Obama's Stance on Libya: Channelling Reagan and Clinton

Mar 28, 2011Chuck Spinney

military-tank-150Without informing Congress, Obama has given the defense sector a huge win.

military-tank-150Without informing Congress, Obama has given the defense sector a huge win.

Any discussion about Libya is incomplete without mentioning Congress or the Constitution, as the Constitution specifically assigns Congress the war making decision. The President, as Commander in Chief, can only commit forces to "repel sudden attacks," to use James Madison's term. There was considerable debate at the Constitutional Convention and in the Federalist Papers on this question. The original intent is clear, and 'repelling sudden attacks' on our forces was certainly not the case in Libya.

Given the clear requirement, it's my view that David Woolner should have mentioned the Constitution in his discussion of how Obama's stance on Libya is taking a page from Roosevelt's book. Invoking FDR's memory without explaining these omissions may add weight to the charge made by conservatives that Roosevelt held the Constitution in contempt (a charge that I do not believe to be true).

Roosevelt went to Congress before he went to war. On December 8, 1941, the Congress of the United States declared war with Japan, on December 11 with Germany and Italy, and on June 5, 1942, with Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. It declared war against Japan after the surprise bombing of Pearl Harbor and against Germany and Italy after those nations, under the dictators Hitler and Mussolini, declared war against the United States. It declared war against Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania in response to the declarations of war by those nations against the United States. It was all quite formal and in accordance with the Constitution.

To be sure, FDR involved the US Navy in convoy escort duty and attacked German U boats before we declared war and many, including myself, believe this to be an unauthorized act of war. FDR was criticized, quite rightly, over this point. But Pearl Harbor and WWII silenced these criticisms and rendered any follow-on action mute. American ships like the Robin Moor, Sessa, Steel Seafarer, Greer, Montana, Pink Star, I. C. White, W. C. Teagle, Bold Venture, Kearny, Lehigh, Salinas, and Reuben James (a warship) were all bombed or torpedoed -- and, in most cases, sunk by Germany from May 21 to October 31, 1941. Does Woolner think FDR's slipperiness in this convoy escort mission should take precedence over Roosevelt's association with Congress's formal declarations when invoking his memory?

As far as Obama is taking pages out of a predecessor's book, Truman went to war in Korea without Congressional authorization, but at least there was a clear case of aggression by North Korea and the UN/US had previously assumed responsibility for South Korea (which is very different from Obama in Libya -- Gaddafi is putting down an internal revolt, and we don't like it, but it is not aggression; he is reacting). Johnson lobbied Congress for passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. (To be sure, he lied to Congress about the attacks on the Turner Joy and the Maddox, and a friend of mine was a radar operator in the combat info center on the Turner Joy and they knew at the time there was no attack! In fairness, it is not clear what Johnson knew, but MacNamara knew.) Reagan got Congress's permission to send troops into Lebanon, but only informed Congress after the fact when he bombed Libya, and he invaded Granada at the invitation of the OAS (but not the UN). Bush I consulted Congress before the First Iraq War. Clinton, using NATO as an umbrella, went to war in Kosovo without Congressional or UN approval (and basically cooked the rationale for the war by inserting a last minute poison pill that killed Serbia's pending agreement to Ramboullet negotiations -- more on this below). Bush II went to Congress for the invasion of both Afghanistan and Iraq (although he lied like Johnson in the case of Iraq, and completely ignored the possibility of a negotiation with the Taliban for turning over Osama bin Laden to an international court).

Given these precedents, I would argue that rather than taking a page out of FDR's book, Obama took a modified page out of Reagan's book on Grenada. Like Reagan, Obama had the approval of a local national organization; unlike Reagan, Obama also had UN approval, but neither consulted Congress. And Obama took a modified page out of Clinton's book on Kosovo by using the NATO umbrella, but Obama had UN and Arab League approval. It must be underscored that Kosovo, in particular, is a terrible precedent. But it's not surprising that Obama would resort to it, given that he has also borrowed a lot of Clinton's terrible neoliberal policies.

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Now a lot of liberals think Kosovo was a good precedent and a justification for 'humanitarian intervention' -- particularly the likes of Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and Samantha Power, who were part of the group that convinced Obama to go into Libya. But the reality is that Kosovo was a bloody disaster based on contrived circumstances and distortions. (Note that Dennis Kucinich, interestingly, also objected vehemently to Kosovo -- in fact, I first met him in 1999 when I was a speaker at a congressional symposium he held lambasting this issue). Indeed, Kosovo is a case study in the failure of high complexity weapons and organizational arrangements (NATO C3 in Libya is unbelievably complex) to deliver their promised performance. U.S. military planners predicted a "precision" bombing campaign would force the Serbians to capitulate in only two to three days, but the air campaign grinded on for 79 days. When the Serbians did not collapse as predicted, the target list grew exponentially (as it did in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea, and WWII). The conduct of the bombing campaign was shaped more by the speed with which targets got through the approval cycle than any strategy linking a particular target's destruction to a desired tactical or strategic effect. As a result, NATO bombers effectively destroyed the economic infrastructure of a tiny nation with an economy smaller than that of Fairfax County, Virginia. Anyone who has spent any time studying air power knows that its promises of quick easy victories are illusory -- but they are great for the weapons contractors.

