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October 26, 2007

Sanction This
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Rarely does a newspaper as good as the Washington Post manage to have three stories about one subject in one day and absolutely completely blow all of them.  But today they hit the trifecta with the Iran sanctions story.

First, the ed board piece.  This isn't shocking.  Fred Hiatt is often off the mark, but calling these sanctions part of a "diplomatic offensive" and saying they are a "welcome boost" is simply ridiculous.  I am not opposed to the sanctions on principle, but they need to be part of a broader diplomatic strategy.  The United States should be ratcheting up the pressure on Iran, but at the same time it should be maximizing the opportunities for agreement by offering more financial carrots or at the very least sitting down to talk with the Iranians about common interests and disagreements.  Instead, the administration sticks to its pigheaded approach of making bilateral talks conditional on the suspension of uranium enrichment activities.  It's been  five years people!  That policy has failed.  The sanctions would make a lot more sense if we knew exactly what we wanted to get out of them, or if the Iranians had a clear idea of what they would need to do to get rid of them.  But neither of those points are clear.  So the sanctions aren't going to do anything other than just escalate tensions.

Second, is a story talking about how the President is using sanctions as a way to prevent war and provide more flexibility for the next President.  I think he's doing just the opposite and inevitably locking the next President into a choice of accepting an Iran with nuclear weapons or trying air strikes.  The U.S. continues to twiddle its thumbs and refuses to talk to the Iranians as they build up their nuclear capabilities.  Everyday that the U.S. waits it loses leverage.  These sanctions only make the situation more complicated. Sanctions are very easy to slap on.  However, removing them will require the next President to get a major concession from the Iranians or face significant political heat at home. 

Finally, the Post dedicates an above the fold front page story to the fact that oil prices will rise if the U.S. attacks Iran.  In other news, humans walk on two legs and mint chocolate chip ice cream tastes both minty and chocolaty.

October 25, 2007

Homeland Insecurity: DHS prevented firefighting seaplane from entering US
Posted by Max Bergmann

In some of the more shocking news of the day, NPR reports that...

A giant firefighting seaplane that was supposed to arrive from Canada Wednesday was temporarily held up by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Hmm... I guess that's what happens when you have too many liquids on board. Great work keeping America safe DHS.

2004 all over again? Petraeus abandons strategy to keep casulaties down
Posted by Max Bergmann

Fred Kaplan in his war stories column connects the dots...

So, what accounts for the decline in American deaths since the summer? It's hard to say for sure, but one little-reported cause is almost certainly a shift in U.S. tactics from fighting on the ground to bombing from the air.

An illustration of this shift occurred on Sunday, when U.S. soldiers were searching for a leader of a kidnapping ring in Baghdad's Sadr City. The soldiers came under fire from a building. Rather than engage in dangerous door-to-door conflict, they called in air support. American planes flew overhead and simply bombed the building, killing several of the fighters but also at least six innocent civilians. (The bad guy got away.)

In other words, though the shift means greater safety for our ground troops, it also generates more local hostility.

As I wrote yesterday, the quadrupling of airstrikes, along with the continued use of overly aggressive security contractors, totally undermines a counter-insurgency approach that emphasizes "protecting Iraqis." It seems that Petraeus has quietly abandoned his strategy in favor of the 2004 focus on force protection that got us nowhere.

So what exactly is Petraeus doing? Is this just another example of a sycophant General so concerned with public opinion that he is abandoning his stated strategy? At the very least he should explain why airstrikes have quadrupled.

October 24, 2007

Strategic Solvency
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

When I was at Columbia Richard Betts was one of the most popular professors there (And my personal favorite).   His piece on military spending in this month's issue of Foreign Affairs is simply superb and another example of his ability to take conventional wisdom and turn it on its head with simple rational arguments. 

Betts argues that military spending has gotten completely out of control because of overinflated fears. 

In recent years, U.S. national security policy has responded to a visceral sense of threat spawned by the frightening intentions of the country's enemies rather than to a sober estimate of those enemies' capabilities and what it would take to counter them effectively.

He also argues that a strategy based on benevolent American hegemony is a silly idea that would realistically cost trillions. 

The last two U.S. presidents, finally, have embraced ambitious goals of reshaping the world according to American values but without considering the full costs and consequences of their grandiose visions. The result has been a defense budget caught between two stools: higher than needed for basic national security but far lower than required to eliminate all villainous governments and groups everywhere.

His take on what terorrism means for military spending

With rare exceptions, the war against terrorists cannot be fought with army tank battalions, air force wings, or naval fleets -- the large conventional forces that drive the defense budget. The main challenge is not killing the terrorists but finding them...It does not require half a trillion dollars' worth of conventional and nuclear forces.

Betts also has a great response for those who argue that we need to prepare for China.

