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August 29, 2012

GOP Platform: Dropping the Ball on Foreign Policy
Posted by The Editors

Dropping ballThe following post is by DA contributors James Lamond and Bill French.

Since the GOP platform has been released, there has been lots of parsing of the various positions released, and with tonight’s speeches there should be a focus on the foreign policy and national security section. Walter Pincus of the Washington Post described the national security platform has high on criticism of President Obama but light on policy recommendations to address these challenges. Below are five national security issues that the platform attempts to offer a policy proposal, but fall flat.

Missile Defense

Claim:  “With unstable regimes in Iran and North Korea determined to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of reaching the United States…it is folly to abandon a missile shield for the country.”

Reality: These hyperbolic threat inflations ignore that “Iran has not stated an intent to develop ICBMS,” according to the most recent Ballistic Missile Defense Report, and North Korea’s Taeopdong-2 has recently failed its third test flight (the only missile in the country’s arsenal that possibly has the range to reach the westernmost point of the continental US). Not to mention the time-proven effectiveness of nuclear deterrence.

Moreover, the GOP’s platform on missile defense ignores that the most severe danger posed by ballistic missiles is conventionally armed short and intermediate ranged variants. Unlike their nuclear counterparts, SRBMs and IRBMs may actually be used, likely by targeting U.S. overseas bases and hindering military access to critical regions during crisis or wartime. Politically, however, it is understandable that the GOP avoids the issue of theater missile defense given that the Administration has moved aggressively to establish such systems in the Middle East and East Asia.


Claim:  “The current Administration’s cyber security policies have failed to curb malicious actions by our adversaries, and no wonder, for there is no active deterrence protocol. The current deterrence framework is overly reliant on the development of defensive capabilities and has been unsuccessful in dissuading cyber-related aggression.”

Reality: This point of view advocates a path towards cyber security already being pursued. The administration has been moving at a steady pace toward greater development of offensive cyber capabilities. The United States has stood up Cyber Command and has begun equipping regional Combatant Commanders with offensive cyber capabilities. Concerning deterrence, the Pentagon is moving towards adjusting the cyber rules of engagement to allow for rapid response to cyber intrusions while it is simultaneously investing in “Plan X” – a potentially groundbreaking development program intended to help the U.S. military achieve cyber dominance. Here, however, the political angle is puzzling: why oppose the Obama Administration on ‘cyber offense’ in the wake of two reported major cyber-attacks conducted by the United States – Flame and Stuxnet?


Claim 1: “if China were to violate those principles [of peacefully settling the dispute of Taiwan’s status], the U.S., in accord with the Taiwan Relations Act, will help Taiwan defend itself.”

Reality: the Taiwan Relations Act makes no such obligation regarding US defense of Taiwan in the face of Chinese aggression -- it obligates the US only to sell the Island defensive arms and makes no reference to American responsibilities in the event of a cross-Strait war whatsoever. Furthermore, it is grotesquely unclear why the GOP would risk destabilizing the security situation in the Taiwan Strait while relations between Beijing and Taipei under Ma Ying-Jeou’s Administration are enjoying perhaps unprecedented stability.

Claim 2: The GOP  “condemn[s]” Beijing’s “destabilizing claims in the South China Sea.”

Reality: The GOP platform takes sides in the complex and multi-layered maritime claims in the region. However, taking sides in this conflict would embroil the United States in the deeply nationalistic disputes with potentially disastrous results. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has been seeking to prevent these disputes from spilling into conflict, while strongly supporting our allies in the region. Moreover, unless Washington is to risk war over the South China Sea, the value of opposing Chinese claims is unclear, making assuming these risks without any apparent payoff.

Strategy and Climate Change

Claim: “The current Administration’s most recent National Security Strategy reflects the extreme elements in its liberal domestic coalition…. the strategy subordinates our national security interests to environmental, energy, and international health issues, and elevates ‘climate change’ to the level of a ‘severe threat’ equivalent to foreign aggression.”

Reality: Climate change and resulting national security threats, have long been recognized by military and intelligence experts as a serious national security threat – not part of a “liberal domestic collation.” This is why DoD, the CIA, and the service branches have all begun to plan around the anticipated challenges. In 2008, under the George W. Bush presidency, the National Intelligence Council released its Global Trends 2025, which an analysis from the intelligence community on projected and anticipated threats released every five years. The report argues that global warming was one of three major threats that could destabilize the international system, warning that climate refugees, resource wars, and an increase in destructive weather events could all undermine American and international security.  Additionally, the Center for Naval Analyses has released a number of reports from their Military Advisory Board of retired generals and admirals on the national security implications of climate change and energy insecurity. In their seminal report 2007 report the Military Advisory Board writes, “Climate change can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world, and it presents significant national security challenges for the United States. Accordingly, it is appropriate to start now to help mitigate the severity of some of these emergent challenges.”


