Saturday, August 30, 2003

Everything old is not new again

From today's New York Times news analysis on China's role in the North Korea talks:

Beijing's decision to broker the nuclear talks reflects alarm in the top ranks of the Communist Party that the North Korean problem could spiral out of control, with both the North and the United States locked in polar positions. Experts said China had decided that it was uniquely positioned to make a difference because of longstanding ties with North Korea, a neighbor and onetime political and military ally, and its improving relationship with the Bush administration.

Yet its assertiveness may also reflect a new sense of engagement with the world that offers some parallels to the emergence of the United States as a dominant power nearly a century ago, experts say.

"China is starting to act like a big power, with interests it has to defend even outside its borders," said Yan Xuetong, a influential foreign policy expert at Qinghua University in Beijing. "I expect these talks to be remembered as an important milestone in history for that reason."

This is a standard line among many Sinologists, pointing to China's growing economic and military power. And indeed, the article gives several examples of China's growing global influence -- oh, wait, I'm sorry, every single example cited in the article takes place on China's borders.

By comparison, peruse Fareed Zakaria's excellent first book, From Wealth to Power, and you'll see that a hundred years ago the U.S. was projecting power far beyond its borders, including the deployment of U.S. forces on the Chinese mainland.

My point here is not to denigrate China's rising power, but rather to put things in the proper perspective. 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.

posted by Dan at 04:49 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, August 29, 2003

Puncturing the conference vacuum

One of the quirks of APSA is that even though everyone -- well, almost everyone -- attending the conference is interested in current events, during the four days the conference is in progress people exist in a black hole for news. Free copies of the New York Times are available for participants, but few attendees have the time to peruse the news in the same way.

However, my blogger training permitted me to notice that the U.S. was cutting a deal on generic medicines in advance of the Cancun trade talks. While the deal hasn't been officially sealed yet, it looks like it will.

In the short term, this is double good news. It will benefit those in developing countries and suffering from AIDS or other diseases. It's also a boon to the trade talks and a signal that the U.S. is committed to completing the Doha round on time.

Make no mistake, however -- in the long term, there are potential costs. If pharmaceutical firms believe than any drug developed for a disease that is widespread in the developing world will have poor intellectual property rights protection, it will affect their research and development trajectories, and not in a good way.

NGOs are bitching that the deal does not go far enough, as are African activists. That actually makes me feel better, in thinking that the deal will not gut property rights so much that it will blunt new drug research.

posted by Dan at 08:25 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (2)

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Philadelphia freedom

I'll be trying to follow my own conference tips (as well as the excellent set of suggestions posted in the comments) for the next few days at the American Political Science Association annual meeting in Philadelphia, PA. Only been here a day, and already I've become outraged by Pennslyvania's insane liquor laws.

Blogging will be intermittent, although I will exert every effort to post a poli sci version of Brad Delong's "seen and heard" post from last December (definitely worth another read).

Looking for something to read? Niall Ferguson is always worth perusing, and this article discusses the crucial distinctions (glossed over way too much in the academy) between empire and hegemony.

Oh, and take a gander at Ari Melber's op-ed on the myth of the "Arab Street" from the Baltimore Sun a few days ago. Enjoy!!!

posted by Dan at 11:09 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Tips for conference rookies

Yesterday I received the following e-mail request:

[C]ould you please post some advice to poli sci students who are going for their first time to the APSA [American Political Science Association] Conference this week?

We aim to please here at, so here are my Top Five Tips to Newcomers on Attending Conferences [Does this apply to non-poli sci conferences?--ed. My hunch is yes, but having never attended other ones, I won't swear to it]:

5) Lower your expectations. If you're thinking that most of the papers you will hear presented will be of the same caliber as those you've read in class, you're in for big letdown.

Most of the papers presented at a conference of this scale are either works in progress or first-drafts. Most of the people presenting these papers are early in their careers. Some of the papers will be really interesting; most of them won't. If you attend two panels that contain at least two interesting papers in each panel, you've had a good conference.

Conferences such as APSA are much more bearable if you a) go with a friend; and b) bring or buy a book for the dull patches.

