Guest Blog: Brent Budowsky on “The POTUS Plan”

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BrentBudowsky170x220.jpgFrom time to time, I will invite “guest bloggers” to share ideas and proposals that I feel deserve attention. I may not always agree with the respective blogger. However, in the spirit of principled debate about US foreign policy and national security policy issues, I think it’s important to invite some “big ideas” people into the mix. Brent Budowsky and I wrestle about policy proposals and politics frequently via email — and here is his latest ‘full flourish proposal’ on deal-making and potential deal-makers in the Middle East.
This is a big proposal — something that will be difficult for any President to swallow — but that’s why it’s big. Given the absence of any credible “deal-makers” in the administration to move America’s interests in the Middle East in a more constructive and enlightened direction, the Budowsky POTUS Plan could be an interesting and important option.
— Steve Clemons

The POTUS Plan: Mobilize All Living Former Presidents For A Historic Middle East Peace Initiative
by Brent Budowsky

At this moment of crisis and chaos, it is time for American leaders to lead and lift this land we love, to rally what Thomas Jefferson called the decent opinion of mankind, and to inspire young generations everywhere with a panoramic vision for a lasting peace in the Middle East.
The real America is never a choice between the arrogance of power and the fear of failure, it is the sustenance of military and economic power put in the service of great aspirations of good and decent people everywhere.
President George W. Bush, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Minority Leader John Boehner should announce together that the United States is undertaking a great mission to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East, with the active involvement of every living former American President.


