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September 29, 2011

Lone Wolves in Perspective
Posted by James Lamond


The arrest of a Rezwan Ferdaus, a 26 year old Massachusetts man has once again brought the scary term “lone wolf” back into the news. Ferdaus, a graduate of Northeastern University in phyiscs was plotting to make to fly homemade “drones” made from remote-control model airplanes packed with five pounds of explosives into the Pentagon and Capital building. He was  caught by FBI agents  posing as members of al Qaeda. As Eli Lake writes this case, “gives a rare glimpse into how the government has been focusing on the threat of lone wolves and homegrown terrorists in the United States.”

Plots by lone wolfs are inherently difficult to disrupt. Suspects with no training, record, or communication with outside groups are difficult to identify. Eli quotes analyst Daveed Gartenstein-Ross in his story, saying “It is very hard to stop a lone-wolf attack once it is in progress. That’s the reason that the FBI has been making use of sting operations such as this in order to try to disrupt attacks before they begin.” 

It is certainly true that these sort of attacks are less likely to pop up on a radar making them more difficult to see and prevent. However in the media, it often takes on a sort of mystical appeal, as an unstoppable force.

Last week Stratfor’s Scott Stewart released a primer on the history of the lone wolf phenomenon across the ideological spectrum and a breakdown of the threat potential. He writes:

The lone-wolf threat is nothing new, but it has received a great deal of press coverage in recent months, and with that press coverage has come a certain degree of hype based on the threat’s mystique. However, when one looks closely at the history of solitary terrorists, it becomes apparent that there is a significant gap between lone-wolf theory and lone-wolf practice. An examination of this gap is very helpful in placing the lone-wolf threat in the proper context… 

… On its face, as described by strategists such as Beam and al-Suri, the leaderless-resistance theory is tactically sound. By operating as lone wolves or small, insulated cells, operatives can increase their operational security and make it more difficult for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to identify them. As seen by examples such as Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hassan and Roshonara Choudhry, who stabbed British lawmaker Stephen Timms with a kitchen knife in May 2010, such attacks can create a significant impact with very little cost.

Lone wolves and small cells do indeed present unique challenges, but history has shown that it is very difficult to put the lone-wolf theory into practice. For every Eric Rudolph, Nidal Hasan and Anders Breivik there are scores of half-baked lone-wolf wannabes who either botch their operations or are uncovered before they can launch an attack.

It is a rare individual who possesses the requisite combination of will, discipline, adaptability, resourcefulness and technical skill to make the leap from theory to practice and become a successful lone wolf. Immaturity, impatience and incompetence are frequently the bane of failed lone-wolf operators, who also frequently lack a realistic assessment of their capabilities and tend to attempt attacks that are far too complex. When they try to do something spectacular they frequently achieve little or nothing.

… When we set aside the mystique of the lone wolf and look at the reality of the phenomenon, we can see that the threat is often far less daunting in fact than in theory. 

Perhaps the most important lesson that Stewart finds from this brief history of the lone wolves, is that when “a group promotes leaderless resistance as an operational model it is a sign of failure rather than strength.” But this is often not the perspective in which the threat is presented in the media. And public officials do not always help. For example, back in February Secretary Napolitano described the changing threat from large-scale 9/11-style plots to the smaller-bore lone wolves threat, stating that, “The terrorist threat to the homeland is, in many ways, at its most heightened state since 9/11.” While it is probably true that a successful, if less ambitious, attack is increasingly likely to occur, these sort of statements miss the larger perspective. 

This is not meant to say that a lone wolf terrorist is not a threat. We have clearly seen that this is a tactic adopted AQAP. And officials should remain vigilant and citizens alert. However, it is also important to keep in mind a historical perspective that this is a move made by weakened organizations that has had little success through history. 

The Right Way to Challenge China on Currency
Posted by Jacob Stokes

Greg Sargent explains that another bill designed to punish China for currency manipulation is coming down the pike:

The battle over the American Jobs Act has sucked up all the oxygen, but there’s another jobs fight you really should be keeping an eye on: The battle over the measure to punish China for currency ma­nipu­la­tion. 

It’s a really interesting story, and it’s going to heat up in a big way next week. A lot is riding on the outcome — according to one estimate it could create over 1 million jobs. House Dem leaders like Nancy Pelosi are pushing hard for it, and passage it could dshore up vulnerable Democratic Senators in swing states that have hemorraged manufacturing jobs to China.

