Jacob Heilbrunn

Newt Gingrich (Sort Of) Abandons Neoconservatism

Jacob Heilbrunn

It may not amount to a political earthquake, but it is a sign of the tremors shaking up the GOP. Newt Gingrich is having a change of heart. The longtime champion of American intervention abroad says he's rethinking matters. His foreign policy views are continuing to evolve away from neoconservatism and towards the more libertarian wing of the party—to the point that he opposes American intervention in Syria.

Gingrich told the Washington Times, "I am a neoconservative. But at some point, even if you are a neoconservative, you need to take a deep breath to ask if our strategies in the Middle East have succeeded." He went on to utter an even more heretical thought, at least in neocon circles. "It may be that our capacity to export democracy," Gingrich said, "is a lot more limited than we thought."

At this late date, these statements are unexceptional, even banal. The public long ago wrote off these wars. It is a small coterie of defense intellectuals, pundits, and politicians in the GOP who have clung to the notion that if there was a flaw in the Bush administration's approach to the Middle East, it was only in the execution, not the theory. One reason Gingrich's musings are exciting interest is, of course, because of the GOP's longstanding refusal to confront the woeful outcomes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The party line has been to blame President Obama for not prosecuting those conflicts more aggressively, for squandering the victories that were within sight, for ignoring the triumphant legacy that George W. Bush had left behind for his successor.

Another reason is that Gingrich has explicitly indicated that the ideas of Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul deserve a hearing. "I think it would be healthy to go back and wargame what alternative strategies would have been better, and I like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul because they are talking about this," said Gingrich.

What lies behind Gingrich's change of heart? For one thing, he's making it clear that he remains a foe of the GOP establishment, and that he sees New Jersey governor Chris Christie's assault on Rand Paul as a sign of how "hysterical" it is becoming. Gingrich has always been someone who stands on the ramparts, a counterrevolutionary. In the context of today's GOP, in which neocon orthodoxy has long held sway, the only way to distinguish yourself is by challenging the idea that America must intervene abroad, wherever and whenever it can.

But there may be more to it than that. It is also the case that Gingrich has long had an astute sense for the pulse of the GOP. He may well believe—and his belief may be justified—that the party is at a turning point when it comes to examining its stands on foreign policy. The GOP has yet to undertake a real reckoning with the policies of the George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. It's reflexive stance has been to assail Obama for not adhering to them even more closely. But as Obama's second term continues, Republican legislators may feel increasingly liberated from the albatross of the Bush-Cheney years to reassess their legacy. Is it really the case that Obama has been soft on terror? Or has he, in fact, clung too closely to the doctrines of Bush and Cheney when it comes to civil liberties and monitoring Americans for terrorist activity? Are the very antiterror measures touted by Bush and Cheney, and continued by Obama, undermining the liberties and freedoms they purport to protect?

Gingrich's remarks are a further sign that the old consensus in the GOP is fraying. Whether a sustained reassessment of foreign policy will occur or whether the GOP will simply devolve into recriminations is an open question. But it is clear that none of the fulgurations of Christie and others will be able to avert a clash over foreign affairs. Quite the contrary. Their chest-thumping will only accelerate it.

Image: Flickr/Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0.

TopicsHumanitarian Intervention RegionsUnited States

From Russia With Love: Snowden Gets Asylum

Jacob Heilbrunn

With its decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum, Russia is once again demonstrating its independence from America and handing a big victory to WikiLeaks. The Obama administration has gone into overdrive to attempt to capture Snowden, promising Moscow that Snowden would neither be tortured nor subjected to the death penalty if he is returned. But in the wake of the treatment of Bradley Manning, who was apparently subjected to prolonged isolation and other maltreatment, those promises are necessary but hardly sufficient. America's track record when it comes to dealing with dissent—for that is what Snowden represents—is a parlous one, from the incarceration of Eugene Debs during World War I to the latest batch of whistleblowers. So Moscow has blown a giant raspberry at President Obama.

The problem is really of his own making. The appropriate response to Snowden would have been to promise him immunity from prosecution and allow him to return to America, where he could have testified to Congress. From a practical standpoint, the administration would have been better off with Snowden in America rather than back in Russia, where he can dribble out embarrassing information. Everything that Snowden has said appears to be accurate. The latest revelation concerns a computer program called XKeyscore that is one more step towards the omnicompetent state. It permits government officials to snoop wherever and whenever they please, to trawl through your internet activities, chats, emails, and so on. The indispensable James Bamford, writing in the New York Review of Books, reports that "with the arrival of the Obama administration, the NSA's powers continued to expand at the same time that administration officials and the NSA continued to deceive the American public on the extent of the spying."

