Democracy Arsenal

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February 01, 2008

Elections, a democracy doth not make
Posted by Patrick Barry

Democracy Promoters should take note of this report from Human Rights Watch, indicating that Dictators around the globe are disguising their abusive, authoritarian regimes in democratic garb.   The report found that the world’s traditional democracies, including the United States, and the E.U., have contributed to this trend by myopically prizing elections over democratic institutions, or human rights.

Now obviously the United States shouldn’t just drop elections from their efforts to promote democracy, but without a complimentary mission that seeks to build enduring civil bodies, and improves the human condition, we’ll continue to find ourselves in situations like this

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid...
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Richard Clarke, former head of counterterrorism at the National Security Council who famously tried to warn the Bush Administration of the threat from al-Qaida before 9/11, takes President Bush to task in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer over his use of fear in the debate over FISA.  Strong words from one of the most credible critics of the Administration's failed intelligence and counter-terrorism policies:

In order to defeat the violent Islamist extremists who do not believe in human rights, we need not give up the civil liberties, constitutional rights and protections that generations of Americans fought to achieve. We do not need to create Big Brother. With the administration's attempts to erode FISA's legal standing as the exclusive means by which our government can conduct electronic surveillance of U.S. persons on U.S. soil, this is unfortunately the path the president is taking us down.

January 31, 2008

Divorced From Reality Pt 2
Posted by Michael Cohen

A few days ago I wrote a post that argued George W Bush is completely divorced from reality. Today, in an interview with Morton Kondracke in Roll Call (via Dan Froomkin in the Washington Post) he confirms it. Here is an excerpt:

When I asked him whether he thought America was a stronger country than when he arrived in office -- in view of a weakened dollar, increased debt, rising oil prices and dependency and international polls showing a steep decline in America's reputation -- he batted the question back.

"'We're stronger because our military is stronger . . . and becoming more modern. We're stronger because we recognize the threats of the 21st century and are dealing with them.

"'We're stronger because we've added jobs. More Americans are working. . . . Real wages are up. . . . We're still a flexible economy with a strong entrepreneurial spirit. He have more debt, but we've also got more assets. We're stronger because America is in the lead, using its influence.'"

What is most interesting about all these arguments is that with slight exception they are basically all untrue. Let's go to the breakdown.

"We're stronger because our military is stronger." It's really hard to believe how after 5 years of war anyone could argue this point with a straight face, but that's our president! In case you were wondering, according to CAP, "The active Army today is recklessly stretched far beyond recommended use, ultimately hurting our troops and dangerously depriving our country of the strategic reserves necessary to respond to true crises."

But more to the point, the notion that our military is what makes America strong is so, how shall we say, 20th century thinking and yet in the next line, Bush says our military is becoming more modern. I suppose reminding our President that our recent security success in Iraq came from old-fashioned counter insurgency tactics as opposed to the use of modern information technology would sort of go in one ear and out the other.

"We're stronger because we recognize the threats of the 21st century and are dealing with them." Only in George Bush's mind is this true. Not only is Al Qaeda stronger than it was before 9/11 we have a report today that underlines just how unprepared we are as a nation for 21st century threats:

The U.S. military isn't ready for a catastrophic attack on the country, and National Guard forces don't have the equipment or training they need for the job, a commission charged by Congress reported Thursday. Even fewer Army National Guard units are combat-ready today than were nearly a year ago when the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves determined that 88 percent of the units were not prepared for the fight, the panel said in its report.

"We're stronger because we've added jobs." This has a kernel of truthiness, but is fundamentally misleading. Yes, we've added jobs, but at the lowest level in four years:

The increase in unemployment to 5.0 percent in December, paired with a meager 18,000 jobs added to the economy, make 2007 the weakest year for job growth in the past 4 years.

"Real wages are up." This is just a good old lie. Real wages actually declined in 2007. According to the Economic Policy Institute:

Both hourly and weekly earnings fell in 2007, a sharp reversal from the gains in 2006. After growing by about 2% in 2006, both hourly and weekly earnings fell, after adjusting for inflation, by about 1% last year.

"H[W]e have more debt, but we've also got more assets." Your guess is as good as mine as to what this means.

"We're stronger because America is in the lead, using its influence." Right, because when the President went to the Gulf and reiterated what a huge threat Iran was to the region everyone got on board . . . oh wait a minute.

Maybe the President was referring to his trip to Saudi Arabia where he convinced the Saudis to increase oil production . . . oh I guess that won't work either.

Do you think the President really believes that we are in the lead, positively influencing other nations? Here's the scary part; I really think he does. I often joke about the President's detachment from reality, but honestly I'm not sure it's a joking matter. I seriously wonder whether this man is even remotely aware of what's happening around him. If you based his mental acuity solely on his public statements in recent days you really have to wonder. Isn't this what the 25th Amendment was drafted for?

Roger Cohen Missing the Point About Shifting Power
Posted by David Shorr

Not only does Roger Cohen's NYT column today set up a huge straw man of believers in American decline, he off-handedly points toward the weak links in his own presumptuous optimism.

Those of us who are concerned about the challenges of a power-shifting world rarely predict that the bottom will drop out of American material power. If all we really cared about was power for power's sake, we'd be a lot less worried. But power itself isn't the issue. The real question is: does superpower-dom get you the kind of world you want?

I don't see how anyone could deny that being a superpower ain't what it used to be. In fact, Cohen doesn't deny it. In the same paragraph where he says what formidable challenges Europe and China face, and they do, he admits that, "America must work closely with them, but inspiration and leadership are unlikely to come from them."

In effect, Roger Cohen is conceding the very point on which we fretters (is that a word?) are focused -- the necessity of working with the other powers on nuclear nonproliferation, global warming, economic development, genocide, etc, etc. In order to actually tackle world problems, the different powers have to cooperate. So remind me why we should be so carefree about our power? Rather than accept Cohen's straw man, you should check out Nina Hachigian and Mona Sutphen's excellent new book, The Next American Century (disclosure, a recent project of my Stanley Foundation colleague Michael Schiffer worked in tandem with Nina and Mona).

