NDN Blog

Gates tossing the neocons under the bus

Secretary Robert Gates is becoming a very interesting historical figure.  Increasingly in his comments and actions, he has become a leader of the effort, supported by so many, of making the reign of the neocons an unfortunate memory.  He asked for more troops in Afghanistan; admitted mistakes in Iraq; and yesterday, in his response to Russia's Putin, not only did he fail to take Putin's bait (a sign of a new maturity), he distanced himself from the neocon foreign policy construct of the primacy of might and force in our relations with the world:

Mr. Gates cast himself as a geopolitical realist and drew a knowing laugh when he focused on Mr. Putin’s assertion that the United States and its allies were dividing Europe.

“All of these characterizations belong in the past,” Mr. Gates said. “The free world versus those behind the Iron Curtain. North versus South. East versus West, and I am told that some have even spoken in terms of ‘Old Europe’ versus ‘new.’ ”

The last was a reference to a characterization Mr. Rumsfeld made in January 2003 to contrast Germany and France, which objected to the United States plan to invade Iraq, with neighboring supporters, not all of which are NATO members.

Reviewing NATO’s success in standing up to the Soviet threat, “it seems clear that totalitarianism was defeated as much by ideas the West championed then and now as by ICBMs, tanks and warships that the West deployed,” Mr. Gates said. The alliance’s most effective weapon, he said, was a “shared belief in political and economic freedom, religious toleration, human rights, representative government and the rule of law.”

“These values kept our side united, and inspired those on the other side,” he added.

Shifting to current threats and challenges, he called on NATO members to support a comprehensive strategy to stabilize Afghanistan, “combining a muscular military effort with effective support for governance, economic development and counternarcotics.”

We should view the forging of our policy towards Iran as the next great battleground between the realist school of American foreign policy, so successful in the 20th century, and the waning but still influential neocon school.  The neocons seem so discredited that it hard for me to believe that they will win the day, but Gates, Hagel, Biden and others working to defeat the dangerous and disproven neocon approach need our spirited support.

WaPo:rising Sunni-Shiite tensions central dynamic of today's Middle East

The Post has a mustread story today by Anthony Shadid on a subject we've been focusing on for some months now: how our policies have unleashed a new dynamic in the Middle East that is fundamentally changing the region's politics:

The growing Sunni-Shiite divide is roiling an Arab world as unsettled as at any time in a generation. Fought in speeches, newspaper columns, rumors swirling through cafes and the Internet, and occasional bursts of strife, the conflict is predominantly shaped by politics: a disintegrating Iraq, an ascendant Iran, a sense of Arab powerlessness and a persistent suspicion of American intentions. But the division has begun to seep into the region's social fabric, too. The sectarian fault line has long existed and sometimes ruptured, but never, perhaps, has it been revealed in such a stark, disruptive fashion.

Wresting control from Cheney and the neocons

I've been writing recently of the most powerful dynamic in American politics today - the ongoing repudiation of Bush era politics by reasonable people in both parties.  The American people rejected this politics at the polls last year; Democrats have made it explicit they will be creating a new politics; and we've even seen Republicans now working consistently with the Democrats to distance themselves from Bush and that brand of conservatism. 

This dynamic is also playing out inside the Administration.  The Washington Post's Karen DeYoung has another rust read story today about Iran which captures this ongoing struggle to wrestle control from Cheney and what's left of the neocons:  

I don't know how many times the president, Secretary Rice and I have had to repeat that we have no intention of attacking Iran," an exasperated Gates told reporters at a NATO meeting in Spain. In fact, he said, the administration has consciously tried to "tone down" its rhetoric on the subject.

Similar statements in recent weeks by President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others follow a high-level policy assessment in January that U.S. and multilateral pressure on Tehran, to the surprise of many in the administration, might be showing signs of progress.

Officials highlighted growing internal public and political criticism of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as well as the reemergence, after months of public silence, of Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani. Larijani arrived in Munich yesterday for talks with European Union officials.

As a result, new talking points distributed to senior policymakers in the administration directed them to actively play down any suggestion of war planning.

Such demurrals are not meant to suggest that the administration will stop pressing Iran on several fronts or that it expects Iranian behavior to change soon. Warnings of new sanctions if Tehran does not suspend its nuclear enrichment program, the dispatch of a second carrier battle group to the Persian Gulf, presidential authorization to treat Iranian intelligence and paramilitary operatives in Iraq as "enemy combatants," and encouragement of Sunni Arab states to take a united stand against Iranian aggression are all designed to convince Tehran that "we have options" and are prepared to use them, a senior administration official said.

"We're a power, too," is the message to Tehran, the official said. "Your power is not unlimited. You can't go anywhere and do anything you want."

