Foreign Policy

Reform in Burma: Opening for the U.S.

Cebu City, Philippines - In October I wrote about the halting, confusing, but encouraging political reforms in Burma (Myanmar) over the past year. It's been an exciting few weeks since then. At the ASEAN summit in Bali last month, President Obama announced that Secretary of State Clinton would go to Burma-- the first visit of a Secretary of State since John Foster Dulles went to Yangon in 1955. The decision to visit, advertised as a test of Burma's commitment to democratic reform, was understood widely as a small carrot to encourage further progress. Many, however, have criticized the Obama administration for rushing to reward one of the world's most despotic regimes for what have been mostly cosmetic, reversible changes.

The move was made possible largely thanks to the generous political cover of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's foremost opposition leader and President Obama's fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner. Ms. Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, which sat out last year's elections in protest, has decided to contest an upcoming election. Ms. Suu Kyi will herself run in the election, and is all but certain to be filling a seat in parliament. Though she has spent the better part of the past two decades under house arrest and has as good reason as anyone to suspect the motives of President Thein Sein's incipient reforms, Ms. Suu Kyi has been upfront in her readiness to meet the government's reforms in good faith.

Secretary Clinton sat down with Ms. Suu Kyi-- it was their first face-to-face meeting after much previous correspondence-- and met with President Thein Sein, addressing a number of issues that have kept the U.S. and Burma apart. Atop the agenda was Burma's collusion with North Korea on missile and (possibly) nuclear technology. Secretary Clinton also pushed Thein Sein to continue internal reforms by freeing political prisoners and resolving ongoing conflicts with ethnic minority groups.

Coming out of the visit, Secretary Clinton announced that the U.S. would relax some restrictions on economic development aid, allowing the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to work in Burma, and promising $1.2 million in health, education and humanitarian projects to be administered by the United Nations. She and Thein Sein also discussed the possibility of upgrading diplomatic relations and exchanging ambassadors-- a move that Ms. Suu Kyi has also advocated.

In the week since the Secretary's visit, some reciprocal progress has already been made in Burma: Public protest has been legalized, though protesters must register with the government five days in advance, and provide authorities with the substance of their protest. Additionally, the government signed a cease-fire with the Shan State Army, a rebel group in Eastern Burma, and has plans to open two border crossings to Thailand that have both been closed for over a year.

Of course, these are just the first stirrings of change, and it would be unwise to welcome Burma into the brotherhood of democracies just yet. Over 1,600 political prisoners, including many journalists, remain incarcerated, and the government has unresolved conflicts with Karen and Kachin minority groups. Given the way the government brutally suppressed an uprising of monks in 2007, it would be naive to think such violence lies safely in the past.

But President Thein Sein seems earnest in his desire to reform Burma. He has travelled around Southeast Asia more than most of his fellow Generals, and probably has a clear picture of just how far Burma lags behind its neighbors. While it's surely fun to have absolute power, it's probably less fun if you're ruling a poor and backwards country. The opaque government is believed to be sharply divided, with hardliners eager to undermine any attempt at change. Garnering small prizes like a visit from Secretary Clinton is likely to solidify the position of reformers and encourage more genuine progress. U.S. economic sanctions remain in place, as they should, and Burma's small steps toward democratic governance should be met equally with gestures such as those announced last week.

Of course, the U.S. has a strategic reason for promoting a more democratic Burma: seeking another ally to counterbalance growing Chinese power in the region. The major story of President Obama's appearance at the ASEAN Summit was how explicitly he delineated what has long been tacitly understood as the goal of U.S. policy in the region: just as China desires a "string of pearls"-- military bases and diplomatic alliances around the Indian Ocean-- the U.S. seeks strong bilateral relationships with the states surrounding China. In a recent FT op-ed National Security Advisor Tom Donilon made clear the "return" of the U.S. to Asia, forecasting "an intensified American role in this vital region."

