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October 03, 2008

Palin on Nuclear Weapons
Posted by James Lamond

One of the most challenging and dangerous foreign policy issues today is that of nuclear weapons.  On this issue there is an incredible amount of responsibility that rests in the hands of the president.  As Jon Wolfsthal, nonproliferation expert and senior fellow at CSIS, told Democracy Arsenal, “The next VP must know how to handle the most awesome responsibility at the White House’s command – the American nuclear arsenal.  Unfortunately, Governor Palin has no experience on global security issues and showed no expertise on the content or purpose of American nuclear weapons.” In last night’s vice presidential debate Sarah Palin demonstrated this lack of expertise.

When Gwen Ifill asked:

What should be the trigger, or should there be a trigger, when nuclear weapons use is ever put into play?

Palin responded first with an incoherent answer not on the level of a vice presidential debate:

Nuclear weaponry, of course, would be the be all, end all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet…

Then, she continued with an answer about preventing proliferation- the question was about America’s “trigger” mechanism- that leaves us wondering what she would do to prevent the spread of these weapons:

…so those dangerous regimes, again, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period.

The question was about when she would use nuclear weapons, and she answers that dangerous regimes cannot get hold of these weapons- “period”.  Is she saying that she would use nuclear weapons to prevent their spread?

Finally rather than address this critical subject in depth Palin tries to change it in an attempt to get back to her talking points:

Can we talk about Afghanistan real quick, also, though?

This is just scary.  Nuclear weapons are about as serious an issue as they get.  Wolfsthal says, “It is one thing to talk generally about an issue and repeat recently digested talking points, and it is another to know the ins and outs of nuclear strategy.  As chairman of the Senator Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden lived and breathed nuclear issues for a generation.  While nuclear expertise is not the only requirement people should look for in a VP, understanding the most complex aspects of the world’s most destructive weapons is relevant, and Governor Palin did not rise to the challenge during the debate.”

Can You Repeat the Question?
Posted by The Editors

Our Guest Blogger is Alexandra Bell, a researcher on nuclear weapons policy in Washington DC.

Though lost in the fray of other national security topics, Governor Palin’s response to Gwen Ifill’s question about triggers for nuclear use deserves some attention.  Either Governor Palin heard the term “nuclear weapons” and immediately launched into a pre-set talking point on the issue or she doesn’t understand the grave importance of a nuclear use policy.  Either way, Palin’s response did not instill the idea that she has the appropriate familiarity with nuclear weapons policy.   

Governor Palin stated that “our nuclear weaponry here in the U.S. is used as a deterrent. And that's a safe, stable way to use nuclear weaponry.”  First of all, there is nothing safe about nuclear weapons.  Our own Air Force lost track of six warheads for over a day.  There are currently 60-100 nuclear weapons being used as deterrents in Pakistan, but safe and stable they are not.  That however, was not the question.  The question was about the United States using nuclear weapons. 

Ifill’s question is not easily answered, to be sure.  Unleashing the force of our nuclear arsenal would irrevocably change the world as we know it.  It is a worst-case scenario and one that would require the most serious consideration.  The Bush Administration seemed to disagree.  They maintained an ambiguous policy with regards to the use of nuclear weapons on non-nuclear countries and refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons in response to a chemical or biological attack.  In their 2002 Nuclear Posture Review, they attempted to blur the line between nuclear and conventional weapons by pushing for the development of the more “usable” weapons like lower-yield tactical weapons, and the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (aka the nuclear bunker buster).

Perhaps Governor Palin did not want to cover this since her running mate, despite a recent change of heart, supported the development of these new nuclear weapons. He voted against eliminating funding for further development of the nuclear bunker buster in 2004 and 2005.  He now says that they don’t make strategic or political sense.  Senators

Obama and Biden never supported the creation of “usable” low-yield nuclear weapons. 
Senator Biden did not get to the nuclear use question either, though it could be due to the fact the Governor Palin switched the conversation to the war in Afghanistan. Senator Biden was able to convey that he understands the importance of the arms control regime and its role in national security. 

It is imperative that the next administration creates a nuclear posture review - one that clearly defines the parameters of use. This is every bit as important as our other national security needs. Both candidates should be asked about this in the next debate and hopefully neither will attempt to change the subject. 

Nuclear like Bush
Posted by Moira Whelan

A little fun with Sarah Palin's pronunciation of "nuclear"...remind you of someone?

Seriously, Carter was attacked for this, as was Bush, and there's a reason: it's used as a metaphor for mastery of this very basic foreign policy issue: non-proliferation. The question is fair game: If you can't pronounce it, how will you handle it? We can have a debate about the validity of that claim, but at very least, it's something debate prep should have corrected.

Why Style Matters on a Debate and International Stage
Posted by Adam Blickstein

The majority of post debate fodder is always about style, character, and general personal approach. And while it might seem trite for pundits to criticize Biden for being too Washingtonian and Senatorial and Palin for appearing too amateurish and careless, while lauding Biden for being specific and careful with his phrasing and praising Palin for being folksy and in touch with average Americans, the words, actions and appearance matter from a domestic, diplomatic and international perspective.

Listen, we've just spent the better part of the past decade with a president who is a joke to foreign leaders and dignitaries, and a vice president who is viewed as the manipulative puppet master with the real levers of power. It might seem superficial to criticize the failure to properly pronounce the word nuclear, or failing to know the difference between who Gen. McKiernan and Scott McClellan is, but it's critical to remember the rest of the world is watching. And after 8 years of a White House being an international centrifuge for the comical caricature of American ignorance, it's important to have serious and competent people back in power. And part of this is not just knowing the facts, but being able to talk about the world in a way that is both knowledgeable and coherent. The manner in which you speak is almost as important as showing knowledge of what you are speaking about. In fact the two can't co-exist if either is deficient. It matters to the leaders of Iraq how you pronounce the name of their country. It matters to nations with nuclear weapons how you pronounce the very weapons you are trying to suppress the spread of. It matters to the credibility of America that our leaders are able to  speak in terms that doesn't make them look like fools. And tonight, Sarah Palin failed this critical test.

