Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hmmm... maybe Hillary

The New York Times ran two stories today that don't make me feel all that confident about the likely major party nominees.

The McCain story, by Elizabeth Bumiller and Larry Rohter, ostensibly writes about a tug of war between McCain's realist and neoconservative foreign policy advisors. The story tries to paint it as an evenly matched fight, but it seems pretty clear that the neoconservatives have the upper hand. An example of his sympathy with the realists is that "[McCain's] promise to work more closely with allies." C'mon, even most neoconservatives will say they want that.

Then there's this ditty:

One of the chief concerns of the pragmatists is that Mr. McCain is susceptible to influence from the neoconservatives because he is not as fully formed on foreign policy as his campaign advisers say he is, and that while he speaks authoritatively, he operates too much off the cuff and has not done the deeper homework required of a presidential candidate.
Ouch. This story, along with Jason Zengerle's autopsy of the McCain campaign's inner divisions, does not paint a glowing picture of the candidate's decision-making processes (for a small antidote, see Michael Lewis' recycled Slate essay).

Larry Rohter's story on Barsck Obama doesn't make me feel much better:

With the war in Iraq and Islamic terrorism among the top issues in the campaign, all three of the presidential contenders have sought to emphasize the value of their very different foreign policy credentials. Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, has often pointed to his military and combat experience, while Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has emphasized her involvement in international and national security issues as both first lady and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But Mr. Obama has argued that his rivals’ longer official record is no substitute for his real-life grass-roots experience. “Foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton and Senator McCain,” he said in his remarks in San Francisco.

“Experience in Washington is not knowledge of the world,” he continued, provoking laughter among those present. “This I know. When Senator Clinton brags, ‘I’ve met leaders from 80 countries,’ I know what those trips are like. I’ve been on them. You go from the airport to the embassy. There’s a group of children who do a native dance. You meet with the C.I.A. station chief and the embassy and they give you a briefing. You go take a tour of plant that” with “the assistance of Usaid has started something. And then, you go.”

During the speech, Mr. Obama also spoke about having traveled to Pakistan in the early 1980s. Because of that trip, which he did not mention in either of his autobiographical books, “I knew what Sunni and Shia was before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” he said....

Mr. Obama’s advisers argue that “there are multiple aspects to experience, each of which can be relevant.” Mr. Obama’s experience “provides a different kind of insight” than the traditional résumé, said Susan E. Rice, a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs and a National Security Council official who is one of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy advisers.

“At a time when our foreign policy and national security have so obviously suffered from a simplistic, black-and-white interpretation,” Ms. Rice added, having “an American president who spent part of his formative years and young adulthood living in a poor country under a dictatorship brings an understanding of the complexity of things that others may not have. I’m not saying that official travels and Congressional delegations are without value, but there are limits to what you can glean from that.”

Jamie Kirchick (who beat the Times by two days on this story, it should be noted) points out the obvious political problems with this position.

What strikes me, however, is the hubris involved in Obama's position. Yes, extended travel and living abroad can expose one to information that would not come from an official junket. I'm not sure that such travel at the age of six really counts for much. Furthermore, last I checked, Obama had this kind of experience in only two countries (Indonesia and Pakistan). That leaves an awfully large part of the globe unexplored. It also elides the point that, as president, Obama is far more likely to have to deal with the very dignitaries he dismisses in the story. [UPDATE: Marc Ambinder makes this point better than I:

Some Obama campaign aides privately admit that their boss has a tendency to use superlatives when a comparative is called for. What's weird about Obama's peacock displays is that they're unnecessary. No one -- not even messianic Obamniacs -- believe that he has more foreign policy experience than John McCain, although many millions of voters may well come to believe that Obama's life experience in general gives him a better vantage point.

Obama's confidence is one of his more attractive qualities as a candidate. Sometimes, though, that confidence crosses the border into other, less attractive qualities.]

Suddenly, claiming imaginary sniper fire doesn't look like that bad of a sin.

