Thursday, January 16, 2003
GONE FISHIN': For the next two weeks I will be on vacation, bicycling, hiking, and kayaking in New Zealand with the Officially Certified blogbrother and blogfather.

Am I excited? Look at the weather forecasts for Chicago, USA and Taupo, NZ for the next week -- that should answer your question.

Will I be posting during this time? Hmmmm.... what would Moses do? [He'd be laughing his ass off at the ridiculousness of the question--ed.] I'd say there is only a 5% chance of blogging until February.

Talk amongst yourselves. Here's a topic: has the James Bond series had any effect on world politics or world culture -- besides offending Koreans? Here's some reading to guide you.
MICHIGAN'S AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: Lots of blogosphere kudos to President Bush for his decision to oppose the University of Michigan's affirmative action plan (Here's Josh Chafetz and Andrew Sullivan). Yesterday, the New York Times made its views known with a truly misleading editorial:

"The two cases, which challenge the University of Michigan's use of race as a "plus factor" in undergraduate and law school admissions, have huge implications for the nation's efforts to widen racial equality and increase campus diversity by opening institutions of higher learning to more blacks and Hispanics. Moreover, in the aftermath of the Trent Lott embarrassment, the administration's stance will be seen as an indicator of the president's commitment to moving his party and the country beyond the segregationist past."

There are serious errors in both sentences. Arguing that opposing affirmative action is the equivalent of supporting segregationism is absurd on its face. As for the implicit notion that opposition to affirmative action indicates racism, liberals of good conscience were careful to flatly reject that assertion during the height of the Lottroversy.

As for the description of Michigan's use of race as a "plus factor," here's the Chicago Tribune's description of the exact weights used:

"The Michigan undergraduate program awards students up to 150 points for a variety of factors, including 20 points for African Americans and some Hispanic students. That's more than a student can earn for having perfect SAT scores (12 points) or for having an outstanding essay (3 points), and is often enough to be the decisive factor for a student's admission, administration officials said.

Michigan's law school sets aside a specific number of seats each year for minority students." (my italics)

Face it -- these are quota schemes.

The Tribune also has a nice profile on how Michigan's obsession with racial diversity crowds out other forms of diversity.


Wednesday, January 15, 2003
WHAT'S GOING ON IN AFGHANISTAN?: One of the best things about teaching international relations at the University of Chicago is the plethora of seminars that go on around here. The Program on International Security Policy does a particularly good job of bringing in "policy-relevant" types to talk about current foreign affairs.

Yesterday's speaker was Barnett Rubin, America's leading Afghan expert and late 2001's must-have commentator. Rubin's talk on the current situation in Afghanistan -- compared to my casual perusal of press clippings on the subject -- actually cheered me up in several ways. Here are the conclusions I came away with:

1) Given the degree of difficulty, peacebuilding has been pretty successful. Pundits who talk about "reconstructing" Afghanistan automatically stack the deck in their appraisals, since that term implies a desirable, stable, and pre-existing status quo. However, the prior status quo in Afghanistan has been 20 years of violence with considerable interference from its neighboring states. The mere absence of large-scale violence -- as well as the low level of neighboring country mischief-making -- is significant.

2) There is a conception of statehood in Afghanistan. For all of the discussion about different ethnicities in the country, Rubin noted that "Afghans insist they are Afghan" -- meaning that all tribes want to see a strong central government and possess some sense of nationhood. They might disagree about the allocation of resources from that government, but that's hardly unique to Afghanistan. (They might be saying those things just to please Westerners, but Rubin seems pretty plugged in).

3) Neither the Taliban nor Al Qaeda are coming back. Critics of the war often posit that reconstruction will eventually falter, paving the way for the Taliban to re-emerge. However, this is unlikely for three reasons. First, Al Qaeda now has little interest in Afghanistan. They liked it as a base -- beyond that, it holds no value for them. Second, the remaining remnants of the Taliban are weak in number and lack natural allies even among the Pashtuns. Third, those Taliban remnants have no illusions about being able to displace U.S. forces.

4) Afghanistan will not be a fully functioning democracy -- but that's too much to expect. Look at Afghanistan's neighbors -- when Pakistan and Iran are the most liberal states in your region, you know that Lockean democracy has yet to flourish. It is unlikely that democratic institutions will function as expected -- but even if they function at some basic level, it's an improvement over what Afghans have endured for the past two decades.

UPDATE: Here's more on the latest efforts at statebuilding in Afghanistan (link via Oxblog)
Tuesday, January 14, 2003
THE RESIDUE OF RACISM: One mantra that persisted throughout the Lottroversy was that racism remains a problem in American society. That's an easy thing to say, but what exactly does it mean?

This story does a nice job describing the nature of the problem:

"CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) -- It helps to have a white-sounding first name when looking for work, a new study has found.

Resumes with white-sounding first names elicited 50 percent more responses than ones with black-sounding names, according to a study by professors at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The professors sent about 5,000 resumes in response to want ads in the Boston Globe and Chicago Tribune. They found that the 'white applicants they created received one response -- a call, letter or e-mail -- for every 10 resumes mailed, while black' applicants with equal credentials received one response for every 15 resumes sent."

Click here for the actual study. If you read the story, it's clear that the researchers controlled for other explanatory factors. [But c'mon, don't researchers who engage in these studies mine the data for results that favor their pre-existing beliefs?--ed. One of the researchers, the University of Chicago's Marianne Bertrand, has conducted other studies about economic discrimination. This abstract of a co-authored NBER paper suggests that she does not manipulate her data].

UPDATE: OK, I was apparently way behind the curve on this study, which Alan Krueger discussed in his column last month in the New York Times. Brad DeLong, Kevin Drum, and Thomas Maguire posted on this more than a month ago. The criticism of the study is that the name selection could merely indicate a bias against "outside-the-mainstream" names, and not necessarily racism. The authors do seem to have covered this with survey research on attributing names to racial backgrounds -- and they're also quite forthcoming about the drawbacks of their testing approach in the paper. Steven Postrel e-mails to raise a better criticism, which is that the African-American names were the most "countercultural" while the white names were as WASPish as you could get. Point taken.

One possible problem that occurred to me was that the experiment was carried out "between July 2001 and January 2002 in Boston and between July 2001 and May 2002 in Chicago." Since several of the African-American names have Islamic-sounding names, I wondered if those names combined with 9/11 were responsible for the result. Surprisingly, the results (Table 2 in the paper) don't suggest that either.
HOPES VS. EXPECTATIONS IN NORTH KOREA: Prospect theory predicts that, when faced with sudden reversals in fortune that present no-win scenarios -- like North Korea -- pundits will envisage best-case outcomes as a way of advancing their preferred policies. This is rarely done for tactical reasons, but rather because in situations like the current one, frustration with the range of depressing alternatives leads human beings to sketch a sunnier outcome than one should realistically expect. We prefer the riskier strategy because the possible rewards are great, even though the likelihood of that outcome occurring is small.

