Saturday, October 12, 2002
THOUGHTS ON BLOGGING
It’s been a month and a day since I started blogging. Like my colleague Jacob Levy, I had some worries about being a scholar-blogger, like the blog becoming an addiction and distraction from my scholarly research, which is what pays the bills. After a month, this is what I’ve concluded:
2) People are reading. In the two weeks I’ve been keeping count, I’ve had approximately 5,000 visits (not visitors) to the blog. These ain’t Andrew Sullivan numbers, but given that I haven’t really advertised it beyond the occasional e-mail, it’s still impressive. [How do you account for your success?—ed. A combination of my topical, erudite posts and a healthy number of links in Instapundit. Oh, hell, it’s 99% due to Glenn.] According to... well, one American University blogger, I'm a "big-time blog." I’ve published one book, ten refereed journal articles, and a bunch of policy essays, but in all likelihood more people have read this blog than have looked at any of my collected works. That's simultaneously exciting and depressing.
“One of the most surprising things about electronic mail is the ease with which misinterpretations arise. People are used to reading "body language," voice intonation, and numerous other cues when interpreting messages delivered in conversation, or even on the telephone. Those cues are missing in electronic mail, and what was meant as a casual comment, or an attempt at humor or irony, is misinterpreted. Even small misinterpretations have a tendency to mushroom.”
2) The blogging equilibrium: journalists and profs. For the pundit blogs, like me, the past year has seen more blogs acquire institutional homes: The New Republic’s &c, The American Prospect’s Tapped, The National Review’s Corner, Slate’s Kausfiles, MSNBC’s Altercation, ABC’s The Note… you get the point. Because these blogs are attached to high-traffic web sites, they’re bound to attract the most attention. The Blogosphere will likely evolve in such a way that the dominant subspecies will be journalists and academics. Journalists, because that’s who magazines/networks will hire. Academics, because they have a comparative advantage in being public intellectuals, and because they’re used to expending effort on financially unrewarding activities. Like Richard Posner’s take on public intellectuals, I don’t think this trend is necessarily a good one.
For me (especially since I’m a prof) the goods outweigh the bads. But as my research demands heat up, I’ll probably have to scale back on my posting a bit. Not to Brink Lindsey levels of scarcity, but low enough to permit some focus to drift off Iraq and onto matters like transnational regulation.
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan's Sunday Times column reinforces my belief about the future evolution of the blogosphere being reduced to journalists with old media ties and profs that are used to nonprofit pontificating. However, he goes my idea one step further, citing Instapundit as an example of the prof who morphs into someone with old media ties.
Friday, October 11, 2002
DREZNER GETS RESULTS!: A month
DREZNER GETS RESULTS!: A month ago, I argued that there was a strong liberal argument for going to war with Iraq. The New Republic's Jonathan Chait has finally caught up. Advantage: Drezner!
In defense of Jimmy Carter
I never thought I would write those words; I'm not the man's biggest fan. Today, however, I suspect they will be necessary in the Blogosphere. Carter was awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize, even though this award is usually given for activities pursued in the previous year, and to my knowledge Carter hasn't done anything significant. The A.P. story has the killer quote (first picked up by AtlanticBlog):
"`'It should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken,' Gunnar Berge, chairman of the Nobel committee, said. `It's a kick in the leg to all that follow the same line as the United States.'"
Well, at least they didn't give the award to bin Laden. [OK, smart guy, who do you think merits the award?--ed. Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar, for coming up with the idea of using U.S. assistance to control loose nukes. Sit back and think about what the world would look like right now if that program never came to fruition].
Put aside the idiotic reasoning of the Nobel committee (and note that Carter had the decency not to comment when prodded about Iraq; his acceptance statement was similarly innocuous). [What about his Larry King interview on CNN?--ed. D'Oh! But he also said some nice things about Bush in the interview.] Put aside the fact that others have equal standing to merit the prize. Put aside his malaise speech, for those who remember it [Medically impossible--ed.]. The question is, does Carter merit the prize for his accomplishments? Damn straight. Consider the accomplishments:
1) Camp David. Sadat and Begin deserve the bulk of the credit, but saying that Carter didn't have an important role to play is like saying that because the acting in a movie is terrific, the director doesn't deserve an Oscar.
2) Human rights. Carter was the first president to make it a high-profile issue in U.S. foreign policy. There were short-term costs, but the goodwill that initiative bought the U.S. in the rest of the world cannot be underestimated. It's not a coincidence that the third wave of democratization started to take off during his administration.
3) Election monitoring. Carter was at the forefront of this vital tool of consolidating democracy.
4) Being an adult during the first two years of the Clinton administration. Remember those years? Recovered from the nausea? Clinton's foreign policy team was not ready for prime time. Carter helped to bail them out of invasions of Haiti and North Korea. He did it in a sanctimonious, undemocratic, and at times unauthorized way, yes, but he still did it.