When Kosovo ended, NATO intelligence determined only tiny quantities of Serbian tanks, armored personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery, and trucks -- all high priority targets -- were destroyed, in part because the Serbs spoofed our complex surveillance and precision guidance technologies with simple decoys.

There are even reports that they used cheap microwave ovens as decoys to attract our enormously expensive radar homing missiles. Serbian troops marched out of Kosovo in good order, their fighting spirit intact, displaying clean equipment, crisp uniforms, and in larger numbers than planners said were in Kosovo to begin with. Moreover, the terms of the Serbian "surrender," which the undefeated Serbian military regarded as a sell-out by President Milosevic, were the same as those the Serbians agreed to at the Rambouillet Conference, before U.S. negotiators led by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright inserted a poison pill (in the form of an intrusive military annex that would allow NATO troops unfettered access to Serbia proper) to queer the deal, so we could have what the politically troubled Clinton administration thought would be a neat, short war. The result is a narco-mafia state in the heart of the Balkans, whose leader has been accused of trafficking in human organs (taken from Serbians held captive).

This is the war that the "humanitarian interventionists" think is the model for meddling in countries like Libya.

So it should be no surprise that Obama's attack on Libya is not delivering its promise of an easy victory and that the target list is now expanding beyond the suppression of air defense systems (justified technically by the establishment of a no fly zone) to attacks on supply dumps, tanks, artillery pieces, navy yards, command posts, and the national command authority (Qadafi's compound -- a euphemism for targeted assassination), etc. These latter targets have nothing to do with establishing a no fly zone. Anyone who seriously studied Kosovo or the history of air power would not be surprised by this evolution. Predictably, some at the White House are now saying this is not war.

To be sure, the Libyans are not as skilled at fighting as the Serbs, and Obama may well pull this off, but that only makes the emerging debacle even more disgraceful. FDR's memory ought not be linked to this one.

One final point: FDR was a successful war president, but the spirit of New Deal 2.0 is more in line with his domestic policies and progressive spirit of experimentation of the original New Deal. President Obama has inherited the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, a crisis that has been building up for at least 30 years. Readers of this site understand the systemic pattern of deregulation, privatization, deindustrialization, union busting, stagnant wages, skyrocketing income inequality, etc. are undoing the achievements of New Deal and the Great Society. The huge increases in the defense budgets since 1980 are part and parcel of this evolution. Today the US is spending almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. The military-industrial-congression complex is seamlessly woven into our political economy, yet defense manufacturing distorts our economy. As I explained in the "Domestic Roots of Perpetual War", defense manufacturing firms cannot convert to commercial production and their survival depends on ever-increasing defense budgets. The deficit hawks are lining up to cut social programs, including our safety nets, but pressure was building to include the defense budget. Readers can rest assured that the Libyan war will take the defense budget off the table. The battle between Social Security and Medicare on the one side and the Defense budget and the special interests of the MICC on the other is gearing up -- and President Obama has just taken defense off the table. Score MICC one and Social Security/Medicare zero.

Chuck Spinney is an American former military analyst for the Pentagon and has been a fierce critic of wasteful defense spending.

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What a Woman! Farewell to Geraldine Ferraro

Mar 28, 2011Lynn Parramore

ferraro1-sizedGeraldine Ferraro altered America for the better.

ferraro1-sizedGeraldine Ferraro altered America for the better.

Long before there was Sarah Palin, there was Geraldine Ferraro, a woman who changed electoral politics forever and inspired a generation to believe that America could finally achieve democracy's most elusive goal: the full participation of female leaders.

I was just fourteen when Walter Mondale chose her as his running mate, and I recall thinking: 'Wow! Who is this feisty woman on TV talking about the White House?!?' A woman running for vice president was something new and exciting. Everybody knew she had to be tough as nails and whip smart to navigate the minefields of such an unprecedented candidacy. What was more amazing than her poise was her plausibility. To hear her speak was to take her seriously. In fact, there were times when she seemed more plausible as a leader than the other candidate on her ticket. This was a woman who had been a mother, a lawyer, a successful Congresswoman. She was a tough-talking New Yorker, but the fact that she had stayed home until her kids were school age made it harder for conservatives to paint her as something unnatural and unwomanly -- though many tried anyway, like Barbara Bush, who famously declared that Ferraro made her think of a word that 'rhymed with rich'.