UPDATE: It is truly amazing that on a day when the press might be forgetting about Bosnia and focusing on the foreign policy flaws of her rivals, the Clinton campaign manages to pull off a.... Clintonesque blurring of the facts.

posted by Dan at 10:36 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thoughts on the Colombia trade deal

Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias have posts up on the free trade agreement with Colombia and wonder whether it's worth all the trouble it's going to create. Let's respond!

Kevin's post boils down to the following facts: a) Trade contributes somewhat to rising inequality and stagnant wage growth at the lower end of the wage spectrum; b) There's little appetite among the American people for freer trade; and c) Trade is pretty free anyway, so why worry about piddling deals like the one with Colombia. In conclusion, Kevin paraphrases Senator Clinton: "Taking a breather to rethink how we approach trade seems pretty reasonable at the moment."

Matt's post helps to rebut the first charge. As he observes:

[The FTA] actually involves very little changes on the US side at all. In essence, Colombian goods already flow very freely into the United States except for in our more famously protected sectors (agriculture, etc.) and what we're offering Colombia here is a very solemn promise to keep it that way.
The Colombia FTA is hardly unique in this regard -- this is pretty much what the state of play was prior to NAFTA as well. So the effect of these kind of FTAs on U.S. wages is less than minimal.

It also explains why ratifying this FTA is a good idea -- it locks in U.S. policy. As I've posted previously, the reason these agreements are a good idea is precisely because they prevent the drift towards protectionism that is otherwise inevitable in a pluralist political system. As for Kevin's desired "pause," let's face it, there is going to be zero momentum towards further liberalization beginning in 2009 regardless of whether this FTA is passed. Kevin's pause is happening whether anyone likes it or not.

After analyzing the content of the deal, Yglesias concludes the following:

All things considered, this seems to have almost no implications for American well-being, and if I were a member of congress I think I would consider this an excellent moment to let me vote be dictated by pure partisan politics or possibly corruption. If I were a blogger, I would say that lowering barriers to the importation of foreign goods on a unilateral basis would be good policy for the United States and that using bi- or multi-lateral trade negotiations to try to get other countries to adopt "pro-business" policies is a pretty dubious undertaking.
The first point is incomplete and the second point is factually incorrect.

The biggest benefit of the FTA with Colombia has little to do with economics and everything to do with our bilateral and regional relationships. Go back to NAFTA. Kevin is right to point out that the agreement's economic effects were not terribly large. On the other hand, even skeptics of trade liberalization -- Dani Rodrik, Paul Krugman, and Joseph Stiglitz -- supported NAFTA because it locked Mexican economic reforms, promoted political reforms, and cemented a stronger bilateral relaionship.

There's no reason to believe that the same effects would not take place with Colombia. Matt has been stressing the killings of labor activists in Colombia. However, the EPI graph he highlights shows a pretty dramatic reduction in these killings since 2003.

Question to Matt: what's the best way for the United States to help reduce those killings even further -- ratifying or rejecting the FTA? I'd argue the former. FTAs matter more than unilateral reductions of trade barriers because they decrease the likelihood of policy reversals (which, again, is why Hillary Clinton's proposals to renegotiate FTAs every five years or so is such a God-awful idea). Ratifying the FTA with Colombia increases the likelihood that labor killings will continue to decline.

A final point: for freer trade to be politically sustainable, there needs to be some kind of reciprocity, which can't happen via unilateral reductions in trade barriers. Historically, unilateral reductions have had a minimal impact on the openness of the global economy. In the 19th century, the repeal of the Corn Laws mattered a hell of a lot less than the Cobden-Chevalier treaty in opening up European economies to each other. In the 20th century, GATT mattered a hell of a lot more than any unilateral U.S. policy in leaving the misbegotten trade policies of the Depression behind.

UPDATE: On the other hand, I should point out that Drum is 100% correct on this point he makes in a follow-up post:

Question: which is more important to the cause of free trade: (a) passage of the Colombian trade pact or (b) reining in the monstrosity that is U.S. farm policy? The answer is (b) by several light years. So why do we hear so much about the dire consequences of failing to pass a piddling bilateral trade deal... but almost nothing about the dire consequences of the hideous $300 billion distortion caused by the latest round of farm subsidies — most of which goes to big agribusiness, not struggling family farms? How about a little more noise on the farm front?
The problem is even bigger than Drum realizes, since cutting back agricultural subsidies are also the key to completing the Doha round.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I just want to point out that the initial version of this set a new personal record for number of typos in a single blog post.

posted by Dan at 08:52 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Like Jon Stewart, I have the sense of humor of an eight-year old

Forgive me, Jock:

posted by Dan at 04:58 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Glenn Greenwald's rage against the machine

Remember when I said earlier this week that, "Glenn Greenwald might be a good blogger/collumnist, but he's not that great at social science"?

