Monday, August 27, 2007

Guliani on Foreign Affairs

In the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Rudolph Guliani presents an essay about what he would do as president, with respect to foreign affairs (Guliani, R. (2007). Toward a Realistic Peace. Foreign Affairs, 86 (5), Sept/Oct. www.foreignaffairs.org). The essay is one of a series by 2008 presidential hopefuls. I have previously reviewed essays by Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and John Edwards.

Guliani’s essay is a dazzler. It is smart, sophisticated, thoughtful, insightful, articulate, persuasive, and remarkably free of empty rhetoric and sloganeering. He may not have literally penned it himself because the level of diction in the essay far exceeds his speaking performances, but all candidates have speech writers, so that is no big deal. We can assume that the ideas presented here fairly represent Guliani’s thinking.

“War on Terror” is never used in his essay, but “Terrorists’ War on Us” is prominently displayed a couple of times. It is a pointed and witty rejection of facile sloganeering and sets a straight-talking tone for what follows.

Guliani defines three foreign policy challenges. 1. Victory in the terrorists’ war on the global order. 2. Strengthen the international system. 3. Extend the benefits of the international system across the globe.

The reader immediately wonders what this “international system” is. The term is used repeatedly throughout the essay without definition. Its meaning can be contextually inferred only much later in the essay.

Basically what he’s talking about is the network of sovereign states with democratic governments and free market economies. This is inferred from his list of examples of “great powers” who are members of the “international system:” the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, and other western European nations, and also “the states of central and eastern Europe and the Baltic and Balkan nations.” Notably excluded are the dictatorships of central Asia.

Guliani includes Japan, Korea, Australia, and India and the “rising powers of Asia” as “other friends,” presumably also members of The System. Not all of these “other friends” have shared the historical trajectory of Western civilization and its values, but they are democratic and free-market. Since other candidates are notably omitted from this list, such as Singapore, and Indonesia, one might infer that to be a member of the International System, one must also have a strong military. That criterion is unclear.

Canada and Mexico are members of The System, according to Guliani, as are several Latin American countries. “Africa” is lumped into an indiscriminate category of its own, neither In nor Out, South Africa no different from Libya. This is an under-informed vision of Africa.

There is a contradiction in the case of the Palestinian territories, which freely elected Hamas, a terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel. What if the democratic process does not turn out the way we would like? Guliani has a ready answer. Before the Palestinians can hope to achieve sovereignty (a prerequisite for membership in The System) it would need to achieve a semblance of good governance, something a terrorist organization cannot provide. QED.

What about China and Russia? Are they In or Out? Guliani hedges. “We must seek common ground without turning a blind eye to our differences with these two countries… they have a fundamental stake in the health of the international system. But too often, their governments act shortsightedly, undermining their long-term interest in international norms.”

China more or less meets the free market criterion but not the democratic one. Russia also has a fledgling free market but only a pretend democracy. Both have large militaries and strong internal security. On points they each get 2 out of 3, explaining why Guliani could not say if they are In or Out. He suggests that at best, they are not members in good standing.

This then is the world according to Guliani: Democracy, free markets, and military strength attached to sovereign states. All others are to be converted to our values or defeated. It is clear, simple, and more nuanced than President Bush’s crude dichotomy of allies and “evildoers.”

Guliani explicitly rejects the “realist” school of foreign policy that “avoids attempts to reform the international system according to our values.” He is clear that he would, like President Bush, attempt to re-create the world in his own image. That does not bode well for a peaceful American future. Evidence from Iraq alone would suggest that urging one’s values on other people really gets up their noses. It makes international relations more tense and bellicose, not less. What is the rationale for doing it then?

The Immediate Future
In the short run, according to Guliani, America needs to defeat radical Islamic fascism which, he says, “uses the mask of religion to further totalitarian goals and aims to destroy the existing international system.” That characterization sounds off center to me. The Islamic fascists are religious totalitarians. They are not using a mask to hide what they want. They are absolutists. Their goals are not primarily economic, military, or political, but rather total mind-control. They are totalitarians of the mind. It is a serious error to mischaracterize the enemy and misunderstand what it wants.

