Saturday, June 7, 2003


Hugh Hewitt's Weekly Standard piece on the Blogosphere begins as follows:

Joshua Micah Marshall is frustrated. He's the young-Blumenthal-in-training of partisan punditry, but in recent days his favorite story line can't get any traction. "It's amazing what it takes to start a feeding frenzy these days," he lamented at TalkingPointsMemo, his web log, last week.

Marshall has been flogging his Tom Delay-is-Magneto story for what seems to be a year, and it has been largely ignored not just by elite newspapers, but also by the blogosphere. An opinion storm requires certain ingredients to conjure it, and in the world of the blogosphere in 2003, you need one of the Big Four to buy in.

The Big Four are Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, and The Volokh Conspiracy. These four sites are usually visited by news junkies many times a day because they are staffed by bright people and continually updated, and thus they can guide the chattering class to a breaking story or even a hitherto ignored story. Trent Lott is no longer majority leader in part because these superpowers of the blog filed and fueled the story of his remarks at Strom's birthday bash.

There are a few problems with this story.

First, it conveniently overlooks the fact that Josh Marshall was the first blogger to jump on the Trent Lott story. He also was instrumental in generating the drip, drip, drip of small stories that fueled the media and online frenzy. I agree with Hewitt that had the Big Four not gotten involved, the story may have died. To deny Marshall his due on Lott distorts the facts, however.

Second, it overlooks the fact that at times the Big Four have raised a stink about an issue, but the earth did not move. Sullivan, for example, took up Rick Santorum's problems with homosexuality (but not homosexuals!!) story, as did Volokh and InstaPundit. Bush issued a statement and that was that.

Third, to claim -- as Hewitt does later on in his essay -- that the Big Four will affect the Democratic primary is absurd. Democrats are not going to follow the lead of conservatives, neoconservatives, or libertarian hawks when they consider their candidate. Marshall will have a much greater influence -- if he wants to exercise it -- on the Dems. [What about the general election, or future Republican primaries?--ed. That's another story.]

I'm not saying that blogs -- particularly the ones Hewitt mentions -- don't matter. I'm saying that the Hewitt essay contains as much wish fulfillment as it does prognostication. Even Sullivan sounds more hopeful than assertive in evaluating Hewitt's claim.

[You're just upset you're not one of the Big Four, aren't you?--ed. Only if they have cool warm-up jackets.]

UPDATE: Virginia Postrel adds further thoughts about how the Blogosphere operates. And Glenn Reynolds e-mails that this is the closest he gets to a warm-up jacket.

posted by Dan at 04:25 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, June 6, 2003


THE "INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY" AND THE AXIS OF AUTOCRATS: Hobnobbing with Council on Foreign Relations heavyweights all day, there was much rending of hair and gnashing of teeth about how the "international community" -- code for Europe, Japan, and the United Nations bureaucracy -- feels about the United States. Can the rifts created by Iraq be healed?

Let me propose a step in the right direction -- focusing on countries hell-bent on extinguishing freedom. For example, today the European Union announced economic sanctions against Cuba in response to the Castro regime's recent crackdown.

That's a good start, but it's not enough.

What I'd really like to see is concerted action against any authoritarian government that thinks it can exploit divisions within the West to crack down on their own populations.

For example, Western governments must demand and/or coerce Robert Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe to release opposition leader Morgan Tsvangerai, who has been arrested on treason charges following five days of demonstrations against the government. Thabo Mbeki, I'm looking in your direction.

Even more pressing is the case of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who -- along with 17 other opposition leaders -- has been held incommunicado since late May. To date, the Burmese military junta has ignored calls for her release. ASEAN leaders, quit making excuses for the regime. [UPDATE: for more on the ASEAN problem, go to this Boomshock post.]

The developed world needs to remember that when it comes to advancing the cause of democracy, they share a common purpose.

posted by Dan at 09:53 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, June 5, 2003

I'm off to run the world again

In the realm of conspiracy theories about who runs the world, the Council on Foreign Relations is more recent than the Trilateral Commission but older than the Straussians (for an example of the CFR conspiracy meme, click here).

Anyway, I'm a CFR term member, so I'm off for the next few days to their two-day National Conference, to be held in NYC. Chatham House rules apply, so don't expect any posts about it.

UPDATE: I take one plane trip and by the time I touch down, Howell Raines has resigned and The Guardian has posted a full retraction. Moral of the story: don't mess with either the Blogosphere ... or the Council on Foreign Relations.

posted by Dan at 11:35 AM | Trackbacks (0)


THE BLOGOSPHERE GETS RESULTS FROM THE GUARDIAN: The good news: The Guardian story that caused such a ruckus yesterday has been taken down from their web site [UPDATE: Here's the Guardian's full, contrite explanation. Good on them]. As a side note, this isn't the only story they've had to retract this week.

The bad news: the Guardian's blatant distortion of events has already been picked up by hostile media outlets in South Africa, the Middle East, and the United States.

posted by Dan at 07:29 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

The state of democracy in the world

In the wake of the myriad difficulties and perceived roadblocks to the democratization process in Iraq, it is easy for one's inner Burke to emerge and assume that there are limits to the transplanting of liberal democracy outside of the West. I won't deny having had these occasional qualms recently, even though I argued two months ago that the chances for democratizing Iraq were better than skeptics believed.

