George F. Will and Testament

Review of ‘The Conservative Sensibility’ By George F. Will

The publication of George F. Will’s new book, his 15th, took place one month to the day after his 78th birthday. He has been writing his syndicated column for the Washington Post, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1977, for 45 years. He has been a regular feature on public-affairs television programs since the days of This Week with David Brinkley, which premiered in 1981. He follows baseball closely enough to have written two bestsellers on the subject. He finished a Ph.D. at Princeton in 1968 and is deeply steeped in the canonical works of political philosophy and Western culture as well as in American history. He has enjoyed the company of Washington political figures from Daniel Patrick Moynihan to Ronald Reagan. Though an adherent of no particular school within the spectrum of conservative opinion, he has long been one of America’s best-known conservatives.   

Columnist, pundit, television personality, scholar, author, newspaperman, bon vivant, aphorist, baseball fan, conservative—in a span that began in Richard Nixon’s America and continues through Donald Trump’s: One eagerly awaits the memoirs of such a man, or so one should.

Trotsky, Leon, 76, 224, 259, 442

A Court Worth Having? Growing Pains at the International Criminal Court

The establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague is a testament to liberal normative aspiration in international politics—the conviction that there should be a neutral juridical body, beyond the influence of the ebb and flow of political power among states, that is capable of holding the perpetrators of atrocities or aggression to account. Now, more than twenty years after the negotiation of the 1998 Rome Statute––the treaty establishing the court––and coming up on seventeen years since the ICC entered into force in 2002 with the ratification by sixty state-parties, one vexing question for proponents of international justice is that of how far beyond mere aspiration the court has managed to get.

The U.S. government has had a highly ambivalent attitude toward the ICC from the beginning. Washington long supported a jurisdictional procedure for an international criminal court that would require a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution for the court to begin an investigation. The UNSC had previously authorized the establishment of special international tribunals to deal with atrocities in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Requiring UNSC action for a free-standing tribunal would, of course, subject its jurisdiction to a veto by any of the five permanent members (P5) of the Security Council. For many proponents of international justice, this potential limitation was unacceptable. “A court worth having,” as then Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy insisted, was incompatible with impunity at the behest of the P5.[1] The Rome Statute thus also allowed the prosecutor to assert jurisdiction proprio motu (on her own motion) upon obtaining evidence that atrocities had been committed by a national of a state-party to the Rome Statute or on the territory of a state party.

President Clinton signed the Rome Statute in December 2000, shortly before leaving office, but he did so while affirming U.S. concerns about “significant flaws” in the treaty. Clinton specifically cited the ICC’s potential claim of jurisdiction over the nationals of states that had not ratified it, saying he would not submit the treaty to the U.S. Senate for ratification, nor would he recommend that his successor do so, until such “fundamental concerns” were satisfied. The expressed concern was that officials and military personnel of the United States, a global power with extensive military commitments, might be called to account before the court, even though the United States was not a state-party. Within the U.S. government, this concern was especially prevalent among senior military officers. Outside of the government, a more ideological version of this concern held that an unaccountable international court could seek to constrain the United States by targeting American officials for prosecution for official actions; in this view, the court could easily become a rogue institution capable of attacking the sovereignty of the United States.

From Hostility to Pragmatism

Under President George W. Bush, the United States “unsigned” the treaty in a 2002 letter from then Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John R. Bolton, a leading critic of the court and President Trump’s current national security advisor. Under the 1969 Vienna Convention (which the United States likewise signed but has not ratified), a signature on a treaty subject to ratification obliges the signatory not to take action that would “defeat the object and purpose” of the treaty. The Bolton letter relieved the United States of that formal obligation. The Bush administration subsequently undertook a major diplomatic initiative to adopt bilateral agreements, according to which countries pledged not to turn over each other’s nationals to the court without consent. These were called “Article 98 agreements” after the provision of the Rome Statute that allowed for them, and therefore the U.S. pursuit of them did not require “unsigning” the treaty.

Opposition to the court was especially vocal among Republicans in Congress, leading to the passage of the American Service-Members’ Protection Act (ASPA), which Bush signed into law in August 2002. It forbade U.S. cooperation with, or assistance to, the court, and, most notably, it gave U.S. presidents blanket authorization to use “all means necessary” to free any Americans in the custody of the court or held anywhere pursuant to the order of the court. That provision earned ASPA the nickname “the Hague Invasion Act.”

However, this overt hostility to the court was hardly the end of the story for the Bush administration. In 2005, the French mission to the United Nations crafted a resolution to establish an international legal framework to provide accountability for atrocities and genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan by referring the situation to the International Criminal Court. The resolution was designed to test whether the stated grounds of U.S. opposition to the court were genuine, or merely a pretext for deeper ideological opposition. Sudan was not a party to the Rome Statute; here, however, in accordance with long-stated U.S. preferences, the UNSC would be “authorizing” the court’s jurisdiction by asking the prosecutor to investigate. The resolution also explicitly provided that the court would not have jurisdiction over nationals of states that were not party to the Rome Statute.

President Bush, himself deeply troubled by the atrocities in Darfur, was eager to find a way forward on Sudan at the Security Council. France and others insisted that a legal framework was the first step. The United States had signaled a preference for a special tribunal along the lines of those which the Security Council had authorized for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. France and others insisted that there was no need for a new tribunal when the International Criminal Court could do the job. To the surprise of many, the Bush administration did not veto UNSC Resolution 1593, but rather abstained. Thus, the court took jurisdiction over the situation in Darfur, ultimately issuing a warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity—the first such indictment of a sitting head of state.

This marked the beginning of a period of pragmatic U.S. engagement with the court, an engagement which deepened during the Obama administration in which many officials had a favorable view of the court. Meanwhile, the court’s prosecutor for its first ten years, Argentina’s Luis Moreno Ocampo, conducted himself in a fashion that seemed designed to reassure the United States that the court was nothing like the rogue institution critics envisioned. While non-governmental organization representatives and others did indeed ask the court to investigate the conduct of U.S. officials—over events in Iraq, for example —the prosecutor’s office quietly demurred. Ocampo waited until 2010 to open an investigation on his own motion, looking into violence in Kenya following the 2007 election.

