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January 31, 2006


State of the Union Fiction: Curse of Isolationism
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Bush referred a half-dozen times tonight to the dangers of an American retreat to isolationism.  He's adopting a strategy of trying to paint his critics as favoring a retreat to inward-looking policies and a renunciation of America's role in the world.

This is pure hogwash:

- Bush's Critics are Overwhelmingly Internationalists, Not Isolationists - As Charles Krauthammer wrote in 2004:  " Isolationism is an important school of thought historically, but not today.  .  .  Classical isolationism is not just intellectually obsolete; it is politically bankrupt as well. Four years ago, its most public advocate, Pat Buchanan, ran for president of the United States, and carried Palm Beach. By accident."  The most outspoken opponents of the Bush Administration's foreign policy are, on the contrary, committed to multilateralism, to international development, and to global institutions.

- In his 2000 campaign, Bush skated near an isolationist platform -  Though Bush professed opposition to isolationism, it was Condi Rice, not her democratic counterparts, who argued in 2000 that the US should not do nation-building and should not be a police force for the world.  He thought the scope of the Clinton Administration's international involvements - many of which revolved around replacing dictators and building democracy in places like Bosnia and Haiti - was too broad.

- For Nearly a Century, Isolationism has been a Republican,  not a Democratic Platform - Pat Buchanan had a long string of predecessors.   This article details the history of Republican isolationism - and Democratic internationalism - dating back to the 1930s and going up to the Clinton and Bush Administrations. 

Flashes of Isolationism are Linked Directly to Bush's Own Policies - To the extent that ordinary Americans are tilting toward isolationism, polls show that such attitudes are linked directly to Bush Administration policies in Iraq.  If it surges, the isolationism Bush rightly dreads will have been born of his own misguided policies, his breach of the public trust, and the strain he has put on the military.


State of the Union Live Blogging IV
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

In referencing tools our homeland defenders needs he wants reauthorization of the Patriot Act.  But what about resources?  training?  equipment?

He's onto the wiretaps.  Previous presidents have used same authority - yes, but that was before Congress made doing so illegal.

The famous line:  "if there are people in our country talking to al Qaeda, we want to know about it."   Well, a judge would want to know about it too, so she would authorize a wiretap and make it legal.

Also, if there are ordinary, law-abiding people in our country talking to relatives, friends and colleagues overseas, we don't want them to have to worry about the government knowing about it.  These imperatives need to be balanced.

Back to isolationism again - I hope the folks at the Progress Report are compiling a detailed manifesto about just how false that charge is.

He's onto the economy. 

American economy is strong, but we cannot afford to be complacent.  He references China and India, which is good.  Decries protectionism which is good.  Nothing yet on how to manage free trade.  Says the country could not function without immigrants.  Agree.

Raises spectre of "stagnant and second-rate economy."   Is talking about how to keep America competitive.  This is important stuff.   

But per Bush what is to credit for our competitiveness?  You guessed it - - the tax cuts.  In fact they've brought us the biggest deficits in years, and huge trade imbalances.  He wants to make the tax cuts permanent. 

It's hard to conceive of a  bigger disconnect between rhetoric and sound policy on every issue:  the rhetoric is great, the policies that undergird it are totally at odds with the professed aims.

I'm going to back off unless/until he gets back to foreign policy.

State of the Union Live Blogging III
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Recognizing a lost veteran, Sergeant Dan Clay of California.  This is all important and good. 

Says our offensive vs. terror offers more than military action - need to offer a hopeful alternative of political freedom and democratic reform.  Agree.

Elections are vital but are only the beginning.  Again, I agree and hope team Bush is really beginning to understand this.

Urges Mubarak toward more political openness.  Agree.

Says Hamas leaders must disarm, recognize Israel and work for lasting peace.  Agree.

Says Saudi is taking steps to reform.  Baby steps.