4) Build your network. You will undoubtedly notice a few people going to all of the same panels as you attend. Strike up a conversation and find out. They'll probably be working on something similar but not identical to you.

3) Stake out big-name panels early. If you see a panel loaded with prominent scholars, check and see what room it's in. If it's a small one, be sure to go early. Savor the fact that you'll be comfortable for the next 90 minutes while big names will have to crane their neck from the back to see what's going on.

2) Carefully monitor fluid intake. Conferences are basically a vehicle to assume elevated amounts of coffee, water, and alcohol. Try to consume all three in moderation -- you don't want to be dashing to the bathroom at every break between panels, which is when all the good schmoozing takes place.

And the most important piece of advice I can offer:

1) Take your friggin' name tag off when you leave the hotel. Otherwise you look like such a geek.

[Um... what about good papers or panels to attend?--ed. You mean besides my panel, which probably has the most number of bloggers? Jacob Levy has been kind enough to collect some interesting possibilities, although it really depends on your own interests.

UPDATE: This post triggered a rash of responsesKieran Healy offers some excellent tips, while Invisible Adjunct and Apartment 11D offer some excellent predictions.

posted by Dan at 08:41 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (8)

Whither the Democratic establishment?

Josh Marshall offers an explanation for why Wesley Clark would be a viable candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, even if he enters the race this late in the day:

[B]y the normal laws of political gravitation, Dean's sustained surge should have forced a coalescence around one of the several more-centrist-minded establishment candidates -- Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards, Lieberman. With Dean catching fire, those who aren't comfortable with his candidacy should be getting behind one candidate in order to beat him. But that clearly has not happened.

In some ways this is a more striking development than Dean's rise itself.

Now, why hasn't that coalescence taken place? I think the answer is elementary. None of the current candidates has passed the audition for the job. Lieberman's campaign is generally believed to be moribund (and I like the guy). Edwards has gone absolutely nowhere. Gephardt has bet everything on getting the support of organized labor. But if he gets it, it'll basically be a mercy ... well, I don't want to be off-color. But, you know what I mean. Kerry is basically the establishment front-runner at the moment. But it's an extremely anemic frontrunnerdom. He's basically the front-runner by default because all the other potential frontrunners who haven't caught fire are doing even worse than he is.

What this all tells me is that there is a vacuum with a lot of political forces pushing to fill it. And yet none of the current candidates has been capable of becoming the vehicle for those forces. I know these are some convoluted metaphors. But I trust my meaning is relatively clear.

Now, there are all sorts of reasons why late-entering, draft-so-and-so type candidacies never end up winning. But the vacuum I've just described is one Clark could potentially fill. At least he could get in the game and give it his best shot.

Marshall is probably correct in his assessment, but there is one other possibility -- the Democratic establishment is too fractured/decentralized to coalesce around anyone. The union kowtowing that Marshall mentions is but one example of this. Don't forget the wooing of public school teachers, trial lawyers, African-Americans, and environmentalists.

The contrast with the Republicans is quite striking. While the Dems are busy trying to please key interest groups, the GOP is trying to augment their control over key interest groups, as this Washington Monthly story makes clear:

If today's GOP leaders put as much energy into shaping K Street as their predecessors did into selecting judges and executive-branch nominees, it's because lobbying jobs have become the foundation of a powerful new force in Washington politics: a Republican political machine. Like the urban Democratic machines of yore, this one is built upon patronage, contracts, and one-party rule. But unlike legendary Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley, who rewarded party functionaries with jobs in the municipal bureaucracy, the GOP is building its machine outside government, among Washington's thousands of trade associations and corporate offices, their tens of thousands of employees, and the hundreds of millions of dollars in political money at their disposal.

At first blush, K Street might not seem like the best place to build a well-oiled political operation. For most of its existence, after all, the influence industry has usually been the primary obstacle to aggressive, ambitious policy-making in Washington. But over the last few years, Republicans have brought about a revolutionary change: They've begun to capture and, consequently, discipline K Street.... The corporate lobbyists who once ran the show, loyal only to the parochial interests of their employer, are being replaced by party activists who are loyal first and foremost to the GOP. Through them, Republican leaders can now marshal armies of lobbyists, lawyers, and public relations experts--not to mention enormous amounts of money--to meet the party's goals.

