Monday, December 31, 2007

Conservatives in 2008 and Beyond

It's pretty well the consensus opinion that conservatives are in disarray, and that election 2008 is the Democrats to lose.

The point is stressed in
Michael Tomasky's new essay on the conservative movement at the New York Review of Books. Here's the introduction:

As the voting begins in earnest, what are we to make of the Republican candidates? That the "conservative base" is dissatisfied with the GOP field is probably the single most common observation of this presidential campaign season. The second most common observation is probably that the Republican candidate, whoever it turns out to be, is doomed to defeat. National Review ran a recent cover story positing not only that the GOP is likely to lose the presidency in 2008, but that the loss may mark the beginning of a long period of wandering in the wilderness as the party gropes to redefine itself after George W. Bush's calamitous tenure.
You can see where this is headed, Tomasky being hopelessly liberal. He's often wrong as well, for example, when he made a rookie error in an essay awhile back stating that California had 57 Electoral College votes (it's actually 55).

In the current essay Tomasky - arguing from a pre-surge mindset - calls Iraq a "failure." This is not surprising considering the media elite's tremendous resistance to reporting increasing progress in the war (
Iraqis are celebrating New Year's Eve this year, for example).

Tomasky does provide an interesting breakdown of the GOP's partisan coalition, noting that the GOP is: the hands of three main interests: neoconservatives; theo-conservatives, i.e., the groups of the religious right; and radical anti-taxers, clustered around such organizations as the Club for Growth and Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform. Each of these groups dominates party policy in its area of interest—the neocons in foreign policy, the theocons in social policy, and the anti-taxers on fiscal and regulatory issues. Each has led the Bush administration to undertake a high-profile failure: the theocons orchestrated the disastrous Terri Schiavo crusade, which put off many moder-ate Americans; the radical anti-taxers pushed for the failed Social Security privatization initiative; and the neocons, of course, wanted to invade Iraq....

Today's Republican essentially a faction: the conservative movement, which consists of the various branches described above, each with its different priorities. (We may lately add a fourth offshoot, the nativist anti-immigrant tendency, which embarrassed Bush last spring when it blocked the reasonable and comprehensive immigration bill the President supported.) Those branches, which of course overlap, are not sharply at odds with one another over fundamental questions, as the Democrats' factions are on, say, trade, and where they disagree, they tend not to air those disagreements publicly, especially at election time. There are a handful of vestigial Republican moderates; but they have no national power at all. The man who might have been able to change the party, the governor of the nation's largest state, cannot by accident of birth run for president, so he has gone as far as he can. In Congress, Republicans who are the least bit out of step with the goals of the conservative movement, people who in a different party might have made attractive national candidates (most notably Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel), are simply jumping ship and retiring, unable any longer to fight the obvious truth that the Republican Party and the conservative movement are one and the same.

Tomasky suggests that should the GOP win next November (a good possibility, he notes), there's little likelihood the party will move to the moderate center. The neocons will be too powerful for that:

On foreign policy, despite the Iraq war, the neoconservatives still hold tremendous sway in GOP circles. Jacob Heilbrunn, a former New Republic writer who has written incisively about the movement over the years, explains why in They Knew They Were Right, his excellent new history of neoconservatism. Heilbrunn adroitly surveys the movement's history, from the Trotskyist alcoves of the City College cafeteria up to the present day. With respect to the future, he argues that the neocons' main potential competitors, the foreign policy realists, have not prepared for long-term battle the way the neocons have:

So it will take an insurgency inside the GOP itself to dislodge the neoconservatives. But whether the old guard in the GOP has the mettle for that battle is dubious. There has been no real attempt to create new generations of realists to replace the Scowcrofts and Bakers and Schlesingers. The contrast between the Nixon Center event honoring Brent Scowcroft in 2006 and the [American Enterprise Institute] dinner for Bernard Lewis was striking. At the former, elderly veterans of the Nixon, Ford, and Bush administrations reminisced about their glory days.... Meanwhile, at the AEI dinner, none of the neoconservatives displayed much doubt about their own influence. Slate's Jacob Weisberg, for example, was dumbfounded by neoconservative serenity....

The extent to which the major Republican candidates, with the partial exception of Mike Huckabee, have backed the neocon worldview is striking. Exhibit A is of course Rudy Giuliani. The former mayor has organized his campaign around the fight against terrorism and to that end has assembled a hard-line foreign policy team led by Yale professor Charles Hill, a noted neoconservative and member of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), the group that pressed Bush to invade Iraq after September 11. (Nine days after the attacks, Hill signed a PNAC letter arguing that refusal to invade Iraq "will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism.") Norman Podhoretz, who has a prominent spot on the Giuliani team, is still agitating for war with Iran, even after the early December release of the National Intelligence Estimate that demolished any rationale for such a strike. Podhoretz writes of his "dark suspicions" that the intelligence community was both seeking to undermine Bush and rushing to judgment on the basis of scant evidence.

I wrote on Michael Desch's demonization of Giuliani's neoconservative brain trust yesterday.

Tomasky doesn't go so far, but he's working in the same neighborhood - although he does sink to a conspiritorial tone when labeling Giuliani's stated foreign policy principles as part of the "the basic neocon outlook."

After a cursory discussion of the foreign policies of the remaining GOP candidates, Tomasky mentions how the "theo-conservatives" will influence the party, and then shifts over to the GOP's tax-cutting base:

The third leg of the conservative movement is in many ways the most important and comprehensive: all conservatives agree on less government, lower taxes, and less regulation. And all the candidates have pledged to support these goals.

[David] Frum reminds us that in the real world, the salience of tax-cutting as an issue has been steadily eroding in recent years:

When Republicans speak of "tax cuts," they mean "income tax cuts." Yet after almost three decades of income-tax cutting, most Americans no longer pay very much income tax. In fact, four out of five taxpayers now pay more in payroll taxes than federal income taxes. Some 29 million income-earning American households pay no income tax at all. By contrast, the notorious top 1 percent of taxpayers pay well over one-third of all U.S. income taxes. The top 1 percent may make a disproportionate amount of money. But they still cast only 1 percent of the votes.
One can quibble that Frum's math is probably slightly off since higher-income citizens are more likely to vote than poor people. But he is correct that for most Americans there simply isn't much more income tax to cut, and that poll respondents repeatedly prefer either deficit reduction or particular types of public investment, such as health care.

But the major Republican candidates give no sign that it may be time to shift to a different set of priorities. They all emphasize tax-cutting and deregulation as the centerpieces of their economic policies, including now McCain, who had opposed the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. Indeed, one gets little indication from their speeches and platforms that serious domestic needs even exist. In August, for example, Giuliani released a health care plan whose main feature is tax exclusions of up to $7,500 per person and $15,000 per family that buys a health care plan. In order to help a family buy insurance, he proposed $15,000 of its income would not be taxed. But in reality, most uninsured families would derive little or no benefit from this plan because their incomes are already below the taxable level regardless of whether they are taking the exclusion. Even for wealthier households whose tax burdens would be reduced, the savings would certainly not come close to the $10,000 to $12,000 per year that most households would have to pay for family coverage.

So what is the purpose of Giuliani's plan? The journalist Ezra Klein characterized it with asperity, and accuracy:

Rudy Giuliani doesn't have a health care plan. What he has is a pretext with which to attack the Democrats. Indeed, just about all you need to know about Giuliani's thoughtfulness on the issue can be summed up by the following: In the speech introducing and detailing his new health care proposal, Giuliani refers to the "Democrats" six times. "Single-payer" is said eight times. "Socialized medicine," or some variant thereof, makes nine appearances. "Uninsured" is never uttered—not once.

