Lee Hamilton Commentary: Why incumbents keep getting re-elected

by PSA Staff | July 25th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee H. Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years and is also a member of the PSA Advisory Board. This original article can be found at Deming Headlight.

Lee Hamilton Commentary: Why incumbents keep getting re-elected

It’s no news that Congress is unpopular. In fact, at times it seems like the only real novelty on Capitol Hill would be a jump in its approval rating. In June, a Gallup poll found members’ standing with the American people at a historic low for a midterm-election year. Which might have been notable except, as The Washington Post pointed out, that “Congress’s approval rating has reached historic lows at least 12…times since 2010.”

Here’s the interesting thing: nearly three-quarters of Americans want to throw out most members of Congress, including their own representative, yet the vast majority of incumbents will be returning to Capitol Hill in January. In other words, Americans scorn Congress but keep re-electing its members. How could this be? (more…)

Lee Hamilton: Are we doomed to polarization?

by PSA Staff | July 14th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton: Are we doomed to polarization?

Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. He is also Co-Chair of  PSA’s Board of Advisors. This article originally appeared in the Rock River Times.

We Americans are trapped in a political dilemma. We all like representative democracy, but we don’t much like the way it’s performing.

The reason for this dissatisfaction is clear. Polls in recent years detail a polarized nation, divided both ideologically and politically. This is, as the Pew Research Center put it recently, “a defining feature of politics today.” In the public’s eye, Washington gets most of the blame for this. (more…)

Lee Hamilton: What our country needs from the press

by PSA Staff | June 13th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. Lee Hamilton is also the Co-Chair of PSA’s Board of Advisors. This article originally appeared in the Record Times.

Lee Hamilton: What our country needs from the press

These days, the scandal involving long wait times at VA hospitals can feel like some made-in-Washington spectacle generated by politicians looking for headlines. But it isn’t. It had its genesis in a late-April report on CNN that as many as 40 veterans may have died waiting for appointments at VA hospitals in Phoenix.

This investigative piece was notable for two reasons. It’s been a while since a news story so quickly provoked such a storm of public indignation that a cabinet secretary — deservedly or not — had no choice but to resign. And it’s a reminder of just how important old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting remains to our system of government, especially when it uncovers official misdoing. (more…)

After Ukraine, Obama Keeps an Eye on the Baltics

by PSA Staff | June 11th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Tara Sonenshine is distinguished fellow at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs and former under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. She is also a former member of PSA’s Board of Directors. This article originally appeared in Defense One.

After Ukraine, Obama Keeps an Eye on the Baltics

In the wake of the Ukraine election, all eyes are on Russia and President Vladimir Putin for signs of a full withdrawal of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border or an escalation of tensions in and around Kiev.

But there is another related hotspot to be watching:  the Baltics. While political analysts are busy imagining a new Ukraine with quasi-independent states or neutral, federated regions and political power-sharing arrangements, the Obama administration is rightly considering beefing up its military presence in Europe, perhaps going so far as granting a Baltic request for permanent NATO military bases. Having been somewhat blindsided by Ukraine, neither this administration nor European leaders want to take any chances.

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A Truly Strong Foreign Policy

by PSA Staff | May 9th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Gary Hart served as US Senator of Colorado from 1975-1987 and is currently a member of PSA’s Advisory Board. This article was originally published in the Huffington Post

A Truly Strong Foreign Policy

The weekend media featured an uncommon amount of navel gazing about foreign policy. Except the navel being gazed at belonged to Barack Obama. To the degree that pundits ever agree, they seemed to agree that the Obama foreign policy was “weak.” Predictably, there was little if any agreement as to what “strong” would look like.

Much of this desire for “strength” reflects a longing for the relative clarity of the Cold War: Democracy versus Communism; West versus East; NATO versus Warsaw Pact; our military versus their military. An all-out arms race was supportable because our economy was growing throughout most of this period (1947-1991).

