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June 30, 2006


Hamdan and the Burden of Democratic Freedom
Posted by Michael Signer

I was in the restroom at my firm yesterday when a partner told me about the Hamdan decision -- a little awkwardly, but enthusiastically nonetheless.  He just had to talk about it, I guess, right then and there.  Word swept through other non-legal fora throughout Washington and, I imagine, the rest of the country.  Blackberrys buzzed, people's voices suddenly rose in conference rooms, reporters' eyes lit up.

I really don't want all of the sophisticated folks who read DA to pummel me for simple-minded flag-waving.  Really, I don't. 

But yesterday's decision was really quite extraordinary, not just as a momentary victory for the plaintiff and his legal advocates, but more importantly as a window into something like the soul of modern American democracy.  There was something deeply, uniquely, American about the decision. 

This is important because we are, at this historical moment, in the process of an ambitious but ungainly fit of nation-building by people who really don't seem to understand the internal complexities of modern liberal democracy, especially as practiced in America.  We would all do well -- especially neoconservatives -- to look inward, at the genius of modern American democracy.  We need to understand why democracy works here before we go about, willy-nilly, exporting the skeleton, rather than the muscle, of actual democracy.

Continue reading "Hamdan and the Burden of Democratic Freedom" »

June 29, 2006

Middle East, State Dept.

Scrowcroft’s Ghost Continues to Haunt the Hallways of the State Department
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I remember the last time I was in Cairo in May 2005. There was, then, a sense that things were finally moving forward. Hope – that most rare of luxuries – was making a comeback (albeit a modest one). Today, the level of repression is getting pretty bad, as I wrote on Tuesday. And, of course, the State Department can be counted on for making things even worse.

No one in the press seemed to care much about the congressional debate on US aid to Egypt which took place earlier this month, so, for posterity’s sake, let me bring to your attention a few things which capture, quite convincingly I think, the veritable death of the Bush administration’s efforts to democratize the Middle East. If you really care about democracy, I suggest you take a deep breath before you read how our venerable officials at the State Department - perhaps under the spell of the Scrowcroftian spirit which continues to haunt the writhing hallways of the Harry S. Truman Building (and especially the 7th floor) – made a mockery of our country's founding ideals. What the heck is Condoleezza doing?

On June 9th, Congress debated Egypt’s aid package. Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), an amendment which would have reduced US aid to Egypt by $100 million was defeated in a close 225-198 vote. Well, I'm sure you're wondering where the Bush administration stood? This, according to a rather interesting article in al-Ahram Weekly, before congress voted: “The Bush administration has called on Congress to keep annual aid to Egypt of nearly $2 billion dollars intact for the next fiscal year, arguing that America's strategic interests will be harmed if aid to the Egyptian government is cut.”

Then you had one mess of a May 17th congressional hearing on the question of US aid to Egypt. Here, the position of the State Department representatives couldn't have been more clear. You had stalwart realists like Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch, who never for one second cared about Bush’s “vision” for “ending tyranny,” insisting, impassionedly it seems from the transcript, for the maintenance of the status quo:

Our strategic partnership with Egypt is a cornerstone of US policy in the region. We share a vision of a Middle East that is at peace and free of terror.

Who cares about ideals when you’ve got interests? (I guess he forgot that nothing causes terrorism like tyranny). Then, Michael Coulter, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, pointed out that military aid to the Egyptian regime helps guarantee “a defense force capable of supporting US security.” I guess Coulter forgot to mention that Egypt also plays a valuable role in torturing the terrorism suspects that we ship over to them, as part of our extraordinary renditions program. Well, priorities are priorities.


North Korea busted: Iraq hopeful?
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Looks like the only thing  that wacky dictator of North Korea  can launch is a blast of hot air across the ocean. Upon examination, the missile launch threat looks pretty bogus. Not that all the hype kept Congress from dumping another 45 million dollars into the Alaskan tundra for the "missile defense" program--which is fast becoming Alaska's mythical creature, like the Sasquatch in Montana or Nessie in Scotland. Lots of almost-sightings, but never the real deal.  This on top of the increasing worry that the military can't make payroll.  Priorities anyone?

Council for a Livable World has put up a clickable record of last week's Senate Iraq debate here.    Hopeful news from Iraq... a political reconciliation proposal is on the table.  A civil affairs friend who was in Iraq last year (and who  still helps train Army troops pre-deployment) credits Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzhad with this breakthrough. This proposal is the first concrete sign of an American/Iraqi civilian-led strategy in Iraq, in fact because our primary military strategy of door-kicking and city flattening has made the reconciliation part nigh impossible.

"Everyone has talked reconciliation but played whack a mole" he tells me. He also thinks
Khalilzad was the first American leader to successfully link the  military strategy to support for a political process...which has brought in the uncomfortable possibility of amnesty. The tradeoff of justice for peace is probably one of the most difficult steps a nation can take...It has an illustrated history just in the last couple of decades. Concilation Resources has a helpful directory of peace accords online. Plus a list of amnesties....a glance through these is a good  refresher in the current accusatory climate over who's in and who's out of the Iraq deal.

