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October 10, 2008

Alaska's National Guard- Needs Not Met
Posted by James Lamond

Despite her ticket’s motto of “Country First,” one thing is sure about Sarah Palin: she doesn’t put America’s veterans first.

The Anchorage Daily News reports that:

Alaska Army National Guard troops returning home to rural communities after year-long deployments to war zones face huge obstacles trying to receive standard veterans' health care. . .

That's because about 25 percent of Alaska's Guard members live in villages where no veteran health clinics are available, and they often have to travel long distances by plane to see a doctor. . .

But that's just one of several problems now facing Alaskans who were part of the U.S.-wide call to send Army National Guard troops into battle

Job prospects for troops returning to villages are sometimes grim. And screening for mental health problems is still lacking for the 575 soldiers in the 3rd Battalion, 297th Regiment, who spent a year in northern Kuwait and southern Iraq from 2006 to 2007.

The main problem is that the Alaska guard was designed for defense against threats at home, not for repeated deployments abroad. The Alaska Guard has a deployment rate of 80%.  There were never adequate systems put in place to address the needs of thousands of soldiers returning home from war.

This Anchorage Daily News article comes following a report issued by Veteran’s for America, a veteran’s advocacy organization, on the post-deployment challenges facing Alaska’s National Guard.  The report finds that “the post-deployment needs of Alaska National Guard members and their families remain largely unmet.” There are rises in divorces, suicides, mental illness, financial difficulties and other post-combat problems.  The VFA was even told that the Food Bank of Alaska has seen a 400% increase in military families relying on their services.

Another major problem is access to health care.  Over 60% of Alaska Guard members live in rural areas of Alaska, miles from the nearest VA facility.  This can result in a very long and expensive trip to the nearest VA facility, just to receive proper medical care.  While the VA will reimburse the patient, they do need to put the money upfront.  Unfortunately the cost of the trip can be in the thousands, and many of the soldiers just don’t have resources to put the money up front. This has lead to local community groups raising money to help local vets to pay for the trip, but they can only do so much.

While there are major problems with caring for vets across the country, Alaska seems to be exceptionally bad. 

State of Alaska benefits for state employees who are deployed are paltry relative to other states- a fact worsened by the high costs of basic necessities [in remote villages, milk can cost $10 a gallon] in the state.  The state of Alaska only provides military leave up to 15 days ( for instance, California provides differential pay for all state employees when called to federal or state duty for up to 365 days).

The report clearly places blame for the problems saying:

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 left to deal with the toll of unexpected- at times repeated- deployments.

The report offers a comprehensive list of recommendations needed to address issues ranging from better screening for mental illness to greater access to VA clinics to ensuring citizen soldiers have adequate time at home between deployments.  The study recommends that Gov. Palin launch a comprehensive study on the needs of Alaska National Guard troops who have served overseas.  It also urges the United States to stop deploying the Alaska National Guard until the problem at home is addressed.

Sarah Palin often floats her being Commander-in-Chief of the Alaska National Guard as her foreign policy experience.  While caring for veterans returning home from war largely falls under the domestic policy realm- one still asks  if this is what we are to expect from Palin should she become Commander in Chief? 

America first? Well maybe not all Americas.

Read full VFA report here.

Obama and the Iraq Security Agreement
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The Washington Times is at it again trying to resuscitate a debunked claim that was originally made by Amir Taheri that Obama was somehow secretly working against the Bush administration's security agreement with Iraq.   Rather than go through  explaining why this is ridiculous, I'll just let Marc Lynch do the work for me.

Obama and Israel
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Dan Benjamin and Steven Simon have a great piece in the Forward about Obama and Israel's security. Everyone knows that there is a bipartisan consensus in the United States for supporting Israel's military and being committed to its security.  No candidate for public office from either party would argue against that point. As Benjamin and Simon point out:

President Bush’s political allies have propagated the myth that he has been the best friend Israel ever had in the White House. Israel, however, does not need another four or eight years of that kind of friendship. It needs a leader in the Oval Office who will use all the instruments of American power to advance our national interests in peace and regional security — which is the best way to safeguard Israel today and in the future.

They go beyond that surface support provided by Bush and McCain and convincingly make the case that Obama's policies towards the peace process, Iran, Iraq, Syria and terrorism will all make Israel safer.  McCain and Bush's won't.  In the end saying  you are a friend of Israel is not enough.  Implementing smart policies that act to stabalize the Middle East and are thus good for the United States, and by extension Israel, is what is necessary.  More  excerpts below the fold

Continue reading "Obama and Israel" »

October 09, 2008

Branding Democrats
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Matt Yglesias links to this ad from Canada's Liberal Party. What I like about it most is that it defines very clearly what Liberals are about (see the last couple seconds). Liberals are for strengthening the safety net. Conservatives are for shredding it. Here at home, Obama has succeeded, to a degree, in conveying this distinction in the presidential race. However, it is time to take this beyond specific candidates and make the case to the American people that this is not just a contrast between McCain and Obama, but between two philosophies articulated by two very different political parties. I wish there were ads out there (at least after the election) that straightforwardly explain to the American people what the Democratic Party stands for and how those principles different from Republicans. Not just on economic policy, but also on foreign policy.

Listening In?
Posted by James Lamond

ABC news reported today on an American intelligence program that has been spying on U.S. citizens, mostly military officers, journalists, and aid workers in the Middle East.  Many of the calls intercepted were soldiers from Baghdad’s Green Zone calling home to the U.S.  The report comes from two former military linguists that were assigned to the NSA and monitored calls themselves. 

The linguists describe the phone calls that they had to monitor and transcribe:

These were just really everyday, average, ordinary Americans who happened to be in the Middle East, in our area of intercept and happened to be making these phone calls on satellite phones.

The calls were personal, private things with Americans who are not in any way, shape or form associated with anything to do with terrorism.

[American Soldiers] Calling home to the United States, talking to their spouses, sometimes their girlfriends, sometimes one phone call following another.

What disturbs me most- besides the complete violation of the civil liberties of our soldiers, journalists, and aid workers- is that it is hard to imagine how effective of a terrorist monitoring program this really is.  After the phone numbers were identified as aid organizations instead of blocking the numbers, the calls were continually intercepted and monitored.   I understand that the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders are dangerous- but I am sure that there are some higher priority groups out there.  This is really concerning.

As one NSA Analyst said

By casting the net so wide and continuing to collect on Americans and aid organizations, it's almost like they're making the haystack bigger and it's harder to find that piece of information that might actually be useful to somebody.You're actually hurting our ability to effectively protect our national security.

