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April 30, 2009

The GOP Can't Quit Michael Bay
Posted by Adam Blickstein

So House Republican Minority Leader John Boehner (as in only 20% of Americans agree with his political affiliation Minority) released a new web video today declaring that after 100 days, it's clear that President Obama and the Democrats have made America less safe. Well, before fisking the video itself, let's actually look at what the American people (80% of which don't identify as agreeing with the Republicans ) actually think:

Seventy-two percent of those questioned in the poll released Monday disagree with Cheney's view that some of Obama's actions have put the country at greater risk, with 26 percent agreeing with the former vice president.

Ok, so 80% of America doesn't align with the Republican Party, and 72% of America disagrees with the Republican Party claim Obama has made America less safe. By my calculations, that makes the chance that the video will actually be effective falling somewhere on a scale between the mortality rate of a wolf being raised by Sarah Palin and the likelihood of a post-surgical patient actually receiving his pain medication from a pharmacist named Rush Limbaugh.

And now on to the video itself (I would link to it but you've probably already seen Team America and why give Boehner's video the traffic). Auspicious, haunting music? Check. Zoom in on scary headlines declaring that Obama was wrong to ban torture and is going to unleash terrorists from Guantanamo across America? Check. Grainy pictures of training camps in the mountains featuring terrorists in masks running around with machine guns and climbing over obstacles while declaring jihad on the infidels? Check. Haunting music transitioning into crescendoing violins which get louder and louder as the word "al Qaida" flashes on the screen, followed by photographs of Obama bowing to Saudis, shaking hands with Chavez, burning American flags, a ski-masked man holding rocket launcher, fireball explosions, and then...the still smoldering ruins of the Pentagon on 9/11!?! Check.

It's 2009 and I can only imagine that this original and one of a kind political ad is destined to be looked upon by historians as the definitive moment where the Republican Party was born anew.  I mean, the last Congressional race where the GOP aired a very similar ad featuring auspicious music, terrorists, and 9/11 won the race for Republican candidate Jim Tedisco right? Oh wait, he lost. Just like in 2006 and 2008 when Republicans employed the same Michael Bay ad strategy across the country and still managed to get destroyed. Seems like the only thing this is a winning strategy for is making sure that 20% eventually become 2% sometime in the near future.

NSN Daily Update 4/30/2009
Posted by The National Security Network

See today's complete daily update here.

What We’re Reading

The U.K. ended combat operations in Iraq, handing control over to local forces a month ahead of schedule.  Britain will send an additional 700 troops to Afghanistan, but they must be withdrawn by 2010.

Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, an al Qaeda suspect being tried in federal court, may plead guilty to a charge of conspiring with al Qaeda as early as today.

Attorney General Eric J. Holder indicated that European nations are willing to resettle some Guantanamo detainees.

Russia signed a border protection deal with the two Georgian separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Commentary of the Day

Joseph Margulies, co-counsel for Abu Zubaydah, describes Zubaydah’s mental and physical suffering as a result of CIA interrogation tactics, and discusses his status within al Qaeda.

David Ignatius interviewed National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones on how he’s running the NSC and the Administration’s toughest foreign policy challenges.

Julia E. Sweig argues for giving Guantanamo back to Cuba.

April 29, 2009

100 Days of National Security Budget Priorities
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Gordon Adams examines the first 100 days from the perspective of our national security budget and finds that while Obama and Gates have already made some big improvements, such as increasing the foreign policy and assistance budget while reimagining the Defense budget to better reflect the needs of the Pentagon rather than the desires of defense contractors,  work still needs to be done:

In its first 100 days, the Obama administration has had to confront a series of pressing foreign policy and national security issues--North Korean missile launches, a revamping of the war strategy in Afghanistan, the Taliban's continued rise in Pakistan, and, of course, the Iranian nuclear program. As with all new administrations, the issues have come faster than the Obama administration can cope with them. Thus, improvisation has been a major feature of the administration's response--especially with only part of the team in place.

As I've written before, my main concern has always been whether or not the administration is putting in place the budgets, structures, and processes that will allow them to escape the siren song of improvisation and begin to set a course toward longer-term strategic planning for foreign policy and national security.

