A lot has been said about the political effects (or lack thereof) of the Madrid bombings on the Spanish elections this week; I won’t try to sum it all up here. In general, though, I have to agree with those such as Robert Garcia Tagorda, Jacob Levy, and Steven Taylor, and disagree with those (who will go unlinked, but you can find them easily enough) who ascribe the Spanish electorate’s behavior to being cowed by terror. Rather, I think much of the blame for the Popular Party’s loss has to be laid at the foot of prime minister Aznar’s hasty connection of ETA, the Basque separatist terror group, to the bombings, and the perception that he was “playing politics” with the situation at the U.N. Security Council.
There are two other worthwhile data points to mention. Post-Franco, Spain’s governments have generally been center-left coalitions led by the Socialists, in part because of the lingering association of the political right with the Franco dictatorship. The Popular Party victory in 1996 was very much against the long run trend of Spanish voting behavior, and probably should not have been expected to persist.
Secondly, the Mediterranean ex-dictatorships—Greece, Portugal, and Spain—have had a (not entirely unjustified) dislike of U.S. foreign policy, in large part due to the realpolitik decision that America made in supporting those countries’ former unelected governments as a bulwark against Soviet expansion. In the cases of Portugal and Spain, the United States was essentially confronted with faites accompli: the Salazar and Franco dictatorships were consolidated during the interwar period in which the U.S. retreated from European affairs, although arguably the United States—and Britain and France—should have continued the war against the Axis to eliminate Hitler and Mussolini’s Iberian fellow travellers. (Greece is a far less forgivable case.)
As a practical matter, it is still an open question whether an accommodation can be worked out with the incoming Socialist government on keeping its forces in Iraq, perhaps in a different command structure under the authority of the soon-to-be-sovereign Iraqi interim government. It remains to be seen whether, as David Brooks alleges today, in the pages of the New York Times, “Al Qaeda has now induced one nation to abandon the Iraqi people.”
This is my entry in today’s OTB Traffic Jam.
Matt Stinson has the analysis, Dean Esmay has the gut-level reaction, and Jeff Jarvis continues his over-the-top schtick he’s been working on with the Howard Stern business.
It started with Glenn Reynolds linking an interview with libertarian activist Sabine Herold, the spokeswoman for the French organization named «Liberté j‘écris ton nom».
Now, Jeff Jarvis inquires in passing:
I was going to ask whether it was wrong of me to note that this French libertarian is a babe.
What I want to ask is: are we all that sure she’s French? Mlle Herold, if the photos are anything to judge by, apparently is familiar with the use of a razor.
This is my entry in today’s Beltway Traffic Jam.
Pieter Dorsman of Peaktalk wonders if the United States might be following the path of Canada and the Netherlands, with both the left and the right in those countries becoming disaffected with the centrists who held sway in the 1990s. Definitely a good read. (Digression follows…)
Of particular interest to me, at least, was his characterization of Dutch politics—for much of the 1990s, the Labor Party (PvdA), in coalition with the free-market liberals (VVD) and the left-libertarian Democrats 66, could do no wrong, although even in the 1998 election there were signs of disaffection among Labor’s traditional supporters in the working class. Much of this, however, was overshadowed by the nearly simultaneous collapse of the country’s Christian Democrats. (One chapter of my dissertation examines how voters made their vote choices in that 1998 election.)
More to the point, from an academic point of view, Pieter’s piece demonstrates the value of a truly comparative approach to studying politics. Many—perhaps even most—scholars of American politics would never think to look to another country for insights into how American politics works. This tendency impoverishes both the study of American politics and studies of other countries—and often leads us to ghettoize research, to the point that we are often unsure how generalizable our theories are. Partly this is the fault of the largely artificial distinction between “American” and “comparative” politics in our discipline, where I’d argue the more meaningful distinction is between political behavior and institutional approaches, regardless of the context.
Michael Jennings has a fascinating post at Samizdata that explains, in part, why I’ve been to Stansted and Gatwick more times than I’ve ever been to Heathrow—and also, in part, why I haven’t set foot in any of those airports (or, for that matter, anywhere else outside North America) in 12 years.
To some extent, the practical problems Michael describes have been reduced by code-sharing and mergers; for example, I could now fly to Britain from Memphis—the relative boonies in American aviation, at least when it comes to "hub" airports—in several dozen different ways, the most convenient of which is probably to take the every-other-day Northwest/KLM flight from Memphis to Amsterdam then any of a number of flights to major British airports via KLMuk from Amsterdam.
Jacob Levy says pretty much everything I had to say about the French government’s decision to go ahead with efforts to ban the display of religious symbols by students in public schools.
Russell Fox is none to impressed by the proposal either.
Warning for those offended by “France-bashing”: the extension of this post contains some.
Two months ago, Daniel Drezner noted the split over whether the European Union is an international organization or a supranational authority among IR scholars (my answer, when asked to provide one when I took an International Organizations course in the Spring of 1999, was “Yes and Yes“), and that upcoming events in France and Germany would help settle that question—in particular, whether those countries would be punished for violating E.U. treaty commitments.
Today, Glenn Reynolds notes that France is getting a free pass for violating the “growth and stability pact” that members of the single European currency agreed to; as Pieter Dorsman at Peaktalk noted yesterday, this isn’t exactly popular with smaller countries like the Netherlands who actually abided by their commitments to the pact.