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Ukraine, a Tale of Two Countries

by PSA Staff | March 24th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Tara Sonenshine is a former member of PSA’s Board of Directors. She also served as U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs and is currently a distinguished fellow at George Washington University. This article was originally published in the Washington Times.

Ukraine, a Tale of Two Countries

Ukraine’s real-life page-turning novel is getting complicated with new characters and scenes. America’s part in the story is a big one.

Interim President Arseniy Yatsenyuk came to Washington to see President Obama this week.

Ousted President Victor Yanukovych went to Moscow to give a speech.

In next week’s episode, citizens in Crimea will vote on a referendum on whether to leave Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is playing good-cop, bad-cop with America and Russia and may be the only one with real sway. Mrs. Merkel has alternated between suggesting to President Obama that Vladimir Putin is “in another world,” to rapping Mr. Putin on the knuckles for illegal behavior.

Which power will emerge as the real hero in this tale of two countries? My money is on Ukraine — because of one word: culture.

You can’t stop culture with military might. Culture creates societal change and is rarely motivated by the butt of a rifle or the barrel of a gun.

Visiting Ukraine last April, I saw the range of influences that make up the cultural diversity of this unique country. Every facet of Ukrainian life is a reminder of shared traditions.

I came in the season of Easter when children dye Easter eggs for the holiday. I attended a Jewish Shabbat service the same week.

I found museums in Kiev alive with paintings — Ukrainian art and Russian works co-existing in the National Art Museum in Kiev, from David Burliuk to Maria Sinyakova to Mikhail Boichuk and others.

Music in Ukraine ranges from Polissa pop to Kolomiya rap, from Cossack songs to Russian ballads. Even the cuisine is varied —from borshch to ukha, blyntsi to Paska. Its dishes and ingredients hail from Russia, Poland, Germany and Turkey.

Literature in Ukraine is translated around the world into German, English, Russian and other languages. Ukrainian poets and authors are often on display at Germany’s Leipzig Book Fair taking place this week.

Culture is a durable good and fortifies a nation.

What makes this tale so tragic is that even with a strong culture, Ukraine will pay a heavy price for Russia’s intervention. The Russian assault on Ukrainian life will drain the country of necessary resources at a time when the economy is terrible — one of the issues that Mr. Obama and Mr. Yatsenyuk discussed.

In addition to the positive sides of Ukrainian life, I saw, firsthand, an educational system in dire need of support. I visited School No. 168, bringing together students of diverse backgrounds including Ukrainian youth with disabilities. Like many educational institutions, School No. 168 needs funding, more books and computers so that young minds can be nourished and nurtured — so that they can produce more great writers and artists.

That’s where America and the West come in. We have to provide resources to keep Ukraine sturdy. The International Monetary Fund and congressional money is helpful but won’t immediately change circumstances on the ground. We need a public diplomacy campaign to raise money for Ukraine and to raise the rhetorical outrage. Let’s adopt Ukraine as a cause. The Ukrainian people have the right to choose their own diverse narrative — to write their own story.

As for the referendum, the Crimea is part of Ukraine and no referendum will be considered legal or binding by a 2014 global community. The Russian government can’t tell Ukrainians they are not part of Ukraine just as you can’t tell Ukrainian-Americans residing in Pennsylvania that they are not part of the United States.

Ukraine will emerge from this crisis stronger because of its culture and citizens. We have not read the last chapter.

Lee Hamilton on Congress: An Alternative to the Imperial Presidency

by PSA Staff | February 24th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is a member of PSA’s Advisory Board and the director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. This article was originally published on Glen Rose Current.

An Alternative to the Imperial Presidency

In his State of the Union speech to Congress last month, President Obama drew widespread attention for pledging to use his executive authority to advance his priorities. He insisted he intends to act with or without Congress, and listed well over a dozen actions he plans to take by executive order.

“Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families,” he said, “that’s what I’m going to do.”

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Are We Fighting a War on Terror in 2013?

by PSA Staff | December 13th, 2013 | |Subscribe
The author, Alessandria Dey, is an undergraduate student of Hamilton College and a current participant of Hamilton’s DC Program. She is an intern at  Partnership for a Secure America.

