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February 29, 2008

Zamboni Politics
Posted by Patrick Barry

Yesterday's Russia call was largely a success, but the fact that neither of our experts picked up on this indicator of Russia's rising global influence does give one reason to doubt their expertise.

Wrongheaded Frameworks
Posted by David Shorr

I posted about the Marc Sageman book before finding Matt's post on the Marc Sageman book (silly me). I have a couple of answers about the challenge of reframing the terrorist threat. First, it's very plaiin and simple what we have to do about terrorists: find them, catch them, stop them. We have agencies, agents, and international partners to do this, and we need to keep doing it. But none of that work requires us to psyche ourselves up for a global generational struggle.

Meanwhile, we might notice that we have a lot of other international challenges. So here's the question, if we prevent terrorist attacks but fail to make progress on nuclear proliferation or global poverty, will we think our national security and foreign policy is succeeding? I raised this question in a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel op-ed recently. (Note: there was a bit of clumsy editing. The section on nonpro was supposed to talk about the importance of a global taboo on nuclear weapons.)

In other words, counterterrorism is fairly straightforward, but we've noticed what has been happening with the rest of America's interests and values while we've been wrapped around the axle of the terrorist threat. All of which you can say without denying or downplaying the reality of the threat.

Middle of the Night Phone Calls
Posted by David Shorr

I have a question. How often do presidents make major foreign policy decisions on the spot, within a space of minutes? If the answer is not very often (or never), then if you lengthen the timeframe to hours or days doesn't it become much less an issue of a leader's ability to make snap judgments? I'd rather not get into the middle of the debate about experience; experience is good. I just want to clarify how we really see this aspect of the job descriptoin for POTUS.

The Politics of Iraq in 2008
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

NSN’s President Rand Beers testified before the Congressional Joint Economic Committee on the costs of Iraq to our national security.  It’s worth a read.

On a related point, it seems like a pretty gross strategic miscalculation to me that Republicans are suddenly welcoming a debate on Iraq.  In the last week Senate Republicans surprisingly decided to open up a debate on the issue, and John McCain went after Obama over AQI. The last time I remember Republicans welcoming a debate on Iraq was in June of 2006 where they thought they could label the Dems as “Cut and Run.”  Instead 39 of 44 Democrats actually got behind the Levin-Reed Amendment, which became the basic outline of the Democratic Iraq plan in the 2006 election, while Republicans just repeated “cut and run” until they were blue in the face. 

A debate on Iraq didn’t work then for Republicans and it won’t work now.  I understand why they want to do it.  They don’t have much choice.  McCain was one of the faces of the surge.  And on top of that they can’t run on the economy (in shambles), healthcare (no plan), energy (no plan and oil at $103 per barrel).  Even yelling boogh boogah over terrorism seems to be losing some of its appeal as Democrats are standing up on FISA.

As Michael pointed out earlier this week, the public is completely against the war and that hasn’t changed.  The Republicans seem to be banking on the fact that they can sell this reduction in violence, but the response is pretty obvious and it’s to put everything in the broader strategic context.  Something along this line from Rand’s testimony:

The cost of the war in Iraq in terms of lives and treasure has been tremendous: nearly 4,000 American troops have been killed; 30,000 American serviceman and women have been wounded; and according to a report released by this committee, the American economy has already incurred $1.3 trillion dollars in costs - a sobering $16,500 per family of four.

What has that spending bought us? Diminishing respect for America around the globe; the reconstitution of our terrorist and extremist enemies; and the over-extension of our military and diplomatic capacity. In Pakistan and Afghanistan Al Qaeda and the Taliban have regained their strength and now operate with impunity. In the broader Middle East, Iran has been let out of its strategic box and now wields greater power. The war has severely overstretched and depleted our military, leaving us vulnerable and unable to respond effectively elsewhere. Freedom and democracy around the world have slid backwards, as American moral authority has been tarnished and our ability to mobilize others to meet global challenges and the needs of our citizens has been undermined.

Dear Matt Drudge: You Suck
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

So now we know that Prince Harry has been deployed to Afghanistan for ten weeks.  The British press kept it quiet. It was American blogger Matt Drudge who blabbered. So much for loyalty and supporting the troops. Prince Harry was trained up and ready to go. Now he won't be able to apply his skills, have the experience, and help out where we all really need it.

Hey Matt, we need more troops in Afghanistan, remember? Every single one of them. We're begging NATO for more. We need EVERY SINGLE ONE of them.  I know people will disagree with me about the press seeming to "cozy" with the government to keep information under wraps. blah blah blah.  In my opinion, this is different.  We elect leaders to make these calls, that's the risk you take when you choose who to vote for.  This was a good decision and we blew it. 

