Monday, July 26, 2004


By William Fisher

Most of the world – and especially the Arab world – believes that Jews are Jews are Jews, that they are totally homogenous, and that all their views on all Israeli-related issues are the same. They all favor the policies of Ariel Sharon. They are all in favor of ‘the wall’. They all support the proposed Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. They all believe that settlements in the West Bank and Gaza are God-given rights. And they all charge that all Arabs want to drive Israel into the sea.

Neither in the US nor in Israel do the facts on the ground support these conclusions. In Israel, Left-leaning and Right-leaning political parties and media have been locked in fierce debate for many years. The same deeply felt differences are mirrored in the United States. What is true in the US is that dissenters from American ‘conventional wisdom’ on Israel do not get anything like the financial support, press coverage or attention from office-seeking politicians afforded to more powerful and well-connected groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

As Esther Kaplan wrote recently in her article ‘The Jewish Divide on Israel’ in the Nation magazine: “AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents (of Major Jewish Organizations), along with their powerful fellow travelers, Christian Zionists, have forged a bipartisan consensus in Washington that Middle East policy must privilege the ‘special relationship’ between the United States and Israel. In practice, this solid consensus means putting Israeli security before peace; supporting even such extreme Israeli measures as the separation wall and assassinations; and delegitimizing the Palestinian leadership.”

Yet there is much evidence that groups representing alternative views are growing in both numbers and in influence. For example, ever since the 1993 Oslo Accord proved that negotiations were possible, surveys have consistently found that 50 to 60 percent of American Jews favor ending the occupation and dismantling settlements in return for peace.
While there is little likelihood that this growth will be very visible in an election year – Israel is the ‘third rail’ of American politics – expect these voices to be get a lot more attention after November. 

Who are these groups and what are their views?

One of them is the Chicago-based Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, (the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace), co-founded in 2002 by Marcia Freedman, a former Knesset member. Brit Tzedek is a national grassroots membership organization representing 16,000 members with chapters in twenty-seven cities. It supports a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based roughly on the 1967 borders, sharing Jerusalem, and evacuation of settlements. It asserts that security for Israel can only be achieved through the establishment of an economically and politically viable Palestinian state, an end to Israel's occupation of land acquired during the 1967 war, and to Palestinian terrorism.

Another group is the Berkeley-based Tikkun Community. It calls on the Palestinian people to acknowledge the right of Jews to maintain their own homeland in the pre-1967 borders of the state of Israel, with Jewish control over the Jewish section of Jerusalem and the Western Wall. It calls on the Palestinian people to stop acts of terror against Israel and opposes Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights.

The Oakland-based Jewish Voice for Peace, was founded in 1996, when, “despite three years of participating in a ‘peace process’ under the Oslo accords, Palestinians and Israelis seemed increasingly unlikely to achieve the peace they claimed to seek.”  JVP members were especially concerned that the Israeli government was continuing to build settlements in the Occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. It organized more than 100 people to protest at the Israeli consulate in San Francisco, becoming one of the first US Jewish groups to criticize Israeli treatment of Palestinians.

Jews Against the Occupation, an organization in the New York City area, rejects the notion that it is "necessary" to subjugate Palestinians for the sake of keeping Jews safe; claims that that security can only come from mutual respect, and that the occupation of Palestine is only worsening the position of Jews in the Middle East and around the world; opposes the demolition of Palestinian houses and crops in the Occupied Territories; calls for an end to U.S. government aid to Israel; and opposes the Israeli Government’s “attack the Palestinian economy.”

Meretz USA, an affiliate of Israel's left-wing Meretz Party, calls itself  “a progressive Zionist organization that educates Americans about issues of civil rights and peace in Israel.” It sees “no alternative to renewing the search for peace between Israel and the Palestinian people, establishing and sustaining a cease-fire, and taking basic measures conducive to the renewal of meaningful negotiations leading to the creation of a sovereign, demilitarized Palestinian state.” The organization has consistently opposed building Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

These are but a few of the so-called non-mainstream organizations. Some of the newer groups are cooperating with older outfits like Americans for Peace Now (APN), which pushes for active White House and State Department engagement in the peace process, especially Administration efforts to broker a new interim understanding between Israelis and Palestinians, facilitate final status arrangements that reconcile Israeli security with Palestinian statehood, and encourage negotiations between Israel, Syria, and Lebanon.

What are these groups doing to make their views heard?

