21st Century Agenda for America

Coming to terms with today's Middle East, continued

Yes, we return to our main foreign policy theme again this morning, starting off with a front-page Washington Post piece by Glenn Kessler appropriately titled: "Takeover by Hamas Illustrates Failure of Bush's Mideast Vision."

It begins:

Five years ago this month, President Bush stood in the Rose Garden and laid out a vision for the Middle East that included Israel and a state called Palestine living together in peace. "I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror," the president declared.

The takeover this week of the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group dedicated to the elimination of Israel demonstrates how much that vision has failed to materialize, in part because of actions taken by the administration. The United States championed Israel's departure from the Gaza Strip as a first step toward peace and then pressed both Israelis and Palestinians to schedule legislative elections, which Hamas unexpectedly won. Now Hamas is the unchallenged power in Gaza.

After his reelection in 2004, Bush said he would use his "political capital" to help create a Palestinian state by the end of his second term. In his final 18 months as president, he faces the prospect of a shattered Palestinian Authority, a radical Islamic state on Israel's border and increasingly dwindling options to turn the tide against Hamas and create a functioning Palestinian state.

"The two-state vision is dead. It really is," said Edward G. Abington Jr., a former State Department official who was once an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas, whose bouts of vacillation have irritated U.S. officials, yesterday dissolved the Palestinian government in response to Hamas's takeover of Gaza. U.S. officials signaled that they will move quickly to persuade an international peace monitoring group -- known as the Quartet -- to lift aid restrictions on the Palestinian government, allowing direct aid to flow to the West Bank-based emergency government that Abbas will lead.

"There is no more Hamas-led government. It is gone," said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the administration must still consult with other members of the Quartet. He said that humanitarian aid will continue to Gaza, but that the dissolution of the Palestinian government is a singular moment that will allow the United States and its allies to create a "new model of engagement."

This senior Administration official is correct - we are at a moment, as a nation, that we have to come to terms with the extraordinary failure of our entire Middle East strategy.  Our investment in the region has been immense in terms of lives, money and prestige.  And today our traditional allies are in retreat, and non-Western forces are on the rise.  This "new model of engagement" suggested above is a concept we need for the entire region, not just in Palestine. 

To see previous iterations of this discussion, you can scroll down or click on the Middle East, National Security or Iraq tags above.

Coming to terms with today's Middle East, continued

So yes this morning we return to one of the main themes we've been discussing over the past year - the need for America to come up with a comprehensive approach to the problems of the post-Iraq Middle East.

Imagine for a moment if we had no troops in Iraq.  Pakistan is weakening.  Lebanon and Palestine are descending into civil wars.  The Taliban have returned to Afghanistan.  Bin Laden is still on the loose.  Iraq of course is on the verge of becoming a failed state, Al Qaeda there is gaining strength (and regional legitimacy), and its chaos is starting to be exported to the rest of the region.  Iran is governed by an extemist, moving towards nuclearization, and is very aggressively establishing itself as perhaps the most important nation in the Middle East today.  Regional Sunni-Shiite tensions are driving a new and more complicated regional dynamic.  Our most important ally in the region, Israel, has a Prime Minister at 3%, and is in an extended political meltdown. 

Taken together it is becoming clear that the West's traditional regional allies are in retreat and new and less pro-Western forces are on the rise.  While there are many reasons to be concerned about the growing instability in the Middle East, the overarching one is oil.  Keeping the region's oil flowing at reasonable prices is of course one of the most important goals of our foreign policy, either Democrat or Republican.  And we have to start talking openly about how growing chaos in the region could spread, and eventually begin to threaten the petroleum lifeblood of the world's economy. 

So, if we had no troops in the region, would we be having a different conversation here in the US and around the world? Would be talking about regional conferences of reconciliation? Special envoys? UN Troops? An American-led peace conference? Would the American Secretary of State be engaged in ongoing shuttle diplomacy, essentially moving to the region for an extended period of time? Would our President be engaged daily in bringing world leaders together to find a better path? Or would we just sit back and let the region fall into greater chaos?  Or do what the Administration has done, which is take the one act most likely to accelerate the regional chaos?  Or have the Treasury Secretary give speeches whining about the lack of cooperation of our allies?  

We need a new conversation about what is happening in the Middle East today.  The stakes are high, and our current government is wedded to a strategy that is without doubt harming the long-term security interests of the United States.  But our answer must become more than a robust discussion about the role of our troops in the region.  We need a new strategy for the Middle East - diplomatic, economic, military - that takes into account the realities of the region today. 

Take Back America 2007

Simon will be speaking at the 2007 Take Back America conference in Washington, DC. The conference, which begins next Monday, is described as "the premier progressive event of the year. From June 18th - 20th, 2007 thousands of progressive activists, thinkers, bloggers, and leaders will convene in Washington, DC," where they will have the opportunity to hear a very impressive array of influential progressive speakers.

Look for Simon on a panel Tuesday morning at 9:45 looking at new and better ways to be using media.  He will be showcasing some of the issue advocacy television ads NDN and its affiliates have run in the last two election cycles.

