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May 30, 2008

Incompetence or Worse?
Posted by Moran Banai

The press did an important service by spotlighting the issue of the Fulbright students that the U.S. was prepared to abandon in Gaza. Since Secretary Rice was taken by surprise when she was asked about the rescinding of the scholarships this morning, the State Department has back-pedaled, finding more money to replace the scholarships they had given away and implying that it was all the fault of the Israelis for refusing to grant the students exceptions to an almost-complete ban on travel from Gaza.

This claim contradicts a couple of lines buried in an AP story entitled “US predicts Israel will relent on Gaza students.” In the article, Anne Gearan reports that:

Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner said the current policy is to issue permits only in humanitarian cases and "students are not included under the definition of humanitarian aid."

But then she goes on:

Individual exceptions are made, Lerner said, and the United States did not specifically ask for visas for the eight Gaza students. The U.S. made the decision to cancel the scholarships without coordinating with Israel, Lerner said.

If this reporting is accurate,the United States did not even ask for the permits from the Israelis before deciding it would not be able to get them and giving the money to other students. This is a particularly salient possibility when you consider the 100 Gazan businesspeople who were able to attend the Palestine Investment Conference just last week. Their ability to get in and out of Gaza suggests that what is going on now was a choice on the part of someone at the State Department, not an inevitability. The fact that Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns, the third-ranking position at State, lobbied the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. on the question after the initial critical New York Times story and subsequent barrage of questions at the morning press briefing, suggests the same. It also begs the question, why wasn’t that call made before the money was reassigned?

Hopefully, the decision on the Fulbrights will be fully reversed and the students will be here by the time their courses begin. Yet even if it is, and they are, what happened should not, and will not, be quickly forgotten here, in Gaza or in the region. One can only hope that the State Department will learn its lessons well from this.

The Condescension of John McCain
Posted by Michael Cohen

John McCain screwed up today - he was wrong about the situation in Mosul and the number of troops currently serving in Iraq. But besides another in a steady litany of misstatements about Iraq, what I found most striking about McCain's response is its amazingly condescending nature. Take a look the statement from McCain about Obama's and John Kerry's response:

Clearly John Kerry and Barack Obama have very little understanding of troop levels, but considering Barack Obama hasn't been to Iraq in 873 days and has never had a one on one meeting with Gen. Petraeus, it isn't a surprise to anyone that he demonstrates weak leadership.

What informed people understand, John McCain included, is that American troops are not even close to surge levels. Three of the five Army 'surge' brigades have been withdrawn and additional Marines that were initially deployed for the 'surge' have come home as well -- the remaining two brigades will be home in July.

Talk about a political stunt, it's sending out campaign surrogates to parse words about a topic Barack Obama has no experience with, and has shown zero interest in learning about.

"Very little understanding," "what informed people understand," Obama has no experience," "has show zero interest in learning about" McCain's statement is just dripping with condescension - and considering that McCain clearly misspoke it is rich indeed to treat his opponent in such a haughty manner.

These words follow on the heels of a statement a few days ago about Obama's criticism of McCain's position on the Webb GI Bill:

Perhaps if Senator Obama would take the time and trouble to understand this issue, he would learn to debate an honest disagreement respectfully.

Now, it's not my place to give advice to John McCain but in any presidential campaign, ideas matter, but so of course does perception - and frankly McCain's spokesman (Tucker Bounds) comes across, with these words, as kind of a jerk. The attitude expressed here is just incredibly demeaning, dismissive and rude.

Now I understand that McCain is trying to demean Obama and his foreign policy experience but the way he's chosen to go about it is really not helpful.  Americans are generally not  supportive of presidential campaigns that are arrogant and condescending, especially when they are expounding a view (about the war in Iraq) not shared by two-thirds of them.

That's What I'm Talking About
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Yesterday I wrote a piece for the American Prospect on Soft Power and generally how Democrats talk about national security

Even more important than the specific wording is the manner in which the message is delivered. Poll after poll has found that when Democrats respond aggressively to claims that they are not equipped to defend America they are able to offset Republican advantages. In the run up to the 2006 mid-term elections when Republicans began accusing Democrats of being soft on terrorism because of their opposition to warrantless wiretapping, a Democracy Corps study found that the best response was to take the argument head on. What mattered was less the substance of the argument than the fact that Democrats were unafraid to defend their ideas.

