Saturday, October 26, 2002
HAVE A NICE WEEKEND: In
HAVE A NICE WEEKEND: In the first month of tracking, the blog has received over 11,800 visits, and over 13,000 page visits. Not InstaPundit-like numbers, but I think it's a pretty decent turnout for a foreign policy blog. Thanks to all of you for reading!
I have family in town this weekend, so no more blogging until Monday. See you then.
Friday, October 25, 2002
The merits of Bush's grand strategy
Multilateralist. Cooperative. Innovative. Sophisticated. Not the adjectives most foreign policy analysts have associated with the Bush administration's new National Security Strategy. Unless you're John Lewis Gaddis.
Gaddis knows a thing or two about grand strategies, and his review of the 2002 Bush strategy in the latest issue of Foreign Policy makes for bracing reading. Gaddis compares the Bush strategy to the previous set of strategy documents from the Clinton administration. His assessment:
After a detailed review of the strategy document, Gaddis summarizes:
Gaddis isn't naïve; in the article, he also delineates the potential flaws in the strategy. But this is a ringing endorsement from the dean of diplomatic historians. Given the criticisms various academics/policy analysts have levied against the strategy, it's a refreshing tonic.
UPDATE: John Smith has a long quasi-fisking of Gaddis' essay. I disagree, but he does make a cogent point about Gaddis' misuse of Agincourt as a historical analogy. Of course, historical analogies have been abused on all sides of this debate.
THE DEFENSE OF BUSH'S FOREIGN
THE DEFENSE OF BUSH'S FOREIGN ECONOMIC POLICY: I have railed against the protectionist elements in the Bush administration's trade policies in the past. It seems only fair to highlight a cogent defense of those policies. C. Fred Bergsten points out in the latest Foreign Affairs that all administrations need to buy off significant protectionist groups to pursue freer trade. You have to pay to access the entire article, but here's the key point about why the administration has raised steel tariffs and blimped up farm subsidies:
"None of these steps is defensible on its merits. All of them, in fact, represent extremely bad policies. Most of them were directly related to electoral politics. But they were also essential components of restoring an effective U.S. trade policy.... History reveals that such domestic maneuvering is a sad but true constant of U.S. trade policy. Every president who has wanted to obtain the domestic authority to conduct new international liberalizing negotiations has had to make concessions to the chief protectionist interests of the day. The entire history of U.S. postwar trade policy can be characterized as 'one step backward, two steps forward.'"
So, do I take back what I said? No. The way to minimize the protectionist deals that Bergesten and Schott defend is to link U.S. foreign economic policies to our grand strategy. In the late 1940's, the Truman administration was able to push through a series of integrationist policies by correctly pointing out how such policies bolstered allies and assisted in the containment of the Soviet Union. The current administration has failed to make the same strategic link between today's global war on terror and the need for the advanced industrialized states to open up their economies to developing countries. [Didn't Bob Zoellick make this argument in a Washington Post op-ed?--ed. Yes, but after the op-ed there was silence, even when Congressional Democrats attacked Zoellick for linking trade policy to the war on terror. This message needs to come not just from Zoellick, but from O'Neill, Powell, Rice -- and most important, Bush himself.]
Thursday, October 24, 2002
Imperialism run amok
The world has changed. Powerful actors throwing their weight around on the world stage without the slightest concern for offending others. One great power, despite repeated entreaties for further diplomacy, has ruthlessly pulled out of an -- admittedly costly and inefficient -- multilateral arrangement in favor of going its own way. This is just the latest in a series of nakedly unilateral steps that clearly exposes a hegemonic plan to prevent anyone else from approaching their power and influence.
It should be obvious who I'm talking about... the New York Times. Slate's Jack Shafer has the story about the Times' quasi-hostile takeover of the International Herald-Tribune from the Washington Post. Here's the IHT's own take. For the past 35 years, the Post and Times were equal partners in running the IHT -- now the Times has asserted its hegemony. As Shafer describes it, the diplomacy of the New York Times makes the Bush administration look positively dovish.