Guliani emphasizes that America must never show “weakness,” but this attitude itself is a weakness. Obsessive emphasis on appearances is a distraction from the needed focus on goals and actions. He, like all the other presidential candidates, is worried about America’s prestige in the world. But prestige must be earned, not arrogated. In several long paragraphs, Guliani obsesses about what other countries, especially “the terrorists” will think of us if we act this way rather than that. That kind of self-obsession I associate more with Republican than Democratic candidates, but it is in any event, a dangerous distraction.

In Guliani’s favor, he explicitly includes Afghanistan among the immediate issues of defeating terrorism. Other candidates often act like Afghanistan doesn’t exist. But on the down side, he lumps all “terrorists” into a single stereotype, failing to note, for example that some of the people fighting us in Iraq are anti-imperialists, not global fascists. Some of the insurgents are sectarian chess players, fighting us or helping us only as it suits their political ambitions. If we were to leave Iraq, the population of “terrorists” might drop dramatically. In Afghanistan, much the same analysis would prevail, with the addition of those terrorists whose primary interest is opium. Guliani’s habit of referring to “terrorists and insurgents” in the same breath reveals a flaw in his thinking.

Nevertheless, he admits that U.S. forces will need to remain in that region “for some time.” “We cannot predict when our efforts will be successful,” he says. But at least, unlike the Bush administration, he has a definition of success, creation of members in good standing of the International System, which means sovereign states with strong military force (or at least internal security), democracy, and free-market economies. To me, that sounds like at least 50 years, two generations. It is not a hopeful outlook, but realistic if we accept his definition of success.

An alternative scenario can be gleaned from what happened in Vietnam. We pulled out, the South fell, and communism, rather than democracy was installed. Notwithstanding the tragedy of societal upheaval and lives lost during that transition, a rational person would ask, why is that a horrible outcome? Today, only 30 years later, we have normal relations with Vietnam, a sovereign state with internal security, and it is a large U.S. trading partner, a popular destination for U.S. tourists, and no obvious threat to American security. But Guliani says, no, that sort of outcome is unacceptable. He doesn’t say why. “The consequences of abandoning Iraq would be worse,” he warns. But I’m not seeing the apocalypse.

He fears that Iraq and Afghanistan would become “breeding grounds for expanded terrorist activities.” If anyone has been breeding terrorists, it has been the U.S. There were no terrorists in Iraq before we invaded. So this common threat has little force. Guliani apparently assumes that if the U.S. were to pull out, there would be a vacuum of power and utter chaos. But why assume that? It wasn’t the case in Vietnam and it wouldn’t be the case here. Powers inside Iraq and other powers in the region have very strong interests in avoiding that outcome.

Despite his presumptuous militarism, I give Guliani credit for this simple statement: “The United States must not rest until the global terrorist movement and its ideology are defeated.” Rarely do we see statements so plain and forceful from other candidates.

Interesting Ideas
Guliani subtly suggests some interesting ideas on fighting terrorism. One is to do it covertly, outside the frame of the sovereign state. In other words, why not engage the enemy on its own battlefield by having the CIA and other intelligence forces pursue them without regard to state borders? That suggestion has already been floated with regard to Pakistan. It’s a good idea, and there is little doubt that we are already pursuing such a strategy, but it is not smart to say so, for it undermines the very International System it is designed to uphold.

Guliani has a clear-headed view of the uses of diplomacy. In an apparent potshot at the Democrats, he says, “Whom we choose to talk to is as important as what we say. Diplomacy should never be a tool that our enemies can manipulate to their advantage. Holding serious talks may be advisable even with our adversaries, but not with those bent on our destruction or those who cannot deliver on their agreements.” That is a well-reasoned statement that rises above recent straw man arguments on the topic.

On a sour note, Guliani momentarily lapses into monarch-envy when he insists that “Members of Congress who talk directly to rogue regimes at cross-purposes with the White House are not practicing diplomacy; they are undermining it. The task of a president is not merely to set priorities but to ensure that they are pursued across the government.” I’m sure he meant to restrict his remark to “the *executive branch of* the government.”

