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October 17, 2008

The Colombia Free Trade Deal
Posted by James Lamond

At the debate Wednesday night there was a back and forth about a free trade agreement with Colombia, which McCain went after Obama for not supporting.  Just in case anyone missed this exchange or was curious about the situation, here are some details.  Obama's reluctance towards the agreement is largely based on human rights and a lack of rule of law- especially in protecting trade unionists.  A report from Human Rights Watch was released just yesterday advocating a similar approach to the one put forth by Sen. Obama.

Continue reading "The Colombia Free Trade Deal" »

The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan
Posted by Shadi Hamid

An article I wrote on the changing relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jordanian regime is out this month in the Carnegie Endowment's Arab Reform Bulletin. Check it out here. Hammam Said, a pro-Hamas hardliner, was elected the leader of the Jordanian Brotherhood in May, a development which some, including myself, thought would lead to an increasingly tense situation in Jordan. But the unexpected has occurred. 

Under the radar, some other significant changes are taking place. The Jordanian monarchy, one of our closest allies and the second-largest per capita recipient of US aid, has reached out to Hamas. It has also moved closer to Putin's Russia, including on military cooperation. Here's the relevant part from my article:

The question of the Palestinian Resistance Movement (Hamas) is one area where Islamists and the regime have moved closer to each other. After nine years of severed ties, Jordan has opened a dialogue with Hamas, recognizing the group’s growing influence and its strong position in Gaza. With its close ties to Hamas leaders, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), played a critical role in facilitating the resumption of contacts.

Moreover, Jordan’s King Abdullah—known as one of the region’s most pro-Western rulers—has attempted to strengthen ties to other U.S. adversaries, including Iran and Russia. He has met with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev three times in the last eight months, and their discussions have increasingly revolved around military assistance and cooperation, including joint production of multi-caliber grenade launchers. Such moves have given Islamists hope that Jordan is beginning to shake off Washington’s tight embrace.

October 16, 2008

Afghanistan "not going in the right direction"
Posted by The Editors

This post is from NSN intern Eric Auner

The Economist has an article today discussing the brazenness of recent Taliban assaults on “areas once deemed safe.” The article describes the attacks:

“In July, they tried to overrun a new American outpost in Nuristan province, killing nine Americans. In August, they attempted to fight their way into a big American base outside Khost, a town that for a year had been a model of stability. Earlier this month they made a three-pronged stab at Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province.”

These events and a score of similar ones have led Admiral Michael Mullen to conclude that Afghanistan is “not going in the right direction.” Even if the Bush administration has begun a “reassessment,” it is clearly coming much later than it should have. 

It is doubtful that we would be hearing such pessimistic sentiments out of Afghanistan if the United States did not have so many of its resources tied down in Iraq.  With McCain down so far in the polls, hopefully the Iraq-mania that he has long shared with President Bush will not be allowed to further endanger the mission in Afghanistan. 

Zimbabwean Power Sharing Deal in Jeopardy
Posted by The Editors

This post is from NSN intern Amanda Hillman

Today is the third day of negotiations between Zimbabweans President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai regarding the structure and leadership of their government under a new power-sharing deal. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki facilitated the dual-executive agreement after Tsvangirai pulled out of the June 2008 run-off election in response to the Zimbabwean Army's brutal violence towards his supporters, which some allege constituted violations of human rights. Mugabe and Tsvangirai have both expressed the desire to move forward on establishing a viable, working cabinet, but Mugabe's recent announcement that only his loyalists would run all the ministries, including the Army and police forces, underscores his lack of interest in a legitimate power-sharing deal, and consequently, the unlikelihood he would act in good faith on it. Meanwhile, Tsvangirai has stated that he will not participate in a government which excludes his party.

This has once again left Zimbabwe in limbo and leaves little clarity on how to move things forward.

Having been recently ousted from both his party and the Presidency of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki seems an unlikely mediator for the two Zimbabwean leaders, and his pro-Mugabe leanings delegitimize his role, effectiveness, and his participation as an envoy from South Africa. Additionally, observers note the seeming aloofness Mr. Mbeki has displayed as a negotiator; the lack of serious commitment to resolving the power-sharing dilemma begs the question of responsibility on the part of a leader of the regional power, in this case, South Africa.