Regurgitating talking points only gets you so far, and can make you appear feeble and deficient on both the debate and international stage.

October 02, 2008

Posted by Max Bergmann

Umm... Bosniaks is the name for Bosnian Muslims. The good people at the Swamp got this wrong when they wrote:

Joe Biden has just created a new class of people, the "Bosniacs.''

There are three major ethnic groups in Bosnia, Croats, Serbs, and Bosniaks. It is the It is in the Dayton Accords -- for those at the Swamp -- that is the agreement that ended the Bosnian war. Here it is in the preamble:

Bosniacs, Croats, and Serbs, as constituent peoples (along with Others), and citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina hereby determine...

Here it is in the CIA Factbook:

Bosniak 48%, Serb 37.1%, Croat 14.3%, other 0.6% (2000)
note: Bosniak has replaced Muslim as an ethnic term in part to avoid confusion with the religious term Muslim - an adherent of Islam

Update: After first posting this last night, Josh Marshall discovered more examples of the msm not knowing the term "Bosniak." Who is gaffe prone now, Cokie?

This is classic. From Red State:

Of course, Joe Biden referred to "Bosniacs" so the gaffes were not one-sided and for a Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to refer to "Bosniacs" . . . well, it's kinda interesting, to say the least. I wonder if people will make an issue of it. They should and they most certainly would if Sarah Palin made that comment. Again, it is kind of silly that we are penalizing candidates for innocent verbal flubs that have little to nothing to do with how they would govern, but fair is fair and this gaffe deserves a fair amount of ridicule. Wonder what the Bosnians thought about this statement.

Wonder what the Bosnians thought? Probably that it was impressive that Biden knew that Bosnian Muslims are called Bosniaks. But I could not agree more with the red state post, this gaffe does deserve much ridicule.

Speaking to the American People
Posted by James Lamond

Sarah Palin just said she wishes she had more chances to talk to the American people. What- does the campaign not allow her to?

Summarizing the VP Foreign Policy Questions
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

1.  Palin mispronounced our commander in Afghanistan, Dave McKiernan's  name and also claimed that he supported the idea of using the Iraq surge as a model for Afghanistan even though just yesterday he said he did not.

2.  In response to a question on Iran and Pakistan Palin answered by starting to talk about Iraq.  Similar to McCain's obsession on Iraq with complete neglect for all other national security priorities.

3.  Palin promised that the Middle East peace process would be a top priority for a McCain administration.  But McCain's own advisors last week said that it wouldn't.

4.  Palin was unable to distinguish any specific difference between Bush and McCain on any foreign policy issues.  Joe Biden made that point very clearly.

5.  Sarah Palin seems to rely quite heavily on her notes and on a very limited set of talking points.  She has been dodging questions all night long. 

Cheat Sheet
Posted by Patrick Barry

Message to Governor Palin as she reads off her notes: There's no cheat sheet at 3 AM

Posted by Moira Whelan

sorry Sarah...can I call you Sarah?

It's nu-clear.

Team of Mavericks?
Posted by James Lamond

Palin keeps calling their campaign a "team of mavericks." Does that make any sense? Isn't that a contradiction in terms?

Does Palin understand the meaning of deterrent?
Posted by The Editors

This is a post from NSN intern Eric Auner

Palin just said that nuclear weapons are currently being used as a deterrent. The only problem is that this was said in response to a question on the circumstances under which the weapons would actually be fired. The meaning of the deterrent is that they might, at some point, be fired. If you are unclear about what that point is, then the deterrent is meaningless.

Best Foreign Policy Moment of the Debate
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Biden asks how is McCain's policy any different on Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan...  He is right there has been no clear difference on any of these issues.   

Petraeus and McKiernan say no surge in Afghanistan
Posted by Max Bergmann

This week General McKiernan, the top commander in Afghanistan, and General David Petraeus made an obvious point: “Afghanistan is not Iraq.”

Both insisted that the challenges in Afghanistan are very different than the ones in Iraq and therefore require a very different strategy and approach. McKiernan said “What I don’t think is needed – the word I don’t use in Afghanistan is the word surge” and General Petraeus explained that every situation is “unique.” This is in stark contrast to the approach advocated by Senator McCain, who has insisted on applying the same “surge” plan that was adopted in Iraq to Afghanistan.

At last Friday’s debate McCain said, “the same strategy that he [Obama] condemned in Iraq. It’s going to have to be employed in Afghanistan.” In July, McCain said “the surge in Iraq…shows us the way to succeed in Afghanistan.” It is not surprising that McCain would mistakenly conflate Iraq and Afghanistan, since he and his fellow conservatives have paid little attention to the war in Afghanistan. McCain didn’t offer his “surge” plan for Afghanistan until late this summer and at the Republican National Convention last month, no major speaker even mentioned the word Afghanistan. As the situation continues to deteriorate in Afghanistan, the United States needs to adopt the comprehensive plan that progressives have been advocating the past few years. 

Israel on the Back Burner
Posted by Patrick Barry

Governor Palin claimed that promoting an Arab-Israeli peace deal would be at the top of the agenda for John McCain's administration.  It's fine, even laudable to make a claim like that, but when it directly conflicts with statements from one of your key advisors, Max Boot, who just said a few weeks ago that bringing peace to Israel would not be a big priority for McCain, you begin to wonder about who controls the policy in John McCain's camp. 

Not different
Posted by Max Bergmann

Biden hits the mark. McCain's foreign policies are no different than Bush. In the rare cases that they are, such on North Korea, they are more extreme.

