I traveled out to the heartland yesterday — to Dubuque, Iowa. Just got back to Washington minutes ago.
It was impressive to meet so many deeply interested in the great debates of the day, in America’s foreign policy, in the scandals in the White House, and in American politics in general. I spoke to the Dubuque Area Committee on Foreign Relations, which assembled about 70 people to hear some of my thoughts on the state of America’s national security portfolio. The room covered the complete spectrum from folks with Vietnam-era peace buttons and Anti-Bush buttons on their lapels to deeply conservative, pro-Bush Republicans.
Two of the people who helped escort me around Dubuque were brothers — one a retired high school principal and the other a retired doctor. They started their lunch conversation with me with tales of “Lonely Planet” guided trips they had made to Syria, Jordan, Libya, Laos, Cambodia, and Tunisia. I think Nepal and India are on the list — and both are trying to think of ways to get into Myanmar (Burma). Just regular fun guys who have no fear and like seeing the world. They both said that most of the people that they encounter around the world are able to distinguish between them, as Americans, and President Bush or the U.S. government — which are exceeding unpopular today.
They both said that more youthful Tunisians, Jordanians, and others tend to blur Americans and the American government — and they pose greater risks.
I’m sharing this because it’s impressive to go into the center of this country and so easily find Republican, Democrat and Independent believers in enlightened American engagement in the world.
Here is an article that did a pretty decent job getting my story repeated in the regional paper, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald:
Dubuque Telegraph Herald — 18 November 2005
SPEAKER CRITICAL OF BOTH DEMOCRATS, REPUBLICANS
Washington think tank official says foreign policy is in ‘dire’ shape
By Mary Rae Bragg
TH staff writer
Steven Clemons is a man with friends in high places in Washington, D.C., and what they are telling him does not speak well for either Republicans or Democrats.
Clemons, a program director for the New America Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, describes Democrats as leaderless and without a vision, while Republicans are at odds with their leaders and led by a president who isolates himself from all but a few.
Clemons was in Dubuque Thursday as a guest speaker to the Dubuque Area Committee on Foreign Relations.
America’s foreign policy is in a “dire” state, according to Clemons, partially because of President Bush’s failure to take opposing views into consideration.
“This is a president who thinks he makes his own weather,” Clemons said. “The cost of being surrounded by ‘yes’ men has been very high, resulting in military overreach in Iraq.”
The result of recent foreign policy decisions such as invading Iraq “is that your allies don’t count on you and your enemies move their agendas,” Clemons said. His sources inside the White House tell him there have been major divisions in the White House over where the nation’s foreign policy should be going, he said.
Clemons objects to those in the administration who foster “ballot-ocracies,” nations where one election is held and it calls itself a democracy.
“If a small player can’t sue and win against a big player, you don’t have a democracy,” he said.
Clemons believes that Democrats don’t think Bush can change and feel that he is so defensive that they only need to keep questioning his Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, make accusation against Rove and oppose the Iraq War.
“They are defining the problems, not fixing them,” Clemons said. “It’s a ‘blame them’ time.”
Clemons, who publishes a popular political blog, www.TheWashingtonNote.com, describes himself as an “ethical realist,” with sources and friends all over the political spectrum.
“Reasonable people of different mindsets can agree to disagree, but at least put things on the table,” he said.
The one thing I’ll add is that Ben Bradlee is WRONG to think that there isn’t strong interest around the nation in the recent journalistic misbehavior of Bob Woodward. I received no less than a dozen questions yesterday about Woodward — and what the revelations he made meant to the Libby investigation — and whether Bob Woodward had become the “Judy Miller of the Washington Post.”
Bradlee, like Woodward, have both been irritatingly dismissive of the importance of the Plame investigation — and what both need to realize is that NEITHER of them has much to do anymore with establishing the appetite for news in the country. The political marketplace has already determined that the Plame CIA leak is enormously consequential to this White House — and the American public is interested.
They certainly were in Dubuque.
— Steve Clemons