Good for Hillary Clinton for stating the blatantly obvious fact that Americans' "insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade" and is exacerbating the violence in Mexico. But if the Obama administration is acknowledging that the drug trade is largely a demand-side issue, why is it still pursuing a supply-side solution?
Washington on Tuesday said it plans to ramp up border security with a $184 million program to add 360 security agents to border posts and step up searches for smuggled drugs, guns and cash.
The Obama administration plans to provide more than $80 million to buy Black Hawk helicopters to go after drug traffickers, Clinton said.
What was that about "insatiable demand"?
The new spending shows that the administration is taking the problem seriously, but I'll take the power of supply-and-demand over security agents and helicopters any day. (See Blake's take-down of William Saletan's "high-tech" solution for smuggling in Gaza.) The U.S. has spent over $6 billion on a military solution to Colombia's drug production and all we have to show for it is a 15 percent increase in cocaine cultivation.
Maybe it's time for some more out-of-the-box ideas.
John Moore/Getty Images
At least it seems to have in official Pentagon communications:
Reports that the phrase was being retired have been circulating for some time amongst senior administration officials, and this morning speechwriters and other staff were notified via this e-mail to use "Overseas Contingency Operation" instead.
"Recently, in a LtGen [John] Bergman, USMC, statement for the 25 March [congressional] hearing, OMB required that the following change be made before going to the Hill," Dave Riedel, of the Office of Security Review, wrote in an e-mail.
"OMB says: 'This Administration prefers to avoid using the term "Long War" or "Global War on Terror" [GWOT]. Please use "Overseas Contingency Operation.'"
Remember that the Bush administration previously tried to replace GWOT with GSAVE -- Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism -- without a whole lot of luck.
I don't really anticipate Obama's new nomenclature having much more success, mainly because no editor in his right mind is going to leave the phrase "overseas contingency operation" in an article lead.
Sorry guys. You're stuck with GWOT.
In case you missed it, Laura Rozen has updated her already blockbuster Cable post from yesterday on Christopher Hill's delayed appointment as Iraq ambassador with a devastating on-the-record quote from Defense Secretary Robert Gates' chief spokesman. Here's what Geoffrey Morrell had to say about the senators holding up Hill's confirmation:
“Generals Odierno and Petraeus have come out very publicly and very forcefully in support of Amb. Hill’s nomination. I know they support it. They know him from previous assignments, they like him, they believe he is well suited to the job and are anxiously awaiting his confirmation because they do need help, frankly. ...It’s what’s in the best interest of the Iraqi people and the American people.
“With regards to [Senate] members who have issues with him, I would say this," Morrell added. “We appreciate their steadfast support of the Iraq mission. But you can’t be bullish in support of that mission and not send an ambassador in a timely fashion.”
If you've been following the Chas Freeman saga, you'll certainly want to check out the former nominee's interview with The Nation's Robert Dreyfuss. In the interview, Freeman addresses the blistering e-mail message that The Cable's Laura Rozen featured on Tuesday:
The only thing I regret is that in my statement I embraced the term ‘Israel lobby.' This isn't really a lobby by, for or about Israel. It's really, well, I've decided I'm going to call it from now on the [Avigdor] Lieberman lobby. It's the very right-wing Likud in Israel and its fanatic supporters here. And Avigdor Lieberman is really the guy that they really agree with. And I think they're doing Israel in.
Freeman also says he wasn't too surprised by the unproductive conversations he had on Capitol Hill:
Well, they didn't go badly. But I'm one guy talking to one or two people, and they're quite a number of people and they're feeding all sorts of disinformation in, and they have established channels and they also have clout. So there wasn't much hope on my part that I could get many people to stand up and support me, because the down side of doing that is so obvious. Because if you go against this group, they either curtail your contributions or they arrange to contribute to an opponent. So it's not realistic to expect courage on the Hill. And I didn't.
In a press release, Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice announce the withdrawal of the "enemy combatant" definition of Gitmo detainees. The memo says that, under President Obama's orders, the department is reviewing detention policy:
In a filing today with the federal District Court for the District of Columbia, the Department of Justice submitted a new standard for the government’s authority to hold detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. The definition does not rely on the President’s authority as Commander-in-Chief independent of Congress’s specific authorization. It draws on the international laws of war to inform the statutory authority conferred by Congress. It provides that individuals who supported al Qaeda or the Taliban are detainable only if the support was substantial. And it does not employ the phrase "enemy combatant."
The Department also submitted a declaration by Attorney General Eric Holder stating that, under executive orders issued by President Obama, the government is undertaking an interagency review of detention policy for individuals captured in armed conflicts or counterterrorism operations as well as a review of the status of each detainee held at Guantanamo. The outcome of those reviews may lead to further refinements of the government’s position as it develops a comprehensive policy.
