Friday, June 03, 2005

How the Democrats can win again

By being more like the Republicans -- at least in terms of strategy and tactics. Steve Soto at The Left Coaster, an excellent liberal blog, makes the case here.

Key passages:

Armchair consultants like me say over and over again that we need to 1) Toughen our spines and fight like hell against the GOP at all times; and 2) add a moral values dynamic to the progressive ideas we want to discuss with voters in order to break through the red state mind set. In order for us to be able to win campaigns against these guys we need to broaden the Democratic gene pool and have people all over the country who know how to do this, instead of just saying over and over again we need to do this...

Maybe before we go any further with any more conferences talking about issues for 2006 and 2008, it is time instead to gather many people together to learn what our opponents already know about:

-- tactics and attack campaigns;
-- messaging/framing/imaging;
-- dealing with, and manipulating the media;
-- energizing new constituencies; and
-- rigging and controlling the elections machinery.

I'm somewhat less partisan than The Left Coaster, but I would certainly call myself a Democrat, and I think that Steve's really onto something -- although "manipulating the media" concerns me greatly and I would like to know a bit more about what he means by "rigging and controlling the elections machinery".

At the moment, I'm of two minds on this:

On the one hand (if I may mix body parts), 2000 and 2004 have indicated, at least to some degree, that Democrats just don't play the political game as well as Republicans do. I would thus agree that Democrats need to learn how to package (or "frame") their ideas more effectively -- and, indeed, to learn how to spin Republican ideas more effectively. Republicans have succeeded in part because they've managed to control both the terms of the debate and the language itself. There are any number of examples, but here's an obvious one: while the "conservative" label is something of a compliment, the "liberal" one has been associated with un-Americanism for over two decades, this in a fundamentally liberal country. (Democrats can learn from their apparent victory on social security, where Bush has failed to muster much support for private accounts despite packaging and re-packaging of his central message, though it should be remembered that here Democrats have been defending an extremely popular program and Bush has had problems, uncharacteristic of Republicans, maintaining a consistent message.)

This is where the media come in. The Republican message machine works because it is able to use the media as effective conduits of well-packaged information. Some of this has to do with the fact that Republicans have used the "liberal media" tag to shift much of the mainstream media to the right (ever fearful of such accusations of bias, however unsubstantiated). And some of it has to do with the fact that Republicans now control (or are disproportionately influential in) many of those conduits: for example, talk radio, FOX, much of MSNBC and CNBC, and certain major newspapers and their editorial boards (like The Wall Street Journal). In such a media environment, it is indeed important for Democrats to strategize accordingly. The conservative movement as a whole may be fairly diverse, but the Republican Party is an extraordinarily effective bottleneck that channels the various strands of that movement into electoral success. It may be more difficult for the Democratic Party to unite liberal and progressive elements, many of which don't get along nearly as well as their counterparts on the right, but some concerted effort needs to be made to balance ideological diversity and partisan unity.

On the other hand, I think that the weaknesses of the Democratic Party have been wildly overplayed. Yes, Bush won two elections he shouldn't have, the Republicans now control both sides of Capitol Hill, and conservative appointees threaten to shift the entire federal judiciary to the right. But look at it this way: Bush barely won in 2000 -- indeed, he may not have won, but that's another problem entirely. He only won because everything broke his way: Gore was a lousy candidate; Nader took important votes away from Gore in key swing states; Bush effectively campaigned as a compassionate conservative, blurring the differences between him and Gore; a relatively peaceful and prosperous country was willing to take a chance on Bush after eight years of Clinton; and, well, there was Florida. If Florida had gone the way it should have, or if Nader had taken himself off the ballot in certain states, or if Bush hadn't campaigned as such a moderate, then Gore would have won. Then Gore would have guided the country through 9/11 and Afghanistan, the Democrats likely would have done well in 2002, the U.S. likely wouldn't be in Iraq, and Republicans would be having this very same conversation about how to refashion themselves in the face of a significant Democratic majority. As it is, Bush won, then capitalized on 9/11 for partisan purposes, leading to a solid Republican showing in 2002.

But -- here's the crucial point: Given all this -- the memories of 9/11, the threat of terrorism (which Bush, as president, was able to manipulate to his own benefit), and the bully pulpit in a time of war, not to mention mass mobilization of evangelical voters -- Bush barely won re-election last year. And although Kerry was a stronger candidate than Gore, he wasn't a great one and never quite managed to find his footing (too much nuance, not enough bluntness). It wasn't as close as 2000, but 2004 was hardly a rousing endorsement of a sitting president. Yes, Democrats can learn something from Karl Rove's campaign strategies and tactics, and Democrats would do well to reconnect to their own base in the same way, but how exactly did Democrats fail?

