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April 30, 2005

Progressive Strategy

What We Stand For #2
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Progressives stand for the victory of hope over fear.

NOT hope over experience. (That’s the idea that after the Iraq war, then the Euros will come around and send troops to be shot up by insurgents. Or that this time, calling the North Koreans names will make them drop the nukes.)

But for the very American sentiment that no one ever got anywhere worth getting by cowering inside, listening for the approach of terrorist feet and stimulating the economy by shopping on line.

Hope over fear means a worldview that acknowledges the importance of fighting AGAINST extremist ideologies, but puts that fight in the context of working and struggling FOR better futures for ourselves and others.

I could go on in that vein forever -- and it wouldn’t hurt progressives if we did more of that -- but for the purposes of this blog, I’ll suppress the ex-speechwriter in me and think a little bit about what that ought to imply for policy.

GWOT/GWOE -- at the risk of sounding Pollyannaish, thie fight against Islamic extremism is not the only thing happening in the world today.  Nor is it the only possible existential threat to our way of life (the Chinese economy, for example, or the spread of weapons of mass destruction, or global warming).  Progressives should say how we will fight the fight smarter and better, and without compromising core American values in the process.  But the more we let our entire international worldview be defined by this, the more we are on territory conservatives have marked out and own.  (see under: 2004 elections)

Global economy: Speaking of the global economy, I'll say again that progressives have got to get engaged in sorting out steps that will restore American eminence in technological innovation and product creation (whether the product is software or autos), significantly smooth the way for American workers who get hurt in the turbulence and transition (not $300 community-college credits), and help the poorest countries get their products into the world economy and lift their living standards along with ours.  Sounds like a fantasy, you say?  The reason for that is a lack of serious policy discussion.  Progressives need to define our goals for the 21st-century economy, and then take the discussion out of the clouds.  Jeff Sach's latest gig, lifting African countries out of poverty one demo village at a time, is a great example of how to re-invigorate non-ideological discussion around these issues.  Let's see what really works.

International institutions: Hope over fear means reminding our fellow-citizens why it was that the US pushed to found the UN almost 60 years ago, and why it still serves our interest. But it also means believing that we can work with others to make the UN and all the multilateral organizations new and relevant for a new century. Suzanne's agenda for UN reform? Have the IMF sell gold to fund debt relief? Convert the World Bank to grants-only, combined with new commitments in funding? This is where we ought to be debating really big ideas – and, importantly, looking across borders to build consensus on ideas that really work before alliances form around ideas that will disadvantage us.

Non-proliferation: In the years since the atom was split, we've had more successes in preventing weapons' spread through negotiation and the creation of international rules than through the use and threat of force.  Neither will do it alone.

Our neighbors to the South:  whatever happened to that wonderful new relationship, full of new ideas, that Presidents Bush and Fox were supposed to create? How is it that the U.S. Secretary of State now flies around South America, besieged by the two-bit Hugo Chavez?

You get the idea.  Hope over fear is just a framing device, but it's a useful way of re-examining bad habits US foreign policy has sunk into -- and then drawing the nation's attention to how we might get better results.

*****                   *****                   *****                   *****                     *****

Our readers made some thoughtful comments about Michael’s installment #1, putting into words a vague feeling I had: too much emphasis on probity for its own sake just gets you in trouble. Remember how Newt Gingrich got hoisted on his own “doing things differently” petard. And how often we recall W.’s call for a "humble nation" during the ’00 campaign.

Progressives don't have to blather about being humble, but it's still good advice.

Praktike came up with the crispest formulation: we have to deal with Russia, China, Cuba, too. And we will.


UN Members, Reform Thyselves
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

An addendum to my last posting on the topic of UN reform.   This week Zimbabwe was elected to a three year term on the UN's Human Rights Commission.  For reasons covered in our discussions of the Zimbabwe election, the outrage is obvious.  Sure enough the U.S. and Europe are once again up-in-arms

Why did it happen?  Because each regional group nominates its own candidates for membership to the Commission, and within the African group, it was Zimbabwe's "turn."  The group has been loath to allow considerations like fitness for service to enter into the calculus, preferring a strict rotation that allows even the most egregious rights violators to sit in judgment of others.  The situation illustrates why Annan has called for the disbanding of the Commission and its replacement by a Human Rights Council that would be elected in a different way.

