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January 28, 2010

American Success in an Interconnected World
Posted by David Shorr

Interesting reactions to the SOTU and the way the lines are blurring between domestic and foreign policy, between the economy and America's geostrategic position. In a way, Brian Katulis is saying that globalization is shrinking the sense of distance between America's economic competitiveness and our political and strategic competitiveness, just as globalization has shrunk many other "distances." Brian and his CAP colleague Nina Hachigian's SOTU reactions also reinforce my belief that the most important insights into the new foreign policy context are variations on the theme of interdependence.

Brian and Nina indeed speak with authority on the links between economic and foreign policy. Brian and Nancy Soderberg's book on the Prosperity Agenda details the many reasons US leaders should focus on raising living standards globally, and many ways they can do so. And Nina's Next American Century book with Mona Sutphen is a persuasive argument for the strategic value of a strong innovation economy and integration with the world's other pivotal powers.

Nina is also persuasive in identifying the follies of US primacy as a strategic objective. I'd like to propose a friendly amendment, though, to Nina's critique of the Bush-Cheney calamities (in other words, primacy was half-baked in even more ways than she lists). Along with the crudeness and cynical belief in intimidation went a kind of laziness. Not only did the hard-liners trust in the efficacy of brute power, but I think at another level they viewed engagement and negotiation as requiring too much effort. These were "history's actors," don't forget; they were creating new realities, making bold strategic gestures and couldn't be bothered with the patient slog of diplomacy. Oh, and don't forget the arrogation of moral authority. Along with American hard power was a presumed soft power of inherent American rightness. This was often expressed as the democratic America's obvious superiority -- i.e. when compared to our adversaries, American virtue excused any of our purported sins. Like I say, it's worth reminding ourselves of the multiple delusions we're trying to correct. 

Energy Innovation
Posted by James Lamond

One of the focuses of last night’s speech was how innovation at home can effect competition abroad.  For example, on energy the President said:

We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we've fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.

Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders - and I know you don't either. It is time for America to lead again.

This reminds me of a story.  In 2007 Toyota lobbied against tougher mileage standards in draft energy bill.  Why would a Toyota lobby against this? Because their fleet is already follows the stricter Japanese standards.  So their cars already have the lower mileage than their American counterparts, therefore Toyota’s fleet will continue to dominate the market for low mileage vehicles, all the while stifling innovation for American car companies. 

Now, a lot has happened since then, including a huge stimulus bill that contained over $38 billion in government spending and $20 billion in tax incentives for energy innovation.  However, this same stubbornness among many in congress still exists today, as we saw last November when Republicans staged a boycott of the mark-up for the The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act.

A Radical Turn for the Muslim Brotherhood?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

The Muslim Brotherhood recently elected a new leader, Mohammed Badie, considered a staunch conservative and/or a Qutbist and/or otherwise scary character. At the Brookings Institution's blog "Up Front," I've written a short piece which counters the conventional wisdom that Badie's election signals Islamist "radicalization" or ideological regression. You can read it here.

For one, unlike many of its secular counterparts, the Muslim Brotherhood has never depended on individuals and personalities, but rather on strong organizational and institutional structures. Moreover, the group has already issued definitive ideological statements on a number of contentious issues, including women’s rights and political pluralism (in 1994). In 2004, it unveiled with great fanfare its “reform initiative,” in which it publicly affirmed many of the foundational components of democratic life.

The Brotherhood cannot renege on these past commitments without taking a major credibility hit in the eyes of Egyptians. So it won't.

As they say, read the whole thing

A FOUSTian Bargain in Afghanistan?
Posted by Patrick Barry

Perhaps Spencer is seeing something in Dexter Filkin’s piece about co-opting the 400,000 strong Shinwari tribe to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan that I’m not, but I just don’t get how the decision to "bypass the government entirely and pledge $1 million in development aid directly to the Shinwai elders,” in return for support against the Taliban shows the U.S. slowing moving toward the realization that flipping tribes requires tying them “to the institutions of the state.”  If this quote from a Shinwari elder is reflective, it's pretty clear they don't much care for the Afghan state:

"We are doing this for ourselves, and ourselves only...We have absolutely no faith in the Afghan government to do anything for us. We don’t trust them at all."

