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July 26, 2008

Voting Against the Troops
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

McCain's campaign knows it's in trouble.  Obama just rocked an impressive international trip in which he showed not only the type of signal that he would send to the world, but that he does in fact have a greater grip of the issues.  Meanwhile, McCain was at home embarrassing himself on the Anbar Awakening and flailing around on timelines.

So, naturally on cue.  Here come the really nasty, disgusting personal attack ads about how Obama hates the troops.  Ya, of course he does.  Which is why he got this incredible reception from American forces in Kuwait. 

But, I'll let others address the reason that these claims are absolute garbage.  I wanted to focus on McCain's claim that Obama "voted against troop funding."  Well guess what?  So did John McCain.  Last year during the fight over Iraq troop funding and withdrawal from Iraq we saw two rounds of bills.  The first would force the President to begin withdrawing troops within 120 days.  It passed and was vetoed by the President.  John McCain voted against it and supported Bush's veto. So according to John McCain's own definition he himself voted against funding the troops.  Obama voted against the second round of bills, which did not include any attempt to force the President to bring American troops home.

If we want to have a real policy debate we should have it.  But Republican attempts to cast disagreement about the war as "voting against the troops" is disingenuous and not good for our country.  The American people wizened up to these kinds of phony attacks.  John McCain claimed to be above that type of politics.  But he obviously is not. 

"Fawning" Foreigners: Obama Big, McCain Small
Posted by Ari Melber

The McCain Campaign has finally found its line of attack against Barack Obama's widely heralded global tour. Ever since Obama canceled a trip to visit wounded soldiers in Germany, based on logistical disagreements with the Pentagon, McCain has used the snafu to argue that Obama -- you guessed it -- does not support the troops.  A new ad, released on Saturday, assails Obama for prioritizing limelight and exercise over honoring American soldiers:


And now, he made time to go to the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras.


The ad is running in selected markets in Colorado, Pennsylvania and DC. The campaign would not release the overall ad buy; the limited run suggests it is more focused on shaping the media narrative than directly persuading voters around the country.

Continue reading ""Fawning" Foreigners: Obama Big, McCain Small" »

July 25, 2008

The McCain Campaign's Worst Nightmare
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

For months the McCain campaign has been attempting to separate him from George Bush and it finally seems to have worked.  They must be thrilled with this headline from the NY Times.

Bush and McCain Seem to Diverge in Foreign Policy

Perfect.  McCain is the reasonable centrist.  Bush is the crazy man nobody likes.  This is exactly what they've been pushing for.  Oh wait...

Essentially, as the Bush administration has taken a more pragmatic approach to foreign policy, the decision of Mr. McCain, of Arizona, to adhere to his more hawkish positions illustrates the continuing influence of neoconservatives on his thinking even as they are losing clout within the administration.

Whether the perception of Mr. McCain as being at odds with the administration is politically advantageous for him is a matter of debate among his supporters, but many of his more conservative advisers do not think it is a bad thing.

“There’s no doubt, particularly as Bush has adopted policies in the direction of Obama, that that gives Obama bragging rights,” said John R. Bolton, the Bush administration’s former ambassador to the United Nations, who has sharply criticized the administration’s talks with Iran and North Korea. “But if you believe as I do that this administration is in the midst of an intellectual collapse, it doesn’t hurt McCain. Occasionally in politics it helps to be right.”

Could this be any worse for the McCain campaign?  These guys spent months trying to cultivate an image of a more moderate and reasonable foreign policy than George Bush.  The LA World Affairs Council Speech was all about portraying McCain as being better with our European allies.  The nuclear speech was supposed to make McCain seem more reasonable about international institutions.  But it's hard to make that arugment when on the most fundamental questions of war and peace you are as conservative and hawkish as John McCain.  It seems to finally have caught up with him.

On top of that.  Who is standing up for him and agreeing with his policies?  None other than John Bolton.  A guy who spends his days criticizing the Bush Administration for being too soft.


Bottom line:  from the start of this campaign one of the central imperatives for the McCain campaign was to distance itself from George Bush's extreme foreign policy.  They seem to have failed and that is some seriously bad news for John McCain.

An Appropriate Ending to a Miserable Week
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

OK.  So McCain finishes off this week by essentially endorsing Obama's 16 month timetable.  Seriously?  I'm glad he's taking my advice.  I really don't know what to make of this.  Either:

A.  He has finally come around to the right policy and has a lot of apologizing to do to Barack Obama.  After all, because of Obama's support for timetables, McCain has said this week that Obama would rather lose a war than lose and election. 


B.   McCain.  A man who is highly influenced by Neoconservative thought and earlier this year was arguing for keeping American troops in Iraq for 100 years, before moving to the permanent South Korea-like permanent basing model, is confused about his policy or just willing to say anything to win an election.

Count me a skeptic, but somehow I don't think a 16 month timetable will be part of the Iraq playbook if McCain becomes President.  Not when conservative allies like Charles Krauthammer are arguing that McCain is the candidate of permanent bases.

Obama's Berlin Speech
Posted by Michael Cohen

Over at the New York I had a few thoughts on Obama's Berlin speech that hopefully will be of interest to DA readers:

Few places hold as much symbolic power for presidential speechmaking as Berlin. So it’s little surprise that Barack Obama chose this city for his first major foray onto the global stage.

But if the West was united in 1963 when John F. Kennedy offered a lacerating indictment of communism and in 1987 when Ronald Reagan demanded that Mikhail Gorbachev tear down the Berlin Wall, today the trans-Atlantic alliance is teetering, with genuine and serious divisions between Europe and the United States.

To bridge these fissures, Mr. Obama returned to the same language he has used to try to bridge the partisan divide in America. In fact, his first major overseas speech on Thursday was not dissimilar to the ones he delivered in high school gymnasiums and town hall meetings in the United States. As a reflection of his call for post-partisan politics, it was classic Barack Obama.

Back during the Democratic primaries, it was more than a message of change that spurred Mr. Obama’s political rise, it was his vision of a united America coming together to solve common challenges — a call reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s pledge nearly 30 years ago to “make America great again.” Indeed, Mr. Obama’s message then was as much about bridging the divisions between blue-state and red-state America as it was about his policy prescriptions for providing universal health care or fixing a broken economy. In Berlin, he took this nonpartisan populist message and repackaged it for the rest of the world.

During the last few months, Mr. Obama has strayed somewhat from these themes, focusing more on the back and forth of daily politics and less on what George H. W. Bush deridingly called the “vision thing.” But it returned with a vengeance yesterday in the German capital.

Read the rest here.

Everybody Get Together
Posted by David Shorr

David Brooks misses the point when he takes a shot at Obama's people-coming-together message:

Much of the rest of the speech fed the illusion that we could solve our problems if only people mystically come together. We should help Israelis and Palestinians unite. We should unite to prevent genocide in Darfur. We should unite so the Iranians won’t develop nukes.

This isn't a mystical hope, it's our only hope. I don't think there are any illusions; this approach entails painstaking diplomatic work and navigating minefields of interests, sensitivities, slow-rolling, spoilers, malefactors... But as with any major policy dilemma, you have to ask: what's the alternative?

The fact is that we won't get anywhere with the forementioned international challenges -- or any of the numerous others -- without greater international solidarity and cooperation, which has been in short supply in recent years. When you put these key realities side by side -- a fragmented world community, ineffectual American leadership, and the pandora's box of urgent international challenges -- I think it's a slam dunk that we should try to bring the world's leaders, governments, and peoples together. We have a lot more to lose from not trying than from trying.

What John McCain Doesn't Understand About the Surge
Posted by Michael Cohen

As I mentioned earlier, John McCain has suddenly found a new political message - Barack Obama cares more about winning a campaign then he does about winning a war. And what is his basis for an accusation that borders on traitorous - Obama refuses to acknowledge the success of the surge. Here's what Obama has to say about success and the surge:

The same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true. . . Iraq’s leaders have failed to invest tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues in rebuilding their own country, and they have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge.

This is a key argument that Democrats have made for months now. Well let's go back and see John McCain had to say about this in January 2007.

