Saturday, April 8, 2006

April's Books on the Month

This month's international relations book is Jack Goldsmith and Timothy Wu's Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World. Here's the Publisher's Weekly summary:

Is the Internet truly "flattening" the modern world? Will national boundaries crumble beneath the ever-increasing volume of Internet traffic? Goldsmith and Wu, both professors of law (Goldsmith at Harvard, Wu at Columbia), think not, and they present an impressive array of evidence in their favor. The authors argue national governments will continue to maintain their sovereignty in the age of the Internet, largely because of economics: e-businesses-even giants such as Yahoo, Google and eBay-need governmental support in order to function. When Yahoo, an American company, was tried in French court for facilitating the auctioning of Nazi paraphernalia in violation of French law, the company was eventually forced to comply with local laws or risk losing the ability to operate in France. As eBay grew into an Internet powerhouse, its "feedback" system could not keep up with cunning con artists, so it hired hundreds of fraud prevention specialists (known as "eBay cops"). Goldsmith and Wu begin with an overview of the Internet's early days, replete with anecdotes and key historical chapters that will be unknown to many readers, but their book quickly introduces its main contention: that existing international law has the power to control the Internet, a conclusion web pundits, cyberlaw specialists and courts across the globe will inevitably challenge. Wu's and Goldsmith's account of the power struggle between the Utopian roots of the Internet and the hegemony of national governments is a timely chronicle of a history still very much in the works.
I think Goldsmith and Wu have written an informative, engaging and provocative book that will undoubtedly challenge most people's preconceptions of the Internet. This is the most important book about the politics of the Internet since Lawrence Lessig's Code.... at least, that's what I said on the back cover. So go check it out.

If you need further convincing, check out Wu and Goldsmith's exchange in Slate with Glenn Reynolds from last week.

For a change of pace, the general interest book is a novel: Allegra Goodman's Intuition. I've been a big fan of Goodman's for quite some time, but this is her best novel by far, because this time around Goodman marries her impeccable narration to a great plot. It's about a struggling cancer lab, a post-doc that stumbles into an apparent breakthrough, the ways in which that breakthrough disrupts the dense network of friendships that allows the lab to function, and what happens when the breakthough is called into question. With Intuition, Goodman managed to pull off the double-coup of earning rave reviews from the Economist and Entertainment Weekly.

Here are three reasons why Intuition is so good (there are many more than three). First, Goodman nails both the quotidian and the big picture aspcts of what it is like to do research for a living. Joy, despair, jealousy, competition, curiosity -- she gets it. Second, and more important, Goodman has created characters with motivations that are simple and yet not so simple. One can try to come up one-sentence explanations for why the protagonists do what they do, and fail -- because real people don't operate like that most of the time. Third, Goodman manages to convey the horrors of what happens to everyone involved when accusations of scientific malfeasance become public knowledge. For anyone who's held a research position, that section of the book will be a gripping read.

Go check them out!

posted by Dan at 01:08 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, April 7, 2006

Trade, development... and free ponies!!

The latest Cato Unbound features New York University's William Easterly, author of The White Man's Burden, on "Why Doesn't Aid Work?" There will also be reaction essays from the World Bank's Branko Milanovic, Deepak Lal of UCLA, and the Center for Global Development's Steve Radelet. Go check it out -- you can read my review of Easterly's book here.

On a related topic, I see that Robert Reich reviewed Joseph Stiglitz and Andrew Charlton's new book Fair Trade for All. As Reich recounts the book's policy prescriptions, it appears that Stiglitz and Charlton believe in free ponies:

Stiglitz and Charlton show that standard economic assumptions are wrong when it comes to many developing economies. When markets in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere are opened, people often can't move easily to new industries where the nation has a comparative advantage. Transportation systems that might get them there are often primitive, housing is inadequate and job training is scarce. They're vulnerable in the meantime because safety nets are weak or nonexistent. Most people lack access to credit or insurance because financial institutions are frail, so they're unable to start their own businesses or otherwise take advantage of new opportunities that trade might bring. Many poor countries are already plagued by high unemployment, and job losses in the newly traded sector might just add to it.

Hence, the authors argue, the pace at which poorer nations open their markets to trade should coincide with the development of new institutions — roads, schools, banks and the like — that make such transitions easier and generate real opportunities. Since many poor nations can't afford the investments required to build these institutions, rich nations have a responsibility to help....

Moreover, they warn, one size does not fit all. Richer nations should not force all poorer nations to abide by the same market-opening rules and timetables. Poorer nations have different needs. They are at different stages of economic development (subsistence agriculture in much of Africa and parts of Asia, export-oriented agriculture in Latin America and other parts of Asia, early-stage industrialization elsewhere). They have different political and institutional capacities.

