Friday, March 02, 2007

Thursday in Washington

The Conservative Political Action Conference, which I am attending in Washington, shows the very best and the awful worst of the American right. I had never attended one of these before and wasn't sure what to expect. Part of me expected to be appalled by a predominance of so-called "religious right" groups. I have been pleasantly surprised. Apart from a twenty two year olf who confidently asserted that he would pray for my redemption and that he had the self discipline to banish lustful thoughts from his mind, I haven't really seen any evidence of what I feared. In fact, quite the reverse.

However, having gone round the conference centre this afternoon asking people who they would like to see as the Republican candidate in 2008 it was clear that Giuliani has a lot to do to appease the social conservatives. One lady told me she wouldn't vote for Giuliani because he wanted to take away her gun. I gently pointed out he was a proven leader and had a great record on crime in New York, but she wasn't going to be persuaded. Despite that, I detected Giuliani had a narrow lead here.

Mitt Romney was the other favourite. He seems to be the only one who can reach across the whole Republican Party and find allies on all wings. Perhaps it's his tendency to flip-flop on social issues which is helping him. Curious but true. The other curious thing about Romney is that none of his campaign volunteers here were willing to tell me why they supported him. To a man and woman they chanted a mnatra of being told not to speak to the media. A strange way to run a campaign when you instruct your volunteers not to tell you why they think you are great. In the end I ended up interviewing a dressed up dolphin called Flip Romney. Geddit? One of the more surreal experiences of my fledgling interviewing career.

Tonight I went to the Conference Gala banquet at which Vice President Dick Cheney was the star guest, along with former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. Cheney is not an inspiring orator. He doesn't speak, he growls. But he did come up with one good line...

"No nation has ever taxed its way to prosperity."

He made a powerful case for the continuing presence of US troops in Iraq. John Bolton, on the other hand, veered from the sensible to the lunatic. I share his criticism of the UN. He said that the US paid for 22% of the costs of the UN and pointed out that to win a vote in the UN you need 97 votes. If you add the total financial contributions of the bottom 97 UN members you'd find that they contribute 0.3% of its budget. Always nice to spend other people's money, isn't it? He advocated a system of voluntary contributions, which would make the UN more accountable to its members.

But he lost my respect when he appeared to advocate a US intervention in North Korea, designed to bring about the reunification of North and South Korea. He also made clear his view that the US should prepare to use military action against Iran. I would certainly not rule that out, but he seemed to positively salivate at the thought. I suppose the concept of 'military overstretch' is not one that he has conjured with too much. He also criticised America's European allies - two words which he almost spat out - and said that if they didn't like what America was doing "it was too damned bad".

It is safe to say that John Bolton is not my favourite American politician.

Tomorrow there will be speeches from Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. Interestingly Giuliani and McCain (despite his announcing his candidacy on Letterman last night) have no campaign presence here at all. Either they think the people here will never vote for them or it is a sign of a lack of organisation. Either way, they cannot afford to ignore the acitivists at this conference. It'll be interesting to see how Giuliani is received tomorrow.

UPDATE: A rather different take on John Bolton's speech can be seen HERE from my 18 Doughty Street colleague Shane Greer. Never let it be said that we sing from the same hymn sheet!

26 comments:

billy said...

"But he lost my respect when he appeared to advocate a US intervention in North Korea, designed to bring about the reunification of North and South Korea."

Here we have, if I can trust The Times, a nation of starving people ruled by a despot working towards a nuclear wmd. I'd have thought the justification for invasion was much stronger than that for Iraq who only had a despot and Blair's imaginery wmd. Furthermore, there is an adjacent democracy, composed of the same racial group, with a vibrant economy ready to take over the governance.

"He also made clear his view that the US should prepare to use military action against Iran. I would certainly not rule that out, but he seemed to positively salivate at the thought. I suppose the concept of 'military overstretch' is not one that he has conjured with too much."

The States aren't at military overstretch; they haven't re introduced conscription yet and as for salivating I suppose you mean he was firm in his opinions while you are ..... ?

" He also criticised America's European allies - two words which he almost spat out - and said that if they didn't like what America was doing "it was too damned bad".

By European allies did he mean the British or was he talking about the mainland Europeans, perhaps the Latins, whose agenda has never been the same as the Saxons?

AnyoneButBlair said...