A similar bill was passed by the House around this time last year. What I wrote about it then largely still applies now (except the unlikely to pass part): 

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 "The Right Way to Challenge China on Currency" »

September 28, 2011

Whistling Past the Graveyard
Posted by Michael Cohen

GraveyardFernando Lujan has an op-ed in the New York Times today that is the sort of thing written about the war in Afghanistan that makes me want to repeatedly bang my head against a wall. Based on his experience on the ground in Afghanistan, Lujan is convinced that we can win in Afghanistan. How you ask? By being smarter!

“Winning” is a meaningless word in this type of war, but something is happening in the Afghan south that gives me hope. Rather than resignation, America should show resolve — not to maintain a large troop presence or extend timelines, but to be smarter about the way we use our tapering resources to empower those Afghans willing to lead and serve.

Why after ten years of fighting; why at a time when the President has made quite clear that US involvement in Afghanistan needs to begin winding down; why when the Afghan government and its security services have shown precious little inclination to "lead and serve" do we think that suddenly we're going to get Afghanistan right or that we're going to start acting smarter in how we use our resources? 

Reading Lujan's hopeful words about Afghanistan and the "stirring" that he claims to see among the populace one might think that things are improving in Afghanistan and that security is getting better. However, since Lujan proudly eschews the use of metrics in his article readers of the New York Times might not know that the exact opposite is happening. According to the latest quarterly report from the United Nations things are actually getting worse in Afghanistan . . . again:

The U.N. says the average monthly tally of armed clashes, roadside bombings and other violence has increased sharply this year in Afghanistan.

In its quarterly report on Afghanistan released Wednesday, the U.N. says that as of the end of August, the average monthly number of incidents was 2,108. That's up 39 percent compared with the same period last year.

The U.N. report also says that while the number of suicide attacks remained steady, insurgents are conducting more complex suicide operations, involving multiple bombers and gunmen.

It says that on average, three complex attacks have been carried out each month this year — a 50 percent increase compared with the same period last year.

Of course, as we are now regularly told by the Pentagon and its enablers in the policy community these attacks are not indicative of Taliban resilience - but rather desperation. How does Lujan know this: "a tough Pashtun named Mahmoud" told him so. As for the committed Afghan soldiers who Lujan is in contact with on a regular basis - they appear to be the exception not the rule. Rather, as Danger Room reported earlier this week not a single Afghan battalion is able to fight on its own. Not one. This "success" comes at a price tag of $6 billion per year in US taxpayer largesse.

But look none of this should be a surprise: the military has been dispensing this sort of anecdotal "good news" for years now in the hopes that it would convince Americans and policymakers that we are just around the corner from turning the corner in Afghanistan. It's yet one more example of the military interpreting short-term tactical gains as a sign of strategic progress. It's barely the former and not at all the latter.

The problem, which Lujan's op-ed typifies, is that we've never been realistic about what we can achieve in Afghanistan or what we can rely upon the Afghan government to do.  We haven't for one moment in the last ten years been smart about Afghanistan - that isn't going to change now as the US mission there begins to wind down. Quite simply, we've lost the war in Afghanistan. Winning is no longer in the cards (indeed it was never really an option). The question now is how to we get out in such a way that
protects our interests with the limited resources, capabilities and political will at our disposal.  Fetishizing the Afghan security services or our own abilities to do the "smart" thing in Afghanistan isn't going to help us answer those questions. 

Rather it's just another example of whistling past the graveyard.

September 27, 2011

Chinese Strategy Still Up for Grabs
Posted by Jacob Stokes

China NavyAs some search for a new rationale for increased defense spending, China has all but supplanted terrorism and rogue states as the favorite threat to cite. Princeton professor Aaron Friedberg’s tome “A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia” is on track to become the bible for those who argue that the U.S. must engage in a large-scale, immediate and continuous military build-up to curb China’s rise. 

