Sunday, November 14, 2004

Iar invingatorul este....partea a treia

Cum doresc de ceva timp sa inchei thread-ul acesta (si nu mai apuc sa o fac a) din istoria contemporana a Americii si a lumii cu (doar) iata citeva mesaje (din cele enorm de multe discutii care s-au desfasurat de o saptamina incoace pe aceasta tema) care cred ce reflecta mai mult sau mai putin esenta a ceea ce este de spus(din pacate nu am avut timp sa le traduc, asa cum as fi dorit).

Inainte de acestea insa, o analiza in superba si in adincime a campaniei electorale (care concluzioneaza ca: ei, saracii natiunii au cistigat alegerile pentru bogatii natiunii) o gasiti aici

Trecind la mesaje, unul al lui Matthew Iglesias, de miercurea trecuta ne avertizeaza impotriva optiunii optimiste:

I would caution anyone against deluding themselves into believing that a second Bush term won't be so bad. With a majority of the popular vote and expanded margins in the House and Senate, we're going to see Bush Unleashed -- something that will probably be much crazier than what we've seen over the past four years

Si inca unul, postat de acelasi autor vinerea trecuta :

One good consequence of Bush's reelection is that it will allow us, to some extent, to empirically test some theoretical propositions about international relations. In particular, now that the American people have chosen to continue with Bush, and Bush is determined not to change course in foreign policy, what will the reaction of other major countries be.

What we've seen over the past four years has, arguably, not been dispositive. Bush struck out on a path that, while not without precedent in American history, was pretty fundamentally at odds with the direction of US national security policy since we began providing assistance to the British Empire during World War II. The rest of the world's population has reacted to this with varying degrees of hostility, but other governments have reacted with a more-or-less "wait and see" attitude, wanting to see whether Bush would be rejected at the polls (and in the case of France and Germany, arguably trying to subtly influence the election outcome) or else would signal a change of course in his second term. It now seems clear that this will not happen, and that the characteristic approaches of Bushism -- an effort to unleash American power from the bonds of international law, maintain military hegemony throughout the world, establish a two-tiered system of national sovereignty, etc. -- will be the characteristic approach of the USA. The Democrats in 2004 seemed inclined to reverse this course, but not to challenge its theoretical underpinnings publicly, and if they persist in this strategy (as it seems they will) they are unlikely to be able to truly reverse it simply be regaining the presidency in four or eight years time, even if they remain viable as a national political entity.

The bulk of neoconservative opinion will have it that the consequence of this should be a "bandwagon effect." Most major foreign countries stayed aloof from the United States over the past three years because they hoped that Bush would be defeated or cowed into changing course, and they could get the liberal internationalism they preferred. Now that Bush -- and the American people -- have demonstrated their resolve to "stay the course," however, other powers will give up on this game and accept that they need to play within the rules of the new game. Many neoconservatives thought such an effect would be in evidence immediately after the Fall of Baghdad, and that anti-war countries would come begging for scraps (reconstruction contracts, etc.) at the table of American hegemony. It didn't really happen, but it might happen in the future. On this account, it's either America's way or the highway, and there's no point to sticking on the highway, so with the exception of a few eccentric rogue states (North Korea, Iran, etc.) other people with get with the program even if they don't really care for the program.

Realist theory tells us something rather different. On this account, now that it's clear the US tends to try and maintain an imperial, rather than a liberal, form of global hegemony, other powers are going to need to try and check us. In the short term, of course, no other country can come even close to matching US military power. The current engagement in Iraq, however, has radically reduced America's practical ability to project power to anywhere outside the immediate vicinity of the Persian Gulf, our technological edge notwithstanding. Meanwhile, there are signs that other powers are upgrading their ability to project power in their immediate neighborhoods. China is increasing defense spending (albeit from a low base) even faster than the USA. The European defense integration project, though much doubted when first proposed, is, in fact, moving forward, albeit slowly. Meanwhile, the EU is expanding, and it appears that Turkey is committed to moving toward Europe and away from the US and Israel. None of this demonstrates an actual ability to check the United States with military force, or even a real capacity to act independently of the USA in a non-trivial way (though France already has some ability to do this, and Turkey can locally) in the short term, but it does indicate the seeds of an intention to proclaim liberal hegemony dead and challenge the emerging imperial paradigm.

In the immediate future, though, checking tendencies would need to be manifest in non-military venues. The easiest place to do this is in the major international organizations -- most notably the UN -- where the rules mandate a level of great power equality that is not justified by the underlying military realities. Stéphanie Giry writing in The New Republic argues that China is doing just this in Africa, acting as a proxy for the interests of African regimes on the Security Council in exchange for concessions on local issues of importance to China. Since the US level of strategic interest in Africa is low, we demonstrate a much higher propensity to abide by UN dictates there, and this strategy is effective. As we saw in early 2003, when it comes to an area where the US government feels major interests are at stake, we prefer ignoring the UN to allowing its rules to be used as a checking mechanism. Insofar as other countries try and use the UN this way, the natural Bushian response will be further denigration of the UN, and such action will confirm the neoconservative belief that international law is basically a scam by which Lilliputians can tie down the USA. This, in turn, will reinforce the belief abroad that the liberal order is dying and that capacity to check the United States in non-UN ways must be enhanced.

