Archive for the ‘Globalization & International Trade’ Category

23
Oct

The US faces many pressing issues in the near future. But none of them got much air time on Monday night in the debate between President Barack Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney. Instead, the two candidates appear stuck in the Bush worldview, and reveal a global power on the decline.

By Gregor Peter Schmitz

Obama’s best line was his claim that Romney didn’t understand the nature of a modern military. “You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military has changed.”

Ed Luce, the sage Financial Times columnist, knows from his country’s own history all about the decline of global powers. A Briton who loves America, Luce has sought to provide the United States with well-meaning counsel, most recently in the form of a book with the whimsical title “Time to Start Thinking.” The tome is nothing less than a 320-page appeal to the US to finally face up to future strategic challenges inherent in a rapidly changing world order — so that America’s decline might remain but a horror scenario.

After the 90-minute-long foreign policy debate on Monday night between US President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, several questions remain unanswered. One, however, has been cleared up: Neither Obama nor Romney have read Luce’s book.

The two contenders for what is likely the world’s most powerful office left little time for thinking — either for themselves or for the television audience. And they failed to adequately address the new challenges facing the wobbly global power America — climate change, for example, which was left unmentioned in presidential debates for the first time since 1984. Or the rise of Asia. Or even the lack of domestic investment in infrastructure and education.

Most of all, however, in the debate in Boca Raton they declined to discuss how they intend to address the country’s central foreign policy conundrum: Americans no longer want their country to be a global police force, but they still want to continue believing in American exceptionalism.

Trapped in Bush’s World

Instead, viewers were witness to a phenomenon that Luce had likewise predicted: Romney and Obama exchanged carefully prepared platitudes as though they were trapped in a world order created for them by White House predecessor George W. Bush.

The two adversaries talked about Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and the broader Middle East. And they of course also engaged in the petty discussion as to who visited Israel or American troops abroad sooner. Read more…

Dr. Gregor Peter Schmitz is a correspondent in the Washington office of DER SPIEGEL. He focuses primarily on the coverage for SPIEGEL ONLINE but also writes regularly for the magazine.

As published in http://www.spiegel.de/ on October 23, 2012.

22
Oct

In Obama’s dysfunctional foreign-policy team.

By Rosa Brooks

Last chance! On Monday, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney square off on foreign policy. It will be the final debate and President Obama’s last major opportunity to convince American voters to give him four more years.

He may not have an easy time of it. In 2008, Obama’s principled positions on the Iraq War, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and interrogation policy helped motivate the Democratic base and send him to the White House with a decisive victory. But that was then. Now, Obama’s approval ratings have plummeted, both domestically and internationally. For most of his first term, they have been well below the historical average for first-term presidents.

Despite some successes large and small, Obama’s foreign policy has disappointed many who initially supported him. The Middle East initiatives heralded in his 2009 Cairo speech fizzled or never got started at all, and the Middle East today is more volatile than ever. The administration’s response to the escalating violence in Syria has consisted mostly of anxious thumb-twiddling. The Israelis and the Palestinians are both furious at us. In Afghanistan, Obama lost faith in his own strategy: he never fought to fully resource it, and now we’re searching for a way to leave without condemning the Afghans to endless civil war. In Pakistan, years of throwing money in the military’s direction have bought little cooperation and less love.

The Russians want to reset the reset, neither the Chinese nor anyone else can figure out what, if anything, the “pivot to Asia” really means, and Latin America and Africa continue to be mostly ignored, along with global issues such as climate change. Meanwhile, the administration’s expanding drone campaign suggests a counterterrorism strategy that has completely lost its bearings — we no longer seem very clear on who we need to kill or why.

Could Obama have done better?

In foreign policy as in life, stuff happens — including bad stuff no one could have predicted. Nonetheless, to a significant extent, President Obama is the author of his own lackluster foreign policy. He was a visionary candidate, but as president, he has presided over an exceptionally dysfunctional and un-visionary national security architecture — one that appears to drift from crisis to crisis, with little ability to look beyond the next few weeks. His national security staff is squabbling and demoralized, and though senior White House officials are good at making policy announcements, mechanisms to actually implement policies are sadly inadequate. Read more…

Rosa Brooks is a Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation and a law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on October 18, 2012.

16
Oct

Cristina de Kirchner has brought her country to the brink of the abyss.

By Daniel Altman

Step into a discount department store in New York or Miami these days, and you’re likely to hear Spanish in the aisles. Not just any Spanish, though — Argentine Spanish. The distinctive accent, where “y” becomes “zh” and the final “s” sometimes disappears entirely, has lately become the sound of a massive transfer of wealth. Ringing through American checkout lines, it is also the sound of another economic crisis on the way.

Argentina has become much more important to the global economy in the decade following its last crisis, which began in 2001. Back then, its exports were only worth about $31 billion, or 11 percent of its gross domestic product. Today, Argentina’s exports have almost doubled, even after accounting for inflation, and it is a central player in commodity markets ranging from lithium to soy. Yet its trading regime is notoriously fickle, and another crisis — economic, political, or more likely both — could cause severe disruption.

Argentines have been talking about the imminence of their next crisis for about two years now, and their economy is showing plenty of worrying signs. Private economists estimate that inflation is running between 20 and 30 percent, while the government has doctored economic statistics to such an extent that the International Monetary Fund may censure it. The peso trades at more than six to the dollar in the street, though the official exchange rate is 4.7. The central bank maintains the artificially high value of the currency by buying pesos with its reserves, while the government limits the purchase of dollars by ordinary Argentines.

