Friday, October 15, 2004

About that p-value....

I've received a surprising number of inquiries about whether I've decided on Bush or Kerry for president. When we last left off, my probability of voting for Kerry was at 60%.

Slate is now surveying its contributors over the past year about their voting choices. The deadline is next week, which I'm using as my own deadline for making up my own mind.

After the debates, I'd say my p-value for Kerry is now at 0.8 (i.e., an 80% chance of voting for Kerry). I'm still uneasy about making this choice, because I remain unconvinced that Kerry understands the limits of multilateral diplomacy. Matt Bai's article from last Sunday's New York Times Magazine raises as many qualms as it settles in my mind. Take these paragraphs towards the end:

If forced democracy is ultimately Bush's panacea for the ills that haunt the world, as Kerry suggests it is, then Kerry's is diplomacy. Kerry mentions the importance of cooperating with the world community so often that some of his strongest supporters wish he would ease up a bit. (''When people hear multilateral, they think multi-mush,'' Biden despaired.) But multilateralism is not an abstraction to Kerry, whose father served as a career diplomat during the years after World War II. The only time I saw Kerry truly animated during two hours of conversation was when he talked about the ability of a president to build relationships with other leaders.

''We need to engage more directly and more respectfully with Islam, with the state of Islam, with religious leaders, mullahs, imams, clerics, in a way that proves this is not a clash with the British and the Americans and the old forces they remember from the colonial days,'' Kerry told me during a rare break from campaigning, in Seattle at the end of August. ''And that's all about your diplomacy.''

When I suggested that effecting such changes could take many years, Kerry shook his head vehemently and waved me off.

''Yeah, it is long-term, but it can be dramatically effective in the short term. It really can be. I promise you.'' He leaned his head back and slapped his thighs. ''A new presidency with the right moves, the right language, the right outreach, the right initiatives, can dramatically alter the world's perception of us very, very quickly....

He would begin, if sworn into office, by going immediately to the United Nations to deliver a speech recasting American foreign policy. Whereas Bush has branded North Korea ''evil'' and refuses to negotiate head on with its authoritarian regime, Kerry would open bilateral talks over its burgeoning nuclear program. Similarly, he has said he would rally other nations behind sanctions against Iran if that country refuses to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Kerry envisions appointing a top-level envoy to restart the Middle East peace process, and he's intent on getting India and Pakistan to adopt key provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. (One place where Kerry vows to take a harder line than Bush is Pakistan, where Bush has embraced the military ruler Pervez Musharraf, and where Kerry sees a haven for chaos in the vast and lawless region on the border with Afghanistan.) In all of this, Kerry intends to use as leverage America's considerable capacity for economic aid; a Kerry adviser told me, only slightly in jest, that Kerry's most tempting fantasy is to attend the G-8 summit.

Now, I'm very sympathetic to the argument that Kerry's diplomatic style would play much better on the global stage than Bush's (click here for some evidence of this) -- and that this improved style would go some way towards advancing America's national interest via greater multilateral cooperation.

But I'm not sure it will go nearly as far as Kerry thinks it will. If the Senator from Massachusetts thinks that improved style, greater diplomatic efforts, concerted multilateral coordination, and even copious amounts of American aid can get India and Pakistan to sign on to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or create a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace, then, well, he's drunk too much of the multilateral Kool-Aid. Bill Clinton -- who epitomizes the kind of diplomatic style Kerry could only hope to achieve -- invested a fair amount of diplomatic capital on both of these flash points, during a time when America's global prestige was greater than today -- and in the end achieved very little of consequence. There are international problems where the conflict of interests are so sharp and the stakes are so high for the affected parties that all the outside diplomacy in the world won't achieve anything. And I can't help but wonder if Kerry believes he can somehow talk radical Islamists into submission.

So I'm troubled by this -- but at this point I'm more troubled by the Bush administration. Robert A. George has a New Republic column that encapsulates a lot of my difficulties voting for the GOP ticket this year. Here's the part that hit home for me:

President Bush has failed to live up to the second key tenet of conservative government: accountability.

Take, for example, the Pentagon's disastrous planning for postwar Iraq. The lack of troops for the post-invasion period enabled the insurgency to bloom and put American soldiers at risk. Worse, while memos from Ashcroft's Justice Department seemingly provided legal cover for the abuse at Abu Ghraib, the material causes could be found, again, in the underdeployment of troops: "What went wrong at Abu Ghraib prison?" asked The New York Post's Ralph Peters, one of the more earnest supporters of invading Iraq. Pointing to the two independent reports examining the scandal, he concludes: "Woefully deficient planning for post-war Iraq, too few troops and inadequate leadership at the top." Peters is among the conservatives who believe the Abu Ghraib fiasco should have been the final straw for Rumsfeld.

But it didn't happen. And it won't happen, because accountability is a foreign word in this administration. To demonstrate how little he has learned, Rumsfeld observed, "Does [the abuse] rank up there with chopping off someone's head on television? It doesn't. It doesn't. Was it done as a matter of policy? No." Forget that the abuse was far more pervasive than just the handful of servicemen that first popped up in photographs; when the secretary of defense basically says, "Hey, what the terrorists do is much worse," the moral foundation upon which America stands begins to crumble. The president's stated goal was to try to bring democracy to the Middle East--not to allow us to become tainted by the barbarism so prevalent in the region we are attempting to liberate. So Rumsfeld stays on--even as the situation rapidly deteriorates.

Then again, this shouldn't come as a surprise: George Tenet remained in his position following the worst intelligence failure in U.S. history, enabling him to tell the president later that evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a "slam dunk." The first failure helped lead to the deaths of thousands of Americans; the second failure led us into a conflict from which there exists no clear exit strategy and that has rendered the word of the United States suspect. Yet Tenet stayed on, too.