Gen. Hayden, now CIA director and formerly NSA director, claims that the intercepted phone calls are specifically targeted.  He testified before congress that:

It's not for the heck of it. We are narrowly focused and drilled on protecting the nation against al Qaeda and those organizations who are affiliated with it.

President Bush has assured America that the wiretapping program is targeted towards terrorists and suspected terrorists.  In 2006 he said:

This is a phone call of an al Qaeda, known al Qaeda suspect, making a phone call into the United States.

But according to those who were actually doing the listening, it is quite a different story.  One linguist recalls his co-workers sharing and passing around “salacious or tantalizing” phone calls that had been intercepted, including listening in on “pillow talk” or “phone sex.”  I mean come on- is this really a matter of national security?  How exactly does this keep us safe from terrorism? All the effort being put into monitoring personal phone calls by American troops and aid workers is effort that is not going into combating our real enemies.

"Bipartisan" Iran Report
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I'm generally somewhat skeptical of explicitly "bipartisan" task forces because they often times end up with watered down recommendations that no one is happy with and won't really work.  But still, the positive is that you're putting a bunch of very smart experts together and sometimes you end up with interesting things.  So that's what I was thinking when I sat down to read this Iran report(PDF) from the Bipartisan Policy Council.  Then I read the first sentence:

We are indebted to Michael Rubin who was the primary drafter of the report and faithfully incorporated the collective views of the Task Force.

Are you kidding me!  Bipartisan?  I always thought the whole point of being bipartisan was to get a bunch of centrists into the room to have a discussion on a key issue.  Throw in a couple of further right and further left folks to add spice.  I'm not saying I love this model, but if you get the right people the work can be really good (See the Brzezinski-Gates 2004 CFR task force or CNAS's recent Iran report). 

In this case they gave the pen, and thus most of the control, to a hard core neocon.  A neocon who just recently published an absolutely absurd mistake-ridden piece in the Washington Post blaming Joe Biden for Iran's progress on its uranium enrichment program.  Meanwhile, Michael Mukovsky, the Project Director, has a history with Rumsfeld's Office of Special Plans.  Calling this thing "bipartisan" is quite silly.

As for the report itself.  It tries to be bipartisan by saying negotiations, even without preconditions, might be necessary.  But it recommends simultaneously pursuing  provcative  economic, military, and information (i.e. regime change propoganda) measures.  This strategy would escalate U.S.-Iran tensions and pretty much guarentee that any direct talks would fail.

Petraeus, Talking to Our Enemies, and the Lessons of Iraq
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Spencer Ackerman reports that at a talk at the Heritage Foundation General Petraeus completely contradicted many of John McCain's arguments about Iraq and Afghanistan.  This wouldn't be so important if McCain didn't consistently cite Petraeus agreeing with him as a justification or his policies.  To a lesser extent McCain is using the same tactic that President Bush used in 2007 trying to take his own foreign policy philosophy and ascribe to a General who is seen as more credible on these issues.  So when Petraeus contradicts him on Afghanistan, Pakistan and how we should deal with our enemies it's a big deal.  This piece from Spencer I thought was particularly relevant. 

Petraeus also came out unambiguously in his talk at Heritage for opening communications with America’s adversaries, a position McCain is attacking Obama for endorsing. Citing his Iraq experience, Petraeus said, “You have to talk to enemies.” He added that it was necessary to have a particular goal for discussion and to perform advance work to understand the motivations of his interlocutors.

One of the main reasons for the drop in violence in Iraq was the Anbar Awakening.  As early as 2004 and 2005 commanders on the ground were pushing for the United States to negotiate with the insurgents.  But the ideological Rumsfeld leadership at the top of the Pentagon balked.  It's one of the reasons it took so long for the Anbar Awakening to happen.  As Colonel Sean Macfarland explained in his military review article on the early Anbar Awakening,  the tribes were beginning to turn against Al Qaeda in 2005

Anyone who has looked at Iraq closely would take away the lesson that you have to have a flexible and pragmatic approach to dealing with your enemies.  And yet McCain ignores all the political lessons of the last year and a half in Iraq.  Instead, he maintains his military-centric approach - praising General Petraeus for his success but refusing to acknowledge the political lessons that Petraeus himself has learned.  How else could you possibly explain McCain's policy of refusing to engage Iran, his opposition to engagement with Syria and his hard line stance on North Korea. 

John McCain used to be mentioned as a possible Secretary of Defense.  Here is a question to ponder.  If he was the SecDef would he, like Rumsfeld, have opposed negotiating with Sunni insurgents and tried to stop it?  If the Pentagon was under his leadership would violence have actually dropped in 2007?

McCain Not Fit for Transition, Let Alone Presidency
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Sam Stein at Huffington Post has an interesting look at the transition plans of both campaigns. It's critical to remember that this has nothing to do with presumptuousness about being elected president on November 4 and everything about the smooth transition between administrations. More importantly, having a transition operation in queue  allows for a continuity in governance that prevents destructive gaps in tackling our nation's most pressing challenges.  From Iraq to Afghanistan to Pakistan to Russia to the threat of terrorism to the economic crisis to global warming to unforeseen challenges, the plate for the next president is overflowing. But...

As the 2008 campaign nears its conclusion, the presidential transition efforts of the two major candidates have become a study in contrasts: Sen. Barack Obama has organized an elaborate well-staffed network to prepare for his possible ascension to the White House, while Sen. John McCain has all but put off such work until after the election.

The Democratic nominee has enlisted the assistance of dozens of individuals -- divided into working groups for particular federal agencies -- to produce policy agendas and lists of recommended appointees. As evidence of their advanced preparations, officials provided a copy of the strict ethics guidelines that individuals working on the transition effort are required to sign.

John McCain, by contrast, has done little. Campaign spokespersons did not respond to requests for elaboration. But one official with direct knowledge, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, expressed concern with McCain's approach. The Arizona Senator has instructed his team to not spend time on the transition effort, according to the source, both out of a desire to have complete focus on winning the election as well as a superstitious belief that the campaign shouldn't put the cart before the horse.

This is completely irresponsible and unpresidential of Sen. McCain. By choosing an unqualified running mate, he ensured that he had no acceptable contingency plan for the country in case he was no longer capable of continuing as President. But by not having a transition plan in place, he is ensuring that he and his administration would be completely unprepared for the Presidency and the current challenges we face before he would even take office.  It's not one of those "I'll cross that bridge when it comes" situations. Simply put, we are in the midst of so many critical crises both at home and overseas, to the current and future direction of the country, that the President has to be prepared not on day one in January, but literally, on November 5. Being superstitious is not any sort of justifiable excuse. It should not prevent a serious politician from being sensible and responsible, and dare I say presidential. Take the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, for example:

As the U.S. presidential election approaches, senior officials have expressed worry that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is so tenuous that it may fall apart while a new set of U.S. policymakers settles in. Others believe a more comprehensive, airtight road map for the way ahead would limit the new president's options.  

