Hillary Clinton's Complaint To The WTO About OPEC And Gas Prices
  A gasoline tax holiday, any way you cut it, is going to be headline-worthy: It's an eye-catching policy proposal, and the fact that most economists think it's a bad idea means it also has conflict going for it. After Republican nominee John McCain put it on the table, Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton this week followed behind. But there was an international angle to her new gasoline price package, too; she would, as president, file a complaint with the World Trade Organization against OPEC.

It sounded fascinating. So, I wondered, what is the soundness of that concept? Several years ago, in 2004, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat from New Jersey, along with Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon, proposed complaining to the WTO about OPEC. It was greeted skeptically by analysts, who saw it, according to this article, as "election-year political theater." Furthermore, per the International Economic Law and Policy Blog, Algeria, Iran, Iraq and Libya are OPEC countries that "remain outside the OPEC system." And Russia, "which is known to collude with OPEC quite often," isn't a WTO member. Still, how would WTO greet such a complaint? Well, according to the Oil and Gas Journal: "It also is very unlikely that under current WTO rules the kind of legal challenge advocated by Lautenberg would be sustained. WTO offers exceptions for 'conservation of national resources,' for international commodities agreements, and for a nation's national security interests."

So, all in all, while it's an inventive idea, it wouldn't be without its limitations. On the upside, Clinton is making her proposal years after Lautenberg and DeFazio proposed it. And as the OGJ said: "Longer term, however, some analysts say it is conceivable that WTO someday could be used as a platform for producing and consuming nations to reach a mutual understanding on an equitable international oil-pricing system. But many suspect that day to be long in coming."

(We'll save her proposal to allow OPEC to be challenged under U.S. antitrust law for another day, perhaps.)
Tim Starks 30.04.2008, 03:39 # 0 Comments
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An Unrevealing Iran Exchange
  Two foreign policy advisers to the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns, respectively, went after one another on CNN pretty furiously over the weekend. They clashed most over Clinton's threatening-seeming comments about Iran, a subject I've written about here. But I came no closer to understanding what Clinton thinks, and ended up confused about what Obama thinks, too. Read for yourself; see if you can figure it out.

I'm not alone, it turns out, in this confusion. Today, one of the more popular liberal blogs, MyDD, took note of how close Clinton and Obama are in their actual policy toward Iran, in as far as it's discernible. The difference is one of rhetoric, more than anything, I gather. Obama doesn't want to use some of the harsh language Clinton has used, but both have left open using any option whatsoever should Iran attack Israel.

At least the two foreign policy advisers delved into another mystery from earlier in the week, which is whether any candidate besides John McCain had anything to say about the Syria/North Korea news. Both unconditionally accept the intelligence on Syria, which is an interesting turnabout. U.S. intelligence has come under serious scrutiny because of the lack of WMDs in Iraq and the fear that the intelligence was politicized, but on the same CNN program, the only one questioning the Syria intelligence was a Republican congressman. (He didn't question the intelligence itself, but the motive in going public with it.)
Tim Starks 29.04.2008, 00:04 # 0 Comments
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A Common Logic Error In U.S. Politics
  Friday, John McCain said: "I think it's very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president of the United States. So apparently has Danny Ortega and several others. I think that people should understand that I will be Hamas's worst nightmare....If Senator Obama is favored by Hamas I think people can make judgments accordingly."

It's true that a top Hamas leader has spoken highly of Obama, but McCain's statement is, pure and simple, a logic error. It's one that is made all the time in U.S. politics, by both parties. If you attempt to link the views of a supporter of a candidate to the candidate his or her self, you are doomed by the same logic when one of your supporters is unsavory.

Now, logic doesn't seem to be the game candidates are playing when they do this. It's rhetoric – it's about winning votes. But do the same math when it's applied to McCain's supporters, and suddenly McCain finds himself in a stronge position. Does his endorsement from controversial pastor John Hagee – who has called Catholicism "the great whore," and repeatedly stated that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for homosexuality – mean McCain can be counted on to be "Catholicism's worst nightmare?" Of course not. McCain sought out Hagee's endorsement and now finds doing so uncomfortable, since he's sometimes asked about whether he endorses Hagee's views. And McCain himself on Thursday spent some time repudiating Hagee's statements.