There is agreement among most observers that the problems plaguing Iraq require a political solution. We all agree with that.  But it is also a lesson of history that unless you have security, security is a necessary precondition for political progress and economic development. . . first you have to come in and establish a secure environment, and then economic and political development can take place. 

There has been no time in history that without a secure environment, the rule of law and all the other necessities for the construction of a democracy, is possible.  Until the government and its coalition allies can provide safety for the population, the Iraqi people will increasingly turn to extra-governmental forces, especially Sunni and Shia militias.  Only when the government has monopoly on the legitimate use of force, unless authority have meaning, and only when its authority has meaning, can political activity have the results we seek. 

The presence of additional coalition forces would give the Iraqi government the ability to do what it cannot accomplish today on its own:  Impose its rule throughout the country. In bringing security to Iraq, and chiefly to Baghdad, our forces would give the government a fighting chance to pursue reconciliation. 

While McCain acknowledges that Iraqis have made political process even he does not go so far as to argue that political reconciliation has been achieved. Again, let's look at 2007 McCain's criteria for surge success:

By controlling the violence, we can pave the way for a political settlement.  Once the government wields greater authority, however, Iraqi leaders must take significant steps on their own.  These include a commitment to go after the militias, a reconciliation process for insurgents and Baathists, a more equitable distribution of government resources, provincial elections that would bring Sunnis and the government, and a large increase in employment-generating economic projects. 

Some of these things have clearly happened (going after the militias in Basra, a process for provincial elections etc) but many have not - most debilitating has been the failure to pass an  oil law, increase government budgets for reconstruction etc.

In fact, McCain's argument against the withdrawal of troops from Iraq is based on statements from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and General Petraeus that "Sen. Obama's dates for withdrawal would be very dangerous and we could lose everything that we've won."

Senator McCain can't have it both ways. He can't argue on the one hand that "Anyone, any rational observer who observes Iraq knows that the surge has succeeded. It just has," when he has posited his support for the surge on the pursuit of "political reconciliation," which his own statements acknowledge has not occurred and is fragile enough to fall apart if we leave.

Now McCain might believe we need to stay in order to consolidate these gains; and Obama thinks we should leave in order to provide leverage for real political reconciliation. But that is a policy difference and one that should be debated on the campaign trail. For McCain to argue that Obama's motivation is strictly political is not only unseemly but it's just wrong.

Continue reading "What John McCain Doesn't Understand About the Surge" »

Foreign Policy Priorities And The Legitimacy Agenda
Posted by David Shorr

Eric Schwartz of Connect U.S. has opened the floor for nominations of the top foreign policy priorities for the new president. Eric's own prefatory post is a good overview of America's legitimacy agenda itself. He breaks the challenge down into three parts: taking the hint when US positions are swimming against the tide of world opinion; recognition that legitimacy is fragile; and doing much better at practicing what we preach.

DA founder Suzanne Nossel and I have written an in-depth look at legitimacy challenges to the US for the near and longer term. I'll talk more about that once the Stanley Foundation has released it. Meanwhile, I'll nominate some priorities.

Continue reading "Foreign Policy Priorities And The Legitimacy Agenda " »

More From Off the Deep End
Posted by Michael Cohen

Loyal DA readers, can you spot the contradiction:

John McCain, July 25th 2008, Columbus Dispatch:

Anyone, any rational observer who observes Iraq knows that the surge has succeeded.

John McCain, July 25th 2008, Columbus Dispatch:

I always said that we would be withdrawing when the surge succeeded, and that's basically what Maliki has said as well. Certainly the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and General Petraeus are highly regarded by the American people. They say that Sen. Obama's dates for withdrawal would be very dangerous and we could lose everything that we've won.

I'm really confused here. If the surge is succeeding and according to McCain no "rational observer" can deny this fact, why is Obama's plan dangerous? By McCain's own criteria of success we should be withdrawing from Iraq.

Could it be that while the surge has improved the security situation it hasn't led to sustainable political and security improvements, which is of course precisely Obama's argument? Now it is a more than defensible argument to say that we should stay in Iraq to ensure that the recent security gains translate into tangible political gains (and of course Obama takes the opposite position, which is that Iraqi leaders won't carry out comprehensive political reforms until American troops begin to leave).

But that's not McCain's argument; he is saying that Obama can't be trusted -- and is playing politics -- because he refuses to acknowledge the success of the surge. But which one is it Senator; if the surge has succeeded why aren't we leaving Iraq?

Off the Deep End
Posted by Michael Cohen

There's a interview in the Columbus Dispatch today with John McCain that signals what can only be considered a disturbing trend in the direction of his presidential campaign - it now appears that McCain will say anything to attack his opponent; truth be damned:

Anyone, any rational observer who observes Iraq knows that the surge has succeeded. It just has. The conditions on the ground are very clear. Sen. Obama refuses to acknowledge that it succeeded.

I believe that by his failure to acknowledge the success of the surge — much less his opposition to it — shows that he would rather lose a war than a political campaign.

Now on one level this is sort of a non sequiter argument. I'm not sure how failing to acknowledge the success of the surge is indicative of an individual who would rather lose a war than a political campaign. Considering that most Americans believe the surge was successful, isn't Obama's position actually bad politics. He could just say yes, the surge has succeeded, but I still think the troops come home and pretty much be in line with well over half the American people.

But to Ilan's point from earlier this week John McCain doesn't understand the surge. Quite simply, McCain is wrong about the surge . . . again.

Back in January 2007 when George Bush announced that he would be sending more troops to Iraq he listed several key criteria that would define its success:

This new strategy will not yield an immediate end to suicide bombings, assassinations, or IED attacks. Our enemies in Iraq will make every effort to ensure that our television screens are filled with images of death and suffering. Yet over time, we can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror, and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents.

Clearly these things have occurred but it's what is supposed to happen next that is the rub:

When this happens, daily life will improve, Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas.

To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November.  To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.  To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs.  To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year.  And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution.

Now some of these measures have occurred like de-Baathification and plans for provincial elections. But some clearly have not. Most alarmingly, the Iraqis have still not passed an oil law and constitutional reforms remain a work in progress. They haven't made the sort of investments that Bush described 18 months ago and political accommodation and reconciliation has not occurred. McCain seems to believe that security improvements are the end all, be all in Iraq, but they are not and they never have been. Yet, this does not stop McCain from making this deplorable statement:

It's clear to me that anyone who fails to acknowledge the success of the surge would clearly have a political consideration.

By failing to acknowledge this lack of success and in turn the lack of ultimate success for the surge, McCain is the one who is not only being irrational, but in fact he is the one who is playing politics.

But what's even worse is that McCain is leaving out a critical part of the equation here. The implication of his comments is that Obama is making a strictly political decision to withdraw troops from Iraq, but in fact Obama's plans for Iraq are intimately connected to his plans for Afghanistan. In other words, Obama is making a strategic decision that Afghanistan is more important to America's national interests than Iraq.

Ending the war is essential to meeting our broader strategic goals, starting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is resurgent and Al Qaeda has a safe haven. Iraq is not the central front in the war on terrorism, and it never has been. As Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently pointed out, we won’t have sufficient resources to finish the job in Afghanistan until we reduce our commitment to Iraq.

Now John McCain may not agree with this, but his failure to even acknowledge it is pretty compelling evidence that "winning the war" is not his first agenda item. Instead it's playing politics with national security and misleading the American people with comments that intimate his opponent is a traitor.

NSN Daily Update: A Week That Changed the Foreign Policy Debate, 7/25/08
Posted by The National Security Network

The full NSN Daily Update can be found on our website. 

Quick Hits

Joe Klein says that John McCain’s foreign policy is unraveling.

Iran is both refusing to cooperate with the IAEA and sending out signals of closer cooperation.

The State Department in Iraq announced a tenfold expansion of its visa program for Iraqi employees, which will allow “5000 Iraqis to go to the United States for each of the next five years.”

The Secretary General of NATO called for more international attention on Afghanistan in the face of ever increasing foreign insurgent influx.

