Tag: Hillary clinton

Clash of the Doctrines

Trump

Now that the U.S. presidential race has been whittled down effectively to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and after Trump’s much anticipated foreign policy speech last week, we now have a Trump Doctrine, a new Clinton Doctrine—different from Bill Clinton’s pro humanitarian intervention doctrine—to contrast with the often misunderstood Obama Doctrine.

As foreign policy has begun to feature more prominently in the race for the White House, we can no longer beg the question as to which of these would better serve core U.S. national security interests, not to mention the interests of our closest allies—and especially not with the emergence of a new global security crisis seemingly every three months or so, and new ISIS affiliates popping up even more frequently.

Analyzing this trio of foreign policy doctrines, essentially the grand strategy adopted by each of America’s three most prominent political leaders, has been akin to peering through a glass darkly. Analysis has been all over the map, which is at least partially explained by the degree to which this triumvirate has not been particularly clear in laying out their core foreign policy principles. Misperception aside, however, the new Clinton Doctrine appears to stand above the President’s and far above the presumptive Republican nominee’s.

President Obama and his closest aides have long bristled about the phrase “the Obama Doctrine,” and only in his final year in office has he tacitly accepted the use of the term in the landmark Atlantic article by Jeffrey Goldberg with this very title (one of the rare occasions when the President has opined at length about his principles and actions abroad). In-between, analysis of the Obama Doctrine has varied widely.

Early on the Administration cast its over-arching strategic chessboard move as a “pivot to Asia”, meaning the U.S. intended to focus less on the transatlantic region and more intently on the Pacific Rim. European and Middle Eastern allies reacted negatively upon its declaration, and the phrase was rapidly recast as the “rebalance to Asia.” But it was a mistake, as the Chinese soon branded it “containment of China” due to the pivot’s military moves embedded in a wider set of diplomatic and economic moves. Continue reading

Interventionism and Restraint in Democratic Foreign Policy

At War on the Rocks, Mieke Eoyong intervenes in the Sanders-Clinton foreign-policy debate. Although the case made for Sanders’ foreign policy by those she critiques—including Sean Kay—is much broader, she focuses on three arguments: that “Sanders has superior judgment because he opposed the Iraq War and Clinton didn’t; Sanders would exercise restraint in intervention, where Clinton is on record supporting U.S. intervention in a number of cases; [and] Sanders would restrain defense spending.”

I’m going to respond to the first two. I do so as a recovering liberal hawk. In the 1990s, my views on foreign policy were profoundly shaped by the pages of The New Republic. But over the last fifteen years, I’ve moved further and further away from liberal interventionism. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still more of a ‘strong defense’ type than most people on the left. But the problems that I see with Eoyong’s case reflect the reasons for my own evolution.

Indeed, Eoyong’s first argument is that the real test of judgment is learning from mistakes. As she writes:

A candidate’s ability to admit he or she has made a mistake and take corrective action is far more important in the world where imperfect information and changed circumstance may render initial judgments as poor decisions. No one gets it right all the time. How do candidates cope when they get it wrong? What lessons do they learn? What steps do they take to address the problems?

Fair enough. And this is one reason why I don’t worry about a possible Clinton presidency the way that many on the Democratic left do (indeed, if and when Clinton wins the nomination my pocketbook will open up to her campaign and I will do everything I can to support it). But I think it telling that Eoyong has nothing to say about the actual lessons learned by liberal interventionists from Iraq. Continue reading

Belligerence 101: North Korea options

First, from the archives: Vice President Dick Cheney was quoted by Hamish McDonald, “Cheney’s tough talking derails negotiations with North Korea,” Sydney Morning Herald, December 22, 2003:

The Knight-Ridder newspaper chain said a senior official had quoted Mr Cheney as telling the meeting: “I have been charged by the President with making sure that none of the tyrannies in the world are negotiated with. We don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it.”

Next, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this past week, as quoted on May 27, 2010:

“This was an unacceptable provocation by North Korea and the international community has a responsibility and a duty to respond,” Mrs Clinton said, after talks with her South Korean counterpart, Yu Myung Hwan. “We cannot turn a blind eye to belligerence and provocation. We will stand with you in this difficult hour and will stand with you always.”

The Times of London journalist Richard Lloyd Parry helpfully added that “she failed to specify any concrete measures, underlining how few options short of full-scale war were available in dealing with the North.”

Nuclear Arms Control

Yesterday, in Prague, President Obama signed a new START deal with Russian President Medvedev. In strategic and military terms, the treaty does not make much difference. I think it is generally good to reduce nuclear overkill, but the treaty allows both states to retain 1550 strategic nuclear weapons. That’s plenty for deterrence purposes and still a long way from zero.

Potentially, the 30% cut in nuclear weapons is symbolically important as the U.S. tries to convince other states (like India) that it is serious about its NPT Article VI commitments. Russia shares this interest as well. It makes a nice bookend with the “negative security assurances” announced earlier this week.

Interestingly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Louisville right now, speaking as I type (I’m watching the stream) in support of the treaty. She flew to Louisville from Prague and must be exhausted.

Why would she do that?

That’s easy to answer.

