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Civility Needed Now, More than Ever

January 12, 2011

Congressman John Boehner stated, in his first speech as Speaker of the House, that he will “stand firm” for his party’s principles, but despite the “shellacking” that the GOP gave to the Democrats at the polls in November, pledged to respect the minority party’s right to “an honest debate—a fair and open process.”  Boehner continued, stating that, “a great deal of scar tissue has built up on both sides of the aisle. We cannot ignore that, nor should we. My belief has always been, we can disagree without being disagreeable to each other.”  Last Saturday morning, the nation was shocked when several Americans, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, were shot in Tuscon, Arizona.  As the Congresswoman remains in critical condition, the nation has witnessed an outpouring of support for the victims and their families.  Along with this support, however, have been numerous calls from both sides of the political aisle to tone down the harsh rhetoric and incivility that characterized much of the 2010 midterm election campaign season.  The President stated that, “It’s not surprising that today Gabby was doing what she always does –listening to the hopes and concerns of her neighbors. That is the essence of what our democracy is all about,” he said. “That is why this is more than a tragedy for those involved. It is a tragedy for Arizona and a tragedy for our entire country.”

MSNBC’s Morning Joe, the most balanced and civil of any morning news program in my opinion, serves as an example of how those with opposing viewpoints can come together, disagree agreeably, and sometimes arrive at a more creative higher ground.  Moreover, in 2005, the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress published the first edition of its Declaration on Civility and Inclusive Leadership.  Signed by the National Committee to Unite a Divided America made up of over 200 prominent Americans of all political stripes, the Declaration calls for civility and inclusive leadership in American governance.  The Committee, co-chaired by former Ambassadors David Abshire and Max Kampelman, who have both served in Republican and Democrat administrations, states that “civility and inclusive leadership are proven means of bridging political divisions and forging national unity and commitment.”  According to the Declaration, civility does not require citizens to give up their cherished beliefs, but it does require respect, listening and trust when interacting with those who hold differing viewpoints.

Now more than ever, this is a time for the country to come together as the country navigates significant domestic and international challenges that threaten our long-term security and prosperity.


CSPC Applauds Bold Proposal Put Forth By President Obama’s National Commission For Fiscal Responsibility And Reform

December 9, 2010

Although the official commission’s proposal did not garner the 14 votes needed to move it to Congress for a vote, it did draw support from 11 of its members.  If Congress voted on the proposal in the same proportion, the measure would pass with a supermajority.

The reports’ preamble offers a stirring assessment of where our nation finds itself:

“After all the talk about debt and deficits, it is long past time for America’s leaders to put up or shut up. The era of debt denial is over, and there can be no turning back. We sign our names to this plan because we love our children, our grandchildren, and our country too much not to act while we still have the chance to secure a better future for all our fellow citizens.”

CSPC especially recognizes the courage of members like Senators Tom Coburn and Mike Crapo, who could have easily voted against the measure in order to deal a political defeat to the President, but instead voted for it. Equally, admirable was the yes vote of Senator Richard Durbin, who could have followed other ideologically liberal commission members in voting no. 

It is our hope that these recommendations as well as others from the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force and the Peterson-Pew Commission report will push Congress to take swift, appropriate action to save our country’s fiscal future.  CSPC has been proud to support such action since the early Congressional efforts to establish a fiscal commission by legislators Congressmen Frank Wolf and Jim Cooper and Commission members Senators Kent Conrad and Judd Gregg.

No plan is perfect. Some on the right have criticized the President’s Commission report for not questioning the amount of things government does instead of the amount it spends doing them, and revenue increases were a non-starter for many conservative commentators. Some on the left objected to the entitlement cuts on the grounds that they were unnecessary and that the budget could be balanced by taking more from the wealthy, eliminating subsidies and cutting defense spending.   

But that’s the nature of compromise, as well as the bitter pill we have to swallow as a country after years of irresponsible policies on the spending and revenue sides of the budget. We can no longer solve this problem the way any of individually might ideally like to solve it. The Commission members that heeded the call to put their country before ideology realized that they couldn’t withhold their vote in the hopes of a comprehensive budget reform proposal free of any elements that they opposed. They deserve our thanks and admiration.


November 30, 2010

The Mayflower Compact, the first in our American history overarching political differences is in severe contrast to our Washington leaders who cannot seem to do so at a time when our nation is at a crossroads.  Instead of forging ahead to make compromises for the sake of the nation, America’s political leaders appear to be more interested in scoring partisan victories against their political rivals.

