Argument

End of the Establishment

Where have all the serious Republicans gone?

When Mitt Romney denounced the new START treaty in the Washington Post last week, he didn't simply demonstrate that he's determined not to allow Sarah Palin to outflank him on the right. He also affirmed something else -- the decline and fall of the Republican foreign-policy establishment.

Of all the potential contenders for the 2012 presidential nomination, Romney, who was a moderate governor of the state that once was the bastion of what the legendary Washington journalist and snob Joseph Alsop referred to as the "WASP ascendancy," might seem like the most logical candidate to restore the traditions of pragmatic Republican internationalism after the neoconservative domination of the past decade. Instead, he has offered a potent reminder that anyone serious about seeking the nomination of today's Republican Party has to establish his or her right-wing bona fides on foreign policy by acting as though Russia -- not to mention the State Department and the CIA -- remains an enemy of the United States. No sooner did Romney attack new START than the National Review effusively praised him in an editorial: "For anyone who can truly calculate our interests, it's a travesty. All honor to Mitt Romney for setting out the case against the treaty so cogently. We hope Senate Republicans are listening."

Perhaps Romney truly thinks that the new START is a sellout to Moscow, but he appears to be less an avatar of the right than its most prominent hostage. He might even be suffering from a kind of Stockholm syndrome. The treaty, after all, has won the enthusiastic endorsement of a host of Republican foreign-policy eminences, including Brent Scowcroft, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, and James Baker. Much of President Barack Obama's foreign policy, in fact, adheres to the prescriptions laid out by that generation of Republican realists -- relying on diplomacy in dealing with Russia and Iran, cultivating good relations with China, and recognizing the limits of U.S. power. But these moderate conservatives all have one big thing in common: They're in their dotage. Nor is there a successor generation in sight to uphold their legacy. The result is that despite the bungled Iraq war, the right remains on the offensive. An insurrectionist movement, it not only opposes liberal elites, but also the quisling patricians in its own ranks.

Just as Republicans have united by reflexively saying no to Obama's domestic program, so they are also attacking his approach to foreign affairs as tantamount to a new round of Carteresque appeasement of foreign adversaries. Any deviations from the catechism, such as Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele's comment that Afghanistan is "Obama's war" and may not be winnable, are excoriated with the verbal equivalent of a death sentence by stoning in Iran. The liturgy is enforced by the likes of Liz Cheney or William Kristol and obediently recited by party leaders such as Republican House whip Eric Cantor, who informed the Heritage Foundation on May 4 that America's defenses are "hemorrhaging" and that Obama's "policies bespeak a naive moral relativism in which the United States bears much responsibility for the problems we face around the world."

Add the welter of other conservative and neoconservative organizations dedicated to propagating the message that only a return to the principles enunciated by Ronald Reagan can restore American security and, by extension, the GOP's electoral dominance, and it becomes clear that the traditional Republican establishment isn't on the defensive; it's in danger of extinction. By moving solidly to the right, Romney underscores its decline and the rise of something else -- what Dean Acheson, Harry Truman's secretary of state and a prime target of right-wing obloquy in the early 1950s, called "the primitives."

The battles between establishment Republicans and the right are not new. Even a cursory glance at the establishment's past reveals that from the outset of America's rise to global power at the turn of the last century, East Coast Republicans have always enjoyed an uneasy relationship with the GOP itself. Consider the political odyssey of one of the foreign-policy establishment's founding fathers, Henry Stimson. Stimson, who attended Andover, Yale, and Harvard Law School and then served as President William Howard Taft's secretary of war, was a progressive Republican. He tried and failed to win Republican support for the League of Nations, watching disconsolately as his party embraced a not-so-splendid isolationism. In his memoirs, Stimson tartly observed that he "shared the oblivion which overtook most of the younger Eastern Republicans during the early 1920s." That oblivion didn't really end until Franklin D. Roosevelt took office and appointed Stimson secretary of war, and made the stalwart Republican, Frank Knox, secretary of the Navy. So it took a left-wing Democrat -- FDR -- to revive moderate Republicanism. At the 1940 Republican nominating convention, write Leonard and Mark Silk in their book The American Establishment, "the chairman of the Republican National Committee read both men out of the party."

