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June 30, 2009

NSN Daily Update: 6/30/09
Posted by The Editors

For today's complete Daily Update, click here.

What We're Reading

US troops have withdrawn from Iraqi cities six years after the invasion, having formally handed over security responsibilities in cities to Iraqi forces. Four US soldiers were killed just before the pullout was completed. Iraq now begins to auction off oil and gas licenses, with China as a key bidder.

The ousted Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya, has said he will return home this Thursday, after being forced into exile on Sunday. Pro-Zelaya protestors clashed with Honduran police and soldiers yesterday. The coup invokes ghosts of past U.S. policies towards Latin America.

North Korea is going ahead with plans to enrich uranium, a possible step to making a nuclear weapon, South Korean Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee has said. The Obama administration is preparing to wield broad financial pressure to try to force North Korea to dial back its weapons program.

Iran’s Guardian Council formally certified the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a second four-year term Monday night, saying there was no validity to charges of voting fraud. Five out of nine local staff from the UK embassy detained in Tehran have been released, Iranian officials say.

A wing of the Taliban based in a North Waziristan say they have abandoned a peace deal with the Pakistani government. A reputed drug lord described as one of the biggest heroin suppliers in eastern Afghanistan -- with suspected ties to the Taliban -- appeared in federal court in Washington Monday, where he was ordered detained pending his expected drug trial.

Israel has dispatched its defense minister, Ehud Barak, to the US as relations with the White House deteriorate over Israel's refusal to end settlement building in occupied territories.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will visit Myanmar at the end of the week for talks that will include the 13-year detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the United Nations said.

Néstor Kirchner, the former president of Argentina, resigned his post as leader of the Peronist Party on Monday, a day after he and his supporters suffered a crushing defeat in national congressional elections.

China has agreed to loan Zimbabwe $950m to help it revive its fledgling economy, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has said.

Commentary of the Day

Jawad Al Bolani, Iraqi Interior Minister, expounds on the anticipated instability within his country

Bob Herbert criticizes the Obama administration’s continued, unlawful incarceration of an Afghan detainee. 

Alvaro Vargas Llosa discusses Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s role in the Honduran coup.

Richard Cohen urges President Obama to end the US military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Con Coughlin analyzes current tensions between Iran and the UK

Something You Don't See Everyday
Posted by Adam Blickstein

An entire 13-story building in Shanghai (under construction--so unoccupied) literally fell over. From Gizmodo:


This is what progressive foreign policy looks like
Posted by The National Security Network

From NSN intern Rodrigo Seira

Compare the Bush administration’s reaction:

“Less than a day after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was overthrown in what later turned out to be an unsuccessful military-backed coup d'etat, Otto Reich, the assistant secretary of state for Latin America, summoned senior Latin American diplomats… Reich began by handing out copies of a State Department press release that blamed Chavez's overthrow on Chavez himself and denied that any coup had even occurred. Reich then gave a tortured reading of the Venezuelan constitution in an attempt to illustrate that Chavez's apparent military overthrow really wasn't unconstitutional at all -- an explanation some diplomats at the meeting thought could only have been rationalized by the coup plotters themselves. Neither Reich nor other State Department officials would comment on the meeting.” [Saloon, 4/17/2002]

With Secretary Clinton’s remarks:

“I want to start with yesterday’s unfortunate events in Honduras, which were a test of the inter-American system’s ability to support and defend democracy and constitutional order in our hemisphere. The United States has been working with our partners in the OAS to fashion a strong consensus condemning the detention and expulsion of President Zelaya and calling for the full restoration of democratic order in Honduras. Our immediate priority is to restore full democratic and constitutional order in that country.” [Dep. Of State, 6/29/09]

American People Smarter on Iran than Neocons
Posted by Adam Blickstein

But that won't stop them from writing Op-Eds, blowing hot air on TV, freaking out on the floor of the Senate and House, or demanding the U.S. impose sanctions against Iran at such a fragile time for its people. From CNN:

A new national poll suggests that that nearly three out of four Americans don't want the U.S. directly intervene in the election crisis in Iran even though most Americans are upset by how the Iranian government has dealt with protests over controversial election results.

