Democracy Arsenal

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May 25, 2007

Law As Inconvenience
Posted by David Schanzer

Of all the harm the Bush Administration has inflicted on our global reputation, perhaps its greatest offense has been the damage caused to the respect other nations once had for our committment to the rule of law.

Maybe this is to be expected, coming from a presidency born of a Supreme Court case so lacking in principle the Court disavowed the case had any precedential value.  Still, the Administration's utter disdain of the law is simply staggering. 

Unhappy with a legal ruling on domestic spying from the Department of Justice, try to convince a recused, drugged up official to reverse it; fed up with prosecutors who won't use raw political power to influence elections, fire them and then lie about the reasons for the dismissals; inconvenienced by a civil service containing lawyers that don't share your political views, send a neophyte hack to prevent them from advancing their careers; longstanding treaty obligations get in the way of your favored interrogation techniques, ignore them and claim unlimited executive authority to do so; pesky courts preventing you from rushing accused war criminals through show trials, strip the courts of there centuries-old jurisdiction; pesky lawyers effectively asserting their clients' rights, intimidate their employers; Congress passes a law you don't like, claim authority to disregard it.

With the background of this record, the Administration then goes on to call on other countries to hold free and fair elections, establish independent courts, eliminate corruption, and abide by the rule of law.  It may take many, many years to reestablish our credibility on these most vital issues.    

May 24, 2007

Correction: Bashar al-Assad is not "A Nice Guy"
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Things in Syria aren't looking too good: "One-by-one, non-violent Syrian advocates for change are falling victim to what observers call a blatant government campaign to decimate the country's long-embattled reform movement" (Via the POMED Wire).

A lot of my liberal friends were very excited when Nancy Pelosi took her April trip to Syria. The obvious problems with the visit aside, I suppose I agree, albeit somewhat reluctantly, that Pelosi should at least be commended for shaking things up, thumbing her nose at the Bushies, giving diplomacy a chance, and giving Arabs a reason to dislike us less. However, Democrats should not fall under the illusion that Bashar al-Assad is a friend, a would-be friend, or even a "nice guy" as a friend of mine once called him.

As adorable as Assad might appear to be to the untrained eye when discussing his IPod preferences, or his lovely wife, we cannot and should not avoid the simple fact that Syria is a brutal dictatorship. And we should be weary of indulging dictators, even when they profess admiration for Will Smith movies. Of course, the Republicans are the worst at this, despite their protestations to the contrary. The list autocratic countries the Bush administration has coddled or is in the process of coddling is as long as ever, and includes Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, so on and so forth. Yes, and the Bush administration can claim responsbility for adding Libya to that long and illustrious list.

How Do We Talk About China Policy?
Posted by Michael Fuchs

Debates over U.S. policy towards China can get heated. Mere words like "human rights", "democracy", "trade", "investment" and "stability" provoke endless conversations about China's present, its future, and what the U.S. should - or can - do to help shape that future. A recent exchange between David Lampton and James Mann on Foreign Policy's website exhibits the intensity of these debates. It also highlights some of the most fundamental questions swirling around U.S. policy considerations. Here's a taste.


It's Mann who is being naive. The truth is, U.S. policy toward the People's Republic of China has never been predicated on a false belief that China would move toward democracy soon, if at all. Seven consecutive U.S. presidents, backed by Congress and the American public, have weighed their options and decided that security and economic considerations rank above promoting Chinese democracy in the priority list. Mann wants to upend the ranking. Democratization promotes those other valid objectives, he believes. But that argument has not won the policy day thus far.


I don't believe that's true. The first four presidents won congressional and public backing because the United States wanted China's cooperation against the Soviet Union. That indeed amounted to downplaying Chinese repression beneath the other interests of national security and combating Soviet repression. But after the Tiananmen Square massacre and the end of the Cold war, the dynamics changed. Since then, U.S. leaders have obtained congressional and public support by making the claim that their policies, especially on trade and investment, would help bring political change to China. Contrary to Lampton's assertion, there never has been a congressional vote (or election) in which Congress or the American public said it wanted to de-emphasize political repression in China.

My principal argument has been that political change in China is not inevitable - and that in fact China's one-party state is likely to persist for a long time. The claim that trade leads to political change was a rationalization used to line up support for U.S. economic policies that have proved beneficial, above all, to U.S. and multinational corporations. Now, Lampton is telling us to stop looking for far-reaching change, and to expect only more human governance from a one-party state that permits no organized opposition. That is truly sad.

The entire exchange is worth reading.

May 23, 2007

Capitol Hill

Is the supplemental debate for naught?
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Before tempers flare about the Democrats backing down from deadlines in the war supplemental (a story with dubious origins btw) the following makes one pause:

OMB Watch has just put out a report on a little-known law -the Feed and Forage Act- that seems to give the President broad powers to fund war efforts- even without an enacted appropriations bill.

So even if the negotiations over the war funding supplemental drag on, the President could meet the needs of the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Read it here.

May 22, 2007

Mr. Kerrey's Offensive WSJ Oped
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I feel bad for picking on Edward Luttwak in my last two posts. His article was, for the most part, a harmless articulation of an idea that no rational person (I hope) would ever take seriously. More problematic and more worth our time, attention, and worry is this most recent attempt at impersonating Joe Lieberman - mix