Friday, August 31, 2012

Do U.S. troop deployments abroad cause development?

Yes, argues Tim Kane in an article in the July 2012 issue of Foreign Policy Analysis, "Development and US Troop Deployments." [abstract]

The article, unsurprisingly, is full of regression tables. I skimmed though it. Here are a couple of key paragraphs from the conclusion:

I showed a positive relationship between US troops and three social indicators across 148 countries during two two-decade periods, 1970–1990 and 1990–present. On the simplest level, countries with a heavy US troop presence had faster increases in life expectancy, faster reductions in rates of child mortality, and faster development of telephone lines per capita. Comparing the countries with a heavy US troop presence (250 or more troops per year) to those with essentially no US presence (five or fewer troops per year), the heavy presence countries experienced an additional decrease in children’s mortality rates of 21% points during 1970–1990 and 13% points 1990–present. Among low-income countries, gains in life expectancy during the first period averaged almost 10% (5.6 years) higher in heavy presence countries than in nil presence countries and 3.6% higher in the post-Cold War period. Increases in telephone lines per capita were four times larger in the heavy presence countries compared to nil presence countries during the Cold War and two times larger during the latter period.

Regression tests showed these relationships to be statistically significant, even when controlling for initial levels and growth rates of GDP per capita, conflict, economic aid, and other factors. A tenfold increase in US troops during a 20-year period in a typical host country is estimated in this paper to improve the reduction in children’s mortality by 2.2% points, improve life expectancy gains by 1% point, and increase the number of telephone lines by two per 100 people.

And here's the final paragraph:

The positive effect of US troop presence across over 148 countries is a new finding. However, much remains to be done. First, the mechanism of the developmental effect of hosted US forces is not known and also problematic since it was almost certainly unintentional at a tactical and strategic level. Although Mancur Olson [in his The Rise and Decline of Nations] theorized such a positive effect in his writings, the concept has not been carefully assessed with modern data and techniques until now. And yet, these results should be interpreted with some caution because the troops–growth relationship represents historical alliances, which is a far cry from normative justification for regime change [what? what does regime change have to do with anything here? --LFC]. In addition, the data are aggregated at the highest level possible. While it is beyond the scope of this paper to delve into causal explanations at the microlevel, growth theory suggests troops enhanced technology diffusion in some fashion, and indeed it may be that troop presence is simply an easily quantifiable proxy for overall US engagement. Nevertheless, whether directly or indirectly, the impact of US troops on global social development—during and since the Cold War—has been clearly positive, a fact that alone merits widespread recognition.

OK. Let's say this is right. Does this mean the U.S. should put more soldiers into more countries, in addition to the hundreds of thousands it already has? No, for two reasons. (1) This is objectionable on political grounds, in that, among other things, it may very well increase resentment and even hatred of the United States. American soldiers in Saudi Arabia might have indirectly given that kingdom some additional phone lines and life expectancy, but they also gave the U.S. the 9-11 attacks (or, to be more precise, contributed to causing the organization/movement which planned and executed those attacks). Troop deployments should have a compelling strategic rationale, which, as I've argued here before, many U.S. troop deployments lack. (2) Putting U.S. soldiers in a country is probably not an efficient development strategy in that there must be more cost-effective, direct ways to achieve development goals, not to mention ways that encourage more local participation and 'empowerment'.

So this research is interesting but I doubt it's going to change any minds about the merits of U.S. troop deployments abroad. If you favored the current U.S. footprint before this article, you are still going to favor it, with maybe an additional small arrow in your argumentative quiver. If you favored reducing that footprint, as I do, your position will likely be unchanged.

P.s. Besides correlation/causation, which can always be raised, there may of course be technical issues with the analysis. But I would have to read the article more closely, and in any case the question is largely beyond my competence.

The Dems as the party of austerity

Corey Robin argues at some length that the Democrats have become the party of austerity and deficit reduction. I only skimmed through it, but I was struck by a quote Robin has from Jonathan Chait in 2010, pointing out that the Republicans did not pay for their expansion of Medicare prescription drug coverage under G.W. Bush because they had lifted the 'pay-go' rule after taking control of Congress in '01. The Democrats reimposed the pay-go rule when they regained control of Congress, which is one reason why money had to be shifted from Medicare to help fund the Affordable Care Act. So when you hear the Republicans wailing about "raiding" Medicare to pay for Obamacare, recall their own expansion of Medicare prescription drug coverage, which they didn't "raid" anything to pay for because they didn't care about paying for it and indeed had gotten rid of the rule requiring them to do so. So much for the Republicans as the party of fiscal responsibility!

What is "victory" in a counterinsurgency war?

David Silbey at Edge of the American West presents a graph of coalition fatalities in Afghanistan, 2010-2012, and writes that the downward trend suggests that the coalition is "winning militarily." He adds that whether this constitutes "victory" in a larger sense would require more discussion.

