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New Pi Sigma Alpha Inductees

April 19, 2013 Leave a comment

One of the highlights of the academic year is welcoming new students to University of the Pacific‘s chapter (Alpha Delta Zeta) of Pi Sigma Alpha. the national political science academic honorary society. To be eligible for membership in Pi Sigma Alpha, a student must have excelled in their work in a number of challenging political science courses. Recently Faith James (International Relations, 2014) and Yeni Gutierrez (Political Science, 2015) became members of Pi Sigma Alpha.

Professors Dari Sylvester and Brian E. Klunk welcome Faith James and Yeni Gutierrez to Pi Sigma Alpha.

Professors Dari Sylvester and Brian E. Klunk welcome Faith James and Yeni Gutierrez to Pi Sigma Alpha.

Senate Rejects a Treaty Recognizing the Human Rights of People with Disabilities

December 5, 2012 14 comments
A map of parties to the Convention on the Righ...

A map of parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Parties in dark green, countries which have signed but not ratified in light green, non-members in grey. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On December 4, 2012, by a vote of 61-38 the United States Senate failed to consent to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It takes 66 votes to consent to a treaty, so at least for the time being the United States will not be a party to the latest global treaty extending international recognition of human rights.

The treaty, already signed by 155 nations and ratified by 126 countries, including Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, states that nations should strive to assure that the disabled enjoy the same rights and fundamental freedoms as their fellow citizens.

The vote was essentially partisan. Every Democratic Senator plus eight Republican Senators, including Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) who has arguably been the most important Senate Republican on foreign policy issues for decades, voted to consent to the treaty. For the record here are the 38 Senators who voted against the treaty:

Senator Cochran initially voted for the treaty, but changed his vote when it became clear that the treaty would fail.

Treaty supporters argued that the convention is based largely on the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. Negotiations for the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities were begun during President George W. Bush’s administration. It had the support of many prominent Republicans, including the first President Bush, former US Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, and one-time Republican presidential nominee Robert Dole, who watched the vote from his wheelchair parked on the Senate floor.

Those who voted against the treaty offered an interesting array of explanations for their votes. Several opponents argued that joining the treaty would make the US less sovereign in how it deal with disability rights policy. In some sense, this is true. Every time a country makes a treaty obligation it agrees to limit its sovereignty. The fact that the treaty is a UN-sponsored treaty was another objectionable point for some Senators. It is an article of faith for many conservatives that the UN is an evil institution that seeks to control the world and subvert the American way of life. This may not be a mainstream point of view, but it could be a factor in Republican primary elections when turnout is much smaller than in general elections and insurgent candidates representing the ideological extreme of the party have had considerable recent success defeating more moderate incumbents. After all, that is why Senator Lugar is leaving the Senate (and why the newly elected Senator from Indiana is a Democrat).

Opponents of the treaty also offered arguments based on what seem like narrowly tendentious interpretations of the treaty. Former Senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum used his PAC to spread the fear that the treaty would give Geneva-based (that’s in Europe, so you know it’s really bad) UN bureaucrats the ability to dictate to the parents of children with disabilities how they should provide for those children. This was apparently very alarming to families that home school their children.

“I am frankly upset,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., “that they have succeeded in scaring the parents who home-school their children all over this country.” He said he said his office had received dozens of calls from home-schooling parents urging him to vote against the convention.

Abortion opponents also seized on language in the treaty guaranteeing the disabled equal rights to reproductive rights could lead to terminated pregnancies.

So what can we learn from this episode?

