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April 18, 2008

McCain's Plan to End Earmarks Puts Integral National Security, Foreign, and Domestic Programs in Peril
Posted by Adam Blickstein

This week, Sen. John McCain vowed to "veto every bill with earmarks" in order to help pay for his economic plan and tax cuts.  According to the Congressional Research Service, this would effectively end programs essential to American security, foreign operations, and domestic security, including aid to critical allies such as Jordan and Colombia as well as military construction.

Today, the National Security Network held a conference call with NSN President Rand Beers and federal budget and economic expert Scott Lilly, a Senior Fellow at American Progress Action Fund, to examine McCain's misguided earmark plan. Below are a few choice quotes, and the audio can be found here:

The numbers don't add so you end up in a situations when people are forced to do things that you would otherwise not do and those are usually bad choices and I think that's exactly where we are headed for. If we don't get to the bottom of where this proposal is really going...we may end up doing things to pay for them that are far more destructive than we thought...and i think the disturbing thing is that we've a candidate that put out a proposal to pay for it that he really didn't look at.
    -Scott Lilly

With respect to the foreign assistance budget and the notion that 70% of that budget in the 2005 fiscal year was earmarked, even if you go down to the lower [funding] level that you have now, really represents an undermining and gutting of our national security policy as executed by the state dept. this assistance is  to prevent crisis to ameliorate crises and after the fact rebuild, whether we are talking about Iraq and Afghanistan to day or other parts of the world...What this proposal is is an irresponsible approach to national security by McCain and his team if in fact they are going to make all these earmark cuts by the definition of the Congressional Research Service and as Scott mentioned as soon as they start to pull one or another program because of its priority their ability to make the claim that they are anywhere close to covering the tax proposal that Sen. McCain is making begin to collapse completely..
-Rand Beers

McCain has continually said that "I have experts of my own." Ironically, one of his top experts on economics is Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who used to run the Congressional Budget Office. Now, someone who once oversaw the entire federal budget knows that there are earmarks, as defined by CRS, that are essential to national security, foreign policy and military infrastructure, and probably should not let his candidate run around proposing cuts to these programs in order to pay for tax cuts. Why, then, is Holtz-Eakin allowing McCain to make such reckless proposals that would undermine American security?

When Will He Get It Right?
Posted by Patrick Barry

I didn't catch this until this morning as I was eating breakfast and listening to the radio, but President Bush once again conflated Iraq with September 11th, this time in yesterday's Rose Garden speech to recognize Gordon Brown's visit.  He has really demonstrated tremendous resolve by keeping the country's attention fixed squarely on al-Qaeda in Iraq, a group that had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks:

"Success in Iraq will be a significant blow to both Al Qaida and Iran's ambitions."

"And it's worth it, in my judgment, to succeed against Al Qaida, the very country -- the very group of people that attacked our country and those who would like to do so again even on a more massive scale."

I guess he still hasn't gotten around to reading last July's NIE, which found that Al-Qaeda central (not AQI) is the "main threat" to the US Homeland, or yesterday's GAO report, which found that Al-Qaeda has reconstituted in Pakistan's tribal areas, where they are plotting new attacks on the United States.    

Iraqi Security Forces Abandon Positions...Again
Posted by Patrick Barry

The New York Times reported today that Iraqi Soldiers have once again abandoned their post, this time in Sadr City.  Here is the key excerpt:

"A company of government troops in Sadr City retreated when they came under attack from Shiite militiamen who used the cover of a sandstorm, police said Friday."

Now what would you do if you were attacked by the Jaish al-Mahdi during a sandstorm?  I think most people would agree when I say that that has to be among the more terrifying circumstances imaginable.  But this is the Iraqi Army, a well-trained fighting force, and one that is capable of withstanding all kinds of trials, while still maintaining the utmost professionalism.  In that sense, this company's actions are just incongruous with the larger pattern of successful military performance...unless Nouri al-Maliki and President Bush are just completely misrepresenting the situation, and that is something I'm not ready to accept. 

April 17, 2008

GAO Slams Bush on Terrorism - says Al Qaeda attack likely and we have no plan
Posted by Max Bergmann

Here is the title of a report from the Government Accountability Office on combating terrorism released today:

The United States Lacks a Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

That is not some line buried in the report. That is the title. Wow.

This GAO report may be the most damning condemnation of the Bush administration's counter-terrorism efforts. The report goes on to say that the Bush administration has failed to develop any plan to address the Al Qaeda threat. Worse, the report finds that Al Qaeda is now able to attack the United States and represents the "most serious" threat to this country.

