Friday, October 22, 2004

I've made up my mind

So I'm voting for Kerry.

In my two threads on the subject (here and here), I've been amused to read suggestions by fellow Republicans that I'm overanalyzing things and should just trust my gut. If I had done that, I would have known I was voting for Kerry sometime this summer because of Iraq. To put it crudely, my anger at Bush for the number of Mongolian cluster-f**ks this administration was discovered to have made in the planning process in the run-up to Iraq was compounded by the even greater number of cluster-f**ks the administration made in the six months after the invasion, topped off by George W. Bush's decision not to fire the clusterf**ks in the civilian DoD leadershop that insisted over the past two years that not a lot of troops were needed in the Iraqi theater of operations. No, if I was voting based on gut instincts, I would have planned on voting for Kerry and punching a wall afterwards.

Reading the New York Times recap of the postwar planning by Michael Gordon just brought all of this back to the surface. The failure by Rumsfeld and his subordinates to comprehend that occupation and statebuilding requires different resources, strategies and tactics than warfighting boggles my mind:

Military aides on the National Security Council prepared a confidential briefing for Ms. Rice and her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, that examined what previous nation-building efforts had required.

The review, called "Force Security in Seven Recent Stability Operations," noted that no single rule of thumb applied in every case. But it underscored a basic principle well known to military planners: However many forces might be required to defeat the foe, maintaining security afterward was determined by an entirely different set of calculations, including the population, the scope of the terrain and the necessary tasks.

If the United States and its allies wanted to maintain the same ratio of peacekeepers to population as it had in Kosovo, the briefing said, they would have to station 480,000 troops in Iraq. If Bosnia was used as benchmark, 364,000 troops would be needed. If Afghanistan served as the model, only 13,900 would be needed in Iraq. The higher numbers were consistent with projections later provided to Congress by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff, that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in Iraq. But Mr. Rumsfeld dismissed that estimate as off the mark.

More forces generally are required to control countries with large urban populations. The briefing pointed out that three-quarters of Iraq's population lived in urban areas. In Bosnia and Kosovo, city dwellers made up half of the population. In Afghanistan, it was only 18 percent.

Neither the Defense Department nor the White House, however, saw the Balkans as a model to be emulated. In a Feb. 14, 2003, speech titled "Beyond Nation Building," which Mr. Rumsfeld delivered in New York, he said the large number of foreign peacekeepers in Kosovo had led to a "culture of dependence" that discouraged local inhabitants from taking responsibility for themselves.

The defense secretary said he thought that there was much to be learned from Afghanistan, where the United States did not install a nationwide security force but relied instead on a new Afghan Army and troops from other countries to help keep the peace.

James F. Dobbins, who was the administration's special envoy for Afghanistan and had also served as the ambassador at large for Kosovo, Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti, thought that the administration was focusing on the wrong model. The former Yugoslavia - with its ethnic divisions, hobbled economy and history of totalitarian rule - had more parallels with Iraq than administration officials appeared willing to accept, Mr. Dobbins believed. It was Afghanistan that was the anomaly.

"They preferred to find a model for successful nation building that was not associated with the previous administration," Mr. Dobbins said in an interview. "And Afghanistan offered a much more congenial answer in terms of what would be required in terms of inputs, including troops."

Maybe, maybe someone could give administration officials a pass in making that assumption. But once they realized that the Afghanistan analogy wasn't working, they never questioned their assumptions:

General Franks's talk of being prepared to take risks alarmed General Garner, the civil administrator. Fearing that an early troop reduction threatened the mission of building a new Iraq, General Garner took his concerns to Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the chief allied land commander.

"There was no doubt we would win the war," General Garner recalled telling General McKiernan, "but there can be doubt we will win the peace."

Soon after, the Pentagon began turning off the spigot of troops flowing to Iraq.

Mr. Rumsfeld had started to question whether the military still needed the Army's First Cavalry Division, a 17,500-member force that was slated to follow the lead invasion force into Iraq. He and General Franks discussed the issue repeatedly.

"Rumsfeld just ground Franks down," said Mr. White, the former Army secretary who was fired after policy disputes with Mr. Rumsfeld. "If you grind away at the military guys long enough, they will finally say, 'Screw it, I'll do the best I can with what I have.' The nature of Rumsfeld is that you just get tired of arguing with him."

General Franks insisted that he had not faced pressure on the First Cavalry issue. "It was Rumsfeld's idea," he said, referring to the cancellation of the deployment. "Rumsfeld did not beat me into submission. Initially, I did not want to truncate the force flow, but as it looked like we were likely to get greater international participation, I concluded that it was O.K. to stop the flow."

General Franks also said he accepted the suggestion only after his field commanders agreed that the division was not needed. But a former staff officer to General McKiernan said the land war commander had wanted the unit to be deployed and was disappointed that he had to do without the additional division. The deployment of the division was canceled on April 21....

According to United States officials, Mr. Bremer raised the troop issue in a June 18 video conference with Mr. Bush. Mr. Bremer said the United States needed to be careful not to go too far in taking out troops. The president said the plan was now to rotate forces, not withdraw them, and agreed that Washington needed to maintain adequate force levels.

Still the American forces shrank, from a high of about 150,000 in July 2003 to some 108,000 in February 2004, before going up again when violence sharply increased early this year. Some of the troop declines were offset by the arrival of the Polish-led division in August 2003. (emphasis added)

One other thing -- reading the Gordon article, what's stunning is that the administration never solved this dilemma:

Rumsfeld, and the rest of the Bush administration's foreign policy team, face a clear choice. It can outsource peacekeeping functions to the United Nations or close allies, at the cost of some constraints on foreign policy implementation. It can minimize the U.N. role and develop/train its own peacekeeping force. Or it can do neither and run into trouble down the road.

No, it's back to thinking. In my original post on this topic, I said that, "I prefer a leader who has a good decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I don't like, over a leader who has a bad decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I do like."

I meant two things by this:

1) John Kerry is more likely to recognize during the decision-making process that his instincts might be wrong -- and therefore change tacks before making a catastrophic mistake;

2) Whatever Kerry's policy, the decision-making process and the implementation of those decisions would lead to a greater probability of success.

Some commenters have argued that a second Bush term would be different. However, ironically enough, the failure of Bush to reshuffle his team requires me to take this assertion.... on faith. And I can't do that.

I still have doubts about Kerry. Massive, Herculean doubts. His plan to internationalize the Iraq conflict is a pipe dream. However, here's the one thing I am confident about -- a Kerry administration is likely to recognize, once the multilateral diplomacy fails, that it will actually have to come up with a viable alternative. UPDATE: Kevin Drum has some persuasive points on this topic.

Like Laura McKenna, I'm not at all happy about my choice (And if the Kerry campaign is stupid enough to let Theresa continue to speak to the press, there's an off-chance that in a fit of pique I'll vote to deny her the opportunity to be First Lady.)

But in the end, I can't vote for a president who doesn't believe that what he believes might, just might, be wrong. To quote David Adesnik, "As a professional researcher, I think I simply find it almost impossible to trust someone whose thought process is apparently so different from my own."

posted by Dan at 10:45 AM | Comments (352) | Trackbacks (33)

Monday, October 18, 2004

A long, winding, and long-winded response

My previous post on my probability of voting for John Kerry generated a lot of feedback – and most of it was civil and respectful, a pleasant surprise given the tenor of the current political season.

It would be impossible to respond specifically to all of the arguments made by all the commenters and e-mailers, so I'm going to distill them into a few short bullet points:

1) I've underestimated Bush's foreign policy successes -- evicting the Taliban from Afghanistan, eliminating that country as a base of Al Qaeda operations, and finally dealing with Saddam Hussein. I've also overestimated the costs of Operation Iraqi Freedom -- that even with the acknowledged reverses, it's only been 18 months and things are getting better in that country;

2) I've overestimated John Kerry's decision-making process. Kerry's record -- and, parenthetically, the management of his current campaign -- suggest that his foreign policy instincts aren't just wrong, they're dreadfully, appallingly wrong. According to this argument, Bush gets that we're at war with radical Islam, and Kerry doesn't get it.

3) I've overestimated the caliber of Kerry's appointments as well -- do I really want Madeleine Albright's "Team B" minding the foreign policy store?

4) Kerry's domestic policy proposals in areas such as health care and possible Supreme Court nominees are so bad that even if he's marginally better on foreign policy grounds, the domestic policy ramifications are too grave to be easily dismissed.

