Tag: elections (page 1 of 3)

Foreign Policy in the 4th GOP Presidential Nominee Debate

While last night’s debate was focused on the domestic economy, there was a bit more discussion of foreign policy than in the previous debate (i.e. none). So let’s see what the candidates had to see! Once again, I’ll be working off of the Washington Post‘s transcript.

I’ll ignore the snarky back-and-forth about defense spending because there was no substantive content there, which means that the first real discussion of foreign policy concerned trade policy and the recently completed TPP:

BAKER: …Mr. Trump, can I ask you about…

TRUMP: …Yes…

BAKER: …the U.S. just concluded an international trade agreement with 11 countries in the Pacific. You’ve said that you’d rather have no deal…

TRUMP: …Yeah…

BAKER: …than sign the one that’s on the table…

TRUMP: …It’s a horrible deal…

BAKER: …Most economists — most economists say that trade is boosted growth, and every single post war president has supported the expansion of international trade, including the last three republican presidents. Why would you reverse more than 50 years of U.S. trade policy?

TRUMP: The TPP is horrible deal. It is a deal that is going to lead to nothing but trouble. It’s a deal that was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone. It’s 5,600 pages long, so complex that nobody’s read it. It’s like Obamacare; nobody ever read it. They passed it; nobody read it. And look at mess we have right now. And it will be repealed.

But this is one of the worst trade deals. And I would, yes, rather not have it. With all of these countries, and all of the bad ones getting advantage and taking advantage of what the good ones would normally get, I’d rather make individual deals with individual countries. We will do much better.

We lose a fortune on trade. The United States loses with everybody. We’re losing now over $500 billion in terms of imbalance with China, $75 billion a year imbalance with Japan. By the way, Mexico, $50 billion a year imbalance.

So I must say, Gerard, I just think it’s a terrible deal. I love trade. I’m a free trader, 100 percent. But we need smart people making the deals, and we don’t have smart people making the deals.

BAKER: The — the deal, as you say, the terms of the deal were published — were published just last week, the details, 5,000 pages of it, and 80 percent of U.S. trade with countries in the Pacific, these countries, these 11 countries, is actually tariff-free, and these — the trade deal only affects the other 20 percent. Which — are there particular parts of the deal that you think were badly negotiated?

TRUMP: Yes. Well, the currency manipulation they don’t discuss in the agreement, which is a disaster. If you look at the way China and India and almost everybody takes advantage of the United States — China in particular, because they’re so good. It’s the number-one abuser of this country. And if you look at the way they take advantage, it’s through currency manipulation. It’s not even discussed in the almost 6,000-page agreement. It’s not even discussed.

BAKER: There was a separate — separate…


TRUMP: And as you understand, I mean, you understand very well from the Wall Street Journal, currency manipulation is the single great weapon people have. They don’t even discuss it in this agreement.

So I say, it’s a very bad deal, should not be approved. If it is approved, it will just be more bad trade deals, more loss of jobs for our country. We are losing jobs like nobody’s ever lost jobs before. I want to bring jobs back into this country.

PAUL: Hey, Gerard, you know, we might want to point out China is not part of this deal.

(UNKNOWN): True. It’s true.

BARTIROMO: That’s right. That’s right.

PAUL: Before we get a little bit off-kilter here…

BAKER: But isn’t that — isn’t that part of the problem? When I say, Senator, that if — if this deal is not ratified by — by the U.S. — by the Senate, then it would actually give China an opportunity to grow its economic leadership, which it’s been seeking to do? And if the U.S. is unable to take part in this trade deal with these countries in Asia, China will take the lead?

PAUL: There is an argument that China doesn’t like the deal, because in us doing the deal, we’ll be trading with their competitors. You’re exactly right. But I think we’ve sort of missed the point a little bit here.

There is an important point, though, about how we discuss these trade treaties that I do agree with Mr. Trump on. We should negotiate from a position of strength. And we also should negotiate using the full force and the constitutional power that was given to us. I think it’s a mistake that we give up power to the presidency on these trade deals. We give up the power to filibuster, and I’m kind of fond of that power.


