Wednesday, March 2, 2005


I'm forced to leave the moderate temperatures of Chicago to the sweltering climate of Honolulu to attend the International Studies Association annual meeting. Perhaps, if I have some spare time between sessions, I'll find the time to post--- oh, who the hell am I kidding??!! I'm going to be in friggin' Hawaii!!!! The only way I'm blogging anything is if it's 4 AM and I can't sleep and there's nothing on HBO.

So.... while I'm gone, go check out David Rothkopf's fascinating Foreign Policy essay, "Inside the Committee that Runs the World." It's about the foreign policy divisions that have emerged within the Bush administration. I've blogged about Rothkopf's argument before, but the FP article is the fullest treatment I've seen on this topic -- plus lots of inside dirt.

The section I'm particularly glad to see is the one that confirms my assessment of Dick Cheney's role in upsetting the NSC policy process. I said a year ago:

has nothing to do with the policy positions Cheney has taken on Iraq or anything else. Rather, the 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.

From Rothkopf's essay:

Cheney has had the largest national security staff of any vice president in U.S. history—one larger than President John F. Kennedy’s entire NSC staff at one time. He also has a network of close associates that extend throughout the government and who report to him or to Lewis “Scooter” Libby, his chief of staff, whose rank (assistant to the president) is technically equivalent to the national security advisor’s. Estimates of the total number of staffers, consultants, and those seconded from other agencies to the vice president’s office to work on national security-related issues have ranged from 15 to 35; it’s impossible to know for sure, as the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act do not cover the Office of the Vice President, and therefore it does not need to disclose details of its operation.

Rice describes Cheney as a “terrific” asset, in that “he has been able to sit as a principal without a bureaucratic domain to defend, so he’s always just a really wonderfully wise voice in the principals’ councils.” Others see it differently, including many officials within the administration who believe that the true value of a principals’ committee meeting is to allow the president’s national security team to have a free and open discussion about the advice they wish to give the president. Unfortunately, when Cheney is at the table, he is not simply, as Rice characterizes him, just a wise, old principal without a portfolio. He is seen as an 800-pound gorilla whose views carry much more weight than the others and which therefore skew discussions and quash open dissent, inadvertently or otherwise.

Richard Haass, who served in the administrations of both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and is currently president of the Council on Foreign Relations, recalls that Cheney had “three bites at the apple. He has his staff at every meeting. He would then come to principals’ meetings. And then he’d have his one-on-ones with the president. And given the views that came out of the vice president’s office, it introduced a certain bias to the system…. As a result, I felt that at just about every meeting, the State Department began behind two and a half to one.”

Really, read the whole thing.


posted by Dan at 12:26 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

March's Books of the Month

The international relations book is partially inspired by this Brad DeLong post. The highlights:

When economists talk about international trade and finance, they talk--first and most importantly--about building institutions to allow for mutually-beneficial acts of economic exchange. They talk about diminishing barriers and increasing confidence. They talk about playing positive-sum games with people in other countries that increase wealth, trust, and confidence and that ultimately align interests: the larger is the surplus from international trade and finance, the bigger is that stake that everyone has in continuing the free-trade-and-finance game....

Between 1850 and 1910--by accident--Great Britain built ties with the United States: economic ties, cultural ties, political ties of mutual deference where strategic issues were at stake. As a result, by 1910 Americans perceived Britain as their friend, and the British Empire as by and large a force for good in the world. This is in striking contrast to how Britain was perceived in 1850: the cruel corrupt ex-colonial power that had just starved a quarter of all Irishmen to death.

Now this mattered a lot.

This meant that when Britain got into trouble in the twentieth century--whether with Wilhelm II or Hitler or Stalin and his successors--it had wired aces as its hole cards in the poker game of seven-card stud that is international relations. The willingness of the United States to send Pershing and his army Over There, to risk war with and then to fight Hitler, and to move U.S. tanks from Ft. Hood, TX, to the Fulda Gap were all powerfully motivated by America's affinity with Britain, its geostrategic causes, and its security.

How does this apply to the present? It is obvious. Alexis de Tocqueville could project before the Civil War that the U.S. and Russia were likely to become twentieth-century superpowers. We can project today that at least one of India and China--perhaps both--will become late-twenty first century superpowers. We have an interest in building ties of affinity now. It is very important for the late-twenty first century national security of the United States that, fifty years from now, schoolchildren in India and China be taught that America is their friend that did all it could to help them become rich. It is very important that they not be taught that America wishes that they were still barefoot and powerless, and has done all it can to keep them so.

The fact that these issues are not even on the radar screen of the international relations community is indeed terrifying...

There's a fair amount to quibble with in this post -- Brad's statements about what diplomats want from trade is pure straw man; neither international relations scholars nor the foreign policy community is blind to the rise of China and India. Nevertheless, the point about U.S. economic openness yielding long-term policy dividends from rising great powers is spot-on.

