Friday, December 24, 2004


Going on vacation to Aspen. Back on the 29th.

Happy Holidays!

Market Limitations

WARNING: Long post ahead. Read at your own peril!

This post, by University of Michigan Law Professor Don Herzog, at the Left2right blog got me thinking about good arguments about the limits of the free market. Contrary to what far-right ideologues like to say, there are plenty of goods in our society which cannot be justly distributed by market forces. Let's start with Herzog's thoughts:
Now there's a huge literature debating when or whether markets fail -- will they provide public goods? and because of network effects and the like, will they create monopolies not disciplined by the threat of entry? And then there are questions about whether the state can improve on even failed markets. Leave that stuff aside. The real question, I think, is: what are the proper boundaries to the market? What do we want to buy and sell, and what do we want to allocate in other ways?

Once we bought and sold people. Slavery is one way to have a market in labor, and we rejected it. Now employers can purchase your labor, but not you. Richard Posner has proposed buying and selling babies, or "parental rights," to get rid of those noxious queues at adoption agencies: most of us flinch, even though he's got to be basically right about the queues. The state assigns each adult citizen the nontransferable right to cast one vote. We could have a market in votes: the state could assign initial property rights by mailing you a coupon that says, "bearer has the right to cast one vote." You could "consume" your property by casting the vote yourself; you could donate the coupon to the political charity of your choice; you could sell it to Ross Perot. But we reject any such market, and we don't budge when an economist observes that prohibiting free transfer generates deadweight loss. Citizenship itself isn't for sale. The usual way to get it is by being born here, which has nothing to do with merit or accomplishment or hard work or consumer demand. Fans of the Boston Red Sox had to wait for their team to win the right games at the right times to win the World Series; they couldn't pool together and raise enough money to buy the title from the Yankees.

The list of nonmarket goods is awfully long and wonderfully diverse. A liberal society isn't just a free market underwritten by a night-watchman state. It has lots of different institutions -- churches, universities, clubs, you name it. Market fundamentalists, as I'll cheerfully dub them, want to envision all of society in the market's image. There are other kinds of fundamentalists out there. A certain kind of participatory democrat wants all of society to be run democratically: she'll demand, why don't workers get to make decisions at firms? And why should the Roman Catholic Church be so hierarchical? Christians have occasionally suggested that all of society should run on an ethic of brotherly love. And so on.

We should reject all these fundamentalisms, and instead respect the idea of boundaries between different social settings. (That's not the same as maintaining whatever the current boundaries are. When the state ditches slavery or makes sexual harassment actionable, it redraws the boundaries of the market.) And we should reject the view that whatever the state does is coercive, and whatever society or the market does is voluntary. The state can write rules that expand our options, and no, not by grabbing and redistributing things that others are entitled to. The legal rules for writing a will let you do something magical and bestow your property after you're dead. And social relations can be coercive...
Notice the right-wing complaint that crazed political correctness is silencing people on campuses and elsewhere, even costing them their jobs. True or false, it sure does depend on the view that you can find coercion outside the state. Your action isn't voluntary if you had no reasonable alternatives, and it doesn't take a law to deprive you of such alternatives. Once we wrest free of market fundamentalism, we can see problems with state action and possibilities for it that have nothing to do with market failure, economic inefficiency, regulatory capture, and the like. And we can see a host of political problems -- controversies over the legitimacy of authority in farflung social domains -- that have nothing to do with the state.

A specific area in which markets fail is on environmentalism and distributional justice. Lester Milbrath, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Sociology at SUNY-Buffalo, LEARNING TO THINK ENVIRONMENTALLY, 1996, p. 87-88.
Markets work quite effectively to allocate resources, but they can’t look ahead to foresee such possibilities as overshoot and dieback, or global warming and climate change. A society that wants to become sustainable must foresee possible scarcities and system disturbances and then use its political system to limit throughput at sustainable levels. Markets also can’t distinguish what’s morally correct from what’s morally reprehensible. They’ll respond to the demands for luxury goods by the rich while ignoring the needs of the poor for bare subsistence. For example, land in the tropics that used to grow food for the poor may be diverted to grow flowers for rich Americans who want flowers in the winter. The free movement of capital and goods in a capitalistic world market has another harmful effect—that of encouraging the location of production facilities in countries with the lowest wages and the lowest levels of environmental protection. Markets encourage, even require, firms to externalize their pollution costs in order to be competitive. The costs then have to borne by the public and the ecosystem.

