Tag: foreign policy (page 1 of 5)

Should the United States Arm Ukraine?

With Russia’s incursions into Ukraine becoming more aggressive, there has been a lot of chatter about whether or not the U.S. government should arm Ukraine with lethal weapons. Defense Secretary Nominee Ash Carter has signaled his openness to such a move. Ivo Daalder, Strobe Talbott, Steven Pifer, and collaborators have issued a call for such support. There has been push back from Sean Kay and Jeremy Shapiro, other establishment foreign policy types. (With Talbott, Shapiro, and other folks from Brookings weighing in on opposing sides, there has been interesting discussion of this being an internal food fight there).

What are their arguments? How can we adjudicate who is right? In other words, what kinds of empirical and theoretical arguments can we draw on to assess these differences in judgment? Continue reading

FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrRedditShare

The Responsibility to Protect & Fear of Foreign Policy Failure

Last week I had the opportunity to partake in a workshop on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) at The Hague Institute of Global Justice (the Institute). The Institute is preparing to launch a project on R2P, seeking to bring academics, civil society and government/policy makers together to formulate insightful and policy relevant findings on R2P.   As the workshop was governed by Chatham House rules, I will only here note a few of my insights from the workshop, primarily insights about the connections between political will to uphold R2P and the theoretical and practical realities of foreign policy.

R2P is a very broad agenda with multiple loci of responsibility. The first covers the responsibilities of states to protect their own populations against war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and ethnic cleansing. A second locus of responsibility is the “international community,” for when states cannot protect their peoples or prevent these crimes, then, it also has an obligation to aid states, through various capacity building and preventive mechanisms. Third and finally, the United Nations Security Council possesses a particular responsibility. When preventive measures fail (or are not forthcoming), then the international community as represented through the United Nations Security Council has the responsibility to use all peaceful means to protect people from the four R2P crimes. If or when those peaceful means fail, then the Security Council has the responsibility to take “timely and decisive” measures, in accordance with Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to protect populations. Such measures include military options, taken with or without the consent of a target state.

These three loci of responsibility track the three Pillars of the doctrine. Pillar One refers to the domestic state’s responsibility as outlined above. Pillar Two addresses the international community’s obligation and commitment to encourage and assist states (through capacity building) to uphold their Pillar One responsibilities. Pillar Three highlights the range of tools, from peaceful to non-peaceful and less coercive to more coercive, available to the Security Council and regional organizations. The pillars, it is thought, are not sequential, and some cases may only invoke or require Pillars One or Two. Regrettably, much of the debate concerning R2P tends to distill to questions about forcible intervention under Pillar Three.

This brings us to last week’s workshop. The brute fact of the matter is that R2P is a state doctrine, and much of the reality in international affairs is that states will only voluntarily undertake actions. In R2P parlance, this means that there is an ongoing question about the “political will” to uphold R2P. The discussion about political will, however, becomes blurred due to several related aspects. First and more generally, when any discussion of political will raises its head, it seems that almost everyone is working from the assumption of the political will to intervene militarily (the Pillar Three responsibility). Yet R2P proponents are quick to point out that R2P is more than this, as it includes early warning and capacity building.

This leads to a second point. States seem quick to lend rhetorical support for early warning and capacity building, but the discussion ends there. It seems, at least to me, that we ought to press them then to make more explicit commitments on these fronts. Development is linked to prevention, and perhaps we ought to change the background assumptions about political will from intervention to state building.

If this is too strong, as many states are unwilling to engage in prolonged state building enterprises, then there ought to be an open and pressing discussion about peacekeeping. If states are unwilling or unable to open their wallets, then perhaps they would be willing to provide troops. For example, as Perry and Smith note, North America and Europe have the lowest levels of troop contributions compared to Asia and Africa. A keen example is the United Kingdom, which consistently contributes around .5% of peacekeepers worldwide. Some might think that these countries are already fulfilling their obligations through foreign aid, so they are under no other or further obligations to supply peacekeepers, but this logic is unsound for a variety of reasons. Least amongst them, it overlooks the sad fact that we have no way under the current R2P doctrine to say who and who has not fulfilled their obligations or even how those obligations could be fulfilled. (See here, here and here for some discussions about this issue.)

Moreover, the gendered division of peacekeepers is also noteworthy and ought to be pressed upon from an R2P perspective. If one is looking for a way to not only keep the peace, but also to build capacity, then it would seem that including more female peacekeepers could kill two birds with one stone.   The level of gender equality is seen as a factor in conflict emergence, and if one could mitigate at least small levels of gender inequality while simultaneously saving lives, then this seems like an obvious win. However, looking at the data for female troop contributions, Crawford, Lebovic and Macdonald find that between 2009-2011 “86 percent of countries contributed no female personnel to an average mission in all three years, and 99 percent of countries contributed no female personnel to an average mission in at least one of the three years, under consideration.” Capacity building and timely response seem inherently linked on this issue.

