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.
Jayson Browder is a decorated Air Force and Iraq Veteran. A recent graduate of Fordham University, Jayson was named a National Finalist for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship in 2012 and was recently awarded the William J. Fulbright Scholarship for 2013 to Turkey. Currently Jayson holds a position as a Military Legislative Assistant for Congressman Beto O’Rourke in the United States House of Representatives. This article originally appeared on PolicyMic.
Congress’ Iran Policy: Short Sighted and Irrational
Clear thought, rational thinking, and innovative ideas are desperately needed in the 113th Congress. Unfortunately, a large number of members of the House of Representatives have let short-term priorities and easy political points cloud their judgment. This has made for some poor and unfortunate votes that, for some partial short-term gains, will have long-term repercussions for the United States and our allies abroad. Examples of this include the failure to pass a budget for four years, the failure to solve the sequester, the failure to solve the debt ceiling, and most recently, the votes to place more stringent sanctions than ever on Iran.
Ben Sohl is an intern at Partnership for a Secure America and a graduate of University of Maryland, College Park. He is a currently a masters candidate at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC.
Stability and Geopolitics
Since their conception, nation-states have always looked after their own national interest. This has traditionally been a fairly simple geopolitical calculation – do what increases the wealth, power, and security of the nation. Over time, this calculation has slowly evolved. Today, the United States finds within its core security interests the stabilization of foreign states. These stability interests often conflict with traditional geopolitical interests, presenting modern policy makers with the challenge of finding a proper balance.
In previous eras, the biggest foreign threat a nation or kingdom faced was from the invasion of an outside armed force. The best defense was to have the biggest deterrent. The more wealth a nation achieved, the stronger its army and its deterrent. Therefore, the primary national security interests were defined by traditional hard power and geopolitical tools.
Today, the most common threat the United States faces is not the invasion of a foreign army, but asymmetric attacks from terrorist groups that thrive in lawless and unstable environments. The greater extent the United States is able to promote stability in these areas, the lesser the dangers there will be to American citizens, and our friends and allies. Therefore, stability promotion has become an important component in the calculus of American national security interests.
This article was written by two Spring 2013 Participants in PSA’s Congressional Partnership Program. All CPP articles are produced by bipartisan groups of Democrat and Republican Capitol Hill staff who were challenged to develop opinion pieces that reach consensus on critical national security and foreign affairs issues.
U.S. Foreign Aid and the Situation in Egypt
In a time of austerity, many wonder why we continue to send foreign aid overseas instead of repurposing that money for domestic programs. While it is easy to attack foreign aid and call for its rescission, proponents of U.S. foreign aid programs understand the vital role such aid plays in national security and humanitarian purposes. When it comes to Egypt, some have called for an end to aid entirely, and those calls have only intensified following recent events. Foreign aid is critical to sustaining and expanding U.S. interests, and U.S. policy should reflect this reality.
It is important to acknowledge that the United States does have a unique capacity to shape and influence important aspects of international affairs. In an increasingly interdependent and interconnected world, isolationist policies serve only to diminish such influence. The need to maintain and expand influence is even more important when the other side of the world is less than a 24 hour flight away. Technology allows us to react in real-time as events unfold at any point on the globe. Distribution of U.S. foreign aid fosters dialogue and partnership in international relations and helps America advocate for democracy, uphold humanitarian principles, and advance other U.S. interests in foreign policy.
Appropriations for foreign aid make up only one percent of the total annual budget of the United States. U.S. foreign aid is a way of encouraging relationship building with other nations, oftentimes promoting peace and providing an avenue for diplomacy in a collaborative and constructive atmosphere. Issues like poverty, poor infrastructure, public health needs, and lack of educational programs can all lead to potential instability and corruption in a nation, endangering human rights and creating dissonance. American foreign aid programs are imperative in the efforts to prevent conflagrations from occurring in the first place. Simple cost-benefit analysis proves that the maxim “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” still holds true and is applicable to U.S. foreign aid policy.
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 Reporter News.