Claim: The GOP will get more out of the U.S.-Russia relationship. On Russia the GOP platform makes the case that the United States and Russia have mutual interests. It states, “We do have common imperatives: ending terrorism, combating nuclear proliferation, promoting trade, and more.”

Reality: The party’s standard bearer, Mitt Romney, is creating a relationship with Russia that is adversarial, making it more difficult to work together to address mutual interests – the very point of the “reset.” Romney has been roundly criticized for calling Russia America’s “number one geopolitical foe” by national security experts including Colin Powell. However, his advisors doubled down on this view just yesterday. Sergey Kulik, director of the Institute of Contemporary Development, has an interesting perspective from Russia and how this can play out with U.S.-Russian relations. He writes:

“Any anti-Russia rhetoric coming from such an authoritative platform as the conventions could be actively used to further elevate anti-American rhetoric in the Russian media. Although the anti-American tone has somewhat abated recently, the United States has been a target of criticism by those seeking to justify a more hardline political course for Russia both domestically and externally…

In addition, work is under way on a revised Foreign Policy Concept of Russia, and the final document will be adjusted following the conclusion of the U.S. presidential campaign. If Russia is touched upon at either of the conventions in a negative or positive light, this could be reflected in the document. This concerns positions not only directly related to the United States, but also other foreign policy areas and priorities.”

Zombie Fact-Check, John McCain Edition
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Pity the poor fact-checkers. They work in good faith. And in the post-truth era it no longer seems to matter. This year’s national security debate has featured a number of egregious falsehoods and misreprentations. And it has featured their debunking by nonpartisan security experts and professional journalists. And it has featured them reappearing again, more times than on of Dan Drezner’s zombies.

 John McCain hits the highlights in yesterday’s Foreign Policy piece, and I boldly predict most of them will also appear in tonight’s convention speeches. Here’s your follow-along at home scorecard.


McCain: “We are now engaged in a great debate over whether America's core challenge is how to manage our own decline as a great power -- or how to renew our capacity to carry on our proud tradition of world leadership. “

Show me where, anywhere, Barack Obama or Joe Biden has ever said the U.S. is declining, or that our task is to manage it.

Waning U.S. influence.

McCain: “President Barack Obama has unfortunately pursued policies that are diminishing America's global prestige and influence.”

Pew Research Center:  Public opinion of the U.S. is up from the late Bush era in 12 of 16 countries surveyed. The four outliers are all Muslim countries.  

Pentagon spending/sequester.

McCain: “proceeding with nearly half a trillion dollars in cuts to our defense budget, while nearly $500 billion in additional defense cuts are looming under sequestration… the President is proceeding with vast cuts on defense.”

The Pentagon budget submitted to Congress this year actually forecasts a small net growth over ten years; the “half a trillion dollars in cuts” represent cuts to the previously-planned rate of increase. This is a cut like I promise you a 10% raise and then give you 5%. You can read factchecker agonizing over it here.

Half a trillion dollars certainly sounds “vast.” That sum over ten years represents about 10% of Pentagon spending. Compared to builddowns of 12-25% after World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War, however, it’s pretty tame.

And then there’s sequester, which McCain implicitly and Romney explicitly have laid at the President’s door. However, both this year’s installment of the “half a trillion in cuts” and the possibility of an across-the-board, automatic cut to Pentagon spending were devised and enacted by bipartisan majorities in Congress, including… Paul Ryan and John McCain. The logic of how this is Obama’s fault still escapes me.

Selling out to Russia.

McCain: “across Central and Eastern Europe, where Vladimir Putin's Russia still casts a long shadow, but where many of our allies believe their national interests are being sacrificed by the administration's repeated, and largely unrequited, attempts to reset relations with Moscow. “

Requited:  Russia has allowed vital supply flights into Afghanistan, stopped sales of defense equipment to Iran and allowed unprecedented UN sanctions on Iran to proceed.

Supported: Meanwhile, Russia’s small Baltic neighbors got unprecedented security guarantees from NATO. Tonight, we will likely hear again the claim that the Administration “cancelled” a missile defense scheme with Poland and the Czech Republic. This is only true if you define “cancelled” as meaning “substituted a system that might actually work” (Poland) or “agreed not to deploy a system the Czech Parliament had made it clear it was not going to approve.”    

National Security Nite: Reinvention Convention, or Groundhog Day?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Today’s five-minute Romney appearance at the American Legion and convention appearances tonight from Senator John McCain and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seem to be the sum total of what the party has planned on national security for the convention. Given this decision to downplay the issues, can the campaign back up Karl Rove’s boast that President Obama is easily vulnerable on national security? And does it have forward-looking policies for the security challengesahead?

