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September 29, 2012

Obama Foreign Policy - A Six-Week Appraisal
Posted by David Shorr

11142011_AP111113085935_300According to David Ignatius, President Obama's refusal to make major foreign policy moves in the final weeks before the election will leave the 2012 campaign without a meaningful public airing of the subject:

This strategy of avoiding major foreign policy risks or decisions may help get Obama reelected. But he is robbing the country of a debate it needs to have — and denying himself the public understanding and support he will need to be an effective foreign policy president in a second term, if the “rope-a-dope” campaign should prove successful.

This is a pretty odd idea. Ignatius seems to argue that without real-time statecraft at the height of the political season, voters won't know where the candidates stand. I guess the last four years somehow don't really count. 

In terms of the campaign itself, only by spending the last year living under a rock could you believe voters head to the polls with no foreign policy issues they can weigh. Take President Obama's press conference at the November 2011 APEC summit in Hawaii for example. In the midst of the Republican primary candidate forums, reporters asked the president about Governor Romney's cheeky boast that he would stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon whereas Obama would allow it to happen. That claim and President Obama's response (quoted in part below) were early salvos in a debate Mr. Ignatius appears to have missed. 

[Y]ou take a look at what we've been able to accomplish in mobilizing the world community against Iran over the last three years and it shows steady, determined, firm progress in isolating the Iranian regime, and sending a clear message that the world believes it would be dangerous for them to have a nuclear weapon.

Now, is this an easy issue? No. Anybody who claims it is, is either politicking or doesn’t know what they're talking about. 

This has been the heart of an ongoing debate for nearly a year: how exactly, aside from tough-talking bluster, would our Republican friends manage to compel Iran to roll over and obey US wishes? Last spring I gave an optimistic view of the quality of the foreign policy debate, arguing that in 2012 the opposition couldn't dodge the tough choices that governing entails. Throughout the campaign Team Romney has been pressed to say how their policy would differ from President Obama's mix of strong international pressure and attempted negotiations. (By the way, I'm not sure how Ignatius can argue -- on the basis of an Ahmadinejad taunt in his UN speech -- that these pre-election weeks represent a critical window for the nuclear talks with Iran.) In terms of the Romney-Obama contrast, the president himself has tried numerous times to goad Romney to admit that he favors going to war with Iran, most recently in his 60 Minutes interview (h/t RealClearPolitics). After all, the Obama administration has run a full-court press on all peaceful means.

And the debate has continued literally to this very day, with Romney saying on the campaign trail Friday about Iran that "I do not believe that in the final analysis we will have to use military action." From the Washington Post's report, here's how Romney tried to distinguish his position from Obama policy:

When a reporter asked how Romney’s position on Iran’s nuclear arms development differs from President Obama’s, Romney accused the president of having “moved over time.”

“From the very beginning, I thought crippling sanctions needed to be put in place,” Romney said. Of Obama, he added, “his words more recently are more consistent with the words I’ve been speaking for some time, and we’ll see what actions he pursues.”

So the latest line from the Romney camp is that they'd take the harsher steps more quickly. Okay, this is another substantive contrast we could debate. Two problems. First is the inconvenient fact that the sanctions imposed by President Obama are far more stringent than any of the steps taken by President Bush.

Second is the importance of lining up international support. As they teach you in Foreign Policy 101, sanctions have to be multilateral in order to work; they're just not effective unless all the key players are on board. I make the comparison to President Bush not to say he should've gone further, but to highlight the hubris of Team Romney's we'd-be-tougher argument. Because recruiting international support gets much harder when the United States tries to rush things -- rather than persistently yet steadily spotlighting Iranian intransigence, just as President Obama's done. For one thing, the international community is a little leery of American alarmism after that whole episode with the WMD that turned out weren't in Iraq.

As Romney has campaigned on a platform of general toughness and bluster with scant practical policy steps, it's become clear that their core argument is a belief in what can be achieved with just an aura of strength. Just a couple weeks ago, top Romney surrogate Rich Williamson claimed the Middle East embassy protests wouldn't even have occurred under a President Romney. This is the same blind overconfidence and magical thinking behind Romney's secret videotape boast that the eonomy would get a major boost just from his being elected and before he'd done anything. (With a nod to Paul Krugman, I invented the "Resolve Fairy"TM to drive home the point.) 