And no wonder. As Bob Woodward writes in Plan of Attack, "[S]everal things were clear from the president's demeanor, his style and all that [Colin] Powell had learned about Bush. The president was not going to toss anyone over the side.... The president also made it clear that no one was to jump ship.... They were a team. The larger message was clear: Circle the wagons." The larger message is that loyalty is prized above all, regardless of the results and regardless of the effect on U.S. standing in the world....

No, a Kerry administration would not be any conservative's ideal. But, on limited government, a Democratic president would, arguably, force a Republican Congress to act like a Republican Congress. The last such combination produced some form of fiscal sanity. And, when it comes to accountability, one could hardly do worse. Of course, a conservative can still cast a libertarian vote on principle.

At crucial points before and after the Iraq war, Bush's middle managers have failed him, and the "brand" called America has suffered in the world market. In any other corporate structure plagued by this level of incompetence, the CEO would have a choice: Fire his middle managers or be held personally accountable by his shareholders. Because of his own misguided sense of "loyalty," Bush won't dismiss anyone. That leaves the country's shareholders little choice.

Given the foreign policy stakes in this election, I prefer a leader who has a good decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I don't like, over a leader who has a bad decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I do like.

If Bush gets re-elected, he and his team will view it as a vindication for all of their policy decisions to date. Whatever groupthink occurred in the first term would pale besides the groupthink that would dominate the second term. Given the tactical and strategic errors in judgment that this administration has made, I have to lean towards Kerry.

My readers have the weekend to try to influence my p-value. As I said, the odds are good at this point that I'll tell Slate I'm voting for Kerry. But I strongly encourage Bush supporters to try and persuade me otherwise in the comments section.

UPDATE: The best effort to persuade me so far comes from an e-mail sent by a former US diplomat who served in both the Clinton and Bush administrations:

I don't dispute some of Kerry's criticisms of the current Administration's conduct of foreign policy. But KE04 presents no actual solutions on foreign policy from which we can derive a reasonable belief that his performance would be better than the current White House. In fact, it just might be worse.

Many of Kerry's policy proposals on foreign affairs strike me as nastily disingenuous. His "fair trade" mantra raises the specter of protectionism at a time when America's continued global economic engagement remains a lynchpin of the "soft power" Kerry so ardently wishes to use as leverage in the war on terror. His fulminations on a lack of allies in Iraq don't pass the red face test -- French, German and Russian interests are now clearly arrayed in a classic balance of power position against the U.S. This will not change with Kerry in the White House. As for other allies (minus the UK and Australia), we're the victims of our Cold War success - most participants in Iraq are already projecting about as much power as they possibly can, having comfortably atrophied under our security umbrella for the past 60 years. This is the burden of hegemony, and I'm not quite sure Senator Kerry, whose mind still fully inhabits the Vietnam paradigm, is up to the task of bearing it forthrightly.

Kerry's respect for multilateralism should not be praised, but questioned, given the changing nature of international politics today. The days of America being able to win a kitchen pass from UN members on any number of issues have come to pass. The Cold War is over, and as your U of C colleague Mr. Mearshemier warned back in 1990, multipolarity will make us outright miss the Cold War. But Kerry hasn't grasped this fundamental change. He hasn't comprehended that the UN, as well as other multilateral institutions, has stopped being a preserve of internationally agreed rules and collective action backed by broad consensus. These institutions have become, instead, vehicles for the pursuit of narrow self-interests by any number of major regional powers which aspire to great power status. (France, Russia, Germany, India, Brazil, China). This is a drastically different international order from the one Kerry presumes to know.

You also have to ask yourself, who is going to carry out Kerry's multilateral approach? And on that score, things simply get worse. A Kerry White House would mean the Madeleine Albright B Team moving into senior foreign policy positions. And, with the notable exception of Richard Holbrooke (his hair may be on fire, but he gets things done), this would be disastrous. These are the same folks who fiddled for 8 years on counter terror, negotiated a terrifyingly naive nuke deal with North Korea, and generally treat foreign policy as a rhetorical exercise. This is a team who has demonstrated, in past position of influence, an alarming propensity to get rolled by their foreign counterparts. Let's pick just two: Susan Rice? Jamie Rubin?! Are you serious?? During her sojourn as assistant secretary for Africa in Albright's State Department, Rice had to be consistently bailed out of trouble by career diplomats. As for Rubin, he is anti-gravitas. He's Edwards-lite.

Think about Kerry's foreign policy track record and his much ballyhooed commitment to "multilateralism". Think if that reflects accurately the state of world politics today. Think about the people who would occupy senior Cabinet, NSC, State and DoD positions under Kerry. Then think about your vote again, please.

Here's another reason specific to Red Sox fans (link via Shannen Coffin at NRO).

ANOTHER UPDATE: One of the sharpest students I've ever taught e-mails a sharp rebuttal:

I’ve got to say I wasn’t too impressed with the former diplomat who wrote in to try to persuade you to change your mind. He attacks Kerry for not recognizing a changed world. Yet it’s not clear that your correspondent has a clear vision of the world either – he alternates between talking about the the US carrying the “burden of hegemony” and then referring to a “multipolar world” in reference to Mearsheimer’s (whose name he misspells) arguments. Is the world unipolar or multipolar? Seems like he doesn’t really know; or more likely is using a pair of contradictory arguments to go after Kerry (“We’re in unipolarity and Kerry doesn’t understand unipolarity! We’re in multipolarity and Kerry doesn’t understand multipolarity!”).

