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November 23, 2011

Politics Stops at the Water's Edge
Posted by Michael Cohen

Over at Foreign Policy is my contribution to recapping last night's national security debate . . . and it's not pretty:

Tuesday night was the tenth Republican presidential debate this year and the second to focus on national security and foreign policy. One would think that after this many discussions among the GOP aspirants, voters would have a clear sense of how a Republican commander-in-chief would deal with the myriad foreign-policy issues he (or she!) will find on his plate in January 2013.

Think again. Maybe this is the penalty one pays for watching too many of these dog-and-pony shows; maybe it was the numerous and occasionally inane questions about foreign-policy topics that seemed more relevant two election cycles ago (TSA patdowns? Really?); or maybe it was the parade of former Bush administration officials asking questions (David Addington and Mark Thiessen both weighed in; apparently John Yoo had made other plans).

In any case, those Americans looking for answers to questions about foreign policy issues the next president will actually be dealing with on foreign policy were likely to be disappointed. China and the Far East in general didn't come up -- and this just after President Barack Obama had returned from a weeklong visit to the region. There was nothing on the boiling Eurozone crisis, the current violence in Egypt, or climate change -- and surprisingly little on defense cuts or the future of the military, despite the recent meltdown of the congressional "supercommittee" charged with carrying out such cuts.

You can read the whole thing here

 

Amb. Pifer to DA: “Door remains open” for future missile defense talks
Posted by Kelsey Hartigan

Josh Rogin reports today:

The U.S.-Russian talks to cooperate on missile defense have apparently failed, as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced a series of retaliatory measures today aimed at giving Russia the ability to destroy the American-led system in Eastern Europe.

In a statement to the "citizens of Russia" on Wednesday, Medvedev announced that the year-long negotiations between the President Barack Obama's administration and its Russian counterparts to find a way to work together on what's known as the European Phased Adaptive Approach to ballistic missile defense were over. Medvedev said Russia was unable to attain written assurances from the United States that the system would not and could not be used to counter Russia's ballistic missile force.

As Democracy Arsenal readers will remember, there was a contentious debate over missile defense in the Senate while the New START treaty was being considered. Russia has long felt that its strategic offensive capabilities were the target of any and all U.S. backed missile defense systems, despite repeated briefings on the intent of the European system. While Medvedev’s comments aren’t exactly inspiring, his warnings may not be as dire as they sound.

Ambassador Steve Pifer of Brookings tells DA:

Bear in mind the domestic political context for Medvedev’s statement.  Russia holds parliamentary elections in ten days time.  Just as one can rarely go wrong criticizing Russia in American politics, taking a tough line against the United States and NATO plays well with much of the Russian electorate.

Note also that Medvedev said twice – as did Lavrov yesterday – that the door remains open for further discussions with Washington and NATO.

 I know it is hard to believe - a lawmaker saying something for domestic political consumption - but keep this in mind when Congress returns and starts panicking about the Russians threatening to withdraw from New START. There's more to the story here. 

 

Brazil, Welcome to the Club
Posted by The Editors

Brazil MapThis post by Johanna Mendelson Forman, senior associate in the Americas Program and the William E. Simon Chair of Political Economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Stephen Johnson, senior fellow and director of the Americas Program at CSIS.

A recent New York Times article contrasted Brazil’s new regional power status with reactions to its success—the familiar refrain “Yanqui, go home” is quickly being replaced by, “Carioca, keep out.” New infrastructure projects in Bolivia and Guyana are raising tensions. The expansion of Brazil’s huge private sector abroad and the size of Brazil’s $2 trillion economy dwarf successful neighbors such as Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru combined. Even so, Brazil’s rise is a welcome development.

Brazil’s profile as an emerging petro giant is in plain view. Not only is it poised to be one of the largest oil producers outside of Saudi Arabia, but it is already a leader in developing renewable energy resources. As another oil exporter, Brazil enables some measure of energy independence compared to suppliers that demand political loyalty. And as a green energy leader, its alternative fuels and technology transfers promote energy independence.

