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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Film update

Thanks to some free time at the holidays, I've managed to add a few additional movies to my 2005 list. Here's my rough rank-order rundown of what I managed to see this past year. You'll note that it is heavily tilted toward "family friendly" movies. Indeed, I saw seven of these movies in the theater with at least one of my daughters:

  • "Walk the Line"
  • "Millions" (2004)
  • "The Upside of Anger"
  • "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"
  • "The Chronicles of Narnia; The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe"
  • "In Good Company" (2004)
  • "War of the Worlds"
  • "Fever Pitch"
  • "Mr. and Mrs. Smith"
  • "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith"
  • "Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit"
  • "Sin City"
  • "Bad News Bears"
  • "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"
  • "Robots"

    A few of these were DVD rentals.

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  • Friday, December 30, 2005

    Books of 2005

    Kevin Drum posted a complete list of books he read in 2005. That seemed like a fairly good idea to me, though I do not intend to list books that I reviewed, unless those reviews were published. In my academic job, I chair a committee that awards $200,000 annually to the best "ideas for improving world order." Most of our winners have written books and I read my share of the nominations.

    Of course, since I'm an academic, I read multiple chapters and large sections of lots of books related to my research and teaching. However, I'm not going to list them here unless I read them cover-to-cover. Save for the books I use in class or read for review, I often skim over some portions even of outstanding books. It's a time/efficiency issue.

    Finally, I'm also excluding the books I read aloud to my daughters, even though some of them are fairly substantial.

    So, what did I read this year, mostly for pleasure?

    Non-fiction

    America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy
    , by Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsay (used in class)

    Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris.

    Fear's Empire: War, Terrorism, and Democracy in an Age of Interdependence, by Benjamin Barber

    Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror, by Michael Scheuer (originally as "Anonymous")

    May the Best Team Win: Baseball Economics and Public Policy, by Andrew Zimbalist

    The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination with Statistics, by Alan Schwarz

    The Pitch That Killed, by Mike Sowell

    Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World, by Walter Russell Mead (used in class)

    Of these, I make use of Mead most frequently, really enjoyed Schwarz, and found Scheuer somewhat unsettling, though convincing in many ways.

    Fiction

    Basket Case, by Carl Hiassen

    The Bounty Hunters, by Elmore Leonard

    Gunsights, by Elmore Leonard

    The Lady in the Lake, by Raymond Chandler

    The Little Sister, by Raymond Chandler

    Mildred Pierce, by James M. Cain

    Mr. Paradise, by Elmore Leonard

    No Way to Treat a First Lady, by Christopher Buckley

    Pop Goes the Weasel, by James Patterson

    Strike Three, You're Dead, by Richard Rosen

    Timequake, by Kurt Vonnegut

    When the Women Come Out to Dance: Stories, by Elmore Leonard

    The White House Mess, by Christopher Buckley

    You Know Me Al, by Ring Lardner

    In all honesty, none of this fiction was particularly great. Cain's was perhaps the best. I read these somewhat marginal books by Chandler, Hiassen, Leonard and Vonnegut because I've already read their best works -- almost all their books, in fact.

    I'm currently halfway through Jeremy Rifkin's The European Dream and Roger Angell's Game Time. However, I temporarily put both aside and started a collection of Chandler short stories and Michael Klare's Blood and Oil. The latter will be used in one of my classes this upcoming term.

    I'm thinking about working my way through the works of Graham Greene in 2006. I've only read a few of his books, but all were excellent.


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    Wednesday, December 28, 2005

    Odd stat of the day

    Earlier today, I read a story in Newsweek that included a graphic noting some good news from Iraq. Unfortunately, I cannot find a link to the paper version I was reading. You'll have to trust me.

    The claimed fact: in the past few years, Iraq's economy has increased nearly 50%. It went from about $20 billion to around $30 billion.

    Should we be pleased?

    First, note that the US government estimates Iraq's 2005 economy at closer to $25 billion, so the stats may have been wrong.

    Second, the US is reportedly planning to spend at least $50 billion in Iraq in 2006. Thus, this doesn't seem like such good news. How can the US spend nearly double Iraq's economy -- and not make even more of a difference in the size of Iraq's economy? In less than three, years, the US has already spent nearly $230 billion.

    And that's the good news!


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    Sunday, December 25, 2005

    Merry Christmas

    If you celebrate the holiday, I hope you got exactly what you deserve for Christmas.

    This isn't much of a holiday photo, but it brings together this blog's most frequent topic and Christmas:


    Photo courtesy of DoD

    My kids are home from school this coming week and I'll be spending a lot of time with them and many other family members. Expect light posting from me until the new year.

    Note: Avery and Paul still have the keys. If you guys feel like saying anything about the end of 2005 or any other topic, be my guest.


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    Saturday, December 24, 2005

    Most influential IR scholars

    The November/December Foreign Policy (free registration required) has a piece worth reading called "Inside the Ivory Tower," by Susan Peterson, Michael J. Tierney, and Daniel Maliniak (all of the college of William and Mary). The article begins with a statement and asks an interesting question:
    Professors of international relations shape future policy debates and mold the next generation of leaders. So who are these dons of diplomacy, and what do they believe?
    Bill Petti mentioned this piece over a month ago on Duck of Minerva (my second home). The complete report is on Mike Tierney's website.

    I won't get into the details of the piece, but want to focus on one survey result, which allowed the authors to identify the "top 25 scholars with the greatest impact on the discipline over the past 20 years."

