Jasper Smith

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Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category

Obama v. Clinton: deciding factors

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Barrack Obama supporter Matt Yglesias has been fairly tough on Hillary Clinton lately. Foreign policy wonk that he is, Matt’s objections to Clinton, not surprisingly, focus on this area:

When I see a race between two politicians, one of whom got Iraq wrong and one of whom got it right, to me that establishes a presumption in favor of the candidate who got it right, no matter whose husband the wrong one is. When it turns out that the one who got it wrong also has a group of advisors heavily weighted toward the group of pro-war “experts” who helped push so many Democratic politicians into taking her wrong position on the war in 2002, that re-enforces my presumption. When the one who got it right is closer to a circle of people who were cast out of favor due to their opposition to the war or willingness to associate with Very Shrill Howard Dean, that re-enforces my presumption. Stuff like the Kyl-Lieberman vote, the funny business on nuclear weapons, the “naive and irresponsible” bit all further re-enforces my presumption. And I think once you look at it that way, the whole race looks different. There’s been a ton of commentary about how Barack Obama hasn’t said or done anything to debunk people’s presumption that Hillary Clinton should be the nominee. And that appears to be true. But what if you don’t start with that presumption? And I don’t think we should. To me, the presumption that a candidate who can say he has a record of sound foreign policy judgment that can be contrasted with Republican X’s record of support for Bush administration fiascos makes a lot more sense than the presumption that Clinton should get the nomination.

All good points by Matt; this line of thinking could certainly seal the deal in favor of Obama for a person favorably disposed toward either of the two Democratic frontrunners, if such a person is basing his/her vote primarily on foreign policy and national defense.

I know there’s an argument out there that foreign policy is exactly what you should base your decision on, given the executive branch’s primacy in this area, and Congress’s prominence in domestic affairs. But dammit, the country’s domestic political economy is might screwed up at the moment, and, personally, I’m really jonesing for sanity, competence and proper priorities in this area, too. And here — at least from the little I’ve gleaned about Senator Obama’s positions from following the campaign — his instincts really seem worryingly off-kilter. Especially for someone who cut his political teeth as a community organizer. Obama’s views on Social Security strike me as particularly ill-informed, and his proposal to remove millions of old people from the income tax rolls is just bizarre. And his health care proposal is frankly awful. In a word, Obama seems to me like a real rookie when it comes to bread and butter issues.

Anyway, none of this may make much difference if a President Obama allows a more heavily Democratic Congress to set the agenda on domestic affairs, and said Congress is lead by Democrats with sound principles. But I’d feel much more comfortable voting for Senator Obama in the primary were he to show more substance on kitchen table issues — even if that meant — heaven forbid — modifying some of his earlier positions and risking the dreaded charge of flip-floppery.

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November 20, 2007 at 5:51 pm

Dollar doldrums

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With respect to the falling dollar, one hears that it could get a lot worse very quickly, and there is dark talk of a sudden plunge, or speculation that “the Chinese might decide to dump US holdings.” What I want to know is, if, by “Chinese” one is referring to the government of China, exactly why would they Beijing want to take this course of action?

Wouldn’t dumping dollar assets just put yet more, enormous downward pressure on the greenback, thereby making Chinese exports more costly to American consumers? Last time I heard, they’ve got a lot of mouths to feed, and a very restive population; the last thing they need is massive layoffs. Here’s the point: the Chinese government is, um, a government. Why does a sovereign government care if its holdings of a particular financial asset are worth less? It has these things called “printing presses,” after all. And moreoever, the government of China is not saving up for a downpayment on a house, or trying to build a nest egg for retirement, or anticipating a costly wedding down the road. Governments don’t need to save, or build up portfolios, in the same manner as individuals.

I’m not saying people making such claims about the dumping of US bonds by the Chinese are wrong, mind you. I just don’t understand the logic, and I wonder if someone has an explanation.

Obviously private sector Chinese actors are dumping dollar-denominated assets just like other folks around the world, or else the dollar wouldn’t be dropping. I’m just wondering why they government in Beijing might want to do this. Seems to me a risky move for little (or no?) gain.

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November 8, 2007 at 10:43 pm

Monday Putin blogging

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Ross Douthat ponders the legacy of Vladimir Putin:

I think there’s little question that Putin has been one of the most successful world leaders of the new century, and I’ve always had the impression that this success is related to his being smarter, in some meaningful way, than most of his rivals and partners on the world stage… It will be very interesting to watch what he does after 2008 – both how he continues to exercise power in Russia (as he assuredly will), and what his de facto political dominance will mean for the leaders who succeed him. He will only be fifty-six when his term ends – younger than any of the front-runners for the GOP nomination, it’s worth noting – which means that the Putin era, in one fashion or another, probably still has decades left to run.

