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September 30, 2006

Rewriting US National Security Strategy
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

I spent Wednesday and Thursday in DC for the launch of the Princeton Project on National Security's Final Report, entitled Forging a World of Liberty Under Law.  I've reported some before on the Princeton Project.  Over the last two years I co-chaired a working group on Anti-Americanism whose findings can be found here.  The project is led by Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton and Professor John Ikenberry.  They've done a masterful job in compiling a Report that's generating considerable press and attention on the Hill, in capitals around the world and - once a national tour begins - in America outside the Beltway.

On Wednesday I took on State Department Legal Adviser John Bellinger during a panel discussion on capital hill and this exchange was excerpted on the next day's All Things Considered

John Bellinger, the State Department’s legal advisor, just returned from Europe, where he says he explained and emphasized that the administration is trying very hard to, quote, “turn a new page.”

Mr. JOHN BELLINGER (U.S. State Department): I don’t think everything’s resolved, but what we’re trying to do to say to our allies is look at this as essentially as a glass that’s half full. That there’s an opportunity here for us to move forward and try to resolve some of these things, not that there has not been forward movement.

NORTHAM: Suzanne Nossel, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, says the administration’s policies, such as the new detainee bill, will further erode U.S. legitimacy among its allies.

Ms. SUZANNE NOSSEL (Center for American Progress): I frankly don’t think it’s going to be good enough to go to our allies and say that the positions we have, the policies we implement with respect to detainees and in other areas are not clearly wrong. That’s I think too low of a standard for us to use as our foundation to have the kind of influence that we want to around the world.

Bellinger had said that in talking to allies around the world, he defended US policies on detention as "not clearly wrong."  My how far we have fallen.

But let's focus some on what's significant about the Princeton Report.  In my view this:

Continue reading "Rewriting US National Security Strategy" »

September 29, 2006


Carl Bildt has a blog
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Well, this is fun -- the kind of random thing you find while tooling around the web on a Friday night.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister of Sweden, former UN High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, a very smart guy who had a real knack for rubbing American officials the wrong way, has a blog.  I happened upon it because of his comments on the UN Secretary-General race that Suzanne also posted on.

It's mildly interesting but not earth-shattering to read -- a useful barometer of one strand of European thought, I suspect.  But imagine the possibilities.  What if Bill Clinton had a blog?  Come to think of it, why doesn't he?  What if Clinton and George H.W. Bush had a blog together?  What if Bob Dole had a blog?  What if Tony Blair blogs in retirement?  What if Kofi Annan did?

If readers know of other former heads of state/government who blog, let me know.  I think a list would be fun.  (I notice Bildt doesn't have a blogroll yet...) 


Troop Withdrawals, Salted Peanuts, and College Football
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

So Henry Kissinger told the Bush Administration that troop withdrawals from Iraq would be "like salted peanuts to the American public:  the more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded."

This caught my eye, because I spent yesterday moderating a forum at Notre Dame on What Next for Iraq -- I could have used a Chex Snack Mix metaphor to describe the salty mix of ideas we got.

What we didn't hear:  anyone -- including military officers just back from tours of duty in the region -- arguing that things are going well or even that the media view of affairs is exaggerated.  Any enthusiasm for the Iraqi democracy project.  Anyone advocating a "bring all the troops home this month" position.  Any partisan-bashing.  This was an audience of students and professors, experts and laypeople, military and civilians, liberals and conservatives in a heavy faith-and-values context, genuinely wanting to discuss how to improve the mess we're in.  From an American point of view, I found it heartening, even as the views of the situation ranged from dire to disastrous.

I was actually quite encouraged to see panelists who started out with very diverse perspectives --  staying the course as a moral imperative, staying in for 12-18 months, shorter-term strategic withdrawal, and partition -- at least edging toward each other and toward a set of steps that one could imagine recommending in a "what now" sort of paper...

