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Posts For: May 29, 2007

Secretary Slaughter?

Who will be Secretary of State or National Security Adviser in the Hillary Rodham Clinton administration? The answer as of now is still rather unclear. But one woman who might be angling for the job—as we see from her essay, “Undoing Bush: How to Repair Eight Years of Sabotage, Bungling, and Neglect,” (link requires a subscription) in the latest issue of Harper’s—is Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School.

Of course, just because she wants such an important job, doesn’t mean she’ll get it. Dean Slaughter may think of herself as a Democratic Condoleezza Rice, but she does not yet have even the minimal level of experience Condi had when Bush tapped her for office. What’s more, she’ll be up against some very power-thirsty competitors. Perhaps, given her interest in international organizations—the subject of her academic research—she will end up as Ambassador to the United Nations, or some such mid-level post.

Whatever her prospects, Slaughter’s Harper’s essay is significant. It casts light on what mainstream Democratic foreign-policy thinkers are talking about at a moment when George Bush has “taken a prosperous nation and mired it in war, replaced our national composure with terror, and left behind him a legacy of damage so profound that repairing it will likely be the work of generations.” Or so the editors of Harper’s say in their preface. 

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Who will be Secretary of State or National Security Adviser in the Hillary Rodham Clinton administration? The answer as of now is still rather unclear. But one woman who might be angling for the job—as we see from her essay, “Undoing Bush: How to Repair Eight Years of Sabotage, Bungling, and Neglect,” (link requires a subscription) in the latest issue of Harper’s—is Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School.

Of course, just because she wants such an important job, doesn’t mean she’ll get it. Dean Slaughter may think of herself as a Democratic Condoleezza Rice, but she does not yet have even the minimal level of experience Condi had when Bush tapped her for office. What’s more, she’ll be up against some very power-thirsty competitors. Perhaps, given her interest in international organizations—the subject of her academic research—she will end up as Ambassador to the United Nations, or some such mid-level post.

Whatever her prospects, Slaughter’s Harper’s essay is significant. It casts light on what mainstream Democratic foreign-policy thinkers are talking about at a moment when George Bush has “taken a prosperous nation and mired it in war, replaced our national composure with terror, and left behind him a legacy of damage so profound that repairing it will likely be the work of generations.” Or so the editors of Harper’s say in their preface. 

Interestingly, Slaughter is not quite as pessimistic as they are. According to her, undoing the damage wrought by Bush won’t take generations; it can be done right away. “The paradox of American foreign policy,” she writes, “is that the United States, though more powerful than ever, has rarely been so lost in the world and never more reviled.” But as recently as September 12, 2001, “everyone was with us—until we told them, both in word and in deed, that if they weren’t with us they were against us.” All a new President need do is “restore American moral and political leadership in the world” by taking five steps.

The first of these is very simple: “we must close Guantanamo.”

The second is a little less simple: “we must get serious about nuclear disarmament.” It is time, says Slaughter, for America to reduce its nuclear arsenal. If we do, and if we provide them with civilian nuclear aid, even the three members of the “axis of evil” might agree “not to pursue nuclear weapons”—a remarkably elegant solution to a perplexing problem. It is a wonder that no one (apart from Jimmy Carter) ever thought of it before.

Steps three and four are a little more simple: the U.S. should join the International Criminal Court and reform the United Nations to expand the Security Council. “Why isn’t a single African, Middle Eastern, or Latin American country permanently represented on the world’s highest decision-making body?” she asks. The time for global inclusiveness has come.

The final item, number five, is very simple: “we must try to stop global warming.”

Is number five a case of hedging one’s bets in case Al Gore becomes President? Perhaps. But such long-range calculations can be as difficult as forecasting the climate.

My favorite among Slaughter’s easy steps is number four: expanding the Security Council to bring in a third-world country. Consensus in the Council itself will of course be required to implement any such proposal. So which country should be invited by us to join? Sudan? Venezuela? Syria? I am sure our good friends on the Security Council, the Russians and the Chinese, would be very happy with any or all of the three.

Let’s wish Anne-Marie Slaughter godspeed in her pursuit of high office. Even if many of her ideas are ludicrous, she’s right about one thing. When it comes to foreign policy, the Bush coterie can be strikingly incompetent. Exhibit A is the fact that even as Slaughter trashes the President for “sabotage, bungling, and neglect,” his administration has turned around and showered her with honors, naming her to chair an important State Department initiative to promote democracy. It is going to take more than five easy steps to undo that particular piece of damage.

 

 

 

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Jamestown, 400 Years Later

We mark our wedding anniversaries with ever more precious materials—progressing from paper to gold to diamonds—but the process seems to be reversed with our national anniversaries. Over the years, the establishment of the first successful English colony in North America, which took place in 1607 at Jamestown, Virginia, has been commemorated with ever diminishing means. This month, the 400th anniversary of the settlement was marked with a curiously stilted ceremony that, by official policy, actually avoided the word “celebration” itself.

