Wednesday, June 18, 2003

I guess this explains Blogger, too

Google explains their phenomenal success.

Heh. (link via Josh Chafetz)

posted by Dan at 09:45 PM | Trackbacks (0)

The blogosphere takes on the mullahs

Here is Andrew Sullivan's suggestion from earlier this week:

Here's my proposal. On July 9, as many blogs as possible focus on the struggle for freedom in Iran. It's the anniversary of the pro-democracy protests that have been going on for years. I'll devote the week after July 4 to this issue, culminating in July 9.... Many people have theorized about the power of the web to bring about change and the young generation in Iran must know this as well as any group of people. So let's try and use it - if only to send a symbol of solidarity with those resisting the theo-fascists who have wrecked Iran for three generations.

Glenn Reynolds thinks this is "a great idea" and provides lots of relevant links.

I plan to be on board as well. [Why don't you launch a campaign to mock Bill O'Reilly's half-assed comments about the Internet instead?--ed. Too late. Besides, I'm sure O'Reilly was using his whole ass when he penned that prose. Nice reference to The Simpsons!--ed.] However, I have a few conditions:

1) Everyone recognize the limitations of this enterprise: A great deal has been written and posted about how Iranians hunger for a more liberal democracy, and how the blogosphere is playing a vital role in communicating that hunger.

However, this conveniently ignores the fact that the Iranian government is an altogether different beast than either Trent Lott or the New York Times. They play for keeps, and have been unafraid in the past to use paramilitary violence to put down student dissent. Here are the latest reports on Iran from Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International. They don't make for pleasant reading. A lot of web postings will be unlikely to diminish the mullahs' ardor for repression.

I've argued that the blogosphere's power has been inflated as of late, and I fear this will prove my point. I really hope I'm wrong, though.

2) Don't lobby for Western governments to take direct action against Iran. Official action by western governments could backfire, as Robert Lane Greene observes:

Iranians don't want... heavy-handed meddling by a foreign power. More than even most other countries in the Middle East, Iranians are intensely nationalistic; they have a distinct political identity dating back thousands of years, and a keen sense of having been manipulated by outside powers in recent centuries....

It's clear that Iranians do yearn for an accountable government and real democracy. But America has to be subtle and sensible about how it goes about helping them achieve that. It is, for example, useful for President Bush to speak up for the Iranian protesters, and it would be far better still if other foreign leaders joined him. But funneling American money into the country could backfire; it would allow the regime to say, with some legitimacy, that the protesters were American agents.

Obviously, the nuclear question is a matter for official action, and rhetorical support for the protestors is appropriate. Further sanctions, however, are unlikely to accomplish anything.

[Why, then, did you agitate for economic pressure on Burma? Isn't this the same thing?--ed. No, it's not. In the case of Burma, the demand is extremely specific -- a release of one activist and a return to the status quo of a few months ago. In Iran, the demand is simultaneously more amorphous and more ambiguous.]

3) Remember that the goal is to act as a megaphone for the Iranians themselves. While official action might be counterproductive, direct pressure from global civil society -- which is what Sullivan wants the blogosphere to be on July 9th -- can, at the very least, offer a show of support to Iranians that their voice is being heard. To that end, please click over to Jeff Jarvis' wonderful collection of Iranian bloggers.

4) Quincy Jones is not the producer. For those of you too young to understand that reference, click here.

posted by Dan at 11:24 AM | Trackbacks (1)

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Sorry for the lack of posts

Trust me, it's not due to a lack of trying. Blogger has upgraded their software, but the upgrade seems to like eating my posts. I'll be back tomorrow to comment on Andrew Sullivan's call to action.

posted by Dan at 08:23 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, June 16, 2003

Same story, different worlds

As worldwide pressure grows on the Burmese junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi, media reaction has differed on Colin Powell's rhetorically tough approach. Here's the International Herald-Tribune:

The Southeast Asian neighbors of Burma broke with precedent Monday to chastise it publicly for its crackdown on dissent and detention of the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Their criticism, at a regional forum in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, significantly increased pressure on the ruling generals, adding to growing condemnation around the world....

The association has in the past held back from criticizing Burma, because of a long-standing policy of what they call interference in each other's affairs. But analysts said their continuing silence now as the world rallies against Burma had become embarrassing and risked making them appear ineffectual. "We in ASEAN are now sharing in accountability to the world about the slow progress of the transition to democracy in Myanmar," said the Philippine foreign secretary, Blas Ople.

