Thursday, April 20, 2006
An open debate about U.S. Mideast policy
I must attend a conference at a truly deadful location for the next several days, so blogging will be light or nonexistent.
Here's a harmless topic: assume there exists an identifiable national interest for the United States. What set of policies towards the Middle East would best serve that interest?
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
A temporary coda on the Mearsheimer/Walt debate
In recent days, there have been a few more musings about "The Israel Lobby". I wasn't happy with the debate threads from the last time I posted about it, so I'm going to give it one more try.
Reading through the latest volley:
a) the letters to the LRB;I actually think there's more common ground on assessing the paper than most commentators believe.
There appears to be a general assessment that Mearsheimer and Walt have gotten two things right:
1) You need to factor in interest group politics when you try to explain U.S. policy towards Israel and/or the wider Middle East -- including, most obviously, AIPAC;I haven't read a critic of the M/W thesis not acknowledge that interest group politics plays some role in influencing policy in the region. As Levy says about AIPAC's lobbying power, "There's nothing anti-Semitic about reaching that conclusion." And Goldberg quotes the editor of the Forward as acknowledging that Walt and Mearsheimer are "right that the Jewish community and the pro-Israel lobby, separately and in different ways, make it hard to have a debate, partly on purpose and partly because there's a level of emotion there."
There also appears to be a general assessment that the paper has a couple of conceptual flaws. One is the rather slippery definition of the term "Israel Lobby." Cole points out:
The authors' use of the term "Israel lobby" is at times too broad, simultaneously trying to encompass classic pressure politics and much fuzzier belief systems and taboos. Their tendency to use the term in this slightly elastic, one-size-fits-all way explains the caveats of even some outspoken critics of the Israel lobby, like the Nation's Eric Alterman. Their insistence that America's Middle East policies are centered on Israel ignores the importance of oil. Nor do they explore the history of the "special relationship" between Israel and the U.S. and the way that Israel has become a myth in the American mind, to the point where it is perceived by many as being actually part of America. The belief in the "special relationship," which is a powerful force, is not entirely the product of the Israel lobby.Cole goes on to say that these weaknesses are "minor," but as Goldberg points out:
This is an enormously sensitive subject, but Walt and Mearsheimer's approach is too often clumsy and crude. That's especially true in their discussion of the divided loyalties of some American Jews, and of the pro-war manipulations of the lobby. They conflate groups that are merely sympathetic to Israel with those that actively back the hard-line policies of the Likud. Though they try to draw distinctions between the lobby and American Jewry more generally, they occasionally use the two terms interchangeably, citing Jewish campaign donations, for example, as evidence of the lobby's power.M/W also do not adequately address alternative explanations for U.S. policy towards the Middle East -- concerns about oil, actual ideational beliefs, etc. This would be less important if M/W were merely pointing out that the influence of groups like AIPAC have been underestimated. But they argue that these groups "almost entirely" explain U.S. policy in the region. That's quite a strong claim. Judt, who's sympathetic to their argument, allows that M/W's assertions "can be debated on [their] merits." He goes on to note:
[D]oes pressure to support Israel distort American decisions? That's a matter of judgment. Prominent Israeli leaders and their American supporters pressed very hard for the invasion of Iraq; but the United States would probably be in Iraq today even if there had been no Israel lobby. Is Israel, in Mearsheimer/Walt's words, "a liability in the war on terror and the broader effort to deal with rogue states?" I think it is; but that too is an issue for legitimate debate.Finally, the normative assertions that the U.S. alliance with Israel has been a strategic liability, or that Israel has no moral advantage over other countries in the region, are also "subject to debate." The more I think about it, the more M/W's strategic logic doesn't hold up -- if the friendship with Israel has been such a strategic liability to the U.S., then why has Europe borne the brunt of the post-second intifada terrorist attacks? Still, again, subject to debate.
The funny thing is that "The Israel Lobby" is written in such a way as to foreclose such a debate. As Levy points out:
The structure of the paper is:So, we're left with the rough consensus that this is a touchy topic to bring up -- and yet M/W did so in a rather ham-handed fashion. Which is the basic thesis of Goldberg's essay:
On one level, then, the attacks on Walt and Mearsheimer are examples of the very phenomenon the writers describe. Yet for anyone who hopes for a more open and critical discussion of the Israel lobby, their paper presents profound problems. This is not just a case of brave academics telling taboo truths. In taking on a sensitive, fraught subject, one might expect such eminent scholars to make their case airtight. Instead, they've blundered forth with an article that has several factual mistakes and baffling omissions, one that seems expressly designed to elicit exactly the reaction it has received. The power of the Israel lobby is something that deserves a full and fearless airing, but this paper could make such an airing less, not more likely.The editors of LRB mention that, "Mearsheimer and Walt will reply to the correspondence we’ve published and discuss the wider response to their article in the next issue." I'll be very curious to see whether their response acknowledges their factual and conceptual errors or not. Their choice will either promote or forestall a policy debate.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
So I'm thinking Doha is dead
This morning George W. Bush announced a new director of the Office of Management and Budget:
President Bush today selected U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman to be the new director of the Office of Management and Budget, moving quickly to revamp his team now that his new chief of staff is in place....Here's a link to the transcript of the announcement.
