Saturday, December 31, 2011

Amplifying The Counter-Extremism Narrative In Pakistan

As I wait for the New Year's ball to drop in Times Square, I see the Associated Press has some good news to end the year on, US Ups Extremist Fight in Pakistan:

The U.S. has created a new unit in Pakistan that aims to leverage such grassroots efforts by working with local moderates to counter violent extremism — the first of its kind set up by an American embassy anywhere in the world, according to U.S. officials here. The existence of the unit has never before been reported.

[Fazal ur Rehman, a cleric who conducts madrasa lectures aimed at countering violent extremism] and other clerics attempting to challenge extremism in Pakistan recently met with U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter in Islamabad, though the 50-year-old Rehman says he has not yet received support from the Americans.

--  snip --

The U.S. chose Pakistan as the site for its new venture because it is home to a vast network of Islamist militants who have been fighting U.S.-led troops in neighboring Afghanistan for over a decade and have even organized attacks on American soil.

The three-person unit in the U.S. Embassy public affairs section was established in July. It plans to work with local partners, including moderate religious leaders, to project their counter-extremist messages and push back against the militants' extensive propaganda machine, said U.S. officials.

It will use TV shows, documentaries, radio programs and posters. It also intends to ramp up exchange programs for religious leaders and public outreach to conservative Muslims who previously had little contact with American officials. 

"There are a lot of courageous voices speaking out against extremism here in Pakistan," said Tom Miller, head of public affairs at the U.S. Embassy. "Our job is to find out how we can amplify those narratives."

The unit is just now ramping up operations, said officials. It was funded with an initial budget of $5 million that officials hope will grow. Officials declined to provide details on specific programs they are funding or plan to fund, for fear that publicly acknowledging U.S. involvement would discredit their partners.

That's a major worry in this country where anti-American sentiment is rampant. Any cleric known to be taking U.S. help is likely to be shunned by many. There are other challenges as well. Many among clerics and the public who are considered moderates have mixed views — they often oppose the killing of innocent civilians in Pakistan, but support jihad against U.S. forces in Afghanistan or against neighboring India. 

-- snip --

The ambassador's visit to the 900-student Jaamia Salafia was unusual because the madrasa teaches a puritanical strain of Islam followed by some Pakistani militant organizations, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, although Zafar said he does not support the group.

-- snip --

"They might disagree with how the U.S. is conducting some aspects of its foreign policy, but there is a huge opportunity to partner with these groups because of the mutual goal of stopping the Taliban," said Mehreen Farooq, who recently studied grassroots counter-extremism efforts in Pakistan for the U.S.-based World Organization for Resource Development and Education.

The most intensive component of the new U.S. initiative will be a media campaign focused on raising awareness about civilians harmed by militant attacks, said Miller, the embassy public affairs chief.

"We are trying to discredit these acts and take away the narrative that the militants are some kind of ideological heroes," said Miller.

Surveys have shown that despite varying levels of support for militant groups within Pakistan, a majority of citizens oppose attacks that target civilians. Militants in Pakistan often deny responsibility for civilian casualties.

This is intelligent strategic messaging. If drawing attention to the deaths of innocent (Muslim) victims is a tactic that will reduce public support for Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, then, by all means, let's support Pakistani clerics like Rehman and  "amplify those narratives." We need not agree with them on anything else.

May 2012 be a better year for our relations with Pakistan.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas Decoration From Your Government

You might have to squint a bit to make it out, but those star-gazing romantics at NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission see a Cosmic Wreath 1,000 light-years from Earth in this mass of warm dust and metallic particles that was blown about by stellar winds and is softly lighted green and red by varying wavelengths of infrared energy.

NASA published the photo three days before Christmas, thereby coming perilously close to committing a government-subsidized expression of a religiously themed sentiment.

Wow, it's beautiful and slightly scandalous. My favorite sort of thing.

Merry Christmas to all my fellow Americans and other readers, wherever in the galaxy you may be.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

RIP U.S. Public Diplomacy Commission

U.S. Government programs are the closest things to perpetual motion machines that the first and/or the second law of thermodynamics will allow. But don't call them immortal, because sometimes they do, actually, really, and in truth, get closed down.

The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy is no more, a sudden victim of our vastly overextended federal budget and of a sunset provision in its last legislative authorization.

See Missing! One Advisory Commission for details.