Which brings me to Nicholas D. Kristof's op-ed. He argues that, "So how can we undermine North Korean propaganda and totalitarianism? By imposing sanctions and increasing its isolation? Or by engaging it and tying it to the global economy?

The answer should be obvious, for there is no greater subversive in a Communist country than an American factory manager. People will hear stories from his housemaid's third cousin's neighbor's friend about how he has five pairs of blue jeans (!), a beer belly (!), blows his nose on tissues that he then throws away (!), and reads a Bible (!) and Playboy magazine (!!). Many a Communist will immediately begin dreaming of capitalism....

If only President Clinton had instituted the 1994 agreement with gusto, flooding North Korea with diplomats, investors, traders and pot-bellied bankers who ostentatiously overeat — without exploding — then monuments to the Great Leader might already have been replaced by American-run Internet cafes. So let's agree to be blackmailed, so that North Korea gives up its nukes in exchange for Western trade and investment."

Now, Kristof would get points from David Adesnik for joining the Kevin Drum Club of Bush critics who acknowledge that this option amounts to backing down. I also strongly support the boosting of Playboy's export revenues. And certainly, the notion that unbridled capitalism will destroy dictatoriships has a long and distinguished history. It's also the rationale for our openness to the People's Republic of China.

I would love it if Kristof was right -- but a sober appraisal of the situation would conclude that's he's completely wrong. This gets to the distinction between a totalitarian and an authoritarian state. China or Singapore fall into the latter camp -- political dissent is stifled, but in other spheres of life there is sufficient breathing froom from state intervention to permit the flowering of pro-market, pro-democratic civil society. North Korea is totalitarian, in the sense that the state control every dimension of social life possible.

In authoritarian societies, the introduction of market forces and international news media can has the potential to transform society in ways that central governments will not be able to anticipate. In totalitarian societies, reform can only take place when the central government favors it. These societies have to take the first steps towards greater openness before any outside force can accelerate the process. Usually, such societies turn brittle and collapse under their own weight.

There is no more totalitarian state on earth than North Korea. To paraphrase P.J. O'Rourke, unapproved interactions unhappen in Pyongyang. As I've argued previously (click here , here and here), every North Korean feint towards openness has turned out to be an attempt at misdirection.

For the past decade, the DPRK leadership has been completely consistent about one thing -- it prefers mass famine and total isolation over any threat to the survival of its leadership. Uncontrolled exchange with the West will threaten that leadership. I have no doubt that Pyongyang is enthusiastic about the creation of segmented economic zones where foreign capital would be permitted -- so long as the rest of North Korean society remained under effective quarrantine.

I wish it were otherwise -- but I know it isn't.
AN ECONOMICS SMACKDOWN: Brad DeLong has a fascinating post on the failure of Joeph Stiglitz -- the 2001 Nobel Prize winner in Economics -- to make any headway among economists in advancing his argument that capital controls are a good thing. DeLong explains:

"Joe is losing the argument. He is not losing the argument because rational debate shows that his is the worse cause (although I think that rational debate is likely to reach that conclusion). He is losing the argument because of something he wrote about former MIT Professor, then Principal Deputy Managing Director of the IMF, and current President of Citicorp (Group?) International Stanley Fischer:

'Moreover, the IMF's behavior should come as no surprise: it approached the problems from the perspectives and ideology of the financial community, and these naturally were closely (though not perfectly) aligned with its interests. As we have noted before, many of its key personnel came from the financial community, and many of its key personnel, having served these interests well, left to well-paying jobs in the financial community. Stan Fischer, the deputy managing director who played such a role in the episodes described in this book, went directly from the IMF to become a vice chairman at Citigroup, the vast financial firm that includes Citibank. A chairman of Citigroup (chairman of the Executive Committee) was Robert Rubin, who, as secretary of [the] Treasury, had had a central role in IMF policies. One could only ask, Was Fischer being richly rewarded for having faithfully executed what he was told to do? (pp. 207-208 of
Globalization and Its Discontents)

It is the sentence that I have highlighted in bold that was Stiglitz's complete and total disaster. I have met nobody who knows Stanley Fischer who believes that the answer to Stiglitz's question is, "Yes." Everybody I have met who knows Stanley Fischer sees Stiglitz's question as a knowingly-false and malevolently-intended act of slander. The implication that Fischer was rewarded for slanting IMF policy in a pro-Citigroup direction in return for a future fat private-sector paycheck is universally rejected as totally false.

And as a result, every day at the AEA, it seemed that there were at least 300 friends of Stanley Fischer who woke up in the morning thinking, 'I have to defend Stan against Joe.' And they did so, quite effectively."


Read the whole post, as well as the comments it has inspired.

DeLong is correct to say that the right set of ideas is winning, but for political rather than intellectual reasons. Alas, I feared something this would occur back in September, in part because Stiglitz has yet to recover from his bruising experiences of being on the losing side of policy disputes in DC, for reasons that I elaborate on here.
Monday, January 13, 2003
WHEN LIBERALS HAVE A POINT: I've blogged in the past about this administration's tendency towards smugness in their articulation of policy decisions (click here and here). Certainly, this habit of brushing away outside opinions -- both foreign and domestic -- has infuriated the left, and partially helps to explain their use of the overrreaching Bush-as-dictator trope.

However, the liberals do have a valid point on the smugness. According to Bob Novak, Senate Republicans are equally irate about the administration's arrogance and tendency to stonewall (link via Drudge):

"Republican senators gathering last Wednesday for their session-opening 'retreat' should have been happy, blessed with a regained majority and a popular president. They were not. Instead, they complained bitterly of arrogance by the Bush administration, especially the Pentagon, in treatment of Congress along the road to war.

Two years of growing discontent boiled over during the closed-door meeting at the Library of Congress. White House chief of staff Andrew Card was there to hear grievances from President Bush's Senate base that it is ignored and insulted by the administration, particularly by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in preparing for war against Iraq. Recital of complaints began with Sen. John Warner, a pillar of the Senate GOP establishment."

Then there's this exchange, confirming the worst parts of Will Saletan's piece last week in Slate:

"Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri next got up to tell Card that the administration had better put out more information justifying military action against Iraq as part of the war against terrorism. 'What is the connection between Iraq and al-Qaida?' Bond asked. 'Don't worry,' replied Card, indicating the information would come along."

Read the whole piece -- it's disturbing. (Memo to Whote House staff: don't ever get quoted as saying only "don't worry" in response to a question).

The administration can choose to ignore opinions from the "outside" -- the costs and benefits of this strategy are clear. However, ignoring the legislative branch of government goes beyond the realm of simple arrogance and enters the realm of power-grabbing stupidity.
MOCKING M.A.D.D.: InstaPundit and TalkLeft have been arguing that Mothers Against Drunk Driving, having succeeded in stigmatizing that offense, is now going overboard. This includes pushing overly strict statutory blood alcohol levels that do little to contribute to the public good, and calling for public officials to resign for first-time DUI offenses. As TalkLeft puts it, "MADD has moved into dangerous territory and needs to be reigned in. Or, since that's unlikely, ridiculed."

