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October 31, 2008

Petraeus to McCain: I'm not your Guy
Posted by Patrick Barry

Yesterday ABC reported that the White House decided to nix David Petraeus' request for a Syrian chit-chat.  Spencer Ackerman thinks this is dumb of the White House, and I'm inclined to agree:

According to ABC, Petraeus believes the Syrians can be cleaved away from the Iranian sphere of influence, which would give the U.S. much more leverage in dealing with Iran. Instead, the Bush administration chose to keep relations frosty and to assassinate an al-Qaeda in Iraq leader across the border into Syria, an act that the Syrians understandably find to be an affront, coupled with a "warning" to the Syrians about "clean[ing] up the global threat that is in your back yard," in the words of one senior official. Now, it may be that killing Abu Ghadiya was the right thing to do. If so, the much more productive course would have been for Petraeus or another U.S. emissary to establish some path of outreach to smooth over rough U.S.-Syrian patches like this one.

I wanted to comment on another point that Spencer alludes to, which is that it's clear from this story that John McCain should never have tried to make David Petraeus an unwilling surrogate in his campaign.  For someone who McCain claims would be among his most trusted counselors, the General doesn't seem to agree with McCain on much of anything.  From the relentless sloganeering about Iraq, to the absurldy simplistic strategy for Afghanistan, and now the silly policy of refusing to engage with a country that has given every indication of its willingess to jump on the western wagon, McCain has taken positions that don't at all jive with Petraeus'.

Faced with this series of disconnects, you could conclude one of two things - either that Petraeus views McCain's chosen positions as strategically thin and would rather not be associated with them or that McCain embraced Petraeus purely for political purposes without any mind to what the General actually thought about anything. One or the other - you pick. 

October 30, 2008

McCain's circular logic firing squad
Posted by Max Bergmann

Trying to argue against statements from the McCain campaign is like entering a circular-logic firing squad. Since on any given issue, they aggressively adopt both sides of the argument and position themselves where it is most expedient (ex. immigration, strikes inside of sovereign countries, talking to adversaries, the Future Combat Systems, etc.).

The most recent example of this is defense spending. The McCain campaign emailed out a statement today attacking Obama for associating with Barney Frank who is for cutting defense spending by 25 percent. Randy Scheunemann in the statement seemed very outraged and demanded clarification on Obama's position - which happens to be pretty clear. Obama is going to cut some weapons programs that have been proven to be ineffective, but which likely costs nowhere near 25 percent. The rub is that there is little difference between McCain and Obama on this issue.

(Warning you are about to enter the circular logic firing squad)

McCain has long said he would cut defense spending, this is a position he maintains today. Obama has also said he will cut defense spending. But McCain opposses Obama and therefore attacks Obama today for having the same position that he has. So it is not that McCain was for cutting defense spending before he was against it. It is that McCain is simulataneously both for and against cutting defense spending. So to paraphrase his position: McCain is for cutting spending, but McCain is against Obama cutting defense spending, so when Obama is for cutting, McCain is for increasing (except he's still for cutting). Clear?

So the problem I have is do I:

A. Argue that McCain is being a hypocrite for also calling for cutting defense spending.


B. Argue that McCain has hugely unrealistic defense plans that will actually blow the Pentagon budget.

Hmmm. Why chose. I argue, you decide.

Critique A: McCain is a hypocrite who has consistently called for cutting defense spending. McCain this summer pledged to cut defense spending. McCain's top economic advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin submitted McCain's budget plan to the Washington Post on Bastille Day (Surrendor monkeys) saying that:

Balance the budget requires slowing outlay growth to 2.4 percent. The roughly $470 billion dollars (by 2013) in slower spending growth come from reduced deployments abroad ($150 billion; consistent with success in Iraq/Afghanistan that permits deployments to be cut by half -- hopefully more), slower discretionary spending in non-defense and Pentagon procurements ($160 billion; there are lots of procurements -- airborne laser, Globemaster, Future Combat System -- that should be ended and the entire Pentagon budget should be scrubbed)

Here is what that ultra-liberal Forbes Magazine wrote in June:

McCain's top economic adviser, Doug Holtz-Eakin, blithely supposes that cuts in defense spending could make up for reducing the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25% and the subsequent shrinkage in federal revenues. Get that? The national security candidate wants to cut spending on our national security. Wait until the generals and the admirals hear that.

