Saturday, February 16, 2008

Drezner's assignment: define the foreign policy community

Spencer Ackerman and Henry Farrell are having some fun at Michael O'Hanlon's expense, in response to the latter's Wall Street Journal op-ed this past week.

The O'Hanlon jihad in and of itself I find uninteresting -- O'Hanlon distorted his "hook," but, frankly, I've read a lot worse on major op-ed pages. To go meta, however, I do find two things interesting about the flare-up.

First, as Moira Whelan reports in Democracy Arsenal, "O’Hanlon has by now gotten the message that he’s burned his bridges with his Democratic friends. Those that like him personally even agree that he’s radioactive right now thanks to his avid support of Bush’s war strategy."

Going back to a debate I had with Glenn Greenwald six months ago, O'Hanlon's op-ed and Whelan's observation means that we were both right. Greenwald was correct to say that, "[O'Hanlon] can still walk onto the Op-Ed pages of the NYT, WP and cable news shows at will, will still be treated as 'serious experts.'" On the other hand, I was right to propose the following wager: "I'll bet Greenwald that neither Pollack nor O'Hanlon will be given a Senate-confirmable position in any Democratic administration."

Second, Farrell asks and answers an interesting question:

Part of the problem with saying that the foreign-policy establishment, or the foreign policy community should exclude someone is that there isn’t any good definition of what that establishment or community is, let alone a central membership committee....

Given the vagueness of boundaries, the best definition I’ve been able to come up with is the following. Anyone who has a credible chance of being able to publish a single authored article in one of a small number of key journals qualifies as a member of the foreign policy community. The list of journals would certainly include Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy; I think that there is a strong case to be made too for The National Interest and The American Interest. There may be one or two others, depending on how expansively you want to define it. These journals provide, in a sense, a sort of rough and ready credentialling mechanism.... Disagreements, qualifications and alternative definitions welcomed, of course.

Hmmmm.... much as I would love for this to be the proper definition, it doesn't work for a variety of reasons.

First, operationalizing "a credible chance of being able to publish" is next to impossible -- I suppose one could survey the editors at these publications, but even that's a bit suspect. The odds of publication depend on the person making the argument, but they also depend crucially on the argument being made. I guarantee that the head of AIPAC would get published in Foreign Affairs if s/he argued in favor of installing U.N. peacekeepers in the occupied territories; similarly, the head of the ACLU would get published if s/he argued in favor of re-upping the USA Patriot Act in perpetuity.

Second, cracking these publications is only one dimension of influence. Whelan got at this in her post on think tanks when she wrote: "there are three forms of currency in the think tank world that make you a valuable player: bringing in money, getting press, and getting called to testify." One could make a similar argument for the foreign policy community. I'd posit that there are three sources of influence:

a) The ability to independently mobilize significant resources (either money or activists);

b) The ability to publish in key venues (and I'd expand Farrell's list to include the op-ed pages of the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Financial Times);

c) The ability to persuade others that you possess a sufficient amount of expertise on an issue (this is -- obviously -- strongly correlated with possessing actual expertise, but the correlation is not perfect).

It is possible for individuals to possess all three attributes -- Fred Bergsten comes to mind -- but it is more likely that individals possess varying amounts (thinking about myself as an example, I'm strongest on (b), decent on (c), and have close to zero levels of (a)).

Here's the thing, though -- Farrell is right to ask the question, and this is a golden opportunity for a foreign affairs magazine to attempt to answer the question. Forbes has their 400, Time has their Top 100 list, Entertainment Weekly has their Power List, Parade has their Top 10 worst dictators (really, I'm not kidding) -- why not generate a similar exercise for the foreign policy community?

This is a splashy cover story just waiting for the editors at Foreign Policy, The National Interest, or The American Interest to exploit to the hilt. [Why not Foreign Affairs?--ed. Not a chance in hell.] Just think of the effort that various insecure egomaniacs foreign policy experts would exert to ensure that their name was included.