Even before landing at Plymouth Cove in 1620, the Pilgrims — yeoman, artisans, farmers and laborers — all common folk and many riddled with disease, signed the Mayflower Compact on a rocking 180-ton ship.  The signature process had been rocky, as well; sounds just like Capitol Hill today. 

On board the Mayflower, there were two factions: the larger consisting of radical separatists from the Anglican Church, which they thought was becoming too Catholic.  The other, of different persuasion and motivation, included the ship’s captain and crew.  This row was not so much over theology, but a multitude of concerns (including even the beer supply).  Amidst this arguing, someone looking at the wild land ahead supposedly said, “If we don’t all stand together, we’re all wolf’s chow anyway.”  The Compact was our first historical achievement of rising above factions to find common ground.  Now we ask, what about a compact for the next two years between Capitol Hill and the White House? Are the Pilgrims that much wiser than us?

By the first spring, half had perished. Yet, come the autumn, believe it or not, these Pilgrims were deeply thankful.  As much as we enjoy our Thanksgiving bounty, the Pilgrims enjoyed a cornucopia of squash, corn, peas, wild duck, and geese. 

In 1630, the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was a far grander affair.  John Winthrop’s armada of seventeen ships brought to America merchants and landed gentry.  Compared to the communal mentality of the lower-class Pilgrims, Winthrop’s companions were of an individualist spirit and commercial savvy.  Winthrop’s ringing sermon on board the Arabella made him the first great American orator: “we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of the people are upon us.” 

President Jack Kennedy would echo these words. President Ronald Reagan would touch it up a bit as a “shining city on a hill.”  The flourish was likely contributed by Peggy Noonan’s melodious tweaking of King James’s Gospel of Matthew.

I worked for one President of the United States, brilliant in some ways, who so unwittingly condemned himself to failure and disgrace by covering up an illegal act that he himself did not even initiate.  So great was his penchant for secrecy.  But there was another quite different President I worked even more intimately with during his White House crisis: Iran-Contra. This president got into a hole, but got out because he saw “the shining city upon the hill.”  He then began the waltz with Gorbachev that ended the Cold War without firing a shot – one of the greatest achievements of our age.

As we enjoyed this 2010 Thanksgiving holiday, we’re not fully out of the recession and many remain unemployed.  We live with many misfortunes: those fighting cancer or prolonged terminal illness, or recovering from natural disasters.  The Pilgrims too were not Pollyannas, for they endured after 50% died. 

The Pilgrims endured because they were able to forge great compromises.  The arduous journey and the need to survive in the American wilderness forced the Pilgrims to look past political and religious differences.  The Plymouth Colony, unlike other such settlements, worked with the Native Americans to ensure their survival.  As Nathaniel Filbrick brilliantly points out in his book Mayflower, “Placing their faith in God, the Pilgrims might have insisted on a policy of arrogant isolationism.  But by becoming an active part of the diplomatic process in southern New England – they had taken charge of their own destiny in the region.”

Now our nation faces the challenge of overcoming political deadlock to avoid a future of slow economic growth, a bankrupt government, and a loss international prestige and influence.  The future rests on the shoulders of six leaders: the President, the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, the House Minority Leader, the Senate Majority Leader, and the Senate Minority Leader.  Much as on the decks of the Mayflower, it is the ability of these individuals to look beyond party and faction that will determine whether or not this nation, that city on a hill, will endure.

Commentary on the President’s Missing Exit Strategy: Turning Crisis into Opportunity

September 10, 2010

The President’s Afghanistan war effort is now being questioned from the Left, Right, and Center.  Before war critics are dismissed out of hand, we must ask whether there is a credibility crisis with the President’s current military strategy that is causing this frustration and anger.

Unfortunately, the current strategy suffers from a strategic contradiction. The President has told the American people that the surge is critical while simultaneously telling them that we must withdraw as soon as possible.  This contradiction has undermined American support and encouraged the Afghans, Pakistanis, Central Asians, Iranians, and Indians to double-deal and hedge against the American withdrawal by establishing proxies.  The region fears that we will abandon them soon as we did after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989.  Much as they did during Vietnam, Americans fear that lives are being lost in a war that cannot be won.