Why trust in the coin of the realm in Washington
In June, Gallup released a survey that got a fair bit of attention for its headline finding: only 10 percent of Americans trust Congress as an institution.
Think about it.
If you walk into a café this morning and there are nine other people in there reading the paper or staring into their laptops, only one of you in the room has faith that the body charged with making our nation’s laws can do its job right.
What didn’t get quite as much coverage was the fact that Congress was just one of 16 institutions whose public standing Gallup measured. Atop the list in Americans’ confidence was the military, followed by small business and the police. Then came organized religion, which about half of Americans trust.
The bad news in the poll arrived after that. The fifth most-trusted institution is the presidency — but it enjoyed the confidence of only 36 percent of poll respondents. The Supreme Court stood at 34 percent, down three points from last year. Add Congress into the mix, and these are deeply unsettling numbers.
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 Kokomo Tribune.
Why Governing is so Difficult
If you want to know why passing congress-ional legislation has gotten so difficult, here are two numbers to remember: five and 532. They illustrate a great deal about Congress today.
When I served in the House decades ago and the “farm bill” came up, stitching a successful piece of legislation together depended on getting five organizations to find common ground. They included groups like the national Farm Bureau and the Farmers Union, and our task was clear: get them to agree on what the bill ought to look like, and we had a measure that could pass.
This year, Congress is struggling to get a farm bill through. After the House of Representatives sent the first version down to defeat, no fewer than 532 organizations signed a letter to Speaker John Boehner asking him to bring a bill back to the floor as soon as possible. The array of groups was striking. The Farm Bureau signed on, but so did avocado growers and peach canners, beekeepers and archers, conservationists of all sorts, and huge businesses like Agri-Mark.
In essence, the big umbrella groups have broken into different constituent interests, with peanut growers and sheep ranchers and specialty-crop growers all pursuing their particular goals. Sometimes it feels like there’s a constituency for every commodity — and on such broader issues as biofuels, rural development and international trade. What used to require bringing together a handful of constituencies now demands horse-trading among hundreds.
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.
Madeleine K. Albright is a member of the PSA Advisory Board, Chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, and Chair of Albright Capital Management LLC, an investment advisory firm focused on emerging markets. Dr. Albright was the 64th Secretary of State of the United States. This article was originally published on the Clinton Foundation’s website.
Ambassador Profile: Madeleine Albright
Since leaving office a dozen years ago, I have been asked many times to lend my energy and financial support to various worthwhile projects. I say “yes” when I can, partly out of a sense of obligation and partly because I have trouble saying “no.” Participating in the Clinton Foundation, however, is neither an obligation nor a burden; it is a joy.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that President Clinton is not an ordinary philanthropist or “good deed doer;” he is a human power source. He has the ability to charm, educate, and motivate simultaneously, leaving you richer in spirit, albeit a little lighter in the pocketbook.
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.
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By William Luers, Thomas R. Pickering, and Jim Walsh. Thomas Pickering is a PSA Advisory Board Member and a former US Ambassador to the United Nations. The article was originally published in the New York Review of Books.
For a New Approach to Iran
Could this be the year for an engagement with Iran that “is honest and grounded in mutual respect,” as President Obama proposed over four years ago? That goal seems unlikely without a shift in Iranian thinking and without a change in American diplomatic and political strategy. But two developments, one in Iran and one in the region, provide reason to think that diplomatic progress might be possible.
The first is Iran’s recent presidential election, which Hassan Rouhani won thanks to an alliance between Iran’s reformist and moderate camps. Together with the departure of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this may provide the Obama administration the chance to start a new phase of relations with Iran. The second development is the war in Syria, which has the potential to grow into a region-wide Shia–Sunni conflict. This poses a direct threat to Iran’s vital interests, giving Tehran an incentive to reduce tensions with the international community.2
Iran and the United States have many important differences, but an agreement on Iran’s nuclear capability should be a critical priority. This could open the door to conversations with Iran regarding Iraq and Afghanistan. A functioning US-Iranian relationship could also help advance diplomatic efforts on Syria.
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.