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Posts For: August 7, 2007

Flexibility or Flip-Flopping?

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.

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.

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Rational Optimism on Iraq

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.”

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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.”

Unfortunately, that matching political progress has not yet materialized. To be sure, there have been surprising and encouraging gains at the local level where Sunni tribes are increasingly turning against al Qaeda. But at the national level the political gridlock is worse than ever. The latest news from Baghdad is that five ministers belonging to Ayad Allawi’s secular Iraqiyah party have suspended their participation in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s cabinet (though they continue to run their ministries). This comes on top of similar boycotts by the six ministers from the Iraqi Consensus Front, the major Sunni party, and six ministers from Moktada al-Sadr’s radical Shiite party. In all, seventeen ministers, or nearly half the cabinet, are not participating in its deliberations at the moment.

Confidence in Maliki’s government seems to be plummeting, and various Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish chieftains seem to be farther apart than ever when it comes to vital legislation, such as the law to share Iraq’s oil wealth.

Of course, no serious proponent of the “surge” expected that Iraqis would get their act together overnight. In fact, the theory has always been that gains in security are a necessary prerequisite for the major political factions to make compromises. Since the gains in security are just beginning, it is far too soon to say that political progress won’t happen, too. After all, who would have predicted the turnaround in the attitude of the tribes that has occurred over the past year? Yet even supporters of the surge—a group to which I belong—must admit, if we’re being honest with ourselves, that it’s dismaying to see the political situation regressing, at least at the national level, even as the security situation is progressing.

That doesn’t mean it’s prudent to wash our hands of Iraq, or give up on the surge. Cordesman’s report, making the case for “strategic patience,” has it right. But even the most ardent backers of General Petraeus should not let their hopes run out of control. Given how bad the situation was by the time Petraeus took over, there is still a possibility he could do everything right and fail.

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Mao Bites Dog

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.

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.

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Where Is Nelson Mandela?

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.

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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.

Say an ill word about Nelson Mandela and you become, in the eyes of the mainstream media, international glitterati, and pop culture stars, a heretic of all that’s right and good in the world. But no one is immune from criticism, not even someone who spent 27 years of his life languishing in prison for the ideals of non-racialism and democracy. And if that’s the standard for sainthood, why are figures like Armando Valladares (who spent 22 years in a Cuban gulag suffering conditions far worse than those Mandela faced), Vladimir Bukovsky, and Natan Sharansky not given the same hagiographic treatment as Mandela? One cannot help concluding that the nature of the regime behind the imprisonment—whether a right-wing authoritarian one in the case of South Africa, or a left-wing totalitarian one like the Soviet Union or Cuba—affects the attention paid to the prisoner. And so I am left asking the same question Nat Hentoff posed four years ago, regarding Mandela’s silence in the face of Robert Mugabe’s destruction of Zimbabwe: “Where is Nelson Mandela?”

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Filthy Lucre

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.

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.

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Is Dana Priest a Common Criminal?

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.

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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.

The idea is that because journalists like Priest now lack such protection, sources hesitate to talk and the public is deprived of valuable news. With a Democratic majority now running the show in Congress, and a number of leading Republicans supporting such a bill, the prospects for the passage of a “reporter’s privilege” are better now than they have been at any time in recent memory.

Earlier this year, I put forward my own analysis of the reporter’s privilege in an article entitled Why Journalists Are Not Above the Law. In June 2006, I also testified about this and related issues before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Also testifying at the same hearing was Matthew W. Friedrich, the Principal Deputy Attorney General. The assembled Senators gave him a number of written questions about his department’s view of the shield-law bill then before Congress.

The Justice Department’s reply to these questions took a long time coming. Only now, a year later, has it been released to the public by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Among its many points, it takes a dramatic position regarding what is now routinely accepted journalistic behavior.

At issue is a loophole in the proposed bill. In cases in which journalists are themselves eyewitnesses to a crime, the shield would not apply. Thus, if Dana Priest found herself in a bank that was being robbed, she, like all other witnesses, would have an obligation to testify before a grand jury about what she heard and saw. She could not, under the proposed shield law, claim exemption, even if she subsequently wrote a news article about the holdup.

