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December 09, 2006

Progressive Strategy

Can "We" Be A Movement?
Posted by Ali Eteraz

I apologize for the inordinately long delay between postings. I was busy getting Eteraz.Org: States of Islam up and running. It is an interactive blog community related to the religion and politics of Islam, as well as general political discussion, and is open to all. It's existence ties in with what I'm going to talk about here.

I have been pretty actively reading the debates at various smaller progressive blogs, as well as a lot of the foreign policy discussions taking place at DailyKos. In the post-victory atmosphere, I'm not exactly seeing very much that makes me hopeful. It is my contention that the "left" is now firmly split between the Truman Democrat and the Isolationist position, and the former is in danger of being overrun because it does not exist as a cohesive movement, but only as something that "DC insiders" know about.

Today's Isolationist Leftist shares almost nothing with a Truman Democrat in terms of foreign policy. Here are the six foreign policy "principles" that define a Truman Democrat: American exceptionalism, the use of force, American hegemony, the world community, liberal-mindedness, and helping the least well off. Today's Isolationist Left rejects the first three of those without a thought (because they are presumed to be solely belonging to the Neo-Cons). The other three are accepted as long as they do not require having to affirm any of the first three principles.

Perhaps nowhere is this split better reflected than in the issue of Iraq. The Isolationist Left wants an immediate withdrawal. Let the chips fall where they may afterward. A Truman Democrat wants to use diplomacy to engage the regional powers, wants to engage the Iraqi police so the country does not descend into nefarious sectarianism (and to prevent a potential human catastrophe), and would, in the future, provide for financial support of all democratic elements in Iraq. In the event that Iran make a military move over Iraq, the Isolationist Left would conclude that such assertiveness by Iran was an unavoidable consequence of us having entered the war. A Truman Democrat would, on the other hand, agitate for immediate quasi-military action to push Iran back (though likely to withhold from all out war).

In other words, it is time we accepted that vast gulf between a Truman Democrat and an Isolationist Leftist. This is hard to swallow, I know, because a Truman Democrat shares many many many principles of importance with the Isolationist Left within the domestic sphere -- shares views on immigration, civil liberties, women's rights, minority rights, labor, regulation, and so on. So the question becomes, if the gulf on the foreign policy issue is really insurmountable, but unity on the domestic front almost necessary (in order to keep the conservatives at bay), how can Truman Democrats ever do the kind of foreign policy they want to engage in?

It's pretty simple: Truman Democrats need to become a "movement" that covers not merely foreign policy, but extends itself to all elements of the domestic sphere. Right now, I am labeling this post "progressive strategy." Yet, I have to be honest. When I think of "progressives" I don't think of a Truman Democrat. No, I think of the Isolationist Leftists (with whom I share a domestic agenda), whose biggest foreign policy issue right now is whether to impeach Bush or not and who have virtually no qualms in leaving the Iraqi and Afghani populace in the midst of massive civil wars (that our country begat). As I see it (from the rank and file position as I am no wonk), Truman Democrats need a movement.

Are they to choose Centrism? Center-Leftism? "Liberalism?" (careful there, the center-right hawks already took that one over). My very simple fear is that we -- all of us on the Left -- are and have already, by virtue of having declared ourselves "progressives" bought into supporting the Isolationist Leftist big-whigs. I am looking at the Democracy Arsenal blogroll right now (and admittedly it doesn't reflect an ideological affiliation), but I am seeing the names of a bunch of progressives whose views on foreign policy are largely driven by negation: we will do the opposite of what those cursed conservatives do.

I'm afraid to say, but I think the Truman-Democrats need to start to diversify. They need to make mini celebrities out of themselves. They need to start to touch the rank and file. Thing is, they know full well that they are lacking in this department and do make occassional efforts to take their position populist. But they need to do more. They need to create a viable netroots. They need to start showing up in progressive webzines (like Counterpunch and Cursor) and try and create a dialogue on the issue of foreign policy with their Isolationist Leftist brethren (with whom they have a shared domestic agenda, I reiterate).