The memo states that the government will no longer detain combatants who provided "insignificant or insubstantial" support to al Qaeda or the Taliban. (The Bush administration came under fierce criticism for holding persons with little or no connection to the terrorist organizations.) More than 200 remain incarcerated at Camp Delta; it's unclear if any -- or how many -- will be released under the new legal standards.
Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images
After the Gordon Brown debacle, you would think the White House would put a little more thought into planning for visits by visiting heads of state. But Brazil is already grumbling about the treatment of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who will sit down with Obama this weekend and is the first Latin American leader to visit the White House under the new administration.
Silva aides said the trip was pushed forward from Tuesday because of the St. Patrick's Day holiday - making Latin America once again look like an afterthought. Then, the White House announcement misspelled his name as "Luis Ignacio" and put "Lula" - a nickname that decades ago became a legal part of the Brazilian leader's name - in quotes.
I'm sure he'll feel better when he gets his DVDs.
I know Obama's got bigger things to worry about, but there is a whole office of protocol that's supposed to take care of these things. If they can put together a Stevie Wonder concert, they should be able to arrange White House visits from the world's most important leaders with a little more class than this.
Don Kraus at the Global Solutions Blog and Mark Leon Goldberg at U.N. Dispatch report that Rep. Nita Lowey and Sen. Patrick Leahy managed to cut the Nethercutt Amendment out of the omnibus appropriations bill that Congress passed this week.
The Nethercutt Amendment -- named for former Rep. George Nethercutt and bundled in a 2004 appropriations bill -- cut economic support funds to nations that ratified the International Criminal Court without signing a Bilateral Immunity Agreement with the Bush administration.
Global Solutions says the law affected funding to more than 20 countries, including:
Latin American allies in the war on drugs, including Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Brazil, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Uruguay.
The Balkan countries of Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro, which rely on U.S. military assistance to maintain stability and reform their armies.
Caribbean countries, whose hurricane disaster assistance is tied to the affected programs: Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
African allies with which the U.S. partners to help maintain regional security, including South Africa, Kenya, Mali and Tanzania.
Photo: Paul Vreeker/AFP/Getty Images
It seems that our pal Gordon Brown is having a little trouble organizing the G20 summit in London. And the Brits are blaming Washington:
It also emerged that Gordon Brown, UK prime minister, was struggling to organise the summit. Britain’s most senior civil servant claimed it was hard to find anyone to speak to at the US Treasury. Sir Gus O’Donnell, cabinet secretary, blamed the “absolute madness” of the US system where a new administration had to hire new officials from scratch, leaving a decision-making vacuum.
“There is nobody there. You cannot believe how difficult it is,” he told a conference of civil servants.
Is Barack Obama downgrading the importance of promoting democracy in the Middle East? A group of activists and scholars led by my former boss, Egyptian dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim, sure seems to think so. Or at least, they're going to hold the U.S. president's feet to the fire. This just in:
Washington, DC - March 6, 2009 - More than 80 scholars and experts-including Egyptian democracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim and former deputy prime minister of Malaysia Anwar Ibrahim -are urging President Obama to adopt a consistent and credible policy that supports democracy in the Arab and Muslim world. The group will formally issue an open letter to the president at a news conference Tuesday, March 10, at 2:30 p.m. at the National Press Club in Washington.
"For decades, the United States and Europe have been coddling and supporting dictators in the Arab world, and this has been disastrous for the region and for U.S.-Islamic relations," said Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy and a co-convener of the letter. The letter states that for decades the United States has "supported repressive regimes that routinely violate human rights, and that torture and imprison those who dare criticize them."
The signatories call on the administration to make supporting democracy and its proponents in the Middle East a top foreign policy priority, even in countries that are U.S. allies such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The authors call on the United States to "use its considerable economic and diplomatic leverage to put pressure on its allies in the region when they fail to meet basic standards of human rights."
"Because of its association with the Bush administration, there is a temptation to move away from any discussion of democracy promotion in the Middle East. That would be a mistake," said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Project on Middle East Democracy and a letter co-convener. The letter lauds the President's initial efforts to reach out to the Arab and Muslim world, but cautions that the U.S. must demonstrate its commitment to democratic reform through actual policy changes.
The letter demonstrates strong support across the ideological spectrum for a renewed commitment to supporting democratic reform in the region, and for supporting the political inclusion of moderate Islamist groups. Among the more than 80 signatories are: Francis Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins University; Morton Halperin, former director of policy planning at the State Department; Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House; Peter Beinart, contributing editor at The New Republic; Georgetown Professor John L. Esposito, and democracy expert Larry Diamond of Stanford University; author and blogger Matt Yglesias, and Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Several of the co-signers will be available during the news conference to answer questions from the media about the policy recommendations included in the open letter, including Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Radwan Masmoudi, Jennifer Windsor, Larry Diamond, Geneive Abdo, and others.
