After Israel’s offensive

by Jordan Tama | June 30th, 2006 | |Subscribe

This week’s Israeli offensive in Gaza and the West Bank demonstrates that Israel intends to retaliate against violence perpetrated or backed by the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority as forcefully as it responded to acts of terrorism by Hamas before the group was elected to power.  The offensive might thereby provide a useful wake-up call to Hamas and its supporters.  But in order to advance Israel’s interest in long-term security, the Olmert government should subsequently begin laying the foundation for a new round of peace talks.

Israel’s assault is understandable given recent violence by Hamas militants in Gaza — in particular, the launching of Qassam rockets into Israel and the murder and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers.  Israel must show restraint, though, focusing its retaliation on Hamas leaders and institutions.  (Its strike on a Palestinian power plant was unjustified because it indiscriminately punished half the population of Gaza.)  Israel should also emphasize that it has no intention of reoccupying Gaza, but rather seeks only to stop Palestinians from using the area as a staging ground for attacks on Israelis.

If Israel succeeds in liberating its kidnapped prisoner, it should halt its attack, pull back its forces, and release any Hamas Cabinet officials and legislators that do not have blood on their hands.  By that point, Israel’s actions will have made clear to Palestinians that it will hold Hamas accountable for violence against Israelis.  That demonstration, however, will not be sufficient to induce Palestinians to stop attacking Israel.  (more…)

Another Take on 9/11 Conspiracies

by Brian Vogt | June 24th, 2006 | |Subscribe


I was quite amazed when I looked that the Across the Aisle blog yesterday and saw there were over 80 comments posted in one day!  I wondered, what foreign policy issue was generating such intense interest?  It must be a debate on the future of our forces in Iraq, or a debate on the volatile situation in the Middle East, or a discussion on how our country deals with nuclear threats from Iran.  Or perhaps commentators were discussing how we deal with our dangerous dependency on foreign oil.

Sadly, it turned out that nearly all of these comments were from readers who adamantly felt that 9/11 was a government conspiracy.  Of course, you can probably guess from my tone that I do not believe in such theories.  Although I do concede that over the years the US government has been guilty of numerous crimes and covert actions that in many cases make me ashamed, I find it quite hard to believe the conspiracy theories that are presented by these commentators.  Of course, I’m no physicist and I don’t pretend to understand the mechanics of what happened on September 11th.  However, I felt that Ben’s link to a Popular Mechanics article written by a wide variety of reputable sources was quite convincing – certainly much more convincing than many of the links and videos presented by the ensuing commentators.  That, combined with the extensive research done by the 9/11 Commission, makes me skeptical of those arguments in favor of conspiracy theories.  Certainly, there are many questions and unknowns about what happened that day.  However, those questions and unknowns, when taken in total, seem insufficient to prevent a believable case against the conventional explanations of what happened.  (more…)

What’s the UN Security Council for?

by Eugene Gholz | June 21st, 2006 | |Subscribe

The U.S. alleged this week that North Korea is preparing to test fire a multi-stage missile with the theoretical range to reach American territory. Of course, such a missile, if deployed, would offer the North Koreans the next step of nuclear deterrence against the U.S. So it is not hard to understand why the North Koreans might want to test that capability, and it is also not hard to understand why the U.S. might not want them to take that step. A missile test is a matter of power and interests.

Japan and South Korea have more reasons than the U.S. to worry about North Korean military capabilities. They live close to North Korea and have direct, intrinsic conflicts with the North Korean regime. So it is little surprise that they have joined the American efforts to dissuade the North Koreans from their possible missile test.

What is curious in this tiff is the role of the UN. Japanese officials in particular have threatened the North Koreans that they will lodge a protest of the test with the Security Council [as if that "threat" would impose a real cost -- E.G.]. And the U.S. Ambassador to Japan got caught up in the same spirit, suggesting that the U.S. might seek UN sanctions against North Korea in the wake of a missile test. But on what grounds would the Security Council act in this scenario? (more…)

Supporting Military Interventions to Protect Human Rights

by Jordan Tama | June 20th, 2006 | |Subscribe

In his most recent post Christopher Preble expresses concern about the advancement of the “responsibility to protect” norm, which grants the international community the right to intervene militarily when massive human rights violations are being perpetrated on a population whose government is responsible for those violations or is unable to stop them.  In my view, the benefits to the United States and the world of promoting the norm outweigh the risks. 

