Categories
Barack Obama Domestic issues Economics Financial Crisis Health care The Opinionsphere

The Master Plan Always Has Flaws

Daniel Drezner at Foreign Policy summarizes my feelings about Krugman in almost as complete a way as Evan Thomas did:

The fundamental question is whether Krugman is a brilliant hedgehog, an insecure pain in the ass, or – as frequently is the case – both at the same time. 

One suspects that Krugman is at least part right – and that Obama and his team realize this. Obama’s response to the financial crisis has been significant – and more than any government response in history – but it is dwarfed by the scale of the crisis, as Krugman is fond of pointing out. Nicholas Lemann in the New Yorker tries to explain why Obama seems to be ignoring Krugman’s advice so far:

[Obama] has to address the crisis, and he is trying to add enough new controls to the system to prevent a repeat of it, but it looks as if his heart is with the big new programs in his budget and with his foreign-policy initiatives. Bank nationalization would drive the stock market down and increase theagita of people with 401(k) plans. Moderate Democrats in Congress would further soften in their support for the Administration’s legislation. The price of bank nationalization might be Obama’s super-ambitious plans in other realms, which, if history is a guide, are likely to pass only in this first year of his Presidency. If they do pass, he will have generated tax revenues from affluent people for social purposes far beyond those of the House’s tax on A.I.G. bonuses, and he will have significantly eased the distress of people who can’t get good health care or education. That is a lot to put at risk.

At the same time, Obama’s team seems to think that, to quote my post of yesterday:

[I]n the short term, the Geithner plans will work to restart the “old” economy. In this moment before that happens though, pressure from Europe and internal critics as well as a desire to avoid a repeat of this fiasco will enable enough forward-looking, gradualist regulation and legislation to correct the long-term problems with high finance.

E. J. Dionne Jr. in the Washington Post explains where the administration’s focus is:

Obama’s top budget officials seem confident that they can deal with this immediate difficulty. His larger challenge is to take on the politics of evasion promoted by those who would indefinitely delay health-care reform, energy conservation and the expansion of educational opportunities. Already, his lieutenants are signaling how he will cast the choice: between “taking on the country’s long-term challenges” or just “lowering our sights and muddling through,” as one senior aide put it.

If Geithner is responsible for fixing the current crisis, Peter Orszag is responsible for the long-term outlook – of balancing Obama’s plans to expand government’s role and stabilizing our deficit spending. As Jodi Kantor in the New York Times explained:

Mr. Orszag embodies the administration’s awkward fiscal policy positioning: big spending now, with a promise to scrub the budget of waste and a bet that economic recovery and changes to health care will gradually reduce the deficit.

A lot of pieces need to fall together for this to work. I have confidence in each piece of this plan – but together, the venture seems a bit bolder than is wise.

Perhaps this is a perfect moment in history for Obama’s plan – and Obama has the insight to see this; perhaps Obama is a master of politics who is able to get all of these items through; but it’s hard for me not to be discomfited by the manner in which everything is coming together.

Categories
Foreign Policy National Security Politics

Sarkozy: Right on nothing, prescient on everything

Judah Grunstein in Foreign Policy:

Yet if Sarkozy has been right on almost nothing, he has been prescient on almost everything, guided by the attention-seeker’s instinctive flare for tomorrow’s crisis today. (For instance, his decision to engage Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the time of Lebanon’s presidential impasse in January 2008 later paid off in access to crucial back channels during the Gaza war.) His logic is the logic of the deal, where both fault lines in opinion and emerging consensus create leverage points that maximize France’s influence. His handling of last year’s NATO summit – where he sided with Germany to successfully oppose expansion to Georgia and Ukraine, while pacifying Washington with a much-needed troop increase to the Afghanistan deployment — is a perfect illustration of how he manages to turn France into either the tiebreaker or the consensus sealer.