To the disappointment of many advocates for the court, however, the Obama administration made no significant push toward U.S. membership. The policy was limited to “engagement.” One noteworthy 2011 Obama administration decision was that of deploying U.S. special forces to Africa in pursuit of Joseph Kony, the notorious head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, wanted at the International Criminal Court since 2005 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Had U.S. forces apprehended Kony, it seems likely he would have ended up at the Hague to answer the charges, signaling a higher level of cooperation with the court by the United States government. But Kony eluded his pursuers, and the United States ended its participation in the search in 2017, citing Kony’s diminished relevance as a security threat. What might have happened remains hypothetical. While the Obama administration sent a delegation to the court’s 2010 review conference in Uganda, the administration sought no fundamental change in U.S. relations with the court beyond warmer rhetoric.

The incoming Trump administration had little to say about the court before Bolton’s arrival as national security advisor. Nevertheless, the emphasis the president and other officials have placed on the prerogatives of U.S. sovereignty, and their skepticism toward institutions of global governance, hardly boded well for the U.S. government’s relationship with the court. Meanwhile, Moreno’s successor, Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, sought—and was later denied—the permission of the court’s pre-trial chambers to open an investigation into alleged atrocities in Afghanistan, and has opened a preliminary examination (the process of determining whether to open an investigation) into the case of Palestine. Both situations are highly volatile in the context of U.S. politics.

Bolton himself removed all doubt about the Trump administration’s view of the ICC with a comprehensive attack on the court in a September 2018 speech at the Federalist Society, an organization of constitutional conservatives and libertarians, in Washington. He called the court “illegitimate” and a threat to “American sovereignty and U.S. national security interests.” He vowed, “We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”

In addition to the familiar sovereigntist ideological concerns, Bolton also took note of certain aspects of the court’s operation that have been subject to broader criticism. “Since its 2002 inception,” he noted, “the court has spent over $1.5 billion while attaining only eight convictions.” The latest prosecution to go awry was in January 2019, when former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo was acquitted on charges related to post-election violence in 2010 that left thousands dead. Sudan’s Bashir, meanwhile, has never been brought to trial, and the Kenya investigation collapsed due to lack of evidence. Bolton also noted that over 70 nations—including the United States, China, India, and Russia—were not members of the ICC, and that several African countries likewise withdrew or threatened to pull out on the grounds of what they perceived as the court’s disproportionate targeting of Africans.

In giving voice to these practical criticisms, however, Bolton inadvertently exposes a weakness in his broader case against the court. It is true that the court is far from universal in its jurisdictional reach, with many major powers on the outside. It is also true that the court’s heavy involvement with situations in Africa has raised concerns about its legitimacy there. And it is likewise true that the court doesn’t have a lot to show in the way of bringing perpetrators of atrocities to justice. The cumulative impression here, however, is not that of a rogue colossus of globalism bestriding the world and picking off malefactors willy-nilly on its own say-so; it is that of a barely effective, fledgling institution struggling to have any impact at all.

The problem with the ICC is not that it is all-powerful, per the Bolton vision, but rather that it is, structurally, all but powerless. It is entirely dependent on state power to give its proceedings effect. The Kony example provides a tantalizing glimpse of possibility—that of a state using its instruments of power to hunt down a fugitive perpetrator of heinous acts, and hauling him before an international court that will hold him accountable—but the hunt for him was always no more than a possibility. Far more familiar, alas, is the image of Sudan’s Bashir thumbing his nose at the court for years.

For now, the ICC could only wish to be half the institution Bolton fears and despises—that is, a court capable of dealing with the “worst of the worst” alleged perpetrators of atrocities–let alone an independent legal check on the exercise of U.S. power. The gap between what the court’s proponents would like it to be and what it is capable of doing is vast, and it is not diminishing.

[1] Alessandra Stanley, “U.S. Argues Against Strongly Independent War Crimes Prosecutor.” New York Times (June 18, 1998).

Trump Is Serious About Diplomacy With North Korea

His special envoy makes clear the administration’s priority is depriving the regime of nuclear weapons.

Before President Trump announced in Tuesday’s State of the Union address that he would hold another summit this month with Kim Jong Un, he indulged in a bit of braggadocio: “If I had not been elected president of the United States,” he said, “we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea.”

That may sound strange coming from a president whose engagement with North Korea began with insults and threats, with Messrs. Kim and Trump calling each other “dotard” and “Little Rocket Man.” But Mr. Trump’s alternative history aside, his administration has indeed pursued serious diplomacy with North Korea, taking a novel approach that will shape the bilateral relationship far into the future.

The new tack was made clear in a detailed speech given at Stanford last week by Stephen E. Biegun, the U.S. special envoy to North Korea. Mr. Biegun firmly reiterated the administration’s objective: “the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.” Of course that’s easier stated than accomplished, but the administration has set a standard, and has exposed itself to harsh criticism if it tries to deliver anything less.

This approach compares favorably with the one the Obama administration took toward Iran, never demanding an end to nuclear programs and settling for a deal that came nowhere close. When Mr. Trump ditched the Iran deal before engaging North Korea, he signaled his commitment to stricter terms in his talks with Mr. Kim. Mr. Trump’s critics assume the administration will settle for cosmetic changes rather than denuclearization, but its actions and its unified message lay down a very different marker.

Mr. Biegun’s speech also made clear that, although America’s policy objective in North Korea is large, it is also limited: the elimination of the nuclear threat, not the transformation of North Korea. “It is an understatement to say that our two systems are very different,” Mr. Biegun said. “We have dramatically different views on individual rights and on human rights.”

The North Korean government is truly monstrous, but the most dangerous problem it poses comes from its nuclear-weapons programs, and U.S. diplomacy must concentrate there. Mr. Kim has it clear that his motive for pursuing nuclear weapons is security, and the Trump administration would bolster his sense of insecurity by pressing for internal transformation. To Mr. Kim, that would sound like a case for regime change.

