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September 13, 2008

Palin, Krauthammer, Bush and Barry Bonds
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So the new too cute by half clever argument about Palin's lack of understanding of the Bush doctrine is that the Bush administration has had a number of doctrines over the past eight years so asking for clarification was technically correct.  At least that's what Peter Feaver, Charles Krauthammer, and Michael Gordon are all saying. 

Here's the problem: while technically they are correct that the Bush Doctrine has shifted over time in common parlance the Bush doctrine clearly refers to the doctrine of preventive war that was used to justify the Iraq War.  That much is obvious to anyone who has followed the issue.  None of the elements of of President's Bush' foreign policy philosophy ever got the same level of attention as that doctrine, which was really seen as a massive shift when it was announced in 2002.  Thousands of pages of ink were spilled on this question and it was the central foreign policy debate of the 2004 campaign.  If someone were to ask Feaver, Krauthammer or Gordon what their thoughts on the Bush doctrine were, they would know exactly what the person was asking.

To think of this in another way, if I were to ask someone, "Do you think that Barry Bonds' record should have an asterisk on it?", I would expect them to know which record I was talking about.  If they were to answer, "Which record?", my assumption would be that they didn't know all that much about baseball.  I obviously would not be referring to Barry Bonds the all time leader in base on balls or record holder for most league MVPs.  No.  I'd be talking about his 762 Home runs.  Because that is the record that is so controversial.  The one that has elicited so much debate and the one that is the main source of controversy.  To assume anything else would be technically correct, but also incredibly stupid.

People can make all the excuses they want.  But the reality is that if Sarah Palin had been paying attention to the huge foreign policy debate going on in this country over the past few years she would have known exactly what Charlie Gibson was talking about.

September 12, 2008

Mr. McCain and The Women
Posted by Moira Whelan

From Hanna Lundqvist:

It’s fascinating that it took the women of The View, so often derided as a lightweight, softball program that broadcasts only to housewives, to ask John McCain the tough questions that CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, Fox News and the print media have been unable to.

In the past few weeks, and indeed much of the election period, the news cycle has been filled with various accusations of sexism and speculation on the reasons for Hillary Clinton’s loss and Sarah Palin’s selection as John McCain’s running mate.  What better way to put an end that period and move forward than with the women of The View scoring one of the smartest, strongest and most memorable journalistic moments of the entire presidential campaign?

McCain-Palin on the Bush Doctrine
Posted by Moira Whelan

NSN has a new video out on the Bush Doctrine and what McCain and Palin have to say on it.

September 11, 2008

Palin Contradicts McCain on Pakistan
Posted by Patrick Barry

When she wasn't getting coached by Charles Gibson, or refusing to answer his questions, Sarah Palin directly contradicted her own candidate by saying she would do whatever it takes to stop terrorists in Pakistan:

"We must do whatever it takes, and we must not blink, Charlie. in making the tough decisions of where we go, and even who we target."

Her running-mate, John McCain, said the exact opposite this summer, preferring not to irk the Pakistani Government by going after Osama Bin Laden:

"I'm not going to go there.  And here's why, because Pakistan is a sovereign nation."

A closer look shows that Palin is actually perfectly in-sync with Barack Obama, who said last year:

"They are plotting to strike again. . . . If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."

Palin Didn't Know What the Bush Doctrine Was
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Charles Gibson just asked Sarah Palin what she thought of the Bush Doctrine.   Here's the transcript as best as I can make it out.

Gibson: do you agree with the bush doctrine?

Palin:  in what respect, charlie?

Gibson:  well, what do you interpret it to be? 

Palin:  His world view?

Gibson: the Bush doctrine, in september 2002, before the iraq war.

Palin:  I believe that what president bush has attempted to do is rid this world of islamic terrorists who are hell-bent in destroying our nation. There have been blunders along the way, though. there have been mistakes made, and with new leadership, and that's the beauty of american elections, of course, and democracy, is with new leadership comes opportunity to do

Gibson:  the bush doctrine is we have the right of self-defense, prememptive strike against any country we think is going to attack us. do you agree with us?

