Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Three Strikes?

There are several related stories emerging that could have potential ramifications this election year, proving costly to the Bush administration. The first potential bombshell relates to an FBI investigation of Larry Franklin, a top Iran analyst who works in the office of Doug Feith in the Pentagon. The FBI is examining allegations that Franklin gave classified US documents to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobbying group. It is with great amazement, and a touch of bemusement, that I note Douglas Feith's name, and that of his notorious Office of Special Plans, at the center of yet another controversy. But that is the subject of prior posts.

The documents in the current imbroglio relate to confidential drafts of presidential directives on Iran policy. The question that remains is what motives Franklin had for passing on such information. Was he passing on national secrets in order to aid the Israelis by informing them of US positions vis a vis the sensitive topic of Iran, or was he looking to get Israeli approval for potential courses of action as
Juan Cole speculates? The answer to these questions, and the full breadth of the breach of security, including how far up the chain of command such involvement went, remains to be uncovered by the investigation.

One thing is clear though, the investigation itself has been greatly hampered by the leaking of its existence, and the fact that Franklin is cooperating with investigators, which has
infuriated some involved with the probe. This has led some to suggest that the whistle was blown in order to warn Franklin's higher ups in the administration so that they could cover their tracks. In the alternative, it has been suggested that the story, which is potentially embarrassing to the Bush administration, was leaked late on Friday in order to bury it during the weekend, and subsequently beneath the coverage of the Republican Convention this week. In either scenario, the truth is a casualty.

Not to be outshone by the FBI's investigation of Franklin, the Senate Select Intelligence Committee is conducting its own investigation of a secret back channel between officials from, you guessed it, Douglas Feith's office and the former Iran-Contra arms dealer, Iranian Manucher Ghorbanifar. This scandal, covered in the
Washington Monthly by Laura Rozen, Joshua Marshall and Paul Glastris, also involves Franklin as well as another Feith acolyte, Harold Rhode. Franklin and Rhode allegedly met with Ghorbanifar, Michael Ledeen, the neoconservative writer and political operative, Nicolo Pollari, the head of Italy's military intelligence agency, SISMI, and the Italian Minister of Defense Antonio Martino, several times in Europe in order to discuss Iran, Iraq and Middle East policy in general. The parameters of the scandal are captured by Rozen et al in this paragraph:

The meeting[s] [were] a source of concern for a series of overlapping reasons. Since the late 1980s Ghorbanifar has been the subject of two CIA "burn notices." The Agency believes Ghorbanifar is a serial "fabricator" and forbids its officers from having anything to do with him. Moreover, why were mid-level Pentagon officials organizing meetings with a foreign intelligence agency behind the back of the CIA -- a clear breach of US government protocol?
Of additional concern is the suggestion that one agenda at these meetings may have been in pursuance of coordinating efforts with the Mujahedeen Khalq, an Iranian dissident group based in Iraq. The problem is that the Mujahedeen Khalq are listed by the State Department as a terrorist group. This raises all varieties of moral, political, and ethical considerations.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse for Douglas Feith, yet another of his minions from his Pentagon office is the
subject of an investigation. Michael Maloof, who was stripped of his security clearance a year ago after the FBI linked him to a Lebanese-American businessman under investigation by the FBI for weapons trafficking, is at the center of a probe by the House Judiciary Committee into the dealings of Feith's office. This investigation is looking into the possibility that Maloof and others were involved in illegal activity designed to destabilize the Syrian government. The details remain murky at this nascent stage of the process, but the behavior alleged is of particular concern for an administration that is trying to portray an image of strong leadership.

I will try to keep abreast of this tripartite of intelligence breakdowns as the story evolves. For a more complete background of these stories, and up to the minute coverage of details as they emerge, check out Laura Rozen's site
War and Piece.

A Closet In A Glass House

In mid-July of 2004, the DailyKos picked up a story about blogger Michael Rogers, and his new project blogACTIVE. The mission of blogACTIVE, according to Rogers, is to expose the hypocrisy of openly gay or closeted members of Congress, and their staffs, who supported the Federal Marriage Amendment. This controversial tactic set off a spirited debate in the comments sections on Publius' site, Legal Fiction, here and here. Almost every aspect of the morality, wisdom and strategic worth of these tactics was discussed in full. Publius raised an idealistic and commendable argument against probing into the private lives of politicians, at least not in this new way for fear that it would further lower the bar. My response was as follows (please ignore the blatant egotism of quoting myself):

There is only a line to be drawn, or a bottom to be avoided, in as far as you believe that the GOP considers any area "off limits" and that the Dems would be initiating a new method of attacks by trespassing on such ground. That may be true, but private life attacks didn't end with Clinton. Remember the Kerry intern scandal promoted by Drudge and other wingnuts? That wasn't even true, and they still spread it.

Another problem I have is that if the Dems follow that reasoning, they forever cede the first mover advantage to the GOP. In other words, the Dems would let the GOP decide which methods of personal attacks are OK and which aren't, never being the first to break with tradition, even if something is germane. Instead, the Dems will play within the GOP set boundaries which will be determined more by the political expediency of the day rather than by bright line ethical rules. This gives enormous tactical advantage to the GOP.
The bottom line remains that these politicians willingly thrust this issue into the national debate, going as far as to support amending the Constitution in a way that will impact the freedoms and rights of homosexuals in perpetuity. If they want to legislate about the sexual preferences of citizens, be it a ban on gay marriage, discrimination of homosexuals in the work place or anti-sodomy laws, their own personal hypocrisy is fair game. The private lives of politicians should only be deemed off limits to the degree that those same politicians treat the citizenry with the same forbearance and respect for privacy. Rogers quotes an item from About.com that captures the spirit of this argument:

If an important member of PETA, actively involved in popular efforts to ban the sale of meat, was known to grab a Big Mac a couple of times a week, would it be wrong to publicize that fact? I don't think so. By making a political issue out of what others eat, they are no longer entitled to the same privacy about what they eat. By politicizing the issue, their real beliefs about it become a matter of public interest.
The wisdom of taking this route may be a moot point, however, as it appears that Rogers has drawn first blood, taking "out" his biggest prize yet. CNN.com is reporting that Congressman Ed Schrock (R-VA), one of the most conservative members of Congress (the Christian Coalition gave him a 92% rating in their 2003 voter guide), suddenly, and unexpectedly, announced his decision to abandon his run for a third term this November, amid allegations that he is gay. Schrock, a married retired Navy officer and Vietnam veteran, is one of the strongest supporters of the Federal Marriage Amendment, also took a famous stand against the "don't ask don't tell" policy, so that the military could actively screen gays from the military.

He has neither confirmed nor denied the allegations, but Michael Rogers purports to have
evidence, in the form of phone records (and recordings) and personal accounts, that Schrock was engaged in numerous liasons with other men in the Virginia area. Will the outing campaign undertaken by Rogers impact the policies emanating from the conservative wing of the GOP? That remains to be seen, but in the meantime you will likely hear the shatter of glass and the creak of the closet door with some frequency between now and November.

Monday, August 30, 2004

A Convention's Conventional Wisdom

In his Think Again column for the Center for American Progress, Eric Alterman further probes the myth that prevails in the realm of American conventional wisdom which holds that the sober analytical Republicans are better suited to handle issues of national security and foreign policy than their more sensitive and ideologically inclined Democratic counterparts, which I discussed in a two part series here and here. [Ed Note: I apologize for some repetition in the topics and facts discussed in this and other posts, but it is my intent to follow through with certain themes that I have been working, highlighting evolving story lines that corroborate earlier arguments and assumptions, thus constructing a well documented meta-narrative].

Alterman gets to the heart of the matter, that the rhetorical device, as is so often the case, does not withstand empirical scrutiny, both historical and current. In fact, much of the critique of the Democrats' policies that emerge from right-leaning sources seem to contradict many of their own prior proclamations and theories. Witness the logical inconsistency and intellectual dishonesty in this apparent flip-flop from neoconservative stalwart Charles Krauthammer (who recently was taken to task by his neoconservative compatriot Francis Fukuyama
here - bad week for Mr. Krauthammer I guess):

Consider a Time magazine article from March 1999 entitled, "The Clinton Doctrine." In it, the neoconservative warrior takes Clinton to task for his willingness to use the American military to oppose ethnic cleansing and the killing of innocent civilians. "The problem with this doctrine," according to author Charles Krauthammer, "for all the ringing moral satisfaction it gives, is that it is impossibly moralistic and universal." He goes on to say that "highfalutin moral principles are impossible guides to foreign policy. At worst, they reflect hypocrisy; at best, extreme naiveté."

But lo and behold, when a conservative Republican president justifies a far more costly war on the same grounds, Krauthammer is happy to march behind him. In May 2003, Krauthammer suddenly changed his mind about the value of "highfalutin moral principles," and argued, "We are embarking on [the reconstruction or Iraq] out of the same enlightened altruism that inspired the rebuilding of Germany and Japan – trusting that economic and political success in Iraq will have a stabilizing and modernizing effect on the entire region. But our self-interest does not detract from the truth that what we are doing in Iraq is morally different from what we did after World War II. In Iraq, we are engaged in rescue rather than the undoing of our own destruction." He would go on in other articles to wax poetic of the "moral purpose of the entire enterprise" and to ask, "Is our purpose in Iraq morally sound? Of course it is."
On the historical front, Alterman examines the justifications for the claims that Democrats, and in particular John Kerry, are prone to "cut and run" when the going gets tough. This part of the myth appeals to historical amnesia and selective recall. The most recent example cited by the Right is Clinton's decision to remove troops from Somalia after the "Blackhawk Down" incident. In that case, though, Clinton was being attacked by the Right for staying in Somalia and subjecting troops to those dangers (a deployment that Bush Sr. initiated as a sort of going away present during the interim lame duck period), and was equally, if not more vociferously, lambasted when he pulled out the troops. The more advantageous meme, that of the weak-kneed capitulator, has emerged as the victor from the GOP camp's orderly and coordinated talking points regime, and so that is how Clinton's handling of Somalia is described.