They should announce a formal Presidential Council of Advisors that will include regular, hands-on advice and action from former Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George Herbert Walker Bush, and Bill Clinton.
They should announce that the four former Presidents will travel together on a global head of state mission to obtain commitments for a five year, trillion dollar economic, hope and reconstruction program that would become available to all in the Middle East when (and only
when) they reach formal peace accords and implement cease fires.
They should issue an open public appeal to leaders and believers of the great religions and the generation of young people throughout the Middle East.
The unity and stature of bringing together our former Presidents will send this powerful signal to the world: the United States will put the full force and power of our country behind a historic search for peace, justice, security and a better life as America’s answer to poverty, bloodshed, hopelessness, and despair.
Many will believe, possibly correctly, that President George W. Bush is incapable of a truly bipartisan, historic, panoramic peace initiative mobilizing all living American Presidents from both parties. If he is not, my advice to Democratic Leaders is to offer this proposal as a Loyal Opposition alternative that will be far more appealing, credible and realistic than any version of status quo heavy, or status quo light.
However, there are leading Republicans in the United States Senate and the Republican national security establishment who would join Democrats and advise the President to consider this. President Bush need not be doomed to a historic legacy of a failed and catastrophic eight year presidency.
If George W. Bush can emulate the last two years of the Reagan Presidency, and aspire to the higher expectations of his own version of Reagan working with Gorbachev to change the world, history will remember the nobility and aspiration of the final two years of the Bush presidency, as much as the failure of the first six.
John F. Kennedy moved the world in a thousand days and Ronald Reagan changed history in his final seven hundred and twenty. The POTUS plan would instantly elevate the President’s moral and political reputation at home and around the world. It would give him the benefit of the best advice in America, and give him the leverage to achieve key short term objectives, and raise enormous money first from governments and ultimately from capital markets, with great impact on world events.
The key that unlocks the door to a revival of true American leadership in the world would be a sea change initiative that involves the former Presidents giving regular high level advice, meeting together in on-going planning discussions, and visiting world capitals to execute a concrete plan.
Presidents and former Presidents are different from the rest of us. They have exercised the world greatest power in real life, in real time, shaping real events. The four living American Presidents today have an unprecedented scope of highest level contacts, highest level prestige, highest level knowledge, highest level global experience in decisions about war, peace, and every conceivable military and diplomatic policy and strategy.
Instead of merely recalling our Guard, Reserve and military troops to service why not recall our former American Presidents? Why not build on the growing friendship and professional respect of George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton and the long term collaboration and great friendship between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter?
Why not inspire the outpouring of support from the American people that would undoubtedly result from our President working with our former Presidents, to turn our crisis into opportunity, and resume our true role of world leadership and appeal in the battle of ideas?
Why not tap the wisest and most experienced Americans who have served in our highest office to make an unprecedented show of American commitment and unity to the world, to generate ideas and credibility in the search for a better life, and to issue a call to action to offer the young generation in the Middle East the hope for a better life?
While we seek bipartisan action to rebuild our worn down military, why not mobilize the living former leaders of the free world to win the battle of ideas through more schools and hospitals, by championing an escape from poverty and despair, by building the prospect of peace empowered by aid, investment, tourism, commerce, justice, dignity, and hope?
Official Washington would be stunned and shocked at the transforming power of the POTUS plan with an American people who are desperately yearning for a new spirit of leadership, and a world community that hungers and thirsts for America to regain its historic role as inspiring and visionary world leader.
In December of 2006 the battle of ideas is between those who exploit death, destruction and chaos to promote suicide and murder, versus incremental variations of a failed status quo with virtually zero appeal to the generation of young people who turn to violence from their despair, humiliation and rage.
This need not be; as President Kennedy said we can do better. We can elevate our debate at home and our vision for the world. We can reach to lift the common aspirations of people everywhere, and mobilize with shared purpose the full force and power of America and the greatest minds, hopes and generosity of spirit from our leaders and people.
While mobilizing our Presidents would be the first step of a hard journey, it could translate to near immediate results achieving greater NATO forces and reconstruction aid for Afghanistan; renewed support for the brave Cedar Revolution in Lebanon; and bipartisan action to rebuild our overstressed military.
These actions become far more possible in the context of a sea changed American policy mobilizing all former Presidents in a powerful, historic quest for peace. It took nearly a decade for America to fulfill JFK’s dream of landing on the moon, but it took only hours from his challenge for the impact to felt in our spirit, our science, our technology and our mobilization as a country.
The POTUS plan would empower President Bush and Secretary Rice with unprecedented moral, political and economic leverage. They could and would have full access not only to our former Presidents but to our best strategic thinkers, negotiators, retired military and great diplomats who would enlist in the cause and enlarge our domestic policy making, our moral credibility and our appeal and influence in the world.
Why not enlist brilliant diplomats such as Jim Baker and George Mitchell to be available on call to participate when necessary for real time cease fire discussions, or preparatory work for peacekeeping forces from the United Nations or NATO forces when necessary?
Why not announce the immediate convening of a bipartisan conference of leaders of the appropriate Congressional Committees to seek agreement and enactment of spending bills that would address urgent military needs, to rebuild force structures, replace outdated equipment, and enact reforms proposed by the 9-11 Commission?
If the Government of the United States came together to announce such a bold and daring vision for a better world and brought together the power, experience, judgment, wisdom, contacts and credibility of all former living American Presidents there would be a standing ovation from the American people and a surge of enthusiasm from leaders in world capitals on every continent.
If the Government of the United States moved with boldness and vision to again act as the true leader of the free world, as the true and honest champion of a better life for the next generation of young people, there would be major pledges of financial support from nations that would join us, some from relief, others with enthusiasm, all with excitement that there is a new and powerful alternative to a status quo of carnage, chaos, fear, death, sectarian bloodshed and religious war.
We are a better country with a better future, than choosing between incremental variations of failure and crisis, watching leaders position themselves for blame and defeat, tolerating the biggest untruth of all: the tired, false and deadly notion that the United States of America can no longer influence Iraq or any other event.
We can.
The hard lesson of history is that we can never dominate the world. The great lesson of history is that we can always shape it, if we rally the highest aspirations that have always made America a beacon. We must turn to first principles and remember that while America must always be strong, the force of our ideas is always more powerful than the unwise use of our force.
No American policy will succeed without a clear, courageous and far-sighted project to address the great issues that tower over all events in the Middle East, beginning with and especially the need for permanent safety for Israel and honorable solutions for the Palestinians.
Any policy towards Iraq, especially what should be an American push for a cease fire and a true reconciliation among Iraqis, would have far greater appeal to Iraqis and far more support from our people and allies in the context of a sea changed strategy for the Middle East as a whole.
Our ability to pressure the Iraqi government, to appeal to the Iraqi people, and to determine rational policy affecting American troop levels, are all improved with the changed context, of a sea changed plan for the Middle East, that is a game changer for every participant in every conflict.
Our ability to inspire worldwide political support, to unify the family of free nations, to leverage this support into dramatic economic programs with widespread multilateral financing will have far-reaching impact with every player in the neighborhood, friend, foe and neutral.
Yes these are hard, tough, brutal, ugly, issues surrounded with malevolent forces that create and exploit them, made worse by obvious and disastrous mistakes of American policy. But history has a habit of great leaders, of great nations, with great vision, overcoming their seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Who would have thought in 1948, 1960, 1975 that Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, sworn enemies, would be brought together by an American President for an agreement that was a historic triumph for Israel and Egypt alike?
Things change. Great deeds are accomplished only after the first steps are taken, by those with the daring and courage to transcend the limits of the conventional wisdom of their times.
Remember the endless bloodshed between sworn enemies over Ireland; that changed.
Remember the endless apartheid, death and Nelson Mandela in prison in South Africa; that changed.
Remember when Havel and Walesa were jailed as political prisoners; that changed.
Remember the crimes against Allende and the disappeared in Pinochet’s Chile; that changed.
Remember when American children were taught to hide under their desks in school in fear of nuclear extermination; that changed.
Remember when black children in America were whipped, beaten, bitten by dogs and murdered in churches; within a generation that changed so powerfully that an African American is now one of the leading candidates to be President of the United States and the leader of the free world.
Things change, with great risk, great cost, great danger and great vision by those who fight for those changes and make them happen.
In America many of us have our own personal Presidents, those who had special impact on our lives, on our generation, that we carry with us.
My personal President was John F. Kennedy.
George W. Bush’s personal President was Ronald Reagan.
There are lessons and legacies from both that would serve us well today.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the younger generation within the great generation, fighting against fascism in the South Pacific, rallying the spirit of freedom at the gates of the Berlin Wall.
JFK knew from war and peace, that our military must always remain second to none, but our spirit, our ideals, our dreams for the world would lift the aspirations of people everywhere and lead to our ultimate victory in the battle of ideas.
Ronald Reagan fought for one of the greatest military build-ups in the history of the world, but always believed in negotiating with our enemies from strength, with vision, courage daring for the ultimate goal not only of victory in the Cold War, but nuclear disarmament that would make the world safe from Armageddon.
It is time to enlarge our discussion, our vision, our politics, our thinking, and our aspirations for our country and our world.
The POTUS plan would mobilize the enormous experience and credibility of former Presidents from both political parties to restore our spirit of national unity, our sense of higher purpose, and our renewal of national self-confidence.
The POTUS plan would lift the American people, win support from governments around the world, and rally the aspirations of a generation of young people who want a better way than the death of the suicide bomber and the mass murder of carnage, chaos and religious war.
It is time to learn from Lincoln, to think anew, begin again, and take risks for peace, as we take risks for war.
Brent Budowsky served as Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, responsible for commerce and intelligence matters, including one of the core drafters of the CIA Identities Law. Served as Legislative Director to Congressman Bill Alexander, then Chief Deputy Whip, House of Representatives. Currently a member of the International Advisory Council of the Intelligence Summit. Left government in 1990 for marketing and public affairs business including major corporate entertainment and talent management. He can be reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.

