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October 31, 2010

"...I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end"
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

A couple months ago, I corresponded with NSN's Advisory Board member Ted Sorensen about whether he'd be interested in writing a piece comparing the towering speech on religion JFK made during the 1960 campaign, to counter anti-Catholic bigotry, with the state American Muslims find themselves in today.  Sorensen pointed out to me that the 50th anniversary of the speech passed on September 12.  But I failed to follow up, and now it is too late.  So in tribute I will post the chunk of that speech I think of when I read assertions that Muslims are unfit to serve in Congress, inherently frighteneing, not adherents of a real religion, etc etc.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been -- and may someday be again -- a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you -- until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end, where all men and all churches are treated as equals, where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice, where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind, and where Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, at both the lay and the pastoral levels, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

Statement by the President on the Passing of Ted Sorensen
Posted by The Editors

Statement by the President on the Passing of Ted Sorensen

“I was so saddened to learn that Ted Sorensen passed away.  I got to know Ted after he endorsed my campaign early on. He was just as I hoped he’d be – just as quick-witted, just as serious of purpose, just as determined to keep America true to our highest ideals.

From his early days desegregating a Nebraska pool to his central role electing and advising President Kennedy to his later years as an international lawyer and advocate, Ted lived an extraordinary life that made our country – and our world – more equal, more just, and more secure. Generations of Americans entered public service aspiring to follow in his footsteps.

Even as I mourn his loss, I know his legacy will live on in the words he wrote, the causes he advanced, and the hearts of anyone who is inspired by the promise of a new frontier. My heart goes out to his wife Gillian, his daughter Juliet, his sons, Eric, Stephen, and Philip, and the entire Sorensen family.”

###

October 29, 2010

The Rise of Free - But Meaningless - Elections
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I have a new piece out in Foreign Policy on Arab elections, where I discuss a new and troubling trend: the free but unfair - and rather meaningless - election. You can read it here. Here's a teaser:  

A certain Arab country recently held parliamentary elections. The vote was reasonably free and fair. Turnout was 67 percent, and the opposition won a near majority of the seats -- 45 percent to be exact. Sounds like a model democracy. Yet, rather than suggesting a bold, if unlikely, democratic experiment, Saturday's elections in Bahrain instead reflected a new and troubling trend in the Arab world: the free but unfair -- and rather meaningless -- election.

 Something similar will happen on Nov. 9 in Jordan. The Hashemite Kingdom is a close U.S. ally that has grown increasingly proficient at predetermining election results without actually rigging them. It involves gerrymandering at a scale unknown in the West and odd electoral engineering (Jordan is one of only three countries in the world that uses something called Single Non Transferable Vote for national elections). Even when the opposition is allowed to win, the fundamentals do not necessarily change. Parliamentary legislation in countries like Jordan and Bahrain, after all, can be blocked by appointed "Upper Houses." And even if that were not the case, the King (or the President) and his ministers -- all appointed -- can also kill any threatening legislation.

As they say, read the whole thing

October 28, 2010

Lt. Gen. Jameson: ICBM shutdown had 'no real bearing on the capabilities of our nuclear forces'
Posted by Kelsey Hartigan

Earlier today, former Deputy Commander in Chief and Chief of Staff of U.S. Strategic Command, Lt. General Dirk Jameson, USAF (Ret.), once again reiterated his strong support for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and stressed that the computer glitch at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming that took 50 nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) temporarily offline was “nothing to be overly concerned about.”

Prior to his STRATCOM assignment, Gen. Jameson commanded the 14,500 men and women of the U.S. 20th Air Force, and was responsible for all U.S. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, seven major subordinate units, operational training, testing, security and readiness. 

On a media conference call convened by the bipartisan American Security Project, Gen. Jameson emphasized that this interruption had “no real bearing on the capabilities of our nuclear forces to carry out their deterrent mission.”  Gen. Jameson further warned against doing “something foolish like not ratifying the New START Treaty because of this isolated event.” 

“I represent a group of retired admirals and generals who, on a nonpartisan basis, have investigated the New START Treaty and believe that it is in our country’s vital interest to see that this treaty is ratified,” Gen. Jameson said. 

The New START Treaty has the “unanimous support of America's military leadership,” including seven former STRATCOM commanders who have assured Senators, "We strongly endorse its early ratification and entry into force."

Despite this strong support, a few Cold War ideologues have attempted to use the F.E. Warren incident as an excuse to oppose New START.  Earlier today, Marc Ambinder reported

“The recent failure reinforces the need for the United States to maintain 450 ICBMs to ensure a strong nuclear defense," said Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY). “If new START had been in place on Sunday, we would have immediately been below an acceptable level to deter threats from our enemies.  Before ratifying this treaty, the Senate must ensure we modernize our own nuclear weapons and strengthen our national security.”

Continue reading "Lt. Gen. Jameson: ICBM shutdown had 'no real bearing on the capabilities of our nuclear forces'" »

October 27, 2010

Mideast Peace Hoop Jumping
Posted by David Shorr

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So I got to thinking about the Netanyahu government's demand for Palestinian affirmation of Israel's Jewish nature before a peace deal can be reached. Essential cornerstone for negotiations, or off-putting requirement for the other side to prove its legitimacy? The question of the day isn't the nature of the Israeli state, but the price of admission for Palestinian negotiators just so talks can begin in earnest. What might some analogies be for this situation, I wondered?