Portman has done an excellent job at USTR for the brief time he was there, and his move to OMB might be, on the whole, a good thing for fiscal policy. That said, Bush and Bolten have decided to switch teams at USTR in the weeks before various deadlines for the Doha round of trade talks come up. This is a bad, bad sign for the likelihood of those negotiations to succeed.
UPDATE: Many commenters point out that Schwab will likely preserve continuity on trade talks. This may be true, but the optics look very bad to other countries and to Congress.
Rob Portman’s unexpected removal from the post of US trade representative on Tuesday evoked concern among governments and trade experts that the US was downgrading the importance of the so-called “Doha round” of World Trade Organisation talks....The European carping should be taken with a small grain of salt -- they'll jump on any excuse to evade blame for Doha collapsing.
The US on Tuesday named Rob Portman, the politically savvy trade representative, to head the White House budget office, a move that signals growing concern over runaway federal spending and a downgrading of trade policy in the administration’s second term....
Why has there never been a hit television show based on an academic's life?
View the first minute or two of this Brad DeLong video post about how he spent his day yesterday and you'll get an excellent answer (You'll also get a nice precis of Marty Weizman's explanation of the equity premium).
This is not to diss Brad -- I too have children to ferry to school, a dog to walk, assignments that are overdue, and bureaucratic minutiae to finish. It's just that, to the rest of the world, it probably looks as exciting as paint drying.
You'll know the reality TV craze has passed when they air a show called The Professor.
Monday, April 17, 2006
Open Edward Luttwak thread
OK, the Mark Steyn thread on what to do about Iran generated just a few comments. So, while Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims that Iran is now developing really good centrifuges, here's another point of view.
In Commentary, Edward Luttwak argues that there are several good reasons not to attack Iran anytime soon. He gives three reasons. First, geopolitics renders Iran a natural ally of the United States over the long haul. Second, the Iranian regime wants a U.S. attack for the rally-round-the-flag effect.
The third reason is the most convincing for me: despite three decades of effort, the Iranians haven't made much progress at developing strategic industries, much less a workable nuclear device:
[I]n spite of all the industrial assistance it received, it is not clear that the Iranian nuclear organization can manufacture centrifuge cascades of sufficient magnitude, efficiency, and reliability. There are many talented engineers among the Iranian exiles in the United States and elsewhere in the world, but perhaps not so many in Iran itself. Besides, demanding technological efforts require not just individual talents but well-organized laboratories and industrial facilities.Lest one think Luttwak is being too sanguine, here's the closing part of the piece:
There is thus no indication that the regime will fall before it acquires nuclear weapons. Yet, because there is still time, it is not irresponsible to hope that it will.Read the whole thing. I think Luttwak is underestimating the ability of the Iranian regime to stay in power, but it's food for thought.
The exaggerated externalities of illegal immigration
Via Kevin Drum, I see that Eduardo Porter has a myth-busting piece in the New York Times on the effects that illegal immigration has had on the wages of the least educated Americans. Here's how it opens:
California may seem the best place to study the impact of illegal immigration on the prospects of American workers. Hordes of immigrants rushed into the state in the last 25 years, competing for jobs with the least educated among the native population. The wages of high school dropouts in California fell 17 percent from 1980 to 2004.And here's how it closes:
"If you're a native high school dropout in this economy, you've got a slew of problems of which immigrant competition is but one, and a lesser one at that," said Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group.Read the whole thing. Illegal immigration poses significant policy problems -- but those problems have little to do with economics.
The ins and outs of media whoring
Jennifer Jacobson has an excellent story in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the travails faced by academics who make regular media appearances. It's the perfect mix of serious and amusing.
The amusing stuff:
During the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the late 1990s, Cass R. Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago, appeared on television regularly to argue that impeaching President Bill Clinton was wrong.Ravitch's last quote raises an interesting question -- as Americans get more and more of their news off the Internet, will more public intellectuals start up blogs? [Duh--ed.]
On the serious side, it turns out that junior faculty should be wary of doing too much television. Who knew?
Sunday, April 16, 2006
What to read about economics for this week
Barry Eichengreen, "Global Imbalances: The New Economy, the Dark Matter, the Savvy Investor, and the Standard Analysis," Journal of Policy Modeling, forthcoming. Here's how it concludes:
This paper has reviewed four perspectives on global imbalances. The standard analysis suggests that the U.S. current account deficit cannot be sustained at current levels. It suggests that there will have to be significant adjustments in asset prices to compress U.S. spending and significant changes in relative prices to crowd in net exports. At the same time, nonstandard analyses, focusing on the profitability of investment in the United States, the profitability of U.S. foreign investment, and the differential returns on U.S. foreign assets and liabilities suggest that U.S. current account deficits may be easier to sustain than implied by the standard analysis.While I've been travelling, I see that Greg Mankiw -- Harvard economist, former Chairman of the Council on Economic Advisors, and probably some other title I've forgotten -- now has a blog. It's worth checking out.
Mankiw is an honest broker -- he highlights a Dallas Federal Reserve study on globalization and governance, which finds that countries that are open to globalization are also among the best governed. However, Mankiw correctly points out that these are merely correlations -- globalization does not necessarily cause good governance (the other problem with the study is that it relies on A.T. Kearney's measure of globalization, which conflates a few causes an effects).