Nelson Mandela turns 90 on July 18. This morning, President Bush gave the former South African president and anti-apartheid leader an early birthday present by signing into law a bill removing Mandela and other members of the African National Congress from a three-decade-old terrorist watch list.
The bill had been sponsored by Sens. John Kerry, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Bob Corker:
It's high time we honored his message of human dignity and valor by removing unjustified travel restrictions placed on him and other members of the ANC," said Kerry. Whitehouse added, "This problem has caused injustice to South African leaders and embarrassment to the United States, and I'm glad it will be repaired."
Prior to the bill's passage, Mandela had been subject to travel restrictions and required special certification to visit the United States. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had called on Congress in April to remove the restrictions, deeming them "rather embarrassing."
I see that some in the U.S. Congress are gearing up to crack down on "speculators" accused of driving up prices for key commodities like oil and corn. Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman is seeking to ban institutional investors from investing in commodities markets at all, and his colleague, Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, is urging the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates commodities trading in the United States, to take action.
As Diana Henriques explains for the Times, there's a risk the proposed cure would be worse than the disease. Not only is it tough to identify who is engaging in "excessive speculation" versus merely "speculation," it's also completely legal to try to make money from trading commodities. What's more, some analysts argue that speculators actually make the markets function more smoothly by keeping them liquid. (Here's an example of one such argument.)
There's also a fierce debate about to what extent speculators are, in fact, to blame for the high prices. Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, put the matter thusly in a recent interview:
I believe the main reason for the high prices [is] the growing perception in the markets that the growing demand growth may not be met by the supply growth. And this provides fertile ground for the speculators... [T]he main issue here is the fundamentals but the speculators play an amplifying role in that respect.
The Financial Times provides some support for this view today:
Refiners are paying record premiums for the high-quality crude oil they use to produce diesel and petrol, a sign of strong demand in the physical oil market that calls into question claims that soaring oil prices are being driven by speculators.
Refiners are paying up to $5-$6 a barrel on top of current record prices to secure high-grade oil, traders said, double the level of a year ago. The mark-ups are four times higher than the 2000-2008 average. The movement in prices paid for physical barrels of oil has gone largely undetected outside the refinery industry because financial markets pay almost exclusive attention to the price of oil futures traded in London and New York.
Yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives voted 324-84 to permit the U.S. Justice Department to sue OPEC for manipulating oil supplies and prices. Fortunately, the White House opposes the measure, saying that going after OPEC countries "would likely spur retaliatory action against American interests in those countries."
Rep. Steve Kagen, a Wisconsin Democrat who sponsored the legislation, issued a press release that said, "American consumers remain at the mercy of OPEC nations." Hmmm … Americans, living in one of the wealthiest and most innovative countries on Earth, are helpless weaklings who survive at the mercy of others? Perhaps they should pay attention to columnist Thomas Friedman when he said:
It baffles me that President Bush would rather go to Saudi Arabia twice in four months and beg the Saudi king for an oil price break than ask the American people to drive 55 miles an hour, buy more fuel-efficient cars or accept a carbon tax or gasoline tax that might actually help free us from what he called our “addiction to oil.”
In today's Washington Post, Mike Gerson quite rightly lambasts the "Coburn Seven" -- seven Senate Republicans who are all but blocking expanded funding for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
Unfortunately, what Gerson ignores is the GOP's long history of failure and ignorance on the HIV/AIDS front. This sad history dates to the very founding of the contemporary conservative movement. It was Ronald Reagan, the revered Godfather, who remained silent as tens of thousands of Americans died and a pandemic was spread to more than 100 countries around the globe. Even as Reagan did nothing to combat AIDS, his surrogates in the extreme right opined that the disease was a divinely-inspired retaliation on liberalism. It was Pat Buchanan, Reagan's White House communications director, who called AIDS "nature's revenge on gay men." Such sentiments proliferated as the power of the GOP's religious right-wing coalesced in the 1990s. Former Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, for instance, famously called for those infected with HIV/AIDS to be "isolated from the general population" in 1992. He stood by the statement in his 2008 presidential campaign.
When historians sit down to assess the modern conservative movement a generation or two from now, among the most severe tarnishes on the GOP's legacy will be Guantanamo and record deficits. There also will be the string of painfully ignorant policies the party has held on HIV/AIDS. To his credit, George W. Bush has probably done more than any conservative politician of his generation to reverse this tragic legacy -- more, perhaps, than any liberal politician, too. PEPFAR has provided life-sustaining anti-AIDS drugs to 1.4 million patients in the countries hardest hit by the disease. It may be the most favorably remembered foreign policy initiative of Bush's entire tenure. And in his January State of the Union address, the President proposed a long-overdue doubling of the effort.
It looked as though the GOP had finally found its moorings on combating a disease that, in a number of African countries, now affects more than 1 in 5 adults. But a small GOP minority once again appears poised to force the United States to take a backseat in the fight. As Gerson says, it will come at a price paid in lives. Unfortunately, it won't be the first time.
I figured something was up when Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY) kept calling Kosovo "Kosova" (the Albanian pronunciation) at the most recent House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on the Balkans. Turns out Engel's swapped the last "o" in Kosovo for a central boulevard in the heart of Pec, a majority Albanian city in western Kosovo that was once the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch (back in the 15th century, that is).
