Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Shlaes In the WaPo: A Chilling Uncertainty

A Chilling Uncertainty, by Amity Shlaes
The Washington Post, Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The United States has entered the era of the experiment. President-elect Barack Obama is putting forward an infrastructure program whose plans and price tag are unclear. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson whipped up the Troubled Asset Relief Program to buy up bad mortgage instruments, and, expanding on that experiment, President Bush wants to try extending TARP to autoworkers.

The idea that experiments are warranted in current circumstances comes from the New Deal. The official history is familiar: FDR put forward multiple projects, some at cross-purposes. Yet New Deal inconsistency was not a problem and might have been a virtue. Through "bold, persistent experimentation," his catchphrase, Franklin Roosevelt brought recovery.

Modern economists, monetarist or Keynesian, have not rejected this story line. The trouble with the 1930s, in their view, is that government did not fiddle enough. Had the Federal Reserve, the Treasury or the White House fiddled more, the Depression might have been shorter or less severe. The New Deal Fed, they say, never got the price level quite right. Or, the New Deal stimulus programs were too little. And so on.

But there is significant evidence that the very arbitrariness of the New Deal made the Depression worse.

In 1932, stunned market players and citizens wanted to know what the new rules were. They voted for a party with a platform so moderate it could have been written by today's Concord Coalition: stability, sound money, balanced budgets. That was the Democratic Party, led by Roosevelt.

Many of FDR's initial plans did bring stability: His first Treasury secretary worked to sort out banks with the outgoing Hoover administration in a fashion so fair that an observer noted that those present "had forgotten to be Republicans or Democrats." By creating deposit insurance, FDR reduced bank runs. His Securities Act of 1933 laid the ground for a transparent national stock market. Equities shot up.

But other policies were more arbitrary. Using emergency powers, FDR yanked the country off the gold standard. Both American and international markets looked forward to a London conference at which a new monetary accord was to be struck among nations. Over the course of the conference, though, FDR changed orders to his emissaries multiple times. Some days he was the internationalist, sending wires about international currency coordination. Other days he was the cowboy, declaring that all that mattered was what the dollar bought in farm states. The conference foundered.

Some of the worst destruction came with FDR's gold experiment. If he could drive up the price of gold by buying it, he reasoned, other prices would rise as well. Roosevelt was right to want to introduce more money into the economy (the United States was deflating). But his method was like trying to raise an ocean level by adding water by the thimbleful. What horrified markets even more was that FDR managed the operation personally, day by day, over a breakfast tray. No one ever knew what the increase would be. One Friday in November 1933, for example, Roosevelt told Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau that he thought the gold price ought to be raised 21 cents. Why that amount, Morgenthau asked. "Because it's three times seven," FDR replied.

Morgenthau later wrote that "if anybody knew how we set the gold price, through a combination of lucky numbers, etc., I think they would be frightened."

They were. The "Roosevelt Rally" flattened. The arbitrary quality of other initiatives reinforced concerns. The New Deal centerpiece, the National Recovery Administration, helped some businesses compete and criminalized others for the same behavior. Sometimes Roosevelt goaded federal prosecutors into harassing corporate executives. Other times, he schmoozed the same execs at the White House. In 1936, FDR pushed through deficit spending. In 1937, he was Mr. Budget Hawk.

Uncertain, markets froze. Businesses refused to hire or invest in equipment. Unemployment stayed stuck in the teens. The 'deal' part of the New Deal phrase was problematic; businesses didn't want individual favors, they wanted clear laws for all. Industrialist Ernest Weir summed up what his community was desperate for FDR to do: "Above all to make the program clear and then stick to it."

Today, uncertainty also chills. Questions abound over the future regulation of stocks and derivatives, over tax policy, over bailouts. All this makes it hard for the market to settle on equity or home prices. And Americans follow stories about names--Secretary Paulson, Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner--more than they do the news about the Fed or the Treasury.

Luckily, we are entering the optimal time for reducing uncertainty: a new president's first hundred days, with a majority to back him on the Hill. Obama might start by rebuilding key institutions: creating a super-Securities and Exchange Commission, a tough regulator with clear plans for overseeing stocks as well as those instruments that had been monitored unpredictably because of vague status. He should also halve corporate tax rates, currently some of the world's highest, and reduce the capital gains rate to 5 percent. Rewriting the Fed law to clarify it will make avoiding an Alan Greenspan bubble easier. Defining his infrastructure program clearly would have the effect of putting up a sign: Open for Business.

Some will say all that sounds politically impossible. Until recently, though, so did a trillion-dollar infrastructure project. A new hundred days spent making good laws will bring sturdy recovery. A hundred days spent making more deals will not.

Amity Shlaes is an adjunct fellow at AEI. She is the author of The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression.

The key problem facing Somalia is not one of security, but rather the vacuum in political leadership, says UN envoy

Paucity of political leadership at root of Somalia's problems, says UN envoy

UN, New York, Dec 31 2008 10:10AM

Somalia’s problems are driven by a lack of responsible political leadership, the top United Nations envoy to the Horn of Africa nation said today.

In a letter to the diaspora, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, said that there is an “emerging consensus that ultimately your country’s problems stem from the absence of accountable and committed national leadership.”

The key problem facing Somalia – which has not had a functioning central government since 1991 – is not one of security, but rather the vacuum in political leadership, he wrote.

“I am confident that progress is being made towards a situation where responsible leadership will have friendly relations with its neighbours, and smooth integration into the international community.”

The envoy hailed the recent “peaceful resignation” of President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed. He also noted the relocation of the leaders of the opposition group known as the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) and delegates from the Joint Security Committee, comprising both the ARS and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), to the capital Mogadishu.

In June, the two sides signed a UN-facilitated peace accord, known as the Djibouti Agreement, under which they agreed to end their conflict and called on the UN to deploy an international stabilization force to the troubled nation.

The Djibouti process “has opened a new era in the history of your country,” Mr. Ould-Abdallah said, adding that it has also “given the opportunity to all Somalis to witness the activity of a vital generation that is committed to peace and stability.”

With women and the younger generation losing hope after witnessing two decades of power struggles in Somalia, he said it is time for leaders to “demonstrate their commitment to peace and the well-being of their country.”

2009 will be a busy year for Somalia, with the first few weeks seeing the preparations for the election of a new president, the formation of a government of national unity and an enlarged Parliament. The Representative wrote that he hopes to hold talks with the business community, as well as with former top military and police officials to seek their views on how to bolster security and rebuild the national army.

“Somalia is entering a new era,” he said, calling on the diaspora to “catch the train of history and mobilize all efforts to maintain solidarity among all brothers in order to recover the integrity, sovereignty and dignity of Somalia.”

Gonzales Defends Role in Antiterror Policies

Gonzales Defends Role in Antiterror Policies. By Evan Perez
WSJ, Dec 31, 2008

WASHINGTON -- Alberto Gonzales, who has kept a low profile since resigning as attorney general nearly 16 months ago, said he is writing a book to set the record straight about his controversial tenure as a senior official in the Bush administration.

Mr. Gonzales has been portrayed by critics both as unqualified for his position and instrumental in laying the groundwork for the administration's "war on terror." He was pilloried by Congress in a manner not usually directed toward cabinet officials.

"What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?" he said during an interview Tuesday, offering his most extensive comments since leaving government.

During a lunch meeting two blocks from the White House, where he served under his longtime friend, President George W. Bush, Mr. Gonzales said that "for some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror."

His political problems started with the firings of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006, which grew into a firestorm that Mr. Gonzales said he never saw coming. In November of that year, Democrats had taken control of Congress and the power to conduct investigations of Bush administration policies.

His previous role of White House counsel put Mr. Gonzales at the heart of the administration's decision-making on issues relating to terrorism, making him an easier target than the president. Critics also said he allowed the Justice Department to become politicized through its hiring practices and prosecutions, favoring Republicans for plum positions and targeting Democrats for prosecution.

Mr. Gonzales fueled the fire by giving evasive answers to Congress, frequently responding "I don't recall."

Among other things, Mr. Gonzales said Tuesday that he didn't play a central role in drafting the widely criticized legal opinions that allowed the Central Intelligence Agency to use aggressive interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects and expanded the president's power to hold "unlawful combatants" and terrorism suspects indefinitely. He also said he told the truth to Congress about a classified eavesdropping program authorized by the president, and admitted to making mistakes in handling the U.S. attorney firings while maintaining that he made the right decisions. He says that while he bears responsibility as former Attorney General that "doesn't absolve other individuals of responsibility."

Mr. Gonzales, 53 years old, doesn't have a publisher for his book. He said he is writing it if only "for my sons, so at least they know the story."

The chapters on the Bush administration's surveillance program, which involved eavesdropping without court warrants, and other controversial aspects of his work, remain blank. That is in part because he remains under investigation regarding allegations of political meddling at the Justice Department.

The Harvard Law School graduate, onetime corporate lawyer and Texas judge also hasn't been able to land a job. He has delivered a few paid speeches, done some mediation work and plans to do some arbitration, but said law firms have been "skittish" about hiring him.

The biggest blow to Mr. Gonzales came during Senate testimony by James Comey, former deputy attorney general, who recounted dramatic details of a 2004 confrontation at the hospital bed of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Mr. Comey had refused to sign a reauthorization of a secret government program, believed to be the eavesdropping initiative. Mr. Gonzales and Andrew Card, White House chief of staff at the time, drove to the hospital where Mr. Ashcroft was recovering from surgery to instead seek approval from him. Mr. Comey drove to the hospital to stop them. The episode highlighted a dispute between Justice and the White House over the surveillance program's legality.