Taken to its logical extreme, McCain's argument would mean that if he has any supporters who are murderers or rapists, he can be counted on to go easy on them, much as he implies that Obama would go easy on Hamas. Obama has repeatedly criticized Hamas, and spoke out against former President Jimmy Carter meeting with the group. John McCain may or may not be Hamas' worst nightmare. But arguments like this aren't how that point gets proven.
Tim Starks 26.04.2008, 10:04 # 0 Comments
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Back To Preconditions, Again
  The biggest news of the day in the U.S. came on Capitol Hill, when the CIA briefed lawmakers about its evidence that North Korea had allegedly assisted Syria in the building of a nuclear reactor. But it barely caused a ripple in the 2008 presidential race, with the only real news on the trail coming via the revival of one of the more esoteric debates in the campaign: preconditions, or no preconditions?

The argument began in July, and refused to die, after Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama disagreed during a debate about whether, as president, they would meet with dictators without preconditions. Obama said he would. Clinton said she wouldn't. The other Democrats in the race at the time thought it was just plain silly. Chris Dodd called it "a false debate." Joe Biden spoke of "petty arguments."

The whole thing's a little like a circular firing squad. John McCain on Thursday took the North Korea news as an opportunity to attack Obama for his position. He'd previously hit the Clintons for their North Korea record when Hillary Clinton questioned the Bush administration policy. Of course, the Bush administration ended up getting a similar deal to the Clinton administration's, albeit via a very circuitous path. That didn't stop Bush from criticizing Obama's non-preconditions stance, arguing, as Hillary Clinton did, that meeting with such dictators "sends the wrong message." Has Bush met with such dictators himself? Of course he has.

And all of this is for an Obama position that is so subtle in its differences from Clinton's -- at least, the February version of his position -- that it's hard to tell the difference.
Tim Starks 25.04.2008, 01:12 # 0 Comments
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A Harder Way On Free Trade
  A couple days ago, I wrote about the powerful message of anti-globalization and why it's easy for some workers who have lost jobs because of it to be leery of more. Both candidates in the Democratic primary catered to those fears repeatedly in Pennsylvania, although both had appeared to support free trade before; ultimately, it appears voters believed Hillary Clinton had more of an animus against it than Barrack Obama.

John McCain, meanwhile, took the harder way.

On the day of the Pennsylvania primary vote for Democrats, McCain stood in front of a run-down factory in Ohio to talk about the need for free trade. He proposed more job training and alternative energy investment as a solution. Later, at another meeting in Youngstown, he told voters that while he believed free trade had cost some of them their jobs, they had no choice: "I've met too many people who've been displaced as a result of free trade to say, 'Aww, it's all been good for our economy, don't worry about it,' " McCain said. "But I think the adjustment is not to erect barriers and protectionism. I think the answer is to understand that free trade or not, we are in an information technology revolution. ... We've got to be part of that new economy rather than trying to cling to an old economy."

The exchange came with a former local labor leader named Jack O'Connell, according to McClatchy: "McCain told O'Connell that he understood his 'answer is not good enough for you.' O'Connell, however, thanked McCain for 'your straight talk on NAFTA,' and indicated that although he was a longtime Democrat, he'd vote for the Arizona senator."

So, it seems, that pitch worked on O'Connell. But that may have more to do with McCain's unique communication skills than it does with the broader appeal of the message. When McCain told Michigan primary voters that "some of the jobs that have left Michigan are not coming back," Mitt Romney jumped all over him and observers said it helped contribute to McCain's loss there.

What's more, McClatchy's piece indicates that Clinton's and Obama's anti-free trade rhetoric will likely play out better in key general election states like Ohio and Pennsylvania than would McCain's. The question is whether there are enough O'Connells whom McCain can win over in states where Democrats have proven they can win votes by seeing who can be more opposed to free trade agreements. It's a tough sell.
Tim Starks 23.04.2008, 23:45 # 0 Comments
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Clinton Moves To The Right On Iran -- Or Not
  In the final days of the Pennsylvania primary, Hillary Clinton has played up her toughness on national security, airing an ad that features a shot of Osama bin Laden and a narrator who asserts "You need to be ready for anything," then asks, "Who do you think has what it takes?" The ad has garnered serious attention. What has flown under the radar, by comparison, in Clinton's national security attack is her shift in rhetoric on Iran.

Her remark in last week's debate that an Iranian attack on Israel would bring "massive retaliation" from the United States, which she repeated Monday in an interview, started it off. It was enough to make some wonder if she was talking about a nuclear attack. Despite protests from her campaign that she didn't mean she would nuke Iran, there was context to suggest, in yet another interview, that she meant precisely that. Tuesday morning, she said she would "obliterate" Iran if it attacked Israel. This, after directly avoiding the question of what she would do with Iran if it attacked Israel in prior comments, saying that she doesn't answer hypotheticals.

