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October 05, 2007

"We Don't Torture"
Posted by Michael Cohen

George Orwell would really get a kick out of the Bush Administration and its public stance on the use of torture.

This morning, President Bush said once again that "We do not torture." It's kind of like saying the sky is green.

Every piece of evidence that comes out about this Administration, including yesterday's NYT piece on secret DoJ memos sanctioning torture demonstrates otherwise. Yet, President Bush and his enablers keep repeating the same mantra "We do not torture" over and over again as if just saying these words makes it true.

Yet, as audaciously duplicitous as the "We do not torture" mantra has become, it pales next to the vile comments that Dana Perino made at the White House press briefing yesterday:

It's quite a testament that even though we have a sworn enemy of the United States that has declared war on us and . . killed thousands of our own citizens  . . we are still having a debate to talk about how we should make sure that we treat people, and that we don't torture them. That is quite a testament to this country. And the President is very proud to lead it.

This is simply beyond offensive. The thing is, we did have a public debate about torture in this country and in 2004, the Department of Justice publicly issued a legal opinion declaring torture "abhorrent." Then several months later, away from the prying eyes of Congress and the American people, the Department of Justice put out another secret legal opinion, which not only sanctioned torture but "provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures."

Apparently, this is what qualifies as a 'national debate' by the Bush Administration.

Basically what you have here is the White House spokesperson extolling the virtues of our democratic system of government at the same time that the Administration she works for is secretly and systematically undermining those same democratic institutions.

But don't worry, "We Don't Torture."

More Secrecy!
Posted by David Shorr

Up late watching C-SPAN tonight (don't ask). The House Committee on Oversight and Government had a hearing Thursday on anti-corruption efforts in Iraq. What was most interesting was the State Department's insistence on a closed session to discuss fundamental assessment of the Maliki government.

The testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Lawrence Butler has to rank among the all-time somber invocations of 'national security' to avoid open discussion of core policy questions. When Committee Chair Rep. Henry Waxman asked Butler whether the Maliki government "has the political will and capacity to root out corruption." Butler's response was that "questions which go to the broad nature of our bilateral relationship with Iraq are best answered in a classified setting."

I'm not in a position to judge the State Department's anti-corruption efforts in Iraq, and the need to discuss details in executive session is understandable. But you would think that questions about the "broad nature" would be just the kind of questions that can and should be discussed in open session. Ambassador Butler's stated reasons were the kind of national security seriousness that this VSP finds terribly manipulative. First, there was the need to "protect the lives of the people in the country...what the military calls operational security." Then there was an invocation of the ambassador's service in dark shadowy places like the former Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia. He also mentioned the need to protect the anonymity and safety of the Iraqis who are helping them. On this last one, fair enough. But the State Department surely should be able to say something, a general description of the problem, without betraying sources.

October 04, 2007

Dreaming of Christopher Hitchens
Posted by Shadi Hamid

For better or worse, I cannot escape Christopher Hitchens. In one of the more bizarre occurrences in recent memory, I woke up, in nearly a cold sweat this morning, thinking of him, or, rather, dreaming about him. If my memory serves me, we were both at a dinner party. I had never met him before, unless you count the time I asked him a question at a debate of his with Tariq Ali that gave me away as one of those duped souls who still manages to believe in a God, or, worse, the God.

So I went up to him. He was still eating perhaps. I wasn’t. We proceeded to have an animated discussion about something, can’t remember what. Maybe about the Iraq war. Maybe about how war is a force that gives out  meaning, particularly when it shouldn’t. Then the conversation took to more interesting places. He was counseling me on relationships out of all things, and then before I knew it, he was reading into my relationship history, and saying that I had made certain mistakes here and there. He then gave me some advice. I was fascinated. We were bonding, it appeared. And his advice managed to be both prescient and disturbing in a way that his observations usually are. I woke up in a cold sweat, yes, thinking of Christopher Hitchens.