The truth is that, for all its rhetoric, the Bush administration did a terrible job promoting democracy in the region. The policy failures are largely self-evident, but the basic problem is an unwillingness to accept that it's not possible right now to have governments in the Middle East that are all of the following:
One can, for instance, have governments that are friendly to Israel, but they will be toppled. One can have democratically elected governments, but they will be anti-American and anti-Israel. But you can't have your cake and eat it too.
So far, the vast weight of evidence suggests that the United States, when faced with an implicit choice, will always choose to support regimes that are largely cooperative with U.S. security interests in the region. Perhaps the Obama administration is simply acknowledging this reality.
The official position in Washington is that Barack Obama's administration will work with whatever Israeli government is ultimately established. Beyond that, American officials are keeping mum.No American official is likely to convene a press conference publicly condemning Lieberman's appointment. However, such a choice will almost certainly encourage the U.S. administration to keep its distance from Benjamin Netanyahu's government, as Washington will not want to take the flak absorbed by demonstrating closeness to a government whose public face is widely considered to be a racist.
But the "Lieberman question" continually arises in State Department briefings for journalists and in other forums. And opinion columns in the American press have presented Lieberman in an extremely negative light, with comparisons to Austria's Joerg Haider and even Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, (both use "ultranationalist rhetoric of hate," one paper charged).
I find it kind of doubtful that a U.S. administration would ever "keep its distance" from an Israeli government. Netanyahu could probably appoint Skeletor as foreign minister and U.S. officials would still meet with him.
That said, Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell can't be looking forward to peace negotiations with someone who has made it clear he considers them a waste of time. Not that any of that bothers America's own Lieberman.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
As it turns out, Gordon Brown's White House visit was even lamer than previously thought. The Daily Mail is reporting that while the enthusiastic British PM clearly put some thought into his diplomatic gifts for Obama, "an ornamental pen holder made from the timbers of the Victorian anti-slave ship HMS Gannet," a "first edition of the seven-volume biography of Winston Churchill by Sir Martin Gilbert," and clothing and books for Obama's daughters, the president's gift for Brown was rather less personal: a set of 25 DVDs of classic American movies.
As he headed back home from Washington, Gordon Brown must have rummaged through his party bag with disappointment.
Mr Brown is not thought to be a film buff, and his reaction to the box set is unknown. But it didn't really compare to the thoughtful presents he had brought along with him.
The film collection, including such classics as Citizen Kane, Lawrence of Arabia, and Star Wars, was apparently specially assembled by the American Film Institute, but as Ed Morrissey notes, it's the kind of thing you can buy at a steep discount on Amazon. At least with a gift certificate, Brown could have picked out his own movies.
I wrote on Wednesday that I can understand why Obama might not have wanted to give Brown the full state dinner and Camp David treatment, but surely the White House could have put a little more thought into this.
For what it's worth, the DVDs would have been the perfect gift for a meeting with Kim Jong-il.
Commentators on both sides of the Atlantic have noticed that Gordon Brown's visit to the White House yesterday was not exactly the high-profile boost that the struggling prime minister was hoping for. In a break with protocol, Obama decided to skip the traditional side-by-side photo-op in front of the two nations' flags, didn't invite Brown to Camp David as both Clinton and Bush had done for Tony Blair, and kept their Oval Office press conference brief, to the point, and not all that cordial.
Dana Milbank, Washington's poet of awkward protocol, recounts the exchange between the two leaders:
Brown kept a stiff upper lip as he sat in the Oval Office yesterday as Obama, skipping the usual words of welcome for his guest, went straight to questions from the news services. Brown didn't get to speak for six minutes, after Obama had already answered two questions. Gamely, the snubbed premier tried to speak the president's language.
"I don't think I could ever compete with you at basketball," Brown said. "Perhaps tennis."
"Tennis? I hear you've got a game," Obama replied mildly.
"Yes, we could maybe have a -- have a shot," the prime minister went on.
"We haven't tried it yet," the president said.
"I don't know," Brown said. "I think you'd be better, but there we are."
Obama smiled faintly. Brown spent much of the session with both soles planted on the floor, his palms gripping his thighs.
The Guardian's Oliver Burkeman writes that the meeting "seemed to teeter on the brink of humiliation," for the prime minister noting that Obama had squeezed him in between a visit to the department of transportation and a meeting with representatives of the Boy Scouts. Obama's press secretary had actually set the mood a few days earlier:
Only days previously, the president's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, had caused consternation among British diplomats by referring to the special relationship as a "special partnership", which sounded rather non-committal - as if America were signalling that, henceforth, it wanted to be free to date other countries as well.