Mr. Biegun was even more blunt in the question-and-answer period after his speech. “I don’t mince my words when I say that [Mr. Trump] is unconstrained by the assumptions of his predecessors,” he said. “President Trump is ready to end this war. It is over. It is done. We are not going to invade North Korea. We are not seeking to topple the North Korean regime.” Disapproval of North Korea is not a policy, and the expression of disapproval is not diplomacy.

The special envoy also made clear that the diplomacy between the U.S. and North Korea is personal. He described negotiations as “top down”—the product of commitments Messrs. Trump and Kim personally make to each other. Usually political leaders meet only after subordinates have ironed out details.

President Trump’s diplomacy is in some ways more 19th-century than 21st. He has shed President Obama’s view that history has a “right side,” which America’s rivals will eventually seek to join. Mr. Obama’s Iran deal was premised on Tehran’s voluntarily abandoning its radicalism and deciding to join the peaceful, modern world. The Trump administration makes no such assumption about North Korea’s eventual benevolence.

Finally, Mr. Biegun’s speech was refreshingly honest about the possibility that this effort may not succeed. “It is a cliché to say that failure is not an option,” he noted. “I have intentionally not focused on the many ways that this could all fail. As the diplomatic record of the past 25 years shows, they are too numerous to count.”

What happens then? “We need to have contingencies if the diplomatic process fails, which we do,” Mr. Biegun said without elaborating. But in addition to the carrot of “a bright future for the Korean people” in exchange for denuclearization, the U.S. has always has sticks ready as well.

The Weekly Standard and Me

RIP to a magazine—and the notion that people could be persuaded by ideas

Not long after the 1994 mid-term election, the one that brought Republicans control of the House for the first time in 40 years and capped the meteoric rise of Newt Gingrich to the House speakership, the conservative media world was home to two big secrets. As editor of the editorial page of the Washington Times at the time, I was in the sweet spot of the Venn diagram, the only person in town, I believe, who knew both of them.

The first secret was that the firebrand conservative journalist David Brock had secured an amazing $1 million advance for a biography of Hillary Clinton. With David fresh off his New York Times bestseller The Real Anita Hill, the expectation at Free Press was that he would deliver revelations about the already controversial first lady on a scale even bigger than those about the woman who nearly derailed the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

The second secret was that Bill Kristol, Fred Barnes and my college roommate John Podhoretz, with the financial backing of Rupert Murdoch, were going to launch a new conservative magazine of politics and ideas to complement the new political era: what was not yet named the Weekly Standard.

The Seduction of Hillary Rodham was a flop, and David subsequently switched political sides, becoming a firebrand liberal activist. I have the interesting distinction of being about the only one of his former conservative associates—he worked for me at the Times—portrayed sympathetically in his tell-all, Blinded by the Right.

The Weekly Standard, on the other hand, was a smash hit in the world of little political magazines for over two decades, a publication that consistently outperformed expectations—until its current ownership abruptly terminated publication this week.

From the beginning, the Standard was conservative but never orthodox. My first piece as a contributing editor to the magazine—which appeared, to my chagrin, not in the much anticipated debut issue but in the second edition—was a polite but firm explanation of why the “flat tax” then in vogue as the ultima ratio of GOP tax reform plans was going nowhere politically. It was not the sort of piece that was endearing to conservative “movement” types. But it was an example of the kind of piece that keeps a magazine lively to readers.

When I left the Times in 1998 to reinvigorate the Heritage Foundation’s then-moribund conservative bimonthly Policy Review, I liked to warn people that they should expect at least 10 percent of the contents of each edition to annoy them personally. It wouldn’t be the same 10 percent for all readers, but everybody should expect it, because that was the only way I knew to keep the other 90 percent stimulating. I think I hit upon this proposition due to the early success of the Standard.

There’s a lot of blather these days about “confirmation bias” and similar cognitive functionality that drives people to respond favorably only to that with which they agree. A clear implication is that persuasion on the basis of argument doesn’t work any more. One need not spend much time on Twitter to see how thoroughly this view has taken hold.

But the Standard was never clubby or tribal in this way, designed to appeal only to those in a preexisting in-group, usually by frequent disparaging references to the out-group. Sure, there was plenty of making light in the Weekly Standard, and how favorably people respond to ridicule does depend to some degree on a shared sense of the ridiculous. But like the New Republic at its long-gone best, the Standard’s distinguishing characteristic was its almost touching faith that reasonable people could indeed be persuaded to a point of view, and that even if weren’t, they could profit from the exercise of paying attention to a serious argument.

Except for right after 9/11, when everyone in Washington was looking for someplace to go to feel constructive, I didn’t go by the Standard office much. As I imagine most readers of Washingtonian know, “contributing editor” is an honorific title, not a position entailing actual editorial responsibility beyond writing from time to time. I will leave to those on the scene the reminiscence over 23 years’ of office carryings-on and the illumination of the dark aspects and ominous corporate rumblings of the final years.

All will come out in time. Let this prediction serve as fair warning for those proud of their achievement in ensuring the magazine shut down without a fighting chance to find a new owner. There has been way too much analytical capability and writing talent on the publication staff for the story to go untold. It’s the writers who get the privilege of the last word, not the suits.

If I happened to know any more good secrets, now would not be the time to spill them. There’s been a death in the family, and I have a wake to get to—a sad occasion, but a celebration of something vital and difference-making. Huh—come to think of it, my last piece for the Weekly Standard was an appreciation of John McCain.

Interview with Tod Lindberg

Where are you from, and why there?

I was born in Syracuse, N.Y. I lived there only a couple years, then moved to Buffalo through Kindergarten, then Pittsburgh through junior high school, then Chicago through college. Actually, it was the same bedroom suburban community in all four cases, just increasingly far away from downtown as the cities got bigger. My father worked in coal traffic for the Pennsylvania Railroad, then the Penn Central, then Conrail. Back then, really before containerized shipping, freight rail moved two things, coal and everything else. The railroads kept failing, but Dad kept getting promoted, ending up retiring as Coal Sales Manager in Chicago. My mother died of stomach cancer when I was about 13, just after we moved to Chicago. I’m an only child, so Dad had to figure out single parenting in a hurry. His basic message was do what you want, but don’t screw up. I was very good at the former and not too bad at the latter. My senior year in high school, I managed to get myself elected to a three-year term on the school board. We had about 8,000 students in four high schools, which I mention not only because it’s a little-known cool fact about me, but also because it dictated my decision to go to college somewhere nearby. My very smart, sweet, and pretty high school girlfriend was going to Northwestern, which I thought might be a little too close to her for me, so I decided to go to the University of Chicago.

