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October 24, 2008

Frank Gaffney Credible Spokesman
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

In another attempt to spook the electorate we have this relatively absurd ad with Frank Gaffney of all people telling us how dangerous Barack Obama would be. Usually these types of efforts try to put at least some kind of credibility behind them, but seriously Frank Gaffney?

This is the same man claiming some conspiracy theory that Obama may have not been born in the United States.  The main who claimed that Sarah Palin has learned about national security through osmosis.  The man who compared the Annapolis conference last year to "gang rape."  He's really just a genuine nut.

Are the Realists Ascendant?
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

James Joyner takes issue with my piece arguing that Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama marks a major break within the Republican foreign policy establishment. Joyner argues that there is a broad historical consensus between most of the members of the Republican and Democratic foreign policy communities and that the real outliers are the Necons. I agree. But then he goes on to say this.

Realism and its variants are the dominant mindset of that Establishment and neoconservatism (and its cross-party counterpart, liberal interventionism) is the decided outlier. Relegating it to the margins isn't killing the Republican foreign policy establishment: it's restoring it.

One problem. Can someone please show me how the Necons have been marginalized within the political process? The Republican Party's standard bearer is a Necon. John McCain's views on refusing to negotiate with Iran, taking a hardline approach to Russia, and forming the League of Democracies are all Neocon views that are rejected by the realists. It may be that in 2003 the establishment eventually came around to the idea of the War in Iraq, but McCain was advocating for the war right after the 9/11 attacks. The only people who were doing that were the Necons. McCain's lead foreign policy advisor is Randy Scheunemann - a Neocon. If McCain wins, the Neocons are back in business and the realists are even more marginalized - especially since they opposed him.

In the more likely case that he loses, it comes down to a question of who will lead the Republican party in 2012. If Palin, Giuliani, or Huckabee are the nominees the realist wing will all be full fledged Democrats. If the Republicans nominate a sane moderate then the realists might stay in the party and retake control.

But from where we stand today. Having the biggest realist names in the Republican party disagreeing with the nominee and having the single biggest name actually endorse the Democratic candidate does not demonstrate that they are seizing control of the party and marginalizing the Neocons. It demonstrates is that they are being marginalized within their own party.

Krauthammer Pile-On
Posted by Patrick Barry

Never underestimate Charles Krauthammer - you may think you know how he feels, but then, all of sudden, he lurches into a hyperbolic rant that's completely inconsistent with his previous position.  Case in point: today's squirm-inducing endorsement of John Mcain, principally for reasons of foreign policy, and intended to drive people into the voting booths  and from there under their beads where they will remain, paralyzed with fear.  Earlier this month, Krauthammer gave Barack Obama slight praise on the subject, saying "In the foreign policy debate with McCain, as in his July news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Obama held his own -- fluid, familiar and therefore plausibly presidential."  This morning's op-ed finds a very different Krauthammer, wondering how, in a world brimming with existential crises, we could possibly consider voting for someone who thought 9-11 was only a "tragedy."

Continue reading "Krauthammer Pile-On" »

Intel on Beirut Marine Barracks Bombing
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Yesterday was the 25 year anniversary of the Beirut Marine barracks bombing.  Via, Jeff Stein we get this sad piece of news.

"Unknown to us at the time, the National Security Agency had made a diplomatic communications intercept on 26 September ...  in which the Iranian Intelligence Service provided explicit instructions to the Iranian ambassador in Damascus (a known terrorist) to attack the Marines at Beirut International Airport," says Marine Col. Colonel Timothy J. Geraghty, writing in the latest issue of Proceedings, a publication of the U.S. Naval Institute.

"The suicide attackers struck us 28 days later, with word of the intercept stuck in the intelligence pipeline until days after the attack."

Of course, it's always easier to see these things in retrospect.  And gathering and analyzing signal intelligence really is a needle in the haystack operation.  It turns out that after just about every surprise attack, whether it be 9/11 or Pearl Harbor, there was information sitting in the intelligence stovepipe that could have stopped it.  But it's hard to find that information and piece it together.

Still, one has to wonder.  The marine barracks attack was one of the first modern acts of massive suicide terrorism.  It put Hezbollah on the map.  It acted as a blueprint for future Al Qaeda attacks such as the embassy bombing in Kenya and Tanzinia.  One has to wonder how things would have turned out if the plot had been stopped.

Happy U.N. Day!
Posted by Patrick Barry

In case you didn't realize, today is the 60th U.N. Day, a day celebrating the "anniversary of the entry into force of the United Nations   Charter." Recently the U.N. has been getting a pretty bad wrap, especially in conservative circles, where John McCain has been leading a charge to create a new institution, the League of Democracies, to make up for the U.N.'s perceived deficiencies.  McCain would attempt to use this non-existent institution to act where the U.N. security council is either incapable or unwilling.  In his mind, the League of Democracies would halt Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, confront rising non-democratic countries like China and Russia over their problematic behavior, and serve as a vehicle for promoting democratic values worldwide. Some of these intentions are well placed, and the need for a re-examination of multilateral institutions is real, but a League of Democracies, especially in John McCain's hands will in no way address this imperative.  In fact, it is seriously and dangerously flawed.   On this, the 60th celebration of U.N. day and the 63rd anniversary of the establishment of the U.N Charter, it is time to jettison the League of Democracies.

