Thursday, October 31, 2002
THE DOWNSIDE OF RISING GLOBAL AFFLUENCE: I use to wonder why there was such opposition to globalization policies that enriched poor countries. Now I know -- it increases their access to cigars, booze, and MacDonald's.

The World Health Organization just released its annual report on global health. It found that the leading causes of death shifted dramatically once countries achieved middle-income status. The "killer" graf:

"In low-income countries, the three most common causes of death were lack of food, unsafe sex and unsafe water. However, in middle-income countries the biggest three health risks were the same as for developed countries: alcohol, blood pressure and tobacco."

At least rock & roll wasn't on the list.

The WHO report is filled with the earnest bureaucratese that only well-meaning people with post-graduate degrees can write, but has that unrealistic feel so common to UN documents. Their press release lists various possible "interventions" to address different regional health problems. The recommendations to promote safe sex sound eminently sensible in an advanced industrialized state, but ignore the myriad cultural roadblocks that exist in the countries hardest hit by AIDS.

As for the ills of affluence, "The World Health Report 2002 urges countries to adopt policies and programs to promote population-wide interventions like reducing salt in processed foods, cutting dietary fat, encouraging exercise and higher consumption of fruits and vegetables and lowering smoking." After 20 years of the U.S. trying to carry out this advice, the results aren't encouraging.

I don't mean to belittle the health risks posed by high cholesterol; it's merely that diseases of affluence are largely a product of individual choice, whereas the diseases of poverty by and large take place regardless of individual choice. I'd rather the WHO's focus be directed at the lattter.

SLOW BLOGGING TODAY: I've discovered that four hours straight of departmental committee meetings leads to an extended period of blogathy. For those politics junkies out there, check out Jacob T. Levy, who's been on fire the last few days on the importance of the median voter theorem and the Judis/Texeira thesis (Hey, Jacob, what about Patio Man?). Coming attractions: Jacob and I will be making duelling predictions about the House/Senate election results!!
Wednesday, October 30, 2002
JAPANESE BANKING REFORM -- R.I.P.: Last week I talked about how the Japanese are incapable of radical reform of their financial sector, but I said we needed to wait a week. A week later, the radical reform proposals are officially dead.

This is bad news for pretty much everyone. Until those reforms take place, Japan is in no position to return to any level of healthy growth. This represents an unfortunate theme -- America's allies seem politically incapable of microeconomic reform and demographically are fated to lose even their middle-power status within the next 50 years.
Tuesday, October 29, 2002
ABOUT THAT RUSSIAN RAID: OxBlog is commenting on my multiple Jimmy Carter posts, so it only seems fair to weigh in on their debate about the propriety of the Russian raid on Chechen terrorists over the weekend (Click here, here, and here for the latest news updates; here's the best summary of the Blogosphere's take.)

My view on this is pretty simple. Did the Russians act justly in their actions and methods? Yes and mostly yes. The decision to attack seems justifiable. It was the Chechens that violated jus in bello when they initiated the terrorist operation in the first place. Regardless of whether the Chechens are linked with Al Qaeda, their actions in Moscow were specifically designed to put the lives of non-combatants in mortal jeopardy.

Their methods (the use of some kind of opiate gas) to knock out the terrorists was hardly unjust, and seems to have been designed to minimize the loss of life that a smash-and-grab rescue attempt might have precipitated. Now, there's no question that the logistics were botched -- the failure to inform hospitals, emergency workers, or even their own commandos, for example. However, that's a policy failure, not a moral one. The method of attack seems eminently just.

What gives me serious pause was the decision to execute on the spot terrorists with explosives strapped to them that were already unconscious. Surely, this was an excessive and vindictive act, as clear a violation of jus in bello as you can get. Even the National Review suggests this part of the raid was problematic (see below however).

One final thought: What really encourages me is the response of Russians themselves to the raid. On the one hand, 85% of Russians support the raid. On the other hand, this Moscow Times story notes:

"The liberal Union of Right Forces party called on Monday for a parliamentary inquiry to determine how Chechen rebels managed to stockpile such quantities of arms and explosives in Moscow and why medical experts had been so poorly prepared to treat the freed hostages after special forces stormed the theater, the party's leader, Boris Nemtsov, said on national television.

Nemtsov said the inquiry should also focus on the extreme secrecy and security measures applied to hospitalized victims, many of whom still have not been allowed to see relatives."

In other words, the Russian media and political classes are acting in a manner consistent with genuine democrats -- questioning whether better planning might have substantially reduced the loss of life. Good for them.

UPDATE: Several e-mails arguing that the Russian commandos had no choice. Parapundit writes in, "Some of them had bombs strapped to them. Imagine what would have happened if one had regained partial consciousness and blown themselves up." Mike P. writes in, "They're knocked out, but you don't how hard they're knocked out or if they're merely faking, and if only one wakes up enough to push his detonator it's all over. They're possibly boobytrapped (and you probably don't know where the trigger is which amounts to the same thing), so you can't disarm the explosives or remove the terrorists without a high risk of disaster."

These are valid points, but wouldn't the appropriate course of action be to ensure they stay unconscious rather than kill them?

Tom H. raises an interesting comparison: "International law permits summary execution of pirates caught in the act. The same principles apply to terrorists caught in the act." For those lawyers out there -- is this true?
AGE AND IDEOLOGY: The Daily Telegraph makes a point I had been ruminating about... that after the 2002 election, there will be a gerontological shift in the Senate from Republicans to Democrats. In plain English -- the Republican old white guys like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms are beginning to retire, while the Democratic old white guys are staying around and in some cases re-emerging onto the political landscape. Robert Byrd is 85; Fritz Hollinngs is 79, and both Hawaiian Democratic Senators are 78. Frank Lautenberg, if elected, is also 78; Walter Mondale looks like a spring chicken at 74. The oldest Republican left in the Senate is Ted Stevens at 79.

Two questions: will this trend persist, and does it mean anything?

1) The trend will persist. There are four reasons for this. First, as Michael Lewis noted so adroitly this Sunday, one effect of 9/11 and the accounting scandals is a instinctual desire to turn to "established" brands. In politics, that means old white guys. Second, if I was a Democrat, I'd do anything possible to court senior citizens, since they tend to vote at a higher rate. Putting up older candidates is one way to cater to this constituency. Third, if you believe Robert Putnam, the current generation of senior citizens has more social capital than younger generations. This reduces the supply of attractive candidates, making it possible for more seasoned politicians to stay in the fray, as it were. Fourth, the Strom Thurmond story has highlighted the fact that the Senate might be the best retirement home ever invented.

2) It means a few things. For one thing, it's possible that gentility will return to the Senate. Older politicians will feel less of a need to earn their ideological stripes. For another, it could lead to an "age gap" between the parties, with Democrats picking up more older voters out of a brand identification with older white guys. There are others; e-mail them into me and I'll post the good ones.
Monday, October 28, 2002
CRUSH MONPOLY POWER: Whenever I lecture about multinational corporations in world politics, I ask my students to name the most powerful global corporation. I get the standard responses -- GM, GE, Exxon, Microsoft. Nope. In my book, it's DeBeers. GM, GE, and Exxon aren't monopolies and therefore must obey market dictates despite their considerable size. Microsoft approaches monopoly status, but they exist in a market with constant technological innovations that threaten to upset their profitability. DeBeers, in contrast, has global monopoly power over a sector that's not changing anytime soon. Moreover, they invented the concept of a diamond engagement ring. Any entity that can convince adults that it is proper to sacrifice roughly one-sixth of their annual income to purchase a sparkly bauble has forms of "soft power" that nations can only dream of [But they didn't sucker you, right?--ed. Er.... well.... oh look, a typo eight entries below this one!].

Andrew Tobias (link via Brad Delong) suggests a way to break DeBeers' corporate power -- instead of a diamond ring, propose with cubic zirconia and deposit the difference into an IRA.

Will it work? No chance, for reasons that Thorstein Veblen has written about at length. But I applaud Tobias' valiant effort at redressing the balance of power between a heartless global monopoly and lovestruck couples everywhere.

UPDATE: Bill Sjostrom cites an even better explanation for the persistence of the diamond engagement ring. Law journals and song lyrics are involved.
Sunday, October 27, 2002
IN THE MATTER OF JIMMY CARTER: I said I would take the weekend off, but any day when the New York Times editorial page endorses a Republican for governor of New York and sides with the Bush administration over the United Nations is clearly one of those harmonic convergences that requires more blogging.