I suspect the Times editorial board won't be wringing its hands about this type of belligerent action anytime soon. [Isn't this a cheap shot? Aren't competing companies one thing, but competing countries an altogether different kettle of fish?--ed . Fair point, but I still think it's a funny analogy.]
DEALING WITH THE MEDIA: Brad
DEALING WITH THE MEDIA: Brad DeLong has some advice for doing media interviews that's both correct and indicative of the collective paranoia of being mistreated by the press. I'm sure I've done far fewer media interviews than DeLong, but I will admit to having the same fears.
RAPPROCHEMENT WITH BERLIN: More evidence
RAPPROCHEMENT WITH BERLIN: More evidence that German-American relations are on the mend. So much for last month's predicted "fundamental split."
Wednesday, October 23, 2002
WHY JAPANESE BANKING REFORM IS
WHY JAPANESE BANKING REFORM IS AN OXYMORON: Japanese banks have been in a state of near-insolvency for almost a decade; Japanese politicians have spent that same decade hoping that massive public works expenditures would let the Japanese economy grow its way out of the problem. The banking mess has led to a decade of lost growth in that country. According to the Economist, "Total non-performing loans—those that borrowers have failed to repay on time or in full—now amount to around ¥52 trillion ($416 billion)." In the past month, however, Heizo Takenaka, A Harvard economics professor-turned-Japan's new economy czar, was proposing some tough love for the banking sector by allowing banks with lots of nonperforming debt to actually fail. This is a basic prerequisite for capitalism to function properly, but there are powerful political incentives to circumvent it.
So much for reform. According to the New York Times, the proposed banking reforms are on hold, to the surprise of U.S. policymakers. The Financial Times reports that Takenaka is facing a vote of no confidence in the Diet, though he'll likely survive. The NYT quotes one bank analyst concluding, "This is good news for the bad banks, good news for the bad companies, and bad news for the economy." It's possible that the delay is temporary, but I doubt it.
Why has this happened? The powerful political incentives kicked in for the ruling party. Their rhetoric, however, is telling. To quote the NYT article:
"Masashi Teranishi, president of UFJ Bank and chairman of the Japanese Bankers' Association, spoke out forcefully today against aspects of the plan, telling reporters at a news conference: 'It's like being told we can suddenly use our hands and play American football, when all along we've been ordered to play soccer. If the longstanding regulations were to change rapidly, it would cause confusion in the markets and among investors.'
His reference to America was pointed: Mr. Takenaka taught economics at Harvard University before joining the government, and his proposals are widely seen — and resented — as an attempt to impose on Japan an American approach to bank regulation."
A REFORMING IRAQ?: Andrew Sullivan,
A REFORMING IRAQ?: Andrew Sullivan, Joshua Micah Marshall, and the Wall Street Journal point out that Iraq's recent mass amnesty of prisoners, combined with the quasi-protest in front of the secret policy headquarters, suggests that the Iraqi regime may be on the verge of cracking, à la Ceausescu. As Sullivan notes, "once this kind of regime relaxes its grip even slightly, the unraveling could come quickly."
I hope they're right; I really do. But I have two words in response to this sort of argument -- Tiannamen Square. A leadership determined to stay in power and unafraid of casualties -- which I think is a safe description of the current Iraqi regime -- will be willing to use force to stay in control. The fact that yesterday's protest occurred at all might be a sign that the regime is cracking up -- or it could be a precursor to a bloody crackdown.
UPDATE: This story suggests both Saddam's fear of a tottering regime and his determination to prevent it from happening.
Tuesday, October 22, 2002
TODAY'S DOONESBURY COMMENTARY IS: ...
TODAY'S DOONESBURY COMMENTARY IS: ... befuddling. Today's strip is mildly amusing, but bears little resemblance to actual blogging -- at least, the punditblogs I read. However, in scanning the Blogosphere for Trudeau commentaries, I came across this one at Counterspin Central, which does support Trudeau's image of blogging as hackwork. Hesiod, the man's name is spelled Garry, not Gary. Sigh.
