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April 22, 2005


The Theocon Threat
Posted by Michael Signer

Andrew Sullivan has a terrific piece up in today's TNR called "Crisis of Faith".  His argument, in brief, is that today's conservative movement -- while wildly successful -- is riven by a split between two radically opposed ideas:  what he calls the "conservatism of faith" and the "conservatism of doubt."

Crusades, however, are not means of persuasion. They are means of coercion. And so it is no accident that the crusading Republicans are impatient with institutional obstacles in their way. The judiciary, which is designed to check executive and legislative decisions, is now the first object of attack. Bare-knuckled character assassination of opponents is part of the repertoire: Just look at the swift-boat smears of John Kerry. The filibuster is attacked. The mass media is targeted, not simply to correct bad or biased reporting, but to promote points of view that are openly sectarian, even if, as in the case of Armstrong Williams, you have to pay for people to endorse your views. Religious right dominance of the party machinery, in an electoral landscape remade by gerrymandering, means that few opponents of fundamentalist politics have a future in the Republican Party. It's telling that none of the biggest talents in the Republican Party will ever be its nominee for president. John McCain, Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Pataki, and Rudy Giuliani could never survive the fundamentalist-dominated primaries.

Indeed, by their very nature, conservatives of doubt are not particularly aggressive politicians. Fiscal conservatives have been coy in expressing their outrage at Bush's massive spending and borrowing, easily silenced by the thought that Democrats would be even worse. Defenders of an independent judiciary are drowned out by the talk radio/Fox News/ blog-driven megaphone of loathing for unaccountable judges. Many moderate conservatives voted for the law to protect Schiavo. Republican defenders of gay marriage are few and far between. Those few voices of dissent are increasingly portrayed as mavericks or has-beens. You will find precious little time for people like Christie Todd Whitman on talk radio or in the conservative blogosphere.

In my native Virginia, the schism between these two ideologies of ideology, if you will, has caused a small civil war within the Republican Party.  A new PAC funded by faith-based conservatives is actually fielding Republican candidates against the Republican legislators who supported Governor Mark Warner's tax reform package. 

For foreign policy, the question is how much longer we can sustain faith-based strategies.  As an erstwhile political theorist, what's fascinating to me is that the idea of American republican democracy -- which, in its original genesis, was less of a traditionally European (meaning German or French) metaphysically-driven enterprise and more of a prudential, pragmatist one -- has somehow been converted into an article of faith for the theocons. 

Why is this bad?  Only because the core belief of the liberal-minded progressive is that everything should be subject to debate.  And you should be able to have thoughtful conversations on, say, why the Administration isn't focusing more on democratizing Kuwait or Sudan or Russia, or why the more pure form of democracy we see in Hugo Chavez's Venezuela merits such disapprobation from the Administration.

These are complex questions and illuminate the spectrum of democracy, from the Greek ochlocracy (mobs ruled by demagogues) to the parliamentary system to American-style republican democracy.  But because the Administration has theologized the idea of democracy, we can't have the conversation.

So we're going to make a lot of mistakes.  I believe that progressives in general should be outrunning the Administration on democratization -- but not if it leads us to poor reasoning and to looking either silly or stupid, depending on the day.  Secretary Rice's prudential, diplomacy-based democratization (see her meeting with opposition reformers in Belarus for an example) looks different, and far better, than the Wolfowitz/Perle school of placing it all on black -- or red.

April 21, 2005

Human Rights

Posted by Suzanne Nossel

This idea sounds interesting and smart - create a kind of Peace Corps for health care workers to help with AIDS in Africa.  Apropos of the earlier discussion on what progressives could do differently in dealing with global health challenges, this may be part of the answer.   

My sense is:  1) it probably ought to be a lot bigger than they are proposing; 2) we ought to include not just doctors but nurses too (not clear if they are included, but at the specified salaries my guess is no); 3) we ought to push every European country to create something similar;4) we ought to create something similar for medical school professors - so they can get paid for a year to go teach in a country  in desperate need of health care professionals.