In response to that growing narrative, Michael Swaine of the Carnegie Endowment has written a quick and elegant response arguing for a more nuanced view that takes into account the realities of Chinese politics and strategy, the imperatives of alliances in Asia and U.S. economic weakness. Anyone who’s tempted by Friedberg’s argument and its correlatives should read Swaine’s piece, several core paragraphs of which are below:

China’s strategic mindset is quintessentially defensive, largely reactive, and focused first and foremost on deterring Taiwan’s independence and defending the Chinese mainland, not on establishing itself as Asia’s next hegemon. Although it is not inconceivable that China might adopt more ambitious, far-flung military objectives in the future—perhaps including an attempt to become the preeminent Asian military power—such goals remain ill-defined, undetermined and subject to much debate in Beijing. This suggests that China’s future strategic orientation is susceptible to outside influence, not fixed in stone… 

Instead of more tough talk and increased defense spending, the United States and its allies in Asia need to grasp the malleable nature of China’s strategic intentions and shape a “mixed” regional approach focused more on creating incentives to cooperate than on neutralizing every possible Chinese military capability of concern to U.S. defense analysts. In particular, there is a need for a more far-reaching U.S.-China strategic dialogue that focuses on long-term interests and intentions and on what steps each country could take to avert growing security competition. 

This is not pie-in-the-sky utopian thinking. It is rooted in the realities of America’s changing economic position in the world, China’s own internal problems and debates, and Asia’s increasing openness to cooperative multilateral security approaches. Forward-thinking leaders will recognize the growing need for our two countries—and the region—to create opportunities for collaboration on global challenges rather than engaging in destabilizing military competition.

As Swaine suggests, it’s not that China poses no threat. But Chinese strategy is still very much in flux, and just as in the U.S., Chinese foreign policy is made by a mixture of diverse and changing interest groups. Those groups will respond, at least in part, to our actions. So a mixed strategy that checks Chinese overreach while also leaving room for positive Chinese actions on the world stage makes the most sense.

Photo: People's Daily

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Pakistan? Part II
Posted by Michael Cohen

Sound-of-Music With the United States and Pakistan having apparently de-friended each other on Facebook, the United States has chosen perhaps the strongest weapon in its arsenal to ratcheting up tension . . . they're now leaking unfavorable stories to the New York Times. 

Indeed, today's piece by Carlotta Gall about a Pakistani ambush of US soldiers in Pakistan is quite the blockbuster - and appears, magically, only four years after the event in question:

A group of American military officers and Afghan officials had just finished a five-hour meeting with their Pakistani hosts in a village schoolhouse settling a border dispute when they were ambushed — by the Pakistanis.

An American major was killed and three American officers were wounded, along with their Afghan interpreter, in what fresh accounts from the Afghan and American officers who were there reveal was a complex, calculated assault by a nominal ally. The Pakistanis opened fire on the Americans, who returned fire before escaping in a blood-soaked Black Hawk helicopter.

The attack, in Teri Mangal on May 14, 2007, was kept quiet by Washington, which for much of a decade has seemed to play down or ignore signals that Pakistan would pursue its own interests, or even sometimes behave as an enemy.

What is perhaps more disturbing about this story is, if American policymakers, were so familiar with Pakistani perfidy why was the 2009 escalation strategy in Afghanistan predicated in large measure on support from Pakistan?

One thing we've seen repeatedly in regard to the war in Afghanistan is that Pakistan will, even at the risk of eroding their alliance with the United States, aggressively pursue its interests in Afghanistan - and yet the US strategy for Afghanistan has been based, in part, on the notion that Islamabad would shift its strategic calculus at the urging of US officials (and the carrot of foreign assistance).  Two years later we're seeing the singular foolish of that strategy - but again it should have been evident back then. Rather than trying to get Pakistan to act against its interests the United States should have been looking to put in place a strategy that melded with Pakistan's strategic calculus regarding Afghanistan. We're today reaping the ill-rewards of that approach.

Nonetheless, the leaking of this story continues the growing war of words between the United States and Pakistan and suggests that US policymakers are willing to risk a break with Islamabad over its continued support for Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan (particularly the Haqqani network). Indeed, one plausible interpretation of why this story has been leaked is to coax Congress into doing something rash in regard to the billions of dollars that we provide to Pakistan every year. 

None of this makes much sense to me. Why is the United States willing to risk a rupture in relations with Pakistan - a country that is an unstable nuclear power and a hub of jihadist terror - over a war in Afghanistan where US interests are more faint and American leverage is on the decline? What is the end game here? What if the Pakistanis - as they've already done - tell the United States they are not going to crack down on the Haqqanis? Will Congress cut off aid? And then what happens with the US drone war in Pakistan or counter-terrorism efforts? How is that worth a likely uncertain impact on the war in Afghanistan - a war in which Pakistan is going to continue to play a influential role no matter what the United States does?