There is a long menu of initiatives. For example, in March, one of the older peace groups, Rabbis for Human Rights of North America, sent an open letter to Sharon protesting Israel's house-demolition policy, which was signed by 400 rabbis, including leaders of some of the largest congregations in the country. In April, Brit Tzedek organized 10,000 US Jews to sign another open letter calling on Israel and the US to fund the relocation of Jewish settlers from the occupied territories to Israel.

Though these groups lack support from major Jewish donors or Jewish foundations, their numbers are growing. APN has some 25,000 supporters; Brit Tzedek, 17,000. There would seem to be substantial room for growth, approaching AIPAC’s 65,000 membership.
But there is diversity of opinion even among these groups. About the only thing they all agree on is Israel’s right to exist. On every other issue, as Esther Kaplan notes, “American Jews are as polarized on Israel as Americans as a whole are polarized about George W. Bush.” 



Saturday, July 24, 2004


By William Fisher

One of the more under-reported conclusions of the 9/11 Commission is that the struggle against Islamic extremists is more than a military, intelligence, financial and diplomatic battle. It is a war of ideas.

And it is a war we are losing.

“The United States must do more to communicate its message”, the Commission’s report declares. It quotes Ambassador Richard Holbrook wondering, “How can a man in a cave out-communicate the world’s leading communications society?” And Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage worried that Americans have been “exporting our fears and our anger, not our vision of opportunity and hope.”

Underscoring America’s problems is a new Zogby International poll of 3,000 respondents in Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The poll reports that Arab attitudes toward the US have plummeted to all-time lows. The results were released the same day as the Commission’s final report.

In contrast to the Bush administration's insistence that US ''values'' and political ideals are behind the hostility, the poll findings show that Arabs see US policies in the Middle East as by far the main factor in fostering the Arab world's growing antagonism toward Washington.

''It's the policy, stupid'', said James Zogby, head of the polling firm and president of the Arab-American Institute. He added that when asked an open-ended question about what the US could do to improve its image among Arabs, significant pluralities in each country called for Washington to either ''stop supporting Israel'' or ''change Middle East policy''.

Faced with such a hostile environment, how should the US go about doing a better job of communicating its messages to the Arab world? The 9/11 Commission had this recommendation: “Recognizing that Arab and Muslim audiences rely on satellite television and radio, the government has begun some promising initiatives in television and radio broadcasting to the Arab world, Iran, and Afghanistan. These efforts are beginning to reach large audiences. The Broadcasting Board of Governors has asked for much larger resources. It should get them.”

The Commission was referring to the US taxpayer-financed satellite television channel, Al-Hurra (in Arabic, ‘The Free One’). Its start-up early last year cost about $102 million, added to the previously launched Radio Sawa, a Middle Eastern Radio Network with Arabic programming, and a radio station directed at Iran. Featuring mostly American pop music and a smattering of news, the radio stations have attracted substantial audiences in eight Arab countries, including Iraq. Now that they have begun to win acceptance, news content is gradually increasing.

Al-Hurra has had tougher sledding. While it has gained a modest audience – about 7-10 per cent of Arab viewers of international news -- it has been viewed with suspicion by most of ‘the Arab street’. The Zogby poll found that Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, two indigenous Arabic language channels, enjoy an overwhelming share of the growing satellite TV market in the Middle East.

Said one Arab commentator of Al-Hurra: “We had expected to see news broadcasts that were not opinionated nor censored, programs that formed an awareness, programs that explained the American political system to the Arab world. Anyone who knows the American media or has worked in Washington will be shocked watching this satellite channel broadcasting at its present standard.”

As New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote: “The (9/11) commissioners don't say it, but the implication is clear. We've had an investigation into our intelligence failures; we now need a commission to analyze our intellectual failures.”

What to do? A number of Middle East experts, including Edward Djerejian, President Clinton’s Ambassador to Israel, have asked why the region needs another state-run TV network and whether placement of US-produced programs on existing Arab channels might not seem less heavy-handed. He has a point – up to a point. 

Outlets like Al-Hurra offer the US an element of control it would not enjoy on Al- Jazeera or Al-Arabiya or any of the indigenous Arabic-language channels in the neighborhood. But what good is control if no one is watching? Al-Hurra’s programming will require a substantial overhaul before it will be able to able to capture meaningful market share among Arab viewers. This presents the US Government with tough choices: to be credible, it will need present a more authentic American reality – warts and all – and a far more diverse range of opinions, even including those of people who hate America, if it is to shed its propagandist image.   
That means that, while Al-Hurra is maturing, the US will have to bite the bullet and work with channels like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, as well as local stations in the area. That won’t be easy. In one of its first official actions, the now-disbanded Iraqi Governing announced a temporary ban on both satellite television channels in Iraq. And Bush Administrations officials have been intensely critical of both, especially Al-Jazeera.

