Friday, December 9, 2005

Books worth buying

The hard working staff here at has noticed a trend in recent e-mails, along the lines of, "Say, Dan, what books would you recommend for the holidays?"

Well, I can't help much with the holiday-themed books. What I can do is recommend the books I've been reading recently:

Ian Urbina, Life's Little Annoyances: True Tales of People Who Just Can't Take It Anymore. Back in March I blogged about one of Urbina's New York Times stories about the small rebellions against petty annoyances. Urbina's story must have struck a nerve -- six months later he's got a short book chronicling more examples. Do check out his website at

Zadie Smith, On Beauty. A comic novel about two academic families who can't avoid complicating each others' lives. Smith's writing style has the kind of arch omniscience I aim for in these blog posts -- the difference is that Smith hitsher target, whereas I usually swind up linking to some jaw-dropping picture of Salma Hayek as a diversion from the bad writing.

Philip Tetlock, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?. See my previous posts here and here about why I like this book.

Ed Mansfield and Jack Snyder, Electing to Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go to War A book-length updating of a groundbrreaking article from last decade. The gist is that while mature democracies may be less war-prone with each other, democatizing states are the most war-prone regime type out there. Debate amongst yourselves the disturbing policy implications that flow from this finding.

Arrested Development - Season One and Arrested Development - Season Two. No, they're not books, but they are just so f#$%ing funny it really doesn't matter. I once again apologize to Mitchell Hurwitz for not watching this show before it got cancelled. Go watch the first two seasons -- I promise you'll never think about the music to the Peanuts TV specials the same way again.

That's all for now -- read those and report back while I wend my way to Hong Kong.

UPDATE: Megan McArdle has a long list of book selections. Go check them out -- you don't want to see those porcelain cheeks glisten with tears again.

posted by Dan at 10:05 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

The ne plus ultra in outsourcing

David Barboza of the New York Times wins my Outsourcing Outrage of the Year award with, "Ogre to Slay? Outsource It to Chinese" :

One of China's newest factories operates here in the basement of an old warehouse. Posters of World of Warcraft and Magic Land hang above a corps of young people glued to their computer screens, pounding away at their keyboards in the latest hustle for money.

The people working at this clandestine locale are "gold farmers." Every day, in 12-hour shifts, they "play" computer games by killing onscreen monsters and winning battles, harvesting artificial gold coins and other virtual goods as rewards that, as it turns out, can be transformed into real cash.

That is because, from Seoul to San Francisco, affluent online gamers who lack the time and patience to work their way up to the higher levels of gamedom are willing to pay the young Chinese here to play the early rounds for them.

Read the whole thing. This is the perfect outsourcing story to generate outrage among perennially indignant. Why?
1) The story highlights the apparent sloth and excessive affluence of Americans that inflames the passiuons of the puritanical left and right;

2) The transaction -- Chinese gamers taking care of drudge levels of computer games -- has that whiff of cheating that will spark the ire of social conservatives (not to mention hard-core gamers);

3) The idea that sums of money are being paid for what appears to be an unproductive economic activity will cheese off traditionalists who believe that unless a job is located in an industrial factory, it serves no good purpose;

4) The Chinese benefit, which will annoy the realists;

5) In the process of the transaction, the U.S. is outsourcing its decadent Western culture to the Orient, which will annoy those uncomfortable with American power.

I eagerly await the first calls for legislation banning this kind of offshore outsourcing.

posted by Dan at 02:52 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, December 8, 2005

I'm always the last to find out....

Via Virginia Postrel, I see that I've been nominated for a 2005 Weblog Award: "Best of the Top 250 Blogs."

Virginia writes, "I don't expect to win, but I do hope to beat Dan Drezner." I'm getting creamed, so this is indeed a possibility.

[Any way to boost your numbers?--ed. Well, Megan McArdle has a foolproof approach to getting votes: "Please go vote for us. Because if we don't win, I'll cry. Big, fat tears rolling out of my dewy green eyes, staining my porcelain cheeks as my body racks with sobs. No one wants that." Alas, you have neither green eyes nor porcelain skin--ed. No.... but think of my lovely wife, who has green eyes, porcelain skin.... and dimples that disappear when she's sad. Vote for me -- don't make my wife's dimples go away. Oh, man, that's low--ed.]

posted by Dan at 11:15 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

This week in the Ahmadinejad follies...