The infighting among Romney’s national security advisers, documented by copious leaking to the New York Times and in the spring, doesn’t seem to have settled down. Indeed, stories intended to show how the team is operating smoothly instead feature anonymous backbiting.

It’s a Jungle in Here. But that’s nothing compared to the debates on national security policies outside the advisory team. The drafting sessions of the RNC platform saw amendments trying to roll back longstanding GOP support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Press reports say that Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), in his address to the convention, will call for cuts to the Pentagon budget and a mandatory audit, even as Romney, Ryan and their platform continue to call for massive increases in Pentagon spending. (Expect Rand Paul to be booed.)

Tone Deaf. Partisan and non-partisan experts wrote off Romney’s verbal gaffes in London and Jerusalem, and his campaign spokesman’s embarrassing loss of cool in Poland, as flukes. But the treading on diplomatic toes hasn’t stopped. After the platform appeared to break new ground in support for Taiwan and opposition to Chinese claims in the South China Sea, and astonishingly, lectured China that “The next lesson is that political and religious freedom lead to national greatness,” China’s state-controlled media slammed back in language that would almost work at a debate:

"It requires political vision as well as profound knowledge of Sino-U.S. relations as a whole, to make sensible policy recommendations about what are widely recognized as the most important bilateral ties in the world," the commentary states. "Romney apparently lacks both."

Then, too, there is the minor embarrassment of the GOP platform denouncing something called the “UN Convention on Women’s Rights,” which doesn’t actually exist.

Everything Old is New Again. Secretary Rice and Senator McCain both enjoy great personal respect from Americans. At the same time, there is no denying that Rice bears a heavy share of responsibility for the Bush Administration’s failures in Iraq and Afghanistan – as well as laying out a freedom and democracy agenda for the Middle East that the Bush Administration proved utterly unwilling to live up to. So it is surprising to see her as the personification of Romney’s national security policies – though she certainly personifies a Romney advisory team made up in overwhelming majority of Bush Administration alums.

McCain, for his part, has disagreed with party orthodoxy so many times over the years that it’s hard to imagine what his presence on the podium should be understood to mean. In 2008 he was a vocal opponent of torture and supporter of closing Guantanamo – neither position adopted by this year’s nominee. He has pushed Romney repeatedly, and thus far unsuccessfully, to follow his lead in advocating a no-fly zone for Syria. He voted for the Budget Control Act establishing the automatic sequestration, including Pentagon spending… of which Paul Ryan was the author. McCain now says he regrets his vote… what does Ryan say? McCain has forcefully condemned Muslim-baiting by former presidential candidate Michelle Bachman and other GOP luminaries, while Romney and Ryan have remained silent. McCain’s Foreign Policy preview of tonight’s speech picks up some of the Romney campaign’s most disingenuous arguments about sequestration, missile defense and leadership. But given McCain’s maverick status, his remarks indicate little or nothing about what Romney’s leadership would actually entail.

Will the Real Policy Please Stand Up? Meanwhile, the campaign’s positions on key issues have become, if this is possible, less clear than they were in the spring. Paul Ryan endorsed a 2014 pullout from Afghanistan, seeming to reverse his own statements of a few days earlier; the GOP platform opposes planned withdrawals of the surge troops this year but after waiting eight pages into the national security section to mention Afghanistan, remains silent on the ultimate fate of the U.S. mission there. This week campaign adviser Rich Williamson reiterated campaign criticism of the Obama Administration’s Syria policy. Other campaign advisers praised French government officials who called for military intervention. (Yes, you read that right.) So, as Syria mobilizes fighter jets against its citizens and the Administration says movement of Syria’s chemical weapons is a redline, does Romney support a no-fly zone? It seems not: But the Romney team struggled to draw clear distinctions between its policy and what the Obama administration is already doing. For now, the Romney camp is sticking to its calls for arming the rebels directly but not using U.S. military assets inside Syria. Last month, Williamson struggled mightily at a Brookings event to explain how a Romney Administration would pay for its proposed increases to Pentagon spending. This week, Republicans said that the 100,000 new troops would go first and foremost to staff the near-doubling in Navy shipbuilding Romney wants to institute. Even at 6,000 sailors per aircraft carrier, this would require 16 new carriers – more than we currently have active and the rest of the world currently has. And with next-generation carriers costing $15 billion each…

August 28, 2012

Republicans' Flimsy Case on National Security - Fantasy-Based Foreign Policy
Posted by David Shorr

01Romney on flight_deckWhen you take a closer look at Republicans' national security case for Mitt Romney, it really is amazing to see them wish away all the trade-offs and messiness of the real world. They aren't so much debating foreign policy as indulging their own fantasies of getting the world's troublemakers to straighten up and fly right.