But, look, this is just the federal level. At the state level, Democrats are actually doing quite well. While everyone's talking about Hillary and Kerry and Edwards and Obama, the real success stories may be -- as Reihan Salam pointed out in a TNR piece on second-tier Democrats last November -- Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, Gov. Mike Easley of North Carolina, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas (what's the matter with Kansas? at least they elected a Democrat!), Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania (a bigger name, to be sure), Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan (born in Canada), and Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia (okay, a really big name), among others. Note that this list includes the governors of three southern states and a couple of key swing states.

Don't get me wrong, there's a lot Democrats need to think about. And strategy should be right at the top of the list. Although "framing" is crucial, the main effort at that level should be centered around unifying the diverse elements of the left, center-left, and center behind the common purpose of electoral victory. After all, that's how Republicans have been able to hold together the disparate (and contradictory) elements of the right (even if the signs of fragmentation are now more visible than ever) -- the taste of victory supersedes ideological purity. But part of this also means thinking about ideas: What do Democrats stand for? What does liberalism mean? Is it possible to re-inject a moral purpose into progressivism -- or at least to redefine morality in more progressive terms? How do Democrats reach out to moderate Republicans distressed at the rightward shift of their party, at the grassroots evangelicalism that has come to dominate it? How do Democrats reach out to "values" voters, regain the confidence of Americans in terms of national security, show that they're capable of dealing with grave domestic and foreign threats? Yes, part of this is strategy and framing. But, in the end, Democrats have to have the right ideas to frame and around which to strategize.

Some of this, of course, is just the inevitable aftermath of defeat. Nonetheless, it's healthy for a political party to engage in just this sort of discussion if it is to remain vibrant, if it is to avoid complacency and the oncoming stench of failure. So my advice is to have that discussion -- but also to stand firm. Although Rove and other strategists on the other side are seeking to transform the Republicans into the governing party for a generation, it's likely that that effort will fail. Americans don't want to live in a one-party state and, as I've already mentioned, the Republican coalition is already showing signs of fragmentation -- indeed, the arrogance and corruption of many Republicans, best exemplified by Tom DeLay, are sure signs of oncoming decay. So is the approach of absolutism.

I suspect that the Republicans have already peaked. And that peak meant two narrow presidential elections, Congressional victories fueled by 9/11, terrorism, war, and gerrymandering, and Democratic successes at the state level. That's hardly the kind of dominance worthy of emulation. Steve Soto is right that Democrats can -- and must -- do better. But I also think it's important to keep their recent troubles in perspective. They won't last.

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Thursday, June 02, 2005

"Driving by women leads to evil"

Did I get your attention?

Well, don't blame me, blame someone named Munir al-Shahrani, who wrote that in response to a proposal by a member of Saudi Arabia's Consultative Council, Mohammad al-Zulfa, who recently proposed granting limited driving rights to women. Actually, according to the Toronto Star, all al-Zulfa proposed was "a study of the issue," suggesting that "only women over age 35 or 40 be allowed to drive -- unchaperoned on city streets but accompanied by a male guardian on highways". Hardly revolutionary...

...unless you're in Saudi Arabia, where "[t]here have been calls to kick al-Zulfa off the Consultative Council, the all-male legislative arm appointed by the king, and even to strip him of Saudi citizenship. His cellphone constantly rings with furious calls accusing him of encouraging women to commit the double sins of discarding their veils and mixing with men. A phone text message prays Allah will freeze his blood. Chat rooms bristle with accusations that al-Zulfa is 'driven by carnal instincts'." Nice, huh? Let me go on: "Conservatives, who believe women should be shielded from strange men, say women in the driver's seat will be free to leave home alone and go when and where they please; to unduly expose their eyes while driving; to interact with strange men such as traffic cops and mechanics." Oh, how awful.

Thankfully, there are liberal voices for reform even in that desert tyranny, and they're fighting the good fight (if, at present, a losing one) against such discrimination. One such voice is Nadine al-Budair, a columnist for the Al-Watan newspaper (the one that published al-Shahrani's letter to the editor), who wrote: "How long will women remain shrouded in the sad colour of black and hiding in back seats like devils, while the men are covered angel-like in happy, pure white clothes that guarantee them the front seat?"

Don't hold your breath.

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Canada to push ahead with same-sex marriage, eh?

I've commented recently on gay rights in relation to Microsoft and Ford (here and here, respectively), but there's good news coming out of Ottawa today. Prime Minister Paul Martin, who barely escaped a confidence vote just two weeks ago and is leading a minority government in an atmosphere of heightened tension and partisanship, has said that he is committed to pushing same-sex marriage legislation (along with two budget bills) through the House of Commons before the House rises on June 23 (or later, if necessary). And Jack Austin, government leader in the Senate (for you non-Canadians, that's Canada's unelected upper house of Parliament), has said that the Senate will remain in session into the summer in order to ensure passage of the legislation.