Readers are encouraged to proffer their metrics for determining who should belong on such a list and who should not.

posted by Dan at 07:35 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Your political dare of the day

Elizabeth Bumiller reports in the New York Times that John McCain has come up with an interesting way of defusing Barack Obama's financial advantage:

Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign said Thursday that it stood by a year-old pledge made with Senator Barack Obama that each would accept public financing for the general election if the nominee of the opposing party did the same. But Mr. Obama’s campaign refused to reaffirm its earlier commitment.

The McCain campaign’s latest stand on the issue was first reported Thursday by The Financial Times. On Tuesday, one of Mr. McCain’s advisers told The New York Times that the campaign had decided to forgo public financing in the general election, an awkward admission for a senator who has made campaign finance reform a central part of his political persona.

That adviser was speaking on the assumption that Mr. Obama, who has broken all records in political fund-raising and is currently drawing more than $1 million a day, would find a way to retreat from the pledge in order to outspend his opponent in the fall by far. Under public-financing rules, the nominees are restricted to spending about $85 million each for the two-month general election campaign, far less than what Mr. Obama might be able to raise on his own.

On Thursday, in an effort by the McCain campaign to speak with one voice and put the onus for abandoning the system on Mr. Obama, several McCain advisers called on him to make good on his pledge. Mr. Obama was the candidate who proposed the pledge in the first place, in February 2007, a time when he was not raising the prodigious sums he is now.

Mr. McCain, co-author of the McCain-Feingold act of 2002, which placed new restrictions on campaign financing, was the only other candidate to take Mr. Obama up on his pledge.

At first blush, I think this is a double-edged sword for both candidates.

For McCain, proposing this reminds everyone of McCain-Feingold and potentially neutralizes Obama's fundraising power. On the other hand, McCain-Feingold hasn't really worked out as envisaged, and it's a major sore point with conervatives.

For Obama, accepting McCain's proposal would remind everyone that it was Obama who came up with the idea in the first place. It would also allow him to blunt McCain's attempt to woo back independents who have shown a liking for Obama. On the other hand, Obama's fundraising capabilities are quite prodigious. Furthermore, accepting now leaves him open to charges of taking the nomination for granted.

If you're Obama, do you accept the dare?

posted by Dan at 08:47 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

An interesting test of cultural wills

Here's the new Indiana Jones trailer (hat tip: Isaac Chotiner):

Of course, the last time George Lucas tried to resuscitate a classic movie series from my youth, I had to endure the torture of watching Lucas reduce Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Samuel L. Jackson to uttering the worst lines since Showgirls. Even Lucas admitted that much of the second Star Wars trilogy was padding. This is a serious cultural transgression -- I mean, this is Samuel motherf@#$ing Jackson we're talking about!

However, in the case of the Indiana Jones saga, Lucas faces an interesting frenemy -- Steven Spielberg. As Tom Shone discussed in a fascinating Slate story a few years back, the interplay between these two has been fascinating. For the audience's sake, I can only hope that Spielberg proves to be stronger with the force in shaping this movie.

posted by Dan at 03:59 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

It bears repeating -- fundamentalist parties stink at governing

In the New York Times, Carlotta Gall reports that Pakistanis have reached a conclusion familiar to many other countries -- religious fundamentalists are really bad at governing, and pay a price for it at the polls:

The religious parties that for the last five years have governed the North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan Province, which border Afghanistan and the tribal areas, are foundering.

Since being swept to power in 2002 on a wave of anti-Americanism and sympathy for the Taliban after the American invasion of Afghanistan, the mullahs here have found that the public mood has shifted against them.

People complain that they have failed to deliver on their promises, that they have proved just as corrupt as other politicians and that they have presided over a worsening of security, demonstrated most vividly in a rising number of suicide attacks carried out by militants based in the nearby tribal areas.

“They did not serve the people,” said Faiz Muhammad, 47, a farmer whose son was killed in the bomb blast on an Awami political gathering on Saturday....

Two opinion polls released this week show that the standing of the religious parties has fallen to a new low, with voters showing a strong shift of support toward the moderate parties.

A survey of more than 3,000 people at the end of January by the International Republican Institute showed that the religious parties could command only 1 percent of the vote nationally, down from 4 percent in November. In North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan Province, their share was 4 percent.

