Saturday, August 5, 2006

Mexico is about to get very interesting

The BBC reports that there will not be a full recount in Mexico's recent presidential election:

Mexico's electoral body has rejected a request by left-wing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador for a full recount of votes from July's disputed election.
Instead, the electoral tribunal's seven judges ordered a partial recount.

Mr Lopez Obrador's supporters have repeatedly said a ballot-by-ballot recount is the only way to restore faith in Mexico's electoral system.

The 2 July vote gave victory to the conservative candidate, Felipe Calderon, by less than 1%.

The electoral tribunal ordered the recount of votes at 11,839 of the country's almost 130,500 polling stations.

Mr Obrador has challenged the election result, saying the vote was rigged.

He has said he will not accept a partial recount, raising fears of prolonged public unrest.

Reporting for the AP, Traci Carl reports that Lopez Obrador's supporters are not taking the news well:
In Mexico's central plaza, thousands of protesters watched the court session on a huge screen, chanting "Vote by vote!" and drowning out the judges' statements. Representatives of Lopez Obrador walked out of the session in protest.

Tens of thousands of Lopez Obrador's supporters have camped out in the capital's center for a week, disrupting business and traffic to press their case that their candidate was cheated of victory in the July 2 election and to demand that all the votes be recounted....

Lopez Obrador contends he won the election and argues that a full, ballot-by-ballot recount is the only way to restore faith in Mexico's electoral system.

Calderon has expressed confidence the election was clean and fair, and European Union observers said they found no problems in the vote counting.

The protest camps in Mexico City's cultural and financial heart, the elegant Reforma Avenue and the Zocalo plaza, have snarled traffic for nearly a week.

Lopez Obrador's party controls the Mexico City government, so there is very little chance of the city trying to clear out his supporters. What will be interesting is whether the court decision will increase protests, or whether the current sit-in has turned off former supporters. As this New York Times story by James C. McKinley, Jr. suggests, the street protests are starting to annoy people:
The blockade looks more like a fair than a protest. City workers and party members have erected enormous circus-like tents the length of the avenue. There are stages where musicians entertain the protesters, and a photo exhibit of Mr. López Obrador’s life. A volleyball net had been set up, as well as a mini soccer field.

But the protest has cost Mr. López Obrador many allies, among them the leftist writer Carlos Monsivais, who believe that causing traffic jams throughout a city that voted overwhelmingly for him is going too far.

Business owners in the city center have also complained they are being hurt and have demanded the city government dislodge the protesters, to no avail. Hotel owners say their occupancy rate has dropped 50 percent this week. Restaurateurs and retailers are also hurting. The blockade is causing losses of $22 million a day, estimates the Mexico City Chamber of Commerce.


posted by Dan at 02:24 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Drezner on Weisberg on sanctions

I've written a few articles about economic sanctions in my day.

So when someone alerted me to Jacob Weisberg's Slate essay on sanctions yesterday, I decided to take a look.

Weisberg's thesis:

A quick survey (of sanctions cases): We began our economic embargo against North Korea in 1950. We've had one against Cuba since 1962. We first applied economic sanctions to Iran during the hostage crisis in 1979 and are currently trying for international sanctions aimed at getting the government there to suspend uranium enrichment. We attached trade sanctions to Burma beginning in 1990 and froze the assets of Sudan beginning in 1997. President Bush ordered sanctions against Zimbabwe in 2003 and against Syria beginning in 2004. We have also led major international sanctions campaigns against regimes since brought down by force of arms: Milosevic's Yugoslavia, Saddam's Iraq, and Taliban Afghanistan.

America's sanctions policy is largely consistent, and in a certain sense, admirable. By applying economic restraints, we label the most oppressive and dangerous governments in the world pariahs. We wash our hands of evil, declining to help despots finance their depredations, even at a cost to ourselves of some economic growth. We wincingly accept the collateral damage that falls on civilian populations in the nations we target. But as the above list of countries suggests, sanctions have one serious drawback. They don't work. Though there are some debatable exceptions, sanctions rarely play a significant role in dislodging or constraining the behavior of despicable regimes.

Tyrants seem to understand how to capitalize on the law of unintended consequences. In many cases, as in Iraq under the oil-for-food program, sanctions themselves afford opportunities for plunder and corruption that can help clever despots shore up their position. Some dictators also thrive on the political loneliness we inflict and in some cases appear to seek more of it from us....