The problem with this argument is the same as the problem with Stiglitz's Globalization and Its Discontents and Sachs' An End to Poverty -- they recognize that markets in the developing world lack vital infrastructure, but fail to recognize that developing governments suffer from even greater institutional deficits. Expecting these governments to determine when their proteted sectors should become unprotected from a welfare economic perspective is wishful thinking -- in large part because these governments will not want to give up the rents that they extract from trade protection.

[But states like Japan and South Korea pulled this off!--ed. That's a matter of some debate, but accept the premise as given. The states that could pull this off have already done it. I ask my readers to identify states with well-developed institutional capabilities that have yet to hit the fast track of economic growth.]

While Stiglitz and Charlton are at it, they should also wish for some ponies.

posted by Dan at 11:16 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

A slippery slope for the Passover diet?

The Passover holiday starts next week. As Jews -- and philo-Semites -- begin to think about the Seder, they should check out this Joan Nathan story in the New York Times from a few days ago. It's about how Orthodox rabbis are lightening up on baking for Passover:

When Emily Moore, a Seattle-based chef and instructor, was invited to consult on recipes for Streit's Matzo, she assumed that the baked goods would have their traditional heft, because no leavening can be used during Passover.

Not so, said Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik, a member of a prominent rabbinic dynasty, who oversees the company's ritual observances. Let the cookies and cakes rise, he told her. Let there be baking soda and baking powder.

"He acted like I was crazy," Ms. Moore said.

The biblical prohibition against leavened bread at Passover — which begins on Wednesday night — has kept observant Jews from using any leavening at all. Cakes and cookies of matzo meal (ground matzo), matzo cake meal (which is more finely ground) and nuts can be tasty, but dense.

So it will surprise many Jews — it certainly surprised me — that among the profusion of products that most Orthodox certification agencies have approved for Passover are not just baking soda, but also baking powder.

Some rabbis are lifting other dietary prohibitions that they say were based on misunderstandings or overly cautious interpretations of biblical sanctions, and because they want to simplify the observance.

This is all to the good... indeed, as someone who, after careful empirical research, has determined that everything tastes better with bacon, I can only hope that small steps like the easing of Passover restrictions lead to larger reforms in the Kosher dietary laws.

Mmmmm..... baking powder.....

posted by Dan at 05:33 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, April 6, 2006

What, exactly, is the U.S. strategy for the U.N. Human Rights Council?

Warren Hoge reports in the New York Times on a head-scratching policy decision by the Bush administration with regard to the newfangled United Nations Human Rights Council:

The United States said Thursday it would not be a candidate for the new United Nations Human Rights Council, which was approved last month by the General Assembly with Washington nearly alone in opposition.

Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said the United States would sit out the first election for the council in May but would support other countries with strong human rights records and would probably run for a seat next year.

The council, which will hold its first meeting in Geneva in June, replaces the Human Rights Commission, which had been widely discredited for allowing notorious rights abusers like Sudan and Zimbabwe on the panel....

Thursday's announcement by the State Department followed weeks of intense consultations throughout the Bush White House that appeared to many United Nations officials to be preparing the ground for American participation on the panel.

Several members of Congress, including some of the United Nations' harshest Republican critics, had joined rights groups in lobbying the Bush administration to make the United States a candidate.

Although it voted against the council last month, saying that the new membership requirements still would not do enough to keep major human rights violators out, the United States had agreed to help finance the panel and pledged to support it....

Felice Gaer, director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, said it was a mistake for the United States to wait for future elections to run.

"All key decisions about serious reform issues, from the curtailment of inappropriate bodies to whether and how countries are scrutinized, will be made in the first year," she said.

Countering that argument, John R. Bolton, the United States envoy, said, "I believe rather strongly that our leverage in terms of the performance of the new council is greater by the U.S. not running and sending the signal 'this is not business as usual' this year than if we were to run."

Among the Republican critics who had counseled joining the panel were Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota, who has frequently called for Secretary General Kofi Annan to quit; Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman; and Representative Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, who is sponsor of a bill that would withhold United States dues from the United Nations. (emphasis added)

I haven't paid a lot of attention to the negotiations surrounding the new Human Rights Council, and I'm guessing that the Bush administration has some valid reasons to object to the criteria for election to the new Council (Hoge reports that Cuba is running).

That said, can anyone explain the logic in Bolton's statement, because I confess it escapes me. This seems to fall under the category of mindless unilateralism that Max Boot lamented about earlier this week?

UPDATE: Brett Schaefer and Nile Gardiner argue in a Heritage WebMemo that the U.S. made the right call:

With the vulnerabilities of the new Council, the U.S. has made the right decision in adopting a wait and see approach. China, Cuba, and Iran, all notorious human rights violators, have already announced their intention to run for seats on the Council. Should they gain membership, it will be a clear sign that the new Council will be just as impotent as its predecessor. If their applications and those of other dictatorships are rejected, it will demonstrate that UN member states are taking the Council more seriously than the old Commission and that the new body may merit the effort necessary to secure a seat in the future.