But here's the problem: whether you call it a Commission or a Council, if the membership does not recognize the need to populate a body charged with upholding human rights with countries that themselves adhere to those principles, the forum will never regain its credibility.   To his credit, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs, Mark Lagon, understands this and is trying to figure out what a more workable system of selection would look like.

Inevitably there will be line-drawing exercises.  China has been on the Commission on Human Rights uninterrupted since 1982.  Given their status as a permanent member of the Security Council and their influence in their region and beyond, its hard to imagine they won't be part of a new Council.  Cuba has been a member of the Commission on Human Rights since 1989.   In that case, a broader and more flexible system for selecting members could well freeze the Cubans out.  For a historical view of the membership, see here

But no system of voting, no matter how artfully rigged, will put the right countries on a human rights body unless the Member States who do the voting make a genuine attempt to avoid putting violating foxes in charge of the human rights hen house.

This ties into a broader point about UN reform.  Most of the proposals under debate deal with new institutions and systems:  the Human Rights Council, Peacebuilding Commission, augmented oversight office.  But the most serious problems at the UN stem from the membership:  their obstructionism, indifference, double-standards and petty-politicking.  Unless the UN's member states are prepared to reexamine their own role in paralyzing and undercutting the organization, a reform package may be nothing more than old wine (or whine) in new bottles.

Kofi Annan can't make this happen.  Even if he weren't beleaguered, the member states call the shots for the UN Secretariat and not the other way around.  Ordinarily the U.S.,  as the biggest turtle in the bay, should take the lead. 

The problem is that while we fixate on Zimbabwe on the Commission on Human Rights and French and Russian companies' alleged skimming of the oil for food program, the rest of the membership is instead fixated on how we have manipulated the system. 

Colin Powell's mortifying powerpoint presentation to the UN Security Council purporting to prove Iraqi WMD is exhibit A (the stuff is all still on the State Department website, interestingly), but it doesn't stop there.  Going back to the issue of human rights, just last week the U.S. pressed for the ouster of a distinguished UN human rights rapporteur responsible for Afghanistan, Professor Cherif Bassiouni of DePaul University literally one day after he released a report detailing how Americans running prisons in Afghanistan had circumvented the law "by engaging in arbitrary arrests and detentions and committing abusive practices, including torture."  Bassiouni documented this despite being denied access to U.S. military prisons in country.  The State Department used the excuse that the human rights situation in Afghanistan is so good it no longer needs to be monitored.  The New York Times finally reported on this this morning, though the incident happened a week ago.

In remarks made on April 19, 2005 Deputy Assistant Secretary Lagon spoke of the need for measures that go "Beyond institutional fixes, in the Commission or a Council, democracies must seize the initiative to save the UN human rights apparatus from utter disrepute."  But by ousting Bassiouni, the U.S. is engaging in precisely the type of behavior that it purports to decry:  shenanigans that undermine the credibility of UN human rights mechanisms.  It is also undercutting its own ability to call on other Member States to take the high ground, putting human rights principles above regional loyalties or narrowly-defined self-interest. 

True reform at the UN will be reform not just of the world body's commissions, committees and councils, but also of its Member States, whose behavior is at the root of the problems that bedevil the organization.  The U.S. should lead this process, but cannot do so unless other see that it is willing to look in the mirror first.

April 28, 2005


Beyond Bolton
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

At the margins of the Bolton debate, and for those of us who may not last another two weeks of speculating over the names in those mysterious NSC excerpts, an interesting and ultimately more important set of questions has emerged.  They deal with whether the UN is important and why, and what UN reform means and should mean.    Kudos to Joseph Britt at Belgravia Dispatch for raising this question and to the Washington Post for looking at the disconnect between what Bush and Annan mean when they say reform. 

I move that we spend at least part of our time over the next few weeks debating these issues, and throw a few things out to get the ball rolling.

Why is the UN important?  I thought Bush gave a good answer to this tonight at the press conference, commenting that UN Envoy Terje Roed-Larsen is doing a good job verifying Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon and noting this as an example of the kinds of valuable roles the UN can play. 

