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June 30, 2008

Bush Administration Confirms What We Knew All Along
Posted by Patrick Barry

Thanks to stalwart intern Will Rosenzweig, who picked up on this oh-so-telling Dana Perino gaffe:

On the heels of this morning’s story in the New York Times that the Bush Administration has been grossly negligent in its pursuit of Al Qaeda in Pakistani tribal areas and weak-kneed in pushing Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to pull his weight in attacking al Qaeda and Taliban outposts, comes this gem from White House Press Secretary Dana Perino:

“The President has been looking for Osama Bin Laden since September 12th.”

Call me crazy, but shouldn’t Bush have been looking for Bin Laden on say, January 20th, 2001, the day he took office? Perino basically admits that for nearly nine months the administration ignored the significant threat that Bin Laden and Al Qaeda posed to America. This admission is unsurprising and yet stunning at the same time. It’s unsurprising because we’ve long known that the Bush administration repeatedly ignored the warnings of Richard Clarke about the need for a war room to track Bin Laden and Al Qaeda leads.

But Perino’s comment is also stunning. It’s stunning because this is the same Bush Administration whose core message of “Republicans strong, Democrats weak” has consistently sought to pigeonhole Democrats as being soft on terrorism, despite the fact that their policiesor sometimes the absence of policies – have contributed to a worsening terrorist threat. Their duplicity is unconscionable. First, there was Bush’s assertion that Democrats were weak on terror and showed their “softer side” when voting on the President’s terror agenda. And of course there was Dick Cheney’s insistence during the 2004 election that should voters “make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again, and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating.”

For those who would say that Perino’s comment was merely a slip, I’d point you to President Bush answering Jim Lehrer’s question about whether he took his eye off Al Qaeda in the first presidential debate in 2004:

“Of course we're after Saddam Hussein -- I mean bin Laden.”

Give Me Liberty, Or Give Me Stability
Posted by David Shorr

There are numerous problems with the way that Gregory Scoblete sets up a dichotomy between the universality of liberal ideals and the particularity of the world's different societies and their governance. Before launching into my critique, though, I'll credit Scoblete for putting his finger on a central issue for post-Bush foreign policy: how agitated or patient should the US be regarding the domestic regime character of other countries?

But his article is a classic example of distorting a policy approach to fit his frame -- the struggle between moral clarity and accommodation. If you're not punitive toward dictators (McCain), then you're passive (Obama). This passage shows how Scoblete skews things and misses the pivotal point of the debate:

Many politicians, Obama included, have spoken of the universal appeal of American values. But McCain's argument is different. He's not merely stating that they are appealing, but that they universally applicable and that it is in our interest to apply them.

Continue reading "Give Me Liberty, Or Give Me Stability" »

9/11: Facts and Narratives
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Our challenges in the Middle East are not simply about policy; they are about narratives, and our failure to understand their importance.  I was reminded of this again last week, when some relatives from Egypt were visiting for a wedding. I had mentioned 9/11 in the context of civil rights for Muslims in America. Then, quickly, the conversation took a different turn. My aunt said something about Arabs not being responsible for September 11th. She suggested that it was probably an “inside job,” and began listing a variety of non-Arab groups that could have been involved. I got annoyed. “You don’t really believe that, do you?” “Those are just baseless rumors and conspiracy theories,” I said. “I mean, after all, Bin Laden himself admitted his involvement and congratulated the 19 hijackers for what they did.” (Then the creative response, “Bin Laden was a double agent.”)

Then my uncle chimed in. He’s exactly the kind of person (some) U.S. policymakers appear to like. Privately religious, but adamant about the separation of religion from politics; distrustful of the Egyptian masses and what they would do if they were allowed to actually vote in free elections; and goes into near seizures whenever the name of the Muslim Brotherhood is mentioned (“they’ll destroy the country!”). But, even here, the same old narrative popped up. He argued that when you’re trying to determined who did 9/11, you have to look at who benefited most from it (“The U.S. and Israel”). Then he started talking about one of those 9/11 truth viral videos about how a couple planes couldn’t have made the towers collapse the way they did. 

But then there was another point he raised which was interesting to me, because it’s not the kind of thing you’d expect to hear, but you actually hear it quite a lot from Arabs. He said that Arabs are so backward and hopeless that there was no way they could be responsible for anything which required such advanced planning, organizational discipline, and technical knowledge, etc.

After about 10 minutes of trying to counter what they were saying, I gave up. The facts were irrelevant. If anything, the more I countered with evidence, the more adamant they were that I was wrong. This is not surprising, and there has been a growing, and quite fascinating, literature on how challenging misconceptions with facts can actually have the effect of hardening those misconceptions (see, for instance, Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler’s excellent paper on this). The statements of my aunt and uncle may appear to be irrational and stupid, but they are totally in keeping with the predominant narrative that exists in the Middle East. Facts are interpreted within the context of this narrative, and everything is bent to fit it. The narrative is this – that the U.S., through its policies, has consistently undermined the will of Arabs and Muslims, and contributed to the underdevelopment of the region. Whether or not this narrative is actually accurate is almost beside the point.   

Continue reading "9/11: Facts and Narratives" »

June 28, 2008

A Matter of Definition
Posted by David Shorr

We should get some of our terms straight.

