Democracy Arsenal

December 23, 2005

Human Rights, Intelligence, Justice

Imbalance of Power
Posted by Spencer Boyer

Spencer P. Boyer

Season's greetings.  Suzanne Nossel asked me to be a guest contributor while she is in South Africa. By way of background, I am a Fellow to the Security and Peace Initiative of the Center for American Progress and The Century Foundation.

President Bush defends his program of warrantless surveillance of Americans, in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, by pointing to a 2001 congressional resolution authorizing him to use all necessary force against those responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001. He also makes the case that, as Commander in Chief in a time of war, he has the power do whatever he sees fit, regardless of legal prohibitions, when he believes it is in the national interest to do so. Unfortunately, his actions are indefensible.

To start with, there is no ambiguity when it comes to FISA. Congress made it clear when it enacted the law in 1978 that the President must have a judicial warrant to eavesdrop on Americans. Congress clearly rejected the idea of inherent Presidential authority to conduct warrantless wiretaps in the U.S. and made such actions by the executive branch a crime.

The administration cites Congress’s 2001 use-of-force statute, which authorized the President to use “necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001,” as giving him the authority to conduct these warrantless searches on Americans. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales attempted to bolster this point by stating that domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency only occurs where there is a reasonable basis to conclude that one of the parties of the communication is a member of al Qaeda or otherwise affiliated. The administration’s points do not, however, make the domestic spying program any more legal.

As a general matter, a declaration of war, which we have not had since World War II, arguably triggers a range of common law-of-war authorities in addition to standby statutes keyed to “declared war,” “war,” or “time of war.” Use-of-force statutes, on the other hand, have less of a domino effect and do not trigger certain standby authorities, such as the power under the Alien Enemy Act to detain alien enemies, keyed to a declaration of war. But nothing in the 2001 congressional authorization, which was specific in its language, gives the President power to ignore the clear statutory prohibitions in FISA. FISA does allow the Attorney General to use warrantless wiretaps for fifteen days after a declaration of war. But even if the 2001 authorization was a declaration of war, which it was not, the surveillance would have been authorized for only that short period of time. 

In addition, in a Washington Post Op-ed on Friday, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle rejects the notion that Congress intended the 2001 authorization to exempt the President from FISA. Senator Daschle, who helped negotiate the authorization, states that the administration tried, and failed, to insert language allowing for expansive Presidential powers in the U.S.  Thus, there can be no illusion concerning Congress’s intent.

This administration’s penchant for increasing executive power in the name of national security – denying prisoners access to lawyers or courts, indefinitely detaining individuals as enemy combatants, rejecting the applicability of the Geneva Conventions – continues to trample on civil liberties. If we are to accept President Bush’s claim, he could ignore any clear law he disagrees with during our war on terrorism, which could last for decades. The Constitution requires the President to take care that all laws are faithfully executed, not just the ones he likes. The Framers of our Constitution guarded against an abuse of power by the President by embedding governmental powers in a system of checks and balances. It is time for Congress and the courts to re-establish the equilibrium.

December 15, 2005

Human Rights

Restoring America's Honor
Posted by Morton H. Halperin

As I write, the current session of the United States Congress is nearing its end. Congress is never at its best when it seeks to draft complicated legislation as it races for the door. Now it is close to banning torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment -- as it should. But at the same time it is close to limiting access to the courts to enforce this rule -- which it should not do.

Of the many issues in play in these last days none is more consequential for our own democracy, and for our ability to influence Iraqi and other behavior, than the debate over the Graham-Levin provisions seeking to limit the right of judicial review for those held in Guantanamo. This provision was written on the Senate floor without benefit of hearings and is now being rewritten in secret by conferees with little knowledge or understanding of what is at stake. This provision would undercut the intent of the McCain amendment banning torture, which this administration has now accepted. As Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter has urged, the provision should be stripped from the Defense Authorization bill now in conference and sent to the Judiciary Committee for hearings.