Most Americans approve of how President Obama's handled the situation. And 74 percent think the U.S. government should not directly intervene in the post-election crisis, with one out of four feeling that Washington should openly support the demonstrators who are protesting the election results.

Since Congress obviously always does what the American people desire (especially in regards to the public option for health care, which members of Congress are clamoring for after polls show 72% of Americans back this option), I assume the Kirk amendment will immediately and emphatically be dropped from the pending Foreign Operations appropriations bill, in accordance with the vast majority of Americans and to do what's right for the Iranian people. Another nugget from the poll:

"Interestingly, older Americans are more likely to be outraged. They may have bitter memories of the American hostages held by Iran for more than a year in 1979 and 1980," said CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider.

I don't think it's due to their bitter memories from 1979. Old people are just attached to old ideas, and the only people perpetuating these anachronistic and antiquated ideas on Iran and foreign policy are the graybearded neocons. So the generation gap makes complete sense.

June 29, 2009

My What Cute Iraqis You Are
Posted by Michael Cohen

The piece by John Hannah ( former National Security Advisor for Dick Cheney) in today's LA Times is really quite a whopper. This glossed up history of the Iraq surge I found particularly enjoyable:

Bush's decision to double-down rather than retreat sent friend and foe alike a powerful message that the U.S. had no intention of abandoning Iraq. Reassured, Iraqis were galvanized in their efforts to confront Al Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias, and recommitted themselves to building an independent, pluralist democracy.

Of course the thrust of Hannah's op-ed is not oriented toward re-fighting the last war, but instead to attack President Obama for losing the current one. He claims that for the President "withdrawal, not victory, is his highest priority." You know Mr. Hannah might want to consult the Status of Forces Agreement signed by President Bush that MANDATES A WITHDRAWAL OF US TROOPS FROM IRAQ by 2011 and the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraqi cities by the end of this month. (Check out Article 24).

Yet, this doesn't stop him from blaming the Obama Administration for the fact that Iraqis are "accommodating themselves to the agenda of the coming Iranian hegemony rather than their departing American liberators." And what exactly is the solution to this problem: "offsetting withdrawal" with "high-level diplomatic and economic engagement. That, however, will require the president spending far less time signaling his eagerness to get out of Iraq and more time working with Iraqis to figure out how best we can stay."

Now here's the thing I don't understand; if the goal of the surge was to create a "successful, modernizing democracy" in the Middle East then doesn't the turnover of security to Iraq's government represent a sort of, "Mission Accomplished?" John Hannah claims that he is speaking to Iraqis on a regular basis, but I guess he missed the fact that the upcoming withdrawal date from Iraqi cities is being heralded in Iraq as a national holiday and great victory for Iraq.

Hannah just seems oblivious to the fact that the Iraqis want us out of Iraq. Considering that the US supposedly initiated the surge to ensure that Iraq would have some future as a democratic country don't there views merit at least some consideration?

Militarizing Domestic Policy Watch
Posted by Michael Cohen

There is a really fascinating article in today's Washington Post about the simmering dispute between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense over border security. DHS wants more National Guard troops on the border and the Pentagon is warning of mission creep and larding on more responsibilities for the military that civilian agencies should be handling.

This is a tricky issue. I'm sympathetic to DHS and the border governors who are dealing with rising violence and it is the job of the military to, at least theoretically, protect the homeland. But, I think Gen. Victor Reunart head of U.S. Northern Command hits the nail on the head:

"It should not be that we always rely on the Department of Defense to fulfill some need," said Renuart, who is responsible for defending the continental United States.

Border law enforcement agencies should have adequate funds to do their job, he said. If the Guard is tapped, it should be for capabilities "that do not exist elsewhere in government," Renuart said.

The process that Renuart describes is one that has been constantly repeated over the past 15 years. The US lacks civilian capacity to do effective development work - call the military. The President calls for a civilian surge in Afghanistan, but doesn't have enough civilians to do the job - let's have the military do it.  AID is a hollow shell - rely on the military to not only do development but dole out foreign assistance.  The simple fact is that, whether it’s waging the war on terror or the war on drugs; nation-building in post-conflict environments; development, democracy promotion or diplomacy; fighting cyber-criminals or training foreign armies the global face of the United States today is most likely to be that of a uniformed solider.