Democracies in the Middle East will not look like our own but "liberty is the right and hope of all humanity."  Agree

Iran:  "a nation held hostage by a small clerical elite that is holding country hostage and supporting Palestinian terrorists . . . Nations of the world must not permit Iranians to get nukes."

This is all right - problem is that everything lies in the implementation and the actions, not the words.  This Administration's methods have persistently undermined these goals.

Again back to isolationism.  This is clearly a label they want to tag on their opponents. 

"For people everywhere the US is a partner for a better life."  That should be true.  That has been true.  That's still true in some places.  But fewer since Bush took over.

It's 9.30 PM and not a word on domestic policy . . .  were they sandbagging?



Live-blogging SOTU
Posted by Michael Signer

Scattered live-blog thoughts...

"We will not retreat from the world..." what does this mean to Bush?  It's a whole different matter to be isolationist than to be interventionist. 

"Our coalition has learned from our experience in Iraq."  "I will seek out your good advice."  This is odd.  When has he done this?  This is so choppy.  Is he referring just to that one meeting with the ex-Secretaries of State?  This just seems ridiculous.  He can't claim credit for cooperation just by asserting it (although, I guess, this has never stopped him before).

Not-so-subtle dig at Democrats' "defeatism" -- it stikes me, as always, how nimble and savvy this team is at putting the other side on the defensive.  How is a progressive to criticize the path in Iraq without being "defeatist"?  What does that even mean?

"Never falter" -- an excerpt from the Dan Clay letter... I guess this kind of tactic is so tired it's not even shameless...

More in a few minutes...


State of the Union Live Blogging Part II
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Lines on war on terror sound tired - refernces to attacks in Beslan, etc. seem to be taken from an old speech.

"There is no peace in retreat and there is no honor in retreat."  I agree with that, but don't think there's peace or honor in a miguided, mismanaged offensive either. 

Strong push against isolationism.  But who favors isolationism?  He's setting up a straw man trying to act as if his political opponents stand for a US retreat from its commitments around the world.  This is nonsense - we are the champions of internationalism, and historically always have been.  Its the conservaties who came late to the party and still need to learn what viable, successful internationalism entails. 

Talking about Iraq.  Confident in our plan for victory.  Says "we are winning."  In a post soon I'll examine the numerical evidence. 

Says troop reduction decisions will be made by military commanders, not pols in Washington DC.  While there's some merit to that, the principle of political control over the military is vitally important.  Congressional oversight of the war effort is badly needed.

Now calling critics of the war defeatists.  "Hindsight is not wisdom, second-guessing is not a strategy."  Guessing is not a strategy either.


State of the Union Live Blogging
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Gracious opening recognizing Coretta Scott King.

Speaking in past tense about his time in office - sounds almost valedictory out of the box.  Addressing the divisions head-on, which is good.

"Tonight the state of the union is strong, and together we will make it stronger" seems to evince some awareness of what we're up against.

Early mention of economic leadership and trade openness is positive.   He says "US of A will continue to lead."  Does he realize fewer and fewer are following?

"We seek the end of tyranny in our world . . . the future security of America depends on it."  But have we learned anything over the last 5 years about tactics that alleviate rather than exacerbate our threats. 

References need to continue to spread democracy, promote freedom.  Says "we'll act boldly in freedom's cause."  For g-d's sake let's act wisely for a change. 

References wide spread of democracy worldwide.  But when will he wake up to how this impacts the manner in which a superpower should exert its power:  not through fiat, but in a way that's respectful of other countries that are legitimately governed and that deserve and demand a say?  Read my piece in Dissent on Democracy Confronts the Superpower for more.

Early reference to OBL.  Contrary to what many predicted, he is spending considerable time on foreign policy, at least early on.


Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Well, if there can be a pre-buttal, pre-speeches and pre-analysis, there can be a pre-blog.  If the excerpts just posted capture the tone throughout, this is heavy-duty.

