If you have been wondering where America's Commerce Secretary was, I have finally found the answer. Hillary Clinton ate him.
The evidence for this assertion is that once again Hillary Clinton has demonstrated just the kind of leadership and insight into international economic policies that one might hope for from a Commerce Secretary if Congress actually thought the position important enough to confirm one.
Of course, I am kidding. About Hillary Clinton eating the Commerce Secretary. Not about anyone thinking the job was important enough to fill. Clearly, the Republicans in Congress don't seem to think that confirming a business leader like John Bryson to add needed heft and his considerable and useful experience to the President's team is a good idea in the middle of the kind of economic crisis we are currently enduring.
No, I make the comment about Clinton because once again she has stepped up and shown herself to be both an innovative Secretary of State and President Obama's most valuable cabinet member. For the second week in a row she is devoting her Friday to demonstrating how central she sees economic work to be to the job of the State Department and the international standing of the United States. Last week, the interaction turned on a meeting with the President's job council at which the focus was how to help America grow through international economic engagement, such as the smart initiative led by her Under Secretary Bob Hormats to promote more foreign investment in the United States. (It's what I call the OPM Stimulus...in which OPM stands for "other people's money.")
Today, Clinton spoke at the Economic Club of New York, delivering a speech entitled "Economic Statecraft for a New Era." The speech is part of a series of four she is delivering on key themes of this key dimension of the administration's foreign policy agenda. As she noted in the speech, according to a pre-delivery draft I reviewed:
...Economic forces are transforming foreign policy realities around the globe. We have seen governments toppled by economic crisis. Revolutions born in a Tunisian marketplace have swept across an entire region. Europe faces its strongest test in a generation, thanks to recession and debt. And everywhere I travel, I see countries gaining influence not because of the size of their armies, but because of the growth of their economies.
She then went on to say,
Simply put, America's economic strength and our global leadership are a package deal. A strong American economy has long been a quiet pillar of our power in the world. It gives us the leverage we need to exert influence and advance our interests. It gives other countries confidence in our leadership and a greater stake in a deeper partnership with us. And over time, it underwrites all the elements of "smart power": robust diplomacy and development and the strongest military the world has ever seen.
The speech turned on four key points -- that the administration is "updating foreign policy priorities to include economics every step of the way", that the State Department is "honing" its "ability to find and execute economic solutions to strategic challenges" (from energy to supporting democracy in the Middle East), that the Obama team is "modernizing our agenda on trade, investment and commercial diplomacy to deliver jobs and growth", and that they are focusing on the challenge of growing wealth being wielded by state controlled funds and companies.
That a Secretary of State asserts an economic agenda is not news. Clinton's predecessors have regularly done so and the reality of course is that economics has always played a big role in foreign policy from wars fought over oil to the centrality of revitalizing economies to enhance security as during the Marshall Plan. That a leading figure in a government whose fate depends on job creation and restarting growth would raise such an issue is also not that shocking. What makes this speech different is that Clinton is not just talking the talk she is walking the walk, restructuring State to enhance its economic resources significantly, placing economic issues more central to our policies in places like the Middle East where promoting reforms that create opportunity is seen as a better alternative than say, invasion, when it comes to enhancing stability, mobilizing her team and embassies around the world on these issues and simply by actually credibly engaging with the business community in a way that has eluded many of her predecessors.
Like her excellent Hong Kong speech regarding the administration's "pivot" toward Asia-another element of foreign policy with important economic consequences and in which economics is among the most vital levers -- the New York Economic Club leader provides among the very best examples of the Obama Administration taking its international economic policies and putting them in a coherent framework. Take Clinton's good work in this regard, the recent trade deals and Tim Geithner's excellent and, one might add, courageous engagement with the Europeans in the recent crisis, and you have the most impressive sustained international economic initiative the U.S. has mounted in years.
And early in this administration it was hardly a foregone conclusion there was ever going to be such an initiative. I recall eating a soggy tuna fish on whole wheat toast sandwich in the White House mess with a former senior Obama official who said, "this administration isn't like we were back in the Clinton administration. Back then, international economics was one of our central priorities. Today, it seldom comes up except in terms of financial markets." That was in the wake of the 2008-2009 crisis and the focus on stimulus and health care had put domestic issues center stage. Inevitably however, what has happened is that the administration has come to realize that there are no such thing as domestic economic issues that don't have important international components -- nor are there security interests worldwide without economic components.
The Clinton speech therefore is not only a sign of a successful Secretary of State continuing to work to reinvent the department she leads -- to "think different" in the words of Steve Jobs which she quoted in today's remarks -- it is also the sign of an administration maturing and developing better priorities and vital competencies where they are needed. (Although it still might help to have a Secretary of Commerce. I'm just sayin'...)
In fact, the Clinton speech has to be seen as a big success except for one egregious error. Seeking to describe the changes she seeks within State, Clinton asserted, "We need to be a Department where more people can read both Foreign Affairs and a Bloomberg Terminal." I get the bit about a Bloomberg Terminal. But I think she misspoke. A really forward-thinking State Department should probably be turning to a different foreign policy-focused media organization, don't you think?
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In this moment of national confusion and public despair with officials in Washington, variations on the following cry have often been heard, "Somewhere in the world there must be an American political leader with a vision of tomorrow, a focus on what is really important and an ability to translate rhetoric into success."
I'm pleased to report that there is. If it has escaped your attention it's because that politician has been on the other side of the world the past couple of weeks advancing American interests and the policies of the president with meaningful results and exceptional skill.
That politician is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is just completing an around-the-world mission that has taken her from the economic frontlines of the eurozone crisis to the markets of tomorrow in Asia. The trip, obscured in the noise around the debt ceiling debate, has been a real triumph for the Obama administration and has revealed that many of its policies over the past two years are now bearing significant fruit. It has also revealed the State Department's deftness and bench-depth in dealing with an Asia agenda that is vastly more important in every respect than virtually anything that has been discussed inside the beltway for months.