Which issue(s) do you work on/care about, and why?

My background is little magazines and daily journalism. I’ve always been a writer, even including poetry nowadays, but at heart I have an editor’s sensibility. There are two ways to look at that. One is that my intellectual curiosity is very broad; another is: “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Over more than a dozen years, I’ve had a chance to develop considerable expertise in the policy area of trying to improve our processes for preventing and responding to mass atrocities. Genocide and mass killing are the worst form politics takes—in essence, nothing other than the attempt to get your way by the extirpation of anyone you perceive to be blocking it. Some perpetrators even enjoy their work. This angers and disgusts me.

How did you get involved?

Twenty years or so ago, I decided to undertake a systematic investigation of my intuitive belief in human progress. I know, I know, that’s too long a story. But if there is such a thing as progress, then clearly, Rwanda and Bosnia were not examples of it. As the genocide was slow-rolling in Darfur in 2004, the influential Virginia congressman and human rights advocate Frank Wolf chartered the U.S. Institute of Peace to convene a 12-member bipartisan task force on United Nations reform, which was chaired by Newt Gingrich and George Mitchell. Wolf was especially concerned about what he perceived as the failure of the United Nations to deal effectively with Darfur. By contrivance, Ivo Daalder, Lee Feinstein, Joe Loconte, and I managed to assign ourselves as the task force working group staff for human rights, a section of the report both Gingrich and Mitchell were committed to making as robust as possible. Lee was also Mitchell’s de facto chief of staff for the project, and I had Gingrich’s ear. Also by contrivance, Anne-Marie Slaughter was the task force member devoted to the issue. Notwithstanding some resistance, the task force report managed to produce the first bipartisan endorsement of the Responsibility to Protect, an endorsement that proved to be a key element in the Bush administration’s agreement to the adoption of R2P at the United Nations World Summit in 2005. Our little traveling band also managed to arrange the breakthrough that allowed NATO to provide an assistance package to the African Union peacekeeping force on the ground in Darfur, but that’s another story.

What are the biggest challenges for the issue(s) today?

Well, the perpetrators and would-be perpetrators. Apart from them, I would say persuading people of the importance of prevention. We all know the adage that an ounce of it is worth a pound of cure. And I think everyone can get behind the proposition that the world can ill afford another Syria—which began, let’s recall, with atrocities. But turning this into the political will to try to get ahead of potential problems is difficult when everybody’s inbox is already overflowing. And when a crisis goes hot, inaction will always have its proponents. I would hope the lesson of Syria is the danger of the assumption that problems will take care of themselves and can be safely ignored. Policy options don’t necessarily improve over time. U.S. leadership is critical.

Who are your most frequent allies in your field?

I don’t want to name names beyond Lee Feinstein, my close friend and long-time collaborator in this area, because the minute I go past him, the list gets long and I’d end up accidentally leaving someone or some institution out by mistake. There are some outliers, but in general the people who work on this issue are generally very supportive of each other, which is a joy. I would make a broad general distinction between those who take a disinterested and critical view of policy and those who seek to influence policy for the better. My allies tend to be in the latter camp.

What drives you?

Why, my intuitive belief in human progress—along with the realization from long study of politics that progress is not automatic, that what is justifiable is the belief in the possibility of progress, and that unfortunately, if this is true now or was in 1989, then it was also true in 1934.

What do you want your career/advocacy to stand for?

Solidarity with all who have worked or will work to save lives and protect and extend freedom.

The Next Advocacy Generation

Who will carry on the cause?

If you are a young and promising toiler in advocacy for a cause you believe in, feel free to read on, but I address myself primarily to those who are aging out of the “young and promising” category or have already done so. I used to be young and promising myself, a posture one can maintain (with diminishing plausibility) well into one’s 40s. I’m now in my late 50s. That’s the same age the author Douglas Preston is in Lost City of the Monkey God when his doctor mocks him as follows: “Oh-ho. So you’re still telling yourself you’re middle-aged. Yes, we all go through that period of denial.”

The reason I bring this up is that at a certain unspecified age just above “young and promising,” I think we in the advocacy or policy or, more broadly, the ideas world, acquire a responsibility to which we have probably given insufficient thought hitherto. It is this: Who will come after us to carry on the cause? What about the next generation?

I won’t say this problem is unique to the world of ideas and advocacy, but it is especially prominent there. In the corporate world, one starts out at “entry level” not with the idea that one will remain there, but rather in anticipation of mastering that level and moving up. Some people go farther than others, and some people get to skip rungs because of exceptional performance. You can also start your own company à la Mark Zuckerberg. But in general, an established progression is in place. The military likewise has officer or enlisted ranks through which one progresses—and procedures for easing out those who, in the view of superior officers, have reached their limits. A successful Foreign Service Officer starts out stamping visas somewhere, but her career path continues to increasingly senior positions, perhaps culminating in an ambassadorship or something yet more senior.

The ideas and advocacy world is just not organized that way—something my good friend Charlie Brown of Strategies for Humanity brought home to me by issuing me a challenge: He said I should include among my next projects in atrocity prevention the cultivation of a new generation of people who care deeply about this issue.

Of course there are many young and promising people working on issues connected to human security and governance and humanitarian causes. The needs of human beings worldwide in these areas will continue to attract idealistic young people. But that’s a little too complacent, I think. When I was working on the Genocide Prevention Task Force, one of the main recommendations we devised was to establish a standing interagency body to assess risk of atrocities and devise prevention strategies and policies—what became, under the Obama administration, the Atrocities Prevention Board. In the course of our fact-finding, we discovered something very interesting: That in fact, toward the end of the Clinton administration, there had been a nascent version of just such a body, convened by the estimable David Scheffer, then Ambassador-at-Large for war crimes issues. Eight years later, at the end of the George W. Bush administration, its existence had become all but forgotten in official and NGO Washington, memory of it consigned to the personal recollection of Scheffer and other participants. It’s always a good thing to reinvent something as useful as the wheel, but it’s better to not to forget all about it such that it needs reinventing.

