Monday, November 29, 2004

Send Rove on Over

In today's Wall Street Journal Europe, I suggest dispatching Karl Rove to the EU, where he might help orchestrate victories in the various constitutional referendums. You need a subscription to read it online, but I'll post the article below for those of you who don't have one. Please don't tell the fine people at Dow Jones...

Roving Europe

November 29, 2004

After masterminding President George W. Bush's re-election victory,
Karl Rove probably needs a new challenge. Nothing could be more
difficult than getting the EU's unwieldy constitution through a series
of national referendums.

Soon, up-or-down votes on the controversial 855-page (including annexes, protocols and declarations) document will be held in many of the EU's 25 member states -- among them the U.K., Ireland, Denmark and other "countries like France." But EU leaders and political spin-meisters have proven exceedingly inept at communicating the constitution's benefits, and polls show support for it slipping almost everywhere.

If even one country votes no, the constitution is dead. Who better than the widely acknowledged "Smartest Man in Politics" to sell an almost entirely unsellable and incomprehensible document to an increasingly dubious electorate?

So, just as he did for Mr. Bush, Mr. Rove might come up with a targeted campaign effort in each problem country. Here's how it might look:

• The U.K.: This will be the toughest nut to crack. Most Britons do not even think of themselves as European, much less support the idea of giving up more of their "sovereignty" to Brussels via a constitutional treaty.

Classic Rovian strategy here would comprise a two-pronged effort. Prong number one involves countering the influence of Rupert Murdoch. Yes, he was on Mr. Rove's -- sorry, Mr. Bush's -- side in the U.S. election, but his coverage of the referendum debate will not be so fair and balanced. Fortunately, there are other tabloids in Britain that rival Mr. Murdoch's Sun and Times of London. They also have Page Three girls and run made-up stories about the royal family. Throw in a forged memo and let the bloggers handle the rest.

Prong two requires discrediting the man who has become the telegenic face of the anti-constitution effort: Former TV presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk. After being booted from his BBC chat program for making some controversial remarks about Muslims, Mr. Kilroy-Silk took up the banner of the fiercely anti-Europe U.K. Independence Party and wound up winning a seat in the European Parliament.

But several skeletons could be let out of his closet -- by privately funded groups acting independently of the pro-constitution campaign, of course. For example, in a publicity stunt reminiscent of John Kerry's tossing of Vietnam War medals over a U.S. Capitol fence, Mr. Kilroy-Silk was the star attraction at a demonstration during which a copy of the EU constitution was brandished ominously near Traitor's Gate at the Tower of London.

Traitor's Gate -- sometimes the 60-second spot just writes itself.

• Denmark: This small Scandinavian country has proven to be an inveterate flip-flopper when it comes to EU referendums -- a reputation that should be exploited to maximum effect. Case in point: Denmark actually voted against the Maastricht Treaty before it voted for it. Just as the indecisive Hamlet eventually chose the road that led to self-destruction, so can today's wavering Danes be trusted to eventually vote "yes" -- and, with Mr. Rove's help, maybe even in less
than two rounds.

• Ireland: Forget trying to win the whole country, it's not going to happen. But Mr. Rove will have done his homework, and certainly knows that old Irish political maxim: "As votes the Dingle Peninsula, so votes County Kerry." Besides, Ireland has gone from being one of Europe's poorest states to one of its richest, all thanks to lavish infusions of money taken by Brussels from taxpayers in other, wealthier European nations. So it's really not too different from Florida.

• France: First order of business is a massive get-out-the-vote operation, consisting mainly of explaining to the French electorate just exactly what is a referendum and how it works. Then, have Jacques Chirac give a nationally televised speech in which he argues that a non vote on the constitution will hand over effective control of EU foreign policy to "countries like the U.S."

If all else fails, organize a train strike.

