Archive for August, 2011

August 31, 2011

The I-Get-Credit Contest for Libya

So Stephen Zunes warns against giving NATO too much credit and, furthermore, highlights the importance of the Libyan people’s non-violent resistance (in addition to the rebel fighters). Glenn Robinson agrees about the importance of the Libyan people:

Importantly, NATO did not free Libya from tyranny; the Libyan people did it themselves. NATO simply evened the playing field, which had pitted the trained and well-supplied military and security forces of the Libyan state against a civilian population forced to learn how to fight on the fly. The rebels always had more enthusiasm than competence, but it was clear they also had the support of the vast majority of the population.

Meanwhile, the Daily Beast gives a detailed list of how much MORE involved the United States was in toppling Qadhafi than had been widely reported. (close to $1 billion)

I must admit, I don’t get the either-or nature of this argument. In theory, it is certainly possible that Libyan non-violent action, Libyan violent action, and the NATO intervention all helped topple Qadhafi. Or that some aspects helped and hurt at the same time. Maybe Robinson is correct that NATO leveled the playing field and Zunes is correct that “foreign intervention…was successfully manipulated by Qaddafi to rally far more support to his side in his final months than would have been the case had he been faced with a largely nonviolent indigenous, civil insurrection.”

With a hated dictator gone, everyone wants a share of the credit. But what will happen if the Libyan domestic situation deteriorates in the coming months and years? Robinson concludes “any decent regime that emerges in Tripoli will be a huge improvement over Gadhafi’s reign of terror.” But that just begs the question: will a decent regime emerge? Let’s hope so.

Update #1: Though he hedges (“It was a unique case and is unlikely to be repeated”), Stewart Patrick sees Libya as the basis for more interventions down the road:

Libya has demonstrated the viability of a well-implemented RtoP intervention. Yet just because the doctrine has survived a significant test, one should not assume that the United States and its allies will apply it universally. As atrocities emerge in other contexts, the international community will need to cultivate and weigh other policy options against armed intervention, so it is not faced with stark choice of military action or inaction. The Obama administration’s PSD-10 is a step in that direction.

Update #2: Juan Cole on how it all unfolded and who was right and who was wrong.

August 25, 2011

McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Subway Theories of War

I think the first franchise theory of war that I heard about was that no two countries with McDonald’s had ever gone to war. Unfortunately for its proponents, the United States and Serbia both had McDonald’s during the 1999 Kosovo War and Israel and Lebanon did as well when they fought in 2006. (The wiki list of McDonald’s and when they opened is here)

What are other alternatives? Both Starbucks and Subway are viable alternatives.

Have two countries with Starbucks gone to war? This is from a February 2008 Starbucks list:

Company-operated: 1,796 stores, including company-operated, in Australia,
Canada, Chile, China (Northern China, Southern China), Germany, Ireland,
Puerto Rico, Singapore, Thailand and the United Kingdom.
Joint Venture and Licensed stores: 2,792 in Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain,
Brazil, Canada, China (Shanghai/Eastern China), Cyprus, Czech Republic,
Denmark, Egypt, France, Greece, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan,
Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Macau S.A.R., Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands,
New Zealand, Oman, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia,
South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and
the United Kingdom.

Neither Serbia nor Israel is on this list. Starbucks only had stores in Israel for a short time, 2001-2003. Had the Israeli stores succeeded, this theory too would have fallen on the Israel-Lebanon war but Starbucks looks safe thus far.

What about Subway restaurants, now the most numerous franchise in the world?

Subway opened in Lebanon in 1997. It also has outlets in Israel today. But this 2009 article says Subway was in Israel 1992-2004 and then closed. It did not re-open in Israel until 2009.

Subway opened in India (Dec 2001) and Pakistan (possibly 1998) so Subway just missed the Indo-Pakistani war of 1999. So Subway (barely) seems safe as well.

Of course the comparison is a little unfair with McDonalds in about 130 countries and Starbucks in only about 50. Subway is in almost 100.

I have just done a quick check. I welcome other comments about countries and wars I missed.

August 25, 2011

Chomsky and the question of US Decline

In the new on-line English version of Al Akhbar (Lebanon), Noam Chomsky argues that the United States is in decline as a global force. He makes three points:

1. The high point of US power was just after WWII. (Contrast with Walt who argued 1990)

2. China and India will not rise: “in the foreseeable future there is no competitor for global hegemonic power.” (He does not focus on this point and neither will I in my post.)

3. “American decline is in no small measure self-inflicted.”