Meanwhile, this afternoon, the LA Times reported that police in southern Zimbabwe “used sticks to beat women…who were urging politicians to resolve their differences and turn their attention to their suffering people…” The women are part of a civil rights group, Women of Zimbabwe Arise, who were staging a sit-in to draw attention to the ongoing food crisis. “How many more Zimbabweans must die before you act?...This is a national disaster and we demand food for all Zimbabweans now,” their statement read.  Earlier this month, the World Food Program said that Zimbabwe was facing a food crisis so serious it was put in a “category all its own in a region where most nations are poor…The U.N. estimates 45 percent of Zimbabwe’s population…will need food help by early 2009.”

Today’s New York Times editorial page offers up a harsh reality check, as well as a prescription for action; "Until there is a fair agreement, the army generals and cronies blocking a fairer deal must be denied visas to travel abroad. Their foreign bank accounts and other assets must be frozen. Their stonewalling should not come cost-free.”  It is past time greater international action was taken.

Continue reading "Zimbabwean Power Sharing Deal in Jeopardy" »

C'est Tragique
Posted by Hanna Lundqvist

In Formula One news, the 2009 French Grand Prix has been canceled. The race has been held every year but one since the F1 series began in 1950. The French Grand Prix has been run at a negative profit for years, though it remains popular. In the current financial climate, however, organizers could not take the risk of losing money and withdrew their funding.

Financial Crisis Impacting Fight Against AQ
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

National security types (myself included) have been saying since the financial crisis began that it will have implications for our national security.  To prove my point, here is a very concrete example of how the financial turmoil is impacting our security.

Apparently Pakistan has found itself in some economic trouble and is turning to China for help

Pakistan has reached a critical new phase in its long-deteriorating financial situation, as investor flight and bleeding of national reserves force the country to scramble for international funds to shore up its economy. With the global financial crisis draining coffers in the United States and Europe, the key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism is seeking help from an old friend newly flush with cash: China...

Pakistan is going to the Chinese now "because you go to the guys with the money," a senior International Monetary Fund official said. "And right now, the Chinese are the ones with the money."

Right here we have a case where the global financial crisis is directly impacting our ability to fight Al Qaeda.  The intelligence community has reportedly concluded that one of the reasons we have not been able to convince the Pakistani military and government to go after Al Qaeda in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas is because of how unpopular the U.S. is in Pakistan.  As intelligence officials have explained:

The Pakistani military is reluctant to launch an all-out campaign against the Islamists in part because of popular opposition to continuing the cooperation with the U.S. that began under Pervez Musharraf, the U.S.-backed former president, after the 9/11 attacks.

This is exactly the type of situation where if the U.S. had the funds to come in and help the Pakistani economy it could benefit tremendously.  In 2005, after the earthquake in Pakistan that killed tens of thousands of people the United States provided humanitarian relief and saw its popularity in Pakistan rise dramatically.  A similar effort to help Pakistan's economy would be popular in the country and would likely generate more political cover for the Pakistani government to then take serious action in the FATA. Moreover, providing the Pakistani Government with such assistance would give the U.S. greater leverage in asking the Pakistanis to get tougher on Al Qaeda in return.

To summarize.  There is broad agreement in the U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism community that any major Al Qaeda attack on the U.S. homeland would be coordinated out of the FATA and that this is the greatest direct threat to the U.S. homeland.  But as a result of the financial crisis we are missing an important opportunity to do something about it.  That is a big deal.

Human Rights Leader Poisoned
Posted by James Lamond

On Tuesday, one day before pretrial hearings in Moscow into the killing of the journalist and Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya, her lawyer Karinna Moskalenko was rushed ill to the hospital.  The next day police found toxic mercury pellets in her car.

Ms. Moskalenko is the leading human rights attorney in Russia representing high profile Kremlin critics including Ms. Politkovskaya, chess champion and dissident leader Gary Kasparov, the families of murdered spy Alexander Litvinenko, imprisoned former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and Chechen war victims.  I was lucky enough to have met Ms. Moskalenko in April and I found her to be one of the most impressive people I have ever met.  Her work with the International Protection Centre is of incredible importance.  She and her team have won 27 cases against the Russian government on human rights issues at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and have more than 100 applications pending, enduring threats and break-ins at her office. 

Continue reading "Human Rights Leader Poisoned" »

October 15, 2008

Quote marks
Posted by Max Bergmann

I am sorry but "health of the mother" and "nuclear safety" are things you don't put "quote marks" around.

