Tag: domestic politics

What was behind the UAE’s detention of a UK graduate student

Like everyone else, I’m still trying to catch up after the Thanksgiving holiday. So I have a quick, kind of speculative post this week.

It looks like the distressing saga of Matthew Hedges has finally been resolved. As I wrote about before, Hedges is a grad student in the UK who traveled to the UAE to conduct field work. After interviewing several subjects about UAE security policies, he was arrested and charged with espionage. He was recently been sentenced to life in prison, although the UAE just pardoned him.

There is a lot to figure out with this case–what it means for scholars working on the Persian Gulf, whether universities should still have relationships with the UAE, and (most crucially) how to secure Hedges’ release. But one angle I’ve been thinking about, and which I don’t think has been explained properly, is why did the UAE do this? Why did they detain a UK citizen, risking international criticism and condemnation?

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The “Israel Lobby” and the Nixon Administration

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Eric Grynaviski, who is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at George Washington University.

When Mearsheimer and Walt wrote the Israel Lobby, I was skeptical. I bought the argument that supporters of Israel influenced US policy, but because I am not a realist, I did not buy the argument that this necessarily deflected the US from pursuing specific policies during the cold war or afterwards. The primary reason for my skepticism was the evidence: because of how recent US support for Israel is, there are few archival documents that have been opened that show the extent of the ‘Israel Lobby’s’’ influence. This is compounded by the book’s focus on recent episodes, like Iraq, where there are few available documents. And, as many have argued, it’s unclear whether Israel exerts more influence than other lobbies in the United States.

While doing research for a book that is will come out with Cornell next year about the US-Soviet détente, I read the recently released Foreign Relations of the United States volume on the 1973 war. This is a very important case for the Israel Lobby argument because there was a lot of political organizing around Jewish-related issues, especially Soviet restrictions on Jewish emigration, featuring one early episode for organized lobbies in the United States pressing an administration over Israeli security issues. In the language of case selection, it is a ‘hard’ case for the Israeli lobby argument because the ‘lobby’ was only beginning to become an organized political force in Washington.

This volume is enormously interesting for the Israel lobby argument, in part, because it showcases Nixon and Kissinger’s fears of the lobby. I’ve read a lot of cooky Nixon and Kissinger shenanigans over the years, but these do stand out, in part because they emphasize Nixon and Kissinger’s concerns about the Lobby over strategic considerations.

My reading of the volume is that it provides some direct evidence of the influence of pressure from the Israel lobby on US policy, bearing out not only the Israel Lobby argument but more generally the importance of domestic politics to Nixon’s foreign policy.

Below are excerpts from four documents released as part of FRUS, recounting different statements made by Nixon and Kissinger about political pressure brought to bear and how they saw it organized. Continue reading

Get the Lead Out?

Lead bullets

Yesterday, Dan Drezner’s “one post about American gun violence” explicitly linked the post-Newtown debate about gun violence to Kevin Drum’s interesting and provocative Mother Jones article on the disturbing relationship between lead (Pb) in the environment and criminal violence. “If the White House is smart, they will take, verbatim, Kevin Drum’s suggested policy proposals for eliminating lead from our nation’s homes and topsoil.”

Like many of us at the Duck, Drezner is an IR scholar who frequently blogs about foreign policy. However, as a group, we are somewhat hesitant about entering into debates about domestic political issues that are remote from our primary areas of expertise. In this case, however, Drezner quite laudably attempts to find seemingly reasonable common ground between the anti-gun left and the gun lobby. Specifically, he plausibly asserts that a wide array of interest and identity groups should support a proposal to reduce lead in the environment: Continue reading

The Susan Rice Fiasco

I’m not sure the Obama administration could have handled this any worse.  We live in a highly politicized world and somehow the Obama administration is “shocked, shocked” that this issue is being hyped.  And while I’m sympathetic to the flurry of criticisms of FoxNews and others for hyping this, I’m also struck by how badly the administration has handled it all.

The core of Obama’s foreign policy has been to lighten America’s global military footprint and to redirect away from Bush’s flawed idea that we could “defeat” terrorism.   In other words, the gist of Obama’s foreign policy has been to  maintain pressure on groups like Al Qaeda and reduce their capabilities.  But, in the end, given America’s global posture, various types of terrorist attacks are probably going to happen.   The key is to maintain a steady approach and not over-react and overcommit — as Bush did in Iraq and elsewhere behind his “global war on terror.”

Overall, I think this is a solid, prudent, and reasonable approach.   However, this is generally where this administration gets into trouble.   One of the central flaws of the Obama administration has been is its tendency towards vacillating displays of arrogance, indifference, dismissiveness, and open disdain towards those that challenge what it concludes are its inherently “reasonable” positions.  While it seems clear that both President Obama and Secretary Clinton were deeply disturbed by the deaths of Ambassador Stevens and the others, the initial response also suggests that the administration did not see the attack as posing much more than the type of terrorist attack that is probably going to happen from time to time.   It was a pretty big deal, but not a really big deal.  If we’re looking for reasons why McCain and Graham are so angry about Benghazi, I think this is it.
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RNC: Don’t Speak in a Publicly-Built Facility when you Attack Government – D’oh!

tampa_convention_center

I got bogged down with NK for awhile, so I missed a chance to comment on the RNC and the US election more generally. I have some thoughts after the break, but a Democrat friend of mine wrote the following, which is a pretty good first draft of the GOP’s problems I think, in this election cycle:

On the whole, I found the Republican convention disgusting and not simply because I disagree with their policies. They substantively are disconnected from the problems of the average person. They offered nothing which will help average people and, what they do offer, is bereft of details. They said nothing – NOTHING – about the two wars they started and the one that is still ongoing. (They do however feel we should have wars, or at least brinksmanship with several other countries.) They have no narrative connecting who they were just four years ago with who they think they are now.

The narrative they do present is a fantasy beyond what even Republicans of a prior generation would present. They stand in a publicly-built convention center preaching nothing but disdain for the role of government. They parade women, Latinos and an African-American secretary of state who talk about the ‘bootstrap’ mentality of their parents with no mention of the giants of civil rights and the role of government which reformed the bigoted society which their beloved founding fathers gave us. That reformation – more than their parents – allowed the likes of Condoleezza Rice to be where she is today.
They reach out to women with symbolism and yelps of ‘I love you women,’ but want to savage Medicare and Medicaid, both programs disproportionately benefiting women (remember, Medicaid is also a program for the elderly medical class who enter nursing homes). They are utter hypocrites on things like government stimulus – Romney first supported it and Ryan voted for Bush’s Tarp and took money from Obama’s stimulus. Even by politicians’ standards, their willingness to lie about Obama’s policies and statements is breathtaking.

