Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Al Qaeda is losing
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.
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."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.”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.
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.It should be noted that the 40 percent decline is based on excluding Iraq from the count:
The most interesting (and heartening) finding I've seen comes from Pakistan:
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.
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....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.
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.
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!
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.
[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.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.
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."
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."If you're dying for more info from this conference, Steve Clemons has further observations.
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.
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.
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?"
My goals at this conference:
1) Moderate in a competent fashion;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.
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.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.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.
Monday, March 3, 2008
The three rules to understanding Canadian-American relations
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.....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!
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Castro's final revenge
I have only
1) Good riddance -- the man succeeded at little beyond creating repressive state structures designed to stifle individual thought and perserve his power;UPDATE: You can hear my thoughts on the Cuba embargo over at Radio Free Megan.
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.
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.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 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.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.
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....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.
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:
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."Readers should feel free to suggest the following in comments:
1) Other wold leaders deserving of such an honor;
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Hegemonic decline, revisited
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.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.
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.”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.I did like the frenemies line, though.
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.Discuss.
UPDATE: You have to love a comment thread that contains the phrase: "Look, I'm as pro-erection as the next guy, but...."
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.Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go see a man about seeing a glacier.
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.
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.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.
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.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Hello, and welcome to Bizarro world politics
If I had told you a
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.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.
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.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.
Friday, November 30, 2007
What are Russia and China's end game on 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.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;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.
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 safetyHappy Thanksgiving!
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.)
Thursday, November 8, 2007
I hereby yield to the superior metaphor
The combined efforts of Phoebe Maltz and Julian Sanchez have convinced me that Sanchez has the better metaphor to describe this problem.
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).
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.Comment away.
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.Go check it out. The arguments are similar to those made in my "Foreign Policy Goes Glam" essay in The National Interest.
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?"
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.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.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.]
Sunday, October 21, 2007
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.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.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.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Iran to rest of world: "talk to the hand"
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.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.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Not bad for a 40-year old article
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.
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.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.
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.It's hard to dispute much in those paragraphs.
Monday, October 8, 2007
Thinking about China's weight gain
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."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?
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.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.
[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.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.
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....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".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?
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?
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.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.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.
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....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?"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.
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 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.
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.
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.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.
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.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.
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.
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.
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.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.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:
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....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.
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.
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.
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.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.
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.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.
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.Still, give Sarkozy credit -- at least the man did not lose his watch.
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 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.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.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."
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.
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”.
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.
[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.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.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!
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.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.
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.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.
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?
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.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.”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.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.
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?
Will Paul Wolfowitz stay or go?
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.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.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?
Friday, April 6, 2007
When should sound science trump the precautionary principle?
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.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.")
Monday, March 26, 2007
My gloomy prediction of the day
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.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.]
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.
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.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.
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.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.
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.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.
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.Two thoughts:
1) As I said last year, "never trust the Russians to be a dependable ally."
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....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.
Monday, March 19, 2007
Has anyone at The American Prospect ever read 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?...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).;Debate away!
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....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.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.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.
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.
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.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.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.
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.
Friday, February 23, 2007
Open Iran thread
Can't really blog right now, but that shouldn't stop you from commenting!
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.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....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.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.
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.I swear, when you can't trust an Al Qaeda video, you know the world is going to hell in a handbasket.
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.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.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....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.
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.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;
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....
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.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.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."Clearly, one other common denominator is that all the same experts get quoted.
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.Developing....
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.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!
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.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
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.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.[Er... what about the point on global governance structures?--ed.] I'll have a lot more to say about that in the near future.
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.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;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?
Monday, January 8, 2007
Next year, I'm putting my money on Latvia
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.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".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.
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.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.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.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:
*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.
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.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.[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.]
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.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.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.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.
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.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....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.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....2) The Chinese leadership is worried about domestic political stability: Howard French's story about Shenzen in today's New York Times
Readers are encouraged to offer their answers to the China puzzle.
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.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.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.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.
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.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".Hmmm... embarrassing does seem to be a word that keeps cropping up about this conference.
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.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....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.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Message of Dr. Daniel Drezner to the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
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'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?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!!
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!
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.
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.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?
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
The Chinese tightrope walk on North Korea
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.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.
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.
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).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.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.
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.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.Because of Noboa's showing, Ecuador's benchmark bond had its biggest gain in at least six years.
UPDATE: Bloomberg reports that Guatemala still leads Venezuela after the 10th ballot -- though Venezuela caught up to Guatemala in the 6th round.
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....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.ANOTHER UPDATE: The folks at Iraq Body Count are skeptical.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Robert D. Kaplan's exaggeration of the day
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.
Wednesday, October 4, 2006
So much for Ahmadinejad's soft power.
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.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.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Must.... stop.... consuming.... ideological analogies
IDEAS: How do you understand radical Islamism? Is it, as some say, the successor to Marxism?Two quick thoughts:
1) Maybe, just maybe, radical islam is a kind of sui generis phenomenon tha would be best understood on its own terms rather than desperately trying to glom it onto secular totalitarian ideologies of the past;
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
So Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and George W. Bush walk into a UN General Assembly.... wait, that's not a joke, it actually happened.
Hugo gave a funny speech at the UN today -- that Noam Chomsky opening was a killer!
Here's the one part of the speech that actually made sense:
I don't think anybody in this room could defend the system. Let's accept -- let's be honest. The U.N. system, born after the Second World War, collapsed. It's worthless.Readers are heartily encouraged to postulate what would happen if the UN General Assembly was actually given any real power.
It’s rare to hear Congressional Democrats coming to the rescue of President George W. Bush. But a day after Venezuela's president called Mr. Bush a "devil" in front of the United Nations General Assembly, several prominent Bush critics are siding with the White House.If this keeps up, I propose that Chavez be given a chance to vent at the UN every week!
Monday, September 18, 2006
Confusing headline of the day
"Al-Qaeda threatens jihad over Pope's remarks," Times of London, September 18, 2006Someone get Al Qaeda a dictionary and show them the word "redundant."
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.
Thursday, September 7, 2006
When is it a civic uprising and when is it populism run amok?
During the eighties there was a raging ideological debate within the United States about which regime was more brutal and/or repressive, El Salvador or Nicaragua. It was impossible to condemn or support both governments -- the ideological divide was too strong.
I bring this up because there's an interesting contrast to make between developments in Mexico and Bolivia. In the former country, James C. McKinley offers a sympathetic explanation in the New York Times for why Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been able to keep a third of the country mobilized behind him:
[W]hy do between a quarter and a third of voters, according to recent opinion polls, agree with him?
Depending on my readers' political inclinations, I have every confidence that they know whether they side with Calderón or Obrador.
Now, we come to Bolivia, where there's a similar problem but the politics are reversed. Hal Weitzman explains in the Financial Times:
Bolivia’s regional and social divisions may be deepened by allegations that President Evo Morales is seeking to dominate an assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution.My ideological predilections tell me to sympathize with the Bolivians as rejecting the erosion of the rule of law, but to tut-tut López Obrador’s supporters for similar (though not identical) actions.
Question to readers: is there any non-fascist formulation whereby one can sympathize with either both governments or both protest movements?
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.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.Developing....
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.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
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."
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.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.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.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.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.
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!!
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.
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....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.
Friday, July 28, 2006
Someone please explain to me how this multinational force will work
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.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.
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.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.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.
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.Hat tip: Oxblog's Taylor Owen.
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....Read the whole thing to see why this could spell trouble for the west.
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).Read the whole thing.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Is Israel waging a just war?
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 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.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.
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