In Tuesday's interview, Mr. Gonzales said Mr. Comey's characterization of the dispute was "one-sided and didn't have the right context," and gave the impression that he and Mr. Card were attempting to take advantage of Mr. Ashcroft. "I found Ashcroft as lucid as I've seen him at meetings in the White House," he said.

Mr. Gonzales was at a meeting in San Antonio the day of Mr. Comey's surprise testimony. "He didn't have the decency to notify anyone what he was about to testify," he said. "That was extremely disappointing." Mr. Comey declined to comment.

Mr. Gonzales also downplayed his role in formulating opinions that allowed the CIA to use aggressive interrogation methods, which included waterboarding. The memos have since been rescinded and replaced with opinions that explicitly call torture "abhorrent."

Mr. Gonzales said his role as White House counsel at the time was one among several administration lawyers who debated the opinions, but that in the end it was the Justice Department's call. John Yoo, the then-Justice official who had been assigned to draft the memos, had strong feelings and no one could have pressured him to write the memos a certain way, Mr. Gonzales said. Mr. Yoo didn't respond to a request for comment.

In one of his final acts before leaving office, Mr. Gonzales denied he was planning to quit, even though he had told the president of his intention to resign. Asked about the misleading comment Tuesday, he said: "At that point, I didn't care."

The Kremlin's foreign policy priorities are determined by the changing ideology and the domestic political agenda of Russia's rulers

Russia's Woes Spell Trouble for the U.S. By Leon Aron
WSJ, Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Russia faces a particularly nasty version of the global recession (at a minimum), and perhaps an economic "perfect storm." Regardless of how bad its economy gets, two broad political trends, each carrying profound implications for Russia's foreign policy and U.S.-Russian relations, are bound to emerge.

The first will be a growing dissatisfaction with the government, which may lead to a political crisis. The second will be a reactionary retrenchment: increased internal repression and more of its already troubling foreign policy. Managing the relationship with Moscow in the face of these trends is something President-elect Barack Obama and his administration should start thinking about now.

The size and depth of Russia's economic problems -- and thus the amount of political turbulence -- will depend primarily on two variables. The first is the ruble decline. The national currency is steadily depreciating and has reached an all-time low against the euro despite the central bank's having spent $161 billion on its defense since mid-September. The ruble's losing at least 25% to 30% of its value is a given; the key political issue is whether the weakening can be managed into a gradual decline, or whether the depreciation turns into a panicky flight from the currency. (Already last September Russians dumped around 160 billion rubles to buy $6 billion -- the highest demand for dollars since the aftermath of the 1998 financial crisis.)

The second factor is oil prices. Last year, oil revenues accounted for at least one-fifth of Russia's GDP and half of state revenues. At $40 a barrel, the state budget goes into a 3%-4% deficit. In the past eight years, the national economy has mirrored fluctuating oil prices. So the 7%-8% growth projected for 2008 will have to be cut at best to 1%-2% for 2009. Zero growth or contraction are distinct possibilities.

Such a predicament is most dangerous politically for a country whose population has become used to incomes increasing 8%-10% every year since 2000. Growing disappointment is sure to follow, first among the elites and then people at large.

Despite the reduction of the poverty rate to 14% from 20% in the last five years, tens of millions of Russians continue to live precariously: A recent poll found that 37% of all families have money enough only to cover food. Unemployment and inflation (already 14%, year-on-year, in November) may well push these people over the edge and into the streets.

Perilous for any regime, such disenchantment would be especially worrisome in a country where the legitimacy of the entire political structure appears to rest on the popularity of one man, Vladimir Putin, whose astronomic ratings stemmed largely from the relative economic prosperity he has presided over. This dangerously narrow legitimacy will be sorely tried in the coming months.

Forestalling or at least containing inevitable political consequences of the economic crisis is likely to be at the root of the other political tendency: an attempt by the Putin-led elite, coalesced around Gazprom, Rosneft, state corporations and the loyal industrial "oligarchs," to pre-empt challenges by beefing up the authoritarian "vertical of power." The rewriting of the constitution to give the president 12 consecutive years in office signals the implementation of this strategy. The amendment was overwhelmingly passed by both houses of the Federal Assembly within three weeks in November, ratified by all 83 regional parliaments in less than a month. President Dmitry Medvedev signed it into law yesterday.

One scenario bruited about in Moscow has Mr. Medvedev taking full responsibility for the crisis and resigning to free the Kremlin for the caretaker prime minister (Mr. Putin), soon to be re-elected president.

A bill introduced in the Duma on Dec. 12 expands the definition of treason, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, to "taking action aimed at endangering the constitutional order, sovereignty and territorial integrity" of Russia. That same day the parliament approved the elimination of the right to jury trials for defendants charged with treason. The ruthlessness with which the riot police troops, the OMON, attacked protesters, journalists and bystanders in Vladivostok over the weekend of Dec. 20 may be a preview of things to come.

A reactionary crackdown will also mean the continuation and intensification of the already incessant and deafening propaganda portraying Russia as a "besieged fortress," surrounded by the U.S.-led enemies on the outside and undermined by the "fifth column" of the democratic political opposition within. In the words of one of the most astute independent columnists, the courageous Yulia Latyinina, the rabid anti-Americanism, which has become a linchpin of the regime's domestic political strategy, is likely to turn into a full-blown "hysteria."

The key lesson of George W. Bush's dealings with Russia is that the Kremlin's foreign policy priorities are determined by the changing ideology and the domestic political agenda of Russia's rulers to a far greater degree than by anything the U.S. does or does not do. (Which is why the U.S. exit from the antiballistic missile treaty was accepted with equanimity in 2002, while the intent to install a rudimentary antimissile system provoked Moscow's fury in 2007.) If reaction advances at home, the Kremlin will continue a truculent or outright aggressive foreign policy of resurgence and retribution, intended, among other things, to distract from and justify domestic repression. The recovery of geostrategic assets lost in the Soviet collapse will remain Moscow's overarching objective, especially in the territory of the former Soviet Union.

The Obama White House will have to navigate a difficult and narrow path in its relations with Moscow in 2009 between continuing to engage Moscow on the key issues of mutual concern (Iran, missile defense, nonproliferation, terrorism), on the one hand, and the broader strategic goal of assisting democratic stabilization in Russia.

But no matter what the Kremlin leaders and their propaganda stooges say in public, anything interpreted as approval or even a mere sign of respect by America, first and foremost by its president, is a huge boost to the government's domestic popularity and legitimacy. So the natural, almost protocol-dictated, inclination of the new administration to show good will must be balanced against firm support for the return to political and economic liberalization in Russia. Throwing diplomatic lifelines to a regime that refuses to choose such a path out of the crisis is not in America's -- and Russia's -- long-term interests.

Mr. Aron is director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the author, most recently, of "Russia's Revolution: Essays 1989-2007" (AEI, 2007).

CSIS: Turkish Politics in 2008

Turkey Update: Turkish Politics in 2008. By Bulent Aliriza
CSIS, Dec 24, 2008

The year had begun with the Justice and Development Party (JDP), which has been in office since November 2002, riding high after its second successive election victory in July 2007. However, with the invalidation by the Constitutional Court of its legislative move in February to lift the headscarf ban in universities and its ‘near death experience’ between March and July, when it faced and ultimately avoided closure by the Constitutional Court, the JDP appears to be less certain of its future direction.

While it continues to be the most popular Turkish political party according to every poll and reflects and reinforces growing religious sentiment in the country, the JDP seems effectively constrained from using its majority in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) to modify what it regards as the harsher aspects of secularism; most notably the restrictions on wearing the Islamic headscarf many of its supporters regard as discriminatory. Consequently, as 2008 comes to an end, Turkish politics may be entering one of its transitional phases after a relatively long period of stability and predictability.


In the 2007 elections, the JDP had taken full advantage of widespread resentment against the TGS warning to the JDP to refrain from electing Abdullah Gul to the presidency. The party had also been able to rely on a superior organization and grassroots operation as well as a charismatic leader with a populist touch. In addition, the JDP had benefited from the absence of effective leadership in the opposition and its inability to adjust to the changing political landscape. The Republican People’s Party (RPP), under its long-time leader Deniz Baykal, had shifted from propagating social democratic views to an uneasy combination of opposition to the European Union (EU) and the United States and vehement defense of secularism. The Nationalist Action Party (NAP), led by Devlet Bahceli, had failed to match Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ability to tap into the surge of nationalism.

The JDP had prudently avoided an open confrontation with the defenders of secularism throughout most of its first term. However, encouraged by obtaining almost half the votes cast in the elections and elevating Gul to the presidency, the JDP grasped at the thorny issue of the Islamic headscarf law. The move was understandable from the JDP’s point of view as the majority of Turkish women wear a headscarf; seventy per cent of Turks favor lifting the ban and members of the party face constant pressure from their wives and daughters as well as their supporters. Nevertheless, the action was portrayed by the JDP’s opponents as a threat to secularism. The legislation lifting the headscarf ban in universities was duly invalidated by the Constitutional Court and then cited as the central charge in the closure case brought against the JDP by the Prosecutor General.