The reason Giuliani cannot release a health care plan that makes a genuine attempt at insuring the uninsured is not resistance from "politicians" and "conservative voters," as Ponnuru and Lowry claim. He cannot do so because the important interest groups—such as the Club for Growth—that influence Republican fiscal policy would write him off, and in fact oppose him vehemently, if he tried to.

Tomasky's basic point of criticism mimics the hard-left's: That health care provision ought to be a public entitlement rather than a personal responsibility.

In his conclusion, Tomasky seems to have prepared a bit for the possibility of a GOP comeback in 2008, but he's relieved that a new Republican administration won't likely replicate the take-no-prisoners style of the George W. Bush years:

It is tempting to think that the Bush years have represented an apotheosis of conservatism, and that a future Republican administration would surely bring a kind of Thermidorean adjustment. It is also the case, obviously, that none of these men [of the current GOP field] is George W. Bush and that each of them, as president, might at least be less stubborn, more interested in the details of policy, and less hostile to empirical evidence that does not support his preconceived notions.

Tomasky finds the George W. Bush administration to have been a monumental disaster.

I don't. Tomasky's view will be proven wrong by the record of history, although California will have 57 Electoral College votes some day.


UPDATE: Ross Douthat, over at The Atlantic, criticizes Tomasky's essay in terms of the conservative tripartite coalition's propensity for internecine warfare (via Memeorandum):

He [Tomasky] treats the alliance between the three interest groups listed above as a near-immutable fact of conservative politics, and argues that any realignment of the GOP must, perforce, be driven by Republicans who are "outside" the conservative movement. (He offers the names Chuck Hagel and Arnold Schwarzenegger as examples of the sort of politicians he has in mind.) Tomasky acknowledges the unlikelihood of this "revolt of the moderates" scenario; what he doesn't acknowledge, I think, is the growing likelihood of fissures within the conservative movement reshaping the ground of GOP politics.

It's true that the current conservative intelligentsia, forged in the crucible of Ronald Reagan's successes, is heavily invested in keeping the triple alliance intact - hence the Thompson bubble, the anti-Huckabee crusade, and the "rally round Romney" effect. And it's true, as well, that if the Republican Party recovers its majority in the next election the alliance will be considerably strengthened. But such a recovery is unlikely, and already, in the wake of just a single midterm-election debacle, it's obvious that the Norquistians and neocons and social conservatives aren't inevitable allies - that many tax-cutters and foreign-policy hawks, for instance, would happily screw over their Christian-Right allies to nominate Rudy Giuliani; or that many social conservatives don't give a tinker's dam what the Club for Growth thinks about Mike Huckabee's record. (So too with the neocon yearning for a McCain-Lieberman ticket, which would arguably represent a far more radical remaking of the GOP coalition than anything Chuck Hagel has to offer.)
That's a slick take on things. I love the idea of a McCain-Lieberman ticket myself, but as I noted in the previous post, my concern is for the GOP to decide on a standard-bearer quickly, enabling Republicans to unify strongly around the nominee and fight aggressively to win in the general.

Democrats Are Fired Up!

Today's Wall Street Journal has an interesting front-page piece on the comparative motivation of the Democrats and the Republicans. Are the Dems more fired up?

As presidential hopefuls from both parties rally support across Iowa ahead of Thursday's caucuses, Democratic voters are showing greater fervor for the race than their Republican counterparts, a difference that could have repercussions throughout the 2008 campaign.

At its simplest, there is a political energy gap. Democrats appear to be more fired up about their party nominating contest than are Republicans. Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire have been turning out at rallies in greater numbers than Republicans and giving more money to candidates. In Iowa, polls indicate Democrats will be attending the Thursday night caucuses in record numbers.

"There seems to be a little more juice on the Democratic side," says Republican pollster Bill McInturff.

"Republicans have a lot of work to do to get to the intensity level Democrats are at today," agrees Terry Nelson, a Republican strategist who previously headed the campaign of Arizona Sen. John McCain.

That's critical because, although the presidential nominating contest is just getting under way, Republicans are worried the Democrats' greater enthusiasm could allow them to sustain their wide national lead in overall fund raising. And money will play a big role in the outcome of November's general election.

Some Republicans also worry that they could end up having trouble rallying around their party's eventual nominee, a problem faced in recent years by the often-fractious Democrats. This time, by contrast, Democratic voters nationally are telling pollsters they like their field of candidates better than Republicans say they like theirs.
Read the whole thing.

The article's mostly anecdotal, although
the numbers on campaign finance are favoring the Democrats considerably.

It's also important that the Republicans settle on a party nominee as soon as possible, rather than drag out the primaries to the convention.

I've been noticing a tremendous divide in the Republican party all 2006, especially since the immigration debate last summer. Such divisions are not good, as the mudslinging can be unusually nasty - on the campaign trail and in television advertising (see here and here). These divisions don't patch up well, leaving a question mark in the electorate as to how unified and strong the party stands behind its nominee.

It doesn't look like a single candidate's going to take both Iowa and New Hampshire, so the February 5 primaries could be decisive in sorting out the race.

I hope so, for the sake of the party's prospects in November.

See Memeorandum for more campaign analysis.

New York Times Rings in the New Year

Just after the breath of fresh air in the Kristol hiring, the editors at the New York Times are back to their old ways.

To wit: This morning's editorial, "
Looking at America." I imagine with all of the lefties up in arms over Kristol's new gig - threatening to cancel their subscriptions - the Times had to get back in good graces with the radical base!

The editors provide a rehash of the "restoring moral credibility" attack against the Bush administration's war on terror, at home and abroad:

Out of panic and ideology, President Bush squandered America’s position of moral and political leadership, swept aside international institutions and treaties, sullied America’s global image, and trampled on the constitutional pillars that have supported our democracy through the most terrifying and challenging times. These policies have fed the world’s anger and alienation and have not made any of us safer.

In the years since 9/11, we have seen American soldiers abuse, sexually humiliate, torment and murder prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. A few have been punished, but their leaders have never been called to account. We have seen mercenaries gun down Iraqi civilians with no fear of prosecution. We have seen the president, sworn to defend the Constitution, turn his powers on his own citizens, authorizing the intelligence agencies to spy on Americans, wiretapping phones and intercepting international e-mail messages without a warrant.

We have read accounts of how the government’s top lawyers huddled in secret after the attacks in New York and Washington and plotted ways to circumvent the Geneva Conventions — and both American and international law — to hold anyone the president chose indefinitely without charges or judicial review.

Those same lawyers then twisted other laws beyond recognition to allow Mr. Bush to turn intelligence agents into torturers, to force doctors to abdicate their professional oaths and responsibilities to prepare prisoners for abuse, and then to monitor the torment to make sure it didn’t go just a bit too far and actually kill them.

The White House used the fear of terrorism and the sense of national unity to ram laws through Congress that gave law-enforcement agencies far more power than they truly needed to respond to the threat — and at the same time fulfilled the imperial fantasies of Vice President Dick Cheney and others determined to use the tragedy of 9/11 to arrogate as much power as they could.
Fear of terrorism? These folks are watching too many of those neo-totalitarian movies!

Memeorandum for some commentary.

I like Jules Crittenden's take on NYT's lofty "ideals":

Ideals are great. Imagine the possibilities if the editorial board with a preference for genocide had some. NYT has had a little trouble remembering where it put its ideals, however, perhaps distracted by its eagerness for the United States to lose the war NYT had lost interest in covering.
At least we'll have some old-fashioned left-wing editorial continuity in the new year!


