Thursday, December 30, 2004

Let's Hope It's A Good One

I have been blessed with yet another three day weekend due to the fact that tomorrow is New Year's Eve so I will likely take a break from blogging from now until Monday.

This weekend should give all of us an opportunity to reflect back on 2004 and, in between hangovers, set our goals for 2005. And what a year 2004 was - election and all. In lieu of a retrospective of the year's ups and downs, I want to thank all of the many thoughtful readers and commenters who, through their generosity and contributions, have made TIA such a rewarding experience for me since its inception in May of this year. Without you, this site would be little more than me screaming into the void (a certain insecure feeling that does creep in every now and again nonetheless).

That being said, I really have relished the opportunity to express myself in this and other fora, and interact with people in a constructive way - especially those who disagree with my opinions and arguments and cause me to reassess and question the nature of my beliefs. Such interaction is the only way to grow as an individual and as a citizen. In entering the marketplace of ideas, I have tried not to let my pre-conceived notions get the better of my reason, although it is a work in progress. I have tried to serve truth, and do it honestly, believing that the rest will fall in line.

In that pursuit, I have been encouraged beyond my expectations and reassured immensely by the abundance of intelligent voices, caring spirits, and active citizens who populate this newly formed realm that we call the blogosphere. Without this community, I would feel less connected and inspired, more isolated and pessimistic. So, without any undue melodrama, I offer my gracious appreciation for all you have given me, and hope that I was in some way able to give something back.

As my last offering for 2004, here is some weekend reading should you find yourself milling about the blogosphere as the calendar turns pages:

Kevin Drum provides the definitive take on the manufactured Social Security crisis. His article in the
Los Angeles Times is a concise, informative, and plainly worded assessment of the nature of the solvency of Social Security. He provides a welcome perspective and cause for optimism. This research backs him up nicely.

Nadezhda penned one of the most eloquent, balanced and honest appraisals of the relevance and writing of Susan Sontag that I have seen, including a bit of perspective about Sontag's controversial post-9/11 article and what writing like that means in a democracy.

RJ Eskow of Night Light fights author and commentator Christopher Hitchens with a razor wit and deftness that's reminiscent of...well Hitchens himself in his finer moments. It really is an artful take down of the increasingly pompous alcohol-infused British pundit.

Also, don't miss the back and forth between Eskow and
Ellen Dana Nagler that produced a thought provoking and unique idea for framing the religious debate in America (appearing in the latest issue of Mick Arran's Blog Tower e-zine for bloggers).

Middle East scholar,
Ronald Bruce St John, recounts some disturbing instances of "blowback" from the Iraq campaign. Let's hope 2005 presents a more stable Iraq so that these incidents don't follow us into the new year.

The Bush administration proves
once again that loyalty, discipline and acquiescence are more important than honest criticism with their decision to let go another lifelong Republican who had the audacity to point out that the Emperor had no clothes (or in this case was missing a sock). But hey, why should we have an aggressive oversight of the Department of Homeland Security anyway? It's not like that's an important governmental agency. Oh brother....

My one prediction for 2005: The Yankees will win the World Series. I know I'm really going out on a limb with that one, but you heard it here first folks.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

"Henry Has A Very Dark Side"

Kenneth Maxwell, former book reviewer for the Western Hemisphere at Foreign Affairs magazine and senior fellow and director of Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, learned first hand about Henry Kissinger's "dark side," and why his then editor James F. Hoge, Jr. warned him in such a manner. The imbroglio involving Maxwell, Kissinger, Hoge and Kissinger's associate, William D. Rogers, stemmed from the review Maxwell penned for the November/December 2003 issue of Foreign Affairs of a book entitled The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability, written by Peter Kornbluh . The fallout from this fracas left Maxwell with no option other than to resign both his position at the magazine as well as his endowed chair as a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in May 2004, positions he had held for fifteen and eleven years respectively. The controversy has left both institutions tarnished and compromised in the eyes of many. Maxwell recounts the details of this convoluted tale in a must-read working paper for the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University where he now teaches.

The Book

The author of the book at the center of the maelstrom, Peter Kornbluh, is one of the lead researchers and co-founders of the National Security Archive, a non-profit, non-partisan research library dedicated to the acquisition and cataloguing of declassified government documents. Kornbluh himself has played a leading role in efforts to get the US government to declassify documents relating to US foreign policy in South America during the 1970s - over the strenuous objection of people like Henry Kissinger who served as National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State in both the Nixon and Ford White Houses during the period in question.

Kornbluh and others like him eventually succeeded, after lengthy legal challenges, and in 2003 vast quantities of previously classified documents, including conversations among the principals in the White House, were made publicly available through the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA). Kornbluh then proceeded to compile the evidence from these documents, and reproduce many of them in the book that Maxwell eventually reviewed. Amongst the findings Kornbluh derived from the declassified documents, three disturbing episodes in US foreign policy in relation to Chile stood out:

First, Kornbluh discovered details pertaining to the CIA's involvement in a kidnapping that resulted in the murder of Chile's chief of staff, General Rene Schneider, in 1970. Schneider's elimination, which came three years before the coup, according to Maxwell's review, "was regarded as essential by the Nixon administration, since Schneider was a strict constitutionalist and therefore an obstacle to U.S. efforts to promote a military intervention before Allende could take office."

The second chapter of US-Chile relations examined by Kornbluh was the CIA's extensive involvement in the coup that toppled Chile's democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, which resulted in the installation of the brutally repressive despot, General Augusto Pinochet. In a coincidence that neither Kornbluh nor Maxwell dismiss outright as mere chance, the coup that toppled Allende was undertaken on September 11, 1973 (in fact, Maxwell's review is entitled "The Other 9/11"). While the coup itself was carried out by Chileans, the CIA provided logistical support and financial contributions to the cause, as well as actively setting the conditions by engaging in numerous actions intended to destablize Chile and make the situation ripe for the toppling of a democracy in favor of a dictatorship. In turn, Pinochet regime's rule spanned two decades and resulted in the torture, repression, and death of tens of thousands of Chilean citizens. From Maxwell's review:

But what is very clear in all of this is that the coup in Chile is exactly what Kissinger's boss wanted. As Nixon put it in his ineffable style, "It's that son of a bitch Allende. We're going to smash him." As early as October of 1970, the CIA had warned of possible consequences: "you have asked us to provoke chaos in Chile. ... We provide you with a formula for chaos which is unlikely to be bloodless. To dissimulate the U.S. involvement will be clearly impossible." The Pinochet dictatorship lasted 17 long and brutal years.
The third installment of US policy exhumed by Kornbluh from the declassified documents deals with the knowledge and involvement on the part of the CIA and the White House in Operation Condor - an international state-sponsored terror network set up by the Pinochet regime to track and eliminate opponents living abroad with the cooperation of the governments in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and, later, Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador. US policymakers even knew that a Chilean assassination team had been planning to enter the United States to carry out the infamous car bomb assassination on September 21, 1976 of Orlando Letelier, Allende’s foreign minister and later minister of defense, who perished along with Ronni Moffitt, his American assistant. This brazen act of cross-border violence occurred in Washington DC less than fourteen blocks from the White House.

