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May 27, 2005


What Brussels Has Joined: European Disunion II
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Just a quick Friday afternoon note, to get my points for prescience or look bad Monday morning:  things are not looking good for the EU Constitution referendum in France this weekend, and even worse for the follow-on in the Netherlands next week.

Folks I talk to confirm what we're seeing in commentary; this represents less a specific rejection of the frankenstein-of-a-constitution than a general sense of unease with the EU's "democratic deficit" overlaid by a very specific sense of anger at incumbent governments, the problems associated with immigration, and --dare I say it? -- a soupcon of malaise with the 21st century in general.

Saw a marvelous quote involving the Dutch foreign minister stumping for the treaty (amusing to imagine Secretary Rice pressing the flesh for a treaty, no?).  A citizen informed him that he couldn't possibly change her "no" vote, and he politely asked why.  "I just want to say 'no' to something," the woman replied. 

Meanwhile, the same day the German parliament approved the Constitution, having declined to submit it to popular vote, the German public showed its disaffection another way -- opinion polls showed Angela Merkel, leader of the conservative opposition CDU, overtaking incumbent chancellor SDU Gerhard Schroeder for the first time.  Polls said 60 percent of Germans want a new government -- at the same level they showed just before Germans dumped longtime chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1998.

All this suggests several things.  If France and the Netherlands both vote no, the EU will be consumed with containing the damage, and probably negotiating several less all-encompassing treaties to put some of the Constitution's practical provisions (the arduously-reached new rules on who gets how many votes, Commissioners, etc.) into practice.  Even if one or both squeak it out, which is looking unlikely, this heralds a period of turbulence and inward-focus for Europe.  Bad news, I think, for big issues like UNSC reform (Suzanne will correct me if not), final status for Kosovo, new approaches on development assistance, and other areas where Europe either does or should take the lead.  It shouldn't, one hopes, affect the highest-profile issues like Iran... but one wonders.  The more unsettled things are, as well, the more incentive for politicians on all sides to take shots at the US, disturbing those relationships just as they seemed to be calming down a bit.

Bad news for US exporters, good news for US tourists and foreign-affairs boondogglers:  BBC had someone on this morning confidently predicting that the euro would fall a bit if France votes "non."  Buy those plane tickets now!

May 26, 2005


Bolton to June
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

With the Senate turning down a vote on cloture, the Bolton nomination gets kicked to June.  Others like Steve Clemons and Stygius are offering incredible play-by-play coverage.  On the merits of the nomination and the larger questions of UN reform, we've more or less said our piece here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

But here's the thing.  In its eleventh hour, the Bolton deliberation has morphed into something quite apart from a debate on the candidate's merits - its now a discussion about the scope of the Senate's obligation to advise and consent on the President's nominations.   It's the same issue that came to the fore earlier this week on the judicial filibusters.   This is the closing para of a letter Biden and Dodd sent to colleagues yesterday:

"The refusal of the Executive Branch to provide information relevant to the nomination is a threat to the Senate's constitutional power to advise and consent. The only way to protect that power is to continue to demand that the information be provided to the Senate. The only means of forcing the administration to cooperate is to prevent a final vote on the nomination today. We urge to you vote no on cloture,"

The Democrats, reluctant to call a filibuster on the merits, are now hanging their refusal to bring Bolton to a vote on the State Department and National Surveillance Agency's refusal to provide information requested by both Democrats and Republicans on the SFRC regarding Bolton's efforts to unmask nineteen Americans named in intelligence intercepts and on other missing information.  Details on the intercepts appear in this story

This comes down to a question of whether the White House can simply refuse to provide information that a Senate Committee legitimately requests in order to discharge its oversight duties.  In the foreign policy arena in particular, while I won't claim to understand exactly what the Democrats think they may find in the missing disclosures (or whether the fact that Sen. Jay Rockefeller on the Intelligence Committee has seen the information is decisive or not), the principle at stake is an important one. 

This Administration has a history of operating in secrecy and of providing partial information that can be misleading.  Many Senate Democrats felt they were duped by the White House en route to the Iraq invasion, and they are right not to let this happen again.

The Republicans have repeatedly analogized Bolton's personality and style to that of UN Ambassador and later Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (a comparison Moynihan's daughter Maura vigorously rejects).   