Toughness and smarts she had in spades. And a deep sense of fairness, too. As a congresswoman representing New York's 9th district, she spent six years pushing for causes that Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt would have applauded: fair pay for women, dignified retirement, and decent health care. It was a feeling of connection to the Roosevelt legacy that prompted her to join the board of the Roosevelt Institute, where she did her part to make sure that the New Deal would live on and benefit future generations.

Women like Hilary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Sarah Palin, have stood on the shoulders of this path-breaking figure. Her zest for life, her tireless activism, and her unyielding belief in a better future will be deeply missed. "America is the land where dreams can come true for all of us," she told the crowd at the Democratic Convention in 1984. We honor her life and work today by holding these words close to our hearts.

Lynn Parramore is the editor of New Deal 2.0, Media Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute fellow, co-Founder of Recessionwire, and the author of Reading the Sphinx.

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The Results Are In: FDR's Inner Thoughts

Mar 25, 2011

Thank you to all who partook in our meme! From welcoming bankers' hatred to reflecting on saving the world to deporting the Koch brothers, here are some of our favorites...and stay tuned for more.


Thank you to all who partook in our meme! From welcoming bankers' hatred to reflecting on saving the world to deporting the Koch brothers, here are some of our favorites...and stay tuned for more.









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Maine Governor Paul LePage Reveals the Fears of the Right

Mar 25, 2011Harvey J. Kaye

frances-perkins-150By trying to erase progressive history, he not only shows how it threatens conservatives but urges us to keep the fight going.

frances-perkins-150By trying to erase progressive history, he not only shows how it threatens conservatives but urges us to keep the fight going.

One thing you have to say for Governor Paul LePage of Maine is that he's an honest guy. Right-wing Republicans incessantly proclaim their reverence for the American past. But the Governor has made it quite clear that, contrary to their repeated claims, conservatives do not revere the nation's history but actually fear it and believe they must act to control what people remember and know of it.

Determined to make Maine ever more inviting to business executives and their investments, LePage not only has set out -- like many another Republican governors, such as Scott Walker of Wisconsin -- to weaken, if not destroy, public employee unions and workers' rights. LePage also has taken steps to "neutral[ize]" American history. He has ordered both the removal of a labor history mural from the walls of the state's Department of Labor Building and the renaming of its conference rooms so that they no longer bear those of 1960s farm-worker leader César Chavez, 1920s labor activist Rose Schneiderman, and President Franklin Roosevelt's Labor Secretary Frances Perkins (the first woman ever to hold a Cabinet-level appointment).

Three cheers for Governor LePage! Instead of denying what he's up to, he reveals all. He wants to wipe the walls of government clean of the progressive story of what has made America prosperous and ever more free, equal, and democratic. He wants a history that makes the rich and the right comfortable, happy, and ready to roll.

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Forget the blissful ignorance of Minnesota congresswoman Michelle Bachmann. History, historical memory, and imagination matter and the folks on the right know it. Pursuing class war from above for more than thirty years now, conservative and corporate leaders have persistently sought to harness the past -- or their strange renditions of it -- to bolster their own pro-corporate and reactionary ambitions and schemes. Following the lead of their champion, actor-turned-politician Ronald Reagan, the unrivaled master of using and abusing history, Republicans and their ilk continue to conjure up their marble images of the Founders, wrap themselves in the American flag (if not the Stars & Bars on occasion), and talk of bygone eras and their desire to restore "the America we have lost." You can find them doing so from the halls of Congress and many a statehouse, from the studios of FOX News and many an AM radio station, and from the pages of innumerable books and periodicals.

But they really do not seek to redeem the past. Rather, they want to hijack it by variously and variably fabricating it, obscuring it, and burying it in favor of a tale that denies the power of "We the people" past and present and enhances their own power and wealth forever after.

We progressives have so much to do today. But in doing it we must not fail to challenge the right regarding American experience and greatness. We must do a better job of cultivating and speaking to American historical memory and imagination. We must re-engage America's past -- to defend it, to redeem it, to make it our own.

In 1939, when the Great Depression still stalked the United States and fascism and imperialism were threatening to rule the world, Max Lerner wrote in "It Is Later Than You Think: The Need for a Militant Democracy", "The basic story in the American past, the only story ultimately worth the telling, is the story of the struggle between the creative and the frustrating elements in the American democratic adventure."