So yes there is real danger of continuing this dangerous process by giving the military even more to do here at home. This dispute also highlights a key element of causality in this ongoing militarization of what should be civilian responsibilities: it's often the fault of civilians. In their recent excellent report on civil-military relations Sarah Sewall and John White at the Carr Center make this point quite nicely:

If civilians abdicate responsibility for the tough choices, or fail to resource or support civilian agencies, they effectively push the military into decisions and activities that belong primarily in the civilian space.

The military is not some magic Swiss Army knife that can solve every problem; at some point the civilian agencies like the Border Guard and others need to do their job - or Congress needs to appropriate the funds so they can do their job.

Confused About Afghanistan
Posted by Michael Cohen

I'm really confused about what's going on with US policy in Afghanistan. First, there is this recent guidance from General McCrystal to US troops:

Success will be defined by the Afghan people's freedom to choose their future--freedom from coercion, extremists, malign foreign influence, or abusive government actions.

I feel like I'm sort of beating a dead horse on this one, but here again is what President Obama said in March about US goals for Afghanistan:

We are not in Afghanistan to control that country OR TO DICTATE ITS FUTURE.  We are in Afghanistan to confront a common enemy that threatens the United States, our friends and our allies, and the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan who have suffered the most at the hands of violent extremists. So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal:  to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future That's the goal that must be achieved.

I realize that I'm not an expert on counter-insurgency and there are those who think I have trouble connecting dots, but doesn't what Gen. McCrystal said in his initial guidance to US troops not contradict what President Obama announced in March? Or at the very least, does it not herald a long US mission in Afghanistan?

Now in fairness the President's original statement on Afghanistan was a bit unclear and as several folks have mentioned to me it is certainly open to some interpretation, because the President also does talk about the need to improve governance and local reconciliation. However, this particular passage from the Obama's March speech does seem less ambiguous:

I have already ordered the deployment of 17,000 troops . . . These soldiers and Marines will take the fight to the Taliban in the south and east, and give us a greater capacity to partner with Afghan Security Forces and to go after insurgents along the border. This push will also help provide security in advance of the important presidential election in August.

But then I read this from a WPost interview two weeks back with General McCrystal:

"We are going to look at those parts of the country that are most important -- and those typically, in an insurgency, are the population centers," McChrystal said.

McChrystal's comments suggested that he wanted to pull forces out of some of the more remote, mountainous areas of Afghanistan where few people live and where insurgent fighters may be seeking refuge. In recent months these isolated pockets have been the scene of some of the most intense fighting between U.S. troops and insurgents.

So now we're so focused on protecting civilians in Afghanistan that we're not even going after the enemy, as President Obama insisted we would in March! This is not to mention the fact that perhaps Gen. McCrystal's focus is not in the right place -- a point nicely made by Joshua Foust:

The last army to do an “ink stain” approach to Afghanistan were the Soviets, who felt that the population was in the cities, so if they just controlled the cities the countryside would fall into line. . . .The Taliban are not strongest in the cities, but outside of them: you’ll find the insurgency grinding in the hills above Lashkar Gah, the countryside to the west and north of Kandahar, the plains of Zabul, the Khost bowl, the mountains of Paktya and Paktika, and the narrow valleys from Kapisa to Kunar and Nuristan. None of them are urban, or even sort of urban. I really hope they’ve learned by now that Afghanistan is not urban, that the insurgency—and the people—are scattered into small rural communities throughout the country. Securing the cities has never been the Coalition’s weakness.