Posted by James Lamond

If Barack Obama's decision to meet with Iran, North Korea, and Cuba is so dangerous and naive, then how does she explain the Bush administration's current negotiations with North Korea, and both Republican and Democrat Secretaries of State saying we should negotiate with Iran:

  •   Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher all agree we need direct talks with Iran without pre-conditions.  Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Ford, not only indicated that he "was in favor of negotiating with Iran," but said that such negotiations should occur "without conditions," and should begin at a high level."  Former Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright advised that "You need to engage with countries you have problems with," and said "I believe we need to engage with Iran."  Colin Powell, Secretary of State under George W. Bush echoed the need for negotiations stating: "Let's get together and talk about nuclear weapons."  [AP, 9/15/08.  ABC News, 9/15/08.  Reuters, 9/16/08.]
  • The Bipartisan Iraq Study Group believes the US should have direct talks with Iran. "Given the ability of Iran and Syria to influence events within Iraq and their interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq, the United States should try to engage them constructively. In seeking to influence the behavior of both countries, the United States has disincentives and incentives available." [Iraq Study Group, 12/06]
  • Even the Bush administration is moving toward Senator Obama's strategy of diplomatic engagement with Iran.  The Bush Administration is beginning to embrace a number of foreign policy positions favored by Senator Obama.  "On a range of major foreign policy issues over the past year, Bush has pursued strategies and actions very much along the lines of what Sen. Obama has advocated during his presidential race…"  "On the diplomatic front, Obama has made a point of advocating dialogue with Iran" and though he has been vilified by conservatives for it, "in July, Bush sent a high-level U.S. emissary to attend nuclear talks with Iran…" In June, the Washington Post reported that "Senior officials at the State Department and beyond are mulling a proposal to open an interest section in Tehran, similar to the one the United States has operated in Havana since 1977."  [Washington Post, 9/15/08. Washington Post, 6/23/08]

Talking to allies
Posted by Max Bergmann

Palin just said that her and John McCain were in favor of diplomacy. But what does that mean? Does McCain agree with Kissinger's position which is in favor of talking at the Secretary of State level with the Iranians? McCain and Palin say they do and then they attack Obama and Biden for wanting to talk to the Iranians. They are all over the place.

The fact is that the McCain-Palin position of continuing the George Bush policy is indefensible and will only result in a nuclear armed Iran.

Continue reading "Talking to allies" »

Iraq on the Brain
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Palin gets asked about Pakistan and Iran and can't help but start with Iraq.

Palin Supports Debunked McCain Plan for Afghanistan
Posted by Patrick Barry

Palin just repeated John McCain's claim that the surge strategy from Iraq could be successfully implemented in Afghanistan.  Yet in the past two days alone, the two members of the military working more closely on Afghanistan than anyone fundamentally disagreed with the McCain-Palin plan:

U.S. Commanders rebuff McCain’s vision for the war in Afghanistan. Speaking in Washington yesterday General David McKiernan, head of the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan and former head of ground forces in Iraq, rejected McCain’s plan for Afghanistan.  McKiernan argued that more troops “are urgently required to combat a worsening insurgency, but he stated emphatically that no Iraq-style ‘surge’ of forces will end the conflict there.”  While McCain has often said that he wants to apply the same surge strategy in Afghanistan as in Iraq, the commanding general clearly stated “Afghanistan is not Iraq.” General David Petraeus, now the head of CENTCOM and former commander in Iraq said, “People often ask, ‘What did you learn from Iraq that might be transferable to Afghanistan?’... The first lesson, the first caution really, is that every situation like this is truly and absolutely unique, and has its own context and specifics and its own texture.” [Washington Post, 10/2/08. New York Times, 10/1/08]

Afghanistan’s strategic puzzle will not be solved by a surge in troops alone. NATO-ISAF commander General David McKiernan outlined Afghanistan’s many challenges that cannot be addressed purely by an influx of troops: “A country that has very harsh geography. It’s very difficult to move around, getting back to our reliance on helicopters. It’s a country with very few natural resources, as opposed to the oil revenues that [Iraq] has. There’s very little money to be generated in terms of generated in Afghanistan. The literacy rate — you have a literate society in Iraq, you have a society that has a history of producing civil administrators, technocrats, middle class that are able to run the country in Iraq. You do not have that in Afghanistan…So there are a lot of challenges. What I don’t think is needed — the word that I don’t use in Afghanistan is the word ‘surge’…There needs to be a sustained commitment of a variety of military and non-military resources, I believe.”  Today’s piece in the New York Times, covering Afghanistan’s debilitating opium trade, which funds insurgents and produces instability, further demonstrates why a military solution alone will not be sufficient in Afghanistan.  [General David McKiernan, Washington Independent, 10/1/08.  NY Times, 10/02/08]

No plan
Posted by Max Bergmann

McCain has never laid out a plan for how to bring the troops home. McCain has said he wants to have an indefinite presence in Iraq (remember the 100 years comment) but has never said at what point he will bring the troops home. He has never defined what he means by "victory" and has never said how that would be achieved. All McCain has said that he would stay the course.

Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

How many times has Sarah Palin looked down at her  notes on the podium?

Terrorism and the Election
Posted by James Lamond

Richard Clarke put out an interesting piece today about the possibility of a terrorist attack on the U.S. between now and the election.  He points out that terrorists have been successful in influencing elections in other countries:

Experts still debate whether it was al Qaeda's intention to affect the Spanish political process when it attacked the Madrid commuter train network three days before that country's March 2004 election. The attack did result in an electoral defeat for the incumbent party, which had sent troops to Iraq at the request of the United States.

And, of course, there is Pakistan, where a terrorist assassination killed Benazir Bhutto, a candidate for prime minister, just 10 months ago. CIA Director Mike Hayden publicly blamed Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani radical, but said he acted with help from the broader al Qaeda network. Bhutto had promised to combat the Taliban, al Qaeda, and similar groups inside Pakistan.

Clarke even points out possible effects we have had here at home:

John Kerry believes that the so-called al Qaeda Halloween videotape released days before the last presidential election in the United States affected enough undecided voters that it may have made the difference in the outcome.

But what I find most interesting is Clarke’s argument that the attacks would likely help McCain win the election, which might just be what al Qaeda is looking to do.  Despite the right wing’s crazed rhetoric and fear-mongering, an Obama presidency might be the very worst thing for al Qaeda.  Clark’s argument, in part, is that Obama’s popularity in Europe and the Middle East will give America’s image the facelift that it needs- something that could really hurt al Qaeda’s recruitment and fundraising.