Meanwhile, support for the Pakistan Peoples Party, the party of the assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, has soared to 50 percent nationally, the poll found. The face-to-face survey was conducted throughout Pakistan and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus two percentage points.

Another survey conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow, a Washington-based bipartisan group that seeks to reduce support for international terrorism, showed backing at 62 percent for the Pakistan Peoples Party and the faction of the Pakistan Muslim League led by the opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif.

If the Taliban were on the ballot sheet, they would garner just 3 percent of the vote, and Al Qaeda only 1 percent, according to the poll.

posted by Dan at 07:54 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

The Westminster dog show finally moves down the learning curve

It took this long for judges at the Westminster Dog show to recognize the friggin' obvious?

Of course, Chester would have won this with one paw tied behind his back.

posted by Dan at 07:50 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A polite and civil bloggingheads

My latest bloggingheads diavlog is with National Security Network executive director Heather Hurlburt. Most of the chat is about whether it will be possible to have a reasonably civil debate about foreign policy during the general election campaign (Heather is more pessimistic than I on this front).

In this segment, however, I use my political science training to devise a Machiavellian scheme that would guarantee large State Department budgets in perpetuity:

Go check it out -- including my excuse for not doing the dishes!

posted by Dan at 10:22 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Eugene Robinson defends my ilk

Eugene Robinson is (sort of) defending Republicans today in his Washington Post column:

It would be insane to waste time and energy worrying that somewhere, doubtless in a high-tech subterranean lair, Republican masterminds are cackling over their diabolical plot: The use of reverse psychology to lure unsuspecting Democrats into nominating Barack Obama, an innocent lamb who will be chewed up by the attack machine in the fall. Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Or maybe Republicans are using double super secret backward reverse psychology to exploit the Democratic Party's congenital paranoia: Let's say nice things about Obama so Democrats think we really want to run against him, and that will make them play into our hands by nominating Hillary Clinton, who so energizes the Republican base that we can actually win an election that we ought to lose. Cue another round of deranged mad-scientist laughter.

Amazingly, those are the kinds of things you hear Democrats saying out loud these days. Let me suggest that the party has enough to think about without dreaming up dilemmas....

Enough with the Dr. Evil routine. I think there's a simpler reason that so many Republicans speak admiringly of Barack Obama and say he would be the tougher candidate to run against. Obama disagrees with conservatives without demonizing them. He even invites Republicans to join him in building the post-partisan America he envisions.

Hillary Clinton, author of the phrase "vast right-wing conspiracy," is more confrontational, to say the least.

Democrats can and should argue about which approach is better. But they should worry about their own strategy -- and not obsess about Republican mind control.

posted by Dan at 01:36 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Your logical conundrum of the day

Over the past few days, the Clinton campaign has made the following two arguments:

a) Caucuses don't really count as much as primaries because, "the caucus system is undemocratic and caters mostly to party activists."

b) The superdelegates -- which consist only primarily of party activists -- should not follow the primary results but instead, "should make an independent decision based on who they thought would be the strongest candidate and president."

In the comments, someone please logically reconcile those two statements.

[But isn't Obama equally contradictory by making the reverse of both arguments?--ed. Actually, no. I think the Obama campaign's argument is that because of turnout, the caucus states have largely reflected the will of the voters -- and therefore superdelegates should simply follow suit in making their decisions. I think that's consistent -- but I'm willing to be corrected in the comments.]

UPDATE: It's been pointed out in the comments that a lot of elected officials are also superdelegates. I was assuming that any elected Democrat is a de facto party activist (they're not mutually exclusive categories), but others might not make the same distinction. That said, looking at this list of superdelegates, I do believe a healthy majority of them consist of party activists of one stripe or another.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Over at Slate, Christopher Beam takes a closer look at the superdelegates:

Clinton and Obama are fairly close among governors (10-10, respectively), senators (12-9), and congress members (71-58). It’s among DNC officials that Clinton really takes the lead, with 125 to Obama’s 57.5. In other words, Clinton’s sway appears to be much stronger among party hacks than among elected officials (emphasis added).
This reinforces the logical conundrum -- is there any way Clinton can reconcile her spin on the caucus states and the superdelegates?