Why Americans Think We're Out There Alone
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

David, you're absolutely right:  the idea that the US is out there, alone and unappreciated, holding back a tidal wave of evil and chaos, seems to be foundational in many Americans' thinking about the world.  With acknowledgement to Meg Bostrom of Public Knowledge, my wonderful client the US in the World Initiative, and others, let me explain why.

Most Americans (though not our policy-junkie readers) get their information about the rest of the world from tv news.  TV news stories have three essential qualities:  they're short, they're sensational, and in the case of international news, they're rather rare, which reinforces the first two qualities.

The style of coverage is either what David Devlin-Foltz calls "the daily bus plunge,"  i.e. mine disaster in China, train wreck in India, floods in Bangladesh (see the small world news clips in the Times for a great example of the genre), or it's using Americans to get an up close and personal angle on some issue.  So you see sniffing dogs from Fairfax County, VA heading off to earthquakes in Pakistan.  A Michigan hospital donating free care to a badly-burned Iraqi child.  Utah national guard troops returning from war duty.

Three things you will hardly ever see:  foreigners helping other foreigners; foreigners helping us; foreigners saying thank you.  You will also almost never see a story that explains the complexities of how US assistance in one place enables others to do more elsewhere.

This topic actually came up in my most recent appearance:  Eli Lake complained that "no one ever thanks the US" -- which is a great example of the above syndrome.  I compared efforts in the international sphere to changing diapers -- thankless, but part of the deal and not worth whining over -- and some commentator sweetly wrote in to thank me on behalf of my three-year old.

Continue reading "Why Americans Think We're Out There Alone" »

Gonzales's Department of Torture
Posted by Max Bergmann

There is really no other way to say it... from the New York Times this morning:

Soon after Alberto R. Gonzales’s arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Department issued another opinion, this one in secret. It was... an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.

We're From the United States, and We're Here to Help
Posted by David Shorr

I think I stumbled onto a cognitive frame the other day. Now Lorelei and Heather know a lot more about frames than I do; I think Lorelei actually studied social psychology. But as I read the comments of my University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point on-line students, I noticed what looked to me like a frame. It goes like this: the rest of the world always looks to the United States for help, but when we get involved, they never appreciate us.

Let me quickly add that this viewpoint (a composite of several students' comments) was not linked to a political orientation, which is what made me think it was a frame. To paraphrase Eric Burdon, "I'm just a superpower whose intentions are good. Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood." It's the response of bewilderment: no matter how we try to help, we only end up being criticized. You can see how it's only a short hop from here to seeing the rest of the world as jealous of us.

So then there was this story on Morning Edition last week about the Army's counterinsurgency efforts in Diyala. In it we hear an American officer get exasperated with an Iaqi over the local population's failure to finger the insurgents. For the officer, the Iraqi was refusing to do his part for his country and effectively covering for the violent traitors in their midst. These people won't even help protect their own country from terrorists! Of course, from the Iraqi's vantage, he's trying to lay low and avoid being assassinated for collaborating.

And there you have it. The real issue of course being what the local population -- or any other nation, for that matter -- really wants and what pressures they're under. It's probably not help, if it's not what they're looking for. Which triggered another thought. Has anyone else noticed how the Europeans refer to their aid programs as 'development cooperation?' Maybe they're onto something.

October 03, 2007

Progressive Strategy

Talking National Security in 08
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

So the "inept" Iraqi government did what the U.S. Congress should have done years ago. They threw out private military contractor Blackwater and caused unprecedented interest in commercial war fighting. Despite this, I have a sneaking suspicion that if KBR or Halliburton had received a no-bid billion dollar contract to run the SCHIP (State Child Health Insurance Program), there would be no threatened veto from this White House. The privatization of
our public sector has come full circle

As P.W. Singer points out in this must-read  briefing paper Blackwater and other private sector soldiers put our very philosophy of government at stake -- and every conversation about profiteering and uncontrolled violence in Iraq needs to round back to this common denominator: What is the essential purpose of our government? The monopoly on violence is the undergirding notion of the state. Yet this has been outsourced with barely a murmur by our elected leaders. The privatization of war is just the last domino to fall after decades of privatization of the public sector. The military was supposed to be the sacred cow, even for conservatives. But now, it too has been slaughtered in the free market of the fundamentalists. Privatization has greatly harmed what many consider our finest public service -- for this reason it must be a centerpiece issue in how we talk about national security throughout the election year.