After Belgium and the Netherlands, Canada would become just the third country to legalize same-sex marriage.

Yes, I'm proud.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Great or not great? Jon Stewart on Deep Throat

The oracle of "fake" news speaks:

"Pat Buchanan, Bob Novak, and Watergate burgler G. Gordon Liddy don't like Mark Felt... Mark Felt is truly a great man."

The truth, as usual.

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Are you gay? Have you driven a Ford lately?

So the American Family Association, which claims a membership of 2.2 million, has set its God-fearing sights on Ford for -- according to its website -- "redefining family to include homosexual marriage," "giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to support homosexual groups and their agenda," and "sponsoring Gay Pride Parades". "Ford leads the way," it claims. To Gomorrah, apparently. Thankfully, Ford isn't backing down. Yet. We'll have to wait and see. Previously, the AFA (beware of any organization with the word "family" in its name) went after Disney, but it ended that nine-year boycott last week. Maybe Mickey Mouse isn't as gay as he used to be.

This is sheer idiocy, obviously. Anyone who's read The Reaction for any extended period (see the archives, right) knows my views on gay rights, not to mention my loathing for those fanatical right-wing religious organizations that claim to represent the so-called "family" and to defend it against what they contemptuously call "the homosexual agenda". Now, I don't even know what that agenda is. I know enough gays and lesbians to know that there isn't any such thing. But homosexuality is the new communism, the new "Other". It's different, and it's vaguely threatening, yet strangely enticing, so it must be inherently wrong. It's the politics of fear -- fear of the "Other," fear of the "Other" within oneself -- and yet to millions it's still somehow acceptable, because their regressive religion tells them it is, to lash out at sexual "difference" as the great evil of our time, if not of all time. Forget some anonymous "Other". Homosexuals are the new Jews, the new blacks, the new... well, the new whatever persecuted group you want to name. No, they're not being rounded up and slaughtered, that much is true, but many out there want to deny them their basic rights as human beings and citizens. In today's America, that's the form mass persecution has taken. They, and America, deserve better.

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No sex, please, we're conservative!

Majikthise reports here (from Daily Kos) on a Senate bill that would cut off federal funding for "sexual or erectile dysfunction". (Yes, Santorum's a co-sponsor -- surprise, surprise, surprise.) Do the moralists of the right have any understanding of human nature, any appreciation for modern medicine, any compassion at all for sexual difference? Well, no. They bash gays, even as we learn more and more about the nature of homosexuality, and now they're essentially going after anyone and everyone with a legitimate sexual problem that could be treated medically.

Welcome back to the Dark Ages. Notice how it's getting darker the longer these guys are in power?

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A victory for extremism? Constitutional ratification and the future of Europe

Most of the attention will continue to be focused on France, but today's "No" vote in the Netherlands, a sound rejection of the European Constitution, is much more meaningful in terms of public opinion on what Chirac yesterday called "the European ideal".

Indeed, what's interesting is that the "No" votes in France and the Netherlands are largely unconnected. As I argued in a couple of recent posts (see here and here), the French vote was largely a revolt against the elites from the extreme left and right, compounded by widespread dissatisfaction with the economy and with Chirac personally. In addition, as David Bell suggests in a good piece in TNR, it had as much to do with class (i.e., a class-based revolt against the elites) as with nationalism and xenophobia. The Dutch vote is similarly a revolt against the elites, but it seems to be more broad-based across the spectrum and more directly focused on the concept of Europe itself (or at least what Europe has become in recent years, well past simple economic union) -- and on the feeling of being pushed around by the elites, specifically the larger European powers.

The Dutch result, to me, is far more significant, not least because the Dutch have always been more united around Europe than the more diverse French (with their well-established traditions of nationalism and xenophobia). In other words, the French vote really didn't send much of a message (except to Chirac), whereas the Dutch vote, once final, will. The French will no doubt push on with Europe (they've tied their national self-interest to the European ideal, and that isn't about to change, with or without Chirac), but the Dutch have expressed the very real concern that Europe as a social and political union is profoundly undemocratic and, at the moment, overstretched. Maybe it's their proximity to Belgium, but they seem to have sensed that Europe has become a Brussels-run Leviathan governed by unelected technocrats. Their message is the one pro-Europeans need to listen to.

Also, the Dutch vote shouldn't come as much of a surprise, despite their long-standing Europhilia. This may sound like a facile generalization, but the Netherlands is sort of like the Vermont (or, in Canadian terms, the British Columbia) of Europe. The Dutch, that is, tend to go their own way.