Comments

37 comments on “Guest Blog: Brent Budowsky on “The POTUS Plan”

  1. Ts Seduction says:

    That seems to be the case here

    Reply

  2. Marky says:

    Den,
    Sounds like you would favor a “Clean Break” from further manifestos, eh?

    Reply

  3. Den Valdron says:

    I’m beating a dead horse, but I can’t leave this point alone.
    Brent Budowski’s proposal, and Steve’s squishy glorification, is everything that’s wrong with Washington policy.
    It’s an inbred circle jerk of squishiness where everyone knows everyone, and its all an endless round of smiling people in thousand dollar suits patting each other on the back telling each other who brilliant they are. Then, having blown each other orgiastically, they’re obliged to treat the excremental products of their pals, their associates, the fellow members of their class and culture, as heartbreaking works of sheer genius. Oh it might deserve raspberries, but they’ll never admit it.
    Instead its always, ‘the brilliant so and so has come up with an amazing/innovative/groundbreaking etc. etc. take on whatever trenchant issue of the day’.
    The same factors that drive Steve to call Budowski’s bowel movement ‘a big idea’ and ‘interesting and important’ guarantees that other notions, like the ‘Project For A New American Century’ manifesto gets a similar reception.
    Vile and dangerous nonsense gets the respect of brilliant work. Second and third rate minds sit as peers to the first rate. The vulgar and reprehensible, delusions of empire, legitimization of torture are not denounced.
    Inevitably, bad ideas drive out good ones. Nonsense is far easier to produce than considered brilliance. The investment of labour and study in sound ideas is time consuming, the result is less time put into shmoozing and socializing in the class. In contrast, nonsense requires much less research, much less thought, it trips gaily forth, built on confidence, easily promoted. Second and third rate minds outnumber first rate ones. Against the incremental and cautious recommendations and approaches of sound scholarship, nonsense proposes big changes and radical ventures aggressively consuming resources and opportunities. And of course, nonsense always promises the big win… it will not improve the situation in some incremental way. It will transform, redeem, revolutionize, remake. The madmen who schemed to invade Iraq contemplated not just conquest, but a remolding of the entire middle east, their elevated dreams were stratospheric.
    And thus it goes. Nonsense tolerated slowly poisons the well, it shoulders sense and senibility aside. In the end, the factors that tolerate the growth of nonsense erodes reason.
    Washington returns to the swamp of fever dreams.

    Reply

  4. Den Valdron says:

    I’m happy to acknowledge that Budowski’s proposal and writing is essentially harmless. It’s touchy feely stuff. Nobody’s going to die over this.
    But the trouble is that this same species of illogic is applied over and over to everything, to the Iraq War, to education, to god knows what else by people who are not nearly as benign as Budowski, and the result is disaster.
    Imagine Budowski cheering and chirping away for the sort of reform of FEMA which would eventually cost 2000 people their lives in New Orleans, or the great ‘visionary’ plan which cost hundreds of thousands of lives in Iraq.
    What’s the best we can say of Budowski’s nonsense? Harmless. No, there’s a lot of harm in the doors that get opened, in the legitimization of shabby and magical thinking.