Most often their proposals and critiques rest on self-serving assumptions that count on other players bending to America's will. For all their faith in military strength, Republicans should pay closer heed to the military adage that "the enemy gets a vote." 

These are the same tendencies that have led Romney supporters to campaign against a complete straw man rather than the actual President Obama. Against all evidence, they want us to believe President Obama's spent the last four years giving away the store, a hangdog declinist commander in chief.

Selective Amnesia Over Bin Laden's Killing

I'm not sure whether to be offended or amused by the Republican critique's convenient omissions. Aside from hyperventilating over purportedly devastating leaks, the following strange sentence about cooperation with Pakistan is the closest that the RNC platform comes to talking about the killing of Bin Laden:

The working relationship between our two countries is a necessary, though sometimes difficult, benefit to both, and we look toward the renewal of historic ties that have frayed under the weight of international conflict.

"International conflict," now there's a euphemism if I ever saw one. Hey, know what really frayed US-Pakistani ties? The operation to take out Osama Freaking Bin Laden! This is what I mean by the Republicans' magically tradeoff-free critique -- but in this case oozing with irony. Here we have the opposition party commenting on recent friction between the US and Pakistan, but somehow without reference to the biggest source of friction: President Obama's decision to send in the Navy SEAL team.

Iran Sanctions? What Sanctions?

We're hearing a lot from Republicans this season about the progress of Iran's nuclear program. But if you relied on them for all your information, you wouldn't know that President Obama's policies and diplomatic efforts have put Iran under stricter sanctions and greater pressure than it's ever been. And President Obama's success on sanctions stems directly from the sensitivity to international perceptions -- publicly testing Iranian good faith through engagement, rounding up others' support once Tehran failed the test -- that his critics rail against.

But as I say, the international banking and energy sanctions spearheaded by the Obama administration are more stringent than any previous sets of sanctions. Speaking of President Bush and would-be nuclear proliferators, we don't hear much from Republicans about his record on nuclear nonproliferation. Did the Bush administration keep the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs from progressing? If I'm not mistaken, Iran and North Korea actually got closer to the bomb while President Bush was showing resolve and standing pat just as Republicans still advocate. Wait, no I've got that wrong. North Korea didn't just get closer; they actually got the bomb while the Bush administration was busy not negotiating with them.

Meanwhile, as President Obama keeps plugging away -- corraling international pressure against Iran, giving Tehran further chances to prove they want a diplomatic solution -- his political opponents keep taking pot shots at his policy. In their Iran policy critique, Republicans have sought to have it both ways. They predict diplomatic failure by the administration and profess to believe in force only as a last resort, yet offering no specifics for a more effective diplomatic approach.

Friends, Enemies, and Resets

This is one of Republicans' favorite slams against President Obama, the idea that he's been snubbing America's allies while ardently pursuing deals with unfriendly or hostile nations. It's a prominent theme of Senator John McCain's new piece over at Foreign Policy, but it appears as a main talking point in every Republican foreign policy argument.

And talking point is an apt term for it. As far as I can tell, they're really only talking about two or three friends. Most famously, Republicans claim that Obama has turned his back on Israel. This is belied not only by the record of extensive support the administration's provided Israel, detailed by former senior Pentagon official and campaign surrogate Colin Kahl, but by glowingly appreciative statements from Prime Minister Netanyahu own down. The other plank in this case was the administration's reconfiguration of the missile defense systems being built up at NATO's eastern and southeastern flanks -- by the way, a shift in emphasis toward proven technologies and greater capability against missiles from Iran. Administration critics are being a tad overdramatic with all their anguish about the consequences for Poland and the Czech Republic. In fact, they've had their own problem with the Czech Republic: getting the country's name correct, that is.

Continue reading "Republicans' Flimsy Case on National Security - Fantasy-Based Foreign Policy" »

The Other Dangerous China Policy
Posted by Bill R. French

China_usaAs Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin has discussed, China Daily­ yesterday published an editorial commentary condemning Mitt Romney’s China policy. The commentary accused Romney of a “Cold War mentality” – by now a common trope in the Chinese government and media – and claimed his policies would “only lead to head-on confrontation between the two countries.”

Rogin’s reporting on the event logically included a brief mention of the recently leaked draft of the official GOP national convention platform for foreign policy. However, upon closer inspection, that platform is worse than even the most cynical observer might expect. By combining factual errors with extremely confrontational and escalatory policies, the platform suggests a fundamentally dangerous course for Sino-American relations.

If there is any doubt about the China Daily commentary in regards to Romney’s positions on China, that doubt is removed entirely if applied to the RNC’s prospective platform.

Taiwan Trouble

During  Ma Ying-Jeou’s Administration, cross-Strait relations  have warmed considerably since the instable years presided over by former President Chen Shui-Bian. This has led some commentators to observe that the cross-Strait outlook “appears more stable than they have been in more than sixty years.”