  1. The Republican party has generally repudiated the generations of internationalist foreign policy leaders who held sway from the Eisenhower administration. This Republican party internationalist tradition, which can even be traced to the 1920s and Herbert Hoover, has long been in tension with both an isolationist wing and an imperialist wing of the party. The potential power of Tea Party voters brimming with UN conspiracy theories has either driven out or silenced Republican internationalists, many of whom now find Democrats more reliable stewards of US foreign policy. They are reinforced by scholars and policy makers, often referred to as “New Sovereigntists” who fundamentally reject global governance. While foreign policy issues rarely determine national elections, the repudiation of a tradition embodied by Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George Bush (both of them), Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger, Richard Lugar, and I could go on and on, will make it harder for Republicans to present themselves as reasonable potential presidents.
  2. President Obama and presidents who follow him will be more and more inclined to conduct diplomacy and reach agreement with other countries in ways that avoid the Senate.
  3. On the other hand, the inability of US presidents to deliver the Senate on practically any international treaty of consequence weakens the standing of the US in global affairs. Why, after all, should US preferences be treated seriously in the negotiation of international agreements if nobody believes the US will ultimately become a party to the agreement? The foundation of US foreign policy strategy since World War II has been the creation, articulation, and defense of a liberal international order based on institutions and rules that largely reflect US values and preferences. One of the most important values promoted by the US has been human rights. Even if US relative power in the world should decline, which really seems inevitable, a robust liberal international order would mean that the world would still be congenial for US interests and values. The failure to approve the Disability Convention and other agreements makes the US look like it has lost faith in the values it once asked the rest of the world to embrace. Not necessarily a death knell for the liberal international order, but not a sign of robustness either.

SMH.

Get Off My Island! Conflicting Claims in the East China Sea

September 17, 2012 26 comments
Senkaku Islands

Senkaku Islands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

History
Last fall, I blogged about China’s rise as it relates to its broad claims to islands in the South China Sea, also claimed by a number of South East Asian states. Since that post, China has become significantly more aggressive in both actions and words regarding these disputes. It is worth noting that the Obama administration has been fairly aggressive in its response, with Secretary Clinton particularly active in making clear U.S. interests in the region.

More recently, conflicting Chinese and Japanese claims to islands in the East China Sea, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, have heated up and made headlines. It is, therefore, worth analyzing why China would risk violent confrontation over eight uninhabited islands with a total square footage of less than five miles and whose Chinese name means “fishing islands.” What does international relations theory suggest as to why China would choose the present to begin more strongly pressing its claims?

As with all problems in international relations, history, domestic politics and relative power in the international system all play a role. The history that most strongly informs Sino-Japanese relations today is Japans’ making what had been the Chinese province of Taiwan a colony after winning the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895; losing one big island for more than a century makes a state a bit touchy about little ones. China’s tributary relationship with the Ryuku Kingdom, including today’s Okinawa, was also ended by the Treaty of Shimonoseki, with which that first war concluded. It is further in 1895 that Japan made its first official claim to Senkaku, placing the islands administratively into what is today Okinawa prefecture. The Treaty of San Francisco, formally ending World War II in 1952, specifically rules out Japanese claims to the Spratly and Paracel Islands, those in the South China Sea about which I posted last year. More important here, the treaty gave the United States trusteeship of the Nansei Shoto islands, including Senkaku.

It does not ease Chinese concerns that the end of World War II saw the United States controlling Okinawa until 1972 (whereby the United States also ceded control of Senkaku back to Japan) and setting up what is still the largest air base in the region there. It is also the United States that has stood between China and what it considers to be its province of Taiwan, first with multiple military bases and nuclear weapons on the island and then, following the switch of diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China (Taiwan) to the People’s Republic of China (mainland China) in 1979, its policy of “strategic ambiguity,” which leaves unstated whether the United States would defend Taiwan in the event of Chinese moves to retake it. Complicating the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute is the fact that Taiwan’s government also claims the islands. Of course, China’s government has less concern over Taiwan’s claim, as in its view any territory under Taiwanese administration is Chinese territory. In fact, it is Taiwanese administration of the islands that China claims predates Japanese claims.

While it is often argued that the Taiwanese and Chinese governments did not begin objecting to Japanese control of the islands until natural gas was discovered in the area at the end of the 20th century, documents released by the U.S. National Security Archives show that the Taiwan (ROC) government, then the government recognized by the United States as “China,” specifically requested “the United States to exclude the Senkaku Islands from the reversion of Okinawa to Japan” in March 1971. Nevertheless, a 1968 UN survey had shown potential oil and gas resources in the region, so it is possible that this has motivated Chinese/Taiwanese claims.