There are even those Americans who have counseled the government to ‘take out” the Arab networks. One of them is Frank Gaffney Jr., a neoconservative Reagan-era Defense Department official. He wrote: "Censorship!" cried the networks involved and sympathetic critics. Some warned darkly that this measure confirmed fears that an American occupation of Iraq would create a new puppet authoritarian system, not a Western-style liberal democracy rooted in freedom of the press…To those who will decry this as censorship, they should be reminded of President Bush's injunction shortly after we were attacked two years ago: In the War on Terror, you are either with us or with the terrorists…”

There is no doubt that stations like Al-Jazeera are, in the words of Michael Young, Opinion Editor of Beirut’s Daily Star newspaper, “daring, aggressive and timely; but also selective, demagogical and gruesome.”

But this is the hand the US has been dealt. Yes, the US should keep working to strengthen Al-Hurra by making its programming more appealing to its Arab audiences. But, at the same time, Americans – and not only Government officials – need to engage with the major Arab networks.

If the ‘guests’ are sure of their messages, and reasoned and temperate in their presentation, they will be far more credible on Arab-sponsored channels than on any US Government outlet.
If the 9/11 Commission is right about the US being engaged in a war of ideas, it needs to take that battle, too, to those who would be influenced by our enemies. Writing in the New York Times, columnist David Brooks said: “the bigger fight is with a hostile belief system that can't be reasoned with but can only be ‘destroyed or utterly isolated.’

America needs to think carefully about how to use its unrivalled media expertise to help achieve those goals.




















Friday, July 23, 2004


I never realized my words would have such impact!

Just as I completed an op-ed article wondering about the lack of progress of the Pentagon’s investigations of prisoner abuse, and the low profile being kept by the usually ubiquitous Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, lo and behold, the Army’s Inspector General materialized to deliver part of his report.

He did so before a hastily convened meeting of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, whose chairman, Republican Senator John Warner, has been under immense pressure to call the first hearings on the prisoner abuse scandal since May. The hearing took place Thursday, July 22 – the same day as the September 11 Commission delivered its final report to the Congress and the President. Congress went into recess for the summer on the following day.

The Inspector General, Lt. Gen. Paul Mikolashek, had this to say:

The U.S. military has found 94 cases of confirmed or alleged abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan since the autumn of 2001. That number is significantly higher than all other previous estimates given by the Pentagon, which had refused until now to give a total number of abuse allegations.

Equally important, the IG found no systemic problems. In some cases, the report found, the abuse was abetted or facilitated by officers not following proper procedures. This view is sharply in contrast to a February report from the International Committee for the Red Cross, which found that  “methods of ill treatment'' were “used in a systematic way'' by the U.S. military in Iraq.

Most of the alleged abuses -- 45 of the 94 -- happened at the point where the detainee was captured. Of those 45 cases, 20 involved allegations of physical abuse and the rest were allegations of theft or other crimes. Twenty-one cases of alleged abuse happened at detention centers such as Abu Ghraib. Another 19 happened at collection points where prisoners are gathered between their capture and their transfer to long-term prisons. Eight cases happened during or surrounding interrogations.

Since autumn of 2001, overall the United States had held more than 50,000 prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq, a number never before made public.

The Committee raised questions about prisons in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the deaths of detainees, as well as whether abuse was part of interrogations. Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee, testifying at the hearing, said he accepted responsibility for the abuses committed by soldiers. But ranking Committee member Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan said it was “difficult to believe there were not systemic problems with our detention and interrogations operations.''

Seven members of the 372nd Military Police Company, an Army Reserve unit from Cresaptown, Maryland, were charged in the prisoner abuse scandal, which unfolded this past spring with the release of pictures of abuse and sexual humiliation of prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

As I wrote in my earlier article, it may not be until after the presidential election that the world gets the full story of US prisoner abuse. Or, it may be never. Because there is still a nagging question of whether the military is prepared to investigate their own, and let the chips fall where they fall, or whether an independent commission – like the 9/11 Commission – is needed to be credible.






What ever happened to the Pentagon’s multiple investigations into prisoner abuse?

And where is Donald Rumsfeld?