To the degree that John McCain has ignored Afghanistan in the past, and now has ignored his duty to his nation to formulate an effective transition plan, means that if he were to be elected, his tenure as both President-elect and President would start at a severe organizational deficit with a dangerous dearth of strategic planning that would leave us vulnerable. The deteriorating situation Afghanistan is too critical for the the next potential president to neglect. By having no transition plans in place, McCain would be neglecting it in two layers if elected. 

Remember, McCain had to (artificially) suspend his campaign to (incompetently) deal with the financial crisis. Imagine if he had to simultaneously decide how to fill thousands of federal positions, plan on how the executive branch would operate, fill in his National Security Council, figure out his cabinet, choose curtains for the West Wing, work with the Bush administration on transition with critical national security briefings, while having to deal with a complete collapse in Afghanistan as the Taliban regain tangential power, a failed nuclear state of Pakistan as radicals seize control, a continued deterioration in our nation's economy, amongst with the other various challenges a President-elect faces without any pre-planning in place? What, exactly, would John McCain suspend then, except maybe time so he could go back and learn how to become a competent politician and effective leader. 

By putting superstition, not country, first, he simply risks putting America in a precarious and dangerous place.

Condoleezza Rice Didn't Go to Afghanistan for Two Years?
Posted by Patrick Barry

Reading the Washington Post story this morning, on the Bush Administration's re-evaluation of its Afghanistan strategy, I was deeply alarmed by this section of the article:

"Alarms were first sounded early this year, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice returned from a trip to Afghanistan in early February -- her first in two years -- convinced that the war there was heading downhill."

Condoleezza Rice had not been to Afghanistan in two years?  That is astonishing.  For the Secretary of State to have taken two years to visit a country where the U.S. is fighting a war is absolutely unacceptable and it demonstrates the depth of the Bush Administration's neglect. 

October 08, 2008

All the Wrong Lessons
Posted by Patrick Barry

As long as we're focused on useful historical analogies, I though I'd bring up something that's been on my mind since the debate.  For someone who pretty frequently uses history as a truncheon to bludgeon his opponents, you sometime have to wonder whether John McCain understands his own lessons.  A perfect example is what he did last night - pointing to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan at the end of the Cold War in an attempt to make himself look like the seasoned professional and Obama, like the inexperienced green horn:

"We drove the Russians out with -- the Afghan freedom fighters drove the Russians out of Afghanistan, and then we made a most serious mistake. We washed our hands of Afghanistan. The Taliban came back in, Al Qaeda, we then had the situation that required us to conduct the Afghan war."

Now for me, the central lesson of American involvement in Afghanistan during the 1980s is pretty clear - don't turn away from a country with poor governance, a non-existent infrastructure, and thousands of well-armed, well-trained militants. But that is precisely what John McCain and George W. Bush did after the U.S. invaded the country in 2001.  They turned away.  So for McCain to cite this case-study to show how knowledgeable he is on national security is pretty ironic, since it actually has the opposite affect.

Continue reading "All the Wrong Lessons" »

The Long Road to Reconciliation in Iraq
Posted by Max Bergmann

The discussion of U.S. involvement in Iraq has almost been solely focused on troop levels and withdrawal dates. Reporters tend to scoff at Sen Obama's line (I'm paraphrasing) "that we must be as careful getting out of Iraq, as we were careless going in" as just an empty talking point. But if any of them want to know what that phrase actually means they should take a look at a Hearing held by Congressman Delahunt today, which was one of the more interesting and productive hearings you will come across. (As someone who studied ethnic conflict I find this sort of comparative analysis fascinating and have written about it frequently)

The hearing focused on how to jump start political reconciliation in Iraq in light of future U.S. troop withdrawals. The hearing brought together people experienced in conflict resolution from South Africa and Northern Ireland to talk about both the lessons learned from their respective experiences and to discuss their involvement in the "Helsinki Agreement." Last summer Iraqi leaders from all political parties convened in Helsinki, along with the panelists from Northern Ireland and South Africa, as well as Padraig O'Malley a professor at BU and an expert on ethnic conflict resolution. The purpose of the meeting was to create a framework through which reconciliation could proceed. The New York Times wrote in July:

After years of vicious fighting among Iraq’s fractious groups and some incomplete attempts at reconciliation, a ceremony here on Saturday marked a tiny step forward, at least symbolically.The event was the result of several meetings in Helsinki, Finland, attended by a range of Iraqi politicians, as well as veterans from two other seemingly intractable conflicts, in Northern Ireland and South Africa, who have gone on to become political leaders. The meetings... produced a document, unveiled Saturday, that outlined several principles for Iraq that the parties agreed upon, a first step in a process that experts in reconciliation say could take decades...The Helsinki agreement, which was hammered out over meetings in September and April, was signed by 33 politicians from Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish, Turkmen, Communist and other parties. The document consists of 17 principles, as well as strategies to ensure compliance with those goals. The principles included a commitment to eventually limit arms possession to the government, respect for minority rights and opposition to international and regional influence in Iraq’s internal affairs.

One of the rationales between having veterans of Northern Ireland and South Africa's peace processes meet with Iraqi leaders is to merely demonstrate that peace is possible. The delegation included the Republican Martin McGuinness, former IRA commander - now a minister in the new Northern Irish assembly - and the Unionist Jeffrey Donaldson - who served in the British Army in Northern Ireland - and is now a member of the assembly and the British Parliament. These two were on opposite sides of a bitter protracted sectarian war and now serve together in the same democratically elected assembly. The panel from Northern Ireland interestingly noted that one of the benefits they had was that because South Africa had already peace, they had a model to work off of and to look to for inspiration. The successful peace processes in Northern Ireland and South Africa should provide a model for Iraqis.

Three quick take aways from the hearing:

1. Political reconciliation is not something that will happen over night. There is an assumption (from both sides of the aisle) that all that needs to happen for long lasting peace is for Iraqis to be locked into a room (or an airport hanger ala Dayton) and work out their various issues and presto:  peace. To some extent locking everyone in the room and reaching broad agreement is a good start. But the details of such a catch-all agreement have to be filled in and the agreement itself has to be implemented. The problem is that when you unlock the door and let those political leaders return home, they have to be able to sell the agreement that was just signed. If the appetite for reconciliation among their supporters is not there, then the agreement - and therefore efforts to reconcile - will likely collapse. After all it is pretty hard to kiss and make up with the people who may have killed someone in your family. This is why these types of conflict are fairly intractable. In Bosnia the Dayton agreement stuck and was ultimately successful not because Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks loved it, but because we then proceeded to occupy the country until it became accepted. We can't do that now.

