Democracy Arsenal

January 04, 2007

Intelligence, State Dept.

Negroponte: Benched, or Deep Relief?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I was waiting for The Washington Note to weigh in on what to think about John Negroponte stepping down as Director of National Intelligence to go be Rice's deputy at State.  But Steve Clemons seems to be trapped at some garden spot without a hard drive -- so let's think for ourselves:

Two-word comment:  Systemic Failure.  There's some amusing gossip/inside baseball/Kremlinology on this move, some of which I note below.  But fundamentally, the idea that a holder of the intelligence position could even consider leaving it for a lower-ranking government job suggests to me that the effort to reform how we manage intelligence has, ummm, not yet succeeded.  Something is very wrong if our senior intelligence job is less attractive than being the waterboy for ANY Secretary of State.

Three word comment:  Staying the Course:  Last May, Steve seemed to see Negroponte in his intel position as a key opponent of then-Secretary Rumsfeld.  Interesting that Rumsfeld's departure didn't make Negroponte want to stay/able to stay.  One should conclude, as if there wasn't enough evidence pouring in from other quarters, that this Administration is not planning to change in any fundamental way.   

Gossipy question: Jumped or Pushed?  That's how NPR framed it this morning. Negroponte told C-SPAN just last month that he was in it through this Administration.  I thought I heard someone on NPR say that Negroponte had also clashed with Rice in the past, but perhaps I hallucinated that in a pre-caffeine haze. 

I'll even leave you with a Thursday morning conspiracy theory:  what if this were a preliminary move because Rice is planning to leave State?  I don't expect that myself, but one could see Negroponte, a career foreign service officer, hoping to do a Lawrence Eagleburger and become Secretary briefly at the end of this Administration.   

December 04, 2006

State Dept.

More on Condi's Instability Fetish
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Condoleezza Rice apparently likes her foreign policy “shaken, not stirred” – an excellent way of putting it courtesy of Michael’s last post. Similarly, some had credited (or attacked) Condi last year for her purported belief in “constructive instability” – the idea that the Middle East had become so stagnant over the decades that only external “shocks” could save the region from further stagnation. In other words, desperate times call for desperate measures. One imagines that this notion  – and not the fact that leaving Saddam in power in 1991 led to the slaughter of tens of thousands of Iraqis – is what keeps Brent Scrowcroft from sleeping soundly in his latter days. To be honest, this is kind of why I like Condi/Dr. Rice, because unlike some others in the Bush administration, she actually seems to genuinely believe in this fascinating (if somewhat destructive) view of international relations.

It is not surprising then that Stephen Krasner is her point person at the Department of Policy Planning. Krasner, a renowned academic who like Rice taught at Stanford, is often thought of as a realist. I haven’t read that much of Krasner’s work, but I do remember one article of his in particular ("Approaches to the State: Alternative Conceptions and Historical Dynamics" in Comparative Politics, Jan. 1984) which caught my attention. In it, he notes the lack of a compelling theory of institutional change and puts forward the notion of “punctuated equilibrium,” borrowed from the biological sciences. The idea is that once institutional statis sets in (as it almost inevitably does), it becomes hard to change course. As Krasner notes, “once a particular fork is chosen, it is very difficult to get back on a rejected path.” However, it is possible to “punctuate” the equilibrium. He quotes Steven Jay Gould who argues that change is “accomplished rapidly when a stable structure is stressed beyond its buffering capacity to resist and absorb.”

This appears to be an approximation of Condi’s approach to the Middle East. The region has been beset for decades by a profound socio-economic, cultural, and political stagnation. Change will not come on its own, because existing structures have developed their own momentum over time, while creating and strengthening safeguards that ensure a continuation of the status quo. What, then, does one do? Well, you “puncture” the equilibrium. You overwhelm a system with excess inputs and demands, with the expectation that it will give way under sustained pressure. In such a scenario, it remains unclear what kind of change will come about, but at least there will be change. And, to be sure, the Middle East has changed quite a bit over the last few years. Out of chaos will come a new dawn. Or "the birth pangs of the new Middle East"…so on and so forth. This is, of course, all very scary, particularly for people who are not used to such “excitement” (or for the people who must pay for such designs with their lives). However, it is unclear whether the problem is in the idea or the execution. I suspect it’s more the latter.

Continue reading "More on Condi's Instability Fetish" »

August 10, 2006

State Dept.

