Saturday, January 13, 2007
The truest sentence I will read this weekend
People rarely watch their language when they’re about to be eaten by a giant crocodile or shot in the head by a glowering thug.Parental warning accomanying A.O. Scott's New York Times review of Primeval.
Friday, January 12, 2007
A question about Somalia
Over at Across the Aisle, Eugene Gholz is puzzled about U.S. policy in Somalia:
[T]he most interesting choice, from my perspective: as Kenya sealed its border with Somalia to prevent the escape of the Islamic Courts fighters (at the request of the interim government and the Ethiopians), the U.S. used naval forces off the Somali coast to try to block Islamic Courts fighters’ escape by sea....Read the whole thing. The only point where I might differ with Eugene is that he downplays the Islamic Courts' belligerent attitude towards Ethiopia (an attitude that Ethiopia reciprocated in full). Click here for more background info on this from the Economist.
One last point -- the problem right now with U.S. policy is not that it's tried to strike at Al Qaeda suspects in Somalia, which is perfectly justified. The problem with U.S. policy is that this action is taking place after three years of Abu Ghraib revelations, four years of futile war in Iraq, five years of revelations about faulty U.S. intelligence, five and a half years of internments in Guantanamo, and nearly six years of bellicose rhetoric from the Bush administration. In this context, even justifiable military actions come with terrific amounts of blowback.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
The thing about credible commitment....
The masses ain't too thrilled with the surge option. This has little to do with the actual merits and demerits of the option. According to Mystery Pollster:
[T]he data above suggest that general assessments of President Bush- both among speech watchers and other Americans - are driving judgments about the troop surge. Since the majority of Americans are skeptical of Bush, they are also skeptical of this new proposal.So what about the actual plan? Over at NRO, John Derbyshire confronts the paradoxes of the latest Bush plan on Iraq:
The central and most glaring contradiction is the implied threat to walk away... Yoked to the ringing declaration that, of course, we can't walk away. We seem to be saying to the Maliki govt.: "Hey, you guys better step up to your responsibilites, or else we're outa here." This, a few sentences after saying that we can't leave the place without a victory. So-o-o-o:Tom Maguire offers a valiant attempt to bail out the syllogism:
However, it *may* be that Bush is simply greasing the skids for something resembling an "acceptable" US defeat. Increasing our troops shows our commitment and gives the lie to Osama and others who took from Vietnam, Beirut and Somalia that the US lacked the stomach for an extended fight.Even Tom knows this is weak beer, but it's worth pointing out one empirical flaw in Maguire's reasoning: what Bush is proposing now is exactly what happened in Vietnam, Beirut and Somalia.
In each case:
1) The United States suffered a pivotal attack that altered their perception of the enemy (the Tet Offensive, the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, and the 1993 Black Hawk Down incident);I see very little reason to go through this charade again.... but I'm willing to listen to commenters who disagree. To them, I must ask -- how with the surge option be anything other than a more grandiose version of the Clinton administration's response to the Somalia bombings?
[So you're saying that no matter what we do, our credibility is damaged for the future?--ed.] Not necessarily. In Calculating Credibiliy: How Leaders Assess Military Threats, Daryl Press argues that the past is not a significant factor when leaders assess the credibility of other states' actions.
Opinio Juris scores a (perfectly legal) coup
The international law blog Opinio Juris announces what I believe to be a first -- an executive branch official openly participating in a blog:
Opinio Juris is very pleased to announce that John Bellinger will be guest blogging with us for the week of January 15. As our readers well know, Bellinger is the State Department Legal Adviser, the top lawyer at the Department of State. In that capacity he is the principal adviser on all domestic and international law matters to the Department of State, the Foreign Service, and the diplomatic and consular posts abroad. Full details of his bio are available here.UPDATE: Another first for bloggers.
This post is dedicated to my brother....
Two years ago, I was the best man for my suspicious-looking yet disgustingly affluent I-banker of a brother at his wedding in in Hawaii. A few minutes before the ceremony started, he turned to me and, with a sheepish look, said: "Hang onto this, and don't tell [the bride]. She told me I couldn't bring this to the ceremony."
Then he gave me his Blackberry.
