Thursday, June 02, 2005

Jay Lefkowitz, Michael Horowitz, and the Christian Conservative Agenda for North Korea

The New York Sun reports that Jay Lefkowitz will probably be named special envoy for North Korea human rights.

Actually, the story was first leaked almost one month ago.

Via Buzzflash, the first murmurings concerning Lefkowitz's possible appointment appeared on May 5:

The Chosun Ilbo, South Korea--U.S. TENTATIVELY NAMES HARDLINER AS N.K. RIGHTS POINT MAN (Officials connected with the North Korean human rights movement said Thursday the U.S. has tentatively decided to name former White House domestic policy advisor and noted neocon Jay Lefkowitz as special envoy for human rights in North Korea. … The U.S. had put off naming an envoy for the last six months to avoid provoking North Korea, but analysts believe the naming of a neoconservative at this juncture shows Washington is no longer prepared to tread softly now that tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear program are approaching crisis level.)

Bush—or somebody—really wants this guy. He looks like some kind of Baby Bolton, an in your face confrontationalist whose job is to antagonize and polarize.

It’s obvious that the White House wants to yank Kim Jung Il’s chain with the appointment. Now may be the time. If it happens, it represents another step in the hardening of our North Korea policy.

But why Lefkowitz?

His foreign policy experience is risible. He’s a corporate lawyer who works for Ken Starr’s firm. Dana Milbank profiled him as “a hard-nosed litigant”, nicknamed The Viper by one of his clients.

Lefkowitz was Bush’s deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy, and, together with Karen Hughes, helped craft the administration’s notorious stem cell policy. His last stint was as general counsel to the Office of Management and Budget.

Lefkowitz’s otherwise inexplicable elevation to sachem for North Korean human rights appears to have much to do with his links to Michael Horowitz, the neocon progenitor of the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004—the legislation that created the special envoy post.

Embattled conservative journalist Evan Gahr claims that Lefkowitz has a close relationship to Horowitz; that they talk frequently; and Horowitz got Lefkowitz his job as OMB general counsel (Horowitz himself did a stint as OMB general counsel under Reagan). He further claims that Horowitz and Lefkowitz are, in fact, cousins.

With this background, it would be no surprise if Horowitz is promoting Lefkowitz for the human rights envoy posting.

On one level, Lefkowitz’s appointment may be simply another example of the incestuous backscratching that sees inside-the-Beltway types continually rewarded for their ideology, connections, and pliancy instead of expertise.

However, Lefkowitz’s appointment may be more important as a coded indicator by President Bush, meant to reward and mobilize the evangelical right on behalf of his political objectives.

If so, we are in new and dangerous waters.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Horowitz, a charter member of the neo-cons ensconced at the Hudson Institute directing its Project for International Religious Liberty, has toiled tirelessly since 1995 to create a significant, active evangelical Christian base for conservative foreign policy priorities by exchanging the ideological rhetoric of national security and freedom for moral rhetoric of religious persecution and human rights.

He is the godfather of the right wing’s attempts to harness the political energies of traditionally isolationist Christian conservatives to promote the GOP’s foreign policy agenda in the same way that domestic hot button issues like abortion, gay marriage, and “Intelligent Design” are exploited to drive evangelicals to the polls.

Horowitz has used the theme of persecution of Christians in regimes like the Sudan, North Korea, and China to create a set of evangelical foreign policy priorities that Karl Rove and the Bush White House, with their conviction that the evangelical political force is crucial to their electoral success, are anxious to heed, acknowledge, and encourage.

Evangelical Christians have responded and Horowitz was recognized as one of the world’s ten most influential Christians by a Southern Baptist magazine. Even though he’s Jewish and, according to one piece I read, an ex-communist.

With a Christian population estimated at 10-12,000 in a country of 23 million, North Korea would seem to be an area in which the rhetoric of Christian persecution would find little international resonance.

However, history does supply justification for viewing North Korea as a fruitful field for Christian endeavor. Between 1890 and the 1950s, Pyongyang was a center of highly successful Presbyterian mission centered on a 120-acre campus with a population of 180,000 and was celebrated, perhaps presumptuously, as the “Jerusalem of the East”. In 1907 it was the center of an intense revival movement that brought tens of thousands of Korean converts to Christianity. One-sixth of its residents—including the family of Kim Il-sung (!) were Christians. By the end of World War II, the Christian population of what is now North Korea reportedly numbered 600,000, most of whom fled to the South.

The proliferation of web pages dealing with the fate of Christians in North Korea is evidence of the enthusiasm and hope that the evangelical movement has been able to generate on this topic—and contribute to Michael Horowitz’s political activities.

