You Have to Try

David Brooks asks:

We’re about to enter our 19th consecutive year of Truman-envy. Ever since the Berlin Wall fell, people have looked at the way Harry Truman, George C. Marshall, Dean Acheson and others created forward-looking global institutions after World War II, and they’ve asked: Why can’t we rally that kind of international cooperation to confront terrorism, global warming, nuclear proliferation and the rest of today’s problems?

Uhh, becauce for the last eight years we haven’t even tried?

Seriously, this isn’t that hard. The institution building of the 1990s was imperfect, to be sure, but it was at least somewhat successful. The WTO came into being in 1995 and has been quite successful in promoting global trade, not withstanding the collapse of the Doha round of trade talks. The treaty for the International Criminal Court was signed in 1998 and the Court was officially created in 2002. It too has been quite successful, providing an avenue for prosecution for war criminals like Charles Taylor. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum first met in 1993 and has provided a useful forum for dealing with Pacific Rim issues, even if it is still a little vague.

But since 2000, forward progress on international institution building has stopped. As Brooks notes, we have been unable to make progress on terrorism, global warming or nuclear proliferation. Why? Look no further than who occupied the White House. Bill Clinton actively tried to build forward looking international institutions and was at least somewhat successful.

When George W. Bush took office in 2001 he was actively hostile to international cooperation, especially in the areas that Brooks identifies. On Global Warming Bush unsigned the Kyoto Protocols which, while imperfect, were a valuable starting point. His administration then spent the next 6-7 years denying global warming and doing everything in its power to hold up international cooperation on the issue.

On nuclear proliferation Bush has been just as bad. Starting in 2001 it has actively undermined the nuclear non-proliferation regime. It publicly rebuked Colon Powell for saying the Administration would continue the Clinton policy on North Korea. It pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. It has pushed for the US to develop new nuclear bombs. In 2006 it signed a nuclear agreement with India, actively undermining the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It’s no wonder we haven’t gotten any new international cooperation on the non-proliferation front. The Bush administration hasn’t been interested in any.

Global terrorism is perhaps the most egregious of Brooks’ examples. In the aftermath of 9/11 there was a tremendous opportunity to create the institutions and norms for a global, united fight against terrorism. Yet the Bush administration utterly blew the opportunity. Instead of pushing for a new treaty to define the rights of terrorist suspects and international norms for dealing with them, a project that is sorely needed, the Bush administration decided to go it alone. They just ignored global standards like the Geneva Conventions and made up their own rules. Unsurprisingly, that hasn’t gone over too well with the rest of the world. Whereas Bush could have led a global push to deal with terrorism multilaterally, treating it as akin to piracy in that every country has an obligation to help stamp it out and any country has jurisdiction to prosecute it, but instead he decided to work around and ignore the patchwork international law on the subject. That isn’t even to mention going into Iraq while ignoring the UN.

While Brooks puts the dearth of new international organizations to deal with our pressing problems at the feet of multipolarity, the real answer is a lack of US leadership. In the post Cold War era some international organizations, notably the EU and WTO, have flourished. New institutions have been created. The ICC is still relatively new but has been surprisingly successful thus far, given the fact that the US refused to acknowledge its existence. Yes, power is more distributed now. But for the last 8 years we have had an administration that is actively opposed to such institution building. Is it any surprise new institutions haven’t flourished?

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What is Wrong with Our System

Turkey isn’t the only place with five dumb Supreme Court justices. The Alabama Supreme Court narrowly decided to delay the execution of Thomas Arthur. This after another man confessed to the crime he was going to be put to death for.

Mr. Arthur, 66, was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at 6 p.m. Thursday at the state prison in Atmore, Ala., for the murder of his lover’s husband in 1982. He was paid $10,000 for killing the husband, Troy Wicker, 35, according to testimony from the woman who said she had hired him, Judy Wicker.

On Monday, a convicted murderer serving a life sentence in Alabama stepped forward with a handwritten affidavit claiming that he, and not Mr. Arthur, was responsible for the murder. The convict, Bobby Ray Gilbert, said in the affidavit that he shot Mr. Wicker in the face at the behest of Ms. Wicker, whom he said he had met in a nightclub.

More than that, the DNA evidence that could put this question to rest is apparently missing.

