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…)
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…)
Tara D. Sonenshine is former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. She is currently a Distinguished Fellow at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. She is a former member of PSA’s Board of Directors. This article originally appeared in the National Geographic .
Opinion: Amid Shutdown, U.S. Government Should Learn From Apple
Branding America just got a bit harder.
A government shutdown is not the ideal way to convey U.S. values and interests overseas. Closing the federal government—especially our national parks, America’s signature attractions—undercuts the basic narrative that America is an open society, a tolerant nation, and a good partner in the world.
(See “National Parks: Shutting Down America’s Best Idea.”)
Now some might argue that a government shutdown, because it is a nonviolent act, reinforces U.S. values such as diversity of opinion, checks and balances, governing by a majority, and the right of individuals to disagree.
I don’t buy it. In the branding business, whether you are a country or a corporation, you have to be visible and active to maintain your image and to advance, economically and politically.
That’s because citizens are consumers—and citizen-consumers, increasingly, exercise power in today’s economy.
Congress might study corporate America for a few lessons. (more…)
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 Ceres Courier.
IN WASHINGTON, IDEOLOGY NEED NOT REIGN SUPREME
As I speak to people about the Congress, one question arises more than any other: Why is Congress gridlocked? People are perplexed and disappointed with its performance, and are searching hard for an answer.
The roots of Congress’s dysfunction are complex. But the fundamental reason is that real differences in ideology and principles about both government and governance exist among the voters. At heart, the reason it’s become so hard for Washington to act is that the two parties are being driven by fundamentally incompatible views.
Conservatives place a heavy emphasis on liberty, individual freedom, and self-reliance. They have little confidence in government’s ability to play a role in improving society or the economy, and many of them look upon government as destructive, a force that undermines our basic freedom. They are fearful of centralized power, opposed to redistribution of any kind, and opposed to new government programs – or even to improving existing government programs they’d rather see cut. They reject entirely the notion of raising taxes or imposing new regulations on the private sector.
Moreover, a belief has taken hold among some conservatives in recent years that compromise and accommodation are betrayals of their cause. This has put great pressure on GOP leaders not to budge in their negotiations with the White House and Senate Democrats.
This article was co-authored by Madeleine Albright and Richard Williamson. Madeleine K. Albright is a member of the PSA Advisory Board and was the 64th Secretary of State of the United States. Richard S. Williamson served as presidential envoy to Sudan under President George W. Bush. They recently co-chaired a working group on the Responsibility to Protect organized by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the United States Institute of Peace, and the Brookings Institution. This op-ed was originally published in Politico.
Our Shared Responsibility to Protect
In less than a decade, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has emerged as a widely shared doctrine of international relations, an amazingly rapid development for a concept that did not exist at the time of the Rwandan genocide or Balkan wars of the 1990s. Every nation in the world, including the United States, has recognized a responsibility to protect civilians anywhere from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, or ethnic cleansing, and — at least in theory — has pledged to act accordingly.
Sadly, the promise of R2P has been more noteworthy in the breach than in the honoring of our commitments. The current crisis in Syria, where Basharal-Assad’s regime has declared all-out war on its own people, is the most visible case of our collective failure to protect vulnerable populations from the most serious crimes. Less noticed is the ongoing struggle to protect the many million citizens of Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and other places where political leaders and their allies regularly employ violence against the defenseless.
Yet the gap between our words and deeds should not serve as an excuse to scrap the whole R2P enterprise, which remains a rallying point around the world to try to prevent the conscience-shocking atrocities that did not stop after the Holocaust.
Ambassador Paula Dobriansky is a member of the PSA Advisory Board and former Undersecretary of State. This article was originally published in the Washington Post.
Easing the way toward democracy for the people of Burma
After five decades of brutal military rule, hopeful signs have emerged in Burma. The military has partially opened up the political system and released Aung San Suu Kyi, the iconic leader of the country’s democracy movement, after 15 years of house arrest. Since September 2011, cease-fire agreements have been signed with 11 ethnic groups, contributing to national political reconciliation.