One of Horowitz’s greatest and most recent triumphs was the passage of the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004.

In an interview with Christianity Today, given when the legislation cleared the Senate, Horowitz began by preening unctuously

Here's an abused term, but in this case, I have come to feel that it is literally correct to call this success a miracle.

And went on to provide an insight into the political dynamics behind the legislation:

(CT) What was the role of evangelicals in seeing the legislation get passed?

Oh, they played the central role here. I think it was this powerful evangelical coalition that was working with Senator [Sam] Brownback and Senator [Evan] Bayh…

It was then the coalition, working with key Senate aides, in particular, that played this extraordinary difference in moving matters forward. There is a process in the Senate where bills get so-called "hot-wired." That means that the Senate leadership says, "We want this bill to be adopted," and they give a 24-hour period for all senators to indicate whether they object to the bill. And the bill cleared all the Senate Republicans. … It had Republicans and Democrats in the House and all Republicans in the Senate unanimously approving the bill. Then it was up to the Senate Democrats, and Senate Democrats began registering objections to the bill.

At that point, there was a coalition led by the National Association of Evangelicals that prepared and drafted a letter that went to Senator [Joe] Biden, [ranking Democratic Party member of] the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator [Tom] Daschle, the Senate majority leader, and Senator [John] Kerry, the Democratic nominee for President, indicating that any one of them had the power, if they so chose, to ensure that the bill got a Senate vote—and making it very clear that those three men would be held accountable if the Senate buried the vote. And there was a readiness on the part of evangelical groups to go to churches throughout critical [voting] states showing films of gulags and gas chambers. You'd better be sure that that played a role in the ultimate willingness of members of the Senate to negotiate, which they did in honor and good faith, for legislation.

North Korea is now, together with Sudan and a rather quixotic if not suicidal desire to obtain U.S. government support for evangelism among Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, a hot button issue for the politically ambitious arm of the Christian right.

Officially, supporters of the NKHRA insist that the bill concerns only human rights and not the potentially bloody and burdensome activities associated with regime change under U.S. government aegis.

However, regime change is not far from Horowitz’s mind:

In a lecture entitled "It Ain't Christmas in Pyongyang: Will the Kim Jong-il Regime Last?" Horowitz said, "North Korea will implode before next Christmas and Kim Jong-il shall not enjoy Christmas next year." The scholar had recently visited South Korea, where he criticized Seoul policies toward North Korea and called for regime change in Pyongyang. He said the collapse of North Korea's communist regime was historically inevitable, and that such a collapse would happen automatically and without much delay. He also mentioned the possibility of a coup occurring in North Korea. He said that if the United States discovered generals it could trust to close North Korea's "concentration camps" and shut down its nuclear program, Washington could send a message to them that it would support such moves.

As noted above, the NKHRA created the post of human rights envoy for North Korea. Speaking with Christianity Today, Horowitz said:

The Senate bill calls for the appointment of a special envoy for human rights to be designated by the President. And the legislation further provides that this person must be a person of recognized international stature in the field of human rights.

There seems to be a bit of a stature gap here.

Jay Lefkowitz's only noteworthy foreign policy experience in recent years has been participation in some conferences on anti-Semitism, where he complains that singling out Israel for criticism while not condemning North Korea, Sudan, etc. is a sign of anti-Semitism.

Lefkowitz’s conservative credentials are, however, impeccable.

From Dana Milbank's profile:

Lefkowitz has enjoyed ideological combat, writing for neoconservative journals such as Commentary and the Public Interest and founding the Dark Ages convention, conservatives' answer to Bill Clinton's Renaissance Weekends.

Lefkowitz, friends and colleagues say, is the quintessential nerd. The bespectacled Columbia University graduate has a baby face. His West Wing office contains a little-used tennis racket, a copy of Commentary on the table and a framed picture of drawings of stem cells.

"He's proud to be a geek," said conservative commentator Laura Ingraham, who started the Dark Ages convention with him.

Lefkowitz, who as general counsel for the Office of Management and Budget last year was the architect of Bush's decision on stem-cell research, is attracted to controversial issues. As a junior staffer in the first Bush administration, he encouraged Vice President Dan Quayle's speech criticizing "Murphy Brown" for celebrating single motherhood and worked on an executive order restricting labor unions' power. In 1993, he joined a think tank project with Quayle's former chief of staff, William Kristol, before becoming a partner at Kirkland, Kenneth W. Starr's law firm. There, he represented Florida and Wisconsin in defense of their private-school voucher programs.

