Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Presidential options on foreign policy

David Henderson thinks Obama will be re-elected due to foreign policy. In his post he argues Governor Romney would be the "war candidate". But there's no quotes from Romney or even outlines of his statements or thinking in any real detail. Nothing at all but vague assertions and implications.

2. The article that David links to calling the Romney advisors "neo-con retreads", in fact, doesn't call any of the advisors neo-cons. In fact, it says of his closest and most well-known advisors:
Zoellick: "He is a generally regarded as a relative moderate on foreign affairs, a pragmatism, at the other end of the spectrum in the Republican party from the neocons."
Williamson: "He is a state department veteran who served in the Reagan administration and during the George W Bush administration opted to concentrate on the Darfur crisis in Sudan rather than become bogged down in the Iraq war. One of his jobs is to co-ordinate the divergent views coming from Romney's 40-plus pool of foreign policy advisers."
Kagan: "One of the best-known thinkers in US foreign policy and a heavyweight adviser to Romney. He was a foreign policy adviser to John McCain in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He is co-founder of the neo-conservative Project for the New American Century. In spite of that, he is not generally regarded as a neo-con but a realist. His latest book, The World America Made, was praised by Barack Obama."
Friedberg: "Professor of politics and international relations at Princeton. Another realist has focused recently mainly on the rise of China and argues that the Obama administration should be preparing for a potential conflict. In spite of that, he does not believe such a conflict is inevitable."
3. I don't understand why David is asserting that immediately withdrawing from war and the Middle East would be a winning strategy while posting links to public opinion research suggesting that majorities of voters support the policy of continued war offered by President Obama.

How about some specifics. In the comments to that post, Greg G says:

It is quite true that there is a lack of policy specifics that we have "heard from Romney." One specific that we have heard is that he is outraged that Obama has not been more supportive of the current Israeli government which is seeking our support in attacking Iran.
That has been the specific that he has chosen to emphasize the most. He has also criticized Obama for being willing to announce a specific date for leaving Afghanistan.

But... I don't interpret either of those specifics as favoring military action nor do I think he's unambiguously more "warlike" than Obama's policies. Rather, both cases relate to the feeling that Obama is sending the wrong signals to our friends and enemies around the world.

Foreign policy largely seems like a signaling game to me. Sometimes conflicts might be unavoidable, but history shows that lots of conflicts arise from misunderstanding the signals both our friends and enemies send. In that vein, once you've reached the stage of armed conflict, you've already lost.

Put simply, it's wise to tell an enemy you'll hit them back with overwhelming force if they attack. If an enemy questions your will to fight, it's wise to give every appearance that you'll fight and fight forever, even if you don't want to.

With respect to friends, giving them ambiguous signals of support is also dangerous. If your friend starts a fight, do you have his back? Will he start the fight if you say you don't? Will the enemy start a fight with your friend if he thinks you'll jump in? How about if he thinks you'll sit it out and let the friend go it alone?

All of this is pretty common sense stuff from both an every day perspective and a foreign policy perspective. And to my mind, Romney's specific criticisms are pretty valid. We very well might avoid (more) war by signaling our endless resolve to our enemies and communicating our exact intentions to our friends, regardless of what we actually intend.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A bad thing happened

Some things should be put simplistically because they are, at heart, very simple. Because they're core truths.
1. Our freedom of speech is near absolute. Our government's stated purpose is largely to protect it. Plumbing the intent of a citizen's speech, subjecting him or her to criminal investigation because of it, or using government power to identify a citizen to those angered by the speech is unconscionable.
2. It is also particularly foolish when it comes to people who appear to want to be angered or offended. Can anyone suggest a remotely workable way in which Americans would be able to exercise our core freedoms without fear of giving offense to these sort of folks? I don't. Sometimes people need to step back from the minutiae and look at the big picture.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Why Do People Talk About Means Testing of Social Security?

I don't understand why anyone would waste time talking about this.

Social Security is already means tested; every dollar of SS benefits is considered taxable income.

Thus, much of the benefits that accrue to rich beneficiaries is already recovered by the government. What's the point of arguing about the accounting mechanics of it, which are almost entirely government accounting fictions. (If the government chose to, it could certainly classify some of those tax revenues as recapture of social security, but so what?)

And sure, it's inefficient to cut a check and then have everyone send some back later (although in a world of electronic deposits, it's not that inefficient) there's also the advantage that this form of "means testing" via the income tax should generally work in favor of people who actually get themselves stuck in bad situations- i.e. a rich senior who has a sudden fall in income (perhaps they invested in GM or Chrysler bonds) will automatically be supported through the current situation.

Alternatively, under means testing, the same person would presumably have to go fill out some kind of paper work, have their new and additional benefit levels approved but a complicated and expensive bureaucracy. And how would you measure prospective income anyway- isn't it inherently more difficult than simply seeing what your income actually was over the course of a year? It sure is to me. I guess you could save some money by making the means testing rule based on past income only, but of course that will generate significant hardship exactly the sort of people (those who suddenly lose income) we're setting things up to try and help.

So basically, no offense, this is yet another situation in which our seemingly insane government has evolved to a more rational, flexible outcome than a comprehensive and purely rational approach would likely get to.