Clinton is speaking at the McConnell Center (for Political Leadership, though that part of the name seems to have disappeared from the website). Indeed, the Secretary was introduced by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. This speech is an obvious effort to make sure that Republicans do not block the new START accord in the Senate. After all, a treaty requires a supermajority in the Senate. Indiana’s Dick Lugar is apparently on board, but the administration will need six more Republicans and clearly wants many more.

They’re apparently aiming for the big enchilada, McConnell. At minimum, they don’t want him to lead a strong opposition movement though he reportedly has concerns about scaled-back U.S. missile defenses. Clinton pointed out in the speech that this treaty does not limit U.S. plans in those areas (though to please Russia, the administration has changed the policy in an earlier action).

The Secretary pointed out in her speech that recent arms control accords (post cold-war, basically) have been approved overwhelmingly, with 90+ votes in support. George W. Bush’s arms accord had zero votes against. Clinton did not mention the CTBT, which her husband failed to get through the Senate. It was a rare outright defeat for a treaty as presidents usually avoid pushing agreements that will fail.

In his opening remarks, Senator McConnell pointed out that Clinton is the 6th Secretary of State to speak in the Center that bears his name. This is not a coincidence. He’s proud of the Center and has used his position on committees or leading his party to leverage speakers. When he had great influence over foreign aid, the University hosted ambassadors from both Israel and Egypt (separately). At the time, guess which states received the most foreign assistance from the U.S.? Hint: Israel is still #1.

Most of the audience questions after the address pertain to horizontal proliferation (Iran, especially), which I think everyone recognizes is a more important problem than the precise size of the U.S. and Russian arsenals. In her address, Secretary Clinton mentioned “next week’s 40-plus head-of-state nuclear-security conference in Washington.” That event will directly address the broader proliferation problem.

In short, Hillary Clinton was performing political theater for Mitch McConnell. Her script is only indirectly related to the more important foreign policy concerns that are to be addressed in a completely different political context. However, the Obama administration needs McConnell’s tacit support because Article VI of the NPT links horizontal and vertical proliferation. From the U.S. point of view, “getting to zero” is a two-level game and McConnell is a key player in it.

The Practice of Diplomacy

David Rothkopf has a nice piece in today’s Washington Post giving a positive review to Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State. He makes the prescient point that she has revitalized US Diplomacy by revitalizing both the department and its approach, taking on important yet not headline grabbing issues that will have a profound impact on the relationships that define the US role in the world in the coming decades. While the White House and DoD focus on Iran and Afghanistan, Rothkopf notes how Clinton is able to address:

Which nations will be our key partners? What do you do when many vital partners — China, for example, and Russia — are rivals as well? How must America’s alliances change as NATO is stretched to the limit? How do we engage with rogue states and old enemies in ways that do not strengthen them and preserve our prerogative to challenge threats? How do we move beyond the diplomacy of men in striped pants speaking only for governments and embrace potent nonstate players and once-disenfranchised peoples?

Clinton laid out her approach in a major speech to the Council on Foreign Relations last month (I actually listened to it as a podcast, you can get the audio here). She is doing the diplomacy, engaging in the practices that build relationships that constitute US standing in international affairs.

And, as Rothkopf concludes, she’s doing this from a position of power. Beyond resources or personalities, she has the single most important form of power in Washington: the confidence of the President. (I want to say that’s Neustadt but its still early on Sunday!)

The State of State

One of the benefits of a high-powered player appointed to lead State is that you can get someone willing and able to be assertive about the place of diplomacy in the conduct of US Foreign Policy. This, I think, is on balance a good thing, as the NYT reports:

Even before taking office, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seeking to build a more powerful State Department, with a bigger budget, high-profile special envoys to trouble spots and an expanded role in dealing with global economic issues at a time of crisis.

She’s filling both Deputy Secretary slots–who even knew there was a second deputy?(!!)–one of which the Bush administration left purposely un-filled.

The NYT story raises the potential of future conflict between Clinton and other cabinet agencies who have been responsible for those portfolios over the past 8+ years. On the one hand, sure, there is always bureaucratic turf-fighting in DC, that’s the name of the game. On the other hand, there seems a genuine willingness and previous public policy commitment on the part of both Obama and Gates to enhance the role of State and hand off certain responsibilities to them.

Here, I think, is where Obama’s legislative approach to Cabinet appointments and senior officials might pay off (ie, Senator Clinton, veteran operative Jack Lew as one of her deputies). One might recall, the emaciation of State that got us into the present state of affairs really began under the Clinton Administration. After the Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, Clinton had an extremely difficult time securing resources for State and diplomatic programs. The death of USIA and ACDA, folding them into State as Undersecretary spots, was the result of a compromise with Jesse Helms (with Biden as a co-sponsor of the bill) to win passage of other legislation on diplomacy. With Helms as chair of Foreign Relations, Clinton was not able to put resources into State for diplomacy.

As a result, State languished. DoD, on the other hand, had no difficulty winning resources, as it was easy for Clinton and the Republican Congress to agree on money for the military. Hence, the military got money for nation building and other diplomatic activities normally reserved for State. Under Rumsfeld, this only continued. Its what Gates is reacting (negatively) to with his recent speeches, and its good to see Obama making it a priority to reverse this trend.