I'd like to believe that the US government has a plan in regard to Pakistan or that it has some reason to believe that public pressure will shift Islamabad's thinking - but if the US track record is any indication I'm not feeling terribly confident.

September 26, 2011

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Pakistan?
Posted by Michael Cohen

Last week, departing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen publicly stated what is perhaps the single greatest open secret about the US war in Afghanistan - that it has become a proxy war between the US and Pakistan over the future of Afghanistan. The-Sound-of-Music-convert-photos-to-digital

For much of the previous two years - and well before - the Pakistani government has not only been providing safe haven to Taliban insurgents, but if Mullen is to be believed (and I think he should) the Haqqani network is a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's ISI. This would of course also mean that elements in the Pakistani military were responsible for an attack on the US embassy in Kabul. None of this should come as a surprise. It's a well-known fact that Pakistan is both directly and indirectly supporting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan . . . no matter how many times the Pakistani government expresses shock, shock that anyone would lodge such an accusation against it.

The fact that Mullen was the one making these comments - an individual who is probably the person closest to the Pakistanis in the United States military - speaks volumes. But it also demonstrates the strategic "grabbing for straws" that defines US policy in the region today. After all, we know that US officials have been privately browbeating Pakistani officials for two years to end their support for Taliban insurgents - and we know that the Pakistanis have basically been telling the United States that it's not going to happen. Why does the US think that this time a public accusation of complicity with the insurgency will push the Pakistanis into action (considering the normal domestic reaction in Pakistan to US efforts to cajole Islamabad one can imagine that it will have the exact opposite effect).

While it's possible that the Pakistanis will suddenly shift course now that the US has publicly called them out it's hard to see why they would. Instead, Pakistan's reaction to Mullen's comments was to publicly reject them and claim that the ISI has no links to Haqqani - a reaction that was nothing if not completely predictable.  And it all begs the question: what if the Pakistani government doesn't end its support for the Haqqanis? Are we going to send troops across the border to go after them the next time they target US targets or send a suicide assault mission into Kabul? Are we going to risk war with Pakistan to punish the Haqqanis?

If we aren't willing to take that step - and I seriously doubt we will - then all we're doing is throwing out some public charges that we aren't willing to back up with concrete action. Of course, it also bears noting that we have escalated US-Pakistani relations at a time when our leverage over Pakistan is on the decline as we are beginning to walk away from a failing strategy in Afghanistan. Is it really worth causing a fundamental break with Pakistan over Afghanistan?

What makes this even worse is that ultimately the US relationship with Pakistan is actually far more important to long-term US interests -- on issues like nuclear non-proliferation and counter-terrorism -- than the US relationship with Afghanistan. Our focus should be on trying to repair the former, rather than salvaging the latter.

Now to be sure this isn't intended to take Pakistan off the hook. Their behavior in regard to Afghanistan has become deeply schizophrenic - on the one hand at least publicly supporting the notion of political reconciliation while on the other lending support to insurgent groups like the Haqqanis that are making the achievement of such political goals basically impossible. Of course, this is reflective of the various power centers that exist inside the Pakistani government and its military. But in defense of US officials this has put them in an almost impossible bind. Unless the Pakistanis want to be responsible for sparking a civil war in Afghanistan after we leave or significantly harming relations with their superpower ally (and a provider of billions in foreign assistance) they might want to figure out a cohesive policy or at the very least rein in those groups undercutting the efforts toward finding a political resolution to the conflict.

But then again if one is looking for political consistency or even rational strategic behavior Islamabad probably isn't the first place you're going to look. 

Ultimately, while Pakistan's policy in Afghanistan is a source of enormous and understandable frustration to the United States the one lesson that US policymakers should have learned over the last ten years is that its ability to affect Pakistani behavior is quite limited. Pakistan will do what it wants - and neither carrots nor sticks seem able to get them to change their approach in regard to Afghanistan. 

