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5 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:30 pm

Obama, McCain, Palin, and Analogies

Assume for a moment that John McCain is a transitional figure, and that he will serve only one term if he actually does manage to get elected.  If that is true, where does the Republican Party go after he leaves office?

Sarah Palin represents a dead end for the Republicans.  A Palin candidacy in 2012 will be to the Republicans what George McGovern was to the Democrats:  a transitional, highly partisan individual who appeals to the base without significantly expanding it the way Reagan did.

To make an even more forced analogy, Palin is the Republicans’ Neil Kinnock, the Labor Party leader who preceded Tony Blair.  Kinnock was an old-school traditional Labor ideologue who helped solidify the base but could never translate that into electoral success.  It may be that Republicans have to go through a similar period where they enjoy the false comfort of an ideologue in charge, one who gets trounced regularly, before moving back to a centrist, more inclusive place in American politics.

To further strain the analogy to the breaking point, the fundamental question is who will be the Republicans’ Bill Clinton/Tony Blair/Bruce Cameron — the thoughtful, charismatic, and young centrist who pulls his/her party back into the mainstream of the political discourse.

Another way to look at it is that John McCain is to Ronald Reagan as John Major was to Margaret Thatcher:  the last exhausted gasp of a once-vibrant worldview.

There really are three types of political leaders in the United States:  base mobilizers (McGovern, Mondale, Bush II, Palin), centrists (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Bush I, Clinton, Dole, Gore, Kerry, McCain), and game-changers (FDR, Goldwater, Reagan, and perhaps Obama).

The problem for Republicans is that they will see Palin as a game-changer when in fact she is only a base-mobilizer. And with the (disastrous) exception of Dubya, most base-mobilizers don’t win elections.


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1 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 am

What Do Sarah Palin and Bill Clinton Have in Common?

I know, I know, I’ve become as obsessive about Sarah Palin as every other damn blogger out there.  But there is something about this story that is bugging me, and I haven’t put my finger on it yet.

In the meantime, here’s another fun fact you might not have been aware of:

When elected governor in 2006, Sarah Palin received 114,697 votes, or 48.33 percent of the total vote.

I was going to throw out a bunch of fun facts — for example, that she received fewer votes than the population of Flint, Michigan, which is the 216th largest city in the United States.  Then I realized that it’s the second number that is far more interesting.

When elected governor in 2006, Sarah Palin did not receive a majority of the popular vote.

Hmm.  This sounds familiar.

Don’t Republicans like to point out that had it not been for Ross Perot, Bill Clinton never would have been President?

That always sounded like sour grapes to me, but hey, maybe there’s something to it after all!

Had it not been for Andrew Halco, Sarah Palin never would have been Governor of Alaska.  Or a candidate for Vice President of the United States.


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28 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:00 pm


Anyone seen the Clintons tonight?  I havent.

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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:29 pm

Semi-live blogging Bill Clinton

9:08:  Hits all the key Democratic foreign policy messages but nothing on torture

9:11  Now he’s doing what Hillary should have done last night:  introduce Barack and explain why he’s the right choice

9:12  Biden:  Barack hit it out of the park

9:12  Primary process strengthened BHO giving him the steel to do foreign policy

9:12  BHO is ready to lead America and restore American leadership in the world.

9:13 “preserve protect constitution.”  Honor the oath.  Barack Obama is ready to be President of the United States

9:13  Rebuild frayed alliances, fix frayed international institutions, global warming, stop WMDs, AIDS and other diseases.

9:15 Diplomacy first, military action only if necessary.  Will stand up to bullies

9:16  America can’t be strong abroad if we’re not first strong at home

9:17 People more impressed by the power of our example than the example of our power.  Great line.

9:17  Thought he was going to segue to torture, but he went straight to economic issues.

9:18  Are these the family values Republicans are so proud of?

9:19  There we go.  But war on unions got bigger response than torture.

9:21  Red meat time.  McCain still embraces most extreme views of his party.

9:22 Again about the economy.

9:23  Despite the evidence, candidate is promising more of the same

9:23  Has he actually mentioned McCain by name?

9:24  All about Bill again.  Don’t stop thinkin’ about yesterday.