Markets don't fill every niche, they fill the most profitable niches. These niches (growing flowers for the rich instead of food for the poor) aren't necessarily in line with our moral obligations to humanity. At the same time, the reason market regulation still works (from an economic standpoint) is that "pro-poor" economic activity still can be done profitably, just less so. John Dernbach, Prof. of Law at Widener University, "Symposium On Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist: Sustainable Versus Unsustainable Propositions." CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY. (Winter 2002). 53 Case W. Res. 449
...access to drinking water is not just about the environment; improving access to drinking water in developing countries would reduce the incidence of waterrelated disease and death as well as increase economic productivity. [n121] That's why the nations of the world agreed in Johannesburg to "halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water" and sanitation. [n122] The point of such measures is to improve environmental quality, social wellbeing, and economic growth at the same time.

Let's take a hypothetical example. Let's say one could allocate resources to Dernbach's water purification project, which would give us a profit of $1000 (I'm drawing these numbers out of thin air). Or, we could spend it on generic "other" economic activity that is relatively exploitative (say, a mining operation) at a profit of $4000. The point is that in a free market, "other" will win out every time. But if we regulated the market to FORCE someone to do a water purification project, the world wouldn't collapse. Indeed, the businessman would still make a decent profit. That's the warrant for limited, intelligent governmental regulation of the market.

Rightwing economists might respond that eventually one will saturate the market for "other," and then the $1000 in untapped profit one could get from the water project would look good. Unfortunately, I'm not convinced we'll ever hit the crossover point. There are limited resources in the world, for one, so not every project can be tackled, even worthwhile ones. More importantly though, is that economic growth creates its own demand for more products. It isn't as if people hit some level of consumption and stop there in contentment, freeing up other resources to bring the bottom up. Rather, the dynamics of the wealthy lie in conspicuous consumption: they want to consume even more than they need, and they want to show it off. Thus, they'll continue to demand even more, new products, and they have the resources to attract the new production. This perpetuates a cycle: the market feeds the rich, who get richer and create a demand for even more goods. The market never switches its resources to aid the poor, even in profitable manners, because it can always make more money supplying the rich.

The environmental issue is particular important to this debate, because a free market, if left alone, is INHERENTLY destructive to the environment. Barbara Adam Professor of Social Science at Cardiff university. "Time and Environmental Change" ESRC Global Environmental Change Programme. accessible here
"Environmental pollution, contamination, and degradation are inescapably linked to industrial societies’ approach to time, where time is linked to money, speed to efficiency, and the 24-hour society to progress. Industrial time conflicts with the times of the natural environment: it clashes with cycles of life and death, growth and decay, with seasons and rhythms, the variable intensity of change, sustainabilty, and cycles of re-generation." The impact of these temporal perceptions is inescapable degradation of the environment. Adam continues "Industrial societies' economic...time-space is out of synchronisation with the system-specific timescales of socio-environmental change: resources that took millions of years to develop are degraded and/or depleted within a few hundred years: locally-caused hazards have consequences that extend across the entire earth."

Insofar as more production is always better (or at least, the constraint on demand is utterly unrelated to the constraints imposed by sustainable environmental practices), it is unreasonable to expect corporations operating in a free market system to act in environmentally responsible manner. This is the classic "tragedy of the commons," somewhat adapted. Since it is in every corporations to produce a little bit more, they all will, because the get all of the profit from doing so and bear only a portion of the eventual cost (environmental collapse). Furthermore, they'll bear the cost just the same whether or not they partake in the additional production, so they are literally forced to act destructively, even if they are aware of the consequences and even if they are aware that it would be more beneficial to all, in the long term, to scale back production. Governmental regulation that acts to mitigate THIS problem actually increases the net economic gain, since it knocks out the "common costs" for which a free market cannot account for.