The changed rhetoric also stems from a growing foreign policy "maturity" within the administration, according to foreign diplomats and senior officials who agreed to discuss the issue on the condition of anonymity. They described a new attitude, born of the administration's awareness that the Iraq war has left it with a wide credibility gap at home and abroad and the realization that military action against Iran would strain U.S. capabilities, undercut other goals and possibly explode into a regional conflagration. Internal discussion has also focused on the likelihood that an attack could destroy whatever political plurality exists in Iran by uniting even those opposed to Ahmadinejad in a wave of anti-U.S. nationalism.

"It's very important that we proceed carefully, patiently and with some skill," said Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns, who by all accounts is playing a lead role in formulating Iran policy. "We believe that diplomacy can succeed. We're focused on that. We're not focused on a military conflict with Iran."

Some senior administration officials still relish the notion of a direct confrontation. One ambassador in Washington said he was taken aback when John Hannah, Vice President Cheney's national security adviser, said during a recent meeting that the administration considers 2007 "the year of Iran" and indicated that a U.S. attack was a real possibility. Hannah declined to be interviewed for this article.

However, sources described agreement among the Bush administration and leading governments in Europe and the Middle East -- including those in Britain, France, Germany and Saudi Arabia -- over consistent but measured pressure on Tehran. They said close consultations, a stark contrast to deep divisions over the U.S. invasion of Iraq, have become self-reinforcing for Washington and its allies.

In another must read piece in the Post today, General William Odom lays out one of the most compelling post-neocon strategies for the Middle East I've seen:

The first and most critical step is to recognize that fighting on now simply prolongs our losses and blocks the way to a new strategy. Getting out of Iraq is the pre-condition for creating new strategic options. Withdrawal will take away the conditions that allow our enemies in the region to enjoy our pain. It will awaken those European states reluctant to collaborate with us in Iraq and the region.

Second, we must recognize that the United States alone cannot stabilize the Middle East.

Third, we must acknowledge that most of our policies are actually destabilizing the region. Spreading democracy, using sticks to try to prevent nuclear proliferation, threatening "regime change," using the hysterical rhetoric of the "global war on terrorism" -- all undermine the stability we so desperately need in the Middle East.

Fourth, we must redefine our purpose. It must be a stable region, not primarily a democratic Iraq. We must redirect our military operations so they enhance rather than undermine stability. We can write off the war as a "tactical draw" and make "regional stability" our measure of "victory." That single step would dramatically realign the opposing forces in the region, where most states want stability. Even many in the angry mobs of young Arabs shouting profanities against the United States want predictable order, albeit on better social and economic terms than they now have.

Realigning our diplomacy and military capabilities to achieve order will hugely reduce the numbers of our enemies and gain us new and important allies. This cannot happen, however, until our forces are moving out of Iraq. Why should Iran negotiate to relieve our pain as long as we are increasing its influence in Iraq and beyond? Withdrawal will awaken most leaders in the region to their own need for U.S.-led diplomacy to stabilize their neighborhood.

Assuring that these reckless neocons are weakened also requires us to better understand how they operated inside the Administation.  A new Inspector General Report tells the story of how they hijacked the intelligence process and helped lie the nation into the Iraq War. 

On Obama, Clinton, Richardson and the historic Democratic 2008 field

In this new century, in my lifetime, America will become a country that is only 60 percent or so white.  Factoring in that a little more than half the population is female, this means that somewhere between 70% and 75% of all Americans in the future will be either women or minorities.  One of the great challenges for both political parties and both ideological movements in this new century will be to build their politics around these and other profound demographic changes in America, ones that are creating what we call a “new politics.”

By this measure the emerging Democratic Presidential field in 2008 is historic.  The two leading contenders today are a woman and a mixed race American of partial African descent.  Another leading contender is of Mexican descent, is bi-lingual, and comes from a state, New Mexico, which has the most complicated racial and cultural mix of any state in the Union.  When you add white male candidates from the South, Midwest and Northeast this field looks an awful lot like the emerging America of the 21st century and not at all like the America of the 20th century.  We’ve never seen any Presidential field like this in American history.  It is now clear that Democrats are offering a vision of a party that looks like, and speaks to, the emerging population of 21st century America.

The Republican Presidential field on the other hand is all white, and all male.  It looks very much like a field from any race of the late 20th century.  It even features one candidate, Tom Tancredo, who is running in large degree to reverse the demographic changes described above.

In 2006 the Republicans attempted a new twist on the old Willie Horton approach by demonizing Hispanics, and waged a national campaign against immigrants of all kinds.  The American people, aware of the new realities of our 21st century people, rejected the racial rhetoric of the Republicans.  Vicious anti-immigrant candidates like Randy Graff and JD Hayworth lost in Arizona, ground zero for this debate.  Millions marched in the largest civic demonstrations in recent American history.  And the Hispanic vote, the fastest growing segment of the American population, surged to never seen before numbers and swung wildly towards the Democrats.  On understanding and accepting these demographic realities the American people appear to be way ahead of its leaders.