In that spirit, we must never forget the exploitation and oppression, the tragedies and injustices, and the struggles and defeats that have marked our history. But we must also remember the victories of 1776, 1865, 1920, 1935, 1945, 1965. We must hear the encouraging words and inspiring ideals: All men are created equal... Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness... We the People... A new birth of freedom... Government of the people, by the people, for the people... Freedom of speech, Freedom of worship, Freedom from want, Freedom from fear... We shall overcome. And we must honor those men and women -- in all their American diversity -- who fought those battles, spoke those words, and progressively advanced America's historic purpose and promise.

Three cheers for Governor LePage -- not just for revealing all, but also for reminding us of what we need to do, especially now with the resurgence of America's democratic impulse emanating from Wisconsin!

Propelled by the memory and legacy of those who came before us, the yearnings and aspirations we ourselves feel, and the responsibility we have to those yet to come, we can pursue not only the imperatives of recovery and reconstruction, but also that of making a freer, more equal, and more democratic America. We too can both secure the past and make history. And perhaps one day our children will recall 2011, recite the words "This is what democracy looks like," and not only return the labor mural to the walls of the state office building in Maine, but also add their own historical panels to that work.

Harvey J. Kaye is the Rosenberg Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the author of Thomas Paine and the Promise of America. He is currently writing The Four Freedoms and the Promise of America. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HarveyJKaye

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What You And I Owe the 146 Victims of the Triangle Fire

Mar 25, 2011Frank L. Cocozzelli

triangle-fireTheir sacrifice can live on if we fight for the reforms sparked by their deaths.

triangle-fireTheir sacrifice can live on if we fight for the reforms sparked by their deaths.

The names of the of the victims of the Triangle fire mean more to me than most Americans. Having lived most of my life in Italian and Jewish neighborhoods in and around New York City, I feel as though I know these people. Their faces were faces I grew up with. Their names -- Caputo, Colletti, Levine, Kaplan, Maltese, Schneider and Uzzo -- are names I've known all my life; names that echo with the same Southeastern European cadences and rhythm as mine.

What do we owe the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire? It is something I've thought long and hard about, especially on the one-hundredth anniversary of this great tragedy.

I remember once traveling by train through Southern Italy at night. I gazed out of the compartment window seeing mountain villages in the dark distance. Even then in the late twentieth century they appeared so isolated from the modern world. As I stared I thought about those who almost a century earlier had the courage and audacity to leave this then-still medieval world behind and risk the future in what was a totally alien culture of the industrial United States. I equally wondered in amazement at those who left behind their shtetls in Poland and Russia. They also took the same incredible gamble.

My great-grandmother, who came from Italy in the late nineteenth century, was a garment worker during the same period of the Triangle fire. My grandmother, Josephine, and her sisters Mary, Tessie and Rosie were also garment workers. And my mother-in-law, who came here from Italy in 1970, was also a garment worker. Like those who came before her, she spoke no English when she arrived. Yet just three days after coming to America she courageously got on a subway train, road from Brooklyn to Manhattan, and began work at a sewing machine.

As a boy, I vividly remember going to visit my grandmother in her work places, and in later years I remember going with my wife to pick her mother up at the end of her workday. All these shops were very much the same. Even with union representation they were dimly lit and cramped. Foremen still pressed for greater productivity. In the winter they would be chilly and in the summer, stifling hot. And yet they worked with the understanding that honest labor is a form of high honor.

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But what binds the victims of the Triangle fire to the garment workers I knew, and by extension, all of us? Any link I have to the 146 victims goes beyond ethnicity and neighborhoods. While many of the victims were Italian or Jewish New Yorkers, it is a greater link; indeed, it is a quality that goes to the heart of the American experience. What binds all of us is a concept of liberty that is almost too oblique to those who are now attempting to take away collective bargaining rights or gut job safety regulations. It is how many of these garment workers themselves could have defined liberty, not just as a means to accumulate massive wealth but "as a beacon of hope, shining out to oppressed peoples; it was the future teaching out to the present, to unchain humanity from the shackles of the past."

Part of that "beacon of hope" was the ability to earn their way into a better life. In exchange for giving their honest effort every work day, all they wanted was a fair wage and a safe place to toil. Those essential attributes of liberty were denied to the victims of the fire. And because they were so denied, they became reluctant martyrs for reform. Unwittingly, their burning bodies, tumbling through space, energized a movement that would lead to the creation of the modern American middle class. Their death and suffering earned a better life for you and me. And yet question still remains: What do we owe the 146 who perished that early spring day one century ago?

