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August 31, 2009

Why Texas Shouldn't Mess with Secession
Posted by Patrick Barry

Large_Texas-secede-marcher-Apr15-09 With secession nonsense flaring up again in Texas again, I think it's a good time to recollect that the Lone Star state would face some pretty catastrophic consequences were it to actually break off from the Union.  Annie Lowery had what I think is the most definitive contribution on the subject. Here's an excerpt (though you should really read the whole thing for a sense of what Texans could expect after seceding):

In short: the state of Texas would rapidly become direly impoverished, would need to be heavily armed, and would be wracked with existential domestic and foreign policy threats. It would probably make our failed states list in short order. Probably better to pay the damn taxes.

A friend of mine also observed to me this weekend, that given the size of Texas's Aerospace and Defense industries, the secession-induced economic collapse would probably be hastened by the canceling of billions of dollars in government contracts.  Unfortunately, anti-secessionist arguments run into the problem of depending too much on reality, when pro-secessionists live in a fantasy theme-park, where Rick Perry reigns supreme.

COIN in Space?
Posted by Patrick Barry

Barackbar While the rest of the DC blogosphere is alight with news of the Disney-Marvel merger, my inner-geek was struck by Andrew Exum's Marine Corps officer cousin's views on strategy and insurgency as they relate to the Star Wars Universe.  His take? The Rebel Alliance would have been better to adopt an insurgent mindset rather than trying to go toe-to-toe with a Galactic Empire that maintained a huge conventional advantage:

Why didn't the Rebel Alliance pursue a strategy of insurgency in their rebellion against the Galactic Empire?  I would argue that they pursued a strategy of conventional war against the Empire and forwent every aspect of insurgent strategy and tactics.  They finally came around a bit in the end by co-opting the Ewoks onto their side.  Why hadn't they pursued that strategy on a larger scale?
Instead, they simply staged two conventional assualts on the Empire's center of gravity: the Death Star.  Although both attempts were successful, I think they got lucky.  I think they would have been better served had read their Mao and followed his maxims.

One big question I have is whether, given the intergalactic nature of the war between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance, a classic insurgency is even possible? If one of the insurgent's biggest advantages is his knowledge of the local environment, and the tacit support of the inhabitants of that environment, then isn't that advantage pretty much negated in the vacuum of space?  I imagine that the space-based nature of war in the Star Wars universe constrained the Alliance's strategic options, perhaps significantly. I suspect that the rebels were pursuing the best set of tactics available to them - waging asymmetric war against the Empire's vulnerable conventional military assets.

To the broader argument that the Alliance was spending far too much time on military engagements at the expense of the more important political battles, I would reply that that's just not really born out by the evidence.  Consider the pretty dramatic increase in the Alliance's diversity from 'A New Hope' to 'Jedi?' Presumably Admiral Ackbar's people would not have joined up with the Rebels during the intervening years had there not been some kind of serious, if un-depicted, political effort directed against the Empire.

Of course, all of this leaves out the question of how the alliance could have possibly waged an insurgency against a near limitless supply of Imperial clone-troopers.  Someone better versed in the ways of the force will have to answer that question. 

Afghanistan Mission Creep Watch - The Cordesman Version
Posted by Michael Cohen

Today, over at the Washington Post, Anthony Cordesman helpfully tells us not how we can win in Afghanistan - but how we can avoid losing. Cordesman argues that the US should send as many as 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan and commit billions of dollars for what he describes as "a reasonable chance of victory." The alternative "certain defeat."

The almost funny thing about this argument is that never seems to occur to Cordesman - or for that matter any national security expert who advocates more military intervention -- that the level of commitment being advocated, on behalf of a amorphous notion of victory, may not be worth the cost. Indeed, the most important metric appears to be the "costs" of defeat as opposed, to say, the benefits of "victory."

Not surprisingly, Cordesman isn't even able to offer an idea of what a "reasonable chance of victory" will look like or what the US strategic interest is in spending blood and treasure for 5, 10 or who knows how many years in Afghanistan. But Cordesman knows what "certain defeat" looks like - so we must stay.