5) Development in Africa. In a largely critical essay of Carter's post-presidential legacy, Chris Sullentrop of Slate acknowledges: "Carter has done admirable work since he left office, particularly in Africa, where he has helped nearly to eradicate some deadly diseases. And when he's brokering a cease-fire during a civil war in Ethiopia, or promoting new agricultural techniques in sub-Saharan Africa, he's actively making the world a better place."
6) Without him, Reagan never gets elected. For other reasons like this, check out this P.J. O'Rourke comparison of Carter to Clinton.
Carter is far from perfect, and his vision of how to conduct foreign affairs will always be handicapped by his failure to understand the role that force plays in world politics. But his accomplishments are also tangible, and should not be spat upon just because of the Nobel committee's flawed worldview. Some will point to Carter's ass-kissing of brutal despots as proof that his commitment to human rights is not genuine (see also here). Please. You could find similar quotations from every cold war president about some despicable dictator.
I'm sure in the next few days there will be endless posts on endless blogs about the various flaws of Jimmy Carter. I'm sure Carter will deserve some of those posts. But based on his record, he also deserves the award.
UPDATE: Here's OxBlog's reasonable take on the Nobel; here's Alterman's sickly-sweet take. CalPundit has been kind enough to gather editorial reactions. I think my position on it corresponds closely to the New York Times editorial...shudder. This husband & wife blog bashes Carter and impugns Norway for good measure. I think the facts in their rant are accurate, but any country that's an advanced democracy, a loyal NATO member, and has rejected joining the European Union three times is not an easy country to pigeonhole.
One criticism I didn't address is the question of whether Carter abused his office by using the prestige of the ex-presidency to pursue an independent foreign policy. As Sullentrop notes, "Carter trades on his role as a former president, and many of the non-democracies in which he works have difficulty understanding that he's not a major leader in the United States." I have to respond with a rhetorical question: why is it irresponsible for Carter to use his bully pulpit to advocate for his sincere, albeit occasionally wrong-headed, positions, but it's not irresponsible for another Nobelist, Henry Kissinger, to exploit his bully pullpit by creating a for-profit consulting firm that acts as a conduit for Middle Eastern despots?
Thursday, October 10, 2002
The EU wimps out
Generally, when the United States adopts a tough position towards a predominantly Muslim country, European Union members reply with the assertion that carrots are better than sticks. With both Iraq and Iran, for example, the EU position is that in the long run, economic, political, and diplomatic inducements will alter behavior better than coercive diplomacy. I think it's more complex than that, but it's certainly a defensible decision.
Now, however, the EU has made it clear that there's a limit to their reliance on carrots. Yesterday's announcement about EU expansion to the East was noticeable for the snub that was delivered to Turkey. The EU, as expected, targeted ten transition economies for membership by 2004. Bulgaria and Romania were given the target of 2007. Turkey was not given a target date. There is not even a date for further talks. Instead, the press release observed: "Turkey is encouraged to pursue the reform process to strengthen democracy and the protection of human rights, in law and in practice."
This is a country that consciously decided to join the West after World War I. Among the candidate countries, it was the first to apply for admission (in 1987). It is a country with a longer track record on democracy than any other country in the Balkans. It has had a functioning market economy for much longer than most of the other aspirants. It abolished the death penalty to please the European Union. It's certainly not ready for accession today, but by 2004 it would have been a reasonably safe bet. In terms of geopolitics, bringing Turkey into the EU club would have been the best way to ensure further political reforms and ensure stability in Souteastern Europe. The parallels to Mexico's accession into NAFTA are pretty clear. Instead, the EU treats Turkey as its doormat, pushing the Turks aside to pave the way for Bulgaria and Romania. [You knocking the South Slavs?--ed. I don't mean to impugn these countries, which have made great strides since 1989. It's just that Turkey is without question closer to meeting most of the EU criteria.]
What kind of message does this send the Turks? There can be only one message -- you're not welcome if you're Muslim.
I don't want to hear the Europeans talk about the power of incentives any more.
UPDATE: The U.S. has been leaning on the Europeans to reconsider, and now even Greece is changing its tune.
CHARITIES AND TERRORISTS: As an
CHARITIES AND TERRORISTS: As an "expert on terrorist financing," I was on Chicago Tonight yesterday evening to talk about the indictment of the head of Benevolence International, one of the largest Muslim charities in the United States. [You're an expert?--ed. I spent the 2000-01 academic year working at the Treasury Department on coordinating international anti-money laundering activities, so by TV standards, yes, yes I am an expert.] The New York Times story is pretty good; here's the actual indictment. A few thoughts on the larger implications:
1) Stopping terrorist financing doesn't happen without international cooperation. The bulk of the evidence behind the indictment came from a March 2002 raid of the charity's offices in Bosnia. That was where the treasure trove of Al Qaeda documents were found. Swiss banking authorities also must have cooperated in discovering the alleged laundering of terrorist money through the charity's Swiss bank account.