2. The one thing Iraqis are united on is opposition to U.S. occupation. We can't play the same role we did in Bosnia - not just because our military is completely stretched - but because we are a party to the conflict. Iraqis are united in wanting us out. Maliki is driving such a hard bargain with us, because it is politically popular to oppose the U.S. presence. This matters because it potentially makes the U.S. not only a focus for potential violence from a nationalist backlash, but because reconciliation for Iraqis must be seen as a means by which to regain their sovereignty. In Bosnia, the challenge was establishing a national identity where one had never existed.

3. In Iraq, political reconciliation will  have to be largely self-reinforcing, as it is in Northern Ireland. Peace in Iraq will require gradually building trust and confidence across sectarian lines at all level. There is no military solution to building trust. Less violence helps, but even if people feel more secure or safe in their neighborhoods that does not mean that they will have any more trust in the intentions of their Sunni or Shia neighbors or politicians. Addressing this takes a long long long time and lots and lots of talks between political leaders and the process set up with Helsinki is an important first step. This process has to ramp up as troops begin to withdrawal. Additionally, part of a withdrawal strategy has to attempt to get the countries in the region to play a constructive role in supporting political reconciliation. The panelists noted that in Northern Ireland an essential step was the improvement in relations between The British and Irish governments. Similarly, the Annapolis process is an effort to get the entire region to work toward resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  No long term stability can occur in Iraq without broad based support of its neighbors. This means for long term peace the most powerful country in Iraq - Iran - must play a constructive role.

A timetable for withdrawal is not just about moving troops out. It is also a negotiating timetable for Iraqis, as well as for Iraq's neighbors. While our military efforts decline, our diplomatic efforts will have to ramp up.

Foreign Policy Breadth in the Debates
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Michael Tomasky writes and Matt Yglesias and Mark Goldberg agree. 

Foreign policy in these debates means: Iraq, Iran, Israel, Afghanistan and Russia. And that’s it. China — China! — barely came up. India and Pakistan (Pakistan came up in the Afghanistan context, but wouldn’t you think that maybe the new nuclear agreement between the US and India, concluded just last week for gosh sakes, might make an appearance?). Forget Africa and Latin America of course, except the obligatory quick Darfur mention. How about Syria and Lebanon? The occupied territories (”Israel,” above, means only that both candidates have to pledge they’ll defend Israel, and then they can move on having checked that box, but as to actual discussion of the West Bank and Gaza and the peace process, nada). No questions on torture. No questions on restoring America’s standing in the world, though Obama did work in a mention of it. And so on.

I have to disagree.  The only international subject area that deserved a question and didn't get it was probably China (Also keep in mind that if we didn't have a financial crisis of historic proportions, we would have gotten more of these questions during the first debate). 

It's impossible to make debates about every issue.  So what is best to do is focus on the most prominent areas of disagreement.  We might learn something about Obama and McCain from a discussion on India or Brazil. But more realistically, the public wouldn't care that much, and since the issues haven't been as thoroughly analyzed in the political arena, you'd get two very mushy answers from the candidates that would be incredibly hard to distinguish. 

It's better to focus on the real flashpoints and then use them to infer how Obama and McCain would treat other foreign policy issues during their presidency.  If I were to walk into the debate knowing nothing about the candidates foreign policy positions I could have taken a lot out of yesterday on a broad variety of issues.  For example, I don't know exactly how McCain would deal with China during a crisis over Taiwan.  But I do know that McCain is willing to use over the top hostile rhetoric towards Russia because of Georgia.  I might not learn from the debate what McCain's position is on Syria.  But I know he won't talk to the Iranians, while Obama wants to pursue direct diplomacy.  I don't know how Obama and McCain would deal with the Middle East Peace Process.  But I do know that when it comes to Iraq McCain emphasizes primarily military aspects of foreign policy, while Obama emphasizes political reconciliation and diplomacy. 

I actually think the foreign policy sections of the debates have been very good.  There has been a healthy and rigorous argument and clear distinctions on fundamentally different approaches have been drawn.  These distinctions can be used to draw pretty sound conclusions about broader foreign policy philosophies.  And that is really the point.

The Uncertainty of Georgian Democracy
Posted by The Editors

From NSN intern Eric Auner

The New York Times has just published an article on the state of Georgian democracy, and I thought that the topic was worth touching on again. The article focuses primarily on media suppression, and the picture that it paints is relatively grim. Some quotes:

“The cameras at Georgia’s main opposition broadcaster, Imedi, kept rolling Nov. 7, when masked riot police officers with machine guns burst into the studio. They smashed equipment, ordered employees and television guests to lie on the floor and confiscated their cellphones. A news anchor remained on-screen throughout, describing the mayhem. Then all went black.”

“A 2008 State Department report on Georgia’s democratic progress said that respect for freedom of speech, the press and assembly worsened during the 2007 crisis and that there continued to be reports of ‘law enforcement officers acting with impunity’ and ‘government pressure on the judiciary.’”

Hopefully this isn’t part of a swing from entirely blaming Russia to entirely blaming Georgia for the current situation, which would be unfortunate. Rather, the United States needs to look at its own influence in the region. Do we benefit the people of Georgia by holding up their “quasi-democracy” as a beacon of hope? Or do we rather impede progress? Indeed, even in the lead-up to the war, “the United States did not merely encourage Georgia’s young democracy, it helped militarize the weak Georgian state” and “embolden[ed] Georgia, if inadvertently, to enter a fight it could not win.”

The United States can play a positive role in the further democratization of “the most democratic of the former Soviet states in the region.” But this cannot be accomplished by handing Georgia a “blank check” and backing it regardless of the actions it takes, even when it acts “rashly.” We should hold the Georgian leadership to high, meaningful standards on political freedom and human rights and offer vocal criticism when they fail to meet those standards.

In light of all that, it is a bit disappointing that basically all McCain could say on the subject last night was that we need to “show our moral support for Georgia.” That’s all we need to do?

When America Sneezes, the Rest of the World Catches a Cold
Posted by Hanna Lundqvist

Every day, we get more bad news about the global reach of the financial crisis. Today, Icelandic Prime Minister Geir Haarde announced that Iceland, which the UN rated the most developed nation in the world, is hovering on the brink of “national bankruptcy.”