How to avoid this problem in the advocacy and ideas world? That’s a challenge not just to me from Charlie but to all of us.

A few thoughts from my experience. Out of college in 1982, I moved to New York to work for the great Irving Kristol at The Public Interest. I was hired as an assistant editor, more or less the lowest rung on the ladder of “New York intellectual”—a category later subsumed, albeit imperfectly, under “public intellectual.” Irving had an explicit program. He would typically hire two assistant editors a year, and the understanding was that the position was for one year—something like a paid internship. The job would provide sufficient entrée to the magazine, publishing, and ideas world that one could make a reputation for oneself and move on. Not everyone did, but most did. Everyone understands the importance of mentoring, but this wasn’t exactly that. More important, I think, is that Irving institutionalized it, providing a small but steady stream of young people a start on a career path Irving wanted to promote.

Second example: When I moved to Washington, D.C., in 1985, as the founding executive editor of The National Interest (sister publication to The Public Interest), I pretty much figured I would be fighting the Cold War for the rest of my life. No, it turned out. And I was very interested in the fate of the formerly communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe, the debate over NATO and EU enlargement, and the liberalization of the international order more broadly. Fortunately for me, Jeffrey Gedmin (who went on to head Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) was running the American Enterprise Institute’s New Atlantic Initiative at the time. Jeff was (and is) always on the lookout for new people to bring into the mix on matters transatlantic, and he started inviting me to roundtables and small conferences he was then organizing in Europe. I started writing more about those issues, and that led to additional invitations for fact-finding and publication.

My work on atrocity prevention emerged as an extension of my commitment to work to help bring the people of Central and Eastern Europe in from the cold. The concept of the “responsibility to protect” is aimed at challenging the appalling doctrine that states have no responsibilities toward their people to go along with their sovereign rights—a position the Communist world upheld with cruelty and vigor.

Now, it takes resources to run conferences abroad and to adopt a hiring strategy intended to bring on a new generation (as opposed to a strategy to deploy free intern labor; well, maybe do both). The point I want to make is that it’s worthwhile to think systematically about recruiting the next generation and to find resources for programs and activities of the kind that brought me along. I vividly recall with pleasure and gratitude pretty much every invitation I received when I was just entering the category of “young and promising.” Those opportunities amounted to very effective strategies to recruit me to causes I have pursued ever since.

Spoiler Alert | Why Americans’ Desires for a Third Party Are Unlikely to Come True

Coauthored with Lee Drutman & William A. Galston

Key Findings

  • Two-thirds of Americans want a third party. Sixty-eight percent of Americans say that two parties do not do an adequate job of representing the American people and that a third party is needed.
  • But third-party enthusiasts don’t agree on what that third party should be. About one-third want a party of the center, about one-fifth want a party to the left of the Democrats, and about one-fifth want a party to the right of the Republicans, with the remainder wanting something else. It would take at least five parties to capture the ideological aspirations of Americans.
  • Partisans are not about to abandon their party; most value what makes their party distinct from the other major party. Seventy-seven percent of Americans feel better represented by one party or the other, leaving only 23 percent who are equivocal between the two existing parties. And overwhelming majorities of partisans feel well-represented by their parties (81 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans) and very poorly represented by the other major party (68 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of Republicans).
  • Americans neither support nor see the necessity for reforms that would help create a multiparty system. Electoral reforms like ranked-choice voting would be necessary for third parties to gain support — even more so given that the actual demand is for multiple additional rather than a single third party. But our research shows little understanding of or support for such reforms. Few make the connection between their stated desire for a third party and the electoral reforms that would make that possible.

Read the full report here.

John McCain, Hero

The late senator was the kind of man the Founders had in mind.

long time ago, and for no particular religious reason, I decided the psalmist was right: “Put not your trust in princes.” The point the unknown author was making is that it’s God, not some son of man, in whom one should trust. But regardless, it has seemed to me eminently true that princes are not trustworthy. I especially like the term “princes” because it’s more encompassing than “kings” would be. It seems to evoke the totality of the class of politicians, from the time of the psalms unto this democratic age.

I have made one exception in the years since, and that was for John McCain. I never worked for the man, except as an informal and unpaid adviser on national security to his 2008 presidential campaign. Perhaps that contributed to my ability to trust him: I thereby avoided finding myself the object of one of his famous outbursts of temper. But maybe not, because not one of the dozens of people I know who worked for him, and who presumably were at one time or another on the receiving end of one of his tirades, had anything but love and loyalty for him.

This is unusual for anyone, let alone a politician. Maybe I just never met the disgruntled ones, but you’d expect them to have surfaced, especially during the presidential campaigns, the primaries in 2000 and the general in 2008. Yes, reports on the temper came out and whisperings about the lack of fitness for office such outbursts might indicate. But that struck me then and has since as nonsense, not only because temper is a common trait among politicians but also because none of those who were closest to McCain seemed to hold it against him.

Because I never worked for him on a daily basis, my recollection of our interactions over the years is vivid. At a McCain Institute barbecue one lovely spring evening at his ranch in Arizona, for example, I introduced him to my wife with these words: “One thing you and I have in common, senator, is that we both married beautiful women.” Now, here’s a test of character for you: I think most politicians at such a moment would seize on such a remark to spin the introduction into something about themselves. Not McCain. He beamed at my wife and shook her hand as if no one else was there. It makes an impression, the bestowal of one’s full attention. McCain understood that part of being charming is being charmed.

McCain would be the last man to call himself a person of exemplary character. On one hand, this is absurd. He spent five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, where he was frequently beaten and tortured. He tells the story in Faith of My Fathers, his 1999 autobiography-memoir produced in collaboration with his long­time staffer Mark Salter. What’s odd about it is that unlike most campaign-season books, it actually has a story with an interesting personality at its center. And what makes that personality interesting is the constant struggle: first of all, to distinguish himself in a family of great achievement in the U.S. military; second, to come to terms with the inability to pass an impossible test, that of a prisoner under exceptionally cruel interrogation. You hold out as best you can, but … Even so, he describes how at various points in his captivity, he defied his captors in ways he knew would produce a new beating.

