Thursday, January 18, 2007
I'm away from my blog right now....
And on my way to the Mershon Center for International Security Studies to present a paper, "Regime Proliferation and World Politics: Is There Viscosity in Global Governance?" I already realize I made one mistake in this version -- I forgot to thank Eli Wallach in the acknowledgements.
Talk amongst yourselves. Here's a topic: exactly what does it mean when the North Koreans say they've reached "a certain agreement" with U.S. negotiators?
My black mark on Iraq
Today I received the following in an e-mail:
Since you seem to have been wrong about everything you wrote in support of the invasion... no WMDs, no Al Queda before the war, no connection to 9/11, took troops and reconstruction money away from where real battle was in Afghanistan... now have more Al Queda and no success in either Afghanistan or Iraq... in other words a completely counter-productive disaster as some did predict... I was wondering if you had issued an apology to everybody who did get it right (and for the right reasons)... including Al Gore?Well, this seems like a good time to address the big blog topic for the week.
There have been a boatload of blog posts, op-eds, and magazine articles that discuss how and whether people who supported the Iraq war in 2002-3 should have their pundit's license removed, and whether those who opposed the war deserve promotions to pundit first class.
This Radar Magazine story by Jebediah Reed kicked things off, followed quickly by Jonathan Chait, Mark Thoma, Megan McArdle, Julian Sanchez, Kevin Drum (follow-up here), Daniel Davies, Scott Lemieux, Obsidian Wings (here and here), and Eric Rauchway.
You can read the above links for their thoughts on the matter now, and their thoughts on their thoughts back in 2002-3. One grand irony is that back in April 2003 it was the pro-war people who basked in their successful prediction, and anti-war activists who pointed out that, as Michael Kinsley put it then: "victory in the war is not victory in the argument about the war":
The serious case [against the war] involved questions that are still unresolved. Factual questions: Is there a connection between Iraq and the perpetrators of 9/11? Is that connection really bigger than that of all the countries we're not invading? Does Iraq really have or almost have weapons of mass destruction that threaten the United States? Predictive questions: What will toppling Saddam ultimately cost in dollars and in lives (American, Iraqi, others)? Will the result be a stable Iraq and a blossoming of democracy in the Middle East or something less attractive? How many young Muslims and others will be turned against the United States, and what will they do about it?Given the current answers to Kinsley's questions, I'm going to indulge in a bit of painful navel-gazing below the fold....
I supported the war going in, and if I could go into the way-back machine and do it all over again, I'd say "HELL, NO!" as loudly and as firmly as possible. I was pretty critical of the occupation phase from day one, and got more critical very quickly. That said, it's a useful exercise to look back and figure out where I screwed up in my pre-war logic.
The main blog posts where I articulated my own arguments in favor of war -- and against those who opposed military action -- can be found, in chronological order, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. There was also this TNR Online piece.
Summing up, I had three major reasons for favoring war in 2002-3:
1) I wanted U.S. troops out of Saudi Arabia, because that was a major irritant for devout Muslims, a great talking point for Al Qaeda, and seemed to be destabilizing the Saudi regime in a bad, bad way. That was not going to happen until Saddam was deposed or otherwise removed from power.Note that my e-mailer was in error -- my support for the war was not based on Iraq having WMD, or Iraq being connected to Al Qaeda (indeed, click here for my thoughts in March 2003 on this point).
My major screw-up was both simple and profound -- at the time, with regard to foreign policy, I thought the Bush administration could walk and chew gum at the same time (i.e., fight Al Qaeda and Iraq), when it turned out that they couldn't even chew gum unaided.
I also implicitly assumed that if administration officials -- many of whom had displayed a fair amount of competence in the Bush 41 prosecution of Gulf War I -- discovered that their initial plans did not go, er, according to plan, that they would recognize this fact and adopt contingency plans. I did not think that their response would boil down to something like "stay the course" for close to four years, followed by a surge proposal.
In making this mistake, I didn't just make an ass out of you and me: two-and-a-half of my three reasons for the war got vitiated. Pulling out of Saudi Arabia was still a good move, and the Saudi experts I talk to say this has helped reduce Al Qaeda sympathies on the Arabian peninsula. Of course, compared to the cluster f**k in Iraq, this is small beer. For the Iraqis, this has been a humanitarian disaster by any metric as compared to the pre-war sanctions regime. And I simply cannot believe that an eroding UN sanctions regime, bad as it would have been, compares to what exists now.
In fact, the sanctions might not ever have eroded. In retrospect, it's heartbreaking to contemplate what would have happened had the administration halted its plans to invade Iraq after the UN Security Council unanimously endorsed Resolution 1441. Through that resolution, the Bush administration had a dramatic effect on Iraqi compliance just with the threat of military force. Had Bush stopped there, a lot of treasure and no small amount of blood would have been spared.
Re-reading these posts also reminds me that I do, in fact, owe an apology to Al Gore, who by supporting the 1991 Gulf War and opposing the 2003 war is batting a rare 2 for 2 in Middle East conflicts. He wasn't just right on the outcome: he was right in (much of) his reasoning as well:
I vividly remember that during one of the campaign debates in 2002 Jim Lehrer asked then Governor Bush whether or not America, after being involved in military action, should engage in any form of nation building. And the answer was, and I quote, "I don't think so. I think what we need to do is to convince people who live in the lands they live in to build the nations."Sorry, Al.
So, dear readers, I definitely erred in the arguments I made in 2002 and 2003. I have and will try to do better. Bear in mind, however, that when it comes to foreign policy prognostications, better is a relative term.
Um.... isn't this how incentives work?