At the Summit, President Obama waded into a long-standing dispute over the sea lanes and resources of the South China Sea, heading a group of ASEAN leaders in confronting Premier Wen Jiabao over China's sweeping and aggressive claim to the entire sea. While President Obama didn't take an explicit position in the dispute, Secretary Clinton, in a visit to Manila, recently referred to it as the "West Philippine Sea," which has delighted the media and government here. Premier Wen seemed surprised and somewhat unnerved, and Xinhua, the Chinese state-controlled media has fired back with headlines like "South China Sea matters not a whit to Philippines, U.S."

Since the arrival of the military junta in 1962, Burma has acted essentially as a Chinese vassal state, wholly dependent on its neighbor to the north for trade and investment. Among the more substantive changes of the recent months, however, President Thein Sein responded to a popular outcry against the construction of a dam, canceling the Chinese-led project and infuriating Beijing. While Burma and China are sure to remain closely allied, the recent tussle appears to signal Thein Sein's discomfort at depending exclusively on this alliance. The U.S. has exploited this opening to gain some influence with Burma and balance against Chinese regional hegemony.

The events of the past months have been good progress in Burma, but swift regression is possible, and a Burma that recedes to total authoritarianism is a Burma that drops right back into China's pocket. The U.S. is wise to meet their baby steps with baby steps, and continue to encourage reform, sluggish though it will surely be.

A New Foreign Policy for a New Generation

While the recent focus of the inside-the-Beltway pundits and cable TV commentators has understandably been on the American economy, the prospects for health care reform and the president's approval ratings, there is a world beyond the District Line and the borders of the United States. And, in that broader world, by at least one measure, the ascension of Barack Obama to the presidency has been a big plus for America.

A recently released Pew survey indicates that in more than a dozen countries on virtually every continent public attitudes toward the United States have improved since Obama's inauguration, in many cases substantially. The following table compares favorable perceptions of the United States in 2008, the last year of the Bush administration, and in 2009, the first year of the Obama administration, in 24 foreign countries.

 

 

2008

2009

Change

France

42%

75%

+33

Germany

31%

64%

+33

Indonesia

37%

63%

+26

Spain

33%

58%

+25

Mexico

47%

69%

+22

Britain

53%

69%

+16

Argentina

22%

38%

+16

Nigeria

64%

79%

+15

Brazil

47%

61%

+14

Canada

55%

68%

+13

India

66%

76%

+10

Japan

50%

59%

+9

South Korea

70%

78%

+8

China

41%

47%

+6

Jordan

19%

25%

+6

Egypt

22%

27%

+5

Lebanon

51%

55%

+4

Kenya

87%

90%

+3

Palestinian Territories

13%

15%

+2

Turkey

12%

14%

+2

Poland

68%

67%

-1

Russia

46%

44%

-2

Pakistan

19%

16%

-3

Israel

78%

71%

-7

Positive perceptions of America increased by 10 percentage points or more in 11 of the 24 nations and by between 4 and 9 points in six others. Attitudes have improved most strikingly among America's Western European allies and our two North American neighbors, Mexico and Canada, and to a slightly lesser extent in Asian nations such as India, Japan, South Korea, and China. They have remained relatively stable in six countries and have fallen significantly in only one, Israel, where in spite of a seven percentage point decline, an overwhelming majority of Israelis (71%) remain favorable toward the U.S.

Ironically, contrary to persistent claims by some right wing dead enders that he is a secret Muslim, with one exception, since Obama took up residence at the White House favorable attitudes toward the United States increased least and remain lowest in Muslim countries. That one exception is Indonesia, his boyhood home, where positive perceptions of America increased by 26 percentage points between 2008 and 2009 (from 37% to 63%).

In part, of course, the president's style and persona have contributed to more favorable attitudes toward the United States. But also playing an important part is Barack Obama's approach to other countries and to foreign policy: publics in 23 of the 24 countries are more likely to have confidence in President Obama than in President Bush.

Obama's foreign policy approach is both shaped by and reflected in the beliefs, behavior and demographic characteristics of his strongest supporters, the Millennial Generation (Americans born 1982-2003).