For now, however, that seems unlikely. As the New York Times editorialized, while skewering the failure of international human rights group such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to hold the UN to a higher standard, the Council proposal was “so watered down that it has become an ugly sham, offering cover to an unacceptable status quo.” The U.S. can use its diplomatic resources more profitably than to pursue now a seat on this unpromising body....

There are no criteria for membership on the Council. New members of the Council will be elected by a simple majority of the General Assembly. No state, no matter how poor its human rights record, is barred from membership—even states under Security Council sanction are not excluded. UN member states are simply instructed that a state’s human rights record should be “taken into account” when they vote for prospective Council members. Some UN member states have pledged to oppose human rights abusers seeking Council membership, but they are unlikely to have the votes necessary to block their election.

posted by Dan at 08:29 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

When is "a major health problem" good news?

When it's not as bad as a national catastrophe. Tyler Cowen links to a Washington Post story by Craig Timberg on how AIDS infection rates in most of Africa have been wildly overestimated:

Researchers said nearly two decades ago that this tiny country was part of an AIDS Belt stretching across the midsection of Africa, a place so infected with a new, incurable disease that, in the hardest-hit places, one in three working-age adults were already doomed to die of it.

But AIDS deaths on the predicted scale never arrived here, government health officials say. A new national study illustrates why: The rate of HIV infection among Rwandans ages 15 to 49 is 3 percent, according to the study, enough to qualify as a major health problem but not nearly the national catastrophe once predicted.

The new data suggest the rate never reached the 30 percent estimated by some early researchers, nor the nearly 13 percent given by the United Nations in 1998.

The study and similar ones in 15 other countries have shed new light on the disease across Africa. Relying on the latest measurement tools, they portray an epidemic that is more female and more urban than previously believed, one that has begun to ebb in much of East Africa and has failed to take off as predicted in most of West Africa....

Most of the studies were conducted by ORC Macro, a research corporation based in Calverton, Md., and were funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, other international donors and various national governments in the countries where the studies took place.

Taken together, they raise questions about monitoring by the U.N. AIDS agency, which for years overestimated the extent of HIV/AIDS in East and West Africa and, by a smaller margin, in southern Africa, according to independent researchers and U.N. officials.

"What we had before, we cannot trust it," said Agnes Binagwaho, a senior Rwandan health official.

Years of HIV overestimates, researchers say, flowed from the long-held assumption that the extent of infection among pregnant women who attended prenatal clinics provided a rough proxy for the rate among all working-age adults in a country. Working age was usually defined as 15 to 49. These rates also were among the only nationwide data available for many years, especially in Africa, where health tracking was generally rudimentary.

The new studies show, however, that these earlier estimates were skewed in favor of young, sexually active women in the urban areas that had prenatal clinics. Researchers now know that the HIV rate among these women tends to be higher than among the general population.

The new studies rely on random testing conducted across entire countries, rather than just among pregnant women, and they generally require two forms of blood testing to guard against the numerous false positive results that inflated early estimates of the disease. These studies also are far more effective at measuring the often dramatic variations in infection rates between rural and urban people and between men and women.

It should be stressed that HIV/AIDS infection rates on Southern Africa are alarmingly high.

That said, this is still unambiguously good news.

posted by Dan at 01:01 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Thank God for the Guardian's watch on the American Academy!!

The headline of the Guardian's special report on free speech in the American academy by Gary Younge is "Silence in class." The subhead:

University professors denounced for anti-Americanism; schoolteachers suspended for their politics; students encouraged to report on their tutors. Are US campuses in the grip of a witch-hunt of progressives, or is academic life just too liberal?
Wow, this sounds pretty bad. Oh, wait, let's get to the text of the piece:
Few would argue there are direct parallels between the current assaults on liberals in academe and McCarthyism. Unlike the McCarthy era, most threats to academic freedom - real or perceived - do not, yet, involve the state. Nor are they buttressed by widespread popular support, as anticommunism was during the 50s. But in other ways, argues Ellen Schrecker, author of Many Are the Crimes - McCarthyism in America, comparisons are apt.

"In some respects it's more dangerous," she says. "McCarthyism dealt mainly with off-campus political activities. Now they focus on what is going on in the classroom. It's very dangerous because it's reaching into the core academic functions of the university, particularly in Middle-Eastern studies."

Either way, a growing number of apparently isolated incidents suggests a mood which is, if nothing else, determined, relentless and aimed openly at progressives in academe.

Read the whole article -- it's a compendium of the current attacks on various academics. It seems like small beer to me, and not exactly worthy of a Guardian special report. In the words of one academic who has been verbally attacked -- history professor Ellen DuBois: "It's not even clear this is much other than the ill-considered action of a handful, if that, of individuals."

Or am I underreacting? I'll leave that to the commenters.

posted by Dan at 11:43 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

In the interest of promoting an open debate....