The Secretary of Defense, once the irrepressible song and dance man of the Bush Administration, has obviously been in an ‘undisclosed location’ under the radar for the past few weeks. Rehearsing a new act, no doubt.

Even is less visible are any results of the ‘thorough investigations’ promised to Congress by the Defense Department. The military says it has opened 41 death investigations; 15 are still pending. Of the 135 inquiries into other abuses, 54 are still pending. Investigations cover Iraq, Afghanistan, and other military detention facilities elsewhere.

Also gone underground are the Pentagon’s frequent references to ‘a few bad apples’ as the culprits. As Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican told the New York Times, "The idea that only five or six privates and sergeants are legally exposed is unacceptable.” Graham is a former military judge and a member of the Republican-controlled US Senate Armed Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over the prisoner abuse issue.

The Chairman of that committee, Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia – a former Secretary of the Navy – has not held any hearings on the issue since May. He says he would like to hold further hearings, but has his hands tied until the Pentagon completes its own investigations. Mr. Warner has said he would hold off calling any more witnesses until several criminal prosecutions and seven pending Pentagon inquiries were completed. But many of these investigations are way behind schedule, and Warner has estimated that no hearings can be held until autumn at the earliest. Congress will soon recess until September.

This has led Democrats, and some Republicans, to conclude that the Pentagon is dragging its feet, and that the consequent delay in convening Congressional hearings is an attempt to keep prisoner abuse from campaign ammunition for the Democrats in the run-up to the Presidential elections in November.

The Senate Committee, and its counterpart in the House of Representatives, were briefed by the Red Cross and Pentagon officials last week. The Red Cross has given Congress most of its previous reports, but has said that as early as May 2003, it had complained to military officials about abuses. The Pentagon also provided senators with updated figures on investigations of the death or abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democratic Committee Member, said the Pentagon seems to have "slowed things down rather than speed things up." He said the Senate is in the position of having to wait for reports it needs as the basis for further hearings. Senator Reed said there might be some parties with an incentive to release some of the military reports when Congress is in recess. This would substantially lessen their media attention.

It is not known whether the Pentagon’s investigations will look into the practice of ‘prisoner rendition’ – taking detainees in the custody of the US or third countries to countries known to torture prisoners. This widespread practice is reportedly a CIA operation, and thus would fall outside the jurisdiction of the Defense Department.

While many continue to speak out about the issue, they are not getting much ink. Prisoner abuse has pretty much disappeared from US media, which is preoccupied with the Iraq transition, the report of the September 11th Commission, and the scathing findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which followed by two days the departure of CIA chief George Tenet.
 It will certainly return to front pages sooner or later. But, if the Republicans get lucky, not until the election is over.