We give up the power to amend. And I think, really, one of the big problems we have in our country is, over the last century, really, so much power has gravitated to the executive branch. Really, Congress is kind of a bystander. We don’t write the rules. We don’t make the laws. The executive branch does. So even in trade — and I am for trade — I think we should be careful about giving so much power to the presidency.


BAKER: Thank you. Thanks, Senator.

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Foreign Policy and the First GOP Debate

Republican presidential candidates arrive on stage for the Republican presidential debate on August 6, 2015 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. From left are:  New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie;  Florida Sen. Marco Rubio;  retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; real estate magnate Donald Trump; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul; and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.  AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

So, with the conclusion of last  night’s first GOP debate, it’s worth a look back at the foreign policy claims made by the candidates for the Republican nomination for president. The focus was, as much of the election race will be, focused on domestic policy, but there’s still some stuff worth analyzing. I’ll be working off of the debate transcript posted by Time.

The first foreign policy question was directed at Senator Rand Paul:

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Wednesday Linkage

Editor’s note: this post originally appeared on my personal blog. It contains some links to posts that appeared here at the Duck.

1. An interview with Jim Fearon about Ukraine. Lots of good stuff here, both about Ukraine and in general. As you’d expect.

2b. Some thoughts from Branislav Slantchev about Russia’s Cold War Syndrome. c. Anna Pechenkina reacts. d. Slantchev responds.

3. Still want to read more about Ukraine? Okay, check out Taylor Marvin on why it doesn’t make much sense to use force in Syria in order to signal resolve. I agree. Using force in one crisis to influence perceptions about your willingness to do so elsewhere may make sense under certain conditions, but the crises would have to be pretty similar. Unlike some, I’m not convinced that failing to poke out the eyeballs of someone who flipped you off will lead the world to think that you wouldn’t lift a finger to stop someone from beating your children to death with a baseball bat.

4. Also, check out this nice post by Anita Kellog on what the crisis does (or does not) tell us about the impact of economic interdependence. Key quote: “In 2012 total trade with Russia (imports and exports) accounted for 26% of Ukraine’s economic activities, whereas this trade accounted for only 2% of Russia’s GDP.”

5. Assad announces bid for reelection. He’s, um, expected to win.

6. A call for partition of Central African Republic. Key quote: “‘The partition itself has already been done. Now there only remains the declaration of independence,’ said Abdel Nasser Mahamat Youssouf, member of a youth group lobbying for the secession of the north, as he pointed to the flag of what he said would be a secular republic.”

7. This isn’t everything you need to know about Israel and Palestine, the title notwithstanding, but it’s still a nice resource. Fairly comprehensive, but still concise. Worth assigning to students.

8. The Marshall Islands is suing the world’s nuclear powers (h/t Holly Gerrity). Key quote: “While the suit seems unlikely to end in any country being compelled to disarm, it will at the very least highlight the fact that while existing nuclear powers frequently invoke international law to argue for why countries like Iran shouldn’t have nuclear weapons, they tend to gloss over the other part of the deal—that they will work to fully eliminate their own arsenals.”

9. A trade spat between the US and Mexico over sugar (h/t Rebecca Johnson). Key quote: “John W. Bode, the president of the Corn Refiners Association, ‘The political influence of the US sugar industry is legendary…. They may be only 4 percent of US agriculture but when you look at political contributions, they account for a third.'”

10. Writing a great abstract (h/t Brent Sasley). A lot of good advice. Key quote: “The ideal abstract…has three parts. 1. statement of the area of concern or disputation 2. statement of the thesis or argument 3. implications for further research.”

11. Interview with GRRM. The whole thing is worth reading, but I found this quote to be of particular interest: “The war that Tolkien wrote about was a war for the fate of civilization and the future of humanity, and that’s become the template. I’m not sure that it’s a good template, though. The Tolkien model led generations of fantasy writers to produce these endless series of dark lords and their evil minions who are all very ugly and wear black clothes. But the vast majority of wars throughout history are not like that. World War I is much more typical of the wars of history than World War II – the kind of war you look back afterward and say, ‘What the hell were we fighting for? Why did all these millions of people have to die? Was it really worth it to get rid of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, that we wiped out an entire generation, and tore up half the continent? Was the War of 1812 worth fighting? The Spanish-American War? What the hell were these people fighting for?'”