It is not too late to do this. But it can get out of hand. In UK, the split between the Isolationists and their equivalent of the Truman Democrats is complete. If anyone even so much as suggests that he/she would like to remain in Iraq to prevent a catastrophe that would be caused by our presence there, they are immediately labeled fascist and Nazi. I know this because while I am not British I followed the Euston Manifesto very closely. You'd think that the Eustonites -- if you listened only to the British Isolationist Progressive -- were a bunch of neo-imperialistic colonizers.

This is what the Truman Democrats are going to be called by their Isolationist Leftist brethren. Unless they do something. Unless they create a broad and wide-ranging social movement (which means it has to be more than just a foreign policy movement).

I have some idea on how this can be accomplished. I'll lay out some pointers right now:

  1. Destroy the illusion (and that is all it really is), that you guys (wonks) are merely elitist wonks. There is only one way to do this. You have to get your message out to as many people as possible (I'm talking about sheer number). You do this by relaying on what I am going to term "intermediate authorities." (People who are not wonks but do tend to think that the wonks have something meanginful to impart).
  2. Write in those publications which are currently dominated by Isolationist Leftists -- where the only view on foreign policy is the one where the Left does what the Right is not doing.
  3. Try to reach out to those people in the Center-Right who are turned off by the Right at the moment. This is a brief moment but the opportunity is out there right now. A Truman Democrat does this by peddling not the first three of the six principles listed above (they already agree with you on this and will tell you that you are nothing more than a Neo-con), but by peddling the last three. A large part of the Center-Right is very concerned about the fact that our heavy handed policies are turning an entire religion against us. We can go in and say (and prove) that we are willing to work with forces in that religion which support us. This will warm many hearts on the Center-Right.
  4. Reach out to the large Muslim bloc in Western English speaking nations. This is almost common sense. Muslim communities in England, Canada, UK, are almost dogmatically anti-Bush. But they are not Isolationist because they don't really like to see their co-religionists kill each other. One place to start this project is at Eteraz.Org.
  5. Reach out to the reeeeeally well established netroots of self-proclaimed "Centrists." They are dying to hear the Truman Democrat message on foreign policy. This is the ideal place for a "movement" to begin. Right now, the only foreign policy view that these "Centrists" have available to them is a Neo-Con tinged one.

Me and fellow activists are more than willing to offer our rank and file services in the pursuit of these endeavors. However, it means that more active engagement will be required from the experts (you guys). Democracy Arsenal has been self-enclosed long enough. So has Qahwa Sada. So has the Truman Project. I really have no doubt that you guys have got all the theoretical problems ironed out (and those that you don't, you can figure them out later).

I can do my part. I can offer to make Eteraz.Org a launching pad for the dispersion that is necessary. I think of you as elites. I want to have you come over and talk to the housewives, defense contractors, students, and librarians that hang out (in great numbers) within our community. The site has demonstrated success in touching Centrists and Center-Rightists as well as vast numbers of English speaking Muslims. 100,000 page views in three weeks. As great as Democracy Arsenal and the Truman Project are, they are not places where people like me do too well. We prefer plain-speak and really have very few facts to back up what we think is the "right" thing to do. When we come to places like this we become stiff.

At some point the Truman Democrats have to become a movement. At the expense of sounding like a pompous revolutionary I have to say that the movement is now.

Please share your thoughts in the comments, via email, or telepathically.

December 08, 2006


Fruit Salad: Lumps or Splits?
Posted by Michael Signer

I was over at the Senate today and ended up talking with someone who works on a related committee about the Iraq Study Group, and he agreed with my assessment that the tug of war right now over the developing assessment of the Report -- not to mention its legacy -- reminds one of the 9/11 Commission.  As they say, there are lumpers and there are splitters. 

James Baker framed the stakes this way

"I hope we don't treat this as a fruit salad, and say, 'I like this but I don't like that."

Continue reading "Fruit Salad: Lumps or Splits?" »


Hong Kong and Human Nature
Posted by Marc Grinberg

HONG KONG -- I've always assumed that political freedom is a fundamental human desire.  Men would sacrifice great treasure and, for some, life itself in pursuit of this liberty.  Recent events seemed to confirm this assumption - Iraqis risking death for the chance to vote, students in Iran facing violent reprisals and jail time for protesting the government, the Orange Revolution, etc.

