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July 13, 2007

Another Echo of Vietnam
Posted by David Shorr

Made a stop at Powell's Books on my Oregon vacation and happened on a copy of Sen. William Fulbright's The Arrogance of Power (which Jim Lobe has extensively excerpted over at Common Dreams), just the kind of relic a wonk loves. We see parallels between Iraq and Vietnam all around us. Kurt Campbell and Shawn Brimley of Center for a New American Security unearthed this 1967 memo and updated it for Foreign Policy (subscription only, sorry). The following passages from Senator Fulbright's 1966 book also have some resonance:

One wonders how much the American commitment to Vietnamese freedom is also a commitment to American pride--the two seem to have become part of the same package. When we talk about the freedom of South Vietnam, we may be thinking about how disagreeable it would be to accept a solution short of victory; we may be thinking about how our pride would be injured if we settled for less than we set out to achieve; we may be thinking of our reputation as a great power, fearing that a compromise settlement would shame us before the world, marking us as a second-rate people with flagging courage and determination.

After remarking that such worries ill befit such a powerful and successful nation as ours (though he can understand why the French or Chinese might feel this way), he quotes from the following testimony by George Kennan in Fulbright's Foreign Relations Committee hearings that year:

There is more respect to be won in the opinion of the world by a resolute and courageous liquidation of unsound positions than in the most stubborn pursuit of extravagant or unpromising objectives.

Why I Love Starbucks
Posted by Shadi Hamid

“We will end poverty and stop HIV/AIDS within our generation when guided by African principles such as ubuntu that underscore our interconnectedness. With greater compassion for others, we would no longer accept hunger and diease as facts of life” says Cedza Dlamini, founder of the Ubuntu Institute for Young Social Entrepreneurs. How do I know he said this? Well, because I found the quote on my Starbucks cup yesterday.

When I read the quote, I thought to myself, liberals – i.e. Starbucks drinkers – are very well-meaning people. And I’m happy that they will now know what ubuntu is. There is something rather amusing (and self-indulgent) about “coffee-cup liberalism,” but at the end of the day, I kind of like it. Let’s export it. Oh yea, we’re already doing that. If you weren’t aware, Starbucks is in the process of colonizing Egypt. I can’t say that this is a bad thing, particularly as there is a new theory emerging in the political science literature called the “Starbucks peace theory" – i.e. countries with Starbucks don’t go to war with each other. So, instead of invading the Iranians, why don’t we force a Starbucks store in Tehran down their throats? That can be our stick, until we think of a carrot (or is it the other way around?).

Back to the original point. Your local Starbucks store is a fun place to spend time in with your laptop. If you spend enough time there, you begin to form a community of people endlessly peering with quizzical stares at their laptop screen while indulging in an exceedingly expensive coffee concoction of some sort, and you make lifelong friends (on one of those big six-person tables with the two blue lamps…yeah, you know what I’m talking about). This is liberalism at its best, and I’d very much like to see us impose it on other people. Why not?

However, there are things I've seen and heard at Starbucks recently that have caused my eyebrows to rise slightly. First, there’s that incredibly cloying picture of Paul McCartney at every Starbucks store on the planet to mark the release of his new album (courtesy of Starbucks music label Hear Music). Memory Almost Full, as it's called, is irredeemably bad, yet another disappointment in a career that has been defined by an uneasy but unmistakable feeling that Paul is useless without John. Yes, Macca’s best post-Beatles song was “Another Day,” and that was in 1970.

Besides Paul, there are other things that have caught my attention lately, for better and worse. Yesterday, for instance, I was waiting in line and the guy in front of me asked the barrista for a medium coffee. I couldn't believe it. I was beside myself. What is that? It's not called "medium." It's called grande! If you don't know this simple fact, you have no right to step into a Starbucks store. I had another memorable moment earlier this week. Again, waiting in line. The guy in front of me asks for a "Hashish latte." I'm not joking. He thought this was funny and started chuckling (maybe it was an inside joke). I guess it was kind of funny. Even funnier though was the barrista's response: "Yea, I got kicked out of a bar once for smoking hashish." I thought I was in a parallel universe, and, well, in a way, I was.

July 12, 2007

Bush vs. the Constitution
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Apparently, Sara Taylor, former White House political director, does not know the difference between taking an oath to the president and taking an oath to the constitution. Watch this video of Taylor's testimony. It is absolutely shocking. Fortunately, for all involved, Patrick Leahy gives her a good scolding. Is there still any doubt that President Bush and VP Cheney have no respect for the integrity of the democratic process, and seem to have only grudging respect for the U.S. constitution? For the Bushies, upholding the constitution is treated not as a committment, but as a concession.

It is ironic that this President talks about the need for groups in the Middle East to commit themselves to the democratic process and all that entails, when he himself has failed to make such a committment.

Capitol Hill

Internet helps Congress: Bushco hates Congress
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

I just listened to CSPAN radio's coverage of the Senate Judiciary Hearing today.White House political director Sara Taylor testified. Poor thing, so young to have lost so much of her memory. Harriet Miers didn't show up (taking a page from the Rumsfeld playbook?) and only one Republican Senator was in attendance. A citation for contempt of Congress is in the works...but it has been pretty obvious for the past seven years that today's Executive Branch disdains the fundamental tenets of democracy. We just hear about it now because the Dems have a few microphones turned on.