Karen Hughes is at Summer Camp
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Shadi asks such a good question -- Where is Karen Hughes -- that I thought I'd try to answer it.  And indeed, it wasn't hard.  Just last week, she sat down for an interview with the Dallas News which included this gem of a public diplomacy priority:

summer camps to teach English.

Now, it would actually be a cheap shot to contrast that proposal with the depth of disaster that is our Middle East policy. 

But I can't resist it.  Let's see -- maybe one in Ramallah; one in the Lebanese mountains -- so beautiful; and one each for Iraq's Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites!

Seriously, in places like Indonesia, Turkey, parts of Africa, I think that might be a reasonable idea.  But what it does highlight is the long-term, slow-moving nature of public diplomacy -- and the utter foolishness, or cynicism, of presenting Ms. Hughes' work as the solution to the problem of our terrible image in large parts of the world.

It's like your mama used to tell you about your reputation -- takes a long time to build it up but only a short time to lose it.

(Another reason Ms. Hughes might want to disappear -- release of this study showing that attitudes toward the US actually worsened among Arab students who took in the two US-funded networks, Radio Sawa and Alhurra tv.) 

State Dept.

Karen Hughes is Missing
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Is somebody going to file a missing person report on Karen Hughes? If any Democracy Arsenal readers know of her whereabouts, please email me immediately. This, I wish to tell you, is of the greatest importance.

It is unfortunate, tragic even, but Ms Hughes has been missing in action since July 13. But now of all times, you ask in frustration? 

Well, the State Department’s got to get its act together. Actually, never mind that. It’s too late. There is nothing quite left to salvage. Condoleezza Rice appears intent on saying the most bizarrely inappropriate things to already skeptical international audiences. As Arianna Huffington observed, it’s not exactly the best idea to compare war to labor contractions. Stop talking about the “new Middle East” for God’s sake! If this is the “new” Middle East, then I think I’ll have to take the “old” one, thank you. Condi is doing what no brave soul before her had ever been able to do – make Brent Scrowcroft look like a genius. This is problematic because Scrowcroft is not a genius. “Constructive instability” or “fifty years of perpetual peace”? This is what we’ve been reduced to. Republicans seem capable of only two responses to foreign policy debacles: rummy, bluster and butt-kicking and…ummm…the dank grayness of realpolitik. Yuggh….well, we – the brave purveyors of democracy’s arsenal – reject both.

If this nonsense is going to continue, then one has to wonder what the point of having an Office of Public Diplomacy (drastically underfunded anyway) is in the first place.

I can’t remember the last time I heard an Egyptian say something good about America (praise for George Clooney doesn’t count). This gets tiresome after awhile. So, I’ve downgraded my expectations and now I shoot for more realistic objectives. Now, during heated discussions in the dusty, sprawling metropolis we call Cairo, I consider it a success when I convince the other person that America is not evil. Usually I do this by repeating the name Bill Clinton over and over again, no less than twenty times. It also helps to mention that we saved Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims from genocide and that, contrary to popular belief, Kosovo does not have any oil. Well, I may not be a public diplomacy machine, but I do what I can. One small step at a time. But odes to Clinton, however appropriate, do not exactly bear the makings of a successful, long-term public diplomacy campaign. In any case, that (Clinton) was then, this (Bush) is now.

July 19, 2006

State Dept.

Scorn the Past, Repeat it Twice as Hard
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Condoleezza Rice should be muttering two words to herself:  Madeleine Albright, Madeleine Albright.

When you're a celebrity Secretary of State, you get strange fan mail, and while I worked for her Albright received a letter from the husband of a woman who, late in pregnancy, had been working a crossword puzzle with the clue "first woman Secretary of State."  She couldn't recall the name.  But something about going into labor later in the day tripped her memory, and she was wheeled into the hospital shouting "Madeleine Albright, Madeleine Albright."

Touching, no?  Rice has never given birth, of course, but with all the calls for her to head to the Middle East this week she ought to recognize the feeling.

Albright has publicly and privately been giving Rice, and before her Colin Powell, advice she learned the hard way:  you think, as Secretary of State, you can avoid getting sucked into painful Middle East shuttle diplomacy.  But you can't.

And if that isn't enough, today we have Newt Gingrich offering a comparison to another of Albright's unlovely second-term assignments:  "Is the next stage for Condi to go dancing with Kim Jong Il?"  I wish I were skilled enough in computer graphics to create a photomontage of that. 