In contrast to the generational stereotypes many people hold of them, Millennials are very much concerned about and connected to the world around them--more so, in fact, than many older Americans.  Responding to questions on foreign policy in a recent Pew Research Center survey, only 9% of Millennials were unable to express an opinion on how President Obama is doing in working with our allies, while almost a quarter of senior citizens had no opinion on the same subject. On the knotty question of Israeli/Palestinian relations, all but 7% of Millennials could tell survey researchers what they thought of American foreign policy in this area. On the other hand, 26% of senior citizens could not. 

The concern of Millennials with foreign affairs is shaped by the fact that they are the most diverse generation in American history. About 40% of them are non-white, most of Latino or Asian descent. Like their favorite president, one in five Millennials have at least one immigrant parent.

 In addition to its high level of concern and personal connection with other nations and international matters, the Millennial Generation's ability to make virtual friends on Facebook or Twitter Iranian protesters instantaneously provides a unique perspective on how to deal with America's foreign policy challenges. 

Perhaps most notable is how the Millennial Generation deals with the concept of "threats". A majority of Millennials does see Al Qaeda (59%), and the nuclear programs of North Korea (51%) and Iran (55%) as "major threats" to the United States, but by margins 15 to 20 points lower than older generations. Other more intractable but less direct security concerns, such as the drug trade in Mexico, China's emergence as a world power or conflicts in the Mideast ranging from Pakistan to Palestine, are not considered a major threat among a majority of Millennials. To be sure, some of these attitudes may reflect the inevitable naiveté of young people, but the underlying beliefs of Millennials suggest an alternative explanation.

Millennials have been taught since at least high school that the best way to solve a societal problem is act upon it locally, directly, and as a part of a larger group.  Tired of exalted rhetoric from Boomer leaders that rarely produced results and frustrated by their older Gen-X siblings lack of interest in pursuing any collective action to address broad social problems, Millennials have embraced individual initiative linked to community action. Eighty-five percent of college-age Millennials considers voluntary community service an effective way to solve the nation's problems. Virtually everyone in the generation  (94%) believes it's an effective way to deal with challenges in their local community. No wonder one of Barack Obama's first legislative successes, the Kennedy National Service Act, was in response to the desire to serve of his most loyal constituency, the Millennial Generation.

And, when it comes to public service Millennials are putting their money where their mouth is, although lack of opportunity in the private sector also could be accelerating this public service trend. Teach for America, which places new graduates in low-income schools, saw a 42% increase in applications over 2008. Around 35,000 students are now competing for about 4,000 slots. U.S. undergraduates ranked Teach for America and the Peace Corps among their top 10 "ideal employers," ahead of the likes of Nike or General Electric.

This penchant for public service shapes the beliefs of Millennials on how the United States should deal with the problems it faces around the world.  In last year's contest for the Democratic presidential nomination, Millennials believed Barack Obama was right and Hillary Clinton was wrong about whether to conduct direct talks with our enemies.   And they thought Sarah Palin was completely off base when she declared in her acceptance speech at the GOP convention that "the world is not a community and it doesn't need an organizer." In fact, Millennials believe that what the world needs most is thousands of community organizers, working on the ground to solve their own country's and the world's problems, linked electronically, of course, to friends around the globe.

Given the distinctions Millennials make between the seriousness of direct military threats, such as terrorism and nuclear proliferation, as opposed to squabbles over power or territory, America's foreign policy is likely to shift towards a more multi-lateral, institution-building focus as this generation assumes our country's leadership. This approach will only be a reflection of the core attitudes of the Millennial Generation as demonstrated in a May 2009 Pew Research Center survey in which only 39% of Millennials, in contrast to 58% of older generations, agree that U.S. military strength is the best way to maintain peace.

It may take a decade or two before we know precisely how the Millennial Generation's beliefs and behavior will impact America's overall foreign policy.  But in the interim we have already seen an initial indication that Millennial attitudes, carried forward in the international approach of the Obama administration, have led to more favorable attitudes toward the United States by people around the world. 

