Friday, April 11, 2003

Public choice and libertarianism

Julian Sanchez has an interesting post about the relationship between public choice and libertarianism, which he sees as analogous in some ways to the relationship between socialism and the base-superstructure arguments that Marxists used to employ. In other words, public choice theory and Marxism not only provide theories of how the world works, but of why most individuals out there continue to be deluded about the "true" nature of politics. Marxism, in its crudest form, argues that individuals are ignorant because prevalent ideas (superstructure) are determined by the base. Public choice argues that people are ignorant because it is in their self-interest to be ignorant; the costs of gathering information about how politics really works exceed the gains.

However, public choice doesn't limit itself to arguments about rational ignorance; it can sometimes sound as simplistic and unconvincing as the most vulgar and reductionist Marxism. Take for example, Charles Rowley at George Mason University, who has edited a definitive 2 volume collection on public choice. In his introduction to the collection, Rowley describes the Virgina school of public choice, which he himself adheres to, as a "program of scientific endeavor that exposed government failure coupled to a programme of moral philosophy that supported constitutional reform designed to limit government." Rowley harangues against all forms of rational choice theory that don't fit into his ideological straitjacket, and explains the failure of public choice theory to take over political science in terms that all but the most vulgar Marxists would find a little crude. The reason, apparently, why conventional political scientists don't buy into public choice is because they are "scholars who had rendered themselves dependent on the subsidies of big government and whose lucrative careers in many instances were linked to advising ... agents of the compound republic." In other words, political scientists don't oppose public choice because they have any intellectual quarrel with it; they oppose it because they've been bought off. The "state-monopoly-capitalism" theorists of East German Marxism during its heyday couldn't have put it any better. And Rowley isn't some isolated wingnut; he's the co-editor of "Public Choice," the main journal of the field.

This helps explain, I think, why public choice hasn't made many inroads into political science, even while other versions of rational choice have done pretty well. Typically, it's crude, ideological, and not very convincing, except to the already convinced. This isn't to say that it's intellectually worthless; some valuable work has been done by public choice scholars. But the good work is (as far as I can see) mostly done by the mavericks, such as Ken Arrow, whose seminal contributions to social choice theory are notably free of libertarian ad-hoccery (unsurprising, since Arrow is himself a convinced social democrat). The problem, as I see it, is that most public choice scholars start from a set of intellectual priors which mean that they don't like or understand politics as such; indeed, they'd like to reform it out of existence. This is not a strong basis for understanding how politics actually works. Further, there's good reason, I think, to believe that this intellectual endeavour fails on its own intellectual terms; basic results in economic and social choice theory suggest that it's simply impossible. But that's a subject for another day's post ...

Update: Lawrence Solum has more thoughts on this.
Decayed gentlemen

The Globe and Mail carried a nice interview yesterday with Edward Carey, who apparently has a new book out. I'm in DC for the weekend, so went to Olsson's to find it today without any luck; if it's anything like as good as his last one, it's going to be very good indeed. Observatory Mansions is one of the best novels I've read in the last couple of years - a little Beckett and Kafka, a lot of Bruno Schulz, and an entirely original - and nasty - sense of humour underneath it all. The book is narrated by Francis Orme, last scion of a decayed line of minor aristocrats, living in the dilapidated family pile, which has been turned into apartments for a varied set of freaks, shut-ins and misanthropes. Some lovely set scenes (the wax museum where Francis used to work as a human statue is wonderful); the book flags a little towards the end, as Francis begins to develop a sense of humanity despite himself, but is still very, very funny. Am looking forward to the next installment.
Small world sociology

Kieran Healy has blogged a few times about the sociology of small world networks, most recently doing a post on how Irish people sniff out each other's family and social connections within 2 pints (at most) of their first meeting. Eszter Hargittai reaches similar conclusions about network theorists working on power-law issues: a vastly disproportionate number of them are (like Eszter herself) of Hungarian origin. Now there's a new blog, Political Aims, which is written by two Ph.D. students in Princeton's sociology department, of which Kieran is a recent graduate, and where Eszter too is doing her doctorate. It's interesting that we have four bloggers from the same Department, given the relative dearth of scholar-bloggers out there; one may reasonably suspect that small world connections of some sort or another are at play.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