More from Bell, which explains just what's wrong with the Constitution (and with what Europe has become):

There was also understandable confusion and resentment in the face of a document hundreds of pages long, written in grinding bureaucratese, and mentioning matters as specific as coffee prices, while providing no means for its own amendment or revocation. While the constitution took this form because it codified earlier treaties, this did not change the fact that it was tedious and rebarbative. And then there was the almost irresistible urge to stick a thumb in the eye of Jacques Chirac, who campaigned in 1995 on a promise to lower an unemployment rate that hovered around 10 percent. Ten years later, the rate has barely budged. If Chirac had really wanted the French to vote yes, the comics predictably quipped, he should have campaigned strenuously against it.

Yet most important, perhaps, was the simple problem that French elites could give the rest of the population no strong reason to vote yes. Mostly, they resorted to the shibboleth that they were building Europe. Except they forgot that "Europe" means very different things to different segments of the populations. It means one thing to well-off professionals who vacation in Italy or Spain, send their children to Britain or Germany on educational exchanges, and routinely interact with their counterparts from other members states of the EU. To them, earlier steps in building Europe, such as the introduction of the Euro three years ago or the establishment of university exchange networks, have had a palpable, beneficial effect. But to wage earners who do not attend university and can barely afford to travel, Europe remains far more of an abstraction, and a threatening one--the idea, not entirely false by any means, that decisions that affect their livelihoods are going to be made even further from home.

Among the best reasons for voting yes was the argument that the Constitution would make the existing EU work better, providing it with a president, with a more responsible parliament, with better-defined governing institutions. Presented more forcefully, it might conceivably have carried the day. Yet the only way to have made this case with real force would have been to criticize the existing institutions, to have run against them, to have denounced them as the distant and overly bureaucratic morasses that they often are. But to do this would have been to admit that mistakes were made in the past, and made in large part by the French elites who have been the greatest driving force behind the EU. Needless to say, this was not done.

The project of building the E.U. has indeed "stalled," and the ratification process may have fragmented Europe "in profound and troubling ways," but not for good. Europe (and the E.U.) will go on. Indeed, I agree with Efraim Karsh's assessment, also in TNR: "France's vote against the constitution is an important victory for European unity, because the document posed a serious threat to the great European experiment in peace and prosperity. What began 53 years ago as an idealistic attempt to use economic cooperation to heal a war-torn continent has deteriorated with the passage of time into a gigantic imperial machinery that has largely eroded the democratic values and objectives for which it was originally established." And:

So not only does the frenzied rush toward integration risk turning the EU from an egalitarian community of states into an imperial ogre, but it predicates the organization on a negative footing--challenging U.S. global power--rather than giving it a positive rationale. Should their resounding non lead to a more modest EU, French voters will have done their continent a favor. For if history tells us anything it is that imperial overextension is a recipe for disaster--a destroyer, rather than a guarantor, of peace and unity. The version of the EU constitution voted down on Sunday was an imperial document, not a democratic one. Europe and the European Union are both better off without it.

Yes, they are. As I've indicated here before, I'm a Euro-skeptic, but not anti-European. I -- and everyone who cares about the future of Europe, a healthy Europe with a strong constitutional footing -- owes the French (ironically, the extremes of French society) a hearty Merci!

Or do we. One last word from Philip Gordon, yet again in TNR:

Obviously, even a massive vote in favor of the constitution would not have solved Europe's many problems or transformed the EU into a happily multicultural, pro-American economic dynamo. But it would be a mistake not to notice that the rejection of the constitution is a setback, rather than a triumph, for the United States and the principles that currently undergird its foreign policy. "Vive la France!" wrote [Bill] Kristol [in The Weekly Standard], in celebrating the prospect that the constitution would go down to defeat. I hope I am proven wrong, but I suspect that a few years from now, neither Kristol nor most other Americans will look back fondly on the show of political strength by French extremists--left and right--we have just witnessed. When you find yourself cheering the triumph of nationalists, populists, and communists, suspicion is in order.

Well, no. Gleeful anti-European conservatives like Kristol may be happy to see Europe go down in flames no matter what, but more sober observers realize that the Constitution's loss may, in the end, be Europe's win. The simple point is, Europe needs a better constitution, and this fortuitous result in France may end up being, well, a blessing in disguise.

No, I'm not "cheering the triumph" of extremists, I'm hoping for a moderate and more democratic Europe. It's a Merci! in spite of (and to spite) the extremists.

