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September 22, 2006


New Issue of Democracy
Posted by Michael Signer

The second edition of the new journal Democracy has just been released.  The initial issue was covered intensely by The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and other newspapers and websites around the country. Maureen Dowd said they “might help the wretched Democrats stop driving on Ambien and snatch back a little power.”  David Broder hailed the first issue as “really impressive.”

The second issue includes provocative articles from a wide range of thinkers and writers from across the political spectrum:


Continue reading "New Issue of Democracy" »

September 21, 2006


Moment of Truth: Missile Defense or Stopping Genocide
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Every once in awhile, those of us who follow defense issues here in Washington will catch a dreamy glimpse of pre-9/11 days in wonkdom. Back then, optimistic progressive types, though bummed by the election results, were beginning to find some hopeful ways to co-exist with the Bush Administration. One of those Hobbits-in-the-Shire flashes came to me last week when I saw that the House Democrats backed up with an official request a statement that Secretary Rumsfeld made while visiting the missile defense interceptor site in Alaska in August. He asked for an "end to end" test of missile defense. That means a comprehensive and realistic test of a limited system. 100 billion dollars into this system, the tests thus far don't approximate any realistic scenario. (you wouldn't know how much skepticism is deserved by reading, um, just about any major newspaper after a "successful test") In contrast, you would think that true shock and awe might result for the decades of accumulated failures of the single most expensive weapons program in our budget.

Back in 2000, I felt conflicted by our new Sec Def. I did not view him as a neo-con, but, rather, as a corporate conservative who would knock some heads together in the defense establishment and finally purge the most egregious Cold War leftovers. As a bona fide conservative, Rumsfeld could pry some of those gold-plated barnacles off of our defense budget and persuade the defense industry and Congress to get on with post Cold War priorities. Sadly, 9/11 derailed those possibilities.

Which is why the House Democrats throwing down the glove about realistic testing is important. As we move past the half trillion mark in defense spending, perhaps their request will begin the vital discussion about tradeoffs within the defense budget. Maybe now we can move past that old political trap of "guns versus butter" and get on with the "guns versus guns" debate. In budget item terms, this is the fight over military resources dedicated to technology versus human beings. Maybe, with counter insurgency's comeback and the recognition that all the techno gadgets in the world can't find a political solution for Iraq--the human resources issues within the military will get a boost.

This reality does not make the defense industry happy, however.

Continue reading "Moment of Truth: Missile Defense or Stopping Genocide" »

September 20, 2006


A Bush in the China Shop
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

So today President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela got up behind a podium at the UN's General Assembly and called President Bush the devil.  The awful thing, of course, is that while the rhetoric is outrageous, much of the world's reaction will be that they know what he means.  If you doubt that, check out what the foreign media's been saying about the US in recent days on this site. 

Chavez faulted Bush for acting like he "owned the world."  You'd think that, under the circumstances, Bush would have bent over backwards to convey the opposite, with Chinese influence at the UN on the rise given the isolation we face and its debilitating effect on our policies on, at the top of the list, Iraq and Iran.

So, what did Bush say?  Was he as tone-deaf as his detractors claim?  Or did he, as so often in the past, use language that could have come out of a liberal internationalist playbook to describe policies and attitudes that would make FDR rotate in his grave?

Let's look at a few of his turns of phrase:

"it is clear that the world is engaged in a great ideological struggle, between extremists who use terror as a weapon to create fear, and moderate people who work for peace . . . I want to speak about ... world beyond terror, where ordinary men and women are free to determine their own destiny, where the voices of moderation are empowered, and where the extremists are marginalized by the peaceful majority." - Would that this were how most of the world sees it.  Unfortunately, the Bush Administration is viewed, abroad and increasingly at home as well, as anything but moderate and peace-seeking.  This has allowed the likes of Chavez to recast the battle as one of superpower dominator against the defenseless and disenfranchised who can only stand up for their rights by, for example, building nuclear capabilities. Bush's language shows his tone-deafness, practically inviting opponents to turn his words against him.

"Every nation that travels the road to freedom moves at a different pace, and the democracies they build will reflect their own culture and traditions. But the destination is the same: A free society where people live at peace with each other and at peace with the world."  The first sentence is a good one, seeming to recognize the democracy cannot be imposed by force.  It follows an impressive-sounding list of nations in the Mideast that have seen some form of political opening in recent years.  But the proclamation that the destination is "the same" belies the point, implying that culture and tradition somehow disappear once freedom is realized.  This perception is one of the primary impediments to democratic transformation, something one would hope Bush understood by now.

Bush then went into a series of entreaties directed at various peoples around the world:  the Iraqis, the Iranians, the Lebanese, the Afghanis, the Syrians and the people of Darfur.  He compliments each for something, and then goes on to say what needs to happen next in their country or region.  On the one hand, there is an element of humanity in reaching out to ordinary citizens.   On the other side, the comments were pitched to fly over the heads of the nearly 200 heads of state filling the room, dis-intermediating them from their populations.  There is nothing wrong with appealing directly to foreign populations, particularly in undemocratic countries where there's no reason to believe that government policies and public attitudes dovetail.  But Bush's tone was preachy and condescending.  He proceeded to tell ancient cultures what they had a right to be proud of, and presumed to tell beleaguered populations what there biggest problems are.