The combination of high inflation in wages — as well as prices — and an artificially strong peso has been a boon to Argentine consumers, especially the upper-middle class. Foreign goods are cheaper than ever, as is tourism. Visitors to Argentina, on the other hand, will find prices for clothing, electronics, and other manufactures in Buenos Aires on a par with New York, London, or Tokyo. The question for many well-to-do Argentines is not whether they will go abroad to shop, but how they will sneak their purchases through customs on the way back. Read more…

Daniel Altman teaches economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business and is chief economist of Big Think.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on October 15, 2012.

8
Oct

By Francis Fukuyama

It is a curious fact that in contemporary American political science, very few people want to study the state, that is, the functioning of executive branches and their bureaucracies. Since the onset of the Third Wave of democratizations now more than a generation ago, the overwhelming emphasis in comparative politics has been on democracy, transitions to democracy, human rights, ethnic conflict, violence, transitional justice, and the like. There is of course interest in stability, but primarily as the absence of violence and conflict. Studies of non-democratic countries focus on issues like authoritarian persistence, meaning that the focus still remains the question of democracy in the long run or democratic transition. In other words, most people are interested in studying political institutions that limit or check power—democratic accountability and rule of law—but very few people pay attention to the institution that accumulates and uses power, the state.

The relative emphasis on checking institutions rather than power-deploying institutions is evident in the governance measures that have been developed in recent years. There are numerous measures of the quality of democracy like the Freedom House Freedom in the World and Polity IV measures, as well as newer  ones like the Varieties of Democracy project led by Michael Coppedge, John Gerring et al. What we do not have is a good measure of Weberian bureaucracy—that is, the degree to which bureaucratic recruitment and promotion is merit-based, functionally organized, based on technical qualifications, etc. One of the only studies to attempt to do this was by Peter Evans and James Rauch back in 2000, but their sample was limited to 30-odd countries and produced no time series data. There is also a proprietary cross-country measure, the Political Risk Service’s Group (PRSG) International Country Risk Guide, but because it is proprietary we don’t really know what goes into it. Several of the World Bank Institute’s Worldwide Governance Indicators purport to measure state aspects of state capacity (government effectiveness, regulatory quality, and stability and absence of violence, control of corruption), but these are aggregates of other existing measures and it is not clear how they map onto the Weberian categories. For example, does a good absence of violence score mean that there is effective policing? I suspect that there isn’t much street crime in North Korea. (There are similar problems with the Bank’s internal CPIA scores.)

One important measure that would be great to have but which no one has ever attempted to create, to my knowledge, is a measure of bureaucratic autonomy, that is, the degree to which bureaucrats are under day-to-day control by their nominal political masters, both with regard to policy and with regard to control over cadres. This is utterly critical in understanding bureaucratic quality, and yet is totally unavailable for any kind of quantitative analysis. Read more…

Francis Fukuyama is Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) at Stanford University. Dr. Fukuyama is chairman of the editorial board of The American Interest, which he helped to found in 2005.   He is a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins SAIS Foreign Policy Institute, and a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Center for Global Development. 

As published by The American Interest on October 2, 2012.

4
Oct

By Sean Goforth

Regardless of who wins Sunday’s presidential election in Venezuela, Latin America lives in a post-Chavez era. Now is the time for Brazil to step up.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez has been generous to his allies. At the height of his power, from 2005–2009, Chávez blanketed friendly countries across Latin America with Venezuelan aid.

The money had its desired effect, creating an expressly anti-American bloc in Latin America. However, Chávez has never fully recovered from the 2008 drop in oil prices, and the internal contradiction of Chavismo has been lost on its followers. Chávez said rather a lot about opposing the West over the years, but he’s been a surprisingly rational actor on the world stage, especially when it comes to keeping the oil flowing.

Today, with financial support from Caracas dwindling, leftist leaders across South America are being forced to pick their own fights. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s expropriation of the gas company YPF from Spain’s Repsol earlier this year was a clear asset grab. On the other hand, the Cuban government continues to tinker with promarket reforms. Of course, some of these developments are more positive than others, but together they are proof that Latin America lives in a post-Chávez era, regardless of who wins Sunday’s presidential election.

The result: there is a power vacuum in South America.

“Power vacuum” tends to conjure up images of arms races and insurgent attacks. But, remarkably, the security scene in South America is improving, albeit tentatively. Defense spending has declined throughout the region over the last three years. Venezuela has started to cooperate with Colombia and even the United States to halt drug trafficking, as indicated most recently by the arrest in Venezuela of Daniel Barrera, Colombia’s last major cocaine kingpin. Even the triborder region of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, long rumored to be a hotbed of Islamist insurgency, appears to be more sedate.

Instead, the region is backsliding on its commitment to democracy. Since 2009, fairly elected governments in Honduras and Paraguay have been deposed. A failed coup in Ecuador in 2010 has given President Rafael Correa excuse for a brusque crackdown on freedom of speech. Long a testing ground for populism of various sorts, the newest dystopian pastime appears to be perfecting what some have called the “golpeachment”—part golpe (coup), part impeachment and part exuberantly broadcasted sport. Read more…

Sean Goforth is author of Axis of Unity: Venezuela, Iran and the Threat to America (Potomac Books, 2012).

As published by The National Interest on October 2, 2012.

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