The Harry and Louise of Foreign Policy
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I actually don’t think Hillary’s new ad is very effective.  It isn’t all that scary and I think that Democrats generally aren’t as susceptible to the fear card as the general electorate.  But still there is something infuriating about this.  I have spent a good deal of time over the past three years talking to gun shy Democratic candidates and members of Congress who are afraid to stand up on national security precisely because of the fear card.   Now, that started to change in the run up to the 2006 election and Democrats are gaining more and more confidence on this issue (See the recent FISA debate).

But let’s face it the fear card is the tactic that George Bush has used to push through just about every single horrible foreign policy decision of the past 8 years.   In 2002 it was the Cleeland-Osama ads.  In 2004 we had wolves.  In 2006 there were the scary 24 like ads with calls being made from Pakistan to NY, just to name a few. 

Now, the tool is less effective then it used to be.  But in the same way that progressive healthcare wonks hate “Harry and Louise”, and progressive social security wonks hate the word “crisis”, progressive national security wonks despise the fear card.  It undermines everything we do.  It just infuriates me when Democrats start using it against Democrats.

Shamu in the Desert
Posted by Adam Blickstein

No idea why I'm on such a Dubai kick of late. It is fascinating to watch a city grow so quickly, not only for the aesthetic and innovative urban planning aspects, but also because Dubai and the other rich, small  Gulf States represent a real oasis of geopolitical and strategic importance in the region.  Their economic and socio-political models, while not directly transferable to the larger and more complex nations in the Middle East, do contain integral harbingers of hope for the region writ large. And while Americans remain apprehensive when nation-states like Dubai invest in the U.S., the latest being curiosity over Dubai World's (of the Dubai Ports World controversy) $2.7 billion investment in MGM's CityCenter project in Las Vegas, there is plenty of the reverse, American investment in Dubai, as well.

The latest comes from Anheuser-Busch, not in form of a brewery in the tightly regulated liquor world of the Emirates, but rather in the exportation of an even better commodity: Killer Whales. The beer empire plans on building, along with a subsidiary of Dubai World, "Worlds of Discovery — a complex that will include SeaWorld, Aquatica, Busch Gardens and Discovery Cove" located, where else, but on the second-largest man-made island shaped like a palm in the world!  With tourism exploding in Dubai, with expectations of 15 million visitors per year when Shamu starts to do flips over the desert at SeaWorld Dubai in 2012, expect similar ventures from American companies in coming years.

You don't need to be Thomas Friedman to realize the tremendous upsides to all this cross-cultural, economically engineered integration. And as I've always said, America doesn't need more wars in the Middle East to help bring democracy, they just need more Orcas...

Hit the Terrorists Where It Hurts: Their Vanity
Posted by David Shorr

I found David Ignatius' column about a new book by former CIA officer Marc Sageman really helpful as I wrestle with the question of how to view terrorists. You can watch video of a New America Foundation event for Sageman's book Leaderless Jihad, but it's the following passages that sparked a thought:

...the new jihadists are a weird species of the Internet culture. Outraged by video images of Americans killing Muslims in Iraq, they gather in password-protected chat rooms and dare each other to take action.

Sageman's policy advice is to "take the glory and thrill out of terrorism." Jettison the rhetoric about Muslim extremism -- these leaderless jihadists are barely Muslims. Stop holding news conferences to announce the latest triumphs in the "global war on terror," which only glamorize the struggle. And reduce the U.S. military footprint in Iraq, which now fuels the Muslim world's sense of moral outrage.

So if we really want to pull the rug out from under these guys, we need to target their vanity. It's a longstanding concern of mine that we have been contributing to just the heroic legend the terrorists are trying to cultivate.

Don't get me wrong. These people are out there, and we need to keep looking for them and stopping them. What's excessive is the idea that we have to steel the national will to respond to an evil of such magnitude. No, we need to keep looking for them and stopping them. Otherwise, if their perverse ambitions to heroism are based on the idea that they are the vanguard of the clash of civilizations, why should we gratify their ambitions? Think of it this way, what if those who frequent the chat rooms found their cause disappearing from the headlines? What if they couldn't find themselves when they try to vanity google? What if they faded from being such a big part of our consciousness? Who would that really hurt -- us, or them?


February 28, 2008

That Wacky, Wacky Bob Shrum
Posted by Michael Cohen

Consider this my requisite political posting of the week, but I had to comment on this doozy from Bob Shrum today on MSNBC. When asked about problems in the Clinton campaign, Shrum said that top Clinton strategist, Mark Penn has a thin campaign track record, having only worked on President Clinton's 1996 campaign and in his words, "that wasn't exactly tough."

Yeah, but you know what Mark Penn won that campaign. How many presidential campaign has Bob Shrum won?