Sorry, I'm just feeling "linsufferably (sic) self-important."
CLARIFICATION: Bloggers that I respect have linked to my Doonesbury posts, implying that I'm being peevish about Trudeau's critique of blogging (click here and here). That was certainly not my intention, although I think it's perfectly fair to highlight his previous observations about how much research one needs to write commentary. It's probably safe to say that each of us has our own perception of the Blogosphere; Trudeau is just caricaturing a part I already tend to ignore, so I find it less interesting. Of course, it's only Tuesday; we'll see how things progress.
The Oprah effect in international relations
One of the things that surprised me in my first year as a professor was how many students would come into my office and admit they had not done the work in the class. At first, I had no idea how to respond to such an admission, until I realized that this was an example of the Oprah effect on American culture. The students seemed to believe that by being open about their failings, they would receive penance come grading time. Such confessions never affected my grades, since all I cared about was their class performance. [You are such a hard-ass--ed. I prefer to think of it as being tough but fair.]
I bring this up because of the reaction that North Korea has been earning for its recent behavior. In the past few years, it has apologized for naval confrontations with South Korea, and admitted that it's faltering economy has empoverished and starved millions. In the past month, it has apologized for kidnapping Japanese citizens and admitted to the U.S. that it has an underground nuclear weapons program. One interpretation of this behavior is that it's a clumsy North Korean effort to open up to the world. This Chicago Tribune story has the following quote from South Korean analyst Park Kun Young: "Kim as been making rational choices to meet his goals and given that I think North Korea was looking for opportunity by admitting to their nuclear program." Joel S. Wit in Saturday's New York Times op-ed notes, "Leaving Pyongyang's defiant rhetoric aside, the fact that it confessed to a secret nuclear program is a sign that North Korea may be looking for a way out of a potential crisis."
Now, honesty is certainly preferrable to dishonesty on these issues. And maybe it's a signal that the DPRK regime wants to negotiate. But to conclude that these admissions amount to a change of heart for the North Korean regime borders on the absurd. The admissions don't change the fact that in the past two decades, North Korea has violated just about every important international norm you can mention. Terrorism, assasination, ballistic missile proliferation, toleration of mass famine, development of weapons of mass destruction, and -- lest we forget -- good old-fashioned totalitarianism. Admitting these violations may be a possible signal of change, but a tangible signal of change would be North Korea's abstinence from such nasty deeds. [What about Michael O'Hanlon's argument in Slate that North Korea has moderating its behavior over the past decade?--ed. The so-called reforms are mostly a mirage, as I've previously noted (I'll add the link when my server is not so busy). And even O'Hanlon acknowledges that any "North Korean reform had more to do with necessity than virtue."]
For realpolitik reasons, negotiations and a multilateral approach makes sense right now. But let's hold off on the "North Korea is reaching out for a hug" sort of discourse.
UPDATE: Marcus Noland provides an excellent description of recent North Korean economic reforms. Noland thinks that Pyongyang genuinely wants to reform its economy and polity (see also his op-ed in today's Financial Times), but I think his facts suggest the opposite conclusion -- an attempt by Kim to increase his stranglehold on society by rewarding favored groups. Read it for yourself and judge.
BUSH'S MULTILATERALISM: First impressions count
BUSH'S MULTILATERALISM: First impressions count a lot in the media coverage of presidents, and the first impression of the Bush administration was a foreign policy of "gratuitously unilateralism" in the words of John Edwards. However, this tends to overlook or minimize the areas where the Bush administration has reached out and cooperated with other countries.
Today's Washington Post and this week's issue of Time carry a story about how U.S. aid to Georgia is bearing fruit in the hunt for Al Qaeda Click here for the article in Time, which broke the story.
