This statement, from Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning, is priceless:
Instead of celebrating the Fourth of July next year Americans will be celebrating Bastille Day; the free market for all intents and purposes is dead in America... The action proposed today by the Treasury Department will take away the free market and institute socialism in America. The American taxpayer has been mislead throughout this economic crisis. The government on all fronts has failed the American people miserably."
Despite the usual comments about the need to keep comments short, the senators are still bloviating. Meanwhile, the first pictures of Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke are now dribbling in. Do these look like men who are happy to be sitting in front of the Senate Banking Committee this morning?
Just released: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's testimony before the Senate Banking Committee:
Despite the efforts of the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, and other agencies, global financial markets remain under extraordinary stress. Action by the Congress is urgently required to stabilize the situation and avert what otherwise could be very serious consequences for our financial markets and for our economy. In this regard, the Federal Reserve supports the Treasury's proposal to buy illiquid assets from financial institutions. Purchasing impaired assets will create liquidity and promote price discovery in the markets for these assets, while reducing investor uncertainty about the current value and prospects of financial institutions. More generally, removing these assets from institutions' balance sheets will help to restore confidence in our financial markets and enable banks and other institutions to raise capital and to expand credit to support economic growth.
Pretty mild stuff, given the stakes. I wonder what he told the congressmen in private last week that had them so terrified?
UPDATE: You can watch the hearing here at 9:30 a.m. ET.
... here's Paulson's testimony.
I see now that Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd has come forward with his own proposal for fixing the U.S. financial system. Dodd, who chairs the Senate Banking Committee, is calling for more oversight of the Treasury Department, limits on executive pay (a red herring), and for the government to be able to get equity stakes in companies that take the bailout (potentially a good idea, but also a can of worms).
You'd have to think that even President George W. Bush and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who sent Congress a bare-bones bill with zero oversight provisions, had to see this coming. In fact, I think they want Democrats to take this legislation and run with it. Why? Because once the Democrats put their stamp on the bill, they'll no longer be able to hang any failure around Bush's neck. It'll be their failure, too.
UPDATE: Republican blogger Patrick Ruffini evidently agrees:
Republican incumbents in close races have the easiest vote of their lives coming up this week: No on the Bush-Pelosi Wall Street bailout.
God Himself couldn't have given rank-and-file Republicans a better opportunity to create political space between themselves and the Administration. That's why I want to see 40 Republican No votes in the Senate, and 150+ in the House. If a bailout is to pass, let it be with Democratic votes. Let this be the political establishment (Bush Republicans in the White House + Democrats in Congress) saddling the taxpayers with hundreds of billions in debt (more than the Iraq War, conjured up in a single weekend, and enabled by Pelosi, btw), while principled Republicans say "No" and go to the country with a stinging indictment of the majority in Congress.
As I noted yesterday, the McCain campaign has been dinging Barack Obama for proposing a slowdown in funds for Future Combat Systems, the Army's $200 billion modernization program.
Well, the indefatigable Noah Shachtman has kept digging, and he's found a doozy. John McCain's top economic advisor, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, submitted a budget plan to the Washington Post's editorial board in July. In it, the McCain campaign says it will eliminate -- not slow -- FCS entirely:
Balance the budget requires slowing outlay growth to 2.4 percent. The roughly $470 billion dollars (by 2013) in slower spending growth come from reduced deployments abroad ($150 billion; consistent with success in Iraq/Afghanistan that permits deployments to be cut by half -- hopefully more), slower discretionary spending in non-defense and Pentagon procurements ($160 billion; there are lots of procurements -- airborne laser, Globemaster, Future Combat System -- that should be ended and the entire Pentagon budget should be scrubbed).
Whoops. Shactman comments:
McCain aides are privately furious about the contradiction, I'm hearing. But there's been no official comment, so far, about the mix-up.
I think Joe Biden is a smart choice for Barack Obama. With nearly 36 years in Washington and much of it atop the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Delaware senator's got decades of knowledge about how the U.S. national-security apparatus works and a clear-eyed, unromantic view of America's role in the world.
This experience has made Biden nothing if not extremely confident in his views, which makes him well suited to play the role of Democratic attack dog on foreign policy.
One of his favorite tactics is ridicule: Everyone remembers him saying that a Rudy Giuliani sentence has only three words: "a noun, a verb, and 9/11" during the primary season. But Biden's a pretty serious guy, too. He believes Democrats, who usually poll below Republicans on national security, shouldn't "play defense on foreign affairs," and he leads by example in his frequent op-eds and appearances on the Sunday talk shows.