Continue reading "Restoring America's Honor" »

December 09, 2005

Human Rights

No Ambiguity on Torture
Posted by Morton H. Halperin

Secretary Rice implemented a two pronged strategy in dealing with the torture issue during her trip to Europe.  First, she threatened European governments by asserting that nothing was done that violated their sovereignty. The warning was clear:  the US government will expose the complicity of European governments in secret renditions if they continue to imply that they were done without their consent. Second, she implied that she was announcing a change in policy only to deny that she had.

This will not do. Congress must act to make clear that the United States will not engage in any conduct prohibited by the Convention Against Torture (CAT) as Congress understood those prohibitons when it ratified the CAT.

Continue reading "No Ambiguity on Torture" »

November 10, 2005

Human Rights

Intervention: When and How
Posted by Morton H. Halperin

My friends at the America Abroad blog have been conducting a lively debate about whether liberals have become too committed to intervention.  Ivo Daalder has been kind enough to encourage me to join the debate and I am pleased to do so.

There is as much confusion about this topic as almost any.  One part of the confusion is whether the term "intervention" means the use of military force.  I am going to use it in that way. Otherwise, we need to cope with the fact that the great powers, and especially the United States, are always  "intervening" in all sorts of situations, both by action and inaction.  The interesting and hard questions are about when we should use force.

The second confusion comes from lumping together different motives for intervention, especially those that pertain to American ideals, including stopping humanitarian disasters and promoting democracy.  I want to deal with these two motives for the use of military force.

I start with a strong bias in favor of a double standard.  That is, I recognize that we cannot intervene every time there are people being deprived of basic human rights.  Nor can we intervene every time democracy is threatened or an opportunity to establish democracy may be lost. However, that does not mean that we should never intervene.  That we cannot deal with all deprivations cannot mean that we should not act in those situations where we can make a difference for the better.

Let me start with humanitarian intervention. Certainly a commitment to react to a human rights violation by sending in military force would be a recipe for perpetual war.  There are many other things we can and should do to try to reduce suffering, including referring cases to the ICC and imposing targeted sanctions on the leaders of governments engaging in human rights abuses.

There have been a number of efforts to list the conditions to be met in determining when force should be used in reaction to systematic human rights abuses. They all reach similar and sensible conclusions.  First,  we would always prefer to go in pursuant to a UN Security Council resolution, but we cannot rule out acting when it is impossible to get one, especially if we try and are thwarted by a veto when a large majority of the Council is ready to authorize force.

Second, there must be proportionality of various kinds.  We must have reason to believe that the level of force contemplated can do the job and that it will not cause more harm and suffering than it will stop or deter.  Third, the nature of the human rights violation must be extremely serious, amounting to genocide or systematic violation of fundamental human rights.

As we contemplate the use of force we must be willing to use the amount of force necessary to accomplish the humanitarian goal -- no more and no less.  What that will be will vary from situation to situation.  In Somalia it was possible to establish safe havens where people could come for food and security without intervening in the civil war and seeking to capture warlords.  In Kosovo the administration that I was a part of concluded that the ethnic cleansing could be stopped only by securing three objectives -- the Serb military out,  an international military force in, and the future of Kosovo left for another day. 

When we intervene for humanitarian purposes we have an obligation to put into place institutions that can preserve the peace and to help build new governmental structures.  We have done very badly at that and will continue to do so until we create new organizations at the national and international level to perform these tasks.  Appointing coordinators, moving bureaucratic boxes around and even creating commissions is not enough.

On the question of intervention to promote democracy I start with a different premise.  The use of force can never be justified to seek to impose democracy on another country.  There are many reasons for this.  As Iraq reminds us, it is very very hard to do and often will lead to more suffering and armed conflict.  Moreover, democracy is not yet a universal value and I do not think we have the right to impose this form of government on others.  Democracy can work only if the people of a nation find a way to get on the path to democracy.  Then we have an obligation to help them stay on that path.  Once a people have started on the path to democracy, they have taken sovereignty into their hands.  Any group in that state which seeks to usurp that power is acting to undercut the sovereignty of a people and the international community, in my view, has a duty to do what it can to protect the people's sovereignty.