Sewell Chan, NYT:
It felt a bit surreal on Sunday, during a visit to Pec … to encounter a main boulevard named for Representative Eliot L. Engel, a Democrat who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester and Rockland Counties.
The makeup of Mr. Engel's constituency may help explain his advocacy for the province… The Albanian population in the Bronx took root in the 1970s, Mr. Engel remembered. "A lot of them were superintendents when they came,” he said. Groups of relatives or friends would save up money and buy a building, which they would manage. The population surged again in the 1990s fueled in large part by the Kosovo crisis and prompting efforts to organize Albanian-Americans."
New York Albanians are quite the force to be reckoned with. According to Stacy Sullivan in her book Be Not Afraid, For You Have Sons in America, one Kosovar Albanian roofer in Brooklyn helped raise $30 million to fund and outfit the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) -- and largely with American-made guns. At least loopholes in American gun laws have worked out well somewhere.
Today is the fifth anniversary of the day George W. Bush declared "mission accomplished" from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, just 42 days after the invasion of Iraq.
This morning, the Center for American Progress hosted a speech by Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha. Murtha, a Vietnam veteran, voted to authorize the war in 2003, but has since become one of its most strident critics. As he put it today:
I was skeptical about giving the president authorization to go to war in 2003, but I gave this president the benefit of the doubt. That decision was a mistake. In Vietnam, we never had a strategy to win. In Iraq, we never had a strategy.
Murtha, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, agrees with a majority of retired and active military officers that Iraq has left the U.S. military unprepared for future threats. He's also very concerned about China's military buildup, and thinks leaders in Beijing are watching the situation closely:
We must refocus our attention to the threats down the road. If you remember in World War II, we cut off the oil supply of the Japanese when they attacked. us. Now, I don't say that's going to happen with China. But one thing's for sure, if they misperceive our readiness to act, we're going to have a real problem.
While it's pretty unlikely that the Chinese are planning another Pearl Harbor (the line was absent from Murtha's prepared remarks so he may have ad-libbed it), it's fair to say that Iraq has decreased both U.S. military readiness and diplomatic standing.
After five years, the administration seems unwilling to come to terms with what an embarassment "Mission Accomplished" was. As of yesterday, White House spokesperson Dana Perino was still insisting that Bush was misinterpreted. "Mission Accomplished," she claimed, only referred to "sailors who are on this ship on their mission" (though it's hard to believe that even she buys that line). However they try to spin it, "Mission Accomplished" will haunt the Bush administration as a symbol of the myopia and reckless optimism that characterized the early days of the Iraq war.
Think your job sucks? Try walking a mile in the shoes of Christopher Hill, who has been the U.S. envoy to the six-party talks since February 2005. For more than three years, Hill has been trying to convince North Korea to shut down its nuclear program and come clean about its nuclear activities.
He's had some success at the former, with the North Koreans agreeing to the dismantling of their plutonium reactor at Yongbyon. But Kim Jong Il's irascible regime has been notoriously coy about acknowledging just what it's been up to on the uranium and proliferation fronts. So, Hill negotiated a delicate workaround: North Korea would acknowledge U.S. concerns but admit to nothing. Then, the United States would remove North Korea from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, a designation that has all kinds of other legal and financial ramifications. On balance, it seemed like a good idea to at least mothball Yongbyon and learn as much as possible about the nuclear program. Why let the perfect become the enemy of the good? And on a factual level, North Korea hasn't actually sponsored terrorism since 1987.
But now, Hill's careful game of diplomatic Jenga may be coming apart. For months, North Korea has stalled, appearing to want to wait for a better deal from the next president. Last week's allegations about North Korea's nuclear cooperation with Syria appear to have only inflamed building congressional anger against the deal. And it's not just Republicans who were upset. Yesterday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted unanimously to require that the White House certify it has gotten a "complete and correct declaration" from Pyongyang. Hill's plan was, to be frank, to fudge it.
One congressional staffer told the Financial Times the White House would go "ballistic" over the committee's move, but the Bush administration still has a chance to convince the full House and the Senate to scuttle it. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed, however, that the White House has let Chris Hill run point on these negotiations for a reason. If things fall apart -- as it seems they might -- he can be hung out to dry and blamed for the failure. That would be a shame, because Hill is a real star of the diplomatic corps and somebody America needs to keep around.
Many commentators have wondered why the Bush adminstration chose last Thursday, of all days, to disclose the intelligence community's findings on North Korea's nuclear collaboration with Syria. Well, Glenn Kessler and Robin Wright of the Washington Post have an answer:
Key lawmakers nonetheless made it clear that unless the intelligence about Syria was described to them in detail, they would block funding for the deal and oppose a key waiver of a law preventing U.S. aid to a country that detonates a nuclear weapon.
Officials said the timing of the administration's disclosure was also influenced by a provision of the U.S. law governing state sponsors of terrorism, a list that has long included North Korea. Under the proposed nuclear disarmament deal, Washington has agreed to remove North Korea from the list, but the law requires that it first demonstrate that North Korea has not assisted another country on the list for at least six months. The intelligence presented this week indicated that North Korea helped Syria in removing equipment from the site through early October, meaning the six-month window only recently closed.