"Abroad, our nation is committed to an historic, long-term goal:  we seek the end of tyranny in our world."

That's a considerably expanded course for "stay the course."   

I think -- not tonight, maybe not even when the post-SOTU polls are done, but soon enough -- this sort of thing will trigger a backlash.  Americans are already telling pollsters that they are suspicious of democracy promotion, skeptical of its progress in Iraq and dubious that we can even do anything to improve our own image abroad.  To my mind, this kind of rhetorical overreach unmatched by results will drive people further away from engagement -- and NOT into the arms of progressives.

But we'll see.  As usual, let's hope I'm wrong.


More on FISA
Posted by Morton H. Halperin

Michael Signer and I seem to have reached agreement. Progressives need to make clear that they recognize the serious terrorist threat and the need for surveillance; the lawless program needs to be condemned, but we should recognize that there might be a case to permit more surveillance.

Before we can decide that, however, we need to know more about precisely what the administration is doing.  It is now increasingly clear that there are two different programs: One, which administration officials refer to as the program which the President described, and the other, which we still know almost nothing about.

The program which the President described and which General Hayden explained in some detail does not, as he said, involve any new technology or reviewing masses of data for key words  - that is the other program. So first, what more is there to say about the program the President described?

Continue reading "More on FISA" »


Stop Darfur's Freefall
Posted by Derek Chollet

The State of the Union address is one of those policy Chirstmas trees where every pet project and issue wants (and usually gets) its own ornament – Suzanne and Heather’s posts below illustrate how once one gets into the business of listing the many worthy issues, they add up quickly -- and that’s just on the international stuff.  So, in that spirit I’d like to make a wish for my own special ornament: that President Bush says he’s going to do something about Darfur.

With all the pressing issues in the news – Iraq, Iran, Hamas, North Korea – it’s not surprising that what’s happening inside Darfur has moved to the side.  But the next few weeks will be critical – the mandate for the underfunded and beleaguered 5000-troop protection force headed by the African Union is due to expire by March 31, and things in Darfur are only getting worse. 

During the past year, there has been a lot of well-intentioned international activity to help Darfur – but the killing isn’t stopping.  As John Prendergast recently told the New York Times, “Darfur is in a free fall.”

Kofi Annan agrees.  “People in many parts of Darfur,” he wrote last week, “continue to be killed, raped and driven from their homes by the thousands. The number displaced has reached 2 million, while 3 million (half the total population of Darfur) are dependent on international relief for food and other basics. Many parts of Darfur are becoming too dangerous for relief workers to reach. The peace talks are far from reaching a conclusion. And fighting now threatens to spread into neighboring Chad, which has accused Sudan of arming rebels on its territory.”

With the United States assuming the presidency of the UN Security Council tomorrow, the Bush Administration has an opportunity to press for a new and more meaningful policy to stop the killing.  As Kenneth Bacon writes in today’s New York Times (and others have echoed), the United States should use the next 28 days to save Darfur. 

Continue reading "Stop Darfur's Freefall" »

January 30, 2006


Sixteen Thousand Bob Woodruffs
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

In case you're feeling that Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt's injuries in Iraq are receiving too much media attention, go read this NYT piece about some of the relatively anonymous veterans trying to recover from catastrophic injuries that would have killed them in any prior war.   

The story (clearly written before Sunday's attack on the newsmen) explains that Woodruff's injury - shrapnel lodged in the head and brain from an IED - is actually the "signature wound" of the Iraq war.   Depending on how their paths to recovery unfold, Woodruff and Vogt's stories, including the impact on their careers, families and futures could do a lot do draw attention to the plight of others in similar or worse condition.   The availability of adequate resources to care for these veterans and their families over time is a question. 

Some analysts suggest that the number of deaths so far in the Iraq war is too low to elicit a strong public backlash against US participation.   Reading the Times story makes me wonder whether understanding more of what's faced daily by each individual wounded veteran might change that.

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