Many words will be used to describe the Democrat’s field this year but the one I believe is most accurate is “modern.”  Democrats just look like a 21st century Party, with leaders who look like and speak to the people of the America of today and tomorrow.  The Republicans on the other hand are struggling with reinventing their politics around these new realities.   Yes, over the objections of many, they now have a Hispanic immigrant as the Chair of their party.  But that same week Senator Martinez was chosen, the Senate Republicans made Trent Lott, a Senator with a history of institutional bigotry and racism, their number two.   Their Presidential field is all white male, the only minorities in their Congressional Party are four Cuban-Americans from Florida and many leaders in their Party continue to fight comprehensive immigration reform in horrible and racist terms.

The Republicans should be worried about these developments.  For getting on the wrong side of enormous cultural trends like this one can make a party a minority party for a long time.  But perhaps in times of great change this what we should expect from one party long associated with the word “progress,” and another associated with the word “conserve.”

So this morning, as we watch the exciting Senator Obama toss his hat into the ring, let us also reflect on the historic nature of the Democratic field, and acknowledge that this party of Clinton, Obama, Richardson and Edwards appears to today much more the party of 21st century American than its adversary.

Nasr, Takeyh on Iran in the Washington Post today

Two of my favorite experts on Iran have a compelling op-ed in the Washington Post today.  An excerpt:

For too long, Washington has thought that a policy of coercion and sanctions applied to Iran would eventually yield a responsible and representative regime. Events in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe suggest that containment eventually generates sufficient pressure to force autocratic elites to accommodate both international mandates and the aspirations of their restless constituents. Ironically, though, U.S. policy has buttressed the Iranian regime, which has justified its monopoly of power as a means of fending off external enemies and managing an economy under international duress.

More than sanctions or threats of military retribution, Iran's integration into the global economy would impose standards and discipline on the recalcitrant theocracy. International investors and institutions such as the World Trade Organization are far more subversive, as they would demand the prerequisites of a democratic society -- transparency, the rule of law and decentralization -- as a price for their commerce.

Paradoxically, to liberalize the theocratic state, the United States would do better to shelve its containment strategy and embark on a policy of unconditional dialogue and sanctions relief. A reduced American threat would deprive the hard-liners of the conflict they need to justify their concentration of power. In the meantime, as Iran became assimilated into the global economy, the regime's influence would inevitably yield to the private sector, with its demands for accountability and reform.

It is important to appreciate that Iran has a political system without precedent or parallel in modern history. The struggle there is not just between reactionaries and reformers, conservatives and liberals, but fundamentally between the state and society. A subtle means of diminishing the state and empowering the society is, in the end, the best manner of promoting not only democracy but also nuclear disarmament.

Professor Nasr will be speaking to NDN in early May. Details to be released soon. 

For more on our thoughts on the Middle East, click the National Security tag above. 

More the Shiite-Sunni struggle that is remaking the Middle East

The Times has a good story this morning on how Saudi Arabia is stepping up its role in the Middle East to block the regional rise of the Iranians and their Shiite allies:

With the prospect of three civil wars looming over the Middle East — and Iran poised to gain from them all — Saudi Arabia has abandoned its behind-the-scenes checkbook diplomacy and taken on a central, aggressive role in reshaping the region’s conflicts.

On Tuesday, the kingdom is playing host in Mecca to the leaders of Hamas and Fatah, the two feuding Palestinian factions, in what both sides say could lead to a national unity government and reduced bloodshed. Last fall, senior Saudi officials met secretly with Israeli leaders about how to establish a Palestinian state.

In recent months, Saudi Arabia has also increased its public involvement in Iraq and its support of the Sunni-led government in Lebanon. The process is shaping up as a counteroffensive to efforts by Iran to establish itself as the regional superpower, according to diplomats, analysts and officials here and throughout the region. Some even say that the recent Saudi commitment to temper the price of oil is aimed at undermining Iran’s economy, although officials here deny that.

“We realized that we have to wake up,” said a high-ranking Saudi diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. “Someone rang the bell, ‘Be careful, something is moving.’ ”

The conservative retreat, continued

One of the most powerful new dynamics of global and American politics is the deep collapse of the muscular but universally unpopular Bush brand of conservatism that has driven the politics of the world these last 6 years.

This retreat, collapse, is evident all around us.  Rumsfeld, Bolton, DeLay, Santorum all gone. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are now in charge.  In recent days the President has been forced to acknowledge, essentially for the first time, that climate change, health care, a struggling middle class and rampant Congressional corruption are all challenges that must be tackled.  The Libby trial in unearthing all sorts of ugly stuff about their reign. There is bi-partisan Congressional competition to question the wisdom of this era’s foreign policy, a process that has been joined by the Joint Chiefs, the Iraq Study Group, the new NIE and the leaders of the 9/11 Commission.  Dozens of House Republicans have recently voted with the Democrats on core Democratic priorities, ones not even allowed to be discussed in the previous regime. The German government is attempting to prosecute CIA operatives for working illegally on their soil….it goes on.

