FPI Ropes In Liberal Interventionists After All

While they didn’t sign the FPI letter on Afghanistan, some liberal interventionists are joining their neo-conservative cousins in FPI’s upcoming two-day conference on the “role of human rights and democracy in American foreign policy,” the agenda for which you can find below.

The participation of Ken Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon of Brookings’ Saban Center is not particularly surprising given their long collaboration with the neo-cons on Iraq, especially with respect to their strong support of the Surge in early 2007. The involvement of Fred Hiatt, the Washington Post’s editorial page editor (even as moderator) is also not totally unexpected, given the increasingly neo-con drift of the paper’s editorials over the past decade. And I guess Ken Wollack feels obliged to be there because they’re discussing “democracy” and he still has to work with Carl Gershman, the veteran director of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and a former chief aide to Jeane Kirkpatrick.

But why do such liberals so easily lend the credibility their presence brings to a neo-con-sponsored event without conditioning their participation on the addition of serious critics of the kinds of interventionist policies that will be promoted there? Liberals, after all, are supposed to believe that free and open debate among and between a diversity of views helps society make better decisions. But altogether absent from this event are realists, liberal internationalists who believe that the U.S. is way too over-armed and over-extended, libertarians, or veteran human rights activists and policy advocates who are skeptical of the notion that the U.S. is a morally exceptional nation — all of whom not only have strong and very relevant views about democracy and human rights and their place in foreign policy, but collectively also probably represent the views of a majority of U.S. citizens, according to any number of polls taken over the last couple of decades. The liberals’ failure to insist on broader participation and a wider debate on these issues as a condition of their participation simply contributes to the further rehabilitation of the neo-cons and their worldview.

In any event, here’s the program as announced by FPI today:

The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) invites you to the 2009 FPI Forum on September 21 and 22, to discuss how the United States and its allies can advance and defend democracy around the world. Please RSVP by registering at www.foreignpolicyi.org/events.

The Obama administration is facing critical decisions regarding the war in Afghanistan and its policies toward countries such as Iran and Russia. The FPI Forum will offer a unique opportunity to reflect on recent developments and to examine the direction of American foreign policy under the leadership of President Obama. The conference will also discuss the role of human rights and democracy in American foreign policy. The 2009 FPI Forum will feature addresses from leading political figures and discussions with American and international policy experts and dissidents.

Schedule Monday, September 21

Registration/Continental Breakfast

Opening Remarks

Speaker: TBD

Afghanistan: The War in Washington

Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL)


Moderator: Robert Kagan

Board Member, Foreign Policy Initiative and Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Coffee Break

Keynote Address

Speaker: TBD

Luncheon with Governor Mitt Romney

Moderator: Dan Senor

Board Member, Foreign Policy Initiative and Adjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

2:30PM Russia: Roadblocks to Reset

Lilia Shevtsova
Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Ivan Krastev
Chair, Centre for Liberal Strategies

Moderator: Fred Hiatt
Editorial Page Editor, The Washington Post

3:30PM Coffee Break

4:00PM A Conversation with Speaker Newt Gingrich

Moderator: William Kristol
Board Member, Foreign Policy Initiative and Editor, The Weekly Standard

5:00PM Democracy Promotion: The Bush Doctrine in the Age of Obama

Elliott Abrams
Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

Kenneth Wollack
President, National Democratic Institute

Moderator: TBD

6:30PM Reception

8:00PM Voices of Freedom: A Conversation with Dissidents

Saad Eddin Ibrahim
Egyptian Academic and Democracy Activist


Moderator: Jeff Gedmin
President, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Tuesday, September 22

8:00AM Registration/Continental Breakfast

8:30AM Iran: After the Elections

Reuel Gerecht
Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies


Moderator: TBD

9:30AM Coffee Break

10:00AM Iraq and Afghanistan: Sustaining Success and Achieving Victory

Michael O’Hanlon
Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution

Kenneth Pollack
Director, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, The Brookings Institution

Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, USA (Ret.)
Former Commander of Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan and Director, Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University

Moderator: David Brooks

Columnist, The New York Times

11:30AM A Conversation with Senator John McCain (R-AZ)

Moderator: TBD

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. Aha, a bit of naivete displayed, most unusual in one so wise! I refer to the first two sentences of paragraph 3, beginning with “But why do such liberals . . .”

    Liberals no more have a special history of encouraging free debate than do conservatives. Personality and not ideology determine whether an individual really cares about the other fellow’s opinion and whether that opinion will further rational discourse. Liberals aver that conservatives are close-minded, and the opposite is equally true. And both sides are largely correct! It’s the rare individual who really tries to see all round a subject. Few of us are natural skeptics.

    As regards the people referred to in the piece, we can only speculate as to motives. Groupthink? After all, it’s hard to be against “human rights and democracy.” Let’s face it, on many matters both wings of the establishment march in lockstep.

    I agree with you that the views that will be excluded from this conference probably command the support of a majority of Americans. That, however, has never moved the establishment, particularly the foreign policy establishment. These men and women do not, after all, mix with average folks. And to some extent they don’t care what the average American thinks. “We know better . . .” — they may not say it out loud, but they surely think it.

  2. Jon, I think your biggest mistake is thinking that any of these people are arguing from a position of earnestness. I was discussing Health saving accounts with a friend who now lobbies for them, I shot some holes in his initiative showing it works well for well compensated workers in high tax brackets but is not a solution, nor workable for smaller earners. I lamented that I just wanted an honest debate. He said, “I don’t know anyone who’s interested in that.”

    Those words chill me to the bone even today, four years hence. I think you mistake these people for academics or journalists. They are ADVOCATES, their role is more akin to lawyers representing their donor/clients. You shouldn’t/can’t even rightly call them realists, liberals, conservatives, whatever. They are advocates on the take or with a stake in the game. If not, there are a few religious or other ideologues, but they aren’t capable of discussion either.

    What totally burns my ass is the suggestion that there’s any concern about democracy. DEMOCRACY, all of our allies are dictators! The only ones fooled by this democracy, freedom, liberty talk are Americans, this is all domestic propaganda. (that’s PERIOD)

  3. Actually, I didn’t say anything about whether these people are earnest or not. Try reading what I wrote again.

    Apparently one of your mistakes is believing that “academics and journalists” aren’t advocates. There’s no profession whose members are inherently dispassionate. Anybody who isn’t an advocate for something has nothing of value to say. There are people who really do strive to be fair and objective, but they are the exceptions in all walks of life.

    To your point, however. I think the majority of people on the opposite side of the debate — the neocons and others — are in fact earnest in their beliefs. It’s quite possible for human beings to be earnest and disingenuous at the same time. One can be as earnest as hell about one’s beliefs, and equally disingenuous when trying to convince others to adopt those beliefs.

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