Back when military aid to Georgia was first proposed, the media treated it as an example of an expanding American empire. However, this is clearly an example of successful international cooperation, as Time notes in its article:
"When Washington announced early this year that it was sending 150 military trainers to Georgia in the wake of Sept. 11, the former Soviet republic seemed an unlikely new front in the war on terrorism. At that time only about a dozen Arab militants were said to be living in the heavily forested Pankisi Valley. But six months into the antiterrorism campaign there, it is clear to Georgian authorities that the Arab presence was at least five times that strong, that the local jihadi cells were highly sophisticated and that they were plotting mayhem that went well beyond supporting the battle of their fellow Muslims the Chechens against Russian rule....
The crackdown on al-Qaeda became possible only after sweeping changes in the Georgian security structures. Until the end of last year, top Georgian officials say, the Arabs were well protected by high-ranking and corrupt officials and able to operate with impunity. In late 2001, however, the ministers of State Security and Interior were dismissed, and in early 2002 Georgia's longtime ambassador to the U.S., Tedo Japaridze, was appointed National Security Adviser.
The new security hierarchy is trying to make up for lost time. Since the initial raid in May, Georgia's forces have nabbed, among others, Saif al Islam el Masry, a member of al-Qaeda's Shura, or consultative council. By late August, the jihadis had taken enough of a beating that their leaders ordered a retreat from the gorge. But the fight isn't over."
Let's see if commentators give the Bush administration the credit it deserves on this initiative.
Monday, October 21, 2002
DOONESBURY AND BLOGGING: Well, this
DOONESBURY AND BLOGGING: Well, this is going to be a fun week; Garry Trudeau has discovered blogs. Here's today's Doonesbury strip -- check it out for yourself.
As a life-long Doonesbury reader, I've notice that Trudeau's satire tends to come in two forms -- the gentle but effective dig, or the over-the-top, didactic rant. Unfortunately, as he's matured, I've noticed more of the latter and less of the former (I'm not the only one; Jacob Levy points me to this excellent Reason analysis of Trudeau). Too soon to tell where he's going with this week's strips, but as for the implication that bloggers don't know what the hell they're talking about, Trudeau's living in a glass house. To quote from the introduction of one of his large-scale collections, People's Doonesbury:
"Question: You are rumored to go to some lengths when you are preparing a sequence in the strip. How much research do you really do?
Trudeau: As little as I can possibly get away with. It is for this quality above all others, I think, that I am so admired by undergraduates; I know just enough to create the impression that I know a lot."
[Are you really a fair arbiter of satire, given your political leanings?--ed. When it comes to satire, and comic strips in particular, I don't care where the satirist is on the political spectrum, so long as they're funny. I think the funniest comic strip today is Aaron McGruder's Boondocks, which is hysterical two-thirds of the time and leftist junk the other third of the time. Garry Trudeau is funny about 50% of the time at this point. I've never laughed at a Ted Rall cartoon. And can anyone explain Zippy the Pinhead to me?]
UPDATE: In the spirit of bloggers correcting their mistakes, I should point out that this is not the first time Trudeau has mentioned blogging in a strip. Here's the first mention, way back in.... early September (link via NetHistory)
Sunday, October 20, 2002
THE RICHER AND THE DUMBER:
THE RICHER AND THE DUMBER: I'm sure the Times article that will trigger the most class-warfare accusations is Paul Krugman's cover essay in the New York Times Magazine. I'll reserve judgment until I see Part II. However, the most successful whack-the-rich piece in today's Times is in the Styles section, "Partying Like It's 1999." The article is about how those laid off from the financial sector are blowing off searching for new jobs and burning through their unemployment checks. Here's one example of the stupidity involved:
"In short, a job can just get in the way of enjoying one's unemployment. Consider Vipul Tandon, 28, who said that last summer, as many of his friends lost their jobs and began to go out until the wee hours, he felt left out of the fun because he had to get up in the morning and go to work. So last month, Mr. Tandon said, he quit his job as head of strategic planning for a chemical company to join them. 'It just seems like a good time not to be working,' he explained."
Now, reading this, I have three reactions. The first visceral reaction, which the Times intended, is to think that these people will be "the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes," to quote Douglas Adams.