I Found Joe the Plumber!!
Posted by Adam Blickstein

But he's sadly still looking for his Princess:


Peru Free Trade
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

If your head is spinning from that bizarre exchange on trade, here's why Obama went out of his way to mention the Peru Free Trade Agreement:  it contains specific provisions on labor rights, environmental standards -- and specifically, in the case of Peru, efforts to stop illegal logging.  Those are standards that were included in late-Nineties trade agreements but that were stripped out of agreements by Republicans starting in 2001. 

Also, I just have to ask, if Colombia is our best ally in Latin America, what does that make Mexico and Chile?   

McCain the Multilateralist?
Posted by James Lamond

McCain just ranted about how you can't act unilaterally. But he continues to alienate our  allies, mock international organizations, and has supported Bush's go-it-alone foreign policy.

The Biden Plan
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

McCain goes after Biden for his plan on Iraq.  A couple of observations here.  First, Biden never called for a three state solution.  He called for a federal solution.  In many ways that has happened as power has devolved away from the center in Iraq.  Moreover, decentralizing power is surely a better political plan than the one McCain has because McCain has no political plan.  This despite the fact that the only way to create long-term stability in Iraq is through a political agreement.

McCain's military spending would blow the budget
Posted by Max Bergmann

McCain insists that he is going to control spending but his defense spending proposals would blow the budget. McCain has made grandiose promises on defense that are not grounded in reality and represent the exact opposite of the fiscal reform that he will supposedly bring to the White House.

John McCain has pledged to expand the ground forces by about 200,000 over current levels. He also says he will modernize the armed forces by “procuring advanced weapons systems.” Yet at the same time, McCain has pledged to control defense spending. This doesn’t add up. The CBO estimates that increasing the ground forces to the current goal of about 750,000 will cost about $110 billion over seven years; this is roughly $15 billion per year. Using the same projections, increasing the size of the ground forces by an additional 150,000 over this same period would cost an additional $175 billion or $25 billion per year. The costs would likely be much higher as McCain is proposing a 25 percent increase in the size of the ground forces and attracting that many volunteers will require significant funding.

(this post was basically the same as one posted in response to the last debate)


European Tax Rates
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Just in case you, like me, hear the claims about European business tax rates and want to recall the difference on European personal income tax:

the marginal top rate in most countries rises substantially when considering the all-in rate of taxes on income, to 61% in France and Turkey, 62% in Denmark and Sweden, 65% in Japan and 66% in Belgium. The highest all-in rates for taxpayers in the United States fall in the 40–48% range, depending on the State where they are resident.

The difference there is much, much greater than the difference in business tax rates.  If you also add the informal "tax" on American businesses that the requirement they fund health care for their workers at endlessly-escalating rates imposes, I would guess that comes pretty darn close to closing the gap.   I'll leave it to others to crunch the total numbers on tax revenues.

McCain's Budget Blunders
Posted by Patrick Barry

It's funny to hear McCain taut himself as the candidate of fiscal responsibility and discipline when his own positions waver between laughable to just plain dishonest.  For instance, take his claim that he will balance the budget by winning in Iraq and Afghanistan, which, according to Senator McCain will result in instant savings - that's so preposterous I don't even know how to respond.  But more substantively, if you take just a quick glance at his foreign policy proposals, specifically his limitless commitment to Iraq, and you can't help but wonder how he will square this circle

Read on:

Continue reading "McCain's Budget Blunders" »

McCain's Spending Freeze
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

McCain wants to freeze spending.  Except he'll keep spending $10 billion a month in Iraq.  How does that work?  Here is something we wrote this morning.

McCain claims to be the candidate of fiscal responsibility, but would continue spending $10 billion a month in Iraq with no end in sight.  McCain has set himself up as a fiscal hawk, railing against wasteful government spending, and pledging to both keep taxes low and balance the budget.  This ambitious agenda is undermined by his limitless commitment to Iraq.  Though the size of the federal budget deficit is $400 billion, the United States has appropriated more than $650 billion for the war in Iraq, and direct and indirect costs are projected to run between $1-$3 trillion.  This is all while the Iraqi government maintains a budget surplus of tens of billions of dollars. It is hard to see how McCain will exercise fiscal discipline at home, while he is promoting the same commitments to Iraq that have already put the federal budget under tremendous strain.  [, 2008. National Priorities Project, 10/15/08. Joseph Stiglitz, 2/23/08. USA Today, 10/14/08. GAO, 9/16/08]

When Islamists Govern
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Something I'm hearing more now is that Gaza is evidence that Islamism is much more effective as an oppositional rather than a governing ideology. I find this to be a strange and misleading conclusion to draw from the Palestinian experience. First of all, Hamas (as well as Hezbollah) should not be treated as representative of political Islam. It is a violent group that hasn’t yet renounced terrorism. Nearly all other mainstream Islamist groups in the Muslim world are both 1) nonviolent, and have 2) formally committed themselves to respecting the rules of the democratic process (which Hezbollah, for instance, has not).