UPDATE: I took a little spin around some of the lefty blogs posting on this, and
FireDogLake's entry is worthy of the end-of-the-year over-the-top blogging award (if there's such a thing)! Check it out:

As we look into the mirror to see what our country has become, one cannot help but feel contempt for the passivity -- or is it complicity -- with which the "opposition party" and an indolent media acquiesced in one outrage after another. Do the leaders of the Democratic Party truly condemn the Administration's actions? Do they feel the revulsion and disgust in the pits of their stomachs? And if so, why are they not demanding full disclosure, accountability, censure and removal from office for the most criminal regime in our history?

Glenn Greenwald reminds us the Democrats have been complicit in the Administration's illegal spying, in waging illegal wars, in creating a CIA monster, in sanctioning torture, in destroying the 4th Amendment, in illegal kidnappings and detentions and the assault on habeas corpus, and in creating kangaroo courts. As much as the Administration's arrogant defiance and contempt for the rule of law, the Democrat's meek protests and their refusals time and again to stand up to these outrages dismayed their supporters and created a sense of helplessness, a feeling there is nothing our political institutions can or will do to do cure this sickness.

The most obvious remedy, the one expressly designed for this purpose, sits unused for reasons no one can credibly explain or defend. I suspect historians will look back on Nancy Pelosi's decision to take impeachment off the table and describe it as one of the most cowardly, unprincipled and damaging statements ever uttered by a national leader. It has left America defenseless against an onslaught of lawlessness.

The Administration is destroying who America is, what it stands for, why it's important. And with only a few exceptions like Chris Dodd, Russ Feingold and others, the Democrats are not vowing to save it. They're not even acknowledging the travesty that every American can read in every day's headlines.

Now a new set of leaders is seeking our votes. What have they done to earn our trust? They have some interesting proposals to deal with other problems, but the front runners are not speaking to the destruction of our Constitutional system, they're not demanding accountability for the damage that has been done and a return to the rule of law. They're playing it safe.

But this is not a time for people who lack political courage. Who among them will step up and say what must be done?

What is to be done? FDL's post here looks like a call to revolution. It's frankly a repudiation of the two-party system and the very constitutional structure about which Scarecrow purportedly frets.

Like NYT, FDL's game is demonization of this administration for adopting a unitary executive theory of presidential power, for acting on neoconservative foreign policy principles to uphold international law, and for making no apologies in fighting the terrorists here and abroad.

Scarecrow's right about one thing:
The Democrats have indeed been a disaster! It's a good thing the separation of powers is working as the Founders intended. Pelosi and company don't have the votes to ram through their extremely partisan agenda, a program made more unpalatable, frankly, by the party's kowtowing to netroot hordes of the likes of FireDogLake!

Interestingly, no matter how far the Democrats tilt to the left, there are always demands for more: Unless we have impeachment proceedings to rein in the "most criminal regime" in history, the revolutionary masses will continue their campaign to extract untold tons of flesh.

Elections aren't enough: Even after winning the congressional majority, and even as
the Democrats are looking at the best electoral environment in decades, hard-left forces continue their call for Bush's head with just over a year to go for the administration.


Well, you see,
we've become a fascist dictatorship according to the unruly mobs of the left-wing. It's punishment they want: Punishment for Afghanistan (can you believe it?), for Iraq, for Guantanamo, for John Ashcroft, for John Bolton, for John Roberts - any poor old John they can get their hands on!

Look out John Doe on mainstreet - you're next! To the guillotines!

FDL and their hordes (don't forget the Kos crowd) would make Robespierre look like an amateur.

You say you want a revolution? Voting Democratic's not going to be enough this year, if the hardline netroots have their way!

Enough for now. It's going to be a busy 2008 for us neoconservatives!


UPDATE II: My commenter Libby mentioned she checked the comments to NYT's editorial. I checked them out myself, reading about a dozen or so. This one caught my attention:

All of these horrific acts are done for the primary purpose of testing what the American public will go along with. Every Republican and conservative since Richard Nixon has had an agenda to push the policies of this country further and further towards a totalitarian state. The benefit of 9/11 was that it gave the American public an amorphous enemy to fear. Therefore to defend against what the public fears it is necessary to have a strong government to defend them.
This one's interesting as well:

I believe that all you have said about the Bush administration is true. It's what you didn't say - about the role of the Democrat controlled Congress in righting all of these wrongs - that I find surprising. Yes, the next president will have a lot to do cleaning up this mess, but that person could be given a useful head start is Congress were to shine the light on the Bush administration in the way the Constitution says it should: by holding impeachment hearings on the matters of the actions of both President Bush and Vice President Cheney. My question for the editorial board of the Times is: Why didn't you call for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney? You seem to have outlined the case for doing so, but you haven't said the magic word, "Impeach". I am as mystified by this omission.
I'm sure many of these folks find themselves right at home over at FDL or Daily Kos.

from my comment thread, was mystified by the analysis here, so let me just remind readers to brush up on their French history a bit:

The goal of the constitutional government is to conserve the Republic; the aim of the revolutionary government is to found it... The revolutionary government owes to the good citizen all the protection of the nation; it owes nothing to the Enemies of the People but death.. These notions would be enough to explain the origin and the nature of laws that we call revolutionary ... If the revolutionary government must be more active in its march and more free in his movements than an ordinary government, is it for that less fair and legitimate? No; it is supported by the most holy of all laws: Martin Guerre! (Martin Guerre:"safety/welfare/or salvation of the people").
Robespierre presaging Scarecrow, or Glenn Greenwald?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

China, International Institutions, and Power Transitions

Can the West handle the growth of Chinese power? Certainly, as long as China's rise is contained within the global system's multilateral institutionalist framework, led by the United States.

This is G. John Ikenberry's basic point in his new essay on the growth of Chinese power at Foreign Affairs, "
The Rise of China and the Future of the West."

Ikenberry's one of the very top international relations scholars working from a neoliberal institutionalist perspective. I particulary liked his edited volume, America Unrivaled: The Future of the Balance of Power.

I find myself agreeing with much of Ikenberry's argument in his current Foreign Affairs essay. Here's the introduction:

The rise of China will undoubtedly be one of the great dramas of the twenty-first century. China's extraordinary economic growth and active diplomacy are already transforming East Asia, and future decades will see even greater increases in Chinese power and influence. But exactly how this drama will play out is an open question. Will China overthrow the existing order or become a part of it? And what, if anything, can the United States do to maintain its position as China rises?

Some observers believe that the American era is coming to an end, as the Western-oriented world order is replaced by one increasingly dominated by the East. The historian Niall Ferguson has written that the bloody twentieth century witnessed "the descent of the West" and "a reorientation of the world" toward the East. Realists go on to note that as China gets more powerful and the United States' position erodes, two things are likely to happen: China will try to use its growing influence to reshape the rules and institutions of the international system to better serve its interests, and other states in the system - especially the declining hegemon - will start to see China as a growing security threat. The result of these developments, they predict, will be tension, distrust, and conflict, the typical features of a power transition. In this view, the drama of China's rise will feature an increasingly powerful China and a declining United States locked in an epic battle over the rules and leadership of the international system. And as the world's largest country emerges not from within but outside the established post-World War II international order, it is a drama that will end with the grand ascendance of China and the onset of an Asian-centered world order.

That course, however, is not inevitable. The rise of China does not have to trigger a wrenching hegemonic transition. The U.S.-Chinese power transition can be very different from those of the past because China faces an international order that is fundamentally different from those that past rising states confronted. China does not just face the United States; it faces a Western-centered system that is open, integrated, and rule-based, with wide and deep political foundations. The nuclear revolution, meanwhile, has made war among great powers unlikely - eliminating the major tool that rising powers have used to overturn international systems defended by declining hegemonic states. Today's Western order, in short, is hard to overturn and easy to join.