I believe the ridicule has begun -- in the comic pages, of course.

UPDATE: Alert reader J.S. informs me that there is an actual organization devoted to what is lampooned in today's Foxtrot, but that it's likely a student-perpetrated hoax. So it's either intentionally or unintentionally hilarious.
Sunday, January 12, 2003
YOU KNOW THE CULTURE HAS CHANGED WHEN...: I hold some mutual fund investments with Janus Funds [Wow, so you must really be raking the dough, huh?--ed. It's a Sunday; take the day off]. Their year-end report just arrived in my box, which does not make for happy reading. It includes a letter from their Managing Director of Investments, Helen Young Hayes. Her missive contains this startling paragraph:

"The year will also be viewed by historians as a time of 'cleansing' by the market sweeping away the greed, blind ambition and fraud that had built up during the bull market. Starting with Enron in the fall of 2001, one corrupt management team after another has fallen under the glare of the market's spotlight, punished for financial and corporate governance misdeeds. Aggressive accounting practices that were sometimes employed in the ebullient 1990's have been replaced by a more conservative, transparent culture on Wall Street, a shift that was long overdue and that we believe will have a positive and meaningful long-term effect on the health of the financial markets."

Now, I'm all for rigorous accounting standards. But an investment director blasting greed and ambition? Why, exactly, do these people think I'm an investor?

Maybe I need to rethink my portfolio [Yeah, then you could pay me--ed. Right now you're earning as much as I am for this.]
Saturday, January 11, 2003
BACK TO KRUGMAN: I received a fair amount of flack for my "sophisticated exegesis" of Paul Krugman last month. One blogger noted -- correctly -- that I hadn't provided any specific examples of Krugman becoming too strident or over-the-top. I didn't do this -- in part -- because this dimension of Krugman's writing had been acknowledged in the very articles that praised him. [What's the other part?--ed. I'm also lazy].

However, for those who want the proof, check out Lying In Ponds statistical analysis of the last year in pundity. The summary:

"After evaluating all 2,129 columns written by our 37 pundits in 2002, it's time to draw some conclusions. I've stressed all along that Lying in Ponds is attempting to make a distinction between ordinary party preference (there's nothing wrong with being opinionated or having a political ideology) and excessive partisanship ("blind, prejudiced, and unreasoning allegiance"). While it's obviously difficult to draw a definitive line, the top three pundits in the rankings clearly revealed excessive partisanship by the remarkable consistency of their extremely one-sided commentary throughout the year. The New York Times' Paul Krugman took the partisanship lead early and lapped the field. In a year in which Mr. Krugman generated lots of buzz and won an award, his 18:1 ratio of negative to positive Republican references and 99 columns without a single substantive deviation from the party line were unmatched in the Lying in Ponds portion of the punditocracy."

For some specific examples from this past week, there's Paul Krugman's web site, which is beginning to have blog-like qualities. In this entry, he defends his comparison of George W. Bush to Ferdinand Marcos:

"In case you're wondering: no, I don't think that Bush is the moral equivalent of Marcos, and I'm not endorsing the theory that 9/11 was a Carlyle Group conspiracy. But as many people have now acknowledged, this is an administration of 'access capitalists' - which is just the American version of crony capitalism. Is there also a resemblance in the sense that Bush has used fears of terrorism for political gain? Of course there is. Memos from Karl Rove are quite explicit about using the war on terror as a political issue. Moreover, the Bush administration's creation of a cult of personality, its obsessive secretiveness, its propensity for mass arrests, and its evident fondness for Big-Brotherish schemes of public surveillance are not the actions of men who have a deep respect for the democratic process."

Over the top? Too strident? You be the judge. Or let Eugene Volokh be the judge for you. Or Glenn Reynolds.

Then there's the latest Krugman post. Let's first be clear that Krugman has every right to be pissed off by the triggering e-mail -- hell, I'd have posted something really nasty to "drstrangelove" in response. However, these passages are just bizarre:

"Poor drstrangelove. He (she?) doesn't realize that friends of the administration must have already looked into all of this.... I'm also a 'Centenary Professor' at the London School of Economics - it doesn't pay me anything, but might be a helpful connection when I'm forced to flee the country."

Now, this is certainly not strident. It does border on megalomaniacal paranoia, however.

Friday, January 10, 2003
BACK TO IRAQ: John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt offer up the best argument out there on why the U.S. shouldn't attack Iraq in the latest Foreign Policy. [C'mon, let's get to the full disclosure--ed. Mearsheimer is a senior colleague of mine here at Chicago; Walt used to be]. Essentially, it's that Saddam Hussein can be deterred, and can therefore be contained. They marshall some strong evidence to support their case. But:

1) Using the fact that Saddam Hussein only initiated two wars in the past twenty years as evidence that he's not a serial aggressor is like arguing that pre-1945 Germany was not inherently hostile because they only triggered two world wars. War's an esceptionally rare event in world politics, and the fact that Hussein triggered two of the last three inter-state conflicts in the Middle East is not a point in his favor.

2) Assume that Hussein can be deterred -- is deterrence really as stable an outcome as Mearsheimer and Walt posit? The status quo in the Middle East has been a slow erosion of the U.S. position and a rise in Anti-Americanism. A lot of this is based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but a lot is also predicated on the U.S. being the prime movers behind the sanctioning of Iraq, combined with the presence of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia.

I said last fall that the best reason to invade Iraq is to remove the need for large-scale U.S. forces to be based in Saudi Arabia, which has destabilized that country for the worse. I've found that this argument plays very well with much of the anti-war crowd, but they don't believe that the Bush administration is really thinking that way. However, Fred Kaplan's latest "War Stories" piece in Slate suggests otherwise. The key graf:

"Though few officials speak of it, even off the record, there is a train of thought, in certain quarters of the Pentagon and the State Department, that large numbers of U.S. soldiers should not remain based in Saudi Arabia for much longer. Our military presence provides a handy target for terrorists (rhetorically, if not physically) and aligns us too tightly with a corrupt kingdom from which we might wisely begin to seek distance. However, it would be unsafe and unsettling, for the entire region, to pull out of Saudi Arabia while Saddam Hussein is still in power. Saddam must go so that we can go. This may be the best rationale for "regime change" in Iraq, although, for obvious reasons, you will never hear any official articulate it. This rationale also marks Iraq as a unique case, which therefore allows North Korea to be considered as a unique case as well."

[Is that the only reason you like Kaplan's piece?--ed. Well, I also like the fact that he's echoing what I said back in October. Advantage: Drezner!!]
DREZNER GETS RESULTS ON SOUTH KOREA!!: The too-clever-by-half strategy of contemplating withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea appears to be having a salutory effect. As I said yesterday: "My guess is that a majority of South Koreans still want a U.S. presence, but aren't being vocal about it. Certainly having a public debate about the issue might lead to greater pro-U.S. mobilization."