This is a situation so far removed from the ordinary in the contemporary world as to cry out for recognition. Likewise his description of fellow American prisoners who helped him survive the grievous injuries he sustained bailing out of his crippled A-4E Skyhawk bomber over North Vietnam.

This is the paradox at the center of greatness: No matter how much the great ones have achieved, it stands in contrast in their minds to how much more they believe they could or should have achieved. McCain was an exemplary practitioner of self-deprecating wit, itself a political art form. But as practiced by, for example, Henry Kissinger, such wit draws attention to the sense of superiority with which it is uttered. McCain’s greatness came into view not through false humility but from the real thing. Many are those who say “screw you” in circumstances in which doing so is without consequence. Few are the ones who do so when it will produce a savage beating. Fewer still are the ones who reproach themselves simultaneously for their inability to refrain from saying “screw you” and for their failure to say it as often as they should have.

I leave the “maverick” encomia to others. Even in the Hanoi Hilton, he was a remarkably free man. Presumably, the internal quality that made him so was not of the sort that caves readily under the pressures of democratic politics as practiced in the United States. Nor am I particularly interested in ideological evaluations of McCain’s conservatism, either of the sort from those on the left who regard the maverick reputation as a bogus gloss on a right-wing political career or from those on the right who see him as an establishment sellout.

The most striking aspect of his career as a politician is that he is exactly what the Founders had in mind when they were writing Article I of the United States Constitution: a legislator in the fullest sense. Congress, in accordance with its powers enumerated under the Constitution, is supposed to attend to the people’s business. The need to make such a statement seems somewhat strange, except that so few in Congress seem to harbor that point of view. Most of them seem far more interested in avoiding responsibility than taking it, in the joy of holding office rather than the tasks appropriate to holding office.

When the financial crisis descended over his campaign in September 2008 like the sword of Damocles, there were two presidential candidates who didn’t have slightest idea what to do, both members of the U.S. Senate. One decided to float above it and do nothing; McCain, on the other hand, said he was suspending his campaign to go back to Washington to work on the problem. Many, with the encouragement of the Obama campaign, considered his response a gimmick. If it was, however, it was a gimmick in character for a genuine legislator. Barack Obama made a smart political decision of a tiresomely familiar sort. John McCain made a bad political decision of an impetuous but somehow noble sort.

McCain wasn’t conventionally ideological. But he was a conviction politician to the core. I asked my friend Daniel Twining, who worked for him for seven years on foreign policy matters and is now president of the International Republican Institute, what his cumulative impression was. He emailed me, “When we traveled and would meet with dissidents in closed societies, he would always tell them to be strong, to fight, and never to give up, because in time they would earn their freedom. He connected with democracy advocates and human rights advocates in every culture because he too had been deprived of freedom and understood more keenly than the rest of us what that actually means—how it is an affront to the basic dignity of every human being. He also rejected as the ugliest form of cultural imperialism the assumption that human liberty was a Western ideal rather than a universal one—he knew, deep in his heart, that people everywhere value freedom in the same ways, and that those of us privileged enough to enjoy it in our country had a duty to help others earn it in their countries.”

On another McCain Institute occasion, to needle him, I mentioned that Herbert Hoover had actually founded the Hoover War Library, now the Hoover Institution, before Hoover became president—letting hang before McCain that having founded his institute, he could run again. He gave me one of his characteristic double-takes, which typically meant he was amused by the impertinence to which he was responding.

Of course he wouldn’t run again. The time had passed: he gave it his best. I sometimes wonder, had he won, if my faith in this particular prince would have held. Had Hoover never been elected president, he would be remembered as one of the great men of the 20th century for the millions saved from starvation in the effort he led after World War I—not as a failed president. McCain was a tireless champion of freedom and human rights and an exemplary practitioner of democratic politics. If he wasn’t the greatest man ever to seek the nation’s highest office and come up short, he was far greater than most who attained it.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the International Republic Institute. It is the International Republican Institute.

One of a Kind

Why the success of the Federalist Society is unlikely to be replicated.

With President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court seat Justice Anthony Kennedy is vacating, the influence of the Federalist Society—the membership organization of conservative and libertarian lawyers, legal scholars, and law students—remains at the absolute peak it attained during the administration of George W. Bush with the nomination of Samuel Alito to the nation’s highest court.

Founded in 1982 by Lee Liberman Otis, Steven Calabresi, David McIntosh, and E. Spencer Abraham, the Federalist Society launched as a counterbalance to the leftward tilt among law school faculty nationwide. Part of the idea was to ensure that the progressive hegemony on campus met serious resistance at least at the level of intellectual debate, if not the numerical balance among faculties. But within 20 years of its establishment, the Federalist Society had also emerged as the premier vetting institution for Republican appointments to the federal judiciary, especially at the appellate level.

The Federalist Society established itself in that role not through some gradual consensus-building process—nor, as the conspiracy-minded left likes to suggest, through a cabal of right-wing lawyers determined to hijack judicial nominations. Rather, it rose to the top the old-fashioned way in politics: by taking down someone of whom it did not approve.

Her name was Harriet Miers, and from managing partner at a 400-lawyer Dallas firm of no special distinction she traveled to Washington in 2001 with President George W. Bush to serve in several increasingly senior White House positions, culminating as White House counsel—the president’s top lawyer. Then in 2005, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement from the Supreme Court. The partisan balance in the Senate was 55-45 in favor of the GOP, but the quaint convention of the filibuster still applied to judicial nominees, prompting concerns about confirmability. To arrive at the 60 votes needed to end debate and get to an up-or-down majority vote, you presumably needed to keep your party together and recruit a few senators from the other side.

This challenge arose in a likewise antiquated time when senators (some of them, at least some of the time) expressed the view that a president’s choice was due considerable deference and that the Senate should confirm nominees of requisite competence, experience, and good character. Even so, you can’t be too careful, and a nominee with a little special sauce might enjoy preferment over yet another white guy just starting to gray at the temples—especially because John Roberts, just having been confirmed as chief justice, was exactly that guy.