Yet, the draft RNC platform proposes to replace stability with political-military escalation, committing major factual errors in the process.

At the core of the trouble is that the document claims the United States is legally obligated to defend Taiwan, saying that “if China were to violate those principles [of peacefully settling the dispute of Taiwan’s status], the U.S., in accord with the Taiwan Relations Act, will help Taiwan defend itself.” But, in fact, the Taiwan Relations Act makes no such obligation regarding US defense of Taiwan in the face of Chinese aggression -- it obligates the US only to sell the Island defensive arms and makes no reference to American responsibilities in the event of a cross-Strait war whatsoever.

Continue reading "The Other Dangerous China Policy " »

August 25, 2012

Parsing the RNC's national security platform
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

POLITICO found what seems to be a close-to-final draft on the RNC's website. The national security section, titled "American Exceptionalism" is here.

Below I have gone through and blogged some of the more mendacious and ridiculous content. But what's the short take:  the Middle East, Israel and Iran sections are more reasonable than an observer of recent rhetoric from the Romney camp might expect. The adults -- who know they might have to govern, and that better policy options are exceedingly hard to come by -- are firmly in charge.

But they had to give up something to get that.  The document's tone and content will be offensive to both Chinese and Russians, as it puts into doubt the greatness of their civilizations. It will be ridiculed by those who know there are not "thousands of Middle Eastern terrorists" in Venezuela, that US Strategic Command believes our nuclear modernization efforts are fully sufficient, and that the potential budget sequestration will not touch military pay or billets. The absence of Japan, the European economic crisis, any mention of the links between the global security agenda and a global economic agenda.

The biggest absence, though, is any strategic sense of where the US is going or should try to go in the world. The document references Reagan a few times, and George W. Bush once -- what is the Romney/Ryan vision of the future? What, exactly, is that larger military for? How do we re-grow US influence and economic success overseas?

It is no surprise to anyone that platforms are full of dog whistles. Every paragraph of this one is, in some cases of contradictory dog whistles as the GOP tries to look forward and backward at the same time. Supporting women's advancement in the military and barring our service on combat is just one example. But the continuing need for the party to reconcile its libertarian, neocon, paleocon and modernist elements (by modernist I mean the need to obscure the plank which seems to pledge consideration of re-instating Don't Ask Don't Tell) means that the dogwhistles-to-strategic vision quotient is rather high.

I should add that I am delighted to see the relatively large sections covering trafficking in persons, AIDS and aid effectiveness.  They don't jibe with Paul Ryan's budget proposals to gut US diplomacy and development assistance. But I digress.

Fascinatingly, the first paragraph's definition of American exceptionalism -- "the conviction that our country holds a unique place and role in human history" -- is one that I agree with. In fact, I think it is tautological. There is no other United States. I would say that is a definition of American exceptionalism that even Ron Paul could love.  Hmmm.

Interestingly, the rest of the opening paragraph is a paean to "peace through strength," which the platform links to the Reagan era without mentioning the president. It also doesn't mention that the phrase "peace through strength" is a registered trademark of the American Security Council Foundation, which seems to exist to promote it.  But I'm sure the platform committee got the proper permissions.

Assorted highlights:

Military Keynesianism:  "The Republican Party is the advocate for a strong national defense as the pathway to peace, economic prosperity..."

Hippie-punching: "The current Administration's most recent National Security Strategy represents the extreme elements in its liberal domestic coalition." Would that be its embrace of drones? The Afghan transition? Both of which are supported by cross-partisan majorities of public opinion, and not the Democrats' left wing.

More hippie-punching: "The strategy subordinates our national security interests to environmental, energy, and international health issues." Wait, does the GOP not understand how energy is strategic? Also, the George W. Bush 2006 national security strategy has "human dignity" and "development" right up there with "fight terrorism." But we'll leave that for the professional fact-checkers.

First actual flat-out falsehood:  p. 4. The Admin has said sequester will not affect troop pay; there is no plan anywhere to separate from service "another 100,000 [troops] under sequester."

Second flat-out falsehood:  the next paragraph. When assessing whether the US manintenance and updating of the nuclear deterrent is adequate, are you gonna trust the GOP platform committee or the Pentagon's Strategic Command?

Third flat-out falsehood:  the Administration didn't "abandon" missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic -- the Czech Parliament made clear it wouldn't vote to approve the site, and the Administration put together an alternate plan.

Cybersecurity: if the Administration's approach is too defense, does that mean the GOP favors pre-emptive cyberwarfare?  It'd be good to know. Also, no mention of the bipartisan bill the Administration worked with Congress to pass to create a foundational cyber approach, which is being held up by conservatives who just didn't want to see a major achievement, despite their fellow Republicans who worked in good faith to write a compromise bill that had won grudging respect from industry and civil liberties groups alike.