But what if that same critical lens is turned upon the icon of the conservative movement, Ronald Reagan, the same man that teary-eyed partisans want to enshrine as an addendum to Mt. Rushmore or as the usurper of FDR on the dime or Hamilton on the ten dollar bill:

John Kerry is now being tagged with the label of a "cut and run" liberal who will pull our troops out of Iraq before the job is done, thereby endangering our national security. But if we are going to have a national referendum of the potential failures of a liberal administration, we first need to take a look back at how conservatives have actually handled military action in recent years. Let us not forget the conservative 1980s, when cutting and running seemed to be what we did when presented with a problem. President Reagan let quite a bit slide during the decade, beginning in April 1983, when he essentially ignored a Hezbollah suicide bomb attack on the American embassy in Beirut that killed sixty-three employees, among them the Middle East CIA director. Just six months later, in October, another Hezbollah suicide bomber attacked the American barracks in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. Marines and wounding another 81. His response? Pulling the Marines out of Lebanon. But this wasn't all. As Reagan-booster Norman Podhoretz helpfully points out in the new issue of Commentary: "Having cut and run in Lebanon in October, Reagan again remained passive in December, when the American embassy in Kuwait was bombed. Nor did he hit back when, hard upon the withdrawal of the American Marines from Beirut, the CIA station chief there..."
More priceless quotes from neoconservative sources. Podhoretz, Krauthammer, Fukuyama, when will it end? But I digress. Alterman further delves into the "cut and run" meme vis a vis Kerry's challenger in this election, George W. Bush, in the most relevant of arenas, Iraq:

And how does the current administration fare by this standard? Not well, alas. Although the press has been loathe to admit as much, the American military has in essence given up on several strategic objectives in Iraq, pulling troops out of what may have been a winnable fight. Take the siege of Fallujah by 1,200 Marines in April. After fighting street by street with insurgents for about two weeks (at the cost of 36 American lives) the United States halted the siege on the condition that the militants hand over their heavy weapons – which they failed to do. The Marines waited outside the city for another two weeks before pulling out, handing a victory to the insurgents and leaving the city in the hands of religious extremists.
The failure in Fallujah was monumental, and one that continues to imperil the Iraq mission as a whole. Fallujah has become the central planning location for the Sunni led faction of the insurgency. Without Fallujah, there will be no stability, just a continuation of the suicide bomb attacks and assassinations that have so plagued the progress of stability.

This view is supported by a marine helicopter pilot, who told a New York Times reporter, "Fallujah, in fact, was very close to becoming a city our forces could have controlled, and then given new schools and sewers and hospitals, before we pulled back in the spring. Now, essentially ignored, it has become a Taliban-like state of Islamic extremism, a terrorist safe haven."
Having backed down to Sunni insurgents in the North, leaving them with a stronghold and sanctuary in Fallujah, the Bush administration continued to waver in the face of resistance in the South from the Shiite insurgency led by Moqtada al-Sadr. Despite the frequent declarations from L. Paul Bremer and other CPA officials, that they were going to either kill or capture al-Sadr, they have succeeded at neither. In fact, al-Sadr has only derived strength and support from his frequent showdowns with American forces, from which he emerges defiant and unharmed. In the latest example of indecision, the Bush team let al-Sadr engage in a protracted siege in the city of Najaf, which was only resolved after negotiation, with the emboldened al-Sadr withdrawing his forces, but suffering no consequences. I'm not suggesting that storming the Imam Ali Shrine would have been the wise choice, but the repeated concessions to al-Sadr have strengthened his hand, and his newly minted prominence and influence threaten the democratic process and succeful evolution of an Iraqi state, as detailed by Larry Diamond writing in Foreign Affairs. At the very least, this policy should serve as an example of hypocrisy in the characterization of Democrats as weak-willed, sensitive and prone to negotiating with terrorists. Isn't that what the Bush team has been doing with remarkable frequency in Iraq?

But where is the outrage from the right over our inaction? Shouldn't they be up in arms, calling for these terrorists' heads? Isn't this exactly what they accuse liberals of trying to do – cut and run, or negotiate and wait? As Peter Beinart recently admitted in the pro-war New Republic, "By ignoring the Bush administration's repeated capitulations in the face of Islamist terrorism in Iraq, conservatives can preserve their cherished partisan categories: Kerry lacks spine; Bush doesn't blink in the face of evil...Because the Bush administration arrogantly refused to do what was necessary to secure – and thus rebuild – postwar Iraq, most Iraqis have turned against us. And now, America's political weakness has produced military weakness. At the end of the day, if you don't listen and you don't plan and you don't adapt, you lose your capacity to be tough." [emphasis added]
Over the next week, during the Republican Convention, we will hear echoed ad nauseum the theme that the country should "stay the course" with Bush because of his unwavering strength in the war on terror. There will be innuendo and allegations to the effect that Kerry and his fellow Democrats are weak, sensitive, out of touch, unrealistic, prone to capitulations, naively believing they can negotiate with terrorists, and above all planning to "cut and run" in Iraq. The so-called liberal media will do nothing to expose these charges as baseless or ahistorical, just as they have done nothing to prevent this meme from becoming an accepted principle of conventional wisdom. But I guess it is foolish to look for wisdom in conventions, or liberal bias in the media.

[Update: This Sunday's New York Times had an article discussing the situation in Fallujah and neighboring Ramadi. It is a detailed account, and worth the read. Here is one quotation relevant to the discussion above:

"Still, Marine commanders at Camp Falluja, a sprawling base less than five miles east of the city, have been telling reporters for weeks that the city has become little more than a terrorist camp, providing a haven for Iraqi militants and for scores of non-Iraqi Arabs, many of them with ties to Al Qaeda, who have homed in on Falluja as the ideal base to conduct a holy war against the United States. Eventually, the Marine officers have said, American hopes of creating stability in Iraq will necessitate a new attack on the city, this time one that will not be halted before it can succeed."]

Curious and Curiouser

There were two points that jumped out at me from a recent interview that President Bush gave to the New York Times. The first item is how out of the loop Bush appeared regarding a major scientific finding emanating from the upper most echelons of his own administration which underpins the rationale for environmental policy and legislative action. In an historic break from prior stances and declarations, the Bush administration acknowledged the reality that global warming is occurring and the role that man made emissions play in contributing to the process. The problem is, no one seems to have told the president.

On environmental issues, Mr. Bush appeared unfamiliar with an administration report delivered to Congress on Wednesday that indicated that emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases were the only likely explanation for global warming over the last three decades. Previously, Mr. Bush and other officials had emphasized uncertainties in understanding the causes and consequences of global warming.

The new report was signed by Mr. Bush's secretaries of energy and commerce and his science adviser. Asked why the administration had changed its position on what causes global warming, Mr. Bush replied, "Ah, we did? I don't think so." [emphasis added]
The second part, left me scratching my head in disbelief. When probed about the nuclear capacity of North Korea and Iran, and what his foreign policy initiatives would be in this arena and in non-proliferation in general, Bush gave an answer that seemingly contradicts his infamous showdown with Saddam Hussein.

He said that in North Korea's case, and in Iran's, he would not be rushed to set deadlines for the countries to disarm, despite his past declaration that he would not "tolerate" nuclear capability in either nation. He declined to define what he meant by "tolerate."

"I don't think you give timelines to dictators," Mr. Bush said, speaking of North Korea's president, Kim Jong Il, and Iran's mullahs. He said he would continue diplomatic pressure - using China to pressure the North and Europe to pressure Iran - and gave no hint that his patience was limited or that at some point he might consider pre-emptive military action. [emphasis added]
Is this the same man who gave the famous deadline to Saddam Hussein to abdicate his leadership and flee Iraq or face invasion? Is this the same president who set deadlines for weapons disclosures and inspections backed up by the very real threat of force? Is this a kinder gentler Bush, or just an amnesiac one? Perhaps President Bush is developing a "sensitive" side.

"I'm confident that over time this will work - I certainly hope it does," he said of the diplomatic approach. Mr. Kerry argued in his interview that North Korea 'was a far more compelling threat in many ways, and it belonged at the top of the agenda,' but Mr. Bush declined to compare it to Iraq, apart from arguing that Iraq had defied the world community for longer than the other members of what he once called "the axis of evil." Nor would he assess the risk that Pyongyang might sell nuclear material to terrorists, though his national security aides believe it may have sold raw uranium to Libya in recent years.
No more mister tough guy.

[Update: Josh Gibson at Metablogic did the hard work in digging up this quote which exemplifies the Bush's contradiction in policy toward dictators:

"Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing."
-George Bush, March 17, 2003]

Notes From NYC

The first day of the convention kicked off yesterday (the ceremony if not the speeches), and it passed not with a bang but a whimper. I am breathing a deep sigh of relief that the rather sizable protests passed without violence or major disturbance. I was truly dreading the political capital that Rove would have reaped had such a spectacle transpired. The organizers and participants deserve a healthy dose of credit.

As for the impact on New York City, thus far I have little to report. Yes, traffic has been made more intolerable, with intermittent street closings and detours, and many colleagues have decided to take a vacation, so the office is eerily quiet for a Monday. My Saturday night bar hop was somewhat more challenging, what with the frequent police obstructions frustrating the cabbies and all, but that is really just a minor inconvenience. Nothing can keep me away from my libations.