President Obama can develop the missing long-term strategic end-game by following the example of President Dwight Eisenhower.  After Eisenhower was elected President, his mentor, George C. Marshall, warned him that America had no long-term Cold War strategy.  Eisenhower proceeded to set up an outside of government group of teams called the “Solarium Exercise” to devise such a “long-haul” strategy. This work created a balanced strategy for military, political, and economic investment and signaled our intentions to the world, eventually allowing us to win the Cold War.

President Obama should learn from President Eisenhower’s exercise, and rely on an outside of government, high-level group to create an exit strategy for the longest war in our nation’s history.  For Afghanistan and Pakistan, this means using what Harvard Professor Joe Nye calls “smart” power which requires creating an equal balance between military operations and economic development.

While the counter insurgency strategy seeks to change hearts and minds, right now Afghans are most interested in their stomachs, safety, and jobs.  This new strategy should promote sustainable economic growth and increase stability by giving the people a stake in their future.   This comprehensive endgame must include Pakistan, which is a stronghold for al Qaeda and a key economic, political, and military partner.  Pakistan continues to face destabilizing militant attacks, made worse by the recent devastating floods that have ravaged that nuclear armed country.

Fortunately, General Petraeus’ revolutionary counter insurgency strategy has already been complemented by the revolutionary economic-development theory of Dr. Carl Schramm of the Kauffman Foundation.  Dr. Schramm offers an innovative new way to create economic growth in conflict areas, as outlined in his brilliant article in the April-May issue of Foreign Affairs. This theory, entitled “Expeditionary Economics,” creates economic development in post-conflict areas by promoting local entrepreneurs and private enterprise, thus creating a stake for local populations in their future.

Expeditionary economics promotes bottom-up, localized strategies to foster economic development while stabilization efforts occur simultaneously.  Currently, our Center is working with the Rural Development Institute (RDI) to develop a house-and-garden-plot land distribution program, which plans to grant rural Pakistanis who lack land of their own small house-and-garden plots to supplement their income.  Ownership of this land will give poor rural Pakistanis real economic benefits as well as a stake in the stability of the current system, thereby lessening the appeal of the Taliban and other extremist groups.

Another tactic worth examining is the creation of a research and investment fund to promote private sector growth. This is similar to what Qatar has already set up in the Middle East and North Africa. Leveraging private sector investment, this fund would identify regional economic sectors with growth potential, provide local entrepreneurs with capital they need to grow their businesses, and help develop export markets for these businesses.   Russia and China will be key partners and every effort must be made to make this a cooperative investment endeavor rather than creating competition over regional influence.  Due to the interconnected regional economies, this strategy must encompass Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asia, and India.

This is the missing end game the President must provide or face an increasing chance of defeat.  We must secure the buy-in of our allies around a comprehensive private sector development and investment strategy.  Such a positive development would overwhelm al-Qaeda and the Taliban’s message of U.S. abandonment coupled with terror and destruction.

While the concept of expeditionary economics has yet to be fully embraced in Washington, it has been embraced by key elements of our military educational system.  The National Defense University’s (NDU) president, our trustee, the creative Vice Admiral Ann Rondeau, has begun implementing these ideas at NDU, West Point and the Command and General Staff College. However, it is important to note that they are only operating at the teaching level and are not in the process of reforming operations.

Time is running out.  General Petraeus’ creativity must be reinforced by the White House’s creation of a comprehensive long-term exit strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that offers the region’s people a more prosperous future. The alternative is a potential defeat at the hands of al Qaeda and the Taliban.   If President Eisenhower and Secretary of State George Marshall had the imagination in creating a strategy to win the Cold War, surely we should aim to match such greatness in our time.

Dr. David Abshire
August 23, 2010

The Road Ahead: Improving Public Education One Step at a Time

August 25, 2010

The education reform process is all about steps. Reformers started by aiming to increase graduation rates; high schools around the country have been making a concerted effort to meet this goal. This effort was highlighted in the recent New York Times article, “Schools are Given a Grade on How Graduates do,” in which Jennifer Medina reports that schools in New York City have increased their graduation rates from 47% in 2005 to 59% in 2010. Yet, Medina also reports that, “At a third of the city’s 250 high schools, at least 70 percent of the graduates who went on to SUNY needed remedial help.” Given this statistic, school reformers in New York City have attempted to improve the quality of public education by providing high schools with feedback on how their graduates are faring in college. By compiling the relevant data, the New York City school system will begin to be able to help its high schools adequately prepare students for college. Other school systems around the country are following suit.