The legitimacy of each side’s historical claims in the East China Sea is less important than the historical animosity between the two states, their governments, and their citizens. From the Chinese perspective, Japan humiliated it by taking its biggest island and than using it to expand its reach over much of Asia, including much of China, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, which became part of World War II. Japanese occupation of of mainland Chinese territory was particularly brutal.

In a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor (http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2012/0905/China-territorial-disputes-a-warning-in-the-history-of-Imperial-Japan) , Joseph Bosco, who worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in East Asian security affairs and retired Lietenant General Wallace Gregson, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, somewhat ironically suggest that China’s current aggressive behavior regarding maritime claims is similar to that of a rising Japan in the first half of the 20th century. They argue that China today resembles a pre-WWII Japan, stinging from humiliation by Western powers, who had forced trade relations on it in the previous century. Like Japan in that period, China’s growing economic strength has led to a concomitant expansion of military power, which these authors claim enhances Chinese ambitions to expand its territorial control beyond its current borders, much as Japan did as it sought control over resources in much of Asia in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

The authors’ analogy breaks down, however, when they compare Chinese ambitions to Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, which saw the Japanese gain physical control of China’s industrial and business centers as well as nearly all of Southeast Asia, if only briefly. Comparing Chinese claims to rocks and islands which are nearly all uninhabited, to Japan’s physical control of the Philippines, Indonesia, the Malay peninsula, Indochina and other territories that had been controlled by Western colonial powers is absurd.

IR Theory
Bosco and Gregson quote Secretary Clinton during a recent Beijing press conference: “Our two nations are trying to do something that has never been done in history, which is to write a new answer to the question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet.” What Clinton is referring to is Organski’s power transition theory, which like all realist theory, views the anarchic international system and relative capabilities of states as the key determinants of international relations.* The key hypothesis of the theory is that major wars occur when a rising power challenges a declining power, just as John Mearsheimer’s “offensive realism” predicts coming conflict between the United States and China. An obvious counter-example to the argument of Clinton and Mearheimer, is the case of the United States, which unlike a rising Germany, did anything but challenge the United Kingdom at the point the two countries reached military or economic parity. Power transition theory explains away this anomaly by adding relative satisfaction with the current system as a key determinant of whether a rising power engages in conflict. Whereas offensive realism predicts inevitable conflict as China rises and (relatively) the United States falls, power transition theory suggests that war is likely only if China is dissatisfied with the current system. It is often assumed that China is. However, it is important to ponder why a China that has gained so much from the current system would be so quick to change it.

The weakness in realist theory is in its singular focus on the international system, at the expense of domestic determinants, to explain international politics. The history-minded Chinese leadership is undoubtedly aware that Germany and Japan failed in their challenges to the global order, and, therefore, that China should not press its claims too hard while still relatively weak. Thus it is necessary to consider domestic political reasons for China’s more aggressive posture regarding its maritime claims. First, and most self-evident, securing China’s sovereignty brings the Communist Party greater legitimacy. However, that does not explain the recent shift in Chinese assertiveness, unless the Party believes its legitimacy is threatened. This would be a more tenable hypothesis if the Party were facing eminent economic decline, as rapid development has provided the Party legitimacy in the post-Mao era.

What does possibly explain China’s more assertive maritime policies is the increasing influence of the military in Chinese politics and the rise of nationalism and, more important, its use in the factional struggle preceding this year’s scheduled leadership transition. Vice President Xi Jinping, who only recently reappeared on the scene after a mysterious brief disappearance, is by all accounts scheduled to succeed Hu Jintao as president at the 18th Party Congress, which appears to have been delayed from its originally scheduled October dates. A number of reports suggest that China’s outgoing leadership is attempting to ratchet up tensions with Japan so that Hu can retain his position as chairman of the Central Military Commission after Xi becomes president, just as Hu’s predecessor, Jiang Zemin delayed Hu’s appointment to this post as commander in chief for two years after Hu’s elevation to the presidency.