So, this month's IR book is The United States and the World Economy: Foreign Economic Policy for the Next Decade, edited by C. Fred Bergsten of the Institute for International Economics. The book's precis:

What are the key foreign economic policy issues facing the United States in the second half of this decade? How can the administration and Congress meet the economic challenges that lie ahead? This new book analyzes the dramatic importance of the world economy to both the domestic prosperity and overall foreign policy of the United States, describes the new global environment (e.g., the rise of China as a global economic superpower and the completion of European unification) in which US policy must operate, and proposes major US initiatives on a wide range of international economic issues, including correction of the huge current account deficit, new trade negotiations, and energy.

Of particular interest was the chapter by Scott C. Bradford, Paul L. E. Grieco, and Gary Clyde Hufbauer on "The Payoff from Global Integration," in which the authors put a dollar value on the return from past and future trade expansion. Using different methods of estimation, they estimate that the cumulative payoff from trade liberalization since the end of the Second World War ranges between $800 billion to $1.45 trillion dollars per year in added output. This translates into an added per capita benefit of between $2,800 and $5,000—or, more concretely, an addition of somewhere between $7,100 and $12,900 per American household. As for the future, the gains from future trade expansion have been estimated to range between an additional $450 billion and $1.3 trillion per year in additional national income—which would increase per capita income between $1,500 and $2,000 on an annual basis. The fact is, there are few policies in the U.S. government’s tool kit that consistently yield rewards of this magnitude. [What about the costs in terms of jobs lost, etc.?--ed. Estimated as well -- a bit less than $60 billion per year. So there are costs, but they're much, much smaller than the benefits.]

The general interest book [WARNING: COARSE LANGUAGE AHEAD] comes courtesy of Kieran Healy:

Harry Frankfurt's On Bullshit. The first paragraph alone is priceless:

One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, or attracted much sustained inquiry. In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves.

[Why buy the book when the whole text is online?--ed. Well, this is just me, but I love small books that can fit in one's pocket. More importantly, however, is that I'm traveling tomorrow and I'm already looking forward to reading the book on the plane just to see the reactions to the title. A printout just doesn't have the same punch.]

posted by Dan at 11:53 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 28, 2005

Two steps forward, one step back in the Middle East

In the past 72 hours, there have been a number of developments in the Middle East -- suicide bombings in Iraq, Egyptian announcements about political reform, Lebanese people power bringing down the government, half-brothers being captured, reformist cabinets being named.

I was going to post something about how in the political change in the Middle East used to follow a one step forward, two steps back mentality, but as of late the trend has been more of a two steps forward, one step back nature of -- but Greg Djerejian and David Brooks beat me to it, so go check them out.

The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe happened after reformists first attained power through elections in Poland and Hungary. It happened rapidly, with no one comprehending the speed with which the old, corrupt edifices of power crumbled. Could the example of elections in one Muslim country in the Middle East have a similar ripple effect?

[You forget the backward steps--ed. True, true, I'm probably engaging in the error of analogy. Still it's interesting that such an analogy is even conceivable now.]

posted by Dan at 10:08 PM | Comments (60) | Trackbacks (0)

Interesting values quote of the day

The following quote comes from Jeanette Walls' source on the fact that Paris Hilton's Blackberry was hacked and its contents made public:

“It became obvious to her what was going on,” says the source. “She was pretty upset about it. It’s one thing to have people looking at your sex tapes, but having people reading your personal e-mails is a real invasion of privacy.” (emphasis added)


posted by Dan at 09:12 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Oh, right -- Oscar predictions 2005!!

Ever since 2003, we here at have been unafraid to make bold predictions about who will win and who should win the Academy Awards. This year is no exception, but I will confess that this time it's a bit more labor rather than a labor of love. [Surely you weren't expecting Ms. Salma Hayek to get nominated for After the Sunset, did you?--ed. Well, just look at her premiere outfit!!


Look, if Kathy Bates can score an Oscar nomination for valiant disrobing a few years ago, surely Salma deserves something for valiant... robing.]

Anyway, this has less to do with Ms. Hayek and more to do with the fact that Ms. Drezner appeared in August, making it very, very difficult to get away for Oscar viewing. There is, however, one other factor -- which Frank Rich raised in his New York Times column: "The total box office for all five best-picture nominees on Sunday's Oscars is so small that their collective niche in the national cultural marketplace falls somewhere between square dancing and non-Grisham fiction." So while I haven't seen many of the top Oscar nod movies this year, I haven't felt truly compelled to see them in the same way as in previous years. Even the fashion is now boring, as Julia Turner points out in Slate (though Turner may have underestimated the effect that 9/11 and Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction have had on muting the red carpet).

In other words, I'm flying blind a bit more than usual this year.

Nevertheless, ignorance has never prevented me from making bold predictions in the past. On with the Oscars!