The reason we're worried, well me any way, is that we have a lot of lost time to make up for. I actually agree with Cohen that America's capacity for political self-renewal will be critically important. I'm hopeful that this will be a moment of renewal; it's badly needed. But it's something that will require concerted effort from us, not complacent self-satisfaction.

Chain of Command
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

In a totally expected development, Tom Ricks reports that troop levels in Iraq will likely be higher come election day 2008 than they were on election 2006.  This again, despite objections by senior military officials and the Defense Department. 

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and top military officers have said they would like to see continued withdrawals throughout this year, but Bush has indicated he is likely to be guided by Petraeus's views.

Max and Pat have both written about this before, but it's worth hammering this point home.   This management situation is completely ridiculous.  Think of the U.S. government as a corporation (Just for the purposes of this exercise.  Nothing to do with privatization).  Bush is the equivalent of the Chairman of the Board and Gates and Admiral Mullen play the roles of CEO of the company (DOD and the military).  Gates's and Mullen's job, along with the Joint Chiefs, is to think big picture and look at the overall health of the company and where it needs to be putting its assets.  Petraeus is the VP of one department.  An important department such as marketing.  But still just one department.  Yet here we have the Chairman of the Board essentially reaching down, ignoring all other concerns such production (Afghanistan), research and development (Pakistan), finance (China) and saying that the only thing that matters is marketing.  It's just bad management.

January 30, 2008

The Dream Has Died
Posted by Michael Cohen

After seeing Mitt Romney's lackluster performance in today's GOP debate I'm ready to throw in the towel - there isn't going to be a brokered convention on the GOP side after all. It would really take something to see McCain lose the nomination now.

If I may paraphrase Michael Corleone, "Mitt, you broke my heart!"

But don't fret progressives, I may be the only person in America who believes this, but John McCain is eminently beatable in November. Not only is he wrong on the Iraq war (and wrong in a way that he can't get away from), but his top economic adviser is Jack Kemp (major red flag), he doesn't seem to understand how fiscal policy works (minor red flag), he can't deliver a speech to save his life (medium red flag) and most of all, he is going to be 72 years old (a red flag so big you could fly it in Tiananmen Square).

The age thing is Mccain's Achilles Heel. I don't want anyone to accuse me of being an ageist, but President is a tough job and color me unconvinced that a 72 year man can handle it. (As a point of reference my father is 75 and he can't drive at night!) For the record, McCain hasn't exactly had an easy 72 years.

Don't believe me, look what the American people have to say. In a February 2007 poll, people were asked which attributes would be a reason not to vote for someone for President.

Homosexual was 43%. Guess what "72-year old man was" - 42%. That's right: the same number of Americans who say they would not vote for a homosexual would not for an old man. Now if I told you that John McCain was a homosexual you would say there is no chance in hell he could win, but based on these numbers, how is "72 year old man" any different?

Here's why this really matters. If Obama is the nominee, the contrast between a 72-year old man and 46-year old fresh-faced Senator would absolutely play in Obama's favor.  To me that is the dream match up for Obama and would absolutely bolster his change message. If Hillary is the nominee . . . well let's just say if you think she plays the race card well against Obama, imagine what she would do to an old man. I shudder at the thought!

Africa, Democracy, Human Rights

In Women’s Absence, No Security for Kenya
Posted by Marie Wilson

Today, the National Council of Women of Kenya decried their exclusion from the current mediation talks being lead by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.  The Council’s chair, Isabella Karanja, condemned Kenya’s disregard for UN Security Council Resolution 1325 that supports women's participation in mediation.  I’ve been paying close attention to Kenya’s dramatic social and political breakdown, and I can assure you that the exclusion of women from the mediation process is not only unjust – it is a grave sentence for the Kenyan people and their nation’s future.

The country’s rapid descent into violence and relative chaos was sparked by a crack in the veneer of its successful democracy, and attributed to tribal anger and the back-and-forth of ethnic reprisals.  But the violence that Kenyans are suffering, and that we witness in disturbing daily imagery, is rooted in the nation’s lack of access to jobs and healthcare, inequalities in land and resources – all glaring disparities which are funneled into ethnic tensions.  Kenya’s current malaise will only be cured through the acknowledgement of human security as fundamental to state security.  And the issues which make up human security are the issues that women have continually championed worldwide: basic human needs like economic and environmental justice, safe streets, healthcare and education.

Kenya is not unique.  With few exceptions, women have found themselves systematically closed out of the security debate – with severe consequences for national and global security.  Which is why The White House Project, along with a myriad of other groups across the globe, have come together to permanently shift the way we think about, and enact policy, on security. 

In November of 2007, The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands in partnership with The White House Project, the Council of Women World Leaders and the Women Leaders Intercultural Forum, convened the historic International Women Leaders Global Security Summit in New York, bringing together over 75 of the worlds most powerful women leaders in a Call to Action on international security.  Under the leadership of co-hosts Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, and Kim Campbell, former Prime Minister of Canada, they worked together to tackle the world’s most critical security issues. And in the Summit’s aftermath, hundreds of women and men alike have signed on to this critical cause, committing their resources to uphold the bold imperative of crafting policy that holds human security to be intimately intertwined with state security.  I encourage you to join this vital effort and sign the Call to Action as well.

We are witnessing moves in the right direction, and I am heartened by the women and men around the world currently working on issues of human security.  When I was researching the new afterward to my book, Closing the Leadership Gap, I was buoyed by how far women have come in the field of security since the book’s original publication four years ago.  But there is so much further that we need to go in order to normalize women’s leadership in this area, and truly listen to the women working on the ground when we craft national policy.  From Kenya’s post-election violence to the devastation in Iraq, we need women’s voices to be an integral part of the conversation.  As the scale of violence and human insecurity continues its rapid escalation, the critical paradigm shift on security cannot wait a moment longer.

