Saturday, July 14, 2007
Meet David Petraeus, patsy or savior
William Kristol, "Why Bush Will Be A Winner," Washington Post, July 15, 2007:
Bush has the good fortune of having finally found his Ulysses S. Grant, or his Creighton Abrams, in Gen. David H. Petraeus. If the president stands with Petraeus and progress continues on the ground, Bush will be able to prevent a sellout in Washington. And then he could leave office with the nation on course to a successful (though painful and difficult) outcome in Iraq. With that, the rest of the Middle East, where so much hangs in the balance, could start to tip in the direction of our friends and away from the jihadists, the mullahs and the dictators....Thomas E. Ricks, "Bush Leans On Petraeus as War Dissent Deepens," Washington Post, July 15, 2007:
Some of Petraeus's military comrades worry that the general is being set up by the Bush administration as a scapegoat if conditions in Iraq fail to improve. "The danger is that Petraeus will now be painted as failing to live up to expectations and become the fall guy for the administration," one retired four-star officer said.This is not a "same planet, different worlds" kind of comparison. If the Iraq war ends well, then Kristol's scenario is correct; if the status quo persists or worsens, then the Ricks scenario is correct.
Unfortunately for Petraeus, I suspect most experts would give Kristol's scenario less than a 10% chance of coming true.
Calling all international lawyers!
As a general rule, international law (IL) scholars don't get a lot of love from international relations (IR) scholars. IR types tend to think that IL people hold naive and unsubstantiated views about the power of global rules to compel governments into certain forms of behavior. In turn, IL types tend to look askance at us IR types, convinced that because we do not hold international law in such high esteem, at any moment we will bully them, beat them up, and hog the best hors d'oeuvres at all the good conferences (this last accusation carries a ring of truth).
Nevertheless, there are moments when us IR types need to confess that we're not entirely sure why states are behaving in a certain way, and turn to IL types for support. This is one of those times: why, suddenly, is the Bush adfministration so gung-ho about ratifying the Law of the Sea Convention?
This treaty was negotiated during the seventies and completed in 1983. The Reagan administration rejected ratification at the time because of disputes over seabed mining that appear to have been hashed out. The U.S. essentially honors 99% of the treaty anyway, but only now has there been any momentum to formally ratify the treaty.
Vern Clark and Thomas Pickering have an op-ed in the New York Times today making this case for ratification:
The treaty provides our military the rights of navigation, by water and by air, to take our forces wherever they must go, whenever it is necessary to do so. Our ships — including vessels that carry more than 90 percent of the logistic and other support for our troops overseas — are given the right of innocent passage through the territorial seas of other states. In addition, the treaty permits American warships to board stateless vessels on the high seas.This is pretty much the official Bush administration position as well. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England also add an additional reason:
Accession makes sense from the perspective of U.S. leadership on the world stage. Joining the convention would give the nation a seat at the table, a voice in the debates, to help shape the future development of oceans law, policy and practice. Accession would also give the United States better opportunities to keep a close watch on other nations' efforts to exercise their rights under the law of the sea and to counter excessive claims if necessary.So far, so good. Except that earlier this month, Jack Goldsmith and Jeremy Rabkin argued in the Washington Post that this treaty would actually hinder WMD interdiction efforts:
The Bush administration is urging the Senate to consent this summer to the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the complex and sprawling treaty that governs shipping, navigation, mining, fishing and other ocean activities. This is a major departure from the administration's usual stance toward international organizations that have the capacity to restrain U.S. sovereignty. And it comes in a surprising context, since the convention has disturbing implications for our fight against terrorists....Over at Opinio Juris, Peter Spiro pours a lot of cold water onto Goldsmith and Rabkin's argument. Spiro may be right that Goldsmith and Rabkin are overhyping the threat from international tribunals. However, I do know the following is true:
1) The PSI is a linchpin for the Bush administration's anti-proliferation policies;In this administration's balance sheet, it's always been willing to jettison international legal strictures even if it theoretically constrains U.S. freedom of action.
So, my question -- why is the Bush administration suddenly so gung-ho about ratifying the Law of the Sea treaty? Is there a hidden quid pro quo that I'm missing? Is this strictly a PR stunt where the Bush administration can claim it's multilateral? Am I simply overstating the treaty's constraints on PSI? What gives?
UPDATE: Chris Borgen misinterprets this post a little. I'm not stating that the costs of ratifying the LOS outweigh the benefits (to me it really does depend on how much, if at all, LOS constrains PSI). I'm saying that by revealed preference, I would have expected the Bush administration to have made this calculation.
And yet they didn't. Why?
ANOTHER UPDATE: Thanks to alert reader S.B., who e-mail a Reuters story suggesting one additional benefit for LOS ratification:
Canada will buy at least six patrol ships to assert its sovereignty claim in the Arctic, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper backed away on Monday from an election pledge for navy icebreakers that would ply the waters of the Northwest Passage all year....