Far more often than they get credit for, U.S. officials do things that seem mysterious to outsiders when in reality they're just following the law. In this case, the aim was ostensibly to move North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terrorism so that a deal could go forward. The irony is that with this disclosure, Republican lawmakers may be much less inclined to give North Korea a pass, and even leading establishment figures want the Bush administration to teach Kim Jong Il a lesson. What seems especially damning is the intelligence showing that North Korea has been dealing with the Syrians all along while pretending to negotiate in good faith.
As an aside, I owe Kessler an apology for this post and this one questioning his early reporting on the Syrian nuclear site. It turns out Kessler's reporting was spot-on and appropriately caveated, and continues to be invaluable. His biography of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is excellent, too.
There are a lot of interesting tidbits in Elisabeth Bumiller and Larry Rohter's article about how various Republican foreign-policy realists are concerned that the dreaded neocons are winning the battle for John McCain's ear. McCain advisors Randy Scheunemann and Robert Kagan seem eager to downplay any such split, and they point to the fact that Henry Kissinger, a realist par excellence, is a close confidant of the Arizona senator.
I think Bumiller and Rohter missed a chance to point out something about Kissinger. When it comes to subjects such as great-power relations, Kissinger still sounds like his old realist self. He is critical of McCain's recent hard line on Russia, for instance. But on the key foreign-policy issue of the 2008 campaign, Iraq, Henry the K sounds a lot more like Max Boot than he does Brent Scowcroft. As Ron Suskind has reported, Kissinger has been a key voice urging the Bush administration to stay in Iraq for the long haul. He has also sounded extremely skeptical of engagement with Iran. In other words, this list does not really indicate that McCain is consulting a wide range of views:
So far, Mr. McCain has not established a formal foreign policy briefing process within his campaign. If he needs information or perspective on an issue, advisers say he picks up the phone and calls any number of people, among them Mr. Kissinger, Mr. Shultz or Senators Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut.
Representative Howard Berman of California has proposed legislation to clear the name of the South Africa's African National Congress (ANC) in the United States government record books. Nelson Mandela, and other former members, need approval to enter the United States as the ANC was once labelled a terrorist organization by both the U.S. and South Africa during apartheid. The ANC has evolved quite a bit over the years, but did carry out numerous attacks on institutions of South Africa's apartheid regime from the 1960s through the 1980s. The New York Times explains the U.S. stance:
Until recently, State Department officials preferred to grant ANC members waivers for travel to the United States on a case-by-case basis. They feared a more permanent exemption would open the floodgates to similar requests by other former terrorist groups. But that objection apparently now has been wisely dropped."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice found it an "embarrassing matter" to waive travel restrictions on her South African counterparts, let alone the "great leader" himself. The bill would update entries on the ruling party's members in U.S. government databases. Just in case you missed the neon sign, Hamas and al Qaeda need not apply.
As today's marathon Iraq testimony continues to wind down, the overwhelming sense a viewer gets is that the whole event has proceeded according to script. The presidential candidates took the opportunity for free airtime, then took off before the hearings had even ended. Code Pink protesters were ejected from the room. And Amb. Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus stated that while enormous progress has been made in Iraq's security, cuts in troop levels should be avoided. One might even ask why, with everything these men have on their plates in Baghdad, they needed to travel all this way to perform this Capitol Hill kabuki drama.
Petraeus pushed for a 45-day pause in troop level reductions, saying that an immediate reduction would doom any hope of national reconciliation in Iraq:
This process will be continuous, with recommendations for further reductions made as conditions permit," General Petraeus said. "This approach does not allow establishment of a set withdrawal timetable. However, it does provide the flexibility those of us on the ground need to preserve the still-fragile security gains our troopers have fought so hard and sacrificed so much to achieve."
Never mind the fact the dubious proposition that Iraq's political progress will look much different in 45 days than it does now. It's no longer clear that the U.S. military can continue to sustain the level of commitment that Petraeus is talking about. In the U.S. Military Index, from the FP March/April issue, we found that nearly nine out of ten U.S. officers believe that Iraq has stretched our military dangerously thin, and less than half believe that we are prepared to fight another war on short notice. In light of this, how long will it be before factors other than what passes for Iraqi political progress begin to inform U.S. actions?
For more on the lack of progress in Iraq, check out Blake's new web exclusive, "Why the Surge Doesn't Matter."
With everyone else distracted by the financial crisis, high oil prices, the Iraq war, and the battle against al Qaeda, it is a relief to know that some folks in the U.S. Congress have their priorities straight. Right now, the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet is hosting a hearing entitled "Online Virtual Worlds: Applications and Avatars in a User-Generated Medium." Watch it live here.
Critics of Republican presidential nominee John McCain often point to his inconsistent stance on military intervention as a sign that he is not the straight-talking maverick he presents himself to be. An examination of McCain's stances on intervention, however, reveals not mixed signals but a steady transformation of worldview. The young Vietnam vet who once vocally opposed military overreach has become the elder statesman who passionately advocates the need for military action. Here's a look at the stances McCain has taken on some of the major U.S. military operations of the past few decades.