    Reply

  5. bylem says:

    The POTUS Plan. If ever a metaphor contained the hopes of peaceful, thoughtful people this is it. There is no ‘plan’ here per se, nothing more than a spectoral representation of the hopes of people all across the globe.
    We must face some tough realities here. The ME is truly FUBAR thanks to the current administration. Include in that former members of this administration and it’s advisors; Colin Powell, who certainly should have distanced himself from this misadventure while he was Secretary of State by resigning rather than to allow his integrity to be sullied by telling lies to the UN. Surely a man of his wealth of experience would be keen enough to access accurately the information contained in intelligence reports. Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, et al who now wish to disavow themselves of responsibility for the chaos they have set upon the world. The cold fact is they and others still in power have placed the world on a terrible course with no redeeming qualities. There is no ‘good side’ to this. It is entirely possible that their actions have given radical Islam it’s golden opportunity to secure power in the ME for the forseeable future. It is certain that they have rendered the United States the most pitiful of giants now helpless to contain the carnage it has wrought.
    Still Mr. Budowski wants to see a means to resolve an unresolvable circumstance by ‘starting anew’ so to speak. He metaphorically sends former statesmen into the fray with the backing of the current administration and suggests that by doing so the current regime will rescue itself from itself and the condemnation of history; but that will never be. He would have this resolved and allow Bush to escape responsibility for the deaths of thousands, hundreds of thousands. That cannot be.
    There can’t be, nor will there be, any progress made until those who have perpetrated this crime against humanity have been brought to justice. The ME will not be made right until the wrongs committed by Bushco result in criminal charges brought against Bush, Cheney, Rice, Feith, Libby, Wolfowitz, Perle any and all of the neocons who set us on this path. Justice must be served. We have zero credibility on the world stage until we rise up as a country and demand that these criminals be impeached if they are currently in office, removed from office, tried and sentenced for their crimes. All the war profiteers must be punished as well.
    Mr. Budowsky, the Iraq Group, all want to let junior and his cohorts off the hook but that can not be if we are to find our way out of this hell they have created in Iraq. What is our position? Do we say “Oh, well yes, they lied and hundreds of thousands of innocents died; men, women, children, but can’t we put that behind us in the interest of peace.?” Sorry. Won’t wash. Ask yourself if it was your wife, your husband, your child whose body was ripped apart and bleeding on a heap of rubble that once was your home, would you be shocked and awed? Would you just be willing to keep those images in your mind and allow the criminals responsible for their deaths go free? If it were your life that was forever changed so that now you must limp through the rest of your life missing limbs or eyes would you let them slide in the interest of peace?
    We have no credibility until we show the rest of the world that laws mean something to us; that honesty in our leaders means something; that no one in the United States is above the law.

    Reply

  6. gmpierce says:

    Brent seems to be in love with the power of politics and very important people. Unfortunately, these are the clowns that got us into this mess.
    The lunatics are still mostly in charge of the asylum, and with a very few exceptions, the Democrats are so focused on 2008 that they are unable to do what is right.
    If we need a “power panel” to unsnarl the middle-eastern mess, may I nominate: Alan Alda, Robin Williams, Louis DePalma, Carlos Mencia, Dave Chapielle, Jon Stewart and Stephen Correll.
    Our top comedians have more compassion and human understanding than the entire DC establishment.
    As Kinky Friedman said during his campaign: “How hard can it be”.

    Reply

  7. MP says:

    Den says, “Remember those guys who said that Iraq would be a cakewalk, that we’d be welcomed with flowers, that regimes would magically topple and democracy would bloom…?
    Same goddammed thing as Brent. The same obsession with buzzwords and word salad and word necklaces, the same messianic mystical impulses.”
    I can’ argue with you Den. His writing is bizarre and skirts thought. An unwillingness to see that we have to make hard choices.
    I don’t argue with the basic proposal–get the help and advice of former presidents–it’s benign, I think, even commonsensical. But his hopes for it, his vision of what it might accomplish, are out of touch with reality.

    Reply

  8. sara blaise says:

    You trust these guys?????

    Reply

  9. Den Valdron says:

    Actually, MP, yes, I am going to cast stones at Brent. The stakes are now much too high to keep on catering to this sort of delusional para-schizophrenic thinking that poisons so much of the American dialogue.
    Remember those guys who said that Iraq would be a cakewalk, that we’d be welcomed with flowers, that regimes would magically topple and democracy would bloom…?
    Same goddammed thing as Brent. The same obsession with buzzwords and word salad and word necklaces, the same messianic mystical impulses.
    Brent’s sort of thinking exists on both the right and the left, and no matter where it appears, whenever it gets a toehold, it produces untold damage.
    So if you want my druthers, I’m inclined to whip him until his dog bleeds, or until he smartens up. Look around you? Is America in good shape? No more retards in the discussion please.
    I have all kinds of respect for the differently abled. But just because I appreciate the struggles of an acute downes syndrome person to live their own life with independence and dignity… that don’t mean I’m okay with them doing dentistry or open heart surgery on me.
    By the same token, whatever Brent’s qualifications and merits as a person and as a thinker, I got no tolerance whatsoever for this sort of dangerous delusional mystical tripe.