    In this post, I have listed the rank order of the top 25 scholars, with the date of their birth and current institution. For the top 10, I have included my subjective listing of the scholar's most influential IR publication (and date published). Many of these scholars, of course, are notable for many other publications, including some in comparative politics or other fields. The authors point out this finding:
    One thing that stands out about these high achievers, though, is how similar they are: Nearly all are white men older than 50.
    More on that below.

    1. Robert O. Keohane (1941), Princeton, After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (1984)

    2. Kenneth N. Waltz (1924), Emeritus California-Berkeley and Columbia, Theory of International Politics (1979)

    3. Alexander Wendt (1958), Ohio State, Social Theory of International Politics (1999).

    4. Samuel P. Huntington (1927), Harvard, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1998).

    5. John J. Mearsheimer (1947), University of Chicago, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (2001)

    6. Joseph S. Nye (1941), Harvard, coauthor (with Keohane) of Power and Interdependence: world politics in transition (1977).

    7. Robert Jervis (1940), Columbia, The Logic of Images in International Relations (1970).

    8. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita (1946), New York University and Stanford's Hoover Institution, The War Trap (1981)

    9. Bruce M. Russett (1935), Yale, Grasping the Democratic Peace: Principles for a Post-Cold War World (1994).

    10. Robert Gilpin (1930), Emeritus Princeton, The Political Economy of International Relations (1987).

    Other than Wendt, who is a genuine anomoly (age 47), the youngest man on this list is Mearsheimer (age 58). Though I've listed books written in the 1990s and aughts, Huntington published the classic Political Order in Changing Societies in 1968, and both Russett and Mearsheimer were well-known liberals and realists long before penning their recent major works. Half of the works in the top 10 could be read when I started graduate school, more than 20 years ago.

    None of the scholars ranked 11 through 25 received mention by even 10% of the respondents to the survey. Still, all are male. Most are more than 50 years old and were well-known when I was in grad school.

    11. Peter J. Katzenstein (1945), Cornell
    12. Stephen D. Krasner (1942), Stanford
    13. James N. Rosenau, George Washington
    14. John Ruggie (1944), Harvard
    15. Michael Doyle (1948), Columbia
    16. James D. Fearon, Stanford
    17. Immanuel Wallerstein (1930), Yale
    18. Robert Cox (1926), Emeritus York (Toronto)
    19. Hans J. Morgenthau (1904-1980), Chicago
    20. Francis Fukuyama (1952), Johns Hopkins SAIS
    21. J. David Singer (1925), Michigan
    22. Stephen Walt (1955), Harvard
    23. Jack L. Snyder, Columbia
    23. Robert Axelrod (1943), Michigan
    23. Stanley Hoffman (1928), Harvard

    Walt is the youngest man listed and he just turned 50. I couldn't find birth dates for Rosenau, Fearon and Snyder. In 1999, Fearon won the Karl Deutsch Award for young IR scholars, so it is apparently safe to assume that he is closer to 40 than 50. Rosenau's first book in the Library of Congress catalog was published in 1951 and Snyder's first publication for RAND came out in 1976. In comments at the Duck of Minerva, I wrote:
    there aren't any women and I think there are some major oversights. I'm guessing that in 10 years, many of these scholars will be on the list: Mike Barnett, Jeff Checkel, Marty Finnemore, David Held, Andrew Moravcsik, Thomas Risse, Kathryn Sikkink, and Anne-Marie Slaughter.
    If you don't recognize those names, they are younger than those listed above, some are women, some are based abroad, and most are sympathetic to theoretical traditions that are neither realist nor liberal. They've read Wendt (and Ruggie and Cox) and are influenced by the "constructivist turn" in IR. The William and Mary team made note:
    When respondents were asked who is currently doing the most interesting research, four women, led by Martha Finnemore at George Washington University and Kathryn Sikkink at the University of Minnesota, scored highly.
    Does it matter that the field of IR is dominated by white males eligible for AARP cards? Disclosure: I'm only a few years away from that demographic.

    A better question: how much does it matter?

    Let me ask readers two different questions:
  • What are the most influential IR books and articles published in the past 15 years (since 1990)?
  • Who are the field's most important thinkers under age 50?

    Feel free to leave comments or to send me an email.


    Update: Thanks to a reader, I fixed Wendt's birth year. The prior figure (1966) certainly didn't seem right given the publication of the agent structure IO article in 1987.

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  • Thursday, December 22, 2005

    Style changes

    I added a "Greatest Hits" box to the right side bar and played around with some of the fonts. Soon, I intend to update my blogroll.

    Does anyone know how to create a more interesting header to this blog? It would be great if it reflected my interests. Suggestions welcome!

    I don't want to edit the template too much -- so I would need really basic instructions.

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    Wednesday, December 21, 2005

    Christmas reading

    If you have some free time this time of year -- perhaps you're flying to visit relatives -- then I recommend obtaining a copy of the December Mother Jones. The issue is filled with stories about "God and Country."

    The piece by John Sugg, for example, is somewhat shocking: "A Nation Under God." Sugg discusses the "increasingly powerful Christian Reconstruction movement."

    What do Reconstructionists want?
    Reconstructionists aren’t shy about what exactly it is they are pursuing: "The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise," Gary North, a top Reconstruction theorist, wrote in his 1989 book, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism. "Those who refuse to submit publicly...must be denied citizenship."
    Sugg links a number of public figures to Reconstructionism: Alabama gubernatorial candidate Roy Moore, Marvin Olasky (compassionate conservatism's chief thinker), Tom DeLay, Promise Keeper Jack Hayford, etc.