Trouble in Awakening Land
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Marc Lynch breaks down new signs of the internal rifts within the Awakening movements and the danger that they pose

There are more and more signs of the Awakenings strategy hitting turbulence, if not going off the rails.  The drumbeat of assassinations of Awakenings leaders and attacks on their men continues.  Joseph Galloway reported yesterday of the growing tension over allegations that Shia militias are behind the recent upsurge of attacks.  Patrick Cockburn reported from Falluja that an important local commander warned that if his people aren't integrated into the Iraqi military and police in three months they are prepared to stand down and let al-Qaeda back in.   The Anbar Salvation Council declared that it would not fly the new Iraqi flag, meaning that for a while these local militias would literally be operating under a different flag than the national institutions from which they remain excluded.  Today, al-Hayat reports that 230 Awakenings fighters north of Baghdad quit because they hadn't been paid in two months.   And then, there's been a series of public eruptions between Anbar Salvation Council leaders and between the ASC and the Baghdad-based Awakening militias.

Just another reminder that this situation is extraordinarily volatile and that once these groups don't have a common Al Qaeda in Iraq enemy to deal with, they may very well turn on either the Shi'a or each other.

That Wacky, Wacky Gerson
Posted by Michael Cohen

You almost have to feel a little sorry for Mike Gerson. He's a true believer in George Bush, and all evidence be damned he's going to make Americans believe that the man is a true compassionate conservative.

In today's Washington Post Gerson argues that Bush IS truly a compassionate man. And here's part of the evidence:

Proposals such as No Child Left Behind, the AIDS and malaria initiatives, and the addition of a prescription drug benefit to Medicare would simply not have come from a traditional conservative politician. They became the agenda of a Republican administration precisely because of Bush's persistent, passionate advocacy. To put it bluntly, these would not have been the priorities of a Cheney administration.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have the winner of 2008's "Most Backhanded Compliment" award. Nothing else written this year will come close. Do you think maybe Gerson is reaching a bit when he needs to use Dick Cheney as a strawman to prove that George Bush is compassionate? Honestly, who doesn't look compassionate next to Dick Cheney? This is like boasting that you were runner-up in the 20th century's "Worst Fascist Dictator Contest."*

And can you even imagine the priorities of a Cheney Administration? It would probably start with strangling puppies and waterboarding kittens and then go from there.

But that isn't even in the biggest whopper in this piece as Gerson really goes on a limb  and argues "by any fair historical measure, Bush's achievements on social justice at least equal those of Bill Clinton." Really? I wonder if Bill Clinton ever vetoed a children's health bill. . . twice.

I understand that Mike Gerson wants to feel that his years in the White House were validated; and that the man he worked for really wasn't such a bad guy.

I wish him the best of luck with all that!

*(For the record, I am not comparing George Bush or Dick Cheney to a fascist dictator. It's a joke and one that I stole from Woody Allen).

A Bumper Sticker for Republicans
Posted by Shadi Hamid

This is one of the most amusing clips I've seen in a long time. More importantly, it's particularly insightful. McCain's platform, as Scarborough tells us, can be summed up as "less jobs, more wars." We Democrats always have trouble coming up with bumper sticker slogans. At least we now have one for attacking the Republicans. Imagine a debate with Obama/Clinton and McCain in the fall. McCain says something like "as much as I hate to say it, there will be more wars. And we have to get ready." Obama/Clinton interrupts and says, "Chris, take note here. John's a great guy but his message is essentially 'less jobs, more wars.' Is that what the American people want? I don't think so." A related thought experiment, which candidate - Obama or Clinton - do you think would be more likely to say that?

My Thoughts on the Trade
Posted by Michael Cohen

Twins got rooked! Carlos Gomez has marginal plate discipline and Phillip Humber is no Phillip Hughes or Jon Lester. And a few months ago the Twins could have gotten Ellsbury or Lester, each of whom are almost certainly better than anyone the Mets gave up.

It's a good deal for the Mets. Maybe this'll take the sting off the worst September collapse in baseball history. (Sorry Ilan, I can't let you get to big for your britches).

On the bright side, at least the source of all that is evil in the world, aka, the New York Yankees, didn't get him. No, instead of imagining Johan in pinstripes, Yankee fans can spend the next several months imagining Brian McNamee sticking a syringe full of HGH in Roger Clemens butt.

BTW, did I mention that the Red Sox are reigning World Series champions!

January 29, 2008

Men of Mystery
Posted by Patrick Barry

I went to an interesting talk today at the US Institute of Peace, with the somewhat noirish title “Iraq’s Mystery Men: Insurgents, Tribes, and Sadrists.” What’s so mysterious about insurgents, tribes and Sadrists you’re probably asking? Well quite a bit, though apparently not so much as there used to be.  For some time, these groups have played a more shadowy role in internal Iraqi politics, but now each seems poised to step out of obscurity to take a more significant place for themselves.  Views from the panel indicated that the Sadrists’s recent truce has allowed them the space to consolidate their power; tribesmen have used the awakening movement to come to make demands for inclusion; and insurgent organizations have remade themselves into political-military parties in the style of Hamas or Hezbollah.

Without delving too deeply into the specifics of what the panelists discussed, there seemed to be agreement that during the last several months, a view that the US occupation is coming to an end (albeit deliberately) has taken hold in Iraq, which has prompted a political awakening among the various ethnic and sectarian factions (looks like the folks at CAP are on to something.)  Guided by a perception that the US presence in the country is on the wane, former spoilers have coalesced into new, more coherent movements, movements which are now jockeying for political advantage, competing for American largess, and struggling to amass anything that will strengthen their relative position. To paraphrase panelist Daniel Serwer, a thaw has occurred in Iraq, and the political environment is now fluid.

These developments are typically viewed positively, and with some cause.  Violence in Iraq has lessened to the point where the different players recognize an opportunity to converge and enter the political sphere (though this has far more to do with the awakenings and the perception of an American departure, than the implementation of the surge.) But we have to be careful not to confuse movement with reconciliation.  The emergence of these new political forces by itself, does not portend greater stability.  In fact, if they are not integrated sufficiently into the country broader governing structure (which events indicate is the case), the results could be disastrous. 

Where there were once relatively few influential political coalitions with numerous ‘mystery’ movements operating on the periphery, now there are multiple parties, of differing sectarian and ethnic compositions, each with legitimate claim to the future status of Iraq’s government and each with the force and following to back those claims.  The Sadrists, the Political Council of the Iraqi Resistance, and the Anbar Salvation Council are all examples of entities whose political consciousness has stirred, yet still insist on maintaining experienced, well-armed militias with no ties to the central authority in Baghdad.   Why do they feel a need to keep those armed men at their side? What end do they seek?  Here's a hint – it’s not reconciliation. 