So far, Snowden is on a roll. The Washington Post notes today that "Obama administration officials faced deepening political skepticism Wednesday about a far-reaching counterterrorism program that collects millions of Americans' phone records, even as they released newly declassified documents in an attempt to spotlight privacy safeguards." Indeed they do. Apart from the privacy questions, there is also the one of practicality, as Senate Judiciary Committee head Patrick Leahy made abundatly clear in questioning NSA officials yesterday. How effective are these programs? Do they testify more to bureaucratic aggrandizement than common sense? What confidence does anyone have that the NSA is able to use this massive amount of information in a clear and coherent fashion that promotes American national security? Little of this would be occurring absent Snowden's release of documents about the NSA's activities. Instead, the Obama administration would continue stealthily to assemble information about the activities of American citizens.

What will become of Snowden? He can go live in a dacha outside Moscow and surf the internet to his heart's content. He could even live the life of an Oblomov, putting off everything until another day. But his father says he is an avid reader and he could employ himself learning Russian and steeping himself in the classics, as the New York Times suggests—"His Russian lawyer earlier this week left him a shopping bag with books by Dostoyevsky, Chekhov and Nikolai Karamzin to help him learn about Russian reality." In the meantime, his father's lawyer Bruce Fein might be able to reach an accommodation with the Obama administration that would allow Snowden to return to America without facing draconian punishment for his actions. The frenzied hunt for Snowden is itself further evidence of the misplaced priorities of the American intelligence services.

Image: Flickr/Thierry Ehrmann. CC BY 2.0.

TopicsCivil Society

GOP Fight Club: Christie vs. Paul

Jacob Heilbrunn

Welcome to the GOP fight club. It's becoming increasingly apparent that a debate is brewing in the Republican party over foreign policy, one that will not be conducted politely over brandy and cigars in an oak-lined room but, rather, with knuckledusters. The latest sign was the dustup between New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Senator Rand Paul. Christie, in an effort to burnish his conservative credentials, which came into some contention when he became palsy-walsy with President Obama at the finish line of the 2012 presidential race, to the consternation of many on the right, has voiced his own disquiet at what he sees as backpedaling by the GOP about the battle against terrorism.

At an Aspen Institute forum, Christie said that libertarians such as Rand Paul are endangering American national security: “This strain of libertarianism that’s going through parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought."

Now Paul is striking back.

On Monday Paul said to Sean Hannity on Fox News,

It’s really, I think, kind of sad and cheap that he would use the cloak of 9/11 victims and say, I’m the only one who cares about these victims. Hogwash. If he cared about protecting this country, maybe he wouldn’t be in this "give me, give me, give me all of the money" that you have in Washington or don’t have and he would be more fiscally responsive and know the way we defend our country.

This debate is overdue. It gets to the core of what amounts to an identity crisis for the GOP. This past Sunday the New York Times featured a piece of mine that reviewed two excellent books—Those Angry Days by Lynne Olson and 1940 by Susan Dunn—on the debate over isolationism in the 1930s over entry into World War II. The historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., said that the debabte over intervention was the "most savage political debate in my lifetime," even more impassioned than ones over McCarthyism and the Vietnam War. Many on the left were opposed to intervention because they felt burned by the outcome of World War I when Woodrow Wilson promised the war to end all wars. Instead, the punitive Treaty of Versailles, which laid the groundwork for a new one, was the result. On the right a number of figures such as Charles Lindbergh became admirers of the Nazi movement. The Wall Street Journal stated in June 1940 that Hitler had "already determined the broad lines of our national life for at least another generation" and that there was no point in trying to challenge him. Fortunately, Franklin Roosevelt saw it differently.

Yet the debate over intervention was not entirely stilled within the GOP. After World War II the Robert Taft wing of the party was opposed to entangling alliances abroad such as NATO. Schlesinger, in an illuminating essay in the Atlantic in 1952, distinguished between left and right isolationism. Schlesinger argued that left isolationism was rooted in idealism about America, that it should serve as a model for the world. On the right he diagnosed a fear of the old world—the belief that America would become corrupted by its dark mores: "An image of Europe began to haunt the isolationist consciousness—an image of a dark and corrupt continent, teeming with insoluble feuds, interminable antagonisms; senseless and malevolent wars. Europe was morally and politically diseased and scabrous; and contact with it would bring the risk of fatal infection." What Schlesinger deemed the old "affirmative isolationism" gave way to "negative isolationism." Schlesinger also concluded that figures such as Senators Robert Taft and Joseph McCarthy were attempting to disguise their opposition to intervention abroad by backing anti-Communist witch hunts at home. (Still, as the case of Alger Hiss showed, there was some subversion in America itself, though Hiss never had any position of real consequence. And it was none other than Richard Nixon who believed Whittaker Chambers' accusations and exposed Hiss.)