    The movement's founder claims that 20 million Americans are Reconstructionists.

    Here's another eye-opener:
    The Old Testament—with its 600 or so Mosaic laws—is the inflexible guide for the society [author Gary] DeMar and other Reconstructionists envision. Government posts would be reserved for the righteous, as long as they are male. There would be thousands of executions a year, with stoning a preferred method because it would turn the deaths into "community projects," as movement theologian North has noted. Sinners in line for the death penalty would include women who commit adultery or lie about their virginity, blasphemers, witches, children who strike their parents, and gay men (lesbians, however, would be spared because no specific reference to them can be found in the Books of Moses). DeMar told me that among Reconstructionists he is considered something of a liberal, because he’d execute gays only if they were caught indulging in sodomy. "I’m happy to just drive them back into the closet," he said.

    ...In his book Liberty at Risk, DeMar writes that "the State cannot be neutral towards the Christian faith. Any obstacle that would jeopardize the preaching of the Word of God…must be opposed by civil government."
    OK, one more:
    I asked [Roy] Moore, "Do you favor a theocracy?" The judge turned and looked at me, shook his head, frowned, and walked away. But DeMar, in our interview, had already answered the question.

    "All governments are theocracies," he said. "We now live in a secular humanist theocracy. I want to change that to a government with God at its head."
    Happy holidays!

    Sunday, December 18, 2005

    Defeatism

    Did you catch the President tonight? I cannot believe he did not specifically address the issue of domestic spying, though I realize it was the subject of Saturday's radio address. Before long, he may regret both yesterday's defiance and today's silence. We'll see.

    In any case, the President did make some interesting comments. For example, it is noteworthy that despite appearances, Bush apparently doesn't mind criticism -- so long as the critics aren't "defeatists."
    We will continue to listen to honest criticism, and make every change that will help us complete the mission. Yet there is a difference between honest critics who recognize what is wrong, and defeatists who refuse to see that anything is right.

    Defeatism may have its partisan uses, but it is not justified by the facts. For every scene of destruction in Iraq, there are more scenes of rebuilding and hope. For every life lost, there are countless more lives reclaimed. And for every terrorist working to stop freedom in Iraq, there are many more Iraqis and Americans working to defeat them. My fellow citizens: Not only can we win the war in Iraq, we are winning the war in Iraq.
    There you have it. Defeatists aren't honest.

    That means you Chuck Hagel. And certainly John Murtha.

    I have a question for the President about his strategy. He has been saying for awhile now that the US will leave once the Iraqis are ready to stand up and take the place of America. He said it again tonight:
    We're approaching a new year, and there are certain things all Americans can expect to see. We will see more sacrifice -- from our military, their families, and the Iraqi people. We will see a concerted effort to improve Iraqi police forces and fight corruption. We will see the Iraqi military gaining strength and confidence, and the democratic process moving forward. As these achievements come, it should require fewer American troops to accomplish our mission.
    What he doesn't say is that the strongest military in the world has been in Iraq for nearly three years and the insurgency is not getting smaller. The attacks are not fewer and American soldiers continue to die at a steady rate.

    How can a ragtag indigenous force possibly replace the best military in the world? How long could that possibly take?

    Years, certainly.

    Decades?

    Until he can answer that question, I'm going to have to conclude that the strategy for victory isn't serious.

    That probably makes me a defeatist.

    Friday, December 16, 2005

    "...so be good for goodness sake!"

    The domestic war on terror took an interesting turn today.

    First, The New York Times revealed today that it has been sitting on a story for a year concerning domestic spying on Americans by the National Security Agency.

    Hundreds of Americans have had their international calls wiretapped without warrants. Some bloggers think they too have been watched.

    In a related matter, the Senate voted today 52-47 to close debate on the renewal of the Patriot Act. However, it takes 60 votes to close debate in order to prevent filibuster.

    Only 2 Democrats voted to close debate (Nelson of FL and and Johnson of SD), but 5 Republicans joined the remaining Democrats (and Jeffords) to vote no: Hagel (NE), Murkowski (AK), Craig (ID), Sununu (NH) and Frist (TN).

    Maybe when I see Senator McCain on Monday I'll ask him about that vote. Yes, I'm making my way through the Senate Foreign Relations committee.

    Until further notice, the Patriot Act expires December 31.

    Anyone worried about the adverse security implications of these developments can rest assured by one "win" for the Bush administration this week: the Cuban national baseball team will not be penetrating American soil next March.

    Thursday, December 15, 2005

    "I'd make the decision again."

    In summer 2004, John Kerry was widely criticized for saying something very much like this:
    we gave Saddam Hussein the chance to disclose or disarm, and he refused. And I made a tough decision. And knowing what I know today, I'd make the decision again.
    George W. Bush said that December 12, 2005.

    I think the President is claiming that Hussein failed to disclose the disarmament.

    Wait, that can't be right.

    Kerry now says he would have voted "no" in October 2002. Additionally, he says Congress wouldn't even have had a vote. The idea of war against Iraq would have been ridiculous.

    Who's correct, Bush or Kerry? The public says Kerry:
    Public opinion is now fairly solidly against the war in Iraq. More than half of Americans – 55% - think the U.S. should have stayed out of Iraq (the highest figure to date), while 41% think taking military action there was the right thing to do.
    That's a CBS news poll from October.