But this eyewitness exception itself has an exception in the proposed legislation. If the crime in question involved the unauthorized disclosure of classified government information to a journalist, than the eyewitness exception would not apply, and the journalist’s shield would remain in force.

To this, the Justice Department objects out such a provision “would permit [a] journalist to participate intentionally in violation of the criminal laws of the United States—indeed, as the recipient of the disclosure, to cause the crime to occur—with impunity.” This would put the journalist-source privilege on a completely different plane from other, long-recognized privileges, like the attorney-client privilege, which “does not apply where the attorney participates in crime.”

Surprisingly the position taken by the Justice Department has gone unnoticed by the media—which are not yet up in arms over it. True, the Justice Department has never once brought charges against a journalist for eliciting secrets from government officials (although, as in the ongoing AIPAC case, it has brought them against lobbyists for such conduct). In deference to the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press, the department’s strong and longstanding preference, codified in its own voluntarily adopted internal rules, has been to prosecute leakers rather than journalists.

But in this passage the Justice Department has taken a further step. It is stating unequivocally that when journalists like Dana Priest ferret out national-security secrets, even if they do not publish them, they are actively participating in a crime.

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We’re All Neocons Now

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.”

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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.”

That’s a distinction without a difference. How many self-proclaimed isolationists exist who proudly proclaim that their goal is a policy that “completely cuts America off from the world”? In fact, throughout our history, those who have advocated a de facto policy of isolationism have always claimed that they were in favor of a “rigorous and limited definition of America’s interests.” After the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor, even the America Firsters were ready to embrace war; unfortunately, they weren’t willing, in the 1920’s and 1930’s, to take the kinds of actions that might have staved off a world war.

Ron Paul, a self-proclaimed “libertarian,” fits squarely into this isolationist tradition. As noted by Christopher Caldwell in the New York Times Magazine:

Alone among Republican candidates for the presidency, Paul has always opposed the Iraq war. He blames “a dozen or two neocons who got control of our foreign policy,” chief among them Vice President Dick Cheney and the former Bush advisers Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, for the debacle. On the assumption that a bad situation could get worse if the war spreads into Iran, he has a simple plan. It is: “Just leave.” During a May debate in South Carolina, he suggested the 9/11 attacks could be attributed to United States policy. “Have you ever read about the reasons they attacked us?” he asked, referring to one of Osama bin Laden’s communiqués. “They attack us because we’ve been over there. We’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years.” Rudolph Giuliani reacted by demanding a retraction, drawing gales of applause from the audience. But the incident helped Paul too. Overnight, he became the country’s most conspicuous antiwar Republican.

Paul’s opposition to the war in Iraq did not come out of nowhere. He was against the first gulf war, the war in Kosovo and the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which he called a “declaration of virtual war.” Although he voted after Sept. 11 to approve the use of force in Afghanistan and spend $40 billion in emergency appropriations, he has sounded less thrilled with those votes as time has passed. “I voted for the authority and the money,” he now says. “I thought it was misused.”

Is this a foreign policy philosophy likely to gain much adherence in the Republican Party? Not on the evidence so far. True, Paul has been doing a bit better than expected in the presidential race, but that’s not saying much. He still barely registers in the polls. And all of the mainstream Republican (as well as Democratic) candidates firmly reject his brand of isolationism. Even many libertarians dissent from Paul’s crabbed view of America’s role abroad: see, for instance, this Wall Street Journal article.

One of the most interesting things about this year’s Republican field is that there is not a single major candidate who is running on a foreign policy platform markedly at odds with President Bush’s. Chuck Hagel could have run as an antiwar candidate, but so far he’s stayed out of the race, presumably because he knows he has no chance of winning. The debate among Giuliani, Thompson, Romney, and McCain hasn’t been over whether Bush’s foreign policy objectives are sound; it has been over who would do a better job of carrying out those policies. Even the Democratic candidates offer a foreign policy vision that differs more in rhetoric and details than in substance from Bush’s stated goals of spreading democracy, defeating terrorists, and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. In fact, even as the Democrats profess a desire to pull out of Iraq, they are talking up other military interventions from Darfur to Pakistan. It’s enough to make you think we’re all neocons now.

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