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The Red and the Blue, once again

Look familiar? Posted by Hello

The map is from Le Monde, via Julie Saltman and Power Line. As with the U.S. presidential map, it doesn't tell the whole story, but it's rather impressive nonetheless. Parts of Paris voted "Yes," as did Brittany (a somewhat un-French part of France), but the rest of the country went "No".

My take on the referendum: click here.

Part of the problem, I think, is that no one really understand the proposed European Constitution. That is, no one has taken the time to understand it. (Even to read it, for that matter.) Aside, of course, from the technocrats who run Europe. Much thanks, then, to Julie Saltman, for taking the time to examine it a bit more thoroughly than the rest of us. Check out her posts here and here (with perhaps more to come).

This story won't stay in the North American press for long -- what with Deep Throat and all -- but it's worth following. There's been some talk -- misguided, I might add -- to the effect that the French vote has irreparably harmed the cause of European integration. I'd call it a speed bump at most. The Constitution has already been ratified by nine other countries, and though it may fail in Wednesday's referendum in the Netherlands, there's no reason to think that the rest of Europe, aside from the United Kingdom, won't do so eventually. If anything, the pro-Europeans will be forced to think through both the means to integration and the structure of a socially and politically unified Europe (with or without the U.K.). In France, what matters is that the elite, which runs the country, is ardently pro-European, and they're not about to back down just because the extremes of the left and right managed to build on Chirac's unpopularity to defeat the Constitution.

Lest you have any doubt, pay attention to what Chirac said just two days after the referendum, in a televised speech Tuesday evening: The referendum "opened up a period of difficulty and uncertainty". However, the result was not "a rejection of the European ideal" but rather a "demand" for "action and results" -- and for the government to "listen". Later, he referred to "a grand European ambition" which is clearly connected to France's national interests.

The U.K. notwithstanding (and I place myself among the moderate English Euro-skeptics), the European elites have already bound themselves to the European ideal. That isn't going to change. Europe as some sort of constitutionalized social and political union is going to happen, like it or not, but perhaps the French vote (and the upcoming Dutch vote) will at least provide the needed impetus to correct some of its many flaws before it gets going.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Bush/Cheney v. Amnesty International: What's truly offensive?

As expected, both Bush and Cheney have come out swinging against Amnesty International's 2005 report on U.S. human-rights abuses at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere. Bush called the report "absurd" and Cheney said that he was "offended by it". On Sunday, General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called it "absolutely irresponsible".

Bush: "It seemed like to me [Amnesty International] based some of their decisions on the word of and the allegations by people that were held in detention, people who hate America, people that have been trained in some instances to disassemble, that means not tell the truth." Yes, maybe. And he's right that, in theory, the U.S. "is a country that promotes freedom around the world". But in practice much of what has gone on in U.S. facilities -- all for the sake of the so-called war on terror, all (presumably) for the sake of "freedom around the world" -- is simply deplorable. Bush has refused to accept responsibility for any of it, and nor have any of his more significant underlings (i.e., Rumsfeld). Instead, blame has been heaped on low-level cogs. Where's the outrage?

My take on the AI report: click here.

Note: There has been some gross misrepresentation of AI's report. The Post story (see link, above) refers to "the gulag of our times," as if AI had accused the U.S. of operating Soviet-style concentration camps. The AI report on the U.S. -- click here -- makes no such claim. Bush may find the report "absurd," but neither he nor Cheney nor anyone else in any position of responsibility has addressed its specifics. It may be easy to write off such allegations, many of which we already know to be true, at a press conference, but, as usual, the Bush Administration wants nothing to do with the truth, relying instead on spin to deflect attention away from the facts.

Here's the vital question: What's more offensive, the AI report or what's actually happened (torture, rape, murder) in those heinous places?

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Has America gone insane?

There's a bigger story involving the Post today -- uh, something about Deep Throat -- but Richard Cohen's column about Paris Hilton (and what she represents) is an eloquent, Frank Rich-like must-read on the state of American culture -- click here. (And see my take on Ms. Hilton here.)

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Almost all the president's men: Mark Felt as Deep Throat

So W. Mark Felt, former #2 at the FBI, was Deep Throat. Or so he claims. Although, I'm not sure why anyone would admit so publicly to having been Deep Throat if that weren't the case. Why lie? So I'm tempted to accept Felt's claim.

Now, I have nothing against Felt. In fact, like most, I don't know much about him. And if he was in fact Deep Throat, then he deserves our gratitude, his courage our admiration. But there's nonetheless something disappointing about this revelation. Joel Achenbach puts it this way:

The truth is, Deep Throat is more interesting as an enigma, as a Mystery Man. Uncertainty is liberating. In foggy realms our imagination and creativity are unfettered. If D.T. is just a top FBI official, it's a huge letdown. First of all, it'd be better (from a dramatic standpoint) if it was a White House insider, rather than someone in law enforcement. (Why does an FBI agent leaking to a reporter not seem as snazzy as, say, a White House lawyer having a spasm of conscience?) But no matter who D.T. is, he's more interesting when we can project onto him a personality of our choosing... If Mark Felt really is Deep Throat, all we can say is: Oh. Him. Um, now what do we do?