    Reply

  10. p.lukasiak says:

    MP….
    while its true that all nations act in their own self-interest, “12 randomly chosen former heads of state” would see the interests of their nations as first and foremost stability in the Middle East (everyone wants to keep the oil flowing.) Most importantly, such a group would concern itself with the security of the US, Bush’s legacy, and America’s reputation and standing as a world power only within the context of Mid-East stability — in other words, they might come up with a solution that works for the region and the world, but isn’t in Bushco’s/America’s interests.
    That is how the pottery barn rule works — its not “you break it, you own it”…its “you break it, YOU PAY FOR IT and you leave the store, and WE will sweep up the pieces”

    Reply

  11. TokyoTom says:

    Mr. Budowsky, what is in this plan that benefits Dick Cheney? Why would he agree to a diminishment of his authority in favor of Presidents who have already had their day??

    Reply

  12. MP says:

    “Just reading the headline, I have to wonder, why do proposals like this always seem like they’re more concerned with soothing the American ego and sense of relevance, than anything else? I mean, what makes us think that throwing more presidents at the problem will get us anywhere? A more viable plan might be just as likely to come out of the collaborative efforts of 12 randomly chosen former heads of state from all nations.”
    Please tell me which countries regularly engage in altruism or are much concerned with the welfare of other countries, except as it reflects well on them (scores them “points”) or helps them build alliances that increase their power or safety or harms their enemies or otherwise gives them some advantage? It’s the same everwhere, bees, and it doesn’t make sense to think that America will be, or should be, any different in that sense.

    Reply

  13. MP says:

    Doesn’t this really come down to the fact that we voted in a supremely deficient human being as president?
    I have no problem with presidents calling on ex-presidents for their opinions and even enlisting their help for special missions.
    That would seem to be the natural and normal thing to do, or at least consider.
    But what’s really happening here–the well-spring of Brent’s proposal–is that we feel helpless in the face of the complete incompetence of this Administration–don’t really think we can shorten its next two years–and are grasping at straws for anything that might save us from this walking disaster.
    So, I wouldn’t cast stones at Brent. His proposal is simply an outgrowth of our own despair.

    Reply

  14. Alex says:

    Hey Brent.
    You must feel like a dart board by now with the replies you’ve received here.
    Here’s a better idea you can run with.
    Since the US owns Iraq (“you break it, you own it”), why not make it the 51st state of the union.
    Afterall, the US did systematically kill most or all of the native Americans for their land in the US.

    Reply

  15. Alex says:

    “Bi-partisanship” is where there are two sets of crooks divvying up spoils, each in their own self-interest and each to see who gets a bigger share.
    Much of the mess the US has today can be attributed to “bi-partisanship”.
    Try “non-partisanship” and if possible, find someone(s) who can look at the situation objectively, if that’s even possible.

    Reply

  16. eatbees says:

    I’ve just read a little further in (about eight paragraphs) and despite the flights of rhetoric not seen since the McKinley era, my first instinct is confirmed. This is nothing more than magical thinking.

    Reply

  17. eatbees says:

    Just reading the headline, I have to wonder, why do proposals like this always seem like they’re more concerned with soothing the American ego and sense of relevance, than anything else? I mean, what makes us think that throwing more presidents at the problem will get us anywhere? A more viable plan might be just as likely to come out of the collaborative efforts of 12 randomly chosen former heads of state from all nations.

    Reply

  18. Pissed Off American says:

    I am amazed that the people responding to these fresh ideas are so blind to the originality of thinking behind them.
    Posted by margaret
    I once, as a child, lived next to a family whose daughter delighted in eating sowbugs. She would watch them as they scurried across her open palm, then she would flick them with her tongue, enticing them to roll up in a ball. Then, pop, into her mouth they would go. Surely, on some plane that I do not understand, nor wish to visit, her mind was engaging in “original thinking”. I can recognize that. But, still, sowbugs are not part of my diet.

    Reply

  19. margaret says:

    Thank you for this excellent post about how to regain our world leadership in a meaningful way! I, too have imagined what bold actions could be taken to stimulate temperamentally different encounters with our allies and adversaries. Gathering the gravitas of past Presidents is one bright and dramatic way to start an action which is not tied to the past, but uses the wisdom and experience of men who have faced equally difficult challenges during their Presidencies.
    I am amazed that the people responding to these fresh ideas are so blind to the originality of thinking behind them.

    Reply

  20. Carroll says:

    I don’t know about this.
    Everything thought about concerning the ME is in terms of keeping the US status quo in the region.
    You can’t have a working plan for the ME when your first and foremost consideration it how to protect the same old US status quo…when it is clear the non US favored Arab states seems are tired of the US status quo and willing to fight to change it.