The JDP was ultimately able to survive as only six of the eleven judges instead of the required seven voted for closure in July. However, while allowing the JDP to stay in office, all but one of the judges also concluded that the JDP had become ‘the center of anti secular activities.’ Consequently, in addition to undercutting the power of the JDP-dominated TGNA to legislate, the Constitutional Court restricted the party’s room for maneuver by laying the groundwork for a new case for future activities. Erdogan’s immediate reaction to the verdict was to once again deny the anti secularism charge. As a pragmatic politician, however, Erdogan surely recognized that the JDP had been put on notice.

In view of the tensions, which have often characterized the relationship between the JDP and the Turkish General Staff (TGS), it is noteworthy that the only member of the court with a military background voted against closure. This prompted speculation that a private deal was struck between Erdogan and incoming TGS Chief of Staff Ilker Basbug. Although it is impossible to verify such claims, the advantages for both sides in such an arrangement are nevertheless easy to perceive. Along with most of his colleagues, Erdogan regarded the TGS as the driving force behind the effort to close down the JDP and to ban him from politics. Consequently, going directly to Basbug to ward off the imminent danger may have made sense from his perspective. After all, Erdogan had enjoyed a relatively good working relationship in the first four years of his government with Chief of Staff Hilmi Ozkok and had then managed to establish a modus vivendi with his successor Yasar Buyukanit after a difficult beginning. For his part, having seen the JDP benefit electorally from the TGS demarche under Buyukanit in 2007, Basbug may have wanted to avoid a repeat performance by the JDP’s successor in another early election. It has also been suggested that he may have wanted limits on the scope of the current investigation into the so-called Ergenekon conspiracy in which two retired four-star generals have been detained in connection with an alleged plot against the JDP government.

To be sure, the rapid revival of the Islamists under the JDP banner after the ouster of the Islamist-led government in 1997 has created a dilemma for the TGS as the backbone of the secular system. While the TGS is perceptibly uncomfortable with the JDP government as the political manifestation of increased religiosity, it has been reluctant to directly confront a party with mass popular backing, as its unwillingness to follow up its memorandum against Gul’s presidential candidacy demonstrates. However, Kemalism, vigorously defended by the TGS, remains the official state ideology enshrined in the 1961 and 1982 constitutions. While modern Turkey may no longer conform to the strict principles of Kemalism, the JDP has not been willing to risk a direct challenge to the ideology. Notwithstanding the fact that the culmination of the current EU accession process would necessitate its subordination to elected officials, the TGS has also maintained influence far beyond purely national security issues and retained autonomy in administering itself without meaningful civilian oversight. Moreover, since the closure case, Erdogan has drawn perceptibly closer to the TGS, particularly on the critical issue of how to deal with the Kurdish issue and separatist terrorism. After the PKK attack on a military outpost led to unprecedented media criticism of the TGS for alleged negligence, Erdogan chose to back Basbug’s denunciations of newspapers which had previously been vociferous in their support of the JDP in its difficulties with the TGS.

Erdogan has tried to strike a balance between supporting a military response against PKK terrorism and the need for a political solution which he first publicly articulated in Diyarbakir in 2005. His strategy aimed at simultaneously undercutting the PKK and Kurdish politicians who defer to the PKK. He hoped that economic improvement in the southeast, coupled with electoral success against the Democratic Society Party (DSP) - which is currently confronting the threat of closure for Kurdish separatism like its predecessors - would lead the way to a solution of the Kurdish problem. However, Kurds have been voting for mainstream Turkish political parties as well as local Kurdish parties since the introduction of multiparty democracy in 1950. They choose to vote for mainstream parties not only because Kurdish parties are banned but also because of the ten per cent national threshold for representation in the TGNA. At the same time, there is little tangible evidence that economic prosperity would eliminate the sense of ethnic grievance that is at the core of the conflict.

It has been difficult for Erdogan to blur ethnic divisions while backing a military solution to PKK terrorism and this is likely to affect his electoral ambitions in the southeast. His blunt declaration in November that there was only “One nation, one flag, one motherland and one state” disappointed many Kurds as he discovered when he recently revisited Diyarbakir. Ahmet Turk, the leader of the DSP, went so far as to claim that the JDP was “obliged to make a deal with the state in return for not being shut down and as part of the deal, the Prime Minister has changed his policy on the Kurdish issue.” It is also noteworthy that Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat, the most prominent Kurdish figure in the party - who had met with Turk and other DSP parliamentarians shunned by Erdogan – has resigned from his post as Deputy Chairman of the JDP.

One of the strengths of the JDP has been its remarkable success in maintaining cohesion and avoiding the kind of splintering which has bedeviled ruling Turkish parties in the past. While Erdogan is still in firm control of a united party, there are indications that the JDP may no longer be immune to the laws of political gravity. The relationship between Erdogan and Gul - who served as prime minister during the JDP’s first three months in office before giving way to Erdogan – is showing undeniable signs of fray since Gul’s ascendancy to the presidency. Another of the JDP’s four original leaders, Abdullatif Sener, left in July to form a new party after complaining about the JDP’s lack of effectiveness in fighting corruption. The resignation of JDP Deputy Chairman Saban Disli in September 2008 following corruption allegations has underlined the JDP’s problems with an issue which it had used against its predecessors. It may be significant that Disli was forced out partly because of pressure from Bulent Arinc, the fourth of the original leaders and now effectively the second man in the JDP.

Erdogan has reacted strongly against reporting of corruption allegations in the Turkish media and intolerance of criticism has recently become a characteristic of the JDP. By directly attacking media owners while revoking the accreditation of critical journalists, Erdogan has effectively forced the media to exercise auto censorship. After having pushed through a series of liberal reforms to achieve its stated goal of beginning EU accession negotiations in October 2005, the JDP government now seems uncomfortable with some aspects of the more open society it helped to create. It may also be disinclined to incur the domestic costs associated with additional steps expected by the EU on civil liberties and such sensitive issues as the Kurds and Cyprus. The Constitutional Court case had briefly renewed the JDP’s interest in the EU and the reform process as it endeavored to garner international support for itself but it soon became clear that this was a tactical move designed to increase the external costs of closure. In a recent speech, for example, Erdogan complained bitterly about the EU demands on Cyprus and added: “We have completed the Copenhagen and Maastricht Criteria. Let us know if it is not going to work, then we will continue on our path and rename them as the Ankara and Istanbul Criteria.”





The JDP government faces a major test in the March 2009 municipal elections and there may be similarities between its position and that of the Motherland Party (MP) – the last party before the JDP to hold power on its own - twenty years ago. In March 1989, the MP under Turgut Ozal fared poorly in municipal elections after winning two successive parliamentary elections, subsequently lost power in the 1991 elections and never regained its position in Turkish politics. If the JDP fails to match the forty seven per cent vote it received in last year’s elections or loses one of the big municipalities, the result would undoubtedly be perceived as a failure. However, unlike Ozal who was challenged by the redoubtable Suleyman Demirel, the JDP is facing weak opposition and a poor electoral performance would be more a reflection of the negative impact of a worsening economic outlook than the success of the other parties. As the JDP’s rise to power was facilitated by the Turkish economic crisis of 2000-2001, it would be ironic if its decline was to be set in motion by the current global downturn and its impact on Turkey.

While the economic recovery continued, governing was relatively easy for the JDP. With the shrinking of the pie, the JDP government will inevitably find it more difficult to claim credit for its management of the economy and, consequently, to maintain its popularity. Although the end of JDP domination is not on the horizon, the RPP and the NAP are likely to benefit most from the gradual erosion of support for the ruling party despite their lack of effectiveness. However, the Contentment Party, which continued as the Islamist party after the defection of Erdogan and his colleagues in 2001, could also increase its share of the vote, while Kurdish voters drift away from the JDP in the main Turkish cities as well as in the southeast. The economic downturn will further test the unity and internal cohesion of the JDP, particularly after the demonstration of its powerlessness on the headscarf issue and its close brush with closure.

Erdogan’s economic preoccupations in 2009 may make it even less likely that he will take the steps required to accelerate the EU accession process. In fact, it now seems probable that the stalled EU process will come to a standstill next year without a breakthrough on Cyprus, with critical implications for Turkey’s efforts to modernize and to complete the process of integration in the Western community. Such a development would be particularly unfortunate in view of the uncertainties relating to the course of US-Turkish relations with a new American president. To be sure, the JDP government would maintain its high profile in international politics - recently capped by Turkey’s election to the Security Council - even without progress on the EU front. However, it would also have to cope with the negative implications for Turkish domestic politics as well as for the economy.

Erdogan will almost certainly continue in 2009 to promote Turkish nationalism, a seemingly permanent feature of Turkish politics which has recently been reinforced by the rise of anti-American and generally anti-Western sentiments. However, the JDP’s record in government of seeking accommodation with the US, the EU and the international financial community could leave the party vulnerable to a challenge from its nationalist flank. On the other hand, whatever the future has in store for the JDP, its ability to win successive parliamentary elections has underlined the growing and increasingly visible role of religiosity in Turkish politics, as the NAP’s advocacy of relaxation of the headscarf restrictions and the RPP’s recent willingness to welcome into its ranks women wearing Islamic dress also confirms. Nevertheless, as the JDP’s difficulties in government demonstrates, the rigidly secular system has only been forced to adjust in an ad hoc manner to the influence of religiosity and the current situation will remain inherently unstable without a hitherto elusive new national consensus.

Bulent Aliriza
CSIS Turkey Project

Avery Dulles and the Death Penalty

Dulles and the Death Penalty, by Mark Tooley
Upholding the classical Catholic tradition about capital punishment.