In the proxy conflict over Afghanistan's future, President Obama's decision to pull the plug on the war is an indication that Pakistan has won - and we lost. Rather than trying to re-litigate the war by ramping up our rhetoric now we'd be better off recognizing Pakistani interests - and folding them into our policy in Afghanistan - then trying to coax Pakistan to adopt a position that they almost certainly consider to be in opposition to their strategic calculus regarding Afghanistan.

September 23, 2011

Florida 2011: Like 1972 Without the Classy Candidate?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

In 1972, my dad was working for a GOP Senator and my mom was raising two kids and dabbling in peace activism.  (Back then this wasn't as conflict-producing as it sounds now.)  Maybe because I have recently seen Senators Kerry and Leahy both compare today's climate unfavorably to that period, when I saw the crowd at the GOP debate last night boo a servicemember with no rebukes from the podium, I called my parents for comment.  After all, we all "know" about disgraceful treatment of servicemembers back then, right?  What, I asked them, did George McGovern have to say about the booing of uniformed military?

Well, said my mom, McGovern used to tell audiences to oppose the policy, not the people.  That sounds like great advice for the GOP primary crowd.  These are the same people who have proposed cutting promised veterans' benefits, tried to slash the New GI Bill, and ignored the military's advice on everything from arms control to trying terrorism suspects to Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal.  Will they do the same damage to their movement's relations with the military, and trust of the American people, that the people who didn't heed McGovern's advice did 40 years ago?

Expert-Checking The Security Debate
Posted by The Editors

By Heather Hurlburt

Thursday night’s Fox News-Google debate offered presidential hopefuls the chance to present their vision on a range of important issues in foreign affairs. The discussion also revealed several surprising misconceptions about U.S. national security at odds with the views of nonpartisan defense and military experts:

  • Pakistan. Conservatives, whose previous administration was found to have “no comprehensive plan” for Pakistan, now believe the U.S. can walk away from the country where Osama Bin Laden was found and killed.
  • Israel. A month in which Israel’s foreign minister said he would embrace Obama’s UN speech “with both hands” and its Prime Minister said Israelis owed Obama “a special measure of gratitude” is a surprising time to accuse the President of selling out our ally.
  • Supporting All Our Troops. The spectacle of an audience booing a uniformed American risking his life for his country, without rebuke from the candidates, poses fundamental questions for a conservative movement that claims to be the defenders of the U.S. military.

What The Experts Say

Pakistan: Military, bipartisan experts, former Cabinet officials say it’s wrong to think we can walk away. The successful targeting of Osama Bin Laden on Pakistani territory, and the killings of dozens of other top Al Qaeda leaders highlight the consensus among those who lead our counter-terrorism policy that backing away from Pakistan is not an option.CBS reported earlier this year, "[Chairman of the Joint chiefs of staff Admiral Michael] Mullen acknowledged that the two countries were in the midst of a ‘turbulent time,' but that both countries understand the importance of salvaging the situation. ‘I think that all of us believe that we cannot let this relationship come apart,' he said." Last year, a bipartisan Council on Foreign Relations "Pak-Af" task force chaired by Sandy Berger and Richard Armitage considered the alternatives and concluded, "Engagement, partnership, and investment-with markers of progress-in support of common objectives are more apt to encourage desirable results."

By contrast, the Government Accountability Office found that the Bush administration had “no comprehensive plan” to deal with the problem.  Instead, the Bush administration pursued a policy President Bush described as: “When [Musharraf] looks me in the eye and says there won’t be a Taliban and won't be Al Qaeda, I believe him.” [CBS News, 4/20/11. CFR,  11/10. GAO, 4/08 . George W. Bush via Washington Quarterly, Spring 2007.]

Israelis thank Obama; Foreign Minister endorses UN speech “with both hands.” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman endorsed the president's speech at the UN this week, saying he would sign on to it with "both hands."   Less than three weeks ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recognized the strong leadership of the United States, saying, "I would like to express my gratitude to the President of the United States, Barack Obama. I asked for his help. This was a decisive and fateful moment. He said, 'I will do everything I can.' And so he did. He used every considerable means and influence of the United States to help us. We owe him a special measure of gratitude. This attests to the strong alliance between Israel and the United States. This alliance between Israel and the United States is especially important in these times of political storms and upheavals in the Middle East." [Avigdor Lieberman via JTA, 9/22/11. Benjamin Netanyahu, 9/10/11