The full article goes into the problem of the brain drain among medical professionals trained in African countries that desperately need their expertise, but who are offered great opportunities in Europe or the US and grab them.  This is a tough but important one.

In my mind, this whole line of thinking is related to a point that both Heather and I have brought up concerning how we broaden the pool of people willing to perform government service by widening the array of service options available.   This work is not military service, but it is in furtherance of a key U.S. foreign policy objective: stemming the global AIDS epidemic.  If it proved necessary in order to recruit in the numbers needed for a stabilization corps or an international medical corps, maybe we should offer people who did this kind of work some of of benefits that accrue to veterans.

U.S. Should Create Organization To Mobilize Health Care Workers to Countries Most Affected by HIV/AIDS, IOM Panel Says

21 Apr 2005

The United States should create an HIV/AIDS "Peace Corps" to send health care workers to "fill the yawning doctor gap" in countries most affected by the pandemic, according to an... Institute of Medicine report released on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reports (Chase, Wall Street Journal, 4/20).

The report, titled "Healers Abroad: Americans Responding to the Human Resource Crisis in HIV/AIDS," was requested by the State Department's Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator to suggest ways to create one of the "key manpower components" of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, according to the Washington Post (Brown, Washington Post, 4/20). PEPFAR is a five-year, $15 billion program that directs funding for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria to 15 focus countries, including Botswana, Ethiopia, Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Haiti, Guyana and Vietnam (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/6). The law (HR 1298) authorizing PEPFAR calls for the creation of a "pilot program for the placement of health care professionals in overseas areas severely affected by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria" (Washington Post, 4/20).

Proposal Details

The report recommends creating what it calls the U.S. Global Health Service -- a "select corps" of 150 HIV/AIDS physicians and other specialists who would commit to two years of service as federal employees and receive $225,000 in salary and benefits, the Journal reports. An initial 100 fellowships providing $35,000 for a year of service also would be made available to early and mid-career professionals, and a third component would offer 100 recent medical school graduates as much as $25,000 annually in loan repayments for two years of service.

A partnership program also would send U.S. health care workers to fill in for local health professionals who are trained outside their native countries (Wall Street Journal, 4/20). The program would not find a job or provide a salary for people seeking to work abroad but instead would match health care workers with organizations or academic institutions that operate oversees. Although the stipends offered under the proposed program would be less than an average U.S. salary for the positions, the initiative would be created to "make motivated people believe they can afford to interrupt their career for such work," while increasing their skills and marketability, according to the Post (Washington Post, 4/20).

Implementing the program would cost approximately $100 million in the first year -- about 3% of PEPFAR's total budget. If the number of fellowships and tuition-repayment recipients in subsequent years increased to about 1,000 from the initial 100, the cost could rise to $140 million annually, according to the report's authors. "The Global Health Service is a vehicle of American compassion that's long overdue," Fitzhugh Mullen, professor of pediatrics and public health at George Washington University and lead author of the report, said, adding that the program also would be a "strategically important way to use our health care sector."


Home to Roost?
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

For those who have been working on Capitol Hill over the past decade, the abrupt postponement of the Bolton nomination process is like a cool sip of water in a parched wasteland.  The oversight process, albeit on a near fluke, actually worked.  Even if its just the political gods rearranging Ohio's feng shui after the election...I'll take it.

Hannah Arendt once said:

refutation of theory through reality has always been at best a lengthy and precarious business.  The manipulation addicts, those who fear it unduly no less than those who have set their hopes on it, hardly notice when the chickens come home to roost...

Conservative movement types will doubtless miss the trail of feathers leading to the Foreign Relations committee hearing room.  The Bolton affair invites too many delicious left-wing conspiracy reveries to actually stop the heavy breathing and consider the strategic implications of what's happened.

