They covered this at Yale. Jonathan Spence in his Introduction to Chinese History told us, when we got to the modern era, that there were three things we should never believe when we heard them: “1. ‘The check is in the mail.’ 2. ‘I’ll respect you in the morning'”…ok, it was the early 80s, … “and 3. ‘I understand what is happening in China.'”
Category Archives: Politics: International
Read this very interesting piece of Congressional vertebrate paleontology and thought, “Dan would like this; it’s the sort of thing he’d want for his rebooted White House Watch.”
But of course, it turns out that he wrote it.
Marcy Wheeler is very smart. And while she’s not giving to mincing words, she is also not a wild-eye conspiracist. So I sat up when I saw Meanwhile, Over In Turkey . . ., her blog post on Secretary of State Tillerson’s super-secret meeting with Turkish President Erdogan–the only other person in the room being the Turkish Prime Minister, who personally translated.
This is a huge breach of not just protocol, but standard and very sensible operating procedures at the US State Department (not that Tillerson cares).
Let’s go back to that no-staff-allowed element of the meeting once more. In general, it is in the interests of both parties to a conversation like that to have interpreters and notetakers present, so that in the public discussions that follow (like the one above), everyone agrees on the basic facts of what was said and you don’t getting into a “but you said . . .” and “no I didn’t” back-and-forth. For the meeting to exclude such staffers means that there is something else that overrides this interest.
In this case, the Turks had to have demanded that Tillerson not bring anyone with him to this meeting. There’s no way he would have told his staff “I got this – you take a break while I talk with Erdogan” on his own. The question is why, and all the possible answers I can come up after reading the Turkish Foreign Minister’s reply to that last question involve Vladimir Putin wanting Erdogan to pass on some kind of message to Trump — a message that he did not wish to be delivered within earshot of interpreters and notetakers.
It reminds me very much of that May 2017 Oval Office meeting that Trump had with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and outgoing Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. That was the meeting where we later learned that Trump revealed Israeli intelligence to the Russians about their source inside ISIS and told them that he just fired “that nut job” James Comey which took the pressure off of him because of Russia.
Oh, and the US press were kept out of that meeting as well, with the only reports of it coming after the Russians told us about it. As Politico’s Susan Glasser noted about that Oval Office meeting, it came at the specific request of Putin
But like we say in blogland, read the whole thing.
It pains me to blog anything that might be misunderstood as pro-Trump, especially in this moment of quite terrifying saber-rattling at North Korea, but I do feel compelled to note that Trump’s otherwise bizarre thank you note to his model (and perhaps master) Vladimir Putin (see Trump Praises Putin Instead of Critiquing Cuts to U.S. Embassy Staff) might in fact have, however accidentally, some connection to reality.
I was immediately reminded of Charlie Peters’s famous account 1982 of When Less is More:
I LIKE TO RECALL the time the Czechoslovak government got mad at our then-ambassador, Ellis O. Briggs, and ordered two-thirds of our embassy staff to return to the United States. Briggs found that the remaining third constituted the most efficient embassy he had ever known.
I had heard of a few similar cases: When Bill Keller and Ann Cooper compared the American embassies in Morocco and Mali for The Washington Monthly, they found the latter, at less than half the size of the former, more efficient. When the District of Columbia reduced its garbage collection crews from four men to three, the result was not less but greater productivity. Such examples are, however, difficult to uncover because they are not the sort of truth bureaucrats yearn for the public to know.
So I was delighted to hear recently that the Japanese Foreign Ministry, among the world’s most efficient, is exactly one-third the size of our State Department. Indeed, the entire Japanese government has but 506,000 employes. Thus a nation with a population half the size of ours manages to make do with a bureaucracy less than one-fifth our own.
There is a simple solution to the slot problem. It is consolidation of jobs. Combine the distribution director’s job, for example, with that of another employe who also really works only half-time. That way you still can eliminate one employe, but you’ll be doing it in a way that does not harm your organization.
When I was working at the Peace Crops in the mid-sixties, it became clear that the headquarters was succumbing to the usual Washington tendency toward overstaffing, and I was assigned to look into the problem. What I discovered was that for each of the 50 or so countries to which our volunteers were assigned, we had Washington officials who were called program officers, training officers and volunteer support officers. These people spent most of their day in meetings with or writing memos or talking on the phone to one another.
We could have saved the time involved in these communications and in the bureaucratic squabbling that accompanied them by turning the three jobs into one. My suggestion to do just that was opposed with considerable passion by almost everyone concerned. The argument was that each job involved a different kind of expertise. But the truth was that the necessary expertise, as in the case of so much administrative work, was acquired on the job.
Still, I lost the argument…
Don’t get me wrong, if I had to bet I would say Trump’s comment was motivated either by a businessman’s (and self-professed gamesmanship master’s) instinct to say that his rival’s effective counter-move in fact causes no pain, or maybe by a more generalized desire to make nice with Putin. But facts are facts.
PS I am morally certain that the same bloat problem infects the modern university.
PPS It also reminds me of a great 1960s or 70s-era joke about the United Nations:
Supposedly the UN got concerned about all the American critiques of overmanning, so they hired management consultants to do a report about staffing needs in hopes of disproving them. A team of consultants thus went floor-by-floor interviewing everyone at UN HQ about what they did, starting from the bottom and working their way up. When they got to the 30th floor, they found an office that was absolutely empty except for two suited employees sitting at two bare desks with nothing on the desks except phones.
“What are you doing?” one consultant asked they guy on the left.
“Nothing,” he replied.
“And what are you doing?” the consultant asked the guy on the right.
“Same as him,” replied the other.
The consultants duly noted “duplication of effort” in their report.
Meanwhile, in France, President Macron’s new party, the LREM, crushed its rivals on both the right and left.
This picture is amazing:
Ahead in 400 constituencies out of the 577 that make up France’s National Assembly, the party is heading for a convincing majority far higher than the 289 seats needed to control parliament. That does not even take into account the 100-odd seats where Mr Macron’s centrist MoDem allies are in the lead.
His centrist alliance could control 415 to 455 seats after the second round on 18 June, experts predict.
And many of them are political novices, so this could get interesting.
The papers say the US is spending $3.1 billion per month on the war in Afghanistan. And I’m sure that doesn’t count the long-term care costs for wounded soldiers after they get home.
At $37.2 billion per year our spending is about half the Afghani GDP at purchasing power parity – or, if you prefer, about double their GDP at the official exchange rate. The population of Afghanistan is about 33.3 million persons. So we are spending about $100 per Afghani per month; call it $1200 per Afghani per year.
The average income in Afghanistan has been estimated at US$ 1,883 I suspect this is a PPP number, and quite inflated. The Asia Foundation did a study which found that The average monthly income in households where women contribute to family earnings was 10,197 Afs (approximately USD $158). By comparison, in households where women do not contribute, the average monthly income was 10,851 Afs (approximately USD $168). (Study at p. 63.) Whatever the truth may be, I’m betting the US spends more in Afghanistan than the entire earnings of at least 98% of the population.
Are we getting our money’s worth? How, if our goal were to influence Afghanistan might we put that money to work in income support (bribes if you will), building things (nation-building if you will) and creating institutions designed to keep things modern and running after the subventions stop (imperialism if you must)? We could probably do worse than just give $500 per year to every Afghan woman for starters, and wait for the animal spirits of capitalism to explode.
Previously: A Modest Dinner-Party-Based Proposal For An Iraqi Exit Strategy (Sept 27, 2003) ($3000/year per Iraqi)