Exactly. Now what? It was so much fun to speculate -- and to hope for a sexier anonymous source, like Rehnquist or Kissinger or Haig or Buchanan. Felt just doesn't arouse as much curiosity. All the President's Men, a fabulous movie, now loses some of its appeal.

Maybe, in the end, Deep Throat was the secret that everyone wanted to uncover that no one really wanted uncovered at all. We all love a mystery, but the payoff rarely lives up to expectations.

UPDATE: Timothy Noah in Slate (with links to his interesting Deep Throat Archive) -- click here.

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Spy games: The CIA's new air operations

A fascinating glimpse into the CIA's anti-terrorism operations: click here. Some of it is necessary, I'm sure -- and who am I to have anything to say about covert intelligence operations? -- but some of it is also deeply troubling. The practice of "rendition," for example, where terrorist suspects (even dubious ones) are picked up by the CIA, operating behind "front companies and shell corporations," and ferried to foreign jurisdictions that sanction torture (doesn't that mean the U.S. sanctions torture?). I also didn't realize that the spread of democracy requires ferrying around Libyan intelligence officers and the head of Sudanese intelligence. Thankfully, we have the Bush Doctrine to clear up all this apparent hypocrisy for us. Right? Or not?

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Monday, May 30, 2005

Is there a Bush Doctrine? If so, how many?

The Carpetbagger Report makes a good case that there have been, thus far, at least three variations -- with little consistency:
  1. With us or against us.
  2. Military preemption.
  3. The spread of democracy.

Or, if I may put them another way:

  1. Friends and enemies (see Carl Schmitt).
  2. War to prevent war (see Machiavelli).
  3. End-of-history idealism (see Hegel, Kojeve, Woodrow Wilson)

In my view, the various iterations of the so-called Bush Doctrine very much reflect fault-lines within American conservatism at the present time. The Republican Party is the political bottleneck for the conservative movement, which means that it is the White House, more or less, that channels conservative political theory into practise. (I think back to David Brooks's column in the Times a while back, where he argued that the strength of the conservative movement is precisely its diversity. Yes, to a point. But it would be nothing without an effective political machine. For more on this, see my comments here.)

The problem is that it is difficult to maintain consistency from theory to practice, from ideological rigor to political expediency (see Plato). To me, this is why the "Doctrine" has been so malleable. You have the traditional, old-school realists (Kissingerian types like Scowcroft and the rest of Bush I's team), the Christian moralists (Brownback et al.), and the neoconservatives at the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) and The Weekly Standard. (Then there are the paleo-conservative isolationists like Pat Buchanan, but they don't have much influence in Washington these days.) The first emphasizes national self-interest (strictly defined), the second moral interventionism (often to defend Christians -- in Darfur, for example), the third an idealistic remodelling of the world order (largely to secure American hegemony). It seems as if the latter two have often squeezed out the first, though relations with Pakistan and Uzbekistan (to name but two) suggest that realism is very much alive beneath the rhetorical surface. All three seek realization through official policy channels, but, of course, those policy channels give way to political reality. In the end, it's Karl Rove, more than the ideologues at PNAC or the moralists scattered throughout America's "family"-oriented organizations, who determines the course of American foreign policy. So if the so-called Bush Doctrine seems to have shifted through various iterations, well, that's politics.

Which is not to excuse it, by the way. A little bit of consistency wouldn't be such a bad thing. What needs greater attention, though, is just how the "Doctrine" has been allowed to shift so significantly without much in the way of criticism of any of its fundamental premises (which themselves have shifted). It's like Bush saying that he wants Osama dead or alive, then saying that he doesn't think about him all that much and that the war on terror is bigger than one man. Well, sure. But shouldn't Bush be called out on that? And shouldn't he be required to explain just what his "Doctrine" is supposed to mean?

Dare one say... flip-flop?

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Two cheers for democracy... in Lebanon

Hariri... Hariri... Ha...

The Globe and Mail reports:

The good news:
Saad Hariri, the son of slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, swept parliamentary elections in Lebanon's capital, according to official results announced Monday for the country's first elections held largely free of Syrian domination.

Riding a sympathy vote, candidates led by Mr. Hariri won all 19 seats in the Beirut polls. The election is seen as a tribute to the leader whose February assassination triggered international anger and street protests that ultimately drove the Syrian army out of Lebanon...