My thoughts on trade
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Johan Santana rules!

More Wars for America!
Posted by Moira Whelan

One thing conservatives are often heralded for doing well is clearly presenting their message. Tonight, two leading conservative sages, Scarborough and Buchanan lived up to that ideal, and crystallized John McCain’s message should he be the Republican presidential nominee.

BUCHANAN: Here's a guy, basically, what does he say? The jobs are never coming back, the illegals are never going home, but we're gonna have a lot more wars.

SCARBOROUGH: We're gonna start a lot of wars! He has promised, for the record Keith, John McCain's platform — and it certainly looks inviting for the fall — he has promised less jobs and more wars. Now that's something we can all rally behind.

Indeed. Think Progress has the film.

The Politics of Clapping
Posted by Michael Cohen

I've long thought that Hillary got sort of a bum rap on the Iraq war. Sure she was wrong to support the war, but so were the vast majority of Senate Democrats.  Frankly as a New York Senator a year after 9/11 and as a woman, it would have been quite the political challenge for her to vote against it. Moreover, I'm quite sure that her support for the Iraq war didn't mean supporting the terrible manner in which this was has been waged.  She was in a tough political position. She made the wrong call, but it's somewhat understandable.

Now having said that I'm really baffled by this nugget from The Hill:

When Bush proclaimed, “Ladies and gentlemen, some may deny the surge is working, but among terrorists there is no doubt,” Clinton sprang to her feet in applause but Obama remained firmly seated. The president’s line divided most of the Democratic audience, with nearly half standing to applaud and the other half sitting in stony silence.

  Hillary Clinton is well aware the surge is not working. In fact, the "some" George Bush is referring to is "her." Here's what she said earlier this month in New Hampshire about it:

The purpose behind the surge was to create the space and time for political reconciliation, for the Iraqi government to do what only it can do and trying to deal with the myriad of unresolved problems that confront it. . . . We have the greatest military in the world.  We send in more of our troops, they will be able to     dampen down the violence, but there has not been a willingness on the  part of the Iraqi government to do what the surge was intended to do,  to push them to begin to make the tough decisions.  And in the absence    of that political action, 23 Americans dying in December is totally    unacceptable.  You know, there is no more cause for us to be there if     the Iraqis are just not going to do what they need to do to take care       of their own country. 

I don't understand this. If Hillary says the surge is not working (and she reiterated the point in the South Carolina debate) why is she applauding when the President says the surge is working? Maybe it's just me, but doesn't her "applause" represent a repudiation of her own position on Iraq? If someone has another explanation I'm all ears.


Divorced From Reality
Posted by Michael Cohen

I think we can all agree that when it comes to agenda setting, President Bush is pretty much irrelevant, but what was so striking about yesterday's SOTU was the extent to which he is simply divorced from reality. I won't even touch on the domestic side of things, but his comments on foreign policy were just breathtaking in not only their banality, but in the extent to which they reflect a reality that only seems to exist in George Bush's mind.

In George Bush's mind, freedom is on the march, even though as my colleague Max Bergmann points out below, in most of the places the President cites, freedom is actually on the retreat.

When it comes to the war on terror, you would think that in the seven years since 9/11 we've have a bit more understanding of the motivations of terrorists to not simply fall back on familiar platitudes like the terrorists "hate America." Think again.

The advance of liberty is opposed by terrorists and extremists -- evil men who despise freedom, despise America, and aim to subject millions to their violent rule.

Sigh. But it gets worse, "There is one thing we and our enemies agree on: In the long run, men and women who are free to determine their own destinies will reject terror and refuse to live in tyranny. That is why the terrorists are fighting to deny this choice to people in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Palestinian Territories."

Fred Kaplan at Slate offers a compelling rejoinder: "The question comes to mind, as it has come to mind in all of these speeches when Bush recites this argument: Does he believe what he's saying? Does he believe that the violent battles for power in these lands really come down to freedom vs. tyranny?"

Apparently the answer is yes.

But it's even in the smaller details Bush makes egregious statements. "For the security of America and the peace of the world, we are spreading the hope of freedom." Except of course in Egypt where during the President's recent visit he praised long-time Jeffersonian Democrat Hosni Mubarek, for "taking steps toward economic openness . . . and political reforms" and pretty much disheartened every democracy activist in Egypt. As Max again points out, in pretty much every place where Bush cited "stirring moments in the history of liberty" the reality today is far more complicated and far less rosy.  And even though more than 800 people have been killed in post-election violence in Kenya, it doesn't even rate a mention.

Or this on Afghanistan, "boys and girls are going to school, new roads and hospitals are being built, and people are looking to the future with new hope." Indeed the entire section on Afghanistan offered not a single pessimistic word. Maybe the President should have talked to his Sec of State who today in Australia warned of a potentially deeper conflict in Afghanistan:

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice fears a deepening conflict in Afghanistan without an urgent solution to differences between Kabul and Western forces trying to restore order there.

In a frank assessment of the problems in Afghanistan following the collapse of plans for a "super-envoy" to try to meld the disparate international forces, Dr Rice said the West was still working to find a way to better support the Afghan Government in its reconstruction efforts.

Somehow this got deleted from the SOTU. Or how about this: "America opposes genocide in Sudan. We support freedom in countries from Cuba and Zimbabwe to Belarus and Burma."

That's great! I support freedom in those places too! And surely that's why when UN Secretary General Bar Ki-Moon recently asked for additional helicopter support for the peacekeeping mission in Darfur the US was the first to lend a hand . . . oh wait a minute.

As Fred Kaplan again suggests, "Maybe the president believes that saying something makes it close to true. (Some of his former aides have told me they suspect this is the case.)"

And I haven't even gotten into the President's delusions on Iraq! It's one thing to lie to the American people; George Bush has raised that to an art form and certainly he is neither the first nor last politician to stretch the truth. But, lies I can handle. This President seems to operate in a world of just intense self-delusion, completely divorced from actual events.