There are thousands of things just like this that the UN and its agencies do day in and day out:  providing food aid in Darfur, coordinating relief and rehabilitation post-tsunami, coordinating elections in Afghanistan, caring for refugees, immunizing children the world over, treating AIDS victims and preventing HIV-AIDS transmission, settling intellectual property disputes, operating peacekeeping missions in parts of the world like Sierra Leone and Congo when no one else is looking and much more.   Look at the UN and UN Foundation websites for details.  In short the UN performs an array of tasks that no other entity or agency is equipped to do.  As Holbrooke used to put it "if it didn't exist you'd have to invent it."

Another key element is that the UN is the only body in the world with near-universal membership.  When it comes to building truly global support for a policy initiative - like the attack on Afghanistan right after September 11 - there is no other single place to turn.

Despite its diversity of membership, since its founding 60 years ago the UN has helped advance a set of universal values that also happen to be principles the U.S. holds dear.  There's no question the organization has been passive aggressive, hypocritical, and uneven in its application of these ideals, and that's deeply disappointing.  But its also clear that concepts like human rights, democracy, and the rule of law have been elevated throughout the world in part because of the UN's role in spotlighting these issues (if the Bush Administration didn't believe this, they wouldn't have proposed that the Democracy Fund they want to create be housed at the UN).

Why Does the UN Need Reform? 2 main reasons:

1) To Become a More Effective Foreign Policy Instrument – The UN's decision-making structures, bureaucracy, and field operations suffer from administrative and political weaknesses that undercut their their effectiveness and reliability. They are bureaucratic, inefficient, slow-moving and subject to infighting.  As a result, the UN often falls short.  This makes it impossible to advocate a broad UN role in a tough situation, Iraq for example, without worrying about whether the world body is up to the task;

2) To Restore the Organization's Credibility - One need only to look at what's happened to Enron, Fannie Mae and AIG to understand why an organization perceived as corrupt and mismanaged cannot be effective.  To play its myriad of important roles, the UN needs to rebuild the trust of its membership, including particularly its largest contributor and host country, the United States.

What is Meant by Reform?  Different things to different people.

The Bolton View:  When John Bolton served as Assistant Secretary of the State Department's International Organization's bureau, reform mostly meant withholding U.S. dues to the UN in an effort to force through various bureaucratic reforms, like zero-based budgeting and getting the UN staff to make good on their commitment to serve abroad.  Some of the specific reform measures advocated made senses, but the steps were for the most part seen as made-in-the-USA demands being foisted on an unwilling membership.   The result was scorched-earth -- a reflexive hostility among the membership to even the word reform.  By the time I got to the UN the U.S. delegation couldn't chime in at a meeting without being told that before opining we ought to pay our dues "on time, in full, and without conditions." 

The Annan View:  Since entering office, Annan (the U.S.'s pick, in large part because he was seen as a reformer) has made efforts to modernize the UN's human resource system and, more successfully, to augment the organization's peacekeeping capabilities.  But Annan left many of the worst entrenched bureaucrats in place, looked the other way as scandals like oil for food and peacekeeping sexcapades unfolded, and steered clear of the most politically charged issues like seating the likes of Sudan and Libya on the UN's Commission on Human Rights and the persistent bullying of Israel.

Now, partly as a way to try to salvage his tenure after the Iraq fracture and the oil for food debacle, Annan is pushing for far broader reforms.  He's finally cleaned house, sweeping away the worst of the apparatchiks.  He's called for enlargement of the UN Security Council, a new treaty on terrorism, strengthened counter-proliferation measures and a new Human Rights Council that would exclude rights violators.  For more see here.   

The Bush Administration View:  What do President Bush and Condi Rice mean when they talk about the need for UN reform (as they do unfailingly when stressing how vital it is that Bolton be confirmed)?  To find out I went to the USUN website and read a speech given on April 7 by Shirin Tahir-Kheli, whom Rice appointed her Senior Adviser on UN Reform within days of Bolton's nomination.

