Democracy Arsenal

« June 29, 2008 - July 5, 2008 | Main | July 13, 2008 - July 19, 2008 »

July 12, 2008

The End of the Green Zone?
Posted by Adam Blickstein

An increasingly emboldened Maliki government just dropped another bombshell:

The green zone of Baghdad, a highly fortified slice of American suburbia on the banks of the Tigris river, may soon be handed over to Iraqi control if the increasingly assertive government of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, gets its way.

A senior Iraqi government official said this weekend the enclave should revert to Iraqi control by the end of the year. “We think that by the end of 2008 all the zones in Baghdad should be integrated into the city,” said Ali Dabbagh, the government’s spokesman.

“The American soldiers should be based in agreed camps outside the cities and population areas. By the end of the year, there will be no green zone,” he added.

Now I know Maliki is just a "politician," but this coupled with the Iraqi government's previous statements demanding a withdrawal timetable for foreign troop is a real indication that the rhetoric is more than just political posturing.

July 11, 2008

A Mea Culpa on Iraq . . . Sort of UPDATED
Posted by Michael Cohen

Last weekend, as many of you remember, Barack Obama declared his intention to refine his Iraq policy. Rather absurdly this was characterized by some in the media and the McCain campaign as a flip-flop; but now I'm beginning to wonder - maybe Barack Obama should flip-flop on Iraq; and maybe progressives should support him if he does.

It's really high time that those of us on the left (and I more than include myself in this list) who have been very critical of the surge and of the Administration's Iraq policy writ large acknowledge that the surge has brought real progress in Iraq and offers a glimmer of hope that things might turn out positively there. We weren't necessarily wrong about the surge (although it sure is looking that way); but we would be wrong if we continue to ignore the positive developments in Iraq.

We've gotten so used to decrying the endless number of Bush Administration mistakes in Iraq that I fear we are missing the forest for the trees and ignoring the fact that there is for the first time in Iraq a light at the end of the tunnel. This isn't a political question. We should all want Iraq to turn into a Jeffersonian democracy; even if we are skeptical that it might happen. And if it means acknowledging that the Bush Administration has made some right moves on Iraq over the past 18 months . .  then so be it.

I am not yet prepared to say that the surge has been a success; after all there is that messy hydrocarbon law and I remain unconvinced that Sunnis and Shiites are about to join hands and sing Kumbaya, but these are imperfect metrics and of course, tell only half the story.

Today, rising oil prices have given Iraq a giant budget surplus; somewhere in the realm of $70 billion. That kind of money goes a long way toward solving some rather significant political problems. We are seeing glimmers of democratic compromise emanating from the Iraqi Parliament. And the decision by Maliki to go after the Sadr militia in Basra was a critically important step for the country (and one largely unacknowledged by those of us on the left).

Of course, one cannot turn a blind eye toward Iraq's many glaring problems; above all my sense that the attack on the Sadr militia and the Sunni turn against Al Qaeda were tactical and temporary moves that may, in the end, presage more not less conflict.

The possibility that Iraq begins to move toward stability seems as good a possibility that Iraq will descend again into genocidal violence - and Obama's Iraq policy should reflect those two possibilities and encourage the former, rather than the policy he laid out last year when the success of the surge was far less clear.

I was struck by something I read today from Martha Raddatz:

We spent a day with Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond in Sadr City. He is the commander of the 4th Infantry Division, which is responsible for Baghdad. Hammond will likely be one of the commanders who briefs Barack Obama when he visits Iraq.

"We still have a ways to go. Number one, we're working on security and it's very encouraging, that's true, but what we're really trying to achieve here is sustainable security on Iraqi terms. So, I think my first response to that would be let's look at the conditions.

"Instead of any time-based approach to any decision for withdrawal, it's got to be conditions-based, with the starting point being an intelligence analysis of what might be here today, and what might lie ahead in the future. I still think we still have work that remains to be done before I can really answer that question," Hammond said when asked how he would feel about an order to start drawing down two combat brigades a month.

Asked if he considered it dangerous to pull out if the withdrawal is not based on "conditions," Hammond said, "It's very dangerous. I'll speak for the coalition forces, men and women of character and moral courage; we have a mission, and it's not until the mission is done that I can look my leader in the eye and say, 'Sir, Ma'am, mission accomplished,' and I think it is dangerous to leave anything a little early."

Of course, the biggest impediment to Obama shifting course in Iraq . . . is his own party. The left would go nuts if Obama reversed course on Iraq (FISA was nothing compared to what would happen if he backed off withdrawal). And while I'm not convinced that the 16-month timetable for withdrawal still doesn't make sense (in fact, I wouldn't be shocked if its less than 16 months) those of us who have decried the stubbornness of the Bush Administration on Iraq would be very unwise to do the same to Obama if he decides that the opportunity for progress in Iraq is simply too great to follow through on his campaign promise.

In retrospect, Obama made a mistake pledging to bring troops home on a fixed 16 month timetable, because it assumed that the situation in Iraq was irredeemable. A year ago it might have seemed that way; but no longer is that the case. We should acknowledge that fact and give Obama to leeway to do the same.

UPDATE: You know one of the nice things about blogging is that you can write something and then about an hour later decide that you want to add something or frame it in a different way . . . and typepad gives you that leeway. So let me add a few additional thoughts here.

Nothing I've written here runs fundamentally counter to what Obama has been saying on the campaign trail. He has always placed greater emphasis on strategy over tactics and has shown an inclination to be flexible in how he implements his Iraq policy. As he should. I have very little quibble with what Obama has said on Iraq. The plan he proposed last year on withdrawal was correct then; I'm not sure it's as viable now and if he makes the decision after going to Iraq that he needs to adjust tactics (while maintaining the overall strategy) he should be applauded for it. We should all give him leeway to change tactics so long as the overall strategy remains consistent. Absolutely nothing Obama has said -- or hopefully will say -- will run counter to this approach. Moreover, I didn't do justice to the complexity of what Obama is saying about Iraq, which of course includes talking to Iran about the future of Iraq (a critically important step and one that runs very counter to what John McCain is suggesting).

The other important point to make here is that Obama's flexibility runs in sharp contrast to the strategy outlined by John McCain, which is far more divorced from reality than Obama's plan.  McCain's 100-year strategy is basically the South Korea approach; keep a significant number of troops in country after stability is achieved. This is simply unrealistic and misplaced on a number of levels. First, it diminished any leverage the US might have over Iraq. If they don't think we are leaving, they have zero incentive to move forward with legitimiate political reform. Second, it assumes the military can maintain a long-terms troop presence in Iraq, which does not seem realistic. Third, it ignores the fact that the Iraqis don't want us to have a long-term presence in the country - a fact that was bolstered this week.

The crazy thing about McCain's plan is that he and his supporters have been arguing that he is responding to the facts on the ground. But in fact, his approach has really not changed at all - and I go back to 2003 in making that argument. Send more troops; don't talk about withdrawal; claim victory is the goal, but don't say what victory will look like. The call this week from Iraqis for the US to create a timetable for withdrawal seems to not have changed John McCain's mind at all about the need for a withdrawal timeline. Tell me again, who is not responding to facts on the ground?

For the candidate with supposedly greater foreign policy and national security experience it is a stunningly short-sighted approach.


A Rare Rant Against The MSM
Posted by David Shorr

I usually stay away from complaining about media bias, too much scapegoating and orthodoxy for my taste. On the other hand, the steady stream of the-voters-don't-care-about-Iraq-anymore makes me want to scream. Let's look at the underlying assumption here. They're basically saying that the electorate is only capable of caring about one issue at a time. Talk about insulting our intelligence!

Call me old-fashioned, but even in the Age of Britney, one assumes that journalists have some recollection of their function as the Fourth Estate. Collapsing the national discourse down to one and only one issue would seem to contradict this civic function. They're single-issue political analyzers (and I use the term loosely). Are political editors and reporters just tired with Iraq (that's soooo 2006)? Are the politics of the economy more fun to write about? Is it just simpler to focus on one issue (keep it simple)?