From the New York Times' Seth Mydams:

"In Seoul, several moves were under way to repair ties with the United States. The relationship has been strained by widespread demonstrations calling for a more equal relationship with Washington.

On Thursday, South Korea's Defense Ministry warned in a monthly newsletter, Defense News, that the withdrawal of the 37,000 American troops here 'could send foreign investors flooding out of the country in fear of instability, throw the economy into turmoil and give North Korea a chance for provocation.' The newsletter added, 'North Korea tries to weaken the South Korea-U.S. alliance's capability of deterring war.'

Public opinion polls here indicate that 55 percent of South Koreans, most of them older people, want the American troops to stay. In an indication that South Korea's silent majority may be starting to stir, about 400 South Korean military veterans and housewives staged a pro-American rally on Wednesday, burning an image of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, clinging to a missile.

Separately, the office of President Kim Dae Jung issued a statement on Thursday implicitly asking South Koreans to tone down the weekly vigils outside the American Embassy here.

'We need to calm excessive worries of the international community about the anti-U.S. atmosphere,' the statement said.

Conservatives criticize the government for addressing symptoms of anti-Americanism without addressing an underlying cause: a deep erosion among young people in the belief that American troops are needed in South Korea.

'Now is the time to sincerely consider whether or not to continue the weekend candlelit protests and risk our national security and healthy relations with the U.S. at this crucial time,' The Korea Times, said on Thursday."

UPDATE: The international reaction also conforms to the hypothesis that a threat of withdrawal forces regional actors to stop buckpassing.
WHAT'S WHAT ON THE STIMULUS PACKAGE?: I must say I have mixed feelings. Ryan Lizza makes a great case for why the administration is pushing so hard for a tax cut on dividends -- boosting the stock market leads to a wealth effect that pumps up consumption. Lizza cites the work of one Dean Maki, who was a terribly smart classmate of mine in the Stanford economics program. Go Dean!

I'm also a bit puzzled at the Democratic emphasis on the distributional implications of the tax cut. OK, I'm not, but here's the thing -- hasn't this economic slowdown had a disproportionate impact on the middle class? [You don't know?--ed. Look, this is Mickey Kaus' bag. Mickey, has the slowdown disproportionately affected the bottom 20%? Will this impact welfare reform?] This Census table suggests that I could be wrong, but it ends in 2001.

That said, I'm troubled by the the effect of a burgeoning deficit on increasing long-term interest rates. Despite Megan McArdle and Mickey Kaus' best efforts, I tend to side with Brad DeLong on this one. There's a political argument against the tax cut as well, and it comes from today's Washington Post:

"President Bush's 10-year, $674 billion economic growth package -- coupled with a war with Iraq -- would push the federal budget deficit well into record territory next year, and possibly as high as $350 billion, private-sector budget forecasters said yesterday.... in sheer dollar terms, it would easily eclipse the $290 billion record set in 1992, the last year of George H.W. Bush's administration. It also would be a steep fall from the record $236 billion surplus of 2000."

Does W. really want any parallels drawn between the current economy and the 1992 economy?

Plus, I can't escape the parallels between the current economic situation and 1993. In both situations, the economy was sluggish, but the long-term fundamentals (i.e., labor productivity) looked good, except for long-term interest rates. If you recall, Clinton wanted a short-term spending boost, but it was wisely shot down by deficit hawks. I can't escape the feeling that -- economically -- this remains be the best course of action for the present. However, both politicians and pundits have a bias that favors action over inaction.

UPDATE: The New Republic's &c sagely defends the logic of ceteris paribus against the Wall Street Journal's editorial page. It's truly a sad day when the TNR has to explain the building blocks of economic theory to the Journal.
Thursday, January 09, 2003
CHINESE COMMUNISTS HATE BLOGS: John Jay Ray and others are saying China has blocked access to all blogspot websites. According to Glenn Reynolds, Blogger is still accessible, which leaves bloggers in China in the weird position of being able to post but not read what they've just posted.

Click here for more on how China censors the Internet. Benjamin Edelman's South China Morning Post op-ed from last fall argues that China's censorship is even worse than Saudi Arabia's!!

THE DOONESBURY KISS OF DEATH: Garry Trudeau highlighted/mocked Howard Dean's presidential campaign in yesterday's strip. Most election seasons, Trudeau latches onto one of the lesser candidates as a foil -- usually Mike Doonesbury goes to work for him. These guys -- John Anderson, Steve Forbes -- are simultaneously flummoxed and flattered by the additional press coverage. Dean is no exception.

The thing is, they also tend to lose.
THE MERITS OF THREATENING TO WITHDRAW FROM THE KOREAN PENINSULA: Josh Marshall grudgingly admits the logic of conservatives threatening a pullout of U.S. troops from South Korea, but thinks that it's too clever by half:

"Are these tough-guy tactics? Sort of. Is there are certain logic to it? Yes. But you can get so caught up in the details that you lose track of the larger ridiculousness of the whole discussion: the Koreans south of the DMZ are OUR ALLIES! We're actually in a serious crisis with the North Koreans and the hawks are too busy trying to go mano a mano with the folks who are supposed to be our friends."

Two points in response:

1) Aren't we being good allies if we oblige the wishes of South Koreans? If there are South Korean protests against U.S. forces being there, then it's only polite to consider the question. My guess is that a majority of South Koreans still want a U.S. presence, but aren't being vocal about it. Certainly having a public debate about the issue might lead to greater pro-U.S. mobilization. It might also publicize one source of irritation in the relationship, which is the interpersonal frictions between American G.I.'s and their Korean neighbors (click here for an academic treatment of this problem].

It's also worth pointing out that withdrawals have happened elsewhere without the alliance fraying. The U.S. pulled out of Subic Bay and Clark Air Force base in the Philippines, and it would be safe to say we maintain warm bilateral relations with Manila.

2) We're trying to make a point to China and Russia as well. And that point is, quit buckpassing. As I said before, China and Russia can exercise greater influence over North Korea than the U.S. Why haven't they? Because they're buckpassing, which is a technical term for freeloading. Why should they invest resources in defusing a situation when they're convinced that the hegemon will pony up? This is also why China likes the U.S. keeping its troops in South Korea. Those troops act as a big security blanket for Seoul and Tokyo, and the last thing China wants is for either of those countries to be untethered from the U.S. security embrace. Beijing gets hives at the prospect of either a nuclear Japan or a reunified and nuclear Korea on its doorstep. It prefers the status quo, which depends on the U.S. staying involved in the region. Any threat of withdrawal would have the salutory effect of forcing Moscow and Beijing to act responsibly.
WHY WE CAN'T INVADE NORTH KOREA: Patrick Ruffini e-mails to ask:

"Why shouldn't we go to war with North Korea, not now, not next year, but if and when we're ready? Why shouldn't we simply declare that the existence of the the persistence of the DPRK's regime is not in the national interest of the United States, and therefore, we
are adopting a policy of regime change?"

