Falsifying Paul Krugman
Here’s how Paul Krugman explains — not excuses, but explains — Mahathir Mohammad’s OIC speech: Not long ago Washington was talking about Malaysia as an important partner in the war on terror. Now Mr. Mahathir thinks that to cover his domestic flank, he must insert hateful words into a speech mainly about Muslim reform. That ...
Here's how Paul Krugman explains -- not excuses, but explains -- Mahathir Mohammad's OIC speech:
Here’s how Paul Krugman explains — not excuses, but explains — Mahathir Mohammad’s OIC speech:
Not long ago Washington was talking about Malaysia as an important partner in the war on terror. Now Mr. Mahathir thinks that to cover his domestic flank, he must insert hateful words into a speech mainly about Muslim reform. That tells you, more accurately than any poll, just how strong the rising tide of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism among Muslims in Southeast Asia has become. Thanks to its war in Iraq and its unconditional support for Ariel Sharon, Washington has squandered post-9/11 sympathy and brought relations with the Muslim world to a new low.
Here’s why Krugman’s hypothesis is wrong:
1) There is no domestic flank to protect. Mahathir’s speech was to the Organization of the Islamic Conference — an international body — on the current state of the Muslim world. There was no domestic component to his intended audience.
[But surely Mahathir knew that media coverage would lead to his domestic flank becoming aware of the speech!–ed. Yes, except that since Mahathir is stepping down as Prime Minister at the end of the month, he doesn’t really need to be concerned about the domestic flank. Indeed, in his comments to the brouhaha, it’s clear he thinks he was speaking truth to power. If that’s the case, why the anti-Semitic rhetoric?
Maybe, as Chris Lawrence suggests, Mahathir plans to pull strings from behind the scenes, a la Deng Xiaoping or Lee Kuan Yew–ed. Even if that’s true, there’s no need to protect a domestic flank, since this kind of power exercise does not need a popular domestic base.]
2) The dependent variable has taken this value before without the presence of the independent variable. Mahathir’s exhibited this behavior prior to the current administration taking power. As Krugman and I have pointed out, Mahathir used similar rhetoric during the Asian financial crisis, which was in a pre-9/11 world. Krugman takes this to mean that whenever Mahathir faces domestic pressure, he’ll resort to anti-Semitism, and that in 2003, the domestic pressure emanates from the Bush administration. The problem with this logic is that the pressure that Mahathir faced in 1997 was far stronger than anything he’s facing now from the United States. Indeed, as David Sanger pointed out yesterday, until recently, Mahathir warmly embraced the U.S.-led war on terror, and the Bush administration embraced Mahathir right back:
For four days after Mr. Mahathir spun out his theory of how Jews survived efforts to destroy them — and then went on to succeed at the expense of Muslims — Mr. Bush was silent on the speech, even as Italy, Australia and other countries condemned it as offensive and anti-Semitic…. In fact, Malaysia has often been cited by administration officials as an exemplary moderate Islamic nation, even if it was run by a man who once blamed the Asian financial crisis in 1997 on the Jews and often said Western-style democracy would be a disaster in the developing world…. In the past, Mr. Bush has bitten his tongue when asked about Mr. Mahathir. When the two men took questions from reporters in the Oval Office in May 2002, the president was asked whether the United States had changed its view that Mr. Mahathir’s former deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, was a political prisoner. Mr. Ibrahim, the former finance minister and a potential rival to Mr. Mahathir, was convicted of sodomy and jailed in 1998. But the president, intent that day on emphasizing Malaysia’s cooperation in fighting terrorism, made no public reference to Mr. Ibrahim’s fate, and said, quietly, "Our position has not changed."
Where, exactly, is the emprical evidence that supports Krugman? Where are the street protests in Kuala Lumpur over U.S. support of Israel? I’m sure Krugman believes that the Bush administration’s foreign policy can explain any negative outcome in world politics. From someone with Krugman’s ideology, it’s a compelling argument. In this case, he’s flat-out wrong.
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan, Tom Maguire, Robert Musil and the ADL weigh in.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Thanks to rilkefan, here’s a Slate article from 1999 in which Paul Krugman unwittingly falsifies his 2003 hypothesis for Mahathir’s behavior!! The context: in 1999, Krugman receives and accepts an invitation from Mahathir to visit Malaysia, because Krugman had also disagreed with the IMF’s policy recommendations. By the time of the visit, Mahathir has little reason to throw "red meat" to the Muslim majority:
I arrived at a moment of celebration. When the controls were put on, many Western analysts predicted disaster: a collapse of the economy, hyperinflation, rampant black markets. It didn’t happen. Two days before I arrived, the latest statistics had confirmed that Malaysia was in fact experiencing a fairly strong economic recovery.
So Mahathir has no need to worry about domestic discontent with his regime, and the external pressure from the crisis had faded considerably. So, Mahathir would have little need to resort to anti-Semitism to speak truth to power. Here, however, is Krugman’s description of Mahathir’s speech at a forum held in Krugman’s honor:
In our staged "dialogue" — which was played out in semi-public, in front of a disturbingly obsequious audience of a hundred or so businessmen — Mahathir continued to sound a minor-key version of the conspiracy theme, insisting that capital controls were necessary to protect small countries against the evil designs of big speculators.
Krugman describes this as, "an unfortunate emphasis." He doesn’t say in the article that Mahathir said that the big speculators were Jewish, but I’d bet a fair amount of money that such a sentence was uttered. So, in 1999, with no Bush administration in sight, with little domestic or international pressure on Mahathir’s political position, does he change his tune? Nope.
FINAL UPDATE: Brad DeLong weighs in.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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