One can understand why Native Americans and blacks might find little in this anniversary to celebrate. But it is noteworthy that the angriest attack of all should come from a British newspaper. According to the Guardian, if Jamestown is to be remembered at all, it should be as “the birthplace of African slavery, Native American genocide, and the global tobacco trade,” a veritable trifecta of human misery.

The newspaper has been widely and justly ridiculed for its remarks. African slavery, of course, existed long before 1607. It’s true that the American colonies served as a point of expansion for the international slave market into the New World. But the nation that grew from those colonies, along with its mother country, participated powerfully in the moral critique of slavery that led to its eventual extirpation in the West.

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We mark our wedding anniversaries with ever more precious materials—progressing from paper to gold to diamonds—but the process seems to be reversed with our national anniversaries. Over the years, the establishment of the first successful English colony in North America, which took place in 1607 at Jamestown, Virginia, has been commemorated with ever diminishing means. This month, the 400th anniversary of the settlement was marked with a curiously stilted ceremony that, by official policy, actually avoided the word “celebration” itself.

One can understand why Native Americans and blacks might find little in this anniversary to celebrate. But it is noteworthy that the angriest attack of all should come from a British newspaper. According to the Guardian, if Jamestown is to be remembered at all, it should be as “the birthplace of African slavery, Native American genocide, and the global tobacco trade,” a veritable trifecta of human misery.

The newspaper has been widely and justly ridiculed for its remarks. African slavery, of course, existed long before 1607. It’s true that the American colonies served as a point of expansion for the international slave market into the New World. But the nation that grew from those colonies, along with its mother country, participated powerfully in the moral critique of slavery that led to its eventual extirpation in the West.

But this is not the most remarkable part of the Guardian’s essay. What really shocks the reader is the casual way in which it lists the export of tobacco as a historical crime alongside slavery and genocide. This is morally ridiculous, and factually inaccurate to boot. Tobacco was given by Native Americans (the Powhatan, specifically) to the Europeans, not the other way round. (The Guardian is evasive on this, speaking only of the “global tobacco trade,” as if the truly heinous crime were not the health risks of tobacco but capitalism itself.)

The consequences of tobacco’s importation were momentous, affecting everything from the balance of economic power in Europe to the rhythm and pattern of everyday life; only the potato (another New World product) rivaled its impact. The usual term for such a dynamic exchange of products, customs, and ideas between peoples is multiculturalism. It is amusing that the Guardian, a stalwart champion of “multicultural Britain” (as one can confirm by a simple check on Google) should be so squeamish about this.

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More on Bowden

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently finished reading Mark Bowden’s Guests of the Ayatollah, the definitive account of the 1979-1981 Iranian hostage crisis.

Among other things, it serves as another reminder, as if any were needed, that no matter how nicely (or not) we treat prisoners captured in the Global War on Terror, our enemies will seldom reciprocate. The embassy workers seized by the Iranians were repeatedly beaten, coerced into signing statements denouncing their country, paraded before the world’s TV cameras, and threatened with execution—all war crimes, all expressly forbidden by the U.S. armed forces interrogation manual, and all made even worse by the fact that the victims were not combatants but embassy personnel with diplomatic immunity. They were also denied adequate quarters, exercise, letters from loved ones, medical care, and other comforts that detainees at Guantanamo take for granted.

Of course the prisoners held in earlier wars by the Japanese, North Koreans, and North Vietnamese endured far worse. Read Faith of My Fathers by John McCain and Mark Salter, for an account of life in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. The book’s descriptions of torture are as harrowing as its accounts ofPOW resistance to torture, including that of McCain himself, are inspirational.

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently finished reading Mark Bowden’s Guests of the Ayatollah, the definitive account of the 1979-1981 Iranian hostage crisis.

Among other things, it serves as another reminder, as if any were needed, that no matter how nicely (or not) we treat prisoners captured in the Global War on Terror, our enemies will seldom reciprocate. The embassy workers seized by the Iranians were repeatedly beaten, coerced into signing statements denouncing their country, paraded before the world’s TV cameras, and threatened with execution—all war crimes, all expressly forbidden by the U.S. armed forces interrogation manual, and all made even worse by the fact that the victims were not combatants but embassy personnel with diplomatic immunity. They were also denied adequate quarters, exercise, letters from loved ones, medical care, and other comforts that detainees at Guantanamo take for granted.