If this truly is a historic election, surely the American people can handle at least a few different issues -- heck, they might even hunger for them. To paraphrase our president, this is the soft patronization of low expectations.

NSN Daily Update – 7/11/08
Posted by The National Security Network

Week Demonstrates Conservative Deficit on National Security

Progressive Positions Prevail on Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Spending

In a week where national security issues interjected themselves unexpectedly, positions and recommendations long held by progressives proved prescient. In a startling development, Iraq’s Prime Minister, National Security Advisor, and Vice President all called for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces as part of any security agreement – casting considerable doubt on efforts to keep U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely and highlighting the need for a responsible phased redeployment. Iran tested a series of missiles demonstrating the failure of the Bush administration’s approach to stem this increasing danger. The situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan continued to deteriorate - as foreign terrorists flock to the border region and relations between the two countries break down - once again confirming the repeated calls from progressives of the need to focus on this growing danger. And finally, John McCain announced his economic plan, which not only ignored the budget busting impact of his defense policies, but was premised on the speedy withdrawal of American forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. A position McCain has consistently opposed.

Iraqis press for timetable for U.S. withdrawal, creating complications for the McCain-Bush plan for long-term troop occupation of Iraq.  In a striking development, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for the first time called for any new agreement with the United States to include a timetable for withdrawal of American forces. Maliki said that “the current trend is to reach an agreement on a memorandum of understanding either for the departure of the forces or a memorandum of understanding to put a timetable on their withdrawal.”  Iraq’s National Security Advisor, Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, and yesterday, Iraq’s Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi both confirmed Maliki’s statement. Meanwhile, McCain, after at first initially denying that Iraqi statements had called for a timetable, described these statements as just electoral politics and reconfirmed his plan for a long-term troop presence in Iraq insisting on Tuesday that, “I know for a fact that a [troop pullout] will be dictated by the situation on the ground, as it always has been.” He continued, “We can withdraw and withdraw with honor, not according to a set timetable…and I’m confident that is what Prime Minister Maliki is talking about.”  Only it isn’t what Maliki is talking about since he is clearly signaling that the U.S. presence must end. [Reuters, 7/7/08; AP, 7/9/08; Huff Post, 7/10/08; ABC, 7/8/08]

Iran’s missile tests expose the failure of the Bush-McCain approach to Iran and demonstrate the need for aggressive diplomatic action. Iran’s missile tests this week shows the growing strength of the Iranian regime in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Yet it also demonstrates that the Bush-McCain approach of not talking to our adversaries s ineffective. Unfortunately, John McCain is for continuing this failed approach, which – just as in the case of North Korea – will only increase the likelihood of a nuclear Iran. As Lawrence Korb and Sean Duggan write in the Guardian “Had the Bush administration responded to the North's overtures before their 2006 test, it is likely that it would have had a better agreement; the US would have been negotiating from a position of strength, not weakness. While it is too late to revisit the past with North Korea, the administration should learn its lessons as it deals with Iran over its nuclear programme. As the great Israeli general Moshe Dayan said: ‘If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.’ It is past time for the Bush administration to heed this advice so that it does not have to settle for a poor deal with Iran as well.” [Reuters, 7/10/08, ABC, 7/10/08, NPR, 7/10/08, Guardian, 7/9/08]

The situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is deteriorating – yet McCain has offered no plan and demonstrated little understanding of the situation.
The New York Times reported this week that there has been an influx of foreign terrorists to the Pakistani tribal region and violence reached its highest levels since the war began. Additionally, relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have fell to a new low, with the Afghan government accusing the Pakistani intelligence services of sponsoring attacks. Meanwhile, John McCain has still failed to offer any plan to address this growing challenge and demonstrated this week a complete lack of understanding of the situation. McCain told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “I think if there is some good news, I think that there is a glimmer of improving relationship between Karzai and the Pakistanis.” McCain seemed to be unaware that the Karzai government accused Pakistan of supporting recent attacks and of trying to assassinate him, leading few to describe the relations between the two countries as “improving.” [Democracy Arsenal,  7/10/08; NY Times, 7/11/08]

McCain’s economic plans suggests significant troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan in conjunction with massive military buildup
.   To pay down the deficit, the McCain campaign said he “would reserve all savings from victory in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations in the fight against Islamic extremists for reducing the deficit” and seeing as “all their costs were financed with deficit spending, all their savings must go to deficit reduction.” Decreasing America's financial commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan can only be accomplished through significant reductions in the U.S. force presence in Iraq, and in order eliminate the deficit by 2013, that reduction would have to occur quickly after taking office. This remains incongruent with McCain’s call to “increase the size of the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps from the currently planned level of roughly 750,000 troops to 900,000 troops,” which the CBO estimates would cost at least an additional $25 billion per year and will likely result in higher recruitment costs and lower standards. It also contradicts McCain’s rhetoric opposing troop withdrawals from Iraq. [Politico, 7/7/08, Huffington Post, 7/7/08, CBO, 4/16/07]

Quick Hits

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan is to be charged for “genocide and crimes against humanity” at the International Court of Justice.  UN officials announced yesterday that the chief prosecutor will seek a warrant for arrest of the President, who is a key figure in orchestrating the atrocities of the Darfur genocide.

Russia and Georgia violated each other’s airspaces over South Ossetia, raising tensions in the region. Secretary Rice, who arrived in Georgia to mediate further peace talks, said that there had been “a number of moves... that in fact have not been helpful in terms of the frozen conflicts there.”

The photo of Iran’s missile launch on Wednesday was manipulated to show 4 missiles instead of the actual 3 that were being fired. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard posted the photo, which was subsequently used by AP and on the front cover of many newspapers, on one of their websites. Experts say that “Iran tends to exaggerate its capabilities,” but that, so far this hasn’t included the use of photo-shop.

Methods used on top Al-Qaeda captives were “categorically torture” and “could make the Bush administration officials who approved them guilty of war crimes,” according to a new book by Jane Mayer about the government’s secret detention programs. The Red Cross report cited in the book depicts the horrible conditions, frequent abuse and brutal treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo.

John McCain rounded up the week with ten critical mistakes that would normally spell certain doom for any candidate’s presidential aspirations. Aside from a plethora of flip-flops on the situation of troops in Iraq and pronouncements of utter misunderstanding of Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iran, McCain’s economic plan and adviser seem ill-fitted for the office of President.

Lebanon Forms a Government
Posted by Moran Banai

After 18 months of political deadlock followed by more than a month of squabbling over seats, Lebanon finally has a new cabinet. The cabinet includes 16 majority coalition ministers, 3 ministers chosen by the new president, Michel Suleiman, and 11 opposition ministers - giving the Hezbollah-led opposition the veto that it has been seeking. This breakdown was agreed upon in Doha in late May, but it took the factions almost seven weeks to agree on who would get which portfolio.

The cabinet formation is good news, but as Mona Yacoubian noted last week, "an agreement on a unity government will not spell the end to Lebanon’s problems. Bitter political rivalries coupled with ongoing sectarian fighting suggest deeper discord among Lebanon’s factions that portends more violence in the coming weeks and months. ... Ultimately, Lebanon’s political leaders will need to bridge their deep differences through compromises that put the national interest ahead of confessional rivalries."

This includes strengthening national institutions like the Lebanese Armed Forces, and dismantling the factions' militias, perhaps a long-term and difficult step, but one the government ultimately needs in order to truly control the country.

July 10, 2008

Offensive Line Pandering?
Posted by Adam Blickstein

I know discussing John McCain's military service is taboo, but this is a great catch from Pittsburgh yesterday:

And then McCain told a rather moving story about his time as a P.O.W. "When I was first interrogated and really had to give some information because of the pressures, physical pressures on me, I named the starting lineup, defensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers as my squadron mates."