Iceland’s famous banking industry, which exploded in the 1990s and generated one of the highest per capita incomes in the world for the tiny country, is failing. The financial system was largely built by short-term borrowing from abroad. Although Icelandic banks did not directly own the toxic debts that felled other banks worldwide, the global spread of the credit crisis from the United States has hit Iceland hard, particularly making it virtually impossible for the Icelandic banks to handle their foreign loans. In the past few days, the government effectively nationalized two of the three largest banks, with Sweden stepping in with an approximately $700 million loan for the third. The Icelandic kronor lost half of its value before the central bank stepped in yesterday to fix the rates.

Bank collapses and bailouts may no longer be all that shocking for Americans, following weeks of similar news here at home, but Iceland’s troubles have particularly enormous ramifications worldwide. Icelandic banks and companies have invested heavily across Europe and particularly in Britain, which announced a bailout of its own this morning. Thousands of British citizens have banking accounts with Landsbanki, nationalized by Iceland yesterday, which has stopped allowing customers to make withdrawals. Should Iceland’s financial system collapse, Europe and Britain would suffer greatly and the global financial crisis would intensify to new levels.

In its turmoil, Iceland is turning to Russia for help, negotiating a €4 billion loan to shore up its currency. The move has “raised tensions between Iceland and its traditional western allies."  Prime Minister Haarde commented that “We have not received the kind of support that we were requesting from our friends… So in a situation like that one has to look for new friends.”

Explaining the McCain Bailout Plan
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Brad Delong has an excellent breakdown of the new McCain bailout plan.  As Brad explains the nominee of the party of fiscal conservatism "wants to give $100 billion of taxpayers' money to America's worst-behaving mortgage financiers."  Sure is mavericky.

October 07, 2008

League of Democracies?
Posted by Patrick Barry

The League of Democracies has come to be a central plank in John McCain's foreign policy.  It is through this (non-existent) vehicle that McCain hopes to create the necessary leverage to confront problematic, undemocratic countries like Iran and Russia. The truth is that despite McCain's best intentions, this notion should have been cast aside a long time ago. 

The objections to it are many, and have bridged ideological divides.  The first and most obvious point is that we simply don't have time to wait for the creation of a league of democracies to confront a challenge as serious as Iran's pursuit of Nuclear weapons.  With nearly 4,000 centrifuges operating, does John McCain really expect to build a weighty, ponderous institution in time to confront the threat? Nina Hachigian did a great job of cataloging the many, many questions that must necessarily addressed before such a body comes into existence.  You can't build something like this in a day, but to deal with serious and immediate problems, you sort of would need to.

Second, as many conservative commentators have noted, such an institution could easily become irrelevant without the necessary military capacity to match force to lofty rhetoric.  Just a short while ago, Andrew Bacevich called the idea "a new NATO without the clout or the cohesion of the old."  An institution without teeth cannot be as effective, and John McCain has not addressed this concern, voiced by important members of the realist community.   

Finally, under John McCain's stewardship, such an institution is likely to be less a vehicle for consensus building, and more a mechanism for confrontation.  At a time when democracy promotion is viewed around the world as tainted, because of it's unfortunate association with the Bush Administration's war on terror, now is not the time brandish democracy as a tool to isolate.  We need cooperation from countries like China and Russia on issues  both discrete and broad.  Shutting them out of a debate as important as climate change, or as critical to our safety as Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons is just unnaceptable.  Thomas Carothers perfectly sums up this argument in a recent piece for the Carnegie Endowment.

Kissinger Agrees With Obama On Preconditions
Posted by Max Bergmann

McCain just correctly stated that Obama is for negotiating with Iran without preconditions. But Henry Kissinger, McCain's own adviser agrees with Obama, as he does not believe in continuing the Bush administration's policy of setting conditions before starting negotiations. Setting conditions means no negotiations. No negotiations means Iran will continue its nuclear development pushing us closer to war.  At a forum hosted by CNN a few weeks ago Kissinger said he was  “in favor of negotiating with Iran” and said “I do not believe that we can make conditions for the opening of negotiations.” There is an emerging bipartisan consensus on this point. Too bad McCain continues to side with his neoconservative advisors.

Maybe an Evil Empire?
Posted by The Editors

From NSN intern Eric Auner

McCain just said that if he admits that Russia was not the same "evil empire" as the Soviet Union, he would not be standing up to Russia, or something to that effect. Does this mean that we cannot stand up to a nation that we don't define as evil? There are many ways that the United States can engage with Russia and show displeasure at the same time.

Another McCain dispute with Kissinger - Now on Russia
Posted by Max Bergmann

McCain said we will not have another Cold War with Russia. But just said Ukraine was "in Russia's sights" and repeated his oft-repeated line that when he sees Putin he sees the letters "K.G.B." This is a good line if you are pundit, not if you are a president and want to avoid a new Cold War. The fact is that our relationship with Russia is bigger than what happened in Georgia. The five former Secretaries of State - including Kissinger, Powell, and Baker - that famously rebuffed McCain on Iran also did so on Russia. McCain's initial response was reckless, as well as his continued approach.

As conflict erupted, McCain recklessly issued bellicose statements, condemning Russia without waiting for all the facts, while Barack Obama, other world leaders, and President Bush took a more measured approach. Henry Kissinger said the unpleasant fact is that “the first shot was fired on the Georgian side” and Colin Powell said the Georgians provoked the crisis. Additionally, all three Republican Secretaries of State called for some perspective.  James Baker argued that we have to look at this conflict “in a strategic context not tactically…we have some big-picture issues to be conscious of” and that while the U.S. should support democratic governments “these are little flash fires that we need to be aware of and deal with properly, but that should not be cause for rupturing the entire big relationship.” Colin Powell explained that “you have to treat Russia…in a straightforward, businesslike, objective way and not emotionally.” Yet McCain’s emotional outcry that “we are all Georgians” and his dangerous proposal to kick Russia out of the G-8, are completely counter to this approach. 

Henry Kissinger: U.S.-Russia relationship too important to sacrifice over situation in Georgia.  “We have a number of common issues that we have to settle, if possible, with Russia.  We need Russia for a solution of the Iranian problem.  We may need Russia if Pakistan evolves in some of the directions that it might.  And it is helpful to cooperate with Russia not just on the [nuclear] question, but on the issues of energy.  It is an effort that should not be decided by what happened in Georgia.” [CNAS, 9/15/08, NPR, 9/23/08]

Henry Kissinger: Georgia shot first, should not overreact to crisis. “We have to face the fact that the first shot in Georgia was fired on the Georgian side.  Now, Russia reacted in an excessive manner, but we should not make the whole relationship depend on the pictures that you showed. And I would urge the new President, as I am urging this President to explore the possibilities of cooperation and be very sure before we go the route of cutting off WTO and the other international measures for which cooperation with Russia may be very important.” [CNAS, 9/15/08]

See below for more...

