Saturday, September 8, 2007

And here I thought "angry Buddhist monks" was an oxymoron

The Financial Times' Amy Kazmin and Andrew Ward report that Myanmar's regime is so bad that they've actually managed to make Budshist monks angry. Apparently, you wouldn't like them when they're angry:

Burma’s military regime fulminated on Friday against ’external anti-government groups’ which it claimed were trying to foment a mass uprising in Burma, and warned that it remains determined to crush open displays of dissent....

The regime’s outburst came amid persistent high tensions in the town of Pokkoku, a centre of Buddhist learning, where angry Buddhist monks have clashed with government authorities and pro-regime supporters in recent days....

Burma’s ruling generals are on edge after a rare wave of small but persistent protests against a sudden sharp increase in the price of rationed fuel, which has exacerbated the hardships of the impoverished population.

Initially, the regime relied mainly on its civilian militias – with frightening names like Swan-aah Shin, or “Masters of Force” – to help police and other security forces to haul off demonstrators, and snuff out protests and marches almost as soon as they began.

But tensions have intensified since Wednesday night when soldiers in Pokkoku fired warning shots over the heads of hundreds of protesting monks, who complained of being manhandled, and tied to electricity poles.

On Thursday, monks infuriated at the harsh treatment held a dozen government officials captive in a tense standoff, and burned four official cars, before freeing the group unharmed a few hours later. However, later monks and town residents destroyed an electronics shop and a home that belong to members of the regime’s Union Solidarity and Development Organisation, reflecting the strength of public anger towards any one seen as linked to the regime.

More than 100 people have been arrested by the regime in an attempt to quell the protests.

posted by Dan at 02:58 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, September 7, 2007

The political demand for crackpot economics

There's a raging debate among The Atlantic's bloggers about crackpot versions of supply-side economics and to what extent GOP politicians embrace them (the contemporary Democrat version of this, by the way, is that a protectionist approach towards China will be a net benefit to the U.S. economy and U.S. employment).

Alex Tabarrok weighs in with the following question:

[A] more fruitful question which I'd like to see Yglesias, Chait and others grapple with is why discredited, crackpot ideas can become central elements of a winning political party in the world's most important democracy. Explain the demand side and give us your policy prescriptions.
I don't really have an answer to this question that can be fit into a blog post, but I can link to this disquisition by Alan Blinder.

posted by Dan at 09:08 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The strategic thought of George W. Bush

Robert Draper's new Bush biography, Dead Certain, is being excerpted in Slate this week. Let's see how George W. Bush thinks strategically. This is from late 2006:

"The job of the president," he continued, through an ample wad of bread and sausage, "is to think strategically so that you can accomplish big objectives. As opposed to playing mini-ball. You can't play mini-ball with the influence we have and expect there to be peace. You've gotta think, think BIG. The Iranian issue," he said as bread crumbs tumbled out of his mouth and onto his chin, "is the strategic threat right now facing a generation of Americans, because Iran is promoting an extreme form of religion that is competing with another extreme form of religion. Iran's a destabilizing force. And instability in that part of the world has deeply adverse consequences, like energy falling in the hands of extremist people that would use it to blackmail the West. And to couple all of that with a nuclear weapon, then you've got a dangerous situation. ... That's what I mean by strategic thought. I don't know how you learn that. I don't think there's a moment where that happened to me. I really don't. I know you're searching for it. I know it's difficult. I do know—y'know, how do you decide, how do you learn to decide things? When you make up your mind, and you stick by it—I don't know that there's a moment, Robert. I really—You either know how to do it or you don't. I think part of this is it: I ran for reasons. Principled reasons. There were principles by which I will stand on. And when I leave this office I'll stand on them. And therefore you can't get driven by polls. Polls aren't driven by principles. They're driven by the moment. By the nanosecond."
Look past the description of his mastication and consider the following discussion question: what is missing from George Bush's strategic thought?

UPDATE: Well, Kevin Drum ruins the whole exercise by giving away the answer.

Actually, that's not entirely fair. Bush has thought about the situation in the Middle East, and has clearly determined what he thinks is the best U.S. response. To use some game-theoretic language, however, it's decision-theoretic, not strategic.

Take Bush's description of the situation as a given (I don't, but it doesn't matter for this exercise). He has determined, in his mind, the best U.S. response and defines that as strategic thinking. Except that, in this quote at least, what has not done is contemplate:

a) How the Iranian leadership might respond to U.S. policies;

b) How the Iranian people might respond to U.S. policies;

c) How the rest of the region might respond to U.S. policies;

d) How our key allies might respond to U.S. policies.

Part of strategic thought is contemplating how others might react to what you do. There's none of that in George W. Bush's strategic thought.

posted by Dan at 11:12 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

The tough test of Iran

Last month I blogged repeatedly that the political climate surrounding the Iraq invasion was historically unique. You had a popular president, a cowed opposition scarred from opposition to the last Gulf War, a track record of military success, and the memory of the 9/11 attacks fresh in America's mind. Since one of those conditions hold now, I concluded, "contra the netroots, I don't think what happened in the fall of 2002 will happen again with, say, Iran."