Economic Power
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Matt Yglesias has a great piece today explaining the relationship between the Iraq War and the economic crisis and how the two interplay.  He also managed to find a video that explains the full economic costs of the war which is well worth a watch.  Matt writes:

When the public sector spends money on new rail lines or on educating children, that spending increases the stock of physical or human capital available to the country and allows us to do more in the future. When the private sector spends money on new tractors or office buildings, much the same happens. But the outputs created by military spending can't be used to make additional new goods and services. Instead of being used to generate additional wealthy, much military equipment is simply destroyed as a result of use (in the case of bullets and explosives this is, of course, the whole point), and many of the soldiers fighting the war end up dead or maimed.

I think that's mostly right.  Although there is one exception.  Military R&D spending can sometimes be leveraged into the private sector and can create long-term wealth.  The best example is the internet, which was originally started through investments and technology in the Defense Department.

There's also the question of long term vs. short term security tradeoffs.  The economy acts as the base of military power.  It can be transformed into immediate military power at any time but at a long-term cost of reducing your military power.  A country can invest in its economy in the short-term causing long-term economic growth, which creates a bigger base from which it can invest in military power.  Or, it can invest in military power in the short-term understanding that this will have a cost to it's economy and thus long-term military effectiveness. 

The problem right now with the Bush administration sreategy is that we are investing well over $500 billion per year in defense once you include Iraq and Afghanistan, while China, the country most likely to present a significant long-term strategic challenge to the U.S., invests only $60 billion.  That is a pretty dramatic handicap that we are creating  for ourselves, especially when most of the spending is for weapons programs that might be obselete by the time the Chinese really are ready to compete and the fact that we still hold a dramatic military advantage.

So, what does the right balance between near-term security and long-term economic power look like?  I support the Richard Betts approach

The correct way to hedge against the long-term China threat is by adopting a mobilization strategy: developing plans and organizing resources now so that military capabilities can be expanded quickly later if necessary. This means carefully designing a system of readiness to get ready -- emphasizing research and development, professional training, and organizational planning. Mobilization in high gear should be held off until genuine evidence indicates that U.S. military supremacy is starting to slip toward mere superiority. Deferring a surge in military production and expansion until then would avoid sinking trillions of dollars into weaponry that may be technologically obsolete before a threat actually materializes. (The United States waited too long -- until 1940 -- to mobilize against Nazi Germany and imperial Japan. But starting to mobilize in 1930 would have been no wiser; a crash program in aircraft production back then would have yielded thousands of ultimately useless biplanes.)

This seems utterly sensible.  Invest heavily in a surge capacity that focuses primarily on R&D investments, which have more spillover into the rest of the economy and maintain our long-term economic vitality.  It also has the convenience of not scaring the Chinese into an arms race and forms the basis for a national security strategy that we can actually afford. 

Liveblogging Tonight's Debate
Posted by Max Bergmann

We at Democracy Arsenal will be live blogging tonight's debate and responding to any foreign policy issues that arise. If this is to be believed, there may be more foreign policy content then originally expected, since Palin may actually decide to go on the attack tonight on foreign policy:

Sarah Palin plans to go on the attack in tonight's debate, hitting Joe Biden for what she will call his foreign policy blunders and penchant for adopting liberal positions on taxes and other issues, according to campaign officials involved in prepping her for tonight's showdown.

Check this space regularly.

McCain and the Realists
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

There has been this constant meme in the press over the past few months regarding the struggle for John McCain's soul.  Is he a Neocon or is he a realist?  I don't know why people are so confused about this?  Just look at where the grand pubahs of Republican realism (Kissinger, Schultz, Scrowcroft, Powell, Baker and even Gates) stand on pretty much all the foreign policy issues of our day and it becomes pretty obvious that McCain is no realist.

On Russia:  Gates recently gave a speech calling for a more moderate approach.  Kissinger and Schultz recently put out an op-ed calling for closer engagement. And at the recent Secretaryies of State forum Kissinger, Baker and Powell all pushed a moderate approach.  Does that approach sound at all like what McCain had to say at the debate?

Well, I was interested in Senator Obama's reaction to the Russian aggression against Georgia. His first statement was, "Both sides ought to show restraint."

Again, a little bit of naivete there. He doesn't understand that Russia committed serious aggression against Georgia. And Russia has now become a nation fueled by petro-dollars that is basically a KGB apparatchik-run government.

I looked into Mr. Putin's eyes, and I saw three letters, a "K," a "G," and a "B." And their aggression in Georgia is not acceptable behavior.

On Iran:  Kissinger believes we should talk at the Secretary of State level.   Baker's Iraq Study Group called for direct engagement with Iran.  Scowcroft has also called for dropping preconditions for talks.  But McCain opposes this position:

Senator Obama twice said in debates he would sit down with Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Raul Castro without precondition. Without precondition. Here is Ahmadinenene (ph), Ahmadinejad, who is, Ahmadinejad, who is now in New York, talking about the extermination of the State of Israel, of wiping Israel off the map, and we're going to sit down, without precondition, across the table, to legitimize and give a propaganda platform to a person that is espousing the extermination of the state of Israel, and therefore then giving them more credence in the world arena and therefore saying, they've probably been doing the right thing, because you will sit down across the table from them and that will legitimize their illegal behavior.

On Iraq:  There was almost universal opposition to the surge from the realists.  Baker's Iraq Study Group plan called for a major reduction in forces by 2008.  Powell made the case that putting more troops in Iraq would put too much strain on the military.  Scrowcroft opposed the war in the first place.  I think we all know what McCain's position on the surge was.

Add to this other things like McCain's opposition to talking to North Korea or his support for the League of Democracies and it becomes pretty apparent that across the board McCain's position is very different than that of all the preeminent realists in his party.  There really isn't much of a struggle for McCain's soul.  The man's foreign policy pretty obviously mirrors that of George W. Bush - some combination of ideological Neoconservatives and more traditional general hawkishness. 