Fiona Harvey, the Financial Times' environment correspondent, reports that environmentalists are irked about the way carbon emissions trading is working out:
Factories in China and carbon traders are exploiting a loophole in climate change regulations that allows them to make big profits from greenhouse gas emissions trading.Now this is a story that the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have also carried this story, and each time I read it I'm confused. Reading the articles, I get that CO2 and methane are the big contributors to global warming in the aggregate -- but I also get that per unit of emission, HFC is far, far worse, and far cheaper to correct. Doesn't it make sense that a market mechanism would focus on the low-hanging, cheapest fruit first?
The implication in these articles is that the carbon market is not working to reduce greenhouse gases, but from what I'm reading, it's working pretty well (though Chinese firms are reaping a large windfall). Greg Mankiw or someone else in the Pigou Club needs to explain all the hubbub to me. I understand if environmentalists want to increase incentives to cut greenhouse gas emissions even further; I don't understand why they think the current focus on HFC emission should be dealt with through direct regulation instead of the current set of arrangements.
It should benoted that there are other ways that the carbon trading scheme is imperfect. The focus on HFC can, perversely, undercut the Montreal Protocol's efforts to reduce CFC emissions (click here for more on that). The primary thrust of these articles, however, is that the market is not working -- and I don't see that.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Anne Applebaum kind of agrees with me
Back in November I argued for outright drug legalization, in part because of the benefits to U.S. foreign policy:
Because of current policies regarding narcotics, the United States is stymied in promoting the rule of law in Afghanistan and several Latin American countries because farmers in those countries keep harvesting products that American cunsumers demand. Because this activity is crminalized, the bulk of the revenues from this activity enriches criminal syndicates and terrorist networks. All for a supply-side policy that does nothing but act as a price support for producers.In Slate, Anne Applebaum makes a more moderate argument with respect to Afghanistan:
[B]y far the most depressing aspect of the Afghan poppy crisis is the fact that it exists at all—because it doesn't have to. To see what I mean, look at the history of Turkey, where once upon a time the drug trade also threatened the country's political and economic stability. Just like Afghanistan, Turkey had a long tradition of poppy cultivation. Just like Afghanistan, Turkey worried that poppy eradication could bring down the government. Just like Afghanistan, Turkey—this was the era of Midnight Express—was identified as the main source of the heroin sold in the West. Just like in Afghanistan, a ban was tried, and it failed.I still like my idea better -- but Applebaum does have the advantage of proposing something that seems politically possible in the current universe.
UPDATE: Ilya Somin weighs in.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
A question that will haunt protectionists and free traders alike
The Financial Times' Richard McGregor notes that China is making somewhat louder noises about continued appreciation of the renminbi:
The Chinese ministry responsible for promoting exports has backed a further appreciation of the renminbi, removing one of the last remaining institutional lobbies in Beijing against a stronger currency.Six percent is not a lot, but clearly it's trending in the right direction. Which leads to an interesting thought -- if the renminbi continues to appreciate, but the bilateral deficit is not seriously affected, what does this mean for trade politics in this country?
Protectionists will be robbed of the easy crutch that the U.S. runs a large trade deficit because of China's unfair trading practices.
But free traders will be robbed of the argument that letting exchange rates float maes it easier to correct for current and capital account imbalances (see this Brad Setser post for more on the oddities of current global investment trends).
Where the foreign tourists are
Virginia Postrel has a great column in the Atlantic Monthly about the decline and fall of airline glamour. Go check it out -- if for no other reason than to admire a writer's ability to justify someone paying for her to fly from Los Angeles to London in Virgin Atlantic’s “Upper Class” cabin.
In a follow-up post, however, Postrel makes a rather curious assertion:
I suspect that The Guardian's audience is not as well traveled as they think they are. Outside the major cities in the United States, for instance, the only foreign tourists you usually find are Germans, who will go just about anywhere and rent RVs to do it. How many Guardian readers have driven through the desert Southwest or the Blue Ridge?I've traveled a fair amount in the United States, and my casual empiricism suggests that you'll find quite a lot of foreign tourists in the Southwest. They might not be driving RVs, but they will go there to take in one of the features of the United States that is not quite as common in Europe -- jaw-dropping natural vistas like the Grand Canyon, Garden of the Gods, or Zion National Park. In fact, in my experience, I've bumped into foreign tourists more often at non-urban destinations than urban ones.*
This could be a perceptual bias, so I'd be curious to hear from readers if this is their experience as well.
*If the dollar continues to fall in value, this will change, as even more tourists come to the U.S. for lower consumer prices.
Monday, January 15, 2007
Personally, I'm voting for option A
What does it mean that, when I contemplate the fact that today is Martin Luther King Day, I can't stop thinking about the first three minutes of this clip from Blazing Saddles?:A) I have bizarre sense of humor;
B) It underscores Seth Mnookin's point that, "[It's] twenty-nine years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr…and we still can’t talk openly and honestly about race." UPDATE: Wow, I am old. it's been thirty-nine years since the MLK assassination.
C) All of the above
D) None of the Above
The blog wheel has turned
Between 2002 and 2006, I noticed a meta-narrative that appeared in the blogosphere every so often:
1) Policy X is promulgated;I bring this up because, once the Democrats took power in Congress, I had a hunch that we might see the inverse of this passion play in the blogosphere: Republicans bashing Dems for bad policy, and Dems responding by pointing out that some Republicans embrace the policy as well.
For Exhibit A, see this Mark Thoma post about protectionist Republicans. His basic point:
There has been attempt after attempt to portray the trade issue as an area where Democrats are deeply divided, and there has been much written about how Democrats will stifle trade and hurt the economy now that they are in power.Read the whole thing. Thoma is correct about protectionist Republicans (though I think they're more significant on immigraton than trade). That said, he overlooks the fact that if the Democrats hold majorities in both houses of Congress, then it is appropriate that they shoulder the majority of criticism for their protectionist wing.