Constructive engagement, which often sounds like lame cover for business interests, tends to lead to better outcomes than sanctions. Trade prompts economic growth and human interaction, which raises a society's expectations, which in turn prompts political dissatisfaction and opposition. Trade, tourism, cultural exchange, and participation in international institutions all serve to erode the legitimacy of repressive regimes. Though each is a separate case, these forces contributed greatly to undermining dictatorships and fostering democracy in the Philippines, South Korea, Argentina, Chile, and Eastern Europe in the 1980s. The same process is arguably under way in China.

Weisberg makes a valid point -- as a general rule, applying sanctions against rogue states unless and until there is regime change tends not to work.

However, against this important point, let me throw in a few modifiers:

1) Sanctions with more specifically tailored demands can work against authoritarian regimes. The 1979 financial sanctions against Iran did play an important role in the release of the hostages. The U.S. and U.N. sanctions against Libya led that country to surrender suspects in several airline bombings -- and probably played a supporting role in Libya's decision to renounce its WMD program. So, if the sanctioning country can be precise in what it wants, and is willing to settle for less than regime change, sanctions have the potential to work. The flaw in America's sanctions policy is not their use, but the tendency to overestimate the concessions sanctions can generate.

2) The constructive engagement approach rests on an odd assumption -- that the leaders of a rogue state are somehow unaware that they will become trapped in a web of economic interdependence. The truth is that applying constructive engagement against rogue states as a means to induce economic and political change tends not to work either. Put crudely, if a regime wants to stay in power at all costs, all of the economic openness in the world is not going to make much difference, because the government that wants to stay in power will simply apply strict controls over trade with the outside world. If the United States were to unilaterally and unconditionally lift all barriers to exchange with Cuba, the government in Havana would immediately erect a maze of regulations designed to limit Cuban trade with the United States (and to funnel such trade towards politically reliable cronies).

This doesn't mean that the engagement strategy is always for naught -- but there are failures (South Africa) and even the successes have a dubious value (China). If someone pointed a gun to my head and asked me which strategy I'd recommend towards Cuba, for example, I'd probably recommend engagement. However, it's the difference between a strategy that has a 20% chance of success and one that has a 21% chance.

UPDATE: On sanctions policy towards Cuba in particular, see this thoughtful post from Eugene Gholz from a few months back. It pretty much matches my skepticism about both sanctions and engagement strategies towards Cuba.

posted by Dan at 11:25 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Iris Marion Young, R.I.P.

Henry Farrell and Larry Solum eulogize a former colleague of mine at the University of Chicago, Iris Marion Young. She passed away yesterday.

It would be safe to say that Iris and I disagreed a fair amount on matters of politics and policy. It would also be safe to say that I really did not care. Iris was one of the more decent people I've met in the academy -- indefatigable and interested in everything. Her students -- and there were many of them -- were devoted to her.

She had been suffering from cancer for the past year or so, not that this slowed her down all that much. The way she carried herself was remarkable -- not because Iris was all bulldog determination in the face of her illness and treatment, or any such maudlin sentiment. Rather, she was cheerfully unafraid to tell you exactly how she was feeling, and doing so in a way that filtered the awkwardness out of the conversation.

She was both brave and gentle, and she will be missed.

posted by Dan at 11:29 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Calling all IR scholars!!! We've got a coding problem in the Middle East!!

Guest-posting for Instapundit, Michael Totten makes a provocative statement about democratic peace theory:

This war in the Middle East nearly demolishes the theory that democracies don't go to war with each other. Lebanon, aside from Hezbollah's state-within-a-state, is a democracy. At least it's an almost-democracy. Aside from my personal affection for Lebanon, the country where I recently lived, the only country other than the US where I've ever lived, this is what anguishes me the most: The Arab world's only democracy is being torn to pieces by another democracy.
Question to the IR types in the audience: is Totten right?

The "aside from Hezbollah" is an awfully big aside. It suggests that Lebanon might better be coded as a "democratizing" state rather than a stable democracy -- and Ed Mansfield and Jack Snyder have demonstrated that democratizing states are the most violent regime type.

That said, one can argue that it is Israel, the established democracy, that expanded what had been a low-level border skirmish (by IR standards) into a war.

Given Hezbollah's role as instigator, and the failure of the Lebanese army to engage the IDF, it seems hard to code this as a violation of the democratic peace proposition. And yet, labeling this case as an exception carries the whiff of fitting the data to match the hypothesis.