Those are the basics on why a free market can't solve everything. The moral compulsions of a just society demand that we take some steps to curb the excesses of the market in order to bring about a fair chance for all (not to mention stopping environmental collapse). Thoughts and comments are welcome.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Truly Pro-Life

UPDATE: 12/23 @ 9:21 PM
Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin writes on what being a pro-life Democrat really should entail. (Yes, I'm aware that I've quoted Balkin three times (counting an update) in two days. And while I'm at it, I'm going to plug "What Brown v. Board of Education Should Have Said," his book, because it rocked out. Whatcha gonna do about it?)

Balkin writes:
If, despite this, one feels it important to restrict abortion because of the overwhelming interest in potential human life, one must attempt to remedy the problem of sex inequality in another way. Pro-life Democrats can work to lessen the stigma of surrendering a child for adoption, but that stigma is unlikely to fade soon no matter how earnest the effort. Far more important is support for social programs that help working women with the burdens of child care and with the costs of raising children, including nutrition programs, educational programs, subsidized health insurance for mother and child, and subsidized child care. A child's life does not stop after it leaves the womb; and if one really wants to be a "pro-life" Democrat, one should be pounding the table for protecting born children as well as unborn ones, as well as protecting the equality and equal opportunity of the women who gave birth to them.

As an abortion swing voter whose been trending pro-life, I agree entirely. I also don't think these principles can be restricted solely to Democrats. The Republican party has no claim on the label "pro-life" unless it actually takes an interest in the lives of children once they are born. I am reminded of the definition of "pro-life" from Chaz Bufe's indispensable "The American Heretic's Dictionary" (a take off of Ambrose Bierce's classic "The Devil's Dictionary"):
PRO-LIFE, adj...2) Vitally concerned with the wellbeing of "babies" right up to the moment of their birth—at which time they become "welfare cases" and "future criminals" undeserving of such luxuries as housing, health care, adequate nutrition, and a decent education.

Regardless of your views on when a life begins, allowing children to die by stray bullets in ghetto hi-rises is as criminal as letting them die via a medical procedure. The GOP would have far more credibilty if it was pro-EVERYBODY'S life, rather than picking and choosing what lives are valuable enough for the government to step into defend.

One more thing: The easy response to make to the above would be that the government would treat abortion/murder and gunshot/murder the same way: by prosecuting those who commit the crime. This would imply that Republicans are being hypocritical at all. But this logic strikes me as entirely too simplistic. If the government acts with reckless negligence in allowing the seeds of crime to grow (in abysmally poor neighborhoods with little policing and no economic hope) then it is abdicating its responsibilty to keep us safe. The government's responsibilty isn't just to enforce the law, it is also to create the conditions where the law is obeyed. Although the government can only to so much, to borrow from international human rights law, the government is under the obligation to create an "enabling environment" within which life can protected. The advantages to doing so are twofold: First, it will reduce crime by eliminating (or at least reducing) the root causes which force people into illicit activity. The second is that it makes it more likely that the criminals we put in jail are actually "the bad guys." We all agree that there is a different level of moral culpability between a man who steals a bigscreen TV from a house just because, and a women who steals food from the grocer to feed her family. The "enabling environment" paradigm, which would reduce the latter type of theft, would also allow us to--justifiably--spike sentences against those who commit the former type. This would "purify" our criminal justice system and reduce the amount of good-hearted people who get trapped inside a circuit of crime. Bill Clinton once said "If you work hard, and play the rules, no one should have to be poor." I'd expand that to say "If you're willing to work hard and play by the rules, no one should have to resort to crime." That isn't the world we live in now, but with work its the world we can live in one day.

UPDATE: This LA Times article, helpfully linked to by Mathhew Yglesias, shows why it's unreasonable to expect poor folks (especially poor youth) to "just say no" to a life of crime. Yglesias' excerpt is telling:
Years ago I asked gang members what happened to kids who "just said no" to the Bloods or V-18s. They brought me a videotape other gang members had made for a 14-year-old boy who had refused to join them. The tape showed gang members raping his 13-year-old sister. The boy joined the gang so that its members wouldn't return to kill her.