Meanwhile, President Karzai deemed the Afghan-Pakistan border to be “under serious threat” by a resurgent Taliban forces coming from Pakistan.

Afghanistan the forgotten war:  In another gaffe from his CBS interview, John McCain said that “Iraq was the first major conflict after 9/11.” 

The Iraqi Olympic team, which received “a roaring ovation at the opening ceremony four years ago,” was banned from this year’s Beijing competition.

Posted by Michael Cohen

There is an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that compares Batman to . .  wait for it . . . wait for it . . . George W Bush! I am not making this up:

There seems to me no question that the Batman film "The Dark Knight," currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.

There are so many bat-shit crazy statements in this paragraph I could literally be blogging for hours, weeks, months even years. You would have to pry the laptop off my comatose, snark-emptied body. Suffice to say, I would like to introduce the gentlemen who wrote this piece, one Andrew Klavan, to a document he is likely quite unfamiliar with -- the U.S.Constitution

But here's the crazy part . . . it gets better!

And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society -- in which people sometimes make the wrong choices -- and a criminal sect bent on destruction. The former must be cherished even in its moments of folly; the latter must be hounded to the gates of Hell.

Just so there is no ambiguity here, Mr. Klavan actually penned the words "Batman understands" -- and the Wall Street Journal published it!

Oh, but there is more:

Conversely, time after time, left-wing films about the war on terror -- films like "In The Valley of Elah," "Rendition" and "Redacted" -- which preach moral equivalence and advocate surrender, that disrespect the military and their mission, that seem unable to distinguish the difference between America and Islamo-fascism, have bombed more spectacularly than Operation Shock and Awe.

"Bombed more spectacularly than Shock and Awe" - now THAT is some funny shit! LOL. Good times all around.

And you know, Mr. Klavan is right - when I saw "In the Valley of Elah" I literally went home and got out my white flag (which like every Democrat I keep in a prominent place in my home below the velvet painting of Osama Bin Laden and above the desecrated American flag that I walk on every morning as a I venture to my coffee machine to make a delicious cafe latte). I of course began waving it out my window, hoping that some Al Qaeda member would see me and immediately accept my surrender. But alas, none were available :(  So instead I found the nearest US soldier I could find and spit on him! Mission Accomplished!

Oh, but just when you thought Mr. Klavan hadn't hit every branch on the crazy tree - there is more!

Left and right, all Americans know that freedom is better than slavery, that love is better than hate, kindness better than cruelty, tolerance better than bigotry. We don't always know how we know these things, and yet mysteriously we know them nonetheless.

Yes, it is a mystery! When did I ever learn that freedom was better than slavery? For years I thought cruelty was better than kindness and then one day, completely out of left field I suddenly realized that it was in fact wrong to waterboard kittens.

Finally, Mr. Klavan hits his coup de grace:

The true complexity arises when we must defend these values in a world that does not universally embrace them -- when we reach the place where we must be intolerant in order to defend tolerance, or unkind in order to defend kindness, or hateful in order to defend what we love.

When heroes arise who take on those difficult duties themselves, it is tempting for the rest of us to turn our backs on them, to vilify them in order to protect our own appearance of righteousness. We prosecute and execrate the violent soldier or the cruel interrogator in order to parade ourselves as paragons of the peaceful values they preserve.

You know what's odd about this, I had this crazy, wacky, left-wing notion that we prosecute violent soldiers and cruel interrogators because they are . . . you know, violent and cruel. But reading the WSJ has diabused me of this notion; in fact I hate these cruel and violent people to cover up for some terrible inadequacy in my own life, like my silly notion that people should abide by the rule of law and treat everyone with respect and dignity. There it is again, the left wing media brainwashing me again . . . damn you Phil Donahue!

Thank you Andrew Klavan for setting me straight! Thank you Batman for standing up for truth, justice and the American Way. And thank you George W Bush for . . . for . . . I'm sorry DA readers; even I can't go there.

July 24, 2008

Counterinsurgency: It's All About the Politics
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

John McCain's campaign and experts like Max Boot have all been saying that Maliki's calls for a timeline are meaningless because they are all about political posturing for his domestic audience.  This completely misses the point as I explain in my newest piece for the American Prospect.

Insurgencies and counterinsurgency strategies are, at their very core, all about domestic politics....Maliki's recent declaration was not, as John McCain would have you believe, just the Iraqi government playing politics. Instead, it was a genuine attempt by the Iraqi government to increase its legitimacy with its people -- a critical element of counterinsurgency. One of the main factors limiting the Iraqi government’s credibility with its own people is its complete dependence on the United States. Maliki's declarations were meant to limit that perception and shore up domestic support. After coming out so strongly and publicly for a gradual American withdrawal, the Maliki government has made it all but impossible to walk back. If it were to now sign an agreement that did not include some specific target dates for withdrawal or that tried to preserve the permanent South Korea-like presence that John McCain has long advocated, it would be seen by its own people as a weak American puppet instead of the legitimate government that it must become.

Goss appointed to congressional ethics panel - big "poker party" planned at Watergate to celebrate
Posted by Max Bergmann

Porter Goss was appointed to whaa... You got to be kidding me...

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday announced joint appointments to a landmark ethics review board that for the first time will allow private citizens to review allegations against members.

Still, four out of six members of the board for the newly created Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) will be former members of Congress, including former CIA Director Porter Goss (R-Fla.), who will serve as co-chairman.

For those who may have forgotten, Porter Goss abruptly resigned late on a Friday afternoon, as a hooker scandal was making the rounds through the CIA. Seems like the right man for the job. As Think Progress explained at the time,

Cunningham-linked defense contractor Brent Wilkes curried favor with lawmakers and CIA officials by hosting weekly parties at lavish hospitality suites at the Watergate and Westin hotels in Washington. Guests would gamble, socialize, and sometimes receive prostitutes; according to Harper’s magazine, the festivities “began early with poker games and degenerated” into what one source described “as a ‘frat party’ scene — real bacchanals.”

Obama sends a message to Germany on Afghanistan
Posted by Max Bergmann

Midway through his speech in Berlin, Obama brought up the awkward subject of European efforts in Afghanistan. Germans have become very opposed to the war in Afghanistan as well as Iraq. CRS noted that support for the war in Afghanistan declined to just 34 percent in Germany. The Germans continue to maintain strict caveats on their troop deployments which prevents them from being deployed into intense combat. Germany has also resisted calls from Secretary Gates among others to increase their meager 3,200 troop deployment and to remove the caveats on their use. But Obama did not shy away from confronting Germany and Europe on this issue.

This is the moment when we must renew our resolve to rout the terrorists who threaten our security in Afghanistan, and the traffickers who sell drugs on your streets.  No one welcomes war. I recognize the enormous difficulties in Afghanistan.  But my country and yours have a stake in seeing that NATO’s first mission beyond Europe’s borders is a success. For the people of Afghanistan, and for our shared security, the work must be done.  America cannot do this alone.  The Afghan people need our troops and your troops; our support and your support to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, to develop their economy, and to help them rebuild their nation.  We have too much at stake to turn back now.

Part of the reluctance of Germany to do more in Afghanistan is that it has been tainted by the war in Iraq. As Secretary Gates acknowledged, linking Iraq and Afghanistan under one rubric of the "war on terror" has led many in Europe to view them both as Bush's wars and as a result severely lowered the popularity of the Afghanistan mission. The relationship with Europe will no doubt improve greatly with an Obama administration, but regaining the trust of Europe and convincing to do more in Afghanistan will be quite a challenge.

New blog to add to the roll
Posted by Max Bergmann

Jim Arkedis has started a new blog over at PPI. Jim is an all around good guy and his blog is sure to be another important voice in the growing community of national security blogs. Today Jim rips the Bush administration and Condi Rice for their confused statements on North Korea:

By her own admission yesterday, Condolezza Rice had a “good meeting” on nuclear disarmament with North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun.  But the White House still couldn’t bring itself to admit it was negotiating with the Hermit Kingdom.  Instead, US officials called the get-together a “conversation.”