But Moynihan was a champion of transparency in government and a staunch critic of over-classification of documents and the restriction of information flow.  He ended a book entitled The Torment of Secrecy: The Background and Consequences of American Security Policy" with these words:

A case can be made that secrecy is for losers, for people who don't know how important information really is. The Soviet Union realized this too late. Openness is now a singular and singularly American advantage. We put it in peril by poking long in the mode of an age now past. It is time to dismantle government secrecy, this most pervasive of cold war era regulations. It is time to begin building the supports for the era of openness, which is already upon us.

Moynihan's words were invoked in debates around secrecy over U.S. policy in Iraq and the war on terror.

If Bolton's supporters truly want to uphold the tradition of Moynihan, they would give Senate Democrats the information that they and their Republican counterparts asked for and deserve. 


Unknown Soldier
Posted by Michael Signer

I'm up at my 10th college reunion right now -- boy, is this going to be weird -- so can't post as elaborately as I'd like.  So I'd like just to write about an extraordinary documentary I just saw. 

The film is titled Unknown Soldier, and it was directed by John Hulme, who's the step-brother of my friend Sarah, who invited me and a lot of our other law school friends to the screening last night.  The film will be showing on HBO.  You can find the showtimes and a preview here.  And the film's own website is here.

John Hulme's father, Jack, died in Vietnam when he was 24 years old -- while Hulme's mother was pregnant with John.  The documentary follows John's search to discover his father and, we find, to discover a little about himself as well. 

At face value, I thought this plot sounded like it could be overly sentimental.  But what was particularly affecting for me about Hulme's film was his starting point.  He had turned off his emotions for his father, who he never knew.  He and his mother had rarely discussed him.  His beginning attitude, captured on film, is all Gen-X'y, very pre-Jed Purdy ironic, very mocking of the notion of anything smacking of tragedy.

As he hunts down his father's buddies from the war (Jack was a Marine, and a died-in-the-wool one, at that, who was playing the Marine Corps Hymn while he was in college) and gets to know his mother a little better (her kind, humorous, soft reminiscences of Jack become wrenching when she breaks into tears on camera remembering when the black sedan showed up to tell her he had died), and interviews Jack's conservative Catholic, deeply patriotic parents (his grandmother says to him, kindly and with a touch of reprimand, "Now you understand us") we watch as John's fleeting appointment with history turns into a marriage.

Watching John get to know his father -- a thirtysomething film director meeting, through a tissue of interviews, ancient memories, and a mother's transparently powerful love for a lost husband, his 24-year-old father -- was almost unbearably moving.

More than that, it all made me wonder how we'll consider Iraq in the future.  Some of the dynamics are similar, even parallel.  But domestic resentment about Iraq hasn't even gotten close to the rebellious surge triggered by Vietnam.  (Jack Hulme wore his Marine whites to his college graduation -- the only one who did -- and a group of professors and students walked out). 

I can't say I have any answers, only questions.  In 30 years, will the sons and daughters of our American casualties in Iraq have to wade through a marsh of pain and regret, to find their parents?  Or will they say, "My dad was in Iraq" with the same pride my father did of my grandfather's service as a jeep mechanic in Europe, "My dad was in World War II"?

The film closes with John and his mother visiting the exact site in Vietnam where Jack was killed.  The episode is much less about the visit itself, though, than about the Vietnamese the pair befriend during their visit.  As they observe, with wonderment, the Vietnamese are a joyful people, easy to laugh, and eager to know.  The pain lingers, underneath, but relationships are built quickly.

The film also made me think about the whole definition-of-the-left question that's preoccupied us here at Democracy Arsenal.  The eagerness to establish a connection, to link hands with other humans while traversing the wreckage of the past -- I identify this as the deepest impulse characterizing "the left," if that makes any sense at all.  This is why the communitarian movement, quirky as it was, got so well at the ultimate aims of liberalism, while libertarianism, with Ayn Rand and all the rest, builds on selfishness, hostility, and suspicion -- not hope and progress.  There's nothing weak or limp-wristed in the fusion of a broader, more serious, more compassionate comprehension of conflict and post-conflict history, and the left. 