The problem? McCain's own 1999 memoir contradicts this account:

“...Eventually, I gave them my ship’s name and squadron number, and confirmed that my target had been the power plant. Pressed for more useful information, I gave the names of the Green Bay Packers offensive line, and said they were members of my squadron...."

Pakiwhat? Afghaninhuh?
Posted by Patrick Barry

Adam is right to point to John McCain's interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review -- it's full of obtuse, disjointed, and otherwise impenetrable commentary, precisely the fuzziness that we've come to expect from his campaign.  However, his remarks on Pakistan and Afghanistan are especially frightening for the depth of confusion on display.  Just take a look at this quote on the subject of Karzai's relations with Pakistan's government:

"I think if there is some good news, I think that there is a glimmer of improving relationship between Karzai and the Pakistanis."

Just what "glimmer" is McCain talking about??  Maybe he's referring to President Karzai's remarks last month, which threatened military action in Pakistan if cross-border attacks persisted?  Or maybe McCain is talking about Afghanistan's allegations that Pakistan's ISI was involved in a recent assassination attempt on Karzai?  Maybe in McCain's world you could call that a silver-lining, but in reality-land I'd call it something else.

Seriously, there have been NUMEROUS reports from press, think-tank and Pentagon sources lamenting a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan and worsening relations between their respective governments.  It isn't as if the coverage isn't there.  It is.  Yet despite the general agreement that the situation is bad, getting worse, and demands greater U.S. attention, John McCain can't even grasp the most basic developments.  Looking at the way that reality continues to hem his supposed national security expertise really makes one wonder how he got the reputation in the first place.      

An Ocean of Difference on Accountability
Posted by Adam Blickstein

While the Bush administration continues to dodge the reality that the "harsh interrogation techniques" used over the past 7 years in Iraq and elsewhere were immoral and against standing American and international law, the British Ministry of Defence has agreed to "pay almost £3 million to the family of an Iraqi who died while being detained by UK troops and nine other men who were allegedly mistreated by the British Army, their solicitors said today."

John McCain's Economic Doozy of the Day - Chapter 2
Posted by Michael Cohen

In my ongoing effort to anthologize the gobsmackingly wondrous McCain economic plan, welcome to Chapter 2 - cutting spending!

Leadership, Courage And Choices: Reducing spending means making choices. John McCain will provide the courageous leadership necessary to control spending, including:

  • Eliminate broken government programs. The federal government itself admits that one in five programs do not perform.
  • Reform procurement programs and cut wasteful spending in defense and non-defense programs.

So here's what I'm sure you're thinking - clearly if John McCain thinks their are broken government programs he has identified a number of them that he believes should be eliminated. If one in five do not perform how hard could it be. Surely, John McCain would not propose to eliminate government programs and then not identify them in is plan, particularly since he has made this a signature campaign issue. But alas, dear reader, you are incorrect. In fact, McCain's plan does not name a single program they would get rid of.

This of course has always been the problem with cutting government spending - it sounds great in the abstract, but when you get down to the specific programs that are going to be eliminated, resistance always grows. The political costs of cutting government spending or what so often prevent real cuts from happening - a point that John McCain's economic plan proves once again.

See No, Hear No, Speak No Reality
Posted by Adam Blickstein

So John McCain held a very lengthy interview with the editorial board of the Pittsburgh-Times Review yesterday. There are lot of interesting nuggets in there, especially the astute observation that "the Taliban and others do not respect borders," but the McCain campaign and Michael Goldfard highlight one very pertinent section on their website:

Trib: Senator, with Iraqi leaders now calling for a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals ...

McCain: Actually the Iraqis are not, the Iraqis widely reported as short a time ago as a couple of weeks ago that there would be no status of forces agreement, and Maliki would say that, and it got headlines, and of course it turned out not to be true. I met recently with the vice -- with the foreign minister and the President, both of them share my views completely. Americans will withdraw, it will be dictated by events on the ground, by the success that we've made and that success has been significant but it's still fragile. The -- excuse me, Al Qaida and other Shiite militias, other former Bathists, those elements have been knocked back on their heels, they are not defeated....And they still agree that if you set an artificial date for withdrawal, the way that Sen. Obama wanted to do, then we will have a resurgence of the fighting and the various factions within Iraq, Iranian influence will increase and we still risk a wider war...So as I say, I just met with the President of Iraq and with the Foreign Minister and both of them, and I know that Petreaus and Crocker are saying the same things, and Maliki will too.

There is so much wrong, both factually and rhetorically, in this response. McCain is simultaneously discounting report after report explicating what Maliki and the Iraqi leadership might seek in any discussions with the U.S. over the status of our forces while assuring us that he has personally spoken with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari (as has Obama) and knows through private meetings that they might not be on the same page as the rest of the Iraqi leadership. But he also seems sure that Maliki will eventually backtrack on his rhetoric and accept more conditional and vague language that would allow the continuance of American presence dictated by some sort of "time-horizon" rather than "time-line" (which is certainly possible). Nevertheless, McCain is still being unclear as to what his exact position on this is, besides repeating the tired "depends on situation on the ground" line. Whatever the rationale for this dislocated approach is, his statements betray a dangerous uncertainty on the most important policy moment in both the relationship between Iraq's government and its people and between America and Iraq.

And they still don't answer whether the McCain of 2008 agrees with the McCain of 2004.

NSN Daily Update – 7/10/08
Posted by The National Security Network

Iran’s Missile Test Demonstrates The Urgent Need For Aggressive Diplomatic Action

Iran’s missile test on Wednesday demonstrates that the Iranian regime has grown stronger and more dangerous in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Iran’s continued nuclear development is of great concern, yet the Bush administration’s approach - one that shuns aggressive diplomatic action in favor of chest-thumping threats of military strikes – has proved utterly ineffective.  Unfortunately, John McCain is for continuing this failed approach, which – just as in the case of North Korea – will only increase the likelihood of a nuclear Iran.

According to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the U.S. is no closer to war with Iran. 
When asked if the U.S. was any closer to confrontation after the Iran test-fired missiles Gates said, "No, I don't think so."  He continued, “There is a lot of signaling going on. But I think everybody recognizes what the consequences of any kind of a conflict would be." [Reuters, 7/10/08]

Iranian actions intended to deter attack according to American intelligence official. “Some in the U.S. saw the Iranian tests on Wednesday as essentially deterrent in nature. A senior American intelligence official said the missile tests, together with belligerent comments by Iranian officials, seemed part of a strategy to warn Iran’s neighbors of its “capacity to inflict pain.” “I think Iran has a hedgehog strategy: mess with me and you’ll get stuck,” said the official, Thomas Fingar, the deputy director of national intelligence for analysis and head of the National Intelligence Council. [NY Times, 7/10/08]

McCain wants to continue Bush’s failed policies on Iran.
  NPR noted that “McCain believes that the Bush administration's approach has been the right one, which he intends to continue and improve upon.” Yet this approach has proved ineffective. As Lawrence Korb and Sean Duggan write in the Guardian “Had the Bush administration responded to the North's overtures before their 2006 test, it is likely that it would have had a better agreement; the US would have been negotiating from a position of strength, not weakness. While it is too late to revisit the past with North Korea, the administration should learn its lessons as it deals with Iran over its nuclear programme. As the great Israeli general Moshe Dayan said: ‘If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.’ It is past time for the Bush administration to heed this advice so that it does not have to settle for a poor deal with Iran as well.” [NPR, 7/10/08, Guardian, 7/9/08]

The U.S. must engage diplomatically with Iran. “It is absolutely critical that we engage in direct dialogue, without preconditions. Talking and negotiating with unfriendly nations and letting them know exactly where we stand is an important element of diplomacy. It is not the same as making broad concessions without getting anything in return. In fact Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton all engaged in at least one round of serious dialogue with Iran and none required preconditions. We must also tone down the “cowboy diplomacy” and regime change rhetoric with the expectation that Iranian counterparts would respond in kind. Moving away from the harshest rhetoric would signal to the Iranians that we are serious about improving relations.” As Henry Kissinger explained “‘One should be prepared to negotiate, and I think we should be prepared to negotiate about Iran’…Asked whether he meant the US should hold direct talks, Kissinger responded: `Yes, I think we should.’” [NSN, 06/08, Bloomberg 3/14/08]

Quick Hits

The Iraqi military could be ready to operate alone
“as early as April.” Lt. General James Dubik, who was the US officer leading the efforts of training and equipping Iraqi forces, testified on Capitol Hill that the Iraqi military will “mostly be done by middle of next year”. The news comes as the Iraqi government grows more confident in dealing with the US, as it has signaled that it wants a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops.