It reminds me of a great Seinfeld episode when Jerry asks George how to beat a lie detector test. George's advice, "just remember, it's not a lie, if you believe it." So there you have it, after seven years I've finally figured it out, George Bush is George Constanza!

Bush vs. the Force Providers
Posted by Patrick Barry

For anyone who was paying attention last night, President Bush made a mildly controversial comment, which points to an important internal debate going on at the Pentagon.  While discussing the recent security gains in Iraq, Bush suggested that General Petraeus would be the ultimate arbiter over the pace of troop drawdowns:

“General Petraeus has warned that too fast a drawdown could result in the "disintegration of the Iraqi security forces, al Qaeda-Iraq regaining lost ground, [and] a marked increase in violence." Members of Congress: Having come so far and achieved so much, we must not allow this to happen.”

In one sense, this is all fine.  Petraeus, as the commander on the ground, is best equipped to assess Iraq’s security needs, and what role US forces will play in meeting them.  What Petraeus is not equipped to do however, and what President Bush did not mention at all, is the needs of the US Military, whose mission extends across the world.  As early as September, there were hints that force providers at the Pentagon differed from Petraeus on the issue of troop deployments.  Comments from Gates, Mullen, and Casey, as well as the reported views of Admiral Fallon, all suggest that situation is not so simple as the President’s comments indicate, a point that was most recently demonstrated by the Pentagon’s commissioning of an alternative assessment about the condition of the US military.   The concern informing this assessment is clear: Our soldiers are under great strain, and the strategic needs of the country are too many for all attention to be paid to Iraq.

The President’s unequivocal declaration that  Petraeus is the ‘decider’ for military matters in Iraq, given the existence of such a strong debate within the military establishment, not only sharply contradicts Military command structure, but it also obscures the nature of the challenges facing US forces in the 21st century.  Iraq has been a tremendous burden on our troops, and our occupation has substantially compromised our ability to deal with emerging threats.  While it may be right in a tactical sense to finish what we started in Iraq, there is a broader strategic imperative that warrants the President’s attention as well.  Secretary Gates will soon deliver an alternative assessment to the President; I hope he reads it. 

January 28, 2008

MCC struggles to get off the ground
Posted by Max Bergmann

The Millennium Challenge Corporation has broad bipartisan support. Yet the Bush administration has failed to get the MCC rolling. From the New York Times:

The Millennium Challenge Corporation, a federal agency set up almost four years ago to reinvent foreign aid, has taken far longer to help poor, well-governed countries than its supporters expected or its critics say is reasonable.

The agency, a rare Bush administration proposal to be enacted with bipartisan support, has spent only $155 million of the $4.8 billion it has approved for ambitious projects in 15 countries in Africa, Central America and other regions.

"Based on a clear premise..."
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

There's a larger philosophical point in this State of the Union that I think it's important to take on. 

If you're a realist, you believe that the clear premise behind American foreign policy is, or ought to be, American national interests.  If you're an idealist, you believe that the clear premise behind American foreign policy is, or ought to be, some statement of American shared or national values.

I tend to agree with those who have said that the US is at its best when its leaders combine those two impulses judiciously.  But elections by themselves just don't add up to either a core interest or a core value.  The list of nations he mentions make that point pretty well, as Max notes; a list of other nations who've had elections in recent years -- Pakistan, Egypt, Palestine, Kenya -- makes it too.

There are conservative, libertarian, and even neo-conservative, worldviews that have serious intellectual heft and must be reckoned with, even if one disagrees.  But this is just neocon lite.   

Bush's "Freedom Stagnation"
Posted by Max Bergmann

In his final State of the Union, Bush weakly tries to resurrect his freedom agenda:

Our foreign policy is based on a clear premise: We trust that people, when given the chance, will choose a future of freedom and peace. In the last 7 years, we have witnessed stirring moments in the history of liberty. We have seen citizens in Georgia and Ukraine stand up for their right to free and fair elections. We have seen people in Lebanon take to the streets to demand their independence. We have seen Afghans emerge from the tyranny of the Taliban to choose a new president and a new parliament. We have seen jubilant Iraqis holding up ink-stained fingers and celebrating their freedom.

Yet the President’s “freedom agenda” is failing.  According to the latest “2007 Freedom in the World Survey” from Freedom House democracy and freedom are sliding backwards (pdf) throughout the world:

the emergence of a series of worrisome trends that together present potentially serious threats to the stability of new democracies as well as obstacles to political reform in societies under authoritarian rule… The percentage of countries designated as Free has failed to increase for nearly a decade...these trends may be contributing to a developing ‘freedom stagnation.’

His examples also don't support his case.

After the Commercial Break
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

If you're watching the State of the Union, you will have noticed that we're almost 20 minutes in and there's been no mention of the national security agenda yet.  This sets my old speechwriter nose quivering and tells me they've given up on convincing the mass audience that we're winning in Iraq and freedom is on the march.  The extended national security section is at the end, for the history books and cable tv. 

In some ways, I think that's an interesting preview of what a GOP presidential strategy might be.  They won't use the ol' threat level scare first thing out of the box, but they'll still use it.

Another speechwriterly point:  this speech is full of insider-speak that those of us following along at home have trouble, well, following.  I had to Google charitable choice, for example, and I'll add in some other doozies as they come up.  Folks, they've given up on reaching regular folks.

Later add:  here's my Orwell Award  for language that ought to make any normal person run screaming for the exit:  "The Congress must pass liability protection for companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America."