One thing that is striking though, aside from the herds of GOP conventioneers that can be seen migrating along the sidewalks in tight-knit packs - obviously knowledgeable about the dangers of separating and becoming vulnerable to the liberal predators, is the increased security presence. I live on Wall St. so I have grown accustomed to the sight of body armored policemen toting automatic assault rifles as a daily observance, but there are a few additions to the vista that stand out, even for an otherwise jaded New Yorker.

On Saturday, as I was sitting in Battery Park perusing a copy of Politics by Hendrik Hertzberg, a book I highly recommend, my focus was diverted by the sight of two Blackhawk helicopters passing over head at a relatively low altitude. I also took notice of the flotilla of Coast Guard ships, large and small, circling the island with their .50 caliber machine guns and other armaments visible to all. Adding to the city besieged motif, you can't pass ten feet without seeing a police officer, and even then, it's usually a phalanx.

I wonder what impression this is leaving on the conventioneers, if this will affect their overall views of New York City, or the country in general. The funny thing about such open displays of military and security personnel is that they rarely make you feel safer, just more insecure. At least that is my take.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Anatomy Of A Murder

It has been the stated and unstated goal of conservatives in America to undo the legacies of the liberal policies enacted under the rubric of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's visionary New Deal and Lyndon Johnson's bold Great Society. The elimination of these programs is a central tenet of the goal to shrink the size of the federal government, to "starve the beast" and usher in an era of truly small government. The two most prominent survivors of this siege, Social Security and Medicare, have been the nemeses of conservative lawmakers, almost since their inception, even displaying the resilience to withstand the power of Reagan's overwhelming legislative mandate. They represent the last vestige of the American voters' refusal to vote against their interest.

Through the
sleight of hand emphasis on cultural and social issues, so aptly described by Thomas Frank in his book What's The Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, conservatives, bolstered by the electoral support of the lower and middle classes, have been able to achieve much of their agenda of dismantling the New Deal and Great Society, which has, ironically, undermined the interests of those same lower and middle class voters who unwittingly supported them under the guise of "important" issues like abortion, flag burning, homosexual rights, religion, values, etc.

These economic policies skew heavily in favor of big agribusiness at the expense of family farmers, de-regulation and anti-union measures which hurt wage earners, in favor of big business over small business, slashing to non-existence social programs like head start, unemployment benefits, and Section 8 housing which benefit those on the lower income scale, supporting the removal of environmental protections, the removal of worker protection laws and, especially under Bush, supporting large scale tax relief for the wealthiest taxpayers, while shifting that burden to lower and middle class taxpayers.

Along the scorched Earth economic march of the conservatives, the buck, so to speak, has stopped with Social Security and Medicare. The electorate has remained steadfast in their support of these programs, no matter what cultural issue is invoked. These programs have been, and remain, the political third rail. Touch them, and you're fried.

A frontal assault on Medicare and Social Security has proven impossible to mount, and certain political suicide for those that try. But perhaps there is another way - a back door of sorts. The trick lies in the plundering of the budget surpluses created by the Clinton/Gore fiscal discipline during the economically prosperous decade of the 1990's. To do this, Bush would need to pass enormous tax cuts, while at the same time increase spending. He would need to turn the bountiful surpluses into dangerously out of control deficits. Although enormous deficits and big spending initiatives seem counterintuitive to an overall policy goal of shrinking the federal government, therein lies the brilliance of the subterfuge. But first, the history.

Anticipating the strains that would be put on Social Security, lawmakers raised the payroll tax in the 1980's (a disproportionate amount of which is paid by the lower and middle classes) and created a Trust Fund into which surpluses would be placed and saved in order to keep the system solvent during the lean years of the baby boomer retirements. In order to sink Social Security, conservatives would need to plunder the surplus and break the bank of the trust fund.

Gore, anticipating his opponents' flanking maneuver, gave much air play during the 2000 campaign to the infamous "lockbox" in which he would place the Social Security Trust Fund, to insure that the government would not use those funds for other purposes. Instead of taking his prescient proposal seriously, Gore's somewhat incessant repetition of this phrase was the subject of ridicule in the media from Hardball to Saturday Night Live. Bush for his part vowed to leave the Social Security surpluses untouched.

Of course Bush lied or flip-flopped, or whatever you want to call it. He began raiding the trust fund and the surpluses in his first months in office, and hasn't stopped since. According to the Historical Budget Data put out by the Congressional Office of Management and Budget in early 2004, to cover the cost of his tax cuts, Bush will have to spend the entire projected Social Security surplus of $2.4 trillion from 2005 through 2014. The lockbox will be completely looted, just as an avalanche of baby boomers are set to retire. While the Trust Fund is looted, and the baby boomers' retirement looms in the distance, the national budget shows little capacity to make up the difference, or reinforce the effort. This of course, was part of the plan.

The Bush administration has succeeded in greatly diminishing the revenue stream through far reaching and, if they get their way, permanent tax cuts which many economists have described as making the deficit recovery proof because of the breaks given on the taxation of passive income. He accomplished this while encumbering the government with the enormous spending obligations required to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is a reason that no government in the history of the United States, or the world for that matter, has cut taxes while at war. The deficits become unmanageable, and the resources of the government scarce. But Bush didn't stop there. He also passed the staggeringly expensive prescription drug benefit, even though he had to conceal the true cost from Congress and threaten to fire Richard Foster, the Medicare actuary, if he revealed the real estimates. This was a two-fold success in that he further drove up the deficit, while at the same time making Medicare even more expensive and ultimately unwieldly, an argument that will be used in the future to justify its "unfortunate" demise.

Which takes us up to the present. We are on the verge of the baby boomer retirement rush which would have put a strain on Social Security and Medicare had the surpluses been left intact inside a "lockbox." Instead they have been plundered, and if Bush's tax cuts are made permanent, they will remain bankrupt in perpetuity. The budget is hamstrung with intransigent obligations that are exceeding the paltry revenue trickling in as a result of widespread tax cuts that, according to the non-partisan
Congressional Budget Office, overwhelmingly favor the wealthiest Americans, with millionaires receiving $72 to every non-millionaires' $1. There is no room in the budget to bail out Social Security and Medicare, but a crisis is looming.

As I
predicted here, we have entered the era of tough decisions, mandated by the dire economic climate, even on seemingly sacrosanct programs such as Social Security and Medicare. As reported today in the Washington Post, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan fired the first volley. He said:

The country will face "abrupt and painful" choices if Congress does not move quickly to trim the Social Security and Medicare benefits that have been promised to the baby boom generation.

"If we have promised more than our economy has the ability to deliver, as I fear we may have, we must recalibrate our public programs so that pending retirees have time to adjust through other channels," Greenspan said. "If we delay, the adjustments could be abrupt and painful."
His proposed solutions are to begin reducing benefits, and to raise the retirement age (which is already being increased from 65 to 67). He has rejected, unequivocally, the repeal of Bush's tax cuts as a solution to the crisis. Leave those giveaways to the wealthiest Americans in place, he says, but cut the already modest benefits for retirees and increase the retirement age even further. This is only the initial foray, however, made to soften the resistance and introduce the concept to the populace.

Make no mistake, with Iraq continuing to hemorrhage money, and the President intent on making his reckless tax cuts permanent, the arguments of fiscal necessity are coming and they will threaten the prolonged life of Social Security and Medicare, especially with the imminent retirement of the baby boomers. Grover Norquist's long sought after starve-the-beast showdown is on the horizon, and it will be carried out under the guise of the circumstances being beyond the control of the politicians. In fact they will blame the entitlements themselves for being unsustainable. Social Security and Medicare will be dismissed as unrealistic, impractical, liberal pipe dreams, too expensive to maintain. Fast on their heels will follow other liberal fantasies such as EPA, OSHA, public education, etc. Grover Norquist and his accolytes will at last get their pared down version of government.

Will the media remind the public of the road taken to the fiscal crisis? Will the Republicans in Congress and the White House soon be allowed to plead, with impunity, that in relation to gutting Social Security and Medicare, the circumstances made them do it? Will the American people allow the same politicians whose policies raided the trust fund, ran up the deficits, and shrank the revenues necessary to pay them down, claim that the deficits are to blame for the impending massive cuts to entitlements, and not their own fiscal strategy?

There is a saying that if you drop a frog into boiling water, it will leap out immediately feeling the shock to its nervous system. But if you place that same frog in tepid water and bring it to a boil slowly, the frog won't react to the gradual change in temperature and remain in the water until fully cooked. In the fiscal sense, and in relation to these entitlement programs, we are in the midst of a slow boil.

A Tale Of Two Parties

Would the real Republican Party please stand up. I'm a bit lost trying to follow the shells as Karl Rove, with the deft touch of a street hustler, whirls them around the table in a dizzying interchange that conceals the location of the ball from even the vigilant eye. Is this the Party that supports a Constitutional Amendment that would forever deny homosexuals the right to marry, or does Cheney speak for the Party when he says "freedom means freedom for everyone" and that gay marriage should be left to the states? Is this the Party of straightshooters like McCain, or nefarious prevaricators like the Swift Boat Veterans? Is the heart of the Republican Party with the Tom Delay conservative, Christian Right wing that have so dominated the legislative process, or the social moderates ostentatiously on parade in the prime time speeches at the Republican convention? Lastly, is this the Party of George H. W. Bush, or George W. Bush?

The overwhelming evidence suggests taht this is not his father's Republican Party. Take, for example, the disdain on the lips of this Bush administration's foreign policy gurus when they describe the Scowcroftian approach (Brent Scowcroft was Bush the elder's National Security Advisor). You would think Scowcroft was a thoroughly discredited liberal isolationist by the way his name is uttered with such obvious contempt. And the fault lines run deep. Gone is the overarching principle of fiscal discipline, replaced by the era of big spending, massive tax cuts and historic deficits. Cheney even went as far as to issue the conservative blasphemy that "deficits don't matter." The sacrosanct doctrine of empowering states' rights has been sacrificed for clumsy underfunded Federal education mandates, Federal intervention in state passed euthanasia laws and assaults on state recognition of gay marriage. No longer do heroic Republican candidates attack the draft dodging history of their opponents, now the draft evaders attack their heroic opponents.

