The FP Memo

The FP Memo: Operation Comeback

Neoconservatives have the president's ear, but they also have lots of baggage. To stay relevant, they must admit mistakes, embrace public diplomacy, and start making the case for bombing Iran.

My Fellow Neoconservatives
FROM: Joshua Muravchik
RE: How to Save the Neocons

We neoconservatives have been through a startling few years. Who could have imagined six years ago that wild stories about our influence over U.S. foreign policy would reach the far corners of the globe? The loose group of us who felt impelled by the antics of the 1960s to migrate from the political left to right must have numbered fewer than 100. And we were proven losers at Washington's power game: The left had driven us from the Democratic Party, stolen the "liberal" label, and successfully affixed to us the name "neoconservative." In reality, of course, we don't wield any of the power that contemporary legend attributes to us. Most of us don’t rise at the crack of dawn to report to powerful jobs in government. But it is true that our ideas have influenced the policies of President George W. Bush, as they did those of President Ronald Reagan. That does feel good. Our intellectual contributions helped to defeat communism in the last century and, God willing, they will help to defeat jihadism in this one. It also feels good to see that a number of young people and older converts are swelling our ranks.

The price of this success is that we are subjected to relentless obloquy. "Neocon" is now widely synonymous with "ultraconservative" or, for some, "dirty Jew." A young Egyptian once said to me, "'Neoconservative' sounds to our ears like 'terrorist' sounds to yours." I am shocked to hear that some among us, wearying of these attacks, are sidling away from the neocon label. Where is the joie de combat? The essential tenets of neoconservatism -- belief that world peace is indivisible, that ideas are powerful, that freedom and democracy are universally valid, and that evil exists and must be confronted -- are as valid today as when we first began. That is why we must continue to fight. But we need to sharpen our game. Here are some thoughts on how to do it:

Learn from Our Mistakes. We are guilty of poorly explaining neoconservatism. How, for example, did the canard spread that the roots of neoconservative foreign policy can be traced back to Leo Strauss and Leon Trotsky? The first of these false connections was cooked up by Lyndon LaRouche, the same convicted scam artist who spends his days alerting humanity to the Zionist-Henry Kissinger-Queen Elizabeth conspiracy. The second probably originated with insufficiently reconstructed Stalinists. To say that our core beliefs remain true is not to counsel self-satisfaction. We got lucky with Reagan. He took the path we wanted, and the policies succeeded brilliantly. He left office highly popular. Bush is a different story. He, too, took the path we wanted, but the policies are achieving uncertain success. His popularity has plummeted. It would be pigheaded not to reflect and rethink.

But we ought to do this without backbiting or abandoning Bush. All policies are perfect on paper, none in execution. All politicians are, well, politicians. Bush has embraced so much of what we believe that it would be silly to begrudge his deviations. He has recognized the terrorist campaign against the United States that had mushroomed over 30 years for what it is -- a war that must be fought with the same determination, sacrifice, and perseverance that we demonstrated during the Cold War. And he has perceived that the only way to win this war in the end is to transform the political culture of the Middle East from one of absolutism and violence to one of tolerance and compromise.

The administration made its share of mistakes, and so did we. We were glib about how Iraqis would greet liberation. Did we fail to appreciate sufficiently the depth of Arab bitterness over colonial memories? Did we underestimate the human and societal damage wreaked by decades of totalitarian rule in Iraq? Could things have unfolded differently had our occupation force been large enough to provide security?

One area of neoconservative thought that needs urgent reconsideration is the revolution in military strategy that our neocon hero, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, has championed. This love affair with technology has left our armed forces short on troops and resources, just as our execrable intelligence in Iraq seems traceable, at least in part, to the reliance on machines rather than humans. Our forte is political ideas, not physics or mechanics. We may have seized on a technological fix to spare ourselves the hard slog of fighting for higher defense budgets. Let's now take up the burden of campaigning for a military force that is large enough and sufficiently well provisioned -- however "redundant" -- to assure that we will never again get stretched so thin. Let the wonder weapons be the icing on the cake.

Deploy More Than the Military. Recent elections in the Palestinian territories and Egypt have brought disconcerting results that suggest democratizing the Middle East may be more difficult than we imagined. That parties unappealing to us have done well should not in itself be a surprise. (After all, it happens in France no matter who wins.) But there is plenty of reason to wonder whether Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, once empowered by democracy, will simply turn around and crush it.