The Weekly Standard, Dec 31, 2008, 12:00:00 AM

Seemingly none of the recent obituaries of Avery Dulles, a renowned theologian and Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, has mentioned his crisp, theoretical defense of capital punishment. The Cardinal's careful explanation of his church's teaching responded to the popular impression of blanket Catholic opposition to the death penalty. Liberal Catholic politicians, even when opposing their church's stance on abortion, have sometimes boasted of their supposed conformity with Catholic teaching on capital punishment.

"Self-defense of society continues to justify the death penalty," Dulles told a symposium in 2002. "One could conceive of a situation where if justice were not done by executing an offender it would throw society into moral confusion," he said. "I don't know whether that requires any more than that it remain on the books, symbolically, that it be there for society to have recourse to."

Dulles emphasized that Pope John Paul II and the bishops in recent years have upheld the classical Catholic tradition about capital punishment, affirming its theoretical validity, while warning against its potential for "miscarriages of justice, the increase of vindictiveness, or disrespect for the value of innocent human life."


While a student at Harvard in the 1930s, the younger Dulles became a believer in God after examining the intricate beauty of a blossoming tree. By 1940, he was converted to the "sublimity" of Catholic doctrine, almost certainly displeasing his ardently WASP father. After Avery Dulles' World War II service in the U.S. Navy, he became a Jesuit and was ordained into the priesthood in 1956. His nearly half century of teaching concluded with two decades at Fordham University. Pope John Paul II appointed him a Cardinal in 2001, in recognition of his vast theological and academic accomplishments, though Dulles had never served as a bishop, and was well past age 80.

The intellectual and spiritual range of Avery Dulles' writings, which continued well into his final year, at age 90, after he had lost his ability to speak, was enormous. He strove to conform to and explain Catholic teachings in a manner approachable by academics and novices alike. The then new Cardinal's 2001 explanation of Catholic teaching on capital punishment for First Things magazine was among his most notable.

Dulles observed that Scriptural support for the death penalty was consistent, starting with God's covenant with Noah: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image." The Mosaic code, obviously, ordained it for numerous offenses beyond murder. In the New Testament, he wrote, "the right of the State to put criminals to death seems to be taken for granted," including by Jesus. St. Paul, in Romans, apparently referenced the death penalty when he wrote that the magistrate who holds authority "does not bear the sword in vain; for he is the servant of God to execute His wrath on the wrongdoer."

Early Church Fathers and Doctors of the Church were "virtually unanimous in their support for capital punishment," Dulles wrote, including Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, and later, Thomas More and John Henry Newman. In the Middle Ages, Pope Innocent III affirmed: "The secular power can, without mortal sin, exercise judgment of blood, provided that it punishes with justice, not out of hatred, with prudence, not precipitation." Until 1969, the Vatican's penal code included the death penalty for attempted papal assassinations.

"The mounting opposition to the death penalty in Europe since the Enlightenment has gone hand in hand with a decline of faith in eternal life," Dulles observed. Capital punishment's demise in secularized countries seems tied to the "evaporation of the sense of sin, guilt, and retributive justice, all of which are essential to biblical religion and Catholic faith."

Dulles insisted that Catholicism has "never advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty." He recalled "no official statement from popes or bishops, whether in the past or in the present, that denies the right of the State to execute offenders at least in certain extreme cases." Catholic teaching has justified capital punishment "on the ground that the State does not act on its own authority but as the agent of God, who is supreme lord of life and death." Problematically, the modern state today is "generally viewed simply as an instrument of the will of the governed," Dulles wrote, so that the death penalty is commonly seen as vengeance by a self-assertive, angry society rather than a divine judgment on objective evil.

Unlike the church, whose main focus is mercy, the state's focus is justice, Dulles explained. "In a predominantly Christian society, however, the State should be encouraged to lean toward mercy provided that it does not thereby violate the demands of justice." State agents who administer executions can do so without hatred and with respect, knowing that "death is not the final evil," and hoping that the condemned will "attain eternal life with God."

Dulles quoted from Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, which declared "as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system," cases mandating execution "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent." The Pope, with the church's bishops, have prudentially, but not infallibly, concluded that modern states, although retaining their right to execute the guilty, should largely avoid the practice, "if the purposes of punishment can be equally well or better achieved by bloodless means, such as imprisonment." Dulles concluded: "I personally support this position."

Exciting many critics who thought him too nuanced, Dulles responded that he was a theologian, not a crusader. "Whether and when to apply the death penalty cannot be properly made on the basis of abstract dogmatic considerations alone," he wrote. "Christian moral reasoning calls for a high degree of prudence."

Dulles' thoughtful treatment of capital punishment was typical of a very long life devoted to careful and thorough teaching in service to his church.

Mark Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

Violence in Pakistan: Trend Analysis November 2008

Violence in Pakistan: Trend Analysis November 2008. By Alok Bansal and T. Khurshchev
IDSA, December 31, 2008

Even as the terrorist attacks on Mumbai and the terrorists’ linkages with Pakistan have refocused global attention on Pakistan, casualties of terrorist violence within Pakistan during November reduced significantly. Like in the last few months, there has been an increase in violence during November, though there was a more than 20 per cent reduction in the number of casualties. This commentary analyses the trend in terrorist violence in Pakistan during November 2008 based on media reports.

Though the number of terror related incidents increased from 346 in October to 372 in November 2008, the death toll dropped significantly for the second month in succession from 1081 in October to 804 in November. However, the number of security forces personnel killed in these incidents rose from 47 in October to 56 in November. The most significant reduction has been in FATA, where it appears as if the security forces have allowed the Taliban a free run in South and North Waziristan. Pakistan’s military operations were generally confined to Bajaur Agency and neighbouring Mohmand Agency. Although aerial attacks by allied forces continued during the month, they were more focussed and mostly hit terrorists with little collateral damage. Towards the end of the month there were ethnic riots in Karachi, where Pakhtoons and Mohajirs clashed violently, paralysing large parts of the city.

Full report at

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2009: The US Contributes $85 Million for Humanitarian Assistance to Palestinian Refugees

The United States Contributes $85 Million for Humanitarian Assistance to Palestinian Refugees

Media Note
State Dept., Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 30, 2008

The United States Contributes $85 Million for Humanitarian Assistance to Palestinian Refugees
The United States announces its plan to contribute $85 million to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) for its 2009 appeals. Of the $85 million announced today, $25 million will go to UNRWA’s Emergency Appeal for the West Bank and Gaza; $60 million to UNRWA’s General Fund.

Through this contribution to the Emergency Appeal for the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian refugees, who comprise 70 percent of the population in Gaza and 30 percent in the West Bank, will receive urgently needed food, medicines, and other critical humanitarian assistance. The contribution to UNRWA’s General Fund will support the provision of basic and vocational education, primary health care, and relief and social services to more than 4.6 million registered Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

The United States reiterates its deep concern about the escalating violence in Gaza and commends UNRWA’s important work meeting the emergency needs of civilians in Gaza at this very difficult time. We hold Hamas fully responsible for breaking the ceasefire and for the renewal of violence. We call on all concerned to protect innocent lives and to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza, by facilitating necessary access into Gaza for UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations. We also encourage other states to provide urgently needed funding to UNRWA and other international organizations providing lifesaving care to civilians in Gaza.

The United States is UNRWA’s largest bilateral donor, and contributed $184.68 million to UNRWA towards its 2008 Appeals, including $99.87 million for UNRWA’s General Fund and $84.81 million for its emergency appeals for Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza. The United States plans to provide additional funding for UNRWA's 2009 appeals in the future.


Released on December 30, 2008

Monday, December 29, 2008

Statement to the 13th Conference of the States Parties of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

Statement to the 13th Conference of the States Parties of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)
Ambassador Eric M. Javits, United States Delegation
The Hague, Netherlands
December 2, 2008

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Director-General, Distinguished Delegates,

I am deeply honored to be here, once again, among so many friends and colleagues at the 13th Conference of the States Parties. I warmly welcome our new Chairman, Ambassador Minoru Shibuya of Japan. We are confident that he will guide us skillfully through our agenda this week and bring us to a successful conclusion. I also extend my heartfelt appreciation to our past chairman, Ambassador Abuelgasim Idris, and thank him for his wisdom and exemplary service to this Organization. As always, I pledge my own support and that of my delegation to making this a productive and successful session.

The Conference of the States Parties provides an important opportunity every year to review from where we have come and to make decisions for the year ahead. This year has been an especially meaningful one. The Second Review Conference in April marked a critical milestone in the work of the OPCW. I feel privileged to have been able to participate in both the First and the Second Review Conferences during my nearly six years with this Organization. We all have much to be proud of in the achievements of the OPCW, but much work remains to be done. I have great hopes for the continuing success of this Organization due to the earnest commitment of the member states, the deft guidance by the Chairpersons of the political bodies, the selfless work of our many facilitators, and the devoted and superior service rendered by our delegations and the Technical Secretariat. Nor could our success have been achieved without the supremely capable leadership of the Director-General, who has served so brilliantly at the helm of this enterprise.

