The Tyranny of the Status Quo

by Christopher Preble | April 30th, 2007 | |Subscribe

In 1984, the eminent economist Milton Friedman launched a book (co-written with his wife Rose) and a three-part television series under the title “The Tyranny of the Status Quo.” This project explored why changes to existing public policies often fail to materialize, even when the changes enjoy widespread support, and even when they are championed by popular and skilled political leaders. Friedman contended:

“everywhere, whether in the United States, Great Britain, France, or Germany, a new administration has just about six months to make major changes that will benefit the community at large. …Unless the occupant of [the White House], Republican or Democrat, makes such changes in the first few months after being elected or reelected, the tyranny of the status quo will assert itself and prevent further change.”

Although the Friedmans were speaking and writing about domestic policy, the tyranny of the status quo has a firm grip on foreign policy as well. In the speeches of the leading presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle, there is an unspoken assumption that the United States is the sole superpower, and that it will remain as such for the indefinite future.

Senators Obama and Clinton, as well as GOP front-runners Giuliani and Romney further argue that there is no alternative to this state of affairs, that the American public welcomes our nation’s role as the world’s policeman. The rest of the world, to the extent that their opinions matter, also welcome the American Goliath.

At least, that is what we are told.

One problem: it’s not true. A recent poll conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and WorldPublicOpinion.org found that:

Majorities in all 15 of the publics polled about the United States’ role in the world reject the idea that “as the sole remaining superpower, the US should continue to be the preeminent world leader in solving international problems.” 

On a related question, “Majorities in 13 out of 15 publics polled say the United States is ‘playing the role of world policeman more than it should be.'” The pollsters note: “The U.S. public is also among those convinced that the United States too often plays the role of world policeman. Seventy-six percent of Americans agree that their country is overdoing such activities.” American politicians ignore such sentiments at their own peril.

But if the two major parties offer candidates who agree with one other on the need to extend America’s unipolar moment, even as they disagree with three out of four Americans, what choice do voters really have?

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You want to talk about honor?

by David Isenberg | April 30th, 2007 | |Subscribe

Let me say upfront that there were a number of noteworthy bits on the shows this weekend so this is a long post.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was the designated administration point woman this weekend. Give her credit for hitting the mark on all the administration talking points. Here she is on ABC’s THIS WEEK:
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: So I’ve talked to many Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. Here’s what the possible compromise looks like, the Democrats drop the deadline, timeline for withdrawal, but benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet are written into the bill. Can the president accept that?
 
RICE: Well, the president has said that he will not accept anything that constitutes a timeline for American withdrawal and he certainly, after he if he gets the bill that’s there, he’s going to veto it and then he said that he wants to invite the leadership down to the White House to talk about how we move forward together. Because everyone would like to move forward together.
 
Now, as to benchmarks, let’s remember these are benchmarks the Iraqi government set for itself. We are doing everything we can to impress upon the Iraqi government the importance of getting their national reconciliation into law.
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you have no objection to them being in the law?
 
RICE: The problem is that if you try and make consequences about these benchmarks, you’re tying the hands of General Petraeus and the hands of Ambassador Crocker. We shouldn’t tie our own hands in using the tools that we have to help the Iraqis along with national reconciliation. It’s quite possible to send a strong message to the Iraqis, as Secretary Gates did, as the Congress is doing, that the American people do not have limitless patience in this and the president himself in every conversation with Iraqis is telling them exactly that.

 

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Quick info on the World Bank

by Eugene Gholz | April 27th, 2007 | |Subscribe

Here’s a useful column that provides some data following up on my earlier post about World Bank salaries.

I certainly wouldn’t defend all of Wolfowitz’ choices (at the Bank or before, e.g. on Iraq). Nor do I know enough to criticize the performance of any individual World Bank staffer.  But the institution certainly cries out for reform. That’s the main point here.

Update: Rice prefers old-fashioned letter-writing, thanks.

by Victoria Holt | April 26th, 2007 | |Subscribe

The Secretary is traveling, but Congressional Quarterly reports on her response to the House subpoenas sent yesterday.

Extraordinary: House Committee Votes to Subpoena Secretary Rice

by Victoria Holt | April 25th, 2007 | |Subscribe

This morning (Apr. 25) the House Government Reform Committee voted to subpoena Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for her testimony regarding the claim that Iraq sought uranium from Niger and other issues. Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) regretfully stated that the Committee had hit a “brick wall” with the Secretary. He has worked for four years to sort out how this now-discredited information first came to be used in the Administration’s arguments leading up to the Iraq war, including the statements of the President and other government officials.

