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September 30, 2010

China Currency Bill: The Upside
Posted by Jacob Stokes

China Currency PicYesterday, the House passed a bill that allows the U.S. to seek trade sanctions against China and other nations for manipulating their currency to gain trade advantages. The bill aims at punishing China for keeping its currency an estimated 40 percent lower than it should be, which the Economic Policy Institute estimates has cost the U.S. 1.8 million jobs since 2001.

Of course, there’s some amount of political motivation that goes into this decision, as candidates turn to lambasting China on the campaign trail. And there are certainly things that can be done at home that would help the situation, as Matt Yglesias points out.

But I think the measure has a few redeeming qualities. First, while the bill is unlikely to pass, it will give some ammunition to the Obama administration when it goes to China and tries to play good cop (administration), bad cop (Congress) with the Chinese, giving credibility to threats about actions America is prepared to take on the issue. This is important because a central characteristic of the Chinese regime is that they’re much more concerned about force and coercion than they are about being the sparkle in the eye of the international community.

Secondly, as America begins to push back on the issue, the Chinese government can use that pressure as a convenient excuse to push back against their own influential export lobby, which is the biggest proponent of keeping the value of the yuan low. Chinese leaders know they need to expand the domestic market and help the Chinese consumer buy more; increasing the value of the yuan will do that. What’s more, the amount of currency intervention needed to keep the yuan low creates all sorts of negative sides effects, an overheating economy being only one of them, that the Chinese government would like to get rid of.

Continue reading "China Currency Bill: The Upside" »

September 28, 2010

Our Ongoing Civil-Military Relations Crisis
Posted by Michael Cohen

Today's gobsmacking quote from the new Woodward book.

"Mr. President," Tien said, "I don't see how you can defy your military chain here. We kind of are where we are. Because if you tell General [Stanley A.] McChrystal [the U.S. commander in Afghanistan], 'I got your assessment, got your resource constructs, but I've chosen to do something else,' you're going to probably have to replace him. You can't tell him, 'Just do it my way, thanks for your hard work.' And then where does that stop?"

The colonel did not have to elaborate. His implication was that not only McChrystal but the entire military high command might go in an unprecedented toppling - Gates; Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Gen. David H. Petraeus, then head of U.S. Central Command. Perhaps no president could weather that, especially a 48-year-old with four years in the U.S. Senate and 10 months as commander in chief.

Excuse me while I count all the ways in which Colonel Tien's statement is reflective of the ongoing civ-mil crisis in this country.

A) "Mr. President," Tien said, "I don't see how you can defy your military chain here." 

Hmm. The very idea that the President of the United States could ever be in a situation where he "defies" the military chain of command on a decision related to national security decision-making pretty much turns the 230-year tradition of civilian control of the military on its head. What I have trouble seeing here is how Col. Tien could possibly say this to the President of the United States.

B) "Because if you tell General [Stanley A.] McChrystal [the U.S. commander in Afghanistan], 'I got your assessment, got your resource constructs, but I've chosen to do something else,' you're going to probably have to replace him. You can't tell him, 'Just do it my way, thanks for your hard work.'" 

Continue reading "Our Ongoing Civil-Military Relations Crisis" »

September 27, 2010

Magical Military Thinking About Afghanistan - The Stavridis Version
Posted by Michael Cohen

Someday when the history of the US war in Afghanistan is written historians will point to this op-ed by James Stavridis NATO Supreme Allied Commander for Europe as Exhibit A in the magical military thinking that doomed the US effort there. I'm not sure my prodigious amounts of snark can do justice to how ridiculous this article is . .  but let's give it a whirl.

Stavridis basic argument is that the recent op-ed in the New York Times by Carnegie Endowment scholar Gilles Dorronsorro (who has been consistently right about the increasingly dire situation in Afghanistan) is actually wrong about how badly things are going there. You see according to Stavridis . . . things are going just peachy!

And what is Stavridis's evidence:

There is significant progress in this area as we have fielded 240,000 Afghan National Security Forces. The recruiting and training continues on a path to reach 300,000 by next summer, while operational competence continues to grow.

Really? Here's what General Caldwell, who is actually responsible for training these same Afghan forces, had to say about their status:

General Caldwell said it would not be until October 2011 — three months after the deadline for the start of American withdrawals set by Mr. Obama — that he will have finished building the Afghan security forces to their full capacity. For now, he said, “they cannot operate independently."

Indeed, Stavridis thinks its awesome that the "Afghan National Military Academy is a four year degree-producing institution" and "the Afghan National Army has opened schools in intelligence, engineering, law, military police, logistics, religious and cultural affairs and finance."

Personally I'm surprised he didn't mention the fact that the attrition rate in the ANSF is 47% - after all this is an improvement from its peak of 70%. Or he could have mentioned today's WSJ report that indicates the NATO has trained 100,000 Afghan soliders over the past 10 months but expects to lose 83,000 over the next thirteen months due to desertion, death and low retention rates. That's a net of 17,000 soldiers!