And a final thought the film provoked:  I think that in our echo-chamber-media-celebrity-struck life, we too often fail to realize that we are, after all, not only living in history, but creating it.  And our children will live in the world we create.  To me, this should elicit a little more concentration and repose, and a little less ideology and frenzy.

A Vietnam vet was in the audience last night and, teary-eyed, thanked John Hulme (who answered questions after the screening).  John thanked him, in turn, in what was a quiet moment for all of us, ripe with focus and concentration.  There were a lot of "liberals" in the audience, but this was a serious, contemplative moment for a serious, contemplative film. 

The film premieres on HBO this Monday.  I strongly encourage you to see it, and to come to your own conclusions -- or questions.

Middle East

Color on Koran Riots
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Great piece today by Sarah Chayes, who lives in Kandahar, about the role that Pakistani and Iranian operatives may have played in ginning up the riots in Afghanistan over the alleged Koran flushing incident.

Her analysis underscores a point we've been making here about anti-Americanism.   She blames the Pakistanis and Iranians, but also says they found fertile ground for rabble-rousing among an Afghan population that's fed up with U.S. soldiers who do business with corrupt local politicians, who turnover so fast that they've gained little insight into local mores, and who abuse detainees.

Yes, there are those who are against us for policy reasons, such as our growing and lasting military presence near their borders and/or their view that Westernization is a threat to their religious beliefs.  And noone is suggesting that their views should dictate how we set policy in service of U.S. national interests.  But those opponents' (many of whom are truly dangerous) will find their work made much easier when ordinary people have reason to distrust and dislike us.   So the abuses at Bagram and the reports on Koran flushing play right into their hands.


Militarism: Opiate of the Masses?
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

From today's Congressional Daily Digest:

6:20 P.M. -
DEBATE - Pursuant to the provisions of H. Res. 293 the Committee of the Whole proceeded with 30 minutes of  debate on the Woolsey amendment. Amendment offered by Ms. Woolsey.

An amendment numbered 26 printed in House Report 109-96 to express the sense of Congress that the President should develop a plan for the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq, and submit this plan to the congressional defense committees.

This evening, and finally, Congress had thirty minutes of debate (15 pro and 15 con) about the Iraq war.  Despite it being a high stakes issue, both Democrats and Republicans spoke in favor of this amendment. Of note, Walter Jones a conservative Republican of North Carolina,  prefaced his remarks by saying that he and the amendment's sponsor--the liberal Representative Woolsey--had never voted together on any issue. He then went on to declare that the time had come for Congress to start seriously discussing our situation in Iraq and that even though  he had supported the war in 2003, he had reassessed his position given new information about the integrity of administration claims about the threat Iraq posed to the USA. Hopefully today's floor debate will spark a trend.

Issues of war and peace deserve far more congressional attention--says Professor Andrew Bacevich, who is the author of "The New American Militarism" and who I had the opportunity to have a discussion with today.  His book outlines worrying trends--both in US policy and society--of the American infatuation with all things military including unrealistic  idealization by the public and the mis-match of resources in policy making.  The resulting imbalance, he attests, creates both social division as well as an unhealthy environment for the military as an institution in American democracy. 

Bacevich, a VietNam Vet and retired Army officer, is no lefty, yet his position is a standard leftist critique:  the degree of militarism that we are witnessing in today’s culture and policies is radically at odds with the founding ideas of our nation and that continuing down this path will lead to unhappy outcomes. What set us on this path? It was partly the US Congress—which was unified in a Cold War consensus for half a century—but never changed its habit of deference at the Cold War’s end.   Moreover, Soviet spending used to at least provide a benchmark for US spending.  Today there are no boundaries and very few people are asking: How much is enough? Certainly nobody with political power.  It is oft quoted that the US spends more on the military than the rest of the world combined.  Bacevich suggests that we should peg our defense spending to the  next top 10 or so, just to have a ballpark figure based on something real.

Even if one doesn’t agree with Bacevich’s militarism argument, you have to admit that our current array of policies are problematic.  He suggests that the all-volunteer force is operationally not sustainable, especially if the GWOT promise of never ending war is true—we just don’t have the people.  He reminded us that the decision to go to an all volunteer force brought closure to the policy fights of the 1960’s with the lasting result that those who benefit most from the abundance of America were freed of the obligation to defend our country.  This is just wrong.