The Spectator's Fraser Nelson has a hilariously nasty take as well:
Brown looked like a groupie that had just been invited on stage as he sat in the Oval Office beaming from ear to ear beside the Messiah. It was a very different outcome to that he imagined: there was no podium to speak at, no formal press conference, no toothpaste sharing, none of the formalities that have been extended to Tony Blair. Brown was on the same losers chair that the soon-to-be-ex-Japanese PM was on last month.
So why did Obama snub Brown? Alex Massie speculates that Obama "has been briefed about the British press corps and sees no reason to humour them" with an extended press conference, but I think his motives are actually a bit colder. Obama's most powerful diplomatic weapon right now is his own international popularity, and he seems to be making it clear that he won't share it with just anybody.
Obama giving the cold shoulder to Brown probably doesn't mean he has any less respect for the special relationship with Britain than any of his predecessors. More likely, and bluntly, he probably just thinks of Gordon Brown as a bit of a loser. Why roll out the red carpet for guys like Brown and Taro Aso who will likely be out of office soon anyway? Something tells me that when Dmitry Medvedev or Hu Jintao visit the White House, the Obamas will break out the good china.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Barack Obama made the first tentative steps toward opening lines of communication with the Syrian regime in the past week. In Sharm el-Sheikh, Hillary Clinton exchanged a handshake with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem. Contacts were also reestablished in Washington, as Jeffrey Feltman, the acting assistant secretary for the Near East, held a two-hour meeting with Syrian Amb. Imad Moustapha. Today, Clinton tapped Feltman and National Security Council aide Daniel Shapiro as envoys to Damascus.
While the Obama administration has proven its willingness to engage with Syria, it is also signaling that negotiations do not mean that the United States is surrendering to Syrian demands. Clinton downplayed the possibility of a speedy improvement of U.S.-Syrian ties at a press conference in Jerusalem, saying that "we have no way to predict what the future with our relations concerning Syria might be."
In his discussions with Moustapha, Feltman raised the issue of Syrian support for terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas, its pursuit of nuclear weapons, the regime's meddling in Lebanon, and its worsening domestic human rights situation -- not issues that top Damascus's preferred agenda for U.S.-Syrian negotiations.
The very presence of Feltman (shown above being burned in effigy by Hezbollah supporters) in U.S.-Syrian negotiations is also a message. Feltman is a former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, and was consequently the point man for George W. Bush's hawkish Lebanon policy. In Beirut, he has a reputation as a strong and energetic supporter of Lebanon's pro-Western, anti-Syrian political coalition. He was a bête noir of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, who took to calling Lebanon's anti-Syrian government "Feltman's government," rather than the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. This antipathy no doubt extends to the Syrian regime.
Nevertheless, Obama's decision to establish Feltman as a primary U.S. interlocutor with Syria is a welcome sign that he is approaching a possible rapprochement with few illusions. Syria will try to leverage a decrease in tensions with the United States to attract business to the country, and gradually break down the economic sanctions regime erected against it. Feltman has the reputation to dissuade the Syrian regime that it can get something for nothing. Syria has to realize that it must take tangible steps for reconciliation to take place, not just engage in the process of negotiations. For Obama's first foray into the Arab world, this is a good start.
HAITHAM MUSSAWI/AFP/Getty Images
The day's biggest news story is undoutedly the New York Times's bombshell about Barack Obama's planned grand bargain on missile defense and Iran with Russia. But the other Times reports an interesting development on missile defense in that other nuclear flashpoint, North Korea.
In a move that could have strategic implications for the whole northeast Asian region, the Japanese Government plans to dispatch naval destroyers equipped with anti-missile systems to the seas off North Korea, as the isolated dictatorship continues preparations for the launch of a rocket.
As long as the weapon passes through the atmosphere far above Japan, as seems to be the intention, the system will probably not be fired. But if the rocket malfunctions and threatens any of its islands, then Japan will become the first nation to use a long-range missile defence system in anger. [...]
If Japan tries and fails to take out a North Korean rocket, it will be an international humiliation and a crushing blow to the expensive missile defence programme, which is already expected to surpass its estimated cost of as much as $8.9 billion (£63 billion) by 2012. If it succeeds, it will rattle China, which already fears that the combined US-Japan missile defence effort will undermine its own limited nuclear deterrent.
It's likely that the system won't actually be deployed, but a real-world demonstration of a long-range anti-missile system would have implications for the missile defense debate in the United States as well.
It would be a lot harder for the Obama administration to continue to use the "effectiveness dodge" -- the argument that missile-defense systems should not be deployed because they cannot be proven effective -- if the Japanese are able to successfully shoot down a North Korean missile. On the other had, if the interceptors were to miss and Japan was embarrassed, it would actually make Obama's grand bargain a lot easier to pull off.
Photo: U.S. Missile Defense Agency
I don't have much to add to the commentary, here and elsewhere, about Barack Obama's speech on Iraq Friday. It's probably impossible to know for sure whether his withdrawal plan will work; any number of things could go wrong between now and 2011.
