Political MoJo

Our "Cuba" Policy Has Failed... Even in Syria

Wed Aug. 2, 2006 7:30 PM EDT

Now that Fidel Castro's wavering health has brought the issue of America's Cuba policy to the public stage once again, the parallels with other areas of U.S. foreign policy are more obvious than ever. Consider this analysis published today in The Miami Herald, under the heading, "U.S. Isolation Policy Leaves Few Options:"

[Some] Cuba analysts say the U.S. policy of aggressively isolating Castro through economic sanctions means Washington will be forced to play a secondary role in a post-Castro period…. Under the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, the U.S. government cannot lift many of the sanctions against Cuba without congressional approval until Havana declares its intention to hold free elections and release political prisoners, among other conditions.

'"Our strategy is to enter the game in the ninth inning and to tell the Cubans they are on their own until then,'' said Phil Peters, a Cuba expert with the conservative Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., think tank.

Now consider what Thomas Friedman said earlier that morning on NPR. "If you're not going to go to war but you really need [a given country's cooperation], and you're just going to adopt this aggressive verbal stance and some economic sanctions, then you have the worst of all worlds." Sound familiar? But Friedman wasn't talking about Cuba—he was talking about Syria. The result of such a policy, he continued, is that now "you have a hostile Syria but it's not afraid of you and therefore you have no real leverage, and that seems to me to be the penumbra that we're in right now vis-à-vis Syria. And I don't see it serving anyone right now."

Cuba is no Syria, obviously, but it is also no closer to democracy than it was when we first imposed sanctions back in 1960. And there are other important similarities: the U.S. government has castigated and disengaged with both countries largely at the behest of a single, well-organized lobby in Washington, despite no evidence that either policy has produced the desired results.

As Flynt Leverett, a former CIA official and author of Inheriting Syria, told a Brookings Institute audience last year, "I think there is a better way to achieve American policy objectives… It's not rocket science. It's sticks and carrots. In a previous era, we used to call it diplomacy." Of course, he didn't mean "Cuban diplomacy."

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Why Can't Congress Telecommute?

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 6:46 PM EDT

Via Ezra Klein, Michelle Cottle reports that, nowadays, members of Congress are expected to maintain homes in their districts and keep their spouses and children there, so as not to appear "out of touch" with the constituents. Naturally, this places a strain on the family life, since it's difficult to constantly shuttle between the Capitol and the home district all the time. The geographic split also forces Congress to shorten its legislative calendar to three days a week, so that representatives can race home to campaign and fundraise and maybe catch up with the kids. Everyone involved is miserable.

Well, here's a radical idea. Technology can do a lot of cool things these days. Among them is teleconferencing. I see no reason why every single member of Congress can't just live in his or her respective district all the time and telecommute to work. They can ask insipid questions at committee hearings and avoid reading lengthy bills just as easily from afar as they can from Washington. This way, they can spend more time with their constituents and their families. And as an added bonus, it would make things much more difficult for lobbyists, who would have to fly to 435 different districts to do their dirty work.

As a triple bonus, if we had publicly-financed elections, representatives could spend even less time fundraising and spending hours on the phone with potential donors, and could spend even more time with their families. Sounds good to me.

UPDATE: Hmm… this could be harder than I thought. Apparently there's a rather insidious anti-teleconferencing bias lurking in Washington: "Nearly two-thirds of U.S. government employees haven't been allowed to telecommute even after the U.S. Congress has established penalties for agencies that don't allow telework options, according to a survey released this week."

Israel, a "Strategic Ally"?

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 6:08 PM EDT

It seems entirely bizarre to me that debates over the shape of U.S. policy towards Israel often hinge on the question of what the best thing for Israel would be. But shouldn't these policy debates hinge on what policy would be best for, you know, the United States? You'd think so, but no.

Anyway, John Judis has a good column in The New Republic today noting that, for the past forty years or so, U.S. policy towards Israel has basically swung between two polar stances: one that seeks to broker peace between Israel and its neighbors, pursued by Carter, Clinton, and Bush the elder; and one that regards Israel as a "strategic ally," as pursued by Ronald Reagan and President Psychopath. The former course appears better for U.S. interests, while Israeli officials often prefer the latter. But Judis points out that the "honest broker" role has actually been better for Israel, as well:

Of course, many Israeli officials prefer an American administration that regards Israel as a strategic ally to one that places a priority on brokering peace between Israel and its adversaries. But the United States and Israel have both fared better when an American administration has tried to broker peace. Carter oversaw the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt—to Israel's enormous benefit. Support from George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton contributed to the Oslo agreements and to a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan in October 1994. This strategy doesn't presume apocalyptical change; instead, it assumes that over decades, Israel could become integrated economically, if not politically, into the Middle East and that former adversaries could co-exist peacefully, if not happily.