    Reply

  21. Den Valdron says:

    “The POTUS Plan, edited….
    At this moment of crisis and chaos, it is time for American leaders to lead and lift this land …to inspire young generations everywhere with a panoramic vision…. The real America is … the sustenance of military and economic power put in the service of great aspirations of good and decent people everywhere.
    They should announce a formal Presidential Council of Advisors that will include regular, hands-on advice and action from former Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George Herbert Walker Bush, and Bill Clinton.
    Presidents and former Presidents are different from the rest of us. They have exercised the world greatest power in real life, in real time, shaping real events. The four living American Presidents today have an unprecedented scope of highest level contacts, highest level prestige, highest level knowledge, highest level global experience in decisions about war, peace, and every conceivable military and diplomatic policy and strategy.
    Why not inspire the outpouring of support from the American people that would undoubtedly result from our President working with our former Presidents, to turn our crisis into opportunity, and resume our true role of world leadership and appeal in the battle of ideas? Why not tap the wisest and most experienced Americans who have served in our highest office.
    These actions become far more possible in the context of a sea changed American policy mobilizing all former Presidents in a powerful, historic quest for peace.
    The POTUS plan would empower President Bush and Secretary Rice with unprecedented moral, political and economic leverage. If the Government of the United States moved with boldness and vision to again act as the true leader of the free world, as the true and honest champion of a better life for the next generation of young people, there would be major pledges of financial support from nations that would join us, some from relief, others with enthusiasm, all with excitement.
    It is time to enlarge our discussion, our vision, our politics, our thinking, and our aspirations for our country and our world.
    The POTUS plan would mobilize the enormous experience and credibility of former Presidents from both political parties to restore our spirit of national unity, our sense of higher purpose, and our renewal of national self-confidence.
    The POTUS plan would lift the American people, win support from governments around the world, and rally the aspirations of a generation of young people who want a better way than the death of the suicide bomber and the mass murder of carnage, chaos and religious war.”
    Good lord. So this is what passes for the state of public policy thinking in America?
    For the record, I looked up Ms Marple’s big book of etiquette on the subject of masturbation:
    “While masturbation is a pleasant and relaxing activity, the health benefits of same are controversial. Nevertheless, it should always be a private avocation. It is the height of poor taste to whip it out in public, and shout to the top of your lungs in religious ecstasy while doing so, and it is a decided faux pas to spatter your neighbors with the products of your effort. Such people should not be invited back for tea.”
    There is much here that is bizarre, demented, unhealthy and simply deluded. I’ll not waste my time on a full dissection. But let me offer an observation or two.
    Didn’t the United States have a revolution against the Divine Right of Kings? Prior to the Enlightenment and the Revolution, there was a notion that Kings not only ruled through divine right and appointment, but in fact were annointed by God as literally a better, more divine sort of human being. Indeed, in medieval thinking, the mere touch of a King had the power to heal the sick and injured, and some courts had formal occasions where the order of the day was such a laying on of hands. The penchant of the British Royal family for visiting hospitals is a faint holdover of that sort of thinking.
    Somehow, though, I find echoes of the Divinity of Kings in Mr. Budowsky’s embarrassing rant. Good lord. Mr. Budowsky proposes to abandon principles of constitutional democracy in favour of the ‘post-elected’ He’d formalize a council of ex-Presidents as a governing/deliberative/advisory body. What a bizarre and amazing proposition, in and of itself.
    Notably, he awards no specific powers to this body. But then, in his fever dream world, he doesn’t need to. The very act of this synergy will create a sort of holy revolution, an ejaculation of moral and spiritual renewal. Like the Kings of old healing the sick, our annointed former Presidents, simply by being there will bring about a spiritual and temporal revolution, ushering in the new golden age.
    Well, at least he has a plan?
    To call this magical thinking is to insult both magic and thinking. The reasoning on display is of the near hallucinatory quality of a medieval ecstatic, or perhaps of a medication-deprived modern schizophrenic.
    This ejaculatory worship, and elevation of Presidents to near supernatural creatures, simply by virtue of having held a public office is a disturbing feature of modern American political life.
    Americans have increasingly become prone to mysticism, to attributing near mystical or supernatural significance to symbols or objects, while ignoring realities. Thus the redneck drives around with a yellow ribbon magnet sticker on his SUV and decides that this is supporting the troops. The constitution, and the meaning of the constitution is shorn, ignored and abused. But the flag becomes a holy object, to the point where there’s a struggle to give it the protection of a constitutional amendment.
    I’ve never seen it taken quite so far or so nakedly as Mr. Budowsky has. The mystical/orgiastic veneration of symbol over substance here extends to the office of the Presidency… to the point that every former President is imbued with the supernatural radiance of the office and is a repository of its power, such that accumulating this power in the form of a Council of Ex-Presidents will be a world transforming act.
    I take it back. This doesn’t resemble schizophrenic delusion. It *is* schizophrenic delusion. There’s no other way to describe it.
