Hoover Institution Hosts Retreat

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hoover Institution Hosts Retreat
The power of President Lincoln’s written words; the long war in Iraq; and the possible presidential candidates for the 2008 elections were among the diverse topics discussed at the Hoover Institution retreat held October 28 – 30. The retreat offered participants the opportunity to learn about current issues and historical events from leading experts in their fields.

The recent retreat is the third of four planned for this year. The retreats, first held in 1989, have grown in popularity during the past few years. This year, the number of retreats increased from the usual two to four in response to the growing demand, said John Raisian, the Tad and Dianne Taube Director at the Hoover Institution.

The wide range of topics discussed included:

Presidential Leadership and Legacies
“Abraham Lincoln’s ability as a writer was considerable and had much to do with him becoming president, but when he was elected it was a distinctly hidden asset,” said Lincoln presidential scholar Douglas Wilson.  Before his election, Lincoln was known as a first-rate thinker, speaker, and debater, but many questioned his writing ability. Wilson asserted, however, that behind Lincoln’s speaking skills was a commitment to writing. Lincoln was making notes and drafting responses to important questions in advance; thus he was fully prepared when an appropriate opportunity arose in which to present them, according to Wilson.

As an example of those writing skills, Wilson cited a letter Lincoln composed in response to those who criticized his decision to suspend civil liberties during the Civil War. In Lincoln’s reply, known as the “Letter to Erastus Corning and Others,” he ably defended his use of the war powers and turned public opinion in his favor. Lincoln’s letter – the result of considerable preparation – Wilson said, inspired public confidence and revived Lincoln’s administration.

Wilson, the codirector of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College, has twice been awarded the Lincoln Prize: for his books Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln and Lincoln’s Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words. Wilson spoke at the opening dinner of the Hoover Institution retreat on Sunday, October 28

Michael Barone, the author of the new National Politics and Our Presidents and a writer for U.S. News & World Report, presented a briefing on the U.S. presidency at the dinner the following night.

Although noting that the founding fathers had created a strong presidency, it was George Washington, Barone said, who shaped the presidency; subsequent presidents continued to shape the office and politics overall to their own goals and strengths.

The 2008 presidential election will be the first in 80 years in which neither the president nor the vice president are running, he said. The last election in which neither top officeholder sought the post was in 1928, when Herbert Hoover ran for the office.

In the 2008 election, Barone anticipates strong debates over the size and depth of domestic government and the proper tone and programs for U.S. foreign policy.

As he recounted the achievements and failures of presidents from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush, he said that the most important issue has been how presidents have framed issues. “This has been true from Franklin Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan,” he said.  Cultural issues have been more important in election results than factors such as income or ethnic group. And he believes that voters next year will pay most attention to stands taken by candidates on three issues: taxes, immigration, and national security.        

The Economy
“We're living in extraordinarily good economic times,” said John Cogan, the Leonard and Shirley Ely Senior Fellow at Hoover Institution, in his presentation “The Tax Man Cometh: Federal Spending and Tax Policy.” Cogan noted that, with unemployment below 5 percent, the United States is operating at full employment, disposable income is at record high levels, and poverty rates among all major demographic groups are down. Also, we are in the midst of an unprecedented global economic boom, he said. Although the decline in housing and the credit market turmoil creates risk to continued economic growth, the U.S. economy remains strong.  “The central fiscal challenge that we face is how to deal with the financial obligations for retirement and health benefits that we owe to the baby boom generation,” Cogan stated. The first cohort of the baby boom generation will reach Medicare eligibility in four years and Social Security benefit eligibility in five years. To meet this challenge, Cogan recommends three policy approaches: first, reform Social Security and Medicare to slow their growth and, second, reduce the rest of government spending.  The third, often overlooked and perhaps the most important approach, is to adopt policies that promote economic growth. 