I can understand the rationale behind the end-around – fear of corruption.  Furthermore, I don’t see an immediate reason why this plan, for all its flaws, would foreclose facilitating re-integration via the ANSF or pressuring the Afghan government to perform better. But, where does avoiding corruption end and shutting out the Afghan government begin? How do you get from a bargain that that smells heavily of factionalism to the integration of more Pashtuns into the ANSF?  The sardonic part of me thinks Josh Foust is pretty much right:

Ahh, so the U.S. is undermining the Afghan government and encouraging mob violence, all in the name of supporting the Afghan government and deligitimizing the Taliban. Get it?

Keep America Afraid
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Keep America Safe has yet another video meant to scare the American people, not provide the real facts on America's counterterrorism efforts. The ad calls President Obama's policies dangerous and provides a laundry list of political talking points that have no bearing on enhancing American security, but seeks to defend failed legacies and score political points. Among the so-called 'dangerous policies':

Closing Guantanamo Bay

As Rep. Jane Harman said this month, "if we really want to do counterterrorism right, we have to eliminate one of Al Qaeda's top recruiting tools, that's Guantanamo Bay." And she's not alone:

Gen. David Petraeus: With respect to Guantanamo, I think that the closure in a responsible manner, obviously one that is certainly being worked out now by the Department of Justice...But doing that in a responsible manner, I think, sends an important message to the world, as does the commitment of the United States to observe the Geneva Convention when it comes to the treatment of detainees.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen: "The chief of the U.S. military said he favors closing the prison here as soon as possible because he believes negative publicity worldwide about treatment of terrorist suspects has been "pretty damaging" to the image of the United States."

'"I'd like to see it shut down," Adm. Mike Mullen said Jan. 13 in an interview with three reporters who toured the detention center with him on his first visit since becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last October'"

Sen. John McCain: “I have supported the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay for many years, but I have always stated that we need a comprehensive plan to close Guantanamo safely and legally.

Sending Terrorists Back to the Middle East

While the Obama administration suspended the transfer of detainees to Yemen, it was the Bush administration whose own policies are largely responsible for Guantanamo detainees returning to the battlefield, including the masterminds of the failed Christmas Day bomber plot:

CNN: Critics of the Guantanamo transfers have raised concerns over political instability in Yemen and the presence of al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, noting that some previous detainees released to Yemen by the Bush administration have renewed their terrorist ties.

Washington Post: Former detainees of the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have led and fueled the growing assertiveness of the al-Qaeda branch that claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner...

They include two Saudi nationals: the deputy leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Said Ali al-Shihri, and the group's chief theological adviser, Ibrahim Suleiman al Rubaish. Shihri and Rubaish were released under the Bush administration, as was a Yemeni man killed in a government raid this month while allegedly plotting an attack on the British Embassy.

The Bush administration couldn't even maintain their files on dangerous terrorists in a responsible and secure manner, so should we be surprised that Bush and Cheney released dangerous terrorists back to the battlefield? Meanwhile, the Obama administration's record? Extremely competent with American security as the first priority:

The administration doesn’t believe that any of the detainees released under Obama have gone into terror-related activity — because the Obama administration has a better screening process in place to determine which detainees pose a threat.

“We have been presented with no information that suggests that any of the detainees transferred by this administration have returned to the fight,” the official says.

The official suggested that the possibility that all the recidivists were released under Bush shows that the previous administration didn’t do the work of screening detainees slated for release that the Obama administration is doing.

Trying 9/11 Mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Civilian Courts:

The Bush administration oversaw civilian trials for hundred of dangerous terrorists in civilian courts, including:

Zacharias Moussaoui. Convicted of conspiring to kill Americans for his role in the 9/11 attacks, Moussaoui is currently serving a life sentence at ADX Florence.

Richard C. Reid.  The so-called “Shoe Bomber,” Reid was convicted for trying to blow up an airliner over the Atlantic with explosives in his shoe.  He is currently serving a life sentence at ADX Florence.

Ahmed Ressam The so-called Millenium bomber who was convicted and sentenced in civilian court to 22 years in prison in a plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on New Year's Eve 1999.

