Saturday, November 13, 2004

The NSC SOB leaves town

I missed this last week, but apparently Bob Blackwill has resigned from the National Security Council. Glenn Kessler and Al Kamen proffer one explanation for his departure in the Washington Post (link via Greg Djerejian):

Robert D. Blackwill, who resigned last week as the White House's top official on Iraq policy, was recently scolded by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told her that Blackwill appeared to have verbally abused and physically hurt a female embassy staffer during a visit to Kuwait in September, administration officials said.

The incident took place as Blackwill was rushing to return home after a visit to Baghdad to join a campaign swing planned by President Bush. As six officials describe the incident, he arrived at the Air France counter at the Kuwait airport and learned he was not on the flight manifest. Blackwill then turned in fury to an embassy secretary who had accompanied him to the airport and demanded that he be given a seat on the flight, grabbing her arm at one point, the officials said....

A National Security Council spokesman confirmed that Blackwill's actions in Kuwait raised questions but said he could not comment on the details. He said the incident was not the reason Blackwill quit his job three months before Iraq is to hold its first elections. An official at the lobbying firm Blackwill just joined -- Barbour, Griffith and Rogers -- said yesterday that Blackwill was traveling to Europe....

Another official, who is familiar with Blackwill's version of events, said that Blackwill believes the woman's description of the airport incident is not accurate and that another NSC staff member present during the incident supported Blackwill's version of it. The official did not elaborate.

Several officials noted that after the incident was reported, Blackwill traveled repeatedly with Bush on his campaign plane in the final weeks before the election. Blackwill, a deputy to Rice, was widely considered one of the top prospects to replace her as national security adviser if she took another job in the administration.

Instead, he abruptly left the administration and announced this week that he had joined Barbour, Griffith and Rogers....

Blackwill, who spent 22 years in the State Department's foreign service, is widely regarded as a brilliant and prickly boss with a management style that has struck some subordinates as abrasive. When he was ambassador to India early in the administration, he was the subject of two critical reports by the State Department inspector general on his management skills and plunging morale among the embassy staff.

Blackwill was Rice's mentor and boss when they served on the national security staff of President George H.W. Bush, handling European and Soviet affairs.

I've seen Blackwill in action and heard enough backchatter from people who have worked for him to be utterly unsurprised by anything in this report. His tenure as the U.S. ambassador to India was marked by similar problems.

Still, Blackwill's departure is a shame. He may have been an imperious SOB, but he was also a policymaker and manager of rare gifts -- and the country could use a few of those people. [You're just saying this because he's a Republican--ed. No, the Democrats have senior policymakers on their side with a similar set of positive and negative traits -- see Richard Holbrooke, Gene Sperling, or Ed Rendell. So Holbrooke and Sperling were physically abusive bosses?--ed. No, absolutely not -- but the verbal abuse, well, that's a different kettle of fish.]

UPDATE: John Burgess provides an illuminating comment about his experiences working under Blackwill in India.

posted by Dan at 02:55 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (5)

Friday, November 12, 2004

The dogs that don't bark in international relations

Newspapers, media outlets -- and, because we feed off them, blogs -- tend to focus on the violent hot spots in international affairs. This is entirely appropriate -- but occasionally, it's worth stepping back and remembering that there are parts of the globe where everyone has expected and predicted things to go "BOOM!" -- and yet, in fact, conditions have improved.

Which brings me to Rajesh Mahapatra's report in the Associated Press about the further easing of tensions in South Asia:

India's prime minister on Thursday ordered a reduction of troops in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir this winter, citing a decline in separatist violence in the disputed Himalayan region.

The announcement coincided with a grenade attack by suspected militants on a paramilitary camp in Srinigar, summer capital of the Indian state of Jammu-Kashmir. The attack set off a gunfight in which an Indian security guard was killed and three guards were wounded, a police official said. Two attackers also were killed.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the forces would be withdrawn starting this winter and ending in March, though he did not disclose how many troops would be cut.

"In recognition of the improvement in the situation, the government has decided to reduce the deployment of troops this winter," Singh said days ahead of his planned visit to the strife-torn Indian state....

Kashmiris reacted cautiously to Singh's announcement.

