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February 28, 2006


National Security Vision: Right, Left, or Dare to Be Different?
Posted by Gordon Adams

Once again the Democrats have tried to outflank the Republicans on the right on national security. And, once more, the Republicans, and the Administration have out-maneuvered them. The Dubai Ports World management deal will go into overtime, with a 45-day CFIUS review, as it should have had in the first place.

The lesson should be clear. The issue with the administration’s national security policies is not one of who can be tougher. Al Gore tried that; so did John Kerry. No sale! The Republicans will always win the fight, positioned that way.

Many Democrats have been posing the wrong issue, and not with a lot of credibility. If they try to look tougher than the Republicans, it doesn’t pass the laugh test. If they move to the left, they are vulnerable to being soft on American national security.

Continue reading "National Security Vision: Right, Left, or Dare to Be Different?" »

Middle East

Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Hey Dubai
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

I'm assuming that its man overboard for Dubai Ports' deal to take over of ports in New York and other cities now that its been revealed by the Jerusalem Post that the company supports an Arab boycott of Israel (hat tip to Think Progress).  The deal was already on the ropes, and this will push it into the deep blue.

But there could be one positive spillover from what otherwise looks like just another political foul-up for the Bush Administration.  The Dubai deal has finally gotten politicians - both nationally and in key coastal cities - to start talking seriously about port security.  Port security has been a watchword since right after 9/11, but while great plans have been laid on paper, and Bush has outlined a thorough maritime security agenda, virtually nothing has been implemented.  Most Americans simply don't spend a lot of time thinking about boats, and its been tough to get political leaders to focus on unsexy imperatives like rigorous container inspection.  Lorelei looks at some of the key steps that need to be taken (and why they haven't been) here

As the Dubai Ports deal sputters out, lets make sure our leaders don't let Dubai Ports float away without leaving a commitment to true progress on true port security in its wake.


What NSA Program?
Posted by Morton H. Halperin

The Senate Judiciary Committee today held its second hearing on the NSA warrantless surveillance activity.  There is increasing evidence that there is more than one NSA program and that the program(s) not yet discussed publicly are far more extensive than the "terrorist surveillance program" described by the President and the Attorney General.

On the eve of the hearing Senator Specter released a draft of his proposed bill to give the FISA court a role in the process.  Rather than just trying to find a way to have the court rule on the existing program, the proposed bill would authorize a sweeping surveillance program under a general warrant to be issued by the court. NSA would be permitted to intercept millions of phone conversations and other communications of people who came into contact with any foreign power, including even a friendly government.

One can only assume that whoever drafted this text is aware of what is really going on and is seeking to have Congress authorize all of the new NSA programs without the administration ever describing and defending what it is doing. This underscores the need for a full inquiry by the Congress. Congress must also insist that it would not provide any additional authority unless the President agrees to conduct all surveillance under the amended FISA rules.

Continue reading "What NSA Program?" »


Great Power Politics: India's ying and Russia's yang
Posted by Derek Chollet

President Bush campaigned into office six years ago pledging that he would emphasize America’s relationship with the “great powers,” and by and large he has kept his promise, even after the 9/11 attacks focused attention on threats from what us wonks call “non state actors.”  Like many policy pledges, this has been a mixed bag – as illustrated by the dueling opportunities and challenges posed by two key powers, India and Russia.

On the positive side, this week draws attention to what is perhaps one of the best stories of Bush’s presidency, the strong American relationship with India.  The President’s trip there starting tomorrow – which has received surprisingly little coverage so far -- will be the first since President Clinton’s visit in March 2000, which itself was the first trip since Jimmy Carter went in the 1970s  (a very good curtain-raiser can be found here).  Some thought that this might not happen; a trip to India also means a trip to its neighbor, Pakistan, which the Secret Service is never happy about and some believed would never approve, especially since 9/11.  When Clinton went he did not fly in on Air Force One but instead on a smaller executive jet, which flew in with another as a decoy in case anyone tried to shoot it down – which did not make it a pleasant journey for the staffers riding in the decoy.  I’m not sure how Bush is getting to Pakistan, but my guess is much the same way.   

Bush deserves credit for the way he has handled India -- which is, after all, the world’s largest democracy and third largest Muslim population – and the Bush team is mighty proud of the relationship’s solid footing.  Pundits like Jim Hoagland are probably right that the trip could be the “foreign policy highpoint for his second term.”  But while few Bushies want to admit it, this also it represents a good case of bipartisan continuity. 

Continue reading "Great Power Politics: India's ying and Russia's yang" »

February 25, 2006


Iraq off the rails: should we stay or should we go?
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

For the last few months, since the Iraqi election in December, we've all lived with the sense that something bleak and horrible would happen to prove that the Iraq war effort truly was doomed.  The fear was driven by brooding conviction that despite the bright pronouncements of the Bush Administration about Iraq's standing up for itself, the country's weak security forces, unreliable leaders, ethnic fragmentation, militant clerics, and uncontrollable militias made the path to stability a bridge too far.