I've been traveling over the last month, in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Georgia, giving talks in communities about national security. I've learned a few things along the way that might be non scientifically helpful to progressives interested in framing -- and winning -- this issue in 2008.

Continue reading "Talking National Security in 08" »

Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

As I’ve written before, I’m skeptical of the Anbar strategy.  My concerns are about whether or not it can actually be replicated in other parts of the country.  Even more worrisome is that we just end up arming the Sunnis, who still hate the Shi’a and consider them public enemy number one.  And that eventually the Sunni tribes end up fighting it out with the central government.  Prime Minister Maliki has expressed his concerns about this strategy in the past.  But now comes this

The largest Shiite political coalition in Iraq demanded Tuesday that the U.S. military abandon its recruitment of Sunni tribesmen into the Iraqi police, saying some are members of "armed terrorist groups" and are engaged in killing, kidnapping and extortion under the guise of fighting the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The statement by the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite bloc of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, is the most direct rebuke to a policy that U.S. military officers hold up as one of their most important achievements over the past year…

"We condemn and reject embracing those terrorist elements which committed the most hideous crimes against our people," the United Iraqi Alliance statement said. It also condemned "authorizing the groups to conduct security acts away from the jurisdiction of the government and without its knowledge."

The statement went on: "We demand that the American administration stop this adventure, which is rejected by all the sons of the people and its national political powers…"

Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, described these partnerships as a "success story" and said 1,700 volunteers from the town of Abu Ghraib graduated last week after a month of police academy training.

"Anbar now stands as an inspiring example to the rest of the country for what is possible, as citizens come together to reject extremist behavior," Odierno said.

This is a big deal.  This is the largest bloc in the Central government openly condemning one of the cornerstones of American policy in Iraq.  Not good

Foreign Policy Wonks and the Presidential Election
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Matt Yglesias and Kevin Drum point us towards the Washington Post's listing of foreign policy advisors affiliated with different campaigns.  A couple of observations:

First of all, I agree with Kevin.  This list is pretty shoddy.  There are people on that list who are working for the campaigns and there are people on that list who might provide insight every once in a long while.  It's sort of silly to lump them all in together because it doesn't really distinguish between who has the candidate's ear and who is sitting on the outside.    The reality is that all the candidates have long lists of hundreds of experts who are affiliated in one way or another with the campaign.  So basically, what I'm trying to say is that this list tells you very little and I wouldn't try to draw any major conclusions from it.

For example, you might look at this list and think that Surge architect General Jack Keane is one of Clinton's key advisors.  I doubt that is the case.  Sandy Berger, Madeleine Albright.  Yes.  But Keane has probably just met with Clinton a couple of times and somehow he ends up on that list.  I bet he is supporting a Republican. 

Then again, what is one of the architects of the surge doing on the Democratic front runner's advisory list? 

Blackwater undermines Petraeus
Posted by Max Bergmann

You know something is very very wrong in Iraq when the State Department - our nation’s DIPLOMATS - are at the center of an incident that not only has caused the deaths of 17 innocent Iraqis and which has fostered a major diplomatic rift between the U.S. and the Iraqi governments.

But it is not just that the overly aggressive and brazen tactics by Blackwater and other security contractors have created a diplomatic nightmare for the U.S., it is also that they have significantly undermined U.S. counter-insurgency efforts.

What makes counter-insurgency operations different from traditional operations is that they recognize that it is impossible to simply kill every insurgent. Therefore the focus is on both protecting the people and in restoring the people’s faith in their own government.

The actions of Blackwater and other security contractors clearly undermine both efforts.

