November 15, 2005

Can the U.S. find a substitute for the U.N.? (Betsy Pisik, 11/15/05, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

America’s representative at the United Nations said yesterday that the organization must become better at solving problems and more responsive to U.S. concerns or Washington will seek other venues for international action. […]

He added: “In the United States, there is a broadly shared view that the U.N. is one of many potential instruments to advance U.S. issues, and we have to decide whether a particular issue is best done through the U.N. or best done through some other mechanism. …

“The U.N. is one of many competitors in a marketplace of global problem solving,” Mr. Bolton said. That realization “should be an incentive for the organization to reform.”

One alternative, he said, is for regional organizations to play a larger role. He praised the Organization of American States for its work in Haiti and said he would like the African Union to take on greater responsibilities in Africa.

In one of the essays included in our forthcoming book, Jonathan Rauch discusses how some of the spadework has already been done on forming a democratic caucus within the UN, Voting Bloc: In Geneva, the U.N.’s successor may be testing its wings (Jonathan Rauch, 3/22/04, Reason). Max Kampelman has likewise written about the idea, A Caucus of Democracies: How to reform the U.N. (MAX M. KAMPELMAN, January 6, 2004, Opinion Journal)

The U.N. today remains far short of realizing its potential or its stated aspirations. Its direction and control have been hijacked by authoritarian regimes, the relics of yesterday. We must work diligently toward realizing its original goals: freedom, democracy and human rights for all the peoples of the world. Until then, with our national values and security at stake, we must not permit our interests to be diverted and undermined by the unprincipled.

At a minimum, it is essential that the U.S. take the lead in establishing and strengthening a Caucus of Democratic States committed to advancing the U.N.’s assigned role for world peace, human dignity and democracy. The recently established Community of Democracies (CD) has called for this move, a recommendation jointly supported in a recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations and Freedom House.

In June 2000, the U.S., under the leadership of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and in cooperation with Poland, Chile, Mali and other democratic states, convened the first meeting of the CD to “collaborate on democratic-related issues in existing international and regional institutions . . . aimed at the promotion of democratic government.” More than 100 countries participated. It was necessary for the CD to withhold full membership from some countries that sought to be included but did not adequately meet democratic standards. A second such meeting took place in Seoul in November 2002, where participants reaffirmed the need to create a U.N. Caucus of Democratic States. Secretary of State Colin Powell called it “a new tool in the U.S. policy tool bag.” A third meeting of the CD is scheduled for Chile in 2005. The CD could be effective in refocusing the efforts of the U.N. to more closely follow its founding principles. At the same time, the CD is uniquely capable of filling the gaps left by the U.N.’s inadequacies, both internally and externally. But the CD’s existence seems to be a great secret in the press. How often have you read about it?

The Community of Democracies is not alone in recognizing the need for more ardent advocacy of democratic principles in the U.N. The European Parliament early last year called for the creation of a working democratic caucus at the Human Rights Commission. Recently, Sen. Joseph Biden introduced a resolution in the Senate in support of the establishment of a U.N Democratic Caucus as “an idea whose time has come.” It would be enormously valuable for the president of the United States to address the American people and enunciate a strong overall policy on the U.N., its opportunities and its limitations. He should make clear that broad promises about human rights must be replaced by specific implementation of human rights standards.

In order to advance the principles of the U.N. Charter, a strong Democratic Caucus must emphasize human dignity as an essential ingredient for peace and stability. It must challenge and limit the influence of the regional blocs that, for example, decide on the rotating membership of the Security Council and the various U.N. missions and commissions. Decisions and resolutions of the heavily politicized General Assembly–including the selection of states for commissions and other U.N. activities–should be formally approved by the Security Council before being considered decisions of the U.N. This would provide a safeguard for the U.N. Charter’s foundational principles and objectives. More difficult is the need to reorganize the composition of the Security Council itself to reflect today’s realities and not those of 50 years ago.

A strong case may be made for the need for an international body to which all of the world’s states, democratic and authoritarian, belong. Discussion and constructive exchange may flow from it. But let us not bestow on it the appearance of being a forum of principle or wisdom qualified to judge the dimension of our national welfare and value. The changes necessary in the U.N. will be difficult to achieve, and some may not be achieved at all. But the impetus for such change must be a commitment to human rights and democracy. We should put Kofi Annan’s statement to the test: “When the U.N. can truly call itself a Community of Democracies, the Charter’s noble ideas of protecting human rights . . . will have been brought much closer.”