Still, I'll hazard some predictions. Over the next few years, I doubt most Americans will pay much attention to Iraq -- most of the U.S. media has already packed up and left for Afghanistan or other big stories. Meanwhile, Iraq will look better from the outside than it does from within. I expect a growing authoritarian trend as oil prices recover and the central government in Baghdad consolidates its power. There will probably be a lot of ugly, anti-democratic stuff going on behind the scenes that won't get covered in U.S. newspapers, and definitely won't be seen on television.
Iraq, unfortunately, will continue to suffer from the ethnosectarian cleavages and resource curses that have plagued it since its birth. It will probably not be a successful, modern democracy within our lifetimes. Hopefully, life will become more tolerable for its citizens nonetheless.
All of this, of course, is just speculation on my part. Iraq's future remains deeply uncertain.
One thing, however, is clear: Obama appears to have gotten the U.S. domestic politics of withdrawing from Iraq just about right. When else are you going to find Douglas Feith and Jessica Mathews agreeing on something?
If, as is looking more likely, the Obama administration moves to delay or cancel the deployment of a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, one possible diplomatic downside could be the effect on U.S. relations with Poland and the Czech Republic, the two countries that signed agreements with the Bush administrations to host parts of the shield. On a visit to Washington, Poland's Foreign Minister seemed to give Obama a bit of an out on this issue:
“What we would like to be honored is what went along with” the missile-defense system, [Radoslaw] Sikorski, 46, said in an interview yesterday during a visit to Washington that included a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “We paid quite a political price for the agreement, both in terms of internal politics and in our relations with Russia.”
State Department political director William Burns has also indicated that missile defense might be one area where the administration is willing to compromise with Russia and will certainly be on the agenda when Hillary Clinton meets her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov next week. The administration might feel a more productive relationship with Russia is worth some damage to its image in Eastern Europe, but it would be nice if they didn't have to make the choice.
DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images
In President Obama's speech on Tuesday, he pledged to "reform our defense budget so that we're not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don't use." Could this have been a reference to the planned missile defense system in Eastern Europe, on which Obama's views are not exactly clear?
Congressional Democrats, at least, do seem to be taking aim at the system. California Rep. Ellen Tauscher, chairwoman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee is a critic of long-range missile defense, calling for a focus on short- and medium-range defense which have been more rigorously tested:
"Given the need to fund other high priority defense programs, reductions to the missile defense programs may be required."
Tauscher's subcomittee held a hearing yesterday in which Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, who heads the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, explained that his agency was conducting a review of existing missile defense systems in order to "identify limitations."
The decision may be out of his hands. With Obama looking to contain costs, the Pentagon has drawn up a list of expensive weapons programs for possible cuts. MDA is on the list along with the Air force's massively expensive F-22 fighter and new destroyers for the Navy. Details on which programs will be cut won't be released until March or April but it's rumored that missile defense will be cut by around $2 billion.
Some defense analysts see the end of an era:
"There are clear signs that US defense spending peaked in 2008 and that it will be gradually declining over the next four years as the United States reduces its presence in Iraq," Thompson told AFP.
Joseph Cirincione made a persuasive case for cutting missile defense in the May/June 2008 issue of FP.
Since yesterday's item on Chas Freeman, more commentators have sallied forth to attack and defend President Obama's controversial pick to run the National Intelligence Council.
In today's Wall Street Journal, Gabriel Schoenfeld of the Witherspoon Institute says that Obama wants to place "a China-coddling Israel basher in charge of drafting the most important analyses prepared by the U.S. government." He argues that Schoenfeld's views on China should worry us as much as his thoughts about Israel and ties to Saudi Arabia:
On the massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989, Mr. Freeman unabashedly sides with the Chinese government, a remarkable position for an appointee of an administration that has pledged to advance the cause of human rights. Mr. Freeman has been a participant in ChinaSec, a confidential Internet discussion group of China specialists. A copy of one of his postings was provided to me by a former member. "The truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities," he wrote there in 2006, "was the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud." Moreover, "the Politburo's response to the mob scene at 'Tiananmen' stands as a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership, not as an example of rash action." Indeed, continued Mr. Freeman, "I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be."
The Daily Beast's Ashley Rindsberg explains another political strike against Freeman, his past business dealings with the bin Laden family:
As chairman of Projects International Inc., a company that develops international business deals, Mr. Freeman asserted in an interview with the Associated Press less than a month after September 11 that he was still “discussing proposals with the Binladen Group—and that won't change.”
In the same interview, Freeman also contested the notion that international companies who had business with the bin Laden family should be “running for public-relations cover,” noting that bin Laden was still “a very honored name in the kingdom [of Saudi Arabia]”, despite its family tie to the Al-Qaeda leader.