Frances Perkins, FDR's future Secretary of Labor, witnessed the fire. She was instrumental in the effort of progressive reform and was quoted as saying that March 25, 1911 was "the day the New Deal began." What she meant was that the tragedy of that horrible fire made Americans begin to truly realize that working people were not merely a means to wealth, but ends in and of themselves, worthy of being treated with dignity. It was the singular event that transformed Al Smith and Robert Wagner, Sr., from Tammany Hall hacks into champions of reform. It caused the Democratic Party to better live up to it moniker, "the party of the people."

Grover Norquist echoes the sentiments of many movement conservatives by saying that he wants to take the country back to the time before the Progressive Era, which began with the Triangle fire. At the very least, we owe the Triangle victims the task of reminding everyone what that world looks like. It bares the face of child labor and unsafe working conditions. And sadly we need not look to the past to be reminded; it now exists in third-world countries where far too many of our clothes are  being made. Beyond that, as advocates of FDR's legacy we owe the victims a promise that we will fight to keep the Democratic party from slipping back to its pre-fire days, when they catered to wealthy factions, by supporting those who still carry the mantle of reform.

We owe them that much. To fail to do so would dishonor their terrible sacrifice.

Frank L. Cocozzelli writes a weekly column on Roman Catholic neoconservatism at Talk2Action.org and is contributor to Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America. A director of the Institute for Progressive Christianity, he is working on a book on American liberalism.

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From the Triangle Fire to Wisconsin, Rights for Women Workers

Mar 22, 2011Brigid OFarrell

raised-fist-150Remembering Women’s History Month and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens — and how their economic

raised-fist-150Remembering Women’s History Month and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens — and how their economic lives have evolved along with their rights. Brigid O'Farrell urges Republicans like Scott Walker to listen to the women following in the footsteps of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory strikers and Eleanor Roosevelt.

For Women's History Month this year, thousands of people around the country are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Fire. On Saturday, March 25, 1911, flames engulfed a sweatshop just off of Washington Square, in New York City, where women's shirtwaist blouses were made. One hundred and forty-six workers, mostly young Jewish and Italian girls, were burned to death by the fire or jumped to their deaths to escape. Doors were locked and the fire ladders couldn't reach the top floors of the burning building. Women died at their sewing machines, but they didn't have the right to vote in elections. The fire was an historic turning point for the country. The movement for social justice took on new urgency. Workplace safety legislation became a reality, the union movement gained momentum, and eventually women won the right to vote.

March is a time to celebrate the progress that women have made since the Triangle Fire, but there is also reason to pause and consider the fight that continues. We need only turn to Wisconsin. Governor Walker's outright attack on unions is, indeed, a fundamental attack on working women. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over half of state workers and 61% of city workers are women. Thirty-one percent of state workers and 42% of local government workers belong to unions. They earn better wages than those who are not union members and the pay gap between women and men is smaller among union members.

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These employees are our elementary school teachers, university professors, nurses, social workers, secretaries, and administrative assistants. They are women who are critical to making our cities work and who help turn our towns into livable communities for our families. Through their unions they have secured decent wages, reasonable benefits, ways to resolve grievances, and some security for their retirement. Yet they are being criticized and their rights taken away for economic problems they didn't create.

We can learn from Eleanor Roosevelt. She believed that all workers had a right to a voice at work. Legislation and unionization were the only two ways to protect workers, and she thought joining a union was the best way for women to improve their working lives. For her, workers' rights were human rights, and it is this basic right to have a voice at work that is being lost in Wisconsin.

Eleanor Roosevelt gave careful consideration to her positions. President Roosevelt was skeptical of public-sector unions, though definitely not anti-union as some conservatives have suggested, and his wife struggled with the issue in her newspaper column "My Day" after his death. In the 1950s, as public employee unions began to organize and grow more rapidly, however, she was shocked when a city police commissioner refused to meet with a workers' grievance committee. She acknowledged budget problems, but asked if "any workers should be kept at starvation wages?"

By the late 1950s, she concluded that unionization in the public sector was necessary because employers in the public sector were little different from those in the private sector, refusing to listen to workers and treat them fairly. "Employees who are quite evidently not receiving a living wage and are dissatisfied with their conditions of work," she wrote, "would simply be slaves if they were obliged to work on without being able to reach their employers with their complaints and demand negotiation."

When teachers went on strike in New York City in 1962, shortly before her death, she wrote that there was no "method of complaint and adjustment that could take the place of collective bargaining with the ultimate possibility of a strike." She concluded that "Under the present set-up teachers have no other recourse but to strike to draw attention to their legitimate complaints." Female public employees in Wisconsin followed Roosevelt's advise and joined unions.