Continue reading "Magical Military Thinking About Afghanistan - The Stavridis Version" »

More on America's Ongoing Civ-Mil Relations Crisis
Posted by Michael Cohen

Over at abumuqawama, Andrew Exum thinks some of us are making far too much out of the current crisis in civ-mil relations. He quotes a reader:

How many of the people who think we have a serious civil-military problem because the military is controlling Obama (or whatever word one wants to use) also a) complained when Shinseki spoke out about the Iraq war strategy, b) thought Rumsfeld was correct in general to ride roughshod over the generals in 2001-2003, and c) thought that the generals complaining about Bush's Iraq strategy should have piped down and been quiet?

Andrew believes these are "good questions" and claims "it's worth noting how partisan preferences shape when and how people choose to get their panties all up in a twist on this." In particular he accuses Andrew Sullivan of engaging in a double standard for supporting retired generals who spoke out against torture while at the same time attacking David Petraeus. 

Forgive me for saying . . . but please! None of these events are even comparable to what Wooward recounts in "Obama's Wars" of the Pentagon basically doing everything possible to force Obama to support a 30,000 troop escalation (even misleading POTUS about war games that played out a smaller footprint scenario and publicly lobbying for more troops in congressional testimony and in the news media). You can read more here about the duplicitous games and public lobbying perpetrated by the Pentagon during last year's Afghanistan review. I dare someone to read this article and conclude that we DON'T have a serious civ-mil crisis in this country.

As for the particulars, the Shinseki comparison is particularly bogus. As I wrote here last year: "In 2003, he was Army Chief of Staff and when he publicly contradicted the Bush Administration's rosy view of the post-war occupation of Iraq he wasn't being interviewed on television - he was testifying under oath to Congress. As Shinseki's spokesperson correctly pointed out at the time, 'He was asked a question and he responded with his best military judgment.'"

Continue reading "More on America's Ongoing Civ-Mil Relations Crisis" »

September 25, 2010

Should We Let Rising Powers into Our Club?
Posted by David Shorr

He-man-woman-haters-club-bw 
Sometimes when you run across an opposing viewpoint, it can really spur you to sharpen your own argument. Such was the case when I read former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda's "Not Ready for Prime Time" article on rising powers in Foreign Affairs (published in shorter, paywall-less form in the Los Angeles Times). Castañeda has a pretty low opinion of the rising powers as pillars of the rules-based global order and recommends they be kept on a diplomatic wait-list before being admitted to the inner sanctum.

The good people at The Globalist published my rejoinder earlier this week. Here's an excerpt:

Mr. Castañeda’s idea of a political purgatory for the rising powers is unworkable and based on a misreading of today’s world. Pulling the new powers into closer consultation is much more likely to boost their adherence to multilateral norms than imperiously declaring them unready. Russia’s newfound zeal for pressuring Iran, largely attributable to the recent reset of U.S.-Russian relations, is a case in point.

As they say, read the whole thing.

September 24, 2010

Values Meal
Posted by David Shorr

Roosevelt__dec_human_rights_jpgAs the United States works to regain other nations' trust, it has to convincingly draw connections between American aims and the international common good and combat perceptions of completely self-serving policies. Key to this framework is the notion that the ideals of liberty are indeed universal rather than American or Western. In his speeches at the Millennium Development Goals summit and the annual opening of the UN General Assembly, President Obama addressed the question at some length.

In fact, the president devoted nearly half of his General Assembly speech to this theme. His presentation of the case took 19 paragraphs mainly because he approached it from so many different angles and in so many aspects. And that panoply itself underscored a key point: that progress is achieved, and measured, in many ways.

As I said last year, each country will pursue a path rooted in the culture of its people. Yet experience shows us that history is on the side of liberty - that the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies, and open governments. To put it simply: democracy, more than any other form of government, delivers for our citizens.

The speech emphasized the connections between economic and social rights and civil and political rights -- which have often been counterposed against each other. The common thread is the impact on ordinary people and the need to both empower them politically and ensure decent living standards and rewards for hard work. Woven into the argument were the issues of access to markets (e.g. for African food exports), the bureaucracy and corruption that stifles enterprise, the need to let women and girls play full roles, the freedom to protest and use the internet without censorship, and the will of the people as the only true source of political authority.

Continue reading "Values Meal" »

So long, Democracy Arsenal
Posted by Patrick Barry

You may have noticed that my Democracy Arsenal posting has declined a bit since I first began writing here almost three years ago. While largely attributable to increased responsibilities at DA's mamma, the National Security Network, as well as a budding interest in other mediums (especially Twitter - follow me at @Pbarry122), I've also been under consideration for a position with the government. Well, the time has come. On Monday I will start my new job as Special Assistant to my old boss, Rand Beers, who is Undersecretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate at DHS. I couldn't be more excited about this opportunity, but it will mean I have to stop blogging for a while.