Does John McCain Understand That We Need Allies?
Posted by James Lamond

Yesterday E.U. monitors began patrolling Georgian territory, fulfilling their role as was agreed in the cease-fire agreement.   When Georgia and Russia went to war on August 6, it wasn’t George Bush, Condi Rice, and especially not John McCain who flew to Moscow to make peace.  It was Nicholas Sarkozy, president of France, who brokered the deal.  This is the same France that John McCain called an “aging movie actress in the 1940s who is still trying to dine out on her looks but doesn’t have the face for it,” and said that they were “close to rendering themselves irrelevant.”  Do they still seem irrelevant?

In fact we are pretty lucky that our allies have been able to pick up the ball on this one.  With the invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan dominating the Bush administration’s foreign policy agenda, there have many security challenges that Washington has not addressed.  The E.U. monitoring of Georgia demonstrates the importance of having allies to help manage crises around the world. 

Unfortunately John McCain’s Bush-like rhetoric towards our allies is more likely to destroy alliances than build them.  From thinking that Spain’s Prime Minister was leader of a South American Nation, to his comments about France and Germany in the run up to the war in Iraq, John McCain has continued to treat our key allies with disdain and disrespect. With the myriad of global challenges popping up around the world, is this really the man that America can afford to be president?

New Blogger: James Lamond
Posted by The Editors

Just wanted to introduce our newest blogger and member of the NSN team, James Lamond.  James has joined us as a policy researcher for the next couple of months.

The Vice Presidency Matters Now
Posted by Max Bergmann

Would you trust Sarah Palin enough to send her to Moscow and Beijing to represent the US? Gaining that trust, is Palin's test tonight. 

It should go without saying that a VP should be qualified to be President, since 20 percent of vice presidents have been forced to suddenly take office in the midst of a presidential term. But it is not just that the VP will be a heartbeat away. They have a job to do now.

The notion, as Senator McCain has said, that the job of the vice president was merely to check on the health of the president is severely outdated. While the selection of vice-presidential candidates may not have much impact on the electorate, the fact is that since the end of the Cold War the Vice President has had a substantial impact on governing, especially in foreign policy. It is no longer just a ceremonial office. This is not merely due to the vice presidents’ that held office, but to a greater demand on U.S. foreign policy.

With the end of the Cold War and America’s rise as the sole superpower, the foreign policy challenges confronting the United States have grown and become more varied. Given the lack of direct authority in crafting domestic policy, it was natural that the Vice President’s office adopt a growing role in foreign policy, since the office can speak authoritatively not just on behalf of the entire administration, but on behalf of the entire country. During the Clinton administration, Al Gore chaired a U.S.-Russia commission and was the first American leader to visit China following the Tienanmen Square massacre. Dick Cheney has been dispatched to Pakistan and the Middle East and played a highly influential and independent role in crafting Bush administration foreign policy and in the end created a very powerful and highly unaccountable office. It is very important therefore that these candidates be properly vetted and asked tough questions.

We face so many challenges, from two wars, to a global financial crisis, to bolstering withering alliances, to managing great power relationships with Russia and China, that it is extremely important to have a VP that is empowered to take responsibility over some of these issues. For instance, it is imperative that a new administration throw itself into the Middle East peace process. But this single issue could dominate an entire year of a Presidency. Obama can charge Biden to take a lead role. But McCain will not be able to do that with Palin. At the very least we need a VP that we can trust to represent the views of the United States to foreign leaders. So again would you trust Palin enough to send her to Beijing or Moscow, or even Brussels? Convincing us that she can do that is Palin's test tonight.

Israeli Generals For Obama
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I thought this was a very interesting piece.  Israeli Generals and former security officials arguing for why Obama would be better for Israel's security than McCain or Bush.  Really puts a hole in much of the fearmongering that conservatives have attempted to promote in the Jewish Community.

October 01, 2008

Alaska's National Guard Suffers Under Palin
Posted by Adam Blickstein

"The Governor still has a responsibility to stand up for their troops and to intercede when things are happening that shouldn't be happening....and we don't see any evidence of this happening, especially to benefit or to protect the special requirements of the rural population."
-Brigadier General David "Dave" McGinnis (Ret.), former Chief of Staff of the National Guard Association of the U.S

Today, Veterans for America (VFA) released a report chronicling the state of Alaska's National Guard under Gov. Sarah Palin's leadership. After compiling extensive on-the-ground research, VFA found that Alaska's national guard is in a very deteriorated state, especially amongst the rural guard population that comprises nearly 1/3 of the forces. The preliminary report, which can be accessed here, found that:

Despite the dedicated and relentless work of the Alaska National Guard-led Family Support Programs, the Alaska Vet Centers, local Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), municipal officials, social service providers such as the Food Bank of Alaska, and leaders of community-based efforts, VFA’s findings indicate that the post-deployment needs of Alaska National Guard members and their families remain largely unmet.

In addition, as a result of inadequate leadership from the Governor of Alaska, among others, the Alaska National Guard has an inadequate understanding of the full range of post-combat issues facing those who have served abroad from the Alaska Guard in recent years, as well as their family members who have been left to deal with the toll of unexpected – at times, repeated – deployments.

The Alaska National Guard, which was originally designed primarily as a defense force against threats to Alaska, was deployed without programs and systems in place to care adequately for postdeployment needs. The United States should not continue to deploy the Alaska National Guard until this situation is remedied.

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, among others, should take steps immediately to address this pressing national security issue.

The National Security Network co-hosted a conference call today to examine this issue ahead of tomorrow's Vice Presidential debate. Full audio of the call can be found here.