In any case, there’s little reason to think that the “Islamists can’t govern” thesis is correct. There are many examples of Islamists governing at the regional and national levels, after having won regional or national elections (Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Algeria, Jordan, Turkey). Few, if any, of them were outright failures, some were moderately successful, most were at the very least as successful as comparable secular parties, as and at least one - the AKP in Turkey - has proven quite successful.

Debating Torture
Posted by James Lamond

The Washington Post reported today on  secret memos saying that the White House "explicitly endorsed the [Central intelligence A]gency's use of interrogation techniques such as waterboarding against al-Qaeda suspects."

The Bush administration's medieval use of torture has been reckless and damaging to America's image in the world.  America's abusive treatment of detainees has hurt our standing among allies, our position as a world leader, and has been a powerful recruiting tool for al Qaeda.

While McCain’s tragic personal story and his rhetoric may suggest he is against the use of torture, his voting record says differently.  Earlier this year McCain voted against a bill that would force the C.I.A. to abide by the rules set out in the Army Field Manual on Interrogation, which prohibits physical force and lists approved interrogation methods.

If torture, civil liberties, or the war on terror should rise as a topic in tonights debate, It would be nice if McCain could explain  why he supports this human rights abuse, which only hurts our security and standing in the world.

Powell Endorses...
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Nigerian Hip-Hop:

He is respected for many attributes; a brilliant soldier and a skilled diplomat. But General Colin Powell a hip hop and happening rap star? That's not a description you would expect to hear.

Until last night, that is, when the former US Secretary of State climbed on stage of the Royal Albert Hall and surprised audiences with an impromptu hip hop dance and song.

Still wearing a buttoned up suit the statesman performed with Nigerian group Olu Maintain and did a version of the Nigerian dance Yahoozee. He even took the microphone to sing lyrics and showed a natural rhythm as the pop stars taught him their dance moves.

At the event celebrating African music and dance, Powell also said that it was important to remind people of the struggle African-Americans historically faced in ascending through society.  It was unclear, though, if he said how many Powells it takes to fill the Albert Hall.

More Good News from the Intelligence Community...
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

A new NIE presents more bad news - a bleak picture in Pakistan...

A U.S. official who participated in drafting the top secret National Intelligence Estimate said it portrays the situation in Pakistan as "very bad." Another official called the draft "very bleak," and said it describes Pakistan as being "on the edge."

The first official summarized the estimate's conclusions about the state of Pakistan as: "no money, no energy, no government..."

...The estimate says that the Islamist insurgency based in the Federally Administered Tribal Area bordering Afghanistan, the suspected safe haven of Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants, is intensifying.

However, according to the officials, the draft also finds that the Pakistani military is reluctant to launch an all-out campaign against the Islamists in part because of popular opposition to continuing the cooperation with the United States that began under Pervez Musharraf, the U.S.-backed former president, after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Anti-U.S. and anti-government sentiments have grown recently, stoked by stepped-up cross-border U.S. missile strikes and at least one commando raid on suspected terrorist targets in the FATA that reportedly have resulted in civilian deaths.

The Pakistani military, which has lost hundreds of troops to battles and suicide bombings, is waging offensives against Islamist guerrillas in the Bajaur tribal agency and Swat, a picturesque region of the North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan. U.S. officials said insurgent attacks on Pakistani security forces provoked the Pakistani army operations.

The Pakistan general staff also remains concerned about what it considers an ongoing threat to its eastern border from its traditional foe, India, the draft NIE finds, according to the U.S. officials.

For these reasons, they said, the army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, wants the new civilian coalition government of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to provide the military with political cover by blessing a major anti-insurgency crackdown.

However, the ruling coalition - in which President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the late prime minister Benazir Bhutto, holds the real authority - has been preoccupied by other matters, according to the draft NIE.

These include efforts to consolidate its power after winning a struggle that prompted its main rival, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, to leave the ruling coalition.

Moreover, widespread anti-U.S. anger has left the coalition deeply divided over whether to unleash a major military assault on the Islamists, the U.S. officials said.

