Friday, August 26, 2005

At Long Last Lefkowitz

At Long Last Lefkowitz

After four months of fits, starts, and leaks, Jay Lefkowitz was finally named the U.S. human rights envoy for North Korea on August 19.

Why Jay Lefkowitz?

While in the White House, Lefkowitz primarily handled domestic policy outreach to conservative Jewish and Christian groups, most famously in President Bush’s stem cell initiative. With Lefkowitz at the helm, a supposedly rigorous, even-handed review yielded a ban on new stem cell lines that pleased the religious groups, while providing political cover for President Bush (and effectively gutting the federal program) by grossly overstating the number of current lines available for research.

Lefkowitz’s qualifications as a North Korea expert or even a human rights activist beyond the blastocyst level might not be readily apparent.

However, he is close to Michael Horowitz, godfather of the conservative effort to recast the human rights foreign policy discourse as a struggle against religious persecution of Christians by communist and Muslim regimes, and midwife of the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, which authorized the human rights envoy.

In fact, according to one source, Lefkowitz is Michael Horowitz’s cousin, something that I welcome people more informed about the inner workings of the conservative movement than I am to comment on.

I addressed the Lefkowitz/Horowitz/North Korea/Evangelical angle in a previous post here .

On the surface, Lefkowitz’s long-delayed appointment might be interpreted as a sign that the Bush administration is lurching toward a policy of ideologically-tinged confrontation with Pyongyang.

The exact opposite may be true.

With President Bush’s approval levels scraping along in the mid-30s and even lockstep Republicans beginning to express concern over the difficulties in Iraq, the White House can ill afford another foreign policy debacle triggered by righteous Bush brinksmanship.

It may be better to allow Condi Rice and her team to pursue the full gamut of feasible foreign policy options vis a vis Pyongyang from Acquiescence to Accommodation to Appeasement that may yield the Bush administration some desperately needed domestic and international credit.

At the same time, with President Bush’s support shrinking to the hard core of true believers, he may need to make ostentatious but superficial gestures like the Lefkowitz appointment to reassure the famous “base” that he is still the true, parfit, and infallible knight of their regime change fantasies.

The true measure of the situation will be if Lefkowitz is encouraged to say or do something that seriously endangers the State Department negotiations currently under way.