We need to give more thought to how we aid Middle Eastern moderates. They are woefully unequipped to compete with Islamists. When the U.S. government tries to help them, they stand accused of being American stooges. We can do more through private-sector groups, such as Freedom House, and partially private ones, like the National Endowment for Democracy and its affiliates. They could use appreciably more resources to train journalists, independent broadcasters, women's advocates, human rights investigators, watchdog groups, and for civic education for various audiences, including imams. In relatively open countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and many of the Gulf states, funding from the Middle East Partnership Initiative should make it possible for a range of American nongovernmental organizations to maintain a presence on the ground. And we should develop and fund training programs back at home that allow Middle Eastern democrats to come to the United States -- free of charge -- to hone their electoral, organizational, and public relations skills. James Carville and Karl Rove should be the titular heads of this program.

Fix the Public Diplomacy Mess. The Bush administration deserves criticism for its failure to repair America's public diplomacy apparatus. No group other than neocons is likely to figure out how to do that. We are, after all, a movement whose raison d'être was combating anti-Americanism in the United States. Who better, then, to combat it abroad?

The silver lining in the cloud of anti-Americanism is that every stuffy orthodoxy inspires some bright, independent-minded people to rebel. Like many of you, I receive a steady stream of messages from behind enemy lines, so to speak -- from France, Germany, Arab countries, and even the BBC -- saying, "The people all around me hate America, but I love America." These people, strengthened and inspired, are our best defense against anti-Americanism. We need representatives on the ground in every country whose mission is to find and develop such friends, to let them know we appreciate them, to put them in contact with others of like mind, and to arm them with information and talking points.

Today, no one in the U.S. Foreign Service is trained for this mission. The best model for such a program are the "Lovestonites" of the 1940s and 1950s, who, often employed as attachés in U.S. embassies, waged ideological warfare against communism in Europe and Russia. They learned their political skills back in the United States fighting commies in the labor unions. There is no way to reproduce the ideological mother’s milk on which Jay Lovestone nourished his acolytes, but we need to invent a synthetic formula. Some Foreign Service officers should be offered specialized training in the war of ideas, and a bunch of us neocons ought to volunteer to help teach it. There should be at least one graduate assigned to every major U.S. overseas post.

Prepare to Bomb Iran. Make no mistake, President Bush will need to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities before leaving office. It is all but inconceivable that Iran will accept any peaceful inducements to abandon its drive for the bomb. Its rulers are religio-ideological fanatics who will not trade what they believe is their birthright to great power status for a mess of pottage. Even if things in Iraq get better, a nuclear-armed Iran will negate any progress there. Nothing will embolden terrorists and jihadists more than a nuclear-armed Iran.

The global thunder against Bush when he pulls the trigger will be deafening, and it will have many echoes at home. It will be an injection of steroids for organizations such as We need to pave the way intellectually now and be prepared to defend the action when it comes. In particular, we need to help people envision what the world would look like with a nuclear-armed Iran. Apart from the dangers of a direct attack on Israel or a suitcase bomb in Washington, it would mean the end of the global nonproliferation regime and the beginning of Iranian dominance in the Middle East.

This defense should be global in scope. There is a crying need in today's ideological wars for something akin to the Congress for Cultural Freedom of the Cold War, a global circle of intellectuals and public figures who share a devotion to democracy. The leaders of this movement might include Tony Blair, Vaclav Havel, and Anwar Ibrahim.

Recruit Joe Lieberman for 2008. Twice in the last quarter-century we had the good fortune to see presidents elected who were sympathetic to our understanding of the world. In 2008, we will have a lot on the line. The policies that we have championed will remain unfinished. The war on terror will still have a long way to go. The Democrats have already shown that they are incurably addicted to appeasement, while the "realists" among the GOP are hoping to undo the legacy of George W. Bush. Sen. John McCain and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani both look like the kind of leaders who could prosecute the war on terror vigorously and with the kind of innovative thought that realists hate and our country needs. As for vice presidential candidates, how about Condoleezza Rice or even Joe Lieberman? Lieberman says he's still a Democrat. But there is no place for him in that party. Like every one of us, he is a refugee. He's already endured the rigors of running for the White House. In 2008, he deserves another chance -- this time with a worthier running mate than Al Gore.