But what bothers me the most is this ‘we built it’ mentality which they go on with. The US’ post-war middle class and social stability would not have existed without government. Support for college education, a redistributive tax structure, a modest social safety net, civil rights, Keynesian counter-cyclical spending, massive government infrastructure programs from highways, to the space program, to the defense establishment contributed mightily to every American’s success. This includes the success of their plutocrat leader Mitt Romney who made his money during the tech boom of the 1990s, a tech boom built on government research in computers and the internet. It includes the success of his running mate Paul Ryan whose family made much of their money building government-funded roads. 

I would add that I wonder how much ‘risk’ himself Romney has ever actually taken, given that dramatically pairing back the welfare state is emerging as the GOP meme for this election? If the Randian superman who ‘built it all himself’ is the economic ideology of the GOP, then it becomes central just how much Romney, Ryan, Cantor, Limbaugh, etc. exploit government services. Ayn Rand herself accepted Social Security and Medicare late in her life. That strikes me as fairly fraudulent, as does insisting that SS and Medicare be retained for today’s elderly but not tomorrow’s. I’m sure that the likelihood of older voters to vote GOP and younger voters to go for Obama has nothing to do with that.

For example, did Ryan try to steer government money into his district, as a congressman, as most congressmen do? If he did, isn’t that hard to justify given what he’s saying now? It seems increasingly obvious that Romney never did without in his life in a meaningful way, never went through a ‘back in grad school when I lived in a crappy apartment and ate ramen’ phase. He “refused to head up Bain Capital until Bain promised him he would get back his old salary and interest if he failed. He risked nothing.” He’s also done a fair job of using the government to make a mountain of money – whether that be fixing the Olympics, getting a sorta government bailout, using a battery of accountants to gin up such amazing tax shelters that he doesn’t want to release his returns, or working in government itself – governors get paid a lot more than most Americans. I don’t mean to begrudge Romney his success, but profiting handsomely from government while you promise to tear it down for those who come after you strikes me as fairly selfish.

More generally, I would ask how the GOP thought that a guy who’s practically a caricature of Gordon Gekko could get elected just 3 years after white shoe banking nearly wrecked the world? That just staggers me. And the scandals that continue to come out – LIBOR most recently – have made it obvious to just about everyone except Jamie Dimon that Wall Street needs a tighter regime, most obviously the Volcker Rule. Given just how much we’ve all learned about the financial industry since 2009 (in a bad way), I can’t imagine Romney – who’s so obviously steeped in the values of that class, right down to his perfect hair and willingness to say anything to please – winning. I can’t imagine Tea Partiers, who share the Occupy Movement’s disdain for too-big-to-fail banks and slick ‘masters of the universe,’ being enthusiastic for this guy either. Good lord, even Sandy Weill is now saying the banks need to be broken up. Yet in the first presidential election after the mostly-Wall-Street-caused Great Recession, we’re going to elect such an obvious product of the financial services industry? Wow. God help me for saying it, but where’s Santorum or Bachmann (at least they were honest) when you need them? It’s a measure of just how bad the economy is and just how weak a president and candidate Obama is that Romney is competitive at all.

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.

Inside the Bubble

Erik Erikson’s full-throated attack on the US media and Obama is getting bounced around the right-wing twitter-verse today.  For those of us who aren’t part of that universe, it provides an interesting glimpse inside the bubble.

It begins thus:

Yesterday, as the American consulate in Libya was smoking and the rioters were returning in Egypt, the President of the United States flew off to Las Vegas for a fundraiser while his spokesman was telling the American press corps that yesterday wasn’t really a normal political day. Had it been George W. Bush, the media would, right now, be marching on the White House with pitch forks and torches.

Should Obama have suspended his campaign on September 12th? In the absence of any major foreign-policy decisions, I don’t really understand the argument here. And I don’t see how anyone who lived through the Bush presidency can say, with a straight face, that “the media would have been marching on the White House with pitch forks and torches” under similar circumstances.

He continues:

I get that Chuck Todd is a former Democrat hill staffer. I get that the Politico is riddled with Democrats, some former activists and a former staffer for Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I get that Michael Scherer from Time magazine is a left wing reporter for Mother Jones and Salon.com turned respectable, “objective” journalist. I get that Ben Smith, leading up Buzz Feed, is a leftwing journalist paraded about as if he is some sort of objective reporter at a trendy site full of cat photos. What I really get is that the American media runs with a herd mentality, leans left, and yesterday collectively fell over their group think as they leaned so far left to focus on Mitt Romney and not President Obama. Yesterday, the American media beclowned itself in ways I didn’t really even think was possible, even knowing how in the tank for Barack Obama they are.

Of course, it wasn’t just “the media” that was shocked and appalled by Romney’s disingenuous opportunism.

Yesterday, we learned that there were no Marines protecting our Ambassador to Libya despite State Department warnings about violence and kidnappings in the Benghazi. We already knew Al Qaeda was coming on strong there. But we relied on locals for support and now we know the locals betrayed us as they have in the past in Afghanistan and Iraq too. 

But the media wanted to focus on Mitt Romney.

Speaking of “the media,” both of these links go to posts at Breitbart.com. Both of those posts are riffs on…. wait for it…. mainstream media reporting. Anyway, according to google news there were 71,500 English-language stories that mentioned “Egypt OR Libya” and “Embassy OR Consulate.” Of those, 47,800 did not include the word “Romney.” A quick browse suggests that the ~60% of the stories mentioning Romney simply included a reference to his campaign statement condemning the attacks and the Obama Administration. Note that the Romney campaign issued its condemnations with the aim of getting them included in stories about the attacks.

Is 60% too much of a focus on Romney? That’s a subjective judgment. I tend to think that the answer is “yes,” but I’m also convinced that if the media had ignored Romney’s campaign statements then Republicans would be crying foul. No, what Erikson is actually upset about — and this is clear from his rundown of biased reporters — is that the political media focused on Romney.

Let’s repeat that again: the political media focused on Romney. Chuck Todd is not a Middle East reporter. Politico’s main goal is to call who “won the morning” in American politics. Ben Smith’s gig at buzzfeed? Definitely not “foreign correspondent.” These people were doing their jobs. Now, you and I may not think much of the inordinate attention that they get. I’d prefer that we focused more on foreign affairs qua foreign affairs. But I suspect Erikson wouldn’t have been at all upset if these same people had been lambasting Obama for his “poor handling” of attacks. Scratch that: I’m almost certain he’d been dancing with glee.

Why am I certain? Because his next line is:

Night before last, the President condemned Mitt Romney in harsher tones than he condemned the rioters. It took him until sun up yesterday to condemn them.

But the media wanted to focus on Mitt Romney.