Iraqi militias are using new, increasingly lethal weapons against US troops.
“Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions, or IRAMs,” have circulated despite US measures to counter the use of explosive weaponry and are being utilized more frequently throughout the country.

The North Koreans are stalling negotiations until there’s a new US president. Talks start today in Beijing, but progress is improbable. “Many analysts and government officials are skeptical” of North Korea’s willingness to cooperate on nuclear issues and foresee stalled talks until a new administration enters the White House in January.

Foreign fighters are coming to Pakistan to support the insurgency in Afghanistan in high numbers, swelling the ranks of Al Qaeda. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates added that “the ability of the Taliban and other insurgents to cross that border and not being under any pressure from the Pakistani side of the border is clearly a concern.”

Veterans for America released a report finding that “almost half of the Soldiers who are scheduled to deploy to Iraq will come from the National Guard.”

July 09, 2008

NSN Daily Update: Maliki and McCain- 7/9/08
Posted by The National Security Network

Despite Calls from the Iraqi Government McCain Continues to Believe that We Should Have a Permanent Presence in Iraq

Yesterday Iraqi national security advisor Mouwaffak al-Rubaie reemphasized Prime Minister Maliki’s position that any long-term agreement between the U.S. and Iraq must include a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.  But John McCain still insists that we need a permanent troop presence in Iraq and refused yesterday to acknowledge that the Iraqi Government’s statements affect his position.

Iraq’s national security advisor says security pact will not be accepted without specific withdrawal dates. "Our stance in the negotiations under way with the American side will be strong," said Iraq's national security adviser, Mouwaffak al-Rubaie.  "We will not accept any memorandum of understanding that doesn't have specific dates to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq," al-Rubaie told reporters. Al-Rubaie’s comments come a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki publicly said he expects some kind of timeline to withdraw American forces.  [AP, 7/9/08]

McCain denies that the Maliki and al-Rubaie statements have changed the situation and continues to assert that we should have a long-term troop presence in Iraq.
Speaking to reporters yesterday McCain insisted that, “I know for a fact that a [troop pullout] will be dictated by the situation on the ground, as it always has been.”  Ignoring the fact that the wishes of the Iraqi government constitute part of the situation on the ground, he then reshaped Maliki’s comments claiming, “We can withdraw and withdraw with honor, not according to a set timetable…and I’m confident that is what Prime Minister Maliki is talking about.”  In fact, as late as last month McCain told NBC’s Matt Lauer that he expects to see a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq.  [ABC, 7/8/08]

In 2004, McCain admitted that if the Iraqi Government asked the U.S. to withdraw it should abide by those wishes. When asked, “What would or should we do if, in the post-June 30th period, a so-called sovereign Iraqi government asks us to leave, even if we are unhappy about the security situation there?” at a Council on Foreign Relations conference on April 22nd, 2004 McCain responded, “Well, if that scenario evolves, then I think it's obvious that we would have to leave because— if it was an elected government of Iraq— and we've been asked to leave other places in the world. If it were an extremist government, then I think we would have other challenges, but I don't see how we could stay when our whole emphasis and policy has been based on turning the Iraqi government over to the Iraqi people.”  [Council on Foreign Relations, 4/22/04]

Quick Hits

Iran successfully test fired nine missiles today, which have the capacity to reach Israel.  The Revolutionary Guard Air Force Commander stated: “Our missiles are ready for shooting at any place and any time, quickly and with accuracy… The enemy must not repeat its mistakes. The enemy targets are under surveillance,” promising to retaliate if attacked.  The missile test comes as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisted yesterday that his country has no intention of attacking Israel. 

In response to the Iranian missile test, oil prices reversed their two-day slide and jumped by almost $2 following today’s reports.

Three gunmen and three policemen were killed in an assault on the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.  Though responsibility for the attack has not yet been claimed, the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey says that it was an “obvious act of terrorism.”

Yesterday, world leaders at the G-8 summit in Japan agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050, while developing nations not included in the G-8, such as China and India, have signed on to long-term emission reduction goals.  The agreement has been criticized by environmentalists as being too little, too late.

Despite efforts by the Indian Government to close the nuclear agreement on their end, indications in Washington suggest that Congress may not approve it this year.

The United States and the Czech Republic agreed yesterday to allow the U.S. to place radar units for a missile defense system in the former Soviet-bloc state.  Russia protested the agreement out of concern for its own security.

The Karzai government in Afghanistan blamed the intelligence services of Pakistan for the suicide bombing outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed 41 yesterday; Pakistan has denied any such involvement.  The Indian government, meanwhile, has renewed its commitment to engagement in Afghanistan despite feeling that “the message of the bombing was specific: India, get out of Afghanistan.”

Withdrawing from the Empty Rhetoric on Iraq
Posted by Adam Blickstein

The subtext of John McCain's response to the Iraqi government's strident assertions demanding clarity on the withdrawal of foreign forces in Iraq is this: Maliki is pandering to his political constituents who want to see American forces leave, for his own political gain, but any eventual agreement will be vague, flexible and conditional enough to allow us to stay. McCain calling Malki "a politician" seems to further confirm this line of thinking, allowing him to dismiss any clarion call of withdrawal as simply political rhetoric. This would also let McCain continue advocating his policy of perpetual American presence in Iraq unabated. One problem: with Maliki, Iraq National Security Advisor Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, and Iraqi spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh all expressing the same expectations on the possibility of withdrawal language in any security agreement, they are boxing themselves into those expectations amongst the Iraqi people.

If they cave to Bush administration demands and agree to vaguer language, then what message does that send to the Iraqi people? That their government still lacks the political will, power and general sovereignty to follow through on their own demands to an occupying force; that Maliki's word can't be trusted; that we can't trust anything the Iraqi government states publicly; that the Iraq government is in a perpetual state of weakness and needs our crutch in order to viably continue; that our presence allows the Maliki government to continue operating without taking significant risk and responsibility for itself? Any of these impressions would severely damage Maliki's standing amongst the Iraqi people, and possibly threaten to destabilize the viability of the Iraqi government itself.

Assertive statements on withdrawal shouldn't be disregarded out of hand, by McCain or anyone else. But that's exactly what he and the Bush administration are doing. Why would the Iraqi government gamble with their own viability by making these demands in the first place unless they were actually serious about following through on them? Certainly the "pandering to their own people" argument doesn't hold water because that would be too risky domestically and risk disintegrating all the political credibility the Maliki government built over the past several months.

And yet McCain is reacting like it's merely empty rhetoric, a dangerous dismissal for any potential President to make about statements from a foreign government. Instead of seriously considering the possibility that Maliki, al-Rubaie, and al-Dabbagh's are being genuine, he reiterated that any agreement will be "dictated by situation on the ground." Last time I checked, explicit statements from the government of a sovereign nation are a large part of the "situation on the ground" and not just hollow rhetoric. But maybe for McCain, empty rhetoric is all he can conceive. It is, after all, something he should be extremely familiar with himself. 

John McCain's Economic Doozy of the Day - Chapter 1
Posted by Michael Cohen

Inspired by Max's post below on John McCain's new economic plan I decided to take a few minutes and read it myself. Let me just say, it's gobsmackingly good! Chock full of doozies. But instead of writing a long post about "the plan" I've decided instead to anthologize it. Truly it will be the gift that keeps on giving.