Stance: As a freshman congressman, John McCain broke with President Ronald Reagan and most of his party to oppose invoking the War Powers Act to extend the deployment of U.S. peacekeepers in Lebanon.
Statement: "The longer we stay in Lebanon, the harder it will be for us to leave. We will be trapped by the case we make for having our troops there in the first place." Sept. 29, 1983
Iraq (Operation Desert Storm)
Stance: McCain worried about the prospect of an extended deployment of U.S. troops in Iraq and hoped to limit the U.S. action to a bombing campaign.
Statement: "If you get involved in a major ground war in the Saudi desert, I think support will erode significantly. Nor should it be supported. We cannot even contemplate, in my view, trading American blood for Iraqi blood.'' Aug. 19, 1990
Stance: After a failed operation that led to the death of 19 U.S. soldiers, McCain proposed cutting off funding to the U.S. mission in Somalia in order to force the Clinton administration to bring the troops home. He later wrote that he regretted this stance.
Statement: "I'll tell you what can erode our prestige Mr. President. I'll tell you what can erode our viability as a world superpower, and that is if we emesh ourselves in a drawn-out situation, which entails the loss of American lives, more debacles like the one we saw with the failed mission to captured Adid's lieutenants using American forces and that then will be what hurts our prestige." Oct. 14, 1993
Stance: Like most congressional leaders at the time, McCain opposed sending U.S. troops to Haiti in 1994 to assist the return of exiled president Jean-Bertrand Aristide back in power.
Statement: "I don't think our vital national security interests are at stake... In Haiti, there is a military government we don't like. But there are other governments around the world that aren't democratic that we don't like. Are we supposed to invade those countries, too?" July 10, 1994
Stance: McCain initially strongly opposed intervention in Bosnia, but after the signing of the Dayton accords in 1995, he changed his stance and cosponsored a resolution supporting the U.S. peacekeeping mission.
Statements: "If we find ourselves involved in a conflict in which American casualties mount, in which there is no end in sight, in which we take sides in a foreign civil war, in which American fighting men and women have great difficulty distinguishing between friend and foe, then I suggest that American support for military involvement would rapidly evaporate." April 23, 1993
"Our troops are going to Bosnia. Congress should do everything in our power to insure that our mission is truly clear, limited and achievable, that it has the greatest chance for success with the least risk to the lives of our young men and women. The resolution that the majority leader and I have offered does not ask senators to support the decision to deploy. It asks that you support the deployment after the decision had been made. It asks you further to condition your support on some important commitments by the President." Dec. 13, 1995
Stance: McCain not only favored the use of force to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, but pressed the Clinton administration to send ground troops into Serbia.
Statement: "If we lose this war, the entire country and the world will suffer the consequences. Yes, the President would leave office with yet another mark against him. But he will not suffer that indignity alone. We will all be less secure. We will all be dishonored.'' May 9, 1999
Stance: McCain strongly supported the U.S. operation to defeat the Taliban and attempt to capture Osama bin Laden.
Statement: "[W]hat we need to understand is that we may have to put large numbers of troops into Afghanistan for a period of time, not a long period of time, but for a period of time, in order to effectively wipe out these terrorists' nests and track down Mr. bin Laden. In other words, it's going to take a very big effort, and probably casualties will be involved, and it won't be accomplished through air power alone." Dec. 28, 2001
Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom)
Stance: McCain has been among the most vocal supporters of the initial invasion of Iraq and last year's troop surge. His stance on these issues has largely defined his presidential run.
Statement: "Only an obdurate refusal to face unpleasant facts -- in this case, that a tyrant who survives only by the constant use of violence is not going to be coerced into good behavior by nonviolent means -- could allow one to believe that we have rushed to war... Our armed forces will fight for peace in Iraq -- a peace built on more secure foundations than are found today in the Middle East. Even more important, they will fight for the two human conditions of even greater value than peace: liberty and justice. Some of our soldiers will perish in this just cause. May God bless them and may humanity honor their sacrifice." March 12, 2003
Lawrence Lessig -- FP contributor, Stanford law professor, and Internet superstar -- today staked his claim as the leader of a new cause: attacking corruption.
At a joint press conference with the Sunlight Foundation, a relatively new group that seeks to improve transparency and public trust in Congress, Lessig launched the "Change Congress" movement. His new organization will seek pledges from lawmakers and candidates to turn away lobbyist and PAC funds, vote to outlaw earmarks, advocate for public campaign financing, and promote transparency. U.S. voters can also join the movement to let their representatives know that they want the buzzword on everyone's lips: change.
In an interview after the press conference, Lessig told me how he decided to pursue the issue of money in American democracy:
It kind of hit me that it was the same problem that was causing the misallocation of policy in [Al Gore's] area was causing it in my area... just the recognition that Congress failed to address [global warming] for 10 years when it should have addressed it because of the enormous influence of money in that process. That's what made me realize that this was not just limited to marginal, esoteric problems."
By "esoteric problems," Lessig was referring to his intellectual property work. I also asked him about the climate for reform now that a new presidential administration is on the way. His response:
The climate's great but I think anybody who expects a president can affect change like this on his own is not understanding where the system works. So that's why it seems to be really critical to recognize the only way you're going to tee up reform for the president is to begin to build reform in the trenches."