Pragmatic Liberalism in Iran

Simon wrote this morning:

[President Obama] has already been cast in a different role by history -- one of inspiring champion of all those throughout the world who need someone to speak for them… Our president, as chief global advocate of free and open societies, cannot sit on the sidelines as people attempt to throw off the shackles of old and anti-democratic regimes. This moment is too important, this particular leader too powerful, for America not to ambitiously re-assert itself as the great global champion of universal aspirations of all the world's peoples.

I think Simon is right that this will be the central challenge of the Obama Doctrine—to lead the world by example and not by fear. To stand for our values without shoving them down the throats of our partners overseas. To hold America up as a paragon of liberty and justice while, of course, keeping the country safe and secure.

It has been extraordinary to watch the fallout from the hijacking of the Iranian government by President Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Khamenei, and the Supreme Council. The massive protests we have read about on Twitter, watched on YouTube, and seen in so many incredible photographs continue to gain steam, and there’s no telling where they could lead.

And here we have a situation where our interests and our ideals converge. Moussavi and his followers clearly carry the twin banners of freedom and self-rule in the face of what is, in effect, a military coup. The reformists would, it seems, be more likely to cut a deal on Iran’s nuclear program, and would certainly be easier to work with on the global stage.

But what can we do? What can President Obama say?

The last time our country got involved in Iranian politics, we helped overthrow a democratically elected leader, Mohammed Mossadeq, and enabled a decade of autocratic rule by the Shah. That misadventure led directly to the 1979 Revolution, and our image hasn’t much improved among the Iranian people since then. Any bold statement by the American president in support of Moussavi would be turned against us as fodder for Ahmadinejad’s populist, anti-American rhetoric. Any evidence of covert American involvement in Iran would shatter the legitimacy of the reformist movement.

President Obama’s challenge is to support this movement in Iran without undermining it, and in this objective, he has been right to hang back and quietly offer an ongoing commitment to negotiations with Iran. As I wrote above, his task is not to enforce democracy, but to enable it when he can, and lead by example when he cannot. Guided by this pragmatic Liberalism, he will have the chance to "ambitiously re-assert America as the great global champion of universal aspirations of all the world's peoples."

Obama: No Realist He

I'm not going to have enough time to get this all out this morning, but to start, I want to agree with folks like Fareed Zakaria and Zbig Brzezinski that the central dynamic driving global politics today is the "rise of the rest," or the powerful aspiration of the rising peoples and nations of the world to have their shot at a version of what we call the American Dream. That dynamic, which Barack Obama began to address in his Cairo speech, involves many other strands of history - the end of colonialism and the Cold War, the transformative cultural impact of globalization, rising standards of living around the world, the rapid spread of the Internet and mobile devices putting ever more powerful tools in the hands of the world's people, the emergence of a global Millennial Generation comfortable with these tools, more affluent and educated and globally aware than their parents, eager to seek a better life for themselves and their countries. 

Informing and inspiring this global transformation of course is the radical promise of equal opportunity for all offered by the America's founding fathers. Obama discussed it this way in his recent Cairo speech: 

....Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words - within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: "Out of many, one."

......I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments - provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

As Obama alludes to in his speech, the way President Bush attempted to "spread democracy" did much in recent years to undermine and degrade the American championed vision of democracy just as an enormous part of the world was awakening to its possibilities. This disappointment with the perceived anti-democratic leanings of an American President acting on the global stage - at this point in history - itself became a very powerful global dynamic, and was central to the global rejection of Bush and the neocons by peoples and governments around the world. 

Another factor in this "rise of the rest" is race, the emergence of non-white European global powers and peoples. Only about a billion of the world's seven billion people are of white European heritage, and there can be little doubt now that this century will see the America-European dominated global order give way to one more representative of the people of the world and its emerging demographic realities. We saw some of the first manifestations of this in the recent G-20 meetings with the discussion of how to reorganize the IMF.   The seats at the tables of power will be increasingly occupied by non-white, non-Europeans, which in and of itself will become a powerful visual, or as we call it, "optic," in the emerging global order of the 21st century. 

