over to the Best Podcast category for the 2007 Weblog Awards and voted for EconTalk.

That is all.

posted by Dan at 07:20 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Credit where credit is due

Two weeks ago your humble blogger was very disturbed by the prospect of a large-scale incursion by Turkey into Iraqi Kurdistan.

It should be noted, therefore, that my concerns have not come to pass. In fact, if this Newsweek report by Owen Matthews and Sami Kohen is correct, the Bush administration deserves some credit for defusing a situation that could have been really, really ugly:

Fortunately for both sides, yesterday's White House encounter produced a solution that allowed both sides to step back from the brink. Bush not only declared the Kurdistan Workers' Party (or PKK), "an enemy of Turkey, a free Iraq and the United States," but also committed to providing actionable intelligence to Ankara on the whereabouts of PKK positions. Officially, Bush publicly stuck to the line that Iraq's territory should not be violated. In practice, though, the United States would cooperate "in order to chase down people who murder people," Bush pledged. Essentially, that appears to be a green light for the Turks to carry out limited raids into Iraqi territory with the blessing of the United States. And, crucially, it also allows Erdogan to call off a full-scale land invasion—though he stressed that that option remained on the table if raids proved unsuccessful.

"Finally, we have a plan of action," says one senior Turkish official not authorized to speak on the record. "We are tired of promises with no action."

Getting to this agreement was the result of weeks of intense behind-the-scenes diplomacy by the administration.
Read the whole thing. The final solution is not a great one, but given the current state of play, it was probably the best feasible bargain.

posted by Dan at 02:58 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 5, 2007

What if there was a peace agreement and no one came?

The Christian Science Monitor's Ilene Prusher reports that Israeli PM Ehud Olmert has put the status of East Jerusalem on the table at the US-sponsored "international meeting" on the Middle East in Annapolis.

This would appear to be good news, since there isn't going to be a peace unless the Palestinian Authority can claim its capital to be in East Jerusalem.

Whether the Palestinians who live in these neighborhoods actually want this to happen is another question entirely, according to Prusher:

Those feeling skittish about the city's potential partition aren't just Israelis – who traditionally take the position that Jerusalem should be Israel's united capital – but also Palestinian Jerusalemites, who fear that their standard of living will fall if they come under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

"I don't want to have any part in the PA. I want the health insurance, the schools, all the things we get by living here," says Ranya Mohammed as she does her afternoon shopping in Shuafat.

"I'll go and live in Israel before I'll stay here and live under the PA, even if it means taking an Israeli passport," says Mrs. Mohammed, whose husband earns a good living from doing business here. "I have seen their suffering in the PA. We have a lot of privileges I'm not ready to give up."

Nabil Gheet, a neighborhood leader who runs a gift and kitchenware outfit in the adjacent town of Ras Khamis, also resists coming under the PA's control.

"We have no faith in the Palestinian Authority. It has no credibility," he says, as his afternoon customers trickle in and out. "I do not want to be ruled by Abbas's gang," he says, referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas....

In a poll issued last year by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, 39 percent of Palestinians supported and 59 percent opposed a compromise in which East Jerusalem would become the capital of the Palestinian state, with Arab neighborhoods coming under Palestinian sovereignty and Jewish neighborhoods coming under Israeli sovereignty. Among Israelis, the survey noted, about 38 percent would agree and 60 percent would disagree with such an arrangement.

posted by Dan at 07:28 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Political winners and losers from the Hollywood strike

Forget the troubles in Pakistan -- let's focus on something really impirtant, like the Hollywood writers and how it affects the 2008 campaign.

USA Today's Gary Leven and Bill Keveney explain the immediate effects from the strike: "Jay Leno and David Letterman will go dark tonight as last-ditch talks failed and the first strike by movie and TV writers since 1988 began at midnight." Also The Daily Show, the Colbert Report, Saturday Night Live, etc.

In other words, every show that takes delight in mocking/satirizing the presidential candidates is now down indefinitely. If the politics of campaigning is a zero-sum game, who wins and who loses?

