alien & sedition.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
  Right-Wing Think Tank Review - 3/29/07

Heritage Foundation (Sourcewatch profile here)

Free Trade Is Dead, Long Live Free Trade
By Tim Kane
WebMemo No. 1409, pub. 3/27/07

Kane's article assesses the implications of increased skepticism in Congress toward unrestrained free trade agreements. At stake, Kane argues, is the success or failure of the Doha round of World Trade Organization talks. More immediately, the issue is whether Congress will renew the president's trade promotion authority (TPA), which is set to expire on June 30. Noting that the previous renewal, in 2002, passed the House with only a thin majority, Kane worries that a growing protectionist mood in Congress will doom the TPA, thus undermining President Bush's efforts to successfully conclude the Doha round: "Will Congress grant American negotiators the authority to close this multilateral deal?"

The article recounts increased Republican support for measures like the ones blocking the Dubai Port World bid last year, punishing China for pegging the yuan to the dollar, or requiring country-of-origin labeling on imported produce. It also blames "special interest groups ... notably European agribusiness" for "scheming to abort" Doha. But Kane reserves special criticism for what he calls "conditional trade deals" pushed by American politicians:
"Yes, Peru, Americans will trade ‘freely' with your citizens on the condition that you do X, Y, and Z." This is not the American way; conditional interstate commerce among the United States was made unconstitutional in 1789 precisely because the Founding Fathers recognized the pettiness and gross inefficiency of protectionism.
The analogy is a bit confounding, since Congress of course has the authority to regulate interstate commerce - states may not set their own conditions because American citizens are fully enfranchised in a federal government that has the authority to do so. That government in fact has a long history of enforcing labor and environmental standards - the very sorts of "conditions" that Kane is denouncing. There is, of course, no overarching sovereign authority on the global level.

Nonetheless, from a progressive perspective there are strong arguments for supporting the success of the Doha round. American trade can be made both freer and fairer: for instance, Daniel Tarullo has argued that, by easing some of its domestic agricultural subsidies, the US can both increase American farmers' access to global markets and help improve the lives of farmers in the developing world - which, in turn, would be good for global security. However, as Tarullo notes, the Bush administration "has never shown more than pro forma support" for the Doha round; meanwhile, its strategy of "competitive liberalization," meant to build demand for multilateral trade negotiations through a series of bilateral and regional agreements (such as CAFTA), has accomplished little more than creating distractions and polarization in the trade debate.

Tarullo argues that senior Administration officials should be more involved with the Doha talks. To do so, however, they will need to work with a Democratic Congress. The Administration shut out Democrats during the CAFTA debate, but it can no longer avoid compromise, especially as it is seeking TPA renewal. Contra Kane, labor and environmental standards will be necessary parts of any comprehensive multilateral trade agreement. It is politically unrealistic - a fantasy - to believe otherwise. However, Kane's article attempts to make the case against such standards anyway.

Advancing Freedom in Iran
by Steven Groves
Backgrounder No. 2019, pub. 3/26/07

Groves argues that "there is still an opportunity to bring about peaceful democratic change in Iran." The primary obstacle to such change, according to Groves, is Iran's constitution: "a cancer that must be excised." The constitution renders Iranians' efforts to elect reformers futile, because it creates so many mechanisms for the mullahs to reject the democratic will of the people - for instance, through the authority of the Guardian Council to vet all presidential candidates and to veto any legislation the Council deems contrary to the precepts of Islam. Therefore, says Groves, "the United States should focus its funding and public diplomacy efforts toward supporting a national referendum on Iran's constitution."

Groves criticizes "unrealistic diplomatic 'grand bargains,'" which would seek comprehensive solutions to the multiple disputes between Iran and the West. Such efforts unrealistically assume that there is anything that can persuade Iran to abandon core policy objectives such as the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Moreover, the "grand bargain" approach would "do little to nothing to advance freedom, democracy, and human rights for the Iranian people."

Instead, says Groves, US policy should turn on a re-interpretation of the 2006 Iran Freedom Support Act, which regulated US sanctions against Iran and financed democracy-promotion efforts.
Regrettably, the act stated that U.S. policy was merely “to support efforts by the people of Iran to exercise self-determination over the form of government of their country.” As an official policy position, this statement rings hollow. The United States supports the efforts of the people of every nation in the world to exercise self-determination over their form of government. Instead, the U.S. government should state explicitly what the Iran Freedom Support Act only implies: The United States supports a peaceful democratic transformation of the Iranian regime.
This policy would mean using the funding authorized by the Act to "unite the various groups interested in constitutional reform" under a "Rainbow Civil Movement," to support internet outreach and the dissemination of printed material advocating a constitutional referendum, and to "covertly provide cellular phones and other communications devices" to Iranian dissidents.