Don't Ask Don't Tell and women in combat:  the platform pledges to maintain the ban on women from direct combat, which, they may or may not have noticed, has largely disappeared in practice thanks to the exigencies of counter-insurgency warfare. I will let the don't ask don't tell experts parse the following sentence, but I suspect anti-DADT activists think it means repeal:  "We affirm the cultural values which encourage selfless service and superiority in battle, and we oppose anything which might divide or weaken team cohesion, including intra-military special interest demonstrations." I wish I thought that last phrase meant a Romney Administration would get after the extremist brand of Protestantism which has taken over so much of the military chaplaincy and made non-evangelicals, and commanding officers, very worried about team cohesion.  I also wish they just had the guts to say what they think the cultural values which encourage selfless service are.

Oh, the next graph affirms that the GOP will fight against efforts to ban Bibles from military installations (wonder if they will fight for Torahs and Korans too?) and enforce the Defense of Marriage Act in the military. So much for states' rights.

The UN section explicitly rejects a number of treaties that inside-the-Beltway folks thought they could garner GOP support for, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities -- both of whose inclusion surprises me a bit -- as well as GOP red meat such as Law of the Sea and the Convention on the End of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (which the drafters appear not to know the name of).

Prize for overstatement:  "The war or drugs and the war on terror have become a single enterprise." (p. 11)

First region-specific section:  Latin America. Does anybody really believe that "thousands of Middle Eastern terrorists" hold Venezuelan visas? Thousands?

Also, it's touching that the GOP "rejects any dynastic succession" in Cuba, given that Raul Castro has already de facto taken over from Fidel? This reminds me of the story that, upon hearing that the New England transcendentalist Margaret Fuller was fond of exclaiming, "I accept the universe!" the British writer Thomas Carlyle responded:  "Gad! She'd better."

First mention of President Reagan by name:  p. 3

First/only mention of President George W. Bush: praise for PEPFAR, his AIDS program. Let me say that this is fully deserved. Africa, however, deserves better than mentions only in the context of AIDS and terrorism.

First mention of Afghanistan: p. 12 of 16. First mention of a future strategy for Afghanistan, or a justification for the current troop levels:  never.

Order of one-paragraph discussions of Taiwan and China:  Taiwan first.

Sentence that will have the Chinese ruling classes rolling on the floor laughing:  "the next lesson is that political and religious freedom leads to national greatness." Umm, you can like it or not, but can you really argue that China is not already a great nation, based on several thousand years of advances while the ancestors of Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and yours truly were running around the British Isles in skins painting our faces blue?

First mention of Europe (apart from a throwaway of NATO next to the UN, which for the GOP is a real insult): p. 13, featuring one sentence on NATO and a completely random reference to "ongoing reconciliation" in Northern Ireland, but no tribute to President Clinton for his role in helping midwife that peace agreement.

Second embarrassing reference to one of the world's great civilizations:  the Russians "seek to reestablish their rich national identity." (Note to GOP platform committee:  you should get out more often. The Mariinsky Ballet, for example, will be in DC in the next year. It doesn't need any re-establishing.)

Middle East Peace:  given all that has come before, and what was reported about efforts to eliminate the two-state solution from the platform, this section strikes me as pretty benign. It doesn't break any new ground that I can see in GOP Israel-hugging. I salute the anonymous GOP-ers who fought to keep this paragraph the way it is.

Changing Middle East:  again, I salute whomever exercised adult supervision here. There is no discernable Syria policy, excoriation of fallen dictators but no mention of our current allied dictators (Bahrain, anyone?), no pledges of additional financial support for states in transition. But there's nothing horribly problematic either. In particular, there's no mention of the Muslim Brotherhood, which surprises me given its popularity with the Bolton wing of the party.

Then, as the very last section in the national security section, we come to Iran. It says... absolutely nothing. The next president must "retain all options."

First mention of GOP members of Congress who negotiated sequestration and voted for it: never.

August 24, 2012

Give Romney Foreign Policy Adviser an 'F' for Cribbing from Obama Policy
Posted by David Shorr

20060806 Hadley-Bush _d-0054-1-515h (1)How can we tell the Romney campaign foreign policy platform proposes things the Obama administration is already doing, while masquerading as a starkly different approach? Because the Romney camp's Stephen Hadley, who was national security adviser in the GW Bush White House, is so transparent about it in his Washington Post op-ed on Syria last week. 

First of all, there's no denying that the Assad regime's barbaric attacks on their own people have wreaked horrendous death and suffering on ordinary Syrians and leave the regime without a shred of legitimacy. It's obvious that Assad should go and Syrians should have a chance to build a new political order that addresses their needs and aspirations. For Americans and the rest of the outside world looking on in horror, it's one thing to know generally what sort of outcome we want and another thing to get there.