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the gift that keeps on giving as far as I'm concerned. According to Reuters's Paul Hughes, Ahmadinejad put his foot in his mouth in Saudi Arabia today:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday expressed doubt the Holocaust took place and suggested the Jewish state of Israel be moved to Europe.

His comments, reported by Iran's official IRNA news agency from a news conference he gave in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, follow his call in October for Israel to be "wiped off the map", which sparked widespread international outrage....

Ahmadinejad was quoted by IRNA as saying: "Some European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in furnaces and they insist on it to the extent that if anyone proves something contrary to that they condemn that person and throw them in jail."

"Although we don't accept this claim, if we suppose it is true, our question for the Europeans is: is the killing of innocent Jewish people by Hitler the reason for their support to the occupiers of Jerusalem?" he said.

"If the Europeans are honest they should give some of their provinces in Europe -- like in Germany, Austria or other countries -- to the Zionists and the Zionists can establish their state in Europe. You offer part of Europe and we will support it."

I confess to being confused with Ahmadinejad's actual policy towards Israel -- does he want to relocate it to Europe or just wipe it off the map entirely?

UPDATE: The AP's Ali Akbar Dareni has a long story nicely detailing the variors international and domestic actors who have had it up to here with Ahmadinejad. The list includes the U.S., Europe, Russia, Saudia Arabia, the IAEA, Iranian moderates, and "[e]ven some of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's conservative allies." This quote, however, is really priceless: "Saudis fumed Friday that Iran's hard-line president marred a summit dedicated to showing Islam's moderate face by calling for Israel to be moved to Europe."


posted by Dan at 07:46 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Our comparative advantage in risk

Paul Blustein frets in the Washington Post that many developing countries are heading for another financial bubble:

International money managers are pouring funds at a record pace into the emerging markets of Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. Cash is gushing into mutual funds that specialize in emerging markets, and billions of dollars more are flowing into such countries from giant insurance companies and pension funds.

Turkey's stock market is up more than 50 percent this year; Mexico's is up more than 30 percent; Egyptian stocks have more than doubled. And investors are snapping up bonds issued by emerging-market governments with remarkable gusto.

Therein lie the makings of future disasters, in the view of many economists, market veterans and policymakers. Having pumped large sums into emerging markets at a time of low interest rates and high prices for the commodities that many developing countries produce, investors may well bolt when conditions deteriorate, with the sudden outflow of cash devastating economies and plunging governments into default.

"I worry that there's this perfect storm coming for emerging markets," said Kristin J. Forbes, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics professor who served until early this year on President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers.

To hear professional investors tell it, their current bullishness is based on the vastly more prudent economic policies that emerging-market nations have adopted. They cite the higher ratings bestowed by credit agencies such as Moody's and Standard & Poor's on countries that only a few years ago were plagued by defaults and currency devaluations. For example, government bonds issued by Mexico, Russia and Poland now qualify as "investment grade."

"Those ratings have come from fundamental improvements in monetary and fiscal policy," said Dario Pedrajo, senior portfolio manager at Biscayne Americas Advisors. "Deficit spending has declined considerably in emerging-market countries."

But skeptics contend that the main reason for the boom is the paltry level of interest rates in the United States, Europe and Japan, which prompts money managers flush with cash to scour the globe for investments providing at least slightly better returns. "There's just a huge amount of money sloshing around looking for a place to go," said Desmond Lachman, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute who, as a Wall Street research analyst, was one of the first to predict doom for Argentina well before its 2001 default.

The problem, Lachman and others said, is that the influx of cash makes the financial strength of many countries look better than it really is -- and deludes government officials into believing that their policies must be near-perfect. "Even Turkeys Fly When the Winds Are Strong" is how Lachman put it in the title of an article he published recently in the magazine International Economy.