The metamorphosis has been so rapid in its evolution, that the current incarnation of the Republican Party isn't even Bush's Party from 2000. The recently circulated draft of the Party platform shows many divergences from the platform of 2000. The most glaring discrepancies are in the definition of foreign policy strategy.

Criticizing the Clinton administration as running down the nation's defenses, in part though "promiscuous commitments" abroad, the 2000 platform had said that "the administration constantly enlarges the reach of its rhetoric," making the United States a "global social worker."

It added: "We propose our principles; we must not impose our culture," and, "The military is not a civilian police force or a political referee."
This message was echoed by Bush during the 2000 campaign, exemplified by this response to Vice President Gore:

"I'm not sure where the vice president's coming from, but I think one way for us to end up being viewed as the ugly American is for us to go around the world saying, we do it this way, so should you. I think the United States must be humble and must be proud and confident of our values, but humble in how we treat nations that are figuring out how to chart their own course."
The current platform obviously had to change in the diametrically opposite direction in order to comport with the audacious, arrogant and, in many ways, reckless foreign policy of pre-emptive strikes, intensive nation building and regional reconfiguration that Bush actually espoused upon reaching office.

And so the draft of the platform praises the current foreign policy stating, "The president's leadership has achieved successes once deemed impossible to realize in so short a period of time."

But it seems that the description of these successes is in many ways detached from the realities on the ground:

Despite the continuing turmoil in Najaf and other parts of Iraq, the draft describes the situation in that country as one of Mr. Bush's notable achievements, saying Iraq "is now becoming an example of reform to the region." [emphasis added]
I think it's safe to say that, even for reform minded Middle Easterners, Iraq is probably the last model for reform that they would choose. What exactly would be attractive about Iraq to the rest of the region? Is it the lack of stability? The continuing violence? The foreign influence? The prospect for civil war or the likelihood of the emergence of another strongman or totalitarian theocracy? Not exactly a model that inspires imitation.

The rest of the platform reflects the ascendancy of the far right wing of the party, and the marginalization of the social moderates which I discussed
in this post.

In addition to newly appearing language opposing stem cell research, in stronger terms than Bush's own stance, consider this increased focus on abortion compared to the already strongly worded 2000 platform:

On abortion, the platform retained from previous conventions a call for a constitutional amendment banning abortion, expanding its discussion of the issue to a five-paragraph section on the "culture of life" from just two paragraphs in the 2000 platform in a section titled "Upholding the Rights of All."
Then there is this new section addressing the gay marriage issue:

On same-sex marriage, the draft says the party "strongly supports President Bush's call for a constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage," calling heterosexual marriage "the most fundamental institution of civilization."
These types of uncompromising stands on social issues have frustrated and alienated many moderates within the Party like Christie Whitman, the moderate former New Jersey governor and former head of the EPA under Bush who is writing a book entitled It's My Party Too, a reference to the increasing marginalization of centrist voices in the GOP.

Christopher Barron, political director of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay group, said that given the slim chances of eliminating the endorsement of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage from the platform, his group pushed for a "unity plank" to acknowledge that some party members might disagree about the subject.
It is unlikely that Barron will succeed in including the unity plank as "abortion-rights advocates have tried without success for similar provisions in years past." How can the GOP continue to project the image of the "big tent" through carefully crafted photo ops, such as the convention, while at the same time embracing a platform that is so extreme and exclusionary? At what point do members such as Christopher Barron and the Log Cabin Republicans lose their patience with a Party that views them as less entitled to basic rights? In many ways, this election will be a referendum on the battle between the Republicanism of Bush Sr. vs. that of Bush Jr., of the platform of 2000 and the platform of 2004.

If Bush defeats Kerry, the conservative leadership, validated and emboldened by their victory, will steer the Party even farther to the right, or perhaps more accurately, even further in the direction of their own vision which is not always more to the right necessarily. The question is, will the moderate voices advertising their Party's centrist credibility have a seat at the table if their efforts are met with a successful outcome in November? Is this their Party too?

Thursday, August 26, 2004

History Forgotten Is History Repeated

With the first round of charges of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth laying in tatters and rags, either contradicted by contemporaneous military records, shown to be inconsistent with multiple accounts given by the same veterans in 1969, or categorically denied by the members of John Kerry's boat, the SBVFT have shifted their sites to John Kerry's post-war testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 1971.

Here is a description of the newest commercial release courtesy of
Salon.com (one-day pass available after a brief web ad):

The second SBVFT commercial includes clips from Kerry's April 1971 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "They had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads ... randomly shot at civilians ... cut off limbs, blown up bodies ... razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan ... crimes committed on a day-to-day basis ... ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam."

What happens during those ellipses is SBVFT members talking about Kerry's accusations in these terms: "Just devastating." "It hurt me." "John Kerry gave the enemy for free what I and many of my comrades in the North Vietnamese prison camps took torture to avoid saying. It demoralized us." "Betrayed us." "Dishonored his country and more importantly the people he served with. He just sold them out."
The implication from the SBVFT, and from many in the mainstream media and punditry who have echoed their charges, is that Kerry was lying. These things didn't really happen, and that he in effect slandered all soldiers who fought in Vietnam. Never mind the fact that Kerry's testimony explicitly states that not all soldiers engaged in these crimes, according to them Kerry still painted them all with the same brush, and the allegations were unfounded.

What bizarre form of historical revisionism is this? How can the SBVFT's and members of the media turn a willfully amnesiac eye to mountains of historical evidence concerning the conduct of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. Let me state this unequivocally: Atrocities, including and especially the ones described by John Kerry, did occur. The most famous incident of war crimes in Vietnam was the
My Lai massacre, in which over 500 unarmed civilians, the majority of which being women and children, were executed by Charlie Company, a unit of the Americal Division's 11th Infantry Brigade.

There were, of course, numerous other incidences of atrocities and war crimes. In a recent piece of investigative journalism, three reporters from the Toledo Blade were awarded the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for their work uncovering the systematic atrocities committed by the Tiger Force, a special unit made up of soldiers from the Army's 101st Airborne's 1st battalion/327th Infantry Regiment. These atrocities, which included the severing of ears for necklaces and the decapitation of infants, were documented and investigated by the Army, but were subsequently covered-up with no charges being filed against any of the participants. Thanks to the efforts of the Toledo Blade journalists, the Army is now re-opening some of these inquiries in conjunction with the Vietnam government. A list of articles detailing these far reaching and widespread atrocities
can be found here.

Here are some personal accounts containing some brutally graphic and disturbing detail. I warn the sensitive reader to consider stopping at this point.

Eric Alterman's site contains this description of pages 213-214 of the paperback edition of journalist Michael Herr's Vietnam book Dispatches, the material for which was compiled by Herr during his frontline stint in Vietnam:

...a Marine came up to [AP newsman John] Lengle and me and asked if we'd like to look at some pictures he'd taken...and you could tell by the way the Marine stood over us, grinning in anticipation as we flipped over each plastic page, that it was among his favorite things...There were hundreds of these albums in Vietnam, thousands, and they all seemed to contain the same pictures, the obligatory Zippo-lighter shot ('All right, let's burn these hootches and move out'); the severed head shot, the head often resting on the chest of the dead man or being held up by a smiling Marine, or a lot of heads arranged in a row, with a burning cigarette in each of the mouths, the eyes open...the VC suspect being dragged over the dust by a half-track or being hung by his heels in some jungle clearing; the very young dead with AK-47's still in their hands ('How old would you say that kid was?' the grunts would ask. 'Twelve, thirteen? You just can't tell with gooks'); a picture of a Marine holding an ear or maybe two ears or, as in the case of a guy I knew near Pleiku, a whole necklace made of ears, 'love beads' as its owner called them; and the one we were looking at now, the dead Viet Cong girl with her pajamas stripped off and her legs raised stiffly in the air.

'No more boom-boom for that mamma-san,' the Marine said...'But look, look at that bitch there, cut right in half!'
Here are some accounts of other soldiers made available by the Salon.com:

"My name is Scott Camile. I was a Sgt. attached to Charley 1/1. I was a forward observer in Vietnam...People cut off ears and when they'd come back in off of an operation you'd make deals before you'd go out and like for every ear you cut off someone would buy you two beers, so people cut off ears. The torturing of prisoners was done with beatings and I saw one case where there were two prisoners. One prisoner was staked out on the ground and he was cut open while he was alive and part of his insides were cut out and they told the other prisoner if he didn't tell them what they wanted to know they would kill him. And I don't know what he said because he spoke in Vietnamese but then they killed him after that anyway."
And this from Michael Hunter:

"I served in Vietnam two tours, the first tour was from the 1st Air Cav. Bravo Company 5th/7th Air Cav. and the second tour was the 1st Infantry Division, I Company, 75th Rangers, Lurps (LRRP) about 40 miles west of Saigon.