So the real question for a US administration (and would-be policy makers) concerns what real leverage outside powers have and how it can be used for the intended aims, without too many unintended consequences. As with so many challenges on the foreign policy agenda, the Obama administration is working the problem and navigating the pitfalls -- from the splits within the international community and Syrian opposition itself, to the Al Qaeda-linked elements involved in the insurgency. 

In an election year, and for the politics of foreign policy more broadly, this poses another problem. Over and over again, we see the Romney camp wanting it both ways. They want to represent a bolder foreign policy, with more steely resolve, but they won't really deal with the difficult trade-offs. They can see the same difficulties and considerations that shape President Obama's policies, and they want to slam his policies without being bold enough to set aside the constraining factors. On Iran, this is the underlying reason why Team Romney decries the failure of sanctions and diplomacy but won't call for war. They don't really have an alternative, because it isn't easy coming up with one.

With all that as background, the Hadley piece on Syria shows how Romney's advisers contort themselves into pretzels. Here's how Hadley starts off his bullet point list of recommendations:

To avoid this looming debacle, the United States needs a much more active Syria policy. Necessary steps include:

●Accelerate efforts to help develop a more unified and inclusive Syrian opposition with an inclusive, cross-sectarian message. U.S. officials have made a significant effort and found it frustrating work, but there are signs of progress. 

Okay, the Obama administration should adopt a "much more active" policy of the significant effort they're already making. Huh? Is this a critique or a pep talk? For Hadley's first three bullet points, it's clear just from the verbs he uses that he's calling for a continuation of the current policy. (Something something, more active!) In addition to accelerating efforts with the Syrian opposition, Hadley wants to "increase" vetting of the opposition by US intelligence and "expand" non-lethal support. Then there's

●Work closely with the Syrian opposition and regional allies to prepare for a post-Assad Syria. Include steps to secure Syria’s chemical weapons. A good place to start would be the U.S.-Turkey collaboration that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in Ankara last week.

Yeah, use that new thingy you've set up. More actively. 

Look, there may indeed be ways to improve on the administration's current efforts on Syria. There's probably a version of Hadley's op-ed that, coming from the kinds of policy advocacy groups I know and love, would represent solid work. Heck, it's probably already been published several times over. But in the great 2012 debate over the direction of US foreign policy, when Hadley alludes to all the things Obama is already doing, he only highlights what thin gruel the Republicans are offering as an alternative.

White House photo by Eric Draper

August 23, 2012

Missing from the Campaign Debate: The Military Dimension of American “Pacific Power” and its Risks
Posted by Bill R. French

PacfleetLast fall, Secretary Clinton published “America’s Pacific Century,” wherein she declared the policy of strategic rebalancing – then called the “pivot” – according to which the United States will prioritize developing its “Pacific power.”  Since then, the policy has generated voluminous discussion and debate. In the political arena and 2012 campaign cycle, however, that debate has been regrettably shallow, increasing the risks entailed by differing visions of American policy in the region.

Of the questions relevant to implementing rebalancing, there is one more immediate than the rest: what is the responsible role of American hard power in the Western Pacific?


To be sure, rebalancing includes dimensions of power other than military. Kurt Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, has detailed the significance of diplomatic power and the need to engage in institution building across the region. In the economic domain, the administration announced in 2011 that it is negotiating accession to the Trans Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement of five economies with an addition seven negotiating accession and more still, including Japan, considering eventual membership. 

While the diplomatic and economic axis of rebalancing will over the long-term form the backbone of US ‘Pacific Power’ in the economically dynamic and diplomatically troubled region, initiatives in these areas will proceed relatively slowly. By contrast, the role of military power in the rebalancing has operated on a much faster timescale – and with much more immediate risk.

And on that front, the Pentagon has been busy indeed. If one can forgive the cumbersome list, a sample of the Obama Administration’s reinforcing actions in the Western Pacific include: an agreement with Singapore to host 4 Littoral Combat Ships, an agreement to rotate marines and aircraft through northern Australia, the Air-Sea Battle operational concept, plans to deploy 60% of the Navy to the Pacific Command area of responsibility by 2020, beginning RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance  drone flights over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands disputed by China and Japan, ongoing negotiations to gain access to facilities in the Philippines (including the possible deployment of reconnaissance drones and P-3C Orion anti-submarine warfare aircraft), a second round of talks for greater military access to Australia and dramatically expanding ballistic missile defenses in East Asia.

Therefore, when Leon Panetta remarked at the Shangri-La Dialogue that the Pentagon has “chosen to make this region a priority,” he is easily believed.

While the administration has downplayed the extent to which these moves are directed at China, there is no serious doubt that they are predominately intended to balance the enormous gains made by Chinese military modernization and deter conflict.

