David Broder had an interesting column in today’s Washington Post about the loss of an important Republican moderate, Jim Leach. As a Democrat, I have to say that I was quite happy with the results this past November 7. However, as someone who also sees the need for bipartisan consensus building between moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats, I am saddened by Leach’s loss.
I spent 5 months in Iowa working on the Howard Dean campaign in Iowa and came to know Leach’s successor, David Loebsack, who was quite active in the Lynn county Dean campaign. He was a well known local expert on international relations. I know that David will do a fantastic job and am also happy to see him gain a voice in our Congress. Nevertheless, it saddens me that this must come at the price of eliminating moderate Republicans such as Leach. Leach was one of the few Republicans who broke with the President on the Iraq war resolution. Broder mentions that Leach was sometimes known as the conscience of Congress for not accepting any PAC or out of state contributions. (more…)
How bad are things for the Bush Administration in Iraq? Consider that even Henry Kissinger, a classic überhawk, if ever there was one, has said enough. Not to worry though; I’m sure Laura Bush and the boys at the American Enterprise Institute, Weekly Standard, National Review, Commentary magazine, Project for a New American Century – well, maybe not Richard Perle and Kenneth Adelman—still stand by their men, George and Dick..
But if so, they are one of the hardy few who do. Let’s face facts; even before the November 7 election U.S. Iraq policy was a fast sinking ship. Policymakers are both desperate for a solution and clueless. The regaining of power by the Democratic Party doesn’t change that.
So naturally, against all hope and logic, not to mention, intelligent thinking, the elites are hoping that the forthcoming report from the Baker-Hamilton commission, i.e. the Iraq Study Group, will pull a rabbit out of their magic hat so both parties can leave Iraq behind them and go on to the things that really matter, like the 2008 presidential election. (more…)
I was pleased to see Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, write a recent op-ed in The Jewish Week which offered a message of “support and encouragement to all the moderates of the Islamic world.” (click here) But Foxman’s original statement — that dialogue with Muslims was a “pipe dream” because “there is no one to talk to” — was irresponsible and should have been retracted rather than clarified.
When Foxman made his comment, I heard from many of my Muslim peers who are moderates that his words were hurtful. Indeed, just as these Muslim peers were outreaching to Jews like myself to advance a positive and constructive dialogue, the head of a major organization devoted to tolerance was saying that Muslims were incapable of such dialogue. Whether or not Foxman meant something more nuanced by his comment as he explained in his op-ed, his word choice was crude at best and on such a delicate issue there is no place for that type of imprecision. The entire point of Foxman’s opinion piece is that dialogue and words can be a powerful tool. If words matter, Foxman should have chosen his more carefully.
As a Jewish American, I believe strongly in the mission of the Anti-Defamation League. And our organization has worked before with ADL’s leadership to facilitate dialogue on U.S.-Muslim world relations. I know that the ADL’s heart is in the right place. But when the organization’s leader puts his foot in his mouth, he should acknowledge it and be big enough to say he misspoke and he’s sorry for the harm his comments have caused.
President Bush’s recent trip to Vietnam for the APEC summit raised obvious comparisons to Iraq, so the President had to comment on the “lesson of Vietnam.” Last week, the New York Times and other media outlets emphasized his statement that the chief lesson was that “we’ll succeed unless we quit.” Most people were surprised.
The Vietnam War offers many possible lessons. Sadly, the American discussion of Vietnam has been stunted by ideological division since early in the war. The war wrecked many academic departments with specialists in national security studies: people who should have been able to responsibly engage each other to talk about the lessons instead took up partisan causes, and the quality of debate suffered. Before the Iraq War, a few analysts were beginning to offer reasoned analysis of various aspects of Vietnam, although the academic analysis was tinged by the modern turn away from the study of big events like wars to focus on social and cultural history (which certainly has some value, but nevertheless has also certainly undermined the emphasis on a serious discussion of Vietnam). And the median academic tends to be pretty liberal, which also tinges writing on Vietnam — whether more or less than the relatively overt ideologies of the inside-the-beltway think tankers is hard to say. But with implications for Iraq on people’s minds now, the Vietnam commentary quickly returned to polemics and bludgeons.
That said, of all the lessons of Vietnam, “we’ll succeed unless we quit” seems a tough one to draw. (more…)
Just one week after the Democratic Party’s landslide election victory, internal party battles over House leadership positions are already calling into question Nancy Pelosi’s ability to lead effectively, particularly on foreign policy issues. Pelosi used strong-arm tactics in an effort to convince congressional Democrats to support John Murtha for the post of House Majority Leader, over the person backed by most House Democrats, Steny Hoyer. (The Democratic caucus elected Hoyer to the post today.) Pelosi reportedly supported Murtha for two reasons: 1) she has a long-standing feud with Hoyer; and 2) she backs Murtha’s call for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. These reasons are similar to those attributed to her intention to name someone other than Harman chair of the intelligence committee: 1) she and Harman do not get along; and 2) she thinks Harman has not criticized the Bush administration sharply enough for its intelligence policies.