Let's respond to these in reverse order. The last point I find really unpersuasive for three reasons. First, a President Kerry would be unable to implement any major domestic policy proposal without the consent of Congress, and there is no chance that Kerry will be able to command disciplined majorities in both houses. Which means Kerry will have to deal with the Republicans. And here, Kerry's weak Senatorial record is actually an argument in his favor, because I'm happy to have some gridlock in DC for a while (a related point: Daniel Patrick Moynihan's observation that it's impossible to enact major policy without a rough 2/3 consensus makes it highly unlikely that George W. Bush will be able to get Social Security privatization through, should he become president. So while I'd like to see that -- provided the transition costs could be funded -- it's an underwhelning reason to vote for Bush). Second, the details of the latest massive porkfest tax bill makes me none too sanguine about one-party control of anything at this point. And third, foreign policy (including foreign economic policy) is what I care about, and it also happens to be the policy bailiwick where the president has the greatest control.

The critique of Kerry's foreign policy team gives me greater pause. I do wonder whether people like Susan Rice would wind up being the Douglas Feiths of a Kerry administration, having to be "consistently bailed out of trouble by career diplomats," as my secret correspondent phrased it.

However, I have two rejoinders to this objection. The first is that the people who spark objections are second-tier appointments. The people at the top -- Richard Holbrooke, William Perry, and Robert Rubin in particular -- tend to command greater respect (though not love) among policy cognoscenti. But I can't guarantee that Holbrooke would be named Secretary of State if Kerry wins, and so that is disturbing.

Second, at least Kerry's second-tier people would actually talk to the career staff. One of the biggest problems with the Bush administration has been the tendency for people like Feith and Wolfowitz to simply ignore expert advice. Indeed, Feith in particular went so far as to create his own little intelligence shop to bypass DIA. Again, I'll take a group of medocrities who actually listen to their staffs than supposedly brilliant men like Feith who simply block out any information that contradicts their assumptions.

The critique of Kerry's own record of decision-making gives me the greatest pause. Kerry was on the wrong side of the nuclear freeze debate in the early eighties on the wrong side of the first Gulf War debate in the early nineties, and on the wrong side of the "lift-and-strike" optiuon put forward by Bob Dole on Bosnia in 1995. This Washington Post story by Dale Russakoff and Jim VandeHei from last week makes me feel even less sanguine. Key part:

This is the paradox of Kerry as a manager. When he has a clear vision of where he wants to go -- as he did in the prosecutor's office and in the signal achievement of his Senate career, investigating long-standing allegations that the Vietnamese had been holding American POWs and laying the groundwork for normalizing U.S. relations with Vietnam -- he has used information and advice to become more focused and persuasive, according to colleagues and longtime aides.

But in his presidential race, the approach has bogged down his campaign in indecision or led to jarring changes in direction -- even if the result, so far, is that Kerry remains in contention with President Bush. "Things you thought you resolved a week ago pop up again because he's had another four conversations," a former adviser said.

The more I contemplate this argument, the more disconcerting I find it. It doesn't help that whenever I bring up John Kerry's name to Democrats based either in Massachusetts or DC, I don't feel a lot of love in the room. Their attitude towards Kerry is reminiscent of the disgust many of them felt towards Al Gore after the 2000 election.

The only response I can find to this argument -- and it's not a great one -- is that the John Kerry of 2004 has learned a little bit from his past mistakes. This is the essential thesis of Thomas Oliphant's much-cited essay on Kerry from this summer -- that because Kerry has screwed up, and because he knows he has screwed up and been forced to face the political ramifications, he is unlikely to adhere to a disastrous policy choice for very long.

Still, I find that this is the hardest point to rebut -- so I invite Kerry supporters to do so in the comments.

The final argument boils down to whether I'm misjudging the outcome of Bush's foreign policies. Which really boils down to Iraq.

Why did Bush invade Iraq? Three reasons are generally given. The first is the WMD issue. The second is the neocon argument -- to which I'm sympathetic -- that the Middle East was the region of the globe that seemed most hostile to liberal democracy, and it was also the region responsible for the growth in global terrorism, and that these two facts were not coincidental. If Iraq could be transformed into something approximating a democracy, it would put pressure on all the other regimes in the region to quit diverting domestic attention towards the Israeli/Palestinian issue and promote genuine reform. The third argument comes from Greg Djerejian's must-read post on why he's voting for Bush -- it's a quote from former Bush administration official Richard Haass in The New Yorker about why Iraq was invaded:

I will go to my grave not knowing that. I can't answer it. I can't explain the strategic obsession with Iraq--why it rose to the top of people's priority list. I just can't explain why so many people thought this was so important to do. But if there was a hidden reason, the one I heard most was that we needed to change the geopolitical momentum after 9/11. People wanted to show that we can dish it out as well as take it. We're not a pitiful helpless giant. We can play offense as well as defense.

Djerejian adds:

[W]hatever you make of Iraq, can anyone now deny that the U.S. takes the threat of terror with the utmost seriousness? Have we not proven that we are not a paper tiger? That we will fight valiantly and hard in pursuit of our security and our values? This too, is part of Bush's record--no matter how often it is poo-pooed by cynics who think this is all dumb Simian-like macho talk that doesn't matter. I'm sorry, but it very much does. To deny this is to deny reality.

OK, to date, has Operation Iraq Freedom achieved any of these three goals? On WMD, yes, although I'm not sure anyone wants to trumpet that as a resounding success for the administration. On democratization, the jury is definitely out, and I hope I'm wrong about this, but it's very, very difficult to claim that current situation is a hospitable one for creating the kind of model state necessary for the grand neoconservative argument to work. As Djerejian acknowledges:

Put simply, the U.S. has failed in providing basic security through wide, critical swaths of Iraq. And, consequently, reconstruction has severely lagged. So Iraqis can be forgiven musing whether the previous brutishly imposed order might not be preferable to the near chaos that reigns in parts of the country today.

The third argument rests on perception -- does the Arab world now recognize that the U.S. is not a paper tiger? And this is where I firmly disagree with Greg. The mere existence of an insurgency able to explode bombs in the Green Zone eighteen months after the end of "major hostilities" makes the United States look weak. The escalating number of U.S. casualties makes the United States look vulnerable. The failure to properly police Iraq's borders makes the United States look incompetent. And as for what Abu Ghraib makes the United States look.... let's not go there.

What's so frustrating about this is the evidence that had things gone well, the U.S. would have reaped significant policy dividends. The invasion did help compel Libya into abandoning its WMD programme, and there's evidence it could have swayed Iran to do the same. However, as the occupation has proven more and more difficult, the desired bandwagon effect stopped with Libya.

For the Bush administration to have achgieved its policy goals in the region, it wasn't necessary that things go perfectly, but it did require that the U.S. respond as quickly as possible to adverse circumstances with an unstinting flow of men and materiel. Instead, there was apparently no real plan for the post-war phase (click here for more) and there has been a profound reluctance to increase troop levels or increase the supply of necessary materials.

I found most of Ron Suskind's New York Times Magazine story on Bush to be overblown (see Matthew Yglesias on this point), but here are the quotes that rung true:

The circle around Bush is the tightest around any president in the modern era, and ''it's both exclusive and exclusionary,'' Christopher DeMuth, president of the American Enterprise Institute, the neoconservative policy group, told me. ''It's a too tightly managed decision-making process. When they make decisions, a very small number of people are in the room, and it has a certain effect of constricting the range of alternatives being offered.''

....In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

....Machiavelli's oft-cited line about the adequacy of the perception of power prompts a question. Is the appearance of confidence as important as its possession? Can confidence -- true confidence -- be willed? Or must it be earned?

George W. Bush, clearly, is one of history's great confidence men. That is not meant in the huckster's sense, though many critics claim that on the war in Iraq, the economy and a few other matters he has engaged in some manner of bait-and-switch. No, I mean it in the sense that he's a believer in the power of confidence. At a time when constituents are uneasy and enemies are probing for weaknesses, he clearly feels that unflinching confidence has an almost mystical power. It can all but create reality.

Any international relations expert will tell you that the perception of resolve is a source of power. But it's far from the only source, and any measure of power that relies solely on perception is fragile to changes in the situation on the ground. At the present moment, I think Bush's perception is off and he can't and won't be comvinced otherwise -- this showed up in his poor foreign policy performances in the debates. Indeed, Bush's ability to articulate and persuade others of the rightness of his own foreign policy positions is shockingly bad. In the end, all he an say is "trust me." Well, I don't trust him anymore.

Kerry, for all of his flaws, has at least acknowledges that the U.S. is going to have to expand the size of its military to meet the current demands of U.S. foreign policy. Bush does not -- and the effects on America's armed forces will be deletrrious for the long run.

Some commenters have suggested that Bush secretly recognizes that mistakes have been made, and there will be changes after the election. I'm glad they're confident of that -- this David Sanger story in Sunday's NYT makes it clear that even insiders aren't sure about this:

"Honestly, I can make a more reliable prediction about what Kerry's foreign policy would look like than I can about our own,'' said one senior American diplomat who has spent considerable time with President Bush over the past three years. "I could argue that you'll see Dick Cheney's revenge, or that the President will determine that the hawks got him in deep, deep trouble, and he'd better turn this around.''