Military leaders express support for all men and women in uniform. Hearing a debate audience boo an American in uniform - with no rebuke from the candidates - is surprising and unprecedented, in particular because it flies in the face of the views of America’s military leadership. A year ago Admiral Mullen wrote about why he supported the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, saying, "It comes down to integrity -- theirs as individuals and ours as an institution." Maj. Gen. (ret) Paul Eaton, NSN Special Advisor, explained, “It's a matter of military discipline. All soldiers - gay, straight or otherwise - have the right to serve and to be held to the high standard of conduct currently applied to heterosexual service members. Ending ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is the right thing to maintain the integrity of the military and the right thing for our security." [Admiral Michael Mullen via Washington Post, 2/3/10. Paul Eaton via NSN, 10/13/10]


September 21, 2011

Rick Perry's Deeply Clownish Pro-Israel Press Conference
Posted by Michael Cohen

ClownNothing defines a modern presidential campaign like deep and pathetic genuflection to America's staunch and unyielding defenders of Israel; and apparently yesterday was Rick Perry's turn to prostrate himself. I have to say in an era of deeply clownish campaign performances this performance was really quite something. Andrew Exum has done a nice job of annotating the presser here, but there are a few things jumped out to me as well . . . like Perry's opening sentence

I am joined today by a diverse group of Jewish leaders from here and abroad who share my concern that the United Nations could take action this week to legitimize the Palestinian gambit to establish statehood in violation of the spirit of the 1993 Oslo Accords.

I guess no one told Rick Perry that Israeli settlement expansion (which has tripled since Oslo was signed) is also a "violation of the spirit of the 1993 Oslo Accords." Of course if someone had told Perry this is would have likely bounced right off him: after all as Christiane Amanpour reported Perry told her he has no problem with Israeli settlement growth, "Israel should be allowed to keep building (settlements)," said the Texas Governor.

This position is in opposition to 30-years of US policy - and contradicts the view held by a trio of GOP presidents. But hey, nakedly pandering to domestic constituencies is hard work. 

Speaking of pandering and appeasement Perry also said this, "It is time to change our policy of appeasement toward the Palestinians to strengthen our ties to the nation of Israel."

Honestly, this is one of the craziest things I've heard come out of the mouth of a American politician in quite some time. The United States is currently preparing to veto a UN Security Council Resolution creating a Palestinian state; it has been lobbying members of the Security Council and the General Assembly to vote against said resolution - in what alternate Texas-universe is this appeasement? Perhaps its the same Texas universe where scientists believe climate change is not real? If the United States was appeasing the Palestinians or even the Arab street (another charge by Perry) wouldn't the Obama Administration be supporting Palestinian statehood?*

It's almost as if Rick Perry believes that to prove America's fealty to Israel we have to veto resolutions that negatively affect Israel . . . and also have our diplomats tape kick me signs to the back of Mahmoud Abbas.

If Rick Perry truly believes that the Obama Administration is "appeasing the Palestinians" he either has no idea what is happening in the Middle East or he doesn't know what the word appeasement actually means. 

But then again the number of rank misstatements in Perry's remarks is something to truly behold:

"This administration encouraged the Palestinians to shun direct talks." - Actually that's why the Palestinians are going to the UN; there are no direct talks taking place.

"By injecting the issue of 1967 borders in addition to a construction freeze in East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements, the Obama Administration has put Israel in a position of weakness and taken away their flexibility to offer concessions as part of the negotiation process." - and yet in the same remarks Perry demands that "Palestinian leaders must publicly affirm Israel’s right to exist, and to exist as a Jewish state" AND "Abbas must persuade all factions including Hamas to renounce acts of terrorism and release kidnapped Israeli Gilad Shalit."

So Israel must have complete flexibility in negotiations . . . Palestinians must surrender in advance. Of course, considering that Perry believes "moral equivalency" between the Israeli desire to live in peace and Palestinians to have a state is a "dangerous insult" this contradictory position sort of makes sense.

Perry even makes nutty statements about countries in the region, "Who knows what the leadership of Iran would look like today if America had done everything in its power to provide diplomatic and moral support to encourage the growing movement of dissidents who sought freedom."

Ooh call on me - I know the answer! "Iran would look exactly the same." What do I win?