Given that most trips by senior officials, even secretaries of state, are more often than not a series of pro forma efforts in diplomatic box-checking, the scope and results of the Clinton trip are worth noting. In Greece, she conveyed at a critical moment, America's unequivocal support for that country's economic recovery plan. When visiting Pakistan, the site of America's most difficult relationship, her performance was even hailed in the local press. The Pakistan Observer carried an article stating, "Drum roll for Hillary because she has hit a home run." Her India visit was also widely hailed producing progress on a number of fronts from counterterror cooperation to opening up investment flows between the two countries. More importantly, it also continued the important work that will be a central legacy of her efforts at State which is the elevation of the U.S.-India relationship to being a centerpiece of America's 21st century foreign policy.
The focus on the U.S.-India relationship is, as the trip also revealed, part of an even broader reorientation of U.S. foreign policy under President Obama. This administration was the first in U.S. history to enter office acknowledging that China was America's most important international counterpart -- one that was both vital partner and challenging rival. But, rather than simply acknowledging this fact and focusing on that relationship, Obama, Clinton and their Asia team have systematically worked to establish a foundation for managing that relationship. What is more their choice was not kow-towing or bluster nor was it the blunt instrument of containment. Rather than have chosen what might be called broad engagement, deepening not only the relationship with Beijing and with potential counter-weights like India, but also systematically and often invisibly working to strengthen ties with many of the smaller countries in Asia.
The approach was clearly illustrated during several other stops on Clinton's trip. In Hong Kong on July 25, she delivered an address to the American Chamber of Commerce which was not only a model for a sweeping, specific, thoughtfully-argued policy address, but which revealed a clear vision for the future of America's relationship with China and the rest of the region. It did not hesitate to press the Chinese to abandon unfair economic practices and to embrace the openness healthy markets demand. It was effectively built around the enumeration of four core principles: markets be open, free, transparent, and fair. But it also underscored the mutual dependence at the center of the relationship and outlined a systematic strategy for how to build upon it. It did not stop there, however. It addressed as effectively as anything I have heard the nature of the current debt-ceiling debate in an effort-successful to date at ensuring continuing Asian market confidence. And it emphasized the importance the United States places on deepening ties elsewhere in Asia, from the Korea-U.S. trade agreement the administration is pushing hard to win passage of to links to ASEAN's rising economies. The full text of the speech is worth a read and appears here.
Prior to the visit to Hong Kong, Clinton attended the ASEAN Regional Forum in Bali, Indonesia, and actively engaged with not only many of the region's leaders but made real substantive progress on issues from re-opening conversations with North Korea to managing a constructive multi-national approach to addressing tensions in the South China Sea. These meetings were also a chance to advance the systematic strengthening of relations with all the region's players, including many that have often been overlooked by the United States. This process has over the past two years included both establishment of formal policy dialogues with many countries in the region and also work on issues from reform in Myanmar to those associated with the Mekong River delta area that have been an important part of the Obama team's Asia strategy.
Regional diplomats not only give Clinton high marks for her efforts and in particular for this trip, but they also cite her top lieutenants including Under Secretary of State Robert Hormats and Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell. One of Washington's most respected senior diplomats specifically cited to me the contributions of Campbell in helping Clinton shape the regional strategy, in managing complex core relationships with China, Japan and Korea but recognizing the importance of other players as well. "He is the most effective assistant secretary of state for East Asia in modern memory," said the official. "No one else even comes close and I have high regard for many of them."
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For years the hackneyed joke about Brazil was that it was the country of tomorrow and always would be. But almost a decade ago, in the wake of the reforms of the Cardoso administration, and then thanks to the remarkable presidential tenure of Luiz Inacio "Lula" Da Silva and the industry and enterprise of the Brazilian people, the joke was overtaken by events. As investors, CEOs, journalists and most of the world's leading powers have recognized, Brazil has arrived.
While U.S. leaders like Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama have acknowledged the change, many in the U.S. policy community remained holdouts or skeptics. Yes, Brazil was on the rise they said, but they always found a way to qualify their views, to establish one criteria or another that Brazil would have to meet before it was finally seen as a "first-class power." While Asia specialists embraced the rise of China and India and quickly began to remake policy based on changing power relationships, Latin specialists clung to the past, to old formulations and prejudices.
In the eyes of these living museum pieces of Washington's small, inbred Latin American affairs community, Brazil might be the country of tomorrow, it might even be the country of later on today, but we would be sticking with the policies of yesterday until further notice.
Today, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has issued a new task force report on U.S.-Brazil relations that goes a long way toward breaking with the past by recommending the U.S. move toward a new policy stance with regard to Brazil. The central point of the report is that Brazil must be liberated from the Latin policy barrio and viewed as one of the most important global powers of today and of the century ahead.
It is hard to argue with the White House's reasoning behind working collaboratively with other nations in formulating the response to the Libya crisis. But, if the president is going to talk the multilateralist talk, the crucial question is going to be whether he does so effectively or not.
Obama's multilateralism is both ideological and pragmatic. Since his first days as a candidate, he has made it clear that he believes in the international rule of law, support for international institutions and a United States that is a committed partner rather than a unilateralist rogue within the international system. On the practical front, the U.S. public has neither the appetite nor the checkbook for a sequel to the series of with-us-or-against-us-themed American Sherriff road movies that recently have been playing to such mixed notices in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. (In both instances while we have worked with coalitions, the U.S. role has been so great that other nations have really been extras, featured ensemble members at best.)
So the president has shown reasoned restraint in the wake of the outbreak of civil war in Libya. While the plight of citizens on the ground cries out for support, Obama and his team have felt that given both the complexities associated with widely bruited-about "solutions" like the imposition of a no-fly zone as well as other interventive measures, that whatever is done would be both more legitimate and more sustainable if undertaken through collective initiative.