Today's back and forth on Iraq is a perfect example.  Rather then back down when McCain
accused Obama of being inexperienced, Obama responded in kind by hitting McCain for his lack of knowledge.  John Kerry's statement was a textbook response:

Sadly it’s straight out of the Bush playbook that John McCain would propose a political joint photo-opportunity in Iraq, and then use it as a prop to raise a few campaign dollars even as he misstates the number of troops serving on the ground

Now, it would be great if this whole debate was a little more high-minded and I'd love to see Obama and McCain debating Iraq policy at a more substantive level.  But the point on national security holds.  When conservatives hit below the belt on national security, you have to hit back and hit back hard.

Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

This whole trip to Iraq / troop level spat etc...  is sort of silly.  But I gotta say that when McCain's Senior Foreign Policy Advisor Randy Scheunemann says:

The difference is so minuscule that I'm not sure it rises to the level of nitpicking.

Well, that's just blatantly insensitive.  That's 20,000 American troops and their families that you are talking about. 

A Question for John McCain
Posted by Moira Whelan

Given his current confusion over the number of troops in Iraq. I have a two part question for Senator McCain…

How many troops are in Afghanistan addressing America’s #1 security threat? How many troops was the Pentagon unable to send to Afghanistan due to the overburdening of the military in Iraq?

Hint: Ask Admiral Mullen.
Note to the McCain campaign: Present tense, please.

Eight Trips to Iraq...
Posted by Adam Blickstein

...and McCain still has no clue what's actually happening on there. Via Nico at Huffington Post:

Speaking about Iraq at a townhall event on Thursday evening in Greensdale, Wisconsin, Sen. John McCain declared, "I can tell you that it is succeeding. I can look you in the eye and tell you it's succeeding. We have drawn down to pre-surge levels. Basra, Mosul and now Sadr city are quiet and it's long and it's hard and it's tough and there will be setbacks..."

...Moreover, McCain's claim that Mosul is "quiet" was disproved earlier today in grim fashion. Three suicide bombings -- two in Mosul and another in a surrounding town -- left 30 Iraqis dead and more than two dozen injured, according to press reports.

Now it strikes me odd that if the media is going to echo McCain's challenge to Obama on the disparity in trips they've each taken to Iraq (8-1), that reporters wouldn't also challenge McCain's repeated displays of ignorance as far as what's actually occuring on the ground there.  Repeating the the claim that traveling to Iraq 8 times on sheltered CODELs equals transcendent knowledge of reality in Iraq is like me saying I've traveled to Tokyo because I ate Japanese food during a two layover at the Narita Airport while listening to the Lost in Translation soundtrack.  I agree with CNN's Michael Ware, one of the most in touch reporters in Baghdad, regarding McCain and congressional visits to Iraq (with the exception of Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed):

Well, in many ways, T.J., it's four words -- dog and pony show. I mean, you've got to give anyone credit who comes here at least trying to get the smell, the touch, the feel of this place. But you need to understand, as a visiting U.S. official, or even as a senior U.S. commander or embassy staffer, you are getting a very, very filtered version of the reality. The Green Zone and American bases are far divorced from life on the Iraqi streets.

And as genuine as U.S. commanders like to be with visiting delegations or anyone who is inquiring, they themselves don't always have a handle on what's going on.

Remember, we've had officials in this -- visiting this country before told that the insurgency is in its death throes. The American mission is turning how many corners, that there is no civil war or that you could walk the streets of Baghdad. All of which have since proven to be false.

...Well, it's still going to be, you know, a very sterilized kind of visit. But I mean, let's look at it from a different perspective. As you said yourself, T.J., what, Senator McCain has been here something like eight times. And Senator McCain gets it glaringly wrong quite often as well.

McCain's Trips to Iraq
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

It's important to remember a few things when looking at McCain's latest condescending challenge to travel to Iraq with Obama.

  1. This is a political stunt because there is no way the secret service would ever ever let this happen.
  2. As Michael Ware pointed out on CNN, you don't get a very genuine picture of Iraq from spending two days in the Green zone. 
  3. The last time John McCain was in Iraq, he confused Shi'a and Sunni and on numerous times claimed that Iran was training and Al Qaeda in Iraq forces, which makes one wonder about the value of this education.
  4. The time before that McCain embarrassed himself by traveling to a Baghdad market with 100 troops, 3 Blackhawk helicopters, and 2 Apache gunships to try and make a political point that he could freely walk around parts of Baghdad.
  5. If McCain is so concerned with talking to General Petraeus then maybe he shouldn't have missed his last two confirmation hearings and walked out pretty early from the Petraeus Crocker hearings last month.

It's also worth pointing out that the Democratic primary clearly played role in Obama's inability to leave.  If the primaries had ended after March 4 in Texas and Ohio, he probably would have taken a trip very similar to the one McCain took at the time.