Lachman's article is mostly about Latin America -- but this paragraph captures his jitters pretty well:
What is also surprising is how little attention Latin American investors seem to be paying to the gathering storm clouds over the global economy. How long do they think that global economic growth can be sustained at its recent pace with international oil prices likely to remain at their currently heady levels? Or how long do they think that international commodity prices will remain well bid in a world in which the Chinese economy slows under the weight of its deep macro-economic imbalances and in which Europe stagnates at a time of internal dissension and policy paralysis?
There appears to be an enormous irony in the pattern of global investment flows right now. As Alan Greenspan recently noted, there has been a decline in the home bias of investment:
The decline in home bias is reflected in savers increasingly reaching across national borders to invest in foreign assets. The rise in U.S. productivity growth attracted much of those savings toward investments in the United States. The greater rates of productivity growth in the United States, compared with still-subdued rates abroad, have apparently engendered corresponding differences in risk-adjusted expected rates of return and hence in the demand for U.S.-based assets....

[S]tarting in the 1990s, home bias began to decline discernibly, the consequence of a dismantling of restrictions on capital flows and the advance of information and communication technologies that has effectively shrunk the time and distance that separate markets around the world. The vast improvements in these technologies have broadened investors' vision to the point that foreign investment appears less risky than it did in earlier times.

Accordingly, the weighted correlation between national saving rates and domestic investment rates for countries representing four-fifths of world gross domestic product (GDP) declined from a coefficient of around 0.97 in 1992, where it had hovered since 1970, to an estimated low of 0.68 last year.

The irony is that this home bias is affecting U.S. investors as well -- the Blustein article demonstrates that even as massive sums of savings from the developing world are making their way to the safe haven of the United States, institutional investors in this country are channeling more funds to the developng world.

Does this make any sense? Most people would instinctively say no, and Blustein's implication in his article is that this crazy. My hunch is that it makes a fair amount of sense, because U.S. capital markets and financial institutions possess both a comparative and absolute advantage in coping with risk. This allows them to place large bets in developing country equity markets and earn a higher rate of return than those investing in the U.S.

Then again, I don't have large sums of money invested in the Turkish stock market. Large, wealthy investors are heartily encouraged to post comments on how sanguine they feel about global equity markets.

posted by Dan at 10:24 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Everything you always wanted to know about trade but were afraid to ask

Foreign Affairs has just released a special issue pertaining to all things about multilateral trade -- no subscription required. Contributors include Jagdish Bhagwati, Peter Sutherland, Carla Hills, and Charlene Barshefsky,and William Cline.

I recommend the contributions by Arvind Panagariya and C. Fred Bergsten. Panagariya does an excellent job of disentangling the complexities of the agricultural negotiations:

The common assertion that agricultural liberalization in rich countries would bring large benefits to LDCs is mistaken. These states -- many of them poor African countries -- benefit from the current regime because they can sell their exports at the high EU prices and buy imports at the low world prices. (Cotton is perhaps the sole exception: U.S. subsidies hurt poor countries because the EU tariff on cotton is zero and therefore its internal price for cotton is the same as the world price.) Gains to those developing countries not in the Cairns Group would accrue principally from their own liberalization. The principle of comparative advantage applies just as much to agriculture as to industry. Moreover, because developing countries do not currently enjoy trade preferences in one another's markets, they stand to gain from access there.

Meanwhile, liberalization in developed countries would principally benefit them. Ending their agricultural subsidies would eliminate not only inefficiencies but also the losses from the spillover of the subsidies to the importing countries. Cutting tariffs will generate benefits for their consumers by lowering prices. And countries with a comparative advantage in agriculture -- mainly developed countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as well as the richer developing countries in the Cairns Group such as Brazil, Argentina, Malaysia, and Indonesia -- would benefit from the higher world prices that would follow liberalization in the developed countries.

