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March 27, 2012

Second Terms, Hot Mics, Flexibility, and Inconstancy
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Today 36 Romney Foreign Policy advisers published an open letter in the National Review Online saying that the President's now infamous hot-mic comment to outgoing Russian president Dmitri Medvedev in Seoul, that Obama would have more foreign policy “flexibility” after his re-election, raised questions of “whether a new period of even greater weakness and inconstancy would arise if you are reelected.”

The details of the letter deserves a post all by itself. But I was mesmerized thinking about the idea that two-thirds of the signatories served in the second-term Reagan, Clinton and Bush Administrations – administrations that saw major positive steps in arms control, relations with enemies, and attempts to broker ends to decades-long wars (and that’s just Reagan and Bush) – would sign such a letter. It’s noteworthy that the two of the highest-ranking Romney advisers did not sign it. But for the rest – some of whom I’ve had pleasant and productive working relationships with over the years – I’m sad.  Several serve on the boards of organizations that promote bipartisanship in foreign policy. To paraphrase Senator Hagel's response when Barbara Slavin asked recently if he was still a Republican, if Republicans are disavowing the tendency of American presidents to turn to foreign policy in their second terms, I don’t know what bipartisanship looks like.  

But, rather than wax nostalgic about the (white male) bipartisanship of my youth (with the notable GOP exceptions, when I was starting out, of Paula Dobriansky and Condoleezza Rice), I thought a Harper’s List-style treatment would make my point.

Acknowledged Romney Advisors who held Cabinet-level posts in GOP Administrations: two (Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, CIA Director Michael Hayden)

Signatories who held Cabinet-level posts in GOP Administrations: Zero.

Signatories who held posts that are Cabinet-level in Democratic Administrations, but downgraded in recent GOP Administrations:  two. (Andrew Natsios, USAID, and John Bolton, UN)  

Signatories who served in second-term Bush Administration:  19.

Signatories whose service in the second Bush term was cut short by the U.S. Senate: 1. (Bolton)

Significant foreign policy initiatives/reversals  in second Bush term:  effort to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  Iraq surge and strategy change. Negotiation of Status of Forces agreement that set US on road to Iraq withdrawal. Decision to end prioritized efforts to find Osama bin Laden. End of detainees being sent to Guantanamo and curbing of some torture abuses. Insert your favorite here.

Percent George W. Bush cut deployed nuclear weapons in his second term: 50.

Signatories who served in second-term Clinton Administration:  at least 4. (former career foreign service officers Eric Edelman and Ray Walser; CIA officers Cofer Black, then head of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center, and James Shinn.)

Signatories who served in second-term Reagan Administration: at least four.

Signatories who served in second-term Reagan Administration and whose Wikipedia pages say they are first cousins, once-removed, of Princess Grace:  One. (Lehman)

Signatories who were in the leadership of Lebanese movements that massacred hundreds of Palestinian refugees during the first Reagan Administration: One. (Walid Phares)

Classes of nuclear weapons Ronald Reagan agreed to get rid of entirely during his second term: One.

Major nuclear negotiations with our Soviet foe begun or completed by Reagan in his second term: three. (Reykjavik, 1986; INF Treaty, 1987; START treaty negotiations begun.)

Number of times Reagan met with the leader of the Soviet “evil empire” in his first term: 0.

Number of times Reagan met with the Soviet leader in his second term: five, the most of any US President to that time.

Clearly, Romney’s team is right to worry that a President Romney might follow the lead of their former bosses, not to mention Presidents Clinton, Nixon and Eisenhower, and grow more confident and more concerned with pragmatic solutions to the world’s most pressing national security problems in a second term.

Can President Obama Live Up to the Accomplishments of His Predecessors?
Posted by The Editors


This post was written by Nickolas Roth, a policy fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

President Obama was recently overheard saying to Russian President Medvedev that, assuming he prevails in the election this November, he would have more flexibility to negotiate on arms control issues. In response, some Congressional Republicans have implied that President Obama may have secret plans to aggressively pursue arms control in his second term.  