May 29, 2008

Losing Hearts and Minds
Posted by Moran Banai

The New York Times just reported that the U.S. State Department has rescinded Fulbright offers to Palestinian students from Gaza and is “redirecting” the money to other students. State blamed the Israelis for not allowing the students to leave Gaza.

Canceling the Fulbrights is inexplicable. First, was the United States really incapable of working with Israel to get permission for several students to leave Gaza? The New York Times points out confusion among Israelis, with a defense official saying that education was not a humanitarian concern worth the risks associated with allowing the students out, while  the prime minister’s office asserted the opposite. Given that 100 Gazan businesspeople were just permitted to go to Bethlehem for an investment conference the U.S. strongly supported, it seems that had the U.S. made this a priority, the Fulbright students would be able to leave Gaza.

How is it that reaching out to the people of Gaza, and in particular to the best and the brightest of the young people in Gaza, is not a primary interest of the United States? If the U.S. and Israeli policies are premised on reaching out to and strengthening moderate Palestinians then how does this quote from Abdulrahman Abdullah, who was one of the students who was meant to get a Fulbright, fit into the equation?

"If we are talking about peace and mutual understanding, it means investing in people who will later contribute to Palestinian society … I am against Hamas. Their acts and policies are wrong. Israel talks about a Palestinian state. But who will build that state if we can get no training?”

Last October, Taghreed el-Khodary, the New York Times journalist in Gaza and herself a Harvard Nieman fellow, spoke to us at Middle East Bulletin about the situation in Gaza. She is on the committee to select Fulbright scholars and, at that point, last year’s group was unable to leave. She told us:

“When talking about Fulbrights – this is a very select group. These are the brightest students, with strong undergraduate records; they are generally among the most  open-minded too. They want to pursue graduate studies in the United States to continue  their education, and come back to work and change society here. They are the ones with the potential to make changes; and they want to better understand the U.S., and to have Americans better understand Palestinians. You know this is what Fulbrights are all about. And these people are missing this chance, entirely.”

For almost a year, Israelis, Americans and Palestinian leaders now in the West Bank seem unable to thread the needle between isolating Hamas and not isolating or punishing the people of Gaza. To provide the people of Gaza some reprieve without benefiting Hamas requires a secure means of manning the checkpoints that allow people and goods in and out of Gaza, for example, without giving up control to Hamas. It is difficult but possible and necessary to find a balance between protecting the critical security needs of Israel and the long-term interests of everyone in the region. To do this, the basic needs of the people of Gaza must be met, they must be able to see a better future on the horizon and we must demonstrate to them that we care about their present and their future.

What the United States has just done in canceling the Fulbright opportunities for these students says just the opposite on all counts. It is indefensible not to keep our commitments to these students and incomprehensible that this is not a primary interest of the United States.

Update: Secretary Rice says she hadn't heard about this and will "look into it." How did this not make it onto her desk before it happened?

May 28, 2008

Don't tread on me
Posted by Max Bergmann

Today is a big day for American soccer fans - especially for the Anglophile among us. The US plays England at historic Wembley in London today at 3pm (note to bosses: I am taping the game and will watch after work).

Having lived in England for a number of years and felt the complete and utter disregard of the US national team by the Brits, a good showing by the US national team would be particularly satisfying. The British press mocking of American soccer was particularly brutal during the 2002 world cup. The Guardian ran a fake transcript of what it would be like if an American announced an England game. The BBC mocked ABC's announcers - granted they were poor, and the commentators paid absolutely no attention to the U.S. team. Alan Hansen, a BBC pundit, as I remember, dismissed our chances in the round of 16 against Mexico - our arch soccer rival that we had not lost to for a number of years.  And when Nike came out with the "don't tred on me" ad invoking Tom Paine's revolutionary war pamphlet - it hit close to him. The US team after 2002 was looking for respect...

Unfortunately, 2006 did not go so well. But US soccer has made tremendous advances. Many more American players are playing in the top European leagues, a number of young American players appear to be budding stars, and the team has been playing well under Bob Bradley the last year and half. And with games coming up against Spain and Argentina in the next few weeks and the Confederation Cup next year the U.S. will have plenty of preparation prior to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

But this is England - and a chance to demonstrate to the nation that created the sport that the US team is no longer a push over - that we have arrived. One of the great things about being an American soccer fan is that we truly get to adopt that underdog mantra. As Steven Wells wrote in the Guardian a few years back,

Despite the fact that we've taken turns to run the world via vastly superior firepower, both Brits and Yanks desperately need to portray themselves as outnumbered and outgunned. We've got Rorke's Drift, Dunkirk and Arnhem. They've got the Alamo, Guadalcanal and dogfaces firing rifles at Tiger tanks during the Battle of the Bulge.