He also refers to French, Russian, and German “balancing,” which doesn’t look much like any kind of balancing we’ve ever seen before, given the lack of military build-ups or alliances between this supposed balancing coalition (indeed, he refers to “atrophied” allied capabilities). Not to mention that Germany and France have troops helping out the US in places like Afghanistan and the Balkans - helping secure the peace in the wake of the Taliban’s removal is an awfully strange kind of anti-American balancing. So the French, Germans, and Russians are balancing by helping out the US in Afghanistan/Balkans, trying to manage Iran, neglecting their militaries, letting tens of thousands of US soldiers and hundreds of million of dollars of US military capabilities sit on German soil, and not allying against the US? Doesn’t look much like the Triple Entente or sixth anti-Napoleonic coalition to me.

I’m not exactly comforted by the thought of Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Bolton et al running the show for four more years. Other than some successes regarding Libya, keeping the WTO together, and the Taliban’s removal I have a suspicion this is not a foreign policy team that will go down in history as even minimally competent.

*YET ANOTHER UPDATE: I'd like to thank the 95% of the commenters who have posted respectful arguments pro and con. I haven't enjoyed a comment thread like this in quite some time.

I'll try to address the more trenchant criticisms sometime this weekend.

MONDAY UPDATE, 11:50 CENTRAL TIME: This is taking longer than I thought, but I'll be posting something in the next few hours.

posted by Dan at 11:37 AM | Comments (402) | Trackbacks (19)

Thursday, October 14, 2004

The Volkswagen Passat versus rational choice theory

A political science colleague who shall remain nameless e-mailed me the following amusing rant:

Why VW Debunks everything I ever learned in Political Science

I've been thinking a lot about my VW Passat today. Actually, I've been fantasizing about life without it. To call the car a lemon does not begin to convey the vitriol I feel toward this souped-up-galopy and the devil company that spawned it.

Three years old with just 24,000 miles on it, the car has suffered from a major and chronic oil leak (at one point, an indicator light went on that read -- and I'm not kidding -- "stop immediately!"), a dead battery, faulty wiring to all of the front lights (a $900 problem that went undiagnosed despite 3, count them, 3 trips to the dealer to replace burned out running lights and pleas to check the wiring), a broken cigarette lighter/cell phone charger, a broken rear washer sprayer, and my favorite: trim around the doors that magically came unglued on both sides of the car, so that you had to navigate an upholstered noose hanging down from the top of the door to climb inside.

As I sat in my dead car today, waiting for a replacement battery to be installed, I got to thinking about what my experience with VW says about political science.

Here's what I learned:

1. People are not rational actors. Today, I spent an extra hour getting my corner gas station to send a guy to VW, pick up a battery, bring it back, and then install it just so I wouldn't give VW any more "labor" fees for a car that shouldn't be broken in the first place. Yeah, yeah you could say my behavior was rational given my utility function (hatred toward VW runs deep), but the point is I was willing to tolerate incredible inefficiency for a wildly ridiculous and fleeting feeling of petty satisfaction.

2. Statistics don't mean s*** if you're the outlier. I did my research. Consumer Reports rated the 2001 Passat high in reliability. In fact, reliability was one of the big factors that pushed me to buy it over a Volvo. What I didn't know was that someone was smoking something they shouldn't have been when my particular Passat came down the assembly line.

3. Conspiracy theories are true. Incompetence alone cannot explain the knuckle-headed service I have gotten from this company. Once, a "service advisor" lost -- LOST -- my car for 3 days. The corporate 1-800 VW "consumer advocate" I called yesterday was able only to advocate that I try a different dealer. When I asked him which one, the reply came with a straight face: "M'am, we cannot recommend one dealer over another. I guess you'll have to do trial and error."

My VW service manager, a very nice man named Willie, admitted that my car has had a major oil leak for three years, but still said he couldn't actually diagnose the problem --let alone fix it -- until I brought the car back after driving exactly 1,000 miles once VW had changed my oil. Apparently, my own tracking of the vanishing oil, and the one emergency visit I made, when the car needed 3 quarts of oil and the VW service guy told me," Man, your car was so dry you could have fried the whole engine, Lady!" weren't enough.

Yesterday, I even emailed the head of corporate communications for VW of America in a desperate last plea for help. (Most other VW executives don't even list their contact information on the internet). His name is Steve Keyes. I didn't hear back. Then I realized why:

Somewhere in Germany, in an underground bunker with escape pods, laser-beam defensive systems, and one of those retractable ceilings, a secret group of men and women is meeting. Stroking their furry, one-eyed albino cats, these Titans of Automotive Misery are busy devising evil new paperwork requirements and fake toll free consumer advocate lines to keep VW employees everywhere from fixing station wagons in the United States.

My rational, detached conclusion is that Lesson #2 is the causal factor behind Lessons #1 and #3. Furthermore, in this case, I doubt Consumer Reports developed their rating using statistical analysis, and I'd speculate that they may have screwed up their ranking of the Passat -- this is not the first rant I've heard against that car.

Of course, ask me about my experiences with Continental Airlines and all my rationality will just fade away....

I highly recommend reading this in tandem with Maria Farrell's jeremiad against statistics requirements over at Crooked Timber. However, be sure to then check out Kieran Healy's witty addendum.

UPDATE: A note of clarification after reading some of the comments -- I'm not the one who owns a Passat. The Drezner family modes of transportation were made by Toyota and Saturn.

posted by Dan at 12:41 PM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (1)

So how are those radical Islamists doing?

Three news/analysis items suggest that radical Islamic groups are facing greater hardships on multiple fronts.

Karl Vick reports in the Washington Post that even the Iraqi resistance fighters in Fallujah have had enough of their Arab brethren coming in and acting all fundamentalist:

Local insurgents in the city of Fallujah are turning against the foreign fighters who have been their allies in the rebellion that has held the U.S. military at bay in parts of Iraq's Sunni Muslim heartland, according to Fallujah residents, insurgent leaders and Iraqi and U.S. officials.