Of course the prisoners held in earlier wars by the Japanese, North Koreans, and North Vietnamese endured far worse. Read Faith of My Fathers by John McCain and Mark Salter, for an account of life in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. The book’s descriptions of torture are as harrowing as its accounts ofPOW resistance to torture, including that of McCain himself, are inspirational.

While the bravery of the Vietnam War prisoners is well-known, until Bowden’s book came along I had not been aware of the heroism of some of Iran’s hostages, in particular a 34-year-old political officer named Michael Metrinko. (He is now a retired Foreign Service officer who has worked in recent years in Afghanistan and Iraq.) A former Peace Corps volunteer and fluent Farsi speaker, Metrinko turned out to be the biggest thorn in the hostage-takers’ side. Bowden’s accounts of his exploits are awe-inspiring.

Metrinko spent days tied to a chair and many months in solitary confinement in a “tiny storage room . . . with no fresh air and no companionship.” Yet when the hostage-takers tried to play nice for the cameras and stage a Christmas party for the hostages, Metrinko (unlike most of his fellow hostages) refused to be part of the propaganda show. When his jailers brought Christmas dinner to his cell, he refused a plate loaded with turkey, cookies, and other goodies that he badly wanted. Writes Bowden: “Metrinko marched down the hall and dumped the contents into the toilet. He made sure the guards saw him do it.”

On another occasion, the authorities brought to his cell an Iranian acquaintance of Metrinko’s in an attempt to prove that he was an American spy. Metrinko refused to be questioned about his relationship with the Iranian. “I’m not going to answer questions from anyone wearing a dress,” Metrinko told a mullah. “Shut up, you motherfucker,” one of the jailers told Metrinko. Metrinko: “You are the motherfuckers! The real motherfucker is Khomeini. Fuck him and fuck you all”—an outburst for which Metrinko was beaten.

Metrinko’s inventiveness at insulting his captors in their own language knew no bounds. He told another jailer: “You know the imam is not a man . . . The Ayatollah Khomeini, he is not a man . . . He does not have a wife . . . The only pictures I have ever seen of the ayatollah with anyone else are always pictures of him with a small boy beside him.” Bowden writes: “The guards caught his drift; he was suggesting that their imam was a pederast. Metrinko was grabbed by the hair—it had grown quite long—and dragged from the room. The angry guards took turns kicking and punching him . . . Then they locked the door and left him there and refused to bring him food for three days.”

Not even the prospect of release could still Metrinko’s obstreperousness. On the bus taking the hostages to the airport in 1981, one of the guards shouted for the hostages to stop whispering to one another. Metrinko responded in Farsi, “You shut up, you son of a Persian whore.” The bus halted and Metrinko was dragged out for another beating. Only the intercession of a high-ranking guard made it possible for Metrinko to be put on the plane with the other hostages.

Metrinko and some of the other hostages were real heroes who have never really gotten the public recognition they deserved, no doubt because the country wanted to forget this whole disgraceful episode. Bowden’s book provides a welcome opportunity to remember the good along with the bad.

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Amnesty International’s Doublespeak

Amnesty International is beating its anti-American drum again. In 2005, AI’s secretary-general Irene Khan called the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo “the gulag of our time.” Aside from defaming the U.S., this grotesque metaphor belittled the martyrdom of the millions of victims of the real gulags, most of whom did not survive the experience and none of whom were terrorists. Rather, they were sent to their doom for such offenses as being “the wife of an enemy of the people.”

On Wednesday, AI issued its 2007 report, and Khan was back at it. “One of the biggest blows to human rights has been the attempt of Western democratic states to roll back some fundamental principles of human rights,” she said. Which “democratic states”? As Khan continued, with characteristic restraint, “the U.S. administration’s doublespeak has been breathtakingly shameless. It is unrepentant about the global web of abuse it has spun in the name of counterterrorism.”

But who is doing the doublespeak? The war against terrorism is the supreme human-rights struggle of our time. This is so because the first human right is the right to life, and scores of innocents every day have it brutally snatched from them by terrorists. It is so, too, because the regimes that succor terrorists are themselves among the world’s most repressive and because the jihadists and other radicals who carry out terrorism aim to become rulers themselves. If they succeed, they will show their subjects no more mercy than they do their victims today. And the war on terror is doubly a campaign for human rights because the Bush administration has “shamelessly” built its anti-terror strategy around the objective of promoting freedom and democracy in the Middle East.

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Amnesty International is beating its anti-American drum again. In 2005, AI’s secretary-general Irene Khan called the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo “the gulag of our time.” Aside from defaming the U.S., this grotesque metaphor belittled the martyrdom of the millions of victims of the real gulags, most of whom did not survive the experience and none of whom were terrorists. Rather, they were sent to their doom for such offenses as being “the wife of an enemy of the people.”

