Only 52!

In this otherwise excellent, though skimpy on details, Slate article by Gary Bass on what causes civil wars, one finds this curious sentence:

Throughout Africa, as the Stanford civil war experts James Fearon and David Laitin point out, 18,000 examples of ethnic groups interacting regularly with each other between 1960 and 1979 led to only 52 civil wars.

I’m sorry, but “only 52 civil wars” really aren’t words that should go together. Though it would funny if Republicans started claiming that “only one – one! – civil war” is going on in Iraq.

Card Falls

Andy Card’s resigned, to be replaced by Josh Bolten. He may run for governor in Massachusetts, but would lose, like any other Republican, to either Tom Reilly or (if we’re lucky) Deval Patrick. I can’t say I think this is that big of a deal; Card’s fall has been in the, er, cards since the Harriet Miers pick, which he handled instead of Rove. That clearly showed Rove to be the superior political strategist, and Boy Genius will remain what he’s been all along: chief of staff in everything but name.
P.S. Todd Gitlin, everyone’s favorite SDSer, has some interesting dirt on Bolten.

Democracy vs. Human Rights: Abstract Values Smackdown!

Ilya Somin brings to my attention an interesting State Department assessment of the perils of democratization:

The recently published annual State Department report on human rights notes that “democracy does not guarantee what President Bush has called a commitment to ‘the non-negotiable demands of human dignity.'” It cites Russia and Venezuela as nations with democratically elected governments that violate basic human rights. Obviously, the case of the Afghan who may be executed by that nation’s elected government for converting to Christianity raises the same issue. So too does the victory of the terrorist group Hamas in the recent Palestinian election. In these and other cases, democracy might conflict with other liberal values, including human rights, equality for women and minority groups, and the rule of law.

Note that the way overblown Afghan story is now void, as the man in question has been acquitted. But it’s this sort of thing that makes me think that the proper Wilsonian use of American power is to prevent genocide, or enforce basic human rights standards, rather than to impose democracy. After all, a repressive democracy is perhaps more evil than a repressive dictatorship, as it has the will of the people, which will sustain its horrors. I believe Fareed Zakaria wrote a whole book about this, which I’ve been meaning to read. In any case, I think this confirms why exactly why the Republican assault on judicial review is so threatening. After all, judicial review is the one defense liberty has against democracy; if it is chipped away at, eventually a repressive democracy could emerge. And considering the antipathythatmanyAmericansfeel towards atheists, a repressive democracy could well emerge in America if judicial review is done away with, or eroded.

Economists for President

Steven Levitt beseeches his readers, following the election of a development economist as president of Ghana:

So tell me this, dear blog readers: if such a thing were possible, which American economist would you like to see as president?

Well, the obvious answers, for left and right, are Paul Krugman and Milton Friedman, respectively. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t mind either; Krugman’s firm defense of globalization and steadfast Keynesianism is encouraging, and Friedman’s negative income tax and education voucher proposals are both fascinating, and quite likely good ideas. But I suppose that both of these two aren’t remotely feasible, even in a fantasy world where an economist is electable, as Krugman’s NYT columns have won him enough enemies to outweigh the massive respect he has in academic circles, and Friedman is both too old and too cool about drugs to be president. So who is both young enough and electable enough? I nominate Jeffrey Sachs. He’s only 50, and it’s hard to run against a guy who’s whole platform is the elimination of poverty, not to mention that his plan could very well work.

Trouble In Kiev

I was mildly distressed this morning when I found that the Party of Regions, led by former Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanokovich, the Putin crony who tried to steal the presidency from Viktor Yushchenko in the winter of 2004, has taken first place in Ukraine’s parliamentary elections, followed by a bloc led by Yushchenko’s fired ex-Prime Minister, followed by Yushchenko’s party. After all, as Zbigniew Brzezinski ceaselessly pointed out in The Grand Chessboard, as goes Ukraine, so goes the Russian empire. If Russia controls Ukraine, it has a foothold in Europe, and can legitimately claim to be a major power; if it loses Ukraine, it loses any claim to great power status. That’s why the Orange Revolution was so important: it at least temporarily denied Russia an empire. So when I saw that Slate was running a piece claiming that the PoR’s victory was not that big a deal, I was encouraged. It’s too bad that the article isn’t particularly well-reasoned. The author (Scott MacMillan) begins by detailing exactly why the situation seems so bleak. Indeed, this section is more convincing than what follows it:

It’s past midnight, and my hosts in Kiev have served up salmon and beluga caviar chased with copious amounts of vodka. A crowd dominated by young Eastern Europeans, including two ebullient Lithuanians and a gaggle of Ukrainian women, has gathered in the flat. After some jazz standards, the Lithuanians join the singing with a drunken rendition of “Svetit Neznakomaya Zvezda” (“A Foreign Star Is Shining”), an old Soviet folk song about being in a foreign city far away from your beloved. Everybody but me joins in—they all know the words, even though none were adults when the Soviet Union collapsed—and for a moment I’m back in the U.S.S.R.…
For all the hype, I found too many people believing the orange revolution changed nothing. Ukraine’s leaders are singing the same Bolshevik tunes, they say—and not with the apparent irony of my reveling companions. The head of a securities company that set up shop in Ukraine last year told me Ukraine is liberalizing in a big way. More and more companies are playing by Western rules so they can issue shares in London and New York. It’s not geopolitical reorientation, he said, it’s because the high price of Russian gas has forced major Ukrainian industries to restructure and look for cash on international capital markets. When I asked the businessman what he thinks of all the political changes going on, he replied, “What political changes?” The deadpan was so dry, it took a few seconds before I realized he’d just answered my question. Ukraine’s economy might be going in a Western direction, but its politics are still stuck in the corrupt post-Soviet era.

Pretty much what I was sensing. So how does MacMillan reverse course? Not so gracefully:

Oddly enough, you’ll find almost nobody actually admitting to disappointment with President Yushchenko. Most Ukrainians will tell you that most other Ukrainians have been let down by the orange revolution—but not me, they’ll say. (You’ll hear: Yes, I was out there on subzero Independence Square in December 2004, but I didn’t actually think anything would change.) After two weeks, this reluctance to concede disappointment was starting to make me suspicious.

This may seem a smoking gun, but if one thinks about it, it’s just anecdotal evidence. This is especially unconvincing when one considers that MacMillan is based in Kiev – the reformists’ stronghold. If he were to go to the Ukrainian countryside, which is more sympathetic to the PoR and the Russians (ironic, considering the potato famine that Stalin inflicted on this segment of the country), he would see that public opinion is not this monolithic. He continues:

On one of my last days in Ukraine, I had drinks with political observer Peter Dickinson, who edits a local English-language magazine. As an outsider, Dickinson has little patience with those who dismiss the revolution—and having spent most of the last 10 years in Prague, and thus knowing a thing or two about the dour Eastern European disposition, I was inclined to agree. Sure, Yushchenko could have done a better job of investigating the murder of journalist Gyorgi Gongadze, a crime linked to Kuchma himself, and he could have done more to root out corruption. And Tymoshenko, well, she could be nicer.

Wait, it’s just a minor flaw that Yushchenko didn’t fully investigate a murder committed by a former President? How are we supposed to believe that the system is growing less corrupt if former public officials – specifically ones under the thumb of the Kremlin – are not prosecuted for violent felonies?

But politicians weren’t the real heroes of the revolution. Everyday Ukrainians were. Political speech has been set free under the new regime, and perhaps more important, Ukrainians are finally beginning to craft their national identity. “They were passive and shit on for years,” Dickinson told me. “Finally they stood up, and they won. That’s ingrained in the history of the nation.”

This is nothing more than Dickinson repeating the story of the Orange Revolution in order to defend the position that nothing’s changed since the Orange Revolution. It’s incredibly confused logic. Finally, MacMillan concludes:

Chalk the negativity up to the national temperament, but there’s no denying things have changed. Sunday’s vote received a clean bill of health from international observers and went off without a hitch. Yes, corrupt politicians and sleaze-ridden oligarchs will likely remain as easy to find in Ukraine as four-inch stiletto heels, but there’s no going back to the stifling days of Kuchma and his cronies. Give them enough vodka, and you can probably get Ukrainians to sing about that.

Wait, just as soon as he’s done declaring oligarchs and corrupt politicos endemic in Ukraine, he claims that there’s no going back to the days of oligarchs and corrupt politicos. Say what? Look, I’d love to buy MacMillan’s argument. But until he has some real evidence, preferably evidence that can outweigh the substantial evidence that he himself presents at the beginning of the article, I just can’t.