Saturday, March 19, 2005
It's always nice to have a traveling secretary
As I've said before, Colin Powell's biggest failing as Secretary of State was that he didn't leave Washington, DC all that much. Which is kind of important for America's chief diplomat.
In Time, Elaine Shannon reports that Condi Rice seems to have grasped the importance of getting outside the Beltway:
UPDATE: Time has a follow-up story in this week's issue that offers the contrast between Rice and Powell:
Friday, March 18, 2005
George Kennan, R.I.P. (1904-2005)
George Kennan, the first director of policy planning for the State Department, is dead at the age of 101. The New York Times obit by Tim Weiner and Barbara Crossette has more detail and background, but the Washington Post obit by J.Y. Smith has a paragraph that best captures Kennan's love-hate relationship with the U.S. foreign policy establishment:
Kennan will forever be known as the author of the Long Telegram in 1946, the most famous State Department cable in history. Kennan later converted the telegram into a 1947 Foreign Affairs essay entitled, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," which brought forth the doctrine of containment.
It is a grand irony of international relations theory that although the realist theory of international relations seemed to predict a strategy of containment, Kennan derived this doctrine from a domestic level analysis of the Soviet Union. Realism as it is currently understood derives most of it's causal power from the systemic level -- i.e., the world is anarchic and the distribuion of power among states powerfully affects the behavior of individual governments. However, Kennan argued that to understand Soviet behavior, one hand to understand the ever-present domestic legitimacy crisis of the Soviet government:
The initial domestic insecurity of the Soviet elite made them see external societies that thrived on alternative sets of political, economic, and social principles as an existential threat -- a fact that's worth remembering when contemplating what radical Islamsts want.
In terms of U.S. foreign policy, however, the most cited paragraphs in "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" are these:
Kennan is proof that the author often loses control of his words the moment they are printed. The Times obit quotes Kennan in his memoirs as saying that the language on containment, "was at best ambiguous and lent itself to misinterpretation." Indeed, the most fully developed articulation of the containment doctrine, Paul Nitze's NSC-68, differed in significant ways from Kennan's own views. Kennan barely supported the Korean War and opposed the Vietnam War.
Even when his writing was clear, Kennan's foreign policy vision was not always 20/20. He opposed NATO expansion in the nineties, convinced it would have disastrous consequences. When he was in power, he bitterly railed against congressional influence over foreign affairs, and then changed his tune later in life. Kennan never gave a flying fig about the developing world, believing that it never would develop. Kennan's narrow world vision consisted only of the five centers of industrial activity -- the US, USSR, Germany, Great Britain, and Japan. By the early nineties, when he wrote Around the Cragged Hill, he clearly believed the U.S. to be doomed to decline and devoid of "intelligent and discriminating administration." And the less said about Kennan's view of non-WASPs, the better.
Nevertheless, Kennan achieved something all too rare in the world of ideas -- he came up with a very big idea at a crucial moment in history that was simultaneously influential and correct. His doctrine of containment proved to be a useful and ultimately successful framework to guide U.S. foreign policy during the bipolar era. Varioius administrations committed various blunders in the name of containment, but a lot more good than harm was done to honor Kennan's idea. Fifteen years after the Cold War ended, we are still searching for the big idea to replace Kennan.
In honor of Kennan, his alma mater started up The Princeton Project on National Security -- "a nonpartisan effort to strengthen and update the intellectual underpinnings of U.S. national security strategy." Seven working groups have been formed to advance the project (I'm on one of them) -- probably close to a hundred top-flight thinkers.
Combined, if we're very, very, very lucky, we might come up with something half as smart as Kennan.
UPDATE: David Adesnik has a long post on Kennan's aversion to democracy promotion. However, with all due respect, I disagree with Adesnik's characterization of Kennan as a realist. Realists simply do not care about the regime type of any country. Kennan was worse than that -- his antipathy to democracy was pretty much universal. He deplored its effects on U.S. foreign policy, and as Adesnik points out he believed that most countries of the world "weren't ready for democracy." More so than the realists, Kennan thought that domestic politics mattered -- but his natural conservatism led him to dismiss the notion that regime transitions were either possible or desirable in the developing world.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Be sure to check out this special Foreign Affairs web page devoted to Kennan -- by my count, he wrote more than fifteen essays for that journal.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
Uh.... I was talking about trade, right?
