Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) thinks the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran ain't right. "We just see politics injected into this," his spokesman, Tory Mazzola, says. "When it comes to national security we really need to remove politics." The way Ensign plans to "remove politics" is by—wait for it—creating a panel of politicians, House and Senate members, to rewrite the intelligence community's work. Only in Congress, friends, only in Congress.
It's always struck me as funny that people get all worked up over the NIEs in the first place. As anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the intelligence community will tell you, they are notoriously flawed. Remember the U.S.-Soviet "missile gap"? That was a bunch of nonsense cooked up in an NIE in 1958. The Iranian revolution of 1978? An NIE predicted it wouldn't happen. Then, of course, there's the now infamous NIE 2002-16HC, which made it sound as though Saddam Hussein was weeks away from having nukes.
NIEs are guesses, plain and simple. Just ask the Bush Administration. Even they agree that Ensign's plan is silly. "The President respects sixteen of the intelligence agencies got together to produce the National Intellligence Estimate. I don’t believe that there's any need to have an additional one," White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino told John Gizzi of the ultra-conservative rag Human Events.
Exactly. What is conveening a panel of politicians going to accomplish? The de-politization of the process? Um, right. I'm all for Congressional oversight. Too bad, for instance, that Ensign and his colleagues weren't equally worked up over the 2002 NIE on Iraq, or we might not be in the mess we're in now. But Ensign's plan to waste a bunch of Congress's time and money politicizing the latest NIE will accomplish nothing. I'm nominating this as the dumbest Congressional idea of 2007.
In late November, a senior U.S. official decried the "gutting of America's ability to engage, assist, and communicate with other parts of the world." The official added, "The total foreign affairs budget request for the State Department... is less than what the Pentagon spends on health care alone."
Coming from an assistant secretary of state, these comments would have been fairly mundane. But the top official was none other than Bob Gates, the secretary of defense. It was a remarkable moment, made all the more relevant by two news developments this week.
The first is that Congress is poised to fund nearly $700 billion in defense spending for 2008. The second is that the State Department is essentially cutting 10 percent of diplomatic posts around the world because it can't staff them, thanks largely to the demands of Iraq and Afghanistan.
And Congress is clearly the main culprit:
While the Baghdad and Kabul embassies are the immediate cause of the vacancies elsewhere, the State Department suffers from a deeper problem of flat hiring budgets. The size of the foreign service, about 6,500 diplomats, increased by approximately 300 positions a year between 2001 and 2004, but since then Congress has rejected requests for additional hiring for all but consular and security positions.
It's also fair to say that the administration hasn't gone to bat for bigger hiring budgets in the same way it has pulled out all the stops for military funding. Rice's management skills have come under fire in recent months, and in particular the State Department's liaison office on Capitol Hill has fallen apart after Colin Powell left. So, it may be no coincidence that the budget increases stopped in 2004.
It's also not clear what the ultimate impact of this hiring freeze might be, since the jobs being frozen are supposedly "non-priority" positions. Rice is said to support cutting back on the U.S. presence in Europe in favor of other areas of the world. Somehow, I don't think this is what she had in mind. But when it comes to the big picture, it sure does seem strange that even with a friendly counterpart at the Pentagon, Condi can't seem to convince the shortsighted folks in Congress that the diplomatic machine matters, too.
James Fallows thinks Hillary Clinton's supporters need to come to terms with what the harsh realities of gender politics would mean for her foreign policy if she were elected president:
[H]aving voted five years ago for the war in Iraq, which she then continued to support for years, she went ahead this fall and voted for the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which however you slice it was essentially a vote for legitimizing military action against Iran....
If she is sworn in as the first female president, she will still have to remove doubts about her "toughness." There will be the 2010 midterms to think of. And of course the 2012 reelection campaign. And if she is tough enough to get through that, then concerns about her legacy. Over the long run, is there any difference between a candidate who needs to "seem" hawkish on questions like Iraq and Iran, and a candidate who is an actual hawk?
I sympathize completely with her predicament: dealing with those atavistic voter emotions about the "weakness" of female candidates is a terrible problem. But here's the predicament it creates for voters. If I don't want the next president to be someone who had a hawkish outlook on both Iraq and Iran, do I say: Never mind, she's not really a hawk, she just has to vote like one?
This is the kind of phony trumpeting of the "gender issue" that is at once disappointing and completely unwarranted. Legitimate, substantive questions can and should be asked about Clinton's positions on Iraq and Iran. But to insinuate that as president she would attack Iran with no motive other than the fear of being called a sissy is preposterous. Andrew Sullivan apparently agrees with this cacophony, too. I know it's a boys club over at The Atlantic's blog shop, where just one of the seven "voices" is a woman, but come on, fellas. What century are you boys living in? It certainly hasn't played out that way with Condi Rice on North Korea and Iran. Angela Merkel, Germany's first female chancellor, helped convince Bush to exhaust all peaceful efforts with Tehran before seeking punitive steps. And when was the last time you saw Nancy Pelosi calling for a military strike lest she be considered weak? If you want to discuss Clinton's qualifications for the presidency, fine. But let's talk about the things that matter.