Brazil’s influence is spreading—creating a challenge for a government whose last president articulated a foreign policy that strengthened South-South relations. Brazil may talk the talk within the non-aligned movement, but its emergence as the sixth largest global economy forces diplomats in Itamaraty, Brazil’s foreign ministry bureaucracy, to rethink its role in the world. This is actually a good thing for both the United States and for the rest of the Americas.

A rising giant that can direct some of its national power toward the greater good of the planet is a “good neighbor” in the best sense of the word. The United States already has a partnership with Brazil on renewable energy production. But we tend to forget that Brazil long ago renounced the use of weapons of mass destruction when it signed the Treaty of Tlateloco in 1968, a regional agreement that declared the Southern Hemisphere a nuclear-free zone. Its constitution says as much in its carefully drafted words about its role as a peaceful and democratic state.

In confronting today’s threats -- which include the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, transnational criminal activities and weak states that need help in governance -- Brazil can be a welcome collaborator. Three years ago it rolled out an innovative plan to protect its borders from the challenges of the Andean drug trade that has taken human and economic tolls on the regional economy. It is now sharing concepts and technology. 

Brazil has also been a leader in addressing the enduring challenge of reducing poverty, helping citizens rise from despair in a short period of time. The Bolsa Familiar, a program that gave poor families resources to keep children in school, is a unique means of attacking the extreme poverty that dragged down Brazil’s modern miracle. During the Lula presidency the country experienced a 27 percent reduction in poverty, thanks, in part, to cash transfers. Further reforms such as making it easier to start legal enterprises and reducing the bureaucratic costs of doing business can help sustain that progress.

Managing success is not an easy task. It has been far simpler for Brazil’s political class to hang on to the familiar concept of the global south, a mindset that still dominates despite the country’s growing  responsibilities and relationships that are beginning to resemble those of countries in the G-20.  But that will change as more Brazilians move to the middle class and enjoy the benefits of democracy and good governance.

While we in the United States might be tempted to say “welcome to the club” to Brazilian counterparts and leave it at that, there are two lessons to note: First, looking out for national interests often means being aware and respectful of others in the region. The other lesson is that there is room for more leaders in the club. Each of the hemisphere’s democracies has unique leadership qualities and capabilities they can contribute. They all deserve encouragement.

Photo: U.S. State Department

November 22, 2011

A Few Comments on Tonight’s Format
Posted by James Lamond

AAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Tonight’s debate had a format that I found a little puzzling. Essentially it was high-level and well-connected conservative wonks asking conservative candidates questions about conservative policy positions. I understand that this is the the GOP primary and conservative voters are the audience. However, many of questioners are individuals that either have worked or are likely to work in a Republican administration. There is inherently a conflict of interest in this relationship. Worse yet the construction of many of the questions provided a clear answer within the question.

For example Ed Meese, the former Republican Attorney General asked: 

At least 42 terrorist attacks aimed at the United States have been thwarted since 9/11. Tools like the Patriot Act have been instrumental in finding and stopping terrorists. Shouldn't we have a long range extension of the investigative powers contained in that act so that our law enforcement officers can have the tools that they need?

And Danielle Pletka, Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute asked: 

Yesterday the United States and the U.K. slapped new sanctions on Iran. But we haven't bought oil directly from Iran in over 30 years. We've had targeted sanctions on Iran for more than half that time. 

Nonetheless, Iran is probably less than a year away from getting a nuclear weapon. Do you believe that there is any set of sanctions that could be put in place that would stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?

Admittedly, not all of the questions were quite as leading or as troubling as above. However, there was a general trend and the format does seem a little strange. 

The more important question on process, however, is how did Paul Wolfowitz get to ask a question?

The Iran Questions the Candidates Should Have Been Answering
Posted by Kelsey Hartigan

Just when it looked like most of the GOP candidates were walking back their support for military action against Iran, Newt Gingrich stepped in and declared that he would support a bombing campaign… but only one that would take out the regime. This is actually a longer way of saying that as commander in chief, he would invade and occupy Iran.  A B-2 can do a lot of things, but it cannot guarantee regime change – such a mission would require boots on the ground.  Left unanswered was how many troops he would send to Iran, for how long and at what cost?