9:24  Back Obama bio and why he’s the right guy

9:24  “Right side of history”  Nice

9:25  Is it my imagination or has he mentioned Biden as much as Barack?

9:26  Shortest speech Clinton ever gave.  Made the point, but feel like it was a bit rote.  At least he fired up the crowd.  And only a cursory mention of torture.

What do you think?

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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:44 pm

DNC: Stop Panicking, Please

So the progosphere, together with many Democrats, appears to be in complete meltdown mode at the moment, anxious that Hillary’s speech last night wasn’t enough, worried that most of the speakers at the DNC have sucked (well, that part is true), and dreading what the Republicans will “do to us” next week in St. Paul.

Four words:  Calm. The. Hell. Down.

Much of what you’re worrying about is the product of the mainstream media’s feeding frenzy over the supposed Hillary-Barack feud.  That was going to happen no matter what, even if Hillary had won the nomination.

In fact, let’s play pretend for a moment.  Let’s go to an alternate universe where Hillary did win the nomination of the Democratic Party of, oh, I don’t know, the country of PUMAstan, and Barack had to give the Tuesday night speech.  Here is an example of what you would see in the media:

Barack Obama delivered a ringing call for Democratic Party unity on Tuesday, promising to work for Hillary Clinton and challenging his supporters to bury their grudges and rally behind her White House bid.

“Whether you voted for me or voted for Hillary, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose,” said Obama in a speech Democrats hope will end a lingering party rift left over from their bitter nominating fight.

Obama an Illinois senator, praised Clinton and said Democrats could not sit on the sidelines and watch Republican presidential candidate John McCain take the White House and “squander the promise of our country.”

“No way, no how, no you can’t, John McCain. Hillary Clinton is my candidate and she must be our president,” Obama told a roaring crowd waving a sea of blue and red “Obama” signs.

Obama used his highly anticipated turn in the spotlight to say Democrats must unite to help the former first lady beat McCain in the Nov. 4 election. A Democrat is needed in the White House to turn around the struggling U.S. economy, he said.

“When Hillary Clinton is in the White House, she’ll revitalize our economy, defend the working people of America, and meet the global challenges of our time,” Obama said.

His wife, Michelle Obama, watched from the balcony, seated next to former President Bill Clinton.  At one point her eyes welled with tears and she mouthed the words “I love you.”

Clinton watched the speech on television in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as she makes her way to Denver to accept the nomination on Thursday night. “That was a strong speech,” she said. “I thought he was brilliant.”

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said Obama would not convince undecided voters that Clinton was ready to be commander in chief.  “Millions of Barack Obama supporters and millions of Americans remain concerned about whether Hillary Clinton is the right choice for America,” Bounds said.

So let the MSM do that thing that they do.  Calm down.  And remember, we got ground game.  And money.  And a candidate who can clean McCain’s clock.  Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry didn’t have any of those qualities.

And, for the record, neither does John McCain.

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26 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:16 pm

Shut up Already

Poor wittle Billy-boy can’t keep his mouth shut.  This is what he said today in Denver.

Suppose for example you’re a voter. And you’ve got candidate X and candidate Y. Candidate X agrees with you on everything, but you don’t think that person can deliver on anything. Candidate Y disagrees with you on half the issues, but you believe that on the other half, the candidate will be able to deliver. For whom would you vote? . . .This has nothing to do with what’s going on now.

Oh dude.  “This has nothing to do with what’s going on now”?  Are you high?  Did the heart surgery give you brain damage?  Are you a Republican secret agent?  Did Mark Penn help you write this too?

Just STFU and leave town now.  Go back to your charity work.  Go back to the Canadian heiress.  Go to hell.  I don’t really care anymore what you do.

Just go.


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22 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:22 am

Breaking: Bush Signs Kyoto Agreement

Actually, this is exactly how my friends at the NSC got Clinton to sign the International Criminal Court treaty:

Enlisted by members of the House and Senate, presidential aide Rebecca Tandy brought a copy of the international climate-change treaty to President Bush’s desk Monday and asked him to sign a birthday document for a Japanese dignitary named “Kyoto Protocol.” “Mr. Protocol really likes treaties, so we got him this treaty instead of a card, so if you could just—all the other countries have already signed it,” a nervous Tandy reportedly said to Bush, who quickly scrawled his signature on the treaty and told her to tell Kyoto he said “hi.”