Gains from the removal of subsidies under the Doha Round, moreover, are likely to be much smaller than previously thought. For one thing, negotiable subsidies have never been as large as has been publicized, and they have declined in importance over the years. Today, export subsidies are in the $3 billion to $5 billion range and domestic subsidies subject to negotiations are well below $100 billion. These numbers are not insignificant, but they are much smaller than commonly believed, making tariffs the more serious barrier to agricultural trade.

Bergsten's essay provides an autopsy of the underlying political pressures that ail the Doha round:
The main problems that undermine the prospects for a successful Doha Round, however, lie outside the negotiations themselves. Three factors stand out: the massive current account imbalances and currency misalignments pushing trade politics in dangerously protectionist directions in both the United States and Europe; the strong and growing antiglobalization sentiments that stalemate virtually every trade debate on both sides of the Atlantic and elsewhere; and the absence of a compelling reason for the political leaders of the chief holdout countries to make the necessary concessions to reach an agreement. Progress on each front is necessary for the Doha negotiators to have a chance of succeeding.
[Sure, the Foreign Affairs essays tell you what the elite thinks. But what about average, ordinary, hard-working Americans?--ed.] Well, then, scoot on over to the German Marshall Fund's latest survey results on how Americans feel about trade and poverty reduction. Some of the more interesting results:
Despite broad agreement (73%) that freer trade helps to boost prosperity, clear majorities in France (74%), Italy (65%), Germany (59%), and the United States (57%) believe that freer international trade decreases total jobs in their country. In a related question, 37% of European and 46% of American respondents favor protecting domestic jobs by raising tariffs, even if this means higher consumer prices....

Democracy is an important factor in determining public support for helping or trading with poor countries. Overwhelming majorities support providing development assistance (80%) and promoting trade (80%) with poor countries that are democratically run, but with the mention of non-democratic regimes, support for aid and trade drops dramatically to under 45%. Most American (78%) and European (88%) respondents also agree that aid levels should be linked to a country’s efforts to fight poverty and promote democratic governance.....

While reducing U.S. and European agricultural subsidies is a make-or-break issue in WTO talks, it does not resonate strongly with respondents in any of the countries polled. When asked about phasing out subsidies to large domestic farms, roughly equal numbers find this a high (34%), a medium (33%), or a low (29%) priority for their government to address.

But overall, more people look favorably on providing subsidies to small farms (71%) than approve of subsidizing large farms (50%)—an attitude that contrasts with the current distribution of U.S. and EU subsidies, under which large farms receive the bulk of subsidy payments. Three quarters (74%) of U.S. respondents have a favorable view of providing subsidies to small farms, compared with 55% favorable in the case of large farms. Support for farm subsidies is lowest in Germany: 56% favorable in the case of small farms, dropping to just 32% favorable in the case of large farms. In France, 78% percent of people have a positive view of subsidizing small farms, but this plunges to just 40% who like the idea of subsidizing large farms (while a 59% majority disapprove). Given the French government’s resistance to any further cuts to farm support, this distinction in public opinion is noteworthy.

UPDATE: One last article worth reading -- Christina Davis makes the paradoxical argument in the International Herald-Tribune that the prospects for trade liberalization would improve if the Hong Kong meetings failed:
Patching over the differences in order to avoid headlines about a negotiation collapse would send the wrong signal. It would allow leaders in France to think that they can coddle the farm sector with exceptions for every special product and still pretend to care about development goals. It would allow leaders in Japan to believe that they can refuse a 100 percent ceiling on agricultural tariffs and still say they are committed to upholding the world trade system. It would allow the United States to continue spending $19 billion annually on its farmers while pointing fingers at other governments who fail to liberalize.

Dramatic failure, on the other hand, might finally catch the attention of business lobbies and the public that pay little heed to the interminably long negotiations over the minutiae of trade formulas. The lines of disagreement should be widely publicized. Such failure would highlight the linkage between agricultural liberalization and broader trade liberalization.

posted by Dan at 10:37 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

I'll be on the radio tonight

From 9-11 this evening I'll be one of the guests on Extension 720 with Milt Rosenberg on WGN Radio this evening. The other guests will be the lovely and talented Eszter Hargittai and fellow U of C blogger Sean Carroll from Cosmic Variance.

