Saturday, March 24, 2007
South Africa is a normal country
Pssst.... hey, IR grad students. looking for an interesting paper topic? Michael Wines' New York Times front-pager on South Africa's foreign policy would be a good start.
Wines asks why a regime that relied on international support to end apartheid seems... let's say "indifferent".... to human rights abuses in countries near and far:
Modern South Africa came about, historians agree, in part because of the United Nations’ unrelenting stance against apartheid. The United Nations affirmed that South African racism was not merely an internal political problem, but a threat to southern Africa. It banned arms shipments to South Africa. It demanded fair treatment of black dissidents.Why is South Africa acting this way? Wines gets at some possibilities at the end of the article:
Apartheid, the South African government contends, was a crime against humanity. In contrast, it argues that human rights abuses in Myanmar do not fall within the mandate of the Security Council. Indeed, the South African government says, the Council’s encroachment on issues better left to lesser agencies like the Human Rights Council undermines the organization’s global nature.Let's knock down the third theory first -- I suspect this is not about reflexive anti-Americanism. The ANC has been perfectly willing to tolerate Washington Consensus-style economic policies for more than a decade now. This is not about the doctrinaire implementation of a militant ideology.
I'm not sure I buy the Security Council reform argument either. South Africa's obsteperous behavior at the UN is not a sufficient roadblock to Security Council action -- and if, anything, their positions on some issues are likely to alienate rather than persuade the United States and other western governments on U.N. reform. Plus, if it was just about UN reform, one would expect to see South Africa adopt a tougher position vis-a-vis human rights abusers in their bilateral relations -- and there's been zero evidence of that happening.
Me, I buy a variant of the first hypothesis -- South Africa is becoming a normal country pursuing a realpolitik foreign policy. If this means coddling dictators in Harare and accomodating rising powers in East Asia, so be it. It should also be pointed out that they're not the only country in the Southern African region to be acting this way.
From an IR theory perspective, however, post-1994 South African foreign policy might represent an ideal test of the power of ideas and norms to influence a middle power's foreign policy -- and the test suggests that ideas don't count for a lot. However, that's just my take based on a very surface-level scan of Pretoria's behavior. A proper, in-depth case study might turn up a different explanation..
Grad students, why are you wasting your weekend reading this blog? Get to it!!
UPDATE: I've now created a new blog category, "thesis ideas," devoted to these kind of research questions prompted by an interesting news story.
Friday, March 23, 2007
Cheap talk is fun!!
The Financial Times' Guy Dinmore reports that unilateralist Democrats are pissed off that the Bush administration is acting so darn multilateral when it comes to Iran:
Senators urged the Bush administration on Wednesday to get tougher with Iran but senior Treasury and State Department officials resisted demands to punish European and Asian companies investing in Iran’s energy sector.Now, let's be clear -- if either Chris Dodd or Robert Menendez was president, there's no chance in hell that they would implement the measures they profess to favor. This is just cheap talk.
You can do this on blogs as well. Try it yourself in the comments!
UPDATE: I wonder if this will satisfy Dodd and Menendez.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
While Congress gets all high and mighty about executive privilege....
The Washington Post's Elizabeth Williamson reports that the Congressional Research Service is about to get very chary with their information:
This week, Congressional Research Service chief Daniel P. Mulhollan issued a memo to all staffers in the service, known as Congress's think tank. From now on, he wrote, CRS researchers will require a supervisor's approval before giving any CRS report to a "non-congressional."Or.... you can click here.
The German Social Democrats party like it's 2002
One of the key points I was trying to make in my Foreign Affairs article was that the Bush foreign policy of 2007 looks somewhat different from the Bush foreign policy of 2002 -- it's more multilateral in both form and substance. This has been a common theme among foreign policy wonks across the ideological divide.
However, the word has yet to reach the German Social Democrats, as Judy Dempsey makes clear in this International Herald-Tribune story:
[T]he two parties in [Angela] Merkel's coalition appear more divided over the missile shield than other EU member states, which have been far less vocal or critical of the U.S. missile shield.If you read the whole thing, one gets the sense that domestic political calculations are behind the SPD's thinking... much as it was back in 2002.
Has Taro Aso ever met Condoleezza Rice?
According to Reuters, the Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso has offered up an interesting theory of how to build peace in the Middle East:
Blond, blue-eyed Westerners probably can't be as successful at Middle East diplomacy as Japanese with their "yellow faces", Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso was quoted by media as saying on Wednesday.By Aso's criteria, of course, Japan's colonial legacy means it should not be included in the Six-Party Talks on North Korea because it involves several countries that were part of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. I sense, however, that this would be applying too much logic to the comment.