I bring this up (with the permission of my happily married brother), because for some reason I thought of him when I saw this story in The Onion (WARNING: STRONG LANGUAGE):
Sheryl Gay Stolberg owes me big time!!
Daniel Drezner, "Open Surge Thread," January 10, 2007:
Since November, President Bush has received an electoral rebuke, the Iraq Study Group report, a statement from his own Defense Secretary, and a whole lot of other free advice saying essentially the same thing: the current policy is not working, and it's simply too late for putting more troops on the ground. A surprisingly large number of people who work for him agree with this assessment. In response, Bush has shuffled around his high command and proposed a surge. Is is possible to draw any conclusion other than, "George W. Bush is a stubborn ass?"Lead paragraphs for Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Bush’s Strategy for Iraq Risks Confrontations," New York Times, January 11, 2007:
By stepping up the American military presence in Iraq, President Bush is not only inviting an epic clash with the Democrats who run Capitol Hill. He is ignoring the results of the November elections, rejecting the central thrust of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and flouting the advice of some of his own generals, as well as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq....[Um... wasn't that the obvious way to frame it?--ed. Hey, I found that $20 bill on the sidewalk first, dammit!]
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
"The next year of the war could be bloody"
Comment away here on the President's speech tonight, in which, according to the Washington Post's Michael Abramowitz and Robin Wright, "President Bush will announce this evening that he is sending 21,500 additional U.S. troops to Iraq and will warn Americans that the next year of the war could be bloody as U.S. and Iraq forces confront sectarian militias and seek to quell the Sunni Muslim insurgency."
I've filed this under "politics" rather than "foreign policy" for reasons proffered earlier today.
You have to have AAFTA
The Wall Street Journal op-ed page is currently the Beltway bulletin board on trade. A few days ago, former USTR and deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick wrote an essay proposing that the United States consolidate our trade diplomacy in the region:
This year President Bush and the Democratic-led Congress should launch a new Association of American Free Trade Agreements (AAFTA). The AAFTA could shape the future of the Western Hemisphere, while offering a new foreign and economic policy design that combines trade, open societies, development and democracy. In concert with successful immigration reform, the AAFTA would signal to the Americas that, despite the trials of war and Asia's rising economic influence, U.S. global strategy must have a hemispheric foundation.I'm curious to see how Democrats like Sherrod Brown would react to this, since in many ways, Zoellick is simply proposing a political trade with our FTA partners -- deeper economic integration in return for adding on stringent labor and environmental standards. Nominally, at least, this is what populists like Brown claim to want.
However, I confess that the real point of the post, if you've read this far, is to see how Lou Dobbs covers this sort of proposal:The answer seems to be, "very, very poorly."
Thank you, Mr. President
The Boston Globe's Marcella Bombardieri and Maria Sacchetti report that Harvard has narrowed its shortlist for the presidency position. There's some good news -- for me, at least:
Harvard University has narrowed its hunt for a president to a handful of candidates, including three Harvard administrators and a Nobel Laureate who heads a scientific research institute, according to people familiar with the search.[So, what, you bucking for an endowed chair or something?--ed. No, a better parking spot. That's like gold in academia. Gold!!!]
UPDATE: The Harvard Crimson's Javier Hernandez and Daniel Schuker report that, "the [search] committee may not yet have ruled out Tufts University President Lawrence S. Bacow." Damn you, Harvard!!!
I am so going to hell for this link
Pssst..... hey, you, the IR grad students who furtively read this blog.... want to waste a few hours?
If you are not an IR grad student, then this link will not interest you.... unless you like fantasy sports, in which case you'll have a good chuckle.
Open surge thread
I've been mute about the proposed surge in U.S. troops as a way to achieve some semblance of victory in Iraq. That does not mean my readers have to be mute as well. So, comment away.
To stack the deck a little, however, surge proponents need to answer three questions for me:
1) How would a surge of only 20,000 troops make any difference, when even the proponents of such an option were talking about 50,000 troops in the fall? Is anyone going to claim that Iraq is more stable now than then?
The energy follies, continued
I might need to create a new category for the blog: file under Utterly Stupid Moves by Energy-Abundant Regimes.