Unless something happens during the campaign, Guliani will be the republican candidate. The issue is that he won't motivate the apalling and intolerant taliban-like christian right wing to vote for him as Bush did. But he will attract moderate dems who "don't want Hilary". Could be an interesting race....
If it's Guliani vs. Hilary (most likely scenario), then Guliani will win as Hilary is hated by the right and will motivate them to vote against her.
If it's Guliani vs. Obama, who knows?

AnyoneButBlair said...

P.S. the Tim Reid article in today's Times is so wrong! US Conservatives might be dispitited and fractured but they can all be united in a shared hatred of Hilary.
I think Tim is spending too much time inside the Washington Beltway and would pay his journalism to get out a bit more !!

Newmania said...

I don`t know about anyone else but this break is great for me . What with work a family and trying to keep up with about a million blogs afew days of US stuff I can ignore is very welcome from ID

Thanks

wrinkled weasel said...

These "olfs" can certainly be morally challenging when they want to and sometimes at the most awkward moments.

Good luck with banishing lustful thoughts.

Chuck Unsworth said...

Bolton is a dangerous extremist. Worse than that he is a man of almost no global vision and/or understanding. Frankly his departure from the UN was an excellent outcome. He made several valid points whilst there, but managed single-handedly to antagonise his existing allies and those who were relatively neutral.

In short, his contribution to America's reputation was entirely negative. But then again, one should look at who appointed him to this diplomatically complex and sensitive position.

Lagwolf said...

Ah Iain I was wondering if you were in DC attending CPAC. I went one year and found it rather interesting if at times odd. The speakers ranged from the amazing to the deranged as did the some of stands.

Anonymous said...

I suspect the corollary to Dick's comment is 'They warmonger their way to prosperity'. And with the amount of dosh he has made from Halliburton and Kellogg Brown and Root, on no-bid contracts, he should know.

John Bolton's case is disingenuous.

The 'bottom' are not spending the money of those at the top. The US uses 'pork barrel' politics to 'buy' the votes of the poorer countries.

Read George Monbiot if you don't believe me. Before a crucial UN vote, a US rep told the delegate from one of the poor countries that their plan to vote against a key resolution 'would be the most expensive mistake they would ever make'. Sure enough, after the vote the US pulled a huge multi-million aid package for the small country.

Take the blinkers off Iain. The US wants an anti-democratic approach to the UN where countries don't get a vote according to their population but according to their wealth, re-inforcing and worsening US hegemony across the board. So where would the checks and balances to the military-industrial complex be then ??

Anonymous said...

It just gows to show that the Republican Right (Bolton et al.) confuse the UK as being the same as continental Europe. How can that be the case when our PM has prostituted all his credibility and our Army to help the US out in the widely predicted quagmire of Iraq?

Charlotte Corday said...

Please could you or somone explain to me why in his St. David's Day tribute to the Welsh, Bush praised along with the design of Laura Ashley, the humour of Terry Jones, and the singing of Sir Tom Jones, the writing of Jack London.
I thought Jack London was born in San Fransisco.

Richard Thomson said...

"No nation has ever taxed its way to prosperity."

That's just daft. Every prosperous country has taxed its way there, using the resulting collective pot to secure borders, protect life and property, and to deliver the infrastructure which a market needs if it is to succeed.

You can argue that its possible to tax your way back out of prosperity again. But if nothing else, you'd have thought that even a stout individuallist, swashbuckling Halliburton man like Cheney would have a more sophisticated view of government spending

Indigo said...

A little while ago, MPs preposterously voted to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act. Sandi Toksvig - rather heroically, I thought - mentioned this in passing during an episode of the News Quiz. I can't find a contact e-mail for Sandi so, as Iain has written about her once, I am hoping that he won't mind my asking anyone here who can contact Sandi to let her know about the petition on the No 10 web site, asking the PM to reject the private Members Bill to exclude MPs from scrutiny under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. MPs work for and are answerable to us.

C4' said...

I think Mr. Thompson read Cheney's comments a little too literaly!

verity said...

It's very early days. Someone else will emerge - probably a governor. Guiliani is not sound on self-defence, which is a lefty view.

verity said...

Anyone But Blair writes of "the apalling and intolerant taliban-like christian right wing". Could you point to some of these people, please? I read the British discussing them with such knowledgeable contempt, yet in all the years I lived in the US - the south - I never encountered any of them. Where are they all? Many thanks.