The speech supports most of the important ideas contained in Annan's reform report, including the terrorism treaty, the revamped Human Rights Council, the creation of a new Peacebuilding Commission and the strengthening of UN non-proliferation instruments.  Tahir-Kheli sidesteps a series of other issues, like demands for more development aid and a call for reform of the UN Security Council (she says the U.S. supports such reform, but offers no view on a formula).

In short, while the brouhaha over Bolton unfolds, Condi has her woman quietly advocating a reasoned reform agenda.  But what's virtually missing from Tahir-Kehli's speech is any concept of a reform agenda that goes beyond what Annan advocates.  The one exception is a reference to a UN Democracy Fund, an idea Bush first floated last fall. 

For all their criticism of Annan and their outraged calls for wide reform, the Administration's vision for change dovetails very closely with the Secretary-General's.  It's also worth noting that despite the White House's sense of urgency to get Bolton to NYC to start reforming, Tahir-Kheli made clear that Bush rejects Annan's proposal to try to agree on a package this September, and thinks the reform process should not be subject to "artificial deadlines."  If reform can wait, why the pressure last week to ram through Bolton?

Remarkably, despite all the ink and angst over the oil for food affair, the only reference to managerial accountability in Tahir-Kheli's remarks is a short paragraph recommending the strengthening of the UN's office of internal oversight.

The Nossel View:  One of my very first posts on Democracy Arsenal was devoted to urging the Bush Administration to back key elements of the Annan reform package.  They've now done so and I applaud it.  But the reform effort needs to go farther in several respects:

Oversight:  The office Bush wants to strengthen has always been relatively toothless and that's unlikely to change even with more resources or new leadership.  The UN needs an independent, outside audit function akin to what US private companies have.  It needs to hold individual managers personally responsible for strict accountability, a la Sarbanes-Oxley.  Managers also need viable whistleblower protection against meddling Member States, and the Member States themselves should be called to account when they play a role in misdeeds.  This won't be easy to accomplish, but it is essential to keeping hands out of the till andsustaining the UN's credibility long-term.

We should take a hard look at what's going on now with defections from the Volcker Commission and figure out once and for all how the UN can credibly be investigated.  The organization cannot afford another big scandal, and preventing one will require major structural and cultural change.  It's surprising that the Administration has not come up with more concrete proposals here.

Safety and Security:  The UN's inability to deploy last year in Iraq due to lack of adequate safety contributed to widespread loss of life as the anti-U.S. insurgency escalated.  The UN is the intervenor of last resort in many of the world's worst spots, and needs commitments of adequately trained and equipped troops to enable the organization to deploy wherever it is needed.

Early Retirements:  One of the best proposals contained in Annan's reform package would offer generous early retirement packages to large numbers of UN personnel, clearing the way for the organization to be invigorated by a diverse staff not stuck in old mindsets.  The Administration should jump on this.

Overlap, Duplication and Obsolescence:  The UN has a multitude of offices tasked with similar roles.  The functions of the Political Affairs Department and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations often coincide, as do those of UNDP and the UN's various economic organs.   Many of these offices provide comfortable NY-based resting places for former ambassadors and the like.  In tandem with the buy-out effort, offices that have outlived their usefulness should be shut down.

The reform effort should also go beyond the Secretariat itself, and encompass efforts undertaken within the membership to enable the organization to mature and realize its potential.  Most important are these:

- Remedying Israel's isolation at the UN once and for all (I have an article coming out soon in Dissent that talks about why and how to get this done);

- Starting to unravel the UN's regional group structure by picking off countries that no longer have a policy interest in siding with a one-dimensional developing world bloc (for more see Retail Diplomacy - the section on unlocking bloc politics).  The Bush Administration wants to do this, but its relationships are too frayed to try right now.

Progressive Strategy

What We Stand For: Installment #1
Posted by Michael Signer

I'd like to keep on with the discussion of what progressives stand for, not just against.  Hat-tipping to a discussion by Matt Yglesias, Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly asks the same question.  Like almost everyone, he ends up inconclusively:

So what do liberals need to fight back? Although no set of principles is going to cover every base, I'd argue that we need three or four backstops that underly a lot of the things we want to accomplish. But what?

