Getting Beyond the Terror Only Politics

by Seth Green | October 26th, 2006 | |Subscribe

One thing that I’ve found very exciting about the lead up to the midterm elections is that candidates appear for the first time in years to be talking about more than the one issue of terrorism. Candidates are debating the economy–whether we want one that grows quickly and unevenly or more gradually and more humanely. They’re talking about ethics–and not just the Foley scandal but more broadly corporate corruption of Washington. And they’re talking about an actual exit strategy for Iraq rather than the tired politics of “better news is around the corner.” Maybe I am too optimistic but it strikes me that this may actually be an election where representatives are sent to Washington to represent the many issues of our everyday lives and not just to win on fear tactics and gay marriage debates and then make a set of other policy decisions that do not reflect the will of the people. It appears the public has become so fed up with this ideologically-driven governance that they are refusing this time to let these other issues they care about fall by the waste side. This could be exciting news for citizens and our democracy.

And if terrorism can become one of numerous issues on the agenda it may bode well for a bipartisan opportunity to get needed reforms accomplished. One of the current challenges is that because terror has been THE voting issue for such a long time, the parties have a reason to try to create differences between themselves. In a country where this is one of many issues, perhaps the parties will have more reason to work together to get things like port security done rather than continuing to use these issues for parisan grandstanding.

If We’re Not Going to “Stay the Course” …

by Eugene Gholz | October 25th, 2006 | |Subscribe

… then what are we going to do in Iraq? For a long time, President Bush repeated the phrase, “stay the course,” over and over to show his strategic commitment to Iraq. He meant that U.S. military forces are going to remain in Iraq at about their current numbers for the foreseeable future, trying to protect the Iraqi government that the U.S. created. As the sectarian violence has escalated and American casualties have increased recently, though, “stay the course” started to sound out of touch. So President Bush quietly stopped using the phrase, and then the Bush Administration started yesterday to loudly proclaim the rhetorical shift.

But the administration’s policy has not changed at all. At the strategic level, President Bush still expects American troops to stay engaged in Iraq for the foreseeable future. And at the tactical and operational levels, what the American military does on a day-to-day basis has changed repeatedly, as has the location in Iraq where the main weight of American combat power has been applied. Those adaptations have not always necessarily been in the right direction, and perhaps they have come too slowly at times. But Bush’s rhetorical change doesn’t reflect a new military reality; instead it reflects a fear that his “Stay the Course” line was painting the administration as a bunch of automatons. That would be both an undesirable message, politically, and an untrue one, at least on the details of the fight in Iraq. The policy has always been to make steady tactical and operational adjustments while maintaining the overall strategy, and that’s what it still is.

Meanwhile, a number of Republicans in Congress have also started to run from the “Stay the Course” line. Most of them, too, have no intention of changing the overall U.S. strategy: they think that the U.S. needs to stay in Iraq until we “win,” they still want the U.S. military to focus its day-to-day efforts on training the Iraqi military, and they have not changed their evaluation of U.S. goals or interests in Iraq.

No one is asking deep questions: How much is it worth to us for Iraq to be democratic rather than authoritarian? How much does stability in Iraq matter to the United States? How much leverage does the United States have in influencing the end-state in Iraq, and how much will be determined by forces beyond our control? A real rhetorical shift — or shift in the American political landscape — would start to raise these questions.

Instead, the phrase “partition” has started coming up more and more often in discussions of Iraq’s future — along with phrases like “looser confederation” and “regional autonomy.” I took those quotes from an NPR interview this morning with Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, but Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and others have made similar comments recently, too. Stallwart military supporters like Virginia Senator John Warner have also started to question whether “there is a change of course we should take” without specifically saying “partition.” (For coverage, see this article in The Guardian; hat-tip to Steve Clemmons’ The Washington Note blog for the reference, although I’m sure there’s other coverage out there.) These are Republican Senators at least sort-of joining Democrats who have questioned the Administration’s “Stay the Course” line for some time.

On this blog, Jordan Tama wondered yesterday if bipartisanship could provide political cover for politicians advocating a new, improved Iraq strategy. He specifically mentioned the possibility that a bipartisan advisory commission — the Iraq Study Group, chaired by James Baker — might be the solution to allow the U.S. to change its Iraq policy. And certain Democrats are not-so-quietly lobbying for that outcome. Senator Joe Biden and Les Gelb, the chairman emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, published an op-ed column in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal making the same point. (Available by subscription only) Everyone seems to hope that the ISG Report, which will be released after the election, will restore bipartisanship to Iraq policy and get us out of our mess.