It was at this point that Bush experienced a flight of fancy of the sort that used to be rare in presidents. His eye lighting upon the very person in the White House who typically serves as the president’s top judge picker, he had a moment straight out of a Taylor Swift song: “You wake up and find / that what you’re looking for has been here the whole time.” On October 3, 2005, he nominated Miers.

This came as a surprise to everybody, not least Miers, who was in no way ready for a confirmation process that is at best an ordeal for even impeccably qualified and experienced nominees. Initially, tepid supporters said she would at least bring a little diversity of legal background to the Supreme Court. But this was perhaps too reminiscent of Sen. Roman Hruska’s defense of Nixon High Court nominee G. Harrold Carswell: “Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers, and they are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they?”

Well, no. Democratic opposition to Miers was swift in coming, but predictable. Less expected and far more compelling was the gathering revolt of the conservative legal community the Federalist Society represents (though the organization takes no position on such matters): Presented with a second rare and important opportunity to shape the Court, Bush simply had to do better. He had available the best legal minds of their generation—sober, talented, tireless men and women who had spent their entire lives preparing themselves for such a chance. Over the course of three weeks, the anger mounted. On October 27, the White House announced it was withdrawing Miers’s nomination.

Bush got the message, standing up in her stead Samuel Alito (special sauce: Italian—albeit unoriginal after Antonin Scalia, still tasty). From the majority viewpoint of Federalist Society members, he was a choice as impeccable as Roberts had been for chief justice (disappointment with the latter over his ruling saving Obama­care was still seven years away).

The Federalist Society reigned supreme over the process, as it does to this day. A key strategic move on the part of candidate Trump in 2016 was effectively to outsource his Supreme Court picks to Leonard Leo and his colleagues, who developed a list of Supremables from which Trump promised to pick (a list that didn’t originally include Kavanaugh or Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first appointment, but was expanded in timely fashion to get them into consideration). In response to another body with the proven power to derail a GOP Supreme Court nominee, Trump sought the Federalist Society’s advance “advice and consent.”

The Federalist Society is a remarkably effective institution, a collective effort among conservative and libertarian women and men of the law to band together and promote their best and brightest for the highest positions in the federal judiciary. So effective is it that some nonpartisan admirers have proposed it serve as a model for promoting excellence in other endeavors as well.

In fact, that’s unlikely. The Federalist Society’s role in judge-picking is ultimately a product of the unique place of the judiciary in the constitutional order of things and of the emergence of the judiciary as an ideological battleground.

A self-described political “independent” can count on never being nominated as an appeals court judge. Republican presidents pick Republicans and Democrats pick Democrats. This fact alone accounts for the (perpetually contested) balance of Republicans and Democrats serving as judges.

The path to a black robe typically begins at an elite law school, with the next stop an appellate court clerkship, then a Supreme Court clerkship, then some mix of government service, private practice, and scholarship, then a nomination to the appellate bench and confirmation (or rejection). In their selection of clerks, the role that key sitting judges of both parties play in this winnowing process can hardly be overstated. But Democrats have something that Republicans don’t, which is dominance among faculty at elite law schools, where Republicans enjoy only tokenish representation (one is tolerable, maybe two—but that will do nicely, thank you).

The Federalist Society goes a ways toward filling that gap. It might also deserve credit for the presence of even token conservatives on law faculties, through its promotion of intellectual excellence. But with appointment powers at law schools, unlike the presidential power of appointment to the federal judiciary squarely in the hands of left-wing faculty, don’t expect the Federalist Society’s influence ever to extend so far. For the same reason, no equivalent society of conservative-leaning political scientists could bring balance to those departments—let alone one of English Ph.D.s promoting critical interpretation of a literary canon and argument over who belongs in it on the literary merits.

And that’s why there are no such societies outside the field of law. The Federalist Society is a remarkable success story unlikely to be replicated. 

Correction: The article originally stated that the Federalist Society was "founded in 1982 and led by the indefatigable Leonard Leo." It was founded in 1982 by Lee Liberman Otis, Steven Calabresi, David McIntosh, and E. Spencer Abraham. Leonard Leo is currently the organization's executive vice president and did not come to work there until 1991.

Unlikely to Be Fired

Trump may well prefer for Mueller to play out the string.

For much of the past year, speculation has swirled that President Trump will fire Robert Mueller, the independent counsel investigating supposed links between Russia and the Trump campaign. Interestingly, the likelihood that Trump fires Mueller is an area of rare bipartisan agreement in Washington—though of course, the speculated reasons why he might do so vary greatly.

Democrats think Trump may or will fire Mueller as a last-ditch attempt to derail an investigation closing in on him. Republican supporters of the president think Trump might or should fire Mueller because his probe has become exactly the “witch hunt” the president often tweets that it is.

Republican never-Trumpers and neutrals by and large take the view that the investigation must run its course even (or perhaps especially) if there was “no collusion” with Russia, as Trump insists on a regular basis. Disrupting the investigation would worsen the president’s position. But such is their generally low opinion of Trump that many of them, too, regard it as likely that the president will fire Mueller despite his own best interests in letting the investigation play out.

Hence the subsidiary ballyhoo about how to “protect” Mueller: by insisting that doing away with the investigation would itself be grounds for impeachment, or by congressional enactment of some statutory limitation on the president’s authority—a proposition of highly dubious constitutionality even in the event that Congress could override a Trump veto of such legislation.

Let’s acknowledge that many Republicans want Trump to defenestrate Mueller. But let’s acknowledge that many Democrats would also love for him to do exactly that: for the paradoxical sake of ramping up bipartisan support for the investigation, perhaps culminating in enough GOP support for impeachment among the current neutrals and never-Trumpers, who for all their never-Trumping have mostly refrained from calling for impeachment as they await further details from Mueller’s investigation.

Hmm. It seems that the single person in Washington least convinced the president will or should fire Mueller may be none other than Donald J. Trump—a conclusion borne out by the fact that, ahem, Trump has not fired Mueller.