"We welcome this announcement. But what matters is not the number of troops that will be cut, but the way the security forces behave with the people in Kashmir," said Abbas Ansari, a moderate leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, Kashmir's main separatist alliance.

India has deployed about 1 million troops in the Himalayan region since 1989, when more than a dozen Islamic guerrilla groups began fighting for independence of the Indian-held portion of Kashmir, or its merger with neighboring Pakistan.

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, which has been divided between the South Asian rivals since they gained independence from Britain in 1947 but is claimed by both in its entirety.

As the second graf indicates, his doesn't mean that everything is sunshine and roses in Kashmir. However, the curent situation is certainly an improvement compared to conditions two years ago.

posted by Dan at 12:38 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, November 11, 2004

More Friday baby blogging -- on Thursday


Provide the thought bubble behind Lauren's expression.

(Many thanks to Pam D. for the photo).

posted by Dan at 02:06 PM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Open Arafat thread

Feel free to comment on the significance of Yasser Arafat's death here.

In particular -- is it good for the Palestinians?

If this Glenn Kessler story in the Washington Post is any indication, the Bush administration is intent on making progress on the Israeli/Palestinian issue:

President Bush yesterday signaled deeper U.S. engagement in Middle East peace efforts, saying he sees an "opening for peace" now that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is near death dead. When the new Palestinian leadership requests assistance, he said, the United States "will be more than willing to help build the institutions necessary for a free society to emerge."

Bush's comments, the most extensive on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since his reelection, reflect a growing realization by administration officials that Arafat's death would provide a rare diplomatic opening. One administration official said the president has come to understand that much of the opportunity depends on how the United States responds in the first days and weeks after Arafat dies, because it might ensure that moderate leadership takes hold in the Palestinian Authority.

"The vision is two states, a Palestinian state and Israel, living side by side in peace," Bush told reporters as he met with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. "I think we've got a chance to do that, and I look forward to being involved in that process."

....Two senior White House officials met last Friday on short notice with European officials to lay out administration thinking on the next steps in the Middle East, which include building on the planned Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and following the path outlined in the U.S.-backed peace plan known as the "road map." But they told European officials it would be a mistake to leapfrog a deliberative process and move directly to trying to settle vexing "final status" issues, such as Jerusalem.

An administration official said the meeting, conducted by National Security Council staff members Elliott Abrams and Daniel Fried, was intended to begin discussions on the issue at an early stage with European officials, rather than have administration decisions dictated to allies after the fact.

Assuming that Arafat's successor recognizes the futility of the second intifada, one wonders whether, to use a crude analogy, the Palestinians will be to Bush what the Soviets were to Reagan -- an implacable foe that was transformed into a near ally after a display of toughness on the U.S. side and a change in leadership on the other side.

Of course, this requires a Palestinian version of Gorbachev. I leave it to the commenters to comment on the odds of that happening.

posted by Dan at 11:41 PM | Comments (63) | Trackbacks (4)

Meet the new foreign policy team -- same as the old foreign policy team?

Guy Dinmore and Demetri Sevastopulo report in the Financial Times on what's next for Bush's foreign policy team -- apparently, it's more of the same:

While President George W. Bush is shaking up his domestic policy team, some officials and diplomats believe he would prefer to keep the core members on the national security side into a second term.

Mr Bush is keeping his cards close to his chest. Nonetheless, some in the White House believe he would be content to see at least three key figures stay for the time being: Colin Powell, the secretary of state, Donald Rumsfeld, defence secretary, and Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser.

“The president likes continuity. He is loyal to his staff,” commented one official. He said he believed Mr Bush was waiting for the trio to express their preferences....

Earlier in the year close associates of Mr Powell suggested that he might be willing to stay on for another year to 18 months, contrary to the general belief that for personal reasons and fatigue he would be ready to retire.

Others suggested that Mr Powell had an eye on the history books, that perhaps he would be tempted by the chance of making a contribution to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to erase what some see as the blot on his diplomatic record: his presentation to the United Nations of the US case for war against Iraq in February last year.

One former administration official said Mr Rumsfeld wanted to stay at the Pentagon until after next summer, which would allow him to appoint a replacement for General Richard Myers, the chairman of the joint chiefs who is scheduled to step down in September.