The Onion is two for two today.

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28 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:30 am

The Sunshine Boys

In yesterday’s New York Times, Frank Rich shared his opinion of McCain’s recent really bitter bitterness:

His grim-faced crusade to brand his opponent as a traitor who wants to “lose a war” isn’t even a competent impersonation of Joe McCarthy. Mr. McCain comes off instead like the ineffectual Mr. Wilson, the retired neighbor perpetually busting a gasket at the antics of pesky little Dennis the Menace.

I have a better idea.  Let’s team John McCain and Bill Clinton, another Obama-basher, in a new production of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys.  They’d be a laugh riot.

Of course if Bill Clinton started to poke John McCain (”not the fingah!”), McCain might have him shot.

Links and photo courtesy of The Internet Movie Database.

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21 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:00 pm

41 Shows Some Class (Vandy Prize Winner)

George H.W. Bush.  Yes, he “strongly support[s]” McCain, which does not exactly sound like bipartisanship.  But in a joint appearance today, he avoided several opportunities to bash Obama.  He deferred to McCain on the issue of Iraq and said the following when asked about Obama’s trip to Europe:

When asked if he was bothered that Obama plans to hold such large events overseas, Bush smiled. “A little jealous is all,” he said, adding that he thought the Democratic candidate would receive a “warm welcome” in Germany.

That is a model for how former Presidents should handle themselves in a general election.  You can’t expect them to stay out of it, but after so many months of listening to Bill stick his foot in his mouth, it’s nice to see Bush show some reserve and frankly, a great deal of class.  There’s a reason Obama ciets him so often as a role model on foreign policy.

For new readers:  The Arthur Vandenberg Prize, (the “Vandy“) is for those who embrace bipartisanship in foreign policy, even when doing so might not be popular with or politically convenient for their own side. Named for the late Michigan Republican Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg, best known for his support for the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan in the face of pressure from the isolationist wing of his own party.

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5 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:53 pm

Thanks for the plug, but…

As is the case with any new blog, it’s always exciting the first time another blog links to and responds to a post.  So kudos and thanks to Matt Armstrong over at Mountain Runner for replying to my post on Jesse Helms and, among other things, the demise of USIA.  He gives Undip a nice mention, and I want to thank him for that.  As I noted in that post, Mountain Runner has few peers when it comes to covering public diplomacy.

After the nice words, Matt goes on to disagree with my point that Helms (and Clinton) were responsible for the end of the USIA:

[A]bolishing the USIA was not a one-man show.  There was more to it than a choice by President Clinton.  There was the USAID director who had the guts to fight for his agency and the USIA director who did not.  There was also the co-star in the form of a Secretary of State who may have later acknowledged her complicity was her biggest mistake.

Well, yes.  No kidding.  The President is not a one-man show.  And yes, Brian Atwood of USAID was a much more effective advocate than Joe Duffey at USIA.  But both of them — and Secretary Albright — worked for Clinton, and ultimately it was Clinton who decided that he didn’t want to fight Helms.  Speaking frankly — and as a former Clinton Administration official, albeit not even remotely a senior one — President Clinton rarely met a foreign policy or national security fight he didn’t try to avoid.

There’s nothing to suggest that Helms’ attempt to force Clinton to choose between the two agencies was in any way inevitable. Helms was a powerful Chairman, but there were plenty of other Senators, including some in his own party (say Lugar and Chaffee, for example) who the Administration could have lined up to oppose the move.  Had Clinton told Helms to go to hell — and done so in a thoughtful, strategic manner — he not only might have saved USIA, but he also might have forestalled some of the good Senator’s other stunts — like putting holds on every single person Clinton nominated for U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.

Furthermore, disagreement over the question of who was responsible does not take away from the feeding frenzy that resulted at State.  By gutting the infrastructure, the State Department gutted the mission.  And as I noted in my earlier post, the main reason State did this was that it too was profoundly underresourced, a problem that was at least in part a result of the shennanigans of… Jesse Helms.

And finally, Matt, Secretary Albright may have said that her role in the death of USIA was her biggest mistake, but let’s not kid ourselves.  Her complicity in the Clinton Administration’s utter failure to respond to the genocide in Rwanda was a far, far, greater disaster.

