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September 30, 2008

European Efficiency?
Posted by Patrick Barry

Another great post from NSN Press Assistant Hanna Lundqvist:

While the United States was wrangling over the $700 billion bailout bill yesterday, three European governments came together to save Dexia, a French-Belgian bank.  One of the world's largest lenders to local governments, Dexia fell into the credit crisis through its U.S. operations and reached a point of emergency after the drop in the global stock market yesterday.  This morning, the Belgian Prime Minister's office announced a $9 billion capital infusion from various government and state-controlled sources in Belgium, France and Luxembourg.  The move makes Dexia one of the "most solvent" banks in northern Europe and ensures continued essential funding for local governments worldwide.  Following the announcement of the bailout, shares in Dexia rose 18.1%, with investors made confident by the governments' actions.

In comparison, after the failure of the $700 billion U.S. bailout plan, the Dow Jones dropped 777.68 points and NASDAQ fell 9.14%.  The multi-government bailout of Dexia clearly illustrates the benefits of swift, decisive action and contrasts alarmingly with the actions of the U.S. government yesterday.  With markets around the world anticipating that a bailout deal will be reached soon, the potential for a catastrophic crash remains if the U.S. government does not, or cannot act.

Altruistic Piracy
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Lifeaquaticwithstevezissou3



 Well, out here we call them "pirates," Ned.







The recent spate of pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia is pretty redoubtable, a 21st century return to the Barbary Coast's buccaneer glory days. The New York Times seems to have scored an improbable interview with the pirates who last week seized a Ukrainian ship loaded with millions of dollars of military hardware and tanks heading to either Sudan or Kenya. Whatever you think of the pirate's ruthlessness, you have to kinda respect their beneficent sentiments: 

In a 45-minute-long interview, [pirate spokesman] Mr. Sugule  expounded on everything from what the pirates want — “just money” — to why they were doing this — “to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters” — to what they eat — rice, meat, bread, spaghetti, “you know, normal human-being food.”

He said that so far, in the eyes of the world, the pirates had been misunderstood. “We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits,” he said. “We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard.”

He insisted that the pirates were not interested in the [seized] weapons and had no plans to sell them to Islamist insurgents battling Somalia’s weak transitional government. “Somalia has suffered from many years of destruction because of all these weapons,” he said. “We don’t want that suffering and chaos to continue. We are not going to offload the weapons. We just want the money.”

Of course, spin is spin, whether it's from the mouth of an unprincipled political flack in America or a swashbuckling Somali seeking fortune on the Arabian Sea. And while these guys did in fact begin their pirate careers protecting the waters from illegal fishing, they've evolved into something slightly more sinister. Because of that, their more benign motives should probably be tossed overboard.

The End of the Bush Military
Posted by Max Bergmann

Yesterday Secretary Gates officially buried the military strategy that had defined the Bush administration. The strategy somewhat incorrectly labeled "transformation" was vigorously pursued by Secretary Rumsfeld. It provided the foundation for the catastrophic war plans in Afghanistan and Iraq and came to dominate the thinking behind DoD procurement. While Gates' announcement may seem like an obvious development, the fact is that Gates' comments have real ramifications for the future direction of the military.

During the 2000 election campaign, conservatives were quick to attack the Clinton administration for cutting defense spending and pursuing dainty peacekeeping and stability operations in Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo. To conservatives these operations were a distraction from the real fights of the 21st century. The military even classified these missions as "operations other than war." Instead, conservative emphasized "transforming" the military to fight "21st century wars" by developing new highly advanced weapons systems that could instantly identify and destroy targets with pinpoint accuracy. In this vision of warfare speed and firepower were highly valued, ground forces were less essential and as a result needed to be smaller, lighter and more lethal. Warfare was essentially boiled down to a bunch of targets to be destroyed, as evidenced by Rumsfeld's infamous consternation over invading Afghanistan immediately after 9-11 when he said that there "aren't any good targets in Afghanistan."

Gates' speech importantly casts this naive vision of warfare aside:

Be modest about what military force can accomplish, and what technology can accomplish. The advances in precision, sensor, information and satellite technology have led to extraordinary gains in what the U.S. military can do... But also never neglect the psychological, cultural, political, and human dimensions of warfare, which is inevitably tragic, inefficient, and uncertain. Be skeptical of systems analysis, computer models, game theories, or doctrines that suggest otherwise. Look askance at idealized, triumphalist, or ethnocentric notions of future conflict that aspire to upend the immutable principles of war: where the enemy is killed, but our troops and innocent civilians are spared. Where adversaries can be cowed, shocked, or awed into submission, instead of being tracked down, hilltop by hilltop, house by house, block by bloody block.