Saturday, July 17, 2004


By William Fisher
“Democracy is inherently self-correcting. Here, the people are sovereign. Inept political leaders can be replaced. Foolish policies can be changed. Disastrous mistakes can be reversed.” So said Ted Sorenson, one of President Kennedy’s senior advisors and top speech writers in one of the few hopeful notes of his crie de couer commencement address at the New School University, lamenting the collapse of American values and America’s standing in the world.
For the past few months, the self-correction machine has been working overtime in the US media as well. For example, the New York Times’ ombudsman recently wrote a long apologia to readers for the shortcomings of the paper’s reporting on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. This was followed up in an editorial (July 15) in which The Times said: “…we were wrong about the weapons…we should have been more aggressive in helping our readers understand that there was always a possibility that no large stockpiles existed…we…fault ourselves for failing to deconstruct the W.M.D. issue with the kind of thoroughness we directed at the question of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, or even tax cuts in time of war. We did not listen carefully to the people who disagreed with us….”
And in an arguably even more remarkable media epiphany, The Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader newspaper recently ran a group of stories on its front page exposing its own history of whitewashing the Civil Rights Movement. On July 4, readers of The Herald-Leader saw the results of the paper's inquiry: a front-page expos̩, two sidebar articles and a full page of previously unpublished black-and-white photographs describing how the newspapers -- The Herald in the morning and The Leader in the afternoon Рvirtually ignored the civil rights movement in Lexington." The poor coverage was not the result of mistakes or oversights, The Herald-Leader concluded, but a conscious strategy by the papers' former managers "to play down the movement in the hopes that it would wither away."
In the US, these are but a few of many examples. They are symptoms of a larger debate about the increasing politicization of news outlets, particularly television, the American public’s main source of news. One would be hard pressed to think of a healthier national conversation. And it is all the more impressive because it is being carried out, not by government edict, but by the transgressors themselves. It is a kind of reverse self-censorship. Democracy, in Ted Sorensen’s words, being self-correcting.
Lamentably, this American conversation is taking place at a time when much of the rest of the world is going the other way: governments are increasing their stranglehold on free speech and dissent. They are harassing, detaining, imprisoning, ‘disappearing’, and sometimes murdering journalists -- in Russia, in many countries of Asia, and particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, where governments often own or control the media.
Nonetheless, even in the Middle East, there are many courageous editors and writers who put themselves at risk every day by publishing ‘politically un-correct’ viewpoints. Newspapers like Lebanon’s The Daily Star, the Jordan Times in Amman, and The Arab News in Saudi Arabia, regularly publish content that could easily land their editors in jail.
One Middle East newspaper, distributed in Egypt, goes so far as to post, in its online edition, a news category called ‘Censored’, in which it lists and publishes the many print-edition articles rejected by government censors. The headlines of two articles censored just last week read, “Protestors condemn prison torture” and  “Torture frequent and widespread in Egypt.”
The “Censored” page explains: “Egyptian law gives Egypt’s Ministry of Information the right to ban or censor any publication. The censor reviews each edition…before allowing (it) to be distributed. Articles may be censored if they:  Report on human rights abuses, criticize the president or his family, criticize the military, refer to any ill-treatment of Egyptians in ‘friendly’ Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, discuss modern, unorthodox interpretations of Islam, or report on discrimination against Coptic Christians in Egypt.”
According to Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based non-governmental organization that monitors infringements on press freedom and works to secure justice for jailed or ‘disappeared’ journalists, the situation in most countries in the Middle East and North Africa is getting worse, despite widespread clamor from within and without for political reforms.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak recently promised journalists that no one would ever be jailed again for a publication offense. He then discovered that this would require a new law. As of today, no such law has materialized. But other Middle East leaders haven’t even made the promise!
The irony, of course, is that many Middle East leaders have, at least rhetorically, embraced the need for political, social, economic and gender reforms. It’s well past time they turned their rhetoric into action. And there can be no more critical place to start than with freedom of the press. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2004


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By William Fisher

Are we headed for another 2000 election?

That was the inevitable question triggered by Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood’s decision to scrap a list intended to keep more than 47,000 suspected felons from voting in November.

The reason? The list included only 61 Hispanic names. There are millions of Hispanics in Florida, and the state's large Cuban population tends to vote Republican. And all but 61 of them are upstanding, law-abiding citizens? Right!

What we have here – and without implying that the administration of Governor Jeb Bush, the president’s brother, had the slightest political interest in reducing Hispanic felons to the virtual vanishing point – is another electoral nightmare in the making.

Wait, it gets worse. Without the list to guide them, it is now up to each of the State’s 47 county supervisors to compile and verify their own lists of former felons who should not be allowed to vote. Some county supervisors throughout the State doubt they have the capacity or the time to develop the lists and verify the names before November. And many Florida counties are not famous for their speed, thoroughness, or efficiency.

So if they can’t meet the deadline? What then? Then Florida’s election returns will again be suspect, and again headed for the courts.

In 2000, State officials acknowledged -- after the election -- that a similar list contained thousands of names in error. These people were barred from voting, and many of them were African-Americans, who traditionally tend to vote Democratic. President Bush was said to have won the state by 537 votes after the US Supreme Court refused a recount.

This year’s suspect list was created by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The apparent exclusion of Hispanic names was characterized by a State official as “an honest mistake caused when two databases were merged”.

Florida is one of seven states that bar felons who have served their sentences from voting, unless they have been granted clemency and re-registered to vote. Felons who vote without having been granted clemency are guilty of committing a felony.

Watch this space!

Monday, July 12, 2004


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By William Fisher

Political pundits have been making a big deal of the ’similarities’ between foreign policy positions taken by President Bush and Senator Kerry. In contrast, some observers have been calling Senator Edwards – in the words of the Washington Post – a “politician willing to push beyond conventional foreign policy ideas and introduce imaginative proposals….”

The reality is that neither contention is true. The differences between Kerry and Bush may well be ‘nuanced’. And many of Senator Edwards’s ‘imaginative’ foreign policy ideas may have been around for years in one form or another.

So do we have a two-party Tweedledee and Tweedledum? On the contrary. The major differences between the two sets of presidential and vice presidential candidates are vast. But they are less about substance than about nuance and style. This is not unimportant; in foreign policy nuance and style are critical to consensus-building and, therefore, to success.