June 9, 2004

In Iraq, don’t cut and run. cut and don’t run (Jonathan Rauch, 6/09/04, Jewish World Review)

In an influential Commentary magazine article in 1979, Jeane Kirkpatrick, a Georgetown University professor (she later became U.N. ambassador in the Reagan administration),


March 22, 2004

Voting Bloc: In Geneva, the U.N.’s successor may be testing its wings (Jonathan Rauch, March 22, 2004, Reason)

Since 1996, a handful of foreign-policy wonks have been kicking around the idea of a “democracy caucus” at the U.N. Two administrations, first Bill Clinton’s and then George W. Bush’s, took quiet but significant steps in that direction. Now, according to Bush administration officials, the concept will be test-flown at the six-week meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights that began on Monday in Geneva.

Reached at his Chicago law office shortly before his departure for Geneva, Richard S. Williamson, the U.S. ambassador to the Human Rights Commission, said, “It’s our hope, going to Geneva, to have two or three working sessions of the Community of Democracies—the democracy caucus, if you will.” Asked if the meetings would be simply organizational or social, as earlier ones have been, he said: “We want to move beyond that. We are hopeful there will be meetings to discuss particular agenda items at the commission meeting and seek to find a common approach to them.” Losing no time, the democracy caucus convened over breakfast in Geneva on Wednesday. […]

In 1996, a private group called the United Nations Association of the United States of America floated the idea of a caucus solely for democracies. With 120 or so nations (out of 191 U.N. members), such a caucus could serve as a powerful counterweight to the traditional caucuses.

Late in the second Clinton administration, with a push from the State Department, the democracies began to organize. In 2000, 106 democracies gathered for the first meeting of an informal group they called the Community of Democracies. It had no permanent staff or formal powers, but it did produce an endorsement, in principle, of a democracy caucus at the U.N., a stance that the community reaffirmed in a second meeting in 2002 and, most recently, at a U.N. meeting last fall.

The Bush State Department then began lobbying Community of Democracy nations in a series of diplomatic lunches. “And these lunches with ambassadors from all different geographical regions—but all democracies—talked about all kinds of ideas, including this one,” Paula J. Dobriansky, the undersecretary of State for global affairs, said in an interview. “Overall, it was very clear that other democratic countries from various regions embrace this idea and feel it could be of great value at the U.N., that it can bring together and highlight issues relevant to democracy.”

All of that was groundwork. What had yet to happen was for the caucus to meet at the U.N. to do actual business: devise common positions, advance resolutions, eventually vote as a bloc on nominations and policies. It is this operational coordination that the administration hopes will now begin in Geneva, under the leadership of Chile, which currently heads the Community of Democracies’ steering group. […]

[C]onsider the long-term potential. By the time the Community of Democracies becomes strong enough to act coherently inside the U.N., it will also be strong enough to act coherently outside the U.N. It will contain most of the world’s countries, including most of the strong ones. It will be unencumbered by the vetoes of tin-pot tyrannies. As it gains confidence and skill, it will attract money and authority. It may sprout an aid budget, a relief program, a peacekeeping arm, perhaps treaty powers.

In other words, the Community of Democracies may begin as a voice within the U.N. but go on to become a competitor to the U.N. Perhaps—one can dream—it may someday be the U.N.’s successor.

This is a vital step in the transition from a world where power over a people lends a regime sovereignty to one in which the regime must prove its legitimacy, by gaining the consent of the governed, before it will be recognized as sovereign. The implications are massive. Consider only one: under this standard, the burden of proof would be on regimes like Saddam’s, Kim Jong-il’s, Castro’s, etc, to show why they should not be toppled and replaced by legitimate governments, rather than the liberal democracies having to put on dog and pony shows featuring WMD.


February 10, 2004

The war in Iraq was the right mistake to make (Jonathan Rauch, Feb. 10, 2004, Jewish World Review)

Yes, Saddam’s missile program was a violation — one of many — of his commitments to the United Nations. Yes, he retained scientists who knew how to kill thousands. Yes, he is a very bad man whom everyone is well rid of. But it is useless to maintain that the apparent absence of any major stocks of biological or chemical weapons, and of a viable nuclear bomb program, is anything less than a severe embarrassment for advocates of the war. Me included.

Like many Americans, I was a gradual, and never altogether enthusiastic, convert to the war. I wondered if it would divert attention and resources from other fronts. I worried about the bloodshed and the occupation. Above all, I thought containment seemed to have worked.

In the end, I was swayed by two factors. One was France. When the issue became one of American credibility in the face of a concerted foreign campaign to take the United States down a peg or two, it became important to show that America means business where its security is concerned.