Which brings me to Barack Obama, a self-described racial "mutt," a man who grew up in multiracial societies in Indonesia and Hawaii, and who was elected with the very potent high-tech and democratizing "new tools" of the 21st century. In ways that I think we are only beginning to understand, he has himself become the extraordinary global symbol to those aspiring for more for themselves and their countries everywhere - the story of an outsider, a member of an oppressed class made good; of the overthrow of a oligarchical oppressive power through a popular democratic uprising; of the use of powerful new tools to give regular people a voice in their own futures; and one of the most powerful parts of this story, the emergence of a non-white leader as the leader of the most important nation in the world, at this time of the "rise of the rest." 

For all of these reasons I don't think Barack Obama has the option of becoming an advocate of the realist school of American foreign policy. He has already been cast in a different role by history - one of inspiring champion of all those throughout the world who need someone to speak for them. I will not argue that what we are seeing in Iran today is a direct result of the Cairo speech, or of Obama's direct inspiration to the forces of modernization and democratization inside Iran. But there can be no doubt that Obama's rise has injected a new inspiring dynamic into the rising world, and these forces, unleashed, have the potential to remake the world for good or ill. Our President, as chief global advocate of free and open societies, cannot sit on the sidelines as people attempt to throw off the shackles of old and anti-democratic regimes. This moment is too important, this particular leader too powerful, for America not to ambitiously re-assert itself as the great global champion of universal aspirations of all the world's peoples. 

Where this takes us it is too early to tell, but go there we must, as are witnessing the birth of a global "new politics" of the 21st century very different from the global politics of the century just past. And in Barack Obama, this "new politics" has found its first global leader and inspired champion. May he have the courage and vision to seize this global opportunity, as this may be, more so than any other, his ultimate calling.

Kagan on the Bush Democracy Promotion Legacy

In his monthly column for the Post today, Robert Kagan raises a truly important foreign policy issue which requires greater discussion - the role of democracy promotion.   He makes an argument I agree with wholeheartedly - that Bush never seriously pursued a "freedom" agenda.   He writes:

Yet there is another area where the administration claims to depart from the Bush legacy but really hasn't, and I wish that it would. That is the issue of democracy and human rights. Ever since Clinton's confirmation hearing, where she talked about three D's -- defense, diplomacy and development -- but not a fourth -- democracy -- the press has made much of this allegedly sharp departure from the Bush administration's "freedom agenda." (Vice President Biden's prominent remarks about the fourth D in Munich last month have been ignored because they didn't fit the storyline.) Thus the Times's Peter Baker writes that "Obama appears poised to return to a more traditional American policy of dealing with the world as it is rather than as it might be." Set aside what a funny sentence that is to anyone with even scant knowledge of American history and its traditions -- remember Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton? The more interesting question is whether the Bush administration ever seriously pursued a "freedom agenda."

As my Carnegie colleague and preeminent democracy expert Thomas Carothers points out, the idea that the Bush administration engaged in a massive effort to promote democracy around the world is mostly myth. While every U.S. president for the past three decades has engaged in some degree of democracy promotion, he writes, "the place of democracy in Bush foreign policy was no greater, and in some ways was less, than in the foreign policies of his predecessors." It did provide important support to struggling democracies in Ukraine, Georgia and Lebanon. But Bush ignored the systematic dismantling of democracy in Russia. Like Secretary Clinton, he did not let human rights get in the way of dealing with China. The Bush administration supported Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf until the bitter end. It backed away from challenging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to hold freer and fairer elections in 2005, and whatever ardor it had about pushing for democracy in the Middle East cooled significantly after the 2006 election of Hamas. Meanwhile, it worked closely with dictators in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Aside from Iraq and Afghanistan, where its stalwart support for democratic progress was undermined for many years by failed military strategy, it is hard to point to many places where the "freedom agenda" was ever seriously implemented.

