[Julie Fischer of the Henry L. Stimson Center is guest blogging for Victoria Holt, who is currently on vacation.]
The current conflagration in the Middle East has understandably diverted attention from less conspicuous security issues. In quieter times, the re-emergence of a truly stateless enemy of civilized nations – potentially pandemic influenza – in Southeast Asia might have attracted a headline or two. Less than a year ago, President Bush identified pandemic influenza as a serious threat to national security demanding billions of dollars and real international collaboration. Avian influenza joined HIV as the second disease to acquire its own U.S. ambassador.
After the H5N1 strain of avian influenza moved from Southeast Asia into Europe in late 2005 without the catastrophic plague presaged in 24-hour non-news coverage, experts deployed by the U.S. and the World Health Organization to avian influenza hotspots settled down to a Herculean task: building capacity to detect and contain emerging disease threats in regions hobbled by desperately uneven resources. Their relative anonymity brings respite from the political pressures that shape U.S. efforts to confront the 20th century’s great failure of disease surveillance, the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the realistic fear that their fledgling disease-fighting programs will starve if an outbreak stubbornly refuses to hew to election-driven deadlines. (more…)
Seth Green, in his post on Senators Schumer and Boxer boycotting the recent speech of the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, beat me to the punch. This was going to be my first point on how the ongoing Israeli-Hezbollahwar in Lebanon is bad for the U.S.
So let me just say this to the Democratic leadership. When Sen. Harry Reid, the minority leader says, “I will lose a lot of confidence in Maliki if he doesn’t denounce what Hezbollah has done,” he is being stupid, as in S T U P I D.
In case the senator had not noticed, Al-Maliki is facing the challenge of a lifetime trying to prevent Iraq from a full throated, utterly barbaric civil war, as opposed to the horrific, low level one it is now experiencing. Expecting him to act like a talking parrot, repeating the establishment line that everything Israel does is just dandy, is counterproductive, to say the least. The senator should remember that to date thousands of Americans have died, at least according to the last known Bush administration justification, to allow Iraq to become a democracy. That means the people there get to enjoy free speech. (more…)
I was disappointed to learn that a group of Democrats, including Senators Schumer and Boxer, boycotted the recent speech of the Iraqi Prime Minister. One of the most important points that Democrats have made about Iraq is that we need to understand precisely what our mission there is and when we have achieved victory. President Bush has been unfortunately vague about these objectives and so the war continues with no clear metrics still for what we hope to achieve. One objective which is very clear though is that we need to support democracy there and we need to do it out of the principle of democracy not out of the belief that a democratic Iraq will agree with the U.S. on every foreign policy issue.
While I strongly disagree with the Prime Minister’s comments on Israel and Hezbollah, I recognize that currently this is the overwhelming viewpoint in the Middle East. Yes, America must do everything it can to encourage the Prime Minister and his people to rethink this viewpoint. But, no America should not turn our backs (i.e. boycott) on those who merely express that viewpoint — that is, after all, democracy in action. And one point that the Bush administration has been admirably committed to is giving Iraq a true democracy and allowing people there to express their sentiments democratically. President Bush is right that democracy should be our end goal in Iraq and Schumer, Boxer, and several other Democrats were wrong to boycott this speech. We cannot expect Iraqis to believe that we are truly there to promote democracy if we seek to override any perspectives where we disagree with the Iraqi Prime Minister. This is a tense time in Iraq and symbols matter. The absence of two leading Democratic Senators at the speech of the Iraqi Prime Minister strikes me as sending the wrong signal at the wrong time.
In his blog yesterday on this site, former Senator Gary Hart called on President Bush “to explain to the American people what our policy is, why that policy is in our best interest, how that policy conforms with our traditional ideals and principles, and how we intend to pursue it.” That is a reasonable request, and Senator Hart is right that discussion of American interests has generally been drowned out recently. However, the Senator only posed the question — a challenge to President Bush, really.