Though what is apparent from the discussions last week and the reality of R2P is that states are unwilling to commit themselves or their peoples to anything that may end up looking like foreign policy failure. Even if we can divide R2P along the three pillars, states implicitly understand that if they sign on to more than their own responsibility for R2P crimes, this may end up committing them to foreign policy agendas that they deem too risky or too costly.   As Feaver and Gelpi argue in their work, states are willing to take on costs, particularly costs in lives, if they are seen to be “winning.” Casualty aversion only becomes a key concern for states when they are losing their foreign policy battles. While the cases are different, Feaver and Gelpi’s findings are illustrative here. Whatever foreign policy goals states set for themselves, they must be able to formulate them in such a way that they can ultimately “win.” Given that R2P is so wide ranging, covering everything from developing constitutions, building infrastructure, advocating for open democracy, calling for inclusive education of citizens, as well as (non)coercive measures to force states to abide by their obligations, it is, in a sense, a foreign policy nightmare. No statesperson could adequately formulate a policy framework that could be operationalized in a way where states could show that they upheld their responsibilities, did what they could, as well as succeeded in their efforts, and were not also on the hook for more.

Some might object and say that there are R2P successes. To be sure, there are, but there are also so many “failures” that the variation in foreign policy responses as well as the success rate tell us very little about the conditions for states to act, let alone act and succeed. While states are willing to note that they and the international community have a responsibility to protect, they are unwilling to talk about the finer details, and it is my worry that this is because of the vast expanse of the doctrine itself. If states cannot be seen to win and succeed, then they will either refrain from embarking on an R2P activity, or they will choose to do so from the shadows. Risk of foreign policy failure is, then, inherently linked to the discussion of political will, and it is high time we see that the doctrine itself is breeding its own limitations.

Meaningful Punishment

Seeing reports in the New York Times today on further Russian aggression in Ukraine has me thinking about Ely Ratner and Elizabeth Rosenberg’s recent article entitled “Pointless Punishment?” where they argue that Western sanctions on Russia are at best pointless and at worst counterproductive. I think Ratner and Rosenberg (R&R henceforth) have a valid point in looking at the ways in which sanctions might produce unexpected negative consequences for the US. But also I think the events being reported today, and some other lines of analysis that they do not include in their article, suggest that not only is the punishment not pointless, but that it is important for the stability of the international system and the health of the rules that underpin it that all states, or as many as possible, impose a significant cost of Russia.

 

From Newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/putin-tells-merkel-partial-withdrawal-east-ukraine-border-238941

From Newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/putin-tells-merkel-partial-withdrawal-east-ukraine-border-238941

To be fair, R&R argue that eventually isolation of Russia would be counterproductive. It would in the long term weaken Japan (which needs access to Russian gas supplies) and push Russia and China closer together by weakening Russia’s ties with states like India, Vietnam, and Japan that see China in a negative light. So while R&R do not say the international community should do nothing, since Russia shows no signs of backing down in Ukraine the suggestion does seem to be that punishment (i.e. sanctions) should be rethought now and probably abandoned.

 

There are some parts in their argument I find problematic. First, isolation of Russia in the long term is not inevitable, even with sanctions. Europe and the US have given Russia a clear path out of the crisis, and it doesn’t even involve returning Crimea to Ukraine. So it is possible that increased sanctions will push Putin to reconsider, particularly since he has thus far used military force in ways that allow him a level of deniability, which dramatically decreases the domestic cost to him of a policy reversal.

 

Also, in the long term Russia’s economy is going to push strongly in favor of selling hydrocarbons to Japan. Russia needs diversified customers. While it is true that Russia just signed a gas deal with China, it is not entirely as R&R characterize it (that Russia and China can cooperate when they have nowhere else to turn). Russia inked the agreement at the lowest possible price they had indicated acceptable, suggesting that while Russia had nowhere to turn, China apparently had enough options to drive a hard bargain. That imbalance will only continue to get worse as Russia’s economy suffers under sanctions and lost investment while China’s continues apace. My guess (and it is only that) is that Russia’s business leaders if not political leaders understand this reality. So it is unlikely that Japan will pay a serious long-term cost for participating in the sanctions regime now. And in the short to medium term, the United States may step in to the breach if LNG exports are approved by the Obama administration (thus strengthening ties between the US and Japan).

 

Second, R&R seem to ignore the political reality in Europe, where important NATO member states are increasingly nervous about Russia’s behavior, and what it means for them. Abandoning sanctions or any efforts to oppose/correct Russian behavior may lead to a weakening of the transatlantic relationship as some of the most stalwart Atlanticist countries come to doubt the resolve of US to help hold Russia in check and in general support European allies. So while sanctioning Russia may isolate it in the short to medium terms, not doing so may damage the most world’s most successful security alliance in the long term.

 

Third, R&R overlook the ramifications of Russia’s behavior in terms of nuclear proliferation. No mention is made of the fact that Russia violated an explicit legal agreement (the Budapest Memorandum) lodged with the UN by which it bound itself, the US, and the UK to observe the territorial integrity of Ukraine in perpetuity in exchange for Ukraine giving up its legacy nuclear weapons after the end of the Cold War. Russia has completely violated that agreement. Failing to punish Russia undermines the international legal basis for assurances given to all non-nuclear states. The potential damage in terms of the nonproliferation regime is clear. So while isolation of Russia may be problematic, so to is the potential that the US might undermine sensitive negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program by appearing to dismiss the rule of international law and thus undermining the credibility of any promises given in exchange for Iranian nuclear concessions.