Like all shifts in US politics, it will require an Act of Congress–literally, as the budget of both agencies will make or break these plans. Legislative players at major posts makes it somewhat easier to get this done.

And, I think, having diplomats back in charge of key areas of US foreign relations will be a better thing.

*******
This is quite a slow, uneventful Thursday… Chinese food and movies. That’s what we do.
(hurray for Bond marathon on Spike!)

Analyzing Obama’s National Security Team: change you can believe in?

Today Obama formally announced the core of his National Security team: Clinton at State, Gen. Jones as SAPNSA, and Gates to remain at DoD. It’s a team of experienced insiders, centrists, pragmatists, and even Republicans. Some have asked the obvious question: Is this Change you can Believe in for national security and foreign policy?

The selection of Jones is particularly interesting. He breaks a recent trend in the National Security Advisor position as a close policy associate of the President. Condi once said that her top job as NSA was to “staff the President” and she is very close to Bush. While Jones does not come from an academic or “policy” background, he is perhaps more experienced in areas relevant to the position.

First, he has significant first hand experienced in the integration of diplomacy as well as political and military security from his time as head of NATO. SACEUR is a unique posting within the US military. It’s a ‘dual-hatted’ job, as both powerful regional combatant commander and head of the NATO alliance. The NATO role gives the SACEUR direct access to allied heads of state and a large diplomatic role in intra-NATO politics. The tough part of the job is balancing responsibility to the USA and the US chain of command as head of EUCOM and responsibility to the alliance as SACEUR. Wesley Clark talked about the tensions in this arrangement in his Waging Modern War book. It’s a job with no parallel. That Jones could successfully negotiate it bodes well for his chances to successfully negotiate the White House and National Security Council.

Second, he has experience managing a large and complex organization and coordinating intra-bureaucratic activities. This perhaps suggests a shift in the role of the NSA and NSC. Originally, the NSA and NSC were designed as a coordination mechanism, to hash out differences within the bureaucracy in order to present a clear decision to the President and then ensure that the relevant agencies implemented the Presidents decisions in a coordinated and coherent manner. Over the years, the NSC has become the head policy shop and the NSA a key policy advisor—staffing the president rather than keeping State and Defense on the same page. The selection of Jones gives Obama an NSA who has the heft, skill, and experience to coordinate the massive cogs of the national security bureaucracy to implement Obama’s agenda. This is critical—too many seem to be focusing on the wrong indicator of change, be it a Cabinet secretary or potential policy prioritization. Any change you can believe in will require years to complete the slow boring of hard boards. Policies need to be implemented and institutionalized to provide lasting change, and Jones has the resume to accomplish this key task.

With respect to Clinton at State, this remains somewhat a mystery to me—not that Obama would select her, but that she would take the job. For him, it takes the person who is potentially his biggest political rival off the political stage and puts her on the team where he’s in charge and she toes the line. She will win some battles, but she will lose some battle, and like all Secretaries of State, she will advance the President’s agenda in diplomacy. For her, it takes her out of the Senate where she has an independent platform to maintain a national political profile and pursue an agenda of her own choosing.

It is, however, reflective of an emerging trend in Obama’s administration—selecting leaders with extensive Hill experience. Emmanuel as COS, Daschle at HHS and Health Czar, Clinton at State—these are three major players in Congress now joining the Administration. It suggests that Obama will place a key priority on relations with Congress, and he has people who know how to get a legislative agenda enacted. Maybe Clinton, using her Senatorial experience, will be able to win more funding for State and expanded foreign aid. That would be a welcome change.

At Defense, instead of keeping Bush’s appointee, what if Obama had nominated a SecDef who had said:

I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use “soft” power and for better integrating it with “hard” power.

Now, that could have come from any Nye-reading foreign policy pragmatist, but it is a change from the Bush Administration’s policy of spreading democracy by invasion and fighting terrorism with military force. And yet in Gates, Obama has found just such a person. About a year ago, Gates gave an under-appreciated speech where he set out an agenda for the future of DoD in a larger national security bureaucracy that sounded like it could be very much at home in an Obama administration. To quote Gates at length:

Funding for non-military foreign-affairs programs has increased since 2001, but it remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military and to the importance of such capabilities. Consider that this year’s budget for the Department of Defense – not counting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan – is nearly half a trillion dollars. The total foreign affairs budget request for the State Department is $36 billion – less than what the Pentagon spends on health care alone. Secretary Rice has asked for a budget increase for the State Department and an expansion of the Foreign Service. The need is real.

Despite new hires, there are only about 6,600 professional Foreign Service officers – less than the manning for one aircraft carrier strike group. And personnel challenges loom on the horizon. By one estimate, 30 percent of USAID’s Foreign Service officers are eligible for retirement this year – valuable experience that cannot be contracted out.

Overall, our current military spending amounts to about 4 percent of GDP, below the historic norm and well below previous wartime periods. Nonetheless, we use this benchmark as a rough floor of how much we should spend on defense. We lack a similar benchmark for other departments and institutions.

