The Lobby reconsidered: irrefutable proof emerges...

For those of you who have followed this blog from its tortured beginnings in a small reed basket floating down the Nile, you are aware that I have struggled mightily with the idea that an American minority group with strong ties to a foreign state has gained control of the mechanisms of power in Washington. On the one hand I find the idea almost irresistible given that it is supported by leading academics from important American universities. Academics, after all, are seldom wrong (because they are very smart people) and are always scrupulously objective. On the other, how can it be that the few can muscle around the many, particularly when the few have historically been systematically and often cruelly discriminated against throughout our history as a nation and even before that? After all, Madison notwithstanding, isn't this a country based on the idea that the majority can muscle around the minorities?

But as a part-time academic myself, I am also capable of being objective and, on occasion, when my children are not present, even right. The only difference is that for me, it happens for just a couple hours a week during years when I am teaching or at those other times I am visiting my office at the Carnegie Endowment (which is what, after all, a "visiting scholar" is supposed to do.) So it was today that I had a minor epiphany as I walked through the Carnegie Endowment parking lot. There, wending my way among the rows and rows of aging Priuses with their regulation assortment of Obama, ACK, and "Commit Random Acts of Kindness" stickers, I finally found myself forced to accept the hard truth that the vaunted, controversial, hard-to-acknowledge lobby was real...try as my skeptical Semitic brain did to deny the obvious truth.

Recognition finally came because today's newspapers were full of evidence I could no longer ignore. It was absolutely clear that a minority group for whom the words of foreign leaders had the weight of law on some of the most basic of life's issues had achieved stunning power in Washington. The disproportion between their numbers and their influence was mind-boggling. Further, it was also clear that most Americans, blinded by decades of propaganda and smooth talking champions in America's media and political classes, were oblivious to the often inflexible, sometimes confrontational attitudes of their overseas mentors. Those mentors, inhabiting a small state created to meet the needs of just one religious group, had been battling other such groups for thousands of years at a cost of countless lives, and yet these American hyphenates remained committed to their ancient traditions.

No, I had to accept the reality that The Lobby existed exactly as described in best-selling literature and on well-respected blogs. After all, these clearly well-organized, crafty Catholic-Americans were -- despite representing only a quarter of the American people -- on the verge of augmenting their already defining majority on the U.S. Supreme Court. It was striking in fact that every single member of the Court's conservative wing, including the Chief Justice, are Catholics as is the court's noted swing-vote, Anthony Kennedy. And now, this lobby's latest puppet, Barack Obama, has played right into their hands with his nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, a woman whose confirmation would give the Catholics two-thirds of the votes on the nation's highest court.

Admittedly, Sotomayor would bring to the court more federal court experience than any justice in three-quarters of a century, a distinguished record as justice, and a story that was movingly and inspiringly American (despite her parents birth in a long-disputed territorial remnant of a fallen empire.) Admittedly, as the first Hispanic nominee and a legal centrist nominated for her first federal job by President George H.W. Bush, she was also a brilliant choice for a political perspective. In fact, even walking through that garage full of low-emissions, high mileage vehicles with "Pray for Whirled Peas" bumper stickers, it was clear to me that she was a truly first class selection. And so it was, ironically, that in the very first moments I had come to accept the existence of The Lobby I found myself no longer concerned about it because it was hard to dispute the qualifications of its latest representative to the court...or, for that matter, despite my ideological differences with some of her Catholic brethren, with any of their qualifications either. (Well, most of them, anyway.) Either it was that or the fact that moments later I had to leap aside to avoid the stealthy approach from behind me of yet another Prius which, when running quietly on electric power in places like parking lots, are the real silent killers of America's vital think tank population. (Now there is a group with hugely disproportionate and frightening influence on Washington...talk about your revenge of the nerds.)

(On a vaguely related note: I thought it was interesting that the same CQ journalist who broke the story of Jane Harman's interventions on behalf of AIPAC, today broke a story indicating the CIA regularly lied to Congress. Hmmmm. And who was served by both these stories? I wonder if anyone in Speaker Pelosi's office has any ideas.) 

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David Rothkopf

America's crisis, China's recovery?

It has already been pretty widely established in global public opinion that blame for the current economic crisis should fall squarely on the United States. Such conventional wisdom being what it is...and the facts being what they are...this is certainly an overstatement. Plenty of countries allowed financial institutions to cast aside sound notions of risk management, expose themselves to unregulated markets in complex instruments and become vulnerable to broad systemic risks. After all, if the risks were systemic then surely all those with responsibilities for parts of the system need to man up and accept they had a role in bringing down the financial house of cards.

Also in the wake of the crisis, there was much talk about the end of American capitalism, Wall Street, banks that were too big to fail, etc. As you know from my post yesterday on big myths, I'm not sure these views are right either. 

Having said all that, a conversation with one of Asia's most experienced diplomats this morning drove home the point that regardless of your view on the aforementioned issues, it is far too early to predict the real lasting policy and political implications of the current upheaval.

That's because to know the true winners and losers from this crisis (be they policies, institutions or countries), you actually have to know how the crisis ends. If America recovers quickly, said this keen observer of international trends, then "your system will be seen to work and it will have even more momentum when it comes to setting international rules and best practices."  If the U.S. recovery is slow and, for example, China's is faster and the climb out from the downturn is seen to be "China's recovery" then "they will gain influence and their views on the shape of the international system will have much more traction" especially if the United States is mired in a long period of economic sluggishness. 

While the diplomat acknowledged that it is hard to imagine a strong Chinese recovery without a strong U.S. recovery, as China and all of Asia become more integrated with emerging economies worldwide as well, it is possible to envision a recovery in which the United States is up slightly, Europe a little more, the emerging world leads growth and America's economic influence "while still very strong, will be more easily challenged, real rival views will emerge and gain traction."

Not only is this analysis significant in the context of the next few years' discussions of revamping global institutions and regulatory regimes, it is also significant in the sense that the United States and China will, during this period, be shaping their new "G-2" partnership. Even though the Chinese resist the term, the reality as discussed here previously, is that the U.S. and China now form the world's "indispensable partnership" (to borrow and twist Sandy Berger's description of the United States as the "indispensable nation")...whether these issues are global climate, global markets, proliferation or security. But this partnership has no history and the different views within it on core issues-like the appropriate role of government vs. markets or strict views about democracy vs. Asian views on responsive government, etc. -- have yet to approach any kind of synthesis or balance. When and how they do will play a big role in shaping much of the world's agenda for the 21st Century...and who "owns" the recovery will be one of our first major clues as to how that may play out in the years immediately ahead.

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