Mr. Arthur’s lawyers said in legal filings that the state now acknowledges it cannot find what the lawyers say could be a critical piece of evidence if subjected to DNA testing — a rape test performed on Ms. Wicker.

Mr. Gilbert, in his affidavit, said that he had intercourse with her on the day of the murder.

The Alabama attorney general’s office earlier had dismissed the new affidavit as “wholly without credibility,” pointing to Mr. Gilbert’s multiple convictions, and Ms. Wicker herself cast doubt on its veracity.

Now, Arthur could well be guilty. He was convicted by three seperate juries and the woman who supposedly hired him said she paid him. However, it’s simply remarkable to me that the Attorney General of Alabama would want to go through with the execution after another person voluntarily confessed to it. It is even more mindboggling that the Alabama Supreme Court has five members who would have allowed Arthur to be executed this week.

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And in Tim Kaine’s Favor

Tim Kaine has lost a lot of favor within the lefty blogosphere recently and I must admit, he doesn’t have many accomplishments as governor for someone being considered for vice president. But doesn’t the fact that the Virginia GOP is launching a concerted effort to talk him down to the press say something good about what he brings to the ticket. If Kaine really would be bad for Obama why not let him pick Kaine and then jump on him?

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Turkey Not Screwed

Good news from Turkey.

Turkey’s governing party narrowly missed being banned in a court ruling on Wednesday that released months of pressure in the country and handed a victory to the party’s leader, a former Islamist.

The party, Justice and Development, or AKP, as it is know in Turkish, was kept alive by just one vote — six members of Turkey’s Constitutional Court voted to close it, but seven were required. A ban would have brought down the government, forcing national elections for the second time in a year and pitching the country into chaos.

While this certainly is good news, it is still worrying. There were five members of the court were willing to ban the government. As on analyst put it, “This is a political equivalent of having a gun pointed to your head, but the gunman pulls back at the last second and only shoots you in the foot.” However, on the balance, this is really good news.

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Is Marc Ambinder Crazy?

In a post assessing Obama’s VP shortlist, Ambinder writes this

Sebelius and Kaine are both governing choices, not campaign choices. They’re not going to match Obama’s enthusiasm levels; they’re not going to do all that well at the VP debates; they’re not even going to solve political problems (even Kaine).  But they are solid; they are centrist-in-style; they are Washington outsiders; they know how to balance budgets and deal with Republicans. As an historical analogy, think Clinton’s choice of Gore.

Choosing Biden or Bayh would put in the White House strong and knowledgeable legislators who would be expected to do heavy lifting with allies and adversaries. both would do well at the debates; Biden is flashy and might upstage Obama, but he’d be the best sheer campaigner and his selection would bring a jolt of enthusiasm to the Democratic ticket (as if it needed more).  The downside here is the same as the upside: the focus will be on the ticket and not on Obama, per se.

It seems to me that Ambinder is dead wrong. Not only are Sebelius and Kaine appealing because of how perfectly they fit in with Obama’s message of unity. They are red state governors who have been successful, though far more successful in Sebelius’ case. While both certainly would be assets in office, again, Sebelius more than Kaine, in my estimation, neither have a ton of governing experience. They are both governors, but neither has been in office longer than six years. Plus, as outsiders, they don’t have a grasp on how Washington works and how to govern from the White House.

Biden and Bayh, on the other hand, are creatures of Washington. They know how the legislative process works, know what has worked and failed for past presidents and have a lot more experience in government than either Kaine or Sebelius. Plus, the worry that anyone could overshadow Obama on the ticket seems perposterous to me. Obama is the biggets thing in American politics since sliced bread. There is no way his number 2 will over shadow him in the fall campaign. It simply isn’t going to happen.

In short, it seems to me that if Obama wants to reinforce his campaign narrative with his VP choice, Kaine or Sebelius is the way to go. On the other hand, if he wants a governing partner who can help him steer legislation through the sausage factory, Biden or Bayh seems the way to go.

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Policy and the End of the Bush Administration

Spencer Ackerman has a spectacular article up about the State Department’s new policy document “Counterinsurgency: A Guide for Policy-Makers,” which is going to be published in November. The policy handbook has a lot of interesting things to say.

