Saturday, November 10, 2007
The FSOs are beginning to leave me cold
Glenn Kessler has a Washington Post front-pager on how Cobdoleezza Rice is not such a great manager at Foggy Bottom.
Given Rice's management performance at NSC, this is not completely surprising. That said, three points in her defense.
First, traditionally it's been the Deputy Secretary of State who managed the bureaucracy at State. And, as Kessler observes between Robert Zoellick and John Negroponte the office, "was unoccupied for the longest period in State Department history."
Second, Kessler compares Rice's management style to James Baker's stint at the building -- and then contrasts it with Colin Powell's embrace of the bureaucracy. Fair enough, but this suggests to me that how the Secretary of State manages the bureaucracy has no bearing whatsoever on whether they are successful at their jobs.
Third, the subtext of the article is that Foreign Service Officers are bitching and moaning about how Rice has made their lives difficult. Policy objections I can understand. Being sent to Iraq I against their will I can (sort of) understand. But some of the complaints voiced to Kessler make the FSOs sound absurdly out of touch:
At State, Rice has pushed ambitious efforts to reshape how foreign aid is distributed and to shift key diplomatic jobs from Europe to emerging powers such as China and India. The foreign-assistance overhaul, in which Rice personally approved country-by-country budget numbers, was criticized by lawmakers and some within the department because it appeared to minimize the advice of specialists in the field. The job shifts were put in place so quickly that a number of Foreign Service officers who had been promised plum posts in Paris and elsewhere had to be told that those positions no longer existed....No Paris jobs? Fewer staff meetings? Getting angry over negative press? Wow, this is dirty laundry!!!
Coming soon: a front-pager from Kessler about how Rice viciously ordered the State Department cafeteria to eliminate "Free Fro-Yo Fridays"
UPDATE: I received the following in an e-mail from an FSO who shall remain nameless that provides some interesting context to the Kessler story:
Very few FSOs live for "plum assignments." People who go to comfy posts very often have kids in high school (they need a place that has a good one), may be struggling with temporary medical issues, want easy access to aging parents, or may be just be plain tired out from tough years in rough places or having been separated from family at a post like Iraq or Afghansitan. Most of us happily choose challenge and hardship over life in a place like Paris, but most of us also hope for a break here and there and if we finally get such a gift and it then gets wiped away in a reorg, that's no fun.
Friday, November 9, 2007
An optimistic post on trade
It's no secret that I've been in a sour mood as of late on the future of U.S. trade policy. Today's New York Times story on the House's passage of the Peru FTA didn't cheer me up either, because the takeaway point is that its passage was the exception and not the rule.
Eoin Callan, however, lifts me from complete and total despair with this Financial Times story:
Diplomats from the US and European Union are laying the groundwork for an unprecedented round of bilateral bargaining in which all of the main transatlantic trade disputes would be put on the table and negotiated in one go.If this works -- and given the interest groups at play, I'd put the odds of success at about 35% -- then it's win-win-win-win-win.
Both the United States and European Union would score some policy victories, and remove some major irritants to the transatlatic relationship.
The business community on both sides of the Atlantic would benefit from greater policy certainty.
Consumers would gain from increased levels of exchange
The biggest winner, however, would likely be the WTO -- because it would save the dispute settlement body from having to decide cases that are way beyond its pay grade.
Weston Field hits the big time
ESPN's College Gameday is going to your humble blogger's alma mater, Williams College, for tomorrow's broadcast. This reason is the 122nd playing of the Williams-Amherst football game.
To celebrate, ESPN.com has two stories on the rivalry. One tidbit from Chris Fowler:
Some of the early games reportedly were just glorified brawls between students. In the infamous 1928 edition, Amherst coaches dressed one of their own in a Williams uniform and sent him onto the field to confuse their rivals. Officials detected the ruse and forced the player to strip off his uni in full view of the amused fans.Lauren Reynolds' story, however, has the better anecdotes about off-the-field stunts:
The rivalry is not confined to the players and coaches, however. In the long history of the rivalry, some of the most memorable moments have taken place off the field. Amherst students have accused their Williams counterparts of stealing back the books Moore took with him nearly two centuries ago; a few years ago, Williams' band presented Lord Jeffs supporters with a bill for $1.6 million in late fees for those same books.Go Ephs!!
Thursday, November 8, 2007
I hereby yield to the superior metaphor
The combined efforts of Phoebe Maltz and Julian Sanchez have convinced me that Sanchez has the better metaphor to describe this problem.
Can the U.S. leverage the House of Saud?
Forget Pakistan -- Shadi Hamid and Stephen McInerney argue in The New Republic that the United States should be pressing the Saudis on human rights reform:
America can leverage its support to shape Arab regimes' decisions on democratization. This is particularly true for the ruling al-Saud family, which is intimately tied to the U.S. and dependent on its military backing. The arms deal presents an opportunity for Washington to exert influence in Riyadh. This opening should be seized to push the Saudis along the path of reform, the only path that will lead to long-term security.I was certainly sympathetic to this argument a few years ago. The problem is that America's strategic situation in the region has deteriorated so badly since 2004 that I'm not sure the United States can afford to alienate another ally.