That seems like a sound approach -- if intervention actually takes place. But the president and his team must not fall into the trap of thinking that embracing multilateralism excuses inaction when decisive measures are called for. The United States still has national interests -- whether they are in maintaining oil flows or preventing a humanitarian disaster or discouraging other thugocracies from brutalizing their own people -- and if it is the choice of this administration to advance those interests through collaboration with our NATO allies, via the United Nations or through some ad hoc coalition then the United States must find ways to actually do so and to do so in a timely, resolute and ultimately successful way.
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Stephen J. Solarz, who died Monday afternoon at the age of 70 after a long, courageous battle with cancer, was a member of the U.S. Congress' "Watergate Class" of 1974. He served 18 remarkable and illustrious years in the House of Representatives, becoming one of the Democratic Party's most respected foreign-policy leaders. He was so bold and courageous in his calls for the United States to pull back its support for the corrupt and abusive regime of Ferdinand Marcos that Corazon Aquino dubbed him "the Lafayette of the Philippines." He played an instrumental role in leading support for the first Gulf War. He attacked human rights abuses and worked to broker the end to brutal conflicts. He chaired both the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Subcommittee on Africa.
With such a record, it was no surprise that he was considered for years to be a likely future secretary of State. He studied foreign affairs avidly, immersed himself in his travels, worked tirelessly and did not suffer fools lightly. I know this because when I began working for him shortly after I left graduate school, I surely qualified as a fool -- if not by disposition then by virtue of my utter ignorance. But he generously not only gave me my first professional opportunity, but for the following 30 years he patiently shared his insights, his wisdom, and his humor, and offered an example I will remember and treasure the rest of my life.
As Steve used to joke, he "represented a district that would have elected Mussolini if he were a Democrat." It was the Brooklyn of Coney Island and Midwood, of Ocean Parkway and Avenue U, a district "with more Jews than live in Tel Aviv" and thus one that not only tolerated his interest in the rest of the world but encouraged it. Having a congressman who knew and quoted Abba Eban or Yitzhak Rabin was a plus even in a country where some mind-boggling percentage of members of the House didn't (and don't) even have passports. Of course, as his press secretary I spent hours squirreled away in his offices in the district, writing press releases about new subway escalators and the thrilling periodic visits to DC where we would work on issues closer to my heart and his, from East Timor to arms control, from the Middle East to the latest diplomatic crisis.
I remember vividly the time he took me on my first visit to the White House during which he invited me in to a meeting with then-National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. Just the three of us. Me, perhaps 22 at the time. Brzezinski at his intimidating best. Solarz, not forty yet, holding his own, advancing his points with grace and eloquence.
Eloquence mattered to him. There was a school of politics back then in which rhetorical command was still highly valued, something more than today's soundbites or cable news sniping. Solarz, like the Kennedy brothers or Daniel Patrick Moynihan or Eban, the ultimate master, spoke in perfectly formed paragraphs, always seeking the right balance of dignity and substance, humor and sharp points where needed.
His intensity could be off-putting. Truth be told, he was not -- despite his nine electoral victories -- a natural politician. He alienated enemies and, sometimes, friends. In Washington, an old maxim is that you need both a great inside game and a great outside game. He ruffled enough feathers with his lack of attention to the inside game that when he hit turbulence toward the end of his time in Congress, potential allies stepped away from him. Opponents in Albany carved up his district in a way that forced him to choose between running against his friends and running in a district with which he had precious little connection. He chose the unfamiliar district, was a political fish out of water, and lost in the Democratic primary in 1992. It might have been a moment of opportunity. He was only 52. Two months later, a Democrat would be elected president and perhaps he could begin his long foretold ascent to the job he was best suited for, the one in the big office in Foggy Bottom.
His name came up to be ambassador to India, a post he would have filled exceptionally well. But an old enemy from the State Department raised the issue of a questionable contact he had made in Hong Kong and once again, potential allies retreated into the shadows and did not point out that the assertions made about him were absurd reasons to block the career of a man who had devoted his life to exceptional public service. It was an episode of gutless Washington at its worst and the American people were the ultimate losers.
Solarz went on to a distinguished post-congressional career, continuing to immerse himself in foreign policy, to lead the search for lasting solutions to the most complex international problems and to provide warm, wise advice to his friends and love to his dear family.
And then he got sick. And then he died. And now the memories come flooding back and it is clear that we are sorely in need of everything he was -- a dedicated student of foreign policy, a believer in the old school doctrine that national interests always trumped partisanship, a man who placed principle before reflexive loyalty and even self-interest, a guy with a sense of humor and a good heart … a mensch-statesman.
When he lost in 1992, the New York Times ran an article about the reactions to his loss. Solarz himself was quoted as saying that one of his few regrets was leaving office before Saddam Hussein did. Indiana Representative Lee Hamilton, another of the very best Congress has produced in the past several decades, is reported to have sent Steve a note saying: "Few events of the last several months have saddened me more than the realization that you may be leaving."
I can't help but feel the same way right now. But I was cheered by one of the valedictory lines Steve himself offered -- because of its characteristic humor and the way it evokes Steve as well as by its message. "I take comfort in Abba Eban's observation," he said, "That politics is the only profession where there's life after death." That is, of course, especially true of men whose public contributions were of genuinely historic magnitude and whose private kindnesses have touched thousands.
Richard A. Lipski/The Washington Post
Yesterday, two unrelated stories showed yet again that in Washington, the best way to shout is to whisper.
As revealed in today's Huffington Post, (Do websites have "daily editions"? Does time even exist on the Internet?) George Soros spoke behind closed doors yesterday to the Democracy Alliance, a group of progressive donors, and apparently had a public fit of buyer's remorse over the important role he played helping to bankroll the candidacy of Barack Obama.
"We have just lost this election, we need to draw a line," The HuffPost story quoted Soros, citing folks in attendance. "And if this president can't do what we need, it is time to start looking somewhere else."