But enough about strategy - let's talk tactics, because apparently that's what really matters in Afghanistan. Cordesman argues that the Bush Administration failed in Afghanistan because:

  • They gave priority to Iraq
  • It undermanned and underresourced the war in Afghanistan
  • It didn't "react" to the growing corruption in the Karzai government
  • It didn't put enough pressure on Pakistan to crack down on al Qaeda and the Taliban
  • Never developed an integrated civil-military plan
  • Focused too much on failed development efforts

So what is Cordesman's solution? Here is a shocker - send more troops. And what will these soldiers do:

A significant number of such U.S. reinforcements will have to assist in providing a mix of capabilities in security, governance, rule of law and aid. U.S. forces need to "hold" and keep the Afghan population secure, and "build" enough secure local governance and economic activity to give Afghans reason to trust their government and allied forces. They must build the provincial, district and local government capabilities that the Kabul government cannot and will not build for them.

And again, I want a pony for every man, woman and child in Afghanistan. Just so there is no confusion, Anthony Cordesman is suggesting that US troops should "build" provincial, district and even local government capabilities FOR the Afghan government. How is a sustainable solution to the problems of Afghanistan to have the US military take on the basic responsibilities of the Afghan state? Does Cordesman not see the irony in suggesting that Afghans need reason to trust their government and then advocating on behalf of a policy that has the US military take on the job of building that government's capacity?

And here's an even better question, why does Anthony Cordesman believe that this goal is achievable? Why would the US military be able to do what an Afghan government cannot and what evidence from the past 7 1/2 years would lead anyone to believe that such a goal is not only realistic but actually sustainable? Well actually Cordesman sort of answers that question, by suggesting that the appointments of Karl Eikenberry and Stanley McChrystal are "are our last hope of victory." Sigh.

Actually Cordesman goes further, doubling down on the Dave Dilegge approach:

They can win only if they are allowed to manage both the civil and military sides of the conflict without constant micromanagement from Washington or traveling envoys. They must be given both the time to act and the resources and authority they feel they need. No other path offers a chance of a secure and stable Afghanistan free of terrorist and jihadist control and sanctuaries.

Double sigh. Yes, the last thing we need is for our civilian elected leaders to weigh in here.

To his credit, Cordesman does identify two of the biggest problems with the US mission in Afghanistan - the lack of Pakistani support for targeting Afghan Taliban sanctuaries in their country and the high levels of corruption in the Karzai regime (a point bolstered by widespread allegations of fraud and ballot stuffing in the recent presidential election). Yet, he doesn't even offer solutions for these two problems. I realize this is 700-word op-ed, but if you are going to identify these issues as problems then don't you think that you should at least address them in the solutions section of the op-ed?

Yet, this doesn't stop Cordesman from complaining about "strong elements in the White House, State Department and other agencies" who are "ignoring realities" about the situation in Afghanistan. Mr. Cordesman meet the kettle. Kettle meet Mr. Cordesman.

Still there's more. Cordesman argues that unless President Obama follows his course of action he will "be as much a failed wartime president as George W. Bush." Seriously, give me a break. This is absurd hyperbole. Cordesman can't explain what victory looks like, doesn't make the case for a US strategic interest in fighting a long, drawn-out conflict in Afghanistan, doesn't offer solutions to the problems of Afghan government corruption, doesn't explain how the continued existence of Afghan Taliban safe havens in Pakistan will be dealt with, pins all hopes on the leadership of Eikenberry and McChystal and offers a pie in the sky vision of the US military's capabilities in Afghanistan.

But unless Cordesman's advice is followed, Obama will be a failed President. I'll tell you what, if President Obama wants to know "How To Lose in Afghanistan" - he should listen to Tony Cordesman.