I'd have to say the big losers are Barack Obama and John McCain. As his SNL cameo suggests, and as Kevin Drum elaborates, Obama has largely been immune from press criticism, and I'd wager that this extends to the satirical shows. McCain, as everyone knows, is the Ed McMahon to Stewart's Johnny Carson. As I pointed out in The National Interest, Obama and McCain are unusual in that they are politicians that can get (and want) access to "soft news" outlets. They don't have that option for the near future, denying them free media.

The big winners are all the candidates who are vulnerable to satire.... or the favorite targets of Hollywood writers. In other words, Hillary Clinton and the entire Republican field.

The biggest winner is likely the news media itself..... they won't have Jon Stewart to kick them around for the indefinite future.

posted by Dan at 10:09 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

For the record....

I fall into the second category in Brad DeLong's typology of Prius drivers: "I have spent a fortune on a fuel-efficient car, and now I am going to get some of that back by saving time!"

Of course, I'm not the one who's apparently blogging and driving at the same time.

posted by Dan at 09:40 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Pakistan thread

Hey, it's been about a decade... time for martial law in Pakistan again:

The government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, making no concessions a day after seizing emergency powers, rounded up leading opposition figures and said Sunday that parliamentary elections could be delayed for as long as a year.

Security forces were reported to have rounded up about 500 opposition party figures, lawyers and human rights advocates Sunday, and about a dozen privately television news stations remained off the air. International broadcasters, including the BBC and CNN, were also cut.

The crackdown, announced late Saturday night after General Musharraf suspended the Constitution, was clearly aimed at preventing public demonstrations that political parties and lawyers were organizing for Monday.

Comment away.

posted by Dan at 09:38 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, November 3, 2007

I'll second Dani Rodrik's nomination

The first winner of the the Albert O. Hirschman Prize speaks the truth about Hirschman's intellectual legacy:

I think Hirschman's contributions have been greatly under-appreciated within economics, and that goes a long way to explain why he has not won a Nobel. If the Nobel was given for impact on social sciences more broadly, Hirschman would have clearly won a long time ago. But who know, there is still some time...
Let the record show that the hardworking staff here at has been calling for this move for two years now.

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

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Newsweek 2: Rise of the hipster statesman

My monthly column in Newsweek International is up, and I really hope it's better than the movie name from which I've drawn this post title.

It's about the phenomenon of the hipster statesman -- i.e., ex-politicians trying to make a difference in the world, not by getting back into government, but through other means of policy entrepreneurship.

I'm not optimistic:

There are two very powerful constraints on ability of the hipster statesmen to get anything done. First, the policy-entrepreneur approach cannot work on all policy problems. To update Truman's aphorism for the 21st century, when you are a statesman, you can choose your issues; when you are a politician, the issues choose you. Real politicians do not always respond to the pleas of statesmen, because they are busy avoiding the fate of becoming a statesman. Wealth, popularity and glamour might be enticing, but as Henry Kissinger once observed, power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Second, calling attention to a problem is not the same thing as solving it. The assumption underlying the hipster statesmen is that once people become aware of a problem, there will be a groundswell of support for direct action—what Gore labeled "an opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level" after winning the Nobel. This is not how politics usually works, particularly in the international realm. Any solution to a problem like global warming, for example, involves significant costs—and the distribution of those costs is a contentious issue. Even if more people become aware of a policy problem, it is far from guaranteed that a consensus or compromise will emerge about the best way to solve it.

Go check it out. The arguments are similar to those made in my "Foreign Policy Goes Glam" essay in The National Interest.

posted by Dan at 05:00 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Is the foreign service like the military?

The Boston Globe's Farah Stockman reports about some trouble a brewin' between Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) and the higher-ups in the State Department:

Angry US diplomats lashed out yesterday against a State Department plan that would send them to Iraq against their will, with one likening it to "a potential death threat" and another accusing the department of providing inadequate care to diplomats who have returned home traumatized.