I'm not an expert on counterinsurgency. You want Dan Trombly, Abu Muqawama, Adam Elkus, and that whole crowd. As readers of this blog know (all one or two of them), I'm not really an expert on anything. (If I were, presumably I'd have a job, right? But then I probably wouldn't have time to blog and what a loss that would be to the world of discourse. Criminy, I'm starting to sound like J. Otto Pohl, who spent months online repeatedly bemoaning the unfairness of his having to teach in Ghana, while simultaneously proclaiming how great Ghana is.)

Anyway, to the point. I am skeptical of Silbey's suggestion. Surely what matters in measuring success in a counterinsurgency is the eventual outcome, not the casualty trends. I hope someone who knows something in real detail about, say, France's war in Algeria (to take one prominent historical example) will tell me whether I'm right about this.

P.s. (added later): Note, btw, Laleh Khalili's new book Time in the Shadows: Confinement in Counterinsurgencies (Stanford U.P.). I might buy this. On the other hand, inspired by the rhetoric at the Republican convention, I could take the money I would spend on this book and use it to start a small business instead. If only there weren't so many burdensome taxes and regulations. Tsk, tsk.

Speaking of masochism...

...I'm not sure why I listened to parts of the Republican convention. One thought that it prompts (viz. the chants of "USA, USA" that punctuated Romney's rather pedestrian speech) is that America is exceptional at least in the volume and insistence with which it proclaims its exceptional-ness. Attention to some of the literary roots or expressions of American exceptionalism might suggest something different: isn't one of the whole points of Owen Wister's Virginian precisely that he does not go around proclaiming how great he is?

P.s. I have a feeling I have made exactly this point before on this blog, but I'm too lazy to check. And if I can't exactly remember, I doubt anyone else will.

P.p.s. At least Clint Eastwood, whose reference to "mental masochism" inspired this post's title, did not do the exceptionalism thing, possibly because he was, to some extent, improvising. He did the "we own the country" thing and the "you are the best" thing, but not the "this country is superior to all others" thing.

P.p.p.s. (added later): I see Dan Balz at WaPo thought Eastwood was bizarre and a distraction. Maybe watching it on TV he was. Judging from just audio and no video, I found an unscripted 10 or 15 minutes kind of refreshing.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What 'central planners'?

Paul Ryan's speech at the Republican convention last night conjured up the usual specter of government as stifler of individual initiative, etc. He threw in a reference to "central planners," implying, bizarrely even in this context, that Democrats favor a planned economy. Then, too, he attacked the stimulus legislation for cronyism but cited only one example, Solyndra. (Probably the main drawback of the stimulus was that it was too small, not cronyism.) There were a number of other objectionable things, including most of what he said about the Affordable Care Act. However, content aside, I thought that the speech was quite well delivered (based on listening to it on the radio, not watching). Not that that makes, or that it should make, any difference.

Dreadful (?) duo

History 89h. Henry Kissinger: Statecraft in Theory and Practice.

That's the title of an undergraduate seminar being taught by Niall Ferguson at Harvard this fall. A friend of mine described the combination of professor and subject as "unfathomably loathsome" (your mileage may vary, or it may not).

The course description in the catalog reads:
As National Security Adviser and Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger was the architect of the policy of détente with the Soviet Union, of the "opening" to China, and of the effort to salvage "peace with honor" in Vietnam. Yet Kissinger should be understood as a scholar as well as a statesman. Using selections from his writings, this seminar will assess Kissinger in his own terms and in the context of modern international history.
Who's going to take the course? Obviously some history students and maybe, I'd guess, some political science majors -- or, to use the school's official lingo, Government concentrators. Enrollment is limited to 15.

Although I can't abide Ferguson's politics (and cf. the recent justified outrage over his Newsweek piece), I have no idea what Ferguson is like as a teacher. If he welcomes a range of views and doesn't try to push his own line on students, the course might be, at least, non-terrible. (It might even be good.) If he does something else, well...

P.s. What if -- probably a very unlikely scenario -- Ferguson were co-teaching this with Stanley Hoffmann? Now that might have been really interesting.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Note to whoever (whomever, actually)

I have a post ready to go, so I'm going to put it up sometime tomorrow, even though I said there would be no posting here until Sept. 1.
(I'm sure no one will mind.)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Andrew Marshall and 'Air-Sea Battle'

You don't have to be a Beltway think-tanker, defense policy wonk or avid consumer of varied news sources to know the name of Andrew Marshall -- all you have to do is glance at the acknowledgments in books by certain academics (Stephen Rosen, for example). Marshall, head of the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment, is a legend in Washington, D.C. by virtue of his longevity and influence. Still, it's not all that often that Marshall figures prominently in a story in the mainstream press. Thus this WaPo piece, about the kerfluffle over Pentagon contingency planning for a conflict with China, may be worth noting. I've only read the first page (it's rather late and I'm tired); I intend to read it more properly later.

P.s. The break resumes tomorrow.

For the record

In ten years of grad school I don't think I ever had dinner with a professor. A few quick lunches but no dinner. And if I had had dinner with a professor, I certainly would not have ordered the wine.

Dirda on Vidal

Michael Dirda's appreciation of Gore Vidal is worth interrupting the break to link to.