Security and Peace Initiative Democracy Arsenal

« December 10, 2006 - December 16, 2006 | Main | December 24, 2006 - December 30, 2006 »

December 22, 2006


How Trade Strengthens U.S. Security
Posted by Jordan Tama

As Congress wrapped up its work this month, it passed important measures to normalize trade ties with Vietnam and renew low tariffs for Andean and African countries. Additional trade pacts with Peru, Colombia, and Panama will be voted on by the Democratic-led Congress next year. These votes are likely to be contentious. Many new members of Congress argue that trade agreements spur the loss of American jobs, and some new members call for renegotiating existing pacts, such as NAFTA.

The public debate on trade usually centers on its economic costs and benefits. I happen to believe the benefits outweigh the costs, but that the costs are real and should be mitigated by expanded assistance programs for Americans who lose their jobs when companies move overseas.

Here I want to focus on a different aspect of trade policy: its impact on other U.S. foreign policy interests. While reasonable people can disagree about the relative weight of the economic gains and losses induced by trade, I think the political and security benefits of reducing trade barriers are undeniable (though often underestimated). If we take them into account, the case for opening markets becomes much stronger. Consider the following:

1) Trade can provide an economic engine for foreign policy leadership. Trade accelerates U.S. economic growth, producing positive foreign policy spillover effects. Growth increases our tax base, making it easier to fund foreign affairs and defense programs. It also helps us maintain our technological edge, which is central to our military strength. A stagnant or shrinking economy would likely lead to a smaller U.S. presence abroad and diminished American influence internationally.

2) Trade can foster political and security cooperation. We need help from other countries in the Iraq war, in the broader struggle against violent jihadism, and on other security priorities. But nations that don't have direct interests at stake in those issues will only help us if we help them on issues they consider important, like greater access to our huge market. If we reduce our import barriers, they'll be more likely to back us on security matters.

Why should we care whether poor countries support our policies on Iraq, Iran, or counterterrorism? Because they have votes in international bodies like the UN and their backing can make our policies more legitimate internationally.

Continue reading "How Trade Strengthens U.S. Security" »

December 21, 2006

Middle East

Thomas Turns on the Arabs
Posted by Shadi Hamid

The surest way to lose your street cred with the Arab/Muslim community is to say anything remotely positive about Thomas Friedman. This has always been a mystery to me, since I’ve generally found TF to be pretty fair, balanced, and insightful. More importantly, it seemed like he had a genuine empathy for the Arab people, their hopes, tragedies, and dissapointments (a lot of those).

In any case, some of my friends began to suspect I was a “sell-out” when I started quoting Friedman a couple years ago. They would look at me with worried, wary eyes: “Shadi, what’s going on buddy? You okay?” Partly because I believed it and partly because I was being contrarian, I would passionately hail From Beirut to Jerusalem as the single, best book on the Middle East ever written (well, it isn’t, but it’s damn good). I met Friedman for the first time in September at a reception hosted by the British ambassador. We talked a bit about whether or not Hamas could or would moderate. I was quite impressed by what he had to say.

In any case, I’m starting to get worried about Tom. Maybe my friends had a point after all. His latest column on the "rules" of Arab politics is one of the most cringe-worthy things I’ve read in recent memory. For starters, I share Matt Yglesias’s confusion about what this metaphor could possibly mean:

Any reporter or U.S. Army officer wanting to serve in Iraq should have to take a test, consisting of one question: “Do you think the shortest distance between two points is a straight line?” If you answer yes, you can’t go to Iraq. You can serve in Japan, Korea or Germany— not Iraq.

I think he’s saying either that Arabs are irrational or that nothing is as it seems in the Middle East. Let’s hope it’s the latter. But it gets more offensive, with gems like this:

Rule 3: If you can’t explain something to Middle Easterners with a conspiracy theory, then don’t try to explain it at all - they won’t believe it…

Gone is the empathy, that’s for sure. Of course, Friedman knows better then to peddle inane generalizations such as these, but he’s angry, frustrated, and, like many of us, feels betrayed by the own sense of hope he had, not long ago, that maybe – just maybe – things were beginning to change in troubled Arab lands. I read somewhere yesterday that “hope is always driven by fear.” I’m not sure this is correct. I hope it isn’t. Sometimes I wish I was a pessimist so I wouldn’t always get disappointed by reality. Maybe this is why we liberals get depressed easier, because we really do believe that people can change, that life can change for the better, that great things are in fact possible. But reality bites and things never quite go as planned. Republicans (and realists) realize this, which is why they seem to have an easier time of reconciling themselves with the disappointments of life, love, and politics.