So, to take up the gauntlet, here's one idea (for a few others, check out this great working paper titled, "The Values That Unite Democrats" by the Truman Project's Ganesh Sitamaran and Peter Buttigieg).  I'll tie this into foreign policy at the bottom, I promise:

In politics, progressives believe in probity for probity's sake.  They believe politics can be more honest, more thoughtful, more considerate, and more enlightened.  This is why we have a principled basis for disparaging the brutishness of conservatives like Tom DeLay and John Bolton and, before them, Newt Gingrich.

As I noted last week, the progressive stance in both the DeLay and Bolton affairs has been inspiring, in part because of our principled opposition to the basic conservative idea that, well, being a dick is not just OK in politics, but admirable.   

Continue reading "What We Stand For: Installment #1" »


Governing by Cliche
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

This just in...well-sourced speculation about next moves in the Bolton confirmation saga:  The administration may sit back and let the Senate Foreign Relations Committee do as it pleases and even vote down the nomination of Bolton. They may simply take the committee's decision as a negative recommendation, but still push for a floor vote on the nomination so he could still win. So much for valuing deliberative democracy.

Since November, I've been voraciously reading about the rise of the American conservative movement.  For a good overview, I recommend The Right Nation by  John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge. After finishing it, I felt invigorated by the notion that this political undertow that we are presently struggling against is not an accident, but an outcome.

Just what happened to the level headed elected folks who understand that liberal democracies require give and take to survive in the long term? That the word "liberal" itself is a mainstream notion, a positive norm for advanced societies that intentionally stay open minded, innovative and problem-solving.  On the Republican side, many of these liberal minded elected leaders have been purged or have left government altogether. My moderate Republican friends often lament about how extreme their party has become. Although I sympathize with their plight, I am incredulous. Like that line from Cold Mountain "you control the weather, and then have the audacity to bellyache when it rains."

But as for my side, I can't help feeling let-down by the liberal boomers and their seeming negligence of the ideas and infrastructure of the left.  Why weren't we going for the sandbags and pitchforks on January 1, 1995, when Congress flipped to the Republicans?

Two cliches that the conservative movement lives by: "Nature abhors a vacuum" AND "Half of winning is just showing up".

Continue reading "Governing by Cliche" »

April 27, 2005


Not Anti-Bulldog, Just Anti-Bolton
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

I stand by my earlier prediction that John Bolton will not make it, but I'm also awfully glad that people like Steve Clemons at thewashingtonnote and Laura Rozen at warandpiece are not so confident and are keeping up a relentless fight to get important information aired.

I want to weigh in on one point:

Conservatives are pushing the line that progressives don't like Bolton's toughness. Bill Kristol says that Bolton's critics will only allow girlie-men in the job of UN Ambassador. Never mind that this statement (besides being demagogic and sophomoric) ignores all the other criticisms of Bolton, and sidesteps the fact that his intemperance matters mainly because it has reared its head when he's tried to suppress bona fide intelligence and retaliate against its messengers. All that aside, Kristol's remark is just plain false.

The proof in the pudding is Richard Holbrooke. He is as tough as they come - just ask any one of the 188 ambassadors whom he muscled into agreeing to cut U.S. dues to the UN during the longest period of sustained prosperity in U.S. history. Holbrooke (for whom I worked) said that when it came to dues reform, we realized the membership would not accept an American diktat. But the truth was that, since it was enshrined in the national law of the UN's largest Member State and Host Country, the mandate to lower our dues was about as close to a diktat as the UN had seen. The membership knew it, and they resented it. But Holbrooke was smart enough not to rub it in people's faces, and to craft an approach that allowed our edict to pass by consensus.

The approach we took was actually similar to the one Bolton used in getting the UN's Zionism-is-racism resolution overturned in 1991. We refused to take no for an answer, mobilized skeptical U.S. embassies around the world, and traveled door to door to UN missions in New York, many of which no UN ambassador had ever visited before. Holbrooke did the same thing on subsequent fights to get Israel admitted for the first time ever into a UN regional group, and to prevent Sudan from being seated on the UN Security Council. 