With Williamson's boast as backdrop, I'll close with a question about Libya. As we know, there has been confusion over the nature of the Benghazi attack, which has prompted this statement by the Director of National Intelligence and an ongoing investigation by the State Department. But for the purposes of offering voters a constructive debate to help inform their choices, which is more important for us to discuss: diplomatic security in Benghazi or what was the right response to Ghaddafi's bloody assault on civilians in that city last year? Which issue is a better commander in chief test? As ABC News' Jake Tapper documented a year ago, Romney's position on intervening in Libya was all over the map.

Of course the chief difference between the two issues is that the atttack that claimed the lives of Ambassador Stevens and three others occurred just a few weeks ago, here in the midst of the campaign. Does that mean it's more important? That seems to be what David Ignatius is saying, and I don't think Ignatius' argument is a good case for making the campaign season action-packed with foreign policy. Unless he's saying voters can only decide issues that happened recently; in which case he doesn't give voters much credit.

September 28, 2012

You say Potato ...
Posted by James Lamond

Potato

Heather has a comprehensive breakdown of Mitt Romney’s speech at the Clinton Global Initiative earlier this week that is worth a read. After going back a taking a look at the speech, one of his proposals jumped put. In his CGI remarks Romney proposes the creation of “Prosperity Pacts,” to encourage economic growth and foreign investment.  This sounds like an interesting idea. The only issue is that it already exists. The State Department has a program call the Partnership for Growth, which does pretty much what Governor Romney proposes.

Romney specifically proposes:

To foster work and enterprise in the Middle East and in other developing countries, I will initiate “Prosperity Pacts.”  Working with the private sector, the program will identify the barriers to investment, trade, and entrepreneurialism in developing nations. In exchange for removing those barriers and opening their markets to U.S. investment and trade, developing nations will receive U.S. assistance packages focused on developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law, and property rights.

We will focus our efforts on small and medium-size businesses. Microfinance has been an effective tool at promoting enterprise and prosperity, but we must expand support to small and medium-size businesses that are too large for microfinance, but too small for traditional banks.

Now the language from the State Department’s website explaining its Partnership for Growth program:

Partnership for Growth (PFG) is a partnership between the United States and a select group of countries to accelerate and sustain broad-based economic growth… It involves rigorous joint analysis of constraints to growth, the development of joint action plans to address these constraints, and high-level mutual accountability for implementation. One of PFG’s signature objectives is to engage governments, the private sector and civil society with a broad range of tools to unlock new sources of investment, including domestic resources and foreign direct investment. By improving coordination, leveraging private investment, and focusing political commitment throughout both governments, the Partnership for Growth enables partners to achieve better development results.

The program has already begun with El Salvador, Ghana, Philippines, and Tanzania as the first group of partners. 

2012 and the Implications for Terrorism Detention Policy
Posted by James Lamond

For those that missed it, Charlie Savage has a piece on the role of detainee policy and torture this campaign season. He reports:

Mr. Romney’s advisers have privately urged him to “rescind and replace President Obama’s executive order” and permit secret “enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives,” according to an internal Romney campaign memorandum.

While the memo is a policy proposal drafted by Mr. Romney’s advisers in September 2011, and not a final decision by him, its detailed analysis dovetails with his rare and limited public comments about interrogation.

The Romney campaign document, obtained by The New York Times, is a five-page policy paper titled “Interrogation Techniques.” It was a near-final draft circulated last September among the Romney campaign’s “national security law subcommittee” for any further comments before it was to be submitted to Mr. Romney. The panel consists of a brain trust of conservative lawyers, most of whom are veterans of the George W. Bush administration.

Terrorist detention has clearly not been a priority campaign issue this year. When foreign policy and national security issues do rise to the campaign discussion it has typically been Iran, the Benghazi attack and the protests in the Middle East. To a lesser extent Russia and China has also been discused. However, as was seen with the NDAA battle last year, this debate is far from over and whover wins in November will be faced with serious decisions.

