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October 31, 2006

Progressive Strategy

David Letterman gets Iraq Wrong
Posted by Shadi Hamid

You got to respect David Letterman taking it to Bill O’Reilly on Friday night. The tense exchange was certainly fun to watch. But something that Letterman said - or didn’t say - made me feel really, really uncomfortable.

They were discussing the Iraq war. O’Reilly in his usual abrasive way asked Letterman “do you want the United States to win in Iraq?” To my surprise (and dismay), Letterman appeared totally unable to answer the question and paused, as if really having to ponder the options. O’Reilly then added that “it’s an easy question.” Letterman, in what may have seemed like a good response to daily Kossacks but in my mind was rather pathetic, replied “it’s not easy for me because I’m thoughtful.”

I’m all for nuance and embracing complexity since most things in life are not, in fact, black and white. But, come on! Do you want the US to win in Iraq? What answer could you possibly give but “yes.” Letterman’s response captures all that is wrong with the hard left’s approach to foreign policy. It’s reactionary, simple-minded and all too often descends into laughable self-parody. Moreover, if I was living in some Red State watching Letterman doing his best John Kerry impression, I would probably freak out and pull the lever for the Big Red (elephant).

Yes, I dislike O’Reilly just as much as the next liberal, but let’s not lose sense of what’s at stake here. The Iraq War is not about scoring points against conservatives – it’s about trying to do what's best for the Iraqi people who deserve and demand more than the spectacle of disaffected liberals using Iraq as an excuse for reactionary Buchanesque forays into foreign policy.

October 29, 2006

Progressive Strategy

Hard Power/Soft Power/Smart Power
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Hand-wringing has already begun over how progressives can capitalize on the public collapse of faith in the Bush Administration's foreign policies to sustain a political advantage that will endure beyond November 7.  George McGovern has resurfaced to claim that if running now on an antiwar platform, he'd win.  Others insist progressives not cede the credibility they've won by embracing hard power and rejecting "cut and run."

We're closer than we think to a strategy that makes policy sense and will strengthen public trust in our ability to handle foreign affairs.  Dozens of books and articles written by progressives converge on key points:  embrace of American military power coupled with a clear-eyed view of its advantages and limitations; vigorous, activist diplomacy - bilateral and multilateral; far-sighted efforts to build institutions and structures that will fortify U.S. interests against threats and counterweights into the future. 

My own version was an April, 2004 article in Foreign Affairs entitled "Smart Power."  It takes on the Administration's one-track militaristic foreign policy.  While not rejecting Joseph Nye's emphasis on "Soft Power" - diplomacy, cultural influence, and moral suasion - it argues that these cannot stand alone in an era of deadly threats.  The piece coins "Smart Power" as a synthesis of hard and soft, arguing that America's military and economic preeminence and its cultural and ideological appeal need to be tied together in a brand of power that reinforces both.

There are countless other formulations better than mine:  two good relatively recent ones are the Center for American Progress' Integrated Power and the Princeton Project's Forging a World of Liberty Under Law

In recent weeks, as what remained of the conservative foreign policy consensus has disintegrated, a critical segment of the American public now seems ready to embrace ideas like these.  They know unilateralism, arrogance and over-reliance on the military won't work.  They are seriously concerned with threats from terrorism, a violent and chaotic Middle East and nuclear proliferation.  They know that stronger alliances and more effective diplomacy will advance US interests.  They have faith, though not blind faith, in America's purpose and its capabilities. 

They will be receptive to cogent foreign policies that reflect these beliefs, and this is exactly what progressives have to offer (in the meantime, the Administration has started to embrace some of this out of necessity, but so far the public is sophisticated enough not to be impressed).

I don't believe Iraq will be the test, in the sense that the key focus must be a unitary, detailed plan for escaping the quagmire.  The public understands that Iraq is so far gone that proposals can now only aim to be the best of the worst, and so fluid that any prescription will be out of date by the time it hits hits Baghdad.  This is why not having a consensus progressive formula has not hurt to date.  The public is tired of an Administration that has pretended to have answers at every turn, and won't fault progressives for failing to do the same.