In fact, since 9/11 under the Bush administration, only three terrorists designated as enemy combatants have been convicted and sentenced using military commissions, all at Guantanamo: Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who was subsequently released to Yemen, David Hicks who was subsequently released to his native Australia, and Ali al-Bahlul, who is now serving a life sentence at Guantanamo Bay. Meanwhile, nearly 200 terrorists have been tried, convicted and imprisoned using American civilian courts. And the only two terrorists previously been charged and detained as enemy combatants on America soil, José Padilla and Ali al-Marri were later transferred to the civilian judicial system and tried, convicted and sentenced using American courts.

The military commissions Keep America Safe and conservatives advocate have the worst record possible to actually bring terrorists to justice and keep them in prison.

Reading the Christmas Day Bomber His Miranda Rights Instead of Interrogating Him: 

This is probably the most egregious assertion of all since it betrays facts as presented not even a month ago. 

According to Federal officials: Captured after a bomb hidden in his underwear ignited but failed to explode, Abdulmutallab spoke freely and provided valuable intelligence, officials said. Federal agents repeatedly interviewed him or heard him speak to others...The interview lasted about 50 minutes. Before they began questioning Abdulmutallab, the FBI agents decided not to give him his Miranda warnings providing his right to remain silent.

And the fact that Abdulmutallab wasn't read his rights didn't faze interrogators, since gathering the intelligence and protecting America was more important than potentially inadmissible evidence in court:

Even if Abdulmutallab's statements are ruled out as evidence, they still provided valuable intelligence for U.S. counterterrorism officials to pursue, officials said.

That reality completely undercuts the Keep America Safe video, and supports the notion that valuable intelligence was gathered before any Miranda rights were administered. And in case the GOP points to the fact he fell silent after his initial interrogation, Spencer Ackerman astutely observes:

FBI interrogators, to the contrary, read him his Miranda rights after they were satisfied that he had no further information about any further attacks.

The bottom line is while President Obama is actually developing a coherent, competent and effective counterterroism policy, Liz Cheney and her failed ideology continue to demonstrate they no intention whatsoever of helping keep America safe. All she and her followers care about is keeping America scared and misinformed in order to play politics with our national security.

Obama’s 2010 SOTU: A Shift Homeward to Keep America Number 1 Abroad
Posted by The Editors

The following post is by Brian Katulis, A Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress

One thing that President Obama's 2010 State of the Union address will be remembered for is the point when his administration started to put an even sharper focus on tending to the problems at home than it did in its first year. 

Traditional national security issues represented around 15 percent of the overall speech, which was about the same percentage for national security as President Clinton's 1994 State of the Union address, and a sharp decline from President Bush's State of the Union speeches (national security was nearly half of the 2008 Bush address).

President Obama spent more time overseas and visiting more countries in his first year than any other president in the history of the country, but the second year will be more focused at home.  President Obama signaled that more of his time and attention will be dedicated to core domestic issues like jobs and health care - this morning’s Washington Post headline reads: “Obama’s sole mission - The economy.”

But make no mistake - the speech was no retreat into isolationism. On core national security issues, President Obama presented, as Heather Hurlburt noted, a blend of toughness and engagement. And in fact, much of his domestic agenda - state action to deal with the economy and invest in the future - was framed in the context of keeping America on top in the world.

One of the strongest and emotionally resonant portions of the speech was when Obama framed the country’s entire predicament in a global context:

“How long should we wait? How long should America put its future on hold?

You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse. Meanwhile, China's not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany's not waiting. India's not waiting. These nations aren't standing still. These nations aren't playing for second place. They're putting more emphasis on math and science. They're rebuilding their infrastructure. They are making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.

Well I do not accept second-place for the United States of America. As hard as it may be, as uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may be, it's time to get serious about fixing the problems that are hampering our growth.”

At one point, I thought I hear a faint chanting in Congress of “we’re number one, we’re number one.”  This recognition that we need to be strong at home in order to remain strong in the world is something I’ve written about before.  My colleague Nina Hachigian has called this blending of foreign and domestic policy “formestic” in this piece

What we saw last night was the unveiling of the first 21st century foreign policy framework - one that no longer divides the world between good and evil, but instead recognizes that our fates at home are inextricably linked to what happens overseas, now more than ever and vice versa.  It’s a message Obama outlined in his speech to the United Nations last fall, and it’s one that will continue, even as our political debates shift even more inward this coming year.