 

All of this comes on top of the flagrant violations of the legal norms of sovereignty Russia has perpetrated in Ukraine. As with any policy, sanctions now and possibly enhanced sanctions in the future have a cost. But so does doing nothing, and in my reading the cost of the latter is far higher than the former. The solution, if there is any, to Russian transgressions in Ukraine is for the international community to come together with as broad a coalition as possible to impose sanctions on Russia, thereby undermining both an element of Putin’s legitimacy at home (economic growth) and defusing his nationalist narrative that he is leading Russia against Western oppressors. China may not participate, but if India, South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Brazil, and other major states outside the ‘West’ do, that gives the best chance of short-circuiting the narrative Putin is using domestically to legitimate his policy while aligning material incentives to encourage him to stand down on Ukraine.

Germany: Beyond Its History, Again

world-cup-2014-germany-celebrates-1-0-win-argentina

Germany won the World Cup in soccer, demonstrating to all that its team truly is the best in the world. The German players and coaches were dominant, dispatching a succession of opponents with near masterly strategy and skill—including a historic drubbing of the overwhelming local favorite Brazil, expected by many to emerge with a symbolic victory for the host country. Instead, the Germans beat them handily at home, before going on to prevent Argentina from denying them from an even more symbolic victory of their own.

A massive celebration immediately ensued across Germany, among Germans the world over, and vast throngs that were cheering them on for the World Cup victory they achieved in grand style. Strangely however, not all Germans were among the jubilant. In fact, a sizable minority of Germans remain uncomfortable with such a widespread and vibrant display of patriotism. The weight of history remains staunch, so much so that some of this ilk have publicly called for banning the display of German flags in public. It is an odd phenomenon, to say the least.

For don’t Germans deserve at long last to be proud, and unreservedly so; in fact, doesn’t Germany deserve to be treated like—and become again—a normal country? After all, the horrors of World War II took place more than half a century ago. Successive German generations have grown up in a culture of collective guilt, in which the vestiges of pride and patriotism were purposely kept out of reach. But Germany long ago has paid its debts, with memorials to the holocaust strewn across the country and decade after decade of responsibility displayed on the European and world stages by every Chancellor since Konrad Adenauer in the name of everyone that elected them. Continue reading

Will the markets tame Russia?

I don’t have an answer for this, as I’m not sure how globally integrated Russia is in to the world economy at this juncture or vulnerable given its fossil fuel resources, but I see that the Russian stockmarket declined this morning as has the value of the ruble.

I know Russia experienced significant economic crises in the 1990s after the breakup of the Soviet Union that made it dependent on IMF support, but my sense is that the resurgence of the country’s petro economy bolstered its international economic position. That said, I wonder if the markets can tame Putin in a way that politicians can’t. My bet is that if Putin is willing to tolerate high costs, then no, but I’d welcome our readers with more regional knowledge to weigh in.  Continue reading

Cyber Spillover: The Transition from Cyber Incident to Conventional Foreign Policy Dispute

*Post written with my coauthor Ryan Maness.  We are currently rounding the corner and almost ready to submit the final version of our Cyber Conflict book.  This post represents ongoing research as we fill out unanswered questions in our text.

My coauthor and I have dissected the contemporary nature of cyber conflict in many ways, from cataloging all actual cyber incidents and disputes between states, to examining cyber espionage, and finally, examining the impact of cyber incidents on the conflict-cooperation nexus of states.  What we have not done until now is examine the nature of what we call cyber spillover.  duck read 2

Cyber spillover is when cyber conflicts seep and bleed into traditional arena of militarized and foreign policy conflict.  While it is dubious to claim that the cyber domain is disconnected from the physical domain given that cyber technology has to be housed somewhere, it is also true that there are very few incidents of cyber actions causing physical damage (the only case being Stuxnet).  Our question is not about the transition from cyber to physical, but when cyber disagreements lead directly to conventional foreign policy disputes between states, thus altering how international interactions work.

Continue reading

Cutting arms and tying hands?

Prometheus Bound? DOD photo by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Hostutler.

Prometheus Bound? DOD photo by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Hostutler.

Post by Steven Ward and Paul Musgrave

The Obama administration’s plans to shrink the U.S. military attracted intense media attention yesterday. The plan is being described as a maneuver to shift the United States’s defense posture away from protracted occupations, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, and toward a more conventional deterrence role.

