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June 21, 2008

Zakaria on Iraq
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Zakaria has suggestions for Obama's next speech on Iraq.  I think this is pretty much on the money

June 20, 2008

The FISA Compromise
Posted by Michael Cohen

As many of you know Congress yesterday reached a compromise on revamping domestic-spying rules.  The liberal blogosphere has been in a twitter about the issue of retroactive immunity for telecom companies. Personally I'm with Phil Carter on this one:

Absent negligent or intentionally wrong behavior by government contractors (in this case, telecommunications companies), we should not haul these companies into court over these programs. Decisions about surveillance are made by the government -- not the telecommunications companies. And to a large extent, because they operate in such a regulated field, these companies have very little choice about whether and how to cooperate with government surveillance requests.

While I would have preferred that the court ruled on the legality of these lawsuits with a cap on damages, I've always thought the retroactive immunity issue was being made into a mountain out of a molehill.

Phil Carter is correct; these companies were under enormous pressure to cooperate with the government and in the days and weeks after September would, I imagine, have felt little option but to cooperate fully. That doesn't necessarily make it right, but certainly understandable. I've never understood the fixation many have on making these companies scapegoats when ultimate responsibility must lie with the executive branch.

In an ideal world these cases would have been adjudicated in a federal court, but I think we all have to recognize that Congress never would have passed a FISA bill before August that didn't have some form of retroactive immunity. The White House and Republicans in Congress were never going to go along with that. So to call this a capitulation or a caving is just misplaced hyperbole. Allowing FISA to expire in August over retroactive immunity is a risk that I don't think any Democrat would feel comfortable supporting - especially if they're up for election.

I'm not saying this deal is what I would prefer in an ideal world, but at some point there needs to be compromise and an acceptance of political reality. George Bush's approval ratings may be at 25% but he is still the President and he still maintains a veto pen.

This was the best deal Democrats were going to get and by focusing exclusively on the supposed "cave" of Democrats we might miss the fact that the bill undercuts the White House argument that the executive branch has the constitutional authority to ignore the FISA court and returns to the judicial branch exclusive oversight over domestic surveillance.

After what we've seen the past seven years that strikes me as a worthwhile and important concession from the Bush Administration. (And yes I am well aware of the fact that this was the law of the land for the past 30 or so years before the Bush Administration decided to abrogate it. And yes, I will slam my head against a wall after I write this post).

I think Adam White over at Slate defines the agreement well:

Both sides got something, and both sides gave up something. Indeed, it looks like an ordinary civil-suit out-of-court settlement: 

The Bush administration thought that its surveillance activities were lawful under the Constitution, the AUMG, and FISA itself, yet it agreed to bind itself to these new FISA procedures in order to eliminate the inter-branch equivalent of litigation risk. The president gave up discretion and gained certainty.

Similarly, Congress thought that its reading of FISA's applicability was the better one, yet it settled in order to eliminate the same "litigation risk." Congress got the president to commit to following these procedures, in order to maintain some degree of legislative and judicial involvement in the process.

Again, this would not be my dream deal - and if George Bush was spending more than the next 7 months living at Pennsylvania I would be far more concerned, but since neither Barack Obama nor John McCain seem to adhere to the unitary executive model, I think this is probably a pretty good compromise to build off.


John McCain on Diplomacy
Posted by Michael Cohen

So today John McCain has an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press that extols the virtues of the U.S.-Canada relationship, because there is no surer way to make Michiganders swoon then to pen an 800-word love letter to Ottawa. Oh, Canada. . . . indeed. 

I recommend all DA readers take a look at this piece because, honestly, they got some real wordsmiths over at McCain campaign headquarters. Take this poetry, for example:

Canada and the United States have a shared destiny. We are both continental powers, nations shaped by our diverse heritage and our frontier experience. We are also both Arctic nations. And because of this common geography, we must be acutely aware of the perils posed by global warming and take immediate steps to reverse its effects.

Shared destiny? We are both Arctic nations? And shouldn't all countries, regardless of geography, be worried about GLOBAL warming. OK, I'm off on a tangent. Let's get to my favorite part:

In countless areas of international security, from Afghanistan to Haiti to proliferation, our common interests require common action. Sen. Obama's take-it-or-leave-it approach to dealing with America's friends would not rebuild the alliance relationships we need.

On my watch, America will listen to the views of our democratic allies. When we believe action is necessary, whether military, economic or diplomatic, we will try to persuade our friends that we are right. But we, in return, must be willing to be persuaded by them.

"Take-it-or-leave-it approach!" (Honestly, after 8 years of the Bush Administration, do you think John McCain might be on shaky ground criticizing the 'take-it-or-leave-it' approaches to foreign policy coming from Barack Obama).