January 27, 2010

More on Keeping Promises to America's Vets
Posted by Kelsey Hartigan

Following President Obama's address, over 1 million people signed on and submitted questions to the White House.  Ben Rhodes further elaborated on President Obama's commitment to veterans issues, which James also detailed earlier.

According to Rhodes: The administration has implemented the largest investment in veteran funding that we’ve seen in the past three decades.

President Obama is committed to establishing a 21st century VA that works for veterans.  The administration has significantly increased funding for:

Electronic medical records that can easily pass from DoD to VA

Signature wounds of wars in Iraq & Afghanistan…physical injuries sustained from IEDs as well as PTSD

Underserved areas in rural America so vets don’t have to travel long distances

Rhodes also detailed a few of the initiatives taken by Michelle Obama and Jill Biden to strengthen support for military families, including, increasing in pay for troops and extending daycare efforts to make it easier for spouses while their partner is serving the U.S.

Last Thoughts
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

So, what's the core national security message here?  Team Obama is not giving up on its national security agenda.  Look at the pieces:

- a brushback pitch on the relentless partisanship on national security issues, and insistence that national security spending (including State and foreign assistance) stay outside any spending freeze.

-firmly claiming the mantle of success on a core campaign promise -- ending the war in Iraq.

-doubling down on two core national security concerns that we know are personal for Obama -- safeguarding nuclear materials and reducing the threat posed by nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists and prohibiting torture as an element of a smart counter-terrorism strategy.

-reclaiming a few disparate issues (trade and repealing don';t ask don't tell -- how often will you see those in the same phrase) that others have said were dead. 

What does this add up to?  A blend of toughness -- more Al Qaeda operatives captured or killed in 2009 than 2008 -- and engagement that he's betting he can make work and get Americans to support.  And, remember, the poll numbers suggest that they do support him.

Don't Table the Timeline
Posted by Patrick Barry

Certain conservatives are sure to latch on to the President’s re-commitment to a conditions-based timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan.  But as I asked last December, why should this be such a point of contention?  It might actually yield some positive dividends on one of the thorniest problems facing the mission: our leverage deficit.
This vehement opposition to timelines has never totally made sense to me.  Of course it's important to demonstrate commitment, but its equally important to gain leverage, something that timelines can give you.  One surefire way to make countries like China, Iran and Pakistan start taking affairs in their backyard more seriously is to make them aware that there is an end-date to their riding on America's coat tails.  Right now, Pakistan has less incentive to behave productively in Afghanistan, mostly because it's mostly consequence free. We're the ones holding the bag!  But if they're forced to reckon with a future where it's not as easy to hide in America's shadow, it would be reasonable to assume more responsible behavior. 
As the year moves forward, and fighting intensifies, calls to abandon the commitment to a timetable will likely grow louder.  As Ambassador Eikenberry's cables highlight, there's reason to doubt whether General McChrystal's famous "bell curve," on which the administration's timetable is based, was ever realistic to begin with. But this should not shake the administration's resolve.  With Afghanistan’s fate so dependent on the right kind of involvement by its neighbors, signaling an end to the era of coat-tail riding is a positive step, and the U.S. should  The alternative is staying forever. 

Standing Ovation for Securing all Vulnerable Nuclear Materials
Posted by Kelsey Hartigan

Aware of the growing threats of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism, President Obama reminded Americans of the dangers nuclear weapons present.

Even as we prosecute two wars, we are also confronting perhaps the greatest danger to the American people – the threat of nuclear weapons.  I have embraced the vision of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan through a strategy that reverses the spread of these weapons, and seeks a world without them. To reduce our stockpiles and launchers, while ensuring our deterrent, the United States and Russia are completing negotiations on the farthest-reaching arms control treaty in nearly two decades. And at April’s Nuclear Security Summit, we will bring forty-four nations together behind a clear goal: securing all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years, so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists.

The response? A standing ovation…from both sides of the aisle. I hope Senator Kyl had a chance to stretch… 
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