France’s return to the heart of NATO will certainly not spell the end of France’s independence and autonomy, nor will it prove the alliance’s undoing. But both will be changed, in ways that no one – least of all Sarkozy – can foresee. Rich in symbolism, profound in consequences, unpredictable in effect: The move is typical Sarkozy, for whom it is the deed, and not the outcome, that matters

Categories
Foreign Policy India

Charles Dickens, Slumdog Millionaire, and Somalia

I watched Slumdog Millionaire this weekend – and was struck most of all by the Dickensonian character of the world it took place in – brutal everyday violence, orphans lost in a cruel world, children exploited yet resilient in the face of crushing trauma, unspeakable squalor, and a rigid class structure. Then there were two non-Dickensonian elements – the animalistic urge to live, to survive, and to thrive which often seemed to be the only thing keeping the characters going and the miracle of globalization and free markets which seemed to bring the possibility of hope and opportunity by the end. The serious social issues and grand societal evolution are merely the backdrop for a love story, which in the end, seems to make the depiction more powerful (Contra Alice Miles’s nonsensical criticism of the film as “poverty porn.”)

Last week, I was reading the United Nations International Labor Organization Global Employment Trends 2009 report (pdf) and was struck again at what I had forgotten – that some billions of people in this world live in extreme poverty. The report had to differentiate between those in extreme poverty (USD$1.25 per day) and those in just plain poverty (USD$2.00 per day) – the difference is only $0.75 per day. The report dealt with all this analytically – with charts and graphs – but Slumdog Millionaire gave a visual image of what this might look like, what it does look like in some places in the world still. It truly is a world alien to our own, yet filled with individuals with recognizable emotions and desires.

In that spirit, while realizing that extreme poverty has not been eliminated in India and other developing countries, it’s worth taking note of a country that does not even seem to be developing – in which there is little if any hope or opportunity – labeled the most dangerous place in the world by Jeffrey Gettleman in Foreign Policy – Somalia. 

Gettleman describes a country that is little more than a Hobbesian state of nature in between it’s neighboring countries and the ocean, where violence is rampant and everyday, where global powers intervene sporadically with varying motives but always perverse results, and the fourteenth government of the past twenty years now only controls a few city blocks in a country the size of Texas. 

[Photograph by Wen-Yan King licensed under Creative Commons.]

Categories
Economics Financial Crisis Foreign Policy Great Britain Pakistan Politics Russia

An Age of Upheaval? – Instability, Legitimacy, and the Economic Crisis

[digg-reddit-me]

[Source, page 19 of the “Global Employment Trends 2009” [pdf report by the United Nations International Labor Organization.]

Niall Ferguson, writing for Foreign Policy with foreboding sees the current economic crisis as the final element needed for “an age of upheaval”:

Economic volatility, plus ethnic disintegration, plus an empire in decline: That combination is about the most lethal in geopolitics. We now have all three. The age of upheaval starts now.

Certainly, around the world, the economic crisis is causing instability – as the legitimacy of many governments around the world is called into question. The constitutional legitimacy of most governments, the bargain they have made with their people, is based on a growing economy that provides for the people’s needs, and increasingly, also provides individual economic opportunity. While this “deal” was often discussed with regards to authoritarian capitalist systems such as China’s, it is also true of governments in democratic capitalist systems. Thus it makes sense that this economic crisis is a serious threat to the stability of nations throughout the world.

If, as the chart above suggests, the worst is yet to come, the current unrest is but a preview. Already though, this crisis has provoked significant concerns and serious riots. Nelson D. Schwartz described the worldwide destabilizing effects of this crisis in his New York Times piece entitled “Job Losses Pose a Threat to Stability Worldwide.” Schwartz saw the crisis as potentially more destabilizing for countries in the former Soviet bloc:

Many newer workers, especially those in countries that moved from communism to capitalism in the 1990s, have known only boom times since then. For them, the shift is especially jarring, a main reason for the violence that exploded recently in countries like Latvia, a former Soviet republic.