Monday, December 19, 2011

In The Spirit Of Juche, Dance Your Troubles Away

Here's a little something to cheer up the grieving masses in North Korea today, a dance remix of a Kim Jong-il birthday extravaganza.

Let's remember him in happier times, as the great (North Korean People's) party animal he was.  


Saturday, December 17, 2011

The First Amendment Got Railroaded By The Istanbul Express

What do you have to do to get thrown out of a Free Speech & Sensitivity Fest like the one we hosted this week to further implementation of the "Istanbul Process" on religious tolerance?

That's what the Traditional Values Coalition is asking the State Department after its observer was removed from a reception on the closing day of the Istanbul Process Conference, purportedly because of an anonymous report that she posed a threat to SecState Hillary Clinton.

I don't know any details of the incident, but that strikes me as a remarkably inept way to handle a critic.

The Traditional Values Coalition had asked for observer status at the conference. I don't know whether their request was granted, but other critical outside observers were allowed in. One of them - Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom - wrote about the conference proceedings in a New York Post piece:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday ended the “Istanbul Process,” a three-day, closed-door international conference hosted by the State Department on measures to combat religious “intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization.”

The conference was intended to “implement” last March’s UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18, on the same subject. Notwithstanding Clinton’s final speech defending freedoms of religion and speech, the gathering was folly.

Resolution 16/18 was adopted in the place of one that endorsed the dangerous idea that “defamation of religion” should be punished criminally worldwide. That call for a universal blasphemy law had been pushed relentlessly for 12 years by the Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an essentially religious body chartered to “combat defamation of Islam.” It issues fatwas and other directives to punish public expression of apostasy from Islam and “Islamophobia.”

Leading OIC states behind this campaign — Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and Pakistan — imprison and/or sentence to death “blasphemers.”

Resolution 16/18 deplores religious intolerance but doesn’t limit speech — the result of a deft State Department maneuver. The administration should have let matters rest there.

- snip -

While the Washington conference ended inconclusively, it should not have been held because:

* It offered a transnational venue for the OIC to reintroduce its anti-defamation push, just as the issue had been laid to rest at the United Nations. The administration erred in viewing resolution 16/18 as a meeting of minds between the OIC and America on freedoms of religion and speech.

- snip -

* By standing “united” (as the OIC head put it in a Turkish Daily op-ed) with the OIC on these issues, America appears to validate the OIC agenda, thus demoralizing the legions of women’s rights and human-rights advocates, bloggers, journalists, minorities, converts, reformers and others in OIC states who look to the United States for support against oppression.

* It raises expectations that America can and will regulate speech on behalf of Islam, as has happened in Western Europe, Canada and Australia.

The European Union mandated religious-hate-speech codes after global riots and other similar violence erupted in 2006 over a Danish newspaper’s publication of caricatures of Mohammad. America is facing pressure to conform to this new global “best practice”; this will only intensify it.

-- snip --

US diplomats should stop the “Istanbul Process” and begin to energetically and confidently promote the virtues of our First Amendment freedoms. They should be thoroughly briefed about the OIC’s intractable position on blasphemy laws and the extent of atrocities associated with them. They must end signaling that there is common ground on these issues between us and the OIC.

So, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation finally gave up its 12 year-long fight for a U.N. resolution that would proscribe criticism of Islam, and accepted the "Istanbul Process" to promote religious tolerance as a consolation prize. That sounds like progress to me.

But then, instead of defending our First Amendment rights and explaining them to the OIC, we promised to unleash the Political Correctness Police on our domestic critics of Islam. To subject them to peer pressure and shaming, in the words of our SecState.

I guess the Nanny State will finger-wag and shush those troublemakers, and maybe send them to their rooms without dinner.

We missed an opportunity to teach the OIC about our Constitutionally-protected tradition of mutual tolerance, which holds that the solution to offensive speech is more speech, not suppression of speakers. Of course, that tradition is only suitable when you treat your fellow citizens as adults.

A video of the conference's opening remarks has been released. You can view it below but, speaking freely, I don't recommend that since it's 40-something minutes long and a paralyzing snore monger.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Internet In A Suitcase

Occupy DC doesn't have a drum circle, but it does have a dictator-proof shared local network of wireless internet nodes that was funded by a State Department grant.

See's post, U.S.-Funded Internet Liberation Project Finds Perfect Test Site: Occupy D.C.:

When Sascha Meinrath saw the Occupy encampment in D.C., he saw something few others would — a testbed for technology.