What I continue to find surprising however is the debate continuing specifically on the issue of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  In 2008 both John McCain and Barack Obama took strong stances against hese abuses. Additionally expert interrogators repeatedly discount the utility of  “EITs”:

Mark Fallon, a former interrogator and special agent in charge of the criminal investigation task force at Guantanamo Bay: “I was privy to the information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at the time. I’m not aware of any information or intelligence that was a product from water boarding…  I’ve seen no information that the infliction of pain equates to the elicitation of accurate information.”  [Mark Fallon via MSNBC, 5/3/11]

Matthew Alexander, the pseudonym of the Air Force interrogator who located Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, said: “When you use coercive techniques, which includes waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques, you get the bare minimum amount of information out of a detainee. And that bare minimum of information is going to lack the details that you need to execute a mission to take out a target.” [Matthew Alexander, 5/4/11]

Glenn L. Carle, a retired C.I.A. officer who oversaw the interrogation of a high-level detainee in 2002, told the New York Times that coercive techniques “didn’t provide useful, meaningful, trustworthy information.” [Glenn Carle via NY Times, 5/3/11]

Additionally, there is a strong consensus that such actions actually hurt our national security interests. David Petraeus famously noted, when asked if he wished that the use of torture or “enhanced interrogation” was available as a tool during interrogations,  “I think that whenever we have, perhaps, taken expedient measures, they have turned around and bitten us in the backside… Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are nonbiodegradables.  They don’t go away.  The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick in the Central Command area of responsibility.”

On his second day in office President Obama very publicly broke with the previous administration’s policies on detainee issues. While Congressional hand tying has prevented progress on some issues, including the closure of Guantanamo Bay, the use of EITs was for many a settled issue, that we have moved past. Besides it is not as if there has not been great success against al Qaeda in that time period. 

September 25, 2012

Initial Steps Towards a Right-Sized, Targeted Approach to Maritime Stability in the Western Pacific, Part 1
Posted by Bill R. French

AsdfThe ongoing spat between China and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea highlights increasing maritime instability in the Western Pacific. While the standoff between the world’s second and third largest economies is troubling enough, the crisis is but the latest in a series of serious maritime disputes involving the Peoples Republic of China. Until this flare up, the epicenter of territorial and maritime disputes in East Asia had been concentrated in the South China Sea where, for example, a major standoff took place between Beijing and the Philippines in April-May of this year over the Scarborough Shoal.

While the severity of China’s behavior in these disputes has eased slightly compared to previous years, the intensity and frequency of dispute-driven tensions remains well above the relative calm seen in the previous 15 years or so. And although the disputes have not returned to the feverous peaks of the 1970s and 1980s which witnessed two limited naval wars between China and Vietnam (ending in China occupying features of the Parcel Islands), the future remains uncertain – especially as Chinese power grows. 

Thinking Through a Way Forward:  U.S. Interests and Objectives

Underlying American economic interests – and security commitments – gives the United States a strong stake in the stability of the Western Pacific. While the situation is not as dire as some have portrayed, American policymakers should be considering options to bolster stability and moderate the trajectory of maritime disputes in the region. This entails addressing instability in both the East and South China Seas. Unfortunately, though the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute and the Scarborough Shoal standoff have been widely discussed, few American commentators have proposed constructive ways forward. Even fewer have proposed ways forward that are readily available, near-term options -- what will therefore be the focus of the recommendations found below.

In actionable terms, bolstering stability and moderating the trajectory of these disputes would entail the following objectives:

  • Further blunt Chinese assertiveness in pressing its claims;
  • Better incentivize Beijing to diplomatically engage the relevant parties in the South China Sea and East China Sea to ease tensions and minimize the risk of future escalations;
  • Reassure U.S. partners regularly locked in disputes with Beijing, especially the Philippines and Japan who are both U.S. treaty partners; and
  • Take the necessary steps to reassure the Chinese that such measures are not intended to contain China.

The most vital – and most difficult – of these objectives is to incentivize China to relax its behavior and take diplomacy more seriously as a way ease - and eventually resolve -- its disputes. For example, while Beijing plays lip service to diplomatic solutions to maritime disputes, it has all but abandoned cooperation with efforts to establish a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. China seriously returning to these diplomatic efforts should be the primary midterm goal of any maritime stability strategy developed by the United States for the region.

Continue reading "Initial Steps Towards a Right-Sized, Targeted Approach to Maritime Stability in the Western Pacific, Part 1" »

Rating Romney at CGI
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

My friend Jon Cohn and others are all excited that Mitt Romney gave a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative this morning that reminds “how different and, I think, more appealing Romney can be when he’s not trying to be such an ideologue.”