While trade is the subject of the day, it's worth pointing out that Tim Wu has a provocative story in Slate on an intriguing mechanism through which the United States could be forced to legalize marijuana: the World Trade Organization:
Read the whole thing -- the analysis is not completely far-fetched. Wu's biggest reach is his claim that "it may just be a matter of time" before another country will request a WTO panel. Yes, some countries have legalized marijuana, but I find it hard to conceive of a country pushing for the ability to export any narcotic that retains a moral stigma across the globe. A lot more countries would need to legalize Mr. Jay before this happens.
UPDATE: Jacob Levy emerges from seclusion to point out a more serious flaw in Wu's reasoning.
Rob Portman has his work cut out for him
The Bush appointments just keep on coming. Reuters reports that Bush has picked his next U.S. Trade Representative:
Here's the complete text of Bush's announcement. Both the President and Rep. Portman made nice sounds on trade expansion:
[So does this mean you remain hopeful that trade will be freer?--ed. Well, I see this appointment as a good news-bad news kind of situation. The good news is that Portman is a legitimate free trader. Daniel Griswold at the Cato Institute's Center for Trade Policy Studies just published a briefing paper looking at Congressional attitudes towards trade, and Portman is categorized as a consistent free trader (his one major lapse was support for the steel tariffs).
The bad news is that, while I don't know the extent of the personal relationship between Portman and Bush,
UPDATE: Thanks to D.J. for this Capitol Hill Blue link from mid-2004 which suggests that Portman and Bush are actually pretty tight: "Among other members of Bush's brain trust are Vice President Dick Cheney; a brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; longtime adviser Karen Hughes; and Ohio Rep. Rob Portman, a longtime Bush family friend.... Portman, the only alumnus of the first Bush administration serving in Congress, is actively involved in Bush's strategy in industrial battleground states like his own." So maybe my "bad news" concerns are misplaced.
I will not surrender to the dark side, I will not surrender to the dark side...
Via Ross Douthat, I see the latest trailer for Star Wars III, Revenge of the Sith is out. Last fall, I confess I found the teaser trailer to be very seductive, so I was worried about my reaction to this one.
And I'm happy to report that I mildly disagree with both Douthat and Matthew Yglesias; the trailer is OK, but the dark side has not turned me yet. There are other popcorn movie trailers out there -- like Sin City, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, or Fantastic Four -- that have grabbed more of my attention.
Take that, Emperor Lucas!!
State vs. Defense II
The president announced his nomination of Paul Wolfowitz to be the next World Bank president. Apparently the Europeans are not happy, according to the Washington Post's Keith B. Richburg and Glenn Frankel:
For more international reaction, see this blog devoted to the topic.
My thoughts, in no particular order:
UPDATE: The Financial Times reports that European countries probably will not form a united front to oppose Wolfowitz.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
Well this is nice
Barbara Slavin reports in USA Today that Iraqis are feeling better about Iraq:
Here's a link to the IRI press release of the poll.
Assume for the moment a best-case scenaio in which the insurgency starts to die down. Given that the National Assembly has just started to meet, don't be surprised if that satisfaction figure were to go down. This is the funny thing about democracy -- one people get it, their dissatisfaction from seeing the process up close seems to increase.
Eventually, most people adopt the Churchillian posture: democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.
Outsourcing as an economic experiment
One of my favorite economics articles of all time is by Nathan Rosenberg, "Economic Experiments." Industrial and Corporate Change , volume 1 (1992). In that essay, Rosenberg pointed out that any dynamic economy had to let firms engage in experimentation to find out new ways to innovate and generate profits. Many of these experiments would fail, of course, but the successes would lead to massive economic gains. It was crucial that these experiments be permitted to fail, otherwise no useful information could be gleaned.
I bring this up because looking at economic enterprises as a rolling series of experiments is a great analytical lens to think about offshore outsourcing. Specifically, a lot of firms outsourced offshore as an experiment to boost profits. And, not surprisingly, a lot of experiments fail: Gartner recently predicted that 80% of customer service outsourcing projects aimed to cut costs will fail. That cannot and should not stop other firms from trying -- like MacDonald's outsourcing its drive-thru windows to remote call centers (if you click on the story, note that they're thinking of outsourcing to Norh Dakota and not Bangalore).