The New Republic's Martin Peretz adds his take, calling Freeman "bigoted and out of touch."
The Nation's Robert Dreyfuss defends Freeman here calling the campaign against him "scurrilous":
If the campaign by the neocons, friends of the Israeli far right, and their allies against Freeman succeeds, it will have enormous repercussions. If the White House caves in to their pressure, it will signal that President Obama's even-handedness in the Arab-Israeli dispute can't be trusted. Because if Obama can't defend his own appointee against criticism from a discredited, fringe movement like the neoconservatives, how can the Arabs expect Obama to be able to stand up to Israel's next prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu?
My co-blogger David Rothkopf also takes up the issue, noting that while he vehemently disagrees with Freeman's views on Israel, Saudi Arabia, and China, his continued willingness to utter uncomfortable truths to power make him the perfect pick for Obama's intelligence briefer:
Part of the reason he is so controversial is that he has zero fear of speaking what he perceives to be truth to power. You can't cow him and you can't find someone with a more relentlessly questioning worldview. His job will be to help present the president and top policymakers with informed analysis by which they can make their choices. His intellectual honesty and his appreciation for what is necessary in a functioning policy process is such that he will not stack the deck for any one position. He wouldn't last five minutes in the job if he did. (And Denny Blair, the wise and canny Director of National Intelligence wouldn't tolerate it.) Further, the chairman of the NIC does not directly whisper into the president's ear in a void. He helps prepare materials that will become the fodder for active debate among a national security team that is devoid of shrinking violets.
FP's Laura Rozen is also following the Freeman debate closely. Stay tuned to "The Cable" for more details as they emerge.
Last night, the U.S. president said, during an aside about saving the U.S. auto industry, "I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it."
Well, here's a fun fact from none other than the United States' own Library of Congress:
Question: Who invented the automobile?
Answer: Karl (Carl) Benz
Benz was a German whose three-wheeled vehicle, pictured below, boasted an internal combustion engine. He received Germany's Patent DRP No. 37435 in 1885/1886 for something that looked roughly like this beauty:
Now, there was an American fellow named George Selden who filed for a U.S. patent for a similar horseless carriage in 1879 and received it in 1895. He never built his invention, though he did collect royalties -- in today's parlance, he would likely be dubbed a "patent troll."
When we're editing pieces, often we put off adding certain facts or language until later and just insert the initials "tk," idiosyncratic journalistic shorthand for "to come." Obama's brief mention tonight that he would soon "forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism" was essentially a great big national security tk.
The focus tonight was the stimulus and domestic economic recovery and it wouldn't have done justice to the importance of the wars to just tack on a few paragraphs about them. It's fine that Obama didn't address everything in this one speech and this wasn't even a proper state of the union. Just as long as those tks are filled in by press time.
We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war.
And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism. Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away.
As we meet here tonight, our men and women in uniform stand watch abroad and more are readying to deploy. To each and every one of them, and to the families who bear the quiet burden of their absence, Americans are united in sending one message: we honor your service, we are inspired by your sacrifice, and you have our unyielding support. To relieve the strain on our forces, my budget increases the number of our soldiers and Marines. And to keep our sacred trust with those who serve, we will raise their pay, and give our veterans the expanded health care and benefits that they have earned.
To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend – because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America. That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists – because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture.
In words and deeds, we are showing the world that a new era of engagement has begun. For we know that America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America. We cannot shun the negotiating table, nor ignore the foes or forces that could do us harm. We are instead called to move forward with the sense of confidence and candor that serious times demand.
To seek progress toward a secure and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors, we have appointed an envoy to sustain our effort. To meet the challenges of the 21st century – from terrorism to nuclear proliferation; from pandemic disease to cyber threats to crushing poverty – we will strengthen old alliances, forge new ones, and use all elements of our national power.
And to respond to an economic crisis that is global in scope, we are working with the nations of the G-20 to restore confidence in our financial system, avoid the possibility of escalating protectionism, and spur demand for American goods in markets across the globe. For the world depends on us to have a strong economy, just as our economy depends on the strength of the world’s.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
Last week, FP's Laura Rozen broke the story that former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman is the Obama administration's pick to head the National Intelligence Council, the internal think tank for the intelligence community responsible for producing National Intelligence Estimates.
Since Laura's story hit the Web, critics have been attacking the appointment over Freeman's views on Israel and ties to Saudi Arabia. Former AIPAC staffer (himself a pretty controversial guy) Steve Rosen, now of the Middle East Forum, is leading the charge against the appointment. Here's one controversial comment of Freeman's from a 2005 speech:
As long as the United States continues unconditionally to provide the subsidies and political protection that make the Israeli occupation and the high-handed and self-defeating policies it engenders possible, there is little, if any, reason to hope that anything resembling the former peace process can be resurrected. Israeli occupation and settlement of Arab lands is inherently violent.