Anonymous 11:07 writes of John Bolton referring ironically to "our European allies" - It just gows to show that the Republican Right (Bolton et al.) confuse the UK as being the same as continental Europe.

How? Where did you get that from? Why do you think that when he referred to "Europeans" he wasn't referring to Europeans and not the British, who are America's allies? Why? Are you getting confused by Billy's comment, which said: By European allies did he mean the British or was he talking about the mainland Europeans,? Billy was making a supposition. How eager you are to condemn an American! - for something he didn't say.

Whoever wrote that Republicans would be united by hatred of Hillary is correct. And no. Obama is not going to get the nomination. First, he has been in the Senate for all of two years. Americans are going to require someone with much more political seasoning and ballast.

Third, I wouldn't count on him pulling in the black vote. He's not an African American in the sense that it is understood in the US, with a shared history and shared culture. They've paid their dues. He hasn't. He's positioning himself for the next election but one.

Andrew said...

Yeah Bolton is horrid because he felt he wanted to do somethng about the most currupt, terrorist and Jew-hating organisation on earth.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte Corday said...

"Please could you or somone explain to me why in his St. David's Day tribute to the Welsh, Bush praised ...the writing of Jack London.

"I thought Jack London was born in San Fransisco."

London was born in SF. And his ancestry is - wait for it - Welsh!

Google is, in this as ever, your friend.

no longer anonymous said...

"That's just daft. Every prosperous country has taxed its way there, using the resulting collective pot to secure borders, protect life and property, and to deliver the infrastructure which a market needs if it is to succeed."

Many of these services could and indeed have been privately provided. there is plenty of anarcho-capitalist literature on the topic. That said I'm more of a minarchist.

verity said...

Andrew - Agreed. I cheered Bolton on at the UN. I like a straight talker.

Adam said...

Billy, life is a little more complex than you appear to be making out.

North Korea is believed to have a huge chemical and conventional arsenal directed at Seoul, which is, as you know, a very large South Korean city very close to the border. Invading North Korea could have what might be described as 'disastrous' consequences for the civilian population of Seoul. Before you suggest mass evacuations prior to an attack, remember that that might rather tip the North Korean's hand.

The US are stretched as it is; they don't have the additional troops for an actual invasion of Iran or even to hold down the potential increased unrest in Iraq that such an invasion would cause. Introducing conscription for an elective war on Iran just won't happen. The military don't want it, the public don't want it, Congress won't authorise it.

We are not Saxons, Billy. We are descended from, amongst others, Saxons.

hatfield girl said...

The United States is a country in which I have no vote; the current leading candidates for both parties are mysterious in their unattractiveness though almost certainly that is down to being outside of their constituency. Even so, it would be nice if there was a hope of other candidates.

billy said...

Adam said...
"Billy, life is a little more complex than you appear to be making out."

Well of course it is, but we have little space in which to express that.

'North Korea is believed to have a huge chemical and conventional arsenal directed at Seoul, . Invading North Korea could have what might be described as 'disastrous' consequences for the civilian population of Seoul."

Probably so, but not as disasterous as a N Korean Nuclear weapon hitting the US or going out on loan to a muslim terror organisation

"Introducing conscription for an elective war on Iran just won't happen. The military don't want it, the public don't want it, Congress won't authorise it."

I didn't say it would, but I repeat the US haven't called up all people of fighting age, as yet. The state of mind of military, public and Congress is subject to change. wait for the next attack inside the States and see what the public and Congress want then

"We are not Saxons, Billy. We are descended from, amongst others, Saxons."

Well actually Adam the English still display the phlegmatic tendencies of the Saxonspeak. As a small, and no doubt unrepresentative sample I offer you the Spaniards leaving Iraq after the Madrid bombings and now releasing an ETA murderer. I seem to recall that we allowed the martyrs to starve themselves to death and got on with life after a succession of city bombings.
Mongrel you maybe. I'm at least seven generations English on both sides.

6:56 PM

Machiavelli's Understudy said...

Apart from a twenty two year olf who confidently asserted that he would pray for my redemption and that he had the self discipline to banish lustful thoughts from his mind, I haven't really seen any evidence of what I feared. In fact, quite the reverse.

We seem to have more than our fair share of that lot here. In some ways, considering that, naturally, our following and uptake of American trends on occasion can be quite slow, I think that that faction has only in recent years galvanised itself and become more entrenched, encouraged by the perceived success of their Republican cousins and particularly spurred on by Dave's new Party mantra.