While a Soros spokesperson contacted for the story said the financier was not in fact suggesting a primary challenge to Obama, that was probably little consolation to the White House. Because in the White House they know that Soros has been going around Washington recently and expressing his disappointment in Obama in his typical sharp and unvarnished style. He has even gone so far as to say to folks something to the effect of: "If I had wanted to elect a traditional, mainstream Democrat, I could easily have supported Hillary Clinton," and then going on to add that he actually had great admiration for the work that Clinton was doing in the State Department. In other words, the man who helped galvanize the fund-raising opposition to her was having doubts.
The Democracy Alliance meeting was off the record. Conducting an off the record meeting is one of the surest ways of making sure that what is said is immediately leaked to the press and spread through the grapevine that supplies sustenance to all forms of Washington flora and fauna.
There is really only one way of ensuring that something spreads more rapidly to the news media and that is saying it is to be kept secret and then providing it to someone on Capitol Hill. Yesterday, Hillary Clinton discovered this as her team provided lawmakers with a first look PowerPoint of State's long-in-the-works Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR). The document was marked NODIS which of course may look like an acronym for "No Distribution" but actually means "Please forward immediately to Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post." Or at least that's what it seems to mean because within a couple of hours of the Powerpoint hitting the Hill it showed up on the Post's website with a brief summary by Kessler.
The Kessler summary and subsequent reviews of the document, including that by FP's Josh Rogin, focused on the box-shifting nature of the document and the who-get-what division of assets and responsibilities between the State Department and USAID. There are a couple of more things about the document that are also worth noting, however.
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With the expiration of the settlement freeze in Israel, the Netanyahu administration faces one of the greatest challenges of its tenure in office. That it is a challenge that comes primarily from within Israel reflects the fact that -- as has been the case for some time now -- the most acute struggles associated with achieving a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinian people are the internal battles within each group.
Indeed, the Israeli-Palestinian stand-off is one of those instances in which the outcome is much better known than the path which will get us there. Sooner or later -- hopefully sooner -- there will be an independent Palestinian state. We even more or less know its borders and what must be done to secure them.
For the Palestinians, the question will be can the current government negotiate effectively on behalf of all the Palestinian people? Will the more militant elements of Hamas support the outcomes negotiated on their behalf or will any agreement or near approach to any agreement produce greater division at just the moment where greater unity would provide the Palestinian people with the state and the security and the dignity to which they have long been entitled?
On the Israeli side, there are several ways to look at the settlements question. On the one hand, there is the formal debate around it that pits Zionist zealots who seek to expand or more deeply entrench the Israeli state in disputed lands versus the very substantial portions of the Israeli populace who see the settlements as an unnecessary impediment to a peace process they would like to see progress.
Another way to view it is through the eyes of negotiators for whom succumbing to the pressure from the settlement advocates creates a new set of negotiating chips and a political screen behind which to maneuver.
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The Washington Post, like many Beltway watchers, took President Obama's statement that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel would make a "great mayor of Chicago" as an acknowledgement that Emanuel is as good as gone from his administration -- and that the typical midterm game of musical chairs that enlivens the West Wing has begun.
I take the statement as something different. I take it as a personal request from the President to me to let him know what changes he needs to make after the November elections.
So, let's begin with replacing Rahm. Rumor has it that Emanuel himself has been mentioning Valerie Jarrett, among the president's closest confidantes, for the job. While being as simpatico with the president as Jarrett clearly is would be a big plus, the chief of staff job has a massively tough management component to it that would undercut Jarrett's ability to remain the vital sounding board for the President she has become. Better suited to the job would be two of the other names mentioned: Ron Klain, the vice president's chief of staff, and Tom Donilon, the deputy national security advisor. Both are excellent, smart and proven administrative masters. Tom Daschle, former Democratic majority leader in the Senate, has also been mentioned. He played a vital role in the president's campaign and would add an important capacity for Hill outreach to the mix.
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This weekend the Obama Administration will send a team to China headed by the somewhat unlikely duo of Larry Summers, head of the National Economic Council, and Tom Donilon, deputy national security advisor. The purpose is to send a clear message that the U.S. is approaching its relations with China strategically, with a view that integrates the full range of economic and security concerns.
While such trips are old hat for Summers, the journey represents a bit of a change of pace for Donilon, the inside guy who is credited with having done a great job making sure the policy process trains have been running on time within the National Security Council. Some in Washington are buzzing that this is a profile- and skill-raising trip intended to make Donilon a better candidate to replace National Security Advisor James L. Jones should Jones decide to depart, as many expect he will. Others grumble that the trip represents precisely the kind of "operational" role for the NSC and NEC that many cabinet departments have long thought should be out of bounds for White House policy coordinators.
But beyond the Washington gossip the trip has caused, the juxtaposition of economic and security concerns offers an illustration of an often over-looked fact -- the centrality of economic issues to current U.S. national security concerns. In China, the tricky calculus is fostering collaboration on security issues from North Korea to Iran in the face of political pressure back home to press Beijing harder on issues like currency valuation and unfair competitive practices (especially those associated with pressuring foreign firms to transfer proprietary technologies).
The U.S. has never been especially effective at coordinating its multiple interests in China so that pressure in one policy area produces progress in another -- or even simply avoids causing setbacks. So this trip, in concept at least, represents a step in the right direction -- at least if Congress doesn't undercut the administration's efforts by, for example, drafting its own legislation on currency issues.
But China is just one of a host of current hotspots where Summers, Geithner, and the international economic team are playing a central role on national security issues.
For example, in Afghanistan, the story of the week turns on the amazingly brazen behavior of the Karzai gang in trying to pressure the United States into bailing out a clearly corrupt and mismanaged bank in which President Hamid Karzai's brother, Mahmood Karzai, is the third largest shareholder. Mahmood has publicly called for a bailout even though his affiliation with a bank through which U.S. funds flow to Afghan security forces compromises both him and the president. Both remain unabashed, however, behaving like the proverbial kids who murder their parents and seek the mercy of the court on the grounds that they are now orphans. So the United States is in a pickle: Step in and support the Afghan kleptocracy and its culture of corruption or stand on principle (and law), and run the risk that the bank falters. It's not a situation that General David Petraeus can handle, but how the economic team manages it will have direct ramifications for him.