McCain: "I Am Cutting Billions And Billions Out Of Defense Spending Which Are Not Earmarks." During an appearance on ABC's "This Week," McCain said, "I am cutting billions and billions out of defense spending which are not earmarks. The $400 million ship that they had to scrap that was supposed to cost $140 million. The $30 billion, I believe it is, add-on for a system in the Army that's going up $30 billion and we still haven't got any result from it. The $50 million contract to some buddy of Air Force generals. I mean, there are so many billions out there just in defense. [ABC, "This Week," 4/20/08]

Critique B: McCain's defense plans will blow he defense budget. John McCain has pledged to expand the ground forces by about 200,000 over current levels. He also says he will modernize the armed forces by “procuring advanced weapons systems.” Yet at the same time, McCain has pledged to control defense spending. This doesn’t add up. The CBO estimates that increasing the ground forces to the current goal of about 750,000 will 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 an additional $175 billion or $25 billion per year. The costs would likely be much higher as McCain is proposing a 25 percent increase in the size of the ground forces and attracting that many volunteers will require significant funding. [Foreign Affairs, 11-12/08. John 9/10/08. CBO, 4/16/07]

They are really running one of the most incoherent campaigns in history.

President Bush's Speech on Terrorism Undercut by Attacks in Somalia
Posted by The Editors

This is a post by NSN Intern Amanda Hillman

President Bush spoke this morning to the graduating class of the FBI Training Academy. He commended the expanded role the FBI has played in the US’s fight against terrorism; “’More than seven years have passed without another attack on our soil. And this is not an accident," the President said. "Since 9/11, we have gone on the offense against the terrorists abroad, so we do not have to face them here at home…” Yet the President’s speech was undercut by morning news reports of suicide bombings in Afghanistan, India, Spain, and Somalia.

The optimistic tone of President Bush’s speech at the FBI Academy this morning reflects the degree to which the current administration has been separated from reality, especially in Somalia. The Washington Post reports that the death toll for Wednesday’s crescendo of suicide bombings across northern Somalia rose to 30 this afternoon. The AP explained that the attacks struck “just as international leaders held talks on ending decades of deadly turmoil in this chaotic African nation. The five seemingly coordinated attacks targeted a U.N. compound, the Ethiopian consulate and the capital, Hargeisa. All occurred in the breakaway republic of Somaliland…” U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden said that "While Somalia is one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers, Hargeisa has been relatively stable and consequently many United Nations staff were stationed there." The BBC reported that foreign workers will be pulled from the area.

Militants in Somalia linked to Al Qaeda are suspected of the synchronized bombings, and experts worry that “the attacks might signal that insurgent groups are expanding their reach to new areas and are using more sophisticated techniques.” The militants are part of a group known as Shabab, and they have “been fighting a guerilla war against Somalia’s transitional government and the Ethiopian troops supporting it.” Shabab’s leadership has vowed to overthrow Somalia’s fledgling government, drive out any Ethiopian troops, and recently announced their intentions to “forge closer ties with Al Qaeda,” making it potentially not dissimilar from the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Recent hijackings of cargo ships along the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia, are far from unrelated in this matter. Despite recent commitments to secure one of the busiest shipping lanes in that region, the AP is reporting Somali pirates today hijacked a Turkish ship and its crew of 20 in the Gulf. States and alliances sending ships and war planes to police the waters there need to acknowledge that the problem they must now confront is much deeper, and has much further reaching influence, than the proliferation of piracy.

The string of attacks on cargo and aid ships this past year, like the suicide bombings in the past few hours, is testimony to the failure of the Bush administration, as well as the international community, to coherently and effectively address the crisis befalling failed states around the globe.

Al Qaeda Messing Around in Our Elections?
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The front page of Drudge is hyping the much anticipated "Al Qaeda endorsement" saying that "al Qaeda Wants Republicans, Bush 'Humiliated."  Of course Drudge's whole point here is to try and get folks believing that Al Qaeda supports Obama.  The reality is much more complicated. 

As Reuters reports

An al Qaeda leader has called for President George W. Bush and the Republicans to be "humiliated," without endorsing any party in the upcoming U.S. presidential election, according to a video posted on the Internet.

"O God, humiliate Bush and his party, O Lord of the Worlds, degrade and defy him," Abu Yahya al-Libi said at the end of sermon marking the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr, in a video posted on the Internet.

Libi, one of the top al Qaeda commanders believed to be living in Afghanistan or Pakistan, called for God's wrath to be brought against Bush equating him with past tyrants in history.

The remarks were the first comments from a leading al Qaeda figure referring, albeit indirectly, to the U.S. elections. Muslim clerics often end sermons by calling on God to guide and support Muslims and help defeat their enemies.