This coming from the man who wants to not only expel Russia from the G-8, but exclude China while adding Brazil and India, but who is also running around the country attacking Barack Obama for wanting to talk to Iranian leaders. Oh I'm sorry my bad, those countries aren't our friends. This is the 14-year old girl approach to foreign policy. If you're in my clique, we're BFF; if not, we're going to tease you until you develop an eating disorder (hat tip to Elaine Benes).

But how about our friends; in the run-up to the Iraq War McCain called our European Allies "vacuous and posturing;" he openly derided German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder as a modern "Rip Van Winkle" and accused France and Russia of putting "commercial interests" above "world peace." Is it any wonder why America needs to "rebuild" our alliance relationships?

Seriously though, what is a better approach to multilateralism than "we'll try to persuade" other countries of our rightness . . . try to take a guess, by the way, what happens when these countries are unpersuaded. Will America say "Okay" and slink back home? Or even better, "we must be willing to be persuaded by them." Jeez, how open-minded.  "Willing to be persuaded" now that is the beginning of a beautiful and respectful long-term diplomatic relationship.

Honestly, if John McCain wanted to pick up some votes in Michigan, it might have been best to shelve this piece and instead pen an 800-word love letter to Henrik Zetterberg. Now that would be some effective international diplomacy!

June 19, 2008

Pre-Iraq Mentality
Posted by David Shorr

I would like to take this unusual opportunity to charge two fellow DAers with being too soft on some of the bunk that tries to pass for political (and constitutional) discourse these days. The conservative lines of attack have gotten unbelievably shrill lately. So bad that I'm almost ready to welcome this Hennypennyism from the Right  -- AMERICA IS AT WAR! - PRE-9/11 MINDSET!!! -- rather than be offended by it. Frankly, the voting public should be offended by this stuff, because more than anything else, it's an insult to their intelligence.

Actually, I'll bet my bottom swing voter that they actually will be offended, or at least see right through it. For the simple reason that there is very little there; it is nothing more than a schoolyard game of who can beat up who. So Michael, I don't disagree with a word of your review of the relative merits of law enforcement versus military action in combatting terrorism. Except I no longer believe the Right is really making an argument for the military as a counterterror tool. Think about it, how often do we hear proposals from political leaders for how our military can and will win the war on terror for us. Should we're-fighting-them-over-there count as such an argument? Or is it really a last political stand for standing up to the bad guys, whatever bad guys, Al Qaeda, Iran, you know, bad guys?

Pre-9/11 mindset? Bring it on. In response, we should talk about a pre-Iraq mindset. I'd argue that America has learned something from difficult recent experience. Only those with a pre-Iraq mindset believe that the most important thing is to give sober warnings about the adversaries who want to harm us (is there another kind?) and melt them away with demonstrations of our strength and resolve. Only those with a pre-Iraq mindset believe the key is to lash out in some direction, any direction, with little thought to who they are, how they work, and what will work against them. Is somebody keeping track of how many different adversaries we've focused on in Iraq? Do we still believe that any action can be justified against terrorists, that nothing we might do undermines our own cause, that it doesn't matter how many new terrorists are joining the cause? For my part, I think the majority of Americans have a post-Iraq mindset.

Thank you, Adam, for noting some of the farcical elements of the response to the Boumediene decision. But let us linger a bit more on Justice Scalia's dissent. The opening section is a veritable catalogue of they're-really-out-to-get-us. My friends, this is not a debate about whether they're out to get us. Let it be stipulated: they are. The question of what to do about it is not part of the same question; it is a separate matter. Acknowledging the reality of the threat, which is undeniable, does not answer the question of how to respond. In fact, when treated that way -- as an automatic, unconsidered, contextless show of force -- it brings problems. What the terrorists do is their choice; what we do is ours. It's time to make the choices that stand the best chance of defeating terrorists, instead of making a spectacle of their evil. That is the post-Iraq mindset, and this debate will be won by seriousness over hysteria.

That Not So Wacky Kevin Drum
Posted by Michael Cohen

You know what's really annoying about blogging? You spend an hour or so writing something you think is interesting and borderline witty about the war on terrorism; and then you head over to the Washington Monthly and find that Kevin Drum has said the same thing, but far better than you did.

Damn you Drum!

So Barack Obama tells Jake Tapper that we can fight terrorists and follow the constitution at the same time ("for example, the first attack against the World Trade Center, we were able to arrest those responsible, put them on trial"), and we get the standard talking point reaction from the McCain team. You know the drill: naive, September 10th mindset, etc. etc. All the usual dumb little campaign comments.