Un-tortured past at root of CIA's interrogation problems?
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Newly minted national-security correspondent for the newly minted Washington Independent, Spencer Ackerman, has an insightful piece on the CIA’s role in interrogating detainees since 9/11. He examines how the agency’s lack of institutional knowledge on interrogations has, in-part, led to the flaunting of international law and dubious interrogation methods that have been exposed over the past several years. Ackerman also points to how the Bush Administration’s insistence that the CIA take a lead role on interrogations—historically outside the CIA’s purview—has been central to why unlawful and unreliable methods such as waterboarding have been utilized:

Yet, until 9/11, the agency had limited experience with interrogation, and had few people on staff who had even conducted one. Most of the CIA’s experience had involved consulting with partner intelligence agencies on how to torture, …But 9/11 changed all that. Despite having nearly no off-the-shelf experience, the CIA was tasked by President Bush to come up with a     robust interrogation program for the most important al-Qaeda captives. So the agency turned to its partners for assistance in designing its interrogation regimen: Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia—all countries cited by the State Department for using torture—among others. Additionally, as Mark Benjamin has reported for Salon, two psychologists named Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, who worked as contractors for CIA, helped the agency "reverse-engineer" the military and CIA training on resisting torture for use on detainees. Suddenly, waterboarding, an illegal practice of simulating or in some cases inducing drowning, became an American-administered practice.

Now the big question is why did the Administration direct the CIA to lead interrogations when they had neither the capabilities nor personnel nor experience to do so. Perhaps the fact the agency doesn't fall under the auspices of the Army Field Manual provides at least a partial explanation.

Experience AND Judgement on Democracy Arsenal
Posted by The Editors

National Security Network is welcoming two new guest bloggers to these pages.

We're honored to welcome Marie Wilson who is the President of the White House Project. Marie is at the tip of the spear in demonstrating the leadership of women in American politics.

Also contributing will be Adam Blickstein, the new press secretary at the National Security Network. Adam will be concentrating on a number of intelligence issues, but can also be counted on for commentary on any and all things. 

Welcome to both!

Morally Bankrupt
Posted by Michael Cohen

The Republican behavior on the FISA bill in the US Senate is utterly breathtaking - as Harry Reid notes below (via TPM) they are literally filibustering their own bill:

Mr. President, in my twenty years in Congress, I have not seen anything quite as cynical and counterproductive as the Republican approach to FISA. The American people deserve to know that when President Bush talks about the foreign intelligence bill tonight, he's doing little more than shooting for cheap political points - and we should reject his efforts....

The Republican leader filed cloture on this bill after it had been on the floor for just a few hours. He filed cloture after Republicans blocked every amendment they could from being offered and blocked all amendments from getting votes. In simple terms, this means the Republicans were filibustering their own bill. Let me repeat that. The Republicans were filibustering their own bill. In my time in the Senate, I can't remember this taking place....

This may be the cheapest political stunt in seven long years of Republican cheap stunts. Now, the Senate Republicans are now leading a filibuster on a 30-day extension of FISA legislation (and President Bush says even if it did pass he would veto it) knowing full well that this means the current provisions regarding surveillance, enacted in August, will expire on Friday. Republicans are taking this step at the same time, they have repeatedly claimed that without this "critical intelligence tool" the lives of the American people will be in mortal danger.

To give you a full sense of the almost stratospheric cynicism and corruption of Congressional Republicans check out these words from House Minority Whip Roy Blunt:

It goes without saying that if a terrorist like Osama bin Laden calls someone in the United States, we want our intelligence community to have both the tools and the authority they need to listen. But if this Congress does not act in passing a long-term fix to our nation’s intelligence laws, we no longer will be able to monitor or intercept as much as 70 percent of terrorist communications.

Since last August, the majority has had ample time to draft a responsible bill to ensure our intelligence agents can listen to terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda, but we still have yet to see a genuine attempt at a serious bill. If they can’t come up a bill that protects our nation in six months, what makes anyone believe an extra 30 days is going to help? Our national security is far too important for another temporary patch. We’ve had enough time for excuses – now is the time for action.”

Yet, at the same time, Senate Republicans filibustered every possible amendment to the FISA bill, which is the legislative equivalent of saying either you pass the President's version of the FISA bill or we will hold our breath until it happens. So one the hand Republicans say this is absolutely critical legislation, but yet they are more than willing to derail it and leave the nation vulnerable it the bill isn't written precisely to their specifications.

Of course, as we all know what's really going on here is that GOPers want the FISA bill to expire so they can use it as a political tool for attacking Democrats. The moral corruption of the modern Republican Party is truly complete. This raises "playing politics with national security" to a new level. But don't worry, now the GOP has a great talking point for the November elections.

The Second World
Posted by Michael Cohen

Parag Khanna, my colleague from the New America Foundation, has a fascinating piece in the Sunday New York Times Magazine about America's shrinking hegemony and the rise of what he calls "second world countries."

My friend David Rieff have argued ad nauseum both in public and private over the issue of American hegemony and I've generally come down on the side of seeing America continue its role as the dominant global actor.

But whether one agrees or disagrees, Parag makes a pretty strong case that the direction of these second world countries may go a long way toward determining the destiny of the United States and in fact whether America remains THE global power:

There are plenty of statistics that will still tell the story of America's global dominance: our military spending, our share of the global economy and the like. But there are statistics, and there are trends. To really understand how quickly American power is in decline around the world, I've spent the past two years traveling in some 40 countries in the five most strategic regions of the planet -- the countries of the second world. They are not in the first-world core of the global economy, nor in its third-world periphery. Lying alongside and between the Big Three, second-world countries are the swing states that will determine which of the superpowers has the upper hand for the next generation of geopolitics. From Venezuela to Vietnam and Morocco to Malaysia, the new reality of global affairs is that there is not one way to win allies and influence countries but three: America's coalition (as in "coalition of the willing"), Europe's consensus and China's consultative styles. The geopolitical marketplace will decide which will lead the 21st century.

Second-world countries are distinguished from the third world by their potential: the likelihood that they will capitalize on a valuable commodity, a charismatic leader or a generous patron. Each and every second-world country matters in its own right, for its economic, strategic or diplomatic weight, and its decision to tilt toward the United States, the E.U. or China has a strong influence on what others in its region decide to do. Will an American nuclear deal with India push Pakistan even deeper into military dependence on China? Will the next set of Arab monarchs lean East or West? The second world will shape the world's balance of power as much as the superpowers themselves will.

Anyway, check the article out: it's a great read.