Maxwell summarizes Kornbluh's findings:

Kornbluh's bill of particulars and the supporting documents he has uncovered confirm the deep involvement of the U.S. intelligence services in Chile prior to and after the coup. In outline, this story has been known for many years and will be no surprise to Chileans. The extent of the involvement was originally hinted at during the Senate hearings conducted by the late Frank Church in the mid-1970s. The scope and nature of these clandestine activities are significantly amplified by the documents released in the extensive declassification ordered by President Bill Clinton in 1999 and 2000 and reprinted in Kornbluh's book. These documents include: transcripts of top-secret discussions among President Nixon, Kissinger, and other cabinet members on how "to bring Allende down"; minutes of secret meetings chaired by Kissinger to plan covert operations in Chile; new documentation of the notorious case of Charles Horman, an American murdered by the Chilean military and subject of the movie Missing; comprehensive documentation of the Letelier case and the extensive CIA, National Security Council, and State Department reports surrounding it; and U.S. intelligence reporting on Operation Condor.
For many unfamiliar with the details of this sordid chapter in US foreign policy, the fact that the US government actively undermined a democracy in favor of a brutal military dictator may come as some surprise. Unfortunately, it was not a practice limited to Chile, or South America in general. A fair appraisal of this period in American history would also shed light on US tactics in other parts of the world for, as Maxwell points out, "US methodology in Chile was not that different from the tactics used to remove regimes from Guatemala City to Tehran deemed dangerous to the geopolitical status quo." Both Iran and Guatemala saw their democratically elected leaders, Mohammed Mossadegh and Jacobo Arbenz respectively, fall victim to coups instigated, engineered and supported by the CIA. Both cases were also confirmed through the release of documents made through FOIA requests, although the events were relatively well known to historians regardless of the corroboration. In the case of Iran, we are probably still living with the repercussions of our anti-democratic actions to this day.

The Review

Henry Kissinger and William Rogers, his long-term collaborator and vice chairman of his consulting firm Kissinger Associates, Inc. (Rogers had also served under Kissinger in the State Department in the 1970s, including a stint as Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs during the Ford administration from October 1974 to June 1976 and then as Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs until 1977), both actively sought to preempt the critical reception of the Kornbluh book before its release, maintaining that the alleged connection between the US and the Allende coup was a mythical fantasy perpetuated by the Left - this despite the fact that the book was based on actual government documents. Kissinger even went as far as to try to place a favorable story in Foreign Affairs which sought to repudiate Kornbluh's findings, written by Mark Falcoff of - stop me if this sounds familiar - the American Enterprise Institute. According to Maxwell:

Rogers arranged for Falcoff to visit Kissinger in New York where he was granted access to Kissinger’s telephone transcripts of this period. But the ploy did not work. Foreign Affairs rejected the article. [The editor of Foreign Affairs James] Hoge told me he regarded Falcoff’s piece as "too narrow a defense of Kissinger." He then asked me to write a more wide-ranging review essay on Kornbluh’s book for the next issue.

Falcoff’s rejected article was subsequently published in Commentary magazine with the title "Kissinger & Chile: The Myth That Will Not Die."
Falcoff's article presented the dubious proposition that the Nixon White House was in no way complicit with the coup.

To prove his point Falcoff quoted from a conversation between Nixon and Kissinger on September 16, 1973, five days after the coup in Chile. Nixon asked Kissinger: "Well we didn't—as you know—our hand doesn't show on this one though." According to Falcoff, Kissinger answered: "We didn't do it."
The problem is, Falcoff was being rather selective with his recollection of that exchange. He deliberately left out the second part of Kissinger's statement which suggests an active involvement in the events of September 11, 1963, directly in contradiction to his main thesis.

As a result of the release of the full text of these telephone conversations by the National Security Archive on May 26, 2004, we now know what Kissinger actually said on that occasion was as follows: "We didn’t do it. I mean we helped them. _______ created the conditions as great as possible (??)" [ed note: according to Maxwell's footnotes, the blank underline and parenthesis with the double question mark are in the original transcript].
Although Maxwell anticipated some form of reaction from Kissinger and Rogers, the initial release of the review was met with little controversy, as many considered Maxwell's appraisal to be balanced, and the underlying subject matter relatively well known at the time in any case.

My review of Kornbluh’s book in Foreign Affairs was not inflammatory. Leslie H. Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, told me that he had read it three times and found it to be "straight down the middle." Nor did Hoge find it "biased" before Kissinger made known his displeasure. Hoge's editorial comment on the review, found in the table of contents of the issue in which it appeared, reads as follows: "Thirty years after the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile, The Pinochet File, a 'dossier' of declassified documents, lays out the true U.S. role."
After reading Maxwell's review, I agree with Les Gelb's appraisal, and would even fault the author for bending over backwards to present the facts in a light most favorable to the CIA and the Nixon and Ford administrations.

The Reaction

Shortly after the release of the issue of Foreign Affairs containing the review in question, Maxwell was informed that Rogers would be writing a response in the form of a letter to the editor to be published in the subsequent edition of the magazine. As is customary, Maxwell was given the opportunity to respond to Rogers' letter. But this is where the story takes an unanticipated turn. Rogers was granted the privilege to write a second response to Maxwell which significantly raised the ante by insinuating that Maxwell's judgment was clouded by personal bias, possibly influenced by his position at the Council. In addition, Rogers' response was replete with factual error used to bolster his claims (the details of each are well examined in Maxwell's
working paper). Astonishingly, Maxwell was denied the right to defend himself from these personal attacks and set the factual record straight by his own editor James Hoge (who, by way of background, is also the vice chair of the board of Human Rights Watch). Maxwell soon learned, through Hoge and others, that Kissinger had been exerting pressure on the Council and the editor of Foreign Affairs to end the discussion with Rogers' last missive. Maxwell recounts.
I now know that the die had been cast from the beginning. As Rogers himself inelegantly put it to Diana Jean Schemo of the New York Times, "[Hoge] promised me that I would have the last word and that Maxwell was shut off."
Kissinger preferred to stay above the fray on this matter, instead enlisting Rogers, as well as a pair of extremely influential friends with close connections to the Council and Foreign Affairs: Peter Peterson and Maurice Greenberg.

Peter G. Peterson, chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, publicly confirmed Kissinger’s anger and his own role in communicating it to Hoge. In fact, Peterson saw no conflict at all in his action:

[According to an article appearing in the Chronicle Of Higher Education discussing the matter] Mr. Peterson, who is also chairman of the Blackstone Group, a capital-investment firm, says he called Mr. Hoge in December merely to convey Mr. Kissinger’s unhappiness. "I didn’t ask him to do anything," he says. "I’m the chairman of the organization. If a member calls, and he's unhappy about something, I don’t think it’s unnatural for me to say, 'Jim, this is your area. You deal with it however you see fit.' ... But that I would interfere with anything specifically like that is really an outrageous suggestion. I have great respect for Hoge and for the independence of that magazine."
Kissinger, I was told, had not only enlisted Peterson to convey his anger, but also his old friend Maurice ('Hank') Greenberg, the vice chairman emeritus of the Council’s board and the powerful head of the giant American International Group (AIG) insurance conglomerate, the largest commercial underwriter in the United States.
According to Maxwell, Kissinger was careful in his selection of go-betweens.

Kissinger had chosen his messengers well. In addition to their central roles on the Council’s board of directors, Peterson and Greenberg have been highly engaged and generous benefactors of the Council, contributing more than $34 million between them directly in personal donations and indirectly, via the privately-held Blackstone Group in the case of Peterson, and, in the case of Greenberg, via the Starr Foundation, of which he is chairman. They had both provided major funding for Hoge’s endowed chair, the Peter G. Peterson Chair. Peterson had also been a generous contributor to the endowment of the chair I myself held at the Council on Foreign Relations. Neither is a man to be crossed lightly.
That Kissinger was adept at selecting his emissaries was apparent from the reaction that Maxwell perceived in his editor James Hoge.