Holbrooke was also one of the toughest critics the UN has seen. His mantras were that the organization was "flawed, but indispensable" and that we had to "fix it to save it." This is not far from Condi Rice's assertion that the world body must reform if it is to survive. Holbrooke launched a self-proclaimed "attack" UN's Department of Public Information, calling it bloated, wasteful and ineffective. 

Holbrooke was no softie when it came to employees either. I worked for him and lived in fear of making a mistake. I once got chastened for bringing then-former Senator Frank Lautenberg to a lunch late, after accidentally pushing the wrong button in the elevator (Holbrooke was standing at the elevator door when I got out, wanting to know what why we had gone to the 22d floor. To this day I cannot figure out how he knew where the elevator had been). 

But I and many others loved working for Holbrooke because he was open-minded, creative, committed to using his platform to make the UN work better and because he was indisputably effective as Ambassador (as Jesse Helms conceded at the end of his tenure). We are not afraid of a tough Ambassador. On the contrary, we need an ambassador who is forceful enough to effect change, but also one who is effective enough to realize that change at the UN cannot be forced. 

For more details, see my article on Retail Diplomacy published in The National Interest (which almost titled it Multilateralism for Conservatives). 

Hasta la Vista, Bill.

April 26, 2005

Democracy, State Dept.

Tomorrow's Headlines Today
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Three topics I'd be very interested in if I were a magazine assignments editor, a corporate strategist, or the head of State's Policy Planning shop*:

1.  A small-c conservative shift in Europe is larger than most engaged Americans realize, with implications that we haven't much thought through.

Exhibit A is how the selection of Pope Benedict XVI stunned many American observers, even though in retrospect he was doing some pretty good campaigning for himself in the Italian media.  More specifically, how his election has been attributed to the church's concern with the decline in European catholicism.  (Remember that Europe is still vastly over-represented in the College of Cardinals.)  And what issue did he take on first?  A gay marriage law in Spain.  I'd never argue that the church's European cardinals are exactly in tune with the continental zeitgeist... but yet...

Exhibit B is the upcoming referenda on the EU constitutional treaty in France and the Netherlands.  The treaty is in trouble in France and a concern in the Netherlands, both traditional bastions of pro-EU sentiment.  In neither country is the vote really about the 400-page accretion of specificities and compromises that make up Giscard d'Estaing's treaty; in both the anti-treaty sentiment is tinged with anti-Muslim sentiment that has seized on the prospect of Turkish admission to the EU as one of its rallying points (an  opposition it shares with Pope Benedict, by the way.)

If a major EU country votes down the treaty, that will provoke a near-crisis.  Even if France and the others pull a "oui" out of the fire, the going for the Euro-phile project, and for the tolerant multiculturalism that many Americans, rightly or wrongly, associate with "Europe" is going to be tough for a few years. 

Might that have implications for how much energy and vision Europe can devote to challenges beyond its borders?  Are the "non" campaigners and the cardinals tapping into some very real discomforts with what the 21st century looks like, discomforts not unlike those that make Americans go running to George W. bush for another four years of safety from terrorism?  You bet.

2.  A diffuse, unsteady but very real "third wave" of democratization and "people power" is crashing around the world right now.  If I were a Bush Administration speechwriter, I'd be bragging about it at every opportunity.  Why aren't they? 

A theory:  we all spend a great deal of time worrying about democracy producing results we don't like in places like Iraq, citing the example of fundamentalists elected in Algeria 14 years ago, and so on.  But interestingly, the results most inimical to Washington's order of things right now are coming from Latin America.  Chavez is still in power, and still tweaking Washington; Ecuador can't seem to keep a government in power; and voters in Uruguay and elsewhere have acted n their dissatisfaction with how little growth has trickled down to bring in a "pink tide" of leftist governments in recent years.

And then there are the plucky democracy campaigners we can't (or won't) do much of anything to help -- Zimbabwe, Togo.

So narrowly, this wave of democratization was not made in Washington.  But it is changing the face of some critical regions -- the former Soviet Union, South America, parts of Africa -- in ways that are good for core US values in the long run, but perhaps challenging for Bush Administration interests in the short run. 

