Jasper Smith

Commentary on politics, economics, culture and sports.

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.

Written by Jasper

September 6, 2007 at 5:41 pm