Immigration Hope?

The Times this morning has a story that suggests the immigration bill is still alive and kicking. Importantly it quotes the leading Senate R, John Kyl, admiting responsibility for the reckless actions of the anti-immigration deal gang of 4 who were instrumental in bringing the deal down last week.

On a relatied note, thoughtful Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby starts his column, "The Party of Global Seriousness" this way:

The collapse of the immigration bill last week holds a political lesson. It isn't just Democrats who flunk Globalization 101. Indeed, Democrats may be supplanting Republicans as the grown-ups on this issue.

Anyone who understands Globalization 101 knows that immigration, including large-scale unskilled immigration, is a fact of the modern world. Mexican laborers who migrate to the United States stand to see their wages triple or more: No amount of border security is going to keep them from coming. Chasing down and deporting illegal workers is costly to U.S. taxpayers, cruel to immigrants, disruptive for U.S. employers, expensive for U.S. consumers -- and, most of all, futile. People who yell "amnesty" merely reveal that they don't understand the world we live in.

But the Republican Party, which prides itself on understanding globalization when it comes to capital flows or trade, is blind to the global labor market. In the crunch immigration vote in the Senate on Thursday, only seven Republicans voted for reform, while 38 voted against it. Among the supposedly globo-phobic Democrats, the numbers were roughly reversed: 37 Democrats voted for reform while just 11 voted like ostriches...

Though I agree with the sentiment of the piece, I take issue that the current Republican leadership has ever demonstrated they have a firm grasp of globalization. It has been under the GOP's watch that we saw the selling out of IP at Doha in 2002; the passage of the distorting farm bill in 2002; the collapse of the Doha round these past several years; and of course they have been wildly ignorant of how the current wave of globalization has been effecting American workers. Their economic strategy these last 6 years has been limited to cutting taxes on the wealthiest among us, a response clearly not adequate to the moment we are in.


Immigration Reform

Several good stories this morning.

The Times takes the GOP to task for their over the top efforts to kill the immigration bill.

A Jim Rutenberg piece makes the case Bush is now officially a lame duck, echoing many of the themes from our essay yesterday. Dan Balz makes a similar case, but doesn't go as far. I have a modest quote in there.

While I agree with the sentiment expressed by many these last few days that we must shoulder on, we also must not be niave. A handful of Republican Senators went to extraordinary lenghts these last few weeks to undermine the broad and deep bi-partisan coalition behind immigration reform. It would be wise for those advocating reform to work out in advance a strategy for dealing with the incredible opposition in a narrow slice of the Republican Party. No more compromises, no more bending over backwards. The reformers have been reasonable, The opposition anything but. The reformers need now to not only be fair, but tough. The American people, common sense, and history is on their side. They can no longer allow the outrageous politics of a narrow few hold the rest of the nation hostage. But that will require a change in the way this fight has been conducted.

Bai on Edwards and Poverty

Matt Bai has the cover story in this week's NY Times Magazine.  It looks at the debate about poverty, and features John Edwards. 

We also learn the title of his book due out later this summer, “The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics."

Mr. President, is this how it ends?

After the collapse of the immigration bill last night, I could only really think of the President and his legacy. Immigration reform has been something that he could do that would leave behind something lasting, something permanent, something that as he traveled around the nation in his post-Presidential years he could look on with joy and pride. But even now that looks doubtful, and with that, it is increasingly likely that he will go down in history as one of the worst leaders our nation has ever had.

Consider what we will be discussing and writing about for posterity: a drop in the standard of living for average Americans; the creation of structural budget deficits coming right before the fiscal time bomb of the retirement of the boomers; a decline in our rates of broadband penetration relative to the rest of the world; more without health insurance, in poverty and with dangerous levels of household debt; rising crimes rates; an education reform approach underfunded by tens of billions of dollars; a weakening of our support for trade liberalization; a shifting of the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class; an era of what has been perhaps unmatched corruption, lying and betrayal of the public trust; a weakening of our long-cherished civil liberties, including the suspension of habeas corpus for non US citizens; the publicly sanctioned demonization of Hispanics, the fastest growing part of the American family; and of course there is the great one, Iraq, and our incredible tossing away of the opportunity to remake the world in a way true to our values after 9/11 when the whole world was with us.

What will also be discussed are not just the mistakes, but the challenges not met. The lack of action on the decline of the middle class, on climate change, on energy independence, on college tuition costs; on giving our workers and kids 21st century skills; on offering a plan to give more people health insurance and good and affordable care; on Darfur. To paraphrase Tom Friedman this was not only a disappointing age for what was done, but also disappointing in the lack of imagination shown by our leaders in finding ways to solve the tough emerging challenges facing our nation and the world.

So, Mr. President, this morning we add one more item to this terrible legacy - the inability to fix our broken immigration system.