Another great book that both deals with this issue and offers hope is "No Free Lunch" by Rodney Carroll. This is an issue that can no longer be overlooked, if we are to call ourselves a humane and just society. Solving the cycle of poverty, gangs, and violence that plagues urban America strikes me as the most pro-life action a legislator could take.

Where's the Call?

The Legal Fiction blog has a superb post on why Conservatives should be outraged over torture (link: Volokh). It's a superb post, I highly recommend it. My favorite quote:
Again, regardless of what I think of certain neocons, there are some good faith neoconservatives out there. Assuming that this is your view, I don’t see how you could be anything but enraged at the administration for this debacle. That’s because the torture scandal strikes at the very heart of your entire vision of foreign policy. To be grossly general, the neocons believe that the current international system is too restrictive upon the United States. They believe that we need to break away from some of these institutions (UN) and be proud to use American power in support of democracy and other human rights across the globe. There’s a sort of Nietzschean element to their vision – America must transcend the current order and, by acting, create a new and better world order.

Leaving aside the Marxist/Rousseauian/French Revolution aspects of this vision, it rests on one critical assumption – that America is a force for good. Without that pillar, the entire neoconservative edifice comes crashing down. Unless you’re morally superior (or at least "good"), there is no moral justification for ignoring international law and abandoning international institutions. These are not people who simply think “might makes right.” Like the French Revolutionaries, there’s a deep moralistic streak in their vision. America is good. If she acts boldly, others will follow and the world would be better. The justification of invading Iraq in spite of world opinion depends upon this assumption that we are a force for good.

The problem, though, is that the great neoconservative experiment ended with the hooded man with the electrodes on his testicles. In one snap of the camera, everything was lost. How can you convince the world to follow when you sanction Scorpion treatment? How can you regain the moral legitimacy that is the foundation of your vision? How can you convince your fellow citizens to abandon international law when this is what happens. It reminds people that there’s a reason we have laws.

The whole thing is stellar. The question is: are Bush's actions immoral or impeachable?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Impeachable Offense?

UPDATE: 12/23 @ 2:20 AM
The ACLU has released some FBI memos that appear to imply that President Bush himself directly authorized (via executive order) the torture or inhumane treatment of suspects. This would run counter to claim by White House Press Secretary Scott McLellan that all interrogation procedures come from the Department of Defense, not the President.

While conceding there is no "smoking gun," Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin argues that if Bush did authorize torture, it's an impeachable offense (or at least that's what the title to his post implies).
Again, there is no smoking gun, just lots of interesting questions. We should not prejudge what the President did nor did not do until there is further proof. But my view can be stated fairly simply: If the President did authorize inhumane treatment of prisoners, whether or not his lawyers could claim that this was not technically in violation of various international agreements to which the United States made numerous reservations, these acts are morally unconscionable. He has shamed the country and should be removed from office.

I disagree with Balkin that, if the President's actions were "morally unconscionable" but legal, he should be removed from office. Impeachment is a very serious matter, and following the procedures and guidelines set out in our constitution for impeachment are essential to maintain a just government. If Bush's actions were ILLEGAL (and again, this all comes with the caveat that these are just questions, not proofs), then it's a closer question. I'm reticent to impeach officials for actions taken in their official capacity, so long as they aren't wantonly and recklessly in violation of US law. I'm not sure that any of President Bush's actions, even if they were illegal, were "wantonly" so. Presumably, our experience with President Clinton should have taught the Democrats that impeachment should not be used in each and every situation where the President has conceivably broken the law. I would agree, however, that if the President did authorize the illegal torture of detainees, it certainly would be more justifiable to impeach him than to impeach Clinton. But "more justifiable than impeaching Clinton" is not a particularly tough standard to meet.