The surface area of God considered as a downhill motor race

Matthew Yglesias states that "I don't think we debate God's existence within anything like a formal system." Like Brad DeLong on an earlier Yglesias argument (see post below; permalinks are bloggered), I beg to differ, and invoke the authority of renowned pataphysician Alfred Jarry's Gestes et opinions de Dr. Faustroll, pataphysicien. Jarry starts by defending the supposition that God may be considered to have the shape of three straight lines of length a, emanating from the same point, and having 120 degrees between them. He then goes on to perform a series of algebraical operations, that both provide support for prevalent beliefs about the nature of the Holy Trinity, and culminate in a proof that +/- God is the shortest distance between zero and infinity, in either direction. Which is about as formal as Matthew (or Kurt Godel for that matter) could ask for. Quod erat demonstratum, as they say.
The downfall of tyrants as a coordination game

Chris Bertram has a nice short analysis of why the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime has come so suddenly.

"For years now Iraqis will have been living a double life, perhaps muttering or mumbling what they think about the regime to close friends and family members, or even hesitating to do so, never really being sure who to trust. Now each of them will realise that there were many others who thought as they did and that will be a tremendous relief. Political power can never rest on force alone, but relies on patterns of fear and mutual expectation that can melt ever so quickly when people come to realise that others aren't sustaining the public performance any more."

Chris's basic claim draws, I think, on some more general arguments in political science/political theory about the sources of compliance in tyrannies. Russell Hardin expresses these ideas well in a piece he wrote some years ago about political coordination (collected in Karen Cook and Margaret Levi's edited volume on the limits of rationality). Hardin argues that no state could possibly compel all people to obey its rules at gunpoint. The Nazi occupation in Czechoslovakia and other regimes kept large numbers of people under control with little more than force simply because it was not necessary to invoke this force against everybody at once. Most individuals cannot expect to prosper from breaking the law because the police, even if they can't arrest everyone, can be expected to apprehend a significant number of transgressors. In Hardin's words, "The gunman theory might well be called the coordination theory of state power or even the dual-coordination theory. It depends on coordination at the level of government and on lack of coordination at the level of any potential popular opposition. The state need not compel everyone at gunpoint, it need merely make it in virtually everyone's clear interest individually to comply with the law."

The corollary of this is that once the population manages to coordinate against the state, the tyranny withers away. In other words, there's a tipping point. At a certain stage, people realize that enough other people are rising up against the state that the likely chances of arrest and punishment are slight, and the payoffs (both in terms of general welfare, and side payments from looting and/or being on the winning side) exceed the likely costs. A cascading process of mutually reinforcing expectations lead them to rise up against the tyranny; all that was solid melts into air. Of course, this rather general set of ideas may not be very helpful in guiding policy ex ante; it's pretty clear that US and British forces have been trying to induce this tipping point for some time, and were much too optimistic about how easy it would be to reach it at an earlier stage of the war. But the tanks in the centre of Baghdad seem to have done the trick.

However, as said below, none of this means that we're in for an easy transition. It's easy to get people to cheer at the downfall of tyrants, especially when everyone else is cheering. It's much more difficult to create lasting support for a new regime, and to induce the kinds of expectations likely to support a stable democracy, or even quasi-democracy.

Update: Julian Sanchez has further interesting thoughts on this.
Proof of the pudding

I don't want to rain on anyone's parade - the images of Hussein's statue being yanked down, and of celebrating Iraqis are genuinely heartening. But does this mean that Iraqis will welcome the US and British armies in the long term? The history of Northern Ireland provides some reason for pessimism. People forget that British troops originally arrived in Northern Ireland to protect the Catholic population from rampaging Loyalist mobs - and were welcomed by Catholics as saviors. Hence this picture, of a Catholic woman giving a British soldier a welcoming cuppa.