At the same time, many states are adopting common core standards. Public schools are putting these measures into place to ensure that their students have attained a basic level of essential knowledge by the time they graduate.

However, while the efforts that are now being made to improve public schools are necessary, they are not sufficient. Graduation from high school does not automatically mean that a student is college or career ready. And simply providing feedback on student performance in college is not enough to ensure students’ academic success in high school; the school must also know how to use this information effectively. Likewise, adopting the common core standards does not guarantee that a high school is adequately prepared to help its students reach these standards.

Now that schools have implemented quality standards and measures of academic achievement, the subsequent step is to supply schools and teachers with the necessary tools, strategies, and support they need to ensure their students are able to live up to these standards. This is where professional development and after-school programs come into play.

Currently, the short, episodic, and disconnected professional development programs in public schools across the country are ineffective at improving teacher quality and student achievement. Fewer than half of the teachers polled by the National School Development Council (NSDC) found their professional development programs to be useful. Long-term, intensive professional development training programs, such as those used in most European and Asian countries, need to be developed in the United States in order to bring about significant student achievement gains; high quality experimental studies done by NSDC found that student achievement increased by 21 percentage points when teachers got at least 49 hours of professional development over 6-12 months.

After-school programs improve students’ academic achievement both directly, by supporting students with their schoolwork, and indirectly, by decreasing juvenile delinquency. Right now, 15.1 million children have to take care of themselves when they come home from school; the hours between 3-6 pm are the peak hours for juvenile crime and experimentation with drugs.  A study done by the After School Association (ASA) found that students who don’t participate in after-school programs are three times more likely to use marijuana and other drugs; they are also more likely to drink and smoke, among other destructive activities.  Investing in after-school programs and keeping students on the right path outside of school will help students achieve a higher level of success in school. Studies done by ASA show that students who attend after-school programs improve their standardized reading scores by 45% and math scores by 41%.

Given these findings, the time is now for education reformers to take the next logical steps and make certain that students are learning the material necessary for them to take their own next steps.

– Samantha Abrams

Will America Supply or Demand?

August 17, 2010

America is renowned for its unrestrained hunger for imports.  From bananas to oil, the United States imports more goods than any other country in the world.  According to a report by Emilia Istrate, Jonathan Roswell, and Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institute, however, “[Large increases in exports] will be the norm in the next 10 to 15 years.”

What is the significance of this?  An article in the Financial Times states that, “Many economists believe this is desirable.”  Don Kohn, vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve, claims that increasing our level of exports (even including services) will produce a “stronger, more resilient, and …more sustainable growth path” as well as make America “less vulnerable and better able to withstand shocks in the future”. 

Put simply, the explanation for promoting exports that Christina Romer, outgoing chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, espouses is this: the United States is suffering from low levels of demand for its goods.  Our country has  high productivity, but our real manufacturing output is relatively low because there just isn’t much domestic demand for goods.  By pursuing policy to increase exports, the U.S. is effectively increasing demand via encouraging more engagement with foreign markets.  Generally speaking it follows that: More foreign markets means more demand.  More demand encourages more supply.  More supply comes from more jobs.

Yet the United States faces significant obstacles to President Obama’s goal of doubling exports in the next five years, an accomplishment which he states could create 2 million jobs.  As European countries rein in spending and embrace somewhat more protectionist policies, both the quantity and quality of available markets diminish.  Additionally, the United States faces tough competition from the world’s top two exporters, China and Germany.  While slowly appreciating, China’s currency is still undervalued enough to makes its goods far cheaper (and thus more appealing) than U.S. goods.  Germany, on the other hand, circumvents barriers to trade with the enormous collective economy of the European Union and provides goods in high demand, especially to the United States

Combined with other measures to increase demand and jump-start job creation, increasing exports could provide additional help to a struggling economy.  Recent reports, however, show that the U.S. trade deficit has only grown in recent months.  Trade experts have received President Obama’s goal of doubling exports with incredulity.  Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, wondered, “How will he perform this miracle? It really is a mystery.”  Mystery or not, if Obama pulls this one off and the economy recovers quickly, I may start to believe in magic.