Meanwhile, Niall Ferguson described how the crisis is undermining one of the key stabilizing elements in Pakistan, it’s middle class:

Pakistan’s small but politically powerful middle class has been slammed by the collapse of the country’s stock market. Meanwhile, a rising proportion of the country’s huge population of young men are staring unemployment in the face. It is not a recipe for political stability.

Patrick Hosking in The Times of London predicts that Great Britain will be hit by social unrest as well, though it certainly is not as vulnerable to collapse as Pakistan which is simultaneously fighting a civil war:

[I]t may already be too late to prevent social unrest, especially in Britain, which is tipped to be one of the worst-hit countries economically.

The spectacle of bankers continuing to award themselves bonuses while taking taxpayer support is feeding an extraordinary public rage and a fierce sense of injustice. With 40,000 people losing their jobs each month, it is a recipe for trouble, come the traditional rioting months of the summer.

Despite the fact that we have yet to come to the “traditional rioting months of the summer,” there have been large riots in Latvia, Bulgaria, Iceland, Greece,1 and Russia. Russia has proven to be especially vulnerable – and as Arkady Ostrovsky of Foreign Policy explained, “The Kremlin is acutely aware that civil unrest in Russia could trigger the country’s disintegration.” He describes Putin, however, as the best of bad options:

Putin’s social contract has been based on co-opting Russia’s elites, bribing the population, and repressing the disobedient. A mixture of nationalistic rhetoric, rising incomes, and pride in Russia’s resurgence won public support. Until now, money has been Putin’s most powerful weapon. Rising incomes and a strong ruble (due to high commodity prices) have enabled Russians to enjoy imported food, holidays abroad, and foreign cars and technology. But even if the lives of ordinary people have not improved dramatically (49 percent say they have enough money for basic needs but struggle to buy much else), Russians at least felt that they had stopped sliding backward. Now things are looking bleak again…

But the chances of a liberal renaissance as a result of Putin’s social contract unraveling are highly unlikely. There is nothing more misleading than to portray Russia as a liberal-minded society suppressed by a nasty bunch of former KGB agents. The uncomfortable truth is, as Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed boss of the Yukos oil company destroyed by the Kremlin, put it: Putin “is more liberal and more democratic than 70 percent of the population.” And unlike late Soviet leaders who inspired the contempt of the population, Putin even now remains authentically popular.2

What this seems to add up to – short of some economic miracle – is an increasingly unstable world – as long as this economic crisis lasts. At the same time, the trend towards the decentralization of power from the United States to corporations, individuals, non-governmental organizations, and other nations – the trend from unipolarity to nonpolarity, as Richard Haas describes it – could potentially make this problem harder to solve. Regardless, it seems certain that this crisis will reshape international politics – and that America’s power to effect the shape of what is to come is significant though limited.

  1. Greece’s riots were of course triggered by a police shooting, but it is hard to imagine they would be as intense without the instability caused by the financial crisis. []
  2. A side note: Ostrovsky also describes “Putin’s most damaging and possibly longest-lasting legacy…that he has played to Russia’s worst instincts. Rather than develop a sense of pride in Russia’s victory over the Soviet Union in 1991, Putin has fostered feelings of past humiliation and defeat, and subsequently a longing for retribution.” []
Categories
Colombia Mexico National Security

The War on Drugs is Making Us Less Safe (cont.)

[digg-reddit-me]I’ve been writing for some time about how the War on Drugs is both undermining our national security at home and abroad. The Pentagon, with their Joint Operating Environment Report for 2008 [pdf], confirmed this:

In terms of worst-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico.

The Pentagon understands that the escalating drug gang violence (with casaulty rates higher than Iraq) is destabilizing our neighbor to the south. Sam Quinones, writing for Foreign Policy, describes the changes in the levels of violence in the past four years (when he last lived in Mexico):

When I lived in Mexico, the occasional gang member would turn up executed, maybe with duct-taped hands, rolled in a carpet, and dropped in an alley. But Mexico’s newspapers itemized a different kind of slaughter last August: Twenty-four of the week’s 167 dead were cops, 21 were decapitated, and 30 showed signs of torture. Campesinos found a pile of 12 more headless bodies in the Yucatán. Four more decapitated corpses were found in Tijuana, the same city where barrels of acid containing human remains were later placed in front of a seafood restaurant. A couple of weeks later, someone threw two hand grenades into an Independence Day celebration in Morelia, killing eight and injuring dozens more. And at any time, you could find YouTube videos of Mexican gangs executing their rivals—an eerie reminder of, and possibly a lesson learned from, al Qaeda in Iraq.

