Archive for the ‘Foreign Affairs’ Category

Shifting Goalposts Forever

Here is a piece of really solid analysis on the troop level increase proposed Fred and Kim Kagan, which I think speaks to a lot of broader issues in politics.

Spencer Ackerman:
(Via Andrew Sullivan)

The sun rose today and its gravitational force kept the planet twisting around it through the void, so naturally Fred and Kim Kagan, the neoconservative wing of counterinsurgency, have put out a call for between 40,000 and 45,000 additional troops to be sent to Afghanistan in the next year …

It’s difficult to understand how the Kagans think there are 40,000 – 45,000 U.S. troops available for deployment — the Pentagon doesn’t think the Army can deploy a single additional combat brigade to Afghanistan in the next six months — and the report is silent on whether to increase the pace of withdrawal from Iraq (formerly a Kagan no-no); whether to decrease the time in between deployments, which the Army and the Secretary of Defense will resist after having to do it to sustain the 2007 Iraq troop surge; or whether to … I don’t know. They just want the politically treacherous 40,000-45,000 troop increase, and now the GOP will have a troop figure to say Afghanistan requires if Obama doesn’t provide such a ginormous increase. (emphasis added)

Andrew Sullivan adds:

What is the point of arguing for a strategy that simply cannot be done? My suspicion is that, like most neocon projects of the recent past, this is not an actual strategy for resolving the problem. It’s a domestic political move designed to set up Republican cries of “retreat!” and “surrender!” if the president decides that pulling an LBJ on Afghanistan isn’t a good idea. The way the McChrystal report was leaked also suggests a domestic political strategy of bouncing Obama into a deeper, longer war (on top of the eight years already invested).

On Afghanistan the Kagans got pretty much exactly what they wanted from the Obama Administration in the first 8 months, and despite the lack of available resources they still want more. You see this type of hyper-aggressive goal post shifting in many areas of domestic policy. When people started digging into the Obama claim that there is agreement on “80%” of Health Care Reform, it became apparent people just hadn’t gotten around to demanding revisions to the allegedly middle of the road proposals which make up the other 80%.

And when there is no agreed upon goal posts there is no 50 yard line either. The whole concept of moderation falls apart. Most advocates and politicians aren’t nearly so willing to ask for the impossible as the Kagans, but when the goal posts of starting shifting, the goal of moderation isn’t going to mean much to anyone that needs to craft a real world strategy.


The Moral Calculation is the Right Calculation

Here is a powerful response to climate action skeptic Jim Manzi by Ryan Avent as featured by Andrew Sullivan:

I’ll reiterate again that a) the costs of the legislation are likely overstated, b) Manzi is assuming that there will be no ancillary benefits to the legislation, and c) Manzi is assuming that after this legislation is passed there is no change in global warming policy in America thereafter, ever, for the next century. I don’t have a problem with people using Manzi’s analysis as a datapoint to consider in determining how they feel about Waxman-Markey, but you’d have to check your common sense at the door to buy his interpretation of it. You’d have to assume that the uncertain costs of an unprecedented climatic shift are likely to be no big deal and well within our ability to handle, while the rather mundane use of government policy to trim a bit off of consumption in an effort to prevent us from killing hundreds of millions of people is bound to be totally debilitating.

For climate action skeptics that believe in global warming it always comes down to assuming energy consumption change will be terribly expensive and Climate Change will be basically benign. Neither assumption is grounded in the relevant research.

Yet it speaks to a lot of smart people, like Andrew Sullivan, because the damage of Climate Change can be hard to put into numbers. Here’s Sullivan in the same post as above:

I’m fairly sympathetic to Manzi’s analysis and have yet to see a blogger forcefully counter his mathematical argument with another mathematical argument.

When faced with huge economic and climate uncertainties, it’s hard for me to come down forcefully one way or the other. I appreciate that obliterating the planet is a a smidge bigger risk than spending too much money, but I worry about the unintended consequences of regulation, and there are diminishing returns from playing the world destruction card if your proposed legislation isn’t going to fix the problem.

Here’s the thing, having math in your argument doesn’t make it a mathematical argument anymore then having citations makes a Michael Crichton novel a doctoral thesis. Manzi’s argument is a not a detailed cost benefit analysis of addressing Climate Change. It’s a slap dash, back of the envelope calculation of other researchers’ numbers fed into a spreadsheet. His methodology is based on faulty assumptions and expectations. The organization who’s numbers he references has repeatedly issued reports saying we should address Climate Change. And worst Manzi breezily disregards the economically small, but in humanitarian terms catastrophic, effects of Climate Change. A windfall profit tax on oil companies would likely be more economically costly then say firebombing Tanzania, but nobody faced with the two choices would say we should start loading up the bombs.

That’s the scourge of numbers, if you fail to control for a lurking variable you’re a disgrace, if you fail to factor in the deaths and displacement of millions then you’re serious analyst who’s ideas can only challenged in the form of charts and numbers.



Obviously it’s a small gesture that won’t change anything, but I figured if I was marching around on the streets and risking getting shot for a better future I’d appreciate it if somebody halfway around the world signaled their support. So for June 17, 2009 the Carrots and Sticks blog goes green in support of the demonstrators in Iran. We wish them good luck and safety.Iranvote

War Supplemental Appropriations – Amendment to HR2346

The Rules Committee recommended the closed rule,  no amendments allowed and added several provisions that bar the use of funds for the release of Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Also added restrictive guidance of how prisoners can be released via plans vetted by the President and other government officials.