October 14, 2008

What Iraq Means for Terrorism
Posted by Patrick Barry

It's hard to deny that a feeling of listlessness has come over discussions about Iraq - an exhaustion stemming from everything from the reduced violence, to the election, which dulls any sense of immediacy, relevancy, or urgency.  But, as Ilan pointed out today, the wheel still turns - Iraq's future is still unfolding, though it doesn't hold our attention in the way it once did.  One very troubling set of possibilities related to Iraq surrounds the question of what is to become of the thousands of insurgents, especially foreign insurgents, who operated, trained, and fought there during the months when violence was at its apex.  For a sense of what is to come, look no further than Afghanistan:

The Afghan defense minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, said terrorists who would have once fought in Iraq have been "diverted" to Afghanistan.

"The success of coalition forces in Iraq and also some other issues in some of the neighboring countries have made it possible that there is a major increase in the foreign fighters," Wardak told a news conference. "There is no doubt that they are (better) equipped than before. They are well trained, more sophisticated, their coordination is much better."

Continue reading "What Iraq Means for Terrorism" »

Palling Around With a Pal of a Terrorist
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Just to echo what Ilan said, McCain's campaign is now intimately tied to Saddam Hussein's murderous regime in Iraq with William Timmons overseeing his transition planning and team. Under McCain's own rubric then, he himself is palling around with a pal of a globally malevolent terrorist who, over decades, killed tens of thousands. Let's break it down further: McCain continues to assert that 9/11 and Saddam Hussein's Iraq are fundamentally linked. Under his own standard, McCain has on his staff, in one of the most important jobs on the campaign, a man, Timmons, who aided, abetted and promoted a regime, which, in McCain's mind, had a hand in the murder of thousands of Americans on September 11. Using McCainian logic, he has hired an accomplice to 9/11. Now if that doesn't call his judgment into question, I don't know what will.

McCain has once again put country last during a critical moment in campaign decision making. The McCain/Timmons situation is the Obama/Ayers connection on 100% pure anabolic steroids delivered straight to the vein. And hopefully, the media will jump on this, not because it is some political ploy by a desperate campaign as is the case with McCain's Ayers argument, but because this is a completely shady, improper and duplicitous breach of trust towards the American people, reflective of a leader who simply has no good leadership qualities left.

Between Palin and Timmons, it's downright terrifying to think who McCain would appoint to important positions at a presidential level.

Globalization and the Election
Posted by James Lamond

Pick up any book on the international system written somewhat recently and you are guaranteed to see one overriding paradigm: globalization.  This concept has been researched, questioned, and analyzed by practitioners and academics from all realms- some argue its problems others its benefits and still some questioning if it even is a new shift in the world order.  Well this week we saw a pretty extreme and concrete example of the actual effects of globalization and what this means for our policy makers- and our election.

In recent weeks we have seen just how interconnected the global markets truly are.  The Washington Post reports that,

Policy makers in Europe “discover[ed] that its financial system is so interwoven with that of the United States and the rest of the world -- and so vulnerable to shaky assets -- that the virus in New York swiftly spread through the European banking network. In so doing, it revealed that Europe's leaders face challenges just as difficult as those bedeviling Washington and exposed the limits of the European Union's much-heralded economic integration.”

The effects were not only felt in Europe,

“Fear from Wall Street flooded Asia today, where markets were sharply lower in early trading. Japan's benchmark Nikkei average plunged more than 10 percent in the morning session, while Australian markets slid more than 7 percent and South Korean stocks fell as much as 8 percent.”

This “domino effect”  brought a collapse from Wall Street to financial capitals in Asia and Europe, and demonstrated that a financial crisis in one country will be felt around the world.  When countries initially tried to address the credit crunch individually last week, it resulted in the biggest stock sell-off since 1933.

Continue reading "Globalization and the Election" »

McCain Transition Chief Helped Saddam
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Just when you thought you couldn't find anymore weird McCain lobbyist ties we get this from the Huffington Post:

William Timmons, the Washington lobbyist who John McCain has named to head his presidential transition team, aided an influence effort on behalf of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to ease international sanctions against his regime.

The two lobbyists who Timmons worked closely with over a five year period on the lobbying campaign later either pleaded guilty to or were convicted of federal criminal charges that they had acted as unregistered agents of Saddam Hussein's government.