The internationalists were taken back into the Republican fold with the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, who, among other things, scorned the idea of radically increasing the military budget. Even Richard Nixon -- considered a right-wing hard-liner at the time -- was in favor of the Marshall Plan and the establishment of the United Nations as a congressman. The isolationist wing of the GOP, which had opposed entry into World War II as well as U.S. membership in NATO, was finished. But it morphed into a new Frankenstein: unilateralism married to nationalism. Put otherwise, suspicion of international institutions as dangerously infringing upon U.S. sovereignty remained, but it was now joined to militarism. The isolationists' place was taken by a bellicose, unilateralist right, led by Sens. Joseph McCarthy and William Knowland, known as "the senator from Formosa" for his fierce pro-Taiwan advocacy. They alleged that traitors in the State Department had lost China and that the Truman administration lacked the gumption to take the fight to the Reds.

In the 1970s, neoconservatives joined with the hard right to allege that Nixon and Kissinger were selling out human rights and U.S. national security to secure a bogus détente with Moscow. Gerald Ford came under similar attack. Ronald Reagan entered office by bringing on board a host of movement conservatives, but ended up relying on his cautious secretary of state, George Shultz, and winding down the Cold War, much to the consternation of the true believers. The right felt, once again, that it had been sold out by its own leadership.

The last gasp of the Republican foreign-policy establishment came with George H.W. Bush's administration. To the consternation of many conservatives and neoconservatives, Bush tried to force Israel to back off on building further settlements in the West Bank, cultivated close relations with China even after the Tiananmen Square massacre, refused to continue on to Baghdad during the first Gulf War, and did not intervene in the collapse of Yugoslavia. For these departures from conservative gospel, the right deserted Bush during his failed 1992 reelection campaign against Bill Clinton, who promised swift action in the Balkans and decried the "butchers of Beijing."

The emergence of the western conservatism that disdained the effete East Coast elites reached new heights in George W. Bush's administration. Had John McCain won the 2008 presidential election, he would likely have attacked Iran, as his recent essay in the New Republic about unleashing "America's full moral power" suggested. Nothing nettles the neoconservatives surrounding McCain, as well as the liberal hawks who supported the Iraq war, more than the notion that Obama has abandoned humanitarian intervention abroad in favor of a new Munich.

It's a dangerous pattern. Again and again, as Sam Tanenhaus perceptively observes in The Death of Conservatism, the right has conceived insurgencies from within the government "in a spirit of hatred for a liberal elite who were perceived to be usurpers and hence subsversives." In their fixation with the State Department's putative readiness to appease foreign dictators, the movement conservatives bring to mind a passage from Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time mocking the British Foreign Office: "All very well a century ago to have a fellow who could do the polite to the local potentate... Something a bit more realistic required these days."

For now, Romney, Palin and any other candidate for the Republican nomination are vying for the right's mantle and depicting Obama as "doing the polite" to the world's potentates. The only dissenters from the new conservative orthodoxy are columnist George F. Will, who is decrying America's "misadventure" in Afghanistan, its foray into the dreaded nation-building, along with a handful of conservative congressmen such as Ron Paul and Jason Chaffetz, whose antipathy toward intervention marks them out as closer to old-line isolationists than internationalist Republicans.

In examining the predominance of the hawks, international relations professor and blogger Robert Farley recently asked why Kissinger, Baker, Scowcroft, and Colin Powell have failed to create their own institutional network. Farley concluded, "I suspect that at least part of the answer is personality-based; Baker and Scowcroft, for example, seem to have eschewed institution building in favor of cultivating an elite consensus." But it's also the case that Kissinger and Scowcroft have not been full-time policy advocates. Rather, they've gone into consulting, while their conservative ideological adversaries have, by and large, hunkered down at think tanks and magazines, conducting a kind of guerrilla warfare against Obama.