Even that, however, would not have tipped me but for the other factor. People whom I trusted — the president, the secretary of State, the British prime minister, many others — said that containment had already failed as far as chemical and biological weapons were concerned. Nukes, they said, might not be far down the road. Better to react too soon than too late.

Mr. Rauch is a perceptive critic of American democracy and wrote one of the best profiles of George W. Bush we’ve read. But in the latter he did underestimate the meaning of even his own analysis of Mr. Bush. Although, 0on the one hand, he says that :

Bush’s mentality seems more like that of an entrepreneurial CEO than of a conventional politician: He tends to look for strategies that cut to the heart of the problem at hand, rather than strategies that minimize conflict. “He doesn’t like ‘small ball’ — that’s his term,” one of his aides says.

“My faith frees me,” Bush writes, early in his book. “Frees me to make the decisions that others might not like. Frees me to try to do the right thing, even though it may not poll well. Frees me to enjoy life and not worry about what comes next.” He clearly is not a man who fears failure.

He, on the other hand, terms him the “Accidental Radical”, seemingly unable to draw the connection between playing big ball and being a radical.

So it’s predictable, though not necessarily forgivable, that he was fooled as badly as he states above by the WMD argument. No literate person can have been unaware that WMD was a mere pretext for war, added rather late in the game, as a means of trying to get the UN on board and to assuage the more moderate tendencies of folks like Tony Blair, Colin Powell, and, yes, the Jonathan Rauch’s of the world.

Thankfully, the Web often provides us the opportunity to resurrect the past before it disappears down the memory hole. Here is a crystal clear example of the kind of story that was being written even in the major media in the months before WMD became the plotline. Reading it no is a helpful reintroduction to reality, “We’re Taking Him Out”: His war on Iraq may be delayed, but Bush still vows to remove Saddam. Here’s a look at White House plans (DANIEL EISENBERG, May. 05, 2002, TIME)

Two months ago, a group of Republican and Democratic Senators went to the White House to meet with Condoleezza Rice, the President’s National Security Adviser. Bush was not scheduled to attend but poked his head in anyway — and soon turned the discussion to Iraq. The President has strong feelings about Saddam Hussein (you might too if the man had tried to assassinate your father, which Saddam attempted to do when former President George Bush visited Kuwait in 1993) and did not try to hide them. He showed little interest in debating what to do about Saddam. Instead, he became notably animated, according to one person in the room, used a vulgar epithet to refer to Saddam and concluded with four words that left no one in doubt about Bush’s intentions: “We’re taking him out.”

Dick Cheney carried the same message to Capitol Hill in late March. The Vice President dropped by a Senate Republican policy lunch soon after his 10-day tour of the Middle East — the one meant to drum up support for a U.S. military strike against Iraq. As everyone in the room well knew, his mission had been thrown off course by the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. But Cheney hadn’t lost focus. Before he spoke, he said no one should repeat what he said, and Senators and staff members promptly put down their pens and pencils. Then he gave them some surprising news. The question was no longer if the U.S. would attack Iraq, he said. The only question was when.

The U.S. appears ready to do whatever it takes to get rid of the Iraqi dictator once and for all. But while there is plenty of will, there still is no clearly effective way to move against Saddam. Senior Administration officials at the highest levels of planning say there are few good options. Saddam’s internal security makes a successful coup unlikely. The Iraqi opposition is weak and scattered. And this is a war that the rest of the world, with the possible exception of Britain, is not eager for America to wage. While key allies in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, would be more than happy to see Saddam go, they are too busy worrying about their own angry citizens — and quietly profiting from trade with Iraq — to help. A senior Arab official needed only one word to sum up the region’s view of any possible military action: “Ridiculous.” Yet Cheney gave the Senate policy lunch a very different view. He said the same European and Middle Eastern allies who publicly denounce a possible military strike had privately supported the idea.

Maybe so, but even the Administration has conceded that the Middle East crisis has shoved action against Iraq onto the back burner. When the White House announced a Middle East peace conference last week, a senior Administration official said, “This is a detour, and we have to get around it.” Hard-liners, however, think delaying an attack against Saddam because of the Middle East conflict simply means giving him breathing space to perfect his weapons of mass destruction. “Time is not on our side, and Saddam is running out the clock,” says Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, a conservative think tank.

Though there is a near consensus in Washington that the U.S. can no longer afford the failed containment policy of the past decade, which consisted of sanctions, no-fly zones in the north and south and periodic bombings, there is no real agreement on how or how quickly to achieve “regime change” in Iraq. For all the tough talk along the Potomac, the only war now being waged is the one involving the White House, State Department and Pentagon over how and when to move against Saddam.