In the end, the Taft wing lost out. It was the moment of the moderate, internationalist Republican such as Nixon. By 1952 had allied himself with Eisenhower. For decades the internationalists were at the helm of the GOP. Then came the rise of the neocons who supplied a more militant edge. The libertarian wing of the party had lapsed into desuetude. But over a decade after September 11, the debate is starting all over again over about the extent to which America should intervene abroad.

It is a debate, however, that the GOP is likely to find very unsettling, at least if it is conducted by Rand Paul and Chris Christie. Neither appeals fully to the party. The neocon wing is virulently opposed to the doctrines that Paul endorses, which is why Sen. John McCain spoke of "wacko birds." But at the same time, conservatives will also have a difficult time cottoning to Christie, who is in many ways the classic Northeast moderate Republican. Unlike many of his political ancestors, however, Christie is not a patrician figure who shrinks from a fight. He is a brawler. A divisive battle over foreign affairs does not loom before the GOP. It has already begun.

Image: Left: Flickr/Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0. Right: Flickr/Bob Jagendorf. CC BY 2.0.

TopicsIdeology RegionsUnited States

Congress Challenges the NSA

Jacob Heilbrunn

Edward Snowden is winning. He may be holed up in a transit lounge in Russia, but Snowden, view him as a traitor or hero, is having a profound effect on the debate in America over the extent of spying conducted by the National Security Agency. The most telling sign is the House’s rejection Wednesday of a bill impeding the agency’s collection of phone records by a vote of 205-217. The interesting thing is not that the bill, which was drafted by Rep. Justin Amash and Rep. John Conyers, Jr., failed. It is how close it came to passing.

Only a furious effort by the Obama administration and the Republican leadership, including John Boehner, ensured that it did not. Here was true bipartisanship but perhaps not in the service of a greater goal, or at least one that mounting numbers of Americans, worried about the intrusiveness of federal government spying efforts, are likely to applaud. Lawmakers such as Jerrold Nadler who have long been critical of the NSA and the expansive counter-terrorist measures instituted after September 11 are seizing the opportunity to press their case with renewed vigor; others like James Sensenbrenner, one of the authors of the Patriot Act, say that it is being contorted to justify policies they never envisioned. Revulsion over elastic interpretations of surveillance by the government is prompting Democratic and Republican lawmakers to revolt.

President Obama is clearly hopeless when it comes to this issue. He doesn’t seem to challenge the panjandrums of the intelligence services, but reflexively accedes to their demands. For whatever reason—passivity, cravenness, fear?—the man who once voiced anger and skepticism about the excesses of the Bush administration’s approach to civil liberties has become complicit with the vast bureaucracy that purports to defend American liberties even as it undermines them. Yes, the balance between liberty and surveillance will always be a treacherous one. But we know that when the government is scooping up every telephone record that there cannot even be a pretense of balance but, rather, the attempt to construct an omnicompetent state that vigilantly scrutinizes the behavior of the most innocuous citizen. Professor David Bromwich of Yale University, one of our most trenchant critics of the sprawling apparatus that has arisen since September 11, notes that the Obama administration is endorsing a policy of snatching up private information that can be likened to stocking a vast fishpond:


The new protocol allows the government to vacuum up the entire pond, while preserving a posture quite innocent of trespass, since it means to do nothing with the contents just then. The test comes when a discovery elsewhere calls up an answering glimmer of terror or a terror-link from somewhere in your pond; at which point the already indexed contents may be legally poured out, dissected and analysed, with effects on the owner to be determined.

As James Bamford shows in the August 15 issue of the New York Review of Books, the government has, more or less, been lying about its efforts to fill that pond. After September 11, the Bush administration decided to flout the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. According to Bamford, it “decided to illegally bypass the court and began its program of warrantless wiretapping.” At the same time, George W. Bush announced in 2004, “Anytime you hear the United States government talking about a wiretap, it requires—a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.” Since then, misleading statements from key figures have proliferated. General Keith Alexander of the NSA declared at an Aspen Institute conference, “To think we’re collecting on every US person…that would be against the law.” Snowden's documents remind us that this is not true. Yes, there are genuine threats against America. But it is statements such as Alexander's that induce a sense of vertigo—the sense that America's leaders are misleading the public rather than telling the truth about the scope and nature of their own work, not to mention the number and gravity of the plots that they boast about having uncovered.