[So whatcha gonna talk about?--ed. According to Milt's blog, "[they] will discuss their forays into blogging, examine blogs as a cultural phenomenon, and relate how their blogs have influenced their life and our world." Draw your own conclusions. UPDATE: Sean's conclusions: "the view of the blogosphere we'll be offering will doubtless be narrow and unrepresentative, but fascinating nonetheless." How can you pass that up?]

posted by Dan at 04:47 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

George Carlin probably wouldn't call this a sport

God bless the trend reporters at the Los Angeles Times -- particularly Jeffrey Fleishman, who has a story on a brand new sport -- chess boxing:

Martin "Amok" Thomas is jabbing a right, but Frank "so-cool-he-doesn't-need-a-nickname" Stoldt is as elusive as a ribbon in the wind. He can't be hit.


The gloves come off, and the men hurry across the canvas to the chessboard. (You heard it right.) Amok took a couple of body shots, and he's breathing hard, but he had better focus. That Stoldt, though, everyone in the gym knows he's this warrior-thinker, slamming the speed clock, cunningly moving his queen amid unraveling bandages and dripping sweat, daring Amok to leave him a sliver of opportunity.


Velcro rips. Amok slides back into his Everlast gloves, bites down on his mouthpiece, dances around the ropes. His king's in trouble, and his punches couldn't knock lint off a jacket. Stoldt floats toward him like a cloud of big hurt.

Such is the bewildering beauty of chessboxing. That's one word, as in alternating rounds of four minutes of chess followed by two minutes of boxing.

The World Chess Boxing Organization provides more detailed rules:
In a chessboxing fight two opponents play alternating rounds of chess and boxing. The contest starts with a round of chess, followed by a boxing round, followed by another round of chess and so on. In every round of chess the FIDE rules for a ´Blitz game´ apply, in every boxing round the AIBA rules apply with the following extensions and modifications: In a contest there shall be 11 rounds, 6 rounds of chess, 5 rounds of boxing. A round of chess takes 4 minutes. Each competitor has 12 minutes on the chess timer. As soon as the time runs out the game is over.

A round of boxing takes 2 minutes. Between rounds there is a 1 minute pause, during which competitors change their gear. The contest is decided by: checkmate (chess round), exceeding the time limit (chess round), retirement of an opponent (chess or boxing round), KO (boxing round), or referee decision (boxing round). If the chess game ends in a stalement, the opponent with the higher score in boxing wins. If there is an equal score, the opponent with the black pieces wins.

And, of course, there is a chess boxing blog. If you're interested in participating in a sanctioned chess boxing match, click here!

[I detect some mild mockery in this post;you really want to piss off the chessboxers?--ed. On the contrary, this could sell. Thirty years ago no one took beach volleyball seriously, and now it's a professional sport.... that advertises on blogs. So would you ever watch chess boxing?--ed. Er, probably not -- but I could be tempted to watch celebrity chessboxing. Just think of Naomi Watts vs. Salma Hayek. Yes, just think......]

posted by Dan at 09:57 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, December 5, 2005

Political science enters the White House

Scott Shane had a New York Times front-pager on Sunday about the chief architect of the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" that was released earlier this week. Turns out it's a political scientist that I know:

There could be no doubt about the theme of President Bush's Iraq war strategy speech on Wednesday at the Naval Academy. He used the word victory 15 times in the address; "Plan for Victory" signs crowded the podium he spoke on; and the word heavily peppered the accompanying 35-page National Security Council document titled, "Our National Strategy for Victory in Iraq."

Although White House officials said many federal departments had contributed to the document, its relentless focus on the theme of victory strongly reflected a new voice in the administration: Peter D. Feaver, a Duke University political scientist who joined the N.S.C. staff as a special adviser in June and has closely studied public opinion on the war.

Despite the president's oft-stated aversion to polls, Dr. Feaver was recruited after he and Duke colleagues presented the administration with an analysis of polls about the Iraq war in 2003 and 2004. They concluded that Americans would support a war with mounting casualties on one condition: that they believed it would ultimately succeed.

