Saturday, March 15, 2008

Watch me sing for my supper

My small role in the 2008 Brussels Forum can be viewed in streaming video by clicking here.

My favorite part -- correcting the German EU Commissioner about Schumpeter.

posted by Dan at 07:43 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Sign #472 that relative American power is on the wane

Overheard on the flight to Brussels from Washington, DC: a flight attendant explaining why the plane was so crowded:

It's the Europeans. They're all flying over here now because the dollar is so cheap. We're the new Mexico now.

posted by Dan at 07:16 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Yes, I am a big ol' conference whore this week

Blogging will be light over the next few days, as I'll be attending the 2008 Brussels Forum. This year I've been promoted from attendee to moderating a panel entitled, "Who Will Write the Rules of the Global Economy in the 21st Century?"

For my mother loyal and faithful blog readers who wish they could attend, fear not -- I believe you will be able to watch all of the sessions on a live webcast -- they will be archived afterwards as well.

My goals at this conference:

1) Moderate in a competent fashion;

2) Acquire the necessary amount of chocolate to assuage the Official Blog Wife, who is always a super-understanding and supportive spouse, but particularly this week.

3) Not to tell Steve Clemons anything that forces me into a later blog post of my own.

Comments remain down -- and I've heard enough complaints for my RSS feed to make the following request:
Anyone with the requisite technical skills interesting in earning a few bucks sshould contact me (via the e-mail address on the right) about technical support for the blog.
Au revoir.

posted by Dan at 09:57 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

We are experiencing technical difficulties

Comments have been down for a few days due to killer comment spam. Hopefully this problem will be resolved within 24 hours.

posted by Dan at 10:38 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Final thoughts about rogue states

A few jet-lagged final thoughts about the conference on rogue states I attended yesterday:

1) There was unanimous agreement that the term "rogue states" was pretty stupid as a category.

2) The most amusing moment for me was when AEI's Danielle Pletka accused me of being on the far left -- because I suggested some realpolitik approaches to foreign policy (like prioritizing counterproliferation over democracy promotion). When informed of my party status later, Pletka replied, "well, he's not like any Republican I know!" Apparently, Brent Scowcroft, George H.W. Bush, George Schultz, and Henry Kissinger are now barred from entering AEI.

3) Wesley Clark was on the same panel as Pletka and myself -- we were charged with giving advice to the next administration. It was interesting to note that Clark had no difficulty speculating about a president Clinton or a president McCain -- but it took a great deal of time and effort for him to say "President Obama" even as a hypothetical.

4) If you want to amuse yourself for a while, ask Ed Luttwak a question about... anything. He's good for at least an hour's worth of interesting free association on any topic.

5) There's something about California... at one of the conference dinners I saw the ghosts of Democratic Campaigns Past -- Michael Dukakis, Kitty Dukakis, Warren Christopher, etc. The freaky thing was that none of them looked like they had aged since falling out of the public spotlight.

6) Redeye flights suck eggs.

That is all -- you can read the LA Times' Scott Martelle for staight reportage of the conference.

posted by Dan at 09:00 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Live-blogging Bill Richardson

The Governor of New Mexico is delivering the keynote address at the conference on "U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Rogue States: Engage, Isolate or Strike?" that I'm attending. Let's live-blog it!!

11:30 PDT: First superficial impression: Richardson looks much better in person than on television. Even the beard works. Opens with joke, "President Clinton always said, 'Send Richardson to talk to rogue leaders, because bad guys like each other."

11:50: Offers the following observations about face-to-face negotiations with rogue leaders:

1) They will always try to gain a psychological edge over you. They'll do this by never showing you the schedule. They'll want to talk to you alone. Test you when you’re tired and jet-lagged. 2) All negotiations with rogue leaders take place between three and four in the morning.

3) When rogue leaders try to show you hospitality, iit will happen in ways that might compromise you.

4) Rogue leaders care a surprising amount about public opinion -- in the United States and in their own country

5) Acting deferentially is not always the way to go. When Richardson met with Hussein, he mistakenly crossed his legs and showed Husseing the sole of his shoe, a big no-no in the Middle East. Hussein stormed off, and Richardson't interpreter told him he should apologize. He chose not to, which apparently impressed Hussein.

