Lee Hamilton is the Co-chair of PSA’s Advisory Board and Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. You can find the original article here.
Civil Discourse and the Clash of Ideas
The election of 2012 has called attention to how difficult it is for Americans to talk reasonably with one another about public policy challenges. Our civic dialogue — how we sort through issues and reason with one another — is too often lamentable.
We live in a politically divided country. Congress, which ought to serve as the forum where politicians of diverse views find common ground, is instead riven by ideological disagreements. There’s no real discourse, just the two parties hammering at each other in a mean-spirited, strident tone. Small wonder the public holds Congress in such low esteem.
With this week’s announcement by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, prospects of a more united Congress grew a shade darker. Snowe’s plan to retire at the end of this year brings the casualty count this Congress for Senators widely seen as moderates to three – Snowe, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. And the situation looks just as, if not more, worrisome in the House.
An article in last Sunday’s Washington Post profiled the recently formed National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona, which was founded in the wake of the January 8th attack in Tucson. The institute’s mission is to serve as a “national, nonpartisan center for debate, research, education and policy generation regarding civic engagement and civility in public discourse consistent with First Amendment principles.” Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton have agreed to serve as honorary chairs, and the institute’s board features a distinguished bipartisan group of leaders, including former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a PSA Advisory Board member. Among the institute’s main goals is “to connect people with diverse viewpoints and to offer a venue for vigorous and respectful debate.” For more information, click here to visit the institute’s website.
Partnership for a Secure America’s Congressional Fellowship Program is now accepting applications for the Spring 2011 session. This highly selective program is for Congressional staff interested in generating dialogue and developing the skills and relationships required to advance bipartisanship on national security and foreign policy issues. Through training, networking, and exclusive activities, this unique program aims to build a “next generation” of foreign policy and security experts equipped to respect differences, build common ground and achieve US national interests. The deadline to apply is March 11, 2011. For further information about the program, and to apply, click here.
Kay King, Vice President of Washington Initiatives at the Council on Foreign Relations, recently released a report entitled Congress and National Security arguing Congress’s increasing inability to effectively address major domestic and international challenges has severe ramifications for U.S. national security.
King points to contributing factors which have led to a decline in Congressional effectiveness, including amplified partisanship, abuse of rules and procedures, outdated committee structures, decreased expertise, and competition with domestic programs. She specifically addresses how the toxic partisan atmosphere has contributed significantly to Congress’s mixed performance on its national security responsibilities:
…the nation’s political landscape has been realigning since the 1970’s, ushering in deep partisanship, severe polarization, a combative 24/7 media, and diminished civility. Over time, this environment has given lawmakers greater incentive to advance personal and partisan agendas by any means, including the manipulation of congressional rules and procedures. It has politicized the national security arena that, while never immune to partisanship, more often than not used to bring out the “country first” instincts in lawmakers. It has also driven foreign policy and defense matters, short of crises, off the national agenda, marginalizing important issues like trade. Combining this increasingly toxic political climate with an institutional stalemate in the face of mounting global challenges and it is not surprising that Congress has struggled for years to play a consistent and constructive role as a partner to as well as check and balance on the executive branch on international issues.
King then goes on to recommend reform in five critical areas: prompt and inclusive action on budgets and legislation, timely and knowledgeable advice and consent on treaties and nominees, realistic and effective oversight, closing the expertise gap, and bolstering the congressional-executive branch partnership on national security policy.
The entire report can be found here.
Partnership for a Secure America is pleased to announce the participants of its Congressional Fellowship Program Spring 2010 Session. These 25 Fellows are drawn from the personal offices or Committees of 12 Senators and 13 Representatives from across the political spectrum.
The Fellows come to the Congressional Fellowship Program from diverse educational and professional backgrounds including military, political campaigns, think tanks, journalism, the legal practice and international service organizations. To view the full list of Fellows, click here.
We’re now 9 months into the Obama administration and, on a number of fronts, I think our country is more secure. Most of all, Obama has set a new tone in our relations with the world. But I continue to see our greatest source of our insecurity — our economy — as suffering from a failure of governmental leadership.
By now, everyone knows the story that got us into the current economic crisis. Primed by cheap capital and lax regulation, Wall Street took out huge sums of debt and gambled on everything from stocks to subprime mortgages. This bubble economy proved incredibly profitable for Wall Street and its executives took home tens of billions of dollars in bonuses. Then, the bubble burst. But instead of having Wall Street bear the brunt of this cost, a decision was made that its banks were “too big too fail” and so the government bailed them out.
As I wrote back in March of 2008, I’m not necessarily against the original bailout, but it should have been accompanied by a “new contract with Wall Street” where banks were regulated so they could never again be “to big too fail.” My point was that if the government’s thesis was right, that some banks were too big to fail, then we had a terrible set of market incentives. Banks would come to realize that they were immune from bankruptcy because the government would be there to bail them out. This would lead to a dangerous market system where banks got all the profits from gambling and society absorbed all the losses.
I hoped that the Obama administration would clean up this growing moral hazard on Wall Street, but we are unfortunately seeing more of the same. Obama’s central plan has been to make capital incredibly cheap for large banks so that they get credit flowing again. While the credit markets have admittedly improved, this cheap capital has also added to the risk-taking and the bigness of these banks. In other words, we’ve made the moral hazard worse. The recent profits by Goldman show that it has returned to its high-risk business. No one can fault Goldman for taking risk and making money–that’s capitalism. The problem is that they’re taking this risk with the government’s highly subsidized capital and implicit guarantee in the case of failure.
In keeping with the PSA’s charter, we’re seeing bipartisan consensus emerging around U.S. policy in Afghanistan. The bad news? There are actually two bipartisan consensuses.