The report's opinion of the Bush administration efforts speaks for itself:

The United States has not met its national security goals to destroy the terrorist threat and close the safe haven in Pakistan…

Not only have we not met our goals but we have no plan to meet our goals:

No comprehensive plan for meeting U.S. national security goals in the FATA has been developed, as stipulated by the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism (2003), called for by an independent commission (2004), and mandated by congressional legislation (2007). Furthermore, Congress created the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) in 2004 specifically to develop comprehensive plans to combat terrorism. However, neither the National Security Council (NSC), NCTC, nor other executive branch departments have developed a comprehensive plan that includes all elements of national power—diplomatic, military, intelligence, development assistance, economic, and law enforcement support—called for by the various national security strategies and Congress.

Al Qaeda can now attack the United States:

“we found broad agreement, as documented in the unclassified 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), State and embassy documents, as well as among Defense, State, and other officials, including those operating in Pakistan, that al Qaeda had regenerated its ability to attack the United States and had succeeded in establishing a safe haven in Pakistan”

Al Qaeda in Pakistan is the most serious threat:

al Qaeda’s central leadership, based in the border area of Pakistan, is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the United States… al Qaeda is now using the Pakistani safe haven to put the last element necessary to launch another attack against America into place…

Al Qaeda is using the Pakistan tribal areas to put the finishing touches on its plans to attack the United States. A DNI assessment from earlier in 2008 reports troubling findings:

al Qaeda is now using the Pakistani safe haven to put the last element necessary to launch another attack against America into place, including the identification, training, and positioning of Western operatives for an attack. It stated that al Qaeda is most likely using the FATA to plot terrorist attacks against political, economic, and infrastructure targets in America “designed to produce mass casualties, visually dramatic destruction, significant economic aftershocks, and/or fear among the population."

It is really not a good thing to have incompetent people running this country.


Musharraf's Relegation
Posted by Adam Blickstein

The Guardian has an article about a new security agreement being devised by Sen. Biden between the U.S. and Pakistan that would nearly triple non-military aid to Pakistan, including a "democracy-dividend", basically a billion dollar dog-biscuit reward for holding peaceful elections.  The aid money would go towards civilian counter-terrorism, spent on "civilian law enforcement institutions, such as the interior ministry, the intelligence bureau and the federal investigation agency rather than being channelled almost exclusively through the army and the military-run Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) organisation."  General Musharraf has exerted firm control over the ISI, where a majority of American aid has been routed through in the past. This has led to billions in misspent, mismanaged, and missing dollars, not to mention the ISI's purported ties to terrorism and the Taliban. Needless to say, Biden's plan represents an important and welcome strategic shift for U.S./Pakistan relations, one which embraces the civilian government, and relegates Musharraf to persona non grata in Pakistan, something confirmed in the Guardian piece:

A US administration official said: "Each day Musharraf's influence becomes less and less. Civilians are in control. People aren't meeting with Musharraf any more ... we are very pleased with the new civilian government."

Another development in the proposed deal which further shows an erosion in U.S. reliance on Musharraf: 

Pakistani government will be consulted before any further air strikes against militants on Pakistani soil by US unmanned "Predator" aircraft...Pakistani officials say they have been given assurances by Washington that there will be close consultation with the civilian government, not with Musharraf, before any future [predator] strikes.

George and Charlie
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Some people thought the debate last night was bad.  But I thought it was fascinating to watch two respected journalists essentially drag their professional reputations through the mud.

This video in George and Charlie's honor.

Thank you Mr. Berman
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

I love it when the soft power people get up in arms.

Today the House Foreign Affairs Committee took an important step into the national security debate with an official report on our non-strategy to strike at the terrorist's 9/11 center of gravity.

This is great news on a couple of levels.  First, to put this failure front and center in the 2008 election year national security debate in the hopes of getting potential leaders to come up with a real strategy. Second and equally important, the HFAC is jumping into a hard power issue feet first. It is the flip side of the strategy coin, where the hard power folks (the military esp. Army and Marines) have been doing soft power since the end of the Cold War, calling it everything from MOOTW (military missions other than war)  to  Formative Engagement to Irregular Warfare to Counter Insurgency.  This is a great evolutionary step toward the kind of holistic national security strategy that we're all waiting for and that, frankly, will save American lives.   Here's the press release:

The Government Accountability Office today released a report
showing that the Bush Administration does not have a coherent plan to destroy terrorist threats and safe havens in the border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The House Foreign Affairs Committee commissioned the report and received copies ahead of its release.

Committee Chairman Howard L. Berman (D-CA) said, “It is appalling that there is still no comprehensive, interagency strategy concerning this critical region, and this lack of foresight is harming U.S. national security. 

Even after the passage of congressional mandates and the Administration’s own directives, we’re still wandering around in a metaphorical desert rather than mapping out a coherent plan,” Berman noted.  “But with new civilian leadership in Pakistan, we have a new opportunity to overcome the current Administration’s failures and to work with the Pakistani people to come up with a plan for victory over the extremist elements that threaten Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the rest of the world.”

you can get the rest of the info here.  And sign up for these press releases, too.