As everyone knows, Catholic mothers weren't providing tea for the boyos of the British army for too long. Let's wait and see what happens in Iraq
Greeley, Colorado

An extraordinary post at Pedantry today about Greeley, Colorado, the town where they're getting so upset at high school students protesting during an intermission. Go read it.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Everything I know, I learned from SF

Brad DeLong takes up Matthew Yglesias' challenge, and finds good reason to believe that God could indeed create a szlacton if God so chose. De Long appeals to an unimpeachable authority, SF writer John M. Ford (whose peachy 'Masque of History,' The Dragon Waiting has just been reissued in the UK). Not the first time that an SF writer has proved a valuable intellectual resource by any means; readers of Gene Wolfe's "The Book of the New Sun" should be penalized at least ten points in this online vocabulary test for being more familiar than they ought to be with arcane terms such as 'fuligin' and 'favela.'
Placing You - an Irish ritual
Kieran Healy has a post about how Irish people meeting each other (especially abroad) check out each other's political/historic pedigree and social networks as soon as is decently possible. After Henry posted yesterday (post titled 'hagiography') mentioning our great grandfather, he and Kieran Healy took a trawl back through three generations of our respective families, a genealogical ritual that passes for a handshake in Ireland, or perhaps what dogs do when they sniff each others' bottoms. This isn't strictly a class thing, though - at least not in the way my UK friends can infer all sorts about schooling, regional origin, and precisely locate their exact niche in the class system within 30 seconds of a British starting to speak. It's got more to do with politics I think, and social networks that don't quite map onto what you'd call a class system. When you get down to it, it's a pretty tribal method of figuring out a person's political background and mindset.

But, the thing is, it kind of works. Our old professor Tom Garvin calls it 'seed, breed and generation'. As I remember it, Tom was able to place most of his incoming class of about 300 in this way, and could probably tell you anything from what side their great-grandparents supported in the civil war (1921 - 1922) to how they might be expected to vote in the next election. Some might say this is not the sort of preference revelation political scientists should really be studying (!), but in a country where history is truly vital, knowing someone's family can tell you a lot about how they think. It's on the way out now, as we get further away from our defining civil war, and broader access to third level education has meant that the politically active and educated class has grown exponentially in the last 20 odd years. And a good thing too on both fronts. But I know that if I, or any of my siblings or cousins on my mother's side, ever went into politics, many would judge us on our family's involvement in politics going back over a hundred years.

The flip side of it all is of course the notorious ability and enthusiasm of the Irish to use these networks abroad. In Brussels, the Irish network is called the 'Murphia.' Tom Garvin once told me about a trip to Washington DC where, within 24 hours of landing and having a pint with a cousin of a friend, he was invited to meet a committee a senior lobbyist he'd met had been trying to get into for months.

I sometimes think the Irish have never come across an international organisation they didn't like the look of, and didn't want to help their family and friends, neighbours and pets to join. People from other nations avoid each other like the plague when abroad, but our crowd sticks together like glue. A family friend with long experience of the European Commission reckons that the Irish are good at working in international organisations because growing up in a big extended family trains you in strategic thinking before you can walk and imparts an unshakeable belief that there is always a possible compromise (pity we can't apply that second bit up north, then). Now that we're embracing higher standards of living and birth control, maybe that competitive advantage will fade too.

Henry and I have joked about this, and we think part of the Irish's disproportionate prominence abroad must be something to do with us being the only white, english-speaking, generally well-educated, fed and watered people in the world that are widely (and for the most part incorrectly) thought of as an oppressed minority...

Monday, April 07, 2003


And don't miss Teresa Nielsen Hayden's wonderful checklist of how to pick out bogus saints. It's a subject close to my heart; our great-grandfather, after a lifetime of scholarship, political activism and rebellion (of the most respectable variety) spent his declining years writing a study of how many St. Patricks had existed in historical fact.
Transnational social movements