This is significant.  Personified by Mr. Bolton, the fang-toothed political style of the Bush administration, their congressional allies and their chorus of support. may well have reached a threshold within the Republican party.  Thank goodness for the self-respecting Senate. Hopefully this is a sign that decorum and civility will survive despite the toxic circumstances which the lower chamber has fully embraced.  In fact, the "House of Fun" Representatives should just hire Don King, move to Vegas to practice duking it out for the next election.  Just for kicks, let's review the Bolton leadership style as it manifests on Capitol Hill:

  • Conference committees often do not meet publicly, instead doing most of their work on bills in private.  Sometimes conference committees designed for working out differences between the House and Senate never meet.

  • House votes are held open long past official time limits to allow the leadership to brow beat for votes.

  • Amendments proposed by minority members are killed by the Rules Committee, often in late night meetings.  There are few opportunities to propose amendments (closed rules) and far too little time to read bills before votes.

These behaviors along with the increasingly obvious and unseemly co-dependence between commercial interests and the Republican party have made even good-government Republicans seem seedy by association. Over the past year, Roll Call newspaper has reported on how lobbyists are given insider seats while legislation is being written (lots of space since the Dems aren't invited) and on closely orchestrated teams for messaging and issue organizing corporate grass-roots campaigns (also known as "astro-turf").

It is too bad the administration didn't take the path of caution and send an agreeable candidate up for the UN post.  In that scenario, Congress might have passed the prior weeks discussing the foreign affairs budget and the administration could have spent its political capital pushing for its innovative and very worthwhile Office of Post-conflict Reconstruction and Stabilization at the State Department.

Policy is colliding with politics. Will the Bolton experience persuade the more radical elements in the party to change their ways?  I remain skeptical.  As long as the Rovian calculation between politics and policy garners few such casualties, the RNC will continue to run its messages through the most reptilian part of the human brain, the commercial interests will stay lined up at the conference room doors and Americans won't catch sight of the possibility of our greater good until these players are cast aside.

April 20, 2005


Bleeding Hearts for Bolton
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Heather's concern is shared by Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly who writes:

However, one thing that occurs to me after yesterday's dramatic events is that I'm getting increasingly uneasy about the focus on Bolton's "abuse" of subordinates. Don't get me wrong: the guy sounds like a prime grade asshole, and it might do a world of good to send a message to ambitious DC bureaucrats to rein in that kind of behavior. On the other hand, let's be honest here: if everyone who abused subordinates were blackballed from senior positions in Washington, the city would be a ghost town. I'm a little fearful that this line of attack could end up accomplishing little except elevating the politics of personal destruction — on both sides — to ever pettier and more vicious levels.

This is not a trivial point, but - putting aside everything I've outlined below about why he is the wrong man for the job - let's focus just on the question of abuse of subordinates.  There are at least four kinds of bosses in this world:

1. Those who don't abuse subordinates at all - The best

2.  Those who abuse, but only with a valid justification - Understandable at times, but not very nice

3.   Those who abuse for no reason at all - I think most of the people Kevin is talking about actually fit into this category.

4.  Those who abuse for an invalid justification - for example race, gender, sexual orientation, disability OR for whistle-blowing to uncover fraud OR retaliation for putting forward valid intelligence information.

I don't think the stance taken on Bolton can be extended to anyone apart from those who fit into category 4,

Now my husband and I have been debating tonight whether someone's status as a sexual harasser ought to ipso facto disqualify them from high office.

I guess I am hesitant about citing certain shortcomings as blanket disqualifiers without regard to individual circumstances and competing facts, qualifications and attributes.  Now I did say last week that I agreed with Senator Dodd that Bolton's attempts to get intelligence analysts removed for taking positions that differed from Bolton's own should be grounds for disqualifying him from the UN post. 

But as set out here, I feel this way because questions of biased intelligence, inappropriate political influence over intelligence, and unwillingness to tolerate dissenting views within the intelligence community have emerged as such glaring problems with grave consequences.  In this context, with broad agreement that these serious problems must be addressed immediately and thoroughly, I do see Bolton's conduct in this regard as a disqualifier.  So its a qualified disqualifier.