11:55: All rogue leaders want a visit from the President of the United States

12:00: Richardson believes that when dealing with rogues, all diplomacy is personal. He then gives a shout-out to George H.W. Bush as one of the best on this front.

12:01: Richardson is now sitting down with the LA Times' Maggie Farley. He says in response to Cuba, "by the way, the [Cuban] embargo is not working." He then says he wouldn't lift it unless Cuba took major steps towards liberalizing its regime.

12:02: Richardson: "George Clooney has been more effective in his Sudan diplomacy than the U.S. government."

12:05: Thinks a lot of simple steps -- closing Guantanamo, no more Abu Ghraibs, etc., will buy the U.S. a lot of goodwill.

12:10: In a response to endorsing Obama vs. Clinton, Richardson gives his boilerplate -- he feels a sense of loyalty to the Clintons because of past appointments.... but he did throw his hat into the ring against Hillary, so that only goes so far.... he likes Obama, thinks he's got... something, can't put a finger on it. Does plan to endorse someone. He's bemused that he's getting more press attention now than he did when he was running. Doesn't think endorsements matter, anyway.

I should add that, based on what I've heard while here, it's pretty damn obvious that Richardson would like to endorse Obama.

12:15: Just asked Richardson a question about whether the U.S. could influence who wins the Iranian presidential election in 2009, thereby removing Ahmadinejad from the equation. Richardson stalls for a bit, talking about broad Iranian support for closer U.S. ties. He then -- surprisingly -- trashes Radio Free Europe, Radio Marti, thinks they don't work terribly well. Would prefer to liberalize travel bans. etc. as a way to improve U.S. image inside Iran. In the end, thinks Ahmadinejad will lose. Doesn't really answer my question -- but bonus points for not getting fraked by me typing into the blog as he gives his answer.

12:20: Richardson thinks the most effective sanctions are the travel bans to elite leaders.

12:30: That's it. On to lunch!

posted by Dan at 02:39 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Your quote of the day

For anyone with libertarian instincts, Virginia Postrel's post about John McCain makes for disturbing reading. The key sentence:

McCain is an instinctive regulator who considers business a base pursuit.
I was fortunate enough to chat with Virginia yesterday, and during the chat, an interesting question arose: if McCain is an insinctive regulator, but appoints those less inclined to regulate, which policy wins out?

posted by Dan at 12:34 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Reversing Clausewitz

In a Reuters story on Barack Obama declining Hillary Clinton's premature offer of a VP slot, we get to this priceless bit of spin by Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson:

Obama took note of Clinton's repeated attacks and said the vice president's primary role would be to take over if the president died or was incapacitated.

"If I'm not ready, how is it that you think I would be such a great vice president? Do you understand that?" he asked.

Asked about the contradiction of touting Obama as a vice presidential candidate while condemning his ability to lead, Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson implied there was still time for Obama to prove himself before the Democratic Party convention in Denver in August.

"We do not believe Senator Obama has passed the commander in chief test," Wolfson said. "But there is a long way to go between now and Denver."

This begs the question... what, exactly, is required to pass that test? How do the next five months on the campaign trail provide such an opportunity [Wait, Obama won Mississippi? He's definitely commander-in-chief material!--ed.]?

In one way, this is a typical bit of grade-Z spin. In another way, however, it does shed an interesting light on the Clinton campaign's mindset about politics. As the Chicago Tribune's Mike Dorning and Christi Parsons reported, Hillary Clinton's fabled experience in international relations is pretty weak beer. The implicit message of her campaign, however, is that Clinton has faced greater trials and tribulations in the political arena for 15 years -- and that experience translates into preparation for foreign affairs.

Clausewitz famously said that war was politics by other means. Hillary Clinton's zero-sum tactics in the past week suggest an inversion of Clausewitz's dictum. For Clinton, politics is simply war by other means.

This might actually work. Clinton, by throwing out her steering wheel, might actually scare enough superdelegates into following her.

But it's really becoming more difficult with each passing day to distinguish Hillary's mindset from George W. Bush.

posted by Dan at 06:42 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

March (and February... um, January too) books of the month

So far, 2008 has been a slow year for book club posts -- a fact that has not gone unnoticed in your humble blogger's mailbag. I, for one, blame this on a combination of heavier-than-usual travel and severe a bitter infighting within the blog staff [F$%& you!!--ed. No, f%$# you!.]