If this shows up anywhere, it should be in the realm of economics. The European Union is already an international trade behemoth that can -- as we saw during the steel tarrifs fracas -- bend the US to its will on certain select issues. Ostensibly what happened there was that WTO rulings made Bush back down, but as we've seen elsewhere, Bush is happy to ignore the rulings of international bodies when doing so suits him. What made the difference here was that Europe had a credible threat to back up the WTO ruling with a cleverly-designed series of tarrifs aimed at maximizing the pain in states that are important in the electoral college. One may see further uses of this European trade power to try and influence the behavior of America and other countries. China is not nearly as economically large as the EU at this point, but it has a lot of potential debt- and currency-related leverage over the US. The conventional wisdom has it that this is a mutually assured destruction sort of situation where China can't credibly threaten to pull the trigger, but it's possible that a clever government could find a way. Japanese economic power combines European and Chinese forms of leverage, though each to a lesser extent. Japan also seems set to continue along the path toward substantial remilitarization that it's been on for the past several years.

Maybe all of this will come to nothing and, in the end, the neoconservatives will prove right and foreign powers will accommodate themselves to US hegemony. To some extent, at least, Russia and India seem content to try this path for now. Will it hold up in the long run?

In sfirsit, tot vinerea trecuta Brad de Long reia un comentari al the New Republic (comentariul este redat mai jos integral):

The New Republic tells us what it thinks of the Republicans' latest legislative "achievement":

The New Republic Online: Priceless:
There is a simple way to understand economic policy-making under George W. Bush: Whichever pressure group has the strongest and most direct stake in an issue gets its way. Wealthy individuals and business owners have received large tax cuts; farmers have gotten lavish assistance; and insurance and drug companies won enormous subsidies in the Medicare prescription-drug bill. When steel firms lobbied for tariffs, Bush granted them. When automakers and other manufacturers later lobbied Bush to reverse course, complaining that those tariffs had raised the cost of the steel they buy, he began to back down. If there's a single prominent case where Bush offended a powerful corporate interest--except to benefit an even more powerful corporate interest--we have not come across it.

It is therefore fitting that the final bill Bush has signed before voters have a chance to cast judgment on his term represents the apotheosis of this appalling tendency. With no public ceremony at all, Bush last week approved a grotesque and completely indefensible corporate tax bill. If anybody needs a final reminder of this administration's lack of concern for the national interest--indeed, the lack of a policy process that could even conceivably advance it--this is it.

The latest installment of this revolting saga began in March, when the European Union began imposing new tariffs as retaliation for the U.S. refusal to repeal a $5 billion per year export subsidy that the World Trade Organization said violated fair trade practices. This prompted Congress to rescind the subsidy. So far, so good. Then, predictably, Congress decided that the savings from killing the subsidy could not be used to reduce the deficit. Instead, the money had to go to tax breaks. And, rather than using the money for broad-based tax breaks, Congress decided on specific tax breaks for manufacturers. Why is this dumb? Because economists across the political spectrum have long held that, if the government rewards one kind of economic activity over another, it distorts the economy. Worse, those who don't qualify for preferential treatment will press the government to be reclassified.

That's exactly what happened. First, Congress redefined "manufacturing" to include engineering contractors (under pressure from Bechtel), companies involved in mineral extraction (for the benefit of Exxon Mobil), and virtually anybody else who hired a lobbyist. Later, the pretense of helping manufacturers was dropped entirely, and everybody from the importers of Chinese-made ceiling fans to foreign citizens who earn money gambling on American dogs and horses won special provisions. One lobbyist involved in drafting the bill confessed to The Washington Post that the whole thing represented "a new level of sleaze." In the end, the breaks given out will substantially exceed the cost of the rescinded subsidy, driving the deficit even higher.

There is plenty of blame to go around. The GOP-run Congress utterly abdicated its responsibilities by allowing the bill to degenerate into a lobbying free-for-all. Only a few Democrats bothered to put up a fight, with most deciding it was best to hop aboard the gravy train themselves. Louisiana Democratic Senator John Breaux gave voice to unprincipled capitulation when he told The New York Times, "In the end, you need to get things done." (Breaux is retiring and reportedly entertaining lucrative offers to work as a lobbyist.) And John Kerry inexplicably failed to campaign against the bill, eliminating any pressure to oppose it.

But the ultimate responsibility lies with the Bush administration. It is in Congress's nature to act like a pig at the trough. The reason this sort of spectacle is so rare is that most presidents have some sense of responsibility to the national interest. Conservatives, liberals, and moderates have all denounced this bill. (Conservatives recognize the "tax breaks" to be thinly disguised pork.) It is a naked payoff, and there's no principled reason, from any ideological perspective, to support it.

That's why it is so emblematic of Bush's presidency. Previous presidents have done things that have alienated conservatives or moderates or liberals. But is there any president in recent memory who has enacted major legislation that is universally regarded, excepting its direct beneficiaries, as bad public policy? If so, there certainly can't be one who, like Bush, has done so over and over again. (We're referring here to the farm subsidies, the Medicare bill, and other giveaways listed above.) Some endorsements of Bush have expressed hope that, in a prospective second term, he will either moderate his views or hew more firmly to conservative principles. Both possibilities would constitute an improvement. Neither, alas, would be remotely plausible.

Iar in incheiere, un cuvint plin de inginare al celor care au pierdut...


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