Relations are deteriorating as local fighters negotiate to avoid a U.S.-led military offensive against Fallujah, while foreign fighters press to attack Americans and their Iraqi supporters. The disputes have spilled over into harsh words and sporadic violence, with Fallujans killing at least five foreign Arabs in recent weeks, according to witnesses....

U.S. and Iraqi authorities together have insisted that if Fallujah is to avoid an all-out assault aimed at regaining control of the city, foreign fighters must be ejected. Several local leaders of the insurgency say they, too, want to expel the foreigners, whom they scorn as terrorists. They heap particular contempt on Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian whose Monotheism and Jihad group has asserted responsibility for many of the deadliest attacks across Iraq, including videotaped beheadings.

"He is mentally deranged, has distorted the image of the resistance and defamed it. I believe his end is near," Abu Abdalla Dulaimy, military commander of the First Army of Mohammad, said.

One of the foreign guerrillas killed by local fighters was Abu Abdallah Suri, a Syrian and a prominent member of Zarqawi's group. Suri's body was discovered Sunday. He was shot in the head and chest while being chased by a carload of tribesmen, according to a security guard who said he witnessed the killing....

Among the tensions dividing the locals and the foreigners is religion. People in Fallujah, known as the city of mosques, have chafed at the stern brand of Islam that the newcomers brought with them. The non-Iraqi Arabs berated women who did not cover themselves head-to-toe in black -- very rare in Iraq -- and violently opposed local customs rooted in the town's more mystical religious tradition. One Fallujah man killed a Kuwaiti who said he could not pray at the grave of an ancestor.

Residents said the overwhelming majority of Fallujah's people also have been repulsed by the atrocities that Zarqawi and other extremists have made commonplace in Iraq. The foreign militants are thought to produce the car bombs that now explode around Iraq several times a day, and Zarqawi's organization has asserted responsibility for the slayings of several Westerners, some of which were shown in videos posted on the Internet.

There was another digital display of a beheading on Tuesday. The victim apparently was a Shiite Muslim Arab, and the group that said it posted the video identified itself as the Ansar al-Sunna Army.

Abu Barra, commander of a group of native insurgents called the Allahu Akbar Battalions, said: "Please do not mix the cards. There is an Iraqi resistance, a genuine resistance, and there are other groups trying to settle accounts. There is also terror targeting Iraqis.

President Bush, he said, "knows that and so does the government, but they purposely group all three under the tag of 'terrorism.' "

Barra and other insurgent leaders said the "genuine resistance" is a disciplined force that restricts its attacks to military targets, chiefly U.S. forces. It is motivated, they say, by Iraqi nationalism and humiliation over what it regards as a foreign occupation.

"The others," Barra said, "are Arab Salafis who claim that any Iraqi or Muslim not willing to carry arms is an infidel. They are the crux of our ailment. Most of them are Saudis, Syrians" and North Africans. Salafism is a strain of Islam that seeks to restore the faith to the way it was in the days of the prophet Muhammad, 14 centuries ago.

"It is the Zarqawis and his Salafi group who are going to lead Fallujah, Samarra, Baqubah, Mosul and even some parts of Baghdad to disaster and death," Barra said.

In Slate, Lee Smith has a long essay on the motivations behind the Taba bombings, arguing that Al Qaeda's decision to strike there reflects a less appetizing menu of targets:

The question now is why, after seven years, did the jihadist movement renew its war against Egypt with a strategy that they have already seen is a dead end?

It is hard to know whether the groups think Egypt is now a softer target. Certainly, the Sinai, which has attracted many Israeli tourists since it was handed back to Egypt in 1988 under the terms of the two countries' 1979 peace treaty, has always been lightly policed in comparison with the rest of Egypt's tourist attractions. Maybe the jihadists have entered a particularly nihilistic phase in their history, pursuing violence for no other purpose than bloodshed and vengeance. Perhaps they are madder than before. But we can imagine what the world looks like to a jihadist today: The United States has invaded and occupied two Muslim countries, and it has dispatched special forces and drone airplanes throughout the Middle East and North Africa to kill jihadists. The Bush administration has asked Muslim states like Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia to arrest and detain suspects and has demanded that many of those same regimes revise their entire educational systems and tone down the anti-American rhetoric that appears in schools, mosques, and the media. More generally, we have demanded that Islam itself change and modernize. Last, but hardly least, we have continued to support Israel.

Even if we were to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq tomorrow, all of the other initiatives listed above that we've pursued since Sept. 11—which the majority of Americans and even a few Europeans support—would lead some Muslims to think we are waging a very high-intensity military and propaganda campaign against Islam. It was bad enough in the past that the United States protected "apostate regimes," but now, in the midst of open war, Egypt is allied with Islam's No. 1 enemy....

While Bush and Kerry argue over which of them would make America safe, the jihadists themselves may have given us some valuable information. If—as Zawahiri's concept of the nearby and faraway enemy holds—al-Qaida decided to target the United States because the Islamist movement had little success striking at Egypt, then it is important to consider why they have returned to a battleground where they were systematically decimated. If they have found that it was easier to attack fortress Egypt than the United States, this is a significant turnaround.

Finally, Jackson Diehl argues that the Bush administration's G-8 initiative to encourage greater democratic representation:

Drowned out by the bombings in Iraq, and the debate over whether the staging of elections there is an achievable goal or a mirage, the Bush administration's democracy initiative for the rest of the Middle East creeps quietly forward. In neo-realist Washington, it is usually dismissed -- when it is remembered at all -- in much the same way that, say, national elections in Afghanistan were once laughed off. The unpopularity of the Bush administration and the predictable resistance from the dictatorships of Egypt and Saudi Arabia are cited as proof that the region's hoped-for "transformation" is going nowhere.