Continue reading "Another McCain dispute with Kissinger - Now on Russia" »

Kick Russia Out?
Posted by James Lamond

John McCain wants to “penalize” Russia  by kicking it out of organizations like the G8.  Is there any problem in the world today that we can't address without Russia? Iran, North Korea, loose nukes, terrorism, energy security. . . These are all issues that we need to work with countries like Russia if we want to tackle. Sen. Obama has held a strong but responsible approach to Russia, including warning about a conflict between Georgia and Russia back in April.

Petraeus Doesn't Head CENTCOM Yet
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

McCain said that Petraeus is already in charge of CENTCOM.  He hasn't.  He doesn't take over that position until October 31.  Here is what the CENTCOM website currently says about its leadership.

Commander - Vacant
U.S. Central Command

This position is vacant.  General David Petraeus has been appointed to this position by the President and confirmed by the Senate of the United States.

Update:  McCain also called Petraeus the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.  See video from Think Progress at 10:08.

John McCain's Petraeus Problem
Posted by Patrick Barry

John McCain once again repeated his claim that what is needed in Afghanistan is the "same strategy" that he supported in Iraq, contributing to what has become a documented pattern of viewing Afghanistan through the lens of Iraq.  Yet, both General Petraeus and General McKiernan, have been very clear that this simplistic plan will not work:

Continue reading "John McCain's Petraeus Problem" »

Popularity in Pakistan
Posted by Max Bergmann

Our popularity collapsed in Pakistan because the Bush administration - and Senators like McCain - backed Musharraf 100 percent, even when he undermined democracy and suspended the rule of law. The Pakistani people expected us to stand up for democracy and for them and we turned our back on them. And in the end we got almost nothing in return. Musharraf played a double game and Pakistan has failed to address the Taliban - Al Qaeda safe haven, while we dumped billions into the Pakistani military. That is why our popularity collapsed.   

And Obama just made this very point.

McCain's Steady Hand on the Tiller
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Do we really want John McCain as the "steady hand" during crisis?  We have a pretty extensive piece on McCain's history in crisis

Continue reading "McCain's Steady Hand on the Tiller" »

McCain and "Victory"
Posted by The Editors

From NSN intern Eric Auner

McCain just cited Petraeus with regards to declaring a timeline. He then went on to pledge that the US would obtain a “victory” in Iraq. This, despite the fact that Petraeus himself said that he would not use the word.

“This is not the sort of struggle where you take a hill, plant the flag and go home to a victory’s not war with a simple slogan”

If McCain has such high praise for Petraeus, he should take his advice on an issue as important as this one.

Knowing when to go in
Posted by Max Bergmann

It is interesting that John McCain would bring up the judgment of knowing when to go into another country. The fact is that McCain was for invading Iraq and five other countries over the past eight years.

When it comes to making the judgment whether to use military force McCain has continuously advocated for reckless response. As U.S. troops entered Afghanistan, McCain advocated moving on to Iraq, Syria, and Iran. In fact McCain had the same military strategy as Rumsfeld and Bush when it came to invading Iraq. He said the war would be "easy," we would be greeted as 'liberators" and he said we would not need any where near the number of troops needed during the first Gulf War, because of advances in air power - but he gave zero thought to the aftermath. That is bad judgment.

Continue reading "Knowing when to go in" »

McCain's Reckless Response to Russia
Posted by Patrick Barry

It's a bit duplicitous for John McCain to say that he is the candidate who knows when to intervene and when not to, when in the wake of the Russia-Georgia crisis, McCain's knee-jerk response was to rattle the saber at Russia, before there was any clarity at all to the situation. Without regard for the consequences, McCain made a declaration - "we are all Georgians" - that in a more sensitive context could have been construed as a declaration of war.   His position has been rebuffed by virtually the entire national security community as hasty, or worse, as jeopardizing more vital national security concerns. 

For more, see below:

Continue reading "McCain's Reckless Response to Russia" »

Obama was not wrong on the surge
Posted by James Lamond

McCain just said that Sen. Obama was wrong on the surge.  This has been a consistent lie from McCain, that the surge has been a great success.  Just today it was released that a “nearly completed high-level U.S. intelligence analysis warns that unresolved ethnic and sectarian tensions in Iraq could unleash a new wave of violence, potentially reversing the major security and political gains achieved over the last year.”  The new NIE reflects the consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies and simply proves that the surge strategy does not provide a sustainable security.[Miami Herald, 10/7/08]

How will the economy affect our national security?
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

McCain's foreign policy of adventurism really makes very little sense at a time when have an economy that is struggling.  We are talking about spending more than $600 billion on a war in Iraq.  Taking a confrontational approach with Russia and Iran.  Not to mention the reckless approach approach towards some of our closest allies like Germany and France.  McCain wants to argue that he will cut spending, but that doesn't count all the conflicts and wars he may potentially get us into.

More on the relationship between security and the economy below the fold from a memo NSN put out before the first debate.

Continue reading "How will the economy affect our national security?" »

Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I know we promised you liveblogging but it's 9:52 and not one mention of foreign policy...  We'll blog it if we see it.

Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

We'll be liveblogging the debate this evening as always...

Prisoners of Cowardice
Posted by Ken Gude

Today's ruling by a U.S. District Court judge in Washington ordering 17 Uighurs released into the United States on Friday brings us one step closer to righting one of the most egregious wrongs in the catalogue of injustices at Guantanamo. As long ago as 2003, the U.S. government accepted the plain truth that these detainees are not enemies of the United States, but they have remained prisoners of cowardice, locked up for years because the Bush administration lacked the courage to bring this tragedy to an end.

The Uighurs never should have been at Guantanamo in the first place. The Uighurs are Muslims from western China who have at times resisted the authority of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. This particular group was living in camps in Afghanistan at the time of the U.S. invasion when they fled the fighting and ended up in Pakistan where they were captured by bounty hunters and turned over to the U.S. military. They were never enemies of the United States and their first contact with U.S. forces came only after they were captured.

Of course, this alone does not make the Uighurs unique for we know that a lot of innocent people were taken to Guantanamo. Yet the fate of the Uighurs goes beyond guilt or innocence and resides more in the realm of geo-politics.

