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Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Introducing PNAC 2.0

Today in Washington D.C., neoconservatives William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and Dan Senor will officially launch their new war incubator -- The Foreign Policy Initiative -- with a half-day conference on "the path to success in Afghanistan" (never mind the fact that Kagan and Kristol declared that "the endgame seems to be in sight in Afghanistan" almost seven years ago).

Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, and Kagan, Carnegie Endowment fellow and Washington Post columnist, have long histories of advocating policies that rely heavily on the United States exerting its influence throughout the world by using military force. Senor, who has stayed relatively under the radar, served as Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman in Iraq under L. Paul Bremer. But as the New Yorker's George Packer noted, Senor "slowly lost his credibility in the daily press briefings he gave...during the first year of the occupation of Baghdad." In its initial focus on the war in Afghanistan, FPI chose heavy representation of Iraq war advocates for its panelists and guest speakers. As the Wonk Room's Matt Duss recently wrote, "a far better title" for FPI's maiden voyage would be "Afghanistan: Dealing With The Huge Problems Created By Many Of The People On This Very Stage."

'PNAC=MISSION ACCOMPLISHED': Kristol and Kagan -- with support from Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld -- co-founded the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) in the late 1990s with the mission "to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire." Military force was always an option, and often the preferred one. Indeed, the group led the charge to get President Clinton to sign the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998, and it served as a key lobby for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But with neoconservatism now all but dead and its principles soundly rejected in the 2006 and 2008 elections, the face of PNAC 2.0 -- The Foreign Policy Initiative -- is less bellicose. Indeed, as Duss recently noted, "this new very innocuous sounding Foreign Policy Institute" indicates that neoconservatives "understand that they have something of an image problem," adding that it is "encouraging" that they "have some relation to reality." Yet there is no reason to believe there will be much of an ideological shift from its its predecessor, as its main founders -- especially Kristol -- are still deeply wedded to neoconservatism. Indeed, Michael Goldfarb, PNAC alum and editor of The Weekly Standard, wrote on Twitter yesterday: "PNAC=Mission Accomplished; New mission begins tomorrow morning with the launch of FPI."

ALREADY AT ODDS: Senor told Foreign Policy magazine last week that part of the group's mission is to build "consensus" on major international issues that challenge the current thinking of those who currently hold power in the U.S. government. "We think there needs to be consensus on the other side of these issues," he said. Yet even before the organization's first event, it appears that FPI is having trouble building that "consensus." Kristol called President Obama's recent "historic" message to Iran "an embarrassment" and a "message of weakness," claiming Obama has "no sense of urgency about Iran's nuclear program" and is "kowtowing" to its leaders. However, it appears that Kagan did not get Senor's "consensus" memo. Days later, commenting on Obama's message, Kagan offered a relatively more sensible view. "[T]here is logic to the administration's approach. After all, if the White House is going to give diplomacy and engagement a chance, it might as well do so thoroughly and aggressively," he wrote in the Washington Post. "I honestly can't see the harm in the Obama administration's efforts. I hope they succeed," he said.

EXPECT NO ACCOUNTABILITY: Despite the fact that the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq has been regarded as one of the worst foreign policy blunders in American history, expect no remorse from the PNAC/FPI crowd. In fact, Kristol has been declaring victory in Iraq at every step of the way, from saying in April 2003 that the "battles of Afghanistan and Iraq have been won decisively and honorably," to claiming last December, "We've won the war" in Iraq. Just last week, a caller on C-SPAN's Washington Journal asked Kristol if he would apologize for hyping the threat from Saddam Hussein before the war, given that no WMD existed and "the fact that there are 4,500 American lives lost there." "No. I think the war was right, and I think we've succeeded in the war," Kristol replied. While Senor thinks the war has been a huge defeat for Iran (it hasn't), Packer noted that Kagan has "written many words about the war, but has never been able to acknowledge his own intellectual failures on Iraq." Despite the failures of neoconservatism, FPI's mission statement contains the neo-neocon buzz words: military engagement in the world, "rogue regimes," "rogue states," "spread...freedom," "strong military" (with a "defense budget" to back it up), "fascism," "communism," and "pre-9/11 tactics." Discussing FPI with Duss last week, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow asked, "Why is it that people who are catastrophically wrong about big important things like foreign policy and war never, like, flunk out of that as a subject? "There seems to be this special dispensation in American foreign policy that, as long as you are wrong on the side of more military force, then all is forgiven," Duss replied. He added that "the way it works in Washington, if you're arguing for more military intervention which necessitates more military expenditures, you're always going to find someone to fund your think-tank."


RADICAL RIGHT -- FORMER CHENEY AIDE SUGGESTS THAT HERSH'S ACCOUNT OF 'EXECUTIVE ASSASSINATION RING' IS 'CERTAINLY TRUE': Last month, The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh revealed in Minnesota that former vice president Cheney presided over an "executive assassination ring." "Under President Bush's authority, they've been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving," Hersh explained. Yesterday, CNN interviewed Hersh and former Cheney national security aide John Hannah. Although he expressed regret for revealing the story (calling it a "dumb-dumb"), Hersh stood by his initial statements. "I'm sorry, Wolf, I have a lot of problems with it," he said about the assassination scheme. "I know for sure...the idea that we have a unit that goes around, without reporting to Congress...and has authority from the President to go into the country without telling the CIA station chief or the ambassador and whack somebody," said Hersh. Hannah replied that Hersh's account of the assassination scheme "is not true." Yet, in the same breath, when asked about a "list" of assassination targets, Hannah largely echoed Hersh's statements. Hannah said that "troops in the field" are given "authority" to "capture or kill certain individuals" who are perceived as a threat. "That's certainly true," said Hannah.