    Nor does Mr. Budowsky confine himself. He displays the same orgiastic faith and confidence in America itself. America to Mr. Budowsky is not simply a country, or his country. It is the messianic nation, the natural and inviolate leader of both the world, and the core of everything good. Whether by destiny or divinity, America is the moral and political godhead, the fountain from which the very stuff of matter flows, constantly at war with the stuff of ‘bad.’
    Of course, this isn’t quite so disturbing, as this demented notion of divine American exceptionalism has floated around for decades. Still, Mr. Budowsky brings a new spin to it.
    On other matters, Mr. Budowsky is not on firm ground. Specifically, Mr. Budowsky is not on a first name basis with our friend, Mr. Reality.
    The most obvious example of this comes from his squishy appeal to bipartisanship. A ship that has long since left the harbour.
    Mr. Budowsky’s worship of bipartisanship, while not uncommon (though again, he’s got his own take), is profoundly anti-democratic. The nature of a true democracy is that competing viewpoints are aired and challenged, and eventually selected upon by the voters. This isn’t how Mr. Budowsky sees it at all.
    In his world, there is good, and good = America; and there is bad, and bad = Anti-America; and that’s it. Nothing else.
    I suspect he’d dispute this if he read it, and I suspect he’s capable of more nuanced articulation. But I’ll refer you to what he’s actually written and suggest this reflects how he sees the world on primal bedrock levels. Dig deep enough, go to the core, and this is what it is.
    But there’s a problem with this view, of good and evil, America and Ant-America. It allows no room for dissent and controversy which are the hallmark of true democracy. The way Budowski sees it there’s America, and any disputing America is automatically Anti-America. There is the true way, the true path, the Divine America, the single road to the city on the hill… and any diversion or dissension basically takes us away from that hill.
    Thus, for Budowski, the democratic process of competing ideas and ideologies is a flawed and fruitless process. Worse, it is one which renders America ineffectual and impotent, which gives aid and comfort to the enemy, the Anti-America. There is only one truth, and both sides should unite in the quest of the true new Jerusalem.
    In Mr. Budowski’s world, America is at its peak when it sets aside democracy, and embraces the union of bipartisanship.
    This ignores historical realities of course, most of FDR’s term and Lincoln’s term were violently bipartisan, the opposition gave no support, and in fact did their best to destroy regimes that the ideologically despized. The Civil rights and Women’s rights movement was not a bipartisan endeavour. On the other hand, the Vietnam war was a bipartisan conflict, as was the initiation of the Iraq war. George W. Bush’s disastrous economic and educational policies garnered bipartisan support. The record of bipartisanship is indeed conflicted, and history suggests that people go marching arm in arm over a cliff as or more often than towards a shining city.
    No concern to Mr. Budowski, of course, since he’s not on speaking terms with Mr. Reality.
    All very well and nice, but the dark side of Mr. Budowski’s coin is inevitably one side of true believers lining their rivals up against the wall for execution as apostates.
    Finally, let me make an observation as to disturbing features of Mr. Budowski’s writing style. Budowski’s proposal is heavily couched in what I call word salads, simply throwing in a whole pile of words without particular reference or meaning and hoping they’ll just spontaneously organize themselves into thought.
    In particular, he uses a lot of ‘word necklaces’, thus he’ll describe concepts as a sort of chain of associations, “suicide, murder…failed status quo… poverty, despair, violence, religious war.” Or “prospect of peace empowered by prosperity, aid, investment, tourism, dignity and hope.” You see necklaces of phrases continually linking together. Reading it assumes a kind of singsong cadence, you could literally put this stuff up on karoake machine and sing it.
    What’s going on? Mr. Budowksi’s thought processes are so loose and incoherent, that he is literally free-associating as he goes along, literally, he’s giving voice to whatever pops into his head, born out of the previous word or phrase, almost without regard for logic. Consider his juxtaposition of ‘tourism’ with ‘dignity and hope.’ He moves from the concrete to the general and back again, mixes and matches concepts, and literally floats near randomly, with linkages forming on near subconscious levels.
    His prose is almost entirely unmediated when you examine his specific sentence structure. He isn’t developing an idea, he’s not pruning the concept, arranging arguments logically. He’s almost singing with near orgiastic joyfulness. We’re not too far from the same mechanisms as speaking in tongues here.
    The other thing that’s worth noting is the emphasis on buzzwords, although buzzword probably isn’t the right term, the way he uses it. Instead, he imbues certain words with near mystical or supernatural transcendence that has only tangential relationship to their factual content. Again, I’m reminded of religious, or perhaps schizophrenic frenzy.
    And in the context of this, the cliche-o-meter goes completely off the charts.
    The whole thing is wrapped in a passionate, if poorly thought out screed, based in a profoundly anti-democratic world view that endorses a supernatural version of reality where certain persons are imbued with mystic transformative powers.
    Frankly, I find the whole thing shocking and disturbing. It is another example of the derangement of public dialogue in America which increasingly leaves the rest of the world astonished and terrified.
    Mr. Budowski, if you have read this review, I want you to know that I bear you no ill will, and offer no criticism to you as a human being or to your moral worth on this planet.
    Nevertheless, as a person who has had experience dealing professionally with those victimized by mental illness, I cannot help but observe the clear hallmarks of derangement within your writing.
    My advice to you, Sir, is to seek professional help, and seek it soon. It may be that it is not required, but symptoms displayed in your thinking suggest that it is needed, and problems such as these do not generally go away on their own.
    So again, seek professional help.