What’s more, the FT bizarrely quotes the White House this week saying it would “still consider [North Korea] as part of an ‘axis of evil’”.  Never mind that the Bush administration removed Kim Jong Il from the state sponsors of terrorism list last month.

NSN Daily Update: Bush Administration Shifts Aid To Pakistan With No Counterterrorism Strategy in Sight. 7/24/08
Posted by The National Security Network

Our complete daily update can be accessed on our website.

Here are som Quick Hits

Barack Obama emphasized “the importance of negotiation” in the Israel-Palestine conflict on his visit to Israeli towns and the Gaza strip.

He continued to Germany, one of the U.S. allies John McCain has referred to as “vacuous and posturing,” where he hopes his speech “will be viewed as a substantive articulation of the relationship [he’d] like to see between the United States and Europe.”

The Kurdish President of Iraq Talabani today vetoed a controversial provincial election bill that stands accused of partiality against Kurds. The Kurds in Parliament walked out of the room over the issue, which would politically divide the city of Kirkuk, historically Kurdish

In a New York Times Magazine article, a former Bush Administration official said the Pentagon opium eradication effort in Afghanistan was “not pursued aggressively enough”.

Senator Joe Biden echoes Obama’s position to “successfully end the war in Iraq while refocusing on the fight in Afghanistan” in an editorial in USA Today.

Congressional Quarterly lifts the curtain on how NSN and other groups make the sausage.

Joe Klein Nails Neoconservatism
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Klein's column this week about McCain totally nails it.  But I will say that I thought this one sentence description of Neo-Conservative foreign policy is right on the money.

Neoconservatism in foreign policy is best described as unilateral bellicosity cloaked in the utopian rhetoric of freedom and democracy.

Pot Meet Kettle
Posted by Michael Cohen

Today in the New York Times article on the back and forth between Obama and McCain on the surge there is this rather incomprehensible moment:

But several foreign policy analysts said that if Mr. McCain got the chronology wrong, his broader point — that the troop escalation was crucial for the Awakening movement to succeed and spread — was right. “I would say McCain is three-quarters right in this debate,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

I'm trying to decide what's more shocking here that the New York Times couldn't find ANYONE other than Michael O'Hanlon to offer a comment or that Michael O'Hanlon thinks John McCain is right. Jeez, of course Michael O'Hanlon thinks John McCain is right! I can't imagine what McCain could say about Iraq that Michael O'Hanlon wouldn't agree with (hey Michael Cooper, O'Hanlon is running to be McCain's national security advisor).

But here's the best part:

Mr. O’Hanlon, of the Brookings Institution, said he did not understand why Mr. Obama seemed to want to debate the success of the surge. “Any human being is reluctant to admit a mistake,” he said, noting that it takes on added risk in a political campaign.

Mr O'Hanlon meet kettle. Kettle meet Michael O'Hanlon.

Update (Written By Ilan):  Editor and Publisher takes a crack at Michael Cooper for his questionable reporting on this story.

But The New York Times' summary today, in seeking balancing quotes, did not reveal the background of its key pro-McCain source.

Reporter Michael Cooper, halfway through the recounting, wrote, "The National Security Network, a liberal foreign policy group, called Mr. McCain’s explanation of the surge’s history 'completely wrong.'”

Cooper then added: "But several foreign policy analysts said that if Mr. McCain got the chronology wrong, his broader point — that the troop escalation was crucial for the Awakening movement to succeed and spread — was right." He then quoted Michael O'Hanlon: “I would say McCain is three-quarters right in this debate,” identifying him only as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

This seemed odd, in that Cooper had clearly identified the background of the National Security Network as "liberal" without acknowledging that O'Hanlon was, and remains, one of the key proponents and defenders of the surge from the beginning -- even before the beginning, in op-eds in The New York Times and elsewhere.

July 23, 2008

What is John McCain Talking About?
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Just to follow up on Shawn's point.  Here is the video of John McCain somehow trying to retroactively argue that by "surge" he meant "counterinsurgency strategy" and that the counterinsurgency strategy and thus the surge actually went back to 2006.   

One problem.  Just two months ago McCain came under attack for saying this:

"I can tell you that it is succeeding. I can look you in the eye and tell you it's succeeding. We have drawn down to pre-surge levels." 

Of course, U.S. forces hadn't drawn down to "pre surge" levels.  They are only now just getting back to 140,000, which is still above pre-surge levels.  But that's besides the point.  What was McCain referring in that moment?  Was he saying "We are drawing back down to where we were before Colonel McFarland started using counterinsurgency tactics in Anbar as part of the Anbar Awakening."  No, that is completely and patently absurd.  He meant that we are coming back down to pre-January 2007 numbers when the "surge" actually began.

In fact, he added later:

"The surge, we have drawn down from the surge and we will complete that drawdown to the end -- at the end of July. That’s just a factual statement."

According to this statement John McCain is basically asserting that the surge is over.  But based on his own definition today the "surge" actually equals the counterinsurgency strategy.  So, is the counterinsurgency strategy over?  I think that might be news to General Petraeus.

Basically this is one of the most pathetic attempts of political spin that I have seen in quite a while.  Let's face it.  When John McCain went on CBS he completely bungled the facts and demonstrated that he had no idea of how the surge and Anbar Awakening played out.  His attempted explanation today by somehow claiming that by "surge" he actually meant the counterinsurgency strategy that was going on months before the troop increase, might make sense if he hadn't spent the past few months referring to the surge synonymously as the troop increase that began in early 2007.

Obama’s Trip: Nothing But Net
Posted by Shawn Brimley

Barack Obama is set to complete a masterful overseas trip with his stop in Berlin tomorrow, and has proven yet again that he can gain and sustain the respect of foreign leaders and military commanders. His flawless three-point shot in front of adoring American troops in Kuwait is the perfect image for perhaps the most consequential foreign trip by a presidential candidate in recent history.

In Afghanistan, Obama reiterated his belief that America lost focus in the hunt for the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, and along with Senator's Reed and Hegel stated that:

We're in Afghanistan because this is the central front in the war on terrorism. Those who actually attacked us on 9/11 reside in the badlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan. They have regrouped and they are getting stronger…

In Iraq, Obama met with a range of military offices and Iraqis, including General David Petraeus and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The New York Times concluded that his Iraq trip went off without a hitch:

After a day spent meeting Iraqi leaders and American military commanders, Mr. Obama seemed to have navigated one of the riskiest parts of a weeklong international trip without a noticeable hitch and to have gained a new opportunity to blunt attacks on his national security credentials by his Republican rival in the presidential race, Senator John McCain.

Whether by chance or by design, the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq chose a day when Mr. Obama was in the country to provide its clearest statement yet about its views on the withdrawal of American troops. After a weekend of dispute about precisely what Mr. Maliki was suggesting, his spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, told reporters in Baghdad, "We cannot give any timetables or dates, but the Iraqi government believes the end of 2010 is the appropriate time for the withdrawal.

All this while the McCain campaigned tried to make the argument that precisely because the U.S. is "winning" in Iraq, any notion of leaving by the end of 2010 (more than two years from now!) is irresponsible. This while America's most senior military leaders are asking for more troops in Afghanistan.

And today in Israel, Obama reiterated his commitment to Israel while promising to act as a friend to both Israelis and Palestinians if he were elected to the Oval Office.

For the McCain camp, it has been quite a different week. On the day Obama was sinking three-pointers in Baghdad, McCain was seen traveling with the elder George Bush in a golf cart. Then the campaign tried to score points be publicizing the fact that the New York Times rejected McCain's opinion piece on Iraq. Later in the week, McCain claimed that the "surge" of U.S. troops into Iraq in early 2007 helped begin the so-called Anbar Awakening in Iraq in 2006, which was widely reported as the gaffe it was.

And today, a new poll shows that Obama is maintaining his 6-point lead over McCain. I think one can assume that the powerful images of Obama speaking to an estimated 100,000 people tomorrow in Berlin will push those numbers even higher.

