Friday, April 2, 2004

A small blog sabbatical

For the next ten days, I will be away from a computer. I'll be at an undosclosed sandy beach with my family for the first week, and then after that I'll be at a conference for several days [What's the difference between a vacation and a conference?--ed. At conferences, there's like, homework and stuff.] There will be limited to no blogging for the next ten days.

Discussion topic -- Andrew C. McCarthy's essay "The Intelligence Mess: How It Happened, What to Do About It." in the April issue of Commentary. McCarthy led the 1995 prosecution of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman in connection with the first World Trade Center bombing. He's skeptical that the mantra of "greater interagency coordination" will work:

For one thing, intelligence professionals are correct (if occasionally disingenuous) when they complain that the public has a skewed perception of their operations: while catastrophic lapses are always notorious, intelligence successes are more numerous. These, however, must typically be kept secret in order to preserve sources of information and methods of gathering it. The unfortunate result is a portrait of ceaseless "failure" that, aside from giving intelligence-gathering an undeserved bad name, also obscures other verities.

First, day-to-day cooperation among agencies, and particularly between the FBI and CIA, is actually far better than people have been led to believe. In terrorism cases, in the decade after the 1993 WTC bombing, teamwork improved in leaps and bounds. To be sure, there are occasional breakdowns, usually due to personality conflicts. But this is an unavoidable function of the human condition—which no legislation on earth can repeal—and it is just as frequently a factor in intra-agency disputes as in those between agencies. Today, agents who fail to compare notes are generally acting in violation of information-sharing protocols; it is hard to imagine additional directives improving the situation.

Second, intelligence-gathering is not monolithic. Domestic intelligence is radically different from the foreign variety, and both differ critically from the needs of the military. So polysemous an imperative requires a variety of skills to meet widely divergent situations and assumptions. As both a practical and a political matter, it is inconceivable that the task could be accomplished by a single agency, and proposals that suggest otherwise are certain only to reshuffle, rather than eradicate, natural rivalries while damaging the quality and quantity of information collection.

Third, and most misunderstood, rivalry—overall—is a virtue. In the government’s vast monopoly, it is essential. Naturally, the seamy side of competition being a perennial best-seller, the public record is replete with hair-raising anecdotes of sharp-elbowed investigators pursuing the same quarry to the benefit of criminals, enemies, and traitors. On a macro level, however, the throat-cutting is statistically insignificant. As a rule, competition impels agents to test their premises and press for better information; it results in the generation of more leads and the collection and refinement of more intelligence. In a world where the Supreme Court cannot decide a case without amicus briefs from innumerable interested observers, where Congress declines to pass legislation without the input of scores of experts, do we really want the President, in matters of national security, reduced to a single stream of intelligence-collection and analysis?

If turf-battling is not an enormous obstacle, does that mean there are no obstacles? Hardly. The real problems, though, are not bureaucratic but structural and philosophical. They have taken over 40 years to metastasize, and they would take a lot more than cosmetic surgery to reverse, even assuming the national will to do it.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 10:54 AM | Comments (37) | Trackbacks (3)

Thursday, April 1, 2004

April's Books of the Month

This month's international relations book is Amy Zegart's Flawed by Design: The Evolution of the CIA, JCS, and NSC [FULL DISCLOSURE: The very talented Ms. Zegart and I went to graduate school together]. This recommendation comes in the wake of important questions about how to reform America's intelligence-gathering apparatus for the war on terror. Zegart demonstrates the bureaucratic hurdles to either reforming or creating efficient foreign policy institutions are considerable.

The general interest book is Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Here's a precis of Pinker's argument:

This book returns to that still-controversial territory in order to shore it up in the public sphere. Drawing on decades of research in the "sciences of human nature," Pinker, a chaired professor of psychology at MIT, attacks the notion that an infant's mind is a blank slate, arguing instead that human beings have an inherited universal structure shaped by the demands made upon the species for survival, albeit with plenty of room for cultural and individual variation. For those who have been following the sciences in question including cognitive science, neuroscience, behavioral genetics and evolutionary psychology much of the evidence will be familiar, yet Pinker's clear and witty presentation, complete with comic strips and allusions to writers from Woody Allen to Emily Dickinson, keeps the material fresh.

Plus, as far as I'm concerned, this book has now acquired totemic status.

posted by Dan at 11:27 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

What are the popular foreign policy books?