"Bravo Company, 5th of the 7th, when we were outside of Hue shortly after the Tet offensive, went into a village (and this happened repeatedly afterwards) and searched for enemy activity. We encountered a large amount of civilian population. The civilian population was brought out to one end of the village, and the women, who were guarded by a squad and a squad leader at that time, were separated. I might say the young women were separated from their children and the older women and the older men, the elderly men. They were told at gunpoint that if they did not submit to the sexual desires of any GI who was there guarding them, they would be shot for running away."
This is from Jamie Henry, Sgt. (E-5), H Co., 2nd Bn., 9th Marine Reg., 3rd Marine Div. (September 1967-August 1968):

"The captain simply repeated the order that came down from the colonel that morning. The order that came down from the colonel that morning was to kill anything that moves ... As I was walking over to him, I turned, and I looked in the area. I looked toward where the supposed VCs were, and two men were leading a young girl, approximately 19 years old, very pretty, out of a hootch. She had no clothes on so I assumed she had been raped, which was pretty SOP, and she was thrown onto the pile of the 19 women and children, and five men, around the circle, opened up on full automatic with their M-16s."
The tragic reality is that atrocities are inextricably linked to the mental anguish that war creates, and are thus an ugly component in practically every major armed conflict throughout the wide breadth of history. Under the particularly gruelling psychological strains of guerilla/insurgency combat like Vietnam, atrocities are even more common because of the stress and uncertainty endured by the occupying force in confronting an irregular enemy that deliberately blends in with the civilian population. Soldiers in these situations tend to view all civilians as enemies, and often act accordingly which results in countless acts of civilian targeting, on top of the typical dehumanizing of the enemy that is inevitable.

Pretending like atrocities don't exist doesn't make it so. In fact, this type of willful ignorance can lead policy makers to overestimate the efficacy of war as a substitute for other less bellicose tactics in foreign policy. Atrocities should always be factored into the calculus when deciding to use force.

John Kerry displayed great courage and bravery in acting as a spokesman, bringing these horrific events to the knowledge of the American people. His truth-telling helped to convince the majority of Americans of the futility of a war in which you had to raze a village to save it. As a result of his deeds, and the actions of other like-minded individuals, the wall at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. is that much shorter. I close on his words before the Senate back in 1971:

"We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of that service as easily as this administration has wiped away their memories of us. But all that they have done, and all that they can do by this denial, is to make more clear than ever our own determination to undertake one last mission: To search out and destroy the last vestige of this barbaric war; to pacify our own hearts; to conquer the hate and fear that have driven this country these last 10 years and more. And so, when, 30 years from now, our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm, or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say 'Vietnam' and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory, but mean instead where America finally turned, and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning."

"One last mission": The turning is still in progress.

Ring Around The Story

The circumnavigation of the truth at the heart of the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan, is proceeding in concentric circles, ever approaching the center in a meandering progression. As the procession of various investigations march around the story like pilgrims on a haj circling the Ka'abah in Mecca, more and more of the picture is revealed. The release of two reports in the last two days has further brought the truth into focus.

The first report was authored by a four-member panel hand selected by Donald Rumsfeld headed by former defense secretary James R. Schlesinger includes another former secretaries of defense, a retired four-star general and a former Republican member of Congress. The Schlesinger report shows progress in the sense that it marks a departure from the highly implausible "few bad apples" narrative, that a handful of soldiers operating solely out of the venue of Abu Ghraib prison were responsible for all that went on. This is the theory that has been echoed repeatedly by Bush administration officials and their apologists. The Schlesinger report also takes the long overdue step of pointing the finger of blame up the chain of command, even if they stop prematurely at the office of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. As reported in the
Washington Post:

"The abuses were not just the failure of some individuals to follow known standards, and they are more than the failure of a few leaders to enforce proper discipline," the report said. "There is both institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels."

Underscoring the broad scope of mistreatment, the panel said 300 abuse cases have come under investigation -- a number about three times greater than previous U.S. military statements.

Of 155 completed investigations, the report added, 66 have resulted in determinations of abuse -- 55 of them in Iraq, three in Afghanistan and eight at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "Dozens of non-judicial punishments have already been awarded," the report said without detailing them.
The second report, an internal investigation by Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones and Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, further discredits the "few bad apples" theory, and breaks new ground in its open indictment of the role played by the intelligence apparatus involved in the interrogation process.

But the findings yesterday of another Army investigation offered a more critical appraisal of what led to the mistreatment at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. It implicated 27 military intelligence soldiers in abuse, providing some support for assertions by some of the seven military guards previously charged that they were not acting alone. Counting other intelligence, medical and civilian contract personnel cited for failing to report the abuse, and three more military police officers alleged to have engaged in abuse, the report appeared to raise to nearly 50 the number of people who may face charges or disciplinary action for misconduct at Abu Ghraib.

Yesterday's findings by Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones and Maj. Gen. George R. Fay also helped to substantiate a major pillar of the defense offered by the military guards already facing charges. They have asserted that their actions came at the direction of military intelligence personnel.

"Although self-serving, these claims do have some basis in fact," Fay said in his portion of the report.
The Fay/Jones report also delves into some details that have been glossed over by the mainstream media, which seems to have limited its reporting to the horrific, yet partial, record provided by the photographic evidence obtained by the press.

In sometimes agonizing detail, the generals detailed acts of sodomy, beatings, nudity, lengthy isolation, and the use of unmuzzled dogs in a sadistic game of making detainees urinate and defecate in fear.

"The abuses spanned from direct physical assault, such as delivering head blows rendering detainees unconscious, to sexual posing and forced participation in group masturbation," the Army report says. "At the extremes were the death of a detainee . . . an alleged rape committed by a US translator and observed by a female Soldier, and the alleged sexual assault of an unknown female."
Do you suppose those were the kinds of things Rush Limbaugh was talking about when he stated that the quality of the abuse detainees were subjected to at Abu Ghraib was nothing more than what college students endure in the fraternity rush?

It is encouraging to see that these reports are breaking new ground, and bringing the attention of the public closer to the responsible parties and policies. But for as much as these reports accomplish, there is that much more they leave undone. Of course this should come as no surprise since the Pentagon is essentially investigating itself with its own personnel, the one exception being an "independent" investigation conducted by two former Secretaries of Defense, a retired four-star general and a former Republican member of Congress, all personally selected by Donald Rumsfeld himself. Not exactly what would be described as disinterested parties. Furthermore, the scope and reach of each investigation has been in each case deliberately truncated so as to prevent any one investigation from being able to connect the dots in the whole picture, instead encouraging the logic-defying compartmentalizing of the findings. This deliberate myopia can be found in the following paragraph and quote from the Schlesinger report:

In discussing Rumsfeld's role, the report said changes he made between December 2002 and April 2003 in interrogation techniques for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay "migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq where they were neither limited nor safeguarded." The report said Rumsfeld might have avoided the policy confusion if he had a wider range of legal opinions and a more robust internal debate over detainee policies and operations in 2002, before the war started. [emphasis added]
The interrogation policies migrated? That is an interesting choice of words, implying some sort of passive transferrance of instructions and orders, much like a natural occurence undertaken by birds and butterflies. As Spencer Ackerman of the New Republic, via Laura Rozen, notes:

But, of course, no policy "migrates." Officials actively provide instructions to other officials...What his preferred euphemism glosses over are the questions of who told what to whom, with whose approval.
The "who told what to whom, with whose approval" is really the crux of the story, and the uncovering of that chain of events will be the moment of epiphany. The inability of these reports to probe those questions more thoroughly are their biggest failings, but perhaps they were designed with that result in mind.

One area only lightly touched upon by the reports is the extensive
record of legal memos and opinions justifyiing torture that were sought by Rumsfeld and furnished by the Department of Justice and the White House counsel. These were the legal foundation for the expansion of what Seymour Hersh describes as a black-op used by the CIA and other intelligence entities in the apprehension and interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects. Rumsfeld, eager to quell the insurgency in Iraq, implemented the same controversial techniques in Iraq which had previously been reserved for use against al-Qaeda suspects. This angered many within the intelligence community who wanted to maintain the secrecy and sparing use of these tactics so as to insure their continued access to them free from public outrage. As Hersh notes:

The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focused on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. Rumsfeld's decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of élite combat units, and hurt America's prospects in the war on terror.

According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, the Pentagon's operation, known inside the intelligence community by several code words, including Copper Green, encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq. A senior C.I.A. official, in confirming the details of this account last week, said that the operation stemmed from Rumsfeld's long-standing desire to wrest control of America's clandestine and paramilitary operations from the C.I.A.
It is unclear whether the current administration will be compelled to uncover this unseemly history, or whether the media will accept the partial narrative of these reports and move on to something of more intrigue. The riveting story of Scott and Laci Peterson is good for ratings after all. Only a truly independent investigative body, endowed with full subpoena powers, and the mandate to follow the story no matter where it leads, will have the ability to connect the lines and form the circle. One could assume that Congress would authorize such an investigation concerning a matter of such monumental import as this, which has so badly tarnished our image and undermined our moral authority worldwide for decades to come. But I suppose there are priorities, and at the end of the day, where's the blue dress?

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


In an unprecedented expression of dissent within the neoconservative camp, noted political philosopher, author, professor and neoconservative by intellectual pedigree, Francis Fukuyama, has delivered a forceful critique of the Iraq invasion, and in many ways the recent direction of the neoconservative foreign policy group-think. The article appearing in the National Interest is a response to a series of policy recommendations advocated by Fukuyama's friend, and Washington Post columnist, Charles Krauthammer.

In this piece, Fukuyama lays the groundwork for an alternate vision of foreign policy, that diverges from the current neoconservative strain in terms of its respect for international organizations and concern for the inclusion of allies, its estimation of the capabilities and, more importantly, limitations of military power put to the task of effecting democratic change, the recognition and assessment of threats, and the overall detachment from reality. Fukuyama makes a compelling case in his effort to salvage neoconservative thought from the scrap heap that it will likely be relegated to if Iraq is held up as its most relevant manifestation.

The article appears in full below, and I apologize in advance for the length. It is a long piece, though well worth the read, but David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times offers up a synopsis
here for those who prefer a briefer send up.

