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November 03, 2007

Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

To be honest, I don't know nearly as much as I should about Pakistan.  But here's a great Q&A (PDF) by Vikram Gupta and Teresita Schaeffer at CSIS  which breaks down the political situation and key players. It's six weeks old and a few things in it are clearly OBE but it's the best Pakistani politics 101 that I've managed to find. I'm hoping they have an update in the next couple of days.

November 02, 2007

Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I’m starting to think that the only way to counter Republican fear mongering is with more fear mongering. 

Republicans don’t hold the same advantage they used to on national security.  It used to be that Republicans were seen as tough and pragmatic on national security and Democrats were seen as weak.  Today, because of Iraq, the public has mixed feelings about both parties.  They have lost a lot of faith in Republicans and view them as too willing to use military force.  However, they still don’t fully trust Democrats, who are still seen as weak.

As a result, today Democrats have an opportunity to seize the national security mantle back from Republicans and potentially own the issue for the next generation.  Question is how do they do that?

There are two parts.  First, Democrats have to show that they have a genuine alternative and are capable of managing the nation’s security.  However, this won’t happen until they have some real proof points.  All the chest thumping and tough talk in the world is meaningless without a Democratic President who is successful on this issue.  (Nothing against Bill Clinton, but foreign policy just wasn’t a priority for the American public during that 1990s).  So, while implementing a sound foreign policy and convincing the public that Democrats can protect them is crucially important, it simply is not going to happen between now and November of 2008.  It is a long term project that can only be proven through deeds not words.

However, what Democrats can begin doing is solidly reinforcing the frame that Republicans are too militant, dangerous and quite frankly a bit nuts.  That’s because the incredible incompetence and militancy of the Bush Administration has made this story very believable for the public.  Because of this vulnerability, all the fear mongering on Iran and Islamofascism can be turned against the Republicans.  Democratic fear mongering needs to focus on how scary it would be to have another Republican President and how much that could endanger all of us (Especially if the nominee is Giuliani).  Republicans spent years cultivating the frame that Democrats are weak and it was just as important to their dominance of the issue as their own ability to seem competent and tough.  Something like the classic ad below might work pretty well in the ’08 cycle.

It Hurts Just as Much
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I haven't posted lately because of a painful nerve problem in one arm.  Even with Vicodin, ibuprofen, muscle relaxants and the occasional naughty glass of wine in my system, the Bush national security policy, progressive infighting, and the decline of our global standing hurt just as much, I'm sorry to say.  And so does the darn arm!

Herewith a themed post of links, "Things that Make Me Wince (more)"

In 2001, the Bush NSA went to telecoms company Qwest and asked them to build a private version of Echelon, the super-secret government system of international computer surveillance, and report back.  (From National Journal via Steve Clemons, who also uses the piece to salute my sometime boss Rep. Jane Harman's lonely stand on FISA protections.)

The US has told the International Commission on Torture that " Every act of torture within the meaning of the Convention is illegal under existing federal and state law,"and passed laws in 1996 and 2000 (nb. Repbulican Congresses) providing for the trial and punishment of Americans who commit torture.  The State Department 2003 Human Rights Report condemned Brazil and Tunisia for waterboarding. The US has prosecuted people for committing torture by waterboarding.  Now, I didn't go to law school, but how hard can this be? OF COURSE WATERBOARDING IS TORTURE, MICHAEL MUKASEY, CHUCK SCHUMER, AND ALL THE REST OF YOU. 

Ilan's Will Marshall quote makes me wince, too, but for a different reason:  define "broad support in the Islamic world," Will.  Public opinion surveys from the last two years actually show declining and minority support for Bin Laden and Al Qaeda across the Arab world, including Iran and Iraq.  Progressives' job, whatever stripe of progressive you are, is to offer Americans a vision of the world that is fact-based, particularly the fact that we are interconnected with the rest of the world.  Reinforcing the "let's pull up the drawbridge before they arrive" meme is tempting and fun, but it's not gonna get us where we need to go. 

It's the debate on the left - not the right - that is making a war with Iran more likely. Come again?
Posted by Max Bergmann

William Arkin at the Washington Post has a really annoying post about Iran titled "keep it down." Bizarrely, the ones who are suppossed to "keep it down" are not the  Dick Cheney's,  the Norman Podhoretz's, and almost the entire field of Republican Presidential candidates, but - you guessed it - Barack Obama and the liberal blogosphere.


