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August 04, 2006

Progressive Strategy

Grand Bargains Between the Left and Center-Left
Posted by David Shorr

The more I talk to fellow Iowans, the more optimistic I am about the potential for consensus-building across the progressive spectrum, even on some difficult issues. If moderates and those with a more sweeping critique just take a step toward each other, they may be surprised to look down and find themselves on common ground.

The classic FDR quote about fearing "fear itself" used to sound like a historical echo, but now it rings in my ear with a today kind of relevance, every day. Those of us involved in the national security debate are positively spooked by the fears of our fellow citizens (or the fears we imagine them to have). How can we convince the fearful that we're worthy of their trust? In some of our more flinty statements, you can hear the clenched jaw, not because we don't mean it, but because we're trying too hard and leave out the leavening of wisdom.

And we're even afraid to talk to each other -- about military strength or international trade, for instance. But despair not...

Continue reading "Grand Bargains Between the Left and Center-Left" »

Iraq, Progressive Strategy

Four Things the Connecticut Primary Won't Change
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Is The Godfather  about Italy?

Is The Sopranos about New Jersey?

The Lieberman-Lamont primary next week is a fascinating moment in American politics.  It's about the Democratic Party's self-image; it's about George W. Bush's America; it's about kissing; and, like many great works of literature, it's about a hero with the tragic flaw of arrogance in the face of impending doom.  It is even about how one small subset of the body politic deals with the wound of Iraq.

But folks, it's not about Iraq.  So discussion of it has little place on this progressive but non-partisan blog -- and gosh, I'm glad I don't live in Connecticut.  The foreign policy community, like everybody else, is getting a little over-excited.  Let me remind you why, as I indulge my inner curmudgeon on a Friday afternoon:

1.  The problem is down the street at 1600.  One Senator more in the "out now" column doesn't change a darn thing.  In fact, the only possible result here is if current polls change and a Lieberman run as an independent by some freak chance ends up electing a Republican.  For that matter, if Lieberman holds the seat either way he still votes for Harry Reid as majority leader.

2.  The solution is going to have to be a unity one.  Neither Ned Lamont nor Joe Lieberman has the credibility to come forward with a brilliant plan that Dems and concerned Republicans could coalesce around and force on the White House in 2007.  For that you'd have to look to the small group of Ds and Rs who work seriously on military issues -- and leave aside, I fear, the ones who are running for President in 08 -- not because they won't have good ideas but because it will be too hard for the others to unite around them.  My hat is off to Reid et al for the growing unity they have built in recent weeks.  The policy there will get pushed forward by people like Murtha on the one hand and Jack Reed on the other.

3.  There's not enough oxygen in the room.  Yes, Gallup said this week that Americans named Iraq as their most important issue in thinking about whom to vote for in November.  But Americans are still firmly split about how long to stay in Iraq.  The way I read the polls (and I think both parties are being advised this) the public overall still wants its leaders to make sense of Iraq, and our involvement there, more than it wants any particular solution pushed at it.  The realities of politics are what they are -- loud and short-term.  People who care about the US role in the world beyond this November shouldn't be the ones forcing ugly, caricatured policy choices on the public.  They will get what they ask for -- the public will make an ugly choice, and then turn away in disgust.

4.  Overtaken by Events.  It looks to me as if just two things matter now; whether Baghdad's descent into hell can be slowed or stopped, and who controls both houses of Congress in January.  So enjoy the spectacle in Connecticut.  But it is a sideshow, and not the main event.

August 03, 2006

“The Sixth War”: 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, and, apparently, 2006
Posted by Shadi Hamid

The last few days, I’ve been trying to watch a bit more of Al-Jazeera in order to better gauge Arab public opinion. My brother was confused when he saw the current crisis referred to on the bottom left of the screen as “The Sixth War.” So I counted, 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, and, apparently, 2006. I would have never thought of lumping the six wars together, but I suppose this captures quite well how many Arabs view the current crisis – as something not entirely new, something embedded in history. This is what we might call a “narrative.” What’s ours?

This reminds me of a conversation I had last month with an Egyptian friend. We were talking about the deteriorating situation in Iraq. I told him that the war happened, the past is gone. As much as we might like to, we cannot undo the Bush administration’s reckless behavior, its fated decision to plunge us into a war we were prepared to fight, but not prepared to win. We cannot simply sit back and criticize. Now, rather, the task for us is to work together to find a way out of the current quagmire, to come up with policy alternatives, and, ultimately, to ensure that – whether it takes 5, 10, or 50 years – that Iraqis will be able to consolidate the gains of January 30, 2005. Iraq can, one day, with sustained US, EU, and Arab involvement, become perhaps not a model democracy, but a democracy, and that would be more than enough in a region that has neither.

He looked at me, grinned, and said - I’m paraphrasing now - “well, that’s the difference between us and you.” He grinned some more. Then, he stretched his arms and sat back. He continued slowly, self-assuredly, “you are consumed by the future, we are consumed by the past.” I’m not sure that this was really deep, but it certainly sounded like it was when he said it. Perhaps he had been reading too much of Tom Friedman. Or perhaps he was on to something.

These are, of course, simplistic overgeneralizations that would no doubt disturb the quiet egalitarian inside us all. However, there is something to be said for the power of history, especially a most tragic one.

Hezbollah, Israel and the Responsibility to Protect
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Despite the ongoing tantrum  involving those who insist on cramming the Israel-Hezbollah conflict into a Cold War era rationalization of state self-defense, other more promising discussions are occurring. One of them is rooted in a report issued by Canada six years ago.

In 2001, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty issued a report called The Responsibility to Protect . The report's central theme is that sovereign states have a responsibility to protect their own citizens from avoidable catastrophe, but that when they are unwilling or unable to do so, that responsibility must be borne by the broader community of states.

Unfortunately, this report was marginalized by 9/11 and subsequent conflicts--yet its importance as a new way to think about international security is evident in the current fight between Israel and Hezbollah.

The laws of armed conflict are divided into two categories: laws that apply in wars between states (such as the Geneva Conventions of 1949), and a more limited set of rules that apply in civil wars and other "non-international conflicts."  The fighting in the Middle East shows how contemporary conflicts are often difficult to accommodate within this division. 

A recent exchange on the blog of a British development organization has some  interesting insights.  Hezbollah, Israel's government and Lebanon's government are criticized while its clear that both Israeli and Lebanese citizens deserve protection.

Continue reading "Hezbollah, Israel and the Responsibility to Protect" »

August 02, 2006


Security Assistance and Reconstruction: Who Is Going to be in Charge?
Posted by Gordon Adams

The U.S. response to the attacks of 9-11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taxed the military and the U.S. foreign policy community in a variety of new ways. In many respects, the existing institutions of government were ill-prepared for these challenges, which has meant a constant process of ad hoc invention throughout the executive branch. If the U.S. is going to continue to do the post-conflict job, after Iraq and Afghanistan, it is going to be increasingly important to figure out who is responsible for it. The answer is not clear today, and the Congress, in its new defense legislation, is hedging its bets.

Continue reading "Security Assistance and Reconstruction: Who Is Going to be in Charge?" »

Middle East

The Shifting Tide of Arab Public Opinion
Posted by Shadi Hamid

As I discussed in a previous