During tonight’s CNN national security debate, the Republican candidates for president continued their search for easy answers and quick solutions for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. Ron Paul cited a recent poll of national security insiders who unanimously agreed that the U.S. should not take unilateral military action against Iran. But this didn’t stop the other candidates from once again talking about military action as if it was a surefire way to stop Iran’s nuclear program. With the exception of Ron Paul, no candidate discussed the consequences of military action. In fact, Mitt Romney announced that there is “no price that is too expensive to stop an Iranian nuclear weapon.”  Blitz should have asked a follow-up: Are you suggesting that you would commit an endless amount of U.S. troops, allow Europe’s market to tank and let U.S. gas prices to soar? The Iraq war has cost nearly 5,000 U.S. lives and an estimated $3 trillion – can the U.S. afford another Iraq?

Not surprisingly, Herman Cain seemed confused about whether or not Israel could launch a strike against Iran. When asked if he would aid an Israeli attack, he said he would only get involved if “there were clarity of mission and purpose.”  It’s pretty clear of what that mission would look like. People like Anthony Cordesman of CSIS have publicly spelled out exactly how many F-15 and F-16s Israel would need, what payload would be best for each facility and what route the aircraft should take. But at the end of the day, the issue is not whether the United States or Israel could launch a military campaign against Iran – of course we could – the issue is whether or not we should. Is it in America’s national interest to attack Iran?  In order to answer that, the first question the candidates should have discussed was whether or not they believe a strike would actually stop Iran’s program.  Any serious expert will tell you that an attack would only delay Iran’ program, at best.  

Even with two national security debates under their belts, the candidates didn’t even begin to scratch the surface. Serious questions remain and not just on Iran. But perhaps more worrisome is the trendline that has emerged and the direction these candidates are going - because frankly, the questions aren't the problem here. 

What Was Left Unsaid
Posted by Jacob Stokes

Tonight’s GOP debate contained much blog fodder, but the most interesting aspect of the discussion was the topics that weren’t covered:

China, Asian security. There were passing mentions of China in the context of trade, debt and Rick Perry’s repeated assertion that China’s communists were headed to the “ash heap of history.” But there were no comments about the importance of Asia more generally in American grand strategy. This is an egregious oversight in the wake of President Obama’s trip there this month, where he announced a new basing agreement with Australia, rolled out a big new trade initiative and chastised China for aggression in the South China Sea and for holding down the value of its currency. The “pivot” to Asia is a quiet but steady and central component of the administration’s national security strategy. Especially given the field’s concern about our allies, this should be front and center. No real engagement on the wisdom of such a "pivot" from the candidates.

Iraq. Although the question about the Middle East was left until the end, it’s pretty clear why the candidates didn’t bring it up or really bite once the question was asked: Seventy-seven percent of Americans support bringing the troops home and the administration was fulfilling the terms of a Bush-era security agreement. Not a lot of room to run there, at least politically.

Arab Spring. The field is split on whether the Arab Spring is a good thing and should be supported, but they didn’t engage any questions on the subject, despite a live feed from Tahrir Square. They should have asked Gingrich about his "anti-Christian Spring" comments directly.

European Financial crisis. The connection between the economy and national security was widely asserted tonight, so it’s a shame nobody discussed the European financial crisis. Here again, not surprising though. Dan Drezner has shown why talk of the euro crisis would end up with allies trying to scrape bus treads off their backs.

Russia. It’s actually rather surprising that this wasn’t talked about, given recent moves by Vladimir Putin to reassert formal power in that country. That said, in general, the reset has been smart policy -- not that such concerns have really mattered in these debates.

Tonight's Discussion on American Muslims
Posted by James Lamond

There was a fairly disturbing portion of the debate tonight where most of the GOP contenders for president supported monitoring Muslims closer than other citizens - the obvious dissenter being Ron Paul.  Rick Santorum essentially endorsed treating all Muslims as suspects. This is disappointing as an American who believes in our values, but it is just flat out bad security policy. There are four basic reasons, without getting into the serious first and second order effects, for this: It overloads and already stressed national security apparatus, serves as a distraction to the real problems, hinders cooperation between communities and law enforcement, and can serve terrorists' recruitment process. This is why most homeland security experts endorse policies that focus on actions of individuals, not their religion or race. 