Mr. Hariri was the biggest vote-getter, collecting 39,499 votes -- five times the distant loser in one constituency.

The bad news:
But turnout was low, at about 27 per cent of the 473,652 eligible voters, compared with 35 per cent in the 2000 parliamentary elections.

The weak turnout reflected public dissatisfaction amid calls for a boycott, complaints that the ticket of Saad Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, lacked representation of political factions, and the lack of challengers in some constituencies. Television stations reported the boycott was strong in Christian areas.

The reaction:
Many observers expect the polls, the first free of Syrian meddling in 29 years, to sweep the anti-Syrian opposition to power and install a new parliament, removing the last vestiges of Damascus' control.

The vote was watched closely by the United States and other outside governments that pushed for a Syrian troop withdrawal and on-time elections, despite an election law widely described as unfair...

Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said the UN chief was encouraged by the democratic conduct of the first round of the Lebanese parliamentary elections and hoped the remaining rounds would take place in the same peaceful atmosphere.

“These elections constitute a major opportunity for the Lebanese people to shape their own future, to strengthen their political institutions and to restore their full sovereignty,” Mr. Annan said in a statement.

More than 100 observers from the European Union and the United Nations watched the vote for irregularities, the first time Lebanon has permitted foreign scrutiny.

“I see it as a potential for a new start,” said U.S. Senator Joseph Biden, who came to watch the balloting.

The lesson:

Biden is right. It's a potential for a new start, not in and of itself a new start. This was obviously a sympathy vote for Hariri, at least in part, and the low voter turnout and boycott calls reflect widespread dissatisfaction even after the Syrian withdrawal. In the West, we are so accustomed to democracy -- that is, we take it so much for granted -- that we think of it as somehow natural (even if liberal political philosophy, based on Hobbes and Locke, presumes precisely the unnaturalness of democracy -- we are nasty and brutish by nature, not democratic voters). In this case, the removal of Syrian occupation was seen as a necessary first step towards a democratic Lebanon. That's true, of course. Lebanon was never going to be free under such tyrannical rule. But democracy itself doesn't necessarily flourish in the absence of tyranny. Rather, its long-term viability depends on its taking root and, over time, developing legitimacy, especially where it has little to no history. It had centuries to develop in the West. It needs more than a preliminary election in Beirut to take hold in Lebanon.

Nonetheless, Hariri's victory is a positive sign that democracy will in fact succeed in Lebanon. But it won't do so just because there is no longer any foreign occupier, and we would do well not to take its inevitable success for granted. On the contrary, it needs to be nourished -- as in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example. Democratic rhetoric is often, these days, Hegelian rhetoric: democracy as the end of history. Even President Bush has succumbed to such facile Hegelianism (see his Second Inaugural). But there is nothing inevitable about democracy, however much we may wish there were, and it is up to us, in the West, to promote its virtues and to encourage its success in historically non-democratic parts of the world.

There is much potential in Lebanon. Let's make sure it becomes reality.

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Sunday, May 29, 2005

L'Europe, c'est moi?

Non! Posted by Hello


Poor Jacques Chirac. The French have rejected his beloved European Constitution. In today's referendum, the "No" side won over 55% of the vote, with turnout somewhere between 70 and 80%.

Am I happy about this? Yes and no.

Yes, because there's a lot about Europe (as a union) that I don't like. This may be my ancestral Englishness coming out, but there are serious problems with the proposed constitution as written. I favour some sort of economic union, one that allows for the free flow of labour and capital between and among member states, but I worry about further social and political integration. Indeed, what worries me most, and what concerns me about the constitution, is that Europe is more technocracy than democracy, a Brussels-run bureaucratic Leviathan that isn't democratically legitimate in any real way -- go check out the structure of the E.U. if you don't believe me. The U.S. Constitution has succeeded in part because the Framers took great care to focus on the political structure (and the democratic foundations of that structure) of their new republic, leaving specific issues, including controversial matters like slavery, for the new federal government (and state governments) to deal with (and to be addressed, if necessary, in Constitutional amendments). This apparent "failure" has been widely criticized by revisionists, but the U.S. Constitution's strength is precisely its "silence" on politics. For the E.U. to move forward, it needs the same kind of philosophical reflection on the nature of European democracy. And it needs a constitution that sticks to structural/institutional forms unsullied by transient political considerations.

No, because this was a victory of the extremes in French society, both left and right, both communists and fascists, both Popular Front and National Front. And those elsewhere who thoughtlessly celebrate the demise of the E.U. are similarly on the extremes (including many American conservatives who dislike Europe with knee-jerked glee). I may not want to see Europe integrate socially and politically (at least not to the extent that the technocrats do) -- what a massive, ungovernable monstrosity that would be! -- but nor do I want to see it dissolve back into what it once was, for much of its history: a collection of explicitly self-interested nation-states more or less in bloody competition with one another. Europe could do a lot better -- and maybe, just maybe, the result of the French referendum will prompt widespread reevaluation of the E.U. by its supporters -- but it could certainly do a lot worse.