The US share of global wealth has certainly declined from 1945 but to use that as a measure of US power in global affairs is misleading. The Soviet Union, Germany, and the rest of industrial Europe all were battered during WWII so of course the US share was around 50%. As those countries recovered, even to pre-WWII levels, the US share of wealth had to fall. More recently, China’s phenomenal growth has changed the relative picture.

But out of context, I am not sure how much that tells us about US power. These charts (here)(and here) offer a more nuanced picture.

I also worry about the conflation of power and influence. The United States needs power to have influence, but I do not think the (relative) decline of US economic power automatically leads to the decline of US influence in equal proportion. Arguments often get fuzzy at this point with examples of places where the United States is not getting its way used as proof of a decline in US influence. But one can always point to places where the United States government did not get its way. Is it the quantity of setbacks that distinguishes the situation today? The importance of the issues involved? Or something else?

Chomsky’s other metric to judge US decline seems to be the loss of areas, whether that means the loss of allies or the emergence of hostile powers. Going back decades, he cites the loss of China and SE Asia. More recently he adds S. America. I accept there was a historical loss of China, but today China is a capitalist powerhouse. Is China’s abandonment of communism as an economic system and embrace of the capitalist model a US loss or sign of the dominance of the global economic system long pushed by Washington? Sure Chavez’s Venezuela is a challenge for the United States, but what about Castro, the Sandanistas, or many other Latin American regimes of previous decades?

But let’s say I grant that some countries are independent or no longer part of the US sphere of influence. What about other countries that have become US allies or supportive of US policy? The collapse of the Soviet Union brought many states into NATO, including Poland and a unified Germany. The US-Israeli relationship is much tighter than it was in 1950 or 1960.

Moreover, if US decline is partially/largely self-inflicted, Chomsky should make explicit the logical implication: US decline could be reversed. Chomsky notes two key factors underlying the self-inflicted wound: 1) excessively low taxation and 2) corporate/elite disregard of the public’s policy preferences (related to deregulation, concentrated wealth, unequal political power, and the need for campaign money). So if the US went back to 1988 levels – where, according to Chomsky, tax revenue was 18.2% of GDP, rather than the 14.4% of 2011 – wouldn’t it have extensive resources for domestic and thus global rejuvenation? What if citizens followed Robert Reich’s argument for re-taking control of the political system? Likely, probably not. Plausible, yes.

I am not here to trumpet US dominance; the United States has surely faced many foreign policy setbacks in recent years. But I would like to see a more systematic presentation of how we know US influence on the global scene is in decline. The fact that so many people make the claim is not much evidence that the claim is accurate.

Finally, Chomsky and others make a plausible causal leap that I nonetheless wonder about. He assumes the loss of areas (allies? and US influence?) has been caused by the shrinking of US power since WWII. How exactly are the two connected? Do other countries see US relative decline and act more boldly? Has the United States stopped trying to influence as much? (I don’t see that) Is it an automatic process of structural change beyond the intent or perhaps even awareness of leaders, regimes, or governments? I would like to hear more about the connective tissue of global economic and political change.

August 24, 2011

US Stay Out of Libya, Except…

As Libya appears poised to transition to the post-Qadhafi era, the debate has already started about the proper international role in the next phase. Max Hastings warned against British involvement, “not as peacekeepers, or as a ‘stabilisation force’, or even to distribute Christmas parcels.” (re: parcels, probably a small loss given that Libya is 97% Sunni Muslim)

I am very wary of U.S. military personnel officially entering Libya as part of a nation-building effort. I’ll keep the explanation brief:
1. The US is cutting costs these days.
2. The US experience with nation-building is mixed. (see Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti)
3. While the US military has a significant edge in many aspects of conventional military operations, the US military is not considered a world leader in nation-building. The US is not indispensable for nation-building or peacekeeping.
4. With a small fiscal and political investment, the initial US/NATO involvement in Libya has gone well. We should not assume that that guarantees the post-conflict phase will go well. Perhaps ‘quit while you’re ahead’ should be the US motto in this case.
5. Fears that the rebel alliance (sorry to get all Star Warsy on you) may fracture are not illusory.
6. We don’t have a sense yet as to what government will emerge in Libya and what help it will want or need.
7. Does the US need to deepen its role in another Middle East country? That often has not played very well across the region. The US has a lot of baggage; maybe other prospective international contributors have less history.
In short, this seems like a perfect opportunity to let Libyans decide what they need and to let others in the international community meet those needs.
All that said, if the US is needed at the margin, a few helpers here or there, I am okay with that as long as it is a small number. I don’t worry much about mission creep (but maybe I am being naive).
One open question is whether this would be nation-building or stabilization. How extensive is the damage from the war? How quickly can a national government seek to assert control over all of Libya, east and west?
I am not dead set against a US role, but as you can see, I strongly lean that way barring a  compelling argument to the contrary.
August 22, 2011