Reasons for objecting to League of Democracies are many, especially McCain's vision of it. For one, critical threats to our national security, such as Iran, which every day draws closer to a nuclear weapon, will not wait for the creation of a new international institution.  In addition, using the League of Democracies as a tool to marginalize also carries serious problems, especially when it comes to Russia, whose cooperation is vital for U.S. interests.  Brandishing this League for confrontational purposes also evokes the Bush administration’s failures, and does nothing to reduce the taint now associated with democracy promotion.  On top of that, support for the League’s establishment is virtually non-existent, in part because the institution is redundant, and may even undermine existing institutions built for the same purpose.  Finally, the idea is fundamentally flawed, for it mistakes values for core national interests, and is likely to unravel when tested. 

Continue reading "Happy U.N. Day!" »

Eric Robert Rudolph vs. William Ayers
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Sarah Palin's contradictory and nonsensical answer on what constitutes a terrorist is being thoroughly fisked online. Her claim that William Ayers is a terrorist but an abortion clinic bomber is not leaves a lot to be desired intellectually, which begs an important follow-up: what would her view of someone who has a record of targeting both abortion clinics and non-natal personnel and infrastructure? I'm talking about Eric Robert Rudolph, the "Olympic Centennial Park Bomber" who was also convicted of attacks on two abortion clinics and a lesbian nightclub. He was a far worse "terrorist" than William Ayers ever was, in both scope of physical damage (Rudolph left a trail of destruction that left 2 people dead, and 120 injured), national psychological trauma (a five-year manhunt shrouded in uncertainty that led to Rudolph's arrest in the North Carolina mountains) and eventual prison sentence (Rudolph go life, Ayers' case was dismissed). The Olympic bombing was undoubtedly one of the most audacious acts of international terror during the 90's, not just for the human toll, but also the psychological and visual effect which left Atlanta and the international community on edge for the rest of the games. I'm not defending Ayer's actions or involvement in the Weather Underground, but the context and breadth of impact matters here. Rudolph was indeed, as Attorney General John Ashcroft said in 2003, "the most notorious American fugitive on the FBI's 'Most Wanted' list," a stature Ayers never even came close to. As to whether abortion clinic bomber Rudolph was a terrorist, I'll leave that characterization to Alberto Gonzalez:

"The many victims of Eric Rudolph's terrorist attacks in Atlanta and Birmingham can rest assured that Rudolph will spend the rest of his life behind bars," said Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. "The best interests of justice are served by resolution of this case and by the skillful operation that secured the dangerous explosives buried in North Carolina."

The overarching question for Sarah Palin is: would you consider the Olympic Park Bombing an act of terror but the abortion clinic attacks in Birmingham and Atlanta as well as on the nightclub as simply ordinary acts of violence? Would this make Rudolph only a quasi-terrorist?

Terror is terror, no matter what the target. And to create special carve-outs to the definition of terrorism in order to placate a political constituency further calls into question Palin's fitness to truly put country instead of politics (not to mention common sense) first.

October 23, 2008

Score 1 For McCain, 1 For Obama, 100 For Sanger
Posted by David Shorr

We interrupt this broadcast of heated rhetoric for a reality-based discussion of foreign policy. Many thanks to the New York Times' David Sanger for an impressive dissection of the Iran debate (among others) that digs well below the surface of the campaign's slugfest. In fact, the piece is probably the best stand-in we'll get for the foreign policy debate that might've been.

The Iran question is perhaps the most interesting FP issue of the election, and the Sanger article is very useful guide. The points of consensus are obvious: the need to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon and preserve the military option toward that end. The disagreements boil down to two questions: what is the intended outcome, and how will we reach it?

On the former, I really have to give John McCain credit for a gutsy position. This is not the place for a discourse on the varying potential outcomes for Iran's nuclear program -- for a very clear explanation, I strongly recommend pp. 27-30 of Iran: Assessing US Strategic Options (2MB) from Center for a New American Security -- but the real issue is whether uranium enrichment will continue in Iran. As Sanger reports, McCain

says he could imagine a situation in which Iran’s behavior changes so much that he would be willing “to consider” allowing Iran to enrich its own uranium, producing a fuel that could be used for nuclear power — but only under highly restrictive conditions that ensure it could never be used for weapons.

a position reiterated by Randy Scheunemann in the article. Obama's position: no way, no how.

This isn't an easy call, and aside from a general discomfort with being to John McCain's right, I'm not sure how I feel about it. All I know for sure is that the next administration must consider carefully and clarify for itself what are its bottom lines. As I say, though, McCain is offering a forthright, pragmatic position that is impressively distinct from the usual 'stand tough' fare.

Now, on the question of how to get there -- i.e. induce Iran to commit to a permanent constraint and inspection regime -- which matters for two reasons. To state the obvious, it's no simple matter to induce an outlier renegade government to do anything that it would prefer not to. Second, we have a limited amount of time before Iran will be able to build a nuclear bomb (not months, not decades). As a backdrop, Sanger reminds us that the Bush strategy of pressuring Iran with sanctions from an arms length and without negotiating toward a mutually satisfactory solution

...has been a complete failure: Iran has 3,800 centrifuges, up from a few hundred experimental centrifuges when the administration began...

And this, of course, is where Obama has the advantage. For me, the essential thing will be to get down to business with Iran, make the most of the limited time we have, and work our way toward a workable arrangement, with clear proof tests of each side's good faith at every step along the way. It's time to get cracking.

Arming Militias Makes me Nervous
Posted by Patrick Barry

I’ve been struggling with how to greet today's announcement that Pakistan's Government intends to arm tribal militias in the northwestern part of the country, and I still don't have a definitive take on it.  On a purely superficial level, I suppose it's good that Pakistan is treating its terrorism\insurgency problem seriously.  If the Post's coverage is an accurate barometer of Bush Administration sentiment, then they appear to feel similarly.