Senator Edwards’s recent proposals on US policy toward the Middle East provide an informative glimpse into his ideas.

For example, in what he calls his ‘Strategy for Freedom’, Edwards would create an "organization for security and cooperation" in the Middle East. Its mission would be to bring reform-leaning Arab and Western Governments together to promote and finance transparent political and economic reforms.

The Bush administration later promoted a similar idea, the Greater Middle East Initiative, to be undertaken cooperatively by G-8 and Arab nations. It was seen by virtually every Arab government as an attempt to ‘impose democracy from outside’. Shortly afterward, Republic Senator Richard Lugar outlined a plan for the G-8 to engage with the Greater Middle East “in a way that allows the nations of the region to set their own priorities for the new millennium”. Lugar’s plan, the Greater Middle East 21st Century Trust, would unite the G8 countries to partner with wealthy Arab states to “pool resources to deliver grants…based, in part, on the high priority needs identified in the United Nations’ Arab Human Development Reports, which were written by Arab scholars.”

Also in the Middle East, Edwards proposes to reorient US assistance toward
non-governmental bodies and away from non-democratic governments led by dictators who show no interest or offer only false promises in developing democracy. Edwards would also encourage democratic reforms by rewarding good performers -- those who demonstrate respect for democratic practices and a willingness to implement political reform - with increased aid, incentives for investment, and debt relief.

On a more global basis, in 2002 President Bush unveiled the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), designed to increase core US development assistance by more than 50 percent over the next three years by making grants to poor countries to spur economic growth and attract investment. The MCA is limited to “countries that govern justly, invest in their people, and open their economies to enterprise and entrepreneurship…”

Edwards also proposes linking US aid to progress on human rights and democracy. The US has, from time to time, attempted to create this kind of linkage. A couple of years ago, the State Department used quiet diplomacy ‘under the radar’ to tell Egypt – one of the largest recipients of American assistance – to clean up its democracy act. If it made the policy uniform, a large minority of US aid beneficiaries would find themselves on the ‘democracy blacklist’. These include many important US strategic allies, like Pakistan.

Another Edwards idea is a “freedom list” to expose governments that jail dissidents for political or religious expression and persuade them free such prisoners. For a decade, the US State Department has published and widely publicized an annual Human Rights Report that does precisely that. Similar initiatives are taken by the UN Human Rights Commission and by many non-governmental human rights groups around the world.

Edwards also proposes a "Democracy Caucus" at the United Nations to punish members who fail to embrace democratic reforms by excluding them from powerful positions. This group would bring together states committed to democracy and human rights to push for these principles at every level of the UN system. He believes this “will help prevent states like Libya from heading the UN human rights committee, which only undermines the UN's credibility.”

No one can disagree with the UN’s increasing lack of credibility – and motivation – in democracy building. After all, a very high proportion of the UN’s member countries are led by people who are either unelected or elected in highly suspect circumstances. The permanent staffs of specialized UN agencies like the Human Rights Commission bravely struggle with this problem every day. The Commission identifies the key attributes of good governance as transparency, responsibility, accountability, participation, and responsiveness to the needs of the people. And staffers are frustrated every day by many of the UN’s own members and by the organization’s paralyzing bureaucracy.

Senator Edwards also proposes to substantially increase support for international democracy programs, starting by doubling the funding of the National Endowment for Democracy, which supports grassroots civil society programs worldwide. Edwards would double the organization’s budget to over $80 million, focus specifically on programs in the Middle East and Africa -- and call on US allies in Europe and elsewhere to match these funds by establishing similar institutions.

The Edwards proposals do not sound like those of a “politician willing to push beyond conventional foreign policy ideas and introduce imaginative proposals. Moreover, whether similar ideas come from Kerry or Bush – or even Cheney -- they are far from new, much less ‘imaginative’. Development professionals have been proposing variations of them for decades. Nonetheless, while some appear to be pragmatically undoable, they all deserve careful consideration.

That is not the issue. The issue is who is likely to be more capable of persuading authoritarian leaders that their self-interest lies in embracing democratic reform – while keeping their cooperation and goodwill to fight terrorists. This is a process that requires a full diplomatic deck. Commitment from the top down. Patience.
The ability – and willingness – to listen. Sensitivity to the realpolitik of a partner’s domestic constituencies. Knowledge of a partner’s culture. Knowledge of the world and how it works. ‘Getting to yes’ negotiating skills. Toughness when toughness will work. In other words, nuance and style.