2) More charities will be busted. Benevolence International was active in Bosnia, Chechnya, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. So was Al Qaeda. Relief agencies, charities, and terrorist networks swim in the same ocean -- weak and war-torn states. The charities are there because of the suffering; the terrorists are their to fight or to operate free of law enforcement. It's not shocking that terrorists would use charitable agencies as a money laundering conduit -- busting a charity never sounds good. Because charity is one of the five pillars of Islam, Muslim charities are particularly vulnerable to an organizational hybrid that builds schools with one hand while slaughtering civilians with the other. Benevolence International probably did engage in good works in Bosnia, for example. However, they also assisted one of the architects of the 1998 embassy bombings in East Africa. Click here for more on the unfortunate relationship between charities and terrorists.
3) This is just a drop in the bucket. Benevolence International has assets of less than $2 million. Al Qaeda has a number of ways to transfer assets beyond using charities as a cover -- conflict diamonds and currency exchanges, to name two. Stopping the myriad conduits for terrorist financing is not going to be easy.
P.S. Instapundit wonders whether the photo "which showed the defendant in traditional garb brandishing an AK-47" worries his lawyers. One of the defense attorneys -- Matt Piers -- was on the show with me last night. He claims the person in the photo is not his defendant. He didn't provide an explanation for the charity's fondness for Swiss bank accounts.
HOW NOT TO PROTEST: The
HOW NOT TO PROTEST: The Chicago Tribune has a story on why anti-war protests are not really catching on. The article suggests a "generational shift of priorities," combined with the absence of a draft, is responsible for the lack of enthusiasm. Reading the article, however, I think there's another explanation -- the protestors are intellectually obnoxious. Now, protestors are supposed to be physically obnoxious -- that's how they draw attention to themselves. But consider these quotes from student activists:
"Adil Khan, 20, a member of the university's Muslim Student Association, said: 'We [Muslims] believe the war as presently constituted is unjust. The only reason that it [the war] is being supported is because people are ignorant.'"
"Andrew Main, a sophomore at Swarthmore College, founded an organization called "Why War" shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. 'We were pretty outraged by the rush to war and the unbridled patriotism of the last year,' Main said."
Certainly, when I'm accused of being an unthinking patriot, my first instinct is to take these people seriously. Not!
UPDATE: Looks like Ron Rosenbaum has had a similar reaction to the anti-war protestors. (Link via Sullivan). Rosenbaum also illuminates the debate of why communism gets treated with more respect by intellectuals than fascism:
"I still can understand people like Pete Seeger joining the Party back in the 30’s during the Depression, when it looked like unregulated capitalism had cruelly immiserated America, when racism and lynchings reigned down South and it looked (looked, I said) as if the Soviet Union was the only force willing to stand up to Hitler. But to cling to Marxism now, after all we’ve learned in the past 50 years—not just about the Soviet Union, but China and Cambodia … ?
Wednesday, October 9, 2002
COCOONS AND WAR: Kausfiles makes
COCOONS AND WAR: Kausfiles makes an excellent observation on the tendency for both liberals and conservatives to interpret information selectively. Click here for more on the liberal cocoon; it's the conservative cocoon that worries me.
Kaus argues that conservatives tend to explain away all negative information that comes from New York Times as a product of liberal media bias. This can be dangerous if the information happens to be accurate on a fairly regular basis. Assume that half of what is in the Times is liberal exaggeration. That still leaves half that is dead-on accurate. To give an example: there are excellent reasons to discount the Times' interpretation of their Monday poll, but as Kaus himself points out, there are nuggets of accurate information in the article.
This leads to today's NYT report on the CIA assessment of Iraq's intentions and capabilities. It demands close scrutiny.
The article accurately captures the CIA assessment that Saddam Hussein is capable of being deterred from using weapons of mass destruction, unless he thinks the U.S. is going to attack, in which case the intelligence estimate is that there is a "pretty high" chance he'd use those weapons. In other words, the probability of a WMD attack against the United States increases if we launch an assault. This is a powerful argument against launching an attack, and a hurdle that the president needs to clear in order to justify the use of force: why is an invasion of Iraq worth the increased likelihood of an attempted WMD attack against the United States? Conservatives might be tempted to discount this information, because of the sources -- New York Times and the CIA. That would be a mistake.
On the other hand, if you read the full text of the CIA's letter to the Senate, you see both the tendency towards liberal media bias, and a possible answer to the question posed in the previous graf. The final section of the letter details the CIA's assessment of the links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. To quote:
"¶We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda going back a decade.
