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August 29, 2006

The Passion of ... the Council on Foreign Relations
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

The Council on Foreign Relations has been making some interesting new appointments this summer, perhaps none more intriguing than the juxtaposition of former Bush speechwriter and prominent evangelical Michael Gerson and former German foreign minister and 70s radical Joschka Fischer.

For a while I had wonderful visions of the conversations the two could have in the men's room, but alas, Gerson is staying in Washington, where his family is, while Fischer, who is also teaching at Princeton this semester, will be in New York.

Fischer and Gerson represent two continents, two generations, two rather different philosophies of government -- not to mention two contrasting lifestyles.  But I'd rather think about something they have in common -- something I'd like to hope maybe our friends at the Council would ask them to reason together about.

In many ways, Fischer and Gerson represent the 1990s and the 00s vision of the same ideal:  using the power of the state and the global community to promote democracy, peace and freedom beyond the borders where it has flourished on its own.  I might even provocatively say that this ideal shares important qualities of the vision our own Shadi Hamid put forward as a "democracy-centric" foreign policy.

Even their bios have more in common that first meets the eye:  Fischer has spoken quite eloquently (as quoted in Paul Berman's Power and the Idealists: Or the Passion of Joschka Fischer and Its Aftermath, which I have blogged about before) about his childhood Catholicism and its role as a force for good in the world.

Both men have been working on their chosen paths for social change from their earliest days -- Fischer as a young activist in the 60s and 70s European left, Gerson taking his first job our of college in the 1980s as a speechwriter for Chuck Colson and his prison ministries.  And both men -- Fischer in his radical youth days and Gerson in his just-ended neo-con period -- got themselves very deeply involved with movements that some might say contradicted fundamental parts of the things they say they believe.

But never mind that for now.

Paul Berman wrote in Power and the Idealists that "The story of the generation of 1968 ended there, surely.  In


in August 2003." He reasoned that the explosion that drove the UN out of Iraq also numbered among its casualties the chance for a pro-democracy Left to make its peace with the Iraq invasion and help make it a success  -- Fischer being chief among prominent members of that Left who declined to make such a peace.  Fischer, of course, lost his job last year when the red-green German coalition government was replaced by one at least nominally more friendly to President Bush.

Gerson, too is hearing more than his share of "the movement is over... the story is done" these days, from angry right-wingers who see their goals unaccomplished -- and even from some evangelical Christians.  Perhaps he feels that way himself -- the Council says he is writing a book on the future of conservatism.

In any case, if I ran the Council I'd assign the two men a joint Occasional Paper project to answer the following questions.  I'd be really interested in the answers -- and I'd want anyone who places him- or herself between Fischer and Gerson on the political scale (ie, most progressives) to think hard about them before moving too far toward a "democracy-centric" foreign policy.

In your view, why has the democratization project been mostly unsuccessful in the Middle East and under-achieving in the Balkans to date?

What could turn that around?

What, if any, seeds for future success have been planted?

What are your observations on the fitness of Western democracies to carry out the sorts of large-scale democratizations you have advocated?

What is the process by which democratic change happens?

Why are Western public generally more skeptical than their leaders about the value and possibility of externally-induced democracy?  What, if anything, could or should be done about it?

I'd also like to see Madeleine Albright moderate a forum with these two on faith and foreign policy but surely the Council has thought of that already.


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