A new report, "Hidden Costs of the Iraq War," by the Democratic staff of Congress's Joint Economic Committee, estimates that the costs of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2002 through 2008 will total $1.6 trillion. That includes "hidden costs," such as the amount of interest on money borrowed to pay for the war, the cost of long-term health care for veterans, and how much disruptions to the oil markets are costing. It's twice the amount that the Bush administration has requested.
How much of that burden is being borne by U.S. taxpayers? According to the report, the cost averages out to $20,900 for every family of four. Using a very rough formula, let's take the current median household income of $48,201 and multiply it by the seven years covered in the report for a total of $337,407. Then take that $20,900 of war costs per household and divide it by that $337,407. (Hair-splitters, we don't need to hear from you on this one. No parsing of changing incomes over time, definition of a household, and other details. This is blog math, not an econ exam.)
The result? If you're a U.S. citizen, more than 6 percent of your income—6.2 percent, to be unduly precise—has gone toward this war since 2002. Naturally, your reaction to this news may depend on whether you thought we should be involved in Iraq in the first place. But it adds further food for thought, especially if you read Alasdair Roberts's cover story, "The War We Deserve," in the current issue of FP, in which Roberts argues, "Americans now ask more of their government but sacrifice less than ever before." Is 6.2 percent of your income a sufficient sacrifice? What do you think?
U.S. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's pessimistic testimony to Congress on Thursday has caused increased handwringing around the world, with new reports questioning whether the subprime fallout will lead to a worldwide recession. The general consensus is no — the damage will be contained to the housing sector and hedge funds, which irresponsibly invested in subprime.
But what if subprime's use were actually more widespread? Some mutual funds have acknowledged small investments in the funds. This isn't a big deal, as some risk is to be expected in those vehicles. But what about money-market funds, where most personal savings are invested? They offer a low rate of return and are considered one of the safest investment. But according to a recent Bloomberg article, money-market fund managers have invested $11 billion in subprime, including managers at Bank of America and Morgan Stanley. In other words, about $11 billion worth of personal savings are at risk.
In the grand scheme of things, $11 billion is a drop in the bucket. But as we've seen over the last few months, small problems like this tend to be more widespread, so it's likely more money-market funds will be forced to acknowledge subprime investments, and peoples' savings, which are already at historic lows, could disappear. If this happens, recession would be inevitable, and depression a real possibility.
Those of you who have been reading blogs for a while may remember a fun blogosphere game that dates back to this seminal 2004 post by Belle Waring. Belle explained it thusly at the time:
You see, wishes are totally free. It's like when you can't decide whether to daydream about being a famous Hollywood star or having amazing magical powers. Why not -- be a famous Hollywood star with amazing magical powers! Along these lines, [my husband] John has developed an infallible way to improve any public policy wishes. You just wish for the thing, plus, wish that everyone would have their own pony!
I was reminded of the pony game when reading this gloss of Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden's plan for Pakistan:
The four part plan he laid out included large, unconditional financial support for non-security projects such as schools, roads, clinics, etc; conditioning of security aid on performance; support for judicial, political, and good government reforms; and finally an increase in public diplomacy and high impact support.
... and a pony! See how it works?
None of this is going to happen, as advisable as it might be. As Spencer Ackerman explained recently:
[A] considerable amount of the money the U.S. gives to Pakistan is administered not through U.S. agencies or joint U.S.-Pakistani programs. Instead, the U.S. gives Musharraf's government about $200 million annually and his military $100 million monthly in the form of direct cash transfers. Once that money leaves the U.S. Treasury, Musharraf can do with it whatever he wants. He needs only promise in a secret annual meeting that he'll use it to invest in the Pakistani people. And whatever happens as the result of Rice's review, few Pakistan watchers expect the cash transfers to end.
Read more in this excellent CSIS report (pdf) on the subject.
Senator Biden is the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has therefore had a say in how the bilateral relationship with Pakistan works. He has the power to lobby for changes, hold hearings, and can hold up other legislation if he doesn't get his way. And yet he couldn't even manage to get a Senate resolution on Pakistan that he cosponsored back in March out of his own committee. Perhaps there is some reasonable explanation for this, but it doesn't inspire confidence that Biden would be able to do much more as a sitting president.
I hate to pick on Biden, who generally has the right instincts on Pakistan. And he's hardly the only politician out there peddling pie-in-the-sky ideas. But the truth is, there's no natural constituency in Congress for funding another country's education system. Underwriting purchases of U.S. military hardware or funding for U.S. contractors to build roads abroad? No problem. But telling your constituents that you want to spend their hard-earned tax dollars to build a bunch of schools in the tribal badlands of Pakistan doesn't exactly turn out votes.
Note: I originally attributed the Biden paraphrase to Steve Clemons. It was actually written by his coblogger, Sameer Lalwani.
Tonight, Nicolas Sarkozy will address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. Yesterday, a few of us from FP attended Sarkozy's address to the French-American Business Council, where the French president touched on a number of themes you're likely to see in tonight's speech. The bottom line? Here's a man on a charm offensive.
