Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Al Qaeda is losing

Last week, we sawquantitative evidence that terrorist tactics in general -- and Al Qaeda in partcular -- appears to be on the wane.

This week, there's some qualitative evidence that Al Qaeda is losing, and losing badly, among its core constituency -- Muslims sympathetic to the cause of jihad.

Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank make this point in The New Republic:

After September 11, there was considerable fear in the West that we were headed for a clash of civilizations with the Muslim world led by bin Laden, who would entice masses of young Muslims into his jihadist movement. But the religious leaders and former militants who are now critiquing Al Qaeda's terrorist campaign--both in the Middle East and in Muslim enclaves in the West-- make that less likely. The potential repercussions for Al Qaeda cannot be underestimated because, unlike most mainstream Muslim leaders, Al Qaeda's new critics have the jihadist credentials to make their criticisms bite. "The starting point has to be that jihad is legitimate, otherwise no one will listen, " says Benotman, who sees the Iraqi insurgency as a legitimate jihad. "The reaction [to my criticism of Al Qaeda] has been beyond imagination. It has made the radicals very angry. They are very shaky about it."

Why have clerics and militants once considered allies by Al Qaeda's leaders turned against them? To a large extent, it is because Al Qaeda and its affiliates have increasingly adopted the doctrine of takfir, by which they claim the right to decide who is a "true" Muslim. Al Qaeda's Muslim critics know what results from this takfiri view: First, the radicals deem some Muslims apostates; after that, the radicals start killing them. This fatal progression happened in both Algeria and Egypt in the 1990s. It is now taking place even more dramatically in Iraq, where Al Qaeda's suicide bombers have killed more than 10,000 Iraqis, most of them targeted simply for being Shia. Recently, Al Qaeda in Iraq has turned its fire on Sunnis who oppose its diktats, a fact not lost on the Islamic world's Sunni majority.

Additionally, Al Qaeda and its affiliates have killed thousands of Muslim civilians elsewhere since September 11: hundreds of ordinary Afghans killed every year by the Taliban, dozens of Saudis killed by terrorists since 2003, scores of Jordanians massacred at a wedding at a U.S. hotel in Amman in November 2005. Even those sympathetic to Al Qaeda have started to notice. "Excuse me Mr. Zawahiri but who is it who is killing with Your Excellency's blessing, the innocents in Baghdad, Morocco and Algeria?" one supporter asked in an online Q&A with Al Qaeda's deputy leader in April that was posted widely on jihadist websites. All this has created a dawning recognition among Muslims that the ideological virus that unleashed September 11 and the terrorist attacks in London and Madrid is the same virus now wreaking havoc in the Muslim world.

Lawrence Wright makes a similar argument in The New Yorker:
Zawahiri has watched Al Qaeda’s popularity decline in places where it formerly enjoyed great support. In Pakistan, where hundreds have been killed recently by Al Qaeda suicide bombers—including, perhaps, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto—public opinion has turned against bin Laden and his companions. An Algerian terror organization, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, formally affiliated itself with Al Qaeda in September, 2006, and began a series of suicide bombings that have alienated the Algerian people, long weary of the horrors that Islamist radicals have inflicted on their country. Even members of Al Qaeda admit that their cause has been harmed by indiscriminate violence. In February of this year, Abu Turab al-Jazairi, an Al Qaeda commander in northern Iraq, whose nom de guerre suggests that he is Algerian, gave an interview to Al Arab, a Qatari daily. “The attacks in Algeria sparked animated debate here in Iraq,” he said. “By God, had they told me they were planning to harm the Algerian President and his family, I would say, ‘Blessings be upon them!’ But explosions in the street, blood knee-deep, the killing of soldiers whose wages are not even enough for them to eat at third-rate restaurants . . . and calling this jihad? By God, it’s sheer idiocy!” Abu Turab admitted that he and his colleagues were suffering a similar public-relations problem in Iraq, because “Al Qaeda has been infiltrated by people who have harmed its reputation.” He said that only about a third of the nine thousand fighters who call themselves members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia can be relied upon. “The rest are unreliable, since they keep harming the good name of Al Qaeda.” He concludes, “Our position is very difficult.”

In Saudi Arabia, where the government has been trying to tame its radical clerics, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Aal al-Sheikh, the Grand Mufti, issued a fatwa in October, 2007, forbidding Saudi youth to join the jihad outside the country. Two months later, Saudi authorities arrested members of a suspected Al Qaeda cell who allegedly planned to assassinate the Grand Mufti. That same fall, Sheikh Salman al-Oadah, a cleric whom bin Laden has praised in the past, appeared on an Arabic television network and read an open letter to the Al Qaeda leader. He asked, “Brother Osama, how much blood has been spilled? How many innocent children, women, and old people have been killed, maimed, and expelled from their homes in the name of Al Qaeda?” These critiques echoed some of the concerns of the Palestinian cleric Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, who is considered by some to be the most influential jihadi theorist. In 2004, Maqdisi, then in a Jordanian prison, castigated his former protégé Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the now dead leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, for his unproductive violence, particularly the wholesale slaughter of Shiites and the use of suicide bombers. “Mujahideen should refrain from acts that target civilians, churches, or other places of worship, including Shiite sites,” Maqdisi wrote. “The hands of the jihad warriors must remain clean.”

Finally, the Strategy Page reports on the abject collapse of Al Qaeda in Iraq:
Today, al Qaeda [in Iraq] has been shattered, with most of its leadership and foot soldiers dead, captured or moved from Iraq. As a result, al Qaeda attacks have declined more than 90 percent. Worse, most of their Iraqi Sunni Arab allies have turned on them, or simply quit. This "betrayal" is handled carefully on the terrorist web sites, for it is seen as both shameful, and perhaps recoverable.
Speculating about all of this, Andrew Sullivan makes an interesting point:
Maybe this will be history's judgment of the last few years: both the US and al Qaeda over-reached. But al Qaeda's over-reach was greater. And in this we see why democracies do actually do better in warfare in the long run: because our leaders have to be responsive to the people; because legitimate internal criticism and debate forces course correction and exposes self-defeating hubris. With the Bush administration, this process took much longer than it should have, and the Bushies did all they could to stamp out, rather than hear, criticism. But in the end, democracy adjusts to reality; religious extremism cannot.

posted by Dan at 01:07 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)



Wednesday, May 21, 2008

May the United States continue to be blessed with incompetent and stupid adversaries

The Human Security Brief has released its 2007 report. The headline findings:

Challenging the expert consensus that the threat of global terrorism is increasing, the Human Security Brief 2007 reveals a sharp net decline in the incidence of terrorist violence around the world.

Fatalities from terrorism have declined by some 40 percent, while the loose-knit terror network associated with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda has suffered a dramatic collapse in popular support throughout the Muslim world.

The Brief also describes and analyses the extraordinary, but largely unnoticed, positive change in sub-Saharan Africa's security landscape. The number of conflicts being waged in the region more than halved between 1999 and 2006; the combat toll dropped by 98 percent.

It should be noted that the 40 percent decline is based on excluding Iraq from the count:
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The most interesting (and heartening) finding I've seen comes from Pakistan:
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Wow, it's almost like once citizens experience terrorism, they become less tolerant of it as a political tactic. Who knew?

Seriously, what would be interesting would be if Pakistani support for terrorist tactics increased after the most recent drop in attacks.

Click here for more on the report.


posted by Dan at 12:40 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)



Tuesday, May 13, 2008

It's not like the Year of the Boar was all that great either

In the wake of a deadly Chinese earthquake, The Associated Press reports that China has not had a great few months:

China hoped 2008 would be a yearlong celebration, a time to bask in the spotlight of the upcoming Beijing Olympics. Instead, the Year of the Rat has also brought a wave of troubles -- both natural and man-made -- that are putting a heavy strain on the communist leadership....

In March, huge anti-government riots erupted in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, sparking sympathy protests in Tibetan areas across western China. The violent protests were the biggest challenge to Chinese rule in the Himalayan region in nearly two decades....

The negative attention spilled over to the Olympic flame's around-the-world tour. Meant to be a feel-good kickoff event to the Beijing Games, the relay turned into chaos as pro-Tibet protesters mounted demonstrations from the very start of the ceremonial lighting in Greece, and at stops including London, Paris, and San Francisco.

The bad news kept coming. In May was China's worst train accident in a decade, leaving 72 dead and more than 400 injured when a high-speed passenger train jumped its tracks and slammed into another in rural Shandong province. Excessive speed was determined to be the cause, and five railway officials were promptly fired.

This month also brought a sharp rise in the number of reported cases of hand, foot, and mouth disease, a normally non-deadly viral infection that has killed 39 children this year and infected nearly 30,000 others.

Two thoughts on this.

First, it's worth pointing out that China didn't have a great 2007 either. A rash of health and safety scares affected China's brand image. Beijing began to experience signficant blowback from its investment footprint in Africa. The Saffron Revolution in Burma made things very uncomfortable for Beijing as well. So this isn't just about 2008.

Second, none of these PR reversals is inconsistent with China's continued rise. It's worth remembering that, during the latter half of the nineteenth century, the United States became the economic hegemon at the same time it was recovering from Reconstruction and enduring a twenty-year recession/depression.

posted by Dan at 01:32 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)



Thursday, May 1, 2008

Why I'll be (relatively) mute this week

I'm in London for the latter half of this week attending a Global Leadership Forum conference entitled America and the World Beyond 2008: Future Challenges and Possibilities. The campaign panel was certainly not boring -- for me, the entertaining highlight was when Peter Wehner unironically compared John McCain to Pericles of Athens.

There's a blog devoted to the conference as well -- click there to see panel highlights.

I was asked to contribute a pre-conference entry -- here's the link. The key point:

As the presidential campaign has worn on, each candidate has managed to annoy, alienate, or anger other parts of the globe. Part of this is due to the odd dynamics of this particular campaign. Between the Democrats, Obama and Clinton need to highlight their differences even though they agree on 95% of their domestic platforms. This leaves foreign policy as the obvious battleground. Meanwhile, Senator McCain's perceived comparative advantage is his foreign policy resume -- although his grasp of foreign policy details is not as sharp as it should be. This combination guarantees future quote-worthy material.

A lot of these contretemps will subside once the Democrat's nominee is determined. Some of them will persist, however. The rising tide of protectionist sentiment will likely lead the Democrat to continue to bash trade deals. McCain's need to secure the GOP base will give him cause to talk tough on the Middle East. Neither gambit will play well abroad.

posted by Dan at 06:54 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)



Tuesday, April 8, 2008

So what's going to happen to the U.S. in Iraq?

I ask this and many other quesions of Juan Cole over at bloggingheads.tv. Go check it out!

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




Does a Beijing boycott make sense?

In the wake of Olympic torch havoc, Hillary Clinton has called for George W. Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Steve Clemons thinks this is a really bad idea:

[S]he is out of bounds and reckless when calling for the weight of the presidency to be used to punish another nation at an event which is drawing China into the blue chip end of the international order, into global institution building and stakeholding, and which is stroking China's national pride at a key point in its ascendancy as a self-realized important power.

Hillary Clinton's call for boycotting the opening ceremonies is an example of a simple-minded, binary approach to US-China relations.

Apparently, she has been led to believe that if Bush is absent at the ceremonies that China will help us on Sudan or allow Tibet a track to political autonomy or independence. This is wrong and naive. China will do neither - and if anything, we will embarrass those in the China establishment who are advocates of deal-making with America and proponents of responsible global stakeholding, which has been the course we have seen China on.

There is no doubt that China's positive role in the troubled Six Party Talks moved our affairs with North Korea forward - even though this process proves to have predictably unpredictable swings up and down. China also proffered some counsel to Iran behind the scenes in advocating release of several intellectuals that Iran had arrested last year as China was not eager to see a substantially tightened third round of economic sanctions out of the UN at that time, and China helped give Iran an important nudge when we needed it.

America and the world have a serious brewing problem with Iran and an ongoing challenge with North Korea. China has secured strategic footholds in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and is spreading its influence in the Caucuses. China is not a natural ally of Russia - in fact, quite the reverse - and yet bumbling American policy seems to be throwing them together in common circumstances in ways that should not be happening.

Hillary Clinton or any President needs to avoid the temptation to pander to the American public when crises with the key global powers emerge. They need to demonstrate an awareness of our core interests with China and what we most want from China in the arena of international affairs.

I'm a big fan of the responsible stakeholder idea, but I do think Clemons is overreacting here.

Contra Clemons, having Bush forego the opening ceremonies is not an example of a "simple-minded, binary approach" to China. All-or-nothing would have been if Clinton had called for a complete boycott of the Games. Instead, she's calling for a step that would take some of the luster off of the opening cereomnies. That's a modulated step.

Sports boycotts have a mixed track record. The summer Olympics faced boycotts in 1976, 1980, and 1984, and South Africa faced a sports boycott during the apartheid era. The Olympics boycotts did not achieve much (though of the three, the Moscow boycott probably did the most damage to the target). The South Africa boycott, on the other hand, did have a pronounced effect on South Africa.

It strikes me that Clinton's error is not in calling for a boycott of the opening ceremonies, but calling for Bush to do without consultation. If I were advising Bush, I would suggest that he start talking with other heads of state that are planning to attend -- Nicolas Sarkozy has already hedged on his attendance, for example -- to see if a common position can be forged as a means of extracting concessions from China. It can't just be the usual suspects, either -- you would want developing country democracies included in the conversation.

Furthermore, I'd try to bring in leaders who have already said they wouldn't attend, like Angela Merkel, as a way to proffer a carrot towards China.

Would any of this accomplish anything? Even if China did not budge, it very well might. China desperately wants these Games to be a stamp of legitimacy on the government. A multilateral withholding of that stamp makes their life difficult, and I suspect they would be willing to bargain in order to avoid it.

UPDATE: Henry Farrell makes an interesting point on the boycott question:

As best I understand it (I am open to corrections if wrong), in the past, Olympics politics have concerned inter-state rivalry, and have been driven by decisions on the part of traditional political elites. The US boycott of the Soviet games in protest against the invasion of Afghanistan in 1980 resulted from a decision by Jimmy Carter, and the tit-for-tat boycott by the Soviets and their allies of the LA games in 1984 resulted from a top level decision too. The dynamic driving the Beijing Olympics seems to me to be rather different; what we are seeing is that the politics of boycott is being driven by mass-publics, and most recently by protestors, rather than by political leaders. In the absence of the public unrest that has culminated in the recent protests in Paris, I doubt very much that Western political leaders would be muttering about not showing at the opening ceremonies – the geopolitical stakes of market access etc are likely more important to them than the fate of Tibetans. But given the widespread public reaction in the West, even leaders like Gordon Brown, who obviously want very much to attend, are having to insulate themselves from public pressures by taking other actions liable to annoy China (such as meeting with the Dalai Lama). In short, I think we are seeing how public opinion and organized cross-national opposition can create significant constraints on the ability of leaders to respond to what they see as the geostrategic necessity of keeping China happy.
It should be noted, however, that here's one element in this equation that hasn't been discussed -- the attitude of the mass Chinese public towards all of this. From what I've read since the Tibetan riots broke out (and, like Henry, I'm open to correction if I'm wrong), the majority of Chinese are furious with the Chinese government for not cracking down even more in Tibet.

My biggest worry about any kind of boycott is the nationalist backlash among the mass Chinese public that it would provoke.

posted by Dan at 08:52 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)



Friday, March 21, 2008

The decline and split of the west?

Another day, another online article.

The topic of my latest Newsweek column is whether the West -- i.e., American and Europe -- can still act as the global policy leader. I'm not optimistic:

America and Europe face political, economic and demographic challenges to their longstanding primacy. This is a delicate moment for a power transition, given the host of emerging global threats: global warming, nuclear proliferation, macroeconomic imbalances, terrorism, the need to reform global governance and so on. The question is, can the United States and the European Union continue to exercise leadership on these issues? The answer, at best, is, "not for long."
Go check it out -- tt was partly, but not completely based on what I observed at the Brussels Forum.

One link that didn't get embedded in the Newsweek story but is worth checking out: Constanze Stelzenmüller's GMF briefing paper, "Transatlantic Power Failures."

posted by Dan at 02:00 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)



Sunday, March 16, 2008

Good gossip from Brussels

The following ten tidbits have been picked up while attending the 2008 Brussels Forum:

1) At the opening session -- taped by the BBC -- the participants were asked to say something for a microphone check. Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, said, "the Russians are coming."

Richard Holbrooke was next -- and he said, "the Democrats are coming."

2) Holbrooke made waves because during the session when, about midway through, he told moderator/BBC presenter Nik Gowing, "this has been a really stupid conversation so far." In defense of Holbrooke, he had a point -- the panel was about challenges to the West, and yet most of the conversation was devoted to, at best, discussing the history of second-tier issues like Kosovo.

3) Speaking of Holbrooke, I have it on good authority that, not only does the former UN ambassador believe that he'll be Secretary of State if either Clinton or Obama wins, he genuinely thinks he'll have a comparable position if McCain wins.

4) Both Robert Zoellick and Richard Holbrooke are very, very smart, and are fully aware of how smart they are. There are two significant differences between them:

a) Zoellick displays flashes of arrogance, but usually keeps it in check; Holbrooke, on the other hand, cannot appear to function in any mode other than pure disdain -- unless there's someone more powerful than him in the room.

b) Zoellick can talk about economic issues with just as much fluency as security issues; Holbrooke knows squat about economics. To be fair, I fear that Zoellick is the last of a dying breed.

5) Right before one panel, a German Green Party member sitting behind me looked at the panel title -- "Toward a Low Carbon Society: Climate Change as a Transatlantic Challenge" -- and said, "God, how boring." He was on his Blackberry for the first ten minutes, and then left the room.

6) Here's a useful piece of advice to conference-goers -- never, ever, sit between someone seeking foundation suppprt and someone possessing grant money to give. It's like trying to breathe in a vacuum.

7) The most potent symbol of waning American power at this conference: the entire U.S. Congressional delegation didn't make it because their DC-9 had to make a fueling stop in Newfoundland, and failed to re-start.

Meanwhile, the dollar sunk to a new low against the euro, which means that the EU economy is now larger than the American economy.

8) The most energetic period of the conference occurred at the Hotel Conrad bar at around 1 AM. It was a mix of Clinton foreign policy advisors, McCain foreign policy advisors, Eurocrats, journalists, staffers from a half-dozen European governments, and German Marshall Fund staffers with indefatigable energy.

OK, actually, that makes it sound boring -- you have to remember that they were all drinking very heavily, and there was a surprising gender balance in the room.

9) Take this for what you will -- at all of the sessions I attended, Iraq was, at best, mentioned in passing once or twice.

10) I'm typing this post in the Brussels Forum press room, as Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff is talking.

So what do real reporters do in the press room? Some of them are typing up the speech -- but most of them are catching up on e-mail correspondence and surfing the web. They're almost like real bloggers.

If you're dying for more info from this conference, Steve Clemons has further observations.

posted by Dan at 07:55 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)



Saturday, March 15, 2008

Watch me sing for my supper

My small role in the 2008 Brussels Forum can be viewed in streaming video by clicking here.

My favorite part -- correcting the German EU Commissioner about Schumpeter.

posted by Dan at 07:43 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)



Friday, March 14, 2008

Sign #472 that relative American power is on the wane

Overheard on the flight to Brussels from Washington, DC: a flight attendant explaining why the plane was so crowded:

It's the Europeans. They're all flying over here now because the dollar is so cheap. We're the new Mexico now.

posted by Dan at 07:16 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)



Thursday, March 13, 2008

Yes, I am a big ol' conference whore this week

Blogging will be light over the next few days, as I'll be attending the 2008 Brussels Forum. This year I've been promoted from attendee to moderating a panel entitled, "Who Will Write the Rules of the Global Economy in the 21st Century?"

For my mother loyal and faithful blog readers who wish they could attend, fear not -- I believe you will be able to watch all of the sessions on a live webcast -- they will be archived afterwards as well.

My goals at this conference:

1) Moderate in a competent fashion;

2) Acquire the necessary amount of chocolate to assuage the Official Blog Wife, who is always a super-understanding and supportive spouse, but particularly this week.

3) Not to tell Steve Clemons anything that forces me into a later blog post of my own.

Comments remain down -- and I've heard enough complaints for my RSS feed to make the following request:
Anyone with the requisite technical skills interesting in earning a few bucks sshould contact me (via the e-mail address on the right) about technical support for the blog.
Au revoir.

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



Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Principled criticism -- and bureaucratic politics -- at the UN

Frances Williams reports in the Financial Times that one arm of the UN is criticizing another arm of the United Nations:

In a speech to the opening of a four-week session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, [UN Secretary General] Ban [Ki-Moon] questioned whether the council was “fully meeting the high expectations” of the international community.

These were “that this council will recognise and promote the universal application of human rights values – and that it will do so without favour, without selectivity, without being impacted by any political machinations around the world”.

In its nearly two years of existence, the council has attracted many of the same criticisms as the discredited UN Human Rights Commission it replaced. In particular it has issued repeated condemnations of Israel while showing a strong reluctance to denounce rights abuses elsewhere.

African and Muslim countries, which have a majority of seats on the 47-nation body, have consistently blocked criticism of the Sudanese government for human rights violations in Darfur and its failure to bring perpetrators to justice. African solidarity has also protected Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe from censure.

Well, this criticism certainly seems well-placed.

Of course, as one reads on, one finds that Ban also has his own bureaucratic interests in making this criticism:

Mr Ban’s remarks additionally appeared aimed at heading off a bid by the African group to rein in the Office of the High Commission of Human Rights (OHCHR), who is appointed by the UN secretary-general with an independent mandate to advance the cause of human rights globally.

The office of Louise Arbour, the present high commissioner, has issued highly critical reports and statements on abuses around the world, including Darfur, Iraq and Uzbekistan.

Mr Ban said the OHCHR had “all the authority of my office behind it” and told the council that it should proceed on a “collaborative path”, as envisaged by the UN General Assembly.

Mr. Ban is clearly in the right in this little tussle -- but this also shows how bureaucratic politics exist at the global level as well as the national level.

posted by Dan at 08:41 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, March 3, 2008

The three rules to understanding Canadian-American relations
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In the wake of Canadian memos flying about on what exactly Obama's chief economist told a Canadian consular official, Noam Scheiber asks a befuddled question:
What is it with these Canadians? Are they running some sort of entrapment operation up there? Why do they keep trying to torpedo Democratic candidates?
Based on my extensive experience with the people of the Great White North, I'll be happy to answer Scheiber's question. All understanding about Canadians are based on based on three very simply rules of thumb:
1) Canadians are the most polite people on earth. Really, compared to Americans, it's just embarrassing at times. Canadians never lose their temper in meetings, ever. This is deceptive, however, because.....

2) Canadians are also the most passive-aggressive nationality on earth. For their entire lives, Canadians have had to cope with the fact that everyone assumes they're essentially just like Americans -- including Americans. The best way to make a Canadian blow a gasket is to mistake them for an American. There are other dyads that have this kind of dynamic as well (Russia-Ukraine, Australia-New Zealand), but among Canadians it leads to this kind of resentment boiling just beneath the surface that, if ever unleashed, would look like a scene from 28 Days Later.

This has a profound effect on Canadian behavior vis-a-vis the rest of the world, because just when you think a Canadian is on your side, s/he does something that completely gums up the works of a policy initiative. In the case of Canadian-American relations, this is compounded by the final rule....

3) Canadians are really schizophrenic about American attention. On the one hand, countries that are the focus of lots of American attention don't necessarily fare all that well. Canadians like the fact that their country is often below the radar.

That said, I'm always surprised when, every four years, Canadians ask me, "So will Canada be an issue in the presidential campaign?" Every time, I say, "no chance in hell." Clearly I've been proven wrong this year, but this is because the Canadians themselves lengthened the news cycle.

So to answer Noam's question: the Canadians are doing what they're doing because they don't want any Americans taking Canada for granted. But they'll do it as politely as possible.

Try applying these rules whenever one deals with Canadians -- they're easy, and fun!

posted by Dan at 01:51 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)



Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Castro's final revenge

I have only two three reactions to Fidel Castro's decision to step down as Cuba's leader:

1) Good riddance -- the man succeeded at little beyond creating repressive state structures designed to stifle individual thought and perserve his power;

2) That said, the manner of his departure is a final twisting of the knife to the Cuban community in the United States. I'm pretty sure the expectation in this country was that Castro would hold onto power until his last breath, and that the country's government would collapse following his demise.

The way Castro has orchestrated his departure from office, however, belies that scenario. Maybe Havana will be in chaos tomorrow, but the orderly transfer of power suggests that those repressive state structures will be in place for a good while.

This Reuters report suggests that Little Havana is dimly aware of this fact:

The news that Castro would not seek a new term as president and military chief sparked no immediate celebrations in the streets of Little Havana, the community west of downtown Miami that is home to many of the city's 650,000-strong exile community.

"It's very good that Fidel resigns. But if Fidel dies, it's better," said Juan Acosta, a Cuban who left the Caribbean island in 1980, as he stopped for a newspaper on Calle Ocho, Little Havana's main street.

3) Steve Clemons thinks that, "this is a huge potential pivot point in US-Cuba relations" and urges Obama and Clinton to announce what steps they would take to improve the bilateral relationship. If I were them, unless I was reeeeeeaaaaaallly trying to woo Wisconsin farmers, I'd wait a week or two to see how things shake out. [UPDATE: Obama's reaction strikes me as the proper one at this point in time:
If the Cuban leadership begins opening Cuba to meaningful democratic change, the United States must be prepared to begin taking steps to normalize relations and to ease the embargo of the last five decades. The freedom of the Cuban people is a cause that should bring the Americans together.
That's a pretty good formulation, actually -- an olive branch with large amounts of wiggle room.]

That said, Clemons is doing his party no favors by blogging:

One interesting US presidential race tidbit involves Fidel Castro.... Castro said that the "unbeatable" US presidential ticket would have both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on it.
Wow, that is an awesome endorsement. I eagerly await Hugo Chavez's announcement.
UPDATE: You can hear my thoughts on the Cuba embargo over at Radio Free Megan.

posted by Dan at 09:23 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)



Thursday, February 14, 2008

It bears repeating -- fundamentalist parties stink at governing

In the New York Times, Carlotta Gall reports that Pakistanis have reached a conclusion familiar to many other countries -- religious fundamentalists are really bad at governing, and pay a price for it at the polls:

The religious parties that for the last five years have governed the North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan Province, which border Afghanistan and the tribal areas, are foundering.

Since being swept to power in 2002 on a wave of anti-Americanism and sympathy for the Taliban after the American invasion of Afghanistan, the mullahs here have found that the public mood has shifted against them.

People complain that they have failed to deliver on their promises, that they have proved just as corrupt as other politicians and that they have presided over a worsening of security, demonstrated most vividly in a rising number of suicide attacks carried out by militants based in the nearby tribal areas.

“They did not serve the people,” said Faiz Muhammad, 47, a farmer whose son was killed in the bomb blast on an Awami political gathering on Saturday....

Two opinion polls released this week show that the standing of the religious parties has fallen to a new low, with voters showing a strong shift of support toward the moderate parties.

A survey of more than 3,000 people at the end of January by the International Republican Institute showed that the religious parties could command only 1 percent of the vote nationally, down from 4 percent in November. In North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan Province, their share was 4 percent.

Meanwhile, support for the Pakistan Peoples Party, the party of the assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, has soared to 50 percent nationally, the poll found. The face-to-face survey was conducted throughout Pakistan and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus two percentage points.

Another survey conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow, a Washington-based bipartisan group that seeks to reduce support for international terrorism, showed backing at 62 percent for the Pakistan Peoples Party and the faction of the Pakistan Muslim League led by the opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif.

If the Taliban were on the ballot sheet, they would garner just 3 percent of the vote, and Al Qaeda only 1 percent, according to the poll.

posted by Dan at 07:54 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, February 11, 2008

Should the U.S. call Chavez's bluff?

Last week, Exxon-Mobil won a court ruling against Venezuela's state oil company, PdVSA, over Hugo Chavez's expropriation of oil facilities. Bloomberg's Joe Carroll and Steven Bodzin explain:

Exxon Mobil Corp. won court orders in the U.S., U.K., the Netherlands and the Caribbean freezing more than $12 billion in Venezuelan assets amid a battle over the government's seizure of oil projects.

Exxon Mobil, the world's largest oil company, sought the orders on concern the Venezuelan state oil company will shift assets to other Latin American countries and China to put them out of reach of an international arbitration commission, the company said in a U.K. court filing.

Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the state-owned oil company known as PDVSA, seized joint ventures with foreign energy companies last year as part of President Hugo Chavez's program to bolster government control of Venezuela's resources. Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips abandoned the projects rather than accept reduced roles and profits....

Exxon Mobil's lawyers scoured regulatory filings, financial statements and PDVSA directors' reports to dig up bank account numbers, details on U.K. office leases, staffing levels and car fleets to bolster its case, the British ruling showed....

The British injunction was granted Jan. 24 without prior notice to the Venezuelan oil company, according to a copy of the ruling. The next hearing on the matter is scheduled for Feb. 22.

Until then, PDVSA is barred from removing any assets in England or Wales up to a value of $12 billion. The Venezuelan company was also ordered not to sell or diminish the value of any assets within or outside those countries up to the same value.

Among the assets cited were refineries in Scotland and northwest England.

PDVSA probably was already withdrawing assets from England and Wales prior to the freeze order "consistent with PDVSA's approach of withdrawing its business operations from the U.S. and Europe and instead focusing on jurisdictions such as Russia, Belarus, Cuba, China, Syria and Iran,'' Exxon Mobil said in the U.K. filing....

The asset freezes will damage PDVSA's ability to raise funds from international investors for drilling and refinery projects, said Asdrúbal Oliveros, chief economist at Caracas- based Ecoanalitica. He estimated PDVSA has $13 billion in "liquid'' international assets.

"This is going to put a lot of pressure on country risk, and on the price of the company's bonds in the international market,'' Oliveros said. ``Loaning money to a company that's in this kind of dispute, and also is facing this kind of injunction, is going to be very delicate.''

Chavez has responded to the ruling in typical Chavez fashion:
President Hugo Chavez on Sunday threatened to cut off oil sales to the United States if Exxon Mobil Corp. wins court judgments to seize billions of dollars in Venezuelan assets.

"If you end up freezing (Venezuelan assets) and it harms us, we're going to harm you," Chavez said. "Do you know how? We aren't going to send oil to the United States. Take note, Mr. Bush, Mr. Danger."....

"I speak to the U.S. empire, because that's the master: continue and you will see that we won't sent one drop of oil to the empire of the United States," Chavez said during his weekly radio and television program, "Hello, President."...

Chavez has repeatedly threatened to cut off oil shipments to the United States, which is Venezuela's No. 1 client, if Washington tries to oust him. Chavez's warnings on Sunday appeared to extend that threat to attempts by oil companies to challenge his government's nationalization drive in courts internationally.

"If the economic war continues against Venezuela, the price of oil is going to reach $200 (a barrel) and Venezuela will join the economic war," Chavez said. "And more than one country is willing to accompany us in the economic war." (emphasis added)

If Chavez were to attempt an embargo, there's no doubt that the United States would feel a twinge of pain.

On the other hand, whatever twinge the U.S. felt would be mild compared to the massive spasms that would rip through Venezuela's economy from such a move -- especially since the only refineries that can handle Venezuelan oil are based in the United States.

Furthermore, it's not like Venezuela's economy is all sweetness and light these days:

These should be the best of times for Venezuela, blessed with the largest conventional oil reserves outside the Middle East and oil prices near record highs. But this country’s economic and social problems have become so acute lately that President Hugo Chávez is facing an unusual onslaught of criticism, even from his own supporters, about his management of the country.

In a rare turnabout, it is Mr. Chávez’s opponents who appear to have the political winds at their backs as they reverse policies of abstention and prepare dozens of candidates for pivotal regional elections. Mr. Chávez, for perhaps the first time since a recall vote in 2004, is increasingly on the defensive as his efforts to advance Venezuela toward socialism are seen as failing to address a growing list of worries like violent crime and shortages of basic foods.

While Mr. Chávez remains Venezuela’s most powerful political figure, his once unquestionable authority is showing signs of erosion. Unthinkable a few months ago, graffiti began appearing here in the capital in January reading, “Diosdado Presidente,” a show of support for a possible presidential bid by Diosdado Cabello, a Chávez supporter and governor of the populous Miranda State.

Outbreaks of dengue fever and Chagas disease have alarmed families living in the heart of this city. Fears of a devaluation of the new currency, called the “strong bolívar,” are fueling capital flight. While the economy may grow 6 percent this year, lifted by high oil prices, production in oil fields controlled by the national oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, has declined. Inflation soared by 3 percent in January, its highest monthly level in a decade.

This is one of those situations where, if economic warfare breaks out, the U.S. holds most of the cards.

I strongly suspect that Chavez's self-preservation motive will force him to back down -- but it would be kind of amusing if he believed his own bluster.

posted by Dan at 08:59 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)




There's hope for the war on terror after all

Kevin Whitelaw wrote a fascinating piece in U.S. News and World Report suggesting that Al Qaeda is confronting a more powerful than the United States government: organizational pathology:

More than 600 captured personnel files of foreigners who joined the terrorist group known as Al Qaeda in Iraq tell the individual stories of Muslim extremists who made the difficult journey to Iraq—and most likely died or were captured there....

But the records, which were analyzed and released by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, also point out a trait that has been unique to al Qaeda and many of its offshoots: They are surprisingly bureaucratic. "Al Qaeda is different from any other terror group in history because it was so large and had such a sophisticated logistical structure," says Bruce Hoffman, an expert on terrorist groups who teaches at Georgetown University. "It's a bureaucratic pathology."

The personnel records are unusually formal, typed on letterhead that reads "Islamic State of Iraq," one of the aliases for al Qaeda in Iraq.

Foreign fighters were asked to provide basic biographical details, such as birth date, address, and telephone number, as well as questions aimed at double-checking who referred them to the organization. One Algerian fighter named Aydir describes three coordinators he met in Syria before he was smuggled into Iraq. The first was "tall and strong," the second was "tall and hunchbacked," and the other was "tan and weak."

Part of it is simply about logistics. "When you're moving people across international borders, you want to make sure you're keeping track of them," says Hoffman. "But it is also part of a hubris that this is more of an organization than it actually is and to impress the recruits in this martyrdom pipeline that they really are part of something bigger than they are."....

For intelligence agencies, there are also some potential opportunities to be exploited. Bureaucracy implies a higher level of leadership structure. "The more hierarchical these organizations are, the easier they are to take apart," says Seth Jones, a terrorism expert at Rand Corp., a think tank. "When they become diffuse, you can't really remove one single link and expect the organization to fall."

Already, researchers have been trying to trace back the telephone numbers included in the records, as well as the names of intermediaries in Syria. "Just the fact that they had these records was a big security risk," says Felter. "We're hoping it will be useful in stemming the tide from their home countries." ....