Meinrath has been chasing a dream for more than a decade, ever since he was a liberal arts grad student in Urbana, Illinois: community wireless networks. From that small beginning, Meinrath now runs a State Department-funded initiative to create an Internet in a Suitcase — the Voice of America of the digital age.

If he has his way, Meinrath’s project will lead to low-cost, easy-to-use wireless connections around the globe, all lashed together in mesh that can withstand the whims of dictators willing to pull the plug on the internet to quash dissent. He and a team of software engineers are developing open-source software to turn cheap wireless access points and Android smartphones into nodes on the network, which could then be used by dissidents to evade censorship and to spread low-cost connections everywhere around the world. Proponents of the plan include the U.S. State Department, which has given Meinrath a $2 million grant to develop the code.

That's the most interesting thing going on in McPherson Square.

The website for the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative is here.

Over One Million Served

One million visas, that is, served up this year to Chinese applicants. Here's the
press release:

On December 14 at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, Ambassador Gary Locke presented the one millionth visa adjudicated in China this year. With the help of additional personnel and process improvements, Mission China has also successfully reduced the average wait time for a visa interview appointment to less than one week.

Since taking up his post in China, Ambassador Locke has emphasized the importance of travel and trade between the two nations. According to the Department of Commerce, in 2010, more than 800,000 Chinese visitors contributed $5 billion to the U.S. economy.

More Chinese visitors will create more jobs and opportunities in the U.S. travel and tourism industries. In addition to ongoing efforts to keep visa wait times low, the United States is encouraging the Chinese government to extend visa reciprocity to allow both U.S. and Chinese travelers longer validity visas, which is in the interests of both nations.

Next year's goal is to adjudicate more than 2 million visas in China (see this interview).

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Federal Free Lunch

The WaPo interviewed some of the DC office workers who showed up at a Gov.Loop promotional event Thursday, one of whom works in public diplomacy.

Federal workers enjoy a free lunch:

Hundreds of federal employees braved the cold Thursday and enjoyed a free meal courtesy of , the social media Web site for public sector employees. The site, marking its 50,000th subscriber, bought more than 500 free lunches for any federal, state and city employees who showed up with a government-issued ID.

As you’ll see in the video above, employees from the Environmental Protection Agency, National Endowment for the Arts, State Department, Justice Department, Internal Revenue Service and other federal agencies enjoyed free macaroni and cheese and shared their thoughts on public perceptions of the public sector.

If the pay and benefits aren't enough to attract more citizens to a career in government, then maybe free macaroni and cheese from a sidewalk lunch wagon will do the trick.

Friday, December 9, 2011

DC's Best Mayor Ever

Now I'll have to subscribe to HBO, because I have got to see the Marion Barry bio-pic:

HBO Films is developing an untitled television biopic centered on former Washington D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, whom [Eddie] Murphy would play should the project move forward, a source confirms to The Hollywood Reporter.

Spike Lee is attached to direct with John Ridley (Red Tails, Da Brick) to pen the script. Murphy, Lee and Ridley would all serve as executive producers as the Washington Post first reported.

Journalists Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood have been tapped to consult, along with The Nine Lives of Marion Barry filmmakers Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer. Jaffe and Sherwood penned a book published in 1994 entitled Dream City detailing politics in D.C.

Barry served as the D.C. mayor from 1979 to 1991 and again from 1995 to 1999, and is currently a member of the D.C. City Council representing the city's eighth ward. In January 1990, Barry was caught smoking crack cocaine at the Vista International Hotel in downtown and was arrested on drug charges, serving six months in prison.

Untitled? Allow me to suggest a title - "I'm Addicted ... To Public Service"

You're welcome, Spike Lee.

History Of The DS Bureau Published

The Office of the Historian did a wonderful job with this. Download it here.

The new Diplomatic Security history, professionally researched and written by the State Department Historian’s Office, is an authoritative reference source and an archival record of the many critical duties, milestone events, prominent personalities, and worldwide locations with which DS has been associated over the past century. The first comprehensive, detailed history ever prepared, it is dedicated to the men and women who have served the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and its predecessors – the Office of Security (SY) and the Office of the Chief Special Agent of the U.S. Department of State – from the inception in 1916 up to the present.

This is some great stuff. I'm going down Memory Lane with it, reading about so many people I have worked for or with, and so many events I was privileged to see or participate in over the years.

