Sunday, July 30, 2006

Democratic Aspirations to Leadership in National Security

Just a quick addition to these earlier posts on US Foreign Policy in Search of a Via Media and on The Waning Momentum of Freedom.

The Progressive Policy Institute, affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) has recently published a tome of essays entitled With All Our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Defeating Jihadism and Defending Liberty, which continues in the vein of the 2003 Asmus report:
Instead of falling back on easy criticisms of the administration's blunders in Iraq, [the] book argues that progressives should seize the moment by proposing a comprehensive agenda for winning the war against jihadist terrorism -- an agenda rooted in the tough-minded, internationalist tradition of Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy.
Contributors include Ronald D. Asmus, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Kevin Pollack, Larry Diamond and Graham Allison: table of contents here. From the chapter summaries:
The book WITH ALL OUR MIGHT proceeds from three premises: First, defeating Islamist extremism is America’s top security imperative. Second, victory demands a new strategy that is both tough and smart. Third, progressives should stop reacting to President Bush and start leading on national security.
Looks interesting: but positive political ramifications are still dependent on whether the Democrats can sort out the messy challenge from the anti-globalization wing. Will these ideas be convincing and catch on in that camp? Will they be read at all at the European centre-left? And why is there so little comparably proactive foreign policy analysis and conjecture coming out of politically connected academic and policy circles in Europe?

The Economist's Revival & Lessons of US Welfare Reform

The Economist has become steadily and markedly better ever since Bill Emmot stepped down as Editor-in-Chief earlier this spring. The difference is really remarkable: the ideas and analyses are sharper and more equitable; the observations and editorial selections are fresher, more provocative, and thus ultimately, productive. Former US editor John Micklethwait who got the top position has really done a superb job so far.

One good example is this week's edition's article on the outcome of the 1990s American welfare reform:
After peaking in 1994—when many states began experimenting ahead of the federal law—America's welfare caseload fell by 60% over the next decade, from 5m to 2m families. Instead, welfare mothers found work, and the biggest increase by far was among those who had never been married. Their employment rate leapt from 44% in 1993 to 66% in 2000 (see chart) and the poverty rate, instead of rising sharply, dropped from 15.1% to 11.3%.
A decade ago, much of the political left believed that such a rapid transition from welfare to work was impossible, and the reforms cruel. Why did they turn out so much better than the doomsayers predicted? A booming economy surely deserves some credit. (...) Wage subsidies also helped a great deal. (...) The 1996 welfare reforms themselves, however, clearly explain much of the success. Jason Turner—a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank—argues that “the political left believed in a hospital model of the poor: caretaking and compassion with low expectations.” America's conservatives expected more. And as it became clear to welfare recipients that the rules had changed, many of them began meeting those expectations.
The results and conclusions will probably surprise or even dismay many Europeans but they should be a source of inspiration (to the degree that they haven't already been, as is the case in e.g. the Danish labor market). On the other hand, the article's fairly daring conclusions call for further improvements:

The good news is that, having largely won the battle against idleness and dependency, America is now in a much better position to attack poverty head on. But it will not succeed by simply ratcheting up the states' work requirements, as Congress did earlier this year. Instead, America must build on the past decade's accomplishments by tackling three important challenges.

The first is to find new ways to help the children of those who are mildly disabled, emotionally disturbed, mentally slow or addicted to drugs or alcohol. With everyone else working, people with these traits comprise a growing share of those who now turn up at welfare offices. That they tend to make lousy workers is not the biggest worry; their limited ability to raise children is far more troubling. (...)

America's second challenge, now that so many former welfare mothers have ended up in low-paying jobs, is to raise the incomes of the working poor. That means giving them skills. (...) America needs to treat welfare reform as a part of workforce development, says Jennifer Noyes, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Institute for Research on Poverty. (...) If America really wants to make a lasting dent in poverty, however, its third challenge is to change the odds that young women will end up on welfare. Mr Grogger points out that only half of America's reduction in welfare caseloads stemmed from women leaving the rolls; the other half occurred because fewer women entered the welfare system. The incentives that are now in place should help to keep that entry rate down. But anything that can cajole or entice more young women into staying in school and delaying pregnancy improves their chances of never going on welfare (and, of course, of earning much more than the current generation of working single mums). (...)

To meet these challenges, America will need to rediscover some of the bipartisan pragmatism that prompted Mr Clinton to buck his left-wing critics and sign a controversial Republican law ten years ago. Conservatives now seem too preoccupied with tougher work rules and promoting marriage to think seriously about the next round of anti-poverty reforms. And many on the left are resisting good ideas about school vouchers and job-training with the same sort of scare tactics that they used against welfare reform a decade ago.

More thoughts in tendencies in Western labor markets here: Income Gap Might Shrink: White Collar, OECD Coping Strategies.

LATER UPDATE: See also Mark E. Courtney's column in the Washington Post: "Welfare Reform's Shortcoming", which points in the direction of a more personalized guidance system, incidentally akin to some of the reforms undertaken in Denmark.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Ghani UNSG Candidature in the Offing?