But, like with so many things, it all depends on the execution, and here my views are much more mixed, both when it comes to short-term issues surrounding the plan's implementation, and also regarding its long-term prospects for turning the tribal areas – a historically autonomous, and increasingly lawless region - into less of a problem for Pakistan.

Continue reading "Arming Militias Makes me Nervous" »

I Am the Nation
Posted by Adam Blickstein

With only twelve days before Election Day, new and previously unreleased audio of Johnny Cash is making the rounds online. The recording, "I am the Nation" is vintage Cash, a pastoral look at the varying roots and fabric of the America experience, told through The Man in Black's somber and gravely voice.  With all the negative robocalls, ads, rhetoric, and vile stories of voter intimidation out there in the campaign season's waning days, Cash provides a simple reminder of America's strong foundation, promise, and potential for redemption:

Stop with the Cold War Talk
Posted by The Editors

This is a post from NSN intern Eric Auner

The Nation has an article cataloging the rapid shift in US perceptions of the Georgia-Russia war.  It describes the transformation from the “Russia (evil) invaded Georgia (good) for no reason whatsoever except that Georgia was free” understanding of the situation to an understanding that recognized at least some Georgian culpability. 

“Yes, it was only a month ago that we were stupid and crazy enough to think that the United States had no choice but to launch a costly new cold war against a nuclear power, even though we still haven't closed the deal on a couple of mini-wars against Division-III opponents, and we were on the verge of bankruptcy. Ah, to be blissfully naïve--and bloodthirsty at the same time--wasn't it wonderful?”

Among the early alarmists was William Kristol, who used the war as an opportunity to condemn Russia.  Long time Russophobe John McCain said during the second presidential debate that Russia was “maybe” evil.  Certainly it was reactions like this that prompted Henry Kissinger and George Schultz to publish an editorial, which asserted that such reactions disregard “how the world looks from Moscow” and insisted that “[i]t is neither feasible nor desirable to isolate a country spanning one-eighth of the earth's surface, adjoining Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and possessing a stockpile of nuclear weapons comparable to that of the United States.”  There have also been articles from the New York Times and Newsweek clarifying the real situation in Georgia, and four former Secretaries of State agreed that the simplistic “we are all Georgians” narrative is faulty at best.  Colin Powell put it quite well:

“Now, in the current situation the Russians acted brutally. I think they acted foolishly. But it was also absolutely predictable what the Russians would do. You could see them stacking up their troops. And I think it was foolhardy on the part of President Saakashvli and the Georgian government to kick over this can, to light a match in a room full of gasoline.”

None of this is to say that the US cannot or should not stand up against Russia when it is appropriate.  Admiral Mullen acknowledged two days ago, however, that “I think it’s important that we talk when there isn’t a crisis.” This was said after a meeting between Admiral Mullen and his Russia counterpart earlier this week.  Such a meeting shows a real recognition of the need to engage with Russia, which is telling considering how schizophrenic conservatives have been with regards to Russia in recent months.  This paragraph best sums up a realistic understanding of the situation:

“As tensions have escalated, Admiral Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have spoken in calm, calibrated terms of the Kremlin’s military decision-making and foreign policy. They have challenged the Kremlin to behave better in global affairs but have noted that Russia’s armed forces do not pose a global risk.”

So let’s stop with the cold war talk.

Continue reading "Stop with the Cold War Talk" »

Necessary Risks, Part II
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Matt Yglesias has some thoughtful comments about my PPI paper on “re-orienting” US policy toward the Middle East. He says:

And I think most of his policy recommendations are good. I’m a bit wary, however, of the idea that we should “elevate democracy promotion through aid conditionality.” This is a popular suggestion, but I think it has a lot of problems. One way you could implement it would be to say to the King of Jordan “either write and adopt a democratic constitution and hold free and fair elections to fill the office by 2010 after which you step aside or we’re cutting you off.” That would presumably result in the King telling us to get lost, and us cutting off aid. But that’s typically not what democracy promoters have in mind. Instead, they want us to make more moderate demands (”a set of benchmarks, including respect of opposition rights, freedom of expression, and progress toward holding free elections, even if only on the municipal level at first”) that, presumably, the incumbent authorities are more likely to accept.

In an ideal world, it would be nice to say to the King of Jordan “hold free and fair elections by 2010 or we’ll cut your aid.” But, in the real world, more moderate demands will have to do, which is what I suggest in the paper.

But this sets up an odd dynamic. In effect, clever State Department bureaucrats are trying to trick the Mubaraks and Husseins of the world into accepting deals that lead to them losing their grip on power. But common sense indicates that this is closer to the core area of competence of the dictators than of the State Department. Most likely, they’ll trick us, proposing cosmetic reforms that fundamentally change nothing. Meanwhile, we’re now officially certifying shame reform processes.

The State Department doesn’t actually get tricked about this. With the exception of Bush appointees, most people in the State Deparment are relatively smart and informed. They can generally distinguish between real and cosmetic reforms. The more relevant problem, in my view, is that the State Department prefers cosmetic reforms, or at least reforms that don’t rock the boat. DoS, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, has tended to be rather cautious when it comes to substantive democratization, out of fear of Islamist groups coming to power. In any case, State’s main task is to protect what it perceives to be “American interests,” which tend to be narrowly-defined.

Also, Matt is right to say that the suggestion of establishing “a set of benchmarks, including respect of opposition rights, freedom of expression, and progress toward holding free elections, even if only on the municipal level at first” is “moderate.” Despite being moderate, however, this approach has not yet been seriously tried in the Middle Eastern context, which is why I suggest trying it.