It’s easy to exaggerate the scale of the changes to the military budget. In particular, the soundbite that the post-cut U.S. Army will be the smallest since before the Second World War is seriously misleading. According to the Historical Statistics of the United States database, in 1940, the U.S. Army had 269,023 personnel–but that total included the Army Air Corps. On December 31, 2013, the U.S. Air Force by itself had 325,952 active duty personnel. Under any plausible scenario, the USAF will continue to outnumber the prewar U.S. Army handily. Similarly, after the force cuts, the U.S. Army will have about 440,000 active duty personnel, while the Marines will have nearly 10 times their 1939 active-duty personnel level. (And none of these figures, of course, include the reserves, the National Guard, civilian personnel, contractors, or any other part of the post-Second World War U.S. military establishment.) The smallest-since-1940 number, like Mitt Romney’s campaign charge that the U.S. Navy was “smaller than it’s been since 1917”, is technically true but hardly informative. Perhaps more important, given the vast increases in U.S. military expenditures over the past fifteen years, the U.S. can make significant cuts to its military spending while remaining the world’s leading military power by any meaningful metric.

Nevertheless, whenever a great power decides to reshape its military, IR scholars should wonder what’s going on.
Continue reading

Cyber Events Data and Foreign Policy Reactions

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Ryan C. Maness of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Brandon Valeriano of the University of Glasgow.

In the rush to note the changing face of the battlefield, few scholars have actually examined the impact of cyber conflict on foreign policy dynamics. Instead most studies are of a hyperbolic nature that suggests the wide ranging impact of cyber conflict on daily social and military life. Here we attempt to cut through the bluff and bluster to examine exactly what happens between countries when cyber conflict is utilized as a foreign policy choice using week events data.

In our previous work we noted that while cyber conflict is proliferating, the level of attacks remains minimal when compared to actual state capabilities and general expectations. Using our dataset of cyber incidents and disputes, we measure the level of conflict and cooperation observed after a cyber incident and dispute to understand the true impact of this new tactic on foreign policy dynamics.

Our work on cyber conflict focuses on rivals which are basically active and historic enemies. It would be thought that during a rivalry, a situation of constant and historic animosity exists, a state will do all it can to harm the other side. If a rival uses a cyber operation to harm its enemy, the likely response should be characterized by further conflictual relations. We therefore expect that cyber incidents and disputes will lead to an escalation of hostility between rivals. Continue reading

Magical Thinking in the Sahel

This time last week, international intervention plans in Mali consisted of a rather under-powered African (ECOWAS) force, which was expected to arrive no earlier than September.  This force was not backed by overpowering consensus. Nigeria and Mauritania, the two best-equipped militaries in the region, were reluctant to pledge serious troops. The United States insisted that free and fair presidential elections must precede any international intervention, even after a December coup rendered this unrealistic.  And the Malian government itself seemed an obstacle.  The December coup signaled the resurgence of hardliners within the junta, who claimed that the Malian military – broken and demoralized as it was – could deal with northern insurgents on its own.  Tweets out of Mali (and even statements in the press) took a nationalist turn, and international intervention, even by an African force, began to seem fraught.

And now, seven days later, we’re in a brand new world.*

Continue reading

Nobody cares about foreign policy

It bears repeating that nobody votes on foreign policy, and most folks don’t know anything about it anyway (remember that a nontrivial number of Americans think South Korea is our greatest enemy). I’ll quote myself:

[N]obody gives a damn about foreign policy. Theories of democratic responsiveness and empirical models of foreign policy choice need to begin with this fact. Nobody cares! That thing we do? The international relations bit? It’s somewhat less important than professional bowling or HGTV. [Americans] only care about security–and their understanding of that is about as sophisticated as the Toby Keith song about the Statue of Liberty. …

[O]ur brilliant little theories about how voters express their desires over foreign policy rest on the idea that voters have some utility over foreign-policy choices. That, in turn, may also be flatly wrong. When voters vote, their choices are likely wholly driven by domestic factors. If that’s the case, there’s no residual term–foreign-policy voting is in the error term. This means that foreign policy should be relatively unconstrained, both ideologically (except among a very few elites) and in its implementation (because nobody cares).

I make the same point more diplomatically and, at much greater length, in my dissertation. I should note that the professional bowling jest was an exaggeration, but foreign affairs is demonstrably less important to voting behavior than college football (e.g., e.g.. I also point out that sometimes it’s okay to exaggerate for rhetorical effect.

Below the fold, I adduce new evidence that even the Council on Foreign Relations is somewhat ambivalent about foreign policy.
Continue reading

Podcast No. 17: Interview with Iver Neumann

Iver NeumannThe seventeenth Duck of Minerva podcast features Iver Neumann of the London School of Economics. Professor Neumann discusses his intellectual and educational background and a small part of his copious academic output. Topics incude post-structuralism, policy engagement, the practice turn, popular culture and politics, and the Mongols.

I should reiterate important change to procedures. From now on, the Minervacast feed will host mp3 versions of the podcasts. The whiteoliphaunt feed will host m4a versions of the podcast. Unless I hear otherwise, we will continue this approach into the foreseeable future. I’ve heard of output problems on the mp3 versions, but I can’t reproduce

Continue reading

Why Does John McCain Hate Susan Rice? Republicans and Benghazi

I’ve been curious why John McCain is pursuing Susan Rice with such a vengeance for her inopportune remarks on Sunday talk shows in September about the not-so spontaneous attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. As I think about other prospective nominees to lead the State Department like John Kerry, John McCain actually has more in common with Ambassador Rice.