Which brings me to Jimmy Carter's vacuous op-ed about North Korea in today's Times. I've defended Carter against the right half of the Blogosphere concerning his Nobel Peace Prize, but after reading what he wrote in the Times, I feel compelled to attempt something I admit to some uneasiness about -- a fisking!

Most of Carter's essay is harmless blather. Then we get to the final two grafs:

"What is needed on the Korean peninsula is an end to more than a half-century of 'armistice' and the consummation of a comprehensive and permanent peace agreement."

It’s a good thing Carter is around, because this might not have occurred to the Koreans themselves.

"The success of strong diplomacy is still a possibility, with it being crucial that the United States play a constructive role."

What exactly is “strong diplomacy”? Negotiators switch from decaf to caf? Would Carter actually encourage U.S. negotiators to raise their voices? No, that would be too belligerent and unilateralist for Carter’s tastes.

"The framework for an agreement still exists and includes some elements that must be confirmed by mutual actions combined with unimpeded international inspections."

Yes, the framework for an agreement still exists, in the sense that after eight years, nothing has fundamentally changed. North Korea is still has an active nuclear weapons program and still has 1,000,000 troops within 100 miles of Seoul.

"First, North Korea should forgo any nuclear weapons program and the two Koreas should proceed with good-faith talks. The United States may then move toward normal relations with North Korea."

Wait a minute, he’s right!! All North Korea has to do is forgo its nuclear weapons program!! Why didn’t anyone think of this before? And good-faith talks are an excellent suggestion – oh, wait, that’s exactly what the two Koreas have been doing under Kim Dae Jung’s “sunshine policy,” except that the North Koreans have been acting in bad faith.

"The basic premises of the agreed framework of 1994 must be honored, with North Korea, Japan, South Korea, the United States and China cooperating."

Why, yes, that’s a swell idea – oh, wait, the North Koreans said they thought the 1994 agreement was “nullified.” Oh, and Carter forgot Russia – how flagrantly anti-multilateralist of him.

"Finally, international tensions should be reduced through step-by-step demilitarization on the border between the two Koreas."

And after that, a free pony for every Korean boy and girl!!

"There is, of course, still the option of war instead of peace talks. It would be devastating and probably unnecessary."

Carter’s unwillingness to recognize that the prospect of force is often a necessary adjunct to successful negotiations remains his tragic flaw. It helps to explain why, even though Carter has his Nobel, Reagan will be the president history remembers from the late 20th century. I hope a war will be unnecessary, but to dismiss the use of force as an option is both unnecessary and dangerously naïve.

I'm beginning to wonder if the Nobel Peace Prize has the same effect on policymakers that being on the cover of Sports Illustrated has on athletes. The dreaded SI cover jinx is well known to sports fans -- the moment an athlete appears on the cover of Sports Illustrated, their on-field performance goes downhill. Now consider the recent class of Nobelists. The North Korea imbroglio not only embarrassses Carter, but fellow Nobelist Kim Dae Jung. The Nobels awarded for the Oslo accords in the Middle East and the Good Friday agreements in Northern Ireland aren't holding up well either. Maybe those criticizing the Nobel committee for awarding this year's prize to Carter should be grateful that it was not awarded to Bush or Blair.
Saturday, October 26, 2002
HAVE A NICE WEEKEND: In the first month of tracking, the blog has received over 11,800 visits, and over 13,000 page visits. Not InstaPundit-like numbers, but I think it's a pretty decent turnout for a foreign policy blog. Thanks to all of you for reading!

I have family in town this weekend, so no more blogging until Monday. See you then.
Friday, October 25, 2002
THE MERITS OF BUSH'S GRAND STRATEGY: Multilateralist. Cooperative. Innovative. Sophisticated. Not the adjectives most foreign policy analysts have associated with the Bush administration's new National Security Strategy. Unless you're John Lewis Gaddis.

Gaddis knows a thing or two about grand strategies, and his review of the 2002 Bush strategy in the latest issue of Foreign Policy makes for bracing reading. Gaddis compares the Bush strategy to the previous set of strategy documents from the Clinton administration. His assessment:

"The differences are revealing. The Bush objectives speak of defending, preserving, and extending peace; the Clinton statement seems simply to assume peace. Bush calls for cooperation among great powers; Clinton never uses that term. Bush specifies the encouragement of free and open societies on every continent; Clinton contents himself with "promoting" democracy and human rights "abroad." Even in these first few lines, then, the Bush NSS comes across as more forceful, more carefully crafted, and--unexpectedly--more multilateral than its immediate predecessor. It's a tip-off that there're interesting things going on here."

After a detailed review of the strategy document, Gaddis summarizes:

"The Bush NSS, therefore, differs in several ways from its recent predecessors. First, it's proactive. It rejects the Clinton administration's assumption that since the movement toward democracy and market economics had become irreversible in the post-Cold War era, all the United States had to do was 'engage' with the rest of the world to "enlarge" those processes. Second, its parts for the most part interconnect. There's a coherence in the Bush strategy that the Clinton national security team--notable for its simultaneous cultivation and humiliation of Russia--never achieved. Third, Bush's analysis of how hegemony works and what causes terrorism is in tune with serious academic thinking, despite the fact that many academics haven't noticed this yet. Fourth, the Bush administration, unlike several of its predecessors, sees no contradiction between power and principles. It is, in this sense, thoroughly Wilsonian. Finally, the new strategy is candid. This administration speaks plainly, at times eloquently, with no attempt to be polite or diplomatic or 'nuanced.' What you hear and what you read is pretty much what you can expect to get."

Gaddis isn't naïve; in the article, he also delineates the potential flaws in the strategy. But this is a ringing endorsement from the dean of diplomatic historians. Given the criticisms various academics/policy analysts have levied against the strategy, it's a refreshing tonic.

UPDATE: John Smith has a long quasi-fisking of Gaddis' essay. I disagree, but he does make a cogent point about Gaddis' misuse of Agincourt as a historical analogy. Of course, historical analogies have been abused on all sides of this debate.
THE DEFENSE OF BUSH'S FOREIGN ECONOMIC POLICY: I have railed against the protectionist elements in the Bush administration's trade policies in the past. It seems only fair to highlight a cogent defense of those policies. C. Fred Bergsten points out in the latest Foreign Affairs that all administrations need to buy off significant protectionist groups to pursue freer trade. You have to pay to access the entire article, but here's the key point about why the administration has raised steel tariffs and blimped up farm subsidies:

"None of these steps is defensible on its merits. All of them, in fact, represent extremely bad policies. Most of them were directly related to electoral politics. But they were also essential components of restoring an effective U.S. trade policy.... History reveals that such domestic maneuvering is a sad but true constant of U.S. trade policy. Every president who has wanted to obtain the domestic authority to conduct new international liberalizing negotiations has had to make concessions to the chief protectionist interests of the day. The entire history of U.S. postwar trade policy can be characterized as 'one step backward, two steps forward.'"

If you don't want to pay, Jeffrey Schott, Bergsten's colleague at the Institute for International Economics, makes similar points in this speech.

So, do I take back what I said? No. The way to minimize the protectionist deals that Bergesten and Schott defend is to link U.S. foreign economic policies to our grand strategy. In the late 1940's, the Truman administration was able to push through a series of integrationist policies by correctly pointing out how such policies bolstered allies and assisted in the containment of the Soviet Union. The current administration has failed to make the same strategic link between today's global war on terror and the need for the advanced industrialized states to open up their economies to developing countries. [Didn't Bob Zoellick make this argument in a Washington Post op-ed?--ed. Yes, but after the op-ed there was silence, even when Congressional Democrats attacked Zoellick for linking trade policy to the war on terror. This message needs to come not just from Zoellick, but from O'Neill, Powell, Rice -- and most important, Bush himself.]
Thursday, October 24, 2002
IMPERIALISM RUN AMOK: The world has changed. Powerful actors throwing their weight around on the world stage without the slightest concern for offending others. One great power, despite repeated entreaties for further diplomacy, has ruthlessly pulled out of an -- admittedly costly and inefficient -- multilateral arrangement in favor of going its own way. This is just the latest in a series of nakedly unilateral steps that clearly exposes a hegemonic plan to prevent anyone else from approaching their power and influence.