Pelosi’s campaigns against Hoyer and Harman suggest she might not have the interpersonal skills, tolerance, and judgment to manage a diverse caucus of some 230 House Democrats. But I’ll focus here on the implications of these choices for the Democratic Party’s approach to foreign policy. (I discussed the choice for House intelligence committee chair in a previous post.)
Last week’s election results clearly represented a rejection by the American people of the Iraq war. The results seem to have led some Democrats to criticize the war more sharply and may have encouraged Pelosi to back Murtha publicly. But most Americans favor establishing a timetable for the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, rather than withdrawing immediately, as advocated by Murtha. Immediate withdrawal would increase the likelihood of a sectarian bloodbath in Iraq that is more deadly than the current civil war in that country, violent as that war is (yes, there is a civil war occurring in Iraq today). Precipitous withdrawal would also damage America’s credibility and embolden Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The extraction of U.S. forces from Iraq should not be America’s only goal at this point. We must balance that very important goal with the equally important goals of bringing an end to the sectarian conflict within Iraq and making Iraq more secure. I don’t have a magical formula for accomplishing that balancing act, but we must recognize its necessity. At the very least, enough U.S. forces need to stay in Iraq to help strengthen and train Iraqi security forces. (more…)
The Congressional earthquake a few days ago will soon bring new faces to the Senate and House. With the shift to Democratic leadership and an agenda not driven by the White House, US foreign policy is about to get a shot of adrenaline. Bipartisan efforts will be a natural outcome of this realignment; no one party rules completely with a Senate nearly tied. Democrats are also setting up an agenda with a strong moderate tone, one aimed at strengthening US leadership while enabling both new conservative Democrats and frustrated liberals to unite coming out of the gate. Moderate Republicans will have a strong voice, including the remaining New England GOP members. And Iraq is job #1.
So with this in mind I flipped open this month’s Foreign Policy magazine, drawn to a memo by Joshua Muravchik of the American Enterprise Institute on “Operation Comeback” addressed to “my fellow neoconservatives,” presented as a critical analysis for the way forward.
Given the upcoming Vanity Fair interviews with Richard Perle and Ken Adelman, who is quoted as saying that neoconservatism “is dead, at least for a generation. After Iraq…’it’s not going to sell,’” this could be part of an interesting dialogue.
But that’s not exactly what is offered – its more chilling. Written before the elections, Muravchik argues that neocons must learn from their mistakes – perhaps they underestimated how large a force was needed in Iraq – but then suggests that much of the problem is the neocon reliance on politicians to carry out their ideas. President Bush “took the path we wanted, but the policies are achieving uncertain success. His popularity has plummeted.” The ideas are sound, its just the messenger that’s flopped.
Next “neocon hero” Rumsfeld is criticized gently for an over-fixation on high tech, not human capacities. Instead, add more military forces, put Karl Rove and James Carville in charge of US support for Middle East moderates, and train US Foreign Service officers in the war of ideas, like those in the 1940s & 1950s who “learned their political skills…fighting commies in the labor unions.”
Now, having cleared up the critiques of neocon ideas (i.e., it’s the messenger!) Muravchik aims squarely at the future: Bomb Iran before the end of Bush’s term. “Even if things in Iraq get better, a nuclear-armed Iran will negate any progress there. Nothing will embolden terrorists and jihadists more than a nuclear-armed Iran.” (more…)
I know I should be writing about the election results. It is the first day after and normally I would not resist the opportunity. But we are going to be digesting the impact of this for some time to come. And as I have just returned to the United States after being away in Europe since late October I want to deal with something else.
While I was away I read about John Kerry’s attempt at humor, i.e., his telling college students that if they didn’t get an education, they would end up “stuck in Iraq.” Republicans, as you might expect, instantly attacked this as a deliberate insult to the troops; that he was saying people who served were morons.
Personally, I don’t think that is true. Kerry, having actually served in Vietnam, and having followed military affairs closely enough over the years, knows that the U.S. All Volunteer Force has generally done an excellent job in attracting qualified personnel. Not to mention that morons just don’t last in the military.
But even though Kerry botched the joke – don’t give up your day job John, or as Rodney Dangerfield would have said, “Take my senator, please,” he was on to something. When it comes to attracting and retaining qualified personnel the U.S. military has been having problems and it has been getting worse.
Let’s consider some actual facts. Bear with me; I’m going longer than normal here.