While he praised the United States, Sarkozy's overall message, like that of many recent French presidents, is one of restoring France to its former position of international grandeur. But this French leader brings a new twist:
If you want to be an example, you have to behave like an example. We've fallen too far behind, but we're catching up."
Editor's Note: This post coauthored by Joshua Keating.
While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies."
—Rep Tom Lantos (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, to Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang (the chagrined-looking fellow pictured above) and General Counsel Michael Callahan, at a congressional hearing Tuesday on the tech company's business dealings in China.
The source of Lantos's ire? Yahoo provided information about reporter Shi Tao's e-mail account to the Chinese government, leading to the journalist's imprisonment.
Remember the case of Shi Tao? He's a Chinese journalist who was imprisoned back in 2004 for supposedly leaking state secrets by writing an e-mail to a New York-based pro-democracy group, describing how the Chinese government planned to crack down on local media covering the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Yahoo supplied information about Shi's e-mail address to the Chinese authorities, leading to his arrest and 10-year prison sentence.
Finally, Yahoo is issuing a mea culpa for its role in the case. More specifically, Yahoo's top lawyer is apologizing for failing to tell the U.S. Congress that Yahoo knew more about the case than it claimed in testimony given last year. U.S. lawmakers have been querying Yahoo about its business practices in China for the past couple years. Last year, Callahan said that Yahoo had no information about the Chinese government's wishes for customer information. Lo and behold, it turns out Yahoo was in possession of an order from Beijing seeking information about Shi. Callahan's apology comes in advance of another Congressional hearing next week about the challenges and moral quandaries that U.S. companies like Yahoo face in doing business in authoritarian places such as China. It's great that Yahoo is starting to come clean, but that's undoubtedly little comfort to Shi Tao, who still has at least another seven years to go in prison.
Ron Paul is a seductive mistress. His popularity on MySpace and YouTube is now legendary. It helped him raise more than $5 million in the third quarter of this year's fundraising cycle. Even some among the media elite — on both sides of the aisle — can't resist his charm. Conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan gets downright giddy over Paul. And liberal Hardball host Chris Matthews (who cut his teeth under big government, East Coast Democrat Tip O'Neill) has declared of the libertarian from Texas: "He's my guy! I love Ron Paul!"
But do people understand what Paul really stands for? Like every siren song, his policies are fraught with danger. Let's take a look:
1. Foreign Policy and the Constitution. Paul is what you might call a Constitutional originalist. He divines his governing philosophy from the Constitution and America's Founders. But his understanding of their vision is profoundly flawed. Paul appears to believe the founders vested absolute authority for foreign-policy making in Congress, not the executive. "Policy is policy," Paul wrote in 2006, "and it must be made by the legislature and not the executive." But there's almost no evidence the founders saw it in such simplistic, absolute terms. Law professor Michael Ramsey, a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, recently noted (pdf) this in very eloquent terms in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. Reasonable people can agree that Congress has failed its oversight responsibilities with regard to Iraq and the Bush Doctrine. But Paul's thinking here is simply not supported by the weight of historical evidence.
2. "Noninterventionism." This is the word Paul uses to describe his foreign policy, and he insists the term also encapsulates the vision of the Founders. While Paul claims "noninterventionism" is not isolationism, it sure sounds like it is. For instance, he even seeks to dismantle the Bretton Woods system of international cooperation born from the ashes of the Second World War (more on that below). Isolationism by any name, friends, is still isolationism. Sure, such sentiments were rampant in 18th and 19th century America and before WWII. The same sentiments are resurfacing today as a backlash against Iraq. Intelligent people can disagree about the Bush Doctrine's place in history. But let's not make up facts. The post-9/11 period has been filled with literature by such historians as John Lewis Gaddis and Walter Russell Mead debunking the notion that the founders were only concerned with domestic security and never saw an ideological component to America's place in the world.
3. Iraq. Let's assume Paul is right that foreign-policymaking powers are vested in the Congress. Why, then, does he keep promising that as president he will "immediately" pull U.S. troops out of Iraq? Presumably he intends to govern as he says the Founders intended. But there's a deep contradiction here. If as president he will have no authority to execute foreign policy except as Congress dictates, how can he promise on the campaign trail to get American troops out of Iraq? I don't get it.
And let's focus for a second on the word "immediate." This is a cheap campaign trick. People in the know agree it will take between six and 14 months to get the troops and equipment out. Paul might seek to immediately begin getting the troops out. But don't be fooled. It's going to be a long and costly process. Or does Paul just intend to leave the equipment and bases behind for the Iraqis to use in the ensuing civil war?
4. "World governmental organizations." That's how Paul refers to the Bretton Woods institutions. He wants America out of the World Trade Organization, the North America Free Trade Agreement, and the United Nations, among others. Paul's official Web site warns visitors: "Both the WTO and CAFTA could force Americans to get a doctor's prescription to take herbs and vitamins. Alternative treatments could be banned." There is a fine line between Rudy's fear mongering over 9/11 and Ron's fear mongering over the United Nations, friends. Next comes talk of black helicopters. The U.N. has problems, sure, but does anyone serious really believe that the world would be better off without the United Nations? And, given that there's no indication other countries are about to close the doors on these institutions -- many of which the United States in fact founded -- isn't America better off having some influence within them? Paul says that, without clout inside the system of institutions which binds all other modern nations, America will be strong thanks to "open trade, travel, communication, and diplomacy." Sure, and we can all sit around the camp fire and sing Kumbaya with Kim Jong Il.