At a rare, contentious meeting, foreign service officers told senior State Department officials that the move to fill vacancies in Baghdad puts them in danger, jeopardizes the well-being of their families, and could deplete the ranks of those willing to serve overseas at a critical time. Several diplomats said privately they would resign rather than accept orders to serve in Iraq. The president of their union pointed out that about 2,000 State Department personnel have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, greatly taxing the ranks of the 11,000-member core.

"We have had four years of people volunteering to Iraq, and as the size of the mission has increased, demand has outstripped supply," said John Naland, president of the American Foreign Service Association, in an interview after the meeting.

The State Department has struggled to find Foreign Service volunteers to fill 48 of the 252 diplomatic posts that will become vacant next summer in Baghdad as well as other Iraqi provinces. To solve the problem, the department decided on mandatory service in Baghdad if too few volunteers step forward. Yesterday, at a packed meeting to discuss the plan, foreign service officers spoke out passionately against it, an unusual display of internal dissent.

Jack Crotty, a senior Foreign Service officer who has worked overseas, told his superiors that being forced to serve in Iraq is a "potential death sentence and you know it."

"It's one thing if someone believes in what's going on over there and volunteers," he said, according to the Associated Press, "but it's another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment."

Rachel Schnelling, a diplomat who served in Basra, Iraq, got a standing ovation when she said the State Department had failed to care for diplomats after they returned home suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

"I would just urge you, now that we are looking at compulsory service in a war zone, that we have a moral imperative as an agency to take care of people who . . . come back with war wounds," she said at the meeting, according to the AP. "I asked for treatment and I didn't get any of it."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was not at the meeting convened by Harry Thomas, director general of the Foreign Service. Sean McCormack, her press secretary, said that the decision to draft diplomats to Iraq came with Rice's support, and that the move was not taken "lightly."

"Understandably, people are going to have some pretty strong feelings about it," he said. "But ultimately our mission in Iraq is national policy. We as Foreign Service officers swore an oath, and we agreed to certain things when we took these jobs. Part of them is to be available for worldwide assignments. They all agreed to that."

On Friday evening, the department sent notices to between 200 and 300 Foreign Service officers informing them that they had been selected as possible candidates to serve in Baghdad or on provincial reconstruction teams if there are not enough volunteers. Many officers were upset to read media reports of the new assignment plan over the weekend before they received the department notifications at work on Monday.

After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, ambitious diplomats flocked to posts there, which were seen as tickets for promotion. But as the danger grew, and as Baghdad became the largest US embassy in the world, filling posts in Baghdad became more difficult....

Naland said it is "almost unprecedented" to force diplomats to serve in a war zone. "During the Vietnam War, Foreign Service officers were ordered to serve, but for everyone on active duty, this is brand new," he said.

Although senior officials defended the plan, others contradicted McCormack's assertion that they had committed to be sent anywhere in the world.

"People didn't sign up for the foreign service to go get killed in the war zone," said a Washington-based State Department official who volunteered and served in Iraq during the invasion but does not want to return.

"In any other country, an embassy like that would be in evacuation status," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Morale is not helped by news from colleagues in Baghdad who say inadequate security has kept them holed up in the Green Zone, unable to interact frequently with the Iraqi officials and ministries they are supposed to advise....

[S]enior military officials accuse the diplomatic arm of the government of failing to send enough personnel to work on the Iraq reconstruction teams. Conflicts have emerged within the State Department itself, as some senior officials pressed for a more aggressive policy of assisting the US-led mission in Iraq.

Henry S. Ensher, a Foreign Service officer who served as director for political affairs in the Iraq office inside the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs argued in the March 2006 issue of the Foreign Service Journal that the State Department should "recognize that service in wartime necessitates a complete commitment by all its personnel." (emphasis added)

Let's just stipulate that the quoted line is really disturbing. That said, the
question I have to readers is, should FSO's be treated differently from soldiers?

posted by Dan at 10:55 AM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)