So where am I now? I'm unpersuaded by arguments saying that Bush's foreign policy has been a greater success than commonly thought, and I'm not convinced that he would ever be able to recognize the need for policy change.

However, the responses to the previous post have fed my doubts about Kerry's bad foreign policy instincts -- enough to slightly lower my probability of voting for Kerry to 70%. So it's now up to Kerry's supporters to make their case -- how can I trust that John Kerry gets the post-9/11 world? How can I be sure that Kerry's policymaking process will be sufficiently good so as to overwhelm Kerry's instinctual miscues?

UPDATE: David Adesnik and Megan McArdle are also deliberating and asking questions (Megan has a lot of questioning posts up -- do check all of them out). Stuart Benjamin makes the libertarian case for Kerry.

posted by Dan at 12:49 PM | Comments (241) | Trackbacks (10)

Friday, October 15, 2004

About that p-value....

I've received a surprising number of inquiries about whether I've decided on Bush or Kerry for president. When we last left off, my probability of voting for Kerry was at 60%.

Slate is now surveying its contributors over the past year about their voting choices. The deadline is next week, which I'm using as my own deadline for making up my own mind.

After the debates, I'd say my p-value for Kerry is now at 0.8 (i.e., an 80% chance of voting for Kerry). I'm still uneasy about making this choice, because I remain unconvinced that Kerry understands the limits of multilateral diplomacy. Matt Bai's article from last Sunday's New York Times Magazine raises as many qualms as it settles in my mind. Take these paragraphs towards the end:

If forced democracy is ultimately Bush's panacea for the ills that haunt the world, as Kerry suggests it is, then Kerry's is diplomacy. Kerry mentions the importance of cooperating with the world community so often that some of his strongest supporters wish he would ease up a bit. (''When people hear multilateral, they think multi-mush,'' Biden despaired.) But multilateralism is not an abstraction to Kerry, whose father served as a career diplomat during the years after World War II. The only time I saw Kerry truly animated during two hours of conversation was when he talked about the ability of a president to build relationships with other leaders.

''We need to engage more directly and more respectfully with Islam, with the state of Islam, with religious leaders, mullahs, imams, clerics, in a way that proves this is not a clash with the British and the Americans and the old forces they remember from the colonial days,'' Kerry told me during a rare break from campaigning, in Seattle at the end of August. ''And that's all about your diplomacy.''

When I suggested that effecting such changes could take many years, Kerry shook his head vehemently and waved me off.

''Yeah, it is long-term, but it can be dramatically effective in the short term. It really can be. I promise you.'' He leaned his head back and slapped his thighs. ''A new presidency with the right moves, the right language, the right outreach, the right initiatives, can dramatically alter the world's perception of us very, very quickly....

He would begin, if sworn into office, by going immediately to the United Nations to deliver a speech recasting American foreign policy. Whereas Bush has branded North Korea ''evil'' and refuses to negotiate head on with its authoritarian regime, Kerry would open bilateral talks over its burgeoning nuclear program. Similarly, he has said he would rally other nations behind sanctions against Iran if that country refuses to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Kerry envisions appointing a top-level envoy to restart the Middle East peace process, and he's intent on getting India and Pakistan to adopt key provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. (One place where Kerry vows to take a harder line than Bush is Pakistan, where Bush has embraced the military ruler Pervez Musharraf, and where Kerry sees a haven for chaos in the vast and lawless region on the border with Afghanistan.) In all of this, Kerry intends to use as leverage America's considerable capacity for economic aid; a Kerry adviser told me, only slightly in jest, that Kerry's most tempting fantasy is to attend the G-8 summit.

Now, I'm very sympathetic to the argument that Kerry's diplomatic style would play much better on the global stage than Bush's (click here for some evidence of this) -- and that this improved style would go some way towards advancing America's national interest via greater multilateral cooperation.

But I'm not sure it will go nearly as far as Kerry thinks it will. If the Senator from Massachusetts thinks that improved style, greater diplomatic efforts, concerted multilateral coordination, and even copious amounts of American aid can get India and Pakistan to sign on to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or create a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace, then, well, he's drunk too much of the multilateral Kool-Aid. Bill Clinton -- who epitomizes the kind of diplomatic style Kerry could only hope to achieve -- invested a fair amount of diplomatic capital on both of these flash points, during a time when America's global prestige was greater than today -- and in the end achieved very little of consequence. There are international problems where the conflict of interests are so sharp and the stakes are so high for the affected parties that all the outside diplomacy in the world won't achieve anything. And I can't help but wonder if Kerry believes he can somehow talk radical Islamists into submission.

So I'm troubled by this -- but at this point I'm more troubled by the Bush administration. Robert A. George has a New Republic column that encapsulates a lot of my difficulties voting for the GOP ticket this year. Here's the part that hit home for me:

President Bush has failed to live up to the second key tenet of conservative government: accountability.

Take, for example, the Pentagon's disastrous planning for postwar Iraq. The lack of troops for the post-invasion period enabled the insurgency to bloom and put American soldiers at risk. Worse, while memos from Ashcroft's Justice Department seemingly provided legal cover for the abuse at Abu Ghraib, the material causes could be found, again, in the underdeployment of troops: "What went wrong at Abu Ghraib prison?" asked The New York Post's Ralph Peters, one of the more earnest supporters of invading Iraq. Pointing to the two independent reports examining the scandal, he concludes: "Woefully deficient planning for post-war Iraq, too few troops and inadequate leadership at the top." Peters is among the conservatives who believe the Abu Ghraib fiasco should have been the final straw for Rumsfeld.

But it didn't happen. And it won't happen, because accountability is a foreign word in this administration. To demonstrate how little he has learned, Rumsfeld observed, "Does [the abuse] rank up there with chopping off someone's head on television? It doesn't. It doesn't. Was it done as a matter of policy? No." Forget that the abuse was far more pervasive than just the handful of servicemen that first popped up in photographs; when the secretary of defense basically says, "Hey, what the terrorists do is much worse," the moral foundation upon which America stands begins to crumble. The president's stated goal was to try to bring democracy to the Middle East--not to allow us to become tainted by the barbarism so prevalent in the region we are attempting to liberate. So Rumsfeld stays on--even as the situation rapidly deteriorates.

Then again, this shouldn't come as a surprise: George Tenet remained in his position following the worst intelligence failure in U.S. history, enabling him to tell the president later that evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a "slam dunk." The first failure helped lead to the deaths of thousands of Americans; the second failure led us into a conflict from which there exists no clear exit strategy and that has rendered the word of the United States suspect. Yet Tenet stayed on, too.

And no wonder. As Bob Woodward writes in Plan of Attack, "[S]everal things were clear from the president's demeanor, his style and all that [Colin] Powell had learned about Bush. The president was not going to toss anyone over the side.... The president also made it clear that no one was to jump ship.... They were a team. The larger message was clear: Circle the wagons." The larger message is that loyalty is prized above all, regardless of the results and regardless of the effect on U.S. standing in the world....

No, a Kerry administration would not be any conservative's ideal. But, on limited government, a Democratic president would, arguably, force a Republican Congress to act like a Republican Congress. The last such combination produced some form of fiscal sanity. And, when it comes to accountability, one could hardly do worse. Of course, a conservative can still cast a libertarian vote on principle.

At crucial points before and after the Iraq war, Bush's middle managers have failed him, and the "brand" called America has suffered in the world market. In any other corporate structure plagued by this level of incompetence, the CEO would have a choice: Fire his middle managers or be held personally accountable by his shareholders. Because of his own misguided sense of "loyalty," Bush won't dismiss anyone. That leaves the country's shareholders little choice.

Given the foreign policy stakes in this election, I prefer a leader who has a good decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I don't like, over a leader who has a bad decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I do like.

If Bush gets re-elected, he and his team will view it as a vindication for all of their policy decisions to date. Whatever groupthink occurred in the first term would pale besides the groupthink that would dominate the second term. Given the tactical and strategic errors in judgment that this administration has made, I have to lean towards Kerry.

My readers have the weekend to try to influence my p-value. As I said, the odds are good at this point that I'll tell Slate I'm voting for Kerry. But I strongly encourage Bush supporters to try and persuade me otherwise in the comments section.

UPDATE: The best effort to persuade me so far comes from an e-mail sent by a former US diplomat who served in both the Clinton and Bush administrations:

I don't dispute some of Kerry's criticisms of the current Administration's conduct of foreign policy. But KE04 presents no actual solutions on foreign policy from which we can derive a reasonable belief that his performance would be better than the current White House. In fact, it just might be worse.