It may be an occupational hazard of presidential candidates to want to be king (or queen), but the urge must be resisted. We have a tripartite system of government designed to counterbalance extremism. Reasonable people can disagree and that is a strength no candidate should forget.

Guliani would reorganize the State Department in unspecified ways to focus the mission of diplomacy more on international advocacy for U.S. policies. “Too many people denounce our country or our policies simply because they are confident that they will not hear any serious refutation from our representatives… the era of cost-free anti-Americanism must end.”

That’s not a bad idea. Even though it could result in the reduction of State to a cheer-leading section for the president’s pronouncements, the president does legitimately “own” State and it is within his rights to use it as he sees fit. The down side is the risk that the president would destroy the considerable expertise and wisdom built into the diplomatic corps, which does, after all, see the president as a transient. When the tempering effect of that continuity is ignored, the result can be a travesty like the Colin Powell WMD speech to the U.N.

Guliani, like some other candidates, has a refreshingly sensible attitude about foreign aid. He understands that foreign aid can help establish good governance and long term security around the world. Unlike Edwards, he would explicitly link foreign aid to performance criteria that lead to good governance (i.e., democracy) and free markets. Not everyone would agree with that approach but at least he understands the strategic value of aid. He would create a “A hybrid military-civilian organization -- a Stabilization and Reconstruction Corps staffed by specially trained military and civilian reservists” to deliver foreign aid by building roads, schools and legal systems. This is similar to a John Edwards proposal.

Standard Ideas
Guliani would, consistent with every other candidate, rebuild the military. He would add a minimum of ten new combat brigades to the U.S. Army. Where he would get these troops is not mentioned. If they existed, they would be in the pipeline right now. He offers no solution to the personnel problem, but he would also increase our inventory of subs, long range bombers and in-flight refueling tankers. These steps are consistent with the idea of a military with global reach.

Less convincingly, Guliani would step up development of the “Star Wars” missile defense system, claiming “It is well within our capability to field a layered missile defense capable of shielding us from the arsenals of the world's most dangerous states.” But that assertion is highly debatable, disputed by many experts, and there is no actual evidence to support it. It may be a good bluff, but as a serious policy, it is highly questionable. More realistic is would be a plan to deal with the proliferation of nuclear materials and weapons, something Guliani also addresses.

He would expand and strengthen the Proliferation Security Initiative, identifying and tracking nuclear materials worldwide. He would harden ports and borders to keep terrorist nukes out. These are sensible goals, difficult to achieve, but again I give Guliani credit for a clear, forceful statement that I have not heard from other candidates: “Preventing a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear attack on our homeland must be the federal government's top priority.”

Along with some other candidates, like Romney, Guliani does not think much of the U.N., and would turn to NATO instead to enforce international order. The error of that thinking is that NATO is not a law-making body. It is a mainly a military surrogate for U.S. power. Nobody is fooled by its sheep’s clothing.

The U.N. has the legitimacy of international consensus, and if it does not reach consensus very often, especially not the kind the U.S. would like, maybe that’s a sign that there is no consensus on the matter! It is a grave and very dangerous mistake to simply substitute enforcement of arbitrary decisions for a legitimate, lawful deliberative body. This is another example of Guliani’s impulse to establish an American monarchy. It must be resisted.

Furthermore, the U.N. has thousands of troops on the ground around the world. Are they doing nothing? The U.N. has many flaws, but it makes my blood run cold to read that “The UN has proved irrelevant to the resolution of almost every major dispute of the last 50 years.” If Guliani believes that, why not pursue an aggressive U.N. reform policy with the same zeal that he would devote to expanding and re-arming NATO?

Conclusion
Guliani did himself some good with this essay. He addressed the germane issues in a thoughtful and even insightful way, stated his policy persuasions clearly, and offered some solutions, not shrouding them in clich├ęs and political doublespeak. I was surprised and impressed with his articulate intelligence here, even where I disagree with his ideas.