A unilateral American strike, despite all of the hand-wringing on the part of Obama and the left and the blogosphere, doesn't look imminent or likely...

But while the presidential candidates use resolutions and letters for one-upmanship in the campaign, I'm afraid the message conveyed to Tehran is that unilateral American military action is under preparation and even imminent.

While it may be true that the Pentagon is dead set against war with Iran. It is also pretty clear that the Vice President and many other influential neo-conservatives have ratcheted up the rhetoric and are really trying to make a war with Iran happen. But of course it's not the ones calling for war with Iran that are creating a dangerous situation, but those who crazy liberals trying to make sure that it doesn't happen. Clearly.

You must be kidding. Of Course We Need an Air Force
Posted by Moira Whelan

I was sort of surprised at this debate about whether or not the United States needs a separate Air Force. Frankly, I think some of the criticisms of the JSF, buying F-22s over C-17s and others are sound--and should be shouted from the rooftops-- but frankly, Sigger makes some excellent points that I think were sorely ignored by most of the other contributors. Leaping to these factors being part of a reason to abolish the Air Force goes too far.

Disclaimer here: I am an Air Force brat. More than that, I am from an AMC family. This means that my dad, brothers, brother-in-law and others all flew heavies, not tank plinkers. In addition, we’re a Space Command family.

Both of these communities, which make up the bulk of Air Force missions on a daily basis. You simply miss the point of what the Air Force brings to the table if you ignore these factors.

On Heavies: Bottom line, if any nation’s military in the world wants to go anywhere in a speedy amount of time, they need a ride from the United States Air Force. There is simply not another military in the world that can equal our global reach. Sure it costs a lot to maintain but also, very obviously, it gives us a tremendous amount of control when it comes to international interventions. Because of C-17s, KC-130s and refueling aircraft we were able to found Camp Rhino in Afghanistan virtually overnight. This sort of capability is critical to combat.

Furthermore, you have peacekeeping and diplomatic missions. A mantra around my house was that my dad/brothers flew real missions, while Air Force fighter pilots practiced all the time. I grew up with stories of relief being dropped to refugees all over the world, war fatalities from long-ago combat being brought home in C-130s, supplies for disasters both domestic and international being delivered in a matter of hours and countless other tales that get as wacky as flying animals from place to place in the interest of saving endangered species. You’d need to be crazy to suggest that these things are not needed especially when US diplomacy can use all the help it can get right now.

Continue reading "You must be kidding. Of Course We Need an Air Force" »

Very Serious People Alert
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

In an otherwise good piece about Obama's foreign policy vision today in the NY Times today, I find one of my most irritating pet peeves.  Taking a pundit or broad generalist with no real foreign policy experience and equating them to a whole bunch of experts who have dedicated their entire careers to studying and implementing foreign policy.

On the other hand, centrists like Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, are skeptical about the efficacy of soft power in this case. Obama, says Marshall, appears to believe that “the threat we face is an Al Qaeda threat — a tiny minority of malignant criminals who have absolutely no public support.” In fact, says Marshall, “Al Qaeda has broad support in the Islamic world,” and Salafism, the extremist branch of Sunni Islam, “is in the ascendant.   

Let's again be clear.  Will Marshall is NOT part of the foreign policy community.  Just check out his bio.  There is absolutely nothing in his background that has anything to do with foreign policy.  He really doesn't know all that much about this stuff.

Compare that to the folks who are actually advising Obama and are being referenced in this article:  Tony Lake, Susan Rice, Richard Danzig, Zbig Brzezinski, Gen. Merrill McPeak, Maj. Gen. Scott Gration to name a few.  As opposed to Marshall they actually have real foreign policy experience.  If the Times wanted the Clinton position it should have gotten Richard Holbrooke, Madeleine Albright or Sandy Berger to comment.  But elevating Marshall's status is precisely how you get talking heads, instead of real experts, talking about serious issues like Iraq and Iran.

November 01, 2007

Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

According to the military more than 67,000 Iraqis, security forces, militia members, potential participants in a civil war have signed up to work with the government of Iraq in securing ethnically cleansing neighborhoods.

This is great.  We just need to keep arming and organizing these guys while having no political strategy for how to bring the various political fanctions together. 