Another senior administration official said Mr Rumsfeld had indicated that he did not want to resign under a cloud, referring to the current insurgency in Iraq. He also came under intense criticism over the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

The official said there was “vicious infighting” among neo-conservatives at the Pentagon who were jockeying to obtain positions for their colleagues. Douglas Feith, the controversial undersecretary for policy responsible for postwar planning in Iraq, is not expected to serve another term.

If Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defence secretary, resigns or moves, one candidate touted as a replacement is Stephen Cambone, undersecretary for intelligence. Mr Cambone has been instrumental in pushing Mr Rumsfeld's goal of transforming the military.

There has been widespread speculation that Ms Rice, who has had the tough task of dealing with the rivalries between the State Department and Pentagon heavyweights, would rather return to academia. Alternatively she is said to relish the prospect of becoming the first woman appointed defence secretary. If she were to move, then that would also leave a possible opening for Mr Wolfowitz. (emphasis added)

One niggling thought -- if Mr. Rumsfeld fails to solve the insurgency problem -- created in part by Mr. Rumsfeld's failure at contingency planning -- just when would he decide to step aside?

posted by Dan at 09:38 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Another mostly useless correlation

In the past week there have been a great deal of chatter about how the high correlation between the states that voted for Bush and -- well, let's see, there's the prior practice of slavery, IQ (though this one is apparently a hoax -- click here for more), obesity (OK, that was in 2000, but I guarantee someone's going to post something about it for 2004), "lasting contribution(s) to freedom, culture and progress (in the blue states)," and "virtually every form of quantifiable social dysfunction."

As reluctant as I am to wade in on this -- because all these comparisons demonstrate are potentially spurious correlations -- it's worth pointing out that there are metrics on which the Red states look much nicer than the Blue states. Take, for example, generosity. Laura Walsh explains for the Associated Press:

Connecticut ranks first when it comes to making money — but joins New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island at the bottom of an annual index of charitable giving.

The Catalogue for Philanthropy's 2004 Generosity Index showed Mississippi, for the eighth straight year, as the nation's most giving state. It was followed by Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama and Tennessee.

The survey is based on residents' average adjusted income and itemized charitable donations reported on 2002 federal tax returns, the latest year available.

The index does not take into account non-itemized giving or volunteering, said Carol Schofield of the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy.

Connecticut has the nation's highest average adjusted gross income, at $64,724; its residents donate $175 less to charity than the national average of $3,455. That ranks Connecticut 44th on the index, a slip of seven places from last year.

Connecticut was followed by Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and, at No. 50 on the index, New Hampshire.

Rounding out spots six through 10 were South Dakota, Utah, South Carolina and Idaho.

You can see the entire list by clicking here. You have to go 26 places before a blue state pops up (New York). My suspicion is that if non-itemized deductions and volunteering were included, the observed correlation would only increase, since one would expect the wealthier states to substitute money for time in terms of altruism, and non-itemized deductions would include a greater number of smaller donations by the less affluent -- and there are more of these people in the red states. That's just a hunch, though.

Here's a link to the Catalogue for Philanthropy's methodology, and a link to the raw data in spreadsheet form.

Again, to derive the conclusion that Bush voters are more altruistic than Kerry voters from this data is absurd -- but just as absurd as the other correlations that have been posted.

posted by Dan at 10:26 AM | Comments (87) | Trackbacks (2)

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

The Iranian Internet crackdown

Alas, this section got cut from the conclusion of "Web of Influence":

Authoritarian states that seek to censor the Internet can easily censor blogs. Ironically, blogs are nearly as easy to block as to create. Governments can stymie their citizens’ access to a large fraction of the blogosphere by filtering out standardized blog URLs such as Blogger or Typepad. China has on occasion blocked all blogs based at,, and wherever Internet content is restricted, so are bloggers.

Unfortunately, as my co-author Henry Farrell points out, this point can now be seen in Iran. Nazila Fathi reported on it yesterday in the New York Times:

Iran has continued its crackdown on journalists, with two arrests in the past week, and has moved against pro-democracy Web sites, blocking hundreds of sites in recent months and making several arrests....

As part of its crackdown, the government has blocked hundreds of political sites and Web logs. Three major pro-democracy Web sites that support President Mohammad Khatami were blocked in August.

A university in Orumieh in northwestern Iran shut down its Internet lab, contending that students had repeatedly browsed on indecent Web sites.

