September 17, 2007

Lugar States The Obvious, Yet Again...

Richard Lugar during the SFRC hearing last week:

... the pace and intensity of American regional diplomacy to Iraq has failed to match the urgency and magnitude of problems. Although Secretary Rice and her team have made some inroads for the Gulf nations and other players, we still lack a forum to which to engage Iraq's neighbors on a constant basis. We're allowing conditions in which miscalculation can thrive. Every nation surrounding Iraq has intense interest in what is happening there. Yet the three Iraq regional working groups established the Sharm el-Sheikh conference in early May have met only once since then. A broader regional conference such as the one that took place in Baghdad this past weekend also have convened so infrequently they've had little positive impact on Iraq's status. An expanded ministerial meeting of Iraq's neighbors is scheduled to occur at Istanbul next month.

This is positive, but it's not a substitute for a continuous, visible forum in which we ensure the transparency of national interests and actions. Bold and creative regional diplomacy is not just an accompaniment to our efforts in Iraq, it is a precondition for the success of any policy. We cannot sustain a successful policy in Iraq unless we repair alliances, recruit more international participants in Iraq, anticipate refugee flows, prevent regional aggression, generate new basing options and otherwise prepare for future developments. If we have not made substantial diplomatic progress by the time a post-surge policy is implemented, our options will be severely constrained and we will be guessing at a viable course in a rapidly evolving environment. [my emphasis]

Prediction: we'll continue to bumble along in mostly ad hoc manner on the regional diplomatic front. Or worse, even. We're that bad.

Posted by Gregory at September 17, 2007 09:42 PM
Comments

Lugar is dead on here.

Now the question is: will he vote in a manner that is consistent with his sage counsel?

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 18, 2007 11:07 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I chalk it up to human (and especially institutional) inability to say I was wrong. It takes the ability to turn on a dime (Nixon to China?) to be able to even implicitly admit a mistake. Too many people -- Clinton? -- don't have the personality (personal courage? communications ability?) to publicly change their minds and explain why without looking like dopes, which maybe they are.

Posted by: David Sucher at September 18, 2007 11:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Now the question is: will he vote in a manner that is consistent with his sage counsel?"
Posted by: Eric Martin

Short answer: he's a GOP Senator.

Shorter answer: no.

Posted by: Barry at September 18, 2007 11:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's not a question of how Sen. Lugar votes. There is no way to legislate a diplomatic initiative.

The problem, as I've written here before, is that we don't have a State Department able to do the things he's calling on it to do. Could the department manage it under abler leadership than that provided by Sec. Condoleezza Wardrobe? Maybe. But diplomacy on the scale Lugar is talking about is not something you just turn on or off like a light switch.

Lugar, gentleman that he is, has always preferred to talk about what he would like the executive branch to do, assuming that its officials are able to do it. If I fault him for anything it would be for persisting in that assumption against much evidence that it is wrong.

Posted by: Zathras at September 19, 2007 12:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Did Lugar say anything about Iran?

As far as the link goes, what kind of comic opera banana republic are we, that my government wants me to quake and splutter about the menace that is Syria?!?! Monty Python, Peter Sellers, the Kids in the Hall -- I don't think they'd ever have dreamed of doing a sketch with such a silly premise.

Posted by: sglover at September 19, 2007 01:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There is very little responsible people can do to change the diplomacy of this nation beyond negating everything this President does. This Administration's repeated inability to use meaningful diplomacy won't magically change in its final year.

We simply have to wait until we have a Command in Chief that holds the diplomatic corps in some esteem and doesn't treat them as an adversary.

DU

Posted by: The Mechanical Eye at September 19, 2007 02:33 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Republican Party: telling us shit we already knew since 1980 (at least).

Posted by: LL at September 19, 2007 02:54 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree with Zathras in his 12:26 comment: while there is no doubt in MY mind that Sen. Lugar's policy prescriptions are wise, and would do great good for the nation's stature and position in the Middle East; the chances of any change of policy by this Adminstration, save the most trivial, are probably virtually nil.