The former U.S. drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, commenting on the same situation warned that:

The outgunned Mexican law enforcement authorities face armed criminal attacks from platoon-sized units employing night vision goggles, electronic intercept collection, encrypted communications, fairly sophisticated information operations, sea-going submersibles, helicopters and modern transport aviation, automatic weapons, RPG’s, Anti-Tank 66 mm rockets, mines and booby traps, heavy machine guns, 50 [caliber] sniper rifles, massive use of military hand grenades, and the most modern models of 40mm grenade machine guns.

The situation is clearly dire. Which makes last week’s report by the former presidents of Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, and other nation’s all the more significant. They see the status quo as unacceptable – and insist that we must decriminalize marijuana and stop treating the problem of drugs as a war lest we end up with nothing but failed states and military dictatorships in Latin America, or as the diplomatic language of the report states, current drug policies have”enormous human and social costs” and are “threats to democratic institutions.” In part, this is due to the “criminalization of politics and the politicization of crime, as well as the proliferation of the linkages between them, as reflected in the infiltration of democratic institutions by organized crime.” But it describes further threats arising more directly from the policies themselves.

The report describes the problem of the status quo in stark terms:

Current drug repression policies are firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological visions. The whole issue has become taboo which inhibits public debate. The association of drugs with crime blocks the circulation of information and segregates drug users in closed circles where they become even more exposed to organized crime.

Hence, breaking the taboo and acknowledging the failure of current policies and their consequences is the inescapable prerequisite for opening up the discussion about a new paradigm leading to safer, more efficient and humane drug policies.

This does not mean the outright rejection of [all Drug War] policies…

There are two main strategies for combatting drugs which it describes – both of them critically – the prohibitionist strategy, or Drug War of the United States, which is reflected in Columbia, Mexico, America, and Afghanistan; and the harm reduction strategy of Europe. The report is most critical of the prohibitionist strategy. In the United States itself, the Drug War’s “policy of massive incarceration of drug users [is] questionable both in terms of respect for human rights and its efficiency.” Describing the effect of the Drug War on Columbia, the report is harsher:

For decades, Colombia implemented all conceivable measures to fight the drug trade in a massive effort whose benefits were not proportional to the vast amount of resources invested and the human costs involved…

The traumatic Colombian experience is a useful reference for countries not to make the mistake of adopting the US prohibitionist policies and to move forward in the search for innovative alternatives.

At the same time, the report finds fault with the European method of dealing with the problem of drugs, saying that:

[H]arm reduction minimizes the social dimension of the problem [and] the policy of the European Union fails to curb the demand for illicit drugs that stimulates its production and exportation from other parts of the world.

In other words, the European Union’s approach merely attempts to quarantine the problem as it exists within their own societies while doing nothing about the gang warfare and destabilization the production and smuggling of drugs means abroad. Apparently, at the same time drugs themselves are taking a greater toll on Latin America:

The levels of drug consumption continue to grow in Latin America while there is a tendency toward stabilization in North America and Europe

This collection of prominent Latin American politicians has a number of suggestions to help reverse the destabilizing effects of current drug policies. One of the most prominent is to descriminalize marijuana. While considered “the king crop” by the Mexican gangs thanks to the steady and broad market and it’s cheapness to produce (as opposed to the riskier cocaine and heroin production, sale, and smuggling), the report states that:

[T]he available empirical evidence shows that the harm caused by this drug is similar to the harm caused by alcohol or tobacco. More importantly, most of the damage associated with cannabis use – from the indiscriminate arrest and incarceration of consumers to the violence and corruption that affect all of society – is the result of the current prohibitionist policies.