Xi’s disappearance, changing dates for the Party Congress, and rising tensions with Japan are all likely related to factional struggles taking place prior to China’s decennial leadership transition. Even in authoritarian regimes, or perhaps especially in authoritarian regimes, there is bargaining over political positions, with each faction trying to balance its power relative to others. Xi is part of the “princelings” faction, the sons and daughters of the first generation of PRC leaders, while Hu is part of the “Youth League Clique,” former members of the Communist Party Youth League. The military is also part of this bargaining, as one of the many factions seeking representation on the ruling Politburo.

All of this palace intrigue, not to mention the recent soap opera-like downfall of Bo Xilai, another princeling, is likely influencing Chinese policies in the East and South China Seas. Due to the opaque nature of the political system however, it is difficult to gauge the extent that China’s leadership is promoting the anti-Japanese ultra-nationalism in China or responding to it. China’s leaders need to be careful playing the nationalism card. As the cases of Japan and Germany indicate, extremist nationalism, once out of the bag, takes on a life of its own. China’s leaders may find themselves being wagged rather than doing the wagging, in other words, having their actions determined or constrained by nationalism, rather than simply encouraging nationalism to enhance their legitimacy.

China’s recent guiding principle with regards to its territorial disputes has been to put these contentious issues aside for the sake of developing economic relations, and the government still claims this is what it wishes to do (although actions by its own and foreign nationals may make this impossible). Waiting, of course, is in China’s interest, as in all likelihood its power will only continue to rise, particularly relative to a Japan confronted by economic stagnation and the demographic nightmare of a declining population.

Epi(b)log
As if on cue, between the initial draft of this article last week and today, anti-Japanese protests have broken out in many major Chinese cities

*It should be noted that power transition theorists view the international system as hierarchical rather than anarchic and were arguing against the traditional realist balance-of-power school, but, practically speaking neorealism also relies on hierarchy; both theories, or branches of realism, claim that it is relative capabilities that bring order to the international system.

Republican Exceptionalism? Or What Happened to the Republican Foreign Policy Establishment?

September 3, 2012 14 comments
Seal of the United States Department of State.

Seal of the United States Department of State. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Welcome back! This is the first in our annual series of “Applying Political Science” posts. In a series of weekly posts, University of the Pacific Political Scientists will demonstrate how the tools of political science–concepts, analytical approaches, theories, etc.) can help us explain and understand current affairs. It being campaign season, you can expect a number of posts regarding the 2012 elections. You will also see discussions of a wide range of non-election matters.

My primary interest in political science is International Relations and, specifically, foreign policy. In not particular order, here are a few observations about a particularly interesting aspect of the current presidential campaign.

American Exeptionalism. More years ago than I care to remember I published a book called Consensus and the American Mission. It was an effort to see how various strains of American Exceptionalism had affected U.S. foreign policy during different periods of the Cold War. Back then the phrase “American Exceptionalism” was not used very much in academic discussions and not at all in public rhetoric. But these days, it seems that everybody is an American Exceptionalist. Madeline Albright, a Clinton secretary of state, and President Obama have both called the US the “indispensable nation.”

The Republicans, though, seem to have decided that American Exceptionalism is their foreign policy brand. In a recent interview, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice offered that Governor Romney’s foreign policy advantage over President Obama is that Romney “would understand American Exceptionalism.” In fact, the platform adopted by the Republican National Convention last week simply calls its section of foreign and national security policy “American Exceptionalism.”

We are the party of peace through strength. Professing American exceptionalism – the conviction that our country holds a unique place and role in human history – we proudly associate ourselves with those Americans of all political stripes who, more than three decades ago in a world as dangerous as today’s, came together to advance the cause of freedom. Repudiating the folly of an amateur foreign policy and defying a worldwide Marxist advance, they announced their strategy in the timeless slogan we repeat today: peace through strength – an enduring peace based on freedom and the will to defend it, and American democratic values and the will to promote them. While the twentieth century was undeniably an American century – with strong leadership, adherence to the principles of freedom and democracy our Founders’ enshrined in our nation’s Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and a continued reliance on Divine Providence – the twenty-first century will be one of American greatness as well.