The handbook seeks to provide a framework for considering whether Washington should intervene in foreign countries’ counterinsurgency operations, raising difficult questions about whether such nations deserve U.S. support; under what conditions that support should occur, and whether success is possible at acceptable cost. No systematic approach to strategic-level questions in counterinsurgency currently exists for senior U.S. government officials.

Asked for comment, the handbook’s chief author, David Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer who is now an adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, explained that it tells policy-makers to “think very, very carefully before intervening.” More bluntly, Kilcullen, who helped Petraeus design his 2007 counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq, called the decision to invade Iraq “stupid” — in fact, he said “fucking stupid” — and suggested that if policy-makers apply the manual’s lessons, similar wars can be avoided in the future.

. . .

The handbook instructs policy-makers about the necessity of using all elements of national power — not just military force, but also diplomacy, development aid, the rule of law, academic disciplines and other specialties often considered peripheral to warfighting — to triumph in counterinsurgency. Victory, as well, is defined as support for a foreign nation’s ability to successfully govern, rather than a decisive U.S. military effort.

“No amount of competence, know-how or dedication on the part of an intervening country can compensate for lack of determination by the government affected by the insurgency,” the draft reads. “Thus, the primary focus for USG [U.S. government] or international agencies engaging in COIN [counterinsurgency] is often the building of governmental capacity within a host government, rather than directly killing or capturing insurgents.”

There are lessons in the handbook that the U.S. government has clearly been reluctant to adopt. It explicitly instructs policy-makers to “co-opt” insurgents whenever possible — something that the Bush administration’s rhetoric about the “evils” of Iraqi and Afghan insurgents makes problematic.”The purpose of COIN,” the handbook says, “is to build popular support for a government while suppressing or co-opting an insurgent movement.”

Kilcullen added that negotiations are a two-way street in counterinsurgency. “A government that offers [insurgents] no concessions [will] usually lose,” he said, but “an insurgency that offers no concessions will usually lose.” Another piece of advice — one that resonates in the wake of the administration’s torture scandals — simply reads, “Respect People.”

Similarly, the handbook attempts to integrate civilian and military agencies into a concerted strategy — something the Bush administration has been unable to substantively accomplish in Iraq and Afghanistan. “COIN planning should integrate civilian and military capabilities across each of the four COIN strategy functions of security, politics, economics and information,” it reads.

The handbook urges that military and civilian efforts in counterinsurgency be launched simultaneously. “Economic and political progress is not dependent upon a completely secure environment, nor does the ability to provide adequate security depend entirely upon on political and economic progress,” the draft reads. “Establishing security is not a precursor to economic and governance activity: rather, security, economic and political efforts must be developed simultaneously in parallel.” Accordingly, the handbook is a joint effort of the Depts. of State, Defense, Justice and the U.S. Agency for International Development, with input from other bureaus, including the Central Intelligence Agency.

Beyond the fascinating implications of the handbook itself, Ackerman raises a very interesting point about the upcoming transition between the Bush administration and whoever comes next.

Crane, of the Army War College, worried that the handbook’s scheduled publication — sometime after the November election — might make it a casualty of an unpopular and lame-duck Bush administration. “The dilemma that the writers are gonna have is: do you make it the last gasp of an outgoing administration — or the first policy shot of a new administration?” he said.

For all of the Bush administration’s myriad flaws it has made some substantial policy progress recently. Some of the recent shifts, like negotiating more directly with Iran, will likely stay as American policy, especially if Obama wins. However, there are other areas where neither candidate may be willing to invest the political capital to keep going.The advances in Counter-Insurgency doctrine is one of the major areas, but Secretary of Defence Robert Gates’ fight with the Air Force is another that stands out. Obama’s camp could well be hamstrung by the inherent distrust of Democrats on national security policy that some in the military have, while McCain’s advisers certainly don’t seem to be the type to wage major battles to change things at the Pentagon.

A lot of the things that are going on here, like Gates’ battles and the Kilcullen report, are the administration learning from its mistakes. There is always a big risk of losing learned knowledge when adminstrations change, especially when there is a change of parties. Bush wasted a lot of time and effort trying to change every policy Clinton ever held, which had disasterous results such as in North Korea. Now, maybe the fact that Barack Obama has already set up the beginnings of a transition team will help aleviate this problem if he is elected. But he has to win first. Meanwhile, the McCain camp seems to be in disarray, and in any event he is staffed by the type of ideologues who think that Bush has been making major mistakes recently, so there are no guarantees even if there isn’t a change in parties.

