Tuesday, January 31, 2006

State of the Union

Tonight Bush gives the State of the Union address, and he will list a bunch of programs he would like Congress to act on, like alternative fuels and the like. Occasionally, State of the Union speeches contain interesting things, like the Axis of Evil and case for war with Iraq.
Other times, they contain things that sound great but disapear just as quickly. Anyone remember the hydrogen powered cars of the future from last year's address?

Predictably, Bush will get a bump in his poll numbers from the speech. But, as The Note, ABC New's daily political Note (and a fantastic meta-view of politics, nearly a must-read each day) says:

ABC News' Polling Director Gary Langer also offers these two contextual points.

1. "Partisans watch these things; rather than torturing themselves, people who don't like the guy can just turn to another of their 100 channels. When we polled on the SOTU in 2003, we found that the president's approval rating among speech watchers was 70 percent, versus 47 percent among those who didn't watch. As we put it at the time: 'Simply put, people who don't like a particular president are considerably less apt to tune him in.'"

2. "These speeches tend to be composed of poll-tested applause lines, so the people who watch are already predisposed to like what they hear."

"We haven't done immediate post-SOTU reax polls in years (pre-war 2003 was an exception) because, given 1 and 2 above, they are so dreadfully predictable."

So, will you watch? What do you think?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Making the World Safe For Democracy

Since Woodrow Wilson first used this rationale to get the US into WWI (and ever earlier--bringing Freedom to Cuba in the Spanish-American war), successive Presidents have put Democracy at the heart of US foreign policy. This administration is no different-- Bush has emphasized Democracy promotion as a core goal of the Nation and his presidency, making it a cornerstone of his second inaugural address.

Today, the Washington Post looks back on the progress on Bush's democracy agenda one year later. The Post writes:

In the year since Bush redefined U.S. foreign policy in his second inaugural address to make the spread of democracy the nation's primary mission, the clarion-call language has resonated in the dungeons and desolate corners of the world. But soaring rhetoric has often clashed with geopolitical reality and competing U.S. priorities.

While the administration has enjoyed notable success in promoting liberty in some places, it has applied the speech's principles inconsistently in others, according to analysts, activists, diplomats and officials. Beyond its focus on Iraq, Washington has stepped up pressure on repressive regimes in countries such as Belarus, Burma and Zimbabwe -- where the costs of a confrontation are minimal -- while still gingerly dealing with China, Pakistan, Russia and other countries with strategic and trade significance.

Promoting Democracy is hard work, you've got to work hard.

One of the problems is that "security interests" and democracy promotion don't always fit. Take Pakistan. The Bush Administration has been extremely close to Pakistan ever since the invasion of Afghanistan. Now recall, President / General Musharraf overthrew a democratically elected regime and has remained in power ever since, going back on several promises to hold elections and relinquish his military post. But, given our need to intervene in Afghanistan and given that Al Queda still hangs out along the Afghanistan / Pakistan border, and given that we seem to be hunting down Al Queda folks in this region, the Bush Administration has decided to place the US - Pakistani security relationship ahead of democracy promotion in Pakistan.

Another issue is that sometimes Democracy doesn't always bring into office the leaders you'd like.
One great myth is that if countries were only democracies, they would elect leaders more favorable to the US and leaders who would advance global peace.
Such is not always the case. Case in point-- the elections in the West Bank and Gaza for the Palestinian parliament. Turnout seems high, the elections seem free and fair from all initial indications. Better governance in the Palestinian Authority has been a goal of the Bush Administration and central to the Roadmap for Peace. But, who is poised to be the big winner? Hamas, which the US identifies as a terrorist organization. Now, if you read any of the reporting from Palestinian voters, you can hear that many see a vote for Hamas as a vote against a corrupt ruling Fatah and a vote for change and reform. But what do you do when your democracy promotion efforts yield a vote for a party you consider a terrorist organization? This is very tough for the US to handle.

And, as one person asked me, what about Burma? Yes, what about Burma. They have the 3rd worst dictator in the world leading the regime, overthrew a democratically elected government and have imprisoned a Nobel laureate, and have a horrible human rights record. Plus they sell a lot of drugs. What are we doing to bring democracy to Burma? Not much.

A foreign policy that ignored Democracy Promotion would certainly be more consistent, but perhaps not so consistent with our Exceptional Notion of America's role as a City on a Hill as the world's leading democracy.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Transformational Diplomacy

American Diplomacy is changing to keep up with the changing world, Secretary of State Condi Rice has declared.

In a speech over at Georgetown (notice everyone goes there to make major speeches, no one ever comes up here..... why is that???) Rice announced several major changes to the way the State Department conducts its diplomacy and administers foreign aid. The key changes include moving foreign service officers around--less in Europe, more in critical states in the developing world-- and greater overall coordination in dispensing foreign aid with a stronger head of USAID who will be dual-hatted with a new State Department job.