After U.S. forces ousted the Taliban in 2001, a trove of al Qaeda documents surfaced that showed just how bureaucratic the organization had become, from detailed weapons logs to a complex system of vouchers that allowed fighters to stay at government-run hotels free of charge. "When they were in Afghanistan, al Qaeda really prided itself on its H.R.," says Hoffman. "It gave people annual leave and even a death benefits plan."

Here's a link to a longer analysis of the recovered documents.

UPDATE: Over at The Monkey Cage, Henry Farrell suggests that post-2002, Al Qaeda "traded operational control and financial efficiencies for security and organizational survival" as one research article puts it. This was my sense of the literature as well, which was why I found Whitelaw's story so intriguing. It should be noted, however, that this is not necessaarily inconsistent with the above report -- which is about Al Qaeda in Iraq's organization at the national level. From an anti-terrorism perspective, the best outcome might very well be decentralization at the international level but bureaucratization at the national level.

posted by Dan at 08:49 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)



Friday, February 8, 2008

Great innovations in world diplomacy

The Onion devises a new way to directly communicate the world's displeasure with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

An excerpt:

Roastmaster and former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan kicked off the evening by welcoming President Ahmadinejad to "what [was] sure to be the first and last time Mahmoud would ever be surrounded by 72 virgins."

"Ladies and gentlemen, and Tony Blair, we stand here in the presence of one of the most vicious and destructive forces in the world today—but enough about Bea Arthur," said Annan, gesturing with a tumbler of Makers Mark across the long white tables of chuckling diplomats to the former Golden Girls star. "Some people here tonight will tell you that Mahmoud refuses to engage in diplomatic talks, that he is the most ruthless stonewaller who has ever lived. Well, those people have obviously never met my first wife."

Readers should feel free to suggest the following in comments:
1) Other wold leaders deserving of such an honor;

2) Whether being roasted by, say, Shecky Greene does violate either the Additional Protocols of the Geneva Convention or Attorney General Michael Mukaskey's definition of torture.

posted by Dan at 08:51 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)



Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hegemonic decline, revisited

I see that both Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias liked Parag Khanna's "Waving Goodbye to Hegemony" argument a lot more than I did.

Both Kevin and Matt like the fact that, "it's a useful article if only because it's so rare to see foreign policy pieces in the mainstream media that aren't almost completely America-centric." Fair enough. But if that's their interest, I would recommend "A World Without the West," by Naazneen Barma, Ely Ratner and Steve Weber in May/June 2007 issue of The National Interest -- which was followed up by a lively debate on TNI online.

Furthermore, as an adjunct to Khanna's essay, it would be good to read Michael Lind's cover story in the February issue of Prospect magazine. Lind's argument:

America does, of course, have many problems, such as spiralling healthcare costs and a decline in social mobility. Yet the truth is that apart from the temporary frictions caused by current immigration from Latin America, the US is more integrated than ever. Racial and cultural diversity is in long-term decline, as a result of the success of the melting pot in merging groups through assimilation and intermarriage—and many of the country's infamous social pathologies, from violent crime to teenage drug use, are also seeing improvements. Americans are far more religious than Europeans, but the "religious right" is concentrated among white southern Protestants. And there is no genuine long-term entitlement problem in the US. The US suffers from healthcare cost inflation, a problem that will be solved one way or another in the near future, long before it cripples the economy as a whole. And the long-term costs of social security, America's public pension programme, could be met by moderate benefit cuts or a moderate growth in the US government share of GDP. With a linguistically united, increasingly racially mixed supermajority and a solvent system of middle-class entitlements, the US will remain first among equals for generations to come, even in a multipolar world with several great powers.
Another, small cavilabout Matt's post. He writes:
[T]he big thing to keep in mind when considering any particular "declinist" thesis about American hegemony is that we've actually been on the decline for a good long while. In 1945-46 the U.S. economy completely dominated the world, contributing some absurdly high share of total output. Every other significant country on earth had been completely destroyed by war, and we had a monopoly on nuclear weapons. Over time, this dominant position unraveled and Robert Keohane's After Hegemony, a study of America's efforts to forge a diplomatic system to continue to get bye in this new world actually came out decades ago. The collapse of the Soviet Union created a kind of illusion of a return to hegemony since international politics had been organized as "USA or USSR" for so long, but all along throughout the postwar period other countries have been gaining in importance.

What happens, I think, is that whenever the United States makes policy blunders such as Vietnam or Iraq, the fact that hegemony has been slowly slipping through our fingertips for decades suddenly becomes apparent.

Well, sort of. Yglesias is completely correct that the U.S. had nowhere to go but down after 1945 -- a year in which we had the nuclear monopoly and were responsible for 50% of global economic output. Nevertheless, the U.S. resurgence in the nineties was not an illusion. The simple fact is that all of the potential peer competitors to the United States -- Germany, Japan and the USSR -- either stagnated or broke apart. At the same time, U.S. GDP and productivity growth surged. The revival of U.S. relative power was not a mirage.

posted by Dan at 07:40 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)



Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Second World and my discontents

Over at Duck of Minerva, Daniel Nexon heaps praise (and gentle criticism) on Parag Khanna's The Second World, which was excerpted as the cover story for the New York Times Magazine: ("[T]he book is really excellent. I consider it one of the most important contributions to the debate over American grand strategy to make its way into the public sphere in quite some time.")

I will heap praise on Khanna's agent for getting the excerpt placed into the Magazine. There's less demand than there used to be for prose stylings that read like Benjamin Barber after a three-day coke bender in Macao.

As for the content of Khanna's ideas... well, here's a key excerpt:

The Big Three are the ultimate “Frenemies.” Twenty-first-century geopolitics will resemble nothing more than Orwell’s 1984, but instead of three world powers (Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia), we have three hemispheric pan-regions, longitudinal zones dominated by America, Europe and China. As the early 20th-century European scholars of geopolitics realized, because a vertically organized region contains all climatic zones year-round, each pan-region can be self-sufficient and build a power base from which to intrude in others’ terrain. But in a globalized and shrinking world, no geography is sacrosanct. So in various ways, both overtly and under the radar, China and Europe will meddle in America’s backyard, America and China will compete for African resources in Europe’s southern periphery and America and Europe will seek to profit from the rapid economic growth of countries within China’s growing sphere of influence. Globalization is the weapon of choice. The main battlefield is what I call “the second world.”

There are plenty of statistics that will still tell the story of America’s global dominance: our military spending, our share of the global economy and the like. But there are statistics, and there are trends. To really understand how quickly American power is in decline around the world, I’ve spent the past two years traveling in some 40 countries in the five most strategic regions of the planet — the countries of the second world. They are not in the first-world core of the global economy, nor in its third-world periphery. Lying alongside and between the Big Three, second-world countries are the swing states that will determine which of the superpowers has the upper hand for the next generation of geopolitics. From Venezuela to Vietnam and Morocco to Malaysia, the new reality of global affairs is that there is not one way to win allies and influence countries but three: America’s coalition (as in “coalition of the willing”), Europe’s consensus and China’s consultative styles. The geopolitical marketplace will decide which will lead the 21st century.

The key second-world countries in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, South America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia are more than just “emerging markets.” If you include China, they hold a majority of the world’s foreign-exchange reserves and savings, and their spending power is making them the global economy’s most important new consumer markets and thus engines of global growth — not replacing the United States but not dependent on it either. I.P.O.’s from the so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) alone accounted for 39 percent of the volume raised globally in 2007, just one indicator of second-world countries’ rising importance in corporate finance — even after you subtract China. When Tata of India is vying to buy Jaguar, you know the landscape of power has changed. Second-world countries are also fast becoming hubs for oil and timber, manufacturing and services, airlines and infrastructure — all this in a geopolitical marketplace that puts their loyalty up for grabs to any of the Big Three, and increasingly to all of them at the same time. Second-world states won’t be subdued: in the age of network power, they won’t settle for being mere export markets. Rather, they are the places where the Big Three must invest heavily and to which they must relocate productive assets to maintain influence.

While traveling through the second world, I learned to see countries not as unified wholes but rather as having multiple, often disconnected, parts, some of which were on a path to rise into the first world while other, often larger, parts might remain in the third. I wondered whether globalization would accelerate these nations’ becoming ever more fragmented, or if governments would step up to establish central control. Each second-world country appeared to have a fissured personality under pressures from both internal forces and neighbors. I realized that to make sense of the second world, it was necessary to assess each country from the inside out.

Maybe I'm a stickler for conceptual boundaries, but I don't think you can claim that the central conceit in your book -- the second world -- is really, really important by temporarily sticking China in the category to inflate the numbers.

There are other, bigger problems:

1) The second world is not nearly as nimble at playing the big powers off of each other as Khanna would have you believe. For example, despite all of Hugo Chavez's machinations, Venezuela still needs the U.S. market.

2) As Nexon said, the excerpt does its darndest to play up Europe and China's rise and America's fall. Actually, it's worse than that -- in the excerpt at least, Khanna simply asserts that American power is waning. I suspect that's true in a relative sense, but some, you know, data, would have been nice. I suspect that these trends are occurring, but Khanna just skates over the internal and external difficulties faced by these other two poles.

3) Robert D. Kaplan style-travelogue inquiries into international relations are really fun to write, and might be fun to read -- but they don't actually shine that bright a light onto the contours of world politics.

I did like the frenemies line, though.

posted by Dan at 08:49 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)



Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Feminists, prepare for your field day

Gideon Rachman's most recent Financial Times column opens with a query about Hillary Clinton's lust for power. And then we get to this section:

I got an insight into the thrill of power recently, when I had lunch with a friend who had helped to handle a national emergency in Britain, working from the emergency bunker known as Cobra – which sits beneath the Cabinet Office near Downing Street.

“What was it like?” I asked him. “Brilliant,” he replied. “There are all these video screens and generals and admirals sitting around in uniform. You have to say things like: ‘It is 3.45pm and I am now bringing to a close this meeting of Cobra emergency command.’”

Is my friend uniquely juvenile? I suspect not – just unusually honest. He certainly believed that all the other officials around the table were delighting in the little rituals of crisis management. “I guarantee that everybody around that table had an erection within five minutes,” he mused.

Extrapolating slightly, my friend developed what you might call “the erection theory of British foreign policy”. His argument was that British government’s bias towards the “special relationship” with the US, in preference to the European Union, has something to do with the thrilling nature of American power. “If you fly into Camp David on a helicopter,” he assured me, “it’s instant arousal. But if you have to go to a European summit in Brussels, its so depressing you’re impotent for a week.”

Discuss.

UPDATE: You have to love a comment thread that contains the phrase: "Look, I'm as pro-erection as the next guy, but...."

posted by Dan at 11:00 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)



Saturday, December 29, 2007

Odds and ends while I'm off the grid

Greetings from the future. While I can't reveal my exact location, I can confirm that, where I'm typing this, it's likely a day later than where you are likely reading this post.

A few links of note before I go off the grid again:

1) I have an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that is excerpted from my longer National Interest essay, "Foreign Policy Goes Glam" -- which, I'm glad to say, is now available online in its entirety.

2) While I'm at The National Interest's site, I see that they have collected some interesting information about each candidate's foreign policy advisors.

3) Benazir Bhutto's assassination. Lots of speculation here, but Anatol Lieven's analysis in TNI Online seems depressingly accurate. This section stands out in particular:

She was a populist aristocrat, with all that means in terms of grace under pressure, presence of style and absence of substance; and her party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has long been a dynastic party, not a modern mass party with a common and credible program. For that reason it is unlikely to survive the death of the last adult and politically credible representative of the Bhutto dynasty.

In the long run, the decay of the PPP will benefit both the Pakistani army and the Islamists: The army, because it will be able to bring bits of the PPP into government through offers of jobs and patronage—something that Musharraf has already done quite successfully in recent years. This will greatly help the military to put together coalition governments which the army will control from behind the scenes.

The Islamists will stand to benefit because if the PPP decays or disappears altogether, only the Islamists will remain as a political force promising reform of Pakistan’s deeply corrupt, unjust and incompetent governing system. The PPP’s promise to do this may have become more and more obviously hollow over the years, especially during Ms Bhutto’s two corrupt and unsuccessful terms as prime minister—and this was reflected in the PPP’s decline in the public opinion polls.

All the same, the poor of Pakistan had not completely forgotten her father’s vow to bring them “clothing, food and shelter”. No other politician in Pakistan can possibly offer this with a straight face—least of all Nawaz Sharif, with his roots and support among the industrialists of Punjab. So anyone who really wants radical change (as opposed to incremental change stemming from economic growth) will now have nowhere to go but the Islamists.

4) Megan Mcardle is having an awful lot of fun with Ron Paul and his online denizens, which culminates in this post.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go see a man about seeing a glacier.

posted by Dan at 02:58 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)



Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Restraint and resolve in game theory

Nobel Prize winner Roger Myerson has written a very accessible paper on what game theory can teach powerful states about when it's useful to impose binding constraints on their actions. Here's the abstract:

A great power’s use of its military forces may be rendered ineffective or even counterproductive when there are no clear internationally recognizable limits on this use of force. Professor Myerson derives this conclusion from the basic observation that our ability to influence potential rivals depends on a balanced mix of threats and promises. Potential adversaries should believe that aggression will be punished, but such threats will be useless unless they also believe our promises that good behavior will be better rewarded. A reputation for resolve makes threats credible, but a great power also needs a reputation for restraint, to make the promises credible as well. Thus, international restraints on a nation’s use of military force may actually increase the effective influence of its military strength.
Here's a link to the paper itself. No one familiar with Tom Schelling will be surprised, but Myerson's presentation is extraordinarily lucid.

The most important paragraph:

Thus, if we want our application of military force to deter our potential adversaries, rather than stimulate them to more militant reactions against us, then we should make sure that the limits of our forceful actions are clear to any potential adversaries. We need a reputation for responding forcefully against aggression, but we also need a reputation for restraining our responses within clear limits that depend in a generally recognized way on the nature of the provocation. These limits must be clear to our potential adversaries, who must be able to verify that we are adhering to the limits of our deterrent strategy, because it is they whom we are trying to influence and deter.

posted by Dan at 09:46 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, December 10, 2007

A slow motion explosion in the Balkans

CNN reports that all of the major players involved in Kosovo agree on one thing -- the status quo cannot hold:

Kosovo will press ahead with plans for independence, a spokesman for the region's Albanian leaders said Monday as negotiators were due to confirm that talks to settle the future status of the Serbian province had failed.

Spokesman Skender Hyseni said independence for Kosovo was "not an issue of if but when," The Associated Press reported. "Kosovo will look at its own agenda, but it will certainly be much earlier than May... Kosovo is only going to follow its own roadmap."

Hyseni's comments came as negotiators of the U.N.-appointed three-party "troika" of the U.S., European Union and Russia were due to deliver a final report confirming their failure to reach an agreement after nearly two years of talks.

On Friday the troika issued a statement declaring talks had reached an impasse. "We carefully considered with the parties every reasonable option that would provide a way forward to common ground," said U.S. troika member Frank Wisner. "That common ground was not found."....

The troika of mediators said it had discussed a wide range of options to resolve Kosovo's status, including full independence, supervised independence, a territorial partition, substantial autonomy and confederal arrangements. They even discussed an "agreement to disagree" solution, to no avail.

The troika's report said both parties pledged to "refrain from actions that might jeopardize the security situation in Kosovo or elsewhere and not use violence, threats or intimidation."

But the failure of the talks coupled with Albanian moves towards independence have triggered fears Serbia will take violent means to prevent the loss of Kosovo....

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic has told CNN that Serbia will not use force to achieve its political objectives. But an adviser to Serbia's prime minister said last week his country would defend its sovereignty "using all means" at its disposal.

"The state has no recourse other than war when someone does not respect the U.N. Security Council," Aleksandar Simic, an adviser to Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, told state television.

Russia, a staunch ally of Serbia, has warned Kosovo against any self-proclamation of independence. Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has said it may "aggravate ethnic rifts" and "rekindle violence."

CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley said the main threat of violence was from militias forming as both sides grew impatient with the failure of negotiations to produce a settlement.

"Nobody really feels the status quo can go on much longer," said Oakley. "The people of Kosovo are in dire straits economically and nobody is going to put money into the region until this issue is settled."

The Economist also provides some useful background.

I will be pleasantly surprised if the next six months pass without any significant amount of bloodshed in the Balkans.


posted by Dan at 11:11 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)



Sunday, December 9, 2007

A retraction on Hugo Chavez

Last week I had some nice words for Hugo Chavez, because he had recogized that he had lost his constitutional referendum and yet respected the outcome.

According to Jorge Castañeda's Newsweek essay, however, Chavez didn't exactly make this decision on his own volition:

[B]y midweek enough information had emerged to conclude that Chávez did, in fact, try to overturn the results. As reported in El Nacional, and confirmed to me by an intelligence source, the Venezuelan military high command virtually threatened him with a coup d'état if he insisted on doing so. Finally, after a late-night phone call from Raúl Isaías Baduel, a budding opposition leader and former Chávez comrade in arms, the president conceded—but with one condition: he demanded his margin of defeat be reduced to a bare minimum in official tallies, so he could save face and appear as a magnanimous democrat in the eyes of the world. So after this purportedly narrow loss Chávez did not even request a recount, and nearly every Latin American colleague of Chávez's congratulated him for his "democratic" behavior.

posted by Dan at 10:24 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)



Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Hello, and welcome to Bizarro world politics

If I had told you a year month week ago, dear readers, that the United States was going to be adopting a more dovish position on Iran than the International Atomic Energy Agency, you'd have thought me a pretty foolish man.

I just bring this up because of this New York Times story by Elaine Sciolino:

The International Atomic Energy Agency on Tuesday publicly embraced the new American intelligence assessment stating that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons effort, but in truth the agency is taking a more cautious approach in drawing conclusions about Iran’s nuclear program.

“To be frank, we are more skeptical,” a senior official close to the agency said. “We don’t buy the American analysis 100 percent. We are not that generous with Iran.”

The official called the American assertion that Iran had “halted” its weapons program in 2003 “somewhat surprising.”

That the nuclear watchdog agency based in Vienna is sounding a somewhat tougher line than the Bush administration is surprising, given that the administration has long criticized it for not pressuring Iran hard enough to curb its nuclear program.

But the American finding has so unsettled governments, agencies and officials dealing with Iran that it has suddenly upended commonly held assumptions.

There is relief, as one senior French official put it, that “the war option is off the table.” There is also criticism and even anger in some quarters that the American intelligence assessment may be too soft on Iran.

Tomorrow in Bizarro world politics -- Dick Cheney buys Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a flower.

UPDATE: Some of the commenters seem to think I'm dissing the IAEA in this post, in which case I didn't blog clearly enough. What's startling is not the IAEA's position -- they've been pretty consistent in their take on Iran for the past few years. What's startling is the 180 pulled by U.S. intelligence officials between the 2005 NIE and the 2007 NIE, and the mismatch between this latest NIE and the Bush administration's rhetoric from the past few months.

Ironically, for all of the criticism the Bush administration has heaped on the IAEA and Mohammed ElBaradei, it's their consistency that enhances the likelihood of maintaining the necessary coalition that opposes large-scale Iranian enrichment -- which in turn makes it likely that Iran will continue to keep its weapns program in a deep freeze.

posted by Dan at 10:51 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, December 3, 2007

Praise for Hugo Chavez

Your humble blogger has had great fun at Hugo Chavez's expense for quite some time. So in the aftermath of his first electoral defeat in a long while, it's worth concurring with something that Time's Time Padgett points out:

[J]ust as important [as the referendum's defeat] was Chavez's concession. The opposition "won this victory for themselves," he admitted in a voice whose subdued calm was in contrast to his frequently aggressive political speeches. "My sincere recommendation is that they learn how to handle it." Despite his authoritarian bent, Chavez (whose current and apparently last term ends in 2012) had always insisted he was a democrat — that he was, in fact, forging "a more genuine democracy" in a nation that had in many ways been a sham democracy typical of a number of Latin American countries. His presidential election victories — in 1998, 2000 and 2006, as well as his victory over an attempt to recall him in a 2004 referendum — were all recognized by credible international observers; and that conferred on him a democratic legitimacy that helped blunt accusations by his enemies, especially the U.S., that he was a would-be dictator in the mold of Fidel Castro.

In the end it was a cachet that, fortunately, he knew he couldn't forfeit. As a result, the referendum result will resonate far beyond Venezuela. Latin Americans in general have grown disillusioned by democratic institutions — particularly their failure to solve the region's gaping inequality and frightening insecurity — and many observers fear that Latin Americans, as they so often have in their history, are again willing to give leaders like Chavez inordinate, and inordinately protracted, powers. Chavez, critics complained, was in fact leading a trend of what some called "democratators" — democratically elected dictators. His allies in Bolivia and Ecuador, for example, are hammering out new Constitutions that may give them unlimited presidential re-election. The fact that Venezuelans this morning resisted that urge — and that Chavez so maturely backed off himself when he saw it — may give other countries pause for thought as well. It could even revive the oft-ridiculed notion that this might after all be the century of the Americas.

We'll have to see how Chavez responds to the electoral defeat after 24 hours. Still, if nothing else, Bloomberg reports that Chavez has unintentionally managed to boost the value of Venezuela's bonds.

posted by Dan at 12:07 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)



Friday, November 30, 2007

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)



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)



Wednesday, November 14, 2007

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)



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)



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)



Sunday, November 4, 2007

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)



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)



Monday, October 29, 2007

Clearly, The National Interest knows my weak spots

Longtime readers of this blog can well imagine how I would reacted to the following request: "Pssst... Dan, would you be interested in writing an article about how glamorous celebrities like Angelina Jolie are taking an interest in foreign policy?"

The result, "Foreign Policy Goes Glam," is the lead article in the November/December issue of The National Interest. Here's the opening:

Who would you rather sit next to at your next Council on Foreign Relations roundtable: Henry Kissinger or Angelina Jolie? This is a question that citizens of the white-collared foreign-policy establishment thought they’d never be asked. The massive attention paid to Paris Hilton’s prison ordeal, Lindsay Lohan’s shame spiral and anything Britney Spears has done, said or exposed has distracted pop-culture mavens from celebrities that were making nobler headlines.

Increasingly, celebrities are taking an active interest in world politics. When media maven Tina Brown attends a Council on Foreign Relations session, you know something fundamental has changed in the relationship between the world of celebrity and world politics. What’s even stranger is that these efforts to glamorize foreign policy are actually affecting what governments do and say. The power of soft news has given star entertainers additional leverage to advance their causes. Their ability to raise issues to the top of the global agenda is growing. This does not mean that celebrities can solve the problems that bedevil the world. And not all celebrity activists are equal in their effectiveness. Nevertheless, politically-engaged stars cannot be dismissed as merely an amusing curiosity in foreign policy.

You'll have to read the entire article to see where I come down on the question of celebrity activism. I will say the following:
1) You like how I got the Unholy Trinity of celebrity bad behavior into the first paragraph? I tried, I mean really tried, to cram as many celebrity mentions into the piece as possible.

To my everlasting regret, I failed to include Salma Hayek. Clearly, I'm not worthy.

2) This was the perfect article to write during the dog days of summer. The most amusing moment came when I actually had to buy an issue of Esquire for an article... the very same one Ron Rosenbaum shredded in Slate this summer.

3) I'm surprised to discover that I'm a little more sanguine about celebrity activism than Gideon Rachman, Christopher Caldwell, Henry Farrell, and just about every woman I talked to about this story (Angelina provokes some strong reactions).

It's not like I have great faith in celebrity activism -- it's just that I'm unwilling to indict the entire category of behavior. As I argue in the essay, some celebrities are competent in their activism, and some are… something else. And some have a sense of humor about the whole thing.

4) Standard disclaimer: no celebrities were harmed during the drafting of this article.

Go check it out.

[The role of celebrities in world politics? Isn't that... a bit low-brow?--ed. C'mon, it's not like I was shoe-blogging.]

posted by Dan at 11:07 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)



Sunday, October 21, 2007

Oh, s#$t

Not good. Not good at all:

At least 12 Turkish soldiers were killed in an ambush by Kurdish militants shortly after midnight on Sunday, in an audacious attack that sharply increased the pressure on Turkey’s government to send troops into northern Iraq.

A group of Kurdish fighters moved into Turkey from northern Iraq, the Turkish military said, and attacked Turkish soldiers based near the town of Hakkari, about 25 miles from the border, in three different locations, killing 12 and injuring another 16. Turkish soldiers then struck back, firing from helicopters and from the ground, killing at least 23 militants, according to the military, which provided its account in a statement.

In a statement on a Kurdish website, the militants said they captured eight Turkish soldiers, but the claim could not be substantiated.

The attack came just four days after Turkey’s parliament voted to give the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan full authority to send troops into northern Iraq to strike at Kurdish militants who hide there.

At the time, Turkish officials emphasized that they would not immediately apply the authority, and security experts said the resolution would be used mainly as political leverage to press the United States and its Iraqi Kurdish allies to act against the Kurdish militants, the Kurdistan Workers Party, known by its initials, the P.K.K.

But Sunday’s attack was one of the worst in recent memory, and the government, which has been skeptical of an offensive in the past, will be under intense pressure to act.

UPDATE: The AP calms me down... a little:
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday it appears Turkey's military is not on the verge of invading northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebels responsible for a deadly attack on Turkish soldiers.

Gates told reporters that in a meeting with Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul, he advised against launching a major cross-border incursion despite the continuing provocations.

''I'm heartened that he seems to be implying a reluctance on their part to act unilaterally, and I think that's a good thing,'' Gates said. ''I didn't have the impression that anything was imminent.''....

In his remarks to reporters, Vecdi said he told Gates that Turkey expects the U.S. to do more to constrain the PKK in Iraq, although he would not spell that out in detail.

''We'd like to have something tangible'' from the Americans, he said. ''We expect this. Any kind of tangible actions.''

Asked what Turkey's military leaders were preparing for, Gonul replied: ''They are planning to cross (the) border.''

ANOTHER UPDATE: The NYT has more on what the U.S. will need to do to prevent Turkey from a cross-border incursion:
Mr. Erdogan said he had told Ms. Rice in a phone conversation Sunday night that Turkey expected “speedy steps from U.S.” in cracking down on Kurdish rebels, and according to The Associated Press, he said that she had expressed sympathy and asked “for a few days” from him. The Iraqi government also began a concerted effort to reach out to Turkey.

“Our anger is great,” Mr. Erdogan said on national television here before he conferred with Turkey’s top political and military officials in an emergency security meeting. “We have the decisiveness to act on these events in cold-blood, and so we are determined.”

The early-morning attack, which were condemned by Iraqi officials and the Bush administration, sharply increased the pressure on Turkey’s government to ignore the wishes of its American allies and send troops into northern Iraq.

posted by Dan at 01:22 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)



Saturday, October 20, 2007

Iran to rest of world: "talk to the hand"

The New York Times' Nazila Fathi and Michael Slackman report on a worrisome development in Iran:

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, viewed by the West as a moderating influence in Tehran, resigned before crucial talks with Europe this week over Iran’s nuclear program, signaling that officials here may have closed the door to any possible negotiated settlement in its standoff with the West.

The negotiator, Ali Larijani, was among a small group of officials who, while supportive of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, have tried to press back against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his more radical approach, which has left Iran increasingly isolated.

But with Mr. Larijani’s resignation, it appears that the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all matters of state, has fallen in squarely behind the president. Mr. Ahmadinejad represents the most radical face of the leadership, which has defied the United Nations Security Council twice and sped up the process of uranium enrichment. Mr. Larijani had been appointed by and reported to the supreme leader.

Now, with oil prices high enough to help Iran mitigate the effects of any new sanctions, and with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, having made a historic trip to Tehran last week, it appears that the top leadership has settled on a single, radical track.

“This is definitely a major political change, and not necessarily a positive one,” said Saeed Leylaz, a political analyst and former government official. “It might mean that Iran is speeding up its activities and is becoming more radical, especially now with higher oil prices.”

UPDATE: Farideh Farhi provides some worrisome analysis over at the ICGA blog:
The most unsettling aspect of this move from the insiders point of view may be questions raised regarding Ayatollah Khamenei's control over the nuclear file. Both of the possibilities - that he has either lost control or decided to throw his support for the most radical elements in the Iranian political system - are bound to unsettle the domestic political scene. For him, to be seen as being in one corner with Ahmadinejad against all the other heavyweights of Iranian politics, including Hashemi Rafsanjani, Khatami, Karrubi, Rezaie, Qalibaf, and now Larijani, is a predicament he has tried hard to avoid at least publicly.

posted by Dan at 04:14 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, October 15, 2007

Not bad for a 40-year old article

The Economist examines the totemic worship of Che Guevara, 40 years after his death.

The wider the cult spreads, the further it strays from the man. Rather than a Christian romantic, Guevara was a ruthless and dogmatic Marxist, who stood not for liberation but for a new tyranny. In the Sierra Maestra, he shot those suspected of treachery; in victory, Mr Castro placed him in charge of the firing squads that executed “counter-revolutionaries”; as minister of industries, Guevara advocated expropriation down to the last farm and shop. His exhortation to guerrilla warfare, irrespective of political circumstance, lured thousands of idealistic Latin Americans to their deaths, helped to create brutal dictatorships and delayed the achievement of democracy.
What's reallly interesting, however, is that the magazine linked to its 1967 story about Guevara's death. This being the Economist, we have no idea who wrote it. Whoever it was, however, deserves props for the analysis and assessment:
This blow at the guerrilla movement in Bolivia follows on its destruction in Peru and its near-destruction in Colombia and Venezuela. It is a major strategic reverse for the “armed struggle.” But there are signs that what may happen now is that the focus of guerrilla activity will move from South America to Central America and the Caribbean. In Matagalpa province in Nicaragua insurgents have become increasingly active this year, while to the north, in Guatemala, the guerrillas, though hard pressed, are continuing to be quite a problem for the government. In Haiti the guerrilla movement is gradually co-ordinating itself, while in the Dominican Republic Dr Juan Bosch’s party this month split itself into violent and non-violent factions. Compared with the great South American dream, this is all small and fairly unimpressive fry for the guerrilla movement. But it would still be premature to say that the death of Guevara means the death of armed insurgency in Latin America.

Che Guevara’s name is already being classed with that of the Liberator, Simon Bolivar. Latin America’s marxist “liberation” has yet to look even likely, but Guevara has died with his reputation intact. From his middle-class Argentinian youth, he became a revolutionary by conviction and profession. With the two Castro brothers he invaded Cuba in the cockleshell Granma, stayed on to help run revolutionary Cuba as minister of industry, then, perhaps growing bored, took his leave of Cuba on a dedicated secret mission to set the continent alight. He failed. But many Latin Americans will go on believing that the legends that will be spun round his Pimpernel existence may one day lead to his picture being hung beside that of the Liberator in Latin American halls.


posted by Dan at 02:58 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)



Saturday, October 13, 2007

A possible utility of being rude

Earlier this month I argued in Newsweek that rising powers were hurting themselves by acting rudely on the global stage.

It's worth pointing out possible contradictory data on this point, however, so let's turn to Steven Lee Myers and Thom Shanker's story in the New York Times on a possible counterexample:

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia sharply upbraided the visiting American secretaries of state and defense on Friday as highly anticipated negotiations produced no specific accords to resolve growing disagreements over missile defense and other security issues.

Mr. Putin followed a pattern of recent criticisms of American policy, whether speaking in Moscow, Munich or even Maine, and he shaped the initial public tone on Friday when he greeted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at his residence outside Moscow with a derisive lecture in front of the television cameras.

Mr. Putin dismissed with sarcasm the American plan to build components of a missile defense system in formerly Communist nations of Central Europe as a reaction to a threat that had not yet materialized.

“Of course, we can some time in the future decide that some antimissile defense should be established somewhere on the moon,” Mr. Putin said, “but before we reach such an arrangement we will lose an opportunity of fixing some particular arrangements between us.”

However, American officials said things had been different behind the scenes, a view not completely contradicted by Russian negotiators....

Mr. Putin often veers from the diplomatic language typical of such high-level meetings. On Friday, meeting with the Americans at his residence in Novo-Ogaryovo, outside of Moscow, the outwardly warm interactions that once marked relations, at least between the countries’ two leaders, had clearly chilled in public.

Mr. Putin seemed to catch Mr. Gates and Ms. Rice off guard with his remarks, since no public statements were planned in advance.

Mr. Putin, though, arrived with notes and spent eight minutes welcoming the opportunity to talk about where Russia strongly disagreed with the Bush administration.

His remarks seemed to anger Ms. Rice, though Mr. Gates reacted impassively.

Mr. Putin kept the Americans waiting 40 minutes before he appeared. But Mr. Putin hardly rushed his guests away, as the private meeting went far longer than scheduled.

The implication in the story is that maybe -- maybe -- Putin is acting rudely in public because that gives him the leeway to be serious in private negotiations.

In the long run, however, this can only work if Putin can frame the outcome of the negotiations as representing a victory for Russia. So I'm not really convinced about the long-term viability of being obnoxious in a public forum. But this possibility is certainly worth a blog post.

posted by Dan at 09:37 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)



Friday, October 12, 2007

Not to quibble with the Nobel committee, but....

Al Gore co-won this year's Nobel Peace Prize, along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Combined with his Emmy, Webby, and Academy Awards, Gore's Nobel has cemented his hold on the world's Most Bitchin' Mantle Ever.

Just to be curmudgeonly, I thought this bit from the official press release was odd:

Al Gore has for a long time been one of the world's leading environmentalist politicians. He became aware at an early stage of the climatic challenges the world is facing. His strong commitment, reflected in political activity, lectures, films and books, has strengthened the struggle against climate change. He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted (emphasis added).
I have a question -- is this really true? I don't doubt that if one replaced "worldwide" with "American" that this would be the case. Has the rest of the world, however, really been smacking their forehead saying, "Thank God Al Gore was here to alert us!!"

This is a serious question -- for those non-American readers out there, was Al Gore the reason you began to think about global warming?

UPDATE: Gore blogs about his prize, saying, "We face a true planetary emergency. The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity. It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level."

Again, being curmudgeonly, of couse the climate crisis is a political issue -- it's about the distribution of Really Really Big Costs and Benefits. This doesn't preclude it from being a moral issue as well, but Gore's statement suggests that he ascribes to the Jeffrey Sachs Theory of Politics.

LAST UPDATE: Lest I seem too curmudgeonly, it's worth reading the opening to John Dickerson's Slate column on Gore.

Al Gore is a winner. Al Gore was right. One of the best things for Al Gore about winning the Nobel Peace Prize is that the sound bites are finally all on his side. For decades the two-term vice president has been championing environmental causes and until recently often received public scorn and derision. Now he's been rewarded with one of the most coveted prizes on the planet.

This reversal in Gore's fortunes is extraordinary. He's not only seen a rolling vindication of his environmental activism as the world becomes more consumed with combating global climate change, but his prewar warnings about the conflict in Iraq now look prescient. Meanwhile, George Bush—the other political scion with whom Gore will forever be linked because of their bitter election fight in 2000—has followed almost exactly the opposite trajectory. Unpopular and increasingly criticized by many in his own party, Bush's legacy will be the broken war. While Gore is lauded for his prescience and insight, Bush will for some time—perhaps forever—be best known for lacking those same qualities.

