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…)
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…)
Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University and a PSA Advisory Board Member. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. This originally appeared on the Center on Congress’ blog.
How Politics Has Changed
When two senators recently got into a spat over whether the Boston Marathon bombings were being politicized, the news was everywhere within minutes. Reams of commentary quickly followed. In the maneuvering over gun-control legislation, every twist and turn was instantly reported and then endlessly debated. As the effects of the federal sequester start to make themselves felt, outlets in every medium — print, television, online — are carrying both the news and the inevitable partisan sniping over its meaning.
This is political reality today, and when people ask me how politics has changed since I first ran for Congress in 1964, it’s the first thing that comes to mind. Back then, when you spoke to the Rotary in a small town, you were speaking to a few members of the Rotary. Today, you might well be speaking to the world. A debate on Capitol Hill back then might or might not have made the news, but even if it did, days could go by before the rest of the country reacted. Today, the response is instantaneous, often hot-blooded, and almost inconceivably far-reaching. (more…)
This article originally appeared in The Standard-Examiner. The author, Representative Lee Hamilton, is Co-Chair of PSA’s Advisory Board.
The future of Congress should lie in the past
There is a fundamental truth about our political system that seems to have been forgotten in these days of high-stakes brinksmanship over policy: Democracy is a process, not an outcome.
In a representative democracy like ours, how we reach a result is every bit as important as the result itself — and maybe even more important.
For a long time, Congress recognized this. That is why, over many decades of practice, it built what is known as the “regular order” — a set of processes and means of doing business designed to ensure that proposals get careful scrutiny and all voices are given proper and respectful consideration.
By Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) This article first appeared in The Hill.
Despite the partisanship that currently afflicts our nation’s politics, there is at least one issue that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on – the need to prevent terrorist groups from acquiring nuclear bomb-making materials. Solidifying the historic legacy of American leadership in countering nuclear terrorism, more than fifty heads of state will gather today for the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit. The summit will bring together world leaders to strengthen global defenses against nuclear terrorism, one of the gravest threats to our security. The international nature of this gathering is critical; without a global effort to strengthen global defenses against nuclear terrorism, we could easily fall short.
In the United States, enhancing global nuclear security has been an area of bipartisan cooperation for more than two decades. In 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union caused command and control of the vast Soviet nuclear stockpile to unravel, and there was no accounting system to track nuclear weapons or materials. Fences surrounding installations that housed the Soviet nuclear arsenal were riddled with gaping holes, and there was no system to detect individuals who might steal weapons-grade uranium or plutonium. Scientists with the knowledge to create weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were suddenly jobless, and countless individuals – including guards at nuclear facilities – were struggling under hard economic times, giving them an incentive to steal nuclear material and sell it to the highest bidder. The challenge to keep Soviet weapons, materials, and expertise off the black market was overwhelming.
Bud McFarlane, former national security advisor and PSA Board Member, along with James Woolsey, former director of central intelligence, authored this Op-ed in The New York Times about their new bi-partisan effort, the United States Energy Security Council, encouraging the introduction of flex-fuel cars into the US market to foster better competition and put America on the path to energy independence. The article can also be read here.
OUR country has just gone through a sober national retrospective on the 9/11 attacks. Apart from the heartfelt honoring of those lost — on that day and since — what seemed most striking is our seeming passivity and indifference toward the well from which our enemies draw their political strength and financial power: the strategic importance of oil, which provides the wherewithal for a generational war against us, as we mutter diplomatic niceties.
Oil’s strategic importance stems from its virtual monopoly as a transportation fuel. Today, 97 percent of all air, sea and land transportation systems in the United States have only one option: petroleum-based products. For more than 35 years we have engaged in self-delusion, saying either that we have reserves here at home large enough to meet our needs, or that the OPEC cartel will keep prices affordable out of self-interest. Neither assumption has proved valid. While the Western Hemisphere’s reserves are substantial and growing, they pale in the face of OPEC’s, which are substantial enough to effectively determine global supply and thus the global price.
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.
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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.
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.