    Update: Oops, I forgot to add this link to a Congressional Research Service finding (pdf version) triggered by a request from Senator Dianne Feinstein. Did Congress have access to the same intelligence as the President? No.

    Josh Marshall
    provided the link.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2005

    Major media figures in minor markets

    Sometimes, when major media figures (often called "journalists") appear in small media markets, they say remarkable things. Both of these Plame-related quotes were noted this week on Josh Marshall's first-rate blog:

    First, Newsweek's chief political correspondent Howard Fineman was in northern New Jersey, speaking at Drew University. Basically, he declared war on Bob Woodward. The local Daily Record reported on December 13:
    Howard Fineman, Newsweek's chief political correspondent, said Monday night in the first program of a Drew University lecture series, that Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward had become a "court stenographer" for the Bush administration.

    Standing before a crowd of nearly 300, Fineman, said Woodward went from being an outsider "burning the beltway"with his investigative work in the 1970s Watergate scandal under President Nixon to being, " an official court stenographer of the Bush administration."

    "He's a great reporter,"Fineman said of Woodward, "but he's become a great reporter of official history."
    Wow! "The news about news is really bad," Fineman said.

    Second, Plame-gate "star" Robert Novak was speaking at a luncheon at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, North Carolina. Want to know who told Novak that Valerie Plame was CIA? Novak says to take the matter up with the President! From the local News Observer, December 14:
    Newspaper columnist Robert Novak is still not naming his source in the Valerie Plame affair, but he says he is pretty sure the name is no mystery to President Bush.

    "I'm confident the president knows who the source is," Novak told a luncheon audience at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh on Tuesday. "I'd be amazed if he doesn't."

    "So I say, 'Don't bug me. Don't bug Bob Woodward. Bug the president as to whether he should reveal who the source is.'"
    Wow again! Novak attacked the left for making too much of the case, but also blamed "extremely bad management of the issue by the White House. Once you give an issue to a special prosecutor, you lose control of it."

    Rumor has it, by the way, that Karl Rove may well be indicted "before the end of the year" because prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald plans to finish by then.

    Be ready, as always, to turn to firedoglake for incisive analysis of every pertinent detail.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2005

    Chávez Saves Christmas?

    I received an email earlier this week that had a message something like this:
    Looking for an easy way to protest Bush foreign policy week after week? And an easy way to help alleviate global poverty? Buy your gasoline at Citgo stations.

    And tell your friends.

    Of the top oil producing countries in the world, only one is a democracy with a president who was elected on a platform of using his nation's oil revenue to benefit the poor. The country is Venezuela. The President is Hugo Chavez. Call him "the Anti-Bush."

    Citgo is a U.S. refining and marketing firm that is a wholly owned subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company. Money you pay to Citgo goes primarily to Venezuela -- not Saudi Arabia or the Middle East. There are 14,000 Citgo gas stations in the US.
    Scholars have been looking at the relationship between oil and democracy for some time. Whether you study the Middle Eastern suppliers, Nigeria, Central Asia, Russia, or Texas, you know that oil can badly distort politics and undermine democracy.

    Indeed, Michael L. Ross had an interesting article on this precise topic in the prestigious academic journal World Politics called, "Does Oil Hinder Democracy," April 2001. He found that oil does hinder democratization (p. 356):
    the oil-impedes-democracy claim is both valid and statistically robust; in other words, oil does hurt democracy. Moreover, oil does greater damage to democracy in poor states than in rich ones...Oil wealth has probably made democratization harder in states like Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, and Nigeria; it may well have the same affect on the oil-rich states of Central Asia.
    Norway and the UK are notable exceptions, but their populations aren't poor.

    Ross continues (p. 356-7):
    there is at least tentative support for three causal mechanisms that link oil and authoritarianism: a rentier effect, through which governments use low tax rates and high spending to dampen pressures for democracy; a repression effect, by which governments build up their internal security forces to ward off democratic pressures; and a modernization effect, in which the failure of the population to move into industrial and service sector jobs renders them less likely to push for democracy.
    Anecdotally, even the Vice President recognizes the problem.
    At a 1996 energy conference in New Orleans, Dick Cheney, then CEO of Halliburton said, "The problem is that the good Lord didn't see fit to put oil and gas reserves where there are democratic governments."
    Thus, Venezuela and Citgo are a truly interesting case, especially given that Venezuela is in the Global South.

    In addition to these points, Citgo recently announced that it is sending discount heating oil to poor people in Boston (a famous Citgo sign is readable from inside Fenway Park), worth $14 million, and New York, for up to a 40% savings.
    "This is a humanitarian gesture on the part of the Venezuelan people to our neighbors in need." ...The program "is consistent with our outreach to other countries in the Americas, using our oil to assist in economic development and regional integration," [Venezuelan Ambassador to the U.S. Bernardo] Alvarez said. "We are all Americans."
    Before winter is over, other US cities may also receive discount oil from Citgo.

    Here's the Bush administration spin:
    U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman offered a similar response to questions about the program.

    “We’re for corporate philanthropy, and if that is what he (Chávez) chooses to do, we’re certainly not going to argue with him,” Bodman told reporters Thursday.
    This is mealy-mouthed.

    Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez just saved Christmas.

    Someone should alert Bill O'Reilly.

    Monday, December 12, 2005

    Top movies of 2005? Don't ask me.

    Apparently, Hollywood and film critics didn't get the take-home message from the 2004 election.