Digging a Deeper Hole
Posted by Shawn Brimley

John McCain's gaffe yesterday on the history of the Sunni Awakening in Anbar province was pretty clear. He stated that the "surge" allowed U.S. troops to help protect Sunni sheiks in Anbar and allowed the Anbar awakening to begin. As has been pointed out, the Awakening began in 2006 while the "surge" of U.S. troops into Iraq didn't get started until 2007.

McCain didn't back down from that claim today – this from the AP:

It's all a matter of semantics, [McCain] suggested.

McCain said Army Col. Sean MacFarland started carrying out elements of a new counterinsurgency strategy as early as December 2006.

At issue are McCain's comments in a Tuesday interview with CBS. The Arizona senator disputed Democrat Barack Obama's contention that a Sunni revolt against al-Qaida combined with the dispatch of thousands more U.S. combat troops to Iraq to produce the improved security situation there. McCain called that a "false depiction."

McCain asserted he knew that and didn't commit a gaffe. "A surge is really a counterinsurgency made up of a number of components. ... I'm not sure people understand that `surge' is part of a counterinsurgency."

A surge is really a counterinsurgency? That argument isn't going to fly. The word "surge" has always been used to as shorthand referring to President Bush's decision to deploy about 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq in early 2007, the first of which did not arrive in Iraq until later in the spring. By ignoring the fact that a number of important variables combined to help improve the security situation in Iraq in 2007 (Sunni Awakening, Sadr's decision to stand down his militia, the movement of Sunni and Shia in Baghdad into defensible enclaves), the McCain campaign is ignoring important facts, and distorting the historical record.

McCain said that the surge of troops in 2007 "began the Anbar awakening" in 2006. McCain is the one using a "false depiction" in a misguided attempt to score political points. In case his campaign didn't notice, Democrats aren't running away from foreign policy or national security anymore. Bring it on.

Getting the History of the Surge Right
Posted by Shawn Brimley

Just to add to Ilan's great post, the McCain campaign has constantly tried to oversimplify the war for political gain. McCain told Katie Couric:

McCain: I don't know how you respond to something that is as-- such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel McFarlane [phonetic] was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that's just a matter of history.

Sorry sir, that's just plain wrong. I'll let Colonel McFarland's article in the March/April issue of Military Review speak for itself:

Why We Succeeded

Clearly, a combination of factors, some of which we may not yet fully understand, contributed to this pivital success. As mentioned before, the enemy overplayed its hand and the people were tired of Al Qaeda. A series of assasinations had elevated younger, more aggressive tribal leaders to positions of influence. A growing concern that the U.S. would leave Iraq and leave the Sunnis defenseless against Al Qaeda and Iranian-supported militias made those younger leaders open to our overtures. Our willingness to adapt our plan based on the advice of the sheiks, our staunch and timely support for them in times of danger and need, and our ability to deliver on our promises convinced them that they could do business with us...

Seriously, if you are going to cite a military officer in a political debate, the least you can do is actually make sure you are citing his argument correctly.


The Bush/McCain Tower of Babel
Posted by Adam Blickstein

This should put "mistranslation" finally to rest, per Ben Smith via TNR:

"We have a policy at Der Spiegel when we do a question and answer session to provide a transcript to our counterparts in case they want to have a minor thing changed,” says Müller von Blumencron, who says Zand verified that Maliki’s aides received the publication-ready advance copy. They had no response, and presumably no complaints, before its release.

I think if anything is being lost in the translation, it's the unwillingness of McCain and the Bush administration to admit that the Iraqi government, the very politicians they wanted to empower in the first place, are calling for U.S. troops to start leaving Iraq in the near future.  Or in other words, the McCain/Bush crowd is re-translating pretty clear statements of intent on the part of the Iraqi's into language that suits their own political goals rather than accepting what seem to be repetitive and unambiguous assertions favoring withdrawal.This should be easily understandable, regardless of the tongue being spoken.

McCain is Afraid to Talk About Iraq
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Ben Smith points out that McCain canceled his press availability because he didn't want to deal with the mess he's created for himself.  Yglesias adds that after complaining for two days about no press coverage it's pretty amusing for him at this point to cancel his one press availability.

I'll add another point.  John McCain canceled his presser today because he is afraid to talk about IRAQ.  Not the economy.  Not energy policy.  Not abortion.  Not judges.   Not healthcare.  IRAQ.  You know the issue on which he's run his whole campaign on.  It gets even more ridiculous when you realize that the reason McCain won't talk today is because of the SURGE.  John McCain is afraid to talk about the SURGE.  John McCain's campaign would like to you think that he is king of the surge.  That he absolutely owns it.  But today it is clear that he doesn't even understand the history behind it. 

If this isn't a sign that John McCain is in serious trouble, I don't know what is.

Like Shooting Wildebeest in a Barrel
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Making fun of Duncan Hunter seems almost too easy.  So I'll just point you to this brilliant Al Kamen column on Hunter's idea that he should go hunt wildebeest in Kenya and then donate the carcasses to refugee camps in Chad. I can't improve on it but I can, with the help of sources, make some contextualizing points. 

1.  Wildebeest are endangered:  why would you hunt them?

2.  Wildebeest aren't native to Chad; why not just ship over surplus ostrich and llama from all the people in the US who optimistically started ostrich and llama farms?  Or carp and tillapia from all the fish farms that are going belly-up because of the increase in feed grain prices?

3.  Wildebeest are currently more endangered than usual because the political unrest in Kenya has disrupted tourism and heightened incentives for poaching.  This suggests Duncan Hunter could be really helpful by going to Kenya, spending lots of money in and around game parks, but only shooting at animals which are currently overpopulated. Oh, wait -- he could be really useful by advocating in Congress policies that provide meaningful economic development support and trade incentives to Kenyans and other Africans, and policies that provide more financial support to refugees and increase options for refugee resettlement.  Wait, that's not as much fun as hunting?

On second thought, I have another idea.  Go hunt as much as he likes -- let the wildebeest take their chances -- and put someone else in the Congressional seat.

That Wacky, Wacky Washington Post Editorial Board
Posted by Michael Cohen

The slavish support of the Washington Post editorial board for the war in Iraq is not a new phenomenon, but today's editorial about Obama's trip to Iraq is a particularly egregious and pathetic example. The Post alleges:

"It seems worthwhile to point out that, by Mr. Obama's own account, neither U.S. commanders nor Iraq's principal political leaders actually support his strategy."

Well indeed this would be a worthwhile point if the above statement was either true or relevant. It is neither.

First the Post argues, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has a history of tailoring his public statements for political purposes, made headlines by saying he would support a withdrawal of American forces by 2010. But an Iraqi government statement made clear that Mr. Maliki's timetable would extend at least seven months beyond Mr. Obama's."

This is just sad. First of all, identify me a politician who doesn't tailor public statement for political purposes. The Post Editorial Board might want to walk out of their offices and take a gander over at 1600 Pennsylvania for another example of individuals who engage in such behavior.

But the Post is either misinformed or obfuscating about the statements of Iraqis leaders regarding Obama's plan. Here is Maliki in Der Spiegel:

"U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes"

Here's the Iraqi national security advisor, Ali al-Dabbagh:

Iraq's government spokesman is hopeful that U.S. combat forces could be out of the country by 2010.

Ali al-Dabbagh made the comments following a meeting in Baghdad on Monday between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama, who arrived in Iraq earlier in the day.


And what is the Post's basis for arguing that the Iraqis want troops out by the end of 2010? As near as I can tell it is this quote from Iraq's Sunni Vice President, Tariq al-Hashemi

"I'd be happy if we reach an agreement to say, for instance, the 31st of December 2010" would mark the departure of the last U.S. combat unit.

For instance! They are basing their attack on Obama on a "for instance!" Criminy!

Why is the Post even arguing this point - even if you buy the somewhat silly notion that the Iraqis want US troops out by the end of 2010 and Obama wants them out in the middle of 2010, who cares? Clearly the Iraqis and Obama are on the same page and John McCain who is calling for US troops to remain in Iraq for 100 years is not. Maybe the Post could engage on that question.