What is clear to me is that there is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security – diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development. Secretary Rice addressed this need in a speech at Georgetown University nearly two years ago. We must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military, beyond just our brave soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen. We must also focus our energies on the other elements of national power that will be so crucial in the coming years.

Now, I am well aware that having a sitting Secretary of Defense travel halfway across the country to make a pitch to increase the budget of other agencies might fit into the category of “man bites dog” – or for some back in the Pentagon, “blasphemy.” It is certainly not an easy sell politically. And don’t get me wrong, I’ll be asking for yet more money for Defense next year.

Still, I hear all the time from the senior leadership of our Armed Forces about how important these civilian capabilities are. In fact, when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen was Chief of Naval Operations, he once said he’d hand a part of his budget to the State Department “in a heartbeat,” assuming it was spent in the right place.

After all, civilian participation is both necessary to making military operations successful and to relieving stress on the men and women of our armed services who have endured so much these last few years, and done so with such unflagging bravery and devotion. Indeed, having robust civilian capabilities available could make it less likely that military force will have to be used in the first place, as local problems might be dealt with before they become crises.

Appointing a person with this agenda to head DoD fits in with Obama’s overall approach to international affairs, and this speech may be a major impetus behind keeping Gates.

At Homeland Security, Napolitano is perhaps the biggest and under-appreciated change, as she is the only true “outsider” (non-Washington) appointee. She represents a vision for DHS that is less counter-terrorism and more immigration and disaster response, both areas in which she, as a Governor (and former AG) of a border state, has existing expertise

At Justice, Holder seems like a very good pick, especially given the monumental job of rebuilding the disaster that is the Bush DOJ. My guess is that while he will play an important role in national security affairs (ie the legal issues surrounding the closing of Gitmo), his plate will be full with more pressing issues in the domestic legal arena.

Not mentioned and still to be determined: what Obama will do with the Intelligence portfolio in selecting his DNI and CIA head. He could treat the positions as ‘non-partisan’ and keep McCarthy and Hayden for a while (both served as head of the National Security Agency under the Clinton Administration and as career military men are more career officials than strictly Bush people) or he could bring in his own person to institute key changes and make statements on items like, say, torture policy.

Ultimately, though, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Obama’s promise to bring change will be judged by what he does as President: the policies he advances, the priorities he sets, the decisions he makes, the resolve he displays when under pressure, the course he sets for the United States in world affairs. While naming a couple of cabinet secretaries is certainly part of that, its only one small part. Regardless of what one may think of Clinton or Gates, they serve at the pleasure of the President and, in the end, are only as good or as bad as he allows them to be.

Hillary’s problem

Stories like this aren’t good for Sen. Hillary Clinton.

With Obama’s lead slipping (McCain now wins half the time, according to Nate), The latest NBC/WSJ Poll offers a very compelling narrative for the Democrats looking to start the Blame Game:

“It is not a dead heat, but it is close.”

The survey also shows that both presidential candidates face their share of challenges. For Obama, he receives the support of just one in two voters who backed Hillary Clinton in the primaries,

Bring those voters home, and Obama is set. If those “should-be” D voters continue to defect, he’s got an up-hill climb.

If Clinton is seen as somehow undermining what Democratic Party Stalwarts see as close to a sure thing, she’ll be persona non-grata within the party. Any chance for a second run or a leadership position within the Senate or even the Party will be gone, and the Clinton legacy will be re-written with a more bitter tone to the narrative.

Stories like this, they aren’t helping:

In all, Mrs. Clinton mentioned Mr. Obama’s name about 10 times. But at some points she sounded wistful….

Guy Montes, 63, a retired shift manager for United Airlines and a Clinton supporter in the primary, said later that Mrs. Clinton’s heart did not seem to be in it.

“It was a platonic type of endorsement,” Mr. Montes said. “It wasn’t real love. She’s just doing what she’s supposed to be doing.”…

Even Cecilia Payne, 52, an insurance agent in West Palm Beach originally from Barbados, who declared that “the Clintons are the best thing that ever happened to politics,” said Mrs. Clinton must work harder.

“She should have been a little more forceful and more convincing,” Ms. Payne said.

Hillary supporters for McCain

Tom Toles pretty much sums up the issue in yesterday’s Washington Post.



Truly: ’nuff said.

Narrating the Democratic Primary

An interesting thing happened late Tuesday night and into early Wednesday morning. The narrative that had driven the Democratic Presidential primary contest unraveled before our eyes and a new narrative was cast.

Going into the Tuesday primaries in IN and NC, the story was Obama has the lead, Hillary is making a move, and they will probably split the two states with the contest continuing on through June 3. And, the predicted outcome did in fact come to pass. Obama won NC, and Hillary won IN. And yet, it was how they won and how those ‘victories’ were given meaning that shifted the narrative. Over the course of several conversations between Chris Matthews and Tim Russert, Wolf Blitzer and John King, the story of the race was taken apart and re-told, and the race took on a new meaning.

Two important things happened.