That finding, which is questioned by other political scientists, was clearly behind the victory theme in the speech and the plan, in which the word appears six times in the table of contents alone, including sections titled "Victory in Iraq is a Vital U.S. Interest" and "Our Strategy for Victory is Clear."

"This is not really a strategy document from the Pentagon about fighting the insurgency," said Christopher F. Gelpi, Dr. Feaver's colleague at Duke and co-author of the research on American tolerance for casualties. "The Pentagon doesn't need the president to give a speech and post a document on the White House Web site to know how to fight the insurgents. The document is clearly targeted at American public opinion."....

Based on their study of poll results from the first two years of the war, Dr. Gelpi, Dr. Feaver and Jason Reifler, then a Duke graduate student, took issue with what they described as the conventional wisdom since the Vietnam War - that Americans will support military operations only if American casualties are few.

They found that public tolerance for the human cost of combat depended on two factors: a belief that the war was a worthy cause, and even more important, a belief that the war was likely to be successful.

In their paper, "Casualty Sensitivity and the War in Iraq," which is to be published soon in the journal International Security, Dr. Feaver and his colleagues wrote: "Mounting casualties did not produce a reflexive collapse in public support. The Iraq case suggests that under the right conditions, the public will continue to support military operations even when they come with a relatively high human cost."....

Asked about who wrote the document, a White House official said Dr. Feaver had helped conceive and draft the plan, though the official said a larger role belonged to another N.S.C. staff member, Meghan L. O'Sullivan, the deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan, and her staff. The official would describe the individual roles only on condition of anonymity because his superiors wanted the strategy portrayed as a unified administration position....

The Feaver-Gelpi hypothesis on public opinion about the war is the subject of serious debate among political scientists. John Mueller, of Ohio State University, said he did not believe that the president's speech or the victory plan - which he described as "very Feaverish, or Feaveresque" - could produce more than a fleeting improvement in public support for the war, because it was likely to erode further as casualties accumulated.

"As the costs go up, support goes down," he said, citing patterns from the Korean and Vietnam wars.

This is roiling elements of the mainstream media and liberal blogosphere. It's telling that the Indianapolis Star, running the same NYT story, has as its headline, "Iraq plan appears intended to win the war at home" (the NYT has the more neutral "Bush's Speech on Iraq War Echoes Voice of an Analyst"). Laura Rozen, for example, scoffs that, "The strategy is mostly designed as PR for the American public." The indictment would seem to be that the Bush administration is more concerned with the domestic politics of the Iraq war than with actually winning on the ground in Baghdad.

As someone who's been more than a little displeased with the administration's handling of Iraq, let me state that this charge is absolutely true. The implication that this is somehow misguided is a bunch of horses**t.

Yes, this week's events were aimed primarily at a domestic audience. But that's because, as Shane points out in the Times piece, the military already knows what its mission is in Iraq -- doing everything possible to supply security in the short run and training the Iraqis to provide security in the long run (with logistical and air support from the U.S.). For all the analogies to Vietnam that are floating around, the administration's actual plan is almost a Vietnam in reverse -- to move from 1968 (having U.S. forces doing the bulk of the fighting) to 1961 (having U.S. forces providing a training, advisory, and logistical role). As Fred Kaplan points out in Slate, this goal has actually started to seep into the military's strategic culture. One could even argue that this plan has achieved quite a bit.

Now it's true that there are other plans out there for consideration. It's also true, as James Fallows points out in the December Atlantic, that the administration didn't really have an actual plan until the summer of 2004, and the administration deserves all the hell it can catch for that Mongolian cluster-f**k. But the plan it has now has been in place for some time. John Dickerson points out in Slate that this fact is bedeviling certain Democratic critics:

There are reasonable grounds for criticizing the Bush/Casey strategy for dealing with the insurgency as flawed. It may be too little too late, or it may be based on rosy assumptions. But Kerry doesn't challenge it on any substantive basis. He can't, because to do so would acknowledge that Bush is offering a solution to the problem of U.S. troops inspiring insurgents.
Which brings us to the purpose of this week's events.