Clearly Palin did not have the foggiest idea what Gibson meant.  This is absolutely huge.  The Bush doctrine of preemption and the National Security Strategy of 2002 was the central element of debate for almost 2 years in the foreign policy community and in the country during the run up to the invasion of Iraq and in the years after.  It was probably the single greatest shift in U.S. foreign policy in a generation.

There were pages and pages of ink spilled on this and it took up hours of debate.  It was a central issue in the 2004 campaign.  For her to not know what it is, raises serious questions about her experience and preparation to potentially be the leader of the free world.

Shaky, Shaky
Posted by Max Bergmann

Palin clearly does not feel comfortable talking about foreign policy. She did a fairly decent job at remembering the core Republican talking points but everything was jibberish after that. Charlie Gibson at one point even described himself getting "lost in a blizzard of words." Gibson also exposed her lack of familiarity with foreign policy, by challenging her to define the Bush doctrine, which she was completely unable to do. I'm sorry being able to define the foreign policy doctrine that defined the Bush administration is kinda important.

Any one that was seriously concerned by her lack of foreign policy experience, ought to be even more concerned after this interview.

Palin's Dangerous Saber Rattling Towards Russia
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Sarah Palin said something very very dangerous today during her interview with Charlie Gibson.

PALIN: Well, you know, the Rose Revolution, the Orange Revolution, those actions have showed us that those democratic nations, I believe, deserve to be in NATO.
Putin thinks otherwise. Obviously, he thinks otherwise, but...

GIBSON: And under the NATO treaty, wouldn't we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?

PALIN: Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you're going to be expected to be called upon and help.

There are numerous problems with this statement.  The most important element is that it sends a very dangerous and extreme signal to the world - especially other nuclear powers. This type of dangerous talk reinforces the militaristic saber-rattling of the McCain campaign.  From joking about bombing Iran, to talking about invading Iraq, Iran and Syria weeks after 9/11 to the misguided "we are all Georgians now," the McCain campaign is sending all kinds of horrifying signals to the world about the types of wars it would fight. Leaders in other capitals are paying attention and words matter.

Technically, if Georgia and Ukraine were to become part of NATO under article five, we would be obligated to protect them and even Obama-Biden support bringing them into NATO.  But here's the thing...

No sane American or European leader would ever ever ever give an answer like that.  You do not get into hypotheticals about nuclear war.  You just don't.  Palin references the Cold War.  The only reason the Cold War stayed cold is because our leaders understood the stakes of getting things wrong and saying things that could lead to catastrophic nuclear war.  During the Cuban Missile Crisis every word, every public statement, and any message that the Kennedy administration sent to the Soviets was checked, double checked, and triple checked to make sure it was sending precisely the right signal.  This is what you are forced to do when you have thousands of nuclear weapons and so does your opponent. The stakes are simply too high.  And yet there is a nominee for the Vice Presidency of the United States who may one day have her hand on the button and she is casually talking about potential catastrophic nuclear war. 

Barack Obama would never give that answer.  Joe Biden would never give that answer.  They would say that we don't discuss those types of hypotheticals.  That might sound like a cop out, but think of the Palin alternative and what kind of alarm bells that sets off in Moscow.  Prescisely the type of alarm bells that could one day lead to mushroom clouds.

Saber rattling matters.  Words matter.  We've learned that from the past eight years.  When George Bush said "With us or against us" it mattered.  When he referred to a "crusade" it mattered.  When McCain jokes about war with Iran, calls our allies "vaccous and posturing",  says that Iraq is building a weapons assembly line for al Qaeda, it matters. 

And when Sarah Palin, a first term Governor with no national security experience or expertise, talks about hypothetical nuclear war it really matters.  It reflects badly on her and her readiness.  It reflects even worse on John McCain who thought that she was qualified to be Commander in Chief.

War over Transdniestria!
Posted by Max Bergmann

ABC headline of tonight's interview with Sarah Palin, says apparently she implies:


So let me get this straight if Russia finds itself in a war over another frozen conflict, we will go to war? Does Sarah Palin understand the danger of that statement? Does she not realize that there are multiple "frozen conflicts" that are very similar to the situation in Georgia? 

