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December 21, 2008

Rice Destructively Claims that the Bush Administration Was All about Democracy Promotion
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

An unappreciated element of the Bush administration's foreign policy legacy tour these past few days is how much damage they are doing to the argument that democracy promotion must be part of American foreign policy.  Condoleezza Rice on Meet the Press this morning argued that the Bush administration's policies will be judged favorably in the long run because they promoted freedom, democracy, and American values around the world.  Unfortunately, President Bush didn't really do any of these things in a meaningful way and by claiming that it was the centerpiece of his foreign policy legacy, Rice only undermines the ideas themselves.

Just look at the results.  Iraq is an ethnically splintered and still violent country where it appears the Prime Minister this week used a "counter-terrorism task force" to go after political opponents.  It is undoubtedly more free then it was under Saddam Hussein, but considering the incredible cost in lives both to the Iraqis and the United States, is this the model of democratization we are looking for?  Meanwhile, Afghanistan is in major trouble with the Taliban making a comeback.  The Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, once hailed as an example of Bush's democratization policy, is now essentially defeated with Hezbollah the most powerful political force in the country.  The West Bank and especially Gaza are in horrible shape, due in large part to the Bush administration's schizophrenic policies of pushing so hard for elections and then refusing to recognize the results.  Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which seemed to be making steps towards democracy in 2005, have regressed.

This isn't a legacy of democracy and values promotion.  This is a legacy of doing things halfway.  If the Bush administration had genuinely believed in spreading liberal democracy it would have stayed focused on Afghanistan, instead of moving on so quickly to Iraq.  It would have actually focused on helping build  and support Palestinian institutions instead of completely ignoring the problem for five years as too complicated and then deciding that the solution was Palestinian elections.  It would not have invaded Iraq without any kind of postwar plan for how to bring stability and good governance.  It would have recognized that liberal democracy is about a lot more than militarily toppling a government or holding an election. 

Now, one could argue that trying and failing to do something good is better than not trying at all.  But in this case that is simply not true.  By couching its foreign policy in the guise of "democracy promotion" the Bush administration has undermined the very idea with the American public.  Moreover, they've deflated the efforts of democratic reformers around the world, who listened to American encouragement and took bolder steps only to find that they have little of the international support they'd expected (Egypt over the past few years is a good example of this).   And they damaged American credibility worldwide as countries see that our high-minded rhetoric is not backed by any real substance.

There is a whole separate debate about whether or not one believes that democracy promotion should be a central element of American foreign policy (I have mixed views.  But where the U.S. can help, especially in a non-violent way, it absolutely should).   But on the question of the Bush administration's legacy and democracy promotion, contrary to Rice's assertions, I believe that fifty years from now this administration will be seen as doing grave damage to the cause  - not as one of its strongest proponents. 

December 19, 2008

John Holdren as Science Advisor
Posted by Moira Whelan

Holdren I was thrilled to get a press release from my old stomping grounds, the Belfer Center, just moments ago, indicating that John Holdren would be Obama's Science Adviser.

John Judis labels him "the Mick Jagger of Climate Change" and I'd have to agree. Within moments of meeting John I felt guilty for not knowing everything about the topic and doing everything I could to work for the issue.  John is an adviser to business leaders, heads of state, and countless other big wigs. But perhaps most impressive were his efforts to educate the Kennedy School grad students on the issue. Through his classes and mentoring, Holdren has converted an entire generation of national security policy leaders who are quite sure that they will ignore energy issues at their peril, and if they do not make it a priority, it is akin to professional malpractice. His message is the same to every audience, because he believes we all have a part. He is truly a Paul Revere.

Then of course, there's the fact that he is incredibly gracious and pleasant and will be a wonderful addition to the sharp elbows of Washington.

Congrats John.

French Flavors/ Free Trade
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Hmm. The French want permanent military bases in the Gulf too!

In other news, one can expect a "free-trade agreement between the GCC and EU to be completed before the end of the year." Sounds good to me. Except that there are no democracies in the Gulf Cooperation Council, it boasts at least a couple countries which are among the world's most authoritarian. Free trade agreements are fine, but if the U.S. and Europe have economic leverage (which they do), perhaps they should tie economic benefits to other other things we supposedly care about like, um, human rights, freedom of the press, and judicial reform. 

If any DA readers want to make the argument that free trade agreement > economic development > growth of strong Middle Class > pressure for democracy, then go ahead. Sadly, these causal arrows are not particularly operable in the Middle Eastern context.

Heja Sverige
Posted by Hanna Lundqvist

Matt Yglesias had a great post a few days ago discussing Sweden's method of solving its 1990s banking crisis, in light of Barack Obama's recent reference to their success.  His post is a brief introduction to what Sweden actually did, and a discussion of how Sweden's more leftist (and sometimes socialistic) political system made it easier for them to take radical steps and solve their financial crisis.  Sweden's success is a noteworthy example for the United States, with some applicable lessons.