When I worked on the Hill in the 1990s, the internet was just getting traction...(like many federal agencies, most people had a hotmail or yahoo accounts to circumvent the clunky federal system) Many offices stayed on Word Perfect until this century! It has always been a challenge to manage information on Capitol Hill...After the 9/11 attacks, that became even more dysfunctional, as mail had to be irradiated, messengers were not allowed into the building and the place was not set up for the onslaught of emails that began pouring in. It was like a big vortex of data with no search engines.

Today, electronic communication presents endless opportunity to help Congress in nearly every way, from basic communication to oversight responsibilities.

Check out this new blog that follows climate change on the Hill.
Here's one that uses a wiki technology to compile information and events of the day.

I also ran across a post today at OpenLeft speculating about why only one of nine women congressional candidates challengers won last fall, while nearly all the male challengers did (twenty out of twenty one). I suspect that perceptions on national security has something to do with this.

July 11, 2007

Iraq Government "Center Cannot Hold"
Posted by David Shorr

An earlier post by Ilan highlights the mounting evidence that day-to-day cooperation within the Iraqi government has broken down. Center for American Progress' recent "Strategic Reset" report points toward more fundamental weaknesses, which in turn show why our military presence is past the point of really being able to help matters and must be pulled out sooner rather than later.

Here's the key passage:

Iraq's political transition and national reconciliation are stuck. Iraq's leaders at the national level are debating some of the same issues in 2007 that they have debated since 2003. Iraq's leaders fundamentally disagree on what kind of country Iraq is and should be, and Iraq's political transition has not succeeded in bridging these divides. This lack of political consensus among Iraq's leaders has resulted in a violent struggle for power.

So it's time to stop talking about reconciliation and benchmarks. The reason Iraqi political leaders haven't achieved the benchmarks is that they don't really want to. The constitution and elections were organized on the proverbial "Washington clock" -- as was, of course, the removal of Saddam. Let's look at the implications of this.

Continue reading "Iraq Government "Center Cannot Hold"" »

July 09, 2007

Preventing Groundhog Day in the West Bank
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

As Israel and the West try desperately to prevent the West Bank from from falling to Hamas, they ought to bear in mind the two factors cited most often as drivers of Hamas' upset parliamentary election victory in the Palestinian territories  in January of 2006:  anti-corruption and social services.

Israel, the U.S. and others are funneling hundreds of millions of dollars in withheld tax dollars and aid in order to prop up the shaky position of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.  Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been tasked with "institution building" for the Palestinians - helping revive the economy and foster law and order.  Meanwhile the Israelis and official Washington will presumably strive to advance peace talks with Abbas as a way to bolster his credibility with a skeptical populace that doubts he can deliver.

But without careful attention to what have previously been Fatah's fatal flaws - rampant graft and the failure to deliver on the most basic needs of the populations that depend on it, all these efforts may come to naught.  Polls show that corruption was a more important issue for voters in the 2006 parliamentary elections than even the peace process itself.  Vigilant accounting, auditing and financial oversight, stringent anti-nepotism and cronyism, and an energetic emphasis on the provision of basic services are essential to ensuring that the massive inflow of money does not go to waste, and that the West Bank population does not once again turn away from Fatah in abject frustration.

There are valid questions about the degree to which foreign governments and multilateral organizations can succeed where Abbas and Fatah themselves have failed:  if the party is incapable of cracking down on abuses from within and competently delivering services, there's only so much outsiders can do.  But given the high stakes attached to maintaining a foothold for Palestinian moderation, and the vast reserves of money and political capital being invested in that effort, it seems worth the effort to pressure, cajole, bolster, buttress, train, support and supervise a robust anti-corruption and service delivery effort by Fatah.

For example, why not mobilize a task force of hundreds of auditors and accountants to Fatah local authorities throughout the West Bank to make sure that newly-freed monies are well-spent and accounted for?  There are NGOs that specialize in recruiting retired and otherwise available financial professionals as volunteers for just such tasks.  While one cannot expect former financial controllers from Scandinavia or Peoria to cut off the money trails to Fatah-linked militants, their presence and involvement could reinforce discipline and deter misuses of funds.

Fatah also needs urgent international help to buttress social services and humanitarian aid to neglected populations under its control.   The obstacle is not dollars.  Hamas reportedly  spent between $40-75M on its social services programs in 2005, a fraction of the $339M disbursed by the UN's relief agencies in the same region that year.  The trick is putting into place a web of independent, non-political local organizations capable of credibly and competently distributing aid and carrying out social services projects like building and running clinics and schools. 

The US has learned in Iraq that socio-economic reconstruction is anything but easy.  But the UN-affiliated global relief agencies - UNHCR, World Food Programme, for example, -- have built reputations for cost-effective and smart aid delivery throughout the world.   A dozen or so private non-governmental organizations have developed the same expertise.  Corps comprised of some of the best professionals from these organizations could be tasked with putting together a program for the West Bank that would rival anything Hamas has ever offered.  The European Union and national aid agencies from Scandinavia, Japan and elsewhere also have both resources and expertise to offer.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is cited by analysts as a root cause underlying everything from global terrorism to the insurgency in Iraq to Iran's nuclear ambitions.  Fatah's shaky foothold in the West Bank is widely seen as the last, best chance of securing a Palestinian negotiating partner capable of concluding a peace agreement with Israel. 

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