Perhaps Republicans are concerned that the United States will cut its arsenal in half. Maybe they are concerned that President Obama will eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons.  Or, maybe they are concerned he would do something dramatic like try to negotiate the total elimination of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons. Well, if he were to accomplish any of these tasks, he would be in good company. These are all feats attempted by Republican Presidents in their second terms.  Every second term Republican President since the beginning of the nuclear age (i.e. Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, and Bush II) proposed drastic changes to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. 

George W. Bush

Most recently, President George W. Bush made sweeping reductions to the U.S. nuclear arsenal during his second term. In 2007, President Bush approved a nearly 50 percent cut in the deployed nuclear stockpile and pledged to cut it by an additional 15% by 2012. Notably, the announcement of these reductions occurred while the Bush administration was simultaneously planning to cut 7,200 nuclear weapons-related jobs, arguing that the way in which the United States maintained its nuclear weapons was outdated and cost too much

At the time, not a single prominent Republican attacked President Bush for pursuing such a policy. In fact, in 2004, Republican Chairman of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, which is responsible for funding nuclear weapons programs at the Department of Energy, applauded President Bush’s effort to reduce nuclear weapons, stating “it may not be to the degree of where he wants to get right now, but it’s a lot better than where we are today” and “After years of maintaining a nuclear stockpile sized for the Cold War, we are finally bringing the numbers down to a more realistic and responsible level.” In contrast, Republicans have relentlessly attacked President Obama, who has provided more money for nuclear weapons than any previous president and pursued extremely modest reductions by his predecessor’s standards, because of perceived “underfunding” or lack of commitment to the nuclear stockpile. 

Ronald Reagan

Arguably, President Reagan made more progress in reducing the threat of nuclear weapons in his second term than any other President, Democrat or Republican. While his eventual support for the abolition of nuclear weapons is widely known, his ambitious efforts to reduce the dangers posed by nuclear weapons deserve more attention. 

Following the 1983 incident in which Soviet leaders, interpreting a U.S. nuclear exercise as a first strike, prepared to launch nuclear weapons against the United States, President Reagan became more hands on in dealing with nuclear weapons policy. In a 1986 meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev discussed a proposal for completely eliminating Soviet and U.S. nuclear weapons. Although they were not able to agree on terms, this marks the closest any President has ever come to abolishing nuclear weapons altogether. In 1987, President Reagan signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces in Europe Treaty (INF). The INF required the United States and USSR to verifiably eliminate nuclear missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles. Throughout this period, the United States and the Soviet Union negotiated to increase transparency and verification of nuclear testing and, despite being criticized by his own party, Reagan made significant progress in negotiating reductions in deployed strategic nuclear weapons. This negotiation process was completed by his successor, George H.W. Bush, in the form of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. 

Richard Nixon

President Nixon’s second term lasted slightly over a year and a half; yet, even he was able to make progress in reducing the threat of nuclear weapons. In 1973, Nixon signed the Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War, helping to reinforce détente between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1974, he signed the Threshold Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited the United States and the Soviet Union from conducting nuclear tests greater than 150 kilotons, a precursor to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. During this time, Nixon also pursued further restrictions on US and Soviet nuclear arms, building on the Strategic Arms Limitation Agreement (SALT I) between the Soviet Union and the United States negotiated during his first term.

Dwight Eisenhower 

President Eisenhower was certainly no dove when it came to nuclear weapons, approving significant quantitative and qualitative increases in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. However, towards the end of his presidency, Eisenhower also began moving away from his hawkish nuclear ways. In his second term, Eisenhower began legitimate negotiations on a verifiable test ban, which included working with Khrushchev to draft a treaty.  In 1959, he was also the first President to establish a testing moratorium. While the moratorium expired in December 1959, neither the U.S. nor the Soviet Union tested nuclear weapons again until 1961.