As a balm for these occasional worries, go read Larry Diamond's June 2003 article "Universal Democracy?" in Policy Review. For the academics in the crowd, here's a link to the version with the statistical tables. Diamond's punchline:

The current moment is in many respects without historical precedent. Much is made of the unparalleled gap between the military and economic power of the United States and that of any conceivable combination of competitors or adversaries. But no less unique are these additional facts:

• This breathtaking preponderance of power is held by a liberal democracy.

• The next most powerful global actor is a loose union of countries that are also all liberal democracies.

• The majority of states in the world are already democracies of one sort or another.

• There is no model of governance with any broad normative appeal or legitimacy in the world other than democracy.

• There is growing international legal and moral momentum toward the recognition of democracy as a basic human right of all peoples.

• States and international organizations are intruding on sovereignty in ever more numerous and audacious ways in order to promote democracy and freedom.

In short, the international context has never mattered more to the future of democracy or been more favorable. We are on the cusp of a grand historical tipping point, when a visionary and resourceful strategy could — if it garnered the necessary cooperation and effort among the powerful democracies — essentially eliminate authoritarian rule over the next generation or two.

The entire first half of the paper is a refutation of the argument that democracy can't thrive in non-rich, non-Western countries. One key passage:

Moreover, the overwhelming bulk of the states that have become democratic during the third wave [of democratization, from 1974-1991] have remained so, even in countries lacking virtually all of the supposed “conditions” for democracy. Pre-1990 Africa aside, only four democracies have been overthrown by the military in a conventional coup. Two of those (Turkey and Thailand) returned fairly quickly to democracy, and the other two (Pakistan and the Gambia) have felt compelled at least to institute civilian multiparty elections. Several democracies have been suspended in “self-coups” by elected civilian leaders, while other elected rulers have more subtly strangled democracy. Overall, however, only 14 of the 125 democracies that have existed during the third wave have become authoritarian, and in nine of these, democracy has since been restored.

If democracy can emerge and persist (now so far for a decade) in an extremely poor, landlocked, overwhelmingly Muslim country like Mali — in which the majority of adults are illiterate and live in absolute poverty and the life expectancy is 44 years — then there is no reason in principle why democracy cannot develop in most other very poor countries.

Give it a close read.

posted by Dan at 10:54 PM | Trackbacks (0)


GALACTICALLY STUPID DISTORTION AT THE GUARDIAN: The headline to this Guardian story blares "Wolfowitz: Iraq war was about oil". Here are the lead grafs:

Oil was the main reason for military action against Iraq, a leading White House hawk has claimed, confirming the worst fears of those opposed to the US-led war.

The US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz - who has already undermined Tony Blair's position over weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by describing them as a "bureaucratic" excuse for war - has now gone further by claiming the real motive was that Iraq is "swimming" in oil.

The latest comments were made by Mr Wolfowitz in an address to delegates at an Asian security summit in Singapore at the weekend, and reported today by German newspapers Der Tagesspiegel and Die Welt.

Asked why a nuclear power such as North Korea was being treated differently from Iraq, where hardly any weapons of mass destruction had been found, the deputy defence minister said: "Let's look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil."

Mr Wolfowitz went on to tell journalists at the conference that the US was set on a path of negotiation to help defuse tensions between North Korea and its neighbours - in contrast to the more belligerent attitude the Bush administration displayed in its dealings with Iraq.

Sounds pretty devastating, right? The quote makes it seem like Wolfowitz is arguing that Iraq was such a lucrative prize that it would have been stupid not to invade and grab the oil.

Now let's go to the actual transcript and see what Wolfowitz said in context:

Look, the primarily difference -- to put it a little too simply -- between North Korea and Iraq is that we had virtually no economic options with Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil. In the case of North Korea, the country is teetering on the edge of economic collapse and that I believe is a major point of leverage whereas the military picture with North Korea is very different from that with Iraq. The problems in both cases have some similarities but the solutions have got to be tailored to the circumstances which are very different.

Clearly, what Wolfowitz meant was that Iraq's oil made it easy for Saddam Hussein's regime to survive economic sanctions, while North Korea might be more vulnerable to economic pressure.

This is how every other news outlet -- UPI, AP, Fox News, The Australian -- covered the story. UPDATE: alert reader D.B. points

The Guardian's version of events in such a ludicrous distortion of Wolfowitz's words that it falls into the "useful idiots" category. By apparently relying on a German translation/distortion of Wolfowitz's words -- when multiple English-language sources of the actual comments were available -- I have to wonder if the Guardian is guilty of libel in this case. [UPDATE: The Guardian is even more incompetent than I thought -- on Saturday, they ran the AP story I linked to above with the correct version of the quote!!! Thanks to alert reader D.B. and CalPundit's comments page for the link.]

By the way, almost all of the above information comes from The Belgravia Dispatch -- unfortunately his permalinks aren't working, which is why I've blogged about it here. He also has a link to Wolfowitz's actual response to a direct question about whether the war is about oil.