I honestly don't think we face a dilemma here over whether to take the high ground.  Heather's right that Bolton's essentially done himself in.  But the question will come back when the Senate grapples with judicial nominees; do we stoop to a "whatever works" sort of mudslinging to tar nominees whose views we find repellent?  Or do we take the high ground, knowing that the result will be (in the case of judges, lifetime) appointments for people bent on circumscribing and up-ending principles and values we hold dear (and that the favor will never be returned)?

Those are hard questions.  But as Heather points out, we can thank John Bolton for the fact that his nomination does not raise them.


It'll be the Coverup
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

"It's not the crime, it's the coverup."  How long has that been preached by crisis communicators in Washington?  All week, NPR has been trumpeting a piece about how, in the current highly-polarized environment, that old chestnut is no longer standard operating procedure; the new thinking, supposedly, is to brazen it out a la Tom Delay.  "Never apologize, never explain." would be the new credo.

Not so fast.  Won't it be odd if John Bolton is undone by having lied to the Foreign Relations Committee about how much effort he made to drive out to CIA Headquarters and personally chastise an overly-cautious analyst?

In that sense,  Suzanne is right, that Bolton has made the ad hominem political here.

However, all of us who have ever argued that a favorite politician's dishonesty or malfeasance in one area didn't disqualify him from office; all of us who have ever argued that Presidents deserve a presumption of support for their Cabinet nominees; all of us who can think of a cantankerous star or two that another Administration might want to put in high office one day -- is that just about all of us -- ought to pause for at least a moment of queasiness here.

Then we can go right back to chortling, because the man brought it on himself.

What's fascinating about this train wreck -- and relevant for students of scandal everywhere -- is how Bolton's demeanor during the process made his personal, um, quirks and turns of phrase fair game when he might well have just slid by.

It's worth stopping to note that Bolton's opponents laid out a solid but pretty standard-issue trap, not sneaky in any way.  You could imagine him having finessed it nicely -- "Senator, I am guilty of extremism -- in defense of virtue" and waltzing out with a 10-8 vote.

Remember, we have an Attorney General who saw nothing wrong with a colleague's memo describing the Geneva Conventions as "quaint."  As bad a signal as Bolton sends the world, Gonzales is worse.  But he was smart enough to have the Justice Department's website broaden its definition of torture just before his hearings began.

But Suzanne -- because we need something to jello-wrestle about -- doesn't this disprove the assertion that public support for the UN isn't deep enough to accomplish anything?  (I'm assuming you'll be as happy to be proven wrong about that as I will be if Bolton is not confirmed.)

Progressive Strategy

Optimism on the Left?
Posted by Michael Signer

This is gonna sound weird, but I have to confess that the Bolton Affair is giving me a strange, creeping sense of optimism over what has been Democracy Arsenal's dominant concern:  how do progressives rebuild based on affirmative ideas?

Oh, I know that dictionary definitions are kind of a tired trick.  But I recently -- I swear -- found myself looking up the word "hidebound" in the dictionary, just because I've found myself using it so frequently recently, without the slightest idea what it really meant.  Here's what it means:

1. Stubbornly prejudiced, narrow-minded, or inflexible. 2. Having abnormally dry, stiff skin that adheres closely to the underlying flesh. Used of domestic animals such as cattle. 3. Having the bark so contracted and unyielding as to hinder growth. Used of trees.

Funny -- I always thought John Bolton (not to mention Richard Perle) looked like he had abnormally dry, stiff skin adhering closely to the underlying flesh... Anyway, here's the definition of "liberal": 

1a. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry. b. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded. c. Of, relating to, or characteristic of liberalism. 