I’m going to suggest, gently, that they perceive this speech as more positive and intelligent because they are less well-acquainted with its subject matter.  Let me offer three examples:

First, Romney starts his speech by trotting out that hoariest canard, that aid doesn’t work:  “We wonder why years of aid and relief never seem to diminish the hardship, why the suffering persists decade after decade.”

This is conventional wisdom that is very far from true. Just since 2000, child deaths have fallen by almost 30% worldwide, with some countries reducing under-five child mortality by as much as 60%. The total number of children out of school worldwide has fallen, even as the global population of school-age children has grown; for the first time, every region has more than ¾ of its youngest children in school. How’d that happen? Not through the magic of private enterprise, but the UN, government, foundations, charities, and public-private partnerships – all spurred by the UN Millennium Development Goals which were a project of government, and by national governments themselves deciding investment in child health and education were fundamental building blocks to economic success, be it in free-market or managed economies.

If you go back more than ten years you will find other successes led by governments of equal or larger-scale:  the Bush Administration’s leading role in nudging the world to scale up its response to AIDS (a role which included nudging private enterprise to do better in cutting vaccine and treatment costs); and the multi-decade effort to eradicate polio and some parasitic diseases.

 Second, the role of government in fostering free enterprise and promoting direct business engagement. Romney spoke at length and movingly about this. Few aid experts would disagree with his words. They would, however, as I do, wonder whether he is aware that his party has repeatedly criticized, cut and threatened to cut economic assistance to Middle Eastern societies, including support for business and public-private partnerships – most recently last week after the embassy attacks. In particular, one wonders whether he knows that his running mate Paul Ryan’s budget would cut spending on foreign aid (and also embassy security…) by 10%.

Finally, the role of trade in lifting communities and societies from poverty and into dignity and self-sufficiency. Romney’s rhetoric here would be cheered by many, if not most in the aid community and in developing countries themselves, who have long sought freer access to our markets and said they would prefer it to aid.

One wonders, therefore, why he has not been a strong proponent of efforts to reform U.S. farm subsidies to offer more of an opening to dirt-poor farmers in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. One wonders whether he knows that Paul Ryan supports a budget that would actually cut U.S. support for poor farmers growing their own food and food for export – in favor of programs that ship surplus U.S. agricultural products and undercut local farmers. No, one doesn’t really wonder at all – it’s domestic politics. One just wishes that the reporters and columnists who are gaga over his apparent reasonableness would ask him about it.

One might also remember that his autobiography contains some similarly ringing language about the value of open trade with China – a view he seems to have completely discarded in favor of campaign-trail attempts to curry favor with economically-threatened voters in the industrial Midwest.  So private enterprise works better to fight poverty… unless that poverty is in China. In which case, folks, you better hope communism works out for you.

 

September 17, 2012

Liz Cheney Makes Criticizing Obama Look Hard
Posted by David Shorr

Chen11051If you've ever wondered what is the basis on which right-wing firebreathers argue the supposed weakness of Obama foreign policy, Liz Cheney's Wednesday WSJ op-ed shows how it's done. With its ludicrous twists of logic, the piece merely proves that Republicans this year can only mount a foreign policy critique and argument by pulling it out of, um, thin air.

Truth be told, it's been several weeks since John Bolton gave me fresh material to put through the ol' foreign policy fallacy shredder. So I have to thank Ms. Cheney for providing such Boltonesque fodder. 

Of course the news hook for the piece was last week's attacks on US diplomatic missions in the Middle East. And President Obama's scandalous response?

The president appeared in the Rose Garden less than 24 hours later to condemn the Libya assault and failed even to mention the attack in Egypt. The message sent to radicals throughout the region: If you assault an American embassy but don't kill anyone, the U.S. president won't complain.

Let's see if I can grasp the point here. The president's statement in honor of the diplomats murdered in Benghazi was an implicit message of "no biggie" regarding the protesters who breached the gates of the Cairo embassy?? So this is the clear sign of American weakness: the failure to mention the Egypt protests in the statement honoring Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues. Does that strike anyone else as a bit of a stretch?

Besides, President Obama certainly did react to the events in Egypt -- not only expressing his displeasure directly to President Morsi, but publicly upping the stakes for US-Egyptian relations by saying he's not sure whether Egypt is a US ally. For former Bush White House aide David Frum, the statement was "Obama's shrewdest gaffe." (There were similar takes from Mideast expert Juan Cole and Michael Tomasky.)  Commentary on the attacks also included a persuasive caution against over-reacting; funnily enough, that caution came from prominent Republican foreign policy maven Robert Kagan. 

