The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article this morning about the state of the Doha round of trade talks, which, as you know, have stalled after hitting various roadblocks. Secretary Paulson is doing his part to gain support for the talks, setting some time aside during his globetrotting to stress its importance. As the article points out, time is a factor:
The administration is banking that all the political maneuvering will help inject some momentum back into the talks by the spring. The goal isn't necessarily to finish a deal then, but to show enough progress to persuade skeptics in Congress to extend the president's trade-negotiating authority beyond June, when it is set to expire.
While the new Congress is going to be a bit more skeptical of free trade, Doha appears to still be the focus of many in the administration. During an address to the Chamber of Commerce, Trade Representative Susan Schwab said: "We cannot let a strong, potential Doha deal slip through our fingers." The WSJ goes further, highlighting what's at stake:
Whether the Bush administration is able to restart the Doha talks could serve as a measure of the muscle behind critics of free trade in the U.S. And if the impasse on Doha becomes permanent, it could herald the closing of the era of global economic integration that began after World War II.
Sen. Barack Obama visited New Hampshire this past weekend to promote his book, The Audacity of Hope, and to participate in the state Democratic Party's commemoration of the 2006 midterm election. A lot of buzz preceded the visit, including an article comparing the Senator to Bobby Kennedy; and a lot of buzz came during and after the visit, beckoning a joke from NH Governor John Lynch about how Senator Obama was chosen to adress the State Party: "We originally scheduled the Rolling Stones. But then we canceled them when we realized Sen. Obama would sell more tickets."
While many felt the Senator's appearance was simply inspirational and were energized about his appearance, some in the audience admitted that they want to hear more substance from him in days to come. Of course, Sen. Obama recognized the nature of this and responded:
"If I decide to run, these people will know me pretty well," Obama said. "They'll have a good sense of whether I'm qualified to serve or not. . . . One of the values of retail politics is that, by the end of the process, they know where you stand and have a sense of who you are."
Though, in true Obama form, his presence alone is changing the way the folks of New Hampshire approach presidential candidates. At least to Steve Gordon who said: “He will [go into voters' living rooms to answer questions], but he doesn’t have to. He’s not going to have the desperate need to go into people’s homes to pitch himself.”
Welcome to Obama Land.
Note: I'll post Senator Obama's speech (video here) from the event as soon as I have it. Until then, check him out introducing Monday Night Football!
Assiduous readers of NDN's blog might have noticed that i'm not posting as much anymore. This is because i've sadly taken myleave of Simon and the gang, and returned to my native United Kingdom. But fans of my poor spelling and curious use of extra vowels should not fear. I still intend to post from time to time, on topics of interest to the ongoing Globalization Initiative, and other things.
Today, i thought people in DC might be interested in this handy Christmas present, from the British online political community to our friends in America. Developed on a whim by some of the people at MySociety.org - the group responsible for turning the UK parliamentary record into a blog - it is a useable blog-style version of Tony Snow's daily briefing.
The White House Says should be pretty useful for anyone who wants to keep up to date with whatever ludicrous excuse for failure the Presidents official spokesman might be putting out today. It also allows you to sign up for e-mail alerts when Snow says anything, or to search for anything he has said - as for instance, this, on the phrase "stay the course." All in all, The Whitehouse Says should be a useful little free tool for DC politicos. Happy Christmas, from your friends across the pond.
Few books have taught me than Vali Nasr's new book, The Shia Revival. It has influenced a great deal of my writing in recent weeks, and is essential reading for those wanting to better understand what is happening in the Middle East today. From its closing chapter:
It is clear today the America cannot take comfort in an imagined future for the Middle East, and cannot force the realization of that future. Such an approach guided the path to war in Iraq and has proven to be unworkable. The lesson of Iraq is that trying to force a future of its liking will hasten the advent of those outcomes that the United States most wishes to avoid. Through occupation of Iraq, America has actually made the case for radical Islam – that ours is a war on Islam – encouraging anti-Americanism and fueling extremism and terrorism. The reality that will shape the future of the Middle East is not the debates over democracy or globalization that the Iraq war was supposed to have jump-started but the conflicts between Shias and Sunnis that it precipitated. In time we will come to see this as a central legacy of the Iraq war.