A front-page story in the New York Times on April 28 claimed that Bush had all but settled on a full-scale ground invasion of Iraq early next year with between 70,000 and 250,000 U.S. troops. But military and civilian officials insist that there is no finalized battle plan or timetable — and that Bush has not even been presented with a formal list of options. Instead, the Times story, with its vision of a large-scale troop deployment, seems to have been the latest volley in the bureaucratic war at home, leaked by uniformed officers who think some of their civilian overseers have been downplaying the size and difficulty of an attack.

Still, planning for some kind of military action is clearly under way. Earlier this year, Bush signed a supersecret intelligence “finding” that authorized further action to prepare for Saddam’s ouster. Mindful of widespread concern that a post-Saddam Iraq could quickly be torn apart by ethnic violence and regional meddling, the White House is increasing its efforts to devise a workable replacement government.

Over the past month, CIA and State Department officials have met with long-feuding Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani to help them bury the hatchet. At a top-secret gathering in Berlin in April, the CIA discussed with them how the U.S. could protect the Kurds if Saddam retaliated against them after a U.S. attack. Also on the U.S. agenda are critical logistical issues, from the condition of roads and airports in the area to how soon Iraqi exiles could be sent into training. (Late last week Barzani confirmed to Time that there was a meeting of Kurdish leaders in Berlin, but denied that the CIA was involved.) While the Kurds, whose forces number about 85,000, could act as a proxy army in the north, they are wary of sacrificing their newfound autonomy (their land is protected by the northern no-fly zone, which is patrolled by U.S. and British planes) for vague promises of a better future. But after watching how the minority Northern Alliance grabbed a major share of power in post-Taliban Afghanistan, they are now asking for a major role in any future Iraqi government, rather than just regional rights, as a price for their cooperation.

Invasion is not the only alternative being considered, but it is the most likely. Taking the Afghanistan campaign as their model, many proponents of action, including Senator John McCain, still believe that before the U.S. commits to a full-scale invasion, it’s worth trying to overthrow Saddam in a proxy war with the help of a local opposition force much like the Northern Alliance, aided by American special forces and air power. But the Iraqi opposition, made up of Kurds in the north and Shi’ite Muslims in the south, is fragmented, largely untested and faced with an Iraqi army much larger and more sophisticated than the one the Northern Alliance helped vanquish in Afghanistan. Given Saddam’s brutal record of using chemical weapons against the Kurds and the U.S.’s past failure to help rebelling Kurds as well as Shi’ites in the south, Iraqis would be understandably wary of heeding an American call to rise up. […]

Hawks like Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Defense Policy Board chief Richard Perle strongly believe that after years of American sanctions and periodic air assaults, the Iraqi leader is weaker than most people believe. Rumsfeld has been so determined to find a rationale for an attack that on 10 separate occasions he asked the CIA to find evidence linking Iraq to the terror attacks of Sept. 11. The intelligence agency repeatedly came back empty-handed. The best hope for Iraqi ties to the attack — a report that lead hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence official in the Czech Republic — was discredited last week.

If links between Iraq and the Sept. 11 conspirators are elusive, links to al-Qaeda may not be. In the past three years, an armed group of Islamic extremists now known as Ansar al-Islam, led in part by a suspected Iraqi intelligence agent, Abu Wa’el, has waged a terror campaign in Kurdistan. Most recently, in April, three militants tried to kill the Prime Minister of eastern Kurdistan just as a State Department official was visiting the region. “It was a message to the U.S.,” says a Kurdish investigator. Many of the 700 to 800 members of the group were trained by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and have returned to Kurdistan since the fighting last year at Tora Bora, according to Kurdish officials.

With hard-liners seizing on such testimony as reason to attack, it falls to Secretary of State Colin Powell — whom many Administration hawks blame for preventing a march on Baghdad at the end of the Gulf War — to play the lonely diplomat. While batting down rumors that he is fed up and quitting, Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, are close to getting a new set of Iraqi sanctions at the U.N. But other Administration principals fear that Saddam is working his own U.N. angle for the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq, whose presence could make the U.S. look like a bully if it invades. “The White House’s biggest fear is that U.N. weapons inspectors will be allowed to go in,” says a top Senate foreign policy aide.