[LATER UPDATE: See: Ghani Runs for UNSG and Deserves to Win]

The Financial Times now mention Ashraf Ghani among the two, top alternative candidates for taking over at the UN after current UNSG Annan steps down. But more than just getting the FTs attention, Ghani's possible candidature is being vetted from several sides:
"The conventional wisdom is that none of the four candidates stand much of a chance," said one Security Council diplomat. The idea is that once the field has cleared, other candidates will emerge from the wings. One strong potential figure could be Goh Chok Tong, Singapore's former prime minister. Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan's respected former finance minister, is also contemplating a bid, having been approached by President Hamid Karzai and sounded out by several European governments, the FT has learnt.
As written before (Next UNSG Must Know Security), it is highly important for the UN that the coming top guy knows both development and security. Furthermore, he needs to be a proactive administrator. Being proactive in terms of bridging differences by bold or imaginative proposals before the differences grow too large is key for the coming UNSG. Ghani himself agrees with this analysis -- see his new piece on nepalnews.com, and especially this argument on the importance of leadership:

In the absence of leadership, the people’s energy is focused on gaining immediate benefits for themselves. Groups, from organised labour in private businesses and schools, to even the civil service are demanding more for themselves, expecting the New Nepal to bring payoffs to them. Political leaders have been unable to counter such demands because they have not articulated the new vision and defined the new compact. The people’s movement was able to bring down the old regime but without leadership of vision and action, it will not be able to construct a New Nepal.

If the leaders fail in this critical moment, the state is bound to fail under the weight of excessive expectations alone. Surely the people of Nepal deserve leadership from their politicians to ensure that Nepal embarks upon a path towards a new future. In this unique moment, even the age-old social barriers to inclusion seem surmountable. A new future is no longer a dream, it has become possible.

However if this chance is wasted, the mobilised energies of the people could not only dissipate but, worse still, feed into a vicious cycle of violence and destruction. Nepal would rapidly fall back into the old orbit defined by the old dynamics. Seizing a rare, historic moment and turning it into the beginning of a new future requires a clear vision and sustained action. A clear vision enables collective efforts by citizens and sustained action reinforces their belief in the attainability of the new future.

Ashraf Ghani -- accomplished academic and practical reformer both -- would surely be a remarkable candidate (Ghani Would Be Good For UN: FT Op-Ed On Reconstruction).


LATER UPDATE: The FT reiterates its information on Ghani after the first "informal strawpoll" on the official candidates:
The poll has been described as only a first indication, as the process has some way to go, and other candidates are expected to emerge from the wings. One strong potential figure could be Goh Chok Tong, Singapore’s former prime minister. Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s respected former finance minister, is also contemplating a bid, having been approached by President Hamid Karzai and sounded out by several European governments, the FT has learnt.
Moreover, a new Webmemo from the Heritage Foundation picks up on Ghani's possible candidature as well, mentioning him first among the other potential candidates:
News reports indicate that, while Ban Ki-Moon and Shashi Tharoor led the UN Security Council’s first straw poll to become the next Secretary-General, there is a “a general sense that none of the candidates were likely to succeed.”

If the official candidates founder, other potential candidates include Afghanistan’s former finance minister Ashraf Ghani; Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein of Jordan; President Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia; former deputy prime minister and finance minister of Malaysia Anwar Ibrahim; current high commissioner of Pakistan to the United Kingdom and a former ambassador to the United States Maleeha Lodhi; former President of Poland Aleksander Kwasniewski; Singapore’s former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong; and Administrator of the UN Development Programme Kemal Dervis of Turkey.

How the U.S. will vote on the official candidates is unclear. Although President Bush’s statements on July 10 indicate that the U.S. has acknowledged demands that the next Secretary-General be from Asia, it also seems clear that the U.S. will oppose candidates whom it considers unsuitable. Thus far, the U.S. appears unenthused about any of the four declared candidates, which may in part reflect its uncertainty about the commitment of the individual candidates to fundamental UN reform. Based on comments by U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, UN reform is a priority for the U.S. and will be a key factor in its decision whether to support or oppose a particular candidate.


Monday, July 17, 2006

US Foreign Policy Doctrine In Search of a Via Media

An fairly thorough op-ed by Robert Wright in the New York Times -- "An American Foreign Policy That Both Realists and Idealists Should Fall in Love With" -- in a summerly way reopens the old discussion of how best to serve US foreign policy in terms of general doctrines: idealism or realism?