So now a short list of 5 issues where progressives are well-positioned to build public support based on existing policies, and 5 areas where more work needs to be done:

Continue reading "Hard Power/Soft Power/Smart Power" »

October 28, 2006

Progressive Strategy

I Want to Intervene
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Heart-wrenching stuff. Via Eteraz, this is a letter written by a son whose mother was stoned to death in Iran. Do you want to understand the psyche of a "liberal interventionist"? Well, when I read this, I want to intervene. There you go.


I read your recent article about stoning to death.

Reading your article reminded me of the bleeding bruises in my heart once again.

You wrote about murdering by stoning?

Have you ever held a bloody tool in your hands with which they have murdered your mother?

Have you ever touched the bloody skin and hair of your mother who has just been killed in a deep hole?

Have you ever followed the line of your mother’s blood in order to find her corpse thrown at the back of a truck?

Have you ever seen the fresh grave of that dearest being with a small piece of paper on which they have written her name wrapped around a small branch of tree?

Continue reading "I Want to Intervene" »

October 27, 2006


Rumsfeld under Pressure
Posted by Michael Signer

Rumsfeld's cracking up.  Sing it with me.

Bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah
Bah bah bah bah bah bah
Pressure pressing down on me
Under pressure
That burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets

Here he is to reporters in yesterday's presser:

"You ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it's complicated, it's difficult."

Continue reading "Rumsfeld under Pressure" »

October 25, 2006


Notes from the Road
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Still on the road with baby in tow...On Sunday, I watched the Chinese boat swamp at the famed Head of the Charles regatta in Boston. Right beneath the Elliot Bridge it went down with the entire crew...valiantly trying to keep it going forward. Maybe our fears of a rising Chinese navy are premature?  The launch boat was really slow to the rescue, and Notre Dame lost a chunk of time, but everyone got out okay.

Two noteable items from this past week:

The world public opinion poll that found seven in ten Americans favor Congressional candidates who  will pursue major changes in US foreign policy, want less emphasis on use of military force to solve problems and want to work more cooperatively with the United Nations.  Most favor direct talks with North Korea and Iran to boot!

And this article by Kevin Tillman--the brother of Pat Tillman  (pro football player turned Army Ranger) who was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. It is a concise and raw summary of where we've been these past five years.

Progressive Strategy

The Left Rediscovers its Love of Manifestos
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Contrary to Tony Judt’s delusional assertions about liberal acquiescence to Bush’s ruinous foreign policy designs, I must say that recent months have demonstrated that liberals are a serious bunch, who are, once again, thinking big. In my August Prospect essays on the future of progressive foreign policy, I cited the works of Michael Signer, Madeleine Albright, Robert Wright, and Peter Beinart in proposing bold alternatives to neo-isolationism of the ascendant Left and the neo-conservatism of the once-ascendant Right. Most of you are probably already familiar with these contributions.

The last year or so has also marked a renewed liberal interest in the treasured art of manifesto writing. For starters, Peter Beinart’s book is a manifesto if not in form then certainly in ambition. When young Democrats who care about foreign policy meet these days, one of the first things they presumably ask each other is whether they have dutifully read The Good Fight. Yes, it’s a damn good book. Beyond that, there is the Euston Manifesto, authored across the pond by Norman Geras and a reputable slate of intellectuals, who know moral clarity when they see it, and also when they write it.

More recently, I read the short-form sort-of-manifesto of Bruce Ackerman and Todd Gitlin, published in The American Prospect. I think it’s a bit lacking in the atmospherics that one has come to expect from manifestos, but I suppose this is the price we pay for living in a somewhat post-ideological world. Nevertheless, it’s signed by quite a few prominent people, so it’s certainly worth looking at, if for no other reason than its serving as a nice rejoinder to the political misanthropy of the almost-too-ubiquitous Tony Judt.