In the same way, some of the most sensitive concerns regarding Pakistan turn on economic policy. Will the Zardari government pump too much cash into the economy to deal with the aftereffects of the devastating flooding, and risk a major inflationary episode? Or will it introduce price controls and a set of micro economic measures that, if mismanaged, could produce social tensions or even rioting? The wrong mix of policies could plunge the already fractured and battered country into political turmoil and perhaps the reintroduction of military rule.
In talks with the Israelis and the Palestinians, many of the core concerns will turn on how to improve the economic conditions for the Palestinian people. If they can get past initial hurdles, they will, of course, ultimately have to move to a state structure that will enable organic economic growth in a Palestinian state, actually fostering job and wealth creation for people who have lived in an economic no man's land for too long.
In North Korea, it is reported that the administration, conducting high level meetings on the subject this week, is seeking to explore "engagement." In the case of the economically isolated and struggling North, that inevitably will mean economic packages in exchange for gradual normalization of relations or reductions of threats. At the same time, this week, the administration widened sanctions intended to force Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.
In Iran, the core initiative at the moment is making targeted economic sanctions work. In Iraq, the issue is fostering economic growth to help "purchase" social stability. The list goes on. It is clear that wherever the stakes are highest for the United States in the world, even as military and diplomatic initiatives garner most of the attention, behind the scenes much of the most critical work is being undertaken by international economic officials.
It is interesting to note in this respect that the responsibility for conceiving and coordinating most of these activities lies in the White House to a much greater degree than it does with military or diplomatic initiatives. The White House team on these issues is excellent. But in the end, these functions are so fundamental that the real leadership capabilities need to be cultivated elsewhere.
The economic team at the State Department could and should play a greater role in this respect; Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Robert Hormats is a talented and experienced official. As I have written before, State also could and should develop a dramatically enhanced capability when it comes to emergency economic intervention -- pre- or post-crisis. And all the other economic agencies need to be prepared to collaborate on this, not on an ad hoc basis but through a permanent program promoting cross-training and what the military might call inter-operability. Call it an economic rapid response capability -- or call them economic green berets.
We need people we can drop into critical situations and help manage them with an eye to our security and political needs rather than traditional purely economic metrics. That's a critical role for which development officials are ill-suited, and we still don't really have the fully developed institutional structure we need to support it.
Looking at the issues faced by the United States today, while one can't help but admire much of what is being done, the strategic side of the international economic agenda is such that it warrants some real thought about how and with whom we should be meeting such challenges in the future.
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It is easy to be cynical about the kind of changes that are taking place in Iraq these days. Renaming the mission and reclassifying troops as no longer playing a combat role are steps that could be seen to constitute mere window dressing. Celebrating this transition as a "promise kept" even though the Iraqi government is in the midst of a protracted crisis seems to be, on one level at least, whistling past a graveyard full of promises and predictions that did not come to pass.
But something big is afoot, with important ramifications not just for Baghdad but for Washington. Because Iraq has yet to be "won" or "lost." The next few years will play as important a role in determining the strategic consequences of the 2003 invasion as have the battles fought to date. The central questions, from the narrow U.S. perspective at least, are: Will the United States have, in Iraq, a government that is a friend or at least one that is moderately well disposed toward us? Will this effort have produced not just stability within the country -- Saddam's government was stable even if he was not -- but a player in the region who is a constructive partner, neutral or an impediment to regional peace?
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U.S. health care reform passes the Congress and is signed into law
anytime soon, the bickering and hullabaloo over the process by which
the bill was hammered out will be as relevant as Einstein's mother's
morning sickness in light of her son's reimagining of the universe.
Ok, perhaps that overstates it. But the inside-the-beltway food fight of the past few months will likely fade quickly from memory as Americans start to "own" the provisions of the bill. (If not, all of Washington is going to soon have to see what provisions the new law will make for people with cable news-induced post-traumatic stress disorder.)
And if it passes -- which, flawed as it is would be a landmark and long overdue revision to America's social contract -- White House health care czar Nancy DeParle's reputation would be made because she would be seen as a key player in advancing a long-elusive goal of progressives from coast to coast. Whatever missteps the White House may have made along the way, she will be among those redeemed by finally snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. (Of course, if the bill fritters out at the last minute, her career prospects will follow a different trajectory.)
This fact raises in turn another question. Just how are the rest of President Obama's Romanov dynasty full of 30-odd czars doing?
The answer is hard to tell judging from the newspapers.
This is true in part because newspapers have devoted most of their
coverage recently to Eric Massa's permanent tainting of the once
wholesome sport of snorkeling. It's also true because there were so
many darned czars created that it's hard to keep track of them all. But
mostly it's true because the president's decision to appoint so many
"czars" was a classic rookie mistake that has not really worked out
very well for anyone.
Certainly, it did not work out well for the czars who came and went like "Green Jobs Czar" Van Jones who was Glenn-Becked into oblivion or "Car Czar" Steve Rattner who is now trying to work a deal to avoid further legal headaches associated with his allegedly unsavory practices in winning business from the New York State pension fund back in his hedge fund days.
But most of the czars who were originally appointed are still in place. It's just that in most cases the only people who know it are their families or the bureaucrats they scuffle with every day. You see one of the big problems with the whole idea of "czars" is that on the day after their investiture each of them discovered that the government is full of other people who thought they had the same responsibilities.