As many of you will recall, the Second Review Conference was quite an ordeal for those of us who participated, with multiple papers and positions over many months, widely divergent views, and then a marathon of long days and a couple of all-night sessions. What we produced in that two-week ordeal last April is a reaffirmation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, a strong renewal of the commitment by all States Parties to the goals and objectives of the Convention and to the implementation of all of its provisions. We set out some guidelines for the future of this Organization, demonstrating that it is a living entity, continuing to work, adjusting to changing circumstances, and thriving. Our agenda here this week in the annual Conference of the States Parties is a critical continuation of that process to make the vision of the Second Review Conference a reality.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will not reach its conclusion when all the declared chemical weapons are finally destroyed, although that will be a remarkably historic event to celebrate. Any who hold the view that final destruction of declared stockpiles will signal the end of the Chemical Weapons Convention are sorely mistaken. The OPCW will continue to have a critical role long after disarmament, in assuring that chemical weapons will never again be developed, produced, or used. This is a covenant of the Convention that the States Parties unanimously affirmed in the Report of the Second Review Conference as this Organization’s ongoing, ultimate, and permanent non-proliferation role.

The Second Review Conference expressed concern over the increased danger of the use of chemical weapons by terrorists, and invited States Parties to consult and cooperate both bilaterally and regionally on ways to prevent terrorist use of such weapons. It also recalled the important work of the OPCW Open-ended Working Group on Terrorism and affirmed its continuing relevance. My government strongly supports and encourages that Working Group and the OPCW to be used as a forum for discussion of issues by States Parties and others to share their experiences related to chemical safety and security and the potential threat of toxic chemicals being exploited by terrorists.

The Second Review Conference reiterated that the universality of the Convention is essential to achieve its object and purpose. We have made enormous strides toward universal membership in the Chemical Weapons Convention since its Entry-Into-Force. In just the six years since I have been here, we have added 32 States Parties, with only ten states now remaining to ratify or accede, an accomplishment in no small part due to the tireless efforts of our Director-General. We warmly welcome the ratification of the Convention by The Republic of the Congo, Guinea Bissau, and most recently Lebanon, since our last Conference. We are very pleased that Iraq and the Bahamas are completing their internal procedures for accession and we look forward to both becoming States Parties to the Convention very soon. This is a particularly significant turning point for Iraq and we are proud of the Iraqi government’s decision to join the Convention, and the international community, in our mutual efforts to destroy and prevent the use of all chemical weapons everywhere.

It remains vitally important that the states remaining outside the Convention also accede so that the entire world can reap its benefits – a total ban on an entire class of weapons, the destruction of all existing chemical weapons, and the promotion of trade in chemicals and international cooperation in chemical activities not prohibited by the Convention. The essential goal of universality is within our grasp, but we must all continue to pursue the few states that have not yet joined the international community in ratifying this Convention. The United States, for its part, is doing what it can to work to with non-States Parties who are interested in joining the Convention.

The Second Review Conference also reaffirmed that the full and effective national implementation of the obligations under the Convention is essential for its realization. These obligations belong to each and every State Party in the Organization. It is encouraging to note that nearly all States Parties have designated a National Authority. We also note with appreciation that many countries are working on their implementing legislation, and we encourage their efforts in completing this obligation. Despite this progress, many States Parties still have not implemented domestic legislation covering all key areas of the Convention. This is an area that will require more attention and cooperation among States Parties in order to address legal shortcomings. As always, the Technical Secretariat and other States Parties, including the United States, stand ready to assist when needed.

During the Second Review Conference, and in all of the meetings of the Executive Council and the Conference of the States Parties, the complete destruction of chemical weapons and the conversion or destruction of Chemical Weapons Production Facilities have been stressed. Indeed, these are the central goals of the Convention. Whether in declared storage stockpiles and destruction facilities, or in old and abandoned munitions, wherever they are found, chemical weapons are a bane that we are working collectively to eliminate.We are heartened that Albania and A State Party have completed destruction of their chemical weapons stockpiles. This is a significant accomplishment and we gratefully offer our congratulations. It is also noteworthy that India is very near completing the destruction of its stockpile. Those of us who possess chemical weapons have special responsibilities to secure these weapons, to declare them, and to destroy them under international monitoring. Destruction by some possessor states, including the United States, has not been as rapid as any of us would wish, but it is relentlessly, relentlessly moving forward and gaining momentum. The inevitability of the scourge of chemical warfare being purged forever from our planet becomes more apparent with each and every weapon destroyed.

For our part, the United States, with the second-largest stockpile in the world, has destroyed over 56 percent of its chemical weapons and all of its binary chemical weapons – that is to say, all of the munitions, parts, components and chemicals associated with the most modern chemical weapons system ever developed by the United States. We have destroyed all of our former production facilities, completed operations at our Newport destruction facility, and have destroyed over 96 percent of our total stockpile of nerve agent. The United States understands our obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and we are fully committed to the complete destruction of our stockpiles as rapidly as possible. We have worked hard to eliminate the weapons of greatest risk first, and now continue with all deliberate speed to destroy the remainder as quickly and safely as possible.

The Executive Council’s visit to Russia’s Shchuchye facility in September provided an opportunity for representatives of the Council to observe the enormity and complexity of Russia’s ongoing destruction efforts. This visit, like the earlier one to the Anniston facility in the United States, is an important part of the series of exchanges which contribute to confidence building, and which demonstrate the commitment of the United States and the Russian Federation to the complete destruction of their stockpiles. We have invited the Executive Council to send a delegation to Pueblo, Colorado, and Umatilla, Oregon, during the first week of June 2009 for the next in this series of visits.

Mr. Chairman,

We face a number of important issues this week, the most critical being adoption of the Program of Work and Budget for 2009. Intensive consultations have been continuing on the budget, and we urge our colleagues on the Executive Council to come to agreement as quickly as possible in recommending the budget to this Conference. Due in part to the tough negotiations on this and other budget issues, I would like to offer my profound thanks to Martin Strub of Switzerland, who has patiently conducted consultations on the budget over the past several months.

Our other dedicated and tireless facilitators have also been engaged in ongoing consultations on Article VII implementation, Article X assistance and protection, improving Article XI programs, and Universality. We hope that as that work continues this week, we can achieve consensus on the decisions or report language relating to these important subjects during this Conference. Discussion of some of the issues under the industry cluster recently took on new life with new facilitators beginning consultations on the enhancement of declarations for Other Chemical Production Facilities and low concentration limits for Schedule 2A/2A* chemicals. I wish each and all of our facilitators success in their efforts to achieve consensus on these important issues.

Mr. Chairman,

As I plan my retirement and departure from The Hague, I beg your indulgence for a few final reflections on this remarkable institution of which we are all a part, the OPCW. The First and Second Review Conferences were last minute high wire acts from which we were fortunate both times not to trip and fall to failure. The next Review Conference and the final extended deadlines for destruction of chemical weapons will present exceedingly difficult issues for the future of this Organization. We need to move toward – and past -- 2012 and that next Review Conference with determination and the realization that there is much that all of us still have to do to ensure the continued success of the OPCW well into the future. We have faced difficult challenges many times in the past. Yet we have successfully resolved so many contentious issues that I remain confident that this Organization can continue to do so in the future.

All of us in the OPCW are multilateralists. Achieving excellence in the multilateral field is a shared enterprise in which each participant is indispensable. The underlying factor for our success is the ethos of consensus – that mutual devotion and commitment to come to agreements that everyone can accept and support. Consensus empowers all of us. Here everyone’s voice counts, and everyone is part of the group’s achievements. If our political bodies, the Executive Council and the Conference of the States Parties, turn to voting to resolve issues – and that is always possible -- I fear that this Organization will devolve into the factionalism, acrimony, and bitterness that we have seen so often in other international bodies.I am grateful to all my past and present colleagues for consistently choosing the consensus path through all of the years that I have been here, although it has not always been easy. It has required long hours and myriad discussions to hear all parties with interests in the issue, and it has required the commitment and creativity of leaders, facilitators, and delegates alike to find the solutions. The OPCW can reinforce that tradition and its strong record of achievement through the difficult challenges that lie ahead. My fervent hope is that all of you, and those that succeed you, will keep the flame alive and never waver in carrying on the exemplary tradition of hard work, consensus building, and success that has marked the OPCW as a unique and vital multilateral institution.

I will repeat what I have stated many times in different forums – the OPCW is truly a model of effective multilateral diplomacy.

I bid each of you a very, very fond farewell, with my thanks for the unflagging cooperation so generously extended to our delegation. I will always treasure the professional and personal friendships made here at the OPCW that so have enriched my life.

I would like to request that this statement be circulated as an official document of the 13th Session of the Conference of States Parties.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Released on December 29, 2008

US State Dept Statement on Somalia: President Yusuf's Resignation

Press Statement
Gordon K. Duguid, Acting Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 29, 2008

Somalia: President Yusuf's Resignation

We support and respect President Yusuf’s decision to resign as President of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and welcome his commitment to continue supporting the Djibouti peace process. We acknowledge President Yusuf’s contributions to long-term peace and stability in Somalia. In accordance with Article 45 of the Transitional Federal Charter, Parliament should act expeditiously to select a new President within 30 days.

We urge Parliamentary Speaker Madoobe, Prime Minister Nur Adde, and the leaders of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) to intensify efforts to achieve a government of national unity and to enhance security through formation of a joint security force. The United States will provide $5 million to support the formation of such a joint security force.

We also take this opportunity to emphasize our support for the strengthening of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and for the rapid authorization and deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force.


Released on December 29, 2008

From Hawaii regarding President-elect Obama's visit with the Marines

From Here... By Scott Johnson
Powerline Blog, December 29, 2008 at 8:16 AM

A reader writes from Hawaii regarding President-elect Obama's visit with the Marines:

I'm an active duty naval officer stationed in Pearl Harbor. I was there for the president-elect's appearance. The crowd was respectful, as you might expect from today's professional Marines.

The reception was a short photo-op kind of thing. Couple of quick turns around the tables and he was gone.