Lessig said his goal is to spark a "process revolution" rather than push for specific policy changes. It's like alcoholism, he said: Only by solving Congress's addiction to money will you be able to tackle its side effects. Here's hoping Congress can sober up.
The U.N. High Council on Refugees announced today that the number of Iraqi asylum-seekers more than doubled last year, reversing a five-year decline. But according to one U.S. congressman, these Iraqis are just being selfish. California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher had this to say at a hearing last week on the U.S. obligation to Iraqi refugees:
They're wonderful people who'd like to live here, especially the ones who have helped us, but the last thing we want to do is to have people who are friendly to democracy... moving here in large numbers at a time when they're needed to build a new, thriving Iraq."
What nerve! It's as if they're putting their personal safety and well-being ahead of U.S. foreign-policy goals. Don't they know this is an election year?
(Hat tip: Cato-at-Liberty)
Beginning tomorrow morning, John McCain has to grab the bull by the horns and get serious about his vice presidential pick. I generally think too much hubbub surrounds the whole process. Historically, VP running mates have had little impact on a candidate's performance in November. But given McCain's age and intraparty troubles, the decision could be disproportionately important for him.
It was more or less a foregone conclusion back in 2000 that, had he won the nomination, McCain would have asked Sen. Chuck Hagel to join the ticket. But Barack Obama's staff is now openly floating Hagel, the Republican Party's most prominent Iraq war critic, as a possible running mate for the Illinois senator. So, this time around, Hagel seems an unlikely choice for McCain. Early last month, I argued that the Arizona senator ought to take a long hard look at Newt Gingrich. Other names floating around at the time included Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Ohio Rep. Rob Portman, and Sens. Tom Coburn, Sam Brownback, and Richard Burr, as well as Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. They all remain contenders.
In recent days, Condoleezza Rice's name has been appearing with increasing frequency. But, as Condi herself is prone to reminding people, she's never run for anything and has no desire to do so. Not to mention the fact that she carries with her all of the baggage of the Bush administration and has yet to stake out positions on the economy and the social issues about which conservatives care most.
In a conversation with Reuters, Douglas Brinkley puts Colin Powell's name on the table. Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is reported to be on the shortlist by his home state newspaper. Meanwhile, Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who certainly would have been on McCain's shortlist and is campaigning hard for him, now says she won't accept an invitation to run with McCain and, instead, is considering her own bid for the nomination in 2010.
One person who's getting only a little attention, but perhaps should get more, is Chris Cox. The former California congressman and China hawk is a poster boy for conservatives and currently heads the Securities and Exchange Commission. He would both bring California into play and bring some much needed economic acumen to McCain's camp. That could make things interesting.
The AP's Anne Flaherty takes a look at Barack Obama's Senate record:
When Obama took charge of the European affairs subcommittee in early 2007, he didn't seize the opportunity to scrutinize the Bush administration. With his campaign in full swing, the busy senator did not lead a single policy hearing on any of the hot topics in the panel's jurisdiction: missile defense, counterterrorism and concern over the waning commitment of European countries to NATO.
His approach was in sharp contrast to Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., who relied heavily on his full committee chairmanship to push his foreign policy agenda as an aspiring presidential nominee.
Of course, Joe Biden failed to crack single digits and Obama looks to be cruising toward the nomination. If substantive foreign-policy work were what mattered in winning the presidency, Richard Lugar would have been elected long ago.
The liberal blogosphere is all in a tizzy over John Bolton's endorsement of John McCain, leading some to speculate that the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations would be tapped to serve as secretary of state in a McCain administration.
I doubt it. Is McCain a neocon? Maybe. Maybe not. Supporting the surge does not a neocon make, friends. It's true that since the late 1990s, McCain has increasingly surrounded himself with foreign policy minds sympathetic to the neocon cause, including Bill Kristol, Mark Salter, Daniel McKivergan, Marshall Wittmann, and Randy Scheunemann. His closeness to Kristol, in particular, has been well documented. But McCain casts a wide net. He also seeks advice from Henry Kissingers and Brent Scowcrofts, and occasionally -- gasp -- Democrats, too. And any way you slice it, McCain and Bolton don't exactly see eye to eye.
Here was McCain's answer to a question posed in 2006 by the New Republic's John Judis on a preemptive strike against Iran:
We haven't taken the military option off the table, but we should make it clear that is the very last option, only if we become convinced that they are about to acquire those weapons to use against Israel.... I think that if they are capable with their repeatedly stated intention, that doesn't mean I would go to war even then. That means we have to exhaust every possible option. Going to the United Nations, working with our European allies. If we were going to impose sanctions, I would wait and see whether those sanctions were effective or not. I did not mean it as a declaration of war the day they acquired weapons."
That doesn't exactly sound like John Bolton to me.
It all started with Barack Obama's "Change we can believe in." Hillary Clinton then picked up the theme with "Change you can count on." Now even John McCain, who's been in Congress for more than a quarter of a century, is promising, "Change is coming." It's clear Americans are looking for a change this election -- or at least the candidates think that's where the voters are. But we're a cynical bunch here at Passport, so we've decided to provide you with a list of things you can be sure won't be too different in 2009. Sorry, folks.