Best Picture:
Will win: The Aviator
Should win: Tie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind/The Incredibles

My calculation on this one is purely stragtegic: this year's Oscars will be a legacy fight between Scorcese and Eastwood. Neither is exactly loved by the system -- however, between Million Dollar Baby and The Aviator, the latter more closely meets the parameters of the standard "prestige" Best Picture. Plus, Million Dollar Baby has just a hint of a backlash because of the controversy surrounding its ending.

Will either of those two films be remembered even five years from now? Unlikely. The same cannot be said of either Eternal Sunshine or The Incredibles.

Best Actor:
Will win: Jamie Foxx, Ray
Should win: Jamie Foxx, Ray and Collateral

The one lock of the year. Why Foxx's role in the latter movie is considered a supporting performance is beyond me -- I think he had more screen time than Tom Cruise. It's the contrast between the two peformances that make you realize just how gifted and good Foxx really is. Plus, I really want to see Wanda say something in the acceptance speech.

UPDATE: Honorable mention must go to one Gary Brolsma, for his "Numa Numa" performance. Kieran Healy is dead-on in roasting the New York Times for not understanding Brolsma's confident deadpan style. "Earnest but painful"? Gimme a break!!!

Best Actress:
Will win: Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby
Should win: Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Hilary Swank is to acting as the Florida Marlins are to baseball. For the first nine years of their existence, the Marlins were an under .500 team for seven of those years. The two years they were above .500, they won the World Series. So it is for the first nine years of Ms. Swank's career and her acting choices -- mostly stinker roles (The Core, anyone?) with the occasional jaw-dropping performance. This year yielded a way-above average performance for her.

All Kate Winslet did in Eternal Sunshine was make someone with a bad orange dye job seem simultaneously compelling and thoroughly imperfect. Whenever I think about her performance, it reminds me of what must have been the inspiration for the Sheryl Crow song, "My Favorite Mistake."

Best Supporting Actor
Will win: Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby
Should win: Neil Patrick Harris, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

If I was the Oscar coordinator for Million Dollar Baby, my promotional campaign would for Freeman would be real simple -- I'd just send out a postcard with the sentence, "Morgan Freeman has never won an Oscar" and let that fact bore itself into the skulls of Academy voters. WTF?

It is highly unlikely that Mr. Harris will ever win an Oscar -- but damn, that man was funny in Harold & Kumar, the feel-good libertarian movie of the year. [Does he really deserve an Oscar for playing himself??!!--ed. I'm pretty sure that Mr. Harris' actual personality is a bit different from his Harold & Kumar persona. Besides, consider the balance required to perform that scene where he's driving down the road with the two models in the car. I remain unconvinced--ed. C'mon say it with me -- Doogie!! Doogie!! DOOGIE!!]

Best Supporting Actress:
Will win: Cate Blanchett, The Aviator
Should win: tie, Virginia Madsen, Sideways; Laura Dern, We Don't Live Here Anymore

By awarding Blanchett an Oscar this year, the Academy can make up for one of their more egregious f***-ups in not giving her the Best Actress award for Elizabeth. Plus, it will be logically difficult for people to vote for Foxx for Best Actor and not acknowledge Blanchett's similar style of craft. Madsen will give Blanchett a run for her money in this category, and her performance was just effortless -- but Blanchett has the stronger track record, and that will sway Academy voters.

I'm probably one of about 20 people who saw We Don't Live Here Anymore, so I understand if this appears to be an obscure choice. In many ways, what blew me away about Dern's performance was that it was the opposite of Blanchett's -- a portrayal of a thoroughly ordinary, frazzled, and depressed housewife. Dern broght such pain to it, however, that the movie has stayed with me despite its forced contrivances.

Best Director:
Will win: Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
Should win: Michel Gondry Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I had to sleep on this one -- it's a close call between Eastwood and Scorcese. However, with Mystic River now on cable, I've concluded that Academy voters will give the psychic nod to Clint for both films. [You're kidding me, right? Scorcese has lots of great films too!!--ed. Yes, but the only one on cable right now is Gangs of New York. Er, never mind--ed.]

Enjoy your 2005 Oscars -- especially since the 2006 affair will be so boring, what with the Farrelly brothers' Fever Pitch coming out of nowhere to totally sweep the Oscars!

UPDATE: Well, it's over, Chris Rock killed -- killed -- for the first ten minutes (but see Roger L. Simon for a dissenting perspective -- though the American people seem to agree with me). The bit at the Magic Johnson theatre was pretty funny as well, especially with the Albert Brooks kicker. And I admit that I won't forget hearing Chris Rock read, "Growing up as a young Welsh lass....." anytime soon. Ironically, I think Rock was too good -- he made the rest of the show seem boring by comparison (except for Sean Penn, who came across as a humorless clod).

[Aren't you going to say anything about Salma Hayek's unfortunate hairstyle?--ed. Too depressing to discuss.]

posted by Dan at 12:01 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (2)