Last week, though, Madalene O’Donnell blogged about the answer. Her post started from the premise that the President has, in fact, answered exactly those questions with the National Security Strategy document. But she still criticizes the administration. She takes the President to task for failing to implement the NSS: the NSS talks about failed states as a serious threat to the U.S., but, she argues, the U.S. has not invested much to fix the failed state in Somalia. The NSS talks about the importance of democracy, but the U.S. seemed surprised when Palestinians elected Hamas, voting against the corrupt Fatah government.O’Donnell would have preferred a more aggressive American anti-corruption campaign before the election. Presumably, she has the same view on Lebanon: stronger U.S. nation-building effort might have allowed the Lebanese government to suppress Hezbollah or to convince Hezbollah to disarm and join the democratic government. Overall, O’Donnell traces the failure of American foreign policy to insufficient nation-building. She thinks that the American national interest calls for an expensive plan to create well-functioning institutions all over the world — for example, using American aid in some (unspecified) way to fight corruption.
I disagree with both Hart and O’Donnell. (more…)
In the cacaphony of comment on the current hornets’ nest in the Middle East, two factors stand out. One is the relative silence of Congress. In past international crises, groups of Members of Congress, Senate and House, have sought to take constructive positions, either criticizing the incumbent administration’s management of the conflict or crisis or offering supportive recommendations. Many individual Senate and House members have issued their own statements on the Middle East, most cautious and conditioned by partisanship. But the absence of strong voices, particularly in contrast with great Senate statesmen of the past, is remarkable. “Support the president,” “support the troops,” and “stay the course” pass for statemanship these days. Cliche has become a substitute for thought, reason, experience, and depth. Republicans are cautious about separating themselves from the White House, largely out of fear of political reprisal. Democrats, as usual these days, are all over the map. It would not hurt, however, for a collection of Senate Democratic leaders, in their position as the loyal opposition, to put forward a statement demanding a sense of urgency from president and secretary of state, calling on Israel to reduce attacks on civilian targets, insisting that regional Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt, pressure Hezbollah, and seeking support from Europe to close down Syrian and Iranian weapons supplies.
The other factor in the “debate” is how few Americans discuss what is in the U.S.’s national interest. Voices are heard defending Israel or condemning Israel, criticizing or praising Arab leaders, discussing what is best for Lebanon, and so forth. This vacuum in national definition would normally be filled by a president willing or able to explain to the American people what our policy is, why that policy is in our best interest, how that policy conforms with our traditional ideals and principles, and how we intend to pursue it. Perhaps that is asking too much these days.
The current crisis in the Middle East represents many things: a history of violence, failed peace negotiations, lost opportunities, and mistrust among the parties. But what it also represents, unmistakably, is a failure of U.S. foreign policy. The widening Sunni-Shia divide and the new empowerment of Iran simply could not have taken place without America’s missteps. These include not only our poorly thought-out and faltering effort in Iraq, but also our complete failure to make any meaningful headway towards making the US economy less reliant upon oil. Without the Iraq crisis and the current price of oil, the current situation would look far different, and far better. It’s too easy place the blame on one party for this situation, even though the foreign policy of the current administration has been nothing short of disastrous for US interests. Certainly all parties could and should have done far more to enhance our energy security starting long ago. Whatever the roots of the problem, only strong bipartisan action can help the United States steer towards a more effective foreign policy.
[Madalene O'Donnell is guest blogging for Victoria Holt who is currently on vacation]
The 2006 US National Security Strategy argues that “[t]he goal of our statecraft is to help create a world of democratic, well-governed states that can meet the needs of their citizens and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system.” Who could disagree? The post-9/11 strategy made a similar point. “The events of September 11, 2001,” it argued, “taught us that weak states, like Afghanistan, can pose as great a danger to our national interests as strong states.”
But a quick look at current crises in the Middle East and Africa today suggest that we haven’t really learned this lesson at all. Both through errors of omission and commission, we are missing opportunities to help in the emergence of well-governed states that can make us and local populations more secure.