From the moment he took office, Bush has made noises about finishing the job his father started. Sept. 11 may have diverted his attention, but Iraq has never been far from his mind. By the end of 2001, diplomats were discussing how to enlist the support of Arab allies, the military was sharpening its troop estimates, and the communications team was plotting how to sell an attack to the American public. The whole purpose of putting Iraq into Bush’s State of the Union address, as part of the “axis of evil,” was to begin the debate about a possible invasion.

Note particularly that you have a President who has long before made his decision and also just how minimal is the specter of WMD to the entire drama.

Did Bush, Cheney, And Powell Deliberately Mislead Us? (Stuart Taylor Jr., Feb. 9, 2004, National Journal)

Some degree of selective disclosure and one-sided advocacy is to be expected — indeed, unavoidable — when any president uses enormously complex intelligence findings to rally support for a war. But this administration’s outward certitude amid undisclosed intelligence-community doubts was more selective, and thus more misleading, than it needed to be. By airbrushing out the uncertainties, Bush, Cheney, and Powell denied us the opportunity to reach fully informed judgments about a matter of incalculably grave consequence.

Would many supporters of the war have been opposed had Bush, Cheney, and Powell been more candid? Not in my case. In a post-9/11 world, Saddam’s defiant behavior and the risk of Iraq’s acquiring nuclear weapons would have provided a casus belli even had I known everything Bush knew. (I might well have had a different view, however, had I also known that Saddam’s WMD were mostly a mirage.)

Nor was the administration’s intelligence-spinning deceptive in the same sense as, say, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s secret, illegal (although noble) transfers of arms to Great Britain early in World War II. But a president who seeks to lead us into a war of choice owes us a more balanced assessment than Bush provided.

How far Bush and Cheney have fallen short of reasonably full disclosure is a question on which the independent commission now being formed should provide timely guidance for voters. Whether Bush and Cheney were candid enough to be entrusted with another term is a question that voters must answer for themselves.


November 4, 2003

Bush Is No Cowboy: But If He Were, It Wouldn’t Matter (Jonathan Rauch, Nov. 3, 2003, Jewish World Review)

Bush is not going it alone. He is setting his agenda and then looking for support, rather than the other way around. That is what presidents and countries typically do. It is certainly what France does — and how. France’s intransigence on farm subsidies has been the single greatest impediment to progress at the World Trade Organization. France’s determination to set up an independent European military-planning center risks splitting NATO. France’s refusal to comply with the European Union’s fiscal rules may result in the rules’ collapse. France freely uses its E.U. clout to bully dissenting European countries. It does not shrink from calling on them to “shut up.” It did not shrink from announcing it would unilaterally veto any Security Council resolution authorizing military action against Iraq, “whatever the circumstances.” This is not exactly team playing, although critics of American unilateralism rarely see fit to mention it.

America, a stronger country than France, should behave more responsibly, and does. The root problem, however, is substance, not style. The problem is that much of the world resents America’s dominance and disagrees with many of Bush’s policies, especially the Iraq war.

The reality of American dominance is not about to change, and few Americans would favor changing it. Signing up for the International Criminal Court and other global ventures is no answer, because America would still be at odds with other member countries over the goals such organizations would pursue — witness the U.N. and the WTO, among others. People who say that Bush should tie the United States into a web of stabilizing alliances and global organizations, as Presidents Roosevelt and Truman did, miss the point. The old alliances worked not because they were multilateral but because of the West’s common interest in resisting Communism. That common interest is gone.

The only way to placate today’s angry Europeans is to change the ends, not just the means, of U.S. foreign policy. And the only way to have avoided the trans-Atlantic falling-out over Iraq would have been for Bush to condition America’s use of force upon the approval of the Security Council (read: France). No responsible American president, of either party, would have done that.

We might render “the means” as exclusively a concern for the sovereignty of any action–the technical right to do something–and “the end” as concern about the legitimacy–the question of whether the action is morally right. Transnationalists, like the Europeans, don’t particularly care about morality, only about whether you’ve been given permission to exercise power. In effect, the means justify any and every end. That must be intolerable to Americans.

In what must be regarded as the one tragic aspect of his otherwise brilliant papacy, John Paul II has aligned himself with the means crowd, What the War Revealed (David Quinn, September 2003, Crisis):

If anti-Americanism was one source of Catholic opposition to the war, and doubts about its justness another, there was a third that was overlooked by most observers: Vatican foreign policy. In the diplomatic battle that has raged ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall between multilateralists and unilateralists, the Vatican has placed itself firmly on the side of the multilateralists.

The extent to which the Church has done this was well demonstrated by the pope’s latest annual message for World Peace Day. In his message, the pope commented on John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), which had been released 40 years before.