Groves argues that congressional legislation relating to Iran should "clearly state that the United States government supports a democratic transformation of the Iranian regime." He also advocates for increased public diplomacy efforts, including increasing the amount of "serious analysis and programming" on Radio Farda - or establishing an alternate station for this purpose. Finally, Groves insists on the need for stronger efforts to "squeeze Iran financially," both on behalf of the US Treasury Department, and European nations, who should end government-backed export guarantees that account for an important part of Iran's trade.

The idea of suspending European export guarantees for Iran has been raised by numerous commentators, including Timothy Garton Ash at the Guardian, and Nile Gardiner at Human Events Online. Both of these articles were written in response to the Iranian seizure of 15 British sailors. It's instructive to compare Gardiner's article - which was also posted at Heritage's website - with the Groves piece. Each rejects diplomatic engagement with the regime. Gardiner, however, uses the current hostage crisis as an opportunity to ramp up the right's already-aggressive rhetoric, calling Iran's latest move "a hostile act of war." Without any sense of irony or acknowledgment of the rhetoric churned out by hawks during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, Gardiner neatly reprises the very same claims:
Iran poses the greatest threat to global security of our generation, and the West must be ready to meet the challenge with strength and determination. Not since the rise of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia has the free world been faced with such a grave danger from a state actor. While the use of force is always a last resort, the United States, Great Britain and their allies must be prepared to disarm the Iranian regime if it refuses to back down, with or without the backing of the UN Security Council.
It is left to the reader to decide whether Groves is simply a more serious analyst than Gardiner, or whether the two articles represent different formulations of the same underlying approach to Iran.

American Enterprise Institute (Sourcewatch profile here)

Arnold, Rush Battle for the Republican Party's Soul
By Kevin A. Hassett
Pub. 3/26/07; also pub. at

Hassett reviews the recent contretemps between California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and right-wing blowhard Rush Limbaugh. Observing that "the Republican party is at a historical crossroads," Hassett suggests that the Limbaugh-Schwarzenegger dispute perfectly illustrates the major debate within the GOP. And "only one side can win."

The controversy is rooted one of the most fundamental dilemmas in democratic politics: how to balance effectiveness with principle. Because, as Hassett notes, there have been no politicians since Reagan with the political skills to sell unpopular conservative ideas to the general public, Republicans are forced to decide between compromise and ideology.

Hassett notes that Schwarzenegger's recent move to the left, which has included hiring a Democratic chief of staff, agreeing to an increase in the state minimum wage, tackling carbon emissions, and developing a health care program, "has boosted his popularity." The governor's latest job approval ratings are 11 points higher than they were in 2005. However, says Hassett, "popularity might come at the expense of principle." And it is this "sell out" of conservative principle that has led extremist conservatives like Limbaugh to harshly criticize Schwarzenegger.

The governor's response was that "Rush Limbaugh is irrelevant." Unfortunately for the Republican party, however, that does not in fact appear to be the case. Hassett forecasts that the GOP's presidential primary debates will largely involve rehashing the very same kind of dispute - and he believes that, both in those debates and in the general intra-party debate, the Limbaugh faction will win. In other words, the Republicans, with a model for the resurgence of their party on prominent display in California, will reject it and instead choose to further marginalize themselves. (It should be noted that Hassett himself seems to approve of this scenario.)

One final note on the stakes involved: Hassett actually puts this dispute into an important context when he suggests the "compromisers"
will argue that the country urgently needs to come together to address long-run problems such as the entitlement programs that are headed for financial ruin. That can only be done, it will be argued, if Republicans are willing to compromise with Democrats.
As this blog and other observers have repeatedly pointed out, the United States is indeed heading toward a major debate over its fiscal priorities, including taxation and entitlements. Milton Friedmanite movement conservatives are focusing on a showdown over the entire tax code - and, by implication, the future of American entitlements - in 2011. One way or another, there is a major budget gap that will need to be addressed. If the Rush Limbaugh ideologues do indeed triumph over the Schwarzenegger "compromisers," it will have important effects on the politics of the great budget debate when that time comes.

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