Many of Kerry's policy proposals on foreign affairs strike me as nastily disingenuous. His "fair trade" mantra raises the specter of protectionism at a time when America's continued global economic engagement remains a lynchpin of the "soft power" Kerry so ardently wishes to use as leverage in the war on terror. His fulminations on a lack of allies in Iraq don't pass the red face test -- French, German and Russian interests are now clearly arrayed in a classic balance of power position against the U.S. This will not change with Kerry in the White House. As for other allies (minus the UK and Australia), we're the victims of our Cold War success - most participants in Iraq are already projecting about as much power as they possibly can, having comfortably atrophied under our security umbrella for the past 60 years. This is the burden of hegemony, and I'm not quite sure Senator Kerry, whose mind still fully inhabits the Vietnam paradigm, is up to the task of bearing it forthrightly.

Kerry's respect for multilateralism should not be praised, but questioned, given the changing nature of international politics today. The days of America being able to win a kitchen pass from UN members on any number of issues have come to pass. The Cold War is over, and as your U of C colleague Mr. Mearshemier warned back in 1990, multipolarity will make us outright miss the Cold War. But Kerry hasn't grasped this fundamental change. He hasn't comprehended that the UN, as well as other multilateral institutions, has stopped being a preserve of internationally agreed rules and collective action backed by broad consensus. These institutions have become, instead, vehicles for the pursuit of narrow self-interests by any number of major regional powers which aspire to great power status. (France, Russia, Germany, India, Brazil, China). This is a drastically different international order from the one Kerry presumes to know.

You also have to ask yourself, who is going to carry out Kerry's multilateral approach? And on that score, things simply get worse. A Kerry White House would mean the Madeleine Albright B Team moving into senior foreign policy positions. And, with the notable exception of Richard Holbrooke (his hair may be on fire, but he gets things done), this would be disastrous. These are the same folks who fiddled for 8 years on counter terror, negotiated a terrifyingly naive nuke deal with North Korea, and generally treat foreign policy as a rhetorical exercise. This is a team who has demonstrated, in past position of influence, an alarming propensity to get rolled by their foreign counterparts. Let's pick just two: Susan Rice? Jamie Rubin?! Are you serious?? During her sojourn as assistant secretary for Africa in Albright's State Department, Rice had to be consistently bailed out of trouble by career diplomats. As for Rubin, he is anti-gravitas. He's Edwards-lite.

Think about Kerry's foreign policy track record and his much ballyhooed commitment to "multilateralism". Think if that reflects accurately the state of world politics today. Think about the people who would occupy senior Cabinet, NSC, State and DoD positions under Kerry. Then think about your vote again, please.

Here's another reason specific to Red Sox fans (link via Shannen Coffin at NRO).

ANOTHER UPDATE: One of the sharpest students I've ever taught e-mails a sharp rebuttal:

I’ve got to say I wasn’t too impressed with the former diplomat who wrote in to try to persuade you to change your mind. He attacks Kerry for not recognizing a changed world. Yet it’s not clear that your correspondent has a clear vision of the world either – he alternates between talking about the the US carrying the “burden of hegemony” and then referring to a “multipolar world” in reference to Mearsheimer’s (whose name he misspells) arguments. Is the world unipolar or multipolar? Seems like he doesn’t really know; or more likely is using a pair of contradictory arguments to go after Kerry (“We’re in unipolarity and Kerry doesn’t understand unipolarity! We’re in multipolarity and Kerry doesn’t understand multipolarity!”).

He also refers to French, Russian, and German “balancing,” which doesn’t look much like any kind of balancing we’ve ever seen before, given the lack of military build-ups or alliances between this supposed balancing coalition (indeed, he refers to “atrophied” allied capabilities). Not to mention that Germany and France have troops helping out the US in places like Afghanistan and the Balkans - helping secure the peace in the wake of the Taliban’s removal is an awfully strange kind of anti-American balancing. So the French, Germans, and Russians are balancing by helping out the US in Afghanistan/Balkans, trying to manage Iran, neglecting their militaries, letting tens of thousands of US soldiers and hundreds of million of dollars of US military capabilities sit on German soil, and not allying against the US? Doesn’t look much like the Triple Entente or sixth anti-Napoleonic coalition to me.

I’m not exactly comforted by the thought of Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Bolton et al running the show for four more years. Other than some successes regarding Libya, keeping the WTO together, and the Taliban’s removal I have a suspicion this is not a foreign policy team that will go down in history as even minimally competent.

*YET ANOTHER UPDATE: I'd like to thank the 95% of the commenters who have posted respectful arguments pro and con. I haven't enjoyed a comment thread like this in quite some time.

I'll try to address the more trenchant criticisms sometime this weekend.

MONDAY UPDATE, 11:50 CENTRAL TIME: This is taking longer than I thought, but I'll be posting something in the next few hours.

posted by Dan at 11:37 AM | Comments (402) | Trackbacks (19)

Friday, August 27, 2004

There's something wrong with this argument

Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that James Lileks has a Jewish World Reviiew essay on John Kerry's ambition. Here's the key part of Lileks' thesis:

So why does Kerry want to be president?

The reason is almost tautological: John Kerry wants to be president because he is John Kerry, and John Kerry is supposed to be president. Hence his campaign's flummoxed and tone-deaf response to the swift boat vets. Ban the books, sue the stations, retreat, attack. Underneath it all you can sense the confusion. How dare they attack Kerry? He's supposed to be president. It's almost treason in advance.

There's something bothering me about this line of argument -- namely, that it applies with equal force to George H.W. Bush. Before he got elected in 1988, Bush Sr. was widely viewed as a resume looking for a position to fill. And he was a mighty fine president in my book.

I'm not saying that John Kerry is George H.W. Bush. I'm just saying that Lileks ain't persuading me.

UPDATE: Before adding a comment to this post, re-read it very carefully -- yes, that's right, I'm comparing Kerry to Bush 41, not to Bush 43.

posted by Dan at 02:27 PM | Comments (34) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Tipping towards one side of the fence

A few days ago I asked:

Which is better: a foreign policy with a clearly articulated grand strategy but a f#$%ed-up policy process, or a foreign policy with no articulated grand strategy but a superior policy process?

Phil Carter has a lengthy and compelling post that looks at the Tommy Franks book, American Soldier, and highlights highlights just how f#$&ed up the policy process leading up to Operation Iraqi Freedom really was (link via Kevin Drum). Some of the disturbing parts:

Gen. Franks briefed the President and the NSC principals that Phase IV entailed significant strategic and operational risk, and that there was no good solution yet for Phase IV. Yet, the discussion afterwards focused entirely on WMD, Scuds, issues with allies, and other issues focused on Phase III. No one asked Gen. Franks about Phase IV; it seemed like an afterthought. That makes sense because the White House and Pentagon leaders saw Operation Iraqi Freedom as Desert Storm II in many ways — where we dodged the post-war issue by limiting our objectives and pulling out rapidly. This passage implies that Gen. Franks was aware of the problem, but his bosses weren't — and he didn't pop a starcluster to let them know of the problem....

On page 393, Gen. Franks tells of another briefing to President Bush and the NSC principals — this time in Aug. 2002, in the White House. Here again, Gen. Franks discussed the post-war issues, but apparently in a brief and optimistic way:

My final chart was potentially the most important: PHASE IV STABILITY OPERATIONS.

"The Generated and Running Starts," I explained, "and the Hybrid Concept all project Phase III ending with a maximum of two hundred and fifty thousand troops in Iraq. We will have to stand up a new Iraqi army, and create a constabulary that includes a representative tribal, religious and ethnic mix. It will take time.

"And well-designed and well-funded reconstruction projects that put large numbers of Iraqis to work and quickly meet community needs — and expectations — will be the keys to our success in Phase IV."

"We will want to get Iraqis in charge of Iraq as soon as possible," Don Rumsfeld said. On hearing his words, heads nodded around the table.

"At some point," I said, "we can begin drawing down our force. We'll want to retain a core strength of at least fifty thousand men, and our troop reductions should parallel deployment of representative, professional Iraqi security forces. Our exit strategy will be tied to effective governance by Iraqis, not to a timeline."

I saw further nods around the table. And then Condi Rice tapped her watch; we were out of time.

Analysis: Wow... the "group think" is so thick in this briefing that you can taste it. Heads nodding... eyes indicating assent without question... this is not an OPLAN briefing, this is a love-fest. Seriously, one can start adding up all of the implicit assumptions in these statements by Gen. Franks, and figure out exactly why the Phase IV plan went so poorly. For starters, there's no discussion of initial security needs, or initial needs for law and order. Second, there's no discussion of institutional responsibility for the key reconstruction projects described as being so essential — something we know now well in the crack between State/USAID and Defense. Third, we have an incredibly optimistic troop redeployment estimate by Gen. Franks that reflects the best case scenario for post-war stability and reconstruction efforts. I don't know whether less optimistic scenarios were presented to the President or not, but it's clear from Franks' book that he certainly didn't give him any. And so, President Bush decided to go to war on the basis of this best case scenario, without the expectation that we could get bogged down in Phase IV.