First, they clearly undermine U.S. efforts to protect the population. The actions and tactics of Blackwater are about protecting their clients and themselves – not about protecting Iraqis. While U.S. soldiers and Marines must also protect themselves, their rules of engagement in counter-insurgency operations force them to act under considerable restraint. Page 22 of the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counter-Insurgency Field Manual - a document that General Petraeus played a central role developing - states:

“The More You Protect Your Force, The Less Secure You Are”

“The More Force is Used, The Less Effective It Is,”

“The More Successful COIN is, the Less Force That Can be Used and the More Risk That Must be Accepted”

Second, they undermine the Iraqi government and the counterinsurgency effort. Placing private security companies like Blackwater above the law, so that they face no sanctions or prosecutions for their actions, only makes the Iraqi government look weak and ineffective. This is incredibly harmful, as page 19 of the Army manual concludes:

“Illegitimate actions by government officials, security forces, and multinational partners are those involving the use of power without authority… Any human rights abuses or legal violations committed by U.S. forces quickly become known throughout the local population and eventually around the world because of the globalized media and work to undermine the COIN effort.”

While Blackwater may be undermining the efforts of our military, we can all be comforted by the fact that since Blackwater will be remaining in Iraq, the State Department will be able to continue to conduct their vital diplomatic efforts.

October 02, 2007

The Brooklyn Dodgers Explain Everything?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Being born into Red Sox Nation myself, I was feeling Ilan's pain about the Mets, and delighted to see this Richard Cohen column which makes a nice link between what sports can teach us and what went wrong in Iraq:

Had Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and the rest been Dodgers fans they never would have counted on things going right in Iraq. They would have known that The Thing could happen. They would have known you could look at the plans, the way Charlie Dressen looked at his roster, and never see defeat staring you in the face. Defeat is like a two-way mirror. You cannot see it but it can see you. "The Giants is dead," Dressen famously, erroneously and ungrammatically had remarked. It was the "mission accomplished" of its time.

Note to Richard Cohen:  I'm still not reconciled to your irrational Hillary-hating.  But this was a great column.

Note to Don B. and friends:  loving sports doesn't mean one doesn't care about Darfur, Iraq, etc etc.  Everyone needs coping mechanisms to keep on keeping on in the face of all that's bad and uncontrollable in the world, and it's the wise people who find and make use of them, whether it's opera, sports, shooting small animals, yelling at your kids, whatever.

Best. New Yorker Cover. Ever.
Posted by Moira Whelan


Introducing Max Bergmann
Posted by The Editors

Hello.  We'd like to introduce our newest blogger and National Security Network staff member, Max Bergmann.  Max is the new Deputy Policy Director here at NSN.  Previously he was a Research Associate for National Security at the Center for American Progress where he worksedon military affairs and other related U.S. foreign policy issues. Bergmann has been published by The New Republic, The American Prospect, The Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times, The Washington Times, and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. He co-authored the reports: “Marine Corps Equipment After Iraq” and “Beyond the Call of Duty: A Comprehensive Review of the Overuse of the U.S. Army in Iraq.” Max is a die hard Gator and Tottenham Hotspur fan.  We need an English soccer fan on this foreign policy blog.

October 01, 2007

5 Simple Rules for Democracy Promotion
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

(inspired by Moira's post about Burma, below)

1.  It's their democracy.  So shut up, already.  This Administration did considerable harm to democracy activists across the Middle East, as well as the folks who came out of the Orange and Rose Revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia with governing responsibilities, by seeming to take too much credit.  This makes the locals look like puppets (see under:  Iraq) instead of folks who are expressing indigenous forms of an indigenous desire for universal freedoms.  Yes, I want to see this Administration speak loudly and clearly about repression in Burma -- but please, no more chest-thumping about what support we're giving whom.  People who are showing that much determination and courage deserve not to be miscast as our puppets.

2.  Get the money to the right people.  This is the problem with Administration programming for Iran, which shovels money to Iranian-Americans; and with Iraq, which seems to have shoveled money to Ahmed Chalabi and other folks who, it turned out, had absolutely no talent for winning the elections we were so desperate to have.  How to do this effectively?  Refer to Rule No. 1.

