Magazine article The American Prospect

The Good Fight: The New Partnership for a Secure America Represents the Good Kind of Bipartisanship. but Is Bipartisanship Enough to Dislodge the Neocons?

Magazine article The American Prospect

The Good Fight: The New Partnership for a Secure America Represents the Good Kind of Bipartisanship. but Is Bipartisanship Enough to Dislodge the Neocons?

Article excerpt

OUTSIDE THE NATIONAL PRESS Club on the morning of August 3, the Washington summer was as hot and oppressive as ever. But inside, Warren Rudman and Lee Hamilton, two grizzled veterans of the national-security world, called for cool at the launch event for a new group dedicated to ending "the partisan rancor in Washington" on foreign-policy issues.

Their new group, the Partnership for a Secure America (PSA), will be run by Jamie Metzl, a former Clinton State Department official and aide to Democratic Senator Joe Biden, and Chip Andreae, formerly chief of staff to Senator Richard Lugar, Biden's Republican opposite number on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The event packed a room with reporters offering polite skepticism about the prospects of bringing calm to a polarized nation, Rudman, a former senator, asserted that "nothing that's worth doing is necessarily easy."

Bipartisanship was the watchword of the day. Rudman says the group's hope is "to issue a number of papers on specific issues" in the manner of the blue-ribbon commissions on which he and Hamilton have both repeatedly been called to serve over the years. Andreae told me that in his experience, "bringing people together from different points of view" can help create a "process that leads to the best idea."

Bipartisanship is all well and good, and certainly the town needs an organization of heavyweights that can provide a counterweight to neoconservatism. The PSA will advance the former cause. And while it's not likely, with this many Republicans aboard, that the PSA will issue scorching denunciations of the Bush administration, it could help shift the center of gravity in the foreign-policy debate.

THE GROUP IS PREPARED TO FOCUS on seven issues: bolstering the commitment to justice and civil liberties around the world; reforming the United Nations and re-engaging with allies; halting the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons material; enhancing homeland-security preparedness; reducing the national debt; gaining energy independence; and addressing global poverty, disease, and underdevelopment.

Good ideas all. So good, in fact, that it begins to make one wonder where the bipartisanship comes in. Anyone familiar with liberal thinking on national-security policy will immediately recognize that these are precisely the questions Democrats think the country needs to answer. A look at the list is a reminder of the basic reality that bipartisanship is not an agenda.

The point was proven about a year ago, when a structurally similar group, whose membership is likewise "limited to those in private life" and whose Web site forswears "ties or obligations to any administration or political party," announced its formation. Like the PSA, the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD) deliberately harkened back to the forging of a bipartisan consensus in the early days of the Cold War. The CPD is dominated by neoconservatives, with a few hawkish Democrats like Joe Lieberman and former Director of Central Intelligence James Woolsey providing token bipartisanship. This form of bipartisanship--in essence, Democrats getting rolled--has become depressingly familiar throughout the Bush years (think of the "bipartisan support" for George W. Bush's tax cuts, tort "reform" and so on).

The PSA, by contrast, reverses that cosmology: Now, it's Republicans who've signed on to an essentially Democratic agenda. The PSA advisory board is, as Metzl observed, "evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans" featuring people like Rudman and moderate Republican elder statesmen Howard Baker, John Danforth, Lawrence Eagleburger, and Thomas Kean, who represent the realist orientation traditionally adhered to by American conservatives. …

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