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November 10, 2006

Progressive Strategy

A Conservative Framing Coup - Threat Assessment
Posted by Marc Grinberg

I was recently discussing the North Korea nuclear test with a fellow liberal friend.  I noted that the prospect of a nuclear North Korea was somewhat unnerving, given Kim Jong-Il's personality and the country's development of ICBMs.  "Do you really think we should bomb North Korea?" he responded.

Excuse me?  From where in the statement "a nuclear North Korea makes me nervous" did he infer that I was advocating military action?

While his response was out of left field, his reaction was not entirely uncommon.  I recently co-authored a political article titled "A Progressive Battle Plan for National Security" for The Democratic Strategist.  Among the critiques we received was that our message proposal for Iran was a call for "bombs away."

Our (partial) messaging proposal for Iran was as follows:

"If any issue should arouse the passion of Democrats, it is the spread of nuclear weapons to a radical Iranian government. Iran is a nation that stones women, publicly executes homosexuals, suppresses its minorities, and has violated the most basic human rights we fight for as Democrats. Allowing Iran to build a nuclear weapon would strengthen this government's hand against their own people. And nuclear proliferation--which would spread from Iran to the rest of the region--poses the greatest human rights abuse of all: threatening to destroy millions of lives in a war or a nuclear accident."

Can someone please tell me where in that paragraph we advocated military action against Iran?  I'll give you a hint - nowhere.  What we did do was spend a paragraph listing just some of the reasons why liberals should oppose Iranian nuclear proliferation.

What concerns me is the increasing tendency among liberals (of all stripes) to confuse taking a security threat (or a moral travesty) seriously, with advocating an armed response to that threat.  The Bush Administration has already stolen democracy promotion and a moral foreign policy from liberals.  Has it now taken ownership of the ability to assess threats to American security?  If so, conservatives have succeeded in defining the terms of the national security debate to a degree I never thought possible. 

Liberals are, after all, the ones that understand that addressing the challenges America faces requires us to use all the tools in our toolkit.  If even the most hardcore of us now intuitively think that those who address threats are advocating military action, then the Republicans have succeeded framing the debate - in convincing the public that the use of force is the only legitimate response to security threats.  This was, of course, always their goal.  If they could get Americans to think like this, then liberal policies would never be seen as credible.

Instead of questioning the existence (or, at least, seriousness) of threats, liberals need to change the way the American people think about national security policy: the military shouldn't be the only thing that comes to mind - economic development, education, democracy, diplomacy and countless other tools are, in most situations, more powerful than our armed forces.  I'm preaching to the choir, of course, you all know this.

And yet the trend has not been to advocate for smarter uses of American power, but to deny the reality of threats to American security.  Not only is this dangerous (there are serious threats out there), but it is also a political dead-end.  Even if the public agrees with us on policy, they will never trust us with their security if they do not believe we understand their fears.

As much as we oppose the Bush Administration's tendency to take the debate directly from security threat to military response, it should not blind us of the fact that there are real security (and moral) threats in the world.  If we are to change the way the American public sees national security, we have to do it by convincing them that our approach to threats is the better one, not by denying the existence of these threats altogether.

November 09, 2006

Capitol Hill

Speaker Pelosi: Heal the Institution
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

For the last several years, I have been riding my bike home, out of the Rayburn Building, down the Mall and then along the river to Adams Morgan, the neighborhood in DC where I live. Every evening, I'd stop my bike, turn around at the reflecting pool and say to the lit and glowing Capitol building, "Just hold on, it's going to be okay"

My love affair with the US Congress has existed since I was a teenage intern. And halleluja, we now have the chance to make things right again.

I'm sure I speak for many when I say that those of us who have been working on the inside of Congress over the past decade feel a special gratitude for what happened on Tuesday. Our poor beleaguered legislature  has been so tormented, its processes so polluted, that to simply re-establish basic rules of oversight and participation will seem revolutionary.