3.  An amen, brother to Derek's thoughts on building a strategic reserve of people who actually know something about the Arab and Muslim worlds to help make policy on them, with one addition; in my experience, we are also pretty short on Asia experts.  The broad issue corresponding to terrorism here is strategy for how the US positions itself politically and economically in a world where Asia is on the rise -- and then the ability to carry out such a strategy.  I find the Asianist shortage to get more severe the higher-up one goes; there are still too many of us reformed Sovietologists around.  Many of the Bush Administration's miscalculations, to my mind, can be explained by the paucity of policymakers whose minds were formed anywhere other than in the US-Soviet cauldron.

*Funny note:  I wanted to link to Policy Planning on State's website.  When I searched for it, this is what I got.  I had to pull up the org chart to reassure myself that the Policy Planning staff (of which I am an alum) was still there.


Posted by Derek Chollet

Last Sunday, the Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland reported on a shift of Bush Administration policy that, if true, would mark an important and long overdue change in the way our government approaches the war on terror.  The core of this would be to broaden our policies from fighting a “Global War on Terror” (GWOT, if you live in the bureaucracy), to a “Global War on Extremism” (or GWOE, which one cannot utter without sounding like Elmer Fudd).  The GWOE would seek to fight not only active terrorist networks like Al-Qaeda but meet the broader challenge of the millions of potential jihadists that we are losing everyday in the war of ideas.  As Hoagland explains:

“The policy directive is set to delineate three essential tasks in GWOE: The Department of Homeland Security keeps the lead in defending U.S. territory against terrorist attack; the State Department will be in charge of counter-ideology against Islamic extremism, tasked with broadening and greatly strengthening the weak ‘public diplomacy’ campaign of the first Bush term; and the Pentagon will destroy or disrupt ‘networks’ of terrorism, wherever they exist.”

If this proves right, it’s about time.  The fact that we don’t have such a policy already is a testament to the weakness of our current approach – and the current Administration’s failures.  According to Hoagland, new thinking along these lines has been bottled up for over a year inside the bureaucracy. 

While such a policy shift would be welcome, there’s at least one huge problem: the State Department’s “public diplomacy” is not just weak, it’s a shambles.  The world’s greatest communications power has been out-communicated by a guy in a cave.  And we found out last week that Rice’s pick to run this effort, Bush confidante Karen Hughes, won’t even show up for her job until this fall.  This is ridiculous.  Suzanne is right to recommend that she leave Texas and get to work.

And what should she do when she gets on the job?  Rob Satloff -- who has probably thought more about the possibilities of "public diplomacy" in the Middle East than anyone else, and after having lived there recently, actually has an idea of what might work -- has some recommendations.

But reshuffling inside Washington’s bureaucracy – important as that may be – will only help us fight the GWOE if it leads to meaningful policy outcomes.  And I believe that one of the most important would be for the government to lead and fund a major effort to develop a new generation of experts that will enable us to better understand Islam and the greater Middle East.  People have been arguing this point since 9-11, but the fact is that right now, we still don’t have the minds to win potential jihadists’ hearts.

Stanford’s Peter Berkowitz and Mike McFaul have been all over this problem and have ideas to solve it.  They point out that in the departments of political science at Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Chicago or Yale universities, there are no tenured professors who specialize in the politics of the wider Middle East.  As they explain, “programs in and outside of universities aimed at comprehending and combating Islamic extremism [do] exist, but they are woefully underdeveloped and changing at a snail's pace. Everyone now recognizes that we lack ‘human intelligence’ -- covert agents, spies and informants -- in the Middle East. But we also suffer from shortages of NSA linguists, academic scholars, and senior policymakers trained in the languages, cultures, politics and economics of the wider Middle East.”

The government, working with foundations and the private sector, needs to take the lead in addressing this pathetic fact.  If the Administration fails to act, Congress should as it shapes next year’s budget.   

April 24, 2005

Weekly Top Ten Lists

Weekly Top 10 List: Top 10 Things the Bush Administration Could Do, With No Change of Policy, That Would Improve America's Image Around the World
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

This is a list of steps the Bush Administration could take to improve America's poor image around the world, without the need for any shifts in policy.   The best part is, they don't have to do all 10.  Any one would help, and a handful together would send a powerful signal.  Thanks to Heather for the inspiration and her input.  Errors, and I'm sure there are some, are all mine.