It is never a good thing-on any position of the political spectrum–to allow a slogan to substitute for careful thought. So, here are a few things to think about regarding American Exceptionalism and US foreign policy.

The major analytical approaches in International Relations generally don’t have much use for exceptionalist ideas. Realists like Stephen M. Walt tend to regard American Exceptionalism as a myth and a dangerous, self-deluding one at that. For realists, all states use power to pursue their interests in a competitive world. An ideology like American Exceptionalism–the belief that the US is a uniquely virtuous country with a special mission in the world–is likely to lead to imprudent and probably dangerous behavior in the world. Liberals conclude that it may be necessary for “an indispensable nation” to step up in order to provide critical international public goods. On the other hand, no nation is likely to be THE indispensable nation forever or in every situation. Exceptionalist rhetoric may coincidentally lead the US to step us in crucial situations, but it could also ironically lead the US away from providing the “best shot” to providing international public goods. Indeed, there is a whiff of desperation in the insistence on American Exceptionalism. Assuming that the US cannot maintain its recent hegemonic position in world affairs, crowing about our exceptionalism seems more like denial, and an unfortunate putting off of thinking seriously about US strategy in world where US power is not supreme. 

In addition, like many slogans “American Exceptionalism” conceals a vital debate about what, if anything, is exceptional about the US. Is it the political economy of relatively unregulated capitalism? Is it a stride toward freedom in the working out of democratic political institutions? Is it the rule of law and the realization of equal rights under law? Is it an apocalyptic battle against the forces of evil? Is it the preservation of the essence of Western Civilization? All of these have their roots in the US experience and US culture. But there are obvious tensions among these versions of American exceptionalism. To allow “American Exceptionalism” to be treated as a simple slogan would be to risk instituting the version favored by whoever can shout loudest. That would shut down necessary critical voices.

As is so often true, clear thinking is not the result of simplistic slogans.

For more on the death of the Republican Foreign Policy Establishment, check this space later in the semester.

The European Monetary Union: ‘Til Debt do Us Part

November 6, 2011 16 comments
German Logo of the ECB.

Image via Wikipedia

A monetary union without a concomitant political union is a bit like a marriage without a commitment to monogamy, and not just because both are prevalent among Europeans. The degree to which eurozone states have surrendered sovereignty  to Greater Europe is only a partial commitment. By adopting the euro, they have given up monetary sovereignty; individually,
eurozone states cannot print their own money, change their interest rates, or adjust the value of their currency. In other words, these states cannot increase their money supplies in order to stimulate short-term economic growth, they cannot lower their interest rates to spur investment or raise them to halt inflation, and they cannot devalue their currency in order to stimulate exports.

What they have given up in order to share a currency is substantial, but so are the benefits of that shared currency. Primary among them is the lowering of the transaction costs that decrease flows of goods and capital across borders. No longer does Germany trading BMWs to Italy for the latest from
Armani, Versace and Prada involve an exchange of currencies. This greatly lowers both the costs and risk of the trade. Similarly, if BMW opens a factory in Italy, it no longer needs to worry that all of its profits from sales there might be consumed by a depreciating lira (which would buy fewer deutsch marks then when the initial investment in the plant was made). Thus, both intrastate trade of goods and flows of capital in the eurozone have increased substantially since the euro was adopted at the beginning of 2001, despite falling during the recent financial crisis (see: http://sdw.ecb.europa.eu/quickview.do?SERIES_KEY=133.TRD.M.I6.Y.M.TTT.I6.4.VAL
and http://www.ecb.int/pub/pdf/scpops/ecbocp126.pdf)

But the eurozone states were not willing to jump into the deep end in their commitment to each other. They were only willing to get their feet wet to see if they liked the water (and some of them are liking it less and less of late). This was to be the first step toward a longer-term goal of a much greater commitment: political union.