The Crazy Uncle in the Basement
Posted by Michael Cohen

I had to pass along these choice nuggets from Jonathon Alter's recent interview with Ross Perot. When you read them, keep in mind that not only did 19% of the American public vote for him in 1992, but in June of that year he led not onlyin both the popular vote and the electoral college vote:


When I asked about Barack Obama, Perot said he admired his eloquence but thought it "a
little odd that we would be less concerned about his background than being a Mormon." Perot was pleasantly surprised when I told him that Obama was a Christian, not a Muslim, and relieved when I informed him that the e-mail Perot (and untold others) received about Obama not respecting the Pledge of Allegiance was a fraud.


Perot's real problem with McCain is that he believes the senator hushed up evidence that live POWs were left behind in Vietnam and even transferred to the Soviet Union for human experimentation, a charge Perot says he heard from a senior Vietnamese official in the 1980s. "There's evidence, evidence, evidence," Perot claims. "McCain was adamant about shutting down anything to do with recovering POWs."


Perot says he intends to vote for Mitt Romney in the Texas Republican primary on March 4, citing Romney's experience in business and his family values. "When I went to the Naval Academy and met my first Mormons I asked why so many were excellent officers," Perot recalls. "I learned it was because of their strong family unit."


He attributes the success of China to the fact that even uneducated Chinese must learn 3,000 characters early in life, compared to the 26 letters in the English alphabet. "Their hand-eye productivity is incredible because of drawing the symbols," Perot says, noting that most of today's Ph.D.s in engineering are from China and India, and only a small percentage from the United States.

Two ways of looking at the world?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

A very interesting point. Someone should do a study on this. I wonder if candidate preference really does correlate with certain personality traits, but it's a plausible hypothesis:

The battle between Hillary and Barack has produced plenty of heat, with more to come, no doubt. But it has also generated considerable light, clarifying for many of us that the choice we'll be making on February 5 isn't mainly between two sets of policies or even two individuals. It's between two different ways of looking at the world.                                

If you find yourself drawn to the Clinton candidacy, you likely believe that politics is politics, that partisanship isn't transmutable, that Republicans are for the most part irredeemable. You suspect that talk of transcendence amounts to humming "Kumbaya" past the graveyard. You believe that progress comes only with a fight, and that Clinton is better equipped than Obama (or maybe anyone) to succeed in the poisonous, fractious environment that Washington is now and ever shall be. You ponder the image of Bill as First Laddie and find yourself smiling, not sighing or shrieking.                               

If you find yourself swept up in Obamamania, on the other hand, you regard this assessment as sad, defeatist, as a kind of capitulation. You're perfectly aware that politics is often a dirty business. But you believe it could be a bit cleaner, a bit nobler, a bit more sustaining. You think that paradigm shifts can happen, that the system can be rebooted. Most of all, an attraction to Obama indicates you are, on some level, a romantic. You never had your JFK, your MLK, and you desperately crave one: What you want is to fall in love."

Monday Morning Political Blogging
Posted by Michael Cohen

I haven't written about politics in a while but this weekend's events merited a few thoughts.

THAT WACKY, WACKY RUSSERT: Plenty of smart folks have written about what a hack Tim Russert has become, but yesterday's interview with John McCain was just plain embarrassing.  McCain was practically crowing about what a "success" the surge has been, even attacking the Mittster for saying that the surge was "apparently" working. And yet never once did Russert raise the obvious rejoinder - "what about the lack of political progress. John?"  Instead of asking this question, Russert focused on the politics of Iraq while allowing McCain to restate his central mistruth about Iraq, namely that the surge is working (which of course by the President's own criteria it is not.)  This is the new conservative message on Iraq - it's a lie and shame on Tim Russert for allowing McCain to get away with it.

SHAME ON YOU: A couple of days ago, Bill Clinton told a New York Times reporter "shame on you" for focusing too much on the issue of race. Then what does the former President do on Saturday afternoon - he compares Barack Obama to Jesse Jackson. If you watch this video clip, Clinton's comment on Jackson is a total non sequiter, completely unprompted and, in my view, a clear and calculated attempt by Clinton to inject Jackson's name into the race. Bill Clinton is not a stupid man and when he makes a comment likes that he knows exactly what he is doing. Let us not forget, this is the man who invented the Sister Souljah moment. He knows what a toxic racial bogeyman Jesse Jackson is for some white voters. His intention was clear, reduce Obama to just another black politician whose political success is only due to the votes of black people. Bill Clinton, shame on you.

THE TWO BILL CLINTONS: If you look back at Bill Clinton's career on the national stage there really are two distinct sides to his political persona: there was the hopeful Kennedy-esque, "I believe in Hope" "I want to build a bridge to the 21st century" figure who inspired a lot of Dems and a good number of independents to cast a vote for him in 1992 and 1996. Then there is the Bill Clinton, who faced with a GOP/Ken Starr onslaught played cold, calculating and dirty politics to get re-elected and fend off impeachment.  (Of course he played some of those politics in 1992, but most Democrats were more than happy to look the other way).

Today, we're seeing both approaches on the campaign trail. Obama is playing the Clinton of 1992 card - the inspiring, unifying figure who is offering the country a new-style of politics. Unfortunately, in recent weeks Hillary's campaign is embodying the dark side of Clinton's personality. Now a lot of Democrats found much to love about both Bill Clintons.  Sure we wanted to be inspired by him, but secretly we loved it when he stuck it to the Republicans. Let's face it, in the hothouse era of the 1990s Democrats needed a national figure who was willing to mix it up with the Republicans and take on sacred cows in the party. No political figure in my lifetime has done more to fundamentally change the image of the Democratic Party on a whole host of issues, from crime and welfare to taxes and spending. And no Democrat has done a better job of outplaying the GOP at their own game.

But even after seven years of dirty GOP politics is that really what progressives want to return to; or do we want a new style of politics that expands on the positive advances from the 1990s and moves the party in a new and unique direction? Do we want to be inspired; do we want to believe again or do we just want someone who is tough enough to stand up to whatever the GOP throws at us? I don't ask this question rhetorically, because I think for a lot of folks the answer is not necessarily clear.

