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Tag: "foreign policy"

Bad Ideas

[ 20 ] May 15, 2014 |


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the Fulbright Program is a bad idea.



[ 89 ] February 7, 2014 |

I know that ambassadorships to comfortable nations of low to middling strategic importance have been used to reward friends of presidents for a long time, but it would be nice if the appointees had marginal knowledge of the nation of appointment. Or you know, had been there before.

I mean, does the fact that Norway feels insulted matter on a geopolitical level? No, not really. But it does reinforce stereotypes of Americans being insensitive clods who know nothing of the world.

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and Entrenched Inequality Between Nations

[ 20 ] April 27, 2013 |

During the discussion around my piece calling for international safety standards at the workplace with real enforcement teeth that could implicate American corporations subcontracting with unscrupulous employers, a reader suggested I read Augustine Sedgwick’s March 2012 article in International Labor and Working-Class History. Entitled “‘The Spice of the Department Store’: ‘The “Consumers’ Republic,’ Imported Knock-Offs from Latin America, and the Invention of International Development, 1936–1941,” Sedgwick gets at how U.S. labor law has entrenched unequal standards between nations.

The Roosevelt Administration made sure the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 would not cover foreign manufacturers importing goods to the United States. There was a fight over which version of the FLSA would pass. The Roosevelt Administration’s bill, originally sponsored by Senator Hugo Black before his Supreme Court appointment, applied it domestically only, but a House bill introduced by William Connery of Massachusetts eliminated the word “state” from the bill, which would have opened the door to international standards on any product imported into the United States.

Roosevelt pushed hard to squelch Connery’s bill because his administration saw a Latin America developing under U.S. corporate leadership as a good long-term strategy to rebuilding the American economy coming out of the Great Depression. The administration saw inequality as an inherent part of the international economy necessary for profit and thus had no problem writing legislation that encouraged the production of consumer goods for the American market overseas, even if they were produced in conditions that could lead to violent worker revolts. In fact, the exporting of violent worker revolt was a central administration strategy of the FLSA.

Black’s bill won out. The FLSA did a lot of good for workers in the United States, establishing a national minimum wage, overtime pay, and eliminating most child labor. Current minimum wage hikes are essentially revisions to the original FLSA.

The effect of all this on Latin American nations and their workers was highly mixed. It did start the process of industrialization for many nations that wanted to move away from agricultural economies. In order to manage the newly industrialized labor force, governments created social welfare programs that provided benefits to working-class people. On the other hand, it led to increased inequality and significant social dissent that fueled the rise of the Latin American left in the 1950s. Moreover, Sedgwick argues that the American creation of its consumers’ republic was intricately tied with American imperialism in Latin America, at first during the so-called Good Neighbor Policy years and especially in the Cold War.

Sedgwick doesn’t get into working conditions per se or the specifics of how this plays out in individual nations, but we see how the U.S. built significant pieces of the modern globalized economy during the late 1930s. The FLSA intentionally codified differences in labor in order to promote American corporate investment overseas and inexpensive consumer products for Americans. At the time, this was at least predicated on the idea of the American working class growing in consumer power and wealth. So for Americans at least, this program worked pretty well for forty years or so. But by the 1970s, that half of the equation seemed dispensable and instead American corporations simply moved all production to nations with cheap labor under an unequal system long promoted by the American government.

This helps elucidate the present, with downward pressure on wages and working conditions in the United States and dying workers in Bangladesh. I recommend reading Sedgwick’s article if you can, which you should be able to do if you have access to most any university library system. If you don’t, sorry. The academic journal system is somewhat less than ideal for disseminating relevant knowledge to the general population. And we know what happens to those who undermine that system.

Foreign Entanglements: Pull Back or (Carefully) Lean Forward?

[ 4 ] January 15, 2013 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, Justin Logan and I talked retrenchment:

Treaty Politics

[ 19 ] December 10, 2012 |

It’s hard to know precisely what to say about the GOP’s rejection of the United Nations Disability Convention.  On the one hand, it’s true enough that the real impact of the treaty will be pretty limited. The number of states jogged into ratification/compliance by the US example won’t be particularly high, and US law already enshrines most of the treaty provisions.  On the other hand, it’s obvious that opposition to the treaty is drenched in a particularly noxious brew of stupidity and mendacity.