Partial commitment to anything presents problems. In this case, sharing monetary and exchange rate policies without sharing fiscal (tax and spending) policies makes the success of the former more difficult. In order to join the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), wannabe member states have had to achieve the Maastricht criteria. These are a number of criteria related to exchange, inflation and interest rates, as well as government deficits and debt, which are to be kept below 3% and 60%, respectively. However, these criteria present a major commitment problem: prior to joining, states have incentives to meet the criteria, but after they have adopted the euro, there are weaker incentives for member states to continue to meet them. Thus, a number of member governments have deficits and debt levels far beyond those “allowed” by the EMU.

This really should not be a surprise. First, governments have surrendered monetary policy to the European Central Bank and, therefore, only have fiscal policy left to try to stimulate the economy during downturns. Second, there is no current method of automatically penalizing states that
violate the criteria (see: http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,724239,00.html).

The data here (http://www.ecb.int/stats/gov/html/dashboard.en.html) show that in 2010, twelve eurozone countries were over the deficit target, with Ireland at 32.4%, Greece at 10.5% and Spain and Portugal at about 9%. Twelve countries are also over the debt ceiling.

This fiscal problem, which has led to the recent debt crisis in Greece and similar problems in Portugal and Ireland (two of the major beneficiaries of eurozone membership) in recent years, is indicative of a broader problem in the European integration experiment: the fundamental tensions in trying to have monetary integration without broader political integration, especially with regards to other economic policies.

Imagine, for example, that there is an economic downturn in the United States (that should not be too difficult to do). Let’s further imagine that Michigan is hit harder by this downturn than Texas. Due to political integration among the states that comprise the USA, there will be a kind of natural shift of revenues from Texas to Michigan. Relatively more taxes will be collected in Texas and relatively more spending, on safety nets like unemployment insurance and other government programs, will be in Michigan. This is one of the advantages of the American states having joined in political union.

The need for fiscal integration in order to preserve the extent of European union so far is increasingly on the minds of leaders of both the European Union and European states (see, for example: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904265504576564801620551890.html). What is required is the further surrendering of state sovereignty to Greater Europe. In the short term, there needs to be deficit and debt level criteria with teeth (meaning a firm punishment mechanism).  But this means the inability of politicians to respond to calls by their constituents for greater spending during economic downturns, or greater social spending in general.

The benefits of union come at significant costs; however, in the long-run, Europe cannot succeed as a monetary union unless it is also committed to political union.

Are There Two Presidencies?

October 24, 2011 16 comments
President Barack Obama meets with former Presi...

Image via Wikipedia

In a recent post on the Foreign Policy site, Daniel Drezner (that’s right, the Theories of International Politics and Zombies guy) speculates about why so many Republicans have been unwilling to give the Obama administration much, if any, credit for foreign policy success.  With the demise of Muammar Gaddafi, Drezner claims, “it becomes harder and harder to argue that Barack Obama’s foreign policy is a failure.”

Drezner, a professor at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University, wonders if Obama could turn his greater successes in foreign policy compared to other policy areas to his electoral advantage in 2012.  Here he imagines an Obama speech in which the incumbent president asks voters to consider what he could accomplish in domestic and economic policy if only he had the same room to maneuver that he has in foreign policy.

As president, I have to address both domestic policy and foreign policy. Because of the way that the commander-in-chief role has evolved, I have far fewer political constraints on foreign policy action than domestic policy action. So let’s think about this for a second. On the foreign stage, America’s standing has returned from its post-Iraq low. Al Qaeda is now a shell of its former self. Liberalizing forces are making uneven but forward progress in North Africa. Muammar Gaddafi’s regime is no longer, without one American casualty. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are winding down. Every country in the Pacific Rim without a Communist Party running things is trying to hug us closer.

Imagine what I could accomplish in domestic policy without the kind of obstructionism and filibustering that we’re seeing in Congress — which happens to be even more unpopular than I am, by the way. I’m not talking about the GOP abjectly surrendering, mind you, just doing routine things like sublecting my nominees to a floor vote in the Senate. I’ve achieved significant foreign policy successes while still cooperating with our allies in NATO and Northeast Asia. Just imagine what I could get done if the Republicans were as willing to compromise as, say, France

Drezner is resurrecting the “Two Presidencies Theory,” which was first presented in the 1960s by the legendary political scientist Aaron Wildavsky.  According to this theory, presidents have more constitutional and statutory authority to make foreign policy decisions than they do in domestic policy areas.  Other political actors, especially in Congress, may also show greater deference to the president when it comes to foreign policy.  As a result, presidents may prefer to give more time and attention to foreign policy problems than to domestic issues where they are less able to make an impact.  Some presidents, like Richard Nixon, come to office intending to concentrate on foreign policy and end up devoting even more of their presidencies to international affairs than they had intended.  Others, like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, show little interest in foreign policy but eventually come to increase their emphasis on international affairs.