He closed with a Bush-like comment: “Above all, we have learned that evil must be confronted -- not appeased...” We imagine that he would like to be the arbiter of good and evil, a prerogative he apparently believes comes with the presidency. It is disturbing and frightening to realize that any presidential aspirant has such monumental hubris. We can only hope the statement was mere rhetorical flourish.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Edwards On Foreign Affairs

In the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, John Edwards presents an essay about what he would do as president, with respect to foreign affairs (Edwards, J. (2007). Reengaging with the world. Foreign Affairs, 86 (5), Sept/Oct. www.foreignaffairs.org). The essay is one of a series by 2008 presidential hopefuls. I have previously reviewed essays by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

Edwards opens with a strong thesis, that the current administration has produced poor results in international affairs and that this is due in large part to failure to engage appropriately with other players. His key promise then, is to reengage. Other candidates, notably Obama, have said much the same thing.

However, almost immediately, Edwards introduces a disturbing note. He insists that “We must reengage with our tradition of moral leadership…” He offers no justification for this claim. It seems to me, if one thing has become clear in the years since the 9/11 attacks, it is, many players on the world stage do not care to be morally led by America. They have said so as plainly as words can speak and through their actions as well. Who then, is calling for America to reassert moral leadership? This is a dangerous, egocentric, arrogant mode of thinking, not significantly different from President Bush’s identification of good and evil forces in the world. But even worse than Bush’s Manichean self-blindness, Edwards would self-consciously have America embark on an overt crusade of moral imperialism. This is a very bright red danger flag.

Edwards lists countries with whom we must engage (or reengage): Iran, North Korea, Indonesia, Turkey, and so on, and lists the many issues in which we much engage discussion, including Iraq, nuclear proliferation, global health and education, etc. This is all political boilerplate.

Then again he raises the specter of an American jihad, claiming that America must “…restore our nation's reputation as a moral beacon to the world…” It is not at all clear that today’s world needs or wants a “moral beacon” and even if it did, if America would be the chosen one. There is, to my knowledge, no general outcry for America to become Moses descending the mountain. On the contrary, the most clear global message is for America to get out of people’s faces, and off their backs. Where is Edwards getting his justification for a self-proclamation of moral leadership?

Edwards says, “We must lead the world by demonstrating the power of our ideals, not by stoking fear about those who do not share them.” Well said. But instead of “demonstrating” our ideals, how about we simply live up to them to the best of our ability? Edwards apparently accepts without examination the notion of American exceptionalism, the idea that we are somehow the world’s “chosen people.”

In fact what we are is rich, filthy rich. That is our strength and the asset we need to exploit. Perhaps it is a common delusion among rich individuals that wealth automatically confers moral superiority. It is a very dangerous idea.

Edwards says that we need to “reclaim the trust and respect of those countries whose cooperation we need but whose will we cannot compel.” Wouldn’t that include every country on the earth?

Edwards cites data to prove that America’s reputation abroad is pretty much shot, especially since 9/11. After the lies at the U.N., the debacle of Iraq, the outrages of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, there is no doubt this is true. We must rebuild America’s reputation, Edwards insists in an all-caps header.

But I think this is exactly the wrong emphasis. We should accept our humiliation and start acting responsibly. If our international reputation improves subsequently that is a beneficial effect of our actions. But seeking to explicitly improve one’s reputation is a losing game, suggesting only posturing and superficial gesture. I worry if Edwards knows the difference or not.

“We need to reach out to ordinary men and women from Egypt to Indonesia and convince them, once again, that the United States is a force to be admired,” Edwards writes. But he doesn’t say why. It seems true that if they admire us they are less likely to try to kill us. But Edwards does not make that point. I get the feeling he wants to be admired for the sake of admiration. That is frightening.

Edwards reiterates and defends at length his earlier well known comment that the “War on Terror” is a propaganda slogan, a mere bumper sticker, not a policy. He further notes that by casting our “struggle” against jihadists as a war we frame the conflict badly for our own interests. These are good points, although simple ones that have been well-made before. Significantly, he offers no alternative bumper sticker, such as “Engagement With Those Who Do Not Share Our Ideals.” Too long, maybe. Seriously though, how does he characterize the conflict between Western post-Enlightenment civilization and the premodern thinking of jihadis? He gives no clue.

Solutions
Edwards offers some familiar solutions to our international problems, but does offer a couple of unique ideas.