I'm not commenting on the Walt/Mearsheimer article again... just linking in the interest of promoting an open debate:


1) Josef Joffe, "Common Denominator," TNR Online, April 6, 2006:

The gravest indictment is that the screed is anti-American. For campaigning on behalf of this or that U.S. foreign policy is as American as apple pie....

The central issue raised by "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" is: Who is in, and who is out? Whose voice is legitimate, and who speaks with treasonous intent? In the end, this 83-page pamphlet reads almost everybody out of the American congregation of 298 million. Once you subtract the Daughters of the American Revolution and the descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the rest of America is hyphenated in one way or another, divided by regional, ethnic, and religious identities.

Would they all have to apply to the self-appointed guardians of the national interest for certification as true Americans? Do they have to be a Hancock or Huntington if they want to speak up? Let's say I am a Ukrainian-American. Am I automatically suspect because I plead for an American policy that would resist Russian pressure against Kiev? I certainly would want to be opposed on the basis of my analysis, and not of my presumed ethnic loyalties....

Democracy is about "We the People." In the American case, "We" are no longer white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The secret of this oldest democracy, give or take a Civil War, is the universalism that has preempted European-style religious and ideological bloodshed. In America, everybody has a share, and it's all voting stock.

2) Eliot Cohen, "Yes, It's Anti-Semitic," Washington Post, April 5, 2006:
Oddly, these international relations realists -- who in their more normal academic lives declare that state interests determine policy, and domestic politics matters little -- have discovered the one case in which domestic politics has, for decades, determined the policy of the world's greatest state. Their theories proclaim the importance of power, not ideals, yet they abhor the thought of allying with the strongest military and most vibrant economy in the Middle East. Reporting persecution, they have declared that they could not publish their work in the United States, but they have neglected to name the academic journals that turned them down [Several press reports have stated that it was The Atlantic Monthly, which is not a peer-reviewed journal -- but then again, neither is the LRB--DD]....

Mearsheimer and Walt conceive of The Lobby as a conspiracy between the Washington Times and the New York Times, the Democratic-leaning Brookings Institution and Republican-leaning American Enterprise Institute, architects of the Oslo accords and their most vigorous opponents. In this world Douglas Feith manipulates Don Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney takes orders from Richard Perle. They dwell on public figures with Jewish names and take repeated shots at conservative Christians (acceptable subjects for prejudice in intellectual circles), but they never ask why a Sen. John McCain today or, in earlier years, a rough-hewn labor leader such as George Meany declared themselves friends of Israel.

The authors dismiss or ignore past Arab threats to exterminate Israel, as well as the sewer of anti-Semitic literature that pollutes public discourse in the Arab world today. The most recent calls by Iran's fanatical -- and nuclear weapons-hungry -- president for Israel to be "wiped off the map" they brush aside as insignificant. There is nothing here about the millions of dollars that Saudi Arabia has poured into lobbying and academic institutions, or the wealth of Islamic studies programs on American campuses, though they note with suspicion some 130 Jewish studies programs on those campuses. West Bank settlements get attention; terrorist butchery of civilians on buses or in shopping malls does not. To dispute their view of Israel is not to differ about policy but to act as a foreign agent.

3) Alan Dershowitz, "Debunking the Newest – and Oldest – Jewish Conspiracy: A Reply to the Mearsheimer-Walt 'Working Paper', "Harvard Faculty Responses to Working Papers, April 5, 2006:
One of the authors of this paper has acknowledged that “none of the evidence [in their paper] represents original documentation or is derived from independent interviews” – a surprising admission, considering that professors at great universities are judged by the originality of their research. Moreover, the paper is filled with errors and distortions that should be obvious to any critical reader, all of which are directed against Israel and the Jewish Lobby. As I will show, there are at least three major types of errors: First, quotations are wrenched out of context (for example, the authors distort a Ben-Gurion quote to make him appear to favor evacuation of Arabs by “brutal compulsion,” when he actually said that, because an evacuation would require “brutal compulsion,” it should not become “part of our programme”). Second, facts are misstated (for example, that Israeli citizenship is based on “blood kinship,” thus confusing Israel’s law of citizenship with its Law of Return; fully a quarter of Israel’s citizens are not Jewish). And third, embarrassingly poor logic is employed (for example, whenever America and Israel act on a common interest, it must be the result of pressure from “the Lobby,” and that “the mere existence of the Lobby” is proof that “support for Israel is not in the American national interest”

.......crickets chirping....... [But see update below--DD]

Seriously, I ask commenters who believe that Walt and Mearsheimer are making valid points to provide links to substantive online commentary that buttresses their position. I've seen articles defending their right to say it, and articles applauding their bravery for tackling the issue. I've seen nothing that rebuts criticism made of their piece.

An no one likes a one-sided open debate.