I actually answered this question back in October; here's the key part:

"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."

To expand, imagine that the U.S. pursues regime change. Forget the claims that the DPRK army numbers a million -- let's assume that North Korea could be conquered in less than three months. The political and economic fallout would nevertheless be enormous. North Korea borders both China and Russia, and they'd be as happy with an invasion as we would be if either of those countries decided to conquer Mexico. Such an act would undoubtedly trigger the security dilemma, lead other capitals beyond Moscow and Beijing to ally against us in the long term. [But why wouldn't China and Russia bandwagon in the face of U.S. might?--ed. Here's where I part company with the neocons and agree with the realists. Vulnerable Middle Eastern regimes may choose to bandwagon when faced with U.S. power projection -- though this book suggests otherwise -- but China and Russia are not going to appease a country that invades one of their neighbors without any accomodation to their security interests].

The impact on the Korean peninsula would also be devastating. The geographic proximity of Seoul to North Korean artillery means that, regardless of whether Pyongyang has a functioning nuclear weapon, they can engage in mutually assured destruction. It would take South Korea at least a generation to overcome the damage to their capital, plus the costs of assisting the economic wasteland that is North Korea [C'mon, how expensive could it be?--ed. In 1995, the DOD estimated the costs of a ground campaign on the Korean peninsula to exceed $1 trillion; the U.S. would have to pony up at least $100 billion. Oh, and the casualty estimates range from 80,000 to 100,000 U.S. casualties, and ROK casualties in the hundreds of thousands].
THE LATEST ON LATIN AMERICA: The current meme about Latin America is the huge backlash against "Washington Consensus"-style policies, because of the massive inequalities they cause. In response, voters are turning towards the protectionist, populist left.

Today, the Financial Times has several stories on Latin American economies that contradict two elements of that narrative. The first is the supposed correlation between market-freiendly policies and mass immiseration. Chile has pursued policies -- fiscal conservatism, pension privatization, deregulation, free trade agreements with everyone who's willing -- most closely in line with the Washington Consensus. As a result, it has been able to issue its largest bond offering ever. This story notes that: "Chile is one of the few Latin American countries whose credit quality has remained stable in recent years, and the pricing of the bond issue was tighter than expected at 163 basis points over US Treasuries. The credit quality of most Latin American countries deteriorated last year and few are expected to improve in 2003, according to Standard & Poors."

In contrast, there's Venezuela: "Venezuela will be forced to default on payments due to state oil company bondholders or on its domestic debt with private banks in the next few weeks if the government is unable to restart crippled oil production, bankers and oil industry officials said on Wednesday.

A five-week-old strike by opposition-aligned workers at Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), who are pressuring President Hugo Chávez into resigning or calling early elections, has cut daily output from 3.1m barrels to about 300,000 barrels.

Employees loyal to the government have so far made minimal progress in restarting oil production, resulting in a collapse in export revenue. PDVSA sells its oil at between 30 and 45 days' credit, and executives at the company say cashflow has now dried up."

The scale and success of the Venezuelan protests suggests that perhaps the other part of the meme -- the leftist turn in Latin America -- has been overstated. [But what about Lula in Brazil?--ed. Given his administration's recent actions on state debt and monetary policy, it looks like Brazil is actually moving closer to neoliberal fiscal policies and away from populism. So there.]

Wednesday, January 08, 2003
IT'S THE 2003 GLOBALIZATION INDEX!!: A.T. Kearney, in concert with Foreign Policy, has been publishing an annual globalization index for the past three years. Their 2003 report just came out, which includes a globalization ranking of 62 countries. Three interesting facts:

1) Globalization is correlated with environmental protection: Look at this graph. Or read this:

"The world’s most global countries rank higher in environmental performance, according to a comparison of the Globalization Index and an analysis of the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) administered by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network at Columbia University. Seven of the Globalization Index’s top 10 are among the EPI’s most environmentally friendly nations."

Note that this holds even after controlling for per capita income.

2) 9/11/2001 didn't stop the globalization phenomenon: The economic downturn following 9/11 did reduce cross-border flows of foreign direct investment. However:

"other aspects of globalization sustained their forward momentum. Political engagement deepened as a result of factors like international cooperation in the war on terrorism and the continued integration of China and Russia into the world economy. Membership in international organizations expanded, and while the number of U.N. peacekeeping missions declined, the number of countries participating in them grew.

Levels of global personal contact and technological integration also continued to grow, with rising numbers of Internet users and a steady expansion in international telephone traffic offsetting the first decline in international travel and tourism since 1945. Worldwide telephone traffic grew more than 9 percent to reach 120 billion minutes, while the number of Internet users grew 22.5 percent to well over 550 million people, with China alone adding 11 million new users."

3) Muslim countries are losing out. Ten countries with Muslim majority populations are included in the list. One of them (Morocco) is among the top 50% of globalizing countries -- the other nine are in the bottom half. The two least globalized countries in thesurvey? Saudia Arabia and Iran.
Tuesday, January 07, 2003
CRACKING THE NORTH KOREAN NUT: I’ve been remiss in posting on North Korea. My thoughts on the current situation:

1) Give up the blame game. Josh Marshall and David Adesnik are playing a good game of tag about whether the Bush administration is respinsible for the current situation. Marshall thinks Bush's rejection of Kim Dae Jung's "sunshine policy" and inclusion of North Korea in the "Axis of Evil" caused the situation to deteriorate to our current state of affairs. Adesnik points out in response that it was the North Koreans who started a uranium enrichment program in 1999 and declared last fall that the 1994 Agreed Framework was null and void.

Look, there's enough blame to go around. Dole out most of it to the North Korean leadership, who decided to go down this road back in 1999, and then reacted belligerently when confronted with evidence of their duplicity. Dole out some of it to the Bush administration, for publicly rebuking Kim Dae Jung's sunshine policy in early 2001 instead of privately consulting with him. This has undoubtedly complicated bilateral relations, though not as much as Josh Marshall wants to think. But be sure to dole out some more to both Kim Dae Jung and Junichiro Koizumi, for blindly pursuing engagement policies towards Pyongyang, pretending that North Korea would never trigger a reprise of the 1994 crisis, and then blaming the United States for discovering that they were being played for saps.

2) This is more serious than Iraq. Robert Lane Greene does a nice job of explaining why North Korea is just as bad as Iraq. Greene undersells it, however, since North Korea has a much greater incentive to proliferate than Iraq. Pyongyang knows that the more rogue states possess nuclear weapons, the more difficult it will be for the U.S. to focus on North Korea. However, while Iraq probably doesn't want Syria, Iran, or Turkmenistan to acquire nukes, North Korea simply doesn't care. Furthermore, Iraq has at best a nascent nuclear weapons program; North Korea has gobs of enriched plutonium and the necessary delivery mechanisms.