Copyright 2004 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 26, 2004

Hey, thanks

I'm not going to get all sentimental on the subject of Thanksgiving, but I will link to this short and sweet posting by my high-school buddy Grant Doty in Baghdad. He's an officer in the US Army, stationed in the Green Zone, and if you aren't reading his Catch-22 blog regularly, you should be.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Condi, Condi

Here’s the profile of Condoleezza Rice I did for this week’s edition of European Voice newspaper. I've gone in and fixed all the little edits they do to make me sound British. In other words, I’ve put it back into modern English. I may have missed a few titbits, er, sorry tidbits...

Bush’s ‘Yes’ minister
Condoleezza Rice

By Craig Winneker

NOTHING better sets the tone for George W. Bush’s second term in the White House – after the ideological cleansing of suspected moderates from his first administration, the sudden solidifying into Orwellian irrefutability of his electoral ‘mandate’ and the seemingly unconditional surrender of his vanquished opposition – than the nomination of Condoleezza Rice to be US secretary of state.

Assuming she is confirmed by the Senate for America’s top cabinet position – its version of foreign minister – Rice will become the most powerful African-American woman in her nation’s history (not counting, of course, Oprah). From humble beginnings in the segregated South to a meteoric rise through the academic ranks to international prominence as chief spokeswoman for the Iraq war, Rice now finds herself with a new challenge: restoring international credibility to US foreign policy.

It’s tempting to expect her to be nothing more than the velvet glove sheathing an iron fist. True, she is not even close to being the most hawkish or hardline member of the new cabinet. She was not originally one of the ‘neo-cons’ who dreamed up the so-called Bush doctrine of preventive war and have worked hard to preserve it in the face of world opinion…and of reason. If anything, she is a policy chameleon. But given her background as the ultimate teacher’s pet and recent conversion from nerdy academic to slick practitioner of, yes, neo-conservatism, it would be dangerous to predict how and whether she will change the State Department after the departure of Colin Powell.

At least until his embarrassing presentation before the UN Security Council last Spring, Powell was Europe’s favourite member of the Bush administration. What will Rice’s appointment mean for Europe? If EU leaders worried when they spoke to Powell that the departing secretary of state did not have enough of a moderating influence in the administration to do much more than pay lip-service to their concerns, they have another thing coming with Rice.

What makes her so formidable is the fact that she is the president’s alter ego – his ultimate ‘yes woman’. The New York Times fretted that, after the choice of Rice for the job, “the whole world seems to be noticing that George Bush is stuffing his second-term cabinet with ‘yes’ men and women”. But it noted correctly that “when the president did have dissident voices in the top tier of his administration, he did a very thorough job of ignoring them. Optimists can regard the new team as a more efficient packaging of the status quo”.

Rice, therefore, is an improvement for Europe – even if leaders here do not agree with her brand of diplomacy – because at the very least they will know she speaks for the president. That is something they were able to believe less and less about Powell over the previous four years. She will, however, have some fence-mending to do.

“Punish France, ignore Germany and forgive Russia,” was her widely quoted remark last year as the Bush administration lashed out at allies who had not backed them on the war. Observers on both sides of the Atlantic expect her to try to repair the damage done by those kinds of comments. But it will take more than shuttle diplomacy.

Some here are already expecting the charm offensive. A European Commission official from Italy notes wryly that Rice’s first name, loosely translated into the Italian con dolcezza, means ‘with sweetness’. But, he laughs: “I don’t think the French will necessarily translate her name that way.” Probably not. Then again, they may be too flabbergasted at the idea of such a powerful position being held by ‘a woman of colour’ to have a rational reaction.

In announcing his decision to nominate Rice, Bush spoke movingly of her compelling personal background. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, she quickly established herself as a child prodigy: a concert pianist, a trained figure skater and a star student. According to one source in Washington who went to grade school with Rice, the teacher used to preface every question to the class this way: “Does anyone except for Condoleezza know the answer to..?”

She served in the Bush senior administration as a Soviet expert, just when that job was becoming irrelevant. After Bush’s loss to Bill Clinton in 1992, she returned to academia, becoming provost at Stanford University. But she had become personally close to the Bush family and, when George W. launched his 2000 campaign, Rice was brought on board as one of a team of experts tasked with applying a patina of credibility in the international affairs arena. Translation: she was Bush’s foreign policy tutor.