It's hard to dispute much in those paragraphs.

posted by Dan at 09:14 AM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, October 8, 2007

Thinking about China's weight gain

Steve Clemons thinks that China is running diplomatic rings around the United States:

It is China that is "out multilateral-ing" the United States today. As we have been distracted in Iraq, China has rolled out aid and development programs globally, helped institute yet another Asian multilateral effort in its "East Asian Community" initiative, launched a multilateral security organization in the "Shanghai Cooperation Organization", and was the key factor in the recent negotiating successes with North Korea over its nuclear program. As State Department Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and chief negotiator with North Korea Christopher Hill has said, "China has become the first stop for any American diplomacy."

While much of the world perceives -- at best -- America as a status quo power but more realistically as a superpower in decline that will eventually look something like a well-endowed military state and more as an ordinary great power -- that same world looks at China as an ascending power. China's weight gains in global affairs matters.

This has been a recurring theme among foreign policy wonks.

I share this concern, but I also have my doubts. North Korea aside -- and it's a big aside -- China has had a pretty lousy year of diplomacy. I pointed his out last week:

Even China has had its diplomatic stumbles this year. Despite claims about the rise of Chinese "soft power," it has experienced some nasty blowback from its aggressive investments in Africa and its inadequate consumer regulation at home. The uprising of the monks in Myanmar also caught China short—a replay of Beijing's slow response after the 2005 tsunami.
I'm not the only one who's observed China's bad year.

As China amasses more "weight," it will also find itself amassing more global criticism. Beijing is valued now because it acts as a check against American power -- but the reverse will also be true.

Critics often bash the Bush administration for buying into a crude "bandwagoning" theory world politics. These fears of China seem to be predicated on the same kind of bandwagoning logic, however.

Clemons and others would point out that the difference is that while the Bush administration cares only about hard power, the Chinese have been astutely developing its soft power capabilities. Well, maybe. Are the Chinese initiatives at multilateralism significant or not? The Shanghai Cooperation Organization could be significant, but for every warning I read I also come across analysis suggesting that the organization doesn't matter that much.

Consider this an open thread -- are concerns about Chinese-led multilateral initiatives overblown or not?

posted by Dan at 05:24 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)



Wednesday, October 3, 2007

How to deal with Myanmar

Michael Green and Derek Mitchell have an unbelievably timely piece in the next issue of Foreign Affairs that discusses how to deal with Myanmar. The piece is oddly framed, however:

[N]either sanctions nor constructive engagement has worked. If anything, Burma has evolved from being an antidemocratic embarrassment and humanitarian disaster to being a serious threat to the security of its neighbors. But despite the mounting danger, many in the United States and the international community are still mired in the old sanctions-versus-engagement battle. At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed the former Nigerian diplomat and UN official Ibrahim Gambari to continue the organization's heretofore fruitless dialogue with the junta about reform. The U.S. State Department and the U.S. Congress have fought over control of U.S. Burma policy, leading to bitterness and polarization on both sides. Although the UN Security Council now does talk openly about Burma as a threat to international peace and security, China and Russia have vetoed attempts to impose international sanctions. And while key members of the international community continue to undermine one another, the junta, which renamed itself the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997, continues its brutal and dangerous rule.

Regimes like the SPDC do not improve with age; therefore, the Burma problem must be addressed urgently. All parties with a stake in its resolution need to adjust their positions and start coordinating their approach to the problem. Although this may seem like an unlikely proposition, it has more potential today than ever before. Burma's neighbors are beginning to recognize that unconditional engagement has failed. All that is needed now is for the United States to acknowledge that merely reinforcing its strategy of isolation and the existing sanctions regime will not achieve the desired results either. Such a reappraisal would then allow all concerned parties to build an international consensus with the dual aim of creating new incentives for the SPDC to reform and increasing the price it will pay if it fails to change its ways.

So Green and Mitchell aren't saying that sanctions and incentives don't work -- they're saying that uncoordinated sanctions and incentives won't work.

Their proposal:

[A] new multilateral initiative on Burma cannot be based on a single, uniform approach. Sanctions policies will need to coexist with various forms of engagement, and it will be necessary to coordinate all of these measures toward the common end of encouraging reform, reconciliation, and ultimately the return of democracy. To succeed, the region's major players will need to work together.

Bringing them together will require the United States' leadership. One way to proceed would be for Washington to lead the five key parties -- ASEAN, China, India, Japan, and the United States -- in developing a coordinated international initiative and putting forth a public statement of the principles that underlie their vision for a stable and secure Burma. The five partners should develop a road map with concrete goalposts that lays out both the benefits that the SPDC would enjoy if it pursued true political reform and national reconciliation and the costs it would suffer if it continued to be intransigent. The road map should present the SPDC with an international consensus on how Burma's situation affects international stability and the common principles on which the international community will judge progress in the country. One purpose of such a road map would be to reassure the SPDC of regional support for Burma's territorial integrity and security and demonstrate the five parties' commitment to provide, under the appropriate conditions, the assistance necessary to ensure a better future for the country. This would be an important guarantee given the Burmese military's traditional paranoia.

Contact groups like this do make some sense when dealing with pariah regimes. Their utility is twofold -- they make it easier to present a common face to the undesirable regime, and they also reassure each of the contact group's members that another member of the contact group is not cutting a deal behind their back.

Read the whole thing.


posted by Dan at 08:25 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)



Friday, September 28, 2007

Which audience matters?

A bunch of readers have e-mailed or linked to Jeffrey Fleishman's Los Angeles Times story from earlier this week about how Ahmadinejad's U.S. trip has played well in the Middle East -- he ostensibly has "folk hero" status.

Certainly this is a potentially relevant audience -- but if you think about it, for Ahmadinejad it's actually his least relevant audience.

How has the trip played inside Iran? In the Washington Post, Robin Wright suggests not so well -- in part because it played so badly in the United States:

The congressional rebuke a few hours before Ahmadinejad's Iran Air 747 departed reflected what American scholars and Iranians alike depicted as a missed opportunity by the Iranian president to ease mounting tensions between Iran and the West, particularly the United States....

"Iranians find the Western reaction insulting and a sign of belligerence, but Ahmadinejad has also not emerged as a statesman or a diplomat," said Vali Nasr of Tufts University. "The Iranian blogs and chat rooms are clearly taken aback not just by the comments [at Columbia] but by the headlines of tabloids. . . . He has tried to reach out to Americans, but to a large measure he has failed -- and the Iranian political elite know he has failed."

It should be oted that Nasr's view is not held by everyone -- but I'm unconvinced that this was a domestic win for him.

How about the Security Council? Blake Hounshell suggests, again, not so well:

[N]otice what happened today at the U.N.: French President Sarkozy called for "combining firmness with dialogue," reiterating his position, "if we allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, we would incur an unacceptable risk to stability in the region ad the world." And Germany's Angela Merkel came out in support of a new round of sanctions "if [Iran's] behavior doesn't change." She added, "Israel's security isn't negotiable," and referred to Ahmadinejad's history of comments on Israel as "inhumane".

These statements may well have been worked out on Friday, when the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany met in Washington to discuss the sanctions issue. But it sure was easier for Germany to toughen its stance after yesterday's farce at Columbia. Ahmadinejad had a chance to come across as a moderate, undercutting the unity of the EU3. Instead, he came across as a buffoon not ready for prime time.

Question to readers: does Ahmadinejad's popularity in the Middle East matter as much as his unpopularity at home, in the United States, and in the United Nations?

UPDATE: More conflicting takes from the weekend newspapers.

posted by Dan at 01:39 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)



Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Open Ahmadinejad thread

So, did Mahmoud Ahmadinejad score a public relations coup by speaking at Columbia University?

He had to sit there while university president Lee Bollinger told him him, "you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator." And that was one of the nicer things Bollinger said to him:

Frankly, and in all candor, Mr. President, I doubt that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions. But your avoiding them will in itself be meaningful to us. I do expect you to exhibit the fanatical mindset that characterizes so much of what you say and do. Fortunately, I am told by experts on your country, that this only further undermines your position in Iran with all the many good-hearted, intelligent citizens there.
According to the New York Times account, Ahmadinejad managed to parry back efforts to pin him down... but he also claimed that Iran has no gay people.

Ezra Klein's take is that Ahmadinejad is "outwitting us in the court of world opinion." My take is similar to what Bollinger said about Ahmadinejad's Council on Foreign Relations appearance last year:
A year ago, I am reliably told, your preposterous and belligerent statements in this country (as in your meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations) so embarrassed sensible Iranian citizens that this led to your party’s defeat in the December mayoral elections. May this do that and more.
What's your take?

posted by Dan at 12:44 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)



Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is here to enlighten America

I think some Bush administration officials are laboring under some serious misconceptions with regard to Iran. Their unstated belief is that the mass Iranian public is ready to oust President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and their conservative acolytes. All they need is some external nudge -- like a good dose of bombing -- for the state to collapse.

In contrast, everything I've heard or read from Iran experts suggests that on the streets of Tehran, Ali Q. Publiq feels a strong sense of national pride about the nuclear program. It's the one thing that Ahmadinejad has found to boost his domestic standing. So this view among Bush officials is not only untrue, it's a patronizing view of ordinary Iranians. They are perfectly capable of disliking Ahmadinejad, desiring a strong Iran, and preferring not to be bombed at the same time.

It should be pointed out, however, that Bush administration officials are not the only ones suffering from this kind of delusion. There's also.... Mahmoud Ahmadinjad himself. From the AP's Ali Akbar Dareini:

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sunday that the American people are eager for different opinions about the world, and he is looking forward to providing them with "correct and clear information," state media reported.

The hardline Iranian leader left Sunday for New York to address the U.N. General Assembly and speak to students and teachers during a forum at Columbia University....

Ahmadinejad said his visit will give Americans a chance to hear a different voice, the official IRNA news agency reported.

"The United States is a big and important country with a population of 300 million. Due to certain issues, the American people in the past years have been denied correct and clear information about global developments and are eager to hear different opinions," Ahmadinejad was quoted by IRNA as saying.

State-run television also quoted Ahmadinejad before boarding his presidential plane Sunday as saying that the General Assembly was an "important podium" to express Iran's views on regional and global issues.

Oh Mahmoud, I'm not sure how to put this gently, so I'll put it bluntly: Americans are perfectly capable of disliking George W. Bush and disliking you and your thuggish regime even more. Your past actions and statements have rendered you as a less than credible purveyor of "correct and clear information." Any belief of yours that Americans will be persuaded by your rhetoric is a mistaken one.

Ironically, the AP story also reports that the people who are fretting the most about Ahmadinejad's trip to New York are.... other Iranians:

Ahmadinejad's visit to New York is also being debated back home. Some in Iran think his trip is a publicity stint that hurts Iran's image in the world.

Political analyst Iraj Jamshidi said Ahmadinejad looks at the General Assembly as a publicity forum simply to surprise world leaders with his unpredictable rhetoric.

"The world has not welcomed Ahmadinejad's hardline approach. His previous address to the Assembly didn't resolve any of Iran's foreign policy issues. And no one expects anything better this time," he said.

Independent Iranian analysts also criticized Ahmadinejad for making the trip, saying his anti-Western rhetoric makes life for Iran more difficult.

"Many experts believe Ahmadinejad's previous two visits brought no achievement ... rather, it heightened tensions," the reformist daily Etemad-e-Melli, or National Confidence, said in an editorial Sunday.

UPDATE: A clarification -- just because I think Ahmadinejad is deluded about American attitudes -- actually, I think he's deluded in general -- doesn't mean that I don't fully support Columbia University's decision to host a forum for him.

posted by Dan at 06:41 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)



Thursday, September 20, 2007

A lost virtue of TimesSelect

The dealth of TimesSelect has been greeted with huzzahs in the blogosphere. And let's face it, one reason for the NYT op-ed page's existence is to be a big fat target for snarky blogs (see the last paragraph in this Kevin Drum post for one sentence takedowns of three op-ed columnists). The end of TimesSelect is good for the blogs and internets.

The change is not entirely cost-free, however. Now that the op-ed page is more accessible, greater attention must be paid to screw-ups by the contributors. Exhibit A is Roger Cohen's essay on "the destruction of 10 taboos as President Nicolas Sarkozy assumes the role of Europe’s most dynamic leader." Most of these taboos are about style more than substance, but let's quote two of them that need some correction:

THE AMERICAN TABOO Enthusiasm for the United States was unacceptable for a French political leader because it was always interpreted as an embrace of “Wild West” capitalism, “Anglo-Saxon” hegemony and vulgarity. De rigueur attitudes held sway: patronizing contempt in Paris met macho derision in Washington. Communication suffered. Sarko’s New Hampshire vacation, enthused American dreaming, iPod-accompanied jogging and in-your-face style cleared the air....

THE NATO TABOO There’s talk of France rejoining the integrated military command of the alliance, unthinkable since Charles de Gaulle hauled the country out in a huff in 1966.

Why, yes, these ideas do seem taboo for France. In fact, I haven't heard such notions floated since.... since... Sarkozy's predecessor, Jacques Chirac, assumed office in May 1995:
In this regard [Sarkozy] is similar to President Jacques Chirac, who came into office with some sincere pro-American sentiments not at all in the Gaullist tradition. Chirac’s affection for his youthful travels and work in the United States seems, or at least seemed, quite real. He visited Chicago in the winter of 1996, in part to try to convince expatriate French entrepreneurs to consider investing in France (in itself, a shockingly non-Gaullist mission). His informality, joviality, and the warm colloquial English he spoke during his visit now appear to belong to a completely different person than the Chirac who so tenaciously fought the United States in the run-up to the Iraq war, or the Chirac who tried in recent years to lord it over the eastern Europeans and his own countrymen.
As for rejoining NATO's military structure, Emma Charlton's AFP story puts Sarkozy's proposal into the proper historical context:
[Defence Minister Herve] Morin insisted France's "priority is to support and relaunch Europe's security and defence policy", but asked: "Why should our partners lose faith in a system that has ensured peace for 50 years, in favour of a system that does not yet exist?"

Paris rejoined NATO's military committee in 1996 grouping military chiefs of staff under President Jacques Chirac.

But the rapprochement was cut short after Washington refused to share more power with European countries in the integrated military structure.

Morin suggested France could now resume "the work begun in 1996", saying that France's role in NATO would be tackled in a white paper on defence and national security to be delivered in March 2008.

Call me when Sarkozy addresses other French taboos.

See, if TimesSelect still existed, I could have saved myself twenty minutes by simply ignoring Cohen's essay.

It should be noted that Cohen also has a blog. The hard-working staff here at danieldrezner.com looks forward to seeing if Cohen addresses these inconsistencies in today's column.


posted by Dan at 08:43 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)



Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Who are the grown-ups in international relations?

Imagine for a second that the United States opposed the leading candidate for a leading international organization. Now imagine that in an effort to block that candidate, the U.S. decides to put its own candidate forward. To ensure that the candidate doesn't look like a complete toady, it would make some sense to propose a non-American. However, it would also make sense, at the very least, to make sure that the candidate's home country was on board with the idea. If there was no prior consultation, well, then the U.S. would look pretty incompetent.

Farfetched, you say? Well, consider that Russia just tried this gambit, according to the Financial Times' Catherine Belton, Katka Krosnar and Stefan Wagstyl:

Russia challenged western dominance of world international financial institutions on Wednesday by nominating a surprise candidate, Josef Tosovsky, the former Czech premier and ex-central bank chief, to run the International Monetary Fund.

The nomination pitted Mr Tosovsky against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former French finance minister, who has the backing of the European Union.

Russia’s move ran into immediate trouble when the Czech Republic, which joined the EU in 2004, declared that it was standing by the EU’s decision to support the French candidate....

Mr Kudrin praised Mr Tosovsky as a proven crisis manager. He said developing states, including Brazil, India and China, had all expressed support for an open selection process in talks....

Mirek Topolanek, the Czech prime minister, said: “Mr Tosovsky was not, and is not, the Czech Republic’s candidate for this post.”

Few countries yesterday backed Moscow’s choice of Mr Tosovsky. Mr Strauss-Kahn, in Beijing on Wednesday, was reported as saying he felt he had China’s backing. A senior Indian finance ministry official told the FT that as far as he was aware there had been “no conversation” about the nomination and he declined to say whether New Delhi would back Mr Tosovsky. A Brazilian presidential official said Brazil sought reform but was not backing any particular candidate.

The funny thing is that the Russians make a valid point -- why should the US and EU have a duopoly on the heads of key international organizations? The need to cut large developing countries into the global governance game is going to be one of the important international relations questions over the next few years.

That said, this Russian attempt -- like other Russian behavior over the past year -- was unilateral and amateurish. There appears to have been no coordination and/or consultation with other countries. If the U.S. had tried to pull this stunt there would have been a tsunami of criticism leveled at incompetent U.S. foreign policy managers.

This is a small example, but it speaks to a larger problem. The Europeans and Americans might have policy disagreements, but (2002-3 excepted) they have been pretty decent at consulting each other. Russia is ostensibly a rising power, and even has some prior experiennce with being acting like a great power. Their diplomatic style, however, makes the Bush administration's first term look like a paragon of propriety and decorum.

Obviously, power and interest drive most of what happens in world politics. Diplomatic style does matter on the margins, however. And if this is what passes as diplomacy from a rising power, then world politics is going to start looking like a bad episode of The Real World.

posted by Dan at 08:54 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)



Friday, August 24, 2007

What's so funny about international law?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Exploring the wiggle room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Thankfully, the anti-American card has its limits

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

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

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

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

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



Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Your declinist metaphor for today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Friday, August 10, 2007

Iran and Afghanistan (and Pakistan)

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

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

And what did Sappenfield find?:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please, leave Iran alone. Focus on Pakistan instead.

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



Wednesday, August 8, 2007

David Frum strives for accuracy

Forgive me a historical nitpick.

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

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

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

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

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

That is all.

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



Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Territorial wars, R.I.P.

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

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

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

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

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



Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Elders are coming, the Elders are coming!!

In his column today, Thomas Friedman ($$) writes the following:

President Bush baffles me. If your whole legacy was riding on Iraq, what would you do? I’d draft the country’s best negotiators — Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker, George Shultz, George Mitchell, Dennis Ross or Richard Holbrooke — and ask one or all of them to go to Baghdad, under a U.N. mandate....
Clearly, the reason Bush hasn't done this is that he's been waiting for.... The Elders!!!!

Cue the press release:

Out of deep concern for the challenges facing all of the people of our world, Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel, and Desmond Tutu have convened a group of leaders to contribute their wisdom, independent leadership and integrity to tackle some of the world's toughest problems.

Nelson Mandela announced the formation of this new group, The Elders, today in a speech he delivered on the occasion of his 89th birthday. He was joined by founding members of the group, Desmond Tutu, Graca Machel, Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, Li Zhaoxing, Mary Robinson and Muhammad Yunus. Founding members, Ela Bhatt and Gro Harlem Brundtland were unable to attend.

"This group can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes on whatever actions need to be taken," Mandela commented. "Together we will work to support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict, and inspire hope where there is despair."

Tutu, Chair of The Elders remarked, "Despite all of the ghastliness that is around, human beings are made for goodness. The ones who ought to be held in high regard are not the ones who are militarily powerful, nor even economically prosperous. They are the ones who have a commitment to try and make the world a better place. We -- The Elders -- will endeavor to support those people and do our best for humanity."

The Elders will use their unique collective skills to catalyze peaceful resolutions to long-standing conflicts, articulate new approaches to global issues that are or may cause immense human suffering, and share wisdom by helping to connect voices all over the world....

"I see The Elders as a small but independent group that may fill an existing void in the world community," said Jimmy Carter. "Almost impervious to the consequences of outside criticism, the group will conduct unrestrained analyses of important and complex issues and share our ideas with the general public and with others who might take action to resolve problems."

The Elders will invite new members who share the attributes of the original ten: trusted, respected worldly-wise individuals with a proven commitment and record of contributing to solving global problems.

You can read Michael Wines' New York Times write-up by clicking here.

Before I succumb to the Elders' power of unrestrained analysis, I have to point out that their website makes the language in the press release seem modest. My personal favorite: "Never before has such a powerful group of leaders come together. Free from political, economic or military pressures. The only agenda of The Elders is that of humanity." I mean, with an agenda like that, Bush would be a fool not to turn over Iraq to them.

The founders of The Elders are Richard Branson and Peter Gabriel (according to Wines, “I was talking about the need for a group of global elders to be there to rally around in times of conflict,” [Branson] said, “and Peter said he’d had a similar idea.”), so you know this group will have both plush travel accomodations and a kick-ass theme song (they're so much... larger than life). Just imagine Jimmy Carter parachuting into Iraq to solve the civil war there backed by this song. Or, better yet, Desmond Tutu standing in the West Bank with a boom box over his head playing this song over and over again until all sides relent.

I could go on and on with the mockery (just imagine the supervillians that will unite to counter The Elders!!), but that's not really fair. This group has a large enough collection of Nobel Peace Prizes to ponder: bombastic language aside, will The Elders actually have any influence?

My hunch is "not much", based on this quotation from Wines' story:

Asked how [The Elders] differed from what United Nations diplomats were supposed to do, Mr. Annan replied: “We are not out to defend the positions of any institution or government. We’re ordinary global citizens who want to help with the problems of the world.”
While Track II diplomacy has its occasional uses, the fact is that most conflicts in the world usually require the cooperation of powerful institutions and governments. And sometimes they disagree -- not because of misunderstandings or mispeceptions, but because their interests genuinely diverge. And all the cajoling of all the trained negotiators in the world won't fix that problem.

The Elders won't be able to solve the conflicts that bedevil Iraq, or the Greater Middle East, or Darfur, or Somalia, or Nigeria, or Colombia, or Kosovo, and so on. At best, they will be able to leverage their star power to address problems or conflicts that are so off the radar that the great powers truly do not care... think Congo, for example.

Of course, once they start wearing capes, all bets are off.

UPDATE: Blake Hounshell finds another reason to be wary of The Elders.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I believe The Elders have found their Zan and Jeyna!!!

Mark Steyn alerts me to a Nick Clooney column alerting me to yet another new grouping of famous progeny. According to Clooney, they are called -- I swear I am not making this up -- the "Gen II Peace Team"!!! Click here to read their press release:

The Gen II Global Peace Initiative will work to promote world peace and nonviolence by building on the examples set by members' parents and grandparents to inspire current and future generations to fight injustice and encourage nonviolent means to achieve positive change. They will examine a range of options that will draw attention to humanitarian crises and potential solutions to conflict and to decide on a series of initial fact-finding missions to such "hot spots" as Darfur, the Middle East, Burma and Korea.
Among the participating luminaries listed is Naomi Tutu, daughter of Desmond Tutu, Chair of the Elders.

I, however, refuse to take the Peace Team until they have a pet monkey.

If The Elders and the Peace Team ever unite forces.... hoo, boy, look out.

posted by Dan at 10:21 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, June 25, 2007

This week I'll be thinking about China

I'll be an occasional contributor to this week's book club at TPM Cafe. The book du semaine is Josh Kurlantzick's Charm Offensive: How China's Soft Power Is Transforming the World.

The flavor of Josh's book can be captured in his tablesetting post -- particularly his first two paragraphs:

While the US has been focused on Iraq, it has ignored a subtle – but enormous – change in the world. Since only the early 2000s, and under the US radar, China has changed from a country that barely interacted with the world into a growing foreign power. In fact, China savvily has amassed significant “soft power” around the world through aid, formal diplomacy, public diplomacy, investment, and other tools. Here in Washington, where China’s image is not great, it’s hard for us to understand how popular China has become in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Even China’s model of development, of state-ordered economic liberalization and minimal political liberalization, has significant appeal. In particular, it has appeal to elites in nations in the region – and in other places like Africa – alienated by the Washington Consensus and American intervention around the world.

No one amassed chits with other nations for no reason. Now, China can begin to use its soft power. It will be able to utilize its popularity in regions where the US and China have potentially competing interests in resources. China is already trying to draw upon its charm to push back against American power in Asia. In the future, China could prod countries like the Philippines or Thailand, which are already using China as a hedge, to downgrade their close relations with the United States. Beijing continues to support authoritarian regimes, stemming from its vow of noninterference. This, too, weakens US diplomacy. Though their interests sometimes overlap, fundamentally the United States and China still do not agree on how diplomacy and international affairs should be conducted. And though Beijing can be persuaded to support better governance in places, like Burma, with limited resources and such horrendous regimes that they breed instability in China, it is much harder to persuade China to act against terrible governments with oil, like Sudan, or whose policies have no direct impact on China itself, like Zimbabwe. In the future, China’s ability to support its friends will only grow stronger as China builds its global soft power.

I'll be commenting on this a bit later, but for now I'll be curious to hear from readers. Is Chinese soft power a real source of concern?

Before you answer, be sure to check out Danna Harman's story in the Christian Science Monitor about how the Sudanese perceive China after a few years of foreign direct investment. Let's just say I think one needs to parse out Chinese economic power from Chinese soft power.

posted by Dan at 08:26 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)



Tuesday, June 12, 2007

There's something about Putin

The last time I was in Europe, reliable sources told me an interesting tale.

Angela Merkel apparently has a fear of dogs. Vladimir Putin is aware of this fact. Therefore, whenever Putin meets with Merkel in Moscow, he makes sure his pet dogs are in the room. [UPDATE: Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell confirms this tale.]

Sound absurd? Consider that Putin has had some odd moments in his personal interactions with Westerners. There was the day he walked away with the Super Bowl ring, and of course the "I was able to get a sense of his soul" moment with George W. Bush.

All of this pales, however, before Putin's effect on new French President Nikolas Sarkozy. After a lunch with Putin, Sarkozy gave a press conference. The opening of it can be seen here:

For non-French speakers, here's the gist of it:
reporter: I would like to show you the beginning of the press conference held by french president Nicolas Sarkozy at the end of the summit. He just had lunch with the russian president Vladimir Putin and it seems that he had more to drink than water.

Sarkozy: Ladies ad Gentlemen, I apologize for my lateness, dued to the length (smiles) of the dialogue I just had with Mr Putin (smiles again)(pause). How do you want to procced, do I answer your questions? So have you got any question? (smiles). Go ahead. Yes, yes. Well, um.

Still, give Sarkozy credit -- at least the man did not lose his watch.

posted by Dan at 01:35 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)



Thursday, May 31, 2007

A new global warming initiative, or just more hot air?

The Financial Times' Andrew Ward reports that with the G8 summit approaching, the Bush administration is contemplating a new initiative to combat global warming.

President George W. Bush on Thursday committed the US for the first time to take part in negotiations on a successor to the Kyoto treaty and agreed to set goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

The decision appeared to mark a landmark break by Washington from its longstanding opposition to global limits on carbon emissions, although the US plans still fall short of some European demands.

Mr Bush pledged to work with several other large economies, including China and India, to agree a “long-term goal” for reduction in emissions, together with strategies for achieving the target, within 18 months – before he leaves office in January 2009.

An administration official said the US would seek to convene a conference to set the process in motion, possibly as early as this autumn.

The process would complement broader international efforts to agree a replacement for the Kyoto treaty when it expires in 2012, said the official....

The policy shift came less than a week before Mr Bush travels to Germany for the annual G8 meeting of industrialised nations, where climate change is expected to be high on the agenda.

The Washington Post's William Branigin and Juliet Eilperin add more reportage, suggesting that this won't be as big a policy shift as the Europeans would like:
The administration's plan involves cutting tariff barriers to the sharing of environmental technology and holding a series of meetings, starting this fall, on ways to limit greenhouse gas emissions by an agreed amount by about 2050. Bush wants this target to be set by the end of 2008.

The White House made clear, however, that the administration would continue to reject proposals advanced by European nations to deal with global warming through caps on carbon emissions and a global carbon-trading program that would allow countries to meet limits on carbon dioxide levels by buying and selling credits.

"We do not endorse global carbon trading," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters before Bush's speech.

Here's the key portion from Bush's actual speech:
So my proposal is this: By the end of next year, America and other nations will set a long-term global goal for reducing greenhouse gases.


To help develop this goal, the United States would convene a series of meetings of nations that produced most greenhouse gas emissions, including nations with rapidly growing economies like India and China.


In addition to this long-term global goal, each country would establish mid-term national targets and programs that reflect their own mix of energy sources and future energy needs.


Over the course of the next 18 months, our nations would bring together industry leaders from sectors of our economies, such as power generation and alternative fuels and transportation. These leaders will form working groups that will cooperate on ways to share clean energy technology and best practices.

Will this amount to anything? The Economist is skeptical, observing that, "Even the G8 members that are enthusiastically embracing ambitious targets are struggling to cut their emissions."

I'm also skeptical for reasons I've discussed in the past.

That said, if Bush can even convince China and India to attend this proposed meeting, he'll have achieved a significant political victory. Why? Because by their very attendance, China and India will be implicitly acknowledging that they are part of the global warming problem.

Their other option is to embrace the OxFam solution to the problem, which concludes that, "the USA, European Union, Japan, Canada, and Australia should contribute over 95 per cent of the finance needed. This finance must not be counted towards meeting the UN-agreed target of 0.7 per cent for aid."

I predict that the G8 will agree to this plan at roughly the same time John Bolton is elected to be the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Developing....

posted by Dan at 01:39 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)



Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Oh, I'm already feeling the love of Sarkozy's pro-American policies

George Parker and Adam Jones explain in the Financial Times why my post title is drenched in sarcasm:

Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, warned the world on Wednesday night that he expected Europe to take a much tougher stance in global trade talks and would not allow his country’s farmers to be sold “at the lowest possible price”.

Mr Sarkozy, on his first presidential visit to Brussels, called on Europe to “protect” its citizens, buying them time to adapt to the pressures of globalisation.

His comments suggest he will pursue an assertive French agenda in Europe that could put him in conflict with free traders including Angela Merkel, German chancellor, and Gordon Brown, incoming UK prime minister.

Mr Sarkozy’s passionate defence of French farmers will concern Europe’s trade partners who hoped he might be more flexible in his approach to cutting EU farm tariffs than Jacques Chirac, his predecessor.

The French president has previously criticised the European Commission for offering too many concessions on agriculture during world trade talks. On Wednesday night he said: “It is goodbye to naivety.” He said he would not allow cuts to support for European farmers while their US counterparts benefited from the same policies, adding: “I’m not going to sell agriculture to get a better opening for services.”

posted by Dan at 11:34 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)



Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Avast, ye scurvy bilge rats!! Them doubloons be mine!!!

One of the best feelings a scholar can have is when another scholar applies your model to a new issue area and finds out that it works pretty well. Over at Opinio Juris, Peter Spiro looks at the global governance of buried treasure. He discovers that the argument I made in All Politics Is Global works pretty well at explaining the status quo. He also uses the word "doubloons" -- a term that should be used far more often in modern discourse.

Spiro, however, is not completely on board with my argument:

[This] is not to say that I think Drezner’s update of a great-powers methodology works across the board. Drezner takes globalization seriously, which is more than you can say about other rat-choice oriented state-based theorists. He also understands that any useful model today has to take account of non-states actors. But he ultimately concludes that although globalization "has led to the emergence of new issues to be analyzed by IR scholars, it does not imply that new paradigms are need to explain these issues." Drezner minimizes NGOs as lacking the material resources to compel state action, which relegates them mostly to the role of delegatees and cheerleaders of state-driven regimes. In Drezner’s view, great-power agreement is both necessary and sufficient to the establishment of international regulatory regimes.

I don’t think that works in all cases, and even less so into the future. In the context of international labor standards, for example, Drezner dismisses codes of conduct with an unsourced paragraph. He does take on the “semi-deviant” (from his theory) case of TRIPS and public health (and the Doha Declaration), highlighting that AIDS is now processed through a security lens and as a threat to great power interests traditionally defined. But that seems to accept great-power framing at face value, and here again he ignores the civil society-corporate dynamic outside of an intergovernmental tent (or in ones more friendly than the WTO, like the World Health Organzation). The book also fails to confront the trendlines. It concedes that NGOs are more powerful than they used to be; couldn’t we expect them to become more so, and if not, why not? All that said, the book is clearly an important addition to the IR [international relations] literature, and one that should be of interest to IL [international law] scholars.

Now I could respond to this in the time-honored tradition that IR scholars deal with IL scholars -- namely, dragging them into a small, dark corner and beating them up, to symbolically demonstrate how coercion trumps the law. But that would be wrong. So let's engage Spiro's argument on its merits.

On the NGO question, Spiro posits a model where global civil society continues to amass power and influence over states, because they have done so in the past. Why don't I deal with this possibility? Three reasons:

1) It's a non-falsifiable assertion. Sure it's possible that global civil society will become ever more powerful -- just ask NGO activists. For some reasons discussed below, however, it's far from a sure thing. Furthermore, one of the frustrating parts of the NGO line of argumentation is that sham standard promulgated today (i.e., core labor standards) will acquire greater power and meaning over time. The thing is -- and I say this in All Politics Is Global -- it's impossible to disprove this assertion. The only way to test the NGO argument is to see what happens in the future -- which means I can't say anything definitive about it in the present.

2) With (1) in mind, I don't think the rise of NGOs is an inexorable process, because that version of history treats states as passive, non-strategic actors. If there's anything I learned in my research for All Politics Is Global, it is that governments are never more agile than when they face a challenge to their authority. My expectation is that the contest for authority between states and global civil society will more closely resemble the offense-defense balance in military technology. That is to say, whenever the offense acquires a distinct tactical advantage, there are powerful incentives to invest in innovations in defensive weaponry -- and vice versa. Global civil society is more powerful today than in the past (unless one counts the Catholic Church as part of civil society) because in the past they were powerless. From here on in, however, I expect that states will learn to adapt over time.

3) Finally, whatever influence global civil society has amassed has come in an era when the two largest economic powers are the US and EU. Those two entities are relatively open societies. As some have recently observed, however, there are rising powers on the horizon, and it is far from clear whether they will be so friendly towards non-state actors. This doesn't mean that global civil society will be shut out, but it does mean that their task will be harder whenever China is in the green room.

The great thing about this debate is that as the future unfolds, we will be able to figure out whether Spiro or I are correct. Let the best man win the doubloons!

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



Wednesday, May 2, 2007

What I learned at the 2007 Brussels Forum

So, what did I learn at the 2007 Brussels Forum? Four things small and large:

1) I cannot stay in Brussels for longer than 72 hours. This has nothing to do with the city, it has to do with its chocolate sector. Its rich, succulent, delicious, and unbelievably fattening chocolate sector.

2) It might surprise those aware of America's unpopularity in Europe that the transatlantic relationship seems on pretty solid ground -- more solid than in 2006. There are quibbles, to be sure, and Iraq remains a bone of contention. Across a wide array of other topics, however -- Kosovo, China, the transatlantic marketplace, and Russia -- the differences were not that great.