Post-Qadhafi Libya

With news reports (tweets) suggesting that Moammar Qadhafi’s regime is about to fall – or at least lose Tripoli – upheaval in the Middle East is again in the headlines. (Should we be startled that NATO was startled? Or is this just more evidence of the difficulties of political prediction?)

If Qadhafi goes, Arab reformists may receive a little boost. With Bahrain’s crackdown and the Assad regime’s continued hold on power in Syria, political reform had stalled or been pushed back after the early, dramatic gains in Tunisia and Egypt.

Of course much will depend on what follows Qadhafi. If the rebels’ National Transitional Council (NTC) can maintain unity and engineer a relatively smooth and reform-friendly transition in Libya, the images will be positive and perhaps empowering to other reformists. If, however, the NTC fractures and fighting breaks out among rival rebel groups, Libya will serve as a model for the dangers of change. (One could also argue that the outcome of any given uprising has been driven largely by local and national factors, not transnational and international ones.)

The Obama administration will doubtless be pleased to see Qadhafi go and will likely claim credit for supporting the NATO military operation that contributed to his downfall. Could the operation serve as a new model for much smaller U.S. commitments to military intervention? (and is it a good thing if the Obama administration takes a lesson that small military interventions can work?)

In any case, Qadhafi’s fall would be the exit strategy critics had complained was lacking in US and NATO policy. Small given all of Obama’s other problems (economy!), but a helpful blip nonetheless.



August 19, 2011

Eiran: The Terror Attacks in Israel’s Southern Sector (fixed format)

My colleague Dr. Ehud Eiran offers preliminary thoughts on the terror attacks in Israel: (same text but better formatting than first time)

The rather internally-focused Israeli political summer turned again to the external Arab-Israeli conflict following the deadly terror attack in Israel’s southern sector. There are four immediate possible implications:

1. The attacks, the Israeli causalities (eight dead, dozens wounded), and the Israeli retributions in Gaza, all provide potential for further Israeli-Palestinian escalation. This latest interaction adds to concerns that the coming fall may see another large round of Israeli-Palestinian violence following an expected Palestinian move to declare a state at the United Nations.

2. The proximity to the Egyptian border adds the potential of tension between Israel and Egypt. Egypt’s own power shift (struggle?) creates internal incentives for the Egyptian army and the Islamists – for their own, different reasons – to focus on tensions with Israel. Further tensions could occur, for example, if Israel chooses to act militarily in Sinai.

3. Assuming the attackers used the Sinai Peninsula as base, or passed through it, one can see why Israelis did not welcome the Arab Spring: the demise of the Arab security state opened the way for non-state actors to operate against Israel. A weak Lebanon dragged Israel into a four-decade long military engagement in its northern border. Will there be a similar southern exposure?

4. And internally: The renewed concern over security may weaken the potential of the Israeli left to develop a serious challenge to Prime Minister Netanyahu over his socio-economic agenda, as reflected in the “Israeli Spring” demonstrations. The demonstrators canceled a mass event planned for this weekend, and one of their leaders, Itzik Shmuly, explained that if called to reserve duty, he will, in effect, put his involvement in the socio-economic struggle on hold. The attacks will also weaken calls to direct some of the funds from the defense budget to social welfare programs.

August 10, 2011

Ethnic angle coming out in Israeli protests

As Israel’s protests continue, some of the ethnic angles are getting more attention. With multiple tent cities, for example, African asylum-seekers and Ethiopian-Israelis gathered in a South Tel Aviv park.

Dov Waxman offered a thoughtful post about Israel’s Palestinian citizens and the current protests. Waxman pulled together Jewish-only trends in Israeli legislation and the possibility of Arab-Jewish cooperation in the street:

Which will be Israel’s future, that of growing Arab-Jewish conflict or cooperation? The outcome will depend on whether what’s happening in the country’s parliament or on its streets triumphs. If the right-wing members of the Knesset have their way, Arab citizens of Israel will be increasingly marginalized and disenfranchised, and Israel will become a democracy for Jews only. If, on the other hand, the economic and social-welfare agenda that is now being voiced by the tent protestors succeeds, then Arabs will also benefit and the deep divide between them and Israeli Jews can be narrowed.