The Chinese government accuses the Uighurs of membership in the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a separatist Uighur group, and demanded the Bush administration return them to China where they would certainly face persecution and torture, and possibly execution. International and domestic law prohibits such transfers so in 2004, the Bush administration began looking for another country that would be willing to accept the Uighurs. In 2006, Albania agreed to take five Uighurs from Guantanamo amid intense Chinese protests and no other country has since been willing to defy Beijing and accept the Uighurs.

Despite the Bush administration's failure to find another home for the Uighurs, there has always existed the most obvious and simple solution; grant the Uighurs parole or asylum in the United States. The Bush administration has acknowledged that these detainees are not enemies of the United States and Uighurs in New York and Washington have already pledged to welcome the Guantanamo detainees into their communities. There is no reason to resist a release into the United States other than fear of Chinese repercussions.

It now appears that these prisoners of cowardice are about to be set free. The last travesty in this saga is that the Bush administration failed to summon the courage to reach this conclusion on its own. This final indignity should mark the beginning of the end of Guantanamo. 

New Iraq NIE Warns of Declaring "Victory"
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The McCain campaign likes to criticize Obama for refusing to talk about victory.  They like to criticize Obama for saying that the surge was only one of a number of elements that led to the improvement in the security situation.  They like to intimate that this somehow reflects poorly on Obama's judgment and on his patriotism.  So how do they respond when the nation's 16 intelligence agencies agree that victory is not certain and the increase in troops was not the only reason from the improvement in security?

A nearly completed high-level U.S. intelligence analysis warns that unresolved ethnic and sectarian tensions in Iraq could unleash a new wave of violence, potentially reversing the major security and political gains achieved over the last year...

The new NIE, which reflects the consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, has significant implications for Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, whose differences over the Iraq war are a major issue in the presidential campaign.

The findings seem to cast doubts on McCain's frequent assertions that the United States is "on a path to victory" in Iraq by underscoring the deep uncertainties of the situation despite the 30,000-strong U.S. troop surge for which he was the leading congressional advocate...

U.S. officials say last year's surge of 30,000 troops, all of whom have been withdrawn, was just one reason for the improvements. Other factors include the truce declared by anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of an Iran-backed Shiite Muslim militia; and the enlistment of former Sunni insurgents in Awakening groups created by the U.S. military to fight al Qaida in Iraq and other extremists.

The draft NIE, however, warns that the improvements in security and political progress, like the recent passage of a provincial election law, are threatened by lingering disputes between the majority Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs, Kurds and other minorities, the U.S. officials said.

Sources of tension identified by the NIE, they said, include a struggle between Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen for control of the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk; and the Shiite-led central government's unfulfilled vows to hire former Sunni insurgents who joined Awakening groups.


Memo from CFR to McCain: Ahmadinejad Does Not Run Iran
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I know I've made this point before, but it means something more when Foreign Affairs puts out an article essentially dedicated to disproving the idea that Ahmadinejad is the most powerful man in Iran.  Akbar Ganji, an Iranian journalist and dissident who spent six years imprisoned in Iran writes:

Of all of Iran's leaders since the country became the Islamic Republic in 1979, only Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the revolution's leader; Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran's president for much of the 1990s; and Khamenei have had defining influences. Despite all the attention he receives, Ahmadinejad does not even rank among Iran's top 100 leaders over the past 30 years. Khamenei supports Ahmadinejad immeasurably more than he did any of Ahmadinejad's predecessors, but Ahmadinejad is only as powerful as he is devoted to Khamenei and successful at advancing his aims. Khamenei's power is so great, in fact, that in 2004 the reformist Muhammad Khatami declared that the post of president, which he held at the time, had been reduced to a factotum. Blaming the country's main problems on Ahmadinejad not only overstates his influence; it inaccurately suggests that Iran's problems will go away when he does. More likely, especially regarding matters such as Iran's foreign policy, the situation will remain much the same as long as the structure of power that supports the supreme leader remains unchanged.

Not even in the top 100!  That seems like a pretty bold statement.  But even if it's just top 50, it would seem to put a damper on John McCain and Sarah Palin's attempts to continue to make talking to Iran all about Ahamadinejad.  McCain showed his confusion on this issue in the spring when confronted by Joe Klein.  But McCain and Palin continue to demagogue on Ahamadinejad and all the scary things he says as an excuse to not deal with Iran.

Here is McCain at the first debate making the case for not dealing with Iran:

Here is Ahmadinenene [mispronunciation], 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.

And here is Sarah Palin at the VP debate:

An armed, nuclear armed especially Iran is so extremely dangerous to consider. They cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons period. Israel is in jeopardy of course when we're dealing with Ahmadinejad as a leader of Iran. Iran claiming that Israel as he termed it, a stinking corpse, a country that should be wiped off the face of the earth. Now a leader like Ahmadinejad who is not sane or stable when he says things like that is not one whom we can allow to acquire nuclear energy, nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il, the Castro brothers, others who are dangerous dictators are one that Barack Obama has said he would be willing to meet with without preconditions being met first.

In short, demagoguing about Ahmadinejad makes for great politics.  It's too bad he happens to be relatively irrelevant when it comes to dealing with Iran and its foreign policy.

McCain and Obama's Iraq Policies
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Michael Gordon had a long piece yesterday in the NY Times breaking down the differences between Obama and McCain’s Iraq policies.  It’s a decent article that lays out the differences pretty clearly but I think it misses some major points. 

Gordon presents Obama’s timeline as being very different than that of the Iraqis and the U.S. military and also presents it as an “ironclad deadline.”

The “time goal” in the draft accord calls for the withdrawal of American forces by the end of 2011, more than twice as long as Mr. Obama’s 16-month deadline. And in the view of American negotiators, a “time goal” is more flexible than an ironclad deadline.

In reality, Obama’s plan – not McCain’s – is much closer to what the Iraqis are looking for and to what appears to be in the draft agreement.  In July Prime Minister Maliki himself argued for an agreement along Obama’s timeline.  Additionally, the draft agreement calls for all American combat forces to be removed from Iraqi cities by the middle of 2009.  That is more aggressive than anything Obama has said.  And according to Maliki’s own statements and interpretation of the agreement it looks like he may view 2011 as the date for the final withdrawal of all American forces – not just combat forces.  It has also been reported that the Iraqis originally took the position that they wanted American forces out by the end of 2010 and the Bush administration had to negotiate for an extra year.  There has even been speculation that the Bush administration pushed for 2011 to provide political cover for John McCain.  So how is it that Obama’s timeline is so problematic while McCain’s lack of any timeline makes any sense?