And, of course, the link is to Breitbart (linking to Talking Points Memo). The TPM story says no such thing. It covers Secretary of State Clinton, who is, I should remind readers, speaking on behalf of the US government, condemning the attacks. Here’s Clinton:

I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today. As we work to secure our personnel and facilities, we have confirmed that one of our State Department officers was killed. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack. 

This evening, I called Libyan President Magariaf to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya. President Magariaf expressed his condemnation and condolences and pledged his government’s full cooperation. 

Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind. 

In light of the events of today, the United States government is working with partner countries around the world to protect our personnel, our missions, and American citizens worldwide.”

 It also reports the following:

Mitt Romney seized on the embassy attacks as an opportunity to condemn Obama’s “disgraceful” handling of the situation in a statement late Tuesday. Despite the embassy’s assertion that its statement was drafted before protests began, Romney slammed the White House for turning to apologies as the “first response” to violence. 

“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” he said. “It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” 

That didn’t sit well with the Obama campaign, who accused Romney of exploiting the crisis for electoral gain. 

“We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack,” Obama’s campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt said in a statement.

Are the tones used by the Obama campaign harsher than those used by Secretary Clinton? You can judge for yourself. The important point, however, is this: “Obama campaign,” “President Obama,” and “Secretary of State Clinton” are not the same things. Indeed, the idea that there’s something wrong with the Obama campaign responding to an attack by the Romney campaign prior to the President’s own official statement is rather bizarre.

Obama’s official statement, which came yesterday, carried no mention of Mitt Romney. Obama’s comment on his rival’s statements was, in fact, rather terse.

Back to Erikson:

Yesterday, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a man who swore an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America, called an American civilian to ask him to stop exercising his first amendment rights. 

But the media wanted to focus on Mitt Romney.

I’m well into tl;dr territory, so I’ll just point out that unless Dempsey threatened Jones, there’s nothing unusual about what he did — nor anything unconstitutional.

We also now know that the President, close to 60% of the time, has opted for printed intelligence briefings, which this White House thinks are as useful as an intelligence officer in the room who the President can probe, prod, challenge, and question. 

But the media wanted to focus on Mitt Romney.

Written briefings convey information much more quickly than verbal ones. I’m also sure that if the President wants to “probe, prod, challenge, and question” intelligence reports, he has ways of doing this that don’t involve having a briefer in the room. Those ways might even be more effective, as briefers will never be experts on every aspect of intelligence in the PDB.

And in focusing on Mitt Romney, finally, of all the places, Slate and Dave Weigel finally point out that Mitt Romney’s gaffe was no gaffe, it was a consistent view of foreign policy foreign to the ears of the political press. He, I, and many others really do think Barack Obama is an apologist. We really do think his speech to Cairo after his entrance to the White House was part of a world apology tour. And we sure as hell think his actions in the past year to foster the Arab Spring were the actions of a naive fool.

But then the media has been playing the naive fool for him.

Uh. Ok. Even if the term”gaffe” was a central part of the criticisms being leveled at Romney — and, of course it is not — I don’t think Weigel’s column means what Erikson wants it to mean.

#virtualAPSA2012 – Phil Arena, “Crisis Bargaining and Domestic Opposition”

Phil Arena was supposed to present his paper, “Crisis Bargaining and Domestic Opposition” at APSA. If you are reading this on an RSS feed, you should see the audio. His slides are not integrated, as his audio presentation is in mp3 format. 

This is the first of what I hope will be more of these. If you need an APSA fix, or are just interested in the topic, take 10-15 minutes to listen to Phil’s presentation and leave feedback.
If and when we accumulate more #virtualAPSA2012 presentations, I will create a more conference-like environment for them. 

Guest Post: Dave Kang – “Confucian North Korea”

I am happy to guest post my friend Dave Kang of the University of Southern California. I think Dave’s work on east Asia and IR theory is excellent; I would start with this or this if you’re interested. REK


Confucian North Korea
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Figure 1. Korean Worker’s Party symbol



It is easy to caricature North Korea as a “bizarre” “land of no smiles” full of brainwashed robots. In the past few years, North Korea has become somewhat prominent in popular culture either as a salacious joke or a freak show of a country. (And yes, I refuse to give you too many links to articles I think are misinformed caricatures). The trope of North Korea as a nation of automatons, grimly marching through each day is very powerful.

It is absolutely true that the regime itself is horrific and reprehensible, and engages in systematic human rights abuses. Indeed, the people of North Korea are the most direct victims of the ruling regime. I am totally for regime change, or a regime that modifies its ways and introduces economic and social reforms that improve the lives of its people. However, wishful thinking has gotten us nowhere, and rather than simply sit back and laugh at North Korea or call it names, perhaps we might explore why the regime has survived as long as it has.
In addition to extensive repression and selective bribery, what is widely overlooked is that the North Korean dictatorship is built on deeply traditional Korean cultural and Confucian roots. In fact, the best way to understand both the regime and its people is to remember that North Koreans are Koreans more than anything else. Far more insightful than any other description such as “communist monarchy,” North Korea is identifiably Korean, and there is a coherent internal logic in much of its way of life. As a result, the regime is more stable and enduring than commonly thought. (The arguments I make here have been made much more cogently by Bruce Cumings and Suk-Young Kim, among others).
Take a look at picture at the top of this page, which is a photo of the official emblem of the Korean Worker’s Party. Although the hammer and sickle are easily recognizable as signs of all Communist Parties from the Soviets to the Chinese Communist Party and others (Figure 2),

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Figure 2. Flag of the Chinese Communist Party

North Korea is unique in that there are actually three symbols. What is that middle symbol in Figure 1?

1. Candle?
No. Wrong. C-

2. Paintbrush?
Warmer. What kind of paintbrush?

3. A calligraphy brush they used in olden times to write Chinese characters?
Yes!

It is a Confucian scholar’s brush – perhaps the most direct and vivid symbol of traditional learning, culture, and scholar-elite rule in Korea since the 9th century Silla dynasty first introduced an examination system for selecting government officials.

This is pretty remarkable. The Communist Party everywhere has stood for an utter rejection of the past and tradition as feudal and oppressive, and the basic message from Stalin to Mao has been to destroy the past and totally rebuild society. Yet the North Korean regime, rather than attempting to erase the past, has grafted itself onto traditional Korean traits, and reached back to some of the most traditional iconography possible: a hierarchic and elitist symbol of education, with all the other Confucian connotations that go with it: a ruler who embodies both the country and the “mandate of heaven,” an emphasis on centralized political control, and a clear set of hierarchical relationships that create harmony.
What about the role of women? Figure 3 is prominently displayed in Pyongyang, and depicts a generic and heroic “Mother,” fighting against the Japanese.