Governor Walker should listen to Eleanor Roosevelt. He would learn that his time might be more productively spent cooperating with the women who teach our children and care for the sick and meet the needs of the public everyday. He could learn to solicit their ideas on how to improve services and reduce costs, then negotiate solutions. Wisconsin government could be a model of a democratic workplace, rather than a leader in an effort to dismantle workers' rights. The women of Wisconsin are joining the spirit of their sisters in the Triangle Fire and they are fighting back. They need our support. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "We can't just talk, we have got to act."

Brigid O’Farrell is an independent scholar whose new book is She Was One of Us: Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Worker, Cornell University Press.

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Obama's Delay in the Libya Intervention Took a Page from FDR

Mar 22, 2011David B. Woolner

Obama's insistence on international support may be his most Rooseveltian action yet.

As the crisis in Libya has unfolded, a number of commentators have criticized the Obama administration for the time it took to act. It has also been reprimanded for not taking the lead among the international community and for insisting, as the crisis intensified, that it would not act without the sanction of the United Nations Security Council.

Obama's insistence on international support may be his most Rooseveltian action yet.

As the crisis in Libya has unfolded, a number of commentators have criticized the Obama administration for the time it took to act. It has also been reprimanded for not taking the lead among the international community and for insisting, as the crisis intensified, that it would not act without the sanction of the United Nations Security Council.

Given the harrowing scenes broadcast from cities such as Zawiya, some of this frustration is understandable. But the process by which the administration arrived at the decision to intervene is significant, for it marks perhaps the strongest indication to date that President Obama wishes to return the United States to a more Rooseveltian foreign policy.

As an admirer of both Woodrow Wilson (for whom FDR served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy) and Theodore Roosevelt, FDR entered the White House with a unique perspective on global affairs. While he appreciated and maintained a deep respect for Wilson's idealistic calls for collective security and multilateral cooperation, he also understood -- from his distant cousin TR -- the important role and responsibility that the world's leading powers had for maintaining the peace.

Frustrated by America's neutrality laws and by the fact that the United States was not a member of the League of Nations during the inter-war years, there was little FDR could do in the 1930s except watch with alarm as the League failed to keep the peace in Asia, Europe and Africa. But this experience also proved significant, for once the United States entered the Second World War FDR became determined to establish a new world organization that would in effect combine the idealism of Wilson with the hard-hitting realism of TR.

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FDR did so by organizing the new international body around a concept he called the "four" -- later five -- "policemen." Originally made up of Great Britain, the United States, China and the U.S.S.R. (with France added near the end of the war), FDR sought to counter the ineffectiveness of the League by creating a stronger executive body. It was made up of these five powers plus a small number of other states, and would have the power -- and the means -- to act to keep the peace. His thinking along these lines can be traced as far back as January 1, 1942 when, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, some 26 governments signed a document called the "Declaration of United Nations" in Washington, D.C. Pledging to adhere to the Atlantic Charter and to the conviction that "complete victory" over their enemies was "essential" in the defense of "life, liberty, independence and religious freedom," the list of signatory states was led by the United States, Britain, the U.S.S.R. and China, followed by the other 22 nations in alphabetical order. Hence FDR's wartime alliance, commonly referred to as the "United Nations," granted pride of place to the four powers he felt were essential to the maintenance of world peace.

On matters involving the social and economic well-being of the world community, FDR assumed that a more broadly based deliberative body composed of all member states would hold sway. In essence, then, FDR separated matters of security from other non-security issues, arguing that a small executive body that could act quickly (and was supported by armed forces provided by the member states) must be placed at the head of any new "United Nations Organization" to insure that the policing function of the organization was efficient and effective.

Today's United Nations -- with a Security Council made up of five permanent and ten rotating members, and a General Assembly made up of all member states -- reflects this vision. So too do the many other multilateral institutions -- the IMF, World Bank, NATO and WTO -- that were created during and after the war. It is important to remember that these institutions were largely created under American direction in the firm belief that they would advance American -- and world -- interests. As such, President Obama's decision to adopt a multilateral approach to the crisis in Libya and to pursue a Security Council resolution in support of military action does not represent a diminution of American sovereignty or an abandonment of American leadership. What it does represent is a move away from the unilateralism that characterized America's foreign policy in the previous administration (and in the 1930s) and an embrace of the more traditional post-war multilateral expression of American power perhaps best exemplified by George HW Bush in the first Gulf War and by Harry S. Truman at the onset of the Korean War. In both cases, each president placed a great deal of emphasis on the need to obtain a Security Council Resolution and in building a coalition of powers -- which in Bush 41's case included Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, among others -- before committing US forces to combat.

All this is not to say that there are not times when the United States can and must act militarily on its own authority. But the conditions and regional sensitivity surrounding the crisis in Libya make it imperative that we act in concert with other states in the region and with the endorsement of the international community as sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council. Doing so can be frustrating, but in the long-run we will be far better off having taken the time to gain the support of the world community in our efforts to help the people of Libya free themselves from the oppressive grip of one of the world's most brutal dictators.