This will come as no surprise to my wife
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Training the MAs
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson has a rather odd post at Duck of Minerva in which he questions the utiliy of an MA in international relations. Which is OK, except I'm pretty sure that's the degree program in which he teaches:
I have to admit that at some level I simply do not understand the idea of a terminal MA degree in international relations, although I teach in a policy school that awards large numbers of them every year. I do not understand what is supposed to be gained through the course of study that most MA students engage in, since they don't do enough coursework to develop a real scholarly grasp of the field (or even of their specialized portion of it) and at least in my experience they generally don't do enough concrete skills-training to really develop themselves as competent professionals (and when they do, it comes in their internships rather than in the classroom, which is what virtually any MA in international relations will tell you if you ask them where they learned the most during their graduate school experiences). So as far as I can tell it is largely a certification and networking exercise, and an expensive one at that.Over at Lawyers, Guns and Money, Rob Farley dissents from this view:
The courses in a terminal MA program (at least the one I'm part of) are far more policy oriented, with a correspondingly greater focus on the empirical over the theoretical, than students would encounter in a political science program. Memos are a learned skill, as is the ability to skim the news for noteworthy events, manage time, and so forth.... it's possible that nothing genuinely productive is happening here, but I'd really like to think that students emerge with a firmer grasp of the debates, a stronger sense of the empirical, and a few skills that they'll need in the workplace. As such, it's really irrelevant whether they have a scholarly grasp of the field; indeed, such a grasp might even be counter-productive....As I begin my second year at Fletcher, I'm definitely with Farley on this one. If you want to ensure a life of wretched misery, teach at a policy school and try to
You cannot and should not coax a student into getting a Ph.D. You can tell them they have the intellectual chops for it, but for them to commit to
As for the training, the goal shouldn't be to ensure that the students have "a real scholarly grasp of the field." You should ensure, however, that they are trained well enough to become discriminating consumers of the policy and scholarly literature (I suspect that Jackson does this when he presses his students to, "clarify their arguments and to take the implications of their commitments more seriously"). Beyond that, as Farley suggests, the skill set of policymakers looks rather different from those of scholars.
I feel that the best IR/Policy MAs are those earned from institutions that requre their applicants to have actually DONE something before matriculating....So true.
A post in which I defend the most insipid magazine article of the year
The nice publicists at Vanity Fair e-mailed me an alert about this Maureen Orth essay about the decline and fall of the Washington social scene (apparently, partisans killed the socialite stars).
Here's how Orth's essay opens:
Red Fay, undersecretary of the navy under John F. Kennedy, was a charming bon vivant, a great pal of the president’s, and the uncle of my roommate at Berkeley in the 60s. So it was my great good luck, on my very first trip to the capital, in May 1964, just six months after Kennedy’s assassination, to have “Uncle Red” invite me to dinner on the presidential yacht, the Sequoia. A few minutes after we arrived on board, I was amazed to see not only Jackie Kennedy but also Bobby and Ethel Kennedy and Jean Kennedy Smith and her husband, Steve Smith, walking up the gangplank. They were followed by George Stevens Jr., the youthful head of the U.S. Information Agency’s motion-picture division; the Peruvian ambassador and his wife; and my roommate’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles McGettigan, of San Francisco. This was one of Jackie’s first nights out since the tragedy, but she greeted everyone graciously. She was in ethereal white and spoke little during dinner, except to the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who was seated to her right.As you can imagine, a whole lotta of bloggers have gone to town on the piece -- and I really can't blame them. Beyond her personal reflections, the piece primarily consists of older DC doyennes bemoaning that people don't know what finger bowls are anymore, or socialities that lack old money, an illustrious family, or great wealth..
At one point Orth actually complains, "Washington is far more diverse today than it was when Wasps with pedigrees who went into journalism and government service constituted the Georgetown set." Mon dieu!!
In the perverse joy of contrarianism, however, I will try to find two things that are useful in Orth's essay.....
1) Orth's essay will be a great template for the Vanity Fair arrticle I will write in 2042 about how the blogospheric social scene ain't what it used to be. Here's how my essay will open:
Tyler Cowen was a bon vivant, a gourmand, and an acquaintance of mine from my days orbiting Virginia Postrel's intellectual salon. So it was my great good luck, on my very first trip to the capital, to have “the Big Kahuna” invite me to dinner at one of the best hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants in DC. A few minutes after we arrived, I was amazed to see not only Megan McArdle but also Ana Marie Cox, Steve Clemons, Matthew Yglesias and Josh Marshall, walking up the order window to get some tacos. This was one of Megan's first nights out since leaving New York City for DC, but she greeted everyone graciously with her dewy green eyes. She was in ethereal white short shorts and spoke little during dinner, except to Jacob Levy, who was seated to her right (she asked him to pass her the hot sauce).And so on.
2) The piece suggests that there has been no real replacements for the old hostesses: "Susan Mary Alsop, Oatsie Charles, Evangeline Bruce, Kay Graham, and Pamela Harriman." What puzzles me is why. If we're drowning in a sea of the super-rich, surely there must be at least a few individuals who would choose to specialize at the task of non-partisan power-schmoozing. (One possibility is that these people, rather than creating non-partisan social environments, take the charitable cause route. Damn those AIDS victims!! Damn them to hell!!)