Watch him take on President Bush here on Meet the Press:
The big rap on Biden, of course, is that he's gaffe-prone and likes to talk, and that's certainly true. Dana Milbank had some fun with the prolix Delaware senator after his questioning of Bush Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr.:
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), in his first 12 minutes of questioning the nominee, managed to get off only one question. Instead, during his 30-minute round of questioning, Biden spoke about his own Irish American roots, his "Grandfather Finnegan," his son's application to Princeton (he attended the University of Pennsylvania instead, Biden said), a speech the senator gave on the Princeton campus, the fact that Biden is "not a Princeton fan," and his views on the eyeglasses of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
Biden's got a good sense of humor about it, though: Watch him eat humble pie on the Daily Show just after he called Barack Obama "the first mainstream African-American... who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." Asked during one of the Democratic debates if he thought he could control himself as president, he simply said, "Yes."
But as much as he likes to talk, Biden's actually a pretty nuanced foreign-policy thinker. He doesn't have strong ideological views, so he's hard to pigeonhole. Looking over his statements and policies over the years, I'd say he hews to a pragmatic form of liberal internationalism backed by American power. I think he takes his responsibilities very seriously.
He uses the term "national interests" frequently, but he's not quite a Scowcroftian realist -- as his push for action in the Balkans and Sudan demonstrates. Nor is he quite a "liberal hawk," either. He has little patience for sweeping rhetoric about how the United States is bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq, and he doesn't (unlike certain other Democratic senators who were passed over for veep) default to the hawkish position on national security just for the sake of sounding "tough". He believes that some situations call for toughness (Sudan) while others call for engagement (Iran). He understands both the need for and the limits of multilateral institutions, and he doesn't see multilateralism as an end in itself, unlike some in his party.
That said, Biden doesn't bat 100 percent. He went ahead and supported the Iraq war despite warning that President Bush was underestimating the risks (he now says he didn't realize Bush would be so incompetent and that he thought Saddam could be deposed by other means). He called the surge "a tragic mistake" in February 2007 while John McCain has backing it wholeheartedly.
But he has gotten lots of other issues right, in my view: He has been calling for years for more resources in Afghanistan, for a more coherent U.S. relationship with Russia, for engagement with Iran, for a broader U.S. strategy toward Pakistan, and so on.
How much influence will Biden have on Obama's foreign-policy views? We'll have to see. But I imagine it will be considerable. Biden doesn't seem like the kind of guy who will simply stick to the talking points he's handed. Should be fun to watch.
President George W. Bush once called for the doubling of the Peace Corps. Barack Obama did too. Economic reality, however, may have the last word, as the declining dollar and rising energy and commodity costs have left the organization facing a budget shortfall:
Those factors "have materially reduced our available resources and spending power," Peace Corps Director Ronald A. Tschetter wrote in a July 22 letter to Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the program. "Tough budgetary decisions must be made now in order to ensure a financially healthy agency next fiscal year," he added.
Congress may still come to the rescue, but that may not necessarily be a good thing. FP readers will recall Robert L. Strauss's "Think Again: The Peace Corps" from April, where the former Peace Corps country director wrote that the Corps has "never lived up to its purpose or principles."
One of Strauss's solutions is for the Peace Corps to "concentrate its resources in a limited number of countries that are truly interested in the development of their people." Paring down the budget, therefore, may help the organization in the long run if the right calls are made.
With the space shuttle set to retire in 2010, and its replacement not ready until 2015, the United States had been planning on hitchhiking to the International Space Station for a few years. That may be a bit of a problem now, as the one country with the ability to transport to and from the station turns out to be -- you guessed it -- Russia.
Beyond the rising rhetorical showdown between the two sides, there's also a legal roadblock that may prevent further space cooperation with Russia. The United States needs to negotiate a new contract with the Russian space program, which may be difficult because Congress must first pass a waiver to a 2000 law banning government contracts with states who supported nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran. That includes -- you guessed it -- Russia.
In an election year with an increasingly bellicose Moscow, that's "almost impossible," says Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a supporter of the waiver who admits America is stuck between a rock and a hard place:
It is a lose-lose situation," Nelson said.
"If our relationship with Russia is strained, who knows if Russia will give us rides in the future?" Nelson asked. "Or if they give us rides, will they charge such an exorbitant price that it becomes blackmail?"