The crackdown suggests that hard-liners are determined to curtail freedom in cyberspace. Many rights advocates had turned to the Internet after the judiciary shut down more than 100 pro-democracy newspapers and journals in recent years.

The number of Internet users in Iran has soared in the last four years, to 4.8 million from 250,000. As many as 100,000 Web logs operate, and some of them are political.

The move to block Web sites has the support of a senior cleric, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, who declared in September in the hard-line daily newspaper Kayhan that Web sites should be blocked if they "insult sacred concepts of Islam, the Prophet and Imams," or "publish harmful and deviated beliefs to promote atheism or promote sinister books."

Jeff Jarvis argues that, "They [the mullahs] will fail. This can't be stopped now."

For reasons laid out here (see p. 488-490) and here, I am more pessimistic.

UPDATE: For some more background on this crackdown, which has been going on for the past few months, check out this Hossein Derakhshan post from two months ago (link via Rebecca MacKinnon) as well as this Human Rights Watch press release from last month.

posted by Dan at 04:08 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (4)

Open Fallujah thread

Feel free to comment on the current offensive in Fallujah here.

Andrew Sullivan has some contrasting assessments that are worth checking out.

posted by Dan at 09:52 AM | Comments (34) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 8, 2004

That stupid George Lucas

Over the weekend I took my son to see The Incredibles with the Official BlogBrother, and a fine time was had by all -- though I suspect I enjoyed it more than the boy (My favorite line of dialogue is when the superhero voiced by Samuel L. Jackson asks his wife where his supersuit is. After some back-and-forth about whether he's really going to go out to save the day, he pleads, "Honey, this is for the greater good!" Her response is, "I am your wife! I am your GREATEST good!!")

However, the point of this post is that before the movie they unveiled the teaser trailer for Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. You can see it by clicking here.

The damn thing is driving me crazy -- because you know, you just know that the odds are heavily stacked in favor of the movie being God-awful. If you combine Episodes I and II together, you get about ten minutes of interesting film -- the last ten minutes of Episode II. Maybe that's a promising trend, and maybe the fact that this movie has to end on a downer note means that it will echo the greatness of The Empre Strikes Back.

But I doubt it -- George Lucas might have the reputation of being a master storyteller, but that doesn't change the fact that he's a really bad writer. The discussion of politics between Amidala and Anakin in Attack of the Clones were a particular low point. And anyone who can make Natalie Portman seem dull deserves a good thrashing.

However, the trailer is seductive -- the voice of Alec Guiness, the image of Lord Vader, the return of the Wookies to the narrative. For the millisecond he's on screen, even Liam Neeson finally seems comfortable in the Star Wars universe.

It's tempting, so tempting to plan on seeing the movie on the big screen. It reminds me of the last time I was excited about a sci-fi trailer -- oh, right, that was Episode I.

This is going to be vexing me until May.

Damn George Lucas and his beguiling trailers!! [Calm down! Trust your feelings! And rise--ed. Yes.... master.]

UPDATE: I see Pejman Yousefzadeh is also in danger of being seduced by the dark side.

posted by Dan at 11:39 PM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (2)

November's books of the month

The international relations book is Cowboy Capitalism: European Myths about the American Reality by Olaf Gersemann, the Washington correspondent for Wirtschaftswoche, a German economics and business weekly. In the book, Gersemann runs through the litany of European stereotypes about inner workings of the American economy ("Americans work three jobs just to make ends meet;" "Unemployment is low only because so many people are in jail") and sees if the data matches up with the stereotype. Nine times out of ten it doesn't -- and even on the tenth time, there's no evidence that the American variety of capitalism is the proximate or underlying cause for the observed outcome. Go check it out.

The general interest book is The Best American Political Writing 2004, edited by Royce Flippin. The title is a bit deceptive -- it's really the best political writing from June 2003 to June 2004. [Cough!--ed.] However, post-election, it's a useful primer on the rhetorical state of play during the primary and general election seasons. [Cough! Cough!--ed.] In terms of ideological diversity, the forty-eight selections range from Pat Buchanan to Katha Pollitt.