As Liz Cheney's indictment of Obama foreign policy goes on, her case only gets more laughable. For instance there's Cheney's slam against cuts in the US nuclear arsenal, which she chalks up to "the leftist fallacy that the key to world peace is for the US to pre-emptively disarm."  And if that choice line isn't quite shrill enough, she goes on to say: "These are steps you take only if you believe that America—not her enemies—is the threat." Oh, and Cheney characterizes Obama as "standing silently with the mullahs" after the stolen election of 2009 and violent crackdown on protesters.

These last bits of slander don't deserve a response; their ugliness speaks for itself. As for the well-worn argument denying any link between the US arsenal and the spread of history's deadliest arms, it leaves a huge hole where the Non-Proliferation Treaty should be. The international framework for nonproliferation not only calls on the nuclear "have-nots" to never acquire n-weapons, but also requires the "haves" to get rid of ours. Notwithstanding Liz Cheney's caricature, progressives do not believe that US arms control steps will inspire Iranian leaders toward their own good deeds. But we do believe that if America keeps more arms than it could ever justify, this would indeed make it much harder to bring international pressure on Tehran or Pyongyang.

Naturally, Cheney's version of the abandoning-our-friends trope invokes the prime minister of Israel:

In too many parts of the world, America is no longer viewed as a reliable ally or an enemy to be feared. Don't take my word for it. Ask Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Recent news has been rife with reports about the prime minister's demands for a more bellicose approach toward Iran. But did you know who isn't standing behing Netanyahu's rush to war? Well for one thing, a sizable chunk of Israeli officialdom and the country's security establishment. This is the Israeli domestic political reality that isn't reflected in our own politics: Netanyahu is pretty far out on a limb with his position on Iran. 

Cheney concludes with the requisite scare tactics over sequestration. As we know, this particular talking point is distortion in its purest form. The very point of the 2011 budget deal's so-called "triggers" was for them to be so horrifying that lawmakers would take action on the deficit to avoid them. The defense cuts are draconian by design, holding a proverbial gun to the head of congressional Republicans. If that threat fails to produce deficit reduction, then you can say the Republicans aren't really serious about the deficit. You can also say they reneged on the deal they made last year. But you can't say President Obama made those cuts to the defense budget. 

Photo: US Departmtent of State

September 13, 2012

The Two War Construct: Myths, Realities and Questions
Posted by Bill R. French

Santisima_trinidadToday, Governor Romney made the beginings of a important contribution to how the presidential campaign season has so far addressed defense policy. Speaking at a Campaign event, he said:  

"Ever since FDR we've had the capacity to be engaged in two conflicts at once and [President Obama] said no, we're going to cut that back to only one conflict,"

Here, Romney is referring to the ‘two war force sizing construct,’ a requirement that Pentagon planners have historically used to design the U.S. armed forces to conduct two major conflicts simultaneously (well, sort of -- read on). While the issue may appear obscure, it’s in fact quite significant. Such concepts set the bar for the capabilities that the total force is intended to posses by imagining some overall set of missions or abilities that force should be able to undertake. This in turn helps to guide allocating resources. In this way, the concepts used for force planning, of which those directed at the overall size of the force are a prominent example,  are among the principal factors that help the DoD determine what it needs and what to do with what it has.  

Students of history, for example, will recognize that Great Britain’s famous “Two-Power Standard” played a prominent role in maintaining the British Empire. According to that force-sizing construct, the Royal Navy maintained a fleet as large as its nearest two competitors combined.

Given their significance, Romney is thus correct if he wants to insist that topline planning constructs ought to have a prominent place in a serious, deep debate over defense policy. And so, in a very real sense, his comment does begin to contribute. But before explaining that contribution, there is a more pressing factual matter at hand, namely that the Obama administration has not proposed jettisoning the two war requirement at all. 

Continue reading "The Two War Construct: Myths, Realities and Questions" »

3 am Call Waiting
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Yesterday, the Atlantic’s Jim Fallows wrote that the response to attacks on U.S. Embassies in Cairo and Benghazi was Mitt Romney’s three am phone call, and that his instinct to jump the gun on politicizing the attacks, then double down the next morning, amounted to flunking the “3 am call” test of leadership that Hillary Clinton posed to Barack Obama in the 2008 primary. (Oh, for those genteel days!)

