Voice

The most interesting international political economy news story I have read this year

Your humble blogger is off at another conference again, so blogging will be intermittent for the rest of the week.  However, I wanted to highlight Damien Cave's outstanding New York Times story on the decline of illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States.  The gist of Cave's story: 

The extraordinary Mexican migration that delivered millions of illegal immigrants to the United States over the past 30 years has sputtered to a trickle, and research points to a surprising cause: unheralded changes in Mexico that have made staying home more attractive.

A growing body of evidence suggests that a mix of developments — expanding economic and educational opportunities, rising border crime and shrinking families — are suppressing illegal traffic as much as economic slowdowns or immigrant crackdowns in the United States....

Douglas S. Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton, an extensive, long-term survey in Mexican emigration hubs, said his research showed that interest in heading to the United States for the first time had fallen to its lowest level since at least the 1950s. “No one wants to hear it, but the flow has already stopped,” Mr. Massey said, referring to illegal traffic. “For the first time in 60 years, the net traffic has gone to zero and is probably a little bit negative.”

The decline in illegal immigration, from a country responsible for roughly 6 of every 10 illegal immigrants in the United States, is stark. The Mexican census recently discovered four million more people in Mexico than had been projected, which officials attributed to a sharp decline in emigration.

American census figures analyzed by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center also show that the illegal Mexican population in the United States has shrunk and that fewer than 100,000 illegal border-crossers and visa-violators from Mexico settled in the United States in 2010, down from about 525,000 annually from 2000 to 2004. Although some advocates for more limited immigration argue that the Pew studies offer estimates that do not include short-term migrants, most experts agree that far fewer illegal immigrants have been arriving in recent years.

The question is why. 

You'll have to read the whole thing to find out the whys of this phenomenon.  Cave's story is so good, however, that it's worth detailing exactly why the story is so good: 

1)  It's totally counterintuitive.  It flies in the face of the stylized facts about immigration in the U.S. ("we can't control our borders!") as well as Mexico ("the country is falling apart!").  This story bursts every rhetorical bubble that exists in American political debate on this topic.   

 2)  It's also counterintuitive in describing why this phenomenon has occurred.  Much of it is structural -- changing economic circumstances in both countries -- but policy shifts have mattered as well.  Those shifts cut across ideological lines:  dramatically loosened visa restrictions, combined with tougher enforcement, appears to have had some impact. 

3)  Cave relies adriotly on more academic analyses from the Pew Hispanic Center and the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton to back up his interviews and other reportage. 

4)  From a normative policy perspective, this is a win-win story.  As Doug Mataconis notes:

[T]hese are, of course, highly positive developments. That Mexico might stabilize politically and economically and become, if not as prosperous as Canada just yet, at least a far more prosperous southern neighbor than we’ve ever had is a development we should welcome and encourage. Not only because it will reduce cross-border illegal immigration, but also because a strong Mexican economy is good for the U.S. economy. 

 See Joe Klein and Matthew Yglesias on these points as well.  Indeed, it's such good news that stories like this one might not trigger cable news debates about the dreaded (and mythical) NAFTA superhighway. 

[Doesn't declining immigration into the United States foretell long-term doom for America's great power status?--ed.  Immigration undoubtedly provides a dose of demographic vitality for the United States.  Cave's story, however, it about illegal immigration from Mexico.  The data points to high rates of immigration from other Latin American countries and an expansion of legal immigration from Mexico proper.  The U.S. still remains a magnet economy.] 

Daniel W. Drezner

Just what is a Reaganite foreign policy, anyway?

From James Traub's latest FP column:

I first need to amend something I wrote a few weeks ago. After thefirst Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire, I concluded that the "neo-Reaganite" ethos in foreign policy -- uncompromising rhetoric, intervention in the name of "values," democracy promotion -- had no followers among the GOP candidates. I should have said that the candidates have calculated that Republican primary voters don't have much of an appetite for that language (nor do many Democrats). In fact, three of the more likely candidates for the nomination -- Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, and Pawlenty -- all offer some variant of conservative internationalism.

Traub's essay prompted a fair amount of angry pushback from RealClearWorld's Ben Domenech, who accused him of... hmm, let me check... elitist bias, membership in the secret council of elders that rules the world Council on Foreign Relations, and ignorance of the disparate foreign policy views of the GOP candidates. 

While contretemps like these are fun, I wonder if they're missing the point.  What I'm wondering is whether Traub's description of a Reaganite foreign policy -- "uncompromising rhetoric, intervention in the name of "values," democracy promotion" -- is at all accurate.  I mean, it described the neoconservatives or "Neo-Reaganites," but what about Reagan himself? 

Mehdi Hasan writes in the Guardian that Reagan was no Reaganite:

[Reagan] succeeded in avoiding a direct military confrontation. As the liberal US writer Peter Beinart argues in his book, The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris: "On the ultimate test of hawkdom – the willingness to send US troops into harm's way – Reagan was no bird of prey. He launched exactly one land war, against Grenada, whose army totalled 600 men. It lasted two days. And his only air war – the 1986 bombing of Libya – was even briefer."

In contrast, consider the blood-spattered record of his successors. George Bush launched Gulf war I and sent troops into Panama and Somalia; Bill Clinton bombed Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia; George W Bush invaded Afghanistan and gave us Gulf war II and the war on terror. And the Nobel peace prize winner Obama had troops surging in Afghanistan, launched a war on Libya and sent drones into Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.

Lest we forget, after America's first encounter with jihadist violence in 1983 – when 241 US military personnel were killed – Reagan, to use the disparaging lingo of the neocons, chose to "cut and run". Every single soldier was pulled out of Lebanon within four months. "Perhaps we didn't appreciate fully enough the depth of the hatred and the complexity of the problems that made the Middle East such a jungle," Reagan later wrote in his memoir, adding: "The irrationality of Middle Eastern politics forced us to rethink our policy there … If that policy had changed towards more of a neutral position ... those 241 marines would be alive today."

These are the words not of a hawk but of a dove; of a leader who did not share the neocons' blind faith in the use of military force to spread freedom.

The truth is that Reagan wasn't a Reaganite; he ended the cold war through negotiation and with far fewer military interventions than his successors have managed so far in the war on terror. His actions, rather than his occasionally bombastic words, reveal a president more interested in jaw-jaw than war-war.

This is the foreign policy variant of debates that fiscal policy wonks have about Reagan's record on taxes, in which it could simultaneously be claimed that:  a) Reagan enacted the largest marginal tax rate cuts  in history; and b) Reagan enacted the largest tax increase in history. 

The point is, there's an awful lot of expanse within Reagan's actual foreign policy record for a GOP candidate to camp in.  William Kristol, Robert Kagan and others who brand the term "Reaganite" to equal neoconservatism do a disservice to history. 

Here's my question, however.  It could still be argued that neoconservatism was the primary theme of Reagan's presidency, even if it doesn't match Traub's description of it.  So, dear readers, I'll put it to you:  what were the key themese of Reaganite foreign policy?