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July 08, 2008

Trading With Iran
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

You'd think that if you were going to base your entire strategy for getting Iran to give up it's uranium enrichment program around sanctions you'd at the very least, ya know, sanction them.  But in a surprising and odd development it turns out that U.S. trade with Iran has increased ten-fold over the past eight years. 

U.S. exports to Iran grew more than tenfold during President Bush's years in office even as he accused Iran of nuclear ambitions and helping terrorists. America sent more cigarettes to Iran — at least $158 million worth under Bush — than any other products.

Other surprising shipments to Iran during the Bush administration: brassieres, bull semen, cosmetics, fur clothing, sculptures, perfume, musical instruments and possibly even weapons.

Now, in my view sanctions alone do not have a huge impact in changing a regime's behavior.  And these numbers are small by comparison to U.S. standards (Although as the Center for Arms Controls and Non-Proliferation points out Iran is also pretty small by U.S. standards).  If you are going to spend five years stubbornly bumping your head up against a wall and refuse to engage in direct talks.  Then insist that somehow economic pressure alone will bring the Iranians to the table and cause them to give up their enrichment program.  If you are going to pursue that policy then you could at least try to actually follow through.

Then again, this could be part of a sophisticated Neocon regime change policy.  Send the Iranians cigarettes and bull semen (which yes is used for making cattle.  I didn't know.  But apparently it's a big industry).  Then kill off the regime with lung cancer and too much red meat.  I guess all the brassieres and perfume is to corrupt the pure virtues of the Islamic Republic.   But I don't really understand how the weapons fit into this equation...

In 2004, McCain Admitted We'd Leave Iraq if the Iraqi's Wanted Us To
Posted by Adam Blickstein

With news coming from Nouri al-Maliki that he is leaning towards a security pact with the U.S. that would include language describing the "departure of [American] forces or a memorandum of understanding to put a timetable on their withdrawal," one wonders how this would affect John McCain's plan for perpetual troop presence in Iraq. Well, at the Council of Foreign Relations, the John McCain of 2004 gave us a pretty clear answer:

Question: "What would or should we do if, in the post-June 30th period, a so-called sovereign Iraqi government asks us to leave, even if we are unhappy about the security situation there?"

McCain's Answer: "Well, if that scenario evolves than I think it's obvious that we would have to leave because -- if it was an elected government of Iraq, and we've been asked to leave other places in the world. If it were an extremist government then I think we would have other challenges, but I don't see how we could stay when our whole emphasis and policy has been based on turning the Iraqi government over to the Iraqi people."

Does the John McCain of 2008 agree with this assessment?

UPDATE: According to Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, seems like a timetable will be part of any security pact:

"Our stance in the negotiations underway with the American side will be strong ... We will not accept any memorandum of understanding that doesn't have specific dates to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq," al-Rubaie said.

Again, is McCain's position the same today as it was in 2004 if Iraq's democratically elected government demands a timetable for withdrawing foreign forces from Iraq?

NSN Daily Update - 7/8/08
Posted by The National Security Network

John McCain’s National Security Budget Is A Deficit Buster That Has Massive Policy Implications

John McCain’s announcement yesterday that his administration “will balance the budget by the end of his first term” was met with intense skepticism and derision. The New York Times noted that McCain “is unlikely to achieve his goal of balancing the federal budget by 2013, economists and fiscal experts say.” Yet, receiving less attention are the implications of his national security proposals on the federal budget. Days after attacking Barack Obama on Iraq, McCain seemed to indicate a significant change of his own position, as his economic projections for reducing the deficit are premised on the notion that there will be significantly fewer troops in Iraq. Additionally, McCain has called for a massive expansion of the ground forces and has failed to provide any specifics on which weapons programs he intends to cut and called for eliminating earmarks including much of the foreign assistance budget (e.g. Israel). If taken seriously, McCain’s proposals entail significant policy shifts with profound national security implications. If not, McCain’s proposals will explode the deficit.