Continue reading "Missing from the Campaign Debate: The Military Dimension of American “Pacific Power” and its Risks" »

Good Old, Dependable John Bolton
Posted by David Shorr

Bolton-BushWe're having a lovely late-summer in the Midwest, and I don't want to spoil things by devoting too much time or energy to John Bolton's latest offering in the Washington Times. So I won't give Bolton's Tuesday Iran op-ed the same full-on exegesis that I did for two of his earlier efforts. Still a few key points need to be emphasized. 

Ambassador Bolton's main argument is that President Obama can't be trusted to follow through with military action to keep Iran from building nuclear weapons. Bolton is basically asking Americans and Israelis to use his assessment as the basis for their debates on the issue -- the choice between Obama and Romney as commander in chief and Israel's internal debate about possibly striking Iran unilaterally.

First of all, Bolton is engaging the issue on different battleground than his Weekly Standard piece on sanctions and negotiations just last month. That article made no mention of how President Obama has reserved a last-resort option to strike Iran's nuclear facilities. By the dubious standards of 2012 Republican tactics, it might be more honorable for Bolton to charge President Obama with not really meaning what he says rather than completely ignoring Obama's all-options-on-the-table stance. It was also interesting to see Bolton acknowledge divided Israeli attitudes over mounting a unilateral attack -- another key fact that's been conspicuously missing from typical right wing portrayals of Israeli eagerness to force the matter militarily. The next advance in intellectual honesty would be for Republicans to admit what an outlier the ultra-hawkish Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak have been in that debate; in fact one analyst the other day, Shai Feldman of Brandeis University, declated that debate over. 

As I say, Bolton is basically calling the president a liar when it comes to the use of force over the Iranian nuclear program. Here's what President Obama said last March to the AIPAC policy conference:

Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.

Former Under Secretary of Defense and top Obama campaign surrogate Michele Flournoy has vouched for the Pentagon's robust planning for military options both in a speech in Tel Aviv and a debate at Brookings against Romney surrogate Ambassador Rich Williamson. But hey, if you don't find declaratory policy or military planning persuasive, Walter Pincus of the Washington Post has reported on recent exercises in the region and the forces that could be drawn on.  

What I really want to know from Ambassador Bolton, though, is how he squares the following two passages from the Washington Times piece

Of course, Mr. Obama has created during his presidency the most antagonistic relationship ever between Israel and the White House.


Last week, Israeli President Shimon Peres took the extraordinary step of saying publicly that Israel should not strike on its own. Sounding surprisingly like an Obama surrogate, Mr. Peres said, “I am convinced [Obama] recognizes the American interest, and he isn’t saying this just to keep us happy.”

That's right, the most antagonistic relationship ever with a country whose president who vouches for President Obama's reliability. I mean, seriously. Now thanks to Michele's former Defense Department colleague Colin Kahl, we have a detailed account of the many many ways that President Obama has indeed supported Israel. To which I can add just one thing. Last year on the AIPAC study tour in which I took part -- which did not involve any skinnydipping -- we learned the security support from the Obama administration has met all of Israel's requests (most famously the "Iron Dome" anti-rocket system) with one exception. The only requests turned down were for items the US military needed for its own operation in Afghanistan.  

White House photo - Paul Morse

5 Questions for Ryan at Fayetteville
Posted by Bill R. French

Today, Congressman Ryan will be attending a Defense Industry Roundtable in Fayetteville, North Carolina. If I were there, these are the top 5 questions I would ask, largely in follow up to my article last week:

1.     A recent CBS/New York Times poll found that when asked which programs they would be most willing to change to cut spending, 52 percent of Americans chose Pentagon spending and only 15 percent picked Medicare. Since you want to cut Medicare and increase Pentagon spending, can you explain why the majority of the country is wrong?

2.    Your most recent budget did not include a budget for Veterans Affairs. In fact, it did not mention “veterans” once. Why is that? Where did you plan to get money for veterans?

3.    Your most recent budget for 2013 calls for a $599 billion dollar increase in Pentagon spending over the next decade. Mitt Romney’s proposal to peg defense spending to 4% of GDP increases Pentagon spending by $2.1 trillion over the next decade. That’s a $1.5 trillion difference. What changed overnight for you to flip-flop on Pentagon spending by a $1.5?

4.    You and Governor Romney have accused the Obama Administration’s defense strategy of being “budget driven.” Yet, you and Mr. Romeny’s plan to peg defense spending to GDP is by definition a budget driven strategy. What explains this contradiction?

5.    If defense strategy should be driven by what we need to do, and not by numbers, can you explain the strategic rationale for an additional $2.1 trillion dollars? What specifically do we need that to buy and what for? As a budget guy, how do you arrive at that dollar amount?


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