3) “All policy options stink.” When I was researching the 1994 episode for my book, that quote from a high-ranking U.S. policymaker rang true. Even though North Korea is now more dependent on trade with the outside world, economic sanctions won’t return things to the status quo. The simple fact is that North Korea anticipates future conflicts with the U.S., so it views any concession made in the present to undercut its bargaining leverage in the future. The sanctions would be costly, but to the DPRK leadership, giving in would be costlier. Furthermore, as in 1994, North Korea has made it clear that it equates sanctions with war. The threat of multilateral sanctions provides some leverage, but not a lot.

Military statecraft is fraught with risk. Any attempted regime change would devastate Seoul. A limited strike against the Yongbyon reactor would not solve the WMD problem, and could invite North Korean retaliation. Plus, as I pointed out in October, there is the problem of having China and Russia very close by.

As in 1994, inducements combined with the threat of coercion could buy a stalemate for a few years. The problem with this is twofold. First, once it gobbled up the carrots, North Korea would undoubtedly defect from any agreement freezing its nuclear program. Second, consider the message this option sends, given the Bush administration position that North Korea already has nuclear weapons. It creates a clear incentive to develop a crash nuclear weapons program to ensure successful proliferation prior to being detected.

There is also the threat of disengagement – call everyone’s bluff and let China, Russia, South Korea and Japan sort everything out. This could be a useful tactic, but only to focus the attention of these countries. It would have no effect on the North Koreans.

4) Remember 1991. The first Bush administration deserves high marks for how it handled the DPRK problem. It repeatedly offered negative security guarantees – such as pulling out all tactical nuclear weapons from the peninsula – but made sure that North Korea’s allies pressured Pyongyang to reciprocate. Coercive pressure has worked on North Korea before, but only when its allies applied the pressure. China vetoed North Korea’s proposal for a 1975 invasion of South Korea; the Soviet Union was able to get the DPRK to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1985 by threatening to withhold a trade agreement. Both countries successfully pressured North Korea to negotiate with South Korea. Obviously, the agreement didn’t hold up, but it did buy the region some time to prepare for the next conflict.

So, intimate to the key players the implications of DPRK proliferation (neither Russia nor China would be thrilled with the proliferation of nuclear weapons to Muslim-majority countries) and/or U.S. disengagement, and then combine some U.S. assurances of North Korean security with Chinese/Russian pressure on Pyongyang to behave better. The result of today's meeting between South Korean, Japanese, and American negotiators is a good step in this direction.

It’s not a permanent solution by any stretch of the imagination, and it will require constant coordination among five or six capitals. But, to paraphrase, all other policy options stink. The U.S. concessions that would be given to North Korea would be of the diplomatic variety, and have been repeated in the past. This eliminates -- or at least minimizes -- David Adesnik's fear of acquiescing to nuclear blackmail.

Developing....
HOW TO OVERHYPE: John Zogby should know better. This is how he reports his latest poll of 2004 Democratic presidential hopefuls:

"North Carolina Senator John Edwards has surged into a tie for second place among rivals for the 2004 Democratic nomination, latest Zogby America Poll results show.

Among likely Democrats nationwide, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman leads with 11%, followed by Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and North Carolina Senator John Edwards, both at 9%. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt is next at 8% and Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle follows at 7%.

In July, Edwards was a distant seventh place among 2004 Democratic hopefuls with 2% support among likely voters.

The poll of 432 likely Democratic voters, was conducted Jan. 4-6 and has a margin of sampling error of +/- 5%." (my bold italics).

Given the sampling error, a more accurate way to report this would be: "In the wake of Al Gore's decision not to seek the Democratic Party nominaion for president in 2002, the remaining hopefuls have statistically indistinguishable levels of support hovering in the high single digits."

I think John Edwards will be a serious contender for the nomination, and my guess is that Zogby believes this as well and is priming the pump. But the amount of breathless hyperbole in that copy -- given the reliability of the data -- is a bit nauseating. Maybe Zogby is plumping for Edwards, or maybe some public relations flack had way too many lattes before writing that.

UPDATE: An alert reader e-mails with the valid point that the sampling error decreases as the support numbers go to either extreme (single digits or above 80%). Still, I doubt the error figure would have declined to the point where Edwards' support is significantly greater than either Gephardt or Daschle.
THE POWER OF INSTAPUNDIT: Did the Washington press corps wake up yesterday and independently decide to focus on blogging? Yesterday it comes out that the New York Times is digging for negative comments on the hardest working man in the Blogosphere, Glenn Harlan Reynolds. Today, the Chicago Tribune runs a piece on InstaPundit, with very flattering quotes from Walter Shapiro, Michael Barone, and Arianna Huffington. Check it out, if only to see Glenn being gracious to another blogger.
Monday, January 06, 2003
THE (IM)BALANCE OF POWER IN THE BLOGOSPHERE: Will Kieran Healy trash Glenn Reynolds in the New York Times? Apparently not. Will he devote considerable efforts at mimicry in an effort to put me down? Alas, yes.

Could this be because InstaPundit might get a wee bit more traffic than my blog, and therefore Kieran is too dependant on Reynold's links? Is Kieran bandwagoning? [Could you please not post in the form of a question?--ed.] Another possibility: Reynolds' mug is just scary, whereas mine is, shall we say, closer to geeky.

Oh well. At least I have Patrick Ruffini's Bloggie nominations to fall back on. Thanks, Patrick!
THE DEBATE ABOUT GLOBALIZATION AND INCOME DISTRIBUTION: Laura Secor at the Boston Globe has an outstanding article reviewing the various arguments about whether globalization leads to greater or lesser inequality between the developed and developing world. Basically, the declining-inequality argument relies on more comprehensive but shoddier World Bank data, while the increasing-inequality argument relies on better data but a more suspect time period. Then we get to the good part:

"By many accounts, even where inequality is increasing, poverty is on the decline. The 2002 UNDP Human Development report notes that the proportion of the world's people living in extreme poverty dropped from 29 percent in 1990 to 23 percent in 1999. Says [Harvard economist Benjamin] Friedman, 'If it's inequality you're worried about, the world is becoming a less good place. But if it's poverty you're worried about, while we still have a ways to go, the world is becoming a better place.'"

Other economists dispute this figure, for good reasons, but their arguments seem to me to reduce the magnitude but not the direction of the current trend. The whole piece is worth a read as an excellent (and all too rare) example of a lucid treatment of economics in the mainstream press.

UPDATE: Alan K. Henderson has some further thoughts about why poverty rather than income inequality should be the focus of the debate.
WHITE HOUSE STAFF SMACKDOWN, PART DEUX: Matt Drudge has posted an exclusive on the White House reaction to former speechwriter David Frum's new book, The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush. The money quote:

"He's going on the TODAY show to talk about North Korea, Iraq?!" an alarmed Bush intimate told the DRUDGE REPORT on Sunday. "Mr. Frum should seriously consider letting the president speak for himself on these highly volatile matters."