This brings us to Barack Obama, who of course has yet to win a second term, but has made no secret of his goals regarding reducing the threat from nuclear weapons. In a speech President Obama delivered on March 26 at Hankuk University in Seoul, Korea, President Obama renewed his pledge to further reduce the threat of nuclear weapons by “taking concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons.” The speech outlined a number of goals the President first proposed in Prague in April 2009 and would seek during his second term, including ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and further reductions in all types of Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons. Contrary to arguments put forth by critics, these goals are the continuation of decades of work by Republican Presidents in their second terms.

Ending The US War In Afghanistan
Posted by Michael Cohen

John and YokoOver at Foreign Policy, Michael Hanna and I have a new piece calling on the US to move in the direction of a political settlement in Afghanistan . . . by simply ending the fighting there. 

If ever there was a time to accelerate the process of ending the fighting in Afghanistan and spurring nascent political negotiations it is right now. For this reason, the United States should not wait a year and a half to begin the process of disengagement, but rather take immediate steps to end the war in Afghanistan now.

This would not mean accelerated and precipitous troop withdrawals.

Instead, it means dramatically curtailing offensive military operations against the Taliban including the ever controversial night raids; initiating and negotiating local cease fires with Taliban insurgents; and, more broadly, adopting a defensive posture by identifying key terrain that must be held by the Afghan government and limiting military operations to the defense of such critical areas. This could mean ceding territory to the Taliban, but it wouldn't be the first time the United States has taken such an approach. These steps would be consistent with a responsible strategy for transition, which must be predicated on a realistic assessment of those parts of the country can be kept under Afghan governmental control after the U.S. departs.         

It also means completing the transfer of Taliban detainees in the Guantanamo Bay prison facility to the custody of Qatari authorities, who are now hosting a Taliban liaison office in Doha. Above all, it means ensuring that the stated policy of pursuing a political settlement with the Taliban finally be integrated with U.S. military policy.

Calibrating the use of force in such a fashion would represent a good faith measure toward building confidence and seeking a political resolution with the Taliban insurgency for ending the war in Afghanistan. Despite the Taliban's recent suspension of talks through its liaison office in Doha, a political settlement remains the only possible path to an orderly U.S. withdrawal, and to stability in Afghanistan. If the United States is not willing to expend political capital to nurture and further the process, the prospect for a negotiated settlement will collapse.

You can read the whole thing here.

March 26, 2012

"No. 1 Geopolitical..." Ignorance?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Listen up, kids.  I am old enough to remember when the Soviet Union was the United States’ “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” however you define that term. When its leaders gave speeches about possibly using the more than 30,000 nuclear weapons targeting us, instead of joining us for summits on how to safeguard them. When, instead of opposing us in Security Council votes over Israel, Iran and Syria, the Soviets fought or aided proxy wars against us in Korea, East Africa, Nicaragua. (No, I’m not old enough to remember Korea, but still.)

Mitt Romney reflexively saying that Russia is the U.S.'s "No. 1 geopolitical foe" today shows, yet again, how bad the U.S. political class is at geostrategy; it also shows how uncomfortable Romney is on national security issues, needing when in doubt to reach back to those comfortable certainties of the 1980s.

Today, Russia’s economy is dependent on extractive industries and stagnant; its nightmare demographics mean it fears Chinese takeover in its east and rapidly-aging cities in its West. It produces world-leading innovations in weapons, cybercrime, and high culture… Growing Arab-spring-style protests in its cities will dampen whatever global cachet as the anti-America its leaders have sought to build.

Were I asked to choose America’s number one geopolitical foe, I’d answer these questions:

1)      Who has killed the most Americans in the past decade? (That would be nationalist and Islamist movements in countries we’ve invaded coming in at #1; Al Qaeda and its affiliates at #2; Iran at a distant #3 and perhaps even #4 behind nationalist and Islamist movements emanating from Pakistan.)

2)      Who has the greatest ability to harm our economy and way of life – the foundations of our strength? (China, no contest; then maybe the Saudis?)

3)      Who has the greatest ability and shown the greatest willingness to frustrate our key geopolitical aims? (Given that Russia has gone along with some of our Iran sanctions, facilitated our continuing presence in Afghanistan, and avoided using its energy wealth to pressure our European allies during their economic weakness, I’d vote for either China or the emerging powers writ large here.)