This unusually durable and expansive order is itself the product of farsighted U.S. leadership. After World War II, the United States did not simply establish itself as the leading world power. It led in the creation of universal institutions that not only invited global membership but also brought democracies and market societies closer together. It built an order that facilitated the participation and integration of both established great powers and newly independent states. (It is often forgotten that this postwar order was designed in large part to reintegrate the defeated Axis states and the beleaguered Allied states into a unified international system.) Today, China can gain full access to and thrive within this system. And if it does, China will rise, but the Western order - if managed properly - will live on.

As it faces an ascendant China, the United States should remember that its leadership of the Western order allows it to shape the environment in which China will make critical strategic choices. If it wants to preserve this leadership, Washington must work to strengthen the rules and institutions that underpin that order - making it even easier to join and harder to overturn. U.S. grand strategy should be built around the motto "The road to the East runs through the West." It must sink the roots of this order as deeply as possible, giving China greater incentives for integration than for opposition and increasing the chances that the system will survive even after U.S. relative power has declined.

The United States' "unipolar moment" will inevitably end. If the defining struggle of the twenty-first century is between China and the United States, China will have the advantage. If the defining struggle is between China and a revived Western system, the West will triumph.
Ikenberry's correct to note the importance of China's rise, although I think he needs to specify more carefully just when America's "unipolar moment" will end.

Indeed, my main quibble with his piece is that his major premise of American decline (and China's rise) is an assumption. Some of the best recent work on the contemporary balance of power predicts a shift to multipolarity in about 20 or 30 years (
and even Christopher Layne's important argument to that effect was more theoretically-driven than empirically substantiated).

Fareed Zakaria,
in a recent Newsweek essay, actually made a nifty little data-based case for the likelihood of continuing American global leadership:

Over the past 20 years, America's growth rate has averaged just over 3 percent, a full percentage point higher than that of Germany and France. (Japan averaged 2.3 percent over the same period.) Productivity growth, the elixir of modern economics, has been over 2.5 percent for a decade now, again a full percentage point higher than the European average. In 1980, the United States made up 22 percent of world output; today that has risen to 29 percent. The U.S. is currently ranked the second most competitive economy in the world (by the World Economic Forum), and is first in technology and innovation, first in technological readiness, first in company spending for research and technology and first in the quality of its research institutions. China does not come within 30 countries of the U.S. on any of these points, and India breaks the top 10 on only one count: the availability of scientists and engineers. In virtually every sector that advanced industrial countries participate in, U.S. firms lead the world in productivity and profits.
But with specific reference to China, Walter Russell Mead argues in today's Los Angeles Times that the Chinese challenge is not as pressing as many assume:

The most important story to come out of Washington recently had nothing to do with the endless presidential campaign. And although the media largely ignored it, the story changes the world.

The story's unlikely source was the staid World Bank, which published updated statistics on the economic output of 146 countries. China's economy, said the bank, is smaller than it thought.

40% smaller.

China, it turns out, isn't a $10-trillion economy on the brink of catching up with the United States. It is a $6-trillion economy, less than half our size. For the foreseeable future, China will have far less money to spend on its military and will face much deeper social and economic problems at home than experts previously believed.
Mead goes on:

The political consequences will be felt far and wide. To begin with, the U.S. will remain the world's largest economy well into the future. Given that fact, fears that China will challenge the U.S. for global political leadership seem overblown. Under the old figures, China was predicted to pass the United States as the world's largest economy in 2012. That isn't going to happen.

Also, the difference in U.S. and Chinese living standards is much larger than previously thought. Average income per Chinese is less than one-tenth the U.S. level. With its people this poor, China will have a hard time raising enough revenue for the vast military buildup needed to challenge the United States.

The balance of power in Asia looks more secure. Japan's economy was not affected by the World Bank revisions. China's economy has shrunk by 40% compared with Japan too. And although India's economy was downgraded by 40%, the United States, Japan and India will be more than capable of balancing China's military power in Asia for a very long time to come.
Mead notes that in terms of absolute gains, the overestimation of China's comparative power has real negative implications for the quality of life for the Chinese people. When China's growth is calculated more accurately, the downward revisions mean in effect that fewer Chinese have escaped the burdens of poverty.

But back to Ikenberry's argument: Beyond Chinese relative power, Ikenberry provides a couple of questionable examples to support his case on embedding great power change within an institutional framework. For example, check out this passage on the Soviet Union's power transition in the 1980s:

As the Soviet Union declined, the Western order offered a set of rules and institutions that provided Soviet leaders with both reassurances and points of access - effectively encouraging them to become a part of the system. Moreover, the shared leadership of the order ensured accommodation of the Soviet Union. As the Reagan administration pursued a hard-line policy toward Moscow, the Europeans pursued détente and engagement. For every hard-line "push," there was a moderating "pull," allowing Mikhail Gorbachev to pursue high-risk reforms. On the eve of German unification, the fact that a united Germany would be embedded in European and Atlantic institutions - rather than becoming an independent great power - helped reassure Gorbachev that neither German nor Western intentions were hostile.
This is a particularly benign take on the Soviet view of the world correlation of forces during the Reagan years. While the Europeans may have been more accomodating of an institutionalist bargain facilitating Soviet accession to German independence, material factors - the Soviet Union's dramatic relative decline in the international system - just as likely contributed to Gorbachev's decisionmaking on international reform (or, there could be multi-level interaction effects; see Seweryn Bialer, "Domestic and International Factors in the Formationof Gorbachev's Reforms").

Ikenberry also makes an odd point on NATO and the need to "renew" Western institutions to channel China's multilateral integration:

Renewing Western rules and institutions will require, among other things, updating the old bargains that underpinned key postwar security pacts. The strategic understanding behind both NATO and Washington's East Asian alliances is that the United States will work with its allies to provide security and bring them in on decisions over the use of force, and U.S. allies, in return, will operate within the U.S.-led Western order. Security cooperation in the West remains extensive today, but with the main security threats less obvious than they were during the Cold War, the purposes and responsibilities of these alliances are under dispute. Accordingly, the United States needs to reaffirm the political value of these alliances - recognizing that they are part of a wider Western institutional architecture that allows states to do business with one another.
Reading this passage one might get the idea that NATO's leadership in the multilateral coalition in Afghanistan is a fluke (see here, here, here, here, and here).

Other than this, interestingly, Ikenberry's institutional case for integrating China into the Western order rests on fundamentally self-interested notions of maintaining U.S. international primacy. The article's an especially interesting contribution in that sense.

Kenya Vote Sparks Riots and Tribal Violence

Kenya's contested election has unleashed massive unrest. The Los Angeles Times has the story:

President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner Sunday of Kenya's presidential election and hastily sworn in, defying widespread concern over vote irregularities and sparking riots and tribal violence.

As smoke rose over parts of Nairobi, Kenya's emerging democracy also appeared to be smoldering. Before the chaotic election count, which saw returning officers disappear and European Union observers turned away without access to tallies, analysts and diplomats had viewed Kenya as one of the most promising democracies in Africa.

But the politics of the Big Man still holds sway in many parts of Africa, with only a few cases of incumbent presidents losing power through the ballot box.

After the 76-year-old president was sworn in for another five-year term, his challenger, opposition leader Raila Odinga, said a ruling clique was trying to rob Kenya of its democracy, wiping away tears as he spoke.

Odinga, 62, said he would be sworn in as "people's president" in his own ceremony Monday and outlined plans for a parallel government. As he spoke, live television transmissions were abruptly cut.