Apparently close to Rove and Karen Hughes, Lefkowitz had responsibility for beating the bushes for the Jewish vote in the 2004 election. He was mentioned as possible executive director of the platform writing committee at the GOP convention, and was reportedly considered for the top domestic policy slot in the second Bush administration before Rove took the job.

In sum, he looks like a dependable neo-con, a junior member of the trusted inner circle, loyal to George W. Bush, and ready to go that extra mile to serve President Bush’s agenda.

He could be anywhere, or nowhere. Why North Korea?

What makes the Horowitz/Lefkowitz link even more significant, beyond their reported family ties, is their shared interest in evangelical outreach.

Again, from Milbank:

Along the way, Lefkowitz has become Bush's de facto in-house ethicist and a primary liaison to Christian conservatives -- a seemingly odd role for someone of the Jewish faith. Lefkowitz, the son of New York-born Zionist parents who taught him Hebrew as his first language, keeps Kosher, has a well-thumbed Hebrew language Bible in his office and took a bicycle to work to avoid driving during Passover. Lefkowitz hopes to convince fellow Jews to embrace Republicans. In a 1996 speech, he said the Jewish community is "disintegrating," in part because of its "embrace of the assimilationist ideal endorsed by the liberal Democratic Party."

In the White House, Lefkowitz’s high profile conservative religiosity found expression in promotion of a shared, morality-based approach to social issues with the Christian right.

On a more practical plane, Lefkowitz seems to have been the godly go-to mensch when the White House wanted to reaffirm to the true believers that President Bush’s every thought and action are guided by his profound religious faith.

As revealed in Christianity Today:

Jay Lefkowitz, deputy assistant to the President, says Bush starts every policy discussion on action by asking, "What is the right thing to do?"—meaning, Lefkowitz says, "What is the morally correct thing to do?"

And from a briefing to Catholic and religious journalists reported in the Arlington Catholic Herald:

Jay Lefkowitz, deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy, said in the discussion on partial birth abortion and human cloning, the president always asks, "What is the right answer?"

The clearest indication of Lefkowitz’s role as signalman to the religious right was the spectacular botch on stem cell research.

The Bush administration touted Bush’s intense interest in this issue and the wide-ranging views presented to the President by Lefkowitz, the point man on the issue.

As reported in World Magazine (Mission Statement: To report, interpret, and illustrate the news in a timely, accurate, enjoyable, and arresting fashion from a perspective committed to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God):

WORLD interviewed Mr. Lefkowitz, former counselor to the president Karen Hughes, national campaign manager Ken Mehlman, Rep. Kay Granger, and others. They portray him as a man of faith who doesn't think he has all the answers, but who has learned to seek insights both from others and through prayerful consideration.

President Bush's decision on stem-cell research shows how he works. From March through August 2001, he painstakingly investigated the issue. The president began by asking Mr. Lefkowitz to bring in experts from all sides. …

Many others from a variety of viewpoints and expertise met with the president. Mr. Lefkowitz, who attended every one of these meetings, recalls they usually were held in the Oval Office and almost always began with the president saying to his guests, "Tell me what your opinion is and why." As the discussion continued, the president would press the experts further. In these sessions, Mr. Bush always listened, often took notes, and never failed to ask questions.

It turned out that Lefkowitz, despite the importance of the issue and the resources and Presidential focus laid at his disposal--and his own reputation as a dogged and diligent lawyer--got the science all wrong, overstating the number of existing stem cell lines by a factor of 5. With only a dozen viable lines available for research and access to new lines precluded, the federal program is irrelevant.

In retrospect, the ostentatious soul searching orchestrated by Jay Lefkowitz seems merely to have been rhetorical chaff, meant to obscure a strong, pre-existing disposition to give the evangelical right the de facto restriction on federally-funded stem cell research that it sought.

And it’s hard to see naming Lefkowitz to the special envoy post as anything other than a nod and a wink to the internationally-minded Christian conservatives that Bush shares their views on the desirability of moral militancy in our dealings with North Korea.

If the Bush administration follows through on its leaks this time and appoints Jay Lefkowitz, one can look at it in several ways:

First, an endorsement of a de facto policy of regime change against the North Korean regime.

Second, a coded signal to the evangelicals that President Bush professes to share their views and expects their enthusiastic endorsement for whatever he does on the North Korean issue.

Third, a worrisome sign that our North Korean policy will be driven by the imperative of catering to--and inflaming--one useful political constituency, at the expense of prudence, U.S. credibility as a responsible diplomatic force, and reasonable expectations of success in our effort to stabilize the situation on the Korean peninsula.


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