The Committee has followed the trail of information in exhaustive detail (check out its website) since March 2003. He and other members have engaged in repeated efforts to gain information from Rice and other officials. And Waxman has asked Rice to answer specific questions, as in his most recent April 17 letter. This morning he stated the need for the subpoena:

In the last seven weeks, I have sent four letters to Secretary Rice and received three responses from her staff. My request is simple: I would like Secretary Rice to suggest a date that would be convenient for her to testify before our Committee.

Secretary Rice has already testified before House and Senate committees seven times this year. There is nothing extraordinary about our Committee’s request. But we have hit a brick wall with the Secretary of State. She will not propose a date to testify, she will not agree to testify, and she insists that our Committee be satisfied with partial information that was previously submitted to other committees…. I regret — I deeply regret — that the Secretary of State is giving us no choice but to proceed with a subpoena.

Waxman’s questions go to the heart of government accountability and Congressional oversight. Its a mystery as to why Rice would not appear before the Committee. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the US decision to go into Iraq, it is hard to understand how the Administration can deny answering such questions about the lead-up to the war in Iraq. That’s a story that both Congress and the public deserve.

What’s Yeltsin Got to do with It?

by Matthew Rojansky | April 24th, 2007 | |Subscribe

In the words of Mikhail Gorbachev, the man he forced from power and whose country he blotted off the map, Boris Yeltsin was a man “on whose shoulders rest[ed] major events for the good of the country and serious mistakes.”  Gorbachev might have added that Yeltsin’s were mighty shoulders that bore Russia to where it is today, and that, as Dmitri Trenin put it, the negative impact of Yeltsin’s tenure does not cancel out his more positive legacy.
 
Of what does that positive legacy consist?  According to Trenin, it includes marrying anti-communism to pro-democracy, securing the backing of Russians (the USSR’s dominant ethnic group and biggest beneficiaries) for dissolution of the Soviet empire, and at least attempting to continue reforms that Gorbachev himself was too tired and weak to see through.  Yeltsin’s most cited achievements also include his defeat of the 1991 communist putsch and the 1993 parliamentary uprising, and his maintenance of friendly relations with both departing Soviet republics and the United States.  But it was the manner of Yeltsin’s departure from office that set the stage for the emergence of a very different kind of Russia under Vladimir Putin, arguably a more significant and longer lasting dimension of the Yeltsin legacy than anything he achieved in the shadow of the expiring USSR.
 
If Putin may be termed a consequence or even a defining element of the Yeltsin legacy, will the former’s own promised departure from office yield a similarly mixed legacy?  Probably not.  Though the ex judo champion and Cold War spy master was Yeltsin’s hand-picked successor, each led Russia and will leave Russia on very different paths. (more…)

Wolfowitz and the World Bank

by Eugene Gholz | April 20th, 2007 | |Subscribe

Many people have reasons not to like Paul Wolfowitz. His association with the Iraq War probably tops the list. So critics have been looking for openings to try to drive him out of public life. The proximate goal is to force his resignation as president of the World Bank, and they have been able to create a scandal over the career of Wolfowitz’ girlfriend, Shaha Riza. American politicians (ok, Democrats who hate Wolfowitz because of Iraq — John Kerry and John Edwards in this story) are calling for his head, as are some major news outlets (the International Herald Tribune and The Economist, for example). The campaign is progressing to its next stage — piling on with other complaints, for example some European government’s disquiet over the World Bank’s future role in family planning as a part of development strategy or complaints that the borrowers from the World Bank don’t get enough of a role in the management that decides how much money they should get or how big a subsidy they should get on the interest rates.

But this particular “corruption” attack on Wolfowitz’ personnel action at the Bank seems decidedly unfair. As an aside, the stories about an earlier “gift” to Ms. Riza (a subcontract on a Pentagon project to plan for post-war Iraq — though a subcontract from which she drew no salary) are still too vague; of course the investigation of that contract should proceed deliberately and carefully, and contracting rules should be enforced. On the World Bank situation, though, we know a great deal.

The truth is that Wolfowitz acted relatively reasonably (as others have noted, too). The problem is with the World Bank itself. Pundits are missing the real scandal, because they are inclined to hate Wolfowitz rather than to find the big story.

