NDN Blog

What's the plan Mr President?

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.

NPI Event Recap: The Next Wave of Tools for Progressive Politics 12/5/06

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.

Speakers included:

Tim Chambers on Mobile Media (bio)


Julie Bergman Sender on Viral Video in the post YouTube world (bio)


Will Robinson on the Evolution of Television through Cable, Satellite and TiVo (bio)


Laura Quinn on Data Driven Politics (bio) 


For more information visit the New Politics Institute website and check back often as we'll be putting video from the event on the NPI website.

Help Us Find Interns for the Spring

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 jobs@ndn.org

Gov. Richardson delivers speech on Immigration

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.



If Castro Had a Talk Show, It Might Sound a Bit Like This

The New York Times quotes our very own Joe Garcia, Director of NDN's Hispanic Strategy Center, in an article covering Francisco Arusca, who was once part of Cuba's counterrevolution and was sentenced to 30 years in jail. Some like Joe feel that Arusca uses his pro-Castro radio station, Ayer en Miami, to benefit his travel business, Marazul Tours:

Mr. Aruca was first and foremost “a man who does business with a loathsome regime.” As for his on-air opinions, Mr. Garcia said, “He calls things as he says he sees it and as he benefits from seeing it.”

The ISG Report: A Modest Step Forward

The ISG Report is out.  Read it for yourself here

My quick initial take is that the ISG Report is a modest but important step forward.  It's greatest contribution is that it is going to begin a process where America can come to a new and deeper understanding of what is happening today in Iraq and the Middle East.  As I've been writing these past few weeks, I've been very concerned that the debate happening here in the US has been much more focused on lessening our exposure to trouble in the Middle East, rather than imaging and working towards a way that brings greater stability to a very critical and unstable region of the world, one made much more unstable by our recent actions. 

The Report is appropriately sobering. From the executive summary:

In this report, we make a number of recommendations for actions to be taken in Iraq, the United States, and the region. Our most important recommendations call for new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts in Iraq and the region, and a change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly. We believe that these two recommendations are equally important and reinforce one another. If they are effectively implemented, and if the Iraqi government moves forward with national reconciliation, Iraqis will have an opportunity for a better future, terrorism will be dealt a blow, stability will be enhanced in an important part of the world, and America’s credibility, interests, and values will be protected.

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.

This last paragraph is particularly important.  For what the Report lays out well is how America can lessen its exposure to the chaos in Iraq and the Middle East.  What it does much less persuasively is lay out a plan for how to bring stability back to the region, rollback Al Qaeda's gains and contain Iran's provocative ambitions.  It calls for a major diplomatic effort, but led by who? By a President who doesn't even talk to the Democrats here in America? By a discredited and weakened Condi Rice, who now has three of her most critical staff positions unfilled, including UN Ambassador?

This part of the Report is more prayer than policy.  It is interesting to note the response from Iraq:

BAGHDAD, Dec. 6 -- The Iraq Study Group's prescriptions hinge on a fragile Iraqi government's ability to achieve national reconciliation and security at a time when the country is fractured along sectarian lines, its security forces are ineffective and competing visions threaten to collapse the state, Iraqi politicians and analysts said Wednesday.

They said the report is a recipe, backed by threats and disincentives, that neither addresses nor understands the complex forces that fuel Iraq's woes. They described it as a strategy largely to help U.S. troops return home and resurrect America's frayed influence in the Middle East.

Iraqis also expressed fear that the report's recommendations, if implemented, could weaken an already besieged government in a country teetering on the edge of civil war.

"It is a report to solve American problems, and not to solve Iraq's problems," said Ayad al-Sammarai, an influential Sunni Muslim politician.

The report arrives at a time of turmoil within the Iraqi government. Senior politicians from Iraq's two major sects, Sunnis and Shiites, have been assassinated or kidnapped in recent weeks. Entire ministries are under the control of sect-based political parties with their own militias.

Three weeks ago, as many as 150 employees were abducted from the Higher Education Ministry, run by a Sunni, by men in police uniforms who said they were from the Interior Ministry, which is controlled by Shiites. And last week, powerful politicians loyal to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr walked out of the government, and have yet to return.

U.S. diplomats have been urging Iraq's government to engage in a process of national reconciliation aimed at giving Sunnis a greater role, but the Shiite-led administration has been largely unwilling to do so. It is unclear whether increased pressure, as called for by the group led by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former representative Lee H. Hamilton, will result in Shiite leaders moving forward with a new power-sharing agreement.

The mistrust and divisions within the weak unity government are so deep that it is not certain whether the study group's recommendations -- such as using outside powers to exert diplomatic pressure and building a well-trained Iraqi army -- can be effective, or might instead deepen the political and sectarian rifts.