3) It would be safe to say that the Russians did not have a good conference. Indeed, they were acting like... well.... like Americans acted circa 2003. Generally throwing their weight around, acting callous towards states that disagreed with them, proffering implicit threats of action, that sort of thing. The most provocative moments of the conference came with debates between Russians and everyone else over exactly what Putin was thinking. The dust-up over the moving of an Estonian monument prompted spontaneous applause/hissing and catcalling at one one-the-record session (go to 49:30 of the recording). Things got worse once the camera and record-keeping was turned off.

4) When it comes to the transatlantic relationship, China is the 800-lb. elephant in the room. Its rising power cannot be ignored. The $64,000 question is whether China's rise will cause the Americans and Europeans to compete for Beijing's favor or force greater coordination between the US and EU.

If you want to catch the proceedings, click here and select the topic that interests you. You might even catch a few cameo appearances by your humble (and fatter) blogger.

posted by Dan at 08:56 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)



Thursday, April 26, 2007

An Iran deal?

Time's Tony Karon reports that significant progress was made in the latest round of EU-Iran negotiations. In the process, Karon does an excellent job of describing how Iran's domestic politics affects their negotiating posture:

One problem in reading Iran's intentions is that it's very easy to forget who's in charge in Tehran. The fact that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the President doesn't mean that he is, in Bush parlance, "the decider." In fact, Iran's president has little executive authority over national security decisions (including the nuclear program), and his constitutional position makes him, if anything, probably less influential over those decisions than more pragmatic figures such as Larijani, who convenes the key foreign policy decision-making body, the National Security Council. In the end, though, there is a "decider" — the supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But Khamenei wields his authority carefully, and in a consultative manner, seeking to maintain the unity of the competing factions of Iran's political class. So, while he is said to pay greater heed to the counsel of more pragmatic advisers such as Larijani and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, the Supreme Leader is careful to accommodate the popularly elected President Ahmadinejad. For example, while the recent compromise with Britain over the 15 Naval personnel captured at sea may have been brokered in substantial part in talks between Larijani and key British officials, it was Ahmadinejad who got to do the populist grandstanding in the ceremony accompanying their release.

Ahmadinejad recently made another media splash with an announcement that Iran planned to install 3,000 centrifuges at its research facility in Natanz — he claimed this meant it was now capable of "industrial" production of reactor fuel, which was a substantial exaggeration. Iran has installed less than half the number of centrifuges announced by Ahmadinejad, and those are experiencing far more technical difficulties than the president let on; furthermore, Iran would need 54,000 centrifuges running a lot more efficiently than those currently in place to be able to produce industrial-grade enriched uranium. Current estimates from a number of different quarters say Iran is somewhere between four and ten years away from having the capacity to produce nuclear-weapons materiel....

Ahmadinejad needs to talk up the achievements of the nuclear program precisely because he has been unable to keep his chicken-in-every-pot election campaign promises. His posturing may have little to do with Iran's real intentions in the nuclear standoff with the West and much more to do with setting up a popularly acceptable compromise. Claiming, as Ahmadinejad did, that the fuel cycle had been mastered and Iran was now a "nuclear nation" could help persuade a domestic audience that Iran is not backing down on the "rights" it has so forcefully proclaimed if Tehran agrees to suspend its enrichment activities.

If a deal would require Iran to find some way to turn off its centrifuges, the Western powers would have to make some concessions, too. The U.S. had originally insisted that Iran could not be allowed to keep any enrichment facilities on its own soil, but it is now being reported that Solana may offer a deal in which Iran would keep its current small-scale enrichment research facility, although not actually run it, for now. Reports suggest that the U.S. will push for the Natanz facility to revert to "cold standby," i.e. turning off but not dismantling the centrifuges, whereas Iran would counter that they be kept spinning, although empty of uranium.

The very fact that the negotiations are focused on such details of a mutually acceptable formula for defining what is meant by "suspension" of Iran's activities suggests that the current trend in the nuclear talks is towards compromise, rather than confrontation.

If this analysis is correct, then one has to expect Ahmadinejad to try and delay agreement for as long as humanly possible. The fact is, once the nuclear issue is settled, he will be hard-pressed to achieve any of his populist goals.

UPDATE: In the Financial Times, Najmeh Bozorgmehr decribes Ahmadinejad's five-day trip through the province of Fars. It presets a mixed picture of the president -- though Bozorgmehr concludes:

I can’t help but ponder the recent analyses in political and intellectual circles in Tehran, most of which has argued that Mr Ahmadi-Nejad is finished politically. After the five-day tour, this seems like wishful thinking. His rivals have a tough challenge ahead.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Dennis Ross, on the other hand, argues over at TNR Online that Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guards are waning in power.

posted by Dan at 02:41 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)



Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Ta-ta and au revoir

I'm off to Europe for an intensive week-long series of meetings to think about the transatlantic relationship. Blogging will hereby be intermittent for a few days.

Talk amongs yourselves. Topics:

1) Barack Obama gave a foreign policy speech. What do you think of it?

2) Daryl Press and Eugene Gholz argue in this Cato briefing that concerns about peak oil, resource-grabbing by China, and poltical instability affecting U.S. energy imports are overblown. Compare and contrast with Thomas F. Homer-Dixon's essay about environment-inducing wars in the New York Times. Can both visions of the future be correct?

3) Books that you're reading. I'm taking with me the proofs version of Brink Lindsey's Age of Abundance and John Lukacs' George Kennan.

posted by Dan at 02:26 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, April 23, 2007

The politics of global warming, continued

Following up on my last post about global warming, I see there was a bit of a kerfuffle at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Sheryl Crow and Laurie David explain over at The Huffington Post:

The "highlight" of the evening had to be when we were introduced to Karl Rove. How excited were we to have our first opportunity ever to talk directly to the Bush Administration about global warming.

We asked Mr. Rove if he would consider taking a fresh look at the science of global warming. Much to our dismay, he immediately got combative. And it went downhill from there....

We felt compelled to remind him that the research is done and the results are in (www.IPCC.ch). Mr. Rove exploded with even more venom. Like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum, Mr. Rove launched into a series of illogical arguments regarding China not doing enough thus neither should we. (Since when do we follow China's lead?)...

In his attempt to dismiss us, Mr. Rove turned to head toward his table, but as soon as he did so, Sheryl reached out to touch his arm. Karl swung around and spat, "Don't touch me." How hardened and removed from reality must a person be to refuse to be touched by Sheryl Crow? Unphased, Sheryl abruptly responded, "You can't speak to us like that, you work for us." Karl then quipped, "I don't work for you, I work for the American people." To which Sheryl promptly reminded him, "We are the American people."

The New York Times story by Jim Rutenberg on the encounter discusses the fallout:
Recriminations between the celebrities and the White House carried over into Sunday, with Ms. Crow and Ms. David calling Mr. Rove “a spoiled child throwing a tantrum” and the White House criticizing their “Hollywood histrionics.”

I honestly thought that I was going to change his mind, like, right there and then,” Ms. David said Sunday, The Associated Press reported....

In their Web posting, Ms. Crow and Ms. David described Mr. Rove as responding with “anger flaring,” and as having “exploded with even more venom” as the argument continued.

“She came over to insult me,” Mr. Rove said Saturday night, “and she succeeded.”

Lots of blog reaction -- Joe Gandelman, Colin McEnroe, Ann Alhouse, and, well, lots of other places.

A few thoughts:

1) Laurie David is 100% correct on one thing -- no one should ever say "don't touch me" to Sheryl Crow. I mean, really, that's just wrong.

2) It also appears that Laurie David subscribes to the Jeffrey Sachs theory of politics: there are no genuine political or policy disagreements, just a nice long talk can convince anyone to change their position. This is not to absolve Rove or the Bush administration of their rejection of global warming. It's merely to point out that there is a political logic to their policies. Which leads us to ....

3) This is not a case of "why can't everyone just get along?" Yes, there are significant benefits that can be attained through multilateral cooperation to combat global warming. There are also very significant distributional consequences as well, however. Those distributional consequences will not be resolved anytime soon, will be subject to fierce bargaining, and will likely result in policies that seem unfair to a great many people.

4) Everyone should breathe a sigh of relief that righteous indignation is not a flammable gas... just think of the potential carnage that would have ensued.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe people like David and Crow will actually generate a Kumbaya-moment in world politics. But I'm very, very dubious about it.

posted by Dan at 09:29 AM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, April 16, 2007

China's fifteen months of vulnerability

Seth Weinberger posts about how Mia Farrow was able to pressure the Chinese regime into pressuring the Sudanese government on Darfur. Steven Spielberg is involved. What really matters, however, is that the Chinese leadership will do just about anything to ensure that the Beijing Olympics are a smashing success.

I've blogged before about how the Olympics will affect China's domestic policies. This example suggests that China's behavior between now and the summer of 2008 will nor necessarily reflect their long term foreign policy.

Bear that in mind over the next 15 months.

Question to readers -- given that China will be uniquely vulnerable for a short while, which shift in Beijing's foreign policy would you most like to see?

posted by Dan at 10:06 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)




Will Paul Wolfowitz stay or go?

From the World Bank's Development Committee communique:

We have to ensure that the Bank can effectively carry out its mandate and maintain its credibility and reputation as well as the motivation of its staff. The current situation is of great concern to all of us. We endorse the Board's actions in looking into this matter and we asked it to complete its work. We expect the Bank to adhere to a high standard of internal governance.
What exactly is "the current situation"? Let's go to Sebastian Mallaby:
The scandal centers on the pay of people around Paul Wolfowitz, the World Bank president. Kevin Kellems, an unremarkable press-officer-cum-aide who had previously worked for Wolfowitz at the Pentagon, pulls down $240,000 tax-free -- the low end of the salary scale for World Bank vice presidents, who typically have PhDs and 25 years of development experience. Robin Cleveland, who also parachuted in with Wolfowitz, gets $250,000 and a free pass from the IRS, far more than her rank justifies. Kellems and Cleveland have contracts that don't expire when Wolfowitz's term is up. They have been granted quasi-tenure.

Then there is the matter of Shaha Riza, a long-standing bank official who is Wolfowitz's romantic partner. She went on paid leave (seconded to the State Department) after Wolfowitz arrived; her salary has since jumped from $133,000 to $194,000. When questions were first asked about Riza's rewards, a spokesman declared that the matter had been handled by the bank's board and general counsel, implying that the bank president himself had not been responsible. But the truth was that Wolfowitz had been closely involved, as a contrite Wolfowitz admitted yesterday.

Treating an anti-poverty institution this way would look bad under any circumstances. But the scandal is especially damaging to Wolfowitz because his leadership had generated questions already. He has alienated the staff by concentrating too much power in the hands of Kellems and the abrasive Cleveland; he has alienated shareholders by presenting half-baked strategy ideas; he has alienated borrowers by blocking loans, sometimes capriciously. Moreover, Wolfowitz has made the battle against corruption his signature issue. He of all people should have thought twice before sanctioning exorbitant pay for his entourage.

In context, the Development Committee statement is pretty damning. The New York Times' Steven Weisman explains:
Though the language was indirect, the message it sent was unmistakable, according to officials who have been meeting in Washington the last few days. “Words like ‘concerned,’ ‘credibility’ and ‘reputation’ are pretty unprecedented for a communiqué from a place like the World Bank,” said an official involved in the drafting of the statement.

At issue in these statements was a crisis arising from Mr. Wolfowitz’s involvement in decisions to transfer his companion, Shaha Ali Riza, to a new job and give her a raise.

Officially, Mr. Wolfowitz and the bank are now to wait for a full report by the bank’s board on his leadership and charges of favoritism in dealing with Ms. Riza, who was employed at the bank until 2005. But bank officials said that in delaying a finding, the board seemed to be buying time for Mr. Wolfowitz to consider resigning.

European officials close to the bank said that if anything, Mr. Wolfowitz’s apparent dismissal of the criticism on Sunday would increase the determination of the wealthy European donor nations of the bank — especially Britain, France and Germany — that he needed to step aside for the good of the bank....

“We have not heard anything that will change our minds,” said April Cave, chairwoman of the association that represents most of the bank’s 7,000 employees in Washington. “He has apologized, but he hasn’t shown how he can restore trust at the bank.”

It should be noted that Wolfowitz has his supporters among African representatives. And lord knows the Bank does not have completely clean hands when it comes to corruption. As the Economist points out, the Bank's ethics board is complicit in giving Wolfowitz the ability to transfer Riza. Click here for Wolfowitz's own explanation. [UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has an editorial that makes these points even more forcefully.]

In theory, I suppose Wolfowitz can try to ride out the media storm. In practice, I don't see how he can continue when he's alienated both the Bank staff and powerful donor countries.

Question to readers -- who leaves first, Wolfowitz or Alberto Gonzales?

posted by Dan at 12:20 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (0)



Friday, April 6, 2007

When should sound science trump the precautionary principle?

In the wake of the latest IPCC report on global warming, it's worth asking whether there are other scientific consensuses out there that should be embraced by policymakers across the world.

Over at Reason, Ron Bailey finds one. It's also discussed in greater depth here. Or here.

posted by Dan at 07:33 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)



Thursday, April 5, 2007

Least clarifying clarification.... ever

Via Blake Hounshell at Passport, I see that Israeli PM Ehud Olmert felt compelled to issue a "clarification" following Nancy Pelosi's visit with Bashir Assad. I don't find it beyond the realm of possibility that Pelosi screwed up her message, but the clarification is kind of strange too:

The Prime Minister emphasized that although Israel is interested in peace with Syria, that country continues to be part of the axis of evil and a force that encourages terror in the entire Middle East.

In order to conduct serious and genuine peace negotiations, Syria must cease its support of terror, cease its sponsoring of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizations, refrain from providing weapons to Hizbollah and bringing about the destabilizing of Lebanon, cease its support of terror in Iraq, and relinquish the strategic ties it is building with the extremist regime in Iran.

The Prime Minister clarified that by these measures it would be determined whether Syria is sincere about attaining a genuine peace with Israel.

What was communicated to the U.S. House speaker does not contain any change in the policies of Israel, as was communicated to other foreign leaders.

Question to readers -- was there a point when Syria got officially added to the axis of evil category? Or, as Hounshell puts it, "I wasn't aware that 'axis of evil' had become a formal designation." Though I'm intrigued by the idea of the State Department issuing an Annual Report on Evil in the World ("The State Department found that Iran has become 30% more evil in the fiscal year 2006, but overall evil levels declined in most regions.")

posted by Dan at 11:07 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, March 26, 2007

My gloomy prediction of the day

The Associated Press has some good news to report in the Middle East:

An international diplomatic drive for Mideast peace gained momentum Monday, with Israel welcoming the idea of a regional peace summit and Saudi Arabia suggesting it would consider changes in a dormant peace initiative to make it more acceptable to Israel.

Senior U.S. and U.N. officials confirmed they were trying to bring Israelis and Arabs together in a wide push for peace, but acknowledged the idea is still at an early stage.

The new developments came at a time of high-profile diplomacy, with the U.N. chief Ban Ki-Moon and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice both in the region for talks with Israeli and Arab leaders.

The international officials are trying to break an impasse following formation of a Palestinian unity government that includes the Hamas militant group.

Immediately after the government was formed, Israel ruled out peace talks with the Palestinians until Hamas explicitly recognizes the Jewish state.

But on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he "wouldn't hesitate" to take part in a regional summit. Palestinian officials cautiously endorsed the idea.

Any such meeting — especially if Saudi and Israeli officials were to publicly meet — would be a huge symbolic breakthrough. Saudis and Israelis are believed to have held private meetings in the last year.

If this gains any momentum at all, I predict there will be an attack in Israel or the occupied territories. The attack will be designed to inflame the Israeli political establishment or wreck the Palestinian coalition govenment. There are simply too many armed groups in the region with a vested interest in maintaining the festering status quo.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum is unimpressed with my bold prognostication: "It looks to me like Dan is trying to get some bonus oracle points for predicting that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow." Hey, I also scored a perfect 4-for-4 in my NCAA bracket! [Yeah, that's not so impressive either--ed.]

posted by Dan at 09:29 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)



Sunday, March 25, 2007

Same planet, different European Unions

The European Union, in celebration of it's 50th anniversary, released its Berlin Declaration over the weekend. For an EU document, it's delightfully brief. It also contains this paragaph:

We have a unique way of living and working together in the European Union. This is expressed through the democratic interaction of the Member States and the European institutions. The European Union is founded on equal rights and mutually supportive cooperation. This enables us to strike a fair balance between Member States’ interests.
That's certainly one way of interpreting the nature of EU institutions.

Writing at Foreign Policy's web site, historian Alan Sked offers a slightly different interpretation:

Today’s EU resembles a sort of undemocratic Habsburg Empire. Its legislation is proposed by a Commission of unelected bureaucrats who have now apparently lost control of their own staffs and who themselves are usually political outcasts from their national political systems. Decisions on whether to adopt their often bizarre initiatives are then taken in total secrecy by the Council of Ministers or the European Council, before being rubber-stamped by the federalist parliament and imposed on the citizens of member states, whose national legislatures can do absolutely nothing to alter their directives or regulations. Indeed, 84 percent of all legislation before national parliaments, according to the German Ministry of Justice, now simply involves implementing Brussels diktats. All this makes European politics undemocratic at all levels, and opinion polls reflect the public’s growing disillusionment.

posted by Dan at 09:48 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)



Thursday, March 22, 2007

The German Social Democrats party like it's 2002

One of the key points I was trying to make in my Foreign Affairs article was that the Bush foreign policy of 2007 looks somewhat different from the Bush foreign policy of 2002 -- it's more multilateral in both form and substance. This has been a common theme among foreign policy wonks across the ideological divide.

However, the word has yet to reach the German Social Democrats, as Judy Dempsey makes clear in this International Herald-Tribune story:

[T]he two parties in [Angela] Merkel's coalition appear more divided over the missile shield than other EU member states, which have been far less vocal or critical of the U.S. missile shield.

Kurt Beck, leader of the Social Democrats, said this week that the missile defense shield would lead to a new arms race and that it should be discussed within NATO, or even abandoned....

Inside NATO, other countries have been puzzled by the level of the debate in Germany, and particularly by the Social Democrats' newfound support for the alliance.

Over the past seven years, the Social Democrats have played down the importance of NATO as an alliance. Germany, France, Belgium and Luxembourg opposed any attempt by the alliance during the U.S.-led war in Iraq to assist the U.S. coalition forces.

"The mood in NATO is quite sanguine," said James Appathurai, a NATO spokesman. "We know what we have to do. We are preparing high-level talks next month which will be attended by experts."

Despite charges from Social Democrats and even from some in Merkel's party that Washington has not been talking to its allies or to Russian officials, there have been several high-level consultations at NATO headquarters and in Moscow led by Henry Obering, the U.S general in charge of the missile defense agency.

So far, in public at least, U.S. officials have not questioned the tone of any of the criticism from the German left, as was the case after Gerhard Schröder, the former Social Democratic chancellor, narrowly won re-election in 2002 after criticizing the Bush administration's actions toward Iraq.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has stressed that Russia has nothing to fear about the system. Speaking this week after talks in Washington with the German foreign minister, the Social Democrat Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Rice said: "Russia and the United States have a good working relationship in which very few would contemplate the notion of a nuclear exchange."

If you read the whole thing, one gets the sense that domestic political calculations are behind the SPD's thinking... much as it was back in 2002.


posted by Dan at 01:01 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (1)




Has Taro Aso ever met Condoleezza Rice?

According to Reuters, the Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso has offered up an interesting theory of how to build peace in the Middle East:

Blond, blue-eyed Westerners probably can't be as successful at Middle East diplomacy as Japanese with their "yellow faces", Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso was quoted by media as saying on Wednesday.

"Japan is doing what Americans can't do," the Nikkei business daily quoted the gaffe-prone Aso as saying in a speech.

"Japanese are trusted. If (you have) blue eyes and blond hair, it's probably no good," he said.

"Luckily, we Japanese have yellow faces."

Foreign Ministry officials were unable to comment on the report, which said Aso elaborated by saying Japan had never exploited the Middle East, started a war there or fired a shot.

Aso, seen in some circles as a contender to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe if the Japanese leader runs into trouble in a July election for parliament's upper house, is known for verbal gaffes.

He offended South Korea with remarks in 2003 that were interpreted in Seoul as trying to justify some of Japan's actions during its 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean peninsula.

He also drew criticism in 2001 when, as economics minister, he said he hoped to make Japan the kind of country where "rich Jews" would want to live.

Aso said then he had not intended to be discriminatory.

By Aso's criteria, of course, Japan's colonial legacy means it should not be included in the Six-Party Talks on North Korea because it involves several countries that were part of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. I sense, however, that this would be applying too much logic to the comment.

posted by Dan at 11:07 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)



Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Who's leveraging who in Northeast Asia?

The Financial Times' Demetri Sevastopulo and Andrew Yeh explain the rather bizarre goings-on over the past three days involving North Korea, the financial sanctions against Banco Delta Asia, and the strange Treasury department statement that, "North Korea has pledged, within the framework of the Six-Party Talks, that these funds will be used solely for the betterment of the North Korean people, including for humanitarian and educational purposes."

What the heck happened? According to Sevastopulo and Yeh:

Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, orchestrated a significant shift in US policy towards North Korea by persuading the US Treasury to agree to Pyongyang’s demands to release $25m frozen in a Macao bank since 2005.

Current and former officials say Christopher Hill, the chief US negotiator on North Korea, convinced Ms Rice that the US should sacrifice the issue of the frozen funds to push forward the broader goal of implementing last month’s six-party accord on denuclearising the Korean peninsula.

Several people familiar with the debate said Hank Paulson, Treasury secretary, agreed to overrule officials responsible for terrorism financing, who objected to the move, after Beijing warned that a failure to return the North Korean funds would hurt the Sino-US strategic economic dialogue....

Many experts, and some White House officials, were dismayed when Daniel Glaser, the Treasury deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, said in Beijing on Monday that the US and North Korea had agreed on a mechanism to refund all the money. Critics also derided the explanation that Pyongyang had vowed to use the money for humanitarian purposes.

Gordon Flake, a Korea expert who heads the Mansfield Foundation, said the Treasury shift angered even supporters of the broader nuclear disarmament accord. He said Treasury had insisted for 18 months that the move against BDA was a “law enforcement action” that was not linked to the nuclear talks. But he said the statement in Beijing clearly showed there was a political link.

“We have traded away the pressure we had on them,” said Mr Flake.

Full disclosure: I worked with Glaser during my stint at Treasury, and he always exuded competence.

Beyond that, Flake's statement seems internally inconsistent. The financial sanctions cannot be both a strict law-enforcement matter and a source of leverage. It's one or the other. Clearly, it appears that they were leverage.

The sentence in the story that bothers me is China's linkage of this move to the SED. If that's what tipped the scales, then Beijing better be making some concessions in those negotiations that no one knows about.

posted by Dan at 11:26 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)




You have to hand it to the Iranian leadership

Another day, another country Iran manages to alienate with its nuclear policy. From yesterday's New York Times:

Russia has informed Iran that it will withhold nuclear fuel for Iran’s nearly completed Bushehr power plant unless Iran suspends its uranium enrichment as demanded by the United Nations Security Council, European, American and Iranian officials say.

The ultimatum was delivered in Moscow last week by Igor S. Ivanov, the secretary of the Russian National Security Council, to Ali Hosseini Tash, Iran’s deputy chief nuclear negotiator, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because a confidential diplomatic exchange between two governments was involved.

For years, President Bush has been pressing President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to cut off help to Iran on the nuclear power plant that Russia is building at Bushehr, in southern Iran. But Mr. Putin has resisted. The project is Tehran’s first serious effort to produce nuclear energy and has been very profitable for Russia.

Recently, however, Moscow and Tehran have been engaged in a public argument about whether Iran has paid its bills, which may explain Russia’s apparent shift. But the ultimatum may also reflect an increasing displeasure and frustration on Moscow’s part with Iran over its refusal to stop enriching uranium at its vast facility at Natanz....

Russia has been deeply reluctant to ratchet up sanctions against Iran in the Security Council, which is expected to vote on a new set of penalties against the country within the next week.

But American officials have been trying to create a commercial incentive for Russia to put pressure on Iran. One proposal the Bush administration has endorsed since late 2005 envisions having the Russians enrich Iran’s uranium in Russia. That creates the prospect of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in business for Russia, and a way to ensure that Iran receives only uranium enriched for use in power reactors, instead of for use in weapons.

Iran has rejected those proposals, saying it has the right to enrich uranium on its own territory....

Mr. Ivanov... called on Iran to resolve outstanding questions with the agency about its nuclear program and to stop enriching uranium. The Russians have been pressing Iran to take some sort of pause in its uranium enrichment that might allow the Security Council sanction process to halt and bring Iran back to the negotiating table.

“The clock must be stopped; Iran must freeze uranium enrichment,” Mr. Ivanov said. “The U.N. Security Council will then take a break, too, and the parties would gather at the negotiating table.”

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, has also called for a “pause,” noting that even a brief suspension of enrichment would be enough to get the United States to the negotiating table with Iran under an offer that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made in May.

Two thoughts:
1) As I said last year, "never trust the Russians to be a dependable ally."

2) The fact that Ivanov and ElBaradei are not calling for a pause on enrichment does call into question whether Laura Rozen was right in her assessment of the U.S. negotiating strategy in her interesting Washington Monthly piece:

At the end of May (2006), Rice pushed the policy as far as she could. In the Ben Franklin Room of the State Department, she made her boldest announcement since becoming secretary of state: The United States would agree to join direct talks with Iran for the first time in twenty-seven years. Iran was given the summer to consider Rice’s offer, which was accompanied by pages of inducements from the West, including an international offer to build Iran a civilian nuclear power facility, and economic inducements such as WTO membership. Yet again, though, this wasn’t a pure victory for the behavior changers. Instead of offering unconditional negotiations, Rice’s proposal included a caveat palatable to the hard-liners that placed the prospect of ever getting to the negotiating table in doubt: Iran had to agree to suspend its uranium enrichment program for the duration of the talks.


posted by Dan at 08:56 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)



Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What is Europe's trajectory?

Andrew Moravcsik celebrates the European Union's 50th anniversary with a cover story in Newsweek's international editions. Contra the conventional wisdom, Moravcsik paints a rosy present and future for the EU:

American Alone. While Europe Slept. Menace in Europe. As the European Union celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding Treaty of Rome, the pundits agree: Europe is in terminal decline. It is a continental-size museum dropping into the dustbin of history....

To most who live in Europe—or have visited lately—all this seems wrong, even absurd. As the European Union turns 50 this week, let us consider all that has been achieved. Europe arose from the ashes of the Great Depression and World War II to become whole and free. Half a century ago, only a utopian would have predicted that, today, one can traverse Europe from Sweden to Sicily without encountering a border control and—most of the way—using a single European currency. Or that a tariff-free single market would exist, cemented by a common framework of economic regulation.

Europe is now a global superpower of world-historical importance, second to none in economic clout. It has constructed one of the most successful systems of government—the modern social-welfare state, which for all its flaws has brought unprecedented prosperity and security to Europe's people. It is the single most successful advance in voluntary international cooperation in modern history. The original European Economic Community of 1957 has grown from its founding six members to 27, knitting together just under 500 million people from the western Aran Islands of Ireland through the heart of Central Europe to the Black Sea. Its values are spreading across the globe—far more attractive, in many respects, than those of America. If anything, Europe's trajectory is up, not down.

You'll have to read the whole thing to evaluate Moravcsik's case for yourself. I certainly agree with him about the present -- indeed, I'm pretty sure a book just came out arguing that the EU is America's equal when it comes to questions of economic regulation.

It's the future trajectory where Moravcsik loses me -- which is why I wrote what I wrote in Foreign Affairs this month. I'm simply more pessimistic about Europe's ability to alter its domestic institutions and overcome its long-term demographic decline. The EU has staved off this problem in part by increasing expansion, but the fact is they're going to be running out of viable countries soon.

Moravcsik and other EU-boosters will counter by pointing to economic aspects of the EU model that work very well -- France's total factor productivity is higher than America's, Scandinavia has combined a generous welfare state with high birthrates and flexible labor markets, etc. This is true, but it is, frankly, a bulls**t argument. You can't say that the entire European Union is on the upswing by pointing to a few regions of it that are doing well in certain metrics and implying that there will be a diffusion effect to the rest of the continent. Domestic institutions in Europe are pretty resistant to change. Indeed, for al the EU's successes, I would still wager that the diffusion of "successful" policy innovations would spread faster from American state to American state than between the different members of the EU. You also can't point to the best bits of the EU and compare it to the U.S. as a whole. Why include MIssissippi but not Greece or Bulgaria? How does French productivity stack up against California alone?

These are questions which I am sure will be answered by the commenters.

UPDATE: Here's a similar critique of the Moravcsik article... with, like, real data!!

That said, according to this survey, Moravcsik is correct about how the rest of the world views the EU.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I've revised this post slightly to correct for some atrocious grammatical miscues.

posted by Dan at 07:45 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, March 19, 2007

Has anyone at The American Prospect ever read Thucydides?

Via Daniel Nexon and Robert Farley, I see that The American Prospect has committed multiple sins against Thucydides.

The major sins are contained in this Thomas Geoghegan essay that blasts neoconservatives for being so besotted with Thucydides:

College kids write papers now on how we got into Iraq. Or so it is with my friend's daughter. She's supposed to write a paper on one of the neocons. Which one should she pick?...

If I had a kid, I'd make her do Thucydides (460? - 400? B.C) -- he's an honorary neocon in a way, and no one's doing him. Indeed, he's the darling of the neocons. They simply love this guy. Donald Kagan, the father of Robert and Fred, has written four or five volumes on The Peloponnesian Wars, all to illustrate how the neocons should see the world. And other neocons like Victor Hansen Davis make a big fuss over Thucydides, too. And what's the moral they draw from Thucydides? "No mercy," my old college teacher said. The strong will crush the weak. If ever there's a case for pre-emptive war, it is all there in Thucydides. It's a world in which there is no world opinion, or international law. That kind of thing's for sissies, the neocon's would say Set up those prisons in Guantanamo. They don't cry over these things in Thucydides. You focus on being strong.

Yet maybe one should say something in Thucydides' defense.

First,, he was writing in Fifth Century B.C. There was no such thing as world opinion. There was no mass media. There was no CNN, or UN, or anything like the Hague. We were not wired up to each other. And there were no roadside bombs. What the neocons miss is that things that the Spartans could get away with in The Peloponessian Wars, they wouldn't even try to get away with now. It's not that we're "soft" in the twenty-first century. But our hard power is so dependent on our soft power that there are things a "realist" would have done once that anyone with a sense of reality wouldn't do now.

But it's not much of a defense, because even back then, at least Herodotus knew better....

One big blustery super-power can't dominate the world. Actually, the kind of hegemony that neocons call for isn't even really found in Thucydides. Ultimately, as some scholars note, even in Thucydides, Sparta backs off too. But it's even clearer in Herodotus: there is not so much a clash of civilizations as a plethora of them. And even one based on Hollywood cannot subdue the world.

Indeed, that's why Herodotus is more important than Thucydides for Americans. We're the most blinkered because we don't do what Herodotus did and travel around the world.

In the interest of having a productive work day, I'll have to refrain from a detailed analysis of why this piece is so God-awful. Instead, I'll have to ask my informed readers to determine the biggest sin committed in this piece:
1) Geoghegan's moronic belief that Thucydides was some kind of war-monger -- indeed, it is ironic that Geoghegan basically accepts the neoconservative interpretation of Thucydides (for a conservative takedown of this neoconservative position, click here).;

2) Geoghegan's confusion of Sparta with Athens;

3) As Nexon put it, the ""everything I need to know about Thucydides I learned from the Melian Dialogue" problem in Geoghegan's article. Indeed, I'll put cash money on the table that Geoghegan has never read a single word of books six, seven, or eight in History of the Peloponnesian War;

4) The fact that the editors of The American Prospect pparently know as little about Thucydides as Geoghegan.

Debate away!


posted by Dan at 09:44 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)



Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Nothing to do but scream?

Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has been diagnosed with a cracked skull from a government beating, according to his spokesman. According to the Washington Post's Craig Timberg, this might be the trigger that actually unifies Zimbabwe's opposition movement:

Two harrowing days in police custody have left Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai with serious physical injuries but also renewed standing as head of an anti-government movement that is showing more energy than it has in years....

"If they ever wanted to boost Morgan Tsvangirai's popularity, they've done it," said David Coltart, an opposition lawmaker who is not aligned with Tsvangirai, speaking from Helsinki, where he was observing an election. "Whether Morgan intended this or not, this thing has been thrust upon him, and probably emboldened him."

At the gathering Sunday, police shot dead one anti-government activist, rounded up 50 others and beat many of them severely, opposition officials said. Those arrested appeared in court together Tuesday, wearing casts, bandages and bloodied, dirty clothing, and won both access to their attorneys and the right to medical care at a Harare clinic, news reports said....

[Tsvangirai's] harsh treatment left many people concluding that Mugabe, attempting to maintain control after 27 years in power, regards Tsvangirai as his most serious threat....

Despite his personal popularity, Tsvangirai was not able to turn discontent into effective demonstrations after tainted elections in 2000, 2002 and 2005 or during a brutal slum-clearance campaign in 2005 that left 700,000 Zimbabweans without homes or jobs. His party split later that year, and he has struggled since to regain his stature.

Even with the party fractured, opposition to Mugabe's rule began rising again late last year as inflation topped 1,000 percent and persistent shortages of gas and food affected millions of Zimbabweans. Trade union activists and several civic groups, such as the National Constitutional Assembly and Women of Zimbabwe Arise, increasingly drove this new activism. The breakaway faction of the Movement for Democratic Change grew more aggressive, issuing a flier for Sunday's rally that declared, "It is defiance or death."

But the events of recent days have altered the chemistry of opposition politics again.

John Mw Makumbe, a political analyst at the University of Zimbabwe, said Mugabe had blundered badly in mistreating Tsvangirai. "He has really raised Morgan's profile beyond his wildest imagination," Makumbe said, speaking from Harare, the capital. "This time, Morgan is almost being viewed as the president."....

Attention now is focused on what Tsvangirai will do with his enhanced stature when, and if, he is freed from jail. "We'll wait to see if Morgan will really rise to the occasion when he's recovered," Makumbe said.

The problem is that a unified opposition will be insufficient for Mugabe's government to fall. The regime has repeatedly displayed a willingness to use its coercive apparatus to maintain power -- a unified opposition will have little effect on that apparatus so long as they are willing to kill.

There need to be members of the ZANU-PF government who are willing to turn their back on Mugabe -- and that will not happen until Zimbabwe's neighbors demonstrate a willingness to ostracize the country and its leadership.

So why don't they? Alec Russell has an excellent analysis of the regional situation in the Financial Times:

Just two days before Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested, the Zimbabwean opposition leader delivered a trenchant ultimatum to the region’s leaders over their policy of “quiet diplomacy” towards President Robert Mugabe.

“When your house is on fire you depend on your neighbours to put it out,” he said in answer to a question from the Financial Times when on a fleeting visit to Johannesburg. “We cannot afford to have a failed state.”