Lastly, I believe aid conditionality or the threat of aid conditionality works (it has worked in other regions. In the Middle East, it worked the only time it was really tried, 2004-5). However, even if aid conditionality didn’t work, it would still be an advisable policy recommendation, because it would help us rebuild our credibility with Arab publics, and demonstrate that we’re on their side rather than the side of their oppressors. This would be a good outcome for various national security reasons, as well as for reasons of "narrative," and I talk about that at some length in the paper. More tangibly, rebuilding credibility would also make it more politically feasible for Middle Eastern NGOs to accept our direct or indirect support, and protect them against charges of pro-American duplicity.

Tortured: America's Image in the World
Posted by James Lamond

The Washington Post reported today about a little quarrel between the U.S. and the U.K. over torture:

The British High Court yesterday condemned the U.S. government's failure to turn over intelligence documents that could support the claims of a British resident held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who has argued that statements he made confessing to terrorism resulted from torture and are, therefore, worthless. In a judgment, the British jurists hinted that unless the 42 documents are handed over quickly to the defense counsel as part of a habeas corpus proceeding in U.S. District Court, the London court might take that step itself, despite the threat of damage to ties between the two countries.

Continue reading "Tortured: America's Image in the World" »

More on Al Hesbah
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Evan Kohlmann, who spends his days and nights looking at this stuff has a comprehensive explanation of the importance of the Al Hesbah website that puts the McCain Qaeda endorsement story in the proper perspective.  Basically according to Kohlmann

I sympathize with Scheuenmann and Woolsey when they point out the relevant contrasts between an official communique issued by a terrorist faction versus the independent bloviations of self-appointed Al-Qaida advocates. However, with all due respect, it is extremely disturbing that a former director of the CIA would categorize "Al-Hesbah" as just another "terrorist Islamist blog." One certainly does not need access to classified intelligence data to know what Al-Hesbah is, and who subscribes to their forum. On April 3, 2006, Al-Qaida's Organization in Saudi Arabia issued an official communique regarding their relationship with Al-Hesbah: "We can only say good things about our brothers from the Al-Hesbah network... The brothers from Al-Hesbah have provided a superb service to the jihad and the mujahideen and everyone credits them for this." Last spring, when Al-Qaida's deputy commander Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri made himself available for a public question-and-answer session, Al-Hesbah was one of three forums specifically identified by Al-Qaida as accepting queries directly on behalf of al-Zawahiri. Over the past four years, Al-Hesbah forum users have quietly disappeared on an almost weekly basis in order to embark upon real-life jihadi missions. A variety of seemingly "ordinary" Al-Hesbah users have been reported "martyred" in jihadi conflicts that include Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and North Africa. Meanwhile, with its fellow online web partners Al-Ekhlaas, Al-Firdaws, and Al-Boraq currently knocked offline, Al-Hesbah is Al-Qaida's last fortified redoubt left on the Internet. Casually dismissing Al-Hesbah as "just another terrorist Islamist blog" is like referring to Internet giant Google as "just another e-commerce website."

October 22, 2008

McCain Doesn't Understand Conditions Either
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

As Spencer Ackerman explains, it's not just Palin who doesn't understand what "conditions" means.  Apparently McCain keeps claiming that the withdrawal language in Iraq Security Agreement is "conditions based"  and  said so in an interview today.  Thing is, it's pretty clear that the 2011 deadline is hard set unless the Iraqis specifically ask for an extension and because of the internal politics in Iraq there is basically no chance of that happening.  In fact, the Iraqi Cabinet is bucking even that much flexibility and wants the date to be firmer than it already is.

Does Palin Know What a Precondition Is?
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Doesn't sound like it according to this exchange with Brian Williams.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Gov. Palin, yesterday, you tied this notion of an early test to the president with this notion of preconditions, that you both have been hammering the Obama campaign on. First of all what in your mind is a pre-condition?

PALIN: You have to have some diplomatic strategy going into a meeting with someone like Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong Il, or one of these dictators that would seek to destroy America or our allies. It is so naive and so dangerous for a presidential candidate to just proclaim that they would be willing to sit down with a leader like Ahmadinejad, and just talk about the problems, the issues that are facing them, that's some ill-preparedness right there.

Ummm..  What Palin is describing is what would be called preparation not preconditions.  Just to be clear.  Not negotiating until preconditions are met means not starting your negotiatins until the other side has met some kind of condition you imposed.  In the case of Iran, McCain insists that the Iranians suspend their uranium enrichment program before we can even begin to negotiate.  Obama opposes this preconditions.  The basic argument against preconditions is that you can't ask your adversary to give up a big negotiating point in exchange for absolutely nothing and expect them to actually sit down at the table.  Doesn't happen.  Didn't happen when we dealt with the Soviets or the Chinese.  And so then you have no exchange of information whatsoever and can't find points of common interest or negotiate.   You end up in a total stalemate.

Anyway, this is not very complicated.  It also happens to be the crux of one of the most important foreign policy issues being debated between Obama and McCain.  You'd think Sarah Palin would understand this.  But at least its comforting to know that she is against sitting down for a major international summit without first doing some preparation.  I guess that qualifies her to be President.

Obama's Strength on Foreign Policy
Posted by James Lamond

Today, Sen. Obama held a really interesting press conference.  The press conference came following a meeting with top national security advisers.  What makes it so interesting is that following Biden's gaffe advisers and consultants surely would have told the candidate to layoff of national security issues for a while.  But rather than duck the issue, as democrats have in the past, Obama embraced it.

Why? - - It's simple, he is right on security and foreign policy and McCain is wrong. 