Two thoughts:

  • The ability of the social conservatives (with organizational assistance from the neoconservatives) to mobilize opposition to this treaty was genuinely impressive.  That several Republicans apparently shifted their votes at the last minute, and in the face of significant lobbying from Dole and McCain, suggest to me that there’s raw terror in the ranks of the power of social conservatives and Tea Partiers in the primary system.  If they can mobilize such opposition to a treaty that posed virtually no threat, I really wonder about the sustainability of the kind of norms that Scott often discusses on the treatment of judicial nominees. Will any Republican who votes for cloture on Obama’s next Supreme Court nominee, even if that’s followed by a “No” vote in the up or down, be subject to a well-funded primary challenge? The move of Jim Demint to the Heritage Foundation probably makes such challenges more likely, and more effective.
  • The overall effect of the abdication of serious foreign policy thinking (and I mean “serious” in a sense of the term that includes John McCain, with all the absurdity that entails) on the part of the GOP’s legislative cohort would seem to be an enhancement of executive foreign policy prerogative.  Agreements (bilateral or multilateral) once subjected to the treaty process will now be conducted by executive agreement; ongoing operations (whether legitimately covert or not) will increasingly be screened from Congressional oversight, as such oversight will amount to little more than efforts at point scoring.  To some extent it has always been thus, but the modern GOP seems (with a few exceptions) to have taken such tendencies to the extreme.  I suspect that this will apply to both Republican and Democratic administrations, although it may manifest differently.

The Second Term FP Team

[ 23 ] November 16, 2012 |

The President is never entirely free to choose his foreign policy team, but Obama has a great deal of latitude for the second term:

The upshot is that the Obama administration begins its second term with much greater foreign policy freedom of action, whether in domestic, strategic, or bureaucratic terms. If Obama wants to follow through on the “pivot” to Asia, he should have the freedom to do so. The first year of the second term should demonstrate how seriously Obama intends to pursue a redistribution of military and diplomatic effort towards Asia. An early indicator will be who the president taps to replace Petraeus at CIA, as well as how the administration handles sequestration. For those either anticipating or dreading a larger U.S. commitment to Asia, uncertainty shouldn’t last long.

One way of interpreting the attention paid to the Benghazi imbroglio is as an effort to cripple the second term team.

Room for Debate: “Will the New York Times Room for Debate Forum Ever Ask Good Questions?”

[ 16 ] August 16, 2012 |

The Times Room for Debate section seems like it would be a good idea–choose a question and get smart people to present different views. But so often the questions are just insipid and come with an ideological bent that precludes solid discussion, not to mention contributors that usually skewer to the Beltway-right orbit. Today’s is particularly galling: “Can’t Afford Foreign Aid, or Can’t Afford to Cut It.” That’s just a dumb question on the face of it given the relatively tiny size of the U.S. foreign aid budget. Yet it plays into conservative talking points that we waste all this money giving it to other countries (except Israel of course, for whom evidently we should dedicate 20% of GNP).

How bad is this debate? The person who makes the most sense is former Republican congressman Mark Green. Yes, I find myself agreeing with a former Republican member of Congress. This is a rare thing. But when the questions are this worthless, such things can happen.

Gilded Age Foreign Policy: Any Lessons for the Present?

[ 137 ] August 14, 2012 |

Marc-William Palen provides a response of sorts to my connections between the Gilded Age and today, as well as others who have made the comparison such as Paul Krugman. Palen attempts to draw the comparisons out to foreign policy, but the piece is rather problematic on a number of levels.

Palen makes two major points. First, that unlike today’s “imperialists,” Gilded Age capitalists opposed imperialism. Second, our current foreign policy is moving toward the protectionism that crippled the American economy during the first Gilded Age, something Palen very much decries.

Neither of these points really hold up under scrutiny. The first takes a lot of cherry-picking. Yes, some mugwumps opposed imperialism. But by and large, Gilded Age capitalists were completely fine with imperialism. Let’s remember that the one president in the Gilded Age with a meaningful anti-imperialist policy was the Democrat Grover Cleveland. But William McKinley, that icon of the Gilded Age, was the president who okayed the annexation of Hawaii and oversaw the Spanish-American War. The administration of Benjamin Harrison, with Republican leader James Blaine as Secretary of State, very much pushed America’s imperialist agenda abroad, including trying to tie Hawaii to the United States. Younger Republicans such as Henry Cabot Lodge and Theodore Roosevelt were die-hard imperialists; if they are known as men of the Progressive Era, they were very much tied into the politics and society of the Gilded Age.

So it’s really hard to make an argument that the Gilded Age capitalists did not support imperialism. Some did not, most did. I realize Palen is trying to focus on the free-traders within the Republican Party during those years, but that’s just not a dominant force within the Republican Party at that time, limiting the argument’s power.