5. Iran. As recently as April 2006, Paul said, "Iran does not have a nuclear weapon and there's no evidence that she is working on one—only conjecture." I'm for unconditional, bilateral dialogue with Iran. I believe there's time to deal with Tehran in non-military terms. But you'd have to be a fool to believe Ahmadinejad when he says his nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. In fact, I can't think of a single person in the foreign-policy community who thinks Iran's nuclear intentions are pure. Earth to Ron, come in Ron.
Ron Paul's candidacy was fun. I get as much of a kick out of seeing the antiwar left rally behind a guy who has no problem with folks carrying concealed Uzis as the next guy. But play time is over. We're two months away from the first primaries. And Ron Paul's 15 minutes are up.
Steve Clemons gets his hands on a recent letter sent privately to U.S. President George W. Bush by Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, whom I had the pleasure of meeting last night for the first time at a New America Foundation "salon dinner" in his honor. In his often passionate speech, Hagel, who was an Army sergeant in Vietnam, appeared deeply troubled by the prospect of war with Iran and by the declining readiness state of the U.S. military. His letter reflects that concern. Here's the gist of his appeal to the president:
Now is the time for the United States to active consider when and how to offer direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks with Iran. The offer should be made even as we continue to work with our allies on financial pressure, in the UN Security Council on a third sanctions resolution, and in the region to support those Middle East countries who share our concerns with Iran. The November report by IAEA Director General ElBaradei to the IAEA Board of Governors could provide an opportunity to advance the offer of bilateral talks.
An approach such as this would strengthen our ability across the board to deal with Iran. Our friends and allies would be more confident to stand with us if we seek to increase pressure, including tougher sanctions on Iran. It could create a historic new dynamic in US-Iran relations, in part forcing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with the West. We should be prepared that any dialogue process with Iran will take time, and we should continue all efforts, as you have, to engage Iran from a position of strength.
We should not wait to consider the option of bilateral talks until all other diplomatic options are exhausted. At that point, it could well be too late.
I urge you to consider pursing direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks with the Government of Iran.
Thank you for considering my views.
United States Senator
cc: Condoleezza Rice
Robert M. Gates
Stephen J. Hadley
I have since learned that the letter somehow made its way to US Central Command Commander William Fallon, perhaps through Defense Secretary Gates or other avenues, and Fallon allegedly communicated with the Senator that serious articulations of American interests and consideration of the options Hagel recommends are much needed in this current political and policy environment.
Q Thank you, sir. A simple question.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. It may require a simple answer.
Q What’s your definition of the word "torture"?
THE PRESIDENT: Of what?
Q The word "torture." What's your definition?
THE PRESIDENT: That's defined in U.S. law, and we don't torture.
Q Can you give me your version of it, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: Whatever the law says.
His likely new attorney general, Michael Mukasey, seems not to know, either:
"Is waterboarding constitutional?" Mr. Mukasey was asked by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, in one of the sharpest exchanges.
"I don't know what is involved in the technique," Mr. Mukasey replied. "If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional."
As the Romans used to say, "Quod erat demonstrandum." (Careful readers of Mukasey's answer might note a logical fallacy, in addition to the evasiveness.)
There will be some token complaining from Sen. Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Judiciary Committee and asked the nominee to clarify his understanding of waterboarding, but Mukasey will probably be confirmed without having to offer much more than that. And so, months from now, when members of Congress complain about executive power grabs and unconstitutional behavior, take their whining with a grain of salt. The time to do something about it is now.
The new chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen, believes that one of his primary responsibilities will be to persuade Congress and the American people that security only comes with deep pockets:
Military spending is hovering around 4 percent of gross domestic product, “and I would see that in the future as an absolute floor,” Admiral Mullen said.
One of the tried and true techniques of opinion journalism is to find a public figure or thing (e.g. apple picking) that everyone loves and utterly skewer it. Nobody is better at this than FP contributor Christopher Hitchens, who has made a career out of swimming against the conventional wisdom.
Take, for example, this passage from page 200 of Hitch's recent book, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything:
The Dalai Lama, for example, is entirely and easily recognizable to a secularist. In exactly the same way as a medieval princeling, he makes the claim not just that Tibet should be independent of Chinese hegemony – a “perfectly good” demand, if I may render it into everyday English – but that he himself is a hereditary king appointed by heaven itself. How convenient! Dissenting sects within his faith are persecuted; his one-man rule in an Indian enclave is absolute; he makes absurd pronouncements about sex and diet and, when on his trips to Hollywood fund-raisers, anoints major donors like Steven Seagal and Richard Gere as holy.
Interesting!!!, as former Slate editor Michael Kinsley, a past master of the contrarian take himself, might have put it. Almost everybody loves the Dalai Lama, who symbolizes for many the virtues of peace, wisdom, and resistance to oppression. Attacking him jars people out of their comfort zones; it's a sure way to get noticed. And in this instance, I think Hitch makes some good points. Why does this man, of all people, deserve a Congressional Gold Medal?