Not only does this event help confirm Dan’s thesis that the E.U. is, at its core, a regular international organization, it should also give pause to those Americans and others who urge the United States to commit to international agreements involving France and other states. Surely if France cannot be trusted to comply with its obligations to the European Union and to its fellow member states—obligations that are backed by a legal framework in both European and French law, decades of tradition, and a supranational authority with, at least on paper, the power to force France to comply with them—what possible hope can countries like the United States have that France will accept its commitments to the international community under the Kyoto protocol, where no credible enforcement mechanism exists short of the use of military force? And, with this precedent, what hope can we have that other European states will not see France’s behavior as an excuse to flout their own, self-imposed obligations to other nations?
“Do as I say and not as I do” leadership is not going to cut it on the world stage in this era. Unfortunately, however, that’s apparently the cornerstone of French foreign policy.
Dan Drezner (trackback below) points out that France is less likely to defect from its commitments in agreements it has that involve the United States. This is undoubtably true—and I was being just a tad hyperbolic. Nonetheless, if France wants to be taken seriously as a negotiating partner in international agreements where (a) the U.S. already has serious reservations about signing on and (b) France has a self-declared national interest in getting the U.S. to participate (as applies in the cases of both the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminal Court), it might want to consider whether handing a loaded gun to its most fierce critics in the United States is going to be effective. When a hypothetical President Dean sends those treaties back to a Senate already skeptical about the motivations of France and other signatories, it's not going to look very good when critics point out that France has already violated commitments to its closest neighbors and trading partners.
Alex Tabarrok says he wants to move to Switzerland to take advantage of the low taxes and the declining marginal income tax rates. (Declining as a function of income, that is.)
He may want to reconsider, after the xenophobic Swiss People’s Party gained 11 seats in the recent Parlimentary elections, making them the largest bloc in the governing coalition.
On the subject of marginal tax rates, could one of the econo-bloggers perhaps explain the argument in this paper that declining marginal rates are a property of “optimal tax systems“? The paper completely lost me, so you’ll need to explain it in short words that a mere philosopher turned computer geek would understand.
I’m willing to reconsider my view that an income tax with increasing marginal rates strikes the best balance between fairness and minimizing economic disincentives.
Since our European “allies” are such big fans of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, as Michele suggests, let me make a proposal: free Mumia, strip him of his American citizenship, and exile him permanently to France. If we’re really lucky, he’ll kill Roman Polanski, which will (a) solve the problem of getting Roman back to answer those child molestation charges and (b) prove once and for all that Mumia is just a run-of-the-mill, murdering scumbag who happens to possess a modicum of literacy. What’s not to love?
Matthew points out the inevitable fly in the ointment—that Mumia would be fêted as a great hero. I suspect the more likely outcome is that Mumia would be a short-term fetish object for the hard Euroleft and then fade quickly into oblivion after they moved onto the next cause-of-the-week—at least, until such time as Mumia convinced himself of his inherent badassitude and got himself killed venturing into the slums of Marseilles.
Samizdata reports that the people of Sweden have voted 56-41% against joining the single European currency, with turnout in the 80-85% range.
Matthew eviscerates a George Monibot piece this morning that decries “Americanism” as a religion. And he supplies a necessary corrective to those on the American left who believe the anti-American EuroLeft shares their pathological hatred of George W. Bush, but otherwise likes America:
Now I realize that it is par for the course for American liberals, and Democrats in general, to assume that the international left only hates America because of George W. Bush, but Mr. Monbiot is refreshingly honest in his admission, through this and other writings, that he loathes not merely Bush and that “warmonger” Reagan but all American presidents. You see, the “cult of America” he desires to destroy began with George Washington.
Go Read The Whole Thing.
One minor quibble. To an extent they tolerated Clinton, mainly because he “knew the language” of the European anti-American elite due to all that time he was at Oxford not-inhaling, and thus told them what they wanted to hear (“Sure, we’ll sign Kyoto”; “Sure, we’ll support the ICC”; “Sure, we’ll do your dirty work for you in Bosnia/Kosovo/Macedonia”; “Sure, we’ll continue to pay a disproportionate share of the U.N. budget, and even pay some back-dues, just to be chummy”) even when he had absolutely no intention of following through on those commitments when he returned to the U.S. (see Kyoto and the ICC, both of which Clinton put exactly zero effort into promoting at home). After all, that’s what they expect from their own politicians (see Chirac, Jacques and Schröder, Gerhard, neither of whom have been particularly fastidious in adhering to their countries’ commitments to the EU under the Treaty of Amsterdam). And they became more sympathetic to Clinton after he got his 1998 high-tech lynching for being an uppity black (wait, I’m confusing him with Clarence Thomas), even though he started bombing different foreign countries on a near-daily basis during that period (not that I’m implying causality here). But Slick Willie was by far the exception to the rule in this regard.
James at OTB links to a Washington Post op-ed by George Will that argues that the proposed European Union constitution is fundamentally flawed. Will’s central point:
The more detailed a constitution is in presenting particular political outcomes as elevated beyond the reach of changeable majorities, the more quickly it is sure to seem dated.
The more quickly, too, it is sure to feed extremist sentiment from those effectively disenfranchised by the enshrinement of certain ideological predispositions in the constitution. In other words, this constitution, by placing so many societal choices beyond the realm of regular political debate, is a recipe for the continued growth of the anti-democratic neo-Fascist movement in Europe—no doubt precisely the opposite goal to that of Valery Giscard d‘Estaing and his fellow delegates to the convention.
Not that this phenomenon is unique to Europe. The persusal of many a state constitution in the U.S. will find enshrined social and economic rights for many different groups in society.