A few ideas. Imagine that Sinn Fein in the late-1990s had been required, prior to serious talks, not just to abandon violent insurgency but also to pledge allegiance to the Queen and fly the Union Jack at their offices and events. How about this headline: European Union to Turkey -- "Never Mind Kurdish, French Must be an Official Language."  Or closer to home, what if Senate Republicans demanded amdendment of New START with a commitment to deploy missile defense?

I guess I'm just noting the distinction between negotiation and capitulation. Which ought to be obvious, now that I think of it.

A Tale of Two Wars - Part Two
Posted by Michael Cohen

Paula Broadwell today over at Tom Ricks blog:

"We would be the first to caution that victory is not just around the corner," said a senior official in Kabul this week. He also noted that while some members of the media may have rushed to change the narrative from one of 'all is lost' to 'winning is inevitable,' but quickly clarified that "Neither is true."

Huh, I wonder where the media might have gotten the idea that we're winning in Afghanistan?

David Petraeus:

"I think it is arguable, at least, that we are winning.”

Admiral James Stavridis:

After 15 months as the NATO commander for operations globally, with a focus on Afghanistan, I’d say we have a good chance at success in the country.

Maj. Gen. Nick Carter,  the British commander of the NATO coalition forces in southern Afghanistan

"We now have the initiative. We have created momentum,” said Carter, who has overseen the Kandahar operation for the last year. “It is everything put together in terms of the effort that has gone in over the last 18 months and it is undoubtedly having an impact.”

Colonel John Ferrari, deputy commander of the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan:

Ferrari spoke of an “inevitability factor,” in which local security forces, in theory and if trained properly, rise in quantity, skill and state of equipment, sharply tilting the war in the government’s favor.

The Times of London:

"The Taliban are getting an absolute arse-kicking," said one top-level Westerner deeply involved with Operation Ham Kari, the latest big push by US and British forces in Kandahar. "It's been their worst year since 2001-02. We're taking them off the battlefield in industrial numbers. We're convinced that the initiative has really shifted."

The Washington Post:

"There are tectonic shifts going on. There really are," an aide to Petraeus said of the network, also speaking on the condition of anonymity because of lack of authorization. However, the aide added: "Are we at that culminating point where we start to see disintegration? Not yet."

I can only imagine where reporters got the crazy idea that things are turning around in Afghanistan . . .

A Tale of Two Wars
Posted by Michael Cohen

A friend was commenting to me this morning that it's become nearly impossible to understand what's happening in Afghanistan today . . . because every news story seems to reflect an agenda-driven leak. 

And right on cue we have these two headlines from the Washington Post . . appearing in the same paper on back-to-back days.

U.S. operations in Kandahar push out Taliban - October 26, 2010

U.S. military campaign to topple resilient Taliban hasn't succeeded - October 27, 2010

How does one understand what's happening in Afghanistan when the same major American newspaper has two articles making diametrically opposite arguments about the status of the war?

Well, here's a helpful hint - try to figure out who is leaking the information. Here's what the more pessimistic story has to say:

An intense military campaign aimed at crippling the Taliban has so far failed to inflict more than fleeting setbacks on the insurgency or put meaningful pressure on its leaders to seek peace, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials citing the latest assessments of the war in Afghanistan.

The blunt intelligence assessments are consistent across the main spy agencies responsible for analyzing the conflict, including the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Here's the source of the information from the more optimistic story about US military progress:

With 2,000-pound bombs, 12,000 troops, and one illiterate but charismatic Afghan border police commander, the American military has forced insurgents to retreat from key parts of this strategically vital region, according to U.S. and Afghan commanders.

US military commanders on the ground are more optimistic about the situation on the ground than intelligence analysts across the US government. Imagine that! Seriously, who could have seen that one coming?

But if you're still not sure who to trust, consider the other Washington Post article on Afghanistan today:

U.S. and other international development programs in a key Afghan province are "incoherent" and lack mechanisms to avoid wasteful overlap or to monitor their success, according to a new report by government auditors.

This is happening in Nangahar province, which is considered relatively stable (ish), compared to the situation in Kandahar. So one might be able to draw the conclusion that even if the US is making progress in pushing out the Taliban it's going to have a very difficult time maintaining those gains. Ultimately, that should be the corrective to any of these "we're making progress" or "we're killing lots of Taliban" stories - can we hold what we've gained.

So far the evidence on that count is a bit more conclusive. 

October 25, 2010

Why Democrats Lose on National Security
Posted by Michael Cohen

I've been a bit sidetracked in my hopes to blog Bob Woodward's Obama War's - but I would be remiss if I didn't raise attention to this breathtaking quote from Leon Panetta about last fall's Afghanistan review:

He told other principals, "No Democratic President can go against military advice, especially if he asked for it." His own recommendation would be, "So just do it. Do what they say." He repeated to other key White House officials his belief that the matter should have been decided in a week. 