It should be obvious who I'm talking about... the New York Times. Slate's Jack Shafer has the story about the Times' quasi-hostile takeover of the International Herald-Tribune from the Washington Post. Here's the IHT's own take. For the past 35 years, the Post and Times were equal partners in running the IHT -- now the Times has asserted its hegemony. As Shafer describes it, the diplomacy of the New York Times makes the Bush administration look positively dovish.

I suspect the Times editorial board won't be wringing its hands about this type of belligerent action anytime soon. [Isn't this a cheap shot? Aren't competing companies one thing, but competing countries an altogether different kettle of fish?--ed . Fair point, but I still think it's a funny analogy.]
DEALING WITH THE MEDIA: Brad DeLong has some advice for doing media interviews that's both correct and indicative of the collective paranoia of being mistreated by the press. I'm sure I've done far fewer media interviews than DeLong, but I will admit to having the same fears.
RAPPROCHEMENT WITH BERLIN: More evidence that German-American relations are on the mend. So much for last month's predicted "fundamental split."
Wednesday, October 23, 2002
WHY JAPANESE BANKING REFORM IS AN OXYMORON: Japanese banks have been in a state of near-insolvency for almost a decade; Japanese politicians have spent that same decade hoping that massive public works expenditures would let the Japanese economy grow its way out of the problem. The banking mess has led to a decade of lost growth in that country. According to the Economist, "Total non-performing loans—those that borrowers have failed to repay on time or in full—now amount to around ¥52 trillion ($416 billion)." In the past month, however, Heizo Takenaka, A Harvard economics professor-turned-Japan's new economy czar, was proposing some tough love for the banking sector by allowing banks with lots of nonperforming debt to actually fail. This is a basic prerequisite for capitalism to function properly, but there are powerful political incentives to circumvent it.

So much for reform. According to the New York Times, the proposed banking reforms are on hold, to the surprise of U.S. policymakers. The Financial Times reports that Takenaka is facing a vote of no confidence in the Diet, though he'll likely survive. The NYT quotes one bank analyst concluding, "This is good news for the bad banks, good news for the bad companies, and bad news for the economy." It's possible that the delay is temporary, but I doubt it.

Why has this happened? The powerful political incentives kicked in for the ruling party. Their rhetoric, however, is telling. To quote the NYT article:

"Masashi Teranishi, president of UFJ Bank and chairman of the Japanese Bankers' Association, spoke out forcefully today against aspects of the plan, telling reporters at a news conference: 'It's like being told we can suddenly use our hands and play American football, when all along we've been ordered to play soccer. If the longstanding regulations were to change rapidly, it would cause confusion in the markets and among investors.'

His reference to America was pointed: Mr. Takenaka taught economics at Harvard University before joining the government, and his proposals are widely seen — and resented — as an attempt to impose on Japan an American approach to bank regulation."
A REFORMING IRAQ?: Andrew Sullivan, Joshua Micah Marshall, and the Wall Street Journal point out that Iraq's recent mass amnesty of prisoners, combined with the quasi-protest in front of the secret policy headquarters, suggests that the Iraqi regime may be on the verge of cracking, à la Ceausescu. As Sullivan notes, "once this kind of regime relaxes its grip even slightly, the unraveling could come quickly."

I hope they're right; I really do. But I have two words in response to this sort of argument -- Tiannamen Square. A leadership determined to stay in power and unafraid of casualties -- which I think is a safe description of the current Iraqi regime -- will be willing to use force to stay in control. The fact that yesterday's protest occurred at all might be a sign that the regime is cracking up -- or it could be a precursor to a bloody crackdown.

UPDATE: This story suggests both Saddam's fear of a tottering regime and his determination to prevent it from happening.
Tuesday, October 22, 2002
TODAY'S DOONESBURY COMMENTARY IS: ... befuddling. Today's strip is mildly amusing, but bears little resemblance to actual blogging -- at least, the punditblogs I read. However, in scanning the Blogosphere for Trudeau commentaries, I came across this one at Counterspin Central, which does support Trudeau's image of blogging as hackwork. Hesiod, the man's name is spelled Garry, not Gary. Sigh.

Sorry, I'm just feeling "linsufferably (sic) self-important."

Perhaps InstaPundit's evaluation of comic strips is correct, although he forgot to include Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes among his pantheon of good cartoonists that knew when to quit.

CLARIFICATION: Bloggers that I respect have linked to my Doonesbury posts, implying that I'm being peevish about Trudeau's critique of blogging (click here and here). That was certainly not my intention, although I think it's perfectly fair to highlight his previous observations about how much research one needs to write commentary. It's probably safe to say that each of us has our own perception of the Blogosphere; Trudeau is just caricaturing a part I already tend to ignore, so I find it less interesting. Of course, it's only Tuesday; we'll see how things progress.
THE OPRAH EFFECT IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: One of the things that surprised me in my first year as a professor was how many students would come into my office and admit they had not done the work in the class. At first, I had no idea how to respond to such an admission, until I realized that this was an example of the Oprah effect on American culture. The students seemed to believe that by being open about their failings, they would receive penance come grading time. Such confessions never affected my grades, since all I cared about was their class performance. [You are such a hard-ass--ed. I prefer to think of it as being tough but fair.]

I bring this up because of the reaction that North Korea has been earning for its recent behavior. In the past few years, it has apologized for naval confrontations with South Korea, and admitted that it's faltering economy has empoverished and starved millions. In the past month, it has apologized for kidnapping Japanese citizens and admitted to the U.S. that it has an underground nuclear weapons program. One interpretation of this behavior is that it's a clumsy North Korean effort to open up to the world. This Chicago Tribune story has the following quote from South Korean analyst Park Kun Young: "Kim as been making rational choices to meet his goals and given that I think North Korea was looking for opportunity by admitting to their nuclear program." Joel S. Wit in Saturday's New York Times op-ed notes, "Leaving Pyongyang's defiant rhetoric aside, the fact that it confessed to a secret nuclear program is a sign that North Korea may be looking for a way out of a potential crisis."

Now, honesty is certainly preferrable to dishonesty on these issues. And maybe it's a signal that the DPRK regime wants to negotiate. But to conclude that these admissions amount to a change of heart for the North Korean regime borders on the absurd. The admissions don't change the fact that in the past two decades, North Korea has violated just about every important international norm you can mention. Terrorism, assasination, ballistic missile proliferation, toleration of mass famine, development of weapons of mass destruction, and -- lest we forget -- good old-fashioned totalitarianism. Admitting these violations may be a possible signal of change, but a tangible signal of change would be North Korea's abstinence from such nasty deeds. [What about Michael O'Hanlon's argument in Slate that North Korea has moderating its behavior over the past decade?--ed. The so-called reforms are mostly a mirage, as I've previously noted (I'll add the link when my server is not so busy). And even O'Hanlon acknowledges that any "North Korean reform had more to do with necessity than virtue."]

For realpolitik reasons, negotiations and a multilateral approach makes sense right now. But let's hold off on the "North Korea is reaching out for a hug" sort of discourse.

UPDATE: Marcus Noland provides an excellent description of recent North Korean economic reforms. Noland thinks that Pyongyang genuinely wants to reform its economy and polity (see also his op-ed in today's Financial Times), but I think his facts suggest the opposite conclusion -- an attempt by Kim to increase his stranglehold on society by rewarding favored groups. Read it for yourself and judge.
BUSH'S MULTILATERALISM: First impressions count a lot in the media coverage of presidents, and the first impression of the Bush administration was a foreign policy of "gratuitously unilateralism" in the words of John Edwards. However, this tends to overlook or minimize the areas where the Bush administration has reached out and cooperated with other countries.

Today's Washington Post and this week's issue of Time carry a story about how U.S. aid to Georgia is bearing fruit in the hunt for Al Qaeda Click here for the article in Time, which broke the story.

Back when military aid to Georgia was first proposed, the media treated it as an example of an expanding American empire. However, this is clearly an example of successful international cooperation, as Time notes in its article:

"When Washington announced early this year that it was sending 150 military trainers to Georgia in the wake of Sept. 11, the former Soviet republic seemed an unlikely new front in the war on terrorism. At that time only about a dozen Arab militants were said to be living in the heavily forested Pankisi Valley. But six months into the antiterrorism campaign there, it is clear to Georgian authorities that the Arab presence was at least five times that strong, that the local jihadi cells were highly sophisticated and that they were plotting mayhem that went well beyond supporting the battle of their fellow Muslims the Chechens against Russian rule....