McCain’s economic plans suggest significant and rapid troop withdrawals from Iraq, Afghanistan. To pay down the deficit, the McCain campaign said, “The McCain administration would reserve all savings from victory in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations in the fight against Islamic extremists for reducing the deficit. Since all their costs were financed with deficit spending, all their savings must go to deficit reduction.” Decreasing America's financial commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan can only occur by significantly reducing the U.S. force presence in Iraq. In order to meet the target of eliminating the deficit by 2013, troop levels would have to be substantially lowered in Iraq fairly early on in the McCain administration in order to have any impact on the deficit prior to 2013. [Politico, 7/7/08, Huffington Post, 7/7/08]

McCain calls for a massive increase in the size of the military – a proposal that would be incredibly expensive and near impossible to achieve as long as U.S. forces remain in Iraq. In his Foreign Affairs article last winter McCain called for expanding the ground forces by an additional 150,000 troops on top of the 92,000 expansion already taking place. “As president, I will increase the size of the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps from the currently planned level of roughly 750,000 troops to 900,000 troops. Enhancing recruitment will require more resources and will take time, but it must be done as soon as possible.” This proposal is incredibly expensive. The CBO estimates that increasing the ground forces to the current goal of about 750,000 would cost about $110 billion over seven years this is roughly $15 billion per year. Using the same projections, increasing the size of the ground forces by an additional 150,000 over this same period would cost at least an additional $25 billion per year. Attracting that many more volunteers would likely require significant funding, since the ground forces, especially the Army, have struggled to meet recruiting and retention goals throughout the war in Iraq and have had to lower standards and increase enlistment incentives. Further expansion may not be achievable without lowering standards and substantially increasing incentives to enlist, leading many to advocate a slower expansion. [Foreign Affairs, 11-12/08, CBO, 4/16/07, NSN 5/08

McCain promises to cut procurement of military systems to balance budget, without any indication of which systems he will cut. McCain’s economic plan as presented on his website supports “[cutting] wasteful spending in defense programs” and his top economic adviser, Doug Holtz-Eakin, assumes that “cuts in defense spending could make up for reducing corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%.” McCain, however, has failed to mention precisely which programs he would cut.  As ranking member of the Armed Services Committee McCain presumably has some understanding of which programs he will eliminate. Since McCain plans to cut defense spending to offset revenue losses from tax cuts, as well as offset his massive expansion of the military, the cuts in weapons procurement would likely be enormous and could endanger efforts to modernize the military. [, Forbes 6/6/08]

McCain's plan to end earmarks puts integral national security programs in peril. McCain pledged “I will veto every bill with earmarks, until the Congress stops sending bills with earmarks” noting that this would cut $65 billion. Yet this would include a substantial amount of the foreign assistance budget including aid to Israel. [Think Progress 4/16/08, Democracy Arsenal, 4/18/08]

Quick Hits

Following Prime Minister Maliki’s call for a timetable for withdrawal of US troops, two leading members of Congress proposed an extension of the UN mandate as a viable short term solution to the problem of continued troop deployment and the status of forces in Iraq. National Security Network addressed Maliki’s comments in our Daily brief yesterday.

Two disturbing stories grabbed the headlines today about the severe impact of PTSD on our troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. A recent study shows that the number of troops suffering from PTSD could be higher than the DoD has indicated, and stresses the importance of looking at PTSD as a war injury rather than a mental illness.

Despite fierce domestic opposition, the Czech government plans to sign an agreement on the highly unpopular US missile defense system with Secretary Rice. Experts close to NSN believe that this could pose a serious threat to the position of the government in power.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday travelled to the Group of Eight summit in Japan to sign a long awaited nuclear deal with the US. The new-found conviction is due to a shift in the political landscape, which has temporarily restored a majority for the ruling Congress party, but has exposed a variety of vulnerabilities that could endanger the fragile political bargain.