At least, that's the feeling I get here, on the ground.

The only glimmer of positivity to come out of this tension is that those faction members actually carry out their threats to join UKIP, or even a fringe party.

Adam said...

Yes, billy, and if they call up secret reserves of alien death lasers, they won't be overstretched then, either. However, in the real world, they are limited and they are near those limits. If the US is attacked, that may be a different matter, but for an elective war against Iran, a draft is impossible. They are, therefore, stretched, which is a condition of being near your realistic limits, rather than the limits you wish you had.

A massive attack on Seoul will have a very good chance of killing many more people than a North Korean attack on whatever part of the US it can reach, and is a lot more likely to succeed. The population of Seoul and the surrounding area is very large indeed.

So, when talking about Saxons, you were restricting yourself to the subset like yourself who are English all the way back?

David Lindsay said...

I am not as hostile to the Republican Party as one might expect: in the period that shaped the current American party system, there was a score draw between the Democrats (Civil Rights) and the Republicans (opposition to the Vietnam War). With America's primaries, caucuses, and so forth, it strikes me as obvious that one should register as a Republican in a staunchly Republican state or district.

However, at the recent midterms, and at long last, naturally and historically Democratic interests, which have for so long been strung along by the party of Wall Street and its utterly unbridled consumer-capitalism (which cannot function without abortion, among many other nasty things), have woken up to the fact that that party would actually cease to exist if it ever did limit abortion, which is why it will never do so.

For to do so would be the kill the goose that lays the Republican Party’s electoral golden egg. Huge numbers of people who were Democrats at least until 1968, or in many cases until as late as 1980, and who ought still to be so in socio-economic terms, would simply declare “Mission Accomplished” and go home to the Democratic Party.

To prevent this from happening, Republican leaders have to pretend to oppose abortion while doing absolutely nothing contrary to the pro-abortion views of Barbara Bush, of Laura Bush, probably of George Bush the Elder, and certainly of several enormous donors to Republican funds.

American readers might be interested to learn that, within minutes of the result of the last American Presidential Elections, officers of the London Chapter of Republicans Abroad, as such, had taken to the British airwaves to dismiss as “scare-mongering” the suggestion that there might now be any change to America’s abortion law.

The recent Congressional results suggest that the orthodox Catholics and white Evangelical Protestants are now about as taken in by this as the latter’s black brethren have always been, i.e., not at all. They have worked out that the abortion law is going to stay exactly the same under either party, or, to put it another way, that there is at least no less chance of changing it through the Democrats as through the Republicans.

Furthermore, they might also have realised that the strong influence of the black churches among the Democrats might well make it easier to do this, and to pursue other objectives in the field of family values, through that party rather than through its rival. Certainly, the Alliance for Marriage would seem to suggest this, as well as having the decidedly anti-capitalist edge that anyone familiar with Catholic Social Teaching and Distributism knows any truly pro-family movement to need.

The different structure of American parties, compared to British ones, has made possible the return of the Democratic Party to its economically populist, socially conservative, and thus doubly patriotic, Christian roots, utterly inimical to neoconservatism on all four points. Or rather, as it were, the return of those roots to that party.

A presidential candidacy in that vein would not only be good for America, but would also light touchpapers across Europe, Canada and the Antipodes.

So half of the Democrats should be down on their knees begging Senator Jim Webb to run, and the other half should be out finding him an economically left-wing, socially conservative, anti-war running mate and potential successor who is either a churchgoing African-American or an orthodox Catholic (easy), and preferably both (also perfectly feasible).

In which case, Rudy who?

Adam said...

Additionally, Billy, the hunger strikers got some of what they were after and your characterisation of the Spanish actions after the Madrid bombings is, I am reliably informed (by a journalist friend of mine who lived there at the time), too simple. The Aznar government attempted to pin the bombing on ETA and people really didn't like that; even so, the election that was going to be close but narrowly favoured Aznar's chosen successor only just went the other way, to a party that had been campaigning on a commitment to get out of Iraq. The British government also released early a large number of murderers from loyalist and republican terrorist groups as a result of the Good Friday agreement.

As for being a mongrel, my racial and ancestral makeup means absolutely nothing to me. Why should it? I care much more about what I'm like than who my ancestors were.