The crackdown on al-Qaeda became possible only after sweeping changes in the Georgian security structures. Until the end of last year, top Georgian officials say, the Arabs were well protected by high-ranking and corrupt officials and able to operate with impunity. In late 2001, however, the ministers of State Security and Interior were dismissed, and in early 2002 Georgia's longtime ambassador to the U.S., Tedo Japaridze, was appointed National Security Adviser.

The new security hierarchy is trying to make up for lost time. Since the initial raid in May, Georgia's forces have nabbed, among others, Saif al Islam el Masry, a member of al-Qaeda's Shura, or consultative council. By late August, the jihadis had taken enough of a beating that their leaders ordered a retreat from the gorge. But the fight isn't over."

Let's see if commentators give the Bush administration the credit it deserves on this initiative.
Monday, October 21, 2002
DOONESBURY AND BLOGGING: Well, this is going to be a fun week; Garry Trudeau has discovered blogs. Here's today's Doonesbury strip -- check it out for yourself.

As a life-long Doonesbury reader, I've notice that Trudeau's satire tends to come in two forms -- the gentle but effective dig, or the over-the-top, didactic rant. Unfortunately, as he's matured, I've noticed more of the latter and less of the former (I'm not the only one; Jacob Levy points me to this excellent Reason analysis of Trudeau). Too soon to tell where he's going with this week's strips, but as for the implication that bloggers don't know what the hell they're talking about, Trudeau's living in a glass house. To quote from the introduction of one of his large-scale collections, People's Doonesbury:

"Question: You are rumored to go to some lengths when you are preparing a sequence in the strip. How much research do you really do?

Trudeau: As little as I can possibly get away with. It is for this quality above all others, I think, that I am so admired by undergraduates; I know just enough to create the impression that I know a lot."


[Are you really a fair arbiter of satire, given your political leanings?--ed. When it comes to satire, and comic strips in particular, I don't care where the satirist is on the political spectrum, so long as they're funny. I think the funniest comic strip today is Aaron McGruder's Boondocks, which is hysterical two-thirds of the time and leftist junk the other third of the time. Garry Trudeau is funny about 50% of the time at this point. I've never laughed at a Ted Rall cartoon. And can anyone explain Zippy the Pinhead to me?]

UPDATE: In the spirit of bloggers correcting their mistakes, I should point out that this is not the first time Trudeau has mentioned blogging in a strip. Here's the first mention, way back in.... early September (link via NetHistory)
Sunday, October 20, 2002
THE RICHER AND THE DUMBER: I'm sure the Times article that will trigger the most class-warfare accusations is Paul Krugman's cover essay in the New York Times Magazine. I'll reserve judgment until I see Part II. However, the most successful whack-the-rich piece in today's Times is in the Styles section, "Partying Like It's 1999." The article is about how those laid off from the financial sector are blowing off searching for new jobs and burning through their unemployment checks. Here's one example of the stupidity involved:

"In short, a job can just get in the way of enjoying one's unemployment. Consider Vipul Tandon, 28, who said that last summer, as many of his friends lost their jobs and began to go out until the wee hours, he felt left out of the fun because he had to get up in the morning and go to work. So last month, Mr. Tandon said, he quit his job as head of strategic planning for a chemical company to join them. 'It just seems like a good time not to be working,' he explained."

Now, reading this, I have three reactions. The first visceral reaction, which the Times intended, is to think that these people will be "the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes," to quote Douglas Adams.

The second, libertarian reaction is to realize that these people are not harming anyone in their choices, and who am I to care? For example, the guy in the above paragraph indicates later in the story that he's saved up quite a bit to finance his current decadence. If he wants to blow his savings this way, it's his choice.

The third and final reaction comes from the economist in me, and thinks this provides an explanation for how U.S. productivity growth can be so robust as jobs are being shedded. As a close relative -- who works in the financial sector -- put it to me when I told him about this story, "You know, they don't fire the smart employees first."
THE OBSESSION WITH THE 'OBSESSION' WITH IRAQ: One of the criticisms of the Bush administration has been that it has erroneously tried to link all foreign policy problems with Iraq. This Onion story carries this criticism to its satirical extreme. I think this criticism is exaggerated, but certainly not beyond the pale of reasoned debate.

However, this criticism can run both ways. These same foreign policy critics tend to exaggerate the link between all of our foreign policy problems and the Bush administration's Iraq policy. North Korea has nuclear weapons? It's due to our obsession with Iraq. An explosion in Bali? We'd have thwarted it if the administration wasn't obsessed with Iraq. Anti-war advocates are so convinced that attacking Iraq is a bad idea that anything bad in the world is linked to our supposedly wrong-headed policy.

For exhibit A, see Tony Judt's New York Times op-ed. The killer grafs:

"The worst thing about Mr. Bush's pre-announced war with Iraq is that it is not just a substitute for the war against terrorism; it actively impedes it. Mr. Bush has scolded President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia for not cracking down on Islamic terrorists. But thanks to the war talk spilling out of Washington, heads of states with Islamic majorities are in an impossible position.

If they line up with the Bush administration against Saddam Hussein, they risk alienating a large and volatile domestic constituency, with unpredictable consequences. (Witness this month's elections in Pakistan, where two provinces adjacent to Afghanistan are now controlled by a coalition of religious parties sympathetic to Osama bin Laden.) But if they acknowledge popular opposition to a war with Iraq, they will incur Mr. Bush's wrath. Either way the war on terror suffers."

I am a big fan of Judt's writings, which is why it's so painful to conclude that his reasoning here is as incoherent as a live Bob Dylan performance. Consider:

1) Does Judt seriously believe that the growth in fundamentalist support in Pakistan has anything to do with Iraq? Wouldn't the conflict next door in Afghanistan be the much-more-likely proximate cause? And would an expanded U.S. presence in Afghanistan -- which is the common anti-war critique -- do anything other than rile up Pakistani fundamentalists even more?

2) Can anyone name me a Muslim majority country that has "incurred Bush's wrath" by openly acknowledging Muslim opposition to an invasion? Come to think of it, have there been any large-scale protests on this issue in the Muslim world? (I'm serious about this question -- I don't remember reading about any, but if someone can point me to a protest, I'll update this post).

3) Given that the war on terrorism involves the coordination of customs agencies, financial intelligence units, and other low-profile government organizations, why would opposition to an Iraq attack necessarily derail the war on terror?

4) Does Judt seriously believe that a U.S. climbdown on Iraq will somehow appease Muslim public opinion about the U.S.-led war on terror? Wouldn't it be more likely that a policy reversal would be perceived as part of the same pattern of U.S. retreats and half measures -- Mogadishu, Khobar Towers, the embassy bombings, Operation Desert Fox, the Cole bombing -- that leads to a perception of an American paper tiger?

5) Does Judt think that the bombings in Bali and Manila are somehow going to rally Muslim support in Asia for Osama bin Laden?

Finally, Judt claims later in the essay that "Hamas in the Middle East would desist if all their demands were met." Given that Hamas wants to see the state of Israel extinguished, is Judt suggesting that there is a basis for negotiation?

Judt warns in the essay that we should not "universalize what are often local animosities." Fair enough. Then Judt shouldn't assume that U.S. policy on Iraq will spill over into local animosities in Indonesia.
Saturday, October 19, 2002
ABOUT THAT HYPOCRISY CHARGE: My Friday post on North Korea prompted an e-mail from the MinuteMan. He points out that the administration is not acting hypocritically, because the pre-emption doctrine does not imply that the U.S. will always use force to deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. He's right. This section of the National Security Strategy concludes:

"The United States will not use force in all cases to preempt emerging threats, nor should nations use preemption as a pretext for aggression.... We will always proceed deliberately, weighing the consequences of our actions."

Fair point, and consistent with what I said about all foreign policy doctrine having necessary wiggle room. But to be clear, the reason I said the Bush administration was being hypocritical was not that they were threatening to use force on Iraq but not North Korea. The hypocrisy stems from the administration's claim that the situation in Iraq merits force because that country's leadership is more evil. The reason the situations are different has everything to do with power politics and nothing to do with a "malevolence gap."
Friday, October 18, 2002
EU GRAB BAG: Speaking of hypocrisy, the European Union is always cited as an example of how countries can pool their sovereignty. Except, of course, when their national interests are threatened. EU members are already changing the rules for Eastern European entrants.