He noted that since then, “the world has become more free, structures of dialogue and cooperation between nations have been strengthened, and the threat of a global nuclear war—which weighed so heavily on Pope John XXIII—has been effectively contained.”

Then he turned his attention to the negative side of the ledger. “There remains a serious disorder in world affairs, and we must face the question: What kind of order can replace this disorder so that men and women can live in freedom, justice, and security?”

Part of the answer, he suggested, lay in nothing less than a new “constitutional organization in the human family.” The pope didn’t explain what he meant by this seemingly radical proposal, but he made clear that he didn’t have in mind some kind of global superstate. Rather, his “constitutional organization” would “strengthen processes already in place to meet the almost universal demand for participatory ways of exercising political authority and for transparency and accountability at every level of public life.” At face value, this call seems unobjectionable enough…like the spread of democratic forms of governance throughout the world. This, of course, is exactly what the United States is working toward.

But the pope’s reference to an “international political authority” is telling. […]

Why this attitude? Surely it cannot be for moral reasons. There’s nothing in the doctrinal or moral teachings of the Church that requires faithful Catholics to sign up for the multilateralist agenda. Therefore, its reasons must be prudential. Evidently, the Vatican believes that it will better promote international peace and order if nations take actions that affect the world at large only after first seeking the permission of organizations like the UN.

This elevation of order, peace, and multilateralism above the moral question of what was being done to the people of Iraq is such a drastic departure from his usual concentration on the inviolable dignity of the human being that one wonders what the Pope can have been thinking.


July 25, 2003

The Accidental Radical (Jonathan Rauch, July 26, 2003, National Journal)

George W. Bush could end up realigning partisan loyalties and redefining what his party stands for. […]

"If you can get fundamental reform," the administration official says, "he’s willing to put up the dollars to get it." That about sums up the Bush approach to domestic policy. […]

"The Republican Party in 1994 tested a proposition," says a White House aide: "that people wanted government to be radically reduced. And they found out that people didn’t want government to be radically reduced." Bush saw this, and he saw that the anti-government conservatism of Goldwater and Reagan had reached a dead end; and if there is a single characteristic that distinguishes Bush, it is his willingness to meet a dead end with a bulldozer. In 2002, "he really did set out to have the Republican Party stand for something different," says Michael Gerson, who signed on with Bush in 1999 and is now his chief speechwriter.

Bush’s view, expressed in his book and in the 2000 campaign, is that government curtails freedom not by being large or active but by making choices that should be left to the people. Without freedom of choice, people feel no responsibility, and Bush insists again and again, as he put it in the book: "I want to usher in a responsibility era." […]

The plan, therefore, has both tactical and strategic elements. In the short run, give people things they want; in the longer run, weaken the Democrats’ base while creating, program by program, a new constituency of Republican loyalists who want the government to help them without bossing them around. Most important of all, however, is what might be thought of as the meta-strategy. […]

Conservatives, for their part, believe that today they are the ones who stand for progressive change, in the face of "reactionary liberalism," but they have never been able to convince the public. That is what Bush seeks to do, both by rejecting the mantra of minimal government and by passing reform after reform. Never mind how you feel about any one of his initiatives; as a group, they seek to establish that it is Republicans who now "stand for the idea that the old ways will not work." If the Democrats dig in their heels and fall back on stale rants against greed, inequality, and privatization, so much the better. The voters will know whom to thank for the empowering choices that Republicans intend to give them. As for which is the "party of nostalgia," the voters will also remember who defended, until the last dog died, single-payer Medicare, one-size-fits-all Social Security, schools without accountability, bureaucratic government monopolies, static economics, and Mutually Assured Destruction. […]

In the book, Bush returns again and again to his theory of political capital. Page 123: "I believe you have to spend political capital or it withers and dies. And I wanted to spend my capital on something profound." Page 218: "I had earned political capital… Now was the time to spend that capital on a bold agenda." His aversion to hoarding approval seems to flow as much from his personality as from his political experience. On page 2 he recounts hearing a sermon that "changed my life." It was, he writes, "a rousing call to make the most of every moment, discard reservations, throw caution to the wind, rise to the challenge." A few pages later: "I live in the moment, seize opportunities, and try to make the most of them."

Bush’s mentality seems more like that of an entrepreneurial CEO than of a conventional politician: He tends to look for strategies that cut to the heart of the problem at hand, rather than strategies that minimize conflict. "He doesn’t like ‘small ball’ — that’s his term," one of his aides says.

"My faith frees me," Bush writes, early in his book. "Frees me to make the decisions that others might not like. Frees me to try to do the right thing, even though it may not poll well. Frees me to enjoy life and not worry about what comes next." He clearly is not a man who fears failure.