This just seems nutty to me.  It's one thing to get lobbyists on your campaign who were working separate sides of the same issue, but this is pretty extreme.  How does McCain's senior foreign policy advisor, who lobbied on behalf of Ahmad Chalabi to overthrow Saddam work with his transition team coordinator who was working with people who were lobbying on Saddam's behalf?  This would make me laugh if it wasn't so disturbing.

The Mistakes We Have Made in SOFA Negotiations
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Karen DeYoung has a great article in the Washington Post about the  never ending security agreement negotiations.  This particular assessment sets off all kinds of alarm bells. 

U.S. officials, uncertain of where Maliki really stands, tell themselves that ultimately he cannot afford for U.S. operations to shut down.

Basic rule about Iraq.  Whenever American officials start "telling themselves" things, instead of simply looking at the situation as it actually is, you know they're in trouble.  Officials in the Bush administration told themselves we'd be greeted as liberators.  Told themselves there was a direct connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq and that there were WMDs.  Told themselves that there was no insurgency and it was just some dead-enders.  Told themselves all kinds of things that were not confirmed by intelligence or realities on the ground.

In the last year and half things have changed with a less ideological more pragmatic crew running the show.  Both the Awakenings movement / Sons of Iraq and the Sadr ceasefire were the result of a willingness to pragmatically agreeing to work with, or at the very least tolerate, former enemies.

But from the start, the negotiations over a security arrangement have been based on assumptions that may or may not be true.  If they turn out to be wrong then the U.S. may find itself on January 1, 2009 with approximately 130,000-140,000 troops sitting in Iraq without legal protections - a potentially disastrous and untenable situation. 

Here are some things that the Bush administration and American officials kept "telling themselves" throughout the negotiating process.


Continue reading "The Mistakes We Have Made in SOFA Negotiations" »

October 13, 2008

Explaning McKiernan on Afghanistan
Posted by Patrick Barry

General David McKiernan's remarks about Afghanistan yesterday amounted to a pretty major shift in tone from his past statements.  The NY Times reports:

The commander, Gen. David D. McKiernan, who leads more than 65,000 troops from about 40 foreign countries, including 33,000 Americans, said at a news conference in Kabul that there had been “too many” reports in the media recently asserting that the foreign forces and their Afghan allies were losing the war.

“I absolutely reject that idea, I don’t believe it,” the general said, adding: “It is true that there are many places in this country that don’t have an adequate level of security. We don’t have progress as even and as fast as any of us would like. But we are not losing in Afghanistan.”

The fact that McKiernan should so dramatically alter his tenor immediately after returning to Afghanistan from Washington makes me think this is a walk-back, probably designed by the Pentagon to present a united front after a week that saw criticism voiced by a number of NATO allies over the state of the war effort.  It doesn't much do to have NATO-ISAF commander sounding gloomy when people like British Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith are saying "we are not going to win this war." 

Continue reading "Explaning McKiernan on Afghanistan" »

Why doesn't Gates do something about the Pentagon's toxic budget request?
Posted by Max Bergmann

Josh Rogin at CQ had a piece last Friday that says the Pentagon will unleash a political trap for the next administration.

Pentagon officials have prepared a new estimate for defense spending that is $450 billion more over the next five years than previously announced figures. The new estimate, which the Pentagon plans to release shortly before President Bush leaves office, would serve as a marker for the new president and is meant to place pressure on him to either drastically increase the size of the defense budget or defend any reluctance to do so, according to several former senior budget officials who are close to the discussions.

In other words give us all our shinny toys or we are going to make a political stink. This is not a new tactic by the Pentagon but the fact that this story comes just a week or so after a speech by Secretary Gates where he argued for a reassessment of our procurement priorities, is pretty shocking. In that speech Gates argued that we need to rethink our defense priorities, make hard choices, and develop weapons systems that are relevant to current challenges. This may involve canceling many of the high-tech conventional weaponry that has little to no relevance to adversaries that fight asymmetrically like in Iraq and Afghanistan. And instead investing in systems that are cheaper, easier to produce, and can be easily shared with allies on the ground. Gates said,

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.

Gates is essentially casting doubt on the "military transformation" effort that was pushed by the Bush administration from its outset. By doing so he is casting doubt on the justification for most of the weapons programs that the additional $450 billion is intended for.

Gates is right that there needs to be a reassessment and hard choices need to be made. But my question is what is he waiting for. Instead of bequeathing the next administration a politically toxic budget request that only makes it more difficult to accomplish what Gates says he wants to accomplish, why doesn't Gates actually begin the procurement review process now and submit to the next administration his recommendations for what systems are necessary and what are not. He is after all the Secretary of Defense RIGHT NOW.