Meanwhile, Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission calls the macroeconomic rules underlying the Euro "stupid." (Here's the Google-translated Le Monde article). Prodi may well be correct on the economic fundamentals, but what's interesting in the Financial Times story is the suggestion that Prodi is attempting a power grab. The money quote: "It is clear that nobody has authority - that is the problem."
SOME INTELLECTUAL HONESTY: The Bush administration is tying itself into knots over how the situation in North Korea is difference from Iraq. This New York Times article provides a fair characterization of the claimed differences, and &c tries to demolish them. Even more disconcerting is this Times story suggesting that Pakistan has been helping North Korea.

With these revelations, I’m predicting a lot of blogs crying hypocrisy over the next few days. The neocons will ask why North Korea gets the white glove treatment instead of “pre-emption”; the left will ask why Iraq doesn’t get the white glove treatment instead of pre-emption. My thoughts:

1) The hypocrisy charge sticks. Some intellectual honesty, please: The Bush administration rationales for why North Korea is different from Iraq don’t hold up. The claim that North Korea is weaker than Iraq doesn’t stick; indeed, this Chicago Tribune story suggests the reverse is true. The argument that negotiating with North Korea sometimes bears fruit doesn’t hold up, since the best evidence that negotiations work – the 1994 Framework Agreement – is now in tatters. The hairsplitting claim that Saddam Hussein has committed genocide while the DPRK regime hasn’t rests on the dubious argument that gassing a different nationality is somehow more evil than permitting one’s own nationality to face mass starvation. Face it: both of these countries belong on the axis of evil.

2) Welcome to realpolitik. Why, then, is the U.S. going after Iraq while “consulting” on North Korea? It’s not because pre-emption can’t apply to both countries; it’s because the power politics of the Middle East are radically different from those of the Far East. Invade Iraq, and no other great power’s sphere of influence is dramatically affected; the Middle East will remain an American bailiwick for quite some time. North Korea borders China and Russia; a pre-emptive attack against Pyongyang understandably ruffles more feathers.

3) North Korea can be temporarily handed off to others -- Iraq can't. No other great power can influence Iraqi behavior, so it’s up to the United States to do what only the United States can do; threaten and use force. Geopolitics raises the costs of a pre-emptive U.S. attack on North Korea, but those same geopolitics also renders North Korea more vulnerable to multilateral pressure. On the Korean peninsula, Russia and especially China have incentives similar to ours; get the DPRK to give up its WMD capabilities. These countries value stability in the region and trade with South Korea. Chinese and Russian coercive pressure has forced North Korea into making concessions in the past. Coercion in the present won’t permanently solve the problem, but it will -- temporarily -- arrest North Korea’s nuclear program.

4) This is how foreign policy works. Neoconservatives and Wilsonians expecting consistency will cry foul, but in a world where even American resources are finite, no foreign policy doctrine will ever emerge unsullied by foreign policy practice. At the same time, I doubt any administration could ever officially provide the explanation I just did. In foreign policy, one can act in a hypocritical fashion, but never admit to acting in a hypocritical fashion.
WHY IS THE U.S. SO INNOVATIVE?: It's considered de rigeur to moan and bitch about the economy right now, but this overlooks a key point, which that even in the current slowdown, the productivity of American firms and workers remains quite high. Boosting productivity is the holy grail of economics, because when it happens, everyone wins -- the economy can grow faster and real wages can rise higher without triggering inflation.

At present, and for the last decade, U.S. productivity growth has outpaced both Europe and Japan. The proximate reason is that the United States has been better at exploiting information technologies (IT) than our allies. A recent NBER paper confirms that IT has lead to productivity surges across the board; an IMF study makes it clear that Europe has yet to experience those spillovers.

The question that remains is, why is the U.S. so good at exploiting innovation? Robert Shapiro has a Slate article explaining why. The killer line (though see below):

"It's the combination of innovation in technology and business operations that usually produces the big benefits. And that's probably why we see no productivity rise in Japan or much of Europe, where IT investment has been nearly as high as here: Labor regulations and other barriers inhibit companies' abilities to use their new IT to change the way they do business."

Will Japan or Europe alter their regulatory structures to permit innovation to flourish? As a Mancur Olson fan, I'm pessimistic.

Now, I'm sure many readers are feeling pretty smug right now, thinking that this is another example of Yankee know-how. But in the long run, this is not a good thing for the U.S. With regard to foreign relations, as Jonah Goldberg notes today, the current gap between the United States and its principal allies is military -- we spend a lot on defense and they don't. If current productivity and demographic trends continue, however, in fifty years the U.S. economy will dwarf both Japan and the combined EU, and the gap will be ever-increasing as these economies shed people. I fear that the problem of "burden-sharing" will return with a vengeance, since these countries may lack both the resources and the manpower to even defend their own countries. As for our economy, we want Japan and Europe to grow, since when they grow, demand for U.S. exports rise.

Developing.... over the next 50 years....

UPDATE: Reader Thomas H. pointed out that the Bush administration is aware of this problem. The much-discussed 2002 National Security Strategy observes:

"A return to strong economic growth in Europe and Japan is vital to U.S. national security interests. We want our allies to have strong economies for their own sake, for the sake of the global economy, and for the sake of global security. European efforts to remove structural barriers in their economies are particularly important in this regard, as are Japan’s efforts to end deflation and address the problems of non-performing loans in the Japanese banking system."

U.S. pressure on Europe and Japan to change their domestic economic institutions are unlikely to work, however, unless significant economic interests within these countries also push for change (this point courtesy of Leonard Schoppa). The problem is, these groups all have vested interests in the current institutional set-up.

ANOTHER UPDATE: If you read Shapiro's Slate article, you'll see that he tries to imply that the Bush tax cuts will actually stifle innovation by raising long-term interest rates. Shapiro is right about the relationship between the two, but he's exaggerating the magnitude of the effect. &c (or is it now etc.?) is on the case.
Thursday, October 17, 2002
STOPPING TERRORIST FINANCING: "For years, individuals and charities based in Saudi Arabia have been the most important source of funds for Al-Qaeda. And for years, Saudi officials have turned a blind eye to this problem." That's one of the findings of a Council on Foreign Relations task force report on combating terrorist financing. The report also criticizes the Bush administration for not following through on the initial burst of momentum in cracking down on terrorist financing late last year.

The allegation against Saudi Arabia is dead-on accurate. When I was at Treasury, it was commonly acknowledged that all of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries did not take money laundering or terrorist financing seriously. The allegations against the Bush administration are 50% accurate -- the overreaching is probably due to the fact that the principal authors are ex-Clinton officials, albeit very competent and professional ones. The devastating criticism is that the administration appears reluctant to use the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) or the Egmont Group -- the chief international anti-money laundering organizations -- to blacklist and potentially sanction countries that are lax on terrorist financing. A similar approach to crack down on countries that laundered drug money was extremely effective in 2000 and 2001. One reason it was so effective was that the U.S. was unafraid to threaten sanctions against "politically sensitive" countries such as Israel and Russia. Blacklisting the Gulf countries is an option that needs to be on the table, even if it's awkward for FATF [Why would it be awkward for FATF?--ed. Because the Gulf Cooperation Council is a member of FATF, but its member countries are not. This has allowed Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf nations participate in all FATF deliberations while claiming that they don't need to strictly adhere to FATF standards. This use to drive me crazy at FATF meetings. The whole enterprise was a joke to them, and they were not afraid of displaying their contempt].

SO MUCH FOR THE NORTH KOREA ANALOGY: Two weeks ago, I posted some grafs on how the example of North Korea posed problems for pro-war and anti-war positions on Iraq. Well, after yesterday's revelation that North Korea has been actively developing nuclear weapons, the problems for the pro-war position have pretty much evaporated, while posing much more acute problems for the anti-war position. North Korea was considered to be an example of how patient dialogue, multilateral consultations, and inducements could achieve what coercive diplomacy could not. Clearly, that has turned out not to be true. For an excellent summary of North Korean noncompliance with the 1994 Framework agreement, go to the IAEA's informative web page.

Perhaps this will also debunk the notion that North Korea was engaging in true reforms, when what it was really doing was engaging in a clumsy PR offensive. For an example of how clumsy, click here.

UPDATE: Geithner Simmons makes similar points. And this event has brought out the neocon in &c.