In conceiving Israel as a strategic asset, Reagan didn't necessarily hope for a "new Middle East." He was more concerned with winning the cold war with the Soviet Union. But nonetheless, Reagan's embrace of Israel and abandonment of the role of honest broker saw the war in Lebanon (which proved to be an enormous disaster for Israel), the founding of Hezbollah and Hamas, the first terrorist attacks by Islamic groups against the United States and Israel, and the first intifada.

George W. Bush still has two-and-a-half years to go, but so far, his strategy toward Israel has seen the escalation of the second intifada (which began in the last year of the Clinton administration), the eclipse of Arafat's Fatah by the more radical Hamas, and now a two-front war in Gaza and southern Lebanon that is unlikely to achieve the results that the United States and Israel have hoped for.

Indeed, it now appears that we're about to help our "strategic ally" straight into yet another disastrous occupation of southern Lebanon, and there's no end in sight. With friends like these, etc. It's often said that shadowy lobbying groups like AIPAC have convinced the United States to abandon its self-interest in order to make things better for Israel. Perhaps the real scandal, though, is that we're not actually making things better for Israel.

Mel Should Have Gone Straight to Mortification.

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 4:03 PM EDT

images.jpgAP reports:

Mel Gibson's Tuesday apology for an anti-Semitic rant after his drunken driving arrest came several days too late, celebrity crisis management experts say. ...

"In the first 24 hours, people start forming opinions," said Richard Levick, whose Washington firm represents several celebrity clients. "He has constantly been behind the story and needs to get out front. What he's done through actions is turned perception into reality. People presume he is anti-Semitic."

Mel, come on! This is Image Restoration Strategies 101! Get out in front! You should have gone straight to mortification.

Previous research has provided a list of image restoration strategies that celebrities may employ. They are: denial, evasion of responsibility, reducing offensiveness of event, corrective action, and mortification (Benoit, 1997). [Mortification, literally "putting the flesh to death," is defined here as full admission of guilt and apology for the event.]

For more on mortification, see here.

Police in Davenport, Iowa confiscate peace flag, American flags

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 3:48 PM EDT

On July 17, Dick Cheney visited Davenport, Iowa to attend a fundraiser for House candidate Mike Whalen. A group called Progressive Action for the Common Good of the Quad Cities decided to stage a protest near the fundraiser site, got permission to assemble, and showed up with signs and small American flags.

When they arrived at the protest site, the protesters were stopped by police officers and told they would have to hand over their American flags because the sticks could pose a danger to Cheney. Also, one of the protesters had a large peace flag on a pole, which was also confiscated by the police.

According to a report, the police were quite polite when they took away the flags, but things turned a bit sour when a photographer from the Quad City Times began taking pictures. He was warned by a police officer not to take any pictures of the officer and his partner. However, after talking with his supervisor, the police officer was informed that the news media was allowed to take photographs of news events. I'm sure it came as a shock to him to learn this.

Here are some of the dangerous protesters in Davenport, before they had their weapons taken from them.

Castro Latest from Havana

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 3:38 PM EDT

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Rob Corddry has it.

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Environmental Devastation in Lebanon

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 3:00 PM EDT

Admittedly I'm worried more about residential apartment buildings being bombed than I am about dead sea-turtles, but the environmental damage caused by the war in Lebanon has been absolutely staggering. The Jiyeh power plant near Beirut has leaked some 15,000 tons of oil into the Mediterranean sea since it was targeted by Israeli air strikes two weeks ago. (As first reported, I belive, right here on this blog.)

The oil has slicked a third of Lebanon's coast and could affect Cyprus, Turkey, and possibly Greece. Cleanup crews can't get to the mess due to the violence, and it could cost up to $500 million to clean up and ten years for the ecosystem to return to normal, by some estimates. As Lebanon's environment minister, Yaacoub Sarraf, told the AP, "What is at stake today is all marine life in the eastern Mediterranean."

Life is Full of Surprises. But This Many?

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 2:43 PM EDT

Surprise!

The Bush administration was caught by surprise when Cuban President Fidel Castro announced a temporary transfer of power due to illness, according to a U.S. senator who met with the president.

Surprise!

[In 2003,] US Marines pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad's Firdos Square. Today, America battles Iraqi insurgents not only in the Sunni Triangle but also in Baghdad's Shi'ite slums and throughout Southern Iraq. Only the Kurdish north remains solidly pro-American, and there are fewer than 300 coalition troops in all of Kurdistan.