...The US men's team is an overdog in embryo. A glance at the stats (pro-soccer in the US is already better attended than in most European countries while the grassroots game continues to explode) tells you that the US will soon be a soccer superpower. And when that happens this intensely patriotic country will - for the first time ever - have a men's sports team that can consistently kick international ass (the US women's soccer team has been doing it for years). And that's not going to be pretty. There'll be nothing 'plucky' about it. Just the brutal application of raw demographic power...

In the 1760s Britain emerged atop the imperial dogpile as the world's undisputed heavyweight champion. And it felt kinda odd. The seeds of arrogant, triumphalist jingoism existed alongside a gnawing nostalgia (among intellectuals and writers at least) for the cocky, outgunned but ingenious little England of Drake and Raleigh. Of course this reverie was rudely interrupted shortly after when the cocky, outgunned but ingenious citizens of a new country called the United States of America pluckily kicked Britain's enormous new imperial nadgers clean off - but for a while the sudden loss of underdog status caused real pain.

I suggest US soccer fans enjoy being underestimated, derided, mocked and written off while they still can. It won't get any better than this.

Until then - don't tread on me.


Taking a Stand on Darfur
Posted by Moira Whelan

In a great (and rare) demonstration of political unity, Save Darfur launched a campaign today with the support of all three presidential candidates calling for an end to the violence in Darfur.

It's a great moment of bipartisanship...but not in the David Broder kind of way.

Well done, and hopefully this is just the beginning of an effort to promote a commitment human dignity around the world.

Watch the video here:

John McCain and the Iranian Hostage Crisis
Posted by Michael Cohen

If Ilan is upset about the coverage of John McCain's speech on nuclear non-proliferation then this little nugget might send him off the deep end. Usually, I don't post about events that happened two weeks ago (we like to be topical here at DA) but this quote from John McCain was so stunning - and so minimally covered -- that a few belated words are necessary.

The day of President Bush's "appeasement" address at the Israeli Knesset McCain was asked for a comment by the Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times. Here's what he had to say:

“Yes, there have been appeasers in the past, and the president is exactly right, and one of them is Neville Chamberlain,'’

“I believe that it’s not an accident that our hostages came home from Iran when President Reagan was president of the United States. He didn’t sit down in a negotiation with the religious extremists in Iran, he made it very clear that those hostages were coming home.'’

This is jawdroppingly inaccurate. Allow me to count the ways.

1) While McCain is technically correct that the "hostages came home from Iran when President Reagan was president" this happened literally on the day of Reagan's inauguration. Reagan played no role whatsoever in ensuring the release of the Iranian embassy hostages. Indeed the only reason that the return of the hostages was pushed back until after the moment of Reagan's inauguration was to embarrass President Carter.

2) Reagan "didn't sit down in a negotiation with the religious extremists in Iran." Well not really. Yes Reagan didn't literally sit down with them but he did send his national security adviser to meet with them and he did send the Iranian regime arms (remember that whole Iran-Contra deal). Indeed, in the nearly 30 years since the Iranian revolution no President has allowed for higher level talks between Iran and the United States than . . . Ronald Reagan.

3) McCain is seemingly oblivious to how and why the Iranian hostages were released - it wasn't through political posturing, or as he puts it, making clear to the Iranians "that these hostages were coming home" - it was through NEGOTIATIONS between President Carter, Algerian intermediaries and yes, the Iranian government.

It seems worth noting as well that during the Reagan Presidency a number of American hostages were taken by both Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas and Islamic Jihad in Beirut. Of the most prominent of these hostages, Terry Anderson, Terry Waite and Thomas Sutherland, none were released during Reagan's time in office and those hostages that were released received their freedom because of negotiations.

So not only does John McCain not understand the history of the Iranian hostage crisis, but he had drawn historically precisely the wrong conclusions from it.  I know that John McCain is a maverick and all, but increasingly on foreign affairs he appears to be a maverick from the truth. He doesn't know the difference between a Sunni and Shiite; he doesn't know that it's been US policy since 1980 to not have direct talks with Iran and now we see that he doesn't even understand what happened during the Iranian hostage crisis.

Things That Irritate Me
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

John McCain, a man with a long long record on national security, comes out and says some half reasonable things about non-proliferation and working with Russia and the press and foreign policy community simply suspend all disbelief and just swoon. 