It occurs to me that the publication of a document full of Matters of Official Concern makes those MoOC blog-able via the 'referenced from existing publicly available information' loophole. So, I shall have some posts coming up about people and things I was not free to discuss before. Yea, internet freedom!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Somewhat Less Than Universal

SecState Hillary Clinton made some remarks on human rights yesterday in Vilnius, including this one that was directed at the winning Islamist parties in Egypt:

Now, in Egypt, new actors will be seated in the parliament, including representatives of Islamist parties. Transitions require fair and inclusive elections, but they also demand that those who are elected embrace democratic norms and rules. We therefore expect all democratic actors and elected officials to uphold universal human rights, including women’s rights, to allow free religious practice, to promote tolerance and good relations among communities of different faiths, and to support peaceful relations with their neighbors. Democracies are guided by the rules of the game, including the inevitable transfers of power from one party to another. And the Egyptian people deserve a democracy that is enduring.

I don't understand why people refer to "universal human rights" in the first place, since there is obviously no such thing. Can anybody name a human right that is not culturally relative but actually exists universally? But put that aside.

Don't Islamic political "actors" such as those in Egypt have their own very specific concept of human rights? I think they do. The member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation long ago adopted the Cairo Declaration of human rights, which appears to constitute the democratic “rules of the game” for Islamic states.

The preamble of the Declaration is quite clear that human rights are not universal, but are conditional on Islamic law:

Reaffirming the civilizing and historical role of the Islamic Ummah which God made the best nation [TSB note: see Koran 3:110 for the "best nation" citation] that has given mankind a universal and well-balanced civilization in which harmony is established between this life and the hereafter and knowledge is combined with faith; and the role that this Ummah should play to guide a humanity confused by competing trends and ideologies and to provide solutions to the chronic problems of this materialistic civilization.

Wishing to contribute to the efforts of mankind to assert human rights, to protect man from exploitation and persecution, and to affirm his freedom and right to a dignified life in accordance with the Islamic Shari'ah.

The Declaration goes on at length about fundamental rights, universal freedoms in Islam, and revealed divine will. The most troublesome part of it in regard to political freedoms is Article 22:

(a) Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the Shari'ah.

(b) Everyone shall have the right to advocate what is right, and propagate what is good, and warn against what is wrong and evil according to the norms of Islamic Shari'ah

(c) Information is a vital necessity to society. It may not be exploited or misused in such a way as may violate sanctities and the dignity of Prophets, undermine moral and ethical values or disintegrate, corrupt or harm society or weaken its faith.

(d) It is not permitted to arouse nationalistic or doctrinal hatred or to do anything that may be an incitement to any form or racial discrimination.

So according to the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights, you are only free to advocate what is right and good, and are forbidden to misuse information or to express an opinion contrary to the principles of Islamic law. Well, the devil - pardon the expression - is really in the details of that declaration of human rights.

We don't need to lecture the Islamist parties that will come to power in Egypt. They already have a lock on this human rights and freedoms stuff.

Google Versus Bing On December 7

It worked out the way I expected it would.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The British Ambassador To Tehran Experiences a 1979 Flashback

Let's go way back for a photo of the November 1979 mob take-over of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran (above).

Compare that to the November 2011 mob take-over of the British Embassy in Tehran (below).

You've come a long way, Iran. Congratulations.

So much animosity toward video cameras, back then, and satellite dishes today! I suppose such objects represent the Industrial Revolution and modernity to Islamist extremists, explaining their outrage.

The WaPo has an interview today with Dominick Chilcott, the British ambassador to Iran in which he recounts the embassy siege:

Q. The embassy’s main Ferdowsi compound in central Tehran has been the site of many protests, hasn’t it?

A. Yes. But in the five weeks since I arrived in Tehran, we hadn’t had a protest. I’d heard about them, and oddly enough I was quite looking forward to getting in one demonstration before I had to leave. They are generally noisy affairs with lots of chanting and maybe some stone throwing — and there was no reason to suspect this would be any different. The police had told us to expect one, and we approached it the way we would any other demo by going into what we call “lockdown.” The essential staff stays put, locked into the embassy buildings and guard house. Local staff leave. Other staff and spouses went to our second compound, Golhak, a few miles away. We had mobile phones and land lines to stay in touch, and the police didn’t say anything about a demonstration there.