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Figure 3: “Mother in a Sea of Blood”

What is interesting about that painting? As with the KWP symbol, it might strike the viewer as somewhat odd that she is wearing traditional Korean women’s dress (“hanbok,”or “choseonot as they call it in North Korea). Compare this with the standard depictions of revolutionary Communist women from China or the Soviet Union – they are all in drab “Mao jackets” that reject and depart from any traditional and feudalistic tendencies (Figure 4).

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Figure 4: Chinese Revolutionary Women

But in North Korea women have been presented with an image that emphasizes their Koreanness – a traditional dress that is far more common in Pyongyang and North Korea than in South Korea. The regime explicitly is telling North Korean women that they are a link to a way of life that is Korean, and the way they dress is the most obvious manifestation of that link.

What about the “cult of personality” and the rise of the grandson? Surely that’s bizarre, right? Not really, in a traditional Korean context. The Confucian emphasis on family places the father as the head of the family. Kim Il-Sung simply placed himself as father of the country, and grafted an authoritarian state onto the existing social and cultural roots. Leadership by a powerful family makes sense in a Korean context. Korea is a clannish country, and the family is the basic building block of social, political, and economic life.

The best way to understand the role of families is by comparison with contemporary South Korea. The foundation of Korean life in both North and South is the clan. For example, most major business conglomerates are family-run, and often the grandson of the founder is now in charge. This is the case even of the biggest companies in Korea. In addition, it may appear to outsiders that Korea is a country with only three last names (Kim, Park, and Lee, hahaha). But all those Kims are actually divided up into dozens of different clans, each connected to a hometown, each with extensive family lineage records, and each vividly distinctive to other Koreans. Thus, there is Kimhae Kim, Seoul Kim, Kyongju Kim, etc. So powerful was the clannish nature of Korea that until 1998, members of the same clan could not legally marry, even if they were separated by tens of generations. Similarly, Kathy Moon has recently argued that the blather over Kim Jong-un’s marriage is mostly misguided: “For Koreans on both sides of the 38th parallel…Unless one is married (and with children), one is not fully an adult. In both Koreas and in dynastic cultures, those pieces are supposed to come in the same box, to be pieced together into a coherent puzzle.” Thus, within a Korean cultural context, multigenerational leadership in North Korea and family as the building block of society is common sense.

Why does this matter? Because the story the North Korean regime tells itself and its people is aimed at domestic audiences, not at international audiences. They are telling a story that — however warped and corrupted — resonates deeply and instinctively with Koreans: North Korean are the true Koreans, and are the only ones remaining true to the essence of being Korean. South Koreans have been corrupted and forgotten who they are. The Kim family is leading the fight against external oppressors such as Japan and America. If the people must endure some hardship in order to maintain a Korean way of life, that’s a small price to pay.

This is one reason I tend to think an Arab Spring or uprising is not likely. Questions of imminent demise overlook the fact that North Korean dictatorship has grafted itself onto deeply traditional Korean culture roots. As a result, the regime is much more stable than some may think. For some people of North Korea, conditions may become so horrific that they choose to try and leave. But far more remain, and they remain not because they are brainwashed and not only because of repression. Many stay because North Korea is their home, where they grew up, where their family and friends live, and it is what makes sense to them.

All Politics is Local, Korean style

 

Because I work for a public university, I am a national civil servant. So it was inappropriate for me to comment on my site about the recent Korean parliamentary election. But now that it’s over (here are the results), I thought it would be fun, as a political scientist, to share this video of what downhome street politics looks like in my election district in Korea. Here’s a little anthropological, comparative politics participant observation in the field.

This took place about 2 minutes from our apartment, in the middle of a boisterous Korean streetmarket (the woman next to me was chopping the heads off of fish). The candidate’s name is Jin Bok Lee (the incumbent and a conservative); here’s his campaign truck and part-time campaign dance squad. So if you’re wondering what Richard Fenno’s ‘homestyle’ campaigning looks like in Korea, here you go, goofiness and all. Don’t miss the ajeossi on the left side boogying with the dancers. Awesome! Doubtless, this is what Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson had in mind Smile.

In Busan, I live in Dongnae Gu. ‘Dongnae’ is proper name, and ‘Gu’ would roughly translate as ‘precinct,’ but much it’s larger (around 250,000 people I’ve heard). Busan is pretty conservative, a stronghold for the conservative, government Sae Nuri Party (the new, hard-to-translate name of the old Grand National Party). Korean parties change names all the time, and mix and merge so much it’s hard to keep track.

Korea’s voting system for the National Assembly is similar to the German system for the Bundestag. It’s a mix of proportional representation (54 seats) and single-member districts (246). Here’s a quick write-up on the election process. It’s also a very presidentialized semi-presidential system. There is a prime minister, but he’s pretty weak. Turn out on April 11 was 54.3%. The wiki write-up on the results is amazingly thorough just 36 hours after the vote.

Back in the 1990s, I worked for a US representative in the district office. It was campaign season, so inevitably I ‘voluntered’ a lot. I didn’t have to dance in public like these kids, but we did walk in parades, go to church lunches, work the bingo halls, and do all that sort of stuff Fenno talked about in Homestyle. And when Assemblyman Lee spoke, after the dancers, he all but channeled Tip O’Neill’s famous line that ‘all politics is local.’ Here’s him speaking:

Election 008

To my mind, perhaps as an IR guy, the big issues in Korea all revolve around North Korea, where I tend to agree with moderate SNP hawks. But as O’Neill and Fenno would predict, our assemblyman said pretty much nothing about foreign affairs. Instead, it was all about the pork. He told us we’d get more money for schools (pretty much a throw-away line in any democracy I guess), more foreign teachers for direct foreign language instruction (a big issue in Korea, where English proficiency is critical professional skill), and Dongnae would become a transportation hub (even though we are a very dense, totally enclosed section of Busan), complete with another subway station (we just got a big new subway interchange built last year, which is supposedly bringing more people to a big mall in our Gu). The big issues in Korea this year are social-welfarist – things like school lunches for kids and the widening Gini-coefficient. So the SNP has been pivoting left for months. This was definitely not Romney talking about ‘self-reliance’ and ‘job creators.’

Finally, I guess as if to show the conservatives around the world just can’t resist, Lee drew some specious link about how the opposition parties in Korea wouldn’t care if al Qaeda showed up in Seoul. Ah, the ease of Bush-Rove-Palin demagoguery. I guess when Obama was “pallin’ around with terrorists,” Korean left-wingers were setting the meets in Seoul. Actually Korea’s conservatives are a lot more balanced and centrist than the GOP, so I was rather disappointed with that remark. Some Korean conservatives have used Christianity as a wedge issue, which has provoked tension with Buddhist community. And NK can always bring out over-the-top anti-communist cold-war rhetoric from the right-wing media here. But the kind of nastiness the Tea Party has brought to American discourse (cheering for the death penalty and such) is pretty uncommon here. I once remember even hearing a sitting congressman on the campaign trail in the US call CNN the ‘Communist News Network’ directly to a group of reporters. To its great credit, the Korean right doesn’t usually talk that way.