The Drudge excerpt suggests that there will at least be some criticism of Bush and the White House in the book, some of which echoes John DiIulio. (Among the White House staff, there was a "dearth of really high-powered brains,"). Last month, if you'll recall, John DiIulio pulled off a double verbal flip-flop over the accuracy of a Ron Suskind Esquire article on Karl Rove that quoted DiIulio extensively. The final result was DiIulio completely renouncing his remarks and abjectly apologizing to the White House, even though Suskind was quoting directly from a DiIulio e-mail. This led many (click here and here and here) to gasp in awe at the White House's (read: Karl Rove's) ironclad control over its current and former staff.

Will Frum feel similar White House pressure, and, to put it bluntly, will he have the stones to resist? My guess is yes and yes. The fact that a staffer talked to Drudge suggests that someone was trying to send a message to Frum. Furthermore, Frum's quasi-authorship of the "Axis of Evil" tag line will dredge up some potentially awkward questions about why North Korea was added to the list. However, unlike DiIulio, Frum is the author of the source of controversy, he's not a befuddled academic, and he can turn a phrase. Plus, he's a blogger, so he's got the instincts to counterattack fast and hard. He's probably got the incentive and the verbal ammunition to put up an effective resistance.

Frum announced on his blog that he's taking a 10-day break to promote the book. However, I do hope he blogs thereafter about the reactions he gets.

UPDATE: The Los Angeles Times and New York Daily News have more on the contents of Frum's new book. From these excerpts, it seems that Frum has another tactic in his arsenal -- reversing the conventional wisdom on Karl Rove and Karen Hughes. From the book:

"Rove was a risk taker and an intellectual. Hughes loathed risk and abhorred ideas. Rove was a reader and a questioner -- a curious man, always eager to learn. Hughes rarely read books and distrusted people who did -- anything she did not already know she saw no point in knowing."

Actually, my favorite quote comes from the Times story:

"The television show 'The West Wing' might as well have been set aboard a Klingon starship for all it resembled life inside the Bush White House."
THE PERILS OF HEGEMONIC POWER: Michael Ignatieff's cover story on empirein yesterday's New York Times Magazine will be discussed in the next few days, but I actually think James Dao's Week in Review piece on U.S. troops in Korea makes many of the same points more concisely. The problem facing the U.S. is that even though critics on all sides are currently attacking the U.S. right now for trying to dictate affairs across the globe, these same critics are also likely to assail the U.S. for any retreat from its current positions.

Imagine for a second that the U.S. announced that it had decided to heed the calls to reign in its power. Say U.S. troops were pulled out of Europe, Korea, and the Middle East. No change in our economic or cultural policies, just a withdrawal of troops from the globe. What would happen? Undoubtedly, some of the animus towards the U.S. would dissipate in the short run. However, within the next year:

1) Japan would go nuclear.
2) The Balkans would be likely to erupt again, with Macedonia being the trigger this time.
3) Afghanistan would implode.
4) India and Pakistan would likely escalate their border skirmishes.
5) Israel would escalate its quasi-military actions in the occupied territories.
6) Arab fury at the U.S. inaction in the Middle East would rise even further.
7) Anti-American activists would criticize the U.S. for isolationism and inaction in the face of global instability.

I don't deny that the looming specter of U.S. hard power in Iraq and elsewhere is eroding our capital of soft power. However, to paraphrase Churchill, the current policy is without question an awful one, until you consider the alternatives.

On the margins, I believe that more accommodating U.S. policies on trade and the environment might buy an additional amount of good will from the developing and developed world, respectively. But those changes will not conceal the overwhelming U.S. advantage in military might, nor will it erase the natural emnity that comes with it.
TALES OF TWO CONFERENCES: Both the American Economics Association and the American History Association wrapped up their annual conferences over the weekend. That their conferences are always at this time is Reason #47 that I'm glad to be a political scientist. The American Political Science Association meets over Labor Day weekend, when snarky culture journalists (many of whom are refugees from an attempted Ph.D.) are usually on vacation and thus can't write articles ridiculing my profession. No such luck for the historians, as the Chicago Tribune runs a typical (and unfair) put-down piece. However, for the AEA, no journalist can top Brad DeLong's hysterical snippets of overheard conversation. Glenn Reynolds' favorite one is here; mine is the following:

"I had an extended conversation with Joe Stiglitz on why the internet is dominated by right-wingers." "That's funny. I had an extended conversation with Bill Niskanen on why the internet is dominated by left-wingers."

P.S.: Not all media coverage of these events is condescending. Click here for an interesting summary of an AHA roundtable on plagiarism, including some surprising comments from Richard Posner.

P.P.S: Jacob Levy reminds me of another big reason why I'm glad my big conference not at this time of the year.
Thursday, January 02, 2003
KUDOS TO OXBLOG: I'm planning on posting something about North Korea in the near future, once I'm freed from child care duties. In the meantime, however, David Adesnik has been on fire over at Oxblog. Click here and here for some recent musings on the Northy Korean situation, here for some subtle analysis about anti-Americanism in recent foreign elections, and here for a marathon four-part critique of Fareed Zakaria.
Wednesday, January 01, 2003
WHY IS THE LEFT MORE SENSITIVE THAN THE RIGHT?: Virginia Postrel and Jacob Levy have posts about the inability of Randy Cohen -- The Ethicist at the New York Times -- to get past critiques of his work from conservatives and libertarians. This, combined with the somewhat snippy reaction I've received from my critique of Paul Krugman (from Krugman and his acolytes) leads to an interesting question: is the left more sensitive to criticism than the right? If so, why?

I'll admit that it might not be possible to answer the first question, since measuring such sensitivity is next to impossible. And conservatives routinely bitch and moan about unfair treatment by mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times. However, the distinguishing factor here is that in recent memory, political leaders on the right do not complain about attacks from left-wing conspiracies. The same cannot be said about political leaders on the left -- see Al Gore, Tom Daschle, Hillary Clinton, or Cynthia McKinney (Bill Clinton probably felt this way too, but the longer he stayed in office the better he got at publicly shrugging off those criticisms). The claim of a coherent right-wing disinformation campaign has the peculiar stink of paranoia that renders some on the left unable to distinguish temperate from intemperate criticism. In contrast, those on the right are pretty good at shrugging off being called evil, capitalist pig-dog fascists as part of a day's work.

Why is this the case? Two possible explanations:

1) The left takes things personally. When you have a political disagreement with someone on the right side of the spectrum, the tendency is to have a good fight and then go out for a drink. When you have a a political disagreement with someone on the left side of the spectrum, the tendency is for that person to believe that the disagreement is an indication of a deep character flaw. More (admittedly superficial) proof: run a Google search on "evil" and "right-wing" and you get 135,000 hits; do the same thing with "left-wing" and you only get back 55,000 hits. [Hey, I did the same thing with "liberal" and "conservative", and the liberals had more hits, 426,000 to 380,000---ed. OK, but do the same thing with "Democrat" and "Republican" and the Republicans win, 244,000 to 102,000].