The expectation that information technology will produce a quantum leap in our military prowess is also a problem, says Bacevich.  First of all, nobody really knows what “transformation” means. Technology is definitely relevant in today’s conflicts but it is not necessarily decisive. Second, with our emphasis on technological fixes, we assume a compliant adversary.  Today’s threats result from two guys meeting in a café and deciding to blow something up in two weeks.  Today’s challenges look like Mogadishu 1993 and Fallujah 2005. Our military technological infatuation leads to policies that have little to do with real needs—i.e. weapons in space.  There has been no serious debate about this issue, yet here it is on the front burner.

Bacevich’s argument is vital. We must have more public discussion about military issues and their relationship to democracy—both here and in policies abroad.  If it is the norm that Americans truly do think that the use of force is effective—this implies serious consequences for US policy. More open deliberation will benefit the progressive case as any discussion about war and peace ultimately brings up core American values and leads to the question, what kind of relationship with the rest of the world do we really want?

The language of relationship and values, I believe, is key to winning over Americans to a more progressive view of US power.  After all, the best and most important relationships in an individual's life are not technical, linear and measureable (like space weapons) They are messy, inefficient and sometimes random. (like democracy).  Using force or coercion to communicate in a relationship diminishes your interests at the interpersonal level (Bolton) and at the international level (Bolton at UN).  In the American legal system, the vast majority of legal cases are settled in privately mediated conferences—the need to go to the judge never arises because the communication breakdown is remedied by skilled, professional process engineers (lawyers).  These examples aren’t far removed from foreign policy. Peace and security isn’t an accident, its an outcome.  It really isn’t rocket science.

May 25, 2005

Human Rights

Koran Allegations
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

The ACLU has now come forward with additional documented witness accounts dating back to 2002 that allege flushing of the Koran down Guantanamo toilets.  Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita said two weeks ago that such allegations were never investigated because they were not credible.  But given that similar allegations have emerged from multiple sources, it looks increasingly clear that at least some investigation was warranted to find out if the charges were credible or not.  The fallout's not over by a longshot.   See ThinkProgress for more.

Human Rights

Amnesty Rails
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Amnesty International has released their latest report on the state of human rights worldwide.  I have not had a chance to read it in full, but the early reports suggest that it blames the U.S. for global backsliding on human rights and the rule of law in recent years.   A foreward by Amnesty's Secretary General, Irene Khan, seems to support such a read.  Some excerpts:

Despite the near-universal outrage generated by the photographs coming out of Abu Ghraib, and the evidence suggesting that such practices are being applied to other prisoners held by the USA in Afghanistan, Guantánamo and elsewhere, neither the US administration nor the US Congress has called for a full and independent investigation.

Instead, the US government has gone to great lengths to restrict the application of the Geneva Conventions and to “re-define” torture.  It has sought to justify the use of coercive interrogation techniques, the practice of holding “ghost detainees” (people in unacknowledged incommunicado detention) and the "rendering" or handing over of prisoners to third countries known to practise torture. The detention facility at Guantánamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law . . .

The USA, as the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power, sets the tone for governmental behaviour worldwide. When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity and audacity. From Israel to Uzbekistan, Egypt to Nepal, governments have openly defied human rights and international humanitarian law in the name of national security and “counter-terrorism”.

Khan's message goes on to make some important points about the larger state of human rights, including the ineffectiveness of the UN's human rights mechanisms and the shameful failure to prevent genocide in Darfur (topics discussed on DA here and here).

Amnesty has laid out some of the problems with current U.S. policies in their starkest terms, terms that may cause many in the U.S. political debate to simply tune out what the group has found. 

I see one of our tasks in the progressive foreign policy world to translate the concerns that we and Amnesty share into terms that allow for reasoned debate and even consensus-building among people of sharply differing views.   

We need Amnesty to weigh in with the facts as they see them, and need to weigh in ourselves with forward-looking interpretations and prescriptions where we can offer them. 