-Div Bistro

Climate Committee Update

Climate Committee Update 05/08/2009

We have had a busy ten days or so in the Climate Committee, mostly because the  Waxman-Markey bill is up before Markey’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee.  I will be posting three things:  a report on an event I attended on international climate change policy, a report on the work our Climate Committee has done so far, and an attempt to summarize useful things people have been saying in hearings before the Energy and Environment subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce committee.

Kermit the Reporter

Installment I

I kicked my Carrots and Sticks climate work off with an event at the Center for American Progress Action Fund on April 29th.  It was billed as a dialogue between Senator Kerry and Sigmar Gabriel, the German Environment Minister. Sigmar Gabriel was here to attend the Major Economies Forum, which Obama convened in D.C. to help pave the way toward the Climate Conference in Copenhagen (December 6-18, 2009). I attended in the hopes that Kerry would say something new about the work that was being done on climate in the 111th Congress, or that I would learn something about the international dimensions of this issue.

Minister Gabriel spoke first.  Gabriel seemed happy and optimistic, but I think that was only because he was so relieved to be dealing with the new Administration.  He said that the difference between now and the last time he was here, two years ago, was like day and night.  He said that the most progressive proposals in Europe and the most progressive legislation in Congress still differed from each other, but that now Europe and America could finally get down to the meat of substantive debate on climate change policy.  However, he said the major precondition for that debate is that we must all convince our citizens to get behind climate change legislation.  To do that, we must present the transition to a clean energy economy as a set of opportunities rather than sacrifices.

What followed was a discussion of how to frame the issue of climate that felt very familiar to me.  Apparently, the debate in Germany breaks down about the same as it does here, with industry on one side shouting about the monetary cost of climate change policy and policy folks on the other side pointing out that we must take action now or it will cost us all a great deal more in the long run.

Gabriel believes that the evidence of Europe’s experience since the Kyoto Treaty is that climate change policy creates new jobs and creates a sustainable society.  They have created 280,000 new green jobs in Germany in just the past few years.  He advocated for energy efficiency.  He stated that with efficient enough systems, people’s bills will fall relative to what they were in the old, fossil-fuel based economy even if the price of electricity goes up, because they will be using (and wasting) so much less energy.  He sees the shift to a clean economy as the story of the third or fourth industrial revolution, and says that we are giving industry a new foundation.  He sounded more or less like a German Van Jones with less charisma.  (That is not intended as a criticism of Minister Gabriel; few people have as much charisma as Van Jones).

When Kerry got his turn, he said, “God, those are all things I say, that’s wonderful.”  He spoke a bit about the context of the issue, to put it in perspective:  climate change is an issue with a generational impact, comparable to the impact nuclear power and the possibility of nuclear war had on the past generation.  He said that only a few flat-earthers were still debating the science of global warming, and that now the debate is on what we’re going to do

According to Kerry, economic common sense dictates that the people opposing climate change policy are wrong, because job growth is going to come from technological advances.  Transitioning to the green economy will encourage technological advances and create jobs.  He also described the economic uses of advances in energy efficiency.  Texas Instruments was convinced to stay in Texas rather than moving to China because the workers there got Amory Lovins to redesign their buildings in an energy-efficient way.  It saved them 3 million dollars and made them competitive.  He said he believed 4 or 5 Google-equivalent businesses were going to emerge in the clean energy sector over the next few years.  In other words, clean energy policy is the road to new technology and greater economic success.

The most interesting points came at the end with a question asked about China’s role in global climate change policy.  Both Kerry and Gabriel agreed that China is critical to any solution to this problem (they recently outstripped us as the world’s #1 emitter of greenhouse gases).  Kerry said that China is not well understood globally on this issue.  For years, they would not talk about it, but then they quietly began to do work on it internally.  Now they are fully engaged in a dialogue about climate change in every forum from Davos to Bali.  Kerry said: “We’ll be pushing China [to do the environmentally right thing] for the next few years, but then we’ll find that they’re in the lead environmentally, and we’ll be chasing them.  They’ve got better building codes, stricter standards on their vehicles and are very anxious to join with us on clean coal technology. They’re making bold leaps in solar, and they’re setting up to be the world’s largest producer of electric cars.  They set a goal for 20% reduction of electricity use in their country by 2012.  They are going to exceed their goals.”  Kerry wants a bi-lateral agreement with China before the UN Climate Negotiations, but he seems to want it primarily around coal and carbon sequestration.

Gabriel wants China to be a partner, but wants all agreements to be done under the auspices of the UN (not surprising).  He said the Major Economies Forum and the G20 meetings can lead up to an agreement by the UN, but he didn’t seem to favor the idea of U.S. and China entering separately into agreements with each other.  The MEF meeting should prepare for the G20 meeting, and that should prepare for the UN general assembly.

I thought I was going to get more substantive, meaty discussion out of these guys, and more new information, but there was some new information (new to me, at least) and a handful of talking points and anecdotes I’ve repeated here because we might find them useful.