In the last day, world leaders have been burning up that 3 am hotline. Late last night, President Obama spoke to Libya’s interim leader, who apologized for his government’s failure to protect Ambassador Chris Stevens and his team. The message Obama had to deliver: someone will pay for this. Your sovereignty will not get in the way of that. And we will do what we need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

That was a piece of cake compared to the call that followed, with Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi, who unlike his Libyan colleague had waited late into the day to express regret for the damage done and his government’s failure to protect our embassy – even as his political movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, was calling for more protests today and tomorrow.  We can extrapolate the message here from an interview Obama gave to Telemundo:  Egypt is neither an ally nor an enemy. If it fails to protect our embassy, however, that would be “a real big problem.”

Then Obama would have gotten the word – likely in person – that a foreshadowed protest and assault on our embassy in Sanaa, Yemen was underway. Another round of calls, another leadership challenge – make sure our diplomats and Marines on the ground have the support they need, not backbiting criticism as they are under fire.

Don’t roll over and go back to sleep just yet, though. In Beijing, today the Chinese government finally allowed a public mention of what has been gossiped about for ten days – the man tapped as China’s next leader has dropped out of public sight. He is rumored to have a heart attack. If the CIA knows that for sure, they will have sent someone in to brief Obama, who with his team has difficult choices to make. Can he – or someone – speak to China’s current leaders frankly about this?  Is that too big a loss of face? How can the two leaderships work together to steady global financial markets and prevent North Korea from acting out while its patron is occupied? At the same time, what steadying message must Obama give to American allies around the Pacific?

You don’t have to be a Democrat, or a political junkie, to think that the events of the last 48 hours raise serious questions about how Mitt Romney and his closest advisors – the ones who are “absolutely behind” the decision to go after Embassy Cairo staff, and the ones who spent yesterday criticizing it off-the-record – would handle that red phone ringing off the hook.

September 12, 2012

Unknown and Known
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Last night’s tragic and violent demonstrations in Benghazi, Libya and Cairo, Egypt have unleashed a torrent of on-line commentary and speculation today, with some occasional fact-based reporting mixed in. Add to that a heavy, disgraceful dose of electioneering over the not-yet-cold corpses of our public servants. Here’s what you need to catch up.

We still don’t know fundamental facts about what happened.  This is important, because some commentators and legislators have called for immediately cutting off aid to Egypt and Libya, or even for military strikes. But a smart response will be one that has facts on its side. Some things we don’t yet know:  Who is responsible? A Libya-based extremist group with links to Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility; the Libyan government has pointed fingers at Al Qaeda. Washington has said nothing. Were the Libya and Cairo protests coordinated? There’s no evidence of that.

We don’t know why. Was the Benghazi attack part of protests of a Western film perceived as anti-Islamic, or was it planned separately in advance and just took advantage? We don’t know, and at least one commentator suggests the killing was in retaliation for a US drone strike in Pakistan.

We also don’t know as much as we thought we knew about the film that sparked the first round of protests. Reporting before and immediately after the protests identified an “Israeli” or “Jewish American” film producer, Sam Bacile, who had posted on YouTube an incendiary trailer for a film, funded by “100 Jewish donors” and promoted by Terry Jones, the Florida pastor of 2010 Koran-burning fame. Subsequent reporting has brought his religion, nationality and very existence into question, and the only thing that seems clear is that someone was eager to fan the flames of sectarian hatred – and not eager to be identified.  The actors and crew now say they were misled, thinking they were making a film about a “generic Egyptian” named “Master George,” with the most incendiary lines appear to have been (poorly) overdubbed after filming. In one scene, the dubbed voice says “Mohammed” while the actor’s lips appear to say “George.”

 

What we do know:

Someone posted an inflammatory, poorly-produced video that seemed designed to anger Muslims, and then began promoting it to make sure people noticed. They did. Protests were planned in Cairo and Benghazi. Some protestors at each event seemed to have more violent goals in mind, with the result of a tense standoff in Cairo that closed the US Embassy, and a four-hour firefight in Benghazi that left ten Libyan security guards and four Americans dead, and three more Americans (and probably many Libyans) injured.

We learned today some important things about how people in the region and in the United States are reacting, and what that says about the future.