Fareed Zakaria also highlighted the process problem in yesterday's Washington Post:

Bush's position is that if Kerry agrees with him that Hussein was a problem, then Kerry agrees with his Iraq policy. Doing something about Iraq meant doing what Bush did. But is that true? Did the United States have to go to war before the weapons inspectors had finished their job? Did it have to junk the U.N. process? Did it have to invade with insufficient troops to provide order and stability in Iraq? Did it have to occupy a foreign country with no cover of legitimacy from the world community? Did it have to ignore the State Department's postwar planning? Did it have to pack the Iraqi Governing Council with unpopular exiles, disband the army and engage in radical de-Baathification? Did it have to spend a fraction of the money allocated for Iraqi reconstruction -- and have that be mired in charges of corruption and favoritism? Was all this an inevitable consequence of dealing with the problem of Saddam Hussein?

Perhaps Iraq would have been a disaster no matter what. But there's a thinly veiled racism behind such views, implying that Iraqis are savages genetically disposed to produce chaos and anarchy. In fact, other nation-building efforts over the past decade have gone reasonably well, when well planned and executed.

"Strategy is execution," Louis Gerstner, former chief executive of IBM, American Express and RJR Nabisco, has often remarked. In fact, it's widely understood in the business world that having a good objective means nothing if you implement it badly. "Unless you translate big thoughts into concrete steps for action, they're pointless," writes Larry Bossidy, former chief executive of Honeywell.

I don't agree the sentence about "junking the UN process," -- Germany gets the first-mover prize in that regard -- but beyond that Zakaria makes a powerful case about the primacy of process.

But what about the objectives? Matthew Yglesias responds to my previous post in this way:

[T]he complaint against Kerry is that his strategy is (allegedly) vague, shapeless, and possibly nonexistent. Insofar as that's true, it's not a good thing, but it leaves open the possibility that a good strategy will be formulated, or, perhaps more likely, that drift will be well-managed. I wouldn't call that a really strong case for Kerry, but compared to the alternative of guaranteed failure, it seems clearly preferable.

Carter, Zakaria, and Yglesias are persuasive -- very persuasive.

Persuasive enough to reduce my probability of voting for Bush down to 0.4.

posted by Dan at 10:16 AM | Comments (279) | Trackbacks (9)

Monday, August 2, 2004

Laura Tyson vs... John Kerry

Here's an example of the difficulty in trying to nail down what a Kerry administration's trade policy would look like. On the one hand, Matthew Yglesias has a good American Prospect piece (expanding on this blog post) on what he learned in Boston about the Kerry economic team. The key part is his recount of what Kerry advisor Laura Tyson said:

After briefly singing the praises of liberalized trade and capital flows, recommending Jagdish Bhagwati's In Defense of Globalization for those who wanted to know more, and arguing that trade is "necessary, but not sufficient" for global economic development, Tyson acknowledged that her remarks were somewhat at odds with much of what Kerry's said on the campaign trail.

"When people say, 'well, listen to what the Kerry campaign has said about trade in some of the primaries, we are concerned that Senator Kerry will move the US away from trade integration,'" she said, she tells them to "think about the issue of national campaigns in the US" and to "recognize that what might be said in one primary ... is not an indicator of the future."

Tyson further argued that Kerry would be able to liberalize trade more than Bush has, because Kerry would support policies that help compensate the inevitable losers in globalization -- a step that will allegedly drain the swamp of anti-trade sentiment. Lest it be thought that Tyson's commitment to the multilateral process and to continued trade integration leaves plenty of wriggle room to keep the process but add, say, environmental standards into the mix, she explicitly disavowed this option during a later exchange. Adding environmental issues to the WTO's brief might bog it down and impede progress on further integration.

This is music to my ears -- except that I then checked out the Kerry Edwards position paper on trade. On p. 2, I see this nugget of information:

As president, John Kerry will lead with a firm but even hand on trade, and make clear that when the U.S. enters into trade agreements, we will expect our trading partners to live up to their side of the bargain. He will strongly enforce our trade laws and insist that all new free trade agreements include enforceable, internationally recognized labor and environmental provisions in the core of the agreements.

Strictly speaking, the position paper does not conflict with Tyson's statement -- the former refers to "new free trade agreements," the latter to the WTO. However, Matt's implication that there's no wiggle room in a Kerry trade policy to use regulatory standards as a way of blocking trade liberalization is a bit overstated.

One final thought -- I'd like to see someone ask the Kerry economic team the following question: "It was recently decided to extend the deadline for the Doha round of WTO negotiations to the end of 2005. On p. 9 of your position paper on trade, the following is stated:

As president, John Kerry will order an immediate 120-day review of all existing trade agreements to ensure that our trade partners are living up to their obligations and that trade agreements are being enforced and they are working as anticipated. He will consider necessary steps if they are not. And John Kerry will not sign any new trade agreements until the review is complete.

Does this review apply to Doha as well?"

posted by Dan at 12:37 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (2)

The perils of excessive certainty

One of the problems with blogging is that it promotes excessive certainty. Exhibit A comes from Atrios, aka Duncan Black, in this post about fence-sitters:

It's the season. I'm sure we'll see a bunch of "reasonable" conservatives writing that if Kerry could just somehow say the magic combination of words, appealing to their idiosyncratic sense of what the Democratic should be (regaining what it has lost, blahblabblah), that they'd support him....

One thing it's important to remember with all of these people - their public personas, their public writings, are to a great degree a pose. The only way to hold onto your reputation as being something other than a partisan hack is to make sure to provide enough public statements to back that up. Similarly those who really are supposed to be partisan hacks are only "allowed" a few chances to stray from the reservation, particularly on the conservative side of things. Ostracism from the movement can be quick and painful.

But, the truth is a this point anyone who pays attention (as it's their job) should have a very good idea what a 2nd Bush administration would be like, and a pretty good idea how a Kerry administration would differ. They should also understand that campaign rhetoric is what it is, and has little bearing on how a Kerry administration will actually govern, relative to what we already know about the guy.

As one of the fence-sitters, I'm highly skeptical of Atrios' confidence about either the motivations of fence-sitters or future expectations. On the former, Mickey Kaus points out:

It's always hard to distinguish those with genuinely ambivalent or heterodox or nuanced or muddled views from those who are just positioning (e.g., to "preserve their street cred on both sides"). But I wouldn't think this is a distinction Kerry supporters, of all people, would want to encourage.

As for retaining cred on both sides, one shouldn't rule out the possibility of equally pissing off both sides as well.

On the latter point, I'm glad Atrios is so sure of himself -- I'll proceed with more caution this time around. Take the case of trade policy. I thought Bush was going to invest more political capiital into trade liberalization than he actually has (today's good news aside) and dismissed the campaign pledge to West Virginia steelworkers to provide protection as "campaign rhetoric." Whoops.

Kerry's rhetoric on outsourcing and trade has been more heated and more prominent than Bush's trade talk in 2000. His choice for vice president used even stronger protectionist rhetoric during the primary campaign. Even if the Senator from Massachusetts doesn't really mean it, there is the problem of "blowback" -- becoming trapped by one's rhetoric (See: George H.W. Bush, "no new taxes").

For the issues I care about, there's still a fair amount of uncertainty about what either a Kerry or Bush administration would look like come January 2005. At this point I'm not thrilled with my choice either way.

Bob Rubin's "probabilistic" decision-making style rested in part on deferring decisions until they were absolutely necessary. I'm happy to bide my time.

posted by Dan at 12:47 AM | Comments (48) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Tyler Cowen gives me an assignment

Over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen makes a request:

Daniel Drezner remains on the fence, concerning the next Presidential election.

He writes about supporting Bush, Kerry, or perhaps a third party candidate (unlikely). But why should he restrict himself to "pure strategies"? Why can't he support some candidate with some positive probability? How about, for instance, "I support Bush with p = 0.63." Or "I support Kerry with p = 0.57", and so on. That way we would know how strong (or weak) his current view is.

Chris Lawrence's doubts aside, this seems fair to both me and my readers. I'll be posting my first p-value after Kerry's speech tonight. Obviously, this value will likely fluctuate over the next few months.

One thing the probability that I will vote for someone either than Kerry or Bush is zero.

posted by Dan at 09:50 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

This won't tip me off the fence -- but it does make me hungry

Jacob M. Schlesinger has a front-pager in the Wall Street Journal on ther contrasting management styles of John F. Kerry and George W. Bush (subscription required). The article is really all about Kerry's decision-making style, both pro and con.