The Neoconservative Moment
Francis Fukuyama

One of Washington's most exclusive clubs during the 1990s was the annual board dinner of The National Interest. Presided over by founding editor Owen Harries and often kicked off with a presentation by Henry Kissinger, the group included Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Irving, Bea and Bill Kristol, Samuel Huntington, Paul Wolfowitz, Norman Podhoretz, Daniel Pipes, Charles Krauthammer, Marty Feldstein, Eliot Cohen, Peter Rodman and a host of other conservative thinkers, writers and doers, including just about everyone now characterized as a "neoconservative." What I always found fascinating about these dinners was their unpredictability. People's views were very much set in concrete during the Cold War; while this group was divided into pro- and anti-de tente camps, virtually everyone (myself included) had staked out territory years before. The Berlin Wall's fall brought a great change, and there was no clear mapping between one's pre-1989 views and the ones held thereafter. Roughly, the major fault line was between people who were more realist and those who were more idealist or Wilsonian. But everyone was trying to wrestle with the same basic question: In the wake of the disappearance of the overarching strategic threat posed by the former USSR, how did one define the foreign policy of a country that had suddenly become the global hegemon? How narrowly or broadly did one define this magazine's eponymous "national interest"?

It was at one of these dinners that Charles Krauthammer first articulated the idea of American unipolarity. In the winter of 1990-91, he wrote in Foreign Affairs of the "unipolar moment"; in the Winter 2002/03 issue of The National Interest, he expanded the scope of his thesis by arguing that "the unipolar moment has become the unipolar era." And in February 2004, he gave a speech at the annual dinner of the American Enterprise Institute in which he took his earlier themes and developed the ideas further, in the aftermath of the Iraq War. He defined four different schools of thought on foreign policy: isolationism, liberal internationalism, realism and his own position that he defines as "democratic globalism", a kind of muscular Wilsonianism-minus international institutions-that seeks to use U.S. military supremacy to support U.S. security interests and democracy simultaneously.

Krauthammer is a gifted thinker and his ideas are worth taking seriously for their own sake. But, perhaps more importantly, his strategic thinking has become emblematic of a school of thought that has acquired strong influence inside the Bush Administration foreign policy team and beyond. It is for that reason that Krauthammer's writings, particularly his AEI speech, require careful analysis. It is in the spirit of our earlier debates that I offer the following critique.

The 2004 speech is strangely disconnected from reality. Reading Krauthammer, one gets the impression that the Iraq War-the archetypical application of American unipolarity-had been an unqualified success, with all of the assumptions and expectations on which the war had been based fully vindicated. There is not the slightest nod towards the new empirical facts that have emerged in the last year or so: the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the virulent and steadily mounting anti-Americanism throughout the Middle East, the growing insurgency in Iraq, the fact that no strong democratic leadership had emerged there, the enormous financial and growing human cost of the war, the failure to leverage the war to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front, and the fact that America's fellow democratic allies had by and large failed to fall in line and legitimate American actions ex post.

The failure to step up to these facts is dangerous precisely to the neo-neoconservative position that Krauthammer has been seeking to define and justify. As the war in Iraq turns from triumphant liberation to grinding insurgency, other voices-either traditional realists like Brent Scowcroft, nationalist-isolationists like Patrick Buchanan, or liberal internationalists like John Kerry-will step forward as authoritative voices and will have far more influence in defining American post-Iraq War foreign policy. The poorly executed nation-building strategy in Iraq will poison the well for future such exercises, undercutting domestic political support for a generous and visionary internationalism, just as Vietnam did. It did not have to be this way. One can start with premises identical to Krauthammer's, agree wholeheartedly with his critiques of the other three positions, and yet come up with a foreign policy that is very different from the one he lays out. I believe that his strategy simultaneously defines our interests in such a narrow way as to make the neoconservative position indistinguishable from realism, while at the same time managing to be utterly unrealistic in its overestimation of U.S. power and our ability to control events around the world. It is probably too late to reclaim the label "neoconservative" for any but the policies undertaken by the Bush Administration, but it is still worth trying to reformulate a fourth alternative that combines idealism and realism-but in a fashion that can be sustained over the long haul.

Excessive Realism

Krauthammer and other commentators are correct that what is seen as "Kissingerian" realism is not an adequate basis for American foreign policy. A certain degree of messianic universalism with regard to American values and institutions has always been an inescapable component of American national identity: Americans were never comfortable with the kinds of moral compromises that a strict realist position entails. The question, which was the constant subject of those board dinners, was: What kinds of bounds do you put around the idealistic part of the agenda? Krauthammer answers this key question in the following manner:

"Where to intervene? Where to bring democracy? Where to nation-build? I propose a single criterion: where it counts. Call it democratic realism. And this is its axiom: We will support democracy everywhere, but we will commit blood and treasure only in places where there is strategic necessity-meaning, places central to the larger war against the existential enemy, the enemy that poses a global mortal threat to freedom."

While this axiom appears to be clear and straightforward, it masks a number of ambiguities that make it less than helpful as a guideline for U.S. intervention. The first has to do with the phrase "strategic necessity", which of course can be defined more and less broadly. Krauthammer initially appears to be taking a realist position by opting for the narrow definition when he refers to an "existential enemy" or an enemy posing a "mortal" threat. If these words have any real meaning, then they should include only threats to our existence as a nation or as a democratic regime. There have been such threats in the past: the Soviet Union could have annihilated us physically and conceivably could have subverted democracy in North America. But it is questionable whether any such existential threats exist now. Iraq before the U.S. invasion was certainly not one: It posed an existential threat to Kuwait, Iran and Israel, but it had no means of threatening the continuity of our regime. Al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups aspire to be existential threats to American civilization but do not currently have anything like the capacity to actualize their vision: They are extremely dangerous totalitarians, but pose threats primarily to regimes in the Middle East.

This is not to say that Iraq and Al-Qaeda did not pose serious threats to American interests: the former was a very serious regional threat, and the latter succeeded in killing thousands of Americans on American soil. Use of WMD against the United States by a terrorist group would have terrible consequences, not just for the immediate victims but also for American freedoms in ways that could be construed as undermining our regime. But it is still of a lesser order of magnitude than earlier, state-based threats. The global Nazi and communist threats were existential both because their banner was carried by a great power, and because ideologically there were many people in the United States and throughout the Western world seduced by their vision. The Islamist threat has no such appeal, except perhaps in countries like France that have permitted high levels of immigration from Muslim countries.

I suspect that Krauthammer's intended use of the term "strategic necessity" is actually broader than is implied by his own words about existential threats. At the end of his axiom he leaps to the need to fight an "enemy that poses a global mortal threat to freedom", and elsewhere speaks of the United States as "custodian of the international system", suggesting a broadminded understanding of self-interest. Does "global" here mean threats that transcend specific regions, like radical Islamism or communism? If the enemy's reach has to be global, then North Korea would be excluded from the definition of a "strategic" threat. Or does "global" instead mean any mortal threat to freedom around the globe? Does the fact that an "enemy" poses a mortal threat to another free country but not to us qualify it as our "enemy?" Is Hamas, an Islamist group which clearly poses an existential threat to Israel, our enemy as well? Is Syria? And if these are our enemies, why should we choose to fight them in preference to threats to free countries closer to home like the FARC or ELN, which threaten democracy in Colombia, or Hugo Chavez in Venezuela? What makes something "central" in this global war? Was Iraq central to the war against radical Islamism?

It is clear that Krauthammer's axiom provides very little practical guidance for answering these questions. He might respond that applying the general principle requires prudential judgment. He might further respond that his position is very distinct from that of the realists because he is using democracy as an instrument to advance U.S. strategic interests: By transforming Iraqi politics and turning a bloodthirsty dictatorship into a Western-style democracy, new possibilities will open up for the entire region that promises to get at some of the root causes of terrorism. This is indeed an ambitious and highly idealistic agenda, and it is precisely in the prudential judgments underlying the current project of transforming the Middle East that his argument is fatally flawed.

Excessive Idealism

Of all of the different views that have now come to be associated with neoconservatives, the strangest one to me was the confidence that the United States could transform Iraq into a Western-style democracy, and go on from there to democratize the broader Middle East. It struck me as strange precisely because these same neoconservatives had spent much of the past generation warning-in The National Interest's former sister publication, The Public Interest, for example-about the dangers of ambitious social engineering, and how social planners could never control behavior or deal with unanticipated consequences. If the United States cannot eliminate poverty or raise test scores in Washington, dc, how does it expect to bring democracy to a part of the world that has stubbornly resisted it and is virulently anti-American to boot?

Krauthammer picks up this theme in his speech. Noting how wrong people were after World War II in asserting that Japan could not democratize, he asks, "Where is it written that Arabs are incapable of democracy?" He is echoing an argument made most forthrightly by the eminent Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis, who has at several junctures suggested that pessimism about the prospects for a democratic Iraq betrays lack of respect for Arabs. It is, of course, nowhere written that Arabs are incapable of democracy, and it is certainly foolish for cynical Europeans to assert with great confidence that democracy is impossible in the Middle East. We have, indeed, been fooled before, not just in Japan but in Eastern Europe prior to the collapse of communism.

But possibility is not likelihood, and good policy is not made by staking everything on a throw of the dice. Culture is not destiny, but culture plays an important role in making possible certain kinds of institutions-something that is usually taken to be a conservative insight. Though I, more than most people, am associated with the idea that history's arrow points to democracy, I have never believed that democracies can be created anywhere and everywhere through sheer political will. Prior to the Iraq War, there were many reasons for thinking that building a democratic Iraq was a task of a complexity that would be nearly unmanageable. Some reasons had to do with the nature of Iraqi society: the fact that it would be decompressing rapidly from totalitarianism, its ethnic divisions, the role of politicized religion, the society's propensity for violence, its tribal structure and the dominance of extended kin and patronage networks, and its susceptibility to influence from other parts of the Middle East that were passionately anti-American.