Hat tip: '08 Guru

posted by Dan at 08:57 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Your anti-Trumanesque quote of the day

According to the New York Times' Jesse McKinley, the Berkeley City Council will be reversing its decision to ban the Marines from running a three-person recruitment center in the downtown.

Now I could fill up this blog city council inanities, and I don't, so why focus on this one? Because of the following quote:

“The staff are supposed to be there to protect us from our stupidity,” said Councilwoman Betty Olds, who is 87, as feisty as a cornered rattlesnake and a leader of the retrenchment. “And they didn’t do any better than we did.”
You have to stand back and admire, in a truly perverse way, a politician who embodies the polar opposite of Harry Truman's sentiment of 'the buck stops here'. Don't blame me, blame the staff!!

posted by Dan at 08:56 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Pssst..... wanna read a precis of that RAND report?

The New York Times' Michael Gordon reported today on the Army's efforts to keep a critical RAND analysis of the planning process on Iraq very hush-hush:

After 18 months of research, RAND submitted a report in the summer of 2005 called “Rebuilding Iraq.” RAND researchers provided an unclassified version of the report along with a secret one, hoping that its publication would contribute to the public debate on how to prepare for future conflicts.

But the study’s wide-ranging critique of the White House, the Defense Department and other government agencies was a concern for Army generals, and the Army has sought to keep the report under lock and key....

A team of RAND researchers led by Nora Bensahel interviewed more than 50 civilian and military officials. As it became clear that decisions made by civilian officials had contributed to the Army’s difficulties in Iraq, researchers delved into those policies as well....

As the RAND study went through drafts, a chapter was written to emphasize the implications for the Army. An unclassified version was produced with numerous references to newspaper articles and books, an approach that was intended to facilitate publication.

Senior Army officials were not happy with the results, and questioned whether all of the information in the study was truly unclassified and its use of newspaper reports. RAND researchers sent a rebuttal. That failed to persuade the Army to allow publication of the unclassified report, and the classified version was not widely disseminated throughout the Pentagon.

The Army's stonewalling on this has led to a predictable and understandable hue and cry about cover-up.

Of course, this being the government, the attempt to cover things up would be more effective if excerpts of the report hadn't already made their way into published journals. Like, say, Nora Bensahel, "Mission Not Accomplished: What Went Wrong With the Iraqi Reconstruction," Journal of Strategic Studies Vol. 29, No. 3 (June 2006): 453 – 473. The abstract:

This article argues that the prewar planning process for postwar Iraq was plagued by myriad problems, including a dysfunctional interagency process, overly optimistic assumptions, and a lack of contingency planning for alternative outcomes. These problems were compounded by a lack of civilian capacity during the occupation period, which led to a complicated and often uncoordinated relationship with the military authorities who found themselves taking the lead in many reconstruction activities. Taken together, these mistakes meant that US success on the battlefield was merely a prelude to a postwar insurgency whose outcome remains very much in doubt more than three years later.
To access the paper, click here, then enter "Bensahel" in the "Quick Search" box on the left, and then click on "author" right below it, and then click "Go".

It seems worth pointing out that much of this ground has also been plowed by the Oscar-nominated documentary No End In Sight:

Coincidentally both Bensahel and No End in Sight director Charles Ferguson have Ph.D.s in political science.

posted by Dan at 10:41 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Should the U.S. call Chavez's bluff?

Last week, Exxon-Mobil won a court ruling against Venezuela's state oil company, PdVSA, over Hugo Chavez's expropriation of oil facilities. Bloomberg's Joe Carroll and Steven Bodzin explain:

Exxon Mobil Corp. won court orders in the U.S., U.K., the Netherlands and the Caribbean freezing more than $12 billion in Venezuelan assets amid a battle over the government's seizure of oil projects.

Exxon Mobil, the world's largest oil company, sought the orders on concern the Venezuelan state oil company will shift assets to other Latin American countries and China to put them out of reach of an international arbitration commission, the company said in a U.K. court filing.

Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the state-owned oil company known as PDVSA, seized joint ventures with foreign energy companies last year as part of President Hugo Chavez's program to bolster government control of Venezuela's resources. Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips abandoned the projects rather than accept reduced roles and profits....