October 31, 2007

Strategic Drift
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Just reinforcing my previous post.  The Government Accountability Office has essentially concluded that we have no strategy (PDF) for Iraq.

U.S. efforts lack strategies with clear purpose, scope, roles, and performance measures. The U.S. strategy for victory in Iraq partially identifies the agencies responsible for implementing key aspects of the strategy and does not fully address how the United States would integrate its goals with those of the Iraqis and the international community. U.S. efforts to develop Iraqi ministry capability lack an overall strategy, no lead agency provides overall direction, and U.S. priorities have been subject to numerous changes. The weaknesses in U.S. strategic planning are compounded by the Iraqi government’s lack of integrated strategic planning in its critical energy sector.

I tend to think that the country's political leadership owes it to 165,000 American troops serving in Iraq to at least have a strategy.  Even if it is a bad strategy.

It's Iraq Stupid
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

John Podesta, Brian Katulis and Larry Korb have a great piece today from CAP.  Lots of stuff about what progressives need to say about Iraq, but I think the real purpose here is to call out Democrats and progressive to get off their butts and get back to the gravest national security issue that is facing this country.  Iraq - Not Iran.

Progressives are frustrated because the president and his allies in Congress have obstructed their oversight of the administration’s Iraq policy. But they now risk drifting themselves into offering only a vague and muddled vision. Progressives must provide a clear alternative to counter the Bush policy of strategic drift—one that takes back control of America’s security interests.

Dems, progressives and the media have taken the bate on Iran.  The reality is that we have 168,000 troops in Iraq not Iran.  I think war with Iran is relatively unlikely.  But if it were to happen it would be a catastrophe preciscly because we have 168,000 troops in Iraq and that is where the Iranians would inflict their damage.  In the last two months the only big stories out of Iraq are Blackwater, Turkish border and Iran.  People seem to forget that there has been no progress on the political front and there is still no articulation of what the "bottom up" strategy is. There is no plan for taking the various groups that the United States is now training and bringing them together instead of having them eventually just go at each other in a bloodier civil war.

"Getting" Tim Russert
Posted by Michael Cohen

Kudos to Paul Waldman at the American Prospect for his excellent piece today on Tim Russert. That this man is considered "Washington's toughest interviewer" is all the evidence you need about the complete vacuousness with which we cover presidential campaigns in this country. Here's a little snippet to whet your appetite:

Last month, near the end of the Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire, moderator Tim Russert -- known as "Washington's toughest interviewer" and perhaps the most influential journalist in America -- had one last chance to pin the candidates down with his legendary common sense, persistence, and no-bull style. This is what he asked, first to Barack Obama: "There's been a lot of discussion about the Democrats and the issue of faith and values. I want to ask you a simple question. Senator Obama, what is your favorite Bible verse?" When Obama finished his answer, Russert said to the other candidates, "I want to give everyone a chance in this. You just take 10 seconds."

. . . Russert's Bible question encapsulates everything wrong with him, and with our political coverage more generally. It seeks to make candidates look bad rather than finding out something important about them (if you want to explore a candidate's religious beliefs, you don't do it in pop-quiz form and give them just ten seconds to answer). It substitutes the personal anecdote for the policy position, the sound-bite for the substantive answer. It distills the debate into a series of allegedly symbolic, supposedly meaningful moments that can be replayed.

This type of debate question is not about what the candidate believes and would actually do in office, but about how clever the moderator is for cornering the candidate. And above all, it takes a genuinely relevant matter (a candidate's view of the universe) and crams it through a channel by which the thoughtful candidate will be pilloried and the shallow, pandering, overly rehearsed candidate will garner praise

The Problem with Iran
Posted by Michael Cohen

Last night at the Democratic debate in Philadelphia, Hillary Clinton got hit with both barrels over her support of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment on Iran. While I tepidly sympathize with the concern about this amendment ('if you give the Bush Administration an inch . . .  they will invade an Islamic country') the current debate over Iran, in Democratic circles, is vaguely troubling.