20121121-213003.jpg

Continue reading

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.

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.

VP Debate once again tells the World that all We care about is the Middle East


Yes, it’s partisan, but it’s a somewhat useful deconstruction

First, I included the above video to reference a point I tried to make earlier – that Romney flip-flopped so much in the first debate that I no longer have any idea what he thinks about the big issues of campaign. I just wish I knew wth Romney wants to do with the presidency. There has to be some purpose, some reason to vote for him, and I can’t find it. Someone tell me in a few coherent, specifics-laden paragraphs why I should vote for him? Not why Obama is a bad president – I know that already – but why Romney should be president. Honestly, I don’t know, which makes his presidential run look like a vanity project or something.

Second, did anyone else think that the vice-presidential debate once again broadcast to the world that our foreign policy is dominated by the Middle East? It was all about Iran, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan. Obviously, these are all important places and issues. But it doesn’t take a lot of foreign policy training to know that Russia’s ever-more erratic course under Czar Putin, a possible euro-EU meltdown, or China are a lot more important to the US’ future than a bunch of small, poor fractured states in the Middle East. But no, let’s argue once again about Israel, Iran, terrorism, Iraq…  Good grief. There are other issues out there…

Continue reading

How did he screw this up so badly?

I don’t really want to pile on, but the question for me is: how does a major presidential candidate in the 21st century (and a guy who has been running for office now for seven straight years) screw this up so badly?

As a resident of Massachusetts, I watched Romney as governor, he wasn’t a disaster and I don’t think he ever displayed the level of incompetence that we’ve seen recently. So what’s going on?

I’ve been pondering this with various Massachusetts political analysts/friends over the past day, here’s what I see:

As governor, Romney’s staff was small and most decisions were made within a tight-knit group of advisers. He governed a state in which the Democrats held both houses of the legislature with overwhelming, veto-proof, majorities. Given the constraints, he took risks, often made quick judgments, and went straight to the cameras in an effort to get out ahead of slower, entrenched Democratic Party leadership. He also vetoed more than 800 bills — almost all of which were overturned.

He’s now been running for office for nearly seven straight years and he’s developed a campaign organization, and strategy that is similar to his governor’s staff with its emphasis on “efficiency,” streamlined decisionmaking, and quick response. He relies heavily on a small group of core political (not policy) advisors and his world is about rapid reaction, getting out in the lead, and staying ahead in instantaneous news cycles. Nuance and complexity don’t fit. Wonky candidates are seen as indecisive — Al Gore, John Kerry, and Michael Dukakis — and they lose. Every talking point is carefully crafted to resonate in the politico echo-chamber. Romney disdains Obama and the complexity of Obama’s policy because he’s spent the past four years creating fictions and simple caricatures.

But there are risks to this style of campaign — the message lacks depth and the process lacks checks.

This hasn’t been a problem on most domestic issues where Romney has experience and a certain comfort zone — he can pivot and fill in substantive gaps on policy when confronted by journalists or potential voters on the campaign trail. But the risks are exposed on foreign policy where he has no real experience to ground or contextualize the talking points and the simple caricatures he’s constructed. He still doesn’t have a weighty foreign policy expert traveling with him on a daily bais who can provide a check on the substantive side. His initial statement on the Libya events and the doubling down on that statement appear to have come without consultation with a wider group of foreign policy thinkers within the party. He and his campaign didn’t appear to contemplate that there might be uncertainty about the fast moving events. They didn’t appear to comprehend the complexity of the situation. They didn’t appear to understand the potential reaction to their rapid political response to a tragedy.

I don’t think Romney’s glaring mistake here was that he shot from the hip. I think it goes deeper. Here’s a guy (and a campaign) who is clearly thin on national security and foreign policy; a guy who has made a number of mistakes in the past two months — the fiasco of his highly touted foreign tour, the bizarre neglect of any mention of veterans or the war in Afghanistan in his acceptance speech, and now this. Yet, neither Romney nor his inner circle seem to have acknowledged their weakness — even to themselves. This is what I find most troubling — the inability to self-reflect, to acknowledge a mistake (even if the acknowledgment is purely internal) and to fix a glaring weakness. It’s a failure of the candidate, it’s a failure of his inner circle, it’s a failure of the campaign’s organizational structure, and it’s all too close to George W. Bush for my taste.

How did he screw this up so badly?

I don’t really want to pile on, but the question for me is: how does a major presidential candidate in the 21st century (and a guy who has been running for office now for seven straight years) screw this up so badly?

As a resident of Massachusetts, I watched Romney as governor, he wasn’t a disaster and I don’t think he ever displayed the level of incompetence that we’ve seen recently. So what’s going on?

I’ve been pondering this with various Massachusetts political analysts/friends over the past day, here’s what I see:

As governor, Romney’s staff was small and most decisions were made within a tight-knit group of advisers. He governed a state in which the Democrats held both houses of the legislature with overwhelming, veto-proof, majorities. Given the constraints, he took risks, often made quick judgments, and went straight to the cameras in an effort to get out ahead of slower, entrenched Democratic Party leadership. He also vetoed more than 800 bills — almost all of which were overturned.