Kieran Healy has a nice post on the scale of anti-war protests in the US, using some preliminary data from a massive dataset to show that the current anti-war marches are pretty damn impressive in historical context. They're even more staggering when one looks at them as an international movement; the protests in the US have sometimes been dwarfed by their foreign counterparts. But Matthew Yglesias asks a cogent question: can these protest movements be effective?. Funnily enough, social scientists have come to some interesting conclusions on this, most prominently Sid Tarrow, the main mover behind social movement studies in the last couple of decades. Tarrow, together with Jeffrey Eyres, has a nice short piece on protest movements post-September 11, which has some interesting findings. Tarrow and Eyres are clearly sympathetic to the anti-globalization protests that took place before September 11, but describe them as "intellectually weak and politically confused." The problem is that you can't effectively organize against an international regime; it's too complicated and diffuse, and doesn't have clear addressees. They argue that protest is really only going to be effective and coherent when it addresses states. This has the clear implication that post-September 11, these international protest movements are likely to be stronger and more internally coherent than their anti-globalization predecessors, even if they don't succeed in their own terms. And they have had palpable political effects; just not in the US. Look at Germany, where Angela Merkl is in trouble as leader of the opposition, because she is perceived as being too pro-war; at Spain, where Aznar is losing support by the day; at Italy, where the anti-war movement is helping to revitalize a fragmented and divided left, and even at Britain, where Tony Blair is having to tailor other aspects of his international agenda (pressuring Bush into adopting the Israel-Palestine roadmap) in order to mitigate domestic unpopularity. I reckon that the anti-war protest movement will be seen as being very important in retrospect, even if it doesn't do much in the way of changing US policy.
The last refuge of scoundrels

Orwin Kerr at the Volokhs has posted a link to an interesting paper that he's written on the Patriot Act and Internet surveillance. He provided some legal advice which seems to have found its way into the bill, and reckons that Patrot didn't have all the nasty consequences for privacy that critics have claimed. Me, I'm just a blogger and political scientist who's pretty ignorant about the minutiae of this piece of legislation, but I did just sit through a session on "pen registers" and similar arcana at CFP last week, which came to conclusions that ran directly against those of Kerr's piece. Scroll down this page till you get to the summary of "David Sobel"'s contribution to see the other side's argument (my permalinks are knackered for a change), or even better, listen to the MP3 of his panel, and make up yer own mind about who's right.
man bites dog

Wonderful article in the Post yesterday, about a spammer taking court action against some bloke for posting his (the spammer's) address and telephone number on a website. The spammer claimed that this was harassment and breach of privacy. The judge in the case has now rejected the spammer's petition with a remarkable degree of alacrity. Spammers are easy targets for scorn, derision and hatred, but there can't be many people who didn't have a warm glow in their heart after reading the article. The bloke who set up the website was pretty exuberant. Quoting from the WP ...

"George tried to send me a message, and wanted to make an example of me," he wrote. "Instead I had a message for him: Every time you try to mess with me, I will post it on the 'Net, and more people will learn about you. I don't encourage harassment against you, and I don't need to. The facts speak quite loudly enough. Your best option is to crawl back under a rock and suck it up, or move to some state other than the one I live in."

Someone (I can't remember who) had a good question at CFP - what do libertarians think about spam? It's a nice test case; something that pretty well everyone (except the spammers themselves) dislikes; but that can't be tackled without pretty intrusive government measures. Responses eagerly solicited (except from SdB wingnuts).
Luch marbh, riomhaire olc
Well, I just dedded my mouse so my witty insights about Russell Crowe's wedding are lost forever. Apparently, computers do not respond well to corporal punishment.

Suffice to say, much respect for the gladiator has evaporated with the news that Dubya sent his best wishes on the big day.

And Rustler's hair do is probably the worst he's had since that awful mullet from Neighbours days.

Grizzle grizzle. What this bad computer business really means though, is that my transcription of our session last week on data retention, and my thoughts on various UK consultations on data retention will have to wait another day or so. I'll probably get a decent keyboard too while I'm at it. This one is as clunky as those toy ones from the 80's (remember Working Girls? I often ask myself if women have moved forward at all since then...).