A few things to note here.  First, it's not even clear that this has anything to do with the election. The quote is somewhat dubious and it's not all that rare for Al Qaeda videos to decry Bush and his allies.  They've been doing that for years.

Even more noteworthy though, is the fact that this video should never have been made in the first place.  Why?  Because al-Libi was being held at an American prison in Afghanistan in 2005 when he escaped.  It's really hard for conservatives to now try to use his statements to their advantage when it was George Bush's detention policies and general incompetence that allowed this man to escape in the first place. 

Finally, it also worth noting that Al Qaeda has done this before. Terrorism expert Richard Clarke  warned earlier this month about Al Qaeda attempts to interfere in our elections.  And just last week former NY and Current LA Police Chief Bill Bratton penned an op-ed writing:

This is a critical election for Al Qaeda. The U.S.-led invasions of two Muslim countries during the Bush years and scandals such as Abu Ghraib have been a boon for Bin Laden's demagoguery. He and other Islamists continually (and dishonestly) cite these wars as evidence of a U.S. war on Islam. That has helped create a steady stream of suicide bombers eager to destroy U.S. targets on their way to paradise.

Bin Laden is likely to believe that a President John McCain - who has jokingly sung of bombing Iran and who championed the troop surge in Iraq - is more likely to engender Muslim anger and resentment than would his opponent. Indeed, international polls, including those in Muslim countries, show striking support for Barack Obama.

Put simply: Bin Laden probably realizes it could become markedly more difficult to paint the United States as the "Great Satan" with a new President who is admired internationally. The remaining 14 days before the elections should be seen as a time of high threat, and state and local police should be on high alert. With so much at stake in these elections, Bin Laden will probably attempt to make his opinion count.

This view would also seem to be confirmed by a posting on an important Al Qaeda forum just last week that argued that McCain was most likely to continue George Bush's failed policies - policies that have actually made Al Qaeda stronger.  And Spencer Ackerman has done additional reporting interviewing a number of intelligence experts who agree with this assessment.

Overall, let's hope that these types of statements play no important role in this election.  But it's pretty obvious that conservatives are on weak ground if they want to argue that  any of this somehow shows an Al Qaeda preference for Barack Obama.

POMED launches new resource on Middle East
Posted by Shadi Hamid

As some of you know, I’ve been heading up the research program for the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), a relatively new NGO in Washington, DC which works with members of the policy community to consider effective (and peaceful!) methods for supporting democrats and democracy in the region.

Earlier this week, we officially launched our Country Pages Project, a major part of the research program. This project features two main products which many of you might find useful in your own work and research: a series of country pages and country backgrounders, analyzing prospects for political reform in key countries (in this first phase, the countries covered are Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Morocco, and Jordan). 

So here's the basic gist: Accessing up-to-date information and analysis on democratization - and especially on US policy toward political reform - for specific countries is surprisingly difficult. Where do you go? If you need to do some research on political developments in Jordan, and aren't familiar with the existing resources, or read Arabic, it's not easy. Think tanks don't cover Jordan often. Let's say you want to find out what congressional legislation's been passed on the US aid package to Egypt. Or maybe you're interested in what senior US officials said during the recent saga in Turkey when the ruling AK party was nearly shut down. Our country pages aim to fill the gap, providing a one-stop resource for researchers, activists, and policymakers. Similarly, POMED country backgrounders are targeted and concise, bringing readers up to speed on the state of political reform in a given country in under 5 pages.

All the pages and backgrounders can be accessed through this central portal. If you want to go ahead and download the country backgrounders directly, here they are: Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Morocco, and Jordan.

October 29, 2008

Republican Pragmatists Closer on Policy With Obama Than With McCain and the Neocons
Posted by James Lamond

Since Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama last Sunday, there has been a great deal of discussion about the divide within the Republican Party between the Neoconservatives and the more traditional conservatives, often labeled Pragmatists. 

At Democracy Arsenal we looked at statements given by republican foreign policy thinkers from both camps and compared them side-by-side to statements given by the two presidential candidates.  We found that the positions and views of the Republican Pragmatists were in fact much closer to those of Barack Obama than to their own party's nominee.  Meanwhile John McCain's positions line up perfectly with the Neocons and Bush adminstraion hawks. 