The country is with Obama, especially on foreign policy.  We have seen national security leaders from both parties embrace Obama's security and foreign policy approach.  From Colin Powell's endorsement of Obama's candidacy to Dick Lugar's endorsement of Obama's foreign policy approach to Chuck Hagel's embrace of Obama's world view, republicans and democrats alike have been embracing Obama- especially on foreign policy and national security. 

Democrats often cede the national security debate to the Republicans, eager to focus on the economy or domestic policy.  Most would have thought that this would be especially true for a campaign against John McCain, who has focussed his career on the topic.  Not Obama.  He is rightfully taking the national security debate to McCain because he is stronger on the issues.

Digging a Deeper Hole
Posted by Max Bergmann

On the McCain campaign's conference call they just dug their hole even deeper.

Instead of just saying that talking about who terrorist groups endorse is ridiculous, Randy Scheunemann - McCain's foreign policy adviser - decided to whine that the Washington Post article should have included comments from Hamas, Qaddafi, and Ahmadinejad saying positive things about Obama. I see, stories that say 'terrorists endorse McCain' are unfair but ones that say the same about Obama are fair. I just don't understand how they can possibly complain about stories on Al Qaeda members endorsing McCain and then in practically the same breathe say stories should be written about other terrorist groups endorsing Obama. Randy - the correct response was this is all ridiculous. If those other endorsements of Obama are fair game then so is Al Qaeda's. And it would seem to me that Al Qaeda's endorsement is a bit bigger deal than Hamas'.

Another interesting note from the call is that I don't believe Scheunemann or Woosley ever mentioned Afghanistan or Pakistan once. But they spent an awful lot of time in Iraq. Do they not know that the Al Qaeda's safe haven is along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border? And that is exactly the point. Al Qaeda members are endorsing McCain because he will continue Bush's myopic focus on Iraq. Here's what the Washington Post wrote:

at least some of its [Al Qaeda's] supporters think Sen. John McCain is the presidential candidate best suited to continue that trend. "Al-Qaeda will have to support McCain in the coming election," said a commentary posted Monday on the extremist Web site al-Hesbah, which is closely linked to the terrorist group. It said the Arizona Republican would continue the "failing march of his predecessor," President Bush.”  As Adam Raisman, a senior analyst for the Site Intelligence Group, says “The idea in the jihadist forums is that McCain would be a faithful ‘son of Bush’ -- someone they see as a jingoist and a war hawk... They think that, to succeed in a war of attrition, they need a leader in Washington like McCain.”

Here is what the Associated Press wrote:

Al-Qaida supporters suggested in a Web site message this week they would welcome a pre-election terror attack on the U.S. as a way to usher in a McCain presidency. The message, posted Monday on the password-protected al-Hesbah Web site, said if al-Qaida wants to exhaust the United States militarily and economically, "impetuous" Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain is the better choice because he is more likely to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  "This requires presence of an impetuous American leader such as McCain, who pledged to continue the war till the last American soldier," the message said. "Then, al-Qaida will have to support McCain in the coming elections so that he continues the failing march of his predecessor, Bush."

The Website Defense
Posted by Patrick Barry

Just a few minutes ago, McCain advisers Randy Scheunemann an Jim Woolsey tried to distance themselves from what has got to be the world's worst endorsement by suggesting that al-Hesbah, the al-Qaeda-linked site where the endorsement appeared, does not reflect the true views of the terrorist organization.  However, a closer look at al-Qaeda's internet activities over the past month show this defense to be pretty thin.  For the past few weeks, the organization has been embroiled in an all-out struggle to keep their websites active, losing four of their five affiliates this month:

Four of the five main online forums that al-Qaeda's media wing uses to distribute statements by Osama bin Laden and other extremists have been disabled since mid-September, monitors of the Web sites say.

...For al-Qaeda, "these sites are the equivalent of,,," said Evan F. Kohlmann, an expert on online al-Qaeda operations who has advised the FBI and others. With just one authorized al-Qaeda site still in business, "this has left al-Qaeda's propaganda strategy hanging by a very narrow thread."

Of the five al-Qaeda affiliated websites, guess which one managed to stay up:

After about 24 hours, one forum, al-Hesbah, reappeared, according to Kohlmann, a senior investigator with the NEFA Foundation in Charleston, S.C.

So not only is al-Hesbah a site with direct links to the terrorist organization, equivalent to "" and "," but it is the only al-Qaeda organ still functioning. Wow.  But I guess that means the two aren't affiliated.

Terrorist endorsements
Posted by Max Bergmann

It has definitely been the week for foreign policy endorsements. Colin Powell dramatically endorsed Barack Obama on Sunday, and now today we learn that Al Qaeda has endorsed John McCain. The Washington Post and AP reported today that Al-Qaeda affiliated websites have endorsed Senator McCain, saying that he will continue the policies of George Bush that have weakened America and strengthened them. In response the McCain campaign has organized a panicky conference call that will likely try to dismiss Al Qaeda's endorsement of Senator McCain as ridiculous.

They could have a point on the ridiculousness of terrorist endorsements if they hadn't spent the last six months claiming that Barack Obama had been endorsed by terrorist groups like Hamas. You know you really shouldn't throw launch RPGs if you live in a glass house. And McCain sure has launched a lot of RPGs. McCain's website currently reads:

Hamas Has Praised Barack Obama's Foreign Policy

•    "During An Interview On WABC Radio ... Top Hamas Political Adviser Ahmed Yousef Said The Terrorist Group Supports Obama's Foreign Policy Vision." (Mosheh Oinounou, "A Hamas Problem For Obama?" Fox News' "Cameron's Corner" Blog,, 4/16/08)

•    Yousef: "We don't mind-actually we like Mr. Obama. We hope he will (win) the election and I do believe he is like John Kennedy, great man with great principle, and he has a vision to change America to make it in a position to lead the world community but not with domination and arrogance..." (Mosheh Oinounou, "A Hamas Problem For Obama?" Fox News' "Cameron's Corner" Blog,, 4/16/08)

McCain in April told conservative bloggers:

I think it's very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president of the United States. So apparently has Danny Ortega and several others. I think that people should understand that I will be Hamas's worst nightmare....If senator Obama is favored by Hamas I think people can make judgments accordingly.