However, after spending a week in Hong Kong, I'm no longer convinced that the fundamental-ness of this desire is universal.   While I still believe that political freedom is a universal desire, I'm not sure that it is universally fundamental - that is, that for all people it trumps all (or most) other desires.

I asked a Hong Konger (yes, that's the nationality of a person from Hong Kong) friend of mine to tell me about democracy in Hong Kong.  "It sucks," he replied. "Because it is not democracy at all."  In Hong Kong the chief executive is hand picked by China.  The legislature has 60-seats: 30 elected by direct election and 30 elected by functional constituencies, that is interest groups with close ties to Beijing.  Freedom House scores political freedom in Hong Kong a 5 out of 7, where 1 is completely free and 7 is Belarus.  Not what you expect from "Asia's World City."

"Why then does the status-quo persist?" I asked. "Why don't the people of Hong Kong push for greater democracy?"  Hong Kong, after all, is one of Asia's most Western cities - the people are certainly exposed to liberal ideas about democracy.  And opinion polls show large majorities of Hong Kongers do in fact want greater democracy.

"People in Hong Kong are practical," he responded.  By this, he meant that a push for greater political freedom would inevitably cause instability and, at least short term, interruptions in the economy.  Most Hong Kongers are first and foremost driven by money.  This may now be cliche, but from my observations it seems to be true (I have dozens of stories if you ask nicely).  If the fight for political freedom causes even short-term drops in wealth, then it is not a sacrifice most are willing to make.

So what does this tell us about democracy and human nature?  Is it possible that the desire for political freedom arises not from nature but from nurture?  That is, do we yearn for democracy because we have been taught (through culture and education, etc.) that it is a fundamental right and not because it is an intrinsic human instinct?  And if this is the case, does it change how those of us who support the promotion of democracy abroad go about doing it?

December 07, 2006


Baker and Hamilton Hoping for a Miracle
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

While I cannot muster a full analysis of the Iraq Study Group Report, below are some off the cuff reactions.  I will generally leave out the many points I agree with, other than to comment that I was pleasantly surprised by the Report's realistic and hard-headed take, having expected more sugar-coating to placate Bush.  There's also something almost touchingly idealistic and optimistic about the Report, which lays out a lot of really difficult-to-accomplish and probably far-fetched goals in plain terms that makes them sound achievable. 

The New Diplomatic Offensive

In arguing for a "diplomatic offensive" (personally I would leave out the offensive part), the Report's claim is that Iran and Syria have an interest in avoiding a chaotic Iraq.  But is this motivation more powerful than their incentive in seeing the US continue to stew alone in its juices in Iraq when our Iraqi preoccupation, as the Report acknowledges, stands in the way of our aggressively confronting, for example, Iran's nuclear program?  The Report suggests that Iran will look bad if it stands aloof from a regional process, but they'll undoubtedly couch the refusal to play so that it sounds like we refused to engage them on their own terms.

As for other regional neighbors, like Saudi Arabia, who are more favorably disposed toward the US, I am skeptical that they'll be willing to assume the risks associated with aggressive border patrols, providing military assistance, and the other kinds of support suggested in recommendation #2.  It would be great if it happened, but I don't think we have the leverage to force it, and I don't see these countries coming to our aid voluntarily right now. 

I have the same fear re the UNSC P5 and countries like Germany and Japan.  The threat posed to them by a failed state in Iraq is pretty remote, and the Bush Administration has yet to eat the kind of humble pie that would be required to induce them to lend a serious hand.  They won't refuse to participate, but once at the table getting concrete commitments will be slow and difficult.  Knowing that this will be a very tough sell in capitals, will Bush be willing to attempt it at the risk of failure?  Unclear.

The Report also argues, on p 44, that the morass of Middle East issues - Iran, Israel-Palestine, Lebanon etc. are inextricably linked and must all be addressed in the context of a regional diplomatic initiative to enlist help on Iraq.  But while I agree completely that the US should play - and has in recent years wrongly abdicated - a leadership role in mediating between Israel and the Palestinians and Arabs, the case for the near-term linkage between such efforts and a resolution in Iraq is not made clear. 