11. John Oliver on India’s election.

Pop Quiz, Hotshot, Elections edition

I have a question for all those folks who study elections: any democracy hold an election within a week or two of being announced?



International Institutions Mobilize Opponents Too

Members of international institutions typically honor their commitments. But that does not, by itself, tell us much. States are unlikely to join institutions that require them to do things they have no intention of doing. Indeed, some argue that institutions merely act to screen out those least likely to comply. Others, however, have argued that institutions do in fact constrain states – that they are not mere epiphenomena. One prominent mechanism through which institutions are thought to alter state behavior is by mobilizing pro-compliance groups domestically. Institutions may lack enforcement capable, after all, but few governments are entirely insensitive to domestic pressure.

But, as Stephen Chaudoin cogently observes in this working paper, those who stand to lose if the government adopts the institution’s preferred policy are unlikely to give in without a fight. And such groups virtually always exist; if they did not there’d be little need for institutions to promote cooperation in the first place. Put differently, while WTO rulings may raise awareness about the effects of tariffs and Amnesty International might draw attention to human rights abuses, the net effect of such efforts might simply be to increase the amount of effort those advantaged by the status quo invest in defending it.

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Déjà Vu in Zimbabwe

Polling stations are opening in Zimbabwe, and, if one’s Facebook feed is to be believed, some enthusiastic voters have already spent a few hours queueing (and winter mornings in Zimbabwe are *cold*). Today’s elections are notable for a few reasons: they’re the first elections since extensive state-sponsored violence in 2008; they mark the formal end of the coalition government inaugurated in the aftermath of that violence; and they are the first elections to occur under a brand-spanking-new constitution.  Comparisons to Kenya’s March elections have flown fast and furious.

So what’s new?  Very little.  Indeed, elections in Zimbabwe seem to have taken on an almost eerily repetitive quality.  Once again, opposition leader and former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai is facing off against Robert Mugabe, now 89 and with 33 years in power under his belt (as well as some great quotes).  Once again, the ruling party, ZANU-PF, has instituted a campaign of violence and intimidation against opposition activists and office-holders. Once again, there is evidence of planned electoral manipulation.  Concerns center on the flawed voter registration exercise, which may have left hundreds of thousands of ghost voters on the voting rolls.  And once again, conversation within Zimbabwe tends to find its way back to the interminable Mnangagwa-Mujuru succession struggle within ZANU-PF, now over a decade old.

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Kenya: Can Technology Safeguard Elections?

Kenya VotePolls in Kenya closed 16 hours ago, but votes continue to be counted.  Those familiar with Kenya and with the electoral crisis of 2007-2008 will know to distrust provisional results.  In December 2007, challenger Raila Odinga seemed substantially ahead during much of the early voting, only to see that lead evaporate as returns came in from more remote districts. Despite this qualification, it does look increasingly likely that Uhuru Kenyatta will gain the presidency in the first round of voting.*  In the past two weeks, there was some speculation that Kenyatta might struggle to meet new requirements for national distribution of the vote, but he’s already achieved the 25% votes bar in 32 counties. Kenyatta is currently under indictment by the International Criminal Court for his involvement in the 2008 post-election violence; if elected, he would be the first democratically elected leader to go on trial at The Hague.

I want to make one quick note before turning off the Twitter feed and going to bed.  The Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) gambled big with technology this election.  The newly created IEBC instituted biometric voter registration, electronic voter rolls, and electronic transmission of polling station results via cellular network.  It is likely that the slow pace of processing BVID accounted for some of the enormous lines during the first half of the day.  After numerous problems, the IEBC eventually instructed polling agents to abandon the electronic voter roll in favor of the manual roll.  Nor has the count proceeded without hitches. There were nail-biting moments earlier tonight, when a server failure and insufficient hard disk space caused the electronic transmission of results to IEBC to halt for several hours.

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How Reality-Based Is the Community?