I guess time will tell. I personally suspect there’s another shoe that may still drop, and it’s called “the price of oil.”

It’s hard to imagine Putin accomplishing 10% of what he’s accomplished in recent years without all those fat petrochecks. I don’t buy the hype about oil remaining dear ad infinitum. Oh sure, in the long run we’re no doubt running out of the stuff, and over the long term it will likely get more expensive. The short and medium terms, however, are a different story.

Price spikes in the past have prompted conservation efforts. They’re doing so again. When you follow this process with the inevitable recession (we still haven’t managed to repeal the business cycle, by the bye), the price of oil drops. Usually quite substantially. And so, too, will Russian economic prospects, and the received wisdom about how great a leader Vladimir Putin has been.

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September 17, 2007 at 1:38 pm

Iraq policy: just how crazy?

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Matt Yglesias talks about possible motivations behind US policy in Iraq:

…while the absence of political reconciliation is probably Iraq‘s biggest problem, it’s not a particularly large problem for the American military presence. On the contrary, a unified Iraq — especially one swayed by Iraqi public opinion — might be very likely to give the US the boot. By contrast, in a divided and chaotic Iraq one can easily imagine the main players resenting the US presence but preferring it to anarchy. Indeed, Bush seems to have convinced both the Maliki government and the Anbar Salvation Front that they need American troops to protect them from each other. Meanwhile, the Kurds want us to defend them from the Turks, and the Turks want us to keep the Kurds in line and there’s really no sign of an end to the tensions and violence. From one point of view it looks like a quagmire, but from another point of view it’s more-or-less ideal.

It’s really really really hard for me to believe that even some of the certified crazy people running US foreign and defense policy these days think our current situation in Iraq is “more-or-less ideal.” Unless they’re a whole lot more fucking crazy than I thought.

First, the meat grinder that is Iraq without question is putting enormous stress on the US military, and is surely negatively impacting its effectiveness. How the hell would would the US be able to respond to an outbreak of trouble in, say, East Asia? How can that be “ideal”? Moreover, the Iraq debacle is costing the Treasury over ten billion a month, if you believe the wildly conservative, unrealistic estimates (which fail to properly account for things like medical costs for rehabbing vets, etc.). Even for a country as rich as the US, writing an eleven figure check every freaking month ain’t chicken feed. What’s so vital about Iraq’s geography that couldn’t be emulated a lot more cheaply by bases in Kuwait or the UAE?

I’m personally no longer able to perceive any rational basis whatsoever behind US policy in Iraq. It’s now all about George Bush’s worries with respect to the history books.

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September 16, 2007 at 7:29 am

Choose your battlefields

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Here’s a thought: we continually hear that we must stay in Iraq in order to wage the War on Terror, and that al-Qaeda in Iraq has materialized as a deadly foe. Hence retreating from Iraq would be synonymous with being handed a major defeat by al-Qaeda.

But since when do astute wagers of war allow the enemy to dictate the terms of battle? Sure, perhaps al-Qaeda would like to use Iraq as a battleground against the United States. But why should the United States want to use Iraq as a battleground against al-Qaeda? It hardly seems obvious that just because it makes sense for your enemy to favor a particular location for use as a battlefield it likewise makes sense for you.

America clearly has good reasons for wanting to fight the enemy called al-Qaeda. But likewise there pretty clearly exist some major disadvantages for America in wanting to do that fighting in the country known as Iraq

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September 13, 2007 at 7:26 pm

Osama’s latest

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I’ve been looking for the text all over. Many thanks to the fellow WordPress blog “Wolf Pangloss” for taking the time to type it in:

All praise is due to Allah, who built the heavens and earth in justice, and created man as a favor and grace from Him. And from His ways is that the days rotate between the people, and from His Law is retaliation in kind: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and the killer is killed. And all praise is due to Allah, who awakened His slaves’ desire for the Garden, and all of them will enter it except those who refuse. And whoever obeys Him alone in all of his affairs will enter the Garden, and whoever disobeys Him will have refused.As for what comes after: Peace be upon he who follows the Guidance. People of America: I shall be speaking to you on important topics which concern you, so lend me your ears. I begin by discussing the war which is between us and some of its repercussions for us and you.