Many lament that aggressive "democratization" under the Bush Administration has tainted a key set of American foreign policy values.  This is true and it will take some damage control for us to be believable from here on out. Yet the notion that self-determination yields better outcomes at every level is a worthy national security value--for prevention, post conflict, and we hope in Iraq-- during an identity war itself. We need to get good at dealing with complexity and conflicting identities because these will be the biggest challenges for security in an era of globalization.
Conflict resolution strategies that enable political pluralism were underlying themes for much of President Clinton's national security and military policies--In the military it was called "shaping" stability--more or less a hearts and minds campaign at all times.
As we keep our fingers crossed for Iraq's new leaders and their reconciliation plan, we should also think about how to revise this integrated "whole of government" approach to national security.  Indeed, the US facilitating political conflict resolution must replace preventive war as the centerpiece of today's strategy.  Hopefully this will be the lesson we draw from Iraq's effort. 

June 28, 2006

State Dept.

Public Diplomacy: It's About Governing, Not Campaigning
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Since we've kept up quite a little Karen Hughes watch here at DemocracyArsenal, I want to give props to Steve Clemons' excellent post on public diplomacy this week, keying off this US News & World Report piece.

The gist:  Ms. Hughes is very adept at running campaigns, and she has instituted rapid-response and quick-hit initiatives which are well-run.  But public diplomacy is not primarily about short-term hits -- especially in societies which haven't yet been overtaken by our 24-hour quick-hit media culture.  It's about patient, long-term building of relationships, exchanges of ideas, sharing of information and opening of minds. 

My old boss Mort Abramowitz likes to say that our modern democratic culture is inimical to successful, thoughtful foreign policy.  I've never wanted to go that far.  But running foreign policy as an extension of campaign culture is certainly inimical to success.

And if you need further evidence of that, go look at the bad news in this year's Pew Global Attitude Survey.  America's image slid in most of the 15 countries surveyed; so much for that vaunted second-term charm offensive.

June 27, 2006

Democracy, Middle East

In the Face of Repression
Posted by Shadi Hamid

The regime of Egyptian President-for-Eternity is in full repression mode, arresting pretty much anyone it doesn’t like. Yesterday, Ibrahim Eissa, the liberal editor-in-chief of al-Dustour, was handed a one year prison sentence for his criticism of President Mubarak. Today, the ruling National Democratic Party shoved through parliament the horrendous Judicial Authority Law. The Egyptian government is still apparently grappling with the idea of “due process,” and it appears they remain steadfast in their belief that human rights standards are not “appropriate” for Egypt, due perhaps to its “cultural specificity.” More than 700 members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been arrested for belonging to a “secret,” “illegal” organization, which is rather absurd when you think about it, since the Brotherhood is the largest opposition group in parliament, holding 20% of the seats.

In times like these, one hopes and prays (since this is the kind of thing that may require intervention of a divine nature), that after God knows how many years of mutual acrimony, Egypt's notoriously fractious opposition will get its act together, put its squabbles behind it, and unite behind an inclusive pro-democracy platform. This means that leftists, liberals, secularists, and Islamists need to work together because they share one thing in common – a hatred of Arab autocracy and a desire for a democratic Egypt.

It is worth recalling that successful democratic transitions in Latin America and Eastern Europe were facilitated by broad-based opposition coalitions which were able to unite behind inclusive platforms. A culture of compromise prevailed as key players were able to reach a basic consensus on key issues. In the Arab world, however, the opposition has been paralyzed by ideological cleavages – until now (or so we hope at least).

To be sure, the ideological cleavages still exist but, in the shade of regime brutality, there are signs that liberals, leftists, and Islamists are beginning to grasp the need to get over the past and work together, today, against a common adversary. Which is why I found the blogger-activist Alaa Abdel Fatah’s recent declaration of solidarity with the Muslim Brotherhood quite interesting.

Continue reading "In the Face of Repression" »


Good News from the Arab World
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Finaly, good news from a region that loves bad news. If you doubt the transformative power of democracy, I suggest you read this article on the increasingly important role of women in Kuwaiti politics. In May 2005, parliament, after a long, arduous battle, granted women the right to vote. Today, 13 months later, hardline Islamists - who for years had fought tooth and nail against women's suffrage - are aggressively reaching out to women and courting their votes. When women represent more than 50% of the electorate, then even hardline conservatives will have no choice but to bow to electoral imperatives. Kuwaiti Islamists, like everyone else, want to win elections - and they can't win without the support of women. Even in the most traditional, tribal societies, democracy's power cannot be denied. One reason, among many, why Americans must not lose faith in promoting democracy abroad. Choice quote:

Hundreds of voters gathered Saturday night in a cavernous wedding hall in a conservative suburb of Kuwait City to hear Walid al-Tabtabaei, an incumbent Islamist candidate, give one of his last speeches before the parliamentary elections on Thursday. The voters compared notes on candidates and debated their merits. One thing set them apart from the voters who attended political rallies in past elections here, though: almost all were women. "The M.P.'s used to vote against us; now they are wooing us to vote for them," said Lulua Abdullah al-Omari, a mother of four, who sat in the front row and was eager to talk politics. "Women suddenly have more value in this society."