If Clinton is trying to impress average Pennsylvania voters who are hawkish, this might work, but considering that some right-wing bloggers have said Clinton's rhetoric about a nuclear threat went too far, it might also constitute overkill. Given the alarm that her remarks have raised on the left, this has the potential to follow her around to other states, if it may have come too late in the Pennsylvania race. But my question is the same as this fellow's: What is her position, and how could the U.S.'s allies know from what she and her staff have said?
Tim Starks 23.04.2008, 00:46 # 1 Comment
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The Anti-Globalization Fervor Is Less Mysterious Here Than There
  In the Pennsylvania primary Tuesday where Democratic voters will vote for their nominee for president, and in Indiana shortly thereafter, trade policy will be a big factor. Apparently, the anti-free trade sentiment of these voters confounds a great many observers outside the United States, if the Montreal Gazette and The Times of London's samples are representative.

I can share a personal experience about why there is such animosity in those states. I grew up in Indiana, in a town where a great percentage of the economy was dependent on manufacturing jobs, and where many of my family members had or still have such jobs. The migration of jobs from Zenith, a major local employer, to Mexico, left many workers -- particularly the older ones -- without many alternatives for making a living. It created tremendous hard feelings toward the company and yes, toward Mexico. While the job migration pre-dated the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA wasn't a very popular idea in Evansville because of fears that it would lead to additional jobs moving south of the border.

Whether it has or not is a separate question. In Pennsylvania, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce argues today that the state has benefited from increased exports to Canada and Mexico, with 94% of the state's exports coming from manufactured goods. Global Trade Watch, on the other side of the debate, argues that Pennsylvania has lost hundreds of thousands of jobs as a result of NAFTA and the creation of the World Trade Organization.

I know that some of the Zenith employees in Evansville found better jobs, and I know some did not. Whether the facts bear out that free trade benefits the U.S. economy in the long run, though, it's easier for some to think of the sting of a lost job now or in the recent past -- and all the hard times that accompany it -- than it is to think of what potentially better job might come next. Sometimes, those personal experiences make a more powerful impression than any economist's well-reasoned case.
Tim Starks 22.04.2008, 03:33 # 0 Comments
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Comic Books, Movies And The War On Terror
  The latest issue of the magazine Entertainment Weekly previews 100 summer movies, and the U.S. film selection this season lacks a staple of pretty much every year since the 2001 terror attacks: The comic book-based movie where the clear-cut hero triumphs over evil.

There's a school of thought that the rebirth of fantasy in American film, particularly the super-hero genre but also flicks like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, was a reflection of consumers' anxiety over terrorism. Spider-Man and Superman are good guys, through and through, and they are opposed by villains of pure malevolence. But last summer, the latest Spider-Man film, while profitable, was a slight disappointment at the box office; likewise for the latest Superman movie.

This summer's lineup does have a number of comic book movies, but if anything, they reflect a hangover in the war on terror. Sometimes, literally. Will Smith stars as a super-powered alcoholic in "Hancock." "Iron Man" features a superhero who is, by day, an arms dealer and a cad. At the beginning of "Hellboy 2," Hellboy is -- that's right -- drinking too much. The recent film version of "The Incredible Hulk" was a flop, but he's been revived for this summer, and the Hulk has always been ambiguous in his heroism, struggling with rage and prone to tossing his power around with total disregard. And the latest "Batman" film stars a hero whose tactics in pursuit of justice have always been questionable. This lineup of films comes at a time when the political debate about the war on terror has shifted from "what else can we do to make us safer?" to worries about the methods the federal government has used to make us safer, from warrantless surveillance to waterboarding.

The case for a political shift that is reflected in the summer's lineup is diminished by a few things. First, the most recent "Batman" movie was a huge smash in 2005; other morally ambiguous superhero movies, like "Ghost Rider" and "Punisher" disappointed at the box office over that time frame, so maybe there is no pattern to speak of. Second, a genre of horror films commonly referred to as "torture-porn" for its graphic torture sequences -- along the lines of "Saw" -- was thought by some to reflect anxiety about the government's harsh interrogation tactics. According to EW, such films are "wearing out their welcome" with viewers. And, the cover story is about the latest "Indiana Jones" film, which has a pretty simple moral universe. It is almost certainly going to be the biggest hit of the summer, so there's obviously still a market for such films.