Iran_6Russia_8 Working_with_allies_6



Continue reading "Republican Pragmatists Closer on Policy With Obama Than With McCain and the Neocons " »

Bosnia and the Transatlantic Relationship
Posted by James Lamond

Richard Holbrooke and Paddy Ashdown have a really interesting column today, where they talk about the growing problems in Bosnia.  They sum up a complicated situation pretty succinctly:

Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, once the darling of the international community (and especially the United States) for his opposition to the nationalist Serb Democratic party, has adopted that party's agenda without being tainted by their genocidal baggage. His long-term policy seems clear: to place his Serb entity, Republika Srpska, in a position to secede if the opportunity arises. Exploiting the weaknesses in Bosnia's constitutional structure, the international community's weariness and EU inability to stick by its conditionality, he has, in two years, reversed much of the real progress in Bosnia over the past 13, crucially weakened the institutions of the Bosnian state, and all but stopped the country's evolution into a functioning (and EU-compatible) state.

Dodik's actions have been fueled by Russian encouragement and petrodollars. In addition his rival, the senior president of all of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Haris Silajdzic, has stressed the need to abolish the two entities that make up Bosnia, to create one non-federal country. Dodik professes to respect Dayton and Silajdzic wishes to revise it, but both men are violating its basic principle: a federal system within a single state. This toxic interaction is at the heart of today's Bosnian crisis.

Continue reading "Bosnia and the Transatlantic Relationship" »

The Iraqistan Effect
Posted by Patrick Barry

After watching last night's Frontline on Afghanistan, I think it's safe to say that Frontline cameramen have some pretty big stones.  Stumbling around the Korengal valley, trying to catch up with a bunch of Marines while invisible Taliban raiding parties are shooting at you is frackin' intense. 

Seriously though, last night's episode is important viewing for anyone who wants a view into the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. (minor quibble=Lots of counter-insurgency people, but where are the Af-Pak experts?)  Watching mountain-top insurgents reign bullets down on cameramen and marines, it's pretty clear why people are clamoring for 20,000 troops, suggesting we need to talk with the Taliban, or proposing that we rely on Lakshars to keep the peace in Pakistan's tribal areas - things in Afghanistan are not good.

One of the most striking facets of the unfolding debate over Afghanistan, and something which the Frontline broadcast brought out, is a paradox born out of Iraq, which causes people to fixate on its lessons, while recognizing the diminished utility of those lessons in other situations.   You can see this in the way that nearly everyone who is working on this problem adamantly emphasizes the unique aspects of the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategic landscape, and simultaneously accepts recommendations that could be described as Iraq-centric.   

To give an example from last night's broadcast, nearly every expert interviewed Robert Kaplan excepted) insisted that Afghanistan is a far cry from Iraq, and demands new thinking.  Steve Coll had some especially wise words:

The idea that you can walk over to Afghanistan and try to arm the tribes against Al Qaeda or against the Taliban is a fallacy. … All counterinsurgencies are born from local conditions and local challenges and local problems. You're going to have to relearn, from the ground up, in Afghanistan how to change security conditions there. …

However, when you look at the tactics that have crept into the discussion - an influx of troops, arming local tribes, separating out moderate Taliban elements, it's difficult to shake the perception that they were ripped from the Iraq player's guide.  And maybe that's ok, so long as Afghanistan strategists don't forget that while general precepts are useful, context is everything.  If not, we're headed for big trouble. 

Rare Victory for Muslim Democracy
Posted by Shadi Hamid

In the Maldives. "Nasheed's victory in the nation's first multiparty elections caps a remarkable journey for an activist whose criticism of Gayoom and crusading for democracy saw him charged 27 times and jailed or banished to remote atolls for a total of six years.

October 28, 2008

Defense Panel: Next President to Face Crisis
Posted by Shawn Brimley

The McCain campaign has spent millions in ads and hours of time trying to make political hay out of Senator Biden's common sense proposition that the next President is likely to be tested during the early days of his tenure. Today's Inside Defense (subscription required) is reporting that the Defense Business Board, a senior group of business leaders that advises the Secretary of Defense, is essentially validating Biden's comments:

The next president is likely to face a major international crisis within his first nine months in office, according to a senior group of business advisers to the defense secretary.

Accordingly, the Defense Business Board says the new administration should set a goal to win Senate confirmation of key Pentagon posts in the first 30 days of the inauguration, in order to have a full team in place to deal with such a contingency.

Michael Bayer, chairman of the Defense Business Board and veteran Pentagon consultant, this week called for the next administration to move quickly to avoid encountering civilian leadership vacuums that often accompany political transitions.

"Prepare for a likely first 270 days crisis," Bayer warns in an Oct. 23 briefing. "Too many presidents were ill prepared for this."

Could Senator Biden have phrased his comments a little better? Sure. Could Senator McCain's campaign be a little more erratic? Not likely.

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