First, Obama is now the presumptive nominee. The math really didn’t change all that much. The candidates haven’t really changed what they are doing (both are still continuing to campaign). But, once Russert said it, it was so. Its not because Tim Russert is all powerful and can re-shape American politics, on MSNBC no less. Rather, its because Russert and his media colleagues started a new narrative that rapidly took hold not just in the media but the blogosphere and everywhere else people talk politics.

Second, the so-called split in the party that the so-called divisive primary battle was creating instantly healed. Both Obama and Clinton gave speeches chock-full of appeals to the party faithful, contrasting their positions not with each other, but with the Republicans and McCain. And people picked up on these themes, discussing how the repairing of the party had begun. The story moved to how Democrats would deal with McCain, not how the two Democratic candidates were splitting from each-other.

This episode should serve to remind us of two things. First, campaigns, like all politics, are narrative events. You win the nomination politically by establishing the narrative of “winner.” The rest follows (delegates, the actual nomination). Second, these narratives are highly unstable and can shift rapidly. Indeed, the hard work is to get any one narrative to stick around long enough to shape a race and produce electoral outcomes. The surprise is not that the race changed so fast, but that it was anchored in a particular narrative for so long. Each campaign throws out a campaign narrative each and every day, and most of them fall flat on their face—they are lucky to survive a news cycle or two. The Obama – Clinton stand-off story seemed to last for quite a while, despite the delegate counts, primary victories (and losses), and such. The story lasted long enough to seem “the way things are,” and started to drive other narratives out of play. And yet, in one night, those participating in and following this race dropped the old narrative in favor of the other, and things suddenly shifted, and that which was seemingly so strongly entrenched vanished.

Its kind of like the end of the cold war, in a slightly different context. Imagine if there were more relational, discourse-oriented political scientists doing American Politics.

(as a parenthetical, I never put much faith in the Discord among Democrats story. If you remember, that same story was told about the Republicans way back when. Oh, the Romney people hate McCain. Conservatives don’t see McCain as a ‘real’ Republican. Well, guess what—McCain won the context and started running against all things Hillary, and guess what, the party closed ranks behind him. My guess is that Democrats will do the same—once the contest is over, the party will come together and realize that it really doesn’t want a McCain presidency, and support whoever wins. Of course, that depends on someone ‘winning….’)

The taboo

Political Scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt received a lot of heat for their recent work about the power of the Israeli lobby inside the United States.

Mearsheimer and Walt raised issues that are rarely discussed in the United States. Indeed. some describe this topic as “the third rail” of US foreign policy debate.

Now that the power of “the Lobby” has been made part of the US public debate, Israel’s nuclear weapons program should also be scrutinized more publicly. Ordinarily, that subject is taboo.

Lew Butler (who used to chair the Ploughshares Fund) explained in an op-ed in the SF Chronicle, November 30, 2007:

Estimates are that there are probably as many as 200 [nuclear weapons] in the Israeli arsenal, including thermonuclear (hydrogen) ones.

What is surprising is that there is almost never any public discussion in the United States, and certainly none in the White House or the Congress, about these weapons.

…Clearly, the Bush administration is not going to talk publicly about our understanding, if any, with Israel about its nuclear weapons. And no member of Congress is rushing to get into a subject as politically delicate as this one. That leaves it to those of us in private life to begin the debate, for the sake of the United States and Israel.

Part of the reason nobody wants to talk about Israeli nuclear weapons is that any debate would quickly reveal American hypocrisy. How can the US put pressure on Iran or North Korea about their proliferation if it turns a blind eye to Israel?

The unspoken basis for U.S. policy about Israel’s nukes seems to be that we don’t want our enemies to have such weapons but we don’t worry as much if our friends, like Israel, Pakistan and India, have them.

However, the lack of debate about Israel’s arsenal occasionally causes US political leaders to make careless and immoral threats. Hillary Clinton’s recent warning that she would “obliterate” Iran if it attacked Israel led me to note the following in comments:

I don’t know why Israel’s nuclear force isn’t sufficient to deter Iran’s. Estimates suggest that it has 100s of deliverable weapons, some in the form of accurate cruise missiles on relatively invulnerable submarines.

Butler asks a set of related questions

Is there any understanding between Israel and the United States, its principal source of military aid, about their use? If so, does the understanding cover “no first use,” similar to the policy advocated in the United States at the height of the Cold War? What would the United States do if Israel were ever under an attack that might lead it to a nuclear response? Has the United States ever talked with Israel about its refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? For Israel, are the weapons more of a danger to its security than a defense?

I see no reason to avoid public debate about these issues.

An honest discussion about Israel’s arsenal might lead the US to adopt policies that would reduce its hypocrisy. For example, achieving genuine nonproliferation in the Middle East might require Israel to abandon its reliance upon nuclear weapons. Alternatively, perhaps the US and the regional states could embrace some kind of mutual deterrence based on Iran maintaining a secure second strike force. Iran does not currently have a nuclear-armed ally willing to extend deterrence on its behalf.

How would the US respond if Russia announced that it would obliterate Israel if it used nuclear weapons against Iran?

Note: Cross-posted at my blog.

If a caucus is held in the Pacific but nobody hears it, does the vote really matter?

Obama’s losing streak is over, he won the Guam caucuses this weekend.