In the familiar category, he would pull nearly all troops out of Iraq right away, leaving behind sufficient forces to prevent genocide or regional war. This sounds like a plan, except for the awkward fact that the 160,000 troops there now have not been able to suppress the beginnings of a civil war and regional conflict. It is difficult to see how a fractionally sized “quick-reaction force” would do a better job of it. I believe his rhetorical non-solution is wishful thinking that would not “allow us to close this terrible chapter and move on…”

Meanwhile he thinks President Bush should urge NATO to invade Sudan/Darfur. There is considerable merit to the idea of projecting American military force through the UN and NATO instead of unilaterally. Whether NATO could be effective in Sudan or merely inflame passions is another matter.

On Iran, Edwards asserts that they “cannot be allowed” to possess nuclear weapons. What that threat means is unclear. “We need to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions through diplomatic measures…” As Dr. Phil says, “How’s that been working for you?” It’s another non-solution. To Edwards’ credit, he does say that he would diplomatically engage Iran directly on the nuclear issue. His policy with North Korea would be about the same.

Edwards correctly identifies the threat of nuclear proliferation and suggests creation of a new Global Nuclear Compact to inject some life into the near-moribund Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. That might help raise the visibility of the issue, although it is a vague suggestion. He says too, that “We must also halt the trade of the most dangerous technologies by the most dangerous states.” Should the reader assume he includes the U.S. in that pledge? The U.S. is the world’s second largest international arms dealer, after Russia (www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200606/s1661277.htm). Judging from recent history is there any question that America is one of the most dangerous states in the world?

Disaster Relief
Edwards’ one good and original idea is his emphasis on global disaster relief. We can and should expect huge disasters that require massive international relief, and not just blankets and powdered milk, but, as Edwards notes, “experts in water purification to medical technicians, judges to corrections officers, bankers to stock-market analysts.” He would better prepare the U.S. for those kinds of missions by establishing a Marshall Corps of 10 thousand civilian experts serving in analogy to the military reserves. It’s not a bad idea.

Edwards doesn’t have any ideas for dealing with China or Russia but would like to see India as permanent member of the UN security council. He breathes not a word about how that Catch-22 would be accomplished.

As do all candidates, Edwards avers that he will “rebalance” the military to meet the nation’s needs. He will also double the budget for recruitment (but not salaries) and veteran health care. He would reorganize the budgeting process of the Pentagon, DOE, Homeland Security, Intelligence and State, in unspecified ways that would “eliminate waste.” Eliminating waste is always a laudable goal, but his proposal is not clear.

Returning to his pulpit, Edwards again urges that “there is no task more critical than restoring our moral leadership.” I can personally think of a long list of tasks more critical than that. I don’t know where he is getting his moral imperative.

More pragmatically and creatively however, he notes that ” We can begin by leading the fight to eradicate global poverty and provide universal primary education. At first glance, these areas might not seem directly related to our self-interest. But they are in fact intimately tied to our present and future national security.” Edwards would increase funding for GLOBAL education sixfold.

This is an insight I wish every candidate understood. The pen is indeed, mightier than the sword, although it is much slower to act. Edwards would emphasize clean water, disease prevention, and economic opportunity on a global scale. I am skeptical that any president can implement these changes, but I agree with his call for their increased importance, for national security reasons, if not humanitarian ones. Edwards would create a cabinet level position to coordinate global development policy. Of course getting the funding to back up such a grand initiative is another matter.

Despite this momentary flash of creativity, Edwards ends his article with yet another scary call for America to resume its “historic role as a beacon for the world and become, once again, a shining example for other nations to follow.”

But I say again, “We don’t need no shining beacons!” It is very backwards-looking to assume that the U.S. should arrogate that role to itself.

Conclusion:
Edwards is the only candidate so far to have expressed the intimate and crucial connection between global development and global peace (and U.S. security). If we poured the billions we have wasted in Iraq into global development over the last five years, I wonder what kind of a world it would be today. Perhaps much different.