Seriously, rather then just reading the speech one might consider the fact that this is a man who has actually called for kicking Russia out of the G8 and even in the speech yesterday continued to call for national missile defense -  something that would greatly damage any possibility for cooperation with Russia.  A man who has a long history of saying belligerent things about allies and foes.  A man who has joked about bombing Iran.  A man who voted against ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.  A man who has a long record of showing a penchant for using military force.  A man who with this type of history would be unlikely to achieve any of the main goals he seems to lay out in the speech

But instead you get all kinds of liberal foreign policy wonks saying nice things about his speech and ledes like:

Senator John McCain distanced himself from the Bush administration on Tuesday by vowing to work more closely with Russia on nuclear disarmament and to move toward the elimination of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.

Come on people a little reality check please.

Would McCain Talk to Larijani?
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Big news out of Iran today. Ali Larijani, Iran's  former head of nuclear negotiations and rival to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, became the Iranian parliament's new speaker today by a narrow an extremely wide margin. Larijani differs greatly from Ahmadinejad in demeanor, temperament, and some substance, favoring a more diplomatic approach on a host of external issues, including Iran's nuclear program in which he has favored a more inclusive approach:

Enmity between Larijani and Ahmadinejad runs deep. Larijani ran and lost against Ahmadinejad for the presidency in 2005. As Iran's nuclear negotiator he chafed against Ahmadinejad's belligerent international tone, which he complained undermined his talks with European leaders and international arms inspectors.

...European diplomats who have dealt with Larijani on the nuclear issue and other matters said he was far better informed and more flexible than Ahmadinejad's loyalists. He also appears to have Khamenei's ear. When Larijani quit as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator late last year over disagreements with Ahmadinejad, Khamenei's office intervened to have him stay on for a transition period.

As the article suggests, this portends a Spring 2009 showdown between the hardliners headed by Ahmadinejad and the realist/pragmatist wing lead by Larijani, who may have perhaps a tacit blessing, at the very least, from Ayatollah Khamenei, whom with Larijani is said to be a close follower.

Now Larijani is not an actor who would bring serious and needed reform domestically to Iran (while he was head of Iranian Radio & TV, he implemented cultural filters on foreign programming while also expanding Islamic broadcasting), but on the issue most salient to America's interests, Iran's nuclear program, he could represent a departure from Ahmidinejad's bellicosity. Though it's still extremely early (Larijani has already threatened to "review cooperation" with the IAEA after the UN body expressed concern over hidden information), Larijani's accession has the potential to create a new avenue for diplomacy, or at the very least, a greater likelihood of more high-level, back channel discussions.

With some Republican Presidential candidates wrongly asserting that Iran's President, not Ayatollah Khamenei, is the country's true political leader, would John McCain open the door towards diplomacy with Iran if a more conciliatory politician becomes President there? Or would a President McCain maintain his doctrinaire stance even if the political situation in Iran shifted, even if only in rhetoric and temperament?


May 27, 2008

If You Like Strategic Drift; You'll Love John McCain
Posted by Michael Cohen

Kudos to Max for making exactly the right point about McCain's foreign policy strategy - if diplomacy and "talking to our enemies" is off the table it clearly increases the possibility of using force in pursuit of America's foreign policy objectives.

But, there is even more nuance that needs to be explored in what McCain is suggesting. Over the last seven years, US interests vis-a-vis Iran and North Korea have suffered dramatically - and it's not necessarily because we haven't talked to them or because we've emptily threatened use of force; it's because we've largely done nothing. A McCain presidency promises four more years of this type of strategic drift.

Take North Korea for example, the Bush Administration strategy has been to hold its breath until Pyongyang halts its nuclear program. The North Koreans response has been "no thank you." And so what has the Bush Administration done about it - absolutely nothing. We've sat back and hemmed and hawed as North Korea went ahead and began reprocessing its plutonium fuel rods, built a nuclear device and then tested it. Not talking to North Korea and placing unmeetable demands on them has been an unmitigated disaster. If John McCain refuses to even countenance talking to North Korea - and if most everyone seems to agree that a military strike would be disastrous -- how will his policy be any different?

Same for Iran. The Bush Administration has rejected Iranian overtures and rattled sabers that few in the region take seriously. Today Iran is stronger than it was eight years ago and its influence in the region has grown. Again, how will a McCain Administration reverse this trend, short of war? If McCain has a strategy in mind he's keeping it well hidden.

There are many key tools and levers at America's disposal, from diplomatic suasion to improved bilateral relations, economic investment or in the case of North Korea, increased food aid, but those tools are largely useless if you refuse to engage with your interlocutors or if you place demands on them that they have no reason to accede to.