McCain's deputy campaign manager Christian Ferry even sent an email to donors with a subject line that read "Hamas Weighs In On U.S. Presidential Election." The email read:

Barack Obama's foreign policy plans have even won him praise from Hamas leaders. Ahmed Yousef, chief political adviser to the Hamas Prime Minister said, "We like Mr. Obama and we hope he will win the election. He has a vision to change America." We need change in America, but not the kind of change that wins kind words from Hamas, surrenders in Iraq and will hold unconditional talks with Iranian President Ahmadinejad.

And then this week, McCain said he was proud of an RNC anti-Obama mailer that evoked 9-11 and said Obama would just talk to terrorists.

Maybe if McCain hadn't launched all these attacks, he could be taken seriously when he dismisses Al Qaeda's endorsement. Unfortunately for McCain his house is made of glass.

Chertoff Agrees with White House Agrees With Lieberman Agrees With Biden
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Add DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff to the mix:

Terrorists may see the change to a new U.S. president over the next six months as a prime chance to attack, no matter who wins the White House, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said.           

``Any period of transition creates a greater vulnerability, meaning there's more likelihood of distraction,'' Chertoff said in an interview yesterday. ``You have to be concerned it will create an operational opportunity for terrorists.''           

The risk is the same whether Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain is elected president on Nov. 4, he said. That comment undercuts McCain's argument that the U.S. would be more in danger of an attack if Obama, 47, wins.

McCain, 72, has been citing remarks by Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden on Oct. 19 that ``it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy,'' should Obama win the White House.          

Just like Iraq (and Iran and North Korea and Russia), McCain and his campaign now stand on the barren margins when it comes to recognizing (at least in nonpartisan, political terms) the tangible threat of terror the next president will face early in his term. It's no wonder that nearly every sane (and even some more extreme) conservative national security experts are either backing or echoing Obama. And it's equally amazing that McCain is attempting to use a very real and dangerous threat as a political wedge, not because it's audacious, but mostly because its completely ineffectual except for his increasingly small and radical base. But after the past few months of erratic campaigning, its not surprising.

October 21, 2008

It's a Hard Timeline
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So there is an unofficial version of the Iraq security agreement running around.  It's a translation of an Arabic version that appeared in an Iraqi Newspaper.  So, we still have to see if this is the official English.  But here's what it said about timelines in Article 25.

1- The U.S. forces shall withdraw from Iraqi territories no later than December 31st 2011...

5 - Before the end of the period mentioned in paragraph 1 of this article, and based on the Iraqi assessment of conditions, the Iraqi government is permitted to ask the U.S. government to keep specific forces for the purposes of training and support of the Iraqi security forces. In such a case, a special agreement will be negotiated and signed by both sides in accordance to laws and constitutional requirements in both countries. Or, the Iraqi government might ask for an extension of paragraph 1 of this article, and that can be done in accordance to paragraph 2 of article ThirtyOne of this agreement.

What does this mean?  Basically, only if the Iraqi Government asks the U.S. Government to specifically maintain additional forces in Iraq can the timeline be extended.  The United States cannot ask for and has no real control over an extension of any kind.  Considering that the U.S. presence is overwhelmingly unpopular, any consideration or request from an Iraqi government for an extension of the timeline would be tantamount to political suicide.  Once you consider all the publicity given to the agreement and specifically to the withdrawal date, it's hard to imagine the Iraqi leadership asking for an extension - even if it wanted one. 

The Bush administration already underestimated the power of Iraqi public opinion when it first tried to jam an agreement through earlier in the summer and got much harder push back than expected and that's what will happen to any American or Iraqi government that tries to get an extension beyond 2011.  The Bush administration and McCain campaign can pretend that this is agreement is based on "conditions on the ground."  In fact, they may actually believe it is.  But in Iraq's political reality, if this is in fact the final text, all American troops will almost definitely be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.

On an incredibly important side note, this all may be irrelevant since the Iraqi cabinet wants to renegotiate.  Secretary Gates' reaction:

"There is great reluctance to engage further in the drafting process," Gates told reporters.

"I don't think you slam the door shut, but I would say it's pretty far closed," he added, warning that failure to reach a new status of forces agreement (SOFA) or renew the current U.N. mandate for U.S. troops would mean "we basically stop doing anything."

White House Agrees with Biden, Lieberman
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Matt Duss has a piece over at the Wonk Room demonstrating McCain acolyte Joe Lieberman agreeing with Joe Biden's assertion that the next president will be tested early in his Presidency, perhaps as Gordon Brown was in Britain shortly after taking office. Well, the McCain campaign's attempt at using Biden's statement as an electoral wedge faces another impediment as the sobering possibility is something White House also agrees with Biden and Lieberman on:

Q: Yesterday Senator Lieberman said that he believes, based on history, it's very likely the U.S. will get hit again in the next year, in 2009, because enemies of the U.S. will try to test the new President. But given what you said, that President Bush right now is trying to do all he can, everything possible to prevent another attack, what's your reaction to a statement like that by Senator Lieberman?