In today's edition; let's examine how John McCain intends to fight higher oil prices:

John McCain believes we should send a strong message to world markets. Under his plan, the United States will be telling oil producing countries and oil speculators that our dependence on foreign oil will come to an end – and the impact will be lower prices at the pump.

Huh? How does this work exactly - John McCain travels to Riyadh and tells the Saudis "we're done with you" and magically oil prices drop. Maybe he should head to Pakistan next and tell the remnants of Al Qaeda "we're not afraid of you any more" and magically the threat from jihadist terror will disappear.

And call me crazy, but doesn't the United States actually need to start weaning itself off foreign oil before oil producing countries you know . . . take us seriously. There is not a single serious idea in this plan for how a McCain Administration would actually end US dependence on foreign oil.

The even funnier part about this is that the centerpiece of McCain's plan is to suspend the 18.4 cent gas tax, which actually does nothing to end our reliance on foreign oil. If anything, it strengthens it! Even more bizarre, McCain doesn't even mention his own new-found support for offshore oil drilling. As for conservation . . . not so much.

The next time John McCain says that Barack Obama is all words I'm going to stand in a puddle and stick my finger in a light socket.

Update: I hate mea culpas as much as the next guy, but when you're wrong you have to admit it - and I pulled a doozy of my own. The section is italics is simply wrong; McCain has a rather detailed plan for ending dependence on foreign oil - the Lexington Project, which I just blanked on. I should have just stuck with the first part of my post, which though snarky is correct. So now I'm really going to go stick my finger in that light socket. I think I earned it.

July 08, 2008

The EU and its rise
Posted by Max Bergmann

Europeanunionflag_4 The announcement today of the creation of a pro-EU Serb government that will push for inclusion in the European Union represents a massive achievement. Serbia has a long way to go – but its eventual integration, and the Balkans as a whole into Europe, represent a tremendous achievement - one that represents the tremendous pull of the European Union.

Yet go to a Washington foreign policy conference today where the discussion is focused on the future of U.S. foreign policy (or read an excellent discussion of grand strategy on this blog) and there are a few standard issues that are usually covered - the rise of China and Asia, U.S. policy toward the Middle East and terrorism, and now interestingly enough energy and climate. These are all important issues, but usually missing in this vision of the issues of the future is any discussion for Europe and its budding political system of the EU. In fact the main thing that the emergence of the EU has meant for the United States foreign policy community is that over the last decade it really hasn’t had to worry about Europe. A part from occasional bouts of panic that erupted as Kosovo became independent, or when NATO turned over security for Bosnia to the EU – our foreign policy community just hasn’t had to pay much attention to the continent.

One of the things I liked about Parag Khanna's piece on geopolitics in the New York Times Magazine is he does the considerably rare thing of acknowledging the existence of the European Union. While conservative foreign policy thinkers have always dismissed the importance of the EU, the progressive foreign policy establishment has really not been much better. Most still abide by the view that the EU should not duplicate or infringe upon NATO and will point to the importance of continued enlargement of the EU into the Balkans and Turkey, but few actually seem to think that Europe will have any real role in foreign affairs besides sometimes backing the U.S. when we want to attack someone. We don’t really have any real grasp of what the emergence of the EU means for the U.S. 

This came through in Jamie Rubin’s current Foreign Affairs piece where he provides a good run down of the divisions and problems besetting transatlantic relations. His main recommendation – a fairly standard one - is that we need to emphasize this relationship more highly, take European views into account, and take action on Guantanamo and climate change. This is all well and good. But it also strikes me as lacking.

In some ways Rubin’s article could have well been in a 1998 Foreign Affairs as a 2008. To many foreign policy analysts the only thing that has changed in the transatlantic relationship is that Bush acted like a jerk. This analysis misses the massive changes that have occurred in Europe and by failing to recognize those, subsequently Rubin’s recommendations do little to actually reinvigorate the vaunted transatlantic alliance. In fact, one of the main recommendations – one that is fairly standard for American progressives to make – is the one which would have the most hope for reinvigorating an aging relationship – and that’s promoting European integration.

Yet promoting the EU is not just about promoting expansion anymore. It is also about supporting efforts to encourage Europe to act as one. Unfortunately, the thrust of Rubin’s focus does little to address and in fact may worsen the problem.

I am taking about NATO. It is standard among American progressives that when emphasizing the need to “reinvigorate” the transatlantic alliance we talk about the need to elevate NATO. Our window into working with Europe on security issues is through NATO and we seek to ensure that this is the window in which Europe deals with us. The problem is that NATO is not about European integration – in fact putting NATO as a top American priority has hurt efforts to develop a common EU defense force. Both Clinton and Bush have consistently opposed efforts by the EU to develop their own defense capacity on the grounds that it will duplicate NATO efforts and weaken the alliance. Well the result is that the NATO Alliance is weak, Europeans don’t care about it, but they are divided between about where to allocate defense resources.  Both the EU and NATO are creating a rapid reaction force – and many of the troops used for each force are often the same!

An important shift in U.S. policy would be to support the creation of a European defense force and to encourage the EU to act more in the world. As Europe gradually consolidates its focus will increasingly turn abroad. The EU is already one of the largest aid donors in the world and it has tremendous global economic clout since it acts as one massive trading bloc. Our relationship with the EU will be vital going forward so maybe its time to start mentioning it.

Afghanistan and Data
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Tony Cordesman has a great report / massive data dump on Afghanistan (PDF).  But one of the most important conclusions can be found on the first page.

The Afghan War is not an unreported war in the media, but it is a largely unreported war in terms of useful, unclassified reporting by governments and NATO/ISAF. Only the UN has provided consistent analytic reporting on the progress of the war, and its reporting only goes into significant detail in the area of counternarcotics.

The US government has cut back on its reporting over time, and its web pages now do little more that report on current events. Unlike the Iraq War, there is no Department of Defense quarterly report on the progress of the war, and efforts to create effective Afghan security, governance, and development. There is no equivalent to the State Department weekly status report. Testimony to Congress, while useful, does not provide detailed statements or back up slide with maps, graphs, and other data on the course of the war.

The same is true of virtually all of the other governments providing NATO/ISAF forces, and of NATO/ISAF. There are some useful data on the reasons for deploying forces, casualties, and the units actually deployed, but no real analysis of the course of the fighting, threat developments, and relative success.

This I think is one of the reasons why it's important to focus public attention on the war in Afghanistan.  The reason we got a better sense of what is actually going on in Iraq is because people called for action an Congress responded but putting forth much clear and more rigid reporting requirements.  This leads to better data.  Better analysis.  And ultimately better recommendations on how to move forward and a more educated debate in this country.  It's time to get more of that on Afghanistan.

Trading With Iran
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

You'd think that if you were going to base your entire strategy for getting Iran to give up it's uranium enrichment program around sanctions you'd at the very least, ya know, sanction them.  But in a surprising and odd development it turns out that U.S. trade with Iran has increased ten-fold over the past eight years. 

U.S. exports to Iran grew more than tenfold during President Bush's years in office even as he accused Iran of nuclear ambitions and helping terrorists. America sent more cigarettes to Iran — at least $158 million worth under Bush — than any other products.

Other surprising shipments to Iran during the Bush administration: brassieres, bull semen, cosmetics, fur clothing, sculptures, perfume, musical instruments and possibly even weapons.

Now, in my view sanctions alone do not have a huge impact in changing a regime's behavior.  And these numbers are small by comparison to U.S. standards (Although as the Center for Arms Controls and Non-Proliferation points out Iran is also pretty small by U.S. standards).  If you are going to spend five years stubbornly bumping your head up against a wall and refuse to engage in direct talks.  Then insist that somehow economic pressure alone will bring the Iranians to the table and cause them to give up their enrichment program.  If you are going to pursue that policy then you could at least try to actually follow through.