And yet, the process started at the Sea Island summit of Group of Eight countries in June is gaining some traction -- sometimes to the surprise of the administration's own skeptics. A foreign ministers' meeting in New York two weeks ago produced agreement that the first "Forum for the Future" among Middle Eastern and G-8 governments to discuss political and economic liberalization will take place in December. Morocco volunteered to host it, and a handful of other Arab governments, including Jordan, Bahrain and Yemen, have embraced pieces of the process.

More intriguingly, independent human rights groups and pro-democracy movements around the region are continuing to sprout, gather and issue manifestos -- all in the name of supporting the intergovernmental discussions. An independent human rights group appeared in Syria this month; Saudi women organized a movement to demand the right to vote in upcoming municipal elections. On the same day that the Egyptian foreign minister belittled what is now called the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative (BMENA) in an interview with The Post, an unprecedented alliance of opposition parties and citizens' groups issued a platform in Cairo calling for the lifting of emergency laws, freedom of the press and direct, multi-candidate elections for president.

posted by Dan at 10:19 AM | Comments (35) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Open third debate thread

Feel free to post your thoughts about the third presidential debate here. I might be liveblogging it (and if so, will be updating this post), but my limited attention resources will be split between this debate, the second game of the ALCS, and petty things like taking care of the children.

Comment away!!

8:00 PM: I've got the clicker at my side, a baby in my arms, a nervous stomach with Pedro having control problems, and the debate is on.

8:02 PM: God, I’m bored already – both of them are repeating themselves—oh, wait, Bush had some new stuff on Afghanistan and echoed Eugene Volokh. Kerry responds with the "outsourcing to Afghan warlords" line again. UPDATE: Josh Chafetz makes a great point here -- what the hell is Schieffer thinking asking "will our children and grandchildren ever live in a world as safe and secure as the world in which we grew up?" For Americans of my generation, this is a much safer world than when I was growing up. I remember going to sleep worried about the likelihood of all out thermonuclear war breaking out.

8:18 PM: Oh, goody -- Bob Schieffer asks an outsourcing question saying, "forget the statistics, let's consider just one person." THAT'LL generate some useful policy.

Bush gives a decent response on TAA and education.

8:19 PM: Kerry ducks the outsourcing question, but gets off a good line off on the Sopranos.

8:23 PM: Baby sleeping. One stylistic comment -- Bush tonight is using the same mocking tone he adopted at critical moments against Gore in 2000. I don't think he's used this tone in the previous two debates. It was effective then -- I wonder if it will work this time.

8:26 PM: Bush says "I don't know" on whether homosexuality is a choice or not. I think that's the first time either of them has said that in the past year.

8:32 PM: Schieffer says, "Let's get back to economic issues." Good God, yes. So far I agree with Glenn -- "So far this is the weakest debate of the three."

8:35 PM: I wonder if it's possible to give a coherent two-minute answer on health care.

8:36 PM: "The President blocked Americans from getting cheaper drugs from Canada." Apparently, that's the one import Kerry supports. [You're being unfair--ed. I'll give Kerry one-and-a-half cheers for saying that he couldn't stop outsourcing.]

I'm surprised that Kerry hasn't hit Bush on disguising the costs of the Medicare bill. Most people across the board abhor that one -- that seems an obvious opening.

8:39 PM: Have the Red Sox drafted an internal memo saying that they'll give the first six innings to the Yankee offense and then they'll crank up in the seventh?

8:41 PM: How much do you think Bush relished the dig about news networks? I'd have loved to have seen Bob Schieffer's face on that one. Bush seems more relaxed this time around.

8:48 PM: I'm switching between the game and this -- Did Kerry just allow that Alan Greenspan supported George W. Bush's tax cuts? This had to have been a response to Bush's answer (which I didn't hear). UPDATE: No, this was a gift from Kerry to Bush -- Schieffer mentioned Greenspan in the question, but it had nothing to do with the tax cuts.

8:49 PM: Kerry keeps harping on declining wages and blaming Bush -- but click here for why I think he's off base here.

8:51 PM: Immigration generate the largest amount of e-mail traffic for Schieffer. But I liked Bush's immediate response to this issue -- he was actually pointing out immigration is a complex issue. He seems relaxed and confident in his response on this one. UPDATE: The guest card idea sucks though -- not shocking that they therefore both support it.

8:58 PM: I like how Schieffer follows up the immigration question with the inequality question -- one wishes he'd read Robert Samuelson's Newsweek column linking the two (link via Mickey Kaus).

9:00 PM: Stylistically and substantively, I really like Bush's answer connecting education to jobs. Kerry hits back on funding, which is appropriate -- but he doesn't echo Bush's vision on this one.

9:04 PM: Schieffer serve up the "backdoor draft" line -- which Kerry used in both of the previous debates -- in a question to Kerry. Jeez, Tanyon Sturtze has sharper stuff. [But what if it's true?--ed. I think it is, but I having the moderator serve up a campaign line like that in a softball question is stacking the deck -- at least Schieffer could have used a different phrasing.]

9:09 PM: On the last foreign policy question, two things struck me -- first, Bush was smart enough to bring up Kerry's first Gulf War vote to respond to Kerry's response. While both of them are recycling answers from the first debate, Bush seems to have added some new stuff.

Second, Kerry should be angrier in his response to Bush's "global test" crack. I tend to agree that Kerry's initial response was take out of context, and he should be really angrry about this. Instead he rephrases it without emotion as a "truth test." I never thought I would say this, but this is one of those times when Kerry needs to act a little more like Howard Dean.