There were reports of violence across the country. In Kibera, a Nairobi slum area and opposition stronghold, thousands of protesters armed with rocks, knives and machetes chanted, "No peace!"

Rampaging mobs burned shacks and kiosks and beat people up. Panic-stricken people fled the area, shouting that gangs of youths were stoning cars, attacking people and robbing them. Police fired tear gas and live bullets to try to disperse the protesters.
But in Kibaki's strongholds, his supporters danced and sang.

The violence ran along tribal lines, as opposition supporters from the Luo tribe attacked those from Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe. Local media reported at least 13 people died, including several protesters shot by police. At least 70 had died in earlier election-related violence.

According to the official result, Kibaki won 4,584,721 votes and Odinga had 4,352,993. Odinga was well ahead in counting Friday, but Saturday saw the voting tally steadily tilt in Kibaki's favor, triggering riots in cities across Kenya.

"Kenyans will not accept the results of a rigged election," Odinga, the leader of the Orange Democratic Movement, had declared earlier Sunday. "No force will stop Kenyans attaining what they want." He said his party's figures indicated the vote had been rigged by 300,000 votes.

As previously mentioned, I watched "The Constant Gardener" yesterday, which features a political-geographic backstory in Kenya.

See Vicky Randall for an excellent book on Third World development, with cases on African politics, Political Change and Underdevelopment: A Critical Introduction to Third World Politics.

The CIA's World Factbook entry for Kenya, is

Photo Credit: A woman carrying a Kitten in Nairobi, Los Angeles Times

Preventive Strike? Declaring War on Neoconservative Foreign Policy

Obviously, considering all the controversy surrounding Bill Kristol and the New York Times, the political demonization of neoconservatism isn't fading away.

Indeed, with success in Iraq - and the media's reduced sensationalism in (anti)war reporting - many might see (or fear) a vindication of neoconservative ideas. Further,
as the Democratic party continues to founder in its congressional power, voters may well continue to give the GOP superior marks on foreign policy - not great news for the Democrats in November 2008.

Perhaps such logic explains the genesis of
Michael Desch's new preventive strike against Rudy Giuliani's neocons over at the paleoconservative flagship, the American Conservative.

Desch is a respected scholar of international relations, now at Texas A&M University; and in his introduction to the article, where he recounts confronting Giuliani at a lecture at the university, Desch portrays himself as above partisanship:

Like most Americans, I knew little about Rudolph Giuliani, save that he had been the very successful mayor of New York City catapulted to iconic status for his cool-headed demeanor after the Sept. 11 attacks. I was curious about where he stood as a presidential candidate, so in April 2007, I joined nearly 3,000 other Texas A&M faculty and students to hear him speak.

After saying some nice things about his host, President George H.W. Bush, Rudy launched into a stemwinder about the “war on Islamic fundamentalist terrorism” that basically repudiated everything the former president stood for in his foreign policy. Moreover, in the space of 40 minutes, Giuliani never once mentioned Osama bin Laden, the man who masterminded the attack on his city.

I was so appalled by the mayor’s simplistic message that terrorists were attacking us because they “oppose our freedom and ... want to impose their ideology on us” that I ignored protocol and challenged him during the Q&A. To the accompaniment of hisses from the rabidly pro-Rudy students, I reminded the mayor that Islamic fundamentalists in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and elsewhere in the Middle East have taken our side against al-Qaeda at various times. Like the students, Hizzonor was not amused, and I got five minutes of unvarnished Rudy chiding me for just not getting it.

To the cheers of the partisan crowd, Giuliani argued that my “failure to see the connection between Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups [was] a recipe for disaster.” In his view, the campaign of radical Islamic terrorism began back in the 1960s and 1970s and included things like the Black September attack upon Israeli Olympic athletes at Munich in 1972. He ridiculed my call to disaggregate the terrorist threat, saying it ignored the fact that Yasir Arafat, whom, he lamented, we helped win the Nobel Prize, was responsible for “slaughtering 29 Americans” over the years. I learned later that Giuliani was so annoyed by my hectoring that he complained about it at the reception after the talk. He was reportedly shocked to learn that I was not some lefty professor but a member of the faculty at the Bush School.

After this disheartening experience, I decided to look more closely at what Giuliani was saying about foreign policy and who was advising him. What I found alarmed me: Rudy’s performance here was no aberration. Those who thought George W. Bush was too timid in the conduct of his foreign policy will find a champion in Rudy.
So begins Desch's examination of the "Giuliani cabal" of neocon foreign policy advisors.

The article's almost like an intelligence dossier on the enemy operatives of some rival nation, with one recurring theme: Rudy Giuliani and his neocons would be even more bellicose and bloodthirsty than the current administration.

Take Desch's discussion of Norman Podhoretz, a neoconservative godfather and recent high-profile proponent of preventive strikes on Iran's nuclear program:

Podhoretz is the person whose presence has done the most to set in concrete the notion that Team Rudy is all neocon all the time. Famous for arguing that we are in the midst of “World War IV,” Podhoretz is scathing in his criticism of those he suspects of not waging the war with enough vigor. He even charges that many senior military officers show insufficient stomach for the fight, singling out former CENTCOM commander John Abizaid and his successor, Adm. William Fallon. Podhoretz is also an assiduous peddler of the new neocon myth that the antiwar camp stabbed President Bush in the back.

And he doesn’t stop at Iraq: Podhoretz constantly beats the drum for bombing Iran to halt its nascent nuclear program. Air Marshal Podhoretz assured The Telegraph that the air campaign “would take five minutes.” His optimism that attacking Iran would be another cakewalk combines with pessimism about the prospects of multilateral sanctions preventing Iran from getting the bomb. “Yet for all their retrospective remorse over the wholesale slaughter of the Jews back then,” Podhoretz sneers, “the Europeans seem no readier to lift a finger to prevent a second Holocaust than they were the first time around.”

There are areas where Podhoretz is out of sync with the rest of the Giuliani team. One is his steadfast commitment to the Bush administration’s efforts to spread democracy in the Middle East, which he applies equally to American enemies like Iran and Syria and friends like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Other Giuliani advisors are more restrained about democracy promotion. Another point of departure is Podhoretz’s long-standing critique of the Clinton administration for treating terrorism as simply a “crime problem,” a charge somewhat discordant with the mayor’s claim that his successful campaign against crime in New York City justifies electing him global sheriff.
It's odd for Desch to suggest that Podhoretz is "out of sync" with the rest of Giuliani's advisors, since the article goes out of its way to make a person-by-person case that this foreign policy team is hell-bent on bulking-up America's neocon wars of neo-imperial aggression.

Desch, for example, hammers Daniel Pipes (which is nothing new), who he calls "the crazy uncle" of Giuliani's campaign and one who "stands out as an extremist." What Desch doesn't like is Pipes' unabashed support for Israel, which includes hardline (and unpopular) positions on Iranian strategic designs and the legitimacy of Palestinian statehood.

For Desch, even Giuliani's advisors of questionable neoconservative credentials -
like Yale lecturer Charles Hill - come under fire for their alleged alarmist bellicosity. In his slam against Hill, Desch compares the former diplomat to Vice President Dick Cheney:

Hill describes himself as an “Edmund Burke conservative,” but as one former Yale International Security Studies Fellow explained to me, “There’s not much if any daylight between Charlie and the neocons, except on the degree to which is Charlie is more of a multilateralist than them. ... I suppose the only difference is that Charlie is more like Cheney, who dovetails with the neocons on most issues of the last 6.5 years, rather than strictly being a neocon. And like Cheney, I think 9/11 had a massive effect on Charlie. You can’t underestimate just how much it galvanized him.”
In the next paragraph Desch castigates Hill for moving "steadily closer to the neocon camp," as if he's jumping into a rattlesnake pit.