Usually, I find that technology works better if you threaten (in a calm but clear voice) to take it to the dump. Not this time. But I still have to make good on my threats if the monitor and speakers are to be dissuaded from striking out as rogue peripherals.
[4/7/2003 9:00:53 AM | maria farrell]
Electronic communications data protection Directive - approaching the endgame

The UK Department of Trade and Industry published its consultation on implementing 2002/58/EC (the revised 97/66/EC) last week. I'll be taking a proper read of it later on but a couple of things to note first off:

The Directive will be implemented by secondary legislation, meaning it will whizz through Parliament in no time. There's usually little enough leeway in influencing these implementations at the national level, as much of the hammering out has been done already in Brussels. Nevertheless, the time to influence is now and until this consultation ends on June 19th - when the thing gets to Parliament in the autumn, it will be too late to do very much at all.

On data retention, the consultation just points readers to the Home Office consultation. 2002/58/EC simply allows member states to implement traffic data retention, subject to European privacy and human rights legislation (whatever that's worth). FYI, the implementing legislation for data retention in the UK is the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. Other issues dealt with in the 2002/58 consultation are spam, the infamous cookie issue, and access to subscriber registries, i.e. phone books.

I'll be posting some analysis of these two consultations later today.
Trusted Computing Platform Alliance and privacy

Via the Hunton & Williams (Brussels) news letter:

The German DPAs have expressed their concern about the trusted computing platform being developed by Microsoft, IBM, Intel et al. At its meeting on March 27-28 in Dresden, the conference of German federal and regional data protection authorities passed a number of resolutions, including one criticizing the planned development of central mechanisms and infrastructures based on the TCPA (Trusted Computing Platform Alliance specifications); TCPA is working toward set of technical specifications to make computing more secure. In particular, the German DPAs voiced concerns about the use of central servers that would control and manipulate hardware,
software, and data. They also emphasized the risk of other institutions or persons accessing confidential information from the servers, without the user being aware of the process. The full text of all the resolutions is only available in German

This is not something I've looked at properly, though I'll be interested to dig a little more and see what this Son of Passport initiative may mean.
Statewatch Rules OK
Good news about a Statewatch success in increasing the transparency of the European Union Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers. Thanks to Tony Bunyan's tireless efforts, the Council of the European Union has agreed to publicly list the documents discussed at Council meetings and also to properly archive (though not necessarily make available) the documents. The European Ombudsman produced a report, spurred on by a Statewatch case, and the decision is effective as of December 2002.

This is good news for anyone - like the several people who mentioned the Council last week at CFP - who is worried by the lack of transparency and accountability of the JHA ministers. It's not going to change the world, but the decision means that at least we will know which papers are being discussed when decisions are being made by this powerful and secretive organisation.

It also means that room documents of JHA Council meetings are unavailable for public scrutiny because the interior ministries of Germany or the UK claim they 'no longer have copies'. Amazing, if I 'no longer had copies' of documents discussed at any meeting since I started this job, my boss would be well within her rights to fire me!

Henry tells me the reason there is so little scholarship on the Third Pillar is that the Council in particular keeps so many of its documents secret, and the relevant secretariat people are extremely unforthcoming. Measures like this can only help us to know about and hopefully have more influence the decisions being taken in our names.

Anyway, three cheers for Statewatch. Henry plugged them in his round-up of our session on data retention last week at CFP. The more people who know what good work this organisation is doing (and maybe even support them) the better for all of us.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

International institutions and democracy

Matthew Yglesias's recent post on international institutions, and dinner conversation with colleagues after the conference yesterday evening have gotten me thinking more. Why are there so many problems with the current US administration's stance, and where do I part company with the Oxblog guys? Provisional answers below. There's a lot of hyped up talk in the blogosphere and punditocracy about creating a democratic Middle East. Most of this seems to me to be hot air; and runs directly counter to our past experience of what has and hasn't worked. Briefly, I think that the historical record suggests some important conclusions. First, it is extremely difficult for outside actors to impose democracy by force. Second, the conditions under which outside imposition might work do not apply in the Iraqi case. Third - and this is the theme that I want to develop - even if these conditions did apply, the Bush administration's general policy stance suggest that they would screw it up anyway.