What was of more interest, at least to me, were the conversations after he left. Many Marines expressed concern that they will be out of Iraq before it's prudent. These are 3rd Regiment Marines, who have been in heavy rotation in Iraq for the past 3-4 years; many are returning from their 3rd tour and will be heading out on their 4th presently.

Being Marines, they want the Army to hold Iraq so they can go to Afghanistan and work on solving that problem. What they don't want is a retreat or a hollow residual force that masks a retreat. They know Iraq is on weak legs now and it will need a strong US presence for at least a decade.

Hope the P-E knows that too.

Huffington Post: No Time to Back Away from Access to Higher Ed

No Time to Back Away from Access to Higher Ed. By Michael Roth
Huffington Post, December 29, 2008 03:49 PM (EST)

Charles Murray's op-ed piece in Saturday's New York TImes has a core idea that is unobjectionable: job credentials should be based on what you can do and not where you went to school. This appeals to a core democratic value: success should be based on merit rather than identity or family background. We want to promote excellence, and we want to do so on the basis of equality not pedigree. But the Harvard and MIT educated Murray goes beyond this in arguing that most people just could never do "genuine" college level work.
"For most of the nation's youths, making the bachelor's degree a job qualification means demanding a credential that is beyond their reach. It is a truth that politicians and educators cannot bring themselves to say out loud: A large majority of young people do not have the intellectual ability to do genuine college-level work.

If you doubt it, go back and look through your old college textbooks, and then do a little homework on the reading ability of high school seniors. About 10 percent to 20 percent of all 18-year-olds can absorb the material in your old liberal arts textbooks. For engineering and the hard sciences, the percentage is probably not as high as 10.

No improvements in primary and secondary education will do more than tweak those percentages. The core disciplines taught at a true college level are tough, requiring high levels of linguistic and logical-mathematical ability. Those abilities are no more malleable than athletic or musical talent."

While Barack Obama is calling for more investment in higher education, including support for community colleges that provide wide access to post-secondary learning, Dr. Murray would have us return to the days when colleges and universities were either finishing schools for the rich or hot houses for the cultivation of only the 'real geniuses.'

Dr. Murray's analogy to athletic or musical talent is telling, but not in the way that he intends. Sure, most of our nation's youth will never be able to shoot a basketball like Ray Allen or throw a football like the Manning brothers. But does this mean we should make sports participation available only to those who have the potential to play at the professional level? Would Dr. Murray say, since musical talent isn't evenly distributed across the population and most will never play and instrument like Winton Marsalis, that we should give up on getting people to participate in choirs, bands and orchestras?

One of the great virtues of America's universities and colleges is that they provide educational opportunities to those who want to appreciate and understand works of art, technology and science, as well as to people who will go on to advance these fields with their own original work. Universities and colleges offer students an opportunity to acquire literacy concerning the sciences and economics, to develop a framework for understanding literature and politics. The multiple modes of access to higher education must be preserved and enhanced. I work at one of the highly selective universities that is expensive but that also has enough financial aid to make it possible for talented students to attend - regardless of their ability to pay. I've also taught at a large public university with huge lecture halls, and a small private art college where one learns by making. Giving Americans a multiplicity of higher education opportunities helps to create a more informed citizenry and a culture and economy more capable of thoughtful innovation. From the community colleges across the country to the large land grant universities, from the state universities to the residential liberal art schools, American institutions of higher education provide access to learning and promote achievement at the highest levels.

This is exactly the wrong time to give up on the goal of access to a college education that combines breadth with focused competence. But in order to make this goal a reality we will have to do a much better job of making secondary education meaningful for more of our young people. We will have to ensure that they acquire basic math, science, and reading skills, as well as inspiring in them a taste for cultural participation. That is a tall order, but it is a challenge worthy of our ambitions for equality as well as for excellence.

“Forecasting the Future of Hurricanes” by Anna Barratt In Nature

“Forecasting the Future of Hurricanes” by Anna Barratt In Nature. By Roger Pielke Sr.
Climate Science, December 29, 2008 7:00 am

There was a recent Nature news article
Barratt, A., 2008: Forecasting the future of hurricanes. Nature News. Published online December 11, 2008. doi:10.1038/news.2008.1298.
The article is titled

A meteorologist’s new model zooms in on how climate change affects Atlantic
storms. by Anna Barnett

“The world’s most advanced simulation of extreme weather on a warming Earth completed its first run on 5 December. Greg Holland at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, is leading the project, which nests detailed regional forecasts into a model of global climate change up to the mid-21st century. Under the model’s microscope are future hurricane seasons in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, along with rainfall over the Rocky Mountains and wind patterns in the Great Plains.”

This type of article perpetuates the myth that the climate science community currently has the capability to make skilled regional multi-decadal predictions [in this case of hurricane activity]. Such claims to not conform even to the statements by IPCC authors.

For example, see An Essay “The IPCC Report: What The Lead Authors Really Think” By Ann Henderson-Sellers where she reports that

“The rush to emphasize regional climate does not have a scientifically sound

Even Kevin Trenberth, one of the Lead IPCC authors, has written (see)

“the science is not done because we do not have reliable or regional predictions
of climate.” [see the Climate Science posting on the Trenberth essay - Comment on the Nature Weblog By Kevin Trenberth Entitled “Predictions of climate”.]
The Nature article Forecasting the future of hurricanes is yet another example of not critically and objectively assessing claims made by climate scientists. What ever happened to objective journalism in Nature?

Cato's Cannon On Health Coverage Costs

Avoiding health-care chaos, by Michael Cannon
The Washington Times, Sunday, December 28, 2008

To hear the media tell it, comprehensive health care reform is a done deal. Democrats control both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Business, labor and the insurance industry are on board. The lion has lain down with the lamb.

In reality, reform could crater for the same reasons it did in 1994: The leading Democratic plans include radical changes that would tax and disrupt the health care of millions. With a minimum price tag of $120 billion, universal health insurance coverage will require taxing the middle class during a recession, further expanding a $1 trillion deficit, or having the government deny medical care to patients. An estimated 30 million Americans would lose their current coverage under Barack Obama's plan. Millions could lose established relationships with their doctors.

Today's love-fest will quickly descend into a bloodbath once the lions make their intentions clear.
The carnage would mount over time. The leading plans would cost lives by effectively nationalizing health insurance and impeding innovations that make medicine better, cheaper and safer.

Republicans, centrist Democrats, and independents must protect Americans from the worst elements of those proposals. That means drawing three lines in the sand. Any proposal that crosses one of the following lines should be stopped. Not watered down. Not enacted and fixed later. Killed.

(1) No government-run health care for the middle class.

Echoing the Left's rallying cry of "Medicare for all," Mr. Obama proposes a Medicare-like option for everyone under age 65. Others endorse variants on that theme.

Medicare is an unwise model for reform. When private health plans and providers try to meet the glaring need for electronic medical records, coordinated care, and medical-error reduction, Medicare's change-resistant payment system punishes them for doing so. That discourages innovation and costs lives.

The average family of four pays $5,200 in taxes to fund Medicare, only to have Medicare waste one third of it (about $1,700) on services that do nothing to make seniors healthier or happier. That's a pure income transfer to providers of $150 billion - roughly the entire economic output of South Carolina. Diverting those resources from more productive uses, such as covering the uninsured, costs lives.

The Left's plans could cost additional lives by letting government bureaucrats decide who gets medical care. Merely providing current-law benefits under Medicare and other programs will require Congress to double income taxes by midcentury. Since Americans are not likely to tolerate rates that high, at some point Congress will be forced to limit Medicare spending.

The Left's idea of limiting Medicare spending is to have bureaucrats tell Mom she cannot have the cancer treatment she wants. Obama & Co. propose taxpayer-funded research that will help Medicare do just that. Expanding government health programs will hasten the day that government rations medical care to seniors.

Finally, a public plan would pay providers less than private insurance. Patients switching to public coverage may therefore find that their doctor can no longer see them, just as Medicare enrollees are having an increasingly difficult time finding primary care physicians.

(2) No mandates.

You cannot improve a bad product by forcing people to buy it. But you can make it worse. Mandating that people purchase health insurance - on their own or through an employer - will increase its cost and oust millions from their current source of coverage.

Mr. Obama's employer mandate could force 80 million Americans to switch from their current health plan to a more expensive one, threatening their current source of care. Premiums would climb further as providers and other special interests demand that Congress mandate coverage of their services. As premiums rise, more people will require government subsidies to comply with the mandate.

(3) No price controls.

Price controls have failed in every application throughout history, including health insurance.
Economists find that free markets provide secure health insurance to lots of sick people, and that forcing insurers to charge the same premiums to healthy and sick people offers no improvement. Instead, such premium controls encourage insurers to avoid the sick, and encourage healthy people to avoid insurance altogether.

Premium controls may even cost you your health plan. In the health insurance "exchanges" of the federal government, Harvard University and the University of California, premium controls forced carriers to eliminate comprehensive insurance options.

Taken together, mandates and premium controls would effectively socialize private health insurance. They would eliminate both low-cost and comprehensive insurance options, and slowly march everyone into a narrow range of health plans. If government controls the decision to purchase, what you purchase, and the price, that is government-run health care.

Holding the line against socialized medicine won't be easy, but it can be done. Blocking new public programs will be easiest thanks to industry opposition. According to one report, "Hospitals and doctors fear another public program would reduce what they are paid, as Medicare and Medicaid have done. Insurers worry they could lose customers to the government."