So, the embassy staff assumed they would have sufficient warning of a 'serious' mob attack, as opposed to a 'normal' rock-and-bottle throwing demonstration, and that they could send the non-essential staff and dependents home where they would be safely out of the way. Stop me if you've heard this one before.

When and how did you realize this was something other than routine?

The first hour or so was much as we expected. It’s hard to know how many students there were — a few hundred, with just under half of them women. I was on the top floor of the chancery building — there were 10 of us up there — and we went to the windows to look down. Stones were hitting the building, and it was intimidating. But it wasn’t until we saw some protesters run across in front of our building, straight to the flagpole, and begin hauling the Union Jack down that we realized things had gone beyond routine. It was a major invasion, and the Iranian police were making no effort to help. We have our own guards, maybe a dozen of them, but they are not armed or equipped to resist this kind of incursion. The students raised the Iranian flag — though not very well.

Going to the windows is a very bad practice. I hope British embassies have technical means for seeing what's happening outside without needing to expose staff to bullets and flying glass.

Did it make you think back to the crisis of 1979, when 52 Americans were held hostage for more than a year?

I was busy trying to direct our response, and I also had our dog, Pumpkin, in my arms. She hates noise — and the last thing I needed was for her to bolt for cover and disappear. She is a terrier.

There were sounds of students trying to get into our building, smashing the windows. And there were also alarms going off — at 140 decibels. I was in touch with my wife, Jane, who was with Iranian friends, by phone. But it’s alarming for anyone to hear you speak against that background noise. You also have to make a real effort to think clearly and carefully.

Then the students lit a fire below us. Two of my colleagues went down to put it out but couldn’t. I was standing at the top of the stairs, worried that they may have become asphyxiated — and that if anyone came back up, it might be students, not our colleagues. We also knew that the Golhak compound had been attacked, which was very worrying, and, as we learned later, in many ways the seven staffers there had a worse time: They were rounded up and made to sit on the floor in silence for two to three hours while the intruders looted the buildings.

I am guessing that the residential compound was less well protected against mob attack than was the embassy office building. Bottom line: the non-essential staff and dependents were "rounded up" - i.e., captured and held hostage - unlike the staff who were locked down in the embassy. That's enough to make a reasonable man ask whether foreign missions in unstable places shouldn't protect their residential compounds to the exact same degree they do their office buildings.

So, yes, the 1979 precedent was always there, but most of the time we were too busy coping with the here and now to think about it.

Eventually, the smoke got so bad I decided we had to evacuate.

You went out with the mob?

We went to the ground floor and looked out through a spy hole in the door, and the invaders seem to have moved on. Strangely, it was a relief to be out on the lawn. I didn’t have a leash for Pumpkin, so I tied my silk tie through her collar. We tried to put the fire out, but the students had taken the heavy metal keys for the hydrants and used them as battering rams. Then we heard the fire brigade coming. This must have been about two to three hours after the start of the protest.

Improvised tools picked up at the scene of the attack are usually very inefficient for forcible entry. My prediction: if the day ever comes when an embassy is attacked by a mob of outraged farmers or construction workers, it will be a different story.

Did you have time to take anything with you?

Again, this is part of our emergency procedure. We each had a small bag with our passports and one or two things — I had a camera and a spare fleece, not much else. The Golhak staff had their bags taken from them and their passports stolen.

It was about then that two plainclothes policemen came up, identified themselves, and told us to take cover in the club, which is set apart from the other buildings.

You trusted them?

I didn’t see any other options.

The club was already trashed, with broken glass everywhere. As dark fell, we sat inside, away from the windows, and waited. Several riot policemen came and stood sentry. But we still didn’t know why the police weren’t there in force to stop the vandals — or how the situation might develop.

Classic British understatement. Of course, Ambassador Chilcott knows very well why the regime's police didn't stop the rioters.

In fact, it became absolutely surreal. The students — several hundred of them — were allowed to march in triumph through our compound, as though they were celebrating the climax. A couple of senior policemen and a man from the protocol department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs came in, and we learned that some senior figure had told the students, enough’s enough, time to go. And off they all went in buses and coaches. The tension dissipated.

So you could leave?

No, this was another alarming time. The police wouldn’t let us leave, and we didn’t know why. They weren’t armed, but they had batons, helmets and body armor. For two to three hours we argued with them. It seems they were keeping us until the chief of police from Tehran had done an inspection tour of the damage. At the end of it, I was allowed to go and talk to him. It was a peculiar confrontation in the middle of the British compound. He said, “It’s okay, I’ve rescued you.” And I said, “This was clearly state-supported, and there will be serious consequences.” He didn’t contest that.