But other reasons had to do with the United States. America has been involved in approximately 18 nation-building projects between its conquest of the Philippines in 1899 and the current occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the overall record is not a pretty one. The cases of unambiguous success-Germany, Japan, and South Korea-were all ones in which U.S. forces came and then stayed indefinitely. In the first two cases, we were not nation-building at all, but only re-legitimizing societies that had very powerful states. In all of the other cases, the U.S. either left nothing behind in terms of self-sustaining institutions, or else made things worse by creating, as in the case of Nicaragua, a modern army and police but no lasting rule of law.

This gets to a much more fundamental point about unipolarity. Krauthammer has always stressed the vast disparity of power between the United States and the rest of the world, vaster even than Rome's dominance at the height of its empire. But that dominance is clear-cut only along two dimensions of national power: the cultural realm and the ability to fight and win intensive conventional wars.

Americans have no particular taste or facility for nation-building; we want exit strategies rather than empires-a point Krauthammer reiterated at the start of his lecture. Where then does he think the domestic basis of support will come from for this unbelievably ambitious effort to politically transform one of the world's most troubled and hostile regions? And if the nation is really a commercial republic uncomfortable with empire, why is he so eager to expand its domain? Lurking like an unbidden guest at a dinner party is the reality of what has happened in Iraq since the U.S. invasion: We have been our usual inept and disorganized selves in planning for and carrying out the reconstruction, something that was predictable in advance and should not have surprised anyone familiar with American history.

Allies, Institutions and Legitimacy

The final area of weakness in Krauthammer's argument lies in his treatment of legitimacy, and how the United States relates to the rest of the world. Failure to appreciate America's own current legitimacy deficit hurts both the realist part of our agenda, by diminishing our actual power, and the idealist portion of it, by undercutting our appeal as the embodiment of certain ideas and values.

Krauthammer avoids confronting this issue by creating a bit of a parody of foreign critiques of American policy, something easily dismissed because it comes from "the butchers of Tiananmen Square or the cynics of the Quai d'Orsay." He manages to lump both the Democratic Party and most of our European allies into a single category of liberal internationalists. He argues that their opposition to the Iraq War was founded on a self-proclaimed normative commitment to multilateralism and international law. For liberal internationalists, war is legitimate only if it is sanctioned by the United Nations. But this high-mindedness, he argues, masks motives that are much baser: the Europeans are Lilliputians who want to tie the American Gulliver down and reduce American freedom of action. So they are both naive and hypocritical in the same breath.

What Krauthammer here describes as the Democratic/European position is one that is readily recognizable and does in fact characterize the views of many opponents of the Iraq War. But if he had listened carefully to what many Europeans were actually saying (something that Americans are not very good at doing these days), he would have discovered that much of their objection to the war was not a normative one having to do with procedural issues and the UN, but rather a prudential one having to do with the overall wisdom of attacking Iraq. Europeans tended not to be persuaded that Iraq was as dangerous as the Bush Administration claimed. They argued that Ba'athi Iraq had little to do with Al-Qaeda, and that attacking Iraq would be a distraction from the War on Terror. Many Europeans, moreover, did not particularly trust the United States to handle the postwar situation well, much less the more ambitious agenda of democratizing the Middle East. They believed that the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict was a more dangerous source of instability and terrorism than Iraq and that the Bush Administration was undercutting its own credibility by appearing to side so strongly with the policies of Ariel Sharon.

All of these were and are, of course, debatable propositions. On the question of the threat posed by Iraq, everyone-Europeans and Americans-were evidently fooled into thinking that it possessed significant stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. But on this issue, the European bottom line proved to be closer to the truth than the administration's far more alarmist position. The question of pre-war Iraq-Al-Qaeda links has become intensely politicized in America since the war. My reading of the evidence is that these linkages existed (indeed, it would be very surprising if they did not), but that their significance was limited. We have learned since September 11 that Al-Qaeda did not need the support of a state like Iraq to do a tremendous amount of damage to the United States and that attacking Iraq was not the most direct way to get at Al-Qaeda. On the question of the manageability of postwar Iraq, the more skeptical European position was almost certainly right; the Bush Administration went into Iraq with enormous illusions about how easy the postwar situation would be. On the question of Palestine, the Europeans are likely wrong, or at least wrong in their belief that we could move to a durable settlement of the conflict if only the United States decided to use its influence with Israel.

The point here is not who is right, but rather that the prudential case was not nearly as open-and-shut as Krauthammer and other neoconservatives believe. He talks as if the Bush Administration's judgment had been vindicated at every turn, and that any questioning of it can only be the result of base or dishonest motives. Would that this were so. The fact that our judgment was flawed has created an enormous legitimacy problem for us, one that will hurt our interests for a long time to come.

The problem of judgment gets to the heart of what is wrong with the vision of a unipolar world that Krauthammer lays out. In his words, the United States "has been designated custodian of the international system" by virtue of its enormous margin of military superiority. If we had in fact been designated global custodian, we would have no legitimacy problem, but we have unfortunately designated ourselves. We have in effect said to the rest of the world, "look, trust us, we will look out for your interests. You can do this safely because we not just any run-of-the-mill hyperpower. We are, after all, the United States." While we would not trust Russia, China, India, France or even Britain with a similar kind of power, we believe that the rest of the world should trust us. This is because the United States is different from other countries, a democracy espousing universal values and therefore not subject the same calculations of self-interest as other would-be hegemons.

There is actually something to this argument. But it is also not very difficult to see why it does not gain much traction outside the United States, and not just among those endemically hostile to America. Krauthammer-the-realist, after all, argues for a narrow definition of national interest, which does not suggest we will be a very reliable partner to a struggling friend when we do not have important interests at stake. And even if we were willing to bear other people's burdens, what about our judgment?

Legitimacy is a tricky concept. It is related to substantive principles of justice, but it is not the same thing as justice. That is, people believe that a set of institutions is legitimate because they believe they are just, but legitimacy is always relative to the people conferring legitimacy.

Legitimacy is important to us not simply because we want to feel good about ourselves, but because it is useful. Other people will follow the American lead if they believe that it is legitimate; if they do not, they will resist, complain, obstruct or actively oppose what we do. In this respect, it matters not what we believe to be legitimate, but rather what other people believe is legitimate. If the Indian government says that it will not participate in a peacekeeping force in Iraq unless it has a UN Security Council mandate to do so, it does not matter in the slightest that we believe the Security Council to be an illegitimate institution: the Indians simply will not help us out.

Krauthammer and others have dismissed the importance of legitimacy by associating it entirely with the United Nations-and then shooting at that very easy target. Of course, the UN has deep problems with legitimacy. Since membership is not based on a substantive principle of legitimacy, but rather formal sovereignty, it has been populated from the beginning by a range of dictatorial and human-rights abusing regimes. Our European allies themselves do not believe in the necessity of legitimization through the Security Council. When they found they could not get its support for the intervention in Kosovo because of the Russian veto, they were perfectly willing to bypass the UN and switch the venue to NATO instead. But our legitimacy problem in Iraq went much deeper. Even if we had switched the venue to NATO-an alliance of democracies committed to the same underlying set of values-we could not have mustered a majority in support of our position, not to speak of the consensus required for collective action in that organization. The Bush Administration likes to boast of the size of the "coalition of the willing" that the United States was eventually able to pull together. One can take comfort in this only by abstracting from the quality of the support we received. Besides Britain and Australia, no one was willing to put boots on the ground during the active phase of combat, and now that post-conflict peacekeeping looks more like real warfare once again, Spain, Honduras and other members of the coalition are pulling out. Those countries that did support the United States did so on the basis of an elite calculation of national interest-in almost all cases against the wishes of large majorities of their own populations. This is true alike for Tony Blair, our staunchest ally, and for Poland, the most pro-American country in eastern Europe. While the behavior of Germany's Gerhard Schroeder in actively opposing the war was deeply disappointing, I would still much rather have Germany on my side than a feckless and corrupt Ukraine.

It is clear, in other words, that a very large part of the world, including many people who are normally inclined to be our friends, did not believe in the legitimacy of our behavior towards Iraq. This is not because the Security Council failed to endorse the war, but because many of our friends did not trust us, that is, the Bush Administration, to use our huge margin of power wisely and in the interests of the world as a whole. This should matter to us, not just for realist reasons of state (our ability to attract allies to share the burden), but for idealist ones as well (our ability to lead and inspire based on the attractiveness of who we are). I do not believe that the Bush Administration was in fact contemptuous of the need for legitimacy. What they believed and hoped, rather, was that legitimacy would be awarded ex post rather than ex ante by the international community. There was a widespread belief among members of the administration that once it became clear that the United States was going to disarm Iraq forcefully, other NATO allies including France would eventually come on board. Everyone was taken aback by the vehemence with which France and Germany opposed the war, and by the U.S. failure to line up normally compliant countries like Chile and Mexico during the Security Council vote.

The hope that we would be awarded ex post legitimacy was not an unreasonable calculation. It might indeed have materialized had the United States found a large and active WMD program in Iraq after the invasion, or if the transition to a democratic regime had been as quick and low-cost as the Bush Administration expected. Many people have argued that American unilateralism towards Iraq breaks a long pattern of transatlantic cooperation, but they are forgetting history. The United States during the Cold War repeatedly pushed its European allies to do things they were reluctant to do, often by staking out positions first and seeking approval later. In the end, American judgment on these issues was better than that of the Europeans, and legitimacy was in fact awarded retrospectively. When this happened, the United States was not blamed for unilateralism, but praised for its leadership.

One could then interpret the Iraq War simply as a one-time mistake or unfortunate miscalculation coming on the heels of a long string of successes. Certainly, it would be utterly wrong to conclude that the war teaches us that the United States should never stick its neck out and lead the broader Western world to actions that our allies oppose or are reluctant to undertake. Nor should we conclude that pre-emption and unilateralism will never be necessary.