Yet Edwards’ anachronistic view that America must again stand as a moral beacon to the world betrays a frightening lack of understanding of international relations in the new century. We will always be proud of our statue of liberty. But we do not need to plant a replica in every other country of the world whether they want it or not.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Warner Pullout


The Warner Pullout

Republican Senator John Warner urged President Bush to withdraw 5,000 troops from Iraq by the end of this year. That would “send a signal” he said, to the Iraqi government that we mean business when we say they need to get their act together. Government officials love sending “signals” and “messages.” They have to, since their personal utterances have zero credibility.

Warner acknowledged that five thousand troops out of 160 thousand would not make any military difference, but would be important symbolically, marking the beginning of the end. He insisted he still opposes any legislation calling for a U.S. pullout by any date certain (although that is exactly what he has proposed). He was interviewed by Judy Woodruff on The News Hour with Jim Leher, on Friday.

Why did Warner say this, and why now? He gave no serious reasons, despite repeated questioning. Some of his superficial reasons were...

1. He just got back from Iraq and his assessment of the situation there compelled his statement. Sounds good, but he was only there four days. Without knowing exactly what he did or saw, I can imagine it would be difficult to make any kind of first-hand assessment of any country’s status in 4 days. He probably just talked to Generals and administration officials there, and learned nothing he couldn’t have learned from a few international phone calls. It was Kabuki theater.

2. He emphasized in his interview that it would be wonderful if 5,000 American troops could be home for Christmas and spend the holidays with their families. That is a non-reason.

3. He said the Iraqi government was not making any political progress and so we need to send a message that our military commitment is not open ended. President Bush himself has said the same thing about U.S. commitment, as have others. Sending such messages doesn’t seem to have much effect on the Iraqi political process. He would know that.

But Warner hinted at one reason that seemed real to me. He emphasized repeatedly that the decision to draw down troops was exclusively the president’s, and that he was merely offering a humble suggestion, as if such a “suggestion” had not already been blasted through loudspeakers by Democrats. As a leading Republican, Warner’s symbolic positioning of himself is exactly one of the behavioral “messages” he is so fond of, but it is actually aimed at the American public, not the president. I think he is trying to give cover for the president’s imminent announcement to draw down troops. In fact, I would guess that the White House asked Warner to make this public statement at this time for exactly this reason.

Bush will indeed have to draw down troops soon. Why? Because we must start rotating out existing forces, according to the Pentagon’s public statements, and we do not have any more troops to replace them. So there will be a troop draw-down, probably by the end of this year.

That being the case, what will the White House cover story be? Surely not the truth, that we are out of troops! That’s out of the question. No, they will announce, a few days after September 11th, a “new policy” that will sound shockingly similar to what Warner just said yesterday. The White House will suddenly want to send that message to the Iraqis.

Why September 11th? On that symbolic date, General Petraeus makes his official report about conditions on the ground in Iraq. Anybody who has spent more than two weeks in business or government knows that you do not sit around waiting for such a report to plop onto your desk. There is active “shaping” of the report as it is developed. The White House already knows what is in the report, which will be at best “mixed” about progress, and despite euphemism, dysphemism, and multiple, spinning tinted glasses, probably will be depressing.

Plus, the president’s people have to know Republicans are staring into a vortex of obliteration in the '08 elections because of the war. If there is any hope of avoiding utter destruction of the Republican party, the president has to do something, and this token gesture could be the beginning of a change in policy.

Will the president admit defeat in Iraq? Never. Will he confess that he made a mistake? No. Will he say his policy was ineffective. Not a chance. Everything is good and positive; He has never been more certain; This is not a surrender; Democracy is on the march; yadda yadda as before; but now we are “sending a message” – but it’s actually a message to the American public that we are going to loosen the thumbscrews on American society.

Will there be more troop drawdowns in ’08? Will this be the beginning of complete or substantial withdrawal? No. Bush will let the incoming Democratic president take the rap for “failure” and “surrender” after January ’09. No way he is going to admit anything. Despite that bitter cynicism, I see a long term trend toward partitioning Iraq, as I have suggested before in this blog.

Three weeks ago the New York Times reported that the administration has a plan to sell billions of dollars worth of technically advanced weapons to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel. (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/iran/index.html?inline=nyt-geo) . This story came and went very quietly. Amazingly so.