Prospects that a lame duck, widely discredited Bush Administration can successfully broker an Israel-Palestine settlement in this environment (Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, etc.) are at best remote.  The Report suggests that nonetheless the credit the US will get for trying will have a material positive impact on Iraq's neighbor's willingness to cooperate with us.  I doubt it, and frankly wonder whether the Administration has the leverage, bandwidth or energy to mount a MEPP effort right now (particularly given the parallel need for renewed efforts in Afghanistan).  They made several half-hearted such attempts in the early days of their first term only to retreat once progress proved difficult, and my fear is a renewed push would similarly sputter out.

Continue reading "Baker and Hamilton Hoping for a Miracle" »

Hurricane Katrina

Democracy Returns to New Orleans
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Week two in New Orleans. I spent all day last Saturday as a guest of the organization AmericaSpeaks  attending the Community Congress II . This was a meeting of nearly 3000 New Orleanians--many in the diaspora beamed in from Houston, Baton Rouge, Dallas and Atlanta. With simultaneous voting, lots of technology and professional facilitation, these citizens set a priority agenda for rebuilding their city called the Unified New Orleans Plan.

I saw more democracy in that convention center in six hours than I saw while working for the past 8 years on Capitol Hill. I'm only partly exaggerating. They had simultaneous translation into Vietnamese! It was astounding and impressive. People who had lost their homes were gracious and optimistic and intent on problem-solving. And the first table I sat at included a little old lady who banged her fist down and said "if we can send millions to Iraq to rebuild, why can't we help New Orleans?"  Indeed.  Building Amsterdam-like levees around the city would cost 8 billion. That's one month in Iraq war spending.

I was surprised to see many champion the importance of personal responsibility. There was very little victim language. Despite the fact that New Orleans is our American poster child for state failure. We own it. Government has failed the city at every level....expectations are--like the city--below sea level.  They had a good sense of humor about it.  At one point, the moderator on stage had a communications breakdown with the audience and responded "Don't go all FEMA on me".

Here's the irony for me:  I gripe all the time about how our conservative leadership has outsourced the public interest or sold it off to the highest bidder. Well, this was a case of outsourcing that was  just excellent. New Orleans--having received effectively no help from any public entity--outsourced its participatory democracy with philanthropic funding.  Check out the results .  This is all a great innovation in bolstering democracy but remember, we pay taxes so our government will respond to us citizens.  Private philanthropy and NGOs are no substitute for that.  One of the ways conservatives have dominated the agenda for the past decades is by keeping progressives running in circles trying to replace with private money things that rightfully should be paid for by taxes: like representative government.

We have to save New Orleans. As poet-rapper Hollywood Delahoussaye spoke during half-time "you are not just where I live, you are who I am"

New Orleans should be in everyone's top five favorite cities. If its not, there is something wrong with you. It would be like not liking dogs.

And that evening, while shopping for Christmas, I saw a wedding parade. 

Sunday I attended Rootscamp DC .  Check out the site and the lists of organizations working on progressive campaigns. That's something to be proud of.

December 06, 2006


1973 or 1968
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I wrote quickly this morning about the Iraq Study Group report and how it put me in mind of Vietnam in 1973.  As it happened, I ran into Mort Halperin at a meeting, and he assured me that we were only in 1968.  He recalled that in '68, the same day the "Wise Men" convened by Clark Clifford called for a US withdrawal, Johnson had a cable sent to our allies assuring them that the US would, instead, be sending more troops.  And of course, US involvement would continue seven more years and casualties would more than double.  Everything including public opinion moves faster now, though.  Right?

Interestingly, it's Rowan Scarborough in the Washington Times who made the Wise Men analogy yesterday.

Mort pledged to blog about this in more detail, so this post is just a little goad to hope he does...


Why Does This Remind Me of 1973?*
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

*Updated in post above.

ABC News has excerpts of the Iraq Study Group report.  I hope they're right that a strengthened focus on training Iraqis can produce an acceptable level of law and order.   I have to say that I wonder whether the violence, infighting and brutality have ben allowed to get to such a point that the logic of war will now prevail over the logic of internal control.  But I guess I had better hope that I am wrong.