He’s now been running for office for nearly seven straight years and he’s developed a campaign organization, and strategy that is similar to his governor’s staff with its emphasis on “efficiency,” streamlined decisionmaking, and quick response. He relies heavily on a small group of core political (not policy) advisors and his world is about rapid reaction, getting out in the lead, and staying ahead in instantaneous news cycles. Nuance and complexity don’t fit. Wonky candidates are seen as indecisive — Al Gore, John Kerry, and Michael Dukakis — and they lose. Every talking point is carefully crafted to resonate in the politico echo-chamber. Romney disdains Obama and the complexity of Obama’s policy because he’s spent the past four years creating fictions and simple caricatures.

But there are risks to this style of campaign — the message lacks depth and the process lacks checks.

This hasn’t been a problem on most domestic issues where Romney has experience and a certain comfort zone — he can pivot and fill in substantive gaps on policy when confronted by journalists or potential voters on the campaign trail. But the risks are exposed on foreign policy where he has no real experience to ground or contextualize the talking points and the simple caricatures he’s constructed. He still doesn’t have a weighty foreign policy expert traveling with him on a daily bais who can provide a check on the substantive side. His initial statement on the Libya events and the doubling down on that statement appear to have come without consultation with a wider group of foreign policy thinkers within the party. He and his campaign didn’t appear to contemplate that there might be uncertainty about the fast moving events. They didn’t appear to comprehend the complexity of the situation. They didn’t appear to understand the potential reaction to their rapid political response to a tragedy.

I don’t think Romney’s glaring mistake here was that he shot from the hip. I think it goes deeper. Here’s a guy (and a campaign) who is clearly thin on national security and foreign policy; a guy who has made a number of mistakes in the past two months — the fiasco of his highly touted foreign tour, the bizarre neglect of any mention of veterans or the war in Afghanistan in his acceptance speech, and now this. Yet, neither Romney nor his inner circle seem to have acknowledged their weakness — even to themselves. This is what I find most troubling — the inability to self-reflect, to acknowledge a mistake (even if the acknowledgment is purely internal) and to fix a glaring weakness. It’s a failure of the candidate, it’s a failure of his inner circle, it’s a failure of the campaign’s organizational structure, and it’s all too close to George W. Bush for my taste.

Why Ferguson’s Newsweek Blather was Even Dumber than you Realized

Most of the attention paid to Ferguson’s anti-Obama Newsweek cover story has focused on his mendacious and unprofessional discussion of the administration’s domestic policies — notably its stimulus and health-care legislation.

Less attention has been paid to his foreign-policy criticisms. These are not so much mendacious as the kind of thing you’d expect from a third-rate op-ed hack. Obama didn’t use the Oval Office’s magical chalice to add +10 protest skills to the Iranian opposition. He didn’t order the NSA to activate its super-secret laser and assassinate the entire Iranian leadership. He had to be “cajoled” into bombing Libya (presumably by a bunch of women, the wuss!) rather than, I suppose, simply bypassing the United Nations and using tactical nuclear weapons at the first sign of trouble. And something about lacking the absolute clairvoyance in Egypt that would have enabled decisive, unerring action at the outset. That sort of stuff.


So it was interesting to read Sam Roggeveen defend Ferguson on the China component of the piece.

The reactions to this graph and Ferguson’s piece point out, firstly, that although China might become richer than the US overall it has four times as many people, and they remain much poorer. Second, China’s rise is a good thing; economics is not zero-sum and a big Chinese market is in our interests. Third, James Fallows points out that encouraging China’s growth has actually been settled US policy for some decades

What strikes me about the Ferguson piece and the reactions is that they largely talk past each other. Ferguson criticises Obama for failing to think through the implications of China’s rise as it relates to American power. Yet none of the critiques address that concern. Only David Frum’s piece engages with Ferguson on that level.

So what is the evidence that Obama has failed to “think through the implications of” the conjunction of US fiscal and economic weakness with the rise of Asian powers? One of them, apparently, is that Obama hasn’t followed Ferguson’s repeatedly discredited claims about the nature of those fiscal and economic challenges. Another, I suppose, is that the national-security bureaucracy is putting significant energy into assessing what kinds of capabilities are best suited to global threats and domestic fiscal constraints. “But wait,” a reader might ask, “isn’t that last part exactly what ‘thinking through’ entails?”
Well, yes. But “failing to think through” is weasel language. None of our likely readers, let alone Ferguson, has the slightest idea of whether Obama has thought through any of these things. It is possible that Ferguson, being a hedgehog-like scholar extraordinaire, simply has extremely high standards for thinking through global policy challenges. But it is far more likely that “failing to think through” means, as it usually does, “I don’t really have compelling criticisms here so I’ll level a vague accusation to buttress them.” And, indeed, Ferguson’s criticisms of Obama China policy come down to this: 

Far from developing a coherent strategy, he believed—perhaps encouraged by the premature award of the Nobel Peace Prize—that all he needed to do was to make touchy-feely speeches around the world explaining to foreigners that he was not George W. Bush.