The chance of more Russian military action, especially after its total success (at least from the Russian standpoint) of its war with Georgia, while not immediately apparent is very very plausible.

Just look at the frozen conflict in Moldova.


Moldova with just 4 million people is struggling to deal with the breakaway region of Transdniestria. This dispute is very similar to the one in Georgia. Russia even HAS TROOPS in Transdniestria - just as it did in S. Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia supports independence for Transdniestria and has used the breakaway region to undermine the Moldovan government. The International Crisis Group writes in 2004 that:

In its recent and largely unilateral attempts to resolve the Transdniestrian conflict, Russia has demonstrated almost a Cold War mindset...Russia remains reluctant to see the EU, U.S. or the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) play an active role in resolving the conflict because Moldova is still viewed by many in Moscow as a sphere of exclusively Russian geopolitical interest...Despite having accepted concrete deadlines for withdrawing its troops, Russia has repeatedly back-pedalled while trying to force through a political settlement that would have ensured, through unbalanced constitutional arrangements, continued Russian influence.

The Economist recently explained that Moldova is increasingly nervous:

Tiny Moldova is also anxious. Like Georgia, it has a breakaway enclave, Transdniestria, that is “protected” by Russian troops. Although Moldova has no aspirations to join NATO, it is keen to get into the EU. Its president, Vladimir Voronin, met his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, in late August. Mr Medvedev said there was a “good chance” of settling the dispute. But after the August war, the Moldovans fear, rightly, that this might be done only on Russian terms.

It is definitely not out of the realm of possibility that Russia could take military action against Moldova. The Russian motive for war with Georgia equally applies to Moldova. If Russia were to believe that Moldova was trying to move closer to NATO and the EU, it is entirely plausible that Russia could mobilize militarily. And if that were to occur, Sarah Palin's statement basically would commit us to war with another nuclear power. Supporting democracy is important. But it has its limits. And it is simply not in our national interest to make such blanket commitments that could lead to a much larger war.

McCain Found Someone Who Hates Russia as Much as He Does
Posted by Adam Blickstein

On Charlie Gibson tonight:


Good thing Palin has those strong foreign policy chops that come with being governor of a state on the Bering Sea. When it freezes over she can send the tanks from the Alaskan National Guard right over...

What does John McCain Mean by Victory?
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So it turns out that like Barack Obama, General Petraeus realizes that Iraq is complicated.  That there is no such thing exactly as "victory" and that trying to define "victory" makes little sense.

Q: Do you think you will ever use the word "victory"?

Petraeus: I don't know that I will. I think that all of us at different times have recognized the need for real restraint in our assessments, in our pronouncements, if you will. And we have tried to be very brutally honest and forthright in what we have provided to Congress, to the press, and to ourselves.

The thing is that McCain and all the war supporters have been using Petraeus as a crutch for months.  So here is a question for McCain.  Given that the General that you claim to base your entire Iraq policy around doesn't believe that victory is a word we should be using in Iraq, why do you use it?  And how do you define it?  And why do you attack Barack Obama for not using it?

BBC Poll provides alternate perspective on election
Posted by Patrick Barry

NSN Intern Eric Auner weighs in on the latest BBC poll and what it says about John McCain's capacity to rebuilt America's fractured alliances:

A recent BBC poll of 22 countries (including US allies like Poland and Canada) revealed that a majority of those in the international community take a dim view of a possible McCain presidency.  37% believed that “US Relations with the world” would stay the same under McCain (which is still terrible considering what relations under Bush are like right now) and a full 16% percent believe that they will get even worse. 

How are we to interpret these statistics?  Naturally, a certain crowd will loudly point to the fact that McCain is running for president to defend the interests of Americans, not to win a European popularity contest.  But the last eight years clearly demonstrate that America needs allies. Considering the challenges we face, restoring America’s stature with the international community is one of the most important issues at stake in this election. Even John McCain thinks that restoring America’s image is important and has pledged to do so if elected.