Continue reading "Troop Withdrawals, Salted Peanuts, and College Football" »

Progressive Strategy

Anatol Lieven's Critique of Exemplarism
Posted by Michael Signer

The newest edition of the exciting journal Democracy contains an article by Anatol Lieven, a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation and author, with John Hulsman, of Ethical Realism: A Vision for America's Role in the World.  In his article, Lieven critiques my essay in Democracy's inaugural issue arguing for a doctrine of "American exemplarism" that would allow America to be both strong and good.

Lieven's essay is problematic for two reasons:  (1) its general argument illuminates in stark detail the troubling divide within the left that I discuss in my article, and (2) its internal confusions chart out the hopelessly gnarled strands of progressive thought on foreign policy, and exposes just why it's so hard to have any clarity in our principles -- much less our policy.

Continue reading "Anatol Lieven's Critique of Exemplarism" »

September 28, 2006


Horse Race in Turtle Bay: The Next UN Secretary General
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Un_hq Today the NYT asked each of the declared candidates to succeed Kofi Annan to answer 2 questions:  1) the UN's biggest mistake; and 2) the area most in need of reform.  Answers are here

The replies are revealing in that they point to some of the fundamental questions that will confront the UN's new leader:  What role can the organization play in trying to modernize and stabilize the Middle East?  How should it balance the competing priorities of Member States, some of whom - like the US - want the focus to lie with peace and security, and others - from the developing world - who are clamoring for more resources and emphasis on development aid?  How should the UN deal with issues that are pressing for its members, but fall outside the world body's areas of demonstrated capacity and potential to succeed - should it focus on further building on what it does well, or shoring up its weaknesses?

By dint of its vast membership the UN is nothing if not multi-faceted, but the UN's spotty record makes clear that the organization needs to pick area to focus its attention and resources.  Here's what we can glean from the five would-be's who participated in the Times' query about where their priorities would lie.

Prince Zeid - The young and charming Jordanian not surprisingly focuses on the challenges in his own region, citing the rise of extremism in the Mideast as a challenge above all others.  That's a view shared by many in Washington, but that's not as prevalent in a world body that includes many countries for whom AIDS, trade and development issues are more central than the threat of terrorism.   This goes to a very basic divide at the UN between the US and some other Western countries that believe the organization's prime focus should be peace and security, and developing world nations that want more emphasis on economic issues.  I actually do think the UN has a potentially critical role to play in the Middle East, particularly if it can prove itself with a successful revamped UNIFIL in Lebanon.  One of the reason's for Zeid's initial appeal as a candidate was the idea that he might bridge the Islamic world with the West.

Dhanapala - The Sri Lankan singles out Darfur as the UN's greatest failing, putting blame not just on the UNSC members but also on the Secretariat.  He talks about the need for rapidly deployable humanitarian capabilities and troops, but sidesteps the fact that absent stronger political will in cases like Darfur, its not clear such arms would be mobilized even if they existed.

Ghani - The former Afghan Finance Minister talks about corruption and mismanagement at the UN.  He waxes forth on accountability and transparency, but offers no specifics on how to achieve them amid the UN's fractious membership and often hidebound decision-making processes.

Vike-Freiberga - The President of Latvia and the only woman in the race talks about the relatively newly consecrated "responsibility to protect" in international law, and about the Millennium Development Goals, a set of measures agreed to 6 years ago to address poverty and hardship in the developing world.  The direction she points is, in essence, the opposite of Zeid's.  As the only "Northerner" in the group, a message directed at the concerns of "the South" has a certain political logic.  The trick with the Millennium Goals is that they are enormously broad and ambitious and cover both areas, like children's health and vaccines, where the UN has demonstrated itself to be extremely effective, and much broader questions of socio-economic development in respect to which the world body's track record is far more mixed.

Tharoor - Debonaire longtime UN diplomat-cum-bureaucrat Shashi Tharoor addresses the problem of sustaining UN peacekeeping over the long-term.  From the standpoint of competitive advantages, this is an area where the UN plays indispensable role today and where, with augmented capabilities, it could do even more.  We've learned the hard way in Iraq the challenges posed by unilateral alternatives to UN-led statebuilding.