It turns out Lee was reelected. The pre-election consensus our Gu seemed to be that he was good, even if even else in the NA is corrupt, which sounds pretty much like the well-established finding in American politics that Americans loathe Congress as a body, but like their own guy.

It is also worth noting that there was almost no one under 40 among the listeners at that street event. That was immediately obvious. That reminded me of those arguments in the US that because the elderly vote and pay attention so much to politics, their preferred issues like Social Security and Medicare are untouchable. Korea is aging rapidly, and I imagine the effects will be similar.

Next, if your wondering about the truck, they are common here, which surprised me. It reminds me of those political trucks driving around in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and that’s how they do it. The truck pulls up to an intersection. The dancers and music start up, and then the candidate starts bellowing into the mic. That really struck me, because in the US, when I worked for Congress, it was all about TV. Hitting the streets was a worth a few points in the polls maybe, but it was difficult and boring and time-consuming. (Our candidate hated it.) The real focus was dialing for dollars and then big ad buys on TV. Thankfully, Korea is not like that, at least in the legislative races. Korea is far more dense than the US, so there are only a few major TV markets for a huge number of districts. My colleagues tell me it would therefore be astronomically expensive for National Assembly candidates to go on TV. But this fall is the presidential race, which should be played out heavily on TV in the American sense.

Finally the number “1” on Assemblyman Lee’s truck means his party is the first list on the PR portion of the ballot. List 1 is the conservative bloc; list 2 is the social democratic or liberal bloc (the Democratic United Party).

Random factoid: Door-to-door campaigning is illegal in Korea, in order to prevent direct vote buying. The average constituency in Korea is 200,000 voters, less than one-third of a US House seat. But I still find it hard to imagine that so many people could get bribed.

Cross-posted on Asian Security Blog.

The US will not ‘Pivot’ much to Asia (1): We don’t really Want to



I found this image here.

So the US pivot toward Asia is all the rage in foreign policy now. Obama and Secretary Clinton genuinely seem to believe in this, and there good reasons for it. Briefly put, Asia has the money, people, and guns to dramatically impact world politics in a way that no other region can now. But I think the US Asian pivot won’t happen much nonetheless, because: 1) Americans, especially Republicans, don’t care about Asia, but they really care about the Middle East (a point the GOP presidential debates made really obvious); 2) Americans know less about Asia than any part of the world, bar Africa perhaps; 3) intra-Asian soft balancing (i.e., almost everyone lining up informally against China) means we don’t really need to be that involved, because our local allies will do most of the work; 4) we’re too broke to replicate in Asia the sort of overwhelming presence we built in the Middle East in the last decades.

On the face of it, a US pivot seems like a good idea, and if the US followed secular, rationalist, (realist-defined) national interest criteria, we would indeed pivot. Looking at global regions, Asia pretty clearly outweighs the rest. Europe and Latin America are mostly democratic, fairly prosperous, and at peace. We don’t really need to be in these places, and we shouldn’t either abet Euro-free-riding or worsen our already bad history in Latin America. Getting out serves our (and their) interests. Africa, sadly, remains a backwater of US interest, with no clear (national security) reason for an already overstretched US to do much. The Middle East, to my mind, is wildly overrated for us. Like Walt, Sullivan, Friedman, and so many others now, I think it’s fairly obvious, ten years after 9/11, that: our relationship with Israel has become unhealthily close, almost obsessive; Islamic terrorism is a wildly overrated threat to the US which we risk worsening by the inevitable blowback to all our action in the Middle East; and we should be moving toward alternative energy so that we can get out of the Gulf. In short, Europe and the Western Hemisphere are basically democratic peace zones, Africa is (sorry) irrelevant, and the ME needs to be cut down to size in our foreign policy phobias.

That leaves Asia, and the reasons for attention should be blindingly obvious. Asia’s economies are growing fast, almost uniformly so. Even place like Cambodia and Vietnam are clocking 5+% growth now. Asian savers and banks fund the ridiculous US budget deficit and export lots of stuff we buy. The number of people Asia has added to the global labor pool (2 billion in the last 25 years) has kept global inflation down for a generation (the largest ever one-time shift in the ratio of capital to labor). Asian markets are now major export destinations for American industries (including academia).

Next, there are a lot of Asians. This seems trite, but if you consider that there are only around 500 million people stretching from Rabat to Islamabad, but 3 times that just in India (!), you quickly get a sense that sheer demographics plays a role. Half the world’s population lives in South, Southeast, and Northeast Asia. And unlike many people in the greater Middle East, Africa, or even Latin America, these people participate in the global economy a lot – as low-cost labor, big savers, importers, exporters, etc.

Third, lots of people means inevitable friction, and lots of money means lots of weapons. Especially NE Asia sometimes feels like Europe before WWI: big, tightly-packed, fast-growing economies; lots of money for bigger and bigger militaries; lots of nationalism and territorial grievances to create sparks. Regional conflict in Asia would dwarf anything since the Cold War. And specifically, China’s rise to regional hegemony would have very obvious security ramifications for the US.

So all this says Asia’s important, but the trends of US domestic politics run strongly against this. I think the Asian pivot for the US won’t take off, at least not for another decade:

1. Who is the constituency for a US shift to Asia? Who in America actually cares about this region enough to drive a major realignment away from long-standing US interests in Europe and the Middle East? I guess the business community cares; they pushed PMFN for China 15 years ago, but they’re souring on China today because of its relentless mercantilism. Perhaps Asian-Americans would like to see this, in the same way that Hispanic-Americans impact US south-of-the-border policy. But there aren’t that many Asian-Americans (4-5%), and they don’t strike me as an organized voice loudly demanding this pivot. Perhaps foreign policy elites want this, but to my mind the think-tank/op-ed pages set (AEI, WSJ, NYT, Fox, Heritage) still seem more interested in the Middle East – when is the last time you read an op-ed about US basing in Japan or Korea, or US CT cooperation with Indonesia? The relevant Asian security stuff regarding the pivot is still scarcely on the radar of the regular media (compared to the coverage of US domestic politics or the Middle East). Finally, does Obama’s electoral coalition care about or want this? As a rule of thumb, the less wealthy you are, the less you care about far-off issues like foreign policy, so it’s unlikely that the underprivileged and youth who helped Obama win want or even care about this. While college educated whites, who also broke for Obama, likely support this, the rest of the Democratic coalition traditionally focuses on domestic issues like education, social mobility, the courts, redistribution and safety nets, etc. Maybe labor unions care a bit, but their trade concerns are dated and generic, rather than Asia-specific, and they probably want less not more engagement with Asia.