To preface, I say: despite America being the greatest economic power and possessing the most powerful and up-to-date military arsenal as well; and despite it spending on this war and its army more than the entire world spends on its armies; and despite it being the major state influencing the policies of the world, as if it has a monopoly on the unjust right of veto; despite all of this, 19 young men were able – by the grace of Allah, the Most High – to change the direction of its compass. And in fact, the subject of the Mujahideen has become an inseparable part of the speech of your leader, and the effects and signs of that are not hidden.

Since the 11th, many of America’s policies have come under the influence of the Mujahideen, and that is by the grace of Allah, the Most High. And as a result, the people discovered the truth about it, its reputation worsened, its prestige was broken globally and it was bled dry economically, even if our interests overlap with the interests of the major corporations and also with those of the neoconservatives, despite the differing intentions.

And for your information media, during the first years of the war, lost its credibility and manifested itself as a tool of the colonialist empires, and its condition has often been worse than the condition of the media of the dictatorial regimes which march in the caravan of the single leader.

Then Bush talks about his working with al-Maliki and his government to spread freedom in Iraq but he is in fact is working with the leaders of one sect against another sect, in the belief that this will quickly decide the war in his favor.

And thus, what is called the civil war came into being and matters worsened at his hands before getting out of his control and him becoming like the one who plows and sows the sea: he harvests nothing but failure.

So these are some of the results of the freedom about whose spreading he is talking to you. And then the backtracking of Bush on his insistence on not giving the United Nations expanded jurisdiction in Iraq is an implicit admission of his loss and defeat there. Read the rest of this entry »

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September 9, 2007 at 11:11 am

Long live flexicurity

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A great Ezra Klein comment thread was generated from his post entitled: Wal-Mart and the Mom-and-Pops. I won’t do a major excerpt (read the whole thing), but will just mention that a sub-discussion got involved using the example of Wal-Mart, and its efforts to browbeat the maker of Crest into lowering prices, and how this cycle plays out in the form of poor wages and benefits for workers. Anyway, one commenter opined that

It’s a stupid argument that Wal-Mart or Crest or any other company can thrive only by treating workers like shit and paying them little.

Yes, but who exactly is arguing that undervaluing workers is the “only” way a company can thrive? Talk about straw man arguments. Obviously plenty of enormously successful private sector employers in the United States pay excellent wages and benefits. Indeed, American workers are some of the world’s most expensive. The key question is: what if any role should government play in mandating how much workers should cost.

While it may be true that sometimes firms can prosper quite nicely while paying a relatively high price for labor (see Ford Motor Company circa 1928) it’s equally true that employers can sometimes perform pretty dismally while overpaying for labor (see Ford Motor Company circa 2007). All in all I’d just as soon have a firm’s owners, and not government, determine how much they can afford to pay for labor. I doubt Goldman Sachs or Boeing or IBM or Pfizer are paying more than they have to for their American workers. It’s just that the going rate for skill sets in those fields is high — a lot higher than the going rate for the skill sets involved in stacking shelves or flipping burgers.

Not that workers doing these types of less skill-intensive tasks ought to be treated badly. Far from it. They ought to enjoy — like their counterparts in other rich countries — the generous protections of a robust, taxpayer-supported safety net. The big advantage to relying on government for social protections — rather than private sector mandates — is that government is too big to fail. One can certainly imagine a GM, say, or a Caterpillar having trouble paying for healthcare or pensions. But the United States government is very unlikely to give up ownership of its printing presses.

Very robust safety net + very free markets: the Nordics have it right.

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September 6, 2007 at 5:41 pm

A lot like forty summers ago

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I don’t write much about Iraq (nor a great deal about foreign or military affairs in general) for a very good reason: I’m simply not much of an expert. Fortunately, other people seem to know what they’re talking about. Kevin Drum, for instance, has these sobering words for us:

Anbar is good news despite the long-term risk of arming Sunni tribal leaders. Petraeus seems to be doing a good job on the counterinsurgency front (though it’s frankly hard to say how much of this is good PR based on a limited number of success stories and how much is genuine widespread progress). And it’s possible that violence is down in Baghdad, though I’d rate the odds of that at no more than 50-50. On the downside, most of the evidence suggests that violence is following seasonal patterns and is going up, not down. The insurgency seems to be getting worse in the north. Civil war is breaking out in the south. Anecdotal reports of progress are undercut by suggestions that we’ll need to stay in Iraq for another decade. The Iraqi police force is a disaster and the army doesn’t appears to be much better, despite the usual Pentagon claims of improvement. Kirkuk is a timebomb. Iraqi infrastructure is in a ruinous decline. And the insurgency is apparently bigger than it was a year ago. The conventional wisdom this summer, after a steady round of dog-and-pony shows from the military, says that although political progress in Iraq is nil (or even in reverse), at least we’re finally making some tactical progress on the security front. And maybe we are. But I’m trying to be as honest as I can be here, and it looks to me like the balance of the evidence suggests that this is more hype than reality. As near as I can tell, we’re not making much progress on either front.