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4 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
03:38 pm

Jesse Helms

Jesse Helms died today.  I want to offer his family my condolences.

I know a lot of other bloggers are gloating over this.  I don’t plan on doing that.

But not gloating doesn’t mean that we should pretend to honor his legacy.  Certainly, Senator Helms will be remembered as one of the most destructive and toxic Senators in the history of the Republic.  His retrograde stance on civil rights, his notorious “you lost your job because of a quota” ad, his obstructionist micromanagement of foreign policy in the Clinton years, his abuse of Senatorial privilege, and his attacks on public funding of the arts are only the short list — basically what I remember off the top of my head.

I never met Senator Helms, but I dealt extensively with his staff.  I would like to offer three observations regarding his time in office — one good, one bad, and one mixed.

Observation one:  Senator Helms was actually quite good on certain human rights questions, particularly those regarding China and Cuba.  As Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, and other groups can tell you, when it came to those countries, no Senator was a stronger advocate.  No Senator spoke out more frequently or more passionately for dissidents and others jailed unfairly.  To be clear, he was completely inconsistent, never applying a similar standard to say, Mexico, Zaire, or other U.S. friends.  But on China and Cuba, no one was better.  To paraphrase Roosevelt, he may have been a bastard, but he was our bastard.

Observation two:  it’s hard picking the worst thing Senator Helms ever did, but one that should rank in the top five — one that most people overlook — is his willful destruction of the United States Information Agency.  Today, almost everyone recognizes that the United States is woefully unprepared to win over hearts and minds in the Arab world. (For more on the challenges facing U.S. public diplomacy, check out two blogs that do a terrific job of covering it regularly: Abu Aardvark and Mountain Runner).  What most people don’t know is that Jesse Helms is one of the main reasons we’re in this mess.  In the late 90s, Helms forced the Clinton Administration to dismantle USIA.  Actually, he gave Clinton a choice:  USIA or USAID, and the Administration chose USIA.

Before USIA was folded into State, USIA personnel had operated separately from State both here in D.C. and abroad.  That meant that USIA country directors (known as Public Affairs Officers or PAOs) headed their own offices in foreign capitals (usually called American Centers and housed, unlike embassies, in office buildings in or around the center of the city).  They were not completely independent of the Embassy/Ambassador, but they did have a lot of leeway to chart their own course.

In my travels overseas, I always make an effort to meet with PAOs, as I find them, even today, to be fonts of information that second and third secretaries — cloistered behind the walls of the fortress embassy — could almost never match.  PAOs often walked freely around the city, taking advantage of incredibly talented local staff who knew all the right people — including dissidents.

All that has changed as a result of the “merger” (and to be fair, the 1998 Nairobi and Dar embassy bombings).  I was in the State Department at the time.  In fact, I represented my bureau (Democracy, Human Rights and Labor), in a department-wide working group that was responsible for deciding how best to “integrate” USIA personnel into State.  What in fact happened was a scramble to acquire the staff and financial resources USIA represented; in the process, the public diplomacy process was largely eviscerated.  Public diplomacy personnel in DC were used for whatever was necessary in each the bureau; public diplomacy became an adjunct to other bureau concerns.  PAOs came under the thumb of Ambassadors.  As a result of the bombings (and 9/11), many former USIA staff were moved into the Embassy compounds, and the U.S. closed many American Centers and Libraries.  The director of USIA became Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, which in both the Clinton and Bush Administrations has been a revolving door, usually given as a reward to those too burned out to keep working in the White House (see Evelyn Lieberman and Karen Hughes).

Not all of this can be laid at the feet of Senator Helms.  Certainly the cowardice of the Clinton Administration played a role, as did the perception that the United States didn’t “need” public diplomacy after the end of history.  The triumph at embassies of security over outreach didn’t help; neither did the fact that the merger was viewed by a resource-starved State Department as little more than an opportunity for plunder.

Today, we’re picking up the pieces.  Almost everyone thinks we need to reestablish USIA as a separate agency.  That will take millions of dollars and innumerable years.  What can’t be recovered is much of the institutional memory.  And most of this disaster is the direct result of Senator Helms’ myopic view of foreign policy.