But as Mr. Cain said “ask the professionals”:

The 9/11 Commission Chairmen, on overloading the system: Profiling overloads the "intelligence and law enforcement agencies, already over-stressed and inundated with information and leads." 

Scott Bates, former policy advisor to the House Homeland Security Committee, on distractions from the real probelms: "we have seen with a number of recent cases, there is no single 'profile' of a terrorist or would-be terrorist. Recent cases include individuals as diverse as ‘Jihad Jane,’ a white middle-aged woman who converted to Islam and traveled to Sweden to participate in the murder of Swedish artist Lars Vilks, and James Wenneker von Brunn, the elderly white supremacist who shot up the Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2009."

David Schanzer, the director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, on hindrance of police cooperation: "Law enforcement officials occasionally receive information about a suspicious person from a fertilizer vendor or some other person in a position to observe potential terrorists. But authorities agree such tips are most likely to come from the community in which the homegrown terrorist lives, which in this day and age is frequently the Muslim-American community." But as he explains, "The rise of such [anti-Islam] intolerance... is particularly dangerous... because it is likely to inhibit intelligence collection from Muslim-Americans and may contribute to the radicalization process." 

Brian Fishman, counterterrorism analyst at the New America Foundation and West Point, on use as a recruitment tactic: “In a March 2010 statement titled "A Call to Jihad," Awlaki argued darkly that ‘yesterday America was a land of slavery, segregation, lynching and Ku Klux Klan, and tomorrow it will be a land of religious discrimination and concentration camps. Don't be deceived by the promises of preserving your rights from a government that is right now killing your own brothers and sisters… The West will eventually turn against its Muslim citizens!’”

A Taxonomy of Republican Foreign Policy Nonsense
Posted by David Shorr

Democracy Arsenal and National Security Network head into tonight's CNN/Heritage/AEI candidate forum with an awesome array of analysis. So I'll only add from a particular angle -- by offering a diagnostic manual for the recent outbreak of foreign policy dysphasia over at care2. In other words, Republican foreign policy pronouncements have been so bad for so long that we can catalog them by type. I identified five: cribbing from the Colbert Report, promises of omnipotence (I will stop Iran's nukes), falling into the talking point - serious policy gap, reflexive Obama condemnation, and conscientious ignorance. But read the whole thing.

Condemned to Repeat It?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I started writing this blog post and then found something I had either forgotten myself or never knew:  Bud McFarlane attempted suicide in 1987 and subsequently attempted to come to terms with what he had done and be rehabilitated, not very successfully, in 1989.  The point made in this rather sad Times profile, that he acknowledged what he had done and sank into depression and obscurity, while Oliver North built a career on his lack of repentance, is a deep and sobering one.  I'd love to see it discussed in the GOP debate. And goodness knows I'd love to see a Republican envoy sent to Teheran.  Not holding my breath on either count.

Newt Gingrich, history professor, would surely understand my barely-contained rage at an unfortunate colleague who is too young to remember National Security Advisor Robert "Bud" McFarlane, newly-announced as a key adviser to Gingrich.  Not sure, though, that he would sympathize with my list of Things to Remember:

1.  Iran-Contra Convict: pled guilty to four misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress about the Reagan Administration's efforts to assist the Nicaraguan contras.  Thumbnail history of Iran-Contra:  McFarlane and others violated US law to make clandestine arms sales to Iran during the Iran-Iraq war; NSC staffer Oliver North then violated other laws to divert some of the profits to support the Nicaraguan contras.  For those unclear on Iran-contra -- basically everyone -- longer thumbnail here.  I'm still waiting for Kirsten Dunst to do a movie that does for Iran-Contra what she did for Watergate in Dick.

2.  Cake and Bible.  Yes, McFarlane is the man who went to Teheran carrying a key-shaped cake and a Bible with a handwritten verse as a message from President Reagan to Iranian leaders, spawning a classic State Department no-denial denial:

  Today, a senior State Department official independently confirmed that Mr. McFarlane, a former national security adviser, did carry the Reagan Bible as authentication for the group. But he said he was not sure about the cake and declined to discuss the [fake Irish] passports.

3.  Star Wars.  McFarlane is known for having been an early and ardent champion of the Strategic Defense Initiative.  However, he asserted repeatedly that he saw it as a useful bargaining chip to limit Soviet offensive weapons -- a kind of Kissengerian realism that it is hard to imagine today's GOP, even Newt, endorsing.