Results of today's straw poll among UN Security Council members are here.   South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon - who declined to participate in the NYT survey - has a big lead, but it ain't over til its over. 


Torture: anti-military, unChristian, unAmerican
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

How's that for a message? Now that we're at the lowest point in our constitution's history, the left is agonizing over how to respond to today's vote on military commissions (the torture bill) which passed in the House 253-168. The dilemma: Oppose it on principle and open yourself up to Rove's campaign vultures--vote for it and depress your liberal and activist base--who see this not as a small compromise for some larger good, but a big time betrayal of principle. Many liberal Dems will have a lot of explaining to do over the next six weeks. Hopefully, the Senate will offer a sunset amendment to the bill Thursday--so a future Congress will have to reauthorize it.

This gnashing of teeth is a healthy sign. But the tardiness of the collective outrage (The Supreme Court passed Hamdan months ago) points out that we still have a lot of progressive infrastructure to build, i.e. philosophical frameworks linked to individual  messages, domestically focussed organizations that work together and have a national security component, etc.  One would think these larger themes would be obvious: After all,  America's founders fought and died so that everyone should have the right to trial and to be able to face their accusers. Members of Congress swore to uphold the Constitution, and this bill is clearly unconstitutional.  But that word has too many dang syllables for a campaign ad...sigh. The constitution's got nothing on Rove--not yet.

Well, do Americans believe that it is unAmerican to torture?  Polling that is publicly available is all over the place.  Sometimes it is strongly for torture, sometimes strongly against it - it seems to depend mainly on how the questions are framed.  I think the answer is destined to be unsatisfactory, but its somewhere in the middle.  Members who can speak out did so most eloquently. Others (those in tight races) voted yes. That is not an indictment of the entire Democratic party. They offered many amendments and other maneuvers, all were rejected.  Again, the process that led to this vote sheds light on the decayed innards of our legislature.  Suddenly arcane actions like today's "motion to recommit" become heroic.  We need to pay more attention to details far, far ahead of time from here on out.

Here is a partial list of statements that makes me proud of the Dems: watch
all of them on youtube .

Rep Ike Skelton (D--MO) "If you want to be tough on terrorists, pass a statute that will meet the scrutiny of the Supreme Court of our country."

Rep. Steve Israel (D--NY) "If I am asking young men and women to die for what we stand for, I want to stand for something."

*Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY): We rebelled against King George for far less infringements"

Continue reading "Torture: anti-military, unChristian, unAmerican" »

September 27, 2006


Islam, Andrew Sullivan and The Pope
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Is it a coincidence that two of the most satisfying prose stylists are English? I suspect not. Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens are two writers that, political disagreements aside, are an unqualified joy to read. It is, therefore, somewhat unfortunate that both seem to stumble whenever they attempt to parse matters having to do with “Islam.” Hitchens, on this count, may be excused for he is an avowed secularist and atheist. I respect his consistency in disliking all religions equally. (With that said, Hitchens's recent criticism of Pope Benedict's pathetic speech and his perhaps more pathetic apologies are quite on target). There is, however, no reason why someone as perceptive as Andrew Sullivan - commenting on the Pope/Islam controversy - should feel compelled to write the following kinds of sentences:

[The Pope’s] essential point was the resistance of Islamic thought to Greek conceptions of reason. It is indeed the crux of the matter, and reveals how hard it will be for Islam to have the kind of reformation it needs if it is to become compatible with the rest of the modern world.