August 30, 2009

Cheney on Fox News Sunday
Posted by James Lamond

Former Vice-President Cheney was on FOX News Sunday this morning discussing Eric Holder’s decision to appoint Assistant US Attorney John Durham to see if any laws had been broken in the interrogation of detainees held at Guantanmo Bay and elsewhere.  As always, Cheney provides some great converstaion starters when discussing torture.  A few comments on his appearance:

Continue reading "Cheney on Fox News Sunday" »

August 28, 2009

Afghanistan Mission Creep Watch - The Credibility Version
Posted by Michael Cohen

A couple of weeks ago I highlighted this Cheney-esque quote from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on why the US needed to stay in Afghanistan:

I think the president believes that this is not only the right strategy but facing what he faced, to withdraw our presence or keep it on the low-level limited effectiveness that had been demonstrated would have sent a message to al-Qaeda and their allies that the United States and our allies were willing to leave the field to them. 

As I said at the time, "How is this any different from the argument made during the Bush Administration that we couldn't leave Iraq because it would be trumpeted as a moral victory for Al Qaeda . .  This may be the single most disappointing thing I've heard from a member of the Obama Administration to date."

Well apparently Hillary is not alone in buying into the credibility argument. Here via Mike Crowley is Bruce Riedel on why we are REALLY fighting in Afghanistan:

The triumph of jihadism or the jihadism of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in driving NATO out of Afghanistan would resonate throughout the Islamic World.This would be a victory on par with the destruction of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. And, those moderates in the Islamic World who would say, no, we have to be moderate, we have to engage, would find themselves facing a real example. No, we just need to kill them, and we will drive them out. So I think the stakes are enormous.

Bruce Riedel has forgotten more about Afghanistan/Pakistan than I know but really . . is this the argument we are now using for staying the course? By this logic, we can never leave Afghanistan until we've wiped out the Taliban and Al Qaeda - not managed or contained, mind you, but eliminated. By this logic, we have no control over when and how we leave Afghanistan because we are pretty much playing by AQ and the Taliban's rules. Even if based on a strategic weighing of America's national interests we decide to leave or pare down our military presence in Afghanistan, according to Riedel, we lose . . .because al Qaeda will spin it as a victory. Talk about giving the enemy a vote; this basically gives them a veto.

Seriously though, hasn't this credibility argument been repeatedly discredited? In Vietnam, in Iraq for example. I know that some like to argue that Bin Laden was emboldened by the US departure from Lebanon in 1983 and Somalia in 1993 because we got our nose bloodied - so by the credibility argument we should have stayed and slogged it out in both wars so as to avoid giving al Qaeda a victory.

And as for the notion that a NATO departure will hurt moderates and empower jihadists in the Muslim world, call me crazy but wouldn't a long-term US military presence in Afghanistan have a similar effect? I can't imagine that any of this is going to help US outreach to the Muslim world.

As I said earlier, it's a bit difficult for me to be so critical of Riedel, but this is not the first time in recent memory that he has sounded overly alarmist about the jihadist threat. Back in June, he wrote a piece for the National Interest that made this rather astounding claim:

The growing strength of the Taliban in Pakistan has raised the serious possibility of a jihadist takeover of the country. Even with the army’s reluctant efforts in areas like the Swat Valley and sporadic popular revulsion with Taliban violence, at heart the country is unstable. A jihadist victory is neither imminent nor inevitable, but it is now a real possibility in the foreseeable future. This essay presumes (though does not predict) an Islamic-militant victory in Pakistan, examining how the country’s creation of and collusion with extremist groups has left Islamabad vulnerable to an Islamist coup.

Riedel then proceeds to lay out an absolute horror story of what would happen from this neither imminent nor inevitable occurrence, which leads to this conclusion:

In the end, we would be left with an extremist-controlled Pakistan, infested with violence, an almost completely dysfunctional economy, harsh laws and even-harsher methods for imposing them, and above all a nuclear-armed nation controlled by terrorist sympathizers.

The essay goes on to lay out a possible war with India, conflict with Israel, a terrorist safe haven for jihadists and even a possible US-Pakistani nuclear war. (No, I'm not making this up).  As Robin Walker correctly noted at the time, little of what Riedel "presumes" is even "remotely likely."