But more to the point, it's patently untrue to suggest that Clinton's 1996 campaign was an easy race. Indeed, Penn and his partner Doug Schoen were brought on board in the winter of 1994/1995, which wasn't exactly a good time for the Democratic Party. Over the next year, they (along with Dick Morris) brilliantly repositioned President Clinton as a centrist Democrat (with some help from Newt Gingrich).

Among some of the smart, strategic moves of that campaign were ads run by the DNC in swing states that extolled the President's record on crime; calling for a balanced budget in the Spring of 1995, which blunted GOP attacks on the White House (and were stridently opposed by Harold Ickes and others in the White house); focusing the government shutdown on GOP efforts to cut Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment and changing the national debate from GOP-friendly family values to one of public values (a move that I believe was Penn's creation).

The reason why the 1996 race was so easy was because Clinton and the people around him did such a good job in 1995 of changing the public perception of him from a big government liberal, to a true centrist Democrat. After the 1994 debacle, that wasn't an easy thing.

What's more, you know what should have been an easy campaign - Al Gore's 2000 run for the White House.  Let's ask Bob Shrum how that one worked out.

Now I'm not going to defend Penn's track record on the 2008 campaign, but Bob Shrum has zero right to be criticizing any Democrat when it comes to running an effective presidential campaign.

The False Poverty-Terrorism Link
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Courtney Martin has an article well worth reading in yesterday's American Prospect. She poses the question

Why is it that we keep talking almost exclusively about suicide bombers and Orange Alerts, and totally ignoring the looming question of long term prevention? Why haven't we stopped to ask: What would enlightened national and even global security actually look like?

These are the right questions. But, unfortunately, her answers (or at least some of them) are off the mark. She makes the case for linking global economic insecurity and the war on terror, and hails Obama for his promises to cut extreme poverty in half within the next 7 years. It is unclear what this has to do with stopping terrorists from blowing things up. Yes, it is an intuitive thing to think that poverty is a main cause of terrorism - except, well, it isn't. In fact, extreme poverty probably has the opposite effect of actually making extremism and political violence less likely, all other things being equal. The poverty-terrorism hypothesis is well-meaning, but it clouds our understanding of what the fight against terrorism requires.

Extremism and terrorism have traditionally tended to be middle class and upper-middle class phenomenons. This was the case with communism, and it is the case today with Islamic radicalism. It's a complicated discussion, but, briefly, the main thing worth noting is that higher levels of education (a proxy for economic status) are linked to greater political awareness and perceived injustice at the state of affairs, which is what drives movements that require from their members a passionate commitment to a cause. It's not exactly an accident that universities are hotbeds of radicalism, and, sometimes, revolution.

The poor and destitute are consumed with the task of surviving on a day-to-day basis. A more comfortable economic situation makes it easier to to devote time to a political cause. (Again, it's not exactly an accident that the primary "producer" of terrorists-for-export in the Middle East is Saudi Arabia, which enjoys one of the highest GDPs per capita in the region). There are other reasons, and the ones listed here are probably not very well-articulated. So, for more on the matter, take a look at Alan Krueger and Jitka Maleckova's 2003 study on the roots of terror (as well as Alan Krueger's book What Makes a Terrorist?). Another excellent place to start is Peter Bergen and Michael Lind's article in Democracy

Want to Really Know the Name of Russia's New President??
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Okay, Tim Russert, here's your chance to get more information about Russia's upcoming Medvedev_3presidential election and what it means strategically for U.S./Russian relations. NSN held a conference call today with two Russia experts, Mark Brzezinski, Former Director for Russian/Eurasian affairs on the National Security Council, and Mike McFaul, Director, Center on Democracy, Development, and Rule of Law at Stanford University. Below are some choice quotes, and the full audio:

Mark Brzezinski

"We should tell the Russians that it would be good if your neighbors feared you less."

"It’s possible that Putinism may be the last gasp of the old regime, and it may well be the case that within the next decade, the Putin-Medvedev government might be replaced by a new generation of Russians, many of them who are trained in the west…who are not products of the KGB and more open to the west."

Mike McFaul

"In my opinion it’s the least competitive election in Russia’s post communist history…Several years ago we had a debate about whether Russia was on an autocratic path or not. I think that debate is over in the West. Some people want to use adjectives, say it’s a weak autocracy, soft auto, but the word autocracy is the noun now rather than democracy being qualified."

"The overriding strategic objective of Russian foreign policy today is to balance against  what they would call the American hegemon…It’s fundamentally different than it was you under Gorbachav and Yeltsin and the early years of Putin, which was integration with the West. I think its going to take a long time to change that."

Russian Experts Discuss Upcoming Election.mp3

Not a great day for Iraqi politics
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

This has not been a very good news day out of Iraq.  First of all, we have more stories about the Sunni Awakening Forces losing