She also became an attractive and seemingly moderate public face for the overwhelmingly white, middle-aged and conservative Republicans to put forward on the national stage. Young, black and female, she defied the political stereotypes.

Now, if confirmed, Rice will be third in the line of succession to the presidency (after the vice-president and speaker of the House of Representatives). Despite her impressive background, sharp intellect, and thousand-kilowatt smile, Rice does not have a strongly positive profile with the American public. She has not benefited much from her historic status. Rather, she is often seen in negative terms – perhaps a reminder of the know-it-all types everyone used to hate in grade school. She is therefore often portrayed as a Bush pet (although perhaps the critics have the caricature the wrong way round). One cartoonist for a major US newspaper last week showed Rice as a parrot perched on the finger of a baby-talking president, who asks: “How woodums wike to be Secwetawy of State?” Rice responds: “Awwrk!! OK, chief! Anything you say, chief! You bet, chief! You’re my hero, chief!”

Offensive as the characterization may be, it does not overstate how close the president and Rice are personally. The Washington Post recently reported that “Bush and Rice know each other so well they have conversations based on body language, with maybe four words exchanged”.

As national security advisor, she frequently accompanied Bush and his wife to the presidential weekend retreat at Camp David, in Maryland. Given the pressing security issues of the day, this shouldn’t be so surprising. But what to make of an incident that fired up the gossips in Washington last April after a juicy item was published in New York magazine?

At a dinner party attended by several top Washington journalists, Rice was overheard to say: “As I was telling my husb—” before stopping abruptly and correcting herself: “As I was telling President Bush…” Paging Dr Freud… It may be a testament to her schoolmarmish image that almost nobody in Washington thinks Bush and Rice are actually an item.

But Rice, who has never married, does have her admirers. American roots rocker Steve Earle this year offered up ‘Condi, Condi’, a reggae tune in which the outspoken left-winger admits a tongue-in-cheek infatuation with Rice. “Sweet and dandy pretty as can be/You be the flower and I’ll be the bumble bee/Oh she loves me oops she loves me not /People say you’re cold but I think you’re hot.” (Not since comedienne Carol Burnett’s 1957 hit ‘I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles’ has a secretary of state been so lovingly serenaded.)

What does the future hold for Condoleezza Rice? Occasionally during the first Bush term there were rumours that she’d be picked to replace Dick Cheney, who would resign as vice-president, thus positioning her advantageously for a campaign four years hence to become the first woman and first African-American president. This, of course, would most likely pit her against the former first lady and now New York Senator Hillary Clinton. Refuelling the speculation in the days following this year’s election was the sudden visit of Cheney to the hospital for ‘chest pains’.

Hillary versus Condi in 2008? As the president would say: “Bring it on.”

© Copyright 2004 The Economist Newspaper Limited. All rights reserved

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Get Over It?

The Brussels-based Parliament magazine, an in-house glossy for MEPs, asked me to write a piece describing "the US view of the European reaction to the US elections". Once I figured out what that meant, I wrote the following piece:

US to EU: Get over it!

Bush’s re-election may not have been popular in Europe, but could it turn out to be good news?

Despair…frustration…clandestine joy…even perverted glee. These are just a few of the immediately detectable European reactions to George W. Bush’s re-election as US president.
Granted, they are also some of the responses found among Americans themselves – even as they handed Bush a surprisingly strong victory on 2 November. But it’s been a revealing exercise during the campaign and in its immediate aftermath over the last several days to gauge the European mood.

After all, Europeans seemed to have invested an unprecedented amount of emotional and political interest in an American election. For the most part, they wanted Bush to lose to his Democratic challenger, John Kerry. Some went so far as to set up websites such as Others, such as UK’s Guardian newspaper, attempted to influence the election outcome more directly. (The paper’s letter-writing campaign aimed at undecided voters backfired spectacularly. Clark County, which the Guardian had targeted, was the only one in the state of Ohio to give more votes to Bush this year than it did in 2000. Bush owes the Guardian’s editors a thank-you note.)

