From Abu Ghraib to Haditha

by Brian Vogt | May 30th, 2006 | |Subscribe

The repercussions from the Abu Ghraib scandal will be felt by our military and our citizens for the foreseeable future.  When that scandal broke, I felt that it would take many years and possibly decades for our military to regain the international respect that it lost from that incident.  Yes, horrible things happen in wartime and atrocities are committed by all sides.  That is a fact of war.  I had mistakenly assumed, however, that what made America different was how we dealt with these actions when they do happen.  A Democratic country that is governed by the rule of law holds the perpetrators of such atrocities accountable.  And, it holds those in command accountable for the actions of their subordinates.  While we prosecuted the perpetrators, those in command at the highest level of government faced few repercussions. 

Nearly two years after the exposure of the Abu Ghraib scandal we are once again faced with reports of atrocities that are even worse – the massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians by American Marines.  The story of what happened at Haditha is truly horrific.  According to some reports, after the tragic death of an American Marine by an IED, a group of Marines went into several houses and killed as many as 24 civilians in cold blood.  Four of these were children.  The youngest was 1 year old.  An unverified account of the event was posted in a recent Washington Post article

As we hear more about these types of incidents, they seem less like the isolated aberrations that the President proclaims them to be.  In fact, on Sunday Nir Rosen wrote another account of an execution of a Sunni man that happened at the hands of Americans soldiers.  If this account is true, it is another damning revelation of the type of justice being carried out in the name of our country. 

The reaction of Iraqis to the recent revelations of the Haditha massacre is disturbing in that it seems dismissive and jaded towards such reports.  This in itself is frightening because it gives the impression that such actions by America forces have become the expected norm for Iraqi citizens.  If that is the case, I fear that we have already lost.  (more…)

Preemptive Diplomacy

by Chip Andreae | May 26th, 2006 | |Subscribe

At the outset of this entry I must admit a bias, having worked for Senator Lugar for many years and watching his leadership in foreign policy.  But I can also say that I have been gone for a greater number of years than I was there and I am encouraged to see that he still is willing to be the forerunner on even the most difficult issues.  Perhaps more impressive than his leadership and initiative is his willingness to do it all while forging relationships across the aisle.  In this pursuit, most notably we have seen this past week the passage of the Lugar-Obama legislation reflecting a continued US resolve to increase international awareness surrounding the dangers of weapons stockpiles.

The Lugar-Obama Bill is founded in a previous bi-partisan effort between Senator Nunn and Senator Lugar in 1991 (Nunn-Lugar Act), which initiated the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program.  That program’s focus was to provide aid to the former Soviet Union to dismantle its enormous stockpile of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.  The Lugar-Obama Act, passed by the Senate on May 23, 2006, was essentially born out of The Nunn-Lugar Act in that it continues to seek a working relationship with foreign countries to reduce their weapons stockpiles.  The latest act has two branches, which focus on the more grassroots threat of conventional weapons (i.e. anti-aircraft missiles, etc.), as well as locating these weapons and confiscating them from the likes of terrorists and black market dealers before they can be used against US troops and allies, or other peacekeeping forces. (more…)

Hint: This Is NOT Bipartisanship

by Christopher Preble | May 26th, 2006 | |Subscribe

I challenged Ben Rhodes a few weeks ago, questioning whether it was necessarily true that a bipartisan solution to problems would be inherently better than a partisan one. Ben, graciously, engaged the discussion.

I mention that by way of introduction because I am not an advocate of bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship. I am also, however, not an advocate of the opposite: partisanship for the sake of partisanship. That is exactly what was on display early this week, as reported in Roll Call:

Senate Democratic leaders “are pushing their rank-and-file Members to refrain from reaching across the aisle to work on legislation and other policy efforts with vulnerable Republican incumbents until after Election Day, warning that the GOP has often used such displays of bipartisanship to protect incumbents in tough races only to abandon those measures after November, Democratic sources said Tuesday.”  Aides said party leaders “were concerned that shows of election-year bipartisanship could help a number of Republicans facing difficult challenges…”

From: “Democrats Urged To Avoid Working With Vulnerable Senate Republicans,” Roll Call, 5/24/06.