I actually hope I'm wrong in this assessment and Marshall is right. As I've said before, I want two viable parties out there. And much of this is attributable to the contrast in party control over tthe executive and legislative branches. Consider this an alternate hypothesis.

But let me close with a hypothetical question: if I'm wrong, then what explains Terry MacAuliffe's continuing reign as the Democratic Party chairman following the 2002 midterm elections?

posted by Dan at 10:46 AM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (5)

Monday, August 25, 2003

Bias here, bias there, bias bias everywhere!!

Back in January, Hugh Hewitt wrote about the East Coast bias that exists in the inculcation of new pundits. This week, is furiously debating whether there is an East Coast bias in sports coverage. Eric Neel and David Schoenfield say yes; Jeff Merron says no.

As someone who's lived and worked in all four continental time zones, the only thing I have to add is that every region outside the East Coast feels aggrieved.

The Left Coasters aren't taken seriously by the East Coast.

Neither coast pays attention to the Midwest or the Rocky Mountain regions, unless they're changing planes at O'Hare or figuring out a way to ski in Aspen.

And, of course, the only thing the residents in these regions have in common is their comfortable stereotypes about the South.

OK, I'm exaggerating a bit. But for those who believe that regional affinities don't count in the United States, check out Peter Trubowitz's excellent book, Defining the National Interest: Conflict and Change in American Foreign Policy , which argues that different alignments of regional interests explain variations in U.S. foreign policy.

posted by Dan at 10:05 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (2)

Explaining Bush's thinking on Iraq

Bush's approach to statebuilding in Iraq genuinely puzzles Kevin Drum :

Bush's conduct toward Iraq continues to be something that I just shake my head over. He lost my support before the war because I eventually became convinced that he wasn't serious about postwar reconstruction. After the war, it became clear that my suspicions were well grounded and that virtually no serious postwar planning had been done. And now, his continuing refusal to admit that we need more troops in Iraq or to make any effort to rally the country behind the time and money it will take to do the job right is simply inexplicable.

Obviously he realizes that failure in Iraq would be an enormous blow both to the U.S. and to the war on terrorism. And he — or his advisors, at any rate — must realize that we can't do it with the troops and funding we have in place now. There's just too much contrary evidence for him not to realize that.

So what is he doing?

I point Kevin to this Richard Brookshier profile on George W. Bush's decisionmaking style from the March 2003 Atlantic Monthly. Reading the artivle, it's clear that answer to Kevin's question gets to Bush's greatest strength as a leader -- and potentially his greatest weakness.

On foreign policy issues, Bush will stick to policy positions even in the face of considerable public criticism. This served him very well in the Afghanistan war, when skeptics questioned the wisdom of attacking so soon after 9/11, and called for more boots on the ground when the initial bombing campaign seemed to produce meager results. The administration stayed the course on this, and was ultimately vindicated.

The same thing is taking place in Iraq. The administration has clearly decided that the only way it will accept greater multilateral support in Iraq is on U.S. terms and not U.N. terms. Given the U.N.'s management of its own security, I don't blame them.

As I've said before, I think the U.S. needs more troops in country. However, I could be wrong. The jury in the blogosphere is still out (see Adesnik vs. Yglesias). Bush has clearly decided that this is not necessary in the long term, and he'll take his lumps about it in the short term. If he's right -- and I hope he is right -- it will be a true demonstration of leadership.

The problem is that the ability to stay the course in the face of public criticism can often morph into pig-headedness about refusing to recognize the error of one's ways. Bush has been right about a lot of the political gambles he has taken during his presidency -- pulling out of the the ABM treaty, the Afghan war, pushing for big tax cuts. A constant record of success makes it more difficult for somone to admit that they need to change course.