In Tokyo in November 2009, the president gave his boilerplate hug-a-foreigner speech: “In an interconnected world, power does not need to be a zero-sum game, and nations need not fear the success of another … The United States does not seek to contain China … On the contrary, the rise of a strong, prosperous China can be a source of strength for the community of nations.” Yet by fall 2011, this approach had been jettisoned in favor of a “pivot” back to the Pacific, including risible deployments of troops to Australia and Singapore. From the vantage point of Beijing, neither approach had credibility.

Yes, you read that right: a chaired professor of international history either doesn’t understand the difference between Presidential speeches and policy actions or thinks cribbing from second-tier right-wing blogs makes for effective policy analysis.
In truth, the US pursues a rather difficult and careful policy toward China. Washington’s preferred outcome is for Beijing to be a “responsible stakeholder,” i.e., a status-quo oriented power integrated into the global order. At the same time, US policymakers recognize that there are real chances that China’s revisionist tendencies — on display in places like the South China Sea — will come to dominate its geo-strategic orientation. 
Thus, the US is building what might be called “containment capacity” while trying to reassure Beijing that confrontation is far from inevitable. It isn’t the prettiest or smoothest approach, but it has a lot of merit. At the very least, it takes advantage of offshore-balancing dynamics. And, like other aspects of Obama foreign policy, it involves a great deal more than “hug-a-foreigner” speeches. There exist plenty of grounds for criticizing the administration’s China policy; it may, in fact, be insufficiently hardline. But Ferguson isn’t even close. 
At the end of the day, there’s not much going for the foreign-policy components of Ferguson’s bid for access to a future Romney administration. I hope, at least, that he feels the number of hits he’s getting justifies burning through what little remains of his academic credibility.

Why Ferguson's Newsweek Blather was Even Dumber than you Realized

Most of the attention paid to Ferguson’s anti-Obama Newsweek cover story has focused on his mendacious and unprofessional discussion of the administration’s domestic policies — notably its stimulus and health-care legislation.

Less attention has been paid to his foreign-policy criticisms. These are not so much mendacious as the kind of thing you’d expect from a third-rate op-ed hack. Obama didn’t use the Oval Office’s magical chalice to add +10 protest skills to the Iranian opposition. He didn’t order the NSA to activate its super-secret laser and assassinate the entire Iranian leadership. He had to be “cajoled” into bombing Libya (presumably by a bunch of women, the wuss!) rather than, I suppose, simply bypassing the United Nations and using tactical nuclear weapons at the first sign of trouble. And something about lacking the absolute clairvoyance in Egypt that would have enabled decisive, unerring action at the outset. That sort of stuff.


So it was interesting to read Sam Roggeveen defend Ferguson on the China component of the piece.

The reactions to this graph and Ferguson’s piece point out, firstly, that although China might become richer than the US overall it has four times as many people, and they remain much poorer. Second, China’s rise is a good thing; economics is not zero-sum and a big Chinese market is in our interests. Third, James Fallows points out that encouraging China’s growth has actually been settled US policy for some decades

What strikes me about the Ferguson piece and the reactions is that they largely talk past each other. Ferguson criticises Obama for failing to think through the implications of China’s rise as it relates to American power. Yet none of the critiques address that concern. Only David Frum’s piece engages with Ferguson on that level.

So what is the evidence that Obama has failed to “think through the implications of” the conjunction of US fiscal and economic weakness with the rise of Asian powers? One of them, apparently, is that Obama hasn’t followed Ferguson’s repeatedly discredited claims about the nature of those fiscal and economic challenges. Another, I suppose, is that the national-security bureaucracy is putting significant energy into assessing what kinds of capabilities are best suited to global threats and domestic fiscal constraints. “But wait,” a reader might ask, “isn’t that last part exactly what ‘thinking through’ entails?”
Well, yes. But “failing to think through” is weasel language. None of our likely readers, let alone Ferguson, has the slightest idea of whether Obama has thought through any of these things. It is possible that Ferguson, being a hedgehog-like scholar extraordinaire, simply has extremely high standards for thinking through global policy challenges. But it is far more likely that “failing to think through” means, as it usually does, “I don’t really have compelling criticisms here so I’ll level a vague accusation to buttress them.” And, indeed, Ferguson’s criticisms of Obama China policy come down to this: 

Far from developing a coherent strategy, he believed—perhaps encouraged by the premature award of the Nobel Peace Prize—that all he needed to do was to make touchy-feely speeches around the world explaining to foreigners that he was not George W. Bush.

In Tokyo in November 2009, the president gave his boilerplate hug-a-foreigner speech: “In an interconnected world, power does not need to be a zero-sum game, and nations need not fear the success of another … The United States does not seek to contain China … On the contrary, the rise of a strong, prosperous China can be a source of strength for the community of nations.” Yet by fall 2011, this approach had been jettisoned in favor of a “pivot” back to the Pacific, including risible deployments of troops to Australia and Singapore. From the vantage point of Beijing, neither approach had credibility.

