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June 29, 2007

Whither the Military? Maybe We Can Have A Real Debate
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I'm encouraged to see that the debate over what kind of military we need, and why it hasn't been able to get the job done in Iraq, is moving steadily out of the defense-wonk universe (even though some of my best friends are defense wonks) into the broader media and national security universe.

Today the Wall Street Journal picks back up on Lt. Colonel Paul Yingling's A Failure in Generalship article, which Lorelei and I pointed to back in April, to introduce a broader discussion of the now-trendy-to-mention-in-conversation "generational split" in the military.

Here's the key point:

In his controversial essay, Col. Yingling pinned much of the Army's failings in Iraq on generals who he says didn't prepare for guerrilla fights in the decade prior to the war, and then didn't adjust as quickly as front-line troops. Young officers had to adapt to survive, he wrote. The generals, products of a system that encouraged conformity and discouraged risk takers, were often a step behind the enemy, he said. "It is unreasonable to expect that an officer who spends 25 years conforming to institutional expectations will emerge as an innovator," he wrote. The solution, he said, is to change the way the Army selects and promotes generals, taking into account reviews by subordinates.


At Fort Hood, Maj. Gen. Jeff Hammond, the top general at the sprawling base, summoned all of the captains to hear his response to Col. Yingling's critique. About 200 officers in their mid- to late-20s, most of them Iraq veterans, filled the pews and lined the walls of the base chapel. "I believe in our generals. They are dedicated, selfless servants," Gen. Hammond recalls saying. The 51-year-old officer told the young captains that Col. Yingling wasn't competent to judge generals because he had never been one. "He has never worn the shoes of a general," Gen. Hammond recalls saying.

The captains' reactions highlighted the growing gap between some junior officers and the generals. "If we are not qualified to judge, who is?" says one Iraq veteran who was at the meeting. Another officer in attendance says that he and his colleagues didn't want to hear a defense of the Army's senior officers. "We want someone at higher levels to take accountability for what went wrong in Iraq," he says.

This and related debates are influencing the discussion of what the future of the military should look like.  On the continuation, I'm going to recommend two papers and a new think tank for people who really like this issue.  But for everyone else, an encouraging thing here is how much emphasis you see defense intellectuals paying to the non-military aspects of security and counter-terrorism.

Continue reading "Whither the Military? Maybe We Can Have A Real Debate" »

June 28, 2007

Wingnut Cruise
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Sometime during the 1990's the Nation magazine began offering cruises with liberal luminaries and lounge acts, authors and pundits....Every year this floating speakeasy goes someplace different, the Caribbean then Alaska. It didn't take long for a conservative magazine to follow suit. the National Review organized a cruise this year...check out this writeup at Sadlyno for a hilarious recap. Ahhhh, the wingnut cruise, a little floating island of neo-con truth, where the Iraq war continues to be a noble victory and old white guy fear about race and place is idle cocktail chatter...

BTW, why is this woman (here soundly shutdown by Elizabeth Edwards) allowed to be on TV? Chris Matthews? Why?

I figure the only way Ann Coulter is going to change is someday when she meets a beautiful Prada wearing redneck living in New York City...who was raised by two moms (or two dads) in Texas or South Carolina... who earned money for her liberal arts education by working as a NASCAR pit assistant. This imaginary heroine will take the hapless blonde arachnoid out behind the sushi bar for a little talk...I've obviously thought far too much about this....

After Lugar
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

With Dick Lugar, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, coming out this week against the President’s policies, we have a possible turning point.  Lugar is a serious foreign policy expert and well respected in the Senate.  He could provide cover for other Republicans to come along with him and start opposing the President’s policy.  Unfortunately, there’s a catch.  Lugar is still saying that he won’t vote for a timeline or benchmarks.  So this might all be smoke and mirrors

As I see it there are three scenarios.  The best case scenario is that this is just the beginning of an evolution and that by the time the Senate votes again on a draw down in forces he will come around and vote for the Democratic plan.  The worst case scenario is that he is just another Susan Collins.  He will oppose the President’s policies rhetorically, but he won’t actually take any real action to change them.  I’d be very disappointed if this was the case.  I’d like to think that as a Senator who has a long track record of taking these issues seriously and as someone who is not in any kind of political jeopardy, he wouldn’t just come out against the war for purely political purposes and then do nothing.