This criticism wouldn't be surprising, except recall that Desch describe's himself in the introduction as "not some lefty professor but a member of the faculty at the Bush School." Unfortunately, though, Desch's demonization of the neocons fits right into
the left-wing antiwar, anti-American movement and its paleoconservative allies. Look at this concluding statement on Giuliani's support for neoconservative ideas:
Unfortunately, he is of one mind with some of the most unrepentant, unreconstructed neoconservatives around. Podhoretz told the New York Observer that “as far as I can tell, there is very little difference in how he sees the war and how I see it.” If anyone thinks that neoconservativism is on the outs after the debacle in Iraq, they need look no further than the Republican frontrunner’s brain-trust.

Note Desch's language, the call to "repent" and the slur of "unreconstructed" neocons. That tone's not too far off from some of this weekend's leftist denunciations of the New York Times!

It's certainly not very conservative, as noted by David Frum over at the National Interest:

Have we really reached the point where a magazine [the American Conservative] that masquerades under the label of "conservative" thinks that the very worst possible allegation to throw against a president is that he has advisers who admire Israel and support democracy, that he knows his own mind, and that he is ready to defend the country against his enemies? If this is the American Conservative's idea of criticism, God save the Republican party from ever deserving its praise.
But let me close with some perspective from this side of neoconservatism.

In a recent review of Podhoretz's World War IV, Bruce Thornton argues that Podhoretz not so much overstates his case endorsing the Bush Doctrine, but rather fails to focus clearly enough on the long-term existential nature of the Islamic challenge facing American national security:
Podhoretz is right that we have a “fighting chance” to create the conditions for the reconciliation of Islam with modernity. But we need to accept that the job is one of decades, and that it will require continued force and a strong presence in Afghanistan and Iraq for many years. It also requires that we realize that the assault on Israel is a theater in the jihadist war, not a quarrel over Palestinian “national aspirations.” And it will necessitate speaking the truth about Islam and compelling Muslims to acknowledge that truth and to stop hiding behind distortions and propaganda about the “religion of peace.” We must compel more Muslims to step up and start telling us –– and other Muslims –– how that reconciliation can take place, and back their words with deeds. Yet whenever Muslims do this –– Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ibn Warraq come to mind –– they have to go into hiding from the devotees of the “religion of peace.”

But the ultimate question is whether we Americans have the stomach for this fight, whether we can drop our sentimental “we are the world” multiculturalist fantasies and speak plainly about Islam and its dysfunctions, whether we can cast off the hair shirt of colonial and imperial guilt so eagerly donned by self-loathing Western elites. Podhoretz ends his important, indispensable book by affirming his belief that enough Americans do have that resolve and that we will ultimately win. But as he also says, “the jury is still out, and it will not return a final verdict for some time to come.”
The notion of having "stomach for this fight" is alien to antiwar types - whether these are protesters in the street or academics ensconsed at realist foreign policy schools who publish wildly anti-neocon tracts in paleoconservative journals.

Witness Intimidation: An Urban Crisis

What would it take for inner-city crime witnesses to come forward to the police with information about a crime?

The dearth of witness cooperation with the police - the taboo of "snitching" - is emerging as one of the biggest impediments to more effective responses to the hopelessness of urban violence and social disorganization.

This New York Times article has more on the problem:

When her 16-year-old son was shot dead on a street corner here in June, Rosalynn Glasco became the latest mother left to search for justice in a world without witnesses — where the stigma of being seen as a snitch or the fear of retaliation prevents many from testifying about even the worst crimes.

But Ms. Glasco held out some hope, all the same. Determined not to let her son’s killer go unpunished, she urged her daughter and other relatives to work the grapevine in the neighborhood where he was killed, Whitman Park, searching for evidence, and maybe somebody willing to share it.

Discovering nothing, she pressed on.

Ms. Glasco’s extended family put together fliers and started assembling a Web site to publicize a reward. She gathered her life savings and set the figure for information at $5,000. She delayed posting it because Camden detectives asked her to wait, saying they had promising leads in the investigation.

The leads fizzled; a trip to see the mayor produced more promises of effort, but no arrests. The murder of Ms. Glasco’s son, Salahuddin Igwe — shot at 5 a.m. as he walked home from a party — remains unsolved.

Ms. Glasco is disappointed. She is also realistic. If the tables were turned, she admits, and if another mother were at her doorstep asking for information, she is not sure she would help, either.

“Snitching, telling on people, isn’t something that I personally would involve myself with,” she said in an interview last week. “People don’t want to talk to you if they think you’re a snitch. If they were your friends, they’re not your friends anymore. You’re left totally all alone.”

As the most violent neighborhood in one of the nation’s most dangerous cities, the Whitman Park section of Camden is on the front lines of the struggle with witness intimidation. An array of powerful forces converge here to discourage people from cooperating with the investigation of crimes — crimes committed against their own homes, their own neighbors, their own children.

Drugs are sold openly from street corners and abandoned row houses. Gunfire is a neighborhood soundtrack. And the competing gangs that control Whitman Park have made it clear that the price for defying them is death. Within blocks of the street where Ms. Glasco’s son was killed, six people were murdered in less than a year.

Yet many residents of Whitman Park say their reluctance to help investigators is based on more than just fear of gang retaliation. It is also a consequence of their deep distrust of the local police and prosecutors and politicians. Like residents of many other struggling, predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods across the country, people here complain that racial profiling, police corruption and the excesses of the war on drugs have made them suspicious of virtually any arm of government.

It might be considered difficult - certainly among residents of secure, suburban neighborhoods, protected by affluence and quick links to ADT - to understand why people won't come forward to help law enforcement. Or maybe not. The code on the street's the most powerful form of social control, and frankly, when local armed mobs have more power than the neighborhood police department, it makes sense to stay silent.

Still, until we see change - until there's some kind of "take back the night" movement at the base of the violence - it will be impossible for these communities to be free from the terror.

I've thought much about witness intimidation. When 7-year-old Tajahnique Lee was shot in the face last summer in New Jersey no one came forward to finger her killers - that is, not one of the roughly twenty people right there at the scene who witnessed the shooting!

The phenomenon of witness intimidation is completely debilitating for African-American political and economic progress.

Juan Williams dicussed the crisis at length in his book, Enough. Williams highlights the local danger and fear of "the enemy within." Here's a disturbing section from the book:

In October 2002 the living hell caused by crime in the black community burst into flames in Baltimore.

A black mother of five testified against a Northest Baltimore drug dealer. The next day her row house was fire-bombed. She managed to put out the flames that time. Two weeks later, at 2:00am as the family slept, the house was set on fire again. This time the drug dealer broke open the front door and took care in splashing gasoline on the lone staircase that provided exit for people asleep in the second- and third-floor bedrooms. Angela Dawson, the thirty-six year-old mother, and her five children, aged nine to fourteen, burned to death. Her husband, Carnell, forty-three, jumped from a second-story window. He had burns over most of his body and died a few days later. On that chilling night, as she struggled against the smoke and heat, the mother's cries could be heard over the crackle of the flames on East Preston Street. "God, please help me," screamed Angela Dawson. "Help me get my children out."

Before she was silenced, Dawson made thirty-six calls to the police, from late-July until her death, to complain about the drug dealers who operated freely on the street in front of her house. About a month before she was killed, one of the the dealers had scrawled BITCH on the front wall of her house. As she was scrubbing away the graffiti, a young man who lived across the street, and eighteen-year old, appeared and boldly said he had written the word there, told her to leave it alone, and then hit her.