David Woolner is a Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian for the Roosevelt Institute.

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FDR Had Mad Skills

Mar 18, 2011

What would FDR say if he had a Twitter account and 500 million Facebook friends? The world may never know, but at least we can imagine some of his inner thoughts with a brand new, ND20-created meme. Making your own is easy -- click here and enter whatever you imagine he might have thought to himself. Share your work in the comments section and we'll round up some of the greatest hits in a post! To get us started, here's the first (h/t to James Call, who created this one):


What would FDR say if he had a Twitter account and 500 million Facebook friends? The world may never know, but at least we can imagine some of his inner thoughts with a brand new, ND20-created meme. Making your own is easy -- click here and enter whatever you imagine he might have thought to himself. Share your work in the comments section and we'll round up some of the greatest hits in a post! To get us started, here's the first (h/t to James Call, who created this one:


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Fresh Ideas For Spring: You're Invited to the Hamptons Institute April 16

Mar 17, 2011

Spring is here! And so are fresh debates about the issues you care most deeply about.

Spring is here! And so are fresh debates about the issues you care most deeply about.

The Roosevelt Institute is joining with Guild Hall in East Hampton once again to offer the 2011 Hamptons Institute weekend symposium, starting Saturday, April 16th. The ideas festival will begin with an 11:00 a.m. session, "America's Fiscal Fitness; Where Do We Go From Here?", which will feature Peter Orszag, former head of the Office of Management and Budget under President Obama, in conversation about fiscal austerity with 60 Minutes' Steve Croft. At 2:00 p.m., Paul Farmer, the renowned Harvard physician and social anthropologist currently serving as UN Deputy Special envoy in Haiti, will address global challenges in health and human rights in "Healing the World: Can We Succeed?"

Expect multiple perspectives and meaningful dialogue on the menu, plus the spectacular natural setting of East Hampton. The programs are open to the public, with tickets on sale through Guild Hall.

Last year's event was a huge success, with speakers including Elizabeth Warren, George Soros, Michael Greenberger, and others. You can check out full video from that event here. Watch the first panel:

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Memo to Chris Christie and Other Budget Cutters: Infrastructure Projects Benefit Everyone

Mar 8, 2011Mark LaFlaur

hudson-river-tunnelChris Christie might claim that he can't afford high-speed rail, but a recent panel explained why the country can't afford to miss out on it.

hudson-river-tunnelChris Christie might claim that he can't afford high-speed rail, but a recent panel explained why the country can't afford to miss out on it.

The Museum of the City of New York recently hosted a panel discussion titled "Roads to Nowhere: Public Works in a Time of Crisis," part of the museum's ongoing Urban Forum series on infrastructure in New York. The discussion focused on NYC and environs, but has implications for public works projects -- infrastructure and transportation -- around the nation. The same pressures affecting public works funding (or slashed funding) in New York hold for the U.S. generally.

About 150 transportation and public works geeks came to hear such eminent public works and transportation experts as Jeffrey M. Zupan, senior fellow for Transportation, Regional Plan Association; Denise M. Richardson, managing director, General Contractors Association of New York; Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, president of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Capital Construction Company; and Joan Byron, director, Sustainability and Environmental Justice Initiative at Pratt Institute. The discussion was intelligently moderated by New York Times transportation reporter Michael M. Grynbaum.

Hanging over the evening's discussion was a shocking, job-killing decision in October 2010 by New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Citing cost overruns, he pulled the state out of the ARC project -- a new train tunnel under the Hudson River that would have doubled commuter rail capacity between New Jersey and Manhattan, making room for an additional 25 New Jersey Transit trains per hour. Christie objected that his state had to pay more than originally budgeted and he refused to raise taxes to cover the costs. The ARC project was the nation's largest infrastructure project. Transportation secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Transit administrator Peter Rogoff went to Trenton to negotiate a compromise, but Christie rejected their offers.

Denise Richardson said that the ARC project would have provided public benefits for at least a century to come, not to mention easier commutes and less auto traffic. Christie's cancellation immediately cost about 6,000 direct jobs at a time when unemployment among contracting workers is already at 30%. (The blog 2nd Avenue Sagas says the cancellation means $478 million flushed down the drain for New Jersey alone.) Jeffrey Zupan noted wryly, "To say I was chagrined about Christie's decision is sugarcoating it." And Michael Grynbaum pointed out that Christie isn't alone in shooting down rail projects. Other Republican governors across the United States -- in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida -- have also been rejecting federal appropriations for high-speed rail.