If you're wondering what Americans think about all this, that polling David Shorr referred to is going to produce some fascinating insights on several elements of the Study Group's proposals.  Keep an eye on the PIPA site and the Stanley conference site for details today and tomorrow.

December 05, 2006

Human Rights

The New "Moral Clarity"?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

These pictures of Jose Padilla are disgusting (via Andrew). So much for the Bush administration’s “moral clarity.” For some, “morality” is apparently is so blinding that the ends always justify the means, no matter how horrific those means are. Liberals should be making the case very clearly that any administration that endorses torture is not and cannot be a moral one. It is disappointing that Democratic leaders aren’t making a bigger deal of the torture issue, the one issue which does, in fact, threaten the very moral foundations of our country more than anything else. Whatever Jose Padilla is being accused of (apparently not much), that doesn't justify making the man into a mental vegetable. We are talking about the destruction of another human being. From a recent New York Times article:

“During questioning, he often exhibits facial tics, unusual eye movements and contortions of his body,” Mr. Patel said. “The contortions are particularly poignant since he is usually manacled and bound by a belly chain when he has meetings with counsel.”

Let's also keep in mind that Padilla is a US citizen, one who is, presumably, subject to the conditions and guarantees of his Constitution. Of course, the Bush administration cares little about liberty at home, while talking a lot about it abroad (and, even then, it fails to follow up).

So liberals must say it without hesitation: we will not allow the fight against terror to cloud our moral judgment. Under no circumstance will be excuse, explain away, or justify torture. This is non-freakin'-negotiable. But maybe the Dems are afraid of saying this because they don’t want to be “soft” on national security. Well, if that’s the case, then we should be ashamed of ourselves. If this article on Padilla doesn’t provoke a sense of moral outrage in us, then we can throw our god-forsaken “morality” out the window.

In hindsight, I find it quite baffling that we impeached a president for getting a blow job. Today, we have a president who has actively supported and facilitated torture in the name of freedom and liberty, a form of hypocrisy which is an insult to every man and woman in uniform putting his or her life on the line. Which is worse? It’s not like Clinton even had sexual intercourse. The same cannot be said for quite a few current and former Republican congressmen. This is the new “moral clarity” for you. Enjoy.

December 04, 2006

The People Have Spoken, Again
Posted by David Shorr

If you wanted to minimize the significance of the elections, you might insist voters were merely venting their "frustration over Iraq." It's essentially a very narrow critique on the basis of competence: people can't quite understand why, but they know things are going badly over there, and they aren't happy about it.

But in fact, the American people not only have well formed views about the Iraq war, they see the fundamental flaws in the overall policy, with striking clarity. All you have to do is ask them. Which is what the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) did recently in conjunction with the upcoming Stanley Foundation Conference on National and Global Security, hosted by my colleagues and me this Thursday at the Reagan Building. The survey was conducted in late November, and the results will be available at PIPA's World Public Opinion web site later in the week. I can't share the precise findings, but I can give a general outline.

Continue reading "The People Have Spoken, Again" »

State Dept.

More on Condi's Instability Fetish
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Condoleezza Rice apparently likes her foreign policy “shaken, not stirred” – an excellent way of putting it courtesy of Michael’s last post. Similarly, some had credited (or attacked) Condi last year for her purported belief in “constructive instability” – the idea that the Middle East had become so stagnant over the decades that only external “shocks” could save the region from further stagnation. In other words, desperate times call for desperate measures. One imagines that this notion  – and not the fact that leaving Saddam in power in 1991 led to the slaughter of tens of thousands of Iraqis – is what keeps Brent Scrowcroft from sleeping soundly in his latter days. To be honest, this is kind of why I like Condi/Dr. Rice, because unlike some others in the Bush administration, she actually seems to genuinely believe in this fascinating (if somewhat destructive) view of international relations.

It is not surprising then that Stephen Krasner is her point person at the Department of Policy Planning. Krasner, a renowned academic who like Rice taught at Stanford, is often thought of as a realist. I haven’t read that much of Krasner’s work, but I do remember one article of his in particular ("Approaches to the State: Alternative Conceptions and Historical Dynamics" in Comparative Politics, Jan. 1984) which caught my attention. In it, he notes the lack of a compelling theory of institutional change and puts forward the notion of “punctuated equilibrium,” borrowed from the biological sciences. The idea is that once institutional statis sets in (as it almost inevitably does), it becomes hard to change course. As Krasner notes, “once a particular fork is chosen, it is very difficult to get back on a rejected path.” However, it is possible to “punctuate” the equilibrium. He quotes Steven Jay Gould who argues that change is “accomplished rapidly when a stable structure is stressed beyond its buffering capacity to resist and absorb.”