Then again, this could be part of a sophisticated Neocon regime change policy.  Send the Iranians cigarettes and bull semen (which yes is used for making cattle.  I didn't know.  But apparently it's a big industry).  Then kill off the regime with lung cancer and too much red meat.  I guess all the brassieres and perfume is to corrupt the pure virtues of the Islamic Republic.   But I don't really understand how the weapons fit into this equation...

In 2004, McCain Admitted We'd Leave Iraq if the Iraqi's Wanted Us To
Posted by Adam Blickstein

With news coming from Nouri al-Maliki that he is leaning towards a security pact with the U.S. that would include language describing the "departure of [American] forces or a memorandum of understanding to put a timetable on their withdrawal," one wonders how this would affect John McCain's plan for perpetual troop presence in Iraq. Well, at the Council of Foreign Relations, the John McCain of 2004 gave us a pretty clear answer:

Question: "What would or should we do if, in the post-June 30th period, a so-called sovereign Iraqi government asks us to leave, even if we are unhappy about the security situation there?"

McCain's Answer: "Well, if that scenario evolves than I think it's obvious that we would have to leave because -- if it was an elected government of Iraq, and we've been asked to leave other places in the world. If it were an extremist government then I think we would have other challenges, but I don't see how we could stay when our whole emphasis and policy has been based on turning the Iraqi government over to the Iraqi people."

Does the John McCain of 2008 agree with this assessment?

UPDATE: According to Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, seems like a timetable will be part of any security pact:

"Our stance in the negotiations underway with the American side will be strong ... We will not accept any memorandum of understanding that doesn't have specific dates to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq," al-Rubaie said.

Again, is McCain's position the same today as it was in 2004 if Iraq's democratically elected government demands a timetable for withdrawing foreign forces from Iraq?

NSN Daily Update - 7/8/08
Posted by The National Security Network

John McCain’s National Security Budget Is A Deficit Buster That Has Massive Policy Implications

John McCain’s announcement yesterday that his administration “will balance the budget by the end of his first term” was met with intense skepticism and derision. The New York Times noted that McCain “is unlikely to achieve his goal of balancing the federal budget by 2013, economists and fiscal experts say.” Yet, receiving less attention are the implications of his national security proposals on the federal budget. Days after attacking Barack Obama on Iraq, McCain seemed to indicate a significant change of his own position, as his economic projections for reducing the deficit are premised on the notion that there will be significantly fewer troops in Iraq. Additionally, McCain has called for a massive expansion of the ground forces and has failed to provide any specifics on which weapons programs he intends to cut and called for eliminating earmarks including much of the foreign assistance budget (e.g. Israel). If taken seriously, McCain’s proposals entail significant policy shifts with profound national security implications. If not, McCain’s proposals will explode the deficit.

McCain’s economic plans suggest significant and rapid troop withdrawals from Iraq, Afghanistan. To pay down the deficit, the McCain campaign said, “The McCain administration would reserve all savings from victory in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations in the fight against Islamic extremists for reducing the deficit. Since all their costs were financed with deficit spending, all their savings must go to deficit reduction.” Decreasing America's financial commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan can only occur by significantly reducing the U.S. force presence in Iraq. In order to meet the target of eliminating the deficit by 2013, troop levels would have to be substantially lowered in Iraq fairly early on in the McCain administration in order to have any impact on the deficit prior to 2013. [Politico, 7/7/08, Huffington Post, 7/7/08]

McCain calls for a massive increase in the size of the military – a proposal that would be incredibly expensive and near impossible to achieve as long as U.S. forces remain in Iraq. In his Foreign Affairs article last winter McCain called for expanding the ground forces by an additional 150,000 troops on top of the 92,000 expansion already taking place. “As president, I will increase the size of the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps from the currently planned level of roughly 750,000 troops to 900,000 troops. Enhancing recruitment will require more resources and will take time, but it must be done as soon as possible.” This proposal is incredibly expensive. The CBO estimates that increasing the ground forces to the current goal of about 750,000 would cost about $110 billion over seven years this is roughly $15 billion per year. Using the same projections, increasing the size of the ground forces by an additional 150,000 over this same period would cost at least an additional $25 billion per year. Attracting that many more volunteers would likely require significant funding, since the ground forces, especially the Army, have struggled to meet recruiting and retention goals throughout the war in Iraq and have had to lower standards and increase enlistment incentives. Further expansion may not be achievable without lowering standards and substantially increasing incentives to enlist, leading many to advocate a slower expansion. [Foreign Affairs, 11-12/08, CBO, 4/16/07, NSN 5/08

McCain promises to cut procurement of military systems to balance budget, without any indication of which systems he will cut. McCain’s economic plan as presented on his website supports “[cutting] wasteful spending in defense programs” and his top economic adviser, Doug Holtz-Eakin, assumes that “cuts in defense spending could make up for reducing corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%.” McCain, however, has failed to mention precisely which programs he would cut.  As ranking member of the Armed Services Committee McCain presumably has some understanding of which programs he will eliminate. Since McCain plans to cut defense spending to offset revenue losses from tax cuts, as well as offset his massive expansion of the military, the cuts in weapons procurement would likely be enormous and could endanger efforts to modernize the military. [, Forbes 6/6/08]

McCain's plan to end earmarks puts integral national security programs in peril. McCain pledged “I will veto every bill with earmarks, until the Congress stops sending bills with earmarks” noting that this would cut $65 billion. Yet this would include a substantial amount of the foreign assistance budget including aid to Israel. [Think Progress 4/16/08, Democracy Arsenal, 4/18/08]

Quick Hits

Following Prime Minister Maliki’s call for a timetable for withdrawal of US troops, two leading members of Congress proposed an extension of the UN mandate as a viable short term solution to the problem of continued troop deployment and the status of forces in Iraq. National Security Network addressed Maliki’s comments in our Daily brief yesterday.

Two disturbing stories grabbed the headlines today about the severe impact of PTSD on our troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. A recent study shows that the number of troops suffering from PTSD could be higher than the DoD has indicated, and stresses the importance of looking at PTSD as a war injury rather than a mental illness.

Despite fierce domestic opposition, the Czech government plans to sign an agreement on the highly unpopular US missile defense system with Secretary Rice. Experts close to NSN believe that this could pose a serious threat to the position of the government in power.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday travelled to the Group of Eight summit in Japan to sign a long awaited nuclear deal with the US. The new-found conviction is due to a shift in the political landscape, which has temporarily restored a majority for the ruling Congress party, but has exposed a variety of vulnerabilities that could endanger the fragile political bargain.

Breaking: McCain Pledges to Serve Only One Term
Posted by Adam Blickstein

OK, well maybe not in such explicit terms. But if elected, in his mind, he'll have solved all of America's and the world's most pressing problems by 2013, so what's the point of even running again for re-election? On top of pledging this week to balance the budget by the end of his first term, McCain's already promised to:

  1. Use Russia and China to pressure "Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, and North Korea to discontinue its own." (NOTE: McCain also seeks to kick Russia out of the G8)
  2. Increase American ground forces by 200,000
  3. Create a League of Democracies to, amongst other things, stem genocide in Darfur and quell the advance of climate change
  4. Create years of robust economic growth.
  5. Upend America's system of taxation by implementing a flat tax
  6. Cure global hunger by ending the current world food crisis,
  7. Shepard the world through an era of low global inflation and a "much-improved" quality of life "not only in our country but in some of the most impoverished countries around the world."
  8. Increase health care for Americans and lower overall health costs
  9. Bring America to the precipice of "independence from foreign sources of oil."
  10. Revolutionize the decades old social security system without jeopardizing benefits while introducing individual retirement accounts
  11. Solve America's immigration problem with "tremendous improvements to border security infrastructure and increases in the border patrol, and vigorous prosecution of companies that employ illegal aliens."

Oh, and he also will win the war in Iraq, stabilize the greater Middle East, and have American "health care better than anytime in history". All within a balanced budget.  Again, what's left to accomplish? Why after 2012 have a President or government at all? Why aren't reporters asking the big question: how is he really planning on doing all of this? And is this all an attempt to avoid the second-term pratfalls that have plagued nearly every President in the past?