Still, who knows what relations with Russia will be like in 2010? Even if the Cold War is truly back, that doesn't necessarily spell the end of U.S.-Soviet -- er, Russian -- space cooperation. A lot could change in the next few years.
Today, in his final term, the wildly unpopular President George W. Bush boarded Air Force One bound for the Beijing Olympics and a meeting with his chum Hu Jintao, the dapper ruler of a nuclear armed, communist dictatorship. ... Perhaps our Compassionate Conservative-in-Chief will bring our absent Democrat Congress some 'Made in (communist) China' souvenir t-shirts: 'Bush went to Beijing and all I got was this lousy five week, paid vacation.' "
McCotter wants President Bush to call Congress back from its August recess to vote to expand offshore drilling. Na ga ha pen. As the White House explained, there's no way the House Democrats would allow a vote anyway. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is hoping to run out the clock and get an energy bill more to her liking next year. The GOP obviously senses a political winner, never mind the dubious case for more drilling. But Pelosi's got the gavel.
Walter Pincus reports today on a surprisingly large allocation of U.S. federal funds for cyber security:
A highly classified, multiyear, multibillion-dollar project, CNCI -- or "Cyber Initiative" -- is designed to develop a plan to secure government computer systems against foreign and domestic intruders and prepare for future threats. Any initial plan can later be expanded to cover sensitive civilian systems to protect financial, commercial and other vital infrastructure data."
The cyber security issue is a tricky one. For lack of a better option, the job of protecting government computer systems has fallen to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), although the Air Force is an active player. The Navy and the Army also have their own programs.
I called James Lewis, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, to get some insight. He told me that the White House was becoming concerned because "DHS hasn't really done anything" on the issue of cyber security. "Some of it's internal squabbling" he says, "but they just can't seem to get their act together. You hear [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates and [Director of National Intelligence Mike] McConnell talking about it, but you never hear anything from [DHS Secrtary Michael] Chertoff."
So far, CNCI has been criticized for being too secretive, though the initiative is a step forward overall. In fact, it's good news that someone is finally starting to take this seriously. Both presidential candidates have expressed a committment to improving cyber security. Senator Obama has said he will appoint a "national cyber advisor" and will make the issue "the top priority that it should be in the 21st century." Senator McCain has pointed to a need to "invest far more in the federal task of cyber security" in order to protect strategic interests at home.
Knowing just who is supposed to be in charge of cyber security would be a good start. As Lewis points out, "It's not something you can do on an ad hoc basis like we've been doing for the past several years," adding, "We need to be better organized and better at assigning responsibilities."
Any day now, Barack Obama will make his second trip to Iraq and his first visit to Afghanistan, hoping to bolster his foreign-policy credentials and disarm his critics. About time, the McCain campaign says. Others speculate on who Obama ought to see, and what he'll likely be told. But I'm not sure how much it matters. Do trips to war zones really affect lawmakers' perspectives on the conflict?
McCain seems to think so, having suggested that his opponent will change positions on Iraq after meeting with General Petraeus and seeing the surge's success firsthand. But when surveying members of the Senate last summer for The Hill on who has and has not visited Iraq, I noticed that large numbers from both sides of the aisle have made trips, yet many remain steadfast in their support for or opposition to the war. Republicans, for example, often return calling for more time for the troops to secure military gains. Democrats, on the other hand, tend to argue for withdrawal in order to pressure the Iraqi government toward a political solution.
Rep. Jim Marshall noted this tendency in today's Washington Post:
If somebody has been a pessimist about this all along, would their pessimism evaporate? Not necessarily. . . . I'm trying to recall an epiphany," Marshall said. "I can't.
Part of the reason is that most trips are strictly limited to two days, and largely occupied by briefings from military leaders and diplomatic officials. It is often difficult for the junkets to give a true sense of how things are going on the ground, and drawing definite conclusions can backfire politically (recall McCain's embarassing assertion that his heavily guarded trip to a Baghdad market last year was a sign of security and stability).
That said, the trips are still an important piece of the political puzzle. They are more than Sen. Jim Webb's "dog and pony shows" characterization (note that two other would-be Obama veeps, Chuck Hagel and Jack Reed, are accompanying the candidate, not Webb). And while trips alone won't change a candidate's perspective, they can add some much needed credibility to his argument. When Obama returns from his trip and calls anew for withdrawing troops to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan, he'll be able to back it up, having seen things for himself on the ground.
UPDATE: John McCain says Obama will visit Iraq this weekend.
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.
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