But wouldn't it be nice if we could have a real conversation about this? We could compare, say, the amount of terrorism we've stopped via police work, intelligence, international cooperation, financial interdiction, and so forth, and compare it to the amount of terrorism created by our military intervention in Iraq. And then we could talk about how the real September 10th mindset is the one that says it doesn't matter what other people think of us because, you know, we've got the biggest military in the world and we can squash 'em all like bugs anyway. I say: bring 'em on. Let's talk about who's naive vs. who's learned some lessons from 9/11. The sooner the better.

June 18, 2008

That Wacky, Wacky Rudy Giuliani
Posted by Michael Cohen

Rudy, oh Rudy . . . how we missed you!

Those of who live in the world of snark are rejoicing today now that Rudy Giuliani has returned to the political arena as a key foreign policy spokesperson for the McCain campaign. Indeed today I was watching with the NSN staff as Rudy attacked Barack Obama for his "September 10th mindset" I wondered aloud if at any point Rudy Giuliani ever advocated bombing Al Qaeda . . . you know before September 11th. Turns out that the Washington Post has the goods:

Throughout his career as a Department of Justice official and federal prosecutor -- as well as for most of his tenure as New York mayor, which began shortly after the 1993 bombing, and ended just after the far more destructive 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center -- Giuliani himself viewed terrorism as just one part of a broader crime-fighting agenda. Again and again, he expressed confidence that Islamic extremism could be contained through investigation by local and federal law enforcement, and prosecuted in the courts.

As painful as it is to admit, the old Rudy Giuliani was right. One of the many tragedies of the post-September 11th world is the extent to which this largely correct view about how best to deal with jihadist terror has been replaced by a viewpoint that sees the brute use of military force as the primary tool for keeping America safe.

This is not to say that the use of force should not be a key arrow in our national security quiver. Indeed at the same time that the McCain campaign is criticizing Obama for his "law enforcement" approach to fighting the war on terror they seem to forget that their own candidate, not more than four months ago, attacked Obama for advocating military strikes against Al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan.

But as we've learned over the past seven years our military is a sledgehammer, when often a scalpel is what is needed in fighting Al Qaeda. Keeping AQ Khan in prison, securing Russia's nuclear material, supporting democracy advocates in undemocratic Arab nations, protecting the homeland, ensuring effective cooperation between all of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies and yes, even adhering to the rule of law by prosecuting terrorists can be as effective (if not more effective) in preventing the next terrorist attack. Raise your hand if you think the war in Iraq has made America one iota safer from jihadist terror.

When one considers how easily the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented by effective coordination among America’s law enforcement agencies, one can’t help but wonder whether treating the war in terror, in part, as a law enforcement issue might not have some resonance. In an era of asymmetric threats and non-state actors, the US military is not necessarily the best means of protecting America’s interests -- sometimes, it’s diplomacy, both private and public, as well as some old-fashioned police work.

These ridiculous attacks on a "September 10th mindset" only set back our efforts to deal forthrightly with terrorism. For all his bluster, if Giuliani had his way; the American people would be far less safe from  the terrorist threat. You know, maybe it's not so great to have Rudy back . . .

The Geniuses at the Washington Post
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The Washington Post Editorial Board really outdid itself today with an editorial page piece that essentially argues that America's entire foreign policy should be based on what the Maliki government and Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari wants us to do.  Of course it's important to take advice from allies and to get feedback from people on the ground, but it's also important to remember that Maliki and his allies have a vested interest in maintaining an unconditional commitment of American forces to Iraq, while they continue to dither along on critical political questions such as the integration of the Sons of Iraq into the Iraqi Security Forces, agreements on sharing oil revenue, agreement on the status of Kirkuk, and other key political questions. 

Perhaps our decisions on troops should be based on America's interests not Iraq's interests?  You know, like the fact that things in Afghanistan seem to be deteriorating further with the recent prison break near Kandahar.  Or that our military is under severe strain?  Just a thought.

The post also quotes Zebari as saying that "there would not be much difference" between Obama and McCain.  But let's be clear.  Obama wants to eliminate the moral hazard that the Post is pushing for by setting a responsible timeline for the withdrawal of American forces and making very clear that if Iraqi politicians want more American support they must step up and take responsibility for a political solution.  According to the article he specifically told this to Zebari.  McCain is advocating keeping American troops in Iraq no matter what and thus putting little real pressure on the Iraqis to come to a political accommodation, while American troops continue to backstop their internal political fights.  That's a big difference.  A huge difference. 

June 17, 2008

Third term
Posted by Max Bergmann

Elisabeth Bumiller has a fairly bland run down of the similarities and differences between McCain and Bush but she gets to the right place when she concludes that - well he's the same as Bush:

A look at Mr. McCain’s 25-year record in the House and Senate, his 2008 campaign positions and his major speeches over the last three months indicates that on big-ticket issues — the economy, support for continuing the Iraq war, health care — his stances are indeed similar to Mr. Bush’s brand of conservatism. Mr. McCain’s positions are nearly identical to the president’s on abortion and the types of judges he says he would appoint to the courts.