There is not necessarily anything consciously nefarious about the efforts of the intelligence agencies to expand their reach and influence. If you want to get a glimpse of what the government is up to then you apparently need to travel to a nine-story building at 611 Folsom Street in San Francisco. There AT&T has its regional switching center and there in 2003 the NSA, Bamford writes, “established a “secret room…and filled it with computers and software from a company called Narus,” which specializes in “equipment that examines both the metadata—the names and addresses of people communicating on the Internet—and the content of digital traffic such as e-mail as it zooms past at the speed of light.” The sense one derives from the Bamford article is that one computer program—PRISM, UPSTREAM, and so on—is leading to the next, that the desire to obtain information, in whatever form, has become an end in itself, which is what is leading to the construction of a massive electronic records holding facility in the desert in Utah, one that will likely become a monument to future generations of the folly of the current one.

The stirrings of rebellion in the House are a welcome sign. Obama has not simply abdicated leadership on civil liberties, but is actively endorsing policies that undermine them. It is up to Congress to stop him.

TopicsThe Presidency RegionsUnited States

When A Former Shin Bet Chief Denounces Netanyahu

Jacob Heilbrunn

Bret Stephens is bored. Bored, that is, by the Palestinians. They're tedious, hapless, pathetic. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Stephens colorfully announces:

for all its presumed importance, the Palestinian saga has gotten awfully boring, hasn't it? The grievances that remain unchanged, a cast of characters that never alters, the same schematics, the clichés that were shopworn decades ago. If it were a TV drama, it would be "The X-Files"—in its 46th season. The truth is out there. Still. We get it. We just don't give a damn anymore.

Well, not everyone shares Stephen's ho-hum attitude. Not everyone, in other words, is tuning out from a saga that continues to hold great peril for Israel's future even if a veneer of placidity exists currently between the Palestinians and Israelis. Europe, for one, is worried about what is, or is not, taking place. So even as the idea of peace talks goes nowhere, Israel is coming under increasing pressure over the West Bank. The European Union has just promulgated new guidelines that interdict any cooperation with Israeli institutions in territory in the West Bank and that will be enacted next year. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is livid. He's responded by saying Israel will "not accept external dictates." But this move is consistent with the increasing and inexorably antipathy toward Israeli intransigence on the West Bank among Europeans and a new willingness to act to pressure the Jewish state to alter it. To dismiss such actions as an instance of inveterate European hostility towards Jews may be emotionally satisfying but does not account for the very real fear among European foreign policymakers that Israel has embarked upon a course that is inimical to its own security, with dangerous consequences for Europe as well.

Someone else who isn't lulled into a state of torpor by the relations between Palestinians and Israelis is former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin. In a column in the Jerusalem Post, he says don't be fooled. Israeli is reaching a point of no return that could have catastrophic effects upon its security: "Anyone who wants can see the data of the Research and Information Center Division (based on a study by Prof. Arnon Sofer and Prof. Sergio DellaPergola), suggesting that at the end of the year 2010, the share of Jews – if you add up the total population between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River – was only 53%."

Diskin notes that complacency is unwarranted because these demographic trends mean that Israel may well be headed toward a binational state. The current complacency is deceptive:

this subject has a place in our essence, in our identity, in our souls, in our security, and in our perception of morality – as a society or nation that has come to rule another nation. The relative security calm that we have recently enjoyed creates a dangerous illusion that our problems have been solved, and maybe worse – that we have “frozen the situation”: a kind of de facto strategy in the face of the “Arab Spring” that is raging all around us. But it is clear that it is impossible to truly freeze the situation as social, economic, political and other processes are never frozen in time. Unfortunately, we have yet to find a strategy or the technology that can freeze frustration.

What is needed, he says, is long-term straetegic thinking. In a democracy this is always difficult because the incentive is to placate various constituencies to retain power, which is what Netanyahu has been doing. Nor are Diskin's observations new. They have been propounded ad nauseam by a variety of commentators. But coming from the ex-chief of Shin Bet they, of course, carry a certain weight. They also indicate that it is not anti-Israeli to make such observations. On the contrary, they are pro-Israeli. They seek to help prevent the country from jeopardizing its future in a futile quest to satisfy the rapacious demands of settlers on the West Bank who are indifferent to anything but their own comforts or ideological aspirations.