Only in rare circumstances does it make sense to contemplate the use of force to insure that a people who are on the path to democracy are able to remain on that path. That would happen when there is an illegal use of force -- usually a military coup -- to disrupt the democratic process.  (See Halperin and Galic, eds., Protecting Democracy, Lexington Books. 2005).

Even then military force may not always been sensible.  In some cases diplomacy and economic sanctions may be sufficient.  In other cases the government that was deposed, even if originally elected in a democratic free and fair election, may have become so corrupt that there is no chance to bring it back into force.  In those cases diplomacy should focus on the rapid return to democracy.

When there is a coup against a functioning democratic government and diplomatic and economic efforts fail to restore the legitimate government, the international community should consider the use of force.  A UN Security Council resolution, as in the case of Haiti, would provide the best legitimacy, but regional organizations to which the state belongs would have the right to act if necessary. Force must be limited and aimed only at restoring the previous legitimate government.

We must not let George Bush give intervention for humanitarian purposes or to advance democracy a bad name as he seeks to use them in retrospect to justify his Iraqi intervention.  At the same time we should not be driven to the view that such interventions are always justified if only done by the right people.

November 09, 2005

Democracy, Human Rights, Middle East, Progressive Strategy

What Does the Democratic Party Believe In?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

It's been a pleasure guest blogging for Democracy Arsenal. I hope I'€™ve provided some insight into the question of democracy promotion in the Arab world, and Egypt in particular. For this, my last post, I want to just throw out a few disjointed, but hopefully useful, thoughts about the future of the Democratic Party.

For a while now, I've been getting increasingly frustrated with our party's approach to foreign policy. Let me just backtrack a little bit. I remember, last year during the election campaign, when John Kerry cited "stability" as our most important objective in Iraq. There was something disturbing about the idea that our soldiers were dying by the hundreds for "stability." For some it seemed a perfectly logical statement - yet more evidence that Kerry would be the safe, sober choice relative to the recklessness of George Bush and his coterie of war-crazed advisors. For others like me, we wondered, perhaps with looks of incredulity on our faces, how and when sobriety had become the revered hallmark of the Democratic Party. (Of course, stability is of vital importance. But one would hope that stability is not, by itself, all we are striving for in Iraq).

This otherwise unremarkable statement from John Kerry was evidence of the poverty of new, or even interesting, ideas in our party. It's become a cliche by now, but we're lacking the "vision thing." For all its faults, at least the Bush administration acted (or pretended) like it operated out of conviction and not calculation. When you listened to Bush speak about a variety of foreign policy issues, you got a sense that he was presenting a vision, however frightening that vision sometimes was. Ideology mixed with foreign policy can be dangerous (i.e. the last 5 years) but, then again, I suspect that few Americans have an emotional affinity for the dank grayness of realpolitik.

There doesn'€™t seem to be even a trace of Woodrow Wilson in our Democratic leaders (Joe Biden is an exception that comes to mind). More often than not, we'€™ve avoided the issue of democracy promotion in the Middle East like it was some kind of partisan plague unleashed by Karl Rove. I dislike many things about Bush's foreign policy, but I -€“ and I say this with a more than a hint of reluctance -€“ really liked the language Bush used in his state of the union and inaugural addresses earlier this year. "All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you," or "the road of providence is uneven and unpredictable, yet we know where it leads: It leads to freedom." It'€™s unfortunate that these words, so long overdue, came from a Republican president. This used to be our issue. A passion for promoting freedom, democracy and human rights used to be what animated us and what drove us. This was the essence of what it meant to be a liberal internationalist. But now it seems that the liberals have turned conservative and the conservatives turned liberal.