Meanwhile, Michael Horodniceanu pointed out that Christie would not have even been the one to cut the ribbon and it was merely a political decision to appear fiscally conservative. Joan Byron observed that Christie was largely elected by "south Jersey drivers," not by "north Jersey riders," so the only people inconvenienced would be those who hadn't voted for him in the first place. Byron stressed -- and other panel members agreed -- that supporters of the ARC project had not built a sufficient base of support so that its benefits would be clear even to those who would not actually be traveling through the tunnels. We must all make clear to our fellow citizens, she said, that such public works projects raise the property values of people in the areas served and raise the overall economy by making it easier to get to and from good-paying jobs.

The public does not want to have to pay any higher taxes, understandably, but often the benefits of the public works programs are not evident to already overstressed taxpayers, and thus support is lacking. The projects support the construction workers, the materials suppliers -- an entire ecosystem of benefits. The tax income gained by state and federal treasuries as a consequence of infrastructure development and the related industries and services they feed spreads the wealth around to the general population. Public works projects should be understood as investments that last for generations.

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And even though the common view in upstate New York is that only New York City benefits from the public works projects in the greater metropolitan area, in fact the city's health is a matter of survival for the entire state. Three-quarters of the state's tax income is received from the greater New York City area. That revenue feeds services in Buffalo, Syracuse, and so on; it's in those residents' interest to ensure that New York City and environs has a healthy, robust transportation infrastructure. The same is true, of course, of New Jersey, or Philadelphia, or any other metropolitan area. A vibrant capital nourishes the provinces, and vice versa.

But Horodniceanu pointed out that it is difficult to spread the view of public works as beneficial to the public generally amid the pervasive anti-government rhetoric used by conservative politicians. With gasoline prices already rising, tax increases to pay for public transportation -- as Europeans do as a matter of course -- would be politically unacceptable. He contrasted the widespread American view (and unwillingness to pay for public transportation) with the French readiness to embrace and pay for public works. He cited a field trip of a group of French students to see the building of the trans-English Channel tunnel, popularly known as the Chunnel, while across the Channel a group of British citizens were protesting the "eminent domain" taking of wheat fields to be used for the tunnel and rail line into London. The clear implication was that the American attitude is more akin to the British than the French.

Two important subjects the MCNY panel did not discuss -- they only had an hour, after all -- were the political dimension to the "time of crisis" and the environmental benefits of public transportation. Why are there budget shortfalls? Which political party is doing most of the canceling of projects, and why? What wouldn't be possible if the rich and corporations paid their fair share of taxes? And why aren't the President or congressional Democrats pushing anything like the WPA & CCC programs that rebuilt America and employed millions in the last big depression?

To be sure, President Obama does often speak of the importance of high-speed rail and has spoken of a $50 billion, ten-year National Infrastructure Bank. In a speech to the Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 7, the President said "I want to put more people to work rebuilding crumbling roads, rebuilding our bridges. That's why I've proposed connecting 80 percent of the country with ... high-speed rail." The President understands the importance, but he and Congress have to know (and be reminded repeatedly) that there is strong popular support for these projects.

There has been some other good news that was not mentioned by the panelists. In early February, Amtrak announced the Gateway Project, a $13.5 billion tunnel that will go approximately where ARC would have gone and will boost the capacity of the Northeast Corridor. The Infrastructurist reports that the Gateway Project "would triple the number of hourly Amtrak trains heading through New York (from four to 12) and, if Amtrak ever achieves its (true) high-speed hopes for the corridor, the new tunnel could service that too." It would be the first phase of a $117 billion master plan announced by the national rail service in October that has a target completion date of 2040.

On the other coast, a rather surprising development reported by The Infrastructurist and the California High-Speed Rail blog is that Japan's ambassador to the United States has said that his country might be willing to pay up to half of the costs of a bullet-train system in California. According to California High-Speed Rail, "Basically our Japanese allies are begging us for the chance to build our train because they know it's going to profitable."

At a time when the Republican party is driven by ax-wielding Tea Party activists and the president continues to seek common ground with the party that abhors him, we must take help where we can find it, with Japanese yen or other sources. We must also work to build consensus among our fellow Americans to demand investments here at home for the tax dollars we're paying to Washington. Is our contribution to the Treasury to be spent forever on foreign wars and military bases in 150+ nations, or is it going to be spent here at home? National security begins at home, and we cannot afford a WPA or CCC to work our way out of the current (unmentionable) great depression if a half-trillion dollars and rising is going to the Pentagon every year. And the U.S. certainly cannot afford the rebuilding it needs if its treasury is being starved by the wealthy and corporations unwilling to pay their fair share of taxes.

Mark LaFlaur is Founder of LeveesNotWar.org.

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