UPDATE: Professor Balkin responds to some of the arguments I made (though not directly to me). A far more compelling post than the first, I think.
Ordinarily the fact that Congress thinks the President has acted immorally should not, without more, be grounds for impeachment. But the allegations in this case concern much more than that. The charges, if true, suggest a real abuse of power (and abuse of office) and violations of both domestic and international law.

I noted earlier that the Administration's torture memo tried to offer a very narrow standard of torture, and so his lawyers might claim that what was ordered was not technically "torture" under the (unreasonable) interpretation that the OLC torture memo gives to that word. Nevertheless, if the allegations are correct, it would very possibly make the President guilty of war crimes. And it would almost certainly be in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Not all violations of international law should be impeachable offenses, but surely ordering the abuse and torture of prisoners should be.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Knocking on Rumsfeld's Door

Powerline responds to Andrew Sullivan's column explaining why Donald Rumsfeld needs to go. Powerline goes through a bunch of issues, but the overall point of contention is: If we had done X differently, could we have avoided Y bad result in Iraq? Or was Y inevitable (or at least out of Rumsfeld's hands)?

The epitome of this question is whether or not more US troops could have prevented the looting and lawlessness that characterized Iraq immediately after Hussein's government fell. Sullivan thinks the answer is yes, Powerline says no. But I don't see any reason to doubt why more US troops couldn't have stopped the looting. It's well known that looters stayed away from areas under US guard, the problem was that US troops were so overstretched we couldn't guard everything at once, or even everything important at once. If the Iraqi's are so desperate to break out into anarchy and lawlessness that they'll do it even when optimism is high and US military presence is strong, then we might as well concede defeat in Iraq now, because a democracy can never form under those circumstances. At the very least, Rumsfeld deserves blame for not giving democracy a fair shake.

But Powerline's follow-up post is far more disturbing. They write:
Sullivan finds it "blindingly obvious" that we don't have the number of troops in Iraq "needed to keep the peace, to police a country of tens of millions, to seal borders, to gain intelligence and to suppress rioting, looting and disorder." If that's our mission then, yes, it's obvious to me that we don't have enough troops. Indeed, to "police" the entire country of Iraq might require Vietnam-era troop levels. But if our mission is basically to capture and kill insurgents, train and help build up Iraqi forces, and provide enough security for elections to occur and for the elected government to assume power, then it's less than clear that our present troop levels are insufficient.

To me, this is game, set, and match in favor of the argument that we needed more troops. Why? Because the need to "keep the peace, to police a country of tens of millions, to seal borders, to gain intelligence, and to suppress rioting, looting and disorder" are prerequisites to the latter objectives. We can't expect to end the insurgency unless we secure the borders and gather intelligence. There cannot be a democracy if the nation cannot be policed. I am dumbfounded at how these issues can be separated. As I blogged earlier (quoting Robert Kagan), the looting in Iraq and the general feeling of insecurity in the region is a direct cause of the present insurgency. The two issues cannot be divided.
"The most tragic [of the Bush administration's failures] was the failure in the early days after the invasion to fulfill the 'first duty' of an occupying power: providing basic security. Much has been made of the looting that occurred immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, but Feldman notes the essential point: by allowing the looting to proceed, American forces sent a clear message 'that the United States was not in charge, and that no one else was, either.' Iraqis had to seek security for themselves in what was for a time a state of anarchy, and it was hardly surprising that they turned to their own kind for protection. Feldman says that it was not 'ancient' ethnic and religious differences that empowered armed militias, but the human instinct for survival. 'Had there been half a million U.S. troops on the ground,' he insists, 'it is highly likely that there would have been little looting, no comparable sense of insecurity and therefore a reduced need for denominational identities to become as dominant as they quickly did.'"

Rumsfeld and his allies still view this as solely a military conflict. In doing so, they neglect the other causes and issues that relate to the war on terrorism, and this blindspot has manifested itself in terms of increased instability in the anti-terror frontlines. We need a secretary of defense who sees the war holistically, and has a plan for winning it. Sure, having a plan isn't everything. But it still is something, and that something essential to winning this war.