In response to Yglesias' post, I disagree with his characterization of the Swedish solution to its financial crisis as "Communism."  First of all, Sweden is probably best described as a social democracy; Sweden is not, and never has been, a Communist state.  The plan to solve their financial crisis was socialistic, an adjective which also applies to the U.S. government bailouts that give the state a stake in private companies by definition, however I think that the specific association of the Swedish solution with Communism goes too far.  Furthermore, Communism implies collective citizen ownership, which goes beyond the state ownership employed in the Swedish solution.

For a really good summary of Sweden's solution to its banking crisis, take a look at this September Financial Times piece.  Basically, in the early 1990s, Sweden faced a financial crisis and credit crunch created by deregulated credit markets, the burst of a property bubble, and a glut of non-performing loans.  The government moved quickly to create a new government-guaranteed company called Securum.  Securum, led by talented individuals from the troubled banks who knew them inside-and-out, then bought the bad credit and non-performing loans from banks at face value (instead of nominal, which is important), creating a good bank/bad bank system.  Though it had some hiccups, after borrowing government-guaranteed funds, through the careful management of its assets, Securum was able dispose of the bad credit.  Within five years of Securum's creation, the government managed to recoup most of its investment, and the banking industry was pulled out of its crisis.

Yglesias points out that an existing ideological acceptance of socialism made this type of solution much more tolerable for Swedes than it would be for Americans.  However, he also notes that "In the United States we’ve mostly been grappling around trying to find a way for the government to run the financial sector of the economy while we pretend it’s really still in the hands of the private sector."

Despite whether a Swedish-style rescue could be feasible for the U.S., there is one vital, simple lesson for the policymakers here to take from Sweden's approach: the importance and benefit of swift, decisive action and smart management.  From the U.S. response so far, I don't think we've seen much of either.

NSN Daily Update 12/19/08
Posted by The National Security Network

NSN's Daily Update is going on holiday hiatus.  See you all January 5th!

See today's complete Daily Update, "A Week that Confirms Bush's Disastrous Legacy on Iraq" here.

What We're Reading

More than 10,000 people in Peshawar, Pakistan, protested allowing the U.S. and NATO to use Pakistani supply routes to Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has requested plans for closing Guantanamo Bay.

Young Somali men in Minnesota are leaving to fight in Somalia.  A local mosque is accused of radicalizing the young men to become jihadists.

The drop in oil prices causes economic woes for Russia and social unrest.

Commentary of the Day

The Wall Street Journal has an editorial criticizing the Democratic response to Senator Carl Levin’s report on the involvement of top Bush administration officials in detainee abuse.

Damon Terrill has an op-ed in the Des Moines Register on President-elect Barack Obama’s opportunity to restore the rule of law on detainee abuse .

Mark Halperin has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on how the Bush administration has made us vulnerable, as “two incompetently prosecuted wars have undermined our deterrent power.”

Rosa Brooks’ latest column in the Los Angeles Times explores the global response to the Iraqi shoe-throwing journalist.

Michael Gerson has an op-ed in the Washington Post on negotiations with North Korea .

TV on the Bush Era
Posted by Adam Blickstein

There's a raging debate over which TV show best embodies life under George Bush's America. Newsweek says it's Battlestar Gallactica and American Idol. Kevin Drum exclaims "24 is George Bush's America.  Case closed." But why so serious? In my estimation, it's gotta be Arrested Development. Blatantly, a show about the collapse of a lucrative mini-mansion housing empire allegedly due to improper accounting practices which is also under federal investigation for secret ties to Saddam Hussein but in reality is tacitly working with the CIA to build mansions in Iraq to wiretap Saddam's regime takes the cake.  The reckless picaresque nature of the show and its well-meaning yet equally flawed "hero", Michael Bluth, combined with irreverent references to Abu Ghraib, WMD, "Mission Accomplished,"  Saddam's spider-hole, the Blue Man Group, religious fundamentalism, Carl Weathers, Girls Gone Wild, Terry Schiavo, Enron, and internet celebrities rather comprehensively blankets the spectrum of farce from Bush's tenure. But there's one reason that takes AD over the edge as the preeminent Bush era program: Gob. Besides being a Bush clone of a frat boy struggling in his attempt to be a competent leader, there has been no line written in music, in movies, in TV or in literature that best typifies America's collective feeling of discontent from the past 8 years (not to mention Bush's failure to ever admit failure): "I've made a huge mistake."


My colleague Pat Barry brings up another salient point: across the board daddy issues.

December 18, 2008

NSN Daily Update 12/18/08
Posted by The National Security Network

See today's complete Daily Update, "A Progressive Domestic Policy is Vital for America's Security" here.

What We're Reading

The dollar fell to new lows yesterday.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that there is almost no international support for a U.S. proposed U.N. peacekeeping force for Somalia.

U.N. judges ruled that former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic’s immunity deal, reached with Richard Holbrooke in 1996, is invalid and does not prevent him from facing trial on charges including genocide.

A U.N. court in Tanzania convicted a senior Rwandan military official of genocide in the 1994 massacres and sentenced him to life in prison.