Diskin expresses the hope that Netanyahu will have the fortitude to break with the current impasse. He could do it. But as my colleague Paul Pillar has observed, the dispatching of Ron Dermer, an ardent neocon, as ambassador to America is eyebrow-raising. J Street, the counterpart of AIPAC, expresses its own hope in Haaretz that Dermer will reach out to all sections of the American Jewish community:

In recent years, a pernicious idea has gained currency among some pro-Israel groups, especially on the far right. They seem to believe that anyone who does not agree 100 percent of the time with every action the Israeli government takes is no friend of Israel. Some go further and claim that anyone expressing even mild criticism should be treated as an adversary. This intolerance is divisive, self-defeating and foreign to our Jewish and American traditions. It needs to be squashed and Ambassador Dermer would be doing Israel and American Jews alike a big favor by disassociating himself from such views.

Will he?

TopicsDefense RegionsIsrael

A New Assessment of Rand Paul

Jacob Heilbrunn

Is Rand Paul the avatar of a new Republican foreign policy that will return the GOP to its traditional and more moderate roots? Or is he too eccentric and erratic to command real respect inside his party, which is currently dominated by neoconservatives? In the new issue of the Washington Monthly, Stuart A. Reid, a senior editor at Foreign Affairs, astutely analyses the Paul phenomenon.

Paul first captured national attention with his filibuster on March 6 in which he opposed John Brennan's nomination for the CIA. He said, "I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court." With such statements Paul laid bare the rift that exists in the GOP between neocons and himself over the best way to conduct American foreign policy. One of his first moves was to introduce legislation slashing both domestic and defense spending. Paul opposed American intervention in Egypt, noting to Reid, "I'm a little skeptical, because the neoconservatives in my party the year before wanted to fund Qaddafi and sell arms to Qaddafi." Here Paul was alluding to a 2009 meeting, divulged in WikiLeaks cables, where Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, among others, talked about approving the sale of military equipment to Libya. Soon enough, though, they were champing at the bit to depose the Libyan dictator. As Reid sees it, "Paul is forcing a conversation that the Republican party doesn't want to have—and with an interlocutor much of it considers to be a foreign policy lightweight."

But Paul tries to make it clear that he isn't an isolationist or an extremist. He's distanced himself from his father: "In April," Reid writes, "the elder Paul founded the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity and named Slobodan Milosevic apologists and 9/11 truthers to its board. Rand did not attend the think tank's opening." There's more. "If Germany wants to have their joint base with us and we want to have it, we could do it. Maybe we do it with, instead of fifty thousand troops, five thousand troops," he told Reid. Some of Reid's most interesting material concerns Israel. Unlike his father, Rand is going out of his way to speak to neocons and to suggest that he is not anti-Israel. In January Paul, who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited Israel, where he met with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. According to Reid,

the trip was designed not only to reassure the pro-Israel crowd but also to win over Christian supporters. For seven days, Paul and his wife, Kelley, rolled around the Holy Land on a bus full of American evangelical leaders. The fifty-three person tour was organized by David Lane, a born-again political activist from California.

Paul may be seeking some cover on Israel, but it won't be an easy issue to finesse. Already Netanyahu, clearly apprehensive that the issue of Iranian nuclear ambitions has been put on the backburner because of upheaval in Syria and Egypt—"there is no sense of urgency," he said Sunday on CBS News' "Face the Nation"—is dismissing Iran's president Hassan Rowhani as a wolf in sheep's clothing and pressuring President Obama to demonstrate that he is serious about military action against Iran. Meanwhile, the administration is trying to buy more time.

Still, Paul has the luxury of playing the role of critic on the sidelines rather than making policy. He will be seeking to influence debate inside the GOP as much as attempting to take on Obama. Once the primary season heats up, Obama will most likely be a sideshow. The skill that Paul demonstrates in the next few years in attempting to set new terms of debate inside the GOP may have a pivotal impact not just on his own fortunes, but also the party's. Already, as Reid observes, Paul leads Florida Senator Marco Rubio by nineteen points in opinion polls in Iowa. He is a force that is not going away.

Image: Flickr/Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0.

TopicsThe Presidency

Liz Cheney, Neocon Senator and President?

Jacob Heilbrunn

So Liz Cheney is thinking about running for the Senate. Anyone who thinks that her ambitions will stop there if she is elected doesn't understand the real Cheney game plan. Daughter Cheney is the Cerberus guarding her father's reputation—she apparently wrote much of his memoir—and has tried, as best she can, to protect his reputation, which, it seems safe to say, suffered a few dings over the past decade, not least because of his huffing and puffing about the terrorist threat emanating from Iraq, which proved not just to be wrong but actively destructive. No matter. Cheney has dismissed it as the niggling complaints of liberal squishes who fail to recongize the advances for justice and democracy that occurred on his watch.