The second, libertarian reaction is to realize that these people are not harming anyone in their choices, and who am I to care? For example, the guy in the above paragraph indicates later in the story that he's saved up quite a bit to finance his current decadence. If he wants to blow his savings this way, it's his choice.
The third and final reaction comes from the economist in me, and thinks this provides an explanation for how U.S. productivity growth can be so robust as jobs are being shedded. As a close relative -- who works in the financial sector -- put it to me when I told him about this story, "You know, they don't fire the smart employees first."
THE OBSESSION WITH THE 'OBSESSION'
THE OBSESSION WITH THE 'OBSESSION' WITH IRAQ: One of the criticisms of the Bush administration has been that it has erroneously tried to link all foreign policy problems with Iraq. This Onion story carries this criticism to its satirical extreme. I think this criticism is exaggerated, but certainly not beyond the pale of reasoned debate.
However, this criticism can run both ways. These same foreign policy critics tend to exaggerate the link between all of our foreign policy problems and the Bush administration's Iraq policy. North Korea has nuclear weapons? It's due to our obsession with Iraq. An explosion in Bali? We'd have thwarted it if the administration wasn't obsessed with Iraq. Anti-war advocates are so convinced that attacking Iraq is a bad idea that anything bad in the world is linked to our supposedly wrong-headed policy.
For exhibit A, see Tony Judt's New York Times op-ed. The killer grafs:
"The worst thing about Mr. Bush's pre-announced war with Iraq is that it is not just a substitute for the war against terrorism; it actively impedes it. Mr. Bush has scolded President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia for not cracking down on Islamic terrorists. But thanks to the war talk spilling out of Washington, heads of states with Islamic majorities are in an impossible position.
If they line up with the Bush administration against Saddam Hussein, they risk alienating a large and volatile domestic constituency, with unpredictable consequences. (Witness this month's elections in Pakistan, where two provinces adjacent to Afghanistan are now controlled by a coalition of religious parties sympathetic to Osama bin Laden.) But if they acknowledge popular opposition to a war with Iraq, they will incur Mr. Bush's wrath. Either way the war on terror suffers."
I am a big fan of Judt's writings, which is why it's so painful to conclude that his reasoning here is as incoherent as a live Bob Dylan performance. Consider:
1) Does Judt seriously believe that the growth in fundamentalist support in Pakistan has anything to do with Iraq? Wouldn't the conflict next door in Afghanistan be the much-more-likely proximate cause? And would an expanded U.S. presence in Afghanistan -- which is the common anti-war critique -- do anything other than rile up Pakistani fundamentalists even more?
2) Can anyone name me a Muslim majority country that has "incurred Bush's wrath" by openly acknowledging Muslim opposition to an invasion? Come to think of it, have there been any large-scale protests on this issue in the Muslim world? (I'm serious about this question -- I don't remember reading about any, but if someone can point me to a protest, I'll update this post).
3) Given that the war on terrorism involves the coordination of customs agencies, financial intelligence units, and other low-profile government organizations, why would opposition to an Iraq attack necessarily derail the war on terror?
4) Does Judt seriously believe that a U.S. climbdown on Iraq will somehow appease Muslim public opinion about the U.S.-led war on terror? Wouldn't it be more likely that a policy reversal would be perceived as part of the same pattern of U.S. retreats and half measures -- Mogadishu, Khobar Towers, the embassy bombings, Operation Desert Fox, the Cole bombing -- that leads to a perception of an American paper tiger?
5) Does Judt think that the bombings in Bali and Manila are somehow going to rally Muslim support in Asia for Osama bin Laden?
Finally, Judt claims later in the essay that "Hamas in the Middle East would desist if all their demands were met." Given that Hamas wants to see the state of Israel extinguished, is Judt suggesting that there is a basis for negotiation?
Judt warns in the essay that we should not "universalize what are often local animosities." Fair enough. Then Judt shouldn't assume that U.S. policy on Iraq will spill over into local animosities in Indonesia.