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The Silly Season

by David Isenberg | April 20th, 2007 | |Subscribe

One sure sign that an election season is upon us is the inevitable silly remarks by various candidates.
 
We’ve already seen more than a few, the most recent notable being Sen. John McCain’s remark about how safe it is to walk around a Baghdad marketplace. But he is hardly the only one.
 
Take for example the remarks by Mitt Romney on April 10, saying that if elected president he would push to add at least 100,000 troops to the armed forces and significantly increase military spending.
 
When first reading it in the New York Times I thought that perhaps it was a misprint. But no mistake, it’s there on his website.
 
When you look at the actual speech one sees that Romney is hitting the traditional, rightwing, brain dead talking points, i.e., Clinton dismantled the military, we are under spending on weapons systems and strategic defense, that we should increase the percentage of GDP spent on the military, et cetera.
 
Really, one has to ask, how stupid does he think the average American voter is. I mean President Bush already announced in his State of the Union address his intention to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps over the next six years by 92,000 troops.
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NBC News is Endangering Us All

by Seth Green | April 18th, 2007 | |Subscribe

I just watched NBC Nightly News and can’t tell you how outraged I am. They showed long clips in which the killer, Cho Seung-Hui, explained why he committed the massacre at Virgnia Tech. Essentially, he said that he felt marginalized and this was his way of responding to his anger. He sees himself as a martyr for marginalized youth everywhere.

Clearly, his video is nonsense and any rational person immediately sees Cho for the senseless killer that he is. But I have no idea why NBC News would play this video knowing full well that there’s a large group of young people out there who also feel marginalized and who are not always thinking rationally. Doesn’t NBC News realize that they may be spreading horrific ideas in the minds of other mentally ill young people? What if his video resonates with young people who are looking for an outlet to express their anger?

I have been deeply saddened by the horrific events at Virgnia Tech. Our organization has a lot of wonderful student members at VT and we were working with them to put on a whole week of climate change events leading up to Earth Day. Then, I woke up Monday morning shocked and terrified by the massacre. I personally think NBC News should focus on telling the stories of the victims in this case and not give this cold-blooded murderer the exact attention he wanted — playing his video to millions of marginalized young people precisely as he has asked for them to do. Why grant this killer his dying wish? Why would NBC do this?

My guess is NBC thinks playing this exclusive video (with a big NBC label on the upper left hand corner of it) is good for ratings. So, I would encourage you not to watch NBC any more so they have no doubt in the future that showing these videos will hurt, rather than help, their ratings. And be sure to e-mail them to let them know why you’re tuning them out. My wife, a loyal NBC viewer, just sent them this note:

“As a former employee of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center, I normally believe that what journalists do is good for America, and that the more the public knows, the better off we all are. I have also made a point of tuning in for NBC Nightly News nearly every day for the last three years, not to mention Meet the Press and other news specials. I have long believed that you have the best reporting team on network TV.

However, NBC’s decision to broadcast footage from Cho Seung-Hui is disgraceful, dangerous, and morally reprehensible. How could you give the killer this final victory? How could you haunt the survivors with these horrific images? And how could you provide footage that might fuel copycat murders? (Cho Seung-Hui himself referred to the Columbine killers.) I cannot believe that you aired this.

Your decision to broadcast Cho Seung-Hui’s footage demonstrates a selfish desire to do anything for ratings. You might have reported on the footage and described it, but the fact that you actually showed it–even in part–simply empowers the killer and puts the rest of us in greater danger of copycat murders.

I am sorry to say that, starting tomorrow, I will no longer tune in to NBC Nightly News. I want no part in your network’s outrageous bid for ratings.”

Abu Zubaydah Alleges Torture….Claims Secured Info Was False

by Raj Purohit | April 18th, 2007 | |Subscribe

Abu Zubayah, supposedly the second most senior Al Qaeda operative in U.S. custody, made the claim of torture before the Combatant Status Review Tribunal, once again thrusting U.S. interrogation policy into the center of the “war on terror.”

Abu Zubaydah stated that he made up facts when tortured to stop the abuse. He said that: “The statement that I was an associate of Osama bin Laden is false.”

It is hard for one to tell what AZ’s exact relationship was with Bin Laden – was he a senior operative, a loose affiliate, a rival??

What I do know is that in a relatively recent conversation, with someone who has talked to a lot of intel types about AZ and Al Qaeda, it was suggested to me that AZ was cooperating UNTIL the torture started – after that, it was suggested by my contact, the info secured from him was almost worthless.

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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.