ANOTHER UPDATE: InstaPundit thinks the North Koreans came clean because they don't want to be the next Iraq. Sorry, Glenn, that dog won't hunt. They didn't just admit to the weapons program; they also went out of their way to declare the 1994 Framework Agreement null and void. The DPRK leadership is just as insular and ill-informed about the world as Saddam Hussein, so ascribing "rational" motives can be dangerous. My guess, however, is that they were honest for the opposite reason -- they know the U.S. is preoccupied with Iraq and are trying to exploit the situation. They think the administration will try to buy off Pyongyang to keep them quiet when they move against Iraq. Based on the initial U.S. response, they may be right, though I strongly suspect the Chinese will not be pleased about these developments. This Washington Post story suggests the same.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002
OFFLINE TIL FRIDAY: I'm giving a talk at Dartmouth tomorrow, so no posts until Thursday evening at the earliest. Talk amongst yourselves. Here's a topic: why international law justifies an U.N.-supported attack against Iraq but not Israel.
IT'S NOT AN AMERICAN PROBLEM -- IT'S A CIVILIZATIONAL PROBLEM: I don't have much to say about the recent flurry of Al Qaeda attacks that hasn't already been said or highlighted in the Blogosphere. One point worth stressing is that they are against the West writ large rather than America. It was a French tanker that was bombed in Yemen; the Al Qaeda note sent to Al-Jazeera notes, "the attackers struck at the umbilical cord of the Christians." As for the Bali bombing, the New York Times observes:

"The tally of those who have been identified testifies to Bali's international appeal as a gathering spot for young foreigners. It includes victims from Indonesia and Australia as well as from Britain, Sweden, Singapore, Ecuador, Holland, France, Germany, Korea and the United States."

My point? Because Al Qaeda has made it clear that it considers its enemy to be pretty much everyone, the coalition fighting the war on terror will be strengthened and not weakened by the latest attacks. The Bali bombing has already had a salutory effect on the Indonesian government. Furthermore, since these governments are supporting the war on terror for self-interested reasons, it is highly unlikely that an attack on Iraq will reduce multilateral cooperation in this sphere, despite what the editorial and op-ed page of today's New York Times suggests. And, as even the Times editorial admits, "Fighting loosely linked and mobile terror cells is an entirely different operation from invading Iraq"

Finally, Ralph Peters makes a good case that these attacks demonstrate Al Qaeda's growing weakness rather than its growing strength.
Monday, October 14, 2002
EXCHANGING INFORMATION WITH THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION: The New York Times has a story on the paucity of information the Bush administration gives to the press. The article said White House reporters, "could not remember a White House that was more grudging or less forthcoming in informing the press." Half of the article sounds like the griping of journalists who are having difficulty finding good sources; the other half sounds like genuine frustration at the lack of even official access to the decision-making echelons. It is also consistent with the administration's eagerness to keep government documents classified for as long as possible.

This story reminds me of multiple off-the-record conversations I've had with foreign policy analysts on both sides of the political fence. They agree on one thing. If the administration resists the release of information it provides to the press, it is positively allergic to the receipt of information from unofficial sources. The administration seems so sure of itself that any outside input falls on deaf ears. One result of this is that when the administration does try to engage the public, they do it in a ham-handed, tone-deaf way, as the economic team is finding out.

This is usually presumed to be a bad thing; I think the answer is a lot more complex. All governments distrust outside information to some extent. In The Secret Pilgrim, John Le Carré's George Smiley made the point that "governments, like anyone else, trust what they pay for, and are suspicious of what they don't."

Also, consider the alternatives. This administration's attitude towards information is about as far from the Clinton administration as you can get. That administration leaked, spun, and released information more often than Britney Spears exposes her navel. The Clinton team was equally eager to bring in outside experts, as Benjamin Barber has so gleefully recounted. I certainly don't think you can say that the previous administration's foreign policy record is better than the current one.

My suspicion is that an administration's policy towards outside information involves two tradeoffs.

The process tradeoff is between consultation and coercion. What Clinton and his team excelled at was building as large a tent as possible to maximize support for a particular foreign policy. Allies, Congress, outside experts felt like they were being stroked, even when they lost on the substance. This kind of tent-building takes time and effort, but it pays dividends in the long run. The Bush team, in contrast, is more willing to threaten to exclude or ostracize those actors that disagree with its viewpoint. The results have often been effective -- hence the Bush team's success in cajoling Congress, the allies, and potentially the United Nations into action on Iraq. One side-effect, however, is that because those on the outside feel like they are not being truly consulted, they will carp about it to others who are not being consulted. The result is a media perception of an administration that has forced a confrontation on Iraq in a unilateral, belligerent fashion, when in fact this confrontation has had more due process than the Clinton team's decision to bomb Kosovo. The Bush approach leaves hard feelings, but it also yields results.

The substantive tradeoff is between decisiveness and accuracy. Clinton wanted all angles of a story, and he got them. The result was a foreign policy that often resembled a Cubist painting: too many perspectives distorting the picture. In other situations, the Clinton team seemed so uncertain of themselves that they preferred to delay making a risky decision in favor of acquiring more information. It preferred delaying a decision in which it had 60% of the story in favor waiting until it had 90% of the story. This lead to the perception of a foreign policy team paralyzed by its inability to take a risk. [Any exceptions?--ed. Yes, the 1995 bailout of Mexico was both brave and decisive.] Sometimes the costs of delay were prohibitive. The Bush team, in contrast, does not lack in self-confidence. They see the forest from the trees, and are willing to make the big decisions even when they have only 60% of the picture, which in the real world is a useful skill. As Nicholas Lehmann notes, in discussing his article on Condi Rice in The New Yorker, "Rice is extremely sure of herself. She, like many of the foreign-policy officials in this Administration, isn't big on caution. Publicly, at least, she projects a brassy self-confidence about the ability of the United States to shape the course of events in faraway places without suffering adverse consequences." The results (the war in Afghanistan, the ABM withdrawal) have been mostly for the good. [Any exceptions?--ed. I think if they had a second chance they would not have pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol so brusquely.] So far, the Bush team seems to have managed this tradeoff better than Clinton team. They've gotten the big things right, which has probably reinforced their willingness to act on their own instincts even further.

My preference is for an administration that adopts 67% of the Bush team's approach and 33% of the Clinton team's approach. The two downsides to the Bush approach I can see are 1) As Fareed Zakaria has argued, this unwillingness to listen to outsiders will encourage the worst interpretations of American behavior, and 2) If the Bush team makes a mistake, it will be more likely to resist a change in direction.

Food for thought.

UPDATE: This USA Today article suggests that the Times piece had some effect on Bush.
A TRUE LIBERAL: I don't always agree with Vaclav Havel, but nevertheless it is easy to descend into hagiography when discussing him. His September 19th address in New York, republished in the New York Review of Books, is typically eloquent. He is both personally and politically humble. He notes wryly, "The warning voices of poets must be carefully listened to and taken very seriously, perhaps even more seriously than the voices of bankers or stock brokers. But at the same time, we cannot expect that the world—in the hands of poets—will suddenly be transformed into a poem." His three lessons of "high politics" are worth quoting in full; I'm not sure I completely agree with them, but I am glad someone of Havel's stature can articulate this viewpoint:

"(1) If humanity is to survive and avoid new catastrophes, then the global political order has to be accompanied by a sincere and mutual respect among the various spheres of civilization, culture, nations, or continents, and by honest efforts on their part to seek and find the values or basic moral imperatives they have in common, and to build them into the foundations of their coexistence in this globally connected world.

(2) Evil must be confronted in its womb and, if there is no other way to do it, then it has to be dealt with by the use of force. If the immensely sophisticated and expensive modern weaponry must be used, let it be used in a way that does not harm civilian populations. If this is not possible, then the billions spent on those weapons will be wasted.

(3) If we examine all the problems facing the world today, be they economic, social, ecological, or general problems of civilization, we will always —whether we want to or not—come up against the problem of whether a course of action is proper or not, or whether, from the long-term planetary point of view, it is responsible. The moral order and its sources, human rights and the sources of people's right to human rights, human responsibility and its origins, human conscience and the penetrating view of that from which nothing can be hidden with a curtain of noble words—these are, in my deepest convictions and in all my experience, the most important political themes of our time."