I watched the returns come in on Tuesday with a statistics scholar who specializes in the US Government. Like two civics-weenies I lamented about the erosion of the legislative branch while he chimed in about the agencies. All of which--after 6 years of the Bush
Administration-- look like the institutional equivalent of swiss cheese.  From intimidated bureaucrats to over-privatized responsibilities, our government is hurting badly. Many election autopsies had two things in common: 1. that this victory is owed to the
conservative swerve by Democrats and 2. that there is no mandate but lots of opportunity.  I think the first is bunk, this was a progressive victory. But I do agree with number two: The situation is rich with opportunity. With or without the White House, Congress can now establish a governing philosophy that carries on the American tradition of progressive leadership.

Opportunities for Congress:

Get busy repairing the Spirit of the Law while working to restore the letter of the Law: The Pelosi principles of integrity, civility and accountability are good starting points. This imperative is the difference between the moral obligations and the legal obligations of elected leadership. As we've learned, Congress doesn't HAVE to be truly representative. (locking your colleagues out of rooms, denying recognition, not allowing dialogue on the House floor).  The first rule of conflict resolution is to be as generous and inclusive

Continue reading "Speaker Pelosi: Heal the Institution" »

November 08, 2006

Capitol Hill

Five Things Congress Could Do in Six Months
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

further to what Shadi and Suzanne have written on what next (ok, maybe we couldn't pass an energy transformation bill in six months, but it'd sure be worth trying):

1.  Homeland Security.  9-11 Commission recommendations, especially (finally) creating stronger standards for chemical plants and other hazardous-material facilities.  If they can't be passed, it'd be clear why.  And oversight, oversight, oversight.

2.  Reinvigorate a real non-proliferation agenda.  The US has been absent or outright hostile to efforts to re-invigorate the global non-proliferation regime for the 21st century.  It's time to turn that around, because the global consensus has never been under more threat, or more needed.  Various experts have put forward ideas on how to create verification and enforcement mechanisms that are relevant to the 21st century. Congress should, as Senator Clinton proposed last week, hold hearings that spotlight the problem and air possible responses.

3.  Energy Transformation.  I don't under-estimate the difficulty of this, but quite a few Senators, D and R (Lugar, Obama, Lieberman, Kerry, Clinton and more), have put forward thoughtful proposals about how to move forward toward a cleaner energy future and away from our dependence on oil and the resulting deformation of our foreign policy.  Several of them are thinking of running for President, so it ought to be in their interest to move something through Congress.

4.  Global Warming.  While they're at it on #3, direct the Administration to re-engage in international climate talks and come up with a next phase proposal.  Have some hearings to start acquainting the public with what that might entail.

5.  Europe.  I'd start thinking now about making sure we send really strong, well-briefed delegations to the various winter security conferences in Western Europe, with the message that partnership is back in business, that we want to listen to our allies but we also have some clear priorities and ideas about how we can move forward on neglected common interests.

Three other, less well-formed ideas:  high-profile inquiry into what more we could be doing to support democracy in Latin America; go back to the many good initiatives on Iraq that got partway through Congress earlier this year, maybe starting with mandating more specific progress reports and benchmarks from the Administration; invite new UNSG Ban Ki Moon down to Congress and have three well-publicized reform priorities to give him (betcha Suzanne could come up with those in a heartbeat).

Oh, and overturn the "global gag rule" that has made our international family planning assistance a nightmare for small rural clinics that are all-in-one shops offering women's health, family planning and abortion services.


Post-Election Odds and Ends
Posted by Shadi Hamid

1. The Guardian turns pro-American? Simon Jenkins tell us that "Americans Should be Proud."

2. Natonal Review self-parody alert....ummm...where to begin? Why is Kathryn Jean Lopez so obsessed with Rick Santorum?

3. David Tell of The Weekly Standard gets award for best election prediction in a conservative mag.

4. Most impressive piece of day after spin. From Hugh Hewitt:

And it is a wonderful day for new media, especially talk radio.  For two years we have had to defend the Congressional gang that couldn't shoot straight.  Now we get to play offense.