Just ask AfPak Czar Richard Holbrooke who has been largely overshadowed by the military's big man in the region, General Stanley McChrystal, and the State Department's other man in Kabul, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. Some of this may be, according to reports, Holbrooke's own doing, due to rough patches in his relationships with the Afghans, the Pakistanis and some of his colleagues in Washington. (It was probably a miscalculation to try to apply strong-arm tactics with Hamid Karzai that were reminiscent of his very successful tough-guy confrontations with Slobodan Milosevic years ago. The problem being that whereas Milosevic was a bad guy who was going down, an enemy being defeated, Karzai was a bad guy who was our alleged ally, one who strongly believed we needed him more than he needed us.) Holbrooke has also, according to White House sources, not been a great favorite of Obama's. This is particularly bad in an administration in which seeking the favor of the president has taken on an importance that is in fact, much more reminiscent of the historical czars than is the role being played by anyone with this now devalued moniker.
This is a key point. Not only have the czars seen their role diluted by bureaucratic competition but they were never really given the authority their informal titles implied. This is a classic failure of government and business managers everywhere -- giving people responsibility for an issue without truly giving them the authority to manage or lead it.
Does anyone for a moment think George Mitchell is really in charge of America's role in the Mideast Peace Process? Does anyone even really know what Mitchell is doing? In the State Department there is constant buzz that Mitchell is an inscrutable "black box"... and that people like Under Secretary Bill Burns, people in the regional bureau and, of course, Secretary Clinton can and should be playing a more central role in shaping strategy than Mitchell. Mitchell's team hasn't helped his standing with the White House much by going around taking shots at White House Middle East expert Dennis Ross in private meetings with Middle Eastern governments. Which has led the White House ... both within the NSC and the Vice President's office to get more involved, etc. The point is ... there are lots of players and Mitchell is no more a czar than was Ingrid Berman playing Anastasia.
Paul Volcker was a "czar" with responsibility for advising the president on financial reform. But for most of his term he has been ignored, being rolled out periodically for photo ops to show him as a validating grey head. His Volcker Rule gained traction when it was clear many other reforms were faltering. But the reality is Volcker, like the others is more a prop than a czar. It's not that he or they are unwilling to work or even that they don't have a huge amount to contribute. (I suspect we'd all be better off if AfPak were really quarterbacked by Holbrooke or financial reform were led by Volcker. These guys are among the very best the Dems have and the way they are being treated is like turning Albert Pujols or Kobe Bryant into reserves, playing them off the bench.)
I suspect Holbrooke at the moment has to be wondering whether he actually had more influence ... or a higher profile ... as a private citizen who deservedly was seen as a Democratic Secretary of State in waiting. Volcker, I am told, knew what to expect and took on the job because he knew it would periodically afford him influence, that sooner or later he would be needed or heeded.
"Green Czar" Carol Browner must feel the same way. Not only have her priorities faltered but she has been overtaken in traction by other members of the "Green Cabinet" and compromised by the fumbling on the Hill. On international matters, the State Department's climate negotiator had the clear lead although his efforts have encountered stiff headwinds, on other issues Science Czar John Holdren has won more traction, on others Steven Chu's team at Energy have. And while all this would be denied by the players in question if asked about it in public, you have to ask yourself why the experienced and respected Browner, in the middle of an issue the president has set as one of his priorities, would be on everyone's short list to be among those making an early departure from the administration?
Other czars have simply faced the bandwidth problem ... their issues have not risen to prominence in the midst of an agenda set largely by an economic crisis and a desire to move on a couple key issues such as health care and managing the revolving door that is our Middle East troop deployment strategy. Or alternatively, they just haven't been able to make much progress or have faced unforeseen setbacks. Our Auto Industry Recovery czar, Ed Montgomery, and our manufacturing czar Ron Bloom, have seen their efforts remain hostage to the sluggish economy ... and it doesn't look like our bailout of Chrysler is, in the end, going to do much good. Our Guantanamo czar has found getting out of Guantanamo is tougher than expected. Our Wall Street Pay Czar has had influence over only a few companies and while he has tried to manage that the rest of the financial community has been thumbing their noses at any idea of bonus restraint. Dennis Ross who was designated as the "Central Region" (Iran) Czar has worked hard -- and he like Holbrooke is one of the very, very best out there -- but ultimately U.S. policy will cede nuclear weapons status to Iran and our earnest but likely-to-be ineffective sanctions efforts will be seen as futile.
And so on. Admittedly our "Great Lakes Czar" can report that Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior are all roughly where we were when Obama came into office and Joshua DuBois our Faith-based Czar certainly has not seen a major fall in America's collective need or hope for some higher power to make sense of things. Because, as is almost always, the higher powers we create -- even when they are given grandiose titles like czars -- almost always disappoint for one reason or another. Hopefully, soon Obama will recognize this and make a long over-due return to the kind of simpler org chart that is almost always more effective.
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As promised -- trumpet fanfare -- "The Winners and Losers of the Decade." Or, as I like to think of it, "The Winners and Losers of the Oughts," in deference to the zeros in each year of the decade's numbering, the zeros who were in charge and all that we ought to have done that we did not do.
George W. Bush: It almost seems too easy. But upon reflection, it's not even close. Bush wasn't just born with a silver spoon in his mouth -- he inherited America, the world's sole superpower, with a budget surplus and clear skies ahead. When we were attacked on 9/11, the immediate consequence was unprecedented support for him and for the country. And yet, almost immediately thereafter, he started on a catastrophic set of missteps and bad decisions that had alienated the world by the end of his term. George W. Bush was not just the biggest loser produced by the American political system in the past decade, he was in all likelihood one of the worst presidents in American history and he presided over what was almost certainly the worst international relations calamity since, I don't know, maybe the Alien and Sedition Acts.
How did he get there? What was the worst of all the bad choices he made? Was it invading Iraq or picking Dick Cheney to be his vice president in the first place -- or more properly, letting Dick Cheney choose himself? In the literary biz, we call that foreshadowing ... but in the history biz they will almost certainly call it the beginning of the end for a president who undercut American stature like no other, compromised our historic values and at times, seemed like he could barely speak English.
Not only does he get my nod for loser of the decade in the United States, he takes the international crown as well. All hail George W. Bush. Thanks to his bumbling in the highest office in the land, he also achieved the rarest form of comic apotheosis: He became the punch line that didn't even need a joke. Sadly, for us all, it will always hurt when we laugh.
