Democracy Arsenal

« March 25, 2007 - March 31, 2007 | Main | April 8, 2007 - April 14, 2007 »

April 06, 2007

Be All That You Can Be. George Steinbrenner?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Looks like the newly-announced National Guard deployment to Iraq will be the occasion for a new wave of "broken Army" stories, of which Time's cover story is the first but unlikely to be the last.

The new angle here I caught was some internal Army recruitment memos which highlight 1) how hard they must scramble for recruits and 2) how looseness with the truth at the top trickles down over the years into the work of folks like recruiters who are not exactly political appointees.

The documents show Army officers straining to justify new, more expensive inducements for recruits, including comparing Army relocation policies to those employed by Princeton.  But here's my personal favorite:

The service paid more than $600 million in retention bonuses in 2006, up from $180 million in 2003. (If that seems excessive, the Army notes in an internal document, "New York Yankees payroll: About $350 million," although it's actually closer to $190 million.)

Now I'm a Red Sox fan by upbringing and a Tigers fan by residence, but even discounting for that:  a) what an irrelevant comparison and b) if it's not irrelevant, it's bad.  The last time that payroll produced a World Series title was, ahem, 2000, and they haven't even been to the Series since President Bush's first term. 

And who ought to need a bigger retention bonus to keep doing what he's doing:  someone on his third or fourth tour in Iraq, or Derek Jeter?   

It's About Acting Tough, Not Talking Tough
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

There’s been an annoying paradox for the past year where Democrats maintain a significant lead in the polls on Iraq but are far behind on keeping America safe.  As part of the usual paranoia of looking weak a number of Dems have argued that putting in place a timeline and confronting the President is only going to make this problem worse.  But could it be that the fact that the Democrats are standing up to the President and showing some backbone is actually having the opposite effect?  Might it actually be making them look tough thus driving up their security numbers?  I think it’s a distinct possibility. 

A Democracy Corps poll released today (PDF) had Democrats trailing Republicans by only 6 points on the question of which party do respondents associate with keeping people safe.  That is down significantly (PDF) from a similar question around election time where the spread was 13 (For full disclosure the questions were worded slightly differently).  Still, 6 points is the smallest the gap has been in quite a while.

So what’s going on here?  Here’s one theory.  The Iraq numbers are based on policy and a statement of the obvious.  The situation is bad and everyone knows it.  Democrats are the party of change.  They win on that issue hands down.   But keeping people safe is a gut question.  Who is tougher?  Who makes me feel safer?  Bush and Giuliani do well on this metric because they are seen as willing to stand up, take a position and stick with it.  Kerry had problems because of the whole flip flop image.  It could be that the fact that Democrats are showing some backbone and standing up to the President is actually more important than what they are saying.  They are acting tough and showing some real conviction.  For the first time in four years you don’t see “Democrats have no plan” stories all over the media. 

This whole thing could still blow up, but I’m thinking that in this case being tough and being right are one and the same.

Midwesterners Throng to Talk UN
Posted by David Shorr

Well maybe "throng" is an overstatement, but three days on the road with the State Department's Mark Lagon this week (modeling bipartisan civility) gave me some always-appreciated interchange with citizens in Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago. Many thanks to the good people of Americans for Informed Democracy for arranging the tour, especially our local hosts on the five campuses we visited.

Mark and I are on a shared mission to re-frame the UN debate to make it harder for people to blame the UN for the failures of member states -- or to expect it to work miracles. We talked with Midwesterners about some of the recurring (unhelpful) themes of any discussion of this topic: the quest for structural fixes, blame-the-UN-firsters, and the domestication of the good-works-doing UN (that last one's more my thing than Mark's).

Continue reading "Midwesterners Throng to Talk UN" »

April 05, 2007

New Army site
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

My work on a civil-military project has brought some interesting new stuff into my inbox.

Here's an important new online presence from the Peacekeeping and Stablity Operations Institute at Army War College--a watercooler in cyberspace to share information, lessons and knowledge for the peace building/stability and support community.