BUSINESS -- OUSTED GM CEO RICK WAGONER TO RECEIVE $20 MILLION RETIREMENT PACKAGE: Yesterday, CEO of General Motors Rick Wagoner announced that he was stepping down at the request of the Obama administration. Subsequently, ABC News reported that Wagoner will receive a $20.2 million retirement package, despite his ineligibility for severance pay. With Wagoner at the helm, GM lost tens of billions of dollars, requiring the federal government to loan over $13.4 billion to the ailing company. Additionally, as CEO, Wagoner "cut tens of thousands of jobs and announced plans to cut 47,000 employees by the end of 2009." In 2008, he was one of the three auto executives to travel by private jet to Washington to participate in congressional hearings on the then-proposed government bailout of the auto industry. Still, Wagoner is set to receive $20.2 million in retirement benefits for his 32 years of service. According to GM spokeswoman Julie Gibson, this will be paid out as an annuity over five years with a remaining portion saved for lifetime payments. The conditions of the current TARP agreement between GM and the Treasury Department prohibit severance pay to senior executives. Yet as the Washington Post reported, "That ban does not appear to apply to retirement benefits." "I think it's another perfect example of why there's so much frustration among working people," said Tiffany Ten Eyck of Labor Notes, a Detroit-based independent publication covering unions.

ADMINISTRATION -- CLINTON SAYS ADMINISTRATION 'OBVIOUSLY' HAS STOPPED SAYING 'WAR ON TERROR': Throughout his tenure in office, President Bush routinely lambasted critics of the phrase "war on terror," a term his administration coined in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. "This notion about how this isn’t a war on terror in my view is naive. It doesn’t reflect the true nature of the world in which we live," he said in 2007. Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that the Obama administration "appears to be backing away from the phrase 'global war on terror,' a signature rhetorical legacy of its predecessor." An Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directive reportedly said that the term "Overseas Contingency Operation" should be used instead. However, OMB Director Peter Orszag later distanced himself from the report, saying, "I'm not aware of any communication I've had on that issue. It was a communication by a mid-level career civil service." Similarly, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said he "never received such a directive. ... Perhaps somebody within OMB may have been a little over-exuberant." Today, however, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton firmly said that the Obama administration has fully broken with the Bush administration's use of the phrase. "It's just not being used," Clinton said en route to the Hague to talk about Afghanistan policy. "The administration has stopped using the phrase and I think that speaks for itself. Obviously."


66 percent: President Obama's approval rating, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Forty-two percent of the public believes the country is on the "right track," the "highest percentage saying so in five years and marks a sharp turnabout from last fall, when as many as nine in 10 said the country was heading in the wrong direction."

Business Forward, a new trade group founded by several Democratic consultants, is providing business lobbyists an opportunity to court key White House staffers. "Some business trade association representatives see Business Forward as an invention of the White House to create a fissure within the business community, which typically leans Republican."

As President Obama leaves for the G20 summit in London today, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said there is only "a very small gap" between the United States and Europe on "how to make the [global financial] system more robust and stable." Geithner told the Financial Times regulation would be a sovereign issue, rejecting the idea of a global systemic risk regulator.

The Justice Department announced yesterday that it has decided to release a detainee from Guantanamo Bay named Dr. Ayman Saeed Abdullah Batarfi. Batarfi, "a Yemeni doctor who the Bush administration once claimed had taken part in an anthrax program of Al Qaeda," will be released to "an appropriate destination country." He is the second detainee released by the Obama administration.

Today, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) will "unveil draft legislation to reduce U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 percent," with the ultimate goal being to reduce emissions to "83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050." The draft "will be missing crucial details for a cap-and-trade program, including how emission credits would be either given to businesses or sold to them via auction." Yglesias explains why auctions are preferable.

Residents in upstate New York's 20th's congressional district will pick the successor to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) today in a race between Republican Jim Tedisco and Democrat Scott Murphy. The race is "tight." President Obama has endorsed Murphy, and Vice President Biden has recorded a radio ad for him.

"Nearly 70 percent of the Pentagon's 96 largest weapons programs were over budget last year, for a combined total of $296 billion more than the original estimates," the Government Accountability Office reported yesterday. The auditing agency also found that "the programs were behind schedule by an average of 22 months, up from 21 months last year and 18 months in 2003."

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and CNBC's Suze Orman were honored last weekend for supporting and promoting equal rights for the LGBT community. They were honorees at the 20th annual Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Awards.

And finally: Do the personalities on the Fox Business Network have the skills to be rock stars? David Asman, Cody Willard, and others joined together this past weekend to play "Learning to Fly" by the Foo Fighters. Watch their performance here.