"The main obstacle and challenge is the current government," said Wamidh Nadhmi, a political analyst in Baghdad. "The Baker-Hamilton report is insisting on national reconciliation. This has not been done, only in government propaganda."

For months, the Bush administration has pressured the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to take steps toward bringing the warring groups together and tackle Iraq's violent militias and corruption. But the Iraq Study Group recommends withdrawing U.S. support if the Iraqis fail to show advances.

"If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government," the report's executive summary says.

For some Iraqis, the statement suggested that the report's authors did not grasp, or refused to acknowledge, the diverse ambitions, rivalries and weaknesses that plague the government. The Kurds have dreams of creating an independent state. The Sunnis appear leaderless, yet seek a political voice. The Shiites are riven by feuds. There are disagreements over partitioning Iraq, over whether to restore members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to their old jobs, over whether amnesty should be given to opponents of the government and the U.S. occupation.

Maliki, who controls no militia of his own, also depends on Sadr for political support, making it politically suicidal for him to attempt to dismantle Sadr's Mahdi Army, the largest and most violent militia in Iraq.

"It comes far too close to having the U.S. threaten to take its ball and go home if the Iraqi children do not play the game our way," Anthony Cordesmann, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in an e-mailed analysis, referring to possible withdrawal of support.

Some Iraqis expressed astonishment at a recommendation in the report calling for Iraq's National Police and its police commandos, overseen by the Interior Ministry, to be shifted to the control of Defense Ministry, where the commandos would join the army. There is growing evidence that the majority-Shiite police are infiltrated by Shiite militias and death squads.

Iraqis said that although it might appear to make sense to place the commandos under the majority-Shiite army, which has largely escaped militia infiltration, the recommendation could bring unintended consequences. The Interior Ministry is Shiite-controlled, while the Defense Ministry is headed by a Sunni.

"This is an intervention in the Iraqi structure of the state," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish legislator. "This will also be seen as a point for the Sunnis, at the expense of the Shias."

Joost Hiltermann, an Iraq analyst for the International Crisis Group, said such a shift could force the Defense Ministry into an internal policing role that it is not equipped to address. "The more they get dragged into internal policing, they may become sectarianized," Hiltermann said.

"This demand -- no one will execute it," said Hasan Suneid, a legislator and close aide to Maliki. "It's not realistic."

Other challenges face any attempt to implement the report's recommendations. Iraqis have little trust in the army, which is poorly equipped and trained, to provide security. U.S. troops agree with this assessment.

The ISG Report is a modest but important step forward.  History will view it as a truly vital contribution if our leaders in Washington now focus on the part not well addressed in the report - crafting a strategy to restore stability to this troubled region.

Dodd - Why not now? Why not us? Why not together?

In the spirit of The New Politics, we'll be analyzing communications (speeches, e-mails, etc.) from public officials on both sides of the aisle to see how they plan to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The following is an example:

Here's an e-mail from Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) asking members to "Help Create a Secure and More Prosperous America" by doing two things: making a contribution and joining the Dodd Corps. In the e-mail he remains optimistic about the future amid the many challenges we face, and that, perhaps an era (which NDN calls the Era of Conservative Ascendancy) has ended, ushering in a new opportunity. Decide for yourself. The e-mail's below.


Dear Friend,

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. For me, this is the one holiday each year that passes by too quickly.

In the wake of the 2006 elections, Democrats across the country feel that we have much to be thankful for, and we do. But it would be a mistake for us to see the recent switch in the Congress as anything less than a chance to make good on a promise we made to the American people leading up to the election – we will be the party of change.

We have been given this opportunity for change – this moment in time – to come up with the answers to the problems facing our country today.

If, as some have suggested, the recent election signaled the end of the era of ideologues and indifference, it is my hope that our leadership can help bring about the beginning of a new era of idealism, ingenuity and faith in ourselves and our future.

To use our power to create, not just a future of peace and security, but a future of prosperity and opportunity, of learning and understanding;

To use our wealth to create, not just a world where some profit at the expense of many, but where many can profit to the advantage of all;

To use our leadership to create, not a nation of red states and blue states, but a world where people of every race, creed, color and religion come together to solve problems;

To use our talent, not as partisans, but as Americans: to raise the minimum wage; rebuild our manufacturing base and stop jobs fleeing our nation; make sure people can go to college without going bankrupt; make sure small businesses and entrepreneurs can exercise their talent to the fullest extent possible; make sure that all Americans have affordable health care coverage; build an economy where well-paying jobs are available to every American; and last but not least, build relationships around the world based on mutual respect, where a strong and smart America listens as well as it leads.