April 16, 2008

The 100 Years Defense Makes No Sense
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

John McCain has been insisting that his 100 years in Iraq comment is being taken out of context.  That in fact what he meant is that American troops can stay in Iraq for fifty or 100 years if American troops are no longer being attacked.  This assertion leads to a whole new set of questions that reflect McCain's lack of understanding of what is going on inside Iraq.

First of all, how exactly does Senator McCain envision getting to a point where there are no American casualties in Iraq?  The idea of a large American troop presence in Iraq that does not draw any fire is farfetched.  What we have in Iraq today is some odd and complicated mix of numerous sectarian conflicts with Americans stuck in the middle.  This isn’t Korea.  There will be no armistice or Demilitarized Zone.  Senator McCain has not laid out any kind of a roadmap or strategy for how we get to this idealized scenario where American forces are no longer being fired upon.

Second, how long does he think it will take to get to this end state that he envisions?  Will it take 10 years?  Will it take 20?  30?  When under his plan do American troops stop taking casualties?  It would be good to know.

Finally, there is the question of a permanent presence in Iraq and the strategic costs to the United States.  One of the Bush Administration’s premises for the war in Iraq, was the idea that we needed to eliminate Al Qaeda.  But one of the major inspirations for Al Qaeda, was the American presence in Saudi Arabia.  In a similar way, creating a large permanent troop presence in Iraq would act as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda and draw anger and suspicion from all over the Arab World.

In the end, whether it’s fighting in Iraq for 100 years or just staying in Iraq for 100 years under some fantastical scenario where our troops stop being targets, neither idea really makes much sense.

A Question for Michael O'Hanlon
Posted by Michael Cohen

As Ilan noted Michael O'Hanlon has his 8,456th op-ed in the Washington Post today about the war in Iraq. Amazingly, it sounds a lot like the previous 8,455 - we can't leave Iraq.

O'Hanlon argues, "continued progress will be far more likely if major reductions in U.S. forces beyond those currently planned await early 2010."

Now Ilan has here deconstructed that argument, but let's say that O'Hanlon is correct, how does he reconcile the call for troop levels to remain constant until 2010 with the most recent proclamations of the nation's top generals that continued deployment in Iraq is doing serious damage to our military and its readiness?  This is not an esoteric discussion. Here is General Cody on the risk to the all-volunteer force:

Gen. Cody said that the "heavy deployments are inflicting 'incredible stress' on soldiers and families and that they pose 'a significant risk' to the nation's all-volunteer military. 'When the five-brigade surge went in, that took all the stroke out of the shock absorbers for the United States Army,' Cody testified. 'Our readiness is being consumed as fast as we build it. Lengthy and repeated deployments with insufficient recovery time have placed incredible stress on our soldiers and our families, testing the resolve of our all-volunteer force like never before.'"

Here are the Joint Chiefs:

"Members of the Joint Chiefs have also told the president that the continued troop commitment to Iraq means that there is a significant level of risk should another crisis erupt elsewhere in the world. Any mission could be carried out successfully, the chiefs believe, but the operation would be slower, longer and costlier in lives and equipment than if the armed forces were not so strained. Members of the Joint Chiefs also acknowledge that the deployments to Iraq, with the emphasis on counterinsurgency warfare, have left the ground forces no time to train for the full range of missions required to defend American interests."

This is Army Chief of Staff, General George Casey, back in February:

"The cumulative effects of the last six-plus years at war have left our Army out of balance, consumed by the current fight and unable to do the things we know we need to do to properly sustain our all-volunteer force and restore our flexibility for an uncertain future."

Indeed, this is the fatal flaw in all the pro-war proclamations that we heard recently during the Pe-Crock hearings - pro-war advocates are more than happy to call for continued commitment to Iraq, but they are simply unwilling to even engage on the question of whether our military can sustain it. O'Hanlon's op-ed is just another example of this obfuscation.

David Ohrenstein: Let the Olympic spotlight do its work; boycott strategy could undermine long term goals
Posted by The Editors

David Ohrenstein is Senior Counsel to Fontheim International This is a continuation of a series of posts discussing the appropriate U.S. response to the China-Tibet-Olympics controversy. You can read the first post by Frank Jannuzi here, and Michael Schiffer here)

By David Ohrenstein

Ever since China was awarded the Olympics, a debate has raged about whether the games will be a force for liberalization in China or a ratification of the Chinese government’s current system.  The world has been waiting to see how the tension between the world’s most high-profile event and China’s controlled system will play out.  This tension has come to a head over the current crisis in Tibet and the US and broader international community is now wrestling with how best to respond.

The answer is not simple.  The move by several world leaders and the call by Senators Clinton and Obama for President Bush to sit out the opening ceremonies as a statement against the Chinese government’s actions in Tibet (as well as inaction in Darfur) is an attempt to use the Olympics as leverage to force Beijing to modify its behavior.  This strategy, however, has the potential to undermine our longer-term goals. 

The Olympics are an enormous source of national pride for China that touches all segments of Chinese society.  A world leader boycott of the opening ceremonies would not only raise the ire of Chinese authorities, but also of the reformist forces who want to use the games as a means of furthering opening up the country.  Degrading the games to make a political statement has the potential to create a deep well of resentment and distrust in China that could set back, rather than advance, further reforms. 

That said, China should not be given a free pass.  Human rights activists, environmental advocates and other groups should rightly use the international media spotlight on China resulting from the games to draw attention to their legitimate concerns.  This indeed may be the effective leverage we believed the games would provide.  The intense media coverage of the protests surrounding the Olympic torch relay and of the events in Tibet demonstrate that the Chinese government will not be able to easily compartmentalize the games from its broader policies and practices.   The Chinese government should now clearly understand that their ultimate standing in the international community will be judged by the full measure of their actions, not just by whether they pull off a successful Olympics. 

The Donald Would be Proud
Posted by Patrick Barry

Apparently, internal Al Qaeda dynamics bear much more of a resemblance to reality television than we had previously imagined.  An announcement from their senior leadership that an Apprenticeesque series has been optioned by Al-Jazeera is imminent.  Here are the cast of characters:

Osama_6 Osama Bin Laden

The scion of a respected real-estate dynasty struggles to live up the family legacy.  Gifted with a domineering persona, his all-consuming desire to bask in the media limelight is believed to have overtaken whatever leadership skills he once possessed.

Apprentice Inspiration:

Donald_10 The Donald

Atef_14 Mohammed Atef

Lacking the charisma necessary for a public-role,  he has made a name for himself as a loyal, if frugal, behind-the-scenes player.  His fiscal discipline, coupled with a preternatural ability to stand next to his superiors and project menace, make him the perfect Lieutenant.

Apprentice Inspiration:

George_h_ross_4 George

Zarqawi_7 Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

An upstart from day one, Zarqawi has distinguished himself by his willingness to flaunt convention.  Ambition is undoubtedly his best asset, and his chief weakness.

Apprentice Inspiration:

Omarosa_6 Omarosa

It may never be a hit with the critics, but audiences around the globe are sure to tune in.

DA Book Club Edition: White House Ghosts
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

For years, I have been telling aspiring writers that Peggy Noonan's What I Saw at the Revolution is the best book on White House speechwriting, and for years been getting funny looks back from people who know her mostly in her Jesus-sent-dolphins-to-save-Elian Wall Street Journal phase.  (I learned a great lesson on how the Web works when my positive mention of it from early Arsenal days went up on a million right-wing websites.)

Now, I'm happy to say I can recommend a progressive:  Robert Schlesinger's White House Ghosts, just out, combines a good look at history with the kind of you-are-there nuggets that I prize in Noonan's writing style.  His stuff on the 1960s -- when his father wrote speeches for Kennedy -- is particularly worth perusing in light of the situation we are in today, and for anyone thinking ahead about what a next administration will face and how it can succeed or fail.

Continue reading "DA Book Club Edition: White House Ghosts" »

O'Hanlon... Again
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

In his weekly column op-ed in the Washington Post today Mike O’Hanlon has another gem which makes pretty much the same points he’s been making for the past year.  What annoys me most is the fact that considering the broad variety of opinion on Iraq out there, why the Washington Post continues to give him so much space.

But that aside.  O’Hanlon and Ann Gildroy lay out six reasons for why they think we should keep 140,000 troops in Iraq through at least early 2010.  The problem is that they don’t actually explain how a large American force presence helps address any of these problems, and in fact the points they lay out could make an equally good case for why American forces should be withdrawn.  There are also as usual, a number of extraordinarily optimistic and rosy predictions that just don’t hold water.  And ironically, outside of making very broad assertions there doesn’t seem to be any road map or path for “How this can end” even though that happens to be the title of the article.

Below the fold I’ve got the point-by-point rebuttal.

Continue reading "O'Hanlon... Again" »

Over 4,000 Dead Americans is an Academic Argument??
Posted by Adam Blickstein

At least according to John McCain from Hardball last night:

We can look back at the past and argue about whether we should have gone to war or not, whether we should have invaded or not, and that's a good academic argument. 

Another Sign That Basra Was a Failure
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

From the beginning most experts thought that Basra was essentially a failure for the Iraqi government and specifically Prime Minster Maliki.  But President Bush has called it a success and a sign that the Iraqi government is stepping up.  Ambassador Crocker painted a rosy picture  last week, and John McCain claimed that it was Sadr who lost. 

Since then there have been reports of more then 1,000 Iraqi security forces who refused to fight.  And now comes pretty definitive proof that the Iraqi Government itself viewed this operations as a failure.

Iraq's government removed the top military and police commanders in Basra on Wednesday, weeks after a botched crackdown on militia fighters there triggered the country's worst fighting in months.

Iraqi army Lieutenant-General Mohan al-Furaiji and police Major-General Abdul-Jalil Khalaf were among the country's most senior commanders and were widely respected by U.S. and British military leaders.

The Iraqi Government is claiming that this is a reward for their great performance and that they are being brought back to Baghdad.  That seems pretty absurd.  It's one thing to reward good performance with a promotion, but if you have a massively successful military campaign you don't remove the people in charge two weeks later. 

To me this is just another sign that despite the rosy rhetoric, inside the Iraqi Government there is a feeling that this was a failure.  Even more so, there was apparently a need for a political scapegoat, which means that the Iraqi public also perceived the operation as a failure and wanted some heads to roll.  But don't tell John McCain or George Bush.

Michael Schiffer: Boycotting games would not improve situation in Tibet
Posted by The Editors

(Michael Schiffer is with the Stanley Foundation. This is a continuation of a series of posts discussing the appropriate U.S. response to the China-Tibet-Olympics controversy. You can read the first post by Frank Jannuzi here)

By Michael Schiffer

Now that the Olympic torch has reemerged from its secure undisclosed location and is making its way to Mount Everest – and then on to Beijing -- the question left behind by the torch's tumultuous day on the streets of San Francisco is whether or not a boycott of the Olympics by the President would be an effective way to improve the situation in Tibet and help bring about change in China.

The short answer is "no", or, at least, "not yet".

Its not because we shouldn't let China know precisely what we think about their violent crackdown and the repression of the Tibetan people. We should.  And its not because of questionable arguments about whether or not the Olympics should be politicized: Like it or not the Games have always had a political overlay.

The reason why a boycott does not make sense is simple: It is highly unlikely to provide effective leverage to get the Chinese to move on Tibet or Darfur, or, for that matter, anything else. In fact, moving on a boycott, now, simply deprives China of an incentive to change, strengthens the hand of the hardliners and locks China into bad behavior when our goal ought to be to provide them a way out and encouragement to do the right thing. Indeed, that is part of the reason why the Dalai Lama himself has acknowledged China's understandable pride in hosting the Olympics and called on Tibetans not to hinder the games.

So, what should we do?  First, we need to send clear, strong, and consistent public and private message to the Chinese not just criticizing their treatment of Tibet and Tibetans, but also offering a vision of where we'd like to see them go: releasing nonviolent protesters and respecting human rights, providing guarantees of religious and cultural freedoms for the Tibetan people, and entering into dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives leading to meaningful autonomy for Tibet. We should make it clear that the President, as a "sportsman" (as I believe he has taken to calling himself) looks forward to attending the Games in the context of progress on these issues.  And, in private, we should also make clear that if things don't get better it may become politically impossible for the President to attend the Games.  Playing the boycott card is serious business, and getting the timing right and maximizing leverage, either way, is key.

We also need to recognize that change is going to come not because of our asking for it or demanding it, but because China and China's leadership recognize that it is in their own best interests to change. Navigating the domestic politics of Tibet is tricky business for the Chinese leadership, and while there may be those who are pushing for even more repressive measures, so too are there those who understand and appreciate that it is in China's own interests to get Tibet right.

The frustration of those who want to see immediate results is real and understandable. But not calling for a boycott now should not be mistaken for a formula for simply rolling over and giving up, or of placing Mammon before Buddha.   A moral US foreign policy towards China should not be one that scores debating points at the expense of progress, after all; rather it should be a pragmatic approach that recognizes where leverage is (and where it is not) and works steadily to advance human rights, civil society and political pluralism – none of which, sadly, are likely to happen overnight.

Right now the challenge is to take advantage of a moment when the world's attention is focused on Tibet and to see if we can use it to develop dialogue and genuine reconciliation between the Tibetans and the Chinese.  Humiliating China won't help that happen, just as neither will acting as if nothing is wrong.   But the real choice is not between a calling for a boycott or doing nothing.  It is between taking advantage of our leverage over the next few months and seeking to encourage China to do what is both right and in their interests or, with an empty and possibly counterproductive gesture, forfeiting it.

The Boiling Point
Posted by Shadi Hamid

How you feel about the following YouTube video probably says something about how you feel about the broader effort to promote Middle East democracy. Watch this and it may become clear to you. My own sentiments were clarified. The Egyptian people, as it is often said, are cautious, "passive," and not particularly prone to taking to the streets. But this may be changing. The scene below is remarkable. In a society where every word and move is permeated with fear, here you have a significant number of people in full public view making their anger known, doing something very, very dangerous. It is also perhaps a signal of the unfolding tragedy to come. Meanwhile, America watches and does nothing. When the boiling point comes (and, unless you think dictatorship is permanent, it will), it will likely be too late. But it is not too late yet. There is still time to act.


April 15, 2008

Frank Jannuzi: Alternative to a boycott - Go to Tibet
Posted by The Editors

(This post is by Senate staffer Frank Jannuzi, these are his personal views)

In response to the recent unrest in Tibet, there have been calls for world leaders to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympics or to skip the Olympics altogether.  Setting aside whether one’s mere attendance at the Olympics would indeed convey approval, I believe that calls for a boycott are unwise and will backfire.  This kind of gesture might make us feel good for a day, but will do nothing to advance the cause of human rights in Tibet or elsewhere in China.  That is why the Dalai Lama has consistently argued in favor of engagement and dialogue with China, and why even now he continues to advocate attendance at the Olympics.  The Dalai Lama’s pragmatism is the result of his experience. China’s mistreatment of the Tibetan people did not start last March 10, and it will not end after the Olympics are over.  The boycott movement reflects the pressures of the news cycle and the Presidential campaign, not a strategic plan for how best to advance human rights in China.   

Alternatives to the Boycott:

The same forces that have expanded civic space and human rights in China over past 30 years – even in Tibet – are still at work today.  A boycott will weaken, not strengthen the advocates of reform inside China, by aligning them implicitly with Western forces intent on “humiliating” China.  It will be used by China’s leaders to stir nationalist passions, which already run strong in China.  We should scrutinize China’s conduct in the appropriate venues, including the UN Human Rights Council.  We should invest in rule of law, civil society, press freedom, and transparency programs in China.  We should visit with Tibetans (including welcoming the Dalai Lama in Washington), and when we go to China we should raise our concerns, meet with dissidents, and visit Tibet (and other minority regions) to investigate conditions there. 

But we should avoid demonizing China’s leaders and backing them into a corner.  We should not let them blame us for spoiling their Olympics.  They are doing a good job of it all by themselves. 

China experts weigh in on Olympics-Tibet controversy here at DA
Posted by The Editors

In the days ahead, Democracy Arsenal will be hosting a discussion between various China experts to discuss the appropriate American reaction to the controversy surrounding China's hosting of the Olympics. Congressional staffer Frank Jannuzi, writing in his personal capacity, will start us off.

The DA John McCain Economic Doozy of the Day
Posted by Michael Cohen

I had a chance to read over John McCain's speech today on the economy and this one line really jumped out at me:

As president, I will also order a prompt and thorough review of the budgets of every federal program, department, and agency. While that top to bottom review is underway, we will institute a one-year pause in discretionary spending increases with the necessary exemption of military spending and veterans benefits.

If there was an award for meaningless policy initiatives - this one would certainly receive the gold medal. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities helpfully reminds us in the chart below the fold discretionary spending is a tiny part of the federal budget - approximately 18% and that includes the veterans benefits that McCain declared exempt from his one-year pause. Indeed the biggest "discretionary" chunk of the federal budget is the rising defense budget, which is now approaching levels not seen since World War II. If John McCain is really serious about instituting fiscal sanity in Washington getting defense spending under control would be a pretty good place to start, which makes the next line of his speech that much more astounding:

"Discretionary spending" is a term people throw around a lot in Washington, while actual discretion is seldom exercised. Instead, every program comes with a built-in assumption that it should go on forever, and its budget increase forever. My administration will change that way of thinking.

Well actually no they won't.

Now some of you may be wondering about Social Security and Medicare, which make up nearly half the budget - does John McCain have a plan for dealing with them? Well yes he does, sort of:

For years, Congress has been buying time, and leaving the great challenge of entitlement reform for others to deal with. And now the two contenders in the other party have even proposed enormous new federal commitments before the old commitments have been kept -- trusting that others, somewhere down the road, will handle the financing and make all the numbers come out right.

But there will come a day when the road dead-ends, and the old excuses seem even more hollow. And it won't be the politicians who bear the consequences. It will be American workers and their children who are left with worthless promises and trillion-dollar debts. We cannot let that happen. And you have my pledge: as president I will work with every member of Congress -- Republican, Democrat, and Independent -- who shares my commitment to reforming and protecting Medicare and Social Security

And . . . if you're waiting for more here, sorry that's it. And if you go to the issues section of McCain's website to find out what his position is on reforming and protecting Medicare and Social Security there is nothing. Indeed, McCain has an entire section on the "Second Amendment" and the "Space program" but nothing on his plan for dealing with entitlement programs that make up 42% of the federal budget.

A couple of months ago, McCain had the temerity to call Barack Obama's campaign "platitudinous." Mr. McCain . . . meet the kettle.

Continue reading "The DA John McCain Economic Doozy of the Day" »

How many “gaffes” equal incompetence?
Posted by Moira Whelan

John McCain screwed up on Foreign Policy 101 AGAIN. Yesterday at the AP annual meeting, McCain said he would defer any decision to General Petraeus over whether troops should be shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan in order to intensify the search for Osama bin Laden. Only problem is that this is not Petraeus’s job, as he has stated before.

By my count, this makes 6 times this month that McCain has screwed up basic foreign policy facts…the other 5 being various conflations of who exactly is fighting in Iraq.

As Hertzberg says today: It’s easy to say one word when you mean to say another, nearly identical word, but it’s impossible to repeatedly misspeak an entire anecdote—or, as in McCain’s case, an entire strategic reality.

Couple that with remarks made by leading conservative thinkers in the New York Times last week. They claim that McCain “is not as fully formed on his foreign policy as his campaign advisers say he is, and that while he speaks authoritatively, he operates too much off the cuff and has not done the deeper homework required of a presidential candidate.”

This is not deep homework, and has nothing to do with running for President. For John McCain to make this many mistakes while holding an important national security post as Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee is simply unacceptable. These types of mistakes would prevent John McCain from getting a job as a research assistant at any think tank in DC, let alone delivering anything resembling a responsible foreign policy as president.

The brilliant minds of the punditry seem content to ignore this pattern or question it in any way, despite the fact that McCain is repeatedly screwing up the very platform upon which he claims to run. I’m all for having a healthy conversation about why McCain makes these mistakes, but the first step is admitting that it is wrong, irresponsible, and unacceptable. It is the "job" after all of talking heads to hold our leaders accountable. This is much more than a “gaffe.” This is demonstrated and repeated incompetent behavior that has very real consequences.

I, for one, am pretty bitter that it's not getting any airtime.

Incoherent Iran
Posted by Patrick Barry

I'm not going to dole out judgment on whether supporting proxy groups against Iran is a good tactic for the United States - it may be that shadowy organizations like the PEJAK or the Mujahedin Khalq are vital to our interests, if our objective is to simply exercise a deleterious influence on the Iranian government.  But, if our aim is to moderate the regime, or bolster moderate elements within Iranian society, then supporting Marxist, or terrorist elements may not be the best tact for us to take.  What would be nice, would be if we were to actually define for ourselves what we hope to accomplish vi´sive Iran, rather than the current approach, which seems to be some form of ill-defined maximalism. 

A "Good" Question
Posted by Michael Cohen

The continuing decline of Joe Lieberman into embarrassment and self-parody continues. Here is the "Independent Democratic" Senator on Fox:

NAPITALIANO: Hey Sen. Lieberman, you know Barack Obama, is he a Marxist as Bill Kristol says might be the case in today's New York Times? Is he an elitist like your colleague Hillary Clinton says he is?

LIEBERMAN: Well, you know, I must say that's a good question. I know him now for a little more than three years since he came into the Senate and he's obviously very smart and he's a good guy. I will tell ya that during this campaign, I've learned some things about him, about the kind of environment from which he came ideologically. And I wouldn't...I'd hesitate to say he's a Marxist, but he's got some positions that are far to the left of me and I think mainstream America.

Off the bat, let's just make clear that there is nothing about this question that can be characterized as "good." It's quite clearly a "gotcha" question intended to propagate the notion that Barack Obama is a Marxist or possibly an elitist. It is quite simply a disgusting and contrived political attack -- and I wonder how Joe Lieberman would respond if someone alleged that John McCain was a "fascist." Do you think he would characterize that as a "good question?"

Yet in fairness Lieberman did make clear that he would only "hesitate" to call Barack Obama a "Marxist" so at least there is some wiggle room. That notwithstanding, I wonder what "positions" Obama has taken that Joe Lieberman thinks "are far to the left" of mainstream America. Could it be Obama's endorsement of a single payer health care system; his call for massive tax increases and the redistribution of wealth; or maybe it's his rabid support for gay marriage - oh wait a minute, Obama doesn't support any of those "far left" proposals.

Hmm, well I guess it must be Obama's opposition to the Iraq war. But of course with nearly two-thirds of Americans opposing the war in Iraq the person most "out of touch" with mainstream America would actually be . . . Joe Lieberman.

April 14, 2008

What Ilan Said
Posted by Michael Cohen

Allow me to take a moment to second Ilan's frustration over recent campaign coverage.

While I understand the fate of the republic relies on whether Barack Obama said working class folks in PA are bitter or not, but I am simply amazed that we are spending so much time on a two-sentence line in a fundraising speech when there is Republican candidate for President running around the world repeatedly confused about whether Al Qaeda is a Sunni or Shiite organization. Examples, here and here.

