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October 07, 2006

Progressive Strategy

The Battle and the War
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Over at the Democratic Strategist, a new webzine showcase for progressive minds like Ruy Teixeira, Bill Galston and others, I'm involved in a roundtable on that hardy perennial, "whither Democrats and national security?"

You can check out the Truman Project paper and various responses (so far mine and Gary Hart's) on their site.

Here on our non-partisan site, it's just a useful opportunity to recall that, however much foreign policy gets pulled into elections these days, the results mirror the public's views on issues and priorities through a glass darkly at best.  Really producing a broadening in public thinking -- or rather, giving the public a chance and a voice to express the broader views that emerge in deliberative polling or town hall exercises -- requires a kind of progressive and bipartisan activism that's rather different from election-time talking points. 

--making the effort to weave diverse bits of activism into a common narrative -- for example, the relationship among AIDS, poverty and security, or among oil prices, global warming and the innovation economy -- and then referencing that narrative whenever possible;

--committing to talk about foreign policy in ways regular folks can relate to, and starting where they are, not where we wish they were;

-- and committing to talk to regular folks about foreign policy all the time, not just in election years.

October 06, 2006


Check-Bouncing Then, Mark Foley Now?
Posted by Michael Signer

I've been sitting here for an un-blog-like amount of time (well over 20 minutes) trying to figure out what to write on foreign affairs and having no luck -- not because there isn't a lot going on, whether in Iraq or with the revelations that Dr. Strangelove is again running American foreign policy.  But, rather, my writer's block is coming from the strange, dizzying, Foley feeling a lot of political watchers are experiencing right now.  The oxygen has literally been sucked out of the blogosphere.  Man, this story has legs.

As any PS 101 student knows, it's extremely hard to unseat incumbents.  The only thing that will do it, en masse, is a scandal that emotionally crystallizes for voters, in a very generic and immediate way, a sense of outrage that can be applied to any old incumbent, with electoral effects. 

I've been trying to do some research on the most analogous event in recent history, which was the check-bouncing scandal that engulfed Congress from 1990 to 1992. 

Continue reading "Check-Bouncing Then, Mark Foley Now?" »

October 05, 2006

Capitol Hill

Congress and Iraq: The Lying and the Dying
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

"Predatorgate" and the self-immolation of Congress has swept the headlines for the fourth straight day. In that same amount of time, we've lost a 22 Americans in Iraq and civilian carnage is at an all-time high. Meanwhile, tomorrow is the fifth anniversary  of the war in Afghanistan and Congress has slashed funding  for veterans with brain injuries.

Having worked in Congress for the past 8 years,I can say I'm not completely surprised at the majority's undoing. This is a situation where old tropes explain a lot, like absolute power corrupts absolutely.  I have still never found a better report on the degeneration of our legislature than this Boston Globe series  from 2004. It sets the stage for what is happening today.

Until and unless there is a balance of power in Washington, this kind of covering-up, lying and trying to circumvent both laws and ethical conduct will persist.  Speaker Hastert should resign out of embarrassment for what he has presided over. Add to that the extraordinary corruption of the Iraq contracting process, the Katrina contracting process, the selling off of "earmarks", the arrest and jailing of a series of top Congressional staffers turned "lobbyists," the creation of a K street goon squad, shaking down business interests for campaign contributions, the systemic buying off of journalists, the degradation of the committee and budgeting process, the zero oversight, the acceptance of torture, warrentless spying on American citizens. This is a shameful period in our history.   

What's happening today isn't an accident, but an outcome. It points out why liberals need to include a new vision of government--one that unifies us and protects the public--in their message for a changed direction.  No more running on that aw-shucks libertarian platform of the government as the bad guy.

Today's leadership has done far more damage than is evident on the evening news.

Continue reading "Congress and Iraq: The Lying and the Dying" »

October 04, 2006


Pizza is the New Spaghetti
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Can we stop comparing Islamic extremism/radical Islamism/or whatever else we might wish to call it to Western ideologies. I understand the temptation to make the unfamiliar seem familiar but, in the wrong hands, such comparisons obscure much more than they clarify. In a recent interview, Niall Ferguson, scoffs at “Islamism is the new fascism,” but then tells us that Islamism is the new Marxism. Fine, I can understand where he’s going with this, but what, ultimately, does it really mean to say that radical Islamism = Lenin plus the Koran? It’s sort of like saying spaghetti is like pizza. Yes, they both have sauce and I personally like to sprinkle as much parmesan cheese as possible on both. But then what? Sometimes, comparisons, even if they make some degree of sense, are quite pointless. As Daniel Drezner suggests, why can’t we just understand political Islam and its various derivatives for what they actually are and not for what we would like to think they resemble?