The good people at Foreign Affairs have started up a monthly bestseller list for foreign affairs books, "based on sales in all 647 Barnes & Noble stores and on Barnes &"

They've just come out with March's bestseller list:

On the first list, reflecting sales in March, the #1 position is held by "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror," by former counterterrorism official Richard A. Clarke, whose book was on sale for only one week of the reporting period. Other list leaders are Steve Coll's "Ghost Wars," Craig Unger's "House of Bush, House of Saud," James Mann's "Rise of the Vulcans," and Hans Blix's "Disarming Iraq."

If you look at the whole list, there are only three books that could be thought of as sympathetic to Bush's foreign policy -- Frum and Perle's An End to Evil, Richard Miniter's Losing Bin Laden, and Gaddis' Surprise, Security, and the American Experience

Question to readers -- does this mean:

a) A lot of Americans are interested in books that are critical of Bush's foreign policy (which implies a lot of Americans are unimpressed with it)?

b) The kind of people who buy foreign policy books in the first place are predisposed to dislike Bush's brand of hawkishness?

You be the judge!!

posted by Dan at 06:23 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (1)

What's a small-l libertarian to do?

Megan McArdle writes what I'm thinking at the moment:

I'm afraid, as a libertarianish commentator, I don't see all that much difference between them [Bush and Kerry].

I mean, really, in this election, what will I be voting about? Gay marriage? I don't think it's a good idea to handle it at the federal level (see Roe, Wade v.)--plus, neither candidate supports it. The budget deficit? While I think there is some marginal effect on interest rates of the budget deficit, ultimately I think that any such effect will be dwarfed by the long term problems of old-age entitlements, which neither party seems prone to touch. This puts me rather in the Milton Friedman camp: what we should worry about is not how spending is financed, but how high is the level of spending. And on that metric, the choice between Republicans and Democrats seems to be a case of "frying pan, meet fire". In general, on any major foreign policy metric, the differences between the Republicans and the Democrats these days seem to be pretty trivial.

I don't really care whether or not George Bush's marginal income tax changes are repealed or not. (I am in favour of the dividend changes and the estate tax changes, but for all I care, the Democrats can recoup all that lost income by raising the top rate even higher) . Nor am I either horrified, or elated, by John Kerry's tax proposals so far. Overall, my reaction to all the policy proposals currently on the table is . . . er . . . akhfialsfahjfhajfhajhfuq93rujhiekhfa

Sorry, I dozed off and my face hit the keyboard.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 03:01 PM | Comments (52) | Trackbacks (1)

My La-La experience

On Tuesday and Wednesday, your trusty blogger was in LA to give a talk at USC's Center for International Studies. It was quite the experience.

Have any readers experienced a moment during which they realized they were in a place that was way too hip/cool/edgy for them? That's how I felt when I checked into the Standard Hotel in the downtown. The place looked really fab -- clearly they had checked out Virginia Postrel's The Substance of Style. As the Guardian put it last year:

Bright red vibrating circular water beds in Star Trek-esque space pods, orange banquettes, white 1950s plastic furniture, red Astroturf and a rooftop swimming pool (complete with nightly skinny-dippers) - this isn't the kind of thing you expect to come across in the downtown business district of Los Angeles.

Alas, I witnessed no nighttime skinnydipping -- I had evening plans (I found out later that there was a private runway show and they booted the hotel's regular patrons from the rooftop bar anyway). Plus, I had dinner plans anyway. I can confirm the Star Trek-style waterbeds that would have made William Shatner proud.

However, the highlight of the trip was eating a fabulous lunch on the rooftop, and then noticing that the guy sitting at the next table bore more than a passing resemblance to Nicholas Brendon, who played Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer!!

Regular readers know that I'm a big Buffy fan, and I always identified with Xander -- the smart aleck who never had any superpowers. [That, plus his character got to make out with Charisma Carpenter, Alyson Hannigan, and Emma Caulfield's characters on camera!--ed. Er, yeah, that too.]

I've been told repeatedly that the residents of LA never ask for authographs -- it's considered gauche. Well, I'm not from LA, baby!! So I asked Mr. Brendon, and he gladly obliged with an autograph on the only blank piece of paper I had -- the back cover to Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate. Not entirely coincidentally, star blogger Megan McArdle is reading the very same book.