Why Can’t We Look Ahead?

by Benjamin Rhodes | May 24th, 2006 | |Subscribe

One of the depressing things about so many headline issues of the day is how far in advance you could see them coming. Iran’s nuclear crisis, for instance, has been developing in slow-motion for years. Global warming, now hitting theatres in a new movie centered around Al Gore, has been kicking around since before Gore was in Congress. We’ve had a broken immigration policy since long before Ronald Reagan got attacked from the right for signing the Immigration Reform and Control Act. Soon, we’ll be able to see Sean Penn playing Richard Clarke, warning Presidents about al Qaeda long before 9/11.

But government can’t seem to look ahead. Iran was barely a blip in the 2004 election – Iran’s President practically forced the issue into American discourse by punting the IAEA, mouthing off about the Holocaust and writing a semi-coherent letter to President Bush. It’s taken ice caps melting and disaster-movie sized hurricanes to provoke some (small) action on climate change by the government. It took 12 million undocumented workers propping up our economy and vigilante Minutemen on the border to get Congress to return to immigration after 20 years. And, tragically, it took 9/11 to shock us into awareness of the threat from Islamist terrorism.

So here’s a role that far-sighted, bi-partisan leaders can play in Congress and outside of government. Look ahead. The 9/11 Commission called it a failure of imagination. But it doesn’t take imagination to know that our trade deficit is unsustainable; China’s rise will reshape Asian and geo-politics; water shortages  will likely get ugly; Hugo Chavez will figure out a way to become more than a thorn in our side; and on and on – feel free to add to the list.

 Are we thinking about these problems now? Or will we wait until a crisis forces one of these emerging problems to the front of the agenda. Because it is hard to forge a bipartisan consensus in the storm of a crisis – better to do it in relatively smoother waters.

A PMC Caucus: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

by David Isenberg | May 22nd, 2006 | |Subscribe

Part of the problem in restoring bipartisanship to discussions of national security and foreign policy is that so many issues have been fought over for decades and thus Republicans and Democrats have well defined, if not always well thought out, positions on them. Military budgets, nuclear weapons, NSA wiretapping, preventive wars, arms control; you are either for or against. And woe betides the brave senator and representative who dares to against the party grain and actually tries to think thoughtfully.

But once in a very great while there does appear a new issue on the international security horizon which cries out for both serious sustained debate and action. I suggest that such an issue is now here; namely, the role of private military and security contractors (PMC).

As one who has followed the evolving role of such contractors since the early nineties one thing (see, for example this past paper) is very clear to me; the use of such contractors, whether in a logistical support role for regular military forces as Kellog Brown and Root does for the U.S. Army, or acting as private security guards in Afghanistan and Iraq and numerous other countries, or actually acting miniature military for hire to fight against rebel groups in civil wars, which is rare but not unheard of, as the examples of the old South African based Executive Outcomes in Angola and Sierra Leone in the 19990s showed, they are not going away.

My own somewhat pessimistic view of the world is such that the international order will continue to be roiled and disrupted for some time to come. The ability of states to intervene and defeat various warlords, brigands, and various criminal groups, whether due to lack of will, or actually lack of capacity, will continue to diminish. Thus, there will be a void in international politics. And just like nature abhorring a vacuum, private contractors will step in to fill it. (more…)

A Failure to Understand

by Seth Green | May 20th, 2006 | |Subscribe

Two developments took place this week that did not get connected by popular media, but arguably should have been. First, we learned that the Pentagon is probing into whether the death of Iraqi civilians in Haditha at the hands of U.S. Marines took place “in cold blood.” Second, a U.N. Panel announced that U.S. practices at Guantanamo violated the 1984 Convention Against Torture, which the U.S. ratified.

The reason these stories connect is that both the stories themselves, and especially the way the administration and conservative thought leaders reacted to them, present the wrong picture to the world about American objectives in the war on terror and the war in Iraq. The stories themselves suggest that America may not be living up to its principles in being a benevolent and fair superpower. But, worse, the reactions to the stories suggest that some leaders do not even care.

Instead of taking the probe in Haditha seriously, the Washington Times decided to focus its editorial on criticizing Murtha for even raising the issue, calling his actions “an egregious violation of ethical conduct.” The Bush administration’s response to the U.N. panel similarly attacked the messenger rather than taking the message seriously. Without going into depth, the administration called the U.N. report riddled with errors and said it had improved its treatment. “We acknowledge that there were serious incidents of abuse. We’ve all seen Abu Ghraib,” the State Department’s top lawyer, John B. Bellinger III, told reporters. But “clearly our record has improved over the last few years,” he said.