Well, now I see that we're going to have a tough test of my hypothesis. From Afghan expert Barnett Rubin:

Today I received a message from a friend who has excellent connections in Washington and whose information has often been prescient. According to this report, as in 2002, the rollout will start after Labor Day, with a big kickoff on September 11. My friend had spoken to someone in one of the leading neo-conservative institutions. He summarized what he was told this way:
They [the source's institution] have "instructions" (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects. It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don't think they'll ever get majority support for this--they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is "plenty."
Of course I cannot verify this report.
Well, Rubin spoke too soon. The New Yorker's George Packer blogs:
Barnett Rubin just called me. His source spoke with a neocon think-tanker who corroborated the story of the propaganda campaign and had this to say about it: “I am a Republican. I am a conservative. But I’m not a raging lunatic. This is lunatic.”
In the Washington Times, Arnaud de Borchgrave writes the following:
After a brief interruption of his New Hampshire vacation to meet President Bush in the family compound at Kenebunkport, Maine, French President Nicolas Sarkozy came away convinced his U.S. counterpart is serious about bombing Iran's secret nuclear facilities. That's the reading as it filtered back to Europe's foreign ministries:

Addressing the annual meeting of France's ambassadors to 188 countries, Mr. Sarkozy said either Iran lives up to its international obligations and relinquishes its nuclear ambitions — or it will be bombed into compliance. Mr. Sarkozy also made it clear he did not agree with the Iranian-bomb-or-bombing-of-Iran position, which reflects the pledge of Mr. Bush to his loyalists, endorsed by Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Independent. But Mr. Sarkozy recognized unless Iran's theocrats stop enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels under inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), we will all be "faced with an alternative that I call catastrophic."

A ranking Swiss official privately said, "Anyone with a modicum of experience in the Middle East knows that any bombing of Iran would touch off at the very least regional instability and what could be an unmitigated disaster for Western interests."

So, we'll see after 9/11 whether the Bush administration can repeat history without it turning into a farce. Lord knows, Iran's regime will elicit little sympathy from Americans -- nor should it.

That said, like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, there are strong reasons to believe we won't be attacking Iran anytime soon. According to Spencer Ackerman over at TPM Muckraker:

Cheney's likely motivation for issuing such instructions to his think-tank allies would be to win an inter-administration battle over the future of Iran policy. Cheney, an advocate of confronting the Iranians militarily, faces opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where the primary concern is preventing an open-ended Iraq commitment from decimating military preparedness for additional crises. A new war is the last thing the chiefs want, and on this, they're backed by Defense Secretary Bob Gates. "It may be that the president hasn't decided yet," says Rubin.

On this reading, the real target of any coordinated campaign between the VP and right-wing D.C. think tanks on Iran isn't the Iranians themselves, or even general public opinion, but the Pentagon. Cheney needs to soften up his opposition inside the administration if Bush is to ultimately double down on a future conflict, something that a drumbeat of warnings about the Iranian threat can help accomplish.

This time around, Bush and Cheney will face a sizeable domestic opposition, a hostile foreign policy community, and opposition from within the executive branch. So I don't think they have the ability to just say "f$%* it" and go ahead.

The next few weeks will be a good test of this hypothesis.

One final caveat -- much of this speculation about a rollout in the first place relies on one source -- Rubin. So this might just be a lot of blog bloviation about nothing.

UPDATE: Some commenters are curious about where I stand normatively on attacking Iraq. Click here for an answer.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Hmmm.... is this evidence for the rollout? Or are Bush and Cheney merely dancing to the whims of the Israel Lobby? Who's the puppet and who's the puppeteer in this production?

posted by Dan at 08:14 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Madlibs and the Bush administration's signature style

The New York Times Magazine offers a sneak preview of next week's cover story -- Jeffrey Rosen's article about Jack Goldsmith's experiences at the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (Full disclosure: Jack is a good friend and I've blogged about him before). Goldsmith is the author of The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration , due out in the next week.

This paragraph from Rosen's story should sound familiar to those who have observed Bush's foreign policy style:

In Goldsmith’s view, the Bush administration went about answering [national security law] questions in the wrong way. Instead of reaching out to Congress and the courts for support, which would have strengthened its legal hand, the administration asserted what Goldsmith considers an unnecessarily broad, “go-it-alone” view of executive power. As Goldsmith sees it, this strategy has backfired. “They embraced this vision,” he says, “because they wanted to leave the presidency stronger than when they assumed office, but the approach they took achieved exactly the opposite effect. The central irony is that people whose explicit goal was to expand presidential power have diminished it.”
Let's have some Madlibs fun and insert some blanks into this paragraph:
In Goldsmith’s view, the Bush administration went about answering __noun__ questions in the wrong way. Instead of reaching out to __noun__ and __noun__ for support, which would have strengthened its __adjective__ hand, the administration asserted what Goldsmith considers an unnecessarily broad, “go-it-alone” view of __noun__ . As Goldsmith sees it, this strategy has backfired. “They embraced this vision,” he says, “because they wanted to leave __noun__ stronger than when they assumed office, but the approach they took achieved exactly the opposite effect. The central irony is that people whose explicit goal was to expand __noun__ have diminished it.”
Discussion question: would it be safe to say that this applies to almost every Bush administration policy initiative?

posted by Dan at 03:50 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Your Giuliani observation of the day

Take this for what you will:

Over the past month, I've had at least two dozen conversations with various people about Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign. A lot of these people are Democrats, but there were a healthy number of Republicans and independents as well. These are all smart observers of politics who generally do not make knee-jerk assessments. The one common denominator was that, at some point, all of these people had lived in the New York City area while Rudy was mayor.