    Reply

  22. Jon Stopa says:

    “Baker’s plan to divide Iraq into three separate areas? What gives him the right to decide that?
    You’d think people would understand “self-determination”.
    But no. Apparently not. “You’ll take democracy and love it dammit, no matter how of you the US kills.”
    What a dumb idea. I suppose these ex-presidents will get paid too. ”
    I submit that withdrawing the Marines from Anbar is creating the defacto outline of a Sunni mini-state. So, you have the Kurds up north, the Anbarians to the west, and the Shia, stuck with all that oil, to the south. Now, if the Anbarians want oil, one way to get it is to fight the Kurds at Kirkok. That’s their closest oil. The only way to avoid this is to make that deal to share oil revenue through Bagdad. That DEAL should be in the process of being made right now.

    Reply

  23. Ben Rosengart says:

    This smacks of Robert Smigel’s “Ex-Presidents” cartoons on Saturday Night Live.
    http://revvervids.blogspot.com/2006/10/snl-ex-presidents.html

    Reply

  24. Hyperion says:

    thank you john for your 10:12 AM comment.
    my god, we have succumbed to a condition called “eaten up with the dumbass”.
    the solution? more think tanks like Steve’s!

    Reply

  25. liz says:

    This current Bush will never do it, allow it and will do anything else to save his face and legacy. I am quite frankly sick of hearing about these so called legacies. Why don’t they care what people think of them NOW>

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  26. John says:

    I’ll echo Alex with the first thought that came to mind at around paragraph three of this post — “Wow. I didn’t think there was that much room for more self-righteousness in American foreign policy.”
    The living former Presidents didn’t do much individually to achieve a lasting peace when they were in office. I shudder at the damage they could do collectively.
    I’m all for big ideas, but maybe exploring ways for global policies where the U.S. is a partner and not a driver would be a more novel, and useful, approach to serious global issues.

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  27. JM says:

    And does anyone think that petulant, vindictive and emotionally immature GWB would go along with such an idea?!
    It means W would have to acknowledge the depth and scope of his failure.
    He will not do that.

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  28. Nick Dupree says:

    Steve:
    This is fantastic! I pray you’ll put this proposal in the hands of every ’08 contender.

    Reply

  29. Zathras says:

    An even better way to shock and stun official Washington would be to convene a meeting of the four Presidents most recently deceased to advise the government on the Middle East.
    Just imagine the impact raising Presidents Reagan, Nixon, Johnson and Kennedy from the dead would have, not only on Washington, but on the world! People think the United States has lost the ability to influence Iraq’s future, do they? Well this will show them, but good!

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  30. steambomb says:

    Cant Jr. Do anything himself? Damn I wish we had elected an adult.

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  31. Alex says:

    This is just another example of the disconnect between Washington DC and the rest of the country and the rest of the world.
    Just like the disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street. Henry Paulson was telling a NYC group the other day that NYC was the financial capital if the world.
    Not lately.

    Reply

  32. Vadranor says:

    Gerald Ford is 93 and recently he has been in poor health.

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  33. Pissed Off American says:

    My oh my.
    Right.
    When pigs fly.

    Reply

  34. Marky says:

    More schools and hospitals? I love the smell of a freshly painted school in Iraq. It makes me feel like the war was all worth it.
    Mr. Budowsky’s proposal sounds completely impossible to realize, and a bad idea.
    If you liked Carter’s meddling in N. Korean politics, you’ll love a whole committe of ex-Presidents with oversized egos and huge influence interfering with the constitutionally mandated powers of the President and Congress.
    Oh, and I can’t WAIT to see GWB join the distinguished crop of diplomatic ex-Presidents.
    On the other hand, maybe he will be.. ahem.. rendered in Uzbekistan as a token of gratitude if he visits there. I could live with that.

    Reply

  35. Alex says:

    Btw. If you really want affect change in the Middle East, reduce or eliminate Israel’s aid & funding altogether from the US.
    When USrael is forced to play nice with it’s neighbors and stop picking fights and land-grabbing, then you’ll see some changes in the region.
    Not before.

    Reply

  36. Alex says:

    Sigh.
    When will you folks understand something very simple.
    Stop trying to leave an US imprint on the Middle East.
    The US has done enough damage there to last a lifetime.
    Baker’s plan to divide Iraq into three separate areas? What gives him the right to decide that?
    You’d think people would understand “self-determination”.
    But no. Apparently not. “You’ll take democracy and love it dammit, no matter how of you the US kills.”
    What a dumb idea. I suppose these ex-presidents will get paid too.
    And on top of that, GHW Bush will be part of it. Good grief.

    Reply

  37. matthew says:

    Nice words, but it’s only that: words. Speaking real truth to power in the ME will require POTUS acknowledging people’s rights, not just rhetoric. We already know what peace will look. Israeli must recognize Palestinians’ right to exist in Palestine in a state–a real state–of their own. No more settlements. No more blockades. If you don’t recognize one group of people’s right to exist in the land of their birth, why the heck should they recognize your’s. No American president has ever demanded Israel do this. End result: failure.
    Finally, Mr. Budowsky: Please include the year 1956 in your list of Israel/Egyptian interactions. You know that one: When Israel invaded Egypt over the Suez. Amazing how that act of brigandige is always omitted from the chronology.

    Reply

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