The responsibility to protect norm clearly goes beyond the UN Charter’s prescriptions, which only authorize the use of force in self-defense or when approved by the UN Security Council “to protect international peace and security.”  But the Charter, like the U.S. Constitution, must be treated as a living document subject to evolving interpretation and amendment over time.  When the Charter was written, intervention to protect human rights was not on the international agenda and was not a priority of any major power.  Today it is on the global agenda and is sometimes — though too sporadically — a priority of the United States, Britain, France, and other democratic nations.  International rules on the use of force will become irrelevant if they do not evolve to reflect this change in world politics.

The September 2005 UN summit declaration called on the international community to intervene when necessary through the Security Council to protect a population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, or crimes against humanity.  This was a significant advance for advocates of international action to protect human rights, marking the first time the world’s nations endorsed a version of the responsibility to protect norm.  But the promise of the declaration might turn out to be hollow because it leaves the Council with a legal monopoly over use of force decisions.  If just one of the Council’s permanent members objects to a military intervention, governments seeking to protect a population will be left with no legal way to do so.  Given the general opposition of Russia and China to protective interventions, the norm will rarely be put into practice if this legal monopoly is upheld.  Consider the ongoing atrocities taking place in Darfur and then decide whether the Council should possess this monopoly. (more…)

The UN Mirror on the USA: What is this fight about?

by Victoria Holt | June 14th, 2006 | |Subscribe

The dust-up caused by Amb. John Bolton’s reaction to UN Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown’s speech has brought attention to the simmering crisis among UN members, already cited in this blog, over UN reforms and the US approach to winning them. This is dangerous bluster, argues the Post’s Sebastian Mallaby.

Today things look worse, not better, for achieving important measures and resolving the debate without a budget crisis in the next few weeks.

This crisis will give some in Congress an excuse to start withholding US dues to the UN, which would impact its headquarters and touch on everything from monitoring sanctions against terrorists to planning the UN mission in Darfur. The House has such legislation ready to go. 

Does the US have a domestic constituency that can’t stand the UN, as suggested by Brown (which then offended Bolton)? Yes, absolutely, and Members of Congress know it. The campaigns come and go, but they are constant. Recall those convinced by interest groups that the UN will steal private property from landowners in the West; will prevent you from spanking your child; and will impose a tax on American citizens.  (more…)

Getting Our Economic Policy Right… Because Our Security is at Stake

by Seth Green | June 13th, 2006 | |Subscribe

As Americans allow more and more of our products to be made in China, and as we allow the Chinese to own more and more of our economy, we should at least be asking questions about what our increasing dependence on China means for our security. And if we asked these questions, this week’s news would raise grave concerns about how we’re failing to connect our economic and security policies toward China.

Two stories dominated the U.S. headlines about China this week. First, we learned that our trade imbalance with China is continuing to balloon. China’s trade surplus hit a record high last month of $13 billion, driven significantly by a growing imbalance with the U.S. Second, we learned that Chinese President Hu would be meeting with Iranian President Ahmadinejad. And this meeting may not be entirely to condemn Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Instead, China appears to have arranged the meeting in part because, recognizing its increasing need for Iranian oil, the Chinese government seeks to further engage Iran notwithstanding the country’s nuclear program.

What these two news stories illuminate is a dangerous disconnect between our economic and security strategy. As we know, money is power and economic might can be as important as military strength. What’s concerning is that we have an economic policy that is openly selling our country’s assets to China and not even pressing the Chinese to upgrade a clearly undervalued currency. This, in turn, makes us weaker vis-à-vis China and further limits our discretion to deal with the Chinese government head-on if they ultimately try to undermine international efforts to contain a nuclear-hungry Iran.