It seems to me that a keen awareness of the West's often destructive role in the region coupled with well-deserved anger over the last 5 years of President Bush's messianic militarism has pushed many democrats to disengage from the noble and worthwhile venture of democracy building. In the process, the Democratic Party -€“ which used to be most vigorous in its support of humanitarian intervention abroad -€“ has ceded this crucial issue to the neo-conservatives.

So a few questions to all of you Democracy Arsenal readers and I'd love to hear your feedback: What do we believe in ? What are the ideas that guide us ? Will we be able to provide a bold, comprehensive vision for US foreign policy ?  More importantly, what is our overarching theme, our  message, our meta-narrative ?

Yes, I am a Democrat, and a proud one at that, but I have no problem saying that I hope that America's great project this century will be the unapologetic, vigorous promotion of democracy in the Middle East (note: this does not mean using military force). This is not so much a policy choice as it is a moral commitment. Moreover, it'€™s an idea and it'€™s a vision and, yes, it'€™s also in our national interests. This was once also, long ago, our language -€“ the language of Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy. It is easy to forget it now, but the driving force of the Left has always been something much greater, and certainly more noble than "stability." Let us, then, work to reclaim that lost spirit.

November 06, 2005

Human Rights, Progressive Strategy, Weekly Top Ten Lists

What Iraq Has Taught Us About Humanitarian Intervention
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

There's an important debate underway on America Abroad about where the liberal internationalist consensus for humanitarian intervention stands after Iraq (see Anne-Marie Slaughter's latest post for a partial summary).  The gist is an argument over whether, as David Rieff claims, after Iraq, humanitarian intervention can no longer be distinguished from self-interested, imperialistic interventions done under the guise of promoting human rights and ousting despots.  Back in the Spring of 2004 (actually, the Summer of 2003, in light of FA's pub cycle) I fretted that exactly this would happen, writing in Foreign Affairs that:

After September 11, conservatives adopted the trappings of liberal internationalism, entangling the rhetoric of human rights and democracy in a strategy of aggressive unilateralism. But the militant imperiousness of the Bush administration is fundamentally inconsistent with the ideals they claim to invoke. To reinvent liberal internationalism for the twenty-first century, progressives must wrest it back from Republican policymakers who have misapplied it.

Shadi Hamid has touched on similar issues in posts immediately below.   There's much I agree with in responses to Rieff from Slaughter, Bruce Jentleson, Ivo Daalder and John Ikenberry, including the essential point that Iraq was emphatically not a humanitarian intervention.  It doesn't even qualify as the hard case that might make bad law.   But that said, Iraq has taught us key lessons that can and must guide future thinking on humanitarian intervention, mostly raising the bar for when we should intervene and how we need to do it.  I list 10 of them.  Look forward to additions, subtractions and comments.

1.  Principle Motivation Must be Perceived as Humanitarian - I disagree strongly with Rieff that humanitarian intervention has already been discredited beyond salvation.  But after a few more Iraqs, that likely would be true.   No matter the stated reasons for intervention, audiences in the affected country and at home will judge motives for themselves.  Humanitarian intervention will normally implicate some strategic US interest, writ broadly.  But any whiff of narrower self-interest (especially involving economic or domestic political considerations) can foul the air completely.  James Baker's observation that we had no dog in the fight in Bosnia may, ironically, have helped legitimize our interventions in Bosnia and later in Kosovo.

2.  While it Need Not Necessarily Derive from Any Single Source, Legitimacy is Essential - Anne-Marie Slaughter and Ivo Daalder illuminate how the US operation in Kosovo, though without UN imprimatur, had the effect of "pushing" international law to provide broader license for similar interventions, culminating in this Fall's adoption of a UN "responsibility to protect" (a duty that, unaccountably, has not been invoked in Darfur).   Rather than fixating exclusively on a single form of sanction (UN Security Council, for example), advocates of humanitarian intervention will need to ensure they can credibly claim some source of legitimacy (for example, from a regional organization).