Gates also adds that:

As we can expect a blended, high-low mix of adversaries and types of conflict, so too should America seek a better balance in the portfolio of capabilities we have – the types of units we field, the weapons we buy, the training we do. When it comes to procurement, for the better part of five decades, the trend has gone towards lower numbers as technology gains made each system more capable. In recent years these platforms have grown ever more baroque, ever more costly, are taking longer to build, and are being fielded in ever dwindling quantities.Given that resources are not unlimited, the dynamic of exchanging numbers for capability is perhaps reaching a point of diminishing returns.

The implications of this are huge. Under the conservative vision of military "transformation" weapons systems were not tied to defeating any particular threat, but were developed merely for the sake of making our military more capable. In other words, we continue to develop the F-22 not to defeat advanced Soviet aircraft which it was originally developed for, but merely to have a much better plane. What Gates' is essentially saying is that we should again tie weapons development to the threats and challenges we face - and since those are likely to be of the low-tech asymmetrical variety, instead of spending more than 300 million for each F-22, may be we can live with building more F-15s and F-16s for much less. Almost every weapons program this decade has been justified in terms of the abstract vision of "transformation" not any particular threat or challenge. Large, technologically advanced weapons programs take decades to develop and Gates' comments essentially cast doubt on many of these programs.

Over the last couple years Gates has effectively laid the ground work for the next administration to undertake a massive restructuring of the military. This is incredibly important in light of the inevitable budget tightening that the Pentagon will experience over the next few years. If and when this restructuring happens, Gates will deserve a lot of credit.

The McCain-Palin Gibberish Iran Policy
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

One of the things that hasn't been covered much coming out of the debate, is that McCain's Iran policy has turned to absolute gibberish.  After the past few days, it appears that McCain's policy is that Iran developing nuclear technology is an urgent problem that must be stopped to avoid a second Holocaust.  Therefore, we should build a new international institution that will take years and years to put together, so that it can deal with this urgent problem. Huh?  Also, Obama's willingness to talk to Iran is hugely naive and is so dangerous that McCain cut an ad scaring the public about Obama's position and consistently opposes it.  But McCain's advisor Henry Kissinger believes we should talk to Iran at the secretary of state level and somehow claims this is in line with McCain's view?  On top of that, McCain's running mate was on TV last week essentially green lighting an Israeli strike on Iran.  I'm really confused but let's walk through this in more detail.

At the debate McCain was asked what he would do about Iran.  His response:

Now we cannot a second Holocaust. Let's just make that very clear. What I have proposed for a long time, and I've had conversation with foreign leaders about forming a league of democracies, let's be clear and let's have some straight talk. The Russians are preventing significant action in the United Nations Security Council.

I have proposed a league of democracies, a group of people - a group of countries that share common interests, common values, common ideals, they also control a lot of the world's economic power. We could impose significant meaningful, painful sanctions on the Iranians that I think could have a beneficial effect.

The Iranians have a lousy government, so therefore their economy is lousy, even though they have significant oil revenues. So I am convinced that together, we can, with the French, with the British, with the Germans and other countries, democracies around the world, we can affect Iranian behavior.

This is crazy.  The United Nations was only created after much of the world was destroyed and the League of Nations had failed.  And even that approach took very careful machinations on the part of Roosevelt and his advisors.  It took four decades to create the EU and its still evolving and having hiccups along the way.  And oh by the way, no one in the rest of the world has any desire to create the League of Democracies.  Even once these organizations are set up, they have a very hard time acting in unison on anything that is at all controversial.  Just because two countries are democracies doesn't mean they agree (See the run up to the Iraq War).   

If the Iranian threat is as urgent as McCain claims it is.  If most intelligence assessments agree that we are looking at Iran having a nuclear capability, if not an actual weapon, some time in the next 3-10 years.  Why on earth would you waste years and years of time trying to build a new international institution that may or may not be able to address that problem?  This is a pipe dream and a pretty roundabout and absurd way to try and increase economic pressure on the Iranians.

