Saturday, February 16, 2008
Drezner's assignment: define the foreign policy community
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."
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....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);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
Readers are encouraged to proffer their metrics for determining who should belong on such a list and who should not.
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.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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
Eugene Robinson defends my ilk
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!
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."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.
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
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!!
Monday, February 11, 2008
Pssst..... wanna read a
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.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.
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.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 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.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.
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....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.
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.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.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.
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.