Community-cast John Quiggin at Crooked Timber discusses the American right’s quick shift to admitting a decline in U.S. income mobility. He then asserts that this is part of a process by which “objective truth, rather than political acceptability, should be the criterion against which factual claims are tested.” (There’s also a long discussion of The Overton Window, although I suppose he meant this one.

Quiggin goes further:

If this view is right, then the most important single development was probably Nate Silver’s successful prediction of the 2012 election. Silver was up against both the pseudo-science of the Republican “unskewers” and the faith of centrist pundits (historically exemplified by Broder) that their deep connection with the American psyche was worth more than any number of least-squares regressions. Given the centrality of horse-race journalism to the pundit class, their defeat by relatively straightforward statistical analysis of opinion polls was a huge blow.

My response to this is somewhat more tempered than Quiggin’s–although probably warmer than the average CT reader’s. First, I’m skeptical of the notion that Science and Progressive Politics will go through life merrily holding hands. There’s no particular reason to think that liberal values are anything but orthogonal to the findings of most research, lab-scientific or observational-scientific. There are some nicely convenient findings for liberal values–the democratic peace hypothesis, for one–but would anyone be willing to give up democracy if we found incontrovertible evidence that democracies (not just Mansfield-and-Snyder-style democratizing countries) are more bellicose? Or, alternatively, would we give up democracy if the field coalesced around a consensus that democracies are less bellicose because they are more successful at using social pressure or other nonviolent forms of coercion to eradicate dissenting views? Social scientific findings rarely provide evidence that prompts us to revise our value systems.

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What Western Analysts Got Wrong About the Israeli Election

flag-israel-XLThis is a guest post by Brent Sasley. Sasley is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas at Arlington. He blogs at Mideast Matrix and Open Zion. Follow him on Twitter.

The Israeli election results are far messier than anyone had hoped, leading to furious debates about who got what right about the Israeli electorate. This seems to be especially true among Western analysts and media that aren’t close Israel watchers but do comment on Israeli politics.

And it is messy. On the face of it, the religious (Shas, United Torah Judaism, Jewish Home) and rightwing (Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, and National Union) bloc did drop from 65 seats to 61 (a joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu list, Shas, United Torah Judaism, and Jewish Home).

Yet United Torah Judaism increased from 5 to 7 mandates, while Jewish Home went from 3 to 12 seats. At the same time, the “soft” or center right also dropped: Kadima went from 28 seats in the previous Knesset to 2 today, while a new party, Yesh Atid, appeared with 19.

And the center-left and left did better at the same time: Labor picked up 2 seats (13 to 15) while Meretz doubled its representation from 3 to 6 seats. The Arab parties stayed the same at 11 mandates.

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Some Thoughts on the Korean Election: Left Blew a Good Chance to Win

Election pics 008

This pic is from the TV election coverage on the Korean version of CNN. That would be the two main candidates (the liberal Moon Jae-In on the left, and conservative Park Geun-Hye, who won, on the right) as dancing electronic cartoon avatars. Yes, they do look like boogying Nintendo Miis, and yes, they are the most bizarre, hysterical election graphics I have ever seen. Who says political science is boring?

So Foreign Affairs solicited me for a ‘snapshot’ essay on the Korean election. Here is the link, but I also thought it might be useful to post my first draft which is fuller:

“South Korea’s next presidential election will occur on December 19. The main candidates are Park Geun-Hye of the conservative New Frontier (Sae Nuri) party and Moon Jae-In of the liberal Democratic United Party (DUP). A third, unaffiliated liberal candidate, Ahn Chul-Soo, dropped out in late November. Ahn had no clear party identification, which was part of his attraction, although he was broadly center-left. A former hi-tech entrepreneur and professor, he was popular with the young who feel alienated by the closed, oligarchic character of Korean politics and for much of the year, he outpolled Moon. Because he and Moon were splitting the anti-Park liberal vote, they tried to merge their campaigns. But Ahn’s hasty, somewhat bitter withdrawal speech implied that old-style, backroom politics by the DUP had pushed him out. Post-withdrawal polls showed Park picked up around one-fifth of Ahn voters, a very strong showing.