Perhaps the real take-away from this point is to ask what difference it makes. I drew connections between the Gilded Age and modern America because we see corporations and the Republican Party concretely attempting to recreate the former period in the 21st century. But that doesn’t mean that every part of the Gilded Age corresponds to today and I don’t really see much comparison between Gilded Age foreign policy and the present.

This is especially true when we get to Palen’s second point–that we are entering a new period of protectionism. There’s just no evidence for this. All Palen has is Obama attacking Romney for sending jobs to China and Romney blathering about starting a trade war with China. But this is just a political weapon in a campaign. There’s absolutely zero evidence that Obama doesn’t support globalization in its present form. He’s pushing for new free trade agreements around the globe. And there’s no way Romney is actually going to start a trade war with China. The two major political parties agree on little, but free trade capitalism is one of them. There might be a few people on the edges of both parties’ Congressional delegations that disagree, but they are isolated.

Without a bad economy with long-term unemployment for people without college educations, this would be a non-issue in the presidential campaign. Neither political party will even begin to edge toward protectionism, regardless of who wins in November. Palen just doesn’t provide any hard evidence for this point.

To be clear, I personally see a problem with this bipartisan consensus. I think that we need at least some manufacturing in this nation and that the decline of union jobs in this country is a terrible thing. While I am not exactly supportive of 19th century protectionism, I think Palen’s language is quite telling. How exactly is protectionism a terrible thing for society? It is true that it would make consumer goods more expensive. But is a consumer economy the only legitimate goal for our society? Couldn’t solid unionized jobs with dignity but not a ton of consumer choices be equally legitimate?

Either way, it doesn’t really matter because my beliefs are fringe ideas within mainstream modern American political discourse. The Gilded Age might have a lot to teach us about modern America, but I remain unconvinced on Palen’s foreign policy argument, particularly since it is clearly driven by a fundamentalist view of free-market capitalism rooted in unfettered free trade.

The Imaginary Paul Ryan

[ 22 ] August 14, 2012 |

It’s not hard to derive an Imaginary Foreign Policy Paul Ryan. I suspect that David Brooks is already hard at work creating the Paul Ryan that He Wishes, rather than paying any attention to the Paul Ryan that Is, but it’s worthwhile to get ahead of the game and do some pre-bunking:

The Imaginary Paul Ryan isn’t completely a figment;  Ryan’s actual record on the final point was decent until a few years ago, and I suspect there seems to be evidence that Ryan is a touch more skeptical of the DoD and the defense-industrial complex than your typical Republican. This will likely provide sufficient grist for Brooks and his ilk to craft a Paul Ryan that seems to herald a return to the Republican foreign policy elite of James Baker’s day. But this is a ship that has sailed; Bill Kristol has claimed Ryan for his team, and Kristol holds all the best cards. Ryan has already abandoned whatever skepticism he maintained about the defense establishment (he appears to have evinced no skepticism whatsoever about the foreign adventurism bit), and it’s not difficult to understand why. It is impossible for a member of a modern GOP Presidential ticket to hold what amount to “realist” views on foreign policy.  Indeed, it appears to be virtually impossible for members of the campaign team to hold such views. This is less because of the popularity of defense hawkery (even the GOP base is more skeptical of hawkishness than the tickets would reveal), but rather because neoconservatives have won what amounts to a virtual battle of annihilation at the elite level. The influence of the constellation of right wing think tanks over Republican foreign policy is especially pronounced with figures like Romney and Ryan, neither of whom have any foreign policy experience or appear to have thought very much about foreign affairs.

But on the same terms that someone can pretend that Paul Ryan favors deficit reduction, someone will undoubtedly imagine a defense skeptical Paul Ryan.  It just ain’t there.

Mitt Romney, Diplomat

[ 116 ] July 26, 2012 |

Most of us have seen this, but I still find it fantastic that Romney wasn’t adequately prepared for his trip to London.  Let’s see, travel to London on the literal eve of the 2012 Olympic games hosted by the same, and make some disparaging remarks about a Great Britain’s ability to organise said games.  It really adds to the impact that the UK already has a healthy chip on its shoulder about the United States.  Pure comedy gold.

I disagree with The Guardian‘s headline that “Mitt Romney’s Olympics blunder stuns No 10 and hands gift to Obama”. Stunned 10 Downing Street, sure. Make any difference in November?  Hardly.