But this is easy pickings. Here is the Post's argument that really ticks me off, their notion that we shouldn't leave Iraq because the military doesn't agree:

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the architect of the dramatic turnaround in U.S. fortunes, "does not want a timetable," Mr. Obama reported with welcome candor during a news conference yesterday. In an interview with ABC, he explained that "there are deep concerns about . . . a timetable that doesn't take into account what [American commanders] anticipate might be some sort of change in conditions."

Forgive me for saying, but why is this relevant? Any President should certainly welcome the view of military leaders but ultimately David Petraeus works for the President (chain of command, baby) and when the President tells him to do something, he does it. End of discussion. The President's job is to set policy and the military's job is to implement it. If a President Obama decides that it is in US interests for American troops to be sent from Iraq to Afghanistan Petraeus can make his concerns know, but ultimately his job is to salute and do what he is ordered to do.

Over the past few years we've become inured to the notion that our military leaders are the ones driving our political decisions on the war on terror, but of course this is exactly backwards and undermines the very notion of civilian leadership of the military.

Finally, what's most maddening about the quote from Obama above is that he was not saying these words to show that the military disagrees with his plan, but instead that he will be flexible in implementing his withdrawal plan based on what he hears from the military. Isn't that the kind of approach that we want from our political leaders?

You know if I didn't know any better one would think that the Washington Post is basing their editorials on cherry-picked information and is ignoring key underlying realities. Hmm, that does sound familiar.

NSN Daily Update: McCain Gets History of Surge Wrong, 7/23/08
Posted by The National Security Network

Again, the Daily Update is now available on our website.   Today's topic is: McCain Gets History of the Surge Wrong

Quick Hits

The Wall Street Journal reports that “the outlines of a possible consensus” on a 2010 withdrawal date are developing for an Iraq pullout between the Bush administration, the U.S. military, the Maliki government, Senator Obama, and possibly Senator McCain.

Salon buzzes about a possible investigation of the Bush administration’s surveillance regime
with new documents revealing interest in a possible inquiry modeled on the Watergate-era Church Committee.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad called the recent round of talks over Iran’s nuclear program “good,” also stating that US Envoy William Burns, who was at the meeting merely to “observe,” “spoke politely and in a dignified way.”

Senator Barack Obama continues his overseas trip with, today travelling to Israel and the West Bank.
  Meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Obama reaffirmed his “abiding commitment to Israel’s security.”

The U.S. military has significantly refined its tactical approach to air strikes in Afghanistan, trying to lessen the amount of collateral damage and civilian casualties.

A boycott by Kurdish lawmakers has scuttled the provincial election legislation passed by the Iraqi Parliament. 

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with her North Korean counterpart today, the first such high-level nuclear talks in four years. 

July 22, 2008

Oh, the Irony
Posted by Moira Whelan


Seven Congressmen were on a Continental Airlines flight trying to make it back to DC when the plane made an emergency landing due to the loss of cabin pressure.

They were trying to make it back to vote on an Aviation Safety bill.

Not a Gaffe: A Fundamental Misunderstanding of Iraq
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

John McCain made a mistake this evening, which as far as I'm concerned disqualifies him from being President.  It is so appalling and so factually wrong that I'm actually sitting here wondering who McCain's advisers are.  This isn't some gaffe where he talks about the Iraq-Pakistan border.  It's a real misunderstanding of what has happened in Iraq over the past year.  It is even more disturbing because according to John McCain, Iraq is the central front in the "war on terror."  If we are going to have an Iraq-centric policy, he should at least understand what he is talking about.  But anyway, what happened.

On Katie Couric tonight McCain says:

Kate Couric: Senator McCain, Senator Obama says, while the increased number of US troops contributed to increased security in Iraq, he also credits the Sunni awakening and the Shiite government going after militias. And says that there might have been improved security even without the surge. What's your response to that?

McCain: I don't know how you respond to something that is as-- such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel McFarlane [phonetic] was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that's just a matter of history. Thanks to General Petraeus, our leadership, and the sacrifice of brave young Americans. I mean, to deny that their sacrifice didn't make possible the success of the surge in Iraq, I think, does a great disservice to young men and women who are serving and have sacrificed.

One problem.  The surge wasn't even announced until a few months after the Anbar Awakening.  Via Spencer Ackerman, here is Colonel MacFarland explaining the Anbar Awakening to Pam Hess of UPI, on September 29 2006.  That would be almost four months before the President even announced the surge.  Petraeus wasn't even in Iraq yet.

With respect to the violence between the Sunnis and the al Qaeda -- actually, I would disagree with the assessment that the al Qaeda have the upper hand. That was true earlier this year when some of the sheikhs began to step forward and some of the insurgent groups began to fight against al Qaeda. The insurgent groups, the nationalist groups, were pretty well beaten by al Qaeda.

This is a different phenomena that's going on right now. I think that it's not so much the insurgent groups that are fighting al Qaeda, it's the -- well, it used to be the fence-sitters, the tribal leaders, are stepping forward and cooperating with the Iraqi security forces against al Qaeda, and it's had a very different result. I think al Qaeda has been pushed up against the ropes by this, and now they're finding themselves trapped between the coalition and ISF on the one side, and the people on the other.

And here is the NY Times talking about the Anbar Awakening back in March 2007.

The formation of the group in September shocked many Sunni Arabs. It was the most public stand anyone in Anbar had taken against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which was founded by the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

And here is Colin Kahl in Foreign Affairs

The Awakening began in Anbar Province more than a year before the surge and took off in the summer and fall of 2006 in Ramadi and elsewhere, long before extra U.S. forces started flowing into Iraq in February and March of 2007. Throughout the war, enemy-of-my-enemy logic has driven Sunni decision-making. The Sunnis have seen three "occupiers" as threats: the United States, the Shiites (and their presumed Iranian patrons), and the foreigners and extremists in AQI. Crucial to the Awakening was the reordering of these threats.

This is not controversial history.  It is history that anyone trying out for Commander in Chief must understand when there are 150,000 American troops stationed in Iraq.  It is an absolutely essential element to the story of the past two years. YOU CANNOT GET THIS WRONG.  Moreover, what is most disturbing is that according to McCain's inaccurate version of history, military force came first and solved all of our problems.  If that is the lesson he takes from the Anbar Awakening, I am afraid it is the lesson he will apply to every other crisis he faces including, for example, Iran.

This is just incredibly disturbing. I have no choice but to conclude that John McCain has simply no idea what is actually happened and happening in Iraq. 

Missile Defense Chess
Posted by Adam Blickstein

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino today addressed the escalating rhetoric between the U.S. and Russia over missile defense, including Russian threats of placing strategic nuclear bombers in Cuba if the U.S. pursues placing missile defense systems in Eastern Europe:

But US President George W. Bush told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev just two weeks ago that the planned US missile shield poses no threat to Russia, spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

"The president repeated that our missile defense system should not be seen as a threat to Russia, we want to actually work with the Russians to design a system that Russia, and Europe and the United States could work on together as equal partners and we'll continue to do that," she said.

Starting long-range bomber flights to Cuba would signal a reawakening of military cooperation by former Cold War allies Moscow and Havana, and recall the 1962 missile crisis that brought Washington and Moscow to the brink of war.

"We seek strategic cooperation with the Russians. We want to work with them on preventing missiles from rogue nations like Iran from threatening our friends and allies," said Perino.

Regardless of how missile defense should be seen by Russia, the Russian's clearly see it as antagonism at best, a tangible threat at worst, with the likely reality being somewhere in between. Nonetheless, it provides Russia the political opportunity to posture strategically against the U.S. and project its image as a power abroad, which is both good for its international standing and the government's domestic appeal with American popularity at such a low.  The problem for someone like John McCain, though, is that he wants to continue the antagonizing rhetoric and policies towards Russia (including kicking them out of the G8) at a time when we desperately need to develop a new Russian strategy in order to tackle struggling strategic concerns for the U.S. such as nuclear proliferation and Iran. Which is why a statement like this is curious:

Russia’s 50% cut in oil deliveries to the Czech Republic after that sovereign country and NATO member signed a treaty to host a missile defense radar is a deeply disturbing example of Russia's efforts to use energy as a tool of coercion and intimidation...U.S.-Russia relations are not, and shouldn't become, a zero sum game. As president, I intend to work hard to identify mutual interests. But this is a two way street, and actions like we see today suggest that Russia has other ideas. I hope that its leaders will understand the need to focus on what brings us together.