The first 100 days of the Obama administration have been promising, but to paraphrase Death of a Salesman, 'Attention must [continue to] be paid.'"

Full piece in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists can be read here.

NSN Daily Update 4/29/2009
Posted by The National Security Network

See today's complete daily update here.

What We’re Reading

Pakistan continues its offensive against the Taliban and claimed to have re-taken a strategic town in Buner province.  The Taliban’s advances prompt adjustments in U.S. strategy.

Afghanistan cancelled public celebrations of a holiday marking victory over the Soviet Union for the first time in sixteen years, likely over security concerns.  The U.S. undertakes an offensive against Afghan poppy cultivation.

Fatah and Hamas ended talks without agreement, but decided to meet one more time to try to reach an accord before May 15.

Cybersecurity experts described U.S. digital defenses as “broken” and “childlike.”

Commentary of the Day

Today is the 100th day of the Obama administration.  Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Amb. Marc Ginsberg, former U.S. ambassador to Morocco; NSN's own Ilan Goldenberg; Vice-Chair Brandon Friedman; ; and the New York Times’ 100 Days project react.

The Wall Street Journal acknowledges that Obama’s presidency has heralded a new era abroad, but still says dissent remains and policies have yet to shift substantially.

Tom Friedman explains why President Obama got the release of the torture memos right.

Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. lays out the Pakistani perspective on partnership with the U.S and its strategy against the Taliban.

April 28, 2009

No "real challenges"? Really?
Posted by James Lamond

Over at Shadow Government Steve Biegum says the following:

"The first 100 days? Still too early to say one way or another. A good start on foreign policy but no real challenges yet either. Kind of seems like the easy part has been upfront -- regards, apologies, photo ops, etc."

Hhhmmmm. I have been reading a lot about Obama's first 100 days, from both progressives and conservatives.  There is a lot being said, but everyone pretty much agrees that this president has faced more "real challenges" than anyone could imagine.  I would certainly count the global financial crisis, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Swine Flu, and well everything else going on in Mexico as pretty "real" foreign policy challenges.

And to say that it is too early to tell one way or another well... he has moved to end the war in Iraq; refocused on Afghanistan and Pakistan; lead a global response to the financial crisis; set out a an agenda on nonproliferation; restored America's relationship with Europe; engaged the Muslim world on an unprecedented scale and about 100 other things

Another Obama at 100 Days Foreign Policy Piece
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Over at the Prospect I have my own take on Obama's foreign policy over the first 100 days. As far as I'm concerned he has made four very significant strategic changes.  First, he has put terrorism in its proper place, treating as a major challenge but not one that should override all other priorities.  He has moved nuclear weapons policy way up on the agenda.  He has begun to move around budget priorities to build a military and government for the 21st century.  And he has sought to apply integrated regional approaches instead of looking for silver bullets.   

Obama's First 100 Days
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

At the 100-day mark, the Obama administration has many things on its plate and even more challenges ahead.  With policy reviews and staffing incomplete and some choices not yet made, evaluations at this date are at best artificial – yet the Obama administration has produced a remarkable body of early actions.  NSN offers five themes that define and give shape to the Administration’s broad range of action – and point the way toward the future.  The Administration has moved aggressively to regain US prestige, reject failed ideas, put in place comprehensive strategies, bring 21st century approaches to bear on 21st century problems and signal continued US strength.  These five approaches have laid a solid foundation for the heavy lifting that now begins to reshape America’s place in the world and ultimately sculpt an “Obama Doctrine.”

Continue reading "Obama's First 100 Days" »

21st Century Threats - UPDATED
Posted by Michael Cohen

There is a really important/fascinating article in the New York Times today on the threat of cyberwarfare - and the need for the US to consider offensive cyber operations in targeting malicious hackers

Just as the invention of the atomic bomb changed warfare and deterrence 64 years ago, a new international race has begun to develop cyberweapons and systems to protect against them.

Thousands of daily attacks on federal and private computer systems in the United States — many from China and Russia, some malicious and some testing chinks in the patchwork of American firewalls — have prompted the Obama administration to review American strategy.

President Obama is expected to propose a far larger defensive effort in coming days, including an expansion of the $17 billion, five-year program that Congress approved last year, the appointment of a White House official to coordinate the effort, and an end to a running bureaucratic battle over who is responsible for defending against cyberattacks.