    I haven't seen the movie, but "Brokeback Mountain," is in the news. From the AP, December 12:
    The New York Film Critics Circle became the latest group to name the cowboy romance “Brokeback Mountain” as the year’s top film...On Saturday, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association also chose “Brokeback Mountain” as its top film of 2005.
    "The Boondocks" comic also had a fairly humorous take on this movie, from December 5-10.

    Other IR bloggers are also weighing in...

    Maybe I'll see it one day, but it's not on my "must see" list in the immediate future. I didn't find the highly touted period piece "Far From Heaven" (2002) all that entertaining, even if the acting, directing and writing were first rate.

    So what do I want to see? Try these: "Walk the Line," "Syriana," "Good Night, and Good Luck," "A History of Violence," "Crash," "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "King Kong," "Munich," "Match Point," "Capote," "Broken Flowers," "Jarhead," and "March of the Penguins."

    That gives you an idea of what I haven't seen, eh?

    Here's my rough rank-order rundown of what I did see this past year. You'll note that it is heavily tilted toward "family friendly" movies. Indeed, I saw six of these movies in the theater with at least one of my daughters:

    "Millions" (2004)
    "The Upside of Anger"
    "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"
    "In Good Company" (2004)
    "War of the Worlds"
    "Mr. and Mrs. Smith"
    "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith"
    "Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit"
    "Sin City"
    "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"
    "Robots"

    A couple of these movies were made in earlier years, but released in 2005. I don't know why "Sideways" is on the 2005 release list, I saw it last December...

    Anyway, I scanned the top 150 grossing movies of 2005, and these were the only ones I saw.

    I also scanned the movie critics lists of awards and nominations for 2005. Those lists gave me a better idea of what I've missed...not that there's anything wrong with the "Wedding Crashers" or "Batman Begins," which I also didn't see.

    Like many people, I saw many of 2004's best films in early 2005. So I'll probably be watching my "must see" movies in the next few months.

    Saturday, December 10, 2005

    Good news?

    AP, December 8:
    Speaking to the Kentucky Farm Bureau convention, [Senator Mitch] McConnell said the transition in Iraq has been "rather smooth" - noting that in less than three years Iraq went from the fall of Saddam Hussein to parliamentary elections planned for next week. By contrast, 11 years elapsed in the United States from the time of the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution, he said.

    "I think that Iraq is already a success story, and I think it's going to end up being remembered by historians as a huge success story," he said...

    McConnell, who has taken trips to Iraq, said all but three Iraqi provinces are "safe and stable" and that life is "dramatically better than it used to be."

    ..."Well the president does have a plan in Iraq, and the plan is as follows: We're going to stay and win, we're not going to cut and run," said McConnell, drawing applause.
    McConnell added, losses have been "quite small" because of the "extraordinary effectiveness of our military."

    Needless to say, while there is some good news in Iraq, it's difficult to point to Iraq as a success story. Thanks to the research of Michael O'Hanlon and colleagues, Brookings has all the numbers.

    Here's what O'Hanlon wrote in The Washington Post, November 28:
    Growing GDP is good for those with access to the twin golden rivers flowing through Iraq -- not the Tigris and Euphrates, but oil revenue and foreign aid. The rest of the economy is, on the whole, weak. Unemployment remains in the 30 to 40 percent range, and the psychologically most critical type of infrastructure -- electricity -- has barely improved since Saddam Hussein fell. Iraqi security forces are getting better, but they are also losing more than 200 men a month to the insurgency. Civilian casualties in Iraq from the war are as high as ever; combine that with the region's highest crime rates, and Iraq has clearly become a much more violent society since Hussein fell. Tactically, the resistance appears to be outmaneuvering the best military in the world in its use of improvised explosive devices. And politically, every move forward toward greater Sunni Arab participation in the political process seems to be accompanied by at least one step back.
    Every number O'Hanlon provides is document in his reports and the overwhelming majority come straight from the US government.

    By the way, O'Hanlon is about due for another update on the "State of Iraq." In his September article for The New York Times, O'Hanlon wrote "on balance the indicators are troubling."

    Deep down, I think Senator McConnell knows that. He's not delusional.

    Friday, December 09, 2005

    Torture = bad intelligence

    Douglas Jehl, in The New York Times, December 9, describes one case of interrogation under rendition:
    The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former government officials....

    The new disclosure provides the first public evidence that bad intelligence on Iraq may have resulted partly from the administration's heavy reliance on third countries to carry out interrogations of Qaeda members and others detained as part of American counterterrorism efforts. The Bush administration used Mr. [Ibn al-Shaykh al-]Libi's accounts as the basis for its prewar claims, now discredited, that ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda included training in explosives and chemical weapons.

    The fact that Mr. Libi recanted after the American invasion of Iraq and that intelligence based on his remarks was withdrawn by the C.I.A. in March 2004 has been public for more than a year.
    By March 2004, of course, the US had already been in Iraq for a year, so it was a little late to recant his "intelligence."

    It was pretty major stuff:
    In statements before the war, and without mentioning him by name, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Colin L. Powell, then the secretary of state, and other officials repeatedly cited the information provided by Mr. Libi as "credible" evidence that Iraq was training Qaeda members in the use of explosives and illicit weapons. Among the first and most prominent assertions was one by Mr. Bush, who said in a major speech in Cincinnati in October 2002 that "we've learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases."
    All BS.

    Oh, and DIA had concluded he was a probable fabricator in February 2002!

    Incredible.

    At the time of his capture, al-Libi was the top al Qaeda figure in US custody. Yet, the US handed him over to Egypt in January 2002.