Most interesting, though, is her assessment of the international environment that necessitates this change. Rice said:
And the greatest threats now emerge more within states than between them. The fundamental character of regimes now matters more than the international distribution of power. In this world it is impossible to draw neat, clear lines between our security interests, our development efforts and our democratic ideals.
Well, how about that! Condi Rice, long considered an arch realist, (including by me) has undergone something of a transformation herself. Now, as you all remember, realism is fundamentally and principally about the distribution of power--and that's material military and economic power--between states, who are the primary actors in international affairs. It doesn't matter what kind of state you have, all states react the same to the international distribution of power. While there are dueling Realisms within IR theory (read the article for the full story on realism), they all have this fundamental aspect in common. Rice's original foreign policy manifesto for the Bush Administration from back in 2000 was a textbook application of realism.

Now here she is, 6 years later, renouncing the core tenet of realism and espousing a fundamentally liberal theory of international relations.

Liberalism, in IR theory, says that what happens within a state--its type of government and domestic politics--matters as much as if not more than power distribution in a state's behavior. Kant, in particular, first articulated the idea that democracies were particularly special. This is exactly what Rice is saying.

Condi Rice, advocate of the Bush Administration's Liberal foreign policy.

Certainly has an interesting ring to it, doesn't it?

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Monday, January 16, 2006

Why Not Invade...... Iran??????

Maybe I can start a whole series of articles for scholarly publication with this theme....

The hot topic of the day is clearly Iran (a good summary from Drezner). They have a longstanding nuclear program, the IAEA wants to inspect it, Iran refuses, its seemingly clear that they want to build a Bomb, the IAEA and European 3 are pissed, the US is officially annoyed but rather busy trying to occupy not one but 2 of Iran's neighbors, and Russia is on and off again selling them the equipment and then trying to act as a middle-man negotiator.

Four obvious yet very important issues on this:

1. Lesson rapidly being learned by the world: get a nuke, get it fast, and then and only then are you "safe" from the USA. Slobodon and Saddam and the Taliban didn't have one. Kim Jong Il seems to have one, Iran is getting one, Musharaf has one. Quadaffi almost had one. Who is still here and who is gone? It doesn't matter what you do with your bomb-- sit on it, sell it, or trade it back to the US, a nuke is really the only way other non-NATO nation-states can ever hope to have any hope when faced with even the slightest threat of US military action.
Is the "right" lesson? Is this the lesson we are trying to articulate? Maybe not, but you can be quite sure that this lesson is being actively constructed and quite powerfully so.
Ironic--JFK thought that proliferation would happen quite quickly, and that's why he pushed for the limited test ban treaty and started the process that would later become the NPT, which remains the core of the non-proliferation regime to this day and created the IAEA. But the Cold War kept the lid on proliferation. Its only now, almost 15 years afterward, that his fears might be realized.

Or maybe its the counter-balancing behavior that realists have been warning about. Why form counterbalancing coalitions when one nuke will do the job?

2. Interesting that Europe and the IAEA have taken the lead here. In a way, this could be good for the Bush administration. The USA has no leverage over Iran except military options. All US-Iranian economic activity has been cut off since the 1979 hostage crisis. The military, as has been well discussed, is quite tapped out dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan. Out of options and with no decent in-house alternative, the Bush Administration can easily let the Europeans take the lead. It is a total about-face from Iraq. There, we led the charge and no one followed. Here, the Europeans and IAEA, after years of diplomacy, declare themselves at wits end and, after consulting with China and Russia, are about ready to go to the UN Security Council.

3. As Bill points out, there's a lot at stake economicaly here. Iran is a huge oil exporter, and that oil goes to Europe, China, and Japan. And, of course, there is one global price for Oil, so any disruption in supply from Iran that stems from this escalating this confrontation will ultimately hit the US as well. China is quite thirsty for oil and seeks Iran as a prime source. Interesting enough, Iran imports a lot of gasoline (because they lack the refining capacity to turn their own oil into gas). Play out the scenario: The EU 3 raise the matter with the IAEA and actually do the diplomacy (novel, eh?) with Russia and China. The IAEA refers the matter to the UN Security Council, which is about the most it can do. Russia and China still want to talk, but are--tellingly--willing to let the process go forward. Having brought the P-5 together, there is at least an opening to do something at the SC. But what? With full-blown military action off the table, the only real stick are sanctions. These early sanctions might cut off small things or ban travel, but Iran could easily retaliate by cutting off oil exports. This is of course does Iran as much harm as it does the rest of the world, and you get a nice economic game of chicken with nuclear weapons lurking in the background. Fun. Plus, the price of oil will jump way up...