Hoge explained he had been subjected to great pressure from Henry Kissinger. He said that "Henry will not speak to me or shake my hand." He again told me Peterson had called on Kissinger’s behalf. He said he was called and "sworn at for half an hour" by Greenberg. He said of Kissinger: "Henry has a very dark side," and that Kissinger had sought to interfere before in Foreign Affairs during the editorship of his predecessor William ('Bill') Hyland. He said that he did not think that the breach that resulted between Kissinger and Hyland, who were old friends, had "ever been fully repaired." Very much on his mind, it seemed to me, was how far he could go in criticizing Kissinger without having a similar breach. [emphasis added]
The Permanent Stain

Having been denied a forum in his own periodical to respond to criticisms published therein, a right that is sacrosanct to editors and writers alike, Kenneth Maxwell chose to resign in protest, and on principle, after a long and distinguished career within each body. The credibility and integrity of Foreign Affairs and the Council on Foreign Relations will be undoubtedly tarnished by this affair. After all, as Maxwell went to great pains to communicate to Hoge and his peers at the Council, the story of Kissinger, Chile and Operation Condor was already out - in fact Maxwell had also
reviewed, for Foreign Affairs, John Dinges' book The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents, which detailed many of the same events as Kornbluh's tome. Perhaps most importantly though, both books, and numerous essays and articles on the matter, are based on factual accounts of actual documents released after being declassified and obtained through FOIA requests, not dubious accounts revealed through anonymous leakers with ulterior motives. Therefore, their reliability rises above the suspicions of partisanship and the unreliability of mere speculation. The emerging conventional wisdom is bound to gain more credence and circulation with the imminent release of even more declassified documents. The Council's craven capitulation will become more apparent with the passage of time, as the truth is revealed piece by piece.

It didn't take long for the Council's actions, and those of Hoge, to come under scrutiny and criticism from well respected quarters. Articles appeared in many periodicals and newspapers and the September/October 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs even contained a letter of protest signed by Harvard Professor John Coatsworth and ten other distinguished Latin Americanists who are members of the Council on Foreign Relations.

To the Editor:

We members of the Council on Foreign Relations have devoted much of our professional lives to the study of Latin America and the relations between the United States and this region. We read Kenneth Maxwell’s balanced and thoughtful review (November/December 2003) of the recent collection of official documents edited by Peter Kornbluh and published by the National Security Archive under the title The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability.

We were thus dismayed by the tone and the content of the two letters from former Undersecretary of State William D. Rogers (January/February 2004 and March/April 2004), and appalled by the journal’s decision not to publish a response by Maxwell to the second of the Rogers letters, which sought to impugn the motives and integrity of Maxwell, a scholar of impeccable rigor and honesty. This decision denied readers an opportunity to weigh competing views, contrary to the journal’s policies and traditions.
Though appreciative of the support, Maxwell, much to his chagrin, perceives the influence of Kissinger and Rogers in the way even this matter was handled.

The "Letters to the Editor" section where this exchange appears has not been posted on the magazine’s online edition of this issue, the first time such a letters column has been excluded. Rogers' letter attacking me for bias, for example, is posted online under the title "Crisis Prevention." Nor is there any acknowledgment in this issue of Foreign Affairs that book reviews on the Western Hemisphere are missing, the first time this has happened.

More seriously, Hoge, without the consent of the signatories, removed the final sentence of the letter sent to him. The uncensored version had concluded with a request:

We urge you to find an appropriate way to repair this lapse before it becomes a permanent stain on the reputation of Foreign Affairs.
In order to comprehend the magnitude of this matter, consider that the Council on Foreign Affairs has chosen to acquiesce to the will of a powerful member rather than finally vet and debate, accurately, the true story of Kissinger’s policy toward the Southern American military dictatorships of the 1970s, including Chile and Argentiana, much of which was less than savory by any standards.

In closing, I will give Maxwell the final say that was unfairly denied him by his own literary home.

I may be naive, but to me it is deeply shocking that Kissinger, who found refuge in the United States when his family escaped the Nazis, should as U.S. Secretary of State undermine the human rights protests of his own diplomats and of the U.S. Congress in private conversations with representatives of the murderous regimes of the Southern Cone, one of which (the Argentine) was virulently anti-Semitic. And it is no less shocking for Rogers to assert that Kissinger’s defense of human rights was "robust," and to claim for Kissinger the initiation of a human rights policy that was in fact begun and sustained by his Democratic and Republican successors and by the continuing pressure of U.S. Congress, if only for one very simple reason: subsequent U.S. policy saved lives. Kissinger’s evidently did not, not Letelier’s, nor many thousands other less notable victims of state terror. It is sad that an editor who I respected—especially one who is the vice chair of the board of Human Rights Watch—should let these misrepresentations and obfuscations stand without challenge.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Insider

Kevin Drum recently linked to an editorial appearing in the Los Angeles Times entitled, Big Pharma's Dirty Little Secret. This piece builds nicely on two recent TIA posts concerning certain less than desirable aspects of the pharmaceutical industry, which can be found here and here. The author of this editorial, Peter Rost, makes the following bold statement concerning the vaunted US health care system:

The American healthcare system is the best in the world. Or so we are often told. But is it really true?

It is certainly the best system for drug companies, which can charge the highest prices in the world to some U.S. consumers. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that average prices for patented drugs in 25 other top industrialized nations were 35% to 55% lower than in the United States.

But it's not a good system for American citizens. The U.S. has shorter life expectancies and higher infant and child mortality rates than Canada, Japan and all of Western Europe except Portugal, according to the WHO.
That is strong language, but reminiscent of the type of charged rhetoric that has infused much of the debate around the many controversial topics plaguing the increasingly besieged pharmaceutical industry. What is noteworthy about Rost's indictment, however, is his professional status: Peter Rost is a vice president of marketing at Pfizer - one of the world's biggest purveyors of drugs. In his own words:

I'm a drug company executive who has spent 20 years marketing pharmaceuticals. And I'm troubled. I'm most troubled by the fact that we stick it to the people who can afford it the least.
Part of what Rost is objecting to is the disparate treatment that American citizens receive based on their ability to pay, and, relatedly, their ability to secure health insurance of some form or another. There is also an inherent criticism of the portion of the Medicare prescription drug benefit legislation that forbids Medicare from using its bargaining power to demand lower prices from pharmaceutical companies.

For instance, elderly people who use a Medicare discount card and have to pay $1,299 annually for a drug that the Department of Veterans Affairs purchases for $322, according to a comparison by Families USA. Or middle-class families that lose health insurance and have to pay $29,500 for an overnight hospital stay, when Medicaid would have paid only $6,000, according to the Wall Street Journal.

It just doesn't make any sense. And, not surprisingly, the companies with the biggest profits - those in the drug industry - have been fighting hardest to maintain the status quo.

Our dirty little secret is that the drug industry already sells its products, right here in the U.S., at the same low prices charged in Canada and Europe. It's done through rebates. These are given to those with enough power to negotiate drug prices, such as the VA.
The results of the imbalance in the availability of treatment have been dismal for those Americans who find themselves on the outside looking in.

A 2001 study by the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen found that drug companies' favorite customers paid just a little over half the retail price. This leaves the 67 million Americans without insurance to pay cash, with no rebates, at double the prices paid by the most-favored customers....

People today have to choose between drugs and food. The journal Diabetes Care recently reported on a study of older adults with diabetes. One in three said they went without food to pay for drugs.
It is simply unacceptable for a nation with the wealth, power, and prestige of the United States to allow its senior citizens to choose between food and life saving medicine. In this vein, Rost also takes on the bugaboo of drug re-importation - more specifically, the spurious claim by some politicians that the re-importation of drugs creates myriad safety hazards and other dangerous scenarios.

It's encouraging to see that the American Medical Assn. recently came out in favor of a system that would allow U.S. pharmacies and wholesalers to re-import drugs safely from other countries. This is exactly what Europe has had for more than 20 years. It is outrageous to claim, as politicians and drug companies have done, that the U.S. wouldn't be able to safely and cost-effectively handle re-importation. A key trade association for European pharmaceutical companies claims there has never been a confirmed case in Europe of a counterfeit medication reaching a patient as a result of re-importation. In Germany, this was verified last year by the Federal Ministry of Health.

In the next five years, branded drugs with annual sales of $72.9 billion are expected to lose patent protection. So we in the drug industry are fighting re-importation because we're worried about the bottom line. But when we have to choose between that and the lives of those who can't afford drugs, we have to choose life. [emphasis added]
Rost's concern for the well being of the public is a welcomed departure from some of the cynicism and greed that has pervaded the leadership of this most crucial of industries. He even offers a glimmer of hope that there can be fruitful resolutions to problems, resulting in win-win scenarios for the warring camps.