Take Somalia as a case in point. As the Economist argued this week, the US has itself partly to blame for the current crisis in which the Council of Islamic Courts (CIC) swept aside US-financed warlords, gaining control of Mogadishu and surrounding towns. While the US pursued a policy of distributing guns to warlords to help track down individual al-Qaeda fugitives, the alarmed local population threw in its lot with the CIC. As the Economist argued, “exhausted people are finding mullah-rule better than anarchy and extortion.” US interests are best served by helping, rather than frustrating, local aspirations for better governance which, in turn, will help to reduce “ungoverned spaces” that US military strategists frequently link to terrorist havens. (more…)
Let’s not fool ourselves. It is not an outbreak of fighting we are seeing in Lebanon right now. It is war. Even if it ends tomorrow it will still be war. And there is no likelihood that is going to happen. Like all wars it is an atrocity. Innocents are killed in both Lebanon and Israel. Fleeing refugees are blown to bits by Israeli jets near the border. Israelis are killed in rocket attacks in Haifa. An Israeli warship is hit and Lebanese soldiers are killed by Israeli attacks. Societies are shattered, physically and emotionally. So, the only appropriate response is to try and stop it. But thus far, President Bush declines even to call for a cease fire.
Vapid rhetoric about how Israel has a right to defend itself or how Hezbollah is just acting in defense of Palestinians in Gaza is not useful. Neither is uninformed neoconservative commentary about how now is the time to go after Syria or Iran. Let’s be honest, in terms of cool headed appraisals of national interest, which are the only useful ones to engage in, it profits the United States nothing to see another war in the Middle East. Especially now, given our forces in Iraq, and our “long war” on terrorist which, by default, includes much of the Middle East. Frankly, we do not have the military or economic resources to deal with it now. Our current multi-front war has already put a severe strain on our military. (more…)
Watching the violence in the Middle East unfold, I cannot help but feel that Israel is making the same mistake as the Bush administration in responding to terrorism. After the September 11th attacks, America had the moral legitimacy and sympathy of the world on its side. The Bush administration intelligently used this worldwide support to build a case against the Taliban and then it brought military force against the regime in a targeted and skillful way. But then the Bush administration began seeing its role and legitimacy to act well beyond the contours of self-defense. Even though Iraq had ambiguous ties at best to September 11th and no certified weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration tried to use this link to justify its war. Although the administration quickly won the combat, thanks to a robust military strategy of “shock and awe,” America soon realized that it was quickly losing the battle for hearts and minds
Although a very different case, I fear that Israel may be making a similar error in judgment. Yes, Israel may have the military strength to shock and awe its neighbors, and yes a strong response to Hezbollah is justified, but to the extent Israel diverges from a targeted path and begins using its shock and awe capacity more widely against innocent Lebanese citizens by bombing their airports and bridges, it runs the risk of quickly wiping out its international sympathy and losing the war of ideas. Worse yet, just like America’s war in Iraq, Israel runs the risk of furthering the cause of insurgents and widening the conflict. As this week’s Time reports:
…there is a real risk that the move may have the same unintended consequence of the raid 38 years ago: pushing Lebanon further into a spiral of internal strife and even a civil war that embroils the entire Middle East.
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A few days ago, Chris Preble highlighted two important Washington Post op-eds in his post on this blog, which Chris called “The Costs of War.” The same day, July 11, Connecticut Representative Christopher Shays held a hearing of the Committee on Government Reform’s Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations. David Walker, the Comptroller General of the United States, testified on, among other things, the budgetary costs of the war in Iraq. They are quite substantial (about $3 billion a week, he estimated based on a new GAO report).
I wasn’t at the hearing and, frankly, I didn’t know anything about it until I heard David Welna’s story about it the next day on NPR’s Morning Edition. Welna’s story includes shocking examples of partisan rancor and spin — another cost of the Iraq War. I don’t know whether Welna’s exerpts from the hearing were truly representative of the session. But two particular comments stuck out to me. (more…)
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.