4.  From Beirut to 9/11. In an op-ed just weeks before the 2008 election, and on the 25th anniversary of the bombing in Lebanon which killed 241 US Marines and 58 French paratroopers, McFarlane wrote that US failure to respond "effectively" showed weakness and set the stage for 9/11 -- and that victories in Iraq and Afghanistan were necessary to avoid re-making that mistake.  Wonder if Newt agrees?

The Republican Foreign Policy Debate, by the Issues
Posted by The Editors

Debating RepublicansAs the GOP presidential hopefuls prepare to take stage in the second and final debate on national security and foreign policy, they will no doubt go on the attack against the Obama administration. Many of these issues were outlined by Senator Lindsey Graham in a recent article for the National Review. Others have been outlined by candidates in their few speeches and discussions on foreign policy. What you will likely not hear however, is what the experts are saying on the most important issues facing the country and the world:

Iran: Pentagon chiefs continue to warn against the consequences of a military response, say an attack would delay Iran’s program at best. Reuters recenty reported that: “Military action against Iran could have ‘unintended consequences’ in the region, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday, hours after Tehran warned that an attack against its nuclear sites would be met by ‘iron fists.’ Panetta, who took over the Pentagon's top job in July, said he agreed with an assessment of his predecessor, Robert Gates, that a strike on Iran would only delay its nuclear program, which the West believes is aimed at making an atomic bomb. Gates also warned it could unite the country and deepen its resolve toward pursuing nuclear weapons. ‘You've got to be careful of unintended consequences here,’ Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon, when asked about his concerns about a military strike. He acknowledged military action might fail to deter Iran ‘from what they want to do.’ ‘But more importantly, it could have a serious impact in the region, and it could have a serious impact on U.S. forces in the region,’ he said. ‘And I think all of those things, you know, need to be carefully considered.’” [Reuters, 11/10/11]

Libya: “Low-cost and high-reward.” The removal of Muammar Qaddafi – who Ronald Reagan called the “Mad Dog of the Middle East,” by the Libyan people with American support came a very low-cost to the American people. Many conservatives have criticized the President’s handling of the Libya as “leading from behind,” but as David Rothkopf explains, “‘Leading from behind’ is an important element of this [Obama] doctrine. It is no insult to lead but let others feel they too are architects of a plan, to lead without making others feel you are bullying, to lead but do so in a way in which risks and other burdens are shared. Libya is a test case for this approach … Outcomes matter most and the outcome here has been low-cost and high-reward. More importantly, perhaps, it solidifies an Obama approach to meeting international threats that seems better suited to America's current capabilities, comparative advantages, political mood and the preferences of our allies everywhere than prior approaches which were created in and tailored to far different times.”  [David Rothkopf, Foreign Policy, 10/20/11

Arab Spring: Balancing America’s interests and values, not embracing simplistic rhetoric, on the Arab Spring. The uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa mark the most complicated and significant geopolitical shake-up since the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, the situation in each country remains unique and there is no simple solution. Robert Danin, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, advises that, “The United States should not try to come up with a one-size-fits-all policy for the region. Our interests are too diverse and our influence too uneven.”  Duke Professor and former State Department official Bruce Jentleson, further explains how simplistic and uninformed rhetoric can be harmful to our interests: "Blithe generalizations, binary thinking, and fear-mongering distort both the political dialogue and the analytic capacity needed to pursue policies differentiated according to the particular political dynamics of the various countries of the Arab world and the strategic challenges facing the United States." [Robert Danin, 7/27/11. Bruce Jentleson, Washington Quarterly, 7/11]