Of course, as we know the Pakistani military was anything but reluctant when they finally engaged in the Swat Valley and the level of US-Pakistani intelligence sharing and targeting of Taliban leaders has improved. But all that, notwithstanding, Bruce Riedel is making some pretty outlandish presumptions and talking up doomsday scenarios that seem rather fantastical.

Crowley suggests that Riedel's views, particularly about the dangers of an al Qaeda and Taliban "victory" in Afghanistan, "carry more weight at the White House than people realize."

Honestly, I sure hope not.

August 27, 2009

Analyzing the Case for Afghanistan
Posted by Michael Cohen

Over at, Josh Foust has taken on the admirable and difficult job of making the case for staying the course in Afghanistan. He argues there are two strategic goals for the US mission:

  1. A basic minimal stability in Afghanistan, such that neither the Taliban nor al Qaeda is likely to develop a staging ground for international attacks, whether against neighboring countries or the United States and Europe;
  2. The permanent delegitimization of Pakistan’s insurgents, such that they can no longer push Pakistan and India toward nuclear conflict;

Number one is a compelling rationale for a US mission in Afghanistan - whether completing that mission needs to be done via robust counter-insurgency is something else altogether. In my view, it doesn't and I will try to tackle that point in a future post.

But to the second point, I'm not sure I completely understand Josh's argument. He explains it more here:

Lest anyone think it is appropriate to write off the India-Pakistan conflict as somebody else’s problem, it is never somebody else’s problem when nuclear weapons are involved . . India and Pakistan have come a hair’s breadth from nuclear conflict twice over Kashmir. And like it or not, it is a compelling and vital American interest to prevent nuclear conflict in South Asia—which makes “fixing” Afghanistan in some way also a vital American interest.

Now I certainly share the view that preventing nuclear conflict in South Asia is a vital American interest, less clear to me is why we need to fix Afghanistan to achieve that goal. Is the fear that if we leave, Afghanistan will become a proxy war for India and Pakistan that could turn into a full-fledged nuclear conflict? I suppose I have to ask where is the evidence for that. I know India is playing a more open role in Afghanistan, but does really rise to the level of proxy war?  I do wonder how much of the "Indian influence" is being hyped by the Pakistani government. I'm just not seeing the direct and vital connection that Josh is making.

Josh goes on:

When it comes to Pakistan, the big danger is not in a Taliban takeover, or even in the Taliban seizure of nuclear weapons—I have never believed that the ISI could be that monumentally stupid (though they are incredibly stupid for letting things get this far out of hand). The big danger, as it has been since 1999, is that insurgents, bored or underutilized in Afghanistan, will spark another confrontation between India and Pakistan, and that that confrontation will spillover into nuclear conflict. That is worth blood and treasure to prevent.

Again, it's important to prevent such a conflict from emerging, but why is it worth US blood and treasure? I'm actually quite serious here - I don't want to get all Chris Preble on Josh, but I really don't see why American troops have to be put in harm's way because a blow-up in Afghanistan might turn into a full-fledged India-Pakistan war. Why would the United States willingly hold itself and its soldiers hostage to an unresolved regional conflict? And are there really no other options - for example, diplomatic - for preventing such a war than "fixing" Afghanistan?

But there is something else about this argument that troubles me. Josh alleges that the big danger is if insurgents bored from the Afghanistan fight will try to spark a confrontation between India and Pakistan. I'm not clear as to why Afghan Taliban would in the wake of a US withdrawal want to get involved with the fight for Kashmir (did that happen from 1996-2001?) but the bigger question is that didn't jihadist terror groups already try to spark that conflict last November in the Mumbai attacks that killed 173 people?  Not to minimize those horrific attacks, but even though the jihadists behind the Mumbai attacks were based in Pakistan - and probably backed by the ISI - it didn't spark a military escalation between the two countries. What would be different if we left Afghanistan?

But I will say one thing, if THIS is the rationale for staying I can understand "why even the war supporters cannot articulate them." I seriously doubt most Americans believe that we should be fighting a war in Afghanistan so that India and Pakistan don't fight one in the future.

I ask these questions not to tweak Josh, but I'm actually curious to hear his answers. So I look forward to the debate.