5. Democratic troops liberate planet Rush.

6. Ennis wins Montana for Tester?

7. Gracious in defeat? Tally one for Rep. Mike Pence. Self-criticism is cool again in conservative circles. In a statement released earlier today, Pence says:

Election day 2006 will be remembered as a turning point in American political history. Twenty-five years after the Reagan Administration came to Washington with a conservative agenda of limited government, the American people chose a different course.

It is the duty of the losing party in a free election to humbly accept defeat and to acknowledge that the people are sovereign in the People's House.

As we examine the results of this election, it is imperative that we listen to the American people and learn the right lessons.

Some will argue that we lost our majority because of scandals at home and challenges abroad. I say, we did not just lose our majority, we lost our way.


Brave New... White House?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

So let me get this straight:

the man who doesn't read polls, "stays the course," and just last week pledged the Rumsfeld would be "with him to the end," removed his Defense Secretary before the election tallies are even final? (it seemed clear from the news conference Q and A that the decision was made before the elections... i wonder whether the coordinated military newspaper editorials calling for Rumsfeld's removal were the final nail?)

the man who has hardly had any use for first Bush Administration loyalists replaces Don Rumsfeld with his father's CIA director?

ok, is it just me or is it odd to put in as head of DoD someone who appears not to have served in the military -- which, given his age, would mean he avoided the draft??  UPDATE:  Marc Grinberg says Gates did serve two years giving intel briefings to ICBM crews:  more here.  I still wish he had more recent military experience...

and read the text of Bush's 1pm news conference and tell me if bits of it don't sound directly cribbed from the Bill Clinton playbook?  (And, White House speechwriters, that joke about giving Nancy Pelosi names of decorators for her new drapes:  not funny.  Better do some remedial work on interacting with women professionals.  Fast.)

It really is a new world.

Progressive Strategy

Relief and Redemption
Posted by Shadi Hamid

It feels damn good. Thank God freaking OBL kept his mouth shut. The Karl Rove we created in our own minds no longer exists, or perhaps he never really did. I remember the sense of profound disappointment so many of us felt two years ago. I was in Jordan then with a bunch of expats at the Amman Hyatt (which was blown up by terrorists a year later). We woke up the morning after depressed, not quite knowing what hit us. But this time around, there is redemption, finally. Despite conservative machinations, gerrymandering, and other forms of institutional hanky-panky, we have yet more evidence that democracy does in fact work. Alternation of power is a beautiful thing. My parents, who grew up under a repressive dictatorship, never knew what that was before they came to the States. Santorum thanked God last night, and so did I. 

So, anyway, to jump off Suzanne’s last post: where do we go from here? It would be easy now to indulge in political revenge, particularly after the rampant Mitch McConnelism of the last few years. Let’s resist that temptation and keep our eye on the ball. As progressives, we may disagree on Iraq, democracy promotion, the Patriot Act, and on whether or not to call Condi “Dr. Rice” or just “Condi.” But, for now, we can and must agree on one thing: that politics has to be cleaned up. If this election was about anything, it was about the corrupting influences of power, of how a conservative “revolution” with noble origins and lofty intentions descended into tragic self-parody. Ideas no longer meant anything, if not in the service of narrow partisan goals. These are the lessons that must be learned.

We are Liberals and we’re proud of it. We have to stay positive, be ourselves, and restore people’s faith in government. We have two years to perform and prove to the American people that they made the right choice. Now that the campaign is over, let’s throw out the polls, the focus groups, and the hollow politics that has so often paralyzed us, and let’s demonstrate that not only are we better than the conservatives (a low order indeed), but that we have a clear, bold, forward-looking agenda on domestic and foreign policy – an agenda that is defined not by what we think people want to hear but by a set of deeply-held principles and beliefs.