The 2008 Elections
David Brady, Hoover deputy director, and Morris Fiorina, Hoover senior fellow, offered their views on the upcoming elections in a presentation titled “The 2008 Elections: Setting the Stage.” Brady discussed the presidential nominating system and how it has been modified since the 1970 McGovern reforms.  Before those reforms, bosses such as Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago ran the system, with 85 percent of the delegates’ being selected by caucuses whose members were determined by the bosses. The candidates' strategy, then, was to convince the bosses that they could be elected.  Under the 1970s  reforms, the system was reversed, with 85 percent of the candidates’ being chosen in primary elections.  In that system, the candidates focused on getting delegates to vote for them in the primaries, thus overemphasizing the Right in the Republican Party and the Left in the Democratic Party.  In the evolving system, by February 5,  2,500, or 60 percent, of all delegates will have been chosen,  giving well-known candidates the advantage. Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani benefit from this primary arrangement because they can campaign in those states where they can turn out the vote and skip those in which they are unlikely to win.

Fiorina assessed the overall chances of the two political parties in the upcoming congressional elections. In 2006 the Republicans lost both houses but consoled themselves by thinking that they would regain seats in 2008. This is unlikely, Fiorina said, because the negative conditions that hurt the Republicans in 2006 election still exist and may be getting worse. Fiorina cited President Bush's low approval ratings, the ongoing war, and fears that the economy may be slowing. Fiorina pointed out that the Republicans hold 33 marginal seats and the Democrats 28; of the 20 House races now considered most competitive, the Republicans currently hold 14. Forecasting models, Fiorina added, are predicting a loss of 6 to 12 Republican seats in the House. In the Senate, the Republicans have 22 seats up for election, whereas the Democrats have only 12, and far more Republican seats are vulnerable. If present conditions hold until the election, the Republicans could easily lose 4 to 6 Senate seats.

National Security
The view by some that the executive office is indifferent to legal constraints in the war on terrorism was disputed by Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard University law professor and member of the Hoover Institution task force National Security and Law, in his presentation titled “Lawyers' Surprising Influence on the War on Terrorism.” As the former assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice, Goldsmith said that in his two years of government service the “administration has paid scrupulous attention to the law.” Goldsmith added that nothing happens without the scrutiny of lawyers, who, he believes, sometimes exert undue influence on actions and decisions that are made in fighting terrorism.

Hoover senior fellow and former director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department Stephen Krasner discussed threats from developing countries that undermine stability in his presentation “Failed States and American National Security.” These threats include criminality, disease, and humanitarian crises; weapons of mass destruction and transnational terrorism; and large, abrupt cuts in energy supplies. “Six years after 9/11 there is no grand strategy in the United States,” Krasner said. He added that U.S. “government strategy needs to deal with failed states.” Policy changes Krasner recommended included reorganizing the U.S. government to better integrate civilian and military capabilities and rethinking the distribution of resources between civilian and military agencies.

In his presentation “American Power and the Long War” Hoover senior fellow Thomas Henriksen discussed the war in Iraq, which he believes is at something of a stalemate in that the United States cannot prevail over the insurgents in Iraq and they cannot prevail over us. The surge of an additional 28,500 troops to Baghdad has worked to some extent, Henriksen said, but he cautioned that the war is not yet over. Looking ahead, Henriksen said that the dynamics in Washington, D.C., have changed since the Democrats took control of both houses in Congress and may lead to changes in the conduct of the war next year with the national elections. He noted that pulling out of Iraq cannot be done quickly, however, because there are 14 large and 60 small military bases in Iraq and 40 percent of the army's equipment is there. Concerned that the consequences of pulling out would not be good for the struggle against terrorism, Henriksen discussed how to fight the long war against terrorism, including using technology for better surveillance; helping allies disseminate a countermessage to suicide attacks; addressing economic issues, especially employment for young men; assisting allied forces with training and equipment; and avoiding occupations, which are intolerable to Muslims. “We are going to win the war on terrorism, although there will be losses and setbacks,” Henriksen said, adding that some of the forces at work, including globalization and modernization, are hard for extremists to resist attacking.