I apologize -- I was clearly in error. Replace "good" with "simplistic and Jacobin" and replace "not that great at social science" with "not aware of the concept of social science." Then that sentence hits closer to the mark.

Here's how Greenwald resonds to responded to my prior post. He first tries to rebut points I made about his methodology... but let's get to the good stuff:

I want to leave their specific claims behind and focus on what is actually important here. What really underlies the mentality of people like McArdle and Drezner are two pervasive though toxic afflictions -- a drooling, self-loving American exceptionalism, along with a self-interested refusal to acknowledge that there is anything truly wrong with our political and media establishment because they both support and are part of that establishment....

And then there is the self-absorbed motivation to defend the establishment which they support. Both of them supported the Bush administration and advocated for the invasion of Iraq. Hence, the absolute last thing they want to face -- just as is true for most of our political and media establishment -- is that the things they cheered on have spawned grave atrocities and vast destruction.

It can never be the case that there is anything profoundly wrong -- fundamentally wrong -- with the American political establishment. Why not? Because the McArdles and Drezners both support it and are part of it, and they are Good and thus can't possibly be responsible for things like "war crimes" or "torture regimes" or illegal wars of aggression. That's why the political establishment is so desperate to stay in Iraq until we "win" and to convince everyone that the public supports them again. They are desperate to wash their hands of that which they enabled so they can pretend they never did.

Wow, where to begin. Well, let's start with the obvious -- if I dispute someone's empirical support regarding hypothesis A, that does not mean I necessarily think hypothesis A is wrong. It just means that I'm unpersuaded by the evidence as presented. It is actually possible to dispute positive analysis of a topic without adopting a normative position on the same topic. This fact appears to escape Greenwald's grasp.

Second, I haven't shied away from self-criticism regarding Iraq or questions about the torture issue. I certainly have not discussed them at the same length as Greenwald, but I think that's a rather high bar for anyone to meet -- Greenwald's writing style seems to be, "why write ten words when writing a hundred words makes the point in a redundant manner?"

Third, and most important, Greenwald's rhetorical style in his column boils down to,"if you dispute anything I say, then you are objectively pro-torture." This bears more than a passing resemblance to the position rabid pro-war advocates adopted in late 2002 -- that opposition to war with Iraq rendered one objectively pro-Saddam. It was a disgusting tactic then, and it's no less disgusting that Greenwald is using it now. It makes him no better than the ideological adversaries he so despises.

I've defended Greenwald as of late, and I actually enjoyed my prior blog exchanges with him. After his latest column, however, I don't see the point of engaging with him anymore. If Greenwald is incapable of distinguishing between different streams of thought, if he is incapable of distinguishing positive analysis from normative advocacy, if he is incapable of doing anything other than indicting the "establishment" as an undifferentiated mass of lickspittle imperialists, then there's no point in debating him. As Megan put it, "Mr Greenwald's anger at the establishment power structure seems to be rapidly transmuting into anger at the non-Glenn-Greenwald power structure:"

posted by Dan at 09:28 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

So what's going to happen to the U.S. in Iraq?

I ask this and many other quesions of Juan Cole over at Go check it out!

posted by Dan at 08:11 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Does a Beijing boycott make sense?

In the wake of Olympic torch havoc, Hillary Clinton has called for George W. Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Steve Clemons thinks this is a really bad idea:

[S]he is out of bounds and reckless when calling for the weight of the presidency to be used to punish another nation at an event which is drawing China into the blue chip end of the international order, into global institution building and stakeholding, and which is stroking China's national pride at a key point in its ascendancy as a self-realized important power.