Israel? I hadn’t figured on that. My plan was to let Iran have the Shia territories, but that would be too hard a pride-pill to swallow for the White House. The Egyptians can do it just as well. The Saudis will not fight the Egyptians. Can Israel work with the Kurds? Israel might be a red herring here. I still think Turkey is the logical choice. Still, what do I know? There may be other layers of this chess game.

The point is that the proposed sale indicates that the White House is thinking about the upcoming civil war, who will fight it, and the eventual partition of Iraq.

Monday, August 6, 2007

A Media Circus is not a Bad Thing


On August 3, I received this email from Jay Inslee, my representative to the U.S. House:

* * * *
Dear Mr. Adams:

This week, only after carefully considering the importance of maintaining a fair, credible and responsible Department of Justice, several of my colleagues and I introduced H.Res. 589, directing the Committee on the Judiciary to investigate whether Alberto R. Gonzales, Attorney General of the United States, should be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. Mounting evidence produced in testimony before House and Senate Judiciary Committees, has led me to believe that the Attorney General has besmirched his oath of office and that this Congress needs to initiate an impeachment investigation.

I, along with my fellow cosponsors of this timely resolution, have all served as attorneys prior to serving in Congress. As one time prosecutors, judges or even attorney generals, we take the responsibility of defending the US Constitution very seriously. When a public official gives cause to doubt that they have honored their oath of federal office, it is the responsibility of Congress to investigate their actions and hold them accountable if they have violated the law and betrayed the public trust. Recent conduct of Alberto Gonzales, the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, has called into question whether or not the Justice Department is equipped to uphold the law of the land and to stand up for the civil rights of Americans. After numerous discussions with Constitutional scholars on this issue, I have been convinced to turn to impeachment as a last resort in order to restore public faith in our justice system.

If the Attorney General has committed any offense, his lack of candor and dereliction of his constitutional oath calls for a deeper investigation of his fitness to serve the American people. The integrity and credibility of the Department of Justice must be restored. Our federal prosecutors must remain free to enforce our laws without the influence of political gain. This resolution follows a careful procedure of conducting a thorough investigation before the House would vote on articles of impeachment. As I pursue this resolution in Congress, I will work to bring to light these and other transgressions by our public officials.

* * * * *

It took me some thinking to figure out what Inslee was up to here. He is a reasonable and amiable person, not a hothead, so he wouldn’t be doing this without a well thought out strategy. The case against Gonzales is mainly that we don’t like him or trust him. It’s possible he has lied to congress, but that will be very hard to document. It is questionable if the house judiciary committee, even with a Democratic majority, would find for impeachment.

If it did though, the measure would then need a majority in the house. With Dems holding a thin margin, it is by no means certain that an impeachment resolution would pass the house.

If it did pass the house, there is no chance at all that the senate would convict, especially considering that the constitution calls for the vice president of the U.S. to preside over the process.

This impeachment gambit is therefore a known dead end. So what is Inslee up to? I’m pretty sure the idea is simply to help the Democrats win in ‘08. It’s not about impeaching Gonzales at all. It’s about focusing media attention, during the primaries and after, on outrageous administration actions and policies, since Gonzales is really just a Bush puppet. This is a long game to undercut the Republican national convention next summer.

Most Americans haven’t got the foggiest idea of what goes on in Washington or what is at stake when the constitution is trampled on. Impeachment hearings would provide a massive civics lesson that could only help the Dems.

The constitution says that articles of impeachment are “privileged” meaning they automatically rise to the top of the legislative agenda and must be debated before any other business. So Inslee, being a team player, would not have started this process without the advice and consent of House Speaker Pelosi, and quite possibly at her instigation, since she generally seethes with venom over the Bush administration. That means she calculates that by the time any impeachment debate begins in the house, it would have finished about all it could get done legislatively, and would be ready to go totally political in the run-up to the elections.

I have often wondered how anyone could go into national politics, knowing full well that “the people” generally don’t know anything about government and care even less. How could you hope to exercise leadership if nobody pays attention? This strategy gives a partial answer: To lead the people you have to put on a show for them. So Inslee is just as smart as I though he was.