It's easy to take the contrarian strategy too far, though. Sometimes, the conventional wisdom is right, both logically and morally. Herewith, 10 arguments I never want to see:
There is one way we might be able to succeed in Iraq. To continue an operation of this intensity and duration, we would have to abandon our volunteer military for compulsory service. Short of that, our best option is to leave Iraq immediately. A scaled withdrawal will not prevent a civil war, and it will spend more blood and treasure on a losing proposition.
Plenty of smart people, such as Steve Clemons, have hailed China's adept use of multilateral diplomacy, supposedly in contrast to the bumbling, often hostile approach of the United States.
But how does it look when China refuses to attend a meeting about Iran because the U.S. Congress chose to give the Dalai Lama an award? I'll tell you how it looks to me: like the world's most populous country can't take criticism.
Then there is Taiwan. Every time Taiwan does something provocative, we hear ad nauseum about how the entire Chinese nation is "angry" and its feelings are hurt by, say, Taiwan's bid to join the World Health Organization. I don't deny these feelings are real, but suffice it to say that if China really wants to sit at the grownups' table, it is going to have to be have like an adult on the world stage. These temper tantrums are unbecoming of a major world power.
Late yesterday news broke that President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush will attend the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, at the U.S. Capitol next Wednesday. Now, ABC News is reporting that not only will Bush be attending the ceremony, he will be delivering remarks. It will be the first time Bush has made a public appearance with the Dalai Lama. Normally, the White House is careful to arrange "unofficial" meetings with His Holiness in the White House residence. No more. Bush will reportedly use his remarks to refer to His Holiness as, "a great spiritual leader who is seeking rights for the people of Tibet ... and to protect their land."
Beijing, as you might imagine, is furious. Even before news broke that Bush would be making remarks, China was denouncing the "so-called award," using state-controlled media to take pot shots at the Dalai Lama, and secretly accusing Tibetan Communist Party members of disloyalty. The Burmese junta can't be thrilled with this, either, given that the Dalai Lama is the spiritual shepherd of global Buddhism. Some folks, including the New York Sun's Nicholas Wapshott, are arguing that Bush is using the award as an opportunity to crank up the pressure on the junta. That may be so, although as Asia scholar Phillip Cunningham over at Informed Comment: Global Affairs points out today, interest in Burma is all but fizzled out. No doubt the first lady, who appears to be genuinely passionate about Burma, played a role in the decision to attend the event. Perhaps President Bush will take the opportunity to yet again condemn the junta's crackdown on Buddhist monks.
Judging from the brief excerpts of Bush's remarks released today, though, this looks mostly like a clever attempt by the White House to press the Chinese on human rights at a time when they have little choice but to sit back and take it. First, Beijing wants a quiet Communist Party Congress this year. In fact, Beijing is already cracking down on democracy advocates in advance of next week's sessions in order to ensure they go smoothly. And second, as was widely noted during the Burma protests, the bigwigs in Beijing don't want attention drawn to China's stance on human rights in advance of the Olympics.
So kudos to the White House for spotting a small window within which to deliver the message that booming exports and imports don't translate to democratic reform. Maybe the vaunted "freedom agenda" isn't dead after all.
In case you missed it, Barack Obama is taking heat over a comment he made this week to an Iowa television station:
I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest. Instead, I'm going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testament to my patriotism.''
He's talking about the American flag lapel pins that are now ubiquitous among American politicians. In an editorial this morning, the Chicago Sun-Times throws Obama a low punch, declaring that the comment "undermines his whole campaign." And Real Clear Politics is already calling it "Pin Gate" (though they qualify it with a question mark). Both reactions seem like a bit much.
But there does seem to be either a lapse in judgment here, or a touch of hypocrisy. Sen. Obama has a problem with wearing one tiny little flag on his chest. But he has no problem using seven gigantic American flags as a podium backdrop during his stump speeches. Notice Obama's backdrop here:
So Obama objects to wearing the flag, but not speaking in front of it? Care to explain, Sen. Obama? When do you believe it's appropriate to use the flag for political purposes and when do you believe it is not?
The U.S. House of Representatives just passed a bill, over White House objections, that would make private military contractors working in Iraq subject to U.S. law. It's about time something was done.
But in watching the Blackwater hearings the other day, I was more than a little disturbed by what military contracting expert Peter Singer rightly called "a fascinating, but also disturbing, lack of awareness in Congress about the private military industry." I couldn't help but be embarrassed at the "consistently weak grasp of the issues," as Singer put it.
So while I'm glad to see Congress taking an interest, finally, in addressing a glaring hole in the U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq, I'm a little taken aback that a House that evinced such a lack of basic familiarity with the issue would rush to pass legislation that could have serious unintended consequences for U.S. national security. I understand how political timing works, but wouldn't it have made more sense to wait and think about this a little bit?