3.  Humanitarian intervention is war - Rieff is right to emphasize this, particular since the point was forgotten by those (outside the Administration) who favored war in Iraq on humanitarian grounds.    Many expected a quick, clean conflict and thought that if a brutal tyrant like Saddam could be ousted relatively bloodlessly well, then, why not?  Iraq is a reminder of the  risks that make going to war a momentous decision:  loss of American lives, loss of foreign lives, physical dislocations, social and psychological disruptions, regional destabilization and risk of unpredictable horribles.  While we rightly rue our failure to act in Rwanda, we perhaps don't think enough about what the never-fought "Rwanda War" (and subsequent occupation?) might have been like.

4.  Humanitarian intervention is more than just war - Those of us who believe that humanitarian intervention needs to be among the options available to US policymakers face a major challenge in bringing US capabilities to carry out the non-military aspects of intervention (stabilization, state-building, socio-economic reconstruction, etc.) up to the standards applied to our conventional military operations (counter-terrorism, unfortunately, excluded).   See here for more.

5.   Intervenor Bears Strict Liability for Anything That Goes Wrong - The reasons the operation in Iraq has gone so badly wrong have everything to do with the fact that this was not a humanitarian intervention:  if the US's motives weren't at issue, we wouldn't face the kind of insurgency we do.  But Iraq has nonetheless taught a sobering lesson about the responsibility an intervenor shoulders, fairly or not.  We should never again intervene without a serious examination of the worst-case scenario consequences and how to deal with them.

6.  Negligent Intervention May be Worse than No Intervention - Until Iraq, it never dawned on most of us that the US was capable of an operation as poorly planned and executed as the aftermath of the Iraq intervention.  But we know now.  A hard-headed assessment of preparedness and capabilities is essential to any future humanitarian intervention debate.

7.  When We Go at it Alone, We'd Better Understand Why - Many progressives subscribe to the mantra "with others where possible, alone where necessary."  When it comes to humanitarian intervention, we need to answer honestly why we're alone.  If its because of the rest of the world's biases, indifference, cowardice or helplessness, fine.  If its because we haven't proffered a rationale convincing enough to rally others, because they suspect our motives, or because they believe that measures short of intervention might work, we need to look hard at whether to go ahead.   Analyzing this objectively will be tough.

8.  Humanitarian Intervention Represents a Preventive Policy Failure - Given the emphasis that we progressives place on diplomacy, alliances, multilateral institutions, and fostering democracy and the rule of law, humanitarian intervention should only arise as a need once our best efforts on all these fronts have failed.  That notion may seem obvious, but truly embracing it means rejecting humanitarian intervention"ism" as a major pillar of progressive foreign policy (an pillar that wins favor partly because it allows liberals to demonstrate that they don't shy away from force).  John Ikenberry makes a similar point.

9.  Putting Values into Action Abroad Invites Scrutiny at Home - This is one of the most dangerous aspects of the neo-conservative hijacking of progressive priorities like human rights and the rule of law.  The abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have tainted the way these concepts are understood abroad, and we will spend years undoing that damage.

10.  Today's Interventions Will Both Dictate and Circumscribe Tomorrow's - What we used to think of as "Vietnam Syndrome" has turned out to be an eerie pendulum that swings from one era's mistakes of action (Vietnam, Somalia) into the next's errors of omission (Rwanda, Bosnia), and then back again (Iraq) and again (Darfur).   The challenge of us defenders of humanitarian intervention is to take the last 30 years of experience and build from it a vector of progress (Anne-Marie Slaughter's faith) rather than than a bloody cycle of repetition (Rieff's fear).