So it’s no surprise to see such widespread shock and dismay over Bush’s victory. Congratulatory messages from European leaders were delivered through gritted teeth. Newspaper headlines (the UK Daily Mirror’s “How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?” and LibĂ©ration’s “L’empire empire” come to mind) were harsh and dismissive. Some reaction was even gleefully condescending – as if Bush’s re-election confirmed the view held by some that Americans are overweight rubes who care only for their SUVs and low tax rates.

Then there was the rash of condolence emails from Europeans to their American friends: one showed a map of North America showing the states that voted for Kerry renamed the ‘United States of Canada’ and the rest ‘Jesusland’; another circulated Michael Moore’s ‘17 Reasons Not to Slit Your Wrists’.

Putting aside the derision, how have Americans accepted this unusual level of concern over how they chose to exercise their democratic rights? Well, their message to Europeans who’ve had such visceral reactions to the US election result might best be summed up in three words: ‘Get over it.’ (Or perhaps three other, more crude words suggesting an anatomically impossible physical act.)

But this presupposes that a significant number of Americans would even concern themselves with how they are viewed in Europe or anywhere else abroad. If that were the case, Kerry would be rehearsing the oath of office. But his strategic decision to make a key part of his campaign a promise to restore US credibility around the globe clearly did not pay off.

Let’s face it: Europe’s predominant support for Kerry was mainly the product of wishful thinking. The Democrat was not going to pull US troops from Iraq, did not support the Kyoto protocol, and talked just as tough as Bush about “hunting down and killing” terrorists. He even went out and shot a goose. It was ridiculous to think his election would suddenly turn the US into some bastion of multilateral sustainable development and social cohesion.

A good example of this mindset was the post-election statement issued by the European Parliament’s Green group leaders, Monica Frassoni and Daniel Cohn-Bendit. “We regret that a change of course in US foreign, security, environmental and social policy – hoped for by many Europeans – is now very improbable,” they opined. But this ignored the fact that Kerry had offered to make none of these dreams come true.

Several American commentators have called on Europe to stop fretting about Bush’s re-election and start dealing with it. “President Bush is no fluke, and there’s no wishing him away,” wrote conservative columnist James Glassman in the Wall Street Journal Europe. “The good news is that Mr. Bush isn’t devious or unpredictable. He’s entirely open and obvious. A major theme of his campaign was that he does what he says.”

In fact, Europe should be pleased as punch with the Bush victory for another important reason. A Kerry win would have forced reluctant EU nations to consider helping to clean up the mess Bush has made of Iraq. With Bush still in the White House, Europe’s political leaders can continue to keep their hands clean – and wring them at the same time. And, as many have noted, an emboldened Bush may give Europe just the impetus it needs to get its foreign policy act together.

Some Europeans realize this and are already choosing to play the hand the US has dealt. “The re-election of George W. Bush means that the Europeans will be under far greater pressure to come to grips with the U.S. foreign policy agenda,” says Werner Weidenfeld from Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation think tank. He predicts Bush will now send the Europeans more demanding signals but that this only provides an opportunity to act.

To their credit, Frassoni and Cohn-Bendit seem to have realized this, too. “In the next four years the role of the European Union as a counterweight to the US will become ever more important,” they proclaimed. “Only a strong, united Union that is able to act decisively when needed, will be capable of fulfilling this task. Therefore, a rapid ratification of the Constitution must become priority number one in Europe.”

So is that Europe’s silver lining in the Bush re-election – which could rally EU leaders to a common foreign policy and EU citizens to a realization that only with a European constitution can there be an effective check on US hegemony? Would we see headlines in US papers asking, “How can 450 million people be so UNITED?”

Don’t bet on it.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Thinking Outside the Tank

Just back from a conference in Bulgaria, where some new think-tanks were networking, and sharpening their thinking and tanking skills. Appropriately enough, I had a few random thoughts about the whole thing, which you can now read in my TCS column. News of the last few days has me thinking seriously about heading back to Bulgaria...