McCain made a similar assertion at today's town hall and seems to be wanting it both ways. He wants to pursue a comprehensive missile defense system, but also implores Russia not to react in such an aggressive way against countries cooperating with the U.S. on something they fundamentally object to.  Russia has made it clear that any missile defense in Eastern Europe is unacceptable, and yet we continue to push the anachronistic policy almost unabated and unflinchingly of Russia. We shouldn't be shocked that Russia would react in such a way, but John McCain views the issue through such a rigid prism even though American intransigence and lack of a coherent Russia policy is simply inflaming the situation. Bush and Putin are going to meet in Beijing during next month's Olympics to discuss the unraveling situation, which is a good start. But until the U.S. completely reappraises the efficacy of missile defense in relation to our broader strategic goals, and politicians such as McCain realize that criticizing Russian reaction to something it sees as antagonistic doesn't accomplish anything but perpetuating a stale talking point, real solutions to the greater problems with our relationship with Russia will never be addressed.

Idealism v. Realism v. Pragmatism
Posted by David Shorr

The prize for insightful analysis of the foreign policy debate goes to Fareed Zakaria's recent column about Obama's worldview, which focuses on a key, often missed, point. We've seen the idealism-versus-realism story so many times that it seem like it writes itself (which maybe is the point). Zakaria explains how progressives propose to manage this inevitable tension. In a word: pragmatism. It's not that idealism should be tossed aside in favor of a Mearsheimerian cynicism, but that it must be tempered with a careful reading of what is achievable and the potential consequences of our actions. I once heard a very pithy expression of this idea at a Marine Corps conference on stability operations from Chester Crocker (an internationalist Republican), who said we need to be "hard-headed without being hard-hearted."

The NSN Daily Update has moved to the website...
Posted by The National Security Network

Our NSN Daily Update can now be found on our website.  Today's subject is: A Good Week for International Law. 

Here are some Quick Hits:

Prime Minister Maliki’s office again reiterated yesterday his position that American combat troops should leave Iraq by 2010. Furthermore, Dan Balz notes in the Washington Post that, including a quasi-endorsement of Obama’s Iraq policy by the Iraqi government, “the events of the past few days have played unfailingly in the Democrat's favor.”

John McCain yesterday claimed that Iraq and Pakistan share a border. In fact, the countries are approximately 1500 miles apart and are separated by Iran and Afghanistan, two countries with significant claims on the attention of an American President. 

Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s beleaguered president, and the leader of the opposition Morgan Tsvangirai met to “chart a new way”. Their appearance resulted in an agreement which it is hoped will end political strife in the country.

The judge in charge of the military trial of Osama Bin Laden’s driver excluded some evidence obtained through coercive measures.

In an Op-Ed, Anthony Cordesman urged the United States to take on a larger role in helping develop Palestinian security forces as a necessary element of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Barack Obama has landed in Jordan, where he will meet with King Abdullah.
He plans to continue on to Israel.

July 21, 2008

Karadzic, Bashir: International Law Has a Pretty Good Week
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

For an institution that has been ridiculed, assaulted and accused of non-existence in recent years, international law -- and more important, international accountability for crimes committed against one's own citizens -- is having a pretty darn good run right now.

Today comes the news that, in response to yet another round of European Union pressure, the Serbian government itself arrested indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic -- a far cry from the days of NATO troops chasing him futilely around the Bosnian countryside seven years ago.  Looks as if the Hague is his next stop.  (Karadzic, in case you've forgotten, ordered the killings of 7500 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995, shelled Sarajevo, and used UN peacekeepers as human shields.  I do wonder whether the Serbs waited until now to cooperate to make a point about their distaste for the hard-charging prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, who recently stepped down.)

And last week we had the International Criminal Court indictment of Sudanese President Omar Bashir for his leadership in the mass killings in Darfur.  To be reminded of what he has done, check out the ENOUGH Project's list of his misdeeds here.  For an explanation of how the indictment procedural schedule provides a three-month window of opportunity for Security Council members to pressure Bashir to get serious about a peace process, read here or listen to Bob Wright and me discuss it on bloggingheads here.

Human Rights Watch's Richard Dicker has a sober, net positive appraisal of the ICC's first five years here.  Suspects indicted in four countries but no one brought to trial; a first trial stopped because of problematic evidence rules; financial and law enforcement support from member governments that is not what it should be.

Speaking of member governments, you will notice something interesting about this trend -- from the EU in the Balkans to the states parties to the ICC, progress toward a small-bore, excruciatingly slow but nonetheless forward-moving mechanism of international justice has taken place pretty much without the United States or even, in the case of the ICC, against the will of our government.  That business about being the sole superpower and nothing of importance being decided without us?  Maybe think again.   

Effectiveness: Low. Constitutionality: Dubious. Terrorist Propaganda Value: Priceless.
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Last week, District Court Judge James Robertson seemed to tell all sides pretty firmly to stay out of the military tribunals process – let the military courts do their work and then let the civilian appeals process determine whether in fact the Administration has created a system that meets constitutional standards.

That sounds like something conservatives ought to be able to live with.

Now, it seems the Administration, with Attorney General Michael (“I can’t say if waterboarding is torture”) Mukasey leading the way, has gone all activist in the Washington heat.  Today Mukasey called on Congress to write new rules on procedures for detainees to challenge the legitimacy of their detention under the habeas principle – the only right the Founding Fathers thought was so crucial that they included it in the body of the Constitution rather than as an amendment.

**update:  The good lawyers of SCOTUSblog have a rundown of Mukasey's proposals and some key responses here.

Let’s just review:

Number of Administration attempts to rewrite habeas that have withstood challenge in court:  0

Number of individuals convicted by the military tribunals:  1

Number of those individuals who are still in custody:  0

Propaganda value to extremist groups of the ineffective, stuttering military tribunal system:  priceless.  Retired Admiral and Navy Counsel Alberto Mora contends that “the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq… as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat – are, respectively, the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.” 

Number of individuals convicted of terrorism by our civilian courts over the same time period:  dozens, including “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh and 9-11 plotter Zacharias Moussaoui, neither of whom will be walking free anytime soon.

Rumor has it the Administration is thinking about putting forward more legislation on the tribunals this fall.  One hopes they’ll think better of it.  May I suggest three modest principles on which this and all subsequent proposals should be judged:

Continue reading "Effectiveness: Low. Constitutionality: Dubious. Terrorist Propaganda Value: Priceless." »

A Surreal Situation in Iraq
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

It’s become pretty apparent both from Prime Minister Maliki’s statements over the past few days as well as through a slew of other assertions from senior Iraqi officials that they are comfortable with the idea of a timeline for the withdrawal of American combat forces by sometime in 2010 and a move towards a much more limited set of missions and presence. 

Perhaps one of the most surreal things about this situation is that the Iraqis seem to have come to this conclusion before either John McCain or George Bush.  For years, the administration’s policy has been “When they stand up, we’ll stand down.”  Well guess what.  The Iraqis are standing up and so far at least Bush and McCain’s response seems to be: “you’re not ready yet.”  In fact, today when asked about Maliki’s call for a timetable, McCain dismissed Maliki’s concerns saying “I know what they want.” 

In another ironic twist, since 2005 most Democrats have pushed for an American withdrawal or at the very least a threat of withdrawal to force Iraqis to take responsibility for their country and make the hard choices that could bring about political reconciliation.  Today the reverse is true.  Rather than the U.S. having to pressure the Iraqi government, it is in fact the Maliki government that is trying to put political pressure on the Bush Administration to get American troops to leave. 