The closest thing to a younger, prominent realist internationalist today is Newsweek International editor and CNN host Fareed Zakaria, though he essentially bailed out on the Republicans in a 2000 essay in the New Yorker ridiculing conservative antics during the Clinton era, and today exercises virtually no influence on the party. The moderate Republican Robert Gates might have been a standard-bearer for this tradition, but he, of course, has been brought into the Democratic fold. It would be no small irony if the tradition of moderate Republican foreign policy were completely usurped by the Democrats, something that was already speculated upon during the 2008 campaign.

For its part, it looks as though the mainstream Republican establishment is headed straight back into the oblivion that Stimson complained about almost a century ago. In some ways, this might be inevitable. By its very nature, realism is a gloomy policy prescription that lacks the elan of neoconservatism; its conservative adherents have done little to promote their cause among the public; and it might even be inimical to America's sense of democracy to have an elite on the lines of the Republican establishment. In short, the age of the foreign-policy grandee may be coming to a close.

The only thing that might resurrect this tradition may be the much-speculated -- though repeatedly denied -- presidential ambitions of Gen. David Petraeus. Should Obama become a two-term president, Petraeus could play Eisenhower to Obama's Truman, leading a chastened GOP back toward realism. Until then, the Republican establishment, like a shorn Samson, will remain in a state of total eclipse without all hope of day.

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Argument

Married to the Mob

Don't get too excited about last week's massive mafia crackdown in Italy. Here's why the country has been -- and remains -- the perfect soil for organized crime.

On July 13, Italian police arrested more than 300 members of the 'Ndrangheta mafia syndicate -- one of the largest crackdowns on organized crime in the country's history. The vast scale of the operation -- with some 3,000 police agents carrying out 305 arrests, conducting 55 searches, and seizing criminal assets worth an estimated $75 million -- is testimony to an extremely well-coordinated police investigation operating simultaneously in northern and southern Italy.

Every few years after a major mafia crackdown, the American press tends to trumpet a crucial turnabout in the war against organized crime in Italy. But the truth is, the high number of arrests is also an indication of the growth and pervasiveness of one of Italy's strongest and least well-known crime groups. One hundred and sixty of the arrests took place in Milan, the financial capital of northern Italy, where the 'Ndrangheta is believed to have 500 affiliates. Less known than Sicily's Cosa Nostra and the Camorra, the Neapolitan equivalent of the mafia, the 'Ndrangheta has remained much more elusive. According to the Italian think tank Eurispes, it is also one of the wealthiest of Italy's organized crime groups, accounting for about 50 billion euros a year, about half of it from illegal drugs. (Eurispes estimates that organized crime accounts for about 9 percent of Italy's GDP, and the 'Ndrangeta accounts for about a third of that.)

The recent blitz carried out in Italy appears to be a genuine accomplishment and not merely a public relations exercise. In more than two years of patient investigations, police and prosecutors have gathered a staggering amount of evidence -- reportedly 64,000 hours of videotape and more than 1 million phone conversations.

Along with arresting major mafia bosses, including the man police believe to the No. 1 figure in the 'Ndrangheta, 80-year-old Domenico Oppedisano, the ongoing investigation has provided authorities a valuable look at the inner workings of the organization for the first time. Contrary to previous thinking, which supposed the 'Ndrangheta to be a "horizontal" organization of groups operating independently of one another, Italian police now believe that the syndicate has a very tight vertical structure, with a clear hierarchy and a commission at the top, responsible for all the most important decisions. When members of the Milan group pushed for autonomy, their leader was summarily shot and killed. "The provincial government fired him," commented one boss on tape. The detail and quality of the information gathered in this case promises a real breakthrough in finally penetrating the 'Ndrangheta.

Now for the bad news. Although Italian police have registered many important successes against organized crime in the past 15 years, arrests and prosecutions have not substantially lessened the power of organized crime in Italy. Police and prosecutors are fighting an uphill battle in which they often find themselves at cross purposes with Italian politicians, many of whom continue to have close ties to organized crime figures.