First, there's Venezuela. Simon Romero and Clifford Krauss explain in the New York Times:
Investors reacted with alarm here and in markets in the United States and throughout Latin America on Tuesday as they measured the impact of the plan by Mr. Chávez to nationalize crucial areas of the economy. Memories of past nationalizations during another turbulent era, in places like Cuba and Chile, helped drive down the Caracas stock exchange’s main index by almost 19 percent....Then there is Russia. [For forcing Belarus to pay higher prices for energy?--ed.] No, and let's be clear about this -- as with Ukraine last year, Russia is perfectly justified in switching to market rates for their energy exports. It's the way in which they go about trying to do this that's so wrong-footed. In the International Herald-Tribune, Judy Dempsey and Dan Bilefsky explain why Europe is so ticked off:
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday publicly rebuked Russia for not consulting its European partners before suspending oil shipments destined for Poland and Germany in a dispute with Belarus.I don't understand the lack of consultation on this one. It's not like the European Union is going to be upset about squeezing the Belarusian leadership -- and with sufficient preparation, this could have been handled much more smoothly. Why not consult?
Finally, we have Iran. As the United States ratchets up its own sanctions, the Iranian leadership seems surprised that, like, they have alienated a lot of countries. In the Financial Times, Daniel Dombey and Gareth Smyth explain the confusion in Tehran:
[T]he new UN regime - which took months to negotiate in New York - appears to have surprised parts of Iran's leadership, with differences emerging on how best to respond. After a period in which Iran saw its regional influence increase at relatively little cost, Tehran now faces greater isolation....Even the Nelson Report observes that, "there’s no question that, along with the EU, Washington and Beijing are simultaneously taking a tough line on Iran. And the implicit 'message' of the arrival in China of Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, today, is clear to all concerned."
Tuesday, January 9, 2007
How will the Olympics affect China?
When historians debate what caused the decline and fall of the Soviet Union, there is occasionally a mention of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. As the narrative goes, the Soviets invested enormous sums to turn Moscow into a showcase for the international media -- and bankrupted themselves in the process.
I bring this up because the Economist's Asia.view column reports on how China is, temporarily, changing its laws for the 2008 summer games in Beijing:
China wants to show that its relations with the foreign media are in line with those of other countries that have hosted the games in the past 20 years. It does not want its Olympics marred by the sort of boycotts and tensions that spoilt the 1980 games in Moscow―the only other communist capital to have hosted the event.Sounds like the 2007 Beijing leadership is savvier than the 1980 Moscow leadership. It will be interesting to see whether the cental government manages to stay ahead of whatever adverse developments emerge over the next 18 months. As the column concludes:
It remains to be seen, however, how local governments respond. They have long been adept at ignoring central directives they dislike. Some have deployed thugs to keep unwanted visitors at bay.
Monday, January 8, 2007
This is every academic's secret nightmare
After reading the headline, "Gas-Like Odor Permeates Parts of New York City," I was convinced that my secret fear had come true.
You see, at this very moment I have an article manuscript that's being edited by someone in New York City. Clearly, I thought (OK, not so clearly), my work has become so bad that the metaphorical has become literal. It's my fault!! MINE!!.
[Get your head out of your narcissistic ass!--ed. Thank you, I needed that.]
Surfing the web on the story, the most interesting tidbit I found was in Nathan Thornburgh's story at Time.com:
New York, of course, has had its share of mystery aromas, big and small. In 2005, an odd maple syrup smell overcame parts of Manhattan and New Jersey. Last August, an unidentified odor sent people to the hospital in Staten Island and Queens.I kind of like the idea of maple syrup wafting through my town.
Next year, I'm putting my money on Latvia
Russia, accusing Belarus of stealing oil from a major pipeline, has shut off oil exports to its western neighbour, halting supplies to Poland and Germany and threatening wider disruptions in central Europe.What's odd about this dispute is that Belarus backed down last week when faced with similar Russian pressure on natural gas. Lukashenka agreed (he wasn't thrilled, obviously, but he agreed) to a ramp up in Gazprom's natural gas price.