Saturday, October 12, 2002
THOUGHTS ON BLOGGING: It’s been a month and a day since I started blogging. Like my colleague Jacob Levy, I had some worries about being a scholar-blogger, like the blog becoming an addiction and distraction from my scholarly research, which is what pays the bills. After a month, this is what I’ve concluded:

1) For me, blogging is like free play. I like being a professor for a lot of reasons, but the big one is that I’m being paid to basically sit around and think. Now some of these thoughts are too arcane for the blog (though if you’re really, really interested in globalization and international regulatory coordination, click here). But before I found this outlet, I also had a lot of policy-relevant observations that were too short for an op-ed. This venue has the twin advantages of being immediate and accessible. I’ve probably devoted more time to this than I spent surfing the web six weeks ago, but not too much more. My interest in posting also waxes and wanes -- some days I just have blogathy.

2) People are reading. In the two weeks I’ve been keeping count, I’ve had approximately 5,000 visits (not visitors) to the blog. These ain’t Andrew Sullivan numbers, but given that I haven’t really advertised it beyond the occasional e-mail, it’s still impressive. [How do you account for your success?—ed. A combination of my topical, erudite posts and a healthy number of links in Instapundit. Oh, hell, it’s 99% due to Glenn.] According to... well, one American University blogger, I'm a "big-time blog." I’ve published one book, ten refereed journal articles, and a bunch of policy essays, but in all likelihood more people have read this blog than have looked at any of my collected works. That's simultaneously exciting and depressing.

1) Blogging promotes excessive certainty. Back in 1985, RAND published a remarkably prescient document on the hazards of e-mail communication. One all-too-true warning:

“One of the most surprising things about electronic mail is the ease with which misinterpretations arise. People are used to reading "body language," voice intonation, and numerous other cues when interpreting messages delivered in conversation, or even on the telephone. Those cues are missing in electronic mail, and what was meant as a casual comment, or an attempt at humor or irony, is misinterpreted. Even small misinterpretations have a tendency to mushroom.”

In old media, these problems are removed through the wonders of editing. But because blogs are self-edited, they tend to resemble e-mail more than any other publishing outlet. This effect is compounded by the urge to sound as sure of one’s self as possible. In my case, the eagerness to post has occasionally run roughshod over the need to inject nuance into an observation. I’m improving at this, but it’s a slow process.

2) The blogging equilibrium: journalists and profs. For the pundit blogs, like me, the past year has seen more blogs acquire institutional homes: The New Republic’s &c, The American Prospect’s Tapped, The National Review’s Corner, Slate’s Kausfiles, MSNBC’s Altercation, ABC’s The Note… you get the point. Because these blogs are attached to high-traffic web sites, they’re bound to attract the most attention. The Blogosphere will likely evolve in such a way that the dominant subspecies will be journalists and academics. Journalists, because that’s who magazines/networks will hire. Academics, because they have a comparative advantage in being public intellectuals, and because they’re used to expending effort on financially unrewarding activities. Like Richard Posner’s take on public intellectuals, I don’t think this trend is necessarily a good one.

1) Blogging promotes sharper debate. John Stuart Mill warned that unless societies permitted the unlimited expression of opinion, ideas became “dead dogma.” On the one hand, the blogosphere certainly permits the full range of opinion to be expressed. On the other hand, as Mill also warned, such a free range of expression will encourage the more extremist forms of discourse to ratchet up their rhetoric -- hence all of the fiskings. Despite what we want to believe, better debate is often nastier debate.

For me (especially since I’m a prof) the goods outweigh the bads. But as my research demands heat up, I’ll probably have to scale back on my posting a bit. Not to Brink Lindsey levels of scarcity, but low enough to permit some focus to drift off Iraq and onto matters like transnational regulation.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan's Sunday Times column reinforces my belief about the future evolution of the blogosphere being reduced to journalists with old media ties and profs that are used to nonprofit pontificating. However, he goes my idea one step further, citing Instapundit as an example of the prof who morphs into someone with old media ties.
Friday, October 11, 2002
DREZNER GETS RESULTS!: A month ago, I argued that there was a strong liberal argument for going to war with Iraq. The New Republic's Jonathan Chait has finally caught up. Advantage: Drezner!
IN DEFENSE OF JIMMY CARTER: I never thought I would write those words; I'm not the man's biggest fan. Today, however, I suspect they will be necessary in the Blogosphere. Carter was awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize, even though this award is usually given for activities pursued in the previous year, and to my knowledge Carter hasn't done anything significant. The A.P. story has the killer quote (first picked up by AtlanticBlog):

"`'It should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken,' Gunnar Berge, chairman of the Nobel committee, said. `It's a kick in the leg to all that follow the same line as the United States.'"

Well, at least they didn't give the award to bin Laden. [OK, smart guy, who do you think merits the award?--ed. Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar, for coming up with the idea of using U.S. assistance to control loose nukes. Sit back and think about what the world would look like right now if that program never came to fruition].

Put aside the idiotic reasoning of the Nobel committee (and note that Carter had the decency not to comment when prodded about Iraq; his acceptance statement was similarly innocuous). [What about his Larry King interview on CNN?--ed. D'Oh! But he also said some nice things about Bush in the interview.] Put aside the fact that others have equal standing to merit the prize. Put aside his malaise speech, for those who remember it [Medically impossible--ed.]. The question is, does Carter merit the prize for his accomplishments? Damn straight. Consider the accomplishments:

1) Camp David. Sadat and Begin deserve the bulk of the credit, but saying that Carter didn't have an important role to play is like saying that because the acting in a movie is terrific, the director doesn't deserve an Oscar.

2) Human rights. Carter was the first president to make it a high-profile issue in U.S. foreign policy. There were short-term costs, but the goodwill that initiative bought the U.S. in the rest of the world cannot be underestimated. It's not a coincidence that the third wave of democratization started to take off during his administration.

3) Election monitoring. Carter was at the forefront of this vital tool of consolidating democracy.

4) Being an adult during the first two years of the Clinton administration. Remember those years? Recovered from the nausea? Clinton's foreign policy team was not ready for prime time. Carter helped to bail them out of invasions of Haiti and North Korea. He did it in a sanctimonious, undemocratic, and at times unauthorized way, yes, but he still did it.

5) Development in Africa. In a largely critical essay of Carter's post-presidential legacy, Chris Sullentrop of Slate acknowledges: "Carter has done admirable work since he left office, particularly in Africa, where he has helped nearly to eradicate some deadly diseases. And when he's brokering a cease-fire during a civil war in Ethiopia, or promoting new agricultural techniques in sub-Saharan Africa, he's actively making the world a better place."

6) Without him, Reagan never gets elected. For other reasons like this, check out this P.J. O'Rourke comparison of Carter to Clinton.

Carter is far from perfect, and his vision of how to conduct foreign affairs will always be handicapped by his failure to understand the role that force plays in world politics. But his accomplishments are also tangible, and should not be spat upon just because of the Nobel committee's flawed worldview. Some will point to Carter's ass-kissing of brutal despots as proof that his commitment to human rights is not genuine (see also here). Please. You could find similar quotations from every cold war president about some despicable dictator.

I'm sure in the next few days there will be endless posts on endless blogs about the various flaws of Jimmy Carter. I'm sure Carter will deserve some of those posts. But based on his record, he also deserves the award.

UPDATE: Here's OxBlog's reasonable take on the Nobel; here's Alterman's sickly-sweet take. CalPundit has been kind enough to gather editorial reactions. I think my position on it corresponds closely to the New York Times editorial...shudder. This husband & wife blog bashes Carter and impugns Norway for good measure. I think the facts in their rant are accurate, but any country that's an advanced democracy, a loyal NATO member, and has rejected joining the European Union three times is not an easy country to pigeonhole.

One criticism I didn't address is the question of whether Carter abused his office by using the prestige of the ex-presidency to pursue an independent foreign policy. As Sullentrop notes, "Carter trades on his role as a former president, and many of the non-democracies in which he works have difficulty understanding that he's not a major leader in the United States." I have to respond with a rhetorical question: why is it irresponsible for Carter to use his bully pulpit to advocate for his sincere, albeit occasionally wrong-headed, positions, but it's not irresponsible for another Nobelist, Henry Kissinger, to exploit his bully pullpit by creating a for-profit consulting firm that acts as a conduit for Middle Eastern despots?
Thursday, October 10, 2002
THE EU WIMPS OUT: Generally, when the United States adopts a tough position towards a predominantly Muslim country, European Union members reply with the assertion that carrots are better than sticks. With both Iraq and Iran, for example, the EU position is that in the long run, economic, political, and diplomatic inducements will alter behavior better than coercive diplomacy. I think it's more complex than that, but it's certainly a defensible decision.