Of course, part of Perry's confusion might stem from the fact that he is blinded . . . by religious devotion.  According to Perry, “As a Christian I have a clear directive to support Israel . . . But that’s easy for me. Both as an American and as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel.”

I don't even know what to make of this. It really isn't everyday that a politician seeking the White House would boast of the fact that they are basing foreign policy decision-making on religious faith. I'm not even sure Jews would make an argument like this. Someone really needs to update Rick Perry on this whole-separation-of-church-and-state thing.

Of course, it's fun to joke about this stuff, but in reality it's serous business - and indicative of how twisted debates about Israel have become in modern American politics. The assumption among Republican politicians - and a bevy of Democrats - is that the United States must unwaveringly support whatever the current Israeli government deems to be in its national interests . . . with little actual consideration of what US interests in the region might be.

That the support we are providing is emboldening the worst impulses of Israel's government is only turning political farce into national tragedy.


September 20, 2011

Hypocrite, Hypocrite, Two-Faced
Posted by Michael Cohen

Over at the Atlantic, my good friend and colleague Josh Foust has a post up deriding those who advocated intervention in Libya and are not now doing the same in Yemen:

From almost every angle, I cannot see why tho Hypocrite se who demanded the world intervene to prevent an atrocity from happening in Libya are not doing the same on behalf of Yemen. Some say that Yemen is prohibitively complicated, but Yemen only seems more complex because we know more about it . . . Other argue that intervention in Libya had more international support, but there is broad international consensus that the Saleh regime needs to end. And the argument that the world had to stop an atrocity in Libya ring the most hollow of all: unlike in Libya, there are atrocities happening in Yemen right now, and they are by all accounts horrifying.

To be honest, I don't think this is really all that confusing - all you really need to do is read President Obama's speech justifying intervention in Libya from back in March:

Some question why America should intervene at all - even in limited ways - in this distant land. They argue that there are many places in the world where innocent civilians face brutal violence at the hands of their government, and America should not be expected to police the world, particularly when we have so many pressing concerns here at home.

It is true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention,we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what's right.In this particular country - Libya; at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale.We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Gaddafi's forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.

One doesn't have to agree with this - and in some parts I don't - nonetheless, the President makes what is a very clear and compelling case for why the US could and should have intervened in Libya . . . and why such an intervention can't necessarily be replicated everywhere else. In fact, while I had and have real concerns about our intervention in Libya I also  recognize that what made this war unique - and why it is different from Yemen or Syria - is that US interests and capabilities were very much in concert (and that doesn't happen very often).

There was an international coalition supporting the intervention (including backing from the Arab League); the US was not being asked to take the military lead or put troops on the ground; because of the unique geography of Libya it was possible to intervene and do so in such a way that a) saved civilian lives and b) turned back the enemy. Very few of these particular attributes exist in Yemen or Syria or anywhere else for that matter.

Indeed, there are many good arguments against intervening in Libya - it wasn't in our interests, we didn't understand the rebels we were supporting, we didn't think long-term about what would happen after the fighting stopped etc. But the argument that we shouldn't intervene in Libya because it would set a precedent we couldn't replicate is by far the least compelling argument. It's a basic recipe for inaction, even when the capabilities exist for the US and the international community to intervene in such a way that could be beneficial (and obviously one can disagree over whether our intervention in Libya was beneficial).

By the logical progression of Josh's argument we should not intervene to protect civilians that are risk of being killed . . . because we can't do it everywhere. As he says, "The problem is, Libya let the cat out of the bag. We sent that message that if you scream loud enough, we will step in. And now, when we choose not to, we risk looking like hypocrites." I don't see it this way at all. Countries choose to intervene or use military force all the time and as Obama suggests "we must always measure our interests against the need for action." That is a smart, pragmatic way to approach international issues and its one where consistency is a hugely overrated consideration. Who cares if the US is consistent if it comes at the expense of furthering the country's national interests? I don't mean to be flippant, but I tend to agree with old saw about consistency being the hobgobblin of simple minds (not that Josh is simple-minded!)

Of course, this doesn't mean that the US and the international community can't respond to what is happening in Yemen or Syria; but it doesn't necessarily mean that the response has to be one of military intervention. This is only hypocrisy if one views the response to humanitarian emergencies as exclusively that of military force. Clearly as the President suggests the places where the US should send troops in response to a humanitarian emergency is limited - and rightly so.

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