Another site I recently visited to brush up on my civil-military relations knowledge is the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance in Hawaii (DMHA) here.. The "Working with the Military" video in the multi media library is an excellent Civics 101 short course. I listened to it in the time it took to make spaghetti.

Finally, my favorite wonk site for conflict resolution, Beyond Intractability

Congress Says Goodbye, Belgium Says Hello
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Last week I wrote with some bewilderment about why the Administration had yanked the nomination of Swift Boat funder Sam Fox just minutes before it was to come to a vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The answer -- which I and as far as I know all the media overlooked -- should have been obvious, and it became so today.  So they could recess appoint him, and a couple of other winners for domestic posts as well.

Senator Dodd and others held out some question as to whether a recess appointment was legal and promised a challenge.  One of the appointments even seemed to have enraged Senator Lieberman -- a neat trick, that.

But all the folks making happy talk about how Congress should move first to compromise with the White House on the Iraq funding bill (that's you, Ron Brownstein and Senator Obama) should maybe take this as [yet another] sign that this White House does not have compromise on its mind.

An American MI5
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Dick Clarke and Roger Cressey argue for a new domestic intelligence agency.  I tend to agree.  A well developed plan for an American MI5 would simultaneously make us safer while offering more protections for civil liberties. 

An independent agency would do a much better job of collecting and analyzing intelligence because it wouldn’t be bogged down in the law enforcement culture of the FBI.   The FBI is built around enforcement (i.e. successful prosecutions) not prevention (i.e. intelligence gathering and counterterrorism).  The new agency would spend more time preventing an attack and gathering intelligence and less time trying to build criminal cases.  Moreover, with intelligence playing second fiddle, most top quality personnel continue to view law enforcement as the best means to advancing their careers and do not enter domestic intelligence.  I imagine this problem also has an impact on capital allocation within the FBI.

Like similar agencies in the UK, France, Canada and Australia, the department should have no powers of arrest or detention.  Instead it would work with the FBI if a case got to a point where an arrest was necessary.  Obviously you’d have to make sure that this relationship was tightly monitored, but generally it would be comforting to know that the agency in charge of arresting people is not the one with the access to all this information on a day to day basis. 

Another benefit is that in other liberal democracies these agencies have been more effective at human intelligence.  One of the problems faced by the CIA is that it’s almost impossible to penetrate terrorist camps in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Penetrating cells domestically and using them to unravel broader international networks is easier.

Anyway, irregardless of the positive impact on civil liberties the public’s gut reaction will be so opposed to this that I doubt it will ever get anywhere.  Not to mention the fact that I don’t trust the people who brought us DHS and Guantanamo Bay to implement something this sensitive and complicated.  But maybe at some point in the future.

April 04, 2007

So What Exactly Happened with Those British Sailors?
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

All the ins and outs of this British sailor hostage deal are giving me a headache but let’s try to piece this together.  Two basic assumptions.  First, there is no way the Iranians gave this chit up for nothing.  It wasn’t just friendly conversation that got these guys back.  Second, the British are not total imbeciles.  Hence, Mario Loyola’s argument (Formerly of Dough Feith’s shop) that to get the hostages back the Brits gave Iran what they wanted on the nuclear front and also will refuse basing rights to the U.S. in Diego Garcia is absurd.

At the same time we do know a few things.  We know that an abducted Iranian “diplomat” who has been in captivity for two months in Iraq was released on Tuesday.  We know that he was seized by men wearing Iraqi Army uniforms and that several of the kidnappers were arrested only to be released the next day at the behest of a number men carrying Iraqi government identification. 

We know that the state run Islamic Republic News Agency is reporting that the Iranian government is making new efforts to gain access to five Iranian “diplomats” who were taken by American forces in Irbil because they were allegedly smuggling arms to Iraqi militants.

