Bait and Switch

Posted January 2, 2007

Categories: Articles

You’re astride a donkey, and it’s not going anywhere. You’ve got carrots in your pocket and a stick in your hand. Which to use? In the ideal world, the donkey would take a few steps forward to get the carrot that you dangle in front of its nose. If it slows down or gets distracted from the carrot, a couple taps of the switch on its hindquarters get it moving again.

The previous owner warned you about the drawbacks of both approaches. The donkey doesn’t like sticks. It tends to bray when hit and bray louder when hit harder. Strike the beast too hard and it may just up and die on you, which might leave you in a worse predicament. But the carrot approach can also backfire. The donkey lunges to get the carrot, grabs it from your hand, and then settles down to eat it, with no intention of moving ahead. And you have a limited supply of carrots.

The carrot-and-stick metaphor has become deeply ingrained in the foreign policy discourse as a way to represent the mechanisms of inducing behavior change in other countries. As the above description suggests, the metaphor puts the riders in the best possible light. They are on top of the problem. They know the right direction. Their only challenge is a technical one—how to combine carrot and stick in just such a way to trigger propulsion.

While the United States keeps military intervention “on the table,” as the Bush administration likes to say, it has also been using other sticks to induce behavior change in countries whose policies it doesn’t like. One of those sticks has been economic sanctions. In some cases, the U.S. government has been prodded by grassroots movements to adopt sanctions that proved successful, such as in South Africa. In other cases, the sanctions have done little, and the U.S. government reversed its policy—such as in China after the Tiananmen Square ordeal or India after its nuclear tests.

This week, FPIF gives you two perspectives on the sanctions debate around Burma. It’s a particularly opportune time. The UN Security Council recently considered a resolution demanding an end to repression inside the country (also known as Myanmar). Three countries vetoed the resolution: China, Russia, and South Africa. Kyi May Kaung, in Sanctions and Burma: Shades of Grey, argues that the international community should listen to the democratic movement inside Burma and keep up the pressure. In Minimizing the Miasma in Myanmar, David Steinberg argues that economic sanctions have done nothing but increase the isolation and intransigence of the military government. They respond to each other’s arguments in our Burma Strategic Dialogue.

Economic sanctions are also in effect against North Korea. Martin Hart-Landsberg and I argue that the U.S. strategy of squeezing the country increases the risk of war in the region without increasing the chances of a successful settlement at the Six Party Talks. And if you missed it earlier this month, Roger Howard made the case against the sanctions on Iran.

The sanctions debate has grown considerably more nuanced in recent years, as analysts debate the “smartness” of sanctions, their impact on vulnerable populations, and how they can be calibrated with carrots.

Which brings us back to the carrot-and-stick metaphor. If you’re on the receiving end of this carrot-and-stick approach, what does that make you? A donkey. It’s not a very flattering role. You are stubborn, lazy, don’t know the path, and must do all the heavy lifting.

But you could be worse off. What if the rider decides to get a new donkey? Then we have not behavior change but regime change. Carrot-and-stick morphs into a different metaphor: bait-and-switch. What had been presented as a method of prodding a given government in a given direction turns out to be a weapon to bring down that government.

The stick turns into a gun. And the carrot turns out to be poisoned.

Bye-bye, donkey.

The Stick of Public Protest

Let’s turn the tables on the metaphor and cast the Bush administration in the role of donkey. It is stubbornly holding to its policy in Iraq. It refuses to change direction. The Iraq Study Group offered a number of carrots to induce behavior change by appealing to reason and the national interest. Next Saturday, January 27, grassroots movements will take to the streets of Washington, DC to deploy the stick of public opinion and pressure.

FPIF’s Youth and Activism editor Saif Rahman pens a stirring appeal to draw more people to the demonstration in Five Reasons Why I’ll March on Jan. 27 (and You Should Too). And FPIF is also publishing former Senator George McGovern’s recent address at the National Press Club that recommends, simply, Get Out of Iraq.

FPIF columnist Frida Berrigan has also been trying to use the stick of public protest to change the behavior of the Bush administration, this time on the issue of the detainees at Guantanamo. She took part in a demonstration at the Federal District Court building in Washington, DC, at which she and others read off the names of the detainees. She was arrested for her efforts. Read about her experience in Protesting Guantanamo.

Somalia and Morocco

The situation in Somalia remains far from settled. The head of the former Islamic government, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, has surrendered to Kenyan authorities. Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia, and international peacekeepers have yet to arrive. In Force Won’t Bring Peace to Somalia, former minister of state and member of the Somali Transitional National Parliament Khadija O. Ali argues that only a concerted diplomatic effort to engage all political factions inside Somalia will prevent a return of anarchy and war.

In Morocco, meanwhile, a court has handed down a three-year suspended sentence to an editor and journalist who published jokes about the state and religion. In Nothing to Laugh At, Polish journalist Dawid Warszawski examines the case and decides that only informed readers can judge whether such jokes fall under protected free speech or unacceptable hate speech. It’s an ironic twist, given that the winning entry in the recent Holocaust cartoon contest in Iran came from a Moroccan.

It’s not likely that the court sentence will stop the jokes in Morocco. Journalists and comics, after all, don’t react well to sticks, even if they come in the form of suspended sentences.

FPIF, January 23, 2007

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