As a drug company executive, I care about profits. When I was responsible for a region in Northern Europe, I doubled sales in two years by lowering drug prices, and in the process increased my company's sales ranking in Sweden from No. 19 to No. 7 in less than two years. I proved that it is possible to do good business with lower prices.
Peter Rost has displayed a certain form of heroism by mustering the courage to play against type, and speak out about the abuses occurring from the vantage point of an insider. It is more than likely that such honest appraisals do not ingratiate Rost to many of his superiors, peers, and colleagues. This risky stance certainly lends credence to his statements, because any bias in his outlook would most likely lean in the other direction. Rost closes this editorial with the following words:

I joined this industry to save lives, not to take them. And that's the reason I've chosen to speak out.
Based on what he wrote, I believe him.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Fred Kaplan Channels TIA...

Fred Kaplan wrote a brief piece in yesterday's New York Times (via Brad Plumer) that succinctly spelled out the concepts that I expounded on at length in my posts about the devalued dollar and the declining Brand Name America.

I suppose Mr. Kaplan has more wit than I, because brevity is his alone in comparison. Regardless, Kaplan is a good read, and Brad has some interesting thoughts to add as well.

As you can tell by the length of this post, I am learning from Kaplan.

Clear and Present Danger, Part II

In a recent post, I discussed the extent of the nuclear risk posed by the loose fissile material residing in various poorly guarded facilities in the former Soviet republics - and how the Bush administration is not paying as much attention as they should considering the magnitude of the threat. An article in yesterday's New York Times (via Laura Rozen) highlights another potential source of nuclear material and technology that is getting short shrifted by the Bush team - Pakistan.

Despite the much ballyhooed dismantling of the network of supply and distribution headed by Pakistan's nuclear champion Dr. A. Q. Khan, evidence is beginning to surface which indicates that there is still some level of operation and activity amongst the various channels of nuclear trade.

Privately, investigators say that with so many mysteries unsolved, they have little confidence that the illicit atomic marketplace has actually been shut down. "It may be more like Al Qaeda," said one I.A.E.A. official, "where you cut off the leadership but new elements emerge."
Part of the problem is that US intelligence agencies, and their international counterparts, have had difficulty ascertaining the details and intricacies of the operation itself, and to what extent it exists today. Reminiscent of the internecine turf wars played out in the US intelligence community, pre-9/11 and continuing today, there is very little intelligence being shared between the parties involved.

Given the urgency of the Libyan and Khan disclosures, many private and governmental experts expected that the Bush administration and the I.A.E.A. would work together. But European diplomats said the administration never turned over valuable information to back up its wider suspicions about other countries. "It doesn't like to share," a senior European diplomat involved in nuclear intelligence said of the United States. "That makes life more difficult. So we're on the learning curve"...

The chill from the White House has blown through Vienna. "I can't remember the last time we saw anything of a classified nature from Washington," one of the agency's senior officials said. Experts see it as a missed opportunity because the two sides have complementary strengths - the United States with spy satellites and covert capabilities to intercept or disable nuclear equipment, and the I.A.E.A. with inspectors who have access to some of the world's most secretive atomic facilities that the United States cannot legally enter.
What is perhaps more troubling, however, is the extent to which the Bush administration has deferred to Pakistan and its president, General Pervez Musharraf. Rather than demanding the extradition of Dr. Khan so that he could be interrogated by US officials intent on unlocking the valuable secrets he possesses, the Bush administration allowed Pakistan to handle the situation as an internal matter. Musharraf proceeded to arrest Khan, then pardon him after a limited confession. To this day, Musharraf steadfastly refuses to allow US officials access to the arms trafficking scientist who still resides in Pakistan.

In the 11 months since Dr. Khan's partial confession, Pakistan has denied American investigators access to him. They have passed questions through the Pakistanis, but report that there is virtually no new information on critical questions like who else obtained the bomb design. Nor have American investigators been given access to Dr. Khan's chief operating officer, Buhari Sayed Abu Tahir, who is in a Malaysian jail.

This disjunction has helped to keep many questions about the network unanswered, including whether the Pakistani military was involved in the black market and what other countries, or nonstate groups, beyond Libya, Iran and North Korea, received what one Bush administration official called Dr. Khan's "nuclear starter kit" - everything from centrifuge designs to raw uranium fuel to the blueprints for the bomb.
To some degree, the Bush administration's nuanced approach is necessary. Since Khan is such a revered figure in Pakistan, seen as the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb which is a celebrated response to rival India's own nuclear capacity, the US must tread lightly lest we undermine the current leadership and tip the balance of power away from the relatively moderate Musharraf and in favor of Pakistan's more extremist elements. Similarly, there may be some legitimate reasons for withholding classified material from the IAEA, such as a fear that leaks from the international body could harm ongoing investigative efforts.

Still, it appears that the Bush administration, as well as its predecessors, were too complacent and forgiving in their treatment of Khan, and Pakistan in general. Intelligence officials now concede that Khan had dealings with many nations and with many contacts unbeknownst to US officials despite the fact that he has been under scrutiny and surveillance for almost three decades. Because of this, there is no accurate gauge of the extent to which Khan's science has been disseminated. Furthermore, the Bush team was slow to clamp down on the network immediately after 9/11 despite obvious warning signs.

Stephen J. Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, went to Pakistan soon after the Sept. 11 attacks and raised concerns about Dr. Khan, some of whose scientists were said to have met with Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda's leader. But Mr. Hadley did not ask General Musharraf to take action, according to a senior administration official. He returned to Washington complaining that it was unclear whether the Khan Laboratories were operating with the complicity of the Pakistani military, or were controlled by freelancers, motivated by visions of profit or of spreading the bomb to Islamic nations. The Pakistanis insisted they had no evidence of any proliferation at all, a claim American officials said they found laughable.

"It is an unbelievable story, how this administration has given Pakistan a pass on the single worst case of proliferation in the past half century," said Jack Pritchard, who worked for President Clinton and served as the State Department's special envoy to North Korea until he quit last year, partly in protest over Mr. Bush's Korea policy. "We've given them a pass because of Musharraf's agreement to fight terrorism, and now there is some suggestion that the hunt for Osama is waning. And what have we learned from Khan? Nothing."
Because the stakes are so high, nuclear ordinance makes all other weapons of mass destruction look pale in comparative destructive capability, it is alarming that the Bush administration is willing to continue its non-proliferation activities without vital information about the market and supply network for Pakistani nuclear material and technology that could be gleaned from interrogations of Khan and his associates. Consider the fact that in addition to the confirmed cases of Khan's dealings with Iran, North Korea, and Libya:

Federal and private experts said the suspected list of customers included Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Algeria, Kuwait, Myanmar and Abu Dhabi.
Bush administration officials even acknowledged the parameters of the distribution and demand:

John R. Bolton, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security, echoed those suspicions, saying the network still had a number of undisclosed customers. "There's more out there than we can discuss publicly," he said in April.
Despite this evidence, we continue to pursue this problem with one armed tied behind our back, sending written questions through Pakistani government channels and refusing to cooperate and coordinate with the IAEA. Like the loose nuclear material issues in the former Soviet republics, this important dilemma is languishing for lack of attention and priority from the people that supposedly understand the post-9/11 world. The Bush administration needs to find a way to gain access to Khan even if it means doing so clandestinely. Although Musharraf might bristle at the possible revelation of the Pakistani government's involvement in the schemes, pressure must be brought to bear on him because failure to act could have enormous consequences. President Bush holds himself out to be the no-nonsense, non-compromising, leader who is tough on terror. With his track record in Pakistan and the former Soviet Union in mind, I remain incredulous.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Happy Holidays!!!

I'm not sure to what degree I will be blogging over the Christmas weekend (which mercifully begins tomorrow for me), but I should be back on Monday. I'd like to wish all the TIA readers a Happy Holiday season however you choose to celebrate it, and thank you all for participating in this little endeavor.