One of the lessons that the last eight years has taught us is that there are serious limits to US power. We simply can't demand that other countries bend to our will if it's not in their interest to do so. And if we continue to threaten the use of force and then do nothing, our enemies have even more reason to see us as a paper tiger. Now of course, McCain could reverse the trend by unsheathing the military against North Korea or Iran or Syria. I am skeptical that he will do so, but as Max points out it's a logical inference to make from his public proclamations. But the alternative scenario of doing nothing and continuing the same failed policy of not engaging our enemies is not much better.

Whatever course McCain chooses, it could be a disaster for American foreign policy.

When the last resort, is the first resort
Posted by Max Bergmann

One thing becomes clear in John McCain's speech - if he becomes President war with another country will be inevitable.

McCain made clear today that the United States will not talk to Iran or North Korea. Instead, he will pursue the Bush administration's policy line toward Iran, which has shunned diplomacy and, as the Washington Post explains, he will "return to Bush's original demand of a complete, verifiable, irreversible disarmament of North Korea's nuclear programs."

So John McCain has made clear that he will continue Bush's policy approach. But John McCain does seem to differ with Bush. He seems much more willing to use force.

McCain insists that:

"While the use of force may be necessary, it can only be as a last resort not a first step."

But what is the first step? Since McCain is not willing to negotiate with Iran or North Korea - what non-military strategies does McCain have to ensure that North Korea and Iran end their nuclear programs? The fact is he has no non-military strategy. His sole approach is to say to them: we demand you to stop doing what you are doing or else we will attack you and destroy you.

But does John McCain really think that saying this will lead to Iran and North Korea magically giving up their nuclear programs? Almost no one else does. And the fact is that such a confrontational and disengaged approach will essentially trap the U.S. into going to war - because when Iran or North Korea or insert country of your choosing, fails to comply with our demands, the only response left - ie the last resort - is military action.

The fact is that negotiations haven't tried and failed in the case of Iraq as McCain bizarrely alleged, they simply haven't been tried. And this is what is particularly scary about McCain's policy approach toward Iran and North Korea - he is willing to go to war again without negotiating with them. So When McCain says that the military option is the last resort. In fact, for McCain, it's the only resort.

Tommy Franks Was Right
Posted by Michael Cohen

Doug Feith has a rather "interesting" op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today in which he criticizes the Bush Administration's shifting rationale for why we went to war in Iraq. In particular, Feith highlights a speech given by Bush in the Spring of 2004, which focused on America's "democratic" aspirations for Iraq, rather than the original security rationale for. Feith views this is a "communications failure."

The most damaging effect of this communications strategy was that it changed the definition of success. Before the war, administration officials said that success would mean an Iraq that no longer threatened important U.S. interests – that did not support terrorism, aspire to WMD, threaten its neighbors, or conduct mass murder. But from the fall of 2003 on, the president defined success as stable democracy in Iraq.

This was a public affairs decision that has had enormous strategic consequences for American support for the war. The new formula fails to connect the Iraq war directly to U.S. interests. It causes many Americans to question why we should be investing so much blood and treasure for Iraqis. And many Americans doubt that the new aim is realistic – that stable democracy can be achieved in Iraq in the foreseeable future.

Maybe it's just me, but this is a bizarre formulation. The focus on creating a sustainable democracy in Iraq wasn't a change in communications strategy IT WAS A DRAMATIC POLICY SHIFT! Instead of declaring in the Fall of 2003 or the Spring of 2004 that our initial (admittedly flawed) rationale for going to war in Iraq -- ensuring that Saddam couldn't develop WMD, sponsor terrorism or threaten his neighbors -- had been met, the Bush Administration completely changed the metric for success and laid the groundwork for an open-ended military commitment. Indeed, Feith never criticizes the Administration for keeping troops in Iraq for more than five years in the pursuit of an increasingly amorphous "victory" - he criticizes them for how they communicated this shift.

Of course, Feith is right that the President shifted his rationale for going to war, but he seems oblivious to the real world consequences of this shift - not on public opinion, but on our actual military and political commitments to Iraq. Talk about missing the forest for the trees.

McCain’s Nonproliferation Policy—It’s a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Posted by The Editors

Our guest poster, Jon Wolfsthal is one of the best non-proliferation experts out there.  Here is his reaction to Senator McCain's speech today.

John McCain’s speech on nuclear weapons seems to adopt the narrowest of lenses in dealing with nuclear weapons.  Moreover, his proposals – many of which might sound good – don’t match up with other things he has said on nuclear weapons, on Russia, on Iran and suggests he doesn’t really get the complexity of these issues.  Lastly, the tone may be better, but many of the proposals—not to mention his language choices—are right out of George W. Bush’s play book.  This may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but it is still a wolf.

