Thomas Pickering is a retired ambassador and former Under Secretary of State. He is currently a member of PSA’s Advisory Board. This article was co-authored by Nicholas Kralev. The article originally appeared in USA Today.
Take Politics Out of Diplomacy
Diplomacy is easy and anyone can do it. This is the message U.S. presidents of both parties have been sending the American people and the world for decades. They have done so not verbally, but through their actions, giving away ambassadorial posts as rewards to unqualified people only because they were top fundraisers during the presidents’ election campaigns.
As old as that issue is, it has received renewed and greater attention recently, following last month’s embarrassing Senate confirmation hearing of President Obama’s nominees as ambassadors to Norway and Hungary. Sen. John McCain’s public shaming of those nominees, hotel magnate George Tsunis and soap opera producer Colleen Bell, for not knowing basic facts about the country where they are supposed to serve or about U.S. interests in that country, has sparked important media commentary.
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.”
By Former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Aaron Tucek. Aaron Tucek is a student at Emory University and Nunn serves as a PSA Advisory Board Member and co-chairman of The Concord Coalition. This Op-Ed originally appeared in The Telegraph.
A Generationally Balanced Deficit Agreement
The House and Senate have each passed their own budgets. The president has submitted a budget proposal of his own. And yet, as we close in on the mid-point of the year, no action has been taken to resolve the differences and agree on an overall fiscal plan for the nation. This would be an abdication of responsibility under any circumstances, but it is particularly so now.
The trajectory of our federal budget is not just fiscally irresponsible; it is immoral. Unless we fix our $17 trillion-and-growing national debt, young Americans stand to be the first generation in our history that will inherit a country worse than the one handed to its parents. Ours will be a country that can neither afford to keep the promises made in the past nor make crucial investments in the future. As a result, Millennials will face a future of even more debt, higher taxes, fewer jobs and a lower standard of living. But this dismal outlook does not have to be our destiny if lawmakers can summon the political courage necessary to put our fiscal house in order, and soon.
Leaders in Washington must take a generationally balanced-approach to reduce our federal deficit. That means tackling the true drivers of the debt, protecting high-value investments and asking for shared sacrifice from all Americans. Unfortunately, recent deficit reduction measures have largely failed on all three accounts.
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…)
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.
There has been much attention in the lame duck session of Congress on whether Democrats and Republicans will find any common ground. Will they compromise on tax cuts and extend unemployment benefits? During a time of war, will gays and lesbians continue to be denied the opportunity to serve their country in the military? Will the children of illegal immigrants continue to be denied the chance to pay taxes and seek the American dream? There is much work to be done in the final weeks of this year. Democrats and Republicans have different approaches to some of these issues. That’s to be expected. However, there’s one issue on which pretty much all Democrats and Republicans outside of Congress agree – the New START Treaty. Yet, it’s being held hostage in the Senate for purely partisan reasons.
Particularly on domestic issues, there are fundamental differences between the parties that generate intense disagreement. Such discord can be healthy in a democracy as it provides clear choices to voters. What is damaging is when political leaders lose sight of their core values and emphasize winning at all costs. When a policy disagreement becomes a zero sum game in which a win by one’s opponent is considered a loss by the other, gridlock ensues. Before long, the policy matters less than a mark in the win column. This is what has happened with the New START treaty.
Sometimes both sides are at fault. They both dig in their heels. In other situations, one side demonstrates willingness to negotiate and the other sees more political benefit from standing firm. The latter is the situation we face today. The Republican leadership (thought not all Republicans) in the Senate is playing political games with America’s national security.
The New START treaty is a follow-on treaty to the original START treaty negotiated in 1991 under George H. W. Bush that set limits on the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States. Presidents Obama and Medvedev signed the New START treaty in April 2010. Many viewed this as a sign of renewal of US-Russian relations and a small step towards President Obama’s stated goal of a nuclear free future. It would reduce the number of strategic warheads to 1550 from the current limit of 2200 and establish new inspection procedures to ensure compliance. It must be ratified by two thirds of the Senate. (more…)
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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.
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.