Russia: Russian reset has provided concrete security benefits for America. Since the "reset" policy began, Russia has helped the U.S. and our allies to isolate Iran, by both voting for strong sanctions and canceling its long-planned sale of an S-300 air defense system to Iran.  Russia has also provided overflight privileges for our troops and supplies headed to Afghanistan and been a more reliable partner at the UN and on the global economy. While critics point to every bump in the relationship as as evidence of the policy’s failure, Russia specialist at the Center for American Progress Sam Charap puts the policy in a full perspective: “Some of the reset-bashers seem so blinded by their rage that they simply refuse to acknowledge its successes and have conveniently forgotten how disastrous the alternative -- an antagonistic U.S.-Russia relationship -- is for U.S. national interests and Russia's own development Let's first be clear about what the reset is not. It is not a secret weapon to vaporize all those in the Russian security establishment who deeply distrust U.S. intentions and at times act on that mistrust. It is also not a reset of Russia's political system, some sort of magic wand for effecting instantaneous democratization. What it was, and remains, is an effort to work with Russia on key national security priorities where U.S. and Russian interests overlap, while not hesitating to push back on disagreements with the Kremlin at the same time. The idea is that engagement, by opening up channels of communication and diminishing antagonism, should -- over time -- allow Washington to at least influence problematic Russian behavior and open up more space in Russia's tightly orchestrated domestic politics.”  [Samuel Charap, 11/12/11

Nuclear Weapons: Reducing the nuclear threat. Since April 2009, when President Obama convened the first-ever nuclear security summit and pledged to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years, the U.S. has secured 3,085 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium, enough nuclear material to make more than 120 nuclear weapons. The U.S. has helped six countries in getting rid of  all of their HEU. Nearly 190 countries agreed to strengthen the global rules against spreading nuclear weapons and technology. And the New START treaty will reduce the strategic nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia and reinstate a stringent verification regime to ensure strategic stability between the two countries that hold more than 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons. [NSN, 1/4/11] 

Defense budget: Reducing the rate of growth in military spending in accordance with our national security strategy, with the understanding that economic strength is the foundation for America’s power. Lawrence Korb and Alex Rothman of the Center for American Progress explain: "Given the long-term threat that the federal deficit poses to American security, power, and interests… Sensible reductions in the defense budget must be part of the solution [to America’s fiscal problems]. In the decade since 9/11, defense spending has grown by a staggering 56 percent, reaching levels not seen since the end of World War II. Last year, we spent $250 billion more in real terms than what we spent on average during the Cold War. This level of spending is dramatically out of proportion with the threats. Wasteful defense spending does not make our nation safer. It diverts resources away from other key investments in the American economy, the real foundation of U.S. power." [Lawrence Korb and Alex Rothman,10/13/11] 

China: Increasing America’s ability to compete with China, working with China where fruitful and pushing back when China’s actions cross the line. As Nina Hachigian of the Center for American Progress explains, “While the U.S.-China relationship is never easy, the administration has avoided major crises and managed to sell Taiwan the largest arm sales packages in any two-year period over the past 30 years without a major breach of relations with Beijing.” Although the policy encourages responsible action by China, it’s not containment. Hachigian notes: “No Asian country would ever sign up to an anti-China alliance—each, in fact, wants to strengthen its relationship with Beijing. But at the same time, they want America to stick close by. Even if containment were possible, America benefits more from a strong, prosperous China than a weak and resentful one.” [Nina Hachigian, 11/9/11] 

Iraq: Rebalancing America’s role in the world and fulfilling a Bush-era security agreement. As George Washington University Professor Marc Lynch explained when the decision was announced, “President Barack Obama's announcement today of a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 should be cause for real celebration. This is the right decision, at the right time. It may have been forced upon the administration by Iraqi political realities. But the end result will be a mutually agreed upon and orderly American withdrawal from Iraq on the timetable which both Bush and Obama promised but which few believed would ever really happen... Iraq still faces many difficult challenges and won't be fully secure or politically stable for a long time. But the U.S. military presence is now largely irrelevant to those problems. Nor would the remaining troops have greatly troubled Iran. Iraqi politics and security institutions have long since adapted to the reduced American role and its impending departure. Disaster did not follow when U.S. troops stopped patrolling, or when 100,000 troops left over the course of a year. Instead, Iraqi Security Forces took over the lead role in internal security under the new conditions, and adapted effectively enough.  Even if an agreement had been reached to keep some U.S. troops after 2011, they would have been almost exclusively involved in training and support. The ongoing terrorist attacks and unresolved instability along the Arab-Kurdish border pose real challenges, but the U.S. troops which might conceivably have stayed behind in 2012 weren't going to be dealing with them.” [Marc Lynch, 10/21/11