December 20, 2006


Giving back to the planet
Posted by Jordan Tama

Adding to Heather's excellent suggestions, another way to do good during the holidays is to make a green investment that offsets your annual energy use. provides a good overview of the benefits of going "carbon neutral," and a New York Times article explains some of the ways to do it. One option is to invest in planting trees through The Conservation Fund. Another way is to invest in renewable energy projects, as TerraPass does. You'll be surprised at how inexpensively you can compensate for your greenhouse gas pollution.

Since it can take many years for investments in trees or clean energy projects to bear fruit, reducing energy use is still essential to prevent climate change in the near future. So we should all follow Heather's lead and buy a hybrid next time we're in the market for a car.


Bring a Smile to Your Face
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Just for a second, forget the President's end-of-the-year news conference and all the other awfulness, and let me suggest a few foreign policy-related things do can do to bring a holiday smile to your face, after you've followed Shadi's suggestion for watching The Devil Wears Prada and pondering the seductions of power:

1.  Go drive a (US-built) hybrid car.  We acquired a hybrid Saturn VUE last week, and I have to confess that I'm getting a lot more psychic benefit from driving it than I ever expected (which almost makes up for my preference for a zippy little standard transmission sedan).  "Up yours, Ahmedinajad," I mutter whenever the little green "ECO" light comes on.  "Take that, Ted Stevens.  Who needs your drilling in ANWAR?"  And I'm also sending a message to my Big Three auto-exec neighbors here in southeast Michigan.  Build some more of these things, darn it -- how about a sedan, or even a station wagon?  Give my other neighbors the autoworkers some work, compete with the Japanese hybrids AND help us climb out of the oil mess.

2.  Give some money to a cause that works.  If you need more encouragement, read Peter Singer's article about how little each of the top 10 percent of US income-earners would need to give to meet the Millennium Development Goals, for example.  If you have kids, or remember the Del Fuegos fondly, or want to see Walter Cronkite hug a sheep, check out the Heifer Project's holiday site. Feel good about your fellow human beings, and lessen the pain of what your tax dollars are being wasted on.

My promised update: 

A kid named Akash Mehta is raising money to help open a girls' school in Herat, Afghanistan.  You can read about him and help him out here.  Akash has already gotten his first challenge grant, from the Unemployed Philosphers Guild, the entrepreneurs who brought you Bush National Security Team puppets, "Freudian Slip" message pads and other novelties you may not be able to do without.  Why is Akash doing this?

The first time I thought of this was when I was sitting in the kitchen trying to help my mom wash dishes. But I found that I wasn't good at dishwashing. So I sat down and asked my mom what use kids were to the world. She told me that we were learning how to be good, and we can help the world when we grow up. Plus, when we are kids we make joy for grownups. But I said I want to do something now that makes the world a better place, and I am too young to do that.

Even if I am only 8 years old, I am thinking about how lucky I am to be rich compared to these kids. You might think that these are disturbing thoughts for a young child and I sort of agree, but the only way that disturbing thoughts can go away from children's minds is if you help.   Once a few people do this, children's disturbing thoughts can be replaced by thoughts of how the world is slowly becoming a better place and how one day is better than the last.

Shoot, send this kid some money.

Also, one thing NOT to do is to give your old clothes to one of those places (including the oh-so convenient drop boxes) that promise to send them to Africa.  Why?  Most end up re-sold by entrepreneurs for profit, and drive the local fabric and garment industries out of business, because who can compete when the raw material is free?  ABC News has a report on this, but don't let it drive you to frustrated despair.  Sell or give your old clothes to a thrift shop or find someplace that recycles them, then take the tax break and send that to a group working to empower folks in poor countries.

Continue reading "Bring a Smile to Your Face" »

December 19, 2006


You Knew it Was Coming...
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Spencer Ackerman's blog redesign will no doubt put a smile upon your faces.