Then there is the question of talking or not talking.  McCain's position is a continuation of the Bush strategy that Iran needs to meet certain preconditions regarding its uranium enrichment program before we will sit down and engage.  Somehow this is in line with Henry Kissinger's position.  But Henry Kissinger said the following a couple of weeks ago:

"Well, I am in favor of negotiating with Iran. And one utility of negotiation is to put before Iran our vision of a Middle East, of a stable Middle East, and our notion on nuclear proliferation at a high enough level so that they have to study it. And, therefore, I actually have preferred doing it at the secretary of state level so that we -- we know we're dealing with authentic..." Sesno: "Put at a very high level right out of the box?" Kissinger: "Initially, yes. And I always believed that the best way to begin a negotiation is to tell the other side exactly what you have in mind and what you are -- what the outcome is that you're trying to achieve so that they have something that they can react to. Now, the permanent members of the Security Council, plus Japan and Germany, have all said nuclear weapons in Iran are unacceptable. They've never explained what they mean by this. So if we go into a negotiation, we ought to have a clear understanding of what is it we're trying to prevent. What is it going to do if we can't achieve what we're talking about? But I do not believe that we can make conditions for the opening of negotiations. We ought, however, to be very clear about the content of negotiations and work it out with other countries and with our own government." (CNN's "Live Event," 9/20/08)

Obama's position is not as specific as Kissinger's.  He argues instead for tough direct diplomacy, but he also argues that there needs to be preparation in advance and he hasn't committed to what level the talks would be at.  The Obama position sure sounds a lot closer to Kissinger than McCain's insistence on preconditions and continued saber rattling.  And it also sounds a lot closer to what other secretaries of state like James Baker and Colin Powell have been proposing.  But Kissinger said this after the debate.

My views on this issue are entirely compatible with the views of my friend Senator John McCain. We do not agree on everything, but we do agree that any negotiations with Iran must be geared to reality.

So, has McCain had a dramatic shift on his willingness to negotiate and if he has why does he keep decrying Obama's position as so dangerous and naive?  Alternatively, this just an attempt to paper over a differences between McCain and Kissinger and confuse the public while McCain's position remains the same as it's always been.

Finally, there is Sarah Palin's pretty frightening interview with Katie Couric where she essentially says that we should never second guess Israel, even if it chooses to bomb Iran. 

Just to wrap up.  McCain's policy is that we are going to put more economic pressure on Iran by magically creating an international institution that nobody wants, will take years to put together and may not even be able to achieve consensus.  His direct diplomatic strategy is a total mystery if he has one at all.  And his VP is basically giving Israel the green light to bomb while McCain has his own little history of singing songs about bombing Iran. 

Some may disagree with Obama's approach that advocates tough direct talks with the Iranians combined with more concerted efforts to increase economic pressure on Iran.  But at least it's rational and coherent, which is more than you can say for John McCain's position.

September 27, 2008

Beyond Words
Posted by Patrick Barry

This post is from NSN Press Assistant Hanna Lundqvist:

In the analysis of last night’s debate, much attention has been paid to John McCain’s body language. McCain’s refusal to look at Barack Obama, his hunched and combative stance, and his facial tics all contributed to making him look disrespectful, “grumpy,” and unpresidential. But his body language did not just mean that he may have been having an off-day, or was uncomfortable, or was expressing his dislike for Barack Obama – it was evidence of his worldview.

John McCain is a unilateral person with a combative mindset. Instead of embracing the opportunity to hold a productive debate, John McCain pushed his own agenda and did not engage with his opponent. Last night, he physically expressed the philosophy that brought us his dismissal of allies, his combative stance on Russia, and his refusal to engage in strategic diplomacy with Iran. John McCain’s physical performance last night, let alone his words, represented his dangerous worldview and his poor foreign policy judgment.

The McCain-Kissinger Flip Flop
Posted by Max Bergmann

Did McCain just change his position on Iran?

John McCain and Barack Obama got into an argument tonight over Henry Kissinger's position on  Iran. During the debate McCain said Obama's position was not the same as Kissinger's. McCain said that Kissinger “said that there could be secretary-level and lower level meetings. I've always encouraged them.” This is a correct characterization of Kissinger's position. And you could say that this represents a slight difference between Barack Obama and Henry Kissinger. But McCain saying that "he has always" encouraged talks with Iran just isn't true. McCain has never supported talks with Iran at the Secretary of State level.  So either McCain has massively shifted positions on Iran or he is completely misrepresenting his position on Iran.