It may be dangerous to say this on a blog site hosted by an organization created in part by people involved in another great independent bipartisan commission — the 9/11 Commission — but independent advisory commissions are not the answer to America’s foreign policy problems. The Iraq Study Groups can’t fix what’s wrong. And I would still believe that, even if I thought partition would “fix” Iraq. (more…)

How can we move from ideological balkanization to bipartisanship?

by Jordan Tama | October 24th, 2006 | |Subscribe

I’ll be filling in for Brian Vogt as a guest blogger while he’s in Congo for the next few weeks.

In her most recent post, Victoria Holt poses an important question: “Do people reading this blog have friends who are politically different?” I agree with her assessment that too few of us do and more of us should. (I am guilty myself: in a quick count of twenty-five friends, I identified just two of them as conservatives.)

I worry especially that Web culture is fueling the proliferation of isolated ideological enclaves of people who share the same political perspectives and disdain those who disagree with them. This blog is unusual because it features Democrats and Republicans and seeks to foster bipartisanship. The ideological and partisan bent of most political blogs suggests that people want their sources of information, like their friends, to share their own biases.

Of course, this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon—for decades people have chosen which newspapers and magazines to read in part based on their political orientation. But good periodicals have featured relatively objective reporting and have presented a wide range of views. If fewer and fewer people access solid reporting and diverse opinions, the prospects for developing a more bipartisan foreign policy will dim.

I’m not too pessimistic, though. I take heart that something resembling national public opinion still exists. For instance, over time most Americans have developed the same basic understanding of the war in Iraq—that it isn’t worth the financial cost and enormous loss of American lives, but that we shouldn’t withdraw our troops precipitously. Democrats are not the only Americans who hold this view; millions of independents and Republicans do also. While partisan attacks among politicians about the war remain fierce, this growing consensus and the concomitant drop in public support for the Bush administration suggest that facts and commonsense can still carry the day over ideology.


Do You Have Only Red or Blue Friends?

by Victoria Holt | October 18th, 2006 | |Subscribe

Rep. Ford, Sen. Dirksen, Election night 1966. Courtesy of US electoral college, office of the federal register,

Given this blog’s effort to bring together voices and experts with different points of view, I thought that the Washington Post article by Shankar Vedantam, “Why Everyone You Know Thinks the Same as You, (Monday, October 15) offers a challenge to us by saying how we are drawn to groups that think more like us than we may want to admit – even in non-political environments.

Do people reading this blog have friends who are politically different?

As a new election day looms, this question is important.  The power structure in Congress could well shift.  It may already be changing from red to blue in Kansas.

The idea of this blog is that we don’t all think alike.  And big issues require working together – North Korea and Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan – for example.  But we’re fighting the odds. The article points out:

“Studies show that most people interested in politics associate nearly exclusively with others who have similar political beliefs. In fact, research by sociologist David Knoke at the University of Minnesota shows that if you know whether a person’s friends are Republicans, Democrats or independents, you can predict with near certainty that person’s political views.”

Seems the researchers think this gap is dangerous, and not just because it dims bipartisanship: “In politics, for example, the fact that people rarely have friends with different views makes it difficult to seek common ground or to examine one’s positions closely.”

When I worked in the House, I learned early that nothing moved (more…)

President Bush, methodology expert? Not!

by David Isenberg | October 17th, 2006 | |Subscribe

Talk about a numbers game! On October 11 the British medical journal Lancet published a study by a team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists that estimated that 655,000 more people have died in Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred.

The study’s researchers interviewed a random sample of households throughout Iraq. They concluded that there were 655,000 “excess deaths” as a result of the war, equivalent to 2.5 per cent of the pop­ulation; 601,000 died through violence, usually gunfire. The same researchers had in 2004 already published an estimate of almost 100,000 excess deaths in the first 18 months after the invasion, using a similar technique.

As numbers go that is shockingly high. It is more than 20 times the estimate of 30,000 civilian deaths that President Bush gave in a speech in December. It is more than 10 times the estimate of roughly 50,000 civilian deaths made by the British-based Iraq Body Count research group.

But even more shocking was the reaction of the Bush administration. President Bush said the study’s methodology had been “pretty well discredited.” “I don’t consider this a credible report. Neither does General Casey [the US commander in Iraq] and neither do Iraqi officials,” he said.

The problem is that the White House offered almost no specifics on methodological errors. And neither President Bush nor his press secretary Tony Snow, who has been dutifully spinning the same line are known for their biostatistician or public health credentials. (more…)

Getting the UN into Darfur

by Brian Vogt | October 13th, 2006 | |Subscribe

I hope that everyone has had a chance to see PSA’s recent statement on the Darfur crisis.  Although this week much attention has understandably been focused on North Korea, I strongly believe that it is important that at the same time we don’t push other issues of enormous humanitarian concern to the sidelines. 