August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy RIP
Posted by Michael Cohen

In commemorating the extraordinary and complicated life of Ted Kennedy there has been significant focus on Kennedy's many accomplishments on domestic policy. But how about a few thoughts on his foreign policy acumen.

I had a chance today to read over the speech that Kennedy gave in September 2002 explaining his concerns about a possible war with Iraq. While Kennedy's speech occurred early in the Iraq debate and was focused more on finding a non-military solution to the security challenge posed by Saddam, his predictions about the consequences of war with Iraq are stunning in their prescience:

Just one year into the campaign against Al Qaeda, the Administration is shifting focus, resources, and energy to Iraq. The change in priority is coming before we have fully eliminated the threat from Al Qaeda, before we know whether Osama Bin Laden is dead or alive, and before we can be assured that the fragile post-Taliban government in Afghanistan will consolidate its authority.

No one disputes that America has lasting and important interests in the Persian Gulf, or that Iraq poses a significant challenge to U.S. interests. There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein's regime is a serious danger, that he is a tyrant, and that his pursuit of lethal weapons of mass destruction cannot be tolerated. He must be disarmed.

How can we best achieve this objective in a way that minimizes the risks to our country? How can we ignore the danger to our young men and women in uniform, to our ally Israel, to regional stability, the international community, and victory against terrorism?

There is clearly a threat from Iraq, and there is clearly a danger, but the Administration has not made a convincing case that we face such an imminent threat to our national security that a unilateral, pre-emptive American strike and an immediate war are necessary.

Nor has the Administration laid out the cost in blood and treasure of this operation.

With all the talk of war, the Administration has not explicitly acknowledged, let alone explained to the American people, the immense post-war commitment that will be required to create a stable Iraq.

The President's challenge to the United Nations requires a renewed effort to enforce the will of the international community to disarm Saddam. Resorting to war is not America's only or best course at this juncture. There are realistic alternatives between doing nothing and declaring unilateral or immediate war. War should be a last resort, not the first response. Let us follow that course, and the world will be with us – even if, in the end, we have to move to the ultimate sanction of armed conflict.

The Bush Administration says America can fight a war in Iraq without undermining our most pressing national security priority -- the war against Al Qaeda. But I believe it is inevitable that a war in Iraq without serious international support will weaken our effort to ensure that Al Qaeda terrorists can never, never, never threaten American lives again.

Of course, as it turned out, the Bush Administration ended up following Kennedy's recommendation to go to the United Nations and force Saddam to allow inspectors back in. And as we well know today the Bush Administration's unquenchable desire to invade and occupy Iraq could not be sated by mere UN inspections. And so the war came.

It is one of the great tragedies of American history that more people didn't listen to Ted Kennedy nearly seven years ago. Maybe if they had we would today only be commemorating his full life - and not also mourning the untimely loss of 2nd Lt. Joseph D. Fortin, 22, of St. Johnsbury, Vt .  Second Lt. Fortin died three days ago from an IED attack in Hussaniyah, Iraq - the 4,334th casualty of the war in Iraq.

A Cornucopia of Strategic Debates on Afghanistan
Posted by Michael Cohen

These days it seems like everyone in the blogosphere wants to debate the strategic rationale for staying in Afghanistan. Andrew Exum kicked things off a few weeks ago; Jari Lindholm and Bernard Finel weighed in recently and now Josh Foust is getting in the game.

Having debated Josh in the past I look forward to reading and responding to his arguments, but a few ground rules are in order. For example, Josh kicks off his case for Afghanistan here:

Many people I know and respect, like Michael Cohen, have written articles and blog posts explaining why there is little or no strategic rationale for the continued war in Afghanistan, and therefore the U.S. should withdraw from the conflict.

. . .  When the nation’s top military officer continues to insist on teevee that al Qaeda is still capable of striking the U.S., that carries tremendous import, and building the case that even another 9/11 is an acceptable risk requires a sophistication of argument—exhaustive, comprehensive, meticulous—that simply is not evident in the “withdraw now” folks. In other words, they need to build an air tight case, which hasn’t happened yet.