Another major change in policy the report suggests is to treat “those who have become addicted to drugs” as “patients of the health care system” instead of :buyers in an illegal market.” 

As I wrote before:

The War on Drugs isn’t just failing. The War on Drugs isn’t just causing us to imprison a greater percentage of our population than any other in the world. The War on Drugs isn’t just eroding our laws and institutions. The War on Drugs doesn’t just undermine the War Against Terrorism. The War on Drugs isn’t just making our efforts in Afghanistan harder. The War on Drugs isn’t just wasting law enforcement resources, and costing America gold medals.  

No – it is also destabilizing nations right next to us.

This is what makes a reevaluation of our Drug War a national security priority as well as a civil liberties issue. The former presidents of Mexico, Brazil, and Columbia all saw hope in the administration of Barack Obama, citing him in the report, hope that he will finally tackle this long-festering issue. He may on his own – and he has made some remarks which constitute progress.

But the issue may be, to paraphrase FDR’s oft-repeated line: Obama agrees with us in principle; now we need to put political pressue on him to do something about it.

Categories
Foreign Policy Iran National Security

Iran’s Strategic Realignment

[digg-reddit-me]Hillary Mann Leverett in Foreign Policy tries to explain one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in the past half-century, how America at the height of it’s post-September 11 influence declined to respond to Iran’s request for comprehensive discussions with the United States on a number of high-profile issues, with the goal of becoming a strategic ally of America in the region:

When I served as director for Iran and Afghanistan affairs at the National Security Council from 2001 to 2003, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice dismissed then President Khatami as a potential diplomatic partner for the United States. Indeed, the erstwhile Sovietologist compared Khatami to Mikhail Gorbachev, arguing that by engaging Khatami, the United States would risk missing the opportunity to find the Islamic Republic’s Boris Yeltsin.

I suppose it’s not fair to lay the blame entirely on Rice – as Barton Gellman also described Cheney as having a role in rebuffing any talks

As America became mired in Iraq (due in part to Iranian meddling and support of Shiia extremists there), Iran has gained regional influence. Iran has been commonly described as the biggest beneficiary of Bush’s War on Terror. Interestingly though, it was only with Iran’s tacit support that the surge was able to succeed – as Iran exerted its influence to hold back the Shiia militias.

As someone directly involved in negotiations with Iran during this period after September 11, Leverett’s analysis is extremely relevant. Leverett also points to Iran’s attempts to capture members of Al Qaeda who fled Afghanistan in the aftermath of our invasion – and to turn them over to the United States:

In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Tehran detained literally hundreds of suspected al Qaeda operatives seeking to flee Afghanistan into Iran. Iran repatriated at least 200 of these individuals to the then new government of Hamid Karzai, to Saudi Arabia, and to other countries. The Iranian government documented these actions to the United Nations and the United States in February 2002, including providing copies of each repatriated individual’s passport…

Regrettably, instead of working to establish a framework within which Tehran could have made al Qaeda operatives detained in Iran available to the United States or some international body – as our Iranian interlocutors requested – the Bush administration insisted that Iran detain and deport all al Qaeda figures the United States believed might be in Iran, without any assistance from or reciprocal understandings with the United States

This ham-handed attempt to force our way demonstrates the tragic misunderstanding of the extent of American power of the Bush administration. Leverett points out that:

[I]t was the Bush administration, not Iran, that rebuffed a deal that would have given the United States access to important al Qaeda operatives -including, possibly, Saad bin Laden, Osama’s son.

Blunder upon blunder – all based on the same premise – that America has the power to unilaterally force it’s will and achieve all of our objectives. While America’s power is certainly sufficient to accomplish any number of our objectives – it is not enough to accomplish all of them.

But now opportunity is upon us – and as Leverett suggests, we should:

explicitly posit strategic realignment between Washington and Tehran as the talks’ end goal.