MS. PERINO: I think Senator Lieberman, unfortunately, could be right. And the only reason I say that is because we know that there are people who are very dangerous who are trying to attack us every day. The President has been looking for Osama bin Laden since September 12th. That effort has never let up. And we are dealing with a very -- very dangerous terrain, difficult physical environment, very secretive people hiding in caves, an enemy that respects no uniform, respects no civilians, just absolutely wants to destruction. And the President has said that whenever and whenever -- whenever and wherever we get actionable intelligence, we will take action to make sure that they're brought to justice.

McCain Leads Obama in Latest Poll in...
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Cambodia.  Yup according to Gallup 9% of Cambodians prefer John McCain.  4% prefer Barack Obama.  The other 86% don't care or refuse to answer.  McCain also leads in the Phillipines 28%-20%.  And he has also managed to capture the Georgian vote 23%-15% (After all he is a Georgian now).  This is great news for Matt Drudge.

Too bad Obama leads in the other 67 countries surveyed by Gallup by about 4-1. 

Here We Go Again
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

If it's two weeks before an election it must be time for the scare tactics on terrorism.  The RNC's latest piece of mail is an attempt to scare voters by bringing up vivid images of terrorism.  And apparently McCain says he's proud of this piece.

Here is the good news.  Republicans tried this in 2006, with an abonimable ticking time bomb advertisement and another ad that tried to scare voters by arguing that Democrats don't want to listen to terrorists making phone calls from Pakistan.  Those failed miserably.  And I think this is just another sign of desperation. These just don't work anymore considering the slew of issues we're faced with today and the fact that progressives have worked hard to increase their credibility on foreign policy and national security, while conservatives have done a good job destroying their own brand.


Just Another Reminder on Anbar
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The Washington Post has a long piece today about the Anbar Awakening that is well worth reading.  I'll just point out one small bit.

American commanders credit the [Awakening] movement as key to the decline in violence; some believe it played a more significant role than the U.S. "surge" offensive of 30,000 troops last year.

Yet, the McCain campaign consistently tries to make a huge deal out of this, somehow claiming that Obama is insulting the troops because he recognizes that the reduction in violence in Iraq was due to a number of complicated and interwoven reasons.

New PPI Paper on US Policy toward the Middle East
Posted by Shadi Hamid

The Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) has just released a paper of mine titled "Necessary Risks: How a New U.S. Administration Can--Finally--Give Us the Middle East Policy We Need." Here's the intro. Here's the full paper. This is a bit different than some of the previous things I've done which have focused specifically on the political Islam question. In this paper, I try to take a broader look at the assumptions that have driven U.S. policy over the last five decades under both Republicans and Democrats. More often than not, these assumptions have been misguided, sometimes dangerously so. I argue for a "re-orientation" of U.S. policy toward the region. Here are a couple excerpts:

America's mounting failures in the Middle East are tied not only to ineffective policies but also--and perhaps more importantly--to faulty assumptions about the sources of our difficulties in the region. Anti-American violence and terrorism is fueled by long-standing grievances, both real and perceived. A new Middle East strategy must be premised on a long-term effort to seek out root causes of this anger and, where possible, address them...

While there is a well-deserved consensus that the Bush administration has caused untold damage to our relationship with the Arab and Muslim world, it would be a mistake to think that eight years of Republican rule are an anomaly in an otherwise proud history of successful engagement. The reality is more troubling: American policy has been consistently self-defeating under administrations of both parties for more than five decades...

From the perspective of millions of Arabs and Muslims, the United States is complicit in their repression and in the denial of democratic alternatives. Even the most unfair anti-American paranoia cannot be understood as a product of mere irrational hate. It is important for Americans to understand how valid grievances can snowball into a more general suspicion of all U.S. motives and actions—a suspicion that lends itself to disinformation and conspiracy theorizing. In short, most policy disagreements are substantive and many are legitimate. Even the ones that are not must be addressed on the plane of policy. Perceptions matter because they drive narratives, and narratives drive the way Middle Easterners view the United States.

Read the whole thing.

October 20, 2008

The Powell Endorsement and the End of the Republican Foreign Policy Establishment
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama is an important moment in the Presidential campaign.  Powell, a former National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of State is one of the most trusted public figures in the United States.  And he is a Republican.  His endorsement acts as a seal of approval for moderate Republicans and independents from one of the most trusted figures in the country. 

But years from now when we look back at this moment there may be an even bigger story.  It is the story of the end of the Republican foreign policy establishment as we know it.  The final break between traditional pragmatic foreign policy conservatives and Neocons.  And it will likely be said that it was Colin Powell who struck the final blow that killed the alliance.

The pragmatists long dominated Republican foreign policy circles.  Their elder statesmen include notables such Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, George Schultz, James Baker, Bob Gates and of course Colin Powell.  They view the national interest through a relatively narrow lens, preferring to stay away from grandiose notions of American power and the romantic notions of spreading freedom and democracy around the world.  They don't completely forsake the idealistic notions of using American power as a force for good, but they do recognize that America's ability to spread democracy is limited

The Neoconservative wing of the Republican foreign policy community on the other hand,  which includes Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith Richard Perle, Elliot Abrams is based on a version of messianic liberalism that believes that American empire and military might can be used to aggressively spread American values around the world. 

For years the two groups tolerated each other. The big break began in 2003 with the decision to go to war with Iraq.  A number of pragmatists began to speak out in opposition to the war, most notably Brent Scowcroft, who was not only George H.W. Bush's national security advisor but one of his best friends.  This evolution continued with James Baker's 2006 Iraq Study Group proposing a slow withdrawal from Iraq and direct engagement with Iran.