So, as far as tolerance and broad-mindedness go, we should be thinking not about how these are feel-good 1960's values that should help us feel superior to other folks.  Rather, we should view them instead as powerful guiding principles for our own new majority realpolitik.  Consider their traction in recent politics:

Ethical behavior, probity, and political toleration:  These have emerged as the real ideas guiding progressives in both the DeLay probes and the Bolton nomination.  These are not reactionary values -- on the contrary, they're actual principles that illuminate just exactly why it is Bolton's and DeLay's abrasive and belligerent behavior seems so wrong.  Check out Laura Rozen's great analysis of Bolton's belligerence, for instance:

Which brings me to the 10 times Bolton requested the identity of the US persons in classified NSA intercepts he had obtained, about which we will surely learn more. John Bolton misuses intelligence the way communists use it in police states -- against his internal enemies. It's classic police state tactics. But intelligence should be used in democracies to advance national security, not to gather ammunition on internal perceived bureaucratic enemies. Of course, Bolton just thinks of it as "opposition research" against the internal opposition. But using the vast reach of US intelligence powers to achieve opposition research crosses the line. Bolton behaves like a scheming apparatchik in a police state.

Consensus-based policy-making:  Public opinion is against the preemptive strategy -- but not, I suspect, because people dislike pre-emption per se.  Rather, they hate how arrogant and, yes, hidebound the Administration's approach has been.  A recent poll by the Security and Peace Institute found that 58% to 34% opposed the strategy of pre-emption, and 63% to 31% thought we should cooperate with other countries first.  Put those two together and you get a refound appreciation for the entirely progressive value of consensus -- domestically and internationally.  This explains why the Administration's conduct of the Iraq War was so wrong -- it was so intensely Machiavellian and political.  Scheduling the initial vote on Iraq before the 2002 Congressional elections, for instance, was just plain calculating and politically cruel, and entirely consistent with the hidebound approach of the Administration.  Progressives are winning this one, and they're winning it honestly.

Democratization everywhere, not just with the enemies we love to hate:  Progressives appear to have won over Secretary Rice in her continuing attempts to restaff State with professionals dedicated to -- you guess it -- ethics, probity, and tolerance of ideological opposites.  And, just today, we read that she's looking at taking a harder line against Putin on democratization.  This is good, and we should be taking credit for it.  The larger progressive value is that democracy -- unbalanced by Bush-I type realist concerns -- is good everywhere, everyplace (see my earlier post on same citing Mort Halperin's brilliant The Democracy Advantage).

Call it liberal or call it progressive, but these are values the American people like.  But, far more importantly, they're values that drive smarter, more precise, and more successful foreign policy decisions.  And we know this from experience.

April 19, 2005


Pangs of Conscience
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Alright, this is it for the night but one last thought.  In the throes of today's dramatic SFRC hearing, bombshell-dropping Senator Voinovich commented that: "My conscience got me." 

He flatly acknowledged that in ignoring his misgivings he was doing something wrong - going against his conscience. But when he spoke up he did so as if he was embarrassed.  The sheepishness of the concession to conscience suggests that his earlier inclination - and what he knew others would expect of him - was to suppress his conscience in favor of . . . what?  fealty to the White House?  "conservative principles"? 

It's not clear, but the fact that Voinovich was until now consciously suppressing his conscience calls into question the claim that conservatives are somehow motivated by deep-seated moral impulses.  If that we're so, Voinovich's resort to conscience would not have come as the surprise it did today.


Fix What's Broken
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Further to Derek and Suzanne's colloquy on the state of the military, I offer this analysis by Charles Moskos, a pre-eminent sociologist of the US military and inspiration for much thoughtful progressive writing on the subject.  This piece is particularly interesting to me as it appears on the website of FPRI, an organization that usually puts out rather conservative thinkers.  Do I smell convergence?

Moskos says that the real readiness and retention problem is in the reserves, and in the functions filled by the reserves.  He also claims that reserve morale is low, contrary, he says to the Clinton PKOs of the 1990s, when he found reserve morale to be high, and reservists to be quite inspired by the idealistic elements of what they were doing.

To fill these non-expert functions -- interestingly, he numbers prison guards and MPs among these -- he proposes reinstating the draft.  But he quickly concludes that cannot be done and suggests, instead, offering very short-term enlistments (15 months) that would fill some of the low-tech, high-frustration military jobs and come with education benefits.