Hillary Clinton's call for boycotting the opening ceremonies is an example of a simple-minded, binary approach to US-China relations.

Apparently, she has been led to believe that if Bush is absent at the ceremonies that China will help us on Sudan or allow Tibet a track to political autonomy or independence. This is wrong and naive. China will do neither - and if anything, we will embarrass those in the China establishment who are advocates of deal-making with America and proponents of responsible global stakeholding, which has been the course we have seen China on.

There is no doubt that China's positive role in the troubled Six Party Talks moved our affairs with North Korea forward - even though this process proves to have predictably unpredictable swings up and down. China also proffered some counsel to Iran behind the scenes in advocating release of several intellectuals that Iran had arrested last year as China was not eager to see a substantially tightened third round of economic sanctions out of the UN at that time, and China helped give Iran an important nudge when we needed it.

America and the world have a serious brewing problem with Iran and an ongoing challenge with North Korea. China has secured strategic footholds in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and is spreading its influence in the Caucuses. China is not a natural ally of Russia - in fact, quite the reverse - and yet bumbling American policy seems to be throwing them together in common circumstances in ways that should not be happening.

Hillary Clinton or any President needs to avoid the temptation to pander to the American public when crises with the key global powers emerge. They need to demonstrate an awareness of our core interests with China and what we most want from China in the arena of international affairs.

I'm a big fan of the responsible stakeholder idea, but I do think Clemons is overreacting here.

Contra Clemons, having Bush forego the opening ceremonies is not an example of a "simple-minded, binary approach" to China. All-or-nothing would have been if Clinton had called for a complete boycott of the Games. Instead, she's calling for a step that would take some of the luster off of the opening cereomnies. That's a modulated step.

Sports boycotts have a mixed track record. The summer Olympics faced boycotts in 1976, 1980, and 1984, and South Africa faced a sports boycott during the apartheid era. The Olympics boycotts did not achieve much (though of the three, the Moscow boycott probably did the most damage to the target). The South Africa boycott, on the other hand, did have a pronounced effect on South Africa.

It strikes me that Clinton's error is not in calling for a boycott of the opening ceremonies, but calling for Bush to do without consultation. If I were advising Bush, I would suggest that he start talking with other heads of state that are planning to attend -- Nicolas Sarkozy has already hedged on his attendance, for example -- to see if a common position can be forged as a means of extracting concessions from China. It can't just be the usual suspects, either -- you would want developing country democracies included in the conversation.

Furthermore, I'd try to bring in leaders who have already said they wouldn't attend, like Angela Merkel, as a way to proffer a carrot towards China.

Would any of this accomplish anything? Even if China did not budge, it very well might. China desperately wants these Games to be a stamp of legitimacy on the government. A multilateral withholding of that stamp makes their life difficult, and I suspect they would be willing to bargain in order to avoid it.

UPDATE: Henry Farrell makes an interesting point on the boycott question:

As best I understand it (I am open to corrections if wrong), in the past, Olympics politics have concerned inter-state rivalry, and have been driven by decisions on the part of traditional political elites. The US boycott of the Soviet games in protest against the invasion of Afghanistan in 1980 resulted from a decision by Jimmy Carter, and the tit-for-tat boycott by the Soviets and their allies of the LA games in 1984 resulted from a top level decision too. The dynamic driving the Beijing Olympics seems to me to be rather different; what we are seeing is that the politics of boycott is being driven by mass-publics, and most recently by protestors, rather than by political leaders. In the absence of the public unrest that has culminated in the recent protests in Paris, I doubt very much that Western political leaders would be muttering about not showing at the opening ceremonies – the geopolitical stakes of market access etc are likely more important to them than the fate of Tibetans. But given the widespread public reaction in the West, even leaders like Gordon Brown, who obviously want very much to attend, are having to insulate themselves from public pressures by taking other actions liable to annoy China (such as meeting with the Dalai Lama). In short, I think we are seeing how public opinion and organized cross-national opposition can create significant constraints on the ability of leaders to respond to what they see as the geostrategic necessity of keeping China happy.
It should be noted, however, that here's one element in this equation that hasn't been discussed -- the attitude of the mass Chinese public towards all of this. From what I've read since the Tibetan riots broke out (and, like Henry, I'm open to correction if I'm wrong), the majority of Chinese are furious with the Chinese government for not cracking down even more in Tibet.