The world would be a better and safer place if the Bush administration's policies had more closely matched its rhetoric. But in any case, as Carothers notes, the idea that "a major post-Bush realist corrective is needed represents a serious misreading of the past eight years." It would be ironic, to say the least, if in its desire to distinguish itself from Bush on this issue, the Obama administration wound up replicating Bush. Viva la revolución!

I couldn't agree with this sentiment more, and have written often about how what limited efforts the Bush team placed on "democracy promotion" was done in a way that grossly misinterpreted the formula America had tried to export since the days of FDR.   To me the American formula has had four components, all required for societies to succeed - democracy, open markets, personal liberty and the rule of law.  Somehow the Bush team simplisticly boiled that legacy down to just the magic elixar of "democracy" and free elections, as if just allowing people to vote would magically transform broken and conflicted societies.    Allowing Hamas to participate in the Palestinian elections was a break from our traditional formula, as they were allowed to stand for election while maintaining a strong and well funded militia, clearly ignoring any possible triumph of the rule of law.  

Kagan is perhaps too kind to Bush.  For by cloaking our anti-democratic methods in the Middle East -preemptive war, torture, coddling of dictatorships, rampant corruption in the rebuilding process in Iraq - in the language of democracy, i worry that Bush and the neocons did more than not adequately promote democracy around the world - and in fact did a great deal to profoundly undermine the very idea in the part of the world most in need of modernization and reform. 

Let the re-evaluation begin! 

Senate Recognizes Women's Issues

You will have to search to find out about it; however it is true, the U.S. Senate has recognized the necessity for a subcommittee dedicated to global women's issues!  The Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women's Issues will be led by Sen. Barbara Boxer, who has been a champion of women's issues in the Senate.  This is the first-ever subcommittee mandated to empower women, which is a huge step and over due to say the least. 

During her swearing in, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced "as Secretary of State, I view these issues as central to our foreign policy.  Not as adjunct or auxiliary, or in any way lesser than all of the other issues we have to confront...And it will be my hope to persuade more governments...that we cannot have a free, prosperous, peaceful, progressive world if women are treated in such a discriminatory and violent way."

Somehow, the impact of this massive step by the Senate has not been felt, um, anywhere.  The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee fails to mention it on their website as does Senator Boxer's website.  Despite the black hole of information to be found on this exciting advancement, I find it very hopeful that the plight of women around the world will finally have some light shined upon it.  Now if Congress would just do more the help the women here at home we'd really be getting off on the right foot.  

Notes on the New Politics

For the last several years NDN has been making an argument that a "new politics" of the 21st century is emerging.  Driven by vast changes in demography, media and technology, and the a whole new set of very 21st century challenges (and one could add the utter collapse of modern conservatism) a new politics was emerging in America that would be very different from the century just past.  

Reflecting on the morning papers 3 stories stuck out as interesting examples of how the world is changing around us.  1st up is how the Army is starting to see nation building and the shoring up of "fragile states" as a primary area of responsibility.  2nd is a fascinating piece by Eve Fairbanks on the sensibility of the next generation of Congressional Republicans.  Finally, a wide ranging and important piece by our friend David Rothkopf, who argues: 

The current economic debacle is far more likely to be seen by historians as a true global watershed: the end of one period and the beginning of another. The financial chaos has brought down the curtain on a wide range of basic and enduring tenets also closely linked with the Reagan era, those associated with neoliberal economics, the system that the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has called "that grab-bag of ideas based on the fundamentalist notion that markets are self-correcting, allocate resources efficiently and serve the public interest well." Already this crisis has seen not just our enemies but even some of our closest allies wondering whether we are at the beginning of the end of both American-style capitalism and of American supremacy.  

Change is indeed coming to Washington.  And this next Presidency will without doubt be among the most important in American history. 

Don't Forget Foreign Policy: Warning Shots over Pakistan

While new Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has been complimenting Sarah Palin on her good looks in New York, Pakistani border guards have been firing on U.S. helicopters in Afghani airspace. Spencer Ackerman writes:

The situation with the Pakistanis is deteriorating by the minute. On Sunday they fired “warning shots” at U.S. helicopters in Pakistani airspace. Yesterday they may have shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle in Pakistani airspace. And now the Pentagon has just announced that the Pakistani Army fired on U.S. troops in Afghan airspace.