[Yeah, but Robert Pape defended them in the Chicago Maroon, calling them "philo-Semites of the first order"!!--ed. Well, that's not really a substantive defense. Plus, while I certainly don't think they're anti-Semites, to my knowledge my Zionist overlords learned Jewish scholars have yet to award them that distinction yet. What do you get as a philo-Semite of the first order?--ed. Free parking at all kosher delis in the United States -- and you get to run Hollywood.]

UPDATE: Someone has e-mailed a few suggestions that provide a partial defense of the Walt/Mearsheimer thesis. Here they are:

1) Daniel Levy, "So Pro-Israel That It Hurts," International Herald-Tribune, April 3, 2006:

The tone of the report is harsh. It is jarring even for a self-critical Israeli. It lacks finesse and nuance when it looks at the alphabet soup of the world of American-Jewish organizations and at how the "Lobby" interacts with both the Israeli establishment and the wider right-wing echo chamber....

Here are some talking points that can already be suggested for this debate:

First, efforts to collapse the Israeli and neoconservative agendas into one have been a terrible mistake. The turmoil in Iraq and Al Qaeda's foothold there; growing Iranian leverage and the strengthening of Hamas in the Palestinian Authority are only a partial scorecard of the products of this collaboration.

Second, Israel would do well to distance itself from our "friends" on the Christian evangelical right. When one considers their support for Israel's extremists, the depiction of our prime minister's physical demise as "punishment from God" and their belief in our eventual conversion, or slaughter, this alliance is exposed as sickening irresponsibility.

Third, Israel must not be party to the bullying tactics used to silence policy debate in the United States, such as the policing of academia by groups like Daniel Pipes' Campus Watch. If nothing else, this is deeply un-Jewish. It would in fact serve Israel if the open and critical debate that takes place over here, in Israel, was exported to the United States.

Fourth, the lobby denies Israel something many other countries benefit from - the excuse of external encouragement to do things that are politically tricky but nationally necessary.

2) Mark Mazower, "When vigilance undermines freedom of speech," Financial Times, April 3, 2006:
What is striking is less the substance of their argument than the outraged reaction: to all intents and purposes, discussing the US-Israel special relationship still remains taboo in the US media mainstream....

The reasons for, and high costs of, this problem warrant further consideration.

If fear of being tarred as an anti-semite – and there is no more toxic charge in American politics – blocks the way, what anti-semitism actually implies in today’s America is increasingly unclear. Over the past century, secularisation, wealth and prestige have bolstered the place of American Jewry in national life. Polls suggest that seriously anti-semitic views are now found only among a small minority of Americans. Yet, fear of anti-semitism has not vanished. Where once it was suspected – and often found – in the workplace and the domestic political arena, it is now expressed in terms of sensitivity towards criticism of the Jewish state. Often ambivalent about the methods of lobby groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), American Jews generally share the committee’s ultimate goal of maintaining a high level of US support for Israel. As Earl Raab, the veteran commentator, has noted, there is a sense that if America abandons Israel, it also may be in some way abandoning American Jewry itself. In the process, the line between anti-semitism and criticism of Israeli policy has become blurred. Defending what Bernard Rosenblatt, the distinguished interwar Zionist, predicted would be “the Little America in the East” is seen by many as synonymous with defending Jews as a whole.

A striking illustration of this occurred in the run-up to the 2004 US presidential elections. At that time Congress passed the Global Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, in spite of strong objections from the State Department. The foreign service did not see why any one form of discrimination should be singled out for official US concern. It was equally troubled by the Act’s language, which asserts that “strong anti-Israel sentiment” or indeed “Muslim opposition to developments in Israel and the occupied territories” should count as evidence of anti-semitic attitudes....

Most sensible people of course recognise that opposition to Israeli policies is quite different from anti-semitism. For those who think they are linked, it has proved hard to fix the precise boundary between the two. The Global Anti-Semitism Act talks about a line separating the latter from “objective criticism” of Israel but does not spell out where this line lies. Lawrence Summers, former president of Harvard University, castigated “profoundly anti-Israel views” for being “anti-semitic in their effect if not their intent”. Others refer to “disproportionate” criticism and vilification. But none of these terms are self-evident in their application. Because the costs of stepping over the line are high, the result is that debate is put under surveillance and inhibited. I came to appreciate that this may cause serious damage to life in the classroom and to pedagogy as a whole when I served on a faculty committee looking into such matters last year.

3) William Pfaff, "Israeli lobby and U.S. foreign policy" Korea Herald, April 6, 2006:
It is a fact of democratic life in the United States that determined interest groups annex their own spheres of federal policy. Energy policy is run by the oil companies, and trade policy by manufacturers, exporters and importers, with an input from Wall Street.

U.S. Cuba policy is decided by the Cuban lobby in Florida, and policy on Armenia by Americans of Armenian descent. The Middle East, or at least its part of it, belongs to Israel.