That’s when we were picked up in cars from a friendly embassy.

Could you take any possessions?

Not that evening. There were a total of 23 of us in the two compounds, if you include spouses. Sixteen left first thing in the morning on a plane, with just 130 pounds of baggage between them. Essentially nothing. Just the clothes they were standing in.

The other seven of us returned to the embassy for a few hours to take stock. I went back to the residence to survey the damage and take pictures. Our possessions had just arrived and had been still in boxes. It was all ransacked — our books, piano, our family photographs and pictures, all the stuff you take around the world with you that makes where you live your home. My study was also smashed up, and the hard drive from my computer gone. So it wasn’t just mindless vandalism: They were looting anything that could provide them with information — just as they did in 1979 — to provide them with propaganda about our activities.

I believe you can still find reassembled documents from our embassy on sale in Iran. I hope the British had better shredders than we did in 1979.

Back to Ambassador Chilcott:

Our main interest on that last day was to do the absolutely necessary things — arrange for guards at the compound and for smashed doors and windows to be boarded up or repaired. It was the end of the month, and we took care to pay the local staffers.

We also took down the Iranian flag. But we couldn’t raise the original British one. It had been taken away or burned.

Would you go back?

I would like to go back. Iranians are delightful people, and the vast majority will be appalled by what the regime has done in their name. But as a foreign diplomat, you can’t work in a country that does not respect the norms of the Vienna Convention. So I don’t see how it will be possible to reopen a mission in this place with its fascinating culture and remarkable history.

The French and Italian governments may be edging up to the same decision to close their missions in Iran, according to press reports.

The day after the attack, Nov. 30, was the anniversary of the famous 1943 dinner held in the residence to celebrate Winston Churchill’s 69th birthday, when he sat between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. Jane and I were planning to commemorate that gathering, and I had invited the Russian ambassador and the Swiss ambassador (who represents U.S. interests) to join me as reminders of the ghosts of Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill. I had got out of our embassy archive the minutes of the conversation held at the Tehran Conference, at which the Big Three planned the strategy against Nazi Germany. The papers were headed “Most Secret.” And they were among the things missing from the study last week. I’m afraid that means our plans for D-Day have been compromised  . . .

The minutes of the Tehran Conference still haven't been released from the Official Secrets Act? My hat is off to the British Foreign Office. That's what I call secrecy.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Hawk 'n' Dove (Democratic Party, Not The Capitol Hill Bar)

The dove became a symbol of pacifism when Picasso's lithograph La Colombe was used for the poster of the World Peace Congress in Paris, April 1949.

If you are under the age of 50, it might come as news that there was once a time when the Democratic Party was not to the left of the Republicans on defense and foreign affairs. Foreign Policy's Passport blog has a piece today about how and when Democrats became doves:

Forty-four years ago this week, the senior senator from the state of Minnesota, Eugene McCarthy, stepped to a podium in the Senate Caucus Room and transformed the Democratic Party. Angered by the war in Vietnam and his belief that President Lyndon Johnson would "set no limit to the price" he was "willing to pay for a military victory," there McCarthy announced his intention to challenge the incumbent president of his own party in four presidential primaries.

McCarthy didn't even bother to declare he was seeking his party's nomination -- after all, in the fall of 1967 everyone knew that Johnson was practically a shoo-in to be the Democratic presidential nominee in 1968.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Democratic Convention in Chicago. McCarthy didn't end the war, but he ended Johnson's political career and in the process heralded the shift of the Democratic Party from Cold War hawks to anti-war doves. By creating a political opportunity for Democrats, opposed to the war in Vietnam, to directly engage in the electoral process McCarthy helped change the way that all political leaders -- Democrats and Republicans -- talk about national security policy. No longer could national Democrats ignore liberals skeptical of American power; and Republicans were given a renewed opportunity to cast Democrats as a party beholden to their anti-war base. Quite simply, McCarthy's quixotic presidential bid is the gift that keeps on giving.

-- snip --

Two events would ensure that McCarthy's run would be far more than that. First the Tet Offensive on Jan. 30, 1968 ... the surprise Tet attack, which struck at every provincial capital in the country as well as the U.S. embassy in Saigon, shattered the illusion of progress. In the process it exposed Johnson and the members of his administration as serial liars about the war.