Stalin's Legacy and Georgian Democracy
Posted by The Editors

NSN Intern Eric Auner provides his take on the state of Georgia's Democracy"

According to a New York Times story today, Stalin remains a revered figure for many Georgians.  This makes some sense, given that he himself was Georgian, but seems puzzling considering that he is widely considered to be a mass-murdering psychopath (I imagine that he is not so popular in Ukraine).  A historian quoted in the article claims that most Georgians regard him as “higher than man, more than human and less than God.”  Even if one does not accept this story at face value, which is probably the correct response, this article can serve as a doorway to a greater discussion about the state of Georgian democracy today.  How democratic is Georgia?  Here are some quotes from a recent Newsweek article on the subject:

“The NGO Freedom House puts the country in the same category as Venezuela and Nigeria”

“Georgian democracy suffers from having no real line between state and party… President Mikheil Saakashvili has never created a meaningful judiciary, has weakened the legislature and has centralized executive power.”

“If anything, the country is becoming less democratic, according to Freedom House. In November 2007, Saakashvili cracked down on antigovernment demonstrators in front of Parliament, declared martial law and shut down a private television network.”

None of this is meant to bash Georgia.  Rather, the existing discourse, propagated by people like Sarah Palin, about a struggling democracy facing an “unprovoked” invasion (even though Colin Powell himself has said that “the match that started the conflagration was from the Georgian side”) from a resurgent empire needs to be modified and fleshed out.

Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, former Secretaries of State, put it more bluntly: “This drift toward confrontation needs to be ended.”  Both campaigns need to deal with this, John “We are all Georgians” McCain especially.

Republican Foreign Policy Experts for Obama
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I mean seriously why is Henry Kissinger supporting McCain?  Why are any of these guys?  On Iran and Russia their views are completely antithetical to his.  Here is the latest in an op-ed from Kissinger and George Schultz.

There is no danger of general war today. But there is the risk that a conflict arising out of ancestral passions in the Caucasus will be treated as a metaphor for a larger conflict, threatening the imperative of building a new international order in a world of globalization, nuclear proliferation, ethnic conflicts and technological revolution.

The presence of Russian troops on the territory of a state newly independent from the old Soviet empire was bound to send tremors through all the other countries that established themselves after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This has evoked a rhetoric of confrontation, reciprocal threats and retaliatory countermeasures: American naval forces have been in the Black Sea; Russian military and economic capability has been displayed in the Caribbean as if from a 19th-century balance-of-power playbook.

The Georgian crisis is cited as proof that Vladimir Putin's Russia is committed to a strategy of unraveling the post-Soviet international order in Europe. A strategy of isolating Russia has been advocated in response. The United States and Russia had been without high-level contact since early August until a recent meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Non-governmental contacts have been curtailed.

This drift toward confrontation needs to be ended.

This doesn't really jive well with the whole "we are all Georgians now."

Petraeus Closes the Book on McCain's Strategy for Afghanistan
Posted by Patrick Barry

General Petraeus' remarks yesterday should close the book on John McCain's overly-simplistic strategy for restoring stability to Afghanistan.  After today, it's difficult to imagine anyone saying that McCain has even the slightest idea of what he is talking about when it comes to that country.

For the entire campaign, McCain has repeatedly made the point that to achieve victory in Afghanistan, the U.S. military need only look to the 'surge' strategy that proved so successful in Iraq. During the Presidential debate, McCain invoked the surge, and said that "that same strategy will be employed in Afghanistan," but even before that, he ripped Barack Obama, saying "it is precisely the success of the surge in Iraq that shows us the way to succeed in Afghanistan." Yet for all this confidence and bluster, it took just a few short remarks by General Petraeus to cut the central premise of McCain's Afghanistan policy off at the knees.  Just look:

“People often ask, ‘What did you learn from Iraq that might be transferable to Afghanistan?  The first lesson, the first caution really, is that every situation like this is truly and absolutely unique, and has its own context and specifics and its own texture,”

General Petraeus is the pre-emininent figure when it comes to counter-insurgency, so vaunted in his profession that followers of his way of war have gifted him with near mythic status, calling him "King David."  Others may have contributed more to the discussion of counter-insurgency, but no figure is more associated with the term than General Petraeus. An open declaration by the man who has mastered the lessons of Iraq, that those same lessons cannot be simply mapped onto Afghanistan, is absolutely devastating to McCain.

Continue reading "Petraeus Closes the Book on McCain's Strategy for Afghanistan" »

5 National Security Hurdles Governor Palin Must Clear
Posted by Patrick Barry

1. KNOWLEDGE: Governor Palin must demonstrate the knowledge necessary to be Commander-in-Chief.

Governor Palin has repeatedly cited Alaska’s proximity to Russia as a qualification for being Commander-in-Chief.  This despite the fact that Russia isn’t even in the top twenty countries that trade with Alaska and that Moscow is actually closer to Maine than Alaska.  Moreover, when asked about the Bush Doctrine, Palin did not recognize the argument over preemption that dominated American politics and foreign policy circles for years.  She did not even obtain a passport until last year and has shown little interest in international affairs. 

2. PAKISTAN: Governor Palin must explain the McCain-Palin position on eliminating Al Qaeda’s safe-haven in Pakistan.
Pakistan is one of the most critical issues currently facing our country.  Our intelligence community and the Pentagon believe that the safe haven on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border represents the most likely source of another attack on the United States.  Yet incredibly, Governor Palin’s position on this issue appears to be at odds with John McCain’s.  While he has criticized Barack Obama for arguing that the U.S. should take direct action against high value terrorist targets inside Northwest Pakistan, Governor Palin has made remarks suggesting she supports such measures.

3. IRAN: Governor Palin must explain the McCain-Palin strategy for dealing with Iran.
Governor Palin has called Barack Obama’s proposal to engage in diplomacy with Iran without preconditions “dangerous” and “naïve.”  Yet, it is almost the exact same position as the one taken by one of her own campaign’s advisors – Henry Kissinger.  Moreover, Palin has made public statements that would implicitly give Israel a green light to attack Iran – even though such an action would have serious national security implications for the United States and the Bush administration has reportedly opposed such a move.

4. RUSSIA: Governor Palin must explain the McCain-Palin position on Russia.

Instead of carefully avoiding hypotheticals and inflammatory language, Governor Palin recklessly speculated about a possible war with Russia – the world’s second largest nuclear power.  She must clarify her ticket’s positions on Georgia joining NATO and the potential for war with Russia over South Ossetia.