4)      Who has not just capabilities but intentions to foil continued progress toward a more integrated, more democratic, more free and prosperous (free civilly, socially and economically) world – which is, ultimately, what most benefits the United States? (C’mon, the Russians are pikers in this category.)   

In geopolitical terms, Russia has three things which pose significant problems for the US – its energy, its nuclear weapons and its Security Council seat. Ironically, Mitt Romney is on record opposing just about everything we can do to reduce the salience of both.  He opposed the New START Treaty, which required Russia to destroy hundreds of nuclear warheads; and he opposes efforts to shift US energy production and consumption away from the fossil fuels in which Russia is so rich. I don't know his position on Security Council reform and diluting the veto. Might be fun to ask. Or, just check with his advisor John Bolton.

March 19, 2012

Give Peace A Chance . . . in Afghanistan
Posted by Michael Cohen

Opsyroc059p1Reading Steve Coll's latest take on the situation in Afghanistan has left me scratching my head - in particular this paragraph of recommendations:

Focussing directly and creatively on Afghan constitutional politics and the civil society necessary to bolster a successful transition (the parliament is also supposed to be up for election) might be more useful, in terms of promoting unity and cohesion among Afghan groupings, than the provocative talks with Taliban leaders have so far been. Currently, American political strategy is heavily located in these talks. They are valuable, should be continued, and might bear fruit, but they haven’t produced much so far. Their relevance on the road to 2014 and beyond is uncertain.

There's a couple things to unpack here. First is the notion that focusing on Afghan politics and civil society is a winning short-term strategy. For three years the US has been completely unable to bend the Karzai government to its will; relations between the US and Afghan government are at an all-time low (and that is saying something) and our leverage with Karzai, as US troops begin to head toward the exits, could not be lower. What makes Coll think that now is the time for focusing on constitutional politics? Isn't that something that we should have thinking about three years ago - and not now as the mission is winding down?

Moreover, why would the US want to open up the can of worms that is governance and constitutional reform when the far more important deliberation with the Karzai government should be over the strategic partnership agreement (SPA)? This makes little sense politically - and is an effort that appears destined to fail.

But the larger issue here is why is Coll so down on peace talks? He claims they haven't achieved much so far, which on one level is true in that a breakthrough has not occurred. But on another, far more important level, ignore the many signs of interest in negotiations emanating from the Taliban. These include Mullah Omar’s Eid statement in August 2011 acknowledging contacts with the United States; the exploratory talks that have already begun between the United States and Taliban representatives; the establishment of a liaison office in Qatar and the recent decision to release five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.

What one might glean from these examples is that the Taliban leadership has publicly recognized the legitimacy of a political settlement. At this point it should be obvious that the US has a potential partner with which to negotiate. And yet up to this point the US political strategy in Afghanistan has been almost completely subsumed by the military's tactical objectives.

None of this means of course that such talks will succeed - but the idea expressed here by Coll and repeated elsewhere by foreign policy pundits from all sides of the political spectrum that they are of little relevance -- is both striking and clearly wrong. Indeed, considering all the indications of interest from the Taliban in talks I'm baffled by the argument that they haven't achieved much or don't show promise.

But what is even more surprising is Coll's notion that "their relevance on the road to 2014 and beyond is uncertain." Huh? How could the potential for political reconciliation be considered even slightly irrelevant to what happens after 2014 and US troops have left the country. Isn't the best case scenario for Afghanistan's future and stability in the region a political settlement? If anything their relevance is undeniable. And even if one is unconvinced they will succeed how would Coll or anyone else justify not moving heaven or earth to work toward the realization of a political settlement? If eve there was a time to be taking a chance for peace it WOULD BE THIS MOMENT.

Yet, Coll's sentiments are hardly unusual - they are something of conventional wisdom in the Afghan pundit community.

Indeed, if one looks at the coverage of the fallout from the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians by a lone staff sergeant it dealt overwhelmingly with the issue of the troop withdrawals and almost none on the need to jump start political negotiations. I get on some level that the national security community tends to think, overwhelmingly, in terms of military solutions. But the extent to which a political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan is treated as a sideshow of US strategy is one of the more bizarre elements of how we talk about the war in Afghanistan.