¶Credible information indicates that Iraq and Al Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal nonaggression.
¶Since Operation Enduring Freedom, we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of Al Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad.
¶We have credible reporting that Al Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire W.M.D. capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to Al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs.
¶Iraq's increasing support to extremist Palestinians coupled with growing indications of relationship with Al Qaeda. suggest that Baghdad's links to terrorists will increase, even absent U.S. military action." (my italics)
Until now, I had not given much credence to the argument that Iraq and Al Qaeda were linked, but the CIA assessment suggests otherwise. Substantively, this is the argument for an attack sooner rather than later -- the longer we wait, the more likely that Saddam will export W.M.D. to terrorists of the death-to-America persuasion. [What about the realists assertion that since Iraq is secular while Al Qaeda consists of Islamic fundamentalists, they would never cooperate?--ed. Bull. Realists assume that actors balance against the greater threat. The U.S. is the greatest threat to both Iraq and Al Qaeda at the moment. Realism would conclude that cooperation between the two actors is a foregone conclusion.] An attack now carries significant risks, but a failure to purge Iraq of weapons of mass destruction carries even greater risks. To conduct that purge, the U.S. and U.N. must be ready to attack.
Consistent with the assumption of liberal media bias, the Times story had seven paragraphs on the greater threat of an Iraqi response, but only one graf on the Iraq/Al-Qaeda link. That's better than the Washington Post story, which does not mention those links.
My point: the CIA letter contains information for and against an attack; both pieces of information need to be incorporated into the current debate.
Tuesday, October 8, 2002
FRANCE AND RUSSIA--SEPARATED AT BIRTH:
FRANCE AND RUSSIA--SEPARATED AT BIRTH: Mark Brzezinski argues in the New York Times op-ed page that Russia will hem and haw but ultimately side with the U.S. in the Security Council. Just like France.
I know Mark -- he's always worth a read.
Edwards, Gore, and Nunn
Twelve years ago, the Great Democratic Hope for president was Sam Nunn. He was the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he was considered a "hawk," and he was from the South. The 1992 Democratic presidential nomination was his for the asking.
Then he voted against the Gulf War. He believed that given time, the U.N. sanctions against Iraq would work.
The result? Nunn's reputation was tarnished. Another Southern senator who voted for the Gulf War and was also considered an expert of defense issues supplanted Nunn -- Al Gore.
Now it appears that John Edwards is trying to steal a page from Gore's playbook. We know where Gore stands on Iraq -- whatever the administration is proposing must be wrong. Edwards' position on Iraq is both supportive of the overall policy while making it clear that he thinks the process of building allied support for an attack could have been handled better. His term "gratuitous unilateralism" perfectly ecapsulates the media Zeitgeist, which ensures greater media exposure. Leaking the speech to the Washington Post ensured media play without stealing the President's thunder, as Andrew Sullivan notes.
Substantively, there is not a lot of difference between what Gore and Edwards are saying. What's different is that Edwards ultimately supports the decision to attack sooner rather than later while Gore thinks... we should wait and give the sanctions time to work.
If a war on Iraq plays out well, Sam Nunn will be welcoming Al Gore to the Old Democratic Hopefuls Home for some games of shuffleboard and Diplomacy. Meanwhile, Edwards notes, "This is the first of three speeches outlining ways to strengthen America at home and abroad. In the coming weeks, I will talk about what kind of leadership we need to get our economy back on track and focus on ways to strengthen education in America."
There are some people who just give off the whiff of being smart about politics. Edwards definitely has the scent.
Monday, October 7, 2002
THE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING THE
The key to understanding what the French will do in international relations was made clear to me a decade ago by an American woman who grew up there: "France will do whatever it takes to magnify their importance." Most of the time, this means publicly disagreeing with the United States about a vital matter of world politics, before caving in if the Americans call their bluff. [Hey, replace "U.S." with Germany, and you can explain their warfighting capabilities as well--ed. Just kidding!!]
Ah, the French. Teaching international relations, making jokes about ethnicities or nationalities is improper classroom decorum. Except the French. If I ever want to get a cheap laugh, all I have to do is say "France" and roll my eyes. Works every time.
Fair? No, but neither is the European assumption that all Americans are trigger-happy, illiterate rednecks. In the end, everything balances out.
Sunday, October 6, 2002
READING ASSIGNMENT: Jean Elshtain argues
READING ASSIGNMENT: Jean Elshtain argues contra Walzer that an attack on Iraq would be a just war in the Boston Globe. What I find interesting about this is that it appeared in the Globe, not the New York Times or the Washington Post. Elshtain is a heavyweight; did the Times or the Post say no? Or is the Globe Ideas section moving up in the world, as Mickey Kaus suggested last month?