Breaking: McCain Pledges to Serve Only One Term
Posted by Adam Blickstein

OK, well maybe not in such explicit terms. But if elected, in his mind, he'll have solved all of America's and the world's most pressing problems by 2013, so what's the point of even running again for re-election? On top of pledging this week to balance the budget by the end of his first term, McCain's already promised to:

  1. Use Russia and China to pressure "Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, and North Korea to discontinue its own." (NOTE: McCain also seeks to kick Russia out of the G8)
  2. Increase American ground forces by 200,000
  3. Create a League of Democracies to, amongst other things, stem genocide in Darfur and quell the advance of climate change
  4. Create years of robust economic growth.
  5. Upend America's system of taxation by implementing a flat tax
  6. Cure global hunger by ending the current world food crisis,
  7. Shepard the world through an era of low global inflation and a "much-improved" quality of life "not only in our country but in some of the most impoverished countries around the world."
  8. Increase health care for Americans and lower overall health costs
  9. Bring America to the precipice of "independence from foreign sources of oil."
  10. Revolutionize the decades old social security system without jeopardizing benefits while introducing individual retirement accounts
  11. Solve America's immigration problem with "tremendous improvements to border security infrastructure and increases in the border patrol, and vigorous prosecution of companies that employ illegal aliens."

Oh, and he also will win the war in Iraq, stabilize the greater Middle East, and have American "health care better than anytime in history". All within a balanced budget.  Again, what's left to accomplish? Why after 2012 have a President or government at all? Why aren't reporters asking the big question: how is he really planning on doing all of this? And is this all an attempt to avoid the second-term pratfalls that have plagued nearly every President in the past?

July 07, 2008

McCain’s Deficit Reduction Proposal – Adopt Obama’s Iraq Plan
Posted by Max Bergmann

The McCain campaign just put out a policy plan that says “John McCain will balance the budget by the end of his first term.” This declaration leads to the obvious question – How? The CBO projects a $443 billion deficit in 2013 if Bush’s tax cuts are extended as McCain calls for - and on top of this McCain calls for additional tax cuts.

McCain says he will pay for this by cutting Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, and he would bring troops back from Iraq and Afghanistan… Yes you read that right. McCain’s plan to decrease the deficit is to bring the troops home. McCain’s economic policy paper explains that:

The McCain administration would reserve all savings from victory in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations in the fight against Islamic extremists for reducing the deficit. Since all their costs were financed with deficit spending, all their savings must go to deficit reduction.

This is a pretty bold statement from a campaign that in the last five days has called Barack Obama a flip flopper for saying he might “revise” his Iraq tactics. Now McCain is implying that he will bring a large portion of our troops home quickly enough to pay down the deficit?

Let’s get this straight.

A major plank of John McCain’s economic plan to reduce the deficit is based on substantially decreasing America’s financial commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan, which can only occur by significantly reducing the U.S. force presence in Iraq. Additionally, in order to meet the target of eliminating the deficit by 2013, troop levels would have to be substantially lowered in Iraq fairly early on in the McCain administration in order to have any impact on the deficit prior to 2013.

McCain’s economic plan actually sheds some real light on John McCain’s undefined Iraq position. (Note to the press: John McCain has never laid out a specific plan or strategy for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq, nor has he ever defined what he means by “victory.”) But now that we know that the McCain campaign’s economic forecasting and planning are based on having substantially fewer troops in Iraq, it is clear that John McCain’s Iraq plan is actually – according to the implications of his economic policy proposal – a copy of Barack Obama’s Iraq plan, which calls for a responsible deliberate withdrawal. Since adopting Obama’s plan would be the only way to achieve significant savings to pay down the deficit by 2013.

If this is not McCain’s Iraq plan – then his campaign essentially put out an economic policy plan that has no basis in reality and his pledge to eliminate the deficit is purely a cynical pledge to get elected. Either way he should be called out on this.