There is no way to kill ourselves out of the war in Afghanistan. This is one point that seemingly everyone agrees on. So if that's the case why are people so reluctant to talk more openly about finding a political resolution to the war in Afghanistan?

March 16, 2012

On China, Romney’s Money, Mouth in Different Places
Posted by Jacob Stokes

Chinese CameraThe New York Times reports this morning that a company owned by Bain Capital, Mitt Romney’s former private equity firm, has significant investments in surveillance equipment makers that cater to the Chinese government:

In December, a Bain-run fund in which a Romney family blind trust has holdings purchased the video surveillance division of a Chinese company that claims to be the largest supplier to the government’s Safe Cities program, a highly advanced monitoring system that allows the authorities to watch over university campuses, hospitals, mosques and movie theaters from centralized command posts.

The Bain-owned company, Uniview Technologies, produces what it calls “infrared antiriot” cameras and software that enable police officials in different jurisdictions to share images in real time through the Internet. Previous projects have included an emergency command center in Tibet that “provides a solid foundation for the maintenance of social stability and the protection of people’s peaceful life,” according to Uniview’s Web site.

Now compare that news with what Romney’s foreign policy white paper says about human rights in China. It’s worth quoting at length to underscore the disparity here:

Any serious U.S. policy toward China must confront the fact that China’s regime continues to deny its people basic political freedoms and human rights. A nation that represses its own people cannot be a trusted partner in an international system based on economic and political freedom.

While it is obvious that any lasting democratic reform in China cannot be imposed from the outside, it is equally obvious that the Chinese people currently do not yet enjoy the requisite civil and political rights to turn internal dissent into effective reform. The United States has an important role to play in encouraging the evolution of China toward a more politically open and democratic order.

If the United States fails to support dissidents out of fear of offending the Chinese government, we will merely embolden China’s leaders...

A Romney administration will vigorously support and engage civil society groups within China that are promoting democratic reform, anti-corruption efforts, religious freedom, and women’s and minority rights. It will look to provide these groups and the Chinese people with greater access to information and communication through a stronger Internet freedom initiative.

Mitt Romney will seek to engage China, but will always stand up for those fighting for the freedoms we enjoy.

Now, back to the Times, which explains how Uniview Technologies’ actions violate, if not the letter, than the spirit of sanctions instituted against Beijing after the Tiananmen:

As with previous deals involving other American companies, critics argue that Bain’s acquisition of Uniview violates the spirit — if not necessarily the letter — of American sanctions imposed on Beijing after the deadly crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square. Those rules, written two decades ago, bar American corporations from exporting to China “crime-control” products like those that process fingerprints, make photo identification cards or use night vision technology. 

Most video surveillance equipment is not covered by the sanctions, even though a Canadian human rights group found in 2001 that Chinese security forces used Western-made video cameras to help identify and apprehend Tiananmen Square protesters. 

It’s worth noting here that this is not the first time Bain has been tied up with problematic Chinese companies. As the Washington Post reported last August:

Romney’s former investment company, Bain Capital, worked on behalf of at least two Chinese companies trying to acquire U.S. technology firms. One case involved Huawei, which Bain joined in its failed bid to buy the software firm 3Com… 

In 2005, a Rand report questioned Huawei’s “deep ties with the Chinese military, which serves a multi-faceted role as an important customer, as well as Huawei’s political patron and research and development partner.”

In 2008, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a multi-agency government panel, blocked Huawei’s plan to buy 3Com.

At the time, as the New York Times reported, the potential deal prompted “several Republican lawmakers — including Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee — to oppose the deal as one that ‘threatens the national security of the United States.'" Someone should check with those lawmakers now.

Voters should allow Romney a foray into the management of his blind trust – divest of these holdings immediately, as well as any companies that would, in the future, countenance such investments. Profit should not trump human rights in China or American security, especially not when the beneficiary of that profit is running for president.