But what this poll clearly shows is that it is highly unlikely that he will be able to. Even if McCain tries to improve relations with our allies, any overtures that he makes would likely be greeted with skepticism since his foreign policy is almost identical to the Bush administration’s.  But even if one doesn’t believe that a McCain presidency is the same as a third Bush term, it is clear that a substantial portion of the rest of the world’s population does, and as a result there is little chance of McCain improving America’s stature around the world.

How does this get published?
Posted by Max Bergmann

The New York Times ran an oped today by Philip Bobbitt and John Danforth that supposedly makes a bipartisan call for the presidential candidates to answer 12 foreign policy questions. They write:

Yet with respect to national security, neither campaign has articulated the fundamental points of view that will allow people to make an informed choice in November.

Excuse me? NEITHER campaign? Umm... Go to his website and READ! He has pages and pages of policy positions that almost fully answer each of the conservatively framed questions the authors put forth. It is not surprising that two people would not take the time to actually do some research and preparation before writing. It is however surprising that the preeminent paper in the United States would allow itself to be used to perpetuate the lie that Obama has no policy specifics. Just to push the point home a bit further this at the bottom of his foreign policy page:

For More Information about Barack's Plan

Read the Speech and Learn More About Barack Obama’s Plan on Iraq and Iran
Read the Speech on Nuclear Weapons and Diplomacy
Read the Speech on Counter-Terrorism Strategy | Read the Plan
Read the Speech on Restoring American Leadership
Read the Speech on Latin America and the Caribbean | Read the Plan
Read Obama’s Plan for a 21st Century Military
Barack Obama’s Agenda for a Stronger Partnership with Europe
Read Barack Obama’s Plan to Actively Engage China
Barack Obama’s Strategy to Promote Global Development and Diplomacy

But if you go to the equivalent McCain's website you will find few answers to any of the authors questions. Why? Because John McCain has laid out very few foreign policy specifics throughout this campaign. We still don't know what he means by "victory" in Iraq. He has laid out no specific plan or strategy for achieving this undefined "victory." He has almost no specific proposals on Afghanistan or terrorism (he did follow Obama's lead and call for more troops in Afghanistan yet he never said where they would come from). Yet what we do know about the few positions John McCain has taken on foreign policy - refusing diplomatic engagement with Iran and North Korea and staying indefinitely in Iraq - make him even more extreme than George Bush.

update: This post mistaken refered to Philip Bobbit as a Republican. It has been corrected.

Who Can Stump McCain?
Posted by Adam Blickstein

MSNBC's Chris Matthews? CNN's Wolf Blitzer? Fox News' Sean Hannity? CBS' Katie Couric? No, it's Rob Caldwell from WCSH in Portland, Maine. Not only does he ask McCain the tough questions the national press has been unwilling to ask, but he makes McCain look entirely clueless on a whole host of issues, including the non-existent national security credentials of his security blanket running mate, Sarah Palin:

The kicker is McCain can't name one area of expertise Palin has on national security, except energy, and also cites the lame Alaska/Russia proximity argument. He says she was right about Iraq and Barack Obama was wrong, even though Palin said "I've been so focused on state government, I haven't really focused much on the war in Iraq." He also concedes that he's sure (very different from the word "knows") she "has the experience and judgment necessary to lead this country. He says she's better than Obama on Iran (she wouldn't negotiate with Ahmadinejad) and Russia (she wouldn't display the same moral equivalency Obama made over Georgia). Funny, McCain seems to be putting words in her mouth. It would be nice to hear what she actually thought about these issues since she's never talked about them before.

Isn't our current media environment really discombobulated when the national press is obsessed with porcine makeup while a reporter in the 77th largest market in America is asking McCain hard questions about national security, his running mate, and the blatant contradictions between his policies and his party's platform?  (Huge h/t to John Aravosis)

September 10, 2008

The Political War Fouad Ajami Wants To Fight
Posted by David Shorr

In today's Wall Street Journal, Fouad Ajami brings the classic political strategy of defining your opponent to the battlefield of the foreign policy debate. Roughly half of the piece is retread images of liberal elites -- convenient for Prof. Ajami's political aims -- that are asserted without any of the basis in fact that we might expect from an eminent scholar. The other half maps a political battlefield on which we progressives will be happy to fight, where Prof. Ajami has the demonstrably weaker argument.