John McCain Supports the Terrorists

Or so everybody's favorite politician, Tom DeLay, implicitly alleged. Speaking on the Sean Hannity show (guest hosted by Oliver North), DeLay said that those who criticize Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld might be "aiding and abetting" the enemy. Conservative website has the full story (linked to by the indispensable Daily DeLay). My favorite quote:
DeLay complained that "most of those who are criticizing [Rumsfeld], starting with the national media, never wanted us in the war to begin with. And then you have a lot of these Democrats who voted against the war. They're the appeasers. They want to go back to the days of Clinton when we appeased these terrorists."

Some of these "Democratic appeasers" include Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Trent Lott (R-MS), all of whom have recently come out with statements expressing discontent with Rumsfeld's performance.

DeLay, of course, subscribes to the theory that it's okay to have ineffective leadership in the most important battle the US has fought since the cold war--so long as nobody says anything about it. Who knows how demoralized the American people might get if--gasp--they actually had competent officials running the show? It's a risk we obviously can't afford to take.

Call me crazy, but I think that supporting officials who are proven failures in fighting this war offers far more "appeasement" to the terrorists than anything the Democrats have advocated so far. But that's why I'm not in Congress.

Attention Deficit Disorder

A little while back, I wrote a post that argued that Republicans are not the right party to lead us in the War on Terror because their ideological leanings are counterproductive toward defeating the threat we face. Furthermore, the longstanding perception by the public that Republicans are "strong on defense" paradoxically makes the situation worse: Republicans know they don't need to make the tough (ideological and political) compromises necessary to make our nation secure to achieve the political benefits of being the security party, so they don't.

It is in that context that I think Kevin Drum's latest post really nails the situation on the head. He quotes two liberal pundits (very liberal in fact, they're Matthew Yglesias of the American Prospect and Brad Plumer of Mother Jones) criticizing the Democrats for ignoring national security now that the election is over. To quote from Plumer:
The second point is that liberals—and Democrats especially—have said nary a word about the future of the military lately. John Kerry may have been the first to suggest expanding our active-duty forces, but no one's said anything since. So the Democrats not only have fed the perception that they make national security proposals only when they need to look "tough" on the campaign trail, but they've also absented themselves entirely from an important debate.

Drum agrees with this argument (as do I). But he asserts that the problem is at least as bad on the Republican side of things:
But the reason this struck as an odd complaint right now was that just last night I was reading through various news articles about the upcoming legislative session, and here's what the Republican agenda appears to be: privatizing Social Security, enacting tort reform, restricting immigration, getting started on tax reform, and cutting the Pentagon budget. As near as I can tell, with the election over and the intelligence bill successfully neutered and shoved under the carpet, Republicans have as good as forgotten that the war on terror even exists anymore.

Republicans ready to engage in boastful triumphantalism about how Democrats are puny and weak on National Security need to start backing their words with deeds. Unfortunately, having absorbed the lesson that rhetoric is all it takes to convince the American public that Republicans care about security, the odds of them actually using up any of that famous political courage we've been hearing about are quite slim.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Get Annan Out

I can agree with this argument by "liberal multilateralist" Kenneth Cain in the Wall Street Journal (behind a firewall, but helpfully summarized by Powerline). Cain argues that Annan's fatal flaw is not corruption, but cowardice. Specifically, the UN's inaction in the face of clear genocide (not that they're alone) is morally shocking and ethically depraved. These failures in leadership are damning, and they necessitate Annan's ouster.

Speaking of Powerline (though this might not be the best segway), they've been named blog of the year by Time Magazine. A hearty congratulations to a truly superb blog.

For Every Action, There is an Equal and Opposite US Inaction

Who here can spot the link between this December 17th Washington Post editorial by former Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and James Baker and this December 18th New York Times editorial by Nicholas Kristof?

Perhaps it is that the US can't hope to tame rising anti-American sentiment unless it is willing to invest time, money, and manpower to ending the most vile havens of injustice and moral depravity that still exist in the world. And nowhere is a better candidate for US action than the abomination that has become Sudan. Tragically, the US (and global) response to the ongoing genocide in the region has been all too typical: Lots of words coupled with precious little action.