We’ve known for a long time that the “spend now and saddle the future with debt” economic policy of the Bush years is bad on its face because it burdens our children with paying back today’s excesses. But this week’s news stories show it’s a potentially dangerous policy as well.

Save the endangered Facts

by David Isenberg | June 13th, 2006 | |Subscribe

Consider the poor, lowly, unappreciated fact. Rarely are those who stick to the facts invited to an A-list party and those who do are usually derided as nerds. Ronald Reagan said, “Facts are stupid things.” Albert Einstein said, “If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts.”

But like them or hate them people agree that if you are going to have a debate over policy there should at least be agreement on the honest and objective facts, so you have an as up to date understanding of reality as possible, and then you can debate over what to do. Well, almost everyone, but not, evidently, the Bush administration, and especially not when it comes to Iraq.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that an administration that happily suppresses and distorts facts about issues ranging from the environment to the budget would do the same on Iraq, but it is dismaying.

Case in point is the administration’s latest quarterly report to Congress issued last month by the Pentagon, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq.” Or, as comedian Rodney Dangerfield would say, “take my quarterly report, please.”

This report is “deeply flawed” and “fundamentally false.” What’s that, sniping from some partisan Democrat, you say? Hardly. Those words are from Anthony H. Cordesman, who holds the holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He has formerly served as national security assistant to Senator John McCain of the Senate Armed Services Committee, as director of intelligence assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and as civilian assistant to the deputy secretary of defense.


How Good Is the News from Iraq?

by Eugene Gholz | June 10th, 2006 | |Subscribe

Chris Preble noted in his recent post about Iran that last week was a rough week in foreign affairs. But this week suddenly seemed to be on a much more promising trajectory: Abu Zarqawi was killed in Iraq, and the Iraqi government finally appointed ministers of defense and the interior. It is hard to know, though, how cheered we should be. I suspect we should all believe what we believed before about American policy in Iraq: if you thought we should stay in Iraq (or escalate), the news this week is unlikely to discourage you; if you thought we should leave Iraq (“immediately” or in a more gradual withdrawal), the news probably should not change that assessment, either. (more…)

Straight talk from Mark Malloch Brown

by Brian Vogt | June 9th, 2006 | |Subscribe


There’s been much ruckus raised recently about a speech by UN Deputy Secretary General, Mark Malloch Brown.  Basically Malloch Brown criticized the US arguing that the US has only fitfully engaged with the UN.  When it does, it has only been reluctantly, and to advance its own agenda. 

Ambassador Bolton appealed to Kofi Annan saying, “I’ve known you since 1989, and I’m telling you this is the worst mistake by a senior U.N. official that I have seen in that entire time.”  Referring to that comment as the worst mistake by a senior UN official since 1989 is quite a mistake in itself!  Bolton’s hyperbole reveals his grandstanding.

While I agree that it may seem out of character for an international civil servant to so blatantly call out one of the UN’s member countries, when one looks at the context this does seem quite understandable.  Malloch Brown was speaking particularly to a US audience and was therefore understandably speaking about US policy towards the UN.  I would expect a similar approach if he were speaking, for example, to a Russian audience.  Speaking to such an audience he would likely criticize Russian relations with the UN and this would make sense.  Why is it that criticisms of the US should be so taboo?  (more…)

We’re all on the same ship

by Jamie Metzl | June 6th, 2006 | |Subscribe


A thought:

I’ve been involved in public service all of my adult life. When I started my career, I thought that the life’s work of my generation of public minded citizens would be to build on the foundation laid by the previous generation of Americans.

With all of the problems that have been created over the past five years, I now believe that the work of my generation will be to begin to address all of the new problems we have created – from the implications of the mess in Iraq to our debt to America’s loss of standing in the world.

This is not a partisan issue because no matter what we think of the captain, we’re all on the same ship.

I’d appreciate any thoughts readers may have on this.

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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.