Sad Cuban “Engagement” for a Sanctions Opponent

by Eugene Gholz | May 18th, 2006 | |Subscribe

I’ve been teaching about economic sanctions for years in my graduate courses on economic foreign policy. One of the main messages that I try to get across is that economic statecraft is usually a weak reed: interfering with the market (whether using sanctions, aid, or other government policies) has real economic costs, and we rarely know enough about how the target economy works or how to manipulate the political incentives of the target government to achieve our goals. I don’t usually single out sanctions on Cuba as an example in class (other examples like South Africa and South Korea seem catchier), but my general view is that the anti-Castro sanctions are a good example of the ineffectiveness of the policy tool.

Sanctions probably have hurt the Cuban economy to some extent over the years, but it is hard to tell, because poor economic policy choices by the Cuban government have hurt the economy there, too. A friend of mine remarked about the opening shot of the Buena Vista Social Club that his first thought was that the dilapidated buildings showed the damage from the embargo; his second thought was that the tracking shot showed the destructiveness of a communist government; and his third thought was that Cuba didn’t look all that much different from other developing countries.

So last week, when I went to Mexico City for a conference on “E-Engagement” among the U.S., Mexico, and Cuba, I thought that one of the advantages of using the Internet for electronic exchange of research and analysis might be an opportunity for analysts to tease out what the real effect of the sanctions has been. (more…)

Iran: Choosing the best of bad options

by Brian Vogt | May 17th, 2006 | |Subscribe


Many have asked me, “So, what is the bipartisan solution to the standoff with Iran?”  Unfortunately, I’ve not had a good answer.  We currently find ourselves in an exceedingly dangerous and tense situation with few good options to resolve it.  Yes, frighteningly similar to our Iraq policy. 

So, without any good policy options we are forced to choose the best of several undesirable alternatives.  Greg Djerijan points out in a a blog post today that the a whole slew of well known Republicans have called for direct talks with Iran.  These include Henry Kissinger, Richard Armitage, Richard Haas, Chuck Hagel, and Dick Lugar.  Several well known Democrats have come out in support of this option including Madeleine Albright, Sandy Berger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Sen. Chris Dodd.  Considering the names behind this proposal on both sides of this aisle, I think that this idea should be able to gain broader bipartisan support. 

I think that it’s important that we put this proposal in context.  It’s not a “good” solution and it has many potentially negative consequences.  However, it’s still better than the other “bad” solutions available. 

First, it is true that the North Koreans were able to use similar negotiations to buy time to further strengthen their weapons development program.  However, I would hope that our negotiations this time could learn from that experience and implement safeguards that would lessen such loopholes.  Secondly, it also true that such talks do provide a certain sense of legitimacy to a regime that has supported terrorists and has also threatened to destroy Israel.  However, the fact is that the world is not following the U.S. lead here and many countries already have significant ties with Iran and its oil resources will continue to strengthen those links.  (more…)

Playing politics sabotages America’s future

by Jamie Metzl | May 17th, 2006 | |Subscribe

Two recent articles in the New York Times have highlighted how bad the partisan divide has become in the United States. On Sunday, the Times reported that some Democrats were wondering if it would be better for them to not gain control of either house of Congress so that the Republicans would inherit the mess they have created over these past five years. On Monday, the Times reported that some Republicans were wondering if it might be better for the Democrats to gain control of at least one house so that the Democrats might be partially blamed for all of our problems (war, deficit, loss of purpose, etc.). How sad that we’re in a situation where all of our public officials are not thinking about what we need to do to get our country back on track, but how we can sabotage the country (from two different perspectives of the prognosis) to achieve political gain. The country is certainly ripe for leaders who consistently do the right thing because it is right, and build their own political momentum as a result of their commitment, sincerity, and vision.

The Next Test for Bipartisanship: Immigration

by Christopher Preble | May 16th, 2006 | |Subscribe

I generally avoid straying too far from my comfort zone of issues, but I am fascinated (and a bit disturbed) by the ongoing debate over illegal immigration.

As is often the case, the partisan political angle could lead either to doing nothing at all, or to passing a badly flawed piece of legislation. The best solution may be found in the locus of nonpartisanship/bipartisanship, but given the current state of political discourse in this country, the best solution also appears to be the least likely to emerge.


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All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.