But it's clear that Hollywood, at least, is being drawn toward heroes who aren't perfect moral examples. Here's how the star of "Iron Man" compares the title character to other superheroes: "Whereas most of them are dealing with some extraordinary transformation, he's very self-indulgent, a womanizer, and politically unsound by most people's standards." Perhaps Hollywood, having released a string of movies that directly addressed the war on terror but flopped commercially, like "Rendition," is now interested in taking a more metaphorical route to the same topic.

With no degree in pop psychology, it's impossible to say whether this is a trend or a stretch. But perhaps the 2008 presidential candidates can get some cues about the public's views of the war on terror from how this summer's fantasy films are received.
Tim Starks 21.04.2008, 04:13 # 1 Comment
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Brushing Up On The Basics
  If you're visiting this site, I'm going to guess that you're up on the basics of international affairs, the 2008 campaign or both. But maybe you don't know, off-hand, where Barack Obama stands on India. Or maybe you don't know, off-hand, where John McCain stands on Africa.

Those topics will inevitably come up here when candidates make a new pronouncement or policy proposal, but if you're looking for a one-stop shop for where everyone stands at the moment, there's a resource I'd like to recommend.

The Council on Foreign Relations, a non-profit, membership based organization devoted to promoting greater understanding of international affairs in the United States, has a Campaign 2008 section of its website.

You can find it www.cfr.org/campaign2008. It's got a storehouse of documents and speeches, not to mention essays by CFR experts on campaign-related issues. It's got a blog, too, but it's pretty basic -- just some links, usually, with no analysis. For that, you'll have to come here.
Tim Starks 18.04.2008, 15:02 # 0 Comments
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Between Gaffe Questions, Democrats Get To Talk A Little International
  Much has been made of how much of the first half of the Democratic debate that aired on ABC Wednesday evening focusing on the assorted campaign stumbles of the two candidates. Fair enough. A great deal of the American political media is pretty shallow, and gets reeled into the latest gaffe or minor controversy easily. It seems the only thing I've read about or seen on television for the past two weeks is about Barack Obama's now-infamous "bitter" remark.

And even though domestic policy has dominated much of the Pennsylvania primary race so far, there were some interesting tidbits that squeezed their way into the debate.

--Both candidates promised to respond strongly to an attack on Israel. No surprise there, although Obama's views on Israel have raised suspicion among some Democratic voters, so it perhaps helped him to be able to say it on a big stage.
--Obama praised the "wise foreign policy" of George H.W. Bush. This was a new wrinkle. Obama's also taken fire before any time he praises Republicans, but so far, there's been no visible backlash for Obama saying this. That's interesting, considering that H.W. was criticized from some on the left for his invasion of Iraq, but maybe it just speaks to how much the left is upset with the second invasion of Iraq led by H.W.'s son.
--Each declared that they would withdraw from Iraq even if military commanders recommended against it. That's in contrast with Bush's declarations that military commanders are driving his policy on the Iraq war.

Much has also been made of how the Democratic primary is hurting the party's chances of winning the presidential race. But inasfar as it could help, one area would be the honing of each's foreign policy messages. McCain is viewed as having an advantage there, so the eventual victor's message had better be sharp by the time he or she gets to the general election. They just didn't get much of a chance for sharpening Wednesday night, because ABC was so unfocused on policy.
Tim Starks 17.04.2008, 19:50 # 2 Comments
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Modern Conservativism and Where McCain's Foreign Policy Stands
  In the May issue of The Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch argues that John McCain is a "true" conservative because his lineage traces to the thinking of Edmund Burke, "the father of modern conservativism." And yet, Rauch notes that Burke "would caution against forcibly uprooting the authority structures of a long-tyrannized society like Iraq and expecting a mini-America to spring forth." That, of course, is at odds with McCain's stance. CQ blogger Richard Whalen writes of McCain that he is a "war-loving neocon" and invokes another father of conservatism: "Conservatives of every persuasion should stand up now and follow the late Bill Buckley’s example by declaring the Iraq misadventure Bush’s tragic folly." The same Buckley spent the waning years of his writing career being on the outs with conservatives for just that view.

The fact of the matter is, if you live long enough in the United States, you'll see what's "conservative" and what's "liberal" flip-flop several times over. The 9/11 terror attacks transformed President Bush from an advocate of a "humble" foreign policy into the foreign policy activist he is now.

McCain is a mainstream conservative, as of now, on the topic of foreign policy. He came to his more interventionist foreign policy views before other Republicans did. It's been a long evolution. But whether it's "true" conservatism or not depends on what year it is, and even what day it is.
Tim Starks 17.04.2008, 03:42 # 0 Comments
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Vice President Biden? Secretary of State Biden? Neither?
  On Tuesday, former 2008 presidential candidate Joe Biden, the Democrat in charge of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, came out swinging at John McCain's national security policies. On the surface of it, and as some news organizations reported it, he did so for reasons unmentioned. But beware speeches for no apparent reason from ambitious politicians in an election year.