Exxon Mobil's lawyers scoured regulatory filings, financial statements and PDVSA directors' reports to dig up bank account numbers, details on U.K. office leases, staffing levels and car fleets to bolster its case, the British ruling showed....

The British injunction was granted Jan. 24 without prior notice to the Venezuelan oil company, according to a copy of the ruling. The next hearing on the matter is scheduled for Feb. 22.

Until then, PDVSA is barred from removing any assets in England or Wales up to a value of $12 billion. The Venezuelan company was also ordered not to sell or diminish the value of any assets within or outside those countries up to the same value.

Among the assets cited were refineries in Scotland and northwest England.

PDVSA probably was already withdrawing assets from England and Wales prior to the freeze order "consistent with PDVSA's approach of withdrawing its business operations from the U.S. and Europe and instead focusing on jurisdictions such as Russia, Belarus, Cuba, China, Syria and Iran,'' Exxon Mobil said in the U.K. filing....

The asset freezes will damage PDVSA's ability to raise funds from international investors for drilling and refinery projects, said Asdrúbal Oliveros, chief economist at Caracas- based Ecoanalitica. He estimated PDVSA has $13 billion in "liquid'' international assets.

"This is going to put a lot of pressure on country risk, and on the price of the company's bonds in the international market,'' Oliveros said. ``Loaning money to a company that's in this kind of dispute, and also is facing this kind of injunction, is going to be very delicate.''

Chavez has responded to the ruling in typical Chavez fashion:
President Hugo Chavez on Sunday threatened to cut off oil sales to the United States if Exxon Mobil Corp. wins court judgments to seize billions of dollars in Venezuelan assets.

"If you end up freezing (Venezuelan assets) and it harms us, we're going to harm you," Chavez said. "Do you know how? We aren't going to send oil to the United States. Take note, Mr. Bush, Mr. Danger."....

"I speak to the U.S. empire, because that's the master: continue and you will see that we won't sent one drop of oil to the empire of the United States," Chavez said during his weekly radio and television program, "Hello, President."...

Chavez has repeatedly threatened to cut off oil shipments to the United States, which is Venezuela's No. 1 client, if Washington tries to oust him. Chavez's warnings on Sunday appeared to extend that threat to attempts by oil companies to challenge his government's nationalization drive in courts internationally.

"If the economic war continues against Venezuela, the price of oil is going to reach $200 (a barrel) and Venezuela will join the economic war," Chavez said. "And more than one country is willing to accompany us in the economic war." (emphasis added)

If Chavez were to attempt an embargo, there's no doubt that the United States would feel a twinge of pain.

On the other hand, whatever twinge the U.S. felt would be mild compared to the massive spasms that would rip through Venezuela's economy from such a move -- especially since the only refineries that can handle Venezuelan oil are based in the United States.

Furthermore, it's not like Venezuela's economy is all sweetness and light these days:

These should be the best of times for Venezuela, blessed with the largest conventional oil reserves outside the Middle East and oil prices near record highs. But this country’s economic and social problems have become so acute lately that President Hugo Chávez is facing an unusual onslaught of criticism, even from his own supporters, about his management of the country.

In a rare turnabout, it is Mr. Chávez’s opponents who appear to have the political winds at their backs as they reverse policies of abstention and prepare dozens of candidates for pivotal regional elections. Mr. Chávez, for perhaps the first time since a recall vote in 2004, is increasingly on the defensive as his efforts to advance Venezuela toward socialism are seen as failing to address a growing list of worries like violent crime and shortages of basic foods.

While Mr. Chávez remains Venezuela’s most powerful political figure, his once unquestionable authority is showing signs of erosion. Unthinkable a few months ago, graffiti began appearing here in the capital in January reading, “Diosdado Presidente,” a show of support for a possible presidential bid by Diosdado Cabello, a Chávez supporter and governor of the populous Miranda State.

Outbreaks of dengue fever and Chagas disease have alarmed families living in the heart of this city. Fears of a devaluation of the new currency, called the “strong bolívar,” are fueling capital flight. While the economy may grow 6 percent this year, lifted by high oil prices, production in oil fields controlled by the national oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, has declined. Inflation soared by 3 percent in January, its highest monthly level in a decade.