However, in the Israeli case, the lobbying effort is linked to a foreign government, even if the lobbyists sometimes take a policy line not that of the government. Moreover, the lobbying involves issues of war and peace.

President George W. Bush said a few days ago that, in connection with the supposed threat of Iran, his concern is to protect Israel. Critics ask why Israel should not protect itself. The same has been asked about Iraq.

In this respect, the controversy over the Israeli lobby is potentially explosive. This is why denials, secrecy and efforts at intimidation are dangerous. David Levy is right when he says that Israel itself would be served "if the open and critical debate that takes place over here (in Israel) were exported over there," meaning the United States.

posted by Dan at 09:51 AM | Comments (42) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Will the U.S. be bombing Iran anytime soon?

Via Kevin Drum, I see that Joseph Crincione is saying at that a military strike against Iran might be more likely than previously thought:

I used to think that the Bush administration wasn’t seriously considering a military strike on Iran, because it would only accelerate Iran’s nuclear program. But what we're seeing and hearing on Iran today seems awfully familiar. That may be because some U.S. officials have already decided they want to hit Iran hard.
Kevin also links to this Daily Telegraph report by Sean Rayment asserting that the U.K. is gearing up as well:
The Government is to hold secret talks with defence chiefs tomorrow to discuss possible military strikes against Iran.

A high-level meeting will take place in the Ministry of Defence at which senior defence chiefs and government officials will consider the consequences of an attack on Iran.

It is believed that an American-led attack, designed to destroy Iran's ability to develop a nuclear bomb, is "inevitable" if Teheran's leaders fail to comply with United Nations demands to freeze their uranium enrichment programme.

Over at The Washington Note, Clemons wants a more powerful Israel Lobby makes a decent case that Israel's human intelligence on Iran is better than ours, so we might want to listen to them:

In the past, I've been occasionally critical of Israeli influence over U.S. decisionmakers when I felt that American and Israeli national security interests were not as convergent in some respective case as some argued.

However, in this instance on Iran, Israel's national security thinkers and diplomats are on the side of logic -- and it is in American national interests to hear the Israeli position and consider the roots of their surprising position.

Is this the administration's end game? If so, is it an effective end game?

I have my doubts... a bombing raid might throw a wrinkle or two into Iran's nuclear program, but it won't halt it, and it would give Ahmadinejad a rally-round-the-flag effect.

I have my doubts about the other options on the table, however. Clemons suggests that Ahmadenijad's rule in Iran is more fragile than commonly believed.... but the "domestic unrest brewing in Iran" meme is about a decade old now, and I've seen nothing to suggest that the mullahs will be relinquishing power anytime soon.

Barry Posen argues a la Walt/Mearsheimer that we can live with a nuclear Iran. Of course, realists also argued that nukes would stabilize the subcontinent.... just before the 1999 Indo-Pakistani war broke out.

To me, all policy options still stink.


posted by Dan at 06:03 PM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (0)

I'm so glad the moderate Al Qaeda faction is in charge

Foreign Policy magazine has started up a blog with the catchy name of Passport. Perusing the posts, I think it will have to go up on the blogroll.

Among other posts, Davide Berretta informs us about Abu Zarqawi's apparent demotion within the ranks of Al Qaeda:

Remember the letter in which Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's sidekick, chided chief insurgent in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi for killing too many civilians? Apparently, that was only a warning: word is that Zarqawi was stripped from his political duties two weeks ago, apparently due to the dispute over civilian killings.
Berretta thinks this is a good thing, because "Zarqawi's demotion, if confirmed, could indicate that al-Qaeda is farther from its goal of dividing Sunnis and Shiites than we might think.

Continuing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays metaphor, I look forward to Zawahiri issuing a press release confirming that Zarqawi will be staying on as a consultant, and that the demotion is not really an organizational shake-up.

posted by Dan at 04:39 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

What's the upside of a guest worker program?

It's considered a truism that the United States has been far more successful at integrating immigrants than Western Europe. Fareed Zakaria's column in yesterday's Washington Post elegently explains why:

Seven years ago, when I was visiting Germany, I met with an official who explained to me that the country had a foolproof solution to its economic woes. Watching the U.S. economy soar during the 1990s, the Germans had decided that they, too, needed to go the high-technology route. But how? In the late '90s, the answer seemed obvious: Indians. After all, Indian entrepreneurs accounted for one of every three Silicon Valley start-ups. So the German government decided that it would lure Indians to Germany just as America does: by offering green cards. Officials created something called the German Green Card and announced that they would issue 20,000 in the first year. Naturally, they expected that tens of thousands more Indians would soon be begging to come, and perhaps the quotas would have to be increased. But the program was a flop. A year later barely half of the 20,000 cards had been issued. After a few extensions, the program was abolished.

I told the German official at the time that I was sure the initiative would fail. It's not that I had any particular expertise in immigration policy, but I understood something about green cards, because I had one (the American version) myself.