What in the world is Sullivan talking about? Even a cursory study of Islamic history would render such suppositions wildly off-base. It was, after all, Islamic scholars during the Abbasid era who revived Greek thought, incorporated it within the Islamic canon, and helped transfer it to Europe, a process which would lay the foundations of the renaissance to come. There is nothing inherent within Islam which makes it “irrational” or “unreasonable.” Here, Sullivan conflates a religious problem with a political one. The crisis of the modern Middle East is, first and foremost, one of a political nature. For example, if one wishes to explain the meteoric rise of Islamism in the 1970s, then one can find the source of this ideological shift in the aftermath of the Arab world’s crushing defeat to Israel in 1967. If you want to explain how Sayyid Qutb - who was once a dapper secular literary critic who wrote novels about the pains of love and romance (see Ashwak or Thorns) - became the intellectual godfather of a violent, extremist strain of Islam, then you need to understand how being brutally tortured in President Gamal Abdel Nasser's dungeons radicalized him and his followers (a lesson that the Bush administration appears wholly unaware of).

As I argued in a recent article, one has to make a careful distinction between political and religious imperatives:

Political reform leads to religious reform, not the other way around. Islamic thought and practice has been stifled by an undemocratic atmosphere in which Muslims are not exposed to the full diversity of opinions on issues of importance. Democracy, as Madeleine Albright argues in “A Realistic Idealism,” will “create a broader and more open political debate within Arab countries, exposing myths to scrutiny and extreme ideas to rebuttal.” In free societies, Arab liberals will finally be allowed to organize politically and communicate their ideas to a larger audience.

September 26, 2006

Progressive Strategy

Bill Clinton is Angry - and so am I
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Bill Clinton is getting attacked for being “aggressive” in his Fox News interview on Sunday. This is absolute nonsense. God forbid – a politician showing real emotion and anger. I like it. We need more of it. Anger can be healthy, especially when conservatives have been wreaking havoc on our country and its once respectable international reputation for the last five years. Are we angry that the Bush administration sanctions torture, demeans the Geneva Conventions, contaminates “democracy promotion,” and continues to do away with the little respect and credibility our country has left? Yes, we are. And let’s stop apologizing for it. Let’s get angry and let’s channel our anger productively. How? By making mincemeat of Karl Rove's "October Surprise" - whatever that might be - and the dirty tricks which are no doubt to come from the Conservatives' incessant spin machine.  

September 25, 2006

Bush's Hypocrisy at the UN
Posted by Shadi Hamid

President Bush’s address last week at the United Nations is a fascinating read, a reminder of what could have been but now can never be. Five years of horrendous policies aside, Bush’s speechwriters are a skillful bunch. It reminded me of a different time – it seems an eternity – in early 2005, when it was still possible to be (at least somewhat) optimistic about the direction of US foreign policy. I was living in Jordan then and I remember telling a friend (in hushed tones, one presumes) that 10 years from now, as much we may dislike/hate the Bush administration, we may very well have to give credit where it is due – that Bush had done more than any of his predecessors to foster democratic reform in the world’s most undemocratic region. Everything, however, can change in the matter of a year, and that optimism – premature in retrospect – has given way to a realization that the Bush administration has discredited “democracy promotion” in the eyes of the world and, perhaps more problematically, in the eyes of the American public.

When I read the text of Bush’s inaugural and state of the union speeches in January 2005, I was more than impressed. 21 months later, Bush made many of the same points in his UN address. The language was similarly eloquent, but eloquence – when it rings hollow – can be dangerous. This time around, I was angry that Bush would have the gall to further taint “democracy promotion,” using it to justify his and Condi’s “new Middle East.” God knows how could he spew out the following lines with a straight face:

The words of the Universal Declaration are as true today as they were when they were written. As liberty flourishes, nations grow in tolerance and hope and peace. And we're seeing that bright future begin to take root in the broader Middle East.

Or, how about this gem of calibrated condescension directed toward the Lebanese:

Last year, you inspired the world when you came out into the streets to demand your independence from Syrian dominance. You drove Syrian forces from your country and you reestablished democracy. Since then, you have been tested by the fighting that began with Hezbollah's unprovoked attacks on Israel. Many of you have seen your homes and communities caught in crossfire. We see your suffering, and the world is helping you to rebuild your country, and helping you deal with the armed extremists who are undermining your democracy by acting as a state within a state. The United Nations has passed a good resolution that has authorized an international force, led by France and Italy, to help you restore Lebanese sovereignty over Lebanese soil. For many years, Lebanon was a model of democracy and pluralism and openness in the region -- and it will be again.