McCain Still Tying Iraq to 9/11
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Is John McCain seriously still sticking to this line?

Asked by the host whether he agreed with Barack Obama that "the Iraq war had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks of 9/11," McCain replied:

"No. We invaded a country that every intelligence agency said was developing weapons of mass destruction. Think of Saddam Hussein in power with oil at 100 dollars a barrel, and all that entails with his commitment which when after he was captured, he stated categorically that he would acquire weapons of mass destruction, and he would use them wherever he could. Now, Iraq--"

"But he had nothing to do with 9/11," the hosted interjected.

"He had a lot to do with invading his neighbor Kuwait, and we had to go to war and fight there," McCain replied. "He had a lot to do with using weapons of mass destruction, he used them previously, so there's no doubt about his commitment to get them."

McCain was a big fan of conflating Iraq and 9/11 back in 2002 and 2003 calling for invading Iraq as early as a month after 9/11.  The fact that he's still making this argument, and implicitly tying the two together the way George Bush did, is disturbing.  Fortunately, the American public has smartened up on this question.

Diplomacy and North Korea
Posted by James Lamond

This weekend it was announced that North Korea would be taken off America’s list of state sponsors of terrorism - followed the next day by an announcement from Pyongyang that they would resume dismantling their nuclear arms projects.  The Bush administration’s North Korea policy has in essence been a microcosm of its overall foreign policy.  It starts with an ideological refusal to negotiate and charged rhetoric that goes nowhere and makes us less safe.  It is then followed by a realization that diplomacy, though imperfect and messy, usually works. 

The latest agreement, brokered by Christopher Hill comes as a result of a recent boost in negotiations following a near collapse of talks due to the insistence of hardliners in the Bush administration- led by Dick Cheney- on a verification program, that that the New York Times editorial board described as conditions “that only a state vanquished in war might accept.” 

For the first six years of the Bush administration the hardliners had won over the agenda with North Korea, blocking any serious negotiations with the communist regime.  In that time North Korea produced enough plutonium for several nuclear weapons, even detonating one. 

Continue reading "Diplomacy and North Korea" »

What DO We Need in a Secretary of Defense?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Over the weekend, friends-of-the-blog Brian Katulis and Nancy Soderberg had a piece in the Washington Post arguing that Defense Secretary Gates should stay on in either an Obama or McCain Administration, because Gates "thinks creatively," understands that "we cannot kill or capture our way to victory," and because

  the Pentagon chief likes to quote Gen. George Marshall's description of Dwight D. Eisenhower as the "almost perfect model of a modern commander: part soldier, part diplomat, part administrator." Gates understands that all three aspects are crucial, that for all our core national security problems -- finishing the jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan, stabilizing Pakistan, defeating al-Qaeda, confronting a resurgent Russia and advancing the Middle East peace process -- the secret to success will be improving the basic security of people in the area and giving them more comfortable, hopeful lives.

Continue reading "What DO We Need in a Secretary of Defense?" »

Can an Arab be a "decent family man"?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Did McCain really show integrity after a questioner said "[Obama's] an Arab"? McCain's response was that Obama was, in fact, a decent family man, so apparently, by definition, he can't be an Arab. We all know, of course, that Arabs mistreat their women, and, almost without exception, have latent sympathies with terrorists. So, no, Arabs are not - nor are they capable - of being decent family men, which I suppose will pose a unique problem for my future wife and kids. I imagine it was also a problem for my father, who, now that I think about it, must have failed miserably in raising me.

I am sick of "Muslim" and "Arab" being used as a smear in this campaign. No, Obama isn't Muslim. He is, quite obviously (for the 100th time) Christian. But, perhaps we should all ask ourselves a question. Let's say that a presidential candidate was, in fact, a Muslim. Can someone tell me why that would be a bad thing? Would that disqualify him or her from running for President? Obama's Christian, but does it really matter what he is? If you think being Muslim disqualifies you from running for high office, then let's be very clear about what that means. It means you are a bigot, a racist, and anti-American. Period. After Obama wins, Democrats should be at the forefront of making this case, and being very clear about where we stand as liberals on this question of Muslim-baiting.

Mullen: PTSD Testing is for Generals Too
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Here is how the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs views the issue of PTSD.