The Devil Wears Prada: A Political Parable?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

For a brief 90-minute stint on Saturday, I had this huge smile on my face. Well, yes, I was watching The Devil Wears Prada. Those who know me know I read too much into things and that I tend to “project.” Well, as it turns out, I connected with the movie in a very personal, political way.

Andy (Anne Hathaway) – the main character – does what every overly ambitious recent college grad tries to do in DC/NY: find the killer internship or make that one crucial connection that changes everything. She gets a job as Miranda/Meryll Streep's personal assistant (Miranda is the goddess of New York fashion, modelled after Vogue chief Anna Wintour). Andy comes in with good intentions. Her heart’s in the right place, she’s down to earth and seems to have a grasp of what’s important in life. Ambition and idealism, however, can prove a dangerous mix.

Like Andy, we come in thinking that will be able to resist the temptations of the “system” and that our integrity will come out unscathed. But if you want something badly enough, it becomes very easy to make what, at first, seem small, inconsequential compromises. But even small things develop their own momentum. The problem is that most individuals have a low tolerance for cognitive dissonance. So, once you start doing things you don’t believe in or agree with, you have two choices: you can stop, or you can adapt. Most people choose the latter. This is both a subconscious and conscious process. The subconscious part is the more troubling since we don’t really have control over it. For example, let's say your superior at Defense/NSA/etc. keeps giving you assignments you don’t feel comfortable with. If you work on those assignments long enough, you will, inevitably, begin to rationalize, justify, and explain away what you’re doing.

And that’s why I absolutely loved the scene toward the end where Andy and Miranda have a quick but critical "heart-to-heart." Miranda tells young Andy that she sees so much of herself in her. And that's when it hits Andy: she has, without fully realizing it, become the one thing she had always detested. In this movie, it's not too late for Andy to switch gears and make amends. But in real life - and particularly in the world of politics - it too often is.

December 18, 2006

Progressive Strategy

The Iraq War's Worst Casualty
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

It’s a truism today that America’s position as the world’s superpower is shakier than it used to be. The nation’s military is overstretched and unable to take on new commitment. And Washington has made little progress on urgent foreign policy objectives, including stabilizing Iraq, curbing Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs, expanding global trade, and ending anti-American extremism in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

The Iraq war has directly caused much of this damage. Financially, it has been a huge drain: The Congressional Budget Office reported in mid-2006 that costs topped $432 billion. Militarily, it has been punishing: The Pentagon admits that the conflict has badly stretched the Armed Forces, with 70 percent of troops scheduled to return to Iraq next year set to serve their third tours. In human terms, the price has been high: nearly 3,000 American troops have died to date.

The war’s dearest casualty, however, has been to America’s international standing, specifically its legitimacy abroad. The Iraq intervention has eroded the esteem, respect, and trust that the United States once commanded on every continent, hampering a host of current policy objectives and putting ambitious and important new goals out of reach. Rehabilitating America’s legitimacy, therefore, will be essential to ensuring that the Iraq war does not exact a permanent toll on American global influence.

International legitimacy is a measure of the acceptability and justifiability of a state’s actions in the eyes of other states and their citizens. Legitimacy, a kind of moral capital, reflects a collective judgment that the assertion of power, through a policy or an action, is valid even if it is unpopular. After all, leadership requires taking the occasional unpopular stand; but whereas popularity is inherently ephemeral, contingent on personalities and temporary alignments of interest, legitimacy is more enduring. It provides a foundation for respect and understanding that can transcend short-term, conflicting goals.

Practically, when America’s purposes are well-founded, openly articulated, and broadly consistent with its professed values, the use of power toward those ends is generally judged legitimate. But when the United States misleads others about its motives, acts on inadequate or selective evidence, flouts its own principles, or unilaterally exempts itself from broadly agreed standards of conduct, its legitimacy suffers.

For a discussion of how US legitimacy was lost . . . and the steps needed to recover it, read my piece in this month's issue of Democracy, A Journal of Ideas (the logon process is swift and free!)  Eager for your comments here at Democracy Arsenal. 

Guest Contributors
Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.

www Democracy Arsenal
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of the Security and Peace Institute, the Center for American Progress, The Century Foundation or any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use