The piece opens with backhanded praise for Joe Biden as the kind of old-fashioned who is unlike the rest of the current crop of liberals: "Patriotism does not embarrass this man in the way it does so many in the liberal elite." Say what you want about us DA bloggers (our readers have said plenty), but we're nothing if not a representative sample of the liberal foreign policy elite, and the writers here have shown no discomfort with patriotism. It may serve your political purposes to say so, Mr. Ajami, but you're talking about a figment, not real people.

Nor are we "disaffected with American power." Nor do we believe "we can make our way in the world without the encumbrance of 'hard' power." We'd prefer to speak for ourselves, thank you very much, and we're here not to debate over whether America should have power (it should), but what America should do with that power. And we believe the American people are ready and eager for that debate and fed up with the rehash of the 1960s culture war that Ajami wants to (re)fight. Which brings me, to the battlefield on which we would be happy to engage Prof. Ajami.

As I say, a lot of Ajami's argument only shows how out of touch he is with American popular sentiment and with what it will take to pursue the United States' interests in the world after the failed neoconservative ideological experiment. According to Prof. Ajami, one of candidate McCain's chief qualifications is that he "shares the widespread attitude of broad swaths of the country that are not consumed with worries about America's standing in foreign lands." I'm not sure which broad swaths he's talking about, but apparently not the three-quarters of Americans (see slide 9) who consider the diminished respect for America, in so many words, a major problem -- a sentiment currently at the exact same level as a year ago.

Prof. Ajami is not incorrect that willingness to negotiate with Iran is a hallmark of the progressive foreign policy approach -- though the idea that we keep the military option completely off the table is, again, more convenient for his argument than it is true. Yes, we want to negotiate, because refusing to negotiate is absolutely more likely to lead to the exact outcome we are trying to avoid. All during the time we refuse to discuss possible ways out of the current standoff, the Iranians will keep getting closer to having a nuclear weapon. Oh, by the way, who is the latest key figure to give in to this reality? President Bush, who the NY Times has noted, now outflanks McCain to the left.

UPDATE: One more point I meant to make. Either we believe in civilian control of the military or we don't. I think we do; we certainly preach it as a core tenet of democracy when dealing with other militaries around the world. And if we believe this, then we cannot have a military service test to qualify to be president, period.

Failure of Imagination
Posted by Moira Whelan

I was alarmed today to read a damning article on the “progress” made to secure the country over the past few years. US Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection Robert Stephan had this to say:

“The No. 1 killer in the United States is entrenched bureaucracies that focus more on themselves than they do the collective good.”

And this:

Those people, according to Stephan, “haven’t learned the hard lessons of Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina.”

Earlier in my career, I worked as a staffer on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security. One of the things we often reviewed in our oversight efforts were the new people, policies, offices and logos that grew every week to “combat” the terrorist threats we faced. Even our very committee—created by Congress to get around the insufficient oversight of the 26 subcommittees that had jurisdiction on homeland security and terrorism issues—is now one more committee on Capitol Hill. No other subcommittees disappeared. More bureaucracy.

And let’s not forget, this problem with bureaucracy was one of the most important findings of the 9-11 Commission. It was the stove piping, the multiple layers of reporting, and the turf battles that caused memos to be ignored and the FBI to not know what the CIA was doing. Hamilton and Kaine called upon the government to get smarter, and called them out for a “failure of imagination.”

In the early days after 9-11, the bureaucratic in-fighting did diminish, but it never went away, and doesn’t surprise me at all that it’s now (according to friends) worse than it was before 9-11. In certain areas, better cooperation exists, but in order to get there, we had to create new entities such as the NCTC and JTTFs to facilitate that. Each layer can bring about problems…and that’s the problem…we haven’t figured out how to deal with that yet.

Take for instance DHS. It was first proposed as a mechanism to overcome the intelligence failures we saw. The White House opposed it. When they saw that they’d have to accept the reality of DHS in some way due to public support, they sat down and in a series of meetings, 5 bureaucrats—in the new entity the Office of Homeland Security at the White House-- developed the basic outline of what is today’s Department of Homeland Security. Because the DHS legislation that was passed (Bush version) failed to implement the original intent of the legislation (bettering intel), the proposal for ODNI—Office of the Director of National Intelligence—came into being.