And ultimately, as Robert Kennedy once said, to judge success not just by the size of our gross national product, but by the health of our children, the quality of their education, the joy of their play, the strength of our public debate, and the integrity of our public officials.

We need to make the most of this moment in time we have been given -- and that is why I am writing to you today.

I am certain, with your help; we can fulfill our promise to America.

But, we must do more. Together we can lead America in a new, more hopeful direction.

That is why I am asking for you to do two things before the end of the year.

First, please consider making an online contribution to my campaign.

Your support will enable me to have the resources necessary to communicate and advocate for our common agenda to make America more secure, prosperous, and hopeful.

Second, please ask five friends to join the Dodd Corps by signing up for our e-mail list, so that we can grow our network of supporters who share our vision for a better future.

Let the generations that follow one day say of us that at the beginning of the 21st Century, after an uncertain start, America returned to her heritage.

Let them say that America preserved freedom and lived up to her highest ideals.

And let them say that in a broken time, we dedicated ourselves to the cause of an America that stands confident and proud and idealistic once again.

Why not now? Why not us? Why not together?

We can – and we must.

Thank you,
Chris Dodd

Thoughts on foreign policy and the ISG report

For those wanting a new course for America's foreign policy this is a very important week.  Tuesday UN Ambassador John Bolton resigned. Yesterday the Senate Armed Services Committee voted unanimously to confirm a new Secretary of Defense.  Today the Iraq Sudy Group releases its much anticipated report. 
To help you think through the meaning of these critical new developments, I send along links to several pieces I've written in recent days on America's foreign policy, Iraq and the Middle East.  Please also check our blog daily, as we will be continuing to weigh in on the important events of our time.  And feel free to offer your thoughts about our thinking either on our blog, or to me directly.  

Feedback, of course, is welcome. 

NPI Event Today: Next Wave of Tools for Progressive Politics

The technology and media worlds are in the midst of a transformation that is profoundly affecting politics. In the next few years we can expect to see the accelerating demise of the 30-second television commercial as the main form of political communication. Already, the 2006 election was marked by a spirit of experimentation in new tools and new media.

Understanding the way forward in this new environment is critical to all the work we do as progressives. That is why I hope you'll be able to join the New Politics Institute for a lunch next Tuesday, December 5th, as we gather leading experts and practitioners of these new tools to evaluate what worked best this fall and what we can expect to make an even greater impact in the future. Panelists will include:

  • Julie Bergman Sender (bio), filmmaker and progressive media strategist on Viral Video in the post YouTube world
  • Tim Chambers (bio), Co-Founder of the Media 50 Group and former Sony VP on Mobile Media
  • Will Robinson (bio), Partner at MacWilliams Robinson and Partners on the Evolution of Television through Cable, Satellite and TiVo
  • Laura Quinn (bio), Democratic Operative and Co-founder of Data Warehouse on Data-driven Politics

The event will be held in Washington, DC TODAY from noon to 2:00pm at the Phoenix Park Hotel at 520 North Capitol Street, NW.

For more information on the event or to RSVP, contact Tracy Leaman at 202-842-7213 or tleaman@ndn.org

Feel free to spread this announcement around. The more progressives who understand the powerful new tools and new media we now have at our disposal, the better.

This event is one of a series presented by the New Politics Institute, a think tank helping progressives master today’s transformation of politics due to rapid changes in technology, media and the demographic makeup of America. NPI is building a working network of top technology, media, and demographic professionals who want to help move best practices and innovations into progressive politics. Read our developing body of reports and view exclusive video content at: www.newpolitics.net

The Evolution of Mainstream Journalism with Citizen Journalism

The New York Times has a nice piece on a recent effort by Yahoo and Reuters to take advantage of the explosion of bottom-up media being captured and produced by amateurs. They will start showcasing  photos and videos shot by everyday people using their cell-phones. From the article:

“The project is among the most ambitious efforts in what has become known as citizen journalism, attempts by bloggers, start-up local news sites and by global news organizations like CNN and the BBC to see if readers can also become reporters.

Many news organizations turned to photographs taken by amateurs to supplement coverage of events like the London subway bombing and the Asian tsunami. Yahoo’s news division has already used images that were originally posted on Flickr, the company’s photo-sharing site. For example, it created a slide show of images from Thailand after the coup there in September.

Camera phone videos are increasingly making news themselves. Michael Richards, the actor who played Kramer on “Seinfeld,” was recorded last month responding to hecklers in a nightclub with racially charged epithets. The video was posted on TMZ, the celebrity news site.”

The journalism business is in the midst of a real crisis as the old advertising models that supported newspapers and television news are fundamentally shifting. This evolution towards using average citizens to help cover the world might be one piece of solving the puzzle of how journalism works in the 21st century world. Keep an eye on it.

Peter Leyden

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