He presents some survey data that suggests college students would find this appealing.  What Moskos doesn't say, that I find interesting, is that this might accomplish some of the goals of those who want to reinstate the draft for non-military reasons.  Lots of middle-class and non-minority kids might be interested, and though we still might not have too many US legislators with kids under fire (one in the last Congress, how many in the new one?) we'd broaden the base of Americans -- maybe even including progressives -- with personal experience of the military.


Bolting from Bolton?
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Alright, Heather, I'll take the bait like a first class fish.

I think its just possible that Secretary Bolton is nearing his Linda Chavez moment.

But for the life of me I cannot understand how you can call the attacks on Bolton ad hominem.  A nice definition of ad hominem appears here.   The essence is that the attack must be on a basis that is irrelevant to the merits of the attacked's assertion (or, in this case, his candidacy), and must purport to be evidence of the invalidity of the claim (or in this case, the fitness to serve).

Virtually everything (I would say everything, but maybe I'm forgetting something) negative I have heard about Bolton goes directly to his fitness for the job.  The website you reference, focuses on Bolton's disdain for the UN and for international cooperation as grounds for defeating his nomination.  You may not agree with the point, but its hard to argue that his attitude toward the UN is irrelevant to his suitability for service there. 

All the other arguments against Bolton, including my 10 Reasons Bolton Should Not Be Confirmed, Bolton's indifference to genocide, his lack of respect for independent intelligence and dissenting views, his insubordination, his alleged abusiveness toward junior staffers, and his alleged lack of decorum and willingness to smear others (what am I missing . . .) all go directly to his ability to effectively represent the U.S. at the UN.  The job of Ambassador is not one of ideologue, it is one of diplomat, policy shaper and manager (of the 100+ person U.S. Mission).   All the charges are germane to one or more of these key roles. 

I'm speculating that you might think the stuff on Bolton's treatment of CIA analysts and AID staffers is beside the point.  But it really isn't.  The UN is an important U.S. intelligence outpost, both formally and informally.  While the CIA won't go through the U.S. Ambassador, a lot of intelligence is gathered day-in-and-day out by USUN officers through the relationships they build with foreign counterparts.  If Bolton stays true to pattern and misrepresents that information, punishing messengers whose messages he doesn't like, that valuable system will break down, taking our diplomacy along with it. 

You ask what Bolton's opponents want in a UN Ambassador.  Progressives recognize that President Bush is not going to choose someone who shares our viewpoint on the UN, and we can accept that.  But there are certain criteria that an ambassador should meet, regardless of party lines. 

How about this for starters - -   We need someone:

- With a genuine commitment to reforming the UN by making it more effective;

- Who acknowledges the UN's limitations and failings, but also appreciates its promise;

- Who can build effective working relationships among people with varied backgrounds and interests;

- Who can win international support for U.S. policies through persuasive diplomacy;

- Who is open-minded enough to find creative solutions and ways to break through impasses;

- Who can command the respect of, and elicit good work from, staff;

- Who can be relied upon to faithfully implement the policies of the United States.

From what has been revealed since his nomination, I don't think Bolton meets any of the above criteria.  I think Negroponte met all or most of them.  There might be a case that the attacks against him based on his work in Honduras were ad hominem (though I'd probably argue not), but I don't see how you can say the same about Bolton.

But the better I get to know you, the smarter I realize you are.  I have no doubt there's something I'm missing here - looking forward to reading it.


So, if it did happen...
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Over on Slate, Fred Kaplan spins an interesting theory of how the renewed Bolton brouhaha forces Bush to choose between Cheney and Rice, and posits that at some point, Bolton may no longer seem worth the effort. I suspect they will just dig in harder, at least for a while, because suddenly Bolton is very relevant not because of the UN, but because he becomes the thin end of the camel's nose under the tent of other Bush nominees waiting to come through confirmation.

But I’ll be delighted to be the first democracy arsenal columnist to be proven wrong. And if I am, I expect the progressives who led the ad hominem attack while claiming they really, really wanted to talk about issues to be the first in line with a list of qualities that they and the American people want from President Bush’s next UN ambassador – and more importantly, from his UN policy.

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