What is astonishing is that, despite the fact that this collection of individuals would likely disagree about pretty much everything, there was an airtight conensus about one and only one point:

A Giuliani presidency would be an unmitigated disaster for the United States.
That is all.

UPDATE: Commenters have reasonably asked the "why?" question. For some answers from New Yorkers, click here and here.

posted by Dan at 08:03 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (0)

Let the campaign commence!

Well, it's after Labor Day, so I guess that the presidential campaign for 2008 should be gearing up right about now.

I, for one, think that Fred Thompson fellow is smart to be laying the groundwork to declare so early -- he'll have a jump on the rest of the putative field.

I wonder when the first debates will be.....

posted by Dan at 07:52 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, September 2, 2007

An APSA wrap-up

Another year, another APSA into the archives. A few random thoughts about this year's meetings.

1) Here's an interesting etiquette question. Say you're a very senior scholar who's in the audience for a panel of interest. Now say the panel chair calls you out by name to say that it's great that you're here and that everyone is looking forward to hear your thoughts on the panel during the Q & A. Are you obligated to stay and say something profound?

2) Rob Farley dissents from my "anti-dowdy" defense of political scientists:

Color me unconvinced that the sartorial sense of political scientists has improved. Casual observation on the night before the first day of the conference indicates that the uniform remains substantially unchanged; navy blazer with brass buttons, button down shirt with no tie and t-shirt showing at the neck, pleated slacks.... and please, people; there's no reason to be wearing your name tag to the bar before the damn conference even starts.
First, let me say "Amen!" on Farley's last point.

Second, I'll concede to a bit of hindsight bias on the sartorial question. I realize now that after a conference, the stylish choices stick in my brain while the "uniform" washes away from my brain. Of course, Farley's "uniform" is mostly the domain of graduate students, who face harder budget constraints

Nevertheless, I'll stand by my statement on the whole. Remember, I was declaring political scientists as less sartorially challenged than economists. I've seen enough of the latter to remain firm in this conviction. Plus, this weekend downtown Chicago was populated by either a) political scientists, and; b) Iowa football fans -- and the political scientists won that dress competition hands down.

3) Speaking of sports, this result revealed a surprising amount of anti-Michigan sentiment among APSA attendees.

4) You know you have a good panel topic when 30 people show up for an 8:00 AM-on-Thursday time slot. Props to Laura, Tim Groeling, Matt Baum, and the other paper presenters.

5) The most interesting thing I learned at this conference: back in the 1930's, APSA produced a weekly broadcast for NBC radio. Matthew Hindman explains:

From 1932 to 1936, the APSA sponsored a nationwide radio program on NBC. Entitled "You and Your Goverment," it was run by some of the most famous scholars in the discipline's history, including Charles A. Beard and Charles Merriam. Incredibly, the show aired on Tuesday nights after Amos 'n' Andy--guaranteeing a lead-in audience of tens of millions. Six percent of the APSA's membership--and nearly all of its leading lights--were featured in the most prominent time slot in broadcast history.

At the start of the broadcasts, the committe organizing the broadcsats declared that they were "the greatest single opportunity directly to effect citizenship in the United States that has ever been offered." The program signified "the opening of the door of wider usefulness for the political scientist." Yet a few years later, when NBC cancelled the program, these same political scientists had changed their tune, calling broadcasting "a positive menace to culture and democracy."

Click here to read Hindman's paper on the subject.

6) When booksellers offer a book for three or five dollars during the peak of the conference, it's a sign that they overestimated demand. Among the books I saw in that category this year: Jacob Hacker's The Great Risk Shift, and the paperback version of Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat.

7) Your quote of the conference, "For $750,000, I'd blame the Israel Lobby for all our problems too."

posted by Dan at 09:52 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

An out-of-date top 100 list

An e-mail alerted me to this "list of the top 100 blogs dealing with economics."

Your humble blogger is included, with the following description: "The author has a deep academic background and provides economic insights founded in solid economic theory."

Curiously, I tried the "deep academic background" line while in graduate school. Readers should not be surprised that it never worked for me in bars.

What's really amusing about the list is that in the span of a week it's already out of date. Megan McArdle has already moved onto the Atlantic site, and Max Sawicky announced that he's hanging up his blogging spurs.

posted by Dan at 09:42 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)