The details are still murky, but it appears there was probably confusion about either orders or, more likely, where exactly the border lies. As Ackerman suggests, it's no international incident, but it could become one very quickly if a warning shot finds a target.

The economy certainly deserves a prominent spot in the debate this Friday(assuming it happens...), but I hope the planned topic of the debate-- foreign policy-- doesn't get lost altogether.  America is still confronting a number of tricky situations overseas-- situations that will require the engagement and leadership of a President-- and we can see some marked differences between the candidates.

The American electorate deserves to hear the candidates discuss our relations with Pakistan. How will they work with the new Pakistani government to stamp out al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds in the Pakistani northwest? Under what circumstances might they support incursions from Afghanistan into Pakistani territory? Pakistan has been an important ally, but it's a country in flux, with internal rifts to sort out.  How Washington works with the government in Islamabad will have serious repercussions for both countries.

"Play Stump the Candidate", Says Sarah Palin

Right on the heels of Senator McCain's latest foreign policy gaffe, his side-kick/Vice Presidential running mate decided to take a crack at dispelling these "attacks" about her lack of foreign policy experience. Just to put this in context: in the past week a bomb was detonated at the U.S. Embassy in Yemen, two U.S. ambassadors were expelled from Latin American countries, and the ambassadors from those nations were similarly recalled from the U.S. (not to mention the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, of course). The importance of the actual knowledge - not just "experience" travelling - and understanding of these complex international relationships by Presidential candidates cannot be understated. It is anything but unfair to demand that the persons running for the highest seat in the land possess higher than average knowledge and understanding of the different regions in the world and our interest in each.

In this town hall meeting Gov. Palin basically says that we shouldn't fear because she and her running mate might not be ready now, but they will be ready "on January 20", "God willing". And she explains her credentials in the area of foreign policy: she'll be ready because she "has that readiness"...she's "ready to serve". "You can even play stump the candidate if you want to" by asking her "specifics, with specific policy or countries."

 

Heading to Netroots Nation Tomorrow

For those heading to Netroots Nation, NDN will be conducting two panels Saturday afternoon. You can find more info here, which also includes a link to the Netroots Nation site for more information. I will be joined at one of the panels by our own Michael Moynihan, NDN's Green Project Director, and our good friend, editor of Democracy Journal, Andrei Cherny, for a panel about the future of U.S. foreign policy. I also will be presenting a brand new, up-to-date version of our compelling power point presentation, The Dawn of a New Politics, at the other session. Even if you have seen the old version, this one is new enough that it will be worth sitting through - again.

The visionary behind Netroots Nation, Gina Cooper, has put on another great show this year. NDN has stepped up its support of NN, and is now a major sponsor of the whole conference. I look forward to seeing old friends, and meeting new ones - as always happens at what has become one of the most important gatherings of left of center politics each year.

It is amazing how far the netroots has come in these last few years. I first met Markos, of Daily Kos, in the summer of 2003 when all this was just beginning, before the word "blog" appeared in our spell checkers. The expanded definition of the netroots now reaches many millions of people each week, making it easier for them to connect to politics, and allowing many more millions of people to be meaingfully involved in fighting for a better future for their country. It has brought much more vigorous debate and accountability to progressive politics, and I for one believe robust debate and discussion - and occassional fighting among friends - is a prerequisite for the success of any movement. There is so much more vitality, so much more debate, so many more voices, so many more people, so much more money and so much more passion in left of center politics today as a result of what we call the netroots.

Markos and I reflected on all this at a forum we held in San Francisco in April, which you can watch here. And you can find my foreword to "Crashing the Gate," the critically acclaimed book by Markos and Jerome Armstrong, here. It offers some thoughts on the rise of a new 21st century progressive politics.

Look forward to seeing you there!

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