DHS now sits on top of offices like FEMA and the Coast Guard who have missions that stretch beyond terrorism. We saw what happens when these missions get ignored with Katrina and Rita. New offices, like infrastructure protection are created without thought to what people who did chemical plant monitoring at EPA might have to offer to make us smarter and better.

This isn’t to say that some new agencies weren’t needed. They were. But when do finally say that we have enough, and need to concentrate on getting them to work rather than creating more? When do we stop giving lawmakers credit for creating entities, and instead pressure them to make sure they’re doing what they should be doing?

After all is said and done, we are left with more bureaucracy and an old Washington axiom that it’s harder to end a bad program than create a good one. With Homeland Security, this is even more stark: any candidate or lawmaker who proposes cutting an ineffective office will instantly be accused of leaving us vulnerable, no matter how sound the decision may be.
Hopefully one thing 7 years will allow us to see is that we need to look at this in a level-headed way.  It’s more important that government works, rather than how big it is and what words are on the door.

Left Behind
Posted by Patrick Barry

By Pat Barry and Hanna Lundqvist

It's easy to look at science as an apolitical issue, something apart from partisan discord.  But today's news of the first successful test of the Hadron Particle collider underscores a troubling reality that is directly related to the choice facing Americans this fall.

To understand why today's news matters for the November elections you first need to look at the state of the sciences in America.  What is a blissful moment for the research team at CERN - Europe's outstanding particle-physics lab - is bittersweet for scientists in the United States.This excerpt from the New York Times' coverage of the particle collider launch gives a taste of things to come through the case of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, the center of particle physics in the United States:

Last year, a sudden budget shortfall -- in essence a retroactive cut when Congress passed a continuing resolution keeping Fermilab's budget at a previous level instead of enacting a heftier budget recommended by the White House -- caused Dr. Oddone to cut 100 jobs and suspend key programs at Fermilab.

Cuts in research and education programs have resulted in a brain drain in the physical sciences. A recent study showed that physics is "now as unpopular among university students as it was when the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957. The most worrying prospect is that scientists from other countries, who used to flock to the United States to be where the action is, are now heading to Europe instead. 'Fewer students will come to the U.S.,' says Peter Limon, a physicist at Fermilab in Illinois who is participating in a major LHC experiment. Fermilab's Tevatron, which until this week was the world's largest particle accelerator, has attracted Italian and Japanese scientists in particular, along with others from countries such as India. 'They tend to stay. It is a major source of our intellectual ability in the United States,' Limon says. 'That will decrease.'"

Continue reading "Left Behind" »

Reality vs. McCain on the surge
Posted by Max Bergmann

Michael Ware absolutely rips McCain on Iraq and the surge. Ware makes the basic and obvious point that what brought down violence was the decision to start negotiating with Sunni insurgent groups which began two years ago - well before the surge started. McCain has already demonstrated that he doesn't understand the details of the surge and Ware challenges McCain to define it saying that if McCain thinks violence is down just because of 30,000 additional troops then McCain "has no idea what is going on in Iraq."

The best point though, is Ware's first. When he says "the troops will come home with honor regardless...They've earned that honor." Staying forever or redeploying will not change that.

All that in just a 2 minute video.

September 09, 2008

History of the World Pt. 1: The Surge
Posted by Patrick Barry

In so many ways, today's speech by President Bush offered absolutely nothing to distinguish itself from his past addresses - it felt hostile, deceitful, and recklessly simplistic.  But Bush did slyly introduce one new theme today, a message that that conservatives will probably wind up shilling for decades after his administration closes down.  It was the suggestion that the history of the Bush Administration began not on January 20th, 2001, but on January 10, 2007 - the day the surge strategy was introduced to the U.S.

Here are some examples:

"Last year we sent 4,000 additional Marines to Anbar as part of the surge. The surge showed America's commitment to security. It showed we were committed to helping the average citizen in Anbar live a normal life. And it helped renew the confidence of local leaders, the tribal sheiks, who then led an uprising to take Anbar back from the terrorists."