P.S. For the progressive view on human rights in China and Chinese investments in U.S. assets and companies, see the report I released with Nina Hachigian this week on U.S-China relations in an election year.

Photo: Flickr

Leon Wieseltier Thinks You Can Never Have Enough War
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Maddow - drift

I haven’t read Rachel Maddow’s new book, Drift.  That is because, unlike The New Republic's Leon Wieseltier, I am not a book critic. I am a national security professional.  This means that – also unlike Wieseltier – I spend my days immersed in the thinking and writing of defense experts and policymakers – in the U.S. government, in the military, in other nations, in the non-governmental sector.

Wieseltier has written a review of Drift in which he takes issue with, well, a lot of things – the fact that Maddow has a TV show among them.  But his core problem seems to be her suggestion that we might have a societal problem with “the artificial primacy of defense among our national priorities.”

He really ought to spend more time with defense intellectuals.  Since they tend to be men, many of them with chests of medals, and few of them given to open mockery, he might prefer them to Maddow, whose style he objects to as “perky” and “absurdist.” (Irrelevant question: there is a great literary and indeed political tradition of absurdism – has any of it ever before been described as “perky?”)

It appears that Wieseltier would be rather surprised to hear some of the things these serious folk have to say about the state of our society – and the extent to which we fetishize defense above all else to our peril.

My curriculum for him would start with Andrew Bacevich. Bacevich is a conservative cultural Catholic – he and Wieseltier would have lots to say to each other about ritual, institutions, and the decay of respect for both in American life. Bacevich is also a retired Army colonel and history professor who lost a son in Iraq.

At the end of the Cold War, Americans said yes to military power. The skepticism about arms and armies that pervaded the American experiment from its founding, vanished. Political leaders, liberals and conservatives alike, became enamored with military might… Few in power have openly considered whether valuing military power for its own sake or cultivating permanent global military superiority might be at odds with American principles. Indeed, one striking aspect of America's drift toward militarism has been the absence of dissent offered by any political figure of genuine stature. [Bacevich, The New American Militarism, 2005.]

Then I would introduce him to Major General Charlie Dunlap, now a professor of law at the University of North Carolina. Twenty years ago now, Dunlap wrote an article called “The Origins of the Coup of 2012” in which a General Brutus and allies take over the reins from an ineffective civilian administration – and are handed them permanently in a national referendum. 

Americans became exasperated with democracy. We were disillusioned with the apparent inability of elected government to solve the nation's dilemmas. We were looking for someone or something that could produce workable answers. The one institution of government in which the people retained faith was the military. Buoyed by the military's obvious competence in the First Gulf War, the public increasingly turned to it for solutions to the country's problems.

During the feckless debt ceiling debate last year, for part of which I found myself in the United Arab Emirates, explaining red-facedly why democracy really was a better system than “enlightened” autocracy, I thought of Duncan often.

Admiral Mike Mullen, who recently retired as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke out again and again about the sources of a healthy military coming from a healthy economy and society, including this:

"The most significant threat to our national security is our debt," he told CNN Wednesday. "And the reason I say that is because the ability for our country to resource our military -- and I have a pretty good feeling and understanding about what our national security requirements are -- is going to be directly proportional -- over time, not next year or the year after, but over time -- to help our economy.

"That's why it's so important that the economy move in the right direction, because the strength and the support and the resources that our military uses are directly related to the health of our economy over time."

Surely General Colin Powell needs no introduction. Wieseltier may be familiar with his work on education as the foundation for all aspects of a healthy society, including its defense. In addition, Powell has been pretty firm about the need to consider defense cuts as part of deficit reduction:

When the Cold War ended 20 years ago, when I was chairman and [Dick] Cheney was Secretary of Defense, we cut the defense budget by 25 percent. And we reduced the force by 500,000 active duty soldiers, so it can be done. Now, how fast you can do it and what you have to cut out remains to be seen, but I don't think the defense budget can be made sacrosanct and it can't be touched," he said.

Perhaps Wieseltier would like to grace the offices of the Council on Foreign Relations next Tuesday, when Joel Klein and Condoleezza Rice present a task force report on the importance of education for our national security.