If you're interested in some weekend reading, allow me to recommend
Mick Arran's ground-breaking blogger-based e-zine Blog Tower, which just released its second edition. Once again, Mick was generous enough to include an article of mine in the Tower (my two-part series on the Wal-Mart behemoth). Many of you may have read those posts already, but I encourage you to peruse the rest of Blog Tower's offerings - a fine assortment of flavors which now includes some new sections for Science, Philosophy, and Society (somehow I think Coturnix influenced Mick's decision to include a Science section, but that's just a hunch - or is it).

Clear and Present Danger

During the campaign of 2004, the right-wing punditry was fond of making the bold claim, often without any supporting evidence, that John Kerry and his fellow Democrats simply didn't understand the post-9/11 world. Democrats, it was told, failed to comprehend the significance of the paradigm shift that those tragic events foretold. Of course their candidate, George Bush, fully grasped the new realities and the terrorist threat. How else could you explain the decision to divert vast sums of money, time, resources, intelligence assets, and military capacity from the hunt for al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden in order to attack a second Muslim country in a matter of two years - one that, unlike almost all of its neighbors, had no connection to al-Qaeda, was relatively secular, and had no extremist movement exporting jihadists to regional conflicts and terrorist camps worldwide.

Only someone as well-versed in the intricacies of counterinsurgency warfare as George Bush could understand that inflaming the Muslim world, alienating our allies, draining our resources, bogging down our military, destabilizing the Middle East, and bringing the condemnation of the world's population upon us, lending credence to the perceived reality of Bin Laden's propaganda, and increasing the recruitment capacity and popularity of Islamist groups like al-Qaeda's myriad offshoots, would be the best way to protect America. Kerry, you see, never really understood this.

I guess I am like Kerry, because I still don't get it. All snark aside, there is a compelling case to be made that it is the Bush administration that has failed to really understand the lessons of 9/11, and I'm not just talking about the invasion of Iraq. Although the Cold War ended over a decade ago, you couldn't tell if you looked at the current administration's anachronistic strategies for dealing with possible nuclear attacks and other issues of non-proliferation.

There are two important lessons to be derived from the Cold War and 9/11 that relate to the possibility and likelihood of a nuclear attack on America. First, state actors, even seemingly irrational ones like the USSR, are unlikely to launch nuclear attacks because of the doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD). In the case of emerging nuclear powers such as Iran and North Korea, there isn't even a "mutuality" component to the deterrent because we would take limited, although devastating, damage from the attack and those nations would be annihilated - completely.

Second, as 9/11 informs us, our biggest vulnerability post-Cold War is from non-state actors who are not concerned with their own destruction and occupy no national locus that can be retaliated against - and are thus un-deterrable. They would be far more willing to carry out a nuclear attack because of their extremist ideology and the lack of concern for the repercussions (in fact, if you calculate the emphasis on martyrdom in the religious and cultural milieu in which they operate, you could argue that they might welcome if not desire the repercussions).

Given these historical lessons, it is astounding to see the Bush administration continuing to dedicate sizable portions of our budget to the creation of a missile defense shield that
continues to fail in test after test - even though the tests themselves are often delayed for optimal weather conditions, and other factors, as if such an option would present itself in case of an attack.

I am not opposed to dedicating money to the research and development of some form of missile defense structure. If given the simple option of having one in place or not, I would choose to possess one. I also concede that the lessons of the Cold War are not a guarantee that all states will always act accordingly in every scenario in the present and future. Still, we are dealing with limited resources, and therefore we must prioritize our spending decisions.

By way of background, the
missile defense program has cost $80 billion since 1985, and the projections going forward are for an outlay of more than $50 billion over the next five years. Despite the substantial allocation of budgetary resources, it is unclear if the system will work in the near future, or ever, or if potential attackers could develop counter-measures to render it useless in the event that it ever operates as advertised.

With the costs of missile defense in mind, approximately $10 billion a year for the next five years, consider the fact the same Bush administration, the grown-ups who really understand the post-9/11 world, have dedicated
the relatively small sum of $1 billion a year to the Nunn-Lugar programs, named after the 1991 legislation drafted by former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and current Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.).

The programs are intended to prevent the former Soviet Union’s most dangerous weapons and most experienced weapons scientists from falling into the wrong hands.
Not only is the budget of the Nunn-Lugar regime dwarfed by the missile defense budget, but the sage advisors in the Bush administration have proposed cutting it further in the 2005 budget.

President George W. Bush Feb. 11 offered a strong endorsement of U.S. programs to safeguard or destroy the arsenal of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and materials formerly possessed by the Soviet Union. However, in his fiscal year 2005 budget request to Congress, released just a week earlier, Bush did not substantially increase funding for these programs and actually proposed cuts to the Department of Defense component as well as suggested spending shifts in programs in the Departments of Energy and State.
Kerry, obviously betraying his naivete as to the realities of the post-9/11 world, proposed increasing the funding of these programs, including and especially in relation to securing the pernicious nuclear material scattered around the former Soviet republics.

The American people may have underestimated the importance of this relatively esoteric reference by Kerry (probably a fault of his in retrospect), and may not currently understand the magnitude of the problem as the Bush administration initiates budget cuts somewhat under the radar of the corporate media which is busy tirelessly covering the pre-trial, trial, and post-trial permutations of the Scott and Laci Peterson saga.

A story in the December issue of The Atlantic by Terrence Henry (hard copy only), however, provides an unnerving appraisal of the situation, and I'm not sure it will spread the holiday cheer to its readers. Henry provides a map of the fifty-one sites in the former Soviet Union which together house 660 tons of weapons-usable uranium and plutonium. To put that in other terms, that supply of radioactive material is enough to make as many as 70,000 nuclear bombs - although the real risk is from an improvised device using some of this fissile material in a dirty bomb apparatus.

The current state of affairs is nothing short of an extreme national security risk. Henry recounts the realities of porous facilities, inadequate security, a ready market for the material - including the expressed interest of terrorists, and high-level corruption including insiders with a propensity for arms dealing. Most facilities have no theft detection devices or security cameras, and some fissile material is stored in cans with simple wax seals and guarded by little more than padlocks - if that.

While the Nunn-Lugar programs have made some progress in assisting the various facilities and nations in securing and/or destroying these materials, not enough has been accomplished, and reducing the budget at this time is reckless beyond comprehension. Most of the already weaponized material has received only a minimal security adjustment, not amounting to a "comprehensive upgrade" nor even a "rapid upgrade," as defined under those acts. The "rapid upgrade" option only involves conducting a "one-time inventory, bricking over windows, installing radiation detectors at main doors, and placing fissile material in rudimentary steel cages." In fact, "some 350 tons of nuclear material...rests in facilities that have yet to receive any [security] upgrade at all." The trend under Bush's stewardship is not encouraging: "less weapons-usable material was secured in the former Soviet republics in the two years after 9/11 than in the two years before...At the current rate it will take at least thirteen more years for all the former Soviet republics' nuclear materials to be comprehensively secured."

Consider for a moment that the Bush administration is plowing tens of billions of dollars into an unproven and impractical missile defense system with no track record for success to combat nation states unlikely to initiate an ICBM attack, while readily available weapons-grade nuclear material lies largely unguarded in impoverished former Soviet republics - and will continue to do so for the next thirteen years, assuming funding is not cut any further.

Worse still, there have been numerous warning signs and incidents that should have put members of the Bush administration on notice as to the dangers. Since 1991, according to confirmed reports, stolen weapons-usable materials have been seized eighteen times in Russia and other countries including France and Germany - most of the material came from the sites listed in the article. Henry examines a series of episodes involving such materials in order to give perspective to the size of the problem.