So I now own the ultimate academic geek artifact -- a copy of The Blank Slate autographed by a Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast member.

Oh, and the talk went well, too.

[Why are you posting about all this?--ed. I'm trying to provide this guy some genuine blogosphere gossip.]

posted by Dan at 11:01 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

A foursquare problem

My latest New Republic Online column is up. It's on the hidden constraints that either Bush or Kerry will face in their foreign policies after the November election.

Political scientists in the crowd might notice a hidden 2X2 diagram that didn't make the final piece, but was implicit in how I set up the article. For those of you who aren't political scientists -- poli sci types love a good 2X2.

Go check it out!! [Where's the footnote link? Where's the damn footnote link?!!--ed. For this essay, there's not a lot to link to, except for Kerry's foreign policy page and the February 27th speech that was the source of the quotes in the essay. Oh, and a previous TNR online essay I wrote about Edmund Burke and democratic nation-bulding.]

UPDATE: My apologies to readers that the TNR Online essay is subscriber only. While a TNR subscription makes a charming gift, I was not aware this was going to happen with my essays.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Drezner gets results from TNR!! Non-subscribers can access the whole article by clicking here.

posted by Dan at 11:52 AM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (4)

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Outsourcing creates American jobs

Treasury Secretary John Snow apparently sparked some controversy in a Monday interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer. Why? Snow said what Greg Mankiw said last month -- that the outsourcing of U.S. jobs "is part of trade ... and there can't be any doubt about the fact that trade makes the economy stronger."

Hillary Clinton wasted no time in bashing Snow, saying: "I don't know what reality the Bush administration is living in, but it's certainly not the reality I represent, from one end of New York to the other."

Funny thing, though -- Snow appears to be right, according to this CNN report:

The outsourcing of prized information technology jobs overseas has created tens of thousands of new jobs in the United States, according to a recent study commissioned by the information technology industry....

According to this study, these benefits "ripple" through the economy, leading to about 90,000 net new jobs through the end of 2003. This effect, the study said, should produce a total of 317,000 net new jobs through 2008.

The study also said outsourcing added some $33.6 billion to U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in 2003 and could add a total of $124.2 billion through 2008.

And outsourcing lifts the wages of U.S. workers, according to the study, though minimally -- real wages were 0.13 percent higher in 2003 because of outsourcing and could be 0.44 percent higher by 2008.

[C'mon, this study was sponsored by the IT industry -- can it be credible?--ed. According to the relevant Global Insight web page, Novel Nobel Prize winning economist Lawrence Klein was a major contributor to the report. But go read the press release and the executive summary of the report -- you be the judge!]

UPDATE: To clear up one source of confusion from some of the comments -- the study is not claiming that an economy with outsourcing will create only 317,000 jobs by 2008. The study says that holding other factors constant (population growth, fluctuations in aggregate demand, etc.) an American economy creates an additional 317,000 jobs.

posted by Dan at 08:55 PM | Comments (75) | Trackbacks (4)

The VP and the NSC

One of my great white whales has been the Bush team's poor management of the foreign policy process. I had suggested two months ago that one cause of this was the fact that the Vice President had inserted himself into the National Security Council process in a way that deliberately or accidentally sabotaged the decision-making process:

[T]he difficulty is that even cabinet-level officials can be reluctant in disagreeing with him because he's the vice-president. This leads to a stunted policy debate, which ill-serves both the President and the country.

U.S. News and World Report has a story this week confirming this fear. The highlights:

[Richard] Clarke's insider account opened a new window on policymaking at the National Security Council and on [Condoleezza] Rice's role there--and the view isn't pretty. "This is the most dysfunctional NSC that ever existed," says a senior U.S. official. "But it's not Condi's fault. The person that's made it so dysfunctional is Cheney." For the first time, a vice president is sitting in on meetings with other NSC principals and is constantly involved in the policymaking. A copy of every NSC memo goes to the vice president's staff, so that Cheney can play an active role on issues that interest him.

posted by Dan at 12:38 AM | Comments (74) | Trackbacks (3)

Monday, March 29, 2004

Finishing Against All Enemies

Having finished Against All Enemies, I was searching for a way to describe my read of Richard Clarke. Christopher Hitchens points out in Slate that in Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon's The Age of Sacred Terror, Clarke is depicted "as an egotistical pain in the ass who had the merit of getting things right."