Moreover, the bill doesn't address, as far as I know, a problem that has gone little noticed amid the Blackwater fracas: More and more of the foreigners working as private military contractors in Iraq hail from Latin America. A new Web exclusive by Kristina Mani explains why this seemingly innocuous development could spell trouble:
The reliance on Latin American security contractors has worrisome implications for both the United States and Latin American countries. Uneven vetting procedures by some PMFs that recruit in the region contradict and potentially undermine official U.S. policies to promote respect for human rights by Latin American military and police forces. Moreover, lack of effective regulation of the private security industry has led to abusive labor practices by some PMFs; it has also encouraged corruption in some Latin American militaries eager to benefit from the recruitment of former soldiers—a development that undercuts efforts to achieve civilian control of militaries in the region’s new democracies.
San Diego Congressman Darrell Issa at the Blackwater hearings:
What we're seeing here today is a repeat of the MoveOn.org attacks against General Petraeus.
Really? Questioning the behavior and oversight of private military contractors in Iraq = taking out an inflammatory ad in the New York Times?
Once upon a time, the White House budget director estimated the Iraq war might cost $50 billion. Today, $50 billion is a mere asterisk. On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates went to the Hill and added nearly that amount to the $141 billion the president had already requested for fiscal year 2008. In other words, Iraq and Afghanistan will conservatively cost $190 billion next year alone.
Earlier this year, FP contributor Gordon Adams, a former national security budget official at the Clinton White House, examined just how much the Pentagon's books have spiraled out of control due to war spending. Here's what he has to say about Gates's most recent funding request:
The administration and the Congress are playing fiscal poker with Iraq: They're still "betting on the come' in funding the war. That's a poker term for putting incremental money on the table in the hopes that the hand will improve as you draw more cards. The administration "antes up" funding requests one at a time, with no long-term cost projection or position on how or when the war will end. And the Congress keeps "calling" the administration, matching the ante, and kicking confrontation down the road.
U.S. taxpayers have already spent at least $610 billion on the global war on terror. That's about $333 million a day. And with the new funding, the total will exceed $800 billion. So, what is this extra funding that Gates wants actually going for? The surge and safer hardware.
The big hardware piece is something called the MRAP—the Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected Vehicle. This large, lumbering armored vehicle will replace the HUMVEE in Iraq (once MRAPs start to get there this winter), and it is designed to protect against the land mines and IEDs that have cost so many lives and limbs. Gates says there will be $16 billion in the additional budget request for MRAPs, bringing the total DoD order to more than 15,000 of them. [Ed:Each vehicle costs about $1 million.]
No matter how long the surge force stays in place, any returning brigades will cost additional funds to bring back home. Without a major reduction in forces below pre-surge levels, funding requirements for the war will simply continue to mount.
We're sliding fast to $1 trillion spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For perspective, the total GDP of the United States last year was just over $13 trillion.
Yesterday, Passport noted the scathing criticism by Iraq expert Toby Dodge about the Biden "plan" for partitioning Iraq, which passed the Senate yesterday in symbolic form. Marc Lynch piled on, and so did Juan Cole. But the harshest rebuke comes from Reidar Vissar, a Norwegian scholar who has studied Iraq extensively:
[I]f his partition plans were implemented, Joe Biden would be remembered by Muslims and Arabs around the world in an altogether different way. He would be considered alongside other historical personalities who routinely are being accused by Middle Easterners for having destroyed their region completely: Arthur Balfour, Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot.
Oh, and by the way: Iraqis and the Arab League blasted the Senate bill, too.
Nicholas Rajula is running for Kenyan Parliament, and he has a pretty novel campaign strategy: He claims to be U.S. Senator Barack Obama's distant cousin.
People in Kenya love Obama, whose father was from the African country. When Obama visited Kenya last year, throngs of singing and dancing Kenyans greeted him with a hero's welcome. His Kenyan roots may be why Kenya is one of three countries that love the United States more than Americans themselves do: 87 percent of Kenyans have a favorable view of the United States, compared with 80 percent of Americans, according to a Pew Research Center poll released earlier this year.
Obama's campaign denies that Rajula and Obama are related; Rajula and Obama's father just happen to come from the same Kenyan village. To Rajula's credit, though, Obama's paternal grandmother says she considers herself a grandmother to Rajula, and Rajula is known for organizing part of Obama's itinerary when he visited Kenya (although Obama's campaign wouldn't comment on this).
It's uncertain whether Rajula's campaign strategy will be successful. During one campaign stop, villagers got upset that Rajula wasn't doling out the cash too freely, violating a time-honored custom of Kenya's parliamentary campaigns (although he did quietly give money to village leaders later on). Echoing the language of his "cousin" from Illinois, Rajula explained that he aspires to "a new kind of politics." Such rhetoric hasn't been enough for Obama to keep up with Hillary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire, and it probably won't put Rajula over the top in Kenya, either.
It's not easy defending the Bush administration's delaying tactics on climate change, but U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson made a go of it this morning.
Asked by an aggressive Tom Brokaw about whether Republicans in the U.S. Congress are doing anything on climate change, U.S. Treasury Secretary paused for a second, and conceded dryly that there is a "wide variety of knowledge" on the Hill about the issue.
Asked about a global deal based around binding emissions targets, proposed by Tony Blair, Paulson said, "it just depends on what your expectations are."