Thus far the press have treated McCain as the candidate with policy expertise and have ignored the fact that he has almost no policy specifics. Many of his policy proposals, especially on foreign policy, are incomplete, incoherent, and contradictory.  He needs to clarify not just how his numbers add up, but how many troops he plans on withdrawing, as well as his definition of victory is in Iraq. It is past time for some reporters to start asking these questions. I mean this guy is running for president.

What Reagan and Shultz Can Teach Us About Talking to Iran
Posted by The Editors

Our guest poster is Michael McFaul a Hoover Senior Fellow, Professor of Political Science, and Director of the Center of Democracy, Development, and Rule of Law at Stanford University.

In their column on National Review on June 24, 2008 called  “10 Concerns about Barack Obama,” William Bennett and Seth Leibsohn, begin their list of attacks on Senator Obama by writing that “Barack Obama’s foreign policy is dangerous, naïve, and betrays a profound misreading of history.”  In arguing against any engagement with Iran, William Bennett and Seth Leibsohn point out that “Ronald Reagan met with no Soviet leader during the entirely of his first term in office.”

This statement is factually correct.  And there was most certainly a big debate within Reagan Administration about whether to talk with the leaders of the Evil Empire. However, Bennett and Leibsohn imply in their piece that this debate was only resolved after the Soviet Union met some preconditions to talks and changed internally, that is after, as they write, that Reagan “was assured Gorbachev was a different kind of leader – after Perestroika, not before.” 

In fact, the debate about engaging the evil empire was resolved three years before Reagan met with Gorbachev.  The debate and the resolution in favor of talking to the leaders of the evil empires is meticulously chronicled in George’s Shultz’s memoir, Turmoil and Triumph: Diplomacy , Power, and the Victory of the American Ideal (1993).  Just the title of Chapter 25, "Realistic Reengagement with the Soviets," underscores how misleading the Bennett and Leibsohn rendition of  history is.

When they first came to Washington, many foreign policy advisors within Reagan administration advocated the Bennett and Leibsohn position and did not want to have any contact with the Soviets, even though every American president since the recognition to the USSR in 1933 had met with their Soviet counterparts.  When George Shultz became Secretary of States in 1982, he began to challenge this policy of disengagement, arguing that United States needed to engage both the Soviet leaders but also Soviet society.  As he writes in his memoirs about the start of the New Year in 1983, “I wanted to develop a strategy for a new start with the Soviet Union. I felt we had to try to turn the relationship around: away from confrontation and towards real problem solving.”  (p. 159) Shultz is writing about his thinking two years before Gorbachev comes to power.

Shultz’s idea for a turn towards engagement met resistance in the Reagan administration. Again, from his memoirs: “I knew the president’s White House staff would oppose such engagement. There was lots of powerful opposition around town to any efforts to bridge the chasm separating Moscow and Washington.”  After listing the opponents to direct negotiations, which included Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and CIA head Bill Casey, Shultz affirmed that “I was determined not to hang back from engaging the Soviets because of fears that the ‘Soviet wins negotiations’.” (p. 159).  Sound familiar? Instead the word, Iranians, for Soviets and you capture the essence of the debate today.

Shultz, as we all know, won this debate, convincing Reagan about the need to start talking directly to the Soviets (again well before Gorbachev came on to the scene). A subtitle of Chapter 12 of Shultz’s memoir is A President Ready to Engage. (p. 163).  In early February 1983, Shultz even floats the idea of meeting directly with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin for a private chat, to which Reagan responds, “Great”, and then adds “I don’t intend to engage in a detailed exchange with Dobrynin , but I do tell him that if Andropov is wiling to do business, so am I” (p. 164). (Remember Andropov died in 1983 and his successor, Chernenko, also did not serve long as the Soviet leader before dying in 1985. from 1983-1985, there was a real crisis of leadership inside the Soviet Union, a factor that contributed to the lack of direct talks at the highest levels).  Speed forwarding again to today’s Iran debate, which presidential candidate sounds more like Reagan?