Fed by TV soundbites posing as ‘news’, many American voters may find it difficult to understand that the world is rarely black and white; it is zillions of shades of gray. It is, in a phrase, a world of style and nuance.

Unfortunately, Messrs. Bush and Cheney are not noteworthy for these attributes. But, as Senator Edwards puts it, “encouraging democracy takes more than President Bush's combination of high-minded rhetoric at home and high-handed arrogance toward our allies.”

About the writer: William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration

Monday, July 05, 2004


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Following is a Commencement address to the New School University in New York on May 21 by Theodore Sorensen, who served as Special Counsel to President Kennedy.

This is not a speech. Two weeks ago I set aside the speech I prepared. This is a cry from the heart, a lamentation for the loss of this country's goodness and therefore its greatness. Future historians studying the decline and fall of America will mark this as the time the tide began to turn -- toward a mean-spirited mediocrity in place of a noble beacon.

For me the final blow was American guards laughing over the naked, helpless bodies of abused prisoners in Iraq. "There is a time to laugh," the Bible tells us, "and a time to weep." Today I weep for the country I love, the country I proudly served, the country to which my four grandparents sailed over a century ago with hopes for a new land of peace and freedom. I cannot remain silent when that country is in the deepest trouble of my lifetime.

I am not talking only about the prison abuse scandal -- that stench will someday subside. Nor am I referring only to the Iraq war -- that too will pass -- nor to any one political leader or party. This is no time for politics as usual, in which no one responsible admits responsibility, no one genuinely apologizes, no one resigns, and everyone else is blamed.

The damage done to this country by its own misconduct in the last few months and years, to its very heart and soul, is far greater and longer lasting than any damage that any terrorist could possibly inflict upon us. The stain on our credibility, our reputation for decency and integrity, will not quickly wash away.

Last week, a family friend of an accused American guard in Iraq recited the atrocities inflicted by our enemies on Americans, and asked: "Must we be
held to a different standard?" My answer is yes. Not only because others expect it. We must hold ourselves to a different standard. Not only because God demands it, but because it serves our security. Our greatest strength has long been not merely our military might but our moral authority. Our surest protection against assault from abroad has been not all our guards, gates and guns, or even our two oceans, but our essential goodness as a people. Our richest asset has been not our material wealth but our values.

We were world leaders once -- helping found the United Nations, the
Marshall Plan, NATO, and programs like Food for Peace, international human rights and international environmental standards. The world admired not only the bravery of our Marine Corps but also the idealism of our Peace Corps.

Our word was as good as our gold. At the start of the Cuban missile crisis, former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, President Kennedy's special envoy to brief French President de Gaulle, offered to document our case by having the actual pictures of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba brought in. "No,” shrugged the usually difficult de Gaulle: "The word of the president of the United States is good enough for me."

Eight months later, President Kennedy could say at American University:
“The world knows that America will never start a war. This generation of Americans has had enough of war and hate ... we want to build a world of
peace where the weak are secure and the strong are just."

Our founding fathers believed this country could be a beacon of light to the world, a model of democratic and humanitarian progress. We were. We prevailed in the Cold War because we inspired millions struggling for freedom in far corners of the Soviet empire. I have been in countries where children and avenues were named for Lincoln, Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. We were respected, not reviled, because we respected man's aspirations for peace and justice. This was the country to which foreign leaders sent not only their goods to be sold but their sons and daughters to be educated. In the 1930s, when Jewish and other scholars were driven out of Europe, their preferred destination -- even for those on the far left -- was not the Communist citadel in Moscow but the New School here in New York.

What has happened to our country? We have been in wars before, without resorting to sexual humiliation as torture, without blocking the Red Cross,
without insulting and deceiving our allies and the U.N., without betraying our traditional values, without imitating our adversaries, without blackening our name around the world.

Last year when asked on short notice to speak to a European audience and inquiring what topic I should address, the chairman said: "Tell us about the good America, the America when Kennedy was in the White House." "It is still a good America," I replied. "The American people still believe in peace, human rights and justice; they are still a generous, fair-minded, open-minded people."

Today some political figures argue that merely to report, much less to protest, the crimes against humanity committed by a few of our own inadequately trained forces in the fog of war, is to aid the enemy or excuse its atrocities. But Americans know that such self-censorship does not enhance our security.

Attempts to justify or defend our illegal acts as nothing more than pranks or no worse than the crimes of our enemies, only further muddies our moral image. Thirty years ago, America's war in Vietnam became a hopeless military quagmire; today our war in Iraq has become a senseless moral swamp.