Stay away -- I have a syndrome!!
In the Chronicle of Higher Education, John Gravois writes about a syndrome that's so pervasive I'm not sure it can be called a syndrome so much as an occupational hazard:
On a recent evening, Columbia University held a well-attended workshop for young academics who feel like frauds.Of course, there's the question of whether it's such a bad thing:
According to [professor of psychology Gail] Matthews, a person with impostor syndrome typically experiences a cycle of distress when faced with a new task: self-doubt, followed by perfectionism, then — sometimes but not always — procrastination.So the academy's occupational hazard is society's welfare benefit.
The story links to this site about imposter syndrome -- which has some imposter-y like qualities to it. Take the quiz to see if you have the syndrome. If you have one of eight symptoms -- including perfectionism -- you have the syndrome!!
[And how many symptoms do you have?--ed. All of them. But on the other hand, I also have a blog, which is likely a symptom of the polar opposite of imposter syndrome -- the belief that you are an expert on anything and everything. Indeed, we'll know when the blogosphere has really become professionalized when paid bloggers start fessing up to imposter syndrome.]
UPDATE: Of course, as David Leonhardt points out in today's New York Times, sometimes there really are imposters or frauds amidst us.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Blackmail plays no role whatsoever in this post
All readers of this blog would make my life considerably easier if you were to click over to the Best Podcast category for the 2007 Weblog Awards and voted for EconTalk.
That is all.
Credit where credit is due
It should be noted, therefore, that my concerns have not come to pass. In fact, if this Newsweek report by Owen Matthews and Sami Kohen is correct, the Bush administration deserves some credit for defusing a situation that could have been really, really ugly:
Fortunately for both sides, yesterday's White House encounter produced a solution that allowed both sides to step back from the brink. Bush not only declared the Kurdistan Workers' Party (or PKK), "an enemy of Turkey, a free Iraq and the United States," but also committed to providing actionable intelligence to Ankara on the whereabouts of PKK positions. Officially, Bush publicly stuck to the line that Iraq's territory should not be violated. In practice, though, the United States would cooperate "in order to chase down people who murder people," Bush pledged. Essentially, that appears to be a green light for the Turks to carry out limited raids into Iraqi territory with the blessing of the United States. And, crucially, it also allows Erdogan to call off a full-scale land invasion—though he stressed that that option remained on the table if raids proved unsuccessful.Read the whole thing. The final solution is not a great one, but given the current state of play, it was probably the best feasible bargain.
Monday, November 5, 2007
What if there was a peace agreement and no one came?
The Christian Science Monitor's Ilene Prusher reports that Israeli PM Ehud Olmert has put the status of East Jerusalem on the table at the US-sponsored "international meeting" on the Middle East in Annapolis.
This would appear to be good news, since there isn't going to be a peace unless the Palestinian Authority can claim its capital to be in East Jerusalem.
Whether the Palestinians who live in these neighborhoods actually want this to happen is another question entirely, according to Prusher:
Those feeling skittish about the city's potential partition aren't just Israelis – who traditionally take the position that Jerusalem should be Israel's united capital – but also Palestinian Jerusalemites, who fear that their standard of living will fall if they come under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Political winners and losers from the Hollywood strike
Forget the troubles in Pakistan -- let's focus on something really impirtant, like the Hollywood writers and how it affects the 2008 campaign.
USA Today's Gary Leven and Bill Keveney explain the immediate effects from the strike: "Jay Leno and David Letterman will go dark tonight as last-ditch talks failed and the first strike by movie and TV writers since 1988 began at midnight." Also The Daily Show, the Colbert Report, Saturday Night Live, etc.
In other words, every show that takes delight in mocking/satirizing the presidential candidates is now down indefinitely. If the politics of campaigning is a zero-sum game, who wins and who loses?
I'd have to say the big losers are Barack Obama and John McCain. As his SNL cameo suggests, and as Kevin Drum elaborates, Obama has largely been immune from press criticism, and I'd wager that this extends to the satirical shows. McCain, as everyone knows, is the Ed McMahon to Stewart's Johnny Carson. As I pointed out in The National Interest, Obama and McCain are unusual in that they are politicians that can get (and want) access to "soft news" outlets. They don't have that option for the near future, denying them free media.
The big winners are all the candidates who are vulnerable to satire.... or the favorite targets of Hollywood writers. In other words, Hillary Clinton and the entire Republican field.
The biggest winner is likely the news media itself..... they won't have Jon Stewart to kick them around for the indefinite future.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
For the record....
I fall into the second category in Brad DeLong's typology of Prius drivers: "I have spent a fortune on a fuel-efficient car, and now I am going to get some of that back by saving time!"
Of course, I'm not the one who's apparently blogging and driving at the same time.
Open Pakistan thread
Hey, it's been about a decade... time for martial law in Pakistan again:
The government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, making no concessions a day after seizing emergency powers, rounded up leading opposition figures and said Sunday that parliamentary elections could be delayed for as long as a year.Comment away.