Well, some have reported, he has thought about it and has even told aides to do it, only to be talked out of it. Yet the president’s frustration with the probe is manifest, and he is well known for venting to aides and advisers. Threatening to fire Mueller is not equal to firing Mueller, nor is it clear that the proper inference to be drawn from such reports is that Trump is considering firing Mueller; rather, it may be that Trump has considered and rejected firing Mueller.

Why would that be? A conventional answer: because Trump fears the consequences of doing so. He knows that the political fallout from going nuclear could take him out as well.

Maybe. But there are good reasons to think that’s not the correct answer. First, Trump may well believe that he could survive the fallout. Would enough House Republicans really turn on him to make an impeachment vote a real possibility? In congressional districts that Trump carried and where he remains in many cases very popular? Or in more marginal districts on the eve of an election in which GOP turnout is critical?

Second, firing Mueller wouldn’t end the investigation. If Trump believed at the time that firing FBI director James Comey would end the matter, he has learned he was mistaken. Getting rid of Mueller would remove a personality, but not the investigative mechanisms currently in place.

Finally, and most important, leaving Mueller in place at this point may serve Trump’s interests not merely in the sense of averting negative consequences but also in a positive sense.

Broadly speaking, there are two possibilities underlying the current state of affairs. Either Trump is speaking the truth when he says “no collusion” or he is lying. To break that down further, we need to ask what he means when he says “no collusion.” He seems to be referring to his campaign as a whole, but in truth, he can’t really know whether those former associates of his who got caught in Mueller’s net “colluded” (whatever that means) or whether others hitherto unknown did. In this respect, it must be gratifying to Trump himself that the evidence surfaced so far amounts to little. To put it baldly, he can’t really know what all the actors in his campaign have been up to.

Thus “no collusion” covers two contingencies: The first is that there is no evidence of any collusion by anyone on or close to the campaign (at least nothing worse than Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort meeting with a couple of shady Russians in Trump Tower in June 2016 in the quickly frustrated anticipation of getting dirt on Hil­lary Clinton). If Mueller produces no evidence to the contrary, the blanket denial can stand as having referred to the entire campaign. But if Mueller does find such evidence, Trump can readily pivot to the position that by “no collusion” he meant on his own part. Those who think the actions of former Trump campaign figures such as Manafort, George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, and Michael Flynn already constitute sufficient evidence of collusion or intent to collude have yet to come to grips with the extent to which what matters is what Trump knew and did.

So “no collusion” constitutes, above all, his emphatic denial of personal wrongdoing. And indeed, his pique with Comey seems to have originated with Comey’s unwillingness to say publicly what Comey told Trump privately: that Trump himself was not under investigation. Likewise the hay Trump spokespersons made of the language in the most recent Mueller indictments—that the campaign did not “knowingly” have any inappropriate contacts with Russians. While evidence of wrongdoing by those close to him during the campaign would be damaging, Trump can likely survive it if his personal “no collusion” denial still stands.

Under the proper circumstances, that is. Some look at Trump and see a man who is acting like he is guilty of something. By and large, however, these are people whose minds were made up against Trump long ago. It is at least equally plausible, given his mercurial personality, that he is acting exactly as a Donald Trump blameless on the underlying question of collusion would act.

In either case, what Trump has understood is that his political opponents are trying to drive him out of the White House, and for them, the Mueller investigation is neither more nor less than a means to that end. Some of the opposition motivation is sheer personal disgust, some of it the pursuit of the kind of partisan advantage

It’s impossible to speculate with any credibility on what Mueller himself thinks of this whole project. Does he see his job as bringing down a man so many of Mueller’s most vocal supporters believe is unfit ever to have ascended to the Oval Office? Or would Mueller be content to de-escalate to the point at which he poses no threat to Trump’s presidency? One way or the other, it is quite plausible to say that Trump has reached the conclusion that it’s either Mueller or Trump—that is, this epic political confrontation can have only one winner. Trump has thus concentrated his Twitter account on deriding the legitimacy of Mueller’s investigation and discrediting it.

This has rightly reminded many people of Bill Clinton’s effort to discredit the independent counsel investigation into the 42nd president’s conduct, including his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. For some, “no collusion” sounds like “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

We know now that Clinton was lying, but there is no reason to think his political strategy would have been any different had the allegations indeed been fabricated by a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” He understood his presidency was in grave peril and that his top priority was to keep his party united behind him. That included members of his cabinet, to whom he lied personally, Democrats in Congress, and the party base. Clinton’s surrogates focused on the supposed injustice of the independent counsel investigation of Kenneth Starr not only to smear Starr but also and primarily to create a bête noire upon whom his supporters could focus their anger.

Clinton couldn’t fire Starr, who was appointed under the authority of the now-defunct independent counsel statute. Whether he would have considered doing so if he could have we will never know, but from the time news of the Lewinsky affair broke in January 1998 until Starr presented his findings of “impeachable offenses” in a report to Congress in September of that year, Starr’s investigation served as an ideal whipping boy, constrained as it was by prosecutorial canons requiring that the independent counsel refrain from explaining or defending his office’s conduct.

Clinton resolved at the outset, in one of the most determined decisions of his presidency, that he was not leaving office early. He would do whatever it might take to avoid that outcome, including lying in public and under oath. By the time the Starr report did come out, outrage against Starr among Democrats was sufficiently solid that there was no realistic chance enough Democrats in the Senate would defect to remove Clinton from office.

Mueller and his “13 angry Democrats”—Trump’s reference to the bizarre decision of Mueller to mainly staff his office with Democrats—have likewise served Trump’s interest in galvanizing his supporters. In the absence of a voluntary decision on the part of Mueller to exonerate Trump and shut down the probe, Trump is probably about as well-positioned to make good on his own determination to remain in office as he could be. Mueller is his whipping boy: Dumping him would be counterproductive; worse than a crime, it would be a blunder.

It’s also worth noting that Trump has a longer time horizon than Clinton did (not counting the latter’s political aspirations for his wife). Trump no doubt has in mind using a victory over the effort to drive him from office as a springboard to reelection. Clinton never had such an opportunity—which, strictly from the point of view of the connoisseurship of our democratic politics, is really kind of a shame.