He's also committed the unforgiveable sin of saying nice things about our colleague Steve Walt and publishing the original "Israel Lobby" article in his organization's journal.
There's also the fact that his organization, the Middle East Policy Council operates "thanks to the generosity of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia" (his own words) and that he's an advocate of improved U.S-Saudi relations.
The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg argues:
It would be inappropriate to appoint an official of AIPAC to run the National Intelligence Council (though it must be said that AIPAC doesn't receive any funding from the Israeli government) and it seems inappropriate to give the job to a Saudi sympathizer as well.
On the other hand, as Ben Smith notes:
Other appointees have worked for policy groups that accepted money from foreign governments -- though perhaps few as domestically unpopular as the Saudis. Ross, for one, is still listed as the chairman of the board of directors of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, an Israeli government arm.
As General Zinni learned the hard way, no appointments are final until they are confirmed and the politics of this certainly don't bode well for Freeman. It would be a shame if he were spiked. Freeman's an experienced and highly qualified foreign-policy practitioner and one would hope that his critics can do a little better if they really hope to prove he's the agent of a foreign government. At the same time, one would also hope the Obama team anticipated the possible controversy and have good answers to some reasonable questions about Freeman's views and affiliations.
Want more Freeman? Check out this interview about the Taiwan Strait (he's also an old Asia hand who served as Richard Nixon's translator in China) that he gave to FP in 2007.
Photo: The Middle East Policy Council
With Kyrgyzstan taking another step toward shuttering the Manas air base, there's increasing speculation that the Obama administration is considering resuming military cooperation with Uzbekistan, which expelled the U.S. in 2005 in the midst of a diplomatic feud over the country's human rights record. Christopher Flavelle writes in Slate:
The shifting landscape around Afghanistan is closing off options for Obama, who must now begin to think about unsavory compromises if he wants to make progress in the Afghan campaign. [...]
President George W. Bush, though largely indifferent to public opinion, could afford to do the honorable thing in 2005 by walking away from an ugly regime in Uzbekistan, when Afghanistan was looking better and the base in Kyrgyzstan was still available. Obama, whose inauguration speech promised that the ideals of rule of law and rights of man "still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake," may have to let his image suffer because he lacks the options of his predecessor.
Obama may still be spared this unpleasant choice. Analysts tell Eurasianet the Kyrgyz move is likely a ploy to get Washington to pony up more cash for the base, though some recent statements from the U.S. military indicate that Kyrgyzstan may have overplayed its hand.
Hopefully the Uzbekistan option is being floated by the Obamans as a bargaining chip with Kyrgyzstan and won't actually come to pass. Kyrgyzstan's not exactly Canada but Uzbekistan is in a class of its own as a human rights abuser and Fred Kaplan's 2005 arguments for why the U.S. should steer well clear of the place still hold.
Given all his encouraging human rights rhetoric, it would be nice if Obama could just minimize his dealings with post-Soviet dictatorships. Besides, his campaign manager and his secretary of state's husband have them well covered.
VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images
I guess the markets were none too keen on Tim Geithner's bank rescue revamp.
Many people will no doubt take this as ispo facto proof that the plan is flawed. Obviously, it's too soon to tell ,and we don't have enough details to make a definitive judgment as to whether it will work.
But in any event, should we really be trusting the collective wisdom of the markets at this point? I mean, isn't mass hysteria partly what got us all into this mess in the first place?
The speech was not interrupted by applause while the VP was speaking but got a warm response when it was over.
The NYT's Helene Cooper was there, and she thought the vice president took a hard line:
Mr. Biden’s speech was the highlight of a high-powered security conference that attracted a host of global leaders and diplomats, most of whom seemed primed to hear how the United States and its new leadership viewed the world. They erupted into spontaneous applause when Mr. Biden walked onto the stage.
But for all the talk of a new era in relations between the United States and the world, old sores remained, and with no sign of healing soon.
UPDATE: Craig Whitlock of WaPo saw the speech somewhat differently:
Vice President Joe Biden held out an olive branch Saturday to Iran and Russia, and reassured European allies that the Obama administration would treat them as equals but emphasized that "America will ask its partners to do more as well."
UPDATE II: Cooper's piece has been rewritten with a new focus. What seemed at first to be a hard line was actually well received in Moscow:
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Saturday that the United States will pursue a missile defense plan that has angered the Kremlin, but he also left open the possibility of compromise on the issue and struck a more conciliatory tone than the Bush administration on relations with Russia.
Dan Drezner quips on Biden's line about not recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, "This is Biden's example of a tough line? Well, whoa, blow me down!!"
Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Wen Jiabao was one thing, but Fidel Castro?
