Democracy Arsenal

« March 4, 2007 - March 10, 2007 | Main | March 18, 2007 - March 24, 2007 »

March 16, 2007

Does no one love Dinesh D'Souza?
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Guess not. His latest book, The Enemy At Home, blamed 9/11 on "the cultural left." But even the right seems to have had it with him: check out the National Review's online symposium on his book. It's fun.

Nat'l Assoc. of Evangelicals' statement on torture and human rights
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Remember how successful the GOP was at claiming to be the party that stood for "values" back in '04?  The claim rested on the truly bizarre equation of "values" with opposition to gay marriage and abortion, forgetting about poverty, human rights, etc., and it targeted, in particular, evangelical voters. But the far right will find this a tougher sell to many evangelicals this time around: the influential National Association of Evangelicals recently released a powerful statement opposing torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and affirming its committment to human rights. The full document is long but well worth reading.

March 15, 2007

Neocons vs. Neoliberals
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I mentioned on Wednesday that Tony Smith had just written a pretty shaky piece in the Washington Post on Democratic foreign policy. Normally, I’d say that flimsy pieces such as this one do not deserve a sustained response, except for the fact that I suspect many Americans agree with it. With that said, let us begin. Smith starts off with a pretty bold statement:

The fact is that prevailing Democratic doctrine is not that different from the Bush-Cheney doctrine.

Hmm, really? He continues:

Many Democrats, including senators who voted to authorize the war in Iraq, embraced the idea of muscular foreign policy based on American global supremacy and the presumed right to intervene to promote democracy or to defend key U.S. interests long before 9/11, and they have not changed course since.

Ok, well, on the surface of it, he’s right. Many Democrats have embraced the “idea of a muscular foreign policy.” Many of us believe that America should remain the world’s dominant power (if that strikes you as an unjustifiable position, think about China as the world’s next superpower and imagine what that would mean for international human rights norms). Yes, many of us believe that we have the “right to intervene” in the internal affairs of sovereign states. Sovereignty is not sacrosanct, and there’s no reason to think that it ever was.

Fair enough, but none of these things were ever the distinguishing features of the "Bush-Cheney doctrine." The Bush-Cheney conception of international affairs differs from the liberal interventionist one in several fundamental ways, ones in which Tony Smith seems keenly unaware of:

  1. The reliance on military force as the primary instrument of US power. Liberals believe that the effective use of soft power is better suited for many, if not most of the challenges that America faces in the current global climate. Practical implications: the US should deemphasize the military component of the war on terror.
  2. Military force can/should be used to promote democracy. Liberals strongly support an assertive democracy promotion policy, but we do not believe in “democracy at gunpoint.” Practical implications: we will pro-actively support democratic reform abroad, but only through peaceful means.
  3. The moral infallibility of America (i.e. the assumption that the US is inherently and always “good”). Liberals believe that the exercise of power must be accompanied by a vigilant self-criticism. We must be constantly admitting our faults and revising our methods accordingly. As Peter Beinart wrote recently in an excellent piece: "Being a liberal, as opposed to a neoconservative, means recognizing that the United State has no monopoly on insight or righteousness. Some Iraqis might have been desperate enough to trust the United States with unconstrained power. But we shouldn't have trusted ourselves."  Practical implications: Because we understand our own moral limitations (i.e. because we are human), we believe in wedding ourselves to multilateral frameworks and institutions which both serve to constrain and harness power in a more effective - and moral - manner. Practical implication #2: we know how to say we're sorry. See John Edwards, Exhibit A.
  4. Fear is more important than respect and admiration. The Bush-Cheneyites don’t really care about what other people think about us. Liberals, on the other hand, are fully aware that billions of people not liking/hating us is probably not good for our national strategic interests.

Continue reading "Neocons vs. Neoliberals" »

The Barack Obama of Rock
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Arcade Fire is the Barack Obama of rock. And rightfully so. They're damn good. I just worry that the expectations can sometimes get a bit out of hand. I mean, it's a tempting possibility, but I don't actually think that Obama is the messiah (although some of my friends are keeping the hope alive). Which is why I'm afraid to listen to Arcade Fire's new (sophomore) album Neon Bible. Some are hailing it as the best thing since well, I don't know, Ok Computer, Definitely Maybe, Nevermind, or __________ (pick favorite Indie Rock touchstone). Can it really be that good? Can it really even be better than their first album, Funeral, which was nothing less than a masterpiece? Gingerly and fearing dissapointment, I listened to the new album's first single "Intervention" a few weeks ago. I was underwhelmed at first, but then I let it grow on me. Intervention - appropriately titled - is one of those rare songs that actually manages to capture the cultural-political zeitgeist of the Bush era. There's teenage angst, sexual angst, and then there's political angst. And few bands can pull off the latter like Arcade Fire:

Been working for the church while your life falls apart
They're singing hallelujah when defeating your heart
Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home
Hear the soldier groan all quiet and alone

It may not sound groundbreaking (it isn't), but listen to the way lead singer Vin Butler sings those words. This is what music was supposed to be about.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I'm dismayed to find Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on my radio this morning, bragging about his crimes.  I'm also dismayed at the thought that my government is helping him advertise his megalomania and skew the record in ways that -- absent an open court proceeding -- will never be set straight.  Can't we do better than this?

