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April 26, 2005

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.


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The more Bush Administration short term values are stymied wherever it can be accomplished, by whoever does it, the better for US core values in the long term.

I think #1 is the most interesting, and I have to admit that it makes me nervous.

The possibility of a French "no" are a little hard to spin left-right, with both pro and con factions on both sides of the aisle. And B16's rhetoric on the provisions in Spain was met fervently by the current government, whose leaders come from a party with a long anti-clerical tradition.

Watch the German national elections next fall, though. Barring a home-team victory in the World Cup, a change in government is more likely than not. The rightward side of the establishment is working to that end right now by spearheading a spirited campaign against Foreign Minister Fischer.

The Green Party, whose most visible leader is Fischer, provided the present coalition's margin of victory in 2002. By working to bring down his personal popularity, the right is increasing the chances that the SPD-Green government will not gain a majority in the next parliament.

The trial run for this strategy was this year in state elections in Schleswig-Holstein. The Greens' share of votes fell, and SPD-Green could not put together a government. The state now has a left-right "grand coalition," but with a premier from the right-of-center party.

Campaigning against George Bush may well be worth a couple of points for the current government, but the coalition looks like it has run out of gas. Not that the conservatives have better ideas, but after eight years, people may be ready for a change. (The more so, as the swing vote is likely to come from eastern Germany, which is as volatile as any other post-communist state.)

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