Mr Tsvangerai, who was arrested on Sunday and accused of holding an illegal political rally, should not, however, hold out his hopes for the regional “firemen” to come soon....

In South Africa politicians are deeply exercised by the prospect of a Zimbabwean implosion, despite the callous impression given by their lack of statements of concern.

“Countries are concerned,” said Dr Jackie Cilliers, head of Pretoria’s Institute for Security Studies. “They see and feel the effect [of the crisis]. But that doesn’t translate into let’s go and do something.

“The analysis is that power resides in Zanu-PF [Mr Mugabe’s ruling party] and that the MDC is not a realistic alternative.”....

South Africa’s relations with the US are strained; it has long disagreed with the EU over how to confront Mr Mugabe and Pretoria is wary of acting unilaterally and so fuelling SADC partners’ concerns that it is seeking regional hegemony.

The government is under fire from the opposition and sections of the media over the apparent failure of its “softly softly” policy. Officials respond that condemnation will only entrench Mr Mugabe in his defiance.

To those who argue for economic sanctions, and even a reduction of the electricity supply, they counter that such tactics would hurt ordinary people most.

With South Africa facing its own succession battle this year, as African National Congress heavyweights vie for the party leadership, it is unlikely to risk provoking a bruising debate on foreign policy by changing tack on Zimbabwe, analysts say.

Zambia has indicated it may be keen to take a more forthright stance when it becomes chairman of the SADC in August.

Last week its foreign minister, Mundia Sikatana, made headlines when he said: “We should not pretend that all is well in Zimbabwe.”

But Zimbabwe still has allies in SADC, in particular Namibia. And Mr Sikatana’s follow-up comment that “ostracising Zimbabwe will not help solve the problems there” may be more significant than his more prominently reported opening gambit.

Western diplomats accept that the only meaningful diplomatic pressure can come from Mr Mugabe’s peers in southern Africa, but they are not optimistic. “We have seen a move from defending him to silence,” said one diplomat. “We’d like to see a move to expressing concern for the situation. But that’s not the African way.”

Dr Cilliers said that the realpolitik assumption of the region was that “stability comes before democracy. If it is a question of principles, then stability comes first.” So what if Zimbabwe is in such turmoil that the argument of stability no longer applies? That is the nightmare scenario for South Africa but analysts, diplomats and officials agree that the only way it would intervene would be with the approval of the rest of SADC.

The probability of joint SADC action is low. This leads Fletcher student Drew Bennett to despair:
I was in Zimbabwe a little less than a year ago and saw first hand that the political and economic elite in Zimbabwe, though a miniscule cabal, managed their portfolios just fine in a surreal economy dominated by the black market. Clearly, there are ways around sanctions when the international community has abandoned you.

But I'm not sure what those of us outside of Zimbabwe can do other than scream. It's our duty to condemn human rights violations and support those being violated, but beyond that, we're resigned to waiting this thing out.

So, to review -- a unifiying opposition, but little effect on government power without regional action, which is highly unlikely.

Developing.... in a very uncertain way.

UPDATE: Reuters reports that Mugabe is now resorting to unusual epithets:

President Robert Mugabe on Thursday told Western countries to "go hang" after international outrage over charges his government assaulted the main opposition leader in police detention.


posted by Dan at 09:18 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)



Saturday, March 10, 2007

That's some powerful biofuels agreement

Peter Baker reports in the Washington Post that the United States and Brazil have announced a new biofuels initiative:

President Bush announced a new energy partnership with Brazil on Friday to promote wider production of ethanol throughout the region as an alternative to oil, the first step in an effort to strengthen economic and political alliances in Latin America.

The agreement, reached as Bush kicked off a six-day tour of the region, was crafted to expand research, share technology, stimulate new investment and develop common international standards for biofuels. The United States and Brazil, which make 70 percent of the world's ethanol, will team up to encourage other nations to produce and consume alternative fuels, starting in Central America and the Caribbean.

The new alliance could serve not only to help meet Bush's promise to reduce U.S. gasoline consumption but also to diminish the influence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the fiery leftist who has used his country's vast oil reserves to build support among neighbors. Analysts have called it the beginning of a new OPEC-style cartel for ethanol makers, a characterization U.S. officials dispute because they say they want to expand, not control, production.

Sounds pretty ambitious... until we get to this snippet of this New York Times story by Jim Rutenberg and Larry Rother:
[D]espite the agreement, some strains were visible between Mr. da Silva and Mr. Bush.

Mr. da Silva is hopeful that the United States will reduce its tariff of 54 cents a gallon on Brazilian ethanol, which is made primarily from sugar cane — a trade barrier that protects the American farmers who produce corn for ethanol.

But when Mr. da Silva was asked about the possibility of eliminating the tariff, Mr. Bush jumped in. “It’s not going to happen,” he said, noting that it is congressionally mandated through his term.

Mr. da Silva joked: “If I had that capacity for persuasion that you think I might have, who knows? I might have convinced President Bush to do so many other things that I couldn’t even mention here.”

You can read more in the White House transcipt of Bush and Lula's press conference. It contains this accurate Lula summary of the state of play in the Doha talks:
I learned from my Minister, Celso Amorim, that if we draw a triangle, we could show you what the difficulties are in the negotiations we have. What do countries want from the European Union? They want it to facilitate access to their agricultural market for poorer countries to export to them, including the U.S. wants to export to them.

What do we want from the U.S.? We want them to reduce subsidies that they pay in their domestic market. And what does the U.S. and the European Union, what do they want from us Brazilians and other countries in the G20? That we have greater flexibility and access to markets for industrial products and services. That's what's at stake. That's what's in the game.

If we are intelligent enough and competent enough to pull out of our vest pockets the numbers that are still held secret, as top state secrets, then we will find a common ground. Don't ask me what the number is. If I knew, I wouldn't tell you, because if I knew, then I'd establish a paradigm, and he'd say that I should back off a little bit. So that's why these numbers are held back, though, as a soccer player, when they're going to kick a penalty goal, they never say which corner they're going to try to kick into. But things are happening. They're underway.

posted by Dan at 09:50 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)



Saturday, February 24, 2007

The next class topic: how Woody Woodpecker promotes the Irish

This might be the most bizarre university lecture I have ever seen:

Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.

posted by Dan at 09:36 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)



Friday, February 23, 2007

Open Iran thread

Can't really blog right now, but that shouldn't stop you from commenting!

Post away on what's going to happen next in Iran following the latest IAEA report.

posted by Dan at 08:13 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, February 19, 2007

What Pakistan giveth, Pakistan also taketh away

Like everyone else, I found today's New York Times story by Mark Mazzetti and David Rohde very disturbing:

Senior leaders of Al Qaeda operating from Pakistan have re-established significant control over their once-battered worldwide terror network and over the past year have set up a band of training camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan border, according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials.

American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Until recently, the Bush administration had described Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda.

The United States has also identified several new Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan.

American analysts said recent intelligence showed that the compounds functioned under a loose command structure and were operated by groups of Arab, Pakistani and Afghan militants allied with Al Qaeda. They receive guidance from their commanders and Mr. Zawahri, the analysts said. Mr. bin Laden, who has long played less of an operational role, appears to have little direct involvement.

Officials said the training camps had yet to reach the size and level of sophistication of the Qaeda camps established in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. But groups of 10 to 20 men are being trained at the camps, the officials said, and the Qaeda infrastructure in the region is gradually becoming more mature.

The new warnings are different from those made in recent months by intelligence officials and terrorism experts, who have spoken about the growing abilities of Taliban forces and Pakistani militants to launch attacks into Afghanistan. American officials say that the new intelligence is focused on Al Qaeda and points to the prospect that the terrorist network is gaining in strength despite more than five years of a sustained American-led campaign to weaken it.

It should be pointed out that this problem has been around for a couple of months now. Obviously, the Bush administration finds itself in a bind about what to do about Pakistan, as Mazzetti and Rohde document:
The concern about a resurgent Al Qaeda has been the subject of intensive discussion at high levels of the Bush administration, the officials said, and has reignited debate about how to address Pakistan’s role as a haven for militants without undermining the government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president....

But debates within the administration about how best to deal with the threat have yet to yield any good solutions, officials in Washington said. One counterterrorism official said that some within the Pentagon were advocating American strikes against the camps, but that others argued that any raids could result in civilian casualties. And State Department officials say increased American pressure could undermine President Musharraf’s military-led government....

The analysts said that North Waziristan became a hub of militant activity last year, after President Musharraf negotiated a treaty with tribal leaders in the area. He pledged to pull troops back to barracks in the area in exchange for tribal leaders’ ending support for cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, but officials in Washington and Islamabad conceded that the agreement had been a failure....

Pakistani officials say that they are doing their best to gain control of the area and that military efforts to pacify it have failed, but that more reconstruction aid is needed.

What's truly depressing about this is that there is evidence that Pakistan has cracked down on other terrorist groups. For example, this Christian Science Monitor story by Anuj Chopra points out that one reason today's train bombings will not derail the south Asian peace process is because India recognizes that Pakistan is cracking down on Kashmiri terrorist groups:
Sunday's bombings may represent a departure from the fragile diplomatic cycle between India and Pakistan that made peace talks between them so vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Unlike the response to the [July 2006] Mumbai bombings, the reaction to the attack on the Samjhauta Express underscored India's new reluctance to point fingers at Pakistani militants. Instead, Indian and Pakistani officials have denounced the act of terrorism and are hewing toward peace in a process that began in 2004.

"We expect the peace process will hold," said Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, Pakistan's foreign minister on Monday.

"No hasty conclusions will be drawn on who is responsible for these attacks," Mr. Kasuri told New Delhi Television, a local news channel, expressing grief over the death of innocent civilians, a majority of whom are Pakistani....

Mr. [Ajit] Doval [former director of India's Intelligence Bureau] said that he suspects the same perpetrators involved in previous attacks – namely Pakistan-based Islamist groups Lashkar-i Tayyaba and Jaish-e Muhammed.

What is baffling about the attacks, he says, is that the bombers are targeting Pakistani citizens.

Doval points out that terrorism in the disputed region of Kashmir – the most contentious issue between the two countries – is at an all-time low.

The number of politically motivated killings has dropped by two-thirds since 2001 to three from 10 per day – the lowest since the Kashmiri uprising began in the early 1990's. The declining attacks could be a sign that Pakistan-based terrorist groups operating in India are feeling increased pressure from the Pakistani government, says Doval.

"Targeting Pakistani civilians could be a sign of their resentment," Doval says of the Kashmiri separatists.

I don't know enough about Pakistan's domestic politics to understand why Musharraf is able to crack down on the Kashmiri groups while he's allowing Al Qaeda groups to fester. I'm sure my readers will enlighten me.

posted by Dan at 06:43 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)



Friday, February 16, 2007

Does anyone tell the truth in the Greater Middle East?

The ABC News blog, The Blotter, reports that Al Qaeda has been reduced to aping what thousands of Americans did on America’s Funniest Home Videos -- staging reality:

An al Qaeda-produced video claiming to show how U.S. and Afghan forces were driven out of a heavily defended base in the last few weeks appears to be a phony.

U.S. and NATO military officials have studied the tape but say they have no record of any such attack in the last month, and an analysis of the tape by ABC News raises many questions of whether the base was even occupied when it was supposedly attacked.

There are green leaves on the trees, no snow on the mountains and the fighters appear to be dressed rather lightly for the harsh Afghan winter where nighttime temperatures have been around 15 degrees this month.

Scenes of the bases, supposedly shot before the attack, show only one person walking up a hill at long range.

Scenes of the base, supposedly shot after the attack, show no evidence of damage, bodies, blood stains, spent shells or abandoned equipment other than one broken-down pick-up truck....

And the contention that the fighters "liberated" the Zabul province area, where the tape was supposedly shot, is scoffed at by top Afghan experts contacted by ABC News.

"The U.S. presence in Zabul is still strong. The U.S. is still fighting and is doing development projects in the area," said Seth Jones, an analyst at the Rand Corporation, who has just returned from Afghanistan.

Jones said there have been a series of coordinated attacks by al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in that province but that he was there at the time of the supposed attack and "never heard of any such incident."

The tape has all the standard trademarks of the al Qaeda propaganda operations with the same graphics and production techniques that have marked dozens of previous tapes.

I swear, when you can't trust an Al Qaeda video, you know the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

posted by Dan at 04:10 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)



Tuesday, February 13, 2007

It's been an interesting news cycle for nonproliferation wonks

So, on the one hand, there appears to be a tentative deal with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program. The word "tentative" is stressed because, no matter what the administration claims, this deal looks awfully similar to the1994 Agreed Framework, and that was never fully implemented. Looking at the text, there is an awful lot that still needs to be filled in.

The Washington Post's Edward Cody ably summrizes the political roadblocks to seeing this deal be completed:

As part of the deal, the United States also agreed to help provide part of the fuel oil, along with China, South Korea and Russia, according to Hill. That meant President Bush will be obliged to seek Congressional approval, a possibly difficult exercise given the level of hostility toward North Korea among many U.S. lawmakers and within the administration itself.

Mindful of past disappointments, including the 1994 Agreed Framework that included similar provisions but was later voided by the Bush administration, Wu called on all six nations participating in the talks to scrupulously "carry out their commitments."

To make sure, North Korea also expressed willingness to accept the return of nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor what is going on at the reactor and other nuclear installations. But it said their work would be subject to agreement between the North Korean government and the U.N. nuclear agency, suggesting North Korea could exercise a veto power over their activities.

The accord, described as "initial actions," left for further negotiations the question of what to do with North Korea's declared nuclear weapons, estimated at a half-dozen bombs, and a stockpile of perhaps 50 kilograms of plutonium. In addition, it postponed discussions on a separate highly enriched uranium program that the Bush administration contends -- but North Korea denies -- was undertaken in secret as a second source of nuclear weapons fuel.

As a result, the agreement seemed likely to face opposition in Washington by conservatives who remain unconvinced that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, ever intends to relinquish his nuclear weapons. Similarly, the Bush administration faces criticism from Democrats who charge that the administration, after breaking away from the Agreed Framework in 2002, ended up five years later with a roughly similar accord.

There is one big difference between 1994 and 2007, however -- the Democrats now control both houses of Congress. I'm not sure, therefore, whether conservative opposition will be as big of a problem as it was before. Of course, it's possible that the 8% of the Democratic caiucus in the Senate now running for president to use the deal as an opportunity for foreign policy posturing.

Meanwhile, according to the FT's Daniel Dombey and Fidelius Schmid, the European Union has come to a sobering conclusion about Iran:

Iran will be able to develop enough weapons-grade material for a nuclear bomb and there is little that can be done to prevent it, an internal European Union document has concluded.

In an admission of the international community’s failure to hold back Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the document – compiled by the staff of Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief – says the atomic programme has been delayed only by technical limitations rather than diplomatic pressure. “Attempts to engage the Iranian administration in a negotiating process have not so far succeeded,” it states.

The downbeat conclusions of the “reflection paper” – seen by the Financial Times – are certain to be seized on by advocates of military action, who fear that Iran will be able to produce enough fissile material for a bomb over the next two to three years. Tehran insists its purposes are purely peaceful.

“At some stage we must expect that Iran will acquire the capacity to enrich uranium on the scale required for a weapons programme,” says the paper, dated February 7 and circulated to the EU’s 27 national governments ahead of a foreign ministers meeting yesterday.

“In practice . . . the Iranians have pursued their programme at their own pace, the limiting factor being technical difficulties rather than resolutions by the UN or the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“The problems with Iran will not be resolved through economic sanctions alone.”....

The EU document is embarrassing for advocates of negotiations with Iran, since last year it was Mr Solana and his staff who spearheaded talks with Tehran on behalf of both the EU and the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The paper adds that Tehran’s rejection of the offer put forward by Mr Solana “makes it difficult to believe that, at least in the short run, [Iran] would be ready to establish the conditions for the resumption of negotiations”.

UPDATE: God bless the FT, they've made the full text of the EU paper available online.

Meanwhile, The National Interest online has an informative interview with Graham Allison on the contours of the DPRK deal. One excerpt:

This is a significant step for the Bush Administration into the reality zone, a strong departure from its previous failed approach and a good first step. So that’s the good news. The bad news is that this is four years, eight bombs’ worth of plutonium and one nuclear test after the Bush Administration departed from this point that it has inherited essentially from the Clinton Administration....

North Korean words and commitments are of limited value and so most of what’s to be delivered here in terms of non-proliferation remain to be negotiated and if history is any guide, it’s gonna be a long path from where we now stand to the actual elimination of all North Korean nuclear-weapons material and nuclear weapons.

Later on in the interview, he agrees with John Bolton... really, he does.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The International-Herald Tribune's Jim Yardley has some of the play-by-play that led to the DPRK deal.

On a Friday night, three days before Christmas, the tortuous three-year diplomatic effort to end North Korea's nuclear weapons program finally seemed dead. Two months earlier, the country had conducted its first nuclear weapons test. Five days of talks in Beijing had just ended in failure and acrimony.

But that evening, the American team sent a messenger to the gated North Korean Embassy located near Beijing's historic Ritan Park. Would the North be interested in a private, bilateral meeting outside Beijing? A few days later, the North agreed and chose a location: Berlin.

The Berlin meeting last month would be critical in resuscitating the talks and in shaping the agreement reached Tuesday in Beijing, according to a senior U.S. official familiar with the American negotiating team....

The American official said that at one point on Monday, Hill visited the North Koreans and mentioned a ceramic Korean cup that he keeps on his desk. He cited a Korean proverb about how pouring too much liquid into the cup causes it to all drain out, leaving nothing.

The message — do not get too greedy — was not lost on North Korea, but negotiations continued into early Tuesday morning.

posted by Dan at 08:39 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, February 12, 2007

Your Rorschach Middle East story of the week

USA Today's Barbara Slavin reports on how Iran's perceived rise is causing some unusual movements Arab-Israeli relations:

Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, are making some of their most public overtures ever to Israel and American Jews in an effort to undercut Iran's growing influence, contain violence in Iraq and Lebanon and push for a Palestinian solution.

The high-profile gestures coincide with Saudi Arabia's lead role last week in brokering a deal for a coalition Palestinian government.

Last month, Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's departing ambassador to the United States, attended a Washington reception sponsored by American Jewish organizations. The event honored a State Department diplomat appointed to combat anti-Semitism.

The appearance of a Saudi diplomat is "unprecedented," said William Daroff, Washington office director for the United Jewish Communities, which organized the reception.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have stepped up contacts with Israel and pro-Israel Jewish groups in the USA. The outreach has the Bush administration's blessing: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said six Gulf states and Egypt, Jordan and Israel are a new alignment of moderates to oppose extremists backed by Iran and Syria. She has said an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would weaken militants such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

Contacts have intensified as part of a strategy meant to undercut extremists and build momentum for a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, said Jamal Kashoggi, an aide to Saudi Prince Turki.

Judith Kipper, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said, "What really concerns pro-U.S. Arab states is that Iran is setting the political agenda in the region."

Saudi and Gulf Arab contacts with Israelis and American Jews go back more than a decade but have never been so public.

Slavin's story comes out the same day Anthony Shadid analyzes rising Sunni-Shia tensions in the Washington Post (though do check out this Abu Arrdvark post to see whether the Sunni-Shia divide has been exaggerated.)

OK, time for your Rorschach test on international relations. What's the best way to interpret Slavin's story?

A) An exaggeration of a meaningless PR offensive;

B) The ultimate vindication of realism -- if the Saudis and Israelis choose to balance against a rising Iran, then perhaps the distribution of power is really the Most Important Thing in world politics;

C) The ultimate refutation of realism. After all, many realists assert that Israel is far more powerful than Iran -- so why are the Saudis bandwagoning rather than balancing?

D) Strong support for "The Israel Lobby" hypothesis -- the Saudis are cutting through the democratic rigamarole and negotiating with the cabal that runs U.S. foreign policy

E) Evidence to reject "The Israel Lobby" argument -- if American support for Israel is ostensibly undercutting America's standing in the Middle East, why the reaching out to Jews and Israelis?

F) Forget birth pangs, the new Middle East is here!! The Saudis are taking constructive steps to solve the Israeli/Palestinian crisis, the Arabian peninsula seems to be in synch with moderate Arab regimes to thwart the Shia crescent.

G) Meet the new Middle East -- same as the old Middle East. I wonder if it bothers the administration that the Shia crescent states, as a group, can make a greater claim for democratic representativeness than the Sunni Middle East (admittedly, not a high threshhold).

H) The U.S. has eliminated moral hazard in the Middle East. By getting bogged down in Iraq, the American appetite for further Middle East adventurism has waned considerably. This actually forces the states in the region to make their own accommodations.

posted by Dan at 02:43 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)



Saturday, February 10, 2007

Gideon Rachman's last detail

Gideon Rachman blogs about his travels to Singapore and Beijing. You should read the whole thing, but I can't resist excerpting how he closes this post:

The question of how peaceful China’s rise will be was... the subject of our seminar in Singapore, organised by the Brookings Institution and the Lee Kuan Yew school of public policy. Generally speaking, the Americans were pretty wary, the Asians pretty sanguine and the Europeans faintly bemused....

Certainly history suggests that the rise of a big new power is often a fairly fraught affair. I was indirectly reminded of this, when I went to have lunch in Beijing with Richard McGregor and Mure Dickie of the FT. Richard had thoughtfully bought me a present: a pirated DVD of Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will”, which he had picked up for a dollar in a local market. It’s good to know that the Chinese are so interested in European history.

posted by Dan at 05:24 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)



Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Everyone plays hard-to-get before the Six-Party Talks

The last post of the day by the Temporary Turkmenbashi of the Blogosphere completes his tour of totalitarian states by taking a glimpse at North Korea's tango with the United States over its nuclear weapons program.

As the six-party talks get underway, there's always the pre-meeting vacillations that resemble nothing so much as a small high school, when all parties fluctuate between flirting with agreement and denying that they were ever interested in an agreement.

For example, on Tuesday Glenn Kessler reported in the Washington Post that the North Koreans ratcheted up their demands at the last minute:

North Korea has set tough terms for a freeze of one of its nuclear facilities, demanding that the United States exceed commitments made under a Clinton-era deal that the Bush administration previously derided as inadequate.

North Korea's top nuclear negotiator, Kim Gye Gwan, and other officials outlined Pyongyang's position in meetings last week with two American nuclear experts, saying they would be presented when six-nation disarmament talks resume in Beijing on Thursday. In exchange for a freeze of the Yongbyon facility and a return of international inspectors, Pyongyang wants a substantial supply of heavy fuel oil, an end to a Treasury Department action that froze North Korean accounts at a Macau bank, an international commitment to build civilian nuclear reactors in North Korea and, most important, normalization of relations with Washington....

The freeze would only cover the increasingly decrepit Yongbyon facility, not other North Korean nuclear sites.

The North Korean officials also maintained that no freeze will take place until the U.S. side resolves the Treasury action against Banco Delta Asia, a Macau bank that allegedly served as a conduit for counterfeit U.S. currency. The case has resulted in the freezing of about $24 million in North Korean accounts and led other banks around the world to curtail dealings with North Korea. In recent talks with Treasury, North Korea identified a portion of the accounts that could be deemed legitimate in an effort to resolve the case.

"BDA is the tip of the iceberg," said Michael J. Green, a former White House official in charge of Asia policy and now at Georgetown University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He said ending the case would unleash tens of millions of dollars in commercial transactions that had been curtailed since Treasury moved against the bank.

Green said the North Koreans were asking for "basically the Agreed Framework," which he said would be a "hard sell back in Washington." Bush for four years has called for a "complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement," so U.S. negotiators have sought to disable the Yongbyon facility in such a way that it could not be quickly restarted.

Oddly enough, the Financial Times' Demetri Sevastopulo reports that the United States is acting all flirty this time:
The US would be prepared to start normalising relations with North Korea before it completes nuclear disarmament if that would persuade Pyongyang to move forward on a previous agreement to denuclearise the Korean peninsula.

A senior Bush administration official told the Financial Times that Washington would consider starting the process of removing Pyong­yang from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and easing restrictions on US companies dealing with the state if North Korea moved forward on its previous commitment to dismantle its nuclear programmes.

Washington hopes to make progress on implementing a stalemated 2005 deal when US officials sit down with their North Korean counterparts at six party talks in Beijing on Thursday. Under that deal, which was agreed among the US, North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, Pyongyang pledged to abandon its nuclear weapons programmes and rejoin the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in return for energy assistance and security guarantees....

The senior official said the combination of financial pressures on the regime, a poor harvest in 2006, and increased pressure from the Chinese, who are angry about the North Korean nuclear test last October, have forced Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, to rethink his strategy.

In particular, current and former officials say, Pyongyang may be motivated to reach a compromise to alleviate financial pressures caused partly by the US move to freeze North Korean assets at Banco Delta Asia in Macao. The administration believes North Korea may act to prevent US action against other banks – the Bush administration has identified at least a dozen – where it could freeze North Korean funds.

“That is what the North Koreans are after here,” said Michael Green of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Mr Green was senior Asia director at the White House national security council until December 2005.

“They have a larger clotting of financial flows because bankers around the world are afraid to deal with them. And they would like to unfreeze all of that through the demonstration of an agreement on Banco Delta Asia [under which the US would unfreeze some assets]”.

To urge Mr Kim toward a deal, the US has signalled it is prepared to be more flexible. Under the 2005 agreement, Washington offered to provide energy assistance, security guarantees, and move towards normalising relations only after Pyongyang had disabled all its nuclear activities.

This time, the US is preparing to accept a partial disablement, which would then trigger the process towards normalising relations. A deal agreed with the other six-party members would also include food assistance, which Pyongyang badly needs after the poor 2006 harvest....

[T]he North Koreans are also resurrecting demands for a light water reactor. But the senior administration official said Pyongyang was probably demanding the reactor as a negotiating tactic and would settle for a deal without one. But he cautioned that any demand for the reactor would be a “non-starter”.

Proponents of the new proposal within the Bush administration argue that China is increasing willing to use its muscle with Pyongyang in a fashion that could produce a deal. Although they caution that the key will be to make sure China and South Korea keep the pressure on North Korea after any initial agreement to make sure Pyongyang does not back track.

The FT goes on to observe that any deal will be a tough domestic sell. This is a major point in this Christian Science Monitor report by Howard LaFranchi as well:
Those kinds of small steps may be about all we can expect out of the Bush administration," says David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. "They may just be looking to settle the situation down so they can focus their last two years on Iraq, Iran, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Mr. Albright, who met recently with North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, says the North's ultimate goal is a move toward "meaningful relations" with the US. The North also understands it will have to take clear steps before that could happen, he says, but they also remain skeptical of US intent.

"They want a process," he says, but they are also reluctant to proceed to a freeze on plutonium production that they fear might open them up to bolder US moves against them. "They make it clear they would respond to any aggressive moves," Albright says.

One stumbling block is a lack of clarity from the Bush administration on North Korea, he adds. Does the US accept the regime of Kim Jong Il or not? Might it still try to use military force to end its military nuclear capabilities or not? Is the furnishing of civilian nuclear facilities on the table for the US or not?

"The US is suffering from a lack of clarity on this issue," Albright says, "and it's not at all clear it can be resolved in the next two years."

Clearly, one other common denominator is that all the same experts get quoted.

Developing....

UPDATE: Reports of an actual agreement are denied by the United States.

posted by Dan at 08:47 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)



Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Are there limits to Chinese soft power?

China has begun to hit some constraints in its soft power offensive in Africa. According to the Economist, Africans are now treating the Chinese in ways that might strike a chors with Americans:

In Zambia, where China has big copper-mining interests, a candidate in last year’s presidential election promised, if elected, to chase out Chinese investors after lethal riots at a Chinese-controlled mine. In Nigeria, Chinese oil workers and engineers have joined Western counterparts in being kidnapped and ransomed by insurgents in the country’s Niger Delta region. And there have been protests in South Africa and Zimbabwe against cheap clothing imported from China. In Zambia and South Africa, both destinations on this trip, Mr Hu [Jintao] could face some unusually pointed questioning.
China can respond by offering soft loans with no political conditions -- which ameliorates governments but not necessarily citizens. However, even those kind of loans have their limits -- as the Financial Times' Alec Russell points out:
President Hu Jintao of China arrives in South Africa on Tuesday for the most serious and frank exchange of ideas on his 12-day tour of Africa.

Unlike his other seven hosts on the tour, South Africa has little need of the cheap loans and infrastructure projects that Beijing is proferring to Africa to feed its hunger for resources.

While South African officials are confident that today’s meeting will be extremely cordial, President Thabo Mbeki did recently warn that Africa should beware of falling into a “colonial relationship” with China.

“A lot of governments see China as the panacea,” said Lucy Corkin, of the Centre for China Studies at Stellenbosch University. “Thabo has put out cautionary signals.”....

Diplomats say it is no coincidence that the longest visits of his Africa trip are those to South Africa and Zambia, both of which have shown signs of discontent with the Chinese investment drive.

Developing....

posted by Dan at 10:37 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, February 5, 2007

But... but.... but.... centralization should always work!!

The Financial Times' Mark Turner reports the the UN's new fancy-pants response fund to humanitarian crises suffers from -- wait for it -- just a little bit of the old excessive, power hungry bureaucracy:

A flagship UN emergency response fund established last year to speed assistance to people during humanitarian crises has failed to meet its goal, and in some cases even slowed down the flow of life-saving goods, according to aid agencies.

A study by Save the Children UK said the fledgling fund was “inefficient and actually reduces the amount of money going directly to work on the ground”, creating an extra hurdle for aid agencies.

The Central Emergency Response Fund, which was championed by the UK government, was heralded at its launch in March last year as a revolutionary new way to ensure money would be immediately available when crises struck, and to steer funds to otherwise forgotten emergencies. This year countries have given $40m (£20.3m, €30.8m) to the fund, and pledged a further $304m.

But Save the Children said the fund’s rules – which stipulate that the money has to be funnelled through the UN bureaucracy, rather than directly to aid agencies – had created dangerous layers of inefficiency and delay....

A European diplomat also acknowledged CERF’s early problems, noting funds had taken up to seven weeks to reach the field. He said the UN claimed to have reduced the gap to 1½ weeks.

Stephanie Bunker, of the UN’s Humanitarian Affairs arm OCHA, insisted CERF money came on top of other sources of finance. “It’s not like its draining funding out of anything else,” she said.

But Save the Children said: “In many emergencies, staff have been told by donors that they must seek CERF funding instead of traditional bilateral funding.”...

Campaigning groups are now calling for direct access to CERF money. Ms Bunker said the UN “would tend to agree we would like to see the pool [of recipients] made broader” – but that it was stuck with rules set by its members states.

The European diplomat said developing countries had been firmly against giving campaigning groups direct access during the fund’s creation, and that it could overload the system.

Here's a link to the full report from Save the Children UK.

I reckon I enjoy mocking the UN more than the next man -- well, not more than this man -- but in all fairness it should be pointed out that Save the Children UK might have impure motives in making this allegation. As the last two paragraph in the FT story suggest, what this is about is who gets access to the money. As Save the Children said in their press release:

The fundamental flaw of the CERF mechanism is that non-UN aid agencies, like Save the Children, are not allowed to receive direct funding, despite the fact they are usually first on the ground and deliver more than half of all emergency relief.
And developing countries want to restrict this access? Well, blow me down!


posted by Dan at 10:19 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)



Thursday, February 1, 2007

Oops, je l'ai fait encore

Jacques Chirac has gotten himself into a bit of foreign policy hot water, according to the New York Times' Elaine Sciolino and Katrine Bennhold:

President Jacques Chirac said this week that if Iran had one or two nuclear weapons, it would not pose a big danger, and that if Iran were to launch a nuclear weapon against a country like Israel, it would lead to the immediate destruction of Tehran.

The remarks, made in an interview on Monday with The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and Le Nouvel Observateur, a weekly magazine, were vastly different from stated French policy and what Mr. Chirac has often said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Chirac summoned the same journalists back to Élysée Palace to retract many of his remarks.

Mr. Chirac said repeatedly during the second interview that he had spoken casually and quickly the day before because he believed he had been talking about Iran off the record....

In the Monday interview, Mr. Chirac argued that Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon was less important than the arms race that would ensue.

“It is really very tempting for other countries in the region that have large financial resources to say: ‘Well, we too are going to do that; we’re going to help others do it,’ ” he said. “Why wouldn’t Saudi Arabia do it? Why wouldn’t it help Egypt to do so as well? That is the real danger.”

Earlier this month, Mr. Chirac had planned to send his foreign minister to Iran to help resolve the crisis in Lebanon. The venture collapsed after Saudi Arabia and Egypt opposed the trip and members of his own government said it would fail.

Mr. Chirac, who is 74 and months away from ending his second term as president, suffered a neurological episode in 2005 and is said by French officials to have become much less precise in conversation....

In the first interview, which took place in the late morning, he appeared distracted at times, grasping for names and dates and relying on advisers to fill in the blanks. His hands shook slightly. When he spoke about climate change, he read from prepared talking points printed in large letters and highlighted in yellow and pink.

By contrast, in the second interview, which came just after lunch, he appeared both confident and comfortable with the subject matter. (emphasis added)

Two thoughts. First, what exactly is "a neurological episode"? Is this like "a minor circulatory problem of the head"?

Second, the implication in the Times report is that Chirac made more sense in the second interview than the first. To me that's really disturbing, because in the second interview Chirac actually makes less sense to me.

Chirac is essentially correct in stating that Iran would not nuke Israel because it would invite immediate retaliation, and Tehran would be leveled. Assuming that the political status quo remains in Iran and Ahmadinejad doesn't have his finger on the button, this is true.

However, for this to be true, the threat of retaliation has to be pretty clear. And this is what Chirac appears to amend in his second interview. Consider this part:

He retracted, for example, his comment that Tehran would be destroyed if Iran launched a nuclear weapon. “I retract it, of course, when I said, ‘One is going to raze Tehran,’ ” he said.
In the actual text of the interview, Chirac seems more conscious of how deterrence works. However, this is the one thing you do not want to water down.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan has an interesting theory for why Chirac seemed more lucid in the second interview

posted by Dan at 09:15 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (2)



Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Are we moving towards apolarity?

Fareed Zakaria frets about this possibility in Newsweek after going to Davos:

We are certainly in a trough for America—with Bush in his last years, with the United States mired in Iraq, with hostility toward Washington still high almost everywhere. But if so, we might also be getting a glimpse of what a world without America would look like. It will be free of American domination, but perhaps also free of leadership—a world in which problems fester and the buck is endlessly passed, until problems explode.

Listen to the new powers. China, which in three years will likely become the world's biggest emitter of CO2, is determined not to be a leader in dealing with global environmental issues. "The ball is not in China's court," said Zhu Min, the executive vice president of the Bank of China and a former senior official in the government. "The ball is in everybody's court." India's brilliant planning czar, Montek Singh Alluwalliah, said that "every country should have the same per capita rights to pollution." In the abstract that's logical enough, but in the real world, if 2.3 billion people (the population of China plus India) pollute at average Western levels, you will have a global meltdown....

The ball for every problem is in everybody's court, which means that it is in nobody's court.