This is one of those situations where, if economic warfare breaks out, the U.S. holds most of the cards.

I strongly suspect that Chavez's self-preservation motive will force him to back down -- but it would be kind of amusing if he believed his own bluster.

posted by Dan at 08:59 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

There's hope for the war on terror after all

Kevin Whitelaw wrote a fascinating piece in U.S. News and World Report suggesting that Al Qaeda is confronting a more powerful than the United States government: organizational pathology:

More than 600 captured personnel files of foreigners who joined the terrorist group known as Al Qaeda in Iraq tell the individual stories of Muslim extremists who made the difficult journey to Iraq—and most likely died or were captured there....

But the records, which were analyzed and released by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, also point out a trait that has been unique to al Qaeda and many of its offshoots: They are surprisingly bureaucratic. "Al Qaeda is different from any other terror group in history because it was so large and had such a sophisticated logistical structure," says Bruce Hoffman, an expert on terrorist groups who teaches at Georgetown University. "It's a bureaucratic pathology."

The personnel records are unusually formal, typed on letterhead that reads "Islamic State of Iraq," one of the aliases for al Qaeda in Iraq.

Foreign fighters were asked to provide basic biographical details, such as birth date, address, and telephone number, as well as questions aimed at double-checking who referred them to the organization. One Algerian fighter named Aydir describes three coordinators he met in Syria before he was smuggled into Iraq. The first was "tall and strong," the second was "tall and hunchbacked," and the other was "tan and weak."

Part of it is simply about logistics. "When you're moving people across international borders, you want to make sure you're keeping track of them," says Hoffman. "But it is also part of a hubris that this is more of an organization than it actually is and to impress the recruits in this martyrdom pipeline that they really are part of something bigger than they are."....

For intelligence agencies, there are also some potential opportunities to be exploited. Bureaucracy implies a higher level of leadership structure. "The more hierarchical these organizations are, the easier they are to take apart," says Seth Jones, a terrorism expert at Rand Corp., a think tank. "When they become diffuse, you can't really remove one single link and expect the organization to fall."

Already, researchers have been trying to trace back the telephone numbers included in the records, as well as the names of intermediaries in Syria. "Just the fact that they had these records was a big security risk," says Felter. "We're hoping it will be useful in stemming the tide from their home countries." ....

After U.S. forces ousted the Taliban in 2001, a trove of al Qaeda documents surfaced that showed just how bureaucratic the organization had become, from detailed weapons logs to a complex system of vouchers that allowed fighters to stay at government-run hotels free of charge. "When they were in Afghanistan, al Qaeda really prided itself on its H.R.," says Hoffman. "It gave people annual leave and even a death benefits plan."

Here's a link to a longer analysis of the recovered documents.

UPDATE: Over at The Monkey Cage, Henry Farrell suggests that post-2002, Al Qaeda "traded operational control and financial efficiencies for security and organizational survival" as one research article puts it. This was my sense of the literature as well, which was why I found Whitelaw's story so intriguing. It should be noted, however, that this is not necessaarily inconsistent with the above report -- which is about Al Qaeda in Iraq's organization at the national level. From an anti-terrorism perspective, the best outcome might very well be decentralization at the international level but bureaucratization at the national level.

posted by Dan at 08:49 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

America's foreign direct investment in higher education

Tamar Levin has a front-pager in the New York Times on the latest trend in the American academy -- setting up satellite campuses overseas:

In a kind of educational gold rush, American universities are competing to set up outposts in countries with limited higher education opportunities. American universities — not to mention Australian and British ones, which also offer instruction in English, the lingua franca of academia — are starting, or expanding, hundreds of programs and partnerships in booming markets like China, India and Singapore.

And many are now considering full-fledged foreign branch campuses, particularly in the oil-rich Middle East. Already, students in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar can attend an American university without the expense, culture shock or post-9/11 visa problems of traveling to America.

At Education City in Doha, Qatar’s capital, they can study medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, international affairs at Georgetown, computer science and business at Carnegie Mellon, fine arts at Virginia Commonwealth, engineering at Texas A&M, and soon, journalism at Northwestern.