The best essay on George W. Bush since Bill Keller’s.


May 28, 2003

After Iraq, The Left Has A New Agenda: Contain America (Jonathan Rauch, May 23, 2003, National Journal)

Unless you live at the bottom of a well, you’ve probably noticed that 9/11 and Iraq have had a transforming effect on the American Right. The short formulation is that so-called neoconservatism has triumphed. In 1999, Republicans bitterly opposed U.S. action against a rogue state in Central Europe; in 2000, their presidential nominee ran on an inward-looking, reactive, "humble" foreign policy. All of that is history now. It is hard to find a conservative who does not believe, as the neocons do, in robust and pre-emptive American action against tyrants and terrorists.

That change is, I believe, a watershed, akin to Democrats’ side-switch on civil rights in the 1960s and Republicans’ switch on budget-balance in the 1980s. In the rush to notice neocons, however, another transformation has been overlooked. A new kind of leftist agenda has emerged from 9/11 and Iraq, one that both mirrors and inverts neoconservatism, and one whose implications seem just as profound.

To understand "neoleftism" (as I might as well call it), consider an ostensibly odd fact: Many neoleftists saw not failure for their side in the fight against the Iraq war, but success.

Success? Even though the Left’s street demonstrations around the world failed to stop the war? Even though the quick victory and Iraqi celebrations seemed to vindicate neocons’ predictions? Well, yes. Here is how The Nation, which is to the neoleftists something like what Commentary once was to the neocons, put it in an April 7 editorial:

"If we are present at the creation of a new American empire, we are also present at the creation of another superpower — the largest, most broadly based peace and justice movement in history, a movement that has engaged millions of people here and around the globe."

President Bush’s arrogance and aggression, in this view, have catalyzed the truly international sort of activist network that the Left has long dreamed of. At last the globalized economy faces a globalized Left, one that can come together at the speed of e-mail to oppose corporate power — and American power.

Where’d they go? We kept hearing about how the millions of marchers represented a new movement–where are they? What do they want? What’s next?

Aren’t they in fact just a reactionary force that can be mobilized once in awhile to try and stop something they don’t like? In what sense are they a constructive, forward-looking force?


March 7, 2003

As War Looms, Can a Young Democrat Save His Party From Itself?: Democrats’ fixation on multilateralism and their discomfort with force could consign the party to oblivion (Jonathan Rauch, March 4, 2003, Atlantic Monthly)

In 1999, a young man named Timothy Bergreen went to work in Clinton’s State Department. He had previously worked for Democrats on Capitol Hill, taken advanced degrees in law and political science, and practiced law in Palo Alto, Calif. His abiding passion, however, was for issues of national security. He was also a fiercely loyal Democrat-the kind, he says, who puts up lawn signs.

Today, just on the cusp of 40, Bergreen would blend into a crowd on any of three or four continents. His height is average, his build slender, his hair and eyes generic brown, his features aquiline. A crinkly smile punctuates his conversation.

The smile, however, masks a sense of mission. He watches, dismayed, as Democrats waltz merrily toward an abyss. The public perceives Democrats as less capable and trustworthy than Republicans on national security. That’s the bad news. The worse news is that the perception is grounded in reality. Not many prominent Democrats could comfortably and credibly say the things that Bill Clinton said about Iraq in 1998.

A lot of Democrats seem to regard foreign-policy and national security issues as distractions that, with luck, will soon go away. On Iraq, the party snapped back-with whiplash speed, seemingly as if Clinton had never happened-to the pacifism and confusion of the McGovern and Mondale years. That makes Democrats not only wrong but, in national races, unelectable.

“We have reached the point where this has metastasized into a crisis in the party,” says Bergreen. “What I would like is to have a Democrat be comfortable reading the words that were in John F. Kennedy’s inaugural. Have you read that recently? That’s tough stuff. That liberty and freedom are something worth fighting for, worth bearing a burden for. Just because there’s no Soviet Union doesn’t make these things less relevant.”

And so Bergreen is pounding the pavements of Washington, looking for money and support for a new organization, to be called Democrats for National Security. “The problem,” says Doug Wilson, a former Clinton Pentagon official who counts himself among Bergreen’s supporters, “is to be able to say ‘Democrats for national security’ and not have people think it’s an oxymoron.”

It’s hard to say this in a way that doesn’t sound pejorative, even if it’s meant to be merely analytical, but you can’t be the both the party of spending government money on ourselves and the party of freedom for others. At some point you have to explain to people in poverty in America why you’re spending money on people in Iraq instead of on them, and if your fundamental philosophy is redistributive that’s not an easy question to answer.