Yet, ending the military’s dominance is just one challenge. The daunting task is constructing a durable democracy in a country with limited civil society traditions and a complex ethnic and religious mix. The difficulty is underscored by the experiences of other multiethnic and multi-religious societies that have struggled to build democratic institutions after overthrowing a military dictatorship, with democratically elected leaders disregarding the rule of law.
The authoritarian tendencies Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi manifested in a remarkably short time show that having the pedigree of an opposition leader and being elected by the majority of voters do not ensure respect for the rule of law. Indeed, the absence of democratic governance in Egypt has become so acute that the coalition that recently ousted Morsiencompassed the military as well as secular and even some religious parties. In Turkey, despite decades of reasonably democratic rule — albeit with a strong military influence in politics — Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian conduct and overtly Islamist policies have prompted massive civil unrest.
In some respects, the challenges to democracy-building in Burma are greater than those in Egypt and Turkey. Burma has 135 officially recognized ethnic groups and multiple religions. The 2008 constitution, enacted under military rule, limits the degree of autonomy for Burma’s constituent states and reflects the government’s long-standing aversion to a federal structure. It also guarantees the military 25 percent of the seats in parliament.
Fortunately, Aung San Suu Kyi, now a member of parliament and head of the major opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), understands these challenges. When we met recently in Rangoon, she emphasized the importance of transparency and the rule of law, without which, she said, democracy will not become entrenched. She also met with five party leaders from the United Nationalities Alliance, representing diverse ethnic constituencies. Their meeting focused on key governance issues — in particular, amending the constitution to incorporate the federal political architecture.
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 was originally published in The Harold Bulletin.
Leadership: Democracy’s Essential Ingredient
For those of us who think and write about democracy, few things are more appealing than a book about how to make it work better. My shelves are groaning with them.
They contain a lot of good and helpful ideas. There are proposals on how to improve elections and plans for strengthening legislative bodies, judicial systems, and the rule of law. There’s a whole body of literature on how to make government and civil institutions stronger and more effective. There are ideas for buttressing the press and the public’s access to information, and schemes for improving the civic organizations, think tanks, watchdog groups and policy-focused nonprofits that make our democracy so vibrant.
But over time, I’ve concluded that as complicated as democracy’s workings might be, one thing matters above all else: effective leadership. It might not guarantee results, but without it, nothing much happens.
I saw this throughout my career in Congress, but it was most obvious in the counties and communities that made up my district. What struck me over and over was the difference that good leadership — both within and outside government — could make.
For instance, we now have fairly elaborate programs for the education of special-needs children. In my own state of Indiana, and in many others, this was not true a relatively short while ago. But over the years, parents, teachers, school leaders and others recognized the need, stepped forward, and pressed for change at every level from the school board to Congress.
Similarly, managing water resources has been an enormous challenge — dealing with floods when there’s too much and drought when there’s too little is a pressing matter in both rural and urban areas. But over the years, I’ve watched countless local leaders do the hard and sometimes tedious work of developing watershed programs. Our water supply today is far better managed than it used to be.
Everything from getting a gate put in at a dangerous rail crossing to strengthening local health-care facilities to building an effective local law-enforcement system — with capable police chiefs, dedicated judges and energetic prosecutors — demands that people step forward and lead. Strong leadership matters: to quality of life, to how well communities respond to challenges, and to how vital our communities are.
Being an active citizen matters, too, but as citizens we know that we depend heavily on good leaders to make our communities work. We rely on people to roll up their shirtsleeves at every level of our democracy, and we demand a great deal of them. We want them to set goals and motivate us. We expect them to plan, organize and manage effectively. We hope that they can take the disparate strands of our communities in hand and make sure they’re all pointed in the same direction. We look for a sort of tough-minded optimism, a conviction that “I can make a difference and so can you,” so that we’ll be inspired and energized by it.