This Sunday's New York Times report that Liz Cheney is mulling over whether she should challenge Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi is already causing palpitations among liberals and conservatives alike. Liberals love to loathe her. And conservatives, at least traditional ones, are worried that she would divide but not conquer the Republican party in Wyoming, thereby setting the stage for a Democrat to nab the seat. Is this a new version of Back to the Future or is it Groundhog Day? What cooler heads in the GOP worry about is that this is the Tea Party all over again, at least the more extreme candidates who went down in flames in various states, costing the party control of the Senate. Meanwhile, Cheney is touting her Wyoming bona fides, posting pictures of her children riding horses and engaging in the other strange things they practice way out West.

What this is really about, however, is back East, where political power has always tempted the Cheney clan, from Dick to Lynne. Another grouping has a profoundly deep interest in Cheney's success as well. That would be the neocons, the ones clustered around William Kristol. For the neocons, a Cheney candidacy would be a great cause, a way to revivify the movement politically. Currently, the neocons enjoy respectability, at least in Washington. But they are not enjoying the kind of political power that they commanded under George W. Bush. Perhaps Cheney could be the horse that they could ride back to the White House. She has served in the Bush administration as principal deputy assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs. She is a chairman of Keep America Safe—William Kristol is its director and Michael Goldfarb, another leading neocon, helped establish the organization in 2009. She routinely accuses President Obama of trying to "appease"—a favorite neocon term—Iran and Russia. Not the greatest or most careful rhetorician—she claimed Obama had betrayed "Czechoslovakia" which hasn't existed as a country for several decades—she prefers to paint with a broad brush. Writing in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, for example, she offered standard boilerplate:

The president has so effectively diminished American strength abroad that there is no longer a question of whether this was his intent. He is working to pre-emptively disarm the United States. He advocates slashing our nuclear arsenal even as the North Koreans threaten us and the Iranians close in on their own nuclear weapon. He has turned his back on America's allies around the world and ignored growing threats.

To have Liz Cheney in the Senate, in other words, would be like having Dick Cheney back in the spotlight. The Cheneys, a threatening family, live themselves in a permanent state of fear and threats. They see foes and problems where there are none and none where they do exist. Liz is doing her best to keep up that family tradition. For his eldest daughter to claim a Senate seat would, moreover, be a way for Cheney to assert himself against the Bushs, who have shunned him, particularly George W.

Cheney could point to himself as the founder of a promising new dynasty. To be sure, Cheney was never officially president. But no one doubts that the man who proclaimed recently that "I had a job to do" was president all but in name. Liz could take it a step further if she ran for the Oval Office, championing democracy abroad even as she breathes contempt for it at home, just as her father did. It may be a bit early for her to challenge Hillary in 2016. But then again, Obama didn't wait long, either. The Republican presidential primary could get a lot more interesting before long.

The tenacity of the Cheneys mirrors that of the neocons more generally. Iraq? WMD? Say what? In Washington accountability is so yesterday. The Cheneys, you could even say, aren't making a comeback. They never went away.

TopicsThe Presidency RegionsUnited States

Why Germany Might Offer Snowden Asylum

Jacob Heilbrunn

With the revelation of NSA spying on the European Union, the Edward Snowden case has taken a fresh and unexpected turn. The Obama administration already had egg on its face from the news that it has been hacking into Chinese computers at the very moment it was denouncing Beijing for its assaults on American networks. Now it turns out that the saga of American cyberattacks is far from over. Small wonder that the Obama administration reacted so vociferously when Snowden began leaking. What else does he have to disclose?

The massive NSA spying against America's closest allies was revealed in the German weekly Der Spiegel, which has a long history of obtaining investigative scoops. The German Federal Prosecutors' Office was already investigating American spying on German citizens. Der Spiegel reports that some "500 million connections in Germany are monitored monthly by the agency." Now Der Spiegel apparently got to see some of Snowden's documents, in which EU officials in Brussels are described as a "location target." Spying also apparently took place in Washington on European Union offices. German officials are reacting with outrage--Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger says it is reminiscent of the "cold war."

Until now, the NSA has claimed that it was simply harvesting data abroad to combat terrorism. This leak, however, shows that once again the NSA has not been telling the truth. Lying, if you prefer an impolite term. Lying to Americans, lying to Europeans, lying to everyone within earshot. So it goes when a national security Moloch is created that can only justify its existence and expansion by pointing to the constant need for new missions, new people to spy on, new things to uncover.