April 15, 2002

Does Democracy Need Voters? : The question Europe still needs to answer (Jonathan Rauch, March 2002, Atlantic Monthly)

Let’s face it, voters are a nuisance. They have an inconvenient habit of refusing to follow where social reformers want to lead. And so reformers are always on the prowl for ways to bypass electorates. One such effort is the increasingly audacious campaign by American lawyers and activists to circumvent legislatures with lawsuits. Another is the attempt to set up a number of supranational agencies, including an International Criminal Court, whose functionaries would not be accountable to voters anywhere. A third, and at least until lately the most ambitious of all such projects, is the European Union.

The EU is a consortium of European governments (fifteen at the moment) that for most of its forty-plus years has drifted steadily away from the moorings of good governance. A good government should be delimited in its powers, but the EU’s guiding premise has been “ever closer union,” leading to a permanent constitutional revolution that has inexorably gathered power toward the center. A good government should be comprehensible in its structure and open in its workings, but the EU’s processes are bafflingly arcane, and many of its key deliberations are conducted behind closed doors. A good government should, above all, be accountable to voters in regular elections, but the EU has only one elected branch, which is by far its weakest: the parliament. […]

Europe’s unprecedented and, it must be said, surprisingly successful effort to create a Europe-wide democracy without a Europe-wide electorate has finally hit a wall. The EU plans to admit twelve new members in the next few years. Getting the existing members to agree on anything is hard enough; twelve new ones may cause total paralysis. Prompted by this realization, an especially prominent critic has recently pointed out many of the shortcomings delineated above, charging that the EU’s citizens “feel that deals are all too often cut out of their sight,” that they believe “the Union is behaving too bureaucratically,” and that the EU “needs to become more democratic, more transparent and more efficient.” This critic is none other than the EU itself, which made these points in a formal declaration in December and announced plans for a convention, starting this month and continuing into next year, to draft a constitution for Europe.

Americans may yawn. During a war on terrorism, who can be bothered with “qualified majority voting,” “subsidiarity,” “variable geometry,” and the other tongue-twisting and brain-addling elements of the EU apparatus? Besides, no one would be surprised if a grandiose EU parley disintegrates into diplomatic pablum.

But the new convention looks to be different. Its mandate is sweeping, putting on the table everything from the Union’s basic division of powers with its member states to the direct election of an EU President. It will consult a wide range of real people–national parliamentarians, academics, members of private groups, business leaders–in addition to the usual coteries of EU ministers and bureaucrats. Above all, it is impelled by Europeans’ realization that today’s blob needs shape and limits if it is to grow without collapsing.

The EU can take on a host of new members, or it can become more democratic and open, or it can become more streamlined and efficient; to do all three at once, however, seems impossible. The EU’s constitutional convention, in short, faces a hopeless task–just as our own constitutional convention did in 1787. I wouldn’t bet that the talks will produce a turning point in Western history. But I wouldn’t write off the possibility either.

Unlike Mr. Rauch, we’ve written the possibility off. The sclerotic and authoritarian bureaucracy of the EU is merely the last nail in Europe’s coffin. Its more serious problems include : the passing of religious belief and the according death of morality; social welfare states that mitigate against productivity and creativity; declining birthrates; and dependence on immigrant labor. Overcoming this series of problems would require a conservative counterrevolution on a scale that we’ve probably never seen in human history. It would require dismantling the entire network of government benefits and required corporate benefits to which Europe’s citizens feel themselves entitled, making them dependent once again on themselves, their families, their neighbors, and their churches, for their social services. I suppose you can’t rule out the possibility, but it seems awfully far-fetched.

Europe fell prey to the precise danger–which America has, thus far, better avoided–that was enunciated by many of the great conservative critics of democracy; its citizens, born with the inclination and suddenly finding themselves with the power, have voted themselves an ever greater share of other people’s wealth while requiring ever less labor and social responsibility of themselves. In order to believe that Europe can reverse its century long decline, it is necessary to believe that it can overcome the natural acquisitiveness and selfishness of its citizens. This seems dubious enough even before you add in the disturbing decline of religion throughout Europe–a decline so complete that the Archbishop of Canterbury has referred to Britain as a post-Christian nation. In the absence of Judeo-Christian beliefs, from whence will come the morality and the ideology of freedom coupled with personal responsibility that would have to underpin such a counterrevolution? Certainly not from a gang of German and French bureaucrats.