Whatever the outcome of today’s election, it is clear that this election is likely to shake up Washington. And one trend that is refreshing is the number of candidates who have pledged to work across the aisle to help deliver Washington from its currently dysfunctional state. Many Republicans like Chris Shays and Lincoln Chafee have separated themselves from Bush, by saying they don’t like his with us or against us leadership style. And many Democrats have taken sharp aim at Bush’s divisionary style, saying that it’s not just his policies, but his ideological process that is disturbing.
My hope is that these leaders continue to sound these tunes even after the election when their parties start putting pressure on them to satisfy the base. It is somewhat ironic that such a nasty election might bring bi-partisanship to Washington, but my hope is this just might be an election that begins to build a bi-partisan movement.
Tomorrow will be a big day for a blog about bipartisanship in foreign policy. Or more likely, the “big” posts will start the next day, in the aftermath of the election, when we can try to figure out what the results mean. But even if we are all holding our breath, today’s not exactly the calm before the storm. We have two substantial bits of Iraq-related news to chew on, though they are not on the same scale.
The big news that led all of the major papers this weekend is that the Iraqi court has sentenced Saddam Hussein to death for his role in the murder of 148 Iraqis, retaliation for a 1982 assassination attempt on the dictator (see, for example, the New York Times). This news was hardly unexpected — nor was the sectarian split in the response on the streets of Iraq, for which the Iraqi government prepared by declaring curfews and increasing police presence. Once again, President Bush proclaimed a “landmark event” in Iraq, tired rhetoric after so many other “turning points” that have proven to make little difference. And critics suggested that Bush had somehow engineered the timing for electoral advantage, even though it seems highly unlikely that this announcement could excite anyone to vote one way or the other, since everyone has known for a long time that Saddam was going to be convicted, probably of multiple crimes after multiple trials — assuming that the Iraqis keep him alive long enough to try him repeatedly.
The surprising thing about Bush’s line on the Hussein verdict is that he described it as “a milestone in the Iraqi people’s efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law.” Of course, the tyrant hasn’t been ruling for years, and it’s hard to argue that there’s much “rule of law” in Iraq right now. The Iraqi government doesn’t really function, and the frequency of extra-judicial punishment (usually by grizzly killing) has been increasing. It is hard to imagine that this verdict is going to improve either the functioning of the police that enforce laws in Iraq or the functioning of the legislature that can’t decide on what laws should be enforced. The Hussein trial may be important to history, but surely it is a side-show for modern politics.
Meanwhile, the administration’s spokesmen claim that the other, “smaller” piece of news — an editorial in the Military Times newspapers calling for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s resignation — is also old hat. Yes, we’ve heard before that some people in the military are starting to question whether they are making any difference as they carry out their missions in Iraq. And yes, the commanders “in the field” have not called for Rumsfeld to resign. But it is hard to think that the commanders’ judgments about the current state of Iraq — and the trajectory of Iraqi government and security — match those of the political leadership. And the folks at Military Times have a strong connection to the troops, so we shouldn’t take their editorial as just “more of the same” from shrill war critics or a liberal media (although, fortunately, I’m not aware that anyone in the administration has used that particular line of defense). (more…)
With polls suggesting the Democratic Party will win control of the House next week, controversy is brewing about Nancy Pelosi’s likely choice—if she becomes Speaker—to chair the House intelligence committee. Recent articles in the Washington Post and New York Times indicate that Pelosi is planning to pass over Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the committee, in favor of the second- or third-ranking committee Democrat. If Pelosi does so, she’ll send a terrible signal that she views intelligence issues primarily as a partisan battleground, weakening Democratic prospects for gaining the American people’s trust on national security.
Pelosi reportedly opposes appointing Harman to the post because she doesn’t think Harman has attacked the Bush administration’s intelligence policies aggressively enough. In fact, Harman has regularly criticized various policies of the administration—including its distortion of intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs and its warrantless surveillance of Americans—but her criticisms have been reasoned and moderate and have been accompanied by constructive policy proposals.
Instead of focusing only on administration abuses, Harman has worked to reform and strengthen the intelligence community by sponsoring bills that would establish a government-wide security clearance system; prohibit military or intelligence officers from subjecting detainees to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; and affirm that the National Security Agency can only conduct domestic surveillance if it receives a court warrant. Harman has also been a leader of congressional efforts to modify provisions of the Patriot Act that infringe excessively on civil liberties, while preserving provisions that facilitate appropriate intelligence collection.
On all of these issues, Harman’s sensible positions fall clearly within the mainstream of American public opinion. Her centrism represents a valuable asset for Democrats at a time when the American people seek pragmatic bipartisan leadership on difficult national security issues. (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.