Shultz’s approach toward engaging the Soviets offers another profound lesson for today’s Iran debate. Shultz never let the negotiations focus just on arms control.  That played o the Soviet’s strengths.  Rather, he insisted on an expanded agenda that always included human rights and democracy. Again, from his memoirs, "We were determined not to allow the Soviets to focus our negotiations simply on matters of arms control. So we continuously adhered to a broad agenda: human rights, regional issues, arms control, and bilateral issues." (p.267). This same approach is needed for dealing with the Iranian regime today.

Finally, Shultz never saw negotiations or expanding contacts with Soviets and Americans as a concession to Moscow or a signal of legitimacy for the communist dictatorship. In the debate about opening consulates in both countries – a move that some hardliners at the time saw as a sign of weakness – Shultz firmly supported the idea as a change in the American national interest. As he quotes from a memorandum that he wrote in 1982, "I believe the next step on our part should be to propose the negotiation of a new U.S.-Soviet cultural agreement and the opening of U.S. and Soviet consulates in Kiev and New York...Both of these proposals will sound good to the Soviets, but are unambiguously in our interest when examined from a hard headed American viewpoint."(p. 275). Exactly the same could be said about Iran today. 

Historical analogies can only go far.   Many dimensions of U.S.-Iranians relations differ radically from Cold War relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.  But when observers do roll them out, getting the facts right should be precondition to the substantive date about their relevance.

Michael is Right
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I think Michael's piece today in the Daily News is well worth a read

NSN Daily Update- 7/7/08
Posted by The National Security Network

Prime Minister Maliki Says that Timetable for Withdrawal Will be Part of SOFA Negotiations

Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki stated this weekend that a timetable for withdrawal will be part of an agreement to keep American forces in Iraq.  This statement combined with the conclusion by America’s Intelligence Community that Afghanistan and Pakistan represent the greatest direct danger to the United States and Admiral Mullen’s comments that he doesn’t have enough troops to fight in Afghanistan because of our commitment to Iraq, reinforce the fact that a timely withdrawal from Iraq is essential to focus on the greatest danger – Al Qaeda.  But John McCain ignores Iraqi politicians, our generals, and the intelligence community and instead insists on a large permanent presence in Iraq.

Maliki expresses desire for timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces as part of the Status of Forces Agreement.  For the first time, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki suggested that a new Security Framework Agreement with the United States could include a timetable for withdrawal of American forces.  While visiting the United Arab Emirates, Maliki said that “the current trend is to reach an agreement on a memorandum of understanding either for the departure of the forces or a memorandum of understanding to put a timetable on their withdrawal.” [Reuters, 7/7/08]

The Intelligence Community and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs agree that Iraq has diverted resources from the fight against those who attacked us on 9/11 and who continue to present the greatest direct threat to America’s security.  America’s Intelligence Community has stated that the Al Qaeda threat in Pakistan and Afghanistan represents the most direct danger to American forces.  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen has asserted that more U.S. troops are needed in Afghanistan to help control an increasingly active insurgency, but due to the war in Iraq, insufficient forces are available for such action.  “I don't have troops I can reach for, brigades I can reach to send into Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq," Mullen said. "Afghanistan remains an economy of force campaign, which by definition means we need more forces there. We have the ability in almost every single case to win from the combat standpoint, but we don't have enough troops there to hold. That is key to the future of being able to succeed in Afghanistan.” [Washington Post 7/2/08. National Intelligence Estimate, 7/07]

McCain has ignored Iraqi politicians and American generals.  John McCain has neither a plan to bring the troops home soon nor a definition of success in Iraq. “Americans are in South Korea, Americans are in Japan, American troops are in Germany. That's all fine,” McCain said in June.  McCain advisor, Max Boot, further affirmed McCain’s Iraq position: “We need to maintain a long-term commitment in Iraq – for 100 years if need be...a long-term presence designed to reassure Iraqis of our commitment to their security against an array of enemies.” [NBC, 6/08. Max Boot, 6/08]

Quick Hits

The Indian Embassy in Kabul was the target of a suicide bombing today, killing at least 40 and wounding over 140, following suicide bombing of a mosque in Pakistan on Sunday, which killed 11. 