November 03, 2005

Human Rights

Preventing Cruel and Degrading Punishment for Terror Suspects
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

There have been some interesting reports this week about the deliberations underway in the Bush Administration over whether to adopt as part of Defense Department guidelines language from the Geneva Conventions that would prohibit cruel, humiliating and degrading punishment.   These guidelines would apparently not apply to CIA interrogations, meaning that the cover prisons now coming to light would not be bound by these strictures.

Some in the Administration are putting forward solid arguments:  that referencing the conventions will help rebuild support for the war on terror among our allies, and send a signal of good faith to Muslims.  This dovetails with the fight underway now in Congress over Senator John McCain's proposed law to ban inhuman treatment during interrogations, a bill President Bush has vowed to veto.

What's amazing is how simplistic the counter-argument seems to be.   According to the NY Times:

Their opponents, who include aides to Vice President Dick Cheney and some senior Pentagon officials, have argued strongly that the proposed language is vague, would tie the government's hands in combating terrorists and still would not satisfy America's critics, officials said . . .

"We may know what they mean in the United States," one senior administration official familiar with the debate said of the Geneva terms. "But views around the world may differ from ours. Having a female interrogator even asking questions of a male might be humiliating to some parts of the Muslim faith."

Here as elsewhere those who reject international law do so on the grounds that once the US acknowledges that international legal obligations exist and apply to us, we then surrender all ability to affect how those requirements are interpreted, and how our actions are evaluated against them. 

In fact its just the opposite.   At least in this case, the mantle of international law makes us more, not less, equipped to shape how our actions are perceived by others. 

First off, its worth noting that the reference to the Geneva provisions in this DoD manual will have absolutely no effect on whether others hold our behavior up to the Geneva standards.   The Bush Administration's rationale for claiming that detentions as part of the fight against terror are exempt from Geneva Convention requirements may have gotten a hearing in the early months after 9/11, but after Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, not to mention just the simple recognition that battling terror will go on for years and sweep up tens of thousands, it no longer holds up.  So allies and enemies will continue to measure our behavior against these standards whether we acknowledge them or not. 

Being able to cite a manual that mentioned Geneva Accord requirements would not have helped us quell the firestorm after Abu Ghraib.  But if US officers are acting in good fait (as they are 99% or more of the time), their government's willingness to formally commit itself to international standards means we're more likely to get the benefit of the doubt when actions are questioned. 

Yes, there will be disputes of legal interpretation - - but in most cases it will be neither possible nor necessary to definitively settle those.   Some Muslims might argue that having a female interrogate a male is inherently humiliating.  But that claim won't be tried in court, much less a Muslim court.  It will be aired publicly and, when the US is behaving reasonably, our interpretations will prevail.   

Our influence over the media, international institutions, and foreign governments gives us a leg up in ensuring that international legal provisions can't be easily used against us since we can shape how they are understood.  The vagueness of the provision that some in the Administration are complaining about can work in our favor, allowing us to argue that where unconventional techniques are needed, nothing in the convention prohibits them.

As for the point that embracing Geneva won't satisfy our critics, that's true.  But it may just satisfy some of our friends who would rather not criticize the US's conduct in the war on terror, but feel compelled to do so in the face of the Administration's apparent indifference to the human rights of certain detainees.

I made similar points several years ago, arguing that the US ought to wrap itself in the Geneva Conventions Law of Occupation in post-war Iraq in order to win ourselves some badly needed legitimacy.  The Administration rejected that approach then, but shouldn't again now.

Continue reading "Preventing Cruel and Degrading Punishment for Terror Suspects" »

September 28, 2005

Defense, Human Rights

Talk of the Blogs: Ian Fishback, 82nd Airborne
Posted by The Editors

By now you've probably heard of Captain Ian Fishback.  A member of the famed 82nd Airborne, he alleges that members of his battalion routinely beat and abused prisoners in 2003 and 2004.  Along with two other soldiers, Fishback recounted his story to Human Rights Watch after spending 17 months trying to use the proper channels, but it's his poignant letter to Senator John McCain which has the blogosphere talking:

We are America.  Our actions should be held to a higher standard.  I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is 'America.'
(Balkinization has the full text of the letter.)