The facilities are easily penetrated, even the ones that have received some level of Nunn-Lugar funding.
December 2002: Daniel Sneider, a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News published a story revealing that with the help of a retired Russian military officer, he had walked through a hole in a concrete wall and gained access to the main base at Sergeyev Posad, a naval complex that had already received security upgrades and spent about an hour undisturbed.
There is a ready market for such looted material.
October 2003: A Russian businessman agreed to buy several pounds of weapons grade plutonium for $750,000 from two residents of Sarov - a nuclear city closed off to all but residents...The businessman had been planning to sell the plutonium to a foreign client.

February 2004: Ukrainian authorities arrested a suspect trying to smuggle radioactive material across the Ukrainian-Hungarian border...documents found with the material indicate that it included uranium. The suspect may be a former Soviet military intelligence officer.
Corruption and possible looting is occurring at high levels of command.
August 2003: Alexander Tyulyakov, the deputy director of Russia's fleet of nuclear powered ice- breakers was arrested in possession of more than two pounds of natural uranium powder. Tyulyakov had been attempting to sell the material for about $55,000.
Worse still, there is the potential for an unholy alliance to be formed between Russian organized crime, anti-proliferation police, and intelligence officers.
December 2001: Seven people were arrested trying to sell more than two pounds of low enriched uranium for $30,000 in a cafe in the town of Balashika, outside Moscow. Although the case did not involve weapons-grade uranium, the composition of the selling group was worrisome: it included a Russian intelligence officer, former members of the nuclear trafficking division of Russia's police, and members of an organized crime group. The uranium had been stolen from the enrichment and fabrication plant Elektrosal, which has suffered a number of thefts, including thefts of highly enriched uranium, and is not scheduled to have upgrades completed until 2009.
In this volatile, unprotected, unregulated, and corrupt setting, Islamic terrorists have begun to show an interest in the spoils of the nuclear Soviet era:
According to Russian newspaper report, the Chechen terrorists who took control of a Moscow theater in October of 2002 had originally considered also seizing the Kurchatov Institute - a site with enough highly enriched uranium to produce dozens of nuclear weapons. When terrorists seized the school in Beslan in September, Russian authorities hurriedly dispatched troops to all the country's nuclear facilities. Russian officials claim they have thwarted four attempts by terrorists to infiltrate nuclear warhead storage facilities. [emphasis added]
The failure of the Bush administration's post-9/11 foreign policy is its inability to grasp the nature of the threat. It is not from state actors who can be deterred by military force and economic penalties - or defended against with an elaborate missile defense shield. Rather, it is from non-state actors who cannot be influenced in such a manner. Missile defense is a Cold War relic diverting funds away from post-9/11 exigencies.

Furthermore, the belief that terrorists would be successful in acquiring such materials from a state such as Iraq, Iran, or North Korea overlooks the realities that such a route is an unnecessarily convoluted and difficult one for aspiring jihadists to take. Rather than trying to get one of those regimes to risk their survival by passing on nuclear material to a terrorist group, and convincing them to part with weaponry and material that they have spent decades and untold billions to acquire themselves, the more attractive option exists in the former Soviet republics - where nuclear material can be had on the cheap, clandestinely, and with no strings attached.

Given this reality, can someone explain to me again why it is that John Kerry and the Democrats don't understand the stakes in the struggle against the Islamist terrorist threat, and don't grasp the changes in the world post-9/11?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Brand Name America

I’m not sure the role of the United States is to go around the world and say this is the way it’s got to be. I want to empower people. I want to help people help themselves, not have government tell people what to do. I just don’t think it’s the role of the United States to walk into a country and say, we do it this way, so should you...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 [people of the world] ought to look at us as a country that understands freedom where it doesn't matter who you are or where you’re from that you can succeed. I don’t think they ought to look at us with envy. It really depends upon how [our] nation conducts itself in foreign policy. If we’re an arrogant nation, they'll resent us. If we’re a humble nation, but strong, they'll welcome us. Our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power. And that’s why we've got to be humble and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom. We’re a freedom-loving nation. If we’re an arrogant nation, they'll view us that way, but if we’re humble nation, they'll respect us. [emphasis added]
That wise and prescient admonition did not come from some wooly headed internationalist safely ensconced in some alcove in Turtle Bay, nor was it the screed of a bleeding heart liberal praising the virtues of the world community. Those words were spoken by then governor George Bush during one of the presidential debates in 2000. How far we have come since then is astonishing. So much has transpired, providing levels of irony to those phrases. It goes without saying, Bush was right - on many levels. Tragically, he ignored his own advice.

America's ascendancy from fledgling state to unrivaled superpower over the course of its relatively brief history, although spurred on by its own ingenuity and hard work, has also depended on the "respect," good will and active engagement of our allies and the people of the world - especially in the 20th Century. We could not have prevailed in World War II, or it would have cost perhaps millions more American lives, without the aid of Russia and other allied forces. Victory in the Cold War was the result of our tremendous efforts and expenditures but also, importantly, the realization on the part of the nations of the world that through the United States lay salvation and a vision more attractive than that of the Soviet hegemon (despite the fact that Cold War real politik led to many unsavory foreign policy endeavors in Central America, South America, Asia and abroad).

In the increasingly interconnected world of business and politics, the brand name of "America" was sold to the world in the form of political and economic theories, and literally in the packaging of consumer products such as the globally ubiquitous trademarks of Coca Cola and McDonalds. And the world has been buying - willingly devouring all things American in a show of support and an endorsement of the message of America: freedom, democracy, respect for human rights, economic opportunity, technological advancement, and the Big Mac. America became the hip, creative, trend-setting epicenter of culture - as the world turned to us for the next craze and newest fashion. Consider this, for all of America's vaunted productivity, and vast expanses of natural resources, our number one export to the world is entertainment in the form of music, film and television. Simply put, "America" sells.

Immediately following September 11, the United States even experienced a reprieve from the normal level of animosity directed its way, with people like Libya's Muammar el-Qaddafi publicly expressing his support, and likewise, a condemnation of the attacks, as well as the mayor of Teheran holding a candle light vigil in a rare show of solidarity with the Great Satan. Shortly thereafter, when the United States launched offensive actions in Afghanistan to unseat the Taliban and al-Qaeda, our supposed enemies in Europe, France and Germany (among others), provided contingents of troops that remain there to this day. Even the Taliban patron state of Pakistan supported our actions and agreed to some level of cooperation.

It was at the pinnacle of our hegemony, that hubris crept in, fueled by the wild predictions and proclamations about new world orders emanating from the disciples of think-tanks, drunk on
visions of unipolarity. In advocating for war in Iraq, these same institutions began to overestimate the limits of American power while underestimating the importance of global support. All the while taking a position of entrenched hostility toward erstwhile allies who dared question our use of power and international organizations that had previously been our frequent source of legitimacy - an undervalued concept that helped to craft the appeal of the American image that has served us so well. This is a typical neo-conservative position on the much reviled United Nations, if not a tame one (via Laura):

The U.N. is sapping America's prestige, tying us down in Lilliputian legal restraints whose origins and logic are never questioned. To hope that the U.N. will go the way of the League of Nations ignores the vital force America has imparted to it over the last 60 years. Our creation has become a hostile power, one that profoundly distorts the natural power patterns of international security, and protects the gestation of the most terrifying threats we have ever faced. The U.N. should either be reformed to serve the purposes of its founding, or we should kill it off once and for all.
In a piece discussing the limits of unipolarity in the realm of foreign policy, I stated the following:

If you approach the United Nations, NATO and European allies with a sincere concern for their opinions, and regard for their institutional mandates, they will be more receptive to your entreaties. Those organizations and nations might not always agree, and they might not always endorse your actions just because you enter negotiations with a respectful demeanor, but it is prudent to minimize their opposition and leave open the channels for rapprochement in the future.

Threatening the United Nations with "irrelevance" if they do not accede to your demands is not going to foster cooperation. Considering dissolving NATO because the members were not unanimous in their support for your policies is not productive and not likely to pave a road for future cooperation. Grousing about "Old Europe" and obsolete alliances is not going to induce the targets of your barbs to contribute to your efforts. Closing off reconstruction contracts in Iraq to companies from non-coalition countries is just one manifestation of these punitive, exclusionary tendencies.

