Roundtable: What does American “strength” mean in the 21st century?
The Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy presents its second roundtable for the spring 2012 semester.
This roundtable will focus on the question posed by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius:
What does American “strength” mean in the 21st century? Is it a recovery of the kind of power and prerogative the United States had, say, in the Ronald Reagan years? Or is it something more aligned with changes in the global balance?
Pell Center Roundtable lunches explore emerging issues in a small group setting intended to encourage an exchange of views.
Seating is limited to 15 members of the Salve Regina Community. Please R.S.V.P. by February 13, 2012 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Quick Hit: ‘We the People’ Losing Appeal
I read this story in the New York Times on Monday and found it both fascinating and troubling.
Here’s a brief quote:
In 1987, on the Constitution’s bicentennial, Time magazine calculated that “of the 170 countries that exist today, more than 160 have written charters modeled directly or indirectly on the U.S. version.”
A quarter-century later, the picture looks very different. “The U.S. Constitution appears to be losing its appeal as a model for constitutional drafters elsewhere,” according to a new study by David S. Law of Washington University in St. Louis and Mila Versteeg of the University of Virginia.
It’s a fascinating account. What do you make of it? Why is the U.S. Constitution less a model today than it was 25 years ago?
Opinion: The Politics of National Interest
You could simply chalk it up to different political perspectives—and that might be true, but not in the way you would think. I’ll explain.
Democrat or Republican, I’m drawn to candidates who put the nation ahead of party. Liberal or conservative, I’m attracted to public servants who seek common solutions to common problems. I want our government to be responsive. I believe the reason to get into politics is to get something done, not just for ourselves, but for the greater good, to leave behind something better for our children, and our grandchildren.
My take away from the ad was not an endorsement of President Obama—but a summons, a calling to Americans to shake off the slumber of recession and get back to work. No more excuses. Let’s figure it out, together, and get something done.
Rove saw something more sinister:
I was frankly offended by it. I’m a huge fan of Clint Eastwood. I thought it was an extremely well done ad. But it is a sign of what happens when you have Chicago-style politics. The President of the United States’ political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising and the best wishes of the management, which has benefited by getting a bunch of our money that they’ll never pay back.
Or maybe he just saw an opportunity to get on television.
Truthfully, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Karl Rove has long practiced a politics of division and destruction—and the message in that Chrysler ad is a threat to those tactics.
Clint Eastwood, who proclaimed on Monday that he is “certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama,” understood what the ad was about:
It was meant to be a message . . . just about job growth and the spirit of America. I think all politicians will agree with it.
The American Spirit. Remember it? The public does. And they are tired of people on the left and the right who think that the American Spirit is divisive.
The American people don’t want partisanship, they don’t want division. They want results. They are tired of politics as usual and long for the politics of national interest.
The politics of national interest recognizes that politics are not evil or dirty. The political process—trading and compromise—is the essence of democracy. But it should be aimed at the best interest of the country as a whole—not the narrow interests of one party or individual candidate.
Unfortunately, there are too many people around the country—not just in Washington—who believe the purpose of politics is simply “to win elections.” Such small purpose is not what the founders intended. They saw elections as the best means to express the will of the governed, and to provide legitimacy to the decisions of elected officials. They were never intended to provide a simple spring-board for the next election.
Focusing our politics on winning elections is also too small a task for the challenges we face, and will face, in the 21st century. The result has been near-permanent political stalemate. As a result, in recent months, we have seen some lament the paralysis in our free institutions and others envy China’s ability to make rapid decisions and act on them. These sentiments are not new. Consider the envy of Fascism’s economic strides in the 1930s or the admiration of Soviet scientific achievements in the 1950s. In both historic instances, however, a healthy, functioning democracy provided America all the energy, adaptability, and competitiveness we needed to overcome both those challenges.
But our democracy is not functioning well now because our politics—and the culture around them—are focused exclusively on winning elections to the detriment of all else, including the national interest. Just look at what the leaders of both parties in the U.S. Senate have said in recent years:
“President Bush is a liar. He betrayed Nevada and he betrayed the country.”
— Senator Harry Reid (D-NV)
“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
— Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Is it any wonder that we have failed as a society to achieve consensus on big issues? In most cases, we haven’t even had a national conversation because we are too busy destroying our enemies and gearing up for the next election.
Make no mistake about it, there are big issues at stake in the next election:
- What is the appropriate role of government in the United States?
- What should America’s role in the world be?
- How do we achieve energy security? Nuclear security? Economic security?
- How do we make America more competitive in the global economy?
The “Halftime in America” ad was a reminder that we can rise to any challenge. That sentiment is only politically divisive if you want it to be.
Quick Hit: Halftime in America
Forget about the football game last night–I know I’m trying to. The halftime ad from Chrysler with Clint Eastwood was remarkable, though, not simply for it’s length and expense, but for its emotional power.
It’s halftime America, and our second half is about to begin.
It tapped something basic in the psyche of America: the idea that hard times don’t define us; that together we can do anything; that tomorrow is going to be better than today.