Technically, that is impossible. Consensus means “general agreement” or “a view reached by a group as a whole” so there can’t really be more than one.
And that is the problem. So long as the right is fighting the right, and others on the left are fighting the left, policymakers will be inclined to focus on other policy issues, content to let Afghan policy drift, and hope for a miraculous turnaround (e.g. Karzai becomes less corrupt and more competent; the Afghan economy begins to produce something other than opium; the Pashtuns decide to make common cause with the Tajiks, Turkmen and Hazara; Afghan men decide that Afghan women should have rights, etc). Our men and women in uniform, engaged increasingly in armed social work are caught in the middle while the pointy-heads pull on their respective chins.
Certain leading voices on the right agree with others on the left that we must redefine our ends in Afghanistan, and begin exploring ways to draw down the military presence there. My colleagues Malou Innocent and Ted Galen Carpenter have just completed a comprehensive study making this case (you can get a preview here), and will present it for the first time at Cato on Monday, September 14th.
A familiar group of hawks and neocons dismiss such sentiments as defeatist bordering on treasonous. Others suggest that talk of withdrawal is simply premature.
The debate got a jolt this week when George Will’s Tuesday column in the Washington Post declared that it was “Time to Get Out of Afghanistan.”
News of the Will column broke late Monday night. Bill Kristol — tipped off, no doubt, by the Post‘s editors who agree with him — had his response ready by 9 am.
The salient question: Would the GOP follow Will or Bill? By 4 pm, we had our answer when Michael Steele and the RNC weighed in…on Kristol’s side.
There is a debate on the left as well. George Will’s position echoes a stance adopted by Sen. Russ Feingold last month, and repeated this morning on NPR (with Rep. Jim McGovern). But scholars at the left-leaning Center for New American Security and the Brookings Institution have joined forces with those from AEI and CSIS in recent weeks to make the case for increasing the commitment to Afghanistan, and explicitly discouraging any talk of withdrawal any time soon. (See, for example, this account by The Nation‘s Bob Dreyfuss.)
The public favors withdrawal. A CBS News poll found that 41 percent of Americans want “troops to start coming home, up from 33 percent in April and just 24 percent in February. Support for increasing the number of troops dropped from 39 percent in April to just 25 percent now.” A Washington Post/ABC News poll taken last month found that for the first time since they began asking the question, a majority of Americans no longer think the war in Afghanistan has been worth the costs.
The more things change the more they stay the same; as in the military-industrial congressional pork barrel. As evidence one need only look at the current debate over Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ decision to stop producing the F-22 fighter. Gates and President Obama have threatened to veto Congress’ entire 2010 defense spending bill if it contains a single F-22 over the 187 now authorized.
This should not be a hard decision. After all, how often does the Pentagon actually try to kill a program it does not need? Keeping unnecessary weapons in the military budget is usually par for the course, thanks to the influence of weapons manufacturers and senators and congressmen who receive credit in their home states and districts for managing to save some jobs for constituents. Usually the Pentagon goes along because it is more trouble to fight it than it is worth.
But on the rare occasion that the Pentagon does not want weapons that it did not ask for it is clear that something stinks to the high heavens; higher even than the F-22 can fly.
Gates’ decision was in response to votes by the House and Senate armed services committees last month to spend $369 million to $1.75 billion more to keep the F-22 production line open were propelled by mixed messages from the Air Force; including a quiet campaign for the plane that includes snazzy new Lockheed videos for key lawmakers and intense political support from states where the F-22′s components are made. The full House ratified the vote on June 25.
But, contrary to the claims made by the various legislators on the Lockheed Martin payroll there are many excellent reasons to kill it. As the Washington Post reported earlier this month, the F-22 -22, has recently required more than 30 hours of maintenance for every hour in the skies, pushing its hourly cost of flying to more than $44,000, a far higher figure than for the warplane it replaces, confidential Pentagon test results show. The aircraft’s radar-absorbing metallic skin is the principal cause of its maintenance While most aircraft fleets become easier and less costly to repair as they mature, key maintenance trends for the F-22 have been negative in recent years, and on average from October last year to this May, just 55 percent of the deployed F-22 fleet has been available to fulfill missions guarding U.S. airspace, the Defense Department acknowledged.
The F-22 was created for a world that no longer exists. It was designed during the early 1980s to ensure long-term American military dominance of the skies andconceived to win dogfights with advanced Soviet fighters that Russia is still trying to develop. (more…)
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Here at PSA we’ve been working hard to create a program for Congressional staff that adds value in the oftentimes crowded programmatic environment of Washington, D.C. The PSA Congressional Fellowship Program aims to bring together House and Senate staffers from both parties to socialize, debate, and learn together with the goal of enhancing bipartisanship in their daily jobs. The most recent event with the Summer 2009 Fellows was a dinner with 9/11 Commission Chairman and former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, and Politico sent a reporter to cover the event. The resulting article, “Bipartisanship, in three courses”, published this morning, highlights many of the most important aspects of what we do at PSA.
“Whereas members of Congress at least have the opportunity to work together if they choose to do so,” the reporter writes, “staffers are rarely forced to remove their partisan blinders. Until now.” She quotes PSA Fellows Pablo Duran of Sen. Tom Udall’s (D-NM) office and Brandon Andrews of Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-OK) office lamenting the rarity of meeting staff from across the aisle. “‘I don’t know that anyone makes a concerted effort to not do it,’ Andrews said. ‘I just think it doesn’t happen, because people travel in different circles.’”
We will be visiting the White House to meet with President Obama’s chief national security speechwriter, Ben Rhodes, this week and going on a weekend Retreat after that. It’s been an exciting summer so far, and we appreciate Politico’s interest in the work we do here at PSA.
For those who are interested in applying to be a Fellow in the Fall 2009 session, information can be found on our website here.
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.