Observation three: Senator Helms may have passed away, but his legacy will live on through the many people who worked for him over the years.  Many are in the current Administration.  They represent the next generaton of neocons (and paleocons).  President Bush’s current chief speechwriter, Marc Thiessen, was for many years Senator Helms’ spokesman (and one of the most powerful staffers on Capitol Hill).  Before working for the President, Marc held the same job for Donald Rumsfeld.  Roger Noriega, Helms’ Latin Americanist (and the chief architect of the Helms-Burton act), served as U.S. Ambassador to the OAS and as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.  Mark Lagon is currently a U.S. Ambassador, heading the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.  Before that, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Organizations.

Over the years, I’ve dealt with all three, and have found them smart, likable and formidable opponents.  Marc and Roger were part of the U.S. delegation to the ICC talks in Rome in 1998, and we battled regularly.  I’ve found Mark to be one of the more effective officials at State, even when I’ve disagreed with him.

They represent only three examples — I’m sure there are more.  But you can bet that they and others will continue to implement the Senator’s vision long after his death.  And that doesn’t even take into account those like John Bolton who, while never working directly for the Senator, have assumed his ideological mantle.

So Senator Helms is dead.  Long will live his legacy, unfortunately mostly for ill.

Edit:  I had no idea how big the photo was — I took it out.  It was ridiculous.

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2 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:51 pm

The Manchurian President

We’ve all heard the whispers.  Every four years, the extreme right starts suggesting that the current Democratic candidate for President is a traitor.  He’s not a patriot, they say — he’s actually a Communist/athiest/internationalist/Muslim.

Every four years, they find a new variation on this theme:  Bill Clinton was recruited by the Soviets when he visited the USSR.  Al Gore will cede American sovereignty to the United Nations.   John Kerry was recruited by the Viet Cong during the war.  Barack Obama was recruited by a Muslim terror cell while attending an Indonesian madrasa. It’s just like that movie — you know – The Manchurian Candidate.

Today, we found out who the real Manchurian Candidate really was: George W. Bush.

No, I’m not suggesting that our President was kidnapped or brainwashed by anyone.  It’s actually much worse than that.  He’s not Laurence Harvey — he’s Angela Freaking Lansbury:

Here’s the story from today’s Times:

The military trainers who came to Guantánamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of “coercive management techniques” for possible use on prisoners, including “sleep deprivation,” “prolonged constraint,” and “exposure.”

What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.

The recycled chart is the latest and most vivid evidence of the way Communist interrogation methods that the United States long described as torture became the basis for interrogations both by the military at the base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and by the Central Intelligence Agency.

You read that correctly: our government authorized the use of techniques developed by the Chinese to torture American servicemen in Korea.  And as Andrew Sullivan points out today, the North Vietnamese adopted a similar approach in Vietnam — meaning that they were used on John McCain.

That’s awful enough.  But here’s the kicker.  As Matt Yglesias notes,

[T]he main purpose of these Chinese torture techniques was to elicit false confessions. That’s not very surprising as the main use of torture in interrogations has always been to elicit false confessions.

But still, to literally rip your techniques off from a study called “Communist Attempts to Elicit False Confessions from Air Force Prisoners of War” requires some level of obliviousness I wasn’t aware of. Or else maybe they were looking for false confessions?

There really are only two conclusions here.  Either the Bush Administration is mind-bendingly stupid, or they are unconscionably evil.  Then again, there is one more possibility:  they’re both.  But regardless of which of these equally distressing options is correct, one thing is crystal clear: they are a cancer on our values and our freedoms.

How can any conservative  support a regime whose policies represent the absolute antithesis of the values of those who fought and often died to defeat communism?

How could anyone with a conscience support a government that steals the methods of our former enemies — who used them against our own soldiers to force false conventions — and then applies them to “extract” the truth?

For a long time, I resisted those who called Bush, Cheney, and their cronies evil.  I criticized those who demanded their impeachment, arguing that it would only garner them sympathy.

Not anymore.  Impeach them.  Better yet, indict them. Prosecute them for war crimes and crimes against humanity.  And then toss them into jail and throw away the key.

For the first time in my life, I am deeply ashamed of my country.

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