[Ahem -- I said, COUGH, dammit!!!!--ed.] Oh, yes, -- by some error in someone's judgment, this TNR Online essay of mine from April 2004 made the cut. Even more surprisingly, it holds up pretty well post-election.

posted by Dan at 04:52 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, November 7, 2004

It begins....

The reason the dollar has managed to stay as strong as it has -- despite the combination of large trade deficits and low interest rates -- is that Asian central banks have been buying up greenbacks.

The big question that watchers of global finance have been asking in recent years is: what happens when the Asian central banks stop buying dollars?

Steve Johnson and Andrew Balls of the Financial Times suggest that we're about to find out:

The dollar could slide still further, in spite of hitting an all-time low against the euro last week in the wake of George W. Bush's re-election, currency traders have said.

The dollar sell-off has resumed amid fears among traders that Mr Bush's victory will bring four more years of widening US budget and current account deficits, heightened geopolitical risks and a policy of "benign neglect" of the dollar.

Many currency traders were taken aback on Friday when the greenback fell in spite of bullish data showing the US economy created 337,000 jobs in October.

"If this can't cause the dollar to strengthen you have to tell me what will. This is a big green light to sell the dollar," said David Bloom, currency analyst at HSBC, as the greenback fell to a nine-year low in trade-weighted terms....

[T]he market has been rife with rumours that the latest wave of selling has been led by foreign governments seeking to cut their exposure to US assets.

India and Russia have reportedly been selling US assets, as well as petrodollar-rich Middle Eastern investors.

China, which has $515bn of reserves, was also said to be selling dollars and buying Asian currencies in readiness to switch the renminbi's dollar peg to a basket arrangement, something Chinese officials have increasingly hinted at. Any re-allocation could push the dollar sharply lower and Treasury yields markedly higher.

Brad DeLong has further thoughts on the matter.

UPDATE: Do check out the Institute for International Economics web site as well -- papers by Fred Bergsten, Catherine Mann, Morris Goldstein, and John Williamson address various aspects of the U.S. curent account deficit.

ANOTHER UPDATE: DeLong says I'm oversimplifying things:

The strength of the dollar has been produced by (a) the willingness of someone (mostly Asian central banks) to buy and hold the flow of new dollar-denominated assets held abroad generated by our trade deficit, and (b) the unwillingness of private hedge funds, investment banks, and other investors to place large leveraged bets that the dollar decline has started for real. If the private market--which knows that the dollar is going down someday--decides that that someday has come and that the dollar is going down NOW, then all the Asian central banks in the world cannot stop it. You need both (a) and (b) to keep the dollar up. Just one of them won't do.

Well, yes... except that the external pressures on a country to stop buying a foreign currency in order to prevent currency appreciation are much weaker than the external pressures on a country to stop selling a foreign currency in order to prevent currency depreciations. My guess is that (b) doesn't take place until there's some sign that (a) is about to happen.

LAST UPDATE: Some of the commenters are wondering what the big deal is, since, "the value of the dollar remains about 10% ABOVE where it was during the halcyon days of Bill Clinton."

The answer is, possibly, nothing. If the dollar slowly depreciates by about 20-30% over the next year, there's no reason for concern. And the administration deserves some credit for talking down the dollar while preventing a precipitous fall. The question is whether this will continue as Asian central banks stop buying the dollar in such large quantities.

posted by Dan at 11:54 PM | Comments (51) | Trackbacks (8)

David Brooks 1, Maureen Dowd 0

Go read Brooks NYT column from Saturday.

Then read Dowd's column from today.

Which one is the member of the "reality-based community"?

posted by Dan at 03:36 PM | Comments (45) | Trackbacks (0)

So what do Chicago's graduate students do in their spare time?

Well, some of them set up one of those blog thingmabobs. Go check out Political Arguments, a group blog comprised of several U of C Ph.D. students in political theory.

This post tackles the whole red-blue question -- go check it out.

I confess to some guilt at linking to them -- because I'm not convinced that it's a great idea for graduate students to be blogging. This is not because they have nothing to say -- quite the opposite. The problem is that for grad students, the opportunity cost of blogging is less time spent on their own research and reading -- activities that are kind of important in terms of getting their advanced degrees.

Of course, I'm sure my senio colleagues have the same attitude towards this little enterprise, so consider this a "pot calling the kettle black" kind of disapproval.

posted by Dan at 10:26 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)