1. America's relationship with China: Next time a candidate promises to get tough with Beijing, you may want to remind them of the trillion or so dollars that we owe them.
2. The partisan divide: Politicians have been promising to bridge the divisions in Washington ever since Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton. It's a lot harder than it looks.
3. Dependence on foreign oil: Promising energy independence is the easiest way for a candidate to seem both environmentally responsible and security-conscious. In the real world, unfortunately, it's not happening any time soon.
4. The decline in manufacturing jobs: All the pandering in the world can't reverse the march of history.
5. The flow of illegal drugs: This has been a perennial empty promise since Nixon launched the "War on Drugs" in 1971. Obama has hinted that he might be open to liberalizing marijuana laws, but it seems doubtful that he would devote much political capital to it.
6. Military spending: By one analyst's estimate, the U.S. military budget has reached a staggering $713.1 billion. Yet, for all the talk of fiscal responsibility and soft power, no president will risk appearing soft on defense by proposing even minor budget cuts.
7. The influence of lobbyists: Lobbying reform only faces one minor stumbling block: the U.S. Congress. The much-maligned "special interests" are very creative, and they're here to stay.
8. U.S. support for Israel: Despite the dire warnings that may be clogging up your in box, the United States will remain Israel's staunchest ally.
9. Ethanol subsidies: Despite mounting evidence of the damage corn-based ethanol does to the environment as well as economies great and small, this monumentally dumb subsidy is probably safe as long as candidates need to fight for votes in Iowa. Former subsidy opponents McCain and Clinton have both learned to stop worrying and love biofuels during this election.
10. The primary system: Sure, the early primaries give a handful of white, rural voters disproportionate influence over the election and state caucuses make Tammany Hall look like a golden age of democratic participation, but they're an entrenched part of party politics at this point and it's not wise to mess with them. Just ask the Democrats in Michigan or Florida.
California Rep. Tom Lantos, who recently had to step down from his duties, has died at the age of 80. Up until his retirement, Lantos was one of the hardest-working members of Congress. He was always right in the thick of the foreign-policy debate in his capacity as chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. A Holocaust survivor, Lantos was one of Congress's most-outspoken advocates of human rights. Even as he harshly condemned the behavior of countries like Iran, he remained in favor of hard-nosed negotiations with the national interest in mind.
I interviewed Lantos back in March for FP and found him very gracious and engaging -- a doting grandfather and a faithful public servant. He'll be missed.
In this morning's Wall Street Journal, former Pennsylvania Rep. Pat Toomey floats the names of five potential running mates for John McCain: South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, and billionaire publisher Steve Forbes. The most viable name here is Sanford. He's a youthful fiscal conservative who could help McCain in the south.
Over at the Campaign Standard, Stephen Hayes and Fred Barnes add the names of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Ohio Representative Rob Portman, and Sens. Tom Coburn, Sam Brownback, and Richard Burr. These guys are all too obscure. McCain will need someone who is trusted, like Florida Governor Charlie Crist, and ready on Day One, as Hillary would say.
Perhaps even more improbable, all of these names assume that McCain is now magically going to suck up to bedrock conservatives after a 20-plus-year congressional career defined by upsetting them. I know it's hard to swallow, friends, but the Karl Rove era of politics died along with Mitt Romney's presidential bid. I don't care how much chatter there is about McCain needing to "reconcile" with the GOP base. Anyone who has watched McCain during the course of his political career will tell you that he's not big on, shall we say, accommodation.
One guy who's bound to get a look is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who's got a perfect blend of maverick and conservative credentials. Why would Gingrich do it, when he clearly has differences with McCain? Because he's a party warrior. "I clearly have disagreements, particularly with Sen. McCain on key issues such as amnesty for illegal immigrants or tax cuts or what I thought was a censorship law that was unconstitutional, McCain-Feingold. But if I had to look at the record of Sen. McCain over his career, compared to the record of Sen. Obama or Sen. Clinton, he is vastly better for America's future than either of those two candidates," Gingrich told Human Events a few days ago.
Why would McCain pick Gingrich? The war in Iraq, for starters. It may not be at the forefront of voters' minds, if we are to believe the exits, but it still matters. Two thirds of Americans say they are against the war, no matter how well the surge is doing. McCain can straight-talk all he wants, but you don't get elected by telling two thirds of the country that they are dumb and ignorant. So he needs someone who can reach out on the Iraq issue. Gingrich can do that, because he's already been outspoken about the leadership failures in Iraq—and get away with it, because many in the party still harbor a touch of nostalgia for his role in taking back the House in 1994. Oh yeah, and as a former rep from Georgia, he's got southern ties.
Of course, Gingrich would be a controversial choice. But that's McCain's style. And just to rile up the naysayers even more, here are some other provocative names who I think will almost certainly get a look: Sens. Lindsay Graham and Chuck Hagel. And you can bet your bottom dollar the McCain folks are drawing up a list of every woman and African American in the party...