That brings me back to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. If I'm the junior Senator from New York I might ask myself, "what is the Presidency worth if this is the way I have to win it?" Because if she keeps up what she's been doing the past two weeks she's going to win this thing in a divisive and partisan manner that will piss off a lot of loyal Dems and what's worse give her little leeway to govern effectively.  I don't think Hillary Clinton reads democracyarsenal regularly, but if she did I would offer a small piece of advice: play the inspiration card, show people that you have a vision for the country, run a campaign like your husband did in 1992, which led me, a 21-year old college student, to put his life aside and devote himself fully and tirelessly to helping him win the Presidency. Winning ugly might get you the White House, but I'm not sure it's going to make America a better place.

Continue reading "Monday Morning Political Blogging" »

Thoughts on South Carolina, Anger and Partisanship
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Wow, I can't remember the last time I saw something like that. Obama's victory speech was pitch-perfect, hitting all the right notes. It was inspiring, commanding, and gracious. A friend just emailed me. She normally doesn't get too excited about Democrats (or Republicans), but I was hearing something different from her, talking about Obama's win:

[We] were nearly in tears from laughing with joy, jumping up and down, and doing little dances about it.

And why not? Is there a precedent for this? I don't understand how there's a debate about whether Clinton or Obama is more electable. I realize that the polls don't give a clear advantage to one candidate or the other in a matchup against McCain. But let's look at the anecdotal evidence. Even Republicans (who write for the National Review no less) are gushing about Obama, particularly in light of his South Carolina speech on Saturday night. As much as they disagree with him on specific policies, they respect and admire the man. And that admiration will inevitably lead some conservatives to vote for Obama, and will bring new people into the process who have never cared about politics before, as it already has. Andrew Sullivan has already gone through the examples, but they're quite telling.

Let me say a word about partisanship. One of the knocks against Obama on the Left has been his purported willingness to concede points to Republicans. To an extent, I sympathize with this criticism, and I agree that it would be nice if Obama would show some more "fight" on key issues. (This is why I think Edwards has been a very impressive and effective candidate who, unfortunately, has been ignored by the media since Iowa). In any case, it's obvious - Obama doesn't seem to have much interest in waging partisan-ideological battles. There was a time when I might have thought this a weakness, particularly when it came time to face strong, ruthless opponents. Now I'm not so sure.

There was a time when I would feel an indescribable degree of anger toward Republicans. Anger over the destructive policies of the last 7 years is certainly justified, but anger should not be the driving force of politics. But I didn't think there was another way. We would have to fight fire with fire. We would have to match the Republicans and learn to play "dirty" if we wanted to win. No one wanted trench-warfare-politics, but was there a choice? In the past couple months, listening to Obama, that anger has begun to dissipate. There can be another way. When I read the Corner, I often feel like I'm paying a visit to an imaginary universe where there is no such thing as empirically-based truths. I don't get it. But the prospect of agreeing with Cornerites, especially Kathryn Jean Lopez, on something - even if it's just a speech - makes me feel good about the future of our country.

January 27, 2008

What Saddam Was Thinking
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

60 Minutes had an absolutely fascinating interview with FBI Agent George Piro, who spent months as Saddam's sole interrogator.  This was the money line:

"And what did he tell you about how his weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed?" Pelley asks.

"He told me that most of the WMD had been destroyed by the U.N. inspectors in the '90s. And those that hadn't been destroyed by the inspectors were unilaterally destroyed by Iraq," Piro says.

"So why keep the secret? Why put your nation at risk, why put your own life at risk to maintain this charade?" Pelley asks.

"It was very important for him to project that because that was what kept him, in his mind, in power. That capability kept the Iranians away. It kept them from reinvading Iraq," Piro says.

Saddam was more focused on the neighbors and the regional players on his borders, who represented the most direct threats, than he was on the United States.  This pattern repeats itself again and again in American foreign policy.  As a global superpower, with military reach that stretches the globe, we consistently view things through the broader geopolitical dynamics as they relate to the United States (In this case the "War on Terror" and WMDs). In that process we tend to miss the trees for the forest.  Thinking only big, but never about the details.  Most countries don't have the luxury of thinking about broader geopolitical strategy. What they care about is protecting their borders and territorial integrity.  That means worrying about your neighbors first. 

This doesn't just apply to Iraq.  It applies to Pakistan.  Why does Pakistan and especially the military and intelligence services have a long history of supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan?  It has nothing to do with the "War on terror."  It is all based on the one and only thing that truly concerns the Pakistani military - India.  The Pakistanis have always promoted friendly governments in Afghanistan - no matter what form the government takes - because the last thing it wants is an Indian ally on its Western border. 

This was also one of the tragedies of Vietnam.   The Johnson Administration always thought that letting Vietnam fall to the Communists would empower the Soviet Union and China and create a communist alliance across Asia.  But instead the opposite happened.  the Sino-Soviet split made clear that there was no universal communist movement and Vietnam and China fought a war in the late 1970s.  As usual, good old-fashioned regional security concerns trumped the broad strategic frame of the Cold War.

Of course, it's not just the U.S. that miscalculates.  Here's why Saddam didn't come fully clean on his weapons even as it became apparent to close observers that the U.S. would in fact invade.

"As the U.S. marched toward war and we began massing troops on his border, why didn't he stop it then? And say, 'Look, I have no weapons of mass destruction.' I mean, how could he have wanted his country to be invaded?" Pelley asks.

"He didn't. But he told me he initially miscalculated President Bush. And President Bush's intentions. He thought the United States would retaliate with the same type of attack as we did in 1998 under Operation Desert Fox. Which was a four-day aerial attack. So you expected that initially," Piro says.

The miscalculation on both sides is truly stunning.

It's Sunday
Posted by Shadi Hamid

This is a good laugh:

SUMTER, S.C.—The local doctor who introduced Barack Obama here this afternoon takes canvassing to a level few others can match.

Dr. Brenda Williams told the me after the event that :"Earlier today, I had a speculum up a young woman's vagina and she said to me, 'Dr. Williams, why do you support Obama?'"

"And I said to her, 'Well, you just keep breathing in and out, and I will tell you what is so marvelous and splendid about this young man.'"

The 56-year-old Dr. Williams also revealed that she plays a DVD of Obama speeches "two or three times a day" in her waiting room, hoping to convert new believers to what she called "this magnificent movement."

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