Read the whole thing. It’s not a pretty picture. As much as I wish he were wrong, my fear is he’s very likely right. It’s time to get out.

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August 27, 2007 at 6:54 pm

Posted in Foreign Policy, Iraq

Delaying the inevitable

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Like, is there any doubt that Wolfowitz will eventually be forced to quit his job? Why delay the inevitable? I guess if I were in his shoes I might do the same thing. I mean, we are taking about a man’s livelihood. Still, the handwriting on the wall might as well be written in fluorescent pink. One might suppose the spectacle unfolding before us is beneath some people’s dignity. But one would be supposing in vain.

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May 7, 2007 at 2:39 pm

Defining down the war

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Matt Yglesisas on John McCain’s take on the situation in Iraq:

“Any rational observer would say that if the war’s lost, then someone won the war,” according to John McCain, “Al Qaeda will win that war.” This is very insightful if you’re dumb. By the same token, if buying my MacBook was a smart idea for me, I must have been ripping Apple off. Similarly, again, if Japan got rich by exporing goods to the West, the United States and Europe must have gotten poorer during Japan’s great expansion.

In the real world, interactions between human beings are often other than zero sum (see Bob Wright’s book). The Iraq War is, at this point, far beyond matters of “winning” and “losing.” Saddam Hussein certainly lost the war, so does that mean we won? No, it means that both Saddam’s regime and the American people are worse off than we might have otherwise been.

Quite So. Thing is, much of the pain being suffered by all parties right now is a result of overambitious war aims, and indeed, war defining.

I tend to see the conflict with totalitarian Islam as being eerily similar to the Cold War. It will undoubtedly take a long time. And undoubtedly much of the “fighting” will be accomplished via non-military means (i.e., economic development, diplomacy, propaganda, intelligence, etc.). Occasionally military intervention by the West may be called for (as in Afghanistan).

With respect to Iraq, I find myself belonging to the (no doubt dwindling) camp of persons who still believe the impetus for the original action — ending the regime of the mass murderer Saddam Hussein — was both morally justifiable and consistent with long term US geopolitical interests — but that the whole project was mismanaged with a shocking and genuinely tragic degree of incompetence. We should have, in other words, gotten in and gotten out, quickly.

Anyway — getting back to the Cold War analogy — I’ve always thought it very much an overstatement to say that the United States “lost the Vietnam War.” I state this not out of some warped sense of jingoistic American gunghoism. Rather, I state this because it’s simply insufficiently accurate to say the US lost “the war.” The right way to describe what happened to the US is that she suffered a series of bloody, tactical defeats in a single large-scale campaign (The Southeast Asian) in an ultimately successful war (The Cold).

So, I think, needless to say, Senator McCain has gotten his geopolitical sums wrong by forgetting his history lessons. The War itself is winnable, and indeed must be won. But the campaign has now become a deadly albatross, and needs to be disengaged from.

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May 6, 2007 at 10:28 am

Muslim immigration

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A Matt Yglesias post about conservative reaction to the D’Souza book got a nice, frothy comment thread going. Once commenter, omnipresent blogger Steve Sailer, writes:

The key point that everybody overlooks is that D’Souza is from India, where there are 140,000,000 Muslims. He brings a useful Indian perspective. Sophisticated Indians know they can’t provoke the Muslims too much on cultural issues, or the country will break up violently. In other words, India is held hostage by its huge Muslim minority. The Dutch are starting to find out the same thing, as the murders of Theo van Gogh and Pym Fortuyn by anti-anti-immigrationists show. Personally, I think there is a simpler solution for America: don’t let lots more Muslims into our country.

This, of course, elicits the inevitable:

Steve Sailer’s blanket anti-Muslim comment is shameful.

I rarely — and I mean RARELY — find myself agreeing with Sailer on just about any issue at all — never mind one involving immigration (a dedicated restrictionist, he). Still, where does Sailer make a “blanket anti-Muslim” statement? I do see a comment opposing Muslim immigration, but that’s hardly the same thing.

Again, I happen to disagree with Sailer on about 99% of the things he writes about, including immigration in general (from what I gather, he seems opposed to it, especially that which originates south of the Rio Grande; I think he’s flat out wrong on this score).