The GW Bush Administration has set itself on an inflexible course wrt Middle East policy - the neocon Great Game Master Plan to "re-make" the region (by force, if necessary). Given the general failure of the Iraq invasion/occupation to attain many, if any, of their goals, and given also that the personalities involved are fundamentally incapable of admitting error (save the most trivial); their only priority now seems to be working to lock the GGMP into the basic structure of US Foreign Policy. Permanently. So that any successor Administration will be forced, one way or another, to hew to their delusionary vision.

Pace Zathras, I don't think the problem is that the Bush Adminstration isn't "able" to change policies, I think that they, being motivated by a species of Crusading impluse, simply don't want to. The wasted blood and treasure (since they are someone else's) simply don't matter.

Posted by: Jay C at September 19, 2007 09:55 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's not a question of how Sen. Lugar votes. There is no way to legislate a diplomatic initiative.

Yes, but if the diplomatic initiative is a "a precondition for the success of any [Iraq] policy" and given this:

We cannot sustain a successful policy in Iraq unless we repair alliances, recruit more international participants in Iraq, anticipate refugee flows, prevent regional aggression, generate new basing options and otherwise prepare for future developments. If we have not made substantial diplomatic progress by the time a post-surge policy is implemented, our options will be severely constrained and we will be guessing at a viable course in a rapidly evolving environment.

Then shouldn't a Senator vote to withdraw? If all of those things are true, and it is also true that for the next 16 months, the necessary diplomatic initiatives will not be undertaken Bush, then shouldn't Lugar vote to withdraw?

It makes sense for two reasons:

1. Only the prospect of a legislatively mandated withdrawal would force Bush's hand to embrace the diplomatic initiatives endorsed by Lugar - possibly.

2. If Bush doesn't embrace those initiatives (likely), well then, we should be withdrawing anyway, right? Unless Lugar's position is that we should just grind down our military - and empty our treasury - for a couple more years before possibly beginning the diplomatic process that he considers necessary, if the next president agrees? If so, praise retracted.

If on the other hand, Lugar is sincere and he puts his votes where his mouth is, he would get the best of the bad options: either his diplomatic course is adopted, or we leave.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 19, 2007 11:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Funny, I thought Lugar was talking about Iran. (My wishful thinking.) Fact is, we absolutely need "a continuous, visible forum in which we ensure the transparency of national interests and actions. Bold and creative regional diplomacy is not just an accompaniment to our efforts in Iran [my subsititution], it is a precondition for the success of any policy."

Plus it puts in place a mechanism to defuse tensions in the event of an "engineered provocation." http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2007/09/19/iran/

Unfortunately, this administration's modus operandi is to shoot first, then talk when painted hopelessly into a corner, if then.

Posted by: John Hofer at September 19, 2007 01:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Lugar States The Obvious, Yet Again"......and then proceeds to vote against the Webb Amendment. Well, he did not disappoint me....I can say that about him

Posted by: jonst at September 19, 2007 06:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The post was about the state of regional diplomacy, and that's what I address upthread. It wasn't a comment for or against an Iraq funding cut-off or withdrawal resolution.

Sen. Lugar's thinking on this subject probably diverges somewhat from mine. But rather than reiterate my own views I can, as a longtime amateur student of Lugarology, make a guess as to the source of his thinking on this subject.

Lugar is even more devoted to orderly procedures in government than I am. In his world, Congress legislates and Congress appropriates; the executive branch implements laws and policies, especially foreign and national security policies. With respect to these, his already strong views were probably reinforced by his long feud with Jesse Helms, whose view of the Senate's role in foreign policy was very different -- and as a general rule was quite destructive. Under normal circumstances, American foreign policy works much more effectively if its Congressional consultants are people like Lugar rather than people like Helms. In our present circumstances I have to say this isn't clearly true at all, because Helms -- whatever one thinks of his views on policy substance -- never let himself be pushed around or ignored as Lugar has often done since George W. Bush became President.