Friday, July 13, 2007
The most frightening sentence I've read today
"A lot of suburbanites have moved to the city in the last five years looking for action," said Beehive co-owner Darryl SettlesSuzanne Ryan, "The place to be (over 30)," Boston Globe, July 13, 2007.
Thief foiled by Democratic party caricature
A grand feast of marinated steaks and jumbo shrimp was winding down, and a group of friends was sitting on the back patio of a Capitol Hill home, sipping red wine. Suddenly, a hooded man slid in through an open gate and put the barrel of a handgun to the head of a 14-year-old guest.Click on the story to read what happens next... but group hugs are involved.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
A whole-assed effort on a half-assed policy measure
In response to this post blasting the Baucus-Grassley-Schumer-Graham China bill -- and the presidential candidates who endorse it -- I received the following e-mail from a Hill staffer who shall remain very, very anonymous:
Over the next few months, our committee is going to be considering trade legislation on China, including the currency issue. I've read with interest your recent blog about your concerns with the Baucus-Grassley-Schumer-Graham bill. If we accept that something needs to happen legislatively (for political, if not substantive reasons) on currency, do you have any thoughts on what a sensible piece of legislation would look like?So, the problem is that a political imperative exists to do something, but even the staffers know that the something proposed is bad, bad, bad.
The task, therefore, is to devise a bill that is perceived as doing something about China but in point of fact does not seriously rupture either the bilateral economic relationship or the U.S. economy. A bonus if the policy were to actually achieve the desired end -- a slow appreciation of the yuan.
Faced with this assignment, and after pleading numerous times to just do nothing, I'd offer four recommendations that might make this kind of thing look sensible:
1) Give China 18 to 24 months to achieve a quantifiable degree of appreciation (no, I'm not going to provide a number) before any measures are enacted. This kicks the can down the road for a while, and with some luck Beijing will head in that direction anyway.Please excuse me so I can wash my hands until they're clean.
The thing about handling Iran...
Over at foreignpolicy.com, Monica Maggioni makes a case about how the U.S. should handle Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that will be familiar to readers of this blog:
In Tehran, the mood is quickly shifting. And it’s easy to feel it every time you stop to buy a newspaper, have a coffee, or wait in line at the grocery store. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s star is fading fast.I don't really disagree with this analysis, but there's one nagging concern. As Maggioni points out, Ahmadinejad is aware of his own political conundrum. He therefore has an incentive to pursue policies that antagonize the United States as much as possible -- in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in the Persian Gulf, towards Israel, etc. The U.S. response, according of every Iran-watcher I've heard from regardless of party affiliation -- should be low-key.
Here's my problem -- doesn't this approach essentially give Ahmadinejad carte blanche to do whatever he wants in the region? Is "multilateral pressure" really going to prevent him from arming Iraqi insurgents, seizing more sailors, threatening the Saudis, and accelerating the nuclear program?
I think the short-run costs of tolerance clearly outweigh the long-term benefits of Ahmadinejad backing himself into a corner. But I also have to admit I'm not thrilled with the menu of options here.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
What motivates economic journalists?
At least once a year, journalists who cover economics like to use the trope of "the dominant market-friendly paradigm is being challenged, changing economics as we understand it." It's safe to say that Patricia Cohen's New York Times story from yesterday fits that bill:
For many economists, questioning free-market orthodoxy is akin to expressing a belief in intelligent design at a Darwin convention: Those who doubt the naturally beneficial workings of the market are considered either deluded or crazy.The story conflates a bunch of things (adopting interventionist policy positions, deviating from formal methods, behavioral economics, heterodox economics) together. Alex Tabarrok has a nice takedown (and see also Greg Mankiw). Even Dani Rodrik (cited in the piece) thinks the article "does overstate it quite a bit."
What's of interest to me is that this kind of scattershot critique of standard economic theory -- in which a whole bunch of disparate, even contradictory critiques are lumped together -- seems to be a common trope among journalists. My question is, why?
There's a Freakonomics-style question to be asked here -- are journalists who wash out of Ph.D. programs more or less likely to do this? What about journalists with overt ideological biases? And why the hell hasn't The New Republic written its standard, contrarian, "the neoclassical model does better than you think" kind of piece?
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Clinton and Obama officially scare the crap out of me
About a month ago I was talking with a big-name economist who was advising a couple of presidential campaigns. I've differed with this person on a few policy issues, but I'd be very comfortable with this person in a position of authority.
I asked him which candidates on the Democratic side would be able to pursue a responsible trade policy, and he replied, without hesitation, "Clinton and Obama."