Al Gore and the American People: There are losers and then there are those who lost. For the remainder of our lives we will always wonder what might have been. Seldom have there been forks in the road of history as clear as the 2000 U.S. presidential elections. The difference between the two candidates was as thin as the sheet of paper on which the politically stacked Supreme Court reached its compromised decision. In retrospect, it is ever more clear that the election was stolen and America, and countless victims worldwide, were sent hurtling toward a destiny that we and they did not deserve. Gore later would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his work battling climate change and has handled the defeat and its aftermath with a grace that would warrant the prize had he done nothing at all. But we cannot help but think how much more we would have done by now to combat climate change had he been in office, how much stronger our relations would be with the world, how many innocents killed by our wars in the Middle East would still be alive. It is the decade's defining political defeat.
It's the end of 2009, and not just the end of the year, but the end of the decade. A fact that has editors everywhere jonesing for lists ... who am I to disappoint? (Here is the first in a series of lists. Be on the lookout for big Hanukkah treat: The Winners and Losers of the Decade! Put that in your dreidle and spin it.)
Let's start with The Loveable Losers shall we? After all, while Vince Lombardi said that in football "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."In politics, most of the players are losers to begin with and watching them squirm is what makes Wolf Blitzer so damn irresistible. And that's not to speak of Gloria Borger or Chris Wallace. (Come to think of it, if those guys can make it in television, I have an idea: The Potato Channel. Wouldn't it be more fun to watch an entire field of tubers ripen and rot? That's reality television the average American viewer can relate to. Heck, the average American viewer is likely to think it's about them.)
And the Big Winners?
Sometimes important shifts in U.S. policy come quietly. They don't make the evening news. They don't reverberate in the blogosphere. They just creep in and gradually take effect. But their consequences can be far-reaching.
Today, speaking at Brookings, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave an address discussing U.S. priorities for the UN General Assembly meeting next week. She focused on non-proliferation and, naturally, by extension, Iran. But then, in answer to a question, she gave an answer that one top State Department official characterized as "historic" because it "for the first time characterized corruption as a national security rather than just as a 'good governance' issue."
The comment resonates on several levels. On the one, perhaps closest to today's headlines, it ties in directly to the McChrystal Report which identifies abuse of government power in Afghanistan as an equal threat to the insurgency. As such it sends a very powerful message to the Karzai government that unless they seriously clean up their act they could go from being a central beneficiary of allied efforts in their country to being a target of our efforts to promote change.
Next, there are broader implications. Corruption is the life's blood of many of the most substantial national security threats the United States faces. Whether the concern is illegal arms sales or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism or insurgencies, government stability or functioning free markets, public health or public safety, drugs or human trafficking, if you don't identify and battle corruption true progress is impossible.
As such, to shrug it off as a "civil society" issue -- thus guaranteeing it never once gets the attention of senior officials or the resources required to address it -- or worse, to simply suggest it is endemic the world over and simply a way business gets done among elites, especially in the emerging world, is simply reckless.
Further, to fight it ... particularly when it is a central element of top national security threats ... requires far more than mere police efforts or the worthy but limited capabilities of NGOs like Transparency International. It is a job that on the one hand requires intelligence community resources to identify and track targets and on the other demands the involvement of top policymakers because many of those who are the offenders, like Karzai, are senior officials, top businesspeople, heads of terrorist or criminal syndicates. These are the not-so-super members of what I called in my last book The Superclass. They are also the planners, enablers and beneficiaries of some of the most dangerous types of corruption worldwide.
Simply by underscoring the message to Karzai and Company, Clinton's remarks are important. But if she and the administration plan to systematically go after the corruption that is linked to many if not most of our greatest international concerns, if her casual remark is indicative of a new resolve to confront this threat (best described for the world in FP editor-in-chief Moisés Naím's definitive work on the subject Illicit) then it is one of the few examples I can think of "smart power" that real deserves that description.
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In the wake of Hillary Clinton's generally successful trip to India, the Financial Times turned to former State Department No. 3 guy Nick Burns for some perspective. Nick, one of the very best the State Department has produced in recent years despite his indefensible love of the Boston Red Sox, said, "If you look at the history of the 21st century, there will be just a handful of great powers and India and the U.S. will be among them."
Which got me to thinking...
The United States is certainly at the moment a great power by any definition. We are the only country on earth capable of projecting force anywhere at any time. The U.S. GDP is almost three times that of the next biggest country, Japan and is roughly the equivalent of the next four added up (Japan, China, Germany and France.) To get a different perspective on the size of the U.S. economy relative to that of the world, take a look at this two-year old map comparing the size of the economies of U.S. states to those of other countries.
We have plenty of political juice, are the leading force in the alliance that spends 85 cents of every defense dollar on the planet and helped design the international system in ways that it reinforces our position. We're also protected by two great oceans and our neighbors are fairly easy to get along with. (Mexico is a bit of a concern at the moment but Canada lost its last remaining offensive capability when Wayne Gretzky moved to the United States.)
All that said, the United States may be nearing the peak of its power. With the U.S. public debt around 90 percent of GDP and likely to pass the 100 percent mark in the next year or two, with well over $40 trillion in unfunded retirement health care liabilities that are unlikely to be significantly reduced anytime soon, and with uncertainty about when our addiction to debt will end, we're just going to have less money to spend for everything...including defense. We're also likely to have less of a stomach for spending on the kind of far-flung efforts associated with projecting force. Iraq-fatigue which will soon be joined by AfPak-fatigue will further dampen our appetite for using that big military we have and we may well take a generally more defensive, less-interventive stance than we have seen in the recent past.
So, what about the other "great" powers? Who are they?