July 07, 2008

McCain’s Deficit Reduction Proposal – Adopt Obama’s Iraq Plan
Posted by Max Bergmann

The McCain campaign just put out a policy plan that says “John McCain will balance the budget by the end of his first term.” This declaration leads to the obvious question – How? The CBO projects a $443 billion deficit in 2013 if Bush’s tax cuts are extended as McCain calls for - and on top of this McCain calls for additional tax cuts.

McCain says he will pay for this by cutting Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, and he would bring troops back from Iraq and Afghanistan… Yes you read that right. McCain’s plan to decrease the deficit is to bring the troops home. McCain’s economic policy paper explains that:

The McCain administration would reserve all savings from victory in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations in the fight against Islamic extremists for reducing the deficit. Since all their costs were financed with deficit spending, all their savings must go to deficit reduction.

This is a pretty bold statement from a campaign that in the last five days has called Barack Obama a flip flopper for saying he might “revise” his Iraq tactics. Now McCain is implying that he will bring a large portion of our troops home quickly enough to pay down the deficit?

Let’s get this straight.

A major plank of John McCain’s economic plan to reduce the deficit is based on substantially decreasing America’s financial commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan, which can only occur by significantly reducing the U.S. force presence in Iraq. Additionally, in order to meet the target of eliminating the deficit by 2013, troop levels would have to be substantially lowered in Iraq fairly early on in the McCain administration in order to have any impact on the deficit prior to 2013.

McCain’s economic plan actually sheds some real light on John McCain’s undefined Iraq position. (Note to the press: John McCain has never laid out a specific plan or strategy for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq, nor has he ever defined what he means by “victory.”) But now that we know that the McCain campaign’s economic forecasting and planning are based on having substantially fewer troops in Iraq, it is clear that John McCain’s Iraq plan is actually – according to the implications of his economic policy proposal – a copy of Barack Obama’s Iraq plan, which calls for a responsible deliberate withdrawal. Since adopting Obama’s plan would be the only way to achieve significant savings to pay down the deficit by 2013.

If this is not McCain’s Iraq plan – then his campaign essentially put out an economic policy plan that has no basis in reality and his pledge to eliminate the deficit is purely a cynical pledge to get elected. Either way he should be called out on this.

Thus far the press have treated McCain as the candidate with policy expertise and have ignored the fact that he has almost no policy specifics. Many of his policy proposals, especially on foreign policy, are incomplete, incoherent, and contradictory.  He needs to clarify not just how his numbers add up, but how many troops he plans on withdrawing, as well as his definition of victory is in Iraq. It is past time for some reporters to start asking these questions. I mean this guy is running for president.

What Reagan and Shultz Can Teach Us About Talking to Iran
Posted by The Editors

Our guest poster is Michael McFaul a Hoover Senior Fellow, Professor of Political Science, and Director of the Center of Democracy, Development, and Rule of Law at Stanford University.

In their column on National Review on June 24, 2008 called  “10 Concerns about Barack Obama,” William Bennett and Seth Leibsohn, begin their list of attacks on Senator Obama by writing that “Barack Obama’s foreign policy is dangerous, naïve, and betrays a profound misreading of history.”  In arguing against any engagement with Iran, William Bennett and Seth Leibsohn point out that “Ronald Reagan met with no Soviet leader during the entirely of his first term in office.”

This statement is factually correct.  And there was most certainly a big debate within Reagan Administration about whether to talk with the leaders of the Evil Empire. However, Bennett and Leibsohn imply in their piece that this debate was only resolved after the Soviet Union met some preconditions to talks and changed internally, that is after, as they write, that Reagan “was assured Gorbachev was a different kind of leader – after Perestroika, not before.” 

In fact, the debate about engaging the evil empire was resolved three years before Reagan met with Gorbachev.  The debate and the resolution in favor of talking to the leaders of the evil empires is meticulously chronicled in George’s Shultz’s memoir, Turmoil and Triumph: Diplomacy , Power, and the Victory of the American Ideal (1993).  Just the title of Chapter 25, "Realistic Reengagement with the Soviets," underscores how misleading the Bennett and Leibsohn rendition of  history is.

When they first came to Washington, many foreign policy advisors within Reagan administration advocated the Bennett and Leibsohn position and did not want to have any contact with the Soviets, even though every American president since the recognition to the USSR in 1933 had met with their Soviet counterparts.  When George Shultz became Secretary of States in 1982, he began to challenge this policy of disengagement, arguing that United States needed to engage both the Soviet leaders but also Soviet society.  As he writes in his memoirs about the start of the New Year in 1983, “I wanted to develop a strategy for a new start with the Soviet Union. I felt we had to try to turn the relationship around: away from confrontation and towards real problem solving.”  (p. 159) Shultz is writing about his thinking two years before Gorbachev comes to power.

Shultz’s idea for a turn towards engagement met resistance in the Reagan administration. Again, from his memoirs: “I knew the president’s White House staff would oppose such engagement. There was lots of powerful opposition around town to any efforts to bridge the chasm separating Moscow and Washington.”  After listing the opponents to direct negotiations, which included Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and CIA head Bill Casey, Shultz affirmed that “I was determined not to hang back from engaging the Soviets because of fears that the ‘Soviet wins negotiations’.” (p. 159).  Sound familiar? Instead the word, Iranians, for Soviets and you capture the essence of the debate today.

Shultz, as we all know, won this debate, convincing Reagan about the need to start talking directly to the Soviets (again well before Gorbachev came on to the scene). A subtitle of Chapter 12 of Shultz’s memoir is A President Ready to Engage. (p. 163).  In early February 1983, Shultz even floats the idea of meeting directly with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin for a private chat, to which Reagan responds, “Great”, and then adds “I don’t intend to engage in a detailed exchange with Dobrynin , but I do tell him that if Andropov is wiling to do business, so am I” (p. 164). (Remember Andropov died in 1983 and his successor, Chernenko, also did not serve long as the Soviet leader before dying in 1985. from 1983-1985, there was a real crisis of leadership inside the Soviet Union, a factor that contributed to the lack of direct talks at the highest levels).  Speed forwarding again to today’s Iran debate, which presidential candidate sounds more like Reagan?

Shultz’s approach toward engaging the Soviets offers another profound lesson for today’s Iran debate. Shultz never let the negotiations focus just on arms control.  That played o the Soviet’s strengths.  Rather, he insisted on an expanded agenda that always included human rights and democracy. Again, from his memoirs, "We were determined not to allow the Soviets to focus our negotiations simply on matters of arms control. So we continuously adhered to a broad agenda: human rights, regional issues, arms control, and bilateral issues." (p.267). This same approach is needed for dealing with the Iranian regime today.

Finally, Shultz never saw negotiations or expanding contacts with Soviets and Americans as a concession to Moscow or a signal of legitimacy for the communist dictatorship. In the debate about opening consulates in both countries – a move that some hardliners at the time saw as a sign of weakness – Shultz firmly supported the idea as a change in the American national interest. As he quotes from a memorandum that he wrote in 1982, "I believe the next step on our part should be to propose the negotiation of a new U.S.-Soviet cultural agreement and the opening of U.S. and Soviet consulates in Kiev and New York...Both of these proposals will sound good to the Soviets, but are unambiguously in our interest when examined from a hard headed American viewpoint."(p. 275). Exactly the same could be said about Iran today. 

Historical analogies can only go far.   Many dimensions of U.S.-Iranians relations differ radically from Cold War relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.  But when observers do roll them out, getting the facts right should be precondition to the substantive date about their relevance.