The problem is that this free ride probably can't last forever. The global system—economic, political, social—is not self-managing. Global economic growth has been a fantastic boon, but it produces stresses and strains that have to be handled. Without some coordination, or first mover—or, dare one say it, leader—such management is more difficult.

The world today bears some resemblance to the 1920s, when a newly globalized economy was booming, and science and technological change were utterly transforming life. (Think of the high-tech of the time—electricity, radio, movies and cars, among other recent inventions.) But with Britain declining and America isolationist, that was truly a world without political direction. Eventually protectionism, nationalism, xenophobia and war engulfed it.

In a provocative essay in Foreign Policy three years ago, the British historian Niall Ferguson speculated that the end of American hegemony might not fuel an orderly shift to a multipolar system but a descent into a world of highly fragmented powers, with no one exercising any global leadership. He called this "apolarity." "Apolarity could turn out to mean an anarchic new Dark Age," Ferguson wrote, "an era of waning empires and religious fanaticism, of economic plunder and pillage in the world's forgotten regions, of economic stagnation, and civilization's retreat into a few fortified enclaves." That might be a little farfetched. But for those who have been fondly waiting for the waning of American dominance—be careful what you wish for.

A few thoughts:
1) It's fascinating to contrast Zakaria's column with Gideon Rachman's take on Davos. Zakaria is gloomy because of the absence of U.S. policymakers; Rachman is (somewhat) more optimistic because of the optimish of American businessmen.

The fact that Rachman and Zakaria can draw such contrasting takes suggests that Davos is more of an IR Rorshach test than a place where consensus is created -- people take away from the conference the preconceptions they bring to it.

2) Zakaria -- and Ferguson -- exaggerate the lack of existing policy coordination and underestimate the extent to which China and India have been brought into important global governance structures. Pointing out that there's been little progress on global warming and only grudging progress on trade talks is not evidence of apolarity. A decade ago, when the US and EU more clearly held the levers of power.... there was grudging progress on global warming and little progress in advancing trade talks. This has little to do with the distribution of power and a lot to do with the thorny domestic politics of these issues.

[Er... what about the point on global governance structures?--ed.] I'll have a lot more to say about that in the near future.
[Ooooh, foreshadowing!--ed.]

posted by Dan at 10:25 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)



Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Why doesn't the EU have an OFAC?

Steven Weisman has a story in the New York Times evaluating the transatlantic effort to squeeze Iran. There have been a few bumps in the road:

European governments are resisting Bush administration demands that they curtail support for exports to Iran and that they block transactions and freeze assets of some Iranian companies, officials on both sides say. The resistance threatens to open a new rift between Europe and the United States over Iran.

Administration officials say a new American drive to reduce exports to Iran and cut off its financial transactions is intended to further isolate Iran commercially amid the first signs that global pressure has hurt Iran’s oil production and its economy. There are also reports of rising political dissent in Iran....

One irony of the latest pressure, European and American officials say, is that on their own, many European banks have begun to cut back their transactions with Iran, partly because of a Treasury Department ban on using dollars in deals involving two leading Iranian banks.

American pressure on European governments, as opposed to banks, has been less successful, administration and European officials say....

The administration says that European governments provided $18 billion in government loan guarantees for Iran in 2005. The numbers have gone down in the last year, but not by much, American and European officials say.

American officials say that European governments may have facilitated illicit business and that European governments must do more to stop such transactions. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. has said the United States has shared with Europeans the names of at least 30 front companies involved in terrorism or weapons programs.

“They’ve told us they don’t have the tools,” said a senior American official. “Our answer is: get them.”

“We want to squeeze the Iranians,” said a European official. “But there are varying degrees of political will in Europe about turning the thumbscrews. It’s not straightforward for the European Union to do what the United States wants.”

Another European official said: “We are going to be very cautious about what the Treasury Department wants us to do. We can see that banks are slowing their business with Iran. But because there are huge European business interests involved, we have to be very careful.”

European officials argue that beyond the political and business interests in Europe are legal problems, because European governments lack the tools used by the Treasury Department under various American statutes to freeze assets or block transactions based on secret intelligence information.

A week ago, on Jan. 22, European foreign ministers met in Brussels and adopted a measure that might lead to laws similar to the economic sanctions, laws and presidential directives used in the United States, various officials say. But it is not clear how far those laws will reach once they are adopted.

I suspect that most of the rift on this issue is related to the difference in economic interdependence between the US and EU when it comes to Iran. However, the lack of an institutional infrastructure on the EU side is not insignificant. The Europeans have never had the equivalent of OFAC -- the Office of Foreign Assets Control that oversees the nitty-gritty implementation of U.S. sanctions.

The question is.... why? Economic sanctions have been a popular policy tool for the past fifteen years or so. Economic power is the primary means through which the EU tries to exert its influence in world politics. A EuroOFAC would, one hopes, allow the Europeans to implemebnt sanctions more quickly, while at the same time allowing for more precise in their targeting.

So why hasn't it happened yet? Two possible reasons:

1) European countries are less sanctions-happy than the United States. This is true, but there's a chicken-egg problem with this story -- the EU doesn't sanction as often because the tools aren't there;

2) European countries don't want to cede more foreign policymaking power to the EU. This is undoubtedly true, but again, I think it's overblown. A EuroOFAC would not be in charge of deciding when to sanction, but implementing the decision after its been made. The memver countries would still hold that decision-making power. There might be a slippery-slope logic at work, though -- making sanctions easier to execute puts the onus on the countries to decide to act.

I'm sure there are other reasons -- and I'mm sure my readers will inform me at great length about them.

This is part and parcel of a larger question, however -- to what extent does the EU really want to be seen as a great power? Is it willing to develop the traditional tools of statecraft that befit the moniker?

posted by Dan at 08:09 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, January 8, 2007

Next year, I'm putting my money on Latvia

Another January, another energy dispute between Russia and a former Soviet republic freaks out the Europeans:

Russia, accusing Belarus of stealing oil from a major pipeline, has shut off oil exports to its western neighbour, halting supplies to Poland and Germany and threatening wider disruptions in central Europe.

Russia’s pipeline monopoly Transneft said on Monday it was forced to act because Minsk had been siphoning off oil illegally from the Druzhba (’Friendship’) pipeline system.

The oil supply cut was reminiscent of a stand-off last year between Russia and Ukraine that hit gas supplies to Europe. It escalates a tit-for-tat dispute between Russia and longtime ally Belarus, who have imposed punitive oil levies on each other.

The European Union demanded an “urgent and detailed” explanation, a spokesman for Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said. Europe is heavily reliant on energy powerhouse Russia for its oil and gas and extremely vulnerable to Russian supply cuts.

What's odd about this dispute is that Belarus backed down last week when faced with similar Russian pressure on natural gas. Lukashenka agreed (he wasn't thrilled, obviously, but he agreed) to a ramp up in Gazprom's natural gas price.

Writing in the Financial Times, Arkady Ostrovskyin reports that Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has backed himself into a corner:

Speaking for the first time since Belarus succumbed to Russia's demands to double gas prices and take control of half of its pipeline infrastructure, Mr Lukashenko said he had instructed his government to propose to Moscow that it pay for everything "they are getting here for free, from military objects to transit of oil".

Analysts said Mr Lukashenko's angry comments should be put down to the frustration of a leader push-ed into a corner.

"Lukashenko is in an extremely weak position - both economically and politically. He is already isolated by Europe and Russia is his only lifeline," said Christopher Weafer, chief strategist at Alfa Bank.

On New Year's eve, Gazprom, Russia's state-controlled gas group, forced Belarus to sign a new five-year gas deal which will bring gas prices to European levels by 2011. Russia also threatened to slap a full duty on Russian - currently duty-free - crude oil exports to Belarus of $180.70 (£92.71) per tonne from next year.

These measures would wipe out most of the $4bn plus subsidy that Mr Lukashenko has enjoyed over the past years and which helped him retain his popularity. However, unlike Ukraine, the former Soviet republic that irritated Russia by pushing closer to Europe, Belarus has few friends in the west and now risks straining its relationship with Russia to a breaking point.

The big question here is whether Western Europe will force Russia to turn the oil tap back on before Lukashenka is ousted by someone not stupid enough to annoy Belarus' only ally. From a human rights perspective, it would seem hard to believe that anyone in Belarus could be worse than Lukashenko. On the other hand, it's not clear that a replacement would be much better, either -- and there's the pesky problem of heating homes and such.

My prediction: If this kind of standoff lasts more than a week, Lukashenko is gone. But I suspect European pressure will force an agreement before Lukashenko is ousted.

Readers are invited to speculate which country will be the focus of next year's energy squeeze.

UPDATE: The Economist's Democracy in America blog thinks the target of this cutoff isn't Belarus -- it's Germany and Poland.

posted by Dan at 11:42 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)



Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Do hawks have a psychological edge?

In the January/February issue of Foreign Policy, Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon make a very provocative argument -- as a species, humans are too damn hawkish:

National leaders get all sorts of advice in times of tension and conflict. But often the competing counsel can be broken down into two basic categories. On one side are the hawks: They tend to favor coercive action, are more willing to use military force, and are more likely to doubt the value of offering concessions. When they look at adversaries overseas, they often see unremittingly hostile regimes who only understand the language of force. On the other side are the doves, skeptical about the usefulness of force and more inclined to contemplate political solutions. Where hawks see little in their adversaries but hostility, doves often point to subtle openings for dialogue.

As the hawks and doves thrust and parry, one hopes that the decision makers will hear their arguments on the merits and weigh them judiciously before choosing a course of action. Don’t count on it. Modern psychology suggests that policymakers come to the debate predisposed to believe their hawkish advisors more than the doves. There are numerous reasons for the burden of persuasion that doves carry, and some of them have nothing to do with politics or strategy. In fact, a bias in favor of hawkish beliefs and preferences is built into the fabric of the human mind.

Social and cognitive psychologists have identified a number of predictable errors (psychologists call them biases) in the ways that humans judge situations and evaluate risks. Biases have been documented both in the laboratory and in the real world, mostly in situations that have no connection to international politics. For example, people are prone to exaggerating their strengths: About 80 percent of us believe that our driving skills are better than average. In situations of potential conflict, the same optimistic bias makes politicians and generals receptive to advisors who offer highly favorable estimates of the outcomes of war. Such a predisposition, often shared by leaders on both sides of a conflict, is likely to produce a disaster. And this is not an isolated example.

In fact, when we constructed a list of the biases uncovered in 40 years of psychological research, we were startled by what we found: All the biases in our list favor hawks. These psychological impulses—only a few of which we discuss here—incline national leaders to exaggerate the evil intentions of adversaries, to misjudge how adversaries perceive them, to be overly sanguine when hostilities start, and overly reluctant to make necessary concessions in negotiations. In short, these biases have the effect of making wars more likely to begin and more difficult to end.

Foreign Policy also invited Matthew Continetti and Matthew Yglesias to comment on the piece. Yglesias is enthusiastic about the finding, and goes even further:
Kahneman and Renshon actually end up being unduly generous to the hawkish point of view. Sometimes, of course, war is necessary. But since there are two sides to every conflict, hawks won’t always be right. Even in a case where an American president is rightly listening to his hawkish advisors (George H.W. Bush in the first Gulf War, say, or Bill Clinton over Kosovo), a foreign leader (Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic) is making a serious miscalculation in listening to his hawkish advisors.

In short, most decisions to go to war have been mistakes. Sometimes, as in World War I, both sides are making a mistake, and other times, as in World War II, only one side is, but the upshot is that the impulse to launch wars is more widespread than it ought to be. Indeed, hawks themselves recognize this fact. Pro-war arguments almost always contend that the enemy is irrationally aggressive, while overestimating one’s own military capabilities. Where the hawks go wrong is in their belief that irrational exuberance about violence is the exclusive province of real or potential adversaries, rather than a problem from which they themselves may suffer.

Continetti is less sanguine:
[W]hy do only the fundamental attribution errors of hawks lead to “pernicious” effects? Doves share the same bias; it just works in different ways. If hawks treat hostile behavior at face value when they shouldn’t, so too do doves treat docility. Those who championed the 1973 accords ending the Vietnam War saw them as a chance for the United States to leave Vietnam while preserving the sovereignty of the south. But to North Vietnamese eyes, the cease-fire was merely an opportunity to consolidate their forces for the final seizure of the south, which happened a mere two years later.

The second hawk bias Kahneman and Renshon identify is “excessive optimism,” which the authors speculate “led American policymakers astray as they laid the groundwork for the current war in Iraq.” Yet prior to the war in Iraq, some hawks worried that Saddam Hussein might set oil fields ablaze, as he had done in 1991. They worried that he might launch missiles against American allies in the region, that his removal might be long and bloody, and that post-Saddam Iraq would face humanitarian crises of great magnitude. Doves optimistically argued that Saddam could be “contained” even as the sanctions against him were unraveling and as America’s military presence in Saudi Arabia became increasingly untenable.

Why Kahneman and Renshon limit the biases they identify to hawks is something of a mystery. Take “reactive devaluation,” or “what was said matters less than who said it.” They cite likely American skepticism over any forthcoming Iranian nuclear concessions as an example, albeit conceding that doubt may be warranted in this case. They could have cited a domestic case instead: Just as many Republicans opposed President Clinton’s interventions in Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo, and at one point even accused him of resorting to force in order to distract from the Monica Lewinsky scandal, many Democrats now oppose Bush administration policies sight unseen because they don’t like the messenger. Doves are just as susceptible to reactive devaluation as hawks.

I love this article -- in fact, it's going in my Statecraft course for this semester!!

However, I love it in part because it's simultaneously clear, provocative, and way overblown as a hypothesis. That is to say, even if one acknowledges the individual-level cognitive biases discussed in the piece, it's a stretch to then conclude that foreign policies are more belligerent than they should be because of hawk bias.

If I have more time today, I'll try to fill out these cryptic points, but for now, here are my issues with the argument:


1) Definitional squabbles: I don't like the "hawk" and "dove" labels. Individuals can be hawkish in some situations but dovish in others. Indeed, there might be ideologies or operational codes that countermand the crude hawk/dove dichotomy.

2) There might be worse cognitive biases. Click here, here, here and here for a prior discussion about how, regardless of one's hawk and dove proclivities, even political experts get an awful lot wrong for reasons other than hawkishness. In fact, Kahneman and Renshon have posited a hedgehog theory of war, and that makes me think they've sipped from the very elixir they fear.

3) There are rationalist arguments for war. There aren't a lot of them, but they do exist. It would be interesting, however, if one could marry game-theoretic problems of imperfect information and credible commitment problems to fundamental attribution error and other hawk biases (and yes, please e-mail me or post a citation if someone has done this already).

4) This theory massively overpredicts war as an outcome. If one accepts this argument, then one would also have to explain why war has been such a historically rare event -- and it's been getting rarer. There are a lot of countervailing factors that the authors don't mention, including but not limited to bureacratic politics, domestic politics, regime type, balance of power, etc.

5) Organizations act as a particularly powerful constraint on cognitive limitations. This is one point of the original Carnegie school of organizational behavior.

6) I'm not sure Democrats want to be too enthusiastic about this finding. Let's have some fun and apply these cognitive biases to the domestic policy of liberals*. Hmmm..... so liberals will be likely to demonize their political opponents and misread their intentions.... they'll be excessively optimistic and prone to an "illusion of control" in their domestic policy ambitions.... and they'll double down on ambitious social programs that look like they're not working terribly well (cough, health care, cough). Run, run for your lives!!!

*Yes, this applies with almost equal force to Republicans, but Yglesias is defending the thesis here, so I'm using his side as an example.


posted by Dan at 11:20 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, December 25, 2006

When civil wars go transnational

Merry Christmas! In certain parts of the globe, that whole peace-on-earth-goodwill-towards-men business seems to be at a low ebb.

On its front page, the New York Times reports on two civil wars that: A) involve the United States directly or indirectly; and B) are also drawing in neighboring countries.

First, there's the obvious one -- Iraq. James Glanz and Sabrina Tavernise explain that some Iranians have had their hand caught in the cookie jar:

The American military is holding at least four Iranians in Iraq, including men the Bush administration called senior military officials, who were seized in a pair of raids late last week aimed at people suspected of conducting attacks on Iraqi security forces, according to senior Iraqi and American officials in Baghdad and Washington.

The Bush administration made no public announcement of the politically delicate seizure of the Iranians, though in response to specific questions the White House confirmed Sunday that the Iranians were in custody.

Gordon D. Johndroe, the spokesman for the National Security Council, said two Iranian diplomats were among those initially detained in the raids. The two had papers showing that they were accredited to work in Iraq, and he said they were turned over to the Iraqi authorities and released. He confirmed that a group of other Iranians, including the military officials, remained in custody while an investigation continued, and he said, “We continue to work with the government of Iraq on the status of the detainees.”

It was unclear what kind of evidence American officials possessed that the Iranians were planning attacks, and the officials would not identify those being held. One official said that “a lot of material” was seized in the raid, but would not say if it included arms or documents that pointed to planning for attacks. Much of the material was still being examined, the official said.

Nonetheless, the two raids, in central Baghdad, have deeply upset Iraqi government officials, who have been making strenuous efforts to engage Iran on matters of security. At least two of the Iranians were in this country on an invitation extended by Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, during a visit to Tehran earlier this month. It was particularly awkward for the Iraqis that one of the raids took place in the Baghdad compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, one of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite leaders, who traveled to Washington three weeks ago to meet President Bush....

American and Iraqi officials have long accused Iran of interfering in this country’s internal affairs, but have rarely produced evidence. The administration presented last week’s arrests as a potential confirmation of the link. Mr. Johndroe said, “We suspect this event validates our claims about Iranian meddling, but we want to finish our investigation of the detained Iranians before characterizing their activities.”

Then, according to Jeffrey Gettlemen, there's Somalia:
Ethiopia officially plunged into war with Somalia’s Islamist forces on Sunday, bombing targets inside Somalia and pushing ground troops deep into Somali territory in a major escalation that could turn Somalia’s internal crisis into a violent religious conflict that engulfs the entire Horn of Africa.

The coordinated assault was the first open admission by Ethiopia’s Christian-led government of its military operations inside Somalia, where — with tacit American support — it has been helping a weak interim government threatened by forces loyal to the Islamic clerics who control the longtime capital, Mogadishu, and much of the country.

Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, said in a televised broadcast that he had ordered the action because he had no choice....

On Saturday, after several days of heavy internal fighting, Islamist leaders announced that Somalia was now open to Muslim fighters around the world who wanted to wage a holy war against Ethiopia, a country with a long Christian history, even though it is about half Muslim.

“What did you expect us to do?” said Zemedkun Tekle, a spokesman for Ethiopia’s information ministry. “Wait for them to attack our cities?”

Even before Ethiopia’s escalation on Sunday, there were alarming signs that the conflict in Somalia could quickly spiral out of control. According to United Nations officials, at least 2,000 soldiers from Eritrea, which recently waged war with Ethiopia, are fighting for the Islamists. They have been joined by a growing number of Muslim mercenaries from Yemen, Egypt, Syria and Libya who want to turn Somalia into the third front of holy war, after Iraq and Afghanistan....

American officials acknowledged that they tacitly supported Ethiopia’s approach because they felt it was the best way to check the growing power of the Islamists, whom American officials have accused of sheltering terrorists tied with Al Qaeda. A State Department spokesperson in Washington said Sunday that the United States was assessing reports of the surge in fighting in Somalia but provided no further comment.

[Hey, you forgot the possible civil war between Fatah and Hamas in Palestine!!--ed. You are correct -- but Eric Umansky has some thoughts on what the United States should not do there.]

posted by Dan at 08:29 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)



Thursday, December 21, 2006

A bad week for Ahmadinejad

I was on Hugh Hewitt's radio show on Tuesday evening to talk, ostensibly, about my Washington Post essay on grand strategy. We wound up talking about Iran mostly. You can read the transcript here. Hewitt is of the belief that the U.S. cannot afford even a small risk of someone like Ahmadinejad possessing nuclear weapons. I am of the belief that Ahmadinejad is not that as powerful inside Iran as Hewitt believes.

It's been a good week for my argument. First, there are election returns:

Opponents of Iran's ultra-conservative president won nationwide elections for local councils, final results confirmed Thursday, an embarrassing outcome for the hardline leader that could force him to change his anti-Western tone and focus more on problems at home.

Moderate conservatives critical of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a majority of seats in last week's elections, followed by reformists who were suppressed by hard-liners two years ago.

The vote was widely seen as a sign of public discontent with Ahmadinejad's stances, which have fueled fights with the West and led Iran closer to U.N. sanctions....

The election does not directly effect Ahmadinejad's administration and is not expected to bring immediate policy changes. The local councils handle community matters in cities and towns across the country.

But it represented the first time the public has weighed in on Ahmadinejad's stormy presidency since he took office in June 2005. The results are expected to pressure him to change his populist anti-Western tone and focus more on Iran's high unemployment and economic problems at home.

Leading reformist Saeed Shariati said the results of the election was a "big no" to Ahmadinejad and his allies.

"People's vote means they don't support Ahmadinejad's policies and want change," Shariati, a leader of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, Iran's largest reformist party told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Similar anti-Ahmadinejad sentiment was visible in the final results of a parallel election held to select members of the Assembly of Experts, a conservative body of 86 senior clerics that monitors Iran's supreme leader and chooses his successor.

A big boost for moderates within the ruling Islamic establishment was visible in the large number of votes for former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, who lost to Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential election runoff.

Rafsanjani, who supports dialogue with the United States, received the most votes of any Tehran candidate to win re-election to the assembly. Also re-elected was Hasan Rowhani, Iran's former top nuclear negotiator whom Ahmadinejad repeatedly accused of making too many concessions to the Europeans.

Then you've got your student protestors -- Nazila Fathi explains in the New York Times:
The student movement, which planned the 1979 seizure of the American Embassy from the same university, Amir Kabir, is reawakening from its recent slumber and may even be spearheading a widespread resistance against Mr. Ahmadinejad. This time the catalysts were academic and personal freedom.

“It is not that simple to break up a president’s speech,” said Alireza Siassirad, a former student political organizer, explaining that an event of that magnitude takes meticulous planning. “I think what happened at Amir Kabir is a very important and a dangerous sign. Students are definitely becoming active again.”

The protest, punctuated by shouts of “Death to the dictator,” was the first widely publicized outcry against Mr. Ahmadinejad, one that was reflected Friday in local elections, where voters turned out in droves to vote for his opponents.

The students’ complaints largely mirrored public frustrations over the president’s crackdown on civil liberties, his blundering economic policies and his harsh oratory against the West, which they fear will isolate the country.

But the students had an additional and potent source of outrage: the president’s campaign to purge the universities of all vestiges of the reform movement of his predecessor, Mohammad Khatami....

[Babak] Zamanian, the head of public relations of the Islamic Association at Amir Kabir, said that while the situation had not been ideal in the Khatami years, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s antireformist campaign had led students to value their previous freedoms.

They were permitted to hold meetings and invite opposition figures to speak, he said, and could freely publish their journals. Now, he said, their papers are forbidden to print anything but reports from official news agencies.

The students also complain about the president’s failure to deliver economic growth and jobs. At last week’s protest, which coincided with a now infamous Holocaust conference held by the Foreign Ministry, students chanted, “Forget the Holocaust — do something for us.”

Well, it's going to be tougher for Ahmadinejad to boost economic growth is more foreign direct investment doesn't come through. The Financial Times' Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Roula Khalaf report that this is now a problem:
Iran’s oil minister on Wednesday admitted that Tehran was having trouble financing oil projects, in a rare acknowledgment of the economic cost of its nuclear dispute.

“Currently, overseas banks and financiers have decreased their co-operation,” Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh told the oil ministry news agency, Shana.

The statement underlined the impact of de facto financial sanctions on the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ second biggest oil producer. As the controversy over Iran’s nuclear programme has escalated, the US has applied pressure on European banks and financial institutions to curb dealings with Tehran.

The fact that the UN Security Council could soon impose the first – even if mild – sanctions against Iran has compounded the political uncertainty and risks of doing business with Tehran. Iranian officials insist there is international interest in investing in Iran’s oil industry and European executives play down any impact on companies seeking deals in Iran....

“There’s a growing awareness that de facto sanctions are beginning to hurt and everyone understands the future of the economy depends on the development of oil and gas,” said a western diplomat. “Banks are not lending, partly because of US pressure, but the banks are also drawing their own conclusions.”

The Security Council should be approving sanctions today.

None of this means that Ahmadinejad will disappear tomorrow. It does mean, however, that the president of Iran will be worrying about more than being "insulted" by student protests.

posted by Dan at 08:49 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)



Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The China mystery

The great Henry Paulson-led expedition to China ended a few days ago, and beyond the purchase of a few nuclear reactors, it's not clear that any policy movement took place. Indeed, the most notable event of the trip was what Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke planned to say but did not actually say:

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke urged China to let its currency gain at a faster pace to end a "distortion'' that benefits exporters.

Bernanke in a speech at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences edged away from his prepared remarks, which called an "undervalued'' yuan an "effective subsidy'' for exports. Using the subsidy label would have implications for China's compliance with World Trade Organization rules and could feed Congressional pressure to impose trade sanctions, analysts said.

Brad Setser decides to tread where Bernanke does not:
Bernanke doesn’t connect the surge in China’s exports to the real depreciation of the dollar, and the real depreciation of the RMB, but I will. The RMB's link to the dollar is a bigger political issue in the US than in Europe, but China’s exports to Europe have actually grown faster than its exports to the US over the past few years....

The RMB’s de facto link to the dollar has become a major distortion in the world economy. But I do worry that the issue has now been framed in a way that makes any appreciation of the RMB – a move that many think is in China’s own interest – appear to be a concession to the US.

I also worry though that China’s emphasis on its own sovereign rights -- including its own sovereign right to peg to the dollar and subsidize the US Treasury -- misses a key point. China is no longer a small part of the world economy. China, inc single-handedly may finance about 1/3 of the US current account deficit in 2007. Its domestic policy choices increasingly impact the world. China's policy choices are a growing concern of the rest of the world.

However, it's what Setser says in this post that caught my attention:
Right now, China is worried about too much growth and an overheated economy, not too little growth. A stronger RMB could substitute for administrative controls on investment. Rather than leading to slower growth, a stronger RMB might help to rebalance the basis of Chinese growth.

In the past few months, China has used a host of measures -- limits on bank lending, delays approving big projects and the like -- to slow investment. With strong exports and a rapidly rising trade surplus contributing strongly to China's current growth (see Nick Lardy), China in sense has been forced to take steps to curb domestic demand growth to keep China's economy from overheating....

If exports weren't growing so fast -- the World Bank expects net exports will contribute 3 percentage points to q3 growth in China -- China's macroeconomic policy high command would have more scope to let the components of domestic demand rise more rapidly. There would be less of a (macroeconomic) case for restraining investment. China could let the banks lend out some of the spare cash, rather than forcing them to lend those funds to the central bank. And the government could take a host of policy steps to stimulate consumption without worrying about overheating.

My take is similar to Brad's -- China's economy would be better diversified if more of its growth came from domestic consumption, China's environment would be better off if growth slowed down by a percentage point or two, and the exchange rate is one of the few non-administrative policy options available.

So, the question is, why isn't China pursuing this course of action? A few possibilities:

1) Interest group politics exist in China, and the export lobby is very powerful. That's the implicit argument in this Steven Weisman piece for the NYT:
American officials and specialists on China have said that Wu Yi, a vice prime minister and the country’s highest-ranking female official, might not have the inclination, or the influence, to challenge the party apparatus that is tied to the sprawling state-owned export industries....

“I’m not expecting any miracles,” said Yu Yongding, director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.

“This visit by Mr. Paulson will have some influence on Chinese political leaders, but China always prefers gradualism,” he said....

“I have been arguing for a change in economic policy for years, but my voice is quite lonely,” Mr. Yu said. He added that however understanding Ms. Wu might be, she and the Communist Party are largely beholden to China’s export sector, which accounts for more than a third of the country’s economy (emphasis added).

2) The Chinese leadership is worried about domestic political stability: Howard French's story about Shenzen in today's New York Times
Shenzhen owed its success to a simple formula of cheap land, eager, compliant labor and lax environmental rules that attracted legions of foreign investors who built export-based manufacturing industries. With 7 million migrant workers in an overall population of about 12 million — compared with Shanghai’s 2 to 3 million migrants out of a population of 18 million — Shenzhen became the literal and symbolic heart of the Chinese economic miracle.

Now, to other cities in China, Shenzhen has begun to look less like a model than an ominous warning of the limitations of a growth-above-all approach.

While grueling labor conditions exist in many parts of China, Shenzhen’s gigantic plants, employing as many as 200,000 workers each, have established a particular reputation for harshness among workers and labor advocates. Monthly turnover rates of 10 percent or more are not uncommon, labor groups say.

The tough working conditions, in turn, have helped spawn one of the most important labor developments in China in recent years: large-scale wildcat strikes and smaller job actions for better hours and wages....

Increasingly short of workers, factories recently have increased assembly-line wages by as much as 20 percent. But even so, critics say, Shenzhen’s boom has spread little wealth.

While the city is dependent on migrant labor to keep its factories running, onerous residency rules discourage migrants from settling here permanently and make it difficult for them to obtain public services from education to health care.

“The government has evaded its responsibilities toward migrant workers,” Jin Cheng, a member of an influential local civic forum, Interhoo, said bluntly.

The resulting rootlessness has fed a wave of crime of a sort hardly ever seen elsewhere in China. Gunfights, kidnappings and gang warfare are rife, and crime rates are skyrocketing.

Although the city does not publish crime data, the Southern Metropolitan News, one of the most reputable Chinese newspapers, reported that there were 18,000 robberies in 2004 in Baoan, one of six districts in Shenzhen. By comparison, in Shanghai, a city of around 18 million, there were only 2,182 reported robberies for all of 2004, according to figures compiled by the city....

“Shenzhen may seem prosperous,” a worker said, sitting in his bunk in a steamy dormitory, “but it’s a desperate place.”

While the story makes it clear that China's government and regions have rejected Shenzen model going forward, the problem is that it's still the policy in Shenzen and other coastal megalopolises. Shifting away from this paradigm will not be easy, and China's administrative controls are of limited use. If crime and labor unrest are a problem with 10% growth, what happens if growth slows down?

It would be a grand irony if Marx's prediction of a proletariat uprising were to take place in China.

3) China views the world through a relative gains lens. This is what realists have been claiming for some time. The problem with this argument is that China's growth is too export-dependent -- a realist would be much more comfortable with domestic-led growth. Still, it's a possibility to consider.

Readers are encouraged to offer their answers to the China puzzle.

posted by Dan at 09:08 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, December 18, 2006

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, social constructivist

As the dust settles on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust conference from last week, it's becoming clear that Ahmadinejad sees the world through the lens of social constructivism.* As this Time inteview suggests, for Ahmadinejad there is a direct link between a conference on the Holocaust and Iran's current foreign policy:

Q: You've just held a conference questioning the Holocaust. Why not hold a peace conference instead? You could invite the Israelis and Palestinians to talk about peace, instead of what happened 60 years ago.

A: As a matter of fact this conference was in line of peace. Because for the past 60 years, the Palestinian people have been suppressed using the Holocaust as the pretext. If the issue of the Holocaust became clear, the issue would be solved.

When the issue becomes clear, and understood that the Holocaust does not have any relationship with the Palestinian people, then we will have two proposals for the Western and European countries. The first solution is that in the same way that you mounted this regime in the past, you can remove it yourself. You know well that the Holocaust has nothing to do with the Palestinian people. That was just a pretext to create this regime. And it was not a good excuse. Just cease to support it. Don't use your people's money to assist this violent regime. This is the best solution. If they do not accept the first solution, then they should allow the nation of Palestine to make their decision about its own fate. Anyone who is a Palestinian citizen, whether they are Christian, Jewish or Muslim, should decide together in a very free referendum. There is no need for war. There is no need for threats or an the atomic bomb either.

Q: Israel isn't going to accept any of this.

A: If the American and British government do not support and help them, and they stop using their power and influence they will accept.

This comes through in BBC reporter Frances Harrison's personal reflections on the conference as well (worth reading in their entirety to comprehend Harrison's revulsion at the whole exercise):
[One presenter] summed up his argument succinctly. He claimed there were no gas chambers at all - millions of Jews did not die - therefore there was no holocaust.

And if there was no Holocaust then there was no justification for the creation of the state of Israel. Therefore Israel was an impostor.

It had all the simplicity of a mathematical proof - refuting the worst genocide in living memory and absolving one of the most evil and wicked regimes in history of its crimes against humanity.

So this was the aim of the conference for Iran - to undermine the very argument for the existence of Israel.

The Ahmadinejad administration is not the only one to buy into a social constructivist foreign policy. And, like these other administrations, Ahmadinejad will run into two major constraints to his approach:
1) There are limits to social construction when brute facts are involved. Ahmadinejad's assumption, for example, that the Israeli government has no material power of its own borders on delusional.

2) Even institutions and ideas that are socially constructed are not easy to change. Ahmadinejad's quixotic quest to question the Holocaust succeeded in bringing "a small clique of apologists for the Third Reich with only fringe appeal," in Harrison's words, to Tehran. It will have no effect on the epistemic community of historians who have pretty much concluded that the Holocaust is a material fact.

If only Ahmadinejad had done some more reading in international relations. Ah, well, my hunch is that Ahmadinejad will start feeling the effects of his policies right about now.

* Readers should not come to the conclusion from this assertion that just because I'm saying Ahmadinejad is attempting a constructivist gambit, all academic approaches to social constructivism are evil, wrong, etc. I'm sure some will, however.

posted by Dan at 08:48 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)



Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I never get invited to the cool conferences

A perennial fear that plagues aspiring policy wonks and scholars is the concept that they will be shut out from all the high-powered conferences and projects that are going on in their field.

I thought I was over that fear, but, gosh darn it, I didn't get the invite to this cool conference in Tehran that's "debating" the Holocaust. I mean, this keynote speech by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad looks like a killer:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday told delegates at an international conference questioning the Holocaust that Israel's days were numbered.

Ahmadinejad, who has sparked international outcry by referring to the killing of six million Jews in World War Two as a "myth" and calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map", launched another verbal attack on the Jewish state.

"Thanks to people's wishes and God's will the trend for the existence of the Zionist regime is downwards and this is what God has promised and what all nations want," he said.

"Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out," he added.

His words received warm applause from delegates at the Holocaust conference, who included ultra-Orthodox anti-Israel Jews and European and American writers who argue the Holocaust was either fabricated or exaggerated....

Delegates at the meeting earlier on Tuesday agreed to form a "fact-finding" committee to study the Holocaust.

The head of the new committee, identified as Iranian academic Mohammad Ali Ramin, said its members were "not racist or opposed to any particular group".

"Rather they are just seeking the truth to set humanity truly free," the ISNA students news agency quoted him as saying, without naming the committee members.

Apparently, some students were not too keen to hear this message, according to the Scotsman's Michael Theodoulou:
A conference of the world's most prominent Holocaust deniers opened in Iran yesterday amid international condemnation and protests by dozens of Iranian students, who burned pictures of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and chanted "death to the dictator".