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Duck Takeover of Foreign Affairs on Schedule

Robert provides Foreign Affairs a “snapshot” on the South Korean election — which Park won today. An excerpt:

For all the talk of the “pivot” to Asia in the United States, the idea is not widely discussed in South Korea. And South Koreans are not all that interested in containing China. Although Korea was a tributary state of China for nearly a millennium, China never terrorized it the way Japan did. A January 2012 poll from the Dong-Anewspaper found that more South Koreans disliked Japan than disliked China — 50 percent and 40 percent, respectively. And the dispute over the Liancourt Rocks, a group of islets claimed by both Seoul and Tokyo, regularly sparks anti-Japanese fervor in South Korea. China and South Korea share obvious cultural similarities, and their sheer proximity means that Seoul and Beijing will inevitably engage on many issues — most importantly, the fate of North Korea. All this means that, for South Korea, relations with China are now arguably as important as those with the United States.

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Leader Comebacks

“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”  So spoke Winston Churchill, after the Allied victory in the Second Battle of El Alamein.  We could say much the same of his defeat in the 1945 general election.

 A core assumption underlying most of the work analyzing the impact of domestic politics on international relations is that leaders want to remain in office.  Insofar as ensuring national survival, territorial integrity, and policy autonomy might help leaders retain power, focusing on political ambition often does not tell us anything more than we might get from a state-centric approach.  But there are some important exceptions.  For one, democracies rarely if ever fight wars against one another.  The fact that different institutions create different incentives for self-interested leaders may have something to do with that.  For another, we often attribute the occurrence (or continuation) of wars to electoral motivations.  I myself argued for a long time that Obama was pursuing the same strategy in Afghanistan that Nixon pursued in Vietnam – don’t lose the war until you’re a lame duck.

Most of these arguments, however, assume that a leader’s career ends once he or she leaves office.  Yet this is not the case.  Many leaders eventually make a comeback, returning to office after some time out of power.  The British electorate deemed Churchill less suitable for managing the postwar economic recovery than international crises, and so favored the Labour Party in 1945.  Yet they once more turned to the Churchill and the Conservatives in 1951 after the Labour Party had achieved most of what it set out to do.  If we were to limit our attention to the 1945 election, we might conclude that Churchill did not benefit electorally from victory in WWII (as I myself once did), even though Churchill’s wartime record contributed to his return to power.

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Why I Voted for Barack Obama Today

Amazing how the Simpsons is still pretty funny after 25 years…


In the interest of full disclosure, I thought I’d list the reasons why I voted the way I did. I know conservative media regularly accuse professors of politicizing the classroom, but an honest discussion of why one chooses the way one did can also be useful exercise of citizenship. (See Drezner for an example of what I was thinking of.) So with that goal, not demagoguery, in mind, here we go:

1. The Tea Party Scares Me

This is easily the most important reason for me. Regular readers of my own blog will know that I vote in the Republican primary and write regularly about the Republican party, but almost never about the Democrats. (Even in Korea where I live, my sympathies are with the conservatives.) I don’t see myself as a Democrat. I see myself as a moderate Republican, like Andrew Sullivan or (less so) David Frum. Unfortunately, the Tea Party has made the GOP very inhospitable for moderates.

Given Romney’s propensity to blow with the ideological wind rather than stake a claim somewhere, I think it is likely he’ll get bullied by the hard right once in office. Following Kornacki, my problem with Romney is not his ideology – because I don’t know what that is – but the party from which he stems, run, as it is, by increasingly radical, Christianist, southern right-wingers. I find it simply impossible to vote for a party so contemptuous of science, so willing to violate church-state distinctions, so committed to a heavily armed citizenry, so obsessed with regulating sex, so strutting and belligerent toward the rest of the world, so unwilling to compromise on taxes to close the deficit, etc. Hint to the RNC: the rest of the country is not Dixie; please stop dragging us down this road. This southernization of the GOP in the last 20 years has made it harder and harder for me to vote for national Republicans, even though I vote for them a lot in Ohio. Not surprisingly, I find Andrew Sullivan’s conservatism quite congenial.