The assumption underlying Feaver and Gelpi's hypothesis is so simple that it's never stated in the article -- if a sufficiently large majority opposes an ongoing military intervention, any administration will have to withdraw regardless of the strategic wisdom of such a move. This is why, I suspect, the administration reacts so badly whenever it deals with domestic criticism about the war -- it recognizes that flagging domestic support will translate into a strategic straitjacket (though do read Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard for a more.... creative explanation).

The Feaver/Gelpi solution to this conundrum is to have the President spell out a clear definition for victory. And my suspicion is that they're right -- so long as that definition contains criteria that can be verifiable by non-governmental sources.

So, yes, in part what happened last week was an exercise in public relations. But it was also a completely proper use of PR.

posted by Dan at 11:51 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (0)

Blegging for help on Hong Kong

I'll in Hong Kong all next week to take a first-hand look at the World Trade Organization's Ministerial Conference. I'll be representing the Geman Marshall Fund of the United States as an "NGO observer" -- those of you who have read my scholarly work on globalization can drink in the rich ironies of that designation pour moi.

Anyway, while I won't have oodles of free time, I might have the occasional hour or two off. So I'm asking you, good readers, to fill me in on what must be seen and done in Hong Kong, or even Shenzen. Sure, the New York Times' Keith Bradsher provides some useful tips, but I have every confidence that the collective intelligence of readers can improve on Bradsher's advice.

UPDATE: Hmmm.... Justine Lau and Frances Williams have a report in the Financial Times implicitly suggesting that the NGO protestors might get a bit unruly:

Peter Yam, the police director of operations, said he expected at least three large demonstrations to take place, each of which could draw as many as 10,000 people.

“We have measures to deal with all scenarios. We will not allow anyone to disrupt the conference, threaten the personal safety of others, cause damage to property, or cause serious disruption of traffic,” said Mr Yam, who said 9,000 officers, or one-third of the force, would be deployed.

In comparison, fewer than 800 police were mobilised on Sunday when 250,000 marched for democracy in Hong Kong.

posted by Dan at 10:06 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Do the insurgents really want the U.S. to withdraw?

Time's Michael Ware has a long profile of the Iraqi insurgency and U.S. strategies to cope with it. The single most depressing sentence: "After 31 months of fighting in Iraq, the U.S. still can't say for sure whom it is up against."

The basic thrust of the article is that the U.S. believes that a fair amount of the insurgency consists of "Sunni rejectionists," an odd word choice given that they are nevertheless interested in participating:

The vast majority of those groups fall into a category the military dubiously refers to as Sunni "rejectionists." Mostly Baathists, nationalists and Iraqi Islamists, they oppose the occupation and any Baghdad government dominated by Iraqis sheltered from Saddam by foreign-intelligence agencies, such as Iran's or the U.S.'s. But they don't oppose democracy in Iraq. Many voted in the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum and have plans to participate in the Dec. 15 election. Few see a contradiction between voting and continuing to battle U.S. forces. "I voted in the referendum, and I'm still fighting, and everybody in my organization did the same," says Abu Marwan, the Army of Mohammed commander. "This is two-track war--bullets and the ballot. They are not mutually exclusive."
Here's the most revealing paragraph:
Evidence of shifts within the insurgency in some ways presents the U.S. with its best opportunity since the occupation began to counter parts of the Sunni resistance. Adopting the long-standing attitudes of secular Baathists, some Sunni leaders tell TIME they have lost patience with al-Zarqawi and would consider cutting a political deal with the U.S. to isolate the jihadis. "If the Americans evidenced good intent and a timetable [there's that word again--DD] for withdrawal we feel is genuine, we will stand up against al-Zarqawi," says Abdul Salam al-Qubaisi, spokesman for the Association of Muslim Scholars. "We already stood up against him on the Shi'ite issue, and if he doesn't follow us, it will be a bad path for him." Baathist insurgent leader Abu Yousif, who has met with U.S. intelligence officers, says, "The insurgency is looking for a political outlet--once we have that, we could control al-Qaeda."
Color me skeptical about these assertions, for one simple reason -- the Sunnis will be the big losers when/if the United States were to withdraw. It would be irrational of them to give up the extralegal strategy of insurgency, precisely because such a tactic has garnered them influence beyond their number to date.