Never has the hardline leader, who was giving a speech at a university in Tehran yesterday, faced such open hostility at home.

One student said the crowd was protesting against the "shameful" Holocaust conference - which was organised after Mr Ahmadinejad described the murder of six million Jews by Nazis a "myth" invented to justify the occupation of Palestinian land - and the "fact that many activists with student movements have not been allowed to attend university".

The conference "has brought to our country Nazis and racists from around the world", the activist added.

The protest will be deeply embarrassing for the president, who has portrayed Iran as champion of free speech in hosting the event, organised by the Iranian foreign ministry.

The two-day meeting has attracted "revisionist" historians with jail records in Europe, and David Duke, an American former Ku Klux Klan leader.

Professors and researchers from France to Indonesia arrived at the plush conference centre in an upmarket north Tehran suburb to give papers on topics such as "Irrational Vocabulary of the American Professorial Class with Regards to the Holocaust".

The conference has embarrassed many ordinary Iranians, who are aware of the damage such events are inflicting on their country's image.

Mr Ahmadinejad responded to the burning of his pictures by protesters at Amir Kabir University by saying: "Everyone should know that Ahmadinejad is prepared to be burned in the path of true freedom, independence and justice."

Hmmm... embarrassing does seem to be a word that keeps cropping up about this conference.

posted by Dan at 01:36 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)



Saturday, December 9, 2006

Lincoln with Chinese characteristics

Three years ago, I wrote the following:

As a regional actor in Asia, Beijing can not and should not be ignored. As a global actor, its profile remains relatively small, even compared with the Unitred States a century ago.
Today, the
New York Times has a front-pager by Joseph Kahn
demonstrating that a lot has happened since then:
In the past several weeks China Central Television has broadcast a 12-part series describing the reasons nine nations rose to become great powers. The series was based on research by a team of elite Chinese historians, who also briefed the ruling Politburo about their findings.

Until recently China’s rising power remained a delicate topic, and largely unspoken, inside China. Beijing has long followed a dictum laid down by Deng Xiaoping, the paramount leader who died in 1997: “tao guang yang hui,” literally to hide its ambitions and disguise its claws....

With its $1 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, surging military spending and diplomatic initiatives in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Beijing has begun asserting its interests far beyond its borders. Chinese party leaders are acting as if they intend to start exercising more power abroad rather than just protecting their political power at home.

“Like it or not, China’s rise is becoming a reality,” says Jia Qingguo, associate dean of the Beijing University School of International Studies. “Wherever Chinese leaders go these days, people pay attention. And they can’t just say, ‘I don’t want to get involved.’ ”

Itself a major recipient of foreign aid until recently, China this year promised to provide well over $10 billion in low-interest loans and debt relief to Asian, African and Latin American countries over the next two years. It invited 48 African countries to Beijing last month to a conference aimed at promoting closer cooperation and trade.

Beijing agreed to send 1,000 peacekeepers to Lebanon, its first such action in the Middle East. It has sought to become a more substantial player in a region where the United States traditionally holds far more sway.

At the United Nations Security Council, China cast aside its longstanding policy of opposing sanctions against other nations. It voted to impose penalties on North Korea, its neighbor and onetime ally, for testing nuclear weapons.

Officials and leading scholars are becoming a bit less hesitant to discuss what this all might mean. The documentary, on China’s main national network, uses the word rise constantly, including its title, “Rise of the Great Powers.” It endorses the idea that China should study the experiences of nations and empires it once condemned as aggressors bent on exploitation.

“Our China, the Chinese people, the Chinese race has become revitalized and is again stepping onto the world stage,” Qian Chengdan, a professor at Beijing University and the intellectual father of the television series, said in an online dialogue about the documentary on Sina.com, a leading Web site.

“It is extremely important for today’s China to be able to draw some lessons from the experiences of others,” he said.

Kahn reviews the documentary series [Hey, PBS, how about purchasing its rights and broadcasting a version with subtitles here in the states?!--ed.]. This part stands out: "In the 90 minutes devoted to examining the rise of the United States, Lincoln is accorded a prominent part for his efforts to “preserve national unity” during the Civil War. China has made reunification with Taiwan a top national priority."

It will be interesting to see how and when China translates its growing economic power into ideational power. This, intriguingly, is (kind of) the topic of Jeffrey Garten's op-ed in the NYT about higher education in Asia:

At a summit meeting of leaders next week in the Philippines, senior officials from India, Singapore, Japan and perhaps other countries are scheduled to discuss the revival of an ancient university in India called Nalanda. It is a topic unlikely to receive much mention in the Western press. But no one should underestimate the potential benefits of this project to Asia, or the influence it could have on Asia’s role in the world, or the revolutionary impact it could make on global higher education....

At the Asian summit meeting next week, a consortium led by Singapore and including India, Japan and others will discuss raising the $500 million needed to build a new university in the vicinity of the old site and perhaps another $500 million to develop the roads and other infrastructure to make the institution work. The problem is that the key Asian officials are not thinking big enough. There is more talk about making Nalanda a cultural site or a center for philosophy than a first-rate modern university. The financial figures being thrown around are a fraction of the endowments of Harvard, Yale or Columbia today. A bolder vision is in order.

The rebuilt university should strive to be a great intellectual center, as the original Nalanda once was. This will be exceedingly difficult to achieve; even today, Asia’s best universities have a long way to go to be in the top tier. In a recent ranking of universities worldwide, Newsweek included only one Asian institution, the University of Tokyo, in the world’s top 25. In a similar tally by The Times of London, there are only three non-Western universities in the top 25....

Today, Nalanda’s opportunity is to exploit what is lacking in so many institutions of higher education. That includes great medical schools that focus on delivering health care to the poor, law schools that emphasize international law, business schools that focus on the billions of people who live on two dollars a day but who have the potential to become tomorrow’s middle class, and schools that focus intensely on global environmental issues. Can Asia pull this off? Financially, it should be easy. China’s foreign exchange reserves just broke all global records and reached $1 trillion. And Japan’s mountain of cash isn’t that far behind.

But the bigger issue is imagination and willpower. It is not clear that the Asian nations are prepared to unite behind anything concrete except trade agreements, either for their benefit or the world’s. It appears doubtful that with all their economic prowess, and their large armies, they understand that real power also comes from great ideas and from people who generate them, and that truly great universities are some of their strongest potential assets. I would like to be proved wrong in these judgments. How Asia approaches the resurrection of Nalanda will be a good test.

I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that Garten is focused too much on regional initiaties and not enough on national ones -- but this seems like enough to chew on for the weekend.


posted by Dan at 09:08 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)



Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Message of Dr. Daniel Drezner to the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Dear Mahmoud,

Got your letter today, thanks. It's much more coherent than that letter you sent about six months ago. I like that you stress the commonalities between what Americans and Iranians want. The repeated references to the notion that, "We are all inclined towards the good, and towards extending a helping hand to one another, particularly to those in need" -- very Carter-esque of you.

You sum up as follows:

It is possible to govern based on an approach that is distinctly different from one of coercion, force and injustice.

It is possible to sincerely serve and promote common human values, and honesty and compassion.

It is possible to provide welfare and prosperity without tension, threats, imposition or war.

It is possible to lead the world towards the aspired perfection by adhering to unity, monotheism, morality and spirituality and drawing upon the teachings of the Divine Prophets.

Then, the American people, who are God-fearing and followers of Divine religions, will overcome every difficulty.

What I stated represents some of my anxieties and concerns.

It's good you got that out in the open.

Here are some of my anxieties and concerns -- which I'm willing to bet many Americans share:

1) You say in your letter that, "Hundreds of thousands of my Iranian compatriots are living amongst you in friendship and peace, and are contributing positively to your society." Do you remember why so many Iranians live in the United States? Do you believe that these Iranians could live peacefully under your regime in Iran?

2) You say in your letter that, "The US administration has undermined the credibility of international organizations, particularly the United Nations and its Security Council." The thing is, Mahmoud, your country is the one willfully ignoring Security Council resolutions. How could these actions do anything but erode the trust of Americans in the UN?

3) When you say that, "our nation has always extended its hand of friendship to all other nations of the world," does this include acts like the Khobar towers bombing or not?

4) You have repeatedly stated that you want a dialogue with the United States. Why, then, have you rebuffed U.S. initiatives to start face-to-face negotiations with your government?

5) You take great pains in your letter to highlight, "the ever-worsening pain and misery of the Palestinian people" and "Persistent aggressions by the Zionists are making life more and more difficult for the rightful owners of the land of Palestine." A two-part question here, Mahmoud -- a) why do you never condemn acts of Palestinian terrorism; and b) in what way would the forced migration of all Israeli Jews not constitute "the trampling of peoples’ rights and the intimidation and humiliation of human beings" that you claim all Iranians abhor?

6) Gideon Rachman has a blog at the Financial Times. Let's excerpt something from a post of his:

My [non-American] interviewee has a longstanding and continuing involvement in the Middle East peace process and personal knowledge of all the major protagonists....

My interlocutor has met President Ahmadi-Nejad and describes him as “truly scary”. He adds that he is used to dealing with populist Arab leaders, “but when you talk to them in private, they are usually quite reasonable and rational. Ahmadi-Nejad is not like that.” His impression is that Ahmadi-Nejad is now calling the shots in Iran, and has intimidated the moderates into silence: “They are all scared of him.”

He believes that Iran is currently stirring up trouble in many different areas including Lebanon, the Israeli occupied territories and Iraq. Iraq he believes is becoming the “arena for a regional power struggle”, pitting Sunnis against Shia.

Interestingly, this appears to be the reaction you provoke among Americans as well. What can you do to dissuade me and mine that you're not a little... er... touched in the head?
You probably notice a theme to these questions -- in all of your letters and interactions with Americans, you seem almost as obsessed with the United States as Lars von Trier. You have not, however, done anything to assuage the fears of Americans and others about the intentions and capabilities of your country. Why are you so mute about your own nation?

Write back as soon as you can!!

Best wishes,

Daniel Drezner

posted by Dan at 03:24 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (8)



Tuesday, November 28, 2006

An all poli sci bloggingheads!!!

Two political scientists matching wits on bloggingheads.tv? How can you not check it out?

See Henry Farrell and I debate Iraq, U.S. trade policy, David Horowitz, and Jacob Hacker by clicking here.

UPDATE: We managed to keep Laura McKenna awake!! Woo-hoo!

posted by Dan at 08:40 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)



Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The sort of news story that keeps me up at night

This New York Times story by Robert Worth has very little good news in it:

More than 700 Islamic militants from Somalia traveled to Lebanon in July to fight alongside Hezbollah in its war against Israel, a United Nations report says. The militia in Lebanon returned the favor by providing training and — through its patrons Iran and Syria — weapons to the Islamic alliance struggling for control of Somalia, it adds.

The report, which was disclosed by Reuters on Monday, appears to be the first indication that foreign fighters assisted Hezbollah during the 34-day conflict, when Israel maintained a tight blockade on Lebanon.

The report also says Iran sought to trade arms for uranium from Somalia to further its nuclear ambitions, though it does not say whether Iran succeeded.

The 86-page report was issued by four experts monitoring violations of a 1992 United Nations arms embargo on Somalia, which was put in place after the country lapsed into civil war and remains in effect. The report is to be discussed Friday at the Security Council.


posted by Dan at 09:23 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)



Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Will Kaesong subvert North Korea?

I'm probably more enthusiastic than most about the ability of multilateral economic sanctions to topple the North Korean regime. On the other hand, it looks like real multilateral enforcement ain't gonna happen anytime soon.

So.... what's left? Well, there's the engagement option, of course. Which leads me to Anna Fifield's FT journal from Kaesong, the joint ROK-DPRK industrial zone. If commercial engagement is going to change the DPRK regime from within, this should be the flashpoint.

Fifield's piece sounds optimistic, but I have my doubts:

South Korea’s sunshine policy has clearly failed to change the regime’s behaviour – Seoul has sent billions of dollars to Pyongyang over the past eight years and has received almost nothing in return. Seoul must start to demand information about where its money is going – preferably paying Kaesong workers directly – and make it clear how it expects Mr Kim’s regime to act in return for this assistance.

But decades of American containment haven’t worked any better.

So despite the obvious moral dubiousness of paying money to a regime that lets its people starve while all the while developing nuclear weapons, the positives of Kaesong still outweigh the negatives.

Indeed, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that engagement is making a difference.

The trip to Kaesong marked my seventh visit to North Korea in the last two years. Even in that short time it has become apparent to me that economic links are having an impact in this most closed and communist of societies....

The 9,500 North Koreans now working at the Kaesong complex every day see how much taller, healthier and wealthier South Koreans are. If even 10 per cent of them go home and talk about their Southern colleagues, or about the foreigners who intermittently visit this park, that will have a profound effect.

This will only be amplified if Kaesong develops according to plans. It is projected to employ 500,000 North Koreans when it is completed in 2012.

South Korea knows this. “We never talk about this but the real reason behind engagement is to show the North Koreans that their system is based on lies,” one senior government official confides. “This will destroy the ideas that sustain their system. They can’t keep out these ideas of freedom and prosperity. It’s what is invisible that is most important.”

Indeed, Hong Heung-joo, the South Korean executive director of the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee, says he has already noticed significant attitude changes since the complex opened.

“The most important change is that North Koreans have realised the importance of production. Under the North Korean system there is no sense of profit, but here North Korean workers are working to targets and asking for extra hours. That means they are becoming aware of market economics.”

Personal contact does remain limited – the two sides eat lunch separately and conversation rarely strays outside work-related matters. Indeed, the tip sheet given to visitors by Southern authorities advises that North Koreans are “generally simple, naïve and emotional”.

Visitors should refrain from commenting on “the economic situation of either the North or the South, liberal democracy, the superiority of the market economy, unification-related matters, the North Korean leadership, education systems, human rights and/or other potentially sensitive issues,” the sheet says.

My research suggests that in places where sanctions don't look like a viable tool of statecraft, engagement does not work any better, but you, dear readers, be the judge -- is Fifield's cautious optimism well-placed?

posted by Dan at 08:47 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)



Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Chinese tightrope walk on North Korea

People seem to be pleased about the DPRK decision to re-enter six-party talks.

Many commentators are also giving the credit to China for this breakthrough. Michael Moran at cfr.org points out:

China’s actions merit most attention. Susan Shirk, an Asian affairs specialist at the University of California, says “the North Korean nuclear test, by driving China to become part of the solution and averting conflict between China and Japan, shifted strategic ground in Northeast Asia” (YaleGlobal). More than ever, agrees CFR Vice President Gary Samore, China is in the driver’s seat.
This leads to an interesting question -- why did North Korea agree to jaw-jaw? I suggested earlier this month that Chinese economic pressure was the source for DPRK moderation. This New York Times report by Joseph Kahn does little to change my mind on this point:
China cut off oil exports to North Korea in September during heightened tension over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, Chinese trade statistics show.

The unusual move — the figures show China sold no crude oil at all to its neighbor in September — reduced sales for the year by about 7 percent from the similar period in 2005. China’s oil exports to North Korea, though uneven, had been averaging about 12,300 barrels a day.

North Korea depends on China for up to 90 percent of its oil supplies, much of which is sold on credit or for bartered goods, according to Chinese energy experts. Any sustained reduction could cripple its isolated and struggling economy.

There is no clear indication that the September figures represent a policy shift by China on providing vital food and fuel supplies to its neighbor and ally in the Korean War. North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Oct. 9, after the period covered by the latest customs data.

But North Korea tested ballistic missiles in July, defying sharp warnings from Beijing. China supported a United Nations resolution condemning the missile tests, and urged that North Korea not take any steps that might “worsen tensions.”

“It is a sharp and sudden reduction at a sensitive time, so political considerations cannot be ruled out,” said He Jun, a Beijing-based energy expert and consultant. “China could be sending a clear signal.”

If that analysis is correct, it suggests that Beijing may seek to punish North Korea in a variety of ways, both open and unspoken, in the aftermath of its nuclear test.

Although China has long protected North Korea against outside pressure, analysts said the nuclear test surprised and angered the Chinese leadership. Many here considered North Korea’s nuclear technology primitive and argued that the country was using the threat of developing atomic bombs as an economic bargaining chip....

[L]ast spring Beijing followed Washington’s lead in freezing North Korean assets that the Treasury Department identified as connected to money laundering, according to Bush administration officials. Chinese officials never announced that they had done so, suggesting that they take some tough actions quietly.

Chinese experts on North Korea who took part in discussions of the nuclear issue this month said officials had discussed reducing oil shipments if North Korea continued to defy the outside world. Beijing’s response would be especially sharp if North Korea conducted more nuclear tests or declined to resume negotiations about dismantling its nuclear program, these experts said.

If Beijing was already using oil to warn North Korea in September, its response to the October test could be more severe.

What's really interesting about this is that the Chinese are denying any efforts at economic pressure.

I'd deny if I were them too -- because successful Chinese coercion opens up a can of worms Beijing does not want to see open. The moment that Chinese economic pressure against North Korea is perceived as successful, the question becomes, "When will China use its economic lever to put the squeeze on the DPRK regime?" Indeed, this was the point Anne Applebaum made a few weeks ago in Slate. If Chinese pressure turns out to have worked, then it becomes that much tougher for China to take a backseat to the United States on this issue.

The thing is, China -- and South Korea -- want the impossible. They want a declawed but intact DPRK to act as a buffer between Beijing and Seoul. If this were possible, then China wouldn't need to worry about the long-term regional threat posed by a unified Korea, and Seoul wouldn't have to worry about the costs of bankrolling North Korea's transition.

It's not possible, however, because this regime wants absolute domestic control, and that's incompatible with the kind of reforms that would be necessary to survive.

I don't have a great answer to this problem, by the way -- but Beijing doesn't either.

posted by Dan at 03:18 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)



Friday, October 20, 2006

So you think you know something about world politics

Foreign Policy has a killer eight-question quiz to test your "global knowledge."

Go check it out. I only got six out of eight correct, and I confess that I guessed on more than one of them.

posted by Dan at 07:53 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)




North Korea says they don't need no stinking tests

Despite reports earlier this week that North Korea had been planning three more nuclear tests, there are fresh reports that North Korea is saying there will be no more tests. From the Korea Times:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il told a ranking Chinese envoy that his country has no plan to conduct additional nuclear tests, the Yonhap News Agency reported on Friday (Oct. 20).

Quoting an unnamed diplomatic source in Seoul, Yonhap said Kim made the promise in his meeting with Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan, who visited Pyongyang as Chinese President Hu Jintao's special envoy earlier this week.

"Kim was known to have clarified his stance that there will be no additional nuclear test," the South Korean news agency quoted the source as saying.

It said that if Kim's position is confirmed to be true, it will raise hopes for the resumption of the six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program and defuse the tension escalated by North Korea's detonation of a nuclear bomb on Oct. 9.

Reacting to the news, Glenn Reynolds asks: "Is it because diplomacy worked? (Yay, Condi!) Or is it because his scientists told him there was no chance of a pulling off a successful test any time soon?"

I'd say the answer is "none of the above." I'd have to go with "threats of Chinese economic coercion":

China is weighing tough measures to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions, with government experts calling for the reduction of critical supplies of oil and food that have helped sustain its isolated, impoverished neighbor.

The options Beijing is considering mark a break from even the recent past in which China has preferred to use incentives rather than threats with Pyongyang. But the Oct. 9 nuclear test further frayed already damaged ties and strengthened the hand of critics who believe Beijing should take a harder line against a country they say has ignored Chinese interests.

On Friday, all four major Chinese state-owned banks and British-owned HSBC Corp. said they have stopped financial transfers to the North - a step beyond what U.N. sanctions require and a likely blow to a weak economy that relies on China as a link to the world financial system.

Even before the nuclear test, with its patience wearing thin, China reduced food aid by two-thirds to the chronically food-short North this year, according to the U.N. World Food Program. After voting last week for the U.N. sanctions that ban trade in military and luxury goods, China stepped up inspections of the trucks crossing into North Korea.

"There's no doubt that China is increasing pressure," said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. "If North Korea continues to behave in this way, go down this path, China will be forced to take more severe measures."

I shiuld confess that I have a theoretical stake in this answer -- but I don't think eirther diplomacy alone or Kim's worries about technical screw-ups are sufficient to explain this climbdown. Indeed, on the latter moltivation, one of the reasons to conduct nuclear tests is to figure out how to prevent mistakes in the future. The DPRK's first test -- which was a partial failure -- increased the incentive to conduct more tests.

Whether the DPRK returns to six-party talks remains to be seen.

Developing....

posted by Dan at 11:54 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, October 16, 2006

Nice try, Hugo

The BBC reports that Hugo Chavez's efforts to win himself a rotating seat on the UN Security Council do not look like they are going to succeed:

A crucial fight for one of Latin America's UN Security Council seats remains deadlocked.
Guatemala leads the race even though its share fell to 110 votes in the fourth round, ahead of Venezuela's 75 but short of the 124 needed to win.

The race can now be thrown open to other regional candidates, including Costa Rica, Panama and Uruguay....

Diplomats told Associated Press news agency that the campaign of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may have hurt his country's chances.

President Chavez denounced George W Bush as "the devil" in a speech at the UN last month.

But Venezuela's UN ambassador Francisco Arias Cardenas put the poor performance of Venezuela's candidacy down to lobbying by the US.

"We're not competing with our brother country [Guatemala]," he said. "We are competing with the most powerful country on the planet."

The US has been working behind the scenes to raise support for Guatemala, but the intensity of Washington's lobbying may have been counterproductive, our correspondent said.

It is true that Guatemala would likely be a more pliant U.S. ally than, say, Costa Rica or other compromise candidates. However, the gap between those countries and Venezuela on the UNSC is much, much larger.

So, in this case, the U.S. wins so long as Venezuela loses -- and that looks pretty much certain at this point.

For more on those who did win seats at the UNSC, click here.

UPDATE: Oh, I forgot to mention -- the Chavez-backed candidate for the Ecuadorian presidency suffered a bit of a setback yesterday. Here's the AP report by Monte Hayes:

A Bible-toting banana magnate who favors close ties with the U.S. defied expectations by narrowly outpolling an admirer of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in the first round of Ecuador's presidential election.

Alvaro Noboa, Ecuador's wealthiest man, will head to a Nov. 26 runoff vote against leftist outsider Rafael Correa after neither won an outright victory in Sunday's election.

With slightly more than 70 percent of ballots counted, Noboa received 26.7 percent of the vote, compared with 22.5 percent for Correa, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said. The winner needed 50 percent, or at least 40 percent and a 10-point lead over the rest of the field, to avoid a runoff.

Although a runoff had been expected, the result was unexpected because Correa had led recent polls....

"In the second round there are two clearly defined options," Noboa said. "The people will have to choose between Rafael Correa's position, a communist, dictatorial position like that of Cuba, where people earn $12 a month, and my position, which is that of Spain, Chile, the United States, Italy, where there is liberty and democracy."

Because of Noboa's showing, Ecuador's benchmark bond had its biggest gain in at least six years.

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- the U.S. needs more adversaries like Hugo Chavez.

UPDATE: Bloomberg reports that Guatemala still leads Venezuela after the 10th ballot -- though Venezuela caught up to Guatemala in the 6th round.

posted by Dan at 02:18 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)




The Lancet study -- the sequel

I've been traveling quite a bit recently, so I'm quite late to the party on the eight page study published in The Lancet which concludes the following:

Pre-invasion mortality rates were 5·5 per 1000 people per year (95% CI 4·3–7·1), compared with 13·3 per 1000 people per year (10·9–16·1) in the 40 months post-invasion. We estimate that as of July, 2006, there have been 654 965 (392 979–942 636) excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war, which corresponds to 2·5% of the population in the study area. Of post-invasion deaths, 601 027 (426 369–793 663) were due to violence, the most common cause being gunfire.
This is a follow-up to a 2004 study that raised a small ruckus prior to the presidential election claiming that the post-war mortality rate in Iraq was higher than the pre-war rate.

The boys at Crooked Timber, as well as Tim Lambert, have been vigorously defending the study against conservative critics. Megan McArdle is more skeptical, has a raft of posts that critique the study.

This post by Echidne of the Snakes is sympathetic to the study but also cognizant of its flaws, and is worth quoting on two points:

Nobody is happy about the study findings, of course. Let me repeat that: Nobody is happy about the study findings; nobody wants to imagine that many horrible deaths and the suffering that goes along with those or the effect on the survivors....

These point estimates are not as "respectable" as showing them in cold numbers might suggest to some. This is because they are based on sample data and sample data derived from a modified form of random sampling. The confidence intervals that are given in the summary above reflect the added uncertainty caused by this.

I have only one observation at this juncture. The problem with journalistic coverage of statistical analyses is that they tend to focus on the "headline number," ascribing a weight to it that it sometimes does not deserve. In this study, the 655,000 figure is much less important than the fact that the authors can claim with 95% certainty that at least 392,000 people have died in Iraq since the war started. That's the sobering fact.

Readers are hereby invited to comment.

UPDATE: Tyler Cowen posts on The Lancet study as well -- and highlights another important fact that explains a large part of my disenchantment with the Bush administration:

[T]he sheer number of deaths is being overdebated. Steve Sailer notes: "The violent death toll in the third year of the war is more than triple what it was in the first year." That to me is the more telling estimate.

A very high deaths total, taken alone, suggests (but does not prove) that the Iraqis were ready to start killing each other in great numbers the minute Saddam went away. The stronger that propensity, the less contingent it was upon the U.S. invasion, and the more likely it would have happened anyway, sooner or later. In that scenario the war greatly accelerated deaths. But short of giving Iraq an eternal dictator, that genie was already in the bottle.

If the deaths are low at first but rising over time, it is more likely that a peaceful transition might have been possible, either through better postwar planning or by leaving Saddam in power and letting Iraqi events take some other course. That could make Bush policies look worse, not better. (emphasis added)

ANOTHER UPDATE: The folks at Iraq Body Count are skeptical.

posted by Dan at 12:02 AM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)



Thursday, October 12, 2006

Robert D. Kaplan's exaggeration of the day

Korea may be the most dismal place in the world for U.S. troops to be deployed—worse, in some ways, than Iraq.

Robert D. Kaplan, "When North Korea Falls," The Atlantic Monthly, June 2006.

UPDATE: Just to clear up any confusion, Kaplan is talking about being deployed in South Korea.

posted by Dan at 10:41 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)



Wednesday, October 4, 2006

So much for Ahmadinejad's soft power.

It appears that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's performance for the past year has disenchanted some Iranians:

While President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is busy running a high-voltage campaign against the United States and its policies, Iranians are wondering whether he will ever make good on election promises to crack down on corruption and distribute Iran's vast oil revenues more equitably.

"My whole family voted for Ahmadinejad because he promised to improve our lives. He said he was going to fight corruption and create jobs. He said oil money belonged to the people. I haven't seen any of the oil money in my house yet, but I have to deal with the ever increasing prices anyway," said a a 67-year-old pensioner who asked to remain anonymous. "I'm running a family of three on less than US$220 a month and the price of the cheapest cut of meat is $6 per kilogram. Thank God I'm not paying rent or we wouldn't have anything to eat."

A political analyst in Tehran said: "Dissatisfaction with the administration of President Ahmadinejad is not yet widespread, but it is growing fast. The hardline government that outran reformists on a plank to check inflation, lift living standards, create employment, and take a bite out of the corrupt and the rich and give it to the impoverished has not only failed to deliver those promises, but has clearly moved in the opposite direction."....

"Results of an opinion poll reported by Mehr News Agency in September show that in May, 61% of those asked found his team successful in the nuclear issue, 44% in managing inflation and only 37% in fighting corruption.

"The report doesn't mention percentages but says those asked consider unemployment and inflation the administration's most urgent problems. It seems Ahmadinejad has concentrated his efforts more in foreign policy rather than in the more challenging economic arena."....

Economic indicators now show a huge decrease in the stock-market value and private banks claim they are on the brink of bankruptcy resulting from lowered interest rates. The inflation rate is said to be just above 12% now, and is forecast to rise to 14% or 15%. There is a huge budget deficit, amounting to $8 billion. Even Iran's top judiciary has warned about capital drain. The highly subsidized, oil-revenue-dependent Iranian economy is struggling with inflationary stagnation, they believe.

"It's still too early to make a good assessment of the government's economic performance, but some of the contradictions resulting from lack of a clear economic theory are already becoming evident," said Saeed Leylaz, an economic analyst in Tehran....

Leylaz added: "On the other hand, the government's slogans and its domestic and foreign policies have scared away investment. The stock market has lost 50% of its total value compared to its peak time."

The huge amount of subsidies paid by the government is widening the gap between the rich and the poor, economists warn.

"The Iranian economy will be injected with around $50 billion worth of subsidies this year," Leylaz said. "But it will do little to help the poor. Fuel subsidies comprise one-third of the total subsidies paid by the government, and more than half the fuel subsidies, for example, will find their way into the pockets of the top 10% of the population who have and use cars, meaning that the top 10% are getting one-sixth of all subsidies.

Other polls seem to generate similar results: "Last year Ahmedinejad’s approval rating was 60%. Now it is down to 35%."

These findings suggest to me two things: 1) Fareed Zakaria might be onto something.

2) If push comes to shove, the administration is wrong to reject gasoline sanctions. Those sanctions would bite the precise segment of the population that benefits from Ahmadinejad's regime.

posted by Dan at 06:26 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)



Sunday, September 24, 2006

Must.... stop.... consuming.... ideological analogies

Via Greg Mankiw, I see that Niall Ferguson was interviewed by Harvey Blume in the Ideas section of the Boston Globe. An excerpt:

IDEAS: How do you understand radical Islamism? Is it, as some say, the successor to Marxism?

FERGUSON: It is. The great category error of our time is to equate radical Islamism with fascism. If you actually read what Osama bin Laden says, it's clearly Lenin plus the Koran. It's internationalist, revolutionary, and anticapitalist-rhetoric far more of the left than of the right. And radical Islamism is good at recruiting within our society, within western society generally. In western Europe, to an extent people underestimate here, the appeal of radical Islamism extends beyond Muslim communities.

IDEAS: To people who might once have been drawn to Marxism?

FERGUSON: And for much the same reason. Here is a way to reject the impure, corrupt qualities of western life and embrace a monotheistic zealotry. That's very satisfying.

Two quick thoughts:
1) Maybe, just maybe, radical islam is a kind of sui generis phenomenon tha would be best understood on its own terms rather than desperately trying to glom it onto secular totalitarian ideologies of the past;

2) Can anyone provide anything close to hard data to support Ferguson's contention that, "to an extent people underestimate here, the appeal of radical Islamism extends beyond Muslim communities"? That statement strikes me a very easy to say and very difficult to substantiate.

posted by Dan at 11:12 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (1)



Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Oh, Hugo....

So Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and George W. Bush walk into a UN General Assembly.... wait, that's not a joke, it actually happened.

Hugo gave a funny speech at the UN today -- that Noam Chomsky opening was a killer!

Here's the one part of the speech that actually made sense:

I don't think anybody in this room could defend the system. Let's accept -- let's be honest. The U.N. system, born after the Second World War, collapsed. It's worthless.

Oh, yes, it's good to bring us together once a year, see each other, make statements and prepare all kinds of long documents, and listen to good speeches, like Abel's (ph) yesterday, or President Mullah's (ph). Yes, it's good for that.

And there are a lot of speeches, and we've heard lots from the president of Sri Lanka, for instance, and the president of Chile.

But we, the assembly, have been turned into a merely deliberative organ. We have no power, no power to make any impact on the terrible situation in the world.

Readers are heartily encouraged to postulate what would happen if the UN General Assembly was actually given any real power.

UPDATE: CBS News reports on one interesting aftereffect of Chavez's tirade:

It’s rare to hear Congressional Democrats coming to the rescue of President George W. Bush. But a day after Venezuela's president called Mr. Bush a "devil" in front of the United Nations General Assembly, several prominent Bush critics are siding with the White House.

Rep. Charles Rangel – the Democrat who represents the New York City neighborhood that Hugo Chavez visited Thursday – took a swipe at the Venezuelan President for his behavior at the U.N.

Rangel said he wants to make it clear to the Venezuelan President that his comments on Wednesday were inappropriate and the American people are offended by his criticism of President Bush.

"I just want to make it abundantly clear to Hugo Chavez or any other president - don't come to the United States and think because we have problems with our president that any foreigner can come to our country and not think that Americans do not feel offended when you offend our Chief of State," Rangel said.

"Any demeaning public attack against him is viewed by Republicans and Democrats, and all Americans, as an attack on all of us," Rangel said.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who spent most of the day criticizing the Bush administration's economic and environmental policies, told reporters that Chavez's performance at the U.N. "demeaned" himself and the his nation.

"He fancies himself as a modern day Simon Bolivar, but all he is an everyday thug," Pelosi said.

If this keeps up, I propose that Chavez be given a chance to vent at the UN every week!

posted by Dan at 11:10 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, September 18, 2006

Confusing headline of the day
"Al-Qaeda threatens jihad over Pope's remarks," Times of London, September 18, 2006
Someone get Al Qaeda a dictionary and show them the word "redundant."
posted by Dan at 09:23 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 -- five years on

In an odd twist of fate, five years after the 9/11 attacks I'm again out of the country, and again in the U.K.

I have no idea what to do with that information, but then again, I have no idea what to say about the five-year anniversary.

I am sure this lack of ability on my part will not impair my readers from imparting their comments.

UPDATE: Incidentally, the BBC broadcast part 1 of The Path to 9/11 last night. I'm vaguely aware that many Clintonites have complained about the drama portion of this docudrama, and that some have complained about the religious background of the miniseries director. Having seen Part I, my take is that these objections are either overblown or ABC responded adroitly to them.

Having watched it, I didn't see anything flagrantly wrong with the Clinton portion -- none of the policy principals look like fools or incompetents. Some of them look like they did not place Al Qaeda as their highest priority, which is certainly accurate of both the Clinton and Bush adminisatrations. On the whole, it was surprisingly gripping -- perhaps because, in part I, there were victories (the capture of Ramzi, etc.) as well as defeats.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Having now seen part two as well, it strikes me that the complaint a partisan Democrat could lodge against the program was not what was included but what was omitted. There was no shot of President Bush reading My Pet Goat or otherwise looking wobbly on the day of the attack. There was no scene of Sandy Berger briefing the Bush team about the nature of the Al Qaeda threat, etc. On the whole, however, it was a well-constructed docudrama, and Harvey Keitel and Patricia Heaton were particularly good.

David Greenberg makes an interesting criticism of the whole enterprise:

For my part, I think it's an abuse of history to place much blame on either the Clinton or the Bush administration for "not doing more to prevent September 11" (as both teams are often alleged to have done, or not to have done). Anyone can second-guess others' actions with the benefit of hindsight. But historians are supposed to try get into the minds of the actors of a bygone era--and the time before September 11, 2001, does represent, in the matter of counterterrorism, a bygone era. Everybody thought about terrorism differently back then, and it's a historical fallacy to blame Sandy Berger or Condi Rice for not having a post-9/11 mindset.
Actually, it's worse than that -- the people who did have the post-9/11 mindset before 9/11, like Richard Clarke, seemed like monomaniacal pain in the asses before the attacks happened. That probably made it easier for Berger and Rice to downgrade their warnings.

posted by Dan at 10:51 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)



Thursday, September 7, 2006

When is it a civic uprising and when is it populism run amok?