The wide-ranging speech addressed everything from Russia to similarities between McCain and President Bush on Iraq. In prepared remarks, Biden said: "When it comes to Iraq, there is no daylight between John McCain and George W. Bush. They are joined at the hip." McCain shrugged off the criticism, according to the AP, arguing that the current Iraq strategy is succeeding.

Political observers have speculated before that Biden is auditioning for a position in either the Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama administrations. It looked that way to more than a few Tuesday; the television station MSNBC pondered his speech as a play for vice president or Secretary of State. Biden, for his part, has been expectedly non-communicative about his desires.

The speech very well could serve to burnish Biden's resume for vice president, since he killed two birds with one stone: 1. Demonstrate his ability to go on the attack against the other party's nominee, a common function of a vice presidential candidate; and 2. Display his considerable foreign policy credentials, which could help balance the ticket for either Clinton or Obama. While they have argued extensively with one another about who is more to be trusted on national security, McCain has a very, very extensive resume in that area. Biden falls short in another vice presidential category, however, that being whether he could help deliver electoral votes from states that might not otherwise go for the candidate. Biden represents tiny Delaware, and nearby Northeastern states tend to favor Democrats. He also has other potential drawbacks, like a tendency toward verbal gaffes.

At any rate, those who live outside America -- or those who live in the United States but aren't familiar with Biden -- might still want to brush up on his foreign policy views. His office provided links for reporters to video of his speech here -- for some reason.
Tim Starks 15.04.2008, 23:45 # 0 Comments
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McCain's Interrogation Tactics Stance
  On Monday, John McCain was asked once again in an Associated Press question-and-answer about his views about interrogation tactics used on detainees. Think Progress, a popular liberal blog, said he appeared confused, noting that his answer veered to a wholly different topic: "...and we cannot, in my view, torture any American, that includes waterboarding..." That, the blog correctly points out, was not the question. It is the treatment of non-Americans that is at issue. McCain, who has authored numerous laws to restrict harsh interrogation techniques, nonetheless also voted against a veto override of a bill earlier this year that would explicitly ban the Central Intelligence Agency from using waterboarding and other harsh tactics.

That McCain, a victim of torture himself and a leading opponent of it, would vote against such a bill was confusing to a great many reporters at the time, but it was consistent with his past position.

That is not to say that his position is without ambiguity. Time magazine did an excellent exploration of this apparent contradiction in an April 10 piece. It's worth reading. But even it does not definitively answer what tactics McCain is comfortable with the CIA using and which ones he isn't. There's a chance, per one theory in the article, that his current stance is the result of a bit of political wrangling with the White House, and that, if president, he would ban all such harsh interrogation tactics.

But until then, it's probably going to keep coming up; Democrats put the aforementioned interrogation bill veto override on the floor specifically to put pressure on McCain. His position's nuances will continue to be a tempting target for Democrats looking to appeal to their base (or else Think Progress wouldn't have blogged about it) and independents (per the strategy mentioned in the Time piece).
Tim Starks 15.04.2008, 03:44 # 0 Comments
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Economics Vs. International Affairs In 2008
  Conventional wisdom in American politics is rarely to be trusted, but both parties are acting like the current conventional wisdom about the presidential campaign -- that the economy has surpassed the war in Iraq and terrorism as the foremost issue on voters' minds -- is correct. There is polling to back it up, not that polling is always accurate, either. But it would be unwise to think international affairs, and the candidates' views on them, won't have a major impact on this race.

Already, the Democratic primary race has shifted to and fro over international affairs issues. Hillary Clinton's advertisement questioning whether Barack Obama had the foreign policy credentials to be able to respond well to a national security emergency at 3 a.m. is widely believed to have helped her get back on even footing with Obama, among other things, in late February and early March. Once they wrap up their lengthy primary, Democrats plan to tie the war in Iraq around John McCain's ankle and keep shoving him toward the ocean. Democratic strategist Bob Shrum said as much on the television show "Meet The Press": "On the great issues before the country -- Iraq, Iran... -- he is very close to George Bush, in fact even more extreme."

And the economy and international affairs have, so far, been closely linked at times. For example: The dispute in the primary between Clinton and Obama over who is most reluctant about free trade, particularly the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Tim Starks 14.04.2008, 01:26 # 0 Comments
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