Oh, and lest we think that Sudan represents anomaly, the Washington Post is kind enough to report that fighting has restarted in eastern Congo. One of the wealthiest countries in the world in terms of natural resources, Congo has been cursed with poverty due to ongoing civil wars and conflicts with Rwanda, who is likely backing the insurgent group that has restarted the fighting.

The plague of conflict, war, famine, disease, and poverty has all the signals of a region ready to explode. That doesn't mean that the region is hopeless. But the US can no longer afford to ignore Africa and other impoverished regions around the world. The consequences of such an action would be catastrophic.

It Ain't Just India Folks

Kevin Drum links to a report on a recent trip by a US congressional delegation to India, summed up as follows:
They spoke to a lot of Indian government people and the message from them was very clear, and in a nutshell it was this: We don't much care about America. He said they were very polite but almost indifferent. Maybe matter-of-fact is a better description. The conversation went something like this:

We consider ourselves as in competition with China for leadership in the new century. That's our focus and frankly, you have made it very difficult for us to deal with you. We find your approach to international affairs ridiculous. The invasion of Iraq was insane. You've encouraged the very things you say you were trying to fix — terrorism and instability. Your attitude to Iran is ridiculous. You need to engage with Iran. We are. We are bemused by your hypocrisy. You lecture the world about dealing with dictators and you deal with Pakistan. We are very sorry for your losses from the 9/11 terror attacks. Welcome to our world. You threaten us with sanctions for not signing the non-proliferation treaty, but you continue to be nuclear armed and to investigate new weapons. You expect us to neglect our own security because you want us to. We don't care about sanctions.

The meeting may be with India, but I doubt they're the only ones thinking along those lines. The world's tolerance for US hypocrisy on the global stage is rapidly waning, and the risk that either the EU or China could offer a challenge to US hegemony becomes more and more threatening as the US drives potential allies away.

The point isn't that the US can never assert itself unilaterally on the global stage. It can--and often it must. But the point is that that privilege comes with a responsibility to act multilaterally and within global institutions whenever possible. The US must build up a bank account of international credibility so that the world doesn't try to oppose the US at every opportunity. Christopher Layne, Associate Professor of International Politics at the University of Miami writes in the Spring 2002 edition of The Washington Quarterly that:
Being powerful is good in the international arena, but being too powerful is not. The reasoning behind this analysis is straightforward as well as the geopolitical equivalent to the law of physics that holds for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Simply put, the response to hegemony is the emergence of countervailing power. Because international politics is indeed a competitive, "self help" system, when too much power is concentrated in the hands of one state, others invariably fear for their own security. Each state fears that a hegemon will use its overwhelming power to aggrandize itself at that state's expense and will act defensively to offset the hegemon's power.

To prevent this occurrence, the US must be careful not to overreach. Other nation's concerns can be ameliorated if the US acts in a manner that is consistent with international norms and practices. But the US can no longer take their support for granted. The fear of unbridled US authority, coupled with the rise of alternative power spheres means the days of unrestricted US action are numbered.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

The Sunni Option

Tom Friedman says that the US should support a neo-Baathist Sunni government in the upcoming Iraqi elections. He claims it is the only way to ensure the Sunnis participate in the election, and the only way to avoid a civil war. Matthew Yglesias says it's a good column. I'm not so sure.

After all, as Iraq'd has pointed out, the Shi'ites best overture possibility toward the Sunnis is offering an end to the US occupation. Since this is bad presumably because both the Sunnis and Shi'ites view the US as puppeteers, would it really be in the US's interest to CONFIRM that hypothesis by actively intervening in favor of a chosen group?

I'd be very surprised if the Shi'ites took that lying down, especially since they would undoubtedly view it as a) hypocrisy of the highest order from all of our high minded talk of Democracy and b) a theft of their years overdue ascension to political control. But perhaps this a lose-lose choice forced upon us by the Sunni Persecution Strategy. Lose-lose choices...ain't that a refrain we seem to be hearing alot from Iraq.