    January 2002! Why would the US hand over its top al-Qaeda captive just months after 9/11? Egypt conveniently gave him back to the US in February 2003, weeks before the war against Iraq began.

    The US claims that it gained assurances from Egypt that al-Libi wouldn't be tortured.

    Wink, wink.

    Wednesday, December 07, 2005

    Scowcroft and his best friend's son

    I finally got around to reading the October 2005 piece on Brent Scowcroft in The New Yorker. Writer Jeffrey Goldberg clearly got former GHW Bush National Security Advisor Scowcroft to talk fairly openly about his very strong disagreements with the current Bush administration.

    Scowcroft is a realist and thus makes arguments about Iraq that are like those made by academics Stephen Walt and John Mearshimer. Mearsheimer's last book was about the tragedy of international politics, and Scowcroft shares the same basic pessimism:
    “I believe in the fallibility of human nature,” Scowcroft told me. “We continually step on our best aspirations. We’re humans. Given a chance to screw up, we will.”
    Like academic realists, Scowcroft doesn't think much of Wilsonianism:
    Scowcroft does not believe that the promotion of American-style democracy abroad is a sufficiently good reason to use force. “I thought we ought to make it our duty to help make the world friendlier for the growth of liberal regimes,” he said. “You encourage democracy over time, with assistance, and aid, the traditional way. Not how the neocons do it.”
    Scowcroft says simply, "Iraq feeds terrorism."

    People in the White House, like former protégé Condi Rice, feel betrayed by Scowcroft. It works both ways:
    "She says we’re going to democratize Iraq, and I said, ‘Condi, you’re not going to democratize Iraq.’"

    ...

    “What the realist fears is the consequences of idealism,” he said. “The reason I part with the neocons is that I don’t think in any reasonable time frame the objective of democratizing the Middle East can be successful. If you can do it, fine, but I don’t you think you can, and in the process of trying to do it you can make the Middle East a lot worse.” He added, “I’m a realist in the sense that I’m a cynic about human nature.”
    Some insiders think the former General speaks for the elder Bush.

    Indeed, other Bush I officials, like James Baker, are also prominent outsiders now. I guess that frees them to criticize:
    “We always made sure the President was hearing all the possibilities,” John Sununu, who served as chief of staff to George H. W. Bush, said. “That’s one of the differences between the first Bush Administration and this Bush Administration.”
    The article is filled with criticism of various players in the current administration.

    Tuesday, December 06, 2005

    Why the lead up to Iraq matters

    Does it matter that Democrats seem infatuated with the lead up to war in Iraq -- but have no widely agreed plan to exit (or stay)?

    Yes, it is easy to criticize the pre-war period. I do it often on this blog. The US botched the diplomacy, the intelligence was flawed and likely distorted for partisan reasons, and al Qaeda had no significant ties to Saddam Hussein.

    Is this so much water under the bridge? Should we just forget the failures and "move on"?

    No, and Professor Robert Jervis of Columbia reminds us why. The Bush administration's botching of the lead up to war will have long-term consequences that the US should be thinking about right now.

    I recommend everyone read his fall 2005 article, "Why the Bush Doctrine Cannot Be Sustained."

    The Bush administration has embraced a doctrine of "preemptive war." It declares that the US will launch Iraq-like wars again at other state targets -- whenever it deems such an attack necessary.

    But Jervis explains why this is not really possible. The domestic public and longtime American allies won't support such wars, especially because the Bush adminstration has trashed traditional threat analysis dependent upon the "external environment." Instead, the US now says threats emerge from non-democratic regimes. This greatly lowers the threshold for launching a war, but vastly complicates the chances for success:
    American vital interest requires not the maintenance of the status quo, but the transformation of world politics, and indeed, of the domestic systems of many countries. This project is more far-reaching than traditional empires that sought only to conquer. Although difficult to achieve, this could be accomplished by superior military power. For the transformation Bush has in mind, superior force is necessary but not sufficient; it can succeed only through the efforts of others. Furthermore, not only must the populations and elites in currently dictatorial regimes undergo democratic transformations, but America’s allies must work with it in a wide variety of projects to sustain the political and economic infrastructure of the new world. The unilateralist impulses in American policy are likely to inhibit such cooperation, however.

    If the Bush administration overestimates the extent to which it can and needs to make the world democratic, it incorrectly assumes that the American domestic system will provide the steady support that the Doctrine requires. (p. 375)
    Jervis explains that the Bush administration has staked US policy on the "giant gamble" of Iraqi democratization.

    He's betting that they've lost. Iraq "is likely to end up being both authoritarian and anti-American" (p. 374).

    Monday, December 05, 2005

    Fish sale

    The AP is reporting that the Florida Marlins are in the midst of a "fire sale," which in baseball is code for "they've given up because they cannot afford to compete."

    Call me unconvinced.

    First, keep in mind that the Florida Marlins have won two World Series titles in the past decade and they have some great young talent. Miguel Cabrera is one of the best hitters in the National League. He's 22 years old

    Dontrelle Willis is one of the best pitchers in the NL. He's 23.

    OF Jeremy Hermida (21) has enough talent to join Cabrera on many future All Star teams.

    To date, the Marlins have primarily traded a bunch of players past their prime: 1B Carlos Delgado (33), 2B Luis Castillo (30), 3B Mike Lowell (31) and pitcher Guillermo Mota (32).

    Delgado is the lone star on this list. Castillo has no power and his speed is going. Lowell had a horrible year. Mota failed as a closer after going to Florida from LA.