-Brett Gall

Pakistan’s ISI and Steps Towards Progress in Afghanistan

August 6, 2010

The most contentious issue highlighted in the recent Wikileaks release was the allegation that Pakistan’s intelligence services (the ISI) has maintained tacit support of the Taliban elements it purports to fight against. It is unlikely that anybody in the know was surprised by this statement; American and Afghan officials have long suspected the ISI of playing a double game, and the Wikileaks Papers serve only to further confirm their suspicions. It is no secret that the ISI has traditionally allied itself with the extremist militants; after all, it was the ISI – along with the CIA – who trained and armed the Taliban in their fight against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

The allegations specifically target Hamid Gul, the Pakistani Lt. General who was once the director of the ISI. Intelligence reports included in the leak suggest that Mr. Gul: has actively worked to maintain his connections to senior Taliban leaders since he left the ISI at the end of the Soviet-Afghan War; has been working with current ISI members to orchestrate terrorist attacks both in Pakistan and Afghanistan; has been facilitating the movement of insurgents across the AfPak border; has been complicit in the training of suicide bombers; and has concocted plans with the ISI to assassinate Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

Gul, however, vehemently rejects these charges and denies any involvement with the Taliban. On July 26, 2010, he told the BBC that “[The USA] is looking for a scapegoat. They have to pin the blame on someone for their defeat, and they are getting defeated. I am exposing the deficiency in the generalship in Afghanistan. I am exposing the deficiency in their planning [and intelligence], and it worries them a lot, so they want to bash me.” Though Mr. Gul’s culpability remains to be proven, it is generally accepted that some elements within the ISI are tacitly allied with the Taliban, at least to some degree. In order for the American war effort to proceed effectively, the elements within Pakistan which seek to undermine Coalition forces must be rooted out and brought to justice. Unless Pakistan’s government begins to undertake meaningful action, it could be them – and not just Mr. Gul, who will bear the brunt of the scrutiny in the future.

The Obama administration is facing several difficult problems in Afghanistan. The issues in Pakistan, though peripheral, present a significant challenge to the progress and eventual success of the war. President Obama’s new strategy will continue to be undermined by the ISI so long as Pakistan’s government remains fragmented. Though Pakistan’s central government is legitimate and democratically elected, it is not totally in control.

Much of the ISI is composed of remnants of the Musharraf regime – which once almost overtly supported the Taliban while paying lip service to the Bush administration. The ISI that remains today falls under the prime minister’s authority, but sometimes seems to operate clandestinely outside of – or in opposition to – his policies. And yet, America maintains its substantial financial support of the Pakistani government. Pakistan should consider Lt. Gen. Gul’s eerily clairvoyant words as fair warning: unless the Pakistani government actively and publicly roots out the Taliban-aligned elements of the ISI, it is likely that Pakistan could end up as the scapegoat for America’s defeat in Afghanistan – a fate with possibly devastating ramifications.

Hamid Gul

For Coalition forces in Afghanistan to see improvement in months to come, the United States will have to tackle a wide range of issues. First of all, America must continue to confront the Pakistani government about the ISI’s Taliban-sympathizing ranks and must demand a swift and decisive result. Though the ISI publicly cooperates with President Zardari, it has most likely been pursuing a hidden agenda. While appeasing American diplomats, it simultaneously seeks to expand its influence using the same Taliban extremists whom it claims to oppose. However, the ISI’s cooperativeness and transparency is now at an all-time high. If the American and Pakistani governments wish to see meaningful changes within the shadowy agency, now is the time to act.

Second, Coalition forces must acknowledge the deficiencies of their intelligence and limit the use of precision UAV strikes. Though these weapons are exceptionally good at hitting specific geographic targets, their human victims are often less than certain. Since Afghanistan is a tribal, community-based society, the unintended killing of civilians affects far more people than just the immediate families of the victims; it fosters widespread resentment of the Coalition forces and tends to polarize the local population in favor of the insurgents. This is a cyclical process: as the emphasis shifts toward better intelligence collection and civilian casualties are reduced, the local population will become more willing to provide information on the whereabouts of the insurgents – thus making future intelligence more plentiful and accurate, and military operations more successful.

Third, President Hamid Karzai’s government must eventually be replaced or, at the very least, rendered more transparent and democratic. His government is corrupt and ineffective on both the local and federal levels, so Afghanistan’s citizens are reluctant to vest any confidence in its ability to protect or provide for them. So long as this distrust remains, Afghanistan’s local population will continue to fear the potential repercussions of cooperating with Coalition forces. After the fraudulent election in 2009, it is unlikely that any government under Karzai will be able to achieve the trust and cooperation of Afghanistan’s provincial population. In these areas, they will likely continue to see Karzai as what he is: illegitimate, and untrustworthy.

-Stephan Guertin