Williams goes on to recount that police apprehended the murderer, Darryl Brooks, twenty-one, who was later sentenced to life in prison without parole. The tragedy of Angela Dawson is a tragedy for the entire black community, however. The local papers reported on the gangland taboo against "snitching."

Williams quotes the Baltimore Sun, which reported that:

Families...are often unwilling to join the battle against crime because it would mean turning in a child, grandchild, cousin, or uncle....Residents still may have to coexist with neighbors who might be criminals.It'd be hard to find a more compelling theme of discussion at a major civil rights forum, but the Democrats and delegates to the meeting missed the opportunity.

Which way forward?

Certainly continued efforts at strong law enforcement and communty-based policing are necessary. But until black culture shifts toward privileging citizenship and responsibility over social neglect and chaos - there can be little hope for the success of more forceful public policies, at least for those social welfare approaches falling outside of aggressive anti-crime initiatives.

Kristol Mess? The Neocon Controversy at New York Times

The hiring of William Kristol at the New York Times triggered a Pavlovian reaction among the left-wing blogosphere. You've got to love it! Oh, the outrage! No, not the evil neocons at the Old Gray Lady!

See my earlier entry on Kristol's new position
here. The Times' decision to hire Kristol is discussed in this piece from the Editor & Publisher:

A day after the Huffington Post first reported it, The New York Times has announced that it has indeed hired conservative pundit, and Fox News analyst, Bill Kristol, as a new regular op-ed columnist.

Liberal bloggers had been up in arms over the move. Kristol said, in an interview with, it gave him some pleasure to see their "heads explode." Kristol was perhaps the most influential pundit of all in promoting the U.S. invasion of Iraq and has strongly defended the move ever since.

Times' editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal defended the move. Rosenthal told shortly after the official announcement Saturday that he fails to understand “this weird fear of opposing views....We have views on our op-ed page that are as hawkish or more so than Bill....

“The idea that The New York Times is giving voice to a guy who is a serious, respected conservative intellectual — and somehow that’s a bad thing,” Rosenthal added. “How intolerant is that?”

Unlike The Times’ other regulars, Kristol will write only once a week, with his first column set for Jan. 7, and he has just a one-year contract. The paper noted in its own announcement: "In a 2003 column on the turmoil within The Times that led to the downfall of the top two editors, he wrote that it was not 'a first-rate newspaper of record,' adding, 'The Times is irredeemable.'”

Kristol, on Fox News in 2006, suggested that the paper should face charges after its big banking records scoop: "I think it is an open question whether the Times itself should be prosecuted for this totally gratuitous revealing of an ongoing secret classified program that is part of the war on terror.”

In 2003, on NPR's "Fresh Air" show, he said, "There's been a certain amount of pop sociology in America ... that the Shia can't get along with the Sunni....Iraq's always been very secular."

In the July 14, 2006 issue of The Weekly Standard, which he edits, Kristol called for a "military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions--and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement."

Kristol, in the current issue of The Weekly Standard, argues that Gen. David Petraeus should have been picked as Time's person of the year, but "Our liberal elites are so invested in a narrative of defeat and disaster in Iraq that to acknowledge the prospect of victory would be too head-wrenching and heart-rending." In the Dec. 17 issue he argued, "Resisting the temptation to throw away success in Iraq by drawing down too fast or too deep is the greatest service this president can render his successor."
Well, the editors of the Editor & Publisher don't sound too happy about Kristol's new gig!

See more commentary at
Memeorandum, and especially this piece over at The Politico. Or Check out Greg Mitchell's blog, who's hoping Kristol will be "laughed off the page."

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Future of Newspapers

I finished semester grading this morning, and after a visit to my local Ralphs for provisions, I decided to take the afternoon off from blogging.

What to do? Television, of course! I clicked over to Cinemax after settlling down to check out "
The Constant Gardener," with Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz (a slow developing film, with an annoying flashback-style storyline, but still boasting an interesting African political-geographical setting).

I checked the comments here at the blog after that, then went back to the tube to watch the much-hyped Giants-Patriots trimulcast. (The Pats finished their season undefeated - beating New York 38-35 - something not seen since the 1972 Dolphins went all the way to a 17-0 season.)

So, now it's time to
keep my promise with an entry on the changing newspapers marketplace. I got the idea after noticing the comments to my Bill Kristol-to-the-New York Times post. A couple of readers suggested that the Times hired Kristol to bolster circulation by stirring controversy. I can't blame 'em. Kristol (and the neocons) did regime change once, so maybe the suggestion's not too far off the mark!

I'm also moved to write about larger changes in journalism after reading today's
front-page story over at the Wall Street Journal.

I spend a lot of time discussing newspapers and the mass media every semester, as part of my course in American government. The class discussions seeem have a different conclusion every term - there's always some interesting development in the press, whether that be
some new big editorial shake-up, the latest figures on the decline in newspaper circulation, or some novel corporate adaptation to shifting media markets.

Mostly though it's all the technological change - how rapid shifts in technology frequently put traditional notions of news distribution in the dustbin. Tech has always changed news consumption and markets - whether through the invention of the high-speed rotary press in the early-18th century, the telegraph and the rise of wire services a few decades later, radio broadcasting and television in the 20th century, and now the internet.

Personally, I've always enjoyed reading the old-fashioned, hard-copy newspaper, and still do - an amazing fact, considering how much I'm online! Frankly, I hoping access to the traditional broadsheet newspapers - enjoyed with a morning cup of coffee - doesn't go the way of the dinosaur anytime soon.

The Journal's article, written by Paul Steiger, who's leaving the paper, focuses on changing corporate organizational models. By the 1960s, the dominant form of press management and news distribution was the large urban newspaper, mounting large local news operations while relying on wire services for international updates. About this time - as news holdings became more concentrated and profitable - publishers invested heavily in expanding operations, both nationally and in far-flung bureaus around the world:

The result was a golden age of American journalism. In New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles, of course, yet also in Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, Milwaukee, Atlanta, St. Louis, Des Moines, Louisville, St. Petersburg and more, daily papers were willing to send reporters far afield in pursuit of stories exposing corruption or explaining the world. Newspapers opened or expanded Washington bureaus and added reporters abroad. Some stationed them not just in London, Moscow and Tokyo but in places like Sydney and São Paulo.

As their financial strength and staff size increased, they became fearless in pursuing corruption. A 1964 Supreme Court decision, New York Times v. Sullivan, protected publishers from libel judgments by public officials even if what was published was inaccurate, so long as the paper didn't know the article was inaccurate and wasn't reckless about what it published.

The news operations of the three main television networks in those days followed a similar pattern. As profits grew, they added to staff and launched foreign bureaus and investigative projects. The Sunday-night magazine program CBS launched in 1968, "60 Minutes," set a new standard for expensively produced and deeply reported video journalism.

The public seemed to approve. Intrepid journalists proliferated in films like "All the President's Men," depicting Washington Post reporters' exposure of Watergate. Enrollments in journalism schools surged, as well as applications for reporting jobs.

They were heady times indeed. When the L.A. Times investigated suspected gasoline hoarding during fuel shortages in 1979, one reporter got the idea of flying over refineries and tank fields to look for evidence. As the editor running the coverage, I asked my bosses for approval to hire helicopters or small planes for a story. The answer: Go right ahead.

In the end, we didn't. Our reporting showed that most of the hoarding was by people like our own readers, who'd taken to driving with their gas tanks always full. But the lesson was clear: When it came to getting an important story, don't worry about the cost.

I don't remember exactly when cracks began to appear in this halcyon life. At most big papers, circulation, revenue and profits grew through the 1970s and 1980s and into the 1990s, with recessionary pauses that weren't excessively fretted over....