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Five Election-Explaining Clichés I really don’t want to hear this Tuesday

On Interstate 71, south of Columbus; Ohio’s most famous sign


So it’s election time, which means CNN, etc. will be filled with pundits with only the vaguest credentials – never any PhDs Sad smile – telling you why the outcome inevitably had to be such-and-such. (Retrodiction is so insufferably smug.) And they’ll explain it as if these tired clichés are real insights and not the same flim-flam they pedal every November.

So let me predict the future: here are the five worst clichés you’ll hear Tuesday – the lamest, most recycled, simplistic, and least analytically useful (because they’re so flexible they can explain almost any outcome).

Save yourself hours of Donna Brazile and David Gergen right now; just roll these out at Thanksgiving dinner to impress the relatives:

1. Ohio, or the white, blue-collar voter theory of everything 

Every four years the media runs the same easy, generic storyline about my state (Economist 2004, 2008, 2012; FT) that goes something like this: ‘these grizzled veterans of America’s economic dislocation cleave to their guns and religion but increasingly live in suburbs and see their kids work in tech plants outside Columbus or Dayton. The large urban populations of Cleveland and Cincinnati are balanced by the church-going rural voters in the god’s country of southeastern Appalachia…’ Yawn. And it goes on like that for pages. Most of these articles make sure to cite the above picture. And yes, that sign is for real; I’ve seen it. It’s on the same road that leads to the Creation Museum (no joke either – I’ve been there), but thankfully that’s over the river in Kentucky. I guess they go to the dentist even less often than we do.

The thing is, we get all this attention for 3-4 months before every election – but then nothing afterwards. So how much can they can take us seriously as a swing state? In 2004, Rove drove up GOP turnout with the Defense of Marriage Act ballot issue and terrorism. In 2008, Clinton and Obama told us they were going to amend NAFTA and reduce illegal immigration to save our jobs. This year, Romney and Obama promise to defend us against China. If you’re keeping score, that means there should be no homosexual Mexican terrorists driving NAFTA-certified trucks on Chinese tires around Ohio. Ah yes, Ohio, that clichéd, right-wing blue-collar paradise!

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Joss Whedon on Romney and Zombies

What?? It was too good to resist… Continue reading

3rd Presidential Debate, Foreigner Version: If you’re not an American, you’re Mentally Ill or something

Did anyone else find the third presidential debate just appallingly narcissistic and self-congratulatory? Good lord. Good thing America is around to show you bubble-headed foreigners the way to freedom. I could run through all the offensive, ‘America-is-tasked-with-upholding-the-mantle-of-liberty’ patronizing condescension, but why bother? (Nexon does a nice job here.) I told my students to watch it, and in retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have. It was so embarrassing, and in class this week I kept trying to explain why we talk down to the rest of the world like this while my students rolled their eyes in disgust.

I keep saying this – running around the world telling people how exceptional and bound-to-lead we are is a great way to alienate the planet and convince them of exactly the opposite – to not to follow us. We’d have a much easier time with the world if we could back off the blustery, Fox News nationalism and actually speak maturely. But Americans couldn’t give a damn about the rest of the world, no matter how much we posture about our world historic role to lead it.  Our ODA totals are disgrace for a coutnry as wealthy as we are. We don’t learn languages much. The only time we worry about casualties in the war on terror is when they are own; our clear disinterest for all the collateral damage we have done since 9/11 speak volumes to the rest of the planet.

So instead, here is the debate foreigners heard:

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The Difference Parties Don’t Make?

To the best of my knowledge, no prominent peer-reviewed article in political science has reported a difference in the frequency with which the United States enters into conflict under Democratic presidents relative to Republican presidents.  That’s not because no one has looked for such a difference (I know I have).  It’s because, to date, no one has found one.  This is the file drawer problem in action.

Now, we want to be careful not to over-interpret that.  Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  There could be lots of reasons why we might fail to observe such a difference even if it was true that one party was significantly more hawkish than the other.  But when we look at other democracies, we DO find clear evidence that left-leaning governments involve their nations in conflict less often than do right-leaning governments.