Perhaps most importantly though, if your ideological brain trust is churning out opinion after opinion concerning why these alliances, institutions, and organizations are bankrupt, corrupt, and hostile, and then you act accordingly, those same groups will likely treat you with contempt when you ask for their assistance in the future - which we almost definitely will.
Predictably, those types of confrontational stances also provoked the animosity of the citizens of the countries that were on the receiving end of the insults. Even the citizens in the countries that we consider allies in our coalition grew to resent our heavy-handed tactics and blatant disregard. Worldwide opinion for America has reached its nadir (hopefully), as our brand has become poisonous in many segments of the globe, including actual physical attacks on our cultural symbols like the bombing of McDonalds restaurants and similar outposts. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Middle East, as these poll results indicate:

"What we're seeing now is a disturbing sympathy with al Qaeda coupled with resentment toward the United States, and we ought to be extremely troubled by that," said Shibley Telhami, a University of Maryland professor who commissioned one of the surveys.
This trend was also observed and noted in the bi-partisan 9/11 Commission report:

The findings reflect the concerns raised in the Sept. 11 commission report released yesterday, which emphasized a losing battle for public opinion. "Support for the United States has plummeted," the commissioners wrote.
And from Zogby:

The latest survey results out of the Middle East show that America's favorability rating is now, essentially, zero. That's down from as high as 75 percent in some Muslim countries just four years ago.
But the picture is equally disturbing when other more traditionally friendly areas of the world are accounted for:

"We found an unusually low level of support for U.S. foreign policy," Kull said. "This runs in line with trends from recent attitude surveys by the Pew Research Center and may have implications when the U.S. wants to move forward on issues with its closest allies."

The most negative attitude toward the U.S. came from France, Germany and Mexico, where roughly 80 percent of those surveyed thought that the foreign policies of President Bush had made them feel worse about the United States.

The polling in a total of 35 countries was conducted by The Program on International Policy Attitudes and the polling company GlobeScan Incorporated during a period ranging from several days to several weeks, starting in mid-May and running through early September.

The poll of 34,330 people older than 15 from all regions of the world found that the majority or plurality of people from 32 countries prefer Kerry to Bush. "It is rather striking that just one in five people surveyed around the world support the re-election of President Bush," said Steve Kull, director of The Program on International Policy Attitudes of the University of Maryland, a co-sponsor of the survey...

Most traditional U.S. allies came out strongly favoring Kerry, while only those polled in Nigeria, Poland and the Philippines preferred Bush. Polling among some traditional U.S. allies found strongly negative attitudes toward Bush.

"Even where the president does beat John Kerry, there is no enthusiasm apparent from the numbers," Kull said. "Those countries that support him for re-election also tend not to like his foreign policy." [emphasis added]
Of course, those people couldn't vote in the last election, but they can vote in the aftermath with their feet and their wallets, and this could greatly impact the American economy and our position of cultural and educational dominance, in addition to our foreign policy goals. We are already learning about the perils of the unbridled embrace of unipolarity, and its accompanying hostility to international organizations, in the context of our current dilemma dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions. As evidenced by James Fallows' latest article in The Atlantic (subscription required - but praktike has a nice summary here), we have no real viable military options for dealing with Iran as a result of the particulars of the problem as well as the current state of our military and its commitments in Iraq. As a result, we are placed in the uncomfortable position of relying on the diplomatic cooperation of our oft-scorned allies. This predicament was anticipated by Princeton professor John Ikenberry:

A unipolar order without a set of rules and bargains with other countries leads to a system of coercive unipolar American empire - and as such it is unsustainable at home and unacceptable abroad. As the Iraq episode shows, under these circumstances other countries will tend to "undersupply" co-operation. They will do so either because they decide to free-ride on the American provision of security, or because they reject the US use of force that is untied to mutually agreed-upon rules and institutions - or both. So the US will find itself - as it does now - acting more or less alone and incurring the opposition and resistance of other states. This is the point when the conservative unipolar vision becomes unsustainable inside the US. Americans will not want to pay the price for protecting the world while other countries free-ride and resist. This appears to be true in the case of Iraq: a majority of Americans now believe that the Iraq war was not worth it, after sustaining barely more than 1,000 military deaths. The US is 5 per cent of the world's population but generates nearly 50 per cent of total world military spending. Is this sustainable in a world where other countries are in open revolt against an American imperium?

On economic terms, we are facing a potentially dangerous trade gap which will only be exacerbated by movements of hostility to American products springing up internationally. When confronted with questions about the trade deficit, President Bush offered a seemingly naive response: "That's easy to resolve. People can buy more United States products [sic] if they're worried about the trade deficit."

While I think the President grossly oversimplified the magnitude and dimension of the problem, and that's an understatement, there is an important point he is making - that America still has international appeal and will continue to play a prominent role in the world's economy. But the question remains, will people buy more "United States products" if brand name America is so tarnished?

The likely answer is "no," at least to some extent, and on top of that, economic alliances and arrangements will begin to sprout up in direct opposition to American hegemony.
Tim Dunlop recounts the description of events from a member of a predominately Republican Congressional delegation that recently met with counterparts in India:

We don't much care about America. He said they were very polite but almost indifferent. Maybe matter-of-fact is a better description. The conversation went something like this:

We consider ourselves as in competition with China for leadership in the new century. That's our focus and frankly, you have made it very difficult for us to deal with you. We find your approach to international affairs ridiculous. The invasion of Iraq was insane. You've encouraged the very things you say you were trying to fix - terrorism and instability. Your attitude to Iran is ridiculous. You need to engage with Iran. We are. We are bemused by your hypocrisy. You lecture the world about dealing with dictators and you deal with Pakistan. We are very sorry for your losses from the 9/11 terror attacks. Welcome to our world. You threaten us with sanctions for not signing the non-proliferation treaty, but you continue to be nuclear armed and to investigate new weapons. You expect us to neglect our own security because you want us to. We don't care about sanctions.

They also spoke about economic development and the message here was that we're doing fine thanks. We can't address the poverty in our country wholesale--most of it is rural poverty anyway--but we find we have skills in the hi-tech area. We will continue to pursue that. We currently produce around 10,000 (I think, ed) science PhDs a year. We will build up a rich, well-educated strata.
In a further display of the changing paradigm in the world, the New York Times recently ran a story about the shifting sands in the arena of higher education. The colleges and universities in the United States are losing their ability to attract as many of the world's best and brightest - largely a product of the onerous student visa requirements enacted after 9/11, as well as increased competition from other countries' efforts to improve their own institutions of higher learning. Of course, if world opinion of America continues on its downward course, this could further impact enrollment in American schools. This would have a detrimental effect on our economy, both from the diminished revenue from tuition as well as the loss of many well educated students who stay in the States and help our economic development. And for those that return home, they represent a valuable tool of diplomacy - having young citizens of the world spending time and learning in America before returning home as emissaries of good will.

The preservation and marketing of brand name America will be of increasing importance considering the current
decline of the dollar, which could have widespread economic effects if it is replaced as the world's preferred reserve currency (itself more likely if we continue to provoke ill will worldwide). In addition, the emergence of economic rivals including the European Union, as well as China - which is a member of a group of dynamic economies known as BRIC - could further challenge the brand strength of "America."

Over the next 50 years, Brazil, Russia, India and China-the BRICs economies-could become a much larger force in the world economy. We map out GDP growth, income per capita and currency movements in the BRICs economies until 2050.

The results are startling. If things go right, in less than 40 years, the BRICs economies together could be larger than the G6 in US dollar terms. By 2025 they could account for over half the size of the G6. Of the current G6, only the US and Japan may be among the six largest economies in US dollar terms in 2050.