Writing in the Financial Times, Arkady Ostrovskyin reports that Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has backed himself into a corner:
Speaking for the first time since Belarus succumbed to Russia's demands to double gas prices and take control of half of its pipeline infrastructure, Mr Lukashenko said he had instructed his government to propose to Moscow that it pay for everything "they are getting here for free, from military objects to transit of oil".The big question here is whether Western Europe will force Russia to turn the oil tap back on before Lukashenka is ousted by someone not stupid enough to annoy Belarus' only ally. From a human rights perspective, it would seem hard to believe that anyone in Belarus could be worse than Lukashenko. On the other hand, it's not clear that a replacement would be much better, either -- and there's the pesky problem of heating homes and such.
My prediction: If this kind of standoff lasts more than a week, Lukashenko is gone. But I suspect European pressure will force an agreement before Lukashenko is ousted.
Readers are invited to speculate which country will be the focus of next year's energy squeeze.
UPDATE: The Economist's Democracy in America blog thinks the target of this cutoff isn't Belarus -- it's Germany and Poland.
So that's why tenure is such a big deal
In my day, I have read many a rant about how the tenure system in academia is merely a con job that ivory tower types have used to hoodwink the lumpenproletariat not privileged enough to sit in on the mind-numbing minutiae that are facult meetings. Academics usually trot out the importance of "academic freedom," but this is dimissed by most as unimportant.
I will now refer these ranters to this Inside Higher Ed piece by Elia Powers:
Elena Kagan, dean of Harvard Law School, lowered her spectacles and, as if addressing a group of students, presented her audience with a case study.Read the whole thing to see Kagan's explanation of this seeming paradox.
Then again, Stanley Fish does not hold that capacious a view on academic freedom more generally:
[I]s academic freedom worth protecting? Only when one applies a limited definition, Fish argued. Worthy of protection: a professor’s ability to introduce material and equip students with analytical skills.I have to assume that Fish was limiting his remarks about protecting academic freedom within the context of a classroom setting. Because if he's saying that research topics and research output should not be protected, then dear God, keep that man away from my campus. One also wonders what Fish's views would be about blogging....
UPDATE: Only tangentially connected, but it seems appropriate here to say goodbye to Michael Berube's blog -- he hung up his blogging spurs today. He makes a valid point in his last post:
[L]et me try to answer the most serious question I’ve gotten about this decision: why not just cut down? Post something under 2000 words for a change? Post once a week or once a month, instead of maniacally posting every weekday?....
A few good trade links
A few if the saner things written about trade in the past few weeks:
1) William Overholt, "Globalization's Unequal Discontents," washingtonpost.com, December 21, 2006:
Some manufacturing workers in the United States -- such as those who labored in huge factories making basic steel -- have suffered as they've seen their jobs leave America for low-wage countries. But for workers as a whole, the truth about globalization and inequality is the opposite of what the protectionists claim. There are three caveats to the steel worker's story and two larger perspectives on inequality.2) Jagdish Bhagwati, "Technology, not Globalisation, Drives Wages Down," Financial Times, January 3, 2007:
Lou Dobbs of CNN, the labour groups’ think-tank Economic Policy Institute and nearly all the Democrats newly elected to Congress believe that globalisation has much to do with the economic distress of the working and middle classes. Therefore they have coherence on their side when they want to lean on the door – even to close it – on trade with poor countries and occasionally on unskilled immigration from them.One slight cavil -- that last paragraph by Bhagwati strikes me as a bit of a stretch. I have to think that globalization is one of the drivers for greater technical change.
3) Susan Aaronson, "Labor Rights Not Optional," TomPaine.com, January 5, 2007:
[Both] the Democratic alternative and the current Bush administration approach do little to bolster the demand in developing countries for strong labor protections. Neither approach facilitates the ability of citizens in our trade partners to participate in and monitor labor rights enforcement. In countries such as Oman, a U.S. free trade partner, workers cannot easily influence their government or obtain due process in administrative procedures. In addition, some of America’s free trade agreement partners do not provide their citizens with full information about their labor rights under the law. As a result, it is difficult for activists to monitor their government and hold it accountable.UPDATE: Brad Setser protests in the comments about the Overholt piece -- which reminds me that I should have linked this post of his from last week.