5. VISION: Governor Palin must articulate what her vision is for American foreign policy
Governor Palin has said little about her own foreign policy views and philosophy.  In an interview with Katie Couric she seemed to take a position similar to the Neoconservatives and George Bush’s first term and early second term that we should be aggressively spreading democracy as the main goal of U.S. foreign policy and that this type of approach would help eliminate terrorism.  She must expand on this view and give a fuller description of her general approach to national security.

Continue reading "5 National Security Hurdles Governor Palin Must Clear" »

September 30, 2008

European Efficiency?
Posted by Patrick Barry

Another great post from NSN Press Assistant Hanna Lundqvist:

While the United States was wrangling over the $700 billion bailout bill yesterday, three European governments came together to save Dexia, a French-Belgian bank.  One of the world's largest lenders to local governments, Dexia fell into the credit crisis through its U.S. operations and reached a point of emergency after the drop in the global stock market yesterday.  This morning, the Belgian Prime Minister's office announced a $9 billion capital infusion from various government and state-controlled sources in Belgium, France and Luxembourg.  The move makes Dexia one of the "most solvent" banks in northern Europe and ensures continued essential funding for local governments worldwide.  Following the announcement of the bailout, shares in Dexia rose 18.1%, with investors made confident by the governments' actions.

In comparison, after the failure of the $700 billion U.S. bailout plan, the Dow Jones dropped 777.68 points and NASDAQ fell 9.14%.  The multi-government bailout of Dexia clearly illustrates the benefits of swift, decisive action and contrasts alarmingly with the actions of the U.S. government yesterday.  With markets around the world anticipating that a bailout deal will be reached soon, the potential for a catastrophic crash remains if the U.S. government does not, or cannot act.

Altruistic Piracy
Posted by Adam Blickstein


 Well, out here we call them "pirates," Ned.

The recent spate of pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia is pretty redoubtable, a 21st century return to the Barbary Coast's buccaneer glory days. The New York Times seems to have scored an improbable interview with the pirates who last week seized a Ukrainian ship loaded with millions of dollars of military hardware and tanks heading to either Sudan or Kenya. Whatever you think of the pirate's ruthlessness, you have to kinda respect their beneficent sentiments: 

In a 45-minute-long interview, [pirate spokesman] Mr. Sugule  expounded on everything from what the pirates want — “just money” — to why they were doing this — “to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters” — to what they eat — rice, meat, bread, spaghetti, “you know, normal human-being food.”

He said that so far, in the eyes of the world, the pirates had been misunderstood. “We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits,” he said. “We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard.”

He insisted that the pirates were not interested in the [seized] weapons and had no plans to sell them to Islamist insurgents battling Somalia’s weak transitional government. “Somalia has suffered from many years of destruction because of all these weapons,” he said. “We don’t want that suffering and chaos to continue. We are not going to offload the weapons. We just want the money.”

Of course, spin is spin, whether it's from the mouth of an unprincipled political flack in America or a swashbuckling Somali seeking fortune on the Arabian Sea. And while these guys did in fact begin their pirate careers protecting the waters from illegal fishing, they've evolved into something slightly more sinister. Because of that, their more benign motives should probably be tossed overboard.

The End of the Bush Military
Posted by Max Bergmann

Yesterday Secretary Gates officially buried the military strategy that had defined the Bush administration. The strategy somewhat incorrectly labeled "transformation" was vigorously pursued by Secretary Rumsfeld. It provided the foundation for the catastrophic war plans in Afghanistan and Iraq and came to dominate the thinking behind DoD procurement. While Gates' announcement may seem like an obvious development, the fact is that Gates' comments have real ramifications for the future direction of the military.

During the 2000 election campaign, conservatives were quick to attack the Clinton administration for cutting defense spending and pursuing dainty peacekeeping and stability operations in Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo. To conservatives these operations were a distraction from the real fights of the 21st century. The military even classified these missions as "operations other than war." Instead, conservative emphasized "transforming" the military to fight "21st century wars" by developing new highly advanced weapons systems that could instantly identify and destroy targets with pinpoint accuracy. In this vision of warfare speed and firepower were highly valued, ground forces were less essential and as a result needed to be smaller, lighter and more lethal. Warfare was essentially boiled down to a bunch of targets to be destroyed, as evidenced by Rumsfeld's infamous consternation over invading Afghanistan immediately after 9-11 when he said that there "aren't any good targets in Afghanistan."

Gates' speech importantly casts this naive vision of warfare aside:

Be modest about what military force can accomplish, and what technology can accomplish. The advances in precision, sensor, information and satellite technology have led to extraordinary gains in what the U.S. military can do... But also never neglect the psychological, cultural, political, and human dimensions of warfare, which is inevitably tragic, inefficient, and uncertain. Be skeptical of systems analysis, computer models, game theories, or doctrines that suggest otherwise. Look askance at idealized, triumphalist, or ethnocentric notions of future conflict that aspire to upend the immutable principles of war: where the enemy is killed, but our troops and innocent civilians are spared. Where adversaries can be cowed, shocked, or awed into submission, instead of being tracked down, hilltop by hilltop, house by house, block by bloody block.

Gates also adds that:

As we can expect a blended, high-low mix of adversaries and types of conflict, so too should America seek a better balance in the portfolio of capabilities we have – the types of units we field, the weapons we buy, the training we do. When it comes to procurement, for the better part of five decades, the trend has gone towards lower numbers as technology gains made each system more capable. In recent years these platforms have grown ever more baroque, ever more costly, are taking longer to build, and are being fielded in ever dwindling quantities.Given that resources are not unlimited, the dynamic of exchanging numbers for capability is perhaps reaching a point of diminishing returns.