Now is time to dispense with the fear and start dealing with reality.  I've been talking for a long-time about the adverse consequences of Iraq's spiraling into a failed state.   I am convinced that all of these risks I listed out last August are still staring us in the face.    But what's becoming more questionable by the day are whether the 130,000 US forces in Iraq are any longer the finger in the dike they have been for the last 3 years.

Over the last few days, the principle concern in Iraq has not been violent and determined insurgents, but rather ordinary Iraqis - Sunni and Shiite - who have gotten caught in a escalating spiral of violence triggered by Wednesday's bombing of the Shiite Golden Mosque in Samarra.  Experts agree that American soldiers cannot interpose themselves between battling Sunnis and Shiites.

That's why, over the last few days, rather than trying to restore calm American commanders have largely kept their troops away from the hot-zones, knowing that a US presence would only further stoke tensions.  The Iraqi security forces, even if they possessed the skill and firepower to intervene, are so thoroughly riddled with partisan militiamen that they too may prove close to useless.   Some fear that if the conflict continues to boil, the Iraqi army may split apart.

Another major concern is the impact of these sectarian skirmishes on the formation of a new Iraqi government, a process that has already taken nearly three months  and has been setback significantly by the outbreak during the last few days.  Sunnis have formally pulled out of talks on how to allocate government ministries, and even if they return it seems unlikely that the Shiite victors will now readily turn over enough key ministries to allow for true power-sharing.

Some deep voices of Iraqi leaders have called for restraint, and its possible they'll manage to tamp down tensions.  This time.   But because they'll reassure ordinary citizens with the promise of protection from sectarian private armies, the crisis this week seems destined to repeat itself.

So where does this leave all our teeth-gnashing about whether the US should stay or go?  I have for the last six months or so argued that if an increasingly implausible set of conditions could suddenly arise, it would render our presence in Iraq a worthwhile bulwark against civil war.  I've proposed benchmarks for staying in, none of which appear to have been met.  Kevin Drum reports that we're now down from one fully combat-ready standalone Iraqi battallion in December to zero today.

At this point, on the one hand its starting to look like the US presence in Iraq isn't doing much good:  we're paralyzed in the face of the worst military crisis the country has confronted, our troops holed up in barracks for fear that getting involved would only make things worse.  On the other hand, were we to leave now in significant numbers, its hard to escape the sense that we'd be pulling out just as Iraq collapses.  Even the White House doesn't seem to have arrived at a way to spin this.

The hope is, of course, that Iraqi political leaders and clerics will succeed in their call for calm, securing a hiatus in widescale sectarian bloodshed.   If that happens, we need to look seriously at whether there's any justification for continuing to put American troops at risk.  The Administration's "strategy" - after dozens of reformulations and refinements - is failing.  Its possible that the tactics being used now could have worked if adopted earlier, but they aren't equal to righting Iraq in its present condition.  With a failing strategy, we will not succeed.

The only thing worse than Iraq as a failed state is Iraq as a failed state with 130,000 Americans living there.


Looking on the bright side of an Iraqi Civil War
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Fox_news_1 We usually avoid this sort of thing here, by I couldn't help myself when Chris Borgen over at Opinio Juris sent me a link to a post there by Kevin Jon Heller.

February 23, 2006

Human Rights

Bush responsibility for a weak UN Human Rights Council
Posted by Jeffrey Laurenti

Mort Halperin, in bringing to this blog the insights of Human Rights Watch's Larry Moss on the negotiations for a United Nations Human Rights Council, underscores the issues on how the Council will be only modestly improved over the 60-year-old Human Rights Commission it's intended to replace. The obvious question is why the reform is so modest.

And the bottom-line answer is: John Bolton.

Bolton, of course, is simply the personification of a broader Bush administration strategy of confrontation and steam-rollering. That strategy backfired in the reform negotiations for the September summit, as it has repeatedly in other foreign-policy debacles, and the watering down of Kofi Annan's ambitious plan to upgrade international human rights machinery is just the latest proof.

We could have had a strong Human Rights Council approved when national leaders were in town in New York in September, wrapped into a summit package that repeated previously agreed commitments on development goals, development aid, and nuclear controls. But John Bolton -- who by all accounts really reports to Dick Cheney, not the Secretary of State -- insisted on waging war against the development goals and aid targets, derailing the tentatively agreed package. That sent the poor majority of countries into immediate opposition, and wholesale deletions of proposals and commitments followed -- a "race to the bottom" in the summit declaration. And once the summit was over, the details of the Human Rights Council could only be traded off against other details of the Council -- not against assistance for the development priorities that poorer countries care most passionately about.

So, deprived of leverage, having no sweeteners to give in exchange for a body that will dispense human rights condemnations, Western negotiators have had to give way on the size of the majorities that would be required for election, on the time the Council would be in active session, on the rigor of standards for membership, etc.

Moreover, as Mort and Larry pointed out, after all the reform debate about making membership on the new Council conditional on meeting fundamental human rights standards, Bolton astonished the international community by floating a proposal to seat the five permanent members of the Security Council permanently on the Human Rights Council. That, plus the US coolness to the calls by human rights reformers and Kofi Annan for competitive electdions to the Council settled by a two-thirds majority vote, exposed the Bush administration's recognition of the glaring weakness of its own human rights record. The government that trumpets democracy promotio is now so associated worldwide with Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo that it fears it cannot win an election against Sweden or Germany or Ireland for a seat on the Council.