3.  Lengthen your time horizonsAung San Suu Kyi has been in military detention 11 of the last 18 years.  She won the Nobel back in 1991.  Nelson Mandela was in prison 27 years.  Transitions to democracy in South Korea, Mexico, Brazil, Greece took decades.  Democratization doesn't happen in State-of-the-Union-friendly timespans.

4.  Read the literature.  We actually know quite a bit about what works well -- and what doesn't -- for outsiders who want to support democratic progress.  A great place to start is Tom Carothers' recent monograph on saving democracy promotion from itself -- Democracy Promotion During and After Bush.  His How Democracies Emerge: The Sequencing Fallacy is a nice summary of the last ten years in the literature, for the wonkier among us.

5.  Don't overpromise.  Helping others attain the freedoms we cherish is a noble goal.  It is not, however, a short-term project; even less is it a short-term answer to pragmatic security and economic needs, or even to urgent human rights and humanitarian concerns.

Posted by Moira Whelan

I don't claim any expertise in Asia, but what is happening in Burma truly appears to be amazing. As Sameer Lalwani points out:

Despite the much ballyhooed cedar, rose, and orange revolutions that turned out to be far more complex power struggles rather than purely democratic revolutions, there appears to be something qualitatively different about what is happening in Myanmar right now -- a much more organic galvanization of the population -- though I think we lack sufficient information to substantiate it. Nevertheless, the accounts above should provide sufficient cause to hope that a new social contract will arise out the battle unfolding in the country.

I think that's true. It's getting attention because it looks to be at this point, a good old fashioned revolution where democracy will struggle, and eventually prevail, but the people of Burma can't do it alone. The monks, who serve as far more than religious leaders are invested, and being victimized, in the effort of the people. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, is still imprisoned. Despite attacks by the junta, men, women and children are joining in the effort in non-violent protest but reports of slaughter appear worse than the little news we've been able to get outside of the country.

President Bush did acknowledge the struggle in Burma before the United Nations and announced sanctions. Speaker Pelosi responded not only in her own words, but with a resolution that will be voted on tomorrow condemning the crackdown by the junta and in support of democratization. So far Senator Obama seems to be the only candidate who's weighed in.

I think this is fairly significant. Sure, the United States can do little without the support of ASEAN nations and the broader international community as pointed out by Michael Schiffer. However, why should "we can do little" be the only response when Londoners and Dubliners are taking to the streets? Who's "leading" democracy is this case? If the United States ever hopes to reclaim the mantle of supporting democracy around the world, however, taking steps to offer support is critical. I personally will find it hard to believe that a would-be leader of the free world will walk the walk if he/she isn't even talking the talk.

UPDATE: Hillary Clinton's Burma Statement here.

Clinton Global Reading List
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I've been away for a week working as a table facilitator at this year's Clinton Global Initiative.  Sadly, we sign a non-disclosure agreement as a condition of participation, so I can't blog about it.  Instead, I'm going to recommend a few books and presentations from the most impressive speakers I heard -- all focused around poverty alleviation, the track I worked in.  Think of it as your chance to get the CGI experience in your own home, without the risk of running into Richard Branson in the men's room.

Hands-down the most impressive person I encountered was Ashraf Ghani, the former Finance Minister of Afghanistan and now head of the Institute of State Effectiveness (and chancellor of Kabul U.)

He has a book coming out -- The Framework:  Fixing Failed States. Meanwhile here's his "Agenda for Harnessing Globalization" (his co-author and partner at the Institute for State Effectiveness, Clare Lockhart, is also very impressive).  And this 2005 video gives you a great flavor of his eloquent and informed but also very direct critique of how foreign aid is given, including this line:

"Technical assistance is the worst form of the ugly face of the developed world to the developing world."

Continue reading "Clinton Global Reading List" »

Ahmadinejad visit
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Having had some time to reflect and talked to some friends I've changed my mind about the whole Ahmadinejad visit to Columbia.  I'm still happy they had him.  Not so happy with Bollinger's intro.  Rosa's column was pretty good. 

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