The academic literature on democratic transitions doesn't provide much help to would-be democratizers from outside. Discussions of the relationship between international factors and democracy promotion tend, in Philippe Schmitter's words, to consist "mostly of bland reflections on 'linkage politics', 'penetrated systems', 'fusion of domestic and foreign policy' and, of course, 'interdependence'." In general, efforts by outsiders to create - or even to promote - democracy - have failed, or have had marginal success. However, there are a few key test cases in which outside international actors helped create relatively successful democracies (I don't count situations, like India, where there was a complex mix of external intervention and domestic pro-democracy movements). The key cases that I'm aware of are:

(a) The post WWII consolidation of democracy in the defeated Axis powers (Germany, Italy, Japan, Austria) and in European states that had a slightly wobbly democratic tradition (France).
(b) The democratization of authoritarian regimes (Spain, Portugal, Greece) in Southern Europe in the 1970's/1980's.
(c) The democratization of much of Central/Eastern Europe (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland etc) in the early 1990's.

Alert readers will spot that there is a common thread running through most of these cases - the European Union. Japan and Austria are the obvious exceptions. The EU provided a crucial cornerstone for democracy in post WW II Western Europe. As Timothy Garton Ash documents in
"In Europe's Name"
the EU allowed Germany substantially to redefine its national interest. It also helped shore up democracy in Italy (where opinion polls have commonly suggested that citizens find EU institutions more credible and legitimate than their own), and in France. This relationship holds at later historical junctures, such as the introduction of democracy to the quasi-military dictatorships of Europe's southern fringe - Spain, Portugal and Greece. Guillermo O'Donnell and Philippe Schmitter, two authoritative figures in the democratization debate, are pretty skeptical in general of international diffusion theories of democracy, but find that the EU played a key role in consolidating democracy in these countries. In the current era, the anticipation of EU membership has strengthened democracy in many countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Jeff Kopstein and David Reilly find that the EU's strategy of enlargement to include states in its local neighborhood is a key factor that helps explain the successful consolidation of many regimes (altho' see this piece by Dan Drezner for a somewhat different interpretation of Kopstein and Reilly's results).

What does this suggest for the post-war situation in Iraq? It's hardly news to anyone that democratization is going to be difficult, even under the most optimistic scenarios. As Josh Marshall sez, it's not quite as hopeless as trying to develop faster-than-light warp drives, but it's not far off it. The lack of an existing democratic tradition, ethnic and religious rivalries, neighbours with an interest in stirring up internal tensions; these make for a lousy balance sheet for democracy. It looks as though the US is going to try anyway; but it's blowing whatever minimal chance it has, by failing to take account of the lessons of history.

Lesson One - It's better to create future allies than client states

The US played a key role in fostering democracy in post-WW II Western Europe. And we should be damn grateful for it. But the US, more or less deliberately, encouraged the creation of independent, and sometimes rambunctious states in Europe that would disagree with it on key policy issues. Further, as John Ikenberry documents, it created a set of international institutions (most prominently NATO) which constrained US power, and allowed it credibly to commit to its allies that it wouldn't trample all over them when it disagreed with what they were doing. These were tough decisions to make, and led to plenty of headaches and tensions over the next forty years. But they also allowed for the consolidation of democracy in Western Europe, and for allies to have some legitimacy with their domestic populations, precisely because they could speak their mind. Without that independence and legitimacy, they would have likely been failed democracies, or quasi-democracies at best. The contrast with, say, US treatment of states in Latin America, is clear, as are the consequences. Today, the smoke signals that are emerging suggest that the US is more interested in creating dependent regimes in the Middle East than independent allies.

Lesson Two - Multilateralism matters

The EU, is, in many respects, a mess. Its progress over the last thirty years is better described as a series of spasmodic lurches than a grand master plan; it suffers from endemic problems of political authority and legitimacy. But in one respect, it has been an unparalleled success. It has done incredibly well in shoring up democracy among EU member states, and to a lesser extent in promoting democracy in the states just outside its borders. States recognize the value of EU membership, and are willing to make important reforms in order to qualify; cf the recent changes in Turkey. The prospects for EU type institutions in the Middle East are bleak. But other kinds of multilateral institution can play an important role in promoting democracy, and more importantly, in making sure that democracy sticks. The current administration has rejected multilateralism in favour of ad-hoc "coalitions of the willing," and has deliberately or inadvertantly undermined relevant multilateral organizations. In so doing, it has weakened many of the international structures that might help bed democracy down. A rich international environment of multilateral institutions, in which democracies have privileged status, helps encourage democracy at the level of individual countries.