9:23 PM: Bush's response to Schieffer's question about what they've learned from the women in their lives was very funny: "Listen to them: stand up and don't scowl." UPDATE: Kerry is equally self-effacing -- pretty bold to implicitly talk about marrying money.

9:25 PM: The Yankees weren't supposed to have any starting pitching!!

9:30 PM: Thank God it's over -- dear Lord that was lackluster. I should have copied Stephen Green and combined blogging and drinking. Here's the transcript.

My quick take -- and bear in mind that I'm not nearly as drenched in health care minutae as I am on foreign policy, so I can't comment on the factual errors committed by both of them -- is that Bush won a debate where both of them missed a lot of opportunities. The key difference between this debate and the last two was that Bush physically seemed more comfortable this time around, seemed to remember his talking points on the questions that had appeared in previous debates, and was better able to project passion on the answers he really cared about (education, immigration, faith). Kerry didn't quite marry style to substance in the same way. However, I certainly don't think Bush won it going away -- and if I were the Kerry team, I'd play Bush's bad memory about what he said about bin Laden for all it's worth. UPDATE: Patrick Belton gives it to Kerry; Jeff Jarvis: "[T]he bottom line of this debate so far: Damn, it's a bad choice."; Virginia Postrel just makes trenchant observations.

I also agree with Kevin Drum:

I think domestic policy is a pretty tough subject for both of them. Both guys were so consumed with laundry lists and buzzwords and facts and figures that I doubt very much that most people really followed a lot of what they were saying.

FINAL UPDATE: I have only three words: Mariano Bleeping Rivera.

FINAL SERIOUS UPDATE: Joe Gandelman reports all of the flash polls give the debate to Kerry. Alas, I fear Matthew Yglesias is correct: the answer I liked best from Bush -- the idea of education as being intimately related to jobs -- probably didn't score well.

posted by Dan at 06:38 PM | Comments (91) | Trackbacks (4)

Using foreign policy to influence elections

I see the Germans have expressed their ballot preferences for the American ticket in the Financial Times:

Germany might deploy troops in Iraq if conditions there change, Peter Struck, the German defence minister, indicated on Tuesday in a gesture that appears to provide backing for John Kerry, the US Democratic presidential challenger.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Struck departed from his government’s resolve not to send troops to Iraq under any circumstances, saying: “At present I rule out the deployment of German troops in Iraq. In general, however, there is no one who can predict developments in Iraq in such a way that he could make a such a binding statement [about the future].”

Mr Struck also welcomed Mr Kerry’s proposal that he would convene an international conference on Iraq including countries that opposed the war if he were to win next month's election.

Germany would certainly attend, Mr Struck said. “This is a very sensible proposal. The situation in Iraq can only be cleared up when all those involved sit together at one table. Germany has taken on responsibilities in Iraq, including financial ones; this would naturally justify our involvement in such a conference.”

This manipulation of foreign policy against a formal ally to provoke a change in government is somewhat distasteful. However, it's not nearly as distasteful as a government's manipulation of its own foreign policy such that it temporarily acts against the national interest in order to get re-elected. According to Mark Mazzetti of the Los Angeles Times:

The Bush administration plans to delay major assaults on rebel-held cities in Iraq until after U.S. elections in November, say administration officials, mindful that large-scale military offensives could affect the U.S. presidential race.

Although American commanders in Iraq have been buoyed by recent successes in insurgent-held towns such as Samarra and Tall Afar, administration and Pentagon officials say they will not try to retake cities such as Fallouja and Ramadi — where the insurgents' grip is strongest and U.S. military casualties could be the highest — until after Americans vote in what is likely to be an extremely close election.

"When this election's over, you'll see us move very vigorously," said one senior administration official involved in strategic planning, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Once you're past the election, it changes the political ramifications" of a large-scale offensive, the official said. "We're not on hold right now. We're just not as aggressive."

Any delay in pacifying Iraq's most troublesome cities, however, could alter the dynamics of a different election — the one in January, when Iraqis are to elect members of a national assembly. (emphases added)

These two trends converge allied diplomacy over Iran, as Steven Weisman's New York Times story reveals (link via Andrew Sullivan):

The Bush administration is holding talks with its European allies on a possible package of economic incentives for Iran, including access to imported nuclear fuel, in return for suspension of uranium enrichment activities that are suspected to be part of a nuclear arms program, European and American diplomats said Monday....

European diplomats said that the administration was very squeamish about even discussing incentives, in part because it would represent a policy reversal that would provoke a vigorous internal debate, and in part because of the presidential campaign. Senator John Kerry, the Democratic candidate, has made Iran an issue, criticizing the administration for not working more closely with European nations. Mr. Kerry has said that if elected he would endorse a deal supplying Iran with civilian nuclear fuel under tight restrictions and would press for sanctions if Iran refused....

Details of the highly sensitive talks on Iran between Europe and the United States have begun to leak out in Europe and were disclosed by European officials who advocate an approach of some conciliation toward Iran as the only way to change its behavior....

The delicacy of [the U.S.] confronting Iran has been underscored by its injection in the last two presidential debates.

Administration officials say that their preferred approach so far has been to let the three European Union nations take the lead with Iran and report back to Washington, rather than have the United States get involved in dealing directly with Iran.

So, basically, both the U.S. and key European states are fiddling around with foreign policy towards Iraq and Iran in order to manipulate the U.S. election.

The European actions are a venal sin, in that they contradict long-standing norms about overtly attempting to influence an ally's election. However, if the LAT is correct, the Bush administration's actions are more like a mortal sin.