Mandates and price controls will be harder to stop, since the industry and certain struggling employers would love to use those measures to hurt their competitors or otherwise pad their bottom lines. The health insurance lobby, for example, is all too happy to force you to buy health insurance.

Fortunately, opponents have many arrows in their quiver. Mandates are anathema to most employers. Working families will resist being ousted from their current health plan and forced into one that's more expensive or that won't let them see their family doctor. Mandates would give Congress the power to force Americans to fund contraception and abortion, which will mobilize social conservatives.

The Left has been adding arrows to the quiver, too. Mr. Obama himself attacked Hillary Clinton for wanting to "force uninsured people to buy insurance." His prospective National Economic Council chairman, Larry Summers, describes employer mandates as "disguised tax and expenditure measures" that increase unemployment, work against the very people they purport to help, and expand the size of government. Obama campaign adviser David Cutler documented the effect of premium controls on coverage choices at Harvard.

The most important arrow in the quiver may be the self-interest of the Republican Party. Bill Clinton demonstrated that the most effective way to block tax cuts is to paint them as an assault on your health care. Twenty-eight percent of Americans already depend on government for health insurance. If that share grows, whether through government programs or subsidies for "private" coverage, we can start writing obituaries for the party of tax cuts.

An intolerable status quo is no excuse for making things worse. The center-right needs to mobilize now to stop left-wing Democrats from taking another large leap toward socialized medicine.

Michael F. Cannon is director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute and coauthor of "Healthy Competition: What's Holding Back Health Care and How to Free It."

Higher-ed Spending Is Not the Answer

Higher-ed Spending Not the Answer, by Neal McCluskey
This article appeared in the Baltimore Sun on December 17, 2008

Despite conventional wisdom - and the huge higher education spending increase just proposed for Maryland - giving academia more public bucks is not the path to economic success.

The cries for more money have certainly been abundant. In October, the New America Foundation's Michael Dannenberg declared that states should deficit spend on higher ed to keep tuitions low and economies running. In November, the Center for Studies in Higher Education implored Washington to fight recession by spending big on scholars. This month, the College Board, National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, and National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education all decried states' tight outlays.

Finally, on Wednesday, a commission chaired by Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., a St. Mary's County Democrat, proposed that Maryland expend an additional $760 million on its ivory towers to keep the state competitive.

But colleges, despite their claims, are not great growth-makers. Yes, individuals with college degrees tend to do better than those without, but that doesn't mean forced higher ed spending is an economic good.

For one thing, we put more people into universities than can benefit from them. Nationally, about one-third of college students need remedial work (Maryland's rate is roughly the same) and many never graduate. In fact, the six-year graduation rate for all bachelor's students is just 56 percent.

But isn't the problem that college prices keep rising, forcing students to work when they should be learning? And isn't that rooted in ever-skimpier state support?

It's true that prices have ballooned. According to the College Board, nationally the inflation-adjusted costs of tuition, fees, room, and board have risen about 52 percent at public four-year schools over the last 15 years, going from $9,460 to $14,340. Four-year private schools have seen a 42 percent price leap, from $24,060 to $34,130.

But shrinking public funds aren't to blame. For one thing, state appropriations have little impact on private institutions. For another, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers, nationwide the nearly three-decade trend is essentially flat. And, between 1992 and 2007, real (inflation-adjusted) state and local government expenditures per student in Maryland increased roughly 23 percent.

So, what accounts for rampant tuition inflation? Many things, but one of the biggest is student aid. Nationally, real sticker prices rose 52 percent at public four-year institutions between 1993 and 2008, but the increase was a more modest 35 percent after accounting for grants and tax benefits such as credits and deductions - essentially free money. At private institutions, the after-free-cash increase was 34 percent. And those numbers ignore cheap federal loans, which after adjusting for inflation grew from $2,830 per pupil in 1993 to $4,841 in 2007.

Of course, all this forced largesse might be worth something if it actually strengthened the economy. But there is evidence it doesn't. Economist Richard Vedder has isolated the effects of higher ed spending and found that the more states spend, the lower their rates of economic growth.

Why is this? In part, it's a function of the bureaucratic inefficiencies - and special-interest payoffs - that accompany almost anything government does. More fundamentally, taxpayers know their needs better than anyone else, and when they can keep their money attend to them more effectively than does the ivory tower.

Scholars and politicians might not like to hear these things. But before the state drops three-quarters of a billion dollars on its universities, they're worth considering.

Neal McCluskey is associate director of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom and author of Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples, and Compromises American Education.

Changing the tone in Washington is easier said than done

Rich's Derangement Syndrome, by Peter Wehner
The Corner/NRO, Monday, December 29, 2008

Frank Rich is perhaps the most reliably splenetic op-ed writer in America. He is chronically disenchanted, seemingly happiest when seething, and always in search of people to demonize. To put it another way: He is the print version of Keith Olbermann. Rich’s latest column criticizing Rick Warren, then, is par for the course. But it also illustrates something else, and something important, Barack Obama will find out soon enough. Changing the tone in Washington is easier said than done.

George W. Bush came to Washington hoping to do the same thing, and he had reason to be hopeful. As governor of Texas he worked well with Democrats and had no real stake in the bitter partisan battles of the 1990s. As president, Bush himself, if not perfect, was consistently civil and did not engage in personal attacks against his critics. That is in part because Bush is himself a man of admirable grace. Yet the president became a polarizing figure, hated by the Left, and gave rise to a politico-psychological phenomenon: Bush Derangement Syndrome. It turned out President Bush could control what he said, but he couldn’t control what others said about him.

My sense is that like Bush, Obama is a man of core decency. But sometimes even a president, driven by the best of intentions, cannot alter certain habits of mind and heart, or other people’s rage.

It turns out that some people in politics are perpetually angry. Their opposition to certain policies quickly and easily transmutes into the politics of personal destruction. And the dust-up over Rick Warren is evidence that contrary to the conventional wisdom, more than a few liberals have an investment in fueling the “culture wars.” They are even intent on ensuring that Obama’s inauguration becomes the latest battlefield in that clash. Obama, in trying to build a symbolic early bridge to conservative evangelicals, has been unable to keep his supporters from adding to the divisions in our nation.

It should be added that political divisions and acrimony are part of American history and typical of politics in almost every other nation. Political debates often ignite passionate feelings. And comity in politics, while certainly something worth striving for, is not the highest good in politics. Pursuing justice and advancing human dignity are more important — and sometimes championing justice and human dignity can create deep divisions within a society. Think of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and Ronald Reagan, to name just three of the more polarizing figures in American history.

In any event, Barack Obama remains a wildly popular figure among liberals. Yet one can sense how the unease they have about his Cabinet picks increased with Obama’s choice to have the Reverend Warren participate in his inauguration. Even before Obama has taken the oath of office, unalloyed joy has given way to a very slight but detectable fear: Obama isn’t going to be the embodiment of all of their hopes (and fury). As those concerns harden, they will begin to lay out their demands, which they will insist be met.

In addition, important Democratic figures like Barney Frank are making it clear that he will pursue politics his way, regardless of what Obama might like. Based on his comments, Representative Frank seems to view Obama as naive and far too confident of his capacity to change how politics in practiced in Washington. I suspect there are many other veteran Democrats on Capitol Hill who are not going to march in lock-step with Obama, even assuming he wants to change the nature of political discourse in America.

If Obama can succeed in his effort, more power to him. But I suspect the road ahead is fraught with far more obstacles than he imagined. And if the tone of politics does markedly improve in the next four years, it will be in large measure because Republicans decided to treat America’s 44th president with more civility and class than Democrats treated America’s 43rd president. I hope Republicans do, for the sake of our politics and our country.

Is There a Relationship between Guns and Freedom? Comparative Results from 59 Nations

Kopel, David B., Moody, Carlisle E. and Nemerov, Howard: Is There a Relationship between Guns and Freedom? Comparative Results from 59 Nations (December 23, 2008).
Texas Review of Law and Politics, Vol. 13.
Available at SSRN: http://

There are 59 nations for which data about per capita gun ownership are available. This Article examines the relationship between gun density and several measures of freedom and prosperity: the Freedom House ratings of political rights and civil liberty, the Transparency International Perceived Corruption Index, the World Bank Purchasing Power Parity ratings, and the Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom. The data suggest that the relationships between gun ownership rates and these other measures are complex. The data show that (although exceptions can be found) the nations with the highest rates of gun ownership tend to have greater political and civil freedom, greater economic freedom and prosperity, and much less corruption than other nations. The relationship only exists for high-ownership countries. Countries with medium rates of gun density generally scored no better or worse than countries with the lowest levels of per capita gun ownership.

Article can be requested from Bipartisan Alliance.

CBO's Orszag, now Obama's budget chief, and health coverage costs

Orszag's Health Warning
Obama's budget chief delivers a reality check on costs
WSJ, Dec 28, 2008, 10:11 P.M. ET

Democrats are gearing up for a new run at health care next year, which is another way of saying that it's an arms race to promise the most while disguising the costs. So when the expensive realities of "universal" coverage somehow intrude, taxpayers can't afford to let those moments disappear down the Beltway memory hole.

The most recent such moment comes courtesy of Peter Orszag, the former head of the Congressional Budget Office. CBO is the shop responsible for estimating how much legislation will cost the government, and recently it released two important reports on health-care financing that should hit Democrats like a cinderblock, assuming they read them. The executive summary for busy politicians is that liberal health reforms will be extremely costly, while measures intended to "save" money won't even come close to the promises. None of this will come as a revelation anywhere besides Capitol Hill.