Yes, you read that right: a chaired professor of international history either doesn’t understand the difference between Presidential speeches and policy actions or thinks cribbing from second-tier right-wing blogs makes for effective policy analysis.
In truth, the US pursues a rather difficult and careful policy toward China. Washington’s preferred outcome is for Beijing to be a “responsible stakeholder,” i.e., a status-quo oriented power integrated into the global order. At the same time, US policymakers recognize that there are real chances that China’s revisionist tendencies — on display in places like the South China Sea — will come to dominate its geo-strategic orientation. 
Thus, the US is building what might be called “containment capacity” while trying to reassure Beijing that confrontation is far from inevitable. It isn’t the prettiest or smoothest approach, but it has a lot of merit. At the very least, it takes advantage of offshore-balancing dynamics. And, like other aspects of Obama foreign policy, it involves a great deal more than “hug-a-foreigner” speeches. There exist plenty of grounds for criticizing the administration’s China policy; it may, in fact, be insufficiently hardline. But Ferguson isn’t even close. 
At the end of the day, there’s not much going for the foreign-policy components of Ferguson’s bid for access to a future Romney administration. I hope, at least, that he feels the number of hits he’s getting justifies burning through what little remains of his academic credibility.

Should Romney Talk More About Foreign Policy?

In these summer months while we wait for the Olympics to start and for Romney to pick his VP candidate, the foreign policy cognoscenti has started in on Mitt Romney’s campaign with conflicting advice about whether or not his announced foreign policy trip this later this summer is worthwhile and whether or not the Republican nominee should spend much time talking about the issue.

While as a citizen and foreign policy wonk, I want our prospective commander in chief to fill in the details of what he might do, as an observer of politics, I’m not sure it makes nearly as much sense for a number of reasons. So, should Mitt say more on foreign policy or stay focused on the economy?

Dan Drezner makes the argument that Romney has done himself some serious damage by allowing hawkish but lite press releases to create a bad impression thus far. He suggests that more talk of foreign policy would be good for the country from a democratic governance perspective but also good for the candidate:

In op-ed after op-ed, Romney has relied on blowhard rhetoric and a near-total absence of detail to make his case. In doing so, Romney is the one who has sowed the doubts about his foreign policy gravitas in the first place. If his campaign manages to produce a successful foreign policy speech/road trip, he can dial down one source of base criticism — and focus again on the economy in the fall. 

Dan concedes it may not be especially smart politics for Mitt given that (1) foreign policy is a low priority for the public and that (2) the people may not be buying what he’s selling. However, he still thinks it’s a good idea given the self-inflicted wounds that Romney has incurred by talking tough about Russia being our top geopolitical adversary, among other questionable statements:

Politically, a well-executed foreign policy trip won’t net him a lot of votes, but it would cauterize a festering political wound and allow him to pivot back to the economy.

I suppose it is true that presidential candidates have to meet some sort of basic threshold test on foreign policy. Certainly, Sarah Palin failed that test last time and that may have hurt the McCain ticket on the margins. While anecdotal, I know of some friends who were McCain supporters who just could not vote for that ticket based on their concerns about Palin. That said, I don’t think Romney’s missteps on foreign policy are anywhere near Palin territory for undermining his foreign policy credentials. Language like “festering political wound” strikes me as overwrought.

Commentators have raised a variety of arguments about why Romney should not talk about foreign policy, from the unpopularity of his support for the war in Afghanistan to the limited political rewards of talking about foreign policy before an electorate even less interested than normal in the subject area (see the Cato Institute’s Justin Logan for one perspective along these lines and Daniel Larison for another).

I have two conflicting thoughts about Romney and foreign policy talk that perhaps have not been put forward.

Intermestic Issues
First, the rise of “intermestic” issues, of issues with both a domestic and international content, makes it harder for Romney to avoid talking about them. Here, I’m thinking of both global economic policy and energy, issues with enormous significance for the domestic agenda at home. Remaining silent on the EU crisis and its significance for the United States, beyond dismissive anti-European posturing (while at the same time embracing European austerity policies), may ultimately have some electoral repercussions if Obama can exploit it.

The Challenge of Running to Obama’s Right
However, Romney may have trouble running to the President’s right on foreign policy. There simply is not much room there. The President killed Osama Bin Laden and has extended the drone wars on America’s enemies in ways that look like a continuation of the previous administration. Romney cannot go too far “right” on foreign policy without looking like he’s inviting war with Iran or encouraging a deep freeze in relations with Russia and China.

Romney has repudiated the compassionate conservatism of George W. Bush on foreign aid, the one area where the previous administration received almost universal plaudits with its support for global health and efforts to address HIV/AIDS.

Sure, Romney could embrace the Ron Paul anti-interventionist wing of the Republican Party and create clear blue water between himself and the President, but that would require a more herculean flip-flop on defense spending than even Romney is capable of.

So, Mitt is left in the unenviable position of trying to create policy distance with the President for political reasons (he can’t just endorse a “me too” foreign policy, Obama certainly didn’t do that as candidate) without, at the same time, looking unpresidential in a Palinite or Goldwateresque way. Given the President’s ability to play the Bin Laden card, I say to Romney, talk about foreign policy all you want, but lots of luck with that!

Older posts

© 2015 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