Lesson Three - Speaking softly works better than brandishing big sticks

The current US approach to Iraq and its surrounds is based on the massive and overwhelming application of military force. Neo-cons assumed that once the tyrant of Baghdad had his feet cut from under him, the Iraqi people would come flocking to the US side, and the Arab world would follow, albeit dragging its collective feet. This failure of imagination reflects the administration's continued contempt for "nation building" and other applications of soft force. Key administration figures presumed that once they broke the Iraqi army and security services, the nation would more or less build itself. I have news for them; nation-building is exactly what they're doing. Further, if they're going to have any success, they need to employ a different tool kit. Brute force doesn't win over populations. Nor do bullying, bribes and threats (the other cards played most frequently by this administration) prevail, as we've seen in Turkey, unless they're used sparingly, carefully and discreetly. Finally, nor do grand, if vaguely stated threats to neighboring powers. If the US is genuinely interested in building democracy in the region, it needs less trigger happy troops, less currying of favor with compromised figures from the Iraqi "opposition," and more use of traditional - if unfashionable - techniques of diplomacy. This is how the EU underpinned peaceful democratic transitions in the states of Southern Europe - friendly-ish diplomatic relations with the governments in question, quiet overtures towards the business community and civil society, and efforts to build transnational private relationships that could then be leveraged when the transition process proper got underway. It is not what's happening today. The success - or otherwise - of Iraq's new regime will depend in large part on its neighbors, and US policy towards Iran and Syria has been schizophrenic and counterproductive. One minute, the administration is making grandiose, if vaguely stated threats, against Syria and Iran; the next minute, it's quietly praising them for their cooperative attitude. Diplomatic policy seems more driven by faction-wars within the administration than by any overall strategic plan. And that's really, really, stupid. In this context, it sends out mixed signals, and doesn't provide these states with any stake in the post-war dispensation.
Conferenced out

After getting back to Toronto post-CFP, I jumped immediately into another one day conference on "Dilemmas of Global Justice," organized by my colleague Nancy Kokaz. A pretty good political theory conference, although two of the key participants, Charles Beitz and Stanley Hoffmann both had to cancel at the last moment. I chaired a panel, tho' I at best have a glancing acquaintance with political theory; but then, chairing doesn't involve anything more demanding than harrumphing loudly when the speakers exceed their allotted time. Thomas Pogge of Columbia delivered a particularly interesting and provocative paper arguing that the developed world had a strong duty to alleviate poverty in the developing world. Of course, much of the discussion focused on the war and its consequences; interesting papers/comments from Janice Stein, Tom Pangle and Lou Pauly, all colleagues of mine in the U of T pol. sci. department. All of them were directly or indirectly critical of the Canadian level of debate on the war, arguing that Canada's current position wasn't really tenable. Janice's position was that the Canadian government hadn't really begun to grapple with the issue of whether war was justified or not, hiding instead behind the (more or less vacuous) claim that since the UN hadn't sanctioned war, it was illegitimate. Tom drew on Thucydides and De Tocqueville, expressing the fear that America's allies, because they had abdicated military responsibility for tackling real world problems, might degenerate into a sort of foreign-policy infantilism - carping, resentful and impotent. Lou shared some of Tom's fears, but was a little more sanguine about the long term prospects; he spoke of the need for "followership" among the allies as well as leadership from the US. The conference was recorded, so I presume that MP3s or streaming will be available sooner or later. As for me, I'm conferenced out after having had 3 meetings back-to-back. Happily, I don't have any more to attend before APSR in September.

One final point from CFP - Larry Lessig's paper (summarized below) is a fascinating further step on a journey from clerking for Scalia to a species of leftish populism. He's now taken a strong position on concentration of ownership of the media, which he (rightly) views as being very dangerous for creativity. I'm looking forward to seeing his presentation when it gets written up properly.