In this case, Bush is trying to re-write the more recent past.  The argument that the surge precipitated the Anbar Awakening has already been eviscerated, so Bush takes a more restrained, but equally dishonest approach.  While he avoids Senator McCain's gross fabrication by admitting that the events in Anbar had already begun before the influx of troops to Iraq,  he then jumps from this admission to the only slightly less dishonest suggestion that it was the surge that really allowed the Awakening to blossom into the successful (but still precarious) movement that it is today. 

Moving on, here's another example of Bush Administration revisionism, the so called "return on success":

"Another aspect of our "return on success" policy in Iraq is reduced combat tours. Last month, troops began deploying for 12-month tours instead of 15-month tours. This change will ease the burden on our forces, and I think more importantly, this change will make life for our military families easier. (Applause.)"

I'm not sure if Bush meant to evoke our dire economic predicament by employing language as shallow as his business career, but this is definitely fuzzy accounting.  Reduction from 15-month tours to 12-month tours? Part of a return on success? C'mon.  The truth is that it was Bush who extended deployments in the first place as part of his mad scramble to free up troops for the surge.  For him to expect gratitude from a heavily strained military because he has granted a "return on success," is just insulting.  Fortunately the Pentagon has a longer memory.

The last, and probably most audacious claim of Bush's speech was this:

"As al Qaeda faces increased pressure in Iraq, the terrorists are stepping up their efforts on the front where this struggle first began -- the nation of Afghanistan."

Here the President essentially draws a direct causal relationship between Al Qaeda's defeat as a result of the surge - already a dubious claim - and the worsening situation in Afghanistan.  While its true that Afghanistan is getting worse, it actually has been getting worse for some time now - well before the surge began, but not well before the Bush Administration should have noticed.  There were in fact, warning signs after warning signs after warning signs, but because Bush remained so intoxicated by Iraq, he failed to see how bad things had become in the Af-Pak region. 

Unfortunately, it won't be as easy for the U.S. to pretend like Bush has that nothing happened before the surge.  After Bush leaves office, we'll still have to deal with the consequences of entering into an alliance of convenience, that now, looms as a potential flashpoint on Iraq's horizon.  We'll still have to find a way to pay the debt we owe to our military, to rebuild our armed forces so that they can protect Americans in the future. And we'll still be fighting extremism in the most lawless parts of the world long after Bush is gone.  This, and not the surge, is the history and legacy of the Bush Administration, and we ignore it at our peril.

Why Pakistan Matters
Posted by Adam Blickstein

And why the Brits might understand this better than us:

Senior counter-terrorism officials describe it [the 2006 liquid bomb plot targeting several transatlantic flights]  as the "pinnacle" of a series of continuing threats to the UK that began in 2004 and originate from al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

Eight out of 10 top priority terrorist investigations in the UK have some connection to Pakistan, according to a number of counter-terrorism officials.

Threats have emerged from other parts of the world, including east Africa, and also from entirely self-sufficient home-grown individuals.

But officials say these threats do not have the severity of those coming out of Pakistan. And it is the latter that have the potential to have "strategic impact", say officials.

Though none of the suspects were convicted of the main charge related to the alleged airline plot, it does show just how crucial Pakistan is to our counter-terrorism efforts. The connections between the alleged attackers and Pakistan, and the various trips made between Britain and Pakistan by the terror suspects, underscore the negative consequences the deterioration of any coherent American strategy towards Pakistan has had. Of course Britain's deep historic ties to Pakistan, and large Pakistani immigrant class, make the British/Pakistan relationship far different from our own. Britain and Europe are more susceptible to so-called "homegrown terrorism." But the mutual threats we face are equally stark and real.

While the key suspects of the liquid bomb plot were British-born Muslims, the genesis of the plot would not have been possible without coordination with elements in Pakistan. This places it as more of a centralized operation than some of the more ad-hoc attacks that have been plotted or perpetrated in Europe and elsewhere. And while it was one of the largest and most successful counter-terrorism operations since 9/11, the domestic success in Britain is mitigated by the chasm which has opened up with our functional ability to prevent terrorist elements from flourishing in Pakistan and Afghanistan's tribal regions.