The great thing about experimentation is that the people conducting the experiments learn more from failure as success. As firms gain more experience from offshoring, they are starting to recalibrate what is outsourced and what is kept in-house. Kelly Shermach makes this point in CRM Buyer:
U.S. firms are also starting shifting the location of offshoring activities. Some firms are relocating their offshoring activities to the Philippines because of increasing costs of Indian offshoring. Cultural familiarity is also causing firms to switch some of their activities to nearshoring -- i.e., farming out operations to Canada (or, for western European firms, to eastern Europe).
These trends worry some Indian analysts. Sonia Chopra frets in India Daily:
It's with this kind of experimetation in mind that one should read Pete Engardio and Bruce Einhorn's excellent article in Business Week about the offshore outsourcing of R&D activities. The outsourcing of R&D is often considered the "line of death" for economic analysts. If that happens, the thinking goes, so does American technological leadership. Parts of the article sound ominous:
However, a closer read reveals that what's going on is experimentation:
Let the experimentation continue....
UPDATE: The EU, on the other hand, seems to disapprove of both outsourcing as experimentation and any report that signals that these experiments can be successful:
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Return to sender
Ian Urbina has a fun story in today's New York Times on the small rebellions individuals engage in every day to protest life's petty annoyances. Here's an excerpt:
Can 200,000 Chinese ex-communists be wrong?
This is one of those blog posts where I have to say up front that I don't know enough to gauge the significance of the event I'm posting about. That said, the information is interesting enough to link and mention.
Apparently the Chinese Communist Party has been suffering from a rash of resignations as of late -- approximately 200,000 in four months. At The Epoch Times, Stephen Gregory reports on what's going on:
Now, the thing is, the CCP isn't the only institution that hasn't responded to these resignations -- I can't find a non-Epoch Times report on this. On the other hand, they've been all over the story. What's going on?
Gregory is candid in an e-mail he sent to me:
So there it is. I'll leave it to my readers to decide how much weight to put on this. I would also love to see the mainstream media do some digging on this story.
Monday, March 14, 2005
Calling and raising Hezbollah
Last week I said that the re-appointment of Lebanese PM Omar Karami would trigger more protests. It turns out that was a mild understatement. The Associated Press reports that the anti-Syrian proestors in Lebanon have responded to the reappointment -- and Hezbollah's pro-Syrian rally from last week, which was undoubtedly a factor in Lebanese President Emile Lahoud's decision to reappoint Karami -- with the largest demonstration of people power yet:
Publius Pundit has much, much more on this.
UPDATE: Neil MacFarquar reports on the protest for the New York Times. The telling section:
Blogging as public diplomacy?
Hampton Stephens has a fascinating op-ed in today's Boston Globe about using blogs as a low-cost, high-yield way of enhancing U.S. public diplomacy. The highlights:
Read the whole thing to see more specific policy proposals -- Sprit of America is prominently mentioned.
The one nagging question I have is what happens when a blogger puts their foot in their mouth (as often happens) through a U.S. government-sponsored channel? I suspect this kind of downside can be managed, but I'm not completely certain.
Paging Karen Hughes......
Sunday, March 13, 2005
Can academics be bloggers?
1) Of course academics can be bloggers. The more interesting questions are:
My answer both of these questions is "yes, with significant caveats."
CAN ACADEMICS BE GOOD BLOGGERS?
The answer should be yes:
That said, the answer for many academics is no:
SO, SHOULD ACADEMICS* ENGAGE IN BLOGGING**?
*By academics, I mean untenured ones, because if you have tenure, f$#% it.
**By blogging, I mean political blogging rather than blogging only about one's research, which is an unalloyed good.
UPDATE: Munger posts his round-up as well. His most telling point:
I'll be up for tenure next year, so -- lucky me -- I get to be the first test of Munger's first thesis -- and I hope he's wrong. However, he's dead right about a blog potentially sabotaging a confirmation hearing -- which is why I pretty much threw any dreams of those positions out the window once I started the blog.
Mike also came up with the best turn of phrase for describing the tenure process -- "the star chamber."
I'm not a pure libertarian
Unlike Michael Munger, I'm not terribly bothered by my score of 58 out of a possible 160 points on this Libertarian Purity test. First, that score characterizes me as "a medium-core libertarian," which is pretty much accurate. Second, I'm perfectly comfortable saying no to questions like
As I've said before, "I’m frequently conflicted between my laissez-faire instincts and my clear-eyed recognition that there is no substitute for nation-states in world politics." Libertarian theories of international relations have never been able to cope with this fact.