On Wednesday, AI issued its 2007 report, and Khan was back at it. “One of the biggest blows to human rights has been the attempt of Western democratic states to roll back some fundamental principles of human rights,” she said. Which “democratic states”? As Khan continued, with characteristic restraint, “the U.S. administration’s doublespeak has been breathtakingly shameless. It is unrepentant about the global web of abuse it has spun in the name of counterterrorism.”

But who is doing the doublespeak? The war against terrorism is the supreme human-rights struggle of our time. This is so because the first human right is the right to life, and scores of innocents every day have it brutally snatched from them by terrorists. It is so, too, because the regimes that succor terrorists are themselves among the world’s most repressive and because the jihadists and other radicals who carry out terrorism aim to become rulers themselves. If they succeed, they will show their subjects no more mercy than they do their victims today. And the war on terror is doubly a campaign for human rights because the Bush administration has “shamelessly” built its anti-terror strategy around the objective of promoting freedom and democracy in the Middle East.

Is it odd for a bloody war to be the fulcrum of the struggle for human rights? Not at all. The two greatest victories for human rights of the last century (and probably of all time) were the allied victory over the Axis in World War II and the West’s victory over the Soviet Union in the cold war. These spelled the difference between life and death, freedom and slavery, for hundreds of millions of people. The greatest victory for human rights in American history was the North’s victory in the Civil War, ending slavery. (Amnesty International was not around, of course, at the time of the Civil War or World War II. But it was in business during the cold war, toward which it adopted a posture of studied neutrality. In other words, in the great human-rights battle of its time, Amnesty went AWOL.)

In each of these wars, our side was guilty of human-rights violations more egregious than anything that has happened at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib. Some of those were necessary—as President Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus may have been—and others were shameful, like the detention of Japanese-American citizens by FDR. But even these egregious abuses pale in comparison to the stakes of the wars, stakes that had everything to do with human rights.

Today, it may be that some U.S. actions in the war on terror are questionable or blameworthy. But such derogations are trivial in comparison with what is at issue between us and the terrorists. No one genuinely devoted to human rights can be blind to this. Those who ignore it are using the lingo of human rights to pursue some other agenda.

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Hillary’s Undamaged Hopes

Republicans hoping that the two new biographies of Hillary Clinton (one with a first printing of 275,000, the other of 175,000) will throw the Democrats’ strongest candidate into a tailspin may be disappointed. I’ve yet to get my hands on either of the books, which will be published later this week. But to judge by the leaks to date, neither A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, by Carl Bernstein, nor Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, by former New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth (who was one of the first to write about the Whitewater scandal) and current Timesman Don Van Natta Jr., is likely to have an effect on the race.

The books appear to contain interesting details about Bill Clinton’s affairs, including one so serious that he nearly divorced Hillary to marry the other woman. And there are said to be juicy quotes, in particular one from George Stephanopoulos on Hillary’s Jesuitical lying about Travelgate. But these are familiar tropes.

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Republicans hoping that the two new biographies of Hillary Clinton (one with a first printing of 275,000, the other of 175,000) will throw the Democrats’ strongest candidate into a tailspin may be disappointed. I’ve yet to get my hands on either of the books, which will be published later this week. But to judge by the leaks to date, neither A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, by Carl Bernstein, nor Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, by former New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth (who was one of the first to write about the Whitewater scandal) and current Timesman Don Van Natta Jr., is likely to have an effect on the race.

The books appear to contain interesting details about Bill Clinton’s affairs, including one so serious that he nearly divorced Hillary to marry the other woman. And there are said to be juicy quotes, in particular one from George Stephanopoulos on Hillary’s Jesuitical lying about Travelgate. But these are familiar tropes.

The most interesting chapters may come from Gerth and Van Atta. These two are really the first to take an extended, in-depth look at Hillary’s record as a Senator. But that’s precisely the rub. Senator Clinton has played it close to the vest in Congress, emphasizing her competence and bi-partisan instincts largely to the exclusion of any political skywriting. And unless there are hitherto unsuspected revelations about her Senate career, any damage caused by Her Way may be minimal. The book comes early in the campaign; most likely voters already have a strong sense of what they think of Hillary.

As things now stand, the relentless, low-key emphasis on competence which served Hillary so well in her 2000 Senate campaign will also help her in 2008. Not least because it plays off of President Bush’s marked incompetence, the latest example of which is his ill-drafted immigration reform bill.

When it comes to the Clinton campaign it is important to remember that she’s engaged not in one but in two primary races (political consultant Craig Charney first formulated this idea). One is against Obama for the upper-middle-class vote; the other against John Edwards for the blue-collar vote. She can lose both and still likely win the nomination: neither of her rivals has any cross-class appeal. Which is why, these new exposés notwithstanding, Hillary still remains the favorite.

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