Further, many Italian politicians continue to promote and profit from a system of corruption and patronage that offers myriad economic opportunities for mafia groups like the 'Ndrangheta. For this reason, almost all criminal justice legislation of the past 16 years -- not coincidentally, since the arrival of on the political scene Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (himself a defendant in numerous corruption cases) -- has been aimed at limiting prosecutorial power, watering down anti-mafia and corruption statutes, and, above all, making it extremely difficult to investigate politicians themselves. Consider: On the day that the 'Ndrangheta crackdown was announced, Italian papers were filled with news of another investigation in which several powerful politicians and businessmen close to the government were indicted for constituting a kind of parallel government-within-the-government aimed at steering government contracts, influencing the Italian judiciary, and using false information to intimidate or defame political opponents.

One of that group's aims was to win highly lucrative contracts for a shady businessman with a criminal past, Flavio Carboni, to allow him to build wind-power stations off the coast of Sardinia. Prosecutors suspect that Neapolitan Camorra mafia groups may stand behind the companies Carboni was looking to promote. Adding to their suspicions is the presence in this group of Nicola Cosentino, Berlusconi's undersecretary of the economy and a politician from the Naples area whom several former camorristi have named as one of the Camorra's best friends in government. Despite the longstanding suspicions surrounding Cosentino, Berlusconi insisted in keeping him in the government until this week when the round of new evidence made Cosentino's position politically impossible. Some members of Berlusconi's own party, the People of Liberty, rebelled and forced Cosentino's resignation.

Although the defendants in the "wind power" case have not yet been convicted on any charges, the saga does underscore the seamy underside of the Italian system, in which influence-peddling, political connections, and insider access generally trump merit in the allocation of government resources.

This is the very system that has provided the perfect soil for organized crime in Italy. It is connections to legitimate authority -- politicians, judges, businessmen -- that give mafia groups their particular force, relative impunity, and ability to direct public resources and patronage, which in turn gives them electoral power.

Government contracts represent an important source of income for Italy's main mafia groups. Lucrative public works projects designed to promote economic development in southern Italy have helped transform the 'Ndrangheta from a poor, rural mafia into the powerful national group it is today. Indeed, several local politicians were swept up in the recent 'Ndrangheta crackdown, along with a handful of allegedly corrupt police officers.

And what is the response from Italy's top politicians? At present, Berlusconi is pushing extremely hard for a new law that would make it much harder for prosecutors to obtain and maintain wiretaps -- which were, of course, the backbone of both this latest 'Ndragheta investigation as well as the "wind power" scandal. The bill proposed by Berlusconi would outlaw the use of bugging devices in most instances. Although the law makes exceptions for cases of mafia and terrorism, mafia prosecutors have universally criticized the effort as a major potential impediment to their work.

The law, if passed, would also include stiff penalties for journalists and publishers that publish the contents of wiretaps before a case reaches trial: prison for journalists and very substantial economic fines for publishers. This was clearly done to end further embarrassment to Berlusconi and his associates, who have been frequently caught talking on the phone with criminal suspects whose phones were being tapped. Unless those conversations involved convictable criminal offenses -- rather than simply inappropriate behavior, unethical self-dealing or dangerous liaisons with crooks -- the questionable conduct of politicians would be cloaked in silence.

Had this law been in place, the Italian public would probably know little or nothing of many scandals that have rocked the country during the last year: Berlusconi consorting with prostitutes in the pay of a businessman fishing for government contracts; a government minister acquiring an apartment overlooking the Colosseum largely paid for another government contractor; the head of Italy's emergency management agency -- a huge source of construction contracts -- getting free "massage" services and a free apartment from one of his principal contractors; Berlusconi ordering a commissioner of Italy's TV regulatory authority to take off the air a series of programs that had dared to cover his problems.

Within Italy, there is intense debate as to whether there has actually been a kind of pact between Berlusconi and the mafia -- guaranteeing him electoral support in mafia-controlled regions of southern Italy in exchange for favorable legislation.

Yet one doesn't need to believe in secret-pact conspiracies to see that Berlusconi is clearly doing favors for organized crime. From the beginning of his time in office, Berlusconi has tried to limit the power of the Italian judiciary; his war on Italy's justice system has only intensified in recent years. As Giuseppe Guttadauro, a Sicilian mafia boss who was wiretapped by Italian police, cunningly observed a few years ago: "Berlusconi, in order to solve his problems, has to solve ours."

ROBERTO SALOMONE/AFP/Getty Images