That’s why communities pay so much attention to leadership development — to identifying and training young leaders who can make a difference to the places they live. Strong, capable, determined leadership provides the energy that improves the quality of life in a community and breathes life into our representative democracy.
One of the eternally refreshing gifts of our representative democracy is that it encourages people to solve problems in their community — to remember, as the saying goes, that democracy is not a spectator sport. Maybe they love where they live and want to make it better; maybe they have a child with special needs who is not being served well by the schools; perhaps they know in their hearts that they can do a better job than the people who are in charge right now. Whichever it is, people step forward — often out of nowhere — to take matters in hand. That’s what moves us forward as a society.
“I believe in Democracy because it releases the energies of every human being,” Woodrow Wilson said. It is the great paradox of representative democracy: we are free to remain passive, but we can’t make progress unless skillful, can-do people recognize that with freedom comes the responsibility to lead.
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 was originally published in the News-Sentinel.
Investigations get to the bottom of things and how to fix them for future
By my count, 11 separate Washington investigations are looking into the three big issues besetting the Obama administration right now: Benghazi, IRS targeting of tea party groups and the Justice Department’s pursuit of national security leaks to Associated Press reporters. That’s a lot of scrutinizing by any measure.
Don’t get me wrong. Each case raises important questions, and the investigations offer Americans the chance to find out what went wrong and to fix the problem. But that will only happen if the investigators — on Capitol Hill and within the executive branch — do it right.
I’ve done my share of digging into complex matters — as co-chair of the Iran-Contra Special Committee, of the 9/11 Commission and the Iraq Study Group — and what I know is this: An investigation ought to be forward-looking and constructive, focused on a key question that is important to the country and to the American people.
What does it take to keep our U.S. missions secure? That’s what the Benghazi inquiry is really about. How do we make sure the IRS remains rigorously non-partisan and competently managed? In the AP case, how should the government balance respect for freedom of the media against the need to safeguard national security? These are matters of national interest, and the investigations give us a chance to pursue each. (more…)
By Former Sens. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) Domenici is a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, and Nunn serves as a PSA Advisory Board Member and co-chairman of The Concord Coalition. This Op-Ed originally appeared in The Hill.
Congress’s budget process broken because it’s ignored
After trying private negotiations, bipartisan commissions, informal “gangs” and a supercommittee, the search for a long-term federal fiscal plan has come full circle back to where it started — regular order under the budget process in Congress.
Or has it?
We hope it has, because regular order ensures that every member of Congress gets to participate in the final form of any fiscal agreement, grand or otherwise. (more…)
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Former Senator, and PSA Advisory Board Member Gary Hart is currently President of Hart International, Ltd. He is chair of the Threat Reduction Advisory Council at the Department of Defense, was vice-chair of the Secretary of Homeland Security’s Advisory Council, former chair of the Council for a Livable World, chair of the American Security Project, and co-chair of the US-Russia Commission. For the past five years, he was a Scholar in Residence at the University of Colorado Denver. This was originally posted on the Huffington Post website.
Weep for the Senate
Generations of United States Senators now past would view with dazed wonder at what the world’s greatest deliberative body has become. Virtually all struggled to serve their and many struggled even more to stay there. Throughout the nation’s history the prestige of such service was second only to the presidency itself, and some preferred the Senate over the White House.
By the time we reach the 2014 election, almost one-third of the current Senate will have resigned in the past three elections. Recent reports indicate that those formerly considered to be virtually automatic candidates are rejecting the opportunity to seek the vacated Senate seats.
A variety of explanations are offered for this extraordinary situation: the financial costs of campaigns; the viciousness of political attacks; the toll taken in self-respect and dignity; media sensationalism; polarization leading to paralysis in the Senate itself.
At least for the present, the United States Senate is neither what it traditionally has been nor should be. (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.