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Turkey on the Brink

One of the big, underrepresented stories going on right now is the crisis in Turkey. As of now, Turkey is the most successful Muslim democracy in the world and the current government, the AKP, has been by far the most successful government Turkey has had in a long time. Yet, somehow, the ruling party may be thrown out of government and banned by the Supreme Court, with the Prime Minister and President, among other, banned from participating in politics for five years.

Very briefly, let’s look at the facts: a pro-West/ pro-EU political party wins 47% of the vote in last year’s elections – an unprecedented number in a country where parties rarely win enough of the vote to rule alone. Since first being elected in 2002, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has passed a series of far-reaching legal and political reforms in order to meet EU accession requirements. The list of what the party has done is long: it has eased restrictions on freedom of expression, civilianized the National Security Council, granted the Kurdish minority greater rights, and abolished the death penalty. Not only that, it has helped usher in an impressive period of economic growth. Good for democracy and your pocketbook.

Yet, as soon as tomorrow, Turkey’s Constitutional Court may very well decide to close down the AKP and ban its leading figures, including the current President and Prime Minister, from political participation for five years. The Court’s case is premised largely on the fact that the AKP lifted the country’s longstanding headscarf ban, an action which the majority of Turks supported (Turkish women are not allowed to cover their hair in universities and other government/ public institutions). I’ve always found it interesting – and somewhat bizarre – that women in the U.S. can wear the hijab anywhere they want, while in Turkey it can be grounds for a judicial coup. Former Ambassador to Turkey, Morton Abramowitz, sums it up: “the banning of a ruling party—one that has been in power for over five years, and quite successfully at that—is unprecedented in the modern West.”

The folks at Democracy Arsenal said this would be like the Supreme Court banning the Democratic party and banning Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the party leadership from politics. But in many ways it would be even worse. It would be as if in 2003, less than a year after winning a resounding electoral mandate, the Supreme Court had banned the Republican party and banned George Bush, Dick Cheney, Dennis Hastert, Bill Frist and the entire Cabinet from politics until 2008. It’s never happened before in any sort of modern, stable democracy.

Kicking the AKP out would have terrible consequences, not just for Turkey but for much of the world.

A ban on a party that nearly half of the country supports could spark violence – which Turkey’s secularist generals might then use as a pretext for a direct military intervention. Regardless, senior EU figures have criticized the closure case and warned that banning the AKP could gravely damage Turkey’s candidacy.

Even more troubling is the message it would send to the rest of the Muslim world – no matter how much Islamists moderate, they won’t be accepted as legitimate participants in the democratic process.

In recent years, mainstream Islamist groups throughout the region – including in Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco – have embraced many of the foundational components of democratic life. Yet their moderation has been met with harsh government repression, or more subtle designs to restrict their political participation.

More is at stake than may initially appear. If the AKP – the most moderate, pro-democratic “Islamist” party in the region today – is disbanded, it will strengthen those Islamists who see violence and confrontation as a surer means to influence political power.

During the past year, a number of Islamist leaders we’ve spoken to in Egypt and Jordan have warned that rank-and-file activists are losing faith in the democratic process, and may soon become attracted to more radical approaches. A ban on the AKP would only make it that much harder for moderates to continue making the case that participating in elections is worthwhile.

Condoleeza Rice and the Bush administration has been pretty mute on this, which seems like a bad idea.

Though US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praises the AKP’s democratization agenda, last month she said, “Obviously, we are not going to get involved in … the current controversy in Turkey about the court case.” Yet moments later she opined, “Sometimes when I’m asked what might democracy look like in the Middle East, I think it might look like Turkey.” It’s difficult to tell if she’s referring to the new, democratizing Turkey of the past five years – or the reactionary Turkey where judges and generals flagrantly overrule the people’s will.

President Bush has one last opportunity to reinvigorate the cause of Middle East democracy. By publicly denouncing the closure case, the administration would signal that the US not only supports Turkish democracy against a dangerous internal assault, but that it is also committed to defending all actors willing to abide by democratic principles in a region that desperately needs more of them.

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