Israel: The U.S. alliance with Israel is fundamental; security ties are closer than they have ever been. Since 2009, President Obama has met with Prime Minister Netanyahu more than any other world leader, and the U.S. and Israel held their largest-ever joint military exercise. Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, also notes "an unprecedented increase in U.S. security assistance, stepped up security consultations, support for Israel's new Iron Dome Defensive System, and other initiatives." Following a raid on the Israeli embassy in Egypt, 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." [Andrew Shapiro, 7/16/10. Benjamin Netanyahu, 9/10/11] 

Afghanistan: Right-sizing our presence matches our commitment with our interests, encourages Afghans to take the lead. As the Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Stephen Biddle writes, the main goal of the Afghan war has been achieved, and it’s time to right-size our presence to match our commitment with our interests. "Ten years later, Osama bin Laden is dead and his organization is reeling. The prospects of mass casualty attacks on the 9/11 scale are receding as al-Qaeda central weakens, and it may be increasingly possible to contain bin Laden's successors with low-key espionage and standoff attacks by drones or commandos." By insisting that President Obama consider only the most resource-intensive option given to him by his commanders, Sen. Graham misunderstands the role of commander-in-chief, which requires balancing competing priorities to achieve the national interest. As General David Petraeus said last summer when the redeployment was announced, “There are broader considerations beyond those just of a military commander… The commander in chief has decided, and it is then the responsibility, needless to say, of those in uniform to salute smartly and to do everything humanly possible to execute it.” [Stephen Biddle, 8/26/11. David Petraeus via the NYT, 6/23/11

Guantanamo Bay: U.S. prisons have safely held terrorists for years. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates explained his experience imprisoning terrorists from his CIA days in the Reagan administration: “This started 20 years ago when I was at CIA, and we captured a Hezbollah terrorist who had been involved in killing an American sailor on an aircraft that had been taken hostage in Beirut. We brought him to the United States, put him on trial and put him in prison.” In fact, our prison system has held some of the most notorious terrorists for decades, including, the East Africa Embassy bombing perpetrators; Ramzi Yousef, for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park bomber; Najibullah Zazi, who plotted the attack on the New York City subway; Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, before his execution; and most recently Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber.”  [Robert Gates, 5/22/09] 

Interrogation Policies: Traditional practices have been more effective, without damaging America’s credibility. In his article, Senator Graham complains that, “Our well-trained, professional CIA interrogators are now virtually out of the interrogation business. We now rely on the Army Field Manual, which is online for our enemies to review, as the exclusive resource for interrogation.” In fact, senior terrorism suspects are interrogated by the High-value Interrogation Group (HIG) which is made up of intelligence professionals from the CIA, the FBI and the Pentagon, and is run by the National Security Council. But more importantly, as Matthew Alexander, the Air Force interrogator who led the team that found Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, through the use of traditional interrogation techniques, recently explained, transparency is on our side: “The Army Field Manual on interrogations should be made public for several reasons. It dispels any rumors that we are using torture. Transparency is our friend in this regard—it prevents our enemies from spinning ‘secretive’ techniques and reassures our allies that we are not using torture.” [Matthew Alexander, 2/4/11

Bringing Terrorists to Justice: Civilian courts are more effective than military commissions at delivering justice. In his article, Graham advocates for the use of military commissions to prosecute the 9/11 perpetrators, arguing that they are tougher on terrorists. However, Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell in the George W. Bush administration explains, the “purported reason for funneling more suspects into the military system is, of course, to be tougher on terrorism. Terrorist attacks are acts of war, the thinking goes, and therefore should be handled solely by the U.S. military. But the respective records of federal courts and military tribunals undermine this rationale. Through domestic law enforcement, most notably the FBI and Department of Justice, the U.S. has successfully prosecuted more than 400 terrorism cases. Military tribunals have convicted only six people in 10 years.” Graham specifically cites Ahmed Ghailani to prove his point because Ghailani was acquitted of all but one charge in the East Africa Embassy Bombings. Yet Ghailani, who was prosecuted in a civilian court, is currently serving out a life sentence. [Lawrence Wilkerson, 10/2/11]

Photo: CBS News

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