That's not bad. I'd make it simpler -- Richard Clarke is the perfect bureaucrat. I mean that in the best and worst senses of the word. In the best sense, it's clear that Clarke was adept at maximizing the available resources and authority required to do his job, given the organizational rivalries and cultures that made such a pursuit difficult. In the worst sense, Clarke was a monomaniacal martinet whose focus on his bailiwick to the exclusion of everything else is phenomenal.

Think I'm exaggerating? According to Against All Enemies, the reason Clinton decides to intervene in Bosnia in 1995 is because Al Qaeda was threatening to capture the Bosnian government. That's an interesting theory to be sure, but somewhat at odds with more authoritative accounts of the intervention (it doesn't help that Clarke misspells Richard Holbrooke's name).

The result is that what's in Against all Enemies is certainly the truth, but as I said before, I doubt it's the whole truth.

Clarke implies that the Bush administration should have made Al Qaeda the highest priority -- as it supposedly was during the second term of the Clinton administration. However, the Clinton sections have a familiar refrain -- Clarke's team tries to get the government to move, the White House is behind the push, and the effort dies somewhere in the bowels of the CIA, FBI, or the Pentagon. Now, the heads of the CIA and FBI were unchanged during the first eight months of the Bush administration, and Rumsfeld's difficulties with the uniformed brass at Defense during those months prompted rumors of resignation. So it's hard to see how anything would have changed unless the Bush team had focused on Al Qaeda to the exclusion of all other foreign policy priorities, which no one, not even Clarke, was suggesting at the time.

As the Washington Post pointed out on Saturday (link via David Adesnik):

For all the sniping over efforts by the Bush and Clinton administrations to thwart terrorism, information from this week's hearings into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks suggests that the two administrations pursued roughly the same policies before the terrorist strikes occurred.

Witness testimony and the findings of the commission investigating the attacks indicate that even the new policy to combat Osama bin Laden and his Taliban hosts, developed just before Sept. 11, was in most respects similar to the old strategy pursued first by Clinton and then by Bush.

The commission's determination that the two policies were roughly the same calls into question claims made by Bush officials that they were developing a superior terrorism policy. The findings also put into perspective the criticism of President Bush's approach to terrorism by Richard A. Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism chief: For all his harsh complaints about Bush administration's lack of urgency in regard to terrorism, he had no serious quarrel with the actual policy Bush was pursuing before the 2001 attacks.

posted by Dan at 05:51 PM | Comments (75) | Trackbacks (2)

Vive le Big Mac!! Vive la France!!

Todd Richissin writes in the Baltimore Sun that despite the frictions over the past year, France still loves MacDonald's. Why? It's their nourriture de confort -- comfort food:

Just a hop down the road, the Decler sisters could have been dining on a couple of tender frog legs or a mixed seafood grill with scallops, or an order of steak tartare so tender that the knife provided with it never comes into play.

But the Declers were having none of it.

They were dining on Les Big Macs and frites, Big Macs and fries -- french fries -- and loving every bite.

"I can love good food and I can also love McDonald's," says Vanesse Decler, 21, in a mini-review that the fast-food chain would have to accept as decidedly mixed. "I like the meat and the sauce and even the bun."

Call the French snooty, or just demanding, for their attention to good food, good wine, good atmosphere in their restaurants, for lingering over their meals. But the French have a dirty little secret: Of all the people in Europe, they like McDonald's more than anyone else does.

Pound for quarter-pound, they eat more of it, more often, than any other nationality on the continent, and the nay-sayers here who predicted the French would give up their beloved aged cheese before adopting the quick-fry meat patties so often seen as emblematic of America's bad taste, have been proven as wrong as red wine with white fish.

The French have taken McDonald's, a classic symbol of Americana, and made it very much their own, with menu variations that range from bite-size clumps of regional cheeses to fondue.

Despite the ability to order just about McAnything here, though, the old McDonald's classics are what keep people like the Declers filling the franchises, which can be found in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, among the street artists surrounding the Louvre and within a whiff of the restaurants at Les Halles, where the Declars were taking a shopping break.

"I love these," says the other half of the Decler sisters, 18-year-old Christelle, closing her eyes and placing a fry on her tongue. "Yes, there is other food around, but this is different, like food you want to eat as a break."

posted by Dan at 11:22 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (3)