Guam only has 9 delegates (8 half-votes plus 5 super delegates). Obama won the caucuses by 7 votes, Hillary and Obama split the 4 delegates, but it looks like Obama will come out 1 up with the super delegates.

Now, no one is really talking about Guam. You could write it off as another small-state/territory caucus win for Obama, and its not even a state, really just a huge military base. But, with the Puerto Rico primary looming in June as the last major contest in this race, it might be important to pay attention to those districts and territories that have a role in the nominating process but no actual votes for President or in Congress.

And yet, a win is a win, and here’s Obama racking up another win. What does it say that Hillary can’t win the Hegemony/Empire vote?

Cuba: El Tiante’s pitch

Let me followup Peter’s post on Cuba. Legendary and colorful retired pitcher Luis Tiant had this to say about the Cuban embargo:

“I think it’s crazy,” Tiant said. “Everybody does business with Cuba – Latin America, China, everybody – and what is the difference? We are 90 miles from Cuba. We don’t have a relationship with them. That’s crazy. It makes no sense to me.

“The people have suffered enough. They’ve gone through a hard life. Forty-six years I’ve been out. I hope it changes.”

As for Peter’s question about the choice between domestic politics and the national interest? While neither of the two remaining Democratic candidates for president have called for lifting the economic embargo, it seems pretty clear that Barack Obama’s position is less hawkish.

Indeed, Obama wrote an op-ed about Cuba last summer for a Miami paper suggesting that the US should reduce some restraints on travel and remittances.

Clinton’s response was not promising.

Hillary Clinton continued her recent attacks on his perceived foreign policy naivete, insisting that “until it is clear what type of policies might come with a new [Cuban] government, we cannot talk about changes in the U.S. policies toward Cuba.”

It’s too bad the Democrats didn’t have a real primary in Florida this year so that these issues could have been debated more publicly.

Texas Two-step

Reading between the lines of a front page story in this mornings Washington Post:

Hillary Supporters: Oh My Heavens! We just read the rules for the Texas primary and discovered that even if we win we might not win! Why didn’t you tell us this earlier? How unfair is that?!?! Our big Texas strategy could fall apart because of these rules where our voters don’t count as much as we need them too. Is there any way we could question the established rules to help our candidate win?

Several top Clinton strategists and fundraisers became alarmed after learning of the state’s unusual provisions during a closed-door strategy meeting this month, according to one person who attended.

The rules of the Texas Primary / Caucus / Delegate selection fracas are beyond complicated and arcane. There’s a primary AND a caucus, on the same day. Delegates are distributed on the basis of turnout in the previous two elections by State Senate district. The results of the caucus aren’t announced until the state convention in June. The best explanation I’ve read of it was in the Houston Chronicle, here.

In a nutshell, if Obama wins big in Austin (self-styled ‘weird‘ college town), and large African-American districts in Houston (especially) and Dallas, he can counter-act Hillary’s expected sweep of the heavily Latino parts of the state.

I’m guessing that Obama’s people read these rules a while ago, and that’s why they don’t seem so worried about it.

2008 Election: New favorite Among Dems?

I don’t typically blog about domestic elections at the Duck, preferring to save my analysis and preferences for my personal blog.

However, Super Tuesday was a unique political event. No primary election ever had so much at stake — at least in terms of the number of states and delegates to the national convention.

Hillary Clinton was once the odds-on favorite to win the 2008 Democratic nomination. She secured backing from much of the Party establishment, raised tons of money and led in the polls throughout 2007.

Now, she’s the former frontrunner — managing to earn only about 50,000 more votes on Super Tuesday than her chief rival, Barack Obama, out of 14 million votes cast. That was virtually a statistical tie. Apparently, the two candidates essentially tied in delegates earned on Tuesday, though many analysts say Obama eked out a few more than she did.

Chris Bowers and numerous MSM pundits point out that the February campaign schedule seems to favor Obama. The race is turning towards Louisiana, Washington, and Nebraska this weekend, then to Maryland, DC and Virginia next week. After that, the battlegrounds are Hawaii and Wisconsin.

Clinton may be the favorite in Virginia, but that’s about it so far as I’ve heard. Washington may seem like California, but it is a caucus state and Obama’s organization has done very well in caucuses. He even took more delegates in Nevada despite losing the overall vote there.

Obama is now favored on the political trading markets.

Those markets are not the only way to “follow the money,” of course.

Clinton revealed yesterday that she has loaned her own campaign $5 million even as Obama was raising nearly $4 million — yesterday, online. The bigger fundraising picture is even worse for Clinton.

Obama raised more than twice what Clinton did in January and is getting much more cash from small donors. This is a good thing because he can call on them again:

A report just completed by the Campaign Finance Institute showed Clinton raised more than half her money in 2007 from donors who gave the maximum allowed by law. Obama, in comparison, raised just one third of his money from $2,300 donors.

“It means, Sen. Obama has the ability to keep going back to his donors, while she has a more difficult burden of having to seek out new donors,” said Weissman, who is the institute’s associate director for policy.

Clinton also had more trouble attracting support from small donors, many of whom gave over the Internet. While 47 percent of what Obama raised last year came from donors who gave less than $200, those small contributors made up just 15 percent of Clinton’s donor base.