Lugar's is a world in which a Congressional mandate that a President radically change his policy according to a published timetable would represent truly radical change. It would be like Sen. Byrd being asked to oppose earmarked appropriations, or Sen. Cochran being told to sponsor abolition of subsidy programs for cotton and rice -- we might like to see these things, but it's highly unlikely we ever will. It's fair enough to criticize any public official for not being willing to do what one feels is right, but I've always believed it makes sense to be realistic about what specific public officials might be able to bring themselves to do, and about what they probably cannot.

In Lugar's case, I fear that he has applied the principle of Congressional deference to the executive in foreign policy without reference to the demonstrated capacity and records of the relevant executive branch officials. I mean Secretary Rice here, but she is not the only one. Just last year the Senate schedule was tied up in knots for weeks over the nomination of John Bolton to be UN Ambassador; it was a nomination Lugar clearly didn't approve of, and could easily have killed right at the start, but out of loyalty to the President he managed the Bolton nomination until it became obvious it wouldn't clear a filibuster on the Senate floor.

Lugar's statements on the need for regional diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East, and thus the ideas behind them, would get far more attention were they accompanied by statements expressing doubts that the Secretary of State was up to the job. Such statements would complicate his relations with the White House, but so what? The important thing is focusing attention on the things Lugar plainly believes need to be done. If you can't do that you're just the proverbial tree falling deep in the political forest. It doesn't matter that the Reagan or even the Clinton administration wouldn't have ignored you; The Bush administration will, and has, over and over again.

The course I'm suggesting would be a lot less contrary to the administration than was Lugar's bringing President Reagan up short on the Philippine elections 20 years ago. Reagan cherished all sorts of illusions about Ferdinand Marcos, and had a statement issued claiming that elections Marcos had been expected to lose saw fraud committed on both sides. That hadn't happened; Lugar was in the Philippines as an observer and said plainly that it hadn't happened, embarrassing Reagan but helping to ease Marcos out of power to the great advantage of everyone. Doubting in public the capacity of a Presidential subordinate, even a close one like Rice, doesn't compare with that.

Sen. Lugar, whatever his virtues -- and they are many -- has never been a fighter. I understand the limitations imposed by temperament, and perhaps these increase as one ages. They have in Lugar's case put him in the position of urging sensible policies on an adminsitration that couldn't implement them even if it wanted to. His most carefully reasoned statements are just so much wheelspinning, and if he doesn't change his approach he will be wheelspinning for the rest of his career in the Senate.

Posted by: Zathras at September 19, 2007 06:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

zathras makes a good point, though he and i have visited this terrain before. still, to stress: who serious really believes condi rice, even if she were able to surpass her myopic messianic impulses about 'transformational' diplomacy and sycophant-like relationship w/ Bush, who really believes she has to mojo to cut deals region-wide with the egyptians, gulfies, israelis, turks, palestinians, not to mention broach serious dialogue w/ the syrians and/or iranians? no one really, i suspect, as she's basically proven an incompetent, if we're going to be brutally honest about it.

which leads me to the Baker-Hamilton report. recall they called for a "diplomatic offensive" that they even suggested the President himself should undertake at the Presidential level, and certainly no one below SecState. But guys like Baker and Hamilton must have realized Bush didn't have the intellectual/regional skills to pull it off, nor even Condi. So what was the point of recommending the "diplomatic offensive" then (or Lugar, in essence, now 9 months on)? Perhaps they thought the President would see the light and appoint them? I don't know, but right now we have no one in power w/ the skill-sets to navigate the region-wide deteriorating situation we're all painfully aware of...and that's pretty sad, we're a country of 300MM after all, can't we do better with our policy elites?