Libyan people are anxious for Americans to know this violence doesn’t reflect their views.  Thousands of Libyans demonstrated in solidarity with Washington and against extremism today. Ten Libyan security guards gave their lives trying to protect the consulate and our diplomats in Benghazi. At the same time, Libyans went to the polls – and seem to have selected the most pro-Western of the candidates for Prime Minister.

More protests are coming. A protest in Tunis today was pushed back by Tunisian security forces. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has called for more Cairo protests against the offending movie tomorrow. Protests may occur in Yemen as well. Experts are watching Afghanistan, where prior protests of perceived American insults to Islam have resulted in American fatalities, and Pakistan with great concern – such great concern that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff called Koran-burning Florida pastor Terry Jones and asked him to stop promoting the video.

The fate of the “Arab Spring” still hangs in the balance. Some commentators see in this violence, and governments’ inability or unwillingness to control it, the end of hopes for progress toward democracy across the Arab world. Foreign Policy’s Marc Lynch suggests, instead, that not the events themselves but how governments and peoples react, today and in the days to follow, will decide. In the long run, the greatest strategic worry here may be the Muslim Brotherhood-allied government of Egypt, whose response to the attack on our Embassy has been disappointing in rhetoric and substance.

So may the fate of Mitt Romney. After the Romney campaign issued a press release criticizing a statement made by Embassy Cairo while it was under siege, and followed up with Romney criticizing Obama shortly before the President spoke this morning, senior GOP leadership hurried to call for national unity while declining to endorse Romney’s critique. GOP foreign policy wonks, meanwhile, fell over each other to complain to reporters off-the-record, with John McCain’s former Chief of Staff Mark Salter writing a firm rebuke.  The media has spent the day piling on, with pundits debating whether this is the end of Romney’s campaign or just one more bad day.

 

  

September 11, 2012

Analyzing Romney's F-22 Suggestion
Posted by Bill R. French

F-22-raptor-nellis-2008-1024x682This past weekend, Governor Romney shed new light on the details of his plan to increase the Pentagon’s base budget to 4% of GDP. Rather, he shed new light on a detail. Speaking on a local Virginia television station on Saturday, he said:

“Rather than completing nine ships per year, I’d move that up to 15. I’d also add F-22s to our Air Force fleet.”

While Romney has been mentioning his shipbuilding proposal since his breakout foreign policy speech at the Citadel during the primaries, this is the first time he has suggested additional F-22 Raptors. While some suspicion has arisen over the proposal, there have been no thorough commentaries on the matter as of yet. 

But there’s plenty of suspicion to be had.

Political Motivations

From a political point of view, it’s likely that Romney’s mention of the F-22 is a response to the growing criticism his campaign has received from failing to put forward a plan for how it wants to spend its proposed increase in the defense budget. While this is not a national security election, fiscal issues have been prominent, leaving the campaign vulnerable if it fails to provide further details to justify its expensive plan for the Pentagon, which may carry a price tag in excess of $2 trillion.

My own speculation is that Romney’s F-22 blurb may evidence discussions within the campaign to this effect. The suggestion itself may be a topline take away that the candidate recalled on the spot from those conversations. If this is case, we can perhaps expect the Romney campaign to put forward more details on its defense plan as it works them out ex post facto.

A Bad Way to Spend Money Against the Chinese

But from a military and budgetary point of view, two things stand out. On the operational level, more F-22s would cohere with the campaign’s emphasis on high-end threats, especially a hawkish perception of China – the only threat perception that can possibly justify more Raptors. On a budgetary level, buying more of the high-cost, high-profile items would certainly be on the short list for anyone looking to justify increased defense spending. According to the Congressional Research Service, the F-22 has a total program cost of over $60 billion and an Average Unit Procurement Cost of $191.6 million as of 2007, just before the program was terminated in 2009 and the total buy was truncated at 195 aircraft.

Note, however, that Romney’s Raptors would almost certainly cost more, given the costs of restarting the F-22 assembly line and depending how economies of scale factor on the number of new units produced. 

Yet, even putting cost aside,  the operative question is: would buying more F-22s deliver the capabilities that the Air Force needs and would  benefit from substantially?  While there is no question that more F-22s would increase American airpower – a goal that buying more of any airplane accomplishes by definition  – the answer to this quesetion is, "no."  Importantly, the answer remains “no” especially if we for the sake of argument share the Romney campaigns hawkish perception of Chinese military power.

Continue reading "Analyzing Romney's F-22 Suggestion" »

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