Last week, Australia's government announced that it will formally apologize for its decades-long practice of stealing Aboriginal children and giving them to white families to raise. The practice, intented to destroy "Aboriginality" and force racial assimilation, was official government policy from 1915 to 1969. During these years, many children were raised in poor conditions in institutions, received little to no education, and suffered abuse at the hands of caretakers. Apologizing for it is an admirable step by the new Australian administration to move forward from a dark past. Australia aside, though, there has been a real lack of sincerity on the international apology front lately.
Over the past year, some in the U.S. Congress have attempted to force apologies from other nations on two occasions. First, the House of Representatives passed a resolution urging Japan to apologize for forcing thousands of women into sex-slavery during WWII. More recently, the House attempted a vote condemning Turkey for its treatment of Armenians at the beginning of the 20th century. And while I by no means wish to diminish these atrocities, I wonder: Would an apology elicited under pressure really contribute to the healing process?
Consider the case of Iraq. This past Sunday, controversial legislation to reintegrate former Baathists back into Iraqi government became law. It was one of the key "benchmarks" the U.S. Congress has been using to judge the Iraqis' progress. As Feisel al-Istrabadi, Iraq's former deputy ambassador to the U.N., pointed out in a recent Seven Questions interview, de-Baathification had gone horribly awry. The question, though, is not whether reconciliation is warranted, but whether it is real and sustainable given how the bill came about—under U.S. pressure. Can reconciliation be treated like just another benchmark? Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a top Sunni leader and influential member of the Presidential Council, certainly doesn't think so.
There's a certain amount of comfort in hearing a president declare, in the opening lines of the State of the Union address, that the state of our union is strong. Last night, for the second year in a row, George W. Bush did not do that. He tucked the line away at the end of his remarks. Every year between 2002 and 2006, that line was up front. Last year, 2007, it made the last paragraph. And last night, the line was left for the penultimate sentence. Are we left to assume America is growing weaker?
2002, third sentence:
[T]he state of our Union has never been stronger."
2003, seventh sentence:
...our union is strong."
2004, 12th sentence:
...the state of our union is confident and strong."
2005, fifth sentence:
...the state of our union is confident and strong."
2006, ninth sentence:
Tonight the state of our Union is strong...."
2007, last paragraph
...because the State of our Union is strong."
2008, penultimate sentence:
...and the state of our Union will remain strong."
The Hill's Alexander Bolton was watching Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton closely during last night's State of the Union address. Here's what he discovered:
When Bush proclaimed, "Ladies and gentlemen, some may deny the surge is working, but among terrorists there is no doubt," Clinton sprang to her feet in applause but Obama remained firmly seated. The president's line divided most of the Democratic audience, with nearly half standing to applaud and the other half sitting in stony silence.
In one instance Clinton appeared to gauge Obama's response before showing her own.
When Bush warned the Iranian government that "America will confront those who threaten our troops, we will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf" Obama jumped up to applaud. Clinton leaned across Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), seated to her left, to look in Obama's direction before slowly standing.
I'm not sure how much we can use such moments to predict how either candidate might behave in the Oval Office. But it is revealing to see how Hillary and Barack are trying to position themselves.
There has been a lot of bloviating about how the economy now trumps national security as the issue most voters are concerned about. But John McCain, for one, isn't buying it. Here's McCain yesterday chatting with Meet the Press host Tim Russert:
Matt May/Getty Images for Meet the Press
MR. RUSSERT: Rush Limbaugh, one of the leading voices in the conservative movement, said this the other day, 'I'm here to tell you, if either of these two guys, Mike Huckabee or John McCain, get the nomination, it's going to destroy the Republican Party. It's going to change it forever, be the end of it. A lot of people aren't going to vote. You watch.'
SEN. McCAIN: Well, all I can say is that I'm proud of winning Republican votes in New Hampshire and South Carolina, I know that there's a broad base of our party. I am a proud conservative. I think that when a lot of Americans, a lot of Republicans review my credentials, they'll vote for me. But also, I believe that most Republicans' first priority is the threat of radical Islamic extremism. Now, I know the concerns about the economy...
MR. RUSSERT: More than the economy?
SEN. McCAIN: More than the economy at the end of the day. We'll get through this economy. We're going to restore our economy, and many of the measures we're taking right now--although it's very difficult now. This transcendent challenge of radical Islamic extremism will be with us for the 21st century. We are in two wars. We're in two wars. We have young Americans sacrificing as we speak. I'm most qualified to be commander in chief with the knowledge, the experience, the background and the judgment. And part of that judgment, I was the only one that's running that said Rumsfeld's strategy failed, we got to do the Petraeus strategy."
Tomorrow, Jan. 23, the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing on the future of U.S. embassies overseas entitled, "Fortress America Abroad: Effective Diplomacy and the Future of U.S. Embassies."