During the eighties there was a raging ideological debate within the United States about which regime was more brutal and/or repressive, El Salvador or Nicaragua. It was impossible to condemn or support both governments -- the ideological divide was too strong.

I bring this up because there's an interesting contrast to make between developments in Mexico and Bolivia. In the former country, James C. McKinley offers a sympathetic explanation in the New York Times for why Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been able to keep a third of the country mobilized behind him:

[W]hy do between a quarter and a third of voters, according to recent opinion polls, agree with him?

One reason is history. After decades of one-party rule sustained by fraudulent elections, many Mexicans still deeply distrust their institutions and courts. But it is also because Mexicans have a very different notion of electoral fraud than voters in the United States, a notion that goes beyond stuffing ballot boxes....

For instance, most of Mr. López Obrador’s supporters complain bitterly about the “intervention” of President Fox in the election. They talk about “a state election” and the “imposition” of the candidate from Mr. Fox’s conservative party, Felipe Calderón, whom the electoral tribunal finally proclaimed president-elect on Tuesday.

There is no doubt that Mr. Fox used his position as president and his official tours to campaign vigorously against Mr. López Obrador. Though he never mentioned the leftist candidate by name, he used code words for him, railing against populism, demagogy and false messiahs....

The magistrates’ decision not to see the errors on tally sheets as evidence of fraud has fed suspicions that the court cannot be trusted, a theory that Mr. López Obrador reiterates in every speech and which is fortified by the country’s long history of corrupt judges, though no proof has been presented.

Mr. López Obrador’s followers also have no confidence in the Federal Electoral Institute, which organized the election. In October 2003, when congressional leaders were making deals to appoint new members to the institute’s governing board, Mr. López Obrador’s party was shut out. Since then the leftists have regarded just about every decision the electoral institute makes with suspicion.

In the end, the court ruling may have put Mr. Calderón in the president’s office, but it has not dispelled feelings among Mr. López Obrador’s supporters that they were robbed. “What more proof do you need?” said one López Obrador supporter, Enrique Ramírez, after the ruling. “At his rallies, Andrés Manuel has given us the proof of fraud, and we believe him, or at least I do.”

Mr. López Obrador is now calling for a “national convention” this month to mount a civil disobedience campaign to “re-found the republic” and reform “institutions that don’t deserve any respect.”

How far the movement can go and whether it can remain peaceful remains to be seen and may depend on how deep the suspicions of fraud, as seen in Mexico, run.

What is sure is that Mr. López Obrador has defined himself for many voters as the candidate who lost the election, not through his own errors but because the entire apparatus of the state was against him. That is an old tune in Mexico, one that many know the words to.

Depending on my readers' political inclinations, I have every confidence that they know whether they side with Calderón or Obrador.

Now, we come to Bolivia, where there's a similar problem but the politics are reversed. Hal Weitzman explains in the Financial Times:

Bolivia’s regional and social divisions may be deepened by allegations that President Evo Morales is seeking to dominate an assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution.

Four of the country’s nine departments have called a general strike for Friday in protest over proposals by Mr Morales’s allies in the Constituent Assembly to change the rules for voting within the body.

The legislation passed by Bolivia’s Congress to establish the assembly specified that constitutional measures could be approved only with a two-thirds majority of the delegates. The governing Movement to Socialism (MAS) party wants to lower the limit to allow proposals to pass with a simple majority.

The MAS controls 137 seats in the 255-seat body, short of the 170 votes it would need to have two-thirds of the assembly’s votes. Opposition parties say the proposed change in voting rules is a power-grab by what they view as an increasingly authoritarian government.

The general strike has been called by departments in the eastern lowlands, where much of the opposition to Mr Morales is based. The four regions voted in June for greater autonomy from La Paz, and hope to use the assembly to entrench regional devolution in the new constitution. Many activists want to pull out of the assembly if they cannot secure autonomy.

Mr Morales said the strikers “want to divide the country” and warned them he could use troops against civil unrest. “We call on the armed forces to assume their constitutional role to defend sovereignty and the national territory,” he said....

Mr Morales’s approval ratings have fallen from 81 per cent in May to 61 per cent, according to a poll released this week by Apoyo, a respected regional pollster.

My ideological predilections tell me to sympathize with the Bolivians as rejecting the erosion of the rule of law, but to tut-tut López Obrador’s supporters for similar (though not identical) actions.

Question to readers: is there any non-fascist formulation whereby one can sympathize with either both governments or both protest movements?

posted by Dan at 02:58 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)



Wednesday, August 30, 2006

You try changing the distribution of power in the IMF!!

Steven Weisman has a story in today's New York Times on U.S. efforts to rejigger the governance of the International Monetary Fund:

In an effort to gain Chinese cooperation on international economic issues, the Bush administration is pushing for China and other developing nations to get more power in the global institution that has played a central role in easing myriad financial crises since the end of World War II.

But the American-led effort to increase influence at the International Monetary Fund for China — and for South Korea, Turkey and Mexico, as well — is being resisted by several countries in Europe, which would lose power to those who would be gaining it....

At the same time, the administration is urging China to take on a greater role in promoting an open global trading system by helping restart the aborted trade talks sponsored by the World Trade Organization....

China is a particular focus of American interests because of the Bush administration’s uneasy relationship with the Beijing government and its desire for China to become a “stakeholder” in the international system, as American officials put it....

Critics of the Bush administration in Congress are calling on it to rebuff China’s demand for more power at the I.M.F. until Beijing revalues its currency in relation to the dollar.

But Mr. Adams and other American officials say that rather than limit China’s influence at the I.M.F., they want to increase its role there and make the lending institution a more aggressive monitor of currency manipulation by member nations.

“I would argue that by re-engineering the I.M.F. and giving China a bigger voice,” Mr. Adams said, “China will have a greater sense of responsibility for the institution’s mission.”

The initial proposed increases for China, South Korea, Turkey and Mexico in voting weight and quotas — which entitle members to more borrowing in emergencies — is viewed by Washington as a “down payment” for future changes increasing the power of many other countries, including oil-producing nations....

The American approach on the I.M.F. is seen as somewhat similar to the kind of changes officials want at the United Nations Security Council, where veto power is retained by the club of victors in World War II that are permanent members of the Council: the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France. Washington wants to expand the permanent membership to include Japan and at least one major developing country.

Voting at the I.M.F. is determined in part by a quota system that calculates how much a country must contribute to the fund and how much it can borrow in emergencies. The United States has 30 percent of the world economy but only a 17 percent share of the quota system....

[M]any recipients of the 1990’s bailouts are now sitting on large reserves that can be used to help other countries in the future. The American approach is to enlist these countries in maintaining an international system rather than having them go their own way.

There are a lot of interesting theoretical and policy debates wrapped up in this story:
1) Is it possible to smoothly reconfigure the distribution of power in an international governmental oganization (IGO)? Recent efforts to do so in the U.N. Security Council have borne little fruit -- because the losers from such a change will use their institutional prerogatives to resist such changes.

2) In terms of the distribution of interests, the U.S. is generally better off with European countries wielding disproportionate amounts of power in IGOs. The gamble here seems to be that by offering more influence to China and other advanced developing countries, there will be no radical break with the current rules of the game. Is this a belated example of John Ikenberry's "binding" strategy?

3) In terms of global governance, there is a contradiction at the heart of the EU's attempts to forge a common foreign and security policy. The more cohesive the EU looks, the greater its perceived power -- butpart of that power lies in the fact that EU countries hold individual votes in a lot of IGOs. If a common foreign policy comes to fruition, at what point should the EU be given a single vote rather than the 25 votes the members currently possess?

4) What will the content of the IMF's policies look like if China and other developing countries acquire greater sway?

5) Will the tacit grand bargain between the U.S. and China -- China acquiring greater influence within IGOs, China modifying its economic policies to assuage American concerns -- actually take place? 6) If I had told you five years ago that Weisman would write the following sentence:

But because the I.M.F. has not recently had a major crisis, some economists joke that with little to do, board members have the luxury of squabbling among themselves for power over an organization with an ill-defined mission.
would you have believed me?
Developing....

posted by Dan at 08:50 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, August 28, 2006

A post in which I make several calls for action

I see that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is in the Middle East and asking everyone to behave nicely:

Secretary-General Kofi Annan, currently in Beirut on the first leg of his shuttle diplomacy to the Middle East, has called on Israel to lift its blockade of Lebanon and urged Hizbollah to free two captured Israeli soldiers.

Mr. Annan made his remarks after meeting Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his cabinet to further discuss implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 that ended the recent month-long conflict between Hizbollah and Israel.

“The Secretary-General… called for the lifting of the Israeli blockade and the return of the Israeli soldiers. He also stressed the importance of having ‘one law, one authority and one gun’ in Lebanon,” United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.

Let me add my call to Mr. Annan's.

[And what will that accomplish?--ed. Nothing... which is pretty much what Kofi's request will accomplish. Hmmm..... while I'm at it, in the interest of international goodwill and peace I urgently call on Salma Hayek to meet with me, sans advisors, for at least two six uninterrupted hours.]

If this Financial Times story by Roula Khalaf and Sharmila Devi is correct, I doubt Hezbollah will be listening to Annan anytime soon: "when he toured the devastated areas in the southern Beirut suburbs, Mr Annan was booed by some of the group’s supporters who held pictures of Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbollah chief."


posted by Dan at 10:16 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)



Thursday, August 10, 2006

If there was a stock market for cabinet officers....

Then Condi Rice's stock would be going down, while Henry Paulson's stock would be slowly rising. Whether that's fair is another question.

The New York Times runs stories about both of them, and the tone of the stories is pretty different.

Helene Cooper's piece on Rice suggests that she's a prisoner of bureaucratic politics:

As Ms. Rice has struggled with the Middle East crisis over the last four weeks, she has found herself trying to be not only a peacemaker abroad but also a mediator among contending parties at home.

Washington’s resistance to an immediate cease-fire and its staunch support of Israel have made it more difficult for Ms. Rice to work with other nations, including some American allies, as they search for a formula that will end the violence and produce a durable cease-fire.

On her recent trips to the Middle East, Ms. Rice was accompanied by two men with very different outlooks on the conflict: Elliott Abrams, senior director at the National Security Council, and C. David Welch, a career diplomat and former ambassador to Egypt who is assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs.

Mr. Welch represents the traditional State Department view that the United States should serve as a neutral broker in the Middle East. Mr. Abrams, a neoconservative with strong ties to Mr. Cheney, has pushed the administration to throw its support behind Israel. During Ms. Rice’s travels, he kept in direct contact with Mr. Cheney’s office.

One administration official described how during the trip — including a July 29 discussion in Ms. Rice’s Rabin suite at the David Citadel Hotel, with its panoramic view of Jerusalem’s Old City — Mr. Welch and Mr. Abrams served as counterfoils, with Mr. Welch arguing the Arab view and Mr. Abrams articulating the Israeli stance....

The tensions in the region and within the administration have left Ms. Rice visibly weary and she has at times spoken in unusually personal, emotional terms....

Ms. Rice has been sharply criticized by some conservatives for pushing Israel too far to end its military operations in Lebanon. “Dump Condi: Foreign policy conservatives charge State Dept. has hijacked Bush agenda,” read the headline July 25 in an online version of Insight Magazine, published by The Washington Times.

“She’s being hammered by those who believe that this crisis will only be resolved by a strategic victory by Israel, backed by the United States,” said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center who was a senior adviser for Arab-Israeli relations at the State Department under the last three presidents. “That belief says that unless Hezbollah is handed a strategic retreat, the war on terror will suffer a huge defeat.”

But, Mr. Miller said, “she’s also being hammered by the Europeans and Arabs for what they believe to be her inactivity.”

In contrast, Steven Weisman's piece on Paulson suggests a man surmounting the push and pull of different bureaucracies:
Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. has spent his first weeks in office seeking to assert control within the administration over international economic issues, focusing in particular on developing a new plan to confront China’s growing economic clout, administration officials say.

With the encouragement of the White House, Mr. Paulson has been considering steps, including the establishment of an interagency working group on international economic issues led by the Treasury Department, to fulfill President Bush’s pledge to make him the administration’s chief economic policy maker.

Mr. Paulson has conferred daily with the chief White House economic policy maker, Al Hubbard, and has been meeting with various Cabinet members to put his plans in motion, the officials said.

Hoping to put his stamp on one of the most pressing issues he faces, Mr. Paulson plans a new drive to press Beijing to open its financial systems, stimulate consumer demand and let the value of its currency rise to reduce exports.

Are these perceptions fair? Maybe. But buried within both stories are facts suggesting that these perceptions have more to do with the intrinsic difficulties of the policy problems at hand rather than the relative competencies of Rice and Paulson.

For example, there's this in the Rice story:

Several State Department officials have privately objected to the administration’s emphasis on Israel and have said that Washington is not talking to Syria to try to resolve the crisis. Damascus has long been a supporter of Hezbollah, and previous conflicts between the group and Israel have been resolved through shuttle diplomacy with Syria.

Two weeks ago, Ms. Rice instructed Stephen A. Seche, the chargé d’affaires at the United States Embassy in Damascus, to approach Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem in Damascus. The two met, but Mr. Moallem “gave no indication that they would be moderately constructive,” a senior administration official said, and there have been no overtures since.

And there's this in the Paulson story:
Kenneth S. Rogoff, professor of public policy and economics at Harvard, said he detected a subtle shift in Chinese thinking recently. Other economists, noting the shift, say that Mr. Paulson should now take advantage of it and may do so soon.

“For a long time the Chinese have been telling us that if they appreciate their currency, it would entail a big economic risk — and how do we know it will help?” Mr. Rogoff said. “Now the economy is so overheated, the Chinese are saying that they know currency appreciation might not work, but they might as well give it a try.”

What does this information tell us? That Rice's options might be limited by external as well as internal factors, while Paulson is not. Which makes Paulson's job a heck of a lot easier.

posted by Dan at 08:29 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)



Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Calling all IR scholars!!! We've got a coding problem in the Middle East!!

Guest-posting for Instapundit, Michael Totten makes a provocative statement about democratic peace theory:

This war in the Middle East nearly demolishes the theory that democracies don't go to war with each other. Lebanon, aside from Hezbollah's state-within-a-state, is a democracy. At least it's an almost-democracy. Aside from my personal affection for Lebanon, the country where I recently lived, the only country other than the US where I've ever lived, this is what anguishes me the most: The Arab world's only democracy is being torn to pieces by another democracy.
Question to the IR types in the audience: is Totten right?

The "aside from Hezbollah" is an awfully big aside. It suggests that Lebanon might better be coded as a "democratizing" state rather than a stable democracy -- and Ed Mansfield and Jack Snyder have demonstrated that democratizing states are the most violent regime type.

That said, one can argue that it is Israel, the established democracy, that expanded what had been a low-level border skirmish (by IR standards) into a war.

Given Hezbollah's role as instigator, and the failure of the Lebanese army to engage the IDF, it seems hard to code this as a violation of the democratic peace proposition. And yet, labeling this case as an exception carries the whiff of fitting the data to match the hypothesis.

Let the debate commence!!

posted by Dan at 09:07 AM | Comments (56) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, July 31, 2006

How isolated is Iran right now?

I find it amazing that despite the turmoil in the Middle East -- and the blame that many place on the United States for what's happening -- the Security Council still voted 14-1 to threaten Iran with economic sanctions unless that country suspended its nuclear enrichment and reprocessing activities.

posted by Dan at 11:22 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)




The tricky thing about mythologizing history....

Robert Pringle, who served as U.S. ambassador to Mali from 1987 to 1990, wrote in the spring issue of The Wilson Quarterly on how Mali was able to preserve its democracy. This is not a trivial question -- socioeconomic indicators would predict, Fareed Zakaria-style, that Maliian democracy should not work.

Pringle's article is now available online. What's his explanation for Mali's success? Mythology:

Was Mali’s record simply the result of fortuitous good leadership, or was something more fundamental at work? To find out, I returned in 2004 and traveled throughout the country conducting interviews. When I asked Malians to explain their aptitude for democracy, their answers boiled down to “It’s the history, stupid,” of course expressed more politely....

The Niger River was the launching point for trade routes across the Sahara until they were marginalized by colonial-era commerce through coastal ports. Trans-Saharan trade nurtured ancient cities, the most famous in Mali being Jenné and Timbuktu. There were three early states: Ghana (eighth to 11th centuries), Mali (13th to 15th centuries), and Songhai (14th to 16th centuries). Two of the three lay largely outside modern Mali: Old Ghana inspired the name of modern Ghana, but was located in today’s Mali and Mauritania, while old Mali was mainly in modern Mali, with a portion in Guinea. There were other states, but it is these three that the Malians refer to when they talk about the “Great Empires.”

It is because of the Great Empires that Malians—from villagers to college professors—believe they have a gift for democracy and its twin, conflict resolution. The history they cite is not merely their extensive experience of precolonial, multiethnic government, unusual elsewhere on the continent, but also an associated system of beliefs and customs. The centerpiece of this tradition is the epic of Sunjata Keita, who overcame exile and physical handicap and founded the Mali Empire in the 13th century. Sunjata’s story, primarily oral and circulated in numerous versions, has played a role in West Africa similar to that of the Homeric epics in Western civilization....

From these many materials, Malians are creating a national foundation mythology. Like Americans, they are selective. We stress the Bill of Rights, not the Pullman strike or what we did to Native Americans, and we like to believe the story about the young George Washington making a clean breast of it after he chopped down his father’s cherry tree, even when we know that this appealing story was invented by an early biographer. The Malians emphasize the three Great Empires and pass lightly over their ancestors’ later complicity in the Atlantic slave trade, though they do not deny it.

What is most important about Mali’s mythology is not whether or to what extent history is being embellished, but rather the underlying assumption that reason and creativity can maintain harmonious relations among people of different cultural backgrounds. The Malians believe that equitable, responsive government has become a national tradition in part as a response to harsh conditions. Malian historian Doulaye Konaté, a leading scholar of the subject, notes, “It is precisely because violence was omnipresent that West African societies developed mechanisms and procedures aimed at preventing or, if that didn’t work, at managing conflict.” The value of such a mindset in a modern African setting, with warring, unsettled, or dictatorial neighbors still all too common, is hard to overestimate....

The most striking thing about Malian democracy is its success in drawing intellectual and spiritual sustenance from an epic past, and actively incorporating homegrown elements, such as decentralization. If there is occasional fiddling with historical truth, the past provides plenty of room for differing viewpoints and for shaping tradition to meet modern needs. It is this aspect of the Malian experience that is least appreciated, and it deserves more attention from policymakers, both African and foreign, who have a tendency to assume that “tradition” equates with “bad.”

This is interesting, because the trouble with mythologizing the past is that it cuts both ways. Pringle might be correct that Mali's construction of history has led to the flourishing of a relative stable democracy in an unlikely locale.

However, one can point to other parts of the globe [Cough, cough, Serbia, cough--ed.] where mythology has been used to promote extremist ideologies instead.

So I'm not completely convinced that Pringle is correct in believing that the promotion of traditon is the way to promote democracy in Africa. The promotion of tradition can lead to a lot of things -- and not all of them good.

posted by Dan at 11:59 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)



Friday, July 28, 2006

Someone please explain to me how this multinational force will work

CNN reports that President Bush now supports a U.N. resolution calling for a cease-fire in Lebanon:

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced Friday their support for a U.N. cease-fire resolution to end the Mideast crisis and a multinational force to stabilize southern Lebanon.

The leaders said the force would help Lebanese troops take control of the south, where the Hezbollah militia is firing rockets into Israel and Israeli soldiers are striking Hezbollah positions.

"We want a Lebanon free of militias and foreign interference, and a Lebanon that governs its own destiny," Bush told reporters after meeting with Blair at the White House.

It's unknown whether Hezbollah would participate in the proposed cease-fire and Blair said the multinational force wouldn't "fight their way" into the region.

"This can only work if Hezbollah are prepared to allow it to work," the prime minister said.

OK, I see... a multinational force that will rid southern Lebanon of militias and "help Lebanese troops take control of the south," but will do so with Hezbollah's blessing.

Right.

This sounds kind of familiar... ah, yes, here's a front-pager by Thanassis Cambanis in today's Boston Globe that looks at the multinational force that's already in southern Lebanon:

A volley of outgoing Katyusha rockets zipped from the hilltop above the gate of the United Nations peacekeepers' compound here yesterday late in the afternoon.

"That's Hezbollah, firing from a position 300 meters away," Colonel Jacques Colleville said, pointing up the hill. "Now the Israelis will retaliate."

Ear-shattering explosions soon followed as the Israelis replied by shelling the Hezbollah position. Smoke, dust, and fire rose from the hilltop.

Israel and the United States have been adamant that a robust international military force should take on the role of peacekeeper in south Lebanon when the bloody two-week-old war between Israel and the Islamist militia in southern Lebanon ends. None of the proposals yet addresses the number or origin of troops or the authority the peacekeepers would have. But any future force will have to contend with many of the same problems that crippled the existing United Nations mission, including Hezbollah's power as a popular guerrilla movement, the weakness of Lebanon's central government, and the limited mandate that has prevented peacekeepers from using force.

Colleville, who is French, said the UN troops have been largely powerless to stop Hezbollah from launching rockets right beside UN positions or to intervene when the Israeli military bombs civilians when attacking what it says are Hezbollah targets.

Asked whether UNIFIL could have helped disarm Hezbollah, Colleville laughed.

"How would I disarm them?" he said. "With my telephone?"

The United Nations Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is easy to mock as a symbol of the UN's ineffectiveness. However, their observations of what would be needed to actually do their job are worth noting:
[UNIFIL commander Alain] Pellegrini said a future multinational force in southern Lebanon would have to have the muscle to stop belligerents, for example finding and stopping Hezbollah units like the one that started firing from in front of the UN compound in Naqoura yesterday afternoon.

``We have to be well-beefed and able to enforce some international decision," Pellegrini said. ``Heavy weapons and strong rules of engagement."

More important , the international force would need approval from Hezbollah's followers, or else it would face the same kind of punishing guerrilla resistance that hounded Israel's occupation from 1982 to 2000, UNIFIL's political affairs officer Ryszard Morczynski said. And he said it should be a UN force, not under some other command such as NATO, as one proposal calls for.

"If it's not a UN force, the population won't accept it," he said. ``The population must accept it, or at least tolerate it."

Morczynski, who is from Poland, said proposals to dispatch a ``coalition of the willing," rather than a UN force, to disarm Hezbollah and keep the peace in southern Lebanon, could touch off the kind of spiraling insurgent warfare the United States faces in Iraq -- without ever curtailing the power of Hezbollah.

He added that the goal should be to control Hezbollah, not disarm it, which he said would be all but impossible. ``If you flatten the country and make it a parking lot, then you will disarm Hezbollah," he said.

Question to readers: does anyone believe it would be possible to constitute a multinaional force that would be able to constrain Hezbollah's actions without triggering more bloodshed?

UPDATE: Another question -- who's going to commit troops to such a force? As Elaine Sciolino and Steve Erlanger pointed out a few days ago, it's not like the countries calling for a multinational force actually want to send troops:

The United States has ruled out its soldiers’ participating, NATO says it is overstretched, Britain feels its troops are overcommitted and Germany says it is willing to participate only if Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that it would police, agrees to it, a highly unlikely development.

“All the politicians are saying, ‘Great, great’ to the idea of a force, but no one is saying whose soldiers will be on the ground,” said one senior European official. “Everyone will volunteer to be in charge of the logistics in Cyprus.”


posted by Dan at 03:07 PM | Comments (52) | Trackbacks (0)



Thursday, July 27, 2006

The glimmer of good news from the Middle East

There's a great deal to be depressed about when contemplating the situaion in Lebanon, or the Middle East writ large -- go check out Marc Lynch's blog to read about the shift in Arab perceptions as a result of U.S. actions and inactions.

However, Niall Ferguson makes a point in the Los Angeles Times that is worth remembering -- contrary to the fears of a few weeks ago, the odds of a wider war appear to be slim:

Could today's quarrel between Israelis and Hezbollah over Lebanon produce World War III? That's what Republican Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, called it last week, echoing earlier fighting talk by Dan Gillerman, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations.

Such language can — for now, at least — safely be dismissed as hyperbole. This crisis is not going to trigger another world war. Indeed, I do not expect it to produce even another Middle East war worthy of comparison with those of June 1967 or October 1973. In 1967, Israel fought four of its Arab neighbors — Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. In 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. Such combinations are very hard to imagine today.

Nor does it seem likely that Syria and Iran will escalate their involvement in the crisis beyond continuing their support for Hezbollah. Neither is in a position to risk a full-scale military confrontation with Israel, given the risk that this might precipitate an American military reaction.

Crucially, Washington's consistent support for Israel is not matched by any great power support for Israel's neighbors. During the Cold War, by contrast, the risk was that a Middle East war could spill over into a superpower conflict.

Hat tip: Oxblog's Taylor Owen.

UPDATE: Hey, another glimmer of good news -- it's a trend, I tell you! [No, I'm afraid the AP just mistranslated a statement--ed.]

posted by Dan at 12:26 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)



Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Will Hezbollah overtake Al Qaeda in the standings?

I've blogged before about how Al Qaeda is like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Without using the baseball metaphor, Bernard Haykel argues in today's New York Times that Hezbollah could supplant them in the eyes of many Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

This isn't necessarily a good thing, accoding to Haykel:

With Israel at war with Hezbollah, where, you might wonder, is Al Qaeda? From all appearances on the Web sites frequented by its sympathizers, which I frequently monitor, Al Qaeda is sitting, unhappily and uneasily, on the sidelines, watching a movement antithetical to its philosophy steal its thunder. That might sound like good news. But it is more likely an ominous sign....

Hezbollah has taken the lead on the most incendiary issue for jihadis of all stripes: the fight against Israel.

Many Sunnis are therefore rallying to Hezbollah’s side, including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan. The Saudi cleric Salman al-Awda has defied his government’s anti-Hezbollah position, writing on his Web site that “this is not the time to express our differences with the Shiites because we are all confronted by our greater enemy, the criminal Jews and Zionists.”

For Al Qaeda, it is a time of panic. The group’s Web sites are abuzz with messages and questions about how to respond to Hezbollah’s success. One sympathizer asks whether, even knowing that the Shiites are traitors and the accomplices of the infidel Americans in Iraq, it is permissible to say a prayer for Hezbollah. He is told to curse Hezbollah along with Islam’s other enemies.

Several of Al Qaeda’s ideologues have issued official statements explaining Hezbollah’s actions and telling followers how to respond to them. The gist of their argument is that the Shiites are conspiring to destroy Islam and to resuscitate Persian imperial rule over the Middle East and ultimately the world. The ideologues label this effort the “Sassanian-Safavid conspiracy,” in reference to the Sassanians, a pre-Islamic Iranian dynasty, and to the Safavids, a Shiite dynasty that ruled Iran and parts of Iraq from 1501 till 1736.

They go on to argue that thanks to the United States (the leader of the Zionist-Crusader conspiracy), Iraq has been handed over to the Shiites, who are now wantonly massacring the country’s Sunnis. Syria is already led by a Shiite heretic, President Bashar al-Assad, whose policies harm the country’s Sunni majority.

Hezbollah, according to these analyses, seeks to dupe ordinary Muslims into believing that the Shiites are defending Islam’s holiest cause, Palestine, in order to cover for the wholesale Shiite alliance with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ultimately, this theory goes, the Shiites will fail in their efforts because the Israelis and Americans will destroy them once their role in the broader Zionist-Crusader conspiracy is accomplished. And then God will assure the success of the Sunni Muslims and the defeat of the Zionists and Crusaders.

In the meantime, no Muslim should be fooled by Hezbollah, whose members have never fought the infidel on any of the real battlefronts, like Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya or Kashmir. The proper attitude for Muslims to adopt is to dissociate themselves completely from the Shiites.

This analysis — conspiratorial, bizarre and uncompelling, except to the most diehard radicals — signals an important defeat for Al Qaeda’s public relations campaign.

Read the whole thing to see why this could spell trouble for the west.

posted by Dan at 08:41 AM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (0)



Friday, July 21, 2006

When will statebuilding be hard?

I've been remiss in not giving the necessary props to Austan Goolsbee as the quasi-new columnis for the New York Times' Economic Scene.

His latest column -- on how to tell when war-torn states will be able to recover -- is an excellent precis of what the literature says:

With little prospect of a quick resolution to most of these conflicts, perhaps it is worth looking at the long-run prospects for these nations once the wars actually end (assuming that they do end, of course).

The good news is that history suggests that the destruction of war has no lasting impact on economic prospects. The bad news is that most of these countries, especially Iraq, are filled with ethnic divisions and civil discord. The evidence shows that these problems, unlike bombs, cause lasting damage to the prospects for a nation’s economy, even if they do not boil over into civil war....

Viewed from this perspective, the long-term economic prospects for Afghanistan and Iraq do not look good. It is not the destruction of war. That will end and the countries can be rebuilt. It is the fragmentation and ethnic hatred. That, typically, never goes away.

Iraq, especially, is a straight-edged, ethnically partitioned nation wracked with internal strife. And having oil wealth is unlikely to save the day. Fragmented countries with natural resources often do worse because civil war rages over who gets to keep the money. Some of the poorest countries in Africa, for example, are actually quite well endowed with diamonds and other resources.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 01:51 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)



Thursday, July 20, 2006

Is Israel waging a just war?

Stephen Bainbridge says no in Tech Central Station:

Israel clearly is targeting not just Hezbollah, but also Lebanon's official military, and, most important for our purposes, Lebanon's basic civilian infrastructure. The Beirut airport has been closed by Israeli attacks. Bridges, ports, roads, and power stations are all being targeted. As this column was being written, more than 100 civilian fatalities -- including some citizens of neutral countries, most notably Canada -- already had been reported. More surely will have occurred before this column is published.

In short, even a just war must be waged justly. Israel is entitled to defend itself, but is not entitled to do so disproportionately or to wage war on civilians. Yet, that is precisely what Israel appears to be on the brink of doing.

In The New Republic, Michael Walzer takes a more ambiguous position:
The easy part of the answer is to say what cannot rightly be done. There cannot be any direct attacks on civilian targets (even if the enemy doesn't believe in the existence of civilians), and this principle is a major constraint also on attacks on the economic infrastructure. Writing about the first Iraq war, in 1991, I argued that the U.S. decision to attack "communication and transportation systems, electric power grids, government buildings of every sort, water pumping stations and purification plants" was wrong. "Selected infrastructural targets are easy enough to justify: bridges over which supplies are carried to the army in the field provide an obvious example. But power and water ... are very much like food: they are necessary to the survival and everyday activity of soldiers, but they are equally necessary to everyone else. An attack here is an attack on civilian society. ... [I]t is the military effects, if any, that are 'collateral.'" That was and is a general argument; it clearly applies to the Israeli attacks on power stations in Gaza and Lebanon.

The argument, in this case, is prudential as well as moral. Reducing the quality of life in Gaza, where it is already low, is intended to put pressure on whoever is politically responsible for the inhabitants of Gaza--and then these responsible people, it is hoped, will take action against the shadowy forces attacking Israel. The same logic has been applied in Lebanon, where the forces are not so shadowy. But no one is responsible in either of these cases, or, better, those people who might take responsibility long ago chose not to. The leaders of the sovereign state of Lebanon insist that they have no control over the southern part of their country--and, more amazingly, no obligation to take control. Still, Palestinian civilians are not likely to hold anyone responsible for their fate except the Israelis, and, while the Lebanese will be more discriminating, Israel will still bear the larger burden of blame. Hamas and Hezbollah feed on the suffering their own activity brings about, and an Israeli response that increases the suffering only intensifies the feeding....

I was recently asked to sign a condemnation of the Israeli operation in Gaza--a statement claiming that the rocket attacks and the military raid that led to the capture of Gilad Shalit are simply the inevitable consequences of the Israeli occupation: There "never will be peace or security until the occupation ends." In the past, I am sure, some Palestinian attacks were motivated by the experience of occupation. But that isn't true today. Hamas is attacking after the Israelis departed Gaza and after the formation of a government that is (or was until the attacks) committed to a large withdrawal from the West Bank. Similarly, Hezbollah's attacks came after the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. The aim of these militants is not to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel; it is to destroy Israel. Admittedly, that is a long-term aim that derives from a religious view of history. Secularists and pragmatists have a lot of trouble acknowledging such a view, let alone understanding it.

By contrast, the Israeli response has only a short-term aim: to stop the attacks across its borders. Until that is achieved, no Israeli government is going to move forward with another withdrawal. In fact, it is probably true that the Hamas and Hezbollah attacks have made any future unilateral withdrawals impossible. Israel needs a partner on the other side who is, first of all, capable of maintaining security on the new border and who is, second, actually willing to do that. I can't pretend that the Israeli military operations now in progress are going to produce a partner like that. At best, the army and air force will weaken the capacity of Hamas and Hezbollah to attack Israel; they won't alter their resolve. It will probably take the international community--the United States, Europe, the United Nations, some Arab states--to bring the Lebanese army into the south of the country and make it an effective force once it is there. And it will take a similar coalition to sponsor and support a Palestinian government that is committed to two states with one permanent and peaceful border and that is prepared to repress the religious militants who oppose that commitment. Until there is an effective Lebanese army and a Palestinian government that believes in co-existence, Israel is entitled to act, within the dialectical limits, on its own behalf.

My take -- the longer the air campaign proceeds, the less just it will become. This is simply the law of diminishing marginal returns. Over time, Israel will exhaust the set of "high-quality" targets for Hezbollah and start bombing more marginal targets. Since these target will likely generate a constant degree of collateral damage in civilian deaths, each successive bombing run looks more and more like "direct attacks on civilian targets."

[Er... what about Hezbollah and Hamas?--ed. It would be exceptionally difficult to argue that their tactics are consistent with jus in bello. This Chris Bertram post tries to make a go of it, but given Hamas and Hezbollah's targeting strategies, I don't think it works.]

UPDATE: In the comments, Bertram correctly points out that his post was not trying to justify Hezbollah and Hamas actions. Indeed, this was a poorly worded sentence on my part. Rather, Bertram's post summarizes an argument for how to apply just war ethics to asymmetric conflicts, in which additional jus ad bello constraints are placed on the stronger side. I still don't think the argument is persuasive, however, since it basically rewards a group like Hezbollah for pursuing an asymmetric strategy.

posted by Dan at 12:02 AM | Comments (44) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, July 17, 2006

Open progressive realism thread

Still catching up from jet lag, but that doesn't mean you can't comment on Robert Wright's proposal of a new foreign policy paradigm -- progressive realism -- in the New York Times. Quick excerpt:

Every paradigm needs a na