Reform of the UN's human rights mechanisms is one place where people on all sides of the spectrum ought to be able to agree; the Bush Administration should be judged on the progress it can elicit there.  I partly agree with one of the comments to this earlier post on Gunatanamo and Bagram that one ought not be too quick to blame military culture for the abuses there; the vast majority at all levels within the military are disgusted by what's happened and would probably say it bears no relation to the values they hold.  We do need to confront the question of why such abuses have occurred repeatedly anyway.

Some say (though I don't agree) that Bush has taken the upper hand from progressives when it comes to the promotion of democracy.   The same certainly can't be said on human rights.

May 24, 2005


Bolton to the Wire
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Yesterday Senator Voinovich sent a letter to the entire Senate stressing his concerns about the Bolton nomination, which may come to a vote as soon as this week (corrected based on this morning's news).  Steve Clemons prints the fulltext of the letter here.

Of note, Voinovich stresses the implications of the nomination for the U.S.'s public diplomacy efforts, a subject that's gotten lots of attention here in recent days, including in the latest memo of advice Heather Hurlburt kindly wrote for Karen Hughes. 

Concerns about how the Bolton choice would be received around the world aren't necessarily the most important of all the reasons to oppose Bolton (though it was written before the revelations on Bolton's efforts to oust underlings to probe into NSA intercepts and to run something close to a shadow foreign policy shop at odds with some of the Administration's stated positions, I still stand by #10 in that March post as the primary reason Bolton's the wrong choice), but the events of last week do bring worries about America's declining image to the forefront.  For the conclusions of SFRC Democrats based on their investigation of Bolton, check here

One question that glanced on in the responses to Michael's post yesterday is the extent to which this week's compromise on the filibuster will affect other votes, notably Bolton.   Some Democrats with serious reservations about the Bolton choice may think of reconsidering in the spirit of the Senate's newfound comity.   One hopes they keep their eye on the ball of what's best for U.S. policy and our UN diplomacy.


European Disunion
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Laura Rozen prints a few letters from European commentators talking about why the new EU constitution may be on the verge of being voted down in the Netherlands and France.  At some level its hard not to think it may do some good for the Europeans to be reminded how local politics, economic interests and popular fears can interfere with even the noblest geopolitical intentions.   

State Dept.

Memo to Karen Hughes
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I have been spending quite a bit of time looking at the state of US public diplomacy for various projects over the past couple of months.  And, in the helpful spirit of bipartisanship that we try to promote here at Democracy Arsenal, I have compiled a short memo of proposals for Ms. Hughes.  Most of them are easy enough that she should be able to get them going from Texas, or from the cell phone on the way to drop her son off at college.

5.  Start a youthquake.  I'm glad the State Department still has cultural ambassadors -- longterm, it's the idea of America, or the ideas of America, that are going to tilt hearts our way.  But given that the world median age is 26, according to the UN -- younger in the Islamic and developing worlds -- shouldn't we have some cultural ambassadors younger than Bernie Williams, b. 1968? (And no, I'm not picking on Bernie because I'm a BoSox fan; the next youngest appears to be Denyce Graves, who is coy about her age but graduated from Washington's Duke Ellington HS in 1981.)

4.  While you're at it, maybe some of those cultural ambassadors ought to be Muslim or of Middle Eastern and South Asian heritage?

3.  Put the Public back in Public Diplomacy.  Earlier this spring, the GAO put out a report calling on the Whit House to "fully implement the role mandated" for its Office of Global Communications.  Trouble was, the White House had quietly closed the office down shortly before.

2.  Keep the Free in Free Press.  Ex-Voice of America Director Sanford Ungar alleges in the new Foreign Affairs that the Administration is leaning heavily on VOA journalists to report the news the way they want it.  He can't resist, and neither can I, the comparison to Lyndon Johnson, who tried to get what he called "my own radio" to broadcast the news the way he wanted it.  We all know how that ended.

1.  Of course, all of these projects are deck chairs on the Titanic if we aren't sending out the right signals about what we stand for -- as opposed to what we say we stand for.  and to that end, the "Give that fan a contract" prize goes to Keith Reinhard, President of Business for Diplomatic Action, who said:

"As you know, the image of our country is a montage of our foreign policy, the brands we market, and the entertainment we export.  It could be referred to as a cocktail of "Rummy" and Coke with Madonna on the side."


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