Let the debate commence!!

posted by Dan at 09:07 AM | Comments (56) | Trackbacks (0)

The New York Times, they like to kid

From James McKinley Jr.'s front-page story in the New York Times, "Castro Is ‘Stable,’ but His Illness Presents Puzzle":

News that Mr. Castro had relinquished power for the first time in his 47-year rule prompted expressions of concern from leftist leaders in Latin America and set off immediate celebration among Cuban exiles in Miami.

The transfer also set off intense speculation about Cuba’s future. Raúl Castro, who has acted as defense minister for decades, made no public appearances. He is 75 years old and seems to lack the charisma, political skill and rhetorical brilliance of his brother. (emphasis added)

I'll concede that Fidel Castro must possess some charisma and ample amounts of political skill -- he's the longest-serving leader in the world, after all.

Since when, however, does the capacity to give six-hour speeches imply "rhetorical brilliance"?

There are many words that can be used to describe Castro's rhetorical style -- and "brilliance" is nowhere close to the top of that list.

posted by Dan at 08:13 AM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Dogpiling on Mel Gibson

Unlike Andrew Sullivan, I really don't have much to say about Mel Gibson's drunken, anti-Semitic, misogynist rant against the cops who pulled him over for drunken driving last week. Mostly, this is because Tim Noah framed the event pretty well in Slate:

The best case that can be made for Gibson's belief system now is that he's anti-Semitic only when he's three sheets to the wind. And really, now. Are you in the habit of declaring, "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world" when you get pie-eyed? Or simply of muttering, "Fucking Jews"? Or of asking your arresting officer, "Are you a Jew?" (Here Gibson revealed an anti-Jewish bigotry so all-consuming that he couldn't even get his ethnic stereotypes straight. The Jews control international banking, Mel. It's the Irish who control the police.)
Well, I have two more thoughts on the matter. The first is that there needs to be a term that describes the mechanism through which the New York Times manages to run stories about scandals while claiming that they are really metastories (In the past week alone, they managed a front-pager about the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes baby as well). To their credit, however, the Times story by Allison Hope Weiner contains this juicy tidbit: "On Monday, Hope Hartman, a spokeswoman for Disney’s ABC television network, said the company was dropping its plans to produce a Holocaust-themed miniseries in collaboration with Mr. Gibson."

Second, I'll ask my readers to suggest the likelihood of the following arc taking place:

1) Gibson repeatedly issues contrite apologies -- oh, wait, that's already happened.

2) Exiting rehab, Gibson does heartfelt interview with Diane Sawyer in which he:

a) Admits to various chemical dependencies/imbalances that affect his behavior;

b) Explains that his father's rank anti-Semitism led to psychological abuse during his childhood;

c) Cries on camera

3) Appears on Saturday Night Live to skewer his own behavior, right before;

4) Apocalypto comes out -- and then tanks; at which point either

5a) Hollywood treats Gibson as persona non grata because "it's the right thing to do"; or,;

5b) Gibson signs up for Lethal Weapon V for $15 million and Hollywood treats Gibson as "a man who learned his lsson"

posted by Dan at 11:47 AM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

Sometimes there is no selection bias

After David Ortiz hit his latest walk-off home run, I kept telling myself like a good social scientist, "Yes, we remember these events, but we don't remember the times when he has the opportunity and fails." In other words, much as I love David Ortiz, I was sure that the statistics would demonstrate that his walk-off capabilities were overrated.

Turns out, in this case, that perception is reality. From The Joy of Sox:

Since the end of the 2004 regular season, Ortiz has come to the plate in a walk-off situations 19 times -- and reached base 16 times. He is 11-for-14 (.786), with 7 HR and 20 RBI.

In 2005 and 2006, he is 8-for-9, with 5 HR and 15 RBI!

Hat tip: Gordon Edes.

UPDATE: Bill Simmons has an enertaining column comparng Ortiz to Larry Bird in terms of coming through in the clutch:

Basketball stars have a 45-50 percent chance of coming through in the clutch. In Bird's case, he was a 50 percent shooter and a 90 percent free-throw shooter, so even if he was being double-teamed, 60/40 odds seem reasonable, especially if someone raises his game in those situations. But a star slugger gets on base 40 percent of the time, only Ortiz dials it up to the 60-70 percent range in big moments (as the stats back up). I can't believe I'm saying this, but Big Papi's current three-year stretch tops anything Bird came up with simply because the odds against Ortiz were greater.
Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin has a discussion thread on this very important debate.

posted by Dan at 08:53 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 31, 2006

How isolated is Iran right now?

