left's first "battle" think tank debuted yesterday with an
impressive conference on security and peace, featuring a stellar line-up
of mostly democratic, liberal and progressive speakers. The goal was to
showcase the talent and resources of the new think tank and to create a
forum to allow discussion of pragmatic alternatives to the Bush
administration's policies, or as most speakers here commented, absence of
policies and strategies for dealing with terrorism and the Iraq war.
opening remarks included a mission statement, “to find progressive and
pragmatic solutions to significant domestic and international problems.”
speakers included General Wesley Clark, , former national Security
Advisors Sandy Berger and Zbigniew Brzezinski,, Joe Yellowcake Uranium
Wilson, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Joe Biden, former UN
Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, former secretary of the Treasury Robert
Rubin, Virginia Governor Mark Warner, Ted Sorenson, special counsel and
advisor to John F. Kennedy and Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect
more than a decade, the right wing has had a lock on the use of think
tanks as policy promotion "political weapons." Unlike
conventional think, research and publish think tanks, these
"battle" think tanks invest a much higher percentage of their
resources in promoting the policies they espouse-- through pundit and
right wing media echo chambers, organizations focused to persuade and
support specific demographic groups such as fundamentalist Christians,
students, judges, state legislators, NRA members, NASCAR dads.
this year, John Podesta announced he was forming a left wing counterpart
to these right wing think tanks-- the American Majority Institute. That
original name has been morphed into the Center for American Progress
(CAP.) The domain name was registered on July 14th by the American
Majority institute. One might speculate whether it is coincidence that the
letters are similar to the most visible Neocon think tank-- the PNAC--
Project for a New American Century, whose members, in the late '90s,
during the Clinton years, consisted of a bunch of "formers" like
the list of speakers for this conference. Of course now, those PNAC
"formers" are running the US, with high positions in the White
house, military and diplomatic corps.
this was the CAP's first event they were ecstatic over the response.
Spokesman Mike Pan, a senior policy analyst for the organization said that
the hall, which could hold 400 for the luncheon had over 500 people and
they'd had to shut down registrations two days before the event, the
response had been so overwhelming. Between 750 and 800 people attended
altogether, including people from the Bush administration, the diplomatic
corps, from congress, from left and right wing think tanks, the press and
former officials from past Democratic administrations. Some, like me, came
to scope out the newest org on the progressive block. Others, like the
diplomatic corps (Chile, Poland, Estonia) came to see who the emerging
leaders on the left might be.
on the right came to collect ammunition to use to attack the newborn
organization. Fox news, one of the first news organizations with a report
showing up on google news, quoted
Michael Franc, of the right wing Heritage Foundation, "You don't
start off a think tank with focus groups and a spin team before you figure
out what you stand for. You have to. Think tanks begin with an idea, or a
set of ideas, with a mission to advance coherent ideas in
a very new organization, with a very new (none had business cards, and
most were on staff less than a month-- a senior staffer laughed, saying
she was an old timer at two months on the job,) and unusually young
staff, the CAP, allied with The American Prospect magazine and the Century
Foundation put together a very polished, solid conference with not just
the right names but the right political conference appurtenances.
Presidential contender Wesley Clark was not a candidate when he was
invited to pariticipate in the conference. But his speech, broadcast from
New Hampshire, where he took a break from stumping for the vote, was pure
presidential aspiration. He said that the president and his administration
have destroyed the unity of NATO and the standing of the US at the UN.
"...this administration's reckless actions have depleted us of the
national security asset we now need most: The moral authority we have
enjoyed for most of our history."
general, the conference participants, like the democratic primary
candidates at their debates, engaged in a steady rain of Bush bashing
(well deserved.) Even a former Bush administration employee of two and a
half years, wh ovoted for Bush, Flynt Leverett, who was Senior Director
for Middle East Affairs at the National Security Council, and a senior
Middle Eastern CIA analyst said, "This administration does not have
and is indeed incapable of developing a a strategy for a war on
C. Wilson, the diplomatic corps whistleblower who told the world how the
Bush administration trumped up unfounded charges of Saddam's nuclear
threat spoke on a panel Beyond Regime Change: Winning the Peace. He
described the Bush administration's anti-terrorist policy as a "whack
a m ole" theory-- like the children's arcade game-- not really a
plan, but a reaction to each event as it pops up.
went on to advise that what is need in Iraq is "we need to
internationalize as quickly as possible so we get the Iraqis to see this
is a global effort to help them. The UN is not enough. We need a lot of
also described the need to bring in international help for Iraq, "We
need to look at it as a business venture. When you have a vision and that
vision is a failure and you go to outside equity partners... you give up
seats on the board, give up power, and harmonize your vision with the
panels covered weapons of mass destruction, homeland security, re-building
alliances and anti-terrorism.
reason I attended was I wanted to get a feel for whether Podesta's
organization was progressive or just another voice for the centrist,
almost right leaning DLC. From my conversations in the wings with some of
the people in the sponsor organizations and others, and the words of the
speakers, it appears that CAP really is a slightly progressive
organization, that it is definitely not an arm of the DLC. That's great
news. I overheard one spokesperson say that they describe themselves as
"center left." That's okay by me.
media person for the CAP told me there are about 35 staffers. Only a few
are currently focused on the kind of promotion that the rightwing neocon
think tanks do so well. Hopefully this will change as the CAP develops
policies to promote. The rightwing think tanks also develop many support
organizations for different demographic groups. Hopefully the CAP will do
the same... soon. We need them to be fully up and running. Matter of fact,
we need, like the right has, half a dozen or a dozen equally strong, well
funded progressive organizations putting out policy promotion, fighting
the political battles with equal "idea weaponry" to what the
right has been using for years.
tool that is up and running and looking good is the CAP's "progress
report. In the first six days it was in existence 7,000 subscribers signed
up for the daily news update, which editor David Sirota says aims to
provide smart information about what's really going on. You can sign up
for it here.
line, CAP is off to a strong start. Hopefully they'll set an example that
will inspire progressive foundations and wealthy contributors to ante up
more funds for CAP and for additional think tanks. The Progressive think
tank arsenal is finally in existence. Now it needs to be fully stocked.
Kall, firstname.lastname@example.org is editor of OpEdNews.com
, a liberal news and opinion website. He also organizes cutting edge
meetings on neuroscience, positive psychology and the power, science, art
and application of story.
has written numerous articles on think tanks, including: