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May 02, 2008

Brownstein to McCain: Explain Yourself on Iraq
Posted by Moira Whelan

In an article published today, Ron Brownstein addresses the fundamental issue surrounding John McCain's position on Iraq: the fact that he has not explained what his position is.

"McCain, under any interpretation of his words, is proposing another mission in Iraq--a long vigil--that would extend for decades. With the stakes so high, it's not enough for him to accuse critics of twisting his meaning: He needs to more clearly explain it himself."

McCain has pushed back against the use of his "100 Years" statement, and has compared US presence in Iraq to Korea. He's even gone so far to warn of chaos should US troops redeploy to address our security concerns elsewhere in the world. However, he has failed to state why US troops should stay in Iraq, and what they hope to achieve.

Brownstein methodically points out what many of us have been trying to say for a long time. If McCain expects to have a real debate on the most critical issue of our time, he needs to lay out what he intends to do.

I echo Brownstein’s thoughts that you can’t just criticize people for taking you out of context for repeating your “100 Years” remark when you have failed to explain what, exactly, your context is.

May 01, 2008

John McCain's Strategy for Invading Iraq WAS THE BUSH STRATEGY
Posted by Max Bergmann

John McCain likes to criticize the Bush administration for its handling of the first few months of the war, such as he did today implying that Bush should be blamed for bungling the early months of the war.

But while his most fervent supporters may believe that John McCain showed foresight prior to the war. The fact is that McCain didn't just support the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq. He supported its strategy and tactics for that invasion. From troop levels to Chalabi, to the coalition of the willing, McCain fully supported the Bush-Rumsfeld approach.

This shouldn't be of any surprise to anyone - except maybe the editorial page of the Washington Post. McCain was fully supportive of Rumsfeld's vision of military transformation which believed that high-tech advanced weaponry could make up for boots on the ground - therefore enabling a lighter invasion force. This warped view of military power - which completely ignored the aftermath of an invasion - was fundamental to the neocons belief that Iraq would be the first in a number of regime change wars. In fact, John McCain adopted this view during the 2000 campaign when he strongly advocated for an aggressive policy of "rogue state rollback." He also was totally on board with the concept of the coalition of the willing as he made clear during the 2000 campaign and in his repeated demeaning statements toward allies in the run-up to the war.

It is simply wrong for the press to allow John McCain to portray himself as a critic of the war from the outset. Only after everything went to hell with the Bush-Rumsfeld-McCain plan did McCain seek to disassociate himself from the Bush administration.

On Rumsfeld:
"I'm a great admirer of Rumsfeld
…I think the president is blessed to have two extremely talented people (Powell and Rumsfeld), experienced people, working for him, and others, but particularly those two.” McCain a year later said, "I have great respect for Secretary Rumsfeld." [MSNBC Hardball, 4/23/03. Charlie Rose, 4/19/04]

On troop levels:
"But the fact is I think we could go in with much smaller numbers than we had to do in the past. But I don't believe it's going to be nearly the size and scope that it was in 1991." [CBS Face the Nation, 9/15/02]

McCain rejected calls to get more international troops on the ground in Iraq. "I think that the only military presence required right now would be American and British." [MSNBC Hardball, 4/23/03]

On Chalabi:
“I think it's time to get them in. And I think that the transition to a civilian government… bringing Chalabi and, and the Iraqi National Congress as soon as possible and make the transition as soon as possible.” [ABC News, 4/9/03]

McCain met with Chalabi in front of the Pentagon in April 2003 on 60 minutes.
"Dr. Chalabi goes to Iraq; Pentagon promoting Dr. Ahmed Chalabi as a candidate to run post-Saddam Iraq, while CIA and State Department are working hard to prevent it

STAHL: (Voiceover) But Chalabi's supporters at the Pentagon say Iraq needs an exile like him because he understands how democracy works. And, boy, does he. Dressed more like a Washington lobbyist than a freedom fighter, he's spent years urging the US government to go after Saddam Hussein.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): How are you, Dr. Chalabi?
Dr. CHALABI: How do you do, sir?
Sen. McCAIN: Nice to see you again.
Dr. CHALABI: Nice to see you, too.
(Footage of McCain and Chalabi; exterior of Pentagon)  [CBS 60 Minutes, 4/6/03]

On allies:
McCain said France and Germany were “not our allies, they’re our adversaries.” “Well, it tells me that we have to get help wherever we can and there is no doubt that this is a bit of a come down for us. Yet I want to point out that the French and German reaction was absolutely predictable. And that is that they're being far less than cooperative. I'm sorry to say that they're not our allies, they're our adversaries. [Hardball, September 4, 2003]

Beyond Embarrassing
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Robben Island was no Guantanamo:

Nobel Peace Prize winner and international symbol of freedom Nelson Mandela is flagged on U.S. terrorist watch lists and needs special permission to visit the USA. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls the situation "embarrassing," and some members of Congress vow to fix it.

What might be even more absurd are some of the explanations and apologies for this farce:

Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., called ANC members' inclusion on watch lists a "bureaucratic snafu" and pledged to fix the problem.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says "common sense" suggests Mandela should be removed. He says the issue "raises a troubling and difficult debate about what groups are considered terrorists and which are not."

Ah, bureaucratic snafus, the sanguine explanation for all government incompetence.

April 30, 2008

Global terror increasing, says US state department
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Five years since mission accomplished in Iraq and instances of terrorism across the globe, according to the State Department, grew once again last year. While Iraq constituted 60 percent of terror-related fatalities globally last year (in 2006, before the surge, that number was 52 percent), and seemingly 99 percent of America's focus in the region, the report also contained yet another description of where the greatest threat actually exists:

"[al Qaeda] has reconstituted some of its pre-9/11 operational capabilities through the exploitation of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, replacement of captured or killed operational lieutenants, and the restoration of some central control by its top leadership, in particular Ayman al-Zawahiri," it says.

So while we continue to referee internecine violence in Iraq with 150,000 troops, al Qaeda reconstitutes itself along the Afghanistan/Pakistan frontier. Why, then, do we only have 27,000 troops in Afghanistan? Why do we spend nearly $100 billion less annually in Afghanistan than we do in Iraq? Why do we still lack a coherent strategy for dealing with Pakistan's tribal regions? And why does seemingly every report coming out from this Administration contain ominous warnings of a reconstituted al Qaeda, and yet the White House is doing nothing about it?

These questions are too important to remain unanswered. Perhaps the President's nominee for CENTCOM Commander might eventually provide some clarity...

John McCain’s “100 Years” putting the controversy to rest
Posted by Moira Whelan

Today, the Annenberg Center’s weighed in on John McCain’s “100 Years” in
Iraq comments, claiming that the use of the argument has been distorted. This is just the latest in a series of actions calling into question the use of McCain's remarks, but as the facts show, not only did John McCain say it, he was given repeated opportunities to clarify his position and instead repeated the refrain. If one digs deeper into the comments as the
Annenberg Center attempts to do, the facts show that John McCain meant exactly what he said. Further, it demonstrated a distorted view of the war in Iraq demonstrating his lack of understanding of the situation and a “policy” that is as reckless as George W. Bush’s.

I've looked at the whole situation after the jump.

Continue reading "John McCain’s “100 Years” putting the controversy to rest" »

Five Years Since "Mission Accomplished" Up Next: More of the Same
Posted by Max Bergmann

"Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed." - President Bush, 5/1/03

"I believe that success will be fairly easy." - Senator McCain, CNN, 9/24/02

It has been five years since President Bush declared victory in the battle for Iraq.  Today, with the same number of troops on the ground, 3,900 more US casualties, and no clear progress in sight, Senator McCain has tried to distance himself from the original Bush Administration strategy.  McCain claims he disagreed with President Bush on how the war should be fought, but five years ago John McCain was lined up squarely behind the President's ill-judged, reckless approach. Senator McCain argued that war would be "fairly easy" and that we would be "welcomed as liberators."  He dismissed concerns over a potential civil war and agreed with President Bush that we had enough troops to secure the country.  As things have gone badly, and public support has faded, McCain has called for more of the same - more troops, more time. His ill-defined approach says we cannot afford to fail, but fails to explain how to succeed. The reality is that there is little difference between John McCain and George Bush on Iraq.

John McCain Believed that the War Would Be Easy

"And I believe that the success will be fairly easy."
[CNN, Larry King Live, 9/24/02] "There's no doubt in my mind that once these people are gone that we will be welcomed as liberators." [MSNBC, Hardball, 3/24/03]

"I think the president has led with great clarity and I think he's done a great job leading the country."
[MSNBC Hardball, 4/23/03]

"I'm a great admirer of Rumsfeld."
McCain a year later said "I have great respect for Secretary Rumsfeld." [MSNBC Hardball, 4/23/03. Charlie Rose, 4/19/04]

"There's not a history of clashes that are violent between Sunnis and Shias. So I think they can probably get along."
[MSNBC Hardball, 4/23/03]

McCain described Iraq as a "magnificent victory." McCain said "And I think it's important to sort it all out. But, to translate that as the Democrats are trying to do, and some kind of attack against this magnificent victory." [MSNBC Hardball, July 23, 2003]

April 2003:  McCain was asked, "at what point will America be able to say the war was won?" He responded, "Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, I would imagine there'll be some die hards there that, but I think that we, it, it's clear that the end is, is, is very much in sight." [ABC, "Good Morning America," 4/9/03]

"But the fact is I think we could go in with much smaller numbers than we had to do in the past. But I don't believe it's going to be nearly the size and scope that it was in 1991."  [CBS Face the Nation, 9/15/02]

McCain rejected calls to get more international troops on the ground in Iraq. "I think that the only military presence required right now would be American and British." [MSNBC Hardball, 4/23/03]

Senator McCain Has Consistently Misjudged the Situation in Iraq and Presented Rosy Scenarios Although He Now Claims that He Always Opposed the Strategy

"I`m the guy that opposed Rumsfeld and supported this strategy, which I think would help them make a judgment, would help them make a decision about my judgment." [MSNBC, Hardball, December 19, 2007]

"We've seen a number of signs of progress, including that of the capabilities of the Iraqi military, agreement with the Sunnis as framing the constitution, a decrease in suicide bombers from Iraqis and more and more coming in from the outside. By the way, that's the good news and bad news piece of it.  And there is a legitimacy to the Iraqi government that, frankly, the government of South Vietnam never had.  So, I think that there is progress." [CNN, Larry King Live, 6/28/05]

"We've got to show some success there, and I think we can, and
I think we have, with --Elections are coming up on December 15th, where they'll have their own government functioning, and we are showing some progress in training and equipping the Iraqis." [FOX News, Chris Wallace Show, 11/6/05]

Exactly one year before violence in Iraq peaked:  "Overall, I think a year from now, we will have made a fair amount of progress if we stay the course."  [The Hill, 12/8/05]

As Iraq was heading into the peak levels of violence of 2006: "We are making progress. The formation of a government is helpful. We are training the Iraqi troops. There are parts of Iraq that are well under control and very peaceful. So it's a mixed bag here." [CNN, Larry King,  5/24/2006]

While violence in Iraq was still at its peak: "There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods, today." [Bill Bennett's Morning in America, 3/26/07]

"That was bad, I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E"
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Foreign Policy's blog yesterday cited possible pressure from Congress as a reason why the Administration leaked out more information tying North Korea to the now-destroyed al Kibar facility in Syria:

Many commentators have wondered why the Bush adminstration chose last Thursday, of all days, to disclose the intelligence community's findings on North Korea's nuclear collaboration with Syria. Well, Glenn Kessler and Robin Wright of the Washington Post have an answer:Key lawmakers nonetheless made it clear that unless the intelligence about Syria was described to them in detail, they would block funding for the deal and oppose a key waiver of a law preventing U.S. aid to a country that detonates a nuclear weapon.

This seems to be wrong for a couple reasons, least of which is a lack of Administration acquiescence to congressional intelligence disclosure demands in the past. In fact, in this instance, the revelations may further raise, not diminish, roadblocks to a congressional agreement on a North Korean disarmament deal (something the Washington Post piece acknowledges).  Nicole Gaouette of the LA Times described the dissatisfaction from leading Democrats and Republicans on Monday:

The allegations come as negotiations continue between the United States and other countries and North Korea over the dismantling of the Pyongyang government's nuclear program.

In exchange for North Korea abandoning its nuclear weapons program, the Bush administration has offered to ease sanctions on the isolated country and remove it from a list of states that sponsor terrorism -- steps that conservative lawmakers see as unacceptable concessions.

Hoekstra said he believed that the administration's revelations were an attempt to gain leverage in the talks, but that the strategy might backfire with Congress, particularly among those conservatives.

"I think the administration believes it will help them get to a deal with North Korea," he said.

"The timing of it, what information they released, what information they did not release and who they released it to, is going to make it more difficult for them to reach an agreement that will be supported by Congress and supported by the American people," Hoekstra said.

With all the multi-faceted story lines appearing in the press, it's difficult to truly know what is going on, but here is one theory: the Administration, or at least some in the Administration, actually want Congress to kill or substantially delay a deal with North Korea.

Certain hard-line elements in the White House knew that the intelligence disclosures would anger members of congress and possibly help derail or at least delay and agreement with North Korea. It would create a perfect storm of upset liberal and moderate lawmakers who cite the administration's lack of transparency as an excuse to delay any agreement with North Korea, and it would also embolden the conservative lawmakers who cite the intelligence as reason not to trust or deal diplomatically with the North Koreans. 

Certainly it is not out of left field to speculate that the more hard-line elements in the White House don't want any accord with North Korea, and while President Bush yesterday said disclosing the intelligence was meant to send a message to Iran and the world, perhaps it was really sending a subtle message to congress in order to destroy any deal with North Korea. 

An agreement with North Korea failing in Congress actually seems logical politically for the White House: It would make the Administration seem tough yet diplomatic, provide another talking point of derision against congress ahead of the elections in November, and from a hard-line policy perspective, North Korea would remain on the state sponsor of terrorism list and a pariah state that neo-conservative pundits and policymakers could cite as a continuing threat to global stability. 

April 29, 2008

I'm Not a Conspiracy Theorist, But...
Posted by Adam Blickstein

...some of this seems fairly compelling from the LA Times  (make sure to check out the photos at the link):

SYRIA: More questions about alleged nuclear site

Professor William Beeman at the University of Minnesota passed along a note today from "a colleague with a U.S. security clearance" about the mysterious Syrian site targeted in a Sept. 6 Israeli airstrike.

The note raises more questions about the evidence shown last week by U.S. intelligence officials to lawmakers in the House and Senate.

  1. Satellite photos of the alleged reactor building show no air defenses or anti-aircraft batteries such as the ones found around the Natanz nuclear site in central Iran.
  2. The satellite images do not show any military checkpoints on roads near the building.
  3. Where are the power lines? The photos show neither electricity lines or substations.
  4. Here is a link to a photo of the North Korean facility that the Syrian site was based on. Look at all the buildings surrounding it. The Syrian site was just one building.

The author of the note pinpoints irregularities about the photographs. Beeman's source alleges that the CIA "enhanced" some of the images.

Of course it is still somewhat unclear what exactly Israel bombed last year, as elucidated in the Washington Post:

At the same time, a senior U.S. official acknowledged that the U.S. intelligence experts had formally assigned only "low confidence" to the possibility that the site was at the heart of a Syrian nuclear weapons program, because it lacked basic components such as a reprocessing plant. The sole photograph shared with reporters depicting Syrian and North Korean officials together did not appear to be the Al Kibar reactor site...David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector, called the evidence on the reactor "compelling. But the lack of other facilities, such as plutonium separation plant, has to give pause before accusing Syria of having an active nuclear weapons program."

As usual with this Administration and intelligence, if you don't know what to believe, it's best not to believe anything at all.

UPDATE: So, according to President Bush this morning, disclosing dubious intelligence 8 months after the fact, and angering  Democrats and Republicans in Congress as well as the international community while doing so, is all part of a larger policy objective:

"We ... wanted to advance certain policy objectives through the disclosure, one would be to the North Koreans to make it abundantly clear that we may know more about you than you think," Bush told a White House news conference.

Ah, but as most things these days, it all comes back to Iran:

"And then we have an interest in sending a message to Iran and the world for that matter about just how destabilizing nuclear proliferation would be in the Middle East," Bush added.

I'm not sure all this "message sending" is really a viable way to deter nation's in the Middle East from pursuing nuclear capability. Maybe the White House should try using diplomacy instead of publicizing antagonistically questionable intelligence. Or at least give Facebook's new instant messenger application a shot...

April 27, 2008

My Head on the Sand
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Headsinthesandmattyglesiasthumbna_2 I’m lucky enough to be on vacation for the next few days, which means that I was able to sit in the sand today and devour Matt Yglesias’ excellent new book Heads in the Sand.  Go buy a copy!  It’s should be required reading for Democracy Arsenal readers.

Matt’s greatest contribution is his explanation of the politics of foreign policy since 9/11.  I would say that this is the definitive work on how the Democratic Party has reacted to security issues in the last six years.  There are very few people who actually sit at the nexus of foreign policy and politics and who can understand and explain the interplay.  Most are either too wonky or too political to do the topic justice, but Matt manages to do it and that is what makes the book so good.  I’m going to do a few posts on the book over the next week or so, especially since we here at NSN are all about the interplay of politics and foreign policy (And because I have the time since I'm on vacation.  Partially this will depend on how understanding my wife decides to be.) 

I wanted to start with Matt’s observation that Democrats are just too uncomfortable talking about foreign policy and instinctively fall back to other issues.  Democrats haven’t won a Presidential foreign policy election since 1964.  As a result, most Democratic political operatives have honed their skills winning elections based on domestic policy and don’t feel comfortable talking about foreign policy.  Whenever they can, they try to change the topic.  Matt lays out how Democrats tried to essentially take foreign policy off the table in 2002 and 2004 and how this approach blew up in their faces.  (You can’t take an issue off the table unless your opponent also wants to take it off the table.) By 2006, Democrats had mastered the art of attacking Republicans on the incompetent execution of Iraq, but they still hadn’t figured out how to articulate a coherent alternative. 

Enter 2008 and we are at it again.  The economy is in the tank and there is a real temptation to just ignore national security or use Iraq to emphasize the costs at home.  There is a debate right now within the progressive community and the Democratic Party about whether to focus on the costs of war or a broader national security critique. 

The problem with the cost of war message is that it lays out no vision of American foreign policy.  It in essence says:  “We’re not interested in foreign policy.  This costs too much and is hurting us at home.”  This is a classic Democratic attempt to shift a foreign policy issue back into a domestic issue.  The problem is that it doesn’t help you when the Administration shifts the conversation to Iran or begins tossing out accusations towards North Korea and Syria.  “It costs too much” is just not a very useful answer to “How do we keep the evildoers at bay?”

On the other hand, a comprehensive critique that focuses on how Iraq has undermined our security across the world and how a less reckless policy that involves focusing on the threats in Afghanistan and Pakistan, negotiating with adversaries such as Iran or Syria, working with others in the international community on common challenges such as our dependence on oil, and rebuilding our reputation, is a much clearer vision.  And guess what.  In this election, the polling seems to show that it actually works better

The economy will undoubtedly play a major role in the election, and there is nothing wrong with making the cost of war argument within the context of the domestic economic debate.   But it cannot define the Democratic foreign policy message.

McCain's New Cold War
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Fareed Zakaria makes the point that while the MSM is continuously obsessed with whether or not Barack Obama will or will not talk to piddling dictators such as Hugo Chavez, Raul Casto or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Who ironically isn't even a real head of state and wields marginal power), John McCain is off laying down the blue print for a new Cold War with Russia and China (You know countries with real nuclear arsenals - not just hypothetical ones).

In his speech McCain proposed that the United States expel Russia from the G8, the group of advanced industrial countries. Moscow was included in this body in the 1990s to recognize and reward it for peacefully ending the cold war on Western terms, dismantling the Soviet empire and withdrawing from large chunks of the old Russian Empire as well. McCain also proposed that the United States should expand the G8 by taking in India and Brazil—but pointedly excluded China from the councils of power.

We have spent months debating Barack Obama's suggestion that he might, under some circumstances, meet with Iranians and Venezuelans. It is a sign of what is wrong with the foreign-policy debate that this idea is treated as a revolution in U.S. policy while McCain's proposal has barely registered. What McCain has announced is momentous—that the United States should adopt a policy of active exclusion and hostility toward two major global powers. It would reverse a decades-old bipartisan American policy of integrating these two countries into the global order, a policy that began under Richard Nixon (with Beijing) and continued under Ronald Reagan (with Moscow). It is a policy that would alienate many countries in Europe and Asia who would see it as an attempt by Washington to begin a new cold war. 

Still, I'm sure this won't deter David Broder from continuing to talk about how awesome John McCain's foreign policy is, and how different it is from George Bush's.

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