UPDATE: More on this from Tacitus, InstaPundit, CalPundit, and Bill Hobbs, Doc Searls , and South Knox Bubba.

posted by Dan at 03:32 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Howell Raines, op-ed columnist?

In his latest Slate essay, Jack Shafer strongly suggests that Howell Raines is toast as New York Times executive editor (link via Sullivan):

Having surrendered his "fear and favor" management tools, how long can Raines lead the newspaper effectively? Imagine the empty joy of running the newspaper holed up like Richard Nixon during the impeachment summer of 1974. Raines might quit next week—like a Roman—to stave off a crisis. Or he might even quit so somebody else can lead the paper back to normalcy where people can do their work instead of attend committee meetings.

But at some point, his boss, who dreams of projecting the Times "brand" around the world, will recognize the injury done to the brand. Arthur Jr. will do as Arthur Sr. did when he maneuvered a similarly head-strong tyrant, A.M. Rosenthal, out the door in 1986. He'll get rid of the old editor and ask the new editor to make the paper even greater, and he'll ask him to make the newsroom a happy place again.

Times-bashers may be cackling with glee at this prospect. I, on the other hand, am quite anxious about this prospect.

Why? Because, if memory serves, when A.M. Rosenthal got the boot, his golden parachute was a Times op-ed column entitled "On My Mind." Rosenthal's mind turned out to be a vacuous, barren, desolate wasteland. His column -- a hackneyed collection of incoherent and infantile ramblings -- made me wince every second I read it until I went cold turkey in the mid-1990s. I might think Paul Krugman has become too shrill, but Krugman's column is an oasis of rigorous thinking and precise prose compared to Rosenthal's mindless blather.

Op-ed space in the New York Times is a scarce commodity. Even if it has a liberal bias, I want to read smart liberals -- Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, Kieran Healy, Brad DeLong, Henry Farrell -- not pompous windbags like Rosenthal. My fear is that if Raines is given an op-ed slot, he will crowd out higher-quality contributors.

Maybe Raines would be a better columnist than an executive editor, but my suspicion is that he'll wind up being a carbon copy of Rosenthal.

UPDATE: Sridhar Pappu also thinks Raines won't be able to hold on (link via Kaus)

posted by Dan at 10:51 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Doha round update

I'm frequently asked by students about when a theory of international relations should be discarded due to a lack of explanatory power. In response, I will occasionally launch into a disquisition about Kuhn and Lakatos, but more often I give the following answer:

Any theory must do a better job of explaining variation than a simple rule of thumb, such as, "Every major disruption of the global political economy is the fault of the French."

Laugh if you want, but that rule of thumb actually jettisons a lot of bad theory. Which leads me to the current state of the Doha round of world trade talks. From today's Financial Times:

Franz Fischler, the European Union's farm commissioner, on Monday vowed to stand firm over his proposals for a sweeping overhaul of EU farm subsidies, amid growing signs that member states will agree to at least substantial parts of his reform package at a meeting next week.

The US and many other WTO members view next week's talks as vital to the fate of the Doha round, in which agriculture is the biggest stumbling block. They say the success of the Cancún meeting hinges on the EU agreeing reform of its farm subsidies. A successful outcome would inject some much-needed momentum into the stalled talks on liberalising farm trade....

At the heart of Mr Fischler's package lies a plan to sever the link between subsidies and agricultural production, leaving farmers free to tailor output to demand. In theory, this should reduce overproduction and put an end to the dumping of farming oversupply on to world markets - a practice widely criticised for hurting farmers in developing countries and distorting trade....

However, he is facing strong pressure to scale back his plans - especially from France, which receives the largest share of EU farm subsidies and has long been the most ardent defender of the CAP [Common Agricultural Policy].

Officially, France remains strictly opposed to cutting production-linked subsidies ("decoupling"), but Mr Fischler insisted on Monday he was not prepared to sacrifice the central plank of his plans.

"To be absolutely clear: a reform without decoupling is no reform," he said

The U.S. is far from pure on the question of agricultural subsidies. However, the success of the Doha round of world trade talks now hinges on whether the French are willing to walk away from the Common Agricultural Policy.


UPDATE: Kevin Drum has additional thoughts on the matter -- and there's an interesting debate among his commenters.

posted by Dan at 11:20 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, June 2, 2003


IT'S ALL ABOUT THE INVISIBLE HANDS: A sleep-deprived and procrastination-obsessed Josh Chafetz at OxBlog is having a contest for "the worst political philosophy / political theory pick-up lines".

Kieran Healy and Kevin Drum have already come up with theirs. Here's mine:

"Virtue is more to be feared than vice, because its excesses are not subject to the regulation of conscience. So let us go now, you and I, and test our consciences to their fullest extent."

For me, it's all in the empirical testing and observation of good theory. Values no doubt shared by the quote's inspiration.

UPDATE: By the way, I think Kevin Drum should win. It's easily the worst of the lot -- it also made me laugh out loud.

posted by Dan at 08:31 PM | Trackbacks (0)