In Dubai, another emirate, Michigan State University and Rochester Institute of Technology will offer classes this fall.

“Where universities are heading now is toward becoming global universities,” said Howard Rollins, the former director of international programs at Georgia Tech, which has degree programs in France, Singapore, Italy, South Africa and China, and plans for India. “We’ll have more and more universities competing internationally for resources, faculty and the best students.”

I'm seeing a lot of proposals like this being floated the Fletcher School, so it's not just engineering schools. Pretty much every professional school in the United States worth its salt is contemplating about these options

Is this good for the academy? Levin gets at this in a series of rhetorical questions:

Will the programs reflect American values and culture, or the host country’s? Will American taxpayers end up footing part of the bill for overseas students? What happens if relations between the United States and the host country deteriorate? And will foreign branches that spread American know-how hurt American competitiveness?
My answers, in order:
1) The classroom culture and teaching style will likely reflect American values -- but there's no question that opening up an American-style university in Qatar is not the same thing as having these students attend an American-style university in America. On the other hand, it's not clear that this is an actual trade-off. More likely, the students attending these institutions would not have necessarily traveled to the U.S. under any circumstances.

2) The primary reason universities are contemplating these campuses is because they are seen as money-makers -- so it's hard to see how, on net, any public monies would be lost in the process.

3) There's a strong correlation between where American universities are headed and where American foreign direct investment is headed. And, much like other forms of American FDI, universities will economize on the use of American personnel -- we're very expensive. Point is, this seems like a pretty minor concern.

4) Hmmm.... maybe we should hoard our knowledge and know-how in this country. I mean, the United States clearly has the monopoly on all information. And we should keep it that way until some device is invented that allows information to be transmitted across borders at high speed and little cost. Oh, wait....

UPDATE: The Times runs the second part of Levin's reportage today -- and, if anything, it's more positive on points (1) and (2) than I am.

posted by Dan at 04:16 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

A quick thought on superdelegates

Based on turnout to date, this is not going to be a fun year for the GOP. Say this for the Republicans, however -- the path to the presidental nomination makes more sense than the Democrats (the Washington caucuses excepted). The Republicans handled Michigan and Florida's decision to move their primary dates early by punishing them -- stripping half their delegates -- but not punishing them as severely as the Democrats did.

Plus, for all the talk of the GOP being an elitist party, they don't have superdelegates in a position to decide the nominee at the end of the day.

This is now a source of agita in the op-ed pages and the liberal blogosphere. Kevin Drum mildly defends them, asking, "The very existence of superdelegates assumes that they'll vote their own consciences, not merely parrot the results of the primaries. After all, why even have them if that's all they do?"

Similarly, Matt Yglesias observes, "The Democrats have had this dumb superdelegate thing in there for a couple of decades now with people mostly not focusing on it because it never comes into play. Well, now it might come into play and it doesn't sit well with people."

On this latter point, it's worth observing that Matt's analysis is a bit superficial. The superdelegates were designed to play a pivotal role at the beginning rather than the end of the primary season. Way back before the time of the blogs, a frontrunner could become a frontrunner by making it clear that he'she had the supprt of a supermajority of superdelegates (yes, I've always wanted to write that phrase). This was how frontrunners became frontrunners -- and how they preserved that status despite inevitable insurgent challengers. The idea is that their mere existence was sufficient to affect the dynamics of the primary campaign much earlier in the process.

Lest one think that I'm defending their existence, it's worth pointing out that the superdelegate idea has hisorically had disastrous consequences for the Democratic party's presidential aspirations. With the partial exception of Bill Clinton, the superdelegates helped ensure that the frontrunner wound up winning the nomination since 1984. This process meant that the Democrats ran Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry in November. There's no way that any politico can justify a process that delivers that set of outcomes.

Irony of ironies -- if the GOP had superdelegates, does anyone still think that John McCain -- the Republican who poses the strongest general election threat to a Democrat blowout this fall -- would be the presumptive nominee?

UPDATE: Jacob Levy is entertainingly bemused by the whole contretemps.

posted by Dan at 01:03 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)