I find it amazing that despite the turmoil in the Middle East -- and the blame that many place on the United States for what's happening -- the Security Council still voted 14-1 to threaten Iran with economic sanctions unless that country suspended its nuclear enrichment and reprocessing activities.

posted by Dan at 11:22 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

The tricky thing about mythologizing history....

Robert Pringle, who served as U.S. ambassador to Mali from 1987 to 1990, wrote in the spring issue of The Wilson Quarterly on how Mali was able to preserve its democracy. This is not a trivial question -- socioeconomic indicators would predict, Fareed Zakaria-style, that Maliian democracy should not work.

Pringle's article is now available online. What's his explanation for Mali's success? Mythology:

Was Mali’s record simply the result of fortuitous good leadership, or was something more fundamental at work? To find out, I returned in 2004 and traveled throughout the country conducting interviews. When I asked Malians to explain their aptitude for democracy, their answers boiled down to “It’s the history, stupid,” of course expressed more politely....

The Niger River was the launching point for trade routes across the Sahara until they were marginalized by colonial-era commerce through coastal ports. Trans-Saharan trade nurtured ancient cities, the most famous in Mali being Jenné and Timbuktu. There were three early states: Ghana (eighth to 11th centuries), Mali (13th to 15th centuries), and Songhai (14th to 16th centuries). Two of the three lay largely outside modern Mali: Old Ghana inspired the name of modern Ghana, but was located in today’s Mali and Mauritania, while old Mali was mainly in modern Mali, with a portion in Guinea. There were other states, but it is these three that the Malians refer to when they talk about the “Great Empires.”

It is because of the Great Empires that Malians—from villagers to college professors—believe they have a gift for democracy and its twin, conflict resolution. The history they cite is not merely their extensive experience of precolonial, multiethnic government, unusual elsewhere on the continent, but also an associated system of beliefs and customs. The centerpiece of this tradition is the epic of Sunjata Keita, who overcame exile and physical handicap and founded the Mali Empire in the 13th century. Sunjata’s story, primarily oral and circulated in numerous versions, has played a role in West Africa similar to that of the Homeric epics in Western civilization....

From these many materials, Malians are creating a national foundation mythology. Like Americans, they are selective. We stress the Bill of Rights, not the Pullman strike or what we did to Native Americans, and we like to believe the story about the young George Washington making a clean breast of it after he chopped down his father’s cherry tree, even when we know that this appealing story was invented by an early biographer. The Malians emphasize the three Great Empires and pass lightly over their ancestors’ later complicity in the Atlantic slave trade, though they do not deny it.

What is most important about Mali’s mythology is not whether or to what extent history is being embellished, but rather the underlying assumption that reason and creativity can maintain harmonious relations among people of different cultural backgrounds. The Malians believe that equitable, responsive government has become a national tradition in part as a response to harsh conditions. Malian historian Doulaye Konaté, a leading scholar of the subject, notes, “It is precisely because violence was omnipresent that West African societies developed mechanisms and procedures aimed at preventing or, if that didn’t work, at managing conflict.” The value of such a mindset in a modern African setting, with warring, unsettled, or dictatorial neighbors still all too common, is hard to overestimate....

The most striking thing about Malian democracy is its success in drawing intellectual and spiritual sustenance from an epic past, and actively incorporating homegrown elements, such as decentralization. If there is occasional fiddling with historical truth, the past provides plenty of room for differing viewpoints and for shaping tradition to meet modern needs. It is this aspect of the Malian experience that is least appreciated, and it deserves more attention from policymakers, both African and foreign, who have a tendency to assume that “tradition” equates with “bad.”

This is interesting, because the trouble with mythologizing the past is that it cuts both ways. Pringle might be correct that Mali's construction of history has led to the flourishing of a relative stable democracy in an unlikely locale.

However, one can point to other parts of the globe [Cough, cough, Serbia, cough--ed.] where mythology has been used to promote extremist ideologies instead.

So I'm not completely convinced that Pringle is correct in believing that the promotion of traditon is the way to promote democracy in Africa. The promotion of tradition can lead to a lot of things -- and not all of them good.

posted by Dan at 11:59 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)