The Pentagon's top uniformed officer is calling for all returning combat troops, from privates to generals, to undergo screening for post-traumatic stress with a mental health professional, a move aimed at stemming an epidemic of psychological issues among veterans.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there's a reluctance to acknowledge psychological problems for fear of showing weakness. Troops now fill out questionnaires after combat tours that help determine if they have suffered psychological damage. They're examined by medical professionals for physical injuries, but not by mental health experts.

"I'm at a point where I believe we have to give a (mental health) screening to everybody to help remove the stigma of raising your hand," Mullen said. "Leaders must lead on this issue or it will affect us dramatically down the road."

This is exactly the right attitude.  It's what needs to be done to ensure that our veterans are getting the help they need instead of suffering in silence for fear of being embarrassed or stigmatized.  As is often the case with mental conditions, the most important thing is to acknowledge you have a problem so that you can get help and our policies and procedures need to be encouraging vets to acknowledge their problems.  It just puts into a greater context these truly disturbing comments by Cindy McCain.

Q: You met your husband after his POW days. To what extent is that still with you - or is it a part of history?

CINDY McCAIN: My husband will be the first one to tell you that that's in the past. Certainly it's a part of who he is, but he doesn't dwell on it. It's not part of a daily experience that we experience or anything like that. But it has shaped him. It has made him the leader that he is.

Q: But no cold sweats in the middle of the night?

CINDY McCAIN: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. My husband, he'd be the first one to tell you that he was trained to do what he was doing. The guys who had the trouble were the 18-year-olds who were drafted. He was trained, he went to the Naval Academy, he was a trained United States naval officer, and so he knew what he was doing.

Brandon Friedman at Vetvoice breaks down why her comments are so problematic:

Finally, I'm not even sure where to begin with the idea that only young draftees get hit with PTSD.  That statement is so Palin-esque in its breadth of ignorance that if you said it in a room full of soldiers, you'd be able to hear a pin drop at the end of, "so he knew what he was doing."   In two sentences, Cindy McCain manages to insult not only every combat veteran in history who didn't attend the Naval Academy, but also the thousands of veterans who quietly live their lives, tolerating PTSD each and every day.  I really should expand on this as the centerpiece of my post, but it makes my head hurt to really think about the implications of the comment. 

It's good to see that the military is starting to take a proactive approach to a very serious issue.  It's just sad that Cindy McCain's views on this are still so backward.

October 12, 2008

Money Without Any Discipline
Posted by David Shorr

No, not the derivatives market. Matt is right to be concerned about Pentagon budgeteers getting ready to steamroll the next administration. Here on DA, Lorelei has been eloquent on this subject, but Adam Blickstein captured the problem several months ago when he talked about the wish-and-a-prayer nature of US strategy in Iraq. Adam pointed out that only in military matters do policy makers get away with simply throwing money at a problem.

And that's the parallel with the financial crisis -- defense budgets have been throwing money around with all the discipline of an investment banker at bonus time. Our domestic political debate on the issue has been the functional equivalent of deregulation. We have been really been sloppy about accepting the simple equation that spending equal security; the more we spend, the more security we have. It's time to be more dilligent and persistent in asking exactly how our tax dollars bring national security.

I've had my own ambivalence about Pentagon cuts. With all the multiple deployments endured by the troops and their families, I'm left thinking we need a larger force, even after we pull out of Iraq. But of course the defense budget doesn't all go to personnel. Does "support the contract officers" have the same patriotic resonance as "support the troops?"

Which brings me to the latest version of the Unified Security Budget from Foreign Policy in Focus (written by Larry Korb and Miriam Pemberton). The report gives a cogent analysis of expensive weapons systems that should be cut, but it's the basic premise of a unified security budget that interests me the most. Everybody from Defense Secretary Robert Gates on down has stressed that the State Department and USAID are too atrophied to make their necessary, critical contribution to US national security (I've been working on a Stanley Foundation - Center for a New American Security project on this issue).

When the budget is drawn up, it's as if expenditures on defense, diplomacy, and development (credit 3D Security for this strategic triad) are denominated in different currencies. Defense budgets are spent more freely, with less scrutiny or reluctance, while decision makers approach the budgets of the civilian agencies with the green eyeshades and sharp pencils of a CPA. It would be great to somehow bring these budgets together into the same process; the new president should start, though, by telling his secretaries of defense and state and USAID administrator to work together on a budget that strengthens State and USAID, especially by adding personnel.

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