No military victory can endure unless the victor occupies the high moral ground. Surely America, the land of the free, could not lose the high moral ground invading Iraq, a country ruled by terror, torture and tyranny – but we did.

Instead of isolating Saddam Hussein -- politically, economically, diplomatically, much as we succeeded in isolating Gadhafi, Marcos, Mobutu and a host of other dictators over the years -- we have isolated ourselves. We are increasingly alone in a dangerous world in which millions who once respected us now hate us. Not only Muslims. Every international survey shows our global standing at an all-time low. Even our transatlantic alliance has not yet recovered from its worst crisis in history. Our friends in Western Europe were willing to accept Uncle Sam as class president, but not as class bully once he forgot JFK's advice that "civility is not a sign of weakness."

All this is rationalized as part of the war on terror. But abusing prisoners in Iraq, denying detainees their legal rights in Guantanamo – even American citizens -- misleading the world at large about Saddam's ready stockpiles of mass destruction and involvement with al-Qaida at 9/11, did not advance by one millimeter our efforts to end the threat of another terrorist attack upon us. On the contrary, our conduct invites and incites new attacks and new recruits to attack us.

The decline in our reputation adds to the decline in our security. We keep losing old friends and making new enemies -- not a formula for success. We have not yet rounded up Osama bin Laden or most of the al-Qaida and Taliban leaders or the anthrax mailer. "The world is large," wrote John Boyle O'Reilly, in one of President Kennedy's favorite poems, "when its weary leagues two loving hearts divide, but the world is small when your enemy is loose on the other side." Today our enemies are still loose on the other side of the world, and we are still vulnerable to attack.

True, we have not lost either war we chose or lost too much of our wealth. But we have lost something worse -- our good name for truth and justice. To paraphrase Shakespeare: "He who steals our nation's purse, steals trash. 'Twas ours, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands. But he that filches our good name ... makes us poor indeed."

No American wants us to lose a war. Among our enemies are those who, if
they could, would fundamentally change our way of life, restricting our freedom
of religion by exalting one faith over others, ignoring international law and the opinions of mankind, and trampling on the rights of those who are different, deprived or disliked. To the extent that our nation voluntarily treads those same paths in the name of security, the terrorists win and we are the losers.

We are no longer the world's leaders on matters of international law and peace. After we stopped listening to others, they stopped listening to us. A nation without credibility and moral authority cannot lead, because no one will follow.

Paradoxically, the charges against us in the court of world opinion are contradictory. We are deemed by many to be dangerously aggressive, a threat
to world peace. You may regard that as ridiculously unwarranted, no matter how often international surveys show that attitude to be spreading. But remember the old axiom: "No matter how good you feel, if four friends tell you you're drunk, you'd better lie down."

Yet we are also charged not so much with intervention as indifference --indifference toward the suffering of millions of our fellow inhabitants of this planet who do not enjoy the freedom, the opportunity, the health and wealth and security that we enjoy; indifference to the countless deaths of children and other civilians in unnecessary wars, countless because we usually do not bother to count them; indifference to the centuries of humiliation endured previously in silence by the Arab and Islamic worlds.

The good news, to relieve all this gloom, is that a democracy is inherently
self-correcting. Here, the people are sovereign. Inept political leaders can
be replaced. Foolish policies can be changed. Disastrous mistakes can be

When, in 1941, the Japanese Air Force was able to inflict widespread death and destruction on our naval and air forces in Hawaii because they were not on alert, those military officials most responsible for ignoring advance intelligence were summarily dismissed.

When, in the late 1940s, we faced a global Cold War against another system of ideological fanatics certain that their authoritarian values would eventually rule the world, we prevailed in time. We prevailed because we exercised patience as well as vigilance, self-restraint as well as self-defense, and reached out to moderates and modernists, to democrats and dissidents, within that closed system. We can do that again. We can reach out to moderates and modernists in Islam, proud of its long traditions of dialogue, learning, charity and peace. Some among us scoff that the war on jihadist terror is a war between civilization and chaos. But they forget that there were Islamic universities and observatories long before we had railroads. So do not despair. In this country, the people are sovereign. If we can but tear the blindfold of self-deception from our eyes and loosen the gag of self-denial from our voices, we can restore our country to greatness. In particular, you -- the class of 2004 -- have the wisdom and energy to do it.

Start soon.

In the words of the ancient Hebrews: "The day is short, and the work is great, and the laborers are sluggish, but the reward is much, and the Master is urgent."