Note: The E.U. Constitution has already been ratified (either by referendum or parliamentary vote) by Austria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain. The Netherlands will hold a referendum on June 1, Luxembourg on July 10, Denmark on September 27, and Ireland and Portugal later in the year. The U.K. will likely vote next year, along with the Czech Republic. There is no date set for a vote in Poland.

But France was a big one. As British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (who personally supported the "Yes" side) put it: "The result raises profound question for all of us about the future direction of Europe, about the challenges to us from the rest of the world, about the ability of the European Union to respond to these challenges and to the demands of its citizens... And tonight's result properly deserves a period of reflection by all 25 member states." Where Europe goes from here is anyone's (educated) guess.

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At last, a new anti-terrorism strategy: But is it too late?

Better late than never, I suppose. The Post reports:

The Bush administration has launched a high-level internal review of its efforts to battle international terrorism, aimed at moving away from a policy that has stressed efforts to capture and kill al Qaeda leaders since Sept. 11, 2001, and toward what a senior official called a broader "strategy against violent extremism."

The shift is meant to recognize the transformation of al Qaeda over the past three years into a far more amorphous, diffuse and difficult-to-target organization than the group that struck the United States in 2001. But critics say the policy review comes only after months of delay and lost opportunities while the administration left key counterterrorism jobs unfilled and argued internally over how best to confront the rapid spread of the pro-al Qaeda global Islamic jihad...

In many ways, this is the culmination of a heated debate that has been taking place inside and outside the government about how to target not only the remnants of al Qaeda but also broader support in the Muslim world for radical Islam. Administration officials refused to describe in detail what new policies are under consideration, and several sources familiar with the discussions said some issues remain sticking points, such as how central the ongoing war in Iraq is to the anti-terrorist effort, and how to accommodate State Department desires to normalize a foreign policy that has stressed terrorism to the exclusion of other priorities in recent years...

Much of the discussion has focused on how to deal with the rise of a new generation of terrorists, schooled in Iraq over the past couple years. Top government officials are increasingly turning their attention to anticipate what one called "the bleed out" of hundreds or thousands of Iraq-trained jihadists back to their home countries throughout the Middle East and Western Europe. "It's a new piece of a new equation," a former senior Bush administration official said. "If you don't know who they are in Iraq, how are you going to locate them in Istanbul or London?"

Indeed. It continues to amaze me that Bush won last year's election largely on national security and terrorism (not "values," as some still think). After all, you don't have to be Michael Moore to recognize just how pathetically his administration has conducted the so-called war on terror, both at home and abroad -- not to mention Iraq. Here's how Frank Rich puts it in today's Times:

Tom Ridge, now retired as homeland security czar, recently went on "The Daily Show" and joined in the yuks about the color-coded alerts. (He also told USA Today this month that orange alerts were sometimes ordered by the administration -- as election year approached, anyway -- on flimsy grounds and over his objections.) In February, the Office of Management and Budget found that "only four of the 33 homeland security programs it examined were 'effective,'" according to The Washington Post. The prospect of nuclear terrorism remains minimally addressed; instead we must take heart from Kiefer Sutherland's ability to thwart a nuclear missile hurling toward Los Angeles in the season finale of "24." The penetration of the capital's most restricted air space by that errant Cessna - though deemed a "red alert" - was considered such a nonurgent event by the Secret Service that it didn't bother to tell the president, bicycling in Maryland, until after the coast was clear.

But what has most separated America from the old exigencies of 9/11... is, at long last, the decoupling of the war on terror from the war on Iraq. The myth fostered by the administration that Saddam Hussein conspired in the 9/11 attacks is finally dead and so, apparently, is the parallel myth that Iraqis were among that day's hijackers. Our initial, post-9/11 war against Al Qaeda - the swift and decisive victory over the Taliban - is now seen as both a discrete event and ancient history (as is the hope of nailing Osama bin Laden dead or alive); Afghanistan itself has fallen off the American radar screen except as a site for burgeoning poppy production and the deaths of detainees in American custody. In its place stands only the war in Iraq, which is increasingly seen as an add-on to the war provoked by 9/11 and whose unpopularity grows by the day.

I'm no pacifist and I'm no isolationist. And, as a Canadian, I have long argued that my own government needs to do better to combat terrorism. But, whether we like it or not, anti-terrorism starts in the Oval Office. Is anyone there?

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