This appears to be an approximation of Condi’s approach to the Middle East. The region has been beset for decades by a profound socio-economic, cultural, and political stagnation. Change will not come on its own, because existing structures have developed their own momentum over time, while creating and strengthening safeguards that ensure a continuation of the status quo. What, then, does one do? Well, you “puncture” the equilibrium. You overwhelm a system with excess inputs and demands, with the expectation that it will give way under sustained pressure. In such a scenario, it remains unclear what kind of change will come about, but at least there will be change. And, to be sure, the Middle East has changed quite a bit over the last few years. Out of chaos will come a new dawn. Or "the birth pangs of the new Middle East"…so on and so forth. This is, of course, all very scary, particularly for people who are not used to such “excitement” (or for the people who must pay for such designs with their lives). However, it is unclear whether the problem is in the idea or the execution. I suspect it’s more the latter.

Continue reading "More on Condi's Instability Fetish" »


Bush in the Bunker
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Putting a psychological spin on foreign policy decision-making is a dangerous business, undoubtedly all the more so for an amateur like me.  But the developments this week over Iraq seem to beg for it. 

First the Baker-Hamilton Study Group leaked that they would back significant troop withdrawals from Iraq, seemingly backing off a fixed deadline only to avert direct confrontation with Bush.   Then a leaked memo from National Security Adviser Steve Hadley offered a panoply of far-fetched options for shoring up Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki, the sum of which implied that for a range of political and structural reasons, the PM will likely never succeed in curbing Iraq's sectarian violence. 

Outgoing SecDef Donald Rumsfeld's own array of Iraq options hit the headlines next.  Rumsfeld suggested drawing down from 55 to just 5 US bases within the next 8 months, pulling all coalition forces except those targeting al Qaeda and Iranian infiltrators, and withdrawing from all missions in hot conflict zones in Iraq.  Meanwhile the situation on the ground remains dire and the trumpeted Bush-al Maliki Summit was a snub-turned-bust

Yet despite the mounting evidence and wisdom closing in, Bush seems poised to yet again insist that the war effort press on more or less as is.  He said this week:  “There’s one thing I’m not going to do, I’m not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete . . . We can accept nothing less than victory for our children and our grandchildren.”  What is standing in the way of the President's facing reality, and how can it be overcome?   Clearly something deep is at work, and we may need to get to the bottom of it to figure out how to reverse it.

Here's one interpretation: 

Continue reading "Bush in the Bunker" »

December 03, 2006


We've All Been McNamara'ed
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I found it eerie when I heard a few weeks ago that Secretary Rumsfeld was staying on through the end of this year in order to get closer to Robert McNamara's record seven-year tenure in the job.

I find it even more eerie that Rumsfeld has taken another page out of the McNamara playbook, albeit retroactively.  In 1967, McNamara sent a memo to President Johnson opposing the commitment of additional troops to Vietnam; when Johnson declined to take his advice, McNamara resigned and/or was asked to resign.  (McNamara says he is "not sure" which, and it's too late to ask Johnson.)

It's not so much that I find what Rumsfeld wrote surprising -- pretty much all the obvious options that people have been batting around for two years now are in there.  Many of them, unfortunately, won't work as well as they would have when people outside the Administration proposed them.  (I deeply fear this is true of what we are going to get from the Iraq Study Group as well.  I'm no longer confident that we can have a workable "regional approach" when Iraqis already think they are at the center of a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  but I digress.)

No, what is surprising is what I'll call the McNamara "thing" -- the idea that Rumsfeld can save his place in history by showing us that he really did "get it."  As I wrote the other day about the Hadley memo leak, an Administration that began with unprecedented staff loyalty is ending with some pretty nasty backstabbing.

Continue reading "We've All Been McNamara'ed" »

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