Today's "Reflections of Comrade Fidel" (in Spanish) column is a fun one. In it, the communist leader blasts the Obama adminstration and congressional Democrats for their protectionist tendencies (Translation assist from Blaine Sheldon):
To please the unions that supported them in the campaign, the U.S. House of Representatives, dominated by the Democrats, launched the extremely protectionist slogan 'buy American products', which throws aside a fundamental principle of the World Trade Organization: that all nations of the world, large and small, base their dreams of development on the exchange of goods and services, for which, however only the largest and those of natural wealth have the privilege to survive.
When Fidel Castro is lecturing the U.S. government on the principles of international capitalism, you know that something strange is afoot in the new world order.
Photo: ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images
Reading David Rothkopf's brutal takedown of the U.S. Commerce Department, where he once worked, I was immediately reminded of a question that has been nagging at me for months: Why is the National Aquarium in the basement of the Commerce Building?
There is an aquarium in the Commerce Building for the same reason there is anything else in the Commerce Building. There was room for it. (Until construction of the Pentagon, the Commerce Department was the biggest building in the DC area.) Beyond that, I do not know. What's in it? Fish. Not many. Nothing too impressive. More impressive array of fish at Barney Greengrass' delicatessen on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. (Which is why Barney Greengrass is known as "The Sturgeon King." More info than you needed, probably.)
Turns out there has been a long-running battle to save the historic aquarium, which was established way back in the 19th century and is the oldest in the United States. This from a 1983 New York Times story:
The National Aquarium began life at Woods Hole, Mass., in 1873, and was brought to Washington in the 1878, where it was set up in viewing ponds near the Washington Monument.
The Fisheries Commission, a part of Commerce at the time, ran the aquarium, moving it in 1932 into the new Commerce building at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. But after a 1945 reorganization, management was transfered to the Interior Department's new Fish and Wildlife Service.
For convenience and economy, the aquarium remained in the Commerce basement. In 1982 Interior Secretary James G. Watt, looking for things to cut in the Reagan budget, cut the fish.
But the aquarium lives on. According to marketing manager Celia Laurens, the aquarium attracted 175,000 visitors in 2008, for an average of roughly 479 people each day.
That's down from 300,000-400,000 visitors each year during the 1980s, but according to the Washington Post the 2 p.m. animal feedings are not to be missed, and the $1.6 million renovation completed last year has made for a big improvement in the presentation.
PHOTO: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's demand today for a U.S. apology for " past crimes" against Iran reminded me of this bit from Geneive Abdo's recent FP piece on "Why Not to Engage Iran (Yet)" in which she remembers the last time the U.S. came close to apologizing to the Islamic Republic:
Each time an end to Iran’s estrangement with the United States appears to be in sight, various competing political factions try to ensure that it happens on their watch. Back in March 2000, when Mohammad Khatami was president, then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright came close to apologizing to Iran for the United States’ involvement in Iran’s 1953 CIA-backed coup. “[I]t is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs,” Albright said.
Instead of celebrating the historic gesture, Khatami’s rivals condemned the United States for not going far enough in extending a direct apology. I was living in Iran at that time and was able to witness up close the great fear among conservatives that Khatami and his reform movement would gain all the praise and harvest all the political capital for an improvement in relations with the United States. Thanks to these conservatives and the United States’ second thoughts, this never happened and Iranians’ hopes were dashed once again.
Incidentally, Abdo has written a brand new piece for FP on why it will take more than just pledges and interviews from Barack Obama to actually make diplomatic progress in the Middle East. Check it out.
This morning's Times (London) reported that the Obama administration is planning a tougher stance against Zimbabwe's self-ordained president-for-all-time, Robert Mugabe. Then at the White House Daily Press Briefing today, we learned that Obama made a call to the president of South Africa, Kaglema Motlanthe.
Is Obama calling to talk Zimbabwe? Now would be good timing. Just today at a summit in South Africa, Mugabe and the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai look to have agreed to form their long-awaited unity government.
South Africa -- reciever of Zimbabwean refugees and primary economic partner -- is really the only country that can put enough pressure on Zimbabwe's Mugabe to make the deal work. So far, the signs haven't been promising. South Africa's former President Thabo Mbeki has muddled through moderating talks since September, favoring his fellow former-anticolonial comrade Mugabe.
Since Mbeki resigned as president and interim leader Motlanthe took over, the odds of South Africa putting on the pressure are even lower. South African elections are pending in just weeks time, and a split within the ruling party has raised the stakes for the first time in that country's history. As Human Rights Watch analyst Tiseke Kasambala recently told me, "there are domestic goings on in South Africa now that will likely take South Africa's eye off the ball."
None of the rumored Africa people from the new administration have returned e-mail messages about Obama-Zimbabwe policy. But my hope is that Mugabe's name came up in the phone call. I would bet more money on that than I would the Zimbabwean currency.
Photo: ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images
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