One would think this might be a bit more important and speak more accurately to one's ability to be an effective commander-in-chief; but then what would I know I'm just an effete, elitist Democrat.

Campaign Coverage Is Really Stupid
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

We've had a fascinating media window for the past few weeks.  We go from two straight weeks of relatively comprehensive Iraq coverage with the Petraeus-Crocker hearings and the situation in Basra back to the final stretch of the Pennsylvania primary.

Last week we were debating Iran's role in Iraq, what the Basra offensive means, the pressure that Iraq is putting on our military, and how it is harming our overall national security.  This week we're debating bitterness and orange juice. 

The contrast really puts into stark relief how absolutely moronic campaign coverage has become.  I was totally fixated by this crap between January 1 and March 4.  But I'm done.  The campaign has jumped the shark.  Can we just take a few months off and get back to it in late August.

Resetting the Force
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The GAO has a new report out that estimates that it will cost at least $190 billion over the next few years to restructure the Army.  Of this $118 billion is for equipment that has been lost or damaged in Iraq and Afghanistan (Mostly Iraq).   To put that in some perspective, we spend $10 billion a month in Iraq.  So this is the equivalent of another year's worth of spending, once the war is over.

What's Good for the Goose
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Something we already expected, but the Security Framework Agreement will in fact be subject to approval by the Iraqi Government.  Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari seems to have the right idea.

"There isn't any hidden agenda here. This agreement will be transparent, it has to be presented to the representatives of the Iraqi people, the parliament, to ratify it," he said.

"I'm sure there will be some heated political debate when we come to that but I think on the other hand there is a strong will by the mainstream leadership in this country that this is for Iraq's good. We need that continued engagement."

Obviously the Bush Administration doesn't have this point of view since it hasn't even shared a draft of the document with Congress and doesn't think the agreement needs to be ratified. 

The idea that this won't impact the next President's Iraq policy is bogus.  From a technical legal perspective the U.S. can back out at anytime, but that holds true for most international agreements.  It's not really healthy to start a new Administration by going back on previous agreements, especially one that has been publicly debated in the Iraqi Parliament and has gotten this type of publicity.  I'm not worried about a new Democratic President keeping 140,000 troops in Iraq because of this agreement, but I am worried that this will only further raise the costs of leaving, which seems to be part of the Bush Administration's policy.  It's not about establishing a long-term relationship for the next President, it's about making it as difficult as possible for the next President to exit. 

Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Spencer Ackerman has moved Too Hot for TNR over to Think Progress where he has a new blog cleverly named Attackerman.  As far as I'm concerned a smart move for both Spencer and Think Progress.  Anyway, read Spencer's stuff.  It's really smart, really funny, and very good on foreign policy.

The Muslim Brotherhood writes an op-ed in the Forward
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I hadn't seen this when it came out last week, but it's still worth pointing out. In a post a few months ago, I pointed out that Ibrahim el-Houdaiby was, to my knowledge, the first Muslim Brotherhood member to publish in the Forward, the prominent American Jewish newspaper. Well, now, Esam el-Eryan, possibly the most well-known figure of the Brotherhood's moderate wing, is the second MB member to write a Forward op-ed.

Again, I think this is a big deal. It shows that there are Islamists out there who are willing to reach out to the Jewish community and, moreover, willing to entertain the possibility of rapprochement with Israel. This is an important development. Islamist parties - as well as many secular-leftist groups - are virulently anti-Israel, and have for the most part refused to recognize Israel's right to exist. However, based on private conversations with various Islamist leaders, there are more than a few who have indicated their (potential) support for a peaceful two-state solution where Israel and an independent Palestinian state would live side-by-side in peace.

Of course, this is not a position they want to take prominently or publicly since it would alienate their rank-and-file supporters as well as deprive them of one of their trump cards against Arab dictatorships like Egypt and Jordan which have peace treaties with Israel. On the other hand, some Islamist leaders have gone on-the-record with me, as well as with other researchers, regarding their willingness to accept a two-state solution. Even as an organization, the Brotherhood, in its 2004 reform initiative, affirms its "respect of international laws and treaties," which is the code they often use for saying they'll accept Camp David without actually saying they'll accept it.

This is a topic for another post, but Israel is one of the fault lines within the Muslim Brotherhood. Some prominent members have threatened to resign if the Brotherhood ever decides to recognize Israel (as it would have to if it it came to power). In Jordan, a contentious issue within the Islamic Action Front - the political wing of the Jordanian branch of the Brotherhood - has been whether the party should participate in governments that have diplomatic relations with Israel. Some prominent members have left the organization over this matter.

Continue reading "The Muslim Brotherhood writes an op-ed in the Forward" »

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