The German Green Card was misnamed, I argued, because it never, under any circumstances, translated into German citizenship. The U.S. green card, by contrast, is an almost automatic path to becoming American (after five years and a clean record)....

Many Americans have become enamored of the European approach to immigration -- perhaps without realizing it. Guest workers, penalties, sanctions and deportation are all a part of Europe's mode of dealing with immigrants. The results of this approach have been on display recently in France, where rioting migrant youths again burned cars last week. Across Europe one sees disaffected, alienated immigrants, ripe for radicalism. The immigrant communities deserve their fair share of blame for this, but there's a cycle at work. European societies exclude the immigrants, who become alienated and reject their societies.

One puzzle about post-Sept. 11 America is that it has not had a subsequent terror attack -- not even a small backpack bomb in a movie theater -- while there have been dozens in Europe. My own explanation is that American immigrant communities, even Arab and Muslim ones, are not very radicalized. (Even if such an attack does take place, the fact that 4 1/2 years have gone by without one provides some proof of this contention.) Compared with every other country in the world, America does immigration superbly. Do we really want to junk that for the French approach?

The United States has a real problem with flows of illegal immigrants, largely from Mexico (70 percent of illegal immigrants are from that one country). But let us understand the forces at work here. "The income gap between the United States and Mexico is the largest between any two contiguous countries in the world," writes Stanford historian David Kennedy. That huge disparity is producing massive demand in the United States and massive supply from Mexico and Central America. Whenever governments try to come between these two forces -- think of drugs -- simply increasing enforcement does not work. Tighter border control is an excellent idea, but to work, it will have to be coupled with some recognition of the laws of supply and demand -- that is, it will have to include expansion of the legal immigrant pool.

Beyond the purely economic issue, however, there is the much deeper one that defines America -- to itself, to its immigrants and to the world. How do we want to treat those who are already in this country, working and living with us? How do we want to treat those who come in on visas or guest permits? These people must have some hope, some reasonable path to becoming Americans. Otherwise we are sending a signal that there are groups of people who are somehow unfit to be Americans, that these newcomers are not really welcome and that what we want are workers, not potential citizens. And we will end up with immigrants who have similarly cold feelings about America.

While we're on the topic, be sure to check out Carl Bialik's Wall Street Journal column to see how the number of illegal immigrants are measured.

posted by Dan at 11:50 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (0)

The American Red Cross gets a spanking

The New York Times' Stephanie Strom reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross is none too pleased with how the American Red Cross performed during Katrina:

The American Red Cross's response to Hurricane Katrina was poorly planned, relied too heavily on inexperienced managers and often failed to meet the needs of victims, say reports by international Red Cross officials who were dispatched to assist their American counterparts.

The unusually harsh reports, prepared in late summer and the fall, detailed mismatches between the needs of victims and the supplies the Red Cross had arranged, the absence of a plan to guide the distribution of supplies and a lack of record-keeping, which allowed inventory to go astray.

"What is clear is that the basic needs of the beneficiaries are not being met," Mike Goodhand, head of the international logistics division of the British Red Cross, wrote on Sept. 15.

The reports, which were provided to The New York Times by a former American Red Cross official who insisted on anonymity, closely echo concerns raised by volunteers in the disaster area....

The Red Cross, which had 235,000 volunteers in the field after Hurricane Katrina, received roughly 60 percent of the $3.6 billion that Americans donated for hurricane relief.

Mr. Goodhand's report described a case in which victims in Mississippi, where his team had been sent, were requesting prepared meals and the only food that Red Cross volunteers could offer was bananas. Volunteers driving out into neighborhoods were asked for water and juice, but had only bleach on hand, he wrote.

"All efforts to address the situation were rebuffed," Mr. Goodhand wrote. He said that when his team offered its expertise on distributing supplies, it was instead assigned to hand out the supplies, work that could have been done by less experienced volunteers.

You can access the report by clicking here. A few thoughts:

1) It is just me or is has the Red Cross become the NGO equivalent of the Department of Energy -- i.e., a bureaucracy that, through some internal alchemy, seems guaranteed to generate a scandal every few years?

2) Is it just me or is the new New York Times web redesign actually useful? UPDATE: Nope, not just me.

posted by Dan at 09:32 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

My very first satellite radio show

I'll be on Open Source Radio with Christopher Lydon on that satellite radio thing the young people talk about so much. My assignment is to repeat my Zionist overlord's talking points discuss the substance of "The Israel Lobby." You can listen in live from from 7-8 PM Eastern by clicking here. Other participants will be Steve Clemons and Daniel Levy.