In this version of events, the West has shamed the East into action.

Now, consider this Bangkok Post version of events:

Burma has long been a major cause of tension between the United States and Asia. Now US Secretary of State Colin Powell has virtually declared war on Asia, with his statement published in the Asian Wall Street Journal last week demanding that the countries of Asia join the US in putting pressure on Burma's junta to free Suu Kyi and introduce democratic reform.

"The thugs who now rule Burma must understand that their failure to restore democracy will only bring more and more pressure against them and their supporters,'' Mr Powell concluded in his statement.

But this hard-line message is unlikely to have much impact -- either on Rangoon or on the generals who head the regime. In fact, it is almost certain to be counter-productive. ``The US secretary of state's blast to Asia has clearly upset many of the leaders in the region, who already had misgivings about Washington's bullying approach to the region in the past,'' said a senior western diplomat in Southeast Asia who did not wish to be identified....

Southeast Asian leaders have discussed Burma in the past. A couple of years ago, Goh Chok Tong, the Singaporean prime minister, while hosting the annual Asean summit, initiated a private huddle of leaders which is believed to have been instrumental in convincing Burma's top general, Than Shwe, to start a dialogue with Suu Kyi and accept the UN envoy Razali Ismail as the facilitator....

There have been growing signs from many Asean governments over the past two weeks that the policy of non-interference would not prevent Burma from being discussed. Both Cambodia and Thailand's foreign ministers have alluded to the fact that the situation in Burma is an international issue and that the non-intervention policy was evolving and some internal issues needed to be addressed even in the face of strong objections from some member countries.

"The result of these discussions will not be made public,'' a senior Asian diplomat in Phnom Penh for the meetings said. "There is no way Asean can publicly criticise one of its members, but that doesn't mean there would not be substantial pressure brought to bear on Rangoon privately.''

The United States, largely supported by Europe, has been continually at odds with Asia, particularly the countries of Southeast Asia, over how best to encourage Burma's ruling generals to introduce economic and political change.

"The Asean and Asian approach to Burma emphasises constructive engagement -- not destructive isolation,'' a senior Asian diplomat in Bangkok said.

A Rangoon-based Asian diplomat added: "There is no way that Asia, including Japan and China, could support an international economic boycott of Burma. And no amount of US pressure will change that.''

Who's right? One is tempted to dismiss the Post version of events, since it includes a passsage in which Mahathir Mohammed, Malaysia's president, is chagrined at the thought of the Burmese junta taking over the ASEAN presidency in 2006. Mahathir's own actions suggest he is hardly the most democratic of leaders. Furthermore, the "quiet diplomacy" argument has the advantage of nonfalsifiability.

And yet, there is a difference between someone like Mahathir, who has some respect for the rule of law, and the thugs of Burma. And the Post is correct in observing that rhetorical pressure is unlikely to have any effect, and that economic sanctions will not work unless China actively participates, which is highly unlikely.

In the end, however, the most significant fact in this story is not the immediate effect on Burma, but the effect on ASEAN. The organization recognizes that its non-intervention policy needs to evolve, in part due to Western pressure. Its members are either actual democracies -- Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines -- or are rhetorically committed to democracy -- Signapore, Malaysia, Cambodia. Furthermore, local crises, such as the 1997-98 financial panic or the SARS outbreak, generally force greater regional openness.

I don't hold out much hope for a democratic Burma anytime soon. An ASEAN that recognizes the value of democracy, however, is an intriguing possibility.


posted by Dan at 11:44 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Want to know what's happening in political science?

I pretty much abhor popular writing about political science. It's usually off the mark, and some of it (Emily Eakin, I'm looking in your direction) is responsible for popularizing what I can only describe as complete mush.

So I write with pleasant surprise that Sharla Stewart has written a pretty accurate piece on the current state of the political science discipline for the University of Chicago alumni magazine. It discusses in depth the rise of the "perestroika" movement, which argues that the discipline has tilted too far in the direction of rational choice theory and statistical methodologies. Go take a look if you're so inclined.

[And where do you stand on these various fault lines?--ed. I straddle a fair number of them. My research involves all of the methodologies discussed in the article. I am by no means an area studies type, however.]

posted by Dan at 04:21 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)