In an effort to make up for lost time, however, here are three IR books and three general interest books:

International Relations:

1) John Bolton, Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations. You might find this a surprising choice, as I've blown hot and cold about Bolton on this blog. However, his memoir is a wonderful read. This is not because Bolton is terribly incisive or insightful. Rather, Bolton's massive inferiority-complex-masking-as-aggression is plastered across every page than one cannot read this book without becoming fascinated about the psyche that produced it.

2) Benn Steil and Robert Litan, Financial Statecraft: The Role of Financial Markets in American Foreign Policy. What a difference two years make. Steil and Litan's book came out in early 2006 as an analysis of how the U.S. could deploy financial statecraft to advance its foreign policy ends. Now, with the rise of sovereign wealth funds, one wonders if people in Bejining, Moscow, and Abu Dhabi are reading this excellent primer on the subject.

3) Fred Kaplan, Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power. A chronicling of how the ideas that informed George W. Bush's grand strategy went off the rails. What's great about Kaplan's book is that he really does trace the genealogy of these ideas back to their origins. He also nails the most toxic combination -- Rumsfeld's faith in the revolution in military affairs, Cheney's staunch nationalism, and the neoconservative faith in democracy promotion.

General Interest:
1) Dana Milbank, Homo Politicus: The Strange and Scary Tribes that Run Our Government. This book basically consists of the choicest anecdotes concerning recent DC episodes of bad behavior. Milbank has a sadistic streak that I occasionally find unsettling. That said, this is an excellent paper collection of stuff you've read about in the blogosphere for the past few years. Plus, the index is priceless.

2) Tyler Cowen, Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist. Simply put, there is no other economics book out there that contains this much useful knowledge but can be read as quickly, as Cowen's latest.

3) Steven Teles, The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement: The Battle for Control of the Law. Most books don't contain glowing blurbs from both Al Gore and AEI president Christopher DeMuth. Teles' account of how the conservative legal movement successfully challenged liberal orthodoxy manages to pull off this extraordinary feat.

Go check them all out!!

posted by Dan at 05:08 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Yet another Clinton scandal

From Mark Leibovich, "No Longer in Race, Richardson Is a Man Pursued," New York Times, February 23, 2008:

Early this month, Mr. Clinton called Mr. Richardson and insisted on seeing him face to face. Mr. Richardson said he could not make it unless Mr. Clinton came down to New Mexico to watch the Super Bowl on television with him, which Mr. Clinton rearranged his schedule to do....

The Bills watched the game in the Governor’s Mansion, Mr. Richardson rooting for New England, Mr. Clinton for New York. They smoked cigars, drank wine, devoured barbecued spareribs, chicken wings and shrimp. They talked politics only at halftime.

From Dan Balz, "Influential Democrats Waiting to Choose Sides," Washington Post, March 9, 2008:
"I'm thinking of changing my phone number," joked [Pennsylvannia representative Mike] Doyle, who had supported New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson but is now uncommitted. He said he got a surprise call from Bill Clinton on Super Bowl Sunday while cooking osso buco for his family. (emphasis added)
Just what was Bill Clinton doing on Super Bowl Sunday? There's clear photo evidence to support Richardson's version of events -- but I have no reason to believe Doyle is lying.

This apparent paradox contained within the spce-time continuum raises a whole bunch of reasonable questions:

1) Do the laws of physics make it possible for Bill Clinton to cook osso bucco at location A and then watch the Super Bowl in location B?

2) Who the hell cooks osso bucco for a football game? Which menu would you prefer to consume during the Super Bowl?

3) Has Bill Clinton been cloned?

4) Have the Clintons discovered time travel? Did Bill first chow down with Richardson, and then travel backwards in time to cook osso bucco for Hillary and Chelsea?

Your intrepid blogger will try to get answers to these vital questions when he crosses paths with Richardson over the next few days. [Good... it's clear you need a few days in the sun--ed.]