Not much of note, except for this section where methinks Kerry doth protest too much about being more than just a legislator:

Mr. Kerry bristles at unfavorable comparisons to Mr. Bush's management experience. "I think I have far more executive leadership than this president," he says, referring to his stint in Vietnam "leading men into and out of war."

Mr. Kerry touts his other management experience as well. In Massachusetts, he briefly helped run the Middlesex County district attorney's office -- "one of the 10 largest district attorney's offices in America," he notes. Mr. Kerry also said that over the past year he has "put together a multimillion-dollar campaign operation," that has generated revenue, in the form of campaign donations, of more than $200 million, a record for his party. The campaign currently employs several hundred people. At times he also has pointed to his late 1970s foray into the private sector, when he cofounded a small Boston cookie shop. (emphasis added)

Whoa -- he started a cookie store? That tips the scales for me!!

Actually, if the cookie shop in question was Rosie's Bakery, that would be persuasive evidence for Kerry (this is where Erika and I got our wedding cake made). Convention bloggers, be sure to check it out!! Or, you can order online.

Seriously, here's some poll results from the Annenberg Public Policy Center on where Bush and Kerry stand on the leadership question:


UPDATE: Hmmm... Brad DeLong has thoughts on the story, but mysteriously omits any reference to cookie shops.

Somewhat more seriously, Janet Hook, Mary Curtius and Greg Miller have a blow-by-blow account of Kerry's decision-making process in the votes on Iraq in the Los Angeles Times.

posted by Dan at 03:18 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (1)

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Don't rush me off the fence, part V

One of the key factors behind my indecision over who to vote for is that I don't know which candidate will have the better trade policy. If you gauge American public opinion, this is a tough sell. The Bushies are all about hypocritical liberalization -- getting the big trade picture correct but offering as many exceptions as possible below the radar -- see Alex Tabarrok for the latest idiocy on this front.

So what about Kerry and the Dems? Ryan Lizza says I have nothing to worry about, that Kerry will be Rubinomics redux -- except Lizza is referring to fiscal policy and not trade. Although Rubin has always been a staunch free-trader, there's reason to believe that Kerry might ignore his advice on this matter. Michael Crowley voices this concern in his TNR Convention Blog post:

When I asked a Democratic speechwriter about it last night, he told me that with polls showing economic-competition issues like outsourcing to be "off the charts," as the campaign progresses "there's going to be a lot more of that [anti-globalization sentiment]."

Even Brad DeLong sounds gloomy on this point:

"You said the Democrats will have problems doing some things. What will they have trouble doing?"

"Well, dealing with outsourcing for one thing. It's coming--it's coming over the next generation. And the Democratic Party will have a very hard time figuring out how to deal with it constructively. It's likely to begin thinking that people in India who want jobs processing document-images for U.S. companies are our *enemies*. We can't afford to do that--a world in which Indians and Chinese in fifty years are taught that the U.S. tried to keep them poor will be a very unsafe world. A world in which we try to block expanded world trade will be a world in which we will be much poorer than we need to be. And as long as people see themselves as being pulled into better-paying jobs in other industries (rather than being pushed out of where they want to be by cheap foreign competition), we can make the coming generation's expansion of world trade--the coming generation's "outsourcing" boom--a source of wealth and development. But Democrats will have a hard time doing this.

Sigh. I should be used to being out in the political wilderness on these issues. But that doesn't mean I have to like it.

I'll close with a link to Brink Lindsey's great July 2004 cover story in Reason, "10 Truths About Trade", which nicely debunks a lot of the horses#&@ that masquerades as policy debate on this topic.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias posts about a Laura Tyson speech at the National Democratic Institute's International Leaders Forum being held at the convention. The key grafs:

"When people say, 'well, listen to what the Kerry campaign has said about trade in some of the primaries, we are concerned that Sen Kerry will move US away from trade integration.' To which I say, well, think about the issue of national campaigns in the US. Recognize that what might be said in one primary . . . is not an indicator of the future." The thing to look at "is Sen Kerry's very courageous, very consistent, very long-term record on trade and global economic integration." A man who has consistently voted for a pro-trade, pro-integration agenda. His career has been oriented in this direction. He has shown "courage in this direction because a significant part of my party's base is a voice of concern about trade . . . and is consistently asking for policies that would take the US backwards." Kerry has consistently heard those voices, "and consistently voted a pro-trade record."

Every country must find a way to ensure that those dislocated by economic integration find support for that dislocation. Globalization creates aggregate benefits for countries, but internal distribution of costs and benefits is uneven. "It must be taken entirely seriously as a policy agenda what to do for those who are not better off." The voices of protectionism in America are the voices of those who have lost, a Kerry administration would do a better job of taking care of those people which will make their voices grow less stridently anti-trade. Thus, Kerry would be better for free trade.

"I want to assure you that a Kerry-Edwards administration will continue in the great American tradition of leading the way on global economic integration. Thank you very much." (emphasis in original)

Here's the thing -- does Kerry's relatively protectionist rhetoric during the primaries innoculate provide him an only-Nixon-can-go-to-China kind of leverage if he's elected -- or does it politically constrain him from following an instinctive preference for an open economy? Remember that one reason George W. Bush slapped tariffs on steel in 2002 is that he essentially promised he'd do this during the 200 election campaign.

Tyson wants to dismiss Kerry's primary rhetoric -- I wish I could, but still have my doubts.

posted by Dan at 06:19 PM | Comments (67) | Trackbacks (2)

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Don't rush me off the fence, part IV

John Hawkins at Right Wing News has a post entitled "40 Reasons To Vote For George Bush Or Against John Kerry." I can't say I found all of them convincing, but #12 is somewhat compelling:

John Kerry missed 64% of his votes in the Senate last year and has missed more than 80% of them this year. If John Kerry isn't bothering to do the job he has, wouldn't it be a mistake to give him a promotion?

One could plausibly argue that Kerry's full-time job since early 2003 was running for president -- but he could have resigned if that were the case. The lead paragraph in this Reuters story doesn't make me feel any better about Kerry's posturing on Iraq, either:

Democratic candidate John Kerry, whose campaign demanded to know on Wednesday whether President Bush read a key Iraq intelligence assessment, did not read the document himself before voting to give Bush the authority to go to war, aides acknowledged.

Bush apparently didn't read it either, but I'm not sure Kerry wins my vote on the motto, "Vote for me -- I'll start paying attention after I'm elected." This was in the fall of 2002, when Kerry's only job as a candidate was raising money -- which is what all congressmen do all of the time. Plus, it's pretty hypocritical for a legislator to rail about executive branch overreach when he fails to exercise any due diligence when he has an opportunity to constrain said branch.

On a related point, Hawkins' 25th reason is also worth checking out.

Hmmm... maybe I should get off on the GOP side of the fence -- no wait!! Jesse Walker has a column at Reason online entitled, "Ten Reasons to Fire George W. Bush." His forth reason has weighed heavily on me since day one of the Bush administration:

The culture of secrecy. The Bush administration has nearly doubled the number of classified documents. It has urged agencies, in effect, to refuse as many Freedom of Information Act requests as possible, has invoked executive privilege whenever it can, and has been very free with the redactor's black marker when it does release some information. Obviously, it's impossible to tell how often the data being concealed is genuinely relevant to national security and how often it has more to do with covering a bureaucrat's behind. But there's obviously a lot of ass-covering going on.

And even when security is a real issue, all this secrecy doesn't make sense. Earlier this year, the Transportation Security Administration tried to retroactively restrict two pages of public congressional testimony that had revealed how its undercover agents managed to smuggle some guns past screeners. Presumably they were afraid a terrorist would read about it and try the method himself—but it would have made a lot more sense to seek some outsiders' input on how to resolve the putative problem than to try to hide it from our prying eyes. Especially when the information had already been sitting in the public record.

The administration has been quick to enforce its code of silence, regularly retaliating against those within its ranks who try to offer an independent perspective on its policies. While the most infamous examples of this involve international affairs, the purest episode may be the case of chief Medicare actuary Richard Foster, who apparently was threatened with dismissal if he told Congress the real projected cost of Bush's Medicare bill. Even if the White House didn't know about the threat—and I strongly suspect that it did—it created the organizational culture that allows such bullying to thrive.

As someone who cares about a good policymaking process as much as a good policymaking outcome -- because the former is a big factor that determines the latter -- the secrecy obsession doesn't sit well with me at all. Such an obession distracts from the suibstance of policy, and also needlessly filters outside feedback, which might be politically frustrating but is nevertheless an essential ingredient to the formulation of good policy.

Walker closes his column this way: "Making me root for a sanctimonious statist blowhard like Kerry isn't the worst thing Bush has done to the country. But it's the offense that I take most personally."

Walker gives fewer reasons than Hawkins, but the latter has a lot more chaff than wheat.

Still on the fence -- but slowly getting more depressed about my choices.