Somehow I thought that given the coming judgment of history, Mr. Bush would rise, drag his reluctant Party to the table, and end his time here with a powerful and moral act - bringing these 12 million out of the shadows - that would make it much more difficult for history to break against him. But this morning, even on an issue he believes in so deeply, he couldn't get it done, and we are now one more day closer to having his time here in Washington be judged as an extraordinary failure of leadership, character, judgment and governance.

Perhaps things will change in the coming weeks, and the President and the reluctant Republicans will wake from their slumber and find common ground with the Democrats. I hope so, and we at NDN will continue to work as if something good can come from the disappointing outcome last night on the floor of the Senate.

Celebrate Democracy's 1st Anniversary

As you know, NDN has been at the forefront of a national effort to imagine and build a progressive infrastructure capable of doing battle on the new emerging battleground of the 21st century.    This month we celebrate the 1st anniversary of the founding of an important new piece of this emerging infrastructure, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.  This compelling new journal was founded by two good friends of ours, Kenneth Baer and Andrei Cherny, and has been supported by NDN from its inception.

You can learn more about Democracy by visiting their web site at www.democracyjournal.org

Democracy was launched to be the progressive analogue of the idea journals on the conservative side – such as Public Interest, National Interest, and Commentary – that have been the original source of many of the big ideas the right wing used to appeal to Americans over the past 30 years. And it has had a very strong first year. Democracy’s readership has shot up to more than that of Public Interest at its peak during the Reagan years.  The journal can be found in major bookstores in 49 states – in places like Gulfport, Mississippi and Anchorage, Alaska – on shelves where conservative journals used to have all the space for themselves. It has subscribers on every continent, and is finding its way into libraries across the nation.

Most importantly, Democracy is a crucial part of creating the intellectual underpinnings of the next wave of progressive action.  They feature thoughtful groundbreaking pieces from established thinkers such as Joseph Nye, Jr., Peter Bergen, Dennis Ross, and Elaine Kamarck as well as up-and-coming writers. This is why they have been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, and on hundreds of blog posts over the past year.  Maureen Dowd wrote that Democracy is “a progressive journal to ponder big ideas that might help the wretched Democrats stop driving on Ambien and snatch back a little power.”  Not exactly how I would have said it but you get the idea.   

In honor of Democracy’s first anniversary, NDN has arranged for a special subscription discount for our members and friends of $24 for the entire year.   I hope you will help us celebrate their anniversary by subscribing – and supporting – this very worthwhile venture today.   

Immigration Reform lives to fight another day

The Post has a good round-up of yesterday's long and contentious day in the Senate.   While we are pleased that the bill has survived (click on our immigration tag for our recent commentary), the bill has come through this process battered.  It will be interesting to see over the next two days - and we are hoping there will be a final vote tomorrow - who decides to stay with the bill rather than bolting for reasons legitimate or not.  My guess this morning is that the bill will pass when it comes to a vote. 

Of all the provisions defeated yesterday one deserves another shot either in the House or in Conference.  Senator Bingaman rightly tried to end the requirement of those holding "guest worker" visas to return home after two years before re-applying for another two years.  Common sense tells you that this will lead to more undocumenteds, and will thus create more problems than it solves.  This provision needs to be improved as the bill goes forward.  

Late reports last night indicate that an amendment to sunset the guest worker plan after 5 years may have passed.  If so this would be a positive development, but let's wait this morning for more details.

We also have a great deal of sympathy for the case being made by Microsoft and others that the new point system may interfere with their ability to bring in the high-end workers they need.  In general I am very skeptical of the new point system, and hope there can be further debate about it in the House. 

The House.  Yes, very soon, this bill may come to the House.  While Senator Kennedy built this bill to not just pass the Senate, but to pass a chamber with a much more reluctant set of Republicans, we have to remember that unlike the Senate the House did not go through a long debate last year.  Many Members are unfamiliar with either the old bill or the new one, and will need time to digest it all, talk to folks back home, etc.  The lead Republican on the key House Committe, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, is a friend of the Minutemen and one of the most outspoken opponents of Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the nation. 

Getting the bill this far has tested friendships, been very contentious and just been plain hard. But as hard - and as important as it is - it is about to get even harder when it comes to the House.  The opposition is more intense, and the advocates not as battle tested as Senator Kennedy, Senator Salazar, Senator McCain and the Senate team.  But to the House it looks like it will come - and that is remarkable progress.  Be prepared all for what is going to be a debate of enormous consequence in the new House of Pelosi.

Are we safer today?

In a story called Is U.S. Safer Since 9/11? Clinton and Rivals Spar, the Times has a good followup to what was an important discussion about our security in the Democrat debate Sunday night.

I have to admit that I am not sympathetic to Hillary's position. With DHS a mess, our military degraded, our standing in the world diminished, the Middle East in much greater turmoil than prior to 9/11, terrorism around the world on the rise, Bin Laden still on the loose, Iran moving towards nuclearization, our great ally Israel weakened, international institutions like the UN and the World Bank under assault, climate change ignored, Russia slipping back into an aggressive autocracy.....are we really safer today? Is America and the world really better off as a result of the Bush years?

This seems like a very good debate to have.

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