UPDATE: Several commenters have pointed out that nation-states try to influence elections in other countries all the time. My point here is that while this is true, there is a pretty strong norm against this sort of thing taking place among the G-7.

Brad DeLong suggests that the Germans are plainly stating their foreign policy preferences. Except that a few weeks ago they also stated their foreign policy preferences to the Financial Times, and those preferences look pretty different from what Struck told the FT yesterday. See also this Greg Djerejian post from September 30th.

CNN's Chris Burns has more on the aftermath of Struck's interview.

posted by Dan at 12:47 AM | Comments (82) | Trackbacks (6)

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

IR scholars weigh in against Iraq

A small group of IR scholars called the Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy have amassed 650 signatures from international relations scholars in the United States and allied countries to sign an open letter blasting the Bush administration's foreign policy. This is from the text of the letter:

We, a nonpartisan group of foreign affairs specialists, have joined together to call urgently for a change of course in American foreign and national security policy. We judge that the current American policy centered around the war in Iraq is the most misguided one since the Vietnam period, one which harms the cause of the struggle against extreme Islamist terrorists.

Although we applaud the Bush Administration for its initial focus on destroying al-Qaida bases in Afghanistan, its failure to engage sufficient U.S. troops to capture or kill the mass of al-Qaida fighters in the later stages of that war was a great blunder. It is a fact that the early shift of U.S. focus to Iraq diverted U.S. resources, including special operations forces and intelligence capabilities, away from direct pursuit of the fight against the terrorists....

The results of this policy have been overwhelmingly negative for U.S. interests. While the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime was desirable, the benefit to the U.S. was small as prewar inspections had already proven the extreme weakness of his WMD programs, and therefore the small size of the threat he posed. On the negative side, the excessive U.S. focus on Iraq led to weak and inadequate responses to the greater challenges posed by North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear programs, and diverted resources from the economic and diplomatic efforts needed to fight terrorism in its breeding grounds in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the Middle East. Worse, American actions in Iraq, including but not limited to the scandal of Abu Ghraib, have harmed the reputation of the U.S. in most parts of the Middle East and, according to polls, made Osama Bin Laden more popular in some countries than is President Bush. This increased popularity makes it easier for al-Qaida to raise money, attract recruits, and carry out its terrorist operations than would otherwise be the case.

Recognizing these negative consequences of the Iraq war, in addition to the cost in lives and money, we believe that a fundamental reassessment is in order. Significant improvements are needed in our strategy in Iraq and the implementation of that strategy. We call urgently for an open debate on how to achieve these ends, one informed by attention to the facts on the ground in Iraq, the facts of al-Qaida’s methods and strategies, and sober attention to American interests and values.

Before anyone starts claiming that this is just an example of radical academics engaging in Bush-bashing, they should check out the list of signatories. There are some scholars on the list who would be considered by mainstream Americans to be "out there" in their beliefs, but there are also a wide array of realists, rational choice theorists, democratization activists, area experts, and liberal institutionalists. I concur with Henry Farrell -- this is a group that cannot be lightly dismissed.

To answer the obvious question: I did not sign it. In part my reticence to sign comes from a misplaced comparison made in the letter between Iraq and Vietnam; another part of it comes from the failure to articulate an alternative strategy (which, to be fair, was probably impossible with such a diverse group of signatories). The second graf of the letter hints that U.S. force should have been deployed against Pakistan, and I'm not sure that would have turned out any better than what's happened in Iraq. And as my last post suggested, it's just possible that Afghanistan has not suffered too badly from the attention on Iraq. And I seriously doubt that any of the signatories believe that the military resources deployed in Iraq should have been deployed in North Korea.

Another big part is that the letter conflates two different objections to the administration's foreign policy; the initial decision to invade Iraq, and the poor execution of the post-war occupation. I concur with the second assessment, but I still think that had the pre-war planning been a little better, the post-war effects in the region would have been much more positive than negative.

However, in all honesty part of the reason I didn't sign it is that I've been wrong enough about Iraq to be gun-shy in making any declarative statement about the future of U.S. policy in that country, good or ill. I made a fair number of arguments in support of invading Iraq in the run-up to the war, and at least some of them have been proven wrong. I'm used to being wrong, but being wrong on this scale is discomfiting to say the least.

Even if I didn't sign it, however, I've come to reluctantly agree with a fair amount of the letter. So go read the whole thing (there are footnotes and everything!) and tell me what you think.

UPDATE: Many of the comments refer to this as "Monday-morning quarterbacking." However, many of the security scholars who originated this letter also participated in a Fall 2002 paid advertisement in the New York Times op-ed page urging the Bush administration not to invade Iraq -- click here for more.

posted by Dan at 04:35 PM | Comments (97) | Trackbacks (4)

Comparing Afghanistan and Iraq

Matthew Yglesias has a list of possible explanations for why, in the wake of Afghanistan's presidential election, "fewer resources have brought better results in Afghanistan than have a much larger quantity of troops and cash in Iraq." He's got a pretty decent list of hypotheses -- greater multilateral involvement, better indigineous political leadership, etc. I'd add two big ones, however:

1) Afghanistan doesn't have any oil. Economies based on extractive resources generate massive opportunities for graft and corruption. They also encourage domestic actors to battle over the distribution of existing resources, rather than focusing on growing the pie for everyone.

A related point: because of that oil wealth, many Iraqis could claim to some middle-class aspirations even during the sanctions era. the threat to those aspirations posed by continuing instability badly undercuts support for the U.S. invasion.

2) Afghanistan was invaded eighteen months before Iraq. There simply hasn't been the same rush to elections in Afghanistan that there has been in Iraq. Even though both countries are dealing with insurgencies, the Taliban's failure to dusrupt the presidential elections suggests that they cannot muster coordinated attacks. This may be due to 18 more months of counterinsurgency operations.