In Germany the snooper state is regarded with particular aversion since Germans have already experienced it during the Nazi era when a totalitarian government aspired to total control over the lives of its citizens. Then came East Germany and the Stasi. Our own efforts, in their ubiquity and sheer accumulation of useless information, seem increasingly to parallel the Stasi, indeed dwarf it in volume. 

The consequences for the transatlantic relationship are unpredictable. Is it all sound and fury? Or are the Europeans really ready to put the much-ballyhooed free trade treaty with America on ice, at least for now? It is certainly the case that the Obama administration's predilection for keeping tabs on Europeans will boomerang. In Germany distrust of America, already high to begin with, will reach Mt. Everest levels of cynicism. The editorial page of the mainstream daily Der Tagespiegel is asking if America can even be considered a democracy. Germans regarded America under George W. Bush as a rogue state more dangerous than Iran. Obama was supposed to be the savior. Instead, disillusionment has set in. For Obama the danger is that European cooperation with American anti-terror efforts could become grudging and that a trade agreement may be stymied.

As for Frau Angela Merkel, she is headed into the fall election season and eager to win a fresh term as chancellor. Mutti, or mother, as she is known, could put quite a bit of wind into her sails if she were to rescue a hapless youth from a vengeful American government. She could offer him asylum. It's a move that would meet with resounding approval among the German populace. In Europe, as in Russia, he is seen as a freedom fighter against an oppressive American national security state.

Granting Snowden refuge would allow Merkel to demonstrate her indepedence from America, ease relations with Russia, which would like a quick resolution to the Snowden conundrum, and permit her to appear as a benevolent and astute leader. Mutti could embrace young Edward, set him on a new path. She might even meet him at the Berlin Tegel airport with a fresh pair of lederhosen, introduce him to oompah bands and beer gardens, and send him off to work in Germany's high-tech state of Bavaria. There he could help his new compatriots to fend off future cyberattacks from America. After all, he has already rendered special service to the German state.

TopicsGlobalization RegionsGermany

How Obama Helped Create Edward Snowden

Jacob Heilbrunn

President Obama has said he doesn't believe in "wheeling and dealing" with foreign govnerments to retrieve Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker who is currently holed up somewhere in Russia. But Obama's reluctance to wheel and deal has hampered much of his presidency, particularly when it comes to dealing with Congress. He wants to portray himself as above it all—indicating that he won't treat with foreign leaders to bring Snowden to heel. Nor will he scramble jets to capture him.

The truth is that Snowden wouldn't even merit the expenditure of jet fuel that it could cost to nab him should he briefly enter American air space. Snowden, as Alex Berenson wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times, should have been handled with kid gloves. He's in over his head. A deal should have been cut with him to cajole him to leave Hong Kong. Instead, the Obama admnistration went on the equivalent of Defcon 5, while former vice-president Dick Cheney harrumphed that Snowden was nothing less than a traitor. Please. He doesn't rise to that level. Rather, Snowden, who apparently freaked out when told that he would lose his computer privileges in jail, seems to be headed for a protracted exile in Ecuador, where he can while away his days googling his moment of fame. 

The harrumphers in Congress were little better than Cheney. Rep. Peter King, a fairly recent convert to opposition to terrorism, breathed fire about Snowden's betrayal. Senator Chuck Schumer ranted about Russia's perfidy. Where have they been living for the past ten years? Guys, it's America that's been performing secret renditions, including capturing an innocent German citizen, torturing him, and then dumping him in a desolate road in Albania to find his way home. This is not a country that has built up a lot of good will abroad in recent years. It seems rather obvious that Beijing and Moscow would relish the opportunity to hoist Washington on its own petard, particularly since Snowden revealed that the NSA has been engaging in its own forms of cyber warfare and snooping abroad even as Obama piously upbraided the Chinese for their own efforts in that arena.

But perhaps the most egregious aspect of the Snowden case, as John Cassidy has pointed out in the New Yorker, is that the administration is trying to tar Snowden, at least in America. As Cassidy put it, "I'm all for journalists asking awkward questions, too. But why aren't more of them being directed at Hayden and Feinstein and Obama, who are clearly intent on attacking the messenger?"

But Obama's lofty dismissal of Snowden as a mere stripling a "twenty-nine-year-old"—he is actually thirty years old—can't obscure the fact that he has raised some significant questions that Obama and his minions at the Justice Deparment and the NSA would prefer to obscure. Russian president Vladimir Putin has his own motives for shielding Snowden. But the effect has been to heighten the notoriety surrounding Snowden, which is what Obama is belatedly trying to minimize. His own administration's hamhanded attempts to capture Snowden have only heightened the stakes. To a large extent, Snowden, you could say, is Obama's own creation, even if the president who promised to safeguard civil liberties when he campaigned for office in 2008 doesn't want to acknowledge it.