Two things here. I hardly see at as being incumbent on those who oppose the current mission in Afghanistan to build an air tight case - shouldn't that be the responsibility of the people who are arguing for a continued military intervention? It's one of my great pet peeves about recent US national security strategy that the default position always seems to be in favor of using military force - and that somehow it's incumbent on the opponents to prove why this is wrong.

But Josh is raising a bit of a strawman argument here.  A top US military officer insisting that al Qaeda is capable of striking the US shouldn't exactly shut down debate. Hell we had a President who spent 5 years telling us that Iraq was the central front in the war on terror - forgive me if I take these types of pronouncements with a grain of salt. 

And just because AQ is capable of striking the US doesn't mean the current mission makes sense. And being opposed to that mission is not the same thing as believing another 9/11 is an acceptable risk. One can certainly believe that US policy in Afghanistan is wrong while also believing that the US needs to aggressively target AQ terrorists.

But my real problem here is the notion that all of those opposed to the current US mission believe we should "withdraw now." I certainly don't although I do believe we should begin looking at ways to pare down our involvement there. The choice need not be full speed ahead or cut and run. That's the same false choice we dealt with in the Iraq debate. I, for one, believe that the US has some strategic interests in Afghanistan, but I do believe those interests are not being furthered by the current mission - and what's worse there is a growing credibility gap between what the Administration says needs to happen in Afghanistan and our capabilities (not to mention resources).

Josh is a smart guy so I'm sure he will engage with this argument. But please don't make this debate a black and white choice between two unpleasant choices.

Pawlenty's Painful Misstatement on CIA Interrogations
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty wants to be President. Therefore, the rules of Republican presidential political aspirations dictate that Tim Pawlenty needs to comment on national security matters, even though he knows very little about and has virtually no experience with this set of issues. For instance, Pawlenty weighed in on the recent debate over the Justice Department's decision to look into CIA interrogation transgressions and detainee abuse:

"As bad as the health care plan is, and it's bad for all the reasons you've been highlighting to your viewers, this decision by Eric Holder today to politicize interrogations, to bring it into the White House, we should be prosecuting individuals who are involved in the war on terror as terrorists. They are cold blood killers.

"We should not be prosecuting individuals who are working hard day in and day out to protect this country. In many cases, risking their own lives. These individuals should be, you know, encouraged and supported in their roles. But to have — see the CIA basically have this taken away from them I think is outrageous.

"The attorney general should be reminded we are still a nation at war and CIA shouldn't stand for "can't interrogate anyone."

Cute turn of phrase. But completely wrongheaded and misguided. If Pawlenty had even the slightest bit of knowledge of our intelligence community, he would know that the CIA in recent history barely had the experience nor capacity to interrogate terror suspects, something that was traditionally done by the FBI or military. For instance:

U.S. intelligence officials say the CIA, contrary to the glamorized view from movies and novels, had no real interrogation specialists on hand to deal with the number of valuable suspects it captured after Sept. 11

That was from a 2004 Washington Post article,and Pawlenty is clearly transfixed by that cinematically glamorized view of the CIA. Spencer Ackerman shed more light on the lack of CIA interrogation expertise:

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, sometimes using methods learned from the Nazis, instead of conducting interrogations itself — as demonstrated by the infamous Kubark torture instruction manual of the 1960s.

Young CIA officers weren’t trained in interrogations. "How to resist torture was the only thing related to interrogation at the training program", said one former senior official in the Directorate of Operations. "There was no thought, no commentary, or any practicality on how to apply it." The landmark Church and Pike commissions of the 1970s that examined illegal CIA programs further reinforced the CIA’s impulse to avoid, whenever possible, activity with a high political cost and marginal benefit.

The recently released CIA IG report on interrogations further exposes the fact that the CIA was never the interrogation powerhouse Pawlenty portrays it as:

The report reveals how the CIA, which had no previous experience of so broad an interrogation programme, was sending people out into the field whose only relevant prior experience was debriefing, which by definition means getting information from people who willingly participate.