Gender and low-wage jobs
Matt Yglesias links to a Washington Post op-ed by NYU political scientist Lawrence Mead on the withdrawal of low-income men from the workforce:
Why are low-skilled men withdrawing from work just when unskilled jobs appear plentiful and immigrants are flooding into the country to take them? One reason might be that the wages these men could earn have fallen, so, the thinking goes, why work for chump change? Yet these men failed to work more even in the 1990s, when wages for low-skilled jobs rose. It's more likely that male work discipline has deteriorated. Poor men want to work and succeed, yet many cannot endure the slights and disappointments that work involves. That's why poor men usually can obtain jobs yet seldom keep them.Yglesias goes to town with this paragraph:
Frankly, one has to sympathize with this. Presumably NYU political science professors like Mead don't need to put up with the sort of slights experienced by people doing unskilled labor.I can't shake the feeling that something else is going on here. Yes, low wage jobs can be humiliating and hard work.... but wasn't this also true in the past? Indeed, globally, one of the reasons so many people flock to so-called "sweatshop" jobs is because they still seem like a step up from the back-breaking tasks involved in agricultural labor.
What, then, explains the growing disaffection of male workers in this country? It might be that the composition of low-wage jobs has shifted from tasks that were commonly associated with men to tasks that have historically been associated as women's work. Low-wage jobs in the agricultural and manufactiuring sector involve the use of significant amounts of muscle far removed from the final customer. Low-wage jobs in the service sector often require the employee to wear nametags that say, "Hi! My name is ________!" while being as courteous as possible to the customer. My hunch is that a large swath of low-income men can deal with being dog-tired from moving around heavy things, but can't deal with the petty humiliations required to stay in the good graces of an obnoxious shopper. [So you're saying that women enjoy humiliation more?--ed. No, I'm saying that because many of these low-paying service-sector jobs were traditionally viewed as female, there's some path dependence at work here.]
This is just blog speculaion -- I have no idea if there's any empirical evidence to confirm if this is true. Commenters should feel free to shoot this down.
UPDATE: The Economist's Free Exchange has more on this point.
That's one way to get the ballcaps
From the Boston Herald's Clubhouse Insider blog, Jeff Horrigan details the extent to which ESPN's Dick Vitale will go to get a baseball cap:
ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale just threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to this afternoon’s game between the Sox and the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field. His appearance in a Pirates cap and jersey reminds me of the time a few years back in Sarasota, where the local resident (he lives in Bradenton now) was visiting Ed Smith Stadium for a Cincinnati Reds spring game. Naturally, Vitale was wearing a Reds cap that day, telling everyone that he’s a lifelong Reds fan (just like he’s telling everyone today he’s a lifelong Pirates fan). Well, some of us happened to walk by his car in the players parking lot and noticed five or six different caps in his car for teams that play on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Since then, I have heard him tell fans and media at Devil Rays, Yankees, Phillies and Red Sox game that he (wearing the appropriate hat each time) has been a long-time fan of that home team.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Who's leveraging who in Northeast Asia?
The Financial Times' Demetri Sevastopulo and Andrew Yeh explain the rather bizarre goings-on over the past three days involving North Korea, the financial sanctions against Banco Delta Asia, and the strange Treasury department statement that, "North Korea has pledged, within the framework of the Six-Party Talks, that these funds will be used solely for the betterment of the North Korean people, including for humanitarian and educational purposes."
What the heck happened? According to Sevastopulo and Yeh:
Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, orchestrated a significant shift in US policy towards North Korea by persuading the US Treasury to agree to Pyongyang’s demands to release $25m frozen in a Macao bank since 2005.Full disclosure: I worked with Glaser during my stint at Treasury, and he always exuded competence.
Beyond that, Flake's statement seems internally inconsistent. The financial sanctions cannot be both a strict law-enforcement matter and a source of leverage. It's one or the other. Clearly, it appears that they were leverage.
The sentence in the story that bothers me is China's linkage of this move to the SED. If that's what tipped the scales, then Beijing better be making some concessions in those negotiations that no one knows about.
Socrates' teaching evaluations
This class on philosophy was really good, Professor Socrates is sooooo smart, I want to be just like him when I graduate (except not so short). I was amazed at how he could take just about any argument and prove it wrong....Click here to read the rest of them.
You have to hand it to the Iranian leadership
Another day, another country Iran manages to alienate with its nuclear policy. From yesterday's New York Times:
Russia has informed Iran that it will withhold nuclear fuel for Iran’s nearly completed Bushehr power plant unless Iran suspends its uranium enrichment as demanded by the United Nations Security Council, European, American and Iranian officials say.Two thoughts:
1) As I said last year, "never trust the Russians to be a dependable ally."
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
What is Europe's trajectory?