This is not how George Bush and Dick Cheney thought it would happen.

Surprise!

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bush administration officials said they had been caught by surprise when they were told on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that a levee had broken, allowing floodwaters to engulf New Orleans.

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Surprise!

The administration's allies, however, were disturbed that Bush's hands now may be tied by the [Hamdan] ruling, written by Justice John Paul Stevens. "Stevens's opinion was quite shocking in its lack of discussion of the president's independent authority," said Andrew McBride, a former Justice Department official...

Bush made no such protest himself yesterday, caught by surprise at the decision.

Surprise!

Although the transaction has been in the works for months and was approved by a federal interagency committee Jan. 17, the White House was caught by surprise early this week when a bipartisan group of lawmakers lashed out at the deal and suggested that the administration was compromising national security by allowing a state-owned company from the United Arab Emirates to take charge of operations at U.S. ports.

Surprise!

In fact, the Bush administration seems to have been caught by surprise when Chiron Corp. notified the US Center for Disease Control Oct. 5 that the company wouldn't be shipping the vaccine due to the British action. The US Food and Drug Administration didn't begin an investigation until five days later, according to an FDA news release.

Surprise!

The White House was caught by surprise by [Richard]Clarke's book [Against All Enemies] even though the book had been over at the White House for months. Clarke followed the rules by shipping his book to the National Security Council last November so it could make sure he had not revealed any national secrets.

Surprise!

"The White House didn't expect a chorus of doubts from religious conservatives such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Richard Land, Michael Horowitz and even Marvin Olasky, one of the [faith-based] program's early architects. They worry that churches would be corrupted by government regulations orthat objectionable sects would be rewarded.

Surprise!

[T]he meaning of the Vietnam metaphor is that we could be bogged down for years as an unpopular occupying force fighting a low-grade guerilla resistance. I don't know whether that will happen, but I do know the White House didn't expect that and certainly didn't prepare the American people for the possibility.

Halliburton Contractor Settles in Overcharging Suit

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 2:04 PM EDT

AP reports that a company hired by Halliburton to ship military cargo to Iraq has paid the government $4 million to settle a case alleging it overcharged by adding a "war risk surcharge."

"The invoices from Houston-based EGL Inc., operating as Eagle Global Logistics, were for shipments of military goods sent from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to Iraq between November 2003 and July 2004.

A former Dubai-based vice president, Christopher Joseph Cahill, pleaded guilty in February to inflating the invoices by $1.14 million to cover the fraudulent surcharges.

For much more on Halliburton and its far-reaching tentacles, see here.

Roundup: War in the Middle East

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 10:06 AM EDT

ROLE OF FRANCE
Although mocked by the Israelis, the French, because of their historic role in Lebanon, doubtless will play an important role in putting together an international force and terms of any political settlement. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, in Beruit Monday for talks with the Lebanese government, provided clues as to French thinking: "There will not be a permanent cease-fire without a political agreement ... France believes that it would be impossible to have a military solution only," he told reporters. He said the political agreement should be "between Israel, Lebanon and Hezbollah on one side, and Israel, Lebanon and the international community on the other."

Douste-Blazy continued: "I have spoken a lot about the necessity of reaching a political agreement, and its components are: the release of all Lebanese detainees and the two Israeli soldiers; the complete implementation of the Taif Accord; the expansion of the authority of the Lebanese government to cover all the Lebanese territories; a solution to the Shebaa Farms through demarcating the borders, and even placing it temporarily under the UN mandate; and the emphasizing on the sovereignty of each of Lebanon and Israel."

HAGEL'S BREAK WITH BUSH
Full Text of Hagel's Middle East statement
"The United States will remain committed to defending Israel. Our relationship with Israel is a special and historic one. But, it need not and cannot be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships. That is an irresponsible and dangerous false choice. Achieving a lasting resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is as much in Israel's interest as any other country in the world."

BANGLADESH
With US foreign policy seemingly dead in the water, and military commanders beginning to seriously complain about an army stretched too thin, news that the US soon will be facing a new center of terrorism in the poor Muslim nation of Bangladesh can only add to American disarray. Up to now the Bangladesh government has been secular. According to Selig Harrison of the Washington Post, "While the United States dithers, a growing Islamic fundamentalist movement linked to al-Qaeda and Pakistani intelligence agencies is steadily converting the strategically located nation of Bangladesh into a new regional hub for terrorist operations that reach into India and Southeast Asia."