As we head into the third presidential debate, it’s worth keeping this in mind.  I am reluctant to say that there’s  not much difference between what US foreign policy would look like under a second Obama administration and what it would look like under a Romney administration.  I can’t know that for a certainty.  But the past provides relatively little clear evidence that those who believe it will can point to.

But wait, you say.  What about Bush?  How can I believe that a Gore administration would have taken the US to war in Iraq?

Well, for starters, Clinton may have selected Gore to be his running mate in 1992 in part because he voted to authorize the Gulf War whereas most prominent Democrats had not.  In the closing days of the 1992 campaign, Gore essentially accused Bush of appeasing Saddam, suggesting that there’d have been no need for war if Bush hadn’t tried so hard to befriend him.  Soft on Iraq, Al Gore was not.  Or you might consider all the statements made by Democrats in the late nineties up through 2002 about Iraq and WMD (seriously, go click on that link), or the international town hall meeting the Clinton administration held in February of 1998 to communicate the administration’s dedication to destroying Iraq’s stockpile of WMD, or the bill passed with bipartisan support in the same year calling for regime change.  And, again, there’s the fact that the US has not involved itself in conflict more often under Republicans than Democrats since 1945.  But if you’re still convinced that the 2000 presidential election proved to be very consequential for foreign policy — and I’m willing to entertain such arguments, even if I’m less willing than most to accept them on face value — that doesn’t tell us whether the same will hold in 2012.

There are two important points here.  First, what candidates say they will do in terms of foreign policy is not exactly a perfect predictor of what they’ll actually do in office, any more than opposition to policies enacted by someone else after the fact proves that one would not have pursued the same policy.  Note that Obama’s primary victory over Clinton may well have been driven by the perception of him as an anti-war candidate.  Granted, those who were surprised when he escalated US involvement in Afghanistan clearly didn’t pay close enough attention to what he actually said on the campaign trail.  But neither did he position himself as the type of person who would conduct more drone strikes than Bush (by a considerable margin), nor was it clear that Obama would keep Gitmo open, declare it legal to kill US citizens without first trying and convicting them of crimes, and so forth.

Second, note that Romney’s foreign policy platform to date can be summarized as “I’ll do what Obama would do, but I’ll do it with more swagger.”  Even setting aside concerns about how well campaign rhetoric predicts policy choices made in office (has anyone looked at this systematically?), there’s relatively little difference between the policies these two candidates are currently telling us that they would pursue.

There may not even be much of a puzzle here.  Studies that have found systematic differences in the frequency with which democratic states enter into conflict under left-leaning governments relative to right-leaning governments, such as the one I linked to above, largely focus on minor powers who are allied with the US.  In such countries, foreign policy is largely a luxury good.  By that, I mean that these states look to the US to address their greatest security threats.  A left-leaning government in such a state can refrain from responding to minor incidents in a hostile manner without much affecting their security.  Similarly, a right-leaning government can behave a bit more aggressively when dealing with minor incidents, content in the knowledge that their actions will have little impact on the nation’s security.  Put differently, when you outsource large part of your security policy to a superpower, you can afford to treat the areas you retain control over as a venue for symbolic politics.  The smaller you are, the more you can afford to cater to your base without compromising your security.  Superpowers might be playing by different rules though.

Again, to be clear, I’m not saying that we know for a certainty that there’s no difference between US foreign policy under Democratic and Republican presidents.  What I’m saying is that we have some theoretical reason to expect that there might not be much difference, and an absence of persuasive evidence that there is much of a difference.  There’s always the possibility that existing attempts to establish a difference between the parties have overlooked something important, or that this time will be different.  And I haven’t said a word about the impact of the party of the president on domestic policy (nor shall I, since that’s a subject that’s well outside my area of expertise).  But it’s at least plausible that the difference between how Democratic and Republican presidents behave in office, with respect to foreign policy, is far smaller than many realize.

RNC: Don’t Speak in a Publicly-Built Facility when you Attack Government – D’oh!


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.

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.

Russia’s Elections

 Haven’t had time to form serious thoughts on the matter, so outsourced to the Power Vertical.

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