We know that a “retired FBI agent” with years of private sector “security consulting” experience has disappeared in the Kish Islands off Iran where he was on a “documentary” project.  Apparently he’s been missing for three weeks, but the sudden increase in publicity is interesting.

What does all of this mean?  I have absolutely no idea.  But watch how these various stories develop in the coming weeks.  The timing will be subtle and it won’t get much publicity but the likelihood is that there will be action on some of these fronts.  All governments involved will go to great pains to insist that there was no horse trading going on.  They will maintain that on principal alone they don’t negotiate for hostages and that all of these people had nothing to do with covert intelligence efforts.  In Neverland this might be true but we live in the real world.

Update:  The Red Cross was allowed to visit the five Iranians being held by the U.S.

April 02, 2007

Obama wins "Messiah mentions" straw poll
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Well, it seems that this "Obama as Savior" thing continues to spread. Why is it that so many of us have suspicions that Barack Obama is the second coming of Christ? I decided to investigate the matter further by doing some Google searches:

"McCain is the Messiah": 0 results
"Guiliani is the Messiah": 0 results
(Surprisingly) "Brownback is the Messiah": 0 results
"Tancredo is the Messiah": 1 result
"Hillary Clinton is the Messiah": 2 results
"Mohammed is the Messiah": 10 results
"Bono is the Messiah": 6 results
"Obama is the Messiah": 360 results

Some Perspective on Opening Day
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Between now and the next Presidential election Major League Baseball will crown two world champions, four MVPs, four Cy Young award winners, four Rookies of the Year, 36 Gold Glove winners and play 4,860 regular season games. 

What's more foreboding?  The number of hours of Presidential race coverage that we will all be subjected to or the amount of damage George Bush can do in what is still a significant period of time?

April 01, 2007

Down the Bric Road
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

In a world where China and India and, to a lesser extent, Brazil, Russia and others enjoy mounting economic and political power, where does that leave the United States?  On Friday the Century Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton convened a seminar on this topic, gathering a small group of academic experts, policymakers and diplomats - including representation from China, India, Japan, North Korea and Mexico - to debate the topic.  While the acronym BRIC is used as a shorthand for Brazil, Russia, India and China Here's what I conclude:

- BRIC's UP, U.S. DOWN? - Though Friday's participants danced around this, realistically the ascent of all these countries has to come at the expense of some existing powers, including the US.  While our absolute influence may not diminish, our relative preeminence will be less as others rise.  While it is only the Chinese that stand to potentially rival us militarily, conventional military power no longer affords the final say that it used to.  Bottom line:  assuming we dig out of the foreign policy hole dug by the Bush Administration, the world we'll find will not be the world we left on 9/11

Continue reading "Down the Bric Road" »

Fear of Failure is Not a Strategy for Victory
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Over the past few months the common refrain by President Bush and a slew of supporters of the war is that despite the dire situation in Iraq the consequences of failure are so unthinkable that we must keep trying.  This is the only argument that supporters of the war have left and we are going to keep hearing it again and again.  Unfortunately, it fails to actually answer the central question: How do we win? 

40 years ago this same logic drove Johnson, Rusk, McNamara, Bundy and others in charge of our country to pour thousands of troops into Vietnam despite privately acknowledging that the chances of success were slim.  In that case as in this one the consequences of failure had been so inflated that defeat was unthinkable.  Victory was also unattainable unless you threw in a couple of million troops, which was too high a cost and politically impossible (Who knows if it would have even worked).  Unable to achieve victory, unable to accept defeat Johnson and his advisors trudged on doing what was necessary not to lose and hoping that somehow a solution would present itself.  Eventually the public got sick of it and the pressure to leave became too great.  (The Irony of Vietnam:  The System Worked is the best book on this topic).

Are we there today on Iraq?  I think so.  And to a great extent we are there for the same reason.  A rigid doctrine that over inflates the consequences of failure and presents American security as indivisible. 

Continue reading "Fear of Failure is Not a Strategy for Victory" »

Guest Contributors
Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.

www Democracy Arsenal
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use