This strategic realignment would re-shape the region – and America’s Wars Against Terrorism. That a high level negotiator believes it is within the realm of possibility (and in this she is far from alone) is yet another reason for hope.

Categories
Foreign Policy Iran National Security Pakistan

Afpak & Iran

I’ve highlighted a bunch of different articles in the past week about the upcoming challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan with Iran as a potential complicating factor. Here’s my attempt to cram all of these highlights into one post…

Jodi Kantor in the New York Times on Richard Holbrooke and Afpak:

For now, Holbrooke is both raising expectations and lowering them. He is talking about Afpak – Washington shorthand for his assignment – as his last and toughest mission. But along with the rest of Obama’s foreign-policy staff, he is also trying to redefine success in the region, shifting away from former President George W. Bush’s grand, transformative goals and toward something more achievable. 

Fareed Zakaria has some ideas on what at least one of these less exalted goals should be:

In May 2006 a unit of American soldiers in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan valley were engulfed in a ferocious fire fight with the Taliban. Only after six hours, and supporting airstrikes, could they extricate themselves from the valley. But what was most revealing about the battle was the fact that many local farmers spontaneously joined in, rushing home to get their weapons. Asked later why they’d done so, the villagers claimed they didn’t support the Taliban’s ideological agenda, nor were they particularly hostile toward the Americans. But this battle was the most momentous thing that had happened in their valley for years. If as virile young men they had stood by and just watched, they would have been dishonored in their communities. And, of course, if they were going to fight, they could not fight alongside the foreigners.

In describing this battle, the Australian counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen coins a term, “accidental guerilla,” to describe the villagers. They had no grand transnational agenda, no dreams of global jihad. If anything, those young men were defending their local ways and customs from encroachment from outside. But a global terrorist group—with local ties—can find ways to turn these villagers into allies of a kind. And foreign forces, if they are not very careful, can easily turn them into enemies.

Reduced to its simplest level, the goal of American policy in Afghanistan should be to stop creating accidental guerrillas. It should make those villagers see U.S. forces as acting in their interests. That would mark a fundamental turnaround.

Another major problems is – as Tom Ricks quotes Abu Muquwama to explain – that:

It’s tough to fight a war in Afghanistan when the opposing team decides to fight the war in Pakistan

At the same time, Pakistan seems to be dragging it’s feet with regards to destroying the forces it considered – until recently – it’s proxies in it’s struggle with India for regional power, the Taliban. This creates a nagging feeling of suspicion among Pakistan’s allies, as Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti explained in the New York Times:

In recent years, there have been some significant successes in the hunt for Taliban leaders. Pakistani operatives tracked Mullah Dadullah, a senior aide to Mullah Omar, as he crossed the Afghan border in May 2007, and he was later killed by American and Afghan troops.

Yet most of the arrests in Pakistan have coincided with visits by senior American officials.

The arrest of Mullah Obeidullah, the former Taliban defense minister, in Quetta in February 2007 coincided with the visit of Vice President Dick Cheney to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is unclear whether Mullah Obeidullah is still in Pakistani custody or was secretly released as part of a prisoner exchange to free Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, who was kidnapped last February and released three months later.

Schmitt and Mazzetti clearly convey the suspicion among top American officials that Pakistan’s wars against its terrorists are mainly a public relations effort to pacify America. Pakistan’s reluctance to fully accept America as an ally (believing we will again retreat from the region after we are done with Afghanistan one way or another, as we did after the Soviet Union was defeated there) is not our only challenge in the region. Parag Khanna of Foreign Policy describes how Afpak is also the center of maneuvering by other nations:

China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran are also becoming increasingly important – not as neighbors of the chaos, like Pakistan, but meddlers in it. The United States is already failing to grasp not only the details of other powers’ maneuverings in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the extent to which these dealings could eclipse even the most brilliant U.S. shuttle diplomacy by Holbrooke.