Moreover, Obama has never said that he has an “ironclad deadline”.  Obama has been pretty clear throughout the campaign that he is flexible and that, like any sane person, he would be willing to reexamine the exact details of the timeline if circumstance change.  In fact, earlier in the summer when he made this point very clearly people tried to call him out as being  a “flip flopper.” 

Gordon also makes the assumption that other players are in fact reasonable and flexible but refuses to make that assumption about Obama.  Describing the time goals in the U.S-Iraq security agreement he writes:

It is hard to predict how Iraqi leaders might feel about the need for an American presence several years from now

So, the assumption is that Iraqi politicians are flexible and might change their mind because nothing is written in stone.  We shouldn’t necessarily believe that they really mean it when they say they want all American forces out of Iraq by 2011.  They might change their minds.   That seems reasonable.  But why doesn’t that same standard apply to Obama?  Why does Gordon choose to treat Obama as a rigid ideologue who would insist on an “ironclad timetable” no matter what, while treating Iraqi politicians as flexible and willing to change their minds?  If anything pragmatism has been one of Obama’s defining characteristics on the campaign trail for the past 21 months.  There is no reason to think he would govern any differently.

Moving beyond Gordon’s assessment of Obama’s position and to his overall description of the situation, Gordon seems fixated on timetables while not focusing enough on political progress and broader strategy.  This piece was particularly telling: 

Asked to explain his plan, Mr. McCain did not provide any specific suggestions for how he could persuade Iraqi officials to make headway on these thorny political issues, beyond the sort of behind-the-scenes cajoling that American officials are already undertaking.

“I’ll continue to try to find ways to make them move forward. But to threaten withdrawal, frankly, is an option that I would be very reluctant to exercise unless I was sure that we had no other option, and I think we have lots of them,” Mr. McCain said. “I predict that the Iraqi government in a very halting and stumbling fashion, frustrating to us on many occasions, will move forward and progress.”

There is almost universal agreement among both political and military experts that the key to long-term stability in Iraq are political compromises that can lock in the security gains.  That means not just agreeing to have provincial elections, but holding free and fair elections that bring in the Sadrists and the Awakening Groups instead of shutting them out of the government.  It means effectively integrating the Sons of Iraq into the security forces.  It means finding some kind of agreement on Kirkuk and on the oil law.  McCain has no plan for how to do this, other than to keep doing what we have been doing and hope for the best.  And yet, rather than making that a major point, Gordon buries it near the end of the article.

In the end, Gordon does a fair job focusing on the right three issues:  1) The stakes in Iraq and how they fit into our overall national security strategy; 2) Political reconciliation in Iraq and how to lock in the security gains; and 3) U.S. military posture in Iraq.   The irony is that the points of emphasis are completely backwards.  He chooses to spend most of his time focusing on timelines and putting the least amount of emphasis on America’s broader national security strategy.  We should be thinking about the situation in reverse. 

Why McCain Shafting our Vets is Important
Posted by Moira Whelan

I meet vets on a pretty regular basis who tell me they’re skittish about going after McCain on his failure to support our troops. Most vets don’t like complaining about these things because they’re not the types to ask for handouts. They are not the people who ask things from their country. So here’s what I tell them: What John McCain has done for you—or in this case hasn’t done for you—tells Americans what kind of treatment they can expect from him. If you want to help other Americans in making a decision about this election, then just be honest about him, and let them judge for themselves.

In their annual Congressional Report card, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has done just that. They give John McCain a “D” in his commitment to our troops. (Obama and Biden, FWIW, each get “B”s.)

But this is not the first time John McCain has been judged to be inadequate by his peers. If you remember, a vet not long ago questioned him about his lack of commitment to veterans issues, and John McCain couldn’t give a straight answer.

At a very basic level, John McCain’s effort to dodge the responsibilities to veterans he has as a U.S. Senator are disrespectful. As a veteran himself—and his subsequent efforts to deny that he has not fulfilled his commitments—his actions are dishonorable.

Continue reading "Why McCain Shafting our Vets is Important" »

October 06, 2008

Lost in McSpace
Posted by Adam Blickstein


While John McCain is an ardent of expanding American exploration of space, and earlier this year released a point-by-point policy breakdown of what a McCain administration's space policy would look like, he wants to kill effectively NASA.

Arguably, his space policy outline was more comprehensive than anything we've seen from the campaign on, say, on how he would handle Iraq, the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, or rebuilding the American economy. Amongst other things, he would ensure the continuation of high level investment in space research and maintain American leadership in space, while banishing earmarks that apparently erode NASA's ability to actually fund and perpetuate its cause. But earmark's are not McCain's only arch-nemesis rearing it's ugly head when it comes to supporting and emboldening America's space exploration priorities:

This place was once no place, a secret military base northeast of Moscow that did not show up on maps. The Soviet Union trained its astronauts here to fight on the highest battlefield of the cold war: space.

Yet these days, Star City is the place for America’s hard-won orbital partnership with Russia, where astronauts train to fly aboard Soyuz spacecraft. And in two years Star City will be the only place to send astronauts from any nation to the International Space Station.

The gap is coming: from 2010, when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration shuts down the space shuttle program, to 2015, when the next generation of American spacecraft is scheduled to arrive, NASA expects to have no human flight capacity and will depend on Russia to get to the $100 billion station, buying seats on Soyuz craft as space tourists do.

Russia's space monopoly, and a surging Chinese presence beyond Earth's atmosphere, means the U.S. will have to rely on nations McCain's campaign has already deemed as "obviously not allies" in order to bridge the 5 year gap between the Space Shuttle program and the Constellation program. It's unclear how a President McCain would, in fact, maintain America dominance and presence in space while also throwing Russia out of the G8, and casually tossing around bellicose statements towards the only countries capable of sending people and large payloads into space.  A President McCain could mean a comatose American space program, creating yet another area of science and technology where the U.S. falls behind. This would not only be dangerous to our national morale and international prestige, but severely put us behind from a strategic, economic, and global perspective as Russia and China would be able to leap light years ahead of our own space ambitions. In fact, the Russian/Georgia conflict almost already made this a reality. But the partnership plan with Russia was eventually rescued by Congress. It's extremely unclear if a similar result would have occurred under a more hard-line McCain administration.And McCain's view on this would be even more interesting as he is the former Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over our nation's space program. Oh, and a Vice President Palin would be the Chair of NASA's board.

The bottom line is McCain's sanguine view of space is contradicted by his reckless and misguided worldview that would put NASA in peril. And though nobody would peg their vote to the future of America's space program, voters seriously need to consider if it's worth it to go from "one giant leap for mankind" to a disastrous free fall for America's future in space.

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