Right - so on economic issues, the biggest foreign policy issue, the biggest domestic policy issue, and on social issues - McCain is clearly in line with George Bush. Yet Bumiller is still giving John McCain way way too much credit:

On diplomacy, Mr. McCain has regularly distanced himself from the go-it-alone unilateralism of the Bush administration...In the same vein, Mr. McCain has significantly broken with Mr. Bush on nuclear security policy. Unlike the president, he supports a legally binding accord between the United States and Russia on limiting nuclear weapons, the elimination of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, a strengthening of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, increased financing for the International Atomic Energy Agency and nuclear talks with China.

This is a case where a reporter is simply regurgitating campaign rhetoric without thinking. Can someone please explain to me how John McCain plans to kick Russia out of the G-8, move forward on national missile defense, and still plans on establishing good trusting relations with Russia on nonproliferation that will lead to a mutual reduction in both of our nuclear arsenals. THESE ARE CONTRADICTORY VIEWS and together these views represent a completely incoherent vision on foreign policy.

Additionally, how McCain can be called more favorable toward "diplomacy" than George Bush when he is not in favor of diplomatic talks with Iran or Cuba, adopts a more hardline approach toward North Korea, is in favor of kicking Russia out of the G-8, repeatedly belittled our European allies in the run-up to the war in Iraq and has hardly been an advocate of the UN. That is certainly not the record of someone who believes in diplomacy.

All of this being said - Bumiller manages to miss the biggest reason why McCain will be a continuation  of George Bush - McCain adamantly adheres to the neoconservative vision of foreign policy. In fact as the Economist noted in 2002, John McCain had George Bush's foreign policy before George Bush. This is not just some campaign line - it happens to be the truth.

Drug Testing
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

You really can't make this stuff up.

The government is testing drugs with severe side effects like psychosis and suicidal behavior on hundreds of military veterans, using small cash payments to attract patients into medical experiments that often target distressed soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, a Washington Times/ABC News investigation has found.

June 16, 2008

"Keep Khan in Prison"
Posted by Michael Cohen

If you live in a major American city and are the slightest bit fatalistic you may want to skip this piece that appeared over the weekend about the latest in the A.Q Khan investigation - in case you've forgotten Khan is the Pakistani nuclear scientist accused of selling nuclear secrets to the highest bidder:

Four years after Abdul Qadeer Khan, the leader of the world’s largest black market in nuclear technology, was put under house arrest and his operation declared shattered, international inspectors and Western officials are confronting a new mystery, this time over who may have received blueprints for a sophisticated and compact nuclear weapon found on his network’s computers.

The blueprints are rapidly reproducible for creating a weapon that is relatively small and easy to hide, making it potentially attractive to terrorists.

Stories like these, besides serving as an important reminder about the threat that potentially exists from jihadist terror networks, are further evidence of the futility of the Iraq war and its supposed focus on stamping out the threat of WMDs being used against the United States.

The nuclear threat from state actors is certainly not insignificant; but it pales next to the threat of a rogue non-state actor developing the capability to produce a nuclear weapon or radiological device. Unlike rational state actors these folks may actually decide to use it! Indeed, that is the whole point of developing it; the same cannot be said of states. Since investigators still remain unclear on who exactly Khan was selling to, it may be impossible to determine into whose hands these plans may have fallen.

For all the focus on Iran's uranium enrichment program (or the ultimately non-existent Iraqi WMD program) this is the greatest immediate threat to America - and where the greatest systematic change in how America's assesses its foreign threats must lie. When the threat from a former nuclear scientist and his ring of conspirators may be more significant than the threat from a rogue nation like Iraq or Iran you know the world is changing. The fact that the Bush Administration has short-changed efforts to secure nuclear material, through programs like Nunn-Lugar is indicative of a flawed international mind-set that continues to wrongly view the world through a state-centric prism.

The threats of the 21st century are not going to come from foreign armies, but instead the netherworld of non-state actors armed with the information and tools to wage great destruction. Instead of our seemingly single-minded focus on Iran's nascent nuclear program, securing all nuclear material across the globe, particularly in the former Soviet Union, where hundreds of tons of nuclear materials remain vulnerable, would seem a bit more pressing.

In addition, ensuring that folks like AQ Khan never see the light of day might not be a bad idea. It's interesting, for all our focus on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda's top leadership, ensuring that Pakistan does not release Khan (as they are hinting they might) may ultimately do more to protect America in the long-run. "Keep Khan in Prison" may not be the most stirring slogan, but in the global climate of the 21st century, it ultimately could be most important.

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