October 03, 2006


Reading Jim Baker's tea leaves
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Trying to anticipate what the "Baker Commission" will come out with as recommendations for Iraq is one of Washington's better current parlor games, should you need a break from betting on the midterms.

Two weeks ago, I was hearing that the Commissioners were "hopelessly" split.  At least they're in touch with the mood of the country.

Today, though, The Note points out a Texas Monthly interview in which Baker apparently says that withdrawal would be a terrible thing.  That would seem to suggest that they won't be coming out with a plan that provides the Administration with a fig leaf for changing course; or, on the other hand, perhaps it suggests exactly that.

(He also declines to give a ringing endorsement to Rumsfeld, for those following THAT parlor game.)


Welcoming the Converts
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Is it just me or is the Andrew Sullivan the most intellectually honest blogger/writer out there today? In a recent post, he flirts with the possibility of switching sides:

Well, we've had Reagan Democrats. And we've had Goldwater Republicans. Why not a new version: Goldwater Democrats? By Goldwater Democrats, I mean old-style libertarian conservatives who actually believe in fiscal responsibility, small government, prudent foreign policy and live-and-let-live social policy. After being told we are completely unwelcome among Republicans, should we shift to the Dems?

I have never thought of myself as a Democrat or left-liberal in any way. And there are plenty of people among Democrats I do not agree with at all. But it's getting to the point that the illiberal, authoritarian big government Christianism of the GOP makes me completely supportive of backing the Democrats this time around. My one reservation is, of course, spending. But at this point, could they be worse than the GOP? No Congress has been worse on spending than the current crew since FDR! The war? Again, at this point, we desperately need some check on an administration utterly without prudence or a capacity for self-correction.

If Andrew Sullivan and others like him would like to join the Democratic Party, then I say welcome. Not only that, I think the Democrats will be stronger for it. Apparently, Markos Moulitsas - another former Republican - is doing some outreach, taking names, and looking for converts in an article for Cato Unbound, titled "The Case for the Libertarian Democrat." So, Sullivan continues, taking his post to an interesting and perhaps inevitable conclusion:

And so I find myself in a very uneasy alliance with Markos Moulitsas, who writes the lead essay in the libertarian magazine Cato Unbound. Strange bedfellows. But these are strange times.

October 02, 2006


What Comes First - Elections or Institutions?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

It is usual for opponents of democracy promotion to belittle elections and elevate institutions. This is a variation of the prerequisites argument – that before you push for democracy, you must first have various indices satisfied (i.e. strong middle class, liberal elites, economic growth). This argument often doubles as a high-minded way of saying that third-world peoples – and particularly Arabs – need to be like us before they can enjoy democracy. 

With that said, there is no doubting that it is better to have democratic institutions then not to have them. Democratization in, say, Egypt would be a less risky and contentious affair if well-rooted, legitimate institutions were in place.

In emerging polities, the question has always been whether institutional arrangements have the capacity to absorb the participatory demands of the electorate. Where institutions are weak, what Samuel Huntington calls “wild democracy” or “mass praetorianism” is more likely to take hold. Where institutions are autonomous and legitimate, even the most reckless demagogues will fail in their efforts to transform the political structure. This is why the Bush administration has failed and will continue to fail in its bid to do away with the Geneva conventions, legitimize torture, establish military tribunals, and impose Orwellian legislative projects (i.e. the now-defunct Patriot Act II). The lesson here is that institutions matter.

However, there are some problems with applying such a lesson to the Middle East. The US-supported autocrats now in power have gone out of their way to erode and stunt the development of indigenous institutions, for such institutions present a formidable threat to their unquenchable thirst for power and control. Which is why it is not surprising that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has spent a good chunk of his reign harassing the country’s venerable and relatively independent judiciary (one of the few holdovers of Egypt’s pre-1952 “liberal era”) and making the establishment of new political parties a nearly impossible endeavor. The Mubarak regime, one might argue, has tried to build (or maintain) some kind of "middle class" – but a “middle class” which is dependent on government largesse and therefore rendered incapable of exerting democratic pressure on Egypt’s rulers. One would hope that something as basic as a “Vice President” would exist in the netherworld of Egyptian politics. It does not. There is no institutionalized mode of succession. Then again, I suppose you don’t need one if you’re planning on making your country into a monarchy.

Continue reading "What Comes First - Elections or Institutions?" »

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