In fact, the IG report states quite clearly that:

"In effect, they [the various CIA components tasked with interrogation] began with almost no foundation, as the agency had discontinued virtually all involvement in interrogations after encountering difficult issues with earlier interrogation programs in Central America and the Near East. Inevitably, there also have been some problems with current activities."

CIA veteran Bob Baer sums up the CIA's traditional participation in interrogations, or lack thereof, quite nicely:

"[T]he CIA does not specialize in the interrogation of war prisoners...the FBI has done a very good job after 9/11.  Its interrogators used normal interrogation techniques, got a lot of information, and I think we’re going to see in the CIA report that we didn’t get much out of the abusive interrogations.”

Pawlenty's whole notion that the CIA "shouldn't stand for "can't interrogate anyone" is wrong on so many levels, least of which is the Agency's lack of historical interrogation capability, lack of resources, lack of internal cultural desire to actually participate in these interrogations, and most of all, lack of quantifiable success at interrogating terror suspects as compared to the FBI's strong track record. This is not a criticism of the CIA, rather a realistic snapshot that the traditional role of the CIA, intelligence collection and analysis, was dangerously subverted by the political leadership in the White House in exchange for these interrogations which the CIA had no experience or capability to participate in. 

Pawlenty's misreading of CIA interrogation history and the traditional role of CIA displays a pretty superficial understanding of national security. He may want to become a little more educated before he again makes obtuse and erroneous statements which are antithetical to the reality of America's national security apparatus and imperatives.

Or maybe he should simply stop going to the movies.

August 25, 2009

Nuclear Posture Review: Say it Ain't So DoD
Posted by David Shorr

A very important warning from Ron Rosenbaum at Slate that inertia and resistance from the Pentagon's nuclear weapons establishment threaten to undermine President Obama's stated goals for nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. The piece makes a number of excellent points, but most important is how Rosenbaum highlights the link between the United States' doctrinal reasons for having (and potentially using) nuclear weapons and the associated policies to preserve nuclear forces. The key grafs, worth quoting at length, point out that early hints related to the impending Nuclear Posture Review could be devastating for nuclear disarmament:

The first disquieting signal on this front came earlier this month, when the Pentagon released a series of talking points about the upcoming NPR. Although the release began with lip service to [the goal of] Zero, it quickly moved on to a long list of desiderata for maintaining, updating, modernizing, and improving our nuclear-weapons-deterrence system. "In his April 5, 2009 speech in Prague," the Aug. 6 NPR talking points begin, "President Obama made clear his intent to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy and to take concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons. He also promised that as long as nuclear weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure, and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies."

"He also promised ..." That's what the NPR talking points are all about: The "also" reality we actually live in where Zero is just a dream.

Note the wording "as long as nuclear weapons exist": The Pentagon is committed to business as usual. There are also little code words in there for those in the know. Consider effective, which, in this context, can be interpreted to mean that the aging and supposedly deteriorating nuclear warhead stockpile needs more than the current "Life Extension Program" (an ironic name), which works to refurbish fissile warheads from the Cold War to ensure the credibility of their deterrent value. Most of the nuclear establishment has been straining at the bit to junk the LEP and replace it with the RRW—the "Reliable Replacement Warhead" program—which would involve developing an entire new generation of nuclear warheads and probably require underground testing (rather than the computer simulations disparaged as insufficient), and thus continued U.S. refusal to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban treaty. Obama has made signing that treaty one of his goals, but the nuclear-weapons-making establishment doesn't want to be hamstrung by it. Just another way the nuclear bureaucracy is derailing the commander in chief's goals.

There is absolutely no necessary logical connection between "as long as nuclear weapons exist" and the development of new nuclear warheads. The only real implied commitment in that sentence is to retain a nuclear arsenal to deter others from launching a nuclear attack -- i.e. forces sufficient to meet any such attack with a devastating retaliatory strike (God forbid). Rosenbaum also helpfully links to an sensible, readable, and implementable proposal from the good people at Natural Resources Defense Council and Federation of American Scientists. I just hope Rosenbaum is wrong about where the posture review is headed.

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