But Mr. Obama is expected to say little or nothing about the nation’s offensive capabilities, on which the military and the nation’s intelligence agencies have been spending billions. In interviews over the past several months, a range of military and intelligence officials, as well as outside experts, have described a huge increase in the sophistication of American cyberwarfare capabilities.

One of the interesting takeaways from the piece is that "“The fortress model simply will not work for cyber . . Someone will always get in," which means that sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Sound familiar.

Whatever the strategies involved, however, one thing is clear - while Washington is pulling it hair out over the future of a combat aircraft that is largely useless against the greatest security threats facing the United States; far greater challenges to our security are not receiving the public attention they deserve.  Not only does the country need to beef up its cyberdefenses, but as the article suggests, there are a host of legal issues that need to be addressed as well.

Whether its cyberwarfare or health pandemics (like the swine flu issue we are seeing today) this is the future: a globalized world where power is defused, borders are porous and information technology is potentially shifting the balance of power toward transnational and non-state actors.

Read the piece though. It won't be the last on this issue, I can assure you.

UPDATED - There is one worthwhile addendum to make to this post - this little nugget of information:

So far, however, there are no broad authorizations for American forces to engage in cyberwar. The invasion of the Qaeda computer in Iraq several years ago and the covert activity in Iran were each individually authorized by Mr. Bush. When he issued a set of classified presidential orders in January 2008 to organize and improve America’s online defenses, the administration could not agree on how to write the authorization.

A principal architect of that order said the issue had been passed on to the next president, in part because of the complexities of cyberwar operations that, by necessity, would most likely be conducted on both domestic and foreign Internet sites. After the controversy surrounding domestic spying, Mr. Bush’s aides concluded, the Bush White House did not have the credibility or the political capital to deal with the subject.

Just a reminder that executive branch law-breaking . . .  has consequences.

NSN Daily Update 4/28/09
Posted by The Editors

What We’re Reading

The swine flu continues to spread, leading to border closures and threatening global economic crisis recovery efforts.  The Senate is expected to confirm Kathleen Sebelius as Health Secretary today, spurred by the swine flu outbreak after weeks of delay.

Pakistan launches airstrikes against the Taliban as part of their intensified campaign against encroachment near Islamabad.  Pakistan’s offensive puts the Swat truce on shaky ground.  Pakistan worries about its image abroad.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said that Pakistani intelligence believes Osama bin Laden may be dead
but have no proof.

The New York Times examines how a 2007 ABC interview tilted the debate on torture.

The EU’s top court ruled that a Greek Cypriot can reclaim land in a Turkish-controlled area of Cyprus.

The U.S. steps up its digital defenses.

Commentary of the Day

Anne Applebaum discusses the role of the WHO in the swine flu outbreak.

Abdel Monem Said Aly looks at how Egypt’s desire for Middle East peace threatens Iran.

The former prosecutor for Yugoslavia at the International Criminal Tribunal says America must prosecute those responsible for torture.

April 27, 2009

"Maybe you'd sneak into the top 10..."
Posted by Patrick Barry

The-Battle-of-Algiers1 One pretty conspicuous, but unsurprising absence from Stephen Walt's 'Top 10 Foreign Policy Movies' is Battle of Algiers.  It's conspicuous, because perhaps more than any other film, Algiers best portended the challenges that a great power like the U.S. could face from popular resistance movements and insurgencies. The Pentagon even screened it prior to the invasion of Iraq, and though no one seemed to have gotten the message initially, it remains required viewing for anyone interested in the concepts of insurgency and counterinsurgency, which are currently so in vogue. 

But Algiers absence is also unsurprising. As my colleague Max Bergmann - who studied the film, its context, and its implications during grad school - points out, while Algiers deals with concepts like political violence and asymmetric warfare directed at an occupying power, it's not really a movie about relations among nation-states.  For a consummate realist like Walt to leave it out is therefore not at all shocking, but it does suggest realism's shortcomings in explaining power dynamics between large states and the non-state actors that challenge their supremacy. 

Runner-up: James Lamond picks Rocky IV.  If you disagree, "I must break you."

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