Laura Rozen highlights portions of the HRW report.

Finally, Andrew Sullivan has really picked up on Fishback's story (here and here).

September 08, 2005

Human Rights, UN

UN Reform Issue Spotlight: Human Rights
Posted by David Shorr

I thought I'd temporarily set aside the debate of Pollyanna (me) versus Chicken Little (Mark Goldberg) versus Solomon (Suzanne) over whether agreement will be reached among UN reform negotiators in New York.

Instead I want to focus on one of the major issues of reform: creating a new Human Rights Council to replace the controversial Human Rights Commission. This issue is especially timely today. U.S. Ambassador John Bolton has requested a small group meeting on this disputed reform in New York, and the likely conveners of such a meeting are probing to make sure the Americans would be bringing new positions to the table. One central question is whether governments can be pressed to improve their rights records more effectively through confrontation or cooperation.

The existing commission is infamous for having some of the worst rights-violating regimes among its elected members -- among others the Sudanese government (even as it backs a genocidal campaign in Darfur). As such countries have used their places on the commission to shield themselves from international pressure, the body has drawn the scorn of the Bush Administration. But the commission is widely seen as discredited and a blot on the UN's reputation.

As it stands, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights meets for just a frenzied six weeks each spring, bickering continuously over resolutions. Now the diplomatic tug-of-war has carried over into the debate over replacing the commission with a new Human Rights Council that would remain in session all year. As one side sees it, the issue is the ability of rights-abusing regimes to fend off scrutiny; for the other side, the problem is the way the U.S. and others unfairly beat up on sovereign states.

As diplomats in New York wrangle over this, naturally there are structural issues regarding how the new body would be organized and elected (a summary of the U.S. position is here). The proposed mechanism for keeping the worst offenders off the council is to require election by a supermajority of two-thirds of the UN General Assembly. There is also supposed to be a system of peer review that subjects all countries to scrutiny on a regular rotation, beginning with those on the council -- a mechanism meant to level the playing field and also deter rights-abusers from seeking membership.

The real issue, though, is whether the council will push for improved rights by pointing fingers at regimes and voting on condemnatory resolutions or by extending a helping hand and quietly cooperating on solutions. The best approach, of course, is to strike a balance between naming-and-shaming and more cooperative approaches. Both are essential to strengthen human rights, and combining the two should be easier for a body that meets year-round.

August 22, 2005

Democracy, Human Rights, Justice, Progressive Strategy, Terrorism

Foiled by Idealism? - The US Foreign Policy Pendulum
Posted by Michael Kraig

Foreign Affairs Managing Editor Gideon Rose recently wrote a very provocative column in the NYT on August 18, appropriately titled, "Get Real."  It is a Realpolitik bashing of America's proclivity for swinging wildly between unrealistic ideals in international relations and prudent balance-of-power pragmatism. He's definitely on to something, but I question his description of current policy realities.

Rose's argument is compelling: the United States has swung back and forth for decades between getting into international messes because of ideals/culture/nationalism, after which pragmatic policies reign and the US extricates itself, only to repeat the idealist debacle again under another Administration.  This pattern, according to Rose, does not respect partisan lines; Dems or Republicans are both prone to the errors of idealism, and both sides have had their chance to extricate America from its unrealistic messes.

There is one problem, however: we are not swinging back to pragmatism this time around - at least, not yet. 

First, Rose forgets what all of DC and much of America have "learned" from their supposed past Realpolitik misdeeds during the Cold War: namely, it was not idealism that led to 9-11, according to this argument, but rather Realism itself that is the cold-blooded culprit.   In the new DC Consensus, our active aiding and abetting of all sorts of authoritarian nasties during the Cold War is what got us into the current mess and made us a hypocrtical sham the world over.  According to both Dems and Republicans, it is time to make things right.