Tet set the stage, but it was the "Clean for Gene," anti-war activists that sealed the deal. Trudging through the snows of New Hampshire for the country's first presidential primary, McCarthy's army of well-scrubbed volunteers (no beards or long hair for this crew) spoke to two-thirds of all New Hampshire Democrats in just a six-week period.

[Robert] Kennedy attacked the war in Vietnam with great and laudable venom; but McCarthy became the first presidential candidate to take on the very conceits of American foreign policy. In perhaps his best speech of the campaign, at San Francisco's Cow Palace in May 1968, McCarthy aimed his verbal assaults at the assumptions underpinning the bipartisan consensus that had shaped America's view of the world since the dawn of the Cold War.

"Involvement in Vietnam," McCarthy said, "was no accident. It did not happen overnight. It was a direct result of America's conception of itself as the world's judge and the world's policeman." He ridiculed the beliefs held dear by both Humphrey and Kennedy: "America's moral mission in the world; the great threat from China; the theory of monolithic Communist conspiracy; the susceptibility of political problems to military solutions; the duty to impose American idealism upon foreign cultures" calling them "myths and misconceptions, so damaging in their consequences."

-- snip --

Although the hawks won the battle in 1968, they would in short order lose the war, as a new generation of Democrats inspired by the campaign -- and its model of grass-roots anti-war activism -- would re-shape the party's views on foreign policy. In 1972, they nominated the dovish McGovern, who was as suspicious of American power as McCarthy. In 1977, a Democratic president -- Jimmy Carter -- focused on human rights as an overarching national security priority would take office; in the nearly two decades that followed the doves would maintain a tight hold on the foreign policy direction of the party, opposing the arms build up of the 1980s and the proxy wars fought by the Reagan administration in Central America. Their influence was so pervasive that the party's remaining hawkish wing would abandon the Democrats for Reagan's GOP.

-- snip --

The liberal wing of the party still views Democratic elites and party leaders who supported the war in Iraq with contempt and suspicion (not unrightfully so). For many, it was the ultimate betrayal of the movement that emerged out of the tumult of 1968 and re-opened a wound first gashed by McCarthy in that Senate Caucus Room, 44 years ago. To this day, Democrats continue to be a party defined at its grassroots by reluctance to use military force, support for multilateral institutions, and opposition to the more aggressive elements of the war on terror. There is perhaps no policy issue where the divide between party and president is more acute -- from civil liberties to the war in Afghanistan.

-- snip --

[T]he foreign policy shift that began in 1968 has consistently provided a political opening of its own for Republicans. It became an opportunity to tar Democrats with the broad brush of weakness and fecklessness on national security (a recurrent GOP political attack since the "Who Lost China" debate of the 1950s). This week came word that the Obama administration is reluctant to apologize for a recent cross-border raid that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, for fear of being portrayed by Republican presidential contenders as soft.

Even today, when Democrats debate national security -- torn between anti-war liberals and hawkish centrists, and reluctant to be cast as wimps and weaklings by Republicans -- they are arguing on a battlefield seeded by Gene McCarthy.

Ten years before Gene, that other Senator McCarthy, the one from Wisconsin, had already caused a shift in public perception about the Democrats and foreign policy. Historian Arthur Herman, my former professor, showed in his re-examination of Joseph McCarthy how the McCarthy era realigned working class, Catholic, and ‘ethnic’ (which in the 1950s meant southern or eastern European) voters from the Democrats to the Republicans over the issue of communism.

Fun fact: that other McCarthy was a great friend and political ally of the Kennedy family. Old Joe Kennedy contributed to McCarthy's campaigns, and frequently invited him to family gatherings at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. McCarthy was particularly close to Robert Kennedy, becoming godfather to his first child and hiring him as an assistant counsel for his Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (January 1953 to August 1953, after which Robert became chief counsel to the minority side until January 1955).

Have you ever seen the two of them together in a photo before? Probably not. The fact that the Kennedy-McCarthy political alliance has dropped down the memory hole of American politics is itself an indicator of how completely Democrats have denied their hawkish past.

FYI, you can browse through the official records of the McCarthy Committee's 1953-54 hearings here, courtesy of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee. There is so much misconception and convenient mis-remembering about those hearings that going to original sources is necessary.