You know, it's almost as if in Leon Panetta's world we don't need a president at all.

Keep in mind, Leon Panetta is not a nobody - he was a Democratic congressman for 16 years, he was Bill Clinton's budget director and his chief of staff, he was part of the Iraq study group and now he runs the CIA. In short, he's a liberal stalwart, a loyal Democrat - in Washington's constricted political culture he is the kind of gray-beard who other Democrats believe has lots of gravitas (a Very Serious Person).

And yet he seems to believe that the party to which he has dedicated his professional life has so little credibility on national security issues that a Democratic president - elected in large measure because of his courageous opposition to the Iraq war - cannot reject the military advice of his generals. Actually he not only can't reject it; he can't even debate it!

We spend a lot of time here at Democracy Arsenal criticizing the foreign policy views (and actions) of Republicans - as we should. But let's be clear: it is precisely attitudes like those expressed by Panetta (one that is widely held by other serious Democratic foreign policy experts) that ensure Democrats consistently lose on national security or even worse, habitually make the wrong decisions on national security. It's a good part of the reason why we haven't had a Democratic Secretary of Defense in 14 years - because Democrats think that they only way they can have credibility on national security is to have their administrations blessed by a Republican  . . . or a guy in a uniform (and right on cue, here is Peter Beinart making the predictable argument for Colin Powell as Obama's next Secretary of Defense).

Fearful of standing up for what they believe in and bolstered by national security me-tooism Democrats have consistently failed to lay out their own national security agenda. So what we have is one party of militarists and fetishizers of American global leadership and another party that is slightly less solicitous of the military and the platitudes of American leadership. Granted, I'm generalizing a bit here; but how Democrats came to see a progressive national security as something that looks a bit more progressive than whatever crazy idea the GOP comes up with is deeply troubling.

It might also be worth remembering that it is precisely toxic attitudes like Panetta's that Barack Obama ran against in his 2008 Democratic primary campaign. Instead of running with the Democratic pack, Obama called the Iraq war what it was - a stupid war. He rejected the notion that Democrats had to act like Republican-lites on national security and foreign policy.

And yet here is his CIA director saying that he "cannot" reject military advice because the political fallout would be too great. I'll tell you what if Barack Obama wants to have a better, more progressive foreign policy . . . perhaps he should find some new aides.

October 22, 2010

Heather's take on Wikileaks
Posted by The Editors

DA blogger and NSN Executive Director Heather Hurlburt has a piece on Wikileaks up on the Huffington Post:

This afternoon's new tranche of Wikileaks seems to add a numbing amount of new, awful detail to what we already knew about the Iraq war. They are a flood on top of a steady, if less headline-grabbing, drip from other sources: Salon's report that an originator of the military's coercive interrogation program was rewarded with a no-bid Pentagon contract, Truthout's reporting on the legal directive intended to cover experimentation or testing of the program on detainees.

The wikileaks "model" has two major demerits: first, it's still wrong to put Iraqi lives at risk and/or release personal details about soldiers and civilians who fought, informed, died or just had the misfortune to live in Iraq over this period. But second, the flood of data makes it harder, not easier, to see the patterns that we still need to learn from this misbegotten war. And the sheer, accumulated horror of it will accelerate the pace at which some Americans will turn away from wanting to learn anything at all.

Full piece after the jump.

Continue reading "Heather's take on Wikileaks" »

October 21, 2010

The Neocon New START Whip
Posted by Jacob Stokes

Bolton In a show of dedication to the two-front war doctrine, neoconservative thought leaders gave three warning shots to the rest of the Republican establishment yesterday. Those shots are a message to get in line on opposing the New START treaty – the second front in the GOP’s internecine war, with the first being the defense budget. Unlike the defense budget though, on New START the neocons are mainly battling the old-line Cold War establishment and senior military leaders.

The three warnings shot are three pieces in the Washington Times, one each from Frank Gaffney, the team of John Bolton and Paula DeStutter and a news piece by reporter/columnist Bill Gertz. Frank Gaffney’s piece, as one might expect, trots out a bunch of discredited conservative arguments against New START with no substance or quotes to back them up. Bolton and DeStutter’s piece is similarly weak on the substance, twisting the facts to try to say the Obama administration is actually responsible for the gap in verification of the Russian nuclear arsenal, which, because of Republican obstinacy and stalling, has gone on for 319 days as I write this sentence. (It’s worthy of note though, they’re careful not to say New START’s verification measures are worthless.) The third piece posits that the Obama administration is secretly negotiating a missile defense agreement with Russia – again, no evidence but a useful rumor in the runup to an election.

The fact that these pieces don’t have substance doesn’t matter much to this bunch. They’re not too worried about the substance. What they’re trying to do is prevent the rest of the party – specifically, old guard Republicans such as Robert Gates, Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, as well as some of the saner of today’s crop such as Richard Lugar – from allowing President Obama to get a win on New START or any other foreign policy issue, even if it’s clearly in American security interests. They do that by providing arguments that could be true, even if they’re clearly not.

Continue reading "The Neocon New START Whip" »

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