Commentary of the Day

The New York Times has an editorial advocating that a prosecutor should be appointed to consider criminal charges against top Pentagon officials and others who planned detainee abuse.

David Ignatius has an op-ed in the Washington Post on reality tv and progress in Afghanistan.

Agriculture v. Energy
Posted by Adam Blickstein

An open question on corn-based ethanol and biofuels: who is Obama more likely to agree with, the former governor of Iowa or a Nobel laureate in science:

Although Obama and Vilsack have supported corn-based ethanol production in the past, a challenge may come from elsewhere within the new Obama administration, Pollan said. "The new secretary of energy, Steven Chu, is a pretty fierce critic of corn-based ethanol," he said, "and I would imagine will be arguing for moving away from corn as a feedstock for ethanol, toward other crops.

Pollan says he hopes those crops won't compete with food crops. Viable alternatives to corn-based ethanol could include trees and crop waste — even grasses, he said.

"And whether Vilsack and Obama are ready to go there remains to be seen," Pollan said. "But certainly, Steven Chu will be pushing them that way."

December 17, 2008

More Lies From the Vice President
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The scope of absurd statements and flat out debunked assertions in Vice President Cheney's ABC interview was pretty shocking.  Spencer Ackerman debunks Cheney's statement's about the intelligence that was derived from waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.  And Think Progress takes care of the false assertion that somehow Saddam had the capability  to produce WMDs.  I'll take on this particular claim from the Cheney interview, which was disavowed long ago by DOD.

Well, if you release people that shouldn't have been released -- and that's happened in some cases already -- you end up with them back on the battlefield.

And we've had, as I recall now -- and these are rough numbers, I'd want to check them -- but, say, approximately 30 of these folks have been held in Guantanamo, then released, and ended up back on the battlefield again, and we've encountered them a second time around. But they've either been killed or captured in further conflicts with our forces.

This is basically a flat out lie.  It  was debunked a year ago by a Seton Hall Law School Report (PDF) and then in a follow up report in June (PDF).  Even DOD doesn't stand by this number anymore and acknowledged in a hearing last year that the number is 12 at most.

Cheney's 30, included eight detainees who participated in "anti coalition activities" by speaking out against U.S. policies.  Five are Chinese Uighurs who were sent to Albania and whose return to the battlefield consisted of submitting an op-ed criticizing U.S. policy.  Another three were interviewed for a film and criticized the Bush administration.  A number of the thirty were never even verified or listed.  And in a May 20, 2008 hearing, the Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight of the House Foreign Affairs Committee DOD submitted only 12 instead of 30 detainee who had "returned to the battlefield."  Of those 12, five were arrested in Russia, Turkey and Morocco.  It's unclear if they ever plotted to attack Americans again or what exactly they were arrested for.  Five others were killed in Afghanistan, Russia and Iraq.  So basically Cheney's 30 is at most 12 and more likely somewhere between 5-10. 

It would seem relatively shocking for the Vice President of the United States to continue to cite numbers that were debunked a year ago and are completely false.  But then again this is the man who for years  was continuing to insist that Mohammad Atta met with Iraqi agents long after this claim had been debunked. 

Do Democracies have More Effective, Consistent, and Predictable Foreign Policies than Dictatorships?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Middle Eastern states, almost all of them dictatorships, constantly bicker amongst themselves and enter into relatively childish diplomatic rows over perceived and personal slights. There is no common Arab policy to any regional or international problem, because there seem to be little structural incentives to induce Arab leaders to make an effort to agree on big issues. Part of the problem is when foreign policy is largely determined by either one person, or a very small coterie of elites around the royal court, then foreign policy initiatives have less force of legitimacy and are less sustainable because they can always be reversed fairly easily.

One could posit - as I will right now - that if Middle Eastern countries were relative democracies, they would be much more willing to cooperate with each other, and would be more willing to play strong, confident leadership roles in tacking difficult regional issues. Turkey, of course, is a good example of how this might look in practice. I have some ideas why this might be the case, but seeing empirical data on this would be interesting. Independent variable = regime type. Dependent variable = foreign policy efficacy, which you could probably measure in a variety of ways.

Several hypotheses:
1) If you delegate parts of the foreign policy apparatus to professional bureaucracies (as is usually the case in democracies), the result is a greater degree of professionalism and consistency, across different administrations.

2) Since democratically-elected government are accountable to the electorate, they have a greater incentive to demonstrate a willingness to increase ties, especially economic ties, with neighboring countries.

3) In the Middle Eastern contexts, most populations share a common culture, history, and/or language. If foreign policy better reflects the will of the electorate, you could expect the foreign policies of different Arab or Middle Eastern states to converge more. Another way of putting it is that, if there were free and fair elections in every Middle Eastern countries, all governments would have an Islamic flavor of some sort and would prioritize strengthening ties with other governments that also had an Islamic flavor. This would probably have both positive and negative consequences for American regional interests, but there would, in my view, be ways to minimize the negative consequences. Turkey, again, is a good example of an Islamically-flavored ruling party engaging in a responsible and largely effective foreign policy. 

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