Now, even if you believe that engaging in a long-term counter-insurgency and eliminating the Taliban's political influence in Afghanistan will accomplish the President's goals then shouldn't someone in the US government (preferably the President) make that very clear to the American people? This seems particularly important when you have the US commander in Afghanistan also saying this:

The ongoing insurgency must be met with a counterinsurgency campaign adapted to the unique conditions in each area that: Protects the Afghan people--allowing them to choose a future they can be proud of. Provides a secure environment allowing good government and economic development to  undercut the causes and advocates of insurgency

While also admitting this:

"We've got to ruthlessly prioritize, because we don't have enough forces to do everything, everywhere,"

I think everyone would agree that providing a secure environment and allowing for good government (pretty much firsts in the sad history of Afghanistan) will take a very long time to achieve. And maybe this is the absolute right approach to protecting America's interests and ensuring that Afghans enjoy a stable and reasonably prosperous future (although color me deeply skeptical).

But really this isn't about the efficacy of counter-insurgency. It's about, what the hell are we trying to accomplish in Afghanistan? What exactly is our strategy there and what is the end game?  If we don't have "enough forces to do everything" in Afghanistan then why is our top general embarking on an operational approach that under current policy constraints he is unlikely to see to its fruition?

And at a time when we can't agree to spend more than $1 trillion dollars on ensuring every American has access to health care or are reluctant to ask Americans to pay more out of pocket so that we can finally begin to roll back global warming shouldn't we level with the American people about the true costs of a full-fledged counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan? Considering that fact that we've already appropriated approximately $225 billion for the war in Afghanistan it seems like a legitimate conversation for this country to be having.

It's entirely possible that a year or two from now this Administration will decide to declare victory and go home and all my worrying will be for naught. But if 5 years from now we're still in Afghanistan chasing the dream of modernizing and stabilizing a country with little hope of achieving either . . . well I really don't want to be the one to say I told you so.

NSN Daily Update: 6/29/09
Posted by The Editors

For today's completely Daily Update, click here.

What We're Reading

American troops make final preparations to withdrawal from Iraqi cities by the June 30th deadline as Iraqis trepidate over the readiness and professionalism of Iraqi security forces in taking the lead securing their country. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki calls the US withdrawal a “great victoryfor the Iraqi people, while Gen. Ray Odierno, Commander of US troops in Iraq, believes Iraqi Security Forces are ready to take the lead away from US troops. Concerns also mount over corruption within Iraq’s judicial system.

The  Pakistani Army continues their initial push into South Waziristan against Taliban and Al-Qaeda havens along the Afghan-Pakistan border as internally-displaced Pakistan begin to go back and rebuilt their damaged homes following the offensives to reclaim the Swat Valley and Burner district.

The military in Honduras removed President Manuel Zelaya following a dispute over a referendum to their constitution. The Honduran military’s moves lead to a rare display of unity amongst countries in the Americas as national leaders across the political spectrum offer a message of condemnation against the removal of a democratically-elected leader.

The Justice Department begins to put together some rules changing the way military commissions would operate, sparking a new debate about rights offered detainees.

Commentary of the Day

Fareed Zakaria explains why the Velvet Revolution is a bad historical example to help explain the unfolding drama in Iran.

Benjamin Wittes and Jack Goldsmith discuss why Obama should work with Congress, and not bypass them, when it comes to developing and implementing a new detainee policy.

June 26, 2009

Dead Aid is Dead Wrong
Posted by Michael Cohen

Matt Yglesias has a good post up on the dangerous anti-aid arguments being made by Dambisa Moyo. In particular, he highlights one of Moyo's many dubious assertions about foreign assistance and the HIV/AIDS crisis in sub-Saharan Africa:

I’m not going to sit here and say the fact that 2 million Africans are on HIV drugs is a bad thing. Of course that’s a good thing. But whose responsibility is it to provide those HIV drugs? American society does not operate by sitting around and waiting for handouts. Why should we as Africans?

As Matt points out, back here in the real world, "obviously the reason Africans find themselves needing to rely on handouts is that the continent is so full of poor people." Moyo's rhetorical arguments sound good, but like much of her book they are built on the shakiest of foundations; and her divorced from reality discussion of humanitarian assistance is an excellent example.  As Moyo must know, most African countries simply lack the capacity, infrastructure and resources to do what she is suggesting

In her book, Moyo cites Botswana as a test case for how rejecting foreign assistance can lead to greener pastures for African countries. She claims the country's economic success is a result of pursuing "market economy options" and weaning itself off foreign aid. But as I argued a few weeks ago in World Politics Review Moyo's argument tends to ignore some fairly crucial evidence:

Only a few years ago, Botswana was so ravaged by HIV-AIDS that it's president spoke of possible national "extinction." Ultimately, outside assistance from the United States, the United Nations, the Gates Foundation and the drug company Merck helped save Botswana from this fate. The Botswana aid came in the form of money and, more importantly, technical assistance, which can often be more effective than resource flows in producing positive development outcomes. Yet, in Moyo's formulation there is only one type of aid -- money, usually bilateral in origin -- and it's bad. Moyo argues that African countries -- not the West -- should be tackling the AIDS crisis, but ignores the fact that her best example of a successful African economy (Botswana) was unable to do just that.

Moyo certainly has a point that foreign aid has not lived up to its promise and that it often enable bad practices as opposed to doing actual good for poor communities. But the solution is not to get rid of foreign aid - as she argues - but to dole it out more effectively. Africa needs better aid, conditioned on good-governance practices, greater transparency and more aid accountability, and it needs better coordination between private and public donors. These are measures that are already occurring, both on a bilateral and a multilateral basis.

Of course, that's a harder argument to make and one that likely won't sell as many books.

What the U.S. Troop Withdrawal from Iraqi Cities Means for the U.S., Iraq
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Today, Major Gen. Paul Eaton (Ret.), who from 2003-2004 was in charge of training the Iraqi military, Marine Reservist Jonathan Morgenstein, Senior National Security Policy Fellow at Third Way who most recently served as an embedded Military Transition Team advisor to the Iraqi Army, and Lydia Khalil, Council on Foreign Relations fellow and former policy adviser for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad discussed the ramifications of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraqi cities (set to be completed next Tuesday) for the U.S. military, America's policies regarding Iraq, as well as how it will impact Iraq's security and political future. Audio of the call can be found here, and below are some quotes from each of the experts:

Major Gen. Paul Eaton (Ret.): When American soldiers pull out of the urban concentrations, will there be there be a logistical tail to support the Iraqi soldier so the Iraq soldier and police have faith in the chain of command that they are going to be resupplied and that if wounded or hurt that they will be evacuated? That I cannot answer. We will see it develop. Does the soldier feel that he is a legitimate actor on behalf of a legitimate government, a legitimate state? Prime Minister al-Maliki has got to convince the Sunnis and the Kurds that it will be an inclusive government, that he will be doing a better job than what I've seen so far and that the Sunnis are not going to perceive themselves as 20% of the country disenfranchised. The Sunni also looks to the Americans as their fail-safe, their final protector to ensure that they're not going to be marginalized. The moral component of the Iraqi soldier and the Iraqi policeman, will they stand up and provide the security of the urban population that has been a joint effort of the Iraqis and the Americans? That's the big question obviously.

Marine Reserve Captain  Jonathan Morgenstein (Jonathan does not speak for the US Marine Corps): This was an Iraqi decision for the Americans to really pull out of the cities. and its what the Iraqis want. It means the Iraqis are taking this situation unto themselves more than we are putting it unto them. When I was there with the Iraqis, with the Iraqi army, not everyone, but a majority of the soldiers and officers I dealt with were telling me they will be sorry to see us go, because they feel they have learned a lot and they've enjoyed serving alongside the Army and Marine Corp. But at the same time, they feel like they have it in hand. That they can handle the situation from now on and they frankly don't need the Americans giving them day to day support. They're happy that they are going to have us in the background ready to come in at any moment if something gets very difficult...but feel pretty confident they can handle it.

Lydia Khalil: The big unanswered question of this withdrawal is that is it too soon? Have we not given it enough time to solidify the gains of the surge?...But really this question it's largely a moot question. It's happening. It's inevitable. And I think both the U.S. and Iraqi sides have been given enough time to come to terms with it. And for quite a while there has been some sense of inevitability about it. It's going to happen. It needs to happen. So there hasn't been too much second guessing about it. Certainly from the Iraqi government's perspective, they're relishing having their sovereignty returned to them. Not just in the legal sense that happened a few years ago, but practically in the most important sense really, that they have the monopoly of use of force in their own country.

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