  1. He wants to work with Russia on arms control and tactical nuclear weapons, but he also wants to kick Russia out of the G-8.  Not sure how you get them to play nice on nukes after you kick them in the teeth.  Also, Bush adopted a loose standard on counting nuclear weapons and verification.  Will McCain (who is now working with John Bolton – father of Bush arms control dogma) be any better?
  2. I applaud his desire to get tactical nuclear weapons out of Europe, but if we pull nuclear weapons out of Turkey as Iran advances its nuclear program, they are not going to have increased confidence in NATO and the US.  This speech, and the references to it, will send shock waves through Europe and and a McCain Administration would start in a hole.
  3. He does not walk away from the new “reliable replacement warhead” being pitched by the Bush administration.  Lots of wiggle room for him, left there on purpose, I would guess.
  4. Why is only the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) going to review nuclear policy?  Where are the experts on nonproliferation, diplomacy, history, etc?  This is the same line the Bush administration gave.  In May of 2000, standing in front of Secretary Kissinger and other republican heavy-weights, then-candidate Bush said he would reduce nuclear weapons to the lowest number consistent with U.S. security.  Sound familiar?  McCain’s statement is almost an exact quote.  The JCS has set the current floor on reductions.  The President sets the war guidance for the level of nuclear weapons, and leaving it to the JCS is a recipe for the status quo.
  5. Did anyone else notice that McCain did not repudiate the policy of regime change? I know why Iran and North Korea want nuclear weapons.  Reducing ours will not get them to change their course.  Of course, singing “bomb bomb Iran” to the tune of “Barbara Ann” won’t do it either.  Is McCain really suggesting cutting our nukes will lead others to reduce theirs?  It’s the broader policy that needs changing, not just the number of nukes.
  6. Coming out of left field (or from pander-ville) is the remark about international nuclear storage.  It is possible that Russia might build a storage facility for countries in East Asia, but McCain seems to be suggesting some other country is going to accept our huge (the world’s largest) stock of spent fuel and that this might be a way to avoid opening the spent fuel repository in Yucca Mountain, Nevada.  Talk about pandering.  Who does he think is going to take our nuclear waste?  Even if someone would take it off our hands, the stuff contains about 100,000 weapons worth of plutonium that must be dealt with.  Does McCain really want to export that to a country poor enough to want into the nuclear waste storage business?
  7. Either you are for the ban on nuclear testing or you are not.  The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is the most studied arms control agreement in history.  It has been verifiable since the 1960s.  McCain voted against it.  To play the “let’s study it again” dance is too cute by half.  If the President does not support it, it is not going to happen.  Also, McCain seems to be suggesting we should re-open the agreement for new modifications.  That is the fastest way to kill it.  He also talks about limiting testing.  We want to ban testing.  We have more nuclear expertise than anyone – why we would want to make the world safe for others to test nuclear weapons is unclear.  Obama and Clinton have said they are for the CTBT and plan to fight for its ratification.  McCain has not.  The rest of the world – including the states we need on our side to deal with Iran and North Korea – are embarrassed that we have not ratified it.

McCain’s speech is a feeble attempt to try to tie all Republicans and Democrats into the failures of the Bush administration nuclear policies.  Before 2000, the US was on the right track.  The regime needed work, but was sound – more states had given up nuclear weapons and weapon programs in the 1980s and 90s than had begun them.  Now that track record lies in ashes – because of the Bush Administration approach, backed by a Republican Congress that killed the CTBT and sought to restrict funding for nuclear security efforts during 2000-2004. McCain is promising more of the same.

McCain apparently does not understand US policy toward Iran
Posted by Max Bergmann

In John McCain's speech today he says something very very puzzling:

Many believe all we need to do to end the nuclear programs of hostile governments is have our president talk with leaders in Pyongyang and Tehran, as if we haven't tried talking to these governments repeatedly over the past two decades.

So McCain thinks that the President of the United States has been negotiating with the Iranians for the past two decades? Huh? Does McCain not understand that the stated policy of the U.S. government since April 7, 1980 has been to NOT TALK TO THE IRANIANS. And that we have not negotiated with Iran over their nuclear weapons program.