In some sense, the protests have brought out all the divides in Israel: Arab-Jewish, rich-poor, religious-secular, citizen-foreigner (as in migrant workers and asylum seekers). “Social justice” most directly targets the rich-poor gap – or maybe rich-middle class-poor – but all the others are intertwined. It is hard to talk about rich-poor in Israel without thinking about high defense spending, subsidies for settlements, subsidies for ultra-orthodox families, income and municipal budget disparities between Arab and Jewish towns, and the like.

August 5, 2011

Mubarak on trial

While Egypt’s political direction remains uncertain, it is worth pausing to simply note that former President Hosni Mubarak is on trial. The pictures of him, with his sons, in a cage at the trial are stunning if one thinks about the fact that he ruled Egypt for 30 years. Just stunning.

The Egypt story has gotten buried under many other stories in the region and around the world. I assume it will come back as we get to elections.


August 4, 2011

Zehavi: Inside the Economics & Politics of the Israeli Protests

My colleague Dr. Amos Zehavi offers insights on Israeli political economy, democracy, and the current protests.

Israel’s protest leaders have compared them to the Arab protests and also to protests in Greece and Spain. Both comparisons are superficial but contain a grain of truth.

First, unlike the Arab countries, we have a democracy in which people can vote their preferences. Hence, a toppling of government due to public unrest could be construed not as a democratic victory, but as quite the opposite: a victory of the rabble over the vote. Nevertheless, the similarity is to be found on how socio-economic issues are debated and made into policy in Israel. Unlike virtually all other OECD countries, socio-economic debates are not a central determinant of voting behavior in Israel: peace-security and religious-secular are far more important cleavages. Politicians are aware of this and consequently are not concerned about democratic discipline (i.e., they would incur electorate wrath) and support policy that could be in opposition to voter preferences.

In fact, this is precisely what is happening. Economic policy in Israel is well to the right of the OECD norm while public preferences on social and economic issues (based on both ISSP and WVS comparative surveys) is well to the left. The result is that there is a democratic deficit with respect to socio-economic policies. Hence, the protestors are in fact filling a democratic void in the center of the Israeli democracy.

Second, European protests occur on the backdrop of economic failure and painful austerity plans. In Israel, in contrast, the current economic situation appears bright. GDP growth in 2010 was 4.6% and unemployment is now 5.7%: its lowest rate since the early 1970s. Nevertheless, these rosy figures cover up a reality which is a bit more complex. Real wages of the median worker have stagnated since the mid-1990s; housing prices have risen precipitously since 2008 (although this could work to the benefit of home owners); and certain public services – but not all – have eroded, primarily healthcare. I have yet to see a longitudinal study that analyzes the Israeli citizen’s consumption of goods (private and public combined), but my guess would be that for people in the 3rd and 4th quintiles (5th is the top), things really didn’t improve over the last fifteen years. Given Israel’s economic growth, they are right to ask why.

August 3, 2011

The 1967 Line

So despite lecturing (and here and here) President Obama about the audacity of suggesting “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states,” reports suggest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now willing to accept U.S phrasing in an effort to draw the Palestinian Authority away from a UN push for recognition in September.

Let’s be clear: the Netanyahu government is now willing to accept the very lines it said were “indefensible.” Of course the lines were never indefensible. (Never mind that Obama’s phrasing of May 19, 2011, was entirely consistent with past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.)

In exchange, Netanyahu apparently wants agreement that Israel will be able to annex settlement blocs (and reports suggest the US agrees, not surprising given past talks and the Bush-Sharon letter of 2004. That is why Obama’s phrasing included the term “swaps” in the first place.)

Netanyahu also wants:

Officials in Jerusalem have said that the offer only stands if the Palestinians are prepared to recognise Israel as a Jewish state and retract their application for recognition of an independent Palestinian state, which is to be submitted to the United Nations General Assembly next month.

Republican Jewish Coalition petition

I found it especially amusing that I received a robocall yesterday from the Republican Jewish Coalition decrying Obama’s call to return to the 1967 lines. The total inaccuracy of the RJC call was especially pathetic given the Israeli government’s apparent change of heart. Suffice to say, the RJC web site has changed and the 1967 lines story has been downgraded.

The PA seems to be waiting for Netanyahu to use the 1967 lines phrase publicly. PA officials remain opposed to the Jewish state language.