I suspect there will be more manifestos to come, led by the curiously titled and already wildly over-appreciated book – Ethical Realism – by unabashed arch-realists Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman who appear intent on doing everything in their power to resurrect the soul of Bismarck (or perhaps Scrowcroft) while making it all at least slightly palatable to messianic City-on-a-Hill savages in America and elsewhere. Rarely do you see people so willing to pass the torch of American hegemony, however un-benevolent, to China, India, and others. If Lieven had his way, he’d make Chirac look like an idealist.

Well, anyway, bring it on, as some have been known to say in their less opportune moments. Manifestos are always fun, even if they are inane and indulgent of neo-Parisian attitudes on US foreign policy.

October 24, 2006

Middle East

Dispatches from an Angry Taxi Driver
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Since I came back from Cairo nearly two months ago (where I was on a research trip), I’ve tried to take a break from the vicissitudes of Egyptian politics. Well, the Vanity Fair piece I referenced two weeks ago reminded me of a similarly disturbing exchange I had with a taxi driver in late July. This was one of those encounters that captured for me all that I dreaded about the Arab world. Afterwards, I sat down and typed up some of my impressions of the conversation. I wasn’t planning on posting this, but I decided that I should, in order to shed some more light on the crucial question of how political distortion leads to moral distortion:

(From July 2006). Sometimes, I learn more about Egypt from taxi drivers than I do from professors and politicians. Before I meet with some of the more prominent figures in Egyptian or Jordanian politics, I can usually predict with relative accuracy how they’ll answer each one of my questions. Occasionally, they will surprise me, and it’s those moments that I wait for as an interviewer (recently a Muslim Brotherhood MP, speaking mostly Arabic while interspersing bizarre references to B-list American movies, used the F-word to make a point I didn’t quite understand). Taxi drivers, though, almost always surprise me. Today, I had one such moment. The driver was pretty much spewing out nuggets, so I had to take out my trusty jot pad and take notes. He looked at me with measured incredulity. No one here cares about taxi drivers. I suppose he was taken aback by the fact that some random American researcher was hanging on his words. It would be tough for me to reconstruct the conversation I had. His facial expressions, that calm look of utter disgust on his face mixed with equal parts frustration and anger captivated and disturbed me all at once. 

We got to talking politics. He painted a bleak portrait of the economic, political, moral, social, cultural situation in his country (it’s hard to separate these things in the Arab world - everything’s part of the problem).

- Well, what’s the solution to the mess? I asked knowing quite well that there was no answer.

- He paused: …An earthquake (zilzal) that would wipe [most of] Cairo out. And then we could maybe start from scratch.

- But a lot of people would die, including friends and family? I countered.

- We’re already dead. Do you call this life? I would prefer death.

Silence followed. When he said that, I looked at him. It wasn’t only that he was angry. For this was a different kind of anger, a kind unique to a troubled region. I couldn’t tell where his anger ended and his resignation began. It’s always frightening to watch when you catch a glimpse, however fleeting. His spirit had been broken and his dignity wrested away. His complaint wasn’t that the government was corrupt or brutal or that it was mismanaging the economy. No, it was something more fundamental, basic, and, thus, much harder to solve – “all we ask is that they treat us like human beings,” he told me. It was a simple request but one that could not be granted.

Continue reading "Dispatches from an Angry Taxi Driver" »

October 23, 2006


Iraq: An Honest Exit
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Administration officials today stated that, in line with calls from critics, they are taking steps toward a timetable that - at least as I read it - can only lead to an ultimate drawdown of U.S. troops.  The President is finally backing away from his "stay the course" mantra. 

But, true to form, Bush did so by denying that "stay the course" was ever Administration policy.  That feeble attempt at obfuscation is easily exposed, but it points to a much more serious issue:  the Administration seems inclined to mislead the public on its way out of Iraq just as it did on the way in.

Here are some of the fallacies being profferred:

- Conditions in Iraq are improving - During an interview with George Stephanopolous last week, Bush insisted that "we [are] on our way to achieving a goal, which is an Iraq that can defend itself, sustain itself and govern itself and be an ally in the war on terror in the heart of the Middle East."  Stories like this about the breakdown of the Iraqi police in their core mission in Baghdad underscore the obvious: progress is nowhere near what anyone hoped or expected, and by some reports is close to nil.