Of all my experiences working at NSN, writing for DA has been far and away the most enjoyable. Besides having the opportunity to develop my thinking on foreign policy in public - something not all young people get a chance to do - I've been exposed to criticism that has forced me to revisit assumptions again and again. It's been a great run, and I will miss blogging dearly, but I'll be back soon enough.

September 23, 2010

How the Military Boxed Obama in on Afghanistan
Posted by Michael Cohen

So I haven't had a chance to read Bob Woodward's latest leak-filled tome, but from my understanding this graf seems to sum up one of the book's key themes:

The detailed meeting-by-meeting account, titled "Obama's Wars," describes how the top military and civilian officials in the Pentagon essentially barred serious consideration of any course of action that involved deploying fewer than the 30,000 additional troops that Obama eventually approved. Despite the critiques from Lute, Jones and Eikenberry, the only options that were seriously considered in the White House involved 30,000 to 40,000 more troops.

This is a bit of confirmation of what some of us were writing last Fall: that the Pentagon was actively working NOT to give the President a host of military options for what to do in Afghanistan, but to narrow his options to that he had little choice but to support escalation and a COIN strategy. Knowing this now it provides some more context for the leak of McChrystal's strategic review last Fall and more important his comments in London disparaging Vice President Biden's support for a CT approach for Afghanistan: both were consistent with a concerted and orchestrated effort by the military to force the President's hand on Afghanistan policy. This was something by the way that was happening throughout the spring and summer of 2009 so that by the time the White House convened its strategic review, COIN-focused escalation was pretty much the only option on the table.

This takeaway from the Daily Beast is one of my favorite tidbits:

In addition to being master bureaucratic infighters, the generals are genius P.R. men. Woodward recounts scene after scene of Petraeus talking to the press when he’s specifically been ordered to stand down. Once, just before a Situation Room meeting with Obama, he made a surprise CNN appearance from the White House briefing room.

Continue reading "How the Military Boxed Obama in on Afghanistan" »

What I Saw (and didn't see) as an Afghan Election Observer
Posted by Michael Cohen

In my column this week for AOLNews I write about what I saw as an election observer for the recent Afghan presidential elections: 

We arrived at the polling center in the northern Afghan province of Samengan via a road that winded its way around simple mud-brick houses, over narrow bridges of indeterminate effectiveness and on a surface so deeply pockmarked and uneven it barely qualified as a road.

I was in Afghanistan with the nongovernmental organization Democracy International, as part of an 80-person international election observer team.

All across Afghanistan, ordinary citizens headed to the polls on Saturday to cast a ballot for representatives to the country's Wolesi Jirga, or parliament, and in this tiny, rural village -- untouched by modernity -- it seemed that almost the entire community had gathered at the school/polling center to take in the proceedings. On one side were the village's male population; on the other were the women clad head to toe in full-length blue burqas. Meanwhile, children stared in wonder at our four-vehicle convoy and Kalashnikov-toting South African private security guards.

Clad in body armor and identification denoting us as international election observers, we marched to the village polling station to begin our monitoring. The polling center manager greeted us -- as did, it seemed, many of the idling men of the community -- deeply curious as to what exactly we were doing in their village. Our translator Sayed explained to the manager that we were here to observe the election process. He seemed momentarily confused but quickly ushered us inside the male voting station (our female colleagues were taken to the women's polling station).

Continue reading "What I Saw (and didn't see) as an Afghan Election Observer" »

September 22, 2010

Resilience is Leadership
Posted by James Lamond



There has been a lot of undo fuss over an excerpt in the Bob Woodward’s new book that quotes President Obama during a discussion about terrorism.  Apparently the president believes that the American people are a strong and resilient people.  In an interview with Woodward, he said: "We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger."

For some reason the right has gone nuts over this.  To me it seems like a perfectly logical –and true – statement.  I am not sure exactly what the criticism is.  Do they think that the American people are not able to “absorb” an attack, that we are a weak and fragile country?  Should we instead cower in fear? Disrupt our entire way of life? Seems that we are stronger than that.

First let’s be clear. Terrorism experts saythat the recent efforts have put al Qaeda central under a great deal of pressure and reduced its capabilities to conduct large scale attacks.  Earlier this year Richard Clarke wrote, “It is an objective and undeniable fact that U.S. counterterrorism efforts have reduced the overall threat from what it was a few years ago.” More recently Peter Bergen described the threat faced by terrorism as “real but not catastrophic.”  And part of a comprehensive approach to combating terrorism is preparing the readiness and the resilience of a nation. 

The common criticism regarding this quote that has been coming from people like Gretchen Carlson is that it invites an attack.  How exactly? If terrorists don’t achieve what they want – fear, overreaction and disruption from the target population – then why exactly would that encourage an attack? In fact it’s the opposite that’s true.  As Stephen Flynn, an expert on homeland security and President of the Center for National Policy, testified last week before the House Armed Services Committee: “If how we react—or more precisely, when we overreact—elevates the appeal of carrying out these attacks on U.S. soil, it follows that there is an element of deterrence by denying these terrorist groups the return on investment they hope to receive.”

Continue reading "Resilience is Leadership " »

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