Mr. Murtha: Blogs One, Right-wing Goons Zero
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

If the blogs have their way, the Right's political goonsquad will have to fight in the cyber-gutter before getting their screeds into the regular media. Last week, left leaning blogs were afire with the news that a seamy team of operatives was purchasing a domain name ( and getting ready to smear Congressman John Murtha-- using tactics similar to the Swift Boat Veterans for "Truth" (my quotes). Yes, those of the scornful purple band-aids at the GOP convention--mocking Senator Kerry's service (a display that so angered my veteran father that he swore off the GOP for life).  Here are some of the links that give background on this impending assault. Raw Story and the Agonist provide overview and context while Taylor Marsh ties it to Members of Congress and their staff. A Kos contributor rounds it off with some creepy tie-ins to international arms dealing.  And who is supposed to benefit from this electronic mud wrestle? The person running against Mr. Murtha in November.

Say you come across one of these goons and he or she starts talking smarmy about Mr. Murtha's service record. Here's what you say in response:

Are you calling the military incompetent, awarding ribbons to those who don't deserve them?

Do you realize that you are are tainting every servicemember's medals, by suggesting that their medals might be fraudulently awarded?

Then you say: Well, you can believe what you like, but I BELIEVE THE MARINE CORPS.

Continue reading "Mr. Murtha: Blogs One, Right-wing Goons Zero" »

June 26, 2006


Must-See TV
Posted by Michael Signer

For one of the hardest, coldest nuggets of wisdom about the Iraq War, everyone should check out this C-SPAN video clip from today's hearing on pre-war intelligence:

It's footage showing Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) -- a Republican who requested to attend today's Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing -- asking Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (Ret'd) (another Republican) how neoconservatives in the Administration became so powerful, and why no one challenged their approach toward Iraq. 

I won't ruin the ending, because it's that blunt.  But it's a startling, almost moving, example of a non-party-line Republican struggling to grasp how we arrived where we stand.  And it serves as an illuminating window into the rareness of transparency in our politics.  Jones reaches out in sad, pliable sincerity -- while Wilkerson's sparse, abject answer falls like a hammer.

The transcript follows:

Continue reading "Must-See TV" »

June 25, 2006

Progressive Strategy

Foreign Policy and the Common Good
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Progressive circles are abuzz with debate over the "common good" a frame for the progressive agenda that Barack Obama, Michael Tomasky, Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin have been developing through recent articles and conferences.   Reading their stuff will give you a good handle on what a "common good"-based politics would mean domestically.  The ideas have resonance, and have been picked up by the mainstream media as a potentially powerful core for progressive messaging.

As applied to foreign policy, an area that the leading articles on the "common good" tend to touch only lightly, the concept has both potential and some ostensible limitations that I will lay out in this piece.  My hope is to start a discussion on whether we can somehow build on the concept of the "common good" to help sharpen a progressive foreign policy message.

The notion of the common good works well for foreign policy in the following ways:

1.  It signals a rejection of insular policy-making, cronyism and corruption - The secrecy and dishonesty that led us to war in Iraq, the unchecked profiteering that wasted billions in reconstruction monies, the manifest lack of accountability and the stubborn unwillingness to acknowledge mistakes all run counter to a foreign policy aimed to serve the common good.  Greater openness, beefed up Congressional oversight, more thorough review of intelligence matters and heightened transparency in contracting are all important goals that could be advanced in the name of the common good.

2.  It supports spreading the burdens of military intervention and other national imperatives more widely - A common good-based foreign policy suggests that the burdens of promoting America's interests abroad need to be shouldered by society as a whole, rather than an unlucky few.  This could start with improved health care, education and economic opportunity for veterans.  It could encompass a broadened vision of national service, and potentially a stabilization corps that would draw a larger swath of Americans into the responsibilities being shouldered today by the military.  The same case could be made for broader distribution of the costs of free trade, for example through greatly enhanced assistance to vulnerable American workers.

3.  It suggests a long-term perspective on issues like proliferation and global warming - The common good, at least implicitly, encompasses the good of future generations.  Adopting policies in areas like nuclear proliferation, the environment, alliance and institution building, and engagement with the Muslim world that reflect a long-term view and aim to ensure American security for decades to come would represent a huge step forward.  This would force the hard work of forging new security agreements and bodies, restraining the worst of our environmental excesses, investing heavily in international relationships, etc.

4.  Recognizing the link between global and American interests - Many progressive arguments are based on the premise that what is good for others will ultimately benefit the US.  The case for a stronger UN, third world development, lower trade barriers, better AIDS prevention and countless other goals all fit this pattern.  The common good is a way to draw the link between American interests and those of foreign nations and peoples.

Now for the ways in which the "common good" works less well as a framing device for foreign policy:

Continue reading "Foreign Policy and the Common Good" »

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