McCain's Disjointed Russia Policy
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

OK, so John McCain is back to wishful thinking today laying out his bold new plan for stemming proliferation.  Obviously, reducing the stockpiles of nuclear weapons is critical to American and world security.  But his plan misses one slightly important detail.  The critical players in this field are obviously Russia and the United States – by far the two largest nuclear powers in the world.  McCain proposes a close working relationship with the Russians on these issues, and yet just two months ago in Los Angeles when he laid out his view of the world, he suggested tossing Russia out of the G8 – a needlessly provocative act that would essentially mark the start of a new Cold War in Europe.  On top of that he continues to support a regional missile defense system for Europe, which a crucial nuclear security concern for the Russians. Does he really think that he can alienate the Russians and at the same time get their cooperation on critical nuclear issues?  Is he that divorced from reality?  Or is he just ignoring what he said two months ago?  Either way, it doesn’t make much sense. 

Here is what he said two months ago at the Los Angeles Council on World Affairs:

We should start by ensuring that the G-8, the group of eight highly industrialized states, becomes again a club of leading market democracies: it should include Brazil and India but exclude Russia.  Rather than tolerate Russia’s nuclear blackmail or cyber attacks, Western nations should make clear that the solidarity of NATO, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, is indivisible and that the organization’s doors remain open to all democracies committed to the defense of freedom.

And here is what he is saying today:

As our two countries possess the overwhelming majority of the world’s nuclear weapons, we have a special responsibility to reduce their number. I believe we should reduce our nuclear forces to the lowest level we judge necessary, and we should be prepared to enter into a new arms control agreement with Russia reflecting the nuclear reductions I will seek. Further, we should be able to agree with Russia on binding verification measures based on those currently in effect under the START Agreement, to enhance confidence and transparency.

McCain’s basic plan is to slap the Russians smack across the face and then ask them for a favor.  Somehow I don’t think that will work.

McCain More Extreme Than Bush on North Korea
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So on top of North Korea McCain decides that on North Korea it's actually better to be more extreme than George Bush.  From 2000-2006 the Administration pursued a failed policy that got us no closer to eliminating the nuclear threat and actually ended with the detonation of a North Korean nuclear bomb.  Now McCain says he wants to return to that policy:

American leadership is also needed on North Korea. We must use the leverage available from the U.N. Security Council resolution passed after Pyongyang's 2006 nuclear test to ensure the full and complete declaration, disablement and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear facilities, in a verifiable manner, which we agreed to with the other members of the six-party talks.

Seems innocent enough, except it didn't work for six years and has now been dismissed by all but the hardest line Bush Administration officials.  Glen Kessler has more.

What is John McCain talking about?
Posted by Max Bergmann

I mean really - what is he talking about?

In the Wall Street Journal today, McCain and Lieberman write?

Top leaders in Asia have warned that a precipitous American retreat from Iraq would empower al Qaeda in its global terror campaign and badly undermine America's position in Asia. We should listen to them.

Which top leaders?  Who are they talking about? Do McCain and Lieberman realize that John Howard is no longer Prime Minister of Australia?

May 26, 2008

The Meaning of Service
Posted by Michael Cohen

Last week when the Senate was deliberating and extension of the GI Bill for Iraq War veterans, Senator Obama delivered a strong rebuke to Senator McCain's opposition to the bill. McCain responded by saying "I will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did." It's hard to do proper justice to the outrageousness and unseemliness of this attack.

Today, on Memorial Day, we rightly honor those who given their lives for our country. However, honoring their service should in no way diminish the millions of Americans who choose to serve in a myriad of other ways, whether as soldiers, teachers or diplomats.

John McCain is correct in one regard; Barack Obama did not serve in the military; but does this mean that he has no right to speak about issues affecting America's veterans? Most of his adult life, Barack Obama has "served" his country; as a community organizer, as a State Senator, as a US Senator and of course today as a candidate for President. The notion that because he chose not to enter the armed forces this would disqualify him from commenting on issues affecting the military is outrageous slander - but not just against Obama, but in fact every American who loves their country and cares deeply for its future.
What's more McCain's argument practically invalidates the very idea of civilian control of the military; one of the most time honored concepts of American democracy.

In recent years, service to one's country has become almost inseparable with serving in the military - as if the only way to be a true patriot is to take up arms and fight on its behalf.

But of course, those who love our country can choose to serve it in many different manners; and certainly Barack Obama's history of service speaks volumes, as too, of course, does John McCain's legacy of service. We are all humbled by the extraordinary sacrifices that John McCain has paid to his country (his bravery and courage in Vietnam, in the face of outrageous crimes, was both heroic and honorable).

But for McCain to use his record of service as a bludgeon against those who chose to serve their country in a different manner is unbecoming a man who aspires to run a federal government manned by public servants who do not serve in the military.

It has no business being uttered in a campaign for the nation's highest office.

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