What didn't Bush say?  Despite a withering 5 years, there was not a moment's introspection, no nod to the challenges we have faced fighting terrorism, trying to foster freedom in far-flung places, or holding things together at home.  There was no nod to any global issue apart from terrorism and the spread of democracy in the Middle East.  Nothing on AIDS, global warming, economic development, trade, or poverty.  In other words, no real message to Latin America, Africa, the former Soviet Union or much of Asia.

Devilish?  No.  Disappointing?  Yes.

September 19, 2006

Progressive Strategy

When is it safe to say we're less safe?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I have a piece up on today about the communications theory and progressive practice on the thorny issue of how much to campaign on post 9-11 security fears.  Lots of folks have written and posted in recent weeks debating whether or not progressives are building any unity and what it means -- I come down on the optimistic side that we are, and it's good, even if we don't all agree about the theory of democracy promotion or exactly when troops should leave Iraq.   

Progressive Strategy

Tony Judt on "the Strange Death of Liberal America"
Posted by Shadi Hamid

If you need (more) proof of the divisions within liberal ranks on questions of national security, I suggest you read this piece by Tony Judt on the “Strange Death of Liberal America.” Judt, of course, is British, but his views in this piece are, one suspects, shared by many American liberals.

The basic gist is that Judt believes the liberal intelligentsia of the United States has abdicated its responsibility and, instead of principled opposition, has chosen to cheerlead the Bush administration’s recent misadventures, if not in intent then in effect. It is the same criticism often launched at “liberal interventionists” – that there is, ultimately, little to distinguish us from neo-conservatives and, more generally, foreign policy hawks:

For what distinguishes the worldview of Bush’s liberal supporters from that of his neo-conservative allies is that they don’t look on the ‘War on Terror’, or the war in Iraq, or the war in Lebanon and eventually Iran, as mere serial exercises in the re-establishment of American martial dominance. They see them as skirmishes in a new global confrontation: a Good Fight, reassuringly comparable to their grandparents’ war against Fascism and their Cold War liberal parents’ stance against international Communism. Once again, they assert, things are clear. The world is ideologically divided; and – as before – we must take our stand on the issue of the age.

It is sometimes unclear whether or not Judt has read carefully the work of “liberal interventionists" (whom he disingenuously calls "Bush's liberal supporters"). He seems to exude a particular dislike for Peter Beinart and his recent book The Good Fight. Judt castigates liberal intellectuals for criticizing the conduct of the Iraq war but not necessarily criticizing the fact that we went to war in the first place. However, Beinart is one of the few “hawks” who has clearly stated, in an admirably self-critical paragraph early on in The Good Fight, that it was a mistake to go to war. He, unlike others, admits he was wrong. Judt also complains that liberals are scared of the “dreaded L-world.” But Beinart, again, is one of the few who favors using “liberal” instead of “progressive” in order to begin to resuscitate the word’s damaged reputation.

Apparently, Judt longs for the good old days – also known as 1988, just as Democrats were presenting a candidate for president who was at once unabashedly “liberal” and terribly uninspiring (Dukakis). On October 26, 1988:

The New York Times carried a full-page advertisement for liberalism. Headed ‘A Reaffirmation of Principle’, it openly rebuked Ronald Reagan for deriding ‘the dreaded L-word’ and treating ‘liberals’ and ‘liberalism’ as terms of opprobrium. Liberal principles, the text affirmed, are ‘timeless. Extremists of the right and of the left have long attacked liberalism as their greatest enemy. In our own time liberal democracies have been crushed by such extremists. Against any encouragement of this tendency in our own country, intentional or not, we feel obliged to speak out.’

Is it just me or does the Times advertisement sound like it could have come straight out of the Euston Manifesto, a text that has been supported by "liberal hawks," many of whom one presumes Judt would find fault with?

Continue reading "Tony Judt on "the Strange Death of Liberal America"" »

September 17, 2006


What to Talk About When You Talk About Iraq
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Progressives and liberals are flummoxed when it comes to what to say about Iraq.  Rather than reflecting weakness, indecision or political cowardice, the dilemma is genuine and not of their own making. 

Virtually every piece of good advice propounded by analysts in recent years - holding together the pre-invasion Iraqi army, internationalizing the war when it still might have been possible, treating the Iraqi people with utmost respect for human rights, manning the reconstruction effort adequately during the early, opinion-shaping days - was ignored.  The results have been so disastrous that many once valid proposals and approaches would now no longer work.   Yet with every step on the route toward utter intractability, progressives feel forced to answer the inevitable "that's what you said then, but what would you do in Iraq now."

The dilemmas of how to reply obvious:  if you speak about the geopolitical importance of preventing Iraq from becoming even more of a failed state amid a volatile region, you are coming out in favor of staying a course that's a manifest disaster.   After so many wise recommended mid-stream corrections have been rejected, words spent on how the Iraq operation should be more effectively deployed or managed, or how its goals should be refined, seem wasted.  With Rumsfeld at the helm, this is the war we have, not the war we want.  And that won't change anytime before the Administration does. 

Yet talk of withdrawal - or even strategic redeployment to outlying parts of the region - is portrayed as turning our back against the most important and costly military intervention of a generation.   Echoing Vietnam, if we do withdraw we will always wonder whether, with a different strategy and different leadership, success might have been in reach.

Under the circumstances, the right position on the war is that . . .

Continue reading "What to Talk About When You Talk About Iraq" »

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