This is McCain's position:

And the belief that somehow communications and positions and willingness to sit down and have serious negotiations need to be done in a face to face fashion as Senator Obama wants to do, which then enhances the prestige of a nation that's a sponsor of terrorists and is directly responsible for the deaths of brave young Americans, I think is an unacceptable position...

Kissinger:

"Well, I am in favor of negotiating with Iran. And one utility of negotiation is to put before Iran our vision of a Middle East, of a stable Middle East, and our notion on nuclear proliferation at a high enough level so that they have to study it. And, therefore, I actually have preferred doing it at the secretary of state level so that we -- we know we're dealing with authentic..." Sesno: "Put at a very high level right out of the box?" Kissinger: "Initially, yes. And I always believed that the best way to begin a negotiation is to tell the other side exactly what you have in mind and what you are -- what the outcome is that you're trying to achieve so that they have something that they can react to. Now, the permanent members of the Security Council, plus Japan and Germany, have all said nuclear weapons in Iran are unacceptable. They've never explained what they mean by this. So if we go into a negotiation, we ought to have a clear understanding of what is it we're trying to prevent. What is it going to do if we can't achieve what we're talking about? But I do not believe that we can make conditions for the opening of negotiations. We ought, however, to be very clear about the content of negotiations and work it out with other countries and with our own government." (CNN's "Live Event," 9/20/08)

The fact is that McCain has never said he was willing to talk to Iran at the Secretary of State level. His statement tonight either represents a massive policy shift or represents a massive misrepresentation of McCain's position.

September 26, 2008

Kissinger on Iran
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Here is what Palin and McCain have said.  Here is what Kissinger actually said last week.  It's pretty clear.

Debate Wrap Up: Obama Passes Commander in Chief Test
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So what came out of this debate that John McCain tried to evade?  The pressure was on McCain to win and win big.  But he didn’t do that.  Not at all.  Obama won on key issues demonstrating that our foreign policy is more than just about the surge.  McCain frequently reverted back to clichés calling his opponent naïve and lacking judgment.  But those accusations weren’t actually substantiated by what happened.  Obama actually looked more presidential while McCain often sounded condescending or angry.

Moreover, McCain also failed to show how he would be any different than George Bush on any of the key issues: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran.  It was just more of the same.

1.    On Iran McCain continues to try and change the fact that his own advisor Henry Kissinger came out in favor of the Obama approach. 

2.     On spending McCain promised to cut earmarks of $18 billion and cure our budgetary woes through cutting spending.  Unfortunately, his policies including $120 billion a year in Iraq and $175 billion on growing the military dwarf that.

3.    On Iraq.  McCain continues to obsess about the surge but misses the broader point of strategy over tactics and the need to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan where the greatest threat is from.

4.    McCain called Pakistan a failed state prior to 1998.  That would have been pretty disturbing if it were true considering Pakistan has nuclear weapons.

5.    On Afghanistan and Pakistan it is clear that John McCain has a long record of completely ignoring the war in Afghanistan and the Al Qaeda safehaven in Pakistan that our intelligence community and military leaders believe presents the greatest direct danger to the United States.

6.    On Russia McCain touted the wisdom of his own reckless response – a response criticized by five secretaries of state including Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker and Colin Powell. 

7.    McCain repeatedly claimed that he could work effectively with our allies.  But has a long history of alienating them and won’t even talk with Spain

8.    McCain had issues with a number of foreign leaders names stumbling over Ahmadinejad’s name and calling the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zadari by the wrong name

McCain's reckless response to Russia - so says everybody
Posted by Max Bergmann

 In response to the Russia crisis McCain was seen widely as reckless in his condemnation of Russia. Kissinger said last week that "We have to face the fact that the first shot in Georgia was fired on the Georgian side." The funny thing in McCain's Russia answer is that he demonstrated the very reckless behavior that people have accused him of. He recited his over-used "KGB" line that when he looks into Putin's soul he sees the letters K-G-B.  Clever line that completely screws us with any future relationship with Russia. Which hey, three Republican Secretaries of State (Kissinger, Powell, and Baker) say is incredibly important and not worth sacrificing for a border conflict in the Caucuses. McCain's priorities are completely off base and his over-the-top rhetoric which was on display only makes the possibility of a new Cold War all the more likely.

Continue reading "McCain's reckless response to Russia - so says everybody" »

Ahma? Ackma? Ackma...John McCain Doesn't Know!
Posted by Patrick Barry

John McCain's unwavering grasp of world events clearly didn't help him when pronouncing Iranian President Ahmadinejad's name.  Here you go:

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