The FP Memo

The FP Memo: How to Topple Kim Jong Il

A series of subtle, if not very sexy, policies could help the United States bring an end to North Korea's communist era.

TO: Condoleezza Rice
FROM: Andrei Lankov
RE: Bringing Freedom to North Korea

When North Korea tested a nuclear weapon in late 2006, one thing became clear: The United States' strategy for dealing with North Korea is failing. Your current policy is based on the assumption that pressuring the small and isolated state will force it to change course. That has not happened -- and perhaps never will.

North Korea's Kim Jong Il and his senior leaders understand that political or economic reforms will probably lead to the collapse of their regime. They face a challenge that their peers in China and Vietnam never did -- a prosperous and free "other half" of the same nation. North Korea's rulers believe that if they introduce reforms, their people will do what the East Germans did more than 15 years ago. So, from the perspective of North Korea’s elite, there are compelling reasons to resist all outside pressure. If anything, foreign pressure (particularly from Americans) fits very well into what Pyongyang wants to propagate -- the image of a brave nation standing up to a hostile world dominated by the United States.

Yet, sadly, the burden of encouraging change in North Korea remains the United States' alone. China and Russia, though not happy about a nuclear North Korea, are primarily concerned with reducing U.S. influence in East Asia. China is sending considerable aid to Pyongyang. You already know that South Korea, supposedly a U.S. ally, is even less willing to join your efforts. Seoul's major worry is not a North Korean nuclear arsenal but the possibility of sudden regime collapse. A democratic revolution in the North, followed by a German-style unification, would deal a heavy blow to the South Korean economy. That's why Seoul works to ensure that the regime in Pyongyang remains stable, while it enjoys newfound affluence and North Koreans quietly suffer.

Do not allow this status quo to persist. Lead the fight for change in North Korea. Here are some ideas to make it happen:

Realize a Quiet Revolution Is Already Under Way: For decades, the Hermit Kingdom was as close to an Orwellian nightmare as the world has ever come. But that’s simply not the case anymore. A dramatic transformation has taken place in North Korea in recent years that is chronically underestimated, particularly in Washington. This transformation has made Kim Jong Il increasingly vulnerable to internal pressures. Yes, North Korea is still a brutal dictatorship. But compared to the 1970s or 1980s, its government has far less control over the daily lives of its people.

With the state-run economy in shambles, the government no longer has the resources to reward "correct" behavior or pay the hordes of lackeys who enforce the will of the Stalinist regime. Corruption runs rampant, and officials are always on the lookout for a bribe. Old regulations still remain on the books, but they are seldom enforced. North Koreans nowadays can travel outside their county of residence without getting permission from the authorities. Private markets, once prohibited, are flourishing. People can easily skip an indoctrination session or two, and minor ideological deviations often go unpunished. It’s a far cry from a free society, but these changes do constitute a considerable relaxation from the old days.

Deliver Information Inside: North Korea has maintained a self-imposed information blockade that is without parallel. Owning radios with free tuning is still technically illegal -- a prohibition without precedent anywhere. This news blackout is supposed to keep North Koreans believing that their country is an earthly paradise. But, today, it is crumbling.

North Korea's 880-mile border with China is notoriously porous. Smuggling and human trafficking across this remote landscape is rampant. Today, 50,000 to 100,000 North Koreans reside illegally inside China, working for a couple of dollars a day (a fortune, by North Korean standards). In the past 10 years, the number of North Koreans who have been to China and then returned home may be as large as 500,000. These people bring with them news about the outside world. They also bring back short-wave radios, which, though illegal, are easy to conceal. It is also becoming common to modify state-produced radios that have fixed tuning to the state’s propaganda channels. With a little rejiggering, North Koreans can listen to foreign news broadcasts.

But there are few broadcasts that North Koreans can hope to intercept. It was once assumed that South Korea would do the best job broadcasting news to its northern neighbor. And that was true until the late 1990s, when, as part of its "sunshine policy," South Korea deliberately made these broadcasts "nonprovocative." There are only three other stations that target North Korea. But their airtime is short, largely due to a shortage of funds. Radio Free Asia and Voice of America each broadcast for roughly four hours per day, and Free North Korea (FNK), a small, South Korea-based station staffed by North Korean defectors, broadcasts for just one hour per day.