This is absolutely crazy.  After waiting for Iraqis to assert themselves for five years we should be seizing this moment.  This is in fact in many ways one of the key elements for “success” - an Iraqi government eager to step up and take control of its own country.  I still can’t understand why McCain wouldn’t welcome this statement but here are some theories:

  • For years now Iraq diehards like McCain and Bush have had no sense of what victory is in Iraq or how to define.  Now that they are staring it in the face they don’t believe it.  They have fought for so long to keep American troops there, that they see any withdrawal as defeat – even if it isn’t and even if it comes at the request of the Iraqi Government. 
  • McCain really and truly wants permanent bases in Iraq and wants to use Iraq as a base from which to exert influence across the Middle East.  This is where many of the neocons are and I wouldn’t be surprised if McCain agreed.  Of course it is a horrificly bad idea and would only serve as a propaganda tool for Al Qaeda and create animosity across the Arab World
  • McCain has worked himself into such a box throughout the campaign that he has no choice but to keep calling for our troops to stay and to present the Obama position as “surrender.”  So he’s stuck taking this ridiculous political position because he has no other choice.

Either way you look at it.  If you step back for a second, what we have here is the Iraqis  declaring victory and offering Bush and McCain an “honorable” and responsible way out.  Bush and McCain’s response?  No thank you.

NSN Conference Call: Winds of Change in Iraq
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Today, NSN held a conference call examining the situation in Iraq with Marc Lynch, Professor of International Affairs at George Washington's Elliot School of International Affairs (and of the acclaimed Iraq blog Abu Aardvark) and Colin Kahl, Professor at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Lynch and Kahl discussed a variety of issues, including the now clear position of the Iraqi government regarding the future of U.S. troops in Iraq. Below are some quotes, and the full audio can be heard here:

Marc Lynch:

So I assume everyone has been following the somewhat of a media frenzy over the whole series of remarks that have been made by Maliki and spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, and by several other Iraqi officials. And I think that a lot of people are getting a bit too caught up in the details in whether a particular statement was translated correctly or mistranslated. It seems to me that there have been enough, different statements made by enough, different Iraqi officials to make it pretty clear that this is the new position of the Iraqi government. I think that they’ve made these statements in a number of different ways and I think we can have a fair degree of confidence that a new Iraqi bargaining position has emerged. And this is actually pretty surprising because I think that up until a couple weeks ago, I think most of us would have assumed that the Iraqi position would have been more favorable the idea of a long-term unconditional American support for them.

I think that he has also come to a better understanding of what Obama’s position actually is, on his own and through his advisors, and this clearly became something which Iraqis are becoming more comfortable with, which means that, you want a take away message going on, I think we can say that Iraqi politicians see political advantage in aligning with something that does not look like it’s occupation or a new form of mandate. They are willing to walk away from a deal the Bush Administration if they don’t get what they want because they feel comfortable with what they see coming down the line.

Colin Kahl:

So a couple of things have become clear in the past week: there will not be a long-term SOFA, or there’s very unlikely to be a long-term SOFA, Status of Force Agreement; there’s also not likely to be a re-upping or renewal of the UN mandate, which some have suggested, instead, what it looks like is that there will be some memorandum of understanding or other bridge deal that will allow U.S. forces to continue to operate in Iraq, probably under some additional restrictions that they don’t have now, for the next year or two, kicking the can down the road to the next administration to negotiate a long-term agreement. The Iraqis were demanding in that context that there be some time horizon for the departure of U.S. forces and the transition of those forces out of a predominantly combat role into a predominantly support role. But what’s complicated the situation is whether what the Iraqis really want is a time horizon or a timetable, and you’ve seen a number of conflicting statements from the White House and the Iraqi government on this front, but particularly in the last couple of days and weeks you’ve seen comments by Maliki and his official spokesmen which is just that they’re looking for some definitive sense that we’re going to make a transition to a new role and a substantially reduced presence in Iraq, sometime in 2010.


McCain Changes Geography to Suit His Worldview
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Cause everything is about Iraq Iraq Iraq:

Asked by ABC's Diane Sawyer Monday morning whether the "the situation in Afghanistan in precarious and urgent," McCain responded:

"I think it's serious. . . . It's a serious situation, but there's a lot of things we need to do. We have a lot of work to do and I'm afraid it's a very hard struggle, particularly given the situation on the Iraq/Pakistan border," said McCain, R-Ariz., said on "Good Morning America."

Iraq and Pakistan do not share a border. Afghanistan and Pakistan do.

(video here) 

Since he's already erased the border between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, I can't wait till he praises the Rhodesian contingent at next month's Olympics or demands that the Holy Roman Empire change its name because it is neither Holy nor Roman nor an Empire. Discuss.

NSN Daily Update: Iraqi Government Again Expresses Desire for Timetable
Posted by The National Security Network

This morning after Prime Minister Maliki met with Senator Obama, Iraq’s government again expressed the hope that U.S. combat troops would be out of Iraq by the end of 2010.  The statement was made by Prime Minister Maliki’s spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh and it was made in English.  This clears up any confusion that may have arisen earlier this weekend over whether or not Prime Minister Maliki was endorsing a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces.

Maliki embraces 16 month plan for withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. 
In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the first time endorsed a vision for a specific timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.  “U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes,” Maliki was quoted as saying. “Whoever is thinking about the shorter term is closer to reality. Artificially extending the stay of U.S. troops would cause problems.”  He also added that “The Americans have found it difficult to agree on a concrete timetable for the exit because it seems like an admission of defeat to them. But it isn't.” [Reuters, 7/19/08.  Der Spiegel, 7/20/08]

Maliki’s statements affirm that the Iraqis want us to leave, despite attempts by the Bush Administration to walk back the prime minister’s statements.
After diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad spoke to Mr. Maliki’s advisers on Saturday, the government’s spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, issued a statement claiming Mr. Maliki’s words had been “misunderstood and mistranslated,” while specifics were not cited.   The government’s statement was distributed to media organizations by the American military early on Sunday.   However, the statements have been verified by independent sources.  The interpreter for the interview works for Mr. Maliki’s office, not the magazine.  Moreover, “in an audio recording of Mr. Maliki’s interview that Der Spiegel provided to The New York Times, Mr. Maliki seemed to state a clear affinity for Mr. Obama’s position, bringing it up on his own in an answer to a general question on troop presence.” [NY Times, 7/21/08]

Bush and McCain’s refusal to acknowledge Iraqis’ demands for a timetable is causing the Iraqi government to try and pressure the Bush Administration.
  For years the Bush Administration has said that when Iraqis stand up we will stand down and has built a strategy based on pressuring the Iraqis to do more to take responsibility for their own country.  But ironically the tables have turned and as the Associated Press reported yesterday Maliki’s comment supporting a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces is part of a concerted effort to put pressure on the Bush Administration to have American troops leave.  [AP, 7/20/08]

Quick Hits

Senator Barack Obama is in Iraq today
, travelling to Basra and Baghdad, as well as meeting with troops and various America, foreign and Iraqi leaders.  He visited Afghanistan over the weekend.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, spoke on the subject of Iran this weekend, saying: “Right now I'm fighting two wars, and I don't need a third one.”

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s former driver, begins his trial today.

Meanwhile, North Korean nuclear talks have been moved to the highest levels of diplomacy. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will meet Wednesday with her North Korean counterpart, Pak Ui-chun.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai will sign a deal for future talks
on the current political crisis in that beleaguered nation.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey delivers a speech this morning on national security and the law. He’s set to address various aspects of the Administration’s approach to combating terrorism as well as reacting to judicial rulings on detainees.  He is not expected to follow up on what the Administration has stated is a desire to close Guantanamo.

Iraq’s Election Commission has proposed delays in the provincial elections.

General David Petraeus commented over the weekend on al Qaeda’s changing strategy: “‘They're not going to abandon Iraq. They're not going to write it off. None of that,’ he said.  ‘But what they certainly may do is start to provide some of those resources that would have come to Iraq to Pakistan, possibly Afghanistan.’"

This Can't Be Mistranslated
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Because Ali al-Dabbagh apparently said the following in English:

Iraq's government spokesman is hopeful that U.S. combat forces could be out of the country by 2010.

Ali al-Dabbagh made the comments following a meeting in Baghdad on Monday between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama, who arrived in Iraq earlier in the day.

Pretty clear, huh?

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