In January, when Obama swamped Clinton by raising $32 million, compared to her $13 million, the vast majority of his total — $28 million — came over the Internet.

Is Barack Obama the new frontrunner?

After February, the candidates will square off in Texas and Ohio on March 4. That will be a telling confrontation — will Obama’s momentum secure victories in states that might have gone for Clinton this past Tuesday? Bandwagoning is a powerful political force in domestic politics and seems to be appearing in the fundraising.

A word of caution: I saw Gary Hart on TV a few days before Super Tuesday. He told viewers that he won 11 of the final 12 Democratic state contests in 1984, but ultimately lost the nomination because Walter Mondale was far more successful in securing the so-called “superdelegates” to the Democratic National convention.

About 40% of the 2008 convention voters are superdelegates, so this race might well hinge on their decisions made privately over the next few months.

Ducking the Issues: What counts for Foreign Policy experience?

Hillary Clinton is running as the “Experienced” candidate. Her political experience consists of 8 years in the US Senate and 8 years in the White House as First Lady. In her speeches and discussion, she leaves a great deal of that resume deliberately ambiguous, and in doing so, raises a very important question: How should one count the experience of being First Lady? The New York Times addresses that issue today:

In seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, Mrs. Clinton lays claim to two traits nearly every day: strength and experience. But as the junior senator from New York, she has few significant legislative accomplishments to her name. She has cast herself, instead, as a first lady like no other: a full partner to her husband in his administration, and, she says, all the stronger and more experienced for her “eight years with a front-row seat on history.”

Many First Ladies have significant influences on their Presidential spouses, all the way back to Martha Washington and Abigail Adams. Hillary’s influence and importance in the Clinton White House is not in dispute—clearly she was a close political and policy adviser to President William Clinton. The issue here is if this “front-row seat” counts as substantial foreign policy experience for a Presidential candidate, especially when Hillary has questioned Obama on his lack thereof. That, I think, is a legitimate and open question.

The case against:

Mrs. Clinton did not hold a security clearance. She did not attend National Security Council meetings. She was not given a copy of the president’s daily intelligence briefing. She did not assert herself on the crises in Somalia, Haiti and Rwanda.

And during one of President Bill Clinton’s major tests on terrorism, whether to bomb Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998, Mrs. Clinton was barely speaking to her husband, let alone advising him, as the Lewinsky scandal sizzled….

But other [former Clinton] administration officials, as well as opponents of Mrs. Clinton, are skeptical that the couple’s conversations and her 79 trips add up to unique experience that voters should reward. She was not independently judging intelligence, for the most part, or mediating the data, egos and agendas of a national security team. And, in the end, she did not feel or process the weight of responsibility.

Susan Rice, a National Security Council senior aide and State Department official under Mr. Clinton who now advises Mr. Obama, said Mrs. Clinton was not involved in “the heavy lifting of foreign policy.” Ms. Rice also took issue with a recent comment by a Clinton campaign official that Mrs. Clinton was “the face of the administration in foreign affairs.”

“Making tough decisions, responding to crises, making the bureaucracy implement decisions that they may not want to implement — that’s the hard part of foreign policy,” Ms. Rice said. “That’s not what Mrs. Clinton was asked or expected to do as first lady.”

That’s rather important stuff. Of critical important, I think, is her lack of a security clearance. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, she now has clearance to greater intelligence and military information than she did while in the White House. She didn’t know all the information, and she didn’t sit in on the most critical and classified decisions. Given that today’s most pressing security issues—terrorism, war, and nuclear proliferation—revolve heavily around intelligence and classified material, its seems reasonable to question whether or not her experience is relevant, as she didn’t directly deal with these things as First Lady. While she certainly had her share of tough decisions to make, none of them were based on national security intelligence.

On the other hand, there’s the case for:

Her role mostly involved what diplomats call “soft power” — converting cold war foes into friends, supporting nonprofit work and good-will endeavors, and pressing her agenda on women’s rights, human trafficking and the expanded use of microcredits, tiny loans to help individuals in poor countries start small businesses….

Friends of Mrs. Clinton say that she acted as adviser, analyst, devil’s advocate, problem-solver and gut check for her husband, and that she has an intuitive sense of how brutal the job can be. What is clear, she and others say, is that Mr. Clinton often consulted her, and that Mrs. Clinton gained experience that Mr. Obama, John Edwards and every other candidate lack — indeed, that most incoming presidents did not have.

One of the primary criticisms that all Democrats are levying against the Bush Administration is its squandering of soft-power resources, decimating the US’s image abroad. Clinton’s demonstrated experience and sensitivity to soft power tools, her experience “converting… foes into friends” is central to all the Democrats’ foreign policy platforms. While it may be impossible to prepare for the pressures and demands of the Presidency, she has a better idea of what to expect than anything else. You’d have to go back to George Bush I (VP, CIA Director, UN Ambassador), and before him, Nixon (VP) (and that worked out oh-so well….) for comparable White House experience.