Yesterday, Sen. Joe Biden's plan to split Iraq into three semi-autonomous regions received overwhelming bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate. The non-binding resolution that passed is doubtless part criticism of Bush and part criticism of Maliki, and really just an effort to show that at least someone has a plan for the future of the war.
But Toby Dodge, one of the foremost experts on modern-day Iraq, thinks partition is perhaps the most dangerous and historically ignorant solution for the country yet. He sat down with FP recently and had this to say about the Biden plan:
People are struggling to explain failure, to apportion blame, and to try to develop a policy that gets them out of the country. The most damaging outcome would be along the lines of the proposals that recommend partition, like the Gelb-Biden plan. I think those fundamentally misunderstand Iraq.
If you look at the three communities that are allegedly going to be partitioned, go down to the supposed Shiistan in the south. What we have in the south is a low-level civil war between the two main Shiite parties led by members of the Badr Brigade and al-Sadr. So, are we going to partition the south into a Badristan and a Sadristan? When we come up to supposed Sunnistan, we have a fight between al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a largely indigenous organization with foreign leadership, and the so-called sheikhs of Anbar— that is an intra-Sunni fight. Then we have Kurdistan. The Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan fought a vicious civil war in the 1990s, where the KDP actually asked Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard to come in and help them. The idea that we have three neat communities is sociologically and politically illiterate. It has deliberately ignored the sociological complexities of Iraq in order to get a neat policy prescription that allows America to get out of Iraq. That is dangerous and reckless, and it isn’t the solution.
At the height of the drama surrounding the "Made in China" product recalls by Mattel, Passport warned against simply blaming China for product safety flaws, and urged Western companies to take some responsibility for what goes through their supply chains. In a surprising move on Friday, Mattel did exactly that—and went a step further, publicly apologizing to the Chinese. Mattel's Thomas Debrowski, executive vice-president for worldwide operations, declared in a meeting with a senior Chinese official in Beijing:
Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people and all of our customers who received the toys."
As the Financial Times pointed out, this was in stark contrast to Mattel CEO Robert Eckert's comments to the U.S. Senate last week, where he said, "We were let down, and so we let you down." Mattel obviously realized that with 65 percent of the company's toys manufactured in China, it's clearly not in its interest to blame China or its regulatory environment. A continued backlash against toys made in China would only lead to protectionism, bad news for a country with extensive overseas operations. Mattel's investors seem to have realized the same; the apology prompted a rise in the company's stock price—not a decline.
Deborah D. Avant, professor of political science and director of international studies at University of California, Irvine, and author of Think Again: Mercenaries from a few years ago, has this to say about the Blackwater contretemps in Iraq:
Is it accidental that the Iraqi government's reaction to the latest Blackwater incident comes on the heels of U.S. criticism of Iraqi progress?
The United States sent in an army of private-security contractors (PSCs) with only a whiff of controversy as the insurgency mounted in Iraq—contrasting sharply with the hoopla over the so-called surge. But this week's media frenzy demonstrates the political pitfalls of a reliance on companies like Blackwater. The Iraqi government is certainly justified in raising questions about how these companies operate, especially regarding the still unclear legal status of PSC personnel. But the Iraqi government has reacted mildly to the dozen or so previous incidents that have reached the Western press, making Maliki's outraged calls for the expulsion of Blackwater and a review of all PSCs working in Iraq seem puzzling at first. One wonders, though, if Maliki’s reaction to this incident is driven by a desire to take the spotlight off the Iraqi government's failures and buy it some bargaining room, both in domestic circles and with the Americans. Practically, the United States cannot operate in Iraq without PSCs—and Maliki knows this. The chance to point a finger at one of the more controversial elements of U.S. strategy and put the United States on the hot seat even while sticking up for Iraqi sovereignty in a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad is probably too good for him to pass up.
Two days after Barak Obama's latest foreign-policy gaffe—allowing reporters to see him reading a memo from his campaign advisors on how to spin the war in Iraq—there's a new round whispering among Washington's foreign-policy watchers as to whether the Illinois senator and presidential wannabe can really be taken seriously on these subjects. Similar chatter could be heard this summer after Obama's previous blunders on Pakistan and Israel-Palestine.
This most recent episode occurred during Tuesday's Senate testimony by Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker. To be reading a memo about how to politicize the war during their testimony showed incredibly bad taste. Regardless of what you think about their policies, Petraeus and Crocker are risking their lives every day in Iraq. While I'm not naive enough to think politics doesn't play a role in the conflict, a man who wants to be the next commander in chief should have shown more respect. As the Telegraph's Toby Harndon has noted, the screwup is enough to bring into question just how sincere Obama is about changing the culture in Washington.
Obama talks a lot about building consensus. But so far, his performance on the foreign-policy front suggests he and his staff spend most of their time trying to find consensus among themselves. Rumor has it Obama's got a huge cadre of people advising him on foreign policy. It shows. Yesterday in Clinton County, Iowa, he released his plan (pdf) to end the war in Iraq. "The best way to protect our security and to pressure Iraq's leaders to resolve their civil war," the plan says, "is to begin immediately to remove our combat troops. Not in six months or one year – now." Then, seven lines later, it says: "Under the Obama plan, American troops may remain in Iraq ..." Depending upon how you read it, it's either annoyingly confused or irresponsibly ambiguous.