But most importantly, the Republican Party, which I think worries about foreign policy a lot more than the Dems, really cares about the Middle East. Remember that something like 30-40% of Americans claim to have had a born-again experience. For them, Israel is, easily, America’s most important ally. Their post-9/11 Kulturkamp with Islam is a central value; they know that worshipping Allah is blasphemous. In that fetid Christianist mindset, what are Korea or China but factory floors far away who make stuff for Walmart? Asia doesn’t activate or mobilize these ‘Jacksonian-Christianist’ voters. When Santorum said in the New Hampshire debate that Iran’s nuclear program is the most important issue in US foreign policy, he was channeling probably one-third of the electorate. Romney and Gingrich too discuss Iran constantly and pledge ‘no daylight’ with Israel. By contrast, what does the Tea Party know or care about China or India? At least Islam looks like a ‘heathen’ analogue to Christianity (a book, similar godhead, prophets) to the US right, but what to make of Hinduism, Confucianism, Shintoism, Taoism? Does anyone really believe Joe Tea-partier cares a wit about that stuff? It’s all about culture and religion to the base of the American right these days, and Asia is like outer space to those voters. Where is the ideology, the excitement, the fervor that created the wild paranoias like ‘WWIV’ or the ‘long war’ regarding Islam, in regard to Asia? Zippo…

In short, the Democrats don’t really care about Asia one way or another, besides a vague sense that China is ‘cheating,’ and Republicans want to keep the focus on the Middle East.

More in a few days.

Cross-posted on Asian Security Blog.

Some Political Science Thoughts on the GOP Debate Marathon

So it looks like the GOP debating season is over. Wow. I don’t study American politics, but I can’t remember a marathon run of debates like that ever before. (Can anyone speak to that point, btw? This is something very new, right?) I think there will be much discussion in both parties about whether or not to run this sort of marathon schedule again in 4 years. Like most people I watched bits and pieces of them, and I concur that they should probably come with a drinking game like the State of the Union does. I zoned out a lot when it got (often) insider-y about who voted for which earmarks, but there were some good insights. On foreign policy, ironically the best insight is how little it interests Americans as measured by how how little it was discussed.

So here are some other political science-y thoughts after 6 months of these things:

1. The debates were good, because they forced the candidates to function in unscripted environments. I worked for a congressman and volunteered on some campaigns back in the 90s, and my strong impression was that candidates love TV buys and friendly, highly-scripted forums (the Rove formula, I suppose). No one likes to go door-to-door, and no one likes to explain themselves. By contrast, I thought the debates really pushed the candidates. It forced them to get out there in (relatively) unscripted environments and answer off-the-cuff. This is when the most useful gaffes (ie, honesty break-throughs) happen, which tell you a lot about what candidates really think (Romney’s 10k bet, Perry’s ‘oops’ meltdown, Gingrich’s ‘the Palestinians don’t exist’). Gaffes and other slips are often the most revealing information about candidates who are otherwise ‘constructed’ by consultants and media groups (Romney’s robo-slipperiness being the most obvious example in this cycle). So the more the candidates are forced to be themselves and answer without a script, the more you learn their real beliefs and prejudices. That in itself is valuable in the Rovian world of stage-managed everything.

2. So many debates were bad, because they egged on the candidates to take more and more extreme positions to satisfy the audience. It was a like a domestic politics version of the ‘audience costs’ problem behind deterrence and the domino theory in IR; i.e., credibility concerns before an audience pulled the candidates into more and more extreme positions they didn’t really want to take. The downside of so much audience participation was that otherwise decent candidates were forced to competitively outflank/’out-hawk’ each other more and more to the right, saying sillier and more extreme stuff they almost certainly don’t believe. Perry’s ‘I’ll support waterboarding till the day I die’ strikes me as the most obvious example of this. Perry seems like a fairly congenial guy, who was not a bad guv but then got way out of his depth. He didn’t really know what he was doing and so found himself backed into saying ever more absurd things, like closing down this or that department with no forethought, or waterboarding forever. Romney too clearly doesn’t believe Tea Party ideology, which is why he keeps gaffing; he’s not a movement conservative, no matter how hard he pretends. I am sure Ron Paul believes in the gold standard, and Bachmann that the ACLU runs the CIA, but a lot of these guys have been in this business long enough to know how much Tea Party ideology (climate change and darwinism as liberal academic conspiracies, eg) is bunk. The most depressing thing is that no one will take a stand against it. Instead of trying to pull the GOP back to reality (at the very least so that it will be competitive this fall), the candidates are pandering their way toward 1964-style unelectability. It’s not good for a biparty democracy when one of its just two parties implodes into fringe paranoia like this.

3. If you want democracy to be more democratic and participative, then the frontrunner’s dislike of the debates is too bad. I was disappointed to hear of Romney’s rejection of the next two debates, but not surprised. The debates give the also-rans a chance to fight back. This is one reason I liked them. For as frightening as Santorum and Bachmann are, at least they believe what they say. Its nice to see passionate underdogs push back against Organization Man’s money and TV. The debates and the circulating roster of challengers have really forced Romney to work, although his response has, sadly, been to just pander rather than distinguish himself. One of the big problems of mass democracy is that you never really get to know elected officials. You see them on TV, you seem some campaign literature. I think this is why so many action movies (Air Force One, National Treasure, ID4) show the president as a regular guy who can be an action hero. We desperately want to identify with him. Well the debates give you a little more access and make the process a little more participative and less distant. That’s good in itself.

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.

Key Constraint on Policy Relevance

Dan Drezner has a great post today about how the foreign policy smart set (his phrase) gets so frustrated by domestic politics that they tend to recommend domestic political changes that are never going to happen.

I would go one step further and suggest that one of the key problems for scholars who want to be relevant for policy debates is that we tend to make recommendations that are “incentive incompatible.”  I love that phrase.  What is best for policy may not be what is best for politics, and so we may think we have a good idea about what to recommend but get frustrated when our ideas do not get that far.

Lots of folks talking about early warning about genocide, intervention into civil wars and the like blame “political will.”  That countries lack, for whatever reason, the compulsion to act.  Well, that is another way of saying that domestic politics matters, but we don’t want to think about it.