In those days, we worried quite a bit about television. Survey after survey showed that, with each year, more Americans were getting their news there. While that made circulation growth tougher to achieve, ad revenue continued to rise, as newspaper readers generally had better incomes.

Cable TV added a new worry, because here was a medium that could target smaller, exclusive audiences and thus pose a greater challenge to print. Even so, newspaper revenue continued its growth.

Then in the 1990s came the digital networks and the Internet, unleashing forces that would ultimately undermine newspaper business models that had been so supportive of journalism. First came dial-up, then a few years later the Internet, and by 1995, dozens of newspapers, including the Journal, had online editions.

This last development - the emergence of the online market model of high-tech competition and instantaneous news distribution - represents the greatest challenge to the traditional newpapers as we have know them. What will happen?

Steiger focuses more on immediate market developments among the new, high-flying class of press magnate power-brokers:

What happens next? Change, rapid and largely unpredictable. Nearly every company in the industry needs major new revenue, big cost reductions or a healthy dollop of each. The people and entities to watch most closely are:

-- The entrepreneurs, Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Zell. Mr. Murdoch has vast experience in media generally and newspapers in particular, controls major financial resources and has big plans to expand the Journal -- in print and online, domestically and overseas. Mr. Zell used financial engineering to control Tribune Co. with minimal investment of his own, has little media experience and isn't likely to spend much on his new properties. Both are decisive investors and operators. They aren't always successful, but it's unwise to bet against them.

-- New York Times Co. Mr. Murdoch has said he'll use the Journal to steal a portion of the general-news and cultural-news franchises of Times Co.'s eponymous flagship newspaper. But entities fight hardest defending their home turf, and the Times has both a strong, growing Web site and a Sunday edition that remains an advertising monster. It will be under pressure to follow some of the cost cutting its sister Boston Globe has done. Pure conjecture: Assuming that New York Mayor and Bloomberg LP owner Mike Bloomberg isn't U.S. president-elect a year from now, would he and Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. consider putting their two enterprises together?

-- Hearst Corp. After the inheritors of William Randolph Hearst's empire lost their bet on evening papers in the 1960s, they bulked up their revenue from magazines like Cosmopolitan, diversified smartly in TV (including a 20% stake in ESPN, now worth roughly $6 billion), and stayed in newspapers but with a close eye on profit. With four metro papers, like the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle, and eight smaller ones, Hearst is in the vanguard of figuring out ways to exploit newspapers' local-reporting strengths, both in print and online.

Hearst has helped forge a partnership involving a consortium of newspaper companies and sometime-nemesis Yahoo. The idea is that together they can offer advertisers total coverage of various metropolitan areas, and feed readers back and forth. Question: Are these going to be best friends forever or a cobra and a mongoose?

Final word: Next week I move over to a nonprofit called Pro Publica as president and editor-in-chief. When fully staffed, we will be a team of 24 journalists dedicated to reporting on abuses of power by anyone with power: government, business, unions, universities, school systems, doctors, hospitals, lawyers, courts, nonprofits, media. We'll publish through our Web site and also possibly through newspapers, magazines or TV programs, offering our material free if they provide wide distribution....

The idea is that we, along with others of similar bent, can in some modest way make up for some of the loss in investigative-reporting resources that results from the collapse of metro newspapers' business model.
I'm more interested in the longer-term development of the traditional daily paper: Will news be available exclusive online anytime soon? Will grabbing a paper, coffee, and a doughnut soon be a thing of the past, if it's not already (it's not for me, and I'm still a forty-something!).

It's certainly possible, although I'd rather stretch a crumply, half day-old newspaper over my knees than lug some widescreen laptop onto the bed or lounger while watching an Angels-Yankees game.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The New York Times Goes Neoconservative!

I'm skimming around online a bit here, and I've just learned that William Kristol has just been hired as a columnist by the New York Times!

The scoop is over at Memeorandum.

You got to love this! Kristol at NYT will drive the antiwar nuts, well, nuts!

I suspect most people are in the know, but just in case, Kristol's the publisher of the Weekly Standard, which has become one of the top-tier neocon journals of opinion in recent years (especially with the demise of the Public Interest).

Hard-left forces are already denouncing NYT's betrayal - an "abominaton" says David Sirota in a quote over at Crooks and Liars, and don't miss this comment thread over at the Huffington Post!

So what's the beef? Neoconservatives have become the pariahs of contemporary American politics.
As Jamie Kerchik noted recently:

Today, no other political label gets thrown around as frequently, or with as much reckless abandon, as “neocon.” The most popular liberal blogs name and shame neocons, real or imagined, on a daily basis. The term is used in a fashion similar to the way “communist” was during the 1950s—an all-encompassing indictment—this time indicating an imperialistic and “warmongering,” even an “insane,” worldview. The anti-neocon fervor has reached truly McCarthyite proportions: just a few months ago, Steve Clemons of the left-wing New America Foundation argued in favor of “Purging the Neocons from the American Soul.”
The attacks come from both left and right. Liberals can't stand the necons because of their top policy-making leadership in the Bush administration, and especially their leading role in the push to war in Iraq. Some on the conservative right (I use that label loosely - very loosely) - like the whacked-out libertarian Ron Paul backers and the Paleoconservative Buchananites - find themselves equally enraged by the neoconservative "war party" in Washington, D.C.

You've heard he attacks, on Kristol and all the other members of the "neocon cabal": They were wrong about Iraq; there were no WMD; Iraqis didn't greet American troops as liberators; the war wasn't over in a few weeks: the Iraqi insurgent dead-enders missed their dead-end; the real (legitimate) war is in Afghanistan; Iran's destabilizing influence in Iraq is a hoax; the new front of global terror is Pakistan...and on and on and on.

These are the same folks
who early this year declared the Iraq war lost, and who are now blaming the Bhutto assassination on the Bush administration (here and here). These are the same hardline forces who called General David Petraeus at traitor (when he should've been recognized as Man of the Year). All of this anti-neoconservatism continues amid the most dramatic - and underreported - strategic comeback in the history of modern warfare.

Frankly, for all my dislike of the editorial stance of the New York Times, the Kristol assignment is a journalistic masterstroke. The Times' reputation has collapsed in recent years, following the Jayson Blair scandal, the controversial leak of the Bush adminstration's clandestine - and successful -
electronic surveillance program, and the steady decline in recent years of the broadsheet's reputation as the country's "unofficial newspaper of record."

Certainly, the Bush administration's success in thwarting the Democrats in 2007 (who badly overestimated their "mandate" coming out of the 2006 midterms), combined with the continued importance of foreign policy among American voters, suggests that the Times editors realized they needed to get hip to alternative - even mainstream - ideological perspectives.

The knives are still out for the neocons in many quarters, of course. Michael Desch - a political scientist at Texas A&M - has
a new article out attacking Rudy Giuliani's neoconservative campaign advisors at the paleocon flagship, the American Conservative.

And for good reason: Neoconservatives still hold tremendous influence, and the positive concatenation of forces I've mentioned here bodes well for conservatives generally in 2008.
As Michael Tomasky notes in the forthcoming New York Review of Books:

On foreign policy, despite the Iraq war, the neoconservatives still hold tremendous sway in GOP circles...With respect to the future [according to Jacob Heilbrunn, in his new book, They Knew They Were Right]...the neocons' main potential competitors, the foreign policy realists, have not prepared for long-term battle the way the neocons have.
Neoconservatism isn't perfect, obviously. But thank goodness Kristol's holding down the fort for one of the most comprehensive political ideologies in American politics today. I look forward to reading his essays!

Photo Credit for William Kristol:
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