That sentiment was the hallmark of President Obama’s campaign in 2008 before withering under the onslaught of recession and heated healthcare debates. Joe Klein chronicled the loss of faith in a memorable story for Time magazine in October 2010. Klein wrote:
Topic A is the growing sense that our best days as a nation are behind us, that our kids won’t live as well as we did, that China is in the driver’s seat.
The sweet-spot in American politics this cycle will be found by the candidate who matches uncertainty and anxiety about the future with resolve, clarity, and, yes, hope.
ANALYSIS: How do you solve a problem like Iran?
The confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program appears to be heading toward a crescendo—and that’s not the same as a resolution.
To be sure, talk of western or Israeli military action against Iran’s nuclear program has been at a low boil for years, now. In recent weeks, however, the intensity has increased and spiked on Thursday, February 2, when Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote:
[U.S. Defense Secretary Leon] Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June . . . .
That’s this spring. The reason, Ignatius explained, is that Israel believes it must act before Iran moves its work into deep, underground facilities that only the United States could strike. Ignatius goes on to say that:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t want to leave the fate of Israel dependent on American action which would be triggered by intelligence that Iran is building a bomb, which it hasn’t done yet.
In other words, Israel and the United States have different “red lines.” Israel may strike while Iran’s nuclear facilities are still within reach of weapons in the Israeli arsenal. The United States, which has greater ability to hit deeply buried targets, appears more willing to wait and see if Iran’s policies can be changed through sanctions and diplomatic pressure. This strategic patience from the Obama administration obscures the fact that consistent reporting has indicated the United States would act militarily should it receive intelligence that Iran has made a decision to build a bomb.
David Ignatius—perhaps the best national security columnist working today—isn’t the only source for these latest concerns. Both CBS and NBC on Thursday reported that Panetta refused, when asked, to contradict the account from Ignatius. And only two weeks ago, General Martin Demsey, USA, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, travelled to Israel to discuss the challenge of Iran’s nuclear program—only to come away conceding that the two close allies see the threat differently.
Speaking to the National Journal one week after his return to Washington, Dempsey said:
We have to acknowledge that they … see that threat differently than we do. It’s existential to them. My intervention with them was not to try to persuade them to my thinking or allow them to persuade me to theirs, but rather to acknowledge the complexity and commit to seeking creative solutions, not simple solutions.
The simple solutions Dempsey referred to are certainly air strikes. Bryan Gold at the American Security Project explains why attacking Iran is a bad idea in this blog post. It boils down to this: bombing won’t change Iran’s strategic intent. It might delay Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, but it won’t stop the program—and it may make the regime and its people more unified in their desire to become a nuclear power.
And here is the rub for policy makers in Washington:
You’ve said an Iranian bomb is “unacceptable.” But you disagree with your closest regional ally’s sense of urgency. How do you navigate the shoals between maintaining international pressure, on the one hand, and not inflaming passions, on the other, which may make a peaceful resolution impossible?
All of this is rather academic and detached from the comfort of Newport. But if you are the Prime Minister of Israel, or the President of the United States, you’re facing real responsibility to protect your nation and its citizens.
Different leaders will conclude different things, and that appears to be exactly what’s worrying policy makers in Washington today.
On Wednesday, April 11, the Pell Center Lecture Series will focus on Iran’s nuclear program with Dr. David Albright, President of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, DC. Check back for more details when they become available.
Your turn: What should the U.S. policy be regarding Iran’s nuclear program?
A Blog is Born
To launch the Pell Center Blog, we proudly present the following imagined dialogue:
You: Another blog?
Us: Yeah, another blog.
You: Why should I care?
Us: Because we’re going to be interesting AND informative.
You: That’s what every new blog author says.
Us: Didn’t you notice? We all-capped “and.”
You: Not persuasive.
Us: Just like the vast majority of other blogs. So right out of the gate, we’re already in the meaty center of the field. Not bad for day one!
You: It’s a low bar.
Us: Fair enough. But listen, the Pell Center Blog is going to be different because we’re going to grow with the expanding mission of the Pell Center. We’re going to feature informed writing, provocative ideas, authors from the Pell Center at Salve Regina University, and we’re going to have fun along the way.
Us: Well, we’ll try.
You: Try harder.
And so concludes our imagined dialogue. But so begins our blog.
The Pell Center Blog is a (mostly) serious effort to stir conversations. We’ll use the blog to share ideas, to invite feedback, to spark conversations, and to publicize events. Each week, I’ll be posting two feature-length essays about current issues in the public debate. (Look for them every Tuesday and Friday!) I’ll be posting other shorter pieces and interesting links as they appear to me.
Our focus is the world: domestic and international, but with a special emphasis on the issues at the heart of the Pell Center’s research agenda: emerging national security and foreign policy issues; public choices at home; and the relationship between science and public policy.
And as the Pell Center grows, others will be posting as well. We’re going to experiment with formats, with ideas, and with opportunities for you to be involved.
And with all of this social media, we want to hear from you. (It’s the whole point, after all, and it is where the fun comes in.)
I’ve always believed that an interesting conversation, a healthy exchange of ideas, is fun. We want the Pell Center Blog and our community on Facebook and Twitter to be places where those conversations take place.
Agree or disagree.
But let’s get the conversation started!