1.   Get Behind Gordon Brown's Global Anti-Poverty Initiative – UK Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister wannabe Gordon Brown is championing an effort to get the G-8 countries to live up to commitments made in 2001 (during Bush's first term) to end poverty.  Even if Bush cannot sign onto everything, a nod toward the effort would help show that the U.S. respects the priorities of others and cares about those who have the least.

2.  Declare that the U.S. Does Not Intend to Maintain Permanent Bases in Iraq – By quietly withdrawing its bases from Saudi Arabia in the years after September 11, the Bush Administration tacitly acknowledged that, despite the strategic advantages, having a standing U.S. military presence in the Middle East can become a flashpoint for anti-American resentment. Given the legacy of the Iraq occupation, the point is doubly true there.  During the campaign, Bush stated that the U.S. "had no ambition in Iraq." Though debate on the matter is still raging, a clear statement by Bush would go a long way toward clarifying the U.S.'s intentions in a direction that will reassure the region.  Only problem is it seems Cheney is moving in the opposite direction.

3.  Get Karen Hughes Out of Texas and Into Her Job as Head of Public Diplomacy – Appointing Karen Hughes to front the Administration's public diplomacy effort at least signaled that the country's cheerleader would have the President's ear.  But now the Administration says Hughes won't even start the job until the fall. But the U.S. can ill-afford allowing its pep squad a semester off.   Hughes is waiting for her son to go off to college, but there are worse things in teenage life than a summer in DC.

4.  Initiate a Credible Independent Investigation of the Abuses at Abu Ghraib – Some Americans may have already forgotten the shame of Abu Ghraib, but the misdeeds there will die hard in the minds of people around the world, many of whom saw the prison scandals as emblematic of American abuse of power.  The Army's own just-completed investigation has drawn sharp criticism for essentially clearing the senior-most officials responsible for the prison from any wrongdoing.  Bush should show the world that the horrors of Abu Ghraib have not been forgotten or swept under the rug.

5.  Nominate a  U.S. Ambassador to the UN that Will Command International Support – This assumes John Bolton does not survive the confirmation battle now underway.   Though UN officials tried to put on a brave face, the world saw Bolton's appointment almost as a punishment being unleashed by the Bush Administration.  We have talked here about the sorts of qualities needed in a new ambassador.  Laura Rozen has some ideas of people the Administration would trust, but who would be received in a much more positive light.   

Continue reading "Weekly Top 10 List: Top 10 Things the Bush Administration Could Do, With No Change of Policy, That Would Improve America's Image Around the World" »

April 23, 2005


Bolton - Countdown
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

I think Bolton's finished.  As reported in this morning's New York Times, Dick Cheney has resorted to the argument that troubled  Kevin Drum:  that there are plenty of other jerks who hold high office in Washington.  But not too many of those are in Category 4.  The law draws a distinction for Category 4 - an employee at will can be fired for any reason - including the color of his tie or bad taste in music - but cannot be dismissed on grounds of race, gender, or whistleblowing.   The same line applies here.

I don't see how Bolton comes back:  allegations and witnesses are piling up - including several like Colin Powell and former Ambassador Thomas Hubbard - who have public credibility; Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska - not exactly the bleeding edge of the Republican party - is now wavering; there is a mandate to further investigate and another three weeks ahead during which it appears very likely that more of the same facts will come out; based on what Hubbard and others have said there is talk that Bolton may have spoken untruths during the hearings that have been held thus far.

How does Bolton crawl back?  Lorelei wrote here a few weeks ago about Stepford Wonks.  It will be interesting to see whether we witness any Stepford Senators - independent-minded members committed to getting to the bottom of the charges against Bolton who get called to the White House and come out with all traces of skepticism wiped away.   That's what happened to Representative Charlie Norwood in 2001 when, after a 4 hour meeting at the White House, he agreed to withdraw a bill he had championed that would have introduced a ground-breaking patient's bill of rights. 

We ought to be on the look out for more of the same.   

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