Dan’s piece contains an implication which is often false–that IR folks have little grasp of domestic politics.  Many IR folks do tend to ignore or simplify the domestic side too much, but there is plenty of scholarship on the domestic determinants of foreign policy/grand strategy/war/trade/etc.  Plenty of folks look at how domestic institutions and dynamics can cause countries to engage in sub-optimal foreign policies (hence the tradeoff implied in my second book–For Kin or Country).

The challenge, then, is to figure out what would be a cool policy and how that cool policy could resonate with those who are relevant domestically.  That is not easy, but it is what is necessary.  To be policy relevant requires both parts–articulating a policy alternative that would improve things and some thought about how the alternative could be politically appealing.

Otherwise, we can just dream about the right policy and gnash our teeth when it never happens.

Worst. Argument. Ever.

Frank Pasquale at Balkinization:

The Dodd-Frank Act also promises to shed some sunlight on ever-rising CEO pay levels. As Sam Pizzigatti explains, “corporations must now also report their overall wage ‘median’ and the ratio between this median and their top pay.” Seizing on some laughable comments on how “unduly burdensome” the law is, “the House Financial Services Committee’s Capital Markets Subcommittee [recently] approved, by a vote of 20 to 12 . . . legislation (H.R. 1062) to repeal the Dodd-Frank pay ratio mandate.”

Here’s the argument for why this requirement is “unduly burdensome”:

The burden of this median pay calculation requirement is significant. It would require a company to gather and calculate compensation information for each employee as required for senior executives under the SEC disclosure rules, determine the pay of each employee from highest to lowest, and then identify the employee whose pay is at the midpoint between the highest- and lowest-paid employee. No public company currently calculates each employee’s total compensation as it calculates total pay for CEOs on the proxy statement; therefore, companies would be required to invest considerable resources to implement this mandate to produce a meaningless statistic.

And, OMG, many companies have overseas offices with different pay systems on, get this, different computers!!

Do you hear that noise? That, my friends, is the sound of oligarchy.

The process of finding the median (pictured above) was so exhausting that Dan went to sleep immediately after writing this post.

How Political Negotiations can be Un-Mediated but Mediatized

When delicate political negotiations are needed, perhaps journalists need to get out of the way. Gadi Wolfsfeld’s studies of peace processes have shown how journalistic discretion in Northern Ireland created space for political leaders to make individual compromises. Such compromises would probably each have been unacceptable to their constituencies if lit up by a media spotlight, but only became public once the full package of a peace treaty was reached (Bono had to wait). Past negotiations between Israeli leaders with their Jordanian or Palestinian counterparts have been less successful in part because journalists in the region have tended more towards the sensationalist and the partisan.

At the LSE tonight, Nick Anstead presented an analysis of media coverage of the 2010 UK General Elections, particularly the period between 7 May and 12 May when the three major parties were involved in behind-the-scenes negotiations to form a government, following inconclusive results. This was another instance in which journalists were denied access. Nevertheless, this occurred in a mediatized political environment, i.e. one in which media logics determine how processes work more than political logics. Following a political logic – principally, how the UK constitutional system works – if no party failed to produce a governing majority, then no party ‘won’, and a range of outcomes became possible. However, the prevailing media logic in the UK media ecology was that any election needs a winner. Further, in an ecology in which politics has been presidentialised, the winner has to be an individual: in this case David Cameron must be Prime Minister. That the office holder, Gordon Brown, was constitutionally entitled to remain in office until a governing coalition could be formed escaped many journalists. That the Labour Party could possibly be part of a new coalition government was almost as tricky to grasp, for hadn’t Labour’s man lost? Anstead illustrated these media meltdowns with some amusingly flustered questions from reporters of various TV channels.
Conceptually, this process was un-mediated but very mediatized. It was un-mediated because media could not provide a channel between the negotiations and the public, since reporters were barred from the political negotiations. But the event as a whole was mediatized, Anstead argues, because the range of potential outcomes was constrained by what the media system could find intelligible. As discussant, I was granted the chance to add a further point: it was surprising that UK political reporters were caught off guard to such an extent, given the close nature of the polls. Surely they should have provided a guide to how the constitution works and mapped the various permutations of possible coalition governments? Central to a mediatized system is premediation, the logic of mapping all likely scenarios for audiences before events happen, even if they never happen (Richard Grusin’s idea). Journalists form cultures marked by fallible expectations: in 2001 no US journalists saw another attack on the WTC coming, and in 2010 UK journalists had reached a consensus that Cameron would win outright. In each case, reporters were at a loss. The broader point is that the coalition negotiations were not as mediatized as they could have been: public responses to the various possible coalitions could have been solicited and the confusion minimised.

But what Anstead’s paper seems to suggest is this: Even if journalists are excluded from an event, the media ecology inhabited by political leaders, reporters and publics will shape what is thought possible, intelligible and legitimate, whether in domestic or international politics – an indirect but inescapable effect. Political processes can be un-mediated yet mediatized. He will present a more developed draft of his paper at the PSA Annual Convention in London in April, but if you are interested in receiving a copy please email N.M.Anstead@lse.ac.uk 


Crossposted from http://newpolcom.rhul.ac.uk/npcu-blog/ 

(Head of) State Secrets

As I’ve already noted, former President George W. Bush is apparently settling some scores in his new memoir. In Europe, his passages about former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder are attracting a good deal of attention.

According to press reports, Bush says Schroder was for the Iraq war before it was against it. Because of his own electoral problems, Bush implies, Schroeder flip-flopped.

The former president writes that when he said he was considering the use of force in Iraq, Schroder said, “‘What is true of Afghanistan is true of Iraq. Nations that sponsor terror must face consequences. If you make it fast and make it decisive, I will be with you.'”

Mr. Bush writes that he “took that as a statement of support. But when the German election arrived later that year, Schroder had a different take. He denounced the possibility of force against Iraq.”

…Mr. Bush writes in “Decision Points” that though he continued to work with the German leader on some issues, “as someone who valued personal diplomacy, I put a high premium on trust. Once that trust was violated, it was hard to have a constructive relationship again.”

Unlike Bush’s former domestic ally Mitch McConnell, who has remained mum about Bush’s similar accusations, Schroeder says Bush is lying:

Schroder said Tuesday that former President George W. Bush “is not telling the truth” in his new memoir “Decision Points,” according to the German magazine Der Spiegel.

…Schroder says Mr. Bush’s description of the exchange is false. He said in that meeting and in others he told Mr. Bush that Germany would stand by the United States if Iraq is shown “to have provided protection and hospitality to al-Qaida fighters.” He added, however, that it became clear in 2002 that the alleged connection between Iraq and al-Qaida “was false and constructed.”

Obviously, one of these former leaders has the facts wrong.

Throughout Europe, if press reports are accurate, most people side with Schroeder.