Continue reading "Bush's Hypocrisy at the UN" »

September 24, 2006

Democracy, Weekly Top Ten Lists

Democracy after Bush: 10 Lessons for Progressives
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

One major piece of fallout from the Bush foreign policy era is the discrediting of America's role in promoting democracy around the world.  A few days ago, I heard a Senate candidate recounting what I assume was a line he uses on the stump; something to the effect that by making the mistake of holding elections amid a population that suffers from poor education, an absence of civic institutions, and no tradition of the rule of law, you will wind up with Hamas in power.   

While Americans are right to conclude that elections alone do not a democracy make, this does not mean its wrong to support free elections in places that fall well short of the criteria for full-fledged democracy.   Here are 10 conclusions I draw after 10 years of democracy promotion the Bush way:

1.  The U.S. must remain at the forefront of promoting democracy worldwide - The hangover of the Bush years will lead many to urge retreat from efforts to advance democracy in farflung places, on grounds that such work is costly, dangerous, and bound to fail.  While the impulse is understandable, this would be a huge mistake.  America's role in fostering democracy and aiding democrats the world over helped fuel us to superpowerdom during the first half the twentieth century, and keep us there during the second.  This drive was behind many of America's greatest contributions to the international system - including the creation of the multilateral order and the rise of great democracies on all continents.  We cannot throw the baby of democracy promotion out with the bathwater of Bush Administration policies.

2.  Democracy is not the same as pro-Americanism - One of the rationales behind American support for democracy is the idea that Democratic regimes are more inclined to support the US.  While this is true in the long term, the effect is neither immediate nor universal, as we've learned the hard way in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and - arguably - Iran.  Where there are longstanding grievances, immediate resentments, and/or political elements who rally support based on anti-Western and anti-American agendas, the democracy won't necessarily temper these sentiments.  Americans need to understand that fostering democracies around the world will benefit US interests over time, and not to expect immediate gratification in the form of pro-US governments.

3.  Democracy delayed will be seen as democracy denied - The US cannot afford to take the position that where democratic elections may result in the rise of extremist or anti-US elements, such elections should be indefinitely postponed.  If there are reasons to believe feasible, relatively quick steps can be taken to foster more free and fair elections, there may be nothing wrong with advocating that those happen first.  But a position that only once US-friendly parties are poised for victory does a population deserve to elect its own government will be seen as self-serving and hypocritical. 

4.  Elections are necessary but not sufficient for democracy - Rather than downplaying the importance of elections, US policymakers should place more emphasis on dimensions like the development of democratic institutions; the building of an independent judiciary; freedom of the press and of expression; civic education; a firm state monopoly on the use of force, and more.  These get short shrift because they take more money and time, and don't provide the same photo ops as peasants waving ink-stained fingers in the air.  In Eastern Europe and elsewhere, the US, other Western governments and international bodies have gained experience promoting a full range of democratic accouterments.  We need to get to work as energetically in these areas as we do in the business of holding elections.

5.  Pro-democracy and anti-corruption must go hand-in-hand - The big lesson of Hamas' victory is not that elections were a bad idea, but that West's erred glaringly in failure to ensure that the previous Fatah-led government provided adequate levels of law and order and social services to sustain its hold on power.   By most accounts, Hamas' win reflected less popular extremism than abject frustration with the corruption and ineptitude of the Fatah regime.  Similar tendencies are reportedly behind Hezbollah's popularity in Lebanon.   It is no surprise, and is laudable, that voters prize competence and reject corruption.  The West needs to do what it can to ensure that they don't need to vote in violent extremists in order to get them.

Continue reading "Democracy after Bush: 10 Lessons for Progressives" »

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