Thus, despite the debacle in Iraq, there is still a largely unquestioned assumption - growing increasingly popular to the point of becoming received wisdom - that the US can only be secure through spreading and supporting true democracy and economic liberalization the world over.  In this new Consensus, the path to Realism is Idealism.   To lessen one's ideals in the name of pragmatism is to invite disaster. 

For this reason, authors such as Reinhold Neibuhr and Hans Morgenthau, and the halcyon Wise Men of post-WW II international system building  (Marshall, Acheson, Kennan, etc.), are no longer being held up as revered historical gurus.  After Vietnam, these Realists felt vindicated in their earlier assessment that our failure was due to an overzealous application of an unrealistic "domino theory" of communism based on the obsessive need to spread systems like ours throughout the Developing World.   There is no similar vindication occurring now; rather, criticism tends to be on the Bush Adm.'s bad methods and faulty original rationales (WMD arguments), rather than criticism of the core assumption of "transforming the Middle East."

More to the point, there is no indication that Condi Rice's State Department is prepared to implement a truly "balance of power" policy of Realpolitik pragmatism and/or a progressive policy of reciprocal engagement and cooperation with the enemy (i.e., detente or rapprochement).   Rose makes much of the new and improved operation at State, but here's what's missing in our actual security policies:

--support for a new security consensus, or common security vision, between the Developed and Developing World at the upcoming negotiations in NY for UN Reform (see Thursday's Washington Post story to see what I mean);

--support for new confidence-building measures (CBMs) toward "rogues" such as Syria, Iran, and North Korea, all of which essentially say, "We recognize you as a sovereign state with legitimate security concerns, interests, and anxieties, and we will talk with you about security guarantees that will meet the interests of both of us without undermining the other." 

--(in other words: a balance of interests, which is what the Realist's balance-of-power is meant to create);

--statements to the effect that our goal toward these 3 states is not regime change, preemptive, preventive, or otherwise, but rather is one of reaching detente or a "grand bargain" that meets the interests of both sides without endangering either side's security;

--allowance of our friends and allies in these respective regions to engage the rogues, invest in them, and trade with them, without punishment from us (for instance, allowing India to negotiate with Iran on a new oil pipeline for South Asia);

--engaging Iran to better manage the threat of a disintegrating Iraq, which would make both Iran and the US massively insecure;

--in sum: the idea of Nixon going to China, with a view of transforming things gradually through achieving a balance of interests and values, rather than radical transformation through winning a competition and delivering outright defeat via coercive methods (i.e., one side's values/interests overturning the other);

--all of this based on the assumption that North Korea, Iran, and Syria are not expansionist powers chomping on the bit to kick out the Americans and win aggressive wars against their neighbors, but rather are insecure regional powers who feel under constant threat of extinction - an assumption that is neither idealistic or realistic, but is simply the truth (see for instance Leon Sigal's argument in Arms Control Today concerning North Korea's motivations and intent, based on actual behavior).

Whatever the current realities, is Rose right in his prescriptions?  Yes.  I do hope that Rose's pragmatic turn will happen soon, as laid out above, because as recently argued by Realpolitik Middle East analyst F. Gregory Gause in Foreign Affairs,

"Is it true that the more democratic a country becomes, the less likely it is to produce terrorists and terrorist groups? In other words, is the security rationale for promoting democracy in the Arab world based on a sound premise? Unfortunately, the answer appears to be no....Terrorism appears to stem from factors much more specific than regime type. Nor is it likely that democratization would end the current campaign against the United States. Al Qaeda and like-minded groups are not fighting for democracy in the Muslim world; they are fighting to impose their vision of an Islamic state. Nor is there any evidence that democracy in the Arab world would "drain the swamp," eliminating soft support for terrorist organizations among the Arab public..."

Michael Kraig, Director of Policy Analysis and Dialogue, The Stanley Foundation

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