So, the question is open: How do we value resume experience as First Lady? How ought we count it, and how should it be discussed on the campaign trail? This is a tough one, one I don’t think we’ve adequately addressed, in part, because we don’t have a language for discussing the professional aspects of spousal duties. In the contemporary Washington power couple, each person as an independent career—he’s Senate Minority Leader, she’s Secretary of Labor… he (was) an Ambassador, she (was) a Spy—so each defines experience on the basis of individual accomplishments. The spouse doesn’t have to define his or her political role vis-à-vis the other. Of course, none of these spousal positions come with a a title, stationary, or an East Wing office. Hence the question—how do we value Hillary’s East Wing experience as she seeks a term in the West Wing?

More than 2 Americas

Peter has a great post about the meaning of wealth in America — and the diverse problem that voters making upwards of $97,000 annually pose to the Democratic candidates in the 2008 election campaign.

After all, Democrats have long been said to represent the interests of the downtrodden. Think about FDR’s “New Deal” or LBJ’s “Great Society.” Yet, Democratic members now hold many House seats in districts that are viewed as affluent by income measures.

Though Peter framed this debate around the positions of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, it arguably reflects the “two Americas” theme that John Edwards has been talking about since ’04. He hasn’t been able to gain quite enough traction to emerge as a serious contender.

Keep in mind that the affluent tend to vote at higher rates than do those making less than them. The underclass feels almost completely powerless in many political debates.

In any case, I want to devote this post to a different problem: income isn’t the only difference dividing these urban & suburban residents on the coasts from the rest of the country. The journalist Thomas Frank has famously discussed the importance of the cultural divide separating red and blue states. However, in the context of intra-Democratic struggles, the cultural divide is perhaps best explained in the scholarship of Richard Florida.

Republican candidates seem to make overt appeals to their cultural base and the business class voters understand that the talk about abortion and gay marriage (it used to be school prayer and drug policy) is mere window-dressing. As a cynic, I suspect the immigration issue is the 2008 version. These business class voters (whether on Wall Street or Main Street) know that Republican office-holders reliably bring tax cuts, deregulation, and weak government oversight. They know that post-election, the Republicans won’t prevent the low paid migrant workforce from entering the US.

In the end, the economics trump the culture wars.

In contrast, the Democratic cultural base is quite diverse and creates different cross-cutting problems on economic questions. The Democrats cannot readily make a cultural argument that won’t truly offend some of their constituency. If they go too far to the right, as the 2000 Nader problem revealed, many of their voters may go Green instead.

It is difficult for some Democrats to appeal to union, Catholic, and many minority households that are often culturally — and even fiscally — conservative. Those constituencies historically vote blue, but many union voters became Reagan Democrats and some Republican candidates have received large number of Catholic votes based on the abortion issue. African Americans have remained loyal to the Democratic party, but many Hispanics have shifted their votes in different elections.

Generally, those constituencies do not make $97,000 per year. The classic way to appeal to them is via economic arguments about government’s role in providing a safety net — college tuition assistance, Social Security preservation, child care tax credits, etc.

As Richard Florida demonstrates, numerous highly creative, tolerant and socially liberal people from the heartland tend to migrate to large cities and the coasts. Many become wealthy (this is often the $97K crowd) and vote for Democrats anyway because they abhor the dominant “Republican” cultural values they left behind in Nebraska. Most are not very likely to vote Republican simply because that move would bring lower taxes.

These voters want to hear appeals based on the environment, perhaps, or the role of government in promoting the information age. They are quite open to culturally progressive ideas like gay marriage. They don’t care all that much about the classic Dem arguments about government’s role providing a safety net.

They don’t think they need such a net.

Interestingly, however, while many of these voters’ “native” suburban neighbors are nearly as tolerant culturally, they are far more economically conservative. They are Republicans making $97K and up.

Perhaps the best way to explain the culture problem for the Democrats is to consider the Velveeta/Brie divide.

Remember that anti-Howard Dean commercial from 2004 (video link)?

“I think Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government- expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading. . .” — and then his wife picks up the litany: “. . . body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs.”

Well, it turns out that most Brie eaters are “soft Republican” voters who support abortion rights and legalization of marijuana. Democratic candidates, conceivably, could appeal to those voters — at the risk of losing some of the culturally conservative traditional base.

More likely, however, many of those “soft Republicans” will become hardened as their economic situation continues to improve relative to the rest of the country and they grow attached to the same Republican virtues that appeal to the business classes. In fact, they become the business class.

Here’s the culture clash for the Dems in a nutshell: Most Velveeta buyers are conservative Democrats who support school prayer and listen to Christian music.

So far as I can tell, none of the 2008 Democratic candidates is able to cross the intra-party cultural divide in the way that Bill Clinton could. Clinton effectively appealed to many different constituencies, but it is far from an easy task. He was a Rhodes scholar and policy wonk who attended Yale, but he was also a white southern man who ate at McDonald’s, loved college sports, and played saxophone.

In sum, the problem Peter identifies separating the appeals offered by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is not exclusively about economics. I suspect both candidates are getting a lot of cash from the affluent members of the party that are culturally liberal. Obama must figure that he won’t offend them much by threatening to raise taxes, so long as the new brand of politics he is selling continues to appeal to their intellect or values.

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