- The Iraqis can take over where we leave off, if they'd only stop dithering - Today's announcement spoke of a US timetable for the Iraqi government to quell sectarian divisions and take over security for the country.  But the government of President Nuri al-Maliki is roundly acknowledged to be failing in this regard, with no signs that he'll be able to reverse course.  The Administration acts as though the Iraqi government refuses to put the country in order the way a stubborn child refuses to pick up his toys - in the Stephanopolous interview, Bush referred to it as "dawdling."  The reality is that Iraq's problems are so deep and complex that the world's strongest and most sophisticated military cannot solve them, and nor can a fledgling and fragile Iraqi government.

The reality of a potential US departure from Iraq is that we'll be leaving because things are going poorly, and because there's no sign that we can ultimately succeed in our mission of turning a stable Iraq over to a government capable of keeping it that way.  Some other facts worth facing:

Continue reading "Iraq: An Honest Exit" »

Middle East

Waiting for Futouh
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Issandr el-Amrani reports that prominent Muslim Brotherhood moderate Abdel Menem Abul Fotouh was scheduled to speak on a panel at NYU a few days ago. Surprise, surprise, Fotouh was not able to attend. He, apparently, was denied entry into the US. As a result, the audience had to endure the predictably aimless interjections of several non-experts. I think Peter Bergen is great, but he is expert on Al-Qaeda, not an expert on the Brotherhood.

I can’t believe I actually have to make points which are (or should be) so self-evident to even the most unintelligent of observers - but if we want to understand political Islam, then we have to actually listen to what Islamists themselves say. This doesn’t mean that we have to agree with them, support them, or like them. But, considering that the Muslim Brotherhood will, notwithstanding acts of God, come to power in Egypt sooner or later, we should do our best to understand them before we get caught by surprise 10 or 20 years down the road. This is yet another example of how alarmist fears of political Islam coupled with a senseless visa policy damage our strategic perception of Islamism and render us unable to anticipate or pre-empt policy dilemmas.

I interviewed Futouh at length in late July, while the Israel-Hezbollah war was going on, and he had much to say that, I think, would be of interest to US policymakers, if only they’d listen. He is part of the Brotherhood’s moderate “faction,” a faction which grows smaller and more embattled – the not-so-surprising result of the Bush administration’s needlessly polarizing approach to everything Middle-East related. The moderates within the Brotherhood are trying to modernize their organization and prepare it for the give-and-take of democratic politics, but they are having a hard time of it. The deteriorating situation in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon, and exponentially high levels of anti-Americanism contribute to an environment that makes being a “moderate” increasingly precarious. But, then again, because we don’t let people like Futouh into our country, we would have no way of knowing that.

October 20, 2006


The Mechanical President
Posted by Michael Signer

Jarring contradictions in today's WaPo.  On the one hand, a front-page, above-the-fold story titled, "Major Change Expected in Strategy for Iraq War."  The lede?

The growing doubts among GOP lawmakers about the administration's Iraq strategy, coupled with the prospect of Democratic wins in next month's midterm elections, will soon force the Bush administration to abandon its open-ended commitment to the war, according to lawmakers in both parties, foreign policy experts and others involved in policymaking.

On the other hand, just inside, on the Metro section, we find another front-page, above-the-fold story about President Bush's recent fundraising trip for Senator George Allen, where the President came up with this creative gem about Democrats:

"They would have our country quit in Iraq before the job is done," Bush said. "That's why they are the party of cut and run. We will fight. We will stay. We will win in Iraq."

More consistent with the first story, Allen himself was discomfited by the President's  weirdly inflexible rhetoric (and the policy it implies):

Asked whether he agreed with Bush's "cut and run" statement, Allen said, "I'm not going to get in an argument here about the president's words versus my words."

He added: "The president has his ideas on Iraq, John Warner has his and I have mine."

What's going on? 

Continue reading "The Mechanical President" »

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