The Two Presidencies thesis has been challenged from the moment it was first proposed.  Some scholars found evidence that suggests that the theory is robustly supported.   Others have claimed the demise of the two presidencies as Congress has become less deferential in the foreign policy area.  Still others have suggested that the two presidencies theory only covers Republican presidents.  And some claim that the two presidencies phenomenon continues to persist much as Wildavsky described almost fifty years ago.

Whatever is the case about the two presidencies, it is unlikely that President Obama will be able to turn his administration’s foreign policy successes to his advantage.  To some extent, his own foreign policy successes may render foreign policy issues less salient for most voters in 2012.  Winding down the U.S. involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya will leave the state of the economy the only important question for most.

On the other hand, Republicans will not likely enjoy the built-in advantage they have enjoyed with voters about foreign-policy questions since the end of World War II.  The contenders for the Republican nomination, with the exception of Romney and Huntsman, have expressed little interest in foreign policy.  And the Grand Old Party, which has mostly spoken with one voice about foreign policy questions, is fractured among neo-conservatives, isolationists, traditional realists and whatever foreign policy point of view Herman Cain expresses.  Unfortunately for President Obama, this may not matter.  President George H.W. Bush and Senator John McCain show us that foreign policy expertise and accomplishment are unlikely to save the day when voters are focused on economic worries.

In governing, there may frequently be two presidencies.  At the ballot box, just one.

Trade War, Trade Law

October 17, 2011 8 comments

Last week the US Senate passed the Currency Bill, which calls for the U.S. government to impose tariff sanctions against countries that manipulate their currencies. Of course, the currency on their minds is the Chinese yuan, and probably with good reason. Over the past decade, the United States has had an enormous trade deficit with China, and last year the deficit figure was $273 billion, the largest ever (see the stats). The ever-growing imbalances between the two have persisted into this year, and the yearly deficit has now reached $290 billion.

Besides the fact that the United States itself was a “currency manipulator” when the Fed pumped $600 billion into the economy, thereby deliberately weakening the dollar (in recent years, the US dollar index has been the lowest since 1973, see the figure on the left), the Senate’s effort to solve the problem will merely risk a trade war, in which both sides exchange retaliatory measures only to hurt themselves. First, the yuan has increased by 30% in nominal terms since 2005, and yet America’s deficit with China has widened (see the figure on the right). Second, “adjustment” or “re-balancing” has already been under way, albeit at a snail’s pace, and will continue without anybody having to launch a mutually destructive trade war. Chinese unit labor costs have been growing fast at about 8.5% annually, rapidly catching up to the more well-to-do countries. This means that the rate of the yuan appreciation against the dollar in real terms has been and will be quite high, about 15% per year (see here). It also means some of the manufacturing jobs America has lost to China might come back sooner or later. Indeed, this “re-shoring” has already happened in some sectors according to the Boston Consulting Group (see here).

This doesn’t mean that the United States cannot or should not do anything in the mean time. For instance, the American solar panel industry has been severely hurt by a near overtake of the industry by Chinese competitors fed and nurtured by massive Chinese government subsidies, which may well be a violation of WTO trade law. The well-known failure of Solyndra is just one of the many victims of nearly 200 Chinese subsidy programs. The Obama administration has taken some steps to bring this issue to the WTO, the right place to go (see here). So it’s law, not war, that should govern international trade. (The irony is that to curb climate change and save the earth, probably we need to urge, rather than discourage, the Chinese government to support their clean energy development. And this is why environmentalists hate the WTO.)

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