But with this election cycle, the break has finally come into the open.   John McCain's foreign policy ranging from the League of Democracies, to his refusal to talk directly to Iran, to his bellicose language reaction towards Russia has shown him to be a neoconservative hawk.  And now, one month before the election we have a remarkable situation where the majority of the old wise men of the Republican foreign policy community are either supporting Obama, not taking sides or supporting McCain out of loyalty or friendship while publicly contradicting him on foreign policy.

Consider this list:

  • Colin Powell has endorsed Barack Obama.
  • Richard Lugar, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has endorsed Obama's approach to diplomacy over that of McCain.
  • Brent Scowcroft refuses to endorse either way.  Pretty telling for a former Republican national security advisor, especially since he was opposed to the war in Iraq.
  • James Baker continues to support direct talks with Iran and has for the past two years. (Actually just read the entire five secretaries of state even transcript from CNN.  It's one big endorsement of Obama's foreign policy)
  • Kissinger and Schultz are writing op-eds in the Washington Post and Financial Times calling for a more moderate approach towards Russia.
  • Kissinger has also called for direct talks with Iran (At the Secretary of State level).
  • Chuck Hagel has traveled to Iraq with Obama and while not publicly endorsing looks to be pretty clearly in favor of Obama.
  • Secretary of Defense Bob Gates is giving speeches that sound a lot more like an Obama foreign policy than a McCain foreign policy.

The dirty little secret is that all of these pragmatic conservatives have more in common with Obama's world view and that of the progressive community as a whole than they do with McCain and Neoconservatism.  Right now most of them are sticking with McCain because of old friendships and loyalties, a desire to stay out of politics, or because they are social and economic conservatives. 

But don't be surprised if Powell's endorsement will encourage more of these pragmatic foreign policy conservatives to come over to the Democrats over the next few years.  At the very least I wouldn't be surprised if most of their proteges are soon working for Democrats.   If this scenario does in fact come to pass, then people will likely look back at the Powell endorsement as the moment the neoconservative/pragmatic conservative alliance came to an end, and the Republican foreign policy community fractured.

To be American and Muslim (it's about time)
Posted by Shadi Hamid

There was one part of Colin Powell’s interview that stood out for me (I now see that Ilan was similarly impressed in his post below). Powell, yesterday, was the first politician of his stature to speak publicly, with eloquence and passion, about the tragic turn of this election – that “Muslim” has become a smear. In the process, a whole faith has been denigrated. It is has been a source of confusion and frustration for me that Democrats have failed, for the most part, to speak out on what I think is one of the defining moral questions raised by this campaign season – what it means to be “American.” It is ironic, but perhaps expected, that we had to wait for someone else to make us feel comfortable about doing what we should have been willing to do 12 or 16 months ago.

And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian.  He’s always been a Christian.  But the really right answer is, what if he is?  Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.  Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?

Over the past two years, we have witnessed a discourse which has consistently demeaned Muslims as less than American. In turn, American Muslims have been in hiding, resorting to our usual mix of self-pity and helplessness. The joke in Muslim circles is that if we really want Obama to win, then we would best off endorsing McCain. No one wants our endorsement. No one wants to meet with our leaders. No politician wants to be seen as Muslim-friendly. We have brought this upon ourselves. If nothing else, this episode has shown us that we have to get more involved politically, that until we speak up, organize, and get our act together, and rid ourselves of our obsessions with our own victimization, not to mention our fixation with Palestine (at the expense of more pertinent issues for America like health care and education), we will be a political joke.

Anyway, Powell did us the service of telling us about a brave, courageous man – Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan. I hadn’t heard of him before yesterday. When I heard Powell’s words, I was moved in a way I haven’t been since Obama’s speech on race in March. Powell’s statement was one of those rare acts of moral courage that we so rarely see from our politicians. In March, Obama spoke to what makes America a truly exceptional country. And, yesterday, Powell did the same.

So I read into Karim’s story. I saw this picture. And I had to hold back tears. This picture captures everything America is and everything I hope it still can be.


Yes, there are civil liberties abuses, the Patriot Act, and other infringements on the rights of American Muslims. But I can say without hesitation that there is no better place to be Muslim today than the United States, and that only becomes more clear, the more you spend in supposedly “Muslim” countries where if five Muslim men gather outside a mosque, they can get arrested. This is why when people who I care about tell me they’re happy 9/11 happened to us, I can hold my head up high and say that I love this country, and I see no conflict between my being American and my being Muslim. This is why my parents came to America. This is why my parents just contributed money to a political campaign for the first time in their lives. And this is why I will devote my life to helping America fulfill its promise – to, finally, live up to its lofty ideals, not just with rhetoric but with real policy changes that will give hope for a better life to hundreds of millions around the world who are looking to us for leadership.


October 19, 2008

Powell's Endorsement and Muslims in America
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Many people, myself included, rightly give Colin Powell a hard time for the Iraq War.  And endorsing Obama doesn't erase that history.  But what I did find moving and important about Powell's endorsement was his discussion of Muslims in America.  It starts at about 4:30 into the clip and it's something that should have been said a long long time ago by more people who have Powell's platform.

Colin Powell Endorses Obama
Posted by James Lamond

On Meet the Press today, former JCOS and Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama for president. 

Secretary Powell said that John McCain was “unsure” how to deal with the economic crisis and that the pick of Sarah Palin, who is not ready to be president, as a running-mate shows a lack of judgment on McCain’s part. 

Even John McCain who described Powell as, “a man who I admire as much as any man in the world, person in the world,” cannot deny the importance of this endorsement.  Powell was reportedly considered as a running mate for senator McCain and is a man that John McCain has repeatedly expressed a great deal of respect for. 

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