TopicsInnovation RegionsUnited States

Obama and the Failure of the Syria Debate

Jacob Heilbrunn

The Brandenburg Gate, where President Obama delivered a speech yesterday declaring, “the struggle for freedom and security and human dignity, that struggles goes on,” has become for many Americans a kind of symbol of triumphalism where good defeated evil. It is the scene where in 1987 President Reagan urged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” which didn’t exactly happen—it was opened up in November 1989 partly as a result of misunderstandings at the East German border and West German detente with Moscow and the East bloc had a lot to do with easing fears of a revanchist Germany—but the peaceful end to the cold war prompted a wave of hubris among both liberal hawks and neoconservatives that seems never to have gone away, despite the debacle in Iraq. The idea was that America had won the cold war singlehandedly, that it had implanted its democratic values in Central Europe, and that there was no reason not to try it all over again in the Middle East.

Obama has never really espoused this credo. His cold war days were spent complaining about the nuclear arms race, a theme he revisited in Berlin yesterday when he proposed reducing American and Russian nuclear arsenals by one-third, a measure that would allow him to claim progress towards his vision of the abolition of nuclear weapons—a vision, incidentally, that he shares with Reagan. This is the old Obama, the man of moral uplift and stirring rhetoric.

But Obama’s talk couldn’t conceal the fact that his presidency has taken directions that he never anticipated. In Iraq and Afghanistan he has managed to wind down inconclusive and seemingly interminable wars. But in Syria he is being lured, willy-nilly, into a foreign policy trap, one counter to everything that he has preached over the past years but appears unable to resist.

His resistance to intervention in Syria has been plain. Red lines, shmed lines, Obama seemed to indicate after he was caught out on his avowal that America would intervene in the Syrian civil war should Bashar al-Assad be caught out deploying chemical weapons. Apparently he was. Obama went into a funk. For weeks he prevaricated. Now, in the face of mounting calls from liberal hawks and neocons, he has agreed to supply rebels in Syria with weaponry.

It’s a move that, as widely noted, he didn’t even bother to announce personally. Instead, he deputed it to his deputy Ben Rhodes. Obama had more important things to do like attending a reception. The civil war could wait.

Obama’s moves on Syria have not failed to stir a debate among intellectuals and the press. Professor David Bromwich, one of our leading intellectuals, has written a masterful dissection of the Obama administration’s road to war in the New York Review of Books. One of the proximate causes of the renaissance of the de facto alliance between liberal hawks and neocons has been the sorry fact that there really is no accountability when it comes to American foreign policy. Its possible to make catastrophic predictions and decisions, as in Iraq, and then go on to make fresh and equally sweeping predictions with impunity. But it isn’t simply liberal hawks who are endorsing military strikes in Syria. As Bromwich notes, Carl Levin, a staunch liberal and head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, endorses them in limited (whatever that means) form.

Still, Syria may end up bearing out Karl Marx’s aphorism about history beginning as tragedy—Iraq—and ending as farce, though the consequences for the Syrians themselves are far from farcical. In America Syria has become an arena for moral posturing by the likes of Senator John McCain, a chance to try and avenge the ghosts of Iraq. But for Obama, who is palpably reluctant to engage, sending in arms may be a mere sop to his critics. How much further he is prepared to go, even with the ascension of Samantha Power and Susan Rice, is an open question. He surely finds the idea of mission creep pretty creepy. Nevertheless, he has crept into the conflict. And he may find it increasingly difficult to detach himself from it as critics warn of a wider Middle East war lest America fail to back a winning side. The darker interpretation, one forwarded by Daniel Drezner, is that Obama is simply trying to protract the conflict. Fareed Zakaria observes, “If this interpretation of the Obama administration’s behavior is correct, then the White House might well be playing a clever game—but it is Machiavellian rather than humanitarian.”

Even as the critics try to parse Obama’s motives, however, the absence of debate over intervention in Syria in Congress is striking.  Yes, Sen. Rand Paul, who is on the front-page of the Washington Post today, has blasted the idea of intervention as well as McCain’s trip to Syria. But his remains a distinctly lonely voice. As former Sen. James Webb recently wrote in the National Interest, Congress has largely become a doormat for the presidency when foreign affairs is the subject. As the White House becomes inexorably drawn into Syria, its abdication is a further sign of the corrosion of American democracy even as its champions urge exporting it abroad.

TopicsThe Presidency RegionsUnited States