Bush skeptics certainly have history on their side. The most hawkish supporters of the Iraq-war simply did not countenance conditional support — and have often accused political opponents of simple and hypocritical “flip flops” when something more complicated was at work. I’ve pointed this out before in regard to the “pro-war” votes in the Congress and UN Security Council in fall 2002. Lots of people labeled “war supporters” were simply trying to give the U.S. enough leverage to force Iraq to yield to weapons inspections and assure disarmament.

In this case, Schroeder’s support was contingent upon the evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda:

“Schroeder’s support (for the invasion of Iraq) was conditional on evidence being found of terrorists being harbored in Iraq, so when there was no evidence delivered, he withdrew his support,” LSE professor [Dr. Henning] Meyer told Deutsche Welle. “Bush is attempting to polish his own picture of this situation with the Germans by saying that the breakdown in relations was not his fault and that it was Schroeder who turned opinion against him.”

As RFE/RL reviewer Christian Caryl notes, Bush’s memoir “passes over in silence…how his administration’s repeated declarations of a link between Al-Qaeda and Hussein’s regime warped the work of the intelligence agencies, who had been told all too clearly what their masters wanted to hear.”

Bush: McConnell plays politics with national security

In his new memoir, former President George W. Bush says that Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) let electoral politics influence his advice about the Iraq war in 2006. Cincinnati’s CityBeat has the exchange from Bush’s memoir:

“In September 2006, with the midterm elections approaching, my friend Mitch McConnell came to the Oval Office. The senior senator from Kentucky and Republican whip had asked to see me alone. Mitch has a sharp political nose, and he smelled trouble.

‘Mr. President,’ he said, ‘your unpopularity is going to cost us control of the Congress’ …

‘Well, Mitch,’ I asked, ‘what do you want me to do about it?’ ‘Mr. President,’ he said, ‘bring some troops home from Iraq.'”

The Louisville Courier-Journal, November 9 quotes Bush as replying that he would “set troop levels to achieve victory in Iraq, not victory at the polls.”

Ouch.

My local paper (and McConnell’s) lets Michael Desch, a realist IR theorist and chair of political science at Notre Dame, explain the Senator’s problem:

“Because he [McConnell] had been a cheerleader for the president in the war, it makes him look like a bit of a hypocrite,” Desch said of McConnell. “It also makes him look bad because he seems to be trimming his sails in response to electoral politics, which doesn’t look very statesmanlike.”

Indeed, in an op-ed on November 11, the C-J detailed McConnell’s hypocrisy:

At the time that Sen. McConnell was privately advising Mr. Bush to reduce troop levels in Iraq, he was elsewhere excoriating congressional Democrats who had urged the same thing. “The Democrat[ic] leadership finally agrees on something — unfortunately it’s retreat,” Sen. McConnell had said in a statement on Sept. 5, 2006, about a Democratic letter to Mr. Bush appealing for cuts in troop levels. Sen. McConnell, who publicly was a stout defender of the war and Mr. Bush’s conduct of the conflict, accused the Democrats of advocating a position that would endanger Americans and leave Iraqis at the mercy of al-Qaida.

Ouch again.

The op-ed notes that McConnell has three choices: call Bush a liar, admit that he was lying publicly at the time, or “explain why the fortunes of the Republican Party are of greater importance than the safety of the United States.”

In the original piece, University of Virginia’s election savant Professor Larry Sabato says that this revelation signals that George W. Bush is out of politics and that he’s settling some scores.

Virtually everyone quoted in the story agrees that McConnell was right — Bush’s war in Iraq did cost the Republicans the Congress in 2006.

America’s resource curse

With much of the country focused on the oil disaster in the Gulf, it’s clear that America’s energy policy is a wreck. My native state of North Dakota is booming from a major oil find. But, it too, is realizing the costs and curse of oil. The Bismarck Tribune is running an excellent series on the changing landscape of western North Dakota and worth a read.

The IR Analogy

Periodically, scholars of international relations point out that the “domestic analogy” fails to explain IR. As Hidemi Suganami explains:

The term ‘domestic analogy’ refers to the idea that inter-state relations are amenable to the same type of institutional control as the relations of individuals and groups within states.

Because of anarchy, realists like John Mearsheimer explain, state behavior cannot be managed by external institutions attempting to wield executive, legislative or judicial power.

This past week, I’ve been thinking about American domestic politics — particularly in the context of the ongoing debates about health care and climate change legislation — and what might be termed “the IR analogy.” In the U.S. system of government, Senators representating small states have greatly disproportionate power to their states’ population (and wealth). Alec MacGillis explained the problem in the Washington Post on August 9:

The 10 largest states are home to more than half the people in the country, yet have only a fifth of the votes in the Senate. The 21 smallest states together hold fewer people than California’s 36.7 million — which means there are 42 senators who together represent fewer constituents than Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. And under Senate rules, of course, those 42 senators — representing barely more than a tenth of the country’s population — can mount a filibuster.

In IR, states are said to have sovereign equality, but no international institution with similar voting representation has anywhere near the kind of power wielded by U.S. Senators.

Perhaps even more incredibly, within the U.S., substantial tax resources are collected in Washington and then redistributed from the largest and richest states to the smallest and poorest states. MacGillis explained how this process works in practice:

California, Illinois, New York and New Jersey are among the 10 states that get the least back per tax dollar sent to Washington; Alaska, the Dakotas and West Virginia are among those that get the most.

MacGillis may have relied upon The Tax Foundation for data, since this organization regularly compiles this kind of information. The Tax Foundation has found that most tax revenue comes from so-called “blue states,” home to constituents who elect Democratic representatives who are most likely to support progressive taxes, health care reform, and perhaps climate-saving legislation. A disproportionate share of this revenue is directed at poorer “red states,” home to constituents who tend to elect Republican representatives who are the most likely to be anti-tax, opposed to the kind of health care reform proposed by the Obama administration, and relatively unworried about climate change.

As viewed by IR theory, this is a topsy-turvy system. Realist theory certainly couldn’t be used to explain domestic politics if we tried to employ an “IR analogy.” In IR, the richest and most powerful states control the agenda, operate within a political system that benefits their interests, and mostly get what they want.

In the IR analogy, California, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois are sort of like the US, Japan, Germany and Australia. Texas would be a state like Russia, sharing some interests of other major powers, but not politically like-minded.

Now, imagine that those rich and powerful nation-states not only shared equal voting power with Bangladesh, Nepal, Haiti, and Liberia in a meaningful international institution, but that they also voluntarily transferred enormous resources to those states. Oh, and they designed the institution so that a minority of states (home to fewer people in all than live in the US) could block any action favored by the coalition of big states.

That’s U.S. domestic politics viewed with the IR analogy.

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