Andrew Moravcsik celebrates the European Union's 50th anniversary with a cover story in Newsweek's international editions. Contra the conventional wisdom, Moravcsik paints a rosy present and future for the EU:
American Alone. While Europe Slept. Menace in Europe. As the European Union celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding Treaty of Rome, the pundits agree: Europe is in terminal decline. It is a continental-size museum dropping into the dustbin of history....You'll have to read the whole thing to evaluate Moravcsik's case for yourself. I certainly agree with him about the present -- indeed, I'm pretty sure a book just came out arguing that the EU is America's equal when it comes to questions of economic regulation.
It's the future trajectory where Moravcsik loses me -- which is why I wrote what I wrote in Foreign Affairs this month. I'm simply more pessimistic about Europe's ability to alter its domestic institutions and overcome its long-term demographic decline. The EU has staved off this problem in part by increasing expansion, but the fact is they're going to be running out of viable countries soon.
Moravcsik and other EU-boosters will counter by pointing to economic aspects of the EU model that work very well -- France's total factor productivity is higher than America's, Scandinavia has combined a generous welfare state with high birthrates and flexible labor markets, etc. This is true, but it is, frankly, a bulls**t argument. You can't say that the entire European Union is on the upswing by pointing to a few regions of it that are doing well in certain metrics and implying that there will be a diffusion effect to the rest of the continent. Domestic institutions in Europe are pretty resistant to change. Indeed, for al the EU's successes, I would still wager that the diffusion of "successful" policy innovations would spread faster from American state to American state than between the different members of the EU. You also can't point to the best bits of the EU and compare it to the U.S. as a whole. Why include MIssissippi but not Greece or Bulgaria? How does French productivity stack up against California alone?
These are questions which I am sure will be answered by the commenters.
UPDATE: Here's a similar critique of the Moravcsik article... with, like, real data!!
That said, according to this survey, Moravcsik is correct about how the rest of the world views the EU.
ANOTHER UPDATE: I've revised this post slightly to correct for some atrocious grammatical miscues.
Monday, March 19, 2007
How HDTV affects campaign 2008
The first thing you notice about HDTV is that some of the politicians look really awful. Studio makeup is not enough to cover up the sagging, cragging, and pitting of all those cruel years in Congress. Some of them look fine . . . John Kerry is positively handsome, if you like men who look kind of like a wrinkly old orange. (Can't his wife buy him a really convincing fake tan? Sigh. Yet another reason not to bother getting rich.) Others—and you know who you are, Senator Specter—not so much. Charles Schumer has a deep crease on the side of his forehead that looks like he slept on his glasses . . . on top of a lit stove. And Tim Russert seems to have a little rosacea problem....I've seen Obama and met McCain -- Megan's conjectures seem sound to me.
That said, even on HDTV there are methods to conceal flaws -- see here for one example. It is possible, however, that makeup and/or other techniques to look good on HDTV would be too subtle to have an affect on normal televisions. This leads to an interesting tradeoff -- which television audience should a candidate target? Would the targeting shift between the primary season and the general election? Would it depend on the demographic being targeted by the candidate?
You known, you just know, that some candidates are going to spent a lot of money on consultants to answer this very question. And if you ask me, Megan deserves a 10% cut on all this swag to help defray her moving expenses.
Has anyone at The American Prospect ever read Thucydides?
The major sins are contained in this Thomas Geoghegan essay that blasts neoconservatives for being so besotted with Thucydides:
College kids write papers now on how we got into Iraq. Or so it is with my friend's daughter. She's supposed to write a paper on one of the neocons. Which one should she pick?...In the interest of having a productive work day, I'll have to refrain from a detailed analysis of why this piece is so God-awful. Instead, I'll have to ask my informed readers to determine the biggest sin committed in this piece:
1) Geoghegan's moronic belief that Thucydides was some kind of war-monger -- indeed, it is ironic that Geoghegan basically accepts the neoconservative interpretation of Thucydides (for a conservative takedown of this neoconservative position, click here).;Debate away!
How is China's media reporting on Zimbabwe?
There's been a spot of trouble in Zimbabwe's autocracy as of late. I wonder how media outlets in non-democratic regimes are covering this trouble?
From the People's Daily Online:
The Zimbabwe government will not sit back and watch the opposition perpetrating "terrorist attacks" on innocent citizens while authorities are also geared to stamp out domestic violence, which accounted for 60 percent of Zimbabwe's murder cases, President Robert Mugabe has said.I can only hope that the honorable people's government in Zimbabwe crushes the treacherous curs of the MDC to promote peace, order and social justice for all [Snap out of it!!--ed. C'mon, I don't get to use "treacherous curs" in daily parlance all that often.]