After reading Eoin Callan's Financial Times story, I'm afraid I can't believe that anymore:
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the frontrunners for the Democratic presidential nomination, have agreed to co-sponsor legislation that would levy punitive duties on Chinese goods to cajole Beijing into revaluing its currency, according to aides....Brad DeLong makes the point better than I:
Of course, then the candidates will be attacking US consumers (who will pay higher prices for imports), workers in the construction industry, US borrowers (who will then pay higher interest rates to domestic and foreign creditors), and US homeowners (who will see the higher interest rates push down housing prices and reduce their equity). The net short-run effect is surely a minus--it's not as though we desperately need to swap construction jobs for manufacturing jobs right now, and we surely don't need a more-rapid decline in housing prices right now.This prompts Matt Yglesias to ask the following:
Now where I tend to lose the plot is this. If mainstream economists like Brad think it's a bad idea to use threats of tariffs to push China into changing its exchange-rate policies, how come the economics mainstream seems to have so few complaints about the fact that it's completely normal for US trade negotiators to use exactly this sort of leverage to try to get other countries to change the intellectual properties policies or to privatize their water systems or what have you? Why is the threat to shoot ourselves in the foot okay when made on behalf of pharmaceutical companies and movie studios, but not when made on behalf of import-competing manufacturers? Often when I see this argument made, I feel like the point is -- aha! hypocrites! you should support our China bill after all! -- but I really do think Brad's right, this is a bad bill. But by the same token, the people who complain about this sort of thing ought to complain about the other sort of thing as well.To answer Matt's question to the best of my ability, you have to realize the following:
1) All trade sanctions, when imposed, are welfare-reducing. The hope in deploying them is that they will be sufficiently painful to the targeted country that its government will acquiesce in a prompt manner -- i.e., before they really bite.Clinton and Obama are willing to screw over the American consumer for a self-defeating measure. Both of them should know better.
UPDATE: Dani Rodrik blogs an intriguing proposal on how to remedy China's undervalued currency. That is to say, it would be intriguing if the policy could be executed in a vacuum with zero political externalities. I don't think it can actually be implemented.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Several commentators have suggested that a) Clinton and Obama are merely posturing; and b) Republicans are just as bad.
My response to (a) is that it stops being posturing when you're co-sponsoring legislation that has a decent chance of passing. My response to (b) is a free round of tu quoque for everyone.
Drezner's pop culture minute!!
One of the pernicious side-effects of shuttling around small children in one's car is that it causes one to lose with touch with today's music. Anything that's not on "Music Together" or the theme song from Maisy is lost on my youngest child, and she gets very grumpy when her music is not being played.
Even with this caveat, I'll go out on a limb and declare myself a better arbiter of pop music meanings than David Brooks.
This is based on Brooks' column ($$) in the New York Times today, a sociological exegesis of three hit songs today:
If you’ve been driving around listening to pop radio stations this spring and summer, you’ll have noticed three songs that are pretty much unavoidable, and each of them is a long way from puppy love....A few thoughts:
1) David needs to haul his current research assistant into his office and bitchslap him or her for a while. It's the RA's job to have a better grasp of pop culture, and in this case there has been a clear failure, because this kind of song has been around for a while. A decade ago, there was Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know," Fiona Apple's "Sleep to Dream", and Meredith Brooks' "Bitch."
Monday, July 9, 2007
Why there will never be a reality show about academia
Four years ago (?!!), I blogged the following:
[T]he caricature of academia in popular culture is a collection of lecherous white male who inevitably bed one or more of their students.In The American Scholar, William Deresiewicz uses many more paragraphs to make a similar point:
Look at recent movies about academics, and a remarkably consistent pattern emerges. In The Squid and the Whale (2005), Jeff Daniels plays an English professor and failed writer who sleeps with his students, neglects his wife, and bullies his children. In One True Thing (1998), William Hurt plays an English professor and failed writer who sleeps with his students, neglects his wife, and bullies his children. In Wonder Boys (2000), Michael Douglas plays an English professor and failed writer who sleeps with his students, has just been left by his third wife, and can’t commit to the child he’s conceived in an adulterous affair with his chancellor. Daniels’s character is vain, selfish, resentful, and immature. Hurt’s is vain, selfish, pompous, and self-pitying. Douglas’s is vain, selfish, resentful, and self-pitying. Hurt’s character drinks. Douglas’s drinks, smokes pot, and takes pills. All three men measure themselves against successful writers (two of them, in Douglas’s case; his own wife, in Daniels’s) whose presence diminishes them further. In We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004), Mark Ruffalo and Peter Krause divide the central role: both are English professors, and both neglect and cheat on their wives, but Krause plays the arrogant, priapic writer who seduces his students, Ruffalo the passive, self-pitying failure. A Love Song For Bobby Long (2004) divides the stereotype a different way, with John Travolta as the washed-up, alcoholic English professor, Gabriel Macht as the blocked, alcoholic writer.Deresiewicz answers his own question with a Jungian flourish ( "they are a way of articulating the superiority of female values to male ones: of love, community, and self-sacrifice to ambition, success, and fame"). Actually, there are several Jungian flourishes, to match the many answers he provides.
Rather than tangle with Deresiewicz, let me offer up an explanation, provided my the Official Blogwife, that Deresiewicz leaves unexplored: "The reason professors sleep with their students in fiction is because any realistic portrayal of your jobs would bore readers out of their skulls within ten minutes."
Alas, this is true. I'd like to think I've carved out an interesting career, but a diary of a typical working day for me would probably run as follows:
9:00 A.M.: Dan turns on computer.And so on.