Another possibility and one that is reasonably likely, is that over the next month or two there will be a new Lugar plan for Iraq.  It will probably be something along the lines of cutting the American troop presence in Iraq down to 40,000-80,000 troops by 2009.  It seems to be what Lugar is saying

Our security interests call for a downsizing and redeployment of U.S. military forces to more sustainable positions. Numerous locations for temporary or permanent military bases have been suggested, including Kuwait or other nearby states, the Kurdish territories, or defensible locations in Iraq outside of urban areas. All of these options come with limitations. But some level of American military presence in Iraq would improve the odds that we could respond to terrorist threats, protect oil flows and help deter a regional war. It would also reassure friendly governments that the United States is committed to Middle East security. A redeployment would allow us to continue training Iraqi troops and delivering economic assistance, but it would end the U.S. attempt to interpose itself between Iraqi factions.

This new plan would probably get a lot of support from Republicans and conservative Democrats.  I have mixed feelings about it.  If you can get bipartisan agreement on removing 100,000 troops that is a really good thing and much better than where we are right now.  Ending the war is going to be a long-term, incremental political slog and this would be a major step in the right direction.  But still, I find the case for an almost complete redeployment over the next 12 months to be much more compelling.

Anyway, at the end I guess it’s all details unless you can get 67 votes because you aren’t going to change the President’s mind. 

June 27, 2007

Two Scholars' Prescriptions for National Consensus
Posted by David Shorr

I find very little to dispute in Charles Kupchan and Peter Trubowitz's Grand Strategy for a Divided America, in the new Foreign Affairs. They ring an alarm bell for the pitfalls of domestic polarization for our foreign policy. Much as I agree with their substantive policy platform, though, I see problems in how they situate their approach within domestic politics.

The authors echo Walter Lippmann's warning about the "deficit" that results when a nation makes international commitments beyond its material ability to cover the checks it is writing politically. Internal political divides only make matters worse, as the extreme wings of both parties play tug of war over foreign policy. This introduction led me to expect a major reformulation of US international objectives that transcends the Right-Left split. Yet the Kupchan-Trubowitz platform is sensible primarily as a corrective to the radical Right, and the poliitcal spectrum they use as a backdrop is skewed precisely because of how neoconservatives pulled the putative center of gravity toward themselves.

Continue reading "Two Scholars' Prescriptions for National Consensus" »

Poverty Alleviation: Do It Because It Feels Good
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I’m at the launch of the Center for New American Security - a new national security think tank.  They’ve got a lineup of real heavy hitters today and I’ll post a couple of pieces about it.

Richard Danzig argues that trying to alleviate poverty is a worthy goal because it promotes our values and is the right thing to do.  But in the short-term it doesn’t make us safer and it actually diminishes the value of what we are doing when we ascribe it strictly to security interests.  He quotes T.S. Elliot “The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

I tend to agree.  Linking AIDS, poverty alleviation, democracy promotion to security issues might be tempting politically and the argument is true to some extent.  But it makes me feel a little dirty.  Sometimes it’s just good to promote these things because it’s the right thing to do, and view the good will that they create as incidental.  I doubt that the political message that this is good for our security will ever really penetrate the political dialogue anyway.

June 26, 2007

"Mr. Cruel"
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

For our readers who aren't Washington Post regulars, you'll want to go back and catch up on the Post's Dick Cheney series that began Sunday and runs through tomorrow.  The first two installments are on his role in national security, torture, renditions, etc.  Just make sure you are sitting down, well-hydrated and fully-loaded on your anti-depressant of choice.

[The epithet "Mr. Cruel" is not in the article, sadly -- it's how a prominent national security Dem described it to me.]

June 24, 2007

Eviscerating Shrum and Last Chance on '08 Foreign Policy Message
Posted by Jerry Mayer

Just had my review of Bob Shrum's excuse-laden memoir, No Excuses, published in the Politico. It's fun writing for the popular press, but the length limits meant that some of my best arguments against Shrum, and what he represents in American politics, ended up cut. They left in the stuff about his avarice, but took out most of the stuff about how his constant infighting produces paralyzed decisionmaking and slow-moving campaigns. Oh well.

And since Shrum sells himself as a message guru, I guess this is as appropriate a time as any to issue a last plug for my '08 Foreign Policy Message Contest. Enter in comments to this post or to the previous one. I'm looking for 3-10 words that the Dems could use to characterize their foreign policy. We've got some decent slogans for Dems (and some wicked funny ones for Repubs) but I'm not carried away by a winner as yet. What should the Democrats call their foreign policy for '08? Prove that you are at least as good a message-meister as Bob Shrum...and remember, you do get a t-shirt if you win.

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