UPDATE: John Hawkins posts a response to Walker's points that's worth checking out. And Jonathan Chait's TNR essay about the Bush administration's attitude towards other political actors underscores Walker's point about secrecy.

Link via Matthew Yglesias, who thinks I'm undecided because I either want attention or a job from the winning candidate.

To be clear -- the reason I'm undecided is because I can't remember an election in my adult lifetime when I've been less enthused with my menu of candidates. There's an old maxim that voting is usually an exercise in choosing the lesser of two evils. I've felt that sentiment in some previous elections, but it was also easy to spot positive qualities that resonated strongly within me. This year I can't muster even the tiniest amount of enthusiasm for any candidate.

I'm pretty sure that attitude is not going to earn me a warm place in either candidate's heart. Besides, the Kerry team is already bursting to the gills with policy wonks, and as Mark Kleiman pointed out, the Republicans are probably pissed off at me as well.

[What about hallway rumors that you'll be the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate to face Barrack Obama now that Coach Ditka has passed?--ed. Yeah, that's how I want to spend the next three months -- getting thumped in the polls by the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention and having to dodge allegations about an unhealthy obsession with Salma Hayek. Not a winning formula for tenure, I'm afraid.]

posted by Dan at 01:13 PM | Comments (101) | Trackbacks (6)

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Don't rush me off the fence, part III

Brad DeLong and Daniel Gross make compelling cases for me to get off the fence on the Kerry side of the yard. Their argument? The Kerry economic team beats the Bush economic team.

Brad links approvingly (yes, approvingly!!!) to a Jonathan Weisman story in the Washington Post, which opens as follows:

From a tightknit group of experienced advisers, John F. Kerry's presidential campaign has grown exponentially in recent months to include a cast literally of thousands, making it difficult to manage an increasingly unwieldy policy apparatus.

The campaign now includes 37 separate domestic policy councils and 27 foreign policy groups, each with scores of members. The justice policy task force alone includes 195 members. The environmental group is roughly the same size, as is the agriculture and rural development council. Kerry counts more than 200 economists as his advisers.

In contrast, President Bush's campaign policy shop is a no-frills affair. Policy director Tim Adams directs about a dozen experts who make sure the campaign is in sync with the vast executive branch that is formulating policy. Adams's group also analyzes Kerry's proposals and voting record. Fewer than a dozen outside task forces, with five to 10 members, also help out on education, veterans' issues, the economy, and energy, environment and natural resources, said campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel.

The campaign policy gap argument sounds pretty persuasive -- except that the lack of a campaign policy team for the Bushies shouldn't be surprising. Indeed, the Weisman article notes that the Gore campaign had the same set-up in 2000:

[T]he difference in structure between the Kerry operation and then-Vice President Al Gore's campaign in 2000 is "black and white," said Bianchi, who formulated economic and budget policy for Gore as well. Back then, Gore had a wealth of policies already formulated by the Clinton administration. After eight years in power, weary Democratic policy experts weren't clamoring to share new ideas. A stripped-down campaign policy shop existed mainly to push proposals that moved only incrementally beyond then-President Bill Clinton's or to ensure Gore's campaign proposals were consistent with the administration's record.

The party out of power is always going to have the bigger policy team. The campaign policy team for a sitting President or VP should resemble the current Bush arrangement -- ensuring coordination with the relevant economic policymaking bureaucracies.

Indeed, if you read Ray Simth's front-pager in today's Wall Street Journal on skyrocketing property tax increases, Adams seems to hold his own in the spin department:

In many parts of the country in recent years, strapped local governments have imposed big increases in property-tax rates, as well as in home assessments, to fill budget shortfalls. In response, voters have organized efforts to repeal or slow property-tax boosts in states from Virginia to Oregon, in some cases with the support of frustrated local officials....

Nationally, Democrats have tried to seize on the rising anger over property taxes and shortfalls in municipal budgets to attack the Bush administration for tax cuts that reduce funds available to local governments, contributing to what presidential candidate John Kerry has dubbed a "middle-class squeeze." Sen. Kerry has proposed an economic stimulus package that includes payments to state governments to help them avert spending cuts and tax increases.

"Sen. Kerry has long recognized that the decision to focus on tax relief for the wealthy over any form of state fiscal relief has led to many backdoor tax and tuition increases at the state and local level," says Gene Sperling, a Kerry economic adviser, who headed the White House's National Economic Council during the Clinton administration.

Tim Adams, policy director for the Bush-Cheney campaign, counters, "The effect of the Bush administration's tax cuts on state revenues is minimal compared to the impact" of the economic downturn. He adds that some of the states' budget problems can be traced to spending sprees in the 1990s, as well as other broader economic shocks.

There's no doubt that many state and local governments experienced big shortfalls with the economic downturn that began in 2000 after the flush years of the 1990s boom. Sales taxes, which had been rising rapidly, suddenly tumbled, while revenue from corporate taxes shrank. Tax cuts spurred reduced federal spending. Many states, feeling the pinch, cut back their funding to local governments, dealing them a double whammy.

[Er, blaming the bad economy is good spin for the Republicans?--ed. Yes, because most Americans have proven surprisingly sophisticated in recognizing that a lot of the hits the economy took a few years ago -- the dot-com crash, the terrorist attacks, the corporate scandals -- had little to do with Bush.]

Spin is one thing, substance is another -- and here, DeLong does have a suitable counterargument, linking to Stan Collender's National Journal column from late June:

Has anyone seen or heard from the Bush administration's economic and budget teams lately?

National Economic Council Director Stephen Friedman has been practically invisible since he took the job.

Greg Mankiw, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, essentially hasn't been heard from since he made a politically incorrect statement back in February about the outsourcing of jobs.

Joshua Bolten, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, has hardly been a public advocate for the Bush administration's budget policies and projections. Indeed, he has been one of the least visible OMB directors in decades.

Treasury Secretary John Snow has been making a few television appearances in recent weeks. But he hasn't said much that has made the news and seems to be perceived more as a cheerleader than as a policymaker.

And Vice President Dick Cheney, who in the past has spoken up for the administration on the economy when it needed someone to do so, now has serious overall credibility problems because of the foreign policy and military decisions he has helped shape....

All of this presents the White House with a huge problem: Less than five months before the election, no one within or even near the administration has the standing or credibility to defend and promote the Bush budget and economic records other than the president himself...

Similarly, Daniel Gross' Slate article -- which speculates on who would be Kerry's Robert Rubin -- opens with this line:

Quick—name the secretary of the treasury. I bet you can't. Or if you can, you had to think about it before you remembered the eminently forgettable John Snow.

Gross also has this killer quote from Richard Nixon's former Secretary of Commerce founding Concord Coalition member and classic Wall Street Republican Peter G. Peterson, from his just-released book, Running on Empty:

In sum, this administration and the Republican Congress have presided over the biggest, most reckless deterioration of America's finances in history. It includes a feast of pork, inequitable and profligate tax cuts, and a major new expansion of Medicare that is unaccompanied by any serious measures to control its exploding cost.

DeLong goes on to observe:

The stunning contrast between the enthusiasm with which economists--lots of economists--lots of very good economists--are donating their time to Kerry and the extraordinary silence on the Bush side is, to my way of thinking, the most interesting thing that emerges from Weisman's article....

John Kerry is not Bill Clinton, but John Kerry's economic policies could still be very good for America. It will be our job--Sarah Bianchi's and Jason Furman's, George Akerlof's and Lael Brainerd's, Harry Holzer's and David Cutler's, Alan Auerbach's and Ceci Rice's, Larry Katz's and Roger Altman's, Gene Sperling's and Alan Blinder's, Laura D'Andrea Tyson's and Bob Rubin's, and mine and all the rest of our's--to help him make it so. Who will George W. Bush have to help him? Tim Adams? John Snow?

So maybe I should get off this fence -- no wait!! Two possible counterarguments:

1) Kerry gets hamstrung by the loony left. Even if Kerry's economic team is fiscally prudent, his governing coalition might not be. In the early nineties, Clinton had a similar choice between two sets of policy advisors, and went with the fiscal conservatives. Would Kerry have the latitude or the inclination to make the same choice? As Brad put it, "Kerry is not Clinton."

This is Jason Zengerle's concern in The New Republic (subscription required). The key graf:

[W]hen Clinton was president, liberal Democrats were quiescent enough to let him govern from the center; he embraced welfare reform and fiscal conservatism without suffering a reelection primary challenge. In a Kerry presidency, the Democratic Party's far more energized left--conditioned by [Fahrenheit 9/11 director Michael] Moore to guard against Democratic sellouts--may not be so forgiving.

2) Kerry may not listen to his advisers. Bruce Bartlett makes the following comment on Brad's blog:

I do believe that Kerry would help himself by making fiscal responsibility the key message of his campaign. I say this as a Republican, because I believe that my side has gotten off on the wrong track and because I believe competition is good in the political arena as well as in the economy.