The price of oil closed for Independence Day weekend at a record high of $145.29 per barrel, spurring talk of prices reaching $200 per barrel by the end of the year.

According to a new Gallup poll, an overwhelming 79% majority of Americans believe the President should get the approval of Congress before sending U.S. armed forces into action outside the United States, and 70% believe congressional approval should be required before the President decides to bomb suspected terrorists.

President Bush announced last week that he will attend the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics despite international calls for world leaders to boycott the ceremony in protest of China’s human rights abuses.

President Bush met today with Russia’s new President, Dmitry Medvedev, calling him a “smart guy.”  The two world leaders discussed their shared views on nuclear proliferation, their differences on U.S. missile defense plans for Eastern Europe, and President Bush’s birthday yesterday.

At the Group of Eight summit in Japan, the Zimbabwean election has taken center stage as members pressed for tougher stances on Mugabe. The conference topic is expected to shift towards climate change and rising food and oil prices in the next few days, though it is unclear whether the talks will produce meaningful results. In the meantime, Republican Presidential hopeful John McCain has called for Russia to be excluded from the G8.

Maliki Wants a Timetable
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So apparently Prime Minister Maliki thinks we need a timetable

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki raised the prospect on Monday of setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops as part of negotiations over a new security agreement with Washington.

It was the first time the U.S.-backed Shi'ite-led government has floated the idea of a timetable for the removal of American forces from Iraq. The Bush administration has always opposed such a move, saying it would give militant groups an advantage.

In a statement, Maliki's office said the prime minister made the comments about the security pact -- which will replace a U.N. mandate for the presence of U.S. troops that expires on December 31 -- to Arab ambassadors in the United Arab Emirates.

"The current trend is to reach an agreement on a memorandum of understanding either for the departure of the forces or a memorandum of understanding to put a timetable on their withdrawal."

First of all, this is no surprise.  The entire controversy over the SOFA from the Iraqi perspective was that the Iraqis wouldn't sign onto any long-term agreement if it didn't include a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces.  The political uproar in Iraq for an American withdrawal is simply too great.  So this makes absolute sense.  The key question now is whether or not the Bush Administration agrees.  If they do, we might get a reasonable agreement.  If they don't, they'll probably end up with a temporary renewal of the UN Security Council Resolution and the next President can negotiate this agreement.

Here's a question for the MSM, which has quite frankly had it's head up it's ass this weekend.  The press has been so obsessed with tactics that the minute Obama says that he might refine his timeline based on changes on the ground and consultation with Generals, it's somehow a huge flip flop.  Even though strategically everything remains the same:  leave Iraq, use our withdrawal to put pressure on Iraqi politician and focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to the standard the press set this weekend, if the Iraqi Government and George Bush agree on a timetable for withdrawal and McCain endorses it, isn't that a massive flip flop?  Doesn't McCain have to continue to argue for a long-term large permanent presence?  After all, this would in fact be a dramatic change in strategy.  The only options McCain has are to stay to the right of Maliki or flip flop.  But of course the press won't cover it that way.

Update:  Dr. Irak has more.

Anti-Smoking Campaigns (or why I love Egypt)
Posted by Shadi Hamid

When I'm in Egypt or Jordan, my clothes often end up smelling like smoke, not because I smoke, but because almost everyone else does (I think airplane toilets and Starbucks are the only two places in, or above, Jordan where you can't). Maybe this will change, but it probably won't. Still, the Egyptian government is going to start trying. It's set to launch an "anti-smoking campaign" soon. As an AP article from last month informs us, however, the powers-that-be ran into some problems:

For the new label requirements, authorities field-tested a variety of images. They found that warnings linking tobacco with death were not particularly effective with Egyptians, since dying is perceived as inevitable anyway.

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