Posted by: greg djerejian at September 19, 2007 10:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg's question suggests another: why can't we do better with our policy elites?

The Bush administration may be easily enough explained -- President Bush has a long record of deep reluctance to assign important positions to people he does not know personally, and socially, and an equally long record once he has delegated authority of disinterest in what he has delegated. His is not a Presidency that seeks, encourages or rewards excellence, so his administration hasn't much of it and hasn't known what to do with what it has had.

But our problem is a little deeper than this. Take Sec. Rice. To my knowledge neither any major figure in Congress, any leading foreign policy figures associated with the Democratic Party or any media personality one would recognize has ever come close to describing her in terms similar to those I have used here from time to time. Now, it is true that I don't think much of her; I don't expect most people to share my opinion or all the reasons for it. Even the suggestion upthread that Sen. Lugar question her ability to conduct difficult diplomacy is one I make mostly because it I think it would gain attention for Lugar's own ideas, not because I think it would damage Rice.

But Rice does not escape criticism because everyone familiar with her record disagrees with me. She escapes criticism because she is a celebrity. She has a great personal "story." She is pretty, and has impeccable fashion sense; the camera loves her. Her access to and close relationship with the President is unquestioned (granting that this must be more important to access-obsessed Washington journalists than it is to most other people). She is covered in the media as a kind of Very Serious movie star, and this status is accepted by almost everyone in the political world as well.

She isn't alone. The current President could not have been elected had he not been the son of the last Republican President; the leading candidate to succeed him could not occupy that status were she not the wife of the last Democratic President. The three leading Democratic candidates for President have between them not accomplished as much in public life as any one of the three second-tier candidates has by himself -- but the top three are all celebrities, and the next three aren't. The top three Republican candidates for President include two guys who bailed out of public life just as the war on terror was getting started, one to cash in on his 9/11 celebrity, the other to goof off in Hollywood.

You won't hear any of these people discussed very often in terms anything like this -- not in the media, not even by their political opponents. Celebrity status has become in this country a kind of political magic cloak; it doesn't matter how good you are as long as you can somehow make yourself famous. I imagine that explains the phenomenon of Condoleezza Rice, and that of any number of other people in the American "policy elite," as much as anything. At the end of the day it probably says less about these people than it says about us.

Posted by: Zathras at September 20, 2007 12:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

While I appreciate the comments from Greg and Zathras - both insightful and intelligent - I'm afraid that only reinforces my position:

Voting for withdrawal is the only option. Everything short of this - whether born out of some deference to the executive steeped in tradition, or out of some quixotic advocacy a preferred policy that has no chance of being attempted, and even if attempted, would fail for the players involved - is folly.

And it is folly even if it is perpetrated by someone with noble impulses, and more than a shred of integrity. Lugar is by far one of my favorite Republican Senators. However, it is precisely because he knows better that I find his inaction so deeply misguided and shameful. Recognizing the sources of his shortcomings does little to ease the pain, or stanch the bleeding.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 20, 2007 11:25 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

And it is folly even if it is perpetrated by someone with noble impulses, and more than a shred of integrity. Lugar is by far one of my favorite Republican Senators. However, it is precisely because he knows better that I find his inaction so deeply misguided and shameful. Recognizing the sources of his shortcomings does little to ease the pain, or stanch the bleeding.

I'm wondering if sheer age has a lot to do with the feckless Congress. Guys like Lugar, Levin, Warner and Kennedy are all verging on being octogenarians, if they're not already. Even if their skills weren't diminished, their formative experiences are from a very different era. It might explain why they've been so consistently blindsided by Bush -- he just isn't playing by the traditions and assumptions that they're used to.

I think zathras' remarks about our celebrity elites are spot-on, and describe our analogue to the demoralization and cynicism that infected the upper tiers of the Soviet Communist Party, and -- far more than Ronnie Reagan -- undid the USSR.

Posted by: sglover at September 20, 2007 01:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.


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