And remember, the liquid-bomb plot was hatched in 2004, at a time when the al Qaeda and militant presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan was comparatively weaker. Eight years later, al-Qaeda and terror elements there are resurgent and emboldened, not diminished. And eight years on, we are dangerously still are struggling for a strategy to tackle this threat.

September 08, 2008

Where Are We Setting The Bar?
Posted by David Shorr

The foreign policy case from last week's Republican convention seemed to boil down to a character argument: John McCain is a guy who knows how to deal with America's friends and enemies. Aside from the problems that go with looking at the world through this lens, is this a rigorous enough commander in chief test? So we all agree that the mountain of domestic and international challenges we face (many of them both domestic and international) make this a consequential election. Where is our debate over how America will handle them? I'm starting to feel gypped.

My firm opposition to 10-point plans in an election-year debate is well known. But shouldn't Americans expect the campaigns to offer general approaches to the challenges confronting us?

  1. How do you deal with terrorist networks that are spread across dozens of countries and whose survival strategy is to make themselves undetectable?
  2. How will you overcome the widespread suspicion and resentment that has developed toward the United States?
  3. How can the US wean itself from fossil fuels?
  4. What do the shifts in the global distribution of power mean for US foreign policy?
  5. How are you going to build a stronger relationship with Pakistan that doesn't pin our hopes on one leader or political party?
  6. What is your strategy for keeping Iran and North Korea from having nuclear weapons? How will you accomplish this -- not, how will you talk tough about it? (See esp. Amb. Robert Galucci at the end of this article.)

Only if we hear answers to these questions will I feel like we're getting a foreign policy debate worthy of this moment in history -- and in touch with the real world.

McCain: I was against it... before I was for it [updated]
Posted by Shawn Brimley

So McCain attacked Obama today on military spending, questioning the Democratic candidate's stance on increasing the size of the Army and Marine Corps. This from CNN:

Of course, now he wants to increase it,” McCain told an audience in Lee’s Summit, Missouri Monday. “But during the primary he told a liberal advocacy group that he’d cut defense spending by tens of billions of dollars. He promised them he would, quote, ‘slow our development of future combat systems.’”

There are two problems with this.

First, "future combat systems" or FCS is a very large Army vehicle procurement program that has absolutely nothing to do the endstrength of the Army or Marine Corps. It is by far the biggest item in the Army's procurement budget at $160 billion and has been heavily scrutinized by the GAO and others for years.

Second, and more importantly, John McCain himself has quite a long history of criticizing the FCS program.

In 2005, McCain pushed hard for revisions to the FCS contract: "I am concerned that the Army has not adequately protected taxpayers’ interests." At a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing that March, McCain grilled Army officials about FCS. "We need to have a hearing on it," McCain told Inside the Army.

And to top it all off, less than 2 MONTHS AGO, the McCain campaign's senior economic adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, briefed the Washington Post's editorial board on their budget plan, which included a commitment to:

"...slowing outlay growth to 2.4 percent. The roughly $470 billion dollars (by 2013) in slower spending growth come from reduced deployments abroad ($150 billion; consistent with success in Iraq/Afghanistan that permits deployments to be cut by half -- hopefully more), slower discretionary spending in non-defense and Pentagon procurements ($160 billion; there are lots of procurements -- airborne laser, Globemaster, Future Combat System -- that should be ended and the entire Pentagon budget should be scrubbed) and reductions in mandatory spending ($160 billion) from a mix of excessive agricultural and ethanol subsidies, slower health care cost growth, Medicaid savings from the expansion of private insurance, and other reforms." [Thanks to TW!]

So who's the flip-flopper here?

A wonky escape
Posted by Max Bergmann

If you are looking for a substantive break from vapid election coverage check out PPI's security conference on Friday in Washington. It has a good line-up headlined by Gary Hart, Evan Bayh, Richard Danzig, and Ellen Tauscher. The second panel on the military with TX Hammes looks particularly interesting.

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