Burns says India will be among them and it's hard to argue with the proposition that India is critically important to world affairs (which is why Clinton's outreach and efforts to institutionalize a stronger relationship were so welcome and timely). But in terms of military capability, although India has a big military (the world's third largest in terms of manpower), it has only the ninth largest defense budget in the world and spends only about a 20th of what the United States spends, it has only one aircraft carrier and while it is expanding its capabilities rapidly as perhaps the largest developing world arms acquirer, it is ultimately constrained by the size and state of its economy. While growing rapidly, it still has a nominal per capita GDP of just over $1,000 a year, ranking it 142nd in the world. Roughly 80 percent of the population live on less than $2 a day and according to some estimates the almost 90 percent who live on less than $2.50 a day on purchasing power parity terms represent a larger chunk of the population than who live on the same meager amount in sub-Saharan Africa. The country is heavily dependent on foreign oil imports, half the children are malnourished...it's growing, it's a great story, it's a remarkable achievement in democracy, but it's ability to project force or throw its economic weight around is severely limited. (It's economy is smaller than that of Canada which, as noted earlier, is no one's idea of a great power...even though they're a swell neighbor, a useful ally and could offer great vacation values should global warming continue.)
Ok, then, certainly China is a great power. After all, they have 1.2 billion people. (Although India will soon overtake them as the world's most populous country.) Their economy is growing, according to Morgan Stanley, at a robust 9 percent even in the midst of this nasty "great" recession. They have the world's third largest economy (which is about twice as big as the economy of California) and will soon surpass Japan. They have the world's second largest army and the second largest defense budget...which is about one seventh that of the United States. They are upgrading their capabilities but unlike the United States or other would-be great powers on this list they do have as a significant military consideration maintaining the integrity and stability of their country in the face of restive populations in far-flung regions. Despite China's economic growth it faces the paradox of labor shortages and perhaps as many as 150 million unemployed or under-employed citizens floating unsatisfied through society. It is heavily dependent on foreign imports of food and energy as well as on a faltering U.S. market. Around three-quarters of its reserves in U.S. dollar denominated instruments which shows a heavy dependence on a potential rival (that's a two way street, of course.) And despite astonishing progress in reducing poverty, in terms of per capita income China is still poor, ranked at somewhere between 100 and 110 among all countries worldwide. Finally, China is ill-at-ease on the world stage, uncomfortable throwing around its political weight and still reluctant to intervene far from home except economically (which will lead, of course, over time to growing influence abroad.)
Who else? The EU would be a great power in economic and military terms...if it actually had a workable means of achieving a common foreign policy and the will to actually project force. Its individual members, notably Germany, France and the U.K., are important powers, 4th, 5th, and 6th respectively in GDP...but France is home to only the 17th largest military in the world, Germany the 20th largest and the U.K. the 32d largest. What's more, Germany is particularly reluctant to project force (much to the relief of anyone with a memory), France does so seldom and the U.K. is developing a pretty bad taste in its mouth in that respect recently. Japan is still legally constrained from projecting force and, while it is the world's second largest economy for the moment (say the next three to five years), that status, is fading and its economy is struggling. While it might be expected that in the next few years Japan will normalize it's military, it is still unlikely it will be useable for much beyond defensive and multilateral actions for the foreseeable future. Russia? Lots of nukes -- perhaps 3,000-5,000 warheads putting it alone on a par with the U.S. (the stockpiles of other would be great powers -- the U.K., France, China and India-range from 10 percent of the low end of this total for France to just over 1 percent of the high end of the total for India.) And Russia's economy? Smaller than that of Brazil (and of course, that economic powerhouse, California). It also may contract at as much as 10 percent this year, which is roughly half what some estimate the bad loans in the Russian banking system. But Russia's biggest problem that it is undergoing one of the greatest peace-time demographic collapses in history, with estimates suggesting the population could shrink from almost 150 million to 80 or 100 million by 2050. That would be a population loss equal to or greater than that associated with the Black Plague of the mid-14th Century in Europe.
What's more, many of the great powers are further constrained by participation in global regimes that only grant legitimacy to multilateral undertakings...which are very hard to achieve as we have regularly seen. While Gideon Rachman makes the case for a UN army in today's FT (one with which I agree...there will be no effective NPT 2.0 without enforcement mechanisms that include the ability to wield force to require compliance)...we're a long, long way from there. So the rule of international law has effectively weakened those who did the most to craft it (even if it has, as I believe, improved the general quality of civilization). And who knows what the impact will be of another global economic shock if, as I believe is going to be the case, we fail to fix what is broke this time around? On these big economies? On their ideological underpinnings?
Are these "great" powers nonetheless still greater powers than the others of the world? Certainly. Most of the countries of the world are virtually powerless. Only 25 countries have the ability to field active armed services in excess of 200,000. Of these perhaps 17 would be considered very economically constrained and all but a tiny handful would be useless too far beyond their own borders. Only 25 countries have GDP's larger than the annual sales of the each of the world's 3 largest companies. (Not an apples to apples comparison, I know...but I offer it primarily to underscore the relative smallness of the rest of the world's economies. The 100th largest company in the world in sales, Target, has sales that total more than the GDPs of all but the 60 largest.) Most countries have precious little political influence and that influence tends to be diluted when it is channeled through low-functioning multilateral institutions. It is amplified via effective alliances but precious few of these exist on any global scale.
That said, as striking as the weaknesses of great powers may be, a parallel trend is that which gives the weakest access to powerful technologies (of mass destruction or political persuasion) that enable them to gain previously unavailable global stature and leverage. Twenty five countries are reportedly considering or planning nuclear power programs. Some of these will lead to nuclear weapons programs. Some of these will contribute to proliferation and making new threats available to weak states and non-state actors. And some of those big companies I mentioned earlier are now weighing in, using their global economic clout to influence everything from tax codes to trade regimes to who wins or loses big elections. So the ends are converging on the middle and the terms we are used to, great and small, powerful and weak, are coming to mean something entirely new.
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David Rothkopf is the CEO and Editor-at-Large of Foreign Policy. His new book, "Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government and the Reckoning that Lies Ahead" is due out from Farrar, Straus & Giroux on March 1.