Grand strategy -- An idea to make a quick thousand bucks.

Grand entrance strategy -- A diva's plan for arrival at a party.

Grande latte strategy -- Morning Starbucks routine.

Baby grand strategy -- 1. Piano mover's techniques for reaching the fifth-floor apartment. 2. How parents envision little Janey getting into Harvard.

Delusions of grandeur strategy -- Fallacies of what American power can and should accomplish. (See foreign policy, Bush Administration)

No, The Best Grand Strategy Is
Posted by David Shorr

Bridging the Foreign Policy Divide book cover buy this book. By reading it, you can find out the bipartisan points of agreement on which an Obama or a McCain foreign policy will be built. Two can play shameless promotion, Michael Cohen.

June 27, 2008

My Take on America's Grand Strategy
Posted by Michael Cohen

I think the best grand strategy for America is to buy Live From the Campaign Trail: The Greatest Presidential Campaign Speeches of the 20th Century and How They Shaped Modern America.
Truly it is America's last best hope. Have a nice weekend!


More Fun With Grand Strategy
Posted by David Shorr

Okay, I can try to keep the grand strategy discussion going. I like Ilan's focus on the value of the international system itself and Shawn's invocation of the idea of global public goods. But while there's not much in their approaches I'd disagree with, I don't think either is really pointing toward worthy ultimate objectives or giving a strategy with the kind of heart and soul with which we can inspire a nation. Whatever the strategy, it needs to help guide policy, provide a basis for decisions/commitments/resources, and also strike a resonant chord with the voting public so that there's a sense of mandate and political support. Ilan and Shawn are both correct in some of the links they make to positive traditions in US foreign policy, but they way they do so leaves me kind of cold.

We are indeed reorienting America from being a revolutionary power toward being a status quo power, and properly so. The last several years have been nothing if not a reminder of the hazards and unintended consequences of major disruptions toward the status quo. Much of Ilan's argument, though, lays such a stress on stability that it leaves little room for change or, um, progress. (We're the progressives, after all.) So what kind of guidelines would help wrestle with the central dilemmas of foreign policy and animate it with the right sense of purpose?

Continue reading "More Fun With Grand Strategy" »

June 26, 2008

Russia Flip-Floppery
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Matt Yglesias points out that contrary to the McCain campaign's statement that his desire to kick Russia out of the G8 is  "a holdover from an earlier period" really makes little sense.  After all, that "earlier period" would only be three months ago when he made this point in what was billed as a major foreign policy address. 

Matt believes that this is probably inaccurate and that McCain hasn't flipped on this issue.  But let's assume for a second that he has.  This is a man who is running for the Presidency as the experienced expert on national security issues.  Yet here he is dealing with the country that has the second largest nuclear arsenal in the world. A country that is critical to our non-proliferation policy, dealing with Iran, Europe and pretty much every single other major issue facing our foreign policy.  Calling for ousting them from the G8 and then casually reversing yourself through a surrogate is pretty careless and dangerous. 

If McCain hasn't reversed himself than it just shows a willingness to pursue a reckless and dangerous foreign policy.   If he has reversed himself, it still shows a grave error in judgment, cavalier attitude, and lack of knowledge that is quite disturbing.

Critiquing McCain's Foreign Policy in a Nutshell
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

David Morgan's article today in Reuters really nails McCain's foreign policy vulnerability.  Three major points.  The first, McCain has a reckless and dangerous foreign policy.  Ted Galen Carpenter of the CATO Institute states:

"John McCain is almost a wholly owned subsidiary of the neoconservative movement when it comes to foreign policy," Carpenter said.

"The Democrats have to go on the offensive and stay on the offensive. The message has to be: John McCain and his foreign policy team are very, very dangerous for America," he added. "A worried American electorate on that score might very well shy away from McCain."

Second, the McCain foreign policy is internally inconsistent and often makes little sense.

They cite for instance McCain's call for Russia to be excluded from the Group of Eight major industrialized nations as a neoconservative position that could inhibit his more moderate call for arms reduction talks with Moscow.

Neoconservative idealism also appears to be behind his idea that world affairs could be addressed through a League of Democracies, analysts say, despite the U.S. need to work with autocratic countries including Egypt and Saudi Arabia on vital issues including oil, Middle East peace and terrorism.

Finally, there is the obvious point that on many of the most critical issues of war and peace, most notably Iran and Iraq, John McCain is pushing the exact same policy as George Bush.  The media continues to assert that foreign policy is somehow McCain's strong suit, but it's really hard to imagine that a consistent argument along the lines above won't resonate completely with the American public and do great damage to this supposed strength.

Knight's End
Posted by Adam Blickstein

This strikes me as a little late in the game, your majesty:

On Wednesday, officials from Swaziland, Angola and Tanzania — the so-called troika empowered to speak for the Southern African Development Community, a regional bloc of 14 nations — called on Zimbabwe to put off the voting because the current crisis would undermine its legitimacy.

Taking a different tack, Queen Elizabeth II stripped Robert Mugabe, the country’s president for nearly 30 years, of his honorary knighthood as a “mark of revulsion” at the human rights abuses and “abject disregard” for democracy over which he is presiding, the British Foreign Office said Wednesday.

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