Of course where the Administration has choosen to make their one last stand and fight the repudiation of their politics is on Iraq and their policies in the Middle East.  On this one the Administration soldiers on, fighting what seems to be a losing rhetorical, political and security battle.

Two stories today indicate, however, that despite their bravado the national repudiation of their Iraq/Middle East policy also soldiers on. The Times has a rather remarkable piece that points out, nicely, what a disaster Secretary Rice has been.  The Post has a detailed story by Karen DeYoung that also points, nicely, that even the planners of the new Iraq strategy are not confident that it has a high likelihood of succeeding.

The good news is that with the intellectual and political collapse of modern conservatism there is an opportunity for a new and much more effective politics to emerge.  The early signs of the 2008 Presidential debate, and in Congress, is that Democrats understand this opportunity and working hard to fashion a new and more germane approach to the vexing challenges of our time.

The interesting question is whether the Republicans can, in the next two years, reinvent their politics and move beyond the historic failures of the Bush years.  So far there is little evidence that they either understand the moment they are in, or have powerful enough leaders to move them forward.

Must read on Hispanics, tv and sports

The Times has a must read piece for anyone looking to learn more about how to best to speak to Hispanics here in the U.S. 

Some key stats: Spanish speakers are ten percent of the US population; half of all new people in the US through birth or immigration are Hispanic; Spanish speakers include 31m of the 42m hispanics in the US; and soccer is king with US Spanish speaking Hispanics. 

None of this should come as a big suprize for anyone following our work in the Hispanic community these past few years.  To see more about our recent media campaign using soccer to speak to Hispanics visit www.ndnfutbol.org

The NIE - well worth a read

If you haven't read the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq - at least the declassified part - it is worth reading.  You can find it here

And while you are at it, you may want to take a moment to review the instructive Iraq Study Group report.  That you can find here

Two excerpts from the NIE I found particularly important:

"The Intelligence Community judges that the term "civil war" does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, al-Qa’ida and Sunni insurgent attacks on Coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence. Nonetheless, the term "civil war" accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements."


"Iraq’s neighbors influence, and are influenced by, events within Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq’s internal sectarian dynamics."

If you've been reading our essays on the Middle East these past few months you will find these observations familiar.  It's been clear for sometime that the Administration either doesn't understand, or is willfillly ignoring the new central dynamic of the region today that is a direct result of our policies - the escalating tensions between the Sunnis and Shiites, something 20,000 troops in Baghdad isnt going to fix, and may in fact inflame. 

And this new NIE calls out the Administration to stop overstating the role of Iran in Iraq's politics.  More on that later....my daughter has seized my laptop....

A New Day For Our Economy

Starting almost two years ago, NDN began telling a simple and important economic story - while capital and corporations were thriving in the new global economy of the 21st century, the American people were not. 
After denying this new and challenging economic reality, yesterday, President Bush finally acknowledged how things have changed:

I know some of our citizens worry about the fact that our dynamic economy is leaving working people behind. We have an obligation to help ensure that every citizen shares in this country's future. The fact is that income inequality is real; it's been rising for more than 25 years.

At NDN, we believe that crafting a new economic strategy for America that ensures that capital, corporations and people prosper is one of the most important governing challenges of our time.  We at NDN, through the work of our Globalization Initiative, led by former Under Secretary of Commerce Dr. Robert J. Shapiro, are going to continue to try to lead this conversation about what we need to do to craft a new economic strategy.  To learn more about our work, and the issues at hand:
Watch video from recent NDN Globalization Initiative Events:
Crafting a New Economic Strategy for America with Pete Brodnitz, EPI and CAP
Globalization Panel from the NDN Annual Meeting with Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda
Labor in a Global World with SEIU President Andy Stern
Keeping America Competative with Senator Jeff Bingaman
Read Rob Shapiro's recent speeches and remarks:
The Challenges of Globalization (Economic Policy Institute)
Why Sustainable Growth Isn’t Producing More Jobs and Wages Gains (New America Foundation)
See NDN Globalization Initiative Reports and Memos:
Voters Deliver a Mandate for a New Economic Strategy
Challenging the Republican Economic Record
Rebuilding the National Consensus on Trade
The Bush Economic Record
The Emerging Progressive Economic Consensus on Wages
Also make sure to visit our blog www.ndnblog.org for news and analysis on the economy, trade, globalization and a host of other issues, including today's post from Rob Shapiro. And check out my appearance today on CNBC to discuss the economy and inequality.

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