The implications of this are huge. Under the conservative vision of military "transformation" weapons systems were not tied to defeating any particular threat, but were developed merely for the sake of making our military more capable. In other words, we continue to develop the F-22 not to defeat advanced Soviet aircraft which it was originally developed for, but merely to have a much better plane. What Gates' is essentially saying is that we should again tie weapons development to the threats and challenges we face - and since those are likely to be of the low-tech asymmetrical variety, instead of spending more than 300 million for each F-22, may be we can live with building more F-15s and F-16s for much less. Almost every weapons program this decade has been justified in terms of the abstract vision of "transformation" not any particular threat or challenge. Large, technologically advanced weapons programs take decades to develop and Gates' comments essentially cast doubt on many of these programs.

Over the last couple years Gates has effectively laid the ground work for the next administration to undertake a massive restructuring of the military. This is incredibly important in light of the inevitable budget tightening that the Pentagon will experience over the next few years. If and when this restructuring happens, Gates will deserve a lot of credit.

The McCain-Palin Gibberish Iran Policy
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

One of the things that hasn't been covered much coming out of the debate, is that McCain's Iran policy has turned to absolute gibberish.  After the past few days, it appears that McCain's policy is that Iran developing nuclear technology is an urgent problem that must be stopped to avoid a second Holocaust.  Therefore, we should build a new international institution that will take years and years to put together, so that it can deal with this urgent problem. Huh?  Also, Obama's willingness to talk to Iran is hugely naive and is so dangerous that McCain cut an ad scaring the public about Obama's position and consistently opposes it.  But McCain's advisor Henry Kissinger believes we should talk to Iran at the secretary of state level and somehow claims this is in line with McCain's view?  On top of that, McCain's running mate was on TV last week essentially green lighting an Israeli strike on Iran.  I'm really confused but let's walk through this in more detail.

At the debate McCain was asked what he would do about Iran.  His response:

Now we cannot a second Holocaust. Let's just make that very clear. What I have proposed for a long time, and I've had conversation with foreign leaders about forming a league of democracies, let's be clear and let's have some straight talk. The Russians are preventing significant action in the United Nations Security Council.

I have proposed a league of democracies, a group of people - a group of countries that share common interests, common values, common ideals, they also control a lot of the world's economic power. We could impose significant meaningful, painful sanctions on the Iranians that I think could have a beneficial effect.

The Iranians have a lousy government, so therefore their economy is lousy, even though they have significant oil revenues. So I am convinced that together, we can, with the French, with the British, with the Germans and other countries, democracies around the world, we can affect Iranian behavior.

This is crazy.  The United Nations was only created after much of the world was destroyed and the League of Nations had failed.  And even that approach took very careful machinations on the part of Roosevelt and his advisors.  It took four decades to create the EU and its still evolving and having hiccups along the way.  And oh by the way, no one in the rest of the world has any desire to create the League of Democracies.  Even once these organizations are set up, they have a very hard time acting in unison on anything that is at all controversial.  Just because two countries are democracies doesn't mean they agree (See the run up to the Iraq War).   

If the Iranian threat is as urgent as McCain claims it is.  If most intelligence assessments agree that we are looking at Iran having a nuclear capability, if not an actual weapon, some time in the next 3-10 years.  Why on earth would you waste years and years of time trying to build a new international institution that may or may not be able to address that problem?  This is a pipe dream and a pretty roundabout and absurd way to try and increase economic pressure on the Iranians.

Then there is the question of talking or not talking.  McCain's position is a continuation of the Bush strategy that Iran needs to meet certain preconditions regarding its uranium enrichment program before we will sit down and engage.  Somehow this is in line with Henry Kissinger's position.  But Henry Kissinger said the following a couple of weeks ago:

"Well, I am in favor of negotiating with Iran. And one utility of negotiation is to put before Iran our vision of a Middle East, of a stable Middle East, and our notion on nuclear proliferation at a high enough level so that they have to study it. And, therefore, I actually have preferred doing it at the secretary of state level so that we -- we know we're dealing with authentic..." Sesno: "Put at a very high level right out of the box?" Kissinger: "Initially, yes. And I always believed that the best way to begin a negotiation is to tell the other side exactly what you have in mind and what you are -- what the outcome is that you're trying to achieve so that they have something that they can react to. Now, the permanent members of the Security Council, plus Japan and Germany, have all said nuclear weapons in Iran are unacceptable. They've never explained what they mean by this. So if we go into a negotiation, we ought to have a clear understanding of what is it we're trying to prevent. What is it going to do if we can't achieve what we're talking about? But I do not believe that we can make conditions for the opening of negotiations. We ought, however, to be very clear about the content of negotiations and work it out with other countries and with our own government." (CNN's "Live Event," 9/20/08)

Obama's position is not as specific as Kissinger's.  He argues instead for tough direct diplomacy, but he also argues that there needs to be preparation in advance and he hasn't committed to what level the talks would be at.  The Obama position sure sounds a lot closer to Kissinger than McCain's insistence on preconditions and continued saber rattling.  And it also sounds a lot closer to what other secretaries of state like James Baker and Colin Powell have been proposing.  But Kissinger said this after the debate.

My views on this issue are entirely compatible with the views of my friend Senator John McCain. We do not agree on everything, but we do agree that any negotiations with Iran must be geared to reality.

So, has McCain had a dramatic shift on his willingness to negotiate and if he has why does he keep decrying Obama's position as so dangerous and naive?  Alternatively, this just an attempt to paper over a differences between McCain and Kissinger and confuse the public while McCain's position remains the same as it's always been.

Finally, there is Sarah Palin's pretty frightening interview with Katie Couric where she essentially says that we should never second guess Israel, even if it chooses to bomb Iran. 

Just to wrap up.  McCain's policy is that we are going to put more economic pressure on Iran by magically creating an international institution that nobody wants, will take years to put together and may not even be able to achieve consensus.  His direct diplomatic strategy is a total mystery if he has one at all.  And his VP is basically giving Israel the green light to bomb while McCain has his own little history of singing songs about bombing Iran. 

Some may disagree with Obama's approach that advocates tough direct talks with the Iranians combined with more concerted efforts to increase economic pressure on Iran.  But at least it's rational and coherent, which is more than you can say for John McCain's position.

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