Being a former Soviet citizen, I know that short-wave radios could be the most important tool for loosening Pyongyang’s grip. That was the case in the Soviet Union. In the mid-1980s, some 25 percent of Russia’s adult population listened to foreign radio broadcasts at least once a week because they were one of the only reliable sources of news about the world and, more importantly, our own society. A dramatic increase in funding for broadcasts by Voice of America is necessary. It is also important to support the defectors’ groups that do similar broadcasting themselves. These groups are regularly silenced by South Korean authorities, and they have to do everything on a shoestring. A journalist at the FNK gets paid the equivalent of a janitor's salary in Seoul. Even a small amount of money -- less than U.S. military forces in Seoul spend on coffee -- could expand their airtime greatly. With an annual budget of just $1 million, a refugee-staffed station could be on air for four hours a day, 365 days a year.

Leverage the Refugee Community in the South: There are some 10,000 North Korean defectors living in the South, and their numbers are growing fast. Unlike in earlier times, these defectors stay in touch with their families back home using smugglers' networks and mobile phones. However, the defectors are not a prominent lobby in South Korea. In communist-dominated Eastern Europe, large and vibrant exile communities played a major role in promoting changes back home and, after the collapse of communism, helped ensure the transformation to democracy and a market economy. That is why the United States must help increase the influence of this community by making sure that a cadre of educated and gifted defectors emerges from their ranks.

Today, younger North Korean defectors are being admitted to South Korean colleges through simplified examinations (they have no chance of passing the standard tests), but a bachelor's degree means little in modern South Korea. Defectors cannot afford the tuition for a postgraduate degree, which is the only path to a professional career. Thus, postgraduate scholarships and internship programs will be critical to their success. Without outside help, it is unlikely that a vocal and influential group of defectors will emerge. Seoul won't fund these programs, so it will be up to foreign goverments and nongovernmental organizations to do so. Fortunately, these kinds of initiatives are cheap, easy to enact, and perfectly compatible with the views of almost every U.S. politician, from right to left.

Fund, Plan, and Carry out Cultural Exchanges: The Cold War was won not by mindless pressure alone, but by a combination of pressure and engagement. The same will be true with North Korea. The United States must support, both officially and unofficially, all policies that promote North Korea's contacts with the outside world. These policies are likely to be relatively expensive, compared to the measures above, but cheap in comparison to a military showdown with a nuclear power.

It makes sense for the U.S. government to bring North Korean students to study overseas (paid for with U.S. tax dollars), to bring their dancers or singers to perform in the West, and to invite their officials to take "study tours." Without question, North Korean officials are wary of these kinds of exchanges with the United States. However, they will be less unwilling to allow exchanges with countries seen as neutral, such as Australia and New Zealand. In the past, Pyongyang would never have allowed such exchanges to happen. But nowadays, because most of these programs will benefit elite, well-connected North Korean families, the temptation will be too great to resist. In other words, a senior official in Pyongyang might understand perfectly well that sending his son to study market economics at the Australian National University is bad for the communist system, but as long as his son will benefit, he will probably support the project.

Convince Fellow Republicans That Subtle Measures Can Work: Some Republicans, particularly in the U.S. Congress, might object to any cultural exchanges that will benefit already-privileged North Koreans. And, for many, funding Voice of America isn't as attractive as pounding a fist in Kim's face. But these criticisms are probably short-sighted. As a student of Soviet history, you know that mild exposure to the world outside the Soviet Union had a great impact on many Soviet party officials. And information almost always filters downstream. A similar effect can be expected in North Korea. During the Cold War, official exchange programs nurtured three trends that eventually brought down the Soviet system: disappointment among the masses, discontent among the intellectuals, and a longing for reforms among bureaucrats. Money invested in subtle measures is not another way to feed the North Korean elite indirectly; it is an investment in the gradual disintegration of a dangerous and brutal regime.

North Korea has changed, and its changes should be boldly exploited. The communist countries of the 20th century were not conquered. Their collapse came from within, as their citizens finally realized the failures of the system that had been foisted on them. The simple steps outlined here will help many North Koreans arrive at the same conclusion. It may be the only realistic way to solve the North Korean problem, while also paving the way for the eventual transformation of the country into a free society. This fight will take time, but there is no reason to wait any longer.