I never thought I’d offer accolades to either, but the best line of this non issue issue either goes to David Cameron:

We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.

Or The Telegraph:

Mitt Romney is perhaps the only politician who could start a trip that was supposed to be a charm offensive by being utterly devoid of charm and mildly offensive.

When the Olympics gaffe is placed along side this post over at TDS (headline below) we have the makings of a real winner here.

The invasion of Iraq overthrew Iran’s most lethal enemy and replaced it with a regime that is now Iran’s closest and most reliable ally. Depressingly, Mitt Romney has chosen the architects of this massive strategic fiasco as his principal advisors.

It’s a good thing for Romney that foreign policy doesn’t really matter much.

The Romney Foreign Policy Team

[ 24 ] July 2, 2012 |

I have a new piece at Right Web on the Romney foreign policy team:

A campaign team has two purposes. First, to supply rhetoric and policy that will help the candidate win; second, to provide the nucleus for the group that will guide administration policy. Because the campaign team often becomes the policy team, there is a strong likelihood that presidential candidates will try to follow through on many of the promises they have made on the campaign trail. What kind of case is Romney making on defense, and whom is he relying on to make it?
Broadly speaking, Governor Romney has adopted a set of positions on military policy that fall well within what has become the Republican mainstream. In tones reminiscent of Republican presidential campaigns since the Reagan administration, Romney has argued for an increase in defense spending, suggesting that the Obama administration has left the United States vulnerable to foreign states and terrorist organizations. In particular, Romney has embraced the Heritage Foundation’s “4 Percent for Freedom” platform, the argument that the base defense budget should be fixed around 4 percent of national GDP.[6] On specific issues, Romney has generally argued for a more hawkish line than Obama, including more aggressive policies on Syria, Iran, and China.[7]

See also Ali Gharib.

A Dialogue on Disappointment

[ 79 ] November 27, 2011 |

I thought that Jon Chait’s long article on leftist disappointment with Democratic Presidents was interesting, but that it succeeded in identification of such discontent without making much effort to explain it. David Atkins has a nice response with two potential explanations, first the unwillingness/inability of the last three Democratic Presidents to break from the evidently increasing economic insanity of the GOP, and second the existence and continued success of progressive-by-American-standards economic models in other OECD states.

While both of these make a lot of sense, I’m not sure they get us all the way there. For one, Atkins suggests that the primary reasons for discontent post-Carter have been economic; in this vision, although Bill Clinton’s tenure is economically successful on many metrics, it amounts mainly to pursuing GOP priorities competently rather than incompetently. The most vocal critics of Obama, however, have attacked on both the imperial executive/warmaking/etc., and socio-economic grounds (insufficiency of the ACA and the stiumlus). As has often been argued on this blog, on these former metrics Obama does fine compared to other recent Democratic Presidents.

Atkins doesn’t suggest that leftist are implicitly comparing US and European models of foreign policy and civil liberties, and it’s not hard to see why. To my mind, the difference on issues such as warmaking and aggressive foreign policy between the US and major European states is largely positional; many states joined the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, and while Germany and France sat out Iraq, it’s obviously not difficult to find examples of modern French imperialism or German amorality in foreign affairs. On civil liberties questions, I suspect that progressives would have a collective heart attack if anyone proposed London levels of state surveillance in New York City, or accorded US law enforcement many of the anti-terror tools that French and German police take for granted. The case of the intervention in Libya is particularly instructive. Obama’s liberties with the War Powers Resolution are notable only in domestic legal context; by and large, comparable European systems grant warmaking latitude to the executive sufficient to make comparison with the United States moot. Moreover, we have strong recent evidence of European executives (Berlusconi, Aznar) engaging in foreign conflict over nearly unanimous domestic opposition.

And so while I think that Atkins gets us some of the way to explaining the phenomenon that Chait identifies, there’s obviously something left unsettled. It’s hard to disagree with the conclusion that American foreign policy leftists in general are quite correct in the belief that they are effectively unrepresented by either of the two major parties, and that it has been thus for most of the twentieth century. Consistent criticism of Democratic Presidents, up to and including Obama, is from this perspective entirely to be expected, although such critiques could probably benefit from some comparative perspective. The civil liberties perspective is harder, because it doesn’t fit neatly into a left-right divide; many on the right hold views on “civil liberties” broadly conceived that are quite compatible with leftist attitudes, although generally for different reasons. There are also some inherent contradictions between pursuit of a socio-economically activist state and promotion of a strong vision of civil liberties, as the activist state inevitably tramples on some individual rights.

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