    The only young, very talented player they've dumped is Josh Beckett (25), and he has a long history of injuries that have severely limited his innings pitched. Still, I could imagine him winning a Cy Young Award for the Red Sox. He's talented.

    What did the Marlins receive in return? Well, a bunch of young players, including a few with genuine star potential:
    For Castillo: The Minnesota Twins gave them pitchers Travis Bowyer (24) and Scott Tyler (23).

    For Delgado: The New York Mets sent 1B Mike Jacobs (25), RHP Yusmeiro Petit (21) and INF Grant Psomas.

    For Beckett, Lowell and Mota: acquired SS Hanley Ramirez (21), RHP Anibal Sanchez (21), RHP Harvey Garcia (21), and RHP Jesus Delgado (21) from the Boston Red Sox.
    From that list, Petit and Ramirez are the big prizes, though Jacobs had quite a debut with the Mets last year after a great year at AA. 3B Posmas is at least a year away, but he had an outstanding 2005 at Hagerstown.

    I expect Jacobs to start at first and Ramirez to start at short. Petit will likely join the rotation. Would that mean the Marlins have thrown in the towel?

    Absolutely not. I think these deals make the Marlins competitive in 2006 and beyond. Their GM Larry Beinfest should be commended, not condemned. Hopefully, he can pull off a couple of more trades before people catch on that he's reloading the team. Apparently, they are trying to deal OF Juan Pierre (28) and C Paul Lo Duca (33). Great! Neither is likely to play on a playoff team if they remain in Florida. They aren't that good.

    The pitchers, by the way, are harder to predict. Bowyers was very hard to hit in AAA, but was kind of wild. Sanchez had great strikeout to walk (k/bb) ratios at two levels and looks like a solid starting prospect. Garcia and Delgado did fairly well and are young. Of course TINSTAAPP.


    Update: I've just learned that the Marlins dealt Lo Duca Sunday to the Mets for pitching prospect Gaby Hernandez (19). The kid is very hard to hit, had 3/1 k/bb ratios and gave up very few homers. Bingo!

    Who said Moneyball was dead?

    Sunday, December 04, 2005

    Failed state?

    What would happen to Iraq if America withdrew almost immediately?

    In other words, what would happen if Representative Murtha's proposal was implemented?

    Gary Boatwright at Seeing the Forest is taking this question seriously -- as is Nir Rosen in The Atlantic Monthly.

    The conventional wisdom, is that the violence would worsen as Iraq moves toward civil war. The Iraqi government would be unable to govern and Iraq might become a failed state. That's essentially the worst case scenario according to President Bush -- Iraq ends up replacing Afghanistan as the safe haven host state for international terror.

    Is that realistic?

    Well, consider the academic research on state failure. The Political Instability Task Force worked on the question of state failure for five years -- in response to "a request from senior US policymakers" during the late '90s:
    State failure is a new label that encompasses a range of severe political conflicts and regime crises exemplified by macro-societal events such as those that occurred in Somalia, Bosnia, Liberia, and Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) in the 1990s. This web site lists comparative information on cases of total and partial state failure that began between 1955 and 2001 in independent countries with populations greater than 500,000. The types of events included are revolutionary wars, ethnic wars, adverse regime changes, and genocides and politicides.

    ...

    The list of state failure events (i.e., the State Failure "problem set") has been compiled from multiple sources by researchers at the Center for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM), University of Maryland, and is regularly updated and revised with input from area and subject-matter specialists.
    That's pretty comprehensive, eh? By the way, Dan Drezner today has a short summary post about the latest Human Security Report on genocides, politicides, conflicts and wars.

    The state failure research, as noted in the Phase III findings report:
    sought to identify the underlying or structural conditions associated with the occurrence of state failure within the next two years. These conditions were first identified for a global model encompassing all countries and all types of state failures.
    OK, so researchers undertook a comprehensive multi-year study seeking to explain the causes of state failure.

    Their models,
    when applied to historical data, correctly classified stable countries and countries headed for state failure with 70- to 80-percent accuracy.
    Here's the key set of findings from the global model:
    The strongest influence on the risk of state failure was regime type. All other things being equal, we found the odds of failure to be seven times as high for partial democracies as they were for full democracies and autocracies.

    In addition, each of the following risk factors roughly doubled the odds of state failure:

    • Low levels of material well-being, measured by infant mortality rates.
    • Low trade openness, measured by imports plus exports as a percent of GDP.
    • The presence of major civil conflicts in two or more bordering states.

    This analysis also found that total population and population density had a moderate relationship to state failure. Countries with larger populations and higher population density had 30-percent and 40-percent greater odds of state failure, respectively.

    No direct relationship to state failure was found for environmental factors, ethnic or religious discrimination, price inflation, government debt, or military spending. Nevertheless, such factors might have indirect effects on state failure, if they influence a country’s material well-being or its engagement in international trade.
    So, now, what about Iraq?

    If the US leaves, Iraq will at best be a "partial democracy." That's a very bad sign as many forces vie to return Iraq to autocracy. Of course, Iraq is only a partial democracy today and may not be able to emerge as a full democracy for a long, long time even with the US troop presence.

    The CIA's World Factbook reports that Iraq's infant mortality rate is "50.25 deaths/1,000 live births." That ranks about 140-something in the world (of 208 states). Not good.