Thus goes American "leadership" in the first decade of the 21st century.

Capitol Hill

Missing the Boat on Port Security
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

For the first time, it seems, the adroit operatives of the Bush Administration have landed in the middle of the intersection of politics and policy--and now know what it feels like to be T-boned by a truck.  Make that a sea-faring vessel.  The sale of six US ports to an Arab company has both  Republicans and Democrats doing cartwheels while hyperventilating while watching their 06 poll numbers.

This is not a wise nor a measured response.  In contrast, it is lazy and opportunistic and does nothing to address the overriding challenge of achieving port security.  Instead of educating the public about needed policy reforms, such posturing scares Americans and brings out the worse kind of isolationism. There's a pattern here. Remember last year, when Congress blocked the sale of American company  UNOCAL to a Chinese buyer but said nothing about our wacky budget and the fact that China owns billions and billions of US debt?  Well, the ports sale goes into the same easy political in-box: If Congress screams enough about selling American property to Arabs, maybe nobody will notice the fact that five years after 9/11 we still don't have a well-funded and comprehensive port security plan.  At least the President has something in mind, the National Strategy for Maritime Security. Congress, meanwhile, is so stingy with the Coast Guard that the agency can't live up to its own congressional mandated port security duties.

Continue reading "Missing the Boat on Port Security" »

February 22, 2006

Human Rights

The UN Human Rights Council
Posted by Morton H. Halperin

Lawrence C. Moss, who is representing Human Rights Watch in the negotiations to create a new UN Human Rights Council, has written the following piece about the ongoing negotiations:

There are many officials of good will in the Bush Administration who do want, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told congressional hearings last week, to create a new UN Human Rights Council (HRC) which would be a substantial improvement on the existing Commission on Human Rights.  However, it is hard to see how that objective has been furthered by the stance taken by the United States in the negotiations in New York.

As its solution to the problem of improving the membership of the new body and preventing the election of inappropriate countries, the US has clung single-mindedly to a proposal to bar the election to the HRC of countries currently under sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council for human-rights related reasons.  As Secretary Rice acknowledged, this proposal has proven highly unpopular.  Many UN member states were reluctant to give the already very powerful Security Council new power to bar countries from serving on the HRC, and observed that the five permanent members of the Security Council (the “P-5”) would never be under sanctions and thus barred.  This concern was exacerbated by US Ambassador John Bolton’s proposal, to presume the P-5 will always be entitled to serve on the Council.  As this proposal would award permanent seats to China and Russia, however poor their human rights records might be or one day become,  it only made the US look hypocritical.

Continue reading "The UN Human Rights Council" »

Fukuyama or Berman: Whose History is Ended?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Mike Signer says that Frank Fukuyama is a closet liberal.  Derek Chollet sees Fukuyama's Sunday Times mea culpa as a sign of a "conservative crack-up."  Ivo Daalder writes that Fukuyama "gets it."

But I want to compare and contrast what I've been calling Fukuyama's "munchkin mea culpa"

The way the Cold War ended... created an expectation that all totalitarian regimes were hollow at the core and would crumble with a small push from the outside.  The model for this was Romania under the Ceaucescus:  once the wicked witch was dead, the munchkins would rise up and start singing joyously about their liberation.

with another apologia that was published last year:  Paul Berman's Power and the Idealists: or the Passion of Joschka Fischer and its Aftermath

Berman traces at some length the arc of one set of Left thought, from 1960s and 1970s radicalism to a return to institutions of power in the 1980s, to the at-first hesitant embrace of force in the Balkans in the 1990s, to -- in his case, and others -- support for the Iraq war on humanitarian and human rights grounds.

One hopes that the forthcoming book from which Fukuyama's essay was drawn contains something analogous -- and as well-written -- on the evolution of the neo-cons from the sons of Trotskyites to, as he calls Kagan and Kristol, "Leninists."

Yet Fukuyama is already on to the next solution -- "a 'realistic Wilsonianism' that better matches means to ends" -- while for Berman, history has ended.  Berman's book is ultimately an elegy for a worldview that he concludes died with Sergio de Mello and his team in the UN compound in Baghdad in 2003:

The truck-bomb killed the very people whose job would have required them to labor day and night to reconcile the American-led overthrow of the dictator with the principles and legalities and political realities of the UN – a reconciliation that would have brought together, as well, the more militant ‘68ers with the more prudent and cautious ‘68ers, the antitotalitarian left with the antitotalitarian left.  The story of the generation of 1968 ended there, surely.  In Baghdad in August 2003.

You sense the difference.  Berman, and in a different way George Packer's The Assassins' Gate, wrote an elegy for what was lost, what might have been.  Fukuyama, on the other hand, has dusted himself off, and --with all the energy that wonderful munchkin metaphor implies -- is on to the next challenge.

And that prefigures a big problem for the intellectual left:  can its members convince themselves that it's possible to keep the past in sight and still look ahead?

Continue reading "Fukuyama or Berman: Whose History is Ended?" »

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