For those of you who have read my earlier posts you would know that I am not a giant fan of the junior Senator from New York, but I thought her argument about Iran last night was a strong one:

I am not in favor of this rush for war, but I'm also not in favor of doing nothing. Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. And the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is in the forefront of that, as they are in the sponsorship of terrorism. So some may want a false choice between rushing to war, which is the way the Republicans sound -- it's not even a question of whether, it's a question of when and what weapons to use -- and doing nothing. I prefer vigorous diplomacy. And I happen to think economic sanctions are part of vigorous diplomacy. We used them with respect to North Korea. We used them with respect to Libya. And many of us who voted for that resolution said that this is not anything other than an expression of support for using economic sanctions with respect to diplomacy.

She's basically right here on two counts. First, the most bellicose language in the Kyl-Lieberman amendment was taken out of the final version and if you read the amendment it does seem a bit tame.

Second, Democrats agree that war with Iran is a bad idea, but what is their alternative? If you read the responses of the other Democratic presidential candidates from last night they spend most of their time saying why they think military action is a mistake . . . and precious little on how a Democratic Administration would stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Frankly, Hillary has come the closest to answering this question (although she has a ways to go).

I was a shocked to go to Joe Biden's presidential campaign web site and discover that this is basically all he has to say about Iran's nuclear program.

We need to end the genocide in Darfur as well as check Iran and North Korea’s progress on nuclear weapons and prevent them from increasing their nuclear arsenal. 

And this guy is the supposed foreign policy expert of the Dems running for President. He has an entire section on what the US should do in Darfur and nothing on how to deal with Iran's nuclear program. My old boss Chris Dodd says even less. Barack Obama says more about Charles Taylor on his web site then he does Iran. Kudos to John Edwards for actually addressing the  issue in-depth.

Continue reading "The Problem with Iran" »

Will an American lead Iran's most popular institution?
Posted by Max Bergmann

P_afshin_ghotbi_3_01 Afshin Ghotbi, a 43 year old Iranian-born American citizen who has spent the vast majority of his life outside of Iran, was hired to coach Persepolis FC Tehran's most popular soccer club. Ghotbi is a UCLA grad and was actually an assistant to the USA team that lost to Iran in the 1998 world cup and was formerly an assistant coach to David Beckham's LA Galaxy.

Under Ghotbi's stewardship Persepolis FC has gotten off to a fast start this season. Leading to lots of gossip that Ghotbi may be the right man to lead Iran's fledgling national team. John Duerdon in the Guardian writes,

Ghotbi is already being talked about as the next manager of an underachieving national team. Iran is home to some of the continent's most talented players but...failed to collect more than a single point in Germany or progress past the quarter-finals of the 2007 Asian Cup. Currently, Iran don't have a manager...

Ghotbi seems a perfect choice but in Iran, it is never that simple. In a nation where all but two top-flight clubs are financed by a state industry, football and politics are never far apart.

Iran, like most soccer crazed countries, places much national pride in the fortunes of their national team, which has already led to the breaking of many social taboos, especially regarding the role of women. Putting an American in charge of such an important national  institution would certainly be ground breaking.

Here are some highlights of Persepolis' dramatic recent 3-2 victory (they are in red and Afshin Ghotbi is seen celebrating at around the 3rd minute)...

October 30, 2007

Shame on You, Tim Russert
Posted by David Shorr

What possible use is it to ask presidential candidates for a pledge that they will keep nuclear weapons out of Iran's hands? The fantasy of American omnipotence is exactly what has created so many of our problems. It is more than plausible that a US president, adrenaline pumping over the cataclysm he imagines is just around the corner, could take action that would bring much worse consequences.

Is the right against the WTO too?
Posted by Max Bergmann

The right wing ideologues opposing the Law of the Sea fear that the convention will create an unaccountable international body that will establish an unelected court in a foreign land whose rulings could force the U.S. to change its laws and regulations under threat of sanctions.

Despite the fact that the Law of the Sea does nothing of the sort, if there is any consistency to their arguments right wing ideologues need to be asked whether they support the unaccountable international body that does do all of these things: the World Trade Organization. 

The fact is that the WTO regulates global trade and polices its member's adherence to WTO regulations. If maintaining all aspects of U.S. sovereignty is the right's number one priority than they simply can't support the WTO. And if they don't support the WTO, than you have to question the right's commitment to free trade, since the whole purpose of the WTO is to enable free trade. If the right is really so scared about the erosion of U.S. sovereignty than they should join all the left wing anti-globalization activists and protest the WTO.  That would be quite a sight.