[I thought you said you weren't talking about this any more?!--ed. No, I said I wouldn't blog about this. Talking on the radio is completely different. While I'm at it, though, it's worth linking to this Guardian story by Peter Beaumont that clears up one aspect of the paper that I did think was borderline anti-Semitic: the capitalization of "The Israel Lobby":

[London Review of Books editor Mary-Kay] Wilmers rejects the accusation by Hitchens, Ross and others that the Mearsheimer-Walt article has done little more than attempt to join up a disconnected list of people and organisations lobbying on different aspects of Israeli concern into a central 'Israel Lobby' - capitalised by the LRB. She admits now, however, that it would have been better to use a lower case 'l' for the word 'lobby' - to have avoided the risk of being misunderstood.

posted by Dan at 04:25 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Bill Thomas reads Doha its obituary

In a speech last month, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said that the Doha round was approaching a "moment of truth"

Christopher Swann and Edward Alden report in the Financial Times about what House Ways and Means Chair Bill Thomas told the truth to an audience at AEI about the future of U.S. trade policy:

Bill Thomas, President George W. Bush’s most important congressional ally on trade liberalisation, is urging the administration to focus its energy on concluding bilateral trade deals, warning on Monday that the Doha multilateral round of talks was heading for failure because of conflicts between the US and the European Union.

“The US and the EU have irreconcilable differences on trade, and when you have irreconcilable differences the best thing you can do is call it off,” said Mr Thomas, Republican chairman of the influential House ways and means committee, who will retire from Congress this year.

He also warned about the growing influence of protectionism in the US, saying the “anti-free trade forces” were poised to capture control of Congress in this year’s election.

The pessimistic conclusions from Mr Thomas, who has repeatedly come to the rescue of the Bush administration in pushing controversial trade deals through Congress, will not be reassuring to the administration’s efforts to conclude the Doha round negotiations.

That's the uderstatement of the day.

posted by Dan at 08:52 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, April 3, 2006

So how's it going in Lebanon?

Christine Spolar takes a look in the Chicago Tribune at what's happened in Lebanon since Syrian troops left the country. Spolar takes a pesimistic view of politicians dithering while the people suffer -- but after reading the article, I didn't see a lot of heft to that claim.

The interesting part of the story was about how Hezbollah is coping with normal politics:

The pressure is on the Lebanese political class to recapture the promise of a lost spring. Leaders from all parties in parliament are in round-table talks, the first national dialogue in decades, in hopes of translating last year's street protests for "freedom, sovereignty, independence" into some kind of progress.

After bitter delays, they are debating whether President Emile Lahoud, a former commander of the Lebanese armed forces allied with Syria, should be forced from office. They are also questioning for the first time whether the militant group Hezbollah needs its decades-old armed wing.

The discussions are difficult but necessary, according to those involved in the talks and observers keen to see results.

"We never even sat with some of these people before," said Galeb Abou Zeinab, a Hezbollah strategist. "Just sitting and talking is positive . . . and opens people up to a natural give-and-take."....

The United States and France are sponsors of a UN Security Council resolution that calls for the disarming of Lebanese militia, including Hezbollah. But Hezbollah says it needs to maintain its fighters to guard against possible Israeli incursions.

When others argue that weapons are unnecessary since Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah leaders point to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as evidence of Israeli ambition, and they see no reason that Israel would not return to the south if Hezbollah forces disappeared.

Such words appeal to many Arabs in Lebanon, who view Israel as an enemy, and the estimated 350,000 Palestinians who live in refugee camps in Lebanon.

Like other Islamist parties in the Middle East, Hezbollah made inroads in recent elections, claiming 14 seats in the 128-member parliament. Party members are heading ministries for the first time.

But Hezbollah's strength in these internal talks also is due to its history. It has been one of the few political forces in Lebanon to connect with people over the issue of land and sovereignty. When Israeli troops left, Hezbollah leaders were quick to claim credit.

"Everyone will be looking to maneuver," political scientist Makdisi said about the historic dialogue. "Hezbollah may know that at some point they will give up the arms--but the question is: How do you use them as a bargaining chip?"

I'm not holding my breath waiting for Hezbollah to disarm -- but then again, I never thought I would have ever heard a Hezbollah strategist praising the "natural give-and-take" of politics.

posted by Dan at 09:11 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, April 2, 2006

Blegging for research help

Blogging has been light because I'm putting the finishing touches on a research paper... and there's one small question that's nagging at me. Are any readers aware of surveys done in the past decade of the attitudes of American journalists towards American foreign policy?

The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations has a great quadrennial series of polls about American elites, but the reports do not break out responses for journalists.

I'm also aware of the surveys and research into reporters' domestic ideological affiliation, and the volumnious literature on media bias, but that's no good to me -- attitudes towards domestic policies don't translate well into international relations.

I need to see polling numbers of journalists' opinions about foreign policy priorities, the use of force, and/or foreign economic policy. I vaguely recall reading about a few of these, but my numerous searches have produced zilch so far. So, I hereby delegate this to knowledgeable readers.

[What do they get if they find something useful?--ed. A big, big thank you in the acknowledgments.]

posted by Dan at 11:01 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)