He describes how China has become Afghanistan’s largest investor, how Saudi Arabia continues to funnel enormous amounts of money to fund religious extremism in the region, including Wahabbi mosques, and how Iran is taking steps to provide energy for what they anticipate will be shortages in Afpak and India. Khanna – seeing this pipelines and other relations between Iran, India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan as inevitable as all partners stand to benefit – suggests America get out in front and support the pipeline. Better to build it ourselves than having it built without us.

Building roads and controlling their usage has for centuries been the foundation of spreading Silk Road influence, as well as the key to success in the 19th-century Great Game. Today’s struggle for control follows similar rules.

This Great Game – a term historically used to describe the strategic competition for influence in the region, especially when it involves great intrigues and turnabouts –  would seem to require us to neutralize or flip Iran into an ally. Roger Cohen of the New York Times makes the case:

Iran’s political constellation includes those who have given past support to terrorist organizations. But axis-of-evil myopia has led U.S. policy makers to underestimate the social, psychological and political forces for pragmatism, compromise and stability. Iran has not waged a war of aggression for a very long time.

Tehran shares many American interests, including a democratic Iraq, because that will be a Shiite-governed Iraq, and a unified Iraq stable enough to ensure access to holy cities like Najaf.

It opposes Taliban redux in Afghanistan and Al Qaeda’s Sunni fanaticism. Its democracy is flawed but by Middle East standards vibrant. Both words in its self-description — Islamic Republic — count.

Categories
Economics Financial Crisis Politics

Commenting on Paul Krugman

Daniel Drezner over at Foreign Policy on Paul Krugman:

 

I’m 50% convinced that Paul Krugman’s op-ed today is correct, and the moderates wound up damaging the stimulus more than they improved it. 

The thing is, I’m also 50% convinced that Krugman is to Keynesians as Richard Perle is to neoconservatives.  When an embittered ideologue derides his political leader for demonstrating a willingness to compromise and “negotiating with yourself,” well, one does get the sense of deja vu.

 

Will Wilkinson on Krugman:

Perhaps more than any economist of his caliber, Krugman understands that policy is largely determined by the outcome of the public opinion shoutfest. Yet this recognition seems to have no effect on Krugman’s ideas. Rather than bring inside his models disagreement over economic theory and the lack of political incentive to faithfully apply them, which would lead him to radically revise his prescriptions, Krugman leaves his textbook theory untouched and simply tries to win the shoutfestKrugman’s often unbearable stridency seems to reflect an attempt to overcome the problems of democratic disagreement and incentive compatibility through sheer force of will–as if the deep reality of politics is no match for the rhetorical gifts and gold-plated reputation of Paul Freaking Krugman.

This is certainly my sense of Krugman as well. He lets his partisanship overcome his scholarship – but fails to account for partisanship in his scholarship.

Like Glenn Greenwald, he is a voice I hope those in power listen to – so long as they do not follow his advice too closely.

As I wrote during the earlier days of the 2008 campaign as Krugman railed biweekly against Obama:

I fear Paul Krugman is becoming the left-wing’s William Kristol in his single-minded partisan fervor, indifferent to political realities on the ground but true to the vision that shaped him years ago.  He remains interesting – much as Kristol has – but he seems to be somewhat disconnected from reality.

I drew a distinction then between Krugman’s approach to politics and Obama’s:

Paul Krugman illustrates as well as anyone the value of partisanship. For a political minority, partisanship is the key to survival, and the only means of blocking change. Partisanship is, in essence, a defense. The problem with the Democrats from 1994 to 2005, and even with some Democrats today, is that they were trying to be non-partisan in an environment that demands steadfast opposition – that demands partisanship…[But if] partisanship is the best strategy for a minority party, because, by it’s nature it is biased and divides the population; it is not the best strategy for a majority party…

Partisanship can only take us so far. In 2008, we need Barack Obama.

It is not surprising the Krugman now seeks to push Obama to abandon the politics that worked so well for Obama during his campaign – defeating the partisan fervor whipped up by Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, and then John McCain. Because – for Krugman, radicalized by the Bush years – partisanship is the only approach to politics he knows.