You can buy it now on Amazon or at your local book store, and is a very strong complement to the new Iraq Study Group report. It can be a little dense at times, but it is well worth the effort.
People often get stuck when they try to contemplate how we can solve an array of intractable 21st century problems, like climate change. The problems are often very different from the 20th century problems, and the solutions have not yet permeated our politics. However, in fields outside of politics, there are many great emerging ideas about how to solve these problems. I’m going to talk more about these in coming weeks.
For now I want to point out a very interesting video that lays out a positive scenario about how the United States and the world can tackle climate change. It was created by an innovative firm called Free Range, which does great work using animation to help move social and political issues. In this case, they created a mini documentary from 2050 that looks back on how the world solved this most difficult of problems. It’s a very effective use of how to use scenarios to get people to see alterative ways forward. Plus it’s just an enjoyable and heartening thing to watch. We could do this.
The Washington Post reports on the deliberations inside the White House, and says the President will offer his new plan for Iraq and the Middle East the week of December 18th:
As pressure mounts for a change of course in Iraq, the Bush administration is groping for a viable new strategy for the president to unveil by Christmas, with deliberations now focused on three main options to redefine the U.S. military and political engagement, according to officials familiar with the debate.
The major alternatives include a short-term surge of 15,000 to 30,000 additional U.S. troops to secure Baghdad and accelerate the training of Iraqi forces. Another strategy would redirect the U.S. military away from the internal strife to focus mainly on hunting terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda. And the third would concentrate political attention on supporting the majority Shiites and abandon U.S. efforts to reach out to Sunni insurgents.
As President Bush and his advisers rush to complete their crash review and craft a new formula in the next two weeks, some close to the process said the major goal seems to be to stake out alternatives to the plan presented this week by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. The White House denied trying to brush off the study group's report and said those recommendations are being considered alongside internal reviews.
But the growing undercurrent of discussions within the administration is shifting responsibility for Iraq's problems to Iraqis. Sources familiar with the deliberations describe fatigue, frustration and a growing desire to disengage from Iraq. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the deliberations.
On the political front, the administration is focusing increasingly on variations of a "Shiite tilt," sometimes called an "80 percent solution," that would bolster the political center of Iraq and effectively leave in charge the Shiite and Kurdish parties that account for 80 percent of Iraq's 26 million people and that won elections a year ago.
Vice President Cheney's office has most vigorously argued for the "80 percent solution," in terms of both realities on the ground and the history of U.S. engagement with the Shiites, sources say. A source familiar with the discussions said Cheney argued this week that the United States could not again be seen to abandon the Shiites, Iraq's largest population group, after calling in 1991 for them to rise up against then-President Saddam Hussein and then failing to support them when they did. Thousands were killed in a huge crackdown.
The Times reports that progress has been made on a deal that would share the oil revenues of the country, an essential part of any strategy that hopes to restore stability to the region.
My quick take on the Post story is that the Administration still seems remarkably focused on military solutions to our challenges in the Middle East. As we've written here, a great deal of what is now emerging in the Middle East needs diplomatic imagination and a new vision for how all the pieces are going to fit together. For example, the "Shiite tilt" floated above will of course end up strengthening the region's Shiites, including the Iranians and Hezbollah. How does that strategy jibe with our desire to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, and bringing stability back to the region? In a recent Post op-ed, a Saudi advisor made it clear that if the US embarked on a "Shiite tilt," it could end up bringing about a regional Sunni-Shiite war.
Where is State? Where is Condi in all this? Is the dismissal of regional talks and diplomacy an ideological decision, or one that pragmatically assumes this Administration does not have the credibility or talent to bring about diplomatic progress? As we evaluate the emerging options from the White House, the prism must be - will it bring stability to the region? And do more than just lessen our domestic political exposure to a worsening situation on the ground in Iraq.