Senior military thinkers who are not, as individuals, national cultural figures (nor are they perky) have been worrying about the trend Maddow identifies for a while now. Whether Maddow’s book captures their concerns I don’t know.  Thanks to Wieseltier, I promise to pay full price for a hard-cover copy and find out.

But it would be a shame to miss this opportunity to merge the things book reviewers talk about with the ones military strategists worry about. Which is, after all, what Wieseltier says he wants. That, and a war with Syria.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misidentified the author of “The Origins of the Coup of 2012.” As corrected above, the author's name is Major General Charlie Dunlap, not, as originally stated, Major General Charlie Duncan.

This blog is cross-posted on Alternet

Photo: Random House

War Is Too Important To Be Left to the Politicians . . . No I Mean the Generals
Posted by Michael Cohen

Iced LatteLook I understand that when you're an unabashed believer in US military interventions it can be difficult to keep ones own argument straight but Max Boot really needs to try a little harder. 

Here's Max three days ago, channeling his inner General Jack D. Ripper, disparaging the Obama Administration for floating the idea of a more rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan and more important, ignoring the generals on the ground in Afghanistan:

The view of our veteran representatives in Kabul–General John Allen and Ambassador Ryan Crocker–is rather different. They have made clear they need to keep at least 68,000 troops in Afghanistan . . What do their views matter? They’re only the men on the front lines having to cope with a potent insurgency that threatens American interests. The White House has its own calculations which, one suspects, are guided less by the imperatives on the ground and more by the imperative to tell the voters prior to the November election that this president ended one war in Iraq and is ending another in Afghanistan.

Shorter Max Boot: War is too important to be left to the politicians.

Here's Max Boot today channeling his inner Clemenceau on Syria:

It’s easy to tell when the Pentagon is opposed to a military intervention. That’s when we hear leaks saying how difficult such action would be. We heard them in the 1990s concerning Bosnia and Kosovo, we heard them last year over Libya, and we are hearing them now about Syria.

. . . Washington could assemble a coalition of the willing as President Bill Clinton did for Kosovo. But that will happen only if the Obama administration decides that action is called for and does not allow itself to be paralyzed by the Pentagon’s reluctance to intervene.

Shorter Max Boot: War is too important to be left to the generals.

In an ideal world this rather blatant and stunning inconsistency might actually invalidate the arguments of the author. Ha!


March 15, 2012

The Lindsey Graham Clown Show
Posted by Michael Cohen

ClownOver the last three years I've read some pretty clownish things about the war in Afghanistan, but yesterday's comments by Lindsay Graham should win some kind of award. 

When explaining why he is against a faster withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, which is opposed by the US commander there General John Allen, he had this to say:

"The problem with this administration is that every time the generals give them good advice, they've got to change it," said Graham. "Why is General Allen wrong? If I gotta pick between Joe Biden and General Allen, I'm picking General Allen.... The last thing we want is a bunch of politicians who have been wrong about everything controlling the war."

Literally everything in this paragraph is wrong. 

First, let's begin with some history. As Steve Metz reminded me on Twitter last night, in 2006 and 2007 when the Bush Administration was debating surging 30,000 troops to Iraq (a move supported by one Lindsay Graham) it was opposed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the generals on the ground in Iraq including Chiarelli. That's right the politicians (who had by the way been wrong about everything in regard to Iraq up to that point) overruled the view of the generals on the ground. This apparently is ok, because the definition of when it is appropriate for a "bunch of politicians" to disagree with the military is when Lindsey Graham is one of those politicians.

Second, the first piece of "good advice" given to the Obama Administration by the "generals" came in 2009 when they recommended that the White House send surge troops to Afghanistan to fight a population-centric counter-insurgency. The White House, as we all know, went along with this plan (which of course was supported by Lindsey Graham).

So hey I haven't really paying much attention to Afghanistan . .  how is that working out?

Remember when David Petraeus guaranteed the President that the US could begin transitioning to Afghan control over security within 18 months of the surge. Good times, good times.