Michael is Right
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I think Michael's piece today in the Daily News is well worth a read

NSN Daily Update- 7/7/08
Posted by The National Security Network

Prime Minister Maliki Says that Timetable for Withdrawal Will be Part of SOFA Negotiations

Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki stated this weekend that a timetable for withdrawal will be part of an agreement to keep American forces in Iraq.  This statement combined with the conclusion by America’s Intelligence Community that Afghanistan and Pakistan represent the greatest direct danger to the United States and Admiral Mullen’s comments that he doesn’t have enough troops to fight in Afghanistan because of our commitment to Iraq, reinforce the fact that a timely withdrawal from Iraq is essential to focus on the greatest danger – Al Qaeda.  But John McCain ignores Iraqi politicians, our generals, and the intelligence community and instead insists on a large permanent presence in Iraq.

Maliki expresses desire for timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces as part of the Status of Forces Agreement.  For the first time, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki suggested that a new Security Framework Agreement with the United States could include a timetable for withdrawal of American forces.  While visiting the United Arab Emirates, Maliki said that “the current trend is to reach an agreement on a memorandum of understanding either for the departure of the forces or a memorandum of understanding to put a timetable on their withdrawal.” [Reuters, 7/7/08]

The Intelligence Community and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs agree that Iraq has diverted resources from the fight against those who attacked us on 9/11 and who continue to present the greatest direct threat to America’s security.  America’s Intelligence Community has stated that the Al Qaeda threat in Pakistan and Afghanistan represents the most direct danger to American forces.  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen has asserted that more U.S. troops are needed in Afghanistan to help control an increasingly active insurgency, but due to the war in Iraq, insufficient forces are available for such action.  “I don't have troops I can reach for, brigades I can reach to send into Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq," Mullen said. "Afghanistan remains an economy of force campaign, which by definition means we need more forces there. We have the ability in almost every single case to win from the combat standpoint, but we don't have enough troops there to hold. That is key to the future of being able to succeed in Afghanistan.” [Washington Post 7/2/08. National Intelligence Estimate, 7/07]

McCain has ignored Iraqi politicians and American generals.  John McCain has neither a plan to bring the troops home soon nor a definition of success in Iraq. “Americans are in South Korea, Americans are in Japan, American troops are in Germany. That's all fine,” McCain said in June.  McCain advisor, Max Boot, further affirmed McCain’s Iraq position: “We need to maintain a long-term commitment in Iraq – for 100 years if need be...a long-term presence designed to reassure Iraqis of our commitment to their security against an array of enemies.” [NBC, 6/08. Max Boot, 6/08]

Quick Hits

The Indian Embassy in Kabul was the target of a suicide bombing today, killing at least 40 and wounding over 140, following suicide bombing of a mosque in Pakistan on Sunday, which killed 11. 

The price of oil closed for Independence Day weekend at a record high of $145.29 per barrel, spurring talk of prices reaching $200 per barrel by the end of the year.

According to a new Gallup poll, an overwhelming 79% majority of Americans believe the President should get the approval of Congress before sending U.S. armed forces into action outside the United States, and 70% believe congressional approval should be required before the President decides to bomb suspected terrorists.

President Bush announced last week that he will attend the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics despite international calls for world leaders to boycott the ceremony in protest of China’s human rights abuses.

President Bush met today with Russia’s new President, Dmitry Medvedev, calling him a “smart guy.”  The two world leaders discussed their shared views on nuclear proliferation, their differences on U.S. missile defense plans for Eastern Europe, and President Bush’s birthday yesterday.

At the Group of Eight summit in Japan, the Zimbabwean election has taken center stage as members pressed for tougher stances on Mugabe. The conference topic is expected to shift towards climate change and rising food and oil prices in the next few days, though it is unclear whether the talks will produce meaningful results. In the meantime, Republican Presidential hopeful John McCain has called for Russia to be excluded from the G8.

Maliki Wants a Timetable
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So apparently Prime Minister Maliki thinks we need a timetable

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki raised the prospect on Monday of setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops as part of negotiations over a new security agreement with Washington.

It was the first time the U.S.-backed Shi'ite-led government has floated the idea of a timetable for the removal of American forces from Iraq. The Bush administration has always opposed such a move, saying it would give militant groups an advantage.

In a statement, Maliki's office said the prime minister made the comments about the security pact -- which will replace a U.N. mandate for the presence of U.S. troops that expires on December 31 -- to Arab ambassadors in the United Arab Emirates.

"The current trend is to reach an agreement on a memorandum of understanding either for the departure of the forces or a memorandum of understanding to put a timetable on their withdrawal."

First of all, this is no surprise.  The entire controversy over the SOFA from the Iraqi perspective was that the Iraqis wouldn't sign onto any long-term agreement if it didn't include a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces.  The political uproar in Iraq for an American withdrawal is simply too great.  So this makes absolute sense.  The key question now is whether or not the Bush Administration agrees.  If they do, we might get a reasonable agreement.  If they don't, they'll probably end up with a temporary renewal of the UN Security Council Resolution and the next President can negotiate this agreement.

Here's a question for the MSM, which has quite frankly had it's head up it's ass this weekend.  The press has been so obsessed with tactics that the minute Obama says that he might refine his timeline based on changes on the ground and consultation with Generals, it's somehow a huge flip flop.  Even though strategically everything remains the same:  leave Iraq, use our withdrawal to put pressure on Iraqi politician and focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to the standard the press set this weekend, if the Iraqi Government and George Bush agree on a timetable for withdrawal and McCain endorses it, isn't that a massive flip flop?  Doesn't McCain have to continue to argue for a long-term large permanent presence?  After all, this would in fact be a dramatic change in strategy.  The only options McCain has are to stay to the right of Maliki or flip flop.  But of course the press won't cover it that way.

Update:  Dr. Irak has more.

Anti-Smoking Campaigns (or why I love Egypt)
Posted by Shadi Hamid

When I'm in Egypt or Jordan, my clothes often end up smelling like smoke, not because I smoke, but because almost everyone else does (I think airplane toilets and Starbucks are the only two places in, or above, Jordan where you can't). Maybe this will change, but it probably won't. Still, the Egyptian government is going to start trying. It's set to launch an "anti-smoking campaign" soon. As an AP article from last month informs us, however, the powers-that-be ran into some problems:

For the new label requirements, authorities field-tested a variety of images. They found that warnings linking tobacco with death were not particularly effective with Egyptians, since dying is perceived as inevitable anyway.

Jesse Helms' "Bipartisan" Foreign Policy
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Marc Thiessen laments that the press isn't giving Jesse Helms enough credit for his bi-partisan foreign policy. 

He secured passage of bipartisan legislation to protect our men and women in uniform from the International Criminal Court. He won overwhelming approval for his legislation to support the Cuban people in their struggle against a tyrant. He won majority support in the Senate for his opposition to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. He helped secure passage of the National Missile Defense Act and stopped the Clinton administration from concluding a new anti-ballistic missile agreement in its final months in office -- paving the way for today's deployment of America's first defenses against ballistic missile attack. He helped secure passage of the Iraq Liberation Act, which expressed strong bipartisan support for regime change in Baghdad.

The problem with this argument is that everything Thiessen lists is actually a far right wing agenda item.  Opposing the scary International Criminal Court, which has spent its time going after savory characters like Slobodan Milosovic - what a bipartisan guy.  Wasting billions and making us less secure by working for national missile defense system that doesn't work and scares the rest of the world.  Continuing a mindless and useless policy towards Cuba that hasn't worked for 50 years.  The Iraq Liberation Act - that one worked out well.   Every single example that Thiessen cites has actually made America less secure and is part of the right wing foreign policy agenda.  According to this standard Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and George Bush are all bi-partisan statesmen. 

The Doha Agreement and the Future of Lebanon
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I have a good deal of trouble following Lebanese politics. And it seems like the Bush administration does too, considering their inability to formulate a coherent and effective approach toward the country (but in this of course Lebanon is no exception). May's Doha Agreement was an important marker in continuing efforts to resolve internal divisions that had paralyzed the country. Luckily, my colleague David Mikhail, our Lebanon analyst at the Project on Middle East Democracy, has a written an excellent piece on the agreement and what it means for the future of Lebanese politics. Make sure to check it out.

Guest Contributors
Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.

www Democracy Arsenal
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use