I’d like to highlight a report on Darfur that the International Crisis Group released on Thursday that lays out the different options in dealing with this conflict.  I think that they do an excellent job of evaluating the pros and cons of different choices.  What is clear is that there is much more that we could be doing.  The Darfur Peace and Accountability has finally been passed by the House and the Senate.  The President will be signing this in the next several days. However, this is only a starting point.  There are many more things that we could be doing to put pressure on the Sudanese government to allow in UN peacekeepers.  Many of these have already been supported by the UN Security Council.  So, I ask, what are we waiting for? 

In other news, I’m actually heading out to the Congo (DRC) on Monday and will be there for a month.  I’ll be serving an international election observer with the Carter Center.  It promises to be quite an interesting experience.  While I’m gone, Jordan Tama will be guest blogging for me.  I look forward to updating you on the situation on the ground in the Congo upon my return. 

Cry havoc and let loose the books of war

by David Isenberg | October 4th, 2006 | |Subscribe

Sometimes, to paraphrase from the Bible, ones cup, runneth over. In terms of interesting revelations, and I don’t mean the former Rep. Mark Foley, we have learned that Henry Kissinger has not confined his advice giving to his consulting business. Instead he has been called on by the Bush White house to give advice. Let’s hope he does better there than he did in Vietnam.

We also know thanks to a partially declassified National Intelligence Estimate that Iraq is a veritable Chia pet for creating terrorists; just add occupying American troops and stand back and watch the insurgents bloom.

What else? Well, as it turns out President Bush actually lied to the American people about the situation in Iraq. Yes, I’m shocked, shocked I say!

And the former national security advisor and present secretary of state Condolleza Rice may have shrugged off meeting with then Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and his deputy Cofer Black in July 2001 who wanted to warn about a coming Al Qaeda attack. And, for that matter, Defense Secretary. Rumsfeld and former Attorney General John Ashcroft received the same CIA briefing about a week after Rice.

Since much of the above comes from Bob Woodward’s newly published book “State of Denial” it is worth spending a moment to consider the reception it is getting from inside the Beltway. Unlike 2002 when he published “Bush at War” or 2004, when he published “Plan of Attack”, which were well thought of and even recommended by the Bush administration this one is a 180 degree reversal.  Since Woodward has long enjoyed schmoozing with Washington elites and working with them, as opposed to confronting them, the book should be seen as further evidence of the splintering of the Bush dream world, where administration spin is dutifully regurgitated by the mainstream media outlets.


The Answer to Islamo-Fascism? Teach Better History

by Eugene Gholz | October 2nd, 2006 | |Subscribe

I don’t regularly read either the National Journal or the National Review, but based on recent articles that friends forwarded to me, perhaps I should look more often. First, in the September 23 National Journal, James Kitfield warns about the false analogy behind the label “Islamo-Fascist,” which he (like others) argues scores domestic political points but hurts U.S. efforts overseas (sadly, the article only seems available online to subscribers). Then, in the October 9 National Review, John Miller helps explain why we might be susceptible to such dangerous analogies: military history (and diplomatic history and other flavors of history dedicated to the study of traditional international affairs) is dying out in America’s universities.

Calling our terrorist extremist adversaries “fascists” is not entirely wrong. I certainly am not an expert on fascist philosophy or history, but it seems to me that a reasonable intuitive understanding of fascist ideology highlights its emphasis on community values over individual rights and fascism’s natural resonance with moral claims about “traditional” values and the “right” way to live your life. Violent advocates of fundamentalist Islam (that is, not even all advocates of fundamentalism let alone all Muslims) apparently share fascists’ willingness to use coercion to enforce their communitarian vision. Of course, fascism seems inherently tied to nationalism and the power of the state, while the fundamentalist Islamic vision presumably gives supreme power to religious rather than political leaders. And of course there are many other differences. But there is a natural resonance to language that defines the particular people who lead our nasty, violent opponents in the War on Terror as those Islamicists whose ideas are quasi-fascist.

Kitfield doesn’t explore that resonance. Instead, he points out (correctly) that the main point of the public use of the term “Islamo-fascist” is to draw another analogy between our current adversaries and Hitler et al. Pretty much everyone in the U.S. remembers World War II-era fascism as posing a serious, perhaps existential, threat to the United States. Fascists seem powerful and scary, and calling violent Islamists “fascist” might suggest that they are powerful and scary, too, which presumably would motivate Americans to accept setbacks in the War on Terror, to sacrifice civil liberties for the justifiable goal of bolstering our threatened national security, and, most cynically, to vote Republican because voters are thought to feel more comfortable with tough Republican handling of national security threats. Kitfield provides some evidence for this interpretation by quoting another journalist’s suggestion that the phrase “Islamo-fascist” came from Karl Rove-sponsored focus groups rather than from analysis of the philosophical links between Osama bin Ladin and Benito Mussolini.

Kitfield then goes on to explore the dangers of using rough analogies as the basis for foreign and military policy. (more…)

All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.