4. The War in Iraq has real consequences here. The most obvious is the massive military presence in Iraq places over a hundred thousand US troops on Iran's border. Threat to Iran? Easy targets for Iran? More significantly, though, is how the utter failure to get any of the intel on Iraq right and the utter failure to get any of the post-war occupation right has led to a serious credibility problem on Iran. Others are making this point quite well: Bill, Josh Marshall (via Brad DeLong), Robert Farley. Sufice it to say that actions have consequences and policies do not exist in a vaccuum. What you do today has a profound impact on what you can and cannot do tomorow, and Iraq has shaped and will continue to shape the US's relationship with the rest of the world for some time to come.

Can you tell I have nothing else to do tonight but blog?

Oh, and just to follow up on the last post about China-- their currency reserves now exceed $800 Billion, all the result of a massive and growing trade surplus with the USA.
The US wants them to de-value the Yuan. Or, we could just buy less stuff from them, but that wouldn't be very free market, now would it?

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Crank it up.....
Classes start next week, and I am finishing my syllabi today, and another spring of SIS 382 is about to get under way, so hopefully, there will be even more frequent postings and such.

Today-- two stories that probably fly under the radar but are certainly interesting and potentially quite important.

First, from yesterday's Washington Post:

SHANGHAI, Jan. 9 -- China has resolved to shift some of its foreign exchange reserves -- now in excess of $800 billion -- away from the U.S. dollar and into other world currencies in a move likely to push down the value of the greenback, a high-level state economist who advises the nation's economic policymakers said in an interview Monday.
This is a big story. In a macroeconomic nutshell, we buy tons of cheap manufactured goods from China, creating a huge trade deficit. We cover that deficit by exporting dollars to China in the form of T-Bills that they buy for their reserves to keep the value of their currency low so those manufactured goods remain cheap. If China stops buying so many dollars,
even a slight diminishing of the dollar as a percentage of those holdings could exert significant pressure on the U.S. currency, many economists assert.

In recent years, the value of the dollar has been buoyed by major purchases of U.S. Treasury bills by Japan, China and oil-exporting countries -- a flow of capital that has kept interests rates relatively low in the United States and allowed Americans to keep spending even as debts mount. Some economists have long warned that if foreigners lose their appetite for American debt, the dollar would fall, interest rates would rise and the housing boom could burst, sending real estate prices lower.

In other words, significant economic dislocation here in the US. (this sounds like a dan drezner type post, and interestingly enough, he hasn't even posted on it yet! (edit--in fact, he has commented on this) This is a big deal.

Second story-- not nearly as dramatic, but in keeping with the hyper-attention I seem to pay to North Korea, Kim Jong Il is reportedly making a secret visit to China. Even more fascinating, he supposedly flew in a plane, making it his first ever plane trip outside North Korea. Usually, when a North Korean leader travels to China or Russia, he takes a special train due to a fear of flying. If he flew, well, perhaps times are a changing.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Happy New Year!

Its a happy New Year because Ohio State totally dominated Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Had a few friends over to watch the game (including J and E and other blog-less buckeyes) and it was quite a good time. Go Buckeyes!
(And, to top it off, the basketball team is undefeated and rising in the polls. Mata is a heck of a coach and looks like a young Gene Hackman. He really does-- compare Mata and Hackman).

The big international news, of course, is Ariel Sharon's stroke.
The thing that I find most interesting about this is all the talk about what will happen to the peace process / withdrawal and the new Kadima party that was poised to caputre a bunch of seats and lead a new government without Likud. The interesting thing, I think, is that it forces one to consider the power than any large individual (pun semi-intended, as Sharon was well over 3 bills) has in a political setting.

Lots of IR theory and Foreign Policy Analysis focuses on forces larger than the individual to explain things-- the balance of power, bureaucracy, culture, economics, public opinion, etc. The implication is that any individual, when confronted with the same situation, would be forced into the same decisions and actions.

Clearly, what we are seeing with Sharon and the discussion about the profound impact of his sudden withdrawal from Israeli political life (because even if he survives the stroke and surgery, he'll clearly be in no shape to contest a grueling election campaign in a few months) is the tremendous impact an individual, taking creative action, can have in world politics.
Sharon was able to up-end the existing structure of Israeli - Palestinian interactions and insert a whole new game--that of unilateral Israeli exit from the territories. Its something that no one else was able to do and, from what it sounds like, it is something that no one else can hope to complete.

So, how can one explain this episode of international politics?
However you choose to do it, you must leave room for individuals to make bold and daring and seemingly out of character choices that upset the prevailing conventional wisdom.

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