There is a fundamental misconception at the heart of much of the neo-conservative philosophy, that the opinion of the rest of the world doesn't really matter. According to this camp, American military might is so dominant that it can accomplish all of our foreign policy goals, as well as our economic needs. Not only is this an exaggerated perception of our military's capacity, but it ignores the advantages America has enjoyed by virtue of the fact that it has been respected, admired, envied, and held up as the city on the hill - leading by shining example. Now we are perceived as belligerent and greedy, left rationalizing torture, explaining away the deprivation of due process, and embracing intolerance and bigotry, while mother England takes the high ground on the rule of law, and Canada teaches her big brother a lesson in human rights and tolerance.

We are fast learning, hopefully, the limits of unipolarity, and the reality that we are dependent on the world for so much of our power and influence. Without the will of the world filling our sails, forging ahead will be more difficult, perilous and unpredictable - especially worrisome in such dangerous times as these. Yet if we continue to abandon all the principles and values that sold America to the world, and if we continue to behave with contempt for our neighbors, our ship of state will lag where it should lead. And that would be the world's loss.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

In Defense of the Dialectic

It is no secret to TIA readers that my most frequently cited right-leaning blog is the Belgravia Dispatch, penned by Gregroy Djerejian. Some readers have questioned my taste, my judgment, and my propensity for linking to Belgravia Dispatch - appealing to arguments of a partisan nature and accentuating the differences between our respective world views.

After discussing my motives, most readers agreed with my rationale, but the exchange caused me to consider the tendency for people to seek out exclusively like-minded voices and opinions - not that any of those readers are guilty of this because for most the opposite is true. Still, I think these habits that we all fall prey to, including and especially myself, represent the wrong approach for the blogosphere and the body politic in general. I have always been more interested in reaching across the aisle and encouraging a meaningful dialogue between differing voices, rather than merely preaching to the choir or charging up the base, although those functions are valuable in their own right to some limited extent. I have not witnessed as much of this as I would have hoped on most blogs, although I remain optimistic that progress can be made.

At the risk of repeating a trite observation, America is a higly polarized locale at this juncture in time, and the information explosion represented by 24-hour news programs, talk radio, and the internet, specifically the blogosphere, has in some ways exacerbated this phenomenon for both sides of the highlighted divide. However, it would be wrong to completely exonerate the current political leadership for their part in the process, especially the likes of Tom Delay and Bill Frist, a point driven home by the
shameful display of partisanship and small mindedness embodied in the boycott of Tom Daschle's farewell speech on the floor of the Senate, especially telling in contrast to the well attended bon voyage of Bob Dole in 1996 which included effusive praise from his Democratic colleagues.

Nevertheless, this polarization comes at a great cost to us all. People lose the perspective, moderation, and common sense that grows out of a dialectic when one side is ignored, or worse, shouted down. Instead of comparing ideas and utilizing the best elements from various theories and approaches in a coherent synthesis, we have become purveyors of absolutes, adherents of ideologies, and, subsequently, a nation of gaping blind spots. We are encouraged as politicians, policy makers, and citizens to go for broke in an all or nothing quest for total victory, all too frequently making the perfect the enemy of the good and annihilating adversaries and voices who have valuable contributions to offer in the evolution of thought and action. At our worst, we have become like cheerleaders for a team, hyperdefensive and prone to circle the wagons at the slightest hint of criticism. Plagued by a perversion of post-modernism, we are a nation that rejects facts if conveyed by certain voices, instead focusing on the messenger to undermine the truth in the message - if not engaging in outright misinformation and duplicity ourselves.

It is a constant struggle to reassess and re-evaluate one's beliefs, especially in a cultural context in which partisan attacks create a siege mentality. But the process of exchange is necessary and useful, and without it, ideas and beliefs become unrealistic, imbalanced and overly self-indulgent. One of the most cogent and relevant critiques of the policies pursued by the Bush administration is not necessarily their ideological thrust or theory, but rather their practical application - so often sorely lacking in efficacy and competence, which should be expected given the lack of dissent tolerated, the ideological loyalty demanded, and the dearth of dialectical method employed. Such a uniformity of viewpoint is a recipe for disaster.

Within this context, I welcome the perspective of Djerejian who I consider to be an intelligent, honest, and relatively moderate conservative. At the very least, he has displayed the rare ability to admit error, remains realistic, has welcomed dissenting views (encouraged them even, by linking to posts that take him on), and even goes as far as to criticize his own camp, which is refreshing and encouraging in the world of trench warfare politics. Of course we do disagree on many subjects (what do you expect, he is a conservative after all and if you want to dialogue with opposing views you must learn to tolerate and engage them), and he has, on occasion, shown the same partisan narrow mindedness that we all display, but we also find many points in common, and even in disagreement, he offers a welcomed challenge to my beliefs. Above all, I get the impression that he is trying to be objective and measured, and that is to be valued.

For example, Djerejian has been a brutally honest, yet entirely balanced,
critic of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. While doling out praise for some of Rumsfeld's worthy achievements, and there are some that bear mentioning, he has not hesitated to call Rumsfeld on his obvious shortcomings. To appreciate the integrity and courage of Djerejian's partisan blasphemy, read the comments to his Rumsfeld posts which contain the predictable level of knee-jerk, group-think oriented defenses of their team's man as well as a fair share of hostility directed at Djerejian. He has even raised the ire of Glenn Reynolds, inspiring a bit of a blogger spar between he and Reynolds - whom I consider to be a myopic partisan who will go to great lengths and intellectual contortion to always champion his side.

Again today, in a post entitled
Catalogue of Shame, Djerejian provides an unvarnished appraisal of the torture that took place at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and elsewhere, as informed by a series of memos acquired by the ACLU and others through Freedom Of Information requests. In particular, Djerejian makes an insightful observation about the treatment of Muslims that exemplifies his willingness to get beyond the partisan dynamic plaguing our public discourse.

But anyone with half a brain who continues to insist that the torture (sorry, "abuse") story is about a few bad apples taking a frat hazing a tad too much to heart at Abu Ghraib alone are full of it and doing the country a disservice through their intellectual dishonesty. It's clear that, while not some God-awful American gulag archipelago--torture has manifestly occurred in detention facilities from Afghanistan to Iraq to Cuba. Likewise, it's time to say loud and clear that the fact that those tortured are Arab and South Asian detainees is noteworthy. Why? Because it's reminiscent of the different treatment afforded the Japanese enemy as compared to the German during WWII. Recall that the Japanese during WWII, above and beyond Korematsu, were more viciously dehumanized in the popular culture than their less offensive Kraut partners in crime. Put differently, race matters. Can anyone imagine the tortures that have taken place in places like Bagram, Gitmo and Abu Ghraib having been inflicted against, say, Bosnian Serbs in Brcko or Banja Luka? Highly doubtful indeed. 9/11 happened, of course. And Islam has too often been conflated in the popular imagination with the radical jihadists who would so gleefully kill thousands as they did in lower Manhattan that fateful day...Still, it's time for intellectuals who care about the moral fiber of our polity, on both the Left and Right, to start speaking more loudly about these worrisome trends. America's better angels, and our more aspirational national narratives, simply demand it. [emphasis added]
He is right of course. Regardless of party affiliation, all Americans should be outraged (not at the outrage Senator Inhofe) at the desecration of our common values and principles as manifested in some level of state endorsed torture and brutality. To hear Americans defend these practices is astonishing, especially because I am fairly certain that many of the apologists would be equally strident in their criticisms if these abhorrent practices were occurring under a Democratic administration (and of course it is likely that many on the Left would reverse roles as well). Recognizing the racial element involved is also crucial to addressing the broader issues, so it is promising to hear this charge emanating from the Right, which will hopefully undercut the instinctual skepticism that seems to pervade all discussions of racial politics amongst denizens of the conservative side of the spectrum (although the Left bears some guilt for being overly inclined to cast issues in such a manner). When I said I was "pining for republicans" in a prior post, this type of principled conservatism is what I had in mind. It doesn't mean 100% agreement, but it rests on common values, integrity, and it does create room for reasoned debate and bi-partisan interaction and compromise.

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