About that p-value….

I’ve received a surprising number of inquiries about whether I’ve decided on Bush or Kerry for president. When we last left off, my probability of voting for Kerry was at 60%. Slate is now surveying its contributors over the past year about their voting choices. The deadline is next week, which I’m using as my ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and the author of The Ideas Industry.

I've received a surprising number of inquiries about whether I've decided on Bush or Kerry for president. When we last left off, my probability of voting for Kerry was at 60%. Slate is now surveying its contributors over the past year about their voting choices. The deadline is next week, which I'm using as my own deadline for making up my own mind. After the debates, I'd say my p-value for Kerry is now at 0.8 (i.e., an 80% chance of voting for Kerry). I'm still uneasy about making this choice, because I remain unconvinced that Kerry understands the limits of multilateral diplomacy. Matt Bai's article from last Sunday's New York Times Magazine raises as many qualms as it settles in my mind. Take these paragraphs towards the end:

I’ve received a surprising number of inquiries about whether I’ve decided on Bush or Kerry for president. When we last left off, my probability of voting for Kerry was at 60%. Slate is now surveying its contributors over the past year about their voting choices. The deadline is next week, which I’m using as my own deadline for making up my own mind. After the debates, I’d say my p-value for Kerry is now at 0.8 (i.e., an 80% chance of voting for Kerry). I’m still uneasy about making this choice, because I remain unconvinced that Kerry understands the limits of multilateral diplomacy. Matt Bai’s article from last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine raises as many qualms as it settles in my mind. Take these paragraphs towards the end:

If forced democracy is ultimately Bush’s panacea for the ills that haunt the world, as Kerry suggests it is, then Kerry’s is diplomacy. Kerry mentions the importance of cooperating with the world community so often that some of his strongest supporters wish he would ease up a bit. (”When people hear multilateral, they think multi-mush,” Biden despaired.) But multilateralism is not an abstraction to Kerry, whose father served as a career diplomat during the years after World War II. The only time I saw Kerry truly animated during two hours of conversation was when he talked about the ability of a president to build relationships with other leaders. ”We need to engage more directly and more respectfully with Islam, with the state of Islam, with religious leaders, mullahs, imams, clerics, in a way that proves this is not a clash with the British and the Americans and the old forces they remember from the colonial days,” Kerry told me during a rare break from campaigning, in Seattle at the end of August. ”And that’s all about your diplomacy.” When I suggested that effecting such changes could take many years, Kerry shook his head vehemently and waved me off. ”Yeah, it is long-term, but it can be dramatically effective in the short term. It really can be. I promise you.” He leaned his head back and slapped his thighs. ”A new presidency with the right moves, the right language, the right outreach, the right initiatives, can dramatically alter the world’s perception of us very, very quickly…. He would begin, if sworn into office, by going immediately to the United Nations to deliver a speech recasting American foreign policy. Whereas Bush has branded North Korea ”evil” and refuses to negotiate head on with its authoritarian regime, Kerry would open bilateral talks over its burgeoning nuclear program. Similarly, he has said he would rally other nations behind sanctions against Iran if that country refuses to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Kerry envisions appointing a top-level envoy to restart the Middle East peace process, and he’s intent on getting India and Pakistan to adopt key provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. (One place where Kerry vows to take a harder line than Bush is Pakistan, where Bush has embraced the military ruler Pervez Musharraf, and where Kerry sees a haven for chaos in the vast and lawless region on the border with Afghanistan.) In all of this, Kerry intends to use as leverage America’s considerable capacity for economic aid; a Kerry adviser told me, only slightly in jest, that Kerry’s most tempting fantasy is to attend the G-8 summit.

Now, I’m very sympathetic to the argument that Kerry’s diplomatic style would play much better on the global stage than Bush’s (click here for some evidence of this) — and that this improved style would go some way towards advancing America’s national interest via greater multilateral cooperation. But I’m not sure it will go nearly as far as Kerry thinks it will. If the Senator from Massachusetts thinks that improved style, greater diplomatic efforts, concerted multilateral coordination, and even copious amounts of American aid can get India and Pakistan to sign on to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or create a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace, then, well, he’s drunk too much of the multilateral Kool-Aid. Bill Clinton — who epitomizes the kind of diplomatic style Kerry could only hope to achieve — invested a fair amount of diplomatic capital on both of these flash points, during a time when America’s global prestige was greater than today — and in the end achieved very little of consequence. There are international problems where the conflict of interests are so sharp and the stakes are so high for the affected parties that all the outside diplomacy in the world won’t achieve anything. And I can’t help but wonder if Kerry believes he can somehow talk radical Islamists into submission. So I’m troubled by this — but at this point I’m more troubled by the Bush administration. Robert A. George has a New Republic column that encapsulates a lot of my difficulties voting for the GOP ticket this year. Here’s the part that hit home for me:

President Bush has failed to live up to the second key tenet of conservative government: accountability. Take, for example, the Pentagon’s disastrous planning for postwar Iraq. The lack of troops for the post-invasion period enabled the insurgency to bloom and put American soldiers at risk. Worse, while memos from Ashcroft’s Justice Department seemingly provided legal cover for the abuse at Abu Ghraib, the material causes could be found, again, in the underdeployment of troops: “What went wrong at Abu Ghraib prison?” asked The New York Post’s Ralph Peters, one of the more earnest supporters of invading Iraq. Pointing to the two independent reports examining the scandal, he concludes: “Woefully deficient planning for post-war Iraq, too few troops and inadequate leadership at the top.” Peters is among the conservatives who believe the Abu Ghraib fiasco should have been the final straw for Rumsfeld. But it didn’t happen. And it won’t happen, because accountability is a foreign word in this administration. To demonstrate how little he has learned, Rumsfeld observed, “Does [the abuse] rank up there with chopping off someone’s head on television? It doesn’t. It doesn’t. Was it done as a matter of policy? No.” Forget that the abuse was far more pervasive than just the handful of servicemen that first popped up in photographs; when the secretary of defense basically says, “Hey, what the terrorists do is much worse,” the moral foundation upon which America stands begins to crumble. The president’s stated goal was to try to bring democracy to the Middle East–not to allow us to become tainted by the barbarism so prevalent in the region we are attempting to liberate. So Rumsfeld stays on–even as the situation rapidly deteriorates. Then again, this shouldn’t come as a surprise: George Tenet remained in his position following the worst intelligence failure in U.S. history, enabling him to tell the president later that evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a “slam dunk.” The first failure helped lead to the deaths of thousands of Americans; the second failure led us into a conflict from which there exists no clear exit strategy and that has rendered the word of the United States suspect. Yet Tenet stayed on, too. And no wonder. As Bob Woodward writes in Plan of Attack, “[S]everal things were clear from the president’s demeanor, his style and all that [Colin] Powell had learned about Bush. The president was not going to toss anyone over the side…. The president also made it clear that no one was to jump ship…. They were a team. The larger message was clear: Circle the wagons.” The larger message is that loyalty is prized above all, regardless of the results and regardless of the effect on U.S. standing in the world…. No, a Kerry administration would not be any conservative’s ideal. But, on limited government, a Democratic president would, arguably, force a Republican Congress to act like a Republican Congress. The last such combination produced some form of fiscal sanity. And, when it comes to accountability, one could hardly do worse. Of course, a conservative can still cast a libertarian vote on principle. At crucial points before and after the Iraq war, Bush’s middle managers have failed him, and the “brand” called America has suffered in the world market. In any other corporate structure plagued by this level of incompetence, the CEO would have a choice: Fire his middle managers or be held personally accountable by his shareholders. Because of his own misguided sense of “loyalty,” Bush won’t dismiss anyone. That leaves the country’s shareholders little choice.

Given the foreign policy stakes in this election, I prefer a leader who has a good decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I don’t like, over a leader who has a bad decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I do like. If Bush gets re-elected, he and his team will view it as a vindication for all of their policy decisions to date. Whatever groupthink occurred in the first term would pale besides the groupthink that would dominate the second term. Given the tactical and strategic errors in judgment that this administration has made, I have to lean towards Kerry. My readers have the weekend to try to influence my p-value. As I said, the odds are good at this point that I’ll tell Slate I’m voting for Kerry. But I strongly encourage Bush supporters to try and persuade me otherwise in the comments section. UPDATE: The best effort to persuade me so far comes from an e-mail sent by a former US diplomat who served in both the Clinton and Bush administrations:

I don’t dispute some of Kerry’s criticisms of the current Administration’s conduct of foreign policy. But KE04 presents no actual solutions on foreign policy from which we can derive a reasonable belief that his performance would be better than the current White House. In fact, it just might be worse. Many of Kerry’s policy proposals on foreign affairs strike me as nastily disingenuous. His “fair trade” mantra raises the specter of protectionism at a time when America’s continued global economic engagement remains a lynchpin of the “soft power” Kerry so ardently wishes to use as leverage in the war on terror. His fulminations on a lack of allies in Iraq don’t pass the red face test — French, German and Russian interests are now clearly arrayed in a classic balance of power position against the U.S. This will not change with Kerry in the White House. As for other allies (minus the UK and Australia), we’re the victims of our Cold War success – most participants in Iraq are already projecting about as much power as they possibly can, having comfortably atrophied under our security umbrella for the past 60 years. This is the burden of hegemony, and I’m not quite sure Senator Kerry, whose mind still fully inhabits the Vietnam paradigm, is up to the task of bearing it forthrightly. Kerry’s respect for multilateralism should not be praised, but questioned, given the changing nature of international politics today. The days of America being able to win a kitchen pass from UN members on any number of issues have come to pass. The Cold War is over, and as your U of C colleague Mr. Mearshemier warned back in 1990, multipolarity will make us outright miss the Cold War. But Kerry hasn’t grasped this fundamental change. He hasn’t comprehended that the UN, as well as other multilateral institutions, has stopped being a preserve of internationally agreed rules and collective action backed by broad consensus. These institutions have become, instead, vehicles for the pursuit of narrow self-interests by any number of major regional powers which aspire to great power status. (France, Russia, Germany, India, Brazil, China). This is a drastically different international order from the one Kerry presumes to know. You also have to ask yourself, who is going to carry out Kerry’s multilateral approach? And on that score, things simply get worse. A Kerry White House would mean the Madeleine Albright B Team moving into senior foreign policy positions. And, with the notable exception of Richard Holbrooke (his hair may be on fire, but he gets things done), this would be disastrous. These are the same folks who fiddled for 8 years on counter terror, negotiated a terrifyingly naive nuke deal with North Korea, and generally treat foreign policy as a rhetorical exercise. This is a team who has demonstrated, in past position of influence, an alarming propensity to get rolled by their foreign counterparts. Let’s pick just two: Susan Rice? Jamie Rubin?! Are you serious?? During her sojourn as assistant secretary for Africa in Albright’s State Department, Rice had to be consistently bailed out of trouble by career diplomats. As for Rubin, he is anti-gravitas. He’s Edwards-lite. Think about Kerry’s foreign policy track record and his much ballyhooed commitment to “multilateralism”. Think if that reflects accurately the state of world politics today. Think about the people who would occupy senior Cabinet, NSC, State and DoD positions under Kerry. Then think about your vote again, please.

Here’s another reason specific to Red Sox fans (link via Shannen Coffin at NRO). ANOTHER UPDATE: One of the sharpest students I’ve ever taught e-mails a sharp rebuttal:

I’ve got to say I wasn’t too impressed with the former diplomat who wrote in to try to persuade you to change your mind. He attacks Kerry for not recognizing a changed world. Yet it’s not clear that your correspondent has a clear vision of the world either – he alternates between talking about the the US carrying the “burden of hegemony” and then referring to a “multipolar world” in reference to Mearsheimer’s (whose name he misspells) arguments. Is the world unipolar or multipolar? Seems like he doesn’t really know; or more likely is using a pair of contradictory arguments to go after Kerry (“We’re in unipolarity and Kerry doesn’t understand unipolarity! We’re in multipolarity and Kerry doesn’t understand multipolarity!”). He also refers to French, Russian, and German “balancing,” which doesn’t look much like any kind of balancing we’ve ever seen before, given the lack of military build-ups or alliances between this supposed balancing coalition (indeed, he refers to “atrophied” allied capabilities). Not to mention that Germany and France have troops helping out the US in places like Afghanistan and the Balkans – helping secure the peace in the wake of the Taliban’s removal is an awfully strange kind of anti-American balancing. So the French, Germans, and Russians are balancing by helping out the US in Afghanistan/Balkans, trying to manage Iran, neglecting their militaries, letting tens of thousands of US soldiers and hundreds of million of dollars of US military capabilities sit on German soil, and not allying against the US? Doesn’t look much like the Triple Entente or sixth anti-Napoleonic coalition to me. I’m not exactly comforted by the thought of Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Bolton et al running the show for four more years. Other than some successes regarding Libya, keeping the WTO together, and the Taliban’s removal I have a suspicion this is not a foreign policy team that will go down in history as even minimally competent.

*YET ANOTHER UPDATE: I’d like to thank the 95% of the commenters who have posted respectful arguments pro and con. I haven’t enjoyed a comment thread like this in quite some time. I’ll try to address the more trenchant criticisms sometime this weekend. MONDAY UPDATE, 11:50 CENTRAL TIME: This is taking longer than I thought, but I’ll be posting something in the next few hours.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and the author of The Ideas Industry. Twitter: @dandrezner

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