Assume the withdrawal goes well. in any electoral democracy, the Sunnis will lose because they are vastly outnumbered by the Shia and the Kurds. Now assume the withdrawal goes poorly -- the insurgents will face a Shia majority pefectly willing to use extralegal means to ensure that they control the levers of power. Either way, the insurgents are better off right now than they will be when the Americans leave.

The one possibility of a U.S. withdrawal contributing to the Sunnis laying down their arms is if there's some kind of grand bargain behind the scenes in which the Shiite parties basically pledge to keep their militias from engaging in any kind of a pogrom -- but if I was Sunni, I'd take my chances playing cat-and-mouse with the U.S. military instead. Indeed, my strategy would be not to engage with U.S. forces at all, but do as much damage to Shia-predominant military units as possible.

[What about the possibility that Iraqis are now in the mood to vote for secular, non-sectarian parties?--ed. Again, great for the Sunnis, if true -- but the disturbing thing about both the Time piece and the Christian Science Monitor story linked above is that neither of them have any hard data -- just assertions by the reporter. Also remember that the supposed beneficiary of this secular trend -- former PM Iyad Allawi -- just got pelted with shoes in Najaf.]

posted by Dan at 09:45 AM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, December 4, 2005

It's good to look at the big picture every once in a while
I've blogged previously about the fact that there has been a secular trend in the world towards reduced interstate and intrastate violence -- i.e., there's a lot less war going on. Oxblog links to a new endeavour -- the Human Security Report, which is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and the governments of Canada, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, and the U.K. The overview is chock-full of heart-warming statistics:
  • The number of genocides and politicides plummeted by 80% between 1988 and 2001.
  • The number of armed conflicts around the world has declined by more than 40% since the early 1990s.
  • International crises, often harbingers of war, declined by more than 70% between 1981 and 2001.
  • The number of refugees dropped by some 45% between 1992 and 2003, as more and more wars came toan end.
  • The period since the end of World War II is the longest interval of uninterrupted peace between the major powers in hundreds of years.
  • The number of actual and attempted military coups has been declining for more than 40 years. In 1963 there were 25 coups and attempted coups around the world, the highest number in the post–World War II period. In 2004 there were only 10 coup attempts--a 60% decline. All of them failed. [I've touched on this point before as well--DD.]
  • [So, is there any bad news?--ed.] Sure -- the rate of reported rapes has more than doubled in the past eight years. [Couldn't that also be, in an odd way, a good thing? Rapes might not be more frequent so much as that they are now reported, which implies a greater acceptance of the notion of rape as acrime?--ed.] The optimist in me would like to agree with this, but the fact that the doubling has taken place in the last seven years makes me very suspicious. One would assume that improved reporting should lead to a slow secular increase (which is the long-term trend) rather than the current spike. Unless a big country like China or India suddenly improved its data collection, that spike is definitely worrisome. UPDATE: Thanks to Kevin Drum for the link. Some of the commenters are suggesting that this peaceful trend ended in 2001. I'm happy to report that this is not true -- it's just that some of the data listed above ended in 2001. Overall, let me quote from Gregg Easterbrook's TNR essay on this subject from six months ago:
    Everyone agrees that the worst moment for human conflict was World War II; but how to rank, say, the current separatist fighting in Indonesia versus, say, the Algerian war of independence is more speculative. Nevertheless, the Peace and Conflict studies name 1991 as the peak post-World War II year for totality of global fighting, giving that year a ranking of 179 on a scale that rates the extent and destructiveness of combat. By 2000, in spite of war in the Balkans and genocide in Rwanda, the number had fallen to 97; by 2002 to 81; and, at the end of 2004, it stood at 65. This suggests the extent and intensity of global combat is now less than half what it was 15 years ago.
    posted by Dan at 12:04 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)