The way the Administration chose to subject Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to rendition, torture and enemy combatant status means that he could never be convicted in any civil court in any democracy; which means that we'll never have an impartial, open accounting of what acts of terror he really did mastermind and/or participate in.

Instead, we have this confession which -- at least according to former FBI agent Jack Cloonan and other terrorism experts I've heard discuss it so far -- magnifies his role well beyond what it may actually have been, including describing every training in reconnaisance he ever did as a plot to blow something up.

To repeat, his likely-exaggerated claims will never be tested in the only forum we have for establishing such truths, a court of law.  Instead, we help KSM make himself into an even bigger hero/martyr in the radical Islamic world; and an even bigger bogeyman stoking inflated fears here at home.

Continue reading "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed" »

March 14, 2007

Toward an Outkast-Approved Iran Policy?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

"Don't pull that thang out, unless you plan to bang." You know you're politics-obsessed if this makes you think first and foremost of the Bush administration's failed Iran policy. In any case, Matt Yglesias reminds us that you can, indeed, find foreign policy wisdom in the most unexpected places, including in Outkast songs. Threats have to be credible in order for them to be, um, credible threats. And, unfortunately/fortunately, the threat to bomb Iran isn't particularly credible at this point. Matt makes a good point that isn't made nearly enough:

If a bombing campaign would do more to strengthen the regime and relax its growing diplomatic isolation than it would to set back the nuclear program, then the regime would be relatively eager for us to bomb them.

Neoliberal Schizophrenia
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Is the Democratic Party dominated by "neoliberals"? Or have the neoliberals encountered their inevitable demise in an age of renewed leftist vigor? Well, I guess it depends on who you talk to.

David Brooks:

And so began the era of neoliberalism, a movement which, at least temporarily, remade the Democratic Party, redefined American journalism and didn't really die until now.

Well, there you have it, the cultural trends oracle has spoken. But, then, Tony Smith tells us:

Ironically, the neolibs are more powerful today in the Democratic Party than the neocons are among Republicans.

They're both wrong. I feel particularly compelled to say something about Smith's op-ed, which is pretty weak, and one of the most flimsy analyses of Democratic foreign policy that I've seen in at least six weeks. More to come.

March 13, 2007


The Great Budgetary Opportunity
Posted by Gordon Adams

The emergency funding for the Global War on Terror – that $100 b. bill the administration sent Congress in February is growing and mutating before our eyes.  In the House, it is now a $124 b. bill.

As Congress begins to move the fiscal year 2007 emergency supplemental bill for the global war on terror, it is worth observing the game being played between the Hill and the White House.  There is much to be learned.

The budgetary principal seemed clear: emergency bills should be for emergency needs – things that were not anticipated in advance and are urgently needed.

The administration has violated this principle ever since they began asking for emergency money.  Much of the emergency funding has, understandably, supported the war efforts in Afghanistan and, especially Iraq.   But the opportunity could not be resisted. 

Continue reading "The Great Budgetary Opportunity" »

Three Queasy Questions
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

To nag at the back of your mind like they're nagging at mine:

1.  The US-Brazil ethanol initiative unveiled by President Bush on his Latin America trip:  clever initiative that will jump-start the alternative fuel markets or a strange admission that conservatives really do like cartels, as long as we're in them?  I genuinely don't know the answer to this one.

2.  Firing Public Servants:  We now know how far the White House thought it could go in interfering with District Attorneys it thought were insufficiently politicized:  fire all 93. How bad and how deep will the analogous pressures on our military and Foreign Service turn out to have been, when we find out about it over the next few years?

Bonus:  add your own question here about whether the longterm interests of the armed forces, or the nation, are served when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is so ready and willing to say publicly that homosexuality is "immoral."

3.  The CFR Arthur Ross Book Award: 5 finalists and a jury of 7 and among them one woman and one person of color?  (As an exercise, I timed how long it would take me to come up with the names of ten women and ten non-whites who would have been a credit to the jury.  Two minutes -- and most of them belong to the Council.) Should CFR just be quietly embarrassed and pledge to do better next year, or should they ask us here at Democracy Arsenal for advice? 

March 12, 2007

Taking responsibility
Posted by Rosa Brooks

It's good to see that top Army brass are taking responsibility for the poor conditions and inadequate support provided to injured soldiers at Walter Reed. But it's ironic that more people have now lost their jobs over the issue of inadequate care for wounded soldiers than over the war that left those soldiers wounded in the first place.  Rumsfeld resigned... very belatedly. When will Dick Cheney resign? Hmm, and when can we expect to see the President resign? If we're to believe Chuck Hagel, resigning just might be the only honorable way out for a President who seems to believe he's "not accountable anymore."