The Iraq Study Group's Report has fueled a critical national conversation about our government's strategy for the Middle East and Iraq. The Bush Administration's approach, despite hundreds of billions spent, ten of thousands of American casualties, and a great loss of our prestige, has left the Middle East much more dangerous and unstable than we found it. In the next few months we must settle on a new approach that responds to the gravity of the situation there today, as described by the ISG in its executive summary:
The challenges in Iraq are complex. Violence is increasing in scope and lethality. It is fed by a Sunni Arab insurgency, Shiite militias and death squads, al Qaeda, and widespread criminality. Sectarian conflict is the principal challenge to stability. The Iraqi people have a democratically elected government, yet it is not adequately advancing national reconciliation, providing basic security, or delivering essential services. Pessimism is pervasive.
If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences could be severe. A slide toward chaos could trigger the collapse of Iraq’s government and a humanitarian catastrophe. Neighboring countries could intervene. Sunni-Shia clashes could spread. Al Qaeda could win a propaganda victory and expand its base of operations. The global standing of the United States could be diminished. Americans could become more polarized. (add - Iran could become a nuclear power, the Lebanese government could fall, a regional Sunni-Shiite war could break out, oil could soar to unprecedented levels).
As was widely reported (Times, Post), yesterday Bush threw more cold water the Report, and said he was coming up with a new strategy of his own. We should welcome the President's change of heart, and his recognition that his current Middle Eastern strategy has failed. But if he has rejected the two central premises of the ISG Report, two relatively simple steps, then we need to hold his new proposal to the highest standard - how it is proposing to restore stability to what has become the most troubled region of the world? How is it dealing with this reality of the Middle East as expressed in these two paragraphs above?
As I wrote yesterday, I have very little faith that this Administration has the capacity to imagine a different and better path forward. Their simplistic foreign policy vision seems very ill-equipped to deal with the complexities in front of them (like the rise of the Shiites); Rice has been greatly diminished; and her most important advisory positions are vacant. The Times' David Sanger has a must-read piece on the ideological battle underlying the Report's conclusions, and captured here:
“They start from completely different places,” said Dennis Ross, the Middle East negotiator who worked for Mr. Baker years ago and left the State Department early in the Bush administration. “Baker approaches everything with a negotiator’s mindset. That doesn’t mean every negotiation leads to a deal, but you engage your adversaries and use your leverage to change their behavior. This administration has never had a negotiator’s mind-set. It divides the world into friends and foes, and the foes are incorrigible and not redeemable. There has been more of an instinct toward regime change than to changing regime behavior.”
So the test for the President in these next few weeks is to show that he understands the gravity of the situation in the Middle East, recognizes that our strategy isn't working, and offers a new strategy, grounded in a new diplomatic approach, that works to restore stability in what has become the most troubled and dangerous region in the world today.
The New Politics Insitute (NPI) held a great event this week here in Washington, DC. Experts from the political, tech and media worlds were there to talk about the rapid changes in technology and strategy that are transforming progressive poltics.
Simon just sent this out. If you know of any good candidates (or if you're one yourself!), please let us know.
It's not unusual for us to write asking for your help. We ask you to come to the events NDN hosts in Washington, DC and around the country, to support the advocacy work NDN does and to spread our ideas and publications through your networks. But what we're asking for today is different. Today, we need your help to find the next generation of young, progressive leaders to come work as interns in our Washington, DC office.
College-age interns who participate in our part-time internship program this spring will get a chance to work directly with NDN staff on major initiatives, including the Hispanic Strategy Center, New Politics Institute, Globalization Initiative, and other NDN advocacy work. More importantly, they'll get hands on experience in progressive politics, government and working in a professional environment.
Past NDN interns have gone on to make important contributions both inside and out of progressive politics, and I'm very proud of the close relationships we still have with many of them.
Thank you for all you do and I hope you'll pass this email onto any young person you know who would benefit from the unique combination of opportunity and responsibility that defines the NDN internship program.
Learn more about NDN's internship program To apply, e-mail your resume, cover letter, and a brief writing sample to firstname.lastname@example.org
A few hours ago, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson delivered a speech at Georgetown University on Immigration Reform and Border Control. Citing his achievements as Governor, as well as outlining the steps he feels should be taken, the Governor's opinions often reflected those of NDN. Enjoy the pics.