2) Liberals have yet to adjust to the fact that they've graduated from college. Until recently, campuses were thought to be centers of gravity for political liberals. This was certainly the case when I was in school. Anyway, those who form their political positions in a world a like-minded souls are not used to having such views challenged. Those who were conservatives in school were used to being attacked, and as a result are not fazed by it later in life. Liberals face a much harsher political adjustment when they exit the ivory tower.

If it's the first explanation, there's not much that can be done about it. If it's the second, however, then liberals are likely to become much less sensitive -- and conservatives more so -- in the near future. As both David Brooks and George Packer have recently observed, students are increasingly conservative. Over time, liberals will adapt to criticism at an earlier stage, while conservatives will grow more sensitive as they find intellectual kinship at an earlier age.

Developing....

UPDATE: If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Kieran Healy really likes me. [Dude, he's parodying you--ed. Yes, but I'm not sensitive about it!]

Monday, December 30, 2002
WHAT'S SO WRONG ABOUT U.S. FOREIGN POLICY?: The growth of anti-Americanism as a successful campaign tactic has prompted some musings about whether U.S. foreign policy under the Bush administration is too aggressive, too unilateral, and/or too tone-deaf. Josh Marshall argues yes; Jackson Diehl and Glenn Reynolds say no. Let's review the list, shall we?

Too aggressive? Hardly. Too aggressive implies that the force of arms is used when alternative means of statecraft, including diplomacy, could be used as effective substitutes. One would be hard-pressed to find such an instance over the past two years. Consider:
-- When a U.S. spy plane was shot down over China, the crisis was defused without even a threat of force;
-- Given that the Taliban hosted the Al Qaeda netowrk, and given that the regime was dependant on Al Qaeda's resources, one can hardly call our response too aggressive;
-- For two of the three members of the axis of evil -- North Korea and Iran -- there has been no American provocations, unless one count the Axis of Evil Speech itself. Of course, given these governments' behavior in the past year, it's hard to debate that classification;
-- There are several "allied" governments -- Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen -- where regime change might not be such a bad idea, but the Bush administration has been silent;
-- On Iraq, there is no question that the administration has taken an aggressive posture -- since 9/11. Prior to that date, as Diehl points out, the administration was actually pursuing a dovish policy on Iraqi sanctions.
I'm not seeing a whole lot of unchecked aggression here.

Too unilateralist? Not recently. In its first six months, the administration committed the cardinal sin of assuming that it should reflexively oppose any policy initiative supported by the Clinton administration. No doubt, this led to some process-oriented mistakes, such as pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol. However, both domestic and foreign critics need to get over their first impression on this score. Consider:
-- U.S. actions against Al Qaeda and Afghanistan came witrh the backing of NATO and the UN Security Council;
-- All U.S. actions to date against Iraq have gone through the U.N. Security Council -- which, it should be added, did not act like a rubber stamp on the issue.
-- The U.S. position on terrorist financing has to reinforce multilateral institutions;
-- On North Korea, the administration has consistently pushed for a multilateral approach -- to the apparent consternation of the North Koreans;
-- In the Balkans, the U.S. has consistently deferred to the EU on policy positions, agreeing to withhold aid unless Milosevic was extradited to the Hague, for example.
-- More than one expert has pointed out that Bush's National Security Strategy is actually more multilateralist than the previous administration's.
-- U.S. foreign economic policy, on the whole, has been consistently multilateral. The U.S. jump-started the latest round of WTO negotiations, advocated vigorously for a hemispheric trade zone, and pushed for more concessionary spending from the international financial institutions. [Ahem, what about the steel tariffs and the farm bill?--ed. Definitely unilateral, but compared to the protectionist trade policies of that monument to multilateralism, the European Union, the U.S. looks like the more responsible actor].
At worst, the U.S. can be accused of threatening to act in a unilateral manner if it doesn't get some of what it wants through multilateral institutions. Which is pretty much how all great powers have acted since the invention of multilateral institutions.

[The Financial Times agrees with this assessment (link via Sullivan): "Under his [Bush's] leadership, the US has acted more multilaterally, more cautiously and more wisely than many had feared after the provocation of September 11 2001."]

Too tone deaf? Depends on who's listening. The broad majority of Americans support a U.S. foreign policy built on peaceful ideals carried out in a multilateral manner. A broad majority of Americans also supports Bush's foreign policy. A vocal minority of Americans and a lot of foreigners don't like either Bush or his foreign policy. What gives?

Let me start with an anecdote. A few weeks ago, a high-ranking White House official gave a talk on homeland security at a University of Chicago workshop on security. This person is respected among international relations specialists, so there was no ivory tower animosity. Nevertheless, the talk didn't go well. The presenter's cocksure demeanor and refusal to recognize the valid questions from the audience led me -- an administration supporter -- to find the administration's arrogance insufferable. It's this arrogance, this refusal to even consider the value of alternative viewpoints, that causes so many within the chattering classes to label it tone-deaf.

This boils down to the following criticism: this administration doesn't take the time to listen carefully to an alternative position and then delineate in full why that position is wrong -- it just says so at the outset. In diplomacy, such things matter. At the same time, as I've previously posted, there's a reason this administration seems so sure of itself -- it has a good read of the current threats to the U.S. As Diehl points out, "In a recent meeting at The Post, my colleague David Broder asked a senior administration official why Bush had come to embrace "an almost imperial role" for the United States. The answer was long, eloquent, and revealing. 'A few years ago, there were great debates about what would be the threats of the post-Cold War world, would it be the rise of another great power, would it be humanitarian needs or ethnic conflicts,' the official said. 'And I think we now know: The threats are terrorism and national states with weapons of mass destruction and the possible union of those two forces.'

'It's pretty clear that the United States is the single most powerful country in international relations for a very long time. . . . [It]is the only state capable of dealing with that kind of chaotic environment and providing some kind of order. I think there is an understanding that that is America's responsibility, just like it was America standing between Nazi Germany and a takeover of all of Europe. No, we don't have to do it alone. But the United States has to lead that.'"

When weak states become a security risk, the hegemonic power has to be involved everywhere. The administration knows this. I suspect that it's critics do as well, but they either don't like the implications of such a policy, or -- more likely -- they don't like the people currently in charge. So the tone-deaf charge is a mutual one. The administration might not be the best listeners of other views, but the administration's critics are also hard of hearing. Because the critics are equally tone-deaf, they fail to notice policies that contradict their entrenched about this administration.
CHILD CARE 1, BLOGGING 0: Back from the East Coast. I had three, count 'em, three posts erased when my mother's AOL connection decided to disconnect. After that I gave up.

This week, I'll be at home taking care of my boy, as his day care is still down. Needless to say, blogging will be light, but trips to the Museum of Science and Industry will be heavy.

UPDATE: Hmmm... maybe no museum trips. I tried to go today and it was a mob scene.

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