    The CIA also estimates (in 2004) that Iraq had about $20 billion in trade (about half imports and half exports) in a $54.4 billion economy. I looked around the State Failure website for awhile and cannot determine whether 40% is a good or bad figure. Just eyeballing the data, it does not look to be good. Considering that Iraq was under international embargo for more than 12 years, I suspect this is a low rate among all nations.

    Iraq is in a rough neighborhood, but I'm not sure if two of its bordering states suffer "major civil conflicts." Iraq's neighbors are Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran. None of them appears to be experiencing major episodes of political violence (in 2004), but Saudi Arabia and Turkey (as well as Iraq) appear on some lists of the "world's least secure countries."

    In addition to the variables just named, note that the researchers also developed a Muslim world model. Essentially, they found that all the above relationships in the global model mattered, plus these:
    Three new factors emerged as important in this model. First, countries with Islamic sects faced odds of failure three times as high as those lacking such sectarian activity. Second, the religious diversity of the population as a whole mattered. Countries with either unusually diverse or unusually homogeneous populations had odds of failure nearly three times as high as those with moderate religious diversity. This relationship may exist because the exclusivist claims of Islamic religion are pursued more vigorously if one group is highly dominant, or if none are, whereas societies that include several major religious groups may tend to habituate compromise or cooperation. Finally, membership in regional organizations was also found to have a stabilizing effect; countries with relatively few international memberships were almost twice as likely to experience state failure as those with many memberships.

    ...

    Taken together, these findings suggest a broader conclusion regarding the role of religion in state failure in the Muslim world: although religion clearly is very salient to politics in many Muslim countries, the key drivers of state failure in the Muslim world are, in most respects, the same as those in the rest of the world.
    This doesn't look good for Iraq, eh?

    Iraq has two major sects, divided by ethnicity: Sunni Kurd (about 20%), Sunni Arab (about 15%) and Shi'a (60-65%). About 3% are Christian, Jew and some other faiths. I don't know if that counts as moderate diversity.

    Iraq is a member of many international and regional organizations, though none seem able to address Iraq's ongoing conflict.

    Based on this evidence, it does seem as if Iraq is at significant risk of state failure.

    Of course, the key question is whether the US troop presence increases or reduces this risk. Unfortunately, none of the information I've gather in this post can answer that question definitively.

    Thursday, December 01, 2005

    Global warming roundup

    The parties to the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change are meeting in Montreal, Canada this week. Unsurprisingly, there is lots of disturbing news about global warming.

    First, the volume of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is clearly higher than normal. This is from an AP story November 28:
    A team of European researchers analyzed tiny air bubbles preserved in Antarctic ice for millennia and determined there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than at any point during the last 650,000 years.

    The study by the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica, published Friday in the journal Science, promises to spur "dramatically improved understanding" of climate change, said geosciences specialist Edward Brook of Oregon State University.
    Think about that again: highest level in 650,000 years.

    2. Global warming isn't merely an hypothetical future problem. The effects may already be quite dramatic: Reuters, November 16
    Whether it is an increase in poor health from diseases such as malaria or shrinking water supplies, nations in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and South America are vulnerable to the consequences of changes in global temperatures.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that climate change leads to more than 150,000 deaths every year and at least 5 million cases of illness.
    150,000 deaths per year, now, according to the WHO!

    3. Global warming isn't merely a problem faced by the developing world. Europe may, in fact, feel a "big chill" from melting polar ice caps and changed flow of the warming Gulf Stream. LA Times, December 1:
    In the new study, published today in the journal Nature, a group of British oceanographers surveyed a section of the Atlantic Ocean stretching from Africa to the Bahamas that has been studied periodically since 1957. They found the overall movement of water had slowed 30% in the past five decades, particularly in the flow of cold water back to the south.

    The findings are the first evidence of such a slowdown.

    "The result is alarming," Detlef Quadfasel, a climate expert at the University of Hamburg, wrote in a commentary accompanying the research. The findings provide "worrying support for computer models" predicting that global warming could disrupt the way the planet regulates heat, he said.

    Computer models have long predicted that warming of the oceans and "freshening" of the seas with water from melting glaciers and increased precipitation — all linked to warming of the Earth by greenhouse gases — could slow down the currents. But scientists did not expect to see such changes so soon.

    Scientists differ on the potential effect. Some say weaker currents would cool Europe by several degrees, causing problems for agriculture and ecosystems and ushering in far more severe winters. Others say the cooling would probably balance out the effect of global warming in Europe, which is expected to raise temperatures globally by several degrees over the next century.

    "My personal guess is there would be no overall cooling, just a slowdown of the warming," Quadfasel said in an interview.
    It's a "large scale geophysical experiment" on the planet earth, as oceanographer Roger Revelle remarked in 1957.

    4. China, surprisingly, has declared that it is reducing its production of greenhouse gases -- and criticized the American withdrawal from the Kyoto process. Japanese Mainichi Daily News, December 1:
    The Chinese government said Wednesday that despite being one of the world's worst polluters, it was already cutting greenhouse gases and called on the United States to join the global community under the Kyoto Protocol to protect the earth's atmosphere....

    "We really feel pity that the U.S. has not yet, and is not going to join the Kyoto Protocol, not only because of the size of its total emissions, but also because of its higher per capita emissions," said Sun [Guoshun, director of the Department of Treaty and Law at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs].

    ...He noted that China's annual production of carbon dioxide was 2.6 tons per 1,000 people, while the average was 19 tons per capita in the United States.
    China has been exempt from Kyoto because it is a developing country, which means that per capita emissions are historically low.