Even so, this skepticism is notable because Mr. Orszag has since left CBO to become Barack Obama's budget director. Mr. Orszag's useful work on the unchecked growth of U.S. health spending, especially entitlements, ought to put the cost issue at the center of the 2009 debate. CBO expects government outlays on Medicare and Medicaid to rise as a share of the economy to 6% from 4.2% in a decade -- to $1.4 trillion, or nearly 30% of the entire federal budget -- and eventually ruin federal solvency. If costs grow on pace, U.S. medical spending will rise to 25% of GDP in 2025 from 17% today.

The liberal solution to this looming catastrophe is to add even more obligations. The insurance program for children that Democrats plan to expand in January will cost an extra $80 billion over the next 10 years. Preventing automatic cuts in the reimbursement fees that doctors receive for treating Medicare patients -- as Congress does every few years -- runs to $556 billion.

Those are nothing compared to the centerpiece of the universal health-care agenda -- a "public option" to provide government insurance for Americans of all ages and incomes. In one scenario, CBO finds that allowing the nonpoor to buy into Medicaid would have net costs of $7.8 billion over the next decade. If that sounds like pocket change, keep in mind that Democrats want to make both the public option and private insurance less expensive for beneficiaries by transferring the extra costs onto the government. Just one subsidy plan CBO examined would run to $65.5 billion by 2019. Having the government assume responsibility for high-cost claims would hit $752 billion.

CBO rolls through 115 of these reform options -- and it quickly becomes evident why even Democrats concede that their new health programs will cost $150 billion or even $200 billion per year. The real numbers will be higher. Keep in mind, too, that these are new recurring obligations, not one-time spending like (presumably) the financial bailout. They're politically unrepealable programs that will remain for decades.

Democrats, including Mr. Obama, suggest that covering everyone under a government plan will reduce costs through efficiency. Not according to CBO. It notes that there are "difficult trade-offs between the objectives of expanding insurance coverage and controlling both federal and total costs for health care." CBO also finds that programs designed to trim costs, such as health information technology or comparative effectiveness research, will produce only modest savings.

Mr. Orszag is a centrist liberal, and he supports reforms intended to squeeze waste out of the health markets. But to his credit at CBO he didn't ignore the data. Many Democrats (and a few Republicans) are glad that he's departing and are searching for a CBO replacement who will "score" their bills more favorably. The best outcome would be if Mr. Orszag manages to introduce some health-care sobriety to the Obama White House.

TNYT Editorial On Mr Obama's Labor Agenda

The Labor Agenda
TNYT Editorial, December 29, 2008

There is no doubt that President-elect Barack Obama has chosen a labor secretary who could be a transformative force in a long-neglected arena. The question is whether he will let her.

Hilda Solis, a United States representative from Southern California, is the daughter of immigrant parents with union jobs. She has been an unfailing advocate of workers’ rights during eight years in Congress and before that, in California politics.

Ms. Solis has been a leader on traditional workplace issues, like a higher minimum wage and an enhanced right to form unions. She also has helped to expand the labor agenda by sponsoring legislation to create jobs in green technology, and in her support for community health workers and immigration reform.

Her record in Congress dovetails with the mission of the Labor Department, to protect and further the rights and opportunities of working people. It also dovetails with many of the promises Mr. Obama made during the campaign, both in its specifics and in its focus on the needs of America’s working families.

The main issue is whether the Obama administration will assert a forceful labor agenda in the face of certain protests from business that now — during a recession — is not the time to move forward.

The first and biggest test of Mr. Obama’s commitment to labor, and to Ms. Solis, will be his decision on whether or not to push the Employee Free Choice Act in 2009. Corporate America is determined to derail the bill, which would make it easier than it has been for workers to form unions by requiring that employers recognize a union if a majority of employees at a workplace sign cards indicating they wish to organize.

Ms. Solis voted for the bill when it passed the House in 2007. Senate Republicans prevented the bill from coming to a vote that same year. Mr. Obama voted in favor of bringing the bill to the Senate floor and supported it during the campaign.

The measure is vital legislation and should not be postponed. Even modest increases in the share of the unionized labor force push wages upward, because nonunion workplaces must keep up with unionized ones that collectively bargain for increases. By giving employees a bigger say in compensation issues, unions also help to establish corporate norms, the absence of which has contributed to unjustifiable disparities between executive pay and rank-and-file pay.

The argument against unions — that they unduly burden employers with unreasonable demands — is one that corporate America makes in good times and bad, so the recession by itself is not an excuse to avoid pushing the bill next year. The real issue is whether enhanced unionizing would worsen the recession, and there is no evidence that it would.

There is a strong argument that the slack labor market of a recession actually makes unions all the more important. Without a united front, workers will have even less bargaining power in the recession than they had during the growth years of this decade, when they largely failed to get raises even as productivity and profits soared. If pay continues to lag, it will only prolong the downturn by inhibiting spending.

Another question clouding the labor agenda is whether Mr. Obama will give equal weight to worker concerns — from reforming health care to raising the minimum wage — while the financial crisis is still playing out. Most members of his economic team are veterans of the Clinton administration who tilt toward Wall Street. In the Clinton era, financial issues routinely trumped labor concerns. If Mr. Obama’s campaign promises are to be kept, that mindset cannot prevail again. Mr. Obama’s creation of a task force on middle-class issues, to be led by Vice President-elect Joseph Biden and including Ms. Solis and other high-ranking officials, is an encouraging sign that labor issues will not be given short shrift.

There are many nonlegislative issues on the agenda for Ms. Solis. Safety standards must be updated: in the last eight years, the Labor Department has issued only one new safety rule of its own accord; it issued a few others only after being compelled by Congress or the courts. Overtime rules that were weakened in 2004 need to be restored. To enforce labor standards, the Labor Department will need more staff and more money, both of which have been cut deeply by President Bush.

Only the president can give the new labor secretary the clout she will need to do well at a job that has been done so badly for so long, at such great cost to the quality of Americans’ lives.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

In "The National Interest": Flight of the Neocons

Flight of the Neocons, by Jacob Heilbrunn
The National Interest, Dec 19, 2008

It can’t be quite called a victory lap because the victories have been too scarce and the defeats too prominent. Instead, President Bush’s remarks at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on Thursday left the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank marveling at the transformation of a president who, he observed, “seems to be a walking confession booth.” Bush’s appearance was part of his attempt to shape his legacy and restore his reputation by projecting a more accommodating, thoughtful image than that of the imperious Decider.

But it also marked a return to the think tank that provided a good deal of the intellectual firepower for his administration. Like Bush, however, the think tank itself seems to be undergoing some changes that are causing consternation in the ranks of neoconservatives. Just as Bush veered more toward the center in his second term on foreign policy, so AEI appears to be attenuating its commitment to the neoconservative credo. The neocon world has been rocked by recent events at AEI. Numerous neocons told me that a vicious purge is being carried out at AEI, spearheaded by vice-president for foreign and defense policy studies, Danielle Pletka.

There can be no doubting that change is afoot at AEI. Recently, Michael Ledeen and Reuel Marc Gerecht have departed AEI. Joshua Muravchik is on the way out as well. Other scholars face possible eviction. Both Muravchik and Gerecht are serious intellectuals who have published prolifically. Muravchik has never been as unbridled in his writings as some other neocons. To put it another way, he does nuance. As the Soviet Union was collapsing, for example, he wrote an article stating that perhaps Mikhail Gorbachev was a Menshevik even as other neocons such as Norman Podhoretz condemned Gorbachev. Muravchik’s main mission has been to forward the democracy crusade. His first book criticized the human-rights policy of the Carter administration. His anticommunist views put him out of fashion in the Democratic Party and he never secured a position in the Clinton administration. I myself do not agree with his current endorsement of bombing Iran, but a recent piece in World Affairs, in which he gave a guarded endorsement to President Bush’s foreign policy, underscored that he is not simply a cheerleader for the administration.

Muravchik has been at AEI for two decades. Gerecht has been there for a much briefer period, but he has written extensively and provocatively on intelligence matters. Gerecht is currently at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which, along with the Hudson Institute, where Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, “Scooter” Libby and Douglas J. Feith are fellows, seems to functioning as something of a safe haven for neocons.

What do these developments actually add up to? They undoubtedly signal a splintering taking place in the neocon world. Pletka has been closely identified with neocon positions on Iraq and Iran. But now there is tremendous hostility toward her among neocons, who allege that, as a former staffer for Jesse Helms, who embodied more traditional Republican foreign-policy precepts, she is out to extirpate neocon influence at AEI. In this version of events, Muravchik was ousted for not being a true Republican. It would be very unfortunate if that were the real cause. What the conservative movement needs is ferment, not an ideological straitjacket—something that neocons have themselves sometimes tried to enforce.

The neocon movement will survive these changes. It will continue to stir up debate. Its real misfortune was to be able to exert power in the Bush administration, where officials such as Paul Wolfowitz and Feith made a hash of things. The notion of a liberated Iraq being the first freedom domino to fall in the greater Middle East was always a pipe dream. The strength of the neocons is to generate ideas, but whether they should actually be implemented is often another matter.

If neocon influence really is on the wane at AEI, however, it would signal the end of its domination over the think tank over the past several decades. Like Bush, AEI may be on the verge of trying to reinvent itself. The change that Obama promised during the campaign seems to be reaching Washington in unexpected places.

Jacob Heilbrunn is a senior editor at The National Interest.