Continue reading "Relief and Redemption" »

November 07, 2006


Armitage: A Referendum on Fear
Posted by Michael Signer

Among many, here's one key thing this election is about:  the American people's gradual decision, after five years of reflecting on the Bush Administration's particular foreign policy of fear and fear alone, that fear alone won't work as a response to 9/11. 

For its power to sustain, a unilateral power must attract admiration as well as awe.  Neocons have never understood this.  People Michael Ledeen have wrongly cited Machiavelli's supposed adage "it is better to be feared than loved" for stuff like the following:

"We can lead by the force of high moral example, [but] fear is much more reliable, and lasts longer. Once we show that we are capable of dealing out terrible punishment to our enemies, our power will be far greater."

Machiavelli actually said something much different.  Machiavelli never it's better to be feared than to be loved. He says instead that it's safer to be feared, "if one of them has to be wanting."

It seemed like no one inside the Administration really ever recognized this, which is why it's seemed like such a harsh, almost willfully unreflective pocket of groupthink.

But we can read today about a fascinating shaft of light today from Richard Armitage, the leading member of Colin Powell's what-might-have-been team.  In a speech in Australia, he said:

Continue reading "Armitage: A Referendum on Fear" »

November 06, 2006

Progressive Strategy, Weekly Top Ten Lists

We Win: Then What?
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Whether progressives triumph in one or two houses of Congress tomorrow, they will immediately face tough questions about what to do next on the thorny foreign policy questions that have dominated the campaign.  Here are ten quick pieces of advice:

1. Don't Overstate the Influence of Congress Over Foreign Policy Making - Foreign policy is the responsibility of the executive branch.  Even in the majority, progressives will not be at the helm and shouldn't pretend to be.  Particularly given the hard-headedness of this administration (Dick Cheney's "full steam ahead" comment on Iraq yesterday epitomizes it) progressives should not pretend to enjoy more sway than they do.  For example, there's been lots of talk of a regional conference to activate Iraq's neighbors on behalf of stability.  That will be tough to make work, but especially so for an Administration that still won't admit what's gone wrong.

2. Don't Let Anyone Forget How We Got Here - The reason the American public is contemplating switching horses absent what many pundits thought was essential to progressive victory: namely, a consensus plan for Iraq, is that they have come to blame the Administration for creating an insoluble crisis.  Iraq will get likely get worse before it gets better, and a changeover on Capital Hill cannot undo most of the mistakes already made.   We need a bipartisan approach to digging out from the crisis, but should not lose sight of who got us into it.

3. Don't Expect an Easy Out From Iraq - Lots of progressives have been speaking as though some tough talk to the al-Maliki government in Iraq will get it to step up to the plate, get security under control, and allow us to exit without a complete meltdown into sectarian violence.  While I don't pretend to know to what degree the Iraqi government's failings are attributable to lack of will versus lack of competence, it seems certain that regardless, the problem will not be solved.  While it may make good campaign rhetoric, its not plausible that the government is willfully allowing their country to devolve into chaos but, with the right stern words, will suddenly reverse course and get things under control.  Short of that all scenarios are pretty bleak.

4.  Be Honest with the American Public - Half-truths got us into Iraq, but they won't get us out.  With greater control in the Congress, progressives will have the authority to unpack the Administration's statements and claims and let the public in on the truth about how the war effort is going, what the likely consequences of withdrawal will be, and what needs to be done to mitigate them.

5.  Look for a Handful of Tangible Ways to Push Policy in the Right Direction - Rather than trying to pull off a miracle in Iraq, progressives should focus on preventing the White House from digging us deeper into the whole, and on some tangible steps to address the worst of the policy lapses.  A few specifics:

Continue reading "We Win: Then What? " »

Progressive Strategy

Debating How to Appear "Strong"
Posted by Marc Grinberg

I argued earlier that part of the liberal security problem is the belief that liberals won't do what needs to be done to keep America safe (aka we are not seen as "strong").  So how do we fix this?  Before we move forward on this, we must answer a fundamental question, which Shadi raises here: what does it mean to be "strong"? 