In “Bolting from Baghdad: The Strategic Consequences of an American Withdrawal from Iraq” Josef Joffe, the Marc and Anita Abramowitz Fellow in International Relations at the Hoover Institution, also discussed his concerns over the possible consequences of pulling out of Iraq. He expressed skepticism in the belief by some that Iraq will follow the same path as Vietnam, noting that Vietnam was a peripheral country, whereas Iraq is at the center of a region. If Iraq is abandoned, Iran, as a leader in the region, moves to number one, Syria reclaims Lebanon, and, in Iraq, the war of each against all will continue, Joffe said. The United States remains in a position of power, and although goodwill toward it has diminished, other countries are not stepping in to take its place. The Iraqis have made progress in self-protection and self-government, and members of the insurgency are predominantly Sunni, who are now concerned with their status as a minority having oppressed the majority. “Cut and run is not the best approach in Iraq,” said Joffe.

In his presentation “Anger and Self-Importance” Harvey Mansfield, professor of government at Harvard University and a member of the Hoover Institution’s Virtues of a Free Society Task Force, discussed how to understand politics, which he argues  has to do with nerve. “A person with ‘nerve’ thinks he is more important than he is,” Mansfield said. “But how do we back up the reproof: How important is he, how important are we?” That, Mansfield believes, is the central question in politics. “Politics is about who deserves to be more important: which leader from which party with which ideas? Politics assumes that the contest for importance is important; in a grander sense it assumes that human beings are important.” Instead of the focus being on what you want, the focus should be on who you are, Mansfield asserts. Political science, in an effort to be more scientific, no longer addresses the question of a person’s importance, Mansfield said.

U.S. Foreign Policy
Niall Ferguson, Hoover senior fellow and Harvard professor of history, assessed U.S. foreign policy in his presentation “After the Bush Doctrine: What Next for American Foreign Policy.” The Bush doctrine that emerged after the 9/11 terrorist attacks has three components, according to Ferguson, that were developed in response to what the administration identified as “the threat of deliverable weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terror network or murderous dictator constitute as grave a threat as can be imagined.” The first of these components is preemption; the second, unilateralism; and the third includes promoting democracy, free markets, and free trade throughout the world. Impediments in the United States, including fiscal constraints, manpower constraints, a lack of attention by Americans, and a lack of legitimacy among its allies, limit the United States’ ability to pursue its current foreign policy doctrine and thus may be beyond its means, Ferguson argued. The threat of another terrorist attack – the basis of the Bush doctrine – is so uncertain that it cannot be determined, Ferguson said. Also, with the Bush doctrine, Ferguson said, other, more calculable threats have been neglected. Ferguson suggested that U.S. foreign policy address the more probable threats that face the country.

Breakout Sessions
In addition to the speakers mentioned above, Hoover fellows and guest speakers presented conversations on a variety of topics. The first set of conversations included Peter Berkowitz, the Tad and Dianne Taube Senior fellow,  on “The Conservative Mind: Election 2008 and the Varieties of Conservatism”; David Henderson, Hoover research fellow, on “Sicko-nomics: The Michael Moore Spin Stops Here”; Kenneth Jowitt, the Pres and Maurine Hotchkis Senior fellow, on “International Politics in the 21st Century: Odd Mixes versus Simple Fixes.”

The second set of conversations included Shmuel Bar, the Koret Distinguished Visiting fellow, on “The Strategy of the Jihadi Movement: Ideology and Pragmatics”; David Davenport, Hoover research fellow, on “The New States’ Rights: From Global Warning to Gay Marriage – Who Decides?”; Shelby Steele, the Robert J. and Marion E. Oster fellow, on “Clarence Thomas’s Memoir: My Grandfather’s Son.”

The final set of conversations included Herbert Klein, Hoover research fellow, on “The Social, Political, and Economic Evolution of Brazil since 1980”; Michael McFaul, the Peter and Helen Bing Senior fellow, and Abbas Milani, Hoover research fellow, on “Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Nuclear Program”; and Tunku Varadarajan, Hoover research fellow, on “Rupert Murdoch and the Wall Street Journal: Good, Bad, or Ugly?”