Similar confusion can be found in Obama's thinking on Iran. In his Iowa speech yesterday, Obama asserted, "President Ahmadinejad may talk about filling a vacuum in the region after an American drawdown, but he's badly mistaken." Really? Try to find a foreign-policy expert who agrees with that statement. It ain't easy. When FP recently asked more than 100 of America's most respected foreign-policy hands what would happen were the United States to withdraw from Iraq precipitously, which is what Obama is proposing, 75 percent told us Iran would step in to fill the power vacuum left by the United States. In the absence of American forces, what's to stop them? Writing in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, Obama pronounces Bush's policy on Iran a failure, then he proposes the following solution: "Our diplomacy should aim to raise the cost for Iran of continuing its nuclear program by applying tougher sanctions and increasing pressure from its key trading partners." I could be wrong, but isn't that precisely the strategy the Bush administration is pursuing?
In a recent piece for The New Republic, Ted Sorenson wistfully asks, "Is Obama the Next JFK?" Maybe. But the real question is, which John F. Kennedy? The young dynamo remembered favorably by Sorenson and revisionist historians? Or the inexperienced son of privilege who botched an invasion of Cuba and brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation? The jury is still out.
"There is no military solution."
It has become something of a mantra for leaders discussing the war in Iraq. We've heard it from everyone from Dennis Kucinich to Gen. David Petraeus. But lately, the conventional wisdom seems to have shifted. Emboldened by optimistic reports of an "Anbar Awakening," many of the war's supporters and opponents are now supporting a "bottom up" strategy for stability, enlisting local forces to fight the insurgency and give the political process time to work. It was clear from before yesterday's testimony that Amb. Ryan Crocker had a much harder case to make that progress was being made on a political level.
In light of this, New York Times reported David Sanger predicted that Republicans would back the bottom-up strategy, while David Ignatius urged the Democrats to get behind the idea and take credit for it. Of course, the idea that all of this is leading to political reconciliation in Iraq is totally bunk. As Passport has noted, when the idea of "soft partition" was first proposed by Senator Joe Biden back in 2006, White House spokesman Scott McClellan dismissed it as antithetical to a "federal, democratic, pluralist and unified" Iraq. He was right. Colin Kahl and Shawn Brimley wrote on this Web site last week about the difficulties that empowering local militias could cause for Iraq's central government. The "soft partition" strategy is the first step in abandoning the goal of political reconciliation in Iraq. Washington's new mantra might as well be, "There is no political solution."
Still, it's easy to see the idea's appeal. Empowering and befriending local militants takes the heat off of U.S. troops, sidesteps the dysfunctional Iraqi national army and puts the Sunnis in a stronger position for after the U.S. forces leave. After all, the possibility of a post-pullout genocide is a possibility war opponents would rather not think about. There's certainly evidence that dividing a population into ethnically homogeneous units can create stability: Just look at modern Europe. Of course, it took a half century of total war and genocide to make it that way. (Tony Judt's Postwar makes the counterintuitive argument that Hitler and Stalin are more responsible for Europe's current peace and prosperity than anyone else.)
Gen. Petraeus would love to give the surge credit for decreasing casualty numbers in Baghdad. But the Mahdi Army probably deserves more credit for ethnically cleansing Baghdad's mixed neighborhoods of their Sunni residents. By accepting "soft partition," the Bush administration is essentially banking on sectarian militias to do their job for them.
In a recent column for the Financial Times, FP contributor Bruce Ackerman urges David Petraeus, the commanding U.S. general in Iraq, to stick to the facts when he appears before Congress next week:
Mr Bush is no Truman. He has used Gen Petraeus as a pawn in a game to defer congressional judgment from the spring to the autumn. Now he is transforming him into a mythic figure, scheduling his report to Congress for September 11.* As the nation pauses to remember that terrible day in 2001, the president wants his general to appear on television as the steely-eyed hero of the hour, leading the country to ultimate victory in "the war on terror".
This puts Gen Petraeus in a difficult constitutional position. Paradoxically, it is now up to a military man to defend the principle of civilian control. Gen Petraeus should make his priorities clear by immediately disciplining Gen Lynch for his thoughtless breach of constitutional principle. When his moment of truth comes, he should make every effort to avoid being a shill for either the Republicans or the Democrats - emphasising that the important questions are political, not military. He should restrict himself to an impartial statement of the facts and refuse to judge the success of the surge.
Ackerman is right that Bush is pushing Petraeus out front, hoping to capitalize on the general's greater credibility. But I have a different point to make. It's Petraeus's job to evaluate the surge within the context of Iraq. I have no problem if he chooses to do so. But it's the job of the president and Congress to evaluate policies within the context of the country's broader national interests. Even if the surge is "working," American grand strategy might still be poorly served by staying in Iraq. But making that determination is above a general's pay grade.
*Note: This may yet change, but as of today, Petraeus will actually be appearing before the joint House Armed Services/Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday at 12:30 p.m. followed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., according to committee staff.
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