On the other hand, it is not simply bad luck that we failed to win legitimacy as badly as we did this time. The world is different now than it was during the Cold War in ways that will affect our future ability to exert leadership and claim to speak on behalf of the world as a whole. This is so for three reasons.

The first difference is, of course, the demise of the Soviet Union and the absence of an overarching superpower threat. During the Cold War, there was rampant anti-Americanism around the world and popular opposition to U.S. policies. But our influence was anchored by center-right parties throughout Europe that were both grateful for America's historical role in the liberation of Europe and fearful of Soviet influence. The global terrorist threat may some day come to be interpreted in a similar fashion, but it is not yet.

A second difference has to do with the very fact of our military dominance. During the Cold War, when our power was more or less evenly matched against that of the Soviets, we cared a great deal about credibility and slippery slopes. We were afraid that withdrawal in the face of a challenge would be taken as a sign of weakness and exploited by the other side. Today, the United States is utterly dominant in the military sphere. Credibility in our willingness and ability to use force remains important, but we simply do not have to prove our toughness to the rest of the world at every turn. The final difference has to do with the fact that the current battlefield is not Europe but the Middle East. There were always sharp differences of opinion between the United States and its allies on how to proceed with respect to the Soviet Union, but they pale in comparison to the differences between the United States and virtually everyone else in the world with respect to the Arab world. So it is to this issue that we must turn.

Dealing with the Middle East

Krauthammer has thought long and hard about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and his views on how the Israelis need to deal with the Palestinians colors his views on how the United States should deal with the Arabs more broadly. Krauthammer has not supported strongly engaging the Arab world through political strategies. In the past, he has put forward a particular view of Arab psychology, namely, that they respect power above all as a source of legitimacy. As he once said in a radio interview, if you want to win their hearts and minds, you have grab a lower part of their anatomy and squeeze hard.

Towards the end of his AEI speech, Krauthammer speaks of the United States as being in the midst of a bitter and remorseless war with an implacable enemy that is out to destroy Western civilization. This kind of language is appropriate as a description of Israel's strategic situation since the outbreak of the second intifada. The question is whether this accurately describes the position of the United States as well. Are we like Israel, locked in a remorseless struggle with a large part of the Arab and Muslim world, with few avenues open to us for dealing with them other than an iron fist? And in general, does a strategic doctrine developed by a small, vulnerable country surrounded by implacable enemies make sense when applied to the situation of the world's sole superpower, a country that spends as much on defense as the next 16 most powerful countries put together? I believe that there are real problems in transposing one situation to the other. While Israel's most immediate Arab interlocutors are indeed implacable enemies, the United States faces a much more complex situation. In Al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups, we do in fact confront an enemy that hates us for what we are rather than for what we do. For the reasons given above, I do not believe they are an existential threat to us, but they certainly would like to be, and it is hard to see how we can deal with them other than by killing, capturing or otherwise militarily neutralizing them.

But the radicals swim in a much larger sea of Muslims-1.2 billion of them, more or less-who are not yet implacable enemies of the United States. If one has any doubts about this, one has only to look at the first of the United Nations Development Program's two Arab Human Development reports, which contained a poll asking whether respondents would like to emigrate to the United States if they had the opportunity. In virtually every Arab country, a majority of respondents said yes. On the other hand, recent Pew surveys of global public opinion show that positive feelings about the United States in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and other supposedly friendly Muslim countries has sunk to disastrously low levels. What these data taken as a whole suggest is that for the broad mass of public opinion in Muslim countries, we are disliked or hated not for what we are, but rather for what we do. What they do not like is a familiar list of complaints about our foreign policy that we somehow continue to fail to take seriously: our lack of concern for the plight of the Palestinians, our hypocritical support for dictators in Muslim countries, and now our occupation of Iraq.

The War on Terror is, in other words, a classic counter-insurgency war, except that it is one being played out on a global scale. There are genuine bad guys out there who are much more bitter ideological enemies than the Soviets ever were, but their success depends on the attitudes of the broader populations around them who can be alternatively supportive, hostile or indifferent-depending on how we play our cards. As we are seeing vividly in Iraqi cities like Fallujah and Najaf, counter-insurgency wars are incredibly difficult to fight, because we must somehow destroy the enemy without alienating the broader population and making things worse. Counter-insurgency requires a tricky mixture of precisely targeted force, political judgment and extremely good intelligence: a combination of carrots and sticks.

Israel used carrots during the Oslo process and then shifted to sticks after its collapse and the beginning of the second intifada. I do not want to second-guess either of these approaches, neither of which seems to have worked very well. But an American policy toward the Muslim world that, like Sharon's, is largely stick will be a disaster: we do not have enough sticks in our closet to "make them respect us." The Islamists for sure hated us from the beginning, but Krauthammerian unipolarity has increased hatred for the United States in the broader fight for hearts and minds. This suggests that we need a much more complex strategy that recalibrates the proportion of sticks and carrots. This has begun to happen with the leaking of the Bush Administration's Greater Middle East Initiative, but that is only the beginning of a much longer political struggle.

Israel's policy of constantly being on the offensive, pre-empting and taking the initiative (as in its policy of targeted assassinations) is also something that does not scale well. Unlike Israel, the United States has a substantial margin of strategic depth and does not constantly have to run risks in order to stay on top. A sole superpower that is seen being as inclined to intervene pre-emptively and often will frighten not just its enemies but its friends as well. The United States must never abjure its right to pre-empt, but it is a right that needs to be exercised cautiously. Even talking about such a strategy, as we did in the National Security Strategy document, will tend to promote opposing coalitions and resistance to U.S. policies. Israel can afford to antagonize potential allies and disregard international public opinion as long as it can count on support from the United States. The United States could, I suppose, survive if it were similarly isolated, but it is hard to see why we would want to put ourselves in this position. It is hardly an advantageous position from which to launch an idealistic Wilsonian crusade to reshape the Middle East in our image.

What Now?

Since I have volunteered only to write a critique of the views expressed by Charles Krauthammer and am not myself running for president, I am under no obligation to lay out in depth a positive agenda for American foreign policy that would serve as a substitute. On the other hand, there are elements of a different neoconservative foreign policy that are implicit in what I have said thus far. The United States should understand the need to exercise power in pursuit of both its interests and values, but also to be more prudent and subtle in that exercise. The world's sole superpower needs to remember that its margin of power is viewed with great suspicion around the world and will set off countervailing reactions if that power is not exercised judiciously.

This means, in the first instance, doing the simple work of diplomacy and coalition-building that the Bush Administration seemed reluctant to undertake prior to the Iraq War and not gratuitously to insult the "common opinions of mankind." We do not need to embrace the UN or multilateralism for its own sake, because we somehow believe that such institutions are inherently more legitimate than nation-states. On the other hand, we need like minded allies to accomplish both the realist and idealist portions of our agenda and should spend much more time and energy cultivating them. The promotion of democracy through all of the available tools at our disposal should remain high on the agenda, particularly with regard to the Middle East. But the United States needs to be more realistic about its nation-building abilities, and cautious in taking on large social-engineering projects in parts of the world it does not understand very well. On the other hand, it is inevitable that we will get sucked into similar projects in the future (for example, after a sudden collapse of the North Korean regime), and we need to be much better prepared. This means establishing a permanent office with authority and resources appropriate for the job the next time around as part of a broader restructuring of the U.S. government's soft-power agencies.

To this list I would add a final element that for reasons of space I cannot elaborate here. The visionary founders of the postwar order were institution-builders, who created not just the much-maligned UN system, but the Bretton Woods institutions, NATO, the U.S.-Japan and U.S.-Korea alliances, the Gatt, the WTO, and a host of other international organizations. Institution-building is not something that has occupied the time of officials in the Bush Administration, but it should. If the United States does not like the fact that the UN is dominated by non-democratic regimes, then it should invest in an effort to build up other institutions, like NATO or the Community of Democracies founded during the Clinton Administration, that are based on norms and values we share. The Community of Democracies initiative, which the French foreign minister Hubert Ve drine tried to strangle at its birth, was never taken seriously by the Republicans, for, I assume, "not invented here" reasons. But such a global alliance of democracies, led by newer ones in eastern Europe and Latin America, could play a legitimizing function around the world in a way that NATO cannot.

If the United States cannot create new global institutions, then it could try to pursue a vision of overlapping multilateral organizations on a regional basis. The Bush Administration has stumbled into a six-power format for dealing with North Korea; why not seek to make permanent a five-power caucus once we (hopefully) get past the current impasse over nuclear weapons with Pyongyang? Such an organization could play a very valuable coordinating function in the event of, say, a sudden North Korean collapse. Mutual suspicions between Japan, Korea and China are high, and a multilateral forum would be a much better vehicle for sharing information and plans that the current system of bilateral alliances running through Washington. The Chinese in recent years have been pushing a series of regional pacts-ASEAN Plus Three, the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area, a Northeast Asian Free Trade Area, and ultimately, an East Asian Free Trade Area-that they argue may some day serve as the basis for regional security arrangements as well. While the Japanese have seen these as bids for regional leadership and have replied in kind with trade pacts centered on themselves, the Bush Administration has not, as far as I am aware, formulated anything like a coherent response. Do we simply want to swat down proposals for regional multilateral organizations, as we did in the case of Mahatir's East Asian Community in the early 1990s or Japan's proposal after the Asian financial crisis for a regional IMF, or do we want to engage with the region and shape such proposals in ways that can suit our own interests? I believe that East Asia is under-institutionalized and ripe for some creative thinking by the United States.

I believe that this kind of recalibration of American foreign policy still qualifies as falling in Krauthammer's fourth "democratic globalism" basket, being neither isolationist, liberal-idealist nor realist. Whether it will ever be seen as neoconservative I doubt, but there is no reason why it should not have this title.

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