Third, as for Graham's rhetorical question of weighing advice from John Allen versus that of Joe Biden, remember who said a COIN mission in Afghanistan was a bad idea and wouldn't work and should be shelved for a counter-terrorism mission. Yup that was Joe Biden.

As for General Allen, since he took over in Afghanistan US warplanes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers seriously imperilling US relations with Pakistan; US troops urinated on the corpses of Taliban fighters; they burned Korans setting off deadly riots; and one of his staff sergeants massacred 16 people in an Afghan village. The result is that relations with the Karzai government are at perhaps their lowest part of the war. While not all of these are directly Allen's fault, he obviously maintains a share of command responsibility for what has been a cascading set of failures since he took charge. Doesn't mean he should be fired, but why suddenly his opinion should take precedence over the duly elected Vice President of the United States is a headscratcher.

That comes to the final issue - Lindsey Graham doesn't know a damn thing about civil-military relations. He's a modern-day General Jack D Ripper.

The notion that having a "bunch of politicians" rather than say having generals "control the war" is actually the way that the United States, as a nation, makes decisions about war. What Graham is proposing is radical, un-American and would violate the most basic principles of civil-military relations that have existed since the founding days of the Republic. 

Of course, Lindsey Graham knows this. He is after all a former JAG in the US Air Force. His comments are solely to put undue political pressure on the White House, embarrass them politically for ignoring military advice if they decide to drawdown troops from Afghanistan at a more rapid pace and nurture a "stabbed in the back by meddlesome politicians" narrative about what went wrong in Afghanistan. 

Quite simply, this is the worst sort of political meddling. To score a few cheap political points Graham is not just undercutting the president and the notion of civilian control of the military but he's creating political roadblocks for the US to find its way out of the war in Afghanistan with its interests (and those of the Afghan people) intact. 

Other than than, nice quote Lindsey.

March 05, 2012

Read: Cybersecurity and U.S.-China Relations
Posted by Jacob Stokes

China Cyber SecurityThere’s no doubt that this week, like almost all of the last year-plus, will see breaking news events that keep us refreshing our Twitter feed and peeking at CNN. That said, it’s worth taking some time to read up on something a little more forward-looking: Kenneth Lieberthal and Peter Singer’s report “Cybersecurity and U.S.-China Relations.”

The report does a great job breaking down the issues America faces on cybersecurity and then explains how those issues play into Sino-American relations. This is the best kind of think tank report in that it’s put together by people with deep knowledge and written in clear, readable prose.

The report works great as a primer on cybersecurity issues generally, and it also provides a roadmap for addressing concerns bilaterally with China so as to tamp down the distrust that cyber issues are injecting into the relationship. And it does so without downplaying the difficulty of such a task. It starts with basic facts, including that the two parties lack common understanding of the issue’s terms and that many older policymakers simply don't get computers and, by extension, cyber issues. And it goes on from there.

Here are just a few of the insightful bits: 

On why cyber will challenge the Sino-American relationship. “[T]he cyber realm has a number of particular characteristics that significantly challenge current U.S.-China relations and the prospects for reaching a consensus on either norms or cooperative implementing mechanisms.”

One reason why the danger is so acute. “Historically, an imbalance in favor of the offense increases the incentives to act maliciously and quickly, while it also lowers each side’s confidence in its ability to deter attack and defend itself effectively.”

On how to start building a cybersecurity agenda. “Any such agenda must be realistic, respecting that each government will protect its ability to use cyber capabilities to carry out espionage activities and to support military actions should they become necessary. It must accept that the two political systems have significantly different views concerning freedom of information in cyber space. It must take into account that each government’s decision making concerning cyber activities is fragmented among many bureaucracies and is not well coordinated at any single node in the system. Finally, it must respect the reality that a variety of nongovernmental actors are significant players in each country’s use of and deliberations about the cyber realm.”

And a “wow” moment. “It is telling that even the vaunted U.S. National Security Agency, arguably the most sophisticated entity in the world at cyber issues, operates on the assumption that its networks are compromised.”

Read the whole thing here.

Photo: Brookings

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