My biggest worry about any kind of boycott is the nationalist backlash among the mass Chinese public that it would provoke.

posted by Dan at 08:52 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, April 7, 2008

There are rules to using "Far From Over"

Via Eszter Hargittai, I see that sociologist Brian Donovan has devised an innoavative and fun way to broadcast the fact that the University of Kansas has granted him tenure:

My only critique: first rule of Staying Alive: you can't play a song from from Staying Alive without including at least a snippet from that movie.

So, as a public service, let me inflict on you provide the following clips:

posted by Dan at 03:36 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

You can't blame the media for everything

Glenn Greenwald is getting a lot of play with this post, in which he says the following:

In the past two weeks, the following events transpired. A Department of Justice memo, authored by John Yoo, was released which authorized torture and presidential lawbreaking. It was revealed that the Bush administration declared the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights to be inapplicable to "domestic military operations" within the U.S. The U.S. Attorney General appears to have fabricated a key event leading to the 9/11 attacks and made patently false statements about surveillance laws and related lawsuits. Barack Obama went bowling in Pennsylvania and had a low score.

Here are the number of times, according to NEXIS, that various topics have been mentioned in the media over the past thirty days:

"Yoo and torture" - 102

"Mukasey and 9/11" -- 73

"Yoo and Fourth Amendment" -- 16

"Obama and bowling" -- 1,043

"Obama and Wright" -- More than 3,000 (too many to be counted)

"Obama and patriotism" - 1,607

"Clinton and Lewinsky" -- 1,079

It's pretty clear what Greenwald thinks this indicates -- it's an indictment of "our nation's coddled, insulated journalist class."

To me, this indicates the following:

1) Comparing NEXIS searches of events where the media cycle has yet to play out with events where the media cycle has played out is a really disingenuous way of making one's point;

2) There are more press mentions of an event when the target of the media inquiry actually responds to the press. To my knowledge, John Yoo has said nothing since the terror memo was leaked published, and the Bush administration has clammed up as well. Barack Obama, on the other hand, clearly did respond to the Jeremiah Wright business, leading to multiple news cycles about that issue;

3) Shockingly, the press appears to be more interested in events that determine the future (i.e., who will be the next president?) than in events that look back at the past. [Isn't that a slanted way of contrasting these events?-ed. Compared to Greenwald's slant? No, not really.];

4) Glenn Greenwald might be a good blogger/collumnist, but he's not that great at social science.

posted by Dan at 11:43 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Trade destroys jobs....inside the betway

Freer trade doesn't lead to much job loss in the real economy -- but the effects of trade in the world of presidential campaigns can be devastating:

Mr. [Mark] Penn, who has kept his job atop the global PR giant Burson-Marsteller to the chagrin of other officials in the Clinton camp, met with Colombia's ambassador to the U.S. a week ago to discuss the firm's contracted effort to sell the U.S.-Colombian trade pact -- which Sen. Clinton opposes, as The Wall Street Journal reported last week. After that came to light, Mr. Penn apologized and called the meeting an "error in judgment" -- which in turn upset the Colombians, who on Saturday terminated Burson-Marsteller's contract. Late yesterday, the campaign said Mr. Penn asked to "give up his role as chief strategist" but that he and his political-consulting firm "will continue to provide polling and advice."....

Today, Mr. Penn's association with the campaign could raise questions about Sen. Clinton's commitment to trade policy two weeks before the key Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, where, as the Journal reports, trade issues are likely to count for a lot. But it's the reminder of how much candidates are being sold that could resonate more than the doubts that many industrial workers have about trade accords.

A bitter irony of this latest kerfuffle is that this will likely be the most prominent mention of Colombia during the presidential campaign -- just as the NAFTA imbroglio will have been the most prominent mention of Canada.

Just to repeat myself:

I've said it before and I will say it again: Democrats cannot simultaneously talk about improving America's standing abroad while acting like a belligerent unilateralist when it comes to trade policy.

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