Post your own explanations below.

posted by Dan at 02:30 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (1)

Why my productivity will be down this month


This month I have to complete one book manuscript and fully outline the next one -- but now I'm going to lose at least four, but probably seven evenings to the American League Championship Series between the Red Sox and the Yankees. David Pinto has a very amusing post outlining the recent narrative arc of the rivalry.

Over at, Sean McAdam lays out why, compared to last year's ALCS, the Red Sox are better and the Yankees are worse. I agree with everything he's written (though I think McAdam ignores the improvement in the Yankee offense with Sheffield and A-Rod representing a major upgrade over Giambi and Soriano in their lineup) -- if the better team wins, then the Red Sox should cruise into the World Series in five games.

Of course, being a Red Sox fan, I can easily find the vulnerabilities in the Red Sox -- Schilling's ankle, Pedro's psyche, Manny's goofiness, and of course the SI jinx. Besides, as Mike Bauman observes, since the start of divisional play in 1969, the same teams have played each other in the ALCS in consecutive years seven times -- with the same team winning in both years of consecutive appearances every time.

So, as I prepare for the stomach-churning, three final thoughts:

1) This may sound like the head of the U.S. Patent Office back in the 1890's who allegedly said that there was nothing left to be invented, but I find it hard to conceive of how this series can top what's happened in the past two years. Readers are invited to suggest the dramatic possibilities.

2) Is it possible that the Sox-Yankees rivalry has become so intense that neither of them will be winning a World Series anytime soon? The problem is that their playoff series are so physically and emotionally draining that they have nothing left for the World Series. The Yankees may have won last year's ALCS, but Yankee manager Joe Torre burned through his entire pitching staff to win Game Seven, and they lost in six to the Marlins. If this series goes to seven games, it's tough for me to picture either of them knocking off the Cardinals in the World Series [What about the Astros?--ed. With apologies to Josh Chafetz, I don't see that happening).

3) One final semi-serious thought -- the League Championship Series could reduce the political implications of tomorrow night's debate. The Sox-Yankees will attract a national audience, and the Cardinals will grab the attention of one semi-swing state. It will be interesting to see the ratings numbers for tomorrow evening.

posted by Dan at 01:28 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (3)

Monday, October 11, 2004

Random thoughts on the housing market

The Chicago Tribune's Mary Umberger reports on the emergence of a new kind of mortgage:

When Jim Erbach set out earlier this year to refinance his mortgage, his credit union told him about a new loan that would cut his monthly payments by nearly $200.

"I'm cheap," said Erbach, who signed on for a 40-year mortgage.

He is also 73 years old.

"I have one objective in mind, to reduce the current costs of my expenses," explains the retired fleet manager who lives on a fixed income.

The Northwest Side man is in a pilot program to test consumer reaction to a relatively rare mortgage animal: the 40-year, fixed-rate loan. It's an experiment of 16 credit unions nationwide in partnership with Fannie Mae, which next year will decide whether to roll out the loans on a broad scale.

While a few banks offer the occasional 40-year fixed-rate mortgage, a stamp of approval from Fannie Mae could standardize such loans.

Officials at Fannie Mae and at Baxter Credit Union in Vernon Hills, which is participating in the test program, see the 40-year loans as a way to turn more Americans into homeowners.

Critics view the loans as creating more nightmares in a society saddled with debt.

"I thought the point of buying a home was to own it," said Amelia Tyagi, co-author of "The Two-Income Trap," an examination of American household debt. "With this thing, you pay until you die."

The basic concern of critics is that: a) this kind of mortgage saddles people with too much debt; and b) the lower per-month costs permits people who are genuinely bad credit risks to get credit, increasing nonperformance rates; and c) a secular increase in housing prices as demand increases.

My gut instinct is that these costs are far outweighed by the benefits of expanding the number of homeowners. Beyond expanding the investing class, this is particularly true if the introduction of this kind of mortgage instrument creates new neighborhoods of homeowners instead of renters. This is Mickey Kaus' territory, but I have to think that there are positive spillover effects from having a critical mass of homeowners in a neighborhood -- a greater investment in preserving social ties, an incentive to increase property values, and indirect feedback effects on education funding.

[But the example in the story is about an old guy buying a house.--ed. Yes, but this points to two other reasons why this is a good thing. First, it means that a lot of homeowners are rationally looking at their homes as financial assets that are currently outperforming other investments. Second, a 40-year mortgage would seem to be a rational response to an increase in lifespan.]

Of course, if we're currently experiencing a housing bubble, then expanding mortgages at this juncture would not be a good thing. But I am cheered by the IMF's recent World Economic Outlook, which includes an essay by Marco Terrones on the global housing boom. The basic conclusion of the piece is that, "The econometric results confirm that real house prices in industrial countries show high persistence, long-run reversion to fundamentals, and dependence on economic fundamentals." and that in the United States, the recent run-up in prices are consistent with this trend.

posted by Dan at 12:14 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (1)

Sunday, October 10, 2004

The balance of trade in transatlantic romances

Back from Milan and I'm juuuuuuuuuuuust a wee bit tired. However, even in my sleep-deprived state I must confess to the strangest symmetry in who I sat next to on my flights to and from Milan.

On my way there, I sat next to a lovely Italian women who was on the return leg from visiting her American boyfriend -- who was in the American military.

On my way back, I sat next to a lovely American woman who was on the return leg from visiting her Italian boyfriend -- who was in the Italian Air Force.

There's no larger moral here -- it's just a bunch of stuff that happened. But that's some pretty symmetrical stuff.

posted by Dan at 10:11 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)