Testifying at the hearing will be Jane C. Loeffler, author of the article "Fortress America" in FP's September/October 2007 issue. Jane is without question the world's foremost expert on the cultural and diplomatic impacts of U.S. embassy design and construction overseas. Her FP article, which we are making free this week for non-subscribers, looks at what the billion-dollar compound the United States is building on the banks of the Tigris tells us about America's global outlook. More broadly, she also describes how the architecture of U.S. diplomatic facilities has changed since the bombing of the American missions in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
Much of the hearing will likely focus on the new embassy in Baghdad. But it also promises to look into why the design of U.S. missions around the world has undergone such a radical transformation—not just in Baghdad but in Cape Town, Dushanbe, Kabul, and elsewhere. The boldly individual designs of embassies during the Cold War have given way to cookie-cutter buildings that follow a set formula the State Department calls "Standard Embassy Design." This has a massive impact on the way the United States is seen overseas, yet it has provoked surprisingly little serious discussion until now. We're thrilled that Chairman John Tierney's subcommittee has decided to take a closer look. Other witnesses at the hearing include: Amb. Thomas R. Pickering, former undersecretary of state; Amb. Marc Grossman, former director general of the foreign service; and John Naland, president of the American Foreign Service Association.
The hearing will be held tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. in Room 2154 of the Rayburn House Office Building. We encourage Passport readers to attend, whether in person or via the committee's Webcast.
Greg Mankiw catches Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) confusing Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke with Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson during yesterday's House Budget Committee hearing:
I'm in New Hampshire covering campaign events this weekend. Later tonight, I'll be blogging from both the Republican and Democratic presidential debates in Manchester.
This morning, at rallies for both Barack Obama and John McCain, three factors in the 2008 race became evident to me. The first is that the media (and campaign staff/volunteer) presence in New Hampshire this year may be the largest in several cycles. Standing outside a McCain rally in the small mountain hamlet of Peterborough, CNN political analyst Jeff Greenfield noted that, while New Hampshirites are used to a three-ring circus in the days leading up to their first in the nation primary, this year it appears to be an eight-ring circus. The media scrum at McCain's event, pictured here, shows just how intense the media swarm is.
At a morning rally for Obama at North High School in Nashua, it was also clear that Republicans have much to fear in 2008. The McCain rally in Peterborough drew about 600 people, admittedly about one-tenth of the town's population, but most appeared to be grey-haired veterans and their spouses. Obama's rally in Nashua, on the other hand, drew 3,000 people, nearly all of whom were middle aged or young, and about half of whom declared themselves to be undecided voters when Obama asked them to raise their hands, as he often does at the beginning of his stump speeches. The line of cars to get into the Obama event easily stretched a mile. His staff was forced to delay the start of the rally by nearly an hour, as they filed hundreds of voters who stood waiting in the cold into a second overflow gymnasium. It was a testament to both Obama's surging popularity and to his campaign's ability to generate turnout.
Lastly, it is clear that, while issues such as healthcare and the economy are important to voters in the Granite State, the war in Iraq continues to draw the most powerful response from voters. Obama drew his largest applause of the morning when he promised the crowd in Nashua that, "I will bring our troops home in 16 months." Likewise, McCain drew a thunderous response when he spoke of the war on terror and invoked his own experience in Vietnam. There's just no indication here in New Hampshire that the war in Iraq has become a sideline issue.
Tonight's debates promise to be a high-stakes romp. Stay tuned...
Reducing dependence on foreign sources of energy is a stated policy goal of the United States. You might think, therefore, that the United States would be eager to take part in an international research effort to harness the energy released by fusion reactions like those that occur in the Sun. But you'd be wrong. Congress just cut the U.S. contribution to the $12 billion International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project, a collaboration between the European Union, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Russia.
In theory, fusion technology has the ability to provide massive amounts of energy with less radioactive waste and little pollution. Sounds good, right? Of course, the technology is very experimental and rife with such minor problems as, oh, how to heat atomic nuclei to the 100 million degrees required in a fusion reaction and still generate more energy than was used in the process. It may sound like something from Star Trek, but the rewards that could be gained by investing in such technology are astonishing. The United States might someday be able to retire older nuclear fission plants, reduce coal power emissions, and maybe even end imports of oil from unstable regions of the world.
Too bad the U.S. Congress doesn't feel the same way. Along with slashing technology budgets in other areas of crucial R&D research, Congress couldn't be bothered with funding a $149 million commitment to the ITER project for the upcoming year. The 2008 energy and water bill does provide funding for alternative technologies such as solar power ($200 million), ethanol ($250 million) and hydrogen-cell cars ($235.4 million). Fossil fuels managed to grab the biggest piece of the "alternative energy" pie with $708.8 million in funding.
With all the gains that might someday be realized by fusion technology for such a small investment, it makes you wonder where the United States' priorities really lie.
Remember how the State Department has been forced to freeze hiring for 10 percent of its positions around the world? With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and little support from Congress, the United States' beleaguered diplomatic corps is increasingly forced to "do less with less."
But State's staffing woes are deeper and date back further than the current administration, Mark Johnson, a veteran foreign-service officer, argues in the latest edition of the Foreign Service Journal. Rather than creating the shortage of manpower, Johnson says, Iraq and Afghanistan merely made an already bad situation worse.
And he's got reams of data to back up his argument:
Johnson doesn't forsee any changes on this front. As he notes, "Political realities make increasing the numbers of the Foreign Service in the near term highly unlikely." So what's to be done? Johnson recommends a few bureaucratic fixes, such as outsourcing more clerical functions and reducing useless paperwork, but the bottom line is that, "in more and more arenas, the Foreign Service does not have the staff to even show up." For the richest, most powerful nation on Earth, that's pretty sad.
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