Are We Fighting a “War on Terror” in 2013?

In 2001, following the events of September 11th, former President Bush declared a “war on terror.” What followed was a military invasion into Afghanistan, marking the beginning of this long war. Now, after more than a decade of active U.S. military presence, many are questioning our nation’s future intentions in the Middle East. In addition to the continuation of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, U.S. involvement in counterinsurgencies and nation building has led to more skepticism of our foreign policy goals. The main question is: are we fighting a “war on terror” in 2013? The answer is yes.

A “war on terror” is defined beyond direct altercations with terrorist groups. In addition to combating terrorist groups and affiliates, the “war on terror” is a crusade against potential security threats against the U.S. In 2013, a “war on terror” includes the repression of terrorist groups, democratization of the Middle East, and continued nation-building – essential objectives for protecting the homeland in the long term.

There has been a notable decrease in the activities of major terrorist groups after the initial invasion of Afghanistan. Despite the decrease in the activities of groups like al-Qaeda, their presence and the determination of insurgents remain a threat to the government in place. U.S. involvement in counterinsurgency campaigns is vital to the stability of Afghanistan.  Insurgents are responsible for a considerable amount of damage and their relationship with al-Qaeda remains intact. They  hinder economic development and improvement in governance needed for the long term stability of Afghanistan. Four thousand Afghan civilians in the first half of 2013 were victims of insurgents’ high profile attacks. Suicide attacks remain steady with 150 per year since 2009. Insurgents are now infiltrating the Afghan police  and turning their weapons on Afghan and NATO forces. (more…)

Even in national security realm, dogged journalism a blessing, not a curse

by PSA Staff | December 2nd, 2013 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He is a member of the PSA Advisory Board.  He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.  This article originally appeared in the Union-Bulletin.

Even in national security realm, dogged journalism a blessing, not a curse

Let’s start with the obvious: A democracy needs intelligence agencies. It needs to know what’s happening in the world — and understand the plans of allies and enemies — to keep the nation prepared and secure.

If intelligence work is going to be effective, much of it has to be done in secret. “National security” is not merely an excuse for keeping intelligence activity under wraps: often, the only way to protect our collective well-being is to pursue many national security activities, including intelligence-gathering, in the dark.

But that’s if they’re legitimately in the national interest. All too often, governments use secrecy to protect themselves politically or to shroud activities that, seen in the cold light of day, their citizens would reject. This is why secrecy in government can be dangerous, and should be subject to the checks and balances of our constitutional system.

However legitimate secrecy may be, though, there is a limit to how much a democracy can stand. As ordinary citizens, we need information about what our government is up to in order to make informed and discriminating choices about politicians and policies. Journalists and their media outlets are indispensable conveyors of this information. The work of the journalist, who often presses for a more open, accountable government, creates tensions with a government set upon guarding state secrets. But it’s a healthy, much-needed tension. (more…)

The Need for Bipartisanship on U.S.-Burma Policy

by PSA Staff | November 1st, 2013 | |Subscribe

Ryan McClure is an attorney, intern at Partnership for a Secure America, and foreign policy blogger focusing on U.S. foreign policy in East Asia.  He can be followed on Twitter @The BambooC.

The Need for Bipartisanship on U.S.-Burma Policy

The United States’ relationship with Burma has greatly changed in a brief period of time.  Just three years ago, Burma was a pariah state subject to severe American sanctions.  Today, sanctions have been lessened and the Burmese president is welcomed at the White House.  The reason for these changes is Burma’s quasi-military government’s decision to carry out political reform toward a more democratic system.  However, political oppression and human rights violations continue.

The Obama Administration, while aware of these abuses, persists in rewarding the Burmese government for geo-strategic reasons.  Because of this, Congress must press the Administration to institute a more deliberate policy that rewards Burma with economic and diplomatic engagement only when concrete, sustained benchmarks have been met.   (more…)

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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.