Although military rivalry with China is more likely than not, it is not inevitable, and it is not in U.S. interests to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy -- something that premature or immoderate military initiatives targeted at China could achieve. There will be time to prepare before such conflict begins in earnest...The correct way to hedge against the long-term China threat is by adopting a mobilization strategy: developing plans and organizing resources now so that military capabilities can be expanded quickly later if necessary. This means carefully designing a system of readiness to get ready -- emphasizing research and development, professional training, and organizational planning.  Deferring a surge in military production and expansion until then would avoid sinking trillions of dollars into weaponry that may be technologically obsolete before a threat actually materializes. (The United States waited too long -- until 1940 -- to mobilize against Nazi Germany and imperial Japan. But starting to mobilize in 1930 would have been no wiser; a crash program in aircraft production back then would have yielded thousands of ultimately useless biplanes.)

Read the whole thing.  But if you are too lazy.  There are more excerpts below the fold

Continue reading "Strategic Solvency" »

(Executive) Power Grab
Posted by Moira Whelan

I’m with Matt and Ezra on this one. Nothing in this piece makes me think that HRC would give up the power Cheney has grabbed for the Executive branch.

Here’s what really bothered me about HRC’s answer to these questions: She said she’d “review everything they’ve done” and MAY change Bush’s Constitutional violations where appropriate. That’s just not good enough for me. Why should I trust the subjective review of ANY person who walks into that office?

I think the bolder step for a candidate would be to say you’d appoint a task force of 5 or so people at some independent think tank and implement their plan to retract powers on which the Bush Administration has overstepped on January 20, 2009. Sure, we’re talking the weeds here: putting stuff in the Federal Register, signing statements, agency IGs, leak investigations, NIE writing, access of the Joint Chiefs to the Oval, but all of those things have impacted big stuff like torture, surveillance, and…um….WAR. So this is really not too much to ask.

Also, why does Clinton have to wait until she’s President to review this stuff? She wants America to elect her based on how much she already knows about the job, right? That, coupled with the time in the Senate on the receiving end of this stuff, should be enough “experience” to commit to specifics in rolling back abuses of power. There’s just no good reason for her not to be consistent and detailed based on the platform on which she’s running.

It’s also responsible foreign policy, but the Foreign Policy Community (VSPs) has hardly been demanding on any candidates when it comes to this stuff. This crowd knows well the impact of the little things the Bush Administration has done, and they know how to use the same tools to push a different agenda. In spirit, VSPs know and respect US rule of law and will play by the rules if made to do so. If the rules are stretched, however, they will take full opportunity to hide things under the “Executive Office of the President” or keep the Office of Legal Council a political tool rather than a Constitutional check, because it’s irresponsible NOT to use the tools you have to get the job done. They will sleep well at night knowing they have used these forces for good, not evil, but the certainly won’t give them back if they don’t have to. The only think to stop them is if the boss says NO.

Continue reading "(Executive) Power Grab" »

Armitage: invasion of Iran "would be the worst of all worlds"
Posted by Max Bergmann

Armitagep_2 Last night on PBS' Frontline, Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, explained that an impending invasion of Iran “would be the worst of all worlds, unless it was absolutely necessary for the safety and welfare of this nation, for an outgoing administration to start a conflict.”

Armitage added that “We need to speak with our enemies perhaps even more than we need to speak with our friends, so we took the point of view that no matter how difficult relations are with any one country, we should not cut ourselves off from them, and we ought to talk them.”

Watch the whole episode here.

Red Sox vs. Yankees (Good vs. Evil)
Posted by Michael Cohen

Below my blog-mate Heather Hurlburt has made an incendiary claim:

I do believe Red Sox and Yankees fans can live in harmony.

I like Heather, she's a wonderful person, but no more absurd statement has ever been made on Democracy Arsenal! Red Sox and Yankees can live in some sort of detente-like situation, but harmony - NEVER!

This is the root of the problem with Rudy saying he is supporting the Red Sox - no true Yankees fan would ever support the Red Sox, just as I, a Red Sox fan, would rather stick sharp pencils in my eyes then root for the Yankees.  I hate the Yankees more than I hated Communism. The only thing that makes me happier then seeing the Red Sox win is seeing an unhappy Yankees fan (and some of my best friends are Yankees fans).

If the Yankees were playing the Al Qaeda All-Stars I still couldn't root for the Yankees.

After September 11th, when everyone rallied around the Yankees, I rooted for the Diamondbacks. To do otherwise would have meant the terrorists had won.

And I'm quite sure that every Yankees fan who is reading this site feels the exact same way I do about the Red Sox. That's the nature sports, we shouldn't have it any other way - which pretty much makes Rudy Guiliani the most inauthentic person running for President. Except of course for Hillary Clinton who said if the Yanks and Cubs were in the World Series she would alternate who she would root for. Sheesh, that's awful! Sorry, but there are some things that no politician should try to spin.

Bombing ourselves in the foot
Posted by Max Bergmann