Wright's op-ed is thus added to Fukuyama's call for a changed neorealism, a "Realistic Wilsonianism" (see this post for more) ; and to the 2003 Ronald D. Asmus report from the Democrats Progressive Policy Institute "Progressive Internationalism: A Democrat Security Strategy" (2003). Wright proposes his "progressive realism" as a bridgebuilder for Democrats and Republicans alike to embrace -- even if his objective, like Asmus', is to serve the Democrats by helping them to recast their troubled legacy on foreign policy since Vietnam and Carter. Asmus addresses the Democratic legitimacy deficit on security. He wants the Democrats to embrace a more muscular approach compared to the globalization critics on the left; but also to be more humanitarian than the state-centered right:

We begin by reaffirming the Democratic Party's commitment to progressive internationalism -- the belief that America can best defend itself by building a world safe for individual liberty and democracy. We therefore support the bold exercise of American power, not to dominate but to shape alliances and international institutions that share a common commitment to liberal values. The way to keep America safe and strong is not to impose our will on others or pursue a narrow, selfish nationalism that betrays our best values, but to lead the world toward political and economic freedom.

While some complain that the Bush administration has been too radical in recasting America's national security strategy, we believe it has not been ambitious or imaginative enough. We need to do more, and do it smarter and better to protect our people and help shape a safer, freer world. Progressive internationalism occupies the vital center between the neo-imperial right and the non-interventionist left, between a view that assumes that our might always makes us right and one that assumes that because America is strong it must be wrong.

Too many on the left seem incapable of taking America's side in international disputes, reflexively oppose the use of force, and begrudge the resources required to keep our military strong. Viewing multilateralism as an end in itself, they lose sight of goals, such as fighting terrorism or ending gross human rights abuses, which sometimes require us to act -- if need be outside a sometimes ineffectual United Nations. And too many adopt an anti-globalization posture that would not only erode our own prosperity but also consign billions of the world's neediest people to grinding poverty. However troubling the Bush record, the pacifist and protectionist left offers no credible alternative.

Progressive internationalism stresses the responsibilities that come with our enormous power: to use force with restraint but not to hesitate to use it when necessary, to show what the Declaration of Independence called "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind," to exercise leadership primarily through persuasion rather than coercion, to reduce human suffering where we can, and to create alliances and international institutions committed to upholding a decent world order. We must return to four core principles that have long defined the Democratic Party's tradition of tough-minded internationalism: National strength; Liberal democracy; Free enterprise; World leadership (italics added).

Wright on the other hand proposes a bit less aggressive version, more centered on a belief in economic forces and international regulatory regimes, but still attuned to change abroad in what IR people call "second image reversed" dynamics, namely the effects of the international environment on regimes:

Progressive realism begins with a cardinal doctrine of traditional realism: the purpose of American foreign policy is to serve American interests. But these days serving American interests means abandoning another traditional belief of realists — that so long as foreign governments don’t endanger American interests on the geopolitical chess board, their domestic affairs don’t concern us. In an age when Americans are threatened by overseas bioweapons labs and outbreaks of flu, by Chinese pollution that enters lungs in Oregon, by imploding African states that could turn into terrorist havens, by authoritarian Arab governments that push young men toward radicalism, the classic realist indifference to the interiors of nations is untenable. (...)

For now we can be patient and nurture regime change through economic engagement and other forms of peaceful, above-board influence. The result will be more indigenous, more culturally authentic paths to democracy than flow from invasion or American-backed coups d’├ętat — and more conducive to America’s security than, say, the current situation in Iraq. Democrats can join President Bush in proclaiming that “freedom is on the march” without buying his formula for assisting it.

Soul searching on foreign policy doctrines is not only the reserve of Democrats -- even if they are the ones with the most manifest problem in terms of general voter legitimacy and clear divisions among their core voters (as the high-lighted parts of the Asmus quote shows). Furthermore, these divisions are practically the same in the European centre, centre-left and left proper.

Francis Fukuyama's analysis of and call for a "Realistic Wilsonianism" is another attempt at balancing the two trends. He wants to bring neoconservatism closer to realism: less reliance on military means; and return to the original neoconservative criticism of social engineering -- more on Fukuyama here.

As always, when anyone presents you with two extremes, the synthesis of the via media looks logical and viable. And of course it is: neither blindly hardnosed realism nor blue-eyed idealism are satisfying accounts of ideals or practices of foreign policy. Rather, these categories are what the different political wings ascribe to one another -- expressions of ideological polemics. Just as evidently, the devil is in the details: the actual choice is not between the extremes, but in the balance between them.

Moreover, the question is in the end not whether that balancing will happen -- arguably, it happened in practice already in the around new year 2004 when the Bush Administration started courting the Europeans to some extent again (visibly at that years Munich conference); with the implementation of the Proliferation Security Initiative and its subsequent UN integration; and the continuous NATO country cooperation in Afghanistan, notably in the shape also of figthing elite units.

The actual big question about foreign policy doctrine is whether the Democrats can develop a trustworthy alternative to sniping and unthinking anti-globalisation. The challenge is the same in Europe, where populism on the left is decidedly on the rise. Squaring ideals with practice was never easy, but it is the politician's primary task to create visions which bridge counter-tendencies. Alas, the European politicians seem much less capable of this than the American academics. But will the American politicians listen to their academics?