I hope that my fellow bloggers will join us in answering this challenging question. 

It is important to begin with the understanding that "strength" is a perception issue, not a policy one.  Whether or not a policy makes our country stronger in the long run is (mostly) irrelevant to how it is viewed by the public.  It is also important to note that the public assesses "strength" mostly in reference to grand strategies or approaches to national security, not in specific policies.  Strategists and politicians should not get caught up on debating whether a particular policy choice will be seen as "strong."  What is important is that our overall strategy is perceived as "strong."

The question for us to discuss here is whether liberals can approach national security in a way that will be perceived as "strong," without simply copying conservatives?  And if so, how?

I believe that we can be perceived as "strong" and as liberal at the same time.  The perceived strength of a policy strategy, it seems, has more to do with the "ways" and "means" that are made available for use than with the specific details of the strategy or individual policies.  By this I mean that a national security approach will be perceived as "strong" if it includes an explicit willingness to use all the reasonable tools at our disposal (means) and an explicit willingness to act aggressively (don't read: militarily) in pursuit of our ends (ways).

What is most important here are the words "explicit" and "willingness."  Explicit means that liberals must make it absolutely clear (and believable) to the American public that every reasonable option is always on the table (yes, there can be exceptions when the act of articulating that all options are on the table is bad policy in itself).  Willingness implies that each tool does not actually need to be used in every instance, it just needs to be realistically considered as an option.

I've presented here some preliminary ideas, what does everyone else think?

(This post has been updated slightly in order to clarify several points.  I thank Dan Kervick for his comments.)

Progressive Strategy

A Brief Response...
Posted by Marc Grinberg

Some important questions have been raised about the argument in my original post - that the liberal's national security problem is not one of policy but of marketing.  To be clear, the purpose of the post was to describe the problem (my thoughts on addressing it were for the future- check back soon!).  But it is clear that several concerns arise from my characterization of the security problem.

Read on...

Continue reading "A Brief Response..." »

Progressive Strategy

How to Really be "Strong" on National Security
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Marc brings up some points in his latest post that are worth looking into further. The problem, as he states it, is that "when it comes to pulling the lever…[the voters’] intuition is that they cannot trust liberals with their safety.” Fair enough.

He says that this is a problem of messaging rather than policy. He cites, for example, the “mistaken belief” that Democrats "aren’t sincere when they take strong positions on national security.” There are a couple concerns here: first of all, when someone like Harold Ford, Jr. comes out with an ad where he brags us that he “voted for the Patriot Act, five million in defense, and against amnesty for illegals,” I get both a little uncomfortable and a little suspicious. Ford’s unequivocal support for the Patriot Act seems to be more a function of his need to cater to relatively conservative Tennessee voters, rather than a function of his “belief” in a “strong” national security.

However, let’s say for argument's sake that Ford really does happen to love the Patriot Act. This is equally problematic, because while it may convey “strength” on national security, it doesn’t necessarily make us any more strong or secure in reality. I suppose the issue here is how we define “strength.” Progressives have to be very careful not to accept the current parameters of national security discourse as natural givens. And, at the risk of stating the obvious, certain provisions of the Patriot Act are blatantly antithetical to the rich civil liberties tradition of liberals, a tradition which animates us, defines us, and - one hopes - distinguishes us from modern-day conservatives.

The problem is that many Democrats fall into the trap of “overcompensation,” that, fearful of being painted as soft on security, we take public positions that appear contrived, because they are in fact contrived, a function of our obsession with polls and focus groups more than a function of deeply-held liberal values. And if there are, in fact, liberals/progressives out there who genuinely support the Patriot Act without reservation then it calls into serious question how exactly our liberal values inform our approach to national security.

Marc, what do you think?

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