UPDATE: A concerned reader e-mail to suggest that I'm misreading Balz's account -- that it was Doyle who was cooking osso bucco for his family, not Clinton. Hmmm.... this does makes temporal and logical sense, but it's not as much fun as my interpretation of the (not artfully worded) sentence.

posted by Dan at 02:13 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

What's the difference between a scholar and a reporter?

James Traub has a cover story in today's New York Times Magazine, "The Celebrity Solution," that's all about celebrity activism in global philanthropy and peacebuilding:

Stars — movie stars, rock stars, sports stars — exercise a ludicrous influence over the public consciousness. Many are happy to exploit that power; others are wrecked by it. In recent years, stars have learned that their intense presentness in people’s daily lives and their access to the uppermost realms of politics, business and the media offer them a peculiar kind of moral position, should they care to use it. And many of those with the most leverage — Bono and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and George Clooney and, yes, Natalie Portman — have increasingly chosen to mount that pedestal. Hollywood celebrities have become central players on deeply political issues like development aid, refugees and government-sponsored violence in Darfur.
Faithful readers of this blog might recall that, three months ago, I published a cover story in The National Interest, "Foreign Policy Goes Glam," that makes some awfully similar points:
Increasingly, celebrities are taking an active interest in world politics. When media maven Tina Brown attends a Council on Foreign Relations session, you know something fundamental has changed in the relationship between the world of celebrity and world politics. What’s even stranger is that these efforts to glamorize foreign policy are actually affecting what governments do and say. The power of soft news has given star entertainers additional leverage to advance their causes. Their ability to raise issues to the top of the global agenda is growing. This does not mean that celebrities can solve the problems that bedevil the world. And not all celebrity activists are equal in their effectiveness. Nevertheless, politically-engaged stars cannot be dismissed as merely an amusing curiosity in foreign policy.
Readers might wonder if I'm feeling bitter about Traub making similar arguments for a much larger commission.

The truth is, reading his essay, I can't get too worked up about it. My essay was intended to be more of a meditation on why celebrities have become more influential. As a reporter-researcher, Traub does something in his essay that I didn't do in mine. He actually got the participants to confirm the causal mechanisms I only posited.

For example, here's what I wrote about the celebrity exploitation of "soft news" outlets:

In the current media environment, a symbiotic relationship between celebrities and cause célèbres has developed. Celebrities have a comparative advantage over policy wonks because they have access to a wider array of media outlets, which translates into a wider audience of citizens. Superstars can go on The Today Show or The Late Show to plug their latest movie and their latest global cause. Because of their celebrity cachet, even hard-news programs will cover them—stories about celebrities can goose Nielsen ratings. With a few exceptions, like Barack Obama or John McCain, most politicians cannot make the reverse leap to soft-news outlets. Non-celebrity policy activists are virtually guaranteed to be shut out of these programs....

The power of soft news is not limited to television. Vanity Fair let Bono guest-edit a special issue about Africa, knowing that cover photos of Madonna and George Clooney would attract readers and buzz. Without intending to, those perusing the pages might form opinions about sending aid to sub-Saharan Africa in the process.

Here's how Traub covers the same point:
In 2004, Natalie Portman, then a 22-year-old fresh from college, went to Capitol Hill to talk to Congress on behalf of the Foundation for International Community Assistance, or Finca, a microfinance organization for which she served as “ambassador.” She found herself wondering what she was doing there, but her colleagues assured her: “We got the meetings because of you.” For lawmakers, Natalie Portman was not simply a young woman — she was the beautiful Padmé from “Star Wars.” “And I was like, ‘That seems totally nuts to me,’ ” Portman told me recently. It’s the way it works, I guess. I’m not particularly proud that in our country I can get a meeting with a representative more easily than the head of a nonprofit can.”....

Portman didn’t have to do very much when she came back and became Finca’s international ambassador of hope in 2004; she simply made a point of talking about microfinance when she did any publicity. She appeared on the cover of Vogue and in the long story inside talked about her work with Finca. “The influence of that interview was huge,” says Christina Barrineau, then the director of the U.N. Year of Microcredit. “Anyone who Googled it immediately came to our Web site, and I was flooded with e-mails from young influentials who wanted to learn more about how they could help.”

It's likely I'm going to do some more research on this topic -- so thanks to Traub for delivering some fine process tracing.

posted by Dan at 10:26 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)