The problem is that Kerry has yet to throw the smallest bone to the fiscal responsibility crowd. Brad is willing to take him on faith because he trusts his advisers. I won't, nor will most middle of the roaders. They need to see something tangible on the table.

Both of these concerns -- as well as my qualms with the Bush economic team -- could be addressed during the general election campaign.

Sooooo.... it's still too early to jump off the fence. Still sitting and learning, sitting and learning....

UPDATE: James Joyner thinks that the differences in teams is less significant in terms of policy outputs than DeLong:

I would argue that the near-invisibility of Bush's economic team goes a long way towards proving a point I've been making for years: Presidents don't much matter in domestic economic matters. The Fed has taken total control of monetary policy for years and fiscal policy operates within a very narrow range. The days of 70% marginal tax rates are beyond us for good and we've pretty much cut taxes as far as is likely. Presidents matter more in international trade, since they can encourage open markets or swing toward protectionism but, again, only within pretty narrow bands.

On the other hand, Steve Chapman points out in his Chicago Tribune column that the Bush administration has acquitted itself badly on one issue it has some influence on -- pork-barrel tax cuts for corporations:

Corporate welfare--an array of direct subsidies, tax breaks and indirect assistance created for the special benefit of businesses--is one of those things that politicians would rather criticize than abolish. For the most part, it has a deservedly bad image. But when it comes to helping out companies from their own districts, most members of Congress think there is no such thing as unjustified federal aid....

Although his budget director once said it is "not the federal government's role to subsidize, sometimes deeply subsidize, private interests," President Bush has proposed only piddling cuts. Under his leadership, the budget for corporate welfare has remained as high as ever--about $87 billion a year, according to the Cato Institute in Washington.

FINAL UPDATE: Both Josh Chafetz and Noam Scheiber weigh in on the Weisman story.

posted by Dan at 05:59 PM | Comments (51) | Trackbacks (6)

Friday, July 9, 2004

Don't rush me off the fence, part II

Virginia Postrel argues that fence-straddlers like me should resist the decision to despise George W. Bush because all the cool academics do it (Jacob Levy effectively defends himself against charges of trendiness).

More substantively, she argues that a Kerry administration would expand the size of government even more than a second Bush term:

Vote for Kerry if you must, folks. But don't pretend you're doing it because Bush's economic policies are insufficiently free market or fiscally responsible. Kerry wouldn't be any better on economics. He'd be worse.

Tyler Cowen supplies a counterargument. Some of it is compelling, but this part baffles me:

I look less at what politicians say, and more at what kind of coalition they would have to build to rule. The high domestic spending of Bush I take as a sign of perceived political weakness ("we need to buy more allies"), rather than a reflection of Bush's ideology.

Huh? This is an administration that controlled all three branches of government for a majority of the first term -- and they felt confident enough in their political position to piss off Jim Jeffords less than three months into office. Compared to most post-war governments, the Bush administration had fewer constraints on its governing coalition.

Meanwhile Robert Tagorda argues that Kerry's selection of Edwards hints at a more protectionist Kerry administration:

Whatever his overall record, Edwards is now associated with these "trade-bashing noises." Nobody believes that Edwards adds to the Democratic Party's national-security profile, right? He brings excitement, charisma, and message -- the "Two Americas," of which a skeptical attitude toward free trade is a part.

However, Ryan Lizza argues in The New Republic that this is a rhetorical smokescreen (thanks to this anonymous link):

The one major policy difference between Kerry and Edwards during the primaries was over free trade. Edwards attacked Kerry's vote for nafta, but, notably, he never called for its repeal and his criticism always smacked more of opportunism than of conviction. He didn't raise the issue strenuously until after Richard Gephardt was gone from the race, when he saw an opening with organized labor and working-class voters on Kerry's left. These attacks on free trade were an awkward fit with the rest of Edwards's middle-class, New Democrat agenda, and they will clearly not be a major feature of the Kerry-Edwards rhetoric.

The more I think about my choice, the more this election boils down to four questions:

1) Which candidate will prove most successful in prosecuting the War on Terror?

2) Which candidate is more likely to finish the job in Iraq?

3) Which do I prefer, a moderate increase in government spending accompsnied by a massive increase in the budget deficit, or a massive increase in government spending accompanied by a moderate decrease in the budget deficit?

4) Which John Kerry -- the internationalist or the populist -- would govern his foreign economic policy? Which George Bush -- the guy who talks a good game on trade or the guy who slaps steel tariffs on when he's got an 85% approval rating -- would have the upper hand in a second term?


UPDATE: Ezra Klein gives his answers to my Four Questions.

Roger L. Simon weighs in on the War on Terror and rebuts Mickey Kaus' line of argumentation.

On my first question, this Kerry answer on Larry King Live is not comforting:

KING: Let's get to, first thing's first, news of the day. Tom Ridge warned today about al Qaeda plans of a large-scale attack on the United States, didn't increase the -- do you see any politics in this? What's your reaction?

KERRY: Well, I haven't been briefed yet, Larry. They have offered to brief me; I just haven't had time. But all Americans are united in our efforts to defeat terrorism.

Later on, Kerry says he'll get briefed "tomorrow or the next day." On the other hand, this Washington Post story on Edwards' foreign policy background makes me believe that he does get the significance of the war on terrorism (link via Jack O'Toole).

[So your qualms about the administration's competence in foreign policy have been resolved?--ed. Hardly. I remain on the fence.]

posted by Dan at 12:10 PM | Comments (97) | Trackbacks (9)

Thursday, July 8, 2004

Don't rush me off the fence!!

As I've said before, my vote is still up for grabs this year. However, it's getting harder to maintain my Hamlet-like indecision.* A lot of people I respect make compelling arguments against pulling the elephant lever this year. Mickey Kaus -- who will never fall under the category of "Friends of Kerry" -- says he's not only voting for the Democrat -- he gave him money. Why?

I plan to vote for him because I think a) we need to take a time out from Bush's strident public global terror war in order to prevent it from becoming a damaging, lifelong West vs. Islam clash--in order to "rebrand" America and digest the hard-won gains we've made in Iraq and Afghanistan (if they even remain gains by next January). Plus, b) it would be nice to make some progress on national health care, even if it's only dialectical "try a solution and find out it doesn't work" progress. I could change my mind--if, for example, I thought Kerry would actually sell out an incipient Iraqi democracy in a fit of "realistic" Scowcroftian stability-seeking (an issue Josh Marshall's recent Atlantic piece doesn't resolve). But I don't intend to agonize like last time.]

Hell, even Peggy Noonan echoes point (a) of Mickey's logic in her last Wall Street Journal column:

History has been too dramatic the past 3 1/2 years. It has been too exciting. Economic recession, 9/11, war, Afghanistan, Iraq, fighting with Europe. fighting with the U.N., boys going off to fight, Pat Tillman, beheadings. It has been so exciting. And my general sense of Americans is that we like things to be boring. Or rather we like history to be boring; we like our lives to be exciting. We like history to be like something Calvin Coolidge dreamed: dull, dull. dull. And then we complain about the dullness, and invent excitements that are the kind we really like: moon shots, spaceships, curing diseases. Big tax cuts that encourage big growth that creates lots of jobs for young people just out of school.

No, I am not suggesting all our recent excitement is Mr. Bush's fault. History handed him what it handed him. And no, I am not saying the decisions he took were wrong or right or some degree of either. I'm saying it's all for whatever reasons been more dramatic than Americans in general like history to be....

The American people may come to feel that George W. Bush did the job history sent him to do. He handled 9/11, turned the economy around, went into Afghanistan, captured and removed Saddam Hussein. And now let's hire someone who'll just by his presence function as an emollient. A big greasy one but an emollient nonetheless.

Plus, it's becoming less clear what the GOP stands for this year. Andrew Sullivan paints the following picture:

[W]hat is a "Bush Republican"? I think it has to be a combination of the social policy of the religious right (the FMA, bans on embryo research, government support for religious charities, etc), the fiscal policy of the Keynesian left (massive new domestic spending combined with "deficits don't matter"), and the foreign policy of liberal moralism (democratization as a policy in the Middle East).

I believe in the last component -- one reason why I'm still undecided -- but the first two make me think, "ewwwww."

Readers are welcomed to try and sway my vote in either direction.

UPDATE: Virginia Postrel's post does some decent swaying.

*Actually, it's not that hard -- the primary reason I'm still undecided is that the current domestic and international situations are both in extreme flux at the moment. There's no point in making a choice now if the state of the world is completely different three months -- in a way that makes one of the two principal candidates suddenly look really good or really bad. [Why not vote for a minor party candidate?--ed. Jacob Levy explains]

posted by Dan at 12:38 PM | Comments (107) | Trackbacks (7)