UPDATE: Atrios and others seem to believe that I was suggesting that there was considerable opposition to attacking Afghanistan. As the section of this post that Atrios actually quoted should have made clear, and as one of his commenters points out, that was not my implication. My implication was that there was criticism regarding the timing (not waiting until Spring 2002) and tactics (using more conventional army forces) of the Afghan campaign. And there certainly was a point in early November 2001 when some started to criticize those decisions are ill-considered, inspiring Andrew Sullivan's Von Hoffman awards.

Hope that clears thing up.

posted by Dan at 10:17 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (2)

University news

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have stories today on potent influences on the academy. The Times looks ar Harvard's president, Larry Summers. The Post looks at Microsoft.

The New York Times Magazine quotes one of Summers' friends at Harvard saying, "There are a lot of people on other parts of the campus I've met who just despise him. The level of the intensity of their dislike for him is just shocking."

Glenn Reynolds thinks this is because he's to the right of the "ideologically correct" academy. But this is less about ideology than power.

As the article makes clear, Summers is doing two things that scare a significant chunk of the faculty. First, Summers is centralizing power within his office, taking a more personal role in tenure and hiring decisions. In any university this would prompt grumblings, because it means a loss of autonomy for departments and schools.

Second, and much more important, Summers is taking a positivist approach to areas of thought that have historically been thought of as the humanities. The key grafs:

[T]he intellectual revolution that Summers says he hopes to capture in the new curriculum is not limited to science itself. ''More and more areas of thought have become susceptible to progress,'' he said, ''susceptible to the posing of questions, the looking at the world and trying to find answers, the coming to views that represent closer approximations of the truth.'' Tools of measurement have become ubiquitous, as well as extraordinarily refined....

The great universities have traditionally defined themselves as humanistic rather than scientific institutions. Summers's point is not so much that the balance should shift as that the distinctions between these modes of understanding have blurred, though clearly in a way that favors the analytic domains -- the soft has become harder, rather than the other way around.

Most faculty members at Harvard worry much more about this hard-soft spectrum than they do about the left-right one.... It is quite possible that just as Charles W. Eliot came to be seen as the man who brought the range of modern knowledge into the traditional university, so Summers will be seen as the man who decisively moved those universities toward increasingly analytical, data-driven ways of knowing.

Clearly, these preferences are starting to drive the tenured faculty around the bend:

I met professors who so thoroughly loathe the new president that they refuse even to grant his intelligence, perhaps because doing so would confer upon him a virtue treasured at Harvard. Despite the protections of tenure, virtually all of Summers's critics were too afraid of him to be willing to be quoted by name.

Those dumb enough not to recognize Summers' smarts are headed for a great fall (Bill Sjostrom points out just how savvy Summers must be). The next few years are going to be fun for those who write about Harvard.

The Post story is about the rise of Microsoft's influence on college campuses, and the inevitable backlash this is causing on campus. An example of the latter:

"[I worry] that in the face of budget shortfalls, universities will sacrifice their research autonomy, offering up curriculum and academic integrity to the highest bidder," said Mark Schaan, a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University who was part of a group of students at the University of Waterloo, the Canadian equivalent of MIT, who last year urged administrators to turn down Microsoft's donations.

That's the rhetoric. Here's an example of Microsoft's role in funding campus research:

Among those who say they have benefited from Microsoft's donations is Howard University associate professor Todd E. Shurn. Two years ago, he was struggling with how to best teach a multimedia class that would combine computer science, art and communications skills.

Two of Shurn's former students, who had gone on to work at Microsoft and had come back to Washington on a recruiting visit, had an idea: Why not build the class around Windows Media Player? The class could create a new interface, or "skin," for the program. The professor was intrigued. He fiddled around with the technology for a few days and concluded it was worth testing. Microsoft provided $5,000, software and books and sent one of its technicians to help set up the computers the students would be using. The experiment was a success, Shurn said, so much so that he expanded the project the next year to include a contest open to the entire school. Microsoft, of course, provided the money for the awards.

Boy, that is evil.

I have no doubt some of my fellow academicians are dreading the rise of these kinds of influences. I say, bring them on.

posted by Dan at 12:13 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (3)