Capitol Hill

Linking Environment and National Security: Law of the Sea
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Last week I had breakfast with a friend who works in the Senate as a national security staffer. In years past, we worked together in Congress and frequently schemed to get issues like climate change onto the national security agendas of staff and Members. Given Al Gore's Nobel Prize, the fact that the Pentagon had released a study linking the two issues, plus the discrediting of much of Bush foreign policy, I asked him about the recent turnaround in perceptions about the seriousness of climate change: was it having an impact on framing the urgency of the issue on Capitol Hill?

He said climate change has bumped up the environment a little bit...but that linking the two essentially remains a tough sell. It helps that the House now has a climate change panel, and that our overdue obsession with energy issues brings the environment in on the margin....but that it was hard to make headway given oversight logjams on issues like military privatization (which was basically ignored for a decade) plus the constant soundtrack on Iraq. Plus the learning curve is made even more steep by the lack of a clear vocabulary, including local anecdotes, linking the environment with national security.

Although the traction is improving, progressives need a long term plan that includes both policy options and a communications strategy that will link environment with security. Like many challenges that involve the common good and extended public deliberation, nothing can be taken for granted since the Right has filled the quiet spaces with an intentional misinformation campaign. We have a chance this week to reverse this situation:

The Law of the Sea Treaty will be considered in the Senate on Wednesday. If you care about broadening the definition of security to include global issues like climate, health, migration or water just to name a few-- then pay attention...

Continue reading "Linking Environment and National Security: Law of the Sea" »

Holy Crap
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

If this story weren't so serious it would probably merit some kind of snarky remark about exporting American democracy Katrina style.

The largest dam in Iraq is in serious danger of an imminent collapse that could unleash a trillion-gallon wave of water, possibly killing thousands of people and flooding two of the largest cities in the country, according to new assessments by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other U.S. officials.

Even in a country gripped by daily bloodshed, the possibility of a catastrophic failure of the Mosul Dam has alarmed American officials, who have concluded that it could lead to as many as 500,000 civilian deaths by drowning Mosul under 65 feet of water and parts of Baghdad under 15 feet, said Abdulkhalik Thanoon Ayoub, the dam manager.

Also, I'm not a fan of suppressing journalism for the purpose of security.  After all, pointing out problems like this in the public domain makes sure that they get fixed.  But this story does make me a little uncomfortable in terms of pointing out a glaring vulnerability.  I hope this dam has some serious security around it.  If it doesn't.  It should.

Podhoretz vs. Zakaria
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

In six minutes of News Hour footage you can boil down the entire argument over Iran between the crazies (Podhoretz) and the sane people (Zakaria). Notice especially, Podhoretz's repeated references to Hitler.  The "what would Hitler do" argument, which is often accompanied by the classic "You are worse than Chamberlin argument" is the oldest rhetorical trick in the book.  Fortunately, I just don't think that a country with a GDP the size of Florida's represents the same threat as the industrial behemoth that was Germany. 

I wonder why the Neocons never reference WWI?  You know.  The one where all sides wanted to avoid a war but accidently ended up escalating to a point where they lost control and war became inevitable.  The one where all sides underestimated the difficulty and costs of war and expected the battle to be over in months.  The war where millions died for absolutely nothing.  Surely there is something we can also learn from that episode in history.

October 29, 2007

Turkish Funerals
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Steven Cook is guest blogging over at the economist this week.  He's one of the few American scholars who is a genuine Turkey expert.  Should make for some interesting reading this week.  Here is one interesting tidbit.

The policy of kicking the can down the road and hoping for the best may well have precipitated the very outcome the Bush administration wanted to avoid. All the while, leaving the Turks to wonder whether “Washington was with them or against them” in their fight against terrorism. The answer is clear as 83% of Turks have an unfavourable view of America. At the funerals of Turkish soldiers killed at the hands of the PKK, a common refrain among the (often thousands) mourners is “Down, down PKK…Down, down USA.” Heartwarming, I know. This is a huge shift from the late 1990s when America was quite popular in Turkey despite the fact that the government in Ankara was under the leadership of that prickly nationalist Bulent Ecevit, who seemed preternaturally suspicious of the United States. Currently, if 10 is the best and 1 is the worst, I’d put US-Turkey relations at 3.

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