But on immigration from the Islamic world, I think he raises a valid national security concern. I’m all for letting people come here to build new lives and help the country in the process; — even lots of — gasp! — poor people from developing countries. But I fully admit to thinking that perhaps we might want to err on the side of caution when it comes to allowing the percentage of the population that is Muslim to undergo a rapid surge via immigration from the Ummah.

Support for radical Islam; honor killings; anti-semitic violence; female genital mutilation; disdain for western liberal democracy; etc — these things are no longer exotic, seldom seen phenomenon in Europe these days, much less the Islamic world.

I say let’s trade with them, conduct diplomacy with them, support their democratic movements, and help them develop their economies. But until the Islamic world goes through the Enlightenment, let’s be careful about letting them move here in huge numbers.

Cruel policy, I know, but I hardly think you can call it racist, because it’s based on legitimate national security (indeed, national self preservation) concerns.

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March 16, 2007 at 10:27 pm

The ethics of importing skilled workers

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Greg Mankiw is mostly in agreement with Bill Gates on the desirability of allowing more skilled workers to come to the US:

As I have said before, there is a strong case for allowing more skilled workers into the United States. They would pay more in taxes than they receive in government services. And by increasing the ratio of skilled to unskilled workers in the economy, they would reduce the wages of the skilled compared to the wages of the unskilled, thereby reducing U.S. income inequality. In other words, from a U.S. perspective, the economic pie grows larger, and the slices are divided more equally.

Mankiw, though, does express at least one reservation:

More troublesome, from an cosmopolitan ethical perspective, is that unskilled workers abroad might end up losers. That is, if skilled software engineers leave India for Silicon Valley, the unskilled workers left behind in India could well be worse off. Allowing more skilled workers into the United States might exacerbate global inequality, even if it enhances global efficiency.

Personally, I don’t agree with Mankiw about the existence of an ethical concern. If we’re willing to give our own consumers (and our society in general) the benefits they receive from foreign competition, we shouldn’t deny other countries the benefits they’ll enjoy from having to compete with us for the talents of their best and brightest (chief among these being the necessity for them to get their acts together, lest they lose said best and brightest).

Moreover, there are the rights of the would-be immigrant to consider. China’s loss, in other words, is Mr Chang’s personal gain. Preventing him from immigrating in order to give some sort of benefit to China strikes me as an utterly unjust case of the ends justifying the means

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March 11, 2007 at 10:12 pm

Excusing the neocons

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Kevin Drum, writing about Iraq, takes the neocons to task:

David Rose’s Vanity Fair interview with the neocon elite is getting plenty of well-deserved attention this weekend. For one thing, it’s fun to play the “which quote is the most damning?” game. Is it Michael Ledeen (the most powerful people in the White House are “women who are in love with the president”)? Kenneth Adelman (“They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era”)? David Frum (George Bush “just did not absorb the ideas”)?

…What’s more, despite their conveniently-timed hand wringing about incompetent execution, there’s little evidence that the apologists would have done anything very different — in fact, little evidence that they cared very much about anything beyond “bringing down Saddam.”

Emphasis mine. I tend to think that if Kevin is right, he actually bolsters the validity of the neocons’ excuses. After all, bringing down Saddam wasn’t itself problematic. It was accomplished competently, and was a goal that was in keeping with US advantages (military power). Moreover, there was at least an arguable case, both from a geopolitical/legal standpoint (numerous violations of the ’90-’91 UN resolutions, failure to fully cooperate with the inspections regime, the regime’s previous, well-documented attempt to acquire WMD, its penchant for making war on its neighbors, etc.) and a moral one (Saddam’s habit of committing mass murder), for using force to eject Saddam from power.

The problem has been in the quixotic, bungled, and probably doomed from the start effort at nation building. Colin Powell is looking wiser and wiser by the minute. The US should have resisted the temptation to make Iraq safe for democracy via an extended and large scale occupation, and instead confined its role mainly to financial assistance. We should have handed over the keys to the Iraqis and begun withdrawing promptly — within, say, 90 days of Saddam’s downfall. I believe Kevin Drum himself has expressed the opinion that the presence of US forces exacerbates the situation in Iraq. He’s very likely correct.

Still, it’s a shame a credible case can be made that Iraq is worse off for Saddam Hussein’s removal from office. It needn’t have turned out this way. Perhaps if the administration had been more strongly guided by neoconservative principles, it wouldn’t have.

Written by Jasper

November 14, 2006 at 9:57 am

Posted in Foreign Policy, Iraq