In Sunday’s GOP presidential debate, Senator Sam Brownback went hard after former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for changing his position on abortion. Governor Romney explained his recent shift to a pro-life stance, adding: “I get tired of people that are holier than thou because they’ve been pro-life longer than I have.” This exchange raises a larger question: in what instances should changing a position on issues be held against a candidate? When does it help, and when does it hurt?
One way to answer is to examine the explanation for the change. Is it plausible and serious? Another has to do with the magnitude of the change. Are we talking about an evolution in views, or a dramatic alteration? Yet another factor has to do with timing. Did the change in position coincide with other (higher) political aspirations and the political calendar?
The other matter that comes into play is the reputation of the candidate. Ronald Reagan changed his views on abortion, and he even violated his own administration policy when he sold arms for hostages. Yet Reagan was seen as a man of deep and admirable convictions. He had been a warrior for conservatism, especially during its wilderness years. And so he had stored up a great reservoir of trust and good will, which he had to draw on from time to time.
Romney is in a different place. He is seen (with justification) as highly intelligent and competent. But he has not yet established himself as a person of unshakeable convictions. On abortion, Romney’s change has been especially dramatic. That’s fine; better he embrace a culture of life than distance himself from it. But when you combine this with his shifts on guns, gay rights, and (to some degree) immigration, you can’t help noticing that he has created a stress fracture that could turn into a clean break—which was exactly what Senator Brownback was trying to investigate during Sunday’s debate.
Mitt Romney is still in good shape. He’s done reasonably well in the debates, he’s raised a lot of money, and he’s in a strong position in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He is clearly trying to position himself as the conservative alternative to Rudy Giuliani (a position Romney will soon share with Fred Thompson). Many conservatives like Romney, but are a bit wary. A candidate’s shifting on issues is not unprecedented or disqualifying. It may even be understandable. But Romney has just about used up the number of times he is able to do so before permanently alienating his constituency.
The evidence of gains being made on the ground in Iraq continues to pile up.
See, for instance, this article by Robert Burns, the Associated Press’s veteran military writer. Burns has just returned from his 18th trip to Iraq to report: “The new U.S. military strategy in Iraq, unveiled six months ago to little acclaim, is working.”
Or this new report by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He traveled to Iraq with Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution recently, and while his findings are not quite as positive as theirs, he nevertheless writes: “While all the half-truths and spin of the past have built up a valid distrust of virtually anything the Administration says about Iraq, real military progress is taking place and the U.S. team in Baghdad is actively seeking matching political and economic progress.”
A pet shop owner in Yongin, Korea, about 25 miles south of Seoul, set off an international incident recently with an advertising sign featuring . . . a puppy. In the sign, a dog’s head replaces that of Mao Zedong in the portrait hanging at the northern end of Tiananmen Square. Last Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry summoned a South Korean diplomat to protest, and the shop’s owner immediately pulled down the sign and apologized to Beijing.
What’s wrong with this picture? First, China’s authoritarian state tried to censor an image appearing in a democracy—and the democracy bowed. Yet there is something even more far-reaching and disturbing in this incident. Since 1954, the People’s Republic has maintained that the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence—mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in others’ internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence—are essential to its foreign policy.
Beijing always says China’s rise will be peaceful, that it does not pose a threat to anyone else, and that it will never interfere in the domestic affairs of another nation. But if its definition of “non-interference” includes the right to ban advertising for a pet shop in a backwater location in another country, then the world is in for a load of trouble.
Over the weekend, the New York Times published an open letter from the Elie Wiesel Foundation, originally released July 11, signed by 51 Nobel laureates, including Wiesel, the Dalai Lama, and a host of other luminaries, decrying the various British boycotts of Israel. These boycotts, the statement read, “glorify prejudice and bigotry.”
But there is one man, reputed to know more about the horrific effects of “prejudice and bigotry” than anyone on earth, missing from the collection of signatories. The absence of his name is made even more conspicuous by the presence of another name: that of Frederick Willem de Klerk, the last apartheid-era President of South Africa, who ably helped his country transition into multi-racial democracy. (No doubt the “Israel is apartheid” crowd will use his presence for their propaganda purposes. The presence on the list of Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian novelist and playwright, should complicate their attempt.) The missing name, of course, belongs to Nelson Mandela. And its absence is not all too surprising. Mandela has long been a friend of tyrants, from Fidel Castro to Muammar Qaddafi to Yasir Arafat. In the current issue of Azure, I explore the theme of Mandela’s support for these autocrats within the larger context of the troubling direction in which his political party—the African National Congress—is taking South African foreign policy.
While on holiday on the French Riviera, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the son of Libya’s dictator Muammar Qaddafi, gave an interview to the international edition of Newsweek about the recent French-brokered deal to free five Bulgarian nuns and one Palestinian doctor from Libya’s death row.
In the interview, Qaddafi’s son candidly conceded that Libya had blackmailed Europe. He then proceeded to divulge details of the alleged deal—including $414 million to renew a hospital, $552 million for a compensation fund for the families of the alleged victims of the nurses, arms sales, and a nuclear cooperation agreement. According to the Lebanese English-language paper The Daily Star, Saif al-Islam was then asked from where the monies came. Pleading ignorance, he reportedly answered that “the French managed to bring money in order to pay the families,” but that he did not know the origin of the funds (though the rumor, according to Newsweek, is that the Qataris picked up the tab). “It’s not our business to ask where the money [came] from” said the young Qaddafi. As the Romans used to say, pecunia non olet.
Dana Priest is a national-security correspondent for the Washington Post. Her professional success depends in large part on her ability to ferret out secrets from the U.S. intelligence and defense bureaucracy and from knowledgeable officials on Capitol Hill.
Sources within government, acting in violation of the laws governing secrecy, regularly provide her with classified information in exchange for her promise not to disclose their identity, even if this means she must defy a court order and possibly go to jail. Last year, Priest won a major journalism award for a November 2005 article bringing to light the highly classified fact that the CIA had established detention facilities for terrorists in foreign countries.
Because reporters have lately been going to jail with some frequency—the imprisonment of Judith Miller in the Valerie Plame leak investigation is the most famous recent instance, but there have been others—pressure has been building for federal “shield-law” legislation that would exempt reporters from being compelled by courts to disclose their sources.
Last Friday, RealClearPolitics ran in its lead feature spot an essay by Gregory Scoblete, a free-lance writer in New Jersey. The essay had the headline “The GOP, Ron Paul & Non-Interventionism,” and was subsequently commented upon by, among others, guest-blogger Stephen Bainbridge on Andrew Sullivan’s blog.
Scoblete’s premise is that, just as Barry Goldwater’s failed campaign for president led the Republican party to embrace a limited-government philosophy, so too Ron Paul’s presidential campaign today, doomed though it is, will cause the GOP to embrace his philosophy of “non-interventionism.” Scoblete goes on at great lengths to “distinguish non-interventionism from isolationism.” He writes, for example, “The former seeks a more rigorous and delimited definition of America’s interests, while the latter a walled garden that completely cuts America off from the world. Non-interventionists are not pacifists, but they do reserve war fighting for moments of actual national peril.”