The Surge that Keeps on Surging
Posted by Rosa Brooks

The Administration has decided to surge yet again, adding another 4,700 troops on top of the 21,500 already announced in January. (And, lest we forget, we're sending another 3,500 troops to Afghanistan as well, bringing total US troop strength there to "an all-time high.") Needless to say, this escalation (yes, it is an escalation) is a further sign that the situation in Iraq continues to spiral out of control. But you were probably wondering: hey, where are we going to get those extra troops from? Well, it didn't take long for the Administration to stumble upon the obvious answer: raid Walter Reed! According to Salon, troops pronounced "medically unfit" as a result of injuries sustained in Iraq are nonetheless being shipped right back out. We can't have all those lazy fellows lolling around in Building 18 when they could be out there fighting for us!

Okay, okay. They're not actually raiding Walter Reed to get the extra troops. So far, the story's about injured soldiers at Fort Benning. But give the Administration time. Because after all, it's a fiendishly clever way to kill two birds with one stone: get some more troops to Iraq, while teaching the injured not to go whining to the press about the lousy care they're getting....


Updating Defense Jargon: Center of Gravity
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

It's time for progressive thinkers to jump into the fray of redefining the lexicon of defense. I'm going to throw out jargon here from time to time in an attempt to do this. Center of Gravity is my first try.

Former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami wrote last Saturday:

"When geo-strategic military front lines are non-existent, as in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, mass no longer equals victory. The great military thinker Carl von Clausewitz's notion of "decisive battles" as the "center of gravity" of war is simply irrelevant to conflicts that have no visible "center of gravity." and besides that, "Victory" cannot bring peace, simply because there will always be a war after the war."

I have a slightly different take. I do think the concept is still useful, if only as a concept. Even though people on the ground in warzones don't use this jargon, here, too. It's still important to jump into the fray of updating what it means. Center of Gravity is a good example. It has progressive implications, if framed for today's world.

Every military seeks to identify both ours and our enemies sources of power, then protect ours and destroy theirs. During WWII, an identified Center of Gravity would have been a munitions factory and its destruction through bombing a high priority. Today’s definition of CoG is constantly evolving. It includes both culture and society and also how they change over time. In fighting terrorism, for example, the enemy CoG is the network of supporters worldwide who view Bin Laden more sympathetically than they view Americans. In this context, "victory" over the enemy CoG means ending support for terrorists by offering persuasive alternatives . The military takes seriously the effects of others’ perceptions of the USA and understands the importance of legitimacy—or leading by example. Check out the Combined Joint Task Force in the Horn of Africa.

The Bush Administration has repeatedly ignored the importance of legitimacy, hence missing the Center of Gravity repeatedly for the past five years. In contrast, General Petraeus, the recently appointed Commander in Iraq, seems to get it comprehensively.

March 11, 2007

Progressive Strategy

National Security and '08: What's Different
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Lorelei, progressive faith guru Mara Vanderslice and I teamed up last week on a panel to talk about peace and security issues and the '08 elections.  We were challenged to think about what's going to make this cycle different. Here's what I came up with:

1.  People already know that things are bad.  Four and even two years ago, progressives engaged in great debates about whether and how to tell Americans that neo-conservative policies had made us less safe and less respected.  Not this time -- if anything, I would argue that the public doesn't want to hear more harping about how bad things are, but rather what anyone is going to do about it.  If you need more convincing about that, see here, here and especially here -- reporting that the top words that come up in focus groups when people are asked their feelings about their country are "sad," angry," "uneasy" and "worried."

2.  But that doesn't mean they think progressives can fix it.  Iraq and Katrina, following on decades of conservative rhetoric about "shrinking government until we can drown it in the bathtub," have convinced lots of Americans that government can't do anything right.  National security is the only government function that gets passing marks from a bare half the population in a recent poll.  Americans no longer believe that stationing troops abroad helps fight the War on Terror or prevents states like Iran from getting nuclear weapons -- a healthy repudiation of Administration strategy, yes, but also a vote of no confidence in our strongest tools. 

3.  This means linking everything to security won't work.  Some progressives have been very tempted to put every foreign policy into a "security issue" frame for the public.  And of course, in an interconnected world, issues like AIDS, poverty and the environment do have security impacts.  But it seems likely that this framing hurts at least as much as it helps with voters who are over-security-ed.

4.  Speaking of skepticism... I'm still looking for the link, but I understand there exists an 06 poll in which Americans said that while they are still nervous about terrorism, they think their neighbors are more afraid than they are -- which is a good sign that scare tactics won't work as well with as many voters this time.

5.  Accountability.  The Democracy Corps gurus who brought the focus group adjectives I mentioned in point 1 say that "Accountability is the core doubt people have about Congress, Washington and the federal government."  They recommend that everything progressives propose should have specific accountability elements, and that all Iraq proposals should have financial accountability provisions.  That's an interesting challenge for us striped-pants-and-noblesse-oblige types, but probably a good challenge.

6.  And about Iraq...  I'll just quote what a longtime public opinion observer said to me last December:  "Iraq's not a foreign policy issue anymore.  It's a domestic policy issue now."  Fair or not, adjust mindsets accordingly.

Guest Contributors
Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.

www Democracy Arsenal
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use