Now, however, the EU has made it clear that there's a limit to their reliance on carrots. Yesterday's announcement about EU expansion to the East was noticeable for the snub that was delivered to Turkey. The EU, as expected, targeted ten transition economies for membership by 2004. Bulgaria and Romania were given the target of 2007. Turkey was not given a target date. There is not even a date for further talks. Instead, the press release observed: "Turkey is encouraged to pursue the reform process to strengthen democracy and the protection of human rights, in law and in practice."

This is a country that consciously decided to join the West after World War I. Among the candidate countries, it was the first to apply for admission (in 1987). It is a country with a longer track record on democracy than any other country in the Balkans. It has had a functioning market economy for much longer than most of the other aspirants. It abolished the death penalty to please the European Union. It's certainly not ready for accession today, but by 2004 it would have been a reasonably safe bet. In terms of geopolitics, bringing Turkey into the EU club would have been the best way to ensure further political reforms and ensure stability in Souteastern Europe. The parallels to Mexico's accession into NAFTA are pretty clear. Instead, the EU treats Turkey as its doormat, pushing the Turks aside to pave the way for Bulgaria and Romania. [You knocking the South Slavs?--ed. I don't mean to impugn these countries, which have made great strides since 1989. It's just that Turkey is without question closer to meeting most of the EU criteria.]

What kind of message does this send the Turks? There can be only one message -- you're not welcome if you're Muslim.

I don't want to hear the Europeans talk about the power of incentives any more.

UPDATE: The U.S. has been leaning on the Europeans to reconsider, and now even Greece is changing its tune.
CHARITIES AND TERRORISTS: As an "expert on terrorist financing," I was on Chicago Tonight yesterday evening to talk about the indictment of the head of Benevolence International, one of the largest Muslim charities in the United States. [You're an expert?--ed. I spent the 2000-01 academic year working at the Treasury Department on coordinating international anti-money laundering activities, so by TV standards, yes, yes I am an expert.] The New York Times story is pretty good; here's the actual indictment. A few thoughts on the larger implications:

1) Stopping terrorist financing doesn't happen without international cooperation. The bulk of the evidence behind the indictment came from a March 2002 raid of the charity's offices in Bosnia. That was where the treasure trove of Al Qaeda documents were found. Swiss banking authorities also must have cooperated in discovering the alleged laundering of terrorist money through the charity's Swiss bank account.

2) More charities will be busted. Benevolence International was active in Bosnia, Chechnya, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. So was Al Qaeda. Relief agencies, charities, and terrorist networks swim in the same ocean -- weak and war-torn states. The charities are there because of the suffering; the terrorists are their to fight or to operate free of law enforcement. It's not shocking that terrorists would use charitable agencies as a money laundering conduit -- busting a charity never sounds good. Because charity is one of the five pillars of Islam, Muslim charities are particularly vulnerable to an organizational hybrid that builds schools with one hand while slaughtering civilians with the other. Benevolence International probably did engage in good works in Bosnia, for example. However, they also assisted one of the architects of the 1998 embassy bombings in East Africa. Click here for more on the unfortunate relationship between charities and terrorists.

3) This is just a drop in the bucket. Benevolence International has assets of less than $2 million. Al Qaeda has a number of ways to transfer assets beyond using charities as a cover -- conflict diamonds and currency exchanges, to name two. Stopping the myriad conduits for terrorist financing is not going to be easy.

P.S. Instapundit wonders whether the photo "which showed the defendant in traditional garb brandishing an AK-47" worries his lawyers. One of the defense attorneys -- Matt Piers -- was on the show with me last night. He claims the person in the photo is not his defendant. He didn't provide an explanation for the charity's fondness for Swiss bank accounts.
HOW NOT TO PROTEST: The Chicago Tribune has a story on why anti-war protests are not really catching on. The article suggests a "generational shift of priorities," combined with the absence of a draft, is responsible for the lack of enthusiasm. Reading the article, however, I think there's another explanation -- the protestors are intellectually obnoxious. Now, protestors are supposed to be physically obnoxious -- that's how they draw attention to themselves. But consider these quotes from student activists:

"Adil Khan, 20, a member of the university's Muslim Student Association, said: 'We [Muslims] believe the war as presently constituted is unjust. The only reason that it [the war] is being supported is because people are ignorant.'"

"Andrew Main, a sophomore at Swarthmore College, founded an organization called "Why War" shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. 'We were pretty outraged by the rush to war and the unbridled patriotism of the last year,' Main said."

Certainly, when I'm accused of being an unthinking patriot, my first instinct is to take these people seriously. Not!

UPDATE: Looks like Ron Rosenbaum has had a similar reaction to the anti-war protestors. (Link via Sullivan). Rosenbaum also illuminates the debate of why communism gets treated with more respect by intellectuals than fascism:

"I still can understand people like Pete Seeger joining the Party back in the 30’s during the Depression, when it looked like unregulated capitalism had cruelly immiserated America, when racism and lynchings reigned down South and it looked (looked, I said) as if the Soviet Union was the only force willing to stand up to Hitler. But to cling to Marxism now, after all we’ve learned in the past 50 years—not just about the Soviet Union, but China and Cambodia … ?
Wednesday, October 09, 2002
COCOONS AND WAR: Kausfiles makes an excellent observation on the tendency for both liberals and conservatives to interpret information selectively. Click here for more on the liberal cocoon; it's the conservative cocoon that worries me.

Kaus argues that conservatives tend to explain away all negative information that comes from New York Times as a product of liberal media bias. This can be dangerous if the information happens to be accurate on a fairly regular basis. Assume that half of what is in the Times is liberal exaggeration. That still leaves half that is dead-on accurate. To give an example: there are excellent reasons to discount the Times' interpretation of their Monday poll, but as Kaus himself points out, there are nuggets of accurate information in the article.

This leads to today's NYT report on the CIA assessment of Iraq's intentions and capabilities. It demands close scrutiny.

The article accurately captures the CIA assessment that Saddam Hussein is capable of being deterred from using weapons of mass destruction, unless he thinks the U.S. is going to attack, in which case the intelligence estimate is that there is a "pretty high" chance he'd use those weapons. In other words, the probability of a WMD attack against the United States increases if we launch an assault. This is a powerful argument against launching an attack, and a hurdle that the president needs to clear in order to justify the use of force: why is an invasion of Iraq worth the increased likelihood of an attempted WMD attack against the United States? Conservatives might be tempted to discount this information, because of the sources -- New York Times and the CIA. That would be a mistake.

On the other hand, if you read the full text of the CIA's letter to the Senate, you see both the tendency towards liberal media bias, and a possible answer to the question posed in the previous graf. The final section of the letter details the CIA's assessment of the links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. To quote:

"¶We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda going back a decade.

¶Credible information indicates that Iraq and Al Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal nonaggression.

¶Since Operation Enduring Freedom, we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of Al Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad.

¶We have credible reporting that Al Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire W.M.D. capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to Al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs.

¶Iraq's increasing support to extremist Palestinians coupled with growing indications of relationship with Al Qaeda. suggest that Baghdad's links to terrorists will increase, even absent U.S. military action." (my italics)

Until now, I had not given much credence to the argument that Iraq and Al Qaeda were linked, but the CIA assessment suggests otherwise. Substantively, this is the argument for an attack sooner rather than later -- the longer we wait, the more likely that Saddam will export W.M.D. to terrorists of the death-to-America persuasion. [What about the realists assertion that since Iraq is secular while Al Qaeda consists of Islamic fundamentalists, they would never cooperate?--ed. Bull. Realists assume that actors balance against the greater threat. The U.S. is the greatest threat to both Iraq and Al Qaeda at the moment. Realism would conclude that cooperation between the two actors is a foregone conclusion.] An attack now carries significant risks, but a failure to purge Iraq of weapons of mass destruction carries even greater risks. To conduct that purge, the U.S. and U.N. must be ready to attack.

Consistent with the assumption of liberal media bias, the Times story had seven paragraphs on the greater threat of an Iraqi response, but only one graf on the Iraq/Al-Qaeda link. That's better than the Washington Post story, which does not mention those links.

My point: the CIA letter contains information for and against an attack; both pieces of information need to be incorporated into the current debate.

Blog Archive