Newt does have a way with a phrase, and he puts his finger on a nasty little reality here:  the next stage is for Rice to talk to Kim Jong Il's representatives; and, however long they postpone it in (misguided) hopes that Israel's military strategy can produce something other than the pro-Hezbollah alignment that it already seems to be ratifying, Rice will eventually have to go lead a press for a cease-fire.  Why?  Because we've let years go by without helping Israelis, Palestinians and their other neighbors build machinery that could do it without us.  Because we can't afford to have Iraqi Shiite extremists taking actions in support of Hezbollah.  Because we ought to care about the fate of Lebanese democracy, as this Arab blogger wisely points out.

The Bush Administration is about to learn, considerably later than its predecessor, that "creative chaos" is best kept inside the Administration.  The rest of its tenure will be spent trying to tamp down the fires that they either allowed to spring up (North Korea, which figured out a "good" way to get our attention after this Administrration determined to ignore it in 2001-2) or deliberately unleashed (an Arab power vacuum which Hezbollah is hoping, by new feats of ugly attacks on civilians, to spring). 

So stock up on support stockings for the plane ride, take a cushion for the hard chairs outside the Syrian president's office... and think of it as prep for dealing with all those NFL owners when Rice becomes commissioner.

June 29, 2006

Middle East, State Dept.

Scrowcroft’s Ghost Continues to Haunt the Hallways of the State Department
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I remember the last time I was in Cairo in May 2005. There was, then, a sense that things were finally moving forward. Hope – that most rare of luxuries – was making a comeback (albeit a modest one). Today, the level of repression is getting pretty bad, as I wrote on Tuesday. And, of course, the State Department can be counted on for making things even worse.

No one in the press seemed to care much about the congressional debate on US aid to Egypt which took place earlier this month, so, for posterity’s sake, let me bring to your attention a few things which capture, quite convincingly I think, the veritable death of the Bush administration’s efforts to democratize the Middle East. If you really care about democracy, I suggest you take a deep breath before you read how our venerable officials at the State Department - perhaps under the spell of the Scrowcroftian spirit which continues to haunt the writhing hallways of the Harry S. Truman Building (and especially the 7th floor) – made a mockery of our country's founding ideals. What the heck is Condoleezza doing?

On June 9th, Congress debated Egypt’s aid package. Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), an amendment which would have reduced US aid to Egypt by $100 million was defeated in a close 225-198 vote. Well, I'm sure you're wondering where the Bush administration stood? This, according to a rather interesting article in al-Ahram Weekly, before congress voted: “The Bush administration has called on Congress to keep annual aid to Egypt of nearly $2 billion dollars intact for the next fiscal year, arguing that America's strategic interests will be harmed if aid to the Egyptian government is cut.”

Then you had one mess of a May 17th congressional hearing on the question of US aid to Egypt. Here, the position of the State Department representatives couldn't have been more clear. You had stalwart realists like Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch, who never for one second cared about Bush’s “vision” for “ending tyranny,” insisting, impassionedly it seems from the transcript, for the maintenance of the status quo:

Our strategic partnership with Egypt is a cornerstone of US policy in the region. We share a vision of a Middle East that is at peace and free of terror.

Who cares about ideals when you’ve got interests? (I guess he forgot that nothing causes terrorism like tyranny). Then, Michael Coulter, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, pointed out that military aid to the Egyptian regime helps guarantee “a defense force capable of supporting US security.” I guess Coulter forgot to mention that Egypt also plays a valuable role in torturing the terrorism suspects that we ship over to them, as part of our extraordinary renditions program. Well, priorities are priorities.

June 28, 2006

State Dept.

Public Diplomacy: It's About Governing, Not Campaigning
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Since we've kept up quite a little Karen Hughes watch here at DemocracyArsenal, I want to give props to Steve Clemons' excellent post on public diplomacy this week, keying off this US News & World Report piece.

The gist:  Ms. Hughes is very adept at running campaigns, and she has instituted rapid-response and quick-hit initiatives which are well-run.  But public diplomacy is not primarily about short-term hits -- especially in societies which haven't yet been overtaken by our 24-hour quick-hit media culture.  It's about patient, long-term building of relationships, exchanges of ideas, sharing of information and opening of minds. 

My old boss Mort Abramowitz likes to say that our modern democratic culture is inimical to successful, thoughtful foreign policy.  I've never wanted to go that far.  But running foreign policy as an extension of campaign culture is certainly inimical to success.

And if you need further evidence of that, go look at the bad news in this year's Pew Global Attitude Survey.  America's image slid in most of the 15 countries surveyed; so much for that vaunted second-term charm offensive.

May 18, 2006

Africa, State Dept.

Why Bono Should be our Next Secretary of State
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Yes, this post may strike some as random, but it must be said, and I cannot help but say it. U2's Bono should be our next Secretary of State, under, of course, a Democratic administration in 2008. I came to this “conclusion,” when buried in my MP3 collection, I was struck once again by Bono’s remarkable skills as a communicator. In a live version of the classic “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” he breaks off into one of his impassioned mini-speeches:

Let me tell you something…I’ve had enough of Irish Americans who haven’t been back to their country in twenty or thirty years, come up to me and talk about the resistance, the revolution back home. And the glory of the revolution and the glory of dying for the revolution…Fuck the revolution! They don’t talk about the glory of killing for the revolution. What’s the glory in taking a man from his bed and gunning him down in front of his wife and his children? Where’s the glory in that? Where’s the glory in bombing a Remembrance Day parade of old-age pensioners their medals taken out and polished up for the day? Where’s the glory in that? To leave them dying or crippled for life or dead under the rubble of a revolution that the majority of people in my country don’t want…say no more, no more, no more, no more….”

The crowd, tens of thousands strong, screams back in unison. It is one of those rare, cathartic moments in music. Bono’s message here and elsewhere is affecting, powerful, and totally in keeping with America’s founding ideals. A keen regard not only for the dignity of the oppressed but for those who will no doubt be made to suffer in the sullied name of redemption. Joe Klein, to his credit, keeps on talking about the chokehold political consultants have on the Democratic Party and that we need genuine politicians who actually believe in something, who are alive with feeling, emotion, and (within bounds) righteous anger. Ok, then, let’s do this. Why Bono? Here are 7 reasons:

1. He actually does have substantive foreign policy experience, having met with and discussed the intricacies of Western aid to Africa with heads of state and senior-level officials from around the world. Moreover, he has been on the front lines of setting a new Africa agenda for development organizations, including USAID, the World Bank and the IMF.

Continue reading "Why Bono Should be our Next Secretary of State" »

April 18, 2006

State Dept.

Using Long Knives on Rice?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

She's had a long honeymoon.  She has websites begging her to run for President.  She has Democrats praying for her health and the New York Times fawning over her chamber playing.  And let's not forget the NFL.

But the hard right has had about enough of Secretary Rice and her diplomacy.

What's my evidence?  Last week, Robert Novak of Valerie Plame fame published a column entitled "Who Runs Our State Department?"

Nominally, the piece is an attack on Under Secretary Nicholas Burns for displaying insufficient hostility to the new UN Human Rights Council.  But it's really much more.  Novak notes that Nick, a well-regarded career foreign service officer, also had senior posts under President Clinton (when both Derek and I worked with him) and says that, if John Kerry were President, "Burns would have the job he has now and would be promoting the same policies."

OK, you think, just typical right-wing disdain for the folks who actually make government run.  But then comes this (emphasis mine):

News accounts did not even mention Burns. He flies below the radar in controlling State Department policy on many issues beyond human rights. Inside the Bush administration, Burns is seen as guiding the nation's course on Iran and Korea. His influence on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is so surprising that critics use the word Svengali.

On its face, this is just silly -- especially the same week that the American Prospect publishes Bob Dreyfuss' dissection of Dick Cheney's national security staff.  Either Dick Cheney controls everything or some career diplomat controls everything... what would you believe?  And does anybody seriously think that Secretary Rice, after four years running the Bush NSC, requires a Svengali?

No.  But somebody -- the same somebodies who talk to Bob Novak about subjects like Valerie Plame, or their unindicted co-conspirator friends -- thinks that things are looking too moderate at the State Department.  So this looks like a first effort at swiping at Rice second-hand -- particularly alarming if seen in the context of the debate over Iran.   

April 05, 2006

State Dept.

Karen Hughes Visits Airport, Discovers Palestine
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Last week, Karen Hughes gave an interview on National